Quarterly Review: Sourvein, Mantar, Elevators to the Grateful Sky, The Poisoned Glass, Spirit Collector, Phiasco, The Cosmic Dead, Postures, Estoner, The Black Explosion
Well here we are. Standing on the precipice of a week of 50 reviews, looking out together at the geographic and sonic expanses that will be covered. I never know entirely what a given Quarterly Review is going to bring. Some have been smooth, some not. This one is being put together very little pre-production in terms of chasing down band links and that sort of thing, so I expect it’s going to be an adventure one way or another. I’ll keep you updated as we go as to my mental state and the deterioration thereof.
If you don’t know the drill, The Obelisk’s Quarterly Review is a week every three months in which I review 10 albums per day, Monday through Friday. Some of it was released in the prior three months, some of it is brand new, some of it probably isn’t out yet, some of it is probably older. It’s all relevant one way or another. I hope you find something you enjoy.
Quarterly Review #1-10:
Sourvein, Aquatic Occult
Looking at the makeup of Sourvein’s much-awaited fourth album, Aquatic Occult (on Metal Blade), it’s understandable why it might’ve taken five years to put together. Yes, they had splits out in between, as they do, but the band’s last full-length was 2011’s Black Fangs (review here), and though the 14-song/42-minute Aquatic Occult is manageable, with a host of interludes to carry the listener along its thick-toned, undulating waves, a swath of guest appearances no doubt played havoc with logistics. Fortunately, Sourvein’s figurehead, vocalist T-Roy Medlin, seems to thrive on chaos. Working with producer Mike Dean (C.O.C.), and a revolving-door lineup that here features Lou Gorra of Halfway to Gone, Medlin brazenly explores a more melodic dynamic than he ever has. It’s a rare band looking to experiment after 20 years, a rarer band still that pulls it off so well. There’s still some sludgy rasp and guest growling, but Sabbathian roll is the order of the day ultimately and Medlin’s homage to his home in Cape Fear, North Carolina, establishes a breadth unheard before from Sourvein that’s worthy of the years and obvious effort that went into its making.
Mantar, Ode to the Flame
Hamburg duo Mantar’s blend of thrash, sludge and blackened doom is brash, righteously punkish and thus far uncompromised in its malevolent intent. On their second album and Nuclear Blast debut, Ode to the Flame, songs like “Era Borealis” swagger as much as they sneer, the middle-finger-up arrogance becoming part of the appeal. “The Hint” offers some tinge of melody and “I Omen” some organ-laced atmospherics, but Mantar, who debuted in 2015 with the also fire-minded Death by Burning (review here) on Svart, carry their extremity forward like the next logical step of the same impulses that High on Fire once brought forth. Their tempo shifts, from blazing squibblies to outright lumbering, are pulled off with due fuckall, and the shouts from guitarist/vocalist Hanno and drummer/vocalist Erinc are spit forth in a manner near-indecipherable but still have no trouble getting their point across. Mantar are positioning themselves to be the kick in the ass that the underground needs. The next few years (and albums) will see how that pans out, but for now they have two scorchers under their collective belt.
Elevators to the Grateful Sky, Cape Yawn
There is a stylistic restlessness to stretches of Elevators to the Grateful Sky’s second record, Cape Yawn (on HeviSike), that becomes the uniting factor between the adrenaline-amped opening with “Ground” and “Bullet Words” and the later dream-surf Yawning Man-meets-sax unfurling of the title-track. The Palermo, Italy, outfit have stated their intention as capturing a blend of ‘90s alternative and modern heavy. Fair enough, but hearing that play out on the penultimate “Mountain Ship” in a mix of weighted riffing and laid back vocals giving way to shouts, it seems that to me that next time out, Elevators to the Grateful Sky should probably just start saying they sound like themselves, because they do. Granted, they’re pulling elements from familiar sources – Soundgarden, Kyuss, etc. – but in giving them new context, the four-piece are defining their sound as moving fluidly between the various styles, and that’s to be commended. The more you put into listening, the more you’ll get out of it.
The Poisoned Glass, 10 Swords
Representing a 50 percent reunion of Burning Witch, the droning contemplations and hellish atmospherics of The Poisoned Glass’ Ritual Productions debut, 10 Swords, pique immediate interest. And bassist/percussionist/etc.-ist G. Stuart Dahlquist and vocalist/keyboardist Edgy 59 do not disappoint. With unspeakable patience, they execute six grueling and cinematic pieces that seem to find comfort in tortured expression and that feel claustrophobic even as they continue to expand outward and downward through “Plume Veil” and “Toil and Trouble” into the extended closing duo “Silent Vigil” – spoiler alert: not actually silent – and “Low Spirits,” which moves from minimalist stillness through far-back screams and into a wash of synth before its seven minutes are up, covering more ground in one track than some bands do in their entire career. Fair to say on the whole 10 Swords is an immersive listen, but the prevailing vibe is much less “diving in” than “being swallowed whole by some obscure medieval terror.” So, you know, watch out for that.
Spirit Collector, Owls to Athens
Los Angeles newcomers Spirit Collector make their debut with the self-released, three-song Owls to Athens EP, clear in its intent and brimming with airy, post-rock-derived guitar atmospherics. A particularly telling moment arrives with the Terence McKenna sample in centerpiece “Reclaim Your Mind,” which speaks of casting off the culture of celebrity worship for a richer human experience, but it’s in the extended closer “Theosophy” (7:57) that Spirit Collector find their footing someplace between a doomed plod and thoughtful psychedelia, picking up a chugging momentum as they push through toward the almost blackened finish, having come a surprising distance since their eponymous opener set the tone for expanse. An encouraging first offering if somewhat familiar superficially as instrumental heavy post-rock (think Explosions in the Sky, Russian Circles, Red Sparowes, etc.), and there’s nothing in Owls to Athens to make one think Spirit Collector can’t move forward and develop the experimental drive they begin to show here.
Vieh, the debut full-length from Colonge-based desert rocking foursome Phiasco, takes its name from the German word for “cattle.” The band owe some of their fuzz to Truckfighters and some of their psychedelic wash to Sungrazer, but the attitude in songs like “Ultimate Warrior” – comprised largely of riffs topped with an extended sample from the titular professional wrestler – and “Sunndown” is their own, as is the we’re-still-having-a-really-good-time-while-we-make-this-15-minute-song closer “Phisco” (sic), a highlight of the live-recorded full-length, which across its span is light on pretense and heavy on bounce. Cuts like “Old Town” and opener “Back to the Future” – hey, that’s a movie! – bring catchy hooks, and the uptempo “Erasing Rabbits with My Phaserlight” winds up as harmonized as goofed out, and thus is all the more engaging. There’s a certain amount of getting by on charm here, but Phiasco have a capable, varied songwriting process that’s given due fullness and clarity in these eight tracks.
The Cosmic Dead, Rainbowhead
Man, who gives a shit about anything else when Glaswegian five-piece The Cosmic Dead are enacting their hypnotic swirl? Their latest instrumental invitation to watch existence melt is called Rainbowhead and it arrives through Paradigms Recordings (CD) and Blackest Rainbow Records (LP) with four tracks that serve as the band’s first full-length since 2014’s EasterFaust, though they’ve had splits in between to keep a prolific rate of offerings fitting for their explorational heavy psych/space rock. The bulk of Rainbowhead is engagingly upbeat as side A plays out across “Human Sausage,” “Skye Burial” and the 13-minute “Inner C,” and side B’s 18-minute title-track follows suit as The Cosmic Dead seem to have found a similar niche between progressive rock and psych to that which Mammatus proffered on their most recent outing. It suits The Cosmic Dead, and they keep an improv vibe prevalent as ever, grasping the subconscious with trip-on-it lysergic pulsations.
Deeply textured and lush in its construction around guitar arrangements, percussive and keyboard-laden melodic flourish, Postures’ second full-length, Halucinda (on World in Sound), plays back and forth between prog and heavy rock impulses. The Gothenburg, Sweden, five-piece seem most at home in extended tracks like “Myriad Man,” “Every Room” and the jazzy 10-minute “Wavemaker,” but even the acoustic-led centerpiece interlude “A Million Sequences” invites the audience to turn up the volume for maximum wash effect. Paulina Nyström delivers a powerful, commanding and fluid vocal performance, and while the rhythm section of bassist Per Pettersson and drummer Isak Björhag are the foundation on which these complex structures play out – Viktor Andersson and Benjamin Watts handle guitar; Madeleine Sjögren is credited with backing vocals/keys and Margit Gyllspång percussion/backing vocals – there’s no angle from which Postures don’t come across rich and vital in their winding but well-plotted course, one song feeding fluidly to the next until the dreamy “In the Dark” rounds out with the emotional apex of the record.
Estoner, Lennud Saatana Dimensioonis
What else to call a stoner band from Estonia? Estoner’s appeal, however, goes well beyond their moniker. The Tallinn-based outfit’s second album, Lennud Saatana Dimensioonis, arrives in a handmade hexagonal CD package, heat sealed, as well as with complete visual accompaniment on limited VHS and cassette via Golem Records. The music is no less relentlessly creative, running a gamut between prog, black metal, heavy rock, psychedelia, space rock and probably a few others in its seven-track course. A song like “Teleporteerumine” conjures darkened swirl and “Reptiloid” follows through with foreboding threat, but Estoner plunge even deeper as they go, proferring aesthetic reach that makes seemingly disparate elements work together fluidly on “Hüvasti, Kosmiline Monoliit” and the 10-minute closing title-track. Perhaps the highest compliment one can pay to Lennud Saatana Dimensioonis is to call it Svart-worthy, as its diverse means of engulfing the listener speak to a forward-thinking approach that one can only hope Estoner continue to develop.
The Black Explosion, Atomic Zod War
Extra points to Swedish troupe The Black Explosion for opening their third album, the space-fuzzed out Atomic Zod War (on Metalville Records), with its longest track, the 13-minute “Paralyzed.” That song offers a languid voyage through uncharted jammy reaches, and that sets an open, laid back expectation that the rest of the album seems only too glad to build on, from the Nebula-via-Monster Magnet blown out vibes of “Ain’t Coming Home” to the semi-garage buzz of “Going Down,” a highlight groove that emphasizes the natural, raw tones at play leading into “Get My Mind Together” and the finisher “Devil Inside,” which brings the guitar of Chris Winter (also Dollhouse) forward with backing from bassist Simon Haraldsson and drummer Andreas Lindquist that feels born of the new West Coast tradition but is likely playing off of older impulses. But for its hey-look-it’s-tits cover art, the grit Atomic Zod War offers comes through organically and draws the listener in with its live feel and underlying boogie.
Tags: 10 Swords, Aquatic Occult, Atomic Zod War, California, Cape Fear, Cape Yawn, Cologne, Elevators to the Grateful Sky, Elevators to the Grateful Sky Cape Yawn, Estoner, Estoner Lennud Saatana Dimensioonis, Germany, Glasgow, Golem Records, Gothenburg, Halucinda, Hamburg, HeviSike Records, Italy, Lennud Saatana Dimensioonis, Mantar, Mantar Ode to the Flame, Metal Blade Records, Metalville Records, North Carolina, Nuclear Blast Records, Ode to the Flame, Owls to Athens, Palermo, Paradigms Recordings, Phiasco, Phiasco Vieh, Postures, Postures Halucinda, Rainbowhead, Ritual Productions, Scotland, Shithead Records, Sourvein, Sourvein Aquatic Occult, Spirit Collector, Spirit Collector Owls to Athens, Sweden, Tallinn, The Black Explosion, The Black Explosion Atomic Zod War, The Cosmic Dead, The Cosmic Dead Rainbowhead, The Poisoned Glass, The Poisoned Glass 10 Swords, Unsigned bands, Vieh, World in Sound Records