Review & Video Premiere: Øresund Space Collective, Experiments in the Subconscious

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Reviews on December 5th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

oresund space collective experiments in the subconscious

[Click play above to watch Øresund Space Collective making Experiments in the Subconscious live in the studio. Album is out Jan. 2020 on Space Rock Productions. Cover art by Dennis W. Fleet.]

Though it’s not always immediately apparent by word or deed, one does believe in a bit of self-care every now and again, and in those instances where a bit of spiritual rejuvenation is needed, Øresund Space Collective stand ready to serve as a balm. Fortunately, they’re prolific. They begin 2020 with Experiments in the Subconscious — they’ve also posted countless live shows on the Internet Archive and made some available through Bandcamp, etc., as well — which is their 34th offering by their own count, and thereby collect five tracks, ranging from the three-and-a-half-minute kraut-synth apparent-accident “Oops” to the sprawling and perhaps titled-in-self-awareness jams “Lost in Africa” and “Prosthetic Cuban.” Those two lead off Experiments in the Subconscious and run back to back across 17 and 20 minutes, respectively, digging into Afrobeat and Latin progressions with a still thriving foundation in the space rock.

That, of course, is the well trod domain of the Øresund Space Collective, whose lineup is subject to change from outing to outing but here feature Scott “Dr. Space” Heller on synth as ever as well as Fender Rhodes/synthesist Magnus Hannibal (also Mantric Muse), guitarist/classical sitarist KG Westman (ex-Siena Root), drummer Tim Wallander (Agusa), violinist/guitarist Jonathan Segel (Camper Van Beethoven) and bassist Hasse Horrigmoe (Tangle Edge). It’s a not dissimilar group from that which appeared on late-2018’s virtual-reality trip Kybalion (review here), and as that album’s session took place in 2016, it’s hard to know just when Experiments in the Subsconscious might have been put to tape, but somehow, when it comes to Øresund Space Collective, time seems ever more to be an inapplicable construct. They exist. The album exists. Take heart. From the intertwining percussive shuffles and wah-sounding keyboards of “Lost in Africa” through the organic shredfest of guitar, keys, maybe-violin-run-through-effects that is centerpiece “Lost Milesage” (16:34) and post-“Oops” closer “Hieroglyphic Smell” (14:44), Øresund Space Collective bask in the natural process of creation itself, and whether it’s their most fervent moments of thrust or a moment of atmospheric breather-taking like the slowdown in the second half of “Prosthetic Cuban,” their most crucial hallmark is unmistakable.

Which is to say that, as ever, they live up to their long-established ethic of “totally improvised space rock.” Players go into the studio with nothing, and leave most likely exhausted with a collection of sessions from which the jams that comprise their albums are selected, mixed, mastered, and pressed. Studio tricks, overdubs, even vocals, need not apply, and their style is light on posturing or proselytizing. They’re not looking to harsh anyone’s mellow or bring down the room, they just want to go on adventures in aural subspace and have a good time getting there with instrumentalist conversation between players. It has certainly worked for them in the past and it does likewise here, and while one wouldn’t at all call the sheer sound of the band raw, what with the swirling effects on the guitars and synth and keys and whatever else — if there is sitar anywhere on Experiments in the Subconscious, it’s not as easy to discern as on 2017’s Hallucinations Inside the Oracle (review here) or either of Dr. Space‘s two full-lengths as part of the trio West, Space & Love — in terms of capturing the process of creation at the moment it happens, there are few as committed to bringing to life the realization of that rawest creative instant. The Big Bang of songwriting. That feeling when the piece seems to take hold and write itself and sometimes a band doesn’t even know how it came together later — it just did.

oresund space collective

Without hyper-romanticizing what they do, Øresund Space Collective seem to exist in a place searching for this moving target. It may be elusive, but they’ve got experience on their side at this point, and whoever comes in and out of the lineup for a given studio session or live show, the willingness of the participants to let go and bask in that moment feels essential to their taking part in the first place. That is, I guess by now those who sign up to work with Øresund Space Collective — one does imagine a players’ sign-up sheet with the band’s logo on top, though it’s unlikely such a thing exists — probably have some idea of what they’re getting into. Still, the sonic richness of Experiments in the Subconscious and the subtle and not-so-subtle variety between its component jams brings to the forefront some of the purposes and directions that moment of creation might take on as one instrument follows another along a given path or works an idea to its natural endpoint, or doesn’t, or maybe the whole thing just collapses on itself. You never really know, and that’s basically the fun of it.

Of course, it’s true that Experiments in the Subconscious probably wouldn’t exist if the jams didn’t ‘work’ at least to some degree. I’m sure there’s plenty of material from every Øresund Space Collective session that gets left out for one reason or another or doesn’t make the final edit from which their tracks emerge. And that’s fine. They’re certainly entitled to use the material they like best to make their albums — indeed that should be the ideal almost in every case — but though it’s the briefest of cuts, “Oops” is especially telling in conveying the “happy accident” sensibility that drives so much of what Øresund Space Collective do. It’s so short it’s barely a blip among the band’s oft-extended, fluid pieces, but its inclusion feels purposeful here in showcasing how something like that can just happen once someone is willing to make it do so. Even that seemingly simple act of plugging in, pressing (or clicking, more likely) record, and letting loose is a hurdle some people who want to never manage to overcome, and as it seems to happen so naturally for Øresund Space Collective, it’s all the better to hear them enjoying that spirit on a finished recording. It makes their work all the more inspiring, and Experiments in the Subconscious will no doubt prove to be exactly that for those open to it.

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Review & Track Premiere: Colour Haze, We Are

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on December 3rd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

colour haze we are

[Click play above to stream the title-track of Colour Haze’s new album, We Are. Digital release is this week through Elektrohasch, followed by CDs next week and LPs in January.]

It is no small thing for a band to change its construction after about 20 years of working with the same lineup, but as they cap their 25th anniversary celebration in 2019 with the release of the new album, We Are (formerly titled Life), that is precisely what Munich’s Colour Haze have done. The godfathers of European heavy psychedelia have operated since 1998 as the core trio of guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek, bassist Philipp Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald, but with 2017’s In Her Garden (review here), they began to experiment more with adding flourish of organ and various synth from Jan Faszbender, and since then, Faszbender has become a part of a new four-piece incarnation of Colour Haze.

On the seven-track/45-minute We Are, which is released as ever through Koglek‘s Elektrohasch Schallplatten imprint and opens its first side at a rush with its quick-boogie title-track, they continue to experiment and drive themselves forward in that integration, with Faszbender moving between playing off the energy of Merwald‘s drumming, running along with Koglek‘s guitar in the graceful instrumental sweep in the second half of “Life,” and generally filling out the melodic and rhythmic foundations of the material while offering a few standout moments of his own, such as the organ laying the bed for the soaring vocals — and I mean “soaring”; there are some pointedly operatic guest vocals going on there too — of the album apex “Be with Me.” The change, in other words, suits Colour Haze. Their studio arrangements have been branching out since well before 2012’s She Said (review here) brought in strings and horns and 2014’s To the Highest Gods We Know (review here) answered back and built on those impulses, but from where the branching out is happening has changed, and their sound is that much richer for having Faszbender in the lineup on a hopefully ongoing basis.

Of course, signature elements remain. Rasthofer‘s bass is still of singular tonal warmth and execution, and Merwald‘s drumming makes progressive and jazzy changes no less fluid than the bassist’s runs from one fret to the next. Koglek is still an explorer, and while longtime followers of Colour Haze will recognize snippets like a push-off from the central riff of “Aquamaria” from 2006’s Tempel (discussed here) in “I’m with You” on side B, there’s also the four-and-a-half-minute centerpiece “Material Drive” to contend with, led as it is by acoustic guitar with Koglek in the RichieHavens-at-Woodstock role as the rest of the band gradually joins in behind, Faszbender in particular making the song that much more of a high point of We Are with a two-handed approach of organ and synth running concurrently while the bass fills out the mix. And I don’t know if that’s flute — which has been used on Colour Haze records before — or flute Mellotron, but anytime they want to do a record of semi-acoustic acid folk protest songs, I’m ready for it.

colour haze (Photo by JJ Koczan)

That’s not to take away from the running jam of closer “Freude III” or the earlier one-into-the-next-like-the-phrase-it-spells-out “We Are,” “The Real” and “Life” on side A or even the two-part side B complement in “I’m With You” / “Be With Me,” I’m just saying the arrangement of “Material Drive” works well. Really the same applies across the board on We Are, and the band are careful to acknowledge the role of the mix in their presentation of the material, balancing guitar and keys well even just as “The Real” takes off after the initial hooky shuffle of “We Are” itself starts the record at a rush, setting the tone in a way for what’s to come on an almost subconscious level for the listener. In some ways it’s less pointedly prog than was the prevailing spirit of In Her Garden, which ran 72 minutes and was a 2LP of marked immersiveness, but as the band’s 13th long-player, We Are confirms that even in their relatively new four-piece incarnation, Colour Haze‘s focus remains on an organic feel and delivering the most natural sound possible.

Some spoken lines from Koglek and his voice following note for note with his subsequent guitar lead are the only vocals on “The Real,” but as both that and the peaceful-build-int0-fervent-thrust of “Life” top eight and a half minutes, it’s early on that the band captures the listener’s attention and sets to unfolding the course of We Are as a whole, which of course side B expands beginning with “Material Drive” and moving through the layered vocals of “I’m With You” and more flute sounds on “Be With Me,” a whirlwind of guitar turns opening wide to the payoff of the album in the spirit of songs like She Said‘s “Transformation” circa four minutes in, just before the vocals begin their aforementioned flight. That would seem to leave “Freude III” (‘freude’ being ‘joy’ in English) as an afterthought, but it turns out instead to seem to be answering some of the progressions of In Her Garden while still holding to We Are‘s particular balance, an enticing cascade of nuance and natural impulses that plays out across the seven-minute instrumental finale in two distinct movements, the last of which ends — suitably enough — on a long fadeout of synth as if to underscore how far Colour Haze‘s journey has taken them not only since the riffier beginning of the record on “We Are,” but in general across their span of years and span of albums.

They are inherently in conversation with their past on We Are — the name of the record can certainly be taken as a declaration of self, despite how the songs portray it — as even those emergent titular phrases was an element put to use on 2008’s All (discussed here), and perhaps reflecting on a quarter-century of the band’s existence is a part of that either consciously or not, but they show as clearly as ever in this material that looking back by no means has to stop you from moving forward. I will gladly admit to being a fan of the band, so if you need to take this review with that in consideration, that’s fine. From where I sit, every time Colour Haze puts out a record — and again, this is their lucky 13th — it is nothing less than a gift, and We Are sneaks in under the wire as one of the best gifts 2019 has had to offer. For old fans, it offers something new in the shift of lineup and fleshing out of arrangements, and for newcomers, its refreshed sound should prove all the more welcoming. Quite simply, Colour Haze make the world a better place.

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Review & Full Album Stream: BBF, Outside the Noise

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on December 2nd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

bbf-outside-the-noise

[Click play above to stream BBF’s Outside the Noise in full. Album is out Dec. 6 on Argonauta Records.]

First thing’s first: Italian outfit BBF‘s moniker, yes, is derived from the family names of the three players involved in the band. That’s guitarist/vocalist Claudio Banelli, bassist/synthesist/vocalist Pietro Brunetti and drummer/percussionist Carlo ForgiariniB, B and F going by the initials. Easy enough, and suited to some of the more ’70s aspects of their sound on their second album and Argonauta Records debut, Outside the Noise, as some of the lead guitar shimmers on post-intro leadoff track “Third Eye” shimmers with a ’70s pastoralism à la Marshall Tucker Band checking your eyesight and solos are reserved for a reverb-laced seer that seems more drawn from the school of Eddie Hazel. “Time” bops like Ginger Baker-era Masters of Reality, “Kaleidoscope” drawls out cosmic and ethereal with a surprising patience, and the mid-album pairing of “Outside the Noise” and “Into the Light” consumes about 16 minutes of the 41-minute runtime but puts it to excellent use, running through multiple movements and moods in the title-track only to find its way in the second piece and celebrate with a highlight guitar and percussion interplay enhanced by some Rolling Stones-style blues harp.

Instrumentally, BBF show a ready adventurousness and their songs have a fluidity to them that makes the moments of drift all the more effective, but when they want to rock there’s plenty of room for that as well, as they show early in the record on “Third Eye” and “Time,” though ultimately their sonic reach proves more varied in its intention. That is to its credit and to the band’s, as they seem to have no trouble holding the proceedings together and letting their songs work in defiance of what one might generalize as some of the tropes of Italian heavy rock, eschewing influences like Fu Manchu and Nebula in favor of broader styles of songcraft, while still holding to an energy of performance that keeps the eight-track offering moving forward in interesting ways as it weaves between one expression and the next.

If, as the intro “Apollo” suggests in reading the transcription left behind by the first astronauts to touch down on the moon, BBF “came in peace for all mankind,” that’s not exactly a minor ambition. I can’t speak to the universality of its appeal — that is, what portion of “all mankind” is going to be able to get down — but their having come in peace is easy enough to grant. “Apollo” is just two minutes long before it gives over to “Third Eye,” but it plays an essential role in Outside the Noise just the same in that it adjusts the listener’s expectation at the outset for immediacy. As in, there isn’t one. And it’s smartly done, because as Outside the Noise is the band’s first offering for Argonauta, it’s an exposure to a new audience perhaps taking them on for the first time — I know I am, at least — so essentially “Apollo” works with deceptive efficiency in those two minutes to teach that new audience how to experience what’s coming on the seven cuts that follow. They’re not the first to do such a thing, and it may or may not have been a conscious decision on their part, but it’s smoothly done just the same.

bbf

And that smoothness also becomes a running theme throughout. “Third Eye” has perhaps the most prevalent hook on the record — figuratively as well as literally; the vocals are too high and dry in the chorus, which is something “Kaleidoscope” corrects later but that comes back again on the penultimate “Sun” — but even as BBF leave behind the straightforward path in favor of more open and exploratory vibes, they do so with an inviting spirit. The three movements across the 9:33 of “Outside the Noise” itself are clearly-enough marked in the track with drops to silence at 2:53 and 7:43 to draw the lines between sonic turns. The first part seems to bring in guest vocals for some soulful wailing over guitar that’s ably enough done but probably would seem all the more so with some lyrics being delivered, while the midsection taps Blind Melon wistful grunge, and the ending serves as a meditative intro to the spacier textures soon to take hold in “Into the Light” and which will continue to unfold on “Kaleidoscope,” “Sun” and the droney closer “Harvest Moon.”

The solo tone that was prefaced in “Third Eye” finds its realization in “Into the Light” and, yeah, if these guys wanted to whip out a “Maggot Brain” cover at any point, I’d be down to check it out. The guitar work is classy, not at all overwrought, and however they got it, that tone is something special and worth preserving. It stands out somewhat in contrast to the drift and post-rock of what surrounds, particularly with “Kaleidoscope” following, but that works to its benefit. It’s made to stand out, where “Kaleidoscope” is made to be hypnotic and sure enough is precisely that, running through a subtly quick 4:21 and giving way to “Sun” which enacts the final build of the record with a marked character and charged emotional progression palpable in the instruments as much as the vocals.

Its turns aren’t unexpected, but their immediate familiarity acts in their favor as it’s that much easier to follow them upward to the crescendo of Outside the Noise, leaving “Harvest Moon” as what might be a five-minute afterthought were it night such an experimentalist delight. Chimes, acoustic guitar, electric drone, quiet cymbal washes and rain sticks and in the end a consuming churn and wash of synth to cut to silence to show a band willing and ready to step outside of even the fairly wide comfort zone they’ve established over the course of the record to that point. That’s an impulse and a drive that serves them well in bidding goodbye to their second offering and holds promise for continued growth, but based on what they do here, one wouldn’t want to make any predictions on their direction for a third release, except perhaps to say that the progression underway in these tracks does not seem to be at an end point and that BBF do not seem like the kind of band to find their sound and hold still in it. There’s a restlessness here, as much as it’s coming in peace, but BBF channel that into an engaging and fascinating variety of craft on Outside the Noise, and though the record isn’t perfect, somehow it feels like if it was it would lose some of its natural spirit.

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Review & Track Premiere: Scissorfight, Doomus Abruptus Vol. 1

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on November 28th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Scissorfight Doomus Abruptus Vol 1

[Click play above to stream ‘Where Eagles Drink’ from Scissorfight’s new album, Doomus Abruptus Vol. 1. Album is out Dec. 6 through Salt of the Earth Records with preorders here.]

From some bands, a line like, “Shut up and watch the flame get higher,” might be a pithy social commentary or a statement of humanity’s inaction to avert climate catastrophe. In Scissorfight‘s “Caveman Television,” rest assured, it’s about people who talk too much around a campfire. Doomus Abruptus Vol. 1 is the seventh full-length from the just-came-from-the-forest-already-drunk-and-looking-to-fight New Hampshire four-piece, and a landmark for the simple fact of its existence.

It arrives some 13 years after their last album, Jaggernaut, and some 18 after their arguable pinnacle in 2001’s Mantrapping for Sport and Profit (discussed here) — there were several short releases between those two as well, including splits with Cave In and Pelican and three other EPs: Potential New Agent for Unconventional Warfare (2002), Deathchants, Breakdowns and Military Waltzes Vol. 2 (2003) and Victory over Horseshit (2005) — and follows a 2016 revamping of the band that included founding bassist Paul Jarvis and founding guitarist Jay Fortin extending the group’s by-then-legendary fuckall-and-fuck-off attitude to recruiting a new vocalist and drummer to round out the lineup.

Issued through Salt of the Earth Records, the 2016 comeback EP, Chaos County (review here), tested the waters and found them mercifully free of giardia (look it up), and the band’s positive response extended to the live arena as well, with Doug Aubin‘s formidable presence as a frontman and Rick Orcutt‘s work behind the kit helping propel them to Europe as well as through regional shows around New England — their long-established stomping ground.

Particularly after Chaos County, a full-length was an inevitable next step, and Doomus Abruptus Vol. 1 (also on Salt of the Earth) brings the AubinFortinJarvis, and Orcutt incarnation of Scissorfight to a new level in reestablishing the band’s approach. It’s got nine tracks and an LP-ready 39-minute run. Its songs are tight in structure and swing like a right arm throwing a suckerpunch, and they’re heavy like, well, like fucking Scissorfight are heavy. There’s no mistaking that sound.

In some ways, it’ll be the next album that tells the tale of their return as a working band rather than one making a comeback, but if I call Doomus Abruptus Vol. 1 business as usual for Scissorfight, I only mean it as a compliment. Whether it’s the woodsy sounds starting “Caveman Television” at the outset, or the anthemic “Rock and/or Die” playing off the Granite State motto “Live free or die,” or centerpiece “Where Eagles Drink” entering direct conversation with “Blizzards Buzzards Bastards” and “New Hampshire’s Alright if You Like Fighting” from the aforementioned 2001 album while laying the band’s ethic out in admirably plain language for the chorus: “Born on a mountain/Raised in a cave/Drinkin’ and fightin’/All I crave.”

scissorfight

Theirs is a battery of downtuned stomp and aggro burl, and they’ve always done it at their own level. Subtly clever and unsubtle in shoving you down a rhythmic flight of stairs, tying itself to the wooded northern Appalachians of their home with New England’s we-get-two-weeks-of-summer high altitude bad attitude, Scissorfight willfully and defiantly retain their core elements on Doomus Abruptus Vol. 1. That is, while the EP proved it could be done, this is the point at which Scissorfight say with no equivocation they are Scissorfight and, true to character, they don’t give a shit if you’re along for it, the ride’s going either way.

The all-out headspin of second cut “Dumpfight” is a raw punk-derived slammer in its first half, and when it breaks at about two minutes in, Aubin warns of the riff that follows, “Oh shit. Here it comes.” Thanks for the heads up. The image of collecting a swollen jaw is inescapable as the salvo that began with “Caveman Television” continues through “Dumpfight” and into “Coagulus” and “Rock and/or Die” as the record heads through a midsection that would be a beer gut were it not still so able to move.

While there’s little loss of momentum as “Coagulus” makes a grower hook of the line, “All in the name of the hunt” and its title in telling tales of bear traps and other foresty threats, “Rock and/or Die” is singularly catchy and outdone only by the subsequent “Where Eagles Drink,” with its made-for-the-stage call and response in the verse — not the only one on the record, but still a standout — though even “Piss in the Wind”‘s chorus is a masterclass in how to craft fare for drunken singalongs.

The back third of Doomus Abruptus Vol. 1 — let’s just call it the “ass-end” to keep with the mood of the release — is comprised of three final songs between five and six minutes long. With acoustic twang, “The Battle of (Mudhole Mountain)” leads off this final turn, followed by the fuzz-bass led post-industrial ode to the Merrimack Valley “Lead Venom” and closer “Whatcha Get,” which actually pulls back on some of the immediacy that’s been so prevalent throughout Doomus Abruptus Vol. 1 at its outset, but is soon enough given over to the sharpest-edged riff of the album and a chorus that feels especially pointed in remarking “That’s whatcha get for saying ‘never again’.”

And I guess that’s really the core of what the album is all about. From a certain distance, one has to chuckle at the ballsiness in a band releasing their first record in over a decade and including “abrupt” in the name of it, but ballsy is what Scissorfight do and, to one degree or another, have always done, so it’s fitting in that regard if no other. They end with more noise from the woods to leave off with a sense of completion, and while inevitably the conversation around Doomus Abruptus Vol. 1 is still the fact that their lineup has changed, that feeling of being complete is no minor consideration, and it extends to the band itself.

Once again in keeping with the spirit of the album and Scissorfight generally, I’ll say it as plain as I can: I was a fan of Scissorfight with Iron Lung up front. Like, a big fan. Those old records are earthshakers and I wouldn’t tell you otherwise. I don’t know what the impact of Doomus Abruptus Vol. 1 will be, how far it will reach or what the overall reception will be, but if you’ve ever been on board with Scissorfight, and you can’t get on board with this, it isn’t their fault.

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Review & Track Premiere: Acrimony, Chronicles of Wode

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on November 26th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

acrimony chronicles of wode

[Click play above to stream ‘Million Year Summer’ from Acrimony’s new remaster box set, Chronicles of Wode. It starts streaming Dec. 7, preorders are here starting today and ship out in mid-Jan. In the interest of full disclosure, I wrote the liner notes for the box set and was compensated for that work. I have not been compensated for this review, and frankly, given the chance to premiere a remastered Acrimony track and an excuse to write about these albums, there was no chance I wasn’t going to jump on it.]

Chronicles of Wode is a 3CD box set from Burning World Records that brings together the bulk of the discography of Welsh heavy rockers Acrimony. It includes their two full-lengths, 1994’s Hymns to the Stone (discussed here) and 1997’s Tumuli Shroomaroom (discussed here), both with new artwork by Jimbob Isaac (also of Taint and Hark)”, as well as a third disc of off-album tracks, some of which were previously collected on 2007’s Bong On – Live Long! compilation and some which were not, including a yet-unheard Doom cover, and so on. Bringing these offerings together is something noteworthy in itself — the band’s influence over UK heavy rock was and is formidable, and they were genuinely ahead of their time when it came to using repetition and jammy vibes as a means to hone a heavy psychedelic feel while retaining a metallic energy beneath — but crucially, Chronicles of Wode gives all of these Acrimony tracks a much-needed remastering, and they’ve never sounded so vibrant. That’s particularly true of Tumuli Shroomaroom, but while Hymns to the Stone is more dated in terms of its basic production, that’s more of a fact of how the record was originally made, and it seems no less integral to preserve that than it does to give Acrimony‘s catalog the detailing it has long since earned.

There’s a balance to be struck between the two sides, of course, and Chronicles of Wode seems to find it in the crunch of “Leaves of Mellow Grace,” the opener of Hymns to the Stone, which rolls out its nod like a clarion, finding Acrimony — the five-piece of vocalist Dorian Walters, guitarists Stu O’Hara and Lee Davies, bassist Paul Bidmead and drummer Darren Ivey — immediately putting the groove first in a way that few acts at the time had understood how to do. Their influences were varied, from ’70s rock to trance techno, but their riffs were undeniably heavy, with lyrics exploring the isolation of their hometown and the same kind of disaffection that once launched Black Sabbath to the outer reaches of doom from a blues rock beginning. Acrimony started out more as death metal or at least death-doom, but Hymns to the Stone was a point of discovery for them in terms of claiming their identity, and whether it’s the nodding pub-homage “The Inn” or the myth-creation they engaged with “Urabalaboom,” the sonic drawl and spacey push of “Spaced Cat #6” or the glorious noise-wash jam of “Whatever” ahead of brash closer “Cosmic AWOL,” Hymns to the Stone is a record that has been persistently undervalued, not just for what it set in motion in terms of Acrimony‘s all-too-short tenure as a band, but on the sheer merits of its material.

Rest assured, part of the reason Hymns to the Stone is undervalued is because it exists largely in the shadow of its follow-up. Clocking in at a whopping 65 minutes — prime CD era in 1997 — and originally released through Peaceville RecordsTumuli Shroomaroom is a legitimate heavy rock classic. Its production was clearer, its purpose was clearer and it took the blow-the-doors-down promise shown throughout Hymns to the Stone and brought it to a point of full realization throughout extended pieces like “Motherslug (The Mother of All Slugs),” “Heavy Feather” and “Firedance,” not to mention the nine-minute opener, “Hymns to the Stone,” a title-track for the release before. Go figure. By ’97, Acrimony‘s sense of world-creation was becoming clearer, and their songs — not all of them, but definitely some — had started telling a story beyond the riffs and nods. Of course, Tumuli Shroomaroom had and still has plenty of that too in “Million Year Summer,” “Vy,” “Find the Path” and “The Bud Song” — the arguable “meat” of the album in its post-opener beginning and the middle of the nine-song tracklist — but even amid “The Bud Song”‘s ultra-stoner janga-janga shuffle there’s psychedelic flourish building on that shown at the outset of the song, and Acrimony‘s adventurous sensibility never really dissipates. It’s just presented in dynamic fashion, and they use it to various ends throughout.

And that shows up not just in the odds and ends of percussion and didgeridoo and guitar effects, echo, etc., but in the various structures of of the tracks themselves. The same was true of Hymns to the Stone, if nascent, but Tumuli Shroomaroom realized these impulses in a new way that, even as a stoner rock underground was flourishing in the UK, was pretty rare. Some of the roots of that aural diversity are shown on the disc of extra tracks included in the box — unlike the two album, it’s not available separately to my knowledge — with the aforementioned take on Doom‘s “Exploitation” and the Status Quo cover of “O Baby” that was featured on Bong On – Live Long! alongside raw pieces like “Tumuli” and “100 New Gods” and “Timebomb!!!” and “Earthchild Inferno,” here pushed to the opening position as some of the cuts from the original compilation were cut, presumably for time. These songs have also been remastered and are worth hearing on both an academic level as further context for the band and just on their own merits — I don’t know what Burning World is charging, but “O Baby” alone is a worthy argument in favor of it — fitting well as a complement to the two albums that are obviously the showcase pieces of Chronicles of Wode and giving fans something more to dig into even as the records themselves invite rediscovery.

One also can’t ignore the fact that since Tumuli Shroomaroom was last reissued in 2007 by Leaf Hound Records — to the best of my knowledge and a bit to my surprise, Hymns to the Stone has never been reissued — an entire generation of heavy rockers has emerged and thrived on the ground that Acrimony helped break during their time. That may have been part of the motivation for four-fifths of the original band to come back together in 2010 as SigiriyaDavies was in Lifer and has since moved on to Woven Man — but either way, the important point here is that there’s no level on which these two full-lengths don’t deserve the care and treatment they’re given through the presentation of Chronicles of Wode, and anyone previously unfamiliar with Acrimony‘s work who takes it on is only going to get a more complete picture of from where modern heavy rock stems, especially in the UK, but also across the broader international underground. For prior fans? Well, it’s just a delight, pure and simple. Like visiting old friends.

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Review & Full Album Stream: The Whims of the Great Magnet, Good Vibes & High Tides

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on November 25th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

The Whims of the Great Magnet Good Vibes High Tides

[Click play above to stream The Whims of the Great Magnet’s Good Vibes & High Tides in Full. Album is out Dec. 1 with preorders direct from the band.]

Founded seven years ago by Sander Haagmans in Maastricht, the Netherlands, The Whims of the Great Magnet returns with a second full-length album in the self-released Good Vibes & High Tides. The follow-up to early 2017’s The Purple & Yellow Album (discussed here), it would seem to be in conversation with Haagmans‘ work as bassist/vocalist for the much-missed Sungrazer, whose 2013 disbanding was followed in 2015 by the death of guitarist/vocalist Rutger Smeets, thereby obviating an eventual reunion. As willfully as The Purple & Yellow Album pushed in alternate directions away from what Sungrazer was, the 10-track/44-minute Good Vibes & High Tides embraces it without necessarily trying to recapture that sound and moment entirely. Haagmans instead hones across the new album’s span a kind of summery grunge fuzz, occasionally given to psychedelic shimmer — some added pedal steel on “Simple” courtesy of Ingo Jetten at Trashed Attic Audio doesn’t hurt — and holding onto the intimacy of solo songwriting while adopting a more full-band feel with drummer Iwan Wijnen, even unto capturing a fluid, at-least-part-improv guitar-led jam on 11-minute closer “Roerloze Beweger.”

That in itself is an impressive feat, even for Haagmans, who’s had plenty of time in the studio over the course of the last decade and seems at this point to do most of his recording at home, but as the title of the record puts it first, the focus here indeed is on the vibe, and the vibe is good. Good Vibes & High Tides is marked by a welcome sense of tonal warmth that lo-fi neopsych has replaced with naked shimmer, and the depth that’s been forsaken by so much jammy psych is evident right from the opening roll of “Lose My Head,” which counts in on the hi-hat and then is on its way like it was never off. Haagmans‘ vocals are laid back in the verse and layered in the chorus, the bass tone is an early highlight — as it would almost have to be — and immediately the spirit is melodic, welcoming and engaging, continuing onto “Here to Party” as if to underscore its intent. Through up and down verse lines that shift quickly into the chorus, the 3:40 “Here to Party” is marked by its abiding lack of pretense.

The Whims of the Great Magnet

I wouldn’t call it a party song in the “party rock” sense — the hook lines, after all, are, “We are only here to party/We are only here” — but its straightforward presentation is a fitting summary of the perspective from which Good Vibes & High Tides seems to be working in general in balancing personal expression and a complete-group sound. Even shorter at 3:19, “Guess it’s True” follows in subtly more patient fashion, alternative rock and fuzz melding without argument beneath layers of sweet-toned post-Cobain vocals and a third-in-a-row memorable chorus. Three makes a salvo, and there’s still the title-track to round out the opening movement, which would seem to be delineated from the rest of the LP by the 40-second interlude “Hay.”

That’s just a riff and the word repeated a couple times — a lost art of sneaky listener-disorientation that any number of in-some-ways-more-loyal ’90s preservationists have neglected — over in flash and maybe a vinyl-flip to bring on “Oew,” with a vocal drawl and particularly Sungrazer-style chorus sort of bounding through a thick and immersive fuzz after more of a strummed verse. Though it has the briefest runtime of Good Vibes & High Tides‘ non-interlude tracks at 2:23, it nonetheless keeps the underlying structure as barebones as possible, cutting off at the end and refusing a jam that might otherwise have taken hold in spite of itself in Haagmans‘ one-time four-piece incarnation of the band. I don’t think it would be missing if it wasn’t there, but the presence of pedal steel doesn’t take anything away from “Simple,” certainly, and it plays up the pastoralia-memory of the verse ahead of the crunchier chorus, just a touch of BrantBjork-at-the-beach coming through but ultimately establishing its own personality ahead of “Cocaine & Yoga,” the verse of which seems to have derived part of its structure directly from Nirvana‘s “School.”

There’s some slide in the chorus (I don’t think it’s more pedal steel?), but the song itself is a high point — “What the hell is going on today?/Cocaine and yoga all the way” is a hook that deserves to be delivered from a stage — and the noisy transitional mess and quiet guitar line that picks up to end the song is a surprising and, frankly, delightfully honest, moment put to tape. By then he’s well into the depths of side B, but the closing duo of “Wei Wu Wijnen” (6:01) and “Roerloze Beweger” (11:41) are a movement unto themselves just the same, the former establishing itself quietly with fading-in drum swing and a guitar/bass bed for soft, bluesy melodic vocals.

The Whims of the Great Magnet doing not so much

This too would seem to come from a similar place as some of the more atmospheric stretches of Sungrazer‘s second long-player, 2011’s Mirador (review here), hypnotic guitar noodling leading the way out and directly into the righteous opening strum of “Roerloze Beweger.” A well-placed tambourine shake signals the launch of the groove and the finale is underway, uptempo and exciting if still overridingly mellow of vibe. The push settles down for the verses but plays well back and forth, and the song pays off the layered vocal melodies heard prior, the forwardness of the rhythm of Good Vibes & High Tides‘ most rocking moments, and its hinted-at sense of nod, arriving at the latter circa three minutes in and taking spot-on ownership of it. An instrumental jam ensues from then on, moving through a plotted progression into more improvised-sounding fare in the basslines standing out around five minutes in and the guitar that takes the reins after the final builds and crashes of Wijnen‘s drums, a meandering line that recedes to silence gently to end the album.

While there’s no doubt Good Vibes & High Tides both lives up to its title and the legacy of Haagmans‘ former three-piece, it does leave one wondering what his plans ultimately are for the project. To wit, this material is really, really engaging, and where The Purple & Yellow Album seemed almost to be an act of expression-as-exorcism — a release in the truest sense — Good Vibes & High Tides has more of an outreach kind of feel, connecting to the listener with outwardly catchy songs meant to do precisely that. Will Haagmans put together another full lineup? Will he continue down this sonic path, or is it a directional one-off en route to the next thing? Would he combine this with some of the more bedroom-acoustic material he’s done before? As much as Hunter S. Thompson advised following the Great Magnet’s directives, Haagmans seems to-date to be charting his own course with The Whims of the Great Magnet, and as to where that will take him (rumor has it a trio incarnation is to debut live next month), we’ll just have to wait and see. This record is nothing less than a gift as a part of that process.

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Review & Track Premiere: Spaceslug, Reign of the Orion

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on November 22nd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Spaceslug Reign of the Orion cover

Spaceslug, ‘Spacerunner’ official track premiere

[Click play above to stream ‘Spacerunner’ from Spaceslug’s Reign of the Orion. Album is out Dec. 6.]

Forward thinking atmospheric fuzz/psych rockers Spaceslug almost let 2019 get away without releasing an album. The Wroclaw-based three-piece have had at least one full-length out per year since the arrival in 2016 of their debut, Lemanis (review here). Time Travel Dilemma (review here) followed in 2017, along with an EP, Mountains and Reminiscence (review here), and in 2018 they marked a new stage of their progression with their third LP, Eye the Tide (review here), pushing themselves beyond the warm-toned bounds of heavy psychedelia to incorporate darker ambient shades and more extreme elements like screamed vocals and blackened squibblies on guitar and blastbeats to accompany.

Already this year, the trio of drummer/vocalist Kamil Ziólkowski, bassist/vocalist Jan Rutka and guitarist/backing vocalist Bartosz Janik took part in a four-way split with Polish countrymen DopelordMajor Kong and Weedpecker (review here), so it’s not like the year would’ve gone completely unaccounted for (perish the thought), but the landing of five-tracker Reign of the Orion is nothing if not welcome. With it, Spaceslug mark another step in their sound and offer their most hypnotic work to-date, entrancing through breadth of tone and a flow that extends even to the aggressive moments in centerpiece “Half Moon Burns,” which never gets quite as charred as the last album did, but nonetheless features some more aggressive shouting.

In that song’s 8:45 run and in the massive surge of nine-minute closer/longest track “Beneath the Haze,” Spaceslug seem to conjure shifts in volume and tempo alike as they move with deceptive structural clarity through open-feeling verses and choruses, but even in the calmer spaciousness of the shorter “Trees of Gold” between those two, there’s a sense both of expanse in atmosphere and of the band creatively grasping toward new ground. Given their prolific nature, one can only surmise that the progression they’ve undertaken is willful — i.e., they want to try something new each time they set down to write — and while their sound remains identifiable in the lush low end of Rutka‘s bass and the slow-churning effects wash of Janik‘s guitar, as well as the blend of laid-back post-grunge vocals and sometimes crushing tonality as heard on opener “Down to the Sun,” the dividends paid by their efforts are considerable throughout Reign of the Orion, which would seem to assure that, if it’s ever coming, creative stagnation is a long way off.

That’s reassuring, but more so are the songs themselves, which bolster the statements Spaceslug have made to-date while continuing a push into headphone-ready wash, a soothing immersive sensibility that has become an essential facet of the band’s approach in what’s still a relatively brief amount of time for it to do so. If one expects anything of them at this point in their career, it’s that space and a feeling of presence within it will meet in their songs, and as Reign of the Orion moves back and forth between longer and shorter songs, with “Down to the Sun” at seven and a half minutes and the subsequent “Space Runner” at 6:40 ahead of the already-noted more stark time contrast between “Half Moon Burns,” “Trees of Gold” and “Beneath the Haze,” there’s an overarching linear flow that’s all the more highlighted for the changes from one to the next and the general outbound feel of the entirety.

spaceslug at freak valley

That’s most emphasized on “Trees of Gold,” admittedly, which brings Spaceslug to a new place in terms of incorporating elements out of progressive rock and even pastoralist folk. A touch of Floyd vibe here and there doesn’t hurt either, but the drift on “Trees of Gold,” and especially the fact that the song doesn’t then depart to an earthmover riff feels significant. It adds to the context of Reign of the Orion as a whole, and while in itself it isn’t doing anything the band has never incorporated into its songs before, the shift in presentation still makes a difference.

Likewise the fact that that Reign of the Orion, at five songs and 36 minutes, is the shortest long-player Spaceslug have released. This could be a direct reaction to Eye the Tide, which was the longest at 54 minutes (the first two were in the circa-45 range), or it could be happenstance, or the result of a narrative intended to tie the songs together — though the attack-ships Blade Runner sample in “Half Moon Burns” and the prove-you-exist samples in “Beneath the Haze” would seem to contradict that notion — I don’t know. The effect it has, though, is to bring Reign of the Orion, both as a whole and in its individual component pieces, into clearer focus as a work. Whether it’s the linear front-to-back listening experience or a track-by-track journey through, the relative brevity here gives the listener more to grasp onto while maintaining the band’s signature elements and presenting them in next-stage-progression form.

It doesn’t hurt, is what I’m saying, and much to their credit as songwriters, it feels complete, as though to add more would only be superfluous, particularly given the manner in which “Beneath the Haze” builds to a nigh-on-overwhelming finish before dissipating in a consuming was of noise and residual effects leftovers, like the background radiation from the Big Bang echoing cosmic for as long as there’s a cosmos to echo in. That Spaceslug would set up and enact this fluidity with such obvious intent and pull it off sounding natural in a balance of highlight songs and overall movement speaks to the maturity that’s come about so quickly in their style.

In short, they’ve become one of Europe’s strongest progressive heavy psych bands, giving due acknowledgement of their roots in fuzz even as they take off toward broader reaches. New album in 2020? Given the timing of Reign of the Orion, that’s a maybe, but it seems likely we’ll hear from them one way or another, and given what they’ve done to this point in their career, that’s only something to anticipate. It was clear from the outset with Lemanis were onto something and could become a special band. As they continue to move forward at such a rapid pace, we’re seeing the realization of that potential in everything they do. If they can keep the momentum they have going now and stave off burnout, they’ll move into the vaunted realms of the influential.

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Review & Track Premiere: Solace, The Brink

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on November 21st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

solace the brink

[Click play above to stream the premiere of ‘Waste People’ from Solace’s The Brink. Album is out Dec. 13 on Blues Funeral Recordings and available to preorder here.]

You never know with Solace. Like the persistent radiation emanating from a hyperpolluted Jersey Shore superfund site, they might have a half-life of 50,000 years, but there are times when it seems like it’ll be at least that long before they get their due. But you never know. In 2010, when the Long Branch, NJ, five-piece returned after seven years with A.D. (review here) on Small Stone Records — their third LP and follow-up to 2003’s 13 (discussed here) as well as a 2005 split with Greatdayforup and the The Black Black EP in 2007 — I called it the beginning of a new era for the band. Even reading that back at the time, I can remember it was a fan’s wishful thinking, but neither did I imagine it would be nine years before they put out a fourth album, or that they’d do so with three-fifths of an entirely new lineup, rebuilt around guitarists Justin Daniels and band founder Tommy Southard.

Yet, The Brink emerges with a title that seems self-aware in identifying the place Solace have dwelled since even before the release of their debut, Further, in 2000, right on the sharpest corner, of the unknown, on the proverbial edge itself. You never know with Solace. Whether the whole thing’s about to fly apart. Whether the release date is going to get pushed back. Whether this is going to be the last time you see them. Whether they might finally get some inkling of the recognition they’ve long since deserved. Imagine a 2001 with Solace touring heavy in support of the MeteorCity release of Further. Maybe they get picked up by Atlantic for the follow-up. Maybe they get one song on the radio. Maybe there’s a video. Maybe the tours get bigger. Maybe they do Ozzfest the next year or for the second record. Maybe their crowds get bigger, the venues get bigger. Maybe Solace become the band Atlantic wanted the Melvins to be, having an influence over the wider sphere of heavy rock than even they could’ve imagined.

As a Solace fan, I genuinely think the world would be a better place if that had happened.

Understand, Solace aren’t just the best at what they do. They’re it at what they do. They have been and they remain equal parts vital and dangerous. There’s no one else who can ride a heavy rock groove, lock in a righteous doom riff en route to a shredding solo, blaze through hardcore punk, metal and classic ’70s vibes all while still conjuring memorable songs and melodies at the level Solace have done throughout their career and continue to do on The Brink. The album — which with issue through Blues Funeral Recordings reunites them with MeteorCity founder Jadd Shickler — runs 11 tracks and an utterly unmanageable 67 minutes. It is too long for a modern listener’s attention span by at least 20 minutes, but it’s also very clearly a band laying it all on the line. Is this the last Solace record? One final burst before they cross the brink into oblivion? You never know, but even with the possibility, they’re obviously not taking the chance of leaving anything unsaid, even if that means they’re saying everything while they can.

New vocalist Justin Goins has been with Solace at least four years now and unquestionably has the biggest task before him in replacing original singer Jason — who is probably the person most committed to only using his first name I’ve ever encountered; I saw his last name once and can’t remember it, but it wasn’t that weird — but Goins gives a performance laced with potential, fits well in the band both in his voice and work on keyboard as he shows on the could’ve-closed nine-minute title-track and works in a similar-enough style that from opener “Breaker of the Way” onward, Solace never cease to sound like Solace. With full tones behind him from SouthardDaniels and bassist Mike Sica (who fills the special-order-sized shoes of Rob Hultz) set to the fervent push of Tommy Gitlan on drums, Goins makes the most of hooks in second cut “Desert Coffin,” “Waste People,” “The Light is a Lie,” and the prior-issued single “Bird of Ill-Omen” (review here) to give listeners a marker to follow on the outward, intense path The Brink follows, progressive and linear, downward and outward as it is.

solace

But if time or cumulative beer intake have dulled Solace‘s ferocity at all, The Brink doesn’t show it. Even rockers like “Dead Sailor’s Dream” or “Crushing Black” play out through headspinning turns and verses that seem to stretch out one into the next. There’s structure there, a plan at work. The songs are crafted and have the carefully mixed layers to prove it. But the plan is chaos, and chaos is what it sounds like. Maybe Solace are in control of it, but they’ve almost never been so much so as to put out a record every couple years, hit the road and take their band to the “next level” that would seem to have been waiting for them 15 years ago. Is The Brink too little too late? You never know, but for what it’s worth, nothing about the album is too little, from its runtime to the largesse of sound to the front-to-back quality of the material and its delivery.

They wisely save a few tricks for later in the run to change things up, bringing in Daniels on vocals for the brief, acoustic-led “Shallows Fade” ahead of “The Brink” itself, which has a more severe atmosphere bolstered by the cut before it, and then are off at a sprint for the penultimate “Until the Last Dog is Hung” — not quite as I-wanna-see-you-tear-shit-up as A.D.‘s hardcore paean “The Skull of the Head of a Man,” but not far off either — before rounding out with “Dead Sailor’s Reprise,” which indeed answers back to “Dead Sailor’s Dream” and, unlike most reprisals, is actually longer than the piece it’s building from, repeating the line, “Down where dead men go” (see also the cover art), before fading itself out and then returning with a storm-backed acoustic guitar line that plays out the riff of the original.

At that point it has been a long day’s journey since the bounding initial riff of “Breaker of the Way,” but perhaps the most staggering aspect of The Brink is how much it is Solace. One assumes if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t exist. It’s not like Solace were under a contract and needed to get a record out. It’s not like they had to do it for cash. It may be that the urgency of expression here derives from the thought that this might actually be it for them, and yet the balance they set that against is coming across as utterly refreshed in their most forward position — i.e. the vocals — and in the rhythm section backing their signature ace riffs and leads. What the hell is an audience supposed to make of that? Band comes back after nine years for what might be one more blowout and has the energy of a debut album? How is that even fair? What do you do with that?

My best guess is appreciate it for what it is. Because it’s so long, and because it’s so winding in its progression, and because there’s just so much to dig into across its span, it’ll be a while before The Brink really settles in on those who properly take it on. Nine months, maybe a year, but time in any case. For all the immediacy of their work, Solace demand that time. But these tracks, their peaks and valleys, their shove and rest, their melody and their motion, earn it, too. But the only way to take The Brink is on its face. If you think about where Solace have come from, or where they might go from here, what their future will be — Southard recently said he was “retired” from playing local shows, presumably relegating the band to fest appearances and other one-offs that might come up — your head will surely explode. Accept it. You never know with Solace. You never know. So all you can do is embrace what’s there on its own level or walk away, and if walk away, you’re missing out.

For all the changes The Brink brings about — don’t forget, more than half this band has never played on a Solace record before and we’re more than 20 years out from the group’s first release — its identity is unquestionable. Unmistakable. Unstoppable? You never know.

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