Friday Full-Length: Altamont, Civil War Fantasy

Posted in Bootleg Theater on July 31st, 2015 by JJ Koczan

Altamont, Civil War Fantasy (1998)

If you don’t know Altamont, a side-project led by Dale Crover of the Melvins with Acid King‘s Joey Osbourne on drums and Dan Southwick (ex-Acid King) on bass, you’d have to be forgiven. It’s been a decade since their last album, 2005’s The Monkee’s Uncle, came out on Ipecac-offshoot AntAcidAudio, and their prior label, Man’s Ruin Records, went out of business in 2001. To the best of my knowledge, their 1997 debut EP, Wanted Dead or Alive, has never been reissued, but their first LP, 1998’s Civil War Fantasy, and their 2001 sophomore outing, Our Darling, were compiled onto a limited box set late in 2014 after being remastered by Crover and Toshi Kasai, and certainly Crover has been plenty busy with the Melvins‘ various incarnations in the last 10 years, also taking part in Shrinebuilder during their run, so I can’t imagine the guy is exactly flush with spare time. Still, to listen to Civil War Fantasy, the project certainly has its merits in showcasing Crover‘s songwriting, and though a weirdo chugger like “Whips” had some Melvins-ness to it, the vibe overall was different enough to warrant distinction. Presented in the then-style of Man’s Ruin with the front cover on the back tray of the jewel case — taking advantage of every inch available for artwork — it’s remained an album dug into its niche worthy of taking on by those who’d either happen upon it or purposefully seek it out either via the MelvinsAcid King or producer (also organist) Billy Anderson, maybe seeing it on a list alongside his other works of that era with Sleep and Neurosis.

However one might find it, Civil War Fantasy proves a worthy find, from the Jimi Hendrix cover “Exy Rider” to the noisy grit of “Black Tooth Powder,” an underlying straightforwardness of form allowing CroverOsbourne and Southwick the space to work out either an early-Alice Cooper fetish or tap into ZZ Top as they willed, all the while retaining a post-grunge crunch that would continue to evolve one of the staples of heavy rock that remains prevalent to this day. Of its pre-digital age, for sure, but not necessarily dated either purposefully or inadvertently, the album offers an unpretentious take with some loosely experimental flourish that keeps things interesting for the duration. Altamont may have wound up something of a footnote in one of riffery’s most populous family trees — I’m pretty sure “Melvins” is its own plant species in that regard — but for its motoring catchiness and weirdo edge, Altamont‘s Civil War Fantasy is a footnote that begs investigation all the same.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

I would say this week was one for the ages, but the truth of it is they all have been since about late May when I started working again. It’s been a rush for time ever since, and either my nights are spent writing or trying to catch up on stuff like email, and even downloading releases of stuff I want to check out, let alone getting to the actual, physical mail, is something that hangs over my head. I’m not saying it’s a hardship — well, I guess I am, but only in terms of not having enough time or energy for it, not in the people-sending-me-stuff part; that part I like quite a bit — but I am saying I’m frickin’ tired. All the time.

Getting sick last week was a bummer as well. It carried over well into Wednesday and even a bit yesterday, but I’m more or less back at full speed — much as I’m ever at “speed” — today, so that’s good. And work is good. I feel like I’m decently settled in. I wish I was about a decade less jaded than I am, but one could apply that to any number of existential facets.

But, I’m going down to Jersey this weekend to see family — what could be more restorative than an additional four hours of weekend road time? — and going out tonight to catch Reign of Zaius in Worcester, so I expect that will be good. Look out for that review on Monday or Tuesday, followed by reviews for BloodcowSons of Huns, and hopefully if there’s time, the Effervescent vinyl from All Them Witches. I also still have Radio Adds to do though, so a lot depends on time and energy, which if I was a betting man, is exactly what I’d bet against me having by the time the end of the week rolls around. Still, one does what one can.

I’m gonna get some Chinese food and then start driving. I hope you have a great and safe weekend. Please check out the forum and radio stream.

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

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Reign of Zaius Release New Single “Power Hitter”

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 31st, 2015 by JJ Koczan

reign of zaius (Photo by Jason Lee)

Been a while since the last time we heard from Brooklyn heavy rockers Reign of Zaius. Long enough, as it happens, for them to revamp their lineup and re-embark on a long series of regional gigs. It’s been a few years since I last was able to see them on stage, but they’ve been a steady presence around New York City’s heavy underground, and they’ve just put out a new single called “Power Hitter,” which marks the first time I’m hearing them with vocalist Leon Chase, and it’s an immediately favorable impression with some punker edge that suits the band’s roots well.

They played Brooklyn last night at Bar Matchless as the first of a three-night weekender that continues this evening in Worcester, MA, and concludes tomorrow in New London, CT. Single announcement and show details follow:

reign of zaius worcester show

Reign of Zaius Releases “Power Hitter”

Brooklyn-based stoner rockers Reign of Zaius have announced the earthly debut of a brand new single: “Power Hitter”. The song is available as a free download at the band’s website:

“Power Hitter” was recorded by Reign of Zaius at their secret headquarters (a.k.a. “the practice space”) in Brooklyn. This is the band’s first recording since a series of massive lineup changes—first with the recruitment of singer Leon “Space” Chase in 2014 and then, more recently, the addition of guitarist Mike “Creepy Mo” O’Neil. The change in personnel brought a definite shift in sound—with “Power Hitter”, the band’s previous two-guitar bombardment has given way to the much grittier, stripped-down feel of Mo’s single Les Paul.
The new single arrives just in time for Reign of Zaius’ “Obesity in Three Cities” mini-tour of the Northeast, beginning Thursday, July 30th at Brooklyn’s own Bar Matchless, and ending all the way up in New London, Connecticut on August 1st. Complete show info is available here:

Reign of Zaius, “Power Hitter”

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Lewis and the Strange Magics Post New Video for “Female Vampire”

Posted in Bootleg Theater on July 31st, 2015 by JJ Koczan

lewis and the strange magics

Barcelona trio Lewis and the Strange Magics will release their debut album, Velvet Skin, Aug. 21 through Soulseller Records. The full-length follows last year’s impressive Demo (review here), which was among my favorite short releases of 2014 and tapped into that Beatlesian Sabbathery while managing to at the same time remain distinct from Uncle Acid, who one could reasonably argue are the foremost practitioners of the form. All three tracks from the demo will appear on the upcoming record, but the new song “Female Vampire” is the first I’m hearing from Velvet Skin and it proves even more individualized than the prior offering, the three-piece dug in deep to a circa-1967 vision of lysergics that, in the clip, meets with circa-1975 horror, the song taking its name from the title of a film released that year.

Performance clips manipulated with psychedelic visuals and copious NSFW ’70s boobage ensues, mining the ultimately familiar terrain of vintage exploitation and sexualized violence. The song itself has a complementary sense of camp to it, the vocals putting on a Dracula voice — think, “I vant to suck your blood,” — to deliver the title line in the chorus. It suits Lewis and the Strange Magics well to take the whole endeavor not quite so seriously as most of their cult-minded peers, who seem hell-bent on making listeners think they spend their nights at blood-soaked rituals and whatever else, and the reason it doesn’t fall into parody is because the songwriting stands up. As will happen, Baphomet shows up by the end, but they rightly conclude with a plug for the new album, which is one I’ll hope to get the chance to check out.

Video below, followed by PR wire info on Velvet Skin. Enjoy:

Lewis and the Strange Magics, “Female Vampire” official video (NSFW)

On August 21st the debut album “Velvet Skin” by Lewis & the strange magics will be released via Soulseller Records on Cd/Lp(lim.300) and Digital!

LEWIS AND THE STRANGE MAGICS was born in Barcelona, Spain, during the summer of 2014. Shortly after they released their debut demo which received great reception from audience and critics. Only a month later the band signed with Soulseller Records to release the debut LP, “Velvet Skin”, during 2015.

The album talks about human perversion, which is developed from dark ambients with 60s and 70s sounds. It was recorded and mixed by Filippo Medda at Algusano Records Studio (Mataró, Spain), mastered by Pete Weiss at Verdant Studio (Athens Vermont, USA), and the artwork was designed by Jo Riou (Paris, France). The band’s musical influences go from Black Sabbath to The Beatles, mixing heavy riffs with pop melodies, all wrapped up in a psychedelic and dark atmosphere, inspired by cult movies and occultism.

Track list:
1. Carbon Wine
2. How To Be You
3. Suzy’s Room
4. Golden Threads
5. Nina (Velvet Skin)
6. Female Vampire
7. Cloudy Grey Cube
8. Your Evil Trip

Lewis and the Strange Magics on Thee Facebooks

Lewis and the Strange Magics on Bandcamp

Soulseller Records

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Greenleaf, Agents of Ahriman: Climbing Alishan Mountain

Posted in Reviews on July 31st, 2015 by JJ Koczan

greenleaf agents of ahriman cover and lp

The story of Swedish heavy rockers Greenleaf is one of perpetual evolution. There is no point in the outfit’s 16-year history at which they were doing the same thing twice. From their 2000 self-titled debut EP on Molten Universe (someday it will be mine), through the subsequent 2001 debut full-length, Revolution Rock (discussed here), the beginnings of their association with Small Stone Records on 2003’s Secret Alphabets, the grand productions of 2007’s Agents of Ahriman and 2012’s Nest of Vipers (review here) and the sustainable touring presence they became with 2014’s Trails and Passes, which recently led to their signing with Napalm Records for the release of their next album — currently in production — they’ve never been quite in the same place as a band. And for the most part, they haven’t had the same lineup either.

Begun as a side-project of Dozer by guitarist Tommi Holappa and Bengt Bäcke, who produced some of Dozer‘s earliest work and has played bass in Greenleaf through their entire tenure, Greenleaf has evolved from a studio outfit putting out occasional records in Dozer‘s downtime to Holappa‘s main focus — a considerable swap in position. When they released Agents of Ahriman, that transition was still a ways off, but the roots were being dug. Bäcke and Holappa were joined on drums by former Dozer drummer Erik Bäckwell and vocalist Oskar Cedermalm, who was at that time only beginning to make an impression with his own band, Truckfighters. Former Lowrider vocalist Peder Bergstrand (who was also the first singer in Greenleaf) and John Hermansen, who was then in the transition between The Awesome Machine and Mother Misery, also make notable guest appearances on vocals.

I do not at all mind telling you that Agents of Ahriman stands among my favorite heavy rock records — period. Of any era. Certainly it was one of the finest outings of the aughts, and I consider it a flawless execution of songwriting and performance. Not one second of its nine tracks/37 minutes is superfluous. Led by Holappa, Greenleaf bring a character to the modus of classic heavy rock that few have been able to parallel, let alone match, both presaging and out-boogieing the retro rock movement while still sounding modern in Bäcke‘s production, melodically complex in Cedermalm‘s arrangements, varied through the guest appearances — not at all limited to vocals; Jocke Åhslund‘s Hammond featuring on “Black Tar,” “Alishan Mountain,” “The Lake” and “Ride Another Highway,” while John Hoyles (now of Troubled Horse) adds a guitar solo to opener “Highway Officer” and Linus Arnberg brings cowbell stomp to swing-happy closer “Stray Bullit Woman” — and outright unstoppable in its righteousness of groove. Front to back, it is the kind of record one could use as a textbook to teach children about the joys of rock and roll.

And if this sounds like hyperbole, it is earned in the hyper-memorable choruses of “Alishan Mountain” and “Ride Another Highway” — Hermansen‘s one-man call and response rivaling Cedermalm‘s own — and in the spaciousness of the six-minute “Sleep Paralysis,” which in its last moments finally seems to be driving toward a payoff of its track-long tension, only to cut out at the moment of impact, breaking the rule under which it seemed to be playing, in Bergstrand doing his best Mark Lanegan on the attitude-soaked “Black Tar,” and in the riffs of “Highway Officer,” “Treehorn” and particularly organ-ic “The Lake,” which was the centerpiece of the CD and on the vinyl is the beginning point for a five-track side B that only gets richer as it pushes — and, in the case of “Ride Another Highway,” propels — toward “Stray Bullit Woman” as the closing statement. A more swaggering performance from Cedermalm there never has been, and the progression over which it comes is worthy of being called Mountain-esque — not a comparison to be made lightly.

There is one last guest appearance before Agents of Ahriman is finished, and it’s Emil Leo, who after emerging from a swirl of effects asks the simple question “And now what?” Eight years after the album’s initial release — worth noting this is the first time it’s out on vinyl — we know to some extent. Dozer would issue their final (to-date; one can always hope) full-length in the form of 2008’s Beyond Colossal, and after a few years of inactivity, Greenleaf would be resurrected again, this time with Dozer‘s Johan Rockner on guitar and Olle Mårthans on drums for Nest of VipersDozer bassist/vocalist Fredrik Nordin also made a guest appearance, along with Bergstrand and keymaster Per Wiberg — and began a touring cycle. That would be the end of Cedermalm‘s run with the band, Truckfighters taking priority as a worldwide touring entity and an outfit of increasing profile, and vocalist Arvid Jonsson took up the difficult mantle ably on Trails and PassesSebastian Olsson also stepping into the drummer role.

Greenleaf remains in seemingly permanent flux, and what their next record might bring when it arrives I wouldn’t speculate to say other than to note the reliable quality of Holappa‘s songcraft, which in partnership with Bäcke‘s production, was so plainly on display with Agents of Ahriman in its whole-album, all-killer impact. The LP version is a somewhat different experience, the sides not quite breaking evenly with the second longer than the first, but whether you’ve experienced what I consider Greenleaf‘s finest hour yet — Nest of Vipers was a grander affair and showed progression, but these songs are tattooed on my brain — or whether you’ve never heard the thing, it still proves itself to be an utterly essential listen for anyone and everyone who wants to know what heavy rock sounds like at its most right. You can say I’m overstating it if you want. You’re wrong. It’s already stood up to eight years, and listening to the vinyl, I hear no reason Agents of Ahriman won’t continue to endure into perpetuity. Recommended.

Greenleaf, Agents of Ahriman (2007/2015)

Greenleaf on Thee Facebooks

Agents of Ahriman on Bandcamp

Small Stone Records

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The Cosmic Dead Announce Sept. Tour Dates

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 31st, 2015 by JJ Koczan

After spending much of last summer on the road throughout Europe on a 34-date tour that spanned through June and July (they still have posters for sale, albeit in limited numbers), Glasgow heavy psych heads The Cosmic Dead have announced shorter run for Sept., this one sandwiching dates throughout the UK around shows in Belgium and France. They’ll be on the road with Girl Sweat, with whom they by amazing coincidence (note: not actually coincidental) also have a limited split tape that they’ll be selling at the shows, and playing after the tour is finished with Carlton Melton at a show set for Sept. 24 in their hometown.

Generally pretty prolific as those of their style are wont to be, this year’s actually been kind of slow so far for The Cosmic Dead in terms of releases, so it’ll be interesting to see what the next few months bring along with this new split.

Tour is presented by Swamp Booking, and the announcement follows:

the cosmic dead

THE COSMIC DEAD ? September Tour 2015

Swamp Booking, The Cosmic Dead & Buckfast are very pleased to announce this string of shows in which we shall be joined on the UK dates by our very good friend and personal masseuse, Russel Andrew Gray, AKA GIRL SWEAT!!! YOWZA. We will also have an exclusive limited edition cassette split with Girl Sweat available on this tour!

Since 2010, The Cosmic Dead have been exploring the outer reaches of Krautrock, doom and psychedelia, tasting the extremes of sound and fusing them into a single, all-enveloping web of stratospheric riffing, otherworldly ambience and kosmische textures that has spread itself across countless shows throughout all Europe.

07.09 – (UK) Newcastle – The Tyne Bar w/ Girl Sweat
08.09 – (UK) Bristol – Exchange w/ Girl Sweat / Henry Blacker
09.09 – (UK) London – The Lexington w/ Girl Sweat
10.09 – (BE) Brussels – Magasin 4 w/ a.P.A.t.T. / Umungus
11.09 – (BE/FR) TBC – TBC
12.09 – (FR) Rivieres – Baignade Interdite Festival
13.09 – (FR) Paris – Le Batofar
14.09 – (UK) Leeds – Brudenell Social Club w/ Girl Sweat
15.09 – (UK) Manchester – Kraak w/ Girl Sweat
24.09 – (UK) Glasgow – NICE N SLEAZY w/ Lumerians / Carlton Melton

Mugstar & The Cosmic Dead, Split (2014)

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We Hunt Buffalo to Release Living Ghosts on Sept. 25

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 30th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

After premiering the track “Back to the River” here last month from their Fuzzorama Records label debut, Vancouver trio We Hunt Buffalo have confirmed Living Ghosts as the title of said album, due out Sept. 25. They also had live dates in June with Cancer Bats and presumably will have more shows to come leading up to the record release, though that’s yet to be revealed either way. It will be their second full-length overall behind a 2011 self-titled.

The PR wire assures we’ve all got the narrative down:

we hunt buffalo

We Hunt Buffalo return with new album Living Ghosts on Fuzzorama Records | Stream and share new song ‘Back To The River’

Living Ghosts by We Hunt Buffalo will be released on 25th September through Fuzzorama Records

Fuzzorama Records is pleased to announce the release of Living Ghosts, the brand new album from Canadian psychedelic fuzz rockers We Hunt Buffalo.

Formed in the suburbs of Vancouver in 2010, with their debut EP the trio introduced the underground to a new band that in the words of Georgia Straight were, “dedicated to tracking down and capturing a dying breed of rock and roll.”

In hardly no time at all the band went on to generate a local buzz around the city’s rock scene where they soon crossed paths with Tanis Gibbons, apprentice to Colin Steward at local recording studio ‘The Hive’. Cutting their first full-length with Gibbons in 2011 – the self-titled We Hunt Buffalo – the album packed hard hitting, fuzz rock grooves and psychedelic metal in the spirit of Queens Of The Stone Age and Soundgarden. Fuelled by local acclaim, the band continued to play dirty rock and roll in and around Vancouver to a mounting fan base and in 2013 went on to release the EP Blood From A Stone, recorded at Nimbus School of Recording Arts by Alex ‘Condor’ Aligizakis.

Throughout 2013 the band toured and performed with the likes of Sleepy Sun, Band of Skulls and Biblical and was added as main support to Monster Truck on their cross Canada tour later that same year. Fast-forward to today and the band has racked up notable support slots with Red Fang, Cancer Bats, Chevelle, Danko Jones, Electric Six and Steel Panther, along with an unforgettable appearance at Victoria’s Rifflandia Festival.

Recorded by Jesse Gander (Bison, Japandroids, Anciients) at Raincity Recorders Living Ghosts will get an official release on Swedish record label Fuzzorama on 25th September.

We Hunt Buffalo:
Ryan Forsythe – Vocals/Guitar
Brendan Simpson – Bass/Vocals
Brandon Carter – Drums/Vocals

We Hunt Buffalo, “Back to the River”

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He Whose Ox is Gored Announce New Album The Camel, the Lion, the Child

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 30th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

he whose ox is gored (Photo by Reno Tripiano)

Hell yeah, new He Whose Ox is Gored. Sign me up. The Seattle four-piece will issue The Camel, the Lion, the Child — because sometimes you have a thing for cumbersome titles and you run with it — on Oct. 9 through Bleeding Light Records. Their prior 7″, Rumors (review here), was one of my favorite short releases of 2014, so yeah, their debut long-player after a slew of other EPs and singles and whatnots sounds like an easy pick to be worth checking out.

To herald its arrival, they’ll tour with Mutoid Man on the West Coast, as the PR wire informs:

he whose ox is gored the camel the lion the child

HE WHOSE OX IS GORED: Eclectic Doomgaze Ensemble To Unleash The Camel, The Lion, The Child This Fall Via Bleeding Light Records; Tour With Mutoid Man To Commence Next Month

Seattle’s HE WHOSE OX IS GORED has been raising the brows of the underground masses with their eclectic, oft trance-inducing fusion of doom, prog rock, post hardcore and psychedelic shoegaze since their inception in 2009. Following the release of their critically-adored, Bleeding Light Records-issued Rumors 7″ last year, the band will undrape their highly-anticipated full-length debut this Fall.

Titled The Camel, The Lion, The Child, the eight-track, near hour-long sound exhibition was tracked at Red Room and Ex Ex Audio in Seattle by Robert Cheek (Serial Hawk, Noise-A-Tron etc.) with additional recording taking place at Avast Studios with Randall Dunn (Sunn O))), Earth, etc). Matt Bayles (Isis, Mastodon etc.) handled mixing duties and frequent collaborator, Blake Bickel, mastered the album at Dynamic Sound Service.

Both sonically and conceptually engrossing, with The Camel, The Lion, The Child HE WHOSE OX IS GORED — Brian McClelland (guitar, vocals), Lisa Mungo (synths, keyboards, vocals), Mike Sparks (bass) and John O’Connell (drums) – transcend musical boundaries with their meticulous yet organically-executed amalgam of technical guitar compositions and atmospheric synth over a pummeling rhythm section manifesting a uniquely cinematic soundscape that paints a world ready to thrash and burn.

Elaborates McClelland of the band’s latest output: “The Camel, The Lion, The Child is a cup that runs over. From the writing process and through the studio, we made it a point to make the record that we wanted. The songs grow and breathe with their own lives and personalities, and unfold with layers that surprise us to this day. The excellent engineering and mixing of Robert Cheek and Matt Bayles raised the bar, and pushed us to make the best record we could. Now, we share it with you.”

The Camel, The Lion, The Child Track Listing:
1. Oathbreaker
2. Omega
3. Crusade
4. Zelatype
5. Alpha
6. Magazina
7. Cairo
8. Weighted By Guilt, Crushed Into A Diamond

HE WHOSE OX IS GORED will wage their sonic alchemy upon unsuspecting ears next month on a short bout of live dates sharing the stage with rock and roll juggernaut, Mutoid Man. Set to commence on August 22nd, the band will traverse seven cities (five with Mutoid Man) with additional live excursions in their plotting stages.

8/22/2015 Barboza – Seattle, WA w/ Mutoid Man
8/23/2015 Venue Nightclub – Vancouver, BC w/ Mutoid Man
8/24/2015 Hawthorne Theater Lounge – Portland, OR w/ Mutoid Man
8/25/2015 Starlite Lounge – Sacramento, CA
8/26/2015 Bottom Of The Hill – San Francisco, CA w/ Mutoid Man
8/27/2015 The Echo – Los Angeles, CA w/ Mutoid Man
8/29/2015 The Boreal – Eugene, OR

Tuned low and turned up, HE WHOSE OX IS GORED released their debut EP, Op Amps, in 2009 on their own Void Assault label. Featuring heavy guitars and atmospheric synth-centric soundscapes, the band managed to bend genres into a formidable crossover composite. In 2010, the obscure unit unleashed their Tad Doyle (TAD, Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth)-produced follow-up, Op Amps II: Into The Ethers. Through multiple tours and personnel shifts, the band continued to refine their sound and entered Seattle’s Red Room Studios with Chris Common. The resulting Nightshade EP was three tracks of crushing doomgaze, built on texture and aggression.

HE WHOSE OX IS GORED’s The Camel, The Lion, The Child will be released digitally and on limited edition vinyl (500 double gatefold LP ) via Bleeding Light Records on October 9th, 2015 with Breathe Plastic Records (Netherlands) releasing a limited edition tape version of the production. Teaser tracks and preorders to be announced in the coming weeks.

He Whose Ox is Gored, Rumors 7″ (2014)

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Undersmile, Anhedonia: Back into the Water

Posted in Reviews on July 30th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

undersmile anhedonia

Aesthetic continues to play a large role for UK dual-vocal four-piece Undersmile, whose second full-length, Anhedonia, is out on vinyl through Black Bow Records. The Oxfordshire outfit released their debut, Narwhal (review here), back in 2012 and since then have embarked on an acoustic side-project called Coma Wall, even releasing a split called Wood and Wire between the two bands in 2013 (they also had a split with Bismuth out that year). Because that alter ego contains all four members of Undersmile — guitarist/vocalists Hel Sterne and Taz Corona-Brown, bassist Olly Corona-Brown and drummer Tom McKibbin — I wondered if perhaps some of that influence might sneak its way into the workings of the new Undersmile offering. Aside from a shared theatrical sensibility between them and an enduring penchant for slow pacing, both of which Undersmile already had in their arsenal, almost not at all.

I’ll note that Taz and Hel work together more dynamically as vocalists here than on the debut, but with a few years between and some considerable stage time throughout that span, there’s nothing to say that wouldn’t have been the case anyhow. What Anhedonia is, however, is monolithic. At seven tracks, 75 minutes, it dips below the 10-minute mark just once for second cut “Sky Burial” (8:02), and spends the rest of its time reveling in a near-complete wash of darkness and grueling lumber. One might be tempted to call it drone-doom for the overbearing plod it enacts on “Song of Stones” or opener “Labyrinths,” but the truth of the listening experience isn’t that cut and dry, and for all its (purposeful, useful) unipolar churn, Anhedonia creates rich atmospheres.

We could almost call those atmospheres colorful if we were talking about the deep purples and blacks of the album’s fitting Peacevillean cover art, but either way, they play into the stylized drawl of the material — Hel and Taz‘s vocals either sung clean or shouted, but almost always in a drawn-out delivery to match the nodding material behind, which opens gradually on “Labyrinths” and proceeds to trade back and forth throughout the album in massive swells of volume and minimalist spaciousness, an early flair of strings showing up on the opener that will play in again deeper into the abyss on the penultimate “Emmenagogue” and elsewhere. Rhythmically, the course of Anhedonia impresses perhaps most of all in that it manages to hold together and not — as one might be inclined to do while listening — stop halfway through, have a good cry for days gone and what could have been made of them, and go back to the rest later.


“Sky Burial” works with similar explosive tendencies, and by the time it’s done, Undersmile‘s intent to absolutely overwhelm their audience is writ large. Pushing toward the midsection, “Song of Stones” builds to a heavy push in its middle and again near the end — strings coming forward around the halfway point of the track only to be consumed by the grueling distortion captured at Skyhammer Studio by producer Chris Fielding (also of Conan), reappear, and be swallowed again for the effort. Take that, any sense of hope whatsoever. Centerpiece “Atacama Sunburn” would seem to draw together a water theme present in the band’s past works — Narwhal had its nautical moments, as did Wood and Wire, and even their 2010 debut EP, A Sea of Dead Snakes, was a sea — and a huge vision of waves remains an appropriate image for the undulating force of Undersmile‘s groove — but the real standout of Anhedonia is “Aeris,” which follows.

As one would expect of Undersmile at this point in their tenure, it’s consistent atmospherically with its surrounding pieces, but “Aeris” offers a melodic fullness all its own, and it doesn’t quite stand in contrast to what’s around it, but it marks a definite broadening of the context. It winds up affecting the listening experience for “Emmenagogue” and closer “Knucklesucker” as well, though the finale has its own intentions, which it keeps secret almost to the very end as if to see who among those who’ve taken Anhedonia on might make it that far. After an oozing linear build for its first nine minutes, feedback transitions into faster (gasp!) riffing that solidifies around McKibbin‘s drums and shifts into a more ’90s-style noise rock, the repeated lines, “I don’t feel hollow/I don’t feel sorrow/I don’t feel anything, really,” metered out over a push of growing intensity. It slows down prior to deconstructing at the finish, but even if for just a minute, Undersmile proved it’s possible to make a sound of such enduring thickness move, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find them pushing it further next time.

Of course, with that there comes a full 74 minutes of suffocating doom, but that’s precisely the point. Undersmile‘s intent isn’t to make it easy on the listener, but to challenge their audience to plunge these emotional and sonic depths with them. As a result, Anhedonia is successful because it feels throughout its course like the four-piece are dragging you along with them on their slog through this oppressive ambience. The party album of 2015 it ain’t, but in its progression beyond what Undersmile have done before, for a more personal feel throughout and for the still-monstrous scope with which it plays out, it’s hard not to stand in awe of the wide waters the band continue to cast, be haunted by the otherworldly presence in their melodies and get lost in the tidal sway of their rhythms.

Undersmile, Anhedonia (2015)

Undersmile on Thee Facebooks

Undersmile on Bandcamp

Black Bow Records

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