Review & Track Premiere: Lord, Blacklisted

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on March 23rd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

lord blacklisted

[Click play above to stream ‘The Heart of a Hero’ from Lord’s new album, Blacklisted, out May 26 via Heavy Hound Records.]

A year is easily the fastest turnaround Lord have ever had between albums, so their latest, Blacklisted, arrives with immediate intrigue. Not only that, but I’m fairly certain it also marks the first time the band has had two full-length releases with the same lineup playing — the other in this instance being 2016’s Awake (review here), which was five years after 2011’s Chief (review here), which was four after 2007’s Built Lord Tough debut. They’ve had other offerings along the way like the 2014 EP, Alive in Golgotha (review here), issued as is Blacklisted through the band-affiliated Heavy Hound Records, and earlier demos and splits, but yes, that Blacklisted exists and finds Lord working with the returning lineup of founding guitarist Will Rivera along with vocalist Stephen Kerchner, guitarist Todd Wuehrmann, bassist Chris Dugay and drummer Kevin Marimow is something of a surprise.

And that extends likewise to the execution of the six-track/28-minute full-length as well. The Fredericksburg, Virginia-based outfit, who recorded this time at Adept Audio Lab with Sean Sanford, have always basked and reveled and wallowed in chaos. From their songcraft to their lineup to the fact that for many points between records one has often been left wondering if they’re still a band — not so much between Awake and Blacklisted, obviously, but in the past — Lord have been as nebulous and difficult to chart as their aesthetic has been destructive, proffering a blend of hardcore punk, grind, sludge, Southern metal and thrash as it seemingly followed whatever whims of extremity happened to occur for any given riff. That unhinged feel has been a part of their drive since their inception, and should rightly be considered a defining element of the band.

All of this is leading, of course, to the fact that Blacklisted is the most cohesive and arguably the least chaotic release they’ve ever put out, and somehow, that becomes its strength as it bull-charges through songs like opener “Mile After Mile,” the furious “They Lied” and the mournful penultimate cut “The Heart of a Hero.” That’s not to say Lord don’t still proffer riffs in torrential onslaught — they’re not 30 seconds into “Mile After Mile” before that reassurance is granted — just that their sense of control in doing so has never come through so plainly. With Kerchner backed by Wuehrmann (and maybe Rivera) on vocals, Lord flesh out arrangements of screams, growls and effects-laden shouts to go with the Southern metal lead style of the guitars and the forward-shoving rhythm.

“Mile After Mile” is the shortest piece on Blacklisted at 3:52 — closer “Not Your Problem?” is the longest, at 6:25 — and it feels tight to the point of being almost spare, casting off frills in favor of a raw thrust that continues in “They Lied,” which makes a hook of its title line, and “The Bandage,” which starts out as the most tumultuous grinder on the record before departing, just past the 1:40 mark, into an open groove and a build back toward full heft that features not only the best solo work here, but also at its end the most fluid transition, leading back to the song’s maddening, blasting sprint. Momentum feels all the more on Lord‘s side because the album is short, and they seem to be through the first three tracks before the listener has had time to process, so indeed, still plenty of attack in their approach, but it’s the precision and the sense of intention behind what they’re doing that makes Blacklisted the most accomplished and realized Lord outing to-date.

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The thrashing title-track picks up where “The Bandage” left off and mounts an assault of its own, playing between chugging groove and windmill-worthy squibbly riffing, growls and shouts emanating from beneath the guitars and bass as Marimow plows ahead. Seems fitting enough that the last half-minute or so of “Blacklisted” would be dedicated solely to feedback, because noise has always been an essential part of Lord‘s take, and because it seems to draw the first-four-cuts section of the record to a close ahead of the marked tempo shift that “The Heart of a Hero” brings, slowing down and riding a weighted but less outwardly brutal progression. There’s an emotional core behind the verse and chorus, somewhat obscured by what remains a vicious sonic core, but after a longer solo bridge, Kerchner‘s vocals return to underscore the expressive point and round out with a sense of structure before a last-measure slowdown brings the song to a no-less-resonant close.

Well placed, that departure is key to the album after “Mile After Mile,” “They Lied,” “The Bandage” and “Blacklisted,” but Lord return to more scathing ground with “Not Your Problem?,” beginning the finale with something of a cultural indictment in the lyrics — the most clearly audible on the release — over the drums before the guitars and bass join in. While less of a hurricane than, say, “The Bandage,” “Not Your Problem?” seems to find a middle-ground between that song and “The Heart of a Hero” and in so doing summarizes much of what’s working across Blacklisted while issuing a directive in what’s probably as much a “Lord riff” as can be heard here, the sharp-but-winding thrashiness of Rivera‘s style shining through as they make their way toward the last, cold finish as if to tell their audience that there’s no way they’re actually done.

That may in fact be the case, and Lord could turn around and have another full-length out in 2018 with the same players returning. Maybe, after more than a decade, they’ve found a way to sustain a balance between their aural and existential uproar. As someone who’s been a fan of the band since their early demo work, I hope all the more that’s the case given the direction Blacklisted shows them as taking, since while it expands their dynamic and brings them to levels of clarity never before heard from them, it also maintains the spirit of the work they’ve done before it, drawing strength from the experience of all that bludgeoning of days gone by.

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Los Natas, Death Sessions: Reflexiones

Posted in Reviews on March 21st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

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Pressed in an edition of 750 green translucent LPs, Death Sessions begins with a faded-in wash of cymbals, a warm bassline, and soon unfolds a special stage in the life cycle of one of Argentina’s most pivotal heavy rock acts — definitely of their generation and perhaps of all time. Buenos Aires trio Los Natas released five proper studio full-lengths in their decade and a half together, as well numerous jam collections, shorter offerings, EPs, splits, compilations and so on, and their work ranged from the pivotal desert fuzz of their 1996/1998 debut, Delmar (discussed here), on Man’s Ruin Records, to the socially conscious motor-thrust of 2009’s Nuevo Orden de la Libertad (review here), on Small Stone, never failing to offer something different and distinct along the way.

The three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Sergio Chotsourian — see also: AraratSoldati, his Sergio Ch. solo work, etc. — bassist Gonzalo Villagra and drummer Walter Broide called it a day circa 2012 after the 2011 release of the compilation Rutation (review here), but their influence has continued to thrive particularly in South America, where Chotsourian has spent the last several years building his label, South American Sludge Records, as a go-to outlet for underground heavy rock from the across the continent. Death Sessions comes stamped with a South American Sludge logo on it, arrives simultaneously with a reissue of the 2002 third album from Los NatasCorsario Negro — also limited in its number — and again, finds Los Natas at a very particular point in their career. Tracked live in its eight-track entirety, mixed and mastered by Patricio Claypole at Estudio El Attic, it captures the last time they were in the recording studio together.

As to what they were doing in the studio that day in 2010, I’m not entirely sure. Four out of the eight inclusions on Death Sessions come from Nuevo Orden de la Libertad — that’s “Las Campanadas” and “Nuevo Orden de la Libertad” on side A and “Ganar-Perder” and “10.000” on side B — and the rest of the material derives, one song each, from the rest of their full-length catalog, so the clearest impression from the platter is that what we’re hearing is a live set being rehearsed. Why this particular rehearsal wound up being recorded, I couldn’t say. Maybe Los Natas were a band who always tracked their practices, as some do. If so, there should be countless such tapes out there, but Death Sessions of course feels special for both its context as well as for the immediacy of the three-piece’s delivery. Hearing songs like “Soma” from Delmar at the outset of side A feeding into “Las Campanadas” or hearing the track “Rutation,” which originally appeared on their second album, 1999’s Ciudad de Brahman (discussed here), close out after “10.000” not only shows the stylistic swath that Los Natas covered during their years together, but underscores how much their sound was their own across that time.

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A live set ideally would function much the same. But live sets come and go. The difference with Death Sessions is in the clarity of the presentation. True, they grew tonally rawer over their records, moving away from the sandy warmth of their early work to incorporate influences from punk rock, Motörhead, and so on, but Death Sessions gives them an opportunity to draw the various sides of their personality together. “Humo Negro del Vaticano” from 2006’s El Hombre Montaña seems to find middle ground between the quieter opening of “Soma” and “10.000” still to come as it rounds out side A, and this is preserved it in a way that even a concert film — which would certainly be welcome but inherently about more than just the audio progression of the band — couldn’t do.

From the tiny stops in the winding riff of “Nuevo Orden de la Libertad” to the soothing patience in “Ganar-Perder” and the psychedelic mini-jam at the end, leading to the crashes at the start of the rolling, jazzy tempo-play of “El Cono del Encono” from Corsario Negro with Broide joining Chotsourian on vocals, Death Sessions ends up summarizing Los Natas‘ career in a way more fitting than even a greatest-hits-type compilation couldn’t, because it unites the songs in tone and performance, rather than simply drawing from various studio sources or other recordings.

Chotsourian leads a trail-off jam at the end of “El Cono del Encono” as well, which brings “10.000” around to reground the proceedings with a more straightforward push ahead of the finale, following that uptick in energy with another punkish drive, building in speed as it gets going, headed for a chaotic crash. This very obviously isn’t the first time Los Natas have finished a set with “Rutation,” and they seem to have a good time with it, adding some swing to the delivery, Chotsourian and Broide shouting out lines together. It’s a last bit of fun that, again, in the context of this being the final time Los Natas would record, puts emphasis on their chemistry, which if there’s an underlying message to Death Sessions at all, it’s that that’s where the emphasis belongs.

I’ll be blunt and say I continue to hope for a Los Natas reunion. As a fan of the band across the sundry points of their development, I think they broke up when they still had more to offer sonically, and to me, they seem all the more relevant now in the half-decade that’s passed since they stopped. A new album, whatever form it ultimately would take, feels like a prospect that would only build on their legacy. Whether or not that will happen, I don’t know and won’t speculate, but especially as a piece for fans, Death Sessions reinforces much of what made Los Natas so special in the first place. Though it may have been recorded in happenstance — that is, the band may or may not have known their time together was coming to a close — as a document of who they were and what they did, it is fortunate these songs and this moment can be so righteously preserved.

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Review & Full Album Stream: Attalla, Glacial Rule

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on March 20th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

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[Click play above to stream Attalla’s Glacial Rule in its entirety. Album is out March 24 with preorders up now.]

If you want to get a sense for what Oshkosh, Wisconsin, four-piece Attalla are up to on their second full-length, Glacial Rule, you don’t have to go far. The opening cut of the album is “Butte des Morts,” and it lands with a swing and a stomp at six and a half minutes of the band digging their heels into what reveals itself as the first of many amply-proportioned, riff-led grooves. Their prior offering, a 2014 self-titled (review here), carried with it an abidingly raw sensibility, and while the six tracks of Glacial Rule follow suit to a degree, guitarists Cody Stieg (also vocals) and Brian Hinckley, bassist Bryan Kunde and drummer James Slater are likewise blunt in conveying the progression they’ve undertaken in the three years since. On a production level, Glacial Rule — recorded last Spring by Shane Hochstetler at Howl Street Recordings in Milwaukee — is crisper and cleaner, but Attalla still have some dirt under their sonic fingernails, giving their material from the launch of “Butte des Morts” onward character and a sense of intent standing behind it.

Working on themes as shown in the Adam Burke cover art of cold and cruel nature throughout pieces like “Ice Harvest,” “Black Wolf Rituals” and the closing title-track, Attalla — who are not to be confused with California post-desert rockers Atala — come across as more confident on the whole in their presentation, surer in their footing rhythmically and clearer in their thinking of who they are and what they want to be as a band. To say they took important lessons from their debut would perhaps be an understatement, and more importantly, it’s how they’re putting those to use in the songwriting on the 40-minute sophomore outing that really conveys the growth at hand.

There doesn’t seem to be a narrative arc tying the songs together, but the already noted themes — freezing, naturalist, and vicious as they are — begin with “Butte des Morts,” which takes its name from a lake near Oshkosh named for a Native American burial ground discovered by French settlers. As it should, the opener sets the tone as well in its upbeat, noise rock-infused groove, which would border on the hypnotic were it not so active in its bounce. I’ll allow the alphabetical coincidence might have something to do with it, but in their treatment of the theme, all-in-the-room-together-style recording, fluidity between tempos, noise influence and far-back but still raw vocals, songs like “Ice Harvest” and the rolling “Valderan,” which follow, remind somewhat of Jersey Shores, the 2008 swansong from Seattle’s Akimbo.

Of course, that album had its own story to tell and Glacial Rule is clearly happening in a different time and place, but some of the brashness and roots in hardcore come through Attalla‘s material in similar fashion, even as “Ice Harvest,” which is the longest track on Glacial Rule at 8:44, digs into the righteous nastiness of its lumbering midsection ahead of a long instrumental/solo exploration that follows and leads the way out of the song. Nothing on Attalla touched that kind of length or adventurousness, but the band’s development can be heard in the restraint of the tempo on “Valderan” as well; in an emerging patience within their sound that seems to be struggling against the impulse to burst out, creating a tension that accompanies the palpable build as the side A finale marches forward. I don’t know which came first, the riffs or the notion that would tie them together, but they were right to settle on the word “glacial.” It’s not the slowest thing in the world, but the theme fits for sure, and as it proceeds into its second half Glacial Rule, feels all the more consistent for working around this central idea.

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And perhaps what’s not as immediately apparent to an outsider is just how directly tied to Wisconsin that central idea is. “Valderan” would seem to take its name from Valders, a town surrounded by hills that were once a mountain range eroded by glaciers, and the state’s Amish population actually do harvest lake ice in order to preserve food without the use of electricity. Likewise, side B’s “Black Wolf Rituals” comes from the town of Black Wolf, in Winnebago County, and “Devil’s Lake” — a misinterpreted Native American translation — is in Sauk County, so even as the former might appear on the surface like mountain-man-rock cultism, it’s actually speaking to a very specific location as it unfurls its mid-paced push and more open-feeling verse, moving in its back end like “Ice Harvest” into an ending instrumental section from which the core structure opts not to return.

“Devil’s Lake” brings more stomp just when it seems to be most needed — by this point, Attalla have dug themselves pretty deep into a moraine of frozen sludge riffing — but ultimately nestles into its own solo section led by Stieg before a thunderous chugging finish. As Slater‘s drums calmly start the closing title-track, it’s hard not to feel like Glacial Rule has hit its moment of arrival. The guitars soon take hold with resonant heft backed by the bass and drive into a quick verse near the two-minute mark. There are two such verses and an accompanying chorus for the second of them, but by the time Attalla hit the third minute of “Glacial Rule”‘s total 7:32, they seem itching to launch into the solo section that will finish track and album alike, breaking after a subtle hat-tip in the riff to Sabbath‘s “Snowblind” into a more subdued progression in order to enact a last build not quite from the ground up, but close enough to make the point.

That nod to the masters — emphasis on “nod” — comes back around in the last minute of the track just before it ends, and provides a crucial moment not just of creating an analog of influence, paying homage, etc., but of demonstrating the continuing process by which Attalla are maturing as a band, since by bringing that part back on “Glacial Rule,” they’re doing what “Devil’s Lake,” “Ice Harvest” and “Black Wolf Rituals” refused to in reinforcing a sense of structure and craft at work in the songwriting. Taken in kind with the thematic cohesion so prevalent throughout Glacial Rule, that characterization becomes even more important, since it gives StiegHinckleyKunde and Slater something to work from their next time out, and as Glacial Rule shows in relation to the self-titled before it, that’s work Attalla are clearly interested in doing. How all of this intent might find balance with the rawer aspects of their style, it’s hard to guess, but they capture an intriguing moment of revelry in the interaction between impulses in these tracks, and one looks forward to finding out where they’re headed.

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Goya, Harvester of Bongloads: And Riffs for All

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

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“*-Please note: Cover art is cropped above. Full cover is NSFW and can be viewed by clicking here.-*”

Kudos to whichever member of Phoenix, Arizona, trio Goya came up with the idea of calling their third album Harvester of Bongloads — a title that not only speaks to the megastoned nature of the band’s output but contains a reference to classic metal as filtered through anti-everything fuckall, which is pretty much the core of what guitarist/vocalist Jeff Owens, bassist Sonny DeCarlo and drummer Nick Lose have on offer throughout the four-track/40-minute outing.

It’s a record that revels in its own misanthropy as its core and defining principle — beyond even the inclusion of the 11-minute “Misanthropy on High” on side B — and it boils down to its very essence the appeal of Goya‘s work to-date across their albums, 2015’s Obelisk (review here) and 2013’s 777 debut, as well as the slew of shorter releases that have surrounded them, from last year’s Forever Dead, Forever Stoned demo reissue and Doomed Planet (discussed here) and The Enemy (review here) EPs and the Nirvana tribute single, Drain You b/w D-7 (review here), back through 2014’s Satan’s Fire EP (review here), etc.; the three-piece proving vibrant and prolific in terms of output despite having adopted a “drop out of life” ethic to a nigh-on-dogmatic degree. Still, with Harvester of Bongloads, loathing and consuming low end rule the day, and Owens‘ post-Jus Oborn vocal delivery tops the maddening wizard-doom roll with a thick-smoke haze that could hardly be more of a fit for a song like 20-minute opener and longest track (immediate points) “Omen,” which breaks into three component parts subtitled “I. Strange Geometry,” “II. Fade Away” and “III. Life Disintegrates.”

This, mind you, is the opener. Goya lead with this. On Harvester of Bongloads. One has to imagine it would be a challenge for the three-piece to preach more to the converted than they are here, from the wink-and-nod dogwhistle name of the record to the absolute desire to overwhelm a listener who is 100 percent looking to be overwhelmed in exactly this way — the kind of individual who might go, “Yes, please drown me in riffs.” Goya are happy to give it a shot on Harvester of Bongloads, and “Omen” is a key manifestation of that. Its slow-motion plod is marked out first on drums and some far off manipulated noise, starting “I. Strange Geometry” quietly with its bassline and an eerie tension. I’m not entirely sure where the divides between the parts of “Omen” occur, and part of the reason for that is because the changes are so fluid, but that subdued opening builds subtly over the first four-plus minutes and gives way circa 4:30 to a full-tilt lumbering, Owens entering for the first verse after a swell of cymbal.

For something that’s already been on for five minutes, the impact is immediate. He, DeCarlo and Lose ride that groove for until shortly before eight minutes in, when the drums and bass drop out and the guitar introduces the next riff in classic stoner metal fashion. Is that the start of “II. Fade Away?” The lyrical telling of politicians destroying dreams and other such decay, so I’d believe it, but the actual line “fade away” is still to come, arriving as it does past the halfway point as the band have drifted from a long solo section at almost exactly the 12-minute mark into quiet psychedelia, the guitar in chill mode as the warmth of bass comes forward. It’s hypnotic, but doesn’t last. At 14:30, they launch into resumed tonal crush that carries them into “III. Life Disintegrates,” the rumbling, mournful conclusion of “Omen,” which ends with more fervent hits and a worthy crash for what’s come before it, shifting into the two-minute riff-roller “Germination.” An epilogue for the opening track? Maybe. It’s a quick play between groove and guitar solo, instrumental and ends in feedback, like a snippet of a longer jam, but it also feeds directly into “Misanthropy on High,” so it could be just as much an intro to side B as well.

To-date, Goya have not put out a release — album, EP, single, whatever — that did not in some way build on what’s come before it. Their sound, heavily drawn from Black Sabbath, SleepElectric WizardWindhand, etc., has steadily become more their own, and Harvester of Bongloads is a next step in that process. The attitude behind “Misanthropy on High” — which if it’s not on a t-shirt yet probably should be; one has to believe it will surface as a motto for Goya at some point — is part of that, but it’s just as much the manner in which the three-piece seem to be fighting their own songs. It’s almost like “Misanthropy on High” has a will of its own as its 11-plus minutes play out, and as Goya are performing it, they’re also working to control it, like at any second the whole thing could devolve into sheer noise-drenched chaos, fall completely apart under its own weight. That they are ultimately in command of that process is a factor in making their work develop as it has over the course of their albums, and as they’ve grown into it, they’ve become immediately identifiable by sound despite whatever familiar elements might persist. “Misanthropy on High” is a near-perfect execution of that and a callout to the disaffected to join them in the toward-oblivion nod the creation of which one imagines is Goya‘s very purpose for being.

Just as “Germination” fed directly into it, it leads to the six-minute closer “Disease,” which marks a relative uptick in tempo — closer to mid-paced, on some general scale — and finishes Harvester of Bongloads in a manner both acidic and kingly, Owens tossing out a few lines early before receding and coming back after the halfway point to make sure the emphasis on global decay and death is properly conveyed before they’re done. Rest assured, it is. A bit of shred follows in the last minute and a sudden cut to feedback and two last crashes end the album. The statement has been made, the point taken, the riffs meted out with duly punishing sensibility behind them, and as if to underscore the sincerity and lack of pretense at their core, Goya finish cold where one might’ve expected a long, stonerly fade.

One could go on waxing critical about how subtle touches like that further distinguish their work from a crowded underground sphere, but I’m not sure there’s a point. Fact is, Goya have become something of a litmus test for those who’d take them on — either you get it and can dig it, or you don’t and you can’t. They don’t seem to care much either way, and perhaps that’s for the better. A group so outwardly, loudly dedicated to flipping off existence in general shouldn’t at the same time be necessarily playing at accessibility, even to a niche audience, but don’t take that to mean they aren’t likewise pushing themselves to progress in their mammoth, consuming approach. While they may be disgusted with the world around them, Harvester of Bongloads is clearly a labor of love.

Goya, Harvester of Bongloads (2017)

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Death Alley, Live at Roadburn: Into the Supernatural

Posted in Reviews on March 16th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

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Not going to attempt any impartiality when it comes to this release, and I’m starting to think anyone who does is approaching it wrong. Amsterdam-based Death Alley — somehow heading toward veteran status despite having only one record out in their 2015 Tee Pee Records debut, Black Magick Boogieland (review here) — aren’t trying to invoke impartiality. Just the opposite. The four-piece want to charge on a primal level and they want to charge outward from there into reaches unknown to player or listener alike. To be unaffected by that seems like an immediately incorrect starting point.

I was at the Green Room of the 013 Poppodium to see them perform the set last April (review here) that Astrosoniq drummer Marcel van de Vondervoort and his team captured and is seeing release as Live at Roadburn through Tee Pee and Suburban Records, and I watched as Death Alley — then the lineup of vocalist Douwe Truijens, guitarist/backing vocalist Oeds Beydals, bassist/backing vocalist Dennis Duijnhouwer and drummer Ming Boyer (the latter of whom has since left the band) — brought Ron van Herpen and Jevin de Groot onto the stage with them to share in the expanses they were creating. Also a member of Astrosoniqvan Herpen is a former bandmate of Beydals‘ in crucial cult rockers The Devil’s Blood, while de Groot was a member of the vastly underrated cosmic doom outfit Mühr alongside Duijnhouwer, so not at all strangers to each other. Friends. It was billed as Death Alley & Friends, and that’s exactly what it was in spirit as well as the plain reality of circumstance. By the time they got through the clarion set-opener “It’s On,” everyone in the room seemed to have been handed an invitation to be included in that as well. Death Alley and about 700 new and old friends.

Live at Roadburn only has four tracks — “It’s On,” “666666,” “Feeding the Lions” and “Supernatural Predator” — but it’s full-LP length at 45 minutes. The entirety of side B is dedicated to “Supernatural Predator,” which is drawn out from its already substantial 12-minute push on Black Magick Boogieland to a galaxial 22 minutes, a hypnotic and immersive jam taking hold that, having watched and heard it happen, hit like welcoming waves of soulful tone that seemed at once forward looking and an inherent homage to former The Devil’s Blood spearhead Selim Lemouchi, who took his own life in 2014 leaving a chasm in the Netherlands heavy underground. His sister and The Devil’s Blood vocalist, Farida Lemouchi, guests on the studio version of the track, but on Live at RoadburnDeath Alleyvan Herpen and de Groot sing her part as a full Hawkwindian chorus of “ahhs” to righteous effect, culminating a build that seems to have started with the motoring thrust of “It’s On” and continued into the mega-guitar vibes of “666666” and the more classically styled “Feeding the Lions.”

death alley roadburn 2016 jj koczan photo

Though the name comes across like a toss-off because there were six players on stage — in shows they’ve done since with this expanded lineup, they’ve used the moniker Death Alley 6 — “666666” is a key moment in the set. I don’t know if the set as a whole has been edited to fit on a single platter; my sense is it has but I wouldn’t guess how. Nonetheless, “666666” is the point of departure from which Death Alley take flight for the rest of their time on stage. It happens at about three and a half minutes in when, over a Butlerian bassline, the guitars begin to soar toward a linear apex that pays off in lockstep harmonized runs nearly four minutes later for a gorgeous and cohesive effect. It must have been worked out ahead of time to some degree — I don’t play guitar, but improv harmonies don’t seem like the kind of thing that happen often — but the feeling of warmth and spontaneity conveyed in that jam is a defining moment for Live at Roadburn as a whole, however long and however grand the finale might be.

“Feeding the Lions” picks up from there with bass and drums setting a tense tone amid initial wah swirl from the guitar, and though the vibe stays spacey, Truijens reassumes the fore as vocalist and his charisma and classic frontman strut is no less a part of making the mid-paced piece a standout than the depth of the instrumental progression playing out behind him. By this point, Death Alley are in utter command of the room and their sound, and they hint just past the midpoint at some Floyd-style theatrical weirdness to come but hold to a sense of structure all the same and purposefully so for where they’re about to head on “Supernatural Predator.” A short guitar solo circa 5:40 makes me wish it went longer, but “Feeding the Lions” ends in a wash of cymbals and wah as Truijens thanks the crowd and van Herpen and de Groot and Duijnhouwer thanks Roadburn organizer Walter Hoeijmakers, and then the quiet intro of “Supernatural Predator” starts, its sleek intertwining of guitar and bass — willfully restrained in comparison to what follows — an immediate signifier of arrival for the group and everyone in the room.

Once it bursts out, “Supernatural Predator” makes a resounding argument for rock and roll as means of attaining spiritual freedom, and its extra time is triumphantly spent in its already-noted jam, which rounds out by first teasing a turn back to the song itself and then actually making one, so that as far out as Death Alley (and friends) have gone, they finish clear-headed and give the audience a sense of the complete experience. This not only underscores the value of their songwriting, but also of the maturity the band has been able to hone over just a few short years. As they move away from Black Magick Boogieland toward an inevitable sophomore full-length, Death Alley seem poised to establish themselves in a major way, and to make a definitive statement of who they are as a group. Live at Roadburn shows in its blend of forward rhythmic drive and cosmic psychedelia just how multifaceted that statement can potentially be, and highlights the reasons why Death Alley are one of the most exciting and affecting bands in the worldwide heavy underground. Not an impartial statement, but yes, I mean that.

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Review & Track Premiere: Devil’s Witches, Velvet Magic

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on March 15th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

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[Click play above to stream ‘Mountain of the Devil’s Witch’ from Devil’s Witches’ debut album, Velvet Magic, out March 20 on Cursed Tongue Records.]

“Standing on the top of a mountain/I bet you feel totally far out now.” These quick opening lines begin to give the setting in which Velvet Magic, the Cursed Tongue Records debut LP from garage cult rockers Devil’s Witches, plays out the course of its 41 minutes. We are in Vietnam — or we end up there, ultimately — and it is the late ’60s. People are dying. The horrors of war, murder, sexual exploitation, drug culture and various other brain-addling traumas are taking place all around, and Devil’s Witches are on hand to tell a story that incorporates all of them. The band who, in the tradition of Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats are noteworthy for the amount of information withheld from the public — no lineup, no photos, no place of origin, no details on how they got together, etc.; just music and softcore retro pornography for a social media presence — are hardly the first to bathe in these troubled and troubling waters.

From Dracula to Apocalypse Now to Game of Thrones, lines have been crossed between sex and violence and murder for as long as humans have known what lines are, and honestly, probably longer. Doesn’t make it politically correct — and looking at the Branca Studio cover art for Velvet Magic, it should be pretty apparent that we’re a ways off from that — but doesn’t mean the narrative can’t be art, either. And much to their credit, whoever they are, Devil’s Witches are embarking on a narrative with these nine songs, adding a core of ambition and intent to the record by drawing the listener deeper into an increasingly dark, heroin chaos in terms of story while establishing a sound that draws on classic psychedelia and modern doom and offers quality songcraft and lyrical intrigue in kind.

Lyrics, obviously, are a point of focus, since they’re what draws Velvet Magic together — the title-line finally delivered in the penultimate title-track, and then again, in French, in closer “Requiem pour un Vampire” — but while it’s probably fair to call it nascent, Devil’s Witches have a depth to their approach that goes beyond storytelling as well. Opener “Apache Snow” announces its arrival with a thickly-fuzzed riff set to a slow-rolling progression of drums (or drum machine) and even-thicker bassline, and while these elements are generally more doom than rock, Devil’s Witches bring them to a psychedelic vibe with languid, drawling vocals that become as consistent a theme as Vietnam itself throughout subsequent tracks, whether that’s the shorter and straightforward hook “Motorpsycho” or side B’s “Mountain of the Devil’s Witch,” which offsets its more grueling motion with a classic organ solo in a retro/current blend that comes through clearly thanks in part to a mastering job by Mos Generator‘s Tony Reed.

The early cuts — “Apache Snow,” “Motorpsycho,” “Black Cauldron” and the entrancing instrumental “Pornodelic Opium Dreams” (which serves as a better description for Velvet Magic on an aesthetic level than anything I’m likely to come up with) — set up this duality of approach, and while I don’t know how many people are actually in the band and it could be anywhere from one to five given the fullness of sound in the album’s layers of guitar, bass, drums, keys and vocals, Devil’s Witches underscore the narrative movement of the tracks with a corresponding instrumental push into even darker, more threatening fare, beginning a sinister turn after “Pornodelic Opium Dreams” with the centerpiece “Voodoo Woman.”

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Not that any point prior has been lacking in low end, but the organ-led five-minute hypnodrift of “Pornodelic Opium Dreams” seems especially well placed in making “Voodoo Woman” come across as all the more sinister in its darker turn. Guitar leads the way with rumble underscoring, and with flourish of toy piano, Devil’s Witches push into more driven riffing and a winding rhythm that’s faster and effective in conveying the decaying mental state of our unnamed protagonist. There’s still a hook, naturally, and a corresponding structure to support it, but “Voodoo Woman” represents a shift for Velvet Magic, and that continues on “Mountain of the Devil’s Witch,” which is the longest inclusion at seven minutes flat and arguably the outing’s bleakest moment. It finds its way into a doomly nod and, like “Voodoo Woman,” offsets it with a tinge of thickened metal, but picks up in its chorus all the same with the first of several sharp tempo changes that drops back for the next verse only to thrust forward again, and so on.

After its halfway point, “Mountain of the Devil’s Witch” finds itself in an instrumental stretch with more swing to its groove, and that serves as a fitting transition into the interlude “Jupiter Kush,” a wah-drenched brief two-and-a-half-minutes that devolves into noise before the title-cut kicks in, immediately mad with chugging but headed somewhere sweeter if still out-of-mind in its chorus — “My love my dove gold is your favorite color/My heart is black so we are perfect together” — as we seem to have hit the point where the character is disintegrating into a psychotropic ether of sex and the cosmic. A telling moment is the section of lead guitar in the second half, which toys with pop-psychedelia in a way that much of Velvet Magic has avoided, but where “Mountain of the Devil’s Witch” drifted out with no return, Devil’s Witches draw “Velvet Magic” back for a final verse and chorus, highlighting the sense of craft at work beneath the story all along.

At a little over three minutes, “Requiem pour un Vampire” feels as much an epilogue as a distinct inclusion, answering some of the atmosphere of “Pornodelic Opium Dreams” and “Jupiter Kush” in its subdued and almost playful spirit of organ and guitar bounce amid its delivered-in-French lyrics. The title comes from a 1971 Jean Rollin exploitation horror flick, as if the vibe wasn’t thick enough throughout, and how it relates directly to the story being told on Velvet Magic, I don’t know, but at very least it’s not musically out of place, and it may be intended as a bonus or hidden track for the LP. Either way, it’s one last bit of nuance from Devil’s Witches‘ whose debut full-length successfully lives up to its narrative intentions without losing sight of the need to still make its individual songs stand out on their own as well as serve the entire, overarching flow.

That’s a rare enough feat for more experienced acts, let alone a first album, and it will be interesting to see how much storytelling remains a part of the band’s approach. Almost invariably, the mystique around bands of their ilk fades away — names are included over time, origins unveiled, etc. — but in their thoughtful execution of these tracks, Devil’s Witch demonstrate the backbone of aesthetic to stand up even after the world finds out who they are.

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Review & Track Premiere: Green Meteor, Consumed by a Dying Sun

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

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[Click play above to hear ‘Mirrored Parabola Theory’ from Green Meteor’s Consumed by a Dying Sun. Album out April 21 on Argonauta Records.]

From the abiding buzzsaw fuzz that permeates the five included tracks to the samples at the beginning of “Acute Emerald Elevation” and “Sleepless Lunar Dawn” to the comic book cover art that adorns the front cover to the density of groove as they roll out reefer riff after reefer riff, the intention behind Green Meteor‘s Consumed by a Dying Sun seems to be to tap into the raw roots of ’90s-style stoner rock. Fortunately, the Philadelphia four-piece bring a few crucial lessons of modernity with them along this trip through neo-retroism. I don’t recall even early Acid King being this blown-out, for example, and the tonal devouring here from first-names-only guitarists Amy and Leta (the latter also vocals) and the bass of Algar that’s shoved forward by Tony‘s drums does not forget to chew. It has teeth. And bite.

That proved to be the case last year when the band unveiled “Acute Emerald Elevation” (posted here) as a lead-in teaser prior to signing with Argonauta Records for the actual album release, and the same song does well on Consumed by a Dying Sun to let the listener know that while indeed they might be blasting off into space, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride getting there. The key to understanding the record’s utterly-manageable 32-minute run is realizing that Green Meteor are using the roughness of sound to their advantage, giving their aesthetic a garage-derived feel so that the Hawkwind-via-Monster Magnet thrust of the intro to the closing title-track seems as well to be playing off an Uncle Acid mindset in a manner that almost foreshadows the noise-soaked roller apex before the punkier last push of the record as a whole.

All of this happens quickly, but with immersion, and because Green Meteor are so tonally-centered — even Leta‘s voice seems to have been swallowed by the instruments surrounding — Consumed by a Dying Sun is able to work through its material while deceptively changing pace and the intentions of a given song. It is Green Meteor‘s first album, and it sounds like a first album in how the band seems to be working through the process of figuring out where they want to take their material and where they want their material to take them, but as that unfolds, they demonstrate a clear penchant for melding hooks and an underlying focus on songwriting that, while buried like the vocals, remains a present, consistent theme from “Acute Emerald Elevation” onward. Another manner in which Green Meteor prove loyal to the ’90s roots of stoner rock? It’s three minutes into the six-minute opener before the first verse starts.

It would seem to be as close to an eponymous cut as the band is willing to come, rounding out with repetitions of “green meteor” from Leta, who pushes her voice in a manner reminiscent of Stars that Move, and leading to “Sleepless Lunar Dawn” which is the longest track at 9:37 and a mid-paced swing that roughs up and blisses out Sleep-style grooving en route to a snare-mania from Tony that chills for its middle third before resuming in a kind of back-and-forth between languid flow and energetic uptick — intermittent thrusters; it happens — as it aligns planets for the more massively-riffed arrival of centerpiece “In the Shadow of Saturn.” It’s shorter at just over seven minutes, but “In the Shadow of Saturn” brims with addled purpose, and where “Sleepless Lunar Dawn” seems to grow impatient in its back half, here the foursome largely stick to the slow-oozing molasses from whence they begin. There’s a bit of kick here and there, but the primary focus is nod and that suits Green Meteor well at the beginning of what would likely be an LP’s side B.

“In the Shadow of Saturn” caps with radar ping that leads, on rhythm, into the uptempo start of “Mirrored Parabola Theory.” It’s the shortest inclusion at 3:34, and some of that might be due to pace alone, but as Leta finds her way into a memorable stretch ranting about a tilting hourglass — strange things are afoot, but science is happening — toward the end of the track, it’s also the most direct emphasis Green Meteor put on songwriting throughout Consumed by a Dying Sun, and it proves essential between the hypnotic gravitational field of “In the Shadow of Saturn” and the finale’s more blistering cosmic pulsations. Like a radar signal from space to let you know someone’s out there? Maybe. Might be a stretch. There’s telemetry from the probe that needs more analysis, but it’s important to consider that with “Mirrored Parabola Theory,” Green Meteor give clear notice to their listener that their purview includes more traditional structures as well as the kind of all-go explosiveness with which they choose to end “Consumed by a Dying Sun.”

In hindsight, they let you know it’s coming at the start of the track, but by the time it comes around again just past four minutes in, the molten midsection of the closer — a touch of Electric Wizard, more Acid King, more Sleep, lots of noise; no complaints — has melted consciousness away to the point where it’s legitimately an unexpected turn. That’s to the band’s advantage, certainly. They end on a final verse at full speed and an almost surprising amount of human presence amidst the onslaught, and wind up underscoring the primary are-my-speakers-blown wash of Consumed by a Dying Sun with the feeling that our species and the untamed vacuum can in fact coexist in their work. I won’t speculate on how Green Meteor might develop from here or the shifts they could make in aesthetic or which impulses will ultimately win out as they move forward, but Consumed by a Dying Sun deftly asserts honesty in its rawness and is all the more refreshing for that. As far as launch points go, theirs provides a suitable blast.

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Review & Track Premiere: The Devil and the Almighty Blues, II

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on March 10th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the-devil-and-the-almighty-blues-ii

[Click play above to stream ‘These are Old Hands’ from The Devil and the Almighty Blues’ new album, II, out March 17 on Blues for the Red Sun Records.]

As it should, the second full-length from Oslo five-piece The Devil and the Almighty Blues shows marked growth from its predecessor. The Norwegian outfit released their self-titled debut (review here) early in 2015 via Blues for the Red Sun Records (with distribution through Stickman), and the six-song II works quickly to build on the potential shown previously in a thick, smokey vibe of classic heavy rock, laid back jam-prone psychedelia and pervasive melancholy. The blues, in other words, indeed proves mighty, even if one might still hear the sorrowful roll of “North Road” and liken its vinyl-ready compression to Scandinavia’s still-pervasive retro movement.

In that second cut and pieces like 10-minute opener and longest inclusion (immediate points) “These are Old Hands,” “Low” and “How Strange the Silence,” The Devil and the Almighty Blues display a wider array of influences and seem to nod as much to the Rolling Stones as to Graveyard while drawing on the languidly open sensibilities of bands like ChildAll Them Witches or even Dwellers, if not directly than certainly through some measure of shared inspiration. The lineup of Arnt Andersen, Petter Svee, Kenneth Simonsen, Torgeir Waldemar Engen and Kim Skaug accomplishes this while enacting an immersive full-album flow that begins with “These are Old Hands” and does not let up across II‘s 47 minutes, offering patient execution and natural atmospherics through closer “Neptune Brothers” whether an individual part or an individual track is as brooding as “When the Light Dies” or as rocking as the finale itself.

That finale makes a fitting bookend to the start of “These are Old Hands,” which also finds The Devil and the Almighty Blues kicking out one of II‘s more upbeat thrusts. In context, and especially on repeat listens, “These are Old Hands” nonetheless does tremendous work in setting the tone for the rest of what follows — perhaps most notably in its blink-and-you-missed-them transitions and the fluidity with which it shifts between parts. Hypnotic but memorable in its underlying shuffle, the song crashes out after about four minutes in and eases its way into a subdued jam topped by warm lead guitar and kept in motion thanks to ride cymbal and a prevalent low-end rumble. A louder solo emerges at about the seven-minute mark, and The Devil and the Almighty Blues seem to have hit their peak by the time the next two minutes are up, but they draw back to the chorus to round out in a reinforcement of structure that lets the listener know right away they’re in capable hands. “North Road” and “When the Light Dies,” the pair that round out the presumed vinyl side A, bring further confirmation of the band’s control over what their sound does at any given moment.

Both halves of II will mirror each other in working from their longest track to their shortest, but with “North Road” and “When the Light Dies” particularly, the turn from one to the other is smooth, live-feeling and palpably organic, as though they were performed together in the studio in one take. There’s a volume swell toward the middle of “North Road” that’s the source of the Rolling Stones comparison above in the vocal cadence, but like “Neptune Brothers” still to come, it reminds somewhat of Oskar Cedermalm-era Greenleaf as well, even if the ultimate direction is different. And it is, as “North Road” draws down to guitar minimalism before noodling quietly into the start of “When the Light Dies,” the bluesiest single moment on II and most outwardly moody, but still not without some motion beneath. Unlike “Low” and “How Strange the Silence” to come on side B, which find a middle ground between one feel and the other, “When the Light Dies” jumps headfirst into spacious but emotionally-tinged jamming, marking a triumph all its own in character as it enriches the album’s breadth.

True, just about anything short of drone would feel like an uptick in energy after “When the Light Dies” — and that’s the point, make no mistake — but “Low” is one anyway, starting quiet and working over its 8:49 to enact the smoothest of II‘s builds, holding to a steady and slower tempo even as the band gets louder in another welcome demonstration of patience done right. Harmonized/layered guitar solos make it stand out all the more, accompanying and complementing the soulful vocals over a suitably weighted groove. Again, “Low” might be between the two sides represented alternately by “When the Light Dies” at the end of side A and “Neptune Brothers” at the end of side B, but The Devil and the Almighty Blues do well finding that niche in their own aesthetic spectrum. “How Strange the Silence” follows suit with more stellar guitar work and more direct initial tradeoffs between quiet and louder parts, moving into a less linear form in an effective structural expansion that remains consistent in vibe as it makes a tempo adjustment at 4:40 toward a more shuffling finish, turning its head from “Low” before it to “Neptune Brothers” after.

More likely it wasn’t written with that transitional intent, but it’s the key shift in side B’s fluidity and The Devil and the Almighty Blues make it with class and understated ceremony. A flurry of guitar leads and a cymbal wash cap “How Strange the Silence” and stick clicks count in the modern update to classic boogie of “Neptune Brothers,” the hook for which calls to mind The MC5 as well as the already-mentioned Greenleaf while stomping out its own place in the generations-spanning pantheon between them — something II as a whole does graciously in showing the band’s development over the last couple years and their growth and chemistry that still, encouragingly, seems to be taking shape around a broadening songwriting process. Like “These are Old Hands” before it, “Neptune Brothers” takes some time to chill itself out, but it’s not long before The Devil and the Almighty Blues are ending their second offering on a crisp and cohesive final rendition of the hook. By then, the album has made its impression on a variety of levels — conceptual, atmospheric, performance, etc. — but it’s worth noting that where one might’ve expected them to jam their way into oblivion in the closer, they instead finish tight, locked into a purposeful finale as if to convey to their audience that in fact they’re in no way done and have much more to say. In listening to II, one hopes that turns out to be precisely the case.

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