Interview: Black Cobra

Black Cobra

Black Cobra are guitarist Jason Landrian and drummer Rafael Martinez.

Since coming to university I have been lucky enough to meet people with a vast range of music tastes and loves. Some of the bands I’ve been introduced to have been absolutely terrible, but there have been a few fantastic diamonds in the rough. One such example is Black Cobra, a stunning two piece that put the likes of the White Stripes to shame, with a sound akin to that of being punched in the face repeatedly by Joe Calzaghe. After seeing them at the Underworld in London, I decided to learn a little bit more about Jason Landrian and Rafael Martinez’s pet project.

How did you two form Black Cobra, and what were your aims in doing so?

We formed Black Cobra in 2002. Jason [Landrian, guitarist and vocals] was living in New York and I was living in Los Angeles. We had known each other from Miami Dade Community College in Florida so we kept in touch throughout the years. Our aim was to create music we wanted to hear and play.

I was introduced to you guys via a friend who’s taste in music is anything but accessible. A lot of what he recommends I really struggle to get into, but having listened to Bestial a few times it’s really grown on me. Do you find the accessibility of your music to be a bit of a hinder sometimes, and find that people don’t give you enough of a chance?

It depends, many times people know what genre we are so they have an idea of the nature of our music but other times people find it hard to digest right off the bat. We don’t feel it’s a hindrance at all.

What would you say to those who don’t consider this kind of thing music?


What inspired you to begin making this music? Are there any bands or artists in particular who motivate you personally?

From playing in our previous bands Cavity and -16 –, we were exposed to a certain style of hardcore and metal which had a big impact on our style and approach towards heavy music. Some of the artists that motivate us include Iron Maiden, Harvey Milk, Ennio Moricone, and Jimi Hendrix to name a few.

Jason, how do you manage to coax that bellowing growl out of your vocal chords? Have you ever run into any problems vocal-wise?

It was a lot of experimentation with vocal techniques and it eventually developed into what we have now. No problems as of yet.

For only two members, with just a guitar and a drumkit, you make a shitload of noise. What’s the working relationship between you two like? Is it easier to compose songs with fewer members to dilute the original ideas?

Having only two instruments has challenged us to approach our writing in a more strategic fashion by maximizing the usage of our instruments and the equipment.

‘Sugar Water‘, from their debut full length Bestial.

I’ve also read that, in your early days, you had quite an interesting method of piecing together your songs by emailing riffs to each other. Although I doubt you work like this today, how did you find this method of literally trading off each other? How do you feel it affected the music that came out of it?

It forced us to work at a slower pace than what most bands are used to. We would write the basic structure of some of the songs and we would listen to them sporadically. Here and there we would make changes, with sometimes weeks, of elapsed time before we would continue to work on them. This process was very interesting and also different from anything we had ever been involved with. We don’t feel it hindered the process, in fact it allowed us ample time to make all the necessary changes we wanted until we were satisfied.

You released two albums last year, Bestial and Feather and Stone. Are Black Cobra going to be quite as prolific this year?

Due to our heavy touring schedule we won’t be putting out an album this year.

Black Cobra live

Live, they are an unstoppable force, a show of pure sweat, energy and noise.

You recently came over to the UK supporting The Sword, how did that go?

It was a great experience touring with The Sword and Saviours! We have been there twice before and it’s been getting better and better every time.

Are there any plans to return to the UK in the near future?

We would love to return to the UK this year but as of right now we have no plans. However, we are touring Europe with Saviours in May and June.

As music artists you are intrinsically embroiled into the heated debate over record labels, music piracy and the relevancy of physical media to today’s music buying generation. Have you ever thought about where the music industry is heading as a whole, and does it concern you?

We have witnessed for the past couple years that the world of independent music has been growing consistently. Underground metal specifically has always depended on live shows and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to change anytime soon. We have been able to continue touring because more and more people are showing up at the shows from increased exposure of our music scene.

What are your plans for the future?

To continue touring and releasing albums.

Once again, thanks for letting me pick your brains, and best of luck for the future. I’m hoping to see you guys come back to the UK very soon!

As they said, Black Cobra will be touring around Europe in the next few months, so if you have the chance to go see them then it’s definitely one you do not want to pass up. If you’re a fan of Boris, Goatsnake or the brilliantly named Indomitable Iron Sloth then Black Cobra are sure to be right up your street.

Heard it Yet?: Future of the Left – Curses


Artist: Future of the Left
Album: Curses
Label: Too Pure
Released: 2007

Perhaps one of the few decent things to come out of Wales, Mclusky were a noisy bunch of loudmouth bastards who probably didn’t know how to play their instruments and were absolutely completely full of themselves. It’s just as well then that they were fucking awesome, and came to their demise criminally early.

Since then things have been pretty quiet, and it came as quite a surprise to me that the remaining Mclusky boys, Andrew Falkous and Jack Eggleston had combined forces with ex-Jarcrew member Kelson Mathias and released Future of the Left’s debut album sneakily late last year. Continue reading Heard it Yet?: Future of the Left – Curses

Review: ASHES dIVIDE – Keep Telling Myself It’s Alright

Perhaps most known for his work with Maynard James Keenan of Tool fame in poppy proggy combination band ‘A Perfect Circle’, Billy Howerdel has decided to jump the shark and take on a solo project of his own, maybe inspired by his friend Maynard’s recent foray into the world of solo musicianship, Puscifer.

First things first – ASHES dIVIDE is a terrible name for a project, and is made even worse when you decide to go against the rules of grammar and spell it with extreme capital letters. Add to this the fact that the album title, ‘Keep Telling Myself It’s Alright’ sounds like My Chemical Romance’s next release and the warning bells are immediately ringing louder than a fire alarm in Camden.

One thing is for sure – Howerdel really was the creative force of A Perfect Circle. Each song has that same almost ethereal atmosphere that APC managed to pull off on their two original albums (let’s not talk about that abhorrent cover album – as far as I’m concerned it doesn’t exist) with a labyrinth of meddling guitars and simple drumming that, despite being pretty quiet, manages to pierce through the soundscapes like a hoard of stampeding goats. That’s assuming that goats do stampede.

What is even more interesting to hear is Howerdel’s singing. Despite being looked upon as a guitarist, he does a bloody good job of carrying some interesting and haunting melodies with his voice, without falling into the trap of sounding too whingy or too quiet. He doesn’t quite have the same vocal ability as Maynard, but it came as a pleasant surprise to hear him sing, to the point where I almost took a double take thinking Maynard might have slipped in a cheeky guest appearance.

Despite being a ‘solo’ album, Howerdel also enlists the help of some other musicians, including Maynards son Devo playing the cello.

The first single off the album, ‘The Stone’ is the closest thing to that APC sound that Howerdel can’t seem to completely escape from. It’s rocky, there’s a little guitar solo thrown in and a hypnotic chorus that stands out from the airy vocals used throughout the verses and it all eventually builds to a repeated crescendo which see’s the song end in a rather cliché guitar riff and drum bangs. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it was probably the justification for the sheer unoriginality in this track.

The album itself breezes past you in a flurry of four to five minute songs that successfully becomes blander than a white wall. At least with APC you had a mix of heavy and light tracks to keep you aware that you were listening to an album and not the sound of a light breeze. Furthermore, closer track ‘Sword’ does one of the few things that completely infuriates me. During the previous ten tracks things have been fast and digestiable, which is absolutely fine. But, Howerdel, like the majority of rock bands these days, has seemingly tacked on a longer song with a piano for the sake of closing on an epic. It’s just such a tired idea that only seems to suggest that he himself found the sound of the album all a bit dull, and decided to change things for the finale so as to avoid any bitter tastes left in the listener’s ears.

Howerdel has proven here that he is a very talented musician. He played pretty much everything which is no mean feat, but listening to the album just makes it all sound like a poor man’s A Perfect Circle, and even they were a poor man’s Tool. It’s bland, and gets a little bit boring towards the end, only really livened up by a couple of select tracks near the end. Of all the emotions I’m left feeling, it’s one of disappointment – I feel Howerdel can do much better than this, if he just moved away from the sound of his previous work. Perhaps even, dare I say it, take a risk.

Heard It Yet?: SikTh – The Trees Are Dead and Dried Out, Wait for Something Wild

Artist: SikTh
Album: The Trees Are Dead and Dried Out, Wait for Something Wild
Label: Unparalleled
Released: 2003

When I first heard this album round a friends house, he warned me to prepare myself for one of oddest things I was about to listen to. Back then a lot of my music taste was pretty tame, and when opening track ‘Scent of the Obscene’ began I was absolutely overwhelmed, and if I’m honest somewhat terrified. Continue reading Heard It Yet?: SikTh – The Trees Are Dead and Dried Out, Wait for Something Wild

Review: Frank Turner – Love, Ire & Song

I have to admit, I have a certain fondness for this gentleman. It’s rare that you find an artist who is so passionate and open about his beliefs, and still find a human being underneath. I’ve been looking forward to his new album (most of which was written whilst relentlessly touring) since it was announced a while ago. I was almost in two minds whether to listen to it or not – Sleep is for the Week was a great debut, and I remain a massive fan of Million Dead, so there’s an irrepressible fear that eventually, one day, Frank Turner will run out of ideas.

Don’t fret though – I did listen to it. And then I listened to it again. And again. Some of the stuff was familiar, at least to those keeping track of Turner’s radio performances and a few of his live ones, such as ‘Photosynthesis’ which has been sitting on his Myspace for quite a while now. It’s perfect single material – a catchy, sing-along chorus that is completely adept to his enthusiasm for the audience joining in at a gig, witty lyrics that questions why some people chose to photosynthesize instead of living and that familiar punky, hoarse voice that can come only from Turner.

In fact, on first listen there are quite a few tracks that immediately stand out. Opener ‘I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous’ is another testament to his onlooker personality, standing amongst the people who he is performing for.

Turner is playing a slew of live dates, which can be found on his Myspace.

The title track sums him up perfectly, whimsically rhyming, “Well we’ve been a good few hours drinking/So I’m going to say what everyone’s thinking/If we’re stuck on this ship and it’s sinking/Then we might as well have a parade.” Proof that, despite swapping a microphone and screams for an acoustic guitar, his punk and hardcore attitude still shines through in his words.

However, Turner uses his album to get a few issues close to his heart off his chest, and I’m not talking about politics here. Some of the best tracks on his previous effort were where he poured his heart out into his music, writing honest lyrics about his personal struggles with relationships, or the lack thereof. And once again, the highlight for me on this album is where he strips any ego or persona and writes a heart wrenching song about an event which has rocked his emotional world. ‘Long Live the Queen’ is this song, a succinct three and a half minute long testimony to Lex, a friend of his who sadly lost her battle with cancer. What is most touching about the song is the refusal to hide behind metaphors and clever language tricks, which Frank is more than capable of. He remembers the events, and tells it as it is, which makes it all the more poignant.

Perhaps his greatest talent is his ability to connect to a crowd as a normal human being, struggling through life the same way we all do.

For all his talent, there are a few tracks that struggle to find their place in the album. ‘To Take You Home’ is full of Irish spirit, but it seems to just pass you by as it reaches its plodding conclusion and closer ‘Jet Lag’ is a bit of a disappointment, Turner choosing to go solo on a piano. It all ends on quite a down note, unlike the uplifting end of ‘Sleep is for the Week’ which filled you with a sense of kinsmanship with this one man and his guitar. However, you can’t say that he isn’t trying something different, and if you are in the right mood the closer is a touching reflection on the woes of being away all the time.

This is a really good second effort from Turner, who has been capable of writing clever lyrics for a very long time. However, it almost seems a matter of the best tracks on here putting the others to shame. He is teeming with talent, and with ‘Love, Ire & Song’ Turner has proven that there is still a rich seam still to be mined for the future, and being not one to hang about, he’s surely writing the third album on the tour right at this very moment.

Review: A Silver Mt. Zion – 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons

Formed initially as a side project for three members of the highly regarded Godspeed You! Black Emperor, A Silver Mt. Zion has in recent years become a musical entity of its own, taking the classical and instrumental influences of GY!BE and exploring the brave addition of vocals, and what could be considered a more approachable sound.

The album opens with a series of twelve tracks, each around five seconds short, causing the album to start on track thirteen. Whether this is to tie in with the albums title, or just to annoy iPod owners as suggested in a recent interview Efrim Menuch did with DrownedInSound, the effect immediately demands your attention. They aren’t messing about here.

This, the band’s fifth release showcases a much more confident sound, notably from Efrim who in the past has admitted himself that he finds the role of singer with the group “foolish” and “uncomfortable”. But, from the opening haunting chants of ‘1,000,000 Died to Make This Sound’ there is a certain power from Menuch’s admittedly odd and frail voice that immediately interests you. He certainly isn’t a singer, and if you tend to expect your music to come with clean and clear cut vocals then this certainly will not be for you. But, if you’ve got an open attitude to that kind of passion over power voice, Menuch will be guaranteed to blow you away.

It’s most interesting to note the importance vocals have within the grand scheme of the album. For all its haunting melody, the violins and other traditional instruments do seem to take a back seat in this album, and could really put out fans of Mt Zion’s older sound which was much more akin to the likes of GY!BE and Explosions in the Sky.

Despite only having four full length tracks, the effort clocks in at just over fifty minutes, which is quite a lot of time for only four tracks to cover. Despite the ebb and flow of the album which tends to sway over you as you are listening (this is certainly an album best listened to in the dark with a good pair of headphones) there is a sense of repetition throughout most of the songs. For the most part, this works in the albums favour – the songs manage to bury themselves in your end, and when listening, the use of repeated passages builds up a fantastic atmosphere which concludes in a climatic outburst of music.

The group will be playing the London Scala on the 7th and 8th April, and it should be quite a magic experience.

I’ve commented before on the state of the label ‘post-rock’. Those that can’t get into it will level criticism at it’s tendency to force a point and to drag on a bit. Some just cannot stand the air of pomposity that certainly surrounds bands such as Mt Zion. This is serious music, created by a group of musicians who are deadly serious about what they do. However, I feel this album is a genuine highlight in recent releases. Not only is it enjoyable to listen to straight away, but it is memorable as well, and as much as I like similar bands such as the previously mentioned Explosions in the Sky, I do feel I have to invest a lot of time and effort before I even find myself really enjoying anything fully, let alone keeping it in mind. A Silver Mt. Zion has created an album here that is clearly trying to throw off the shackles of the ‘post-rock’ tag and become something else. This is certainly worth purchasing, and is an encouraging effort from musicians who, some might say, have already created some of the finest music to ever be put to record.

Heard It Yet?: Russian Circles – Enter

Artist: Russian Circles
Album: Enter
Label: Flameshovel
Released: 2006

Enter, Russian Circles. A three piece act from Chicago who, despite only being together since 2004, have already toured with Tool and Isis, achieved critical acclaim for their debut release and are on the brink of releasing their sophomore effort, Station.

Enter begins simply. Carpe fools you into believing the song is over before it all kicks off again, erupting into a final climax that is calmly brought down by the band, before drummer Dave Turncrantz assumes control of the closing, slamming his foot on the bass pedal in a hypnotic thud. Continue reading Heard It Yet?: Russian Circles – Enter

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