Review & Full Album Premiere: The Age of Truth, Threshold

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on October 17th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the age of truth threshold

[Click play above to stream The Age of Truth’s Threshold in its entirety. Album is out Nov. 1 via Kozmik Artifactz.]

Philadelphia heavy rockers The Age of Truth make their full-length debut via Kozmik Artifactz with the eight-track Threshold. They are a four-piece comprised of guitarist Michael DiDonato, standalone vocalist Kevin McNamara, bassist/vocalist William Miller and drummer Adam LauverEric Fisher played on the album, which was recorded and mixed by Joseph Boldizar at Retro City Studios in Philly — and all of these details become crucially important to the record itself when one actually digs in for a listen. This is because The Age of Truth so quickly establish a range of influence that veers well outside the City of Brotherly Love. Songs like “Supernatural Salesman,” the verses of eight-minute side B opener “Caroline” and “Oceanbones” find the singer very much out front on vocal duties as the backing progressions bring to mind Clutch, but Maryland isn’t so far from Eastern Pennsylvania if we’re thinking of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, and the bulk of Threshold gives a far more European impression.

Enough so particularly in the performance and production around the vocals that one might be tempted to look at their lineup and wonder if there’s any way McNamara could be interpreted as a Swedish name. From the moment the frontman begins to top the semi-prog chug of DiDonato‘s thick, layered guitar in opener “Host (Demon in Me),” and certainly in subsequent cuts like “Come back a God,” “Holding Hands Like Thieves” the soaring chorus of “Caroline” and the winding closer of a title-track, McNamara‘s performance has enough gut-tightened lung push push to recall the likes of Janne “JB” Christoffersson during his time in Spiritual Beggars, John Hermansen‘s work on The Awesome Machine‘s underrated Soul of a Thousand Years, or even the classic presence that Magnus Ekwall brings to The Quill.

These comparisons are compliments not made lightly when it comes to what McNamara adds to the 44-minute album, which tops 50 minutes when the bonus track “Honeypot” is factored in, but the band is by no means only about this one element. Rather, the varied impressions of the songs are bolstered through a clearly diverse writing process — one suspects but has no confirmation of multiple contributors — and given further depth still by being drawn together through the fullness of the production and an edge of noise rock that seems to infiltrate the sound no matter where The Age of Truth are ultimately headed. It’s not just about intensity of delivery, either. True, “Come Back a God” wants nothing for energy behind its densely-packed fuzz tones and blown-out hook — one of several landmarks throughout Threshold — but even in the more laid back “Holding Hands Like Thieves,” the blues-driven “Caroline” or the rolling burl of “Honeypot,” where DiDonato‘s tone seems to singularly shout out toward The Resurrection of Whiskey Foote-era Scott “Wino” Weinrich, there’s an almost intangible aspect to The Age of Truth that draws from punk-based roots.

the age of truth photo useless rebel

The production around Miller‘s low end and the crispness of Lauver‘s drumming are big factors as well. One can hear it in “Supernatural Salesman” as much as the initial thrust of “Host (Demon in Me),” which launches Threshold in medias res and ties together with the finale title-track in underscoring a further complementary enrichment of the band’s sound: the previously-alluded-to progressive underpinning. They’re not engaging anything technically showy or anything like that but neither are their arrangements or progressions unthinking, and that’s shown in the two longer tracks — “Host (Demon in Me)” is 7:42, second only to “Caroline” at 8:11 — as the opener breaks into an open midsection before delivering its parenthetical title line as it builds toward its second-half apex and ends in feedback, and likewise, as “Caroline” moves from its blues to boogie shuffle, there’s an echoing space set in motion by DiDonato‘s dual-layer solo that, as it leads into the final slowdown, brims with enough complexity and purpose to resonate as progressive fare.

A further degree of nuance shows itself as “Threshold” seems to directly answer the spirit of “Host (Demon in Me)” in unfolding its own guitar-led movement, more patient and less aggressive in its charge than the opener, but still rich in its presentation and how it ties together sundry pieces of the record that bears its name. McNamara seems to underscore the representative point by referencing the band’s moniker in the chorus even as he draws upon another previously unheard influence, topping the last bit of shove with a series of repeated “Come on!”s that one half expects to be followed by an invitation to go “Space Trucking.” Sadly (maybe), that invite doesn’t come, but “Honeypot” as a bonus cut does offer a more classic feel to its roll that stands it out somewhat from the bulk of Threshold, though in its comfortable mid-paced fluidity, one finds again an impression drawn from European fare in terms of the vocals.

This may be a source of novelty or intrigue when it comes to early listens of Threshold, but between the record’s art drawing from the theme of the alleged C.I.A. murder of Frank Olson (a scientist experimenting with biological agents who was also dosed with LSD without his knowledge as part of the MK-Ultra project) and the fact that the band’s range is nonetheless presented as a cohesive and well-developed sonic persona of their own rather than simply a series of pieces sourced elsewhere, their debut hits with a marked impact that more than earns multiple revisits. Indeed, “Holding Hands Like Thieves” and “Oceanbones,” which might seem easily digested or overshadowed by compatriot tracks in some way, stand themselves out further on going back through Threshold again, and ultimately do much to tie together the flow that emerges throughout this impressive and thoughtful-but-not-overcooked debut. That The Age of Truth would strike such a rare balance their first time out of course speaks to the forward potential for what they might go on to accomplish craft-wise, but that shouldn’t be considered in place of the achievements they’ve already made in this material, which are significant.

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Review & Full Album Premiere: The Spacelords, Water Planet

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on October 16th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the spacelords water planet

[Click play above to stream The Spacelords’ Water Planet in full. Album is out Oct. 20 via Tonzonen and available to preorder on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play.]

As one might expect for a record comprised of three sprawling heavy psychedelic instrumentals, atmosphere plays a large role in The Spacelords‘ fifth studio outing and second for Tonzonen Records, Water Planet. But it’s not the whole story. And from the underlying progressive melodies in Hazi Wettstein‘s layers of guitar on 11-minute opener “Plasma Thruster,” it’s clear there’s a plotline being followed at least to some degree. No doubt that Wettstein, bassist Akee Kazmaier and drummer Marcus Schnitzler (the latter also Electric Moon) are following naturalist cues throughout “Plasma Thunder” and the subsequent “Metamorphosis” (11:52) and “Nag Kanya” (19:35) that round out the 42-minute offering, but Water Planet has none of the willful clumsiness that often found in spaced-out records based on pure improvisation.

There’s songcraft at work here, however little it might have to do with traditional verse chorus structures. The record, which follows the band’s similarly-minded 2016 three-track long-player, Liquid Sun, and 2014’s Sulatron Records-released Synapse (review here), greatly benefits from that directed sensibility, whether it’s the initial engagement of the opener or the manner in which “Nag Kanya” seems to solidify around its funky wah to push toward the album’s apex and then recede back into fluid drift to send the audience off into space one last time. Rest assured, there’s plenty of exploration still being done in this material — I’m not sure there would be much point, otherwise — but the overarching vibe is expressive as well. These aren’t just indulgent jams.

Perhaps to an unschooled ear, that doesn’t serve for much of a difference as the sampled launch countdown ignites the swirling effects and core bassline of “Plasma Thruster.” At a certain conceptual point, jams are jams, and fair enough, but while The Spacelords still have a sound molten enough as to draw readily on the chemistry between WettsteinKazmaier and Schnitzler, the fact that it also gives them someplace to go sonically seems huge in comparison to other space rock LPs playing to the other side of that equation. This distinction is perhaps evident nowhere so much as in “Metamorphosis,” which is the centerpiece of the three inclusions and presumably the side A finale of the vinyl.

the spacelords

Almost set to pure drift, its 12-minute stretch is hypnotic in the extreme, and yet, after about four minutes in, there’s a subtle turn from Schnitzler on drums, and as Kazmaier‘s bassline holds steady and the effects wash continues to unfold, Wettstein‘s guitar shifts into the next movement of the track. It’s such a small change, and it may indeed have been recorded live, but it comes across like The Spacelords knew they were going to make that pivot, as well as the one after that brings the song into even airier, post-rocking territory, and their knowing what’s following any given moment makes it that much easier to go with them along this path that, once again, still allows for much trance-inducing, purposeful wandering and spacious vibration.

Whatever commonality of theme may persist between Water Planet and its predecessor, the three inclusions of which were similarly broken down with two extended cuts on side A and one even longer one consuming the entirety of side B, there is a notable uptick in production value on the newer record, which makes the effects churn from Wettstein and Kazmaier and Schnitzler added synth all the more immersive. This is especially true throughout “Nag Kanya,” the rhythmic march of which is topped by a sustained drone that does much to fill out the sound, and to go back further and hear early work from The Spacelords on their 2010 self-titled debut or its 2011 follow-up, Dimension 7, it is plain that their progression has involved not only the move toward clearer intention in their craftsmanship, but also a fuller manner of presenting their material on the whole.

This, in combination with a lineup that feels further coalesced than it did on Liquid Sun, which marked Kazmaier‘s introduction to the band, stands Water Planet apart as The Spacelords‘ most realized full-length to-date. One can’t help but wonder if having this solidified base (bass?) beneath them, the band won’t feel freer their next time out to indulge a bit more improvisational wanderlust, but even if they continue to refine their methods with another liquid-theme three-songer, the obvious drive toward growth that shows itself on Water Planet will no doubt yield further forward progress. That is, there’s invariably more ground for The Spacelords to cover — a consequence in part of having a sound so vast — but between “Plasma Thruster,” “Metamorphosis” and “Nag Kanya,” nothing to argue against their being ready or willing to keep heading outward into the uncharted and, in the process of incorporating new elements and touches amid their already established modus, making that ground all the more their own just as they do here.

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Egypt, Cracks and Lines: Expanding the Known

Posted in Reviews on October 13th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

egypt cracks and lines

When North Dakotan trio Egypt issued their second full-length in 2015, already there were stirrings of a companion-piece tracked at the same time that was coming soon. Not that they didn’t say plenty with Endless Flight (review here) itself, which was a delight in tone and groove and its general approach to songcraft — I said at the time that it was immediately recognizable as Egypt‘s own, and I very much stand by that. That there would be more material to come drawn from those recording sessions was an exciting prospect. The trio of bassist/vocalist Aaron Esterby, guitarist/recording engineer Neal Stein and drummer/cover artist Chad Heille had never sounded so fluid, and one knew from the wait between Egypt‘s original demo, released in 2009 via MeteorCity as a self-titled EP (review here) and 2013’s Become the Sun (review here), that Egypt records don’t come along every day, so hey, the more the merrier.

As it turns out, Cracks and Lines is less of a companion-piece or Endless Flight than one might expect — at least in the sense of being more of the same. Instead, with Stein at the helm recording, mixing and mastering, the three-piece course through five tracks and 38 minutes that greatly expand the scope of who Egypt are and what they do as a band, finding a stylistic foothold in a blend of their trademark bluesy sludge on songs like “Final Heist” and the 11-minute rolling title-cut, while elsewhere delving into melancholy psychedelia on “Dirge” or tripping out in a spacious, Hammond-infused jam on 13-minute closer “What Lights this Ocean.” Oh, and for good measure? There’s a KISS cover. They do “Watchin’ You” from 1974’s Hotter than Hell and have no trouble making it their own.

All of this, and especially the languid finish of “What Lights this Ocean” has the effect of broadening Egypt‘s overall reach. Yeah, in their more straightforward nodding moments, on “Watchin’ You” or the apex of “Cracks and Lines,” they still nod toward the likes of Weedeater with Esterby‘s dry-throated shouts and one-time splitmates Wo Fat — with whom they issued Cyclopean Riffs (review here) in 2013 — but that expectation in no way accounts for putting the melodic, calm and wistful “Dirge” as the three-minute centerpiece of the offering, with its subtle swirl of backward guitar and clean-sung verses. Nor does it jibe with “What Lights this Ocean” on the whole, which, while it draws from elements Egpyt have put to use in the past, represents a marked shift in focus toward psych-blues that stands as a realignment from anything they’ve done before. Even “Final Heist,” which at just under seven minutes long one might argue is intended as a familiar lead-in for listeners before the band gets to their more ranging fare, plays to a more patient feel in its rollout, saving a weighted boogie for its final third as the payoff for the slow nod preceding.

egypt

Again, not necessarily unheard of from Egypt, but done in a new way. It’s interesting to think of these songs as having been put to tape at the same time as Endless Flight, if indeed that’s how it worked out, because the band clearly then took the glut of material and sculpted two different outings from it — one that affirmed the direction of their debut and built on the accomplishments there, and this one, which pushes into newer territory altogether. Without knowing the circumstances of the recording, it would be almost too easy to read progression into this material — the sense of Egypt continuing to move forward from Endless Flight, when the reality is that what they accomplish with Cracks and Lines isn’t growing beyond its predecessor, it’s completing the picture of how much they’ve grown since the debut. The mind boggles.

The most important bottom line, of course, is that it works. From “Final Heist” through the early bounce of “Cracks and Lines,” into the melodic drift of “Dirge,” the stage-ready swing of “Watchin’ You” and the final, liquefied wanderings of “What Lights this Ocean” — on which Andrew Steinberg sits in for the aforementioned Hammond contribution, much bolstering the ending of the full-length as a whole — Cracks and Lines succeeds in delivering the impression of Egypt as a richer band in their presentation than one knew they could be before, while maintaining a loose, natural feel throughout. As it was finally put together to coincide with a summer 2017 European tour, Cracks and Lines might be thought of along similar lines to Geezer‘s Psychoriffadelia (review here), with which the New York heavy psych-blues rockers similarly jammed their way into more expansive terrain, but however one might want to frame them, these five tracks showcase a side of Egypt not previously heard in this way.

One can’t help but wonder if on their next outing, the Fargoans might try to bring these stylistic maneuvers together with the more forward sludge rock that typified Endless Flight, essentially combining the vibes of the two albums as a logical next step forward for their sound. If anything, Cracks and Lines makes it harder — though also more fun — to speculate what might be next for Egypt, but either way, the underlying message here is that while one might have come out of Endless Flight feeling like the total scope of the band had shown itself and that the task before them was then to set about refining that scope on a third album through songwriting and general level of performance, production, etc. — that, in other words, their course was set — they’ve instead shifted their narrative with a sonic left turn and given themselves a broader palette to draw from as they move toward what might be a more satisfying long-term development. So while Cracks and Lines complicates guessing who Egypt want to be as a band, it excites in demonstrating just how unsettled that issue still is and that there remains plenty of exploring to do.

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Opium Warlords Premiere “Year of 584 Days”; Droner out Nov. 3

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on October 13th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

opium warlords

Finnish experimentalist entity Opium Warlords releases its fourth album, Droner, on Nov. 3 via Svart Records. On and off for the last 13-plus years, Sami “Albert Witchfinder” Hynninen has used the one-man project as a vehicle for reveling in the sonically weird, producing and playing the vast majority of the instruments on records like 2009’s Live at Colonia Dignidad (not actually live; discussed here), 2012’s We Meditate Under the Pussy in the Sky, and 2014’s Taste My Sword of Understanding. Indeed, Droner follows suit in this regard, though where one might’ve found that compared to the rest of the Opium Warlords discography, Taste My Sword of Understanding was relatively straightforward, delving into structured material if doing so with a still exploratory bent, Droner steps well outside just about any and all stylistic confines with the three pieces included on Droner, and just when Hynninen seems to be making some kind of play toward the listenable, as on 19-minute closer “‘Closure,'” he immediately deep-dives into a wash of abrasive static noise that goes on to consume the track as a whole before a quiet ending caps the album like nothing ever happened. For those who might know him only through his work in Reverend Bizarre or Spiritus Mortis, it’s a considerable sonic leap off a considerable sonic cliff.

That said, the atmosphere is thoroughly one of doom, whatever salt burial Hynninen might be applying to that definition. Droner is comprised of three tracks — “Year of 584 Days” (20:33), “Samael Lilith” (20:27) and the aforementioned “‘Closure'” (18:54) — and each one of them is an album unto itself. Yes, drone is a huge part of it, perhaps nowhere more so than on “Year of 584 Days,” which sets the pattern in rumbling low end, initially sans percussive backing, and strange declarations from Hynninen on a post-opium warlords dronerWorld War II theme. The lyrics for that “song” — such as it is — and its two counterparts, are drawn from outside sources, and into the minimalist-feeling emptiness that permeates “Year of 584 Days,” Hynninen casts words from Finnish cultural historian Jouko Turkka. A suitably militaristic march of chains and stomping begins at about seven minutes in, and the declarations continue on the theme of Germans with flamethrowers, Hynninen drawing out pictures made all the more horrific because of the reality behind them. The minimalism has by then abated and it will continue to do so as the rumble moves into later progressions of guitar, key and bass droning, but right at about the 15-minute mark, the final movement of “Year of 584 Days” begins with a quiet guitar line and some subtle backing scrapes, and though volume will swell again, there’s a singularity to that moment that is no less vicious than the scathing to come in “‘Closure.'”

Between those two points is the curio “Samael Lilith,” which finds Hynninen reciting a ritual from the Congolese Ndembu culture designed around sexual intercourse and procreation. Its frank intonations of the vulva and the penis are no doubt intended as a shock piece for Western ears, and I guess they may or may not be, depending on one sensibilities as regards these things, but arrangement-wise, the SunnO)))-worthy drone that persists beneath and around Hynninen‘s spoken words is enough to add an otherworldly horror to the proceedings, making them all the more strange as notes are sustained into string-vibrating oblivion. Harsher noise takes hold late in the piece, skronking out in avant-jazz fashion until, at last, a straightforward ritualistic progression, different from the percussion and chants that started the track but still somehow tied to them, closes out. This brings the relatively folkish strum and vocals that begin “‘Closure,'” the lyrics for which come from midcentury artist/cultist Marjorie Cameron, whose ethereal invocations still come through as grandiose despite the relatively simple arrangement surrounding, which turns itself backward after eight minutes in to set the stage for the tearing apart that follows. The wash of noise — harsh, cruel — gives way to sparse bells of various kinds, percussive bowls and so on, and that’s how Droner finishes, finding peace at last.

The journey it has made by that point is significant both in runtime and in the substance of how that runtime is spent, but Hynninen proves himself able to act as the master of the chaos he’s bringing to bear throughout, and his central presence at the heart of Droner is what ultimately ties it to a feeling of craft. It is a deeply expressive performance piece, culled together in its various elements and layers, and very much in keeping with the nature of Opium Warlords as a whole, completely unto itself in sound, style and execution. You will not hear anything else like it.

Please enjoy “Year of 584 Days” premiering below, followed by more info from the PR wire:

Sami Hynninen on “Year of 584 Days”:

“What could I say about this song… it is about hydrogen bomb, and the total war. It is the clear world of devastation and torture. All senses are awake when you face the presence of pain and death. You are reborn to the battlefield and flames and terror. Everything you had before has been wiped away. You are alone and lost to a nightmare that has no end. The sun won’t rise again. Your home, and the pictures of your loved ones are now ashes, but you have to force yourself to go on. You just have to go on.”

After three wilderness years with doom gods Spiritus Mortis and Lord Vicar, electronic warriors Tähtiportti, and black metal sorcerers Azrael Rising, Sami Albert “Witchfinder” Hynninen is back in business with Opium Warlords. On November 3rd, Opium Warlords shall release Droner through Svart Records.

Droner is the fourth Opium Warlords album, and it brings Hynninen’s uncompromising musical vision to its most sparse form. It is noisy lo-fi riff music consisting only of particles unquestionably necessary, but at the same time with a musical spectrum that is very wide and open. It is experimental and avant-garde, still with roots deep in the very heart of heavy rock music. It is concrete blues, diving to the existence and the smallest molecular spheres of minimal riffs, and what seems to be an endless repetition of them. From these rather skeletal elements, it occasionally reaches neo-classical, even medieval spheres and death-romantic chambers of apocalyptic folk. Onto all of this, disturbing lyrics are chanted by unnamed, hostile protagonists.

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Review & Full Stream: Nick Oliveri, N.O. Hits at All, Vol. 3

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on October 12th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

nick-oliveri-no-hits-at-all-vol-3

[Click play above to stream Nick Oliveri’s N.O. Hits at All, Vol. 3 in its entirety. CD/LP out Oct. 20 via Heavy Psych Sounds.]

As he informs in screaming fashion on the penultimate “Country as Fuck,” Nick Oliveri is here to drink, fuck, and fight. Would anyone expect less? That song is by a group called Plan B fronted by Oliveri and featuring guitarist Steve Soto, drummer and Joey Castillo, and guitarist Troy van Leeuwen — the latter two former Oliveri bandmates in Queens of the Stone Age — and it’s one of six cuts, each by a different group featuring Oliveri, included on N.O. Hits at All, Vol. 3, the third installment of a Heavy Psych Sounds-backed series of “lost,” previously unreleased or otherwise hard to chase down tracks from the former Kyuss bassist.

Of course, Oliveri‘s alias identities include being the frontman of Mondo Generator, his own Nick Oliveri’s Uncontrollable solo band, his Death Acoustic solo work, performing with Dwarves, a stint in Kyuss Lives!/Vista Chino, bassist in BloodclotBl’astSvetlanas, on and on. His reputation for drug-fueled riotousness precedes him — 2011 police standoff, rifle, prison, amphetamines; easy to recall — and sure enough, N.O. Hits at All, Vol. 3 tears un-P.C. ass through its 17-minute stretch, blasting off punker violence as it goes with Oliveri‘s recognizable throat-searing shouts and unmatched attitude serving as the factors to tie it all together. He may or may not actually be country as fuck, but he certainly makes the above-noted mission statement sound like a genuine expression of intent.

Cohorts and accomplices are a big part of the appeal on N.O. Hits at All, Vol. 3 as well. Oliveri joins Melissa Auf der Maur (Hole, Smashing Pumpkins) in her Hand of Doom solo Black Sabbath covers project for a take on “The Mob Rules” that seems to revel in how far from the Dio-fronted original version it is, while also reminding of how propulsive that original actually was. Dwarves and a side-project for Dwarves guitarist He Who Cannot Be Named both show up, the former with second cut “Luv is Fiction,” which finds Oliveri on vocals under his own name while also playing bass under the guise of Rex Everything. The esteemed Josh Freese (Suicidal Tendencies, Ween, A Perfect Circle, Guns ‘n’ Roses, indeed Dwarves, among many others) may or may not be playing drums on “Luv is Fiction,” which together with He Who Cannot Be Named‘s “Medication,” comprise just about the most outwardly accessible inclusions on the record.

When Dwarves is as close as you get to “audience friendly,” you know some shit is going down. And fair enough. So much of Oliveri‘s sonic personality is based around being unhinged, the wild man, etc., it only seems fair that even as “Luv is Fiction” moves into semi-spoken verses, it should still serve as a reminder of the edge and sense of danger that Queens of the Stone Age have arguably been missing for the last 12-plus years, and by the time they come around, “Country as Fuck” and “The Mob Rules” at the end only underscore the point of the kind of torrent Oliveri can bring to a piece of material and still hold it together to the degree he does, which, naturally, varies.

nick oliveri

And now that the lead has been thoroughly buried, N.O. Hits at All, Vol. 3 features two seeming exclusives of particular note. The first is opener “Rock ‘n’ Roll Outlaw,” a cover of Rose Tattoo‘s 1978 single by the Oliveri-fronted Royale Daemons, a project idea kicked around a few years back that featured Joey Castillo on drums and Scott “Wino” Weinrich (The ObsessedSaint VitusSpirit Caravan, The Hidden Hand, and so on) on guitar. The notion of an Oliveri/Wino collaboration was enough to turn heads in that trio’s direction with the sheer announcement of its existence, but apart from a show or two, this recording and one featured on the previous installment of this series earlier this year, so far as I know nothing else has come of it, and as “Rock ‘n’ Roll Outlaw” has never been previously released, it’s definitely something special for N.O. Hits at All, Vol. 3.

Same could be said of side B leadoff “Kyuss Dies,” by a trio incarnation of Kyuss Lives! without vocalist John Garcia that consists just of Oliveri, drummer Brant Bjork and guitarist Bruno Fevery, on which Oliveri essentially tells the tale in punker fashion of the lawsuit that brought that project to an end and saw the birth of Vista Chino, which of course also led to the departure of Oliveri from the group. Over a raw and fuzzy recording, Oliveri intones “Here come the suits and ties/Kyuss dies,” while brazenly declaring, “So long my friends/I’m gone.” So he would be, but it’s worth noting that “Kyuss Dies” is the only studio recording ever made public under the moniker of Kyuss Lives! — it’s also the longest track here at 3:42 — so is something of a historical footnote in the timeline of that group as well, which would seem to have been shortlived and more or less doomed from the outset.

As with any such interplay of characterization and persona, it’s hard to separate fact from fiction when it comes to seeing Oliveri as the one-man wrecking crew he’s reputed to be, but along with his screams, his scathing vision of what punk rock should do, he’s also someone who can craft a landmark hook, and even “Kyuss Dies,” which sounds like a studio tossoff jam, is maddeningly catchy, to say nothing of “Luv is Fiction” or “Country as Fuck.” These things he seems to take with him wherever he goes, and if N.O. Hits at All, Vol. 3 continues to prove anything, it’s that the dude gets around.

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The Flying Eyes, Burning of the Season: Finding Golden Days

Posted in Reviews on October 11th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the flying eyes burning of the season

True, it’s been four years since Baltimore heavy psych/blues rockers The Flying Eyes made their last full-length offering. And in no small part because 2013’s Lowlands (review here) was such a satisfying follow-up to 2011’s Done So Wrong (review here) — their proper debut LP after compiling two EPs into a self-titled album (review here) the year prior — each one of those years has been felt. But it’s not as if The Flying Eyes have been sitting on their ass over that span of time. In 2014, they took part in the first four-way split from Heavy Psych Sounds alongside NaamWhite Hills and Black Rainbows (review here), and in 2015 they toured Europe for not the first time. They’d do so again in 2016 to mark their 10th anniversary as a group, also releasing the Poison the Well / 1969 7″ (discussed here) on H42 Records in the interim.

March 2016 brought dates in South America as well, and it was immediately following that stretch that the four-piece hit Estudio Superfuzz in Rio de Janeiro to record Burning of the Season, their third (or fourth, depending on how you count it) album and debut on Ripple Music, with producer Gabriel Zander, who’s built a reputation helming records for Mars Red Sky and others, and someone who clearly knows how to capture tone and vibe together. Both serve The Flying Eyes — the lineup of vocalist/guitarist Will Kelly, guitarist/lap steel guitarist Adam Bufano, bassist Mac Hewitt and drummer Elias Schutzman — remarkably well throughout, as does the arrangement-bolstering key work of Trevor Shipley on cuts like side A finale “Circle of Stone,” in which the record’s title line is repeated in a particular moment of arrival; one of several no less distinguished by its melody than overarching memorability.

But then, songwriting has always been part of the appeal of The Flying Eyes, and while their priorities have been and would seem to remain elsewhere geographically — tours in South America and Europe, not in the US, and so on — they continue to carry a measure of American pastoralia with them in pieces like opener “Sing Praise,” which makes an early show of Hewitt‘s bass tone en route to one of Burning of the Season‘s catchiest hooks, and the later melancholic “Farewell,” which resonates with the class of its delivery and a carefully conjured rhythmic bounce that manages not to pull away from the wistful mood. Splitting into two four-song sides, the record totals 43 symmetrical minutes, but casts an immersive and linear flow even as the aforementioned “Circle of Stone” — the longest cut at 7:41 save for closer “Oh Sister,” which hits 8:23; see how that works? — moves into twanging side B starter “Fade Away” such that it’s increasingly easy to follow the progression of the record as a singular work as it continues to move outward into greater expanses.

That happens with a somewhat marked shift in sensibility on the part of the band itself, which makes a raucous salvo of “Sing Praise,” “Come Round” and “Drain” at the outset before stretching out on “Circle of Stone,” and yeah, “Come Round” has a quiet part here and there, and “Circle of Stone” pulls back on tempo to emphasize largesse in its loud/quiet tradeoffs prior to its airy solo, but while that song gets its answer in “Oh Sister,” which again brings in Shipley‘s organ work as it revives a more upbeat feel, the balance of the dynamic at play is what shifts, and it becomes much to the richness of the entire listening experience that it does.

the flying eyes

On a sheer level of craft and performance, The Flying Eyes have never sounded better or like they have more to offer their listenership in terms of stylistic reach. Kelly as a vocalist is a commanding frontman who knows when to step back and let his and the surrounding instrumentation have its space, as shown even early on in an echoing break within the second half of “Sing Praise” further marked by standout tom work from Schutzman, and as “Fade Away” and “Farewell” expand the emotional center of Burning of the Season as a whole, he is able to convey genuine-seeming feeling without losing melodic focus, finding a delicate balance between storytelling and owning the material on a personal level. His and Bufano‘s guitar work throughout is likewise stellar, fluid, patient when it wants to be, insistent elsewhere and able to capture a feeling in just a single short progression, as on “Fade Away,” or cast a spaciousness in “Rest Easy” while still remaining grounded thanks to the complementary work of Hewitt on bass and Shipley on keys, who might need to become a permanent member of the band if he hasn’t yet.

Together with Zander‘s full-sounding and clear but still naturalist production (and some overdubs back in Baltimore at The Magpie Cage), all of these elements come to find a summary point in the revival hook and drive of “Oh Sister,” which picks up from the subdued trio of “Fade Away,” “Farewell” and “Rest Easy” to make its impression through the tapping of Schutzman‘s snare and the molten motion signaled thereby between more active and quieter stretches. The finale doesn’t hit quite the same level of emotional expression as, say, “Farewell,” but it does nod to some of the quieter parts of Burning of the Season while emphasizing its chorus en route to the triumphant wash with which it caps the album — a push-toward-crescendo that takes hold just past the six-minute mark with an uptick in volume and thrust and brings The Flying Eyes, whose control has been so resolute all the while, to an especially spirited end with a moment of chaos no less willful in its execution.

It may have tested patience and anticipation for fans, but four long years to bring about Burning of the Season was not wasted time in light of the growth shown in these tracks even from where Lowlands found The Flying Eyes in 2013. They are as sure in their approach as they’ve seemed to be perennially in their songwriting, and they remain underappreciated (at least in the US; I can’t speak for how other continents might receive them at this point) for what they bring to both in terms of quality and clear-minded, purposeful engagement. They’ve been a special band for a long time. Never more so than here.

The Flying Eyes, Burning of the Season (2017)

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Twingiant Premiere “Kaishakunin”; Blood Feud out on Friday

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on October 10th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

twingiant photo nick wilson

Twingiant issue their new album, Blood Feud, this coming Friday, Oct. 13. It is the band’s third outing since getting together in 2010 and their debut for Argonauta Records, following behind the spirited riff-and-tumble of 2014’s Devil Down, 2013’s Sin Nombre EP (review here), and their self-released 2012 debut, Mass Driver, as well as an earlier-2017 split with Into the Storm that featured the tracks “Poison Control Party Line” and “Formerly Known As…,” both of which are also represented on the record proper. Through all these releases, the consistent thread from the Phoenix, Arizona-based outfit has been one of burl-driven dudecraft, and Blood Feud follows across its eight tracks, beginning a fervent opening salvo with the crisp four-minute get-off-your-ass shove of “Throttled” and pushing into the aforementioned “Poison Control Party Line” with quick-built momentum that holds firm as backing screams join bassist Jarrod LeBlanc‘s largely unipolar but effective growls on “Ride the Gun” and the subsequent “Re-Fossilized” presents a marked change in structure.

Today I have the pleasure of hosting Blood Feud‘s closing track, “Kaishakunin” as a premiere ahead of the release, and as guitarist/backing vocalist Nikos Mixas — joined in the band by LeBlanc on vocals/bass, fellow guitarist/backing vocalist Tony Gallegos and drummer Jeff Ramon — hints in the quote included after the song stream below, one might be tempted to cast Twingiant as a doom band. The truth of that is somewhat more complicated. MixasGallegos and LeBlanc definitely have heft to their tonality and that’s a likely source of much of their “file under” woes (if they’re woes), but as part of their delivery across Blood Feud — even in a song like “Re-Fossilized,” which holds back its verses compared to the three songs before it and side B leadoff “Shadow of South Mountain” after — there’s an aggressive core and an intensity of purpose that could only come from a root influence in heavy metal.

As “Shadow of South Mountain” plays out its runs of guitar and fierce growls, twingiant blood feudone can’t help but be reminded of The Mighty Nimbus or or a less distinctly Southern take on Beaten Back to Pure or Alabama Thunderpussy at their meanest. Twingiant have heavy rock elements working in their favor as regards tone, but just as their Floridian labelmates in Hollow Leg put their emphasis on the ‘metal’ in ‘sludge metal,’ so too do Twingiant bring that pissed-off mood to the chug and swing of “Formerly Known As,” which, like “Re-Fossilized,” finds them in a more instrumental modus, even going so far as to indulge a bit of swirl in the guitar solo past the halfway point before giving ground to the 6:25 longest and penultimate cut, “Last Man Standing,” which starts airy and quiet before moving into clean-sung early verse lines and hitting its full impact around two and a half minutes in before receding again. That back and forth plays out once more and stays louder the second time, coming to an apex that feeds directly into “Kaishakunin,” which unfolds atop feedback with faded in drums, vague whispers, rumbling low end and an overarching sense of violence to come.

Fitting enough. The title of the song is derived from the individual who, in the ritual suicide of seppuku, stands behind the person who has just gutted themselves and acts quickly to behead them — also presumably what’s being given devilish representation on the cover art. So be it. The song “Kaishakunin” unfolds with the most crawling pace of anything on Blood Feud, which gives its growls an especially massive feel, but picks up somewhat after its halfway mark and makes its way into an instrumental finish topped first by a drifting lead and then by another, more earthbound solo to make the trail through the crescendo. It’s not overdone by any stretch — indeed, given some of the bull-in-china-shop drive preceding, it might be understated — but it gets the job done, and the feeling that things aren’t quite done after the 41-minute record has concluded I take as a sign of the band leaving their audience wanting more. Hard to argue.

After seven years and three long-players spent honing their craft, Twingiant cast a genuine sense of arrival and give a duly sure-headed performance throughout Blood Feud; both mature in the sense of knowing who they are as a band and still vital in their execution.

Speaking of executions, you can hear the premiere of “Kaishakunin” on the player below, followed by more info from the PR wire.

Please enjoy:

Twingiant, “Kaishakunin” track premiere

Nikos Mixas on “Kaishakunin”:

“We’re so excited to be on the verge of releasing our 3rd full-length album via Argonauta Records. We’ve put a lot of work and thought into the material, the production in addition to the artwork concept and we couldn’t be happier with the results! Sometimes Twingiant gets labeled as being a doom band, and we’ve never gone out of our way to create a doom song until now with ‘Kaishakunin.'”

Critically acclaimed loud and heavy metal band TWINGIANT are pleased to announce that they will release their new album Blood Feud via Argonauta Records on October 13th 2017.

Pre-order Blood Feud digitally here: https://twingiant.bandcamp.com/album/blood-feud

Twingiant is:
Jarrod LeBlanc – Bass/Vocals
Nikos Mixas – Lead/Rhythm Guitar/Backup Vocals
Tony Gallegos – Lead/Rhythm Guitar/Backup Vocals
Jeff Ramon – Drums

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Review & Full Album Premiere: Firebreather, Firebreather

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on October 10th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

firebreather firebreather

[Click play above to stream Firebreather’s self-titled debut in its entirety. Album is out Friday, Oct. 13, via Suicide Records. Tour dates posted here.]

During their decade together, Sweden’s Galvano grew increasingly progressive in their delivery of semi-sludged metal, such that the chugging of their 2015 swansong, Trail of the Serpent, found them more in line with bands like The Ocean than the Black Cobra-style thrust proffered by their prior 2012 debut, Two Titans. Aligned to Candlelight, that two-piece was led by guitarist/vocalist Mattias Nööjd and would seem to have come to an end sometime after touring with Snailking and Zaum in Autumn 2015.

Nööjd resurfaces in Firebreather alongside bassist Kyle Pitcher and drummer Tommy Hanning, and in terms of relating to his past songwriting, it would seem he’s made clear efforts to get back to basics: pummel, tone, and push. Firebreather‘s self-titled debut runs a bone-crunching but totally manageable 33 minutes. Its four songs — “Fire Foretold” (7:09), “Emerald Eyes” (7:42), “The Ice Lord” (6:13) and “Release the Lava” (11:34) — split neatly into two vinyl sides, and the whole affair is somewhat unassuming on the surface. But just as the deep-toned Adam Burke cover art carries such a sense of illumination in darkness — just what fire has been lit in that cave? — so too does Firebreather‘s material soon unveil the breadth of its threat in the push and gallop that takes hold after the wind-swirl and nodding intro to “Fire Foretold,” Pitcher‘s bass leading a charge that, particularly when Hanning‘s steady snare joins and Nööjd adds his guttural vocals to start the first verse, feels almost singularly derived from High on Fire.

But not just any High on Fire, and not just any derivation. Early High on Fire. High on Fire at their most marauding, when the notion of taking filthy sludge tones and making them do things that only Celtic Frost and Slayer might otherwise dare was a novelty. This era — begun with their 1999 self-titled demo and continued onto 2000’s The Art of Self-Defense and 2002’s Surrounded by Thieves — is recognizable in the speedy immediacy of “Fire Foretold” as well as the lurching buildup that begins around the midpoint of “The Ice Lord,” and Nööjd‘s vocals are a big part of it, recalling pre-melody Matt Pike telling tales of monsters and conquests through material material that seems so violent one almost doesn’t notice how catchy it is; hello, “Emerald Eyes.” It’s more than just Nööjd‘s approach to singing though.

firebreather

In the structure of the lyrics and the rhythm of their delivery, one can hear it, and in the guitar and bass tones as well. These latter could be likened to a dull battle axe. That sounds like it’s not a compliment — wouldn’t one want to be sharp? — but if we keep with Firebreather in terms of representing a take on the aesthetic of formative High on Fire, the idea of the blade being dulled is crucial. A sharp blade cuts cleanly. It slices through: one swing. Swoop, done. It’s fresh, crisp. Maybe unused. A dull battle axe, on the other hand, maybe has a chip in one side of its blade from the neckbone of an enemy. It does not cut cleanly. When it cuts, it has to tear into chunks of raw meat its chosen target. The process is bloody, messy, full of gore. And the difference is one could argue High on Fire have become more and more sharpened over time, but in interpreting their influence on this self-titled, Firebreather dig back to the nastier, rounded edges that once so brutally cleaved the skulls of the unsuspecting.

Whether that’s done in the thud-and-churn in which “Emerald Eyes” is resolved or the broader epic-style storytelling that takes place across the fluid tempo shifts of “Release the Lava,” it’s a spirit Firebreather bring to life with marked purpose and a suitably righteous insistence, and despite the clear focus as regards their chief point of inspiration, their songs are not without an identity of their own. Particularly with the closer’s more patient delivery, rolling through its first two and a half minutes before the drums drop out to let the central riff be introduced and the first verse built toward, Nööjd, Pitcher and Hanning begin the process of carving out their niche, which includes some subtle, perhaps nascent use of melody in the still-from-the-gut shouted vocals that on “Fire Foretold” or “Emerald Eyes” hardly seemed to be a consideration despite layering in the hooks.

How Firebreather might continue to develop and distinguish themselves from their chief influence and from Nööjd‘s past efforts in Galvano, their debut presents a clear stylistic vision and intent — which is to say that the material doesn’t at all feel like it just stumbled into this sound. Rather, like a hilltop declaration of war, Firebreather‘s Firebreather sets forth with bludgeonry in mind and benefits from the knowledge of how to make it happen. It is the underlying memorability that comes through in the band’s songwriting, however, that will most let them flourish in the years and releases to come, and one hopes that as they storm the countryside on horseback spattering brain matter in their wake they remember that craft is the handle of the axe they so capably wield here.

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