Sundrifter Premiere “Till You Come Down”; New Album in Progress

Posted in audiObelisk on August 18th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

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“Till You Come Down” is the second track to be released ahead of Boston trio Sundrifter‘s sophomore full-length. The yet-unnamed follow-up to 2016’s Not Coming Back is still being put together, but listening to the spacious riffing and rampant melody at work in this cut and in “Death March,” which preceded it earlier this year, as well as yet-to-surface rough mixes of stompers like the eight-minute “Fire in the Sky” or the Torche-style thrust of “Light Worker,” one can get an immediate sense of why they’d be eager to start getting their material out there. Fueled by catchy structures and the soaring vocals of guitarist Craig Puera, who is joined in the band by bassist Paul Gaughran and drummer Patrick Queenan, the affect of Sundrifter is to blend grounded craftsmanship with otherworldly themes, outward-reaching echoes, and a rhythmic push that remains fervent despite the pace of an individual song.

For example, Gaughran‘s bass-heavy intro to “Till You Come Down,” matched soon with Queenan‘s thudding toms and the opening riff from Puera, doesn’t seem to be in any hurry, but within 30 seconds, the three-piece are digging into the first verse, and in short order from there, Puera is delivering the title-line in a hook that’s derived in part from Soundgarden-style soul but still retains a thicker underpinning in its tonality. “Death March,” which is perhaps fuzzier in the guitar and dreamier in its transitions through sustained echoes, carries a like-minded modernity-in-a-blender feel, but even in unfinished form, it’s clear Sundrifter put a decided emphasis on songwriting and creating a sense of place in their tracks — even if that place is only intended to be “somewhere else.”

Like Not Coming Back before it, Sundrifter‘s new offering was recorded by Dan Schwartz at Futura Productions in Massachusetts. The band is currently seeking a label to get behind the release and it’s hard to imagine they’ll have trouble finding one once the record is completed, given a title, artwork, and so on. What we can know right now from hearing pieces like “Till You Come Down,” “Death March,” the more desert-minded “Hammer Burn” and others is that the songs are there, and that’s the best starting point a band could ask for going into any new release. Once that’s down, the rest tends to take care of itself.

On the player below, you’ll find the premiere of “Till You Come Down,” as well as some comment from the band. I’ve also gone ahead and included an embed for “Death March” at the bottom of this post in case you’d like to dig further and get a side-by-side from one single to the next. “Death March” can be downloaded name-your-price-style and I wouldn’t be surprised if sooner or later Sundrifter posted “Till You Come Down” in similar fashion, so keep an eye out. And when I hear more about the album coming together, I’ll post accordingly.

In the meantime, please enjoy:

Sundrifter on “Till You Come Down” & New Album:

“Till You Come Down” is our second single released from our coming full-length album. The album is still in the final mixing and mastering phases of the recording process and is expected to be released this Fall 2017. “Till You Come Down” is a song about contacting and connecting with beings or entities from different dimensions, worlds or time periods.

The track is a part of the greater whole of the album that covers topics of ancient theories about extraterrestrials, spiritual and psychedelic subjects. With this album we made a slight shift up in heaviness from our previous release, Not Coming Back. Our first album has a lot more desert vibes but this follow-up will be like if you lost yourself in the desert and you begin to lose your mind and next thing you know cruising through space fighting alien scum. We also self-released the first single back in June titled “Death March” found at www.sundrifter.bandcamp.com. The track was recorded mixed and mastered by Dan Schwarts at Futura Productions, Roslindale, Massachusetts.

Sundrifter is:
Craig Peura – Vocals/Guitar
Paul Gaughran – Bass
Patrick Queenan – Drums

Sundrifer, “Death March”

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Review & Track Premiere: Red Mountains, Slow Wander

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

red mountains slow wander

[Click play above to listen to the premiere of ‘Stone’ from Red Mountains’ Slow Wander. Album is out Sept. 1 on All Good Clean Records.]

With their steady rhythmic roll, jam-sounding foundations and tonally warm psychedelic affect, one almost expects the heady sounds of Red Mountains to originate from Munich, rather than the northern climes of Trondheim, Norway — nearly seven hours up from Oslo by rail — but their sound, perhaps informed by the Scandinavian Mountain chain running through their hometown, has its roots in soulful heavy rock just as much as airy drift. To wit, their second album and first for All Good Clean Records is the nine-track Slow Wander, which follows the Nasoni-issued 2015 debut, Down with the Sun (review here), and while one notes aesthetic continuity in the cover art by the esteemed Samantha Muljat — who seems to have done a number of short, digital releases for the band as well — the 47-minute offering takes decided action in moving them stylistically ahead from where they were two years ago.

Recorded outside Trondheim at Sørgården Studios with Spidergawd guitarist/vocalist Per Borten at the production helm, Håvard Soknes on the mix and Magnus Kofoed mastering, Slow Wander is maybe somewhat devious in its title in that even at its most drifting, on a cut like the vast, airy sway of “Oak” or the subsequent 10-minute blues-psych sprawl of “Endless Ocean,” there’s a clear sense of purpose maintained. And that bears fruit elsewhere in the more solidified songwriting process of vocalist/guitarist Magnus Riise, guitarist/vocalist Jostein Wigenstad, bassist Sverre Dalen and drummer Simen Mathiassen, who seem to take cues from UK heavy rockers Stubb in the soulfulness and hooks of the bouncing centerpiece “Stone,” “Cellar Door” and the earlier “Rat King,” which though slower and somewhat darker in its atmosphere contains arguably the catchiest chorus of the bunch.

Where the album ultimately succeeds is in establishing a balance between its two sides — the more rocking impulses and the wider-breadth jamming — and in conveying a direct sense of purpose in doing this. There’s no sense that anything on Slow Wander is happening by accident, whatever the name of the record might otherwise indicate. Rather, if one takes the title as advice from the band instead of a description of their own actions as regards its making, then Red Mountains are perhaps giving their listenership the best way possible to make its collective way through the tracks. From opener “Home” — like the starting point of a board game — onward through “Rat King” and “Oak” and “Endless Ocean,” Slow Wander earns not just a fleeting glance from its audience, but a real savoring experience.

red mountains

That’s not to say one should slow down playback or take a break from one track to the next and thereby miss out or undercut the flow between them, which is one of Slow Wander‘s most appealing aspects across what would seem to be its A and B sides, but just that the progression of the album as it unfolds is worth more than a passive listen, and the more one engages with moments like the echoing solo that tops the midsection of “Home” or the languid payoff deep into “Endless Ocean,” or the crunchier riffing on the penultimate “Acid Wedding” — which seems as well to sneak a guest vocal performance from Borten into its second half — the more those moments and the rest of the release repay that effort with satisfying detail of songcraft and execution. No question Red Mountains have an organic basis from which they’re working in that this material is born of jams, but whether it’s the rolling vibe of “Fog” or the nod-ready payoff of “Cellar Door,” there’s been an obvious commitment made and energy dedicated to shaping that basis into coherent, deceptively varied songs.

An argument could be made that in that process, Red Mountains are playing to style. I’m not sure I disagree, given how willful their sense of craft comes across in “Stone,” “Rat King,” “Home,” etc., but when one considers Slow Wander in light of Down with the Sun before it, the trajectory they’re on would seem to be toward a more individualized take on heavy psychedelia. Further, if playing to style is going to result in the chance to bask in the kind of immersion that “Endless Ocean” offers, then go right ahead. There is a grammar of aesthetic for any genre-based output, and Slow Wander demonstrates plainly that Red Mountains have been schooled via their influences in what they’re doing.

But again, the increase in production value between the debut and the follow-up, the precise placement of these songs — turning vinyl convention on its head with the more open material up front and the rockers in back — and even the overarching symmetry of answering the opener “Home” with the closer “Returning,” as though they knew the listener would finish the record and then immediately go back to the start to make their way around the board again, all of this shows a directed consciousness from RiiseWigenstadDalen and Mathiassen. Fortunately for them and for anyone who would take their second long-player on in a more than cursory manner, their chemistry carries through the structures they’ve built, and while it may not be a revolution in style, Slow Wander is a friendly, open-armed welcome to the converted and a forward step that affirms the potential of their debut and would seem to hint toward even broader reaches to come. There is nothing more one could reasonably ask of Slow Wander than to be precisely what it is, and in setting those terms, Red Mountains begin to lay claim to sonic territory of their own.

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Review & Track Premiere: Blues Funeral, Awakening

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

blues funeral awakening

[Click play above to listen to ‘Shadow of the Snake’ from Blues Funeral’s Awakening. Album is out Aug. 25.]

Immediately the sense from Awakening is one of continuity. To make their second full-length, and their second in as many years behind July 2016’s The Search (review here), Houston four-piece Blues Funeral returned to Lucky Run Studios to record and mix with Jeremy Dudman and Mike Mikulka. Like the debut before it, the sophomore outing features six tracks, five of which run between five and six-plus minutes long, plus one cut that branches out longer — last time it was the title-track, here it’s 8:21 closer “The Gathering Dust.” Like the debut before it, Awakening features the dual-guitar-led lineup of guitarists/vocalists Maurice Eggenschwiler and Jan “El Janni” Kimmel (the latter also keys), bassist Gabriel Katz and drummer Cory Cousins (the latter also backing vocals on “Awakening” and “Casimir”), a mastering job by Collin Jordan at the Boiler Room, artwork by David Paul Seymour and a sound that toys with the lines between progressive and classic rock, classic rock and classic metal, and classic metal and doom. Listening to songs like opener “Shadow of the Snake” and “Illusions of Reality,” it’s pretty clear that Blues Funeral had plenty about their debut they liked and wanted to use as a model to build from.

Fair enough. Given how solidified The Search was in its approach and the cohesive presentation that it brought forth from the band, one isn’t inclined to argue, but just because that record and Awakening share core aspects doesn’t preclude growth on the part of Blues Funeral either. Rather, as a group and as individual players, they demonstrate a forward-looking mentality in terms of their own development that seems to have been taken on with willful purpose, and like other let’s-have-a-guitar-fight-except-it’s-not-really-a-fight-and-also-we-harmonize, prog-fueled outfits of their ilk — the underrated likes of Valkyrie and Corsair come to mind most readily, as well as newer Beelzefuzz — Blues Funeral do justice to their influences in their own progression as much as through the sonic foundation from which they work.

Melody is central throughout. Awakening‘s six tracks run a manageable 39 minutes and while for the bulk of that time there’s more rhythmic motion going on or more active lead-taking than one would generally classify as “pastoral,” the material is rife with nuance, be it in the form of the layered-in acoustics of “Casimir,” the organ that accompanies the initial bounce of “Shadow of the Snake,” the mellotron in “The Gathering Dust,” guest vocals on “Firedrake” or even just the way “Awakening” itself so skillfully blends metallic and heavy rocking impulses, taking cues from Uriah Heep, Deep Purple and later Opeth in its blend of organ and guitar and the clean delivery of the vocal harmonies between Kimmel and Eggenschwiler, which prove throughout once again to be central figure of Blues Funeral‘s sound, as well as a tasteful example of their development as songwriters and players.

The two guitarists and Cousins played together in the less prog-rocking Sanctus Bellum, so they weren’t strangers coming into Blues Funeral or anything, but among the elements of the newer outfit established on this follow-up is the ongoing shaping of a personality all its own, increasingly distinct as it digs into the soul-infused boogie of “Illusions of Reality” and subtle vocal arrangement complexity there as complemented by Katz‘s highlight bass performance in the quieter lead break in the midsection. Once again, melody is the root, even from the rhythm section.

blues funeral (photo Grooverock)

Couple this with a firm sense of two-sided intent. The first three tracks — “Shadow of the Snake,” “Awakening” and “Illusions of Reality” — are rockers. The title-track especially feels dug into a more crunching tonality at its launch before opening to its more flowing chorus, but it and the two pieces surrounding are defined by a more straightforward lean on hooks and structural classicism. At 5:05, “Illusions of Reality” is the shortest inclusion on Awakening, and its uptempo push is friendly, warm and inviting in a good-times-listening-to-ThinLizzy fashion that even vaguely metal-derived songcraft rarely dares to be. Blues Funeral, as much time as they spend with Eggenschwiler and Kimmel‘s guitars at the fore, are aiming to directly engage their listeners on Awakening‘s side A, and their success in this effort is precisely what allows them to hold a sense of full-album fluidity as the subsequent side B begins to branch out its more expansive modus.

Now, are Blues Funeral going experimental black metal drone? Nope. While all three are longer than “Shadow of the Snake,” “Awakening” or “Illusions of Reality,” tonally and atmospherically, “Firedrake,” “Casimir” and “The Gathering Dust” stay consistent with what the first half of Awakening has on offer — and they’re correct to do so — but each of the last three pieces also has some bit of flourish to stand it out from its surroundings. Perhaps “Firedrake” is the most obvious, with the already-noted guest vocal appearance from Kelly Cousins Adams (sister to Cory) marking a departure from the choruses delivered by the guitarists together and the tradeoffs between them. Complemented by particularly righteous Nord from Kimmel and guitar ambling alongside the keys’ winding course — also another must-hear bassline from Katz — “Firedrake” holds a patient and flowing presentation that, while in its last third gives into some doomier-feeling riff and solo work, also sets up the arrival of the acoustic/electric blend that will continue in “Casimir.”

One does not imagine the similarity in title to Led Zeppelin‘s “Kashmir” is coincidental, as Awakening‘s penultimate track takes on some loosely Eastern-feeling scales in its intricate barrage of leads and has a narrative drama in its verses no less born of classic heavy rock. Resolution, as it will, comes in a last solo punctuated by ride bell from Cousins and a sudden stop to let “The Gathering Dust” take hold on its own terms — a thrust of NWOBHM-style poise is backed by carefully-woven drawn-out lead lines (perhaps the most Akerfeldtian moment on Awakening, especially with the key section and riff that follow), and suddenly the point of emphasis becomes how much Blues Funeral have been able to build and maintain a momentum across the album’s span while still allowing individual songs their moment, not sounding rushed or hurried in any way, but never still either.

The guitars are key in this, of course, but it’s a whole-band function just the same, and another example of Blues Funeral‘s second offering having moved ahead from the first. As the closer makes its way through more harmonized soloing in its middle and toward its instrumental, also-solo-topped final minutes, and ends in classy fashion with a quick wash of cymbals and pulled-string scorch, the message is no less plain than it has been all along that the foursome have a determined idea of what they want to do as a band, who they are as players and songwriters, and how they should be working together toward the common goals of their processes. The value of that isn’t to be understated when it comes to making Awakening work as well as it does. Given the progressive feel they elicit throughout, that underlying consciousness couldn’t be more appropriate, and it is one more way in which Blues Funeral earn the listener’s trust in terms of the moves they make here and, invariably, those that will follow their next time out.

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Review & Track Premiere: Mindkult, Lucifer’s Dream

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on August 11th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

mindkult-lucifers-dream

[Click play above to listen to the premiere of ‘Behold the Wraith’ from Mindkult’s Lucifer’s Dream, out Sept. 20 through Transcending Obscurity Records and Caligari Records.]

Virginian one-man outfit Mindkult quickly affirms the potential of 2016’s debut EP on the full-length follow-up, Lucifer’s Dream. Released through Transcending Obscurity and Caligari Records, the album arrives with some measure of fanfare as compares to last year’s Witch’s Oath (review here), but that’s a considerable testament to the niche that multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and producer Fowst immediately carved out for himself between doom, shoegaze, dreary psychedelia and garage cultistry. At six tracks and 42 minutes, Lucifer’s Dream gracefully, patiently fleshes out these textures and weaves them together to form not a mesh of disparate or semi-disparate approaches, but a coherent and individualized aesthetic that, were the word “kult” not already in such wide use, one might call “kult doom” in the project’s honor.

That is, though one can recognize flashes of Uncle Acid in an uptempo shuffle like second cut “Nightmares,” even that track pursues its own path via resonant lead guitar, Fowst sounds most of all like himself, and by placing more extended cuts “Drink My Blood” (8:06), “Behold the Wraith” (9:20) and “Lucifer’s Dream” (9:24) at the beginning, middle (-ish) and end positions of the tracklisting, Mindkult ensures a dirge-style vibe is maintained throughout. A rough production becomes an essential facet of the presentation in the blown-out guitar and bass tones, and whether they’re real drums or programmed, the march they elicit in “Infernals” on side B and the slow-swing of “Drink My Blood” at the outset help to ground and punctuate the downer trajectory. Mindkult, as a vehicle for Fowst in the tradition of black metal’s adopted monikers — see Wrest in Leviathan, Malefic in Xasthur, etc. — is going to bum you out and smile malevolently as it does. Accordingly, Lucifer’s Dream is one of 2017’s best debut albums, and in building out the potential of the EP before it, it also sets Fowst up for a longer term progression of songwriting and sonic persona.

The future of Mindkult will be whatever it will be, but what’s more important for the moment is the level of accomplishment that Fowst brings to cuts like “Behold the Wraith,” third of the six and the finale of side A, which fluidly shifts pace as it nears its midpoint from an initial slog to which the drawn-out, shoegazing vocals are perfectly suited, toward a relatively speedier chug. Layering in solo guitar over the rhythm adds to the sense of forward motion, and though the stretch is short-lived ultimately, it shows the deft hand with which Fowst already controls the proceedings within Mindkult. Lucifer’s Dream is rife with these moments of detail and nuance, and though from its artwork, overarching mournful spirit, loosely horror-derived thematics and sundry don’t-worry-about-all-of-us-being-doomed-because-it’s-already-happened miseries one gets a distinctly misanthropic impression, the songs themselves remain accessible, melodic and engaging. As much as “Drink My Blood” repels outwardly, it does so in a manner that engages the listener.

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Fowst‘s obscure moans and howls in “Drink My Blood” and “Nightmares” set the tone for the significant and headphone-worthy presence that “Behold the Wraith” and the five-minutes-apiece pair of “Infernals” and “Howling Witch” flesh out ahead of the title-track, a full-album flow enacted that bridges one side to the next even as it stays vinyl-ready with “Infernals” opening side B with a psycho-Satanic lyric to follow the the distinct movements within “Behold the Wraith.” Dark immersion is at the root of Mindkult‘s style, and while Fowst‘s vocals are at times buried (alive) beneath the guitars and bass — the drums are a steady but never really forefront presence so much as the strings — the intent doesn’t seem so much to create a spaciousness as to demonstrate the feeling of being lost within the whole muck that is the end product of Lucifer’s Dream as a whole.

Of course, the record succeeds in no small part because it never actually gets lost. As “Behold the Wraith” slows itself back down and heads into the mid-paced “Infernals” and the sample from the 1976 horror flick Satan’s Black Wedding (“He is pleased with you, Nina…”) that starts the speedier, hookier “Howling Witch,” Fowst smartly hones a palpable momentum to carry into the finale, which starts out at a stomp and makes its way toward wah-drenched psychedelic garage doom in its middle third. Hypnotic, it’s the kind of passage one might miss on an initial listen, but in terms of furthering Mindkult‘s potential, it opens another avenue for future exploration on the part of Fowst, and one hopes he’ll pursue it, especially since he’s able to transition so smoothly into its reaches and back toward a more grounded solo section as he delivers the title line after the five-minute mark.

A crunching slowdown provides a bridge to the return of the snare-punctuated stomp that began the closer and “Lucifer’s Dream” rounds out the album that shares its name with a marked showcase of the symmetry that’s been at the foundation of the material all along. It’s not chaos, though it might sound like it at times with the rough-hewn recording, persistent tonal buzz and so on. The truth of the matter is Fowst is more mastermind or perhaps mad scientist when it comes to Mindkult than he is conjurer, but the results of his work on Lucifer’s Dream are otherworldly just the same. Listening in the context of these tracks serving as Mindkult‘s debut, their cohesion becomes all the more striking, and once again, as much work as Fowst does here to realize the potential shown on Witch’s Oath, the affect of Lucifer’s Dream is just as much in accomplishing that as it is beating its path toward new depressive reaches still to be discovered.

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Six Dumb Questions with The Quill (Plus Track Premiere)

Posted in audiObelisk, Six Dumb Questions on August 9th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the quill

Time flies, and often in more than a single direction. 11 years ago, Swedish heavy rockers The Quill released In Triumph, what was then the victory lap around four prior successful classic-fueled blasts of rock and roll. The long-players Hooray! It’s a Deathtrip (2003), Voodoo Caravan (2002), Silver Haze (1999) and The Quill (1995) had established them as a powerhouse outfit in a crowded Swedish scene, with the megalungs of frontman Magnus Ekwall at the forefront over guitarist Christian Carlsson‘s riffing, given thrust and groove by bassist Roger Nilsson (who left in 2005) and drummer Jolle Atlagic to land in a place that was no less Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath than it was contemporary to countrymen outfits like Mustasch, Dozer or The Awesome Machine.

It would be another five years before The Quill followed-up In Triumph with 2011’s Full Circle (discussed here), and when they did it would be without either Ekwall or Nilsson in the band. Carlsson and Atlagic‘s songwriting was intact, but the energy of the group was different, and even as they came “full circle,” they were on uncharted ground. The then-topical Tiger Blood followed in 2013 with Nilsson back in the group alongside vocalist Magz Arnar making his second appearance, and now The Quill return to thethe quill born from fire Silver Haze-era lineup with Born from Fire — a completely over-the-top, righteously unmanageable 66 minutes that’s just as much at home in the Motörheaddy thrust of “Snake Charmer Woman” as in the Sabbathian roll of “Keep it Together” and “Unchain Yourself,” the stomping “Skull and Bones” or tripped-out psych passages like “Set Free Black Crow” or the harmonized apex of “Hollow of Your Hand.”

It’s too bad they already called a record Full Circle, because otherwise, Born from Fire would certainly be a candidate for the title. It’s 12-track stretch finds The Quill rejuvenated and in top form of craft and performance. For not having appeared on a Quill album in more than a decade, Ekwall hasn’t missed a beat in reassuming his former role, and with over 30 years of experience behind them since their first demo, the band delivers crisp, professional-grade heavy rock. For not one minute of the hour-plus release are they anymore lost than they want to be, and whether it’s the nestled-in chug of “Ghosthorse,” the bass-heavy ultra-fuzz of “The Spirit and the Spark,” the swaggering hook of opener “Stone Believer” or the atmospheric epilogue in closer “Metamorphosis,” that command of their approach remains absolute. Whether a given listener is familiar with past offerings or not, Born from Fire lands with a sense of purpose and personality that only straightforward heavy rock at its most done-right could possibly muster. It is a blueprint not just for the best-case-scenario of reuniting with former members, but for the renewal of spirit that reunion can bring about at its most successful.

In the interview below, Ekwall talks about coming back to The Quill after his prolonged absence, how the writing and recording of Born from Fire came together, the band’s intent toward capturing the vibe of their earlier work and much more.

Born from Fire is out Aug. 25 on Metalville Records. Please enjoy the premiere of “The Spirit and the Spark” and the following Six Dumb Questions:

The Quill, “The Spirit and the Spark” (track premiere)

Six Dumb Questions with The Quill

Tell me about coming back to The Quill after so long away. It’s been more than a decade since In Triumph was released. How did rejoining come about? How does it feel to work with the band again? 

Actually, I am really surprised how easy it was to come back. Very natural, no hard feelings. This was not a planned reunion. It just happened. The guys asked me to join them for a local gig playing a bunch of old KISS songs, and when we rehearsed for this, we tried out a few old Quill tunes, of course. Someone had a new riff and suddenly the first new song was written. I believe it was “Set Free Black Crow.”

We just took up from where we ended when Roger left the band back in 2005 or something, no problem. You know, we are living in a small village and we have met several times over these 10 years I have been away from The Quill. Christian and I became friends like 40 years ago. So everything is great and the most important thing is we made an album that we really love otherwise this would never have happened.

What was your time like in the studio? Tell me about arranging vocals for the songs and putting together lyrics for these tracks. How was it stepping back into doing that again? Did you have any specific goals in mind for what you wanted to do vocally or what you wanted to bring to the material this time around?

The album is recorded in two different sessions in a studio close to where we live. I personally like to record fast, a lot of the vocals are first takes, just the way I like it, to keep the feeling right. Lyric-wise, I decided early on to write about stuff that has happened in my life, like an Ekwall biography, to make it easier for me to sink my teeth into writing. They became rather dark in the end. You find a few songs about death and people close to me that have died, in cancer and so on. Some songs, for example “Hollow of Your Hand,” are about my own anxiety and fear of life itself. There is also a few simple rock ´n´ roll lyrics like “Snake Charmer Woman” and “Electrical Son.” During these years away from the band I have written and recorded loads of stuff with both other people and by myself so I never been out of the process. Writing and recording is just a natural process for me.

We decided early on to try and get the same feeling we had when we wrote and recorded the Silver Haze album; just having a laugh, an easygoing atmosphere. Start from zero and just write without any plan. And it turned out very well, the 12 songs on the album are the 12 songs we first wrote, so there is no old leftover material from back in the days, just new, fresh songs. I personally think it sounds a bit like the old, innocent Quill back in the late ‘90s.

Did you find going into Born from Fire that the writing process changed at all from when you were last in The Quill? What was the timing on your coming back and the album being written? How did the tracks come together?

No, nothing has changed at all. As I said before, this was not at all planned from the start we just happened to write some songs we really liked and when you have done that you normally record them and that was just what we did. When the first session was over we decided to go for it!

Writing process is almost the same for every song. Chris or Jolle has a riff, I come up with the melodies and later the lyrics, we kind of do it together in our rehearsal studio. It almost never happens that somebody turns up with a whole song.

The album kind of spaces out after “Hollow of Your Hand,” gets more atmospheric toward the finish. What was the process like putting together the tracklisting and was there something particular you were looking for in terms of the overall flow?

We had a bit of a hard time deciding if Born from Fire should be a double or a single record. But in the end we used all of the recorded tracks and I personally think it was a good decision. Now you get the whole picture and the variety of our music. I like the spaced out songs, always did, I just love the way bands freaked out in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. Looking back on the Quill catalogue I really dig songs like “Until Earth is Bitter Gone” and “Man Posed.”

You have to try and find some flow in the tracklisting but you also have to consider the length of the tracks but we are pleased and I really hope our old and new fans love it as much as we do.

Would you say that part of the intention of Born from Fire is to capture a vibe similar to records like Voodoo Caravan and Silver Haze? More of a classic heavy rock sound? Or was it not something the band really thought about during the writing and recording?

As I said before we tried to get back into the mood we had circa Silver Haze, no worries on what a future label would think about what we do or how to present ourselves, just an honest an breathtaking album from our hearts. The songs we wrote are the songs you hear on the album, nothing added, nothing taken away.

Any plans or closing words you want to mention?

Well, it is great to be able to be a part of The Quill once again, a band I spent so many years in, building up and created great albums with. I really wish from my heart that the honesty in Born from Fire really shines through.

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Blaak Heat Premiere “Al-Andalus” from The Arabian Fuzz

Posted in audiObelisk on August 9th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

blaak heat

As they make ready to embark on a European tour this week, Blaak Heat take nine minutes to massively expand their already significant aesthetic breadth by means of their upcoming single The Arabian Fuzz on Svart Records. Set for issue on Aug. 18 following an appearance at this weekend’s SonicBlast Moledo in Portugal but ahead of slots at Woolstock in the Netherlands and the Obelisk-co-presented Emerald Haze in Dublin on Sept. 1, the follow-up to the somewhat-nomadic and consistently-amorphous four-piece’s 2016 Tee Pee Records third album, Shifting Mirrors (review here), takes on more of a Middle Eastern flair than anything they’ve done before.

That’s not necessarily untrod ground for Blaak Heat, who since making their debut as Blaak Heat Shujaa with their 2010 self-titled (review here) and deep-diving into desert-hued psychedelia across the subsequent 2012 EP, The Storm Generation (review here), and 2013’s The Edge of an Era (review here) that followed have always had some of that minor-key meditative vibe. If accompanied at times by frenetically progressive rhythm-making, blinding turns and effects-laden explorations, this has been part of a modus of unrelenting willful sonic growth that has made Blaak Heat a standout among next-generation heavy psych outfits, and certainly The Arabian Fuzz continues that thread blaak heat the arabian fuzzas guitarist/vocalist Thomas Bellier, guitarist Nicolas Heller, bassist Guillame Theoden and drummer Michael Amster bring in Jordanian ethnomusicologist Fareed Al-Madain to contribute guest vocals on the leadoff track “Marr El Kallam” (posted here), which is accompanied by the instrumental “Al-Andalus,” premiering below.

As noted, both cuts work to build on Blaak Heat‘s prior output in atmosphere and approach, and while that’s invariably going to come through most strikingly in “Marr El Kallam,” what with the track being the band’s first in Arabic and all, one can hear it in the tension created throughout “Al-Andalus” as well, the winding path of Bellier‘s guitar taking cues from his oud and the percussion in “Marr El Kallam” to transpose such complexity onto a more Western-feeling traditional rock arrangement of guitar, bass and drums. Both songs run just over four and a half minutes long and they share the atmospheric impression born of the Middle Eastern influence, but as Blaak Heat have since their outset, they make this influence their own and build a context of coexistence that reaches a new level of individualism in the shimmer and crash of “Al-Andalus” that’s as furious as anything they’ve done before and all the richer for the A-side it complements.

By now, one wouldn’t hazard a guess as to where Blaak Heat might go on a given outing of any type, be it a single, EP, LP or something else. Their sound has simply become too open with its jazzy precision, we-can-really-make-this-move-when-we-want-to sonic heft and landscape-building psychedelia, but they’ve proven over the course of this decade time and again that their commitment to an ongoing sonic progression is no fluke, and the safest bet is that whatever they’re up to next, it will be a considerable step forward from where they were previously. That’s a hell of a track record to keep up, but as The Arabian Fuzz demonstrates once again, Blaak Heat are ready to follow their creative path to anywhere and everywhere it might lead them.

More info and tour dates follow “Al-Andalus” below. Please enjoy:

Blaak Heat, “Al-Andalus” official audio premiere

BLAAK HEAT returns with an oriental heavy psych manifesto, THE ARABIAN FUZZ! The band fur thers its signature East meets West grooves by blending intricate Spanish guitars, surf rock, and Middle Eastern psych.

With Jordanian ethno-musicologist Fareed Al-Madain on vocals, MARR EL KALLAM is an homage to 1960s underground Turkish and Persian psychedelic pop. The climactic line of the song, “The shit who owns a weapon will kill”, as performed in Arabic by a US-French-Jordanian-Greek-Canadian lineup, rings ominously true in 2017 America. Along with the traditional lineup of guitars/bass/drums, BLAAK HEAT mastermind Thomas Bellier plays acoustic oud, and percussionist Peter Valsamis rounds up the band on doumbek.

AL-ANDALUS is a heavy surf rock explosion, a mind-blowing exploration into reverb fuzz wilderness led by astounding musicianship. It’s retro, yet futuristic – dig it!

The songs were recorded in Los Angeles by Jason Schimmel (of Secret Chiefs 3) and produced/mixed/mastered by Bellier.

THE ARABIAN FUZZ comes out via Svart Records on August 18, 2017. You can pre-order it here.

We have a number of festival & club dates for August & September 2017 – Come party, more TBA !

Aug 12 Sonic Blast Moledo – Moledo (PT)
Aug 25 Woolstock Festival – Tilburg (NL)
Aug 27 Blaak Heat DJ Set @ Le Glass – Paris (FR)
Aug 30 The Black Heart – London (UK)
Sept 1 Emerald Haze Fest – Dublin (IRL)
Sept 2 Festival Arteficial – Ribadavia (ES)
Sept 3 Filho Sarilho – Alcobaça (PT)
Sept 4 Cine Incrivel – Lisbon (PT)
Sept 5 Cave 45 – Porto (PT)
Sept 6 Rock Beer The New – Santander (ES)
Sept 8 Bucéphale – Draguignan (FR)
Sept 9 Cheapstock Fest – Barcelona (ES)
Sept 10 Supersonic – Paris (FR)
Sept 11 Blaak Heat DJ set @ Pigalle Country Club – Paris (FR)

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Review & Track Premiere: Pagan Altar, The Room of Shadows

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on August 7th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

pagan-altar-the-room-of-shadows

[Click play above to stream the premiere of the title-track from Pagan Altar’s The Room of Shadows, out Aug. 24 via Temple of Mystery Records.]

Thirty-five years after recording their debut album and nearly 20 after Volume I finally saw its release, Pagan Altar put the capstone on their career with The Room of Shadows. What has been floated as the NWOBHM-era cult outfit’s final long-player is their fourth/fifth overall and arrives 11 years after its predecessor, 2006’s Mythical and Magical, via Temple of Mystery Records even more dripping in context and narrative than the simple span of time and retirement of the band. Founding frontman Terry Jones — who along with son/guitarist Alan Jones oversaw the original run of the band from 1978 through 1985 before coming back in 2004 to offer up second album, Lords of Hypocrisy (discussed here), and the EP of earlier recordings, The Time Lord (review here), before moving onto revisit Volume I in 2005’s Judgement of the Dead, and the aforementioned Mythical and Magical — passed away in May 2015 following a fight with cancer.

Pagan Altar had issued splits with Jex Thoth and Mirror of Deception in 2007 and 2011, respectively, as well as a single, Walking in the Dark, in 2013, and 2014 was supposed to see the realization of their next full-length, Never Quite Dead. It was recorded and tabled in light of the illness, and with the elder Jones‘ death, it was unclear whether or not it would ever come out. The Room of Shadows is that album. Alan, along with bassist Diccon Harper and drummer Andy Green, went back into the studio and re-recorded the instruments behind his father’s vocals, and the seven-song/46-minute The Room of Shadows stands not only as a fitting final installment to Pagan Altar‘s career and homage to the unsung legacy of Terry Jones and the band’s contributions to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and traditional doom, but also years of work making what could be argued as the most accomplished outing of their tenure.

That’s not to take anything away from Mythical and Magical, which was comprised of material written during Pagan Altar‘s first run, or Lords of Hypocrisy or Volume I, The Time Lord or anything else the Joneses have brought to bear intermittently over the last 35 years, only to say that The Room of Shadows has a nearly impossible charge before it in living up to its narrative and it does so with cohesive songwriting and without getting lost in either its doomly ambient mire or the weight of its conceptual task.

From opener “Rising of the Dead” through the landmark hook of “The Portrait of Dorian Gray,” the playful horror thematic of “Danse Macabre,” the Sabbathian centerpiece “Dance of the Vampires,” the proto-metal thrust of the title-track, the 10:36 grandeur of “The Ripper” and its accompanying minute-long epilogue “After Forever” — it does not seem like coincidence that one title comes from Judas Priest and the other from Black Sabbath, though neither is a cover — The Room of Shadows unfolds classic-sounding underground metal with rare clarity and poise that highlights Jones‘ vocals and presents them as part of a complete picture of what Pagan Altar still very much have to offer listeners; not just a voice from the past, so to speak, but an enduring take on heaviness that’s relevant in atmosphere as much as craft.

pagan altar

In the fluidity of “The Ripper” alone, JonesJonesDiccon and Green engage distinctly NWOBHM dynamic through multiple patient movements, loud, quiet and dramatic, with a turn to a more storytelling lyric, where earlier, the pair of “Danse Macabre” and “Dance of the Vampires” finds Terry descriptive. That there should be so much focus on death throughout The Room of Shadows — “Rising of the Dead,” “Danse Macabre,” Dance of the Vampires,” “The Ripper,” etc. — is somewhat eerie when one considers it as a posthumous release, but again, it’s the songs themselves that allow Pagan Altar to get through this material without being consumed entirely by the “last album” factor. Whatever else it may be for the band, it is a considerable achievement.

And one apparently some time in the making. “The Portrait of Dorian Gray,” with its uptempo, standout chorus, dates back to the 2011 split with Mirror of Deception and late that same year was posted as representing Pagan Altar‘s next album, then due in 2012. How far back the other material on The Room of Shadows might go in terms of composition or specific recording date, I don’t know, but Alan‘s taking charge of the instrumental elements behind his father’s vocals ostensibly to give the band the best representation possible serves the dual purpose of lending a freshness and energy to the tracks. One can hear it clearly in his soloing on “The Ripper” or in the gallop of Green‘s double-kick in the second half of “Dance of the Vampires” as much as the effective atmospherics of the slower parts in “Rising of the Dead” and the initial minutes of “The Room of Shadows” itself, which also finds father and son harmonizing a tale of a scared child before taking off at a briskly punctuated, lead-topped clip; the tinge of UK/Celtic folk in Terry‘s voice not at all lost in either the subdued or the raucous moments.

Complemented by gracefully strummed guitar shimmer, that will come into play again on the 1:33 “After Forever,” which closes The Room of Shadows with a duly poetic last verse and resonant emotional finish that succeeds despite the thematic turn between the title-track and “The Ripper” before it. Pagan Altar spent three and a half decades as an underrated band, and The Room of Shadows may in fact be their final offering — though of course one never knows and there are always opportunities for live albums, lost tracks collections, etc. — but as its eponymous cut, as “The Portrait of Dorian Gray,” as “Danse Macabre” and the rest of its inclusions show, they’re an act capable of finding vibrant delivery in the realms of darkness and death, and if there’s a chance these songs might carry their story forward to a new generation in terms of audience, that’s a chance well worth taking. Born of tragedy and defeat, The Room of Shadows brims with timeless victory.

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Review & Track Premiere: Howling Giant, Black Hole Space Wizard: Part 2

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on August 3rd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

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[Click play above to stream ‘Circle of Druids’ from Howling Giant’s Black Hole Space Wizard: Part 2. EP is out Aug. 25 and available to preorder on Bandcamp.]

At very least, we can be sure that by the time Nashville progressive metal/heavy rockers Howling Giant finish telling the story that thus far spans their second and third EPs, they will have long since outgrown the goofball title they’ve given the series. In truth, the complexity and scope of Black Hole Space Wizard: Part 2 might be a little undercut by the stoner-is-as-stoner-does banner it seems to fly, if only because someone who didn’t hear either the trio’s 2015 self-titled or last year’s Black Hole Space Wizard: Part 1 (review here) could potentially too easily write it off based on superficialities and miss out on what’s actually a marked depth and individual purpose of craft.

Released almost precisely a year after its predecessor, its six tracks/31 minutes bring the self-releasing trio of guitarist/vocalist Tom Polzine, bassist/vocalist Roger Marks and drummer/vocalist Zach Wheeler to new levels of execution in their material, rife with wonderfully realized vocal harmonies, epic-feeling crescendos, and a still-weighted tonality that they seem to be able to move and shift according to whatever whim drives a given piece, whether it’s the introductory “Henry Tate” with its spoken-word vocals and the first of many guest key/synth contributions throughout from Drew Harakal beneath the first of many swirling, character-laden solos from Polzine, or the galloping apex that leads into a wide-breadth wash at the end of “Visions,” layers of effects swirl — and again, keyboard/synth from Harakal — coming to the forefront of the longest inclusion here at 7:39. Flirting with long-player flow in its front-to-back delivery and the fact that it’s 10 minutes longer than the installment prior, Black Hole Space Wizard: Part 2 establishes Howling Giant‘s underlying commitment to developing their approach and benefits from a quickly and righteously burgeoning stylistic reach.

Because it’s a chapter in a (presumably ongoing) series, one looks for consistencies with what’s come before as well as the growth so plain to hear in the material. And it’s there in the overall sonic take and in some of the intensity of the prog-metal cascade in “The Pioneer” or the penultimate highlight “Circle of Druids,” as well as in the sung harmonies, but there isn’t an element present that doesn’t seem to have moved willfully forward from where the band was a year ago. While they may be working in the same narrative, based around the end of civilization and the adventures of the last remaining human (dubbed “The Pioneer”) among future-mystical presences — last time the Space Wizard, this time the Earth Wizard, as manifest in the closer of the same name — even down to its basic structure as mirrored sides A and B each with an introductory piece, shorter middle cut and longer finale, Black Hole Space Wizard: Part 2 simply has more to offer than what was already an impressive display in songwriting.

howling giant

Arrangement flourish brings a complementary baritone sax guest appearance from Kim Wheeler on the interlude/side B intro “The Forest Speaks” that picks up alongside acoustic pluck and leads gently into “Circle of Druids,” and as much momentum as Polzine, Marks, Wheeler and Harakal — the latter of whom apparently recorded in Texas but might need to relocate and actually join this band given what the organ and synth add to the tracks here — build throughout “Henry Tate,” the low-end fuzz roll of the early verses and ending of “The Pioneer” and the precise, all-class linearity of “Visions,” they remain likewise committed to broadening the palette of their aesthetic and if one thinks of Black Hole Space Wizard: Part 2 as an EP and thus a showcase of where Howling Giant are in the inevitable march toward a first full-length, one would be remiss to think of them as anything but ready for that crucial next step.

Whether or not that’s actually where Howling Giant are directly headed — that is, if they’ll do an LP next or follow this Part 2 with a Part 3 EP — I don’t know, but on a creative level, they bring a vibrant persona to these tracks enough to give the impression that their evolution will continue in either context. Beginning with a quick spoken intro, “Circle of Druids” launches from out of “The Forest Speaks” and unfolds to an especially satisfying blend of chugging riffery and a wide-open payoff hook, underscored by Wheeler‘s double-kick and given/needing few frills around its basic structure. Like some of Black Hole Space Wizard: Part 1, it reminds a bit of Devin Townsend‘s heavier progressive metallurgy, but ultimately proves more distinct, and “Earth Wizard” effectively follows in dropping the tempo to hit a balance like a more straightforward vision of what Ancestors brought to their 2012 triumph, In Dreams and Time.

This initial patience gradually shifts into a fuller charge in “Earth Wizard”‘s back half, which feels somewhat inevitable, but the finale is both earned and once more plays to the notion of Black Hole Space Wizard: Part 2 as a kind of proto-full-length in its overarching fluidity. As the last vestiges of guitar and synth fade out to bring the EP to its end, the sense is still one of being a shorter release, but if that means Howling Giant are leaving their audience wanting more of the arc coming to life in their tracks, then that only bodes well for a next outing, whatever form it might take. Likewise, one has to acknowledge that while the title might just as likely turn a given listener off as on when it comes to taking up Black Hole Space Wizard: Part 2, its goofballery also stands as a signal of an abiding lack of pretense that extends to the songwriting as well. That is, while their arrangements are thought out, their performances clear-headed and impeccably mixed, the corresponding quotient of self-indulgence is remarkably low for something so progressive. If the tradeoff for that is a silly name, it’s a small price to pay — sometimes it’s fun to have fun — and for those who do decide to dig into Howling Giant‘s third EP, the rewards are no less expansive than the band’s sound itself.

Howling Giant, Black Hole Space Wizard: Part 2 (2017)

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