Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Wino Mysteries Part III

Welcome to the third installment of my examination of the career of doom metal legend Scott "Wino" Weinrich. Wino's decades-spanning career has had an enormous influence on what is generically referred to as "stoner rock", a catchall for a community that includes doom and sludge metal, post-metal, desert rockdrone, heavy psych, occult rock and so forth. I've argued that this scene is very synchro-mystical before (such as here and here) due to the frequent use of mythological, occult, and conspiratorial imagery and lyrical content by various groups. Wino has made heavy use of such things throughout his lengthy career and is thus something of a pioneer in this regard.

Must well known for fronting Saint Vitus and appearing in David Grohl's Probot project, Wino has also done extensive recordings with a host of bands in which he was the chief songwriter/visionary. These groups include: The Obsessed, Spirit Caravan, The Hidden Hand, and Premonition 13, as well as Wino's solo work. It is with these outfits that I have chiefly concerned my self with over the course of this series. During the first installment I gave a brief run down of Wino's career and his early years with The Obsessed. Part two shifted to Spirit Caravan. Towards the end of that installment I began to break down The Hidden Hand, Wino's mid-00s group, as well.

Wino (left) in The Hidden Hand
As the group's name implies, it made heavy use of conspiracy theories in both its lyrics and artwork in addition to Wino's typical metaphysical musings. It even went so far as to include a reading list with their first album, 2003's Divine Propaganda, that included works by some rather cringe-inducing sources such as Jim Marrs and David Icke.

The group was also seemingly the most democratic of Wino's bands (though other musicians have always contributed to the songwriting in his prior outfits), with bassist/vocalist Bruce Falkinburg playing an especially significant role in The Hidden Hand's artistic vision. While Wino had allowed other band members to sing lead vocals in his groups before (i.e. bassists Scott Reeder with The Obsessed and Dave Sherman with Spirit Caravan) it was always on a limited basis. With The Hidden Hand Falkinburg would take lead vocals on nearly a third of the group's output and performed a fair amount of co-leads with Wino as well.

Psychedelic and progressive elements that had always been hinted at in Wino's sound were now brought to the forefront. The Hidden Hand was easily the most ambitious (to say nothing of politically charged) effort of Wino's career up to this point (the mid-00s) while still employing the same power trio set up he has used for much of his career.

While Divine Propaganda was a solid debut, it hinted more at the group's potential than putting it on full display. It was with the 2004 follow-up, Mother Teacher Destroyer, that the group really came into its own. Opener "The Crossing," sung by Falkinburg, explores the theories initially put forth by Zecharia Sitchin concerning an alleged planet within out solar system referred to as Nibiru. Meanwhile "Coffin Lilly" is vintage Wino with playful, esoterica-laden lyrics ("Her daddy's from the Martian sea/Mommy's Sycambrian/Her lord's a Nibiru king/All things Merovingian"). The Merovingian dynasty would famously be linked with the bloodline of Jesus Christ in the 1980s:
"In 1982, when Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln published The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, it was regarded as controversial, albeit skillful and well-researched, nonfiction account of the centuries old tradition that Jesus of Nazareth and Mary Magdalene were man and wife, that Jesus might have escaped death on the cross, and that their descendants intermarried with the family that later formed the French Merovingian dynasty..."
(Conspiracies and Secret Societies, Brad & Sherry Steiger, pg. 105) 

Speculations concerning the legendary Merovingian dynasty also crops up in "Magdalene." Elsewhere the Falkinburg-sung "Currents" seems to invoke ancient traditions of Sirius, the Dog Star, setting in the West:

Across Marianas, Kermadec runs deep
Around the horn, up Benguela
Drift into Sargasso Seas
Agulhas Spanish Galleon, to the west from Sahara
On the Trades to Windward Islands, Madeira from America

No charts here where Dogstar lies
to the west where nations rise
Course is laid in this dark trade
Leviathans, abysmal graves

Destroyer is a conspiracy buff's delight on any number of levels, but it certainly helps that many of the sacred cows of conspiracy culture are named checked throughout the album. By contrast, the 2006 follow up The Resurrection of Whiskey Foote is a much subtler affair. Falkinburg seems to have contributed heavily to this album's songwriting in addition to producing it. Apparently he intended for the album to be a kind of loose concept album. Southern Lord's official website procured the following statement from Falkinburg concerning Whiskey Foote before the album's release:
"The Resurrection of Whiskey Foote is less of a 'concept' album but more like snapshots or 'episodes' of a larger story. The basic premise that drove the song writing is that early in the history of modern America, there were numerous conflicts or rebellions amongst truly early pioneers, the fledgling colonial governments, native peoples, and those brought here against their will. We devised a character, a fictitious 'hero' of sorts, namely Whiskey Foote who was indeed one of these first 'americans' being perhaps the 1st generation son of an indentured servant and an African black or Native American person - essentially 'mixed' in ethnic or racial origin, a true modern American. He was free, but a part of an expanding frontier that was rife with conflict, many times against a governing system that was on the verge of tyranny as in the case of Bacon's Rebellion or the Whiskey Rebellion, etc..."
Despite such a bold premise, the albums seems far more personal and introspective than the Hidden Hand's prior work. If it does indeed make reference to Bacon's Rebellion or the Whiskey Rebellion, it is solely through the eyes of the Whiskey Foote character. Foote is referred to throughout as a kind of spirit who reawakens in Bush's America and is horrified at what the nation has become.

Despite something of a convoluted concept and obvious tension existing between Wino and Falkinburg during the album's recording, it makes a fine conclusion to the Hidden Hand's career even if it's less intellectually satisfying than the prior two albums. Wino's "Majestic Presence" and "Slow Rain" are worth the price of admission alone.

The Hidden Hand dissolved in 2007 and Wino cut a solo album the following year in addition to joining Shrinebuilder. The debut efforts of either project were revealed in 2009, but I shall only focus on Wino's solo outing here. On Punctuated Equilibrium Wino was backed by bassist Jon Blank (who sadly died of a drug overdose in May 2009) of Rezin and Clutch's longtime drummer, Jean-Paul Gaster.

Gaster with Clutch
The pairing of Wino and Gaster was especially inspired and provides some of the best guitar/drum interplay of Wino's entire career. Gaster is a groove machine and does not disappoint here --nothing else in Wino's vast catalog has quite the bounce of Punctuated Equilibrium. This, combined with Wino's warm and druggy guitar tone, make Equilibrium one of his most classic rock-centric releases. But the album nonetheless serves as compelling career retrospect as well, with the title track raging as frantically as any of Wino's hardcore-leaning numbers with The Obsessed ever did. Apparently the naming of this track was quite synchronistic as well. In an interview with L.A. Record Wino stated:
"I’m a Libra so I kinda got that good/bad thing. I’m pretty good at reading situations and at reading people, too. I can tell from walking into a room if there’s gonna be problems. If I can avoid a confrontation, I usually will. I’ll just swallow my pride. Classic Libra. But also classic to hold it in and hold it in and get more pissed and finally just fuckin’ pop. My wife described my personality as ‘punctuated equilibrium.’ I never heard that term before. So I researched it—I called my solo record that because I thought that’s what it was, but I found out it’s this theory of evolution, actually. The gist of it is if you have a really small space, like some archipelago in the Indies or whatever, evolutionary changes happen at a much faster pace because everything is so confined. When it’s larger, everything is paced slower. When we were recording that, me and J Robbins are sitting there and I tell him that story and he’s like, ‘Let’s go check that out.’ So he fucking googled it and we read all these theories. I don’t think she knew about that, but there it was."

On the whole Punctuated Equilibrium is seemingly the most lyrically personal album Wino has done since The Obsessed. The opener "Release Me" is a song Wino wrote in 1979 chronicling fatalistic thoughts he was having while the above-mentioned title track is concerned with his personality. Elsewhere "Smil'n Road" and "Secret Realm Devotion" (in the CD booklet Wino describes this track thus: "'Secret Realm Devotion' is about Goddess worship, plain and simple. It's about a man's inspiration, devotion, and love. May her wisdom, beauty and power endure forever") are fine statements of principal while "Gods, Frauds, Neo-Cons and Demagogues" is a Hidden Hand-style rabble rouser concerning the Council of Nicea and featuring samples from an internet conspiracy jock.

Wino could not seemingly resist incorporating some occult symbolism into Punctuated Equilibrium's album artwork, however. Of it, Wino stated to interviewer Morgan Evans:
"It’s pretty hippie-dippy, but I like it. He did everything that I wanted. I wanted to have two pillars, the Masonic pillars Joachin and Boaz. They have significance with the Temple of Solomon and the whole Masonic trip. One of them has my astrological sign and on the other pillar I put my other symbol which is the Moon, and if you look closely you’ll see The Pleiades in there. And then at the top of the art is what was an Egyptian Solar Disc but I made him include a Cross, the Cross of Nibiru. See I’m one of those people that believe, like Kerry King (of Slayer) in the 12th Planet..."

The use of the Masonic pillars Jachin and Boaz is interesting. There symbolism is most apt in this case.
"At the western end of the lodge as one enters, there may be two pillars, representing the two pillars that stood at either side of the great entrance to Solomon's Temple. These are called by the names Jachin and Boaz, on the right and left respectively. These Hebrew words are usually translated as 'He shall establish' for Jachin, and 'In its strength' for Boaz."
(The Secret Temple, Peter Levenda, pg. 10)
Levenda goes on to note:
"There will be a light above or behind the Worshipful Master's throne, symbolizing the lights coming from the east. The backrest of the throne will have small pillars, one on each side, build into symbolizing the twin pillars of Jachin and Boaz which are crucial to some parts of the Masonic ceremonial. These are the two pillars that form the entrance to King Solomon's Temple. From a Kabbalistic perspective, they would represent the twin pillars of Severity and Mercy on the Sephirotic Tree. Together, the sun at noon, the setting moon, and the backlit Worshipful Master constitute Three Lesser Lights."
(ibid, pg. 11)

Wino also seems to have incorporated the sun at noon into the album cover as well. On the whole it seems to be implying that Punctuated Equilibrium is meant to be taken as a kind of initiation.

After the death of bassist Jon Blank Wino would begin to focus the bulk of his efforts back on a reunited Saint Vitus of whom he had been touring on and off with throughout the 00s. In 2010 he would form another band, however, this one known as Premonition 13. Unlike all of Wino's prior projects in which he had been the dominate songwriter/visionary in, Premonition 13 was a two guitar band. Wino was joined in the group by guitarist Jim "Sparky" Karow and drummer Mathew Clark. The group was never able to recruit a full time bass player (a role Wino filled for the group's sole album, 2011's self-titled release), thus Premonition 13 remained a trio, though not by design.

Wino in Premonition 13
Karow had been married to The Obsessed's manager and had known Wino for around 20 years when Premonition 13 came into being. Reportedly Wino and Karow had been coming up with some of the riffs featured on the Premonition 13 from jam sessions that stretched back for years. But despite the addition of Karow, Premonition 13 largely continues in the same direction as Punctuated Equilibrium, but with an even druggier edge. Still, Wino doesn't forget to kick out the jams. "Clay Pigeons" is a vicious anti-New World Order rant while the goody-timey sounding rocker "Modern Man" is as apt a description of the New Normal as one is likely to find ("Modern man, modern man/Get my dinner/From the garbage can").

Elsewhere "La Hechicera De La Jeringa" (which translates as "the witch of the syringe") is a harrowing account of drug addiction. Opener "B.E.U.T.Y" and closer "Peyote Road" are the kind of epic metaphysical and psychedelic musings Wino makes look ridiculously easy at this point. Both tracks, like the above mentioned "La Hechicera..." stretch out longer than vintage Wino but the additional length of several Premonition 13 tracks only underscores how epic Wino's songwriter has become. And he's done it without falling pray to self indulgence, Premonition 13 ultimately being as efficient as anything the man's ever done.

Premonition 13's sole album
And at this point I shall wrap things up. I've opted to avoid addressing Wino's solo acoustic stuff as it is far more personal lyrically than his band-centric work. And as noted before, I have avoided addressing bands such as Saint Vitus and Shrinebuilder as much as possible as Wino was not the chief visionary of these groups. Regardless of these two groups, Scott "Wino" Weinrich posses one of the richest and most synchro-mystical catalog's of any artist in the heavy underground who has been active over the past 30 years. My readers are strongly advised to check out as much of his work as possible.


  1. I really like your music criticism Recluse. Makes me want to listen but I just can't find the time. Great reads though.

  2. Wow man, you just turned me on to so much awesome music. Thanks and great writing. I love reading your crazy shit. How do you find the time! Ive read hundreds of your pages. Be cool if we could hear a bit more about Clive Barker some time, I just finished a Barker marathon, and he is by far my fav writer. 6 novels in 6 weeks. Gailiee, Sacrement, The damnation game, The books of blood, and now Im onto Everville.
    Love your site.

    1. I just did the same marathon.Clive is the best writer i have ever read by far.ive read all the books you mentioned. we should chat and become lifelong friends

  3. R.E.-

    Thanks for weighing in. I'm always very curious as to what my readers think of my music-themed posts. I'm glad you enjoy them.


    Thank you as well. I'm glad you enjoyed some of Wino's catalog.

    I'd love to do any other post on Barker, but it may be a while. Most of the Barker books I've read I did so while I was in high school (and even middle school), so I would have to re-read them before I felt comfortable writing on them at length. And that's much easier said and done right now as I have several ambitious projects I'm currently researching that are very time consuming, reading wise.

    I've toyed with the idea of doing a post on "Nightbreed"/"Cabal", however. As a novella,I could probably knock "Cabal" out in a few days and I've been dying to rewatch "Nightbreed" for some time. So perhaps I'll try to start on that project in the coming months.


    1. dont rewatch night breed. its a shit show

    2. Secseanz-

      Sorry for taking so long to respond. I remember not being especially impressed with "Night Breed" when I saw it as a kid, but I was hoping that parts of the narrative simply went over my head.:) Apparently not though.

      I may end end up having to go back and re-read Barker's early novels sooner than I had anticipated now that a release date has been tentatively set for "The Scarlet Gospel." Hopefully Barker doesn't pull an Axel Rose...


  4. I have to agree about the Punctuated Equilibrium record with JP Gaster and the end result of that being amazing. Gary Isom was very similar in style though not quite as powerful. The new lineup of Spirit Caravan with Henry Vasquez and the new material to come (HOPE:PRAY) will be a treat as Mr. Vasquez is kinda similar to Greg Rogers in that he nails the crap out of the drums.

  5. Unfortunately as great as they were a Hidden Hand reunion is probably the least in the cards,,aside from an extremely local Maryland one-off possibility in the way-off distant future if WINO & Bruce somehow get back on good terms. As far as Premonition 13 it also was great (can anything that WINO does not meet my resounding approval?),,,but WINO was quoted stating that that quote "went south in record time"

  6. Teecuzbruh-

    I've still love to hear Wino do something else with Gaster, but considering how much those guys tour with their main bands, its probably not going to be in the cards any time soon.

    I've got my fingers crossed for a new Spirit Caravan album as well. Sherman and Wino were definitely still feeling good vibes about the reunion when I saw them in April.

    At this point I think the biggest hold up might be Wino's commitments to Vitus. Here's touring with them for the rest of 2014 and I've heard rumors they might try to record a new album in early 2015, which would necessitate another period of heavy touring. Hopefully Wino and Sherman can slip into the studio and maybe even do a mini tour in early, early 2015 before Vitus tries to follow up "Lillie: F-65."