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Buddha Sentenza, Semaphora: Reaching Outward

Posted in Reviews on January 19th, 2017 by H.P. Taskmaster

BUDDHA SENTENZA SEMAPHORA

Feels like it’s been a while in the making, but Buddha Sentenza‘s second album justifies the wait in a significant push forward from where 2013’s debut, South Western Lower Valley Rock (review here), found them. Still working through World in Sound, 2016’s Semaphora hits with the pastoral feel that’s been present in the German five-piece’s sound since their 2009 demo, Mode 0909 (review here), and if one is so inclined, one might still pick up shades of My Sleeping Karma in their sound, but there’s a progressive tinge to the winding guitar and keys in opener “Jet,” and the subsequent “Greek Ancestry” goes farther in fitting its arrangement to its title.

Ultimately, the playfully named Heidelberg-based lineup of guitarist/violinist B.B. Blacksheep, guitarist Major Mayhem, bassist Amnesio Bodega, keyboardist Pontifex Maximus and drummer Jesus Malverde end up as much in the sphere of progressive rock as that of heavy psych, and Semaphora has a refreshing cohesion of purpose and focus that distinguishes it from the hordes of instrumental jammers populating Europe’s heavy rock underground. The shift is visible even unto the photorealism of Semaphora‘s cover art, which finds a hand reaching across the shards of a shattered mirror backed by cloud and blue sky — reminiscent of some lost ’70s prog LP — where South Western Lower Valley Rock, while staking a claim on naming Buddha Sentenza‘s sound perhaps in a tongue-in-cheek manner, featured line drawings of fractals and other psychedelic imagery. I might be interested to know if the band, who split the six-track/48-minute Semaphora into two sides, each with an extended closer, still consider the title of their debut to be the style of music they play.

Could be that designation is nebulous enough to continue to fit, and if “south western lower valley rock” is whatever Buddha Sentenza make it, then all the better that Semaphora finds them so willfully exploring that freedom. As progressive as it gets, and as much as that colors the impression of everything that follows, the first thing one hears on “Jet” is a fuzzed-out guitar. It’s not long though before the organ, drums and bass have joined in and the arrangement thereof spun off into what feels like multiple directions, like beams of light splitting apart and coming back together in cycles. The second half, following some midsection chugging, drops to ambient spaciousness for a time, highlighting the keys and the overall textural feel, but the push resumes in the last minute and cuts off to let the strumming at the start of “Greek Ancestry” speak immediately to the name of the track.

More subdued than the opener on the whole, it demonstrates a patience that suits its bounce well but is hardly inactive, with lead guitar driving more weighted sections and switches back and forth around that initial strummed line, joined the second time around by violin, guitar and keys for a more lush take. By the time it’s done, “Greek Ancestry” has staked its claim in gorgeousness, but the 10-minute “Kréèn (Patagonian Lights),” which follows and closes out Semaphora‘s first half, is the highlight, with a meandering countrified fuzz starting off topped by sampled chanting that unfurls to summarize the patience and the spirit of the first two tracks while expanding the sonic foundation on the whole in a satisfying and immersive way. It never loses its sentimental feel in the guitar or organ line, and bookends with more sampled chanting at the end, making “Kréèn (Patagonian Lights)” almost an album unto itself.

buddha sentenza

Further sampling starts side B’s opener, “Laika,” but it’s direct speech, almost sounding like an advertisement or newscast, but the song itself begins soon and thrusts quickly into wah and a more active feel, particularly in the keys and perhaps in conversation with “Jet.” The symmetry of Semaphora‘s two sides is evidence of the consciousness at work on Buddha Sentenza‘s part, and that may or may not bleed into the tracks themselves, but it’s worth noting that nowhere on the album do they actually seem to repeat moves. “Laika,” for example, shifts into a chugging march with theremin behind it, farther-back lead guitar and synth swirl, and though it’s the shortest cut at 5:22, it still has time to cap with a quiet movement of piano before it transitions into the foreboding standalone chord that launches “Blood Rust,” the eight-minute penultimate piece that follows and seems to work most directly in stages.

The first builds from that initial guitar line, then it moves into synth-led atmospherics for its middle third, and from there, it emerges once again on a less threatening push toward an apex that, but for closer “The End is Coming, We’ll Take it from Here” behind it, could just as easily have been the payoff for the record as a whole. That closer, however, immediately marks itself out as the grand finale. Sampled lines from 1984 move into faster guitar that in turn shifts toward piano and guitar interplay and a rolling forward groove of riff, keys, synth and theremin — all hands on deck — before a sudden stop and chug announces the arrival of the next movement shortly before the four-minute mark. A wash of keyboard tops the roll, but there’s more intense drum and guitar chugging to be found as well as “The End is Coming, We’ll Take it from Here” plays out, and the feel is suitably chaotic as Buddha Sentenza pass the halfway point, break and return to launch Semaphora‘s final build from the ground up.

As noted, “Blood Rust” could have been the payoff for the album’s entirety, but there’s no question that the finish they give with “The End is Coming, We’ll Take it from Here” could hardly be placed anywhere else and still work as well, and though the song borders on overwhelming in its turns from one part to the next, that only underscores the progressive mentality of the band, since they never seem to be out of control or to lose track of the direction they’re headed. That may be the underlying message of Semaphora, all told, and if Buddha Sentenza have worked the last several years coming together to craft it, then their time was not misspent. As far as Semaphora ranges, it never fails to bring their audience along for the ride, and the breadth it unveils makes it all the more difficult to predict how they might progress from here, only adding to the satisfaction of the listening experience.

Buddha Sentenza, Semaphora (2016)

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Vinnum Sabbathi, Gravity Works: Vastness and Density

Posted in Reviews on January 18th, 2017 by H.P. Taskmaster

vinnum sabbathi gravity works

One doubts if Mexico City’s Vinnum Sabbathi had in mind defending the sciences as a political position when they were putting together their debut full-length, Gravity Works, for release through LSDR Records, Aim Down Sight, and South American Sludge, but there’s a clear sense of celebrating achievement as the five-song collection plays out topped in songs like the 11-minute “Early Works” and the penultimate “Loop Quantum Gravity” by public domain samples concerning all things space: astronauts, cosmonauts, the expanding universe, and so on. Of course, the use of samples in instrumental heavy rock to take the place of lyrics isn’t anything new — it’s been done for at least the last quarter-century — but the four-piece of guitarist Alberto, bassist Samuel, Mico (or Gerardo) and sampler/synther Roman use the clips also to execute a cohesive theme across the album’s 43-minute span, and that’s somewhat rarer in terms of process.

Gravity Works is consistent in this, and from their 2015 split with Bar de Monjas, Fuzzonaut (review here), back across a slew of EPs, digital singles and other short releases to their 2012 demo, they’ve been nearly entirely focused on the cosmic in one way or another. It’s almost odd, then, that they don’t actually play space rock. One might expect the thrust of Hawkwind or the grand, effects-soaked meanderings of any number of instrumental jammers given all the space-space-space that Vinnum Sabbathi highlight, but the band actually has much more in common with the likes of Bongripper of Monolord (obviously sans vocals in the case of the latter); proffering crushing wave after crushing wave of big-tone riffs to build a massive, engaging nod.

Even when it locks into the chugging groove of centerpiece “Gravity Waves,” Gravity Works does so with an abiding thickness in the guitar and bass, and the drums seem more than happy to roll this gargantuan onslaught forward. The songs themselves are plotted but still exploratory in the sense of likely having been built out of jams — it’s easy to imagine Vinnum Sabbathi in a rehearsal space, hopefully wearing earplugs, digging into the churn that emerges from the almost calm wade into dense waters at the start of opener “Weightlessness” — and the samples provide more than flourish throughout, becoming an essential part of the record from that opener onward.

Synth is used more sparingly, unless it’s there and the guitar and bass have just eaten it entirely — possible — but the recording/mixing job by Miguel Fraino at Vesubio34 Studio and mastering by James Plotkin (Khanate, so many others) leave little to want in terms of the production quality, capturing the push of air coming from Alberto and Samuel‘s cabinet speakers, the rumble of the latter on especially prevalent on “Loop Quantum Gravity” but always a key element, without pulling away from presenting the dynamic the band has managed to build over their five-plus years together.

vinnum sabbathi

That is to say, Gravity Works sounds completely fucking elephantine. Listen to basically everything after “Weightlessness” (also the shortest cut at 5:22) introduces the sprawl, whether it’s “Early Works,” “Gravity Waves,” “Loop Quantum Gravity” or closer “The Probe B,” and you’ll experience chest-compressing tonal heft of a suitably high order. But Vinnum Sabbathi‘s first long-player has its atmospheric aspects as well, and whether that’s the stretch of subdued-but-tense guitar that opens “Early Works” or the midsection sample break in “Loop Quantum Gravity,” that side is just as integral in the overall execution as the lurching thud of “Gravity Waves.”

And though with its runtime and general aesthetic cohesion, Gravity Works seems like a prime vinyl candidate, the course it follows is linear, fleshing out from its beginning as it moves toward “The Probe B,” which summarizes the impact of the material, adds nuance of wah in the guitar to subtly reinforce the notion of Vinnum Sabbathi as a band still growing, still finding themselves and who will look to build on what they’ve accomplished in these songs, and caps with a fervent kick in tempo that acts as an apex for the whole outing. One supposes there isn’t much else they could’ve done to end the record, but at 4:25, after a stop that gives a sample talking about a black hole free reign, the guitars start faster, the drums come back on a roll and a gallop that imagines High on Fire meeting YOB takes hold, shoving the track and the listener onward toward, what? Destruction? Some greater interstellar consumption? A subspace corridor of color, fuzz riffs and undulating sound waves?

I don’t really know, but by the time they lock in the final couple measures of nod and rumble to a finish, I’m ready for whatever the destination might be. In terms of Gravity Works itself, that concluding hum would seem to be it, but there’s a bigger story being introduced here, and for Vinnum Sabbathi, it will be their creative progression that enables them to tell it. What they do moving forward and how they continue to come together as a band, expand the chemistry they showcase in these tracks and work to make the tenets of cosmic doom their own. An overarching direction isn’t something one is inclined to guess at, though speculation is always fun, but Vinnum Sabbathi‘s debut impresses thoroughly because of what it might be starting as well as what it achieves in its own right, and it’s only fitting that it should dwell in those multiple dimensions, since that seems to be where the band has been headed the whole time.

Vinnum Sabbathi, Gravity Works (2017)

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Various Artists, Electric Funeral Cafe Vol. 3: Journeys End and Begin

Posted in Reviews on January 17th, 2017 by H.P. Taskmaster

electric funeral cafe vol 3

Look. The thing is immense. One can barely hope to give a decent accounting of a compilation in a review in the easiest of scenarios, but to attempt to sum up the scope of Robustfellow ProductionsElectric Funeral Cafe Vol. 3, which spans three CDs in its physical incarnation and tops out at an astonishing 48 tracks and four-plus hours of listening material when the digital bonus tracks are included from the Bandcamp version, the idea itself becomes silly. All one can really do is the same thing the listener likely does: make your way through it at your own pace, try to absorb as much as you can, and step back to admire the incredible amount of coordinating effort that must have gone into its making.

The latter is particularly impressive as what’s been touted as the final installment of the Kiev-based Robustfellow‘s Electric Funeral Cafe trilogy — nothing like going out with a bang — is bigger even than its predecessors, which came out in 2016 and 2015 and were “only” two discs apiece. The first two were broken down into component Electric and Funeral halves, arranged along this theme by discs. This edition works much the same way, with the Electric discs more focused on heavy rock and the Funeral disc dug into dirge-style doom and sludge, but adds the Cafe disc, on which one might be hear the Beatles-gone-electro-pop psych of Black Maloka, the Creedence Clearwater Revival-style boogie of Freeky Clean or the pure Doorsian meandering of The Jossers, along with more familiar names like Krobak (a Stoned Jesus side-project) or The Legendary Flower Punk (a The Grand Astoria side-project).

As with the earlier volumes, the bulk of the inclusions here highlight the underground boom in the Ukraine itself. 38 of the total 48 groups involved hail from the Ukraine. Two more are from Russia (The Legendary Flower Punk and A Foggy Realm, also on the Cafe disc), and one each from Japan (Eternal Elysium, on the Electric disc), Finland (Loinen, Funeral disc), the US (Contra, Electric), Sweden (Suffer Yourself, Funeral), Belarus (Nebulae Come Sweet, Funeral), the UK (Sons of Alpha Centauri, Cafe), and Italy (Le Scimmie, Funeral). It’s easy to get lost in the sprawl of a release like this, certainly, but worth noting all the same that this is the first of the Electric Funeral Cafe offerings to branch outside the Ukraine itself, so even as Robustfellow ends the series, it does so by reaching into new territories, making the project all the more impressive. One imagines that if the label kept it going, it would only continue to grow.

ELECTRIC FUNERAL CAFE POSTER

Not that it’s lacking in its current form, of course. Pick your poison and it’s likely here somewhere, from the progressive heavy vibes of Stonefromthesky and Ethereal Riffian on the Electric disc to the deathly chug of Chainsaw Jack‘s “Crashing Waves” and post-hardcore-sludge of Nebulae Come Sweet on the Funeral disc to the ’90s-style psych of Vermilion Nocturne and beat-backed drone of Submatukana‘s “Genesis” — which boasts a sampled Bible reading amid creepy whispered vocals — on the Cafe disc. There are, of course, a host of bands here who aren’t so easily fit into one category or another, as Dreadnought foreshadow on the Electric disc some of the screaming that will be a running theme throughout most of the Funeral disc, and the huge Ufomammut-style roll, push and echoes of Soom on Funeral do likewise for Cafe, but each piece of Electric Funeral Cafe Vol. 3 offers something distinct from the others, and so the themes are not only ably established, but solidified while jumping from band to band, city to city, country to county, atmosphere to atmosphere.

And as ever for a worthy various-artists release, Electric Funeral Cafe Vol. 3 presents a number of curios warranting further investigation. In particular, Lviv’s 1914, who lead off the Funeral disc with “8×50 mm Repetiergewehr M95” would seem to have a fixation with WWI — remind me to tell you sometime about how it was the fall of Western Civilization; unless you’re European, in which case you already know — and Lucifer Rising on the Electric disc blend modern buzz tone with classic blues rock thrust, but there are a swath of such interest-piquers as the comp plays out, and the real challenge lies in not being overwhelmed by all of it.

Much to the credit of Robustfellow and to the benefit of the acts contributing, everyone is given a genuine chance to ply their sonic wares, whether that’s a sub-three-minute death-doom rumbler like Monmuth‘s “Vail Seven” or the nine-minute heavy post-rock rollout of Stonefromthesky‘s “67,” which makes sense in a if-you’re-going-to-do-it-and-it’s-already-huge-then-don’t-skimp kind of way, and if the tradeoff for that is there’s a lot of music to dig into, it’s the kind of issue a listener should probably be thankful to take on, even if it requires multiple rounds to get through the front-to-back experience — a four-hour listening session is a rare gift in these busy times. Bottom line is Electric Funeral Cafe Vol. 3 will be there, whether one wants to take it as a whole or in pieces — as a document of Ukrainian heavy, yes, but also the scene’s will to reach outside itself and include others in a creative conversation — and as that movement continues to flourish and progress, such an impulse can only help broaden a scope already shown here to be considerable. And by considerable, I mean staggering.

Various Artists, Electric Funeral Cafe Vol. 3 (2017)

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Eternal Elysium, Resonance of Shadows: Experiential Benefit

Posted in Reviews on January 16th, 2017 by H.P. Taskmaster

eternal elysium resonance of shadows

It does not take long into Eternal Elysium‘s Resonance of Shadows for one to realize they stand in the presence of masters. The long-running Japanese outfit, comprised of vocalist Tana Haugo, guitarist/vocalist/founder Yukito Okazaki and drummer Antonio Ishikawa offer the 2016 release as their sixth full-length, and it arrives some 20 years after the band made their debut with 1996’s Faithful. American audiences might recall their 2000 sophomore outing, Spiritualized D, and its 2002 follow-up, Share, were released on MeteorCity. It’s now been over seven years since they offered their last long-player in 2009’s Within the Triad, but they’ve stayed reasonably active with shorter outings, their Highflyer EP and a split with SardoniS both surfacing in 2012. Some of the material on Resonance of Shadows (issued through Cornucopia Records dates back to the era of Within the Triad as well, with “Views on C#” and “Unbound” having appeared on 2008’s Mysterious Views in Stone Garden EP and the aforementioned SardoniS split, respectively.

As such, one might wonder from whence the rest of the eight-track/56-minute collection comes — cuts like the boogieing “Cosmic Frequency,” the more-Pentagram-than-Pentagram opener “Ingah,” the classically rocking “The Breeze Says Go” and the slow-paced crusher “Hiroshima” — but it ultimately matters little for the kind of doom and heavy rock Eternal Elysium proffer, which is about as close to timeless as the style gets in its incorporation of influences modern and old. These songs could’ve been sitting around for years, and who cares? Not like they’re going to age. In their rolling nod, fullness of tone, interplay of Japanese and English-language lyrics and easy shifts between upbeat and downer atmospheres, Resonance of Shadows conveys the years of experience at work behind Eternal Elysium while never sounding staid or overly composed. It’s heavy rock and roll for the converted, and the rest be damned.

Laying out such sonic ultimatums is one thing, and a lot of bands do it, but to actually have the material to stand behind them is rare. As such, the more one digs into Resonance of Shadows, whether it’s the immersive lumber of “Unbound” or the catchy Sabbathism of the penultimate “The Ancient Soul” — to my regret, I speak roughly zero Japanese, and I’ve still had that hook stuck in my head for the last week — the further one is taken by its methods, its subtle fluidity that draws together a full-album flow across standout individual pieces, and the natural clarity in Eternal Elysium‘s sound. Not unreasonable after so many years for them to know what they want from a recording, and with Okazaki working as producer, engineer and mixer at Studio Zen in Nagoya, the command they show is most definitely their own from the tones they capture in “Ingah” onward, but on a pure execution level, the apex that “Ingah” hits in its second half is particularly affecting.

And while it doesn’t set up all the sonic shifts that will play out across Resonance of Shadows, starting immediately with the shuffle of “The Breeze Says Go” and continuing through the memorial bells that launch “Hiroshima,” it does step forth as an excellent lead-in to them. More over, one that a lesser band wouldn’t be able to wield with such grace. To look at Resonance of Shadows as two halves, each with four tracks — though vinyl invariably wouldn’t split that way given extended runtimes in back end — it seems to bring shorter rockers like “Ingah” and “Cosmic Frequency” and “The Breeze Says Go” while letting the seven-minute “Hiroshima” (which breaks into a faster rush in its own second half, churning to an instrumental crescendo that serves as one of the record’s finest) work to foreshadow the doomly plays throughout the instrumental “Views on C#,” the ultra-grooving “Unbound” and the spacious closing pair of “The Ancient Soul” and “Sekibaku.”

The truth of Eternal Elysium‘s scope, however, is more complex, and Resonance of Shadows isn’t nearly so binary. As much as “Unbound”(8:49) and “The Ancient Soul” (9:17) take their time to patiently flesh out ideas, they’re not lazy in doing so, and among the album’s principal achievements is how organically it crosses the sometimes vast divide between doom and heavy rock, so that the languid, rich low end, echoing lead guitar and open spaces of “Sekibaku” feel no less appropriate here than the march of “Unbound” or the mournfulness of “Hiroshima” earlier. Setting up multiple contexts and moving swiftly between them, the three-piece are able to harness a vitality that works as the thread tying everything together, and accordingly, they allow their material to go where it seems it wants to go without having the push of “Cosmic Frequency” are out of place next to the aughts-style stonerism of “Views on C#,” or for that matter, anything lose a step feeding into anything else.

“The Ancient Soul” and “Sekibaku” underscore this triumph, but again, it’s evident from “Ingah” onward, and the argument that Eternal Elysium make in favor of conversion, “never so blatant as “drop out of life with bong in hand,” is no less convincing. To call them underappreciated feels like understatement, and thinking of how one might approach Resonance of Shadows as a fan come to the genre since 2009 who is maybe taking on the band for the first time, the best way I can think of is as a blueprint for how heavy rock and roll and doom should sound when done right. No pretense, fluid boundaries and songwriting at a paramount. Recommended.

Eternal Elysium, “Ingah”

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John Garcia, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues: Finding the Dose (Plus Lyric Video Premiere)

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Reviews on January 13th, 2017 by H.P. Taskmaster

john garcia the coyote who spoke in tongues

[John Garcia releases The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues via Napalm Records on Jan. 27. Please enjoy a lyric video premiere for ‘Give Me 250ml’ by clicking play above.]

It’s hard to say exactly how long John Garcia‘s acoustic album has been in the works. Granted, if we’re talking about this release, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues, which teams the singer whose voice inarguably most typifies California’s desert rock movement with guitarist Ehren Groban (War Drum), bassist Mike Pygmie (Mondo Generator, You Know Who) and percussionist Greg Saenz (The Dwarves, You Know Who), it’s a more recent affair, following up on Garcia‘s fully-plugged 2014 self-titled solo debut (review here). But the notion of a Garcia acoustic record goes much further back.

In 1998, after the demise of his former band Kyuss and as the late ’90s stoner rock movement he helped inspire was taking shape — which Garcia would further solidify on the West Coast in Slo Burn, Unida, Hermano and by contributing to other groups and projects in the early ’00s — he provided the closing track on MeteorCity‘s first release, the Welcome to MeteorCity compilation (discussed here) under the guise of J.M.J., with the song “To Believe.” Just to do some quick math for emphasis, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues arrives 19 years later and finds Garcia an entirely different presence, having long since cemented his legacy in the aforementioned acts and pushed ahead through further work with Hermano, the Garcia Plays Kyuss/Vista Chino semi-reunion of Kyuss, who released their lone album to-date, Peace (review here), in 2013, and his ensuing solo outfit. His vocal approach, guttural at times in the true sense of coming from the gut, but able to be sweetly melodic in its croon, has influenced a generation of heavy rock singers while remaining inimitable.

This nine-track/39-minute offering finds him at the top of his game and seemingly delivering as much for his fans as for himself. It brings together the new material in opener “Kylie,” “Give Me 250ml,” “The Hollingsworth Session,” “Argleben II” — an apparent sequel to “Argleben” from Garcia‘s self-titled — and instrumental closer “Court Order” with Kyuss classics “Green Machine,” “Space Cadet,” “Gardenia” and “El Rodeo,” which of course are reworked to suit the acoustic context. Garcia is right to keep the scale weighted on the side of newer songs, and not that they needed to, but the Kyuss cuts earn their place as well owing to the fact that Garcia played them on his acoustic European tour. In any case, one doubts he’ll get many complaints. On The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues, they appear in the order in which I just listed them, with “Green Machine” following “Kylie” at the start of the record and introducing the listener to the notion that, while familiar at their root, the arrangements are fair game when it comes to the older stuff; the signature riff of “Green Machine” becomes a sentimental intertwining of string plucks and Garcia‘s verse vocals — practically shouts on the original — are a subdued croon that well earn the late flourish of keyboard after the last chorus.

The pair “Give Me 250ml” and “The Hollingsworth Session” follow, with the former providing a considerable groove for Garcia to ride as he will — a forceful strum and some backing vocals layered in that make it easy to imagine a full-on heavy version. It’s the shortest track here at 2:58, but leaves an upbeat impression that carries into “The Hollingsworth Session,” which stands as the most complex of the pieces making their first appearance here in its back and forth trades of “loud” and “quiet” — all things relative, right? — and proffers a hook that stands up to the triple-shot block of Kyuss songs that immediately follow. Its layered chorus, prominent bass and energetic start-stop groove lead to a winding guitar solo finale that fits well as a lead-in for the album’s well-deserved centerpiece, “Space Cadet.”

Of all the Kyuss one might include on an acoustic outing, “Space Cadet” probably makes the most sense, since the quiet track from 1994’s mega-crucial Welcome to Sky Valley (and yes, before you get all internet-clever, I know it’s officially a self-titled) was practically unplugged to start with, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. It just needs less rearranging as compared to the more driving “Green Machine,” or “Gardenia,” which follows. What seems to be a far-back inclusion of organ or keyboard adds to the forward guitar strum, but it’s Garcia himself carrying “Space Cadet,” which is as it should be, and he makes it a highlight. But for the lyrics, “Gardenia” is hardly recognizable for the hypnotic picking of strings, punctuating percussion and quiet, meditative spirit it’s given. “Hear a purring motor and she’s a-burnin’ fuel/Push it over baby/Makin’ love to you” never sounded more romantic.

Just before two and a half minutes in, the vibe picks up a bit with some slide guitar added to the song’s more bouncing end progression, but like “Green Machine” before it, “Gardenia” gets a considerable reworking for The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues, while “El Rodeo,” which begins with a foreboding moment of piano before its guitar introduction, seems to allow itself to be a little more fun. Strings or key-strings back the verse, which Garcia doles out in full-force despite the lack of distortion behind him, letting loose in a cadence that brings together the layered lines of the original in an effective, stage-style presentation. Percussion from Saenz backs the section of instrumental pauses in the second half, and the repetitions of the title bring “El Rodeo” to a vibrant finish, leading to the more atmospheric “Argleben II,” which brings piano to the fore alongside the guitar and seems to pull together and swell with each run through its chorus, making for a quick five-minute stretch. It ends on a fade, leading to the closing meditation of “Court Order,” which may or may not actually be included as a result of one.

Somewhat surprising for Garcia — who’s known entirely for his vocals — to cap his first acoustic solo LP with a quick three-minute instrumental, but it may well be that desert rock’s greatest frontman is sending a message of branching out and letting his audience know they should do likewise in terms of what they might expect from him. Given that, as noted, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues has been nearly two decades in the making in one form or another, one hesitates to think of what a follow-up might bring, but one thing to note is that with a catalog as vast as his has been, if he’s looking to blend new material and old on records like this, there is a wealth of songs ripe for reinterpretation. Thinking of tracks like Slo Burn‘s “Muezli,” “Hermano‘s “Brother Bjork” or Unida‘s “Slaylina,” or even Vista Chino‘s “Adara,” there would seem to be little reason a conversation between Garcia and his fans in this manner couldn’t be ongoing. There are numerous contingencies to consider there, including the Slo Burn reunion happening this year — will that result in a studio album? — and persistent rumors of a new Hermano record, which would be their first in a decade, so one can’t necessarily guess where Garcia might be headed following this release. But that’s part of what makes it enjoyable as a moment finally captured, and the realization of The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues should be considered a landmark in one of heavy rock’s most pivotal careers.

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Sergio Ch., Aurora: Impressions of Light

Posted in Reviews on January 12th, 2017 by H.P. Taskmaster

sergio-ch-aurora

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to not think of Sergio Chotsourian as a kind of figurehead representative of South American heavy. From his work over the course of two decades in Los Natas and Ararat to the just-getting-started Soldati, as well as his Sergio Ch. solo offerings, other offshoot projects and collaborations, and the continuing impact he’s had on artists around him with his label, South American Sludge Records, the Buenos Aires native has positioned himself at the fore of a crucial and vibrant underground through both his own creative output and his commitment to helping promote others in Argentina and the surrounding nations. As the label has come into focus over the last several years and stood behind an increasing number of releases, Chotsourian‘s craft seems to have become all the more prolific for having the reliable outlet.

In 2015, he made his Sergio Ch. solo debut with 1974 (review here), and Aurora follows that album and Soldati‘s first demo (discussed here) as a late-2016-issue sophomore outing on South American Sludge and Pirámide Records. Like its predecessor, Aurora finds a basis in demos that were posted online circa 2013 — for the title-track, which opens, and “El Herrero,” which immediately follows — but these have been rerecorded and mixed by Chotsourian (who also did the cover art) at his own Death Studios, built upon within themselves and added to other pieces to result in a six-song/53-minute full-length that’s still in no small part defined by its opener, which is presented this time around in two component pieces, each one starting a half of the album.

Granted, some of that defining aspect of “Aurora” and “Aurora II” might be due the fact that they are 19 and 15 minutes long, respectively. One is reminded of Ararat‘s 2012 album II (review here), which made use of the extended “Caballos” and “La Ira del Dragon (Uno)” to make such an impression with shorter inclusions surrounding. But the vision on Aurora is clearer in its structural intent and the aesthetic different, with Chotsourian joined only by Milagros Arrom on guitar and metallophone throughout, instead of playing as part of a full trio band. And the experimental vibe with which “Aurora” (18:55) and “Aurora II” (15:17) play out isn’t to be understated. 1974 had some undertones of drone but made its primary impact with more traditional folk-style songwriting; guitar, piano, vocals at its core.

“El Herrero” and “El Laud” work in a similar vein — the former punctuated by Arrom‘s metallophone — and each half of the record finds a more plugged-in, fuzzy and psychedelic finish in “La Heroina” and the instrumental “El Llano,” but even these feel far removed from Chotsourian‘s last LP. Really, it doesn’t even take getting as far as two minutes into “Aurora” for the shift in approach to be made clear, the title-track starting with a drone-march of a guitar line backed by deep-mixed organ, a fuzzier guitar tone emerging amid a threat of drums before a turn into the verse riff after four minutes in brings the first lyrics. It leaves little room for middle-ground impressions, by which I mean the listener will either be hypnotized or not. “Aurora” celebrates its nod and does not depart from it until about 17 minutes in, as the central guitar figure is overwhelmed by swirling noise and feedback (and actually that guitar part is still there, just buried). Chotsourian has toyed with drone before, but “Aurora” marks the first time he’s brought Earth-esque drone rock to such account. To his credit, he makes it his own.

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Likewise “Aurora II,” the arrival of which serves to emphasize the mirrored structure of Aurora‘s two halves, each of which begins with a longer experimental piece (the two “Aurora” tracks) and follows first with an acoustic-based cut (“El Herrero” and “El Laud”) and then a more electrified one to finish (“El Laud” and “El Llano”). Vinyl would seem to be the intent, at very least what’s meant to be conveyed, but I’m not sure the album would fit on a single platter in its current incarnation, i.e., without some form of editing for a shorter runtime. Nonetheless, “Aurora II” complements the preceding opener as the pinnacle of Chotsourian‘s experimentalism, moving from a wistful initial guitar line and metallophone flourish — one is reminded of Hexvessel‘s “Sacred Marriage,” though that’s likely sonic coincidence — through forwards and backwards psychedelic noodling into a wash of consuming and ritualized drone.

Instrumental in its entirety, its chimes, surrounding keyboard lines and opaque but still worship-prone soundscaping spread out as they go, moving further and further away from the earlier “Aurora,” the guitar line that started “Aurora II” and really just about any form of physical reality. What “Aurora II” shares in common with “Aurora” is trance and structure. Just as the opener held to its central guitar figure, “Aurora II” — while definitely departing from it in its extended midsection — bookends with that same wistful line, which returns following a stop at around 12 and a half minutes in to carry to the finish. At that point it’s hard not to think of “El Laud” as a return to ground, and that might indeed be Chotsourian‘s purpose, but wherever they were placed in the tracklisting, there could be little doubt Aurora would be defined by its titular pieces. That said, both “El Laud” and the fuzzy reaches of “El Llano” offer plenty of spaciousness in their own right, the latter finding a place within a drone more cosmic than that of “Aurora II” but not completely separate from it in its layering.

As the guitar on “El Llano” clicks off for the last time, kind of suddenly, the core message of Aurora is underlined in a stylistic expansion for Chotsourian‘s solo material. That is to say, if one was expecting a straight-ahead follow-up to 1974, this sophomore effort will no doubt come as something of a surprise. Taken in context within his discography — particularly some of the breadth attained on the aforementioned second Ararat disc — it’s not wholly out of place, but there’s a purposeful distance that Aurora puts between itself and just about everything else Chotsourian has done to-date. That makes it much more difficult to predict where he might go next, but also allows this collection to satisfy on another level, both on its own and in terms of the Sergio Ch. catalog, which it would seem has only begun to establish the broadness of its scope.

Sergio Ch., Aurora (2016)

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Kings Destroy, None More: Into Bloody Waters

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on January 11th, 2017 by H.P. Taskmaster

KINGS DESTROY NONE MORE

[Click play above to stream Kings Destroy’s None More EP in full. It’s out Jan. 13 on War Crime Recordings, and Kings Destroy are on tour with Truckfighters starting Jan. 18 (dates here)]

Brooklyn heavy noise specialists Kings Destroy will release their new EP, None More, on Jan. 13 via War Crime Recordings. Like everything they’ve done up to this point in their seven-year tenure, it’s a departure. It departs from their last album, 2015’s self-titled (review here), and from 2013’s A Time of Hunting (review here), and certainly from their 2010 debut, And the Rest Will Surely Perish (originally released through this site’s then-existent label, The Maple Forum). “Departure” is pretty much the running theme of everything the five-piece do in one way or another, so it’s all the more intriguing as regards None More — this limited, one-song, 14-minute curio EP pressed to tape with a Mech-battle Josh Graham cover almost two full years after the band’s last record came out and with numerous tours home and abroad behind them — that they should sound so much like themselves on it.

“None More,” the track itself, is presented in five component parts, each with a subtitle: “I. Rise of the Betrayer,” “II. The Blood Waters,” “III. The Battle,” “IV. Requiem,” “V. The Awakening” and “VI. Rise of the Betrayer (Reprise).” It does not feel like some great leap of insight to note the clear narrative at play here, or that “None More” comes full circle at its conclusion — an instrumental move as much as a dramatic turn — or that it’s the grandest scope the lineup of vocalist Steve Murphy, guitarists Carl Porcaro and Chris Skowronski, bassist Aaron Bumpus and drummer Rob Sefcik have enacted in a given piece. More to their credit, None More moves through its extended but brief stretch, it flows not like a disjointed assemblage of parts, but with a careful and patiently executed arc. It’s not the first time Kings Destroy have told a story in their work, but it’s the first time they’ve put so much into the telling.

I alluded to it above but should say outright that Kings Destroy and I have collaborated in the past and I continue to consider myself a fan of what they do and I’m fortunate enough to feel comfortable calling them friends — something I’ll just about never do — so what minuscule impartiality I might otherwise claim is right out the window. If that means this review comes with a grain of salt, so be it. That does nothing to change the level of achievement Kings Destroy have reached as they’ve grown over the course of the last seven-plus years, or the substantial mark in their progression None More signifies. One might be tempted to relate “None More” to “Time for War” from the self-titled, and indeed, the EP track does seem to make a direct predecessor of the last album’s closer.

But true to their commitment to always moving forward, it builds on what that song did, beginning after an initial crash and extended count-in by establishing the nodding, Earth-style riff that will serve as its bookend. In less than a minute they’re into the verse — the sound full and spacious as captured by Mike Moebius at Moonlight Mile (Pilgrim, etc.), whose work with Kings Destroy extends back to their first 7″ single (review here) — and guitar leads mournfully interweave beneath as Murphy begins to set up the storyline. Like “Time for War,” it’s a battle.

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Specifically the Battle of Clontarf, which took place in Ireland in 1014 and pitted the Irish High King Brian Boru against Vikings as well as other Irish forces, and which — though everyone seems to have died in the process, because war — resulted in the first Irish victory over the Vikings and a turning point in Irish culture after nearly 300 years of raids. Murphy‘s telling is way less prog-rock-history-lesson and way more working to convey the impression of the sunrise-to-sunset slaughter. With a shift into a quicker tempo at around 2:45, ‘The Blood Waters’ takes hold and introduces layered-in tight backing vocals, almost chanting, but more grunted. Sefcik‘s drums hold together a torrent of guitar soloing and the band settles in around a faster riff that’s as much classic metal as it is true to the band’s New York hardcore lineage, and as the next movement makes its way in, what seems to be the key line of the whole song is delivered in dual layers for effect: “We will be victorious/The dead will honor all of us.”

From there, they’re in the thick of it. We would seem to have been through ‘The Battle,’ which plays out instrumentally until about six minutes in, but as it should, “None More” gets murkier from there. Some turns are clearer than others — you know it when they hit into the reprise of ‘Rise of the Betrayer,’ for example, at the 11-minute mark — but between ‘The Battle,’ and the subsequent pair of ‘Requiem’ and ‘The Awakening,’ the progression is fluid enough that they essentially bleed into each other. Harmonized guitar lines lead a march punctuated by Sefcik and Bumpus through the midsection in an intricate play of melody and stomp, and by seven and a half minutes, all has come to a halt and what’s probably ‘The Awakening’ has begun. It’s a from-the-ground-up motion, quiet and ultimately shortlived, but it further conveys Kings Destroy‘s growth in its lack of rush to get where it’s going, instead spreading out a kind of hypnotic drift until they crash back in with the more emotional crux of the song, patient and effective. That they can pull it off and not give in to tension or sound like they’re just waiting to pounce is a definitive step.

Again, it’s quick, but telling. The rolling groove that ensues will carry through to ‘Rise of the Betrayer (Reprise),’ with a momentary break between the two sections and then a resumption of the introductory movement, bringing “None More” full circle rhythmically as a guitar solo takes hold at 11:40 and serves as a finishing move topping the nodding fluidity until the drums and bass drop out and feedback holds sway until clicking off just past 14 minutes. That ending conveys an in-the-studio feel that offsets some of the gritty grandeur of “None More” itself, but has the dual effect of jerking the listener back to reality after the band has dug so deep into the track’s final statement, and that would seem to be intentional. In any case, it fits with the narrative of Kings Destroy themselves, which is no less prevalent here than the Battle of Clontarf, and is shown through the dedication to pushing their approach forward in style and performance. None More might prove to be a stopgap en route to a fourth full-length, but it finds Kings Destroy in a crucial moment as a group and presents their story in a metaphor that could hardly be more apt.

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Lo-Pan, In Tensions: A Moment

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on January 10th, 2017 by H.P. Taskmaster

lo-pan in tensions

[Click play above to stream ‘Pathfinder’ from Lo-Pan’s In Tensions EP, out Jan. 13 on Aqualamb Records.]

One might consider In Tensions and the band who made it both as limited edition. Ohio’s Lo-Pan — who, by my estimation, remain among the best currently active purveyors of heavy rock in the US — enlisted guitarist Adrian Lee Zambrano (also Brujas del Sol) after parting company with Brian Fristoe following the release of what’s still their latest full-length, 2014’s Colossus (review here). That album, their fourth and third for Small Stone, marked a sharpening of sound for the hard-touring four-piece and left a tighter, faster, and overall more aggressive impression than 2011’s Salvador (review here), while still maintaining the groove and thrust that have been central to Lo-Pan since 2007’s Sasquanaut (reissue review here) and their formative 2006 self-titled debut.

Clearly they were a band in the midst of changes or at very least a stylistic refinement, but the lineup shift seemed significant. Zambrano, however, quickly proved himself. With him alongside bassist Scott Thompson, drummer Jesse Bartz and vocalist Jeff MartinLo-Pan toured Europe for the first time in 2015, as well as the States, and worked with Joe Viers at Sonic Lounge to record the five tracks of In Tensions. “In tensions,” as in both “tense” and “intensions,” and “intensions” as in “the best of…,” which speaks to the idea that things don’t always work out the way we think they’re going to. And so, In Tensions, which is released by Brooklyn’s Aqualamb Records as a limited CD/LP with a 100-page artbook containing tour diaries, might have been the moment when Lo-Pan established themselves with Zambrano on a studio recording.

Instead, following Zambrano‘s departure and subsequent replacement by Chris Thompson (also Sleepers Awakethis past July, the blazing, air-tight 22-minute collection is a look at what might’ve been had Lo-Pan been able to continue writing in that incarnation for a fifth full-length. One hesitates to call it their best work to-date, if only because as a fan of what they do it doesn’t seem fair, but the simple truth of the matter is they’ve yet to put something out that wasn’t a decisive step forward from the preceding release, and that applies to In Tensions as regards Colossus as well, despite the EP, obviously, being shorter.

But it does showcase some of Zambrano‘s progressive flourish on guitar — he’s a different personality of player than was Fristoe during his time in the band — starting from the tense chug of opener “Go West,” which Bartz meets head-on with toms, and it does boast the most accomplished vocal performance of Martin‘s career thus far, taking his soulful, gonna-belt-this-out approach and adding methodical, layered harmonizing for emphasis in the hooks of “Go West,” the subsequent “Sink or Swim,” the centerpiece “Long Live the King” and the six-minute closer “Pathfinder,” which quite simply is the best song Lo-Pan have ever written.

lo pan in tensions release show

Actually, there’s really nothing simple about it, from the sleek and fuzzy bassline from Thompson that opens to the backing volume swells of guitar (is that ebow?) that provide ambience as Martin and Bartz kick in for the verse to the linear build that moves toward an apex as affecting as it is memorable, shifting after an airy solo circa the four-minute mark to a concluding movement that takes the energetic shove of “Long Live the King” and the crashing gracefulness (yes, both) of “Alexis” — which actually might be Martin‘s boldest performance here — and adds the laser focus that typified Colossus to finish out with maximum force while still remaining in complete control of the torrent they’re making.

If there’s a drawback to it, it’s that that single payoff, with its carefully arranged vocal layers, choice riff, and all-go rhythm, runs the risk of overwhelming the rest of In Tensions. But repeat listens, which aren’t hard to do when the offering is 22 minutes long, show that’s not at all the case, and while “Pathfinder” lands a bigger impact than a short release requires — that is, it could easily have served as the payoff for a full-length — it’s not out of place among the no-nonsense, headbang-worthy drive of “Go West” and the careening chorus of “Sink or Swim” or the thicker impression of low end that Thompson brings to “Long Live the King” and the wistfulness of “Alexis.” Rather, it ties these elements together and highlights further what could’ve been had In Tensions turned into Lo-Pan‘s next album, and it’s for that reason that the EP is a little sad in addition to being such a triumph for the band.

Hearing Zambrano‘s scorcher solo on “Alexis,” it’s difficult not to think of In Tensions as a showcase for the potential in this lineup of Lo-Pan. The title would seem to acknowledge this idea as well, but while they may not have lasted with Zambrano on board, another way to think about In Tensions is how fortunate it is that the band got to record when they did to capture this material which otherwise might’ve been lost to the personnel change. When one considers the artbook format (the cover is by Chris Smith) and numbered pressings from Aqualamb, the emphasis on the fleeting nature of the band that wrote and recorded these songs is all the more prevalent — thus “limited edition” at the outset — and while it’s a quick listen, In Tensions earns every bit of the intricacy with which it arrives. It is a welcome document of a moment already gone. That’s not, however, to say Lo-Pan have necessarily peaked and it’s all downhill from here as they move forward with Chris Thompson on guitar. After all, In Tensions demonstrates that they pulled off one difficult lineup change in the face of daunting odds. There’s nothing to say they can’t do so again. If anything, they seem to be a band who thrive on the challenge.

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