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Review & Full Album Stream: Void Cruiser, Wayfarer

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on February 23rd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

void cruiser wayfarer

[Stream Void Cruiser’s Wayfarer in full by clicking play above. Album is out Feb. 27 on Argonauta Records.]

Though they seem to operate solely under a spaced-out thematic — members credited with “low frequency engine,” “battering apparatus,” and so on — the actual stylistic range with which Finland’s Void Cruiser operate feels much broader. Rather than simply live by the “what would Hawkwind do?” ethic, the Helsinki four-piece’s second album, Wayfarer (also their debut on Argonauta Records), follows 2015’s self-released Overstaying My Welcome and 2013’s Motherload EP and lives up to its name in the kind of meandering path it takes between aesthetics. Space is a factor for sure, but as they play between longer-form pieces like “I Didn’t Lie but I Know Now that I Should Have” and closer “Maailman Kallein Kaupunki” and the quicker shots of “As We Speak” and “All over Nowhere,” Void Cruiser actively defy pigeonholing any more specific than catchalls like “heavy” or “atmospheric,” and set their course for variety over redundancy.

With seven tracks and a 46-minute runtime, Wayfarer is substantial but not unmanageable, and the lineup of guitarist/vocalist Santeri “S-Salo” Salo, bassist/backing vocalist Lassi “T-Hug” Tähtinen, guitarist/backing vocalist Vili “V-Salo” Salo and drummer Teemu “T-Bag” Rantanen bring considerable breadth and personality to the material, commanding the turns they’re making rather than being led by them. Further, because even songs like “Madonnas and Whores” and “Seven Years Late,” which are relatively straightforward in their structure, have a marked tonal largesse and sense of patience, Wayfarer ties together its diverse sonic proposals with an overarching spaciousness of production that makes it all the more immersive to the listener. Surprises abound, but none of the moves Void Cruiser make feel out of place in a way they’re not intended to be. Some, however, are very definitely intended to be.

The prevailing first impression is one of patience as they begin with the rumble and slow roll of the introductory “A Day on Which No Man was Born,” starting with a low-toned drone and moving into an instrumental progression of slow nod that runs over five minutes, setting the listener up for some of Wayfarer‘s more heavy psychedelic aspects as they continue to play out in the subsequent “I Didn’t Lie but I Know Now that I Should Have.” Cumbersome in its name, the second track is likewise patient in how it unfurls, blending grunge — particularly in Santeri‘s vocals — with a languid drift as it makes a chorus of its title-line in its first half before shifting post-midpoint into more of a jam, vocals and all, as they build toward a shouted apex à la Facelift-era Alice in Chains, the key difference being the depth of mix surrounding Void Cruiser and the wash of wah in the solo that proceeds to lead them out of the song over the next couple minutes.

That turn to belting it out is the first clue of Void Cruiser‘s sonic range, and “As We Speak” adds to it immediately with a classic stoner feel run through the aforementioned effects-driven spaciousness. The vocals indulge a scream that speaks to some underlying metallic influence, but “As We Speak” feels more like a Lowrider single played at two-thirds speed than anything aggressive, even in that brief moment, and at 3:32, the shortest track on Wayfarer boosts the forward push that’s been subtly working all along with its quicker tempo ending giving way to “Madonnas and Whores” as the centerpiece. Despite ultra-prevalent low end, the beginning of the seven-minute “Madonnas and Whores” still holds to some rhythmic swing, but plays out moodier through its early verses and choruses, and the hook almost has a tinge of Southern metal as it stomps into a bridge that cuts suddenly just past the four-minute mark into a psych-jam of steady rumble and guitar noodling that comes back around in time for a full-boar solo finish into some hit-stops that bring the song to a close before an obscure sample presumably draws down an intended vinyl side A.

Perhaps the most unexpected transition on Wayfarer arrives in the form of “Seven Years Late,” which while consistent tonally with its surroundings takes on a goth-metal brooding that seems drawn directly from Type O Negative in its guitar work, in its play between slower and faster tempos, its low-voiced spoken part and the backing gang vocals that show up toward the end of its six-minute run. Void Cruiser telegraph the influence via the guitars early, so it’s not like they’re trying to get away with something, but while songs hint at metallurgy prior, the fuller dive of “Seven Years Late” kicks off side B with a genuine blindside punch that, as it gives way to the 4:38 thrust of the penultimate “All over Nowhere” barely has time to be as out of place as it feels like it should be and somehow isn’t. A rocker like “As We Speak” before it, “All over Nowhere” holds to the thickness of the album as a whole and has its context changed somewhat by “Seven Years Late,” but stands up to the task of re-centering Wayfarer in order that 10-minute finale “Maailman Kallein Kaupunki” can set resolutely to its charge of summarizing the record as a whole.

Unsurprisingly, the bassline helps a lot, especially early. Void Cruiser build through psych-grunge atmospheric rock, and top that low end with airy guitar work before solidifying around a forward progression, the lyrics in Finnish, that even seems to tip its hat toward the Type O Negative-ity of “Seven Years Late” as it rolls through its middle, eventually slowing to a nod that seems like it’s going to come apart entirely before eight minutes in, only to have a Kyuss-style desert riff take off at a sprint from the morass. The last push is one more surprise from an outing that’s offered plenty of them, and as they cut short and rumble their way out on a fade before hitting 10:00 flat, one almost can’t be certain there won’t be something else still to come.

Creating that feeling of unpredictability over the course of a single LP isn’t easy, and it’s commendable as a basic intention, but what makes Wayfarer stand out even more is how fluidly Void Cruiser navigate these aesthetic planes, pitting one element next to but not necessarily against the other in order to craft something more individual from them. This is a key factor in Wayfarer‘s success, but of course the occasional bit of rocking the hell out doesn’t hurt either.

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Review & Full Album Stream: Kingnomad, Mapping the Inner Void

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on February 22nd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

kingnomad-mapping-the-inner-void

[Click play above to stream Kingnomad’s Mapping the Inner Void in full. Album is out this Friday, Feb. 24, on Ripple Music.]

When it comes to new bands, there are some who just kind of get together in a room and see what comes out. Not a bad approach by any means. In many instances, for a lot of acts with the right combination of players, it works. Others seem to approach even their very beginnings with a specific idea of what they want to accomplish and then set to building on that. Notwithstanding Kingnomad‘s purported history — that guitarists Jay and Marcus got together in 2014 to jam Sabbath and then riffs came out and they called up bassist Maximilian and drummer Andreas to join in — the sound of their Ripple Music debut full-length, Mapping the Inner Void, would seem to place them squarely in the latter camp.

It is a record whose seven tracks/38 minutes brim with aesthetic purpose, and granted they’ve had a couple years to put it together, but even so, their sound does not come across as one onto which one might just stumble blindly, melding as it does modern cultishness with classic progressive melodies and semi-vintage tonality, marked out by the sporadic use of spellcasting samples to play up further ghoulish sentiments amid the fuzzed-out roll of a short Lovecraftian nod like “Whispers from R’lyeh,” which follows the one-two opening salvo of the catchy, almost post-Ghost pop spirit of “Lucifer’s Dream” and “Nameless Cult,” and sets up transitions into blues rock, expansive psych and garage doom that follow throughout “The Witches Garden,” “The Green Meadow Part 1 & 2,” “She Wizard” and closer “The Waiting Game.” With the flow the four-piece enact between these cuts and the standout moments of songcraft in them, yes, it seems utterly reasonable to me to attribute their making to more than happenstance. This is a band with a stylistic message.

That message? Perhaps that there are still realms of dark magic to be explored in classic-minded heavy rock. I’m not talking necessarily about the tropes of cult lyrics — though there’s some of that to be had throughout Mapping the Inner Void, for sure — but more about the magic of a collaborative creative effort. Jay, who in addition to playing guitar also sings and handles keys (piano and organ), is a formidable presence throughout the record as he was when Kingnomad met with Michigan’s BoneHawk on Ripple‘s The Second Coming of Heavy: Chapter Three split (review here) in 2016, but a considerable difference is in the production, which feels hairier by the time the audio collage at the start of “Lucifer’s Dream” has given over to the song itself. Its arrival is marked by Dead Meadow-style fuzz riffing and a slow drum march for the verse that calls to the aforementioned Ghost with falsetto backing layers in the first chorus.

Immediately, structure seems to be something to toy with as the band launches at the halfway point into more uptempo swing before deftly returning to the fuzzy march, this time topping with a flourish of organ and piano to lull the listener into a false sense of security before the explosive open of “Nameless Cult” proffers old horror sampling en route to one of Mapping the Inner Void‘s strongest choruses. They lean on it a bit and rightly so, since while “Nameless Cult” will find something of a mirror in the penultimate “She Wizard” toward the album’s end, the journey there in the three songs between — not to mention the closer after — is varied enough to warrant a stretch on the most solid of ground. Or at least as close as one can come to it with a hook that seems to take flight as that of “Nameless Cult” does. In any case, though “Whispers from R’lyeh” is almost definitely still on side A, as an interlude it functions almost as a second intro to the album, with an already-noted brief but heavier roll and a few airy lines of guitar leading into centerpiece track “The Witches Garden,” which makes itself a highlight in subtler fashion than did “Nameless Cult” via boogie shuffle and a laid back vocal from Jay that adds atmosphere and melody in kind.

Ringing bells begin “The Green Meadow Part 1 & 2” in what’s almost certainly intended as a call to worship, and dense garage-doom fuzz takes hold on a slow-rolling plod for the next two-plus minutes, dropping out to let the vocals stand alone for the first line of the song before there emerges a blown-out nod that reintroduces the organ around its midpoint and consumes with tone and the lumbering of its rhythm. At seven-plus minutes, “The Green Meadow Part 1 & 2” has room for guitar and drum solos, but Kingnomad rightly bring it back around to the chorus again at the end and harmonize guitar lines over the last percussive roll in order to change the progression even as they’re tying the song together, making it whole and complete and that much broader at once.

As mentioned, “She Wolf” is the second to last cut on Mapping the Inner Void, which also makes it the centerpiece of side B — I think — and it functions well between the more extended “The Green Meadow Part 1 & 2” and “The Waiting Game,” with a simpler arrangement of neo-biker chug and forward rhythmic movement, once again using its keys well for depth of arrangement as it heads directly for the start of “The Waiting Game,” which with its intro of hi-hat and lazily strummed guitar and ensuing march seems to be speaking directly to Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats‘ “Death’s Door,” though much to their credit, Kingnomad make this influence their own.

Layered-in backing vocals add to the chorus as the band plays between fuller and sparser places on their stomp, and though it seems with the pre-midsection solo at about three minutes in that they’re headed out for good, they pull back for another verse before actually making their departure into concluding instrumental exploration, a controlled freakout that runs “The Waiting Game” to its full 8:38, bringing samples back in amid increasing noise before cutting everything out and letting the guitar finish Mapping the Inner Void on the central line of the song, held out at the end on a satisfying fade.

While not flawless in its performance in a manner that would speak to studio trickery, from the click-of-play that starts “Lucifer’s Dream” to that guitar line closing “The Waiting Game,” one finds no aesthetic missteps on the part of Kingnomad, who thereby further the notion of stylistic purpose behind their work. That’s not to say they haven’t left themselves room to grow — watch out next time for increased confidence in the vocals — but that their starting point has given them a clear path to travel. As a debut, the complexity of Mapping the Inner Void unfolds more on repeat listens, and the band earn those listens all the more through songwriting, making the album all the more a success in terms of balance, craft and execution.

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Ripple Music website

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Atavismo, Inerte: A la Deriva con Propósito (Plus Track Premiere)

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on February 21st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

atavismo inerte

[Click play above to hear the premiere of ‘Pan y Dolor’ from Atavismo’s Inerte. Album is out April 7 via Temple of Torturous and can be preordered on CD, black vinyl and clear vinyl.]

Expectations for the second album from Spanish trio Atavismo were set pretty high following their gorgeously cosmic and serene 2014 debut, Desintegración (review here). Inerte makes short work of them. Expanding from four to five included tracks, it sees guitarist/vocalist/synthesist Jose “Poti” Moreno (ex-Viaje a 800, Mind!), bassist/vocalist Mateo and drummer/vocalist Sandri Pow (also ex-Mind!) push brazenly past the fluid textures of their first outing and hold onto some sense of ethereal psych-jazz jamming — hola, “El Sueño” — as they find ultimately more progressive footing.

Released like its looser-feeling-in-hindsight predecessor through Temple of TorturousInerte answers some of the questions the band posed with the space-rocking single “Haribo” (discussed here) and affirmed for their audience that they’ll not necessarily be defined by one course or another, one sound or another, and that their goal is far more individualized than to simply execute the tenets of heavy psychedelia, space or prog rock, even as their aesthetic pulls from each of those and more besides. Songs like “Belleza Cuatro” and opener “Pan y Dolor” offer distinctive moments of resonance marked by beautiful melodies and rhythm that can either be insistent and winding, as in “Pan y Dolor”‘s first half, or barely there at all, something carrying the song forward like a gentle river current, as in the drifting guitar-led midsection of the aforementioned, 11-minute “El Sueño.” This nuanced blend is presented with a lush but natural production captured this past October at Trafalgar Estudios in Cádiz, and does nothing across its 42-minute span to rescind the invitation to the listener issued by its in medias res launch.

The tighter feel of Inerte and the uptick in progressive influence from Atavismo is as immediate as that launch itself. A quick, fuzzy lead line careens into forceful Iberian acoustic strum as the vocals arrive for the first verse. It happens fast, but is welcoming nonetheless, and a play back and forth between the electric and acoustic ensues between chorus and verses for the next several minutes, Moreno and Pow and Mateo singing together in classically prog form as a kind of mini-chorus themselves — an element of space rock willfully repurposed and put to excellent use. Shortly before the halfway point of its eight-and-a-half-minute run, “Pan y Dolor” breaks into a wash of guitar and keys/Mellotron that is as hypnotic as it is joyous, with just an undercurrent of foreboding, cutting itself off at 6:48 in order to reintroduce the acoustic strum and resume the song’s prior course, as if to say, “don’t worry, it was just a dream.” It may well have been, and if so, it wasn’t the last.

“Pan y Dolor” builds to its conclusion and “El Sueño” kicks in with lower tone and a deceptively fast tempo, Mateo‘s bass more prominent in the mix. This is the bed over which vocals soar for another soon-arriving verse, and their being somewhat more drawn out — notes held longer — than the opener prefaces the turn into calmer fare that the second track makes at about the 4:20 mark, the tension Atavismo have thus far mounted seeming to let itself go in favor of more improvised-sounding jamming driven by fuzzed-out psychedelics and effects flourish that settles in a delight of meandering wah and builds to an apex over its last couple minutes as it recalls its own early going without necessarily returning to it outright. That jam carries Inerte‘s longest inclusion to its finish and the finish of side A, ending in a cymbal wash and surge of guitar noise that emphasizes the live feel it has fostered all along.

atavismo

Centerpiece “La Maldición del Zisco” backs sparse guitar with a steady bass and drum progression and fills out its arrangement with keys, using the guitar more as an outward-ringing accent to its early verses, spacious and patient, before it at last launches into what one might call its chorus right around three minutes in. It’s a moment of taking flight through sound and Atavismo make the most of it in terms of thrust, but they’re still not forcing the song to go anywhere it doesn’t want to go.

They dip back into the verse easily and return to the mostly-instrumental chorus quicker the second time through, then proceed to jam their way out of the track, fading to silence just before the seemingly complementary “Belleza Cuatro” — the two are the shortest cuts on Inerte at 6:18 and 5:18, respectively — takes hold in a soothing trance of liquefied guitar and keys. Its importance in being positioned as the penultimate track before 10-minute closer “Volarás” shouldn’t be understated, and as MorenoMateo and Pow drift toward that grand finale, they do so with no less purpose behind them than they had rushing at the outset of “Pan y Dolor.” Vocal harmonies echo under sweet lines of guitar and softly-thudding drums, and a louder, fuller tone rises in the second half, but they still cap quietly, which gives the percussion/keyboard opening of “Volarás” an even more dramatic sensibility. This is something of a ruse, on the band’s part — another dream, maybe — because just after three minutes of building to who knows what, they juke left and shift into a particularly Floydian blend of lightly-strummed guitar, keys, bass and drums, a memorable keyboard line serving as the core around which the rest is placed.

This will be the movement that carries Atavismo out of their second record, and it seems to be a final highlight of the point that their progression is by no means a settled issue. It is striking how many different looks the band gives in these five tracks and how able they are to tie them together as a single flowing work. As “Volarás” quietly makes its way out, Inerte seems to have done as much through understatement as through its reaching new heights, and if it’s in that balance that Atavismo will find their place, then all the better. Whatever they do going forward — Moreno and Pow also have a new four-piece project in the works with former Viaje a 800 guitarist Jose Angel “Oceano” Galindo called Híbrido, adding intrigue to this release — Atavismo have exceeded the potential their debut showed with Inerte and given their listeners a work of depth and breadth that should be treasured for years to come.

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The Obelisk Radio Adds: Evil Acidhead, Gypsy Sun Revival, Albinö Rhino, Monarch, and Vision Éternel

Posted in Radio on February 20th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk radio

My going motto for this site, which basically I repeat to myself like a mantra, is to do as much as I can when I can. Obviously that fluctuates, and I think that’s a good thing on many levels, but I’ve had more time recently to pay due attention to the goings on with The Obelisk Radio and I’m thankful for that. This is the second round of adds for this month, and in addition to the offerings highlighted below, another 30-plus releases have gone up to the server as of today, including some choice bootlegs from the likes of Lowrider, Brant Bjork, Vista Chino, Greenleaf, Acid King, Neurosis and Kyuss. I encourage you to check out the full list of adds here. It kicks a formidable amount of ass.

The Obelisk Radio adds for Feb. 20, 2017:

Evil Acidhead, In the Name of all that is Unholy

Evil-Acidhead-In-the-Name-of-all-that-is-Unholy

This 2015 reissue on Agitated Records of Evil Acidhead‘s In the Name of all that is Unholy becomes particularly relevant since 2017 marks 30 years since its original release. Offered as a cassette in 1987 by guitarist John McBain (Monster MagnetWellwater Conspiracy), it tops an hour and 17 minutes and crosses the first of its two LPs before it’s even finished with its four-part opener, and only then digs into the 23-minute “I Control the Moon.” A challenging listen front to back even three decades later, it holds to an experimentalist core of guitar effects, swirl, loops — which are near-maddening on side B’s “Part III: Possession” — and malevolent, droning abrasion. What’s stunning about it is if you said this was something McBain recorded a few months ago, there would be no choice but to call it forward-thinking. Imagine a record that 30 years later still offers a legitimate sense of being ahead of the day. Not that it never happens, but it’s certainly rare, and In the Name of all that is Unholy seems to willfully sidestep what we think of as reality in favor of its apparently timeless hellscapes. It’s far, far away from pleasant, but it sure as hell is impressive.

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Agitated Records website

 

Gypsy Sun Revival, Gypsy Sun Revival

http://cdn.theobelisk.net/obelisk/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/gypsy-sun-revival-gypsy-sun-revival

Fort Worth trio Gypsy Sun Revival make their debut with this 2016 self-titled full-length and earn immediate notoriety for their blend of heavy psychedelic and straightforward rocker impulses as well as the fact that the vinyl version of the album sees release through ultra-respected purveyor Nasoni Records. One might recall the last time the Berlin-based label picked up a Texan band, it was Wo Fat, so it’s no minor endorsement of Gypsy Sun Revival‘s potential, and the three-piece of vocalist/bassist/organist Lee Ryan, guitarist/thereminist Will Weise and drummer Ben Harwood live up to it across the 46-minute seven-tracker, songs like “Cosmic Plains” finding a middle ground between sleek ’70s groove and modern thickness, setting up longer post-Zeppelin jams to come like “Idle Tides,” which, though fluid, rely less on effects wash to get their improvisational point across than the raw dynamic between the band itself. As a debut, Gypsy Sun Revival impresses for that, but even more for the level of immersion it enacts the further along it goes, so that when they get to languid instrumental closer “Radiance,” the band’s approach seems to be in full bloom when in fact they may only be beginning their forward creative journey.

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Nasoni Records website

 

Albinö Rhino, Upholder Live at Ääniwalli, Helsinki 17.12.2016

Albinö-Rhino-Upholder-Live

I’m pretty sure all those umlauts are going to crash the radio stream every single time this gets played, but a 41-minute digital live version — offered as a name-your-price download, no less — of Albinö Rhino‘s heavy psych epic “Upholder” recorded this past December in their native Helsinki is too good to pass up. The Finnish trio issued the studio edition of the three-so-far-part piece late in 2016 under the simple title Upholder (review here), and Upholder Live at Ääniwalli, Helsinki 17.12.2016 comprises a 41-minute single-track rendering of the first two parts brought together with onstage energy and a fitting showcase of the song’s longform jamming path. Led by Kimmo Tyni‘s guitar work — no less recalling early Natas via Sungrazer and Sleep here than in the studio recording — and gruff vocals, the live incarnation also benefits from the deep patience in Ville Harju‘s bass and Viljami Väre‘s drumming, as heard under Tyni‘s moog solo circa 14 minutes in. It’s soon for a revisit of Upholder itself, but as well as getting additional mileage out of the piece, Albinö Rhino bring a different flavor to the live execution of it to this digital-only outing, and if it catches more ears as a 41-minute single song as opposed to being broken up over two sides, there’s no way that’s going to hurt them. Either way you get it, its soul, heft and molten vibe resonate.

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Albinö Rhino on Bandcamp

 

Monarch, Two Isles

monarch-two-isles

Not to be understated is the sense of poise that pervades Two Isles, the debut full-length from Encinitas, California, psychedelic progressives Monarch. Delivered via Causa Sui‘s imprint El Paraiso Records — the gorgeous art treatment is consistent with their hallmark style — and produced by Brian Ellis (AstraPsicomagia, etc.), it locks into classically winding turns or melodic flourish with equal ease on side A pieces like the opening title-track and “Assent,” proffering scope but not necessarily pretense. Call it prog in the new West Coast tradition if you must, “Dancers of the Sun” and the more insistent staccato of “Sedna’s Fervor” are dead on either way, and the five-piece of guitarist/vocalist Dominic Denholm, guitarists Nate Burns and Thomas Dibenedetto (see also Joy and Sacri Monti), bassist Matt Weiss and drummer Andrew Ware save their finest showcase for the just-under-10-minute finale “Shady Maiden,” summarizing their liquefied proceedings in more than able fashion, reaching ahead of themselves as the style warrants, and once more proving what might be hypnotic were it not such an active, exciting listen.

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Monarch at El Paraiso Records

 

Vision Éternel, Echoes from Forgotten Hearts

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Echoes from Forgotten Hearts is the latest EP from Montréal-based solo artist Alexandre Julien, who operates under the banner of Vision Éternel, and it comprises seven brief individual tracks numbered in French as “Pièce No. Un,” “Pièce No. Deux,” etc., of wistful guitar lines and serene dronescapes. The balance that a “Pièce No. Deux” is able to strike by sounding so broad and wide open and yet only being 1:47 is striking, and it makes the release flow together all the more as a work on a single emotional thematic, and while it all only winds up being 14 minutes in total, Julien is able to bring that thematic to life in that time with depth and grace, so that when the relative sprawl of the 3:45 closer “Pièce No. Sept,” takes hold, one only wishes it would go on further. Note this is one of several Vision Éternel offerings joining the playlist this week, and Julien has a boxed set in progress collecting a number of his outings to be released sometime later this year, including, I believe, this one, which originally came out in 2015. Hopefully it’s not long before he follows it with new material.

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Vision Éternel on Bandcamp

 

Thank you as always for reading and listening.

To see everything that joined the playlist today, please visit The Obelisk Radio.

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Review & Full Album Stream: Deep Space Destructors, Psychedelogy

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on February 17th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

deep-space-destructors-psychedelogy

[Click play above to stream Deep Space Destructors’ Psychedelogy in full. Album is out Feb. 27 on Space Rock Productions.]

Goes without saying that time is a construct and that humans’ ability to understand it only relates to our very small, very remote position in a much vaster universe and that even the figures the construct presents are utterly beyond our conception — i.e., we cannot fathom 200 of our own years, and our years are meaningless to the surrounding cosmos. That’s a given. However, three years between full-lengths still feels like a long time for Finnish (nations: also a construct) trio Deep Space Destructors. Their fourth full-length, Psychedelogy, arrives via Space Rock Productions, which is the imprint helmed by synth wizard Scott “Dr. Space” Heller of Øresund Space Collective and known for releasing that band’s work as well as other projects and offshoots.

To my knowledge, Deep Space Destructors — bassist/vocalist Jani Pitkänen, guitarist/backing vocalist Petri Lassila and drummer Markus Pitkänen — have no relation to that collective (yet), so all the more it’s an endorsement that should ring in the ears among the cosmically converted. The Oulu natives earn it well in the four tracks of Psychedelogy, which follows the 2015 two-songer Spring Break from Space (review here) as well as their first three long-players, 2014’s III (review here), 2013’s II (review here) and 2012’s I (review here), and stay true to the Hawkwindian roots of the genre while exploring progressive textures of their own. At an easily-digested 38 minutes, Psychedelogy presents its two sides — side Space and side Void (the last EP did likewise) — with poise and without pretense. They’re going on this trip one way or the other. Whether or not you come along is going to be your call.

Each half of Psychedelogy pairs a shorter piece with a longer one. Opener “Journey to the Space Mountain” (7:55) will be familiar to anyone who caught wind of Spring Break from Space, since it launched that brief offering as well. It is particularly suited to the task here too, with a fervent thrust that kicks up interstellar dust almost immediately following a quick sample and enacts immersive swirl as it makes its way toward its fist-in-the-air-moment-of-galaxial-righteousness title-line hook. Both it and the 10-minute “Spacemind,” which follows, have an underlying sense of triumph, but the momentum that carries through them isn’t to be understated, Markus and Jani making for a rhythmic powerhouse beneath Petri‘s echoing solo as “Journey to the Space Mountain” pours through its midsection, eventually making its way, gloriously, back to the chorus as part of a build the apex of which strikes just before feedback caps off.

A quieter, more Floydian beginning sets the course for “Spacemind,” but there’s a tension in the bass and drums as well as the first verse takes hold, Jani‘s vocals coated in effects, keys adding to the melody of Petri‘s guitar. Before the two-minute mark, “Spacemind” hits into its chorus with even more of a feeling of arrival than “Journey to the Space Mountain,” but it’s still just the beginning, as Deep Space Destructors use that as the launchpad for an instrumental bridge of classic prog fits and turns before moving back into the soothing verse section like nothing ever happened. They’re not yet at the halfway point of the track, but the fluidity of what they’ve executed already makes “Spacemind” a particular highlight of Psychedelogy. The ensuing jam, calm but purposeful with periodic vocal overlay, seals that, and when the three-piece ignite thrusters and push toward the song’s conclusion, the payoff seems to last until the very final second, clearly making the most of its time — which, just as a reminder, is a construct and doesn’t exist. Brain goes pop.

I don’t know if there’s an intentional difference between side Space and side Void in terms of what Deep Space Destructors are looking to accomplish, but it’s easy enough to read the second half of Psychedelogy as pushing further out along the progressive path the band has thus far marched. Both “Return to the Black Star” (7:05) and closer “From the Ashes” (12:34) keep the flow molten, the overarching vibe spontaneous but subject to some command, and come fleshed out by effects and synth, creating the parameters of the alternate universe in which they dwell. With Jani and Petri together on vocals, “Return to the Black Star” echoes some of the Hawkwindiness of “Journey to the Space Mountain,” but is more patient in that exercise and more willing to bring an improvised-seeming lead to the foreground in its back end. Again, this doesn’t necessarily mark a radical departure from the album’s beginnings, but the continuation presents some subtle turns for those ready to take Psychedelogy on for multiple listens — a process through which it only grows more fulfilling.

Something else “Return to the Black Star” and “From the Ashes” have in common is being less immediately about their hooks, but the core guitar/bass figure in the finale is especially memorable nonetheless for its proggy intricacy — one can’t help but be reminded of peak-era Steven Wilson in some of the ensuing shimmer — and the additional flourish of sitar is yet another distinguishing factor. Ultimately though it’s the core guitar/bass/drums dynamic between the Pitkänens and Lassila that carries “From the Ashes” over so effectively, and beneath the swirl, the kosmiche thematics and the range, that turns out to be what most draws these songs together with the rest of Deep Space Destructors‘ body of work. Their time on “spring break” was not misspent, and whether they’ll resume the album-per-year pace of their first three outings, I wouldn’t speculate, but they’ve come into Psychedelogy with a clear sense of who they are and what they want to be as a group. If they follow through going forward on their own terms, then all the better, whatever those terms might be.

Deep Space Destructors, “Return to the Black Star” official video

Deep Space Destructors on Thee Facebooks

Deep Space Destructors on Bandcamp

Deep Space Destructors website

Space Rock Productions website

Psychedelogy order page at Sapphire Records

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Libido Fuzz, A Guide into Synesthesia: Sparks Ignite the Blues (Plus Track Premiere)

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on February 16th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

libido-fuzz-a-guide-into-synesthesia

[Click play above to hear the premiere of ‘At the Beginning’ from Libido Fuzz’s A Guide into Synesthesia. Album is out next month on Pink Tank Records.]

Bordeaux-based three-piece Libido Fuzz return on Pink Tank Records with A Guide into Synesthesia, their second full-length, and with it set up a linear course running from blazed-out boogie rock to hard-impact psychedelic blues jams. A 41-minute/six-song outing, it follows 2015’s Kaleido Lumo Age (review here) and is no doubt intended to work across a vinyl LP, which is appropriate given the trio of drummer Thibault Guezennec, vocalist/guitarist Pierre-Alexis Mengual and bassist Rory O’Callaghan‘s penchant for classic forms. But even keeping the inevitable split between sides A and B in mind, Libido Fuzz enact a front-to-back flow that seems to push further outward as it goes, until finally it reaches the 12-minute semi-title-track “Guide Me into Synesthesia” at the end and decides there’s no return.

Up to — and really through — that point, Libido Fuzz keep a steady blend of the retro and modern, the terrestrial and the ethereal, the frenetic and the drifting, and what results in the span of the tracks, which were recorded by Marco Lima with a mix and master by Franck Roder, is an organic-feeling and nuanced heavy rock that draws power from its moments of thrust and uses that momentum wisely to carry through its slower parts. It is dynamic in the sense of where MengualGuezennec and O’Callaghan take it, from the Radio Moscow-style manias of opener “Sparks” and the intro to “Clouds and Birds,” all blinding turns and risk-laden rhythms, to the smooth-grooving B-side occupants “The Last Psychedelic Blues” and of course, “Guide Me into Synesthesia” itself.

Foremost, it is tied together through the overarching naturalism in the performances. Guezennec‘s bass drum, prominent in the mix, is sometimes responsible for holding an entire song together, as it seems to be doing as “Clouds and Birds” drifts farther from its raging start, but fortunately it proves more than up to the task, and while O’Callaghan‘s warm basslines add a jazzy flair to coincide with all the swing of “At the Beginning,” Mengual takes advantage of the space created to pull out heavy blues-style solos that, regardless of tempo, have a kind of hypnotic effect on the listener. At no point are they technically showy, and the production of A Guide into Synesthesia is clearly geared toward a live feel, but they execute their material with confidence from “Sparks” onward, and indeed they seem well aware of the fires they’re setting, the thrust of that opener creating a sense of movement that is translated into everything that follows, regardless of the actual direction a track like the subsequent “Violence of the Sea” actually follows.

Which obviously is something to mention only for the drastic and immediate turn it represents from A Guide into Synesthesia‘s beginning, the second cut’s bookending progression seeming to nod directly at Trouble‘s “The Tempter” in its structure and layers of harmonized guitar while backing off in a middle third that finds the band stomping through more boogie à la “Sparks,” if perhaps even catchier in the hook. Those twists may well be intended to throw the listener off course, but Libido Fuzz are fluid enough in their transitions that as the drums finish “Violence of the Sea” and “At the Beginning” picks up with a more straightforward heavy rock shuffle, there’s nothing to call incongruous about what they’re doing in terms either of the album’s scope or the jump from one vibe to another.

Synesthesia might be described as a trading of senses. Seeing smells, smelling sounds, touching light, and so on. It’s a rare condition, and the stuff of psychedelic daydreams, and in terms of this album, the keyword in the title would seem to be “guide,” since it gives the impression of Libido Fuzz leading their audience into this place of what might feel like some greater cosmic knowledge. That’s a fair enough explanation for how the second half of the tracklisting plays out, with “Clouds and Birds” (which I actually think is on side A, though I can’t confirm that) marking the point of shift into more ethereal fare that “The Last Psychedelic Blues” — which isn’t — and “Guide Me into Synesthesia” — which is — only continue to expand. Mengual‘s guitar and O’Callaghan‘s bass explore open spaces after settling in post-intro, and samples and cymbal washes from Guezennec lead gradually, fluidly, into a comfortably-paced nod that serves as bed or wah swirl and possibly the album’s best solo, which finishes in time for a big rock ending. Show’s over, everyone go home.

Not nearly. With the finale so expansive afterward, the penultimate “The Last Psychedelic Blues” is tasked somewhat with summarizing A Guide into Synesthesia, and it does so with a play between nigh-on-overwhelming fuzz and airier verse-making. All three players shine. In prime power-trio fashion, Libido Fuzz resonate their chemistry forth until the quiet stretch of guitar sentimentality leads to the beginning of “A Guide into Synesthesia,” the extended instrumental journey that will round out the LP. Its beginning feels suitably like an arrival, and it is, and sure enough, a massive and engaging jam ensues, but the band leave room early on for verses without taking advantage. Maybe live. A scorching midsection solo meets with wah bass and building drums, and from there, Libido Fuzz set the course by which they’ll end, plotted but molten, and cutting just before the 10-minute mark to some far-out guitar noise that may or may not be intended to manifest the synesthetic.

I don’t know how it tastes, but it sounds like a trance, and as an epilogue for A Guide into Synesthesia, it’s the last of several pleasant surprises the album presents while highlighting the overall growth of Libido Fuzz from their debut and giving the impression — on any number of sensory levels — that growth is still in progress and likely to remain that way willfully. One can hear MengualO’Callaghan and Guezennec pushing themselves in the realization of these songs, both in the stylistic ground they cover and in the actual performances, and among the many encouraging aspects of A Guide into Synesthesia, it’s that feeling of purpose that most defines it.

Libido Fuzz on Thee Facebooks

Libido Fuzz on Bandcamp

A Guide into Synesthesia at Pink Tank Records

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Sweat Lodge, Tokens for Hell: Everything’s All Right (Plus Track Premiere)

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on February 15th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

sweat lodge tokens for hell

[Click play above to stream Sweat Lodge’s cover of ZZ Top’s ‘Precious and Grace’ from their Tokens for Hell EP, out March 10 on Brutal Panda Records. Preorders are available here and here.]

After being snagged by Ripple Music for an initial release, the 2015 debut album from Austin’s Sweat Lodge, Talismana (review here), linked arms as well with Brutal Panda Records for a vinyl pressing. Why either or both labels would want to stand behind the album is little mystery. Sweat Lodge, who had only a 2013 demo out prior aptly-named the Sweat Lodge Tape Demo EP, presented coherent neo-bikerisms and boogie with psychedelic flourish. They sounded like a band who had their heads and hearts in the right places and one who, if they hit the road properly, had the potential to grow into a considerable force in terms of songwriting and style. So it goes.

With their Tokens for Hell EP, also on Brutal Panda, the four-piece of vocalist Cody, guitarist Bones, bassist Shock and drummer Caleb kiss it all up and mark the beginning of what may or may not be a permanent hiatus. They’re hardly the first group with promise to split before really developing to their fullest — I don’t have the math to back this up, but it probably happens daily — and it’s always kind of a bummer. Perhaps even more for the affirmation of what might have been that the four tracks of Tokens for Hell present, showcasing as they do a band staying true to their roots — if being from Texas, playing heavy rock and covering ZZ Top doesn’t qualify as that, nothing does — while stepping forward from their first record toward even more realized fare. Heck of a way to say goodbye.

One always tends to want that which is unavailable — if you don’t believe me, hit the vinyl market on Discogs sometime — but it’s hard to listen to Tokens for Hell and not think of Sweat Lodge as letting go of noteworthy chemistry. Across “Life Goes On” (4:40), “Lost the Sun” (5:00), “Precious and Grace” (2:58; the aforementioned ZZ Top cover, also taken on by Queens of the Stone Age as a bonus track for 2005’s Lullabies to Paralyze) and “Tokens for Hell” (3:16) itself, they bring together heavy ’10s retroism with a particularly Sabbathian bent, as the opener shows by a direct turn in its middle third toward a riff and spaciousness that recalls 1975’s “Megalomania” from the recently-retired heavy metal forefathers.

The production only bolsters this feel, but the side-effect is an atmospheric sensibility to what might otherwise have been raw riffing, from which Tokens for Hell benefits greatly throughout its brief span, front to back. “Precious and Grace” is perhaps the most earthbound inclusion, placed third of the four, but on the preceding “Lost the Sun,” Sweat Lodge turn that five-minute runtime into a sprawl of mellow psych-prog verses and swirling hooks, engaging a depth that moves easily from its soothing start into a more upbeat jam before shifting back to quieter territory to close out, a charming guitar solo and piano interplay marking the finish. It’s a subtle expansion of the arrangement, but does much to add to the overarching vibe of ’70s influence, and the smoothness with which difficult transitions are carried out in “Lost the Sun” is not to be understated. At their most uptempo, Sweat Lodge are a lot of fun, but if you wanted definitive proof there’s more to them than a vintage stylization and a cool logo, it’s right there.

As noted, “Precious and Grace” brings Tokens for Hell toward less a less astral mindset, but echo on Cody‘s vocals and the fuzz in the guitar and bass keep it tied to the original material in terms of overall sound, and to understate it, it fits. That’s true structurally as well, as Shock runs basslines under a midsection lead from Bones and Caleb holds the thrust together — a four-piece doing the work of one of the most essential power trios of all time. Its bounce is there and gone, defined in part by its abiding lack of pretense, and that leaves Sweat Lodge to finish with “Tokens for Hell” itself, a Kadavar-style hook-minded final composition that speaks with some measure of self-awareness of coins being placed on eyes in a memorial ritual to which the EP turns out all along to have been leading.

Also executing. Many bands who call it quits, whether they leave it open to working together again in the future, as Sweat Lodge have, or go out in a fiery blitz of argument and drama, don’t get to give a proper farewell. These days, those that don’t just fade away after what becomes a swansong release in hindsight do a sad post on social media and that’s pretty much it. Their work stagnates in the judgment of residual ‘likes’ and digital plays through whatever outlet. If they’re lucky, a reissue happens somewhere along the line. What fate ultimately waits for Sweat Lodge is still to be determined — one never says never in rock and roll, especially when it comes to bands breaking up and getting back together — but they’re fortunate to have been in a place relationship-wise where, if they were going to go out, they could do so on their own terms. Tokens for Hell leaves no doubt they’re doing just that, and underscores the righteous presence they represented in the first place.

Tokens for Hell preorder at Brutal Panda Records

Tokens for Hell preorder at Sweat Lodge’s Bandcamp

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Sweat Lodge on Twitter

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Review & Full Album Stream: Thera Roya, Stone and Skin

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on February 14th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

thera-roya-stone-and-skin

[Click play above to stream Thera Roya’s Stone and Skin in full. Album is out Feb. 17.]

No simple feat to be airy and crushing at the same time, yet, to listen to Christopher Eustaquio‘s guitar and Jonathan Cohn‘s bass on Stone and Skin, it seems to be the modus in which Brooklyn’s Thera Roya are most at home. At seven songs/42-minutes, Stone and Skin is the self-released full-length debut from the post-sludge trio, completed by drummer/vocalist Ryan Smith (also guitar, and also of Mountain God), and it arrives with suitable development time after 2015’s split with Sangharsha and the Unraveling EP (review here), which was three tracks but enough to provide what seemed to be a significant glimpse at where the band was heading — and I say “seemed” because listening to “Egypt’s Light,” “Hume and Ivey” and others from Stone and Skin, that’s just not how it worked out.

Where the EP offered harshness and abrasion, Thera Roya‘s first long-player takes a more multifaceted approach by far, incorporating aspects of post-hardcore on cuts like “Dream of Arrakis” and finding Smith varying his vocal approach sometimes within the span of a line or two between clean singing, searing screams, deathly growls, and other sorts of shouts. They’re still plenty heavy, as they demonstrate throughout in the weight of Cohn‘s tone and the brutal abandon with which it’s wielded, but from the ambient beginning of opener “Saffron,” which slowly unfolds from quiet on a subtle linear build that grows increasingly frenzied over the final two of its total six minutes, Thera Roya show clear effort has been made to progress their sound, and ultimately prove that effort was not in vain by greatly expanding the sonic reach of the band.

A healthy dose of noise and/or feedback provides ease in the transitions within or between songs, and Smith‘s vocal shifts add intrigue, but the evolution in Thera Roya‘s sound goes further than that and resonates to the core of their craft. Structures vary and are malleable, flows are created and willfully interrupted, melodies seem to crash headfirst into dissonance. Coming out of the leadoff salvo of “Saffron,” “Egypt’s Light” and “Dream of Arrakis,” there is a sense of the unhinged at play, but then the three-minute rocking centerpiece “Hume and Ivey” re-anchors the proceedings, and the simple fact that Stone and Skin exists argues for their control over its processes even when the actual audio of the thing might lead one to believe they’re flying apart. That is to say, there’s intention here, even if that intention is to experiment and find out where a given movement goes.

As to that, the first half of Stone and Skin seems to be careening ultimately toward the nine-minute “Solitude,” which plays off Panopticon-style ambient meandering without actually sounding like Isis — avoiding the telltale drumbeat as Thera Roya do here in favor of a lumbering roll is an accomplishment in itself — and late-arriving clean vocals only underscore the openness of structure with which they’re working. To their credit, “Solitude” doesn’t hit some massive crescendo. There’s an apex, but it’s more patient and natural feeling — more sweep than thrust — and works better in the context of the track itself than some forced explosion in volume otherwise might. When “Solitude” ends, it just comes apart, and in that, it’s point seems to be doubly made and all the more evocative.

The observation at the outset, about being airy and crushing, finds maybe its most succinct summary in the penultimate “The Stream,” which follows “Solitude” and moves at a faster pace from atmospheric guitars into low-end density, seeming to provide some of the thrust that the preceding cut held back while remaining instrumental for all of its three and a half minutes. I cannot stress enough how crucial is a song like this to an album like this in a spot like this. It’s one more aspect of Stone and Skin conveying to the listener that Thera Roya are free to move where they want to go sound-wise. Think of it as a different execution of the “acoustic interlude” — though it is far from acoustic — in changing things up going into the finale. If one is hearing Stone and Skin front to back, it might not even be clear where the transition comes into play.

It’s a complete use of a sonic idea that could just as easily have been subsumed into a more finished “song,” but one that enhances the album overall in ways that another song simply couldn’t, while also providing an effective bridge to the sample-laden beginning of closer “Phaedrus Revealed.” Rounding out at just under eight minutes, “Phaedrus Revealed” finds Thera Roya basking in one of the defining tropes of post-metal: the rhythm and riff progression of Neurosis‘ “Stones from the Sky,” but more than most, they make it their own, finding a sway at the outset topped by satisfyingly soulful clean vocals and marking the shift into that riff on bass while the guitar continues to drift for a time before a pummeling chug takes hold. Post-hardcore screams, starts and stops, thickened tones all around and a last push into chaos bring Stone and Skin to a sudden conclusion, and while by then that familiar churn is long gone, the atmospheric affect remains prevalent and Thera Roya finish by employing what would seem to be the totality of their arsenal.

Given the forward steps in these tracks, one would hardly be surprised to find that arsenal grown further their next time out, and while admirably complex in form, Stone and Skin does still present the band with room to grow. Most essential, however, it portrays them as having the drive to do it while remaining emotionally expressive and not getting consumed in the overthought cerebral end of post-metal that claim’s so many acts in the style. The hope as they move past their debut is that they remain able to enact the balance between various sides as well as they do here while also pushing themselves to cover new ground. No minor task, but I hear nothing from Thera Roya at this point to make me think they’re not up to it.

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Thera Roya on Bandcamp

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