ROADBURN 2017 Day Three: And Yet it Moves

Posted in Features, Reviews on April 22nd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

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04.22.17 — 22.23 — Sat. night — Hotel room

I don’t mind telling you I was a total wreck this morning. There we were, finishing up the third issue of Weirdo Canyon Dispatch (get the PDF here), and holy macaroni, I just couldn’t hack it. I’d gone to sleep at a semi-reasonable time, circa 2AM — which is pretty good, considering — but woke up at around three and was up past 4:30. Just up. Weirdo Canyon Dispatch Saturday issue.Brutally, brutally awake. I could’ve cried.

Instead, I put my head down on the desk in the 013 office while we waited for the test-print of today’s ‘zine and was granted a generous reprieve from the folding process that followed. I folded three copies of today’s WCD: my own. After that, I made the most of my special dispensation and high-tailed it back to the hotel to sleep for another two and a half hours, at the end of which time I pounded water, a protein bar and ibuprofen and it was enough to temporarily trick my body into believing it was human. This weekend has been pure madness, and there’s one day yet to go.

By the time I got back to the 013, I knew I’d missed my chance to hit the photo pit for day-openers The Bug vs. Dylan Carlson of Earth, the somewhat cumbersomely-named collaboration between, well, The Bug and Dylan Carlson, but I still had plenty of opportunity to be assaulted by their combined volume of drone and beats, soundscapes thick enough to swim through and handed out with enough force to vibrate the plugs in my ears and the teeth in my skull. Really. I think I lost a filling. They were very, very loud.

Two experimentalists like that working together, even as a one-off, carried an air of being something special to start the day, and so it was. The Bug‘s rig, flanked on either side by bass cabinets with two more laid down in front in such a manner as to make Carlson half-stack look positively minimalist in comparison, shook the upstairs The Bug vs. Dylan Carlson (Photo by JJ Koczan)balcony where I set up shop for the duration, and the clear impression that came through was that although they used different means of expression — Carlson with his guitar, The Bug with his laptop and mixing board — their work together was way less of a “vs.”-type situation than the name led one to believe. They were very definitely on the same side, but while they played, spotlights slowly hovered over Main Stage crowd, feeding the air of suspicion and paranoia in such a way that was eerily appropriate for what they were doing.

Speaking of collaborations, over at the PatronaatRazors in the Night — AKA John Dyer Baizley of Baroness and Scott Kelly of Neurosis playing oldschool punk and hardcore covers — were just getting started. I stayed put in the big room, however, because I knew I didn’t want to miss a second of Oranssi Pazuzu. The Finnish progressive/psychedelic black metallers have been an increasingly steady presence at Roadburn over the last five years, and after their own slots at the church, they managed to pack out the Main Stage to an admirable degree. People stood outside the open doors for not the last time today in order to catch a glimpse of their malevolent, ultra-deep swirl.

As immersive as it was dark, I couldn’t argue. Oranssi Pazuzu, who released their fourth album, Värähtelijä (review here), in 2016, may have conjured the finest blackened psychedelia I’ve ever seen. It was so much of both, so chaotic and yet purposeful, that to Oranssi Pazuzu (Photo by JJ Koczan)consider it anything less than the work of masters would be completely underselling it. When I was done taking photos, I went out into the hallway to walk around to the other side of the room and I couldn’t believe it was still daytime. And more over, the sun had come out! Something so cosmically abysmal just seemed like it should be swallowing any and all light around it, but so it goes. Stately and ferocious, they cast their waves of of bleakness over a sea of nodding heads, and after years of missing them here, I was finally glad to have been clued in, even if I seemed to be the last one in the entire Main Stage space to have caught on. Which I probably was, because that’s the kind of hip I am. Which is to say, not at all.

Maybe it was partially a case of going easy on myself, but I once again didn’t budge from the Main Stage following the conclusion of Oranssi Pazuzu. Today was minimal back and forth, actually, which suited me just fine after two busy days of Roadburn 2017 bouncing from this venue to that one. I’d hit the Green Room twice before my evening was over, but was at the 013 the whole day, which after all the Extase and Het Patronaat yesterday almost made me feel insecure and restless — “Don’t you have somewhere you need to be, sir? Oh yeah, here,” and so on. Sometimes this festival plays tricks on your mind.

My reasoning in staying put was more than justified, though, with Warning coming on to play 2006’s Watching from a Distance in its entirety. I knew some of what to expect from a Patrick Walker performance after seeing him front 40 Watt Sun here in 2012, but of course Warning brought a presence all their own in addition to his melancholic emotionalism. They struck a hard balance between sonic weight and sheer heft-of-sadness, and yet as morose as they were, and as understated as their aura was on stage, they were never anything but engaging. Rare band, rare album, rare set. Warning (Photo by JJ Koczan)This Roadburn has had its share of special moments, and Warning fit that bill as well. There was something empowering about them, or at least validating, and as deep into their own headspace as they went, they never seemed to get lost there.

It’s not often you see a band play a full album and then want to go and put on that album directly afterward, but Warning doing Watching from a Distance had that effect. I can’t claim to know the record inside and out, but I felt fortunate to have had the chance to see the band bring it to life, which much to their credit, they did without losing the heart-wrenching resonance of the studio versions of the material.

Next door in the Green Room, the focus would soon be about an entirely different kind of crushing execution, as Belfast dual-guitar three-piece Slomatics made ready to take the stage. I got there about 20 minutes before they went on and was still too late to get a spot right up front. Should’ve figured. I’d heard people talking about how stoked they were to see them, and after being lucky enough to see them in Norway last September at Høstsabbat (review here), I also knew they weren’t to be missed. My timing being what it was, I still got there to see Jon Davis from Conan soundcheck the guest vocals he’d provide for closer “March of the 1,000 Volt Ghost,” and it was good to know that was coming.

Davis also released Slomatics‘ fucking excellent 2016 album, Future Echo Returns (review here), on Slomatics (Photo by JJ Koczan)his Black Bow Records imprint, so all the better to have him there alongside guitarists Chris Couzens and David Majury as well as drummer/vocalist Marty Harvey, who even before Davis showed up stomped out the most pummeling tones I’ve heard over the course of the last three days. “Electric Breath,” “Return to Kraken,” “And Yet it Moves,” “Supernothing” — this is the stuff of lumbering, rolling, molten doom supremacy, and as they’re five records deep into a tenure that one hopes continues into perpetuity, Slomatics know how to wield these weapons to glorious effect. I felt like I was going to pass out and ran downstairs to hammer down a quick dinner — chicken in some kind of tomato-based sauce with green and red peppers, jalapenos and cheese over lettuce; two plates in about five minutes — and was back in the Green Room in time to catch Davis‘ guest spot from the side of the stage and jump up to take a picture of the band when they were done playing. I never do that kind of thing, but Slomatics were nothing if not an occasion worth savoring.

Shit would only get more doomed from there. Like I said yesterday, everyone here makes their own Roadburn, and I knew how I wanted my night to go. I wanted it to go doom. That meant hanging out in the Green Room more for Ahab, which I was more than happy to do. The nautically-themed German funeral doomers were not a band I ever really expected to be able to see, and knowing how packed it got for Slomatics, I assumed much the same would ensue. I was right. Ahab probably Ahab (Photo by JJ Koczan)could’ve filled the Patronaat if the press of the crowd behind me half an hour before they even went on was anything to go by, but as it was they beat the Green Room into submission with their guttural, ultra-slow lurch and churning devastation.

It was by no means the same kind of grind that Memoriam were doling out on the Main Stage, but watching Ahab play was like witnessing the giant, five-foot-thick gears of some industrial revolution shipyard turning the assembled audience into powder. The very means of production brought to bear on all of our caved-in skulls. Yes, they were hyperbole-level heavy. Unremittingly so, and to a claustrophobic degree. I don’t know if it was during “Old Thunder” or “To Mourn Job,” but there was a point at which I had to remind myself that I’d actively wanted to be so brutally overwhelmed and so overwhelmed by brutality. Did that make the effect any less punishing? Not in the slightest, but thanks for asking.

There was only one place left to go to continue my downer trajectory: back to the Main Stage for My Dying Bride. Having the UK doom legends play 1993’s Turn Loose the Swans in full made an awful lot of sense after special sets in 2016 from Paradise Lost and in 2015 from Anathema and Fields of the Nephilim — I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Katatonia in 2018; never seen them and they’d seem to be next in line, despite not being British — and the drama unfolded early as frontman Aaron Stainthorpe hit the stage with violinist/keyboardist Shaun Macgowan for “Sear Me MCMXCIII.” Soon enough, founding guitarists Andrew Craighan and Calvin Robertshaw, bassist Lena Abé and drummer Shaun Taylor-Steels would join, and the full fray would be unleashed. Chances are I don’t need to tell you how influential My Dying Bride have been on the trajectory of the last two decades of doom, but suffice it to say I’m not sure I could’ve found a darker way to round out myMy Dying Bride (Photo by JJ Koczan) Roadburn 2017 Saturday night than to watch them deliver that level of scathe with that level of professionalism.

And no, I’m not just saying that because Stainthorpe wore a tie. With animation by Costin Chioreanu behind them, My Dying Bride were the consummate headliners. Mysticum were still to follow on the Main Stage with a production I’d caught in soundcheck earlier in the day that was probably the most elaborate I’ve ever seen in the 013 venue, but for me, My Dying Bride marked a culmination of what I wanted the evening to be, and so I knew my night was done. There’s always more to see at Roadburn. Always something you don’t get to. Always someone who, years down the road, you wonder, “What the hell was I doing that I missed that?” but sometimes when you’re in Tilburg, you’ve crafted your experience in such a way that makes sense at the time, and that was me tonight. Would’ve been hard pressed to find anything to top My Dying Bride anyway.

One day left in Roadburn 2017, which is something I know to be true because I only have two protein bars remaining — one for before the show, one for after. Tomorrow’s another early start to fold Weirdo Canyon Dispatch issues, so I’ll leave it there once again and say thank you for reading and if you’re so inclined, you can check out more pics after the jump.

Which is right frickin’ here:

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ROADBURN 2017 Day Two: Death’s Dark Tomb

Posted in Features, Reviews on April 21st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

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04.21.17 — 23.22 — Friday night — Hotel room

Issue #2 of the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch is available here. Get it while the PDF is hot.

Because no attendee of this festival can possibly be in two or five places at once, something with which every Roadburner must contend is the notion of self-curation. You look at the schedule and you pick your own path. I’ve said time and again that every Roadburn means hard choices, but make no mistake, Roadburn is meticulously put weirdo canyon dispatch #2together to enable those who are fortunate enough to be here to be able to find their path among one of the most packed bills in the universe.

Case in point, today was John Dyer Baizley‘s curated day. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Baroness fan. If you are, great. You certainly have plenty of company, especially here, especially this weekend. Just never been my thing. Yes, I’ve seen them. Yes, I’ve heard the records. Not my thing. My priorities, then, were inherently going to be much different today than many attendees. It was a light day for me. For many others, I very much suspect it was not. That’s cool. Like a good choose-your-adventure book, Roadburn 2017 accommodates any number of contingency plans.

Mine started early. I knew after watching them at Cul de Sac the other night (review here) that I was not done with California’s Atala. Today they opened Extase at 14.00. I left the 013 office mid-folding session and was already dragging ass as I have been the last couple days — I’ll explain why shortly — and headed around the corner to the smallest Roadburn venue, where I closed out last night with Backwoods Payback and to which I’d return twice again this afternoon and evening. Atala did pretty much the same set as the other night — reasonably so — but seeing it a second time gave me a better feel for the material that comprised it, whether it was the harshness in “Grains of Sand” and “Death’s Dark Tomb” or the textured hook of “I am Legion.”

But for the flashing strobe behind them, the Twentynine Palms residents were an easy band to watch again, drummer Jeff Tedtaotao and guitarist/vocalist Kyle Stratton both in YOB shirts while bassist Dave Horn represented Graveyard. Whatever the wardrobe, Atala were righteous again, but the light proved abrasive and hit me pretty hard, so I split after “I am Legion” and headed over to the Main Stage to catch the start of classic French mesmerproggers Magma. I was not the only person who had this idea, and like yesterday’s early headlining gigs from Crippled Black Phoenix and SubRosa, today it was Magma drawing an afternoon crowd into the big room. Soon Roadburn will just be headliners on the Main Stage. All sets headlining sets. Think it won’t happen? It’s already happening.

There was a point at which I was watching Magma, who were no less of a joy today than they were when they played in 2014 as part of the curated day helmed by Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth, and trying to imagine what it would be like for a normal person to bear witness to their set. That is to say, what does a square make of the band who for the last 40-plus years have been led by drummer Christian Vander in telling Magma (Photo by JJ Koczan)stories of the planet Kobaïa in a made-up language, who are positively orchestral on stage and so deadly serious about what they do that to insinuate otherwise could only offend band and assembled audience alike? Where I finally landed was that said hypothetical square — how that person would even get in front of a stage where Magma was playing, I don’t know, but for the sake of argument let’s say they did — would probably think they were from another planet.

So in other words, the group’s desired effect would be achieved. Whatever you’re doing, Magma, it’s still working. Keep it up, you legendary weirdos!

Before they were done, my wanderer’s soul had me headed back toward Extase to get a spot up front for Ruby the Hatchet. You know how sometimes you just get a feeling there’s a place you need to be? That was me watching the Philly-area troupe today. Not that I couldn’t see them in the States at some point, and not that I haven’t before, but especially at Roadburn you just know some bands are going to bring everything they’ve got, and the sense I had was that Ruby the Hatchet would be doing precisely that.

To absolutely toot my own horn, I was 100 percent correct in that impression. Getting underway with the new song “Planetary Space Child” from their recently-finished third album, which frontwoman Jillian Taylor announced would be out this summer on Tee Pee Records — they’d also share a cut called “Pagan Ritual” from the record and one or two others the titles of which I didn’t manage to remember when I asked the band about them later outside a cafe in Weirdo Canyon — Ruby the Hatchet completelyRuby the Hatchet (Photo by JJ Koczan) owned that stage and that room. Their organ-laced post-Uncle Acid garage-psych-doom was nothing short of a thrill to behold, and watching them play I look forward all the more to hearing how the obvious growth they’ve undertaken since the release of their 2015 sophomore album, Valley of the Snake (review here), manifested itself in the studio — because it certainly did in terms of their live presence. They were a blast; no question the most fun I could’ve been having at that moment was watching them play.

And yet, I had to bow out. Speaking of feeling like you need to be somewhere. I couldn’t rightly figure out what the problem was, but I made my way to the back of the room and decided to head back to the hotel before Joy went on. Instead of turning right, though, I turned left, and wound up directed back toward the 013. What was going on? I didn’t know. And why was it that the smell of the barbecue cooking outside the venue made me want to take my own life? And why was it that I wanted to build an altar to the French fries being served in paper cones to the eager, smiling denizens of Roadburn 2017?

Suddenly it dawned on me that today was Friday and the last time I had a meal it was Monday.

Joy (Photo by JJ Koczan)Since then it’s been nothing but protein bars and powder in coffee. I was, apparently, starving. And this was a genuine surprise for me to discover.

Well, I didn’t get barbecue and I certainly didn’t get fries — because, you know, self-denial and all that — but I did go downstairs into the basement of the 013 where the crew dinner was set up and have an arugula salad topped with some pesto-covered fresh mozzarella from a tomato dish, other shredded cheese and hot sauteed spinach. Look. I don’t know if you’ve ever felt like sauteed spinach saved your life before, but after two plates of this makeshift salad, I was pretty well convinced it had saved mine. And I was at least half-sure that shit came out of a giant can. Didn’t even care. I pounded as much as my ailing system could take and still made it back to Extase in time to catch a most-righteous pre-set drum solo from Joy‘s Thomas DiBenedetto.

One would not usually think of a drummer’s soundcheck as something earning audience response at all let alone rapturous applause, but the dude tore into it and the room was well on board — myself included. And no, it was just post-spinach euphoria on my part either, because once the rest of the San Diego three-piece was ready to roll, they were all-shred on all fronts. Guitarist/vocalist Zach Oakley punished both his whammy bar and his wah pedal thoroughly while ripping into choice leads and bassist Justin Hulson reminded me directly of the subdued presence of Anthony Meier from Radio Moscow — quiet, unassuming, and an incredibly adept player capable either of being the anchor while the guitar goes off or going off himself at a moment’s notice on a whim of winding basslines and classically rocking dynamic.

I dug Joy‘s third and most recent full-length, Ride Along (review here), plenty when it came out on Tee Pee last Spring, but like the best of the West Coast heavy psych set from Earthless on down through the Joy (Photo by JJ Koczan)aforementioned Radio MoscowMondo Drag, etc., they blew the record right out of the water with the energy and power behind their delivery. Head-spinning, really. I knew they were a band I wanted to watch today, but I didn’t know just how much I wanted to watch them until they were actually on stage handing Extase its ass like it was wrapped in a paper cone. Lesson learned.

Though today was a lighter day than yesterday in terms of what I needed/wanted to see, it did have probably my most mandatory performance of the weekend smack in the middle, which was SubRosa‘s mostly-acoustic “SubDued” set at Het Patronaat. I knew to get there early, so I scooted over from Extase as Emptiness were still pummeling the place with their blackened post-Goth and made my way toward the front in anticipation of what was to come. Sometimes in those instances one can wind up sitting in a spot for more than half an hour to watch 15 minutes of a performance before having to run off to the next thing. For SubRosa, however, I wasn’t budging. Clear my calendar! Hold all my calls! No email. No Facebook. No texts. Nothing. For a solid hour, I stood in front of the Patronaat stage and had my mind blown and my spirit lifted as SubRosa reinvented/revisited songs from their back catalog as dark, dramatic neofolk the likes of which seemed to offer nothing less than true Americana redemption.

Set of the weekend? How about set of the year? Every Roadburn brings some landmark moment — at least one — andSubRosa (Photo by JJ Koczan) for me, SubRosa‘s performance of “Mirror” was it. Lined up across the front of the stage, Rebecca Vernon led Sarah Pendleton and Kim Pack in harmonies while tapping one of Andy Patterson‘s drum sticks on the mic stand. It was gorgeous and devastating. Patterson backed on percussion, and though bassist Levi Hanna had that song off, his still-plugged-in low end gave heft to the rest of the band’s material, including set-closer “No Safe Harbor,” which with bars of light shooting down from the rig above them proved just as heavy as their runthrough of For this We Fought the Battle of Ages yesterday on the Main Stage. It was stunning. Something genuinely special. In my notes, I wrote, “How stupid I am to every do anything that’s not this. Unreal. In a way that makes reality itself the facade, while delving into its own vision of truth.” I’m not sure what that means, but give me a few years to process what I saw tonight and I’ll get back to you on it. By then I should’ve come to grips with it enough to have it make sense.

My brain duly melted, I stumbled out of the church and across the alley to the 013. I had decided I owed it to myself to check out tonight’s set from artists-in-residence Gnod, but there was still a while to go before they went on. Amenra were on the Main Stage as they were last year, and fair enough, but my interests were elsewhere. I decided to make my way back to the hotel to get a jump on dumping photos from my memory card, which seemed like an especially dangerous proposition only because there was a decent chance I wouldn’t leave again, would miss Gnod tonight and end up calling it a day at like 9PM or whatever time it was. Risky move.

Fortunately, it didn’t happen that way. I did take a brief respite, and was tempted to put my pajamas on to go see Gnod, but wound up in the Green Room still in jeans and all in time to see the dual-bass/dual-guitar UK heavy psych bizarros start their pulsating set. Ultimately, I’m not sure I owed to myself at all in the sense of having in some way earned it, but it was cool to see anyway, and as Sunday opens with a collaboration Gnod (Photo by JJ Koczan)between Gnod and Radar Men from the Moon called Temple of BBV that I’d like to see, catching the former on their own felt like a solid precursor to that. Or, at very least, a molten, liquefied precursor. It got really weird, really quickly, and clearly that’s what Gnod were going for. No regrets for being there to watch it happen, except maybe not wearing my pajamas for the occasion. That might’ve been fun.

Tomorrow’s another packed day here in Tilburg, starting with the ceremonial Weirdo Canyon Dispatch folding session bright and early, so I’ll leave it there and say thanks for reading and if you’re so inclined you can check out more pics after the jump. Bing bong.

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ROADBURN 2017 Day One: Wound of the Warden

Posted in Features, Reviews on April 20th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

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04.21.17 – 00.14 — Thursday night — Hotel room

The process of getting up and going to finalize and print out the first issue of the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch (download it here) probably couldn’t have been much easier than it was. I credit this entirely to Lee Edwards (of The Sleeping Shaman) and the 013 staff, all of whom expose me for the sulky amateur-hour schlub I am with their sheer professionalism. I continue to be astounded at how lucky I am to work with these people.

coven soundcheck (JJ Koczan)Whilst schlubbing and prior to folding my portion of the 1,000 copies of WCD, I caught a couple seconds of Coven‘s soundcheck, and so knew that was going to be a good time later in the day — not that Roadburn 2017 Day One was light on anticipation. Today actually was my busiest day here. It started intense and ended intense, with a fair bit of back and forth between, and I feel like I’m only being honest when I say I dragged ass for a decent portion of it, despite my best efforts to hyper-caffeinate and pound vitamins, but Roadburn only comes once a year. You stick it out as much as you can.

As such, I was over to Het Patronaat early to catch the start of Wretch. I’d rode in from the airport with the Indianapolis trio just by happenstance, and I knew it would be a quick stop through just to check out part of their set ahead of hoisting myself over to the Main Stage for the start of Crippled Black Phoenix, but the doom called me to the church and it was not to be missed. Before they got going, guitarist/vocalist Karl Simon recalled on stage when The Gates of Slumber played (they had canceled in 2010 owing to that goddamn volcano, only to make the trip a couple years later in 2012), only reinforcing how linked the two bands are, but that’s Wretch (Photo by JJ Koczan)not to take anything away from the presence bassist Bryce Clarke and drummer Chris Gordon bring to the rhythm section or what the new three-piece accomplished on last year’s self-titled debut (review here). Even if it’s grown out of another, it’s a new band.

They made that clear in cuts like “Icebound,” “Running out of Days,” “R.I.P.” and “Drown” from the record, and even managed to sneak in the Judas Priest cover “Winter,” as well as their take on Motörhead‘s “Sweet Revenge.” The hook of “R.I.P.” made it a personal highlight, and The Gates of Slumber‘s “The Wretch” was certainly a fit. I hear tell Wretch are recording a new single while touring the UK with Iron Void on this trip, so hopefully it’s not too long before we hear from them again. In the meantime, I rushed over to catch Crippled Black Phoenix on the Main Stage.

Call it an early headlining set from the by-now-long-ish-running UK avant rock outfit, whose blend of heavy indie, goth, melancholic rock and generally progressive undertone makes them a standout not only on this bill but also generally this planet. Crippled Black Phoenix (Photo by JJ Koczan)They’re simply like no one else. Supporting their latest album, Bronze (review here), they brought in a considerable crowd for it being so light out and managed to cast a balance between life-affirming and crushingly-depressive throughout. To wit, “No Fun” and “Scared and Alone” from Bronze were high points, the latter teased as being their last song without actually being it. They’ve become such an astoundingly different band than they were when they released their debut album, A Love of Shared Disasters, a decade ago, but have manage to lose neither their edge nor their will to push themselves forward. After being a dork for their work for so long, I felt lucky to finally see them play live.

I also knew that I was cool to stay put for the duration of Crippled Black Phoenix, because while much of Roadburn 2017 and indeed every single Roadburn involves bouncing around between stages, Salt Lake City’s SubRosa were hitting the Main Stage next, so I wasn’t going fucking anywhere. The string-laden outfit played the Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn last month and they’ll play here again tomorrow at Het Patronaat for a special “SubDued” mostly-acoustic set, but today was a front-to-back performance of 2016’s For this We Fought the Battle of Ages (review here), and as that was my pick for Album of the Year last year when it came out on Profound Lore, they were my most anticipated band of the entire festival. I didn’t cry to miss them in New York because I knew I’d see them in Tilburg.

However, I kind of did cry when they played “Troubled Cells.” At least teared up at the end when they SubRosa (Photo by JJ Koczan)brought out the backing chorus which, if I’m not mistaken, counted Nathan Carson of Witch Mountain among its ranks. Could be wrong, but the Magma shirt was a dead giveaway. Earlier in the set, I’d gone up after taking pictures to the side of the stage to watch from there for a couple minutes, which is something I let myself do only once per Roadburn. Like Crippled Black Phoenix before them, SubRosa carried the air of being early headliners, and at least for me, they most definitely were. If you’d told me I had to go back to the hotel, pack up my gear and get on a plane home when they were done, I’d have been bummed to leave the rest of the fest behind, but I wouldn’t be able to say I didn’t get my fest’s worth out of Roadburn 2017 after watching SubRosa. Yes, they were that unbelievable. “Black Majesty.” Holy shit. I scurried to the merch area when they were done like the beaten fool I was. Gladly.

There was something of a break for me when they were done. My next stop was Cul de Sac around the corner for Harsh Toke. I’d been fortunate enough to catch the San Diego jammers when they played Roadburn in 2014 (review here), and I’d taken due advantage of the lesson of watching them then, which was “Don’t Harsh Toke (sort of) (Photo by JJ Koczan)miss Harsh Toke,” and so I didn’t want to. Apparently I wasn’t the only one, however. I’d made a quick stop at the hotel to drop off my newly-acquired SubRosa merch, my laptop, coffee thermos, Weirdo Canyon Dispatch issues and other detritus from the early part of the day, and though I got to the smaller venue with 20 minutes to spare, it was still too late to get up front and get a spot where I could see. I bought a patch for five euros, took what wound up being the last open spot at the bar — a seat, no less! — and tried to let my head get into the flow. Given their propensity for groove, it wasn’t much of a challenge to catch my breath and chill out for a few minutes at least until the why-haven’t-you-ordered-a-beer stares of the staff got the better of me. I tried and failed to snap a decent picture of the band on my phone and once more sent myself packing back over to the 013, where Wolves in the Throne Room were on the Main Stage.

Didn’t take long to remember what was so easy to appreciate about them, what with their textured blackened approach, which sounded almost orchestral in that huge space. I hadn’t been in the Green Room yet, so I poked my head in to catch a couple seconds of Esben and the Witch — was bummed to see the miniature photo pit from last year was gone; that thing had been a godsend — ahead of Coven starting on the Main Stage. I didn’t know it until about 10 minutes before they went on, but apparently one needed a special photo pass to shoot Coven‘s set. Whoops. Just about everyone else and their cousin Coven (Photo by JJ Koczan)had one, but I guess I missed that memo. I went backstage to try my luck at getting one and was told in no uncertain terms in which direction to fuck (spoiler alert: “off”), so I went out to the front of the house and waited for Jinx Dawson to emerge in her sparkly mask from the coffin that had been placed in the middle of the stage. Not a hardship, but I felt like a dope. Not like I’m shooting pictures for a magazine or anything. It’s just me on here.

Once Coven got going, they dug wholesale into the classic heavy Satanic-ritual pop rock that’s made them the generational influence that they have been, and came across like the blueprint Ghost wish they could follow. Dawson was in complete command of the crowd and the sense of dark worship and drama was palpable. The biggest crowd of the day so far? I wasn’t counting heads in the Main Stage area, but it might’ve been, just by eyeballing it. i thought maybe I’d pop back over to the Green Room to watch Suma get going, but once again my timing was off and the place was packed out before I could get through the door. Would seem to have helped nothing in terms of timing that I left my watch at home this year. Speaking of amateur hour. Woof. One day I’ll have my shit together. Clearly that was not today.

Having thusly flubbed my shot at watching Suma, I lumbered over to Extase in plenty of time to await the start of The Devil and the Almighty Blues, whose second album, II (review here), was still pretty fresh in my mind. That helped — that always helps — but the truth of the matter is that in the energy of their delivery and their instrumental chemistry on-stage, the Norwegian outfit blew the record right out of the water. I looked around from in front of the stage and saw a lot of familiar faces from Roadburns past. Different genres here tend to attract niche portions of the overall crowd, and judging from how the temperature The Devil and the Almighty Blues (Photo by JJ Koczan)jumped in Extase shortly after The Devil and the Almighty Blues went on, the secret’s out. They came out to “O Death” and the mesh of blues and heavy rock they unleashed seemed in direct response to that fact. They were flat-out awesome, and the kind of act that, as an American, I simply don’t get to see anywhere but here. It wasn’t the first time in the day I felt lucky and it wasn’t the last, but the chance even to catch part of their set gave me a new appreciation for what they’re doing sound-wise, and for a band I already dug, the way they brought their material to life only added to their appeal.

My plan for ending the night would require better timing than I’d had all day, but I was relatively certain I’d be able to pull it off if I played my cards right. It meant skipping out earlier than I wanted to on The Devil and the Almighty Blues, but the basic fact of the matter is that particularly as someone who lives in New England, I’m way, way overdue for catching the reformed Scissorfight live on stage. In the back of my head, I’ve been able to justify not going to their local gigs in Massachusetts or their native New Hampshire by saying, “It’s okay; I’ll catch them at Roadburn,” so there was no way I was going to let myself not do that. Plus, it’s fucking Scissorfight. The band wrote “Granite State Destroyer.” “Blizzard Buzzards Bastards.” “New Hampshire’s Alright if You Like Fighting.” Not exactly like one needs to make excuses to show up.

To get to the bottom line of it, my ultimate opinion of the four-piece live wasScissorfight (Photo by JJ Koczan) pretty much the same as of their 2016 Salt of the Earth Records EP, Chaos County (review here), which is that if you miss this band, you’re only denying yourself an outlet of pure, crushingly heavy joy. I’m not saying that as someone who never saw Scissorfight in their original incarnation. In fact, I caught them multiple times with their original lineup, and whether they’re playing old material or new, Scissorfight in 2017 is no less a beast than they ever were. Guitarist Jay Fortin — of whom I remain embarrassed to take pictures, knowing him as an amazingly talented photographer — still has one of the finest tones in New England. Frontman Doug Aubin is absolutely insane on stage as well as off, as he showed by jumping into the crowd several times and starting a rare Roadburn mosh. Paul Jarvis‘ bass is still the source of heft behind their maddening impact, and newcomer drummer Rick Orcutt fits into those grooves with an ease and swing that makes the songs his own even as he does justice to their original incarnations. Shit was so right on. New songs or old, Scissorfight were a steamroller of riffs and growls that flattened the Green Room, and though the lesson that those who whine about this or that person not being in the band anymore are missing out was one I already knew, such fervent reinforcement of same was a pleasure to behold.

Scissorfight are touring with Backwoods Payback, and the latter Pennsylvania-based trio would be my final stop of the night, over in Extase once again. I got there early enough to get a spot up front and watched as Jeff and Kyle from Atala — labelmates all on Salt of the Earth — bonded over mutual desert connections, and kind of parked myself and made ready to round out the night, taking the last of my notes on Scissorfight — they read like, “Duh, they’re killer” — and asking and being shot done to take a photo with Jamie Cavanagh from Anathema, who was working sound at the venue. I’d already told him earlier that I thought their new record is great, which I do, so whatever. There you go. My nerd-out moment for Roadburn 2017 Day One.

Guitarist/vocalist Mike Cummings, bassist Jessica Baker and drummer Erik Larson compriseBackwoods Payback (Photo by JJ Koczan) Backwoods Payback at this point, and goodness gracious, what a band. What a band. Late last year, they snuck out the full-length Fire Not Reason (review here), but they were a different level of righteous on stage, and the balance of fury and melody in what they do remains underrated in US heavy rock. I get that they haven’t been the most active group in the States over the last, say, five years, but especially with Larson on drums, they were every bit as tight as that thrash band I saw last night at the Hard Rock Hideout and had a depth of character to offer in their songwriting that most acts just can’t compete with. Heavy, but emotionally resonant, punkish in their execution but with a touch of metallic aggression as well, they not only write a solid hook like that of “You Don’t Move,” but they give that hook a purpose and an underlying sense of humanity. I’ve missed seeing them play live, and though the last time I caught them — I don’t even know what year it was — was a while back and with a different lineup, what’s always worked at their core was exactly what made me so happy I was able to finish the first night of Roadburn 2017 by watching them play. Once again, the Extase was full. That little club has been a fantastic addition to this festival, and it’s where I plan to start my afternoon tomorrow, as it happens.

Plenty to do before then, however. Including sleep, which as we press on past 3AM local time seems like an increasingly good idea.

Thanks for reading. More pics after the jump.

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Live Review: Roadburn 2017 Hard Rock Hideout with Heretic, Distillator & Atala

Posted in Features, Reviews on April 19th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

I’d gotten to Cul de Sac early, so made my way over to one of the cafes right down the way in Weirdo Canyon to get an espresso. My I’m-out-of-practice-at-this mistake for the evening was not bringing my bottle of water with me to the show so I had it for taking ibuprofen and general hydrating purposes. But the espresso helped, anyway. The Hard Rock Hideout is the annual kickoff for Roadburn. Like the rest of the festival, it’s gotten bigger over the years — going from two bands to three, bringing in different kinds of acts and so on.

Generally it can be relied on to offer a healthy dose of thrash, which it did in Distillator and Heretic, while post-desert heavy rockers Atala opened up as one of several sets they’re playing this weekend. With half the point of the show being to ease people into the vibe before Roadburn 2017 gets going earnest tomorrow, I think a more diverse bill better suits that, but I’m sure one or two thrashers in the crowd might offer a general counterargument for more Slayer covers. Fair enough.

Here’s how it went down:

Atala

atala-Photo-by-JJ-Koczan

Much of what they played came from the forthcoming follow-up to last year’s Shaman’s Path of the Serpent (stream here; review here), titled Labyrinth of Ashmedai and due out sometime in the coming months on Salt of the Earth Records, and songs like “Death’s Dark Tomb” and “Infernal” found them in raw form as compared to “I am Legion,” which is a standout of the new record with cleaner vocals, so they’ve only become more diverse in their sound, but that was very much the case when they moved into Shaman’s Path of the Serpent from their 2015 self-titled debut (review here) as well, and in talking to guitarist/vocalist Kyle Stratton before the set, he was already moving on to the next release, which will work under still another mindset. Hard to hold progression against them, particularly when it suits their songwriting so well. They were loud enough to vibrate the monitor off the front of the stage at the Cul de Sac and the groove came thick from Stratton, bassist Dave Horn and drummer Jeff Tedtaotao for the duration. They were outliers on the bill for sure, but their appeal was cast in loud volume and psychedelic flourish, and it was plain to see they turned heads ahead of a set as part of Roadburn proper on Friday that I’d expect will be even more packed.

Distillator

distillator-Photo-by-JJ-Koczan

Even before they closed out with a cover of “Metal Storm/Face the Slayer” after hinting at “Raining Blood” in a transition from their own “Suicidal,” native Dutch trio Distillator weren’t exactly shy about where they were coming from in terms of influence. The right and left sides of the stage found the three-piece flanked by fog and light machines and much to their credit they waited until the third song into their set, “Estates of the Realm” from the soon-to-be-released Summoning the Malicious, before firing them up. They whipped the crowd into a let’s-drink-like-we’re-Metallica-circa-’84 fervor, and though rethrash has never really been my thing, I’d have a hard time arguing with the tightness, intensity or effectiveness of their delivery, all of which were on point throughout their set, drummer Marco P. driving home the extremity one could also hear in the backing vocals Frank R. put behind guitarist Laurens H.‘s periodic falsetto yaps. They were right on for what they were doing, but out-thrashed the hell out of me as I had to go sit down on the step by the side of the room to be periodically kicked by those on their way to or from the can. I’d like to think that’s an effect of the travel I’ve done in the last day-plus, but yeah, probably more just that I’m old.

Heretic

heretic-Photo-by-JJ-Koczan

Comprised of Thomas Goat, Tony Hellfire and Tom auf der Axe, long-running Eindhoven post-Misfits sleaze punkers Heretic are set to issue their next album, Underdogs of the Underworld, May 20 through Ván Records, and they headlined the Hard Rock Hideout as one of several representatives throughout the weekend from that respected imprint. Mesh shirt, devil spike, logo somewhere between Misfits and Motörhead and a song called “Black Metal Punks,” they, yes, hit all their marks as one might expect from an act of their experience. The room knew them better than I did, which wasn’t really a surprise, and were all about the scummer thrust, and by the time Heretic got to “Mr. Chainsaw” from 2015’s Alive Under Satan, the party was in full swing. It would stay that way as the time stretched on past midnight at Cul de Sac and what started out for many as a measured evening before digging into a few long days gave way to liver-destroying nihilism of fine beers and who knows what else. Clearly, Roadburn 2017 has gotten started. It’ll be back in action early tomorrow afternoon, and the launch that Heretic gave it was nothing if not riotous. “Maniacs are Go” is more than just a clever title.

Back at the hotel now. I ate my protein-bar dinner a bit ago and will be up early in the morning to go to work finalizing and folding the first issue of Weirdo Canyon Dispatch tomorrow, which I’ll also be posting and am excited to get out into the world. More to come on that and more to come as Roadburn 2017 starts tomorrow. It’s going to be a busy day. I can’t wait to dig in.

Some more pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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Six Sigma, Tuxedo Brown: Long Time Coming

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

six sigma tuxedo brown

As part of the long-established New Jersey Shore region’s heavy rock underground centered around acts like Solace, The Atomic Bitchwax, Halfway to Gone and a slew of others in the post-Monster Magnet sphere playing gigs at the Brighton Bar in Long Branch when Jacko Monahan was handling the booking, the three-piece Six Sigma made their debut in 2000 with the full-length The Spirit is Gone. Founded by guitarist/vocalist Doug Timms (ex-Drag Pack), bassist Scott Margolin and drummer Mappy, they gigged regionally and never in my experience failed to deliver a good time. The story goes that in 2001, the three-piece entered Trax East in South River, NJ, to record a follow-up and that album, Tuxedo Brown — or, the full title, Six Sigma Presents… Tuxedo Brown — was never released until now.

What might cause a release to be delayed 16 years? I don’t know. Anything, I guess. Life? Jobs? Just want to tweak that last vocal track one more time? Again, could be anything. Point is, the seven-track Tuxedo Brown arrives in 2017 as a limited run of CDs and 180g vinyl (out in May) after more than a decade and a half on the shelf, and one can only imagine the deep sense of relief Six Sigma feel in finally getting it out to the public. At seven songs/28 minutes, it straddles the line between EP and LP, but given the context I’m inclined to call it a full-length — and if one wants to consider The Spirit is Gone a demo, it could even be the band’s debut. Math can be fun sometimes.

Rest assured, the production bears some of the marks of its era in the sound of the drums on “Here’s Yer Stoner Anthem” (not a complaint), but the grooves come easy, the vibe is unpretentious, and Tuxedo Brown plays out like a time capsule unearthed from the Man’s Ruin era just waiting to find a new generation of appreciators. With cuts like “Curb Feeler” and opener “Tuxedo Brown” proffering thick boogie and the later “She Burn in Blues” nestling into eight minutes of languid flow — remember: the record’s only 28 minutes long, so that’s a substantial portion of it — they just might get there. The prevailing vibe is ultimately like earlier Fu Manchu with an undercurrent of East Coast intensity, which one can hear on the aforementioned title-track and its complementary bookend, closer “Mean Streak.”

The two have in common that they’re under three minutes long, and the same goes for the garage-punkish “Scalawag” at 0:51 before the airy Zeppelin-fied Echoplex-ery of “She Burn in Blues” takes hold as the penultimate cut, but the fuzz of “Tuxedo Brown” is a cowbell-laced delight and “Mean Streak” reaffirms a deep love of wah that Timms shows in the layered leads of “Curb Feeler” earlier. That track, “Curb Feeler,” is one of three that follow “Tuxedo Brown” and at four minutes each give a feeling of being the meat of the album.

That might be true in the sense of “Here’s Yer Stoner Anthem,” “Curb Feeler” and the centerpiece “Black Sand Valley Cover-Up” being where TimmsMargolin and Mappy settle into the funk-fuzz that in some ways comes across as the foundation from which the moves into punkier or more psychedelic territory veer to one side or the other — they’re the center, in other words — but the truth is more complex, and elements of one side feed into the other as the inclusion of organ on “Curb Feeler” nods toward the trip-out to come or the shuffle of “Black Sand Valley Cover-Up” jabs its way into “Scalawag” with more wah-pedal stomp and what’s by now a classic lead-with-the-riff mentality.

Given the organic representation of the era in which it was written and tracked, Six Sigma‘s Tuxedo Brown highlights where heavy rock has been and indeed the essential core of the style that, 16 years after the fact, remains relevant. It could be argued that the cyclical nature of stylization means that the trio just happen to be striking at the right moment for their sound to come across as well as it does, but listening to “Here’s Yer Stoner Anthem,” “Curb Feeler” and “Black Sand Valley Cover-Up” as they give way to “Scalawag” and “She Burn in Blues,” I think it goes further than that. The lineage Six Sigma establish to a modernization of ’70s rock — most typically heard in the band’s absence by what became the “Small Stone sound” post-Man’s Ruin — speaks to what might’ve been had these guys gone on to become labelmates with the likes of Dixie WitchHalfway to Gone and, a few years later, Sasquatch.

Is it possible to be so right on time and late to the party? I don’t know, but that would seem to be the paradox of Tuxedo Brown, which winds up as both as it plays out its energetic course. I’m not sure how much Six Sigma circa 2017 did in terms of finalizing these songs for release — in addition to Trax East, recording is listed at Word of Mouth Studios in West Long Branch, NJ, and along with Eric Rachel (who also mastered), Chuck Schafer is credited with mixing — but they don’t by any means sound like they’ve been sitting untouched on a hard drive for the last half-decade-plus. That’s a credit to Six Sigma‘s songwriting as well as to whatever work they may have done in preparing Tuxedo Brown for its awaited issue, and while one is tempted as “Mean Streak” brings the record to its raucous finish to think of what the band might have in store as a follow-up, it’s essential to keep in mind the context of this release. 16 years’ context. How likely does that make a “next album” from Six Sigma, and what might something like that actually sound like as they move forward from these songs? One could only speculate.

They wouldn’t be the first to get going again after so prolonged an absence — Snail have done more since returning in 2009 than they did in their initial run during the early ’90s — and the exorcist purge of issuing Tuxedo Brown might prove a crucial first step for Six Sigma on their own march toward a resurgence, but that’s up in the air at this point. What matters right now is that after being such a long time coming, TimmsMargolin and Mappy have realized this album and clearly demonstrated that they did and still do have much to offer listeners who’d take them on. For relative newcomers to heavy rock, Tuxedo Brown offers a fresh taste of how things were done in the post-Kyuss early-aughts heavy rock movement, and for longer-term heads, it should and does just feel like coming home.

Six Sigma, Tuxedo Brown (2017)

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Six Sigma on Bandcamp

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Review & Full Album Stream: L’Ira del Baccano, Paradox Hourglass

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

l'ira del baccano paradox hourglass

[Click play above to stream L’Ira del Baccano’s Paradox Hourglass in its entirety. Album is out now on Subsound Records.]

Roman heavy instrumentalists L’Ira del Baccano made their studio debut in 2014 with Terra 42 (review here), as a follow-up to their summer-2013 live offering Si Non Sedes iS …LIVE. It’s important to keep in mind as one makes their way through their second studio long-player, Paradox Hourglass, that the band’s roots are in playing live, and that when it came to what they wanted to put out into the world first, it was a live album rather than something more polished. Issued through Subsound RecordsParadox Hourglass is that something more polished, but it still maintains its core of live performance beneath its progressive overtones, and across its evenly-split two sides, four tracks and 39 minutes, guitarist Alessandro “Drughito” Santori, guitarist/synthesist Roberto Malerba, bassist Ivan Contini Bacchisio and drummer Sandro “Fred” Salvi don’t sacrifice one sensibility in emphasis of the other.

While Paradox Hourglass brings forward a proggier mindset than did Terra 42 — something the band credits in part to a Rush influence and I’m not inclined to argue — it keeps its tonal edge and strips away nearly 20 full minutes of runtime, so that the material is not only vinyl-ready, but all the more efficient in making its stylistic point known without lingering. That in itself isn’t to be understated as a recognized step forward for the band, as it shows an editorial mindset developing alongside these progressive tendencies, which is something all the more crucial for a group whose sound is only growing richer.

As to the origins of the title, it’s obviously harder to say without any lyrics to work from, but it’s another evocative element from L’Ira del Baccano, which seems to find its core in the partnership between Santori and Malerba. The two weave layers of riffs and synth and effects fluidly around each other throughout Paradox Hourglass, and while ultimately there isn’t much about the record that one might consider a paradox — that is to say, they’re not making it hard to figure out where they’re coming from or purposefully melding together disparate sonic elements — the new stage their approach has reached is plain to hear from the start of 11-minute opener. And, if we’re looking for clues as to where SantoriMalerbaBacchisio and Salvi are coming from this time around, it is telling that the first piece of the two-parter title-track is subtitled “L’Ira del Baccano,” eponymous to the band itself.

Across its span and that of the complementary eight-minute “Paradox Hourglass – Part 2: No Razor for Occam,” the band touch on psychedelic melody without losing their real-world footing tonally or their underlying crunch of riff. Salvi‘s drums hold together the proceedings as they no doubt did the jams that birthed them, but whether it’s the departure-to-drift in the second half of “Paradox Hourglass – Part 1: L’Ira del Baccano” or the guitar scale-work fleshed out by layers of keys and effects swirl in the follow-up, a sense of control remains prevalent in their approach. The digital version of Paradox Hourglass presents a 19:42 bonus track that brings these two pieces together as one entirety, and while there’s still an audible break between one part and the next, hearing them in that form only highlights the nuance developing in L’Ira del Baccano‘s sound and the manner in which the band is drawing from multiple sides as they stomp and roll their way through movements tied to each other through rhythmic flow and conceptual consistency.

l'ira del baccano

Side B brings a like-minded pair of tracks, also 11 and eight minutes, respectively, that push the aesthetic somewhat further out. “Abilene” leads off with a bit more patience than “Paradox Hourglass” and more of a psychedelic flourish to its beginnings, and unfolds to a blend of desert-style riffing and the progressive course-setting that the first half of the record had as its foundation — the notion that L’Ira del Baccano know where they’re headed even if they’re keeping it a surprise from their audience. They settle into a mid-paced chug at about two minutes into “Abilene” but have more spaciousness to offer from there, and the theremin-infused (or theremin-sounding, anyhow) reaches in which they wind up are perhaps the most satisfying stretch Paradox Hourglass has to offer in terms of immersing the listener in a hypnotic flow, pushing gradually toward an apex that brings together both sides — the breadth and the crunch — on the way to a clean, purposeful finish.

At 8:06, “The Blind Phoenix Rises” ends out with no less clarity of intent than its predecessor, synth and guitar once more working together to cast an impression both psychedelic and progressive. At about 4:45, there’s a turn toward straightforward riffing, and it seems like L’Ira del Baccano made a conscious decision at that point to let loose a little bit in the studio. No complaints. The uptick in tempo from the first half of the track is welcome and though to close out they fall back into the “chorus,” such as it is, the moment of airing out a more rocking impulse is welcome as an answer to the riff that started “Paradox Hourglass – Part 1: L’Ira del Baccano” and makes as fitting an end as one could ask.

They stretch a couple seconds of silence to get over the eight-minute mark, but with the clear drive toward symmetry, one is inclined to give that ground in service to the presentation of the album as a whole. With Paradox HourglassL’Ira del Baccano are less marking their arrival than they are establishing the path they want to take as a group, but the prevailing vibe toward direction is something of a landmark for them nonetheless, even if that landmark is in the shape of an arrow pointing toward the next one. I still won’t venture a guess as to what the overarching paradox here is, though, because from where I sit, it sure seems like L’Ira del Baccano have it all figured out as to who they want to be and what they want to accomplish as a band.

L’Ira del Baccano on Thee Facebooks

L’Ira del Baccano on Bandcamp

L’Ira del Baccano website

L’Ira del Baccano at Subsound Records webstore

Subsound Records on Thee Facebooks

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Review & Full Album Stream: The Sonic Dawn, Into the Long Night

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

the sonic dawn into the long night

[Click play above to stream The Sonic Dawn’s Into the Long Night in full. Album is out April 21 on Heavy Psych Sounds.]

As a title, Into the Long Night might well stem from the circumstances under which the album was recorded. The second full-length from Danish psychedelic rockers The Sonic Dawn and their debut on Heavy Psych Sounds, the nine-track/36-minute offering follows 2015’s Perception (review here), which was released by Nasoni, and was reportedly written by day and tracked during the evening over the course of a month in an isolated house somewhere by the North Sea. Sounds like a nice vacation, and whatever the circumstances of its making, it’s easy enough to read a sense of isolation into the traditional psych-pop-rock elicited by guitarist/vocalist/sitarist Emil Bureau, bassist Niels Bird and drummer/percussionist Jonas Waaben, however welcoming some of their hooks might feel and however warm their tonality — bolstered throughout by guest Hammond work from Erik “Errka” Petersson (Siena Root) and solo vibraphonist Morten Grønvad — might otherwise be.

It’s a deceptively complex front-to-back trip, as The Sonic Dawn fluidly shift between late-’60s pop, mid-’70s fusion and more modern strains of retro-minded heavy, but in answering the potential of their debut, the three-piece craft a style of familiar elements that is immersive and decidedly their own, relying on a jazzy sensibility in Waaben‘s drumming that on a given track might pull them into Doors-style chaos, as with “Numbers Blue,” or propel a howling psych/kraut exploration like the earlier “On the Shore.” Wherever they go in this expression of varied influences, The Sonic Dawn hold fast to their own stylistic voice, resulting in a palpable spirit of progressiveness that never gets lost in its own meanderings.

That’s not to say it doesn’t meander. Indeed, that becomes part of the appeal. Beginning with a not-sure-it’s-necessary 33-second “Intro” wash of keys and psychedelic vocal melody before the clean guitar line of “Emily Lemon” gently unfolds the first of Into the Long Night‘s friendly, groovy impressions, the vibe is one that lets BureauBird and Waaben go where they will and they take full advantage with an underlying sense of glee. The opener, such as it is, “Emily Lemon” shifts into guitar soundscaping to close, leading to the jazzier bounce and further atmospheric drift of the aforementioned “On the Shore,” but even when they freak out, which they do a bit on the subsequent organ-laced rocker “As of Lately” — prime fodder for a lost 45 from ’66 and, “Intro” aside, the shortest inclusion at 2:45 — they keep firm control of their direction. Of course, this has its ups and downs, as there are moments where a listener might want them to let loose a bit, but as they round out side A with the longer “Six Seven” (5:07), the prevailing spirit is one of being consciously driven, and that holds true for the preceding three-plus cuts and the four still to come on side B as well.

the sonic dawn

The good news is it works for The Sonic Dawn, because they prove to be strong enough in their songwriting to stand up to the demands of the diverse sound they want to create, but even if they’re the ones making their own rules, they’re also the ones playing by them. Even as “Six Seven” moves into the apex of its key-and-flute-inclusive build, having departed at about four minutes in to an insistent and noisy section of free-jazz thrust, the drums still hold a steady beat beneath, and there’s never any danger of the track flying apart as it almost seems like it wants to do. They fade it out at the end and I can’t help but wonder if they might’ve been more duly served leaving the collapse of that jam intact for the listener to be a part of; a warts-and-all moment to share with the band that could only further the honesty of presentation so prevalent in these tracks.

In any case, they proceed onward with side B opener “Numbers Blue,” an upbeat guitar-led figure that would seem to put the pieces of “As of Lately” and “Six Seven” together into a progressive rocker that’s marked out by Waaben‘s tom work no less than the intermittent surges of Hammond or the guitar swirl that emerges in its second half. Here they begin to let go of the reins a bit, but it’s still a quick flash and then gone en route to the three-minute “Lights Left On,” a quiet guitar-key-vocal excursion that effectively showcases Bureau‘s singing, fragile but controlled, and revives the jazzy pulse of “On the Shore” in a fittingly subtle and complementary fashion. Here neither does one find The Sonic Dawn overstaying their welcome. They touch on these ideas, stop in for a quick expression of them, and get out. The exception to that might be seven-minute closer “Summer Voyage,” which is led into by the flowing psych-gaze of “L’Espion” — an execution of two organ-topped builds over the course of four minutes that still has time for backwards echoing at the finish; efficiency! — though with the inclusion of sitar from Bureau and the wandering mood of its ending jam, they’re frankly welcome to stay as long as they like as far as I’m concerned.

With hypnotic shoegaze guitar, background vocals and the sitar included as flourish in such a way that only makes me want to hear more of it from them over the longer term, The Sonic Dawn round out Into the Long Night via the delivery of yet another clear message: that they’re not at all finished growing yet. Carrying outward on dreamy keys (vibraphone?) and guitar on an extended drift, “Summer Voyage” reaches its destination peacefully and evokes a serenity rarely conveyed so well in something that might still fall under the umbrella heading of “heavy.” For what it’s worth, The Sonic Dawn, while operating under their own conventions as far as mood and ambience go, seem less concerned with the structural bounds others might place on genre, and that’s something that already serves them well here and can only continue to as they further their lysergic adventurousness in the years to come. There are moments on Into the Long Night where one wonders how they manage to keep their wits about them, but much to their credit, The Sonic Dawn never waver from their central purpose in progressive and pastoral melodicism.

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Review & Track Premiere: Brume, Rooster

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

brume rooster

[Click play above to stream the premiere of ‘Reckon’ by Brume. Their debut album, Rooster, is out April 20 on DHU Records and Doom Stew Records ahead of a UK tour (info here) including a stop at Desertfest London 2017.]

A dense fog comes to rest over the 51 minutes of Brume‘s Rooster. By the end of the 10-minute opening track, it has settled in despite — or perhaps because of — the pervasive thrust the San Francisco trio have conjured, and it remains a factor for the six-track duration. Fortunately, the three-piece of bassist/vocalist Susie McMullin, guitarist Jamie McCathie and drummer Jordan Perkins-Lewis chose the most capable of navigators, Billy Anderson (NeurosisMelvinsAcid KingSleep, need I go on?), to help guide them forward. Rooster, issued through Perkins-Lewis‘ own Doom Stew Records on CD, tape and download with vinyl forthcoming from DHU Records, winds up not so much getting lost in this fog as inhaling it, plugging in, and riffing out with marked force, thickness and presence.

Their 2015 debut EP, Donkey, was a showcase of promise, and Rooster is a longer one, but in stepping forward to give their building audience a first real chance to take in the scope of what Brume — who got together in 2014 — can and will be as a band, they do not flub the opportunity. With longer pieces “Grit and Pearls” (10:06) and “Tradewind” (11:48) as bookends at the outset and finish, the fervent plod of “Harold” (7:30), “Reckon” (9:13) and the rolling “Call the Serpent’s Bluff” (9:29) between, as well as the penultimate acoustic-based “Welter” (2:55) leading into the closer, Rooster realizes the potential of the prior EP and moves forward with it, successfully melding together influences into what Perkins-Lewis might call a “doom stew” of their own recipe.

For those new to the band, with the airy, soulful melodicism of McMullin‘s voice echoing spaciously over the molasses riffery, one might hear them at first as spiritual successors to the recently-defunct Uzala, but the turns of “Grit and Pearls” immediately widen this impression with rhythmic stops drawn from the post-YOB sphere of cosmic doom and Mike Scheidt‘s particular style of angularity. The key, though, is immersion. By the time “Grit and Pearls” has finished its 10-minute course, shifting from vast plod into quiet atmospherics and back through the faster ending that’s the source of the YOB comparison above, they’ve managed to hook the listener with a repetitive nodding groove. Their sense of pacing and willingness to vary tempos emerges as something of a theme throughout, but Rooster never becomes more monotonous than it wants to be. Monolithic, perhaps.

brume

“Harold” begins by teasing the lighter strum-and-pluck that “Welter” will later bring before crashing in at full weight and unfolding its first ethereal verse, slower and more doomed than “Grit and Pearls” before it — I keep hearing early Cathedral in McCathie‘s guitar progression, but I can’t place it exactly — and they settle into a consuming roll as they move past the halfway point, the last minute of the song being the real point of departure as the central rhythm gives way to feedback and ambient noise with Perkins-Lewis‘ drums behind, a grueling end that perfectly sets up the doom-gone-TwinPeaks-barroom-blues launch of “Reckon.” The third of Rooster‘s six cuts fascinates conceptually as McMullin plays off the country music trope of the cowgirl singing the tale of meeting a mysterious stranger, but instead of a sharp-eyed, all-chin guy on horseback, he’s got a beard and rides a beat-up motorcycle. Nonetheless, the vibe that results makes “Reckon” a standout, as does its more prevalent hook and open-feeling, drum-and-chanting midsection break that swells to an apex with a layered-over guitar lead that recalls “Grit and Pearls” in its intent without necessarily retreading what’s already been done.

It seems likely that “Call the Serpent’s Bluff” will mark the start of the vinyl’s side B after “Reckon” finishes the album’s longer-by-two-minutes side A, and that break between the two songs feels somewhat essential as a factor in the flow throughout Rooster as a whole. That is, the effect of Perkins-Lewis‘ drums returning to start “Call the Serpent’s Bluff” is best experienced with the breath-catching moment provided to the listener by flipping a record. Even the digital version of “Reckon” has a couple seconds of silence at the end, and that feels very much on purpose and very correct. When it gets going, with the rumble of McMullin‘s bass and feedback from McCathie‘s guitar soon enough joining the tom runs to draw the listener into the patient groove, “Call the Serpent’s Bluff” swirls out hypnotic, doomedelic nod, an early lead giving way to more insistent pulse before spacious vocal melody transitions into slower riffing, a quiet introduction of the back-half hook and build back to the crawling, crashing finish recitations, ending with the vocals as a standalone element. That subtle moment of minimalism makes an effective transition into “Welter”; the shortest cut and starkest contrast to its surroundings, sonically if not in overall mood.

Backed by acoustic strum, McMullin echoes the bluesier feel of “Reckon” in another context, surrounded by a flourish of keys for a neofolkish stretch one might relate to Windhand but that serves all the same to further widen the breadth of Rooster ahead of “Tradewind,” which comes to life slowly over likewise quiet strum and cymbal wash before the full heft arrives at around two and a half minutes in to commence a series of loud/quiet tradeoffs that once again find Brume working in a varied structural context even as they reinforce the brooding feel of the record as a whole and offer one last deceptively catchy chorus. The nature of their craft, with a focus on longer songs meting out grueling and at times otherworldly doom, doesn’t necessarily lend itself toward the expectation of hooks, but Brume have a few throughout Rooster, as “Tradewind” duly reminds, and that seems an avenue where the trio might continue to grow as they take the lessons of their debut forward into whatever might come next. Along with the cohesive ambience and fluidity of their presentation on the whole, this underlying foundation of songwriting gives them another tradition to make their own as they begin to do in these tracks.

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