Review & Full Album Stream: Lizardmen, Cold Blooded Blues

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on August 19th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

lizardmen cold blooded blues

[Click play above to stream Lizardmen’s Cold Blooded Blues in full. Album is out today on Stone Free Records.]

At some point, it makes sense that at some point heavy rock and roll would veer back toward grunge. Of course the roots of the sound go back further, but if one looks at the branch of riff-driven fare that began to surface in the mid-to-late ’90s, it was basically the other offshoot of grunge and noise rock which, unlike nu-metal, received no commercial push. What makes a release like Lizardmen‘s Stone Free Records debut full-length, Cold Blooded Blues, engaging is the bridge it then creates between grunge and what heavy rock has become in the quarter-century since that style first came to public consciousness.

The Osnabrück, Germany-based trio of guitarist/vocalist Nikki, bassist Niklas and drummer Tore might leave something to question at first as to where the “blues” part of the record’s title comes from, because early tracks like “Dust,” “Turn the Screw” and “Seven” don’t really interact with that aesthetic, but by the time they get around to “Prey to the Lord” and “Steady Rolling Man” and even the early-Truckfighters fuzz of closer “The Cannibal,” they’ve broken out the slide guitar and a swinging groove to match. That change occurs right at the midpoint of Cold Blooded Blues, as “Karma” gives way to the stomp of “Mammoth Creep” — countrified and tin-can vocalized in a way that reminds of Larman Clamor — and so the album winds up with a distinct two-sided feel that only emphasizes how vinyl-ready its eight tracks/44 minutes seem to be.

Admirably, Lizardmen skirt the issue of ’70s boogie rock almost entirely in their revisiting of heavy rock’s sonic past. Well, mostly, at least. Part of that might be generational — many of the bands who started in the late ’90s and early ’00s with a heavy ’70s influence were tapping into their youth; Lizardmen are clearly younger — but there’s plenty of retro rock around these days and no shortage of it from Germany, so to hear a band come along with something of a different take is immediately refreshing. Despite its bummer album art — because violence against women is awesome, right? — Cold Blooded Blues digs in early on “Dust,” “Turn the Screw,” “Seven” and “Karma” to a sound that rolls out weighted fuzz tones and rawer vocals atop dirty, thick low end. Nikki is a vocalist of noteworthy presence and developing style, and the bounce and pulled notes on “Dust” seem to come from a place pre-Queens of the Stone Age.

lizardmen (Photo by Bob Sala)

It’s a vibe “Turn the Screw” follows up with a more melodic take that brings to mind underrated UK troupe Crystal Head, building in intensity early only to find catharsis in a wash of wah and prominent tom hits in the second half before a noisy final chorus closes out. With a tambourine behind it, “Seven” has more of a party sensibility and a friendlier fuzz, but “Karma” contrasts that quickly with lines like “Everything’s going down the drain” and “I never gave you my heart/But you fucked it up anyway,” etc. This been-done-wrong spirit ties into the bluesier side B still to come, but doesn’t quite yet make the sonic leap, holding to its gritty snarl for the duration and rounding out with some impressive snare work from Tore.

As for the task of making that leap, it falls to the aforementioned “Mammoth Creep,” heavy on kick drum, slide guitar and lyrics like, “I’m working nine-to-five to keep you satisfied.” Familiar all around, but in the context of where Lizardmen were only minutes prior, a considerable shift to get there. They carried themselves well through the earlier rockers and they do likewise through “Mammoth Creep,” “Prey to the Lord” and “Steady Rolling Man,” basking in fuzz-tinged blues that only grow more engaging as they move forward, “Steady Rolling Man” proving to be a catchy highlight of the record that seems to bring in some of that grungier perspective as well as its hook efficiently states, “I ain’t got what you need — fuck off.” Sometimes the simplest statement is the way to go.

Closer “The Cannibal,” also the longest track here at over nine minutes, presents something of another turn. It brings in elements of psychedelic jamming for a surprisingly hypnotic midsection after opening with some of Lizardmen‘s largest-sounding fuzz and shouted vocals — best nod on the record, hands down — and plays itself out on a huge march topped by echoing vocals that manage to come back to a central upbeat riff for a measure before crashing out to a noisy finish. There isn’t much blues about it, ultimately, but the groove is there and it nonetheless ties Cold Blooded Blues‘ two halves together while also building on them in a different way. It will be interesting to hear if Lizardmen can work going forward to bring the varies personalities developing in their sound together or if they’ll keep the feels distinct and just build a multi-faceted songwriting approach from them, but the framework they set down on Cold Blooded Blues should offer plenty of intrigue among the converted seeking a next step from modern heavy.

Lizardmen on Thee Facebooks

Lizardmen at Stone Free

Lizardmen on Bandcamp

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Baby Woodrose, Freedom: Long Way from Home

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on August 18th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

baby woodrose freedom

[Stream Baby Woodrose’s ‘Mind Control Machine’ by clicking play above. Freedom is out Sept. 16, 2016, on Bad Afro Records.]

This year marks the 15th anniversary of Denmark’s Baby Woodrose, who remain an underground phenomenon despite being one of the most pivotal European heavy rock bands to come along in that time. That’s not an exaggeration. As scenes have cropped up, gotten big, and died, Baby Woodrose have persisted with an unmatched love and execution of heavy, psychedelic garage rock, and they have remained largely unmatched in the form since their inception. The era of their 2001 debut, Blows Your Mind!, was revisited with the 2014 compilation Kicking Ass and Taking Names (review here), but it’s been four years since Uffe “Lorenzo Woodrose” Lorenzen (who’s also spent part of that time with his other band Spids Nøgenhat) and company issued their last proper full-length, 2012’s Third Eye Surgery (review here).

The effects-soaked, mind-expanded, recorded-to-tape Freedom is the band’s seventh album. Put together with the lineup of Lorenzo Woodrose on guitar/vocals along with, guitarist Mads Saaby, organist Anders Skjødt, bassist Kåre Joensen and drummer Hans Beck and issued through longtime label home and respected purveyor Bad Afro Records, the record continues on from where Third Eye Surgery left off in some ways, basking in bright tones and more expansive sonic reach, but keeps the core of classic post-13th Floor Elevators psychedelia and the infectious hooks that have typified their material all along. Lorenzo is, quite simply, a master of the form, but as much as Freedom‘s nine tracks/37 minutes are a show of the well-established strengths in his approach — good luck getting “Mind Control Machine” or “21st Century Slave” or “Mantra” out of your head — the material likewise pushes those strengths forward as well.

The title Freedom, the Black Power-reminiscent cover art (at least that’s how my American eyes see it) and the title-track itself, which reinterprets an old slave spiritual as a righteous psychedelic declaration — one might recall Richie Havens played the song at Woodstock and Clutch referenced it as well in “Motherless Child” — that succinctly encapsulates the album’s central theme of thought control at the hands of a wrongly directed dominant culture. “I don’t believe in your concept of reality,” Lorenzo states in the hook of opener “Reality,” and the lighter strum and fuzz of “21st Century Slave” works smoothly in contrast to the cynicism at the song’s heart, but as with some of Baby Woodrose‘s best and certainly their more recent output, there’s a tinge of melancholy under the upbeat, classic songwriting. That’s certainly the case in “21st Century Slave,” so it’s all the more fitting that the stomp of “Open Doors” — on which both Joensen and Skjødt shine early — should follow immediately.

At just over three minutes long, “Open Doors” is a highlight, and it also marks a lyrical turn, departing from the direct social critique of the first two songs to offer an alternative in the psychedelic lifestyle. Instead of “your concept of reality,” it’s “open doors in my mind.” That swap is subtle, but pivotal, since it helps establish the core conflict of Freedom as a whole, which one might boil down to squares vs. heads, but of course is expressed on a more complex level than that. After “Open Doors,” an immediate swirl of keys and/or effects begins the push of “Mind Control Machine,” a song that quickly makes its way “up the stairs to the 13th floor” and which “21st Century Slave” referenced in its lyrics. Likewise uptempo but more intense than “Open Doors,” it brings back the critical aspects of the first two tracks lyrically while expanding the scope instrumentally toward more expansive psychedelic terrain. That effects swirl — Echoplex? — never quite dissipates, and the song is richer for it.

baby woodrose

Centerpiece and shortest cut “Peace” is the departure that ultimately ties the entire album together. The subdued, still-tripped-out 2:27 track is probably the closer of the vinyl’s side A, but more than that, it provides a landmark as one of four single-word titles that between them draw a narrative progression for Freedom as a whole that begins with “Reality,” moves through “Peace,” finds “Freedom,” recites its “Mantra” of “I’ll never stop/I can never get enough” before finally disintegrating blissfully in the space rock jam of eight-minute closer “Termination.” “Peace” and “Freedom” work especially well together — on all levels, I suppose — as the former patiently hypnotizes the listener and the latter picks up with a near-immediate sweep, consuming with a depth of tone that pushes Lorenzo to the fore, his vocals watery as he recites “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child” in a manner that’s as honest and personal as it is homage.

Freedom‘s crux arrives in a call and response of the title-line of the title-track, and “Red the Signpost” kicks in with a noisier and spacier motion, running quickly through verses and its chorus, its almost frenetic solo, in under three minutes that breaks things up with perhaps the album’s most energetic moment. “Mantra” is slower and more groove-minded at the start, like a moodier take on some of the album’s earlier vibes, but the lyrics once again turn personal with repetitions of the above-quoted hook. A multi-layered solo is spacious but short en route back to the verse, as Baby Woodrose prove efficient once again in making their point and getting out; songwriting so tight it’s a wonder all the light that does can escape at all.

Closer “Termination” is nothing short of a psychedelic wonder. At 8:27, it’s easily the longest inclusion, but more than that, from its patient unfolding to its effects-wash build, Hawkwindian thrust, proclamations of doom in the lyrics surrounded by a warm cosmic gorgeousness that almost makes you think it’s going to be okay. The song flows immaculately between more active verses and spaced-out jamming, lyrics arriving in the second half after a jam soon to resume has pushed even further out. Baby Woodrose carry forth once again after the last lines are done and proceed to the album’s final build, which its a suitable payoff but is telling even in its ending, Freedom ultimately setting itself free in a final minute of effects swirl and lone, space guitar plucking out wistful notes that fade out to close.

If one takes Lorenzo as the auteur of Baby Woodrose in terms of the songwriting, that’s probably fair enough — there’s no doubt he’s at the center of the record — but the full-band live feel of Freedom would seem to express ideas no less pivotal to that concept than the railing against a sterile culture one finds in the lyrics to songs like “21st Century Slave,” “Reality” and “Mind Control Machine.” All of this feeds together to make Freedom a more than worthy next step in Baby Woodrose‘s hopefully ongoing progression, and that is perhaps the highest compliment that can be paid to it.

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Preorder Freedom at Bandcamp

Bad Afro Records website

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Wretch, Wretch: Deep Freeze, Deep Thaw (Plus Track Premiere)

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on August 16th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

Wretch wretch

[Click play above to stream ‘Icebound’ from Wretch’s self-titled debut, out Aug. 26 on Bad Omen.]

Doom has anxiously and rightfully awaited the return of Karl Simon to the fold. Formerly the guitarist/vocalist for The Gates of Slumber, Simon formed Wretch shortly before the untimely passing of Gates bassist Jason McCash in 2014, that band having called it quits some months earlier after the release of a final EP, Stormcrow (review here). The Indianapolis outfit make their self-titled debut on Bad Omen Records with seven tracks that in some ways stand very much in line with what Simon brought to The Gates of Slumber and in other ways are a marked departure. Bassist Bryce Clarke and drummer Chris Gordon both make a striking impression as the rhythm section, particularly in the Judas Priest cover “Winter” and the tempo-shifting “Icebound,” which follows, but a lot of Wretch‘s Wretch is Simon directly confronting the death of a close friend, and even in stylized moments like the churning, mostly-psychedelic instrumental solo showcase “Bloodfinger,” that sincerity and intensity of feeling are palpable.

The Gates of Slumber told stories about conquerors and monsters — Wretch seem more grounded in the actual pains of living on. Of course, anyone who has heard Simon‘s prior work will recognize crucial elements like the early NWOBHM darkness and, in closer “Drown” particularly, the influence of Saint Vitus‘ Dave Chandler‘s style of lurch-riffing. What Simon has managed to do throughout his career — and most especially on the final The Gates of Slumber album, 2011’s The Wretch (review here), from which this band takes their moniker — is bring something fresh to that influence and to that of Scott “Wino” Weinrich, preaching a true doom ethic that has both won over and created converts for more than the last decade.

Wretch‘s Wretch is hard to separate from this context, but it’s important to note that the album does have a personality of its own that’s separate from what The Gates of Slumber might’ve done even on a follow-up to their last offering. A seven-track run provides a dense but manageable and varied 33-minute listen, and between the gallop of opener “Running out of Days” and the hook of the subsequent “Rest in Peace” — not a Trouble cover, but no doubt nodding in that direction — on which Simon delivers the lines “Set me free/Let me rest in peace” in such a manner as to make one wonder who the speaker in the song is, himself or McCash, the new band is quick to establish itself as something separate. That one-two punch — the leadoff track crashing directly into the second — gives Wretch an immediately distinct feel, and it’s one that feeds into even the later crawl of “Drown” or “Icebound” or even the minimal guitar interlude “Grey Cast Mourning” that separates them.

wretch

A general downward trajectory in tempo for the linear front-to-back listen, Wretch split the album neatly into two sides, and though the whole thing is downtrodden, it’s clearly side B where that comes through most in the material, though even the Wino-style solo layering of “Bloodfinger,” which is as close to classic psychedelia as anything I’ve ever heard Simon play, and probably closer — Gordon does an excellent job holding down a central groove to give the guitar space to flesh out — there’s an underlying melancholy. “Winter,” which originally appeared on Judas Priest‘s 1974 debut, Rocka Rolla as “Winter/Deep Freeze,” plays that up as well even as it basks in “War Pigs”-esque bounce and an element of swirl that feeds off what “Bloodfinger” accomplishes before it in expanding the overall scope of the record.

As “Winter” fits thematically with “Bloodfinger”‘s instrumental feel, so too does “Icebound” pick up smoothly in lyrical theme from “Winter.” The eight-minute cut is the longest on Wretch and while its main riff brings to mind The Obsessed and is trad doom of the highest order, the three-piece find room as well to sneak a bit of boogie into the midsection, which is unexpected and satisfying in kind, particularly following a wah-soaked solo from Simon. They return to that main riff without ceremony and ride it through a verse and shift into a long minute-plus fadeout that ends the song and brings on “Grey Cast Mourning,” a 2:34 piece for standalone guitar that reinforces the emotional crux of the album in its atmosphere of grief and melancholy. It’s an interlude, but both for how it splits “Icebound” and “Drown,” and for what it brings in mood, is more than justified in its presence. Its peaceful meditation makes the “I Bleed Black”-ish riff of “Drown” feel that much more weighted as it introduces the album’s closer.

A massive, rolling nod ensues, Simon‘s vocals buried under his and Clarke‘s tones and coated in effects, and it becomes clear quickly that Wretch are hitting bottom as regards the atmosphere of the record. I’m not sure if there could’ve been a more appropriate finish for the self-titled than “Drown,” which not only contrasts the relatively upbeat — at least in pace — beginning of the album, but emphasizes the spiral that led them to that point while mirroring that downward movement in the lyrics with masterful cohesion. The end comes with a final crash from Gordon and a short ring-out, leaving the listener with the feeling that there’s more to say. This too is no doubt purposeful on the band’s part, and it ultimately makes their debut all the more resonant, as if to ask what good it would do to keep going, emotionally or practically. In taking these issues head-on, Wretch‘s Wretch would be grueling were it not for the work the early portion does in building forward momentum, but as it stands, the balance positions the album among 2016’s best in doom. It is brutally honest, conceptually and aurally weighted, and, one hopes, cathartic.

Wretch, Wretch preorder at Bad Omen Records

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The Sweet Heat Premiere First Track “How it’s Done”

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

the sweet heat (Photo by Logan Hill)

There’s a lot of info still unknown about The Sweet Heat‘s impending first release. When it’s out, for example. Also its title if it has one. If it’s a demo or an EP — for what it’s worth I’ve been going with “demo EP.” If it has cover art. And so on. These issues will sort themselves out one way or another as the band moves forward, but in the meantime we have the most important part: the music. Their first track to be made public is called “How it’s Done” and from its fading-in initial guitar line through its classic boogie-doom feel, it’s a burner all the way.

If The Sweet Heat look familiar, that’s reasonable. The four members of the band — vocalist Alexander Blackhound, guitarist Jonny Sage, bassist Nicholas Arruda and drummer Zigmond Coffey — were all in Balam together until last year. Balam released their final full-length, Days of Old (track premiere here), in early 2015, and throughout the year it became increasingly plain that not all was right with the five-piece, who wound up playing their last show in October as a release celebration for the album. It couldn’t have taken long after that for The Sweet Heat to take shape — their first and only show to-date was held in May in their native Rhode Island.

While closely linked in personnel, the two bands do have distinct sonic personalities, and that’s immediately apparent in the four tracks of The Sweet Heat‘s demo EP. Even the name of the band speaks to a bluesier, more ’70s feel, rather than the stricter adherence to doomly tenets that Balam offered, though there’s still plenty of early Pentagram in their sound. Nonetheless, The Sweet Heat thrive in this new context, finding a middle ground in a song like “Wrecking Ball” while “How it’s Done” plays one side more directly off the other, starting out with pure boogie rock before shifting smoothly into a more Sabbathian chug. The tones are right on, as is the groove, and with complement on the EP from the blown out “Shimpy Just Wants to Get Stoned” and the scorching guitar-and-hook-led “Jam Song,” The Sweet Heat‘s future seems dark in only the brightest way possible.

BlackhoundSageArruda and Coffey have very clearly taken some valuable lessons from their time in Balam and put them into The Sweet Heat — their songwriting already sounds experienced — but the new band is quick to establish itself as just that. I have the feeling these guys have more tricks up their sleeve sound-wise than they’re thus far letting on, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they really tripped out at some point in the future, but for now, they give a more than encouraging first showing that I only hope somebody presses to tape or 10″ sooner rather than later.

Get yourself introduced to The Sweet Heat with “How it’s Done” below, and enjoy:

The Sweet Heat on Bandcamp

Balam on Thee Facebooks

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Swampcult Premiere “Chapter I – The Village” from The Festival

Posted in audiObelisk on August 11th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

swampcult

Netherlands-based extreme metallers Swampcult will release their debut album, The Festival, via Transcending Obscurity Records on Oct. 2. That’s nearly still two months out, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense to get an early glimpse at it. If you’ve ever read the work of Romantic-period horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, you know it can be a dense experience, full of challenging concepts and language and invented chants and rhythms that take so long to digest they might as well exist in the belly of whatever swampcult the festivalgargantuan otherworldly monster is being described at the time. The drama is severe; nothing held back. Swampcult — who base their debut album on Lovecraft‘s story “The Festival” — put in a marked effort to work in very much the same way, honing an immediately atmospheric sound that seeks to span genres as Celtic Frost once pioneered. As cavernous as it is multifaceted, The Festival bridges sludgy chug, blackened ambience, raw death metal and doomed groove with ease and captures both the narrative and the mood of Lovecraft‘s work with spoken dialogue, varied growls and shouts, and the music itself, which is irrepressibly dark and somehow classically metallic.

Comprised of guitarist/bassist/narrator D and drummer/vocalist/narrator A, the band works in chapters across the album’s span, beginning of course with “Chapter I – The Village” and working through “Chapter III – Al-Azif Necronomicon,” “Chapter VII – The Dawning” and so on before finally getting to “Chapter VII – The Madness” and the finale “IX Epilogue – Betwixt Dream and Insanity.” All the while songs tie together fluidly so that The Festival flows as a single piece comprised of many different changes, both between and within individual tracks, and Swampcult execute their material with command that undercuts the fact that this is their first album. They call it “Lovecraftian metal,” which is fair enough given their clear allegiance to theme as an essential component in what they do, but that doesn’t necessarily speak to the entirety of their breadth. That is to say, one imagines had they picked a different author or maybe a different story, they’d have no trouble constructing as complete a world for that as they do for this. And it is a world being made. You can hear it in the work they do in the Swampcult story cardsfirst 90 seconds of “Chapter I – The Village” as the bleakness begins to gel and sets the tone — grey, dark — that the rest of The Festival will continue to build on.

If you’ve never read “The Festival,” the album includes story cards so you can follow along with what’s happening in each track. An almost uncharacteristic play toward accessibility, but convenient all the same. Today I have the grim pleasure of hosting “Chapter I – The Village” as a song premiere ahead of The Festival‘s release this Fall. As alluded to above, it’s not immediate in the the sense of “here’s the hook” and it’s by no means a friendly listen, but it is very clearly exactly what Swampcult intended it to be, and so all the more worthy of respect for its final outcome. Please keep in mind as you make your way through its six minutes that it’s just the first of a nine-chapter story, and thus only a fraction of what the album as a whole has on offer, though it should be enough to give an impression of the horrific wonders that await this October.

More info from the PR wire follows. Please enjoy:

Dutch band Swampcult aren’t just inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, they’ve based an album entirely on his highly acclaimed story ‘The Festival’. Each song is divided into chapters tracing the original ‘The Festival’ story, bringing it to life. The sounds of dread were never before so easily captured in this genre.

The very vibe of H.P. Lovecraft’s story has been recreated using a mixture of various extreme sounds; from the strange murmurings in the village to the toll of bells, it’s all encapsulated perfectly in one album. To give it visual appeal, a special ‘story card’ is created for each chapter, each having its own artwork and writings, which is given out free with the purchase of any physical product.

Swampcult, in addition to devoting an album entirely to H.P. Lovecraft’s ‘The Festival’ story, have written excellent, contemporary music that’s seamless, laden with surprises, and consistent. If there could be a genuine soundtrack for H.P. Lovecraft’s story, this is it. ‘The Festival’ is meant to be heard from start to finish, with at least the lyrics sheet in hand if not the book itself, and is recommended to all those who’re into things horror and extreme.

‘The Festival’ Track list:
1. Chapter I – The Village 06:01
2. Chapter II – The Old Man 02:55
3. Chapter III – Al-Azif Necronomicon 03:54
4. Chapter IV – Procession 05:28
5. Chapter V – The Rite 08:23
6. Chapter VI – The Flight 02:21
7. Chapter VII – The Dawning 06:09
8. Chapter VIII – The Madness 03:11
9. IX – Epilogue – Betwixt Dream and Insanity 02:49

Line up:
D – All strings and narration
A – Percussion, vocals and narration

Swampcult on Thee Facebooks

Swampcult on Bandcamp

Transcending Obscurity Records website

Transcending Obscurity on Thee Facebooks

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Roadburn 2016 Audio Streams: Black Moon Circle, Inverloch, Galley Beggar, Usnea, La Muerte, Dead to a Dying World & Kontinuum

Posted in audiObelisk on August 11th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

black moon circle at roadburn 2016 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Sad as I was to miss Galley Beggar at Roadburn this year, I was just as thrilled to watch Black Moon Circle play later in the evening on Day Two (review here). The Norwegian outfit had made it to Tilburg supporting their third album, Sea of Clouds, and when the weekend was over, they’d be a highlight of the newest stage at the fest, making its first appearance as a part of Roadburn 2016, the Extase.

Actually, the Extase is a venue down the way from the 013 proper, which is still kind of home-base for Roadburn as the events tendrils spread outward into Tilburg. But it’s a small club. Reminds me of places in Manhattan and Brooklyn — it’s smaller than the Saint Vitus Bar, for example, especially in back where the bands are — and was suitably dark, but of course the shows there were top notch anyway. Black Moon Circle were joined onstage by Scott “Dr. Space” Heller, soon to be formerly of Øresund Space Collective, and his journeyman synth was a welcome addition to their already fervent swirl.

Their set is streaming in full below, as well as Galley Beggar‘s and full sets from Usnea, La Muerte, Dead to a Dying World, Inverloch and Kontinuum. Whether you were in the room when any of this was happening or not, please feel free to dig in and enjoy:

Black Moon Circle – Live at Roadburn 2016

Dead to a Dying World – Live at Roadburn 2016

Galley Beggar – Live at Roadburn 2016

Inverloch – Live at Roadburn 2016

Kontinuum – Live at Roadburn 2016

La Muerte – Live at Roadburn 2016

Usnea – Live at Roadburn 2016

Thanks as ever to Walter for letting me host the streams. To hear the first batch of Roadburn 2016 audio streams, click here, to hear the second one, click here, to hear the third one, click here, to hear the third one, click here, and for all of this site’s coverage of Roadburn 2016, click here.

Roadburn’s website

Marcel Van De Vondervoort on Thee Facebooks

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Augustine Azul, Lombramorfose: At the Beginning of the Journey (Plus Full Album Stream)

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on August 9th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

augustine-azul-Lombramorfose

[Click play above to stream Augustine Azul’s Lombramorfose in full. Album out Aug. 16 on More Fuzz Records.]

There’s a jagged current to the rhythmic changes of Brazilian newcomers Augustine Azul, but the trio set considerable momentum throughout the six tracks of their debut full-length, Lombramorfose, released by the also-newcomer More Fuzz Records with a number of digital bonus items. Based in João Pessoa along the country’s coastline, the band is comprised of guitarist João Yor, bassist Jonathan Beltrão and drummer Edgard Moreira, and their progressive structuring, angularity and natural chemistry remind right away on opener and longest track (immediate points) “Amônia” of Fatso Jetson in how the music seems to be truly spontaneous. I don’t know what the exact recording circumstances were for Lombramorfose, but I’d assume just from how the songs play out that it was at least in some measure tracked live.

The band produced at Estúdio Peixe Boi and had a hand in the mixing and mastering as well, so while it’s their first record and they’re clearly just beginning a longer journey into what their sound can become, there’s also the sense that when the guitar comes forward on “Amônia” and then steps back to let the low end lead the groove on the subsequent “Jurubeba,” there’s something more than happenstance at play. That underlying consciousness — the fact that while they may sound like they’re just plugging in and going for it, they actually have plotted direction — makes Lombramorfose more enticing in terms the band’s future prospects, but it’s via the chemistry between them that they make their most resonant impact, their quick turns and noise-jazz semi-psychedelic rock — fuzzed out and brimming with energy looking to expand — executed with subtle precision across the board.

It’s also telling that the record is so short. Clocking in at 30 minutes flat, Augustine Azul‘s first outing seems to acknowledge the ask that some of its proggier stretches are making of its audience’s attention, and that too speaks to the band reaching out to their listenership in meaningful ways. Later cuts like “Pixo” and closer “Intéra” have some boogie to their rhythm, but it’s not like Augustine Azul are playing raw ’70s rock. Their arrangements are fairly stripped down — guitar, bass, drums — as they were on their 2015 debut EP, simply titled EP, but as “Amônia” pushes past the seven-minute mark with Earthless-esque solo swirl and start-stop lines that cut right into the fuzzier start of “Jurubeba,” Augustine Azul make it clear they’re looking to establish themselves as a progressive heavy rock act. And they do.

augustine azul

“Cogumelo” rounds out the first half of Lombramorfose with a shorter but more psychedelic and exploratory vibe, some airier guitar atop a still-solid rhythm, but by then the primary modus for the band is well established and it really just becomes a matter of continuing to build on the strong foundation they almost immediately put forth. This is accomplished via the transitions between the songs, so that by the time “Cogumelo” gets funky in its second half, Augustine Azul have already nailed down a fluid momentum for the first 15 minutes (-ish) of the album, and that will be something they continue to build on as the bluesy opening strains of “Mamatica” take hold to launch side B, immediately expanding the stylistic context of what’s come before, but doing so in a way taht makes sense and doesn’t seem at all out of place.

It’s worth taking the time to highlight Yor‘s guitar playing as being particularly stunning at points. Beltrão and Moreirap prove more than capable of holding their own, as the bounce beneath the soloing of “Mamatica” demonstrates, but in place of vocals, it’s the guitar entrusted to carry the melodic crux and set the mood of these tracks, and Yor shines in that forward role. His dynamic as a lead player bolstered by the rhythm section is perhaps the most classic thing about Augustine Azul‘s approach, but to go with the technically-minded shred at the end of “Pixo,” which follows “Mamatica” as the penultimate inclusion here, there’s a preceding moment of quiet, as though the band were gearing up for the charge still to come, so it’s not as though the entirety of Lombramorfose is just about one player.

Rather, as “Intéra” picks up with Augustine Azul‘s version of what might otherwise be motor-ready riffing, the trio as a whole seem to be the focus, and while Yor takes a quick noodling solo in the foreground, it’s Beltrão‘s bassline that really shines between what might be the verses if there were vocals to accompany. A break of airier-toned guitar gives way to a last thrust, but the band ultimately ends quietly, finishing the at-times intense rush of Lombramorfose with a sort of sonic asterisk as if to remind listeners they’re just getting going. That’s fair enough given some of the loud/quiet tradeoffs preceding, and while I wouldn’t necessarily speculate as to how the trio would continue to develop, they do strike as a band interested in pushing forward into real progression of their sound. However that might play out in the longer term, it will be working from a solid start.

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Howling Giant, Black Hole Space Wizard Part 1: Turned to Fire

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on August 8th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

howling giant black hole space wizard part 1

[Stream Howling Giant’s Black Hole Space Wizard Part 1 EP in full by clicking play above. EP is out this Friday, Aug. 12.]

The cumbersomely but somehow appropriately titled EP, Black Hole Space Wizard Part 1, from progressive heavy rockers/metallers Howling Giant is not their first short release, but it nonetheless represents a beginning, as its number would indicate. Based in Nashville, Tennessee, the self-releasing outfit are working with a strong narrative thread running through the four included tracks — “Mothership,” “Exodus: Earth,” “Dirtmouth” and “Clouds of Smoke” — and they’ve constructed a plotline that plays to the different mood in each song. All told, the EP runs a little under 22 minutes, so it’s a relatively quick in and out, but guitarist/vocalist Tom Polzine, bassist/vocalist Roger Marks, drummer/vocalist Zach Wheeler and organist/synthesist Drew Harakal (who does not play with the band live) cover a surprising amount of ground during that time, giving listeners a glimpse a range that by no means seems to be done growing.

Each cut brings a personality and identity of its own that the storyline then plays to, describing the glorious ascent and ultimate destruction of mankind and maybe everything else that leaves a single survivor on Earth as the music careens between the Dead Roots Stirring-era Elder-style melodicism and winding riffage of opener “Mothership” to the organ-laced final build and crash of “Clouds of Smoke.” Along the way the changes are stark but in a way that makes sense given the narrative context and the progressive scope of the release, and rather than simply jump around between aesthetics, Howling Giant do an effective job of tying together the varied vibes in song structure and lyrics.

In short, they take what would otherwise be a collection of four somewhat disparate tracks — the shifts are stark, but not outlandish — and turn it into a journey for the listener. 22 minutes is about as long as half-hour tv episodes are these days sans commercials, so maybe it’s fair to think of Black Hole Space Wizard Part 1 like a teleplay with four acts that would presumably make the band’s prior 2015 four-tracker a pilot testing the waters for this season-one-episode-one release. And whether or not Howling Giant continue the series or their interests and whims take them elsewhere, their journey is cohesive, flourish of organ adding depth to the riff in “Mothership” initially and then stepping back to make room for the massive grooving crash that ends the track and leads into the start of “Exodus: Earth,” which turns to slower, more nodding, fuzzier fare that seems intended to hypnotize as much as engage as did “Mothership” before it.

howling giant

They prove quickly that they can do the one just as well as the other. That kind of becomes a running theme as well for Black Hole Space Wizard Part 1 in that the band doesn’t ever set foot onto territory where they aren’t immediately at home. Could come from confidence of execution, could be a product of the recording situation — the EP is self-produced — but as “Exodus: Earth” shifts into proggier roll with voiceover narration, there is no change in the level of poise they show or the command they wield over the performance. That remains true through “Dirtmouth” and especially “Clouds of Smoke” as well.

More intense from the very start, “Dirtmouth” is also the shortest of the tracks at 4:28 and aside from highlighting Marks‘ formidable bass-tone, it digs into a straightforward, thrashier gallop in the vein of a fuzzier High on Fire or even early C.O.C., classic mosh riff and all. Of course, they do this while also keeping the tone and progressive edge they brought to “Mothership” and “Exodus: Earth,” but it’s another clear change in focus, and another crisp execution that could’ve just as easily fallen flat. After “Dirtmouth” returns to its intro to finish out, “Clouds of Smoke” starts in quietly with spacious guitar that calls to mind some of Devin Townsend‘s more restorative moments, and unfolds patiently into a smooth rhythm topped by harmonized vocals and a linear build that will pushes into a solo section that provides the apex for the EP as a whole before ending with a last ringout of fading organ.

Of the elements shown throughout, perhaps it’s the patience of the closer that’s the most telling about the band overall, since it speaks to the consciousness at work behind their output, but that shouldn’t necessarily undercut the spectrum they cover across these four songs, which is significant, sets up a flow between them and still gives an EP-style sampling of what Howling Giant can accomplish stylistically going forward and working off the exposition of this first episode.

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