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Taman Shud
Viper Smoke Joe Banks , January 19th, 2015 16:31

Here's something to blast through the psychic fug and grim realities of the new year. Taman Shud describe themselves as "a magical weapon against tedium", which is a brilliant encapsulation of the part-visceral, part-mystical experience that music at its best can create. And their debut album Viper Smoke more than lives up to that description. In sonic terms, it's a compellingly dense take on garage punk and 80s post-hardcore, with songs alternating between breakneck rockers and psychedelic death marches. But if you buy into their wider vision (which I'm happy to do), it's also a relentless trip through incense-fogged chambers beneath the flagstones of ruined temples.

The language and imagery of the occult play an important role in the world of Taman Shud. Judging by their general demeanour, I think it's unlikely they're going to be burning down your local church any time soon. Instead, they've talked about the band being a defensive talisman against corporate office culture and the banalities of modern life. And while they're hardly the first bunch of young metropolitans looking to stick it to the Man by making an unholy racket, this arcane strategy of resistance imbues their music with a malign intelligence, the feeling of a hidden design waiting to be revealed.

What's also impressive is the way in which they've quickly established a powerful and distinctive group sound defined by a twin bass assault, needling Eastern-tinged guitar, simple but hypnotic Farfisa-esque organ, and invocatory, massively-reverbed vocals. And while they rarely stray from this template on Viper Smoke, there's enough latitude within the sound, even at its gnarliest, to keep things interesting over 40 minutes.

'The Hissing Priest's Remains' begins the album as it means to go on; the grinding bass riff and distorted chant of the voice creating a wall of black noise against which a vaguely exotic guitar refrain adds a hint of colour. Meanwhile, there's a dizzy, sickly keyboard struggling to make itself heard, as though someone's left a Suicide record on playing in the background. 'The Hex Inverted' is in a similar vein, its simple but effective arrangement based around a single verse broken down and then repeated to the point of hysteria. The urgent, panicky guitar recalls the Sonic Youth of Evol and Sister, and by the end, it sounds like the entire band are playing on hot coals.

Elsewhere, some of the more up tempo tracks recall (dare I say) the gothic grot rock of grebo. 'I Tego Dei' and 'Summon The Cursed, Curse The Summoner' in particular raise the drug-addled corpses of Gaye Bykers On Acid and Crazyhead from the dead, while 'Crime Cycle' sounds like Clinic trapped in a lift with the Sisters Of Mercy, its chorus roar of "Goat Fucker!" being one of the album's few distinguishable lyrics.

But it's on the slower tracks that Taman Shud really come into their own. 'The Ziggurat, A Mirage', first heard at the end of 2013 on a split EP with Fat White Family, still remains their crowning achievement thus far. Its deliberate, forbidding drone and beat creates the perfect head-nodding, "heavy, man" vibe, with the ascending guitar and sense of something terrible looming on the horizon putting me in mind of the abject grunge psych of Butthole Surfers. 'Viper Smoke' itself runs it close though, the plunging bass groove and majestic top line like some monstrous imperial parade through a haunted, apocalyptic landscape. Then there's a great waltz time breakdown that leads into the second, more energised section of the song, where the tortured vocals are like something from Walkingseeds' Skullfuck (one of the few credible UK albums contemporary with the original US post-hardcore scene). By contrast, 'Book Of Lies' emits a strange sense of wonder, practically a ballad in these surroundings, before submitting to the magnetic pull of the sacrificial pyre.

The album ends with a pair of instrumentals that maybe indicate an alternate direction for the band as they go forward, both of them crying out for horror films to soundtrack. I can imagine the dread keyboard-driven overture of 'Moonstruck Psychic Violence' (careful now…) playing over the titles of some obscure Hammer or Tigon b-movie, while the howling wind, clanking chains and eerie penny whistle of 'By The Smoke From Below The Lamp Is Kindled Above' (right, that's quite enough) could easily be synched with the opening scenes from The Exorcist.

Viper Smoke is a clarion call to the disaffected to embrace ritual over routine, and the esoteric over the asinine.

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