Review & Full Album Premiere: Sun Voyager, Seismic Vibes

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on April 18th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Sun Voyager Seismic Vibes

[Click play above to stream Sun Voyager’s Seismic Vibes in its entirety. Album is out April 20 on King Pizza Records.]

Here’s a post from May 2014 about how Sun Voyager‘s debut album would be out that summer. The band had two demos to their name at that point — early 2013’s Cosmic Tides and late 2013’s Mecca (review here) — and though it turn out their first long-player would in no way be out that summer or any time between then and now, they filled the intervening years via splits with Greasy Hearts (discussed here) and The Mad Doctors (review here), as well as 2015’s Lazy Daze EP (review here). The Orange County, New York, heavy psych outfit discussed the making of their full-length and even went so far as to post the opening track “Trip” in early 2017. So to say that Seismic Vibes, which at last sees release through King Pizza Records, has been a while in the making is maybe understating it a little.

They’ve kept consistent playing live shows, and since Lazy Daze came out they’ve pared down their lineup from a two-guitar four-piece to a trio — though in addition to the core of vocalist/guitarist Carlos Francisco, bassist/guitarist/vocalist Stefan Mersch and drummer Kyle Beach, the album’s credits also list Evan Heinze on keyboard and Sam Bey on percussion; that trio may or may not be in a process of expansion — and between that and leaking tracks from the originally self-titled Seismic Vibes, one could hardly accuse them of laziness in bringing the record to fruition. Sometimes these things just take a while. Tracked by Paul Ritchie down the Jersey Shore and mastered by Alan Douches, the eight-song/34-minute offering that has resulted from whatever arduous process was undertaken can only be considered worth the effort.

Maybe that’s not saying much, but the point to be made is that one can hear on Seismic Vibes the growth that’s taken place in Sun Voyager‘s sound even since Lazy Daze, which opened with “God is Dead,” a song that’s turned into the extended, jammed-out closer on the full-length. That track is the only carry-over between the two outings, and as one might hope, Sun Voyager use the opportunity of their first full-length to showcase the dynamic they’ve worked hard through the last several years to build. The keys and vocal arrangement on a song like “Hair Brained” speak to an increase in complexity overall, not to mention the sitar-sounding guitar solo that follows and the effects swirl surrounding, but even the opening salvo of “Trip,” “Open Road” and “Caves of Steel” seem to signal a driven purposefulness of intent — that is, the fact that these tracks aren’t just cobbled together, but placed consciously to affect the listener’s experience of the record. All under four minutes and pointedly uptempo, the first three tracks work quickly to establish the momentum that will carry the listener through the ensuing dynamic that unfolds.

sun voyager

Beginning with an unassuming hum, “Trip” is among the catchiest hooks on Seismic Vibes, tambourine and all, and the keyboard-laced “Open Road” holds a tension in its drums that drives mellower verses into the more densely-fuzzed chorus, keyboards filling out the melody during the verse and the cacophonous-but-quick payoff at the end. Mersch‘s bass and Francisco‘s guitar swirl begins “Caves of Steel,” but this too unveils itself quickly as a fuzz riot, and thrusts into tom runs backing a hook repeating the title line and a jammy ending that cuts short at about 3:10 but sounds like it could just as easily keep going into perpetuity. Though it too is short at 3:38, there’s a marked change in pace as “Stellar Winds” comes on, and for the first time, Sun Voyager introduce their more languid side; a sound more derived from shoegaze than the spaced-out semi-punk of “Caves of Steel” just prior. Francisco‘s voice is well-suited to drift, which is not something every singer can pull off, and though “Stellar Winds” is mellower than the first three cuts, it still offers a sense of build and turns directly into “Hair Brained,” which is arguably the speediest and most active inclusion here, reminiscent as it is of some of early Nebula‘s frenetic stoner punk.

As noted, the keys are a factor in fleshing out “Hair Brained,” and they play a role in offsetting the bouncing rhythm as it makes its way to a winding cold-stop finish, and it might be the keys as well that tie “Hair Brained” to the subsequent “Too Much,” which is an immediate switch in method from its predecessor and the most open-feeling song on Seismic Vibes, molten and hypnotic in a way that much of the record has simply chosen not to be. At five minutes, its roll is second in length only to the aforementioned “God is Dead,” and the two tracks are separated by the 3:35 “Psychic Lords,” a slowdown leading to the quiet/loud tradeoffs as Sun Voyager find a place for themselves in a niche of cosmic grunge that calls back to the hooks earlier on the album without giving up the expansion that’s happened since.

The start of “God is Dead” is a bit jarring coming out of the subdued end of “Psychic Lords,” and I suspect it will be all the more for anyone who encountered Lazy Daze, as it was a standout there, but in this redone, expanded version, it provides a fitting summary of just about everything Seismic Vibes delivers, with a jammy feel underscoring forward drive, shifts in tempo and a controlled psychedelic sensibility that’s light on self-indulgence and still manages to feel like it’s exploring new terrain. One would be remiss in not noting that though it’s been some time in its realization, this is still Sun Voyager‘s debut album, and yes, there is room for the band to continue to grow into their sound, to refine their balance of volume and tempo and straightforward and open structures, but the core of songwriting is there as it has been for the last half-decade, and there’s little chance Seismic Vibes won’t end up as one of 2018’s best first LPs. As a fan of the band, I’m just glad it finally happened.

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Review & Track Premiere: Svvamp, Svvamp 2

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on April 17th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

svvamp svvamp 2

[Click play above to stream the premiere of ‘Hillside’ from Svvamp’s new album, Svvamp 2, out June 8 on RidingEasy Records and available now to preorder.]

The soothing effect of the 42-second intro to Svvamp 2 is immediate, and from there, the Swedish trio of vocalist/guitarist Henrik Bjorklund, vocalist/bassist Erik Stahlgren and vocalist/drummer Adam Johansson present a run of pointedly classic-vibing heavy rock and roll. They made something of an understated self-titled debut (review here) in 2016, catching ears among the converted and reaping praise for their endearing sonic naturalism. That theme very much continues on Svvamp 2, which moves from its introduction into the heavier-riffed highlight “Queen” and the blues-rolling “The Wheel,” with the first of several vocalist switches working subtly to add variety and texture to the straightforward songwriting and traditionalist, vintage spirit of the recording.

While the groups who arguably led the charge for recrafting heavy ’70s sonic warmth — fellow Swedes like Witchcraft, Graveyard, Burning Saviours, etc. — have moved on toward more modern aesthetics, Svvamp hold firm to the tenets of the subgenre while proving there’s still new ground to cover, as the poppy, soul-derived bounce of “Sunshine Street” demonstrates, the fuzz subtle and the drums spacious like they were beamed straight in from 1969, and the subsequent “How Sweet Would it Be” only reinforces this notion, like a lost studio cut from the Get Back sessions, the guitars leading the easy groove punctuated by steady, languid cymbal timekeeping. Semi-harmonized vocal melodies evoke the sweetness in the title without losing the effectiveness of the hook that emerges: “Oh, out in the country/Me and my baby/We’re gonna be so damn free now.”

It is the fodder of humid summer singalongs, and much to their credit, they make you believe it. Plenty of vintage bands have popped up in the wake of the likes of Kadavar, Blues Pills, and so on, and attempted to capture heavy blues lightning in a psychedelic bottle. Well, Svvamp may be reverse-engineering innovation, but whatever they might be doing throughout their second album, their heart is in it, from the chorus of “Queen” through Stahlgren‘s bassline in (presumed) side B opener “Hillside” and on to closer “Alligater” (sic), the expression remains genuine and the swing remains a fervent, crucial factor. With a current running through it of analog synth or effects, “Surrender” nonetheless mirrors the fluidity of “The Wheel” earlier, and while the “beep-boop-beep” might seem a little out of place among all the focus on organic elements and execution, it’s ultimately the latter that win out in the song.

svvamp

To follow side A/B symmetry as they have so far, Svvamp should be dipping into more soulful fare à la “Sunshine Street” with “Out of Line,” but they change the script and instead offer a swaggering bounce and riff-forward groove, a touch of wah worked into a midsection that seems to layer its guitar solo across both left and right channels. More akin to “Queen” and “Hillside” for its rhythm and good-time rocking feel, “Out of Line” caps with another call and response solo — maybe in three layers? — on a long fadeout and gives way to the acoustic penultimate cut “Blues Inside,” the shortest inclusion on Svvamp 2 save for “Intro,” and a quiet reflective moment before “Alligater” taps Blue Cheer for the most raucous stretch on the album to close.

Once again, Svvamp find themselves nestled into heavy blues, but “Alligater” is more blown out on the whole and more of a wash than any of its rocking predecessors on Svvamp 2, and the crashing, the layers of fuzz, the rumble beneath all come together to give a sense of the kind of party the trio can hone when the mood strikes. I wouldn’t exactly call the record subtle in its purposes, but Svvamp 2 does build on the debut’s accomplishments, and for all the changes in singer and approach it presents throughout its 35 minutes, the flow remains consistent across the span, and perhaps the band’s greatest strength lies in their utter lack of pretense. While some in a vintage mindset have attempted to capture a progressive feel and met with varying degrees of success, by keeping their material outwardly simple, catchy and friendly, JohanssonStahlgren and Bjorklund are able to give their audience something to latch onto without an overdose of self-indulgence or a departure from their core purpose.

Apart perhaps from “Intro” and “Blues Inside” — and mostly for length in the case of the latter — there isn’t one song between “Queen,” “The Wheel,” “Sunshine Street,” “How Sweet it Would Be,” “Hillside,” “Surrender,” “Out of Line” and “Alligater” that wouldn’t work as a 45RPM single, its paper sleeve crinkled and found in some dusty record shop bin like so much buried treasure. And though they may be looking back aesthetically in terms of finding their points of inspiration in classic heavy rock circa 1968-’72, they’re also pushing themselves forward as songwriters and stewards of this sonic legacy. They wield it better than most, and on Svvamp 2 they demonstrate plainly that even something so plainly tied to a specific era can also sound timeless.

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Gloop Announce The Tourist Due June 1; Premiere “Samurai Birthday”

Posted in audiObelisk, Whathaveyou on April 12th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

gloop

It slices! It dices! It… has riffs! Frederick, Maryland-based noisemakers Gloop may or may not cut through a thick-skinned tomato like it’s warm butter, but there is a definite sharpness to their forthcoming The Tourist release. Due out June 1 through respected recording house/release shop Grimoire Records, the eight-track outing is only 17 minutes long, but I’m inclined to call it a full-length anyway as there’s not much more I think one might ask of it than it delivers in terms of impact, flow — such as it is for material so angular in nature — and intensity. Punk in its roots, Gloop‘s second EP overall seems way more loyal to shenanigans than to genre, and that serves them well throughout.

One is reminded of mid-’90s Midwestern noise and post-hardcore acts who captured a similar head-about-to-explode unhinged sensibility to that which Gloop bring to a song like closer “Dancing Tongues” — among the longest cuts on The Tourist at a sprawling 2:42 — and that impression is only furthered by the raw recording job of Grimoire head Noel Mueller, who captures every crack in the voice of guitarist Dominic Gianninoto (also of Rhin), as well as the deft turns of drummer Max Detrich and bassist Blake Douglas on early rocker “Skunked” or the explosive 1:23-long “Salamander.” Whatever their sonic intention, Gloop harken to an age when post-hardcore was newly grown and still finding its way, kicking and screaming. They seem to be doing likewise, and the freshness of their approach suits them.

At the bottom of this post, you can stream the official premiere of “Samurai Birthday” from The Tourist. Though especially brief at 1:15, it nonetheless represents the frenetic energy of Gloop well and gives a quick, sans-bullshit glimpse of what they’re all about on an aesthetic level.

Mueller sent along the following info to go with the track premiere, including the preorder link for the album and tour dates. Have at it:

gloop the tourist

The band is called Gloop, and the release is a ~18 minute long ripper, short, sweet and insane sounding (probably the most shamelessly dirty and roomy recording I’ve ever done).

The band features Dominic Giannotto from Rhin on vocals and guitar. They’re a 3 piece noise rock/sludge band from Frederick, MD, and this is their second release and first time working with me/Grimoire Records.

The pre-order page: https://grimoirerecords.bandcamp.com/album/the-tourist

“The Tourist” is released on 6/1/18 on Limited Edition CD and high quality cassette, and digitally via Grimoire Records.

The band has the following dates lined up to celebrate the release:

6/07 Frederick, MD
6/07 Harrisonburg, VA
6/09 Charlottesville VA
6/10 Shepherdstown, WV
6/15 Philadelphia, PA
6/16 New York, NY
6/17 Baltimore, MD matinee with Thought Eater and Myopic
6/17 Harrisburg, PA

Credits:
Max Detrich – drums
Dominic Gianninoto – guitar/vox
Blake Douglas – bass

“The Tourist” was recorded by Noel Mueller on December 9th and 10th, 2017. Mixed and mastered by Noel Mueller for Gloop and Grimoire Records. Cover art by Mindy Sizemore, typography by Max, Blake and Dom, layout by Noel Mueller.

https://www.facebook.com/gloopband/
https://gloopmusic.bandcamp.com/releases
https://www.facebook.com/GrimoireRecords/
https://grimoirerecords.bandcamp.com/album/the-tourist

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Review & Track Premiere: Shrine of the Serpent, Entropic Disillusion

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on April 11th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

shrine of the serpent entropic disillusion

[Click play above to stream ‘Rending the Psychic Void’ by Shrine of the Serpent. Entropic Disillusion is out April 23 on Memento Mori.]

If death-doom’ had boxes, Shrine of the Serpent would put a big ol’ check mark next to just about each one. The band, founded by Portland-based guitarist/vocalist Todd Janeczek (also Aldebaran, Roanoke, etc.) took shape out of the prior, sludgier outfit Tenspeed Warlock, and Shrine of the Serpent‘s debut full-length, Entropic Disillusion (on Memento Mori), follows a 2015 self-titled EP and a 2016 split with Black Urn and shows an unmistakable turn toward the darkness. At nearly an hour long and marked by grueling atmospheres like a scar across the face, overwhelming waves of filthy distortion, and the general sense of being coated in a brew that’s equal parts filth and misery, its seven tracks, like any semi-responsible hunter, consume in its entirety, leaving no part of the listener to waste away.

By its very nature, the extremity of lumber brought to bear by Janeczek, former Uzala and Graves at Sea drummer Chuck Watkins and bassist/guitarist Adam DePrez (ex-Sod Hauler, etc.) seems to seek to overwhelm, the ambience as crushing as the riffs themselves, and no doubt that for some listeners, they simply will. Entropic Disillusion, reveling in the muck of “Hope’s Aspersion,” the chugging penultimate cut “Epoch of Annihilation,” and the earlier malevolently-conveyed solitude of “Hailing the Enshrined,” is not at all an easy listen. If it was, the band would have just about completely failed in their mission, which pretty clearly is to steamroll the hearts and minds of those who’d dare take them on. Sounds like hyperbole? It is. That’s the point. Entropic Disillusion, even unto the fact that its intro, “Descend into Dusk,” runs six minutes long before giving way to “Hailing the Enshrined,” is meant to be a work of extremity. It’s supposed to provoke a strong response, to pull one out from behind their mental blockade, and to toss them down a well of ultra-depressive thud.

That’s the thing, right? To celebrate the darkness, rather than be repelled by it? Or maybe to celebrate defying that sense of repulsion to embrace it? Either way, the result is a viciousness of purposeness that Shrine of the Serpent meet head on. Not nearly so lush as some in the style on songs like “Hope’s Aspersion,” with the aforementioned six-minute intro and materia generally so slow, there would almost have to be an emergent atmosphere, though it’s worth noting that even the intro — which one on paper might expect to be piano or something of the like, is stood-out by its foundation-crumbling riff. Bookended on either side by quieter guitar, “Descend into Dusk” indeed lurches forth, leading the listener down the spiraling path that bleeds into the soft opening of “Hailing the Enshrined.” This, like some of the other titles, like the band’s moniker and the name of the record, seems like it might be more derived from death metal, but even at their fastest, Shrine of the Serpent remain decidedly doomed in their pacing. “Hailing the Enshrined” unfurls itself patiently but bursts to full-boar tonality at 2:37 into its 9:47, and flows into an ever-noisier cacophony of pummel before once again dropping out the heavier push and ending on quiet guitar.

shrine of the serpent

The subsequent “Hope’s Aspersion,” though it’s 10 minutes long, immediately establishes its central march and holds to it for most of the first five minutes while also teasing the speedier progression still to come in the second half, in trades back and forth between faster and slower parts, ending with what’s arguably the most brutal stretch on Entropic Disillusion before the weeping guitar of centerpiece “Desecrated Tomb” takes hold, its full, not-to-be-understated heft kicking in before the first minute is out. Something of a roller, it reminds a bit of some of YOB‘s slowest crawls, but of course the stylistic context is different, and Janeczek‘s overwhelming distortion once again holds the day. Watkins‘ drums are effective in punctuating the roll and holding the proceedings together, and DePrez, whether he’s harmonizing on guitar or adding low end, fills out a sound that manifests a mood of disaffection and disdain universally without chestbeating or trying to tout its own righteousness. The only way it goes is down.

That is to say, if you’re looking for that sign of light that many of the bleakest records offer, Shrine of the Serpent aren’t giving. The 4:34 interlude “Returning” is a channel-swapping drone pulsation — I’ve had to stop it a couple times because it feels like pressure in the ears — met with spoken whispers, vague and echoing over other emergent noise. Affecting in terms of its brooding sensibility, it’s further reinforcement of the grim atmosphere that pervades throughout and cedes ground to “Epoch of Annihilation,” which calls back to the more uptempo stretches of “Hope’s Aspersion” eventually, but cakes itself in mud before getting there. It’s linear, forward build in terms of pace, and as the song is instrumental except perhaps from some vague and possibly imagined chants, the movement is all the more at the center. Shrine of the Serpent execute it well and cap with a wash of noise, a slowdown and, for the last 90 seconds of so, a quiet moment (there’s the piano!) that resonates even as it fades into the crash at the start of closer “Rending the Psychic Void.”

Second in length only to “Hope’s Aspersion” at 10:07, the finale of Entropic Disillusion underscores and summarizes much of the purpose of the records as a whole, which is geared toward the wretched and the vicious in intent. Unlike “Epoch of Annihilation,” there’s no surge waiting to happen, and instead, after plodding and growling their way through the first half of the song, the second turns to a long guitar lead that in turn shifts into a final verse and the noise that actually closes out. The rhythm holds together underneath for the most part, but after a few crashes the drums and bass drop out and guitar feedback is the last sound before it, too, fades out. As Janeczek has been arguably working toward this release for a decade since he got started with Tenspeed Warlock, it must be somewhat cathartic to see it realized. Another result of that time, however, is that Entropic Disillusion is also resoundingly sure in its approach, all the more so as a “debut,” and if this is the begging of an exploration of the darkened recesses, Shrine of the Serpent show themselves here of being more than capable of leading the way down.

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Brond Premiere “Failure” from Debut Album Graveyard Campfire; Preorders up Now; European Tour Announced

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on April 9th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

brond

Intensity takes multiple forms on Brond‘s self-released debut album, Graveyard Camptfire, whether it’s found in higher-speed, hardcore-influenced material like “Impossible Downhill” or the intricacy of the progressive riffing on “Harvest the Sun.” The Sofia, Bulgaria-based four-piece find room to in the eight tracks and 43 minutes to blend elements from grunge on songs like “Failure” with an underlying core of heavy rock and roll, and if anything is clear from the very opening of “Enter Shamari” onward, it’s that they’re free to go wherever they feel the song wants them to go at any point in the process. All four members of the band — guitarists Vili Popov and Petar Peikov, bassist Oleg Shulev and drummer Maksim Stoimenov — contribute vocals, and this adds even more diversity of sound to the proceedings, which the foursome manage to hold together despite the breadth of their approach.

By way of an example, one might consider the seven-minute title-track itself, which moves from an airy opening lead to driving forward motion, a semi-metal thrust that gives waybrond graveyard campfire to one of the record’s most resonant hooks. The push ratchets up shortly on “Voice of the Void,” but this only seems to emphasize how much ground Brond cover along their way. A consistency of craft allows them to tip their hats to modern progressive metal — twisting riffs in a post-Mastodon vein put to their own purposes — and still make a chiefly melodic impression on songs like the aforementioned “Harvest the Sun,” the arrangement of multiple vocalists proving to be yet another strength put to welcome use. Likewise, the clear-headed approach to the production and a resulting crispness in the presentation carries that impression across all the more, and especially for a debut release, Brond sure sound a hell of a lot like they know what they’re doing.

Graveyard Campfire is being given a limited LP and CD pressing and the band will have copies with them as they embark on their European tour at the end of this month. Today I have the pleasure of hosting the premiere of “Failure” ahead of the April 18 release date for the album itself. You’ll find it below, followed by a quote from the band about the track, their upcoming tour dates, and more background.

Please enjoy:

Maksim Stoimenov on “Failure”:

“‘Failure’ comes from a pretty dark place, one of the implications of living with a constant hangover is the feeling of ineptitude to deal with life in general. A feeling that’s becoming more and more prevalent in society with or without “drugs” in our lives. Social media for example, can make you feel as much as a failure as any substance abuse. The song covers the denial, bargaining and acceptance phases after taking a good hard look in mirror after a long night.”

EUROPEAN TOUR 2018 ANNOUNCEMENT

We’re beyond stoked to announce that we will be hitting the road in April/May and we can’t thank enough all of the venues and promoters that helped us organise this endeavour. We will bring as the eternal Mike Watt would say “mersh”, so anyone attending will have the chance to grab one of the limited 100 copies of the LP and CD.

28.04 | PRAGUE | CZ| PANOPTIKON BARIKADA
30.04 | POTSDAM | DE | 2 STEPS DEEPER
01.05 | HAMBURG | DE| GO MOKRY
02.05 | AACHEN | DE | WILD ROVER
04.05 | HEUSDEN | NL | JONOSH
05.05 | LYON | FR | LE FARMER
07.05 | ZÜRICH | CH | EBRIETAS
09.05 | BUDAPEST | HU | ROBOT
10.05 | VIENNA | AT | KRAMLADEN
11.05 | LENDAVA | SL | MANSARDA
13.05 | ZAGREB | CR | Klub Mo?vara
19.05 | BUCHAREST | RO | COBRA FEST 2.0
23.05 | SOFIA | BG | MIXTAPE 5

In 2015 BROND released their debut EP “Feint” through Magnetic EyeRecords (US) with the lyrical themes including running forever, jumping into volcanoes, the social implications of living in a post-communist country, oils spills and humanity’s inherent greed. It was produced by Aaron Harris (ex-ISIS, Palms) and mastered by Maor Appelbaum.

In 2016 BROND started work on “Graveyard Campfire” partly inspired by the political self-immolation cases that took place in 2013 and 2014 in Bulgaria. The album was recorded in Sofia Session Studios by Plamen Penchev. The record was produced by Justin Pizzoferrato who has worked with Elder, Dinosaur Jr. & Thurston Moore. The master was done by James Plotkin.

Brond is:
Maksim Stoimenov – Drums/Vocals
Oleg Shulev- Bass/Vocals
Vili Popov – Guitars/Vocals
Petar Peikov – Guitars/Vocals

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Review & Track Premiere: Gozu, Equilibrium

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on April 4th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

gozu equilibrium

[Click play above to stream Gozu’s ‘Manimal.’ Equilibrium is out April 13 on Blacklight Media and available to preorder here.]

No doubt that for many who take it on, Gozu‘s Equilibrium will be their first exposure to the band. Fair enough. The Boston four-piece are a decade removed from their debut self-titled demo, and depending on how one counts that release, the latest is either their fourth or fifth full-length. What matters more than how one accounts for it, however, is that Equilibrium represents the fruit of 10 years’ worth of upward and outward trajectory both in creativity and profile. That is, Gozu — the lineup of guitarist/vocalist Marc Gaffney, guitarist/backing vocalist Doug Sherman, bassist Joe Grotto and drummer Mike Hubbard (ex-Warhorse) — have never ceased to get either bigger or better from one offering to the next.

In 2016, they brought their game to a new level of clarity and aggression with Revival (review here), and looking back, one can only say that album built on 2013’s Small Stone-released The Fury of a Patient Man (review here) the same way that record built on 2010’s Locust Season (review here). Still, if Equilibrium — which finds issue through Metal Blade imprint Blacklight Media — is one’s first exposure to the band, there’s nothing to stop the process of getting on board. Their songs are melodic, varied, heavy, presented with a decade-built clarity of purpose and unmistakably their own. Its title evoking a sense of balance, Equilibrium‘s eight tracks and 49 minutes show a group of diverse but not conflicting intent and expert songcraft. Positioned at the forefront of an always-well-populated Boston underground, they have only ever taken forward steps, and this latest of them resonates from beginning to end.

By returning to Wild Arctic Studio in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to work with producer Dean Baltulonis (HatebreedFreya, many others), they bring some sense of continuity from Revival in terms of tone, but hearing moments of flourish like the choral vocals on “Prison Elbows” or the progressive interweaving of guitar on “The People vs. Mr. T.,” they seem to be more comfortable in that setting the second time around and freer to expand arrangements vocal and instrumental. Another example of balance throughout Equilibrium, however, is that of live energy and studio polish. One wouldn’t necessarily expect Gozu to break out the spacious 11-minute closer “Ballad of ODB,” with its patient, ambient opening and pervasive atmospherics, on stage, but the showing of soul in Gaffney‘s vocals is inimitable and unquestionably his own, and even in the opening salvo of “Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat” and the aforementioned “The People vs. Mr. T.,” there’s a vitality that leads one to believe at least some of the basic tracks were captured live.

This, in addition to Hubbard‘s right-on-the-front-of-the-beat drumming style, makes the more uptempo material on Equilibrium soar, and as Sherman shreds out a forward-mixed solo in the second half of “Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat,” the question of what the band would do after their Revival is immediately answered in their living to the fullest. “King Cobra” calls to mind the best of classic grunge in its verse before turning through a more aggro mini-chorus and finally unveiling its actual hook, which is a standout companioned by that of the deeply-weighted “Manimal,” which holds to a slower pace but maintains its sense of roll and flows easily with its surroundings, picking up somewhat in its second half around a chug given all the more force by Grotto‘s bassline as Gaffney takes to falsetto during the fadeout. This would be a natural ending for side A — it may in fact be; I don’t know the vinyl breakdown — and it leads to the shortest inclusion on Equilibrium, “They Probably Know Karate.”

gozu

If indeed “They Probably Know Karate” is the start of side B, it would make sense for the uptick of energy it provides coming out of “Manimal” before it, which is more about impact than thrust. Some spoken backing vocals late provide a bit of curious detail late, but “They Probably Know Karate” is very much Gozu being Gozu, and again, if you’ve never heard them before, what that means is a blend of choice songwriting, rich melody, heavy rock groove and underlying metallurgy. They deliver with efficiency on the 4:17 cut, which is the shortest on Equilibrium, and move forward into the five-minute “Prison Elbows” without looking back or losing any of the momentum they’ve so quickly established. At about two minutes in, “Prison Elbows” cuts to a slower groove to set the stage for Sherman‘s solo, but the build that ensues after — a cymbal crash from Hubbard, a swirl of guitar effects over the sustained riff, the low end grounding the whole affair and keeping it from flying apart — is perhaps even more satisfying.

Teasing the psychedelia to come in the intro to “Ballad of ODB,” it nonetheless finishes in a quick return to ground before the penultimate “Stacy Keach” takes hold with further crunching riffery that opens into a broader verse that’s a vocal highlight from Gaffney ahead of the finish, shifting into a more aggressive riff in its midsection and playing back and forth throughout the second half between the verse/chorus and that meaner chug, on which it ends cold. The soft guitar, echoing ambience and distant drumming that opens “Ballad of ODB” is an immediate departure from “Stacy Keach,” and its soothing and hypnotic three and a half minutes offer a breather after the all the careening and turning that’s come before. A heavier, slower movement ensues, making “Manimal” a hindsight foreshadow, and layers of vocals retain an otherworldly atmosphere. Gozu have never been a psychedelic band, and Grotto‘s rumble underscoring “Ballad of ODB” is nothing if not grounded, but those elements are there, and they help in the final expansion of mood that the closer represents, the chorus flowing into a last, extended solo, and back to the chorus and a short wash of guitar noise to end out.

For fans of the band — I consider myself one — and those who’ve followed them for some portion of the last 10 years, Equilibrium should stand undeniably as the most exacting representation of who Gozu is as a band to-date. Their sound is fully their own and they are in full command of it. Their songwriting is natural and the performances here from all four players together only demonstrates how much the lineup has clicked after touring in the US and Europe to support Revival. These same factors are exactly what also makes Equilibrium such a viable point of entry for new listeners. There is nothing redundant about Equilibrium, and the sense of balance that pervades doesn’t come at the cost of vitality; Gozu sound exciting, fresh, and like one of the most individualized bands in American heavy rock — which, of course, is exactly what they’ve become.

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Review & Full Album Premiere: Black Rainbows, Pandaemonium

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on April 3rd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

black rainbows pandaemonium

[Click play above to stream Black Rainbows’ Pandaemonium in its entirety. Album is out April 6 on Heavy Psych Sounds.]

Largely through sheer force of will, Black Rainbows have become Italy’s foremost purveyors of heavy psychedelic rock. Pandaemonium is the sixth full-length from the Roman trio, and they’ve never sounded more driven or lysergic then they do in its nine-track/45-minute run. Led by guitarist/vocalist Gabriele Fiori, the three-piece run a colorful gamut of high-energy, sopping wet groove, and whether they’re in the maximum-fuzz thrust of “Riding Fast ‘Til the End of Time,” dug into the more threatening lumber of “Grindstone” or languidly making their way through the cosmos on album finale “13th Step of the Pyramid,” they burn and melt classic influences into something of their own; whether it’s culled from Sabbath, Fu Manchu, Nebula, Monster Magnet or Hawkwind, it doesn’t matter. It’s Black Rainbows.

This has, admittedly, been the case on their last couple records. Pandaemonium, which is further marked out by the desert-space-grunge opener “Sunrise” and the megahook that follows in “High to Hell,” was preceded by 2016’s Stellar Prophecy (review here) and 2015’s Hawkdope (review here), and with them, it forms something of a trifecta of the band discovering and subsequently building on their distinct sonic persona. That’s not to slight their 2014 split with NaamWhite Hills and The Flying Eyes (review here), 2013’s Holy Moon EP (discussed here), or 2012’s Supermothafuzzalicious!! (review here) — or, for that matter, 2010’s Carmina Diablo or 2007’s Twilight in the Desert; though the latter was derivative and that seemed to be the point — simply to say that as time has gone on, Black Rainbows have come more into their own sound-wise, and Pandaemonium represents the to-date apex of that process.

Tone, as ever, is essential to what they do, and Fiori‘s is dead-on righteous in “The Sacrifice” but as Fiori and bassist Giuseppe Guglielmino welcome new drummer Filippo Ragazzoni, they seem to lock into an especially potent trio form. The longest tracks on Pandaemonium are the highlights and show this best, “Grindstone” moving fluidly from its initial lumbering to a tripped out spacious midsection, minimalist and topped with samples but tense and building its wash toward a crescendo that (presumably) closes side A and offers one of the record’s most satisfying payoffs. With “Sunrise,” “High to Hell” and “The Sacrifice” before it, Black Rainbows shift deftly between catchy heavy rock songcraft and more expansive fare, eventually ceding the ground to the Wyndorfian strum of tracklisting centerpiece “Supernova and Asteroids,” which though it’s only a little over two minutes long, emphasizes just how important atmospherics have become as part of Black Rainbows‘ overarching methodology.

The wash of effects, near-constant swirl, and echo on Fiori‘s voice are, of course, appreciated, but it’s what Black Rainbows accomplish by varying their tempos, structures nnd overall scope that makes Pandaemonium succeed as it does. With vinyl in mind, it’s side A that shows this best with each song developing its own presence while feeding into the overarching groove of the record as a whole, and as it would in homage to the classic form, side B pushes the limits of the band’s aesthetic (not that “Grindstone” doesn’t in its own way). After “Supernova and Asteroids,” the ultra-fuzzed “Riding Fast ‘Til the End of Time” takes hold with full-throttle forward motion, turning on a dime into the bridge and the chorus from itis decamatry verse, an extended solo section marked out by organ in the second half only adding to the sense of build throughout, the feeling that Black Rainbows have become experts at this kind of sonic gamesmanship.

black rainbows

Where earlier cuts might’ve gone back to the hook to finish out, “Riding Fast ‘Til the End of Time” keeps going further out until it just kind of ends, leading to the six-and-a-half-minute “I Just Wanna Fire. Seemingly inspired lyrically by a trip to the desert, it plays up the more open, jammier side of Black Rainbows sound, and by the end of its run, the effects swirl and the depth created are not only evocative of the place, but hypnotic in their own right. There’s something of a return to earth with the stoner rock shuffle of “The Abyss,” but even this is given a due drenching in reverb, fuzz and echo. Still, rhythmically, in its janga-janga boogie, the song recalls post-Kyuss early aughts stonerism, and even finds Ragazzoni half-timing the drums to maximize the open feel in the second half. A steady line of organ — almost a drone, for its consistency — threads through the arrangement, making the shorter cut feel even fuller and hold to the sense of space brought to the proceedings by “I Just Wanna Fire” before.

A long solo section and slow ringout — that organ fading in the process — leads to the cry-in-the-vastness line of noise that starts “13th Step of the Pyramid.” There’s a sample that may or may not come from an old episode of In Search Of, and as Fiori‘s vocals enter shortly after the first minute, the immediate association is with Monster Magnet‘s Spine of God-era liquefaction. This is not a detriment, and as they have with influences all along — the best example perhaps being “The Abyss” just before — they take these elements and make them their own. A drawling, patient roll plays out and builds to a head just as they pass the halfway point into larger, more forward riffing, the nod infectious and the impression clear that, hey, this is it: no coming back this time. Fair enough. It’s been a trip and in the end of “13th Step of the Pyramid,” the listener finally finds out where it’s all been leading.

The answer, of course, is “huge jam.” Fiori seems to layer rhythm and lead guitars for an even more packed arrangement, but it’s even more about the vibe the whole band creates in the process. Choice groove, an emergent standout riff, a final build, and residual effects swirl on a fade when they’ve cycled through the last measure. It’s a patient but still energetic finale, and it’s one worthy of the record preceding all the more because of the underlying sense of consciousness and purposefulness behind it. I don’t doubt that Black Rainbows experiment in the studio. Frankly there are too many effects used in these songs for “happy accidents” to never occur. And I don’t doubt that they jam — you can hear the chemistry even in this new lineup. But there’s intention for all of it beyond simple indulgence, and as distant the ground is that Pandaemonium covers, the band is never unsure how they want to get there. One more reason that, six albums deep and more than a decade into their career, it’s time to consider Black Rainbows masters of the form. Their heavy psych wants for nothing in spirit or sound, and their songwriting has never sounded more assured of its reach. As well it should be.

Black Rainbows, “High to Hell” lyric video

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VUG Premiere “Prophecy” from Self-Titled Debut out April 13

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on March 30th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

VUG

Berlin-based rock classicists VUG will make their self-titled debut via Noisolution April 13. The band — who take their name from the second cut on Atomic Rooster‘s Death Walks Behind You — haven been in operation for the better part of three years and bask in the kind of modernized boogie one finds in the likes of Heat or even some of Samsara Blues Experiment’s more straightforward moments, though the sway of centerpiece “Awaken” is all early-Witchraft-via-Hendrix, guitarist Felix Scholl easily donning the cadence of the latter where earlier on in the record, on, say, the 7:07 opener and longest track (immediate points) “Lose,” his style took on a gruffer blues affect as he, guitarist Max Raine, bassist Philip Hennermann and drummer Nick DiSalvo (also guitar/vocals in Elder), careen through Graveyard-esque melancholy and energy swells, very much led by the two guitars.

This is the central methodology behind VUG‘s VUG: to craft spirited, energetic, dynamic and flowing heavy blues boogie. Rich in tone but not quite vintage in production, songs like “Garden” and the closing “VUG” offer rhythmic sway while keeping a proto-metallic feel to the riffing — the latter also has background singers, so there’s that — and the stomping forward push that emerges from the quiet opening of “Poseidon” isn’t to be discounted. Could very well be a burgeoning sense of stylistic range, but VUG do wellvug vug to make the sound their own, Hennermann and DiSalvo holding together turns from NWOBHM-style strut in “Poseidon” to more open heavy rock groove to a quiet cymbal wash finish. The penultimate, three-minute, not-a-cover “White Room” is something of a curio, tapping into Stubb-style nod and smashing it head-on into dual-guitar gallop and wah-covered swirl by the time the shortest cut crashes to its end.

Compare that to the patient fluidity of “Lose” or “Prophecy,” which also just barely tops seven minutes, and a genuine sense of dynamics and creative range begins to emerge, though of course when it comes to “Prophecy,” the track is something of a summary of the self-titled’s multiple sides in itself, between the deft turns in tempo and rhythm, build toward an apex and multifaceted thrust. On the first couple listens, it can seem like VUG simply have two different methods of working — one for longer songs, one for shorter — but digging deeper reveals variety between “Awaken” and the mellower linearity of “Garden,” between the motor-readiness of “Poseidon” and the jazzy intricacy of the quiet stretches in “VUG.” Thus the 34 minutes of VUG are executed with deceptive nuance, but whether one wants to dissect or bop along, the record seems to welcome whatever level of engagement its audience might want to bring to it. That is, it works either way you want to go.

They’re not genreless, but their pursuits are clearly geared toward individuality, and in company with the more familiar aspects of their blues rock, the instrumental nuance they bring to the table speaks of future progression and overarching potential as songwriters. Where they’ll end up? Hell if I know, but their debut is striking in its clarity of mission and cohesive, vibrant execution. I’d ask nothing more of it than it delivers.

With my thanks to Noisolution and VUG, I’ve been given permission to host the premiere of “Prophecy” for your streaming pleasure. You’ll find it on the player below, followed by more info from the PR wire.

Please enjoy:

Gathering in Neukölln, Berlin in 2015, VUG quickly developed a heavy yet melodic rock sound that would feel just as at home in the Scandinavian rock capital of Gothenburg. Formed by longtime friends Max Raine (guitar), Philip Hennermann (bass) and Felix Scholl (guitar, vocals) and eventually finalized by Nick DiSalvo (drums) the band already had a diverse history of DIY punk, stoner rock and doom in the members’ collective past. However, the goal here was always simple and timeless: making loud music, having a good time and not giving a shit about labels.

In the last weeks of 2016 VUG entered Mesanic Music studio in Kreuzberg to record their eponymous debut album. Tracking entirely live in two days in winter, the band finished a record that sounded raw and energetic, a snapshot of a live show. The self-titled record was mixed by Max Körich in Berlin and mastered by Carl Saff in Chicago.

VUG will be released on vinyl, CD and digitally by Noisolution on April 13th, 2018.

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