Throttlerod, Turncoat: Winning at Winning (Plus Track Premiere)

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on May 26th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

throttlerod turncoat

[Throttlerod release Turncoat on June 24 via Small Stone. Click play above for an exclusive track premiere.]

After a certain point, a band’s new album becomes a believe-it-when-you-see-it prospect. Throttlerod, seven years and one social media revolution removed from the release of their last full-length, 2009’s Pig Charmer (review here), were past that point. Still, they haven’t been completely inactive over that span, playing periodic shows near founding guitarist/vocalist Matt Whitehead‘s home-base in Richmond, Virginia, and apparently crafting enough material so that their fourth outing, Turncoat, clocks in at a considerable 55 minutes with 12 tracks. It’s long. CD long, in a vinyl time, but as ever for these cats, the songwriting holds up. Small Stone Records — which was also behind Pig Charmer, 2006’s Nail, the 2004 Starve the Dead EP and 2003’s Hell and High Water (their 2000 debut, Eastbound and Down, was on Underdogma) — is once again handling the release.

While that’s business as usual for ThrottlerodTurncoat still makes for a departure from their past methods in that instead of working with Andrew Schneider, who helmed all the outings listed above, the three-piece of Whitehead, bassist Jeremy Plaugher (who makes his first appearance here; Schneider also played on Pig Charmer) and drummer Kevin White enlisted J. Robbins to act as producer/engineer at his Magpie Cage Studio. Like a lot of bands, Throttlerod have been through lineup changes and this and that, but swapping producers after 15 years is huge, and Robbins — known for his work with ClutchThe SwordMurder by Death, among many others, as well as for playing in Jawbox and other projects — makes a mark on this material in a way distinct from anything Throttlerod have done before.

Distinct, but not outlandishly removed from Pig Charmer. That in itself is something of a change as compared to, say, the sonic jump they made between Hell and High Water and Nail, which, with less than half the time between Pig Charmer and Turncoat, found Throttlerod revamping their sound from Southern heavy rock to angular noise drawing on influence from early and mid-’90s dissonance. Pig Charmer continued that thread, and Turncoat follows suit to an extent, but as opener “Bait Shop” shows in its chorus, the push comes with a heightened sense of melody as well. Whitehead‘s vocals, layered, are less shouted than sung, and as the two in the one-two punch, “Lazy Susan” answers in kind to “Bait Shop,” Throttlerod seem at least on some level to be reconciling their latter day approach with their beginnings, either consciously or not.

throttlerod

Granted, that melody comes off more post-grunge than Southern-inflected, but as they slow the roll on the early parts of the more brooding “Never was a Farmer,” those elements are easy enough to read into the proceedings, even if the context is different these years later. Rhythmic insistence comes back to the fore on “Lima,” with White propelling a middle-paced push as Whitehead squibbles out on guitar late, his vocals buried under the wall of his and Plaugher‘s tones. The title-track follows accompanied by “You Kicked My Ass at Losing,” and both songs tap into the more grunge-laden approach, the latter more raucously and of course with the best title on the record, which the chorus well earns, capping the first half of the record with a sudden stop and quick-fade cymbal ring-out. They have a long way to go, but Throttlerod are working efficiently and effectively, and for a band who’s been more or less absent for the last seven years, there’s little rust to be heard in this material.

Guitar scorches at the beginning of “Gainer,” an angular beginning opening to a more manageable verse and chorus en route to a finish that recalls once-labelmates Puny Human and that band’s frontman, Jim Starace, in whose memory Turncoat is dedicated and presumably not titled after. The subsequent “Every Giant,” “Cops and Robbers” and “Breadwinner” mostly tap into moods that the record showed earlier, but each has something about it to make one understand how it wound up in the final tracklisting, whether it’s the handclaps in “Breadwinner,” the what-if-Weezer-got-really-pissed-off aggro build in “Every Giant” or the frantic, jazzy bassline in the verse of “Cops and Robbers,” which brings to mind the melodic take on classic noise rock of Black Black Black without sounding directly akin.

Crashing and full-sounding, “I Know a Ship” offers one last landmark hook before closer and longest cut (at 6:29) “The Guard” finishes out with what starts as a more atmospheric take and then moves into chugging starts and stops — I’m tempted to call them Tool-esque, but to be fair, let’s make it pre-up-their-own-ass-Tool — that nonetheless drive as White does laps around his toms toward the finish of the record. Ultimately it’s hard to know how much of an effect Robbins‘ production might’ve had in bringing forward the melodic side of Throttlerod‘s approach — it’s not like there’s a version of the record tracked by someone else to do a side-by-side — but one way or another, the band have come back after seven years and made a record that is a definitive step forward from where they were their last time out. It might take a listen or two to sink in, but Throttlerod‘s Turncoat is one that only grows richer from there.

Throttlerod on Thee Facebooks

Turncoat preorders

Small Stone Records

Tags: , , , , ,

It’s Not Night: It’s Space, Our Birth is but a Sleep and a Forgetting: Pillars in the Void (Plus Track Premiere)

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on May 25th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

its not night its space our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting

[It’s Not Night: It’s Space release Our Birth is but a Sleep and a Forgetting on June 24 via Small Stone. Click play above to stream an exclusive premiere from the album.]

Cumbersome in its title and awaited in its arrival, Our Birth is but a Sleep and a Forgetting is the second full-length and Small Stone Records label debut from New Paltz, New York, heavy psych instrumentalists It’s Not Night: It’s Space. The guitar-bass-drums trio issued their first full-length, Bowing Not Knowing to What (review here), in 2012, and were picked up by Small Stone the next year, and since then it seems to have been a process of letting the band’s slow-motion space rock congeal to a point where it’s able to be processed by human minds, which is apparently where we are now. Beaming in from cosmic depths with six tracks — an intro and five cuts between seven and nine minutes a pop — Our Birth is but a Sleep and a Forgetting offers sonic immersion and atmospheric scope in kind with a patient, hypnotic front-to-back flow that adds rich tonality to what guitarist Kevin Halcott, bassist Tommy Guerrero and drummer Michael Lutomski accomplished their first time out.

Parts may have been born of improvisations, but the finished product doesn’t feel like a collection of jams. Rather, a series of interconnected pieces correctly positioned to guide the listener through this aural expanse. Spiritualism, contemplation, philosophy, space itself — all of this seems to be in play for It’s Not Night: It’s Space, as the samples in three-minute opener “Nada Brahma” demonstrate and cuts like “Across the Luster of the Desert into the Polychrome Hills” and “Starry Wisdom” answer back. The material is dynamic, particularly so the build in “Pillars of the Void,” but the key is in the motion of the record as a whole, and It’s Not Night: It’s Space succeed in holding their course while showing varied sides of their approach.

They have some help in that regard from Rick Birmingham, who recorded and mixed and who adds fiddle to “The Beard of Macroprosopus” and closer “The Black Iron Prison and the Palm Tree Garden,” but though the expanse they conjure throughout feels wider than something a trio might be able to craft, mostly it’s HalcottGuerrero and Lutomski here. Should probably go without saying that effects have a considerable role to play in Halcott‘s approach, but ultimately the album is as rhythmically hypnotic as it is otherworldly of vibe. “Nada Brahma” fades in on voices that sound like chanting mantras to ease the way into the expanded consciousness that follows. An acoustic guitar line, bass, percussion and swirl give an immediate impression like the kind of ritual Om might enact, but the samples and emergent lead electric guitar assure It’s Not Night: It’s Space maintain their own direction from the outset. They’ll continue to do so as “The Beard of Macroprosopus” takes hold with a kosmiche push that grows more and more resonant before it pays off in echoing, winding guitar the tension its early moments have built.

Much to their credit, It’s Not Night: It’s Space avoid the trap of loud/quiet trades for the most part that seem to be so core in a lot of heavy psychedelia, and instead offer linear fluidity with movement of tempo and mood, and a depth of mix through layers of rhythm and lead guitar, effects and spacious drumming. Ending with more sampled chanting, “The Beard of Macroprosopus” echoes into the start of “Across the Luster of the Desert into Polychrome Hills,” for which it doesn’t seem like an accident that “desert” made it into the title. A patient fuzz unfolds in the bass beneath manipulated drone and a subtle build of guitar and drums. The central line that arrives past two minutes in seems born of a surf tradition — as is desert rock — and if the “Polychrome Hills” are being represented in Halcott‘s lead in the second half and the deeply satisfying roll that follows, I’d say they’re being done justice.

its not night its space

A cold end brings the guitar intro to “Starry Wisdom” — I’ll assume that’s where the A/B vinyl split is as well, but it’s the digital version I’m reviewing — which spends its first couple minutes in a post-rock stoner nod before opening to more driving territory, locked in in a fashion that a low of Our Birth is but a Sleep and a Forgetting has shown little interest in being, but still atmospheric on the whole. A big slowdown and blissout awaits in the second half, but the swing never departs entirely as Lutomski plays between crash and snare to ensure the rhythm holds together until the guitar is left to fade on its own into the start of the penultimate “Pillars in the Void,” the subdued opening of which is perhaps all the more effective for how little It’s Not Night: It’s Space have toyed with minimalism throughout.

True there’s still plenty going on as the track gets underway, but the central guitar figure and drum and basslines are more sparse than, for example, “Starry Wisdom” preceding, and the effect is to enact a linear payoff, then drop back to quiet before unfurling the highlight progression of the album as it moves toward and past the six-minute mark. No less immersive than anything before it, “Pillars in the Void”‘s concluding movement showcases a feel for songwriting and linguistic expression (still without lyrics or samples, mind you) that stands it out from its surroundings. One might think that would leave “Between the Black Iron Prison and the Palm Tree Garden” as an afterthought, but that winds up not at all the case, as It’s Not Night: It’s Space close out with a darker mood and straightforward but still trance-inducing groove, bass and echoing guitar giving an impression like Yawning Man by night early before moving into the Spaghetti West in the midsection and reintroducing Birmingham‘s fiddle as they gracefully build their way into the song and the record’s final push, ending noisy and sudden.

As the material comprises it feels worked over, hammered out, and shaped into what the band wants it to be, it makes sense that Our Birth is but a Sleep and a Forgetting might show up four years after It’s Not Night: It’s Space‘s debut, but as a front-to-back listen will attest, time comes to matter little once you dig into that wash and find yourself consumed by it. Fuller in its sound and more clearheaded in its purpose, the album shows definitive growth on the part of HalcottGuerrero and Lutomski, but manages to do so without sacrificing the exploratory feel that helps make it so engaging and meditative. Similar to the chanting that starts off, the record itself seems to be a mantra. Perhaps It’s Not Night: It’s Space have found wisdom in the stars.

It’s Not Night: It’s Space on Thee Facebooks

It’s Not Night: It’s Space on Bandcamp

Our Birth is but a Sleep and a Forgetting preorders

Small Stone Records on Thee Facebooks

Tags: , , , , ,

Farflung, 5: Boiled by the 27th Sun (Plus Full Album Stream)

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

farflung-5

[Farflung release their new album, 5, via Heavy Psych Sounds this weekend at Freak Valley 2016. Click play above to stream it in full.]

They’ve hardly been inactive in the interim, but 5 marks the first studio LP from Los Angeles space rockers Farflung in eight years. Released by Heavy Psych Sounds, it follows 2008’s A Wound in Eternity (on MeteorCity) as well as splits with White Hills, Black Rainbows and Fatso Jetson (review here), among others, and finds the long-running outfit past the 20-year mark since their debut, 25,000 Feet Per Second, came out in 1995. Through the bulk of that two decades, Farflung have coursed through the cosmos thoroughly underappreciated for their efforts — similar to split-mates White Hills, who started later, they seem to have found more of a foothold in Europe than in the US.

But 5 brings renewed vitality in its nine miniaturized interstellar voyages/43 minutes, all songs but the opening three under five minutes long but with a significant breadth all the same, dripping in effects and spaced far enough out that the scale of “far out” only seems to begin to cover it. Some vibe can only be measured in parsecs, and with the band comprised of Tommy Grenas, Michael Esther, Paul Hischier, Abby Travis and Chris Nakata with guest appearances from Hawkwind‘s Nik Turner, David Catching and Gene Troutmann (both affiliated with Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal), Farflung‘s vibe pushes outward from the moment of its inception until it closes with the almost tribal krautrock thrust of “The Retreat,” as progressive as it is lysergic.

Naturally, they are right at home in this expanding sphere. “Hive” opens 5 — which by the way is upwards of Farflung‘s eighth album — and is the longest cut on it at 6:53 (immediate points), acting as intro for itself and the record as a whole with its emergent swirl in the first minute that soon launches into kosmiche boogie instrumental save for some buried vocalizations. The push is everything. They’re not quite aping Hawkwind at the outset, but the thrust of the first half is clearly-enough working to break through the atmosphere, which “Hive” seems to do and float for a while in its second half before resuming its outward crunch. Effects start “Proterozoic” as well, but a more forward structure takes hold, with lyrics delivered in echoing deadpan over double snare taps for a garage rock feel that takes off its in chorus.

farflung

That hook turns out to be one of the strongest on 5 and is followed by a long stretch of hypnotic, resonantly psychedelic drone and effects near the finish, which sets up the more earthbound riff opening “044MPZ,” with a kind of New Wave synth line underscoring its verse and a sense of space in the chorus behind interweaving echoes. Synth and Echoplex add fluidity to a languid solo, and though it seems like Farflung have hit the point of no return from whence the only thing to do is continue to jam, they turn back to the chorus before shifting into less-plugged acid fervor. “044MPZ” is the crucial third in the aforementioned longer-tracks opening trio, and what follows from there on “27th Sun” and side B read like reports checking in from the various worlds Farflung have visited along their way to wherever it is they might end up by the album’s end.

“Lupine,” the centerpiece, calls back to “044MPZ” in its tone, but with a change in vocals (is that Turner?) that marks it out immediately ahead of the shorter “Being Boiled,” which has a more brooding take. Waves of guitar and repetitive robotic chants position “We Are” as something of a landmark, but at that point it’s really more about the wash in its entirety than any single element — all these layers drawing together to create something immersive and entrancing. Slower and more centered around low end, “Dismal Jimmy” is nonetheless among the trippier offerings on 5, and almost enough to make one wish Farflung hit the brakes more often, but while the penultimate inclusion, it also stands as reinforcement of the fact that as far as the band has to that point journeyed, they’ve still got the warp drive geared toward who the hell knows.

And if you’re looking for that answer in “The Retreat,” good luck. Resolution comes in cinematic percussive drama backed by the ever-present swirl, and is less about making the album preceding more accessible than showing that Farflung could probably keep it as well as all of the ideas presented before it going into perpetuity. In that way, 5 feels somewhat pared down, like these tracks were carved from longer jams during the songwriting and shaped into what they are with effects and layers of keys and synth and so on, but that shouldn’t be taken as an indication that there’s anything happening here other than exploration, since that very much remains at the heart of what Farflung have accomplished on this welcome return.

Farflung on Thee Facebooks

Heavy Psych Sounds

Tags: , , , , ,

Electric Citizen, Higher Time: Devils in the Passing

Posted in Reviews on May 23rd, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

electric citizen higher time

Like several others often lumped into a retro categorization with a mind toward aesthetic longevity, Electric Citizen have modernized. To be fair, the Cincinnati four-piece’s 2014 RidingEasy Records debut, Sateen (review here), did indeed tap into a vintage feel, but while the second album, Higher Time, might still draw influence from brash ’70s heavy rock, the sound is full, modern and built on a foundation of air-tight, lean songwriting and a stellar performance from vocalist Laura Dolan, who positively owns this material. Prior to its release, Electric CitizenDolan and husband Ross Dolan on guitar as well as bassist Randy Proctor and drummer Nate Wagner — put out word they were looking for a full-time keyboardist, and listening to Higher Time cuts like “Evil,” the shaker-inclusive “Misery Keeper,” “Devils in the Passing Time,” “Ghost of Me,” “Crux” and “Two Hearted Woman,” it’s easy to understand why they might.

Performed here by Andrew Higley and Yusef Quota (the latter on “Ghost of Me”), organ and/or whatever more specific keys do a lot of the work in keeping Higher Time in league with a traditional sensibility as much as it wants to be — Ross‘ riffs deserve some credit there as well — but what’s even more striking about Electric Citizen‘s sophomore outing is the level of progression it has shown from where the band was two years ago. That’s not an accident, of course. Electric Citizen busted their collective ass and have been on the road in the US and more recently Europe pretty much since their inception, touring on their own and with Pentagram and Fu Manchu, among others. That tour-work feels evident in the brisk performance Laura delivers on vocals, which is a defining feature of the album as a whole.

Granted, it couldn’t be without the songwriting behind it, so maybe there’s something of a two-fold narrative when it comes to Higher Time, which marks both Dolan‘s emergence as a frontwoman and a pivotal signal of intent when it comes to the band’s songcraft. I was not kidding above when I called the writing lean. That might be understating it. While definitely produced-sounding, cuts like “Evil,” “Social Phobia,” “Devils in the Passing Time,” and even side B’s “Ghost of Me” and “Natural Law” — which offer a one-two punch of Sabbathian intent, nodding at “Children of the Grave” and “Wheels of Confusion,” respectively — have almost zero wriggle room; nothing that might for one second pull the listener out of the song. Even the title-track, which is the longest inclusion here at 5:36 appearing toward the middle of the tracklisting and presumably the start of side B, holds itself together through swirling guitar and keyboard effects as it makes ready to shift into a sci-fi atmospheric spoken word part leading to a build back into a solo from Ross, who shines in his role leading the instrumental trio behind Laura.

Electric Citizen (Photo by Gregory Bojorquez)

That said, as with the best classic-styled heavy rock, Proctor and Wagner are the foundation on which the Dolans are able to stand so tall, Wagner‘s drums propulsive on “Social Phobia” and “Ghost of Me” and no less a standout for the swing brought to the particularly memorable “Misery Keeper” and “Devils in the Passing Time,” two landmark-feeling impressions pushed toward the front of the record so that the swagger of the latter can add to the bluesy delivery of Laura‘s vocals, almost pouting but soulful. Ross adds far-back soloing to the verses in “Golden Mean,” which ends the album’s first half, and assures that momentum is on Electric Citizen‘s side as they push into the second, through “Higher Time,” and “Ghost of Me” and “Natural Law,” which follow.

A side-split structure is important to the overarching impression the album makes. It’s kind of a tenet of the heavy ’10s that a full-length would be divided into two component halves — at this point it would be stranger if Higher Time were set up linear-style, like a CD — but while clearly given to a flowing two-sided listening experience, it’s no less important to keep in mind that Higher Time is a collection of songs. It’s not a front-to-back concept album, it’s not a series of interconnected jams — it’s a precisely executed 40-minute offering comprised of 10 individual pieces that come across as though they’ve been fine-tuned either on stage or in the studio, but to a degree at which there isn’t anything left to chip away to get at the essentials of heavy rock. The grooving penultimate take, “Crux,” is hardly Higher Time‘s most essential cut — that might be “Evil” or “Devils in the Passing Time” — but even it has purpose behind its Uncle Acid-style bounce, and it serves to expand the palette of the album as a whole while still keeping consistent with its surroundings in terms of style.

I won’t decry the songwriting ability Electric Citizen showed on Sateen at all, but in addition to growing into a bigger sound, they’ve also grown into a unit with more chemistry and force behind their thrust. So it is that Higher Time builds on what they accomplished last time without being held back by a sense of subgenre. There are elements of it that are unabashedly, unashamedly pop-minded, and that suits Electric Citizen well and hasn’t come at the expense ether of their sonic heft or stylistic nuance. No question they are more themselves on Higher Time, and with Laura‘s voice tying together the various moods between the songs, Electric Citizen follow-up their first album with one that shows no less potential for where they might go and what they might do next.

Electric Citizen, Higher Time (2016)

Electric Citzen on Thee Facebooks

Electric Citizen on Bandcamp

RidingEasy Records

Tags: , , , , ,

Gozu, Revival: Acts of Vitality

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

gozu revival

In some ways, Gozu‘s Revival is defined by its barnburners. There are a few of them, and the impression they create across the Boston four-piece’s third album — first for Ripple Music — is one of a more intense approach overall than was showed either on 2013’s The Fury of a Patient Man (review here) or 2010’s Locust Season (review here). Those records, both released by Small Stone, had their driving moments, but to listen to “Nature Boy,” “Oldie” or the penultimate “DD McCall” from Revival is to realize how much harder Gozu are pushing themselves across the album as a whole.

The production of Dean Baltulonis at The Wild Arctic and Benny Grotto at Mad Oak brings that out even in a swinging track like “Big Casino” or the soul-fueled “By Mennen.” It’s not necessarily about tonal thickness — that’s not what they’re going for — so much as what kind of impact each instrument can have. Add to this the fact that for the first time on record, Gozu have a cohesive lineup in guitarist/vocalist Marc Gaffney, guitarist Doug Sherman, bassist Joe Grotto (brother to the aforementioned Benny) and drummer Mike Hubbard, and it becomes less of a wonder that these eight songs/41 minutes are the strongest the band has yet presented in their tenure. As Gozu enter relative maturity as a group — three LPs deep — they show clear growth in performance, craft and chemistry, while keeping many of elements of the prior work intact that helped push them to the fore of their home region’s crowded heavy rock sphere. To rephrase: They kick ass early and often.

I’ll note at this point that I’m hardly an impartial observer, having been a fan since Locust Season and grown to think of them as friends, but feel no compunction in offering critique, whether it’s of Gaffney‘s vocals dominating the mix in the crashing apex of “By Mennen” (as opposed to the end of it, where the vocals stand alone and would inherently dominate the mix, being the only thing in it), or of the continued use of gag/reference song titles. “Lorenzo Llamas” is clever, but hardly does justice to the spaciousness of the side A closer itself or the manner in which it complements and sets up “Tin Chicken” as the album’s finale. In any case, if you want to take my continued respect for Gozu‘s work with a grain of salt, feel free, but Revival also stands legitimately on its own as their finest hour to date. Whether it’s the blistering, immediate zero-to-100 that “Nature Boy” brings to lead off or the sleeker groove of “Bubble Time” that follows, there isn’t a level on which Gozu aren’t moving beyond what they’ve done before.

CAMBRIDGE, MA - Photo shoot with Gozu, at The Sinclair. Sunday, January 12, 2014.

Grotto, who played on part of The Fury of a Patient Man, and Hubbard, formerly of Warhorse, make for a rhythm section formidable enough to stand up to the melodies and layering in Gaffney‘s vocals and the crunch in his and Sherman‘s guitars alike, and though the attack here is more pointed than it has been in the past, that suits Gozu remarkably well as they lend each song a personality of its own while uniting the work as a whole through hooks, harmonies and a sense of abandon like that shown in the layered soloing that pushes “Bubble Time” over the top at the end. That song and “Nature Boy” before it build momentum into the more shuffling “Big Casino,” which rides a hypnotic chugging riff — something of a miniaturization of “The Ceaseless Thunder of Surf” from the last outing — in its middle and after one more chorus trips out a bit with far-back falsetto from Gaffney and consistent punctuation from Hubbard as it fades into the crashes that begin “Lorenzo Llamas,” which builds across its seven-minute span with semi-psychedelic patience as a vocal highlight, subtly insistent riff and fluid groove add to the otherworldly feel the ending of “Big Casino” put forth. Through soloing from Sherman, interplay of the two guitars, and more forceful delivery from Gaffney, “Lorenzo Llamas” gives a fitting cap to Revival‘s first half and sets up the continued expansion of reach that follows in the second.

That expansion comes in hand with a feeling that each of side B’s tracks is in conversation with a counterpart on side A, reversing the first three songs and aligning for the longer fourth so that “Oldie” opens with a chug and hook that could be playing off the sway of “Big Casino,” “By Mennen” answers the soul of “Bubble Time” with swaggering, heavy funk — the early bassline is a highlight — and “DD McCall” follows up on the all-out thrash style with which “Nature Boy” lead off, leaving “Tin Chicken” to build on what “Lorenzo Llamas” accomplished. One doubts that kind of symmetry was something that came to mind for Gozu as they were writing — it’s not like they’re making a concept record — but it does give Revival‘s presentation another level of cohesiveness, and whether it’s the fading-out guitar harmonies of “Oldie” or Gaffney pushing his voice to its limits in that standalone part at the end of “By Mennen,” Gozu manage to add to what they did earlier without sonic redundancy.

This is true in the heads-down thrust of “DD McCall” as well as the immediate contrast that “Tin Chicken” brings with its quiet, fluid guitars, subdued drums and soft vocals. The closer pushes through a louder part and quiets again momentarily before launching into the atmospheric payoff that “Lorenzo Llamas” teased, still heavy but swirling as well before cutting back to fade out after a few quiet lines bringing it back to the intro; the song seems to kind of wander off, but it works with the trance-inducing effects display preceding. And as it goes back to its start in a different way, “Tin Chicken” also summarizes some of what works best about Revival, which is the sense of how purposefully built the album is. While the performances are crisp, the natural chemistry Gozu have harnessed onstage remains intact, and the intensity with which they bring it to bear feels like something the band has been waiting for the opportunity to do. They make the most of that opportunity, and what results is some of the best American heavy rock you’re likely to hear in 2016 in composition and execution.

Gozu, “Nature Boy” official video

Gozu on Thee Facebooks

Gozu on Bandcamp

Ripple Music

Ripple Music on Bandcamp

Tags: , , , , ,

Vokonis, Olde One Ascending: Clergy’s Magic Potion

Posted in Reviews on May 18th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

vokonis olde one ascending

It is a tenet of stylistic works — those in a given style or genre — that sooner or later someone will come along and realign the creative conversation back toward its roots. One could easily argue this is how doom itself came about, with bands seeing the heavy metal of their time, being dissatisfied, and choosing an approach more closely related to Black Sabbath. Swedish trio Vokonis, who make their debut with Olde One Ascending via Ozium Records, would seem to be interested in a similar adjusting of trajectory. Surrounded in a crowded Scandinavian market by boogie rock or blistering doom, guitarist/vocalist Simon Ohlsson, bassist/backing vocalist Jonte Johansson and drummer Emil Larsson push in an different direction and one the thick grooving of which can be traced directly to Sleep.

With Ohlsson and Larsson having released a demo last year called Temple (review here) through Btnk Cllctv, the long-player doesn’t necessarily represent their first statement of intent in this regard, but its cohesion of purpose and message come through clearer than any demo could. Olde One Ascending — even the title seems to call for a return to old(e) ways — comprises six tracks/48 minutes of what by now should be considered classic stoner metal, a blend of Sabbathian doom, Sleepy heavy riffing and tales of epic battles, monsters, and is presented in thick, full sound with zero pretense. Vokonis know what they’re doing as they gallop into the midsection of “Acid Pilgrim,” as they space out at the start of “Olde One,” and as they shuffle their way through the end of “Hazmat, the Ashen Rider.”

Despite a somewhat extended (for vinyl) runtime, Olde One Ascending divides neatly into two halves, each with three songs. Four of the six total inclusions run somewhere around eight minutes long, and the shorter tracks, “Acid Pilgrim” (6:56), which closes side A, and “Hazmat the Ashen Rider” (7:45), which closes side B, aren’t far off, but Vokonis use the space in their material well to pull off a number of different vibes, whether that comes through in the rolling nod as “Olde One,” which opens, lurches to life from its subdued, building intro with an immediately striking tonal impression from Ohlsson and Johansson as they riff out à la Sleep‘s “The Druid” en route to a shouted verse. As the newcomer in the band, Johansson stands up well to Ohlsson‘s thick guitar, punching through to the fore of the mix as Larsson indulges Hakius-style snare work beneath the dual vocals.

vokonis

Caveman shouts for choruses will become something of a theme as Vokonis make their way through “The Serpent’s Alive” and “Acid Pilgrim,” but the interweaving of solos and rhythm guitar and bass add further distinction to their processes, “The Serpent’s Alive” in particular tripping out on a more languid, Iommically layered guitar lead before its crash-heavy ending. “Acid Pilgrim” is the shortest cut on Olde One Ascending, but still has plenty of time to kill slumber, like the rays of the new red sun arising at its start and provide a more individual feel as it plays back and forth in between-line twists of riff before an “ough!” kicks into a few more thrashing measures — the aforementioned gallop — and a fuzzy solo takes hold underscored by more righteous bass. Vocals don’t return until the final slowdown, calling the titular Acid Pilgrim to come home as the first half of the record rumbles to its conclusion.

Riffy trauma holds sway for the bulk of side B as well, but it’s in the final three songs — “Shroomblade,” “King Vokonis Plague” and “Hazmat the Ashen Rider” — that the listener gets more of a sense of the world these songs are inhabiting, somewhere between medieval battles and the snow-covered, monster-laden ground of Olde One Ascending‘s cover art by Tessa Najjar. Past its midsection solo, also layered, “Shroomblade” finds Johansson taking the fore with Larsson as the guitar quits down for a classic stoner jam of marked funktitude. They soon enough shake the earth with their plod once more, but this is their first album, so one is always looking for clues as to where progression might lead.

The longest track at 8:54, “King Vokonis Plague” no doubt offers some clues in that regard as well through its fluid rhythm and departure from the solo-into-jam structure that the bulk of the record exhibits. Instead? The riffs, the hook, a bit of winding push, and a shorter solo, which leads them back to a closing verse so that the subdued first measure of “Hazmat the Ashen Rider” is duly contrasted in volume. Kicking in quickly, “Hazmat the Ashen Rider” has the advantage of being exceedingly catchy and something of a basic statement of mission/summary of what Vokonis accomplish on their first album, whether that’s in proffering heavy riffing, tripping out for a lead or upping the pace toward the end for a last-minute upbeat finale that ends cold. Through all of this, Vokonis reinforces their argument of what “heavy,” as a sonic concept, is all about, and they bring a sense of freshness and purity of intent to back them up that makes it difficult to find a counterpoint. Maybe it is time everybody just riffed out.

Vokonis, Olde One Ascending (2016)

Vokonis on Thee Facebooks

Vokonis on Bandcamp

Vokonis at Ozium Records

Tags: , , , , ,

Limestone Whale Premiere “Tale of the Snow Child” from Self-Titled Debut

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

limestone whale (Photo by Christian Illing)

Bavarian four-piece Limestone Whale will release their self-titled debut album on May 27 via Stone Free Records. They recorded the seven-track offering at Big Snuff Studio in Berlin with Richard Behrens, also of Heat, formerly of Samsara Blues Experiment and who also does live sound for Kadavar. That connection isn’t to be entirely forgotten when it comes to the sound of Limestone Whale‘s 39-minute LP, but neither is it the sum-total of their breadth, because while songs like “Paralyzed in Paradise” (video posted here) and hook-laden opener “Ambrosia” draw from a modified ’70s pastiche, vocalist Clement Hoffer, guitarist Flo Ryan Kiss, bassist René Preiß and drummer Maximilian Brev also dig into a grunge-style lumber on German-language centerpiece cut “Swarms” and the early-PearlJam-gone-bluesier guitar of “A Book I Have to Close,” which follows, one of several effective moments on the record of genuine melancholia alongside the earlier, doomier “Tale of the Snow Child” and closer “An Allegation,” which calls back to “Swarms” in its darker, chugging finish.

Establishing this decades-spanning sonic meld is the stated intent of Limestone Whale‘s debut, and the outcome is that the songs, whichever period they’re drawing from, are executed with an overarching focus on natural feel. It’s less about sounding like it’s 1971 than it is about presenting the material in organic a manner as possible. Again, I wouldn’t limestone whale limestone whalesay the band are completely divorced from retro European heavy — from the dry treatment on Hoffer‘s vocals to the rhythmic swing permeating the slower “W,” those elements are definitely there — but like their Pentagrammy Danish counterparts in Demon Head last yearLimestone Whale bring a near-immediate sense of persona to the songs on their first album, which is all the more impressive for that clarity of effort since it still sounds live-recorded and laid back. Some of that is Behrens, of course, but if the material wasn’t strong in the first place, the album would feel flat and lifeless, and instead it carries across a palpable energy without sounding sloppy or losing its sense of command as it sets up a dynamic of fluid rhythmic and volume changes that carries the listener across Limestone Whale‘s span.

Aside from the fact that the early ’90s are fair game again for influence, which is understandable since 1991 was 25 years ago, the message Limestone Whale send with these songs is that something truly classic is timeless. This decade has seen a boom in bands — largely in Europe, but in the US as well — turning their heads backward to find their inspiration, but with newer, next-generation acts like Limestone Whale, they don’t even have to go that far, since the heavy rock of the last half-century has become one giant mash, fed into itself and sustained by the continuing drive of those playing it to refine the form. Limestone Whale step into that process confidently on their self-titled, and as they execute broad-minded ambitions in a way that results in cohesive songcraft, one can only look forward to hearing how they’ll develop over their tenure and what they might ultimately contribute to that oeuvre. For now, they’ve shown remarkable potential in their debut full-length and accomplished precisely what it seems they set out to do. That’s more than enough to make the effort worthy of praise.

It’s my pleasure today to host “Tale of the Snow Child” as a track premiere. You’ll find it below, followed by some comment from Kiss about the song and the album as a whole.

Please enjoy:

Flo Ryan Kiss on “Tale of the Snow Child”:

Some parts of our music refer to late ’60s Heavy Psych Blues and early 70s Hard Rock because it’s a very important musical style for us, but we decided not only to revive the spirit of that era by playing riffs that have been played partly over and over again. Instead of that we want to add new flavours like 90s alternative rock or grunge elements. It’s like building bridges between different rock decades with the bridges consisting of a modern but very natural and analog sound.

Limestone Whale on Thee Facebooks

Limestone Whale on Bandcamp

Limestone Whale at Stone Free Records

Limestone Whale at Wormhole Mailorder

Tags: , , , , ,

Miss Lava, Sonic Debris: Fangs of Venom

Posted in Reviews on May 11th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

miss lava sonic debris

It’s a pretty easy argument to make that Lisbon’s Miss Lava are Portugal’s biggest heavy rock band. Aside from commercial success in their home country, they’ve toured Europe multiple times over and while the national scene in Portugal is still growing compared to, say, Germany or Italy, it could do far worse than to have Miss Lava acting as spearhead. The four-piece made their debut in 2010 with Blues for the Dangerous Miles (review here) and premiered on respected purveyor Small Stone Records with 2013’s Red Supergiant, which they now follow-up with Sonic Debris, their third long-player, comprising 10 cleanly-recorded tracks for a 51-minute stretch that neither lets its variety stop it from rocking nor its rocking from offering varied modes of expression.

At its strongest, Sonic Debris is as much about atmosphere as its hooks, and the balance Miss Lava strike in songs like “The Silent Ghost of Doom,” “I’m the Asteroid” and the later, airier “Fangs of Venom” demonstrates patience and songwriting acumen in kind. Riffs, somewhat unsurprisingly, still lead the way, but Miss Lava have enough room here to really let their material branch out, and while “Symptomatic” and “In the Arms of the Freaks” are big on their choruses and “Fangs of Venom” winds up that way as well, there isn’t necessarily anything unipolar about Miss Lava‘s overarching approach, and taken front to back, their third album offers peaks and valleys of tempo, mood, etc., that make it that much richer on the whole. Still very much a rock record, but using that more as opportunity than limitation.

So what it comes down to is the lineup of vocalist Johnny Lee, guitarist K. Raffah, bassist Ricardo Ferreira and drummer J. Garcia (no relation) have constructed an outing that’s nowhere near as haphazard as the title Sonic Debris might lead one to believe. Produced by the band with Fernando Matias and engineered by Matias, José Pedro Ataíde and Ricardo Bravo, it also benefits from a Benny Grotto mix at Mad Oak Studios and a mastering job by Chris Goosman at Baseline Audio Labs, resulting in a clear, worked-on, big sound, whether that’s in the slower-paced spaciousness of opener “Another Beast is Born” or the post-rant rush of “The Silent Ghost of Doom,” which, when taken in combination with the subsequent “I’m the Asteroid,” make for an initial salvo that says a lot about the ground that what follows will cover.

miss lava

“I’m the Asteroid” is the longest track on Sonic Debris at 7:25, and it uses that time well to blend catchiness and atmosphere fluidly in a manner that — and I know I’ve said this before — reminds of Miss Lava‘s French labelmates in Abrahma, but they continue to change things up with the quick acoustic-strum-and-effects-swirl of “In a Sonic Fire We Shall Burn,” the vocals far back and echoing as they ease their way through toward the drum start to the nodding “At the End of the Light,” which would seem to be a complement to the opener in its riff, but offers an even more satisfying melody. Either way, it’s a departure point from which side B takes off toward its own purposes, so as marking the end of a movement on the record, it fits in multiple roles effectively.

From its beginning, it seems like “In the Arms of the Freaks” is going to be a moment of pure Fu Manchuism, but Miss Lava wind up on their own riffy trip, with a Euro-festival-ready hook that, if it doesn’t wind up in a video at some point during this album cycle, it’ll be a genuine surprise. Both it and the following “Symptomatic” bear out the side of the band that “The Silent Ghost of Doom” put forth — more straightforward in structure but of crisp and largely undeniable execution. Particularly in the stomp of the latter, Miss Lava dig into classic-style stoner rock that they’ll again tip toward with the desert-hued closer “Planet Darkness.”

Between, “Fangs of Venom” and “Pilgrims of Decay” once again move into more studied, atmospheric fare, the former working a subtle build as it moves through headed toward solid ground that emerges in the second half as a fitting payoff, and the latter effectively bringing together its hook, vocal melody and guitar-led crunch for a late-album highlight. That these songs find common ground with “In the Arms of the Freaks” and “Symptomatic” as well as “Planet Darkness” at the record’s finish should say something about how Miss Lava came to earn their rather considerable reputation, but three LPs in, it isn’t really a surprise to find them having long since hammered out the rough edges of their style. Built on a foundation of diverse songwriting, Sonic Debris may be culled together from a variety of influences, but the result of that process is anything but a throwaway.

Miss Lava, Sonic Debris (2016)

Miss Lava on Thee Facebooks

Sonic Debris at Small Stone’s Bandcamp

Small Stone Records

Tags: , , , , ,