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Friday, February 8, 2013

In Case You Missed It: Demonic Death Judge - Skygods

Whether it’s the catchy groove of the new wave of classic rock (is that an oxymoron?) or the abstract ambience of shoegaze and drone, I am generally a huge fan of all the music we write about here at Heavy Planet. But man…what really piques my interest is when a band seamlessly blends various elements from those disparate genres to create their own unique niche. And of course, this is where I’m supposed to tell you that Finland’s Demonic Death Judge are just such a band…and I will. But leaving it at that would be such a vast understatement. You see, with Skygods, these four fjord dwellers don’t just merge their minimalist textures with fuzz and fury; they clinch each of those elements with an iron grip, look them stoically in the eyes and then violently smash them together into a sonic explosion of ferocity and furor. This is an album…nay, a journey…that should not be missed.

Let’s take the title track as our first example. Opening with the singular grind of guitarist Saku Hakuli, the song quickly melts into a mid-tempo sludge-fest as the plodding rhythm section of bassist Pasi Hakuli (Saku’s brother) and drummer Lauri Pikka enter the mix. But then an interesting thing happens. The guitar subtly and gently withdraws into the background, transitioning into a sort of post-rock timbre as the rhythm of the other two trudges onward. And before your brain is even fully capable of perceiving the tonal changes that it’s registering, Jaakko Heinonen makes a startling introduction with a shriek as abrasive as anything you’re likely to hear this side of hell. Like the sting from a shot of whisky, those vocals will water your eyes, put a fire in your gut and leave you wobbling on your feet. This is the point at which the casual listeners will meekly and quietly excuse themselves (as if any casual listeners were checking out a band called Demonic Death Judge anyway), as the rest of us settle in for the glorious onslaught that is Skygods.

“Salomontaari” is righteously fuzzed out one minute, devastatingly doomy the next and then…jazzy? Yeah, you heard that right. Demonic Death Judge could have simply stuck to the riff fueled groove and ferocious wails that open the song and they’d have been solid. But that wouldn’t be their style. Instead, the band detours said groove through multiple shifts in tempo, adds organ to the mix and allows the Hakuli brothers to experiment with open ended, free flowing song structures…not to mention some tasty guitar solos. But the true purpose of these dynamic shifts is to create a buildup and that becomes evident once you reach the song’s final minute. The subtleties are dropped, the instruments refocus on that punishing groove, Heinonen starts losing his shit and your ears are filled with the sweet, sweet sound of the band’s overwhelming heaviness.

And when it’s all said and done, you’ll welcome the reprieve of “Latitude”, which recalls Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig in the Sky” with its otherworldly, operatic vocals and ethereal guitar strumming. But the respite is brief as it flows right into “Knee High”, which may just be the Judge’s most brutal statement on Skygods. Opening with a pile driving riff and a snarl from Heinonen that seems to dare you to keep listening, this one takes the patient plod of doom, ramps it up with a medley of stoner fuzz and psychedelic effects, and then culminates with a harrowing warning that “the tide is rising”. “Aqua Hiatus” dabbles in the art of the buildup again, as it features a prelude of subtle, Middle Eastern inspired guitar that explodes into a massive wall of sound, triggered by Heinonen’s deathly call to arms, before settling into a rhythm resembling the pace of a lumbering beast.

With the final three songs on Skygods, Demonic Death Judge continue to blend and bend genres, only here they seem determined to go a step further and plow through the boundaries and limitations associated with such classifications. Check out “Cyberprick”, where a distortion laced bass rumble folds right into another gargantuan groove before giving way to smooth jazzy guitar and a spoken word passage that’s as disturbing in its revolutionary content as it is in its contrast to Heinonen’s howls. Or listen as “Nemesis” takes a decidedly psychedelic turn, eschewing the sonic vitriol and throat shredding in favor of ghostly guitars, hypnotic bass lines and acid trip vocals. And the final exercise in experimentation is the ten minute “Pilgrimage”, an opus that layers atmospheric effects with beautiful instrumentation and vocal harmonizing, elevating it up, up and away from the mire of sludge wherein its roots so firmly lay.

Skygods is excruciating in its intensity and mesmerizing in its complexity. Heavy? Boy you don’t know heavy. This is music that’s got the brains and the brawn. Demonic Death Judge will grow horizons in your mind, hair on your chest and horns out of the top of your head. Now ask yourself…do you want to miss that experience? I think not.

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