Harvey Milk were formed in the 1990s in Georgia by
guitarist Creston Spiers and bassist Stephen Tanner.
Their first album, Harvey Milk (2010), would be released only 16 years
after being recorded in 1994.
My Love Is Higher (Yesha, 1996) is a progressive-metal album that
relies on depressed lyrics, tortured vocals,
evil riffs and majestic drumming.
The eight-minute instrumental ouverture A Small Turn Of Kindness
says it all: after some minimalist repetition a` la Terry Riley and a spastic cello solo,
horror guitar riffs collide with icy drum-beats, and from the friction a
virulent jam with funk-jazz overtones is born.
The lumbering rock'n'roll of 'Where The Bee Sucks There Suck I makes MC5 sound musical (credit the drummer for the sense of derangement).
The rapid-fire metal music of seven-minute Jim's Polish
is so convoluted that it sounds all wrong.
By contrast, a gentle lullaby explodes into a five-second metal riff in the
seven-minute The Anvil Will Fall and then the piece mutates into a
stately orchestral aria, replete with celestial strings and thundering horns,
only to mutate again into a drunk variation of the aria in a heavy-metal context.
My Father's Life's Work is ten minutes of uninterrupted agony, the guitar carving every (sustained) note out of sheer desperation and the vocals groaning incoherently (all in all, a sort of maximization of the blues).
The 13-minute F.S.T.P is even more dilated and disjointed, although
the slow chant always seems on the verge of becoming anthemic.
The dynamics, that alternates continuously between loud and soft volume,
slow and fast pace, brutal and gentle tone, is borrowed
from Type O Negative,
and, above all,
Melvins, but mostly these songs mean-spirited creatures
with no precedents.
Compared with other purveyors of heavy sound, whether Earth or
Sunn O))), Harvey Milk were less repetitive,
less monolithic and a lot more hostile.
All The Live Long Day
Spier's howl well represents their music: it is not only amelodic, it is
truly ugly and unbearable.
Courtesy And Good Will Toward Men (Yesha, 1997 - Tumult, 2000 - Relapse, 2006)
exaggerates all the elements of their music. The result is one long, cruel,
slow agony; a terrifying symphony of pain that matches the peaks of
The long guitar distortion that opens the ten-minute Pinnochio's Example
is an apt metaphor: it eventually evolves into a riff, but it never overcomes
its own inability to articulate beyond that primal sound.
The eleven-minute instrumental My Broken Heart Will Never Mend is a
battlefield (slow martial beats, stately riffs) from which, again, only
weak signals radiate.
True: the other songs are a bit better fleshed out. A gentle strumming
leads to the solemn, galactic jamming and singing of Brown Water,
(only the decibels separate it from the most transcendental Indian music).
The obsessive martial beat of Sunshine No Sun Into the Sun leads into
caverns of dissonance and growls.
The Boy With Bosoms is a sort of Jimi Hendrix-ian meditation.
However, the album remains fundamentally a cryptic black hole from which only
a very blurred radiation radiates.
It is less terrifying than
My Love Is Higher, with pieces that don't quite go for the jugular,
but rather float aimlessly in a strange post-psychedelic space.
The Pleaser (Reproductive, 1998) boasts roaring tracks like
Down, Misery and especially U.S. Force., but it is
mostly an exercise in 1970s imitation. It seems to parody the hard rock of
(Get It Up And Get It On, Lay My Head Down) and
Kiss (Rock And Roll Party) from beginning to end.
This lightweight joke de facto ended their career.
The Singles (Relapse, 2003) summarizes their career.
The Kelly Sessions (Crowd Control Activities, 2004) collects alternate
versions of already-released material.
Anthem (Chunklet, 2006) is a three and a half hour DVD collection of
After a long hiatus, the band returned with
Special Wishes (Megablade, 2006), that included several moments of
pathos (the jam Once In A While, the prog-rock Instrumental,
the power-ballad Old Glory) but overall downplayed the ferocious
edge of the past.
The transition to a new "doom" style was facilitated by the addition of
Joe Preston, Melvin's bassist, on guitar.
The arrangement and dynamics became even more sophisticated on
Life The Best Game in Town (Hydra Head, 2008),
with Creston Spiers' melodramatic vocals and Kyle Spence's apocalyptic
percussion often stealing the show from Joe Preston's guitar.
The stereotypical stoner jam (best exemplified by Decades, whose
backbeat make it sound like a slow-motion remix of
Led Zeppelin's When the Levee Breaks)
got twisted and warped into an almost spiritual experience in pieces such as
the eight-minute Death Goes to the Winner
(with frequent dirge-like pauses and an instrumental break that is simply
a wall of feedback)
and Roses (with its soaring operatic aria).
More references to Led Zeppelin surface in the
frantic guitar phrasing of After All I've Done For You and
in the acrobatic rock'n'roll of Barn Burner.
Standard agonizing Black Sabbath-esque fodder
is only dispensed by Skull Socks & Rope Shoes and
by Goodbye Blues (that
closes with a cartoonish finale, perhaps a self-parody).
The catchy Motown and the rocking numbers
(including a bizarre cover of the Fear's We Destroy the Family)
showed a band capable of a broader range of styles.
A Small Turn Of Human Kindness (Hydra Head, 2010) abandoned any pretense
of art and indulged in the funereal doom that had always been their specialty.
peaking with the rousing (as rousing as doom-metal can be) "I Did Not Call Out".
However, too much was predictable, and in the end the
synth-tinged I Know This is All My Fault and
the mellotron-tinged I Know This Is No Place For You sounded interesting
simply because they were "prettier" than doom.
Cerberic Doxology (Anthem Records) was a collaboration between
Joe Preston and Daniel Menche.
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