Review & Track Premiere: Low Orbit, Spacecake

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on November 21st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

low orbit spacecake

[Click play above to stream the premiere of ‘Dead Moon’ from Low Orbit’s Spacecake. Album is out early Dec. on Pink Tank Records.]

Given the associated ideas of thick, consuming fuzz, spaced-out vibes, massive and rolling grooves and a general checked-out-of-life overarching spirit to the proceedings as a whole, one might be forgiven for immediately thinking of Sons of Otis upon hearing that the earth-buzzing sound you hear from the ground originates in Toronto, Ontario. But with their second album and Pink Tank Records debut, the three-piece Low Orbit make a strong case for themselves as practitioners of the riffly form. Spacecake — reminds of Patton Oswalt’s “skycake” bit; look it up — is the suitably molten and somewhat single-minded follow-up to Low Orbit‘s 2014 self-titled debut, and it arrives as a manageable six-track/42-minute LP that ignites a feeling psychedelic drift through tonal density, the guitar of Angelo Catenaro (also vocals) very much leading the way while backed by Joe Grgic‘s bass and synth and Emilio Mammone‘s drums.

From opener “Dead Moon” onward, their intentions as a group could hardly be clearer or presented in a less pretentious manner. Five out of the six cuts included directly reference space or some space-minded element in their title — “Dead Moon,” “Planet X,” “Shades of Neptune,” “Venus,” and “Lunar Lander,” in that order — and even closer “Machu Picchu” nestles itself into repetitions of “burn the sky” from Catanero after lyrics about the stars, new dawns rising and planets laid to waste, etc. I’m not sure where the ‘cake’ portion of the album’s name comes into play except perhaps in some reference to edibles or in terms of the record itself, which feels duly baked and iced, particularly as the title is referenced in the 10-minute “Shades of Neptune,” which is a highlight as it rounds out side A with a particularly resonant lysergic ooze.

The lava begins to churn after a brief bit of introductory synth at the start of “Dead Moon,” and there’s just about no letup from there. In terms of influences, “Dead Moon” nods — and I do mean nods — at the aforementioned propensity for rolling grooves from fellow Torontonians Sons of Otis, and one can hear shades of earliest Mars Red Sky in the ride-cymbal-punctuated bouncing verse of “Planet X,” but at root beneath both of these and much of the rest of Spacecake is post-Sleep riff idolatry, and Low Orbit do well finding a place for themselves within that context. Lead layers emerge over a wash of high and low fuzz in “Planet X,” and though subtle and in some places buried deep in the mix, that current of synth and effects is almost always present in one form or another, and its flourish both adds to the breadth that Low Orbit cast and bolsters the cosmic theme through which their work is seeking to function.

low orbit

Both “Dead Moon” and “Planet X” offer a tonal warmth that one might take as a contrast to the coldness of atmospheric vacuum, but they’re hardly the first to make that pairing, and as they cut the pace on “Shades of Neptune” to an even more languid push, any and all such grounded concerns more or less dissipate in deference to the groove that emerges. Like the cuts surrounding, one would hardly accuse “Shades of Neptune” of making any revolutionary moves, but it is a more than capable play to style from the trio, whose persona is established within the individual examples of songwriting and in the interplay between them over the flowing and laid back course the band sets into the very heart of the “far out” itself.

With the willful adoption of genre tropes that pervades, one expects side B of Spacecake to mirror and perhaps reinforce the accomplishments of the album’s first half, and to the greater extent, it does precisely that. At five and six minutes, respectively, “Venus” and “Lunar Lander” answer the mid-paced density called out by “Dead Moon” and “Planet X,” and as it reaches just under nine, indeed “Machu Picchu” offers a tempo dip to back up that in “Shades of Neptune.” Fortunately, this is achieved with no discernible decline in the quality of hooks, and as Catanero shouts out the chorus of “Lunar Lander” ahead of the bigger roll that takes hold past the song’s midpoint, it becomes apparent that perhaps Low Orbit haven’t played their complete hand yet in terms of how much they have to offer sound-wise. The closer furthers this supposition with a well-honed-if-self-aware ritualized vibe, led off by Grgic‘s bass and a backing drone to give an immediately Om-style feel. Not at all unwelcome.

A melodic semi-wash takes hold, vocals echo from far off, and Low Orbit find ambient reaches heretofore unknown to Spacecake even as they make their way to a more straightforward march in the chorus. “Machu Picchu” undulates like this throughout its 8:52, coming forward and receding again, and it winds up in a lead-topped crescendo in its last minute that chugs to a sudden-seeming fadeout that one imagines could’ve easily gone on another three or four minutes on its own had the band chosen to have it do so. Perhaps their relative brevity is to be commended, since it would almost be too simple to have Spacecake push into stoner indulgence, and certainly by that time, Low Orbit‘s underlying message has been well delivered. Hidden within a standard subspace signal is a carrier wave to the converted: Come nod with us. It’s warm here and familiar and feels like home.

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Snowy Dunes, Atlantis: The Power of Testimony

Posted in Reviews on November 20th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

snowy dunes atlantis

Snowy Dunes have caught a heavy blues. They’re far from the only ones. The last couple years have witnessed a nascent surge of soul-driven heavy rock, and whether manifest in the high-order pop hooks of Snowy Dunes‘ Swedish countryfolk Blues Pills, the grit of New York’s Geezer or the dug-in jams of Australia’s Child, these worldwide examples are tied together through a blend of sonic fluidity, songcraft, open atmosphere and underlying naturalism that carries across this core sound as a next logical step forward for what in the earlier part of the decade might’ve been more straight-ahead boogie rock recorded on vintage gear.

Atlantis, which is the second Snowy Dunes long-player and sees release through HeviSike Records, follows a well-received 2015 self-titled debut (discussed here) and finds the returning four-piece of guitarist Christoffer Kingstedt, bassist Carl Oredson, drummer Stefan Jakobsson and vocalist Niklas Eisen pushing themselves creativity and refining the processes laid forth their last time out. The first album had a thrilling sense of spontaneity, and Atlantis does likewise, though the band stuck closer to home and recorded in Sweden with Anders Oredsson rather than travel as they did for the first record, which was tracked with Dead Meadow‘s Steve Krille.

Does that make Atlantis less of an adventure? Not necessarily. While there are fewer moments of left-the-tape-running-to-see-what-would-happen flourish among Atlantis‘ five songs/42 minutes, those same songs are well served by a tighter approach overall, and with its booking title-track installments — beginning with “Atlantis, Part II,” which is also the longest cut at 10:55 (immediate points) and ending with the build-into-apex-and-then-drift-away “Atlantis, Part III” — the record is not at all without a sense of journey in the front-to-back listening experience.

If anything, that sense is all the more resonant in Atlantis than it was on Snowy Dunes, because where the debut was so tied to the idea of the band jamming off the cuff in the studio — thereby keeping themselves to that one physical place even if using it as a launch point for musical exploration as they were — Atlantis comes across as roaming more freely on the whole. Between “Atlantis, Part II” and “Atlantis, Part III” — and if you’re wondering what happened to “Atlantis, Part I,” Snowy Dunes released it digitally as a single in Jan. 2016; it’s a 19-minute improv jam also recorded by Oredsson that carries some genuinely glorious moments — the band offers a three-song salvo of organic engagement. It’s up to “Atlantis, Part II” to set the scene, and the song does, with an initial strike of piano keys forward and backward that begins Atlantis on an atmospheric note and leads into trades back and forth of volume swells and psychedelic drift that are fluidly executed enough to leave little question why the band might’ve named the album after a sunken city.

snowy dunes

As a frontman, Eisen made a striking and personality-filled impression on the self-titled, and he does so on “Atlantis, Part II” as well, but shines even more on the subsequent “Testify,” which picks up directly on beat from the opener and plays off gospel traditions in an insistent heavy rock push marked by Jakobsson‘s fleet turns stamped with Kingstedt‘s wah, dropping to Oredson‘s bass to begin a wonderfully immersive middle third build and hits its peak as it rolls toward its eighth minute with Eisen speaking in tongues before the guitar leads the way back into a final runthrough of the album’s most memorable chorus and another scorching but still welcoming solo. The win is immediate, the party is a blast, but if you’re looking for a highlight in terms of vibe, centerpiece “The Trident and the Moon” answers the liquefaction of “Atlantis, Part II” with deep-running psych immersion and ballad-style storytelling in its lyrics, the vocals working subtly in layers atop the vast seascape of guitar and steady movement of drums and bass.

The second half of the song is given to another linear build answered by a late return to the chorus, but as with that midsection of “Testify,” it’s all about the dynamic and the chemistry Snowy Dunes bring to their execution of same. Both are palpable. And as “The Trident and the Moon”‘s nine and a half minutes come to an end ahead of the shorter “Ritual of Voices,” which though it features some choice vocal work beginning with spoken echoes and unfolding to spacious proclamations, is even more marked out by the wash created by the guitar and the hypnosis conjured thereby.

Casting off momentarily some of the bluesy feel — it’s never too far gone — Snowy Dunes retool the balance to emphasize the psychedelic side of their sound, and in this swirl, they find a rhythmic punch held together deftly by the drums and bass as Kingstedt utterly soars and leaves a trail of fire behind him along his way. It comes to a head and cuts out quick at seven minutes, but “Ritual of Voices” is a distinct stretch of Atlantis and demonstrates the ability of the band to emphasize multiple aspects of who they are in their songwriting. After that, the plunge into “Atlantis, Part III” feels almost like a return to solid ground, but is warm and welcome all the same. The closer is the shortest slice of Atlantis at just over six minutes long — and a decent portion of its last minute is silent — but that’s still plenty of time for Snowy Dunes to shift from the initial languid verses into a kinetic payoff that smoothly works into the roll-credits guitar line and melodic progression that ends the record with no less a consonant naturalism than it began.

So far as I can tell, “Atlantis, Part II” and “Atlantis, Part III” — and, for that matter, the prior “Atlantis, Part I” — don’t tie together in terms of actual sonic theme, but in their ambience they relate much of the same story, and it’s a narrative of continued growth on the part of the band and further development of who they are as individual players and together as a functioning unit. The signals are clear throughout Atlantis that Snowy Dunes are not finished with this evolutionary process, and frankly that only renders the songs more exciting, since even as they bask in a more complete realization than one found on the debut, they hold forth a potential no less vivid, and indeed make Atlantis a work of discovery.

Snowy Dunes, Atlantis (2017)

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T.G. Olson, Searching for the Ur-Plant: Solitary Brigade

Posted in Reviews on November 17th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

tg olson searching for the ur-plant

T.G. Olson is rarely far off from his next release. At this point, the Across Tundras frontman has settled into a steady rhythm where every few months, new songs will be recorded and presented for those who’ll have them as name-your-price downloads on Bandcamp. Sometimes — as in the case of his latest, Searching for the Ur-Plant — these DIY digital offerings will be complemented by limited, usually gorgeous and suitably organic-looking handmade CDRs pressed through the auspices of Olson‘s Electric Relics Records imprint. Sometimes not. Either way, the next thing always seems to be on the horizon. This has led to a remarkably productive few years and an increasingly complex narrative as to just what Olson‘s solo work encompasses in terms of style and craft.

Searching for the Ur-Plant was preceded this Spring by the full-length Foothills Before the Mountain (review here), which in turn followed a busy 2016 that produced La Violenza Naturale (review here), the From the Rocky Peaks b/w Servant to Blues single (discussed here) and the albums The Broken End of the Deal (review here) and Quicksilver Sound (discussed here), and the newer work follows a path distinct from its most immediate predecessor in a way that makes it more difficult to guess what Olson‘s next move might be. Other, of course, than (presumably) putting out another record. Because that’s kind of how he does. The question is how that record will be defined, and the reason that’s harder to determine as a result of the eight-song Searching for the Ur-Plant is because how much it strips down the approach taken on Foothills Before the Mountain.

On sheer sonic terms, the drone-folk arrangements of cuts like opener “On a High Like a Mountain” or the later “New Resistance Blues” aren’t necessarily new ground for Olson, but they represent a turn from what seemed to be more full-band-style fare his last time out toward a more distinctly “solo” feel. The story goes that the material was “handmade from scratch during one rainy week in October 2017. All songs were written new on the spot and recorded one by one until 33:32 minutes had been laid to bare to tape,” and having been completed on Oct. 11, Searching for the Ur-Plant found issue three days later: written, performed, recorded, produced, mixed, mastered and pressed by Olson himself.

At its most minimal, as on “Time Flies By and By,” the album carries that insular feel, but there’s also a good bit of reaching out done in these tracks, which from the early Paul Simon-style bounce of “The Old Brigade” to the later handclaps of the penultimate “Back on the Cross” seem to be in conversation with the human interaction at the root of Americana and folk traditionalism — the idea that songs were meant to be shared, sung by groups together, and so on.

t.g. olson

A big difference is in percussion and the general lack thereof, and where Foothills Before the Mountain was less shy about including drums, those handclaps in “Back on the Cross” are about it as far as outward timekeeping goes. Elsewhere, the key seems to be in call and response vocals — a theme “On a High Like a Mountain” sets early and which continues through the repetition-minded, harmonica-laced “A Constant Companion,” “Time Flies By and By,” “The Old Brigade,” “Trying to Take it All In,” “New Resistance Blues,” and closer “The Ur-Plant” itself — Olson answering his vocal lines in delayed time over acoustic and electric guitar that free-flows between drift and ramble, wistful and playful.

Given the timeline in which Searching for the Ur-Plant was put together — written and tracked in the span of a week — that such consistencies would develop makes sense. Sometimes an idea just gets stuck in your head and needs to be exorcised, and despite that steady element, the songs remain varied in their intent, whether it’s the classic melancholy of “A Constant Companion” with its echoes of airy slide guitar or the soft and swaying guitar and harmonica execution of “The Ur-Plant,” which rounds out in less chorus-focused fashion than cuts like “On a High Like a Mountain” or “The Old Brigade,” but with an absolute center based in the realization of its pastoralia, humble even as it brims with creativity and understated nuance. This too is familiar ground from Olson, but brought to bear with a fascinating patience that would seem to fly in the face of the urgency with which Searching for the Ur-Plant was written and constructed.

It would’ve been easy, in other words, for Olson to come across as rushed on a record that took a week to make. But he doesn’t. Instead, he harvests an eight-song/33-minute collection that sidesteps expectation while remaining quintessentially his in terms of atmosphere and overarching style, which is a balance that, so well struck as it is, defines Searching for the Ur-Plant and serves as the basis for its ultimate success. In intent and manifestation, Olson‘s work would struggle to be any less pretentious than it is, but it remains propelled by a fierce and apparently unyielding creativity, and though this particular outing makes it harder to imagine where Olson might go next — whereas after Foothills Before the Mountain he seemed so primed to continue working toward one-man-band-style arrangements — that unpredictability, met head-on by such depth of songwriting, only becomes yet another asset working in Olson‘s favor.

The discography he’s built at this point is something truly special, and whether one meanders through it as through tall, pathless grasses, or follows step by step as each installment arrives, journey and destination alike seem to satisfy with a warmth all their own. Searching for the Ur-Plant winds up in a lonelier place than some of Olson‘s other offerings, but its sense of longing is resonant, beautiful, and honest. Clearly the search continues.

T.G. Olson, Searching for the Ur-Plant (2017)

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Review & Video Premiere: Mangoo, The Heat

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Reviews on November 14th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

mangoo the heat

[Click play above to check out the premiere of Mangoo’s official video for ‘Relief.’ Their third album, The Heat, is out Dec. 8 on Small Stone Records.]

Heat is a catalyst. When you heat something up, its molecules move faster, become more active. Aside from frogs in slow-boiling pots of water, when someone touches something hot, they’re going to react, and one can’t help but wonder if that’s not what Turku, Finland-based heavy rockers Mangoo had in mind for their third album, The Heat. Something that would provoke a response. Something to get the blood moving. A reason for heads to bang and asses to shake. It would be hard to argue they didn’t get there on The Heat, which comprises a nearly-unmanageable 11 tracks/53 minutes of pro-shop song construction, crisply recorded and sharply delivered, heavy rock and roll.

Following two years after a split with UK space-metallers Enos (review here) and half a decade after their Small Stone debut, 2012’s Neverland (review here), the long-player marks the returning lineup of vocalist/guitarist Richard “Pickles” Dahllund, guitarist/backing vocalist Mathias “Mattarn” Åkerlund, bassist/backing vocalist Igor del Toro, drummer/backing vocalist Teemu Pulkkinen and keyboardist/backing vocalist/noisemaker/engineer Niklas Björklund as veterans of the form early, fleshing out melodic arrangements with a fullness of keys and fuzz tone that’s nether overbaked nor underweight. Pickles holds command as a frontman for almost the entire duration, relinquishing forward position only on the Spanish-language “Tiembla” to del Toro, who takes on lead vocals, and behind him, the band conjures grooving largesse on the title-track, resonant, Euro-radio-worthy hooks on cuts like opener “Relief” and the subsequent “Get Away,” and a fervent charge on “Deification” that offsets the semi-twang of “Beyond the Sky” and the psychedelic garage jangle of “Monolith.”

If that sounds a little broad as regards the general spectrum, it is, and that stylistic restlessness is a theme Mangoo — whose moniker seems truly unfortunate until one learns to pronounce it properly as “man-go” — continue from Neverland. Five years later, however, they are more mature as a group and as people, and whether it’s the rolling bassline that underscores the patient, harmony-topped fluidity in the second half of “Beyond the Sky” or the later solo in the angular boogie of “Stumbling Man,” which straightens out to a particularly satisfying hook near its finish, the vibe here is cohesive front to back and Mangoo never seem to leave an element out of its proper place.

mangoo

One might debate whether in the vinyl-minded late-’10s, The Heat really needs to be 2LP length, or at very least to border thereupon, but with such a chunk of time between their last offering (which also was not short) and this one, a glut of material makes some sense in context, and ultimately it does not hold Mangoo back from effectively stating their point. As to what that might be, one should look again at the subtle diversity of craft on display throughout the tracks. The production by Björklund — on which everyone else receives a co-credit — is a unifying factor to such a degree that on a superficial level, The Heat might seem to take a singular approach, but the truth is Mangoo adopt a range of approaches across these cuts, from the spacious and progressive heft of “One Day,” on which the guitars drift wide during the open verses only to resolidify around a massive and dramatic chorus, to the tense chugging, percussive nuance and slightly-jammed feel that hits in the penultimate “Grey Belly,” building to an apex that, even as it follows what would’ve seemed to be the culmination of the album in its titular cut, justifies its presence.

Feeling a bit more like an indulgence is the actual closer, which is a take on Eddie Murphy‘s 1985 single “Party all the Time,” which, while yes, it has a hook that borders on so catchy it’s infuriating, doesn’t necessarily fit with the rest of The Heat‘s modus, despite the ’80s-esque airbrushed look of the Alexander von Wieding cover art. The sense one gets is that it’s Mangoo signaling their audience that they don’t take themselves too seriously, that they’re having a good time, or that maybe they’re prone as most groups are to the occasional inside joke, but after 10 solid original pieces of Dozer-worthy songwriting and borderline flawless studio execution from the metallic vibe of “Tiembla” to the theatrical spread conjured in “The Heat” itself, to turn that all on its head right as they cross the finish line almost takes away from the impact of the original pieces preceding.

That said, Mangoo are certainly entitled to enjoy themselves in the recording/studio process, and while “Party all the Time” might’ve been better left as an off-LP single or something like that, even more than 30 years on from its first release, it remains a furiously dug-in earworm and Mangoo do well to make it their own in terms of overall sound. Of course, the definition of “their own” has never sounded quite so fluid for the five-piece as it does here either, since they careen with such apparent ease between one side of their increasingly complex sonic persona and the next. Maybe in that spirit, there’s room for just about everything in the triumphant spacet-time reaches born of “Beyond the Sky” or “One Day,” including that last bit of partying. Fair enough. You win this round, Mangoo.

Mangoo, The Heat (2017)

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Review & Track Premiere: Nupraptor, The Heresiarch

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

nupraptor-the-heresiarch

[Click play above to stream ‘Burning the Believers’ from Nupraptor’s The Heresiarch. Album is out Dec. 15 on Shadow Kingdom Records.]

For anyone into etymology — words, not bugs; that’s entomology — the title of Nupraptor‘s first long-player, The Heresiarch, will read plainly. I had to look it up to be sure it was a real word, but it is. Its two parts, “heresy” and “arch” denote one who is prime among heretics, like an archpriest, and in terms of the Baltimore one-man outfit’s Shadow Kingdom Records-delivered debut, if vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Matt St. Ours is campaigning for the position, he makes a compelling argument for taking ownership of the position. The album is comprised of seven tracks, and from the introductory “Black Mass” through the 11-minute closing epic “The Fall of Christ,” which gleefully recounts the crucifixion story, there isn’t one of them that on some level doesn’t play toward the title.

It’s a unipolarity of theme that, like St. Ours‘ shredding lead work, is born out of classic heavy metal, and the oldschool is indeed the well from which Nupraptor most readily draws. Drums, while programmed, march through straightforward arrangements of elder-style doom, from the Sabbath-via-Trouble march of “Through the Smoke” to the unbridled Candlemass idolatry of “Before the Eyes of God,” and in in vocal approach, St. Ours seems to place himself in the post-Robert Lowe, Messiah Marcolin, sphere, with stylistic flourishes tossed in from the likes of Witchfinder General and others of the NWOBHM who readily crossed the line to doom much as he does here. If you were living the dream and had a dual-deck, The Heresiarch is the kind of record you might dub for one of your buddies and draw the Nupraptor logo on the tape label, perhaps crudely.

Over the last decade, Shadow Kingdom has made itself an essential purveyor of precisely this type of fare: new acts purposefully breaking old ground. The label’s passion for the NWOBHM in particular is a thread one can hear woven through much of what it releases, and Nupraptor fit well into this oeuvre. St. Ours signals early with the aforementioned intro “Black Mass” that his guitar will be in the lead position in terms of arrangement focus, and the 50-minute offering goes according to plan. While it’s Nupraptor‘s first release, St. Ours has past experience working on his own, having founded metallers White Hornet as a one-man project before expanding it to a full lineup, and sure enough, as “Black Mass” gives way to the rolling plod of “Through the Smoke,” that history and the sense of command comes into play almost immediately.

nupraptor

A spoken introduction and initial crash begin “Burning the Believers,” which delivers its title in a whisper before unfurling one of The Heresiarch‘s most satisfying nods, topped with a mournful solo and brimming with downer atmosphere and layered, effected vocals. It is doom for doomers, but though St. Ours is based in Baltimore, it’s worth noting that Nupraptor don’t directly play to Maryland doom of the Pentagram or The Obsessed style. Sure, the pace in “Burning the Believers” picks up in the song’s second half, and the nine-minute title-track, the penultimate “Wasting Away” and “The Fall of Christ” have their rocking moments as well, but this is given to an Iron Maiden-esque gallop more than the rawer punk and hardcore roots from which much of Maryland doom sprang initially and still springs, the swinging progression of “Wasting Away” notwithstanding. Decisively metal, in other words. There is little doubt left as to intent in that regard, and in its craftsmanship, bleak cohesion and anti-Christian storytelling, the album answers the call of its own mission with a passionate delivery and complete-band sound.

That last element — the fact that The Heresiarch sounds like a work by a complete band — makes one wonder what the future for Nupraptor might hold, and if St. Ours could possibly put together a trio or, maybe more likely a four-piece given some of the interweaving guitar antics and harmonies here in “Before the Eyes of God,” etc., down the line. Whether or not that happens, he’s given himself a potent aesthetic model from which to work, and one that will preach loudly and righteously to a vigilant sect of the doom converted. If there aren’t vest patches printed yet, there should be. The Heresiarch speaks to a time in which heavy metal itself was the cult to be joined, and in its style and substance, it succeeds in establishing this context for St. Ours and Nupraptor to nonetheless move forward in bringing new life to this storied past.

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Review & Video Premiere: The Moth, Hysteria

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Reviews on November 10th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the moth hysteria

[Click play above to watch the premiere of The Moth’s new video for ‘Empty Heart.’ Their album, Hysteria, is out today on This Charming Man Records.]

The Moth engage in an almost singular pursuit of scathing rawness with their third album, Hysteria. Issued like its predecessor, 2015’s And Then Rise (review here), it is a 10-track/36-minute collection that, even when it departs the death-infused thrust of songs like opener “Empty Heart” and the subsequent title-cut to flesh out its slower-rolling doomer impulses on side-ending pieces like “This Life” and the finale “Jupiter,” still retains more than an edge of the extremity at heart behind that pummel. Guitarist Freden Mohrdiek and bassist Cécile Ash share vocal duties, and the resulting approach is by no means amelodic, but even compared to the release before it, Hysteria finds the Hamburg outfit making a decided turn toward harsh sounds and harsher vibes; a brutality captured with a live-in-studio feel and punctuated by two drummers: the returning Tiffy and newcomer Christian “Curry” Korr.

The latter percussionist is a recent arrival, and even with a pair of drummers swinging away and the Sunlight Studios-esque tone Mohrdiek displays after the false start of “Hysteria,” the dominant position, hands down, belongs to the bass. Hysteria as a whole is eaten by low-end rumble, serving in some ways as a reminder of how mishandled bass has been over the decades in extreme music, all but cast out of death and black metal and classic thrash or otherwise relegated to root notes or following the guitar. Ash‘s low end is a significant force in the overarching weight of this material, and as that’s true amid the grunts and chants of “Slow Your Pace” as in the nodding and catchy highlight “Brachial” — also screaming and bludgeoning — just before. It becomes a defining element.

One gets the sense that, much like the overall push into nastier sonics itself, this is something done with the utmost purpose behind it. Hysteria is the third The Moth long-player behind And Then Rise and the preceding 2013 debut, They Fall, and while it doesn’t provide a next clause to that seeming sentence-in-progress between the first two titles, that very fact is telling of a will to try something new that is manifest throughout. There are still shades of High on Fire and heavy thrash extremists Mantar to be heard in the onslaught of “Blackness” or “Empty Heart,” but aside perhaps from bringing in the fourth band member, the change in presentation is the biggest shift from one release to the next, and at this point, The Moth have enough quality work under their collective belt to assume consciousness behind the decision rather than a happenstance of recording situation.

the moth

When it wants to, Hysteria meters out a vicious stomp, but to hear the cone-blowing brown-note low-frequency heft at the beginning of “Loose” is to understand how essential the bass is to this mission. Beneath the fluidity of vocal arrangements between Ash and Mohrdiek and a moment’s readiness to transition in pace between and within tracks like “Brachial” and the part-punk “Fail,” which is the shortest inclusion here at 2:27 and the lead-in for “Jupiter,” the longest at 5:15, and amid waves of riffs and drums that are no less at home in maximum propulsion than they are lumbering through “This Life” and the closer, the bass is what most ties the album together. There are times, in fact, at which it feels like there’s no escape from it, and while the material itself is structured into verses, choruses, bridges, ending sections, etc., that consumption lends an experimentalist sensibility to go with their root approach.

This only makes Hysteria a more exciting listen. It is a sonic curio, almost. Plenty of bands have indulged in having two drummers, from the Melvins to Kylesa and well beyond, but even as The Moth put themselves in these ranks, it’s the change in sound itself throughout Hysteria that seems most to convey their creative drive. While not necessarily a radical departure from where they were two years ago, it nonetheless demonstrates a basic willingness to manipulate their own tendencies, and whether The Moth take it as a cue and move forward in a similar direction from here, pushing into even more extreme fare while balancing that against their melodic underpinnings, or opt to try something else entirely their next time out, the clear statement that Hysteria makes is that such turns are well within the scope of their ability and dynamic.

Further, while the title of the record speaks to a (gendered) sense of the unhinged, it’s worth noting that front to back, MohrdiekAshKorr and Tiffy never actually seem to be out of control of the proceedings. There are certainly moments of blemish, but like leaving that false start in at the beginning of the title-track, the simple fact that The Moth make no attempt to cover these is telling further of the naturalism at heart in what they’re doing. Organic extremity? Free-range aural destruction? Whatever you might want to call it, Hysteria takes this balance of style and production and turns it into an aesthetic that belongs to The Moth more than anything they’ve done before. It is the result of a band willfully taking the lessons from the work they’ve done in the past and learning from them to craft something new. It just so happens that that something new is an absolute monster.

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This Charming Man Records website

This Charming Man Records on Thee Facebooks

This Charming Man Records on Instagram

This Charming Man Records on Bandcamp

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Spaceslug, Mountains and Reminiscence: Drift and Consciousness

Posted in Reviews on November 9th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

spaceslug mountains and reminiscence

Sometimes a band puts out an EP and there’s an agenda behind it. They’re going on tour, or trying to make money for a subsequent recording, and a short release is something new and decent to put on a merch table or an webstore and draw people in. Sometimes it’s nothing more than a desire to keep momentum going after a successful full-length, and sometimes there are just extra tracks laying around a band wants to get out to the public.

I’m not sure which scenario it is in the end driving the release of Mountains and Reminiscence by Polish tonal adventurers Spaceslug, but frankly, I’ll take it any way it comes. The new five-songer from the Wroclaw three-piece of drummer/vocalist Kamil Ziólkowski, bassist/vocalist Jan Rutka and guitarist/backing vocalist Bartosz Janik arrives via BSFD Records and Oak Island Records, checks in at just over 27 minutes, and immediately makes itself comfortable in a deep-running mix of warm fuzz rendered spacious through echoing vocals and (mostly) languid grooves.

In method, it’s not so far removed from what Spaceslug accomplished on their second full-length, Time Travel Dilemma (review here), but nor should it be since three of its component pieces — “I am the Gravity,” “Elephemeral” and the 2001: A Space Odyssey-sampling “Space Sabbath” — were tracked during the same session this past January. Opener “Bemused and Gone” and closer “Opposite the Sun” are newer, recorded in July, and they effectively sandwich the middle tracks with two very different vibes that nonetheless remain consistent in their sound and headphone-worthy heavy psychedelic purposes.

With “Bemused and Gone,” it’s drift. Drift all the way. With an anchor of subtle tension in the running guitar line, Spaceslug ignite Mountains and Reminiscence on a particularly dreamy and hypnotic note. This is something they’ve been able to do well since their debut, Lemanis (review here), surfaced last year and distinguished itself among 2016’s best, but like much of their approach, it’s a take that solidified even further (as much as anything here isn’t molten) on Time Travel Dilemma and clearly something with which Spaceslug are signaling their intent to keep pursuing.

All the better, then, that “Opposite the Sun” should complement at the end. Fading-in drums from Ziólkowski are met with Rutka‘s rumbling low end, and Janik‘s fuzz-drenched guitar arrives as the final element before the band launches into a crashing verse that runs at a near-gallop. It’s not the most riotous song in the world — hell, it’s not even the most riotous song on Mountains and Reminiscence, which is “I am the Gravity” — but it is a stark contrast to “Bemused and Gone” and serves to emphasize the range that is emerging and has already emerged in Spaceslug‘s sound, which, while able to give the impression of being a trance-inducing monolith of amp-pushed heat, offers an underlying nuance that continues to demonstrate progressive potential.

spaceslug

As to what the group will do with that range ultimately, it’s difficult to say, but it meshes well with their loyalty to oozing riffs and vocals, and whether they’re playing fast or slow at any given point, their sense of command is obviously increasing. As a result, they’re all the more able to conjure atmospheric spaciousness and largess of tone without contradicting the openness of the one with the other’s risk of claustrophobia.

Between “Bemused and Gone” and “Opposite the Sun,” Mountains and Reminiscence tells a kind of mini-story of disintegration. To explain, they shift from the shortest inclusion in the 4:30 post-grunge banger “I am the Gravity” through the post-Sungrazer bounce and hook of centerpiece “Elephemeral” to the longest in the slow-rolling, darker-vibed, aptly-titled “Space Sabbath” (6:26), and in so doing push from one song into the next toward more ethereal ground. Guitar alone starts “I am the Gravity” and guitar alone ends “Space Sabbath” — but it does so respectively with the most straightforward riff of the EP and with barely-there minimalist warble retained in drift even after the accompanying bass has faded.

From one end to the other of those two moments, a linear transition is taking place that, while Mountains and Reminiscence is a short release, nonetheless makes for a quick album-style flow that seems distinct from the opener and closer surrounding and on its own wavelength in terms of how the songs relate to each other. The effect that has is to make Mountains and Reminiscence almost like two different offerings mashed together in a particle accelerator — a two-song single and a three-song EP drawn from two sessions and combined into one, which I suppose it is — but given Spaceslug‘s overarching consistency of sound, it seems only reasonable to expect Mountains and Reminiscence to set up a considerable fluidity over its span, and of course it does precisely that.

Spaceslug have worked quickly to get two full-lengths and this EP out, and one has no reason to believe they’ll look to slow the momentum they’ve been able to build thus far going into 2018, but more than the impressive rate at which they churn out digipaks, tapes, LP platters and t-shirts is the sonic growth to which they’ve clearly committed themselves. Of all the temporal threads they’ve established thus far into what one hopes will be a long career, that’s the most resonant, and that’s what would seem to be pushing them toward the forefront of the vibrant heavy underground in Poland and, of course, realms beyond.

Spaceslug, Mountains and Reminiscence (2017)

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Oak Island Records at Kozmik Artifactz

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3rd Ear Experience, Stoned Gold: Ways to be Saved

Posted in Reviews on November 8th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

3rd-ear-experience-stoned-gold

Given the formidable title of Stoned Gold, the latest full-length from Joshua Tree-based heavy psychedelic rockers 3rd Ear Experience is nothing less than an attempt to present the very foundations of the band’s writing process. Or, perhaps more appropriately, it’s a presentation of those roots entirely. The story goes that bandleader Robbi Robb was pulling the group together to work on their next full-length — either their fifth or sixth, depending on what you count — for Space Rock Productions, which also stood behind 2016’s studio outing, Stones of a Feather.

Robb, who leads a rotating cast of players in the amorphous group that may or may not at any given point include Amritakripa, Alan Dude Swanson, Richard Stuverud, Dino Archon, Dug Pinnick, Eric Ryan, Joey Vera, Butch Reynolds, and/or Jorge Bassman, had toured Europe for the last record, had signed a booking deal to go back, and so one imagines the creative juices were flowing and spirits were high. The band would start or end each day of the session with an improvised jam. Something to get the blood moving. A warm-up or a cool-down, and maybe the basis for a song to come together. Not at all unheard of. Well, when it came time to dig through the days’ worth of recordings and piece together the next 3rd Ear Experience long-player, Robb found that it was these jams that best represented the band as a whole and their musical intentions.

Accordingly, Stoned Gold arrives via Space Rock Productions — the label, one is compelled to note, owned by Scott “Dr. Space” Heller of Øresund Space Collective — as a collection of these jams, led by Robb‘s own scorching guitar work, with six tracks and just under 70 minutes of righteous desert freakouts, presented one into the next with a variety of personality and presentation to them that feels emblematic of the creative process behind their making.

Structures are way, way open. Vibes are way, way open. The spirit behind Stoned Gold is less like an album and more like an audio documentary — the idea being to bring to listener as close as possible to 3rd Ear Experience in the making. They’re not the only band to take this approach, and one would be remiss to not mention the progressive explorations of Øresund Space Collective here as forerunners of the improv-based heavy psych style, but it’s exceedingly rare for an American outfit to do so and to do so with such abandon as 3rd Ear Experience bring to pieces like the eight-minute title-track or more extended “I am Not Robot (Warm up Jam Day 3),” which follows opener and longest cut (immediate points) “Infinite Unmanifest (Warm up Jam Day 1)” and the subsequent “Iceberg Dream (Last Jam Day 4)” as one of three pieces named in part for when it took place in the session.

3rd ear experience

It’s telling of the mission behind Stoned Gold that the album would launch with a warm-up jam from the first day, since that effectively places the audience at the same starting point — equal footing — as the group itself as they begin to unfold what becomes the immersive, molten flow of the release as a whole. Whether or not “Iceberg Dream (Last Jam Day 4)” marks the end of the recording session as a whole, I don’t know, but it would make sense, and taking the two back-to-back is to hear 3rd Ear Experience shift deftly between classic space rock propulsion, exploratory melodic wash and an ultimate drive into cosmic swirl.

Those two songs alone comprise nearly half an hour of listening, but with as shuffling start of “Stoned Gold” signals before the band starts to weave its way through a couple harrowing turns toward a Sabbathian riff peppered with a couple lines of obscure, effects-laden vocals, it’s abundantly clear that they by no means make up the complete picture of the album’s scope, and indeed that turns out to be the case as “I am Not Robot (Warm up Jam Day 3)” digs into its 13 minutes of post-Hendrix shimmer and dazzle, more of a straight-ahead flow than a build, but underscored by highlight fuzzy bass tone in its midsection and honest enough to keep going even after it starts to fall apart.

It is surprisingly hypnotic in that, and that makes the transition into “No Walls, No Wars” somewhat more jarring. The penultimate cut is probably as close as 3rd Ear Experience come to traditional songcraft on the record, starting out with African-style percussion before cutting out to a solo-vocal verse and resuming its rhythmic charge. Swirls come and go around this central tribalist figure, and where so much of the album is instrumental, “No Walls, No Wars” is full of words, syllables, lines and obscure shouts, met head-on by an ongoing guitar lead, as well as drums, keys and synth, all of which seem to find further emphasis than in any of the previous jams. At 5:20, just about everything except a line of effects drops out and there’s one last verse to bring everything to a head, and the band presses forth once more into the groove at its foundation, fading slowly to let the toms of closer “The Drone” take hold.

Airy, peaceful guitar arrives with a kind of post-rock feel soon into the 12-minute finale, and once again there are vocals early in a kind of meditative spirit, but just after four minutes in, they’re swallowed by a surge of lead guitar and volume, beginning a back and forth of open spaces and consuming solos that continues until the latter finally seems to win out just after a drum pause near the six-minute mark. Less improvised-sounding — and loosely Zeppelin-esque, somehow — that “The Drone” nonetheless caps with a foray into the sonically unknown (some last lines sneak in there as well; don’t tell anybody) could not be more fitting a way to end Stoned Gold, which in its results lives up to the promised vibrancy of atmosphere in the manner it came together.

3rd Ear Experience have essentially issued their listeners an invitation to join them on this journey, which could hardly resonate more in its endgame if it were happening in real-time on a stage or in a studio, and that invitation is well worth accepting for both its realization of concept and the raw experience of the travel itself. Whether you engage consciously or turn off your mind, relax and float down-sand, 3rd Ear Experience‘s Stoned Gold shines bright.

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Robbi Robb website

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Space Rock Productions website

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