Friday Long-Player: Wovenhand, The Laughing Stalk

Posted in audiObelisk on September 29th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

It seems like a really long time ago, but I just heard that Colorado eclecticists Wovenhand have a new album on Wednesday night. Apparently they released The Laughing Stalk digitally on Sept. 11, and will follow that with a limited vinyl/CD run of 2,000 — I want one — through Sounds Familyre in November. This band is fucking amazing. Seriously. I know sometimes I can come off like I’m easily impressed — hardly a day goes by that I’m not drawn to something about this or that band; far from being a bad thing, I consider this a primary reason life is worth living, so fuck off should you feel otherwise — but man, when I listen to Wovenhand, it just makes me want to write. Every time.

The Laughing Stalk, which sets joyous bombast against the band’s as-always incredible arrangements, is a rare kind of heavy, and already for the three or four times I’ve been through it, I’m looking forward to getting to know it better. I still think about how unreal it was to see them at Roadburn 2011. I’d never been brave enough to go to one of their shows, and it was so visceral. Moving the way being shoved in the chest is moving.

Obviously, it’s making a pretty fitting accompaniment to tonight’s last glass of wine.

I’m in Connecticut for the weekend. The Patient Mrs. and I mark 15 years together today (our eighth wedding anniversary was Tuesday, I celebrated in Brooklyn), and though we were initially going to go to Montreal for the weekend, and then Philly — which I always love — we decided this would save money. And so it has. Fifteen years, man. You know how old I was 15 years ago? I was 15. Just a beardless boy.

I’ll say this: It’s a fucking miracle I’ve managed to hold onto this woman. No shit. My life is a collection of regrettable decisions. Top to bottom, I have utterly failed at existing as a human being in everything but this. And I can’t even take credit for it. She’s great and brilliant and I’m lucky, and until her much-heralded patience runs out and she kicks my incompetent manchild ass to the curb, my plan is to continue to worship the ground she walks on, and rightly so.

While I do that, I’ll say thanks to everyone who checked out the UK special this week. I guess it wasn’t the biggest deal in the world — just kind of a spur of the moment thing I decided to do — but it was fun nonetheless, and whether you’re from that part of the world or not, I hope you got to dig on a few cool bands. There’s good stuff from there these days, and a lot of it. Already I have more UK stuff to review — looking at you, Scotland’s Lords of Bastard — so this is by no means the end of that. As ever, more to come.

In addition, stay tuned next week for reviews of Mamont, Skanska Mord, Witchcraft and Egypt, as well as a H-U-G-E interview with Stefan Koglek of Colour Haze, who turned in easily the most detailed set of answers to an email Q&A I’ve ever seen. That’s all upcoming, as well as some huge news about Clamfight‘s release on The Maple Forum, a look at BerT‘s latest vinyl, and much more. As always, I hope you’ll stick around.

Until then, have a great and safe weekend. I owe a bunch of emails and Thee Facebooks messages, so I’ll be hoping to take care of that and a few email interviews going out as well, but I’ll still be checking in on the forum, so if you’re around, we’d love to have you. Either way, see you back here Monday and thanks as always for reading.

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Deville Sign to Small Stone Records

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 29th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Kudos to Swedish heavy rocking four-piece Deville on their signing to Small Stone. The Detroit label, who’ve already had so busy a 2012 that I haven’t been able to keep up with reviewing everything, seem not to be slowing in the slightest as 2013 comes on, and Deville — who answered Six Dumb Questions here about their last album, 2010’s Hail the Black Sky — will join the ranks of Five Horse Johnson and their countrymen in Mother of God as an early 2013 Small Stone release.

So again, well done to the band. The announcement from Small Stone was quick and to the point:

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Sweden’s Deville to their new home here at Small Stone. Their new album tentatively titled ‘Hydra’ will be coming out in early 2013.

There you have it. I know I’ve posted it before, but here’s Deville‘s video for the song “Lava,” which is nothing if not worth another look.

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UK Special — On the Radar: Sunwølf

Posted in On the Radar on September 28th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Ambient duo Sunwølf make it pretty easy to immerse yourself in their debut release, Beyond the Sun (Ark Noise). The album, which hits 26 minutes but is full-length enough at that time, will see a physical release in November but is available digitally now, through Bandcamp and the like as is the way of things these days. Drummer/organist Dominic Deane and guitarist/sampler Matt Carrington hit on a balance not unlike that of Panopticon-era Isis, finding a space to dwell between drone-minded stillness and forceful post-metallic psychedelia.

The six-track outing opens quietly enough with the fade-in feedback of “Genesis” (as appropriate a beginning as any), and gradually reveals its instrumental sprawl in a slow-boiling progression that continues for the song’s six minutes. By my count, it’s the longest of Beyond the Sun (points), but it hardly tells the whole story of what Sunwølf are setting out to accomplish musically. Particularly by veering to and away from Deane‘s drums, the two-piece add a sense of variety to their purposeful lack of movement, so that although “Solar” refuses to pay off its own build, some satisfaction comes as the thicker guitar and insistent percussion of “Morose Land” feeds into an overall heavier vibe. That sensibility continues through Beyond the Sun‘s title-track, though that cut is slower, and soon enough, Sunwølf have momentum on their side as they continue through the rest of their debut.

Production is clear and crisp — they recorded with Ross Halden (Wild Beasts) and had Mell Dettmer (SunnO))), Earth, etc.) master — but as the guitar and cymbal washes of “Inertia” live up to the track’s name, it”s clear Sunwølf aren’t interested in sticking solely to one aspect of ambient heaviness or another. Carrington samples a playground late into the track and “Inertia” winds up evocative as it moves directly into the swell of “Time Stands Still” — take them from their names alone and understand that Beyond the Sun is not an album about movement — which incorporates acoustic guitar over a bed of organ hum, culminating in a feedback outro that offers transition into closer “Home.”

Perhaps its Sunwølf‘s most complex track, perhaps not — depends on the process of crafting the prior drones — but the layering of guitars over each other makes for the most evocative melody here on offer, wistful in a still-ethereal vaguery, sad and hard to pin down. Like most of Beyond the Sun, however, it’s a blip, there and gone, faded out almost as it just seems to have set the foundation for a genuine development. Maybe Sunwølf aren’t interested in that kind of thing, but if they are, they have the groundwork set on a track like “Home,” which just as easily could turn into a nine-minute post-metal build but ultimately remains humble in its scope.

Sunwølf are a relatively new band, and Beyond the Sun is their first release, but as it makes for a solid late-night listen, I thought I’d post the tracks here for your perusal. If interested, you can check them out live Oct. 13 in Leeds (poster above), or find out more about them at their Tumblr, buy Beyond the Sun at their BigCartel store, or just check it out on their Bandcamp, from which the following stream is hoisted:

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UK Special — Groan, The Divine Right of Kings: When in Doubt, Rock it Out

Posted in Reviews on September 28th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Groan’s second full-length, The Divine Right of Kings barely gives you a second to think before it gets its hooks in you. The album, boasting artwork by W. Ralph Walters and following a split with Finnish proto-doomers Vinum Sabbatum (review here) and their 2010 debut, The Sleeping Wizard (review here), also marks their first outing on Soulseller Records, opening with an immediate rush of three songs that run one into the next While I’m a fan of the band and have been since that debut – so I’m freely willing to admit that’s the perspective from which I’m writing – the momentum comes on quick and speaks for itself. Opener “Weeping Jesus” aligns the UK four-piece to both ‘70s and ‘90s-style doom ‘n’ roll quirk, and the ensuing “Sacrificial Virgins” sets the tone for much of the quality songwriting to follow, hooky choruses delivered with lighthearted arrogance by Andreas “Mazzereth” Maslen – the last holdout in the band as regards adopted stage names, as both guitarist Dan Wainwright and bassist Leigh Jones have dropped theirs and newly recruited drummer Chris West (also Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight and Stubb) never had one – but it’s really not until the extended introduction of the third track, “Magic Man,” that Mazzereth really lays down the ethic at the heart of what Groan does. In preaching spoken word echoes atop tension-creating guitar feedback, he states:

Some days the bad, some days unworthy people, unrighteous business and the conventional grind brings you down. But you’re wise — you’re clever — you know how to deal with this bad situation. I’m talking about reaching for the Sabbath, the DC, the Priest. I’m talking about reaching for the Halen, the Quo, the Creedence. You fight the world with some tasty Stooges. You make your body move with some Grand Funk, some Foghat. These timeless motherfuckers bring forth the power that enables you to deal with it, to get off your ass and fight back. Hell, they may even inspire you to form a shitty rock and roll band. Never forget the healing power of rock. Never forget the crucial truth they bring. Friends, to you, I say this: When in doubt, rock it out.

From there, West taps his snare and they launch full-speed into “Magic Man,” one of The Divine Right of Kings’ best and most swaggering cuts, but more than that, it’s how much the mentality of the above defines the course of the album that stands Groan out from their peers. There are bands who would say the above and offer some ironic pose-out behind it. Hearing Groan as they present themselves on their second album, I totally believe they listen to Foghat. While drunk. Possibly with their shirts off, weather permitting.

It’s the ability to skirt the line between tongue-in-cheek chicanery and sincere appreciation for classic heavy rock, classic heavy metal and modern doom and stoner riffing that serves as the difference between Groan and any ironic shitbag act you’d want to put next to them. Groan means it. The Divine Right of Kings touches almost immediately on British horror cinema atmospheres in the spoken lyrics of “Weeping Jesus,” which has doomed plod behind it but still keeps a relatively accessible pace musically, and “Sacrificial Virgins” is as much about the up and down nod of its riff as it is the titular virgins, Jones and West proving a formidable rhythm section quickly while they underscore the perfectly-paced groove. Mazzereth urges the listener to “get down” and “feel the doom” before Wainwright takes a few measures of a solo and either a sample or more spoken vocals – they’re murky, so it’s kind of hard to tell – round out the track, leading directly into the above-noted intro to “Magic Man” and the song that follows, which is nothing if not the payoff the first two tracks built toward. Through these three tracks – which take only about 10 of the album’s total 39 minutes – Groan barely give the listener time to catch their breath or process what they’re hearing, such is the demented ADD mentality of them. Emerging on the other side of “Sacrificial Virgins,” one almost remembers the chorus in spite of the song, its start-stop cadence reminiscent of Cathedral at their most unabashedly rocking. “Magic Man” is made all the more a landmark both by its motoring musical and lyrical brashness, but also because it leads to the first genuine stop on The Divine Right of Kings, the track ending cold to precede the slowdown to come in “Dissolution.” Prior to, “Magic Man”’s groove is all punkish stoner, West’s drums providing critical engine to Wainwright’s leads as a brief slowdown in the second half picks up for a final run through the chorus.

In comparison, “Dissolution” is infinitely more doomed. The tempo is cut to a slower groove, and the atmosphere is darker in the guitar, a semi-choral opening giving the march some melodic context in the intro, though by the chorus, it’s Mazzereth who seems to be all over it, unwilling to relinquish some of the energy that “Magic Man” pushed forward. He’s mixed high and echoing, but that only adds to the classic metal vibe of the track, which is maintained despite a modern-sounding production, handled by the band themselves with a mastering job by West. Still, as the chorus comes back in the final slowdown Mazzereth moves further back in the mix to let the chants through, announcing that “our god is dead,” and while it’s clear the band are aware of their methods and the atmospheres they’re trying to concoct, it’s also a lot of fun to listen, that slowdown only serving to highlight the point that you never quite know where Groan are headed until they get there. That remains true even as The Divine Right of Kings moves into its next phase, “Dissolution” setting the tone for more straightforward presentation of the band’s balance between doom and heavy rock. The lighthearted feel is maintained – even in its darkest moments, as with the ending of “Dissolution,” Groan can’t help but be a good time – but there’s a shift in momentum. “Dissolution” and the following “Atomic Prophets” and “Gods of Fire” play into each other less than did the opening salvo, each song coming to its own end without bleeding directly into the next. It’s a shift in vibe to match the sonic turn between “Magic Man” and “Dissolution,” but what remains consistent is the level of songwriting as “Atomic Prophets” gets underway, West’s kick setting the pace soon to be picked up by the whole band while Mazzereth hangs back a bit before unleashing the first verse. For all intents and purposes, “Atomic Prophets” is the stoner rock to stand up to “Dissolution”’s doom, but there aren’t any feelings of inconsistency going from one to the next – the first three tracks having done well to set up an open expectation.

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UK Special — Is There Life after Dopefight?

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 27th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Way back on Sept. 8 — which, is like, ancient history in Internet Dog Years (IDY) — one of the UK’s most irreverent sludge acts called it quits. Dopefight announced their disbanding on their Thee Facebooks thusly:

Official Announcement: It is with great sadness that we bring you all this news but we have decided to call it a day. Dopefight is no more. Unfortunately the differences between us as individuals, both personally and musically are now too great for us to continue as the friends we once were, let alone as a functioning band. We got to meet so many great people and did so much cool stuff as a band, we’re very proud of everything that we achieved! Apologies for the abruptness of this, sadly there will be no last show!

We’d like to thank every last one of you that has supported us in anyway, come to our shows, bought our records, let us crash on your floor etc. We are very grateful; we love you all because without you we could not have created so many amazing memories! It’s a shame that it has ended this way but time and people have to move on. All remaining merch will still be available to purchase, once it’s gone though it really is gone and our new split vinyls with Lex Rhino and The Fucking Wrath will still be released, we’ll keep you informed on the release dates. But don’t fear, new music projects are already on the way and there will be plenty of new music to come, we will keep you all informed, so please keep checking the page for all future announcements. Thank you and goodnight! RIP.

Don’t get me wrong, I was already really, really glad to have seen Dopefight at this year’s Desertfest in London (you’ll pardon me for recycling the photo above), but this changes everything. Aside from it being a massive shitter the trio couldn’t keep it together and continue to destroy both their own and the brain cells of everyone in their path, their departure leaves one to wonder just what’s next?

The statement above, though abrupt in its “sorry but we’re fucking done”-ness, does leave the door open. Dopefight‘s splits with The Fucking Wrath and Lex Rhino will be released, and though the band has put all of their merch on sale through their BigCartel store to get rid of it, the end of the statement still talks about other projects being underway, so there’s hope yet for more to come from these dudes — if not in Dopefight form.

Best wishes to the members of Dopefight for their future projects and thanks for kicking ass while it was feasible for you to do so. Good band, taken too soon.

Here’s a victory lap through “Stonk,” for old times’ sake:

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Heat Hit the Road for German Tour; New Album Release Tomorrow

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 27th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Berlin-based classic heavy rockers Heat will be celebrating the release of their debut album — also called Heat in a seeming effort to confound anyone who might think about searching for the band on the interwebs (I’ve provided links at bottom for navigational ease) — by embarking on a tour through their native Germany beginning tomorrow with a slot on the penultimate date of the Up in Smoke IV tour with Monkey3, Grandloom and Glowsun (info here). Not a bad way to start out.

The album can be streamed on the player below, hoisted from Heat‘s Bandcamp page, and will be available at the shows on this tour pressed to vinyl on the new Electric Magic Records, helmed by Christian Peters of Samsara Blues Experiment. Dude knows his psych.

Dig it:

HEAT over Germany 2012

28.09.2012 // Dresden – Groove Station (Up in Smoke)
30.09.2012 // Halle – Hühnermanhatten
01.10.2012 // tba
02.10.2012 // Kiel – Schaubude
03.10.2012 // Kassel – Das Haus
04.10.2012 // Köln – Tsunami Club
05.10.2012 // Siegen – Vortex (w/ Horisont, My Sleeping Karma)
06.10.2012 // Cottbus – Blue Moon Festival (w/ Horisont, Asteroid, etc.)
16.10.2012 // Berlin – Cassiopeia (w/ Voivod)
16.11.2012 // Dresden – Born Wild Festival
25.11.2012 // Berlin – Comet Club (w/ Siena Root)
07.12.2012 // Leipzig- Black Label Pub
08.12.2012 // Aschaffenburg – Unsagbar
15.12.2012 // Jena – Black Night

Heat’s Blogspot

Heat on Thee Facebooks

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UK Special — Litmus, Slaughterbahn: The Cosmic Highway

Posted in Reviews on September 27th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

After two celebrated albums through Rise Above Records, London-based space proggers Litmus return to self-releasing with their fourth full-length, Slaughterbahn. The album finds the unit no less Hawkwindian than ever, heavy doses of mellotron bringing out a King Crimson-esque feel on songs like “Kommissar” and “Satellites” while other songs – and indeed, other parts of those songs – delve into heavier rock, punk, new wave and more modern, Porcupine Tree-style riffing. Foremost, it is super-British. Way British. All three members who were in the band when Slaughterbahn was recorded at Foel StudiosSimon (guitar, synth), Martin (bass, mellotron, synth) and Marek (drums, synth) – contribute vocals, and the songs vary widely across the album’s 12 tracks/47 minutes, the opening three cuts, “Deeper,” “Spark” and “Breakout” setting the tone for much the expanse that follows by bridging a gap between classic space jamming and synth-laden punk insistence, all the while keeping a mind toward riffy hooks. For example, as it’s presented on Slaughterbahn, the central riff of “Deeper” is surrounding by a swirling wash, but its fuzzy start-stop guitar line in the verse isn’t so far off from Queens of the Stone Age at their peak, and that Litmus take the progression to an impressive run of guitar soloing and bass fills rounded out by mellotron and keyboard layering only speaks to the cohesiveness of the trio’s vision. With a clean, smooth production, “Deeper” announces no dip in Litmus’ level of songwriting – the chorus is memorable and conveyed without stepping away from the necessary sense of prog indulgence – and, as the more straightforward “Spark” takes hold, it becomes increasingly apparent that Litmus have expanded their breadth, not contracted it. The mellotron melody underscoring the final chorus of “Deeper” cuts to silence, a quick “yep” begins “Spark” and immediately the song takes off, Marek’s snare double-timing while Martin’s bass runs circles around it, Simon’s guitar tossing in lead lines as the build mounts to the tracks’ finish with an encompassing synth swirl. Mellotron also rings through the background of “Breakout,” but the pacing is even faster, Litmus seeming to strip the sound further down to its roots with each passing track.

The thing to keep in mind at this point is that these songs are all pretty short, so it’s happening fast. “Deeper” is 3:53, “Spark” is 2:59 and “Breakout” is 1:44, so Slaughterbahn isn’t yet 10 minutes on before it firmly establishes both that indeed there is no speed limit and that the road before the trio is both skyward and winding. As though by necessity, “Static” begins with a sampled explosion. How could it not? Litmus certainly sounds ready to blow by the end of “Breakout” – which barely had time for its own chorus but remained catchy nonetheless – so at 5:17, it’s up to “Static” to hit the brakes a bit and still manage to keep the flow consistent, which, fortunately, it does. At 2:50, a thicker, fuzzier guitar is introduced and the effect both darkens the atmosphere – mellotron and synth continue to intertwine behind – and begins an instrumental build that plays out over the remainder of the track, Marek’s drums layering in quick hits even as the kit itself fades to silence in anticipation of the coming rush of “Streamers,” which has a kind of classic jangle in its guitar tone and poppy hook of a chorus, taking a cue from late ‘60s British psychedelia and modernizing the cadence even as colors are sounded out in semi-harmonized layers of vocals. Just when it seems they’ve wandered too far from their purpose, they pull back to the chorus to finish, leaving it to the highlight cut “Satellites” to revive the space rock vibing. The guitar seems to count down to the song’s eventual liftoff, dual vocals and synth coming on to top and fill out the verse while the chorus is less of a hook but still memorable overall, Martin rounding it out with some of Slaughterbahn’s best bass while Marek keeps the beat straightforward and the guitars gradually reemerge. It comes to a head after the second chorus – the lines “Take the heavens, give me the stars/Give me the future/Blind obsession left in the past,” standing out like the new paganism of science – and then the quick “1×1” (actually 1:20) affirms Litmus’ ascent with a quick linear run that devolves into sci-fi boops and beeps.

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UK Special — The Debate Rages: Conan vs. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats

Posted in The Debate Rages on September 27th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

It’s the battle for next-gen British doom supremacy!

In a way, the question of Conan vs. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats all comes down to how you like your doom. If you want it with some of the world’s heaviest tones bashing you over the head alternately with ferocious hooks and unmatched lumber, you’re going to go with Conan. If you want it rife with slicing malevolence, lurking murderously in classic buzzsaw fuzz, as demented and mysterious in its slasher ambience as it is catchy and memorable, then Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats are the clear choice.

Yes, I know these bands are about as different as you can get and still call it doom. The way I figure it, that’s half the fun.

Conan released one of 2012’s best albums with Monnos (review here) and Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats‘ 2011 outing Blood Lust received such a massive response (not that I knew it at the time) that Rise Above couldn’t help but sign the band. Both acts have new material in the works — Conan are writing and Uncle Acid will enter the studio, of course, on Halloween — but as they have both have crazy momentum going into their next releases, it seemed like a good time to see where people stood.

There are a lot of bands coming out of the UK, but I’m hard pressed to think of two acts who so clearly highlight the diversity in the country’s current scene and the quality of material put forth by British artists. So what’s your pick for the forerunner of the next generation of British doom?

If you need a refresher, have at it:

Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats, “I’ll Cut You Down” from Blood Lust

Conan, “Grim Tormentor” from Monnos

As always, take your pick and leave a comment. Any other contenders are awesome too. Basically I just figured it would be fun to see how the support stacked up, so whatever you’ve got to say, it’s definitely welcome.

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