Dusted Reviews

Pharoah Overlord / Circle - The Battle of the Axehammer & Golem/Vesiliirto

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Pharoah Overlord / Circle

Album: The Battle of the Axehammer & Golem/Vesiliirto

Label: Last Visible Dog

Review date: Aug. 19, 2004

The only thing more ludicrous than naming a band Pharaoh Overlord is calling an album The Battle of the Axehammer. Yet somehow, this trio from Pori, Finland, makes it all work – most likely because it never sullies itself with the irony-metal rehash that its moniker suggests. Those kitschy titles seem thoroughly irrelevant in light of the players’ rapturous tunnel vision, which flattens out the dynamics of stoner rock and psychedelia with a logic-defying, cold-blooded adherence to numbing repetition and pure compositional stasis.

Taped live in Helsinki in September 2001, Axehammer finds deep-throb bassist Jussi Lehtisalo and mechanistic drummer Tomi Leppänen in fine hypnotic form, while guitarist Janne Westerlund piles on the low-end distortion alongside guests Jyrki Laiho (Stalwart; ex-Paine, ex-Circle) and Pekka Pirttikangas (Cosmo Jones Beat Machine, Astro Can Caravan). Their onstage chemistry and the recording’s in-the-red fidelity are invaluable assets; a rattier, nastier tone enhances songs from Pharaoh Overlord’s already-laudable back catalog, the big-boned #1 (Ektro, 2001) and its quieter, mysterious follow-up, II (No Quarter, 2003). A thuggish version of the latter disc’s “Skyline” breathes particularly humid, opiate-laden air, as does the unforgettably primal “Black Horse,” one of two previously unissued tracks. Each tune germinates from a single boorish riff that builds for 10-plus minutes and subliminally alters itself atop steady, almost incongruously stark and tasteful percussion. Solos, singing, fills, frills, crescendos, verses, choruses, bridges, hooks and drama are verboten; this is stripped-down, instinctual music with the feel and flow of melting tar. Minimal to the point of somnolence but substantial enough to inspire headbanging, Axehammer catches Pharaoh Overlord at an aesthetic peak, lumbering through the autumn night like a gigantic, slow-motion reptile.

Leppänen and Westerlund also figure prominently in the present lineup of Circle, the constantly evolving underground institution founded by Lehtisalo in 1991. The striking-looking double LP Golem/Vesiliirto (a shared release by Kevyt Nostalgia & Super Metsä, www.kevytnostalgia.org) pairs material from a gig with a freshly completed studio effort. As with the quartet’s preceding release, the unexpectedly loose and relatively understated Guillotine (Ektro, 2003), this vinyl-only collection nearly ignores the group’s patented approach, in which king-size instruments reiterate the same simple phrase for ungodly durations of time. (Pharaoh Overlord has since appropriated that strategy and milked it dry.) Having reinvented itself, Circle continues its plunge into deliberately hazy, improvised murk while exhibiting increased confidence in its new skin.

Taken from a November ’03 performance, Golem is the loftier, more enigmatic of these difficult but fascinating twins. Individual notes and chords blur into a thundering, echoing tide pulled by the crosscurrents of Leppänen’s precise beats, but his tireless hands steer the set well to the left of ambient anonymity. Every so often, the waters part for the introduction of graspable motifs conveyed via Mika Rättö’s intergalactic Fender Rhodes or through various members‚ wordless vocal delirium, which occasionally summons Satan himself. A dreamlike, oceanic quality pervades the misleadingly dubbed confusion-fests “At War with Mercy” and “True Incubus from Beyond.” If you cock your ear, you can practically hear a guffawing Lehtisalo falling off his barstool while he’s thinking up these preposterous utterances.

The brighter, less titanic Vesiliirto serves its freestyle madness in comparatively digestible portions that flirt with far-out jazz, prog and folk idioms. Tight, dizzying rhythms trip on retro organ percolations, space-age synth whooshes, wandering acoustic passages and a snuff film’s worth of distant yelps and cryptic conversations. Circle has reassembled the dottiest components of its trademark sound into unencumbered jams packed with strangeness and disease – the audio equivalent of a funhouse mirror.

Clocking in at 84:38, Golem/Vesiliirto is both a risky investment for neophytes and a puzzling treat for serious fans. Indulgent, nebulous, excessive, provocative, ambitious, complicated, gorgeous and totally wild are all accurate descriptions for this exhaustive package. Safe, predictable and boring, however, are not.

By Jordan N. Mamone

Read More

View all articles by Jordan N. Mamone

Find out more about Last Visible Dog

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.