Review & Full Album Stream: Ogre, Thrice as Strong

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on October 18th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Ogre Thrice as Strong

[Ogre release Thrice is Strong on Oct. 25 through Cruz Del Sur Music. Stream the album in full on the player above.]

Though their tenure has been interrupted by periods of inactivity and on-again-off-again hiatus, 2019 marks 20 years of Ogre, who celebrate their doom-meets-classic-heavy-rock with the new LP Thrice as Strong. It is their first offering since 2014’s The Last Neanderthal (review here), and as the Maine-based trio of bassist/vocalist Ed Cunningham, guitarist Ross Markonish and drummer Will Broadbent dig into the seven-track/43-minute push-pull of early Sabbathian bluesy purity, they’re likewise unafraid to add touches of ’80s proto-NWOBHM to songs like the centerpiece “Judgement Day” or to find their way along a Motörhead-style swing-and-thrust in the early cuts “Hive Mind” and “Big Man” while saving broader-reaching fare for side B’s longer tracks “Blood of Winter” and the closer “Cyber-Czar,” both over eight minutes.

Thrice as Strong, the full title on the cover of which — with art by Will Broadbent; spoiler alert: their heads are on pikes — is listed as In a Doomed World They Must Remain Thrice as Strong, is the three-piece’s first release through Cruz del Sur Music and though their work has always been concerned with a kind of primitivism across releases like their 2003 debut, Dawn of the Proto-Man (reissue review here), 2006’s Seven Hells (reissue review here) and 2008’s Plague of the Planet (review here), their latest collection finds them no less engaged with the present we’re living in. Certainly there’s plenty of fodder there for doom, and Ogre duly revel in it, with cuts like “The Future,” “Hive Mind,” and even “Cyber-Czar” taking on the modern age and its many futuristic and technological horrors/wonders — the latter with a particular Dehumanizer bent in its later moments closing out the album — even as “Blood of Winter” and the penultimate “King of the Wood” tap into Ogre‘s more classic fare of pulp-style epic comic books and so on. In other words, on Thrice as StrongOgre delve into both kinds of lyrics: sci-fi and fantasy. They are no less at home in the one than the other.

That leaves “Big Man” as an outlier, thematically, and maybe it is. I haven’t had the benefit of a full lyric sheet, those familiar with Ogre‘s past albums might consider “Big Man” something of a spiritual successor to “Nine Princes in Amber” from The Last Neanderthal. It is the shortest track on Thrice as Strong at just under four minutes, and the purest of the boogies on offer as well. “The Future” opens melodic and catchy in trad-metallic grandeur — at least relatively — touching on some Iron Maiden influence in Cunningham‘s bassline beneath Markonish‘s solo, and Broadbent adds to the momentum early by double-timing on the hi-hat during the verse, and “Hive Mind” has its shove in the first half before hitting the brakes in the second and picking back up to round out. “Big Man,” by contrast, holds its speedier pace for the duration and is a standout from the surrounding cuts, much as the aforementioned piece from the prior album was in its own context. I don’t think the one song is a direct answer to the other — different themes, different sound — but perhaps on some level manifesting a similar impulse in songwriting toward self-contradiction and flying in the face of “doom needs to be slow” or other such ultimately unnecessary genre tenets.

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One way or the other, Ogre sound like they’re having a blast there and elsewhere. Cunningham is a vocalist for all or at least most seasons, singing clean, shouting, screaming occasionally, all with personality, a touch of echo and a classic feel, but at the same time he comes across as natural even in layers on “The Future,” and never sounds like he’s taking the proceedings too seriously, which would only imperil the album as a whole in terms of atmosphere. Recording-wise, part of Ogre‘s traditionalism has always been a relatively barebones production style. They’ve never veered too far from presenting themselves with something close to their live sound, and for what they’re playing that’s always worked. It does on Thrice as Strong too. That would seem to put extra pressure on Cunningham as a singer in fronting the band not only to carry that energy forward to the audience hearing the record, but simply in pulling off changes like those of “Judgement Day” where he goes from growling out one line to soaring in the next, and it seems to be no challenge whatsoever for him. That is only fortunate for all parties involved.

The shift into “Blood of Winter” represents something of a sea change in Thrice as Strong — it’s very likely the start of side B — with a broader and more doomly scope, but Ogre excel at this kind of storytelling, and together with the swing-and-nodder “King of the Wood,” “Blood of Winter” very much plays to their strengths and reminds of how underrated they’ve always been. A languid groove in “King of the Wood” turns to shuffle late and fades to silence ahead of “Cyber-Czar,” signaling a marked turn as Broadbent‘s drums lead the way on a fade-in that’s particularly militaristic. The closer itself is seven-plus minutes long, but there’s a robot-voice spoken part at the end and a howling sirens and other sounds of conflict over the fading final hits, wind and distant explosions, etc., to round out the atmosphere following the track itself, which is a fitting if deceptively speedy summation of the crux of the record.

Of course, no matter where they go, the underlying message of Thrice is Strong is the same, and caveman battles or futuristic warfare, that’s ultimately what the album is about. It’s about them — the band — together. It’s about Ogre looking back on two decades as a group and not just knowing who they are as a band, as one would expect to be a largely settled issue by anyone’s fifth record — at least as much as any band ever settles that issue — but also appreciating the special aspects of the whole that each member brings. The theme of Thrice as Strong may be struggle in terms of the lyrical narrative, but the album is little short of a commemoration of their methods and their accomplishments as songwriters. The arrival of a new Ogre album, any Ogre album, is noteworthy — it’s just not something that happens every day — but with Thrice as Strong, the acknowledgement of a special occasion seems to extend to all levels. CunninghamMarkonishBroadbentOgre. That’s the story here.

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Death Hawks, Death & Decay & Death Hawks: Dawning Suns

Posted in Reviews on October 16th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

death-hawks-death-and-decay

Two limited reissues bring out the beginnings of Finnish experimentalists Death Hawks and provide fresh context to the work the Tampere-based band has done since signing to Svart Records for 2015’s Sun Future Moon (review here). The band’s first two albums, Death and Decay and Death Hawks, were originally released in 2012 and 2013 through GAEA Records and have been out of print since, sought after by late-comers like yours truly who didn’t catch them the first time around. With 500 copies of pressed of each, Svart does the universe a solid in this instance and puts Death & Decay on a gold LP and Death Hawks in black and white — suited to their respective artwork — and allows for curious parties to discover more about the band’s roots. As it turns out, there’s plenty to learn.

For example, that the stylistic experimentation of 2019’s Psychic Harmony (review here) were by no means a new impulse, and indeed, central to the ethic of the band. You might say it’s the root of Death & Decay, though it’s manifested not in synth-driven progressive disco, but a psychedelic take on country blues, putting the guitar and vocals of Teemu Markkula front and center like an otherworldly John Lee Hooker on a cut like “Death Hawk on My Trail” or the rockabilly-style “Roamin’ Baby Blues,” taking its structure from the Robert Johnson school of proto-blues and adding a speedy snare for that riding-the-rails vibe — filtered, of course, through Finnish psychedelia. With 11 tracks unfolding from the mellow ramblin’-“Planet Caravan”-style understatement of opener “Blue Void” to the later Tom Waits-of-Alpha-Centauri severity of “Priest’s March,” amid fuzzier tones and subtle backing synth also provided by Markkula, Death & Decay is a formative tour de force.

“The Beast” touches on organ-laced ’70s folk while “Holy Water,” which immediately follows, starts with a wild bark and turns itself into a tent revival of psychedelic wash, while over on side B, “Death Has No Reprieve” weaves hypnotic background vocals into its deceptive depths, and the catchy “Dead Man” (probably a reference to the 1995 Jim Jarmusch film of the same name), foreshadows some of the melodic sweetness Markkula will bring to his vocal style on subsequent outings, letting closer “The Peace Maker” touch on Morricone — among other things — as a direct foreshadow for some of what the self-titled would do the next year. Ultimately, Death & Decay is broader in its sound than just tagging it “psych-blues” could hope to convey, but especially with Markkula‘s performance so much at the root of the material on guitar/vocals/keys/producer/composer/etc., the feeling throughout is less full-band-expanse and more solo-exploration, and that gives the 44-minute 11-tracker even more of a “starting out” vibe, as though the material were experiments that came together as songs as they were fleshed out. As sure as the band has been of what they’ve done since, it’s kind of refreshing to know this sense of adventure was what sparked their origin in the first place. Their will to push beyond and between stylistic confines is readily on display, and the songs are memorable and weird in kind, recognizable in themselves and in the nascent sprawl the band would go on to develop from the foundation they set.

death hawks death hawks

This, of course, was realized in the quick turnaround of Death Hawks, and though it’s a shameful cliché, I’ll note that it does not seem at all a coincidence that the second album is self-titled in terms of their laying claim to who they are as a group and their intentions going forward. Shorter at 35 minutes/seven tracks with a recurring theme in “Cain Go Home (2. Session)” on side A and “Cain Go Home (1. Session)” on side B — the Morricone influence returning in the whistle of both — the self-titled is immediately immersive in its psychedelic reach, with whispers and backing melodies and winding hypnotic guitar on six-minute opener “Night Children,” the title doing little in the end to convey the colorfulness of the tone there or in songs like “Blind Daughter of Death” and the string-and-organ-backed mellow meander of “Quiet Sun,” a not-all-who-wander-are-lost krautrock texture pervading the spirit of what sounds rooted in a live recording.

That, in turn, is answered by the flamenco strum of the “Cain Go Home (1. Session),” which is nothing if not based around conveying a feeling of motion, so a dynamic emerges across the self-titled that is broad while remaining unified not just by Markkula‘s continued melodicism, but through more of a full-band feel around him, with the centerpiece “Grim-Eyed Goat” and sax-inclusive nine-minute closer “Black Acid” ranging into the beyond of subdued-and-not space rock while holding firm to Death Hawks‘ identity as they establish it throughout. Like its predecessor, Death Hawks is very much about its mood and vibe, but it’s an essential step in coming off of the debut and does much to convey what became the overarching intent of the band at the time. True, that intent would shift by the time Sun Future Moon came around and continue to do so for Psychic Harmony earlier this year, but if anything, the first two Death Hawks LPs highlight the purposefulness behind that.

Because it’s not just about how there’s a leap in sound from one record to the next one — which it’s worth reiterating: the sophomore album followed just a year after the first — but about the creative ethic that’s behind making that leap in the first place. Death Hawks‘ open sensibility and forward drive is something that continues to push their material in exciting directions and down paths that others probably wouldn’t dare to tread even if they thought to do so. What Death & Decay and Death Hawks make plain is that this is a founding principle under which Death Hawks have operated for as long as they’ve been a band, and really since before they were a band as they are now. Perhaps more than anything else, these Svart represses make Death Hawks seem like an even less predictable group, with their origins in unexpected climes and an even broader palette than that for which I’d previously given them credit. I wasn’t about to predict what they’d do next anyhow, but I find myself less inclined than ever to speculate.

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Review & Track Premiere: Hazemaze, Hymns of the Damned

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on October 14th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Hazemaze Hymns of the Damned

[Click play above to stream the premiere of ‘Shadow in the Night’ from Hazemaze’s Hymns of the Damned. Album is out November 22 through Cursed Tongue Records and Ripple Music.]

Vinyl preorders for Hazemaze‘s Hymns of the Damned start Nov. 1 through Cursed Tongue Records for a Nov. 22 LP/DL release. Ripple Music is putting the Swedish troupe’s second album out on CD as well, and the band have announced two release shows that are six days apart from each other, so one way or another, you might say the new record from Hazemaze is coming soon and choose your angle of approach accordingly. While there may be several threads involved in the arrival of the eight-track/41-minute follow-up to the Stockholm trio’s 2018 Kozmik Artifactz-delivered self-titled debut (discussed here), the LP itself is a heavy amalgam much easier to process in its garage-doom churn and dug-in riffage, informed by heavy blues but not beholden to them and bearing a persistent atmosphere of threat that speaks to an affinity for classic doom, particularly in songs like “Green River” (premiered here) and the subsequent weighted boogie of the penultimate “Reverend Death.” Those two cuts, as well as the raucous finisher “Forever Trapped in Hell” are shorter, in the three-to-four-minute range, than the five cuts prior that make up side A and the start of side B, and the effect is almost like Hazemaze have reversed the plot of many LPs and put the opening salvo in the closing position and turned the B side into the A side and the A side into the B side. The bottom line? If the release dates don’t disorient you, they’re going to get you one way or the other.

Actually, when it comes to what’s going to “get you,” it’s probably the songwriting. Hazemaze — guitarist/vocalist Ludvig Andersson, bassist Estefan Carrillo and drummer Nils Arkitekten Einéus — might not be revolutionary in aesthetic terms, but what they do, they do well and with the confidence of a band of much longer standing. There’s some element of Monolord-style atmospherics to the vocals on “Shadow in the Night,” the opening track and new single premiering above, but though certainly riffy, Hazemaze‘s trip is rawer in form and more about roll than crush. What “Shadow in the Night” sets in motion continues through the end of Hymns of the Damned in terms of forward momentum and classic affinity. There’s plenty of nod-fodder, to be sure, but as Hazemaze lead the way into “Morbid Lust” on a swinging bassline, there’s no question that movement is a focal point for the band and crucial to their approach. Einéus is duly beastly on his crash cymbal, adding uptempo flair to Andersson‘s riffing and languid vocals, while Carrillo‘s low end lurks beneath the distortion, carrying the weight that is so essential to the proceedings in mood and the sheer delivery. By the time they’re into “Thrill Seeker,” the course is set in terms of overarching groove and the sound and general spirit of the offering, which is ultimately to the band’s credit in terms of their efficiency conveying the grim (but still kind of a good time) ambience through the early tracks.

hazemaze (Photo by Magnus Nicander)

That might be an effect of the noted A/B swap method, or it might just be a consequence of knowing what they want out of their material more generally, but on either level, it only makes Hymns of the Damned more immersive and engaging on the whole for those willing to take it on. “Thrill Seeker” brings chug and violent threat in its verse alike in the Uncle Acid spirit with Andersson touching on layered self-harmony in the vocals, and “Lobotomy” stands among the most outwardly catchy of the inclusions as it rounds out the first half of the tracklist with a hook that continues the momentum set up on the first several tracks. Hazemaze‘s sense of movement might be subtle — that is, it doesn’t feel like they’re shoving you through one track to the next — but it’s there if not brazen in its intensity. They set a balance between atmosphere and push that works well across the span and, again, highlights the contributions particularly of Einéus and Carrillo to the songs on the whole. And though I haven’t seen a lyric sheet, even “Solicitor of Evil” — the longest cut at 6:56 and the presumed side B leadoff — doesn’t seem to be explicitly about killing women, so that’s a plus too if we’re thinking in the sphere of post-Uncle Acid garage doom. Certainly not every band can say the same. I like to think of “Solicitor of Evil” like a devilish attorney, but I’ll say again, I haven’t seen a lyric sheet to confirm that. Would be fun though.

On a lot of records, “Solicitor of Evil,” with its late wah bass and ultra-swing, would be the grand finale, but on Hymns of the Damned it’s just an introduction to the next stage, with “Green River,” “Reverend Death” and “Forever Trapped in Hell” reigniting the riffy momentum — and cowbell — of “Shadow in the Night” and bringing about a more bounding conclusion. In terms of general sound, there’s isn’t so much of a radical shift, but especially across multiple listens, the change is evident as “Solicitor of Evil” gives way to “Green River,” the storytelling aspect of which — “Walking down that dusty road…,” etc. — likewise signals a change of angle. Like the structure of the album generally, it’s not a move a less confident band could pull off, but Hazemaze do it by simply doing it, and that in itself is a statement of who they are as a group. As their second album careens to its brash finish with “Forever Trapped in Hell,” the more active and tightened craft only seems to underscore the point of Hazemaze‘s momentum earlier on the LP, their last hook giving way to a winding charge with a solo in the last minute and a series of hits that uses every single one of the track’s four minutes and 11 seconds. It is righteous and portentous in kind, since Hazemaze come across in the end like a band that still has much more to say; “leave ’em wanting more,” and all that. They do, even with the rest of Hymns of the Damned leading into “Forever Trapped in Hell,” and one can’t help but think that whatever the three-piece do from here, they’ll only have benefited from being so sure and so correct in the decisions they made with and within this material.

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Howling Giant, The Space Between Worlds: Wherein Lies the Frontier

Posted in Reviews on October 11th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

howling giant the space between worlds

The Space Between Worlds, the Blues Funeral Recordings debut full-length from Nashville three-piece Howling Giant, ticks all its boxes. It pays off the potential of their prior short releases. It solidifies their approach to songwriting and helps set their course for their ultimate defining of who they are as a band. It rocks. It showcases an awareness of the whole-album form separate from simply a collected bunch of songs. It is full, clear in its intention, and produced in such a way as to bolster the music without any sense of mismatch between band, song and the recording helmed in continuing collaboration with Kim Wheeler. And yet all of this does little to convey the achievement the Tennessee progressive heavy rockers are making throughout.

As they follow-up their three EPs — 2017’s Black Hole Space Wizard: Part 2 (review here), its 2016 predecessor, Black Hole Space Wizard: Part 1 (review here), and their recently-reissued 2015 self-titled — guitarist/vocalist Tom Polzine and drummer/vocalist Zach Wheeler welcome bassist/vocalist Sebastian Baltes to the lineup (Kevin “Big Business” Dempsey also contributes on bass) and conjure a sound that is an amalgam of modern influences, from the uptempo, Torche-style sludge-pop burst of the opening salvo in “Comet Rider” and “Nomad” as well as the presumed side B opener “Cybermancer and the Doomsday Express,” the Ancestors-style organ-laden heavy prog roll of “The River Guide” and the expansive “Everlight,” the Elephant Tree-esque harmonies in the acoustic/piano turn brought about with third track “Ghosts in the Well,” and the sheer scope of harmonies throughout, from the fuzzy forward sprint of centerpiece “Ice Castle” (which brings in Jason Shi of ASG for a guest vocal spot) to the massive trilogy that closes the record in “Everlight,” “The Orb” and “Stone Giant.” With Drew David Harakal II returning to add keys/synth as on all their past releases, Howling Giant unite their material under a conceptual sci-fi narrative of a multi-dimensional huntress chasing a dream-eating gateway destroyer through various worlds — or something — and thereby add even further willfulness to what they’re doing. Oh, and they also make it fun.

And that last one turns out to be pretty crucial, because Howling Giant sound like they’re absolutely having a blast as they careen through “Comet Rider” at the start and cut the tempo to bring up the hook of “Nomad,” and that positive feeling so much communicated through the melody of the vocals is infectious. With just an undertone of Elder‘s proggy fluidity, “Nomad” and “The River Guide” — with “Ghosts in the Well” between them — are able to still convey a sense of enjoying their creation, and that finds answer later as “The Orb” gleefully chug-gallops its way toward the finale with a mosh part that at the turn of the century one might’ve called a breakdown. It’s shenanigans, either way. Pure and simple. But it still adds depth to the spoken word and piano drift of “The River Guide” and the quiet contemplations of “Ghosts in the Well,” in such a way that it’s not simply about Howling Giant goofing off — though it’s partially about that, to be sure — but also about their being able to turn their passion for playing together into part of The Space Between Worlds‘ essential character. That level of revelry becomes one of the album’s grandest statements. It is a celebration.

howling giant (Photo by Casey Moore)

However, it’s not lost in celebration. Especially topped with thoughtful arrangements of vocals as it is, The Space Between Worlds is never so lost in its own good times that it forgets either the individual task at hand in a song or how that song feeds into the record’s larger statement and plot. Howling Giant set a balance for themselves in sound and presentation alike, and when they need to, as on “The River Guide,” they show patience, and when they blast off in “Comet Rider” or “Cybermancer and the Doomsday Express,” they do so with suitable fervency. In either case, it’s the song and it’s the album that remain at the center of what they’re doing. I don’t know if individual tracks were written with the concept directly in mind or the narrative was applied later with lyrics after the music was done, etc., but the front-to-back flow of The Space Between Worlds isn’t to be understated, especially in how it comes through with side B pushing through to new levels of execution.

After the raucous four-minute open with “Cybermancer and the Doomsday Express,” Howling Giant round out The Space Between Worlds with its three longest tracks: “Everlight” (7:57), “The Orb” (7:08) and “Stone Giant” (6:17). It’s not so much that any of them directly touches on new stylistic ground for the band. Strictly speaking, they’re a forward step from the last EP, but of the same aesthetic ilk. The context has changed, however, and Howling Giant thrive across these three songs as they haven’t yet done to-date. They are the most upfront communication of scope that the album presents, and all the more so because of how obviously purposeful their placement and their complementing each other is.

“Everlight” announces its arrival with organ, airy guitar and vocals, and builds gradually over its first two-plus minutes to a sweeping progression given a tempo boost after the three-minute mark, and while its structure is linear, it’s nonetheless memorable for its hooky melody and standout lead work, going quietly into the unassuming drum-led beginning of “The Orb,” which unfolds and teases its turn to triplet-chug before it actually gets there at 2:01, the chill-down-spine energy immediate and the band ready to ride that moment for a while before breaking back to more melodic fare and returning — as they should — for a suitable crescendo that serves double for song and album alike.

A soft piano comedown transitions into the drums starting “Stone Giant” and it’s clear Howling Giant aren’t done yet in terms of energy. Rather, they finish out by tying together the choruses of “Comet Rider” and “Cybermancer and the Doomsday Express” with some of the offering’s more progressive fare, and, as one would hope, leave it to a massive rolling groove to carry the record to its end in raucous but ultimately graceful fashion that only portends of things to come. A next chapter? Pt. 2? Maybe, if not in concept. One way or the other, the potential Howling Giant show for future growth shouldn’t undercut the value of this accomplishment. The Space Between Worlds stands high among 2019’s best debut albums, but also among its best albums, period, and shows the three-piece as ready to enter a new level of consideration as a force of forward-thinking heavy rock and roll.

Howling Giant, The Space Between Worlds (2019)

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Review & Full Album Stream: Stew, People

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on October 10th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

stew people

[Click play above to stream Stew’s People in its entirety. Album is out tomorrow on Ripple Music. Preorder here.]

Dig into the speed-shuffle vibes and overlaid bluesy overtones of sub-three-minute centerpiece “Play the Fool” and all questions about what Stew are up to should be summarily put to bed. There are few name brands as reliable these days as Swedish Boogie Rock, and while the country and the greater European underground has seen no shortage thereof over the course of this decade, the heavy ’10s round out in strong fashion with Stew‘s Ripple Music-delivered debut album, People. They tip the balance to one side or another in terms of mood and tempo, as one would hope, over the course of the 11-tracker — really 10 and the 32-second “Intro” that starts off — but what makes the crisp 37-minute offering so distinct is the momentum that carries the Lindesberg three-piece through and in particular how much guitarist Nicklas Jansson is responsible for that.

Of course, guitar leading the way through what’s essentially a riff-driven style of heavy rock isn’t so much a surprise as it is a tenet of the genre — and indeed, Stew‘s work will be readily familiar in its ’70s-worship purposes to the converted — but even with that in consideration, the way Jansson interacts musically with bassist/vocalist Markus Åsland and drummer Nicklas Dahlgren proves fascinating and is something that stands the band out among their many bluesy peers. Solos and lead lines periodically step forward to do the work of riffs, as in side B’s “Sweet and True” or the earlier title-track, with its subtly winding progression during the verse and nigh-on-hypnotic jam in its second half (the song, by the way, is under four minutes long, so take “jam” relative to that), and that gives Stew an all the more dynamic sound as they move through more straightforward fare like “Newborn” at a comfortable mid-paced sleek, dropping hooks as they go as trailmarkers for those making their way through an album that still somehow feels light on flourish.

Åsland‘s performance on vocals as well is worth specific note, as the character he brings to a song like “Endless Journey,” finds him settled into a niche somewhere between Chris Cornell and Robert Plant as the track careens between volume changes. From the outset of post-“Into” opener “Right on Time,” through “People” and the slower turn of “Newborn” after the opening salvo is concluded, Åsland is in command of the proceedings vocally and he remains so for the duration. Between his presence and Jansson‘s standout guitar work, Stew hone the very classic-power-trio impression they would so much seem to be shooting for — and in righteous fashion, most especially for the spirited edge they bring to the style. That is, they’re playing to genre, no question, but they’re bringing a sense of who they are as artists to that. It can be heard in a track like “Fruits,” which delves into more spacious fare pushed forward by Dahlgren‘s drumming, the swing of which is a somewhat understated but ultra-necessary anchor for the proceedings as a whole, and it’s their burgeoning identity that helps them stave off stylistic redundancy.

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And it is burgeoning. One should know going in that Stew seem by no means to be a finished product on their first album, but what they do throughout People, all the way down to the birdsong-laced acoustic closer “Morning Again,” is to give an initial showcase from which to build as they move forward. They’re working to establish themselves within a crowded subset of heavy rock that has been largely abandoned by its foremost champions, and while they bring classic ideas to bear with a modern production style and clarity, their purposes remain fluid throughout in songwriting and their ability to shift between various vibes, from the smooth semi-psych melodies of “Goddess” and the mellow blues in the first half of “Afraid of Getting Nowhere” to the rock ‘n’ riot of “Play the Fool” and the earlier one-two punch in “Right on Time” and “People,” they’re only bolstered by the obvious strength that comes from such flexibility.

When it comes to getting on board, they make it easy. People isn’t about issuing challenges to its audience so much as bidding welcome, and of course the familiarity at play in their sound is a part of that. They’re using the more established aspects of their sound — their direct influence from modern takes on vintage heavy — as a way of connecting with a specific listener, who knows what they’re doing and appreciates it, but the whole thing would fall flat were it not for the songwriting and performance underlying. It’s easy enough — if potentially expensive — to fire up the right gear and roll out a bit of boogie here and there, but to do so while leaving behind memorable tracks marked by highlight interplay between the members of the band is something else and something worth celebrating. As People plays out across its tight 37-minute run, it’s no challenge to discern where the band are coming from, but especially in considering it as their debut LP, even that fact says something positive about how they’re able to bring their stylizations to bear in such an effective way.

I don’t necessarily think Stew are setting out to rewrite the script when it comes to how boogie jams happen, and frankly, they don’t need to be. The only real shame about People is that it’s coming out as the air is getting colder and the nights are getting longer, instead of the opposite. Maybe it’s perfect Australian summer album. It’s not so much that its centered around tonal warmth, but there is something wholesome and sincere about its bluesy execution that seems just made for the outdoors, for sunshine, for some small “festival” happening on a stage outside in a Swedish forest with good friends and copious coolers of beer, maybe. I’m sure a given listener can paint their own scenario, but inspiring that too stands as one of Stew‘s marked strengths. There are more than a few throughout People, and they all tend to bode well for the band’s future prospects.

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Live Review: HØSTSABBAT 2019 Night Two in Oslo, Norway, 10.05.19

Posted in Reviews on October 6th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

hostsabbat 2019 poster square

Before the Show

Festival mode. One day bleeds into the next, sometimes into the one after. You lose time to the timetable. Basic needs become a big deal. Water. Coffee. Advil. Comfy socks. Earplugs in the top pocket of your jeans so you can be quick on the draw in a sudden burst of volume. All this shit really starts to matter.

Which I guess is my way of saying I’m tense about the day soon to unfold, as well as exhausted from last night. I expect these two energies to cancel each other out and leave a remainder of self-loathing-fueled social awkwardness, which is the standard I generally set for myself.

There was an art talk in the crypt a bit ago, followed upstairs by a live-painting session by Linda K. Røed and Trine Grimm, set to a drone session by Highrule. Not something you see every day, so I wanted to be sure to see it.

And they were painting, and droning, respectively, and I decided that while they were creating, I’d go up the balcony and do a bit of writing, so that’s where I am. Here’s the view:

Live painting at Høstsabbat

It is a significant view, but it’s worth reemphasizing that this fest is about more than just the place. Last year it found its home in the Kulturkirken Jakob, and with that task behind it, it’s begun to explore further its own personality and the varying shapes it can take. The lineup for today, already under way, sort of, speaks to that, as does the growing visual side. I’d only expect the progression to continue.

First band on in half an hour downstairs. Easily time for another coffee beforehand.

After the Show

Definitely not the same sort of brain-surge as was the ending of last night, with Ufomammut reconfirming their galaxial supremacy, but more like a spiritual cleansing, like if you could actually catch your breath in one breath. That would be Colour Haze closing out Kulturkirken Jakob for the second and final night of Høstsabbat 2019.

By then, I and everyone else in attendance had been through a ringer of ups, downs and side-to-sides of style, eight bands between the two Kulturkirken stages, five more across the street at Verkstedet, and I know I didn’t see two bands play the same kind of sound today. Even the sludge bands were different enough to be called different. It was a little staggering.

But, if there’s ever a time for a blowout, it’s the last day of the fest, and Høstsabbat made the most of the opportunity confronting it. I’m sad to say that as I’ll be traveling tomorrow morning, the inevitabilities of returning to real life — much as I have one — were burrowing into my head by about the time the third band went on, but I knuckled down and let myself enjoy being here while I’m here. Have I mentioned how lucky I am to be here?

Good. Because that’s really the lesson of the weekend. Stupid lucky.

I seem to recall the day going something like this:

Dunbarrow

Dunbarrow (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Rest assured, it was just last year that Norwegian classic doomers Dunbarrow released their second album, II (review here) on RidingEasy. It only sounds like it was 45 years ago. Opening up the crypt stage, Dunbarrow delivered their set with an energy that reminded me of catching Brutus headlining in the same space last year, Dunbarrow‘s style is even more heavy ’70s in its focus. They represented their recorded work well in that way — it wasn’t like they got on stage and came across completely different, like their vintage aesthetic is all studio tricks or something like that. There’s a lot of First Daze Here-era Pentagram at play, as there inevitably would be, and they take cues from the same cues Witchcraft took therefrom, but part of the charm of seeing them was watching them bring that spirit to life, and they absolutely did that. It’s a sound that’s not based on being the loudest or the heaviest all the time, and it can be tricky for bands to pull it off and still convey some sense of vitality. Wasn’t a problem for Dunbarrow.

Hexvessel

Hexvessel (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I know it’s trash-cliche, because experience is subjective and all that happy crap, but Hexvessel have the ability to move a room like few bands I’ve seen. As fate and silly-life would have it, this was my second time seeing them since the release of their back-to-ground forest folk fourth LP, All Tree (review here), behind a set this Spring at Roadburn (review here), and it’s proven true again that they’re absolutely transportive. The vocal harmonies, the rich arrangement elements, and now — thanks in no small part to the aesthetic sprawl of their third album, 2016’s When We are Death (review here) — the diversity of their atmospheres all come together to form a cohesive purpose. It’s a conversation and a going. Does it require some buy-in? For sure. What doesn’t? That’s where the sheer songwriting comes in, because no matter where Hexvessel might take you in a given track, record, set, etc., their method has an ultra-consistent level of craft behind it. Every melody is in its place, every swell and sway have their function toward the larger intent moving you. And so you end up in a different place than you were when they started. Every time.

Papir

Papir (Photo by JJ Koczan)

It’s a pretty good sign your lineup is absolutely bonkers when you’ve got bands like Hexvessel and Papir playing on the relatively early end of the day. I was way stoked, in the parlance of our times, to catch Papir‘s ultra-fluid instrumental jamming. They were one of the band I was most excited to see this weekend, there was zero disappointment once they got going. I was a little surprised at how mellow they weren’t. All things are relative — especially when Belzebong are shortly to hit stage upstairs and Slabdragger are next in the basement — but still, while of course they had their calm moments and the overarching vibe was serene, the Copenhagen trio of guitarist Nicklas Sørensen bassist Christian Becher and drummer Christoffer Brøchmann showed even more character in their material than I had thought was coming. The crypt stage was packed out early for them — I got there 20 minutes before they went on and still had a dude trying to push out of the way for a spot — but frankly, I couldn’t even argue with the impulse. What Papir were doing, loud or quiet at any given moment but universally hypnotic, was nothing if not an invitation.

Belzebong

Belzebong (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Kind of on the other end of a similar instrumentalist heavy spectrum were Belzebong, whose crusty, ultra-gree-heen take on stoner metal and sludge was like taking the notion of “riff-based” to what most would no doubt consider an illogical extreme. Some bands are a lifestyle, and Belzebong were a reminder of that. I don’t know how they’re received in their native Poland, but Høstsabbat certainly bid them welcome to the altar stage, and was more than willing to follow the bouncing skulls as the band headbanged in unison to each successive, massive riff. As with their recorded output — their third full-length, Light the Dankness (review here), came out last year — their live show is bent decidedly in favor of the primitive. It is stoned, and fuck you. I’ll grant that that, in itself, is an atmosphere, and Belzebong were well comfortable within it, but the whole idea was driving riffs into the brains of the willing and the converted because everyone else is probably a cop anyway. They were loud, they were huge-sounding, and they were everything you could possibly ask Belzebong to be on a Saturday night in Oslo. I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that also includes being high. If not, it’s doubly impressive.

Orsak:Oslo

Orsak Oslo (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I didn’t get to catch more than a few minutes of their set, because I was en route from one thing to the other, but I wanted to give quick mention to anyone paying attention to Orsak:Oslo, whose dreamy-space-vibe-rock I consider my “find” of the entire festival. Again, I didn’t see a lot of it, but what I saw was excellent and made me wish I could see more. They put out a record earlier this year on Germany’s Kapitaen Platte. If I could’ve figured out how to work VIPPS without a Norwegian ID number, I’d have bought the CD from the merch area. As it was, they were well worth the momentary detour across the street.

Slabdragger

Slabdragger (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Uh, progressive? But like the progressive that might kick you? I did have to look it up, but it’s been three years since London trio Slabdragger — which includes Old Man Lizard guitarist/vocalist Jack Newnham on drums — put out their second record, Rise of the Dawncrusher (review here), and one would think that might be long enough for them to get another release together, but seeing them in the crypt for Høstsabbat, I had no trouble believing it might be longer. They were half a decade between their first and second records, and with the complexity of what they were playing, it makes sense. Extended tracks, some parts rocking, other parts outright punishing, Slabdragger brought together a thoughtful mindset with tectonic intensity in a way that was undeniably their own. You might call them sludge on some level, if only because they’re so heavy — and they are, whatever else is going on at the time — but that barely scratches the surface. Bonus points to guitarist Sam Thredder, who asked to have the lights turned up after the first song so he could see what he was playing. “I swear that’s why that song only had one note,” he told the crowd as he prepared to share vocal duties again with bassist Yusuf Tary for another round of pummeling.

The Devil and the Almighty Blues

The Devil and the Almighty Blues (Photo by JJ Koczan)

The Devil and the Almighty Blues, feeding off a hometown crowd’s energy, vocalist Arnt O. Andersen, guitarists Petter Svee and Torgeir Waldemar Engen, bassist Kim Skaug and drummer Kenneth Simonsen came out to the country-blues strains of “O Death” — as they’re wont to do — and proceeded to immediately earn the heroes’ welcome they were given by the crowd by building the ultra-catchy “Salt the Earth” from earlier-2019’s Tre (review here) from the ground up, Anderson, in robe, in utter command of the proceedings in true and classic frontman fashion, even when his arms were crossed and he stood at the back of the stage drinking a beer and nodding in approval. The band on either side of him — and behind, in the case of Simonsen — were both vibrant and tight, clearly playing up to the occasion at Kulturkirken Jakob in front of fans as well as what seemed to be friends and family. Their moody, possibly drunken sense of danger was readily on display, but they shone on a big stage in a way that underscored their touring and fest experience, and while I had to wonder what it would take to get them over to the US for a show, and if the American crowd would get it in the same way, I couldn’t help but think they’re a band my home country is missing out on by not having the chance to see live. They took what was obviously a special show for them and made it one for everyone else too.

LLNN

LLNN (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Sometimes it’s easy to forget how heavy heavy actually gets. Fortunately, for those momentary lapses, along comes a band like LLNN to absolutely slam your skull into a wall. I had only barely checked out the Copenhagen outfit’s 2018 full-length, Deads, for a few seconds before deciding they were the something I wanted to experience live, and for two days of heaviness in that basement, there might indeed have been nowhere to go after them. Superlatively heavy, extreme post-metal, with atmospherics to push the air out of your lungs and tone to make sure it stays gone. Brutal, chaotic, whatever else. It was all of that churn and physical force behind the music, as well as being less about a cathartic expression — as was, say, SUMA, who opened the crypt yesterday — than a reveling in disaffection and alienation. So much weight brought to bear, and not all of it coldly or unemotionally. Their performance was no less ferocious than their sound, with the lights low and the strobe going and everything set to convey a sense of being overwhelmed, which was a standard they met easily. Not the kind of thing you’d put on for a dinner party — unless your dinner parties are awesome — but probably the kind of thing that should be played in art galleries as well as church basements. Pelagic released that album, so clearly I have some digging back to do in further investigation. Maybe a bit of recovery first though.

Colour Haze

Colour Haze (Photo by JJ Koczan)

There was some technical difficulty at the outset — one of drummer Mandred Merwald‘s stage monitors didn’t seem to be putting out anything for a while there — but while that delayed their start a couple minutes, once Colour Haze got going for their headlining set at the second night of Høstsabbat, and whatever came before, the feeling of peace was palpable. It radiated from all corners of the stage, even from Merwald, who make no mistake is a madman behind the kit. That’s something that has become all the more visible since he’s turned the drums sideways to allow room for organist/synthesist Jan Faszbender on the stage; Faszbender being the fourth member who’s worked with the band for years on arrangements, recording, etc., but only really started to play shows with them for the last couple years, joining the trio of Merwald, bassist Philipp Rasthofer — he of the classiest bass tone I’ve ever heard — and guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek, whose hippie spirit on stage does nothing to undercut the precision and concentration behind his playing. They’ve been celebrating the 25th anniversary of the band since the Spring, and have more tour dates lined up this year, but I was lucky enough to see them in this configuration in London in May 2018 (review here), and they’ve only gotten more fluid as a four-piece, adding nuance in between-song transitions and Faszbender‘s contributions to older material. They opened with “She Said” from the 2012 album of the same name (review here) and they jammed and jammed and jammed, with some new material thrown in for good measure. The record is called Life, and it’s slated for CD/DL release in November, so here’s hoping. In the meantime, “Aquamaria” and “Transformation” were glorious, and the warmth that Colour Haze exuded from the stage was such that not even the October night in Oslo could stand up to it. Seriously, I took off my hoodie. They’re not a band I’ll ever pretend to be remotely objective about, but what they do is singularly beautiful. Another 25 years would be just fine, thank you very much. And then some.

The Next Morning

Hi from Oslo International. I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know what the hell value Høstsabbat sees in inviting me to this festival, but holy crap it’s appreciated. The hospitality I’ve been shown this year and last year (and two years before that, as well) is sincerely humbling, and while I’m happy to come here and write as long as they’ll have me, I can’t say it makes any sense why they’d want me here.

As such, I’m not going to say anything about “next year.” Because, you know what, maybe Høstsabbat will do what’s well within their rights and tell me to get lost (which I did walking from the train station to the hotel on Thursday, same as last year). I feel like it would be reasonable.

So instead of talking about Høstsabbat 2020, which I’m sure will be excellent whether or not I’m here to see it, I’m going to take 2019 and breathe it in for a minute and appreciate what I’ve just spent the last two days doing for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity it was. How many chances am I going to have to see a band like Orsak:Oslo play in a tiny bar? Or Ufomammut and Colour Haze in a cathedral setting? Whatever does or doesn’t happen in the future, I was lucky to be here.

Special thanks to Ole and Jens, as always, and thanks to Stefan Koglek, The Patient Mrs. and most of all to you for reading.

Now, if you need me, I gotta go get on a plane. More pics after the jump.

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Live Review: HØSTSABBAT 2019 Night One in Oslo, Norway, 10.04.19

Posted in Reviews on October 5th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

hostsabbat 2019 poster square

Before Show

Well, the church is still beautiful, not that there was any doubt. The Kulturkirken Jakob, secularized — because in Norway, state might occasionally trump church — with its high-ceiling grandeur and broad wood floor and walls lined with benches that at some point were pews. I’d been holed up in the hotel since yesterday afternoon, mostly sleeping, stumbling through the last of the Quarterly Review and reading about baseball, the news, Star Trek, and so on. Trying to be, essentially, as quiet as possible as though if I weren’t, I’d be politely asked to leave the country. The next two days would assure any quota for volume was met, anyhow.

Skraeckoedlan, which is now a word I’ve typed often enough that my phone knows it, were soundchecking on the altar stage when I walked in. The stage itself was higher and the fest added another bar down toward the front of the big room, which seems like a prudent move. Downstairs in the crypt, Suma were prepping to kick off the first night of Høstsabbat 2019 with a noise soaked basement gig in what’s been also transformed into an art gallery. More visual art this year as well, and there’s a live painting event scheduled for tomorrow early that I’m going to see if I can make.

The only variable in that is finishing this review in time, to be honest.

But it’s only moments now until doors, then about an hour till the first band. People running around looking anxious, nervous, excited. Maybe it’s just me. That will I’m sure smooth out to a good energy as things get rolling and everyone ends up where they’re supposed to be. On the couch in back of the crypt, typing on my phone, that’s kind of where I feel like I am.

After Show

Wow. Well then. That was, uh, something special that I just saw. I feel like I was trying to pry open my jaw from the clenched position it’s been in for the last I don’t even know how long, and tonight was the prybar that finally did the job. Even the last 15 minutes or so of Ufomammut, that last shot of adrenaline. Wow.

The answer of course is obvious — the start — but I feel like I’m not even sure where to start on this one, or how I could hope to convey exactly what went down this evening and tonight in any meaningful way. Holy shit. You think you have a pretty good idea what you’re getting and then it just gets trampled on. I am lucky to be here.

I don’t know what else to tell you that doesn’t come down to that. Here’s a little bit of how it went:

SUMA

SUMA (Photo by JJ Koczan)

You know the thing about post-metal? It’s got rules. You have to headbang a certain way. You have to riff a certain way. You have to take it so seriously all the time. One of the many reasons to like Sweden’s SUMA is they very much seem to recognize that for the bullshit it is. Yeah, they’re post-metal, I guess, but with an inflection straight out of noise rock that makes them so much less strictly adherent to the tenets of the genre — any genre, really — and they’re all the more satisfying to watch because of it. I stood in back in the basement, closed my eyes and just let wave after crushing wave of riffs absolutely bury me in volume. What a start to the weekend. It was like scrubbing away all the bullshit of your existence, your work, your school, the petty dramas that make up your every day, and entering communion with something else. Something loud. Call it catharsis. Call it detox. I don’t really care. SUMA set the tone and vibe immediately for Høstsabbat while also giving everyone who followed the challenge of living up to their standard. I am lucky to be here.

Skraeckoedlan

Skraeckoedlan (Photo by JJ Koczan)

When Swedish melo-prog-fuzz four-piece Skraeckoedlan got added to this festival earlier this year, I didn’t dare hope to think I’d see them. They’re a band I’ve dug since the first time I heard their 2011 debut, Äppelträdet (review here), and their approach has only grown richer with time, as 2015’s Sagor (review here) and 2019’s Eorþe (review here) demonstrate so plainly. But I never expected to catch a live set. Never mind the band standing on a frickin’ altar in a cathedral blazing through their material like it’s another day down at the Office of Kickass, I didn’t imagine a scenario when they and I would be in the same place. I’m glad to have been so wrong about that, because standing there watching them only confirmed the fandom I’ve had for their work over the course of this decade, and really, they’ve only gotten better as they’ve gone on. I may never get the chance to see them again, but after watching them tonight at Høstsabbat, I feel like asking to would be greedy anyhow. I am lucky to be here.

Yatra

Yatra (Photo by JJ Koczan)

This is Yatra‘s first European tour. Something tells me it will not be their last. The Baltimorean trio hit the road hard domestically in the US following the January release of their debut album, Death Ritual (review here), through Grimoire Records, and they reportedly began recording the follow-up to that over the summer. Well, that’s nifty, but in the meantime, here they are pairing with Sunnata on a tour this site is co-presenting and for all the stops they’ve made in New York this year — I can think a couple — Høstsabbat 2019 is my first time seeing them. I feel late to that party, but I’m late to most parties, so I’ll get over it. Nonetheless, as I had suspected, they’re a killer live act, and at least the debut album only tells part of that tale. On stage — or in basement, as it were — they tap into a primal energy, like they’re excavating the very roots of sludge metal. Oh yeah, and Dana Helmuth‘s vocals sound like Jeff fucking Walker from peak-era Carcass, so that ain’t exactly hurting their cause either. Yatra have the potential to lead a revival nastier, more brutal sludge in the US. This tour is only going to make them stronger, as they all will. I am lucky to be here.

Electric Eye

Electric Eye (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Hail the rock på Norska! Across the street (right out the door), at the Verkstedet bar, the entire bill was Norwegian, but Electric Eye would be the lone Norge representatives on the altar, and for what it’s worth — plenty — they brought a sonic spirit that reached far beyond international borders. Also beyond the borders of the atmosphere. I don’t know if it would be appropriate to call their take on space rock entirely mellow, but it was subtle in a way that allowed other influences to creep in almost before you realized they were there. It was a stark contrast, energy-wise, to the rawness Yatra had wrought downstairs, but Electric Eye made the most of their engaging style and gave Høstsabbat a cosmic push that was more than welcome. I had wanted to check out Kosmos Brenner, who last-minute took the spot of Superlynx after a death in the family assured they wouldn’t make it, but after I popped out for a second, I found myself strangely drawn back to the ethereal mysteries being pondered on the big stage. I’ll admit they’ve been around for more than six years and I’d never heard them before. Lesson learned. That lesson? I’m lucky to be here.

Stuck in Motion

Stuck in Motion (Photo by JJ Koczan)

This past April, when I was fortunate enough to see Enköping, Sweden, trio Stuck in Motion at Roadburn (review here), they played as a four-piece, with keys in addition to the guitar, bass and drums. At Høstsabbat, they added percussion as well to their hippie-vibing jams, so there were five of them crammed into the basement stage area — it’s not a stage, as such, but it’s where the gear goes — but if they felt packed in, that did nothing to slow their good times. Retro-fied psychedelic blues, all pastoral and dreamy, but still earthbound enough to tear into a Hendrixian solo every now and again (and again), their stuff made for easy-to-listen vibes, and a soothing bit of respite from some of the day’s more crushing contributors — a complement to Electric Eye in that, but less motorik and more flow. Before they played “Are You Ready to Fly” from their 2018 self-titled debut (review here), they indeed checked in with the crowd to see if the room was ready to fly, and I heard no murmurings to the contrary. That self-released LP has been a little under-radar as yet, but given how full the crypt was for their set, I can’t help but wonder what the reception for their next one will be when it arrives, hopefully sooner than later. I am lucky to be here.

Sunnata

sunnata (Photo by JJ Koczan)

It was hard not to feel like the church was built specifically for Sunnata. The Polish meditative heavy psych ritualists came out with incense and harem pants (respect) and were clear in their concept from the outset, tapping into the spirit of acts like Om and My Sleeping Karma, while still retaining a harder edge to their sound beneath the harmonized vocals of guitarists Szymon Ewertowski and Adrian Gadomski. Special mention should be given as well to bassist Michal Dobrzanski and drummer Robert Ruszczyk, whose ability to build tension was readily apparent in the band’s latest album, Outlands (review here), which came out last year, but whose doing so on stage was nothing short of physically affecting. You felt the churn in your stomach, and when they hit into a payoff, the relief was genuine. Exhale. They’re on tour with Yatra, as noted, but I put Sunnata in the same category of bands I never imagined being able to see live but was absurdly to do so. One recalls their days rocking out fuzzy as Satellite Beaver, and the ongoing evolution they set to roll with the transition they made becoming Sunnata. Their spaciousness, looking inward and outward simultaneously, was an immersive joy to behold. Again, exhale. I am lucky to be here.

Yuri Gagarin

Yuri Gagarin (Photo by JJ Koczan)

In the words of Bernie Sanders: “Look.” I stood in front of two of the three of this festival’s stages all day, and at no point was there a crowd press like there was for Yuri Gagarin. I got to the crypt 20 minutes before they were slated to go on and already people were packed in. Very clearly a band whose reputation was preceding them. It’s been four years since the Gothenburg cosmonauts issued their second long-player, At the Center of All Infinity, through Kommun2 and Sulatron, but their out-the-airlock-into-the-void vibes were quick to remind that time is a human construct and space rock is not. Reaching into the great cosmic throb, they launched with “Sonic Invasion 2910” from their 2013 self-titled and proceeded into oblivion — though I’m not sure it was actually “Oblivion”; that’s on the second record — with the sheer delight of not-entirely-peaceful exploration. About two songs into their set, before I stood up from taking pictures and rolled my numb-ass ankle, I had the thought that I’ll never be able to see Hawkwind in their prime, but now I’ve seen Yuri Gagarin as up close as I could ever hope to see any band. I think some of what they played was new, but don’t quote me on that. Either way, as noted: time, irrelevant. They ruled. I am lucky to be here.

Ufomammut

Ufomammut (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Holy fucking shit, Ufomammut. I’ve had the pleasure a few times over the years, but this was hands-down the best I’ve ever seen the Italian cosmic doom masters play. They began with a few renditions in the style of their recent XX (review here) offering of revamped older material in quieter form — “Satan,” “Mars,” etc. — but what they did with that was gradually use it to build into the heavier portion of the set, so that each successive piece pushed a little further. First it was Urlo and Poia on stage, the former on keys/noise/vocals, the latter on guitar, then Poia joined in for cymbal washes, then drums, then the guitars got louder, then the drums got harder, then the vocals got shoutier until it seemed like the crowd was going to fucking riot if someone didn’t launch into a riff. But 20 years on, Ufomammut know exactly how to put people where they want them, so when they did get heavy, it was glorious. All the more so for the tension they’d built leading up to it. With a projector going on the high church stage, they absolutely laid waste to the room, like a consuming sonic burst of interstellar force. It was impossible to stand there and not be swept up by it. I kept telling myself it was time to go back to the room and start writing, but I couldn’t leave. How many times in your life do you get to see shows like this? They ended, of course, with “God,” and there was nowhere to go after that anyway, so what the hell. It was amazing. Like the entirety of day one at Høstsabbat, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect going into Ufomammut‘s set, and my expectations were thoroughly squashed. I am lucky to be here.

The Next Morning

Achy, but up for it. Took me a while to let myself go to sleep, but I got there eventually, was only up a couple times overnight, which is pretty good for me at this point. Hotel breakfast downstairs had free coffee, so I indulged in two triple-doubles — three double espressos, times two — and feel reasonably conscious. Could stand and will have a shower and that will help as well.

Though it seems inevitable that at some point Høstsabbat will add a third day to the proceedings, be it a pre-show Thursday or a full day Sunday, whatever, the quality-over-quantity at this festival makes it all the more unreal. Every band has something to offer, and though this year with the third stage there are inevitably things you won’t get to see all of if you see at all, the sense of curation and purpose that’s gone into its making is nothing if not palpable. My conclusion remains that I’m lucky to be here.

Some more pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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Quarterly Review: Ufomammut, Horehound, Lingua Ignota, Valborg, Sageness, Glacier, MNRVA, Coroza, Noosed, zhOra

Posted in Reviews on October 4th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

quarterly review

Oh hi, I didn’t see you there. Earlier this week — Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and yes, even Wednesday — the alarm went off at 4AM as usual and I got up, got coffee going and a protein bar and sat down to write, starting basically around quarter-after with a quick email check and whatnot. In terms of basic timing, this last morning of the Fall 2019 Quarterly Review is no different. I even have the baby monitor streaming on my phone as I would most mornings, so I can keep an eye on when The Pecan gets up. What’s changed is I’m sitting in a hotel lobby in Oslo, Norway, having just arrived on an overnight flight from Newark. Managed to sleep some on the plane and I’m hopeful adrenaline will pick up the rest of the slack as regards getting through the day. That and caffeine, anyhow.

Although, speaking of, my debit card doesn’t work and I’ll need to sort that out.

First thing’s first, and that’s reviews. Last batch of 10 for the week. We made it. Thanks as always for reading and being a part of this thing. Let’s wrap it up in style, and because I like working on a theme, three Irish bands in a row close out. Hey, I went to Ireland this year.

Quarterly Review #41-50:

Ufomammut, XX

UFOMAMMUT XX

Five years ago, Roman cosmic doom masters Ufomammut took a reflective look back at their career for its 15th anniversary with the documentary/live-performance DVD XV (review here). And since one might define the arc of their tenure as constantly trying to top themselves, for their 20th anniversary, they’ve issued a 12LP boxed set, titled simply XX, that compiles their nine albums to-date and tops them off with the mostly-subdued-style XX itself, which reimagines past cacophonies like “Mars” and “Plouton” in a quieter context. That part of the mega-offering issued through their own Supernatural Cat imprint comprises six songs recorded live and makes highlights out of the hypnotic strum and incantations of “Satan” as well as the rumbling drone of “Lacrimosa,” which takes on new emotional resonance for the shoegazy treatment it receives. I’ve said on multiple occasions throughout the years that Ufomammut are a band to be treasured, and I stand by that 100 percent. The XX box should be perceived by fans as an opportunity to do likewise.

Ufomammut on Thee Facebooks

Supernatural Cat website

 

Horehound, Weight

horehound weight

Less than a year after issuing their second long-player in the form of Holocene (review here) through Blackseed and Doom Stew Records, Pittsburgh atmosludgers Horehound align with DHU Records for the two-song 8″ EP Weight, which brings “Unbind” and “The Heavy,” two new cuts that, while I’m not sure they weren’t recorded at the same time as the last album — that is, they may have been — they nonetheless showcase the emergent melodic breadth and instrumental ambience that is developing in their sound. Even as “Unbind” rolls toward its low-end tempo kick, it does so with marked patience and a willingness to stay slow until just the right moment, which is not something every band cane effectively do. “The Heavy,” meanwhile, builds itself around a Crowbar-style dirge riff before Shy Kennedy‘s verse arrives as a standalone element, all the instruments around her dropping out from behind. That moment alone, frankly, is worth the price of admission, as whether it’s through that extra inch in diameter of the platter itself or through the audio of the tracks in question, Horehound continue to distinguish themselves.

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DHU Records BigCartel store

 

Lingua Ignota, CALIGULA

LINGUA IGNOTA CALIGULA

I’m not sure I’m qualified to write about Lingua Ignota‘s CALIGULA (on Profound Lore), but I’m not sure anyone else is either. Like a self-harmonizing mega-Jarboe turning existential horror into epic proclamations of “I don’t eat/I don’t sleep” on “DO YOU DOUBT ME TRAITOR?” amid bass throb and terrifying melodic layering before making bedroom black metal sound like the lightweight self-indulgence it’s always been on the subsequent check-out-the-real-shit “BUTCHER OF THE WORLD,” Kristin Hayter‘s work is little short of experimentalist brilliance. She is minimal and yet over-the-top, open in creative terms but unwaveringly dark and rife with melody but severe to the point now and again of true aural abrasion. She weaves a context of her own into “FUCKING DEATHDEALER” as she recalls the lyrics to the aforementioned “BUTCHER OF THE WORLD,” while the outright brutality of “SPITE ALONE HOLDS ME ALOFT” is married to a piano-led meditation that, even without the noise wash from whence it comes, is enough to recast visions of what heavy is and can be in musical terms. I won’t pretend to get all the references like “kyrie eleison” (“lord have mercy”) worked into “IF THE POISON WON’T TAKE YOU MY DOGS WILL” and the violent strains surrounding, but it’s impossible not to realize the power of what you’re hearing when you listen.

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Profound Lore Records on Bandcamp

 

Valborg, Zentrum

valborg zentrum

With an intensity born out of a history of industrial music and focus on tight rhythms making an impact in even-tighter songwriting, Valborg are neither beholden to death metal nor entirely separate from it, but their style has taken on a life of its own over the course of the last 10 years, and their latest offering, Zentrum (on Prophecy Productions), is the German trio’s most individualized take yet, whether that’s shown in the unbridled melodicism of “Anomalie,” the sludgy riff that drives the barking “Ultragrab” or the seemingly unrelenting snare pops of “Kreuzer” that, even when they finally release that tension, still make it only a temporary reprieve. Valborg‘s sense of control through the epic “Nonnenstern” should not be understated, and though the track is under four minutes long, yes, “epic” very much applies. Suitably enough, they close with “Vakuum” and throw everything at the listener at once before resolving in relatively peaceful atmospherics that could just as easily serve as an introduction to the next round of malice to come, whenever it shows up.

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Prophecy Productions webstore

 

Sageness, Akmé

sageness akme

Spanish trio Sageness — also written SageNESS — conjure smooth Electric Moon-style soundscapes on their second album, Akmé, and yes, that is a compliment. The record brings forth six tracks of easy-rolling instrumentalist jam-based heavy psychedelia that offer much and take little in return, the richness of the guitar tone from Dawyz and Michi‘s bass given jazzy fluidity by Fran‘s drumming. “Ephemeral” touches most directly on a Colour Haze, as it would almost have to, but even there, the feeling of spaciousness that Sageness present in the recording is a factor that helps them come across as more individual. Earlier, “The Thought” is a little more directly space rock, but opener “Andromeda” seems to be charting the course with its liquefied effects and somehow-even-more-liquefied groove, and if you can’t get down with that, I’ve got nothing for you and neither does the rest of the universe.

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Spinda Records website

 

Glacier, No Light Ever

glacier no light ever

It’s not exactly true, about their being no light ever on Boston post-metallers Glacier‘s latest full-length, No Light Ever. Sure, it’s plenty dark and heavy and brooding and all that fun stuff, and the riffs get loud and the drums break stuff and all that, but it’s certainly colorful in its way as well, and more than just shades of black on black. Comprised of four tracks cumbersomely titled in keeping with the traditions of the likes of Red Sparowes and the band’s own past work, cuts like “O World! I Remain No Longer Here.” and “The Bugles Blow, Fanned by Hysteria.” stretch themselves out along a scope as massive as the tonality the band emits, and as the wash of “We Glut Our Souls on the Accursed,” — the comma is part of the title there — gives way to feedback and the onset of “And We Are Damned Amid Noble Sound.” the sense of immersion is complete and clear as the priority under which they’re working. It’s about the whole album, or at least the two sides, as a unified work, and about crafting a world through the atmosphere evoked in the material. It works. If they say there’s no light in that world, so be it. It’s whatever they want it to be.

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Wolves and Vibrancy Records webstore

 

MNRVA, Black Sky

mnrva black sky

Not-entirely-bereft-of-vowels South Carolina heavy trio MNRVA make their debut with the three-song EP Black Sky, a beast of a short release led by the riffs of guitarist Byron Hark on a stretch of ’90s-style crunch and sludge, with bassist/vocalist Kevin Jennings and drummer Gina Ercolini adding to the weight and shove of the proceedings, respectively. “Not the One” has the hook, “No Solution” has the impact and the title-track has both, and though I’m by no means saying the issue of their sound is settled 100 percent and they won’t grow or find their way from this — again, their debut — EP, they do prove to be well in charge of where their songs head in terms of mood and the atmosphere that comes through elements like the blown-out vocals and the rumbling bass beneath the lead guitar in the second half of “Black Sky” itself. Indeed, it’s those harsher aspects that help MNRVA immediately establish their individuality, and the vibe across these 18-plus minutes is that the punishment is only getting started.

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MNRVA on Bandcamp

 

Coroza, Chaliceburner

coroza chaliceburner

Just because Irish four-piece Coroza — guitarist/vocalists Ciaran Coghlan and Jack O’Neill, bassist/vocalist Jonny Canning and drummer Ollie Cunningham — might write a song that’s 18 minutes long, that doesn’t mean they forgot to actually make it a song as well. Thus it is that extended cuts like “The Plutonian Drug” (18:24) and closer “Iron from the Sky” (19:30) have plenty of room to flesh out their more progressive aspects amid the other three also-kind-of-extended pieces on Chaliceburner, the group’s ambitious hour-plus/five-track debut full-length. Each song essentially becomes a front-to-back movement on its own, with shifts between singers arranged thoughtfully from one part to the next and hooks along the way to serve as landmarks for those traversing, as in the opening “Chaliceburner” or the gruff winding moments of “Mountain Jaw,” which follows the nine-minute sax-inclusive centerpiece “Scaltheen,” because of course there’s a saxophone in there somewhere. All of this is a recipe for a band biting off more than they can chew stylistically, but Coroza manage pretty well the various twists and turns of their own making, particularly considering it’s their first album.

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Coroza on Bandcamp

 

Noosed, She of the Woods

noosed she of the woods demo

Encased front and back by witchy samples and creepy vibes, Sept. 2019’s She of the Woods is the second demo in two months to come from Cork, Ireland’s Noosed. And you know it when they get around to the closing seven-minute title-track because it’s just about the only thing other than “Intro” that isn’t raging with grind intensity, but that stuff can be fun too. I don’t know how much witch-grind-doom is out there, but Noosed‘s first, self-titled demo (released in August) had a sludgy edge that seems to have separated out to some degree here into a multifaceted personality. Can one possibly be certain of the direction the band will ultimately take? Shit no. It’s two demos with basically no time differential between them. But if they can effectively bridge the gap between “Fuck Up,” “Wretch” and “She of the Woods,” or even play directly with the contrast, they could be onto something with all this noise and fuckall.

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Noosed on Bandcamp

 

zhOra, Ruthless Bastards

zhora ruthless bastards

The narrative — blessings and peace upon it — has it such that Irish four-piece zhOra wanted to do something less complicated than was their 2017 album, Ethos, Pathos, Logos (discussed here), so they went ahead and wrote a song that’s five minutes long and purposefully hops between subgenres, going from sludge to doom to a deathcore breakdown, with a snare-pop count-in, to blackened death metal and then back to a lumbering chug to finish out. Okay, zhOra, “Ruthless Bastards” is a an awful lot of metal and an awfully good time, but you missed the mark on “simple” by a considerable margin. If indeed the band had been plotting toward something, say, easier to play or to compose, “Ruthless Bastards” ain’t it. They’ll have to settle for being brutal as fuck instead. Something tells me they’ll survive having made that trade, as much as anything will.

zhOra on Thee Facebooks

zhOra on Bandcamp

 

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