Harvey Milk

(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

My Love Is Higher , 7/10
Courtesy And Good Will Toward Men , 6.5/10
The Pleaser , 5.5/10
Special Wishes (2006), 5/10
Life The Best Game in Town (2008), 6/10
A Small Turn Of Human Kindness (2010), 6/10

Harvey Milk were formed in the 1990s in Georgia by guitarist Creston Spiers and bassist Stephen Tanner. Their first album, Harvey Milk (2010), would be released only 16 years after being recorded in 1994. My Love Is Higher (Yesha, 1996) is a progressive-metal album that relies on depressed lyrics, tortured vocals, evil riffs and majestic drumming. The eight-minute instrumental ouverture A Small Turn Of Kindness says it all: after some minimalist repetition a` la Terry Riley and a spastic cello solo, horror guitar riffs collide with icy drum-beats, and from the friction a virulent jam with funk-jazz overtones is born. The lumbering rock'n'roll of 'Where The Bee Sucks There Suck I makes MC5 sound musical (credit the drummer for the sense of derangement). The rapid-fire metal music of seven-minute Jim's Polish is so convoluted that it sounds all wrong.
By contrast, a gentle lullaby explodes into a five-second metal riff in the seven-minute The Anvil Will Fall and then the piece mutates into a stately orchestral aria, replete with celestial strings and thundering horns, only to mutate again into a drunk variation of the aria in a heavy-metal context. My Father's Life's Work is ten minutes of uninterrupted agony, the guitar carving every (sustained) note out of sheer desperation and the vocals groaning incoherently (all in all, a sort of maximization of the blues). The 13-minute F.S.T.P is even more dilated and disjointed, although the slow chant always seems on the verge of becoming anthemic. The dynamics, that alternates continuously between loud and soft volume, slow and fast pace, brutal and gentle tone, is borrowed from Type O Negative, Big Black and, above all, Melvins, but mostly these songs mean-spirited creatures with no precedents. Compared with other purveyors of heavy sound, whether Earth or Sunn O))), Harvey Milk were less repetitive, less monolithic and a lot more hostile. All The Live Long Day Spier's howl well represents their music: it is not only amelodic, it is truly ugly and unbearable.

Courtesy And Good Will Toward Men (Yesha, 1997 - Tumult, 2000 - Relapse, 2006) exaggerates all the elements of their music. The result is one long, cruel, slow agony; a terrifying symphony of pain that matches the peaks of Swans. The long guitar distortion that opens the ten-minute Pinnochio's Example is an apt metaphor: it eventually evolves into a riff, but it never overcomes its own inability to articulate beyond that primal sound. The eleven-minute instrumental My Broken Heart Will Never Mend is a battlefield (slow martial beats, stately riffs) from which, again, only weak signals radiate. True: the other songs are a bit better fleshed out. A gentle strumming leads to the solemn, galactic jamming and singing of Brown Water, (only the decibels separate it from the most transcendental Indian music). The obsessive martial beat of Sunshine No Sun Into the Sun leads into caverns of dissonance and growls. The Boy With Bosoms is a sort of Jimi Hendrix-ian meditation. However, the album remains fundamentally a cryptic black hole from which only a very blurred radiation radiates. It is less terrifying than My Love Is Higher, with pieces that don't quite go for the jugular, but rather float aimlessly in a strange post-psychedelic space.

The Pleaser (Reproductive, 1998) boasts roaring tracks like Down, Misery and especially U.S. Force., but it is mostly an exercise in 1970s imitation. It seems to parody the hard rock of Led Zeppelin (Get It Up And Get It On, Lay My Head Down) and Kiss (Rock And Roll Party) from beginning to end. This lightweight joke de facto ended their career.

The Singles (Relapse, 2003) summarizes their career. The Kelly Sessions (Crowd Control Activities, 2004) collects alternate versions of already-released material.

Anthem (Chunklet, 2006) is a three and a half hour DVD collection of live shows.

After a long hiatus, the band returned with Special Wishes (Megablade, 2006), that included several moments of pathos (the jam Once In A While, the prog-rock Instrumental, the power-ballad Old Glory) but overall downplayed the ferocious edge of the past.

The transition to a new "doom" style was facilitated by the addition of Joe Preston, Melvin's bassist, on guitar. The arrangement and dynamics became even more sophisticated on Life The Best Game in Town (Hydra Head, 2008), with Creston Spiers' melodramatic vocals and Kyle Spence's apocalyptic percussion often stealing the show from Joe Preston's guitar. The stereotypical stoner jam (best exemplified by Decades, whose backbeat make it sound like a slow-motion remix of Led Zeppelin's When the Levee Breaks) got twisted and warped into an almost spiritual experience in pieces such as the eight-minute Death Goes to the Winner (with frequent dirge-like pauses and an instrumental break that is simply a wall of feedback) and Roses (with its soaring operatic aria). More references to Led Zeppelin surface in the frantic guitar phrasing of After All I've Done For You and in the acrobatic rock'n'roll of Barn Burner. Standard agonizing Black Sabbath-esque fodder is only dispensed by Skull Socks & Rope Shoes and by Goodbye Blues (that closes with a cartoonish finale, perhaps a self-parody). The catchy Motown and the rocking numbers (including a bizarre cover of the Fear's We Destroy the Family) showed a band capable of a broader range of styles.

The brief A Small Turn Of Human Kindness (Hydra Head, 2010) abandoned any pretense of art and indulged in the funereal doom that had always been their specialty. peaking with the rousing (as rousing as doom-metal can be) "I Did Not Call Out". However, too much was predictable, and in the end the synth-tinged I Know This is All My Fault and the mellotron-tinged I Know This Is No Place For You sounded interesting simply because they were "prettier" than doom.

Cerberic Doxology (Anthem Records) was a collaboration between Joe Preston and Daniel Menche.

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