Review & Full Album Stream: The Golden Grass, Killer Boogie, Wild Eyes SF & Banquet, 4 Bands Split Vol. 2

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on April 29th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

4 way split vol 2 The Golden Grass-Killer Boogie-Wild Eyes-Banquet

[Click play above to stream Heavy Psych Sounds’ four-way split between The Golden Grass, Killer Boogie, Wild Eyes SF and Banquet in full. It’s out today.]

There are far more ambitions toward compilation series than there actually are actual, realized compilation series. Very often, a record label or other party putting together a multi-band release finds that the coordination involved isn’t worth the effort or the expense, and so a lot of “Vol. 1”-type offerings go without a sequel. Given the impressive roster and body of work that Italian imprint Heavy Psych Sounds is currently engaged in fostering, and the sheer amount of drive that the label puts into that process, it shouldn’t really be a surprise that the 2014 4-Way Split Vol. 1 (review here) has gotten a follow-up of like-minded scope. That first release brought together the venerable likes of NaamBlack RainbowsWhite Hills and The Flying Eyes, and worked with a heavy psychedelic and space rock influence as its central unifying theme, tying disparate material and recordings together with an overarching sense of purpose that resulted in a successful front to back flow despite the series of swaps of one band for another.

4-Way Split Vol. 2 takes a similar approach, but has swapped out the underlying theme of space for boogie, each of the four included acts — Brooklyn’s The Golden Grass, Rome’s Killer Boogie, San Francisco’s Wild Eyes and Banquet — digging deep into a classic shuffle presented with its own take across three songs apiece operating in various degrees of retro-fied style. Once again, the foundational commonality between the bands brings the material cohesion, and ultimately, 4-Way Split Vol. 2 highlights the cutting edge in where heavy rock is going and how its modern era is directly influenced by classic methods.

Those vibes start just about immediately as The Golden Grass kick off the release with the motor-riffing of “Livin’ ain’t Easy,” followed soon by the handclap swing of “Flashing out of Sight” and the flute-inclusive jam in “Hot Smoke and Sasafrass,” the trio nodding there toward some of the progressive influence they showcase on their also-newly-issued second album, Coming Back Again (review here), where both “Livin’ ain’t Easy” and “Flashing out of Sight” both have a more straightforward approach, more active on the whole than the laid back style of their 2014 self-titled debut (review here), but very clearly grown out of a similar mindset. Who-style acoustic/electric blend on “Flashing out of Sight,” vocal harmonies on “Livin’ ain’t Easy” and the aforementioned flute assure that The Golden Grass stand out from the crowd on 4-Way Split Vol. 2, but that will become as much of a theme for each act included as much as the concurrent thread of boogie.

Speaking of, Killer Boogie seem to have formed with their moniker as a mission statement, leaving nothing to question as to their intent on their three cuts, “You Will be Mine,” “Make Another Ride” and “The Thunder.” Their first album, Detroit (review here), arrived in 2015, and they weren’t a band for long before that, but with Gabriele Fiori — also of Black Rainbows and head of Heavy Psych Sounds — out front on scorching guitar and vocals (note the Hendrix turn in “You Will be Mine”) and The Wisdoom‘s Luigi Costanzo on drums alongside bassist Matteo MariniKiller Boogie party-vibe their way through infectious ’70s-style heavy, brash in the tradition of Blue Cheer but still owing just an edge of their sound to psychedelic swirl. These tracks prove Detroit was no fluke, and further Killer Boogie‘s position as one of the most exciting new groups of the last couple years.

Heavy Psych Sounds has rolled deep on the West Coast heavy rock boom, and one can’t help but feel like pairing Wild Eyes SF and Banquet next to each other on 4-Way Split Vol. 2 is intended to emphasize that point. Wild Eyes, who share bassist Carson Binks with Saviours and signed to the label in summer 2014 in time to play a European tour that fall put together by HPS‘ booking wing, begin their section with the blown-out, raw-after-a-night-out soul of Janiece Gonzalez, who proceeds to tear into that song, the blues-catchy “Gator Shaker” and shuffling “Hot Sand” with a commanding performance bolstered by the natural tonality behind it. After the initial wake-up call, Wild Eyes continue the momentum that The Golden Grass and Killer Boogie got rolling, while also distinguishing themselves with their boozy sway and still-friendly-until-they-punch-you fuckall.

Their last album, Above Becomes Below, was released in 2014 as the follow-up to their 2013 debut, Get into It! (review here), and they fit well alongside Banquet, who do the honors of rounding out 4-Way Split Vol. 2, only months after putting out their debut LP, Jupiter Rose (review here). Whether their three inclusions, “Seven Sisters,” the expansive and propulsive “Starmaker” and a righteous cover of Baby Huey‘s “Runnin’,” were recorded at the same time as Jupiter Rose or not, could go either way, but they certainly fit right in here, and the closing take on Baby Huey speaks to the underlying soul/funk influence that’s often the unexplored aspect of modern heavy. Mirroring the straight-ahead grooves of Killer BoogieBanquet bring the split to a raucous finish worthy of the good times preceding, and serve as a reminder of the vibe that draws all these acts together. What Heavy Psych Sounds might have in store for 4-Way Split Vol. 3, I’ve no idea, but it seems entirely likely that with two successful thematic compilations/splits under its belt, the label might just keep going with it. This installment does nothing but push momentum forward for all involved parties.

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The Western Mystics Stream The Last Western in Full

Posted in audiObelisk on April 28th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

the western mystics

On my first listen through of The Western Mystics‘ new live release, The Last Western (Live at Treefort 2016), all I had to go by was the waveform. I didn’t know the names of the songs they played, or where one started and one stopped, and while I’ve since been able to garner that information, I think the other way has a certain appeal as well. Not knowing where one piece ends and the next begins, The Last Western flows as a single entirety, and I’ve no doubt that’s exactly how it was presented at Treefort Music Fest 2016 last month in the band’s native Boise, Idaho, lush and psychedelic in some places, showcasing encouraging depth of ambience in quiet stretches with vocals as much as keys and/or baritone guitars, and taking off on flights of classically-styled progressive rock. In short, this is a band capturing the process of finding their sound on stage, live, as it happened.

That’s a pretty bold move for a group who, to-date, hasn’t yet released a studio outing of any form, but neither is it The Western Mystics‘ first time putting out a “bootleg” where a demo might otherwise appear. Then working as the trio of drummer/vocalist Brent Joel and baritone guitarists Travis X. Abbott (rhythm) and Nik Kososik (lead; also of Sun Blood Stories), the western mystics live at treefort 2016they made their debut last fall with Once upon a Time in the Cosmos (discussed here), establishing a space-and-Western thematic blend that continues however many months later into the Treefort performance, which also introduces keyboardist/vocalist Riley Anne Johnson. Her work here is not to be understated in refining the textures of this material. The richness keys bring alongside the depth of tone from Abbott and Kososik is evident throughout, whether that’s organ keeping up with the guitars in “Running from the Living,” the opening movement, or Rhodes-style note droplets bolstering the drones of the penultimate “Sea that has Become Known.”

At this point, I could tell you where exactly where each track starts and ends between “Running from the Living” and “Running from the Dying,” which closes with an apex of Magma-style progressive bounce, but I honestly think you’re better off like I was, making your way through the entirety of The Last Western (Live at Treefort 2016) without knowing and then hitting up The Western Mystics‘ Bandcamp to find the runtimes and how it all divides up as the band work their way closer to where they want to be sound-wise and stylistically through this material. It’s only been a few months since Once upon a Time in the Cosmos (on which “Running from the Living” also appeared), and that leads one to hope it won’t be much longer before a studio recording of one sort or another surfaces from The Western Mystics, who even on stage show themselves as being able to pull elements from various genres — prog rock, heavy psych, post-rock, drone, etc. — in order to service an individualized intent. I look forward, in other words, to nerding out over their debut. Whenever it might arrive.

Stream The Last Western (Live at Treefort 2016in full below. You’ll find more info on the release beneath the player.

Please enjoy:

The Western Mystics on The Last Western:

As far as our plans go, we are constantly writing new material, especially due to our newest member, Riley Johnson, on the keys. We are going to play some out of town dates in Washington and Oregon this summer with other Treefort Alumni and hope to keep pushing out new material.

We as a band are definitely fans of improvisation and writing on the fly so we can guarantee our next batch of songs won’t be anything like the previous.

Recorded Live at Neurolux for Treefort Music Fest V on 03/23/2016

1. Running from the Living
2. See You In Space
3. The Scary Can Be A Psyche Place
4. Intramolecular Summit
5. Sea That Has Become Known
6. Running from the Dying

All songs written by Brent Joel, Riley Anne Johnson, Nik Kososik & Travis X. Abbott

Brent Joel – Drums, Vocals
Riley Anne Johnson – Keys, Vocals
Nik Kososik – Lead Baritone
Travis X. Abbott – Rhythm Baritone

Live mix by Eric Penney & Lawrence Van Bishop at Neurolux. Mastered by Travis X. Abbott. Special thanks to: Tyler Walker (lights & visual effects). Photo credit: Cameron Andreas.

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Joy, Ride Along: Been Set Free (Plus Full Album Stream)

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on April 27th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

joy ride along

[Click play above to stream Joy’s Ride Along in full. Album is out this Friday, April 29, on Tee Pee Records.]

San Diego trio Joy made their debut on Tee Pee Records in 2014 with their second album overall, Under the Spell of… (review here), a jammy, boogie-loaded outing that seemed to distill much of what has become identified with the boom in Californian heavy, particularly centered around San Diego in bands like Radio Moscow and EarthlessJoy‘s exclamatory third LP, Ride Along!, continues the thread, features contributions from members of those two outfits as well as labelmates Sacri Monti, and refines the band’s approach both in its making — guitarist/vocalist Zach Oakley also stepping up to produce at San Diego’s Audio Design Studios — and in style, Oakley, returning bassist Justin Hulson and new drummer Thomas DiBenedetto (also Sacri Monti) stripping away some of the expanse songs on their last outing offered in favor of a more straightforwardly structured approach, if one still presented through torrents of winding blues riffs, fervent psychedelic boogie and heavy-minded grooves.

The elements are familiar — guitar, bass, drums, vocals, a flash of organ on “Red, White and Blues” and elsewhere, acoustics on “Peyote Blues,” etc. — but it’s the energy Joy bring to their delivery and the turns their material makes that ultimately distinguish them from the crowded West Coast heavy sphere, and in accordance with being of their place and of the heavy ’10s pastiche, Ride Along! issues an invitation that’s hard to refuse as it careens through its 10-track/40-minute run with little care for what or whom it leaves in its dust.

If a release like Ride Along! is going to work in the slightest, vibe is essential, and fortunately, Joy have it in spades. As guest personnel come and go, the band retains a solid — and by solid I mean utterly molten — foundation of hard-hitting blues boogie, the entirety of side A making for an opening salvo that seems to have launched only to launch again, retaining momentum across the first three cuts, “I’ve Been Down (Set Me Free),” “Misunderstood” and “Evil Woman” just to propel itself yet again with the infectious “Going Down Slow” and the ZZ Top cover, “Certified Blues,” which caps the first half of the record. In that span, Joy still find room to jam, whether that’s the layers of guitar on “Going Down Slow” or extended solo section in “Evil Woman” — she’s evil because she left, if you’re wondering — both of which traffic in wah-drenched gnarl, “Evil Woman” adding a touch of organ along the way or at least seeming to as it winds its way toward a return to the hook.

joy

Classic heavy is a touchstone there as on the preceding “Misunderstood” and “I’ve Been Down (Set Me Free),” but the sing-along shuffle chorus of the opener sets the tone for a natural, live-tracked feel that may owe even more than it realizes to the likes of Nebula even as it seems to be Oakley working on his own and pushing up against Radio Moscow-style rhythmic insistence. Speaking of, that band’s guitarist/vocalist, Parker Griggs, shows up on “Peyote Blues,” and Earthless drummer Mario Rubalcaba contributes to “Evil Woman” and side B’s “Red, White and Blues,” the former also featuring Sacri Monti‘s Brenden Dellar on guitar alongside Oakley. The guest spots are a welcome touch — not going to argue against hearing any of those people play — but Joy make the album’s primary impression on their own, twisting and turning to start side B with “Help Me,” a rawer sound adding elements of unhinged garage rock that suit them well amid the maddening insistence of DiBenedetto‘s drumming.

Its stomp no less riotous than “I’ve Been Down (Set Me Free)” at the start of the record, “Help Me” pushes into “Red, White and Blues,” which hardly tops three minutes but remains a standout for how it begins to push against the straightforward take much of Ride Along! has to this point presented, refusing to return from its solo section jam and instead giving way to the acoustic/percussion fade-in of “Peyote Blues,” which seems a kind of companion to “Death Hymn Blues” from Under the Spell of…, though more brightly psychedelic. The entrance of drums and electrified soloing near the halfway point builds to a head, and though the roots might be similar, “Peyote Blues” turns out to be arguably the most adventurous arrangement on the album. Even so, it seems to thrust its way toward the finish, leading to the all-swing-all-the-time “Ride Along!,” on which Oakley howls out the LP’s title line and adds a kind of far-back atmospheric sense as it fades out long but ultimately quickly, letting closer “Gypsy Mother’s Son” cap Ride Along! on a spacier, fuzzier note.

Also the longest inclusion at 6:27, it basks in the chemistry between OakleyHulson and DiBenedetto, lead lines tossed in over warm basslines and enviable snare shuffle, wah, vocal reverb, weighted shove — and finally, the departure into the jam at about three minutes in, drums leading the way out on a (temporary) boogie excursion that effectively captures stage-born vitality as the entirety of Ride Along! has been doing all the while. They turn back to the chorus, offer a big rock finish, decide they’re not done, ride out another measure or two, and cut “Gypsy Mother’s Son” cold to end. One can almost hear a crowd erupt. And who would argue? Joy‘s fleet-footed turns, their catchy songs, their balance between tripped-out effects and air-tight performances assure that, once again, they live up to their name. They’ve had a few jammier releases in addition to their proper studio albums, so I wouldn’t necessarily expect Joy to be finished altogether with the kind of acid-vibed explorations they previously honed, but it would be wrong to ignore the quality of the work they’ve done in carving these songs out of those jams in the meantime.

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Samavayo, Dakota: Crossing Lines (Plus Track Premiere)

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on April 25th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

samavayo dakota

[Click play above to stream Samavayo’s “Cross the Line” from Dakota. Album out May 6 via Setalight Records.]

Dakota is the fifth full-length from Berlin-based trio Samavayo, and it offers a distillation of hard and heavy rock, heavy psychedelia and Middle Eastern influences that results in a vibe not quite like anything else going. With seven songs and 45 minutes split up across two sides in an LP tradition, it offers a progressive complexity and clearheaded tonal push that even as it feels rooted in classic structures pushes beyond them with semi-metallic defiance. To look at the runtimes of the tracks, between five and seven minutes, roughly, there certainly would be space enough for variety in the material, but Samavayo bring together a diversity of influence beyond expectation and Dakota is that much richer as a a result.

Recorded at Big Snuff Studio by Richard Berhens (Heat, ex-Samsara Blues Experiment), it follows Samavayo‘s 2015 split with The Grand Astoria (review here), a 2014 split with One Possible Option, and their 2012 full-length, Soul Invictus, in presenting their forward-thinking crunch even as it marks the start of a new era for Samavayo, who work here as a trio for the first time on a long-player. That’s a significant change in dynamic, but in the end, Samavayo emerge from it with their identity intact, guitarist/vocalist Behrang Alavi leading the way on Persian-language opener “Arezooye Bahar,” a song with lyrics purportedly about freedom and arriving, of course, in the midst of Europe dealing with a migrant crisis.

That the decidedly Middle Eastern “Arezooye Bahar” should start off an album with the title Dakota — very American; taking its name from the native tribe, the word meaning “friend” or “ally” — from a band operating in the heart of Europe should give some sense of the melting pot scope of influence under which Alavi, bassist/vocalist/Moog-ist Andreas Voland and drummer/percussionist/vocalist Stephan Voland are operating. The tracks likewise are a cross-continental span of mood and resonance, “Arezooye Bahar” setting up the live-recorded feel that will ultimately tie seemingly disparate spirits together as the second-half apex of the opener gives way to the subsequent “Intergalactic,” the shortest track at 5:13 and among the most straightforward in its riff-led heaviness, all the more apparently so because it’s instrumental for its entirety, playing out like a more expansive Karma to Burn while serving to push the listener deeper into Dakota‘s broader context, full of thrust as much as emotional or social comment.

samavayo

“Kodokushi,” which follows, is the only other cut under the six-minute mark, and touches on some of the psychedelia that will show itself later, but keeps itself on a plotted course, taking in some of the Persian influence musically — think a less manic version of some of what Blaak Heat are getting up to these days, with more crunch — despite its English lyrics and offering one of Dakota‘s finest stretches of thrust as it moves toward its ending, Stephan getting the last word on toms as a transition into side A finale “Overrun” (premiered here), which also serves as the centerpiece of the album as a whole, rightly so for its added depth of melody, locked-in groove and the sense of command which Samavayo as a whole bring to it, shifting into a memorable and melodic chorus fluidly in the midsection before Alavi‘s wah-soaked lead and another run through the hook finish out.

There is not one song on side B that isn’t longer than everything on side A, but the three tracks on the back end of Dakota — “Dakota,” “Cross the Line” and “Iktsuarpok” — aren’t necessarily branching out beyond the point of recognition from what the likes of “Kodokushi” had to offer, even if they deepen the stylistic impact overall, the title-track adding percussion to the mix as it makes its way toward a sprinting riff-rock hook before opening to a chorus slowdown that makes an effective landmark and, as it’s repeated again at the end of the track, a suitable apex ahead of the drums-into-chug that starts “Cross the Line.” More of a swinging rhythm, but a lot of the underlying theme is the same, and when the full-toned hook kicks in, “Cross the Line” resonates with one of Dakota‘s most memorable impressions, shifting back through the verse and chorus again before spacing out a bit in the bridge and skillfully returning to the chorus to finish out, perhaps the best example here of Samavayo repurposing a classic structure to suit their own progressive purposes.

That sets up an admirable balance of intricacy and accessibility as the band makes their way into the airier opening of closer “Iktsuarpok” — from the Inuit; meaning a feeling of anticipation someone has that keeps them looking outside to see if someone is coming — which tips the balance again toward semi-psychedelia despite the earthy underpinnings of the bass and drums. I don’t know if it’s an added layer of guitar or what, but “Iktsuarpok” offers an even fuller sound than much of Dakota, and even as it chugs its way into a quiet (and momentary) break, it skillfully holds the tension that the prog metal grand finale will pay off, the last words, “You don’t know,” ringing out over a last crash of guitar, bass and drums. It’s as fitting a close as one could think of to an album so clearly intent on conveying a particular experience — of the melding of cultures, of emigrating, of seeking refuge — but perhaps most noteworthy of all, it is a fitting summary of all the things that make Samavayo who they are sonically, and it’s the clear expression of that which allows Dakota to work so engagingly as it does.

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audiObelisk Transmission 057

Posted in Podcasts on April 22nd, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

Click Here to Download

 

Given my druthers, I’d have had this up more than a week ago, but there was a bit of a crunch last week as you may have seen, so here we are. Better late than something something. The important thing is here’s about two hours’ worth of new music from psych to drone to sludge and if I do say so myself, it’s a pretty good mix of all of it. The first hour gets pretty driving by the time you get down to Gozu and Domadora before the big chill out with New Planet Trampoline, and though I’m always happy to include audio from improv specialists Øresund Space Collective, their “Ode to a Black Hole Pt. 1” might be their most tripped-out affair yet. Darker for sure, but way, way gone.

As always, the theme is simple — new music — and the goal is perhaps you’ll hear something you didn’t know before. The impact of Elephant Tree’s “Aphotic Blues” forced itself into the playlist, and I’ve been digging the hell out of new Goya, Telstar Sound Drone and Gozu releases, so they had to be here too. I hear some Floor in Spotlights, but there’s more to them than just that, which I think you can hear in “The Grower,” and that’s really just the start of what gets to be pretty expansive by the time it’s finished. Hope you enjoy.

Track details follow:

First Hour:

0:00:00 Curse the Son, “Sleepwalker Wakes” from Isolator
0:05:58 Valley of the Sun, “The Hunt” from Volume Rock
0:08:14 Spotlights, “The Grower” from Tidals
0:15:27 Dunbarrow, “The Crows Ain’t Far Behind” from Dunbarrow
0:18:47 Goya, “Last” from The Enemy
0:23:27 Sourvein, “Avian Dawn” from Aquatic Occult
0:26:54 Gozu, “Nature Boy” from Revival
0:30:01 Domadora, “Rocking Crash Hero” from The Violent Mystical Sukuma
0:34:40 New Planet Trampoline, “Acts of Mania” from Dark Rides and Grim Visions
0:43:26 Telstar Sound Drone, “Dead Spaces” from Magical Solutions to Everyday Struggles
0:49:27 Samavayo, “Overrun” from Dakota
0:55:58 Elephant Tree, “Aphotic Blues” from Elephant Tree

Second Hour:

1:01:53 Black Moon Circle, “Warp Speed” from Sea of Clouds
1:14:54 Jupiter, “In Flux” from Interstellar Chronodive
1:28:43 Øresund Space Collective, “Ode to a Black Hole Pt. I” from Ode to a Black Hole

Total running time: 1:54:43

 

Thank you for listening.

Download audiObelisk Transmission 057

 

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Wren, Host: No Seance for the Living (Plus Full EP Stream)

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on April 22nd, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

wren host

[Click play above to stream Wren’s Host in its entirety. EP out April 29 on Holy Roar Records.]

It was only two years ago that London post-sludge outfit Wren made their debut with a self-titled EP (review here) that found them immediately distinguished from among their many peers in the UK undergound. Since that early 2014 EP, Wren have put together a 2015 split with Irk (review here) the four-song EP Host, forthcoming from Holy Roar Records, both of which have featured changes in the lineup. Operating as the four-piece now of Owen Jones, Chris Pickering, Robert Letts and John McCormick, the band retain the sonic force of their two earlier/earliest offerings, but complement it with a cohesiveness of songcraft that’s on display here in a swaying cut like “The Ossuary” and the catchy “No Seance” (video posted here) that makes their overarching attack that much stronger.

Adding to that a structure that has Host playing two sides off each other to give its four inclusions a longer-shorter/shorter-longer flow and a pervasive sense of atmosphere in even the heaviest, rawest moments, and Host‘s densely weighted roll finds Wren beginning to pay off the potential that the first EP and split showed, even with different personnel involved at very least in terms of who’s fronting the band. A resounding churn will find Host compared to Isis and maybe Amenra, but there’s a post-hardcore bark in Wren‘s shouts that keeps them attuned to a sense of sludgy rawness while also adding aggression to the already smoldering material.

Opener “Stray” and closer “Loom” sandwich “No Seance” and “The Ossuary.” Both songs top eight minutes, and “Stray” begins with an immediate push of deep low-end and interplay of atmospheric riffing, the groove weighted but already in motion with the first verse. It’s not the most urgent thrust of Host, but it recalls some of Swarm of the Lotus‘ less chaotic moments and leads to an instrumental bridge that winds its way back toward a churn and interwoven layers of noise-rock guitar to fill out the chugging insistence. A slowdown before the halfway mark pushes the vocals farther back, but is short-lived as Wren are soon back up and steamrolling forward again toward a break of grabbed-cymbals and manic guitar-led rhythm that takes them to the song’s halfway point, which moves toward a wash of feedback that seems like it’s going to end the track, but at 5:39 kicks into a full-toned post-metallic crunch that provides an apex prior to the actual finish, also in feedback and noise.

wren (Photo by Gardenback)

Bass starts “No Seance” and is joined soon by guitar feedback and the drums. Though the shortest track on Host, “No Seance” is a highlight without question. More straightforward structurally than “Stray,” but also given a release-defining hook, it also makes no less of an impact, opening farther as it moves toward its second chorus, the drums holding a steady forward pattern to propel the chugging riff before swapping back to toms for nod-ready starts and stops that finish out, staggeringly heavy, completely in control and unremitting in their aggression.

That sense of poise and purpose continues onto “The Ossuary” at what’s the start of the vinyl’s side B. Though also shorter than either “Stray” or “Loom,” it’s nonetheless more open-feeling than “No Seance,” which was so much about its call and response in the chorus, and executes its linear course with a patient tempo early, swapping out at its midpoint toward a more unbridled push that gradually smooths itself into another crash-pushed nod, only to turn around again and move through once more. In that way, “The Ossuary” is almost like two songs put together, but especially in the context of Host as a whole, it works. Further, it readjusts the scope of the EP as a whole in a way that lets “Loom” go just about wherever it wants.

With echoing room-mic vocals over cycles of guitar, bass and tom runs, the opening of the closer recalls some of the first EP’s most post-rock moments, but on the whole, Wren have become a much more aggressive act in the last two years, and as “Loom” moves into its fierce push, a reminder of that is served. Some slow-motion blasting transitions back into the intro progression but degrades into noise to setup the final movement in the fuller second half, which plays out like a more single-minded version of “The Ossuary” but ultimately locks into a rolling riff that fades to close the EP, Wren leaving just a bit of threat behind that they might fade back in any any moment without actually doing so. I said as much when I posted the video for “No Seance,” but Host is an easy candidate for one of 2016’s best short releases, and while I don’t know if Wren have completely settled their lineup once and for all, if they were to press forward with a debut full-length as they are on these four tracks, there’s no way you wouldn’t call them ready for the task.

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Merchant, Suzerain: Seeds and Veins (Plus Full Album Stream)

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on April 12th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

merchant-suzerain

[Merchant release Suzerain on April 18. Click play above to stream the album in full.]

Proffering massive roll over four extended tracks, drenching itself in an encompassing bleakness and grand-scale semi-psych sludge extremity, Merchant‘s Suzerain impresses with a sense of vision underlying that few debuts can claim. A four-piece based in the crowded Melbourne, Australia, heavy scene, Merchant issued their first single, the 10-minute Seismic (review here), just last year, and Suzerain‘s four similarly-extended tracks affirm the potential that piece showed, while also expanding the band’s reach into YOB-style cosmic crush and menacingly abrasive growls, the first-names-only lineup of vocalist Mirgy, guitarist Ben, bassist/vocalist Wilson and drummer Nick coming together as a single, lurching unit, rawer than fellow Melbourne residents Whitehorse, but vibrant in a disaffection that wouldn’t be out of place alongside the heft of Horsehunter or Watchtower, despite having a danker atmosphere.

Though they get there anyhow, the tracks on Suzerain — “Seed and Soil” (8:51), “Mourning Light” (11:37), “Suzerain” (20:17) and “Black Vein” (8:59) — feel less concerned with conjuring tonal largesse than with making skin crawl, and as the opener thunders its way through its initial roll circling back for each verse line in a grueling nod, there doesn’t seem to be a goal set by the band that isn’t met by the time the chug opens up to dual-vocals and hits building to a head prior to the midsection. Ben introduces another element that will be in play across the record in the second half of “Seed and Soil,” which is the airy, psychedelic lead guitar cutting through all that crush, but in light of the aforementioned YOB and the likes of Ufomammut, one could hardly accuse it of being out of place, particularly as the solo shreds.

More accurately, playing space echoes off earthbound roll only deepens the complexity of what Merchant are able to do with their first album, and by expanding their sonic palette, they only further the potential they showed last year. When it starts following the raging finish of the opener, “Mourning Light” introduces itself with quiet but still tense guitar, drums joining after about a minute in and Mirgy‘s raw-throated rasp delivering the title line soon thereafter. A slow churn ensues that Nick‘s drums seem to be holding together amid the low-end wash of each riff. Again, we get a taste of psychedelic guitar early, but it’s brief, and Merchant soon dip back into the nod at the track’s core, the sheer density of it providing a gravity pull downward on the listener. It’s heavy, in nearly a physical sense. Past the midpoint, guitar and bass open up a bit, but it’s all leading toward a faster thrust at the apex of “Mourning Light,” an uptick in tempo leading, naturally, to a deconstructing slowdown that rounds out. One could quibble about which is actually the peak of the build, but at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter whether you’ve been hit in the head with a shovel or with a hammer — the result is the same.

merchant (Photo by Sally Townsend)

Of course, as it consumes 40 percent of Suzerain‘s 50-minute runtime, the title-track is a major focal point, and one which, further to the band’s credit, they execute fluidly across a purposefully overwhelming span, toying some with pacing early on, but only winding up more excruciating as Mirgy and Wilson again come together in layers of growing and the kick resumes circa the five-minute mark. The thud and roll that follows serves as the rumbling bed for a fuzzed-out lead from Ben, and at 7:53, a second layer of the solo joins in even more forward in the mix, the two coming together in a swirl that meets the lumbering head-on with its own scorch, such that as the verse resumes shortly before nine minutes in, the transition is jarring like a crash to the ground. This also is doubtless intentional. “Suzerain” stomps and crashes its way to its midsection on a gradual fade with the bass and drums remaining, joined soon by open-spaced guitar that seems to provide something Merchant haven’t yet offered: a moment of respite.

It’s brief. Before long, the band resume their full-weight course forward, uphill, in snow, dragging who knows what. But the effect of that quick break is important in the hypnotic element of it, lulling the listener into a false sense of security that’s soon to evaporate, as well as in showcasing Merchant‘s commitment to more than just heft and extreme vocals. Like the flourishes of melody throughout Suzerain and those which the lead guitar brings to the second half of the title-track, it’s another example of the four-piece working to distinguish themselves and establish a sonic personality of their own. They tease a faster progression, but ultimately keep “Suzerain” at its slow-grinding clip and bring it to a wash of noise from which the drums depart in the last minute to let the noise hold sway on a longer fade into the sudden crash of the intro to closer “Black Vein,” which Nick sets up as a faster thrust that maintains an angularity in kind with the opener before letting loose some of the pent-up tension in a more upbeat motion.

Playing back and forth in verses and choruses, they soon move into a post-halfway-point breakdown, vocal tradeoffs, china cymbal and all, and everything drops out save for the guitar, which resumes a chugging gallop before “Black Vein” hits its sixth minute. By then they’re bordering on thrash and it’s a wonder tones so thick can move at all, but though a big, final slowdown is somewhat telegraphed, that doesn’t make its arrival any less satisfying. Merchant hit the brakes and ride out “Black Vein” on a molasses lurch topped with a line of manipulated feedback that at last gives way to the oppressive final measure, faded out to close. It should say something that Merchant hold that aggression to the very last second of their debut, but it shouldn’t say that aggression is all the band has to offer. Suzerain might seem monolithic on an initial listen, but it’s not, and especially in light of it being Merchant‘s debut, it affords the band multiple avenues of growth going forward, even as it lands with all the apparent subtlety usually considered for giant rocks from outer space. Visceral at times, it nonetheless engages in how it conducts its own extremity.

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Atala Premiere “Gravity”; Shaman’s Path of the Serpent Available to Preorder

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on April 12th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

atala

Desert-dwelling trio Atala release their new album, Shaman’s Path of the Serpent, on May 20. With the returning lineup of guitarist/vocalist Kyle Stratton, bassist John Chavarria and drummer Jeff Tedtaotao, it’s a 32-minute four-songer that might lead one to wonder just what happened to the band between their 2015 self-titled debut (review here) and this second album, arriving about a year after they took the first record on the road. There is a stark difference in sound between the two releases, the prior outing having been produced by Scott Reeder and finding the trio exploring desert rock roots in a vaguely sludgy context, some harsher vocals worked in amid familiar rhythmic turns and driving heavy rock. Recorded in Oregon with Billy Anderson when they went on the aforementioned tour, Shaman’s Path of the Serpent is stylistically bolder and enacts a much larger sonic space, still capable of pushing into more caustic territory, as “King Solomon” shows, but more atmospheric on the whole, more patient and fluid. Perhaps with the first outing under their collective belt, they were able to gain a clearer picture of what they wanted their sound to do, or maybe Shaman’s Path of the Serpent will be a stylistic one-off. Either way, it’s a radical departure from where they were last year and, especially with the confidence they display throughout, one that suits them remarkably well.

Opener “Gravity” is the longest track on the album (immediate points) at 10 minutes flat, and it unfolds with echoing lines of prog-metal guitar, setting an ambient impression right away upon which the rest of the record continues to build. There’s a post-metallic element at play in the slow-rolling rhythm, but a vocal hook keeps the proceedings relatively grounded. A slowdown in the opener’s second half pushes into more cavernous fare, and they build back up to round out the track on a fittingly weighted note. Ultimately, “Levity” atala shamans path of the serpentfollows suit in its atmosphere, but between the blown-out vocals post-Electric Wizard and an Uncle Acid-style swinging riff, it does much to increase the album’s scope all the same, its post-midpoint cut in tempo leading to an open-spaced bridge and satisfying build topped by Stratton‘s echoing vocals, layered to rich effect. When they bring “Levity” back to its chorus, it gives a sense of structure to what seems to have long ago left that behind, and the percussive finish presages the heavier portions of “King Solomon” to come, which as the most abrasive stretches on Shaman’s Path of the Serpent, come across as driven more by Neurosis-style impulses than anything that’s come out of the desert in the last couple decades. This fervency comes offset by quieter, spacious parts, and where much of the long-player is geared toward a fluid overarching vibe, “King Solomon” feels more bent on basking in the contrast.

All the better to suit the scope of Shaman’s Path of the Serpent as a whole, which closer “Shapeshifter” continues to expand. In a way not entirely unlike the 10-minute “Sun Worship” from Atala, it finishes the outing with a particular fullness of sound, but from the warmth in Chavarria‘s bass to the push in the guitar tone that follows, it also emphasizes how far Atala have come in such a short time. There’s something foreboding lurking beneath “Shapeshifter”‘s early going, and it gradually comes forward so that by about five minutes in, the band are working at a slow crawl with far-back vocals to enact the biggest-sounding movement of the entire record. Unlike “Levity,” they make it pretty clear they’re not pulling this one back to any kind of hook once it’s gone, and for doing so, they make themselves even less adherent to a single methodology. Taken front to back, Shaman’s Path of the Serpent would seem to have been the result of a conscious shift in approach on the part of Atala, since, played next to their debut they’re barely recognizable as the same group. I won’t decry what they were able to accomplish last time out, but among the expectations I had for a follow-up, the kind of reach they show throughout these four tracks utterly surpasses them.

Please enjoy “Gravity” on the player below, followed by the dates and cities for Atala‘s upcoming tour, as well as the preorder link for Shaman’s Path of the Serpent.

Dig:

ATALA’s Shaman’s Path of the Serpent encapsulates the raw and mature essence of the band today. The album is a journey through the mind of guitarist/vocalist Kyle Stratton. Lord of Heaviness Billy Anderson (SLEEP, MELVINS, MASTODON) engineered the album, capturing the raw emotion and sonic heft that the band delivers in speaking to the listener. Shaman’s Path of the Serpent will leave the listener wondering if Stratton is lamenting the idea of death, reveling in the joy of its inevitability.

ATALA will embark on a U.S. tour in support of Shaman’s Path of the Serpent. Confirmed dates are below. Stay tuned for venue confirmations and additional dates!

ATALA on tour:
05.20 Bend, OR
05.21 Stockton, CA
06.18 Mesa, AZ
06.19 Albuquerque, NM
06.20 Oklahoma City, OK
06.21 St. Louis, MO
06.22 Pittsburgh, PA
06.24 Maryland Doom Fest, Frederick, MD
06.27 Charlotte, NC
06.28 Nashville, TN
06.30 Dallas, TX
07.01 El Paso, TX
07.02 Bisbee, AZ
07.03 Temecula, CA

Shaman’s Path of the Serpent preorder

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