Monday, January 10, 2011

Ape Machine – This House has Been Condemned

“Mister Peabody, the controls have been set on the Way-back machine.”

“Excellent, Sherman.  What year have you set the date for?”

“1971, sir.  That’s when rock and roll really exploded into something heavy. Proto-metal came about with bands like Sabbath, Toad, Bang, Alice Cooper, and Blues Creation.”

“Perfect, Sherman.  Then make haste.  Rush us back to the days of the dawning of the heavy!”

A button is pushed.  The Way-back machine’s lights flash, sirens wail.

But something unexpected happens.

Rather than sending our intrepid rock adventurers back to 1971, the machine’s controls have been manipulated.  In a massive time-meld of Einstein-ian proportions, dimensions fuse, time warps, decades overlap, and without warning, the year 1971 is brought forward to the present, falling in perfect synchronicity with 2011.  40 years flashes without missing a beat.

And the music they’re listening to is Ape Machine.

It isn’t often that an album will make my top 10 list for the year when I haven’t even reviewed it.  But This House Has Been Condemned has.   And for good reason.  This album is a monster of retro-fueled, bell-bottomed, Zep-rock.

In truth, I blame Ape Machine for the massive delay in this review coming.  If they hadn’t recorded an album of such depth and warmth, performed it with such musicianship, crafted it with such Gods-of-rock perfection and a hefty set of Jimmy Page-sized balls, I’d a written this review a long time go.

But they did, and it took me this long to wrap my head around this organic blitzkrieg of modern proto-metal.   It took this long for each layer to unwrap within my skull, each riff to take root in my inner ear, each nuance to be fully digested.

Simply put, This House Has Been Condemned is one helluva album and Ape Machine is one helluva band.

Coming from Portland, this 5 piece takes all the right tones from that glorious year of early rock, infuse it with a modern sensibility, churn it up in an electric blender hooked up to an analogue tape machine, put it on frappe, and pour out one tasty, frothy concoction of legendary-inspired rock.  Quite a few bands delve into these fertile fields, but only a few can pull it off with such ease.  Most get caught up in posturing and watered down riffs stolen from dad's record collection, like The Answer.  Not Ape Machine.  These guys live it, they breathe it, they are it.

I haven’t been this caught up in an album since the reissue of Siena Root’s debut and that's a good launching point for thinking about these guys.  Think of Ape Machine as a Siena Root without the deepness of the Purple influence, or a heavier, less-stoned Dead Man, or a just-as-heavy-but-less-progressive Kamchatka.   If any of these bands ring your bell, then you gotta check Ape Machine out.  Think of them as a rock and roll band with a finger on the pulse of the 70’s and their asses firmly in the present.  Real heavy-psych for the iPhone generation.  True guts and glory rock and roll.

“Under Your Skin,” kicks the affair off with a charging proto-metal riff of such epic proportions it must've been handed down by Sir Lord Baltimore from the top of the Mountain and handed directly to Lucifer's Friend. After a rocket-fire drum attack, the riff is propelled on the backbone of Brian True’s bass.  Ian Watts and Jimi Miller explode in flourishes of incendiary electric guitar while Monte Fuller holds the anchor that keeps this song from floating off in a THC-induced haze.   Then comes Caleb Heinze, who brings a Robert Plant swagger to the proceedings, in spirit and confidence, if not in the wail.  Caleb has a voice that sounds like it came directly from the early ‘70’s from the tone to the phrasing.   He's not trying to sing like the singers from the 70's, he is from the '70's, a beneficiary of our Way-back Machine mishap.  As with the rest of the guys, there’s no pretending here, this is real.

As the song whips through its motoring riffs, bluesy inflections, and shooting leads, the band demonstrates one of their most remarkable traits.  Rather than let the adrenaline let the song burnout in a frenzy of hypercharged playing, the guys know nuance.  Suddenly, they let it all drop away.  A “Whole Lotta Love”-styled feedback-and-vocal drenched interlude gives way to a jazzy passage of tom drums, percolating bass, and fusion-minded guitars.   Not a lot of bands would give a song so ferocious as “Under Your Skin” this much space to breathe, but Ape Machine pull it off effortlessly, dropping right back into the main riff with a minute left to go.  The whole thing just evolves so organically, so naturally, with such a feeling of live spontaneity and free form (yet structured) jamming.  Everything you need to know about the band is right there.

I’ve seen the band called stoner rock, but I couldn’t disagree more.  They don’t have any of the redundant pounding of most stoner bands or a big wall of fuzz and feedback. Ape Machine are the return of true festival-worthy, '70's arena rock. 

“Monte Malady,” is even more of a beast, riding out on a riff pinched from any number of 1971’s proto-metal, blues-ified purveyors.   Heinze and the the band as a whole really let their early Zep influence show here, and I mean that in a tone, bluesy, and ballsy sort of way, not a glammed up, dumbed-down “Coverdale/Whitesnake/Tawny Kitaen/Here I Go Again” kinda way.  Check out out Heinze’s Plant-esque vocal phrasing during the song’s ending a Capella parts.  Right before the mean guitars tear on in and rip the ending to pieces.  These guys leave eat and breathe the spirit of early ‘70’s rock.   There’s just nothing forced, trendy, or retro about them. 

The rest of the album is just as strong, but I'll leave that for your exploration.

It’s always tempting to try and pick out a group’s influences, but it’s really not necessary here. This House Has Been Condemned bleeds droplets of ‘70’s blood which I’m sure hints towards the depth of these cats’ record collections.  The end result is a monolith of heavy, blues-infested jam rock that feels timeless in its execution.   An infinitely listenable album.

"Mr.Peabody, it looks like our experiment didn't turn out as we'd planned."

"That's right, Sherman.  It's even better.  Rock isn't dead.  Even in this day and age of over-produced, iTune-downloaded, fill-the-masses with quantity not quality- musical pap, the spirit of those heady days of real rock and roll still lives."


buy here: This House Has Been Condemned


Mighty High said...

Oh my! I need to investigate this pronto.

Penfold said...

Goodness Gracious Sakes Alive! Class is now in session! Seriously, we're not worthy...we're not worthy. Honestly, I sense that a game of one-upsmanship has just concluded, and the victor has been declared. Righteous review! Oh, and fantastic tunes too!

Larsen E. Whipsnade said...

Ape Machine RAWK!

My only complaint is they're still stuck in shitty clubs between indie rock bands, playing 45 minute shows.

What I really want is to see them alone on a bill, playing five sets, ending at dawn!

No wait, what I REALLY want is to see them play 24-hour marathon shows in the English countryside, like next to Stonehenge, with shit-tons of pretty girls with daisies in their hair all over the place, nekkid. Plus some druids and a few leprechauns.

THAT would be cool.

The Ripple Effect said...


I hear ya man! I hear ya! It hurts to have great rock relegated to the back of the bar, but I think it's coming man. We feel it here at the Ripple. Real rock is making a comeback!

Stay tuned, and thanks for being a waverider!

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