Archive for Black Sabbath

Johanna Sadonis: Queen of Satanic Doom

Posted in Black Sabbath, Blood Ceremony (band), Doom Metal, Gaz Jennings, Johanna Sadonis, Lucifer (band), Rise Above Records, The Oath (band) with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 14, 2017 by Manuel Paul Arenas

I have been a fan of the group Black Sabbath since my grade-school chum Jan den Hartog turned me on to the album Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973) back in 1978. Their melodic, doom-laden riffs touch a dark spot on my soul (my “d-spot”?) in a way that few bands have done since. Although they spawned legions of followers and imitators, few have really understood what it was that made them so great. Within the subgenre of Doom Metal, which was directly inspired by their more infamously heavy tracks such as Electric Funeral (1970) and Into the Void (1971), there are a slew of bands that just play plodding, drop-tuned riffs and tri-tones with someone growling indecipherably about death and despair. Unfortunately, they do not have the knack for writing a catchy melody or an interesting bridge, which is part of what made Sabbath so successful.

Johanna Sadonis striking a decidedly devilish posture.

Recently, however, I have come across a few bands which seem to have finally  created a more accessible brand of Doom influenced music. The first band to catch my ear was Blood Ceremony, whom I have already covered here on the Book of Shadows. The next were a pair of bands (both labelmates of Blood Ceremony, on Rise Above Records) that shared a connection through a common member: vocalist Johanna Sadonis.  The bands, The Oath and Lucifer, respectively, are both Doom influenced but have much more going on than your average Doom band. I cannot find much information on either band online, but I did find this under the entry for Sadonis on the Encyclopedia Metallum:

Female vocalist, DJ and promoter from Berlin, Germany, who sang in various metal bands during the ’90s/early 00’s. In 2010, she was part of the electronic indie pop band Informer along with Rayshele Teige, a former employee of Century Media in the US. She’s currently the lead vocalist of the Berlin/London-based heavy rock band Lucifer.  [Encyclopedia Metallum_Johanna Sadonis_retrieved 11/10/2017]

Promo Pic for the Oath featuring (left to right)Linnéa Olsson & Johanna Sadonis.

Although not mentioned in the preceding bio, from 2012-2014  Sadonis fronted the band The Oath, which also featured Swedish guitarist Linnéa Olsson (not to be confused with the progressive-pop cellist). I cannot tell whether the rest of the band are just session musicians, but I did notice that there is another guitarist credited with the guitar solos. All the promotional photos however are solely of the women, both lovely blondes, clad in black leather. Make no mistake though, this is not a puff band. These ladies can rock. The opening track, All Must Die, is a bass-driven rocker reminiscent of  Motorhead’s Ace of Spades which sets the tone for the rest of the album, the sound of which is retro but not derivative. The overall vibe is of a polished NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) from the 80’s but with catchy hooks and Sadonis’ clear vocals singing her paeans to Lucifer; imagine if Girlschool had hung out with Tony Iommi instead of Lemmy Kilminster, and you’ll have the idea. There’s even a requisite acoustic guitar piece! How’s that for old school? The songs are tuneful and simple but the arrangements are interesting with some unusual choices. Not being schooled in music theory, I cannot say exactly what’s different, but I can definitely hear it.

The album was a hit in the metal community, and the vinyl version even came with a collectible 7″ single featuring a cover of the song Night of the Demon by NWOBHM band Demon, which is better than the original. Then, just as their downward-pointing star was rising, they broke up leaving everyone asking WTF? I have looked online and even watched an interview with Sadonis online, but whatever it was that was the catalyst to the split, she doesn’t seem to be very forthcoming about it. Perhaps there are legal reasons for her reticence. Olsson joined the Finnish Goth-Rock band Grave Pleasures (a waste of her talent, IMHO) and Sadonis ditched the leather jacket for a satin kimono with an eye on the back, which I suspect is the left eye of Thoth symbolizing the moon, wisdom, and magic. She formed a new band with Oath drummer Andy Prestidge, named after her favorite inamorato: Lucifer.

Variant pressings of Lucifer’s “Anubis/Morning Star” 45″ single, which I borrowed from the Epicus-Metal blogspot.

They put out the single Anubis which eschewed the NWOBHM sound for a more explicitly Doom-influenced  sound with a fuzzed-out headbang-inducing riff that couldn’t help but bring to mind the glory days of Sabbath. Unfortunately, the vocal melody is a hodgepodge of vocal lines from Sabbath’s 1972 ode to cocaine, Snowblind. Even so, it’s a lot of fun and definitely worth a spin and the B-side, Morning Star, an awesome slab of Doom Metal with a nod to Iron Maiden, would resurface, in a slightly tighter performance, on the subsequent album,  Lucifer I.

Vinyl copy of Lucifer I (2015, Rise Above).

At first listen, I wasn’t sure what I thought of the long-play album. The first track I heard off the album was the single, Izrael, for which they have a promotional video. It didn’t seem quite as heavy as the Anubis single and it almost sounded pop-ish were it not for the heavy guitars and occult themed lyrics. It grew on me though, as did the album and I eventually decided to purchase my own copy.

Now I beg your indulgence while I share with you my experience in picking up this CD at my local record store. I had seen a used copy at a Mesa branch of the store I frequent, which shall remain nameless here, but didn’t get a chance to buy it then, so I had them transfer it to the store by my home in Phoenix. When I picked it up, the cashier was a young man who was genial and even sported an Iron Maiden t-shirt. When he pulled it off the hold shelf to ring it up, he seemed a bit awed by it and asked something to the effect of, “Is this what I think it is?” To which I responded “Actually, it’s a bit different, the riffs are heavy but there are clear vocals over the top providing a nice contrast; it’s actually quite beautiful.”

You see, I believed he had been inquiring as to its sonic heft, but apparently I was wrong, for his response was, “The bible says the devil will make himself beautiful.” Yeah…well I just countered with a bemused “Uh-huh.” then ended my part in the conversation. Even so, he continued, seemingly so freaked out by it that he could hardly express himself, faltering for words. His sentences trailed off and he seemed to be almost enchanted by the album. He commented on the cover art, which as you well can see has nothing but the name of the band, yet he was afraid to even touch it. He commented on the track titles, specifically Morning Star and Izrael. Eventually we finished the transaction and I was able to leave the store but I was definitely put off by the whole interaction. This is what I deal with all the time in this part of the country. I have no problem with folks believing what they want as long as I don’t have to hear about it and it doesn’t impinge on my own civil rights. It’s hard to be a free thinker when  everyone else is still living in the Dark Ages. I think that I did confirm for him that the lyrical content did lean towards the diabolic; but in truth, Sadonis’ themes are not like that of say Venom, or Slayer, both of whom focus on demonism, maleficia and blasphemy, whereas her lyrics lean more towards metaphysics and ritual magick.

Anyway, off the soapbox and back to the album: I finally got a chance to hear Lucifer I on my CD Walkman (don’t judge) and was able to hear its layers and nuances. It’s not quite as layered as say a Kevin Shields composition, but there were times (like in Izrael)when I was reminded of Brian May’s layered guitar work on the early Queen albums, or even Tony Iommi for that matter. This might be due to the addition of guitarist Gaz Jennings, late of the English Doom Metal veterans Cathedral. His talent for composing choice riffs make him a pretender to the Iommi mantel of Riff-master General. There also are chimes to be heard on here and in places, rain, birds, and even tolling bells appear on the appropriately named Sabbath. The overall sound of the album is vaguely psychedelic, which suit Sadonis’ plaintive vocal style and arcane lyrical themes a bit better, yet with an updated take on the old school heavy rock sound.

In the interview she did with Jimmy Cabbs she spoke of how their goal was not to look back to retread old territory so much as to look for inspiration which they would absorb then apply with a modern approach. She and (I believe) bassist Dino Gollnick spoke in the interview of trying to make things simple and go back to the roots of heavy music as Metal has become so extreme these days and how much further can one take it? Gollnick is gone now however, as are Jennings and Prestridge, according to the Encyclopedia Metallum, which lists Sadonis as the only consistent member in the current lineup. Even so, no matter who she works with she seems to come out okay and to hone her musical vision just a little bit more, and I look forward to whatever she comes up with next.

PS: I have noticed that a lot of haters have been posting on Youtube that Johanna is just a Jinx Dawson wannabe. For those of you who are not familiar with Ms. Dawson, she was the vocalist and primary lyricist for the band Coven whose 1969 debut album Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls was a minor hit in the underground music scene. Despite their Satanic subject matter, Coven’s music was psychedelic pop without much heft. They were definitely unique and probably one of the very first bands to openly sing about occult topics and especially witchcraft, but they never really were metal in any way shape or form. Jinx Dawson, now accepted as the Grande Dame of occult rock has rebooted her career and is touring with a new band brandishing a heavier sound and touting herself as the Metal Goth Queen.

Album cover for Coven’s Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls (1969,Mercury). Jinx Dawson is the pictured on the far left side.

Now, with all respect to Ms. Dawson and her legacy, the only similarity between them is that they both have long blonde hair and they both have occult themed lyrics. One might argue that Dawson paved the way for the likes of Sadonis, but I don’t hear any specific similarity in their styles or even stage personas. Don’t drink the haterade, don’t believe the trolls.

Update 12/28/2017

After living with these albums a while, I find that I cannot get enough of  Lucifer I. I still dig the Oath album, but find myself returning to the Lucifer album time and again. Basically, what keeps me coming back are the catchy minor keyed melodies, the choice fuzzy riffs and the clean vocals. I really get tired of the fact that every time I find a new heavy band I like, the vocalist sounds like the Cookie Monster. I also find the lyrics intriguing. It also helps that there are numerous live videos of the band on Youtube. The best one being a gig at a record store in Oldenburg, Germany. The video and audio quality is great and the band burns through a 50+ minute set which basically includes Anubis and most of their debut album.

Loser 7″ (2015, Rise Above).

Apparently there exists a limited edition of the LP that includes a 7″ single featuring two cover songs, Devil’s on the Loose and Loser (the former originally by The Rattles and the latter by Angel Witch). I have heard Loser on Youtube and it is a decent tune but doesn’t quite fit with the Sabbathy sound of the album proper. I am curious to hear the other track and shall look for this version in the future as well as the Oath LP with the Night of the Demon single.

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Blood Ceremony: Toronto’s exponent of “flute-tinged witch rock”

Posted in Acid-folk, Black Sabbath, Blood Ceremony (band), Ceremonia sangrienta (1973), Doom Metal, Lord of Misrule (2016), Oliver Haddo, Psychedelic Rock, Somerset Maugham, The Magician (1908) with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 2, 2017 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Blood Ceremony band logo

Formed in Toronto Canada in 2006, Blood Ceremony is one of the more interesting bands taking their cues from their musical forefathers. In the promotional material found on their Facebook page as well as on their profile on the Rise Above Records website, they describe themselves in this manner:

“BLOOD CEREMONY’s distinct style of flute-tinged witch rock evolves from an infernal marriage of occult-inspired acid folk and vintage hard-rock riffing. After a mind-numbing study of hundreds of trashy witchcraft films, the group began to pour their energies into crafting songs, transforming their fascination for horror into a profane musical vision. ”

English language poster for the 1973 horror film “Ceremonia sangrienta” which is the band’s namesake.

Taking their name from the 1973 Spanish/Italian Horror film “Ceremonia sangrienta” their lyrics (penned by founding member guitarist/composer Sean Kennedy) explore occult themes and reference folklore and occult film and fiction (he seems to be fond of Somerset Maugham’s character Oliver Haddo from his 1908 occult novel The Magician based on Maugham’s impressions from his brief acquaintance with occultist Aleister Crowley; penning not one, but two separate songs about him, The Magician, and Oliver Haddo, respectively). Originally conceived by Kennedy as an old school heavy rock band, things took on a more eclectic turn when flutist/organist Alia O’Brien joined the band. Originally invited to play flute on a couple of songs,  O’Brien joined full time as lead vocalist when their original singer left to go to India.

An early image of Alia O’Brien which I have seen incorporated into gig posters and depicted in fan art.

An accomplished instrumentalist, Alia O’Brien’s flute and Farfisa organ playing have fleshed out the sound transmogrifying it into an alchemical amalgam of such early 70’s rock icons as Black Sabbath, Jethro Tull and Uriah Heep. Although not a trained singer or front person, the statuesque Ms. O’Brien has really come into her own over the years and has developed her voice, look, and persona in a way that has brought much attention to the band. Make no mistake though, she is not just a pretty face and the success of the band relies not just on their image, but the evolving sound of the band.

Blood Ceremony’s eponymously titled 2008 debut album featuring artwork by George Barr from the 1970 Ballantine Books collection of Clark Ashton Smith stories, Zothique.

Initially they were grouped in with the Doom Metal scene because of their heavy Sabbath influenced riffs, but they have so much more going on musically and their sound, although thematically consistent, is anything but stagnant. Like Sabbath, their riffs never stay in one place for long, and the avowed influence of both 60’s psychedelia and early English folk-rock acts such as Pentangle and Fairport Convention flesh out the sound to something of a proto-prog vibe or as Kennedy describes it “a folkier Sabbath”.

Blood Ceremony 2016, from left to right: Mike Carillo (drums), Alia O’Brien [seated] (lead vocals, flute, keyboards), Lucas Gadke (bass), Sean Kennedy (guitars).

Since their debut in 2008 they have released four albums and one single, each unique unto itself. Their most recent offering, “Lord of Misrule” is probably the most diverse of the lot, with the inclusion of mellotron (Loreley) and some 60’s psych-pop tropes (Flower Phantoms) to accompany the usual heavy riffing and flute and organ flourishes. There is even a brief nod to The Pink Floyd’s 1967 psych-pop gem Lucifer Sam in the opening notes of the album’s lead rocker The Devil’s Widow, the lyrics of which deal with the forsaken fairy mistress of Tam Lin, as she pines for her lover after he was rescued from her enchanting clutches by his human sweetheart.

Screencap from the promotional video for the song Goodbye Gemini.

Although I had come across Blood Ceremony before in my Youtube searches for psychedelic and progressive rock bands, I was always under the impression that they were a one-off indie band from the 70’s until a friend of mine shared some digital files of their hard-to-find albums with me. Even so, I didn’t realize they were current and still touring until I found their profile page while perusing the Rise Above Records website recently. Too bad it took me so long to sort that out as I would have loved to have seen them on their last tour in 2016! Until their next release however I must make do with their one promo video for the tune Goodbye Gemini off their 2013 album The Eldritch Dark (an apparent fan fave according to the myriad Youtube comments I have seen; if you see the video, keep an eye out for the scene where drummer Mike Carillo pauses from his drumming duties to take a puff off of a churchwarden pipe–presumably loaded with Halflings’ Leaf!) as well as the many fan videos of the band from their various shows over the last several years, and pray that they come around again in 2018. Perhaps I need to make a sanguinary oblation to the dark gods of occult rock?

 

Black Sabbath’s “Master of Reality” Deluxe Edition CD

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on September 16, 2011 by Manuel Paul Arenas

The other day I picked up a used copy of the Deluxe Edition of Black Sabbath’s “Master of Reality” album (1971). I had high expectations after the amazing 3-disc version of “Paranoid” I had picked up a month or so prior, and those hopes were fulfilled and then some! First off, the remastered sound on these discs is amazing. You can really hear all of the individual instruments without losing cohesion of the overall mix. Finally, as well, the levels are higher so you don’t have to raise your stereo volume to “eleven” anymore in order to rock out these amazingly heavy tunes.
The packaging is great too, with relevant photos from the era as well as pictures of rare singles and the like. One of my favorites is an ad for a UK tour on which they hail Sabbath as the “Dark Princes of Downer Rock”.
The real find on this set, however, is the unreleased track on the bonus disc. Along with the usual alternate takes and mixes of various album standards, is an actual unreleased track called “Weevil Woman ‘71”. The lyrics are throw away, but the riff is good and had they developed it further, it might have been a good tune to help fill out the album which does have a brief running time.
The other tracks on the bonus disc are interesting enough, but nothing to write home about; save for a version of “Lord of this World”, which features some slide guitar and a little piano. More notable as an oddity, it is interesting to hear this step in the creative process of the song.
In fine, this is yet another great Sanctuary Records redux of a classic album from the essential early years of the Black Sabbath oeuvre, and I look forward to obtaining the rest of the available sets as I can afford them.