Review & Track Premiere: Lewis and the Strange Magics, Evade Your Soul

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

lewis-and-the-strange-magics-evade-your-soul

[Click play above to stream the premiere of ‘Out of My Home’ from Lewis and the Strange Magics’ Evade Your Soul. Album is out Oct. 20 via Soulseller Records.]

Somewhere in the vast multiverse of alternate timelines and fluid realities, there’s a late ’60s death disco stage that’s just perfect for Lewis and the Strange Magics. The three-piece — who in this reality are based in Barcelona, Spain — stand on that stage in orange and purple paisley-patterned shirts that seem to be moving even when the band is standing still and run through songs like “Ugly Face” and “Lisa Melts the Wax” and “RMS” from their second album, Evade Your Soul, with twisted smiles on their faces that hint at the cultish spirits lurking beneath the pop bounce and easy, fun-loving melodies. Comprised of guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist Lewis P., guitarist/vocalist Javi Bono and drummer Ivan Miguel, Lewis and the Strange Magics marked their arrival with the aptly-titled Demo (review here) in 2014 and were picked up by Soulseller Records for the debut full-length, Velvet Skin (review here), which came out in 2015.

The current of quirk and pop classicism has been a running theme throughout their work all along, and in searching for modern comparison points, one might turn to the garage rock aspects of Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats and the production and songwriting clarity of Ghost, the latter of whom would also seem to be an influence on vocal arrangements for cuts like “You’ll be Free Forever” (video posted here) and album centerpiece “Out of My Home,” the guitars of which play clean and fuzzy tones off each other directly in strummed chords and riffs and leads before turning to the sanctuary of yet another of Evade Your Soul‘s landmark hooks. Those, too, are a running theme for Lewis and the Strange Magics, and as a keystone of their output to-date, they’ve never been so prevalent as they are across this nine-track/38-minute vinyl-ready span.

And as familiar as some elements with which Lewis and the Strange Magics are working might be — the Beatlesian jive of “RMS” is instantly recognizable in the post-McCartney sphere, for example — the band effectively craft an identity of their own from the entire swath, such that while the organ-topped proto-prog of opener/longest track  “Leaving Myself” (immediate points) purposefully leans into early ’70s vibes, the rolling groove that emerges, the flowing rhythm, the patience of tempo with which it’s played, and the subtle Satano-sleaze of the lyrics belong to Lewis and company more than they ever have. That’s one sign of the band having grown since Velvet Skin as songwriters, but it’s by no means the only one. An overarching aesthetic awareness pervades Evade Your Soul that can be heard in the vocal balance of “Ugly Face,” which is a highlight not only for its memorable chorus and dueling keyboard/organ solos, but for the arrangement of Bono and Lewis‘ singing and the bounce over which that arrangement appears.

lewis and the strange magics

Though they were raw when they started out, Lewis and the Strange Magics have always had a plan as regards style. With Evade Your Soul, they seem to have hit the point of bringing that plan to fruition, and in so doing, carved a niche for themselves that’s as much at home introducing a Mellotron in third cut “TV Monsters” as they are riding that texture along a languid proggy drift in the later instrumental “Escape,” where it cuts in and out among xylophone (or a synthesized approximation thereof), a steady low end tumble and a post-midpoint turn of guitar jangle that brings about a build to a final wash of fuzzy noise that leads the way into closer “Another Lonely Soul (on the Road).” Their songwriting proves varied in mood but is unafraid to have what sounds like genuine fun on “Lisa Melts the Wax,” with its falsetto vampire vocals — another Ghost connection there — and uptempo strum before shifting into a dreamy lead that maintains an underlying oddness worthy of Ween, but once again, decidedly Lewis and the Strange Magics‘ own.

Oh yeah, and then they go ahead and gallop their way into a fuzzed-out ending to lead the way into “Out of My Home,” because obviously by that point — right in the middle of the record — they’ve established they’re free to go wherever the hell they want and make it work. That confidence of execution is a boon to Evade Your Soul front-to-back, no question, and though moments like the verses of “Out of My Home” and the second-half push in “You’ll be Free Forever” are heavier than it might seem on first listen, there are points throughout these songs in which Lewis and the Strange Magics might lose control of their direction or performance in terms of meter or arrangement, where they might get caught up in their own riffing to the detriment of the song, or forget the structure in favor of drifting out more than they want to, etc. — but the truth is they simply don’t.

It still feels appropriate to think of them as a young band, if only because they formed three years ago, but whether it’s the swing that leads into the record in such right-on-let’s-go fashion throughout “Leaving Myself” or the Revolver-style melodicism brought forth for “RMS,” Evade Your Soul shows a burgeoning maturity in Lewis and the Strange Magics in the level of command they show throughout and the completeness and the complexity of their ideas. This is, in other words, the sound of a band beginning to pay off their potential. As they wrap with the tambourine-inclusive boogie of “Another Lonely Soul (on the Road),” Lewis and the Strange Magics reinforce the somewhat unspoken tightness at root in these songs, and as Lewis delivers the last line “nevermore” at the end of the song, he does so over a quick, cold finish that leaves one feeling the trio has much more to say.

That may well be the case, and one can only hope they keep moving forward along the delightfully bizarre path that Evade Your Soul sees them as having chosen, but whatever road they might ultimately take to get them to that late-’60s death-disco somewhere in the vast multiverse, they’re sure to continue to make an impression on their journey. Open up your skull and dance.

Lewis and the Strange Magics, “You’ll be Free Forever” official video

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StoneBirds Premiere “Animals”; New LP Time out Oct. 20

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

stonebirds-gael-mathieu

French trio StoneBirds will release their second long-player, Time, on Oct. 20, and like the title of the record itself, the output therein is evocative and open to interpretation. What about “time” are we discussing? How it’s spent? How it’s already gone? How it’s not here yet? The subject is pretty vast, and as they engage it in the heavy post-rock textures of their centerpiece “Only Time” — among the final lyrics is the line, “There’s no hope in time” — the message could seem to be pretty bleak. Fair enough, but that doesn’t at all stop the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Fañch, bassist/backing vocalist Sylvain and drummer Antoine from exploring 55 minutes’ worth of progressive heavygaze fluidity across their mostly extended tracks. Bookended by intro “I” (3:12) and the crushing Jesu-style outro “II” (5:32), Time builds on the depth conjured for StoneBirds‘ 2015 Pink Tank Records debut, Into the Fog… and the Filthy Air (review here), brandishing Vangelis-via-Cult of Luna atmospherics on the 11-minute “Shutter Pt. I & II” and seeming to level an accusation with every tonally-dense churn and shout of the penultimate “Animals,” departing the earlier melodies of “Sacrifice” and the patient swelling and receding of “Blackened Sky” in order to take a more direct, nodding approach leading into the further crush and parting ambience of “II.”

Like many releases of its kind, Time takes a somewhat heady approach to its stated theme, and one finds a core of critique and cynicism (well enough earned) in the environmentalist-minded samples that pervade the early going of “Shutter Pt. I & II,” but whether one wants to engage StoneBirds on this level and discover what they actually have to say about these issues and about time itself or one simply wants to get lost in the tonal wash and alternating shoegaze-melodies and shouts, volume consumption and post-psychedelic meditations of “Sacrifice,” “Blackened Sky” or even “Only Time” itself will ultimately be up to the individual listener. For what it’s worth, repeat listens and taking StoneBirds‘ various turns and shifts on in a more active manner yields more satisfying results, as it almost invariably would. While more cerebral in the spirit of Rosetta, The Atlas Moth and any number of other post-metallic acolytes than the likes of Neurosis, there’s an underlying attention to detail that comes to fruition for example in the post-midpoint bassline of “Only Time” or in the guitar lead and additional vocal layering at the apex of “Animals” before the track stretches itself into a kind of subdued melancholy to end out, and the nuance goes a long way in distinguishing StoneBirds from those with similar stylistic purposes or intent. That doesn’t necessarily make Time revolutionary at its core, but as a record that by and large eschews traditionalist structures, it does give the audience something to grasp onto and justify that further digging that ultimately results in a more switched-on experience of the record as a whole.

And make no mistake, Time is meant to be taken as an entire work. While its 55-minute runtime borders on unmanageable, the immersive nature of StoneBirds‘ sound and the movement they enact between darker and lighter atmospheres, claustrophobic riffing and open-feeling ambience comes through as correspondingly broad to the offering’s stated theme. Bits, pieces and individual moments provide standout impressions, but there’s an arc to the proceedings that each song feeds into, beginning with the unfolding of “I” into “Sacrifice” and continuing until “Animals” gives way to “II” at the end. Between and within these songs, StoneBirds hone a spacious dynamic and embrace a creative breadth that all the more makes Time worth the investment.

On the player below, you’ll find the premiere of “Animals,” followed by some comment from Fañch on the ideas behind the song and how they play into the rest of the material. Time is out Oct. 20.

Please enjoy:

Fañch on “Animals”:

“Animals” is the rawest track on the album, and maybe the most primitive we’ve done with Stonebirds in a while. It’s also the only one with a traditional verse/chorus structure. “Animals” is the conclusion of stories about our relation to “subjective time,” life and death. It had to be tense and nervous to close the chapter. The lyrics deal with our hopelessness to create Time, and how mankind always wants to distort or break it. In a more general way, it’s a reflection on how we try to take the power on something that seems concrete to us, but is nothing more than a idea, a piece of our soul that we will carry until an hypothetical end. I hope you will enjoy this new song as much as we took pleasure to write and record it.

StoneBirds is:
Fañch : guitare/chant
Sylvain : basse/choeurs
Antoine : batterie
Alx : son

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Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean Premiere “Confusion Hath Fuck His Masterpiece” from Decay and Other Hopes Against Progress

Posted in audiObelisk on September 5th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

chained-to-the-bottom-of-the-ocean

Sludge extremists Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean are set to release their debut album, Decay and Other Hopes Against Progress Sept. 15 through Howling Frequency Records. Beyond that, the tracklisting and the fact that the band is based in Springfield, Massachusetts, precious little is known about the band or the record, and by “precious little,” I mean basically nothing. Who the band is, how many of them there are, from the lineups of which other of the Bay State’s many extreme pummelers that membership might be drawn, I’ve no idea. There isn’t even a picture to go from. Hence the art above.

But they’re really fucking heavy, really fucking nasty and as is the case with the best of New England’s bands, you can hear the legacy of claustrophobic Puritan paranoia and the changing of the leaves in the opener “Confusion Hath Fuck His Masterpiece”chained-to-the-bottom-of-the-ocean-decay-and-other-hopes-against-progress from the record, so at least there’s that to go on. Following in the sludgy methods of masters like GriefChained to the Bottom of the Ocean adds formidable and ambience heft to this misanthropic legacy of critique and aural brutality, and while they clearly have a thing for cumbersome titles, their message comes through with cruel efficiency in the key line, “Beware: a fire is coming to blow away your chains.” It is a warning that feels as much about a greater human situation as about the record itself.

I still haven’t heard the full album, so I can’t speak to what the rest of it might have to offer, but along with that anchoring lyric, “Confusion Hath Fuck His Masterpiece” works in two parts, so as you make your way through the premiere below and it cuts to silence at about three and a half minutes into the total 6:44, rest assured, there’s more onslaught to come. Echoing screams, vicious plod and tones of depth enough to earn the band’s moniker pervade, and however much the rest of Decay and Other Hopes Against Progress might follow suit in atmosphere and form, “Confusion Hath Fuck His Masterpiece” makes a terrifying first impression. “Beware: a fire is coming.”

Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean had some comment on the social theme of the song in appropriately strong image, and you’ll find that under the player below, as well as the aforementioned tracklisting and links so you can keep up heading into the Sept. 15 release.

Please enjoy:

Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean on “Confusion Hath Fuck His Masterpiece”:

“The song is about peasant revolts. It’s about putting every king’s head on a pike and getting out from underneath corruption, false leaders, and the failures of government (democratic or not). It’s about the necessary hostile disarming of today’s world powers.”

Tracklisting:
1. Confusion Hath Fuck His Masterpiece
2. The Mutes Have Begun to Speak
3. Four Cubits and a Span
4. The Dead Who Climb Up to the Sky
5. Hollow Feeds the Emptying Death
6. Escape! Harmony is Disclosure

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Archaeopia Records Announces The Sun, The Moon, The Mountain Compilation; Cyanna Mercury Track Premieres

Posted in audiObelisk, Whathaveyou on September 4th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Click play at the bottom of this post to stream the premiere of a new Cyanna Mercury track featured on the upcoming compilation The Sun, the Moon, the Mountain from Archaeopia Records. The song is titled ‘The Flood’ and it’s one of five to be featured on the vinyl release, which is appropriately subtitled as ‘A Passage Through Greek Psychedelia,’ and which also features works by Tau in collaboration with Villagers of Ionnina City, The Road Miles, Craang, Green Yeti and Sleepin Pillow. Six bands on five tracks for a 36-minute deluxe LP that’s rich in vibe throughout and brimming with homage to Greece’s history in heavy, in mythology, and more.

At the same time, if you needed further evidence of the heavy psych and heavy rock explosion happening in Greece right now, at this very moment, look no further. Archaeopia isn’t just highlighting random bands — these acts have been selected and curated for an offering that flows from front to back across its two sides — and not only are they relevant to the past, but to the future of the Greek scene as well. As the label’s slogan goes: “Where Cosmic Beats Vibrate the Deathless Soil.” Clearly we’re looking to cross a span of time here.

That admirable mission bears some righteous fruit on the LP, about which you can read more below ahead of preorders going live in the coming weeks for the Fall release. I’ll have a review up as well soon, so keep an eye out, and the meantime, enjoy the track premiere:

va-the-sun-the-moon-the-mountain

The Sun. The Moon. The Mountain. Three fundamental elements of the Greek psyche. From the Homeric hymns of the fiery-stallion-riding sun-god Helios and his ethereal sister Selene, goddess of the moon, to the myriad myths and legends surrounding the highlands and the consecration of Mount Olympus as the dwelling of the gods, these inextricable components of the Greek landscape, brimming with rich symbolism and religious gravitas, have dominated indigenous lore, mythology, literature, poetry and music for millennia.

In modern-day Greece, one of the music genres that largely incorporated with such symbols and concepts of old -either lyrically or musically- is undoubtedly psychedelic rock. The pioneering work of Socrates Drank The Conium and Aphrodite’s Child in the seventies, established the connection between Greek psychedelic music and religious/folkloric themes. Vangelis’ epically toned solo career focused on mythical ideas, while psych bards Purple Overdose delved deeper into the magical mysticism of antiquity.

Today we’re amidst a full-on psychedelic rock revival. New bands emerge consecutively, recalling old motifs on one hand, contributing essentially to the genre with new ideas on the other, whereas occult and spiritual notions are commonplace. With this release we want to honour the ever-growing Greek psychedelic rock scene that stands strong in the current global renaissance of the genre.

Juxtaposing our title to the collection of songs featured on this vinyl, the following concept might arise: The sun represents psychedelic rock in its most lurid expression, a euphoric desert plain walkabout towards a bacchic celebration of light. The moon takes us on a slow-burning trip into the night, with the melancholic exaltation of glazed psychedelia. The mountain is manifested by a massive wall of sound, evoking visions of dark rites and primordial cults. Each featured band mirrors a singular element,
steering into a substantial whole.

The Sun. The Moon. The Mountain. As influential and imposing and radiant as ever. Enjoy!

Tracklisting:
SIDE A THE SUN, THE MOON
TAU & VILLAGERS OF IOANNINA CITY, WAKEY WAKEY
THE ROAD MILES, 600 MILES
CYANNA MERCURY, THE FLOOD
SLEEPIN PILLOW, AMPLIFIER IN MY HEART

SIDE B THE MOUNTAIN
GREEN YETI, MONKEY RIDERS
CRAANG, WHEN IN RUINS

All tracks are original recordings, except “600 Miles” by The Road Miles, featured in the album “Ballads for the Wasteland” and “Amplifier In My Heart” by Sleepin Pillow, featured in the album “Apples On An Orange Tree”, both newly remastered and presented in vinyl format for the first time.

Artwork by Fotis Varthis. Woodcut engraved, inked and printed by hand on Rosaspina Fabriano 180gr paper by the artist. Watch the entire procedure here: youtu.be/w5QI9L36ICE

www.behance.net/FotisVarthis
cargocollective.com/FotisVarthis

Assembled by Theo Prasidis
Post-mastered by George Nikoglou

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Review & Full Album Premiere: Argus, From Fields of Fire

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on September 1st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

argus-from-fields-of-fire

[Click play above to stream From Fields of Fire by Argus in its entirety. Album is out Sept. 8 via Cruz del Sur Music.]

Even before they get to the sweeping guitar triumph of “216,” Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania metallers Argus have long since secured their victory on From Fields of Fire, their fourth long-player and third for Cruz del Sur Music. Earlier wins come via the striking post-intro salvo of “Devils of Your Time” and “As a Thousand Thieves,” which take flight from the subdued beginning “Into the Fields of Fire” gives to the proceedings and never stop to look back. The five-piece are now a decade removed from their first demo and eight years on from making their self-titled debut (review here) through Shadow Kingdom, and after blending doom, power, classic and progressive metals across that record, 2011’s Boldly Stride the Doomed (discussed here) and 2013’s Beyond the Martyrs (review here) which followed, they’ve never come through quite so stately as they do in the nine tracks and 55 minutes of From Fields of Fire.

Joining vocalist Brian “Butch” Balich (ex-Penance, also Arduini / Balich), guitarist Jason Mucio and drummer Kevin Latchaw are new guitarist Dave Watson (who also produced) and bassist Justin Campbell, and whether it’s the fist-pump hook of “You are the Curse” (video posted here) or the suitably reddened Brad Moore cover art out front, From Fields of Fire does not fix what was never broken in the band’s sound, instead bringing a new degree of refinement and poise to their metallic sonic brew, righteously oldschool and every bit living up to the cliché of “firing on all cylinders” — one can listen to just about any of these tracks and find it driven equally by the guitar, bass, drums and vocals. That balance, toyed with here and there as Balich pushes his powerful voice on “As a Thousand Thieves” and the guitars match step for leads as the 11-minute “Infinite Lives, Infinite Doors” draws to its finish, stands among the most effective elements of From Fields of Fire, and taken as a consideration in kind with the level of songcraft displayed throughout, the album unmistakably makes its case for Argus to stand among the US’ most underrated classic metal bands.

It’s not necessarily that Argus are doing anything so revolutionary in tracks like the aforementioned “216” or the later “Hour of Longing” and “No Right to Grieve” as relates to their past work. While they started out more tipped toward the doomly end of the spectrum and have since come around to follow impulses less hindered by tempo — to wit, the windmill-headbang worthy chug of “Devils of Your Time” and the forward thrust in the verses of “Hour of Longing” so effectively pushed by Campbell‘s bass — From Fields of Fire is more a continuation of their ongoing growth than a departure of sorts from what they’ve done before. Again, their sound wasn’t broken. Considering their longest break between full-lengths prior to the four years that split Beyond the Martyrs and From Fields of Fire was half that duration — albums in 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2017 — it’s entirely possible these songs have been worked on longer, tightened more over time, and if that’s the case, it’s to their benefit, but the production value brought to the lumbering “No Right to Grieve,” which immediately precedes the closing outro “From the Fields of Fire,” and the shimmer it gives to the lead work on “Infinite Lives, Infinite Doors,” “As a Thousand Thieves” — and really all the rest included — isn’t to be understated.

With Watson at the helm, Argus hone a brisk, sharp and crisp feel excellently suited to the spaciousness such an epic feel requires. That is, in rawer form, the already-noted instrumental opening of “216” might fall flat, but because it comes through so clearly and because there’s room for a volume swell and that lead layer at just the right moment (looking at you, two-minute mark), Argus come across as positively masterful even before Balich serves yet another reminder of just how much he brings to the band in presence, arrangement and delivery. As metal frontmen go, he has the precision of a power metaller and the guttural passion of a doomer, and though I wouldn’t take anything away from his past work, it’s easy to argue that From Fields of Fire finds him just as much at the top of his game as it does the rest of the band around him.

And ultimately, the story of Argus‘ fourth LP is what was said at the outset: a triumph. From the production to the performances to the arrangements and the structures that serve as their foundation, to moments like the fluid shift between grandiose verse/chorus interplay and the instrumental building midsection of “Infinite Lives, Infinite Doors” to the way “Into Fields of Fire” mounts tension to lead the way for “Devils of Your Time” and the way the acoustic first half of “From the Fields of Fire” fades out to let the album wrap with a darker wash of noise, every minute, every part, brims with purpose, even if that purpose is to convey a turn of mood or shift between one tempo and another. From Fields of Fire underscores Argus‘ particular style, and while one can point to certain aspects of it and hear SabbathPriestMaiden, etc., there’s never any point at which they lose sight of sounding most of all like themselves.

In this way, they bring a sense of vitality to the classic metal at their foundation while also keeping the tonal heft in Campbell‘s bass and the guitars of Watson and Mucio to still carry a doomed feel along with them that comes to an emotional head with “No Right to Grieve.” That track, as the last in a series of seven one-int0-the-next epics, arrives at perhaps the most forceful crescendo of Argus‘ career to-date, and every bit earns its position as their final statement before “From the Fields of Fire” draws the offering down to its finish. Bottom line? Argus are nothing less than a heavy metal treasure. With class and grace they find a position for themselves between various subgenres that plays to familiar styles while carving out their own identity through memorable hooks, breathtaking execution and an unmitigated will to move forward creatively from release to release. Four years might’ve been a long wait for From Fields of Fire, but like the best of the classics, no question this one will stand the test of time.

Argus, “You are the Curse” lyric video

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Biblical Premiere “The Last Thing I Remember”; The City that Always Sleeps Due Sept. 15

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on August 31st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

biblical

Toronto heavy space rockers Biblical release their new album, The City that Always Sleeps, Sept. 15 via Tee Pee Records. The band’s second full-length behind 2014’s Monsoon Season and a prior 2012 self-titled EP (review here), it is an eight-track/37-minute excursion that makes mincemeat of various heavy vibes, here explosive in its noise-punker tension, there serene with flowing piano and fluid rhythmic push, shifting into languid drifts of space-bound guitar, Floydian grace and Hawkwindian thrust meeting head-on with harsher impulses as led by vocalist/bassist Nick Sewell. Dynamic in sound and genuinely broad in its reach — that is to say, it’s not just heavy and heavier riffs; there’s real variety between songs like “Regicide” and “Gallows Humor” and “Spiral Staircase” and “House of Knives” — it lets pieces like the penultimate title-track hold a feeling of expanded consciousness and expanded spaciousness while still remaining relatively compact in the actual delivery.

That cut, on which Sewell‘s vocals emerge and recede like an effects-laden ghost of humanity washing up on some abandoned shore, find the bassist as well as guitarist/synthesist Andrew Scott, guitarist Matt McLaren and drummer Jay Anderson (also of Tee Pee labelmates Comet Control) easing their way toward a dramatic pinnacle that gives into feedback and keyboard textures before transitioning into closer “House of Knives,” touching off a subtle cast of progressive New Wave that’s foreshadowed in “Regicide.” No song passes the six-minute mark — the title-track is closest at 5:57 — but the amount of ground Biblical cover throughout is nothing short of staggering, and the confidence behind their delivery makes it so that wherever they tread in a given section, as shown in the one-two punch of blistering/howling opener “Mature Themes” and the drifting, dreamily cascading second track “The Last Thing I Remember,” they carry the listener with them on this outward journey of such righteously cosmic proportion.

biblical the city that always sleepsLikewise, no single song speaks for the entirety of The City that Always Sleeps. With its proggier initial bounce, harsher vocals, emergent wash of noise and antigravity-feedback finish, “House of Knives” might come close, but even that doesn’t necessarily convey the patient spirit Biblical demonstrate in “Fugue State” — arguably their most space-rocking installment, brilliantly paying off early drum tension with a triumphant second-half guitar solo from McLaren — or the hypnotic melodicism of “The Last Thing I Remember,” let alone the Farflung-style, could-go-anywhere desert jangle of “Gallows Humor,” on which a far-back vocal from Sewell echoes out behind a vast landscape of guitar, bass, drums and keys. It wouldn’t be right to call Biblical experimental, because while they may have those roots in their composition, they’re not just throwing ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks; their songs feel meticulously constructed, detailed down to the balance of the guitar squibblies, strum and keyboard notes that cap the aforementioned “Gallows Humor” and lead the way into the piano-over-waves start of “Spiral Staircase,” and that impression remains consistent no matter where an individual part finds them.

In fact, that might be what most ties the material together on The City that Always Sleeps and lets the album flow as a single work. While there’s no question Biblical convey an exploratory sensibility, their overarching purpose still lies in songwriting. It just so happens to be they’re capable of multi-tiered expression through that on a level that, simply put, not every band can or does reach. No doubt The City that Always Sleeps will fly under the radar for many. It’s not Tee Pee‘s highest-profile release of 2017 by any stretch, and it’s easy to imagine the complexity across its span requires a level of engagement and attention that not everyone will be willing to give it. That doesn’t mean Biblical aren’t having a conversation with their listeners here, just that it’s an intelligent one and that they’re asking questions in addition to laying out declarations in the songs. In other words, it’s worth staying awake for it. For those who do take the record on and give it its due, the results should be accordingly satisfying, as the band hone a sonic persona that is truly their own and offer a style bold in reach and tightly executed. There isn’t a moment here that doesn’t brim with the fullness of its realization.

Below, you can hear the premiere of “The Last Thing I Remember,” followed by some comment from Sewell on the track’s panned drums and inspirations. One more time, Biblical‘s The City that Always Sleeps is out Sept. 15 on Tee Pee.

Please enjoy:

Biblical, “The Last Thing I Remember” official premiere

Nick Sewell on “The Last Thing I Remember”:

“The Last Thing I Remember” ended up being one of my favorite songs on the record. But sometimes it’s tough to figure out what a song wants to be. We actually toyed with keeping this song instrumental, but once we got the idea for those creepy group vocals with the repeating delay we knew we had the missing ingredient — like a cult, chanting.

The mix was also challenge. With rock records, there’s a tendency to go with a very symmetrical mix where you double track everything and pan it out. While that can give you a solid mix, it can also be a little bland. We decided to take chance and hard pan the drums opposite those big minor chords to give it an early ’60s vibe. We’re all big David Axelrod fans, so that was a little nod to him.

Lyrically, the song is pretty much exactly what the title implies: rummaging through memories, picking up individual shards and holding them up to the light.

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The City that Always Sleeps preorder at Tee Pee Records

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Ufomammut, 8: Infinity Turns Sideways (Plus Full Album Stream)

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on August 30th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

ufomammut 8

[Click play above to stream Ufomammut’s new album, 8, in full. Album is out Sept. 22 on Neurot and Supernatural Cat.]

Of the various words and phrases that might come to mind when considering Italian cosmic doom masters Ufomammut, ‘concise’ is probably pretty low on the list. Yet that’s exactly one of the most striking impressions made by 8, their aptly-titled eighth long-player and third for Neurot Recordings behind 2015’s Ecate (review here) and the preceding 2012 two-parter, Oro: Opus Primum (review here) and Oro: Opus Alter (review here). At 47:16, it’s about as long as was Ecate, but it uses its time for eight songs instead of that record’s six, and would seem to be continuing a progression toward efficiency of approach that record set forth, drawing back from the expanses of Oro or 2010’s single-song Eve (review here) in favor of a more immediate sonic impact. Of course, it’s still Ufomammut we’re talking about. Even when they were in their nascent stages across early releases like 2000’s Godlike Snake, 2004’s Snailking (discussed here) or 2005’s Lucifer Songs before 2008’s Idolum really marked the point of their arrival to wider consciousness as stylistic innovators (which they already had been for years at that point, but still), they went big in terms of sound, and 8 offers plenty of expanse, whether it’s in the nine-minute reaches of “Zodiac” or the radical tempo shifts of “Prismaze.”

But it becomes a question of context. 8 is Ufomammut‘s first album in more than a decade on which no song passes the mark of being 10 minutes long — that’s counting Eve as one track — and it’s not just about runtime. While opener “Babel” sets in motion at a steady roll, not necessarily in a rush but not gruelingly slow either, tripping out in its second half as bassist/keyboardist/vocalist Urlo, guitarist/keyboardist Poia and drummer Vita, set up an apex of crush to follow, subsequent cuts “Warsheep” and “Zodiac” build a tension that extends well past the midpoint of the latter and even then only recedes momentarily before reigniting. And as 8 continues to move forward, it becomes increasingly clear that the character of the album is as much about head-down intensity as it is about the sense of galactic expansion that seems to have always been so essential to Ufomammut‘s output.

As it invariably would, 8 brings new context to the turn of approach that really started with Ecate coming off of Oro, the 2015 outing serving as the point at which Ufomammut embarked on the redirection that continues here in songs like the thrusting four-minute “Fatum” or the aforementioned “Prismaze” that follows — both with their space-bound aspects, both with an overarching vibe of getting down to business as quickly as possible. But whether taken as part of the ongoing narrative of the three-piece’s progression or on its own merits, the album unquestionably succeeds in what it seems to set out to do, which is to blend expanse of sound with lung-collapsing tonal and rhythmic crush. There is much about it that will be familiar to longtime followers of the band, from the way its tracks jump right from one to the next — often in time or with noted and purposefully jarring tempo shifts, like different movements of one whole work — to the watery effects on Urlo‘s vocals, but as identifiable as these elements are, Ufomammut continue to develop their craft as well, and while some individual pieces throughout may be shorter, there’s no question of the purpose in how they’re tied together.

ufomammut

It’s audible in the crash that bridges “Prismaze” and “Core” and in the way the penultimate “Wombdemonium” — the shortest cut on 8 at just three minutes long — feeds into the Isis-style drum patterning of closer “Psyrcle.” Those connections definitely become more prevalent across side B, which before hitting the “Psyrcle” (7:44) moves through the already-noted shorter cuts, as opposed to “Babel” (8:23) “Warsheep” (5:06) and “Zodiac” (9:27) on side A, but even as “Zodiac” slams into its swirling finish before the chugging opening riff of “Fatum” takes hold — another direct transition for those listening digitally or on CD, in indeed I’m even right about where the vinyl divides — the band makes it plain that how one song converses with its surroundings is as important to the entire work of 8 as the standout moments of each song itself, be it devastatingly heavy, manic push and shouts of “Core” or the build that seems to take place in condensed fashion across “Warsheep” earlier, that track resolving itself in a Sleep-worthy nod at its midpoint before a tempo kick brings it to its final movement.

And if one thinks about the title, 8, it kind of makes sense — at least in a similar, on-their-own-wavelength manner as to thinking of the tracks as concise. It’s not just about the number eight, or the fact that this is Ufomammut‘s eighth long-player — it’s their ninth if we count Oro‘s two parts individually or consider the 2014 15th anniversary release, XV (review here) — but the shape of it. Imagine taking the number and stretching it out to a single, straight line. Now draw it back and twist it on itself. It loops around. It intertwines. 8, the album, functions much the same way. The material that comprises it can be taken as individual bursts, but each serves the richer notion of the whole (the proverbial “greater sum”) when brought together, and in that regard, stark changes like the way “Zodiac” seems to come to halt before lurching forth again with some of the most universe-swallowing noise here presented, or the way “Psyrcle” hits its brakes after three minutes in from its initial verses peppered with extra vocal layers — are those children singing? — and explodes in a fury of double-kick drum gallop and brain-searing fretwork, become fragments of a larger musical narrative taking shape over the course of the album.

Whether this concept is something Ufomammut embarked on consciously or it’s simply a matter of a fan-nerd reading too much into a progression between tracks, they made the choice to put these songs in this order with the lack of space between them and in so doing give 8 a personality that even as it seems to tighten the reins from Ecate succeeds in moving Ufomammut stylistically forward. It’s not necessarily just about them getting huger and huger-sounding anymore, but about what can they do within and between the spaces they’re creating. Taking this notion in context with the immediacy of what they’re actually crafting, 8 is all the more an achievement for the nuance it brings to the established parameters of Ufomammut‘s sound and the ways in which the three-piece persist in redrawing their own boundaries.

Ufomammut, “Warsheep” official video

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Review & Track Premiere: Motorpsycho, The Tower

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on August 28th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

motorpsycho the tower

[Click play above to stream ‘A.S.F.E.’ from Motorpsycho’s The Tower. Album is out Sept. 8 via Stickman Records and Rune Grammofon.]

Maybe remaining Motorpsycho founders Bent Sæther and Hans Magnus “Snah” Ryan feel they have something to prove with their latest long-player, The Tower. For what it’s worth, they’re probably mistaken about that. The Trondheim natives are already in Norway’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and since first getting together in 1989, they’ve become a crucial influence in progressive, heavy and psychedelic rock across Scandinavia and greater Europe. They’ve scored plays, collaborated with orchestras, written commissioned works and been heralded by audiences and critics alike. Though they’re viciously under-known in the US, they’ve released upwards of 20 LPs, plus other singles and short releases, at a blazingly prolific rate, and constantly offered their listeners sonic development while retaining an identity that is unmistakably their own. Books have been written about them. Films made. To put it another way, they’re a big frickin’ deal, and they have been for quite some time.

In 2016, Sæther (who handles lead vocals, bass, guitar, keys and drums and also played in Spidergawd for their first three records) and Ryan (guitar, vocals, keys, bass and various other strings) said goodbye to longtime drummer Kenneth Kapstad (also and still of Spidergawd) following the particularly proggy Here be Monsters full-length, and with The Tower (released by Rune Grammofon in Norway and Stickman Records for the rest of Europe), they’ve redirected their efforts toward sounding fully reenergized. No doubt the acquisition of drummer Tomas Järmyr has something to do with that — the infusion of fresh blood seems to have brought a restorative effect even to the pacing of serene, drumless moments like the harmonies of the Mellotron-laced “Stardust” — but however it got there, The Tower comes across as a burst of creativity from Motorpsycho, continuing the progressive, forward march of Here be Monsters while also landing with a considerably heavier tonal impact on songs like the opening salvo of the title-track and “Bartok of the Universe,” as well as “In Every Dream Home (There’s a Dream of Something Else),” and the closing pair of “The Cuckoo” and “Ship of Fools.”

Now, it can be a fine line, because The Tower still shares plenty of the post-Greg Lake-era King Crimsoned progadelic pastoralism of its predecessor, but to put it in terms of that band, it’s like the difference between “The Court of the Crimson King” and “21st Century Schizoid Man,” where Here be Monsters is the former and The Tower is the latter. Still in the same vein, but by seamlessly integrating Järmyr into the trio, Motorpsycho can remain as intricate in their composition and arrangements as they were with Kapstad behind the kit, while offering more thrust behind The Tower in cuts like “A.S.F.E.” (an acronym for “a song for everyone”), which seems to imagine what would happen if “Weird Al” Yankovic decided to go space rock — hint: it would be awesome — and the subsequent “Intrepid Explorer,” which builds in a patient swell of melody to one of the album’s most satisfying payoffs before receding into the folkish “Stardust.” Of course, Motorpsycho are still very much Motorpsycho, but as they have all along, during Kapstad‘s 10-plus years with the band and before that as well, they’re making efforts to reshape that definition for themselves and their followers.

motorpsycho

Does it work? Yes, it does. The Tower is a significant climb, and well past the standards of manageability with its 10-track and nearly 85-minute runtime. But the final three tracks, the dreamy-into-percussive “A Pacific Sonata” and the aforementioned “The Cuckoo” and “Ship of Fools” consume more than 37 minutes of that on their own, and a clear 2LP structure to the placement of the songs — with “The Tower,” “Bartok of the Universe” and “A.S.F.E.” as side A, “Intrepid Explorer,” “Stardust” and “In Every Dream Home (There’s a Dream of Something Else)” as side B, the mood-setting psych-folk of “The Maypole” moving into “A Pacific Sonata” for side C and “The Cuckoo” and “Ship of Fools” as a final immersion on side D — makes it that much easier for the listener to put their trust in Sæther, Ryan and Järmyr for the duration. A clear shift in purpose between the first and second platters, from the harder prog of the earlier cuts to the peaceful vibes of “The Maypole” and “Pacific Sonata” — prefaced somewhat by “Stardust” — and the okay-now-it’s-time-to-get-swallowed-in-this closing statement of “The Cuckoo” and “Ship of Fools” (despite the memorable hook of the latter), only reinforces the message to those who’d engage with the material:

Relax. You’re in the hands of professionals.

Maybe it is that overarching sense of command that lets Motorpsycho not only introduce Järmyr without missing a beat (pun totally intended; why even ask?), but do so with a consuming double-LP nearly twice as long as its predecessor and arriving just a year later. If that’s the case, then Ryan and Sæther‘s many years working together are a context from which The Tower can’t and shouldn’t be divorced, but if they’re motivated by a need to reinforce their own will to keep going despite the lineup change or if they’ve simply hit a creative burst, the results are a triumph in these songs. Whether it’s in the longer-form explorations of “A Pacific Sonata” and “Ship of Fools” — the keys alone of which make it a highlight, let alone all the torrential churn surrounding at its apex — the quirky craftsmanship of “Bartok of the Universe” and “A.S.F.E.,” the brief acoustic excursions of “Stardust” and “The Maypole” or the arc-defining prog of the title-track, “Intrepid Explorer,” “In Every Dream Home (There’s a Dream of Something Else)” and “The Cuckoo,” there isn’t a moment that doesn’t earn its place, and as few 2LPs can, The Tower brings forth coherent realization without giving up on the varied nature of its delivery.

That is to say, Motorpsycho chart a difficult course for themselves and then navigate it with enviable ease. Longtime listeners would expect no less of them, but The Tower remains a marked achievement in a discography crowded with them, and if it’s signaling the start of a new era for the band, one can only look forward to the growth Motorpsycho will continue to foster as they inch closer to 30 years on from their beginning. They sound, and are, vital.

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