In this Mini Reviews Special Edition we focus exclusively on albums released by the No Name record label.
Based in Moscow, Russia, this label (with no name or logo), describes itself as an "eclectic label" releasing very different music: psychedelic rock, stoner, prog, doom, sludge, ambient, electronic, musique concrète, jazz punk and hard rock.
Making a joke on so many bands and labels calling themselves "independent", they thought of using the opposite, "dependent", which from Russian also translates to "addicted" and also sounds so much cooler. Hence the "addicted No Name label"!
The label began in 2011 with the aim of supporting independent music. It currently supports 22 different bands.
This special edition covers just a handful of their albums released since 2011. Ones that we feel DPRP readers may be most interested in. However there is such a wide range of music on offer, that those who enjoy exploring the greyer edges of what is known as "progressive music" may find much of interest, either through the label's Bandcamp page or via their YouTube channel. More information can also be found on the label's Facebook page.
Detieti - Frogressive Punk
And now for something completely different. Frogressive Punk, the third studio release by Detieti is not for the faint-hearted. Judging by the cover, one might expect progressive rock with a psychedelic twist, but this is so much more complex and out of this world; think Frank Zappa on steroids, acid and mushrooms altogether.
Musically, this is difficult to pinpoint towards a single style, as in fact it is the complete opposite. Each song has many mood-swings, rhythm-changes and neuroticisms, and one is left bewildered and baffled once you have taken the whole album in. Ska, reggae, polka, heavy metal, ambient, jazz, blues and quirky eclectic prog.
It’s one hell of a rollercoaster-ride and a bit too much for my taste. Recognising song-structures is virtually impossible and most tracks seem to follow the idea of Monty Python, offering improvised absurdity in no particular order, resulting in a complex landscape where one can trip-out freely. Vocals are mainly used in the form of screams, shouts or strange noises like chickens, and all kinds of added instrumentation add a layer of weirdness and schizophrenia to the music.
Influences are infinite, mostly ranging from funk (Living Colour, Red Hot Chili Peppers), fusion (Ozric Tentacles), psychedelic space-rock (Hawkwind, The Bevis Frond), heavy trash metal (Sepultura) and heavy stoner-rock like Black Sabbath. But the list goes on and on. Progressive fits the overall style of music, but personally I would like it more toned down. Less Monty Python, more Fawlty Towers. Intrigued? Check out the link to see if the groove is for you.
The Flash Fever - The Flash Fever II
The Flash Fever is a quartet hailing from Saint Petersburg. Their own description is "hard fuzz psychodelic [sic] rock". That description raised my interest. I know the psychedelic part can be quite diverse in interpretation. The word "psychedelic" is used to cover many things from slow stoner rock to The Beach Boys to heavy blues with an emphasis on the Hammond.
This album is a mixed offering. Songs like Set Me Free, Heartbreaker, Ain't Easy, and (I'll Be) Your Lion are melodic rock, towards the heavy end, still more diverse than AOR. I had to think of Dutch Sleeze Beeze for the first couple of tracks, the others have a bit of the Canadian band Prism or BTO.
But then came a song like No Way, which is more in line with Kula Shaker. Saturday Will Kill You and Gun are wonderful, slow and dirty psych blues songs like Steppenwolf when mixed with The Doors. Aint' Easy and especially Getting High are a hats-off to DeWolff. The album closer, Without You, is surprising, like Kula Shaker are jamming with the Beach Boys or early Pink Floyd. A little too happy for my taste for psychedelic music.
For the soloing, the guitar is the main instrument, the organ, save a few exceptions, is used for that psychedelic tapestry. This album has a good and clear production and mix. I am interested to hear their first album!
Four Vicious Walls - Secrets of Shambhala. The Beginning.
Their own description mentions elements of progressive rock, post-rock, post-metal, prog-metal, math-rock, djent. Part of that appeals to me, so got me interested. It is instrumental too! This is their first release, from 2014. A long EP or a short album, whatever you like.
The description is apt. The opening track is a remarkably varied composition with different prog styles. The math/djent appears in Through Axis, but only briefly, before it takes a prog-metal turn with good riffing and a lovely groove. Composition over solos, but still melodic.
The title track and Mirs-Pirs fit the math or djent sub-genre the most. Zappa-esque tricks and licks, Dream Theater (during the second half of the 1990s) riffing, but that, to my taste, is where music is losing its warmth. The closing track is my favourite, with more elements of post-rock and its soaring melody.
This has some very well performed, good and varied compositions, and good production. If the heavy and more technical side of prog interests you, have a listen. Their second (bandcamp) release was from mid 2015 and very short and there have been no recent posts on their Facebook page. Pity as I think this band could get a lot of attention if they release a full album.
The Grand Astoria - Death March EP
The Grand Astoria - Punkadelia Supreme
The Grand Astoria - La Belle Epoque
The Grand Astoria bills themselves as "an experimental, heavy, psychedelic unit". They hail from the amazing Russian metropolis of St.Petersburg under the command of singer/songwriter Kamille Sharapodinov. The band has been exuberantly prolific. So much so, that it is near-impossible to put an exact numeric heading to reconcile their various albums, singles, EPs, collaborations, demos, bootlegs and live releases since the formation of the band in April 2009.
They have played well over 300 shows across Europe and Russia with an ever-expanding repertoire that encapsulates elements of heavy metal, stoner, classic prog, psyche, space rock, fuzz grunge and even acoustic folk. A glance at their Bandcamp page will give one an idea of their discographic reach.
Here at DPRP we have previously covered just three of these releases. We began back in 2010 with one of their earliest offerings entitled II. That review was followed in 2012 by a critique of omnipresence and most recently by a 2016 appraisal of The Mighty Few.
Intrigued by one judgement that described the music of The Grand Astoria as "tripped-out psychedelic fuzz rock having sex with heavy metal", I thought it would be worth delving into three more selections from their back catalogue.
From 2013 The Death March EP is a showcase for the band's stoner and doom leanings. There are other elements but they add more in the way of detail than essence for the five tracks. It is the heaviest and most focused of these three releases.
Released in the same year, as the title suggests, Punkadelia Supreme offers an emphasis on the punkier side of the band's influences. Of the three albums, it is the one I have found hardest to connect to, largely due to my distaste for low-fi production values and that couldn't-give-a-fuck punk guitar trashiness. The title track merges a certain avant flair within its punkiness to good effect, whilst both the gentler I Know and the more focused construction of Dropping Aitches also hold appeal. The rest is too messy for me.
The best of the bunch is La Belle Epoque where the band attempts a wide-ranging songwriting style that merges all of their diverse influences around a core of stoner rock. It is impressively diverse but the ever-changing musical flow works a treat. To give you an idea of the diversity, here are a few highlights.
The Answer chills with an American country, plucked guitar and flute, whilst Henry's Got A Gun conjures a wonderful interlude of a sleeze-infused bluesy guitar solo and some fine 70s psych harmonies. Gravity Bong is pure pop rock stoner-style, whilst the title track begins as a hippy-trip hash-Rush (think a tripped-out Farewell To Kings) before turning a corner into its second half of electro fuzz. The long-form Serpent And The Garden Of Eden is a fine slab of stoner-psyche with high energy vocals that mirror those of Ghost. This song features a lovely evolution into a second half of avant blues from the Siena Root school of rock.
The Grand Astoria, Montenegro - Grand Astoria, Montenegro
This EP is split into two tracks. The first by The Grand Astoria and the second by Montenegro.
The Grand Astoria is from Russia and provide a blend of jazzy, psychedelic, doomy hard rock and specialise in lengthy tracks, this one in particular being a full 29 minutes long! As expected, there is a lot of build up. Utilising simplistic repetition, it builds for around 12 minutes, but it doesn’t feel that long before the vocals and doom-laden riffs kick in.
The track ebbs and flows, mixing riffs with psychedelic experimentation and atmosphere. All in all, an interesting journey into the band and a good representation of their work.
Montenegro were born in Argentina, also playing a blend of experimental psychedelic rock. This track kicks in with a bass-heavy rhythm, before some jazzy/psychedelic leads come in to help the atmosphere grow.
The track has a similar kind of atmospheric-psychedelic feel as the previous, however it has less of the doomy riffs and more of the jazzy feel to it. This one as well takes you through a mix of styles, all melding together into another showcase of how psychedelia, prog and hard rock can mesh together.
Spaceking - The Piper At The Gates Of Stone
Another band from Saint Petersburg. Their description mentions stoner metal and progressive rock. And while it's not in their description, I think that a "psychedelic" tag fits this band more than many of the others I have heard on the No Name label. The title of this album hints towards that, while their debut album, entitled In The Court Of The Space King is a nod to their progressive interests.
The stoner part fortunately is of the metal type, definitely not doom. This album offers a great mix of distorted stoner riffing, post-rock guitar layers, and psychedelic wah-wah solos, alternating in progressive ways. Some bits are like a modern-day heavy Hawkwind, some psychedelic parts sound like Swedish band Yuri Gagarin, the post-rock is not unlike pg.lost. There is the power and darkness of Alice In Chains and Black Sabbath.
Metamorph is a good name, with its different styles. The melodic guitar solo had me close my eyes to enjoy the music properly. The title track is heavier, the last track less so, but all are tracks possess lots of variation and breaks.
The production and sound is more in the stoner metal style. For a slightly more varied sound, I hope the sound of the drums can be recorded better.
To my taste, this is the best album on the label that I have listened to. A band to keep an eye on, and I will definitely buy the other albums. I suggest they release a physical CD or, as is quite popular in this style, an LP, and start touring countries like Poland, Germany, and Holland, like many of their genre-mates.