San Francisco Trip, Pt. 3: The Calling

Posted in Buried Treasure, Features on July 16th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

aquarius records

07.15.15 — 10:10PM Pacific — Wed. night — Hotel California (yes, really)

It occurred to me this evening that I’ve had about two and a half hours of “free time” on this trip and I’ve spent it all record shopping. That’s not a complaint, but I’ve had people offer to meet up and stuff and I haven’t quite had the time I anticipated for such things between work obligations and writing at night. Again, I’m not complaining. I’ve worked for a company for less than two months that’s willing to fly my ass quite literally across a continent and trust me to represent them to the best of my admittedly limited ability at a meeting of potential clients and professional cohorts. I’m remarkably fortunate to be here. I’m also very, very tired.

Still, when it came to it, and I had that little bit of time to spare today, I jumped in the first cab that I saw with its light on and told the dude to make for Aquarius Records. It was payday and I had an itch that only another round of record shopping was going to scratch. I probably could have gone back to Amoeba Music and found more stuff in that giant space, but the smaller, curated vibe of Aquarius was just my speed this evening.

I took my time, thumbed through the CD racks of the San Francisco section, the rock/pop, the metal sections both new and used, eyed up some stuff in the boxes under the used section — two albums by Mammoth Volume there, but I have them already — and reminded myself that between yesterday and today, this has kind of become my celebration of returning to the working world, so yeah, I splurged a bit. I picked up a thing or two that on some other days I might have let go, decided to let it ride and be what it is. The fact that it was also payday might have been a factor. That’s a question for hindsight and I don’t have the proper distance to evaluate.

The haul? Here it is, once more alphabetically:

Aarni, Bathos
Across Tundras, Old World Wanderer
Bedemon, Child of Darkness
Carlton Melton, Out to Sea
Children of Doom, Ride over the Green Valley
Elder, Spires Burn/Release
Elder, Lore
Evil Acidhead, In the Name of all that is Unholy
Holy Serpent, Holy Serpent
Pyramido, Sand
Pyramido, Saga
Slough Feg, Made in Poland
The Warlocks, The Warlocks
White Hills, So You Are… so You’ll Be

aqurius records haulOnce again, all CDs. I know it’s not as cool as vinyl, but fuck it. If any of you vinyl hounds want to sell me your CD collection, let me know. I’ll buy that shit. I’ll be the last dude on earth buying CDs for all I care. Whatever. They’re still making them for the most part, so yeah, I’ll still buy them.

The find of the bunch is probably that self-titled EP by The Warlocks, which came out in 2000 on Bomp! Records and was their debut. It was used and cheap, so that was cool. Two of the bunch I already own, but the Across Tundras was also about $5 and the Bedemon is the newer Relapse Records version, so I figured what the hell. True, I was here last year and stopped by the shop when I was out on tour with the Kings Destroy guys — SF resident Jim Pitts included, while I’m thinking of good people I haven’t had the chance to see — but it’s not something I do every day. I pick up things here and there, mostly online at this point, so to actually be in a store and have the chance to browse and enjoy the process, I wanted to do precisely that.

I know Carlton Melton are local to NorCal, so I grabbed that seeing it on the counter by the register, and Evil Acidhead was one of the staff recommendations — if you ever go to Aquarius Records, pay attention; these people know what they’re talking about — and since I knew it’s a reissue of old recordings by John McBain (Monster Magnet, Wellwater Conspiracy) it seemed like one to grab. Both of those Elder discs I have on vinyl, but I wanted the CDs, and while it would make the most sense to go to Armageddon Shop one of the apparently multiple times of a week I drive past Providence on I-95 and pick them up there, I haven’t actually managed to make that happen. Seeing an opportunity, I took it.

Slough Feg‘s 2011 live record, Made in Poland, was used, so that was a no-brainer, and I ran into both Pyramido albums — their first, Sand, used and a buck, their third, 2013’s Saga, new — on opposite sides of the store and picked them up almost independently of each other, hesitating but ultimately nabbing the recently-reviewed self-titled from Holy Serpent because, fuck it, it’s a RidingEasy release and I don’t see that every day in a store. The White Hills was used and I grabbed it thinking of their set at Roadburn this year and how underappreciated they are generally — not that my buying a disc makes up for that, but you know what I mean.

Two purchases I went into completely blind: the Aarni and Children of Doom. Aarni is a one-man Finnish outfit for whom Bathos served as a debut full-length in 2004, and knowing nothing about it, I saw the cover was all mushrooms and that it was on the Firedoom Music label — actually it’s the first release on the label; catalog number FDOOM001 — so I assumed I would be getting something Finnish, strange and doomed, and sure enough that’s how it’s played out so far. French trio Children of Doom‘s self-released 2009 debut EP, Ride over the Green Valley, won me over both for its cover art and for the written-out description of the album, which rightly compared its tones to namesake act Saint Vitus. I hear a bit of Ice Dragon‘s swaggering fuckall in there as well. No complaints. The band’s debut LP, Doom, Be Doomed, ör Fuck Off, came out in 2011, but if Aquarius had it, it wasn’t in my line of sight.

Back to the hotel after to start writing and get my head around the day. I ate the same thing I had for dinner last night — flautas from the taqueria across the street — while checking email to try and keep up on that. As one might expect, it didn’t really work. Still, at least if I have to be behind on absolutely everything, at least I managed to pick up some good records in the process.

I fly out tomorrow night late on a redeye to Boston that gets in Friday morning. The only way to travel. Maybe it’ll also be five hours delayed and turn into a morning flight. Haven’t slept at an airport in a while anyway.

Children of Doom, “Hangover”

Aquarius Records website

Aquarius Records on Thee Facebooks

Aquarius Records on Twitter

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San Francisco Trip, Pt 2: Cobras and Fire

Posted in Buried Treasure, Features on July 15th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

amoeba music san francisco storefront

When in Rome, you do as the Romans. When in Cali, you get your ass to Amoeba Music. An Amoeba haul is a special thing. It had been five years — half a decade! — since the last time I set foot in Amoeba‘s San Francisco store, right on Haight Street, more or less the birthplace of American counterculture, or at very least where it moved to from the Midwest because it was okay to be weird there. It is a shop we must remember we are fortunate to still have in existence. Places like Sound Garden in Baltimore, Vintage Vinyl in my beloved Garden State, and the three Amoebas in San Fran, Berkeley and L.A. are treasures. Landmarks. Their preservation may not be government-sanctioned, but they’re no less essential as living monuments of our age.

I’d gotten in after two in the morning. My flight from Boston to SFO was delayed… by five and a half hours. Something about a flat tire on the plane that then wound up requiring an entirely different aircraft altogether. Oh, we sat, and sat. Supposed to be a 5PM flight, took off just after 10:30. What a shitter, but at least it took off at all. I slept about 20 minutes on the plane — remember, with the time zone shift, a 2AM West Coast arrival is still 5AM to my very red East Coast eyes — and then crashed at the hotel, woke up this morning and spent the bulk of they day shaking hands at the convention that brought me out here, trading business cards and the like. All the while, lurking at the back of my mind was Amoeba Music, its call resonating like a dogwhistle nobody else around me could hear. I could’ve cried when I got out of the cab and it was there, just like I remembered.

Seems likely there was more vinyl around than five years ago, though I wouldn’t commit to that 100 percent, not really remembering one way or the other, but in any case, I still found plenty in the CD racks; the notion of traveling with LPs, the general expenditure and desire to actually listen to the music keeping me to the more compressed format, and no regrets. Here’s what I grabbed, alphabetically:

Acid King, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere
Black Rainbows, Carmina Diablo
Electric Wizard, Time to Die
Horsehunter, Caged in Flesh
Monolord, Vaenir
Parliament, Motor Booty Affair
Stoneburner, Caged in Flesh
SubRosa, More Constant than the Gods
Swans, To be Kind
Tekhton, Alluvial
Wino & Conny Ochs, Latitudes
Wovenhand, Refractory Obdurate

amoeba haulOf those, it turns out the Black Rainbows was a double. I suspected as much, but I spotted it at the front of the clearance section and it was a dollar, so I figured even if I had it, another wouldn’t hurt. Getting stuff like the Acid King and Monolord was nigh on mandatory, the former because it’s San Francisco and that album is incredible and the latter because it’s a RidingEasy Records release and while I’m pretty sure that label is headquartered south of here, you don’t find that stuff every day on the Eastern Seaboard.

Conversely, I was looking for a bunch of stuff from Tee PeeMirror Queen, The Atomic Bitchwax, Death Alley — that was seemingly nowhere to be found, and I wondered if geographic distance between myself and the NY-based label didn’t have something to do with it. The rule is you take what you can get, and I was happy to do that. The Horsehunter was also absurdly cheap, I’m not really sure why. Between that and the Black Rainbows, it was much easier to justify paying upwards of $14 for new discs and $20 for the Labour of Love Latitudes session from Wino & Conny Ochs. I was on the phone griping to The Patient Mrs. as I walked around the store that somehow even though compact discs are “out of fashion” prices haven’t come down on them and she reminded me to think of it as a premium for being in a place so awesome. She was, of course, 100 percent right. Issue resolved.

Parliament‘s Motor Booty Affair to feed my continued funk addiction, and Stoneburner mostly because it was there, it’s Neurot and I don’t already have it. The Swans is the three-disc special edition of last year’s To be Kind (review here) that also comes with a live DVD as a bonus. Can’t imagine I’ll ever watch the thing, but it’s nice to have. Speaking of stuff I won’t actually put on, I know for a fact I haven’t listened to the Electric Wizard since I reviewed it (the promo was digital), but I heard something about them having a spat with Spinefarm over money or some such and that the album was subsequently out of print, so I figured better now than five years from now on eBay or Amazon. It will likely stay wrapped, but at least it’ll be in the library.

It’s been six years and I still recall enjoying Tekhton‘s first album, Summon the Core (review here), so to find a copy of the 2009 follow-up to that 2007 debut was cool enough to drive me toward the purchase, and Wovenhand are Wovenhand, which is all the justification that one needs. Speaking of bands who played Roadburn this year, as Wovenhand did, I nabbed 2013’s More Constant than the Gods by SubRosa mostly because I missed them at that festival and they’ve continued to haunt me ever since. I’m not sure if playing the record or having paid for it — like a church bribe — will exorcise that demon, but it seemed worth a shot. I’m sure I’ll let you know how it goes.

Tomorrow is more work stuff, starting bright and early and ending less-bright and late. I may or may not make it to Aquarius Records, as had been my hope, but if this turns out to be all the shopping I get to do on this trip, I can’t really complain. And of course, if you’re in SF, get your ass to Amoeba Music.

SubRosa, More Constant than the Gods (2013)

Amoeba Music

Amoeba San Francisco on Thee Facebooks

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Buried Treasure and the Great White Whale: Colour Haze, Seven

Posted in Buried Treasure on June 1st, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

colour-haze-seven-cd-cover

The word seems to have fallen out of use as quickly as it came into it, but I remain something of a completist, and Colour Haze‘s 1998 second full-length, Seven, has haunted the back of my mind for years. Perhaps even more since March 2012, when I shelled out for a copy of the German outfit’s moody 1995 debut, Chopping Machine (discussed here), since that made Seven the last of their full-lengths I didn’t own. The only one. To date, Colour Haze have 11 records, and just the one I didn’t have. If you listened hard enough, you could hear the teeth gnawing at me. Squint, and you could see the hole on my CD rack.

Early in 2014, I put up a review of their 2001 fifth outing, Ewige Blumenkraft, which boasts the track “House of Rushammon.” That song originally appeared on Seven, and I referred to the album in a parenthetical aside as, “the Great White Whale of my CD collection; someday I’ll own a copy and gaze upon it with pride for the remainder of my days.” Extreme, maybe, but not untrue. You might think I’m kidding around when I title these posts “Buried Treasure,” but I’m not. I place real value on owning albums, CD, LP or tape, whatever format it might be, and being the last of Colour Haze‘s work I hadn’t heard — having refused to chase down an illicit download or listen on YouTube — Seven was a genuine prize in my head.

I knew from hearing Chopping Machine and the fact that the band hadn’t reissued it that it probably wouldn’t be a landmark in terms of the actual material itself, but still. Still several years off from guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek starting his Elektrohasch Schallplaten imprint, Seven was released on CDR with inkjet-printed labels on the jokingly dubbed Self Burn Records. I don’t even know if they made 100 copies, let alone any more than that. It’s never been re-pressed, was never widely distributed, and in the wake of the brilliant offerings they’ve had since, has been largely forgotten, much, I think, by design.

A package arrived a short while ago from Munich. After that Ewige Blumenkraft review, Koglek teased that he’d have to see if he could find a “great white whale” for me, but honestly, I wasn’t holding onto much hope. Then there it was. Having just been through a move, Koglek not only found a copy of Seven, in its original jewel case with the printed liners and all, but took the time to send it over with a few other choice keepsakes to be detailed at another time, knowing that, indeed, I’d spend the rest of my days gazing on it with pride. The included note read, colour-haze-notes“Hi JJ, As it happens… it took a while but I stumbled over the ‘white whale’ for you during the preparation for our move. Hope you enjoy all the goodies a lot. :) All the best, Stefan.”

This, my friends, is the stuff of life.

I’m almost hesitant to talk too much about the album itself, since the band obviously doesn’t really want it out there or else it would be; they have their own label and haven’t been shy in the past about putting stuff out again when they feel the time and circumstances warrant. Like Chopping Machine, the audio of seven is a long way from what Colour Haze would become in years subsequent — for one thing, they’re a four-piece, with standalone vocalist Felix Neuenhoff singing and Koglek handling backing vocals and guitar while Philip Rasthofer plays bass and Manfred Merwald (listed in the liner as “Mani,” as I’ve heard others refer to him) plays drums — the trio as they are today otherwise intact.

And while one can hear where Koglek, who was at the time engaged in the work of finding his own voice, may have later taken some influence from Neuenhoff, Seven is a different vibe throughout that I think would surprise a lot of people who follow Colour Haze today, from the post-grunge grit of “Planet” to the Christian lyrical themes in “Under Water,” “Superstar” and “House of Rushammon” — those would remain intact on the re-recorded version, but the context is different — to the early-Tool-style rhythmic push of “Second Man” or “Pulse,” which also appears as an instrumental as the finale of Seven‘s 71-minute run.

Yet, particularly in light of the work they’ve done in the 17 years since, from the exploratory first steps toward their groundbreaking heavy psychedelia in the next year’s Periscope to 2015’s To the Highest Gods We Know (review here), one can hear flashes of what’s to come, in the deft turns Merwald makes sound so fluid, or in the rumble of Rasthofer‘s bass and the standalone moments of Koglek‘s guitar. They’d make that shift quickly, losing Neuenhoff within a year’s time and beginning to form the classic power trio dynamic they continue to refine, but one can hear listening to Seven the shift taking place between what they were on Chopping Machine and what they’d be on Periscope, and I consider myself unbelievably lucky to have had the chance to hear that for myself on an actual copy of the record.

Copious and heartfelt thanks to Koglek for that opportunity. Rest assured, I’ll be storing Seven somewhere with an easy line of sight.

Colour Haze, “House of Rushammon” from Seven (1998)

Colour Haze’s website

Elektrohasch Schallplatten

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Buried Treasure: Ogre, Dawn of the Proto-Man and Seven Hells Reissues

Posted in Buried Treasure on April 27th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

ogre dawn of the proto-man and seven hells cds

One hesitates uniformly to toss out words like “definitive,” but it’s hard to imagine a descriptor more accurate for Minotauro Records‘ recent reissues of the first two albums — 2003’s Dawn of the Proto-Man and 2006’s Seven Hells — by Portland, Maine, traditional doomers Ogre. The Sabbathian trio called it quits for the second time last year, but far from bitter, these thick-stock LP-style gatefold digipaks carry an air of celebration for what was always an underrated band, and prove to be archive-worthy versions of what were arguably Ogre‘s two most landmark contributions to doom.

Both are limited to 500 copies. Dawn of the Proto-Man, the debut, includes an obi-strip, a CD sleeve liner, vertical gatefold art by drummer Will Broadbent and a two-sided foldout poster that includes a larger version of the gatefold art with characters from Ogre‘s lyrics all the way up to their 2014 swan song, The Last Neanderthal (review here), the album itself, of course, plus three bonus tracks, separate liner notes written by guitarist Ross Markonish, a sticker, credits and more art on the CD sleeve. All of which can be housed in the digipak that itself fits in a protective plastic sleeve.

Packaged similarly, Seven Hells is even more expansive. A six-panel gatefold houses the CD of the album as well as a DVD with two live shows, from 2007 and 2006, filmed at Geno’s in their hometown of Portland, plus a two-sided poster with photos from throughout the band’s tenure, including the 2008 tour that took them to Japan alongside Blood Farmers and Church of Misery, as well as pics from the studio, equipment shots, and so on. It also has an obi strip proclaiming its limited edition, liner notes from Markonish and art and info on the CD sleeve expanded from the Gustave Doré cover, as well as — like on the debut — the advice to “Listen to this album as loud as humanly possible!” which is about as sagely as wisdom gets when it comes to experiencing an Ogre record, whichever one it might happen to be.

They are, in short, gorgeous, and it’s rare to see a band in doom get their due in such a fitting manner. Bassist/vocalist Ed CunninghamMarkonish and Broadbent were as much ahead of their time in their Sabbath worship as they were behind it, and each of these discs seems to be heralding these records for the special documents that they are.

To wit:

Dawn of the Proto-Man (2003)

ogre dawn of the proto-man

What’s most striking about Ogre‘s first album 12 years on isn’t how well it holds up — it does, make no mistake — but how raw it is. Ogre‘s brand of doom on Dawn of the Proto-Man is about as barebones as you can get. Guitar, bass and drums are topped off with Cunningham‘s vocals, which veer into madman shouts of various sorts on “The Jaded Beast” and “Black Death,” but for the most part retain an Ozzy-style cadence. And maybe context has something to do with this, but listening to it now, Ogre don’t sound tentative through the first record at all. They’re completely willing to stand on this sans-frills foundation. Opener “Ogre” is a clarion of classic riffery, and the swing of “Colossus” and the faster, bass-led boogie of “78” showcase all the breadth Ogre would need, each track offering something distinct from the one before it, but serving an overarching album flow. The tones aren’t overly thick, but the groove they enact is, and between doom and classic heavy rock, Ogre carved their place in stone with a sense of poise that one rarely finds credited to bands who sing about monsters, invaders from the East, etc. Its epics, “The Jaded Beast” and “Black Death” branch out smoothly with Broadbent‘s steady roll and Markonish‘s righteous leads, and already one can hear the power trio dynamic at the heart of what Ogre would accomplish together. What was a 50-minute record here stretches to 79 with the three bonus tracks, which were recorded in 2000, and have a demo feel and rougher recording, but still show that Ogre knew where they wanted to take their sound even in their earliest going.

Seven Hells (2006)

ogre seven hells

Launching with “Dogmen (of Planet Earth),” which is one of Ogre‘s most signature tracks, their 2006 sophomore outing, Seven Hells expands on the debut’s straight-ahead doomly drive by proffering more classic fuzz in Markonish‘s tone and by and large longer, jammier tracks. They’re not out of “Dogmen” before an extended ripper of a solo has made an impression following the initial swing of the verses, Cunningham‘s vocals still by and large dry and forward in the mix, but even more assured. More than Dawn of the Proto-Man, Seven Hells carries the feel of a guitar album, but I won’t take away from the low-end heft or punctuating snare of “The Gas” either, though after the jams in “Dogmen” and the 10-minute “Soldier of Misfortune,” which follows, there’s plenty that would seem ground — though, to Ogre‘s credit, even “Soldier of Misfortune” gets reigned in for a final verse before continuing on its howling, classically-metallized over-the-top way. The notable Pentagram cover “Review Your Choices” is the only cut on Seven Hells under six minutes long, so wherever Ogre might be headed at any given moment, they give themselves plenty of time to get there, but the growth in chemistry and the personality they bring to the established tenets of classic doom throughout Seven Hells, even on that cover or in a choice rocker like “Woman on Fire,” which boasts Broadbent‘s best drum performance as well as a fluid tempo shift into a second-half slowdown, would make the album a standout even if the songs weren’t so memorable. They still had plenty of their Sabbathian core intact at this point — as they would for their whole career — but were clearly looking to make their own stamp as well, as shown in the strange stoner vibes late in “Sperm Whale” or the noise wash that takes hold as closer “Flesh Feast” draws down. The DVD, which present the two sets in reverse chronological order, has a host of selections from the two albums, as well as a killer take on Saint Vitus‘ “Mystic Lady” to close out the 2007 one. Maybe not for casual fans, but again, as a document of where they were at the time, of unquestionable value.

Minotauro released The Last Neanderthal in a similar style package, and whether or not that will actually prove to be Ogre‘s final offering, only time can show. With just their third album, 2008’s Plague of the Planet (review here), left unissued by the label, it seems likely it will show up sooner or later, though whether CunninghamMarkonish and Broadbent will make a return at that time, well, you get the idea. Whatever the future does or doesn’t bring, there’s little about Dawn of the Proto-Man or Seven Hells that these reissues leave unsaid, and for the obvious passion that went into producing them as well as for the songs themselves, they’re deeply admirable outings that deserve every bell and whistle they’ve been given.

Ogre, Dawn of the Proto-Man (2003)

Ogre, Seven Hells (2006)

Ogre on Thee Facebooks

Ogre on Bandcamp

Minotauro Records

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Buried Treasure: Sólstafir, Ótta

Posted in Buried Treasure on February 26th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

solstafir-otta-cd

FEB. 26: It is fucking snowing again. This morning, I came downstairs and opened the blinds and no light came in, just that oozing gray that has passed for daytime for most of the last several months in Massachusetts. Yesterday there was blue sky, and I could’ve danced. The days are getting longer, I keep telling myself and The Patient Mrs., looking at the math and almost believing it. We had a little melt this past weekend, so the lowest points of snow are down to about three feet. Piles where the plows have been, in parking lots and places like that, are over 10 feet tall. Some of them look like houses.

fucking snowThey say this isn’t going to accumulate much, but it doesn’t even matter anymore. Snow’s just an excuse to stay inside out of the cold. Another foot. Who cares? I must have been feeling particularly hopeful last night when I took my copy of Sólstafir‘s Ótta upstairs last night to put it on the shelf. The album, which the Icelandic band released last year on Season of Mist, has been an integral soundtrack for this winter to the point where I got so bothered at not having a physical copy of it that I ordered the CD during one of our several blizzards. Yes, deliveries still come, even though from what I hear the trains don’t run anymore.

I had caught wind of Ótta last year, via the usual too-easily-ignored digital promo, and the Reykjavík outfit received heaps of praise around its release, all duly earned. Their fifth full-length, the eight tracks of Ótta make for an hour-long masterpiece of melancholic heft. The lyrics are in Icelandic, but the melody transcends language barriers, and whether it’s the surge near the end of the title-track, which makes for one of the most particularly memorable standout moments, the understated drums of Guðmundur Óli Pálmason grounding the string sounds and keys as vocalist/guitarist Aðalbjörn Tryggvason‘s croons become shouts, or the more frenetic vibe of “Miðdegi,” with Tryggvason‘s and Sæþór Maríus Sæþórsson‘s guitars interweaving over a tense bassline from Svavar Austman, the atmosphere remains pervasive. This is true as well as they push through the quiet lushness of the penultimate “Miðaftann.” Just because I’d make a fool out of myself if I tried to pronounce any of it doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful.

The ebow to organ shift in 11-minute closer “Náttmál” and the waves of blastbeatssolstafir otta that accompany the apex are something special, but for much of Ótta, it’s the softer stretches that create the ambience. Piano and subdued vocals start opener “Lágnætti,” which picks up soon enough but holds firm to a contemplative impression, and the wide spaces crafted by “Rismál” seem to bring to life the unceasing bitterness of winter’s cold. They don’t shout about it. It’s a kind of resignation, to which the subsequent “Dagmál” and “Miðdegi” add further emotional and sonic depth, Sólstafir holding onto a heaviness in sound but making an even more resonant impression with the album’s spiritual weight. To me, it just sounds like this interminable season, and I know that in years to come, that’s how I’ll identify it. Already it has proved a haunting presence.

So much so, that when the snow started to fall this afternoon, I had no choice but to go back upstairs and retrieve the Ótta CD, put it on and make my way toward and through the desperate thrust of “Nón” again. I’m sure it won’t be the last time before the snow melts. Yes, it’s brilliant and progressive and all that other shit “critics” say when they like something, but mostly, I’m glad to have the bit of comfort Sólstafir offer.

Sólstafir, Ótta (2014)

Sólstafir on Thee Facebooks

Sólstafir on Bandcamp

Season of Mist

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Buried Treasure: Big Scenic Nowhere, Big Scenic Nowhere

Posted in Buried Treasure on January 22nd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

big-scenic-nowhere-cd-and-liner

The history behind Big Scenic Nowhere is nearly as complex as the desert ecosystem that gave birth to the project in the first place, and before I get into it, I want to send a personal thanks to Nick Hannon, bassist of the UK’s Sons of Alpha Centauri, who was kind enough to send me their demo. Hannon, who of course also plays in the just-reviewed Yawning Sons alongside Yawning Man‘s Gary Arce, and has appeared on split releases between Arce‘s WaterWays, Sons of Alpha Centauri and Australia’s Hotel Wrecking City Traders (who also had a collaboration with Arce out), as well as Yawning Sons and WaterWays, in different big-scenic-nowhere-cd-sleevepermutations of players working together and collaborating. Arce, whose guitar tone is one of the founding tenets of desert rock, is generally at the center, and that proves to be the case in Big Scenic Nowhere as well.

It seems unfair to call Big Scenic Nowhere a short-lived project considering that it involves Arce and bassist Mario Lalli, who’ve played together for over 25 years in Yawning Man, as well as drummer Tony Tornay, who doubles in Lalli‘s “other band,” Fatso Jetson, and could be heard last year propelling the formidable Napalm Records debut from Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk BandBlack Power Flower (review here). But while these three know and have worked together for a long time one way or another, as Big Scenic Nowhere, their tenure was brief. The band was born out WaterWays, which featured vocalist Abby Travis in addition to ArceLalli and Tornay, when the recordings for their debut album got tied up in legal issues. Big Scenic Nowhere went back into the studio, re-recorded the tracks instrumentally, and set about releasing tbig scenic nowhere liner 1hem on their own, posting them on YouTube, etc.

That was circa 2008/2009. In 2010, most of the WaterWays songs would surface on the aforementioned splits with Yawning Sons and with Sons of Alpha Centauri and Hotel Wrecking City Traders, so that material is out there. It exists. In the wake of that, Big Scenic Nowhere were just about done. Yawning Man, with Arce and Lalli, put out Nomadic Pursuits (review here) and Fatso Jetson, with Lalli (on guitar/vocals) and Tornay, put out Archaic Volumes (review here). That’s half a decade ago now, and the Big Scenic Nowhere CD was included as a bonus for anyone who purchased the splits. So far as I know, that and at shows were the only ways it ever officially came out, despite the fact that the original recordings of most of these songs, with Travis, have been released on those two split offerings.

Like I said, it’s a complex history.

But the end result is that Big Scenic Nowhere have wound up as this kind of hidden secret of Californian desert rock.big scenic nowhere liner 2 The CD — you might note the shadow of the famous “Welcome to Sky Valley” sign on the dry cracked earth on the disc itself– contains all the dynamic turns one might expect from a Lalli/Tornay rhythm section and the signature bliss of Arce‘s guitar, and in addition to the six prior-recorded songs that would be later released by WaterWays, there are also the original “Bows and Arrows,” a cover of “Somewhere over the Rainbow” and a live set from the Date Shed in Indio, CA, broken down into two separate jams and presented complete with a spoken introduction. All told, it’s a 57-minute collection that, particularly for fans of Yawning Man is probably worth being easier to track down than it is. Big Scenic Nowhere wound up in a strange position once the WaterWays stuff came out, but even instrumental, songs like “Waterways,” “Queen of the Passout Riders” and “Three Rivers” retain a memorable feel. Liner notes from Arce that explain the whole situation are included, so you can work your way through to how the tracks got to be what they are. Even out of context, however, they leave an impression, whether you heard the WaterWays splits or not.

Big Scenic Nowhere, “Memorial Patterns”

Big Scenic Nowhere on Thee Facebooks

Gary Arce’s Soundcloud page

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Buried Treasure: Glowsun, Eternal Season

Posted in Buried Treasure on December 30th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

glowsun-eternal-season-cd-cover

Some records just gnaw at you, and that’s the short version of the story of me and Eternal Season. The sophomore outing and Napalm Records debut from Lille, France-based trio Glowsun was released in 2012, and I got the usual digital promo of it at the time. I’d greatly enjoyed the 2011 split between Glowsun and German jammers Electric Moon, cleverly titled Sun and Moon (review here), but basically I didn’t want to dig into Eternal Season, wind up loving it and then have to chase down a copy. I kept up with the band as they did various fests — Keep it LowDesertfest — played shows alongside countrymen Mars Red Sky and released a video for “Lost Soul,” the third of the album’s eight tracks, but still never really sat with the record itself.

glowsun eternal season digipakFinally, just after Xmas, I saw their name somewhere again and popped onto Major Corporate Purveyor X™ to look for a deal, and there was one, so with a couple extra bucks in my account after the holiday, I finally decided to make it mine. It showed up in the mail today and as usual, I feel like twice the sucker for sleeping on it for so long. Glowsun — the trio of guitarist/vocalist Johan Jaccob (also responsible for the gorgeous artwork on the six-panel digipak), bassist Ronan Chiron and drummer Fabrice Cornille — proffer dense low end and airy psychedelics in kind, equally comfortable in long instrumental passages like those of “From the Sky” or “Dragon Witch” as they are in the chugging progressive rock of “Reverse” or the jabbing CD bonus track “No!,” which arrives after the closer of the album itself, “Money Time,” a song that could just as easily be named in homage to Monkey3 as for its primate samples.

“Lost Soul” effectively blends the various sides at work throughout, but at least what I’ve found in listening so far is that like their labelmates in My Sleeping KarmaGlowsun‘s Eternal Season is better taken as a whole, without so much of a focus on individual turns as on overarching atmosphere — of which it has plenty. A creepy opening in “Thing” gives way to driving heavy rock with vocals emerging after three minutes in, and “Sleepwaker” assaults with noise up front only to provide both Cornille‘s most satisfying glowsun eternal seasonperformance but an apex that functions to payoff the record as a whole in stylized fashion. From the gradual unfolding of opener “Death’s Face,” Chiron‘s basslines are the foundation on which the songs play out, but the variety of direction and consistency of tone make the listening experience as immersive as it is entrancing. That is, you can dig as deep as you might want to go, and there’s still substance to be found.

Along with a slot at 2015’s Hellfest and no doubt others, Glowsun have a new full-length slated for release in 2015. Might be needless to say — I will anyhow — but letting one of their records slip by me isn’t a mistake I’m going to make twice. I’m glad I finally caved and picked this one up.

Glowsun, Eternal Season (2012)

Glowsun on Thee Facebooks

Eternal Season at Napalm Records

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Buried Treasure: Beast in the Field, The Astral Path to Satan’s Throne

Posted in Buried Treasure on November 10th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

beast-in-the-field-the-astral-path-to-satan's-throne-live-at-widr

I managed to buy just one CD while on tour recently and it was the new live album from Michigan instrumental destroyers Beast in the Field. Recorded in 2012 as an in-studio performance at the Kalamazoo-based radio station WIDR, it’s been given the cumbersome title The Astral Path to Satan’s Throne and coupled with a sans-dialogue comic book featuring the band’s two members, guitarist Jordan Pries and drummer Jamie Jahr. At first I thought I might’ve had it wrong it and it was a DVD because of the case, but no, it’s a CD. After seeing even half of the band’s amplifier stack in Lansing, it became quickly apparent they don’t do anything small.

beast-in-the-field-the-astral-path-comic-pagesLike their five studio albums, The Astral Path to Satan’s Throne is out on Saw Her Ghost Records, which has overseen everything the two-piece has done since their 2007 debut, Goat Isle Seance. That record is represented here by “Deep in the Caves,” which follows a noisy solo by Pries, and is preceded by “The Destroying Angel” and followed by closer “Through the Fires in all of Hell,” both of which come from 2011’s Lucifer, Bearer of Light. That would’ve been Beast in the Field‘s newest album at the time, though interestingly, the first three cuts they played at WIDR were “Hollow Horn,” “Altar Made of Red Earth” and “Wakan Tanka,” which also appear in that order following the intro “Great Watcher of the Sky” on 2013’s stellar The Sacred above, the Sacred Below (review here, stream here). Whether Pries and Jahr had recorded by then or were hammering out the flow of the album in a live setting, I don’t really know, but in hindsight it makes for some sound continuity from the record to the live outing and gives some sense of how the duo relate shows and studio work.

Unsurprisingly, they kill it. I’d be interested to know how many cabinets they didn’t bring to the radio station that day, but whatever balance they found, the audio is clear on both guitar and drums — or at least no more blown out than sounds cool — and the sheer density of their tone and impact of their crash are both captured. Speaking of “captured,” that’s pretty much the plot of the comic book as well. Pries and Jahr load up their gear and are in their van headed to, wouldn’t you know it, Kalamazoo, when all of a sudden they’re kidnapped by naked-lady demons and taken to some approximation of an underworld where they’re torn apart and fed to a beast-in-the-field-the-astral-path-back-and-comic-coverskeletal version of a four-horned goat beast. I won’t spoil the ending, if they get out of it or not. With art by Mark Rudolph, it’s an engaging complement to the recording itself, and puts The Astral Path to Satan’s Throne in different category of releases than it might otherwise reside in were it just a live album. It may still be a stopgap en route to whatever Beast in the Field do next, but there’s enough presence and force behind the band’s sound that whatever they’ve got, it’s bound to turn a few heads. Just far enough to hear a pop.

With bonus points earned for the smiling cartoon depictions of Pries and JahrThe Astral Path to Satan’s Throne is further proof of how ready Beast in the Field are for recognition outside regional borders. For now, they remain a secret kept all too well.

Beast in the Field, Live at Dirt Fest, Aug. 9, 2014

Beast in the Field on Thee Facebooks

Saw Her Ghost Records

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