Warhammer 48K, Cave, Bitchin Bajas

(Copyright © 2006-23 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

Uber Om (2004) , 7/10
An Ethereal Oracle (2006), 7.5/10
Cave: Psychic Psummer (2009) , 7/10
Cave: Pure Moods (2010), 7.5/10 (EP)
Cave: Neverendless (2011), 6.5/10
Lazer Crystal: MCMLXXX (2010) , 6/10
Bitchin Bajas: Tones/ Zones (2010), 4.5/10
Bitchin Bajas: Water Wrackets (2011), 5/10
Bitchin Bajas: Bitchitronics (2013), 4/10
Bitchin Bajas: Bitchin Bajas (2014), 5/10
Bitchin Bajas: Bajas Fresh (2017), 5/10
Bitchin Bajas: Bajascillators (2022), 6/10

Part of the contingent of progressive/post-metal bands of the 2000s, Missouri's Warhammer 48K packed their post-doom extravaganza Uber Ohm (Emergency Umbrella, 2004 - Collective, 2006) with all sorts of abrupt shifts and crazy inventions. Get Bodacious, with its circular riffing and bombastic drumming, as well as Citizen Pain, with its psychotic singing and guitar whirlwind, evoke post-rock of the 1990s (for example, Bitch Magnet) and German prog-rock of the 1970s (for example, Amon Duul II). Initially the nine-minute Haunted Abortion borders on Indian ecstasy because of agonizing rhythm and fibrillating guitar noise. Halfway, thought, it loses control and degenerates into chaotic cacophony and never quite recovers its composure. The seven-minute Total Eclipse starts out very slow and progressively builds up a macabre pace for the vocalist's show of beastly screams. Echoes of Black Sabbath's magniloquent doom-metal surface in the first part of Do You Need Help Walking, but the second part decays into abstract psychological soundpainting with only a brief return of the doom riff. The sophisticated torture of Warhammer 48K ends with the shock therapy of Failed Suicide Attempt #1. Mostly instrumental, the album stands out for its brilliant balance of building grim monolithic structures and destabilizing them with creative detours.

An Ethereal Oracle (Papa Slag, 2006 - Permanent, 2009) is a concept album in nine movements. 1 opens with a fake radio announcement addressing the survivors of a nuclear holocaust and then shifts into the streets where mobs of horribly injured people are screaming and dying. The choral singalong of 2 is progressively submerged by guitar noise until the noise becomes an apocalyptic avalanche of radio signals. After the explosion, quiet returns and the piece ends with the sound of crickets. 3, an instrumental jam for "motorik" percussion and jazzy guitar, is the prelude to the vibrant prog-rock progression of 4, that ends in chaos and horror. The zombie chant 5 temporarily breaks up the tension, but the soul-rock ballad 6 reignites it with psychotic backing vocals and hysterical instrumental mayhem. 7, the most austere and challenging piece, is musique concrete for voodoo-dub polyrhythm and found sounds. 8 finally soars with metal majesty but then indulges in a brooding suspenseful pause before resurrecting the guitar riff. 9 loops around sinister vocal lamentation, driving rhythm and the same furious riff until it takes off in a Hawkwind-style space-rocking jam. The music is dominated by the rhythms (sustained by all instruments), which dwarf guitar riffs and vocal melodies.

Warhammer 48K's Chicago-based side-project Cave debuted with the heavily percussive space-rock of the instrumental EP Hunt Like Devil (Permanent Records, 2008). The ten-minute Hunt Like Devil weds a looped guitar riff inspired by the hard-rock jams of the 1970s, a motorik rhythm a` la Neu and a xylophone melody that could be from a Frank Zappa operetta. The repetition finally yields a ripping space guitar solo.

The instrumental EP Jamz (2006) contains the distorted and percussive freak-out of Annihilated Sludge Flow, the shoegazing and ambient meditation of Seans Inner Ear, the trotting guitar workout of 4.24.06, with a sudden acceleration a` la Steppenwolf, and the Brazilian dance novelty Drum Like Devil.

Cave's Psychic Psummer (Important, 2009) offered vintage psychedelic rock for the digital age. The instrumentals are still largely based on hypnotic repetition. Gamm is a further improvement over their motorik-like progressions: a euphoric stream of martial beats and thunderous riffs. Requiem For John Sex is another variation on the same trance-inducing technique, for which all instruments provide the propulsive groove, except that the music suddenly picks up speed and volume and takes a detour into acid mayhem. The android jam of Encino Men juxtaposes videogame-like dissonances against a hard-rocking organ a` la Who. On one hand the band is still attracted by noise (as in the frenzied demented bacchanal Made In Malaysia), while on the other hand it shows it is capable of calmer and simpler forms (the melodic fantasia of High I Am, not too dissimilar from the disco novelties of the B52's, and the anthemic closer Machines & Muscles, that sounds like a digital remix of some lost garage hit of the 1960s). Instrumental psychedelic music not only reached new heights in this album but also found a way to exist without simply repeating the past.

The EP Pure Moods (Drag City, 2010) contains three of Cave's best performances. Hot Bricks weds their robotic beat to minimalist keyboards and new-wave singing, like Neu covering Terry Riley and fronted by Devo's singer. The seven-minute Teenager turns repetition into a postmodernist tool: the guitar hints at a wrenching boogie riff, the organ hints at a gritty soul rave-up, the vocals hint at a deranged garage anthem, but none of them delivers. They all exist as immanent archetypes of probable sounds. The 13-minute Brigitte's Trip (subtitled White Light White Jazz, a tribute to the Velvet Underground) was in effect one of the most dynamic pieces of their career, with the smoky blues-rock theme derailing towards emotional highs and lows.

Neverendless (Drag City, 2011) is less exciting mainly because of its relative predictability. WUJ is a fibrillating polyrhythm that eventually grows and swells morphing into an interstellar distorted jam. The steady Neu-esque motorik rhythm of On The Rise is closely related, except that here Cooper Crain grinds his guitar Neil Young-style and then the vocals into a soaring raga-psychedelic refrain. The 14-minute This Is the Best distills their instrumental science but also indulges in excessive repetition. The skittish disco jam of Adam Roberts is the album's novelty, perhaps a sign of how the band can sell out. The frigid polished production stands in stark contrast with the sloppy poignancy of their early recordings.

Meanwhile, Lazer Crystal, a Cave side-project that included drummer Josh Johannpeter and multi-instrumentalist Mikale De Graff of Mahjongg, devoted its EPs Hot Pink BMC / National (HBSB - 2X) and EP1 (HBSP - 2X, 2009) to quirky dance-punk music. At its best MCMLXXX (Thrill Jockey, 2010) Lazer Crystal sounded like Nine Inch Nails gone electroclash. The original lineup of Chicago's dance-rock outfit Mahjongg (with Johannpeter and multi-instrumentalist Hunter Husar) had recorded the surreal post-rock follies of Raydoncong (Cold Crush, 2005) and Kontpab (K, 2008), while Mikale De Graff and Dan Quinlivan had joined Johannpeter and Husar for The Long Shadow of the Paper Tiger (K, 2010), the first Mahjongg album without singer and guitarist Jeff Carrillo.

Cave's guitarist Cooper Crain launched the project Bitchin Bajas in the vein of German cosmic music of the 1970s with Tones/ Zones (Important, 2010) and with the film soundtrack Water Wrackets (Kalliste, 2011) that also featured keyboardist Dan Quinlivan and occasional percussionists. Vibraquatic (2012), a split album with Olivia Wyatt, contains the 17-minute Prismatic Reflections, his best emulation of Terry Riley's Rainbow in Curved Air, as well as the shorter (ten minutes!) Bajas Ragas. The four suites of Bitchitronics (Drag City, 2013), that now feature the trio of Cooper Crain, Dan Quinlivan and flutist Rob Frye, delve into new-age music. The "highlight" of Transcendence is an embarrassing melodic line by the electric guitar. The EP Krausened (Permanent, 2013) contains the 17-minute Krausened, ten minutes of endlessly recycled drones followed by seven minutes of a throbbing techno dance. It would have been a great novelty hit in the early 1980s at the time of the Love Of Life Orchestra. Bitchin Bajas (Drag City, 2014) opens with the languid ambient music of the 19-minute Tilang and then gets worse. By comparison with the static, uninspired nature of the other pieces, the propulsive 12-minute Bueu, that actually does have some movement, sounds like magic. What used to be shamelessly derivative is now simply boring.

After a collaboration with jazz band Natural Information Society, Automaginary (2015), Bitchin Bajas released: the mini-album Transporteur (2015), with the Steve Reich-ian Marimba and the Terry Riley-ian Raias Baixas, then a collaboration with Bonnie Prince Billy, namely Epic Jammers And Fortunate Little Ditties (2016), and a collaboration with Olivia Wyatt, namely Sailing A Sinking Sea (2016). Bajas Fresh (2017) shows how derivative the trio's music is: Jammu imitates Terry Riley's pulsing minimalism and the 23- minute 2303 imitates Brian Eno's slow soothing droning ambient music. The percussive cosmic free-jazz Yonaguni and the looping atonal trance of Chokayo too have distinguished predecessors. After the rudimentary Cuts III (2019) and Cuts IV (2021), each containing uninterrupted and unnamed compositions, they paid tribute to Sun Ra on Switched On Ra (2021), played with vintage keyboards. Bajascillators (2022) contains four lengthy pieces: Amorpha is a celestial version of gamelan polyrhythms, Geomancy sounds like a stoned or post-rock remix of the same, World is a disposable attempt at repetitive minimalism, and Quakenbrueck is a more intelligent take on the same antiquated genre because it mixes it with Neu-style motorik rhythm and Talking Heads-ian funk moves.

(Copyright © 2006-23 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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