Albez Duz, Wings of Tzinacan: Season’s Omens (Plus Full Album Stream)

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on October 24th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster


[Click play above to stream Albez Duz’s Wings of Tzinacan in full. Album is out Oct. 28 via Listenable Records.]

In its use of Aztec language (actually Nahuatl) as well as its cover art and sound, Wings of Tzinacan is very much a follow-up to Albez Duz‘s 2014 sophomore outing, The Coming of Mictlan (review here). Released as their first through Listenable Records, it finds the Berlin-based cult rockers working as a trio, with founding drummer/multi-instrumentalist Eugen Herbst (ex-Dies Irae) and vocalist Alfonso Brito Lopez having brought on guitarist Julia Neuman — they’ve done live shows as a five-piece, and also currently list David Petersen as a full-time member, so the situation seems in some flux — and further codifying the gothic themes of the preceding record in a way that draws their various stylistic sides together into one cohesive statement.

That statement comes loaded with echoing spaces, weighted groove, righteously dark melodies, top-grade organ work on songs like “Our Lord the Flayed One,” and adds up to an eight-track/51-minute excursion into murk that calls to mind Type O Negative and The Butterfly Effect-era Moonspell as much as Paradise Lost while still retaining an identity of its own in its sense of atmosphere, depth of mix and arrangement flourish. More perhaps than its predecessor, Wings of Tzinacan — the word translates to “bat” — steps forward with a singular idea of what it wants to do. Where The Coming of Mictlan explored a range of ideas, and Wings of Tzinacan operates similarly, the third album moves ahead from the second by having those ideas push further toward a singular emotional and sonic expression.

All of that said, I don’t necessarily think one has to have heard The Coming of Mictlan, which was released through Iron Bonehead and Archaic Sounds, to appreciate what Albez Duz have on offer here. Lopez delivers a striking performance in classic metal frontman fashion, and the instrumental arrangements behind him — from the full-toned headbang roll of second track “Reflections” through the calling bats of “Tzinacan’s Rising” to the grueling desolation of the penultimate “Death Whistle,” in which volume ebbs and flows but the lurching sense of agony remains constant — engage with both their diversity of approach and how that approach never veers from the mission of best serving the song at hand and the album as a whole. Each half of Wings of Tzinacan begins with its longest track, and while I’m not sure exactly of the vinyl structure — that is, as a 51-minute CD/digital stretch, it’s possible one or two songs don’t appear on the LP for time constraint — the immersion both of them bring about helps set up what the ensuing portion of the record has to offer.


With opener “The Uprising,” the metallic chug prominent early in its 9:44 run builds in intensity but gives way toward the midsection to reunion-era Celtic Frost-type malevolence, slower, meaner, wider, and the arrival of keys signals a transition into a longer atmospheric break. Satisfyingly, they return to the central riff before finishing out, and in accord, “Reflections” and “Our Lord the Flayed One” both offer a blend of straightforward-ish hooks and grand-in-the-presentation downer atmospherics — the latter delving into extreme metal growls and shred late while still keeping a relatively moderate tempo; a fascinating meld rarely so fluidly executed — before the quieter, mournful organ of “Innocence Gate” begins a turn toward some of the broader-reaching material that “Sacred Flame” (the longest inclusion at 9:46) will establish as the course for Wings of Tzinacan‘s unfolding side B.

“Innocence Gate” is also a transition in a sense of how it plays out with the songs surrounding, and by that I mean how it picks up from “Our Lord the Flayed One” and leads into “Sacred Flame.” Where “The Uprising,” “Reflections” and “Our Lord the Flayed One” stand alone and certainly each cut has its personality, particularly as the album progresses and particularly on repeat listens, “Innocence Gate” begins a conversation that “Sacred Flame” continues — Lopez reminding of Amorphis‘ Tomi Joutsen in his delivery — by building momentum to lead through the bats-notwithstanding instrumental “Tzinacan’s Rising,” the growling horrors of “Death Whistle” and closer “Omen Filled Season,” which in a mirror of what “The Uprising” itself did before it was done, seems to go back toward a more straightforward (again, -ish) push to finish out. It’s this whole-album mentality that Albez Duz so successfully convey this time around and which, if one was to speculate on a direction for future evolution of the band, seems the most likely candidate.

There is, as for everyone all the time everywhere, room to go further, but Wings of Tzinacan gracefully balances diversity of approach with overarching intent and leads its listeners down a grim path without wholly losing itself in indulgences or letting its theatrical elements take away from the impact the material is clearly meant to have. In clarity and in the sureness of the hands guiding it, it is very much a third full-length, but Albez Duz haven’t stopped growing yet and I wouldn’t expect them to now either.

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Asteroid, III: Standing at the Gates

Posted in Reviews on October 21st, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster


Much of Asteroid‘s aptly-titled third album, III, is unassuming. It arrives via Fuzzorama Records with a photo of the band’s gear — artfully shot, but a gear photo — on the front cover, and at seven tracks/36 minutes, it’s quick, almost humble listen. That’s precisely the point. It’s been six years since the Örebro, Sweden, three-piece released II (review here), and while they would’ve been well within their rights to turn III into some grandiose, probably hyper-produced excursion given the occasion, it also would’ve been completely out of character. Asteroid went a much more fitting way, and III benefits from that choice.

Natural vibe, on every level. That’s what the gear shot represents. It’s not about some over-the-top presentation, but about the work that guitarist/vocalist Robin Hirse, bassist/vocalist Johannes Nilsson and drummer Elvis Campbell (since replaced by Jimmi Kolscheen) do in that rehearsal or studio space. It’s their chemistry that shines through, in combination with the unremittingly memorable songcraft of cuts like “Last Days” (premiere here), “Wolf and Snake,” “Silver and Gold,” “Them Calling,” and so on. And yes, III does build on the accomplishments of II in the direction it takes, since that record — thought to be their swansong, notwithstanding the 2013 7″ single Move a Mountain/One Foot in the Grave (review here), until their reunion was announced here late in 2015 — shifted from the more straight-ahead fuzz rock of their 2007 self-titled debut (discussed here) toward a more open, bluesier, jammier style.

III pushes further in that direction from the gentle way Campbell‘s drums seem to start opener “Pale Moon” in medias res joined soon by Nilsson‘s inimitable warm bass tone and ambient guitar swirl from Hirse down to the soaring leads and into-the-night howls of closer “Mr. Strange.” There is no song of the seven that doesn’t deliver a standout factor, whether it’s a hook, solo, overall groove, vocal tradeoff between Hirse and Nilsson, and the flow created between the tracks makes III a better return than one could’ve reasonably hoped for from Asteroid.

I say that as a fan of the band, which I acknowledge I am. Nonetheless, to have Asteroid come back in a manner that not only reinforces the work they’ve done before but actively builds on it and pushes it forward almost gives III a spirit of making up for lost time. It was three years between the self-titled and II, and even with the 7″ factored in, they’ve doubled that span between full-lengths. In the interim, Hirse went on to found The Sun, the Moon and the Witch’s Blues, and it legitimately seemed Asteroid were done. It was no minor loss to the sphere of European heavy rock and psychedelia, since what Asteroid effectively represent as a band is an alternative in audio organics that doesn’t necessarily need to rely on vintage presentation to get its point across.

In that regard, they pick up where they left off on III and move ahead from there. “Pale Moon,” one of just two inclusions over six minutes long, enters with a jammy feel, winding guitars, a minimal vocal presence, and eases the listener into what follows. No stretch to imagine it came out of the three of them picking up their instruments and playing the first thing that came to mind, whether or not that’s actually the case. Near the end, a wash of effects takes hold and comes forward, and the song ends with a rumble that leads into the opening of “Last Days,” which turns from its rolling introduction into a Beatlesian bounce marked out by Nilsson‘s bassline and some call and response singing underscored by the just-in-case-you-weren’t-thinking-AbbeyRoad short instrumental chorus riff.

The verse itself is the hook, and shows the band’s penchant for darker lyrical themes — “Death will come, he always does/For each and every one of us” is a standout line traded between Nilsson and Hirse — that comes up again on “Wolf and Snake” and the penultimate “Them Calling.” “Til Dawn,” which follows immediately with a warmth of shuffle given to fuzzy push, is shorter and somewhat faster, but doesn’t let go of the underlying groove of “Last Days” before it, instead building momentum as it starts and stops fluidly and shoves its way toward what’s probably the end of side A, turning around the 2:30 mark into a denser tone that they ride out for most of the duration, turning back to a cleaner guitar line to finish out in the last few seconds.

If you happen to be listening on a linear format — or if the vinyl side split is elsewhere — that makes the transition into “Wolf and Snake” all the more seamless. The centerpiece and longest track on III at a still-manageable 6:31, it’s a classic blues morality play with the standout lyrics in its first verse, “In the end we are the same/Said the wolf to the snake/You and me we’ve been asleep/While everybody else had to stay awake,” and it comes delivered with patience, dynamic shifts in tempo and a chorus that makes it stand among the highlights of the record and Asteroid‘s catalog as a whole.


Emphasizing the turns they’re able to pull off without even a measure’s notice, Hirse‘s layered lead work, and the way in which Nilsson and Campbell sustain cohesive rhythms while bolstering the guitar in classic power trio form. When they get back to the chorus from the solo section near the midpoint, it’s a release in tension, but the real shift comes in the subsequent slowdown — a transition into thickly-fuzzed, peppered-with-ambience riffing instrumental departure that carries them through the bulk of the remainder of the song, until the drums and bass drop out and the guitar lightly strums out the finish for the last minute or so.

At that point, the impact has been made, but just how much “Wolf and Snake” offers in its time serves as a summary of much of what the rest of III has to offer, though the subsequent two tracks, “Silver and Gold” and “Them Calling” are marked points of departure and contrast — at least from each other if not from the style of the band entirely. Rising quietly from the finish of “Wolf and Snake,” “Silver and Gold” is the shortest slice of III at 3:11, and from the swirling echoes preceding the first verse onward through the harmonies brought forth by Hirse and Nilsson, it’s the most ambitious vocal arrangement they’ve ever done.

And it marks a shift in approach as well, since so much of their appeal has always been about the tone of the guitar or bass and even the drum sounds, but while the dual-vocals has long been a key element of what they do, “Silver and Gold” is a level of performance and a level of confidence in that performance that’s perhaps the clearest marker of their progression on this album entirely, and reinforces Asteroid‘s fierce commitment to moving forward even as they get their feet under them following their years away. It makes III all the more special, and with a couple far-back hits from Campbell, shifts into a peaceful kind of gallop in its second half, vaguely Western, and topped with more non-lyricized harmonies echoing out over the space created, wrapping with a stretch of silence after the passing of some residual effects.

The role that brief quiet plays is no less pivotal than any of III‘s other transitions, since what it sets up is the outright crash into “Them Calling,” an outright fist-pump fuzz rocker that’s almost all thrust and raises a glass with the lines, “Now I stand at the gates of hell/Waiting for you to arrive/I hear them calling, calling for me/But I want you here by my side,” as it careens through headbang-worthy proto-metallic groove.

Tonally, it’s the densest material on the album, but it hits at just the perfect moment after “Silver and Gold,” and brings Nilsson and Hirse together righteously for the above-noted chorus, and shows that as far out as Asteroid are willing to go, they know the value as well that staying grounded can have. They rightly keep “Them Calling” to a straightforward structure, and in sheer effect, its leanness pushes it well into highlight status even before the solo in the second half gives way to one last bookend runthrough of the chorus and a couple hits to close. A “wow” moment, delightful in how unprecedented it is on III but still not at all a backward step on the part of the band, especially in the context of how it interacts with “Silver and Gold” before it and the closer “Mr. Strange” after.

As much as “Pale Moon” had a clear opening sensibility, “Mr. Strange” feels like it’s winding down — though, admittedly just about anything would with “Them Calling” before it — but as Nilsson takes the lead vocal, the foundation is laid for what will be the final push, complemented by memorable “whoa”s and a nodding lead-topped fuzz that once more casts out a sense of vastness without playing to the need for “sounding huge” or departing from the overarching class that Asteroid have shown all throughout the album to this point. In the end, it’s more active at its finish than “Pale Moon” was at its start, but no less fitting in the unassuming manner in which it rises to its occasion.

That is perhaps the most prevalent impression III leaves behind when it’s over. Asteroid probably could’ve made a “reunion” album. They didn’t. They made a third album, and the songs are stronger and more genuine for it in how they sound and what they signify as the band’s conceptual priorities now and going from here. III is one of 2016’s best, no question, and more over, it reminds of just how crucial Asteroid are and can continue to be as an influence to those who will invariably, hopefully, benefit from following their path. Recommended.

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Zaum, Eidolon: Magi Enlightenment (Plus Full Album Stream)

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on October 20th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster


[Click play above to stream Zaum’s Eidolon in full. Album is out Oct. 24 on I Hate Records.]

From field recordings of rain falling and birds calling to chants, throat-singing, drones and tones that ring out like bells calling one to prayer, the prevailing sense of worship in its two extended tracks comes to define Eidolon through and through. Presented across two sides — one cut per, both listed at precisely 21 minutes long — the second full-length from Moncton, New Brunswick’s Zaum arrives via I Hate Records (tape on Superbob) and is coated in a meditative vibe.

The duo showed patience a-plenty on their 2014 debut, Oracles (review here), and on the 2015 Himalaya to Mesopotamia split with Shooting Guns (review here), and “Influence of the Magi” and “The Enlightenment” fall in line stylistically with Zaum‘s prior work in their Eastern inflection and post-Om roll, but sprawl they present in Eidolon‘s 42 minutes brings the band to a new level of headphone-ready, open-consciousness expanse. Each track works to establish its atmosphere — “Influence of the Magi” in its stone-walled drone, “The Enlightenment” in birdsong and horn-esque synth — and when bassist/vocalist/sitarist Kyle Alexander McDonald (also synth) and drummer Christopher Lewis crash in on both, it’s merely an extension of the ambience they’ve already put forth.

It’s not jarring. It doesn’t surprise. It just is. That’s the level of ritual Zaum enact throughout. It’s a hypnotic sensibility distinct in some ways from psychedelia, but benefits from some of the same effects on the listener, and it becomes hard to tell just how much McDonald and Lewis are letting go here — whether the unfolding of “Influence of the Magi” is steering them or they’re steering it. One way or the other, it makes the first four minutes or so of the opener, just before McDonald‘s central bassline kicks in, all the more exciting as a setup for what follows, which in turn, does not disappoint.

Of course, once the full breadth of “Influence of the Magi” kicks in, the direction the song will ultimately take becomes clearer. Forward, and forward slowly. The layers of bass and maybe-sitar/maybe-synth, the swirling echo around the call and response vocals, and the gradual plod of Lewis‘ drums, all come together to create the impression of a march — the pilgrimage is underway. They break for a time just before 7:30 in and let the bass and drone hold sway, but it’s not long before the next chanting chorus and verse emerge. Already their trance-state has been attained, and the roll that plays out satisfyingly maintains it in both atmosphere and consistency of rhythm.

In its makeup, I guess it would be fair to call even the heavier stretches of “Influence of the Magi” drone, at least on some levels, but at its most active it moves far, far away from minimalism, even if it’s intent on returning there sooner or later. At about 12:00, Lewis and McDonald once again break, this time to a longer span of drones and chants, and they return at 14:30 with harder-hitting impact and gruff vocals — not quite growls, but definitely in a more shouting vein. The apex. It carries through a final chanting chorus and “Influence of the Magi” caps its grand span with flute sounds, more droning and residual noise on a long fade into silence.


As “The Enlightenment” begins, one can’t help but be reminded of what Montibus Communitas have been able to bring to their interpretation of psychedelic folk through the use of field recordings, birds and running water and the like, but Zaum‘s take is more foreboding almost immediately, though the pattern that emerges is ultimately familiar to “Influence of the Magi,” even if the transition from the extended intro — also arriving shortly after four minutes in — is more fluid overall. When it gets going, side B moves somewhat quicker than did side A, or at least that’s the impression, but pace doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. Give up your expectations. Quit your job and move to the forest. Build a temple by a river and spend your days naming the gods who live in the trees around you.

It’s hard to know where one element ends and another begins in “The Enlightenment.” McDonald‘s vocals are a far-back swirl of semi-spoken reverb, and one can dig through the mystic fog of incense and find bass, and of course Lewis‘ snare cuts through as it would — punctuation no less invaluable on “The Enlightenment” as it was on “Influence of the Magi” — but in terms of some of the layers and what’s synth, what’s drone, what’s chanted, what’s sitar, it becomes a challenge. I wouldn’t want to speak to Zaum‘s intent, but it seems reasonable to think that’s the idea.

The idea isn’t that the listener sits and tries to pick apart each aspect of Eidolon, one layer, one wash at a time, but that the listener does exactly the opposite and lets the album carry him or her along with it on the journey it has undertaken. “The Enlightenment” holds more tension in part for its (relative) uptick in tempo, but trades between sections of drone and heavier push, manipulated sitar taking hold as a from-the-ground-up build sets the stage for a here-and-gone crescendo, disappearing behind low end and McDonald doing a better take on Cisneros-style singing than most.

It goes only to rise again and give way again in an ebb and flow that gives way to a reemergent swirl that acts as a capstone leading to “The Enlightenment”‘s outro of sampled thunder, flute sounds (synth, most likely), and a similarly patient end as that of “Influence of the Magi,” only with a clap of thunder, rainfall and birdsong as the last thing one hears — far, far back by then — as the album finishes out. That might be Zaum‘s way of easing the turn back to conscious reality — in which things do matter, you do have expectations, and building a temple is very, very difficult — but it’s still a considerable return to make when they’re done, which speaks to the quality of immersion they proffer throughout Eidolon.

What can be heard throughout these two pieces, in the end, is Zaum actively working to establish themselves as a unit separate from their influences. They’re exploring different textures and spirits within the music and finding out what works to represent their atmospheric expression. Given the effect Eidolon can have when one gives oneself over to it willingly, I think they succeed, but I would not be surprised to find McDonald and Lewis continuing to expand their sound going forward, and look forward to the worlds they may continue to conjure.

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Worshipper, Shadow Hymns: Sowing and Reaping

Posted in Reviews on October 19th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster


The simple fact of the matter is that bands like Worshipper don’t just happen every day. Granted, I don’t think this is any of the members’ first project, but just because a player is experienced does not necessarily mean a given endeavor is going to click when other players become involved. Worshipper have not only clicked, but they’ve clicked on their first record, and they’ve clicked in such a way that the Tee Pee-delivered Shadow Hymns has felt destined to be on the best debuts of 2016 list since before it actually came out.

An anticipated debut? Not that it never happens, but like I said, it’s certainly not every day. Listening to the spacious crashes of opener “High Above the Clouds” or the NWOBHM-derived chug of “Step Behind,” which follows and fosters a momentum that continues across Shadow Hymns‘ eight-track/38-minute span, it reminds one of buying some tech product, opening the box, and having it ready to run immediately. Worshipper don’t need to charge up; there’s no assembly required. Guitarist/vocalist John Brookhouse, guitarist Alejandro Necochea, bassist/backing vocalist Bob Maloney and drummer Dave Jarvis have taken care of everything.

Working at three studios — Mad Oak, Q Division and Converse Rubber Tracks — they’ve meticulously constructed songs that thread together impulses from heavy rock and classic metal. Their native scene has already taken notice and embraced them heartily, handing them a Boston Music Award last year on the strength of their two 2015 singles, Place Beyond the Light b/w Step Behind (discussed here) and the earlier Black Corridor b/w High Above the Clouds (review here).

That’s an action I don’t disagree with — it seemed perhaps a bit premature in the way Barack Obama won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, when he’d been president for a matter of weeks — but Worshipper have been nominated for three more such awards in 2016, so clearly the Boston music scene agrees with itself, which it can be relied upon to do generally. As regards Worshipper, it’s right.


Four of Shadow Hymns‘ eight songs appeared on those prior singles, and while “Step Behind” and “Place Beyond the Light” and “High Above the Clouds” and “Black Corridor,” which closes, are standouts for having been issued before, the level of songwriting on “Ghosts and Breath,” “Darkness,” “Another Yesterday” and “Wolf Song” is not only consistent, but broadens an atmospheric scope that may or may not still be in development, but already sounds accomplished. “Ghosts and Breath” taps into Slayer-esque dual-leads at its outset even as it moves into one of the record’s plethora of hooks, while “Darkness” and the penultimate “Wolf Song” bring in layers of acoustic guitar (a specialty of producer Benny Grotto) for a feel bordering on gothic.

These moments of flourish come together fluidly with the gallop that emerges in “Place Beyond the Light,” united by stellar lead work from Necochea, Brookhouse‘s soulful vocals and the steady, forward drive of Jarvis and Maloney, which might be the most metallic aspect of what Worshipper do, ultimately. In its tone, Shadow Hymns is crisp without being unnatural or overproduced-sounding, but even as “Darkness” hits into its nodding chorus, the rhythm section holds to the tension of the verse before, setting up the transition to the solo section that follows. With a strong sense of structure throughout, it works. Worshipper manage their transitions within and between songs gracefully, and on a sheer level of execution, Shadow Hymns is miles ahead of what one generally expects going into a debut album.

“Having their shit together” might be Worshipper‘s most defining sonic feature at this stage. I would not guess their stylistic development is complete as of their first long-player — at least one hopes not — but for how firmly they nail down the airy spookiness of the slower “Another Yesterday” and the dynamic turns of “Step Behind,” they sound remarkably in command and sure of what they want to be doing. With an even side A/B split between “Darkness” and “Place Beyond the Light,” Shadow Hymns‘ personality is made even richer, but it remains drawn together through performance and songcraft, as well as a depth of mix that finds Brookhouse as much at home at the forefront of “Darkness” as buried under “Ghosts and Breath.”

There is room to expand the overall palette of mood — Shadow Hymns tends toward the dark in its themes and ambience — but Worshipper also put themselves in a solid position from which to enact that growth, structurally and in terms of how deftly they move between their rock-meets-metal influences, and with memorable cuts like “Step Behind,” “Ghosts and Breath,” “Place Beyond the Light,” “Another Yesterday,” “Black Corridor,” and so on, they’re working from a foundation solid enough to sustain any number of future directions. Like the best of debuts, the potential of the band in question is part of the appeal, but as noted, if this is just the start, Worshipper have already delivered.

Worshipper, Shadow Hymns (2016)

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Truckfighters, V: Creating the Storm

Posted in Reviews on October 17th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster


If you want to look at the trajectory of Swedish heavy rockers Truckfighters, it’s easy to read their catalog as a series of forward steps. There is a clear narrative arc to their work that can be traced right to its latest chapter in their new offering, V. Their 2005 debut, Gravity X, boasts a few tracks that even 11 years later tap into a timeless imperative of desert rock. It established them as a noteworthy presence within the sphere of European fuzz and set in motion a touring and promotion ethic that has gone largely unmatched within that sphere.

Working as a four-piece for Phi in 2007, the Örebro-based outfit began to branch out, but it was with 2009’s Mania (review here) that their progressive side really first showed itself as the path they would follow in songwriting. They hit the road hard in the years that followed, released a feature-length documentary, and began a seemingly endless round of changes in lineup, with the core duo of vocalist/bassist Oskar “Ozo” Cedermalm, guitarist Niklas “Dango” Källgren joined by an ongoing succession of drummers. On 2014’s Universe (review here), which was preceded by the EP The Chairman in 2013 and followed earlier this year by Live in London (review here), it was Andre “Poncho” Kvarnström, now of Blues Pills. For V, it’s Daniel “El Danno” Israelsson of Dexter Jones’ Circus Orchestra taking up the call, though my understanding is he too is already out of the band.

These shifts around Cedermalm and Källgren seem to have done little to ultimately slow the progression or momentum of Truckfighters, who as well as being one of the heavy underground’s most kinetic live acts have established one of its most immediately identifiable sounds — you know when you’re listening to Truckfighters — have taken another step forward in inking a deal with Century Media for the distributing of the seven-track/47-minute V, licensing through their own Fuzzorama Records, which has been home to each of their prior outings. A shift in profile, if not necessarily aesthetic, but noteworthy all the same in showing the multi-tiered evolution of the band, whose songcraft continues to grow as well. To listen to V front to back from opener and longest track (immediate points) “Calm Before the Storm” to the finisher “Storyline,” the larger portion of what the trio does in the span will be recognizable to those who heard Universe.

Certainly, in tone, their penchant for fuzz has remained consistent. It’s what they do with that fuzz that has changed over time, and a steady development in vocal confidence from Cedermalm combined with an increased comfort with complex modes of expression overall, which on the first two albums simply wasn’t there and in hindsight was only beginning to emerge on Mania, that results in such fluidity throughout V. Credit in setting the mood has to go to “Calm Before the Storm” as well. While V has plenty of upbeat moments of push in “Hackshaw,” “The 1,” “Gehenna,” and “Fiend” — and indeed the opener increases thrust as it builds through its hook — “Calm Before the Storm” is an especially bold choice to lead off for its brooding sensibility, which seems to find complement and emphasis even in the most raucous of moments that immediately follow, be it the winding chorus of “Hackshaw” or the thick-fuzzed push that begins “The 1.”


To an extent, this was true of Universe as well, and with half as much time between Universe and V as there was between Mania and Universe, it’s not surprising the two would share some characteristics, whatever Truckfighters have been through over the last couple years. But the scope has once again broadened, and one can hear that in how smoothly centerpiece “Gehenna” ebbs and flows, how the momentum of “The 1” seems to subside only to rise again, in the melodic reach of the chorus to “The Contract,” which might be V‘s standout moment, and in the poise with which Truckfighters claim such breadths and depths as their own. As much of their persona — which is not to say “brand” — is defined by onstage acrobatics, Källgren‘s madman energy running back and forth, jumping up and down, spinning in circles, etc., on record they seem even more daring how deeply they plunge into contemplative stretches.

The verse to “The Contract” is spacious, the bridge in the second half of “Hackshaw” dizzying but precisely executed, and the interplay of acoustic and electric guitar in “Storyline” a new level of emotional crux entirely. That Truckfighters can be patient and that band who are such a force in a live setting, and that they can ultimately do so without contradicting themselves and having their foundation collapse under them, makes them all the more special as a group contributing to the expansion of their genre. Even the subtlety that shows itself in the midsection of “Fiend,” teasing those acoustics that play a more prominent role after the blown-out push that starts “Storyline,” stands as an example of the delicate balance Truckfighters strike.

And though they then seem to delight in stomping all over that balance, it emerges unscathed. It might be fair to call this the triumph within V itself were it not for the level of songwriting Cedermalm and Källgren bring forth. Fifteen years on from their first getting together and with countless miles under their collective belt, they’ve become one of heavy rock’s most crucial teams, and more encouragingly, while they’ve clearly established a working modus, they refuse to sit still from one release to the next, to rest on past laurels, or to give in to the expectations of others. It is a rare band who, five albums in, can remain defined by their forward potential, and Truckfighters have worked hard to hold true to that reality.

Truckfighters, “Hackshaw” official video

Truckfighters on Thee Facebooks

Truckfighters on Twitter

Truckfighters on Instagram

Century Media website

Fuzzorama Records website

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Lamp of the Universe, Hidden Knowledge: Experience Beyond (Plus Full Album Stream)

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on October 14th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster


[Click play above to stream Lamp of the Universe’s Hidden Knowledge in full. Album is out Oct. 15 on Clostridium Records.]

For those of us existing on a temporal plane, it’s been 15 years since the solo-project Lamp of the Universe made its debut with The Cosmic Union in 2001. Since then, Hamilton, New Zealand’s Craig Williamson, who at the time he started working under the extended alias was fresh off the 1999 final release from his prior band, Datura — more recently he’s worked in the trio Arc of Ascent — has largely stayed true to the outfit’s original intentions of tantric, meditative psychedelic folk. As his ninth album as Lamp of the Universe, Hidden Knowledge (on Clostridium Records and Astral Projection) demonstrates, neither has the project stagnated.

Even from where Williamson was on last year’s lush The Inner Light of Revelation (review here) — which teemed with life as the follow-up to splits with Trip Hill and Krautzone (review here) in 2014 and the 2013 LP Transcendence (review here), which, at the time, was Williamson‘s return to activity after four years since 2009’s Acid Mantra (review here) hinted at the direction Arc of Ascent would soon take — the four tracks/41 minutes of Hidden Knowledge show a forward step in their use of synth and the spaciness of their vibe overall.

It’s not just about drones and/or Eastern instrumentation — hell, I don’t think Williamson breaks out the sitar here at all — but about the space-folk swirl conjured across “Space Craft” (13:17), “Mu” (6:41), “Dawn of Nebula” (7:01) and “Netherworlds” (14:25) that makes them distinct from Williamson‘s past work while still remaining decidedly his own and recognizable as such.

It may seem like a fine line to some listeners, but for anyone who’s followed Lamp of the Universe for a while, the progression should be clear. Since coming back in 2013 after releasing the two Arc of Ascent albums, 2010’s Circle of the Sun (review here) and 2012’s The Higher Key (review here), Williamson has actively worked to expand the palette for Lamp of the Universe.

That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s not chanting by the time “Netherworlds” gets down to its final couple minutes, but he’s doing it over what sounds like backwards-looped e-bow electric guitar and what might be loops running through an Echoplex or otherwise synthesized droning. And, frankly, that is a difference. One can hear it mostly on the bookending opener and closer, “Space Craft” starting and “Netherworlds” ending, just how widened the path of Lamp of the Universe has become.

When Williamson‘s voice first arrives, it does so atop a dreamscape of keys and far-back percussive beats, plus some swirl and periodic washes of cymbals, and as the track develops over its first half, it winds up making its impression with a standout organ line and deeply-mixed electric guitar soloing, executed patiently — of course — as one of the many layers winding its way out at the time.

This immersive, hypnotic flow holds, backed by the same far-off beat well into the second half of the track, unfolding gracefully such that the start of “Mu,” the shortest track here, is jarring with its forward acoustic strum, which feels positively earthbound by comparison. No doubt that’s the intention of the side A finisher, but Williamson keeps the line of manipulated e-bow guitar (or whatever it is) consistent and with material so molten, it’s going to flow from one song to the next either way, so it’s not like “Mu” is out of place, it’s just a jump from one feel to another where “Space Craft” felt like it could’ve gone on perpetually.


The jump, however, is effective, and “Mu” becomes a standout moment on Hidden Knowledge in signature Lamp of the Universe form. Granted, reading that signature over time has become like drawing lines between stars to make constellation pictures, so it’s hardly a case of Williamson doing the same thing across different records, but the intimate feel conjured even in the organ and percussion-laced “Dawn of Nebula” is his own.

Keyboard swirl and other background wash fills out the track, which remains instrumental, and the sound that carries between “Dawn of Nebula” and “Netherworlds” has a classic electronics style, almost like something one might hear from Sula Bassana — if there was ever a cross-continental collaboration that needed to happen, there it is — but it nonetheless makes for an effective transition.

Vocals return for the closer, but the hypnosis is long since complete. E-bow guitar, or again, what sounds like it, works its way in and out, but “Netherworlds” is further distinguished through its use of drums, which arrive after about three minutes and keep together a march behind a wah-drenched guitar solo and the already-there-where-did-it-come-from resurgent line of e-bow.

All of this, performed and recorded by Williamson, as ever, sets up Hidden Knowledge‘s final movement, which plays out with no less grace than anything before it, moving toward the already-noted chanting that ends the album in a languid experimentalist wash that includes the sounds of running water and an underlying bassline that, subtly, turns out to have been there all along.

One might liken Hidden Knowledge to Acid Mantra, if only because like that album it seems to signal a shift in approach and arrangement that will progress from here — the inclusion of more synth and keys and space-minded atmospherics — but what form that might take, be it another band, a return from Arc of Ascent, or further exploration from Williamson as Lamp of the Universe, I wouldn’t hazard a guess.

These songs are nonetheless a logical branching out from where The Inner Light of Revelation left off in their blend of elements, and Lamp of the Universe remains as much an invitation to a ritual as a personal contemplation. The cosmos the project inhabits only continues to grow.

Lamp of the Universe on Thee Facebooks

Lamp of the Universe on Bandcamp

Hidden Knowledge at Clostridium Records webstore

Clostridium Records on Thee Facebooks

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Lo Sound Desert Documentary: Views from the Epicenter

Posted in Reviews on October 13th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster


If you want to check Lo Sound Desert‘s credentials as a labor of love, look no further than the fact that it exists. Directed and produced by Berlin-based filmmaker Jörg Steineck, it is the result of a full decade’s labors and not one, but two crowdfunding campaigns, and through a wide swath of interviews, archival footage, old photos and stories, it undertakes an ambitious exploration of what it is about the area outside of Los Angeles that led to the birth of desert rock.

Steineck, who splits the film into two smaller chapters — titled “Backyard Rebellion” and “The Outskirts of Town” — should be remembered from his work on the 2011 documentary Fuzzomentary: A Film About a Band Called Truckfighters (review here). He speaks with figures and figureheads out of the scene that sprang up from punk teens in the 1980s and paints a general portrait of what we now call desert rock as the result of some of the same impulses that gave birth elsewhere to grunge and alt rock, or for that matter to punk itself: bored kids with energy to spend, looking to spend it.

Appropriately, the first voice we hear is Brant Bjork. The former Kyuss and Fu Manchu drummer and head of his own Low Desert Punk Band sets us underway with a discussion of the landscape, but it’s not long before Lo Sound Desert digs its heels into the music itself, which becomes the clear center of attention throughout. Along the way, we hear extensively from the likes of Throw Rag‘s Sean Wheeler, guitarist/vocalist Mike Moracha and bassist/vocalist Nick Nava of Hornss, who trace their roots back to desert outfit SolarfeastZach Huskey and Joe Dillon of Dali’s LlamaScott Reeder (we even get to see his chihuahua, Scooter, in a couple shots), Nick OliveriMario Lalli — who, it seems to be unanimously agreed, started the whole thing — as well as members of acts like UnsoundNebula, You Know WhoHouse of Broken PromisesSlo BurnHalf Astro, and so on.

There are a few conspicuous absences — Yawning Man is discussed but Gary Arce never appears, and neither John Garcia nor Chris Goss are there to participate in the discussion of Kyuss — but an interview with Josh Homme (footage from which also appeared in the Fuzzomentary) produces some choice one-liners, and by no means is Lo Sound Desert light when it comes to story.

Rather, it seems the central challenge of the film, perhaps apart from making it actually happen, is that it’s trying to encompass 30 years of rock and roll history into one 90-minute spread. Many of these players could fill that time just with their own story. Certainly Lalli, whose time as a club owner, show-organizer and restaurateur in addition to playing with Across the RiverFatso Jetson, the Sort of Quartet and Yawning Man, is touched upon, but could fill out a feature-length documentary by himself.

And HommeBjorkHuskeyReeder are also fodder for further exploration. Hell, you could do 120 minutes on Kyuss getting signed to Elektra — something touched on, somewhat humorously — and still have enough left over for bonus footage, though for what it’s worth, Lo Sound Desert offers plenty of that as well; about an hour front-to-back divided into smaller clips.

So one imagines that Steineck‘s principal task as sorting all those stories of playing in garages, working shitty jobs — Moracha and Nava win in that regard; I won’t spoil it — finding spaces out in the desert beyond the reach of law enforcement, opening and closing clubs and the rest into a cohesive, linear story. He gives the film the full title, Lo Sound Desert: Two Chapters on Rock Music by Jörg Steineck. Yes, it could easily be eight chapters, or 10, but Steineck‘s success in bringing form to the amorphous life experiences of these players and characters is undeniable.

After an initial inhale giving background on the setting around Palm Springs, Palm Desert and the small towns surrounding, he moves quickly through the evolution of sound that took place through the ’80s and ’90s and which continues today both in the output of desert-based bands and heavy rockers worldwide taking influence from them. The stories told entertain, the music is brash and rough and formative and suitably romantic for that, and while the audience to which Steineck is speaking is expected to have some knowledge of the genre, he does well to balance broad overview and deep-dive personal narrative in such a way as to provide an engaging experience for newcomers as well as longtime converts.

Some interviews lean more toward performance than others, and sometimes it feels like there’s simply too much tale to tell, but through clever editing and interludes, Steineck provides a steady hand to guide the viewer through this barrage of tales of playing out in the middle of nowhere, underage drinking and partying, skateboarding and trying to define what happened in the desert that made desert rock different from grunge or anything else happening at the time.


Several of the answers to that question are practical. Desert rockers tuned lower, allowing for a meatier sound than the post-punk that emerged in the same era elsewhere, but it’s Lalli who ultimately nails the core difference in a bonus feature discussion of what is stoner rock when he says it’s about the jam. Principally, we find out that the freedom provided to these bands via the landscape, via playing outside — the second chapter here centers largely on generator parties and their effect on emerging acts like Kyuss and Fatso JetsonYawning Man, etc. — and via an utter lack of expectation on the part of their audience allowed for a freeform approach to essentially recast punk rock in their own image.

That era may have been short-lived, just a couple years, but its effects are broad reaching, as an included family tree of bands in the DVD liner and as the interviews included show. While Steineck joins Huskey and Wheeler and Reeder in looking around at what the desert was and the creative community that flourished there seemingly unaware of the odds it was working against, he also brings a look at the continued vitality of the scene in footage captured from the 2011 Desert Moon Ranch fest, at which Wheeler, Waxy, Fatso Jetson, You Know Who, Hornss, House of Broken Promises, Dali’s Llama and more played.

Though the conversation inevitably doesn’t go as in-depth as that of the history behind these acts and their influence/influences, it does give an opportunity to glimpse modern desert rock as a mature, varied sound that has continued to thrive across a span of years that has seen competing styles like grunge rise perhaps to greater heights of commercial success, but likewise dissipate wholesale. Like the land itself, desert rock has worked on a longer timeline. So be it.

Later on, nods to Homme‘s work as ambassador for the scene and sound in Queens of the Stone Age is acknowledged, and we get to see footage of Fatso Jetson in Germany at Stoned from the Underground, while backstage, guitarist Dino von Lalli (also of BigPig; son to Mario) discusses the rise of a new generation of rockers out in the vast nowhere, working out the same energy as their forebears, perhaps more extreme in style but recognizable in their restlessness for sure. That conversation leaves room for the summary of what “desert rock,” as an idea, ultimately means.

Opinions, as one might expect, vary — but as Lo Sound Desert has made plain by then, that variety is half the point. As much as heavy rock and roll worldwide has taken on genre characteristics over particularly the last two decades in the wake of Kyuss‘ relatively widespread influence, the roots from which this particular branch of it grew seem only to have benefited from the huge sky and open land surrounding.

I don’t know if it’s fair to expect more chapters in Steineck‘s narrative, since Lo Sound Desert itself was such an undertaking. There’s room certainly to ask about what could’ve been in a post-grunge commercial movement for desert rock, which some might argue was attempted and ultimately floundered outside perhaps of Queens of the Stone Age, but among shorter clips of driving through canyons, band rehearsals, technical issues at the Desert Moon Ranch fest, etc., the bonus features also include a fascinating and much needed reflection on what is “stoner rock” and what the difference between that and desert rock might be.

This question, which plainly irks Nebula even in the asking, is core to the feature and if Steineck were ever to engage the larger issue of how the sound translated from the Californian desert into the worldwide underground phenomenon it has become, would be all the more necessary, but even as it’s presented here, it’s one more insight that allows these players a voice they’ve long since deserved to discuss their work and the context of the history it has made and is still making.

In its pace, balance, editing and the clear passion as its driving force, Lo Sound Desert holds a mirror up to one of rock’s most crucial movements of the last 30 years and allows it to speak for itself at last, unfiltered and as raw as a speaker cone with sand blown in it. It should be considered essential viewing, whatever one thinks they already know of its story.

Lo Sound Desert official trailer

Lo Sound Desert website

DVD order page

Lo Sound Desert on Thee Facebooks

Jörg Steineck on Twitter

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Captain Crimson, Remind: Fuel for Future Reminiscence (Plus Full Album Stream)

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on October 12th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster


[Click play above to stream Captain Crimson’s Remind in full. Album is out Friday, Oct. 14, on Small Stone Records.]

Swedish four-piece Captain Crimson make their debut on Small Stone Records with their third album, Remind. It’s a record that begs the question of just what we’re being reminded. Comprised of 10 boogie-laden, grooving, swinging, catchy tracks, it follows just two years behind 2014’s Ageless Time (on Moving Air and Nasoni) and four behind the band’s 2012 Dancing Madly Backwards debut that found them paying so strongly to their namesakes in Captain Beyond and King Crimson.

Now working with the lineup of vocalist Stefan Lillhager (ex-Blowback), guitarist Andreas Eriksson, bassist Chris David and drummer/organist Mikael Läth, the Örebro natives have come unquestionably into their own throughout these tracks, moving well beyond the ‘70s worship for which their hometown is so known in favor of a full sound, marking a less dramatic shift than that of, say, Witchcraft, but mostly because Captain Crimson were less of a directly vintage mindset to start with. In any case, what they arrive with on Remind is a 42-minute collection of tightly written, smoothly executed cuts that seem to be vying with each other to occupy space in the listener’s consciousness.

Will it be “Black Rose” or “Let Her Go” stuck in someone’s head? I don’t know, but there’s a good chance that something here will hit a nerve among the converted, as Captain Crimson favor quality songcraft over the trappings of hyper-stylization, and so have no need of the latter as they make their way through, energetically and deftly using the momentum of one track to push through the next.

In the album’s ultimate affect, it feels ahead of the curve in such a way as to recall (which is not to say “remind”) of young-gun countrymen rockers and labelmates Jeremy Irons and the Ratgang Malibus, who made their debut in 2011 and have followed a similar stylistic trajectory in taking what more vintage-minded outfits have been able to accomplish over the last decade-plus and carry it forward, blending with ’90s influences, yes, but coming across with something new from that mixture.

In the case of Captain Crimson, there are elements at play in early pieces like opener “Ghost Town” or “Bells from the Underground,” which immediately follows and is the longest inclusion at 5:29, that tie them further into the long legacy of quality Swedish heavy rock; most notably in what they’re able to do with the hooks of these songs and the ease of their transitions one might liken their work here to Greenleaf‘s earlier days, or specifically for “Bells from the Underground,” from some of what Astrosoniq had on offer with their last outing, Quadrant, at least on some superficial level, but neither does Remind lack its own personality.

The 10 tracks break evenly onto two neatly-structured vinyl sides, and though each song seeks to deliver an impact, and succeeds on one level or another, they tie together fluidly as well, as one can hear in the crisp jive of “Love Street,” on which Eriksson‘s guitar leads a strut bolstered by layered vocals in the chorus and punchy bass, and the subsequent “Black Rose,” which pulls back on some of the thrust initially to lock in a sleek, classically metallic groove, easily turns into an acoustic break, and emerges with newfound vigor to lead to the side A closer “Money.”

Captain Crimson

Bluesier licks permeate, backed by serene organ flourish, and a flowing jam ensues, more patient than any of the faces Captain Crimson have yet shown, and so a decent setup for some of side B’s expansion of the album’s overall scope. Of course, before they get there, it’s only fair to match “Money” with a barnburner, and “Drifting” opens Remind‘s second half in raucous form, effectively reestablishing the momentum of “Ghost Town” as side B begins to unfold.

There’s some twang underlying the title-track, which follows, but the focus remains on the chorus, cleanly realized with push coming from Läth‘s kick drum, a prominent but not ever really out of place element across the record. Stomp suits Captain Crimson, and “Let Her Go,” with its blues-inflected harmonica (a guest performance from Timo Tilli), backs that up, finding a comfortable pace that allows them to continue to spread out their sound from its foundation of craft and structure in subtle and intriguing ways that become clearer on repeat listens. Then there’s the more drastic change brought on by the penultimate “Alone.”

Almost snuck in before closer “Senseless Mind” reaffirms the decades-spanning stylistic meld, the acoustic-led alone offers Lillhager a showcase in which to shine and he does not disappoint. With vocals and guitar, Captain Crimson depart from the rest of the album toward a different level of emotional resonance, but the presentation is still clear, and there’s never any sense of control lost.

Maybe “Senseless Mind” is meant to work as a reaction to that, or maybe it’s just the drastic contrast between the final two songs, but the ending feels especially riotous by the time it’s over. Before that, like “Black Rose” earlier, it cuts to a quieter interlude, but when the four-piece slam into the final thrust, there’s little doubt the apex has been reached. Like the record as a whole, they telegraph their intentions there, but three albums in, I don’t think there’s anything one could call to question in their intentions.

They clearly know what they’re doing, in the construction of their material, in putting together a record, and in filtering out anything that doesn’t best serve the song at hand. That makes Remind a strong depiction of a group who’ve clearly hit their stride, and leaves one to suppose that perhaps the title is referring to how much of a force such a group can be when captured at their best.

Captain Crimson on Thee Facebooks

Captain Crimson website

Remind at Small Stone Records Bandcamp

Small Stone Records website

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