Review & Track Premiere: Monster Magnet, Mindfucker

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on February 23rd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

monster magnet mindfucker

[Click play above to stream the premiere of the Hawkwind cover ‘Ejection’ from Monster Magnet’s new LP, Mindfucker, out March 28 on Napalm Records.]

For about the first seven seconds of its opening track, Monster Magnet‘s Mindfucker is indistinguishable from a Ramones record. Over a howl of feedback, the drums count-in quickly and with the ringing-out of a first power chord and a “let’s go!” from founding frontman Dave Wyndorf, the 3:30 “Rocket Freak” is underway, almost immediately giving the forward position to the album’s stated mission of proto-punk simplicity meeting heavy rock drive. Wyndorf can’t resist an excursion or two into space — nor should he, frankly — as the ranging seven-minute “Drowning” shows, or the mid-paced warnings in closer “When the Hammer Comes Down,” but with a crux in impactful, forward-thrusting cuts like “Soul,” “Mindfucker,” the take on Hawkwind‘s “Ejection,” “Want Some” and “Brainwashed,” even the penultimate “All Day Midnight” balances its melancholia with stage-ready energy in its delivery, and even in comparison to the long-running New Jersey troupe’s recent output, 2013’s Last Patrol (review here), the two let’s-weird-’em-up redux specials — 2014’s Milking the Stars (review here), which took on Last Patrol, and 2015’s Cobras and Fire (review here), which did likewise for 2010’s Mastermind (review here) — Mindfucker sounds invigorated, genuinely rooted in the place where punk and heavy rock meet, and is of course rife with the lyrical nuance of Wyndorf‘s written and spoken voice as a keystone presence.

Yes, Monster Magnet sound like Monster Magnet. To expect otherwise 30-some years after the band began to take shape seems, frankly, like a ridiculous notion. But as ever, they’re also working to twist that meaning and expand their overarching context, so that even as they sound like themselves, with some drum contributions from producer Joe BarresiWyndorf and guitarist Phil Caivano worked largely alone in the studio — the live band is rounded out by guitarist Garrett Sweeny, drummer Bob Pantella and bassist Chris Kosnik (the latter two also of The Atomic Bitchwax) — to reshape, and for lack of a better phrase, fuck with that definition, expanding it in new and interesting dimensions.

Two items to note in the interest of full disclosure here. First, I’m a Monster Magnet fan. I grew up in New Jersey, and I’d admired the band’s work throughout the various stages of their career. Their albums aren’t always perfect, and there have been times when it’s seemed like they’ve put out records almost to antagonize the expectations of their fanbase — oh, you wanted Superjudge? well here’s 4-Way Diablo — but even that speaks to a creative will I find admirable. Second, I was hired by Napalm Records to help write the bio for Mindfucker, which I hope to post here sooner or later, and compensated for that effort. I don’t believe that affects my impartiality about Mindfucker‘s 10-track/49-minute run, because I don’t think I had any to start with, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention it. There. Now it’s out of the way.

Chiefly, what Mindfucker does is work toward a long-stated goal on the part of Wyndorf to tap into the raw ’70s power of bands like MC5 and The Stooges, the early punk of the aforementioned Ramones and others of a more garage-ly ilk. Its production remains modern — Milking the Stars and Cobras and Fire experimented with some true retro stylization, and it worked, but Mindfucker‘s are too high-energy to give up their aural clarity in such a way — but it’s interesting to note that Monster Magnet and long-running Danish garage acolytes Baby Woodrose have perhaps never sounded so similar from this end as they do on “Ejection,” “Brainwashed” or even the more melancholy “All Day Midnight,” which retain a character of performance less outwardly speeding-at-night-punked than “Rocket Freak” or the subsequent “Soul” at the outset, but prove no less memorable in their hooks, while songs like “I’m God” and “Mindfucker” itself continue the social commentary of Last Patrol, with Wyndorf positioning himself as the “living among the clouds” observer of the downward spiral that modernity seems perpetually to be riding.

“I’m God,” lyrically, imagines a new flood of sorts, while “Mindfucker” couches the totality of the daily news cycle in the standout hook of its chorus: “You’re a mindfucker baby, look what you done to my head/You’re a mindfucker baby, settin’ fire to my bed/Soul crushin’ love child, deep inside of my brain/You’re a mindfucker baby, beautiful and insane,” putting the world in which we live in the position of the proverbial crazy significant other. And fairly enough so.

monster magnet (photo jeremy saffer)

“Mindfucker” itself is maddeningly, almost unfortunately, catchy. This is an aspect it shares with “I’m God,” “Want Some” and “Ejection,” the latter of which is perhaps unsurprisingly about as pure a classic rocker as the band offers throughout. As the side B leadoff, it mirrors somewhat the push of “Rocket Freak” at the start of side A, but with even more choice lead guitar work, flourish of tripped-out effects and lyrics that, instead of celebrating the “Rocket Freak” — “She’s my rocket freak and it’s the end of the world” — see space as an inevitable place of escape from the woes of the day. I don’t want to paint Mindfucker as being overly political, since it’s not like Wyndorf is calling for legislation banning assault weapons or writing anti-Republican protest songs, but there’s an underlying awareness of the absurdity in which America, and indeed the world, exist on a day-to-day basis that seems to be the undercurrent lyrical theme tying the record together in the places where it does.

That comes through certainly in “Brainwashed,” which leads the way into the closing duo of “All Day Midnight” and “When the Hammer Comes Down,” which seem to break away a bit from some of the moves the rest of Mindfucker is making. Less so “All Day Midnight” the elevator of which gets off right at the 13th floor and knows exactly where it wants to head, but much as “Drowning” — the longest cut on the album at 7:21 — offered a melancholy and contemplative finish to side A, “When the Hammer Comes Down” at the very least makes no attempt to hide the dire nature of its point of view, which can be summarized in the final lines, “You tapped a supernova when you left the truth to drown/The universe will do you right, when the hammer comes down,” which, in the context of the earlier, “Karma’s a bitch, people/I hope you bought a nice bed,” would seem to leave little to question as to what Wyndorf sees as the direction in which humanity is headed.

However, much as the album isn’t overly political in an obvious way — you can put it on, rock out, and not think once about rising ocean levels, mass shootings, #metoo moments or the social media misadventures of a commander in chief culled from reality television — neither is it a downer. Quite the opposite. Though its lyrical skepticism is pervasive, and its very title — which I admit elicited a “really dude?” from me at first as well, as would seem to have been at least part of Wyndorf‘s intention toward his audience — is somewhat abrasive, Mindfucker‘s multifaceted tracks build significant momentum between them and the long-player as whole pushes forward with only a bare minimum of letup to allow for dynamics to play out.

It is continually satisfying to be unable to predict where Monster Magnet and Wyndorf as the auteur thereof will head on a given release — one still hopes for more go-back-and-screw-with-it revisionist works eventually for records like 2001’s Monolithic Baby! and the aforementioned 4-Way Diablo, let alone the potential to play up the bizarro aspects of these cuts — and Mindfucker indeed presents a sonic turn even from Last Patrol as it veers away from the psychedelic aspects on display there and toward more bare-bones structures and direct, stage-ready presentation. What’s unflinching, however, and wherever the band goes at any given point, is genuine lyrical genius, and a conceptual foundation that challenges its audience to actively engage with it even as the songs themselves are classic-pop catchy and unabashed in being centered around memorable hooks.

Any Monster Magnet release is going to provoke strong opinions on multiple sides of their now-multigenerational fanbase, and with a certain amount of confrontationalism even on the most superficial of levels, Mindfucker will be no different in that regard. But what remains true is that even as they approach the 30-year mark since their founding in 1989, they continue to be moved by an unrelenting creative spirit, and that seems unlikely to change anytime soon, regardless of the direction any individual release might take. As vast an influence as they’ve had, Monster Magnet are still one of a kind, and as Wyndorf asks the question in the title-track here, “Why you gotta fuck with my head?,” yeah, he’s summarizing the social strata in which we currently exist, but also he surely does so knowing that in the balance of the band’s years and decades, he’s given as good as he’s got in terms of mindfuckery.

Monster Magnet, “Mindfucker” official video

Monster Magnet website

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Strauss Stream New EP Falena in its Entirety

Posted in audiObelisk on February 23rd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

strauss (Photo by Magda Wrzeszcz Photography)

London four-piece Strauss will release their third EP, Falena, on March 2. They play a launch gig that very same night (it’s next Friday) at the famed The Black Heart venue in Camden Town, and in so doing will mark the official start of a new era for the band. They were a fivesome at the time they issued their last short outing, 2015’s five-tracker, Luia (review here), and have continued to undergo significant personnel and aesthetic changes moving them away from where they started out on 2013’s self-titled EP (review here), playing to a more aggressive style as heard in the harsh shouts throughout Falena‘s six songs/28 minutes from vocalist Stef Sacchetto, joined in the band at this point by founding guitarist Charles Fusari, and the newcomer rhythm section of bassist Mark Lotz and drummer Seb Tull.

The drop from five players to four means the loss of a second guitar alongside Fusari‘s, but whether it’s the dug-in prog-metal riffing of churning closer “Distant” or the start-stop dude-mosh bounce at the start of “JB Taylor,” which later moves into more spacious terrain, or complementing the Faith No More-style funk in Lotz‘s bass and Sacchetto‘s strauss falenamanic snare groove on the subsequent “Pantomine,” the six-stringer proves more than versatile enough to hold down the position on his own, even jamming out a bit in the second half of “Lit Corners” as Sacchetto works in a quick couple lines of cleaner vocals before the fuller-brunt assault is reignited. That’s not to downplay the loss of a member or discount the impact of the shifts that Strauss has undergone in the last couple years, but with a strong current of noise rock throughout Falena, they don’t seem to have taken any step backwards in terms of their overall progression. It may have taken them an extra year to get the songs together — three between releases, as opposed to two — but they still got there, as “2016”‘s blend of sludgy lumbering and sample-laden post-hardcore thrust demonstrates plainly.

I said last time out that Strauss were ready to take on the task of a debut full-length. It’s clear why they might not have wanted to go that route. Losing a guitarist is one thing. Changing out a bassist or a drummer is another. To have all of that happen between one batch of tracks and another, and yeah, a band might want to make sure things are working as well as they might seem to before making a statement as strong as a first long-player invariably becomes about who they are and the ultimate direction they’ll look to take. Nonetheless, in the blend of toughguy groove and progressive melody-making brought to bear on “Ashwagndha” and “Distant” and the four cuts between them, Strauss still show a significant sonic persona of their own, and I remain convinced that, should they feel like they’re there in terms of making a complete record as their next step, they indeed are. I guess we’ll see how that goes.

Below, you can stream the Falena EP in its entirety and read some commentary from the band about everything they’ve been through in the last couple years.

Please enjoy:

Strauss on Falena EP:

“Strauss have undergone a few lineup changes since their last release, ‘Luia’, in 2015. Seb Tull took on drums in 2016 and began co-writing with guitarist Charles Fusari.This talent-merger brought radical differences into the band’s sound and the project rapidly evolved into a brand-new melt of personal tastes, influences and musical endeavours.

In June 2017, they entered the recording studio for the third time and gave birth to the new EP ‘Falena’ within a few days, under the guidance of recording engineer Wayne Adams. Shortly after, bassist and original band member, Bill Tandy, left the project and was replaced by Mark Lotz.

Somehow hybrid and intense, the musical variation that so much characterises Strauss’s new sound was pushed even further by vocalist Stef Sacchetto. Finally cured from long-term depression in 2017, he was able to prepare and lay lyrical sets that, in this particular record, aim at questioning, provoking and guiding the audience into reflection and self-analysis, as well as being influenced by recent global events.”

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Review & Full Album Premiere: Deathwhite, For a Black Tomorrow

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on February 22nd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

deathwhite for a black tomorrow

[Click pay above to stream Deathwhite’s For a Black Tomorrow in its entirety. Album is out Feb. 23 via Season of Mist with preorders available here.]

Going by what your ears tell you, you’d have to be forgiven for guessing wrong at mood-metal three-piece Deathwhite‘s base of operations. Sweden? Nope. The UK? Nope. Poland? Nope. Romania? Nope. Some frigid former Soviet Bloc nation with little scene to speak of but plenty of passion and sadness to spare? Wrong-o, chief. The correct answer is Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Steel City. The trio choose to remain anonymous under their hooded robes — I’ve seen AM and LM listed as a partial lineup, so maybe there’s a pair of brothers in there, but maybe not — but when it comes to their debut album for Season of Mist, the nine-song/43-minute For a Black Tomorrow, their intention couldn’t be clearer. The mission of the album, front to back, is to pay homage to the greats of melancholic metal. Perhaps Katatonia, and in particular the Last Fair Deal Gone Down era of that Swedish outfit’s work, most of all, but definitely the oeuvre of the so-called ‘Peaceville Three’ — My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost and Anathema — as well.

Saying that might lead one to believe there are death-doom elements at play throughout For a Black Tomorrow, or that the band engages a rawness of production à la those groups’ transformative works in the early ’90s — a specific aspect I’d argue just about no one has been able to accurately recreate — but no. Deathwhite take on the atmospheric, emotional, and melodcally ranging side of these bands’works, and while tracks like the later “Death and the Master” offer some shouts and heavier thrust, and amid one of the album’s strongest hooks, the earlier “just Remember” proffers a riff with a sharper bite than that of, say, opener “The Grace of the Dark,” which unfolds at the beginning of Deathwhite‘s first album with a patience that immediately puts the band in command of both the aesthetic and the outward-moving progression of the LP itself. In other words, there’s an awful lot about what they want to do that Deathwhite have already figured out.

The band has two prior EPs in 2014’s Ethereal and 2015’s Solitary Martyr, but while I obviously have no confirmation to back me up, I’d more likely credit their cohesiveness as regards overall mission to members’ prior experience in other outfits. Do I know that? Nope. But though Deathwhite have been together for upwards of six years, there are still parts of For a Black Tomorrow that speak to pedigree beyond this band itself. The fluidity with which “The Grace of the Dark” unfurls atop double kick drums, building tension in its verse to release in the chorus, or how the subsequent “Contrition” picks up with a more urgent and metallic chug topped with a plotted but classy lead that fades out of the mix just as the first verse begins, the band galloping forward for the duration into the depressive acoustic/full-breadth tone trades that take place in “Poisoned,” a swapping out of layers masterfully handled by producer Shane Mayer that only make the fullness of tone in the subsequent “Just Remember” all the more resonant.

That song, along with the following centerpiece “Eden,” might be the emotional and aesthetic crux of For a Black Tomorrow — i.e., the moments at which Deathwhite‘s tribute is most readily paid to their influences. Once again, that’s primarily directed toward Katatonia, but there are darker impulses at work as well, in the guitar and bass tones, though the vocals and the pacing assure that the prevailing vibe is emotionally downtrodden in just such a specific way. It’s also gorgeous — especially “Eden” — so another manner in which Deathwhite seem to nod to their stylistic forebears is finding beauty amid the darkness of their making and not forgetting to highlight the one alongside the other. That, ultimately, is a major factor in what separates this kind of doom from its more workmanlike, traditionalist contemporaries.

deathwhite

It’s not until they come around to sixth track “Dreaming the Inverse” that Deathwhite cross over the five-minute mark. One could argue this shows a monotony of structure, but that’s simply not the case — rather, it’s an efficiency of songcraft from which the trio begin to branch out as For a Black Tomorrow progresses toward its finale title-track. After “Eden,” “Dreaming the Inverse” (5:01) brings turns between double-kick gallop and quieter, brooding verses, the sudden moves between one and the other a familiar tactic and not entirely dissimilar from what Deathwhite already brought to “Poisoned,” though heavier on the whole and more soulful vocally. That vocal soul sets up the primary impression that “Death and the Master” will make over the course of its six and a half minutes, as a rawer shout — still melodic, but the delivery changes, to be sure — emerges to top the fuller push of the band behind it.

As one of the most engrossing moments of For a Black Tomorrow, “Death and the Master” takes on a declarative vibe that could be derived from Primordial at least in part or perhaps unintentionally, but it’s a powerful standout either way, and though an interlude of some sort might’ve worked well to separate the two, “Death and the Master” still doesn’t necessarily overshadow “Prison of Thought,” which follows, the two songs rather acting as complements as the latter revives shifts from hard-driving distortion and acousti-poetics, settling by its finish on a raucous but still very much controlled payoff. “For a Black Tomorrow” itself rounds out, the band quickly dropping a lyrical reference to Anathema‘s “Shroud of False” from Alternative 4, and moving through a return to the shorter songcraft of earlier pieces, but with something of a looser feel as the guitar leads the way through. There’s still a tension in the chug, but open-ringouts remind of the patience in “The Grace of the Dark,” and the vocal harmonies that top the final section before the fadeout in the song’s second half are nothing less than beautiful. One could hardly ask for a more appropriate ending.

What Deathwhite present on their debut album is a powerful showcase of aesthetic. They prove readily in these tracks that they know what they want to sound like, know where they’re coming from in terms of influence and style, and know how they want to bring that to fruition in their own work. As the question was eventually put to the likes of AnathemaKatatoniaParadise Lost and My Dying Bride, sooner or later, Deathwhite will have to answer how they’ll be able to take these elements and craft something more individualized from them — that is, something to distinguish them from their forebears in the subgenre — but that is perhaps best left to time and the natural development of the group over their next however-many releases. As regards For a Black Tomorrow, it speaks with resonance to a certain depression of spirit and though Deathwhite may seem a novelty at first for the simple fact of their surprising geographic locale, there’s nothing in these nine songs that feels like a put-on or a less than genuine expression on its own level.

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Review & Full Album Premiere: Apostle of Solitude, From Gold to Ash

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on February 20th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Apostle of Solitude From Gold to Ash

[Click play above to stream Apostle of Solitude’s From Gold to Ash in its entirety. Album is out this week on Cruz Del Sur Music.]

Understand: I had reasonably high expectations for Apostle of Solitude‘s fourth album. No reason not to, frankly. Since making a splash a decade ago with their debut full-length, Sincerest Misery (discussed here), they’ve never failed to move forward either in their approach or overall quality of output. That was the case as 2010’s Last Sunrise (review here) followed and set the stage for its own follow-up, Of Woe and Wounds (review here), in 2014. Now, between those two records a pivotal change was made in the band that saw founding guitarist/vocalist Chuck Brown and drummer Corey Webb bring aboard guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak, also of Ripple Music heavy rockers Devil to Pay, to add complement to Brown‘s emotional delivery and thickness and volume to the sound overall. The short version is it worked.

The long version is it worked splendidly. And while it would be rational to imagine that a band whose output across three records has always been geared toward a healthy amount of progression would continue to progress, the fourth Apostle of Solitude, titled From Gold to Ash and issued as their second for knows-its-metal-imprint Cruz Del Sur, surpasses any and all expectations one might’ve placed on it. To be blunt, it is the kind of album that bands go their entire careers trying to make. And I fully recognize that sounds like hyperbole, but as executions of American doom metal go, there’s really nothing more one could ask of these seven tracks, which have weight in their atmosphere and emotion as much as their riffs, huge grooves cut through by melancholic harmonies between Janiak and Brown, and a continued development in songcraft that has produced some of the most memorable Apostle of Solitude material to-date.

In several important ways, From Gold to Ash is a direct follow-up to Of Woe and Wounds, and I think even the construction of the two titles hints at that. Now rounded out by bassist Mike Naish, the band returned to Mike Bridavsky to helm the recording, with whom they’ve worked since Last SunriseBridavsky brought a notable shift in clarity to Of Woe and Wounds, and that’s something From Gold to Ash continues. Apostle of Solitude sound unabashedly melodic, and though they’re distorted, rumbling, crashing and heavy, tracks like “Ruination be Thy Name” and “My Heart is Leaving Here” prove spacious enough to allow for dynamic changes in volume and tempo and overall feel, and across the 43-minute offering, the band creates a mire that’s as much heart-rending as it is headbang-worthy, their plod worthy of earliest Trouble even as they call out Pentagram‘s Be Forewarned on the penultimate “Monochrome (Discontent)” en route to rolling closer “Grey Farewell.”

The interaction between Brown and Janiak on vocals and guitar, frankly, is the most outward point of growth on the part of the band — that is, the easiest to perceive — and this makes sense. It would have to be. Either proves capable of taking the frontman position for a given song — Janiak plays that role in Devil to Pay — but it’s in cuts like centerpiece highlight “Keeping the Lighthouse” (video posted here) and in the chorus of “Ruination by Thy Name,” which arrives following the extended intro “Overlord” and delivers both an irresistible swaying groove and much of the lyrical perspective in the line, “To be wounded, and to be maimed, is to exist,” in a midsection break following the second and not-at-all final runthrough of one of From Gold to Ash‘s most resonant hooks.

Apostle of Solitude

It’s telling that the band would separate “Ruination by Thy Name” and “Keeping the Lighthouse” by the quiet 90-second guitar interlude “Autumn Moon,,” allowing the listener to properly recover from the one before moving onto the next, but they do no such favors when it comes to From Gold to Ash‘s final three tracks — a salvo that begins with the 10-minute “My Heart is Leaving here” and continues with “Monochrome (Discontent)” and the finale “Grey Farewell),” both of which top seven minutes and thus are longer than either “Ruination by Thy Name” (6:37) and “Keeping the Lighthouse” (a tidy 6:23). The reason that matters is because after “Keeping the Lighthouse” crashes to its end, “My Heart is Leaving Here” picks up with quiet, echoing guitar and seems to move the album into a different section entirely — it’s the moment where the listener enters “the thick of it.”

Slower, more depressive, more regret-filled, the calls and responses of “My Heart is Leaving Here” are a point at which From Gold to Ash reaches a new stage of expressiveness, and likewise becomes more immersive. It is doomed revelry of the highest order, building toward a guitar solo and huge lumbering finish in which a cymbal wash gives way to the drum fill at the beginning of “Monochrome (Discontent),” on which Janiak seems to take the forward vocal position as he did on “Luna” from Of Woe and Wounds, with results no less successful. Another sorrowful lyric and rolling riff gives way to a stretch of minimal guitar and punching bass after the halfway point — a bridge, essentially, and not a long one — but the peaceful moment is effective in conveying Apostle of Solitude‘s overarching dynamic and the various means through which they’re able to convey a forlorn spirit.

“Monocrhome (Discontent)” drags itself to its ending without another word and “Grey Farewell” crashes in with a suitable largesse of plod before settling into a middle-paced push through one last trade between verse and hook that seems to summarize the various aspects of From Gold to Ash that have worked so well across both sides of the release. There might be a flourish of hope in the dual-layered/dual-channel guitar solo about three-quarters of the way through, but as one recalls the line, “No time can cure the rising anguish” from “My Heart is Leaving Here” and the shouted delivery of “anguish” as a part of that, the impression overall of From Gold to Ash is long since set. Its depressiveness is resonant throughout, but there’s nothing theatrical or overblown about Apostle of Solitude‘s delivery throughout. No drama, no pretense, no wasted time. The sincerity with which From Gold to Ash is executed is one of its great strengths, and while that’s been a key factor to the band’s aesthetic since their beginning, they’ve simply never reached the level they do here.

Let me be blunt: When 2018 is over, From Gold to Ash will have been one of its finest doom releases. Despite its downer sensibility, it is an utter triumph of form, and it should put Apostle of Solitude in a new echelon of consideration as one of the US’ finest purveyors of modern doom. It is a significant accomplishment, and one that should not be ignored or passed over for any reason. Recommended.

Apostle of Solitude, “Keeping the Lighthouse” official video

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Towards Atlantis Lights Premiere “Alexandria’s Library” from Dust of Aeons

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on February 16th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Towards Atlantis Lights

You know what happens when you swim toward the lights of Atlantis? You fucking drown. Such would seem to be the overarching perspective from which multinational grief-laden doomers Towards Atlantis Lights are working on their Transcending Obscurity Records debut album, Dust of Aeons. Comprised of four tracks beginning with the utter consumption of the half-hour-long “The Bunker of Life” (immediate points for putting the longest song first), the record is due out March 5 and presents itself as a morose wash of death-doom impulses, part melancholic melody and part extremity of crawl and lurch. Shades of My Dying Bride‘s theatricality and Novembers Doom‘s brutal and downer growling metal make themselves known throughout the four-song/57-minute offering, and though very much of the style, Dust of Aeons successfully revels in its atmosphere and reminds listeners of the resonance this style of doom can hold when so properly executed.

The album pairs two longer songs with two shorter ones. I’d call it two-sided, but the break doesn’t really work that way, with “The Bunker of Life” basically an album unto itself. Even if that track was broken in half for the first of a double-LP, there would still be “Babylon’s Hanging Gardens” (5:57), “Alexandria’s Library” (16:35) and “Greeting Mausolus’ Tomb” (4:23) to account for, and those shorter tracks are more than just interludes. Vocalist/keyboardist Kostas Panagiotou brings as much presence to them as to either of the longer-form pieces, delving into poetry recitation in “Babylon’s Hanging Gardens” as Ivan Zara‘s guitar, Ivan Olivieri‘s drums and Riccardo Veronese‘s bass wait to reemerge from the shadows. But while it might not work as a vinyl in itTowards Atlantis Lights Dust of Aeonss current form without some rearranging, as a linear work it is tied together via a historical thematic and as the title Dust of Aeons might convey, the aesthetic is very much geared toward that sense of conveying something ancient, something lost in time, as well as something being mourned.

That mourning perhaps comes through most of all on “Greeting Mausolus’ Tomb,” which takes out the drums in favor of atmospheric guitar plucking and an overall minimal sensibility, but it’s there even at the heaviest stretches of “The Bunker of Life” as well, whether that’s in a soaring guitar lead or the rumbling low-end lurch beneath a line of piano. Though only about half as long, much the same applies to “Alexandria’s Library,” which is immediately darker but gives up none of the atmospheric reach of its longform companion, keys, vocal harmonies and sustained notes of guitar playing a large role in a break near the midsection which ultimately leads back to the track’s central dirge. At almost exactly 13 minutes in, more deathly chug takes hold and a relatively quick excursion into semi-blasting fare sets up an adrenaline-driven return to the chorus before Towards Atlantis Lights finish quiet and contemplative en route to the album’s shorter closer, weighted in emotion, tone and ambience as everything before it has likewise been.

The theme of loss is palpable throughout Dust of Aeons, with the passage of history presented through an emotional lens that acts as a thread woven between the individual pieces bringing them together as one whole work. And it’s not a minor undertaking by any stretch, but in its entirety really is the best way to experience Towards Atlantis Lights‘ debut album. Clearly they wanted their listeners to drown in its blend of depressive plunge and still be able to see beauty among the ruins before their eyes shut one last time.

I have the pleasure today of hosting “Alexandria’s Library” as a track premiere. Please find it below, followed by more info on the album from the PR wire. Dust of Aeons is available to preorder from the band’s Bandcamp page, linked at the bottom of the post.

Enjoy:

Towards Atlantis Lights, “Alexandria’s Library” official track premiere

Doom metal supergroup TOWARDS ATLANTIS LIGHTS give us a sublime album of heart-wrenching drama emanating from historical events. Members of acclaimed bands like PANTHEIST, APHONIC THRENODY and VOID OF SILENCE weave together a majestic tale brimming with melancholy and emotional strife. Each song is an elegant expression of their dreamlike visions of a world long past. They carry the burden of grief passed down from centuries with utmost grace and lend to the music an unmistakable nostalgic charm that is very much palpable. TOWARDS ATLANTIS LIGHTS have created a masterpiece of epic and atmospheric death/doom metal that is tempered with talent, experience and vision.

Band line up –
Kostas Panagiotou (PANTHEIST, LANDSKAP) – Vocals and keyboards
Riccardo Veronese (APHONIC THRENODY, DEA MARICA, ARRANT SAUDADE) – Bass
Ivan Zara (VOID OF SILENCE) – Guitar
Ivan Olivieri – Drums

Artwork and layout – Francesco Gemelli (KATATONIA, MAYHEM, ABIGOR)

Official release date – March 5th, 2018

Track listing –
1. The Bunker Of Life
2. Babylon’s Hanging Gardens
3. Alexandria’s Library
4. Greeting Mausolus’ Tomb

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Wet Cactus Announce Dust, Hunger & Gloom out March 15; Premiere Title-Track

Posted in audiObelisk, Whathaveyou on February 15th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

WET CACTUS

Despite the somewhat downer title, Spanish four-piece Wet Cactus sound positively vibrant on their impending second full-length, Dust, Hunger & Gloom. The follow-up to their 2016 self-titled debut (review here) is set to release March 15, and the band today premiere the title-track from the new album ahead of the release. I think it makes my case pretty clearly. If they’re talking about the desert, as the cover art would indicate, then fair enough, but that hardly accounts for the bounce in a classic heavy rocker like “Full Moon Over My Head” or its Sabbathian undertones, or the fluid jamming in “Aquelarre.”

If that’s gloom, I’d love to catch Wet Cactus‘ version of upbeat sometime. All the same, there is a bit of melancholy to the start of “Dust, Hunger & Gloom,” the song, which shows the patience that’s developed in the band’s sound over the last couple years and their attempts to fuse psychedelia, classic boogie, consuming fuzz and so on into a sound all their own. They’re young, and they still sound young, but that only helps them throughout the five-track/37-minute offering, which is represented well in the nod of its titular work.

You can and should stream the song at the bottom of this post. You’ll find it down there following the artwork and announcement of the release.

Dig it:

wet cactus dust hunger and gloom

WET CACTUS – DUST, HUNGER & GLOOM – MARCH 15

Wet Cactus is a Stoner Rock and psychedelia band with progressive hints created in the summer of 2013 in Suances, a surfer village located on Cantabria´s west coast (Spain). Formed by four pals born in the early 90s: Daniel Pascual Salvador (93, Bass and vocals), Ernesto Díez Otí (94, Guitar), Óscar Sánchez Marcano (93, Guitar and vocals) y Jaime Pérez Herrera (92, Drums). The local Auditorium was the place where they started to worship a genre which they had been polishing and personalizing throughout time with every single ritual.

Their first album’s sound is clearly influenced by Palm Desert bands as well as influences of other genres of that time (Grunge, Hardcore, Metal…).

These desert dwellers have been nourishing from the 70s and 90s essence. Dry and open mouths are common in their concerts, where they used to start off with incendiary jams to simply burst the stage.

Just about releasing their second studio album and once the basis of their identity are established, they keep going with experimentations: Pink Floyd´s cover, macabre games full of FX … all inside in a huge bong where they could hardly see each other.

Charming and humble music that makes you escape from pollution and not to turn into a fly to feed frogs.

“Dust, Hunger & Gloom” Tracklist:
1. So Long
2. Full Moon Over My Head
3. Aquelarre
4. Dust, Hunger & Gloom
5. Sleepy Trip

Wet Cactus is:
Daniel Pascual Salvador – vocals/bass
Jaime Pérez Herrera – drums
Ernesto Díez Otí – guitar
Óscar Sánchez Marcano – guitar/vocals

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Wet Cactus, “Dust, Hunger & Gloom”

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Review & Track Premiere: Naxatras, III

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on February 14th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

naxatras iii

[Click play above to stream the premiere of Naxatras’ ‘Machine.’ Their new album, III is out Feb. 16.]

Over the last two years, Greek trio Naxatras have worked quickly to establish themselves at the forefront of their home country’s fertile and widely varied scene. If 1000mods helped put this generation of Greek bands on the map in the wider European underground sphere, then it’s Naxatras brazenly showing that the country has more to offer than straightforward riff-led fare. Naxatras songs — their third album, III, has seven of them and tops out accordingly at 64 minutes long — wind their way around and through the consciousness in display of a penchant for sonic naturalism that goes even beyond the band’s no-compromise approach to recording analog at Magnetic Fidelity with Jesus I. Agnew, who helmed III, the preceding 2017 single All the Stars Collide into a Single Ray (discussed here), its 2016 predecessors, II (review here) and EP (discussed here), as well as their 2015 self-titled debut (discussed here).

Rather, that naturalism extends to the play itself, as the trio of bassist/vocalist John Vagenas, guitaist John Delias and drummer Kostas Harizanis embrace their inner chillout and bring to bear tracks of marked patience, fluidity and soothing. Yeah, III has its heavy moments — more than enough of them throughout extended jams like “On the Silver Line” (9:56), 11-minute opener “You Won’t be Left Alone” and even a later piece like “Prophet,” on which Vagenas‘ bassline sets a foreboding tone while the cymbals crash around and the guitar howls. Raucous as they get, however, it’s the drift of cuts like “White Morning,” the subtle reggae nods of “Land of Infinite Time” and the soothing pastoralia of the acid-folkish closer “Spring Song” that most typify the album’s impression, earthy and resonant as it is.

The only real question when it comes to listening to III is whether to blast it and be consumed by the tonal warmth, to let it wrap around you like a blanket of fuzz, or to put in headphones, get lost in the easy, patient rhythms of the thing and find that even a song like centerpiece “Machine,” which works in multiple, almost disjointed stages of building jamming, tense low end, and a bit of reggae guitar before giving away near the halfway point to whalesong volume swells and a turn to a moodier drone that’s so drastic it might just as easily have been a different song before making its way back to the initial progression with trance-inducing fluidity, ending just before the 11-minute mark. Like all of Naxatras‘ work, III blends instrumental and vocalized material to a place of marked flow, lending an even more exploratory sensibility to songs like “Prophet” and “You Won’t be Left Alone,” the latter opening with an introductory hypnosis before giving way to the warm fuzz of the song itself, its main riff popping in and out to allow for vocal lines.

These, again, are sparse and become part of the background context in which the record takes place rather than a direct frontman-style delivery. “You Won’t be Left Alone” might be the most direct in this regard, though “Pophet” has its moments as well and “Spring Song” is clearly meant to be working in a tradition of soothing hippie soulfulness. Nonetheless, it’s the instrumental portion of III that serves as the band’s clear focus — that’s nothing new for them in terms of overall aesthetic balance — and with their having spent significant time on the road around the first two records, the results can be heard in the ease of their transitions say, near the end of “Prophet” or as they dig into the 12-minute “Land of Infinite Time” with the bass leading the way through each measure traveled.

naxatras (Photo by Marko Devcic)

If you ultimately choose the hi-fi route, and let’s say, relax with a highball in your it’s-been-a-long-day burgundy housecoat and put III on your vintage turntable to ease your worried mind, no doubt you’ll find it does just that. It is a work of such patience as to be legitimately soothing in a way few records that can still justifiably be called heavy are, and yet that presence of tone and weight of rhythm is still very much a factor in what Naxatras do, even at their funkiest or quietest. If you go the headphone route, the listening experience is somewhat lonelier, but the spirit of III continues to resonate that calming, wholesome sensibility that seems to derive purely from the collective performance of HarizanisDelias and Vagenas, and if one is listening to Naxatras and perhaps looking to understand what it is that has allowed the band to have such an impact and to find such a considerable audience in a relatively short amount of time, the answer is right there in their interaction as a trio.

They may decide their next time out to just up and down and take a more active approach overall, or they may continue down this path of turning heavy psych jams into a statement of counterculture folksomeness to represent a movement of heavy hippies that, if it exists, could hardly ask for better PR than it gets in “Prophet” and the penultimate “White Morning.” Whatever they do and wherever they go from here, Naxatras have put all questions to rest about how well earned their place is at Greece’s heavy psych forefront, if there were any to start with. Their jams have an individualized character that speaks to the honest chemistry shared between them as players, and each of their successive full-lengths has furthered the seemingly ongoing process of their cohesion.

III, in that regard, is no different. But it also finds Naxatras reaching further stylistically than they have up to this point outward from that core of psychedelic jamming, and doing so successfully as demonstrated in the proggy “On the Silver Line,” the bouncing “Land of Infinite Time” and the lullaby dreamscape that finishes in “Spring Song.” One doubts these excursions of stylistic nuance represent the sum total breadth the three-piece have and will have to offer, and so it’s easy to argue coming out of III‘s immersive hour-plus that Naxatras‘ potential as a unit has never been so writ large even as their sound itself has never been so realized.

Naxatras, III (2018)

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Nebula Interview & Full Album Stream Pt. 2: To the Center

Posted in audiObelisk, Features on February 13th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

nebula

[Click play above to stream the new reissue of Nebula’s To the Center in its entirety. Album is out Feb. 16 via Heavy Psych Sounds.]

Please note: This interview is part two in a series of three. Part one is here. Part three arrives Feb 27.

Recording with Jack Endino.Road-dogging it on tour so you don’t have to say home and pay rent. Signing to Sub Pop after running into label head Megan Jasper in the produce aisle at a grocery store and winding up signed to of the most influential undergoing imprints of all time as a result. Seeming to consume an entire interstellar mycelial network of mushrooms in the process. To hear original drummer Ruben Romano tell it, it was just all part of being in Nebula around the time of their 1999 debut LP, To the Center.

No wonder it’s one of the best stoner rock records of all time, with a band of laid back electric and acoustic guitars, a bevvy of languid desert grooves and some more driving fare for the punkers in the crowd. Nebula‘s prop=oir debut EP, Let it Burn (discussed here). Still, as Nebula were living out this process of rock and roll daydreams, all was no exactly well in the band, and by the time they got around to releasing 2001’s Charged, their second and final offering for Sub Pop, it would prove to be the final outing for the original Nebula lineup of Romano, guitarist/vocalist Eddie Glass and bassist Mark Abshire as well.

But at this point, with To the Center and its languid blend of more-laid-back-than-thou riffs and acoustic strums, psychedelic sitars and space rocking freakout jams, with its Randyo Holden and Stooges covers — “Between Time” and “I Need Somebody,” respectively — it was a goddamn party and it certainly sounds like one on the album. In the interview that follows, Romano tells a couple quick but choice stories about what it was like to be in Nebula at this time.

You’ll find the Q&A under the player with the complete remaster (including bonus tracks) of To the Center, which again, is out on Heavy Psych Sounds Feb. 16.

Please enjoy:

nebula to the center

To the Center Q&A with Ruben Romano

How did the band change coming off of Let it Burn and moving into To the Center? Was there anything specific you knew you wanted to do from one release to the other?

What changed was that we now were total road dogs. Touring was all we did and when we were not on the road we were always in the rehearsal room. The specific thing that we wanted to do from one release to the other was to keep on doing it! All we wanted was to keep Rolling our way to Freedom.

Tell me about writing the album. How did the songs come together and what was that period of time like for you as a band?

We toured so much that we became a super tight band and things happened naturally. Playing with Eddie and Mark came easy. While we were on the road we would be jamming a riff at soundcheck, those brief in between tour moments were spent in rehearsal rooms jamming. Eddie also had a back catalog of four-track demo songs that we pulled from, and one that he wrote with his friend Neil Blender was pulled as well. Then jamming on covers of songs that we all loved, liked The Stooges and Randy Holden started sounding and feeling good. So we included those as well and all of a sudden we had 12 songs that comprised To the Center. At that period of time the band was extremely busy. It kept us from having to pay rent, so the time off the road became shorter and shorter.

You’d already recorded with Jack Endino for Sun Creature and the Lowrider split. What was it about the experience that brought you back to him? What did he capture in Nebula’s sound?

Jack was a cool guy. We worked well with him the first time around and he really dug what we were doing. I think we really impressed him during those To the Center sessions with our knowledge of great obscure underground music, like The Groundhogs. He was the biggest fan of Tony McPhee and The Groundhogs and was stoked when we brought them up in giving him production ideas of what we wanted to achieve. After that he wore his Groundhogs shirt a few times during those sessions. The other thing that he captured for Nebula was clamping the Sub Pop deal. How did that happen? Well, before that session started, we finished a European tour and flew back to New York were we crashed for a good week. That’s when we entered LoHo Studios and recorded the other half of those two EPs. If I recall properly we also just finished a deal and got signed to a label called Zero Hour. So, going into record for them, that’s where the plan to return to Jack came about as we got into the van and toured back across the

US ending in Seattle. That’s where Jack was, so returning to recording with Jack fit perfect. A week after the session started is when Zero Hour just disappeared – no contact at all! The phone was dead. Jack was so cool that he goes, “Let’s finish this anyways and figure it out later.” Now, at the same time we took a food break and, with Jack, we went to a grocery store. In that grocery store we happened to bump into Megan Jasper in the produce department. Head of Sub Pop. Her and Jack spoke a bit and that’s where the spark happened, that’s how we got connected to Sub Pop: a random meeting at a grocery store in Ballard, Washington.

Anything else you’d like to say about it in particular?

I liked Ballard, Washington. What a great memory!

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