from VENTRILOCUTION WEBZINE:
Unlike the usual gallons of boredom retrieved from dissecting a band’s biography and/or discography, a glance into Skullflower and Matthew Bower’s evolution since 1985 yields abnormally phenomenal results. His constant urge to disturb frail equilibriums and heighten the musical/aural experience to denser dimensions is amazingly inspirational, for it carelessly abolishes all conventional signals and symbolisms, destroying the sacrosanct principles of homogeneity that oriented the course of loud rock music since its inception. The uncontrolled, quasi-anarchical state of constant "maximalist overload" is so intense it might actually fool anyone who recklessly experiences it into perceiving it as some sort of minimalist expressionism. As for Orange Canyon Mind, one might say that Bower’s objective of achieving a truly multi-dimensional sound is achieved in an almost frightening way. The "being on a hilltop hearing a distant fairground and rock festival and factories all at once" metaphor is unarguably materialised, even if only in conceptual terms, as well as the idea that defines the group as an American rock band as imagined by an English noise band. Both these metaphors provide an encompassing and somewhat breathy notion of what Skullflower is all about, even though they fail to convey the thoughts and sensations inspired by the actual music.
Thus, in a sense, it is rather pointless for me to even try to describe what these sweeping electrical winds instil after a prolonged listening session, as it is beyond Lovecraftian in strangeness (not only because of the first song’s odd title), but I feel somewhat obliged to testify to its dreamy-like brilliance. There is something uncannily disturbing about the hybrid nature of the music and, be it because of the rock/bluesy riffs and their hypnotic power or the raucous attitude of the omnipresent layers of sepia noise, the final outcome is sheathed with lush, glittering warmth that is as compelling as it is desolate.
With that in mind, and taking into account recent releases by Sunn O))), Pelican and Old Man Gloom, a fair warning should be heralded to anyone enticed by biased comparisons, for even though each of the bands mentioned earlier is, in one way or another, rapturously exciting, there is something much more seminal, grittier and older lurking in Skullflower’s music that turns it into something radically different and yet just as appealing. Beware of false idols, because this is the real thing.
from "metal spaceship music" written by Alex Cook for Outsideleft.com:
"What hath God wrought?" was that original wire transfer Morse sent over copper filaments,the first time we transcended our form via electrical means to extend our influence, our presence in this world. Change out "God" with the modern logical equivalent of "Lou Reed" and you just might find that you ask yourself, what hathn’t he wrought? I mean, for a guy who in the greater public consciousness is only responsible for that "Walk on the Wild Side" song, he sure has tilled a lot of musical ground. He helped to invent punk and if the influence of their usually-derided third VU self-titled album is ever recognized, he invented indie rock (and possibly country-rock too, though no one will admit it. I’m still betting Gram Parsons was hip to VU back in the day though). But no, his most contentious invention stems from his notorious album Metal Machine Music, a double album of feedback racket that has been alternating considered a fuck-you to the records company to brilliant by everyone who’s heard it and the artist himself. I mean, there are definite precedents for this 4-sided slab of electrical static and monolithic cosmic menace, but no one had ever brought it as close to the surface as Reed did. And like ever ground breaker, its importance up for debate (like how many people still think Jackson Pollock "couldn’t paint"...) but the evidence in varying strata of music speaks to its impact. Mix this with the stone-circle-sitters up in the mother country and you end up with a special flavor called of sonic exploration called space rock. So, I believe I am now going out on a flimsy critical limb and saying that from the seed of Reed sprouted The Eagles, Hawkwind and every record that showed up at my college radio station in the 80’s. I will now quit this path before I endanger its validity with hyperbole.
The latest solar flare to scorch my desk that brought up this whole thing is the recent disc Orange Canyon Mind from 20-year UK metal/acid-rock/whatever veterans Skullflower. (among the thing that amazes me about my recent re-introduction to Metal is the longevity of the bands) Let me say this from the get-go, this is a truly melodious affair, where seemingly simple motifs swim like trained koi in intricate patters just under the supercharged surface of fuzz and buzz, and that is what separates this from more "pure" sonic experiments in texture, in that this one is actually enjoyable. Stuff like this picks up on where I feel bands like My Bloody Valentine left off. MBV was ready to go this distance with sheer effect-pedal overload, but I think Kevin Sheilds couldn’t let go of the more song-y aspects of his thing, and that quandary left him with one great album completed and revered for a decade and nothing since. To me, lyrics just get in the way on these sonic journeys (look at the throwaway lines Sonic Youth has burdened an otherwise great song with over the years) so thankfully the men of Skullflower are heads-down on task to actualize this atomic blast of blistering sunshine.
This mothership lands among us with the shortwave signal disturbance of "Starry Wisdom" where you can just barely feel the bass chug of machinery deep inside keeping the engine going, where a piercing blusey echo cuts through the fog to let you know there is someone inside. Its a hypnotising stretch of nearly seven minutes of grand-scale space rock refiltered through psychedelia, indie rock explorations, and Lou Reed’s angry little engine .... or perhaps the members of this collective have been holed up in a fishing shack somewhere, blissfully unaware of their historical ancestors, trying to translate the grey English skies into something more Technicolor. No matter, because this is truly engaging stuff. The title track is my favorite, with its insistent repeat of the same riff throughout its tenure with shimmering streams and wayward blasts of light erupting through the nettles, making this a blinking shimmering ball of shocks and sparks, plummeting down the canyon walls in its namesake, engulfing all that it encounters.
"Annihilating Angel" is the track that strays closest to Metal here, with tidal waves of rage ciphering for indecipherable Black Metal growl vocals, but at one point the static lifts and you are left with a beautiful chiming drone, only to have the locusts to return to devour it once again like Prometheus’ liver. "Ghost Ice Aliens" brings to mind Throbbing Gristle (whose "Hamburger Lady" they have covered in their career) caught on tape in a bluesy mood, where the flatulent keyboard and tape feedback stomp in interlaced with the most static of guitar solos. "Goat of a Thousand Young" is definitely the most challenging track, in that it sounds like 20 cd players skipping at once, but after a brief seven minutes of that, you get pulled into the comparatively-jammy tractor beam of "Star Hill". If we are to stick with the spacecraft analogies here, final lift-off comes in the form of "Forked Lightning" where the simultaneous voices of the abducted chatter among the ignition blast, forming an almost impenetrable block of white noise, or at least you think its impenetrable until you notice you are being sucked into its mass. Not the catchiest tune in the world, but still a powerful piece of audio.
Overall, I think that’s how I would categorize this release, as a powerful piece of audio, since none of the above genre-artist analogies really cut it. If you are looking for some droney rock, but want it heavier, looking for some noise, but want it groovier, looking for industrial but not wanting it so lame and disco-ey, then Skullflower is the outbound ship onto which you should stow away.
review from Dead Angel:
At this point Skullflower is basically Matthew Bower plus guests (this time around, the guests are Mick Flower -- who provides percussion on "Forked Lightning" -- and guitarist Mark Burns, who appears on "Starry Wisdom" and "Ghosts Ice Aliens"), but that's okay; even when Skullflower was an actual band, it was largely Bower's baby (which probably has a lot to do with why guitarist Stefan Jaworzyn left after XAMAN, still the band's best album). This is one of Skullflower's better releases, although it's less about bringing the rock and more about canyons filled with processed uberdrone. In spite of the near-total lack of beats, this is not an album that drifts and floats; there's a nice pulsing drone happening in the title track that could be a pipe organ or a heavily processed tremelo guitar. Either way, it gets the blood pumping. The same kind of pulsing noise rhythm shows up in other tracks like "Ghosts Ice Aliens" and "Star Hill" as well. There are more violent, pounding sonic moves as well on "Annihilating Angel" and "Goat of a Thousand Young," along with peculiar unidentifiable noises. A lot of this album sounds like standing at the rim of a vast, wind-filled canyon while listening to machinery running on autopilot on the ground far below. It's not quite rock, to be sure, but it sure as hell isn't ambient, either -- corrosive power drone is probably more like it. Of course, the album ends with screeching black death on "Forked Lightning," whose percussion is buried under a towering mountain of landslide guitar and noise drone. The entire album will make your ears bleed and probably induce motion sickness if you listen to it loud enough. And you're certainly not going to listen to a Skullflower album at low volume, right?
writeup from Orlando Weekly:
Heavy metal has lost its fucking mind. This new album from Skullflower is all churning, swirling psychedelia; overdriven guitars, squalling noise, brutally muffled percussion. It's riffs on top of drones on top of collapsing buildings. But that's no surprise, since Skullflower's been at this game for almost 20 years. What is surprising is that music such as this - which was once consigned to the avant-noise bins with the likes of Borbetomagus and Merzbow - is now being claimed by metalheads as the next wave, thanks to inroads made by a raft of doomy, heavy and super-weird bands. But Skullflower isn't doomy and they're not all that heavy; they're just super-weird, which leads me to wonder if there may be a Keiji Haino/Loudness collaboration coming down the pike. After all, if this is what passes for metal these days, then the genre has certainly grown out of its codpiece and spandex.
writeup from dusted magazine:
Matthew Bower, aural alchemist behind the curtain of such iconic outfits as Vibracathedral Orchestra, Sunroof!, Whitehouse, Total, and the superbly moniker’d Fistfuck, tops tUMULt’s Exquisite Fucking Boredom with new soul scrambler, Orange Canyon Mind. Like a hefty majority of Skullflower releases, Mind is still combatively dense, and passively psychedelic. Guitars and FX darkly couple, spawning massive arabesques that respire through seemingly organic amplifiers. Shake the beaded doorway and incense visions, however - hearing Mind is like being stabbed in the head while on a pile of psilocybin. Bower doesn’t come drenched in Rit dye; he’s here to lay the bummer down, and it lasts longer than a whole decade’s worth of Dark Stars.
As with Boredom, Bower continues his compelling style of guitar calisthenics that engage numerous exercises: Touchstones include - but are not limited to - Head of David’s Dustbowl, and a sweltering sprint through the Kraut Rock corpus. Cluster II’s shortwave squelch fizzes through elastic riffs; angular notes bend themselves into non shape, falling into the static potholes that Japan’s Koji Tano, a.k.a. MSBR, attempted to fill with a relentless battery of cassette releases. Individual notes are formed and smashed like windshields by softball-sized hail; what’s left is a pearly green glass of sound: crunchy, slivered, and dangerous. Much of Mind engages the Dik Mik cum Bardo Thodl mode that has come to define the sound of Hototogisu - the noir duo of Double Leopard Marcia Bassett and Matthew Bower: Electronics assemble a din of repetitive gestures while hirsute guitars chatter to one another. Is it that the themes change? Or that the ears think they’ve seen what the brain can’t hear? Flummoxed or not, the end result is about as unsettling as witnessing a mockingbird calling incessantly for her young while the neighborhood cat picks through the remnants of the slaughter stuck to the bottom of the nest. As Mind’s tracks pile up, the reinvention continues. Bower steals 'motorik' from the drummer for the title track, a six-minute hummer that takes the staidness of Sonic Youth’s 'Tunic (Song for Karen)' and rubs searing curlicues around its perimeter. Admittedly, the first few cuts are the least compelling: By the time the yawning void of 'Vampire’s Breath' hits the air, any missteps are quickly forgotten/forgiven. This is the music that Bava and Argento’s films begged to be cloaked in. The horror analogue persists throughout the remainder of the disc - with titles like 'Ghost Ice Aliens', and 'Goat of a Thousand Young', Skullflower milk guitars of all their cerise dyed corn syrup, upping the ante for the noise crowd who’ve eschewed Bernhard Günter for Baphomet. Mind’s carnage is conducted so effortlessly, that the entire recording may be received as an hour long taunt; 60 minutes detailing a thousand ways to say Fuck You. But intent matters little by the time Mind runs its course: This is a staggering record that displays an authoritative grasp of sound. It seems to matter little whether or not Skullflower’s sound 'progresses' - having more of the same has never felt so laden with choice.
writeup from volcanic tongue:
Active since 1985, Skullflower remain the most routinely unbalanced of Matthew Bower’s group projects. Although these days they’re only occasionally operative, their sociopathic, reductive take on psychedelic rock remains as potent as it was back when they were first inspired to pick up guitars by US rock groups like Sonic Youth, Swans and The Butthole Surfers. Orange Canyon Mind is a brand new full-length album from the group and the follow-up to the plasma-pink metal of 2002’s Exquisite Fucking Boredom. Right from the first track it plots a whole new realm of digital overload, with Bower applying the kind of shredding form that marked out the last few Hototogisu releases to some stoned/zoned biker rock moves populated by leering psychedelic death licks, sleazy wah-wah guitar and laminal slabs of translucent tone. Track three, “Annihilating Angel”, is a contender for the single most formally explosive rock track of the year, with venomous stabs of digital noise giving way to seconds of blissfully irradiated melodic guitar. This is the closest Bower has come to fully reconciling the twin poles of his obsession, with elements of both Dave Brock and Terry Riley caught in a weld of blue/black digital metal. Can’t recommend this one enough. Features guest appearances from Mark Burns on guitar and Mick Flower (Vibracathedral Orchestra) on percussion and comes with a full-colour booklet with art from Bower and obi strip.
writeup from jackalblaster webzine:
Okay, this is my first ever Skullflower album so I am really excited. That it lives up to my expectations is even better, but with everything positive I've ever heard about Skullflower I just knew this was gonna be awesome. Well, Skullflower is a band that probably everyone has heard of, but their releases are so rare that most have never really got to listen to them. So why should anyone care? For starters, they're from the UK, and have been in existance since the 1980's. Ok, so what? Well, Skullflower are the major influence on Godflesh guitarist Justin Broadrick (besides Godflesh material, just check out his Black Skinners Laboratories split and witness the Skullflower worship for yourself!). Because of this, the trickle down effect inspired Zeni Geva, K.K. Null, Earth, Sunn O))), Boris, Isis, and Gravitar, just to name a few I am familiar with. Just so you know where those bands got their extremely heavy sound from- Skullflower came first. Formed in the 1980's within the noise/industrial/power electronics scene, they rely on improvised guitar/bass/drums, and although related to industrial music through association, there is not much electronic tape manipulation or outside sound source within their sound. Their main sound is heavy psychedelic riffs, guitar experimentation, loud volume, drone, and formless structure. They are the first free-form, bass heavy feedback driven improv act, with looping rhythms, high frequency guitars, and ear-splitting tonalites. Yep, just awesome, mind-blowing stuff.
An impressive history over the years, Skullflower's early albums are now impossible to find, with some early releases put out on Broadrick's HeadDirt record label before his Earache days. The band's roster has included guitarist Gary Mundy, who started the Broken Flag label in the 1980's, releasing cassettes by noise greats Controlled Bleeding, MB, Con-Dom, and Total (I wish I had all that stuff!); Phillip Best, a collaborator with Skullflower and a member of Whitehouse and Consumer Electronics; and guitarists Matthew Bower and drummer Stuart Dennison- the only full-time members who have appeared on all of the Skullflower albums.
Orange Canyon Mind is eight tracks and over an hour of ear piercing tonalites, feedback, hypnotic drone, and freeform riffing noise rock; pure power and absolute heaviness that is just unbelievable to behold. There is a reason why Skullflower are considered one of the most awe-inspiring, head crushing, greatest bands ever and Orange Canyon Mind is proof of that. Bound to make you a believer, its one of the most important releases of the year and should definitely be in your collection.
writeup from splendid e-zine:
If you're at all a fan of the current crop of doom metal/celestial tension/power electronics acts hovering over the scene like bloodthirsty vultures, then you really owe it to yourself to find out as much as you can about Matthew Bower, aka Skullflower. Over the past twenty years, he's captained some of the most outlandish noise-based outfits on the planet -- Sunroof!, Vibracathedral Orchestra, Whitehouse and Fistfuck among them -- but it's his work with Skullflower that has garnered him the lion's share of the acclaim. Bower has only released a handful of recordings over the band's twenty year life, which makes the arrival of Orange Canyon Mind an event on a par with seeing Halley's Comet or actually witnessing a live Nurse With Wound performance. Orange Canyon Mind apparently exists for no other reason than to prove that "heavy" doesn't have to mean an avalanche of wailing detuned guitars, guttural screaming or primordial pounding -- Bower knows that there are far more disturbing ways to convey isolation and despair. Over a constant howl of distant electronic pulses, he heaps mega-treated guitars that sound like demons, resulting in a fantastically heady soundtrack to the end of the human race.
The most ardent students of Bower's mesmerizing, messianic mythology are deeply disturbed naval-gazers Sunn))), and in a mutual appreciation society-type move, he mirrors their pessimistic, catastrophic worldview throughout Orange Canyon Mind. The droning, undulating soundscapes Bower unleashes here can be difficult to digest, and for those unwilling to carve a crevasse-sized hole in their subconscious, it may prove too daunting for words. However, listeners with the ability to see past mere subatomic clicks and diminutive frequencies are treated to a veritable aural feast; Bower's world may be utterly devoid of sunlight and subliminal desire, but the festering humanity of "Goat of a Thousand Young" is enough to make you believe in the divine power of angels, while the dimly lit "Starry Wisdom" is both gruesome and beautiful, like a torturous death march towards the most amazing carnival the world has ever seen. This is music for evenings of psychological exploration, of testing the limits of your mind, and for the last days of sunlight.
The scope of Bower's ambition is maddening, leaving even heavyweight contemporaries like Justin K. Broadrick and Greg Anderson looking feeble in its wake. The treatise he has unfurled here isn't a defining moment in time, but it can't help feeling timeless as it slowly explores the deepest fears of our human condition. Orange Canyon Mind is a brutal electric plaything, an artifact for all the wannabe gods of the world to hold up as their very own -- defiant, proud and unwavering in its belief that evil thoughts and malicious actions are the true windows into our souls.