Keyboardist Jamie Saft, guitarist Joe Morris, bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Balazs Pandi bring merciless new meaning to the phrase "heavy rock quartet." Saft and Morris first met at the New England Conservatory twenty years ago; Saft and Pani are bandmates in Metallic Taste of Blood; and Saft has worked with Dunn on several projects led by John Zorn
. Other bands with whom individual Pups have collaborated include Bad Brains, Beastie Boys, Mr. Bungle and The Melvins.Black Aces
was entirely improvised in the studio. "No element was predetermined," Saft explains. "I was a dedicated student of Joe Maneri
's in Boston back in the day and learned from him about the concept of 'snake time.' Joe calls it 'glacial time feel.' Essentially, it's a space in which time is felt and understood by all the players but does not need to be stated overtly. Everyone is experiencing pulse but the obvious modes of marking it are subverted and the focus goes to the larger arc of the music. It's a non-detail oriented approach to improvising where form reveals itself."
"Basalt" serves this mercurial form in a neat three-minute chunk, through which Morris' guitar burns as white-hot as John McLaughlin
stoking The Inner Mounting Flame
(Columbia, 1971). "I've always thought Joe's guitar playing was wholly original and I wanted to try to feature that in some different, more aggressive contexts," Saft says. "I thought metal, hardcore and grindcore styles as a rhythmic underpinning to micro-tonal avant blues-rock would feature Joe's guitar beautifully."
After opening with a grinding metallic sound as genuinely nasty as its title suggests, "Taint of Satan" settles down into clearly measured 4/4 heavy metal (emphasis on HEAVY) time that bassist Dunn and drummer Pandi stomp out with a violence matched by Saft's keyboard and Morris' guitar. It culminates in a sprint where each individual instrumental voice truly submerges into a swirling, howling whole that first disintegrates, and then falls to silence.
"Balazs is an avid grindcore and metal afficianado but he also improvises, and that is a rare breedsomeone who can play hard and fast, play blast beats, but also have the sensitivity to react and be unpredictable; direct and/or accompany improvisations," Saft explains. "Most guys who play metal can't get out of the square auto-pilot zone, which makes Balazs the exception." Black Aces
opens with the 27-minute "Accuser," which seems to break up into three nine-minute storms. Pandi's drum tumult together with Morris' scalding guitar runs repeatedly suggest the breakdown of a Led Zeppelin
electric blues, while Saft on organ serves up both counterpoint and accompaniment to Morris' screaming guitar, all climaxing and ending in a literal musical riot. As its opening track, "Accuser" will either pull you into, or chase you away from, Black Aces