Here’s the Bio I Wrote for Neurosis’ Live at Roadburn 2007

Posted in Reviews, Whathaveyou on September 30th, 2010 by JJ Koczan

[NOTE: I wanted to give NeurosisLive at Roadburn 2007 some attention because, well, it’s Neurosis and that’s what I do, but I was conflicted because I wrote the promotional bio for the album, got paid for it and can’t even attempt to feign impartiality as I usually do. My solution is to print the bio itself; it’s a review of sorts anyhow. Hope you dig it. Live at Roadburn 2007 is available now through Neurot Recordings.]

Neurosis – Live at Roadburn 2007

This will be my last letter. I’m tired of trying to make you understand. Hell, I’m tired of trying to understand. After this, you won’t be hearing from me again. I’m not coming back.

You know where everyone still has it wrong about Neurosis? The mind. Look at the legion of imitators and you’ll see they’re like children trying to build a treehouse without instructions. There are mathematical equations being done, but they’re the wrong ones. Emotion plus volume. The cerebellum gets all the credit, but this music comes from the stomach. Listen to the washes at the back of “Water is Not Enough.” Listen to the grimacing cries of “At the End of the Road,” the mortal desolation of “A Season in the Sky.” You’ll hear it or you’re a fool.

Not that it’s perfect. That isn’t the idea. It’s the humanity you’re getting here. The raw stuff of human performance. The need to transmit from one to another an idea, shape, sound. It is as close to authenticity as we come.

What do you think they called a square the first time saw it drawn in the dirt? It was a thing without a name. It was a creation inextricably tied to the one who crafted it. It was art. That’s what this is, delivered at painful volume to ears that, if they could, would scream back as if to say, “I’m here too, I can see it now. It is even on all sides.”

Imagine what it must have been like to have Neurosis step out on that stage. The 013 Popcentrum, Tilburg. Roadburn. An event unlike anything else the world over, and Neurosis with a legacy of carved granite. It must have been like rivers joining, flowing in the same direction. Forces of nature.

There are nine tracks on this release. As you listen, set aside expectation. Put away your thoughts about what you think the work should or does sound like. It is not about the definitive. It is the execution. The temporal and the fleeting. You need to understand: This is the moment, captured. Emotion plus volume. They’ve been doing it one way or another since Reagan.

If you’re still reading this, you know the deal. That year they released Given to the Rising, which was the black to The Eye of Every Storm’s grey, and to the red of A Sun that Never Sets, and the hard lines of Times of Grace, and so on. The material is fresh, vibrant and unrelenting. Even when it breathes, you don’t. Two years later they’d be asked to curate their Beyond the Pale Festival under the Roadburn banner, hand-picking the artists with whom they would share the stage for their return performance. This is the genesis of that.

Like they say: “Sun-whitened bones in a landscape of hounds.” We’re those hounds, you and I. All we can do is feast, chew endlessly and hope to get a bit of marrow. Break our teeth on it. And maybe understand. I’m tired of trying to make you understand. So tired.

JJ Koczan

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Conan Interview with Jon Davis: “Hither Came the Cimmerian to Tread the Jeweled Thrones of the Earth Under His Feet”

Posted in Features on September 30th, 2010 by JJ Koczan

The above quote, adapted from Robert E. Howard‘s The Phoenix on the Sword, more or less sums up the mission of UK doomers Conan. Throw something in there about playing slow and loud and piling riffs like cinderblocks on the ribcages of their listeners, and you’d be right in there.

Conan‘s first full-length, Horseback Battle Hammer (vinyl through Throne Records, CD on Aurora Borealis), remains one of the heaviest records I’ve heard all year. It is thunderous — not the way you think of music as thunderous, but literally like thunder — and in just four songs, the trio of Jon Davis (guitar), John (bass/vocals) and Paul (drums) manages to roar onto the international stage, crushing those in their path with massive, amplified undulations.

As Davis‘ guitar is such a huge part of what makes Horseback Battle Hammer so incredibly heavy, I just had to ask how he managed to get that tone. Not only does he lay out his full gear setup, but in our interview, he also discusses how the band got together, their plans for shows and recording through the end of the year, and just how he sees Conan growing in the future.

You’ll find the Q&A after the jump. Doom on.

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Diesto, High as the Sun: Well, That’s Pretty Damn High

Posted in Reviews on September 30th, 2010 by JJ Koczan

Heavy without being oppressive and familiar without being redundant, Portland, Oregon, post-sludgers Diesto’s second album, High as the Sun (first for Seventh Rule Recordings) is an hour of righteously brutal ambience made flesh with crunching riffs, post-metal rhythmic churn, hypnotically chanted vocals and drone just where it’s needed most. The four-piece seem modern in their influence, but as much as one could point to YOB, Kylesa and more recent A Storm of Light for comparisons, elements of Unsane, Earth, Oceanic-era Isis, Neurosis and Sleep are also audible, and the range of vocal presentation from guitarists Chris Dunn and Mark Basset helps bring to the fore the fierce dynamics on which High as the Sun is built.

Recorded by Adam Pike in the band’s hometown and mixed by Alex Newport on the other side of the country in Brooklyn, New York, High as the Sun offers glimpses of surprisingly adept melodicism. Not so much in the vocals, which despite being mostly clean are still chiefly rhythmic in their nature — Dunn and/or Basset aren’t crooning by any stretch, but they do well with what they do à la Phillip Cope — but in the guitars, and, as in the later section of opener “Beyond the Graves,” Captain John’s bass. It’s clear Diesto were reaching with this album, challenging themselves creatively. I hear hardcore or post-hardcore roots in their playing, though that could just be the Isis influence shining through. Nonetheless, although digging into High as the Sun will probably not be a challenge to sludge-heads or post-metallers checking it out — it’s worth noting I don’t completely consider Diesto post-metal, despite their focus on atmosphere — the record still has plenty of intricacies that justify the time.

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audiObelisk EXCLUSIVE: Elliott’s Keep Premiere Devastating Lead Track from Sine Qua Non

Posted in audiObelisk on September 29th, 2010 by JJ Koczan

Yesterday, Sept. 28, 2010, Dallas doomers Elliott’s Keep released their second album through Brainticket Records. Titled Sine Qua Non, the full-length sees them take the traditional doom they unleashed on their 2008 debut, In Medias Res, and up the heaviness with blistering black and death metal vocals alongside the clean ones as heard on the previous outing. The first time I put the song on I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

I enjoyed In Medias Res, don’t get me wrong, but the subtle change in approach puts Elliott’s Keep and Sine Qua Non in a different category entirely. They might still be traditional doom, but they’re refining the tradition instead of working within it. Once you hear the song, you’ll understand the difference.

And about that: The Obelisk couldn’t be more thrilled to bring you the opening track from Sine Qua Non, called “Fearless.” Stream it in high quality on the player below and get filled in on the info from the band’s MySpace:

Fearless

We recorded again at Nomad Studios in Carrollton, Texas, with J.T. Longoria (Solitude Aeturnus, RobertLoweCandlemass, Concept of God, Absu, King Diamond) at the helm.

As with our initial 2008 release — In Medias ResSine Qua Non will be issued on John Perez’s Brainticket Records. We are honored that he makes a special guest appearance with a guitar solo on the track “Shades of Disgrace.”

The title Sine Qua Non is Latin for “Without This, Mothing,” meaning, “Without this part of my life, the rest is meaningless.”

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Hour of 13 Sign to Earache

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 29th, 2010 by JJ Koczan

Congratulations to North Carolinian (?) traditional doomers Hour of 13, who it was announced today have signed with Earache Records. One wonders if Earache — having already long since cornered the market on re-thrash with the likes of Municipal Waste and Bonded by Blood — decided to take their retro obsession into new realms. If so, have I got a couple bands for you.

Hour of 13, apparently just back from Ireland, make their US live debut on Oct. 16 at Brooklyn‘s Union Pool alongside The Gates of Slumber. See you there. Meantime, here’s this off the PR wire:

Earache Records is proud to announce the signing of North Carolina‘s Hour of 13 to a worldwide recording deal.

Hour of 13 have built up a formidable reputation in underground circles for their potent brand of occult-inspired doom-laden metal. The band recently performed their debut show at the Dublin Doom Day festival in Ireland, to rapturous response.

Guitarist and founder Chad Davis commented on the deal:

“We, Hour of 13, are proud to have become part of the Earache Records legacy. The support the label has shown to a host of influential bands over the years has been essential to the growth of real, original music, and we could not be more pleased to have become one of those bands. This is a monumental step for Hour of 13, and we’re glad to have Earache on our side.”

Earache will re-release the band’s last album, The Ritualist, in early 2011, which will be supported by further live appearances throughout the year.

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Buried Treasure Gets Born in Space

Posted in Buried Treasure on September 29th, 2010 by JJ Koczan

I wanted to make sure I heard UK prog instrumentalists Sons of Alpha Centauri‘s follow-up contributions to their Last Day of Summer split/collaboration with Treasure Cat (Underdogma) before writing about their 2007 self-titled debut on Sound Devastation Records, because the first thought in my head on listening to that full-length was, “Man, these drums are dry.”

And they were. 2007’s Sons of Alpha Centauri was recorded live over two sessions between 2005 and 2006, and even after going through the album a couple times, I kept coming back to, “Can I get a little reverb here?” And in fact, I extended that to everything — the guitars and bass too, but still most especially the drums, and most especially the snare.

Finally I realized where this expectation came from. Prior to hearing either the Treasure Cat split or the self-titled, I knew Sons of Alpha Centauri principally by name and from their Yawning Sons collaboration with Yawning Man‘s Gary Arce. One thing about that record: it was drenched in reverb. I’m not going to say the drum sound on the first offering is perfect (any production issues are cleared up by the split, it’s also worth noting), but taking away my prejudiced expectation, I felt much less like something was missing from the sound of the band and was able to get into the record with no problem.

There’s plenty of it to get into, too. Sons of Alpha Centauri is 67 minutes long, a monster of an instrumental album, rife with riffs and clever turns. Groove isn’t the primary focus — Karma to Burn‘s an influence, but this isn’t trying to be Karma to Burn — but it’s there nonetheless, and as Marlon King‘s Tool-ish guitar line opens “(Battle at) the Forts,” it’s clear Sons of Alpha Centauri have a diverse range of inspirations. I was surprised to find more straightforward material on the split, like “Under Surveillance,” which goes so far as to include cowbell (very un-prog; not at all a complaint). Not sure if they were just rocking out for the sake of accompanying Treasure Cat, which boasts in its lineup guitarist Will Mecum of Karma to Burn, but it worked for them. The strong rhythm section of bassist Nick Hannon and drummer Stevie B. — the lineup is rounded out by Blake on “textures” — prove adaptable to either approach, so bonus points there.

Doesn’t make much sense to say it, but of the two, I’d recommend starting with both. Some of the production issues on the self-titled might give a mistaken first impression, but the songs are still definitely worth hearing, and the Sons of Alpha Centauri cuts on the split with Treasure Cat go a long way toward confirming those actually were production issues, rather than something internal with the band itself. Plus, the three Alpha Cat tracks on Last Day of Summer — that’s Sons of Alpha Centauri and Treasure Cat put together — are stellar. As a way of getting introduced to the band before either tackling their latest split 7″ with Karma to Burn or impending new album, you really shouldn’t hear one without the other.

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Six Dumb Questions with Blaak Heat Shujaa

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on September 29th, 2010 by JJ Koczan

“Six Dumb Questions” is a new feature I’ve started to help further introduce new bands who’ve either been reviewed, On the Radar-ed, etc., who I think deserve more coverage. One such act is the Parisian trio Blaak Heat Shujaa, whose self-titled album was reviewed last week. I asked guitarist Thomas Bellier if he’d be interested in partaking of the six dumb questions I had about his band, and he was more than accommodating, as you’ll see.

Blaak Heat Shujaa is Bellier alongside bassist/vocalist Antoine Morel-Vulliez and drummer Timothée Gacon. Their album Blaak Heat Shujaa was recorded in Banning, CA, with the venerable Scott Reeder. Below, Bellier discusses this experience, the origin of his band’s name and more in the span of just six dumb questions.

1. How did Blaak Heat Shujaa get together?

We started the band in 2008. We were all going to the same school back then, and one day during some BS class on EU policy, Antoine noticed a Fender sticker on my notebook. So we sat next to each other and realized we had similar musical tastes. Antoine hooked us up with our drummer Tim and a few weeks later we were in the studio practicing. Antoine had brought over another guitar player and a keyboard player, but it was clear that the magic was only happening between Tim, Antoine and I! We met again a few days later without telling those two other guys and started writing songs. At first we were really influenced by neo-psychedelia (bands like Dead Meadow and Black Angels) but quickly we started incorporating desert rock influences into our material. We played our first two shows (which were “epic,” but in a bad way…) at our school and then Antoine moved to Uganda and I moved to L.A., so nothing happened for a while, and then we moved back to Paris in 2009 and started writing the songs that are on the album. In the meantime we had really gotten into stoner rock so we started incorporating heaviness into our songs, while at the same time preserving the trippy, psychedelic element.

2. Where did you come up with the name and what does it mean?

We started off performing as Black Light Black Heat, as the Velvet Underground was an influence for us (and also for the bands we liked) back then, but quickly we started moving away from that. Also we thought it was funny since about 50 percent of the bands we were listening to had “black” in their names. We kept the name for a while, but about two months before going to Scott’s, after a few chicken taquitos and many margaritas and IPAs (West Coast IPAs are way stronger than the stuff you guys have on the East Coast), my girlfriend and I were like “BLBH needs a better name!” We were thinking that since we had completely dropped the Velvet Underground influence, keeping that name didn’t make sense anymore. Plus Antoine had told me in the past that he was open to changing the name. And really, we realized that the Velvet Underground represented everything we’re against: hip New Yorkers, Andy Warhol, Nico… hell, how did we even pick that name in the first place? So we thought “Black Heat” sounded good, but since we can’t afford a good lawyer we tought we’d spell it “Blaak Heat” (you guys have heard of the eponymous 1970s funk band, right?), kind of like with a Dutch spelling. Quickly we were told this wasn’t enought to avoid getting sued, so we looked into adding another word. Antoine came up with “Shujaa,” which in Swahili means warrior, some kind of hero with magical powers. Antoine is fluent in Swahili and has spent a lot of time in Africa, so to us it made sense to honor that influence through our band name, since it does affect our music. But dude, people keep getting the name wrong. I’ve seen it spelled “Black Heat Sujja.”

3. What was it like recording with Scott Reeder? Rumor has it he’s the nicest guy in the universe – care to comment?

To us it was a defining experience, as musicians but also as human beings. The vibe was perfect. Scott is an all around cool dude, with zero hangups. I’m sure you’re thinking “Well, that’s how everybody is in stoner/desert rock.” That’s not true. There are a lot of drama queens and wannabe rock stars in that field of music, people just hide it well. Plus Scott is a smart guy, so it’s very easy to establish a sane relationship with him. We hit it off pretty fast, and in no time we were messing around the studio and drinking all together. The great thing was that Scott had a lot of respect for our music. It made us feel very comfortable, and instead of being scared of trying new things in front of such a legend of desert rock, we were encouraged to innovate and mess around with our parts. For instance, when we were done tracking a part, we’d go into weird/stupid jams, and we knew Scott was still tracking. Turns out we used a lot of stuff from those jams on the final mixes! The crazy thing is that Scott understands our sound better than we do. For example, we didn’t really know what effects to put on the vocals (we used to play live with a lot of reverb on the vocals), and he came up with some crazy delays and flangers that matched the spirit of the songs perfectly. Now, we use that same combination of effects for live shows, and it sounds so freaking good.

Recording at Scott’s studio was such a trip. The setting is unique. It’s in Banning, CA, more or less where the desert starts, about 25 minutes west of Palm Springs. The nature is beautiful there (Yucca trees, yellow hills…) and you can only see one neighbor from the studio. There’s even a mystical dimension, as the Morongo Indian reservation is just up the hill from the studio. We were working late hours and it was plain fantastic to walk out of the studio while buzzed and look at the stars… Actually, I think I spent more time watching my step (it was rattlesnake season) than checking out the stars… Did I tell you that we used a rattlesnake’s rattle for percussion on a track? Scott and his wife Renee have a lot of animals on their ranch — dogs, horses, miniature horses, peacocks, moufflons… some cows were mowing the lawn when we were there, too. It was all in good fun until the bull started charging our drummer Tim. From where we were we couldn’t really see what was happening and heard weird animal moans. All I know is that after that Tim couldn’t sit on his drum stool anymore.

4. You did a show while you were in the desert recording as well. How did that go? And how was it sharing the stage with Yawning Man in Paris?

That show was fun. Alfredo [Hernandez] set it up for us (he was playing with his jam project, Brothers of the Kemosabe, with Sean from Waxy on bass), and we played a small venue in downtown Palm Springs (the touristy neighborhood). Dali’s Llama played that night too. It was on a weekday, so not a lot of people came out… I think there were about nine people in front of the stage when BHS played. But who cares when two of those nine people are Kyuss members (Alfredo and Scott), right? We got drunk on Bud Light and played our loudest set ever.

Sharing the bill with Yawning Man was great too. I’m good friends with Alfredo and Gary, and it’s always plenty of fun to hang out with them. They had a day off in France during their tour so I offered to set up a gig in Paris. We played a small venue that had a 90db limitation. Can you imagine the sound guy’s face when he saw Alfredo’s 28’ bass drum? Before the show we asked for two bags of ice and a bucket in order to make sangria for the bands… The bartender was like, “Well, I can give you a cup of ice if you want!” And then she told Gary beer was six Euros… He and Alfredo were like, “What is wrong with this town?” Welcome to our world, amigos.

5. Is there much of a stoner rock scene in Paris? Who are some bands you’ve played with people should know about?

There’s no such thing in Paris. However, there are a few stoner bands in France. The thing is that most of them really lack originality. Like one of my good friends was recently observing, in France we have a French Karma to Burn, a French QOTSA… I mean, they sound good, but in the end they’re just trying to recreate another band’s sound. Nobody’s being creative. Wanna hear a hilarious anecdote? A band whose name I won’t mention covered “Twenty” when they opened for Karma to Burn. How fucking ridiculous is that? There’s a stoner/psych band from Lille that we’re good friends with, Glowsun. You should check them out, they just got picked up by the best booking agency out here in the EU, Sound of Liberation. You’re asking about a stoner scene, but let me tell you it’s about the same thing for psychedelic music out here. It’s very, very frustrating. I mean, Paris is a terrible city. People are all about the fancy stores, the VIP clubs, and high fashion. Dude, I’ve reached the point where I feel lucky when I find a bar that serves beer for under 5 Euros (that’s about 6 bucks). Also, people look at you weird on the metro if you’re not wearing a polo shirt and expensive shoes. Long hair is even worse…

6. How much is Blaak Heat Shujaa going to play out? Will you tour Europe?

We’re currently looking for a booker. We’re hoping that with all the great reviews the album is getting it’ll happen soon. We are so ready to hit the road, and we’ve already got new material to perform live. People who like our music should spread the word!

We have budding plans to tour Europe with a band you’re probably familiar with, since they’re from Brooklyn, La Otracina. In the meantime, we’re throwing a release party in Paris on Oct. 5, and then on Oct. 18, we’ll be opening for one of my favorite bands, Farflung.

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Black Bombaim Take the Weekend Trip

Posted in Reviews on September 29th, 2010 by JJ Koczan

Comprised of two massive psychedelic jams, Black Bombaim’s first full-length, Saturdays and Space Travels (Lovers & Lollypops), follows up a demo and an EP in startling fashion. The Barcelo, Portugal, trio display a surprising amount of chemistry for a band who’s only been together a couple years, which says to me that these dudes jam out — a lot. You don’t play this well together without practice, and though I’ve heard neither their 2007 demo nor the subsequent Black Bombaim CDR EP, I wouldn’t be surprised if you could trace the growth of the band as players across those releases, eventually arriving as they have at Saturdays and Space Travels, which meanders with such light feet that you have no choice really but to follow where it takes you.

When thinking of instrumental psych bands specializing in extended jams, acts like Earthless and Tia Carrera come to mind. Black Bombaim are less improvisational than the latter, and where the former seem hell-bent on capturing the specific aesthetic of the jams on ‘70s live albums from the likes of Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, Black Bombaim don’t follow as specific a course. Guitarist Ricardo leads the way for most of the time, either by soloing as on Side-B of this vinyl (you could call it “Space Travels” if you want, but the file I got was just named Side-B) or igniting plumes of stone-worthy riffage on Side-A (ostensibly “Saturdays”). It’s a little disingenuous to call the guitars “leading” though, because bassist Tojo and drummer Senra are more than worthy collaborators. Perhaps even more than Ricardo’s blazing leads, it’s their foundation that gives these two 19:47 tracks — yes, they’re both the same length — their overarching groove.

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