On the Radar: Conclave, Breaking Ground

Posted in On the Radar on January 8th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster


Somewhere between doom and death rock, Massachusetts trio Conclave dig into low tones and downer vibes on their self-released debut demo/EP, Breaking Ground. The late-2014 three-song offering tops out at 21 minutes, so it’s enough to basically get introduced to the three-piece’s approach, which seems to be the whole idea in the first place since whatever else Conclave do, they don’t exactly mess around when it comes to getting to the point. Riffs lead the way through “Footprints in Blood,” “Lifetime” and “Walk the Earth (No Longer)” on the sleeve CD recorded to analog 8-track, punctuated by the sans-effects shouts of bassist/vocalist Jerry Orne — a former member of underappreciated and due-for-a-reunion brutal groovers Warhorse who also plays with Conclave guitarist Jeremy Kibort in reactivated death metallers Desolate — and the nod-ready double-kick of drummer Dan Blomquist, whose metallic style fits well with the progressions on these three introductory cuts. They are raw, it’s worth noting, and having been fortunate enough to see the band live ahead of hearing the demo, I can confirm that their deathly presentation is no fluke on “Footprints in Blood,” the rush of which starts out as a faded-in feedback and quickly gets underway with an almost punkish abandon.

Structures on the three songs are for the most part straightforward, and I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point Conclave picked up another guitarist to complement Kibort, since former Grief/Warhorse six-stringer Terry Savastano and his Martyrvore bandmate Matt Gemini both guest with solos alongside Kibort‘s own leads, but as a marker of the band’s arrival, Breaking Ground doesn’t stick around long enough to get tiresome. It is conclave breaking grounda first step, but that step is forward and starts momentum headed in that direction, Orne‘s semi-growl following the riff of “Footprints in Blood” until the closing shouts and soloing dissolve into a soon-to-fade wash of noise. I almost wish they’d let it go longer, to offset some of the precision death-metal execution of the song itself and add an element of sludge chaos to the proceedings. “Lifetime” picks up almost immediately with a slower turn and standout performance from Blomquist, who proves able to swing when called for, as in the middle lead section of the song, and match his step to a winding, fret-jumping riff from Kibort while still holding a sense of groove. Nine-minute closer “Walk the Earth (No Longer)” brings both the death and doom sides together strongly and gives a momentary breather in its intro before an ever-heavier push hits a thrashy mark in its second third and shifts into a lumbering second half that comfortably and rightly rides its groove into oblivion, shifting some in pace but thoroughly dooming out along the way.

Brutal heavy rock? Possibly. Death sludge rock? Somewhere in there. Breaking Ground isn’t death-doom the way one generally thinks of that blend as balancing, but no question their metallic impulses play a huge role across these three tracks, as do their guest lead guitarists. The fact that Breaking Ground seems so straightforward on the surface and still manages to defy easy classification can only serve Conclave well here and going forward, and as their first release, I wouldn’t ask anything more of it than to pique interest, which it does without self-indulgence or playing redundantly to genre.

Conclave, Breaking Ground (2014)

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On the Radar: Hijo de la Tormenta, Hijo de la Tormenta

Posted in On the Radar on September 23rd, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

hijo de la tormenta

With their self-released, self-titled full-length debut, Argentinian three-piece Hijo de la Tormenta embark on what they like to call “forest psychedelia,” or “psicodelia del monte” (“mountain psychedelia”). I think the latter might be a more apt desciptor for the Córdoba unit’s sound itself, which balances gracefully wandering passages with dense tonal largesse — big riffs and open spaces brought to bear with a patient sensibility that impresses all the more considering Hijo del la Tormenta‘s Hijo de la Tormenta arrives preceded only by a 2012 EP, Simple 5/12. There isn’t as much a feeling either of foreboding or nature worship that “forest” brings to mind in a musical context, but frankly, wherever Hijo de la Tormenta are spending their time outside, in the forest, the mountains, both or neither, it’s clearly working for them. Their first full-length is engaging and immersive, creating a rich flow early on and running a wide scope in their largely-instrumental material that one gets the sense is only going to get wider as time goes on. Nor do they forget to kick a bit of ass, as songs like “Alienación” and second cut “Dilusiva” showcase.

The latter is about as straightforward and immediate as the trio of guitarist/vocalist Juan Cruz Ledesma, bassist Guido di Carlo and drummer Santi Ludueña get, but even their jammiest and most meandering stretches — a song like nine-minute opener “Viaje de Ida/Viaje de Vuelta” (reportedly based on a poem by Roberto Bolaño) or the two-parter hijo de la tormenta self-titled“Desde la Espesura,” which sandwiches “Dilusiva” on the other side — retain a feeling of motion. A big part of that stems from the fervency of their grooving in a song like “Alienación,” the opening sample of which jars a bit but not enough to really be a misstep, each successive track on Hijo de la Tormenta drawing the listener further into the linear course of the album as a whole. “Desde la Espesura (Lado A)” and “Desde la Espesura (Lado B)” both do an excellent job of that, departing from some of “Viaje de Ida/Viaje de Vuelta”‘s bigger sound to a more hypnotic vibe, and though it has a build, “Sierras del Paiman” continues in this fashion en route to the return to longer-form songwriting on “Alienación,” lead guitar dominating the mix in the second half for an extended, bluesy solo that pushes the song into highlight territory, a rumbling fuzz remaining after the rest of the elements seem to recede.

“Alienación” is paired with “Desalienación,” which opens with Hijo de la Tormenta‘s most forceful riffing since “Dilusiva” and shifts fluidly into a slower, more subdued bass-led groove. That, in turn, progresses smoothly into jazzy snare work, airy guitar strums — offset, of course, by dense fuzz — and late-arriving vocals providing the album’s most singularly Los Natasian moment. That band’s Gonzalo Villagra mastered, and the bulk of Hijo de la Tormenta‘s sound is less Natas-derived than many I’ve encountered in Argentina’s well-populated heavy scene, but it’s also worth noting that the band’s moniker was used as the opening line of the title-track lyrics to Los Natas‘ 2006 album, El Hombre Montaña. Still, the simple fact that Hijo de la Tormenta would position themselves in a heavy rock landscape other than the desert speaks to a burgeoning drive toward individualism, and as they finish out with the psychedelic “Postales del Fin del Mundo” with a heady jam topped by ethereal layers of guest vocals from Laura Dalmasso it seems less like they’ve shown their complete range on what’s nonetheless a cohesive and engaging first long-player. As they continue to refine their sound, expect the geography likewise to come more into focus.

Hijo de la Tormenta, Hijo de la Tormenta (2014)

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On the Radar: The Sun, the Moon and the Witch’s Blues

Posted in On the Radar on September 11th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

the sun the moon and the witch's blues

There are probably a couple distinct jams within the 18-minute span of the eponymous track on Swedish duo The Sun, the Moon and the Witch’s Blues‘ self-titled debut EP, in terms of the songwriting. By that I mean  although the Örebro duo of Robin Hirse (ex-Asteroid) and Jonas Ljungkvist get pretty deep in an immersive flow, it still sounds like more happened in the track than they hit record and went to town on an improv heavy psych exploration. Individual movements they may be, still better to get lost in the whole. The beginning unfolds with echoing Morricone guitar, and unfolds a slow heavy rock groove, and they proceed through numerous shifts and movements that piece together well but have some breaks between them as well. What individual titles might be, I don’t know, but with the results Hirse and Ljungkvist get across the sprawl in “The Sun, the Moon and the Witch’s Blues,” which fleshes out with organ before the vocals kick in right around the five-minute mark, I’m not about to argue.

Hirse‘s voice will sound familiar to those who heard him with Asteroid, who released their second and apparently final full-length in 2010’s II (review here), and to a degree, one might consider the new, cumbersomely-monikered two-piece an outgrowth from that album’s jam-minded heavy rock sensibility, but the feel on The Sun, the Moon and the Witch’s Blues represents a discernible stylistic shift as well, and not just in the the sun the moon and the witch's blues self titledoccasional Westernism. The vibe here is bluesier, the build looser. Hirse and Ljungqvist credit Tobias Eriksson, Joakim Kohlscheen and Jimmi Kohlscheen as “helping” with the EP and don’t get more specific than that, but they’re definitely working toward a full-band aesthetic one way or another, rather than the minimalism that duos can sometimes purposefully convey. Even as “The Sun, the Moon and the Witch’s Blues” pushes through its heavier apex and into foot-stomp-and-hand-clap revival, vocals layered for a near-gospel effect, this is true in the space the song creates, and as the song is led into its final phase groove by the guitar, one gets a sense of a unit clicking pedals on to make the machine go.

I was a nerd for Hirse‘s prior outfit even unto their swansong 7″ (review here), and The Sun, the Moon and the Witch’s Blues present enough of a turn sonically to clearly be on their own path, but neither is the development of Hirse‘s craft scrapped entirely or burned to the ground in favor of starting completely over. What the EP sounds like, when you get right to it, is a vinyl side, and after listening through more than a couple times in the days since its Sept. 6 release, I’d like to find out what’s on side B. The Sun, the Moon and the Witch’s Blues are reportedly heading back into the studio in short order, so it might not be all that long before we get there. Right on.

The Sun, the Moon and the Witch’s Blues, Self-titled EP (2014)

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On the Radar: Lewis and the Strange Magics, Demo

Posted in On the Radar on August 13th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

Spanish cult rockers Lewis and the Strange Magics have worked fast. In late June, the Barcelona garage doomers released their debut demo, aptly-titled Demo, with an initial three songs available digitally for those who might have the inclination to check them out. Less than two months later, the band — whose lineup remains a mystery and of whom no photos have surfaced — signed a deal with Soulseller Records to release their first album, on which they’ve already begun work. The Demo itself moves with similar efficiency. Barely 90 seconds have passed into opener “How to be You” before Satan is invoked in a catchy chorus reminiscent of Ghost for its harmonies and The Devil’s Blood for its psychedelic swirl, but rougher in its production than either. Both of those bands owed a considerable debt to ’70s cultistry, and Lewis and the Strange Magics do likewise — see CovenSalem MassBlack Widow, etc. — but a sense of theatricality comes through the subsequent “Cloudy Grey Cube” (also featured in July’s podcast), and it’s more in line with classic Alice Cooper Band than anything so specifically devilish.

There also seems to be a different vocalist on the second of Demo‘s three cuts from that on “How to be You” — the opener also being the longest inclusion; immediate points — but I could be way off on that, and I suppose the nebulous unknown is part of what makes Lewis and the Strange Magics an engaging listen. So far as I know, they’ve done no shows, and while the elephant in the room stylistically here is unquestionably Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, who rode similar garage mystique all the way to an opening slot for Black Sabbath and an impending major market US tour, Lewis and the Strange Magics aren’t so singular in their influence as the construction of their moniker might have you believe. Tonally, Lewis and company delve into vintage-isms, and there are at least two guitars on “Cloudy Grey Cube,” though that could just as easily be tape layering in the solo section before a return to the classic stoner swing of the verse riff that finishes out.

“Golden Threads” rounds out in spooky proto-metal form, a late ’60s Halloween psychedelia persisting in echoing soul vocals and a jangly but threatening intro/chorus riff, a dead giveaway of some underlying metallic influence. The closer opens up to a doomly groove, but never loses its swing, and deftly returns to its verse and instrumental chorus to close the quick 15-minute romp with a hint at darker explorations to come. Whoever they are, Lewis and the Strange Magics have arrived with a strong sense of what they’re looking to accomplish aesthetically, and while I wouldn’t be surprised to find their Soulseller debut a more complex, individualized effort than Demo, the three tracks included here make it easy to understand what all the hubbub is about, trading as they do in a fresh sound and giving another spin on what’s quickly becoming an established subgenre in its own right with garage-influenced doom rock. One way or another, expect to hear more about Lewis and the Strange Magics as they approach their debut proper, since buzz of this sort rarely disappears overnight.

Lewis and the Strange Magics, Demo (2014)

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On the Radar: Spiritual Shepherd, The Monkey’s Paw

Posted in On the Radar on August 6th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

Riffs abound on The Monkey’s Paw, the debut from Las Vegas instrumental trio Spiritual Shepherd. Lots of riffs. The young self-releasing trio seem to be working their way into their sound even as the songs play out, and the album — a full-length at 44 minutes — has an exploratory, demo feel while still keeping an overarching flow from track to track. It’s worth noting that Spiritual Shepherd, nascent though they may be for having been around just over two years, are twice-over veterans of Vegas’ Doom in June fest, have shared the stage with Pentagram (review here) and Eyehategod, and will take part in this year’s Southwest Terror Fest in October. So while they may be and sound formative, no one can say they didn’t dive in head-first. The Monkey’s Paw works similarly, with a moment of psychedelic post-rock flourish in the centerpiece “The Mountain Told Me So” and a surrounding barrage of riff-grooving progressions that put the three-piece square in the realm of modern stoner rock.

Self-produced and pressed, the album varies some in tempo and approach within tracks, moving from big-stomp riffing to more upbeat fare in songs like “The Monkey’s Paw” and “Milky Way,” but the bulk of the material balances influence from Sleep and the Melvins while searching out its own identity. The recording is raw, but clear enough to show the band’s potential for establishing themselves at the beginning point of their progression, a cut like opener “64” getting its footing in fuzzy Monkey riffs!stoner sway before guitarist Sean van Haitsma takes forward position in the mix for a howling, distortion-caked solo. Thickened by the hefty tone of bassist Omar Alvarado and propelled by drummer Ian Henneforth — whose active hi-hat would seem to indicate he hasn’t quite let go of his metal roots, despite a prevalent swing to coincide with an emphasis on precision — van Haitsma‘s riffs have a fitting complement, and if the fluid transitions in boogie-minded closer “Interstellar Superhighway” prove anything, it’s that they’re well on their way to figuring out how to make the most of a trio dynamic, Henneforth‘s tom runs and Alvarado‘s punchy basslines filling out the last couple minutes of the song while van Haitsma quietly spaces out on guitar.

An unnamed bonus track follows the end of “Interstellar Superhighway” and further proves the theorem, Alvarado going full-funk on the bass while Henneforth keeps the beat and van Haitsma stomps his wah like it was any number of desert-dwelling insectoids. For personality, the bonus cut might be the three-piece’s best showing, since it demonstrates their willingness to toy with genre conventions and shape heaviness to suit their own ends, even when those ends are basically just screwing around and having a good time. Great records are made that way. Spiritual Shepherd have a ways to go before they get there, but they’ve already got plenty to offer for riff hounds and they’ve given themselves a foundation on which to build their next time out. With the experience they’ve already set about gathering and the blueprint they’re working from here, I wouldn’t be surprised if they solidified into a powerful and progressive unit.

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On the Radar: Stonefromthesky, Orbital EP

Posted in On the Radar on July 22nd, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

If nothing else, Kiev one-man outfit Stonefromthesky has the most honest moniker I’ve ever encountered having anything to do with post-metal, the Ukrainian project taking its name from “Stones from the Sky,” the closer of Neurosis‘ 2001 A Sun that Never Sets album, which — to simplify it — is a founding moment for the genre as a whole. Fortunately, it’s also just a beginning point for what Alex Zinchenko, the self-recording, self-releasing human at the root of Stonefromthesky, has to offer on his debut EP, Orbital.

A five-track collection that’s in and out in a sneaky 22 minutes, Orbital blends post-metallic ideology — undulating, massive riffs, harsh vocals, a generally sludgy feel — with electronic music, dance beats underscoring huge guitars for a blend that’s immediately marching on largely uncharted territory. There are acts out there tapping into industrial retroism, but that’s not quite where Stonefromthesky is coming from on a song like the EP centerpiece “Weightless,” which steps into open air ambience and obscure sampling while permeating a synthesized drum beat behind. That’s a breather compared to opener “Interstellar” and viciously heavy highlight “Irreversible” before it, both of which plunder claustrophobic riffs, clever stutters, and somehow defiantly human growling to concoct a feel both familiar and foreign. It’s not until “Altered” that any of it resembles Godflesh in the slightest, and that in itself is an achievement.

Even then, Stonefromthesky holds to an identity of its own, a swinging beat and low rumble meeting with Zinchenko‘s rhythmic growling and a post-rock guitar as a dysfunctional feel results from mixing beats, the rhythm at the fore while the melody acts as the bed behind — a direct reversal of what one generally expects from heavy music. A guitar solo is a grounding force compared to what’s going on alongside it, and a quick breath teases a larger payoff that never comes as an experimental vibe persists through the end of “Altered,” leaving the three-minute closer, “Forlorn” the heady task of rounding out, which is does with progressive synth melody and a building wash of rhythmic noise, slow moving but ready to be played at unspeakable volumes, keeping the tension as much as releasing it, frenetic, kinetic, but obviously controlled as well.

Zinchenko, who handles guitar, programming, and vocals himself, has quickly established a mastermind sensibility, and it seems coming into his first outing as Stonefromthesky that he knows exactly where he wants the band to go. All the better for a self-contained project like this, since if Orbital is anything to go by, he’s more than capable of acting as the driving force of his own exploration. Here’s one for the “heard it all” crowd to prove them wrong once again.

Stonefromthesky, Orbital EP (2014)

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On the Radar: Pushy

Posted in On the Radar on April 29th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

It’s only a practice recording, and a first one at that, but with “El Hongo,” Portland, Oregon’s Pushy made an opening statement that stands them out from both the bulk of West Coast heavy rock that seems to drive toward a skater-ized ideal of gnarly and much of international ’70s ritualizing, which is bent either on analog-worship or cult-minded vagaries. There’s no telling in listening to “El Hongo” where Pushy will necessarily end up — they might decide sometime between now and their first record that they really, really like Satan — but at least from the rough take we get from their rehearsal space, the four-piece seem to have more in common with a nascent movement of upbeat, positive-vibing classic heavy rock than with downtrodden grit or whiskey-soaked dudely caricature.

The band is an amalgam of Portland scene-dwellers — your scene hasn’t arrived until things start getting incestuous — including Crag Dweller‘s Travis Clow, Adam Burke of Fellwoods, Hosmanek‘s Ron Wesley and Bison Bison‘s Dylan Reilly, and what the conglomeration get down to on “El Hongo” (“the fungus”) marks itself out as classic ’70s boogie right from the first strike of the cowbell. Fitting to the band’s name, there’s not much subtle about it, and while the recording is raw the groove is smooth, the swagger so deep you can almost smell it and there’s enough there to give an impression of a good time not so disparate from that which Brooklyn’s The Golden Grass have on offer with their 2014 self-titled outing, serving a lighthearted reminder that the reason a bunch of friends might get together to write songs in the first place is because they think it’s fun.

Obviously it wouldn’t be fair to judge the band’s ultimate mission by what they do with their first public recording, but even the fact that they basically tossed off a rehearsal-space jam and put it out there for name-your-price download speaks to a laid back approach, and for these kinds of grooves, that’s just the way you want to take it. Nice and easy.

Pushy, “El Hongo” demo (2014)

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On the Radar: King Buffalo

Posted in On the Radar on December 5th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Fuck. Yes. I nerded out pretty hard when Rochester, NY, heavy rockers Velvet Elvis knocked me on my ass with their debut long-player, In Deep Time (review here), last year. Well, Velvet Elvis seem to have been shortlived, which is unfortunate, but guitarist/vocalist Randall Coon and drummer Scott Donaldson have teamed up with guitarist/vocalist Sean Mcvay and bassist/vocalist Dan Reynolds — both of Rochester-based outfit Abandoned Buildings Club — to form King Buffalo, and if the languid, naturalistic grooves that pervade their aptly-titled debut demo, Demo, are anything to go by, that pairing is working out pretty well. The demo has three songs that you could easily split into two 10″ vinyl sides, and for having been recorded over the course of two days at the band’s practice space comes through clear and naturally, the airy guitars leading the charge of an organic vibe that recalls some of the heavy psych of recent King Buffalo tourmates All Them Witches, a light rural touch and Neil Young influence in the vocals on the open verses of “Pocket Full of Knife” leading to a jammy march that’s immediately and viciously engaging, becoming only more so when the quiet break swaggers into a stop and subsequent full-tone fuzz riffing.

In my head I’ve started to write a list of crucial American neo-heavy psych bands pulling from the blues and Americana where and when they want to and blending it with a classic stonerly influence, and I might just have to add King Buffalo to it. Drop it into another context, maybe speed it up a bit, and “In Dim Light” could be a Fu Manchu riff, but King Buffalo put it to work in a spacious field rather than a surf-ready beach, nascent harmonies topping thick riffs such that the potential for what the band might do on a debut full-length is exciting even on multiple listens, Donaldson‘s Sleep-esque snare march making the groove all the more righteous en route to the choppy modulated guitar solo and a Doors-echoing break leading to resurgence of the main riff to finish. Put them together and “Pocket Full of Knife” and “In Dim Light” add up to just about match the 11:15 of third track “Providence Eye,” but the closer’s more or less in a world of its own, starting out with wandering notes over rhythm strum and diving into a bowl of proggadelic noodles that unfold to riffy triumph around the two-minute mark.

Maybe that’s quick for an 11-minute song, but King Buffalo play it smart in loud quiet tradeoffs, each more satisfying than the last, jamming heavy psych-style after the second before bringing the chorus around to bear again. Then it’s time to boogie. A shuffling riff takes hold and gets a touch of quirk via space-rocking synth, and several stages of an instrumental conclusion play out in driving rhythms slowing, speeding up, changing to classic heavy ’70s groove and meeting with echoing leads before Donaldson and Reynolds are finally tasked to wrap the whole thing up with the drum and bass that have all along been the anchor of the psychedelic fray. Man, that’s groovy. The demo came out in mid-November, and King Buffalo reportedly already have plans to record an LP that will hopefully surface sometime in 2014. Until then, whether you heard Velvet Elvis or not, the demo warrants getting down:

King Buffalo, Demo (2013)

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King Buffalo on Bandcamp

King Buffalo’s website

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