Wild Rocket, Disassociation Mechanics: Headfirst into the Ion Storm

Posted in Reviews on September 19th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

WILD ROCKET DISASSOCIATION MECHANICS

If you’re going to push your listeners out into a churning realm of bright-feeling psychedelic noise wash, it helps to start with a hook. Wild Rocket clearly know this, and so their sophomore album, Disassociation Mechanics (on Art for Blind), begins with “Caught in the Triangle Again,” a song that finds the Dublin four-piece playing lumber and blast directly off each other, finding a line between heavy and space rock. That niche, which on paper seems so obvious it might as well be a punch in the face — and in the case of some of the freakouts on the ensuing five-song offering, it kind of feels like one — is deceptively individualized in the care of Niallo, Moose, Jon and Bres, and while there persists a strong current of Hawkwind blowing through “Caught in the Triangle Again,” the band neglects nothing in their songwriting, returning after eliciting this massive nine-minutes-plus sprawl to the chorus as if to let their listeners know how in control they actually are as artists.

They complement this broad-reaching vibe with a tonality that feels as geared toward altitude as the mix of the record is toward depth, and while only the 15-minute penultimate “The Future Echoes” will match and surpass “Caught in the Triangle Again” for runtime, Wild Rocket nonetheless stretch themselves down to the molecules as they plow through “Infinite Reconnaissance Hanger,” the centerpiece “Into the Black Hole” and closer “The Edges of Reality,” the last of which in particular presents a mirror-universe chorus to complement “Caught in the Triangle Again” and give a sense of the journey’s destination being perhaps not so distant after all from its starting point, at least the way the limited human mind perceives the spaces between one thing and the other. Still, you might lose time as the 43-minute LP unfolds, and that’s cool. Check under your seat for a flotation device. Also headphones. You’ll want both.

I’ll readily admit that my opinion of Wild Rocket and the work they do in fuzz-echo-tripping their way through “Infinite Reconnaissance Hanger” and the rest of the tracks here is affected by having recently seen the band perform at the inaugural and Obelisk co-sponsored Emerald Haze fest in their hometown (review here). I’m not sure why that would be an issue, especially with the energy the foursome put into their thrust being so in kind with their live show, but it feels like it’s worth mentioning all the same in a full-disclosure kind of way, and also because I feel like seeing the band on stage before and after having experienced Disassociation Mechanics was helpful in giving a fuller sense of the heavy psychedelic blend they for which they are shooting in these tracks.

Having seen them bring it to life, it’s a blend I’d argue they achieve on the CD (LP release impending), much aided by an almost constant fullness of sound brought on through the use of synth and keys that adds wash to “Caught in the Triangle Again” and “Infinite Reconnaissance Hanger” while giving the opening of “Into the Black Hole” a sense of more straightforward keyboard drama before the shouted echoes of the first verse bring the centerpiece to one of the album’s most singularly intense moments. For a release like this to work at all, it is essential that it be fluid in its transitions within and between its tracks and dynamic in how it presents its style, and Disassociation Mechanics is both of these things, to be sure. Taken as a whole in linear form — CD or digital — it brims with immersion and offers standout moments whether it’s the aforementioned repeated choruses of “Caught in the Triangle Again” and “The Edges of Reality” or the bounce and delivery of the title line in “Into the Black Hole,” or even just the sprawl of “The Future Echoes,” which invariably feels like and is a significant landing/launch point for Wild Rocket as they careen through the cosmos, remaining structurally intact all the while.

wild rocket

It is that factor, ultimately, that makes Disassociation Mechanics work so well. Yes, Wild Rocket beef up space rock impulses and present their material with nuance, vitality and flow. None of that is to be understated in how crucial it is. None of it. But it’s the underlying structural integrity of the work that gives it the legs on which to stand and lets it convey its resonant and exploratory sensibility without getting lost in its own wash of noise. Even “The Future Echoes” holds itself together as effects and backwards swirl top a temporary slowdown two minutes in before the push resumes — a thrill as much of pace as tone, and not by any means the last on offer. Indeed, they shift through that time warp again and hold the gruel even longer the second time around, a space-doom march emerging that holds firm and lumbers “The Future Echoes” just about to its midpoint before impulse power is restored.

At that point, the outward course is set and Wild Rocket engage with due fervency an instrumental kosmiche shove that will consume the rest of “The Future Echoes,” drums varying in snare punctuation even as they’re responsible for holding together the fluidity emanating from the righteous bass and guitar tones, no less elemental than the keys to the overall spirit of the piece. There’s a somewhat expected devolution that starts at about 14 minutes in as “The Future Echoes” blows itself out, and by its final minute, the instruments have crashed and only slow-fading static noise remains. This makes the side B companion “The Edges of Reality” something of an epilogue, but again, its purpose seems to lie as much in hearkening back to the opener as following-up “The Future Echoes,” and it does that well, taking off patiently with faded-in drums over an intro of synth with an emphasis on space rock rhythm. The repeated line, “Pushing at the edges of reality,” gives an initial foothold in an early verse, and will be repeated twice more as the finale moves further and further into phase-shifted, pulsating drift, including during the last fadeout, where it provides a telling moment of humanity at the core of what might otherwise come across as cold and void of life.

Ultimately, Disassociation Mechanics is anything but, and in answering the tonal and aesthetic promise of their 2014 debut, Geomagnetic HallucinationsWild Rocket further establish themselves through a cohesive and forceful execution of a brand of space rock that, wielded less capably, would simply unwind into a sonic mess. This speaks to a progressive edge in their craft that may or may not continue to take hold as they move forward from these tracks toward their inevitable next release, but whatever direction they take over the longer term — and they’re by no means limited to choosing one path over another; clearly capable as they are of adopting multiple stylistic facets as suits their purpose in a given song — their second album brings them to a dimension of color and warmth, and it is an utter joy for the listener to join them there.

Wild Rocket, Disassociation Mechanics (2017)

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Monster Magnet, Spine of God & TAB: Quintessential

Posted in Reviews on September 18th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

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Simply put, Monster Magnet‘s 1991 debut, Spine of God, stands among the best heavy psych records ever made. It might be the single greatest achievement of sonic lysergism the East Coast has ever produced, and even if not, it’s superlative enough that, while it’s on, I can’t think of another to match it. It is an album that could be reissued every year and would still be worth buying, and it earns every bit of hyperbole that can be heaped upon it (and has; previously discussed here). Together with its space-rocking freakout companion-piece, the TAB EP (also often written as 25… Tab, Tab 25 and numerous other variations thereon; the band’s official discography lists it as you see in all-caps), it is a landmark that when originally released through Caroline and Glitterhouse Records helped set in motion not only the stoner rock scene in Monster Magnet‘s native New Jersey that continues to this day and has resulted in groups current and past like CoreSolaceThe Atomic BitchwaxSolarizedHalfway to GoneInfernal Overdrive, and so on.

A full 26 years after its initial release, Spine of God‘s nine original tracks and TAB‘s three still resonate their sleaze and druggy haze — Monster Magnet frontman/founder Dave Wyndorf has said since getting clean he never wrote a song while under the influence, but he’s also the guy who gave the world the line, “It’s a Satanic drug thing — you wouldn’t understand,” so there’s a grain of salt to be taken there — on the new Napalm Records reissue editions, pressed to vinyl and CD. Going by the artwork, general sound of the remasters and inclusion of the “Ozium (Demo)” and “Spine of God (Live)” bonus tracks on Spine of God and TAB, respectively, these are the same versions of the two outings that SPV/Steamhammer issued in 2006, but even that was 11 years ago at this point and, again, it would be hard to consider such a rate of refresher overkill given the quality of the albums themselves. More of a public service.

Roughly concurrent, it’s a matter of some varying opinion which was recorded and released first — then you get into released first where, which is a whole different issue between various labels in the US and Europe — but it’s proper to take TAB and Spine of God together in any case, and one generally thinks of Spine of God as the band’s debut full-length following their 1990 self-titled EP, earlier demos, and the formative tape Love Monster (discussed here), reissued in 2001, as well as other odds-and-ends single-type releases. From the raw, swirling drums effects and dirt-coated fuzz of “Pill Shovel” onward, it is a launch point for an era of Monster Magnet for which much of their fanbase still pines — Wyndorf joined by guitarist John McBain, bassist Joe Calandra, drummer Jon Kleinman and Tim Cronin, who also played drums on “TAB” — and as the opener, it sets the band adrift on a sea of acid, that will solidify and reliquefy throughout the intense push of “Medicine” and the longer “Nod Scene” and “Black Mastermind,” both jammy freakouts marked by vague spoken word parts buried under scorching, layered leads from McBain and a wash of effects, the sounds of inhaled smoke and seemingly whatever else Wyndorf and company could think to throw into the mix.

monster magnet tab

A later cover of Grand Funk Railroad‘s “Sin’s a Good Man’s Brother” is indelibly made Monster Magnet‘s own, but it’s cuts like the subdued, late-’60s melancholia of “Zodiac Lung” and the addled, arrogant threat of the title-track of Spine of God that truly bring to light both the enduring appeal of the band’s rawness at this stage in their development and the accomplishment of songwriting that this record actually is. At over 50 minutes in its original edition (this one is longer, obviously, with the “Ozium” demo included), Spine of God is definitely of the CD era, and its immersion works very much in linear fashion, pushing through “Pill Shovel” and “Medicine” through “Nod Scene” and “Black Mastermind” en route to its moment of arrival in “Zodiac Lung” and “Spine of God” before a back-to-earth, aggressive aftermath of “Snake Dance” and the aforementioned Grand Funk cover lead the way into the closer “Ozium” and the final moment of glorious psych worship of that last cut’s hook. It’s not a minor trip, but another aspect of its execution that keeps Spine of God so relevant is the band’s immediate sense of reach and dynamic. To think of it even this many years later as a first full-length makes it all the more staggering, and it’s one of those rare releases that lives up to the cliché of hearing something new in it each time it’s put on. All the more justification for a reissue.

Though it’s not much shorter in topping 50 minutes, TAB is generally considered an EP, and fair enough, though one might argue that its 33-minute title-track is a long-player unto itself. A massive, swirl-and-churn space rock jam, it unfolds languid and broad over its time, with added percussion, cursing speech and other psychedelic weirdo elements one finds playing out across the likes of “Black Mastermind” and “Nod Scene” as well, and eventually devolves into a wash of stoned-out noise before the 13-minute “25/Longhair,” instrumental apart from what may or may not be some effected vocalizations and rawer in its sound, takes hold as the side B complement. The break between the two parts is clear and happens shortly after eight minutes in, but there’s just about no interrupting the flow at that point, and while “Lord 13” is clearer and more straightforward — and shorter at just over four minutes — it retains the vibe oozed forth by the preceding slabs and holds court as a buried treasure of this era of Monster Magnet still satisfying to those who dig in far enough to find it. It doesn’t have the same kind of thrust as “Medicine” or the fullness of attack of “Snake Dance,” but there’s an underlying tension in its rhythm that satisfying all the same, and with the live version of “Spine of God” tacked on, TAB ties directly to that album even further and emphasizes how well they fit together as one consuming work.

As a setup for what Monster Magnet would go on to do with 1993’s Superjudge and 1995’s Dopes to Infinity before the true takeoff of their commercial ascent with the singles-driven Powertrip in 1998 and God Says No in 2001, never mind the greater impact they had outside the band and the greater impact they continue to have in influencing now multiple generations of bands the world over, Spine of God and TAB are essential works of heavy psychedelia that still manage to excite when engaged despite being more or less burned into the consciousness of the style itself. Spine of God itself nigh on unparalleled, and with TAB in company, the picture it paints becomes even deeper and more complete. There should ultimately be little about either or both of them that needs to be said beyond that, and they should be considered required reading for newcomer listeners to the style and those who’ve perhaps followed Monster Magnet‘s more recent output without truly digging into their past, as well as anybody who’s ever wanted to have their mind blown out through their ears because, yeah, that will happen. It’s hard to overstate how pivotal they are and hard to recommend them vehemently enough.

Monster Magnet, Spine of God (1991)

Monster Magnet, Tab (1991)

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With the Dead, Love from With the Dead: Postcard from the Abyss

Posted in Reviews on September 15th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

with-the-dead-love-from-with-the-dead

If one thinks of the title of With the Dead‘s second LP, Love from With the Dead, in the context of early- and mid-’60s style singer-songwriter releases of collected singles put out by cynical buck-seeking record labels — something one might find at a garage sale from Patsy Cline or Nancy Sinatra — that would seem to be where the band is coming from. Trying to give that impression that the record you just bought is a personal letter to you, the listener, from whoever made it. Of course, the London-based filth doomers’ adoption of the trope is dripping with irony, and if there’s any question as to what the “love” that With the Dead are sending looks like, one needs only to examine the actual, physical decay depicted on the cover of the release, out, like their 2015 self-titled debut (review here), via frontman Lee Dorrian‘s Rise Above Records imprint.

Between that and lines like, “To love I surrendered/Thus my heart has died” from “Isolation,” “When I kiss your lips/I’m another kiss closer to death” in second cut “Egyptian Tomb” and “Life is slow death/Long, drawn process/Leave me to live with love’s cold ghost” from the subsequent “Reincarnation of Yesterday,” etc., a vivid picture emerges of just where With the Dead are coming from, though it only makes the title doubly ironic (or does it cancel out the irony, like a double negative?) that a decent portion of the lyrics Dorrian shouts out from under the abyssal slogging progressions of guitarist Tim Bagshaw (Ramesses), bassist Leo Smee (formerly a bandmate of Dorrian‘s in Cathedral) and drummer Alex Thomas (formerly of Bolt Thrower) deal directly with love as much as with death, though opener “Isolation” would seem to be the most efficient summary included of the general point of view. With the Dead‘s love is a wretched, lost thing, and as the band’s stated intention their first time out was to be as grueling and aurally disgusting as possible, one can only call their efforts in surpassing that standard successful as these seven tracks/67 minutes play out with rigor-setting-in lumber and unrelenting bleakness.

As noted, “Isolation” sets the tone at the album’s launch, and that happens both figuratively and literally — the first thing we hear as the song begins is the dirt-crusted guitar of Bagshaw, coated in noise and soon joined by the plod of Thomas‘ drumming and the deeply weighted low end from Smee, captured in raw fashion by returning producer Jaime Gomez Arellano. At just under eight minutes, “Isolation” is by no means the longest cut on Love from With the Dead — that would be closer “CV1” at 18:03 — but it does immediately convey the challenge the band are putting forth. “Embrace the shadows of endless night” goes the first lyric, and though there’s a hint of melody in the chorus and it won’t be the last as the rest of the record unfolds, its riffs spreading outward like a plague, With the Dead sound like they mean it. They could’ve just as easily have called the album ‘Sincerely Yours’ and made their point.

With-The-Dead-photo-Ester-Segarra

Though “Egyptian Tomb,” which presumably closes out side A and “Reincarnation of Yesterday,” which starts a side B concluded by the following nine-minute “Cocaine Phantoms,” are somewhat faster, the atmospheric impression is made and maintained. With the Dead offer vicious, nodding groove and darken-the-sky doom, regardless of tempo or other factors. That cohesiveness speaks to the underlying mission of the band as founded by Bagshaw and Dorrian, and it’s worth noting that as new members, Smee and Thomas — the latter of whom replaces Bagshaw‘s former Ramesses bandmate Mark Greening — fit the lineup and the mission without question, and as much as the purpose of the album is regression of sound and spirit, With the Dead do move forward from the self-titled in these tracks, if only in their ultra-downer trajectory. Each crash of “Reincarnation of Yesterday” seems to slam itself into the ear, and with mournfully echoing strains of Bagshaw‘s guitar at its core, “Cocaine Phantoms” finishes out the first of Love from With the Dead‘s two LPs in direct answer to the churn of “Isolation,” surrounded by ghosts, caked in stench and unwilling to offer letup of any sort.

To wit, the second platter. Comprised only of three songs, it pairs the 10-minute “Watching the Ward Go By” and “Anemia” on side C with the aforementioned closer “CV1” on side D and moves even further into the depths than With the Dead have already gone. “Watching the Ward Go By” spends its first five-plus minutes in ambient minimalism, some spoken word from Dorrian complementing for a sense of incantation before an explosion of volume and shouts consumes much of the remaining bulk of the piece. That would seem to make “Anemia,” at just 6:49, something of a lifeline to the audience, but the reality is it’s anything but. Instead, it plunders forth its extremity and once more underscores the point of view from which the album emerges in the lines, “No love/No joy/No hope/No life.” I’m not sure there’s a simpler way to put it than that. Once more the tones are brutal but not without a corresponding sense of atmosphere, and as they fade out and “CV1” begins it’s clear Love from With the Dead has hit a particular moment of arrival. And so it has.

The finale uses all of its 18 minutes to mete out a final, exhaustive round of punishment, and by the time its first 60 seconds are up, it’s begun its movement toward the chaotic and abrasive noise that will comprise its ending while also providing the seeming landing point for where the spiral has been leading all along. By the time the layered vocals arrive eight minutes in, the tones surrounding are duly noxious, and “CV1” isn’t much past its halfway mark before the current of caustic feedback begins to swell to prominence. First it comes from under the central riff, then eventually it takes hold and seems to swallow the entire march still ongoing until it’s the only thing left and the album has rendered itself, finally, more or less unlistenable in its last moments. Like everything With the Dead do here, that too is on purpose and true to their overarching modus, and though it might not always seem like it, one of the most impressive aspects of Love from With the Dead is that it manages to push beyond the extremity of the group’s first outing without giving up the feeling of mastery behind its concept and execution. One should probably expect no less from players who are hardly newcomers either to each other’s work or in terms of general studio experience, but that With the Dead manage to retain their cohesion while giving an atmosphere surrounded by melting, rotting flesh only speaks to the strength in their bones. May they defile into perpetuity, “yours truly” to anyone bold enough to have them.

With the Dead, “Anemia”

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Review & Full Album Premiere: Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Passage to Agartha

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on September 14th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Hotel-Wrecking-City-Traders-Passage-to-Agartha

[Click play above to stream Hotel Wrecking City Traders’ Passage to Agartha in its entirety. Album is out Sept. 25 through Cardinal Fuzz, Evil Hoodoo and Bro Fidelity Records.]

It might not always seem like it, but there’s a delicate balance at play at any given moment for Hotel Wrecking City Traders. Yes, the Melbourne duo proffer just under 90 minutes of new material on the six tracks of their fourth album Passage to Agartha — released through Bro Fidelity, Cardinal Fuzz and Evil Hoodoo — but on an aesthetic level, the two-piece of brothers Ben and Toby Matthews (drums and guitar, respectively) tread a line between crunch-tone noise derived from a punk influence and an expansive take on space rock and heavy psychedelia that they’ve developed over the course of their decade together in the band. Each of their releases has been a step forward in a process of refining and individualizing this approach, and Passage to Agartha follows suit in expanding the mindset of early-2016’s Phantamonium (review here) and adding for the first time overdubs of synth and bass to the live-recorded, mostly-improvised root tracks of guitar and drums.

Thus, on opener “Quasar” (11:04) and the subsequent “Kanged Cortex” (11:55), Hotel Wrecking City Traders not only immediately cast their listener into this ocean of intensity and flow, but they do so with their core energy intact and with new elements put to use in making them fuller in their arrangements — they recently added Josh Beagley (also of Melbourne’s Spider Goat Canyon) to the lineup to handle bass parts live — even as the beginning stretches of “Chasing the Tendrils” (17:00) course through proggy nuance that offerings like Phantamonium, 2014’s Ikiryo (review here), their 2012 splits with Sons of Alpha Centauri and WaterWays (review here) and Spider Goat Canyon, 2011’s collaboration with Gary Arce of Yawning Man (review here), the 2010 single, Somer/Wantok (review here), and their 2008 debut, Black Yolk, have been building toward in one way or another.

That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s taken Hotel Wrecking City Traders 10 years to “arrive” as they shift into cymbal wash and amp noise passing the midpoint of “Chasing the Tendrils” and come off the harder-thrusting reaches of “Kanged Cortex” with a fluid motion building on some of the more post-rock airiness of the earlier going, just that Passage to Agartha finds them at the to-date pinnacle of their stylistic development. And while it’s easy to be consumed by the length of the thing — I started off talking about balance for a release that’s nearly an hour and a half long; worth noting that the closer “Oroshi” (22:57) is listed as a CD/digital-only bonus track — it’s the progressive will that becomes so palpable throughout these extended cuts that is even more striking. One can still hear the underlying turns of Black Yolk in their sound, in the angularity of some of Toby‘s guitar parts or the shifts in Ben‘s rhythm, the forward push of his playing, but with a number of experimentalist releases behind them at this point, Hotel Wrecking City Traders have never sounded freer than they do in these explorations.

hotel wrecking city traders

The way they move through the crashing, keyboard-laden ending of “Chasing the Tendrils” and into the more serene launch of “Passage to Agartha” (14:43) — arguably the record’s most purely psychedelic cut and a telling moment as the title-track with its siren-esque background synth and hypno-repetitive guitar lines — is their own, and it’s the result of an organic growth captured on Hotel Wrecking City Traders releases long or short. As they make this particular “Passage,” amassing volume and patience of roll as they go en route to midsection churn and an eventual wash that seems to swallow the song entirely before cutting out circa the 12:30 mark to let Toby‘s guitar and synth drift to the finish, it only seems right to think of Passage to Agartha as another landmark in their ongoing creative journey, part of a timeline and a larger process rather than a stopping point in itself.

At least that’s the hope, because while Hotel Wrecking City Traders remain considerably undervalued even in the crowded sphere of the underground in their hometown, their work has proven vital time and again, as it does here. “Ohms of the Cavern Current” (11:40) closes the album proper with a focus on more rumbling low end and a somewhat more plodding march than that of the title-track before it, rounding out by settling into a crash-propelled last push that cuts out to fade on a repeating guitar line. When it comes to it, “Oroshi” is an album unto itself, or an EP perhaps, but either way a definite standalone focal point correctly positioned here as a bonus track. It shares its overarching hypnosis with the preceding material, but centers around a single background drone for its 22-plus minutes and so clearly has its own experimentalist intentions as well, drifting as it does over a fullness of wash that comes to life and shifts toward one last run of intense prog noodling before cymbal washes take hold at about 19 minutes in to signal the end stage of what’s ostensibly a captured-live piece created as it happened.

Toby and Ben, as brothers and as bandmates, have so clearly developed a musical language between them that Passage to Agartha almost seems to communicate in patterns beyond the construction of its riffs and various (and varied) parts, but it doesn’t at all fail to engage its audience either through the subtlety of its reach or the balance of influences it sets in motion across such a formidable span. Even for a group so much on their own wavelength, the sense of achievement Hotel Wrecking City Traders bring to their craft is easy to perceive, and as Passage to Agartha finds them at a new stage of maturity, the patience they demonstrate when they choose to in “Quasar,” or the title-track, or “Oroshi,” is yet another tool to be put to use alongside the fervency that can be so propulsive elsewhere. One never likes to speculate what the future might bring especially for a band so prone to outside collaborations and one-offs, etc., but as they move forward in a three-piece incarnation with Beagley on bass, it seems all the more like Hotel Wrecking City Traders are still just beginning to discover where their passage is taking them. All the better.

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Various Artists, The Sun, the Moon, the Mountain: Of Ancients and Futures

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

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

One should note immediately that the subtitle of The Sun, the Moon, the Mountain is ‘A Passage Through Greek Psychedelia.’ A passage. Not the passage. Because while the six-track debut offering from Archaeopia Records covers plenty of ground across its intricate, varied and obviously-curated 35 minutes — perfect for a limited LP made even earthier and more naturalistic via woodcut-screened cover art and hand-designed calligraphy — there’s just about no way it could be comprehensive at this point in drawing together all sides of Greece’s underground. The scope has simply gotten too big. Certainly to fit on one LP. You might get a sampling across three 12″ platters, but by then the cost is prohibitive and you too easily run the risk of losing listeners’ attentions somewhere along the “journey.”

No. Archaeopia head Theo Prasidis plays it smart with his assemblage here, bringing together seven acts diverse in sound to represent multiple sides of a Greek scene that’s undergone a massive boom in the last five to 10 years with acts like Planet of Zeus and 1000mods spearheading a presence becoming even more known across the wider sphere of Europe. As a movement, it’s still a nascent scene when one compares it to the decades-since established heavy rock output of countries like Sweden or Germany, but in taking influence from these places and bands, the acts represented in The Sun, the Moon, the Mountain bring something of their own — something definitively Greek — to the mix as well, and as that continues to be refined and defined in the years to come, it will no doubt be the foundation of an influence spreading within and without the country’s borders alike. As a document of that process’ beginnings, this passage through Greek psychedelia couldn’t be more welcome.

For convenience’s sake, the roster of bands and tracklisting:

SIDE A THE SUN, THE MOON
1. Tau & Villagers of Ioannina City, Wakey Wakey
2. The Road Miles, 600 Miles
3. Cyanna Mercury, The Flood
4. Sleepin’ Pillow, Amplifier in My Heart

SIDE B THE MOUNTAIN
5. Green Yeti, Monkey Riders
6. Craang, When in Ruins

Part of the challenge The Sun, the Moon, the Mountain puts to its audience is in helping figure out just what that “something definitively Greek” actually is. This may be a question never answered. Why is grunge grunge? What makes Southern heavy Southern? Where does one style end and another begin? Ultimately this kind of question is academic in its nature — it’s entirely possible to make your way through the songs here, not care at all and still have a perfectly good time — but as the leadoff cut “Wakey Wakey” by a collaboration between Tau (who are actually based in Berlin) and Villagers of Ioannina City delves into a ritualized Americana lyrical thematic and sets its foundation in strummed post-Monster Magnet laid back fuzz jangle, the message is clear: buckle up. “Wakey Wakey,” with mantra-esque vocals and an overriding moodiness marked by flourish of slide guitar deeper in the headphone-worthy mix, sets a distinctive tone, but it’s one of only multiple directions in which the release will decide to go.

the sun the moon the mountain woodcut

The Road Miles make a more classic impression with spacey organ and a fervent heavy push on their “600 Miles,” and Cyanna Mercury‘s “The Flood” seems to Europeanize All Them Witches-style heavy rock blues, their own keys a predominant factor but not overwhelming the strength of their chorus, which retains a link to Greek folk in its scale work and later jabbing starts and stops, reminding the listener that right across the border lies Turkey and the gateway to the Middle East. As side A rounds out with the sleek, electronic-beat-inclusive “Amplifier in My Heart” by Sleepin’ Pillow, an already expansive breadth pushes even further outward. A quiet and hypnotic verse rises to a volume swell of guitar for the chorus and rolls out an immersive groove thereafter, tying together with the somewhat darker ambience of “Wakey Wakey” earlier, but in a much different sonic context. And while the aural surroundings could hardly be more modern, somehow it feels appropriate that Sleepin’ Pillow should cap the first half of The Sun, the Moon, the Mountain with talk of an “ancient fire,” since that seems in part to be what’s driving the offering as a whole.

And that spirit — of offering, of passage — is one that only continues as side B pushes into the longer-form work of Green Yeti and Craang. Both acts are upstarts in the Greek scene, but both have already made a mark as well, and their respective inclusions, “Monkey Riders” and “When in Ruins,” are the two longest tracks at 8:21 and 7:56. Sure enough, the flow that results between them is all the more complementary for that, hitting a level of immersion even beyond side A between Green Yeti‘s rolling, feedbacking central riff on “Monkey Riders” and the galloping payoff that ends and Craang‘s patient but still deeply weighted heavy psych execution that caps with a prog-rock dreamscape of keys and fading, drifting guitar. There’s no mystery in the intention on the part of Archaeopia to take the audience to the edge of space and then give that last little shove, but as that scenario plays out, it seems even more crucial for the listener to realize the cultural interplay at work as well and the various traditions being engaged and built upon, by Craang and indeed by all their counterparts included here.

One might rightly accuse Archaeopia of aiming high with its first release. Indeed, little says scope like The Sun, the Moon, the Mountain — short of “the ocean,” you might as well have called the compilation “Light, Dark and Everything” — but what’s happening in these six pieces is not only a showcase of some of the sonic persona of Greece’s underground, but a representation of the forces modern and otherwise that have taken root and helped shape that persona in the first place. For many who engage it, that will of course be a secondary concern to just checking out a new track from Cyanna Mercury, or from Craang, or hearing what Tau & Villagers of Ioannina City bring to light in working together, and that’s fine too, but there’s an underlying message being conveyed, and in the end, it’s less about saying “these are the Greek bands you need to know” than “this is why you should know Greek bands.”

That works out to be a huge difference in the listening experience. I don’t know whether The Sun, the Moon, the Mountain is the beginning of a series or not from Archaeopia — that’s an awful lot to ask of a new label, and no doubt Prasidis wants to get down to the business of releasing proper albums, etc. — but it could be, and even if it’s only a fleeting, one-time passage, it serves notice of the arrival of yet another player of note in the Greek heavy underground in its conceptual purpose and the sheer class of taste behind its selections. “Wakey Wakey” indeed. Nicely done.

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Review & Track Premiere: Slomatics, Futurians: Live at Roadburn

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

slomatics-futurians-live-at-roadburn

[Click play above to stream the premiere of ‘Tramontane’ from Slomatics’ Futurians: Live at Roadburn. Album is out next month on Burning World/Roadburn Records with preorders posted here.]

Look. Sometimes in life you just have to do yourself a favor, and I have no problem admitting that’s my motivation behind reviewing the Futurians: Live at Roadburn release by Belfast, Northern Ireland, trio Slomatics. No problem whatsoever. I was fortunate enough to bear witness to earlier this year to the set captured at Roadburn 2017 in the Green Room of the 013 in Tilburg, the Netherlands, and as Roadburn Records/Burning World Records gears up to release it to the wider public, I feel no shame in being as stoked on it as I am. Does that make me impartial to the experience or the release itself? Fuck no. Do I every now and again enjoy approaching an album with unmitigated joy and hoping to convey some small sense of that revelry in what still might ostensibly pass as a “review?” Yeah. Every now and again. This is one of those cases.

So if you want a harsh critique of Slomatics‘ set minute-by-minute, or if you want some bland judgment about the level of their play overall throughout the eight-song/42-minute pummelfest of a set, feel free to look elsewhere. For me, much like seeing the three-piece of guitarists David Majury and Chris Couzens and drummer/vocalist/synthesist Marty Harvey taking that stage in the first place, listening to Futurians: Live at Roadburn is a complete pleasure, front to back from the “Good evening Roadburn!” that Harvey tosses in four minutes into “Electric Breath” to the guest vocal appearance from Conan frontman Jon Davis on the finale “March of the 1,000 Volt Ghost.”

Those two cuts also represent the divide between the latest Slomatics studio LP, last year’s stellar Future Echo Returns (review here), and their 2005 debut, Flooding the Weir, and though the last several years especially have brought them to prominence in greater underground consciousness thanks in part to a 2011 split with Conan (review here) and the aforementioned Davis‘ work promoting them through his Black Bow Records imprint, citing (correctly) their influence on his work, etc., the set as a whole basks in the fullness of Slomatics‘ discography, with material from 2014’s Estron (review here) like “And Yet it Moves,” “Return to Kraken” and “Tramontane” from 2012’s preceding A Hocht, “Ulysses My Father” from the late-2014 split with Holly Hunt, and “Running Battle,” also taken from the debut.

It’s a lot of ground to cover and not a lot of time to do it, but Slomatics, who’ve been proffering tonal demolition since 2004, are well up to the task. Still, given that Future Echo ReturnsEstron and A Hocht comprise a thematic and narrative trilogy — the storyline of which is still unclear, though we know that with “Supernothing” and “Into the Eternal” capping the latest record, the main character seems to at least be resigned to death if not actually dead — it’s something of a surprise they’d dip back to Flooding the Weir or the split at all, though one can hardly argue with the flow they set up across the eight tracks of Futurians: Live at Roadburn. It is a total cliché to say of heavy two-guitar bands without bass that they’re missing nothing for low end — and frankly, kind of a shitty thing to say about bassists in general, who add to the dynamic of a group even when the tonal space can be otherwise filled via effects or various methods of amplification, running guitars through bass heads, and so on — but with just Majury and Couzens as the string section, Slomatics‘ material is united regardless of its source by the unbridled weight of their distortion.

slomatics at roadburn photo jj koczan

I said in watching them at the time that they were the heaviest band I’d heard so far over the weekend. They would turn out to be the heaviest band — period — that I’d see at Roadburn this year, and that comes through in the massive roll of “Electric Breath” and the gallop of “Return to Kraken” alike, and as it did on Estron, “And Yet it Moves” lives up to its title — perhaps even more with the energy of the live delivery behind it. Indeed, one of the greatest assets that emerges from the band across Futurians: Live at Roadburn is that energy, and while my hearing it in the recording of “Tramontane” and “Supernothing” and “Ulysses My Father” may be due in part to having stood in front of the stage as it was happening, the vitality of their execution and how simply glad Slomatics were to be there comes through just the same and I believe is palpable whether a given listener saw them or not. Textual evidence? Go back to Harvey engaging the crowd in “Electric Breath,” or as they close out the set with “March of the 1,000 Volt Ghost.” The trio seem no less thrilled to be onstage than the cheering crowd is to have them.

And in kind with the bludgeoning, crushing tonality they bring to bear in the material — recorded in the Roadburnian tradition by Astrosoniq drummer Marcel van de Vondervoort and his team — it’s that spirit of joy that most pervades the release. There have been plenty of Live at Roadburn albums over the years, which is a credit in no small part to van de Vondervoort, and while some simply offer a glimpse of a professionally captured stop on a tour, or a curated setlist, whatever it might have been for a given band in a given year, with Slomatics, it was the show itself and the obvious extra effort put into the set that made it something special.

In other words, playing Roadburn clearly meant something to HarveyCouzens and Majury, and accordingly, it meant more to the audience to see it as well. I can’t speak for everyone who was there and I wouldn’t try to, but I know that for me, Slomatics hit on a particular vibe and sense of communion that in my experience only the very best of fully-bought-in Roadburn performances are able to hone. Thus it seems only more fitting that it should be preserved not only so that those who were there can have it for nostalgic purposes and the band can keep the momentum of their growth going post-Future Echo Returns, but in order to document a singular level of expression as a template for others to hopefully follow in years and fests to come.

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Review & Track Premiere: I Klatus, Nagual Sun

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on September 11th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

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[Click play above to stream the premiere of ‘The Alivist’ from I Klatus’ new album, Nagual Sun, out Oct. 13.]

There are any number of stylistic impressions one might get throughout the 57 minutes of Nagual Sun, the fourth long-player from Chicago’s I Klatus (also written as I, Klatus). Most of them are thoroughly fucked. It is a potent brew of atmospheric sludge extremity the four-piece bring to their material for their first outing since 2013’s Kether (discussed here), and while one might hear shades of YOB or Zoroaster in opener “Beneath the Waves” or the later lumbering of “Jaws of the Shark,” there are deathly undertones through which I Klatus distinguish themselves and turn any colorful psychedelia into shades of brown and gray, their wash of noise by texturist Robert Bauwens part more of an assault than a landscape, despite being hypnotic in its own, bleak manner.

Led by guitarist/vocalist Tom Denney — also a noted illustrator/graphic designer — I Klatus dealt their last time out with the suicide of former bassist Tariq Ali, but here with drummer Chris Wozniak (also Lair of the Minotaur and Earthen Grave, among others) and bassist/clean-vocalist/producer John E. Bomher, Jr. (Yakuza), they might as well be mourning the passing of society as a whole with their postmodern screwall that pervades tracks like the blackened-leaning-but-still-early-Crowbar-catchy “Sorcerer’s Gaze” (video posted here) or the terrifyingly rolling “The Alivist,” which is the longest inclusion at 9:43 and plunges to depths all its own while also leaving space for stoner churn and post-High on Fire gallop. Though based in the Windy City, their sound has roots aesthetically in the same strikingly Midwestern, pill-popping Rust Belt disaffection that gave the world the likes of Fistula, Ultralord, Morbid Wizard and Sollubi, but none of those acts seem to be chasing or conjuring the same kinds of demons as I Klatus are and do on Nagual Sun, and so while aspects may be familiar, the ultimate downward course of the album belongs to Denney and company alone.

And make no mistake, they own it. From the feedback coating in which the launch of “Beneath the Waves” arrives to the deceptively intricate layering in the vocals and the vaguest touch of melody — which is, it’s worth noting outright, no less out of place here — that pervades closer “Final Communion,” I Klatus establish themselves as a litmus for how far sludge can be pushed in substance before it simply oozes down into its component pieces. To wit, even as Nagual Sun seems to revel in defeat after defeat, there’s something defiant about a song like “Moment of Devastation,” which explodes in death metal growls over spacious cosmic doom and shifts with surprising ease back and forth between that and almost minimalist stretches of nonetheless-tense drift. With its robot-effects clean vocals, blasts and so on, “Beneath the Waves” sets up a pretty broad context for the rest of the album to take place within, so as I Klatus bring what seems like experimental fruit to bear in “Serpent Cults,” “Sorcerer’s Gaze” and “Moment of Devastation,” they’ve allowed themselves the room to explore as they will.

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Part of that is a palpable sense of not giving a shit about sticking to genre, from which the songs also benefit, but while Nagual Sun willfully borders on unmanageably long, there are enough shifts throughout to hold the listener’s attention or at very least give them enough of a consciousness-pummeling to render them immobile for the duration. But it is a slog, and clearly intended to be one as “The Alivist,” “Jaws of the Shark” and “Final Communion” — even with the two-minute “Father John Thomas (The Penitent)” set as a penultimate interlude — all top eight minutes long and give a sense that as it plods through, the drudgery of I Klatus‘ work only becomes more infused with the stench of death. This is, again, how the record casts its accomplishment. The feeling of something rotting in the midsection of “Sorcerer’s Gaze” or the sudden rise of swirling wah in “The Alivist” circa the five-minute mark — these are purposefully arranged elements used to convey an atmosphere. There’s nothing haphazard about Nagual Sun; nothing that isn’t where and what the band wants it to be.

So even as its vibe is down almost in the exclusive, Nagual Sun succeeds by building the world in which “Jaws of the Shark” and “Final Communion” take place. It is about the realization of these grim, rueful ideas, rather than about offering their audience a lifeline. That’s not to say I Klatus don’t cast a broad set in terms of sound, but as Celtic Frost once did to thrash metal and as acts like Ramesses did to doom, they seem to push into terrain that’s just that extra bit filthy, just that extra bit darker, more extreme in its perspective. The plunder in “Jaws of the Shark?” Terrifying. The noise that coats the apex of “Final Communion?” It absconds into the far-out until it seems to finally pull itself apart and end the record more or less through dissipation — as fitting a last turn as one could ask for a release the intensity of which has been so obliterating, even in its quietest, most brooding stretches.

Each track on Nagual Sun adds something to the whole of the album’s impression, and while I Klatus set those who would engage with their work up for a grueling journey, there’s little question their fourth LP is meant to be taken in its entirety. Because of the growling, the bitter severity in some of its tones and the sheer force in its rawness, it will be too much for some, and that’s fine. Music like this isn’t meant to be universal. Rather, it’s a personal expression of time, place and thought, and I Klatus carve out a nuanced space for themselves amid the bludgeoning and the drear that ensues, making their doom not necessarily miserable in the emotion it conveys à la European-style drama-staging (or, if we want to keep it to Chicago, the also-deathly Novembers Doom), but a tangible result of that downtroddenness itself. Like Marcel Duchamp’s urinal a century ago, Nagual Sun challenges our conceptions of form and structure, asks what is and what can be art in a world so empty, and offers its answers in the fact of its existence as the result of a creative process and the brutality taking place within its scope.

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Review & Track Premiere: Outsideinside, Sniff a Hot Rock

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on September 8th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

outsideinside-sniff-a-hot-rock

[Click play above to stream the premiere of Outsideinside’s ‘Pretty Things.’ Their album, Sniff a Hot Rock, is out Sept. 29 on Machine Age Records in the US and Sixteentimes Music in Europe.]

Outsideinside aren’t three seconds into opening track ‘Pretty Things’ before the handclaps have started, drummer Panfilo DiCenzo is on the bell of his ride cymbal and the boogie has begun that will continue in earnest through just about the entirety of their debut album, Sniff a Hot Rock. Only fair they should get down to business on the quick, since the Pittsburgh four-piece give themselves a pretty high standard to live up to in taking their moniker from one of the greatest and most pivotal heavy rock records of all time — Blue Cheer‘s 1968 sophomore LP — in addition to boasting guitarist/vocalist Dave Wheeler and bassist Jim Wilson in the lineup, both formerly of Tee Pee Records heavy classic rockers Carousel.

Released through Machine Age Records and Sixteentimes Music, the eight-track/35-minute LP dig into early AC/DC vibes on cuts like “Can’t Say Nothin'” and blend that raw sense of songcraft with echoing-solo psychedelic flourish — James Hart joined the band on guitar and backing vocals earlier in 2017, though I’m not sure if he actually features on the recording alongside Wheeler — but the core of Outsideinside‘s approach lies in the playin’-in-a-rock-and-roll-band attitude of hook-out-front pieces like the aforementioned leadoff “Pretty Things,” “Shot Me Down,” “Empty Room” and closer “Say Yeah,” and while the easy narrative might make it seem like Outsideinside are a brand new band formed in the wake of Carousel‘s untimely collapse, the truth is they’ve been kicking around Pittsburgh’s dinged-out bars since before The New York Times declared doing so was cool; having released a split in 2013 with Old Head in 2013 via Machine Age that featured the track “Misled,” which also appears here.

Accordingly, much of this material, while energetically performed in a clear move to bring out a live-sounding vibe — and effectively done, whether it’s the fuzzy/bluesy turns of “Can’t Say Nothin'” or the forward crotchal thrust of “Say Yeah” — would also seem to have the benefit of having been worked on for a while. Where it ultimately triumphs, however, is in not being overwritten as a result of that, but instead pared down to its most basic and classic-sounding elements. As he was in Carousel, Wheeler is a key presence in Outsideinside. He takes forward position early and does not relinquish for the duration, adopting the role of self-effacing storyteller on “Shot Me Down” with an underlying, winking swagger that makes even lines like, “She said ‘Keep on walkin’ son that don’t impress me none’/And she shot me down,” in the first chorus come across in good humor. Likewise, the subsequent “Empty Room” is what it sounds like: a tale of playing to small, unappreciative crowds. This lyrical perspective adds charm to the rhythmic strut that’s so much at the center of Outsideinside‘s writing, from the start-stop of “Pretty Things” to the brazen solo that takes charge of the second half of instrumental “Eating Bread” before “Ten Years” and “Say Yeah” cap side B, and Sniff a Hot Rock benefits greatly from that added sense of personality.

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In conjunction with the tightness of the Cactus-style creeping bassline in “Misled” and the writing overall, Wheeler‘s frontman presence becomes a part of a subtle efficiency and professionalism that Outsideinside are in no rush to advertise — truth is doing so would take away from both the grandness and the funkness of their aesthetic — but which underscores the whole of Sniff a Hot Rock just the same. It might be their first record, in other words, but dudes know what they’re doing. They signal it early and often, and some of the record’s greatest success lies in balancing that with the outright fun of their boogie as it shines through on the shuffling “Empty Room,” Wilson‘s choice bass work on “Can’t Say Nothin'” and the brash finish in the one-two punch of “Ten Years” and “Say Yeah.”

As they shift from side A’s catchy landmarks in “Pretty Thing,” “Shot Me Down,” “Empty Room” and “Misled” into the more dug-in rhythm of “Can’t Say Nothin'” and “Eating Bread,” Outsideinside continue to proffer good-times vibes in classic form, their sound organic in presentation as well as structure without necessarily being overly vintage in its production. Heavy ’10s more than heavy ’70s, though of course the roots of the one lie in the other. Still, it’s worth highlighting that while the material they bring to bear throughout Sniff a Hot Rock feels as though it’s had the benefit of being worked on, hammered out, and brought to its most essential aspects, there’s a freshness at the core of Outsideinside that still speaks to this as being their first album. The difference is it’s natural without being haphazard where many others might be, and if that comes from Wheeler and Wilson‘s past work together in Carousel or from Outsideinside simply playing shows and recording for a few years before settling into the studio to track this material, so be it.

One way or the other, the end result is a palpable, two-sided, full-LP flow that signals the arrival of Outsideinside perhaps in picking up a bit where Carousel left off, but also establishing their own course in modernizing classic boogie rock with a vitality of their own and a level of songwriting that’s already plenty sure of itself even if “Shot Me Down” or “Empty Room” might tell you otherwise. It’s no coincidence they end with “Say Yeah.” The closer is a direct address to their audience and finds Wheeler as bandleader calling out for an audience interaction in a way that one very much imagines could end a live set as well, building in the finish as he encourages the “crowd” (i.e. the listener) to say yeah. Obviously in the context of the record itself, should one choose to respond, it’s not like he’s going to hear it, but if you’ve got the song on and you find you’re tempted to do so, it’s certainly understandable.

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