On the Radar: Pushy

Posted in On the Radar on April 29th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

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)

Pushy on Thee Facebooks

Pushy on Bandcamp

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On the Radar: King Buffalo

Posted in On the Radar on December 5th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

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)

King Buffalo on Thee Facebooks

King Buffalo on Bandcamp

King Buffalo’s website

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On the Radar: Legion of Andromeda

Posted in On the Radar on November 25th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

Whatever else Legion of Andromeda are, they’re fucked. Chances are, even just from reading that, you have an impression in your head of what it means. Chances also are that that impression isn’t nearly fucked enough. We’re talking megafucked. The Tokyo duo of  vocalist -R- and guitarist/programmer -M- have clearly crawled out of some desolate hellscape and they arrive at the surface armed with psychotic churn, pig grunts, a Christophe Szpajdel logo (remind me to sit down one day and tell you about my dream of asking him to design an art deco logo for this site) and brutality rarely endeavored in doom. The four tracks of their self-released, self-titled debut will simply be too much for some, maybe most, listeners, but for a select few, the oppressive tones and front-and-center bludgeoning will fit just right.

The included songs, “Cosmo Hammer,” “Overlord of Thunder,” “Sociopathic Infestation” and “Fist of the Galaxy,” are placed in order from shortest to longest, and the most discernible vocals throughout are the quick grunts between lines of “Cosmo Hammer” and the 10-minute closer. Beyond that, it’s either super-low growls or higher, still mid-range screams, and what words there are are reduced to their basic syllables much the same way percussion is reduced to bell hits, programmed kick thud and cruel repetitions. Make no mistake: Legion of Andromeda‘s self-titled only runs about 31 minutes long, but you feel every second of it. There’s no zone-out option — the two-piece want you awake to feel every inhumane moment. There’s no letup, no ambient moment to let listeners catch their breath. Nothing of the sort. From the moment it starts until it’s over, Legion of Andromeda is an exercise in aural sadism. By the time “Fist of the Galaxy” rounds out, you’ve been duly punched by it.

As to what might drive a person to this kind of madness, I won’t dare speculate, but suffice it to say that the backpatch-worthy tortures that Legion of Andromeda conjure have an underlying psychic violence that might even be more unsettling than the music itself. They vary the pace some, though “Cosmo Hammer” and “Sociopathic Infestation” seem to be using the same tempo — the sound is full, but the elements involved are minimal, so it stands out — and “Overlord of Thunder” might be more death than doom as a result of being the fastest of the bunch, while “Fist of the Galaxy” is the slowest right up until the end, but really, these are minute distinctions. What’s on tap with Legion of Andromeda is a front-to-back ride through the darkest recesses of violent thought. It’s not about what they’re doing in a given moment so much as the extreme and overwhelming terrors they concoct with the whole.

And those are fittingly nightmarish. I don’t know how Legion of Andromeda might expand on this form and still manage to keep the minimalist sensibility that pervades the self-titled, but for the oppressive atmosphere created across these four cuts — gouges, really — they warrant the attention to find out. Again, it’ll be too much for most, but those who are up to it will appreciate having their consciousness chiseled away that much more.

Legion of Andromeda, Legion of Andromeda (2013)

Legion of Andromeda on Thee Facebooks

Legion of Andromeda on Bandcamp

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10 Days of SHoD XIII, Pt. 6: Doctor Smoke Go to Tape

Posted in Features, On the Radar on October 31st, 2013 by JJ Koczan

Part of the appeal of attending any festival worthy of the name is getting introduced to bands you might not have heard or encountered before, and when it comes to the lineup for this year’s Stoner Hands of Doom, which is set to run from Nov. 7-10 at Strange Matter in Richmond, Virginia, the riffy four-piece Doctor Smoke immediately caught my eye. I can’t help it. Not one week goes by that I don’t still wind up with the chorus to the closing track of Swedish trio Asteroid‘s first album stuck in my head: “Doctor Smoke… Doctor Smoke/Life is but a joke to Doctor Smoke.” Seriously, that album came out in 2007. I’m kind of surprised it took so long for a band to take the name.

Doctor Smoke play Friday night, Nov. 8, at SHoD XIII, sharing the evening’s bill with It’s Not Night: It’s Space, Gozu, Weed is Weed, Order of the Owl, Freedom Hawk and others. It’s a considerable evening to play, and Doctor Smoke have an admirable slot on the strength of their debut four-track demo, aptly-titled Demo 2013, which was released at the end of August. Sure enough, Demo 2013 makes an impression, and the four-piece of guitarist/vocalist Matt Tluchowski, lead guitarist Steve Lehocky, bassist Cody Cooke and drummer Dave Trikones offer a surprisingly cohesive, nigh-on-slick take on modern stoner metal, nodding at cult rock but never really taking it past “we watch horror movies” level, which is likely for the best.

Certainly it serves the material well. The swaggering opener “The Willow” darkens up heavy ’70s riffage, and the drive is modern, with Tluchowski‘s wizard doom vocals adding a modern edge somewhere between Kyle Thomas on the first Witch record and, on “Blood and Whiskey,” Billy Corgan‘s mid-’90s snarl. The dynamic between his and Lehocky‘s guitars accounts for a lot of the immediacy in Doctor Smoke‘s material — tradeoffs between leads and riffs are traditional, but well done — though Cooke and Trikones make their presence felt both on the slower “The Seeker” and the Pentagram cover, “Sign of the Wolf,” which closes Demo 2013 in appropriate and chugging fashion.

As they also prepare for Stoner Hands of Doom XIII, Doctor Smoke are looking past the demo as well and have plans to start recording their debut full-length completely analog at The Bombshelter Studio in Nashville (not to be confused with TruckfightersStudio Bombshelter). In order to help with the cost of going to tape, the foursome have started an Indiegogo campaign and are past the halfway mark on their goal of $3,000. It’s a pretty bold move for a band without a record out to hit up fans like that, but considering they’ve already got four takers on the $200 “We’ll write a special song just for you” contribution, obviously they inspire a good deal of loyalty in their listeners. At this rate, they might have enough material for a sophomore outing before they’ve even finished their debut.

Doctor Smoke, Demo 2013

Stoner Hands of Doom XIII

Doctor Smoke Indiegogo campaign

Doctor Smoke on Thee Facebooks

Doctor Smoke on Bandcamp

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On the Radar: Zom

Posted in On the Radar on October 7th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

If you’re looking to grab attention, having bright blue, red, orange and yellow lightning bolt artwork of a Shiva-esque alien destructive force made out of electricity might not be a bad way to go. Such is the fare in which DIY Pittsburgh duo Zom traffic, and while one might expect based on the striking visual that their music is a sort of hyper-caffeinated tech-prog full of fretboard sprints and light on groove, nothing could be further from the case. Zom‘s debut — a self-titled, self-recorded, self-released, six-song EP — rests easy on a bed of thick riffs and post-Pepper-era-C.O.C. burl American style, not quite veering into “hey whoa mama yeah” chestbeating, but hardly lacking dudeliness either.

Stoner metal in the sense of having more crunch than fuzz tonally but still using it to riff out, Zom (also stylized in all-caps) is comprised of vocalist/guitarist Gero von Dehn and bassist/drummer Andrew D’Cagna, who also recorded Zom at Sacred Sound (both are listed as producers).  Solos on three of the six songs come courtesy of guest-guitarist Justin Wood (Black Plastic Caskets), and Creighton Hill supplied the aforementioned cover art, but otherwise, Zom is a two-person outfit. Rather than bask in the inherent minimalism a guitar/drum duo brings about, Zom sound like at least a trio, if not a four-piece, in terms of their layering and the fullness. D’Cagna‘s bass obviously makes a huge difference in this regard, and while yeah, there’s two of them, from the start of “Nebulos/Alien,” Zom come across as a complete band.

I don’t know if von Dehn and D’Cagna are looking for anyone else to join or if they’ll make a go as a twosome — they’d have a hard time sounding this full live, at least without sampling or running the guitar through multiple rigs — but the songs on the EP are catchy and straightforward. More or less unipolar — set phasers to “rock” — one hears shades of a less fuzz-soaked Wo Fat and von Dehn‘s belted-out vocals follow his riffing more than ably on “Burning” and veer into echoing Southernisms on the 6:56 “Solitary,” so it’s not as if Zom only have grabbed attention only to bore, though at this point they’re clearly more confident in the weighted thrust that emerges even in “Solitary,” even if later. Still, both D’Cagna and von Dehn have done time in a host of Pittsburgh metal acts, and that experience shows through in an overarching sense of professionalism that runs counter to what one might expect from a “new” band.

The “Holy in the Sky” revision of “The Greedy Few” owes almost as much to stoner-era Cathedral as to Sabbath, but even there — I’d argue it’s the EP’s most obviously derivative moment and that it’s designed to be — Zom seem to be shooting to make something familiar their own, and ending cut “There’s Only Me” hints at a burgeoning melodic adventurousness in von Dehn‘s vocals in what would’ve been a strong hook even without, so they show some promise for continuing to develop a more individual personality. There’s part of me that thinks adding more members would aid in this, but there are an awful lot of three- and four-piece acts out there. A lot of duos too, but fewer shooting for a full-band aesthetic. However they choose to proceed, Zom‘s debut fulfills its electrified threat. If they wanted attention, well, okay. Now what?

Zom, Zom (2013)

Zom on Thee Facebooks

Zom on Bandcamp

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On the Radar: Keefshovel

Posted in On the Radar on September 11th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

I had the luxury of experiencing Keefshovel‘s classic dual-guitar sludge live before hearing it in studio form. That night a couple weeks back at P.A.’s Lounge in scenic Somerville (review here) found them raw but with a sense of knowing what they wanted to do, the specific kind of abrasion they wanted to interlace with their riffs, where and when to feedback, where and when to crush. They were not at all in a position yet to innovate, but they seemed to have long since gotten underway with the project of establishing their sound. It was equally impressive in volume and intensity.

The digital release of their first demo, simple titled Demo ’13, arrives in much the same spirit. Comprised of three tracks clocking in at just over 23 minutes, it’s full of vicious plod and rumbling heft, beginning with the instrumental opener “Christmas in Brockton.” I’ll confess I was a little disappointed when I listened for the first time and found it wasn’t a reworking of “Christmas in Heaven” from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, but my concerns were soon vaporized by the actual thrust of the track, which hammers slow-chug riffing without sounding hackneyed or redundant. Drumming from Matt Couto (also of Elder) goes a long way in propelling the apex of the opener — even on the recording, he sounds like he’s hitting hard — but it’s the band as a whole that provides the appeal, and that carries through to “A Seed in the Rough” and the extended “Germ” as well.

Both of the latter two feature vocals, which first arrive following an intro build in “A Seed in the Rough” as layers of caustic screams. But for the pace, which is a crawl, my mind immediately went to Swarm of the Lotus in terms of sonic likeness, a layer of cleaner shouts worked in with the screams as stop-start bombast seems to bring down walls all around. “A Seed in the Rough” comes close to seven minutes long and finds at its midpoint a quick guitar lead that seems to signify some interest in future solo chicanery, but the pummel soon continues unabated, a slowdown and massive chugging giving way to further crash and nod as the cacophony reaches its boiling point.

When Keefshovel have driven “A Seed in the Rough” as deep into the skull of their audience as it will go, they make a switch to the 10:34 “Germ,” which works in a similar style but is even more fucked up. A more angular riff than that of “A Seed in the Rough” gives “Germ” another level of corrosiveness, though some emergent melodic interplay in the guitars hints, again, at potential stylistic complexity. “Germ” plays out as the nastiest of the three on Demo ’13, slowing further at four minutes in and dedicating the remainder of its time to playing fast and slower instrumental progressions off each other, lead notes tossed in to draw further interest.

I’d expect that as they continue to develop, Keefshovel will grow into their sludge more and provide an individualized take on the ideas they’re beginning to present here, but even so, these three tracks lack nothing for impact or viscosity. I’ll look forward to the next time I get to see them blast forth from a stage.

Keefshovel, Demo ’13 (2013)

Keefshovel on Bandcamp

Keefshovel on Thee Facebooks

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On the Radar: Cold Blue Mountain

Posted in On the Radar on August 26th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

Though it could’ve come just easily from the side of a can of cheapshit beer, the moniker Cold Blue Mountain nonetheless evokes a sense of something big, covered in snow and unconquerable. It’s as though the members of the NorCal fivesome were boozing it up while trying to think of a name for the band and had an epiphany moment. Whether or not that’s how it went down ultimately matters little when it comes to taking on their 2012 self-titled debut, released on Gogmagogical Records, because the impression you go into it carrying is the same either way. Expect largesse and bludgeonry and you’ve got at least a beginning understanding of where the Chico-based group are coming from, although that’s by no means the limits of what the lineup of screamer Brandon Squyres, guitarists Will McGahan and Sesar Sanchez, bassist Adrian Hammons and drummer Daniel Taylor have to offer.

Hammons and Squyres were formerly to be found in Seventh Rule Recordings hardcore-infused crushers The Makai, but Cold Blue Mountain are coming from somewhere much sludgier in terms of the overall base of influence. The self-titled, which comes on blue and white vinyl, on tape or in disembodied mp3s, begins with “Branch Davidian Compound,” and the oppressive tonality of the guitars is immediate. A dense recording by Scott Barwick at Origami Lounge in Chico gives a kind of claustrophobic feeling as Squyres switches between lower growls and higher-pitched screaming, gradually layering the two over a slowdown for extremity’s sake, but the low end is where the heaviness resides, and Taylor‘s drumming does a well in complementing. At 4:01, “Branch Davidian Compound” is the longest song on the album (immediate points), but it’s hardly a summary of everything Cold Blue Mountain get up to stylistically, as “Time Flies Like an Arrow” quickly shows with a brooding but tense guitar intro, hinting at not only post-metal ambience, but also some of the terra-worship that has become an essential part of the genre these last few years. They’re not country twanging by any stretch, and sure enough, the song takes off brutally around the halfway mark — the toms fill a break with a sound no less thick than any of the other tones presented — but it’s there underlying and it shows up again later in the piano of the finale, “MK Outro.”

Perhaps the most post-metallic of all in terms of its basic riff and structure is “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” which measures out a jagged rhythm in starts and stops for its verse progression and builds on them with post-rock noodling in a more open-feeling chorus, Squyres topping both with searing screams. There aren’t verses and chorus as such, but the parts fit together well one to the next, and lighter flourish in the guitar during a brief break stands as precursor to some of what’s to come on later cuts like “Lone Pine” and “Comatose,” though the subsequent “White North” does an even better job at that, making me wonder if perhaps multiple songwriters are at work in Cold Blue Mountain — the band’s interplay of the sonically dark and light being contrasting enough between tracks, despite the band having positioned songs well throughout. “White North” is short at 2:36, but though they don’t waste time in the material there or really anywhere else throughout the record, Cold Blue Mountain‘s tracks are in no way lacking presence, “MK Ultra” taking hold from “White North” with an ambient pulse that you could almost call psychedelic were it not so vehemently grounded. A build brings on more post-rock guitar and growling over a slow, nodding groove and a sudden switch to quiet noodling interplay between McGahan and Sanchez, soon to be accompanied as well by Squyres. The return to full-brunt is well announced, but still satisfies, and though “Dark Secret” tosses in some more upbeat metallized riffing in its midsection, the momentum of the songs is set by then.

That riffing in particular should stand out as something Cold Blue Mountain haven’t done before on the album when it arrives, and it’s a sequence that — though contrasted in the same song by a stretch of ambient echoing guitar and bass-driven groove — continues to be developed over the remainder of the album. “Dark Secret” also boasts one of Cold Blue Mountain‘s most satisfying payoffs; an undulating riff played out patiently and at a tempo so fitting its largesse as to border on the masterful. There are those who immediately shun screamed vocals. Off you go. I think they add to a track like “Dark Secret” a level of expression that clean singing couldn’t, and that, like everything else, a good scream has its place. Whether or not that place is over an upbeat, major-key bopper like “Lone Pine,” I don’t know, but it’s genuinely a take on Torche‘s style that I’ve yet to hear and for that alone I’m inclined to go with it. A slowdown offsets the initial bounce and once more Cold Blue Mountain‘s wall of riff nestles into a patient chug as Squyres meets it head on with noduled vocal cords. The subsequent “Comatose” — which is really the proper closer since the reprise “MK Outro” is just that — continues the lighter feel (though there’s still plenty of weight in the low end) the lead lines in the guitars reminding of the time Slow Horse took on Chris Isaak‘s “Wicked Game,” though at 2:31, the entire thing is shortlived, however satisfying its stomp may have been. Piano makes an already noted appearance on “MK Outro” with lines echoing out into suitably chilled atmospheres and Cold Blue Mountain finish by giving a sense of just how little of their overall breadth they may have shown their first time out.

Or hell, maybe that’s everything they’ve got, who knows? Somehow though, I doubt it. Cold Blue Mountain have plenty of familiar aspects in their sludge, post-metal and ambient take, but there’s a personality underlying that emerges on cuts like “Lone Pine,” “Comatose” and even “White North” that taken in combination with the rest provides a sense of individuality that hopefully the band will continue to refine as they move forward. Until then, their debut effectively blends atmospherics and tonal push so as to not necessarily rely on big riffs to get its point across, but certainly be able to capitalize on them when it so chooses.

Cold Blue Mountain, Cold Blue Mountain (2012)

Cold Blue Mountain on Thee Facebooks

Gogmagogical Records

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On the Radar: Crypt Sermon

Posted in On the Radar on July 2nd, 2013 by JJ Koczan

Info is relatively sparse on Philadelphia-based traditional doomers Crypt Sermon. Their Demo MMXIII contains three tracks totaling out at around 17 minutes of shred-prone doom, given to the trenchant atmospherics of The Gates of Slumber or a rawer Magic Circle, and beyond that and their professed disdain for “fashions and beards,” they haven’t put much out there at this point. For what it’s worth, the music is a good place to start.

The three cuts on Demo MMXIII follow largely similar, straightforward verse/chorus structures, and between “Temple Doors,” “Belly of the Whale” and the closing “Whore of Babylon,” the strong hooks come immediately. “Temple Doors” arrives at a chorus of “What do my eyes see?/Nothing but darkness,” that leaves a strong and decidedly grim impression with vocals either layered or contributed by more than one member of the band (or both), and is complemented by the first of several head-turning classic metal guitar solos. That Crypt Sermon would boast connections to death metallers Trenchrot makes sense in hearing the guitar solos — there’s a deathly precision to the shred that speaks to a technicality more extreme than one usually finds in doom. In any case, that’s balanced well with the spooky groove, “Temple Doors” moving into the churning riff of “Belly of the Whale,” vocals far back, throaty but clean, echoing and peppered with quick proto-thrash screams.

Shades of Lord Vicar and Pagan Altar tint the material here and there, but Crypt Sermon are never veer too far from that underlying extremity, and the ensuing tension bleeds into the finale on “Whore of Babylon,” though at the same time, the lead interplay of the guitars has a nascent sense of ’80s misery à la Solitude Aeturnus that makes me think should Crypt Sermon decide at some point to get grandiose, they’d have an easier time of it than it might initially appear. Whether or not they’ll do that, and whether or not doing that would take away from the appeal the rawness here presents — not to mention how well that rawness suits the vocals, where something more developed would invariably require likewise development in range — I don’t know, but “Whore of Babylon” culminates with vocals and guitar coming together over doomly stomp before the quick fade gets the better of the wailing.

A tape release is en route via Dark Descent Records (Anguish, Ilsa, Cygnus, etc.), and presumably this won’t be the last we hear from Crypt Sermon, so if you get the chance, Demo MMXIII is available for a free sampling at the band’s Bandcamp page, from which I hoisted the player below:

Crypt Sermon, Demo MMXIII (2013)

Crypt Sermon on Thee Facebooks

Crypt Sermon on Bandcamp

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