Comacozer, Kalos Eidos Skopeo: Lines Across Spectra

Posted in Reviews on December 14th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Comacozer Kalos Eidos Skopeo

Sydney-based trio Comacozer aren’t exactly keeping secrets when it comes to what they’re going for with their sound. Among the four extended tracks of Kalos Eidos Skopeo, which is ostensibly their third album — their first having been comprised of two prior EPs; their second being 2016’s Astra Planeta (review here) — the band blend cosmic expanse and earthbound heft to immersion-geared instrumentalism across nearly an hour’s runtime. Their ambition is to entrance more than pummel, but that doesn’t mean a song like “Mystagmus” or the preceding opener “Axis Mundi” don’t have stretches within them that come across Sleep-derived enough to make one wish Al Cisneros would enter with a ritualistically-patterned verse, just that there’s more going on within the 52 minutes of the Headspin Records release than the rolling of riffs.

Some of the album’s most effective moments are its most cosmic, and with the additional flourish provided by the synth of Frank Attard — who also engineered and mixed the recording and drums in psych-improv specialists Frozen Planet….1969 — alongside the guitars of Rick Burke, the bass of Rich Elliott and Andrew Panagopoulos‘ drums, a sense of progression is palpable from the last record to this one. All the more, perhaps, because the songs themselves have grown bigger in keeping with the overall sound, and become longer and more immersive, and when one considers that Attard has helmed each of Comacozer‘s records to-date, it argues all the more that the progression the band has undertaken is willful. That is to say, they’ve settled into a process of craft and know what they want to do aesthetically, so what’s happening with Kalos Eidos Skopeo is the next stage of that process being realized.

It’s also hypnotic as hell. There is not one among the four inclusions — “Axis Mundi” (13:39), “Nystagmus” (12:25), “Hylonomus” (13:43) and “Enuma Elish” (12:58) — that doesn’t lull the listener away from what one generally thinks of as consciousness, and in terms of the overarching breadth of the thing, it’s telling that Comacozer begin with a track that references the tree connecting earth and the ethereal and end with one that calls out the ancient Babylonian myth of creation. If one keeps in mind the early instrumental meanderings of My Sleeping Karma, then before “Axis Mundi” swells in volume just before the 10-minute mark, the track seems to spread itself out in a similar fashion, but it’s really just the first stage of the larger submersion that plays out, and “Nystagmus” — the title of which derives from a medical condition in which one’s eye makes rapid and uncontrolled movements — runs perhaps even deeper.

comacozer

Again with Attard‘s synth work as a major factor, “Nystagmus” executes a long-form linear build, setting itself forward, but seeming to plateau for a while, look around itself, and mindfully drift. The effect on the audience is utterly serene. It gets denser, louder and more actively rolling in the back half as it begins to come to a head, but there are a few minutes there where Comacozer actually make it seem like time has jumped. Burke and Elliott offer such warmth of tone and Panagopoulos such care in his percussive flow, that it’s almost impossible not to get lost in the progression of the resulting work. I am somebody who listens to a lot of psychedelic rock. A lot. I listen to a lot of heavy jams. Very few seem to pull one away from their own brain in the way “Nystagmus” does. It’s a triumph of chill.

Comacozer only increase their overall reach from that point. “Hylonomus” — named for one of the earliest or perhaps even the first of the reptiles — begins with Eastern-inflected strum and moves in its first minute to guitar drift joined soon by the bass and drums, carrying an early tension but holding it until seemingly the last possible minute. As a build, it is more linear but perhaps not as subtle as “Nystagmus” before it, but once again, the fluidity with which the band brings it to life resounds with its liquidity. This doesn’t sound like a compliment but it is one in context because I think it’s what they’re going for: It might actually put you to sleep.

And when it wants you to wake up — the escalating drums leading a forward charge that starts at 11:22 — it’s the most active Comacozer get at any point on Kalos Eidos Skopeo, with a genuine surge in tempo that neither “Nystagmus” nor “Axis Mundi” brought to bear, and from which “Enuma Elish” soon enough departs again to reset the base from which it will embark on one last excursion into the outer edges of the atmosphere. It is encouraging to hear the way in which heft and ambient spaces coexist throughout Kalos Eidos Skopeo — which trims down its 52-minute runtime for the vinyl edition — and the sheer patience of the work as a whole, but worth emphasizing that while the three-maybe-four-piece have established a place for themselves within this sphere, there’s still room for them to progress in how they function structurally and in how their songs are framed, whether that’s achieved through bringing a sense of variety to the proceedings by further expanding arrangements or simply changing up when they get louder in a given piece.

It’s also important to remember they’re still only a year out from what was essentially their first record, so there’s plenty of time for that development to happen, and the commitment to all things molten they show throughout this colorful offering bodes significantly well for their longer-term prospects. One hopes they keep exploring with the vigor and obvious passion they do here.

Comacozer, Kalos Eidos Skopeo (2017)

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Pretty Lightning, The Rhythm of Ooze: Blue Liquefaction

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

Pretty Lightning The Rhythm of Ooze

Much to its credit, The Rhythm of Ooze inhabits the fluidity its title implies. Does it even need to be said that the rhythm of ooze is about something that flows? Something malleable to suit a given purpose? Something that can be changed in its direction and manipulated? Think about pouring viscous liquid into a vertical maze and watching it crawl its way toward the end. The 10 tracks of the third full-length from Saarbrücken, Germany, two-piece Pretty Lightning — issued by Fuzz Club Records — works not all that differently. A decade after first getting together, the self-recording/self-mixing duo of Christian Berghoff and Sebastian Haas embody a psychedelic and loosely progressive take on heavy blues rock, chic like Black Keys and geared at times toward a similar-feeling idea that they might at some point make skinny white people dance — “This Machine is Running” might do the trick if anything ever could — but more expansive ultimately than most indie-minded rock is willing to let itself be, stretching into a lysergic hypnosis of effects and an immersive swirl that, indeed, carries the audience smoothly from the top of that maze to the bottom.

As they follow-up 2015’s A Magic Lane of Light and Rain (on Cardinal Fuzz and Sound Effect Records) and their 2012 debut, There are Witches in the Woods (on Fonal Records), their sense of command is strong, but that does nothing to undercut the playfulness of arrangements like that of “Rainbow Fantasies,” with its interwoven layers of effects-soaked guitar and jingling bells, or the inclusion of organ on opener “Thunder Mountain Return” that complements the bounce of that 7:42 track that bookends with 7:57 closer “Born to Snooze” as being nearly twice as long than the bulk of what occurs between. To go with versatility in terms of the elements at play, Pretty Lightning offer a ready juxtaposition of tempos, showing early stomp as the quicker “Willow Valley Blues” picks up from the dreamy beginning “Thunder Mountain Return” uses to ease the listener into the record and sets itself to establishing the subtle momentum that pushes through one song and into the next among the eight shorter, three-to-four-minute pieces sandwiched by the start and finish.

Also much to The Rhythm of Ooze‘s credit, it does not lose its underlying sense of cohesion while engaging this fluidity. There’s no secret to accomplishing that — it’s the songwriting. Haas and Berghoff don’t necessarily lean overly hard on the making of hooks, but even the backwards loops and soloing near the end of “Tangerine Steam” — which lead, suitably enough, into the more percussively-forward “Loops” — provide a memorable impression, and when they do want to elicit a chorus, they’re certainly more than able to do so, as songs like “Willow Valley Blues,” “Loops,” the swaying title-track, “This Machine is Running” and the penultimate “Moles” demonstrate. This notion of craft meets and lives comfortably alongside the shifts in approach on display across the 45-minute span of the album, as well as the psych-blues aesthetic that at times listening can make one feel like they’re in a beer commercial. But good beer. Not some shitty macro.

pretty lightning

Pretty Lightning, in other words, offer style and substance with their oozy rhythm, and the dynamic turns Haas and Berghoff hone throughout are not to be understated. To wit, “Thunder Mountain Return” seems in its first minute to set up a hypnotic loop of plucked and echoing banjo, hypnotizing the listener as a subtle wash of effects builds up behind, and it ends with that same progression — mirroring the bookending nature of the record as a whole — but the back and forth conversation between shoegazing patience and get-up-and-move begins as soon as the shove of “Willow Valley Blues” starts, and that is immediate.

It’s almost a call and response from there from one side to the other: “Tangerine Steam” channeling Dead Meadow while “Loops” basks in some of the most satisfying movement-based fuzz I’ve heard since Elvis Deluxe‘s woefully underappreciated Favourite State of Mind LP; “The Rhythm of Ooze” finding some middle ground between the two sides to lead into the more energetic “This Machine is Running” which gives way to the instrumental exploration in “Rainbow Fantasies” and “Pale Yellow”‘s rambling technicolor-cowboy drift; “Moles” once again reviving the swagger before “Born to Snooze” purposefully leaves its structure behind and sets out in its second half on one final exploration that will ultimately bring the album to an improvised-sounding and willfully imperfect end of synth and drums. These changes can be drastic but are easily followed with the mindful direction provided by the band, who do little to play to the novelty rawness indulged by some duos and instead take full advantage of a laudable creative range.

One more aspect to the album’s credit? The tones. I noted above aspects of shoegaze at work and the fuzz of “Loops,” but it’s only fair to emphasize the point of how much work the consistency of tone and the depth of tone does to unite the material throughout The Rhythm of Ooze. Tone is a key ingredient, and along with the vocal echo manipulations, it is what lets so much of Pretty Lightning‘s bluesy pulsations carry a psychedelic aspect as well. By giving the record this sense of fullness, they’ve made it all the more enticing a listen, and though they take risks in terms of setting up the contrast of tempos, tone is as much a factor in holding everything together as is the foundation of songcraft beneath the stylistic interplay.

The Rhythm of Ooze does not come apart and does not separate into its constituent aspects despite refusing to hold its shape, and Berghoff and Haas not only make their way through the maze they’ve set before themselves, but they do so without once getting lost along the way or veering off course. As such, their third long-player is a neo-psych collection brimming with purpose and fueled by a clear enthusiasm for its own making, passionately executed but not rushed even at its most active, and only stronger on the whole for the diversity and the chemistry so obviously at its core.

Pretty Lightning, The Rhythm of Ooze (2017)

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Telescope, Telescope: Truth and Revision

Posted in Reviews on December 12th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

telescope telescope

It’s a question of timing. We hear a lot about what’s commonly considered the Psychedelic Era, which ran roughly from 1966 to 1970 and could be considered the ground out of which the first movement of heavy rock was subsequently born. The succession isn’t so clean, of course. It wasn’t one right into the next. But trends came and went and different sounds were picked up at different times enough for a narrative to emerge, so that’s what it is. The Psychedelic Era.

Newcomer Barcelona duo Telescope offer a reminder with their three-song debut short release that the story is never quite that plain, and that each detail has the potential to be hiding its own devil. Comprised of multi-instrumentalists Esteban Garós and Luis Pomés — the latter also of Lewis and the Strange Magics — the two-piece have an immediately deceptive modus, rife with aesthetic specificity that seems geared toward capturing the very moment when the British Invasion and the subsequent movement of pop-rock first began to take on psychedelic overtones.

In other words: when The Beatles started smoking pot. There’s proto-lysergic elements at work in Telescope‘s three initial tracks — “With Your Truth,” “Adrift” and “Not Your Game” — but no hint of anything like a bad trip taking place and Garós and Pomés, who also self-recorded while Pomés handled mixing and mastering, never lose the sunshiny pop flair that lies beneath the resonant fuzz of their tones.

The result of this effort may only be 11 minutes long, and it may ultimately lie somewhere between a demo and an EP when it comes to the actual reality of how it will relate to their work going forward — that is, one doesn’t want to read too much into it with the project being so new — but it’s a significant stylistic achievement that nestles itself warmly into a sonic place few bands inhabit or would dare to try inhabit. Telescope do this without snark, without irony, and with a sense of character in their songcraft strikingly developed for it being their first offering.

One might give partial credit as regards that songcraft to Pomés‘ prior experience in Lewis and the Strange Magics, whose twisted take on classic garage rock isn’t entirely divorced from the semi-retroist vibes Telescope bring to proto-psych in these three cuts, but in comparing approaches, the new duo is far less theatrical, and by focusing sonically on the years closer to ’64-’66 rather than ’67-’70, they also position themselves in a fascinating niche as regards how rock and roll began to use the studio itself as an instrument.

telescope

The drums on the straight-off-Help! bouncing closer “Not Your Game” are particularly Ringo-esque and sound recorded live, but along with that and the running bass, there’s a later flourish of synth and the vocal harmonies over top there and the Mellotron that pops up in the swinging “Adrift” speak to what were the very beginnings of studio experimentation that, in just a few years’ time, would produce records like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Are You Experienced? and The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. That sensibility begins on “With Your Truth,” which opens and is also the longest track (immediate points) at 3:55.

A gentle guitar line swirls in backed by bright-tone fuzz and sets itself to easy-dreaming a quick verse that seems to hop into the volume swell of the hook, with a strut of low end that continues the smooth and crisp groove into the next verse and chorus, after which a short solo takes hold, leading back to the chorus and toward the couple quick instrumental measures that close. It is so forward, so traditionalist in its structure and so sincere and gimmick-free in its execution that one can’t help being swept up by it, and as “Adrift” cleanly takes hold with its opening bassline and the aforementioned Mellotron, the more blown-out vocals over the laid back instrumental progression give a feeling of variety to the EP that is no less subtle than the nuance of their style, Garós and Pomés showing an early chemistry between them in terms of performance as much as writing.

And I don’t know that I ever thought I’d find myself using a phrase like “the tambourine makes it,” but as regards “Not Your Game,” it also happens to be true. It is precisely the kind of touch that lets the listener know just how schooled in what they’re doing Telescope are, which seems all the more crucial their first time out, and it’s one more nod to the pre-psych age that also allows the band to sneak in more modern elements and weirdo touches, giving them, in essence, a familiar foundation on which to build a sound of their own. That they do so with yet another hook of such quality is all the more to their credit, but in line with the cheerful and sunshiny mood of the release overall and the temporal thematic, that quality is an additional aspect tying the EP’s tracks together.

In thinking of how a debut long-player might take shape, it’s important to keep in mind just how tight records from this (that) era were. As “Not Your Game” fades out, one is reminded of strong-handed producers keeping things radio-friendly with editorial tape-cutting and so on. A question Telescope will have to answer for themselves as they move forward from this debut EP is just where they want to put themselves in that balance, and how they can still manage to bring diversity of songwriting to a release while keeping individual pieces to such brevity.

Certainly it’s been done before — that’s the whole point. I’d love to hear Garós and Pomés take on a sentimental ballad, or an unabashed love song, or even the stuff of a mega-catchy toss-off single. There’s so much potential in their debut EP that it’s difficult to imagine the various directions in which they might grow, but they’ve set the task in front of them and they push through this introductory statement in such a manner as to make one think that wherever they end up, it will be a joy to follow along. Here’s looking forward to looking back.

Telescope, Telescope (2017)

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Review & Full Album Stream: The Atomic Bitchwax, Force Field

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on December 7th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the atomic bitchwax force field

[Click play above to stream The Atomic Bitchwax’s Force Field in its entirety. Album is out Dec. 8 on Tee Pee Records.]

The seventh full-length from veteran New Jersey heavy rockers The Atomic Bitchwax would seem to mirror the mania of their work ethic over the last several years. That is, it’s ready to go. Released by Tee Pee Records and given the title Force Field, it continues a thread of hard-hitting, riff-bending, head-spinning vitality that one found typifying the personality of 2015’s Gravitron (review here), marked by the delivery of the band’s trademark hooks at blazing tempos and with a harder-edged production style than one found on their earlier material.

In hindsight, this thread may have begun on 2011’s The Local Fuzz (review here), which, in what seemed a reactionary move at the time, was comprised of a single-track instrumental riff-fest, essentially pummeling the listener with turn after turn for 40-odd minutes. Gravitron and Force Field — if their next album title doesn’t involve the word “plasma” somehow, I’m going to be personally disappointed; perhaps even “plasma inducer?” — make fitting complements to each other because of consistency of style between them, but both seem to have emerged at a sprint from out of where The Local Fuzz had positioned the three-piece of bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik, guitarist/vocalist Finn Ryan and drummer Bob Pantella.

It seems that in a way that couldn’t be appreciated at the time, The Local Fuzz could have been a pivotal moment in terms of the Bitchwax figuring out their course as this increasingly established lineup of the band took shape following Kosnik and Ryan first bringing in Pantella (known for his work in Monster Magnet, of which Kosnik is now also a member) on 2008’s TAB4, following Ryan‘s coming on board with 2005’s 3 (discussed here) — which, perhaps coincidentally, also boasted a track titled “Force Field.” In any case, where TAB4 demonstrated a sheen in its production and delved into more mid-paced and semi-psychedelic songwriting, nearly a decade later, The Atomic Bitchwax come across post-The Local Fuzz almost as a different band — they are supercharged, unforgivingly tight, and aggressive as they burn through Force Field‘s 12 tracks and 34 minutes, offering mere seconds of letup along the way.

And even those, relatively speaking, hit pretty hard. Eight of the 12 inclusions on Force Field clock in under the three-minute mark, and none of the rest touch four — the longest is “Alaskan Thunder Fuck” at 3:48 — and though the verse of “Crazy” seems to straighten out the otherwise winding style of riff that has been a hallmark of The Atomic Bitchwax‘s work since their 1999 self-titled debut and very much is here as well, a tense line of keys and, later in the track, tambourine, assure that the energy level is consistent with surrounding pieces like the full-boar “Shocker” and the instrumental “Fried, Dyed and Layin’ to the Side,” which follows.

If the effort the band has been fatigued at all by the uptick in touring they’ve undertaken in the US and abroad over the last several years, Force Field utterly refuses to show it. From opener “Hippie Speedball” through “Earth Shaker (Which Doobie U Be)” and into the landmark chorus of “Shell of a Man” and the unbridled scorch of “Houndstooth” and ‘Tits and Bones,” The Atomic Bitchwax execute fuzzy fury with precision and sound like a band with no time to waste on anything less than that.

the atomic bitchwax

Through this barrage — one might call it an “assault” were the tones not still so welcoming and their attention to melody still so much a factor in their approach overall — there are times where it seems like a miracle the songs manage to stay as memorable as they are, but in addition to the unshakable foundation of Pantella‘s drumming, variety in the arrangements of vocals between Kosnik and Ryan helps emphasize standout moments across what might otherwise be a totally blinding span, and beneath Force Field‘s surface, the complexity and nuance brought to its progressive turns prove that while it’s in a rush, it was not itself rushed in the making, which is a huge difference in the overall outcome.

As to that outcome, what one takes away from Force Field particularly in the context of Gravitron before it is how much The Atomic Bitchwax at this stage have managed to bridge the gap between classic boogie and the inherent intensity of the US East Coast. Songs like “Shocker” and the penultimate “Super Highway” aren’t shy about their punk aspects, but the groove even of a go-go-go-run-run-run piece like “Super Highway” or the preceding “Humble Brag” remains prevalent, even if one finds it overarching the quickened pulse, rather than resulting directly from, say a nod riff or undulating progression.

In that, it’s “Hippie Speedball” at the outset that sets the tone effectively by striking a balance between thrust and memorability that the band continues to proffer in dynamic fashion. Listening to Kosnik‘s run on bass under Ryan‘s solo during the first solo in the opener, the message regarding chemistry resounds, and the call and response in “Earth Shaker (Which Doobie U Be?)” only reinforces the idea, but the truth is it’s everywhere across Force Field how unreal this band has become in crafting songs that are both fiery and likely to leave a lasting impression.

As is their wont, they shake up their approach with the closer, and in this case, “Liv a Little” with its organ, synthesized-sounding handclaps, blown-out vocals and somewhat slower pacing recalls classic glam rock more than some of the psychedelia they’ve touched on in the past or the poppier vibes they’ve elicited in pieces like “Ice Age (Hey Baby)” from Gravitron, “Wreck You” from TAB4 or even the spacey “Half as Much” from 3. Even with the semi-shift in style, “Liv a Little” over in 2:42 as if to highlight the crispness of Force Field on the whole and the sheer will with which The Atomic Bitchwax at this stage in their tenure — nearly 20 years since forming, nearly 10 with this lineup — keep their material so lean and, indeed, forceful. Their style is utterly their own, and they sound like a band having a blast while pushing themselves physically and aesthetically. Accordingly, while dizzying, Force Field makes for an absolute joy of a listening experience.

The Atomic Bitchwax, “Houndstooth” official video

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Review & Full Album Stream: Shadow Witch, Disciples of the Crow

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on December 5th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Shadow Witch Disciples of the Crow

[Click play above to stream Shadow Witch’s Disciples of the Crow in its entirety. Album is out Dec. 15 on Salt of the Earth Records.]

Proffering eight tracks of ominous heavy blues, Shadow Witch sneak out their sophomore full-length, Disciples of the Crow, in some of the darkest hours of 2017, which seems somehow fitting considering the somewhat apocalyptic vibes on hand. Even a faster cut like the more classically metal “Stranger Skies” has a kind of Biblically-informed fire and brimstone despite its lyrical references to red dawns and yellow kings, and certainly the earlier pair of “Reap” and “Cruel” that follow opener “Love Could be Like This” have those elements at work as well as vocalist/mellotronist Earl Walker Lundy injects the material with a preacher’s soulfulness that becomes no less a defining factor than the multi-layer progressive shred guitarist Jeremy H. Hall brings to the second half of the aforementioned “Stranger Skies.”

Peppered with samples throughout — crows on the title-track (premiered here), a thunderstorm to open the six-and-a-half-minute “The Sea,” a spoken part and tolling bell later into “Cruel,” etc. — what might otherwise be a straightforward heavy rocker is given depth of character and atmosphere (samples are also provided by Lundy), but that foundation in dead-ahead structuring is very much present in the drumming of Doug Thompson and bass work of David Pannullo, who are charged as the rhythm section with keeping Disciples of the Crow moving at the clip it does. A decidedly smooth tonality from Pannullo and Hall, perhaps with the exception of the penultimate three-minute blaster “Beneath the Veil,” adds another level of intrigue overall, making the manageable 36 minutes of the record an all the more fascinating proposition worthy of repeat visits.

In the case of the latter — the fuzz — one might liken it on “Love Could be Like This” or even the stomping title-track to the round-edged warmth of Clutch‘s Elephant Riders, though it’s important to keep in mind in doing so that Shadow Witch‘s approach on the whole draws more from metallic traditionalism amid its heavy rocking pulse. Further, if one wanted to draw a line to the Maryland stalwarts, Clutch‘s “Impetus” might be just as appropriate for the immediacy of momentum with which “Love Could be Like This” begins via Thompson‘s drums. It’s also pivotal to remember that the vision cast throughout Disciples of the Crow brims with a willful, purposeful bleakness of mindset. Consider “Cruel,” with the vaguely of-our-times comment, “Your creature comfort/Honey that don’t mean a thing to me/And your social justice/Well the bell it tolls but freedom it don’t ring.”

shadow witch

This examination of privilege, kind of a chorus led into by the first verse, comes with a grim sonic turn, and while one wonders at the perspective overall with which Shadow Witch are approaching the ever-shifting, ever-manic, ever-tragic modernity in which we somehow continuously spiral, the blue-collar perspective is as clear as the adoption of bluesman’s language to present it. This is more of a theme earlier on, though even “Beneath the Veil” drips back to reference the yellow king in the lyrics again, and Disciples of the Crow sets up a nearly bipolar personality for itself with the title-track rounding out side A and “Stranger Skies” beginning a more careening side B with shades of Iron Maiden in its gallop. The flaw in that argument is not accounting for the acoustic aspects of “The Sea” or melody-fueled angular chug of closer “Dead Heroes,” but when one considers Leviathan-era Mastodon for the former or perhaps even late-’90s Tool for the rhythmic chop of the latter — at least before it straightens itself out in the hook — it’s not too much of a stretch to think of them as a more metal manifestation either than some of the earlier pieces.

Wherever Shadow Witch are coming from on a given track or in a given verse — and yes, one is reminded of Soundgarden‘s “Rusty Cage” as Lundy intones “I’m gonna break…” twice near the end of “Dead Heroes”; hard to imagine that’s not on purpose given the song’s title — the cauldron brew they concoct from that complex recipe is very much their own. Their 2016 debut, Sun Killer (discussed here), worked with a similar potency, but Disciples of the Crow is more memorable in its progression and comes across as more efficient in how it’s been crafted. While of course there are tempo shifts, most notably between the pair of the patient “The Sea” and the ensuing thrust of “Beneath the Veil” — the longest cut running headfirst into the shortest — the work Shadow Witch are doing here never feels like it’s in more of a rush than it should be, and for that, there isn’t a single track among its eight that doesn’t end up with some standout aspect emerging, particularly after a couple times through.

United by the foreboding ambience, the quality of the riffs and by Lundy‘s accomplished melodicism as a singer able to hone a dramatic feel without ever leaving behind the idea of serving the material itself rather than the other way around, Disciples of the Crow sets its own terms for its brand of accessibility, and while Shadow Witch are without a doubt speaking to the converted, the nuanced voice in which they do so leads one to think the converted will find the message well worth receiving. As well, for the fluidity of the front-to-back listen despite the turns between the first four songs and the second, in addition to the shifts nestled into side B between “Stranger Skies” and “The Sea,” “Beneath the Veil” and “Dead Heroes” — the last one feeling almost like a bonus track by the time it’s done — Disciples of the Crow is a considerable achievement for Shadow Witch and a firm declaration of who they are aesthetically and their potential to continue to develop along these lines. A moment of arrival? Maybe, but there’s enough drive at root in their sound to make me think they won’t be staying still all that long.

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Review & Track Premiere: Purple Dino, And Now What?!

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on December 4th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

purple dino and now what

[Click play above to stream the premiere of ‘Soul on Fire’ from Purple Dino’s And Now What?!. Album is out Dec. 14 on Vault Relics.]

Just by looking at its comic-style cover art, with the dude passed out after drinking (which you know because of the bottle in his hand; as opposed to if someone had hit him in the head with a shovel) on the ground in what appears to be a park, surrounded by pigeons and detritus as a decidedly un-Barney-esque mascot for the band sits on a filthy bench, one might be tempted to ask the titular question of Purple Dino‘s second album, And Now What?! The lighthearted visual impression of the Vault Relics release is something of a contrast to the darker, simpler line drawing that adorned the Xanthi, Greece, four-piece’s 2014 debut, Jurassic Bar — though that also worked on the themes of dinosaurs and drinking — and while it might set up an expectation toward classic-style skate punk, the truth of And Now What?!‘s seven-track run is more complex than a single root influence can explain away.

Punk is part of it, as the riffing in the midsection of a song like “2day” demonstrates, but sure enough, that same track draws just as much on jangly surf guitar and semi-metallic crunch in the guitar work of Doukas Kostoglou, so even there nothing is easily pegged. Fronted by vocalist Ristas Kosmas, with Stef Dimou on bass and Mitsos Angelakis on drums, Purple Dino make the most of this varied course throughout And Now What?!, and while they wind up sounding like a group functioning under multiple songwriters or at very least a purposeful will to try something different for their compositions — to wit, the earlier metaloprog chug of “Her Ride” and the later brooding groove of the penultimate “Out of Me” — the album never feels unduly disjointed or like it’s making turns it doesn’t want to make. It doesn’t bumble through, in other words. It ties together.

It would be wrong wording to call that process graceful, if only because Purple Dino never seem to be shooting for “grace” as an aesthetic focus. Instead, their rock comes across as somewhat brash amid its deceptively far reach, but as cuts like the catchy opener “Soul on Fire” and the boozy rolling centerpiece “Show Me” prove, the most pervasive unifying sense is that all of these songs are stage-ready. There isn’t one piece of And Now What?! that wouldn’t serve a decided function in a setlist, and the energy in Purple Dino‘s delivery comes across in part born in the wake perhaps of groups like Truckfighters and their Greek countrymen in 1000mods — though a sonic comparison to neither would be completely accurate — even in the more spacious comedown moments of “Out of Me” on side B.

purple dino

Likewise, the preceding “Isolated,” with its blend of airy guitar early and a later payoff in cowbell-inclusive drumming and nodding riffing, seems charged with the direct purpose of inciting a crowd to move. As goals go, it’s an admirable one, but a full-length isn’t a show, and so Purple Dino‘s And Now What?! needs to find a way to unite its disparate parts in an overarching flow that’s not just pretending to be a concert, which really the production is more crisp than to allow. It accomplishes this via a subtle underlying element serves as an origin point for much of the sound-swath and, indeed, the stylistic interpretation of the cover art as well, and that is the various styles of heavy that first emerged in the 1990s, be it grunge on “Her Ride,” closer “Unknown Destination,” the post-Alice in Chains aggression in the middle of “2day” — not to mention the dialed landline-phone sample there as well — or the last-minute scream and flushed-toilet that cap “Out of Me.” If you’re looking for the place where their metallic side comes from, that would seem to be it.

And as a loose source, that vibe works smoothly with Kosmas‘ vocal style and the tonality of Kostoglou‘s guitar and Dimou‘s bass, the punch of which begins “Soul on Fire” at the very start of the record. But just as they don’t draw just from the well of a single sound, neither do Purple Dino limit themselves to one decade of influence, and the more modern facets — the production and the ultimate heavy rock that arises from their meld — come complemented by a somewhat classic side A/side B feel that puts the first four tracks of And Now What?! in position to be broadened by the final three, with “Isolated,” “Out of Me” and “Unknown Destination” longer on average than their predecessors and seeming to push farther out as they move one into the next, the swagger of “Show Me” before dissipating somewhat amid the ensuing stretch in “Isolated,” which establishes itself early with outreach of guitar and bass topped by a vague sample to up the post-rock spirit before the main riff kicks in circa the one-minute mark.

There is no epiphanous, grand summary on And Now What?! — no single track to bring all the sides together under one hook or progression — but for all the threads that Purple Dino weave, there’s never a sense that they become entangled by them, and instead, there’s an efficiency even to “Out of Me” that puts the emphasis on the consciousness at work beneath its exterior. Purple Dino, in other words, are in control of their craft, and not the other way around. They command this material, and much to their credit, that command doesn’t stop them in the slightest from sounding like they’re having a good time even in the record’s moodier stretches. Rather, it becomes another endearing facet of the overall personality, and lets them bring their listeners along for the ride as it happens, rather than simply leaving heads spinning with an offputting series of unexpected twists. Somehow, it all works. And in answer to the album’s central question, and now — hopefully — Purple Dino continue to build on it.

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Eternal Elysium, Searching Low and High: Found at Last

Posted in Reviews on November 30th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

eternal-elysium-searching-low-and-high

To be sure, if you’re looking to start a collection of underrated and ripe-for-broader-appreciation riffage, there are probably few better ways to kick off than with Eternal Elysium. The long-running Nagoya-based outfit trace their stoner rocking Sabbathian loyalties back more than 20 years at this point, and they have a discography chock full of memorable songs that have gone rampantly undervalued in their time. Accordingly, one can only applaud the efforts of Ukrainian imprint Robustfellow Productions in giving due homage to Eternal Elysium‘s 2005 fourth album, Searching Low and High, which from the initial boogie of “Reefer Happiness” through the Hendrixian strut of “Twilight High” and into the depths of 16-minute jammer finale “Green Song” makes just about a perfect lead release for what’s been dubbed the Robust Relics Series.

Given new cover art by Yura “xNinja” Nagorniy and a complete 2017 remix and remaster courtesy of Eternal Elysium founding guitarist/vocalist Yukito Okazaki, the new version of Searching Low and High is comprised of 10 songs and runs a suitably robust 73 minutes thanks in part to the inclusion of two bonus tracks, “Eternal Elysium” (13:53) and “The Spiral Conclusion” (6:59), but even without these, it’s a substantial work of heavy rock idolatry, digging into the roots of the style and focusing less on nuance of presentation than quality of songcraft. That’s not a tradeoff you’re ever going to hear me complain about, and indeed, the band works it to their advantage even for a weirdo interlude like “Approaching Stranger on the Electric Trail of Dreams,” efficiently bringing a sense of atmosphere to the otherwise straightforward attack of the subsequent post-grunge of “No Isolation.”

Following their 1996 debut, Faithful, the next two Eternal Elysium records — 2000’s Spiritualized D and 2002’s Share — were released by MeteorCity, marking their introduction to North American audiences. They’ve had a number of EPs and splits out along the way, including one in 2007 with Black Cobra, and have issued two full-lengths since Searching Low and High in 2009’s Within the Triad and last year’s excellent return, Resonance of Shadows (review here).

Originally issued on Diwphalanx Records with a follow-up vinyl through Hydro-Phonic in 2011, Searching Low and High finds Eternal Elysium at an interesting point in the arc of their overarching progression, confident enough four records deep to throw a little country swing into “Before the Morning Comes” as might a Pepper Keenan-fronted C.O.C. or to play off acid folk on the 1:42 aside “Hazy Sublime” earlier, but well aware that the core of their approach lies in the thickened groove of a song like second cut “Not So Far,” which answers the faster initial rollout of “Reefer Happiness” by unfolding a doomer nod before turning at its halfway point to madcap stoner punk that here jumps from one channel to the other as it makes its way through its careening course toward a solo-topped bookending slowdown.

eternal elysium

The opening salvo, followed immediately by the aforementioned “Hazy Sublime,” represents the very roots of what works best about Searching Low and High, but Eternal Elysium aren’t content to rest on that alone, and the substance of the album proves more varied and more satisfying than it would if they stuck to the same ideas across the span. And it’s precisely there that the band’s experience as songwriters becomes most relevant and, frankly, easiest to discern.

Earlier outings showcased no shortage of fervent stonerism and were righteous in doing so, but with Searching Low and High, Yukito, bassist/vocalist Tana Haugo and drummer Antonio Ishikawa move fluidly between a more varied swath of influences in a way that, in context, seems to provide a model they’d follow even on Resonance of Shadows, planting their feet firmly and moving outward from there. As the organ-laced “Before the Morning Comes” jives into the psychedelically languid “Green Song,” the trio effectively draw the listener along this path as they go, and the final act of immersion into drift is made all the more satisfying by its dynamic ebbs and flows throughout, guitar leads taking the fore of the new mix with a steady rhythmic foundation behind.

Capped with a fadeout and feedback, “Green Song” gives Searching Low and High a fitting conclusion — gone with no return — but the bonus tracks assure that the proceedings aren’t done yet. The eponymous “Eternal Elysium” appeared on the band’s demo in 1992 and “The Spiral Conclusion” featured on their 2012 split with SardoniS, but both were also on the Hydro-Phonic vinyl as well, so they’re hardly out of place here, and if you’re prone to complain about an extra 20 minutes spent with Eternal Elysium coming out of your speakers, you’re probably not taking on a reissue of Searching Low and High in the first place. Another jam. More nodding riffs. Zero argument.

It will be fascinating to see where Robustfellow takes its Robust Relics Series from here. Of course, I’ve discussed on numerous occasions the treasure trove of pre-social media heavy rock and roll that exists both in and out of current print, so there’s no shortage of fodder for the imprint to dig through and stand behind for reissue should it choose to do so, but in beginning with Eternal Elysium, a clear signal and a high standard have been set, and whether Searching Low and High will ultimately mark a departure point into the discographies of other acts or a series of revamped offerings from the Japanese rockers on their own, its arrival is as welcome as its riffs are timeless.

Eternal Elysium, Searching Low & High (2005/2017)

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Slow, V – Oceans: Drawn by the Ebb

Posted in Reviews on November 29th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

slow v oceans

Belgium’s Slow isn’t the first one-man outfit to wade into the aural cess of funeral doom metal by any means, but it goes in particularly resonant fashion. Helmed by multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and recording engineer Déhá Amsg — whose lengthy pedigree of projects includes Clouds, El Camino, Yhdarl and We all Die (Laughing), among a slew of others — the band’s name is properly written as the all-caps acronym SLOW, standing for ‘Silence Lives Out/Over Whirlpool,’ which was also the subtitle of the first full-length I from the project in 2009. The five-track/57-minute V – Oceans is the latest release, issued by GS Productions earlier in 2017 and picked up by Italian imprint Code666 for wider distribution, and it is a gloriously grueling affair.

Funeral doom has never been and will never be for everyone. By its very nature, it is an extreme form of music. With Slow, the pieces on V – Oceans each top 10 minutes, and the only time there’s much of an escape from the ultra-lumbering, churning tempo is in the 14-minute centerpiece “Déluge,” which veers eventually from its piano/keyboard intro into blastbeats. Otherwise, songs like “Ténèbres” and opener “Aurore” carry forth a wrought emotionalism through largely indecipherable echoing growls and dramatic but not necessarily theatrical arrangements, placed in such a way next to each other as to evoke an overarching linearity to which a lyrical narrative is also set — the theme, of course, drawing on the image of the ocean.

This also isn’t exactly new ground for the style — Germany’s Ahab and defunct UK practitioners Undersmile spring readily to mind, but there are many other examples of groups donning watery themes in funeral doom — but the manner in which Slow takes up this charge is emblematic of what distinguishes Déhà‘s work on the whole throughout the album. In the case of the lyrics, it is the specificity of the imagery put to the songs, the thread of plot that gets woven across “Aurore,” “Ténèbres,” “Déluge,” “Néant” and closer “Mort” that helps make it so immersive, just as it is the nuanced depths of the mix and the intricately balanced arrangements of guitar, keys, bass, drums, vocals, etc. that take place therein that so effectively complement the aquatic mindset.

slow

For the first time with the band, Déhà brought in an outside party — Lore Boeykens, with whom he also founded the Ter Ziele blackened doom duo in 2016 — to work with him on lyrics, and the results are stunning and evocative. The first line of “Aurore” is “Moving into deep waters,” and in a way, that’s the story right there. That’s what’s happening in that song and all that follow, whether it’s the hypnotic undulations that cap “Déluge” or the flourish of spoken work in that song and “Ténèbres” before it or the patient unfolding and foreboding piano that starts the dirge march of “Néant” after. It is no coincidence that the tracklisting moves from “Aurore,” translating from French to ‘dawn,’ to “Néant” (‘nothingness’) and “Mort” (‘death’), as that is precisely where the story of V – Oceans winds up. It is a drowning told through poetry.

As beautiful, serene and resolved as it is sonically brutal and punishing, V – Oceans lets Déhà and Boeykens explore this resounding bleakness of spirit with a conceptual splendor, and as “Néant” resigns itself with the lines, “These dark seas now feel almost comfortable/I give in/May this darkness absorb me,” there’s a swell of keyboard melody that has an almost choral effect (just past the 10-minute mark), as if reaffirming the decision that’s been made. This is a crucial moment for Slow thematically, and perhaps the apex of the album, but to call it that is an oversimplification of the work, which is clearly meant to be taken in its entirety and experienced for the fullness of the headphone-worthy wash it presents. “Mort” caps with a post-death vision of one’s body in the water — “Here my remains drift for everyone to see/This wreck/My failure/Begone with the ebb” — following a description of the undersea voices that lured the protagonist/speaker into the sea in the first place set to chugging guitar, and another choral swell to answer that of “Néant” prior arises at about four minutes in to mark the shift into the final phase of V – Oceans, which stands out for its multi-tiered sense of weight and for the sense of conclusion it brings to the proceedings in their entirety.

I do not know how V – Oceans was composed, i.e., whether it was written as a single song or as individual cuts that Déhà and Boeykens subsequently worked to tie together in both the plot and instrumental presentation, but among the album’s most prevalent features is an overwhelming feeling of completeness, of a front-to-back arc — beginning, middle, end — that concludes in heartrending fashion in its final chapter. Maybe this shouldn’t be a surprise coming from an project that’s been around for a decade and released a full-length on every odd year like clockwork since 2009, but it is as realized in concept as in execution, and while it may not be groundbreaking in the grander scheme of the genre, it nonetheless brings forward the elements that can make funeral doom at its best so affecting.

Slow, V – Oceans (2017)

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