High Fighter, Scars and Crosses: Trials to Bear

Posted in Reviews on July 27th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

high fighter scars and crosses

What ultimately stands High Fighter‘s Svart-delivered debut long-player, Scars and Crosses apart, aesthetically, is its aggression. The Hamburg, Germany, five-piece of vocalist Mona Miluski, guitarists Christian “Shi” Pappas and Ingwer Boysen, bassist Constantin Wüst and drummer/backing vocalist Thomas Wildelau made their debut in 2014 with the impressively cohesive The Goat Ritual EP (review here), and at its foundation, the story was much the same. Though High Fighter have been duly embraced by the heavy rock community in Europe and beyond, they’re really a metal band. That’s audible in their tonality, their attention to detail, in the clean singing and screams and growls of Miluski and in the arrangements of how and when she switches between them.

Mixed and mastered by Toshi Kasai (Melvins, Leeches of Lore, etc.) from a recording by Jens Siefert at RAMA Studio in Mannheim, the album’s 41-minute span is vehemently straightforward, with some flourish of effects in the guitars and bluesy undertone, but interested primarily in thrust, and when there’s any letup at all as on the swaying start of “Portrait Mind,” it doesn’t last long. It’s an active listen, and the energy with which they deliver the included eight tracks gives the impression of an active band — punching someone in the face, after all, can be a real workout — but what’s going to be the deciding factor for many listeners particularly within the sphere of the heavy underground is whether they view High Fighter‘s metallurgy as righteous in its defiance of a genre status quo that’s only gotten lazier over the last half-decade or a group simply trying to meld styles to whatever degree of success depending on the audience’s point of view.

Listening to the command with which Miluski and the band behind her execute this material makes it easier to argue toward the former. Adrenaline is a major element at work even in the slower chug and wah of the penultimate “Down to the Sky,” but in its more intense moments — looking at you, “Blinders” — Scars and Crosses plays to modern metal sensibilities with a viscerally screamed verse and soaring clean chorus. The dual guitars of Pappas and Boysen careen through riffs of winding thrash on that song but are no less comfortable dug into the more rolling groove of the preceding “The Gatekeeper,” which also trades melody for screams between its verses and choruses, but swaps the structure to suit the groove and the linear built taking place over the song’s five and a half minutes.

high fighter

Following 6:33 opener and longest track (immediate points) “A Silver Heart” and the subsequent “Darkest Days” — which features a choice “ough” grunt from Miluski and the most satisfying direct linear build on offer — “The Gatekeeper” expands the context of Scars and Crosses to a degree, finds High Fighter leaning more toward groove than assault, but as noted, “Blinders” is perhaps the most raging cut on the record, so the balance is readjusted almost immediately as side A rounds out. What unites those two tracks, the first two, and the four still to come on side B is the songwriting and the confidence in execution that High Fighter show across the board. The Goat Ritual showed solid potential, but Scars and Crosses takes pivotal steps in positioning High Fighter where they would seem to want to be sound-wise — in a space between worlds that few bands would be so bold as to willfully inhabit.

“Portrait Mind” continues the thread at the launch of the album’s second half but also boasts a highlight guitar solo, while the subsequent “Gods” seems to nod back at “The Gatekeeper” with a desert rock riff reconstituted to suit High Fighter‘s purposes, giving a fuller look at what might become an expanded context over time for their approach. That continues in “Down to the Sky” as they draw back on some of the urgency in order to let a fluidity take hold for a few minutes in the song’s first half, Wildelau‘s kick offering firm punctuation throughout and signaling the launch of the solo section in the final third with an uptick in pace leading back to the chorus. This leaves the title-track with an even more difficult task of summarizing the album as a whole.

It does so with a central push derived in part from Kyuss‘ “Odyssey” that arrives offset by a slowdown hook and layered-in lead work that solidifies around a still-upbeat but nod-ready groove before expanding outward with effects on the guitar, vocal harmonies and a move into the apex of the record itself before a final minute filled only by the hum of feedback. Certainly that says it all as much as anything I could come up with, and “Scars and Crosses” rounds out the album by emphasizing what are already the band’s strengths in songwriting and performance while also giving a look at possible sides of their personality they might play with going forward. Make no mistake, they’re already a solid band, and I think Scars and Crosses deserves consideration among 2016’s most accomplished debuts, but High Fighter give no indication in these songs that this is the sum total of what they have to say as a unit, and that only bodes well for their future progress.

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Nathanael Larochette, Earth and Sky: Horizon Meeting (Plus Full Album Stream)

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

nathanael larochette earth and sky

[Click play above to stream Nathanael Larochette’s Earth and Sky in full. Album is out July 29.]

First thing to know about Nathanael Larochette‘s solo debut, Earth and Sky, is that it’s actually two albums. Presented across a pair of CDs, one dubbed Earth and the other Sky, the complete offering presents distinct looks between its component parts, as Larochette — the Ottawa-based guitarist known for founding chamber neofolk trio Musk Ox — explores intimate pastoralia via solo classic guitar throughout the six-part initial movement before compiling a massive, 41-minute drone simply called “Sky” for the second. The separation of these two musical personae is worth exploring in itself, and we’ll get there, but the fact that Earth and Sky‘s beginning is fractured, cut up into different pieces — like the land itself — while “Sky” is presented as one larger entity should say something about the conceptual basis on which Larochette is working.

His material is complex, and songs like “Monument” show a bit of the progressive tendency also demonstrated in the likewise new 36-minute single-song full-length from Larochette‘s progressive instru-metal outfit, The Night Watch, even if the project as a whole is more related to Musk Ox for its foundations in quiet acoustic contemplations, just taken to a more pared-back place sonically. “Sky” might be more lush with keys and effects and whatnot, but I’m not sure I’d call the Earth portion of Earth and Sky minimalist in anything beyond its just-guitar, no-vocals arrangement ethic. The textures Larochette brings to life across the six tracks — and really, the seventh as well — remain vibrant and evocative.

Larochette made his solo debut in 2012 with Threshold of Transformation, a 14-track outing melding guitar, glockenspiel, cello, etc. with his own spoken word performance. Obviously Earth and Sky is looking to show a different face these four years later, but a clear expressive undertone comes through nonetheless, bolstered by the clarity of the production and the natural body of the guitar. The presentation is not overblown by any means as “Awaken” slowly takes hold to start the album, but neither is it raw, as the longer stretches of “Oceanic” and the nine-minute “Invocation” demonstrate.

nathanael-larochette

As Larochette weaves the material into and through technically and melodically complex movements without losing the emotional crux underlying, the light reverb on his guitar almost becomes a character in the play. Earth and Sky was recorded and mixed by Simon Larochette in Nova Scotia and London, Ontario, and I’m going to assume that the common last name between Nathanael and Simon is more than just coincidence. Earth and Sky sounds like it was made with a familial touch, and that helps carry through not only the musical flow, but the thematic feel and intricacy of composition as well.

Of course, 37-minutes of solo guitar followed-up by a 40-minute drone exploration is no small ask of an audience, but Larochette meets this fact head on with an easy flow and immersive ambience within his songs, so that when “Slumber” — which no doubt could just as easily have been called “Death” — rounds out the first disc, its sweet wistfulness is no less engaging than was the launch of “Awaken” at the outset. What comes next is the slow unfolding of “Sky,” a departure in form and atmosphere if not entirely in intent. Given that the entire release is instrumental and that its two parts are standalone guitar and an ethereal wash, one might be tempted to combine Earth and Sky‘s pieces, playing both at the same time.

I did precisely that — waiting until “Awaken” picked up about two minutes in before starting “Sky” — and found the impression that both halves made together a deeply rewarding listen. Larochette has referred to the two pieces as “complementary,” but I don’t know if that’s what he had in mind. Even so, with variation of volume and timing, it is another layer of depth added to a work that, on its surface, seems to be simple but ultimately has so much more to offer. Taken on its own, “Sky” brings forward a post-rock sensibility as a central electric guitar figure emerges from the surrounding undulations of tone, but as the two play out together, the experience seems all the more resonant.

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Los Disidentes del Sucio Motel, Human Collapse: Choice to Arrival (Plus Track Premiere)

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

los disidentes del sucio motel human collapse

[Click play above to stream the premiere of Los Disidentes del Sucio Motel’s ‘Departure’ from the new album, Human Collapse, out Sept 9 on Ripple Music.]

French heavy rockers Los Disidentes del Sucio Motel have been conceptually-focused since their outset, so it’s little surprise that their third full-length and Ripple Music debut, Human Collapse, would follow a similar course. What is surprising about the album is just how tight that focus has gotten when taken in consideration with the band’s songwriting. The Strasbourg-based five-piece of guitarist/vocalist Nico, bassist/vocalist Julien, guitarist Romain, keyboardist/vocalist Dany and drummer Greg began their tenure with 2011’s Soundtrack from the Motion Picture (review here), a charm-laced and uptempo run through the tropes of desert rock that stood itself out from an increasingly-crowded post-Truckfighters sphere of heavy rock by following a genuine plotline.

The inevitable follow-up, 2013’s Arcane, brought this to ideas and themes less directly related to desert rock itself, and the music followed suit, taking on a sharper edge — something that Human Collapse continues to push forward. To go with its ominous title, the band offers a lyrical journey of seemingly just one particular human — as opposed to it being the whole species collapsing; though I suppose one could stand in for the whole — from beginning to end, following a logical course of loss and redemption in song titles as the narrative seems to dictate the mood of the songs; “Community,” for instance, is a more melodic, welcoming post-rock sway after the semi-metallic tumult of “Border.” In light of Europe’s ongoing refugee crisis, it’s impossible to ignore a social context in which Human Collapse arrives, but even apart from that, the level of dynamic that has developed in Los Disidentes del Sucio Motel‘s sound would be enough on its own to carry a weightier sense of impact than either of their prior LPs.

For anyone who has followed Ripple Music over the last several years, the West Coast imprint has emerged as one of the most reliable American purveyors of heavy. Already in 2016, they’ve issued new records from heavyweights Wo Fat, Foghound and Gozu and continued their ambitious The Second Coming of Heavy split series, so to say that Human Collapse is arguably the most forward-thinking album they’ve put out to-date should not be taken as rank hyperbole or a statement disregarding of the context in which Los Disidentes del Sucio Motel‘s latest arrives.

los disidentes del sucio motel (Photo by Bartosch Salmanski)

Rather, it’s an acknowledgement of the breadth that the band covers in these 10 tracks/56 minutes, which begin with “7PM Choice” and end with “5PM Arrival,” taking us as listeners through 22 hours of travelogue musical and lyrical, a journey that starts with grand crashes and progressive melodies and moves through driving moments early in “Decision” and “Departure” presented with a commercial-production-style crispness — which, in the tradition of European heavy rock, doesn’t necessarily draw away from the impact of the songs — and only growing broader as it moves past “Border” into later stretches like “Rebirth,” “Determination,” and at last, the eight-minute “5PM Arrival.” Moods vary across the span but the prevailing impression is somewhat brooding, and the band works well with that, finding room in their multifaceted songs for vocal harmonies and resounding hooks, clever arrangements of guitar and keys, and in an earlier cut like “Trip,” clear evidence of how far their craft has come in the last half-decade delivered via efficient, progressive, still-straightforward heavy rock and roll, the screams in the second half setting up fluidity into the more lumbering “Border” that typifies the flow enacted across the entire album.

Perhaps most impressive of all is how easily Los Disidentes del Sucio Motel make it sound to blend songs that are individually catchy and that stand on their own — “Departure,” “Border,” “Community,” the thick-chugging “Determination” — with an overarching linear concept. One wouldn’t want to speculate as to which came first, the music or the concept, but either way, it’s no small feat for a group to compile material that would work so smoothly on both levels. As Los Disidentes del Sucio Motel wind up pushing through “5PM Arrival” into the melodic apex of the album, it’s no small arrival whatsoever, and it would also seem to mark their own arrival as a band working under their own impulses rather than feeding off the influence of others — at least to such a degree as to make the material distinguished in its sound.

This blend of progressive storytelling and heavy-riffed roots may continue to define them, it may not, I don’t know, but with Human Collapse, Los Disidentes del Sucio Motel would seem to realize the vision that they set out with more than five years ago, while also refining their songwriting to its most potent, resonant degree. It plays smartly to its strengths in multi-layer vocal arrangements and interweaving of guitar/key textures with big, nodding rhythms, but what it accomplishes with these elements is not to be overlooked.

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Mindkult, Witch’s Oath: Bone and Root (Plus Full EP Stream)

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

mindkult witchs oath

[Click play above to stream Mindkult’s Witch’s Oath EP in full. Out soon on Caligari Records.]

Enter Mindkult. So far as I can tell, Witch’s Oath is the debut offering from the Virginia-based outfit, a 25-minute four-songer with a heart geared toward analog-grain horrors and distorted riffs to accompany. The reason I say “so far as I can tell” is because there isn’t a lot to go on when it comes to Mindkult. In the tradition of Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats‘ beginnings — and the songs on Witch’s Oath work in that tradition as well — Mindkult‘s sole inhabitant, who goes by Fowst, has kept much a secret going into this first release, presumably to add a sense of mystique.

A search on Monticello Studios, where the EP was reportedly recorded, likewise yields little result, but I’d be surprised if by the time Fowst gets around to following up Witch’s Oath — which is being pressed to CD and tape by Caligari Records — there isn’t more public info available, since the one-man band tap into modern cultish swing and sound natural and full doing so, like a complete band. Which I suppose it is if it sounds that way. Whether or not Fowst recorded “King and Priest,” “Witch’s Oath,” “Serpent’s Nest” and the crawling closer “Chief of Devils” himself is my most pressing question, since being so utterly self-contained could play heavily into the trajectory of the project, but I take it as a sign of the positive impression these cuts leave that one might be tempted to think about the future in the first place. Mindkult, though I won’t say much for the moniker, could most definitely have a future.

To call the project insular seems fair, and while I obviously don’t know Fowst‘s background musically, the signs showed here of having such a clear aesthetic foundation for Mindkult would seem to hint toward past experience in one kind of band or another, though confirmation on that is nil. Could be that dude is 19, has never put anything out before and just happened to nail it — one scenario is as likely as the other. The important thing is he did nail it. Opting to actively depart from the blueprint of the aforementioned Uncle Acid in the vocals becomes a major factor in Witch’s Oath‘s success.

mindkult witchs oath tape

Whether it’s on the rolling opener and longest track (immediate points) “King and Priest” or the more uptempo and swinging title-track that follows, Fowst keeps a calm, morose pout, almost shoegazing, in his voice, which is forward in the chorus of the leadoff, but almost buried in “Witch’s Oath,” which seems to run in an attempt to catch up with its winding guitar line during the chorus, setting up a depth in the mix that doesn’t undercut the rawer garage doom vibe in the sound but makes the EP a richer listening experience overall. As side one of a tape, there’s little more one could ask of “King and Priest” or “Witch’s Oath” in establishing the groove and the palette with which Fowst will work on the complementary two tracks, and the leads at the end of “King and Priest” follow a bluesy but plotted course that speak to an underlying consciousness at work, buzzing into the shuffle of “Witch’s Oath” with fluidity bolstered by the haziness of the guitar and bass tones, though as ever, it’s the drums — or drum programming; could go either way — that ties everything here together.

Side two essentially reinforces what Mindkult had on offer in the first two songs, but builds on it as well, as “Serpent’s Nest” finds middle ground between “King and Priest” and “Witch’s Oath” in terms of tempo while blowing out the EP’s best riff and hitting on a balance of obscure vocals and bright-toned lead guitar that one can only hope will become a building block for Fowst going forward. “Serpent’s Nest” saunters to its finish and “Chief of Devils” chugs in soon after, not quite on the beat but not far off it. It’s a quick start to a slow march. Like the opener, the closer tops seven minutes and much of the time difference between it and the 4:44 “Serpent’s Nest” could likely be attributed to pacing. Not a complaint.

Fowst peppers in layers of leads amid the central forward rhythm and his downer vocals, taking a particularly engaging solo toward the end of the first half of the track before the guitar rings out in the second’s verses as the starting point of the EP’s last push. The tempo picks up a bit at the end — a change to ping ride is the marker — and cuts out suddenly like they ran out of tape, which of course may or may not be exactly what happened depending on the circumstances of the recording, though it sounds more purposeful than not. Whatever Fowst‘s real name, whoever produced the album, whatever bands he or they’ve worked with before, it’s the songwriting coming through most of all on Witch’s Oath and the sense of stylistic accomplishment that songwriting showcases. It’s early in Mindkult‘s tenure to make a guess as to directions the band might go, but this initial EP makes a compelling argument in favor of finding out.

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Cuzo, Ensalada Ovni: Alien Communications (Plus Track Premiere)

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

cuzo ensalada ovni

[Click play above to stream ‘Noches de Sol’ from Cuzo’s Ensalada Ovni, out in September on Underground Legends Records.]

At its core, Cuzo‘s Ensalada Ovni seems to be most about balance. A balance between guitar and keys, guitar and bass, bass and drums, drums and keys, guitar and drums, and the fluidity that emerges from that balance. It is the Barcelona trio’s sixth album and their first for Underground Legends Records, having made their debut with 2008’s Amor y Muerte en la Tercera Fase (review here) and followed it with 2010’s Otros Mundos (review here) as they continued to develop their deeply progressive instrumental approach.

The next year, they hooked up with Can‘s Damo Suzuki for Puedo Ver Tu Mente, and Alquimia para Principiantes and Son Imaginacions Teves followed in 2012 and 2013, respectively, but three years is the longest stretch between Cuzo albums to-date, so it’s with more than a little interest that guitarist Jaime Pantaleón, bassist Fermin Manchado and drummer Pep Carabante make their return with these nine tracks. As to what the time has done to the band’s sound, Ensalada Ovni offers something of a shift in tone from Son Imaginacions Teves, some movement away from the fuzz that record proffered at times and which their earlier work did as well, toward a cleaner, more purely progged take, but they were headed in that direction already. The key is in how dug into the sound the three-piece is, how linked they are through chemistry when they play.

I don’t know if it’s fair to say “it sounds like a band’s sixth record” — first because it might not necessarily sound like a compliment, second because who the hell knows what a sixth record sounds like — but Ensalada Ovni clearly benefits from Cuzo‘s prior experience and dedicates itself to moving that forward across its tight-woven but not overly dense 36 minutes. For all its flow and for all the grace with which it blends the elements at work, Ensalada Ovni almost feels like it should be more self-indulgent than it is. Any even semi-experimental offering is going to have that side to its personality, and Cuzo‘s latest definitely qualifies, but PantaleónManchado and Carabante keep a human core underlying the twists and turns of “Cuenta Atrás Muda” and the subsequent “Plutonium” that sets the tone for what plays out across the rest of the record, establishing the across-the-board balance noted above. That’s a tradeoff, inherently.

cuzo

Balance comes at the expense of danger, but I don’t think a song like “Il Dio Serpente,” which sounds a little in its dreamy guitar like it’s auditioning for a Gary Arce collaboration, would necessarily work as well if it sounded like it was about to fall apart. Rather, the skillful hand(s) that guide it lead the listener through its jam-influenced course easily, and as long as one is prepared to go along, it’s an engaging trip to take, particularly backed as it is by the shorter psych freakout/keyboard wash of “Todo Ha Terminado,” a quick but linear part meld that gives way to Ensalada Ovni‘s centerpiece title-track, which feels lush in its keys early but still manages to bold hold a groove and avoid getting lost in itself. Very much emblematic of the album that shares its name.

Guitar leads the way into “Noches de Sol,” but the drums still play a foundational role in the track, giving Pantaleón the space to establish the initial breadth of the track before moving into the jangly central figure, spacing out from there and returning once again to the simple strum. Cuzo‘s tones may have gotten less fuzzy over time, but their delivery still has presence in its motion, and the funky start of “Maquina Suau” demonstrates that cleanly. The song is under four minutes long but among the most singularly immersive on Ensalada Ovni, more driven by its synth, though it’s the guitar that ultimately wahs the way out over a cymbal wash, jazzy and funky in kind.

Space continues to be the running theme through “Cuzolar” and closer “Good for Business,” the former with a more laid back roll that highlights Manchado‘s smooth tone beneath its forward keyboard line, and the latter which seems to start out on a similar course but shifts into more manic guitar strumming at about its halfway point. Never quite knowing what to expect, toying with nontraditional structures, playing up one side over another — these are all pretty consistent factors throughout Ensalada Ovni‘s run, but the overarching sense of design behind the record shouldn’t be ignored, and though they have worked at a prolific clip to get to where they are, it’s very obvious that Cuzo have reaped the benefits of their experience as a band. Expect Ensalada Ovni to be another step on a much longer path, though it offers landmarks on its way as well.

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The Company Corvette, Never Enough: To Get a Fix (Plus Track Premiere)

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on July 15th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

the company corvette never enough

[Click play above to stream ‘Burn Out’ from The Company Corvette’s Never Enough. Album is out Aug. 5 on The Company Records.]

The Company Corvette don’t quite reinvent themselves on their third album, but they wind up pretty close to it by the time they’re done. It was five years ago that the trio of bassist/vocalist Ross Pritchett, guitarist Alexei Korolev and drummer Peter Hurd released their second album, End of the Summers (review here), and at the risk of being honest, it didn’t do it for me. I had seen the band live by then and found them engaging enough, but the record didn’t have the same effect. For the seven-track/38-minute Never Enough, the three-piece hit Gradwell House in New Jersey to work with engineer/mixer Matt Weber, and the resulting material, from the farty bass wah on “Devilwitch” to the spaced-out multi-layered solos of the ultra-stonerized “Burn Out,” showcase a fully developed sonic persona.

At times abrasive, The Company Corvette almost bring to mind a thicker-grooving take on Acid Bath‘s underlying sludge fuckall, and whether they’re messing with faster tempos on “The Stuff” or dug into all-out “Snowblind” nod on opener “Foot in Mouth,” they keep a sense of attitude central to the proceedings, Pritchett‘s vocals moving into harsher territory but even when clean holding onto a (purposefully) dazed drawl, calling to mind Thurston Moore at the start of closer “Pigeon.” Released once again through the band’s own The Company RecordsNever Enough realizes the potential their earlier work showed and brings it to life with a sense of grunged-up heft that becomes its defining element. They’re an act who has clearly put work into sounding like they couldn’t give a shit.

To look at it on the surface, I don’t suppose much has changed since End of the Summers. Sure, Never Enough is a little shorter at 38 minutes (as opposed to 42), but both records end with an extended track, The Company Corvette are still very much a riff-based band, and there’s a consistent sense of dark humor — one can see it in the willfully grotesque album cover by Drew Elliott as well — that runs a thread between both releases. The development, then, is deeper. It’s in the songwriting, in the presentation, in the production and in the attitude, and all of these things come together to make Never Enough stronger from the rolling start of “Foot in Mouth” onward. They seem to wink at early Electric Wizard in “Devilwitch,” but it’s very much a wink, and hard to know if it’s influence or cynical parody — a question that makes the listening experience even more satisfying.

the company corvette

Either way, that added sense of misanthropic stoner-sludge informs the perspective of the tracks around it, and enhances the tuned-in-dropped-out atmosphere of the record as a whole. Feedback helps, of course. “Sick” starts off with a solo layered over its central riff and is somewhat shorter but rawer and more upfront in its groove, Hurd‘s kick drum punctuating as the solid foundation of an almost hypnotic sway, that solo returning after what may or may not be the chorus as Pritchett delivers indecipherable lines about who knows what in a blown-out drawl that’s no less suited to the faster thrust of “Sick” than to the slowed-down plod of album-centerpiece “Stomach,” which follows in garage doom fashion and nods its way through one of Never Enough‘s most memorable hooks across a five-minute duration.

In some ways, “Burn Out” might be thought of as a continuation of some of the same impulses as “Stomach” for its tempo and general crunchiness, but in addition to being longer at 6:38, “Burn Out” also toys more with dynamics, playing back and forth with verses and jams throughout, Pritchett‘s bass playing more of a role in holding together the groove as Korolev spaces out the guitar, adding semi-psych flourish to the proceedings in a manner both classic and weedian. The solo section that comes apart over the bassline at the end and leads directly into the quicker-swinging “The Stuff” in particular is not to be missed. And “The Stuff” is well placed too as the penultimate cut. Between “Burn Out” and “Pigeon,” it’s the shortest track on the record and keeps momentum forward where it might otherwise be too easy to get lost — more evidence for how the band has grown since their last time out.

Breaking at its halfway point, it chugs out a slowdown that serves as a bed for Korolev‘s lead and finishes in feedback and fading hum to let the languid fluidity of “Pigeon” close Never Enough by essentially summarizing what has worked about the record all along, loose vibe, easy flow, for-the-converted groove and all. It’s not a flashy finish in the sense of some grandiose payoff for everything that’s come before it, but they ride out the last riff effectively (with soloing) and in that represent well the barebones, dudes-in-a-room feel conjured so effectively on the prior tracks. As to what The Company Corvette might do next, with five years between records and obviously a fair amount of progression done in that time, I wouldn’t speculate whether Never Enough is the start of a surge of activity or an intermittent check-in, but stylistic leap they’ve made in these tracks should not be understated.

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Naevus, Heavy Burden: Timeless Illusions (Plus Track Premiere)

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

naevus heavy burden

[Click play above to stream Naevus’ ‘Black Sun’ from Heavy Burden. Album is out Aug. 19 on Meta Matter Records.]

In the crowded annals of the last two decades-plus of doom, one might be forgiven for letting Naevus slip through the cracks. Why? Well, it’s been 18 years since the German double-guitar four-piece made their debut on Rise Above Records with 1998’s Sun Meditation, and though they took part in a split on Game Two with Revelation, Mood and Twisted Tower Dire, took part in the 1999 Trouble tribute, Bastards Will Pay (discussed here) and even issued a comp of rare tracks in 2009 before actually getting back together in 2012, their second long-player, Heavy Burden, arrives through Meta Matter Records as 11 tracks/55 minutes light on fanfare and heavy on classic doom. They leave little to wonder about what’s the burden in question. It’s riffs, and so be it.

With stylistic debt to Maryland-style doom — The Obsessed and Pentagram, specifically — Naevus follow up their long-ago first album and their 2012 Universal Overdrive limited 7″ without missing a beat, as though Sun Meditation came out three years ago and Heavy Burden was simply the next phase of a songwriting progression playing out, not necessarily a reunion offering. Granted, production styles have changed in the last 18 years and Heavy Burden isn’t as raw as its predecessor, but that would likely be the case one album to the next to some degree anyway, and the point is that Naevus don’t sound any rustier in “Naked,” “Black Sun,” or “Future Footprints” than they want to — which is to say that doom almost always wants to sound a little rusty — and their material comes across as a fresh take on the traditional form.

Guitarist/vocalist Uwe Groebel and drummer Mathias Straub went on to play in VoodooShock, while guitarist Oliver Großhans is formerly of Sacred Steel (in which Straub also plays) and bassist Sven Heimerdinger of Rebirth, so Naevus has by no means been its members’ only outlet over the years. That might play into how smoothly they seem to slip back into action with cohesive songwriting on the opening title-track and songs like “Timeless Illusion” and “Dead Summer Day,” which follows “Heavy Burden,” “Black Sun” and “Naked” as part of a strong and immersive salvo to begin the journey of the record as a whole.

naevus

It’s not a short journey at nearly an hour, but as noted, it’s been almost 20 years, so one seems inclined to forgive the band for indulging the CD-era convention of a longer runtime, and their craft proves largely unwavering throughout, Groebel establishing a range and sticking to it while his and Großhans‘ guitars lead the way with thick-grooving riffs rolled along Straub‘s forward-minded drumming and given heft through Heimerdinger‘s low end. They toy with pace on “Dancing in the Summer Rain,” a side B dive into lyrical nostalgia — lines about dancing naked in the summer rain and drinking beer; must have been quite a camping trip — and bring to bear some faster thrust in the spirit of the aforementioned Trouble, but by then Heavy Burden has already set its own identity with its tones and overarching moodiness. What ties the album together, ultimately, is a consistency of sound via the production and that emotional crux. It’s not showy by any means, even when they get to the organ on “The Dwarves’ Revenge” before the closing “Outro,” but remains expressive all the same.

That closer, by the way, is more than just a simple interlude. It leaves behind the distorted heft in favor of acoustic textures that further highlight Groebel‘s vocals, and though it’s shorter than the other tracks at just over three minutes, it brings additional context to Heavy Burden as a whole and offers a sweeter take particularly in its final moments than one might expect from a record that’s spent so much time riffing out on “The Whistling Tree” or a bruiser like “Cloudless Sunstreams.” Naevus‘ roots stretch back to 1991 and their first demo was issued in 1993, so the band has plenty of history, and their earliest work was in a much more extreme aesthetic, so I don’t want to make it seem like they’ve simply regrouped and put Heavy Burden together like it’s no big deal — worth pointing out that they’ve been back for four years and the album is only now complete — or that there’s no stylistic growth from Sun Meditation. That’s simply not the case. Rather, Heavy Burden succeeds precisely because it’s so plainspoken in its presentation, and what it captures in traditional doom would ring false any other way. Naevus do many things in these tracks, but ring false is not one of them.

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Heavy Burden preorder at Amazon

Preorder at Meta Matter Records

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-(16)-, Lifespan of a Moth: Cutting Deeper (Plus Full Album Stream)

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

16 lifespan of a moth

[Click play above to stream 16’s Lifespan of a Moth in full. Album is out Friday on Relapse.]

It’s now been nearly a decade since Los Angeles sludge metallers 16 — aka -(16)- — were reactivated. In that time, they’ve toured the US and Europe, reissued early material via Relapse Records, which seems to have been the home they were looking for all along, and put together three studio albums, the latest of which is Lifespan of a Moth. Led by founding guitarist/vocalist Bobby Ferry and vocalist Cris Jerue with the newcomer rhythm section of bassist Barney Finks and drummer Dion Thurman, they celebrate a quarter century since their start in 2016, and though the road from then to now has been tumultuous, 16 have become a reliable source for disaffected, aggressive sludge chugging. Their grooves remain thoroughly pissed off on Lifespan of a Moth‘s eight tracks/44 minutes, their lyrics delivered in seething growls and rasps, and as with 2012’s Deep Cuts from Dark Clouds and 2009’s return statement, Bridges to Burn, they have an intensity to their approach that bleeds through regardless of tempo, so that the plodding “The Morphinist” and more upbeat “Secrets of the Curmudgeon” both rage with due force.

Probably worth noting that of their total seven full-lengths, they’ve never had one with so few tracks, but as Lifespan of a Moth is by no means their shortest outing, it means the songs themselves have gotten longer and, I think it can be argued, more expressive. There was an undeniable chaos to records like Drop Out (1996) and Blaze of Incompetence (1997) that stands with the best sludge the US in the ’90s had to offer, East Coast or West Coast, Northern or Southern, but 16 seem to have little interest in pretending the last 20 years never happened, and Lifespan of a Moth finds them honing cynical atmospheres through sonic pummel with an efficiency and maturity that a newer band simply couldn’t share.

Recorded in San Diego at Doubletime Recording Studio, the record begins with sampled beach sounds that soon gives way to a crushing chug riff, raw snare drums and blown-out vocals. “Landloper” is the first of a virulent opening salvo of five-minute tracks, along with “Peaches, Cream and the Placenta” and “The Morphinist,” and between them they essentially act to put up a wall between the four-piece and anyone who might not have the endurance to take on what’s still to come. There’s little interest in letup, but it’s not as if 16 don’t have a dynamic. As “Landloper” thuds to its end — Jerue‘s reverb the last thing to go — it gives way to the slower second cut, just as nasty sounding but more nod than headbang, and “The Morphinist” adds even more stomp to the mix along with lyrics about not trusting doctors, and while there’s some element of chestbeating to it, the riff is undeniable and the track is a highlight.

16 (Photo by Shauna Montrucchio)

“Call me patient zero/This is all in your head” go the lines of the bridge, and though the attitude underlying shows 16‘s punker roots, its thickened lurch leads well into “The Absolute Center of a Pitch Black Heart,” the shortest track on Lifespan of a Moth at 3:25 and a faster push with a near-gallop to its rhythm that sees Thurman nodding briefly at Dave Lombardo on his ping ride and the group as a whole rounding out the album’s first half with a marked departure from those first three tracks, clearly setting up the notion that 16 haven’t yet played their full hand. That turns out to be precisely the case.

In linear editions — i.e. CD or digital — the shift from “The Absolute Center of a Pitch Black Heart” to “Gallows Humor” feels no less marked than one expects it would be if it required getting up to flip over the vinyl. Aside from the fact that “Gallows Humor” is the longest track on Lifespan of a Moth at 7:36, it’s also a crawl-and-chug instrumental with either an added layer of lead guitar or maybe keys that lend its roll a sense of drama. The effect is similar to what “Landloper” and company brought to side A — a process of weeding out — but immersive and almost hypnotic as it moves through en route to “Secrets of the Curmudgeon,” which adds in some flourish of black metal-style squibblies to the already-established chug to continue the darker ambience fleshing out the rage that’s been so well stated all along.

Penultimate in the tracklist with a break section led by Finks‘ bass, “Pastor in a Coma” is about as close as 16 come to offering a breather, and they’re still plenty of distance from actually doing so. “Pastor in a Coma” might be the apex of Lifespan of a Moth, and its loud/quiet tradeoff would seem to show that the band have more to say stylistically, but “George” rounds out with a tribute to the Seinfeld character played by Jason Alexander. Not quite timely, but it’s legitimately hilarious to hear Jerue‘s delivery of “These pretzels are making me thirsty,” so the charm makes up for a lot, and the closer’s fuckall, coupled with the weight of its tones, speaks to a lot of what works about Lifespan of a Moth16 have never wanted for a misanthropic sensibility, and while 25 years is a long time to keep that up even factoring in their breakup after 2002’s Zoloft Smile, they’ve found ways to grow without sacrificing the edge that made them so vitriolic in the first place.

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-(16)- at Relapse Records

 

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