Review & Full Album Stream: Pelagos, Revolve

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on June 5th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

pelagos revolve

[Click play above to stream Pelagos’ Revolve in its entirety. Album is out June 8 via Svart Records.]

Evocations of space and water meet on “River (Proxima Centauri),” and that would seem to summarize at least a goodly portion of where Pelagos are coming from on their Svart Records debut album, Revolve, but the key idea is of finding some other place. Listening to the Finnish outfit’s eight-track/48-minute offering, one can’t help but wonder how much of it was crafted with an intent, either conscious or not, for escapism. At the same time, there are flashes of traditional folk rhythms amid the washes of e-bow guitar, synth, keys, and so on, so something keeps even “River (Proxima Centauri)” grounded, and as it follows the immediately echoing vocals and expansive welcome of opener “Code” — as in “blue?” is that the kind of other place we’re visiting? — that sense of ground definitely has a purpose to serve.

Pori, from whence the three-maybe-four-piece — they list Teemu Elo, Petri Hagner and Janne Peltomäki as members, but there sure are four people in their promo photos — hail, is known for having produced the mega-weirdo progressive outfit Circle, and sure enough Pelagos share a lineage with that group going back decades, but the new band seem on a more distinct sonic mission, and with the synthesizer pushing them farther and farther out throughout pieces like “Island of Pelicans,” the somewhat more brooding and decidedly urbane “Aphrodite’s Shore,” and into Revolve‘s second-half depths, amid the acoustic-guitar-based “Invisible,” the darker and electronic-beat fueled “Sea of Tranquility,” the encompassing soundscape of “Muted Stars” and closer “Embryo”‘s reimagining of New Wave as an extension of progressive rock with manipulated vocals and repetitive electronics complemented by airy guitar and a steady underlying groove, a key factor in the outing overall is immersion. It’s the kind of record you might get caught in a ridiculous run-on sentence describing, as each song seems to have something of its own to offer while adding to the overarching atmosphere.

And atmosphere is central to Revolve, to the point that one wants to read a story into the idea that they begin with “Code” and end with “Embryo,” as though the songs between are stages in a journey from death to reincarnation. Certainly there’s room to create that narrative in the ethereal sonic affect Pelagos have donned, and though there’s a definite tonal presence throughout, they refuse to let any element get overblown. That is, as much breadth as there is in the material, it’s never simply wandering for its own sake, and a keen balance holds firm for the duration. There’s a temptation to call is psychedelic, but it’s not psychedelic in terms of the traditional mushroom-munching definition of the genre. Whatever the proclivities of the band’s members — I wouldn’t speculate — what they seem to share with psychedelic rock is the idea of space, both thematically and in the music itself. “Code” opens with a subtly gripping drumless section, letting the wash gradually consume the listener before the album makes its way into the journey ahead.

pelagos

After the hypnotic “River (Proxima Centauri),” “Island of Pelicans” takes hold with a more rhythmic feeling behind it, shifting to a more synthesized vibe at around the midpoint, winding up in strumming acoustic guitar with other elements swirling around, in front of and behind it, the idea seeming to be a constant motion either forward or in its own roundabout spirit, moving without feeling like it needs to be anywhere. That, given that it’s purposeful, is a compliment. In truth, even at its most repetitive, Revolve — the title itself a repetitive motion — loses neither its will nor the gracefulness of its execution. As “Aphrodite’s Shore” gives way to “Invisible,” the shift in approach is clear. Both songs are just over five minutes long, and yet the sound of each, from the utter wash of the former to the more folkish impression of the guitar on the latter, is tied together by the ambience that permeates so much of the record and, though it’s mostly at the fore in introductory sections or leadouts, defines it.

I won’t take away from the more active sections of Revolve or the effectiveness of the shifts in structure Pelagos bring to bear, pushing verses forward on “Sea of Tranquility” or “Island of Pelicans” while the ringing tones of “Muted Stars” and “Aphrodite’s Shore” cast a vision of what Yawning Man might’ve been if they were born on an ocean planet instead of in the desert, but there’s no mistaking the focus on ambience — which I wouldn’t exactly classify as “inactive” either — as being crucial to the impression the album gives as a front-to-back listen. And though it should somewhat go without saying, but a work this fluid and smooth in its shifts between one song and the next should be taken in its entirety.

Not that a given song can’t give an impression of the core sound of its surroundings, just that the full breadth of Revolve is best experienced when the whole voyage is made. And it is a longer go than the 48 minutes of its runtime might convey, but whether or not the narrative intended is the one purported, what really matters is that Pelagos put their audience in a place where the experience is engrossing enough that the mind wants to engage with it as one might the chapters of a novel. Particularly given their pedigree, it would be futile to guess what Pelagos might have to offer in the long term or how or along what path their style might develop, but their debut is rich and resonant, and it brims with the openness of spirit that seems to have driven its creation. Especially considering it as a first album, it is a considerable achievement in its balance and aesthetic.

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Owl Premiere New Cassingle Awaken Jupiterian

Posted in audiObelisk on June 1st, 2018 by JJ Koczan

OWL

Oakland traditionalists Owl (also stylized Ovvl) will release their third album sometime later this year, following for years after their sophomore outing, Screech. To lead into the new offering, the three Baechle brothers — Axell and K. on guitar/vocals, Clint on drums — and newcomer bassist Magic Spiegel send forth a new two-songer cassette single titled Awaken Jupiterian in reference to the tracks contained: “Awaken the Mountain” and “Jupiterean Ocean.” It’s only 11 minutes long, but with it, the band ask the pivotal question of what might have happened had heavy metal in the ’80s not become so commercialized, so overblown in its production, and had it been able to move forward from its roots in the decade prior and develop its sound without becoming so grandiose. Owl will play the Alehorn of Power festival on July 28, and one can hardly think of a more appropriate setting for them.

Their guitar work on “Awaken the Mountain” and their willingness to smash one part into the next would seem to be derived from the Mike Scalzi school of metallurgyowl awaken jupiterian, but there’s more to their gallop than simple imitation or musical conversation with the Lord Weird. That’s true on the almost completely instrumental “Jupiterean Ocean” as well as in “Awaken the Mountain,” as both cuts showcase an edge of progressive, thoughtful songwriting with a mind toward flow and capturing the spirit of metal’s post-formative years, its righteousness still in its ability to be a middle-finger to the mainstream while capturing an increasing portion of the sales market. In “Awaken the Mountain,” one might hear shades of Leeches of Lore‘s off-kilter winding, or (if you’re on the Eastern Seaboard) some of Valkyrie‘s dual-axe heroics, but Owl hold firm to a sonic persona of their own — dig that last section of “Jupiterean Ocean” — and as much as they seem to look back at what metal was and could have been, they don’t at all lose sight of the individualist expression that’s always been at the heart of the form. They are, in other words, their own band.

The cassingle, which one can only hope comes in a cardboard sleeve open on top and bottom, either shrinkwrapped or not, is available now and to herald the coming of their third long-player, on which “Awaken the Mountain” promises to feature — frankly I’m not sure how you’d get away with calling the album anything else, but the title hasn’t been announced yet — Owl will head out on their first full US tour in more than half a decade. The dates for that run follow the Awaken Jupiterian single itself, which I’m thrilled to be able to premiere via the player below.

Please dig in and enjoy:

Three and a half years since the release of the Screech LP, Oakland, California’s Owl returns to the scene with two brand new tracks on the archaic “cassingle” format! “Awaken The Mountain,” taken from a new album album which will be released later this year, is a prog metal epic, and cautionary tale of dwelling too close to volatile geologic formations! The B-side, “Jupiterian Ocean,” is a sweeping instrumental that glides into view on terrestrial winds, before plummeting into stoner caves and finally scaling staggering zeppelinesque heights!

ORDER THE CASSINGLE HERE
https://owlbrotherhood.bandcamp.com/album/awaken-jupiterian

Two LPs, eleven tours, and four bass players later, 2018 finds the band poised to reach a new plateau, with an epic new album on deck, and the first full US tour since 2012! Join the party this summer!

“OWL BE BACK” TOUR 2018
7.11 ALBANY, CA – Ivy Room
7.12 OJAI, CA – Ojai Deer Lodge
7.13 LOS ANGELES, CA – The Lexington
7.14 FLAGSTAFF, AZ – Flagstaff Brewing Co.
7.15 SANTA FE, NM – TBD
7.16 DALLAS, TX – Transit Bicycle Co.
7.17 LITTLE ROCK, AR – TBD
7.18 NASVILLE, TN – TBD
7.19 ASHEVILLE, NC – TBD
7.20 RICHMOND, VA – Chum
7.21 NEW YORK, NY – Cobra Club
7.22 WALLINGFORD, CT – Cherry Street Saloon
7.23 BURLINGTON, VT – Nectar’s
7.24 PHILADELPHIA, PA – TBD
7.25 PITTSBURGH, PA – Camp Clarke
7.26 DETROIT, MI – Outer Limits
7.27 MILWAUKEE, WI – Quarters
7.28 CHICAGO, IL – Reggie’s – ALEHORN OF POWER FEST
7.29 MADISON, WI – The Wisco
7.30 MINNEAPOLIS, MN – Memory Lanes
7.31 LINCOLN, NE – TBD
8.1 DENVER, CO – Squire Lounge
8.2 COLORADO SPRINGS, CO – Triple Nickel
8.3 SALT LAKE CITY, UT – Ridinghoods
8.4 RENO, NV – Shea’s Tavern
8.5 SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Bottom Of The Hill

Owl is:
Axell Baechle: Guitar, Vocals
K. Baechle: Guitar, Vocals
Clint Baechle: Drums
Magic Spiegel: Bass Guitar

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Mick’s Jaguar Premiere “Where We Go” from Fame and Fortune

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on May 31st, 2018 by JJ Koczan

micks jaguar

New York-based heavy rockers Mick’s Jaguar make their debut on RidingEasy Records June 22 with Fame and Fortune. It’s not the first time the L.A. imprint has extended its hand to the other side of the country to pick up a band, but something here feels different. While unsurprisingly given both the snark in the band’s moniker — they started out playing Rolling Stones covers — and the blood-and-sex rawness of the album art, it’s safe to say attitude plays a large role in their approach, the brand of heavy rock and roll (with emphasis on both the rock and the roll) is nigh on definitively of New York. The myth is that New York rock died. It didn’t. It just got priced out of Manhattan, like everything else that wasn’t J.P. Morgan or owned by the president or a racist coffee chain. But to be a band “from New York” is to invite immediate suspicion. You say you’re from New York? Prove it. Like someone wants to see your birth certificate or something.

To wit, the first line in Fame and Fortune opener “The Real Boss” is, “I was born in New York City,” and then, as if to prove the ultimate New York perspective, there follows, “What a horrible, smelly town.” Love New York, defend it vigorously to outsiders, and then despise it. To be fair, Manhattan in summertime, no matter how much of a billionaire playground it has become since Rudy Giuliani had the homeless secretly killed — don’t worry, 15-plus years of returning veterans has made sure there’s plenty more homeless to replace them — smells like urine, but New York’s love/hate relationship with itself is an essential facet of its culture, and Mick’s Jaguar, who present a clean, classic-feeling 10 tracks in the 38-minute stretch of their first album, are smart to put it front and center. That theme of intelligence continues throughout the six-piece’s lyrics, which contain several Stones and other references — “sticky fingers,” paraphrasing the Stooges with “street-walking jaguars,” shouting out Miles Davis, etc. — amid shifts in sound from heavy rock to early metal of “Here Comes the Night” the aggro-boogie of “Where We Go” to the crash-led “Country & Punk,” which in the span of 1:49 gracefully manages to be neither.

micks jaguar fame and fortuneApart from its attitude, what draws the album together throughout these twists and turns of style is a consistent sans-frills production and a penchant for big hooks in cuts like opener “The Real Boss” and its side B counterpart, “Hellride,” as well as “Pay to Play,” “Hellride,” the twin-guitar-led “Blood on the Snow,” and so on. Songwriting, in other words. It’s one of those records that seems to come across like vinyl no matter the actual format being played, and the visceral sound of the recording is a benefit as much to the actual impact of the material as to the aesthetic statement being made, but without that core of craft beneath the recording would have nothing to stand on. The movement from the ’70s-chugging “Here Comes the Night” — who doesn’t love a good song about “the night?” — the barroom twin leads of “Blood on the Snow” and the hard rocking cynicism of “Hellride” would simply fall flat. As the album progressed, I’ll admit I was a little sad when “Damnation” wasn’t an Opeth cover, but its lyrical journey tying together the late ’60s/early ’70s and the early ’90s is fairly emblematic of the roots of heavy rock and the roots from which Mick’s Jaguar are ultimately working. Then, naturally, they throw a wrench in the gears with “Country & Punk,” because screw you for thinking you know what you’re getting.

If Mick’s Jaguar are a New York band, as the narrative — blessings and peace upon it — argues fervently they are and I tend to agree when it comes to their style and specific grit-coated swagger, then it’s only fitting they should be as self-aware as they are. From the start of the record through the harmonica-laced closer “New Orleans Blues,” with its lap-steel-gone-psychedelic and anchoring drum progression, they’re telling their own story both lyrically and instrumentally. Their style ultimately has more reach than many will give it credit for, and they move through Fame and Fortune with a fluidity that belies this being their first album; I don’t actually know this, but if you were forcing me to guess I’d say some of these songs have been around a while, as they sound like they’ve been chopped down to their most essential pieces. Whether Mick’s Jaguar can bring the same intelligent confrontationalism to their work and still manage to develop stylistically over the longer term of course will remain to be seen, but what they bring to Fame and Fortune isn’t to be undervalued as a statement of their purpose and a declaration of their penchant for mining classic elements and reshaping them to suit their needs.

I have the pleasure today of hosting a track from Fame and Fortune as a premiere that you’ll find on the player below, followed by more info from the PR wire. Once again, the album is out June 22 on RidingEasy Records.

Please enjoy:

Rock and roll is dead in New York City. Long live New York City rock and roll. Mick’s Jaguar is bringing noisy, wild, unafraid big rock back to NYC. Crazy rents, corporatized venues, and kids listening to DJ’s: it’s hard being a band in this town.

This isn’t LA and Mick’s Jaguar is a product of their environment: a windowless dungeon practice space 20 feet below the trash covered sidewalk of the Lower East Side. Rats, grime, the sounds of the city; Mick’s Jaguar gleefully pillages the history of rock music to create thoroughly modern, but classic rock and roll. Not quite punk, but not metal either, this is hard rock and roll that’s been put through the brain blenders of 6 musicians who pair their Judas Priest shirts with Steely Dan hats. They claim no musical lineage to New York – they just live there. If you need to compare them to something, the night AC/DC played CBGB’s would be about as close as you can get.

The group formed as a drunken Rolling Stones cover band, and after a few years of mainlining Stones songs and playing sporadic shows marred by violence and sprayed by beer, they started writing originals that attracted the attention of RidingEasy Records. And their new album, Fame and Fortune, sounds absolutely nothing like the Stones. The three guitarists — yes three guitars — open the album with a riff of buzzsaw intensity that would make a Ramone proud. But then like Jim Morrison sashaying into a wine shop, it drunkenly careens into a big sounding rock and roll album somewhere in between Van Halen and Tres Hombres. Guitar solos abound, Thin Lizzy harmonies soar, the bass and drums make a groove that will shake the asses on the dance floor and put a rumble in your loins. Songs about life, death, cars, blood, murder, sex, drugs and booze are the world of Mick’s Jaguar. Don’t forget – this is what rock and roll is all about. Listen close and you’ll hear hat tips to your bands, Mick’s Jag knows their history and likes to rip it apart.

Recorded in Brooklyn at Figure 8 Recording by engineering wizard Philip Weinrobe, and fueled by a steady diet of Allen’s Coffee Brandy, the Fame And Fortune sessions resulted in only one hospital visit and it just might be your favorite album of 1978, 1988, or 2018. This is music that’s made for listening to while driving fast in your car, and while relaxing at the local strip club. It’s okay to have fun. Cute indie bands make everyone puke. That shit stops now. Let there be rock.

Fame and Fortune will be available on LP, CD and download on June 22nd, 2018 via RidingEasy Records. Preorders are available at ridingeasyrecs.com

MICK’S JAGUAR LIVE:
06/19 Brooklyn, NY @ Saint Vitus

Artist: Mick’s Jaguar
Album: Fame and Fortune
Label: RidingEasy Records
Release Date: June 22, 2018

01. The Real Boss
02. Pay to Play
03. Where We Go
04. Here Comes the Night
05. Blood On the Snow
06. Hellride
07. Damnation
08. Country & Punk
09. Call the Guy
10. New Orleans Blues

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Review & Track Premiere: Here Lies Man, You Will Know Nothing

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

here lies man you will know nothing

[Click play above to stream ‘Taking the Blame’ from Here Lies Man’s You Will Know Nothing. Album is out June 15 via RidingEasy Records.]

This is a band ahead of their time. And like their foreboding moniker, Here Lies Man are waiting. They’re waiting for you, me and everybody else to catch on to what they’re doing, taking elements out of ’70s Afrobeat and repurposing them in a heavy psychedelic context. One hesitates to call them “neopsych” for the shoegazing that seems so prevalent in that movement, and because the Los Angeles-based core duo of drummer Geoff Mann (ex-Antibalas) and vocalist, guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Marcos Garcia (also Antibalas) keep such a sense of tension even in the quiet spaces. Others have started to take note on both coasts. Philadelphia’s Ecstatic Vision — who’ve been around longer — have begun working Afrobeat rhythms into their sound, and San Diego’s Volcano will make their debut later this year with essentially a party version of what Here Lies Man did on their 2017 self-titled (review here) and continue to develop on their sophomore outing, You Will Know Nothing.

Also their second for RidingEasy Records, it finds Garcia and Mann delving further into rhythmic complexity and holding to a tonally weighted sonic architecture while conducting mathy sonic experiments and stomping away along a path that, for the time being, is almost entirely their own, opening with the hooky “Animal Noises,” digging into heavy riffs on songs like “Fighting” and just about everywhere bringing to bear a percussion-centric, keyboard-laced thrust and shuffle; music intended to move. Self-recorded, its 11-track/39-minute run is both manageable and visionary. They write their own “Planet Caravan” in “Floating on Water,” and spend much of the proceedings toying with the balance to one side or the other of their sound, aided by percussionists Richard Panta and Reinaldo DeJesus on congas and Victor Axelrod (ex-Antibalas) on keys.

In a song like the thickened “Blindness” or even the spacious, relatively minimal centerpiece “Voices at the Window,” Here Lies Man own their aesthetic and bring it to bear with complexity manifest in subtle, low-mixed layers of keys and synth. The whole album is executed with a deceptive vibe. It’s possible to listen to it, be carried along by the bounce of “Summon Fire” and “Taking the Blame” and the two-minute boogie of the penultimate “Memory Games,” but the deeper one digs into the mix, the more one finds to find, whether its a quiet swirl, an extra layer of guitar, whatever. Especially for an album so bent on forward rhythmic motion, that builds such a sense of momentum as it careens from one song to the next — again, even in its quiet moments — it is especially satisfying to also find it so nuanced. The dream drone in closer “You Ought to Know” that seems to have been there all along but makes itself known as the band picks up with the central linear build.

here lies man

The departure of the keys from the main riff in the intro to “Hell (Wooly Tail),” and the layers of voices that emerge from there, echoing from someplace further down amid the fuzzy low end. Even “Animal Noises” refuses to let You Will Know Nothing‘s outset pass without a dive into multi-layered keys and congas, starting off the record with a fervent momentum that cuts in its final third to ringing guitar notes worthy of cult folk backed by Echoplex-style swirl. Where did we just go? How the hell did we get there? No time to think about it because “Summon Fire” is off and running immediately. It’s that kind of twisting and turning that Here Lies Man pull off so brilliantly, and whatever experimental aspects these songs may have, the band hasn’t lost sight of the basic roots of their construction. “Summon Fire” is catchy as hell, and likewise “Blindness,” and “Fighting” and the swinging “Taking the Blame” that like the side A opener it would seem to mirror at the start of side B, turns to strange and quiet keys before the shove of “Fighting” takes hold.

“Fighting” is pretty straightforward in its fuzz, keys and forward drive, and it makes a gang-shout-worthy hook out of the line “Shut your fucking mouth,” but the three subsequent tracks — the closing salvo of “Floating on Water,” “Memory Games” and “You Ought to Know” — comprise a showcase of Here Lies Man‘s sonic adventurousness. They go farther and farther out. As noted, “Floating on Water” is quieter, with keys and soft drums in the lead position, while “Memory Games,” in terms of sheer tone, might be the heaviest piece on You Will Know Nothing, though it still maintains the funk of chunkier earlier cuts like “Blindness,” “Hell (Wooly Tail)” and “Taking the Blame.” As they round out with “You Ought to Know,” there seems to be an arrival at some point of sonic serenity, and where in rounding out the album’s first half, “Voices at the Window” kept some tension beneath its surface, the finale is more genuinely interested in setting a peaceful atmosphere. Instrumental, it does embark on a subtle build, but there’s no overblown finish. A fuzzy solo arrives and leads the way out on a slow fade while the central key figure plays alongside, and they cap with echoing, far back guitar.

I flat out refuse to predict the course of a band’s career or what the arc of their influence will be. They could break up tomorrow and nix the whole thing. Still, Here Lies Man have already had an effect on the underground around them and that’s noteworthy, and they’ve now put out two outstanding — style-wise and achievement-wise — LPs in two years, but to say what they’ll do over the course of a full tenure or what their ultimate reach will be, to even pretend to guess, is irresponsible hyperbole. What I know is that Here Lies Man are on their own trip. In their blend of influences and their execution of the balances between them, they’re offering something that no one else is at this point, and for those open-minded and willing to make the journey along with them, walking that path is an absolute blast. Perhaps most encouraging of all is the sense of willful growth that permeates so much of You Will Know Nothing, since it assures that as ahead of their time as Here Lies Man are, their interest is in staying that way.

Here Lies Man website

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Blacklab Premiere “Black Moon” from Under a Strawberry Moon 2.0

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

Blacklab under a strawberry moon 20

Osaka, Japan, duo Blacklab make their debut July 20 on New Heavy Sounds with Under a Strawberry Moon 2.0. The album is a remix of the two-piece’s first outing — hence the “2.0” — which saw a limited self-release last year. And even before one gets around to the finale of “Big Muff,” which digs into nearly 10 minutes of distortion driven, presumably, by the effects pedal of the same name, the band’s onslaught of doomed extremity has already made itself felt in the screams of the churning “Black Moon,” the liberal amount of feedback strewn throughout the eight included tracks, and even the empty space that populates the verse of “Warm Death” before the and-you-thought-“Hidden Garden”-was-abrasive chorus takes hold. Black Sabbath are a factor on that earlier track, that is, on “Hidden Garden,” as well as on the titular nod in “Symptom of the Blacklab,” but even the most familiar of riffs are given new life and new impact through the blown-out fashion in which they’re used and further influence drawn from the likes of earlier Kylesa, way-gone Boris, Napalm DeathBurning Witch and others too numerous and/or obliterated to list.

Ultimately, you can namedrop whoever you want — the point is that Blacklab use these sounds to their own ends, not the other way around. They’re not playing to genre so much as bending genre to the shape they want it to take, even in “Symptom of the Blacklab,” which directly engages the piece it references in its name before sprinting off elsewhere for a two-minute run that’s the shortest on the record but carrying no less impact for that. Comprised of guitarist/vocalist Yuko Morino and drummer Chia Shiraishi, Blacklab arrive obviously schooled in the ways of doom, but that only seems to grant them the foundation to branch out. Whether it’s the crashing end of “Warm Death” or the blower fuzz of “His Name Is” that follows, Blacklab‘s chief interest seems to be in pushing the limits of style and finding a place where chaos meets control while still holding firm to a heavy groove.

So do they get there? Short version: yes. Particularly as their debut, and even in the New Heavy Sounds redux form, Under a Strawberry Moon 2.0 is a significant statement of aesthetic purpose. In its volume-worshiping sensibilities and its distortion-on-distortion shove, it has moments that sound like they’re genuinely about to fall apart, and yet before they finish with the aforementioned “Big Muff,” they offer the relatively straightforward, melodic-vocal-topped “Fall and Rise,” seeming to be in direct conversation in its first half with the marching rhythms of Acid King, and there’s never any doubt of the consciousness at work behind their craft as the track moves into more visceral chug and growling past its midpoint. Whether brutal or serene, Under a Strawberry Moon 2.0 approaches its influences with a pickaxe and proves capable of giving the front-to-back listening experience a feeling of extremity that ultimately serves to unite the varied material and give Blacklab all the more context for the breadth of their work overall. They seem to make the most of it here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they push even further into their own space next time out.

I have the pleasure today of hosting opener “Black Moon” as a premiere ahead of the album’s release. Please find it below, followed by more info on the band from the PR wire, and please enjoy if you dare:

Blacklab describe themselves as ‘the Dark Witch Doom Duo from Osaka Japan’. However, when it comes to witches, they are more the spectral Sadako from ‘The Ring’ than campy ‘Countess Dracula’. Chilling cool with built in overdrive.

Yuko and Chia are undoubtedly immersed in the Japanese stoner doom scene, and it’s no surprise that with this first offering, they’ve pulled out a calling card that is as ‘in yer face’ and arresting as anything out there. A full frontal assault of distorted riffs, howls and ghostly vocals, as well as bags of riot grrl attitude and lo-fi bravado.

Being nominally a ‘Doom’ band, expect a bucket load of Sabbath worship for sure, but Blacklab have a vibe and experimental undertow akin more to their countrymen ‘Boris’ and the souped up lo-fi fuzz of Ty Segall or Comets On Fire. Tracks like ‘Black Moon’ ‘Hidden Garden’ ‘Spoon’ ‘Symptom Of The Blacklab’ (which starts like Sabbath … then thrashes somewhere else), twist, burn and boil into the red. ‘His Name Is …’ is a churning chunky throb. ‘Spoon’ and ‘Warm Death’ offer moments of relief and crushing noise. And ‘Big Muff’ is … well … 9 minutes of drum-less fuzz, that will probably do serious damage to your speakers. What’s not to love?

This first Blacklab release on NHS, is a version of their ‘Under The Strawberry Moon’ album which was released in tiny numbers on CD only in Japan, a pull together of previous tracks and new songs recorded over 2017. But the NHS variant is different. Wayne Adams (Death Pedals, Shitwife, Vodun, Casual Nun) noise guru at Bear Bites Horse Studio, has remixed the tracks to maximum effect, upping the fuzz and weight of the originals, to create Under The Strawberry Moon 2.0. exclusively for NHS. You will not be disappointed.

It’s an album full of promise, and we at New Heavy Sounds are super stoked to be working with ‘the Dark Witch Doom Duo from Osaka Japan’. Expect a new album when they have crawled back out of their televisions.

Blacklab are: Yuko Morino, guitar and vocals. Chia Shiraishi, drums.

Under The Strawberry Moon 2.0 will land on July 20th. Available as limited edition Black/Orange vinyl which includes a free CD and download of the whole album. Also available in regular CD and digital formats.

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Under a Strawberry Moon preorder at New Heavy Sounds

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Red Mesa Premiere “Sacred Datura” from The Devil and the Desert

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on May 29th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

red mesa

Albuquerque, New Mexico-based heavy desert rockers Red Mesa release their second album, The Devil and the Desert via their own Desert Records imprint on June 1. The follow-up to the trio’s 2014 self-titled debut and their 2016 appearance alongside Blue Snaggletooth on Ripple Music‘s The Second Coming of Heavy – Chapter Four (review here), it’s a seven-track/38-minute outing the urgency of which seems to be affirmed through the sheer act of its creation.

To wit: Split into two vinyl sides and released on that format with money garnered via crowdfunding, the beginning of the recording process found guitarist/vocalist Bradley Frye without a band. Both bassist Shawn Wright and drummer Duane Gasper split after a gig last August (that must have been some show), and rather than call it a day and go home, Frye decided to hit the somewhat ironically named Empty House Studio with producer/engineer Matthew Tobias and press forward with making the record.

That decision in itself was pretty bold, and it pays dividends throughout The Devil and the Desert, the title of which refers to its dual themes. From front to back there would seem to be a narrative of hallucinogens, the arrival of the devil, the desert itself, and so on, and musically, the material becomes more severe the deeper into the record one goes, Frye starting out with a semi-acoustic swamp blues that touches on psychedelia in “The Devil’s Coming ‘Round” — which has a few heavy riffs of its own, like a Southwestern fuzz-proffering Monster Magnet with Frye cast in the Wyndorf role — and the ethereal sandy grunge of centerpiece “Desert Sol,” before tipping the balance to more weighted fare with “Sacred Datura,” the motor-chugging “Route 666” and the trippy desert heft and spaciousness of the 10-minute closing title-track.

red mesa the devil and the desertBy the time Frye gets around to “The Devil and the Desert,” he’s traveled a significant distance even from “The Devil’s Coming ‘Round” and other early cuts like opener “Devil Come out to Play” and the instrumental “Springtime in the Desert,” which opens psychedelic and fades out only to return with more grounded acoustics. That play between the real and unreal becomes central to The Devil and the Desert, and in order to better evoke it, Frye put Tobias to work on drums/percussion and brought in studio players Jon Mcmillian (bass) and lap steel/baritone guitarist Alex McMahon in order to better evoke the sense of a full-band playing. To be blunt, it works.

The danger with using session musicians especially on an independent release is that, while generally ultra-talented, they have little investment in the project at hand. They’ll play well, but won’t share the passion of those who hired them or who composed the material they’re playing. Frye and Tobias found the right people. To listen to the fleshed out arrangement of “Desert Sol” at the album’s center, McMahon‘s baritone and lead guitar melds easily with what Frye does on electric and acoustic guitar and vocals and with Tobias‘ percussion. And since the second, more generally weighted half of the record was made with the clearly self-aware Frye and Tobias working as a duo playing the parts of a full band — Frye taking up bass as well as guitars and vocals — there’s a shift in presentation as well as general mindset just where one is intended.

So again, it works. I don’t know if Frye — whose since brought on bassist Randy Martinez and drummer Roman Barham to play in the live incarnation of Red Mesa — would say losing two-thirds of his band prior to recording was an asset, but listening to the channels switch in the bouncing verse of “Sacred Datura,” or hearing the fuzzy rhythm part back the soaring lead, one would have a hard time arguing he didn’t make the most of it, and that The Devil and the Desert didn’t turn out as broad in sound as it is cohesive in its themes. It’s a mindful outing that rather than simply working within genre confines, uses the elements of desert rock, lost country and psychedelia in carefully set balances to suit its own needs and purposes. It is an album commanding aesthetic, rather than being led by the rules of it.

Below, you can hear the premiere of “Sacred Datura” and read more about the song specifically from Brad Frye. Once again, The Devil and the Desert is out June 1 via Desert Records. Preorders are up now through Red Mesa‘s Bandcamp page.

Please enjoy:

Brad Frye on “Sacred Datura”:

The song “Sacred Datura” was initially conceived from Carlos Castaneda’s book The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Life. In the book Don Juan explains that Sacred Datura is also known as Devil’s Weed. Sacred Datura is meant to give human beings remarkable powers, such as being able to fly, uproot big trees, go into heat to become pregnant, very powerful stuff. In regards to the song, it’s more about having the power to confront your demons (or the Devil) head-on and be able to survive the encounter.

Most all the titles to songs on this record include the word ‘desert’ or ‘devil.’ I was originally going to name the song “Devil’s Weed” but I figured some hallucinogenic drug fans or plants geeks may appreciate the reference.

The other book that inspired the song was Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire. There’s a chapter in the book where a boy accidentally eats Sacred Datura and has quite a trip before he eventually dies from dehydration in the canyon lands of Utah. Although I’ve never taken Sacred Datura, I used my own experiences with psychedelic mushrooms to write the song.

It’s the first track I’ve ever recorded with me playing bass. The tracking session mostly consisted of Matthew Tobias telling me to “do it again.” The whirling sound that you hear at the very beginning of the song and continues throughout the first half of the song is from a homemade Leslie rotating speaker cabinet made from some hippie dude that I bought from in the trippy little New Mexico town of Madrid.

The riff in the second half of the song is most certainly an ode to Black Sabbath’s “Black Sabbath” riff. Seems like the kind of riff that would appear out of the cosmos on such a journey.
Plus, it being the devil’s triad (root note, with a octave up, and a flatted fifth), which was banned from the churches in Europe in centuries past, seemed fitting to have in this album.

The album was recorded at Empty House Studio in Albuquerque, NM. Matthew Tobias engineered, produced, and mixed the entire album. Doug Van Sloan Mastered the album. Side A was recorded in September and October of 2017. Side B was recorded in January and February of 2018.

Release date: 250 colored vinyl LP’s will be available for sale in early June 2018. Limited edition. Brad Frye’s new record label, DESERT RECORDS, will release the album. Look for more
releases in 2018 by DESERT RECORDS.

Red Mesa has a new rhythm section for 2018 for live shows.
Roman Barhan (Rezin Tree, Black Maria, Jagged Mouth,) will play drums.
Randy Martinez (Hounds Low, Jagged Mouth) will play bass.

Red Mesa is currently booking its first tour to play and promote the album.

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Review & Full Album Premiere: Nomad, Feral

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on May 29th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

nomad feral

[Click play above to stream Nomad’s Feral in full. Album is out May 31 on APF Records.]

Britain has become a sludge factory. Seems like every time one turns around, there’s another disgruntled collective shouting, screaming, riffing and crashing out their frustrations in an onslaught of raw, downtuned chug. Manchester’s Nomad, who release their debut album Feral through APF Records — which has boldly taken it upon itself to corral an increasing amount of the national scene — have been around since 2013 and precede their first record with a 2014 EP, The House is Dead, and a 2015 split with Wort. A straightforward guitar, bass, drums, vocals four-piece, their focus on the seven-track/42-minute Feral seems to be on honing as pure a pummel as possible, and they do so via a decidedly New Orleans-tinged sludge, with vocalist Drian Nash reminding of Kirk Windstein in his shoutier moments, and the riffs of Lewis Atkinson calling to mind the earliest days of sludge metal as it veered from the unhinged slowed-down hardcore punk of Eyehategod and became the more cohesive, songwriting-centered output of Crowbar.

The rhythm section of bassist John Carberry and drummer Hayley McIntyre are, naturally, responsible for the foundation on which this aural homage takes place, and do well anchoring and rolling songs like “Swarm,” which take the ferocity of eight-minute opener and longest track (immediate points) “Curse of the Sun” and the subsequent title-track and push it in a bluesier, lead-topped direction. Though both their moniker and the album’s title evoke a sense of something wild, Nomad themselves are never out of control, and as they blend punk, metal, hardcore and doom on 2:53 centerpiece “The War is Never Over” — chugging mosh-part and all — they present their most intense moment with no less poise than anything preceding or following.

That’s not to say Nomad are staid by any measure, only that they know what they’re doing from the opening hum and fading up toms of “Curse of the Sun” through the long fadeout of the finishing riff to closer “Shallow Fate,” which even brings back — briefly — that same hum that opened the album. And they know which side of the genre they want to play to. Is ‘classic sludge metal’ a thing yet? If not, Feral makes an argument that maybe it should be. Of course, it has its varying sides and modes of expression — “Culture of Ruin” opens with a lightly strummed acoustic guitar to set the mood before moving into its full tonality, etc. — but the root of what they’re doing, and specifically in Atkinson‘s guitar tone, is that early/mid-’90s sludge metal, which is given an even angrier sensibility by Nash‘s vocals moving smoothly between gruff shouts and harsher screams.

nomad

There are moments — the riff that emerges in “Culture of Ruin” just past the halfway point, or the huge wash of crash about six minutes into “Curse of the Sun” before the staccato chugging takes hold — where Nomad give a sense of how they might progress from their debut and what they might bring to their sound over the longer term, but as a statement of who they are, Feral is less wild than it is cohesive in its presentation — which, of course, only works to its advantage. To wit, as the tracklisting plays out, the band moves between longer and shorter songs, alternating one then the other to effectively keep the listener off balance and to highlight the subtle diversity in their presentation and the fluidity with which they execute the structures of their songs. The end effect is to give Feral some of the madness its title brings to mind, even though it’s clear that NashAtkinsonCarberry and McIntyre are actively, consciously steering the material as they go.

In some cases, that might lessen the impact. It doesn’t here, because ultimately it’s a part of the aesthetic. Some early sludgers might have been out of control, but Crowbar never were, and as they’re a chief influence, it’s only fair that Nomad shouldn’t be either. The chugging slam of “The War is Never Over,” the bassline underscoring the title-track, the groove and build of “Shallow Fate” — all of these things arrive with a sense of purpose that makes the overarching listening experience of the album feel focused and all the more intense for the mindfulness at work behind it. These songs didn’t just happen; they were built. As a uniting factor, that purposeful delivery has as much to do with making the album work as the consistency of tone or mood, and in thinking ahead to what Nomad might do over the longer term, it’s among the most encouraging aspects of Feral, which may not ultimately be running wild and completely out of its mind, but certainly gnashes its teeth all the same in a manner that can only help them distinguish themselves from the UK’s crowded sludge underground.

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Review & Full Album Premiere: Sons of Alpha Centauri, Continuum

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on May 28th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Sons of Alpha Centauri Continuum

[Click play above to stream Continuum by Sons of Alpha Centauri in full. Album is out June 1 via H42 Records and Cobraside Distribution.]

Much as one hesitates to use the word ‘unique’ generally, I can’t think of anything quite so fitting to describe the path that’s led UK instrumental four-piece Sons of Alpha Centauri to Continuum, their second album. Released through Cobraside Distribution in the US and Canada and H42 Records in the rest of the world, the eight-track/39-minute sophomore offering — the sophmoffering? — arrives some 11 years after Sons of Alpha Centauri made their self-titled debut (discussed here) and follows a period of multiple collaborations with US-based acts Karma to Burn and Yawning Man — I still regard Yawning Sons‘ 2009 album, Ceremony to the Sunset (review here), as one of the finest atmospheric desert rock albums ever made — as well as splits with A Death Cinematic and Hotel Wrecking City Traders/WaterWays (review here). They also played Desertfest London in 2013 (review here) and have regularly played out, so as I’ve said before, it’s not like the four-piece have been sitting on their ass for the last decade plus.

They just haven’t been putting out Continuum, which is something that guitarist Marlon King, bassist Nick Hannon, drummer Stevie B. and keyboardist/synthesist Blake — actually credited with “textures” — at last correct, bringing together a slow motion whirlwind of patient and progressive instrumentalist execution under the direction of producer/mixer Aaron Harris, formerly of Isis. In returning to work in the context of a full-length, Sons of Alpha Centauri don’t see unaffected by how they spent their intervening years, and one can hear the reach of Gary Arce‘s desert-setting guitar tone from King on “Interstellar” and the A-to-B straightforward heavy rock of Karma to Burn on “Solar Storm” and intermittently early on in 11-minute closer “Return Voyage.” The missing link, then, would seem to be Isis, but with Blake‘s textures on keys, synth, loops and presumably somewhere in there a laptop permeating so much of the record and giving King time to breathe on guitar, there’s plenty of post-metal vibe as well.

Sons of Alpha Centauri, then, would seem to draw from the environments in which they place themselves, and that’s kind of the ideal purpose of collaboration in the first place. More importantly, they sound comfortable shifting the balance from one side to the other and the other, which gives Continuum an all the more multifaceted style. At the same time, there’s a marked sense of momentum that takes hold as intro/opener “Into the Abyss” patiently takes hold, part Vangelis, part Isis, leading directly into the starting drum roll of the subsequent “Jupiter,” which in turn will give over to the more straightforward “Solar Storm.” Even here, the fuzzy, careening central “verse” riff is backed by a consistent layer of synth — not quite a drone, but an ever-present ambient melody — that fills out the sound and adds to the proceedings what the band are ultimately right to call texture.

Sons of Alpha Centauri

There are many ways an instrumental band compensates for a lack of vocals. Lead guitar is one. Not compensating at all has arguably worked for Karma to Burn since, well, since they nixed the idea of a vocalist after their first record. Some others fill out arrangements with varying instrumentation. Sons of Alpha Centauri‘s approach, I suppose, is most like the latter, but the four-piece are more subtle about it than many. Blake‘s work on Continuum might be the factor that ties the tracks’ varying moods together, from the side A intro “Into the Abyss” to the side B intro “Surfacing for Air” and all along as each half of the record that unfurls from there, he enhances the ambience of “Interstellar” and brings progressive flair to “Jupiter” and “Solar Storm” at the record’s heavier post-intro outset. Though even this portion of the record is fairy dynamic, as King leads the way through loud/quiet tradeoffs in “Jupiter” that seem to mirror what will unfold on a grander scale with “Return Voyage” at the end of the record. They’re not quite going back the way they came, but one can read some symmetry there anyhow.

And it’s worth noting that the balance of Continuum, which takes its audience on this journey to Jupiter that the band seems to be making, is on the outward. “Return Voyage,” as the final statement they offer, certainly has its impact and fittingly provides a musical summary to coincide with being the final chapter of the narrative, but with one song about getting back to earth and seven about leaving or having left — the penultimate 2:47 piano piece “Orbiting Jupiter” is about having arrived — there’s little question as to which direction is the band’s priority when it comes to evoking a sense of story. Sons of Alpha Centauri are about the going and having gone. And the results of that, while grounded in their structure and presentation thanks to the foundation of Hannon‘s bass and Stevie‘s drumming, are more directed than your standard everything-hang-loose psychedelia, space is obviously still a factor sonically as well as thematically. The final build in “Return Voyage” as it crosses its midpoint might be the most Isis-reminiscent moment on Continuum, but like the rest of their discernible influences, this too is recontextualized in a sound that is the band’s own.

As, frankly, one would hope for a record having been a decade-plus in the making. I won’t say Sons of Alpha Centauri wasted their years, because they’ve clearly been able to enrich their own style by collaborating with those outside the confines of their own lineup. Rather, the fact that Continuum is their second full-length is somewhat deceptive given all the experience and sense of purpose they’ve been able to garner since their debut, which even then had a fervent progressive streak at its foundation. What Continuum represents, though, is significant growth on multiple fronts for the band, and an awaited moment of declaration of who they are and who they can be in aesthetic and performance terms. Will it be another decade before album number three? I don’t know, but if it is, it will still be worth keeping track of how and with whom Sons of Alpha Centauri choose to spend that time, since invariably they’ll continue to learn lessons that will feed into their own work later. That process has unquestionably worked to their advantage here.

Sons of Alpha Centauri, Continuum teaser

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