Whether it’s the brooding ambience, their sprawling, sludgy blues or the reference to medieval anti-personnel device, Chapel Hill’s Caltrop just sounds like a band with ill intent. On their debut full-length release World Class, the sheer physicality induced by the barrage of imposing seven-plus minute tracks makes the pit at their live sets a treacherous place. Caltrop chugs along with doomy distortion on songs like “Junn Horde” and “The Phlogiston Command” is in excellent contrast against the reverberating psychedelia of “Bloodroot” and “Slice-O-Lator.” Credit the versatility of lead guitarist Adam Nolton with providing the perfect foil against vocalist/ rhythm guitarist Sam Taylor’s hulking underpinnings. The album’s best performance, and also its most understated, comes from drummer John Crouch, who might have a place among the great drummers of contemporary metal.
If Chapel Hill quartet Caltrop has a weakness, it's one of audience perception, something that's well beyond the control of any such upstart. On the band's long-anticipated first full-length, World Class, the riffs and rhythms explore the turbocharge and high volume of metal, and—averaging just under seven minutes each—these seven tracks speak to obsession with both size and stamina. Frontman Sam Taylor raises his voice, lifting laments with an ireful semi-shout. But for its jazz-conscious thematic variations and stainless, piercing electric blues leads, much of what makes World Class so impressive also runs the risk of sounding thin or passé to metal fans in 2008. It's less crusty or evil or sludgy than surefooted and dynamic and bright.
If Caltrop has a salvation, though, it's the current uprising of righteous, metal-oriented acts roaring forth from the South. From the resurgence of Athens' Harvey Milk and the acceptance of Savannah's Baroness to the polish of Miami's Torche and the promise of Durham's Tooth, the top class of the region's recent cadre of heavy acts is united in unhinged imaginations and rangy eclecticism. Though Caltrop only shares superficially with those bands, such acceptance could pull Caltrop ahead of the heap. At least let's hope that's the fate of Caltrop and its World Class, arguably the best full-length album released by any band in this state this year. With a familiar cast of carpenters and tools (there's nothing new about two guitars, bass and drums) working through familiar plans (especially playing razor-sharp guitar leads and ferocious rhythms), Caltrop rebuilds blues-based heavy metal with big eyes focused through ambition and musical maneuvers carved in perfection. Masterfully executed and vividly captured in Carrboro by Brian Paulson at Track & Field Studios, World Class' impressive stature meets—nay, squashes—my quite sizeable expectations.
What's most impressive about the Caltrop of World Class is its uniform excellence, or the feeling that everything belongs right here. Despite three tracks that break the eight-minute mark, there's surprisingly little upstaging or unnecessary showmanship. On an album of generous leads and solos, Caltrop's efficiency as a band is remarkable, from the flip between tube-amp drone and lock-time throb on "Bloodroot" to the several shifts between headlong march and circuitous wind-ups on "Slice-O-Lator." The spellbinding "Junn Horde" splits its Slint-eats-speakers spoils equitably: Like a prophetic bluesman stopping at the wrong roadhouse on the right night, Taylor assails the hawks from below: "Life is so fine and beautiful/ You destroy in war." Bassist Murat Dirlik takes a brief lead, but he mostly motions through dark, distorted waves, letting the excellent, opposed guitars of Taylor and Adam Nolton hulk and pirouette at will. "Ascendant"—a nine-minute epitome of ambition and execution—ladders up and down a laser-thin, nine-note riff, eventually aiming itself upward like a phoenix as Dirlik and drummer John Crouch motion through a see-saw of tension.
Of particular note, though, is Crouch, who accomplishes so much so subtly here. He fills the pockets with deep kick blasts and pervasive ride cymbal textures, allowing himself space to duck the timekeeper role long enough to add flourishes without losing momentum or—consistent with that aforementioned Caltrop cohesion—spotlight his own maneuvers. His accents, like his distended fills on "Ascendant," highlight the band's melodic movement at large. When he speeds ahead and pulls behind the rhythm on opener "Bad Wolf Good Wolf," his supplements remain both understated and locomotive. On closer "With a Fire in the Middle," he taps and rolls patiently beneath the guitars as they grind a theme into a matrix of repetition and feedback. That steady end offers an ellipsis as a stride piano eclipses the band. You can imagine Crouch and Caltrop hovering nearby in the dark, poised for the next strike after such a perfect first blow.
Caltrop’s heavy and (very) loud sound is propelled foremost by lead guitarist Adam Nolton’s scalpel-precise shredding. He slings melodies through bottom-heavy riffage as if his strings were taking flight—nowhere more so than on the blazing instrumental, “Sliceolator,” where his guitar wails with conviction over a rhythmic base as crushing as a giant’s footsteps. But calling this band metal isn’t quite fitting. The whole of Caltrop is far more nuanced than just heavy, loud, riff-based rock. Sam Taylor’s voice brings a weighty blues moan to the mix, and Nolton’s passages evoke emotions much more complex than blind rage. The two play off each other on “Bad Wolf Good Wolf,” Taylor gasping, “I saw you staring inside of yourself” between plunging rhythmic throbs, while Nolton’s fills scream upward like damned souls fighting their way out from the abyss. Taylor’s pained vocals put desperation in the song, lifting (if only slightly) with the resolution “I’m gonna feed my good wolf” before Nolton’s solo launches the song out of its despair, changing the tides and offering the potential for a positive outcome. It’s the unstoppable rhythm section of John Crouch and Murat Dirlik that creates the bulk of Caltrop’s hulking mass, keeping the turbulence in “Bad Wolf Good Wolf”’s internal struggle churning to a froth. “With A Fire In The Middle”—which the band says is influenced by reggae—gives Nolton a slowly winding passage as Taylor’s voice climbs over the craggy rhythms. It’s by far the most overtly melodic track, though it builds over its eight-and-a-half minutes to a thick mess of downtuned riffs pierced by feedback and haunted parlor-room piano. But even with such diversity, Caltrop has its sound locked in, making this 7-track, 49-minute debut a cohesive effort that rewards listeners every time they pan for the gold sprinkled through the record’s torrential rush.
Next stop must be at the debut EP from the very fine quartet Caltrop, who hail from Chapel Hill in North Carolina. Now, I’m not even sure of the status of this 27-minute release, but its very singular fucking excellence emanates in a kind of Scando-proto-metal meets early Ramasses kind of way and fugs up the room in a manner that demands repeated listenings. Check them out at www.myspace/caltropband, and be sure to listen all the way through, because these gentlemen unfold into areas only the most confident of motherfuckers dare take their shit. And while the drumming is truly something else, the hugely varied guitar playing sways from bilious, cyclical twin lead riffology to ‘Eruption’-style Edward Van Halen-isms of the highest quality. Best of all, these subversives take their name from one of the most vilely-conceived guerrilla warfare weapons ever invented. Yowzah!
North Carolina is a hot bed of sorts for a vast amount of music these days. Caltrop's recent self-released 4-song demo pulls from an array of influences that expand well beyond the region to create something which is not only unique but a rather pleasant surprise. Whenever a clearly DIY CD arrives it generally means one of two things: it is either a shoddy attempt at music and the sound follows the packaging or the band simply focused on the writing the music and due to lack of funds (like every indie band) simply put out an album on a shoestring budget. Luckily, Caltrop falls in the latter category.
Opening track "Dr. Motherf* cker" is an experience in epic, doom-laden dissonance. From the tortured screams of Sam Taylor to the pounding bass lines of Murat Dirlik, the band trenches onward, clear and concise each step of the way. Throughout the album you'll hear ambient shredding and spacey overtones of guitar guru Adam Nolton, who concisely sets a doomy, sludge-filled atmosphere. The biggest surprise comes from drummer Jason Alward, who is unmistakable in his presentment. From furious rhythms to driving rock'n'roll beats, he controls the charge at whatever tempo is deemed necessary.
For a debut I can certainly say that Caltrop is heading in the right direction. Now to pinpoint the said direction may be a bit more difficult, but nonetheless they are forging onward. With a new recording planned in the spring I can say to keep your ears open for their next album. In the meantime I would urge fans of doomy, dissonant rock to experience this great little demo. Caltrop needs to be played loud so you can feel it... so forget the neighbors, take 27 minutes out of your life and crank it up!
The word on this Caltrop four-track: It's a demo recorded by Mark Messings in Chicago in September that turned out so well when it was peeled off of Nick Peterson's mixing board at Polyphonic Studios in Chapel Hill, the band decided to self-release it as an EP, artwork done by bassist Murat Dirlik and vocalist Sam Taylor.
The better word on the eponymous debut: Thankfully. Caltrop's entrée combines the belief that passion can't be conveyed in 1/64th notes, but that metal--sludgy, dynamic and heavy, maybe like The Melvins, certainly like Sleep--can tell it exactly like it is.
Consider Sam Taylor's vocals on "What in Life That is Worth," a quotidian agro-number written by a guy who has stretched himself too thin and whose day job is killing his life's real work a bit more each day. "My mind is pain. And some things astound me," whelps Taylor, sounding like Slint's Brian McMahon, fighting for air and energy. Dueling hammer-on/off, high-end guitars disappear and reappear beneath the record's easiest drum trot, courtesy of Jason Aylward, who shines here. Adam Nolton's guitar sails out for a solo five minutes in, channeling the break in "Whole Lotta Love" with its insistence on writhing around in serpentine solitude. Without warning, those tones invert, bass and drums plummet, and Taylor is done complaining. Now, he is here to take what is his.
"Where are my rights? I've paid my dues. Is it a matter of funding?" he screams at the six-minute mark, a High on Fire enormity crashing down through overdriven guitars and Aylward's rolls and carefully shifting time signatures. It's a revelation, a moment where our protagonist will either succumb or succeed.
This is the most cathartic thing that anyone in this band--which includes members of The Ladderback, Continent, Valient Thorr, Kerbloki, Pegasus and El Sucio--has released to date. And, for reiteration, it's their debut. Thrilling.
Recorded back in the dark-thronged years of 2005, this do-it-yourself, at times Sabbathy sludge might be the industrial juggernaut of the windy city come to life in giant sloth riffage. Imagine the southside slums rearing up in slowly twisting anger and molten revenge, one almost mythic (I mean, heck, the band is named after an old metal weapon that soldiers slugged, also known as a star nail) and otherwordly, and this might be the slow, undulating soundtrack. Are they even from Chicago? Who knows? Only the lord of the underground. Well, at least the songs were recorded in such a murky place. With odd timing and vocals that are not drenched in terror-noise howls (in fact, the third song [all untitled, and this clocking in at 10:00 minutes!] sounds surprisingly like the off key throb vocals of Pavement being wounded and encircled by guitar work resembling early Thin Lizzy…what a blend). Overall, though, this commingling of old-school space rock and current stoner-isms makes for a good companion to the likes of Nebula and Totimoshi in your CD player longing for something with muscled style and finesse.
Wow, man. Caltrop’s bio just blew my mind. “Caltrop is a collaborative writing experience that involves the interpretation of perspective without ascendancy”, says here. Yikes. No wonder you need guys like me, to decipher statements like that. What North Carolina’s Caltrop have to offer you, besides ascendancy, are four languorous stoner-doom tracks full of rolling-down-the-mountain mudriffs and a general sense of floating in a lake of tasty syrup. Possibly pancake. There’s little in the way of vox, giving 10 minute work-outs like….fuck, whatever the 10 minute song is called…enough room to grow legs and lumber around on it’s own, like a tree stump monster. Which may, at the end of the day, be the very definition of ascendancy. So I guess they were right all along. Heavy shit, brotha.
Caltrop, Tiger Bear Wolf, Building the State @ Reservoir
Caltrop is the best metal band in North Carolina right now. Well-educated in the school of Sabbath, the Chapel Hill four-piece exhibits caustic riffage allying Sleep, the mathematical prowess of Karp and a brute force comparable to the heydays of Harvey Milk, but with zero shortage of originality. Grooving between beautiful and bloodthirsty, this band is a true triumph in Southern sludge. 10 p.m. —RI
from The Independent Weekly November 8, 2006
Totimoshi, Caltrop @ Wetlands
As relation to Matt Pike goes, Oakland's Totimoshi is more High on Fire than Sleep, though the three-piece's variable assault on blistering instrumentals and ragged, trebly solos inching over scabrous, doped guitars certainly calls the originals to mind. Still, frontman Tony Aguilar seems to be more into concision and comprehension than his Bay progenitors. Caltrop, one of the Triangle's most capably heavy metal bands, need to make a record: Their debut EP grafts Slint shifts to Sleep sprawl to Shellac stiffness in an unimaginably perfect way. Throttlerod opens. Tonight is for the heavy. $8/ 9:30 p.m. —GC
from The Independent Weekly October 25, 2006
Hex Machine, Cough, Caltrop @ Nightlight
This is a somewhat late show, as it will commence after the weekly Nightlight Monday Night Trivia. It's also an indisputably Heavy show; Caltrop are, near as I can tell, the heaviest band in the Triangle, with absurdly sludgy & unstoppable riffs. Stand near the door; you'll want a clear escape route when the roof caves in.
from Trianglerock.com (Ross Grady) Monday September 25, 2006
Year Future, Caltrop @ Wetlands
Year Future is one of the most promising bands to emerge on Gold Standard Laboratories in years, their Fugazi and Sonic Youth inspirations filled with an immediacy that few bands rolling through that Los Angeles syndicate possess anymore. They're dangerous and disdainful, noisy post-punks whose abrasive ambition lacks an incumbent fear of failure. Caltrop--getting High on Fire while wearing a Sabbath T-shirt with a ZOSO patch--is purely unfuckwithable. Not to be missed. $6/10 p.m. --GC