Live Review: Conan, Mantar, Black Pussy and Hush in Brooklyn, 05.22.15

Posted in Reviews on May 25th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

Conan (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I had almost forgotten the glorious trials that NYC traffic could provide. The opportunities to see oneself as being on a great, grueling journey, near-Homerian. A quest undertaken on foot, dragging a cart on your back, covered in shit and mud, sweltering in the sun. Maybe an extreme vision, but the A/C in my car was on the fritz, and it’s summer south of the wall, so it wasn’t exactly an easy drive. Got to Brooklyn in time to have a burrito at the Acapulco Deli next to the Saint Vitus Bar, however, ahead of the start of a four-band bill with Albany five-piece Hush (also stylized as Hush., with the punctuation), Portland, Oregon’s Black Pussy, German duo Mantar and UK destroyers Conan, the latter two wrapping up a coast-to-coast tour that also included stops for Conan at Psycho California and, just the night before, at Maryland Deathfest.

Brooklyn was the second to last stop on the tour, with Philly the next night and then flights out, but I didn’t get a sense of any post-MDF comedown from the band. The Vitus Bar has enough of a reputation at this point that it has become a destination in itself for bands on tour, and for me, seeing Conan there was no less an event. This was their first time in the States, and while I had an advantage in having seen them twice at Roadburn (in 2012 and in 2014) and at Desertfest London in 2013, the prospect was still exciting, not the least because it was a new lineup. I parked myself near the front a couple minutes before Hush went on:

Hush.

Hush (Photo by JJ Koczan)

One could probably call Hush.‘s style death-doom, but I always ascribe a certain sense of emotional drama to that, and the Upstate fivesome were light on that and heavy on just about everything else. More megasludge than death-doom, but plenty extreme one way or another. Vocalist C. Cure set up in front of the stage, and no wonder. Space was at a premium with the mountain of amps backlined, and Hush.‘s own contributions to that pile of equipment were as considerable as the tones that emanated from them. Slow-sounding even in their faster stretches, their lurch was pervasive and Cure‘s growls met the tide head-on, spit or some other manner of regurgitation flying out of his mouth as he headbanged near the front of the stage such that I thought it might be hitting guitarist Jeff Andrews (also of heavy rockers Ironwweed) in the leg. If he did, Andrews gave no sign of it. With an emphasis on tonal crush running throughout, they tossed in some new material along with “We Left Like Birds” from last year’s Unexist debut full-length, and while they were somewhat unipolar in their overall affect — that is, all heavy, all the time — they gave the evening a vicious, intense start and bludgeoned ferociously as if throwing down a gauntlet to anyone who might dare pick it up, earning their punctuation all the while.

Black Pussy

Black Pussy (Photo by JJ Koczan)

To be perfectly honest, I was kind of dreading seeing Oregon’s Black Pussy again. Not because they suck. Actually, just the opposite. If they sucked, fine. You write them off as a shitty band with a shitty attention-grab of a name and you move on. But because they’re actually good, and because they put so much attention into the details of their presentation — from drummer Dean Carrol‘s near-manic smile as he plays to the all-Sunn backline, to bellbottoms and vintage shirts on guitarist Ryan McIntire, organist Chief O’Dell and bassist Aaron Poplin, to guitarist/vocalist Dustin Hill‘s sunglasses and apparent unwillingness to keep his tongue in his mouth while he sings — you can’t just ignore them. I decided early in the set that from here on out I’d refer to the band as Five White Dudes in a Band Called Black Pussy, and so I will. Five White Dudes in a Band Called Black Pussy were solid, and I recognized several tracks from earlier-2015’s Magic Mustache (review here), the Queens of the Stone Age-style bounce and warm but still heavy roll, but you pretty much have to put a douchebaggery-filter on to watch them and get any sense of enjoyment out of it. At least if they’d called themselves White Cock you’d be able to say it was vaguely subversive. As it is, they’re just a bummer, and the more I see of them, the more that becomes a palpable reality. Don’t think it’s a racist or sexist name? Think it’s cool and ironic and not at all reinforcing white supremacy or the colonization of black bodies? Think the internet is populated by overly PC “social justice warriors?” Fine. You’re wrong and I don’t give a fuck. Think for a second about what you’re defending. Or don’t. Start your own website instead, and pine for the days when white people could be blatantly racist without being told they should feel bad about it. Have fun with that.

Mantar

Mantar (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Hamburg duo Mantar — vocalist/guitarist Hanno and drummer/vocalist Erinc — arrived in Brooklyn having already made an impression on this tour. I’d heard from several people in other cities who’d been pleasantly surprised by the two-piece’s blend of thickened doom tone and raw metal. They had some technical difficulties at the beginning of the set, something about the power cable into the D.I. box, but once they started, they were zero-to-100 almost immediately, Hanno spitting his lyrics at Erinc from across the stage while the drummer, arranged with his side to the crowd, crashed and slammed away a propulsive course. There were elements of Celtic Frost at their roughest, and a touch of High on Fire and the Melvins in “Astral Kannibal,” but wherever they went sonically, the core of what they were doing was the punishment of their delivery, veins popping out on Hanno‘s neck as he shouted up to his microphone. With just the two of them on the stage, there was plenty of room to thrash around, and Hanno took advantage, switching between different channels in the backlined rig, Orange heads and cabinets set up on both sides of the stage, revealed when Five White Dudes in a Band Called Black Pussy removed their Sunns — it was an evening of expensive-looking gear — used to get both bass and guitar tones out of the guitar. It was unfortunate that their set got cut short and they were visibly frustrated, but assured the room they would be back and would hopefully be able to play longer next time around. I couldn’t imagine it had been an easy tour with routing that basically took them across the country and back, but Mantar did well in the direct-support slot and the punk-rooted dynamic between Erinc and Hanno was evident even as I was relatively unfamiliar with the band.

Conan

Conan (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Word was that at least some of those Orange stacks had been used in Sleep‘s recent Atlanta show. To have them subsequently carried by Conan on their first run through the US — it surely won’t be their last — seems a fitting inheritance. Conan guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis is the sole remaining founder of the band, and over the course of 2014, he brought on bassist/vocalist Chris Fielding, also producer for not only Conan but also the likes of Electric Wizard, Primordial, etc., and drummer Rich Lewis, so while Conan released their second album last year in the form of their Napalm Records debut, Blood Eagle (review here), they’re essentially a new band. Lewis, who is a man of many cymbals, is the latest addition, but they’ve toured with this lineup before, and coming toward the end of this stint as well, they were duly crisp in their delivery of what has developed into one of the heaviest aesthetics in the world. Hyperbole? Yes, but Conan warrant speaking in absolutes. Opening with “Crown of Talons,” they immediately set the place to a steady rumble and did not relent for the duration of their time on stage, Blood Eagle cuts like “Foehammer” and “Total Conquest” joined by “Hawk as Weapon” from 2012’s Monnos (review here) and “Satsumo” from their landmark 2010 Horseback Battle Hammer EP (review here), as well as a new song that worked in a middle pace to further the overbearing impression of their riff-led pummel. Davis and Fielding traded shouts, the latter almost with a Godfleshy burl, and managed to cut through the tones while Lewis nailed the snare work and quick changes in “Foehammer.” My usual modus is to hang out up front for a couple songs, take pictures and then fall back and enjoy the rest of a set from in back of the crowd, but Conan held me front and center for the duration, headbangers to the left of me, drunken staggering to the right, volume over top and crushing down. It was a brutal push through some of the highlights of their growing catalog, but their set also got cut short on curfew accounts. They wrapped up amid calls for one more song, thanked the crowd, said they’d be back, and took centerstage for a quick photo to mark the occasion, urged by some jerk who’d been taking pictures the whole time.

Speaking of, I owe a particular thanks to respected videographer Frank Huang. At the start of the show, I turned on my camera only to find I had no memory card in it, and Frank came to my rescue by letting me borrow a spare. When the show was over, I immediately dumped the photos onto my laptop, which I had in my car because I was slated for a post-gig two-hour drive to Connecticut, where I’d be crashing for the night to continue to Massachusetts on Saturday. Epic in a whole different way. I got in around 3AM with the lumbering “Crown of Talons” still stuck in my head, where it has remained since.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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Fatso Jetson & Farflung, Split: Sand and Space

Posted in Reviews on May 22nd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

fatso jetson farflung split

The two probably have more in common existentially than sonically. Both Fatso Jetson and Farflung trace their roots back to California in the early ’90s, Farflung having gotten together in ’92 and Fatso Jetson in ’94, and both have endured over the two-plus decades since while remaining consistently underrated at home and abroad. Both are a good distance away from their last full-length — Fatso Jetson‘s Archaic Volumes (review here) dropped in 2010, Farflung‘s A Wound in Eternity in 2008, and both have done more of their recent work as splits, Farflung with Black Rainbows on Heavy Psych Sounds and with White Hills on Cobraside in 2012, and Fatso Jetson with Yawning Man in 2013 and with Herba Mate (review here) last year. And while recent years have seen Fatso Jetson‘s street cred greatly expanded as a new generation has come up to appreciate their contributions to desert rock and Farflung‘s spacey designs have also caught on more in Europe, it’s still safe to say both are underappreciated by the general listening consciousness. Whether or not Heavy Psych Sounds had that in mind in pairing them up for their new split LP, which boasts two new tracks from each band, I wouldn’t know, but it ties the release together in a way that still allows for the two to have distinct sonic personalities that show through in the material, Fatso Jetson‘s sound having pushed to the roots of desert rock in punk and warm-toned groove and Farflung pushing cosmic Hawkwindy jamming and effects-laden exploration.

Again, there’s more drawing them together in terms of their situation than aesthetic, but listening to the songs back to back, as on a CD or digital version, their split isn’t especially choppy in moving from one to the next. Part of that owes to the open-ended weirdness that has emerged in Fatso Jetson‘s sound, a well-established penchant for quirk playing out now with the inclusion of guitarist Dino Von Lalli, son of founding guitarist/vocalist Mario Lalli and nephew to bassist Larry Lalli. Driven as ever by the sharp drumming of Tony Tornay (who also played on Brant Bjork‘s last record) and quick-turning fuzz riffing, “Taking off Her Head” nonetheless has a punkish undercurrent particularly in comparison to the jammier vibes that pervaded the Herba Mate split. This isn’t necessarily unexpected — one knows better than to expect the same approach from Fatso Jetson twice in a row — but there’s still room in the song’s seven minutes for fleshing out, as they do in a bridge and softer-delivered ending section, the rhythmic shove remaining intact all the while. “Flesh Trap Blues” has more swing and swagger, but keeps a bizarro thread going with the effected opening lyrics, “Yes I need it/You don’t want it/I can’t have it/I can’t even try,” running backward and forward at the same time before the instrumental buildup begins. In its groove and shake, “Flesh Trap Blues” plays to the band’s strengths, but tonally and structurally it fits with “Taking off Her Head” as well; it just happens to be that Fatso Jetson at this point can pull off whatever shifts they want and make it work. Call it an earned luxury 20 years on from the release of their first album, Stinky Little Gods.

fatso-jetson farflung

If you’re wondering, Farflung‘s debut LP, 25,000 Feet per Second, also came out in 1995, but they’re not yet 30 seconds into the 12:53 “Jettisoned in the Rushes… Phase One” before the mood has undergone a significant shift, gong wash, tense guitar and synth marking the beginning of an expansive instrumental surge, vague whispers pervading in an anything-goes progression, elements arriving unannounced, staying for a while and then splitting again, synth, Mellotron, various guitar swirls and so on showing up over a drum beat mostly straightforward but subtly changing tempo from one movement to the next. But for the overarching fluidity, one might be tempted to call it collage, pieced together, but given Farflung‘s history, I’ve no trouble believing they could make “Jettisoned in the Rushes… Phase One” happen at will. The closer “Igneous Spire” — still longer than either of Fatso Jetson‘s tracks but seeming short after its predecessor at 7:55 — has classic Hawkwind-style thrust and more straightforward verses. It wouldn’t be right to call it grounded, because it’s space rock, but it’s less experimental despite the swirl, the various turns of echo and the moment in the second half of the song where the whole thing seems to break through some cosmic barrier and arrive at an open, empty space populated by tom hits, residual synth and sparse guitar, residing there for a minute or so before picking back up for the final surge, which is given added drama by string sounds and a combined forward motion, all parties setting the same course and bringing “Igneous Spire” to a satisfying if sudden end while avoiding smashing into any asteroids along the way.

At a vinyl-ready 34 minutes, the Fatso Jetson and Farflung split is a relatively quick listen, but it travels a significant distance in that time between one act and the next. It doesn’t quite solve the issue of both groups being due for full-length releases, but it’s an engaging front-to-back pulse and offers something different in each piece from each band, so for the already-converted, there’s nothing to complain about in taking it on. It might not be the most obvious pairing on the surface, but it makes an appropriately peculiar kind of sense by the time it’s over.

Fatso Jetson & Farflung, Split (2015)

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Farflung on Thee Facebooks

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Live Review: Ufomammut, Usnea and Mountain God in Brooklyn, 05.19.15

Posted in Reviews on May 20th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

Ufomammut (Photo by JJ Koczan)

The circumstances by which I found myself in the Tri-State Area were complex enough that I feel no need to recount them, but the point is, if you’re in town anyway, and Ufomammut are rolling through Brooklyn to hit the Saint Vitus Bar on their first US tour ever, supported by Portland’s Usnea and locals Mountain God opening, the obvious choice is to go. Yes, I was at a show in Boston on Sunday, but that seemed like long enough ago that it didn’t matter. It’s fucking Ufomammut. You show up.

Mountain God (Photo by JJ Koczan)I missed the three-piece at Roadburn in 2011, but saw them there in 2009, and even six years later, the impression they left behind was resonant enough that I could see them clearly on the Main Stage bludgeoning the room with their cosmic mastery. The image is vivid. They’ll play Maryland Deathfest this weekend and are out supporting their 2015 Neurot Recordings outing, Ecate (review here), the latest in a line of records a decade long proving their utter supremacy of sound. I felt fortunate to have the planets align in such a way as to allow me to make it to the show.

As I understand it, Mountain God were something of a late addition to the bill. Cool by me. Playing as the trio of guitarist/vocalist Ben Ianuzzi, bassist Nikhil Kamineni and drummer/backing vocalist Ryan Smith (also Thera Roya), they had new material on offer and included two cuts from their 2013 Mountain God (Photo by JJ Koczan)Experimentation on the Unwilling demo (review here), so yeah, sign me up. Their particular brand of atmospheric sludge has only become more visceral over the last couple years, and as expansive as their 2015 single-song Forest of the Lost EP (review here) is, its churn still seems to stir the guts. So it was on stage as well.

Worth noting that for all three bands, the stage was d-a-r-k dark. Most of all for Mountain God and Usnea, but even for Ufomammut the only real light was toward the back of the stage, and there wasn’t much of that. Might as well have been taking pictures in Boston, it was so fucking dark. So it goes. Mountain God‘s new songs, “Nasca Lines” and “Taxidermist,” pushed the limits of their extremity well, Ianuzzi‘s blown-out vocals cutting through his and Kamineni‘s rumbling tonal morass — a heft that would become a theme for the night. The interplay of Ianuzzi and Smith proved especially effective throughout, but either way, ambience remained thick and the effect remained crushing.

Usnea (Photo by JJ Koczan)They finished out with “Experimentation on the Unwilling” itself, a memorable pummel of a riff at its center, and received greetings and well-earned congratulations at the front of the stage while breaking down their gear to make way for Usnea, touring with Ufomammut from their base of operations in Oregon. It was my first exposure to the death-doom four-piece, who made their debut on Relapse last year with their second full-length, Random Cosmic Violence, and I found they were a completely different band from what I expected them to be. As in, I thought they were another band. It was a pleasant surprise when their ultra-nodding brutality held sway for the duration, both guitars tuned to the key of slow-motion destruction as drums and bass stood center-stage to punctuate and foster feel-it-in-your-stomach resonance. Can’t claim to have known the material, but the first impression was a positive one.

And by positive, I mean overwhelmingly negative — the downer vibes so dense they couldn’t seem to let any light escape. Right on. I knew Ufomammut would be headed for more psychedelic terrain, and indeed they were, so to have Usnea follow Mountain God‘s tectonics with their own lumbering doom was a solid fit and welcome complement to the bill. If I’d had any cash, I Usnea (Photo by JJ Koczan)probably would’ve picked up a CD of Random Cosmic Violence, but the water bottle I had in my camera bag I bought with quarters and I didn’t think I had that much change on hand. Maybe next time. Their closer was “Detritus,” the 15-minute finisher from their sophomore outing, and it was as vehement an endorsement of their wares as anything I might recount in a review, plodding and stomping en route to a building finish that left nothing else to say when it was done. Many bands would have trouble following it.

Ufomammut, however, are a different breed. I’m almost surprised this was their first US tour. It’s easy to imagine them — as so many of their contemporaries from around Europe did — coming to the States and playing to upwards of 20 people at The Continental in Manhattan a decade ago before any of this stuff caught on and it was suddenly reasonable to be positioned in front of the stage at the Vitus Bar next to a photographer from The New York Times (“Uh, I run a blog,” was my barely-stammered response when she asked who I was shooting for) at a sold-out show. As if the experience wasn’t surreal enough, Ufomammut — guitarist Poia, drummer Vita and bassist/vocalist Urlo arranged left to right — Ufomammut (Photo by JJ Koczan)played off a setlist that seemed to be written in code, with notations for synths and the mysterious light-up samplers and effects they had on foot-switches while a video screen projected behind.

Devastatingly heavy? Why yes, they were, but that’s really just one component of the experience. Watching Ufomammut play is like being stirred in a cauldron of something thick and molten. Somehow, it swirls, but on the surface level it doesn’t even seem like it should be able to move at all. Each song seemed to take them deeper into space, the entirety of Ecate rearranged for stage presentation and followed by “Oroboros” from Oro: Opus Alter (review here), “Stigma” from 2008’s Idolum and, finally, “God” from 2004’s Snailking, which was brought to a brutal finish as though the trio were trying to pull apart the remnants of the galaxy on a molecular level, some great cosmic code punched in to result in the end of all things in multi-dimensions. It was like that. Sound as force. Senses colliding, and Urlo headbanging with his entire body the whole time. The further they went the more righteous they became, and the room — sweltering, dark, vibrating — went with them all the while, that great cauldron made flesh. To call it breathtaking would be speaking literally.

Ufomammut (Photo by JJ Koczan)There was a moment after they were done that required a return to earth, more of a snap back than a gentle release, and you could feel it from others in the room as much as from yourself. An exhale and realization of the impressionist galaxial scope just witnessed, blurred lines fitting for the summer’s haze that seemed to be settling over the Manhattan skyline on the way into the city. Even having seen the band before, I did it too. People made their way to the bar and out blissfullly stunned, and I did likewise, almost tempted to call Ufomammut‘s arrival on North American shores overdue if they hadn’t rendered things like space and time so irrelevant.

A couple more pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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Goatsnake, Black Age Blues: Crossing the River

Posted in Reviews on May 19th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

goatsnake black age blues

The prospect of a new Goatsnake full-length has loomed large over heavy rock since the widely-influential four-piece got back together half a decade ago for their first reunion show at Roadburn 2010. Their two albums, 1999’s Goatsnake I and 2000’s Flower of Disease have cast a wide shadow over the riffery that emerged in their wake, the soulful vocals of Pete Stahl (earthlings?) a blueprint that few since have been able to follow and the contributions of guitarist Greg Anderson in the years that followed widely varied through his output with SunnO))) and at the helm of Southern Lord Recordings, which has helped shape underground tastes for well over the last decade. Fifteen years after the release of their last album, 11 since the Trampled Under Hoof EP surfaced, Stahl, Anderson, drummer Greg Rogers (The Obsessed) and newcomer bassist Scott Renner (Sourvein) return with Black Age Blues, on Southern Lord, and the impression they seem to be trying to give is they’re picking up right where they left off. In fact, they do. Opener “Another River to Cross” begins with the ending of Flower of Disease closer “The River” fading in as an intro before a bluesy acoustic guitar line introduces the nodding central figure that, when Stahl and backing vocalists Dem Preacher’s DaughtersWendy Moten, Gale Mayes and Andrea Merrit — hit into the chorus with gospel fervor, will serve as one of the album’s defining and course-setting moments. In four words? Heavy, blues, soul, riffs. Rogers and Renner provide the heavy, Anderson has the riffs, Stahl is the soul and the entire rolling nine-track/47-minute span is blue as blue gets. It seems like an easy enough formula to work with, but if that’s the case then why the hell have Goatsnake endured for 15 years without a record while so many others have come and gone?

No question Black Age Blues became one of 2015’s most anticipated releases immediately upon its announcement. Hell, even before then. And sure enough, it carries its “event” spirit into the material itself, moving from “Another River to Cross” into a one-two punch of the ultra-catchy “Elevated Man,” as clarion a hook as one could ask, though the harmonica sounds somewhat shoehorned in where a guitar solo might otherwise be, and the so-stuck-in-your-head-it’s-almost-obnoxious “Coffee and Whiskey,” the latter preceded by a recorded goof-around with Stahl singing the chorus, reminiscent of any number of studio-captured off-the-cuff moments that wound up on blues records. It’s a righteous, stunning opening salvo, and while Anderson‘s tone is invariably cleaner than it was a decade and a half ago, the method and the heft are retained via the Nick Raskulinecz production (yes, he also produced Flower of Disease, for those who’d note the continuity), and there’s still plenty of weight being thrown around behind Stahl, who’s forward in the mix at first on “Another River to Cross” but seems to step back over the next couple tracks before the title cut offers a shift away from the sub-five-minute straightforward rollers and into a classic upbeat stoner shuffle that moves in its second half to bigger riffing via a well-timed slowdown that deconstructs as the foursome shove it toward its 6:19 finish. Obviously it’s meant to be broken into halves for vinyl sides, but if one takes Black Age Blues in thirds — three sets of three tracks — it provides a fascinating sprawl as well, between its hook-laden opening trio, the middle third which branches out and the final third to tie it all together. “House of the Moon,” which follows “Black Age Blues,” is the centerpiece of the tracklist and also toys some with back and forth pacing swaps, but also brings back Dem Preacher’s Daughters for a welcome return and rightly brings them forward alongside Stahl, who makes his way to the final chorus with the lines, “We will shine on/Third time’s a charm.” And so it might just be. The revival atmosphere as the backing vocals refrain “shine on” is as pervasive on “House of the Moon” as it is anywhere on the album, but Goatsnake haven’t hit their apex yet, and it’s not where one would think.

goatsnake (Photo by Chris Lundry)

Hard to imagine “Jimi’s Gone” being about anyone other than Hendrix, with the opening lyric “Guitar-slinging gypsy,” and so on, but it’s the boogie front and center and thick, so they’re not falling into the trap of aping an artist’s sound while paying them tribute, though Stahl does layer in a bit of call and response with some Hendrixian “hey man” and “yeah man” before Dem Preacher’s Daughters announce the move into the song’s midsection with choral whoa-ing, leading to a torn out guitar solo and eventually back to the verse and chorus, some more harmonica tossed in — a bit more naturally this time — for good measure as the track rounds out leading to the tense thudding that starts the doomly “Graves,” which lurches like the best of classic The Obsessed but is overshadowed immediately by “Grandpa Jones,” the high point of the album, bringing together the infectiousness of the opening trio, the roll of the title-track and the church-hat testimony of “House of the Moon” — essentially pulling together all the righteous elements spread throughout into one huge four-and-a-half-minute stretch — Stahl and Dem Preacher’s Daughters hitting their best meld over Rogers and Renner‘s finest swing and Anderson‘s riff at the core of the whole thing. It is fucking beautiful, and with all due respect to “Slippin’ the Stealth,” “IV,” “Easy Greasy” and other high points from their first two records, it might be the best song they’ve ever written. The chorus of “You can’t decide what to do with your life/Grandpa Jones/Break it down” is perfectly arranged, the effect is heavy bliss, and it’s on “Grandpa Jones” that the listener really gets the sense of the blues record that Goatsnake have made here and how rather than trying to recapture their sound as it was, they’ve let it become this new and exciting beast while still retaining its most pivotal vibe. A call and response after the second chorus meets with complementary slams from Rogers and they finish with a turn into a particularly Sabbathian finish that’s as much about the fun they’re having as the heft they’re conjuring while doing so. That leaves “A Killing Blues” to close out, the momentum carrying from the end of “Grandpa Jones” to the beginning of the 7:35 finale, also the longest inclusion here. An open, nodding groove pervades the early going, but “A Killing Blues” is more about the jam that takes hold just past the three-minute mark, which starts with a quiet boogie as the foundation for the last build, falsetto repetitions of the title line ringing out over plotted, siren-style guitar lead and cymbal crash, a final rumble holding sway for a time until the rains start in and lead the album out.

In a way, the cover tells the whole story: Clouds of doom hang heavy over an old church in a sparse landscape and the air itself seems to be tinted blue, maybe with twilight or maybe just the darkness of the storm coming. One can’t help but wonder if that church might also be used as a schoolhouse, since that’s basically where Goatsnake are taking the entire genre of heavy rock and roll with their return full-length. Again, on paper the patterns are simple, but what the band does with them is nothing short of breathtaking, even aside from the simple appeal the album carries with it for fans through the simple fact of its existence. Sounds like hyperbole, but the blessings Black Age Blues bestows are not to be undervalued either for their heaviness or the individual presence at work behind them, and five years after their first reunion set, 15 years after their last album, Goatsnake may be the most vital they’ve ever been. Recommended.

Goatsnake, Black Age Blues album teaser

Goatsnake at Southern Lord Recordings

Goatsnake webstore

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Live Review: Clutch, Mastodon and Graveyard in Boston, 05.17.15

Posted in Reviews on May 18th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

Clutch (Photo by JJ Koczan)

A mixed bag of a crowd at House of Blues in Boston, and between Mastodon, Clutch and Graveyard on the three-band bill, it’s not much of a surprise. One can draw a thread easily enough from one to the other to the other, but the reality of watching them on stage makes plain the differences between them, emphasizing Graveyard‘s ’70s boogie, Clutch‘s bluesy groove and the noodly progressive overload of Mastodon, who were the evening’s headliners. Accordingly, there were those who were there to see one or the other. Kids for Mastodon, dudes who look like me for Clutch and/or Graveyard, metal heads, rockers, whatever. I wouldn’t call it diverse exactly, but not everybody had a beard.

Graveyard (Photo by JJ Koczan)“The Missing Link Tour,” as it’s been dubbed, started just over a month earlier, mid-April in Minnesota, and it will end in Columbus, Ohio, on May 24. With a week to go, maybe the three bands were thinking “home stretch” or “last throes,” but if so, it wasn’t evident from the crowd. Big Business did the initial couple weeks, but Graveyard stepped in on April 29 for the rest of the run, and they were a major draw for me. I hadn’t seen them since the beginning of 2013 and knew they had a new album in the works, so was hoping for some yet-unreleased material in the set from Swedish retroist forerunners, and got what I came for in a driving, one-int0-the-next mix with tracks culled from 2012’s Lights Out (review here), their landmark 2011 sophomore outing, Hisingen Blues (review here) and even their 2007 self-titled debut.

It was “As the Years Pass by, the Hours Bend” as the sole inclusion from the latter, and while Lights Out cuts “Seven Seven,” “Hard Times Lovin'” and “The Suits, the Law and the Uniforms” represented the latest outing, and “Hisingen Blues,” “The Siren,” “Buying Truth” and finale “Uncomfortably Numb” the second album. A full set, maybe, an opening one nonetheless, and as much of an impact as the Gothenburg four-piece of guitarist/vocalist Joakim Nilsson guitarist Jonathan Ramm bassist Truls Mörck (who played guitar on the self-titled and is returned to the band handling low end) and drummer Axel Sjöberg have had on the course of European heavy rock — Sweden aboundsGraveyard (Photo by JJ Koczan) in ’70s riffing and much of it is Graveyard‘s fault — they stood almost in a horizontal line on stage with Clutch and Mastodon‘s gear behind them. For what it’s worth, from that opener’s position, they also put on the best show I’ve seen play and I’ve seen them four or five times now.

Their new album, yet untitled, is due in the fall, and the new song they played from it was called “Shunken.” A big question as regards their sound is whether they’ll stick to the tonal warmth of their output thus far or, à la their Nuclear Blast labelmates and countrymen in Witchcraft — whose roots also trace back to the mid-’90s nexus outfit Norrsken, whose demos and compilation tracks beg immediate reissue — if they’ll attempt to modernize their style, sacrificing aesthetic to center on songwriting. Hard to tell live, but “Shunken” had an evening’s worth of shuffle packed into its relatively brief course, so I’d say Graveyard‘s Graveyardery is alive and well at least as far as that song goes. Lights Out was a moodier offering, and “Hard Times Lovin'” brought that to bear on stage between “Buying Truth” and “The Suits, the Law and the Uniforms,” but Nilsson‘s growth as a vocalist was evident in how thoroughly and soulfully the material was nailed, and their set provided a reminder that one of the joys of watching them play is how much it seems at any moment like the songs are going to come flying apart and how tight the band shows itself to be when they never actuallyClutch (Photo by JJ Koczan) do and everyone comes back together on the next measure.

As I’m sure they have all along their time on tour, Graveyard won over the crowd at House of BluesClutch, on the other hand, had the room from the word go. They’ve also got a new record coming this fall, in September, specifically, and they’ve been brandying around new songs either from it or not for a while now, titles on YouTube clips like “ZZ,” “Energy Weapons,” “Motörhead,” “Sucker for the Witch,” and so on, popping up whether or not that’s how they’ll actually be titled when the recording hits. Their last outing, Earth Rocker (review here), was hands-down the best release of 2013, and the rock-solid, semper-professional four-piece of frontman Neil Fallon (interview here), guitarist Tim Sult (interview here), bassist Dan Maines (interview here) and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster (interview here) have obviously taken steps to ensure the follow-up arrives sooner than the four years it took for Earth Rocker to answer 2009’s Strange Cousins from the West.

Knowing a different member picks the setlist each night, I never see Clutch play that I don’t wonder whose choices they’re running through. I wouldn’t hazard a guess this time, but I’d like to send them a thank-you card for including “The Regulator,” a perennial favorite, and “Cypress Grove” from 2004’s Blast Tyrant, from which “The Clutch (Photo by JJ Koczan)Mob Goes Wild” and “Profits of Doom” were also aired, the latter coming late in the set prior to “The Wolfman Kindly Requests…” from Earth Rocker and a finale of “Electric Worry/One Eye Dollar” from 2007’s From Beale Street to Oblivion. New cut “Son of Virginia” seemed directly in bluesy conversation with both “Electric Worry” and even more so “The Regulator,” but emerged into a heavier push from its subdued, twang-laden bounce, Fallon less the preacher than he is at times but no less imperative in telling the crowd, “You gotta know your history/Son of Virginia,” in the chorus. A faster new song, titled “Monsters” according to the setlist, boasted Earth Rocker-style thrust and shout-outs to the Cyclops and other creatures out of mythology, very much in Clutch‘s wheelhouse.

Something of a surprise to think it had been more than a year since I last saw them play, that show in New Hampshire Fall 2013 following Fallon‘s back surgery — gotta know your history — but they were, as ever, engaged in the delivery of a sound quintessentially their own and seemingly unbreakable. They are among the finest and most enduring live acts of their generation, and I didn’t envy Mastodon having to follow them. That said, there was a point at which I couldn’t go more than two weeks without having to put on Clutch, and after not seeing them for so long, I wondered if the spell had been broken. Nope. Still very much a Clutch fan, as it turns out, and can’t wait to hear the new record, from which “Our Lady of Electric Light” was the third and final song to be aired, quieter and moodier even than “Son of Virginia,” but easing well into “D.C. Sound Mastodon (Photo by JJ Koczan)Attack” and its extended jam driven by Gaster‘s well-established percussive brilliance and unflinching funk.

There’s been footage kicked around online of Fallon joining Mastodon during their set for “Blood and Thunder” as he did on the latter’s 2004 sophomore breakthrough, Leviathan, but it wasn’t to be. My evening was pretty much over when Clutch finished, but I’ll say that while I’ve seen Mastodon hit and miss live — back-to-back nights in Brooklyn with Neurosis in 2008 come to mind as examples for both — they were absolutely on fire at House of Blues, and while they lost me years ago as they traded in the visceral rhythmic push of 2002’s Remission and the subsequent Leviathan — what was, at the time, a genuinely new take on sonic heft — for the progged-out technical showcasing of Blood Mountain and Crack the Skye, I did my time as a Mastodon fan, had a nostalgic moment when I saw a dude walking through the crowd in the same Leviathan t-shirt I wore to my wedding reception, and it was fun to watch them kick ass across material new and old, be it “High Road” from last year’s Once More ‘Round the Sun or “Megalodon” from Leviathan.

And while I don’t really follow them at this point — obviously hasn’t hurt the band any, if their draw is something to go by — they put on a more than solid show, laser beams emanating from the stage and all as Bill Kelliher held his guitar aloft, Mastodon (Photo by JJ Koczan)drummer Brann Dailor held down the cleaner choruses of new songs, guitarist Brent Hinds tore into those or that solo and bassist/vocalist Troy Sanders skirted a line between cartoonish metal frontman and genius conceptualist in the middle of the stage. They didn’t become the band they were expected to, but they obviously became the band they wanted to be, which is more admirable in its way. When their sprawling encore of “The Czar” from Crack the Skye was done, Dailor got on mic and took a moment to profusely and sincerely thank the crowd before handing out his drumsticks and a drum head that had apparently been busted during the course of the set. One imagines he goes through them on the regular.

After that, there was nothing to do but shuffle slowly out of the venue and into the warm Sunday night and listen to the familiar chorus of drunken wildlings shouting epithets at passing cars; as much a cultural staple of Boston as anything that happens across the street from House of Blues at Fenway Park, I should think. Nothing quite like a town that loves its traditions.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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Deathkings & Rozamov, Split: A Shared Tendency Toward the Extreme

Posted in Reviews on May 15th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

deathkings-rozamov-split

How exactly Deathkings and Rozamov might’ve gotten hooked up for a split release is something of a mystery. Geographically, it seems an unlikely pairing, with Deathkings based in Los Angeles and Rozamov in Boston, but I seem to recall the latter have been out west before, so they could have run into each other then. Or Midnite Collective, which is releasing the limited 7″ pressing of their combined effort could have been the catalyst just as easily. Both are on the lineup for Psycho California 2015, so that could have done it. Or one band could’ve heard the other on this new thing called the internet and sent a message over. The possibilities, roughly, are endless, but however it happened, they complement each other well. The 14-minute Deathkings and Rozamov split arrives in an edition of 150 black vinyl copies with one song from each outfit, both delighting in an extreme take on sludge and doom, but each group with a nuance of its own to offer something just slightly different from the other. They are a fitting combination, Deathkings offering the 7:54 “Solomon” to push the limits of how much a 7″ can hold and Rozamov answering back with the 6:44 “Ghost Divine,” pummel a uniting factor between the two as they offer up a slaying sampler of their wares to those on either coast who’ve already gotten or might get on board with their darkened visions.

For Deathkings, the split marks the four-piece’s first physically-pressed outing since their 2012 debut full-length, Destroyer, though they also had a single out at the end of 2014 digitally, and Midnite Collective reissued Destroyer on vinyl last year as well. They’re not strangers to extended forms, and use their space effectively, an undercurrent of post-metallic ambience and repurposed Neurosis influence in their vocal arrangements adding to the density of some of the open spaces of “Solomon,” which launches the 7″ at a tense but quiet rush, tom hits from drummer Sean Spindler setting the pace soon joined by gravely vocals before the full tonal breadth of guitarists Daryl Hernandez and Mark Lüntzel and bassist Nicolas Rocha kicks in. Interplay between them becomes prevalent in a quieter break after the halfway point, but before they get there, Deathkings course through a doom inflicted with some blackened elements and a linear structure pushing forward into weighted plod and seeming to relent only to give the vocals appropriate room to urge the listener to “die now” on top of some suitably ritualistic background chants. Resurgence hits after the 5:30 mark and drives through frenetic turns toward an overarching lurch of a groove, Spindler‘s snare cutting through the mix to punctuate all the while a stomp that Rozamov will soon enough echo in “Ghost Divine.” That stomp serves as Deathkings‘ apex, however, and “Solomon” caps with just a short rumble that fades out quickly no doubt for spatial consideration of the medium. They’ve had a lineup change since recording the LP, though I’m not sure that accounts for the three years between releases, but the stylistic breadth and ambition in their songwriting makes Deathkingssound like a band actively seeking an open creative form, and “Solomon” reaps the benefits of that search.

deathkings rozamov

While shorter, Rozamov‘s “Ghost Divine” is perhaps even more given to extremity. Like Deathkings, the Boston trio have undergone a lineup shift since their last recorded output, their 2013 Of Gods and Flesh EP having included guitarist Liz Walshak, who can currently be found in newcomers Sea. As the trio of guitarist/vocalist Matt Iocovelli, bassist/backing vocalist Tom Corino (also of Kind) and drummer Will Hendrix, Rozamov are rawer on “Ghost Divine” than they were on the EP, but that rawness feels intentional. A feedback swell fades in to an immmediate thrust of blastbeaten grinding and fast-paced sludge churn, their sound having long since grown out of most of its initial High on Fire influence but retained a penchant for thrash. Iacovelli and Corino answer each other vocally over the central riff with an affect more in line with a hardcore punk cover of Vital Remains than anything particularly doomed, but the ambience remains heavy all the same, and only adds weight as it slows into a solo section, fluidly pushing toward its halfway point with grand, echoing lead notes over slamming hits that seem (in context) in direct conversation with those Deathkings brought to bear, the vocals returning to command the tumult ably before dropping off to a quieter stretch of atmospheric noodling, layered-in piano from Iacovelli and persistent drumming to hold the tension. They build back up, and as one might hope, churn their way back to the rush that typified the first half of the track, ending strong with sustained, layered screams/growls and amplified crackle, the confidence with which they present “Ghost Divine” doing as much to convey the extremity as the actual riffs themselves. They sound like a band ready to put together their debut full-length, and so they are.

No doubt it will be too extreme in its base of influence for some, but Deathkings and Rozamov‘s split is nonetheless efficient in conveying where each band is at, and its curated feel in how well one contribution feeds into the next is not to go unnoticed. As far apart as they might be on a map, the two groups draw a quick line between them of shared viciousness, and revel in their variations on the theme.

Deathkings & Rozamov, Split (2015)

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My Sleeping Karma, Moksha: Freedom through Realization

Posted in Reviews on May 12th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

my-sleeping-karma-moksha

The progression of German instrumentalists My Sleeping Karma has been as natural and flowing as the tones they’ve offered across their releases. Moksha is their fifth full-length and second to be released on Napalm Records behind 2012’s Soma (review here), and like that album, it finds the Aschaffenburg four-piece delving into Eastern religious themes — “Prithvi” being the world in which everything is contained, “Moksha” being freedom through self-realization, “Agni” the Hindu god of fire, etc. — and spacing out its graceful longer pieces with progressive interludes. In structure, Moksha could be considered a direct sequel to its predecessor, but much of what My Sleeping Karma accomplishes across its 11 songs/54 minutes finds its roots further back, in 2010’s Tri (review here), 2008’s Satya (review here) or even their 2006 self-titled. Their growth, in other words, has been steady, and the four-piece have proved over the better part of the last decade to be more inclined toward gradual, incremental steps forward than presumptuous leaps of sound. Moksha, then, is the next step for guitarist Seppi, bassist Matte, drummer Steffen and keyboardist Norman, and it proves to be their most entrancing work yet, pulling varied movements together across an immersive singular span that heavy, progressive, and hypnotically psychedelic while continuing to refine their sound as one of the most immediately identifiable in underground rock. The textured feel of the material here, whether it’s the building guitar swirl of “Vayu” or the keyboard and effects wash of the penultimate “Interlude 5,” is what unites it as a whole, and more even than Soma, it’s possible to make your way through the various twists and surprises Moksha has on offer without realizing just how far you’ve gone.

Like the best of heavy psychedelia, the feel is otherworldly, but My Sleeping Karma have never just been about jamming. Even less so over time. Their songs, though instrumental and portraying an open creative process, carry a refined feel, and that’s true from the first echoing guitar notes of “Prithvi,” which courses through keyboard and guitar melodies over a steady rhythmic foundation, leading into the first interlude’s ritualized drone, chanting and percussion coming to a head just as “Vayu” takes over, again led by the guitar and keys. Memorable turns, tonal warmth and easy transitions are nothing new for My Sleeping Karma, but both “Prithvi” and “Vayu” underscore just how much their sound has become their own over the course of the last nine years, and even with the three-year break preceding Moksha as the longest of their career, they have continued to evolve their approach. “Vayu” ends on a dreamy note of fading horns and “Interlude 2″ picks up with a quiet guitar line fleshed out atmospherically over 1:45 before “Akasha” kicks in as one of Moksha‘s most engaging moments, a driving rhythm and airy spaciousness playing back and forth with each other not so much in competition as complement, Steffen‘s drums tying it together as each build starts anew. Moksha is more linear than broken into sides A and B — more like LPs one and two, both for its north-of-50-minutes runtime and companioning of one song into the next into the next — but the acoustic guitars and mellotron sounds of “Interlude 3″ mark a halfway dividing point nonetheless, and keys remain at the fore in the beginning of the subsequent title-track, also the longest inclusion at 9:37. While not as immediately catchy as “Akasha,” the titular cut offers satisfying rumble in its distortion, a fervent swirl, satisfying tempo shifts and a sense of composition that has remained a key factor in My Sleeping Karma‘s style particularly over their last three outings. I won’t take anything away from the faster prog riff that emerges from the grand chugging of “Moksha”‘s largest moments, but what really makes the piece a standout is the post-rock guitar/key interplay that comes forward at about the 5:30 mark, Norman‘s intro line resurfacing and fleshing out for the remainder of the track, not so much in a build, but in a contemplative moment of exploration that hints at what the next step might be for the band.

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That step? One can only speculate, but listening to Moksha and in particular listening to the song that shares the album’s name, it seems that where My Sleeping Karma might be headed is in drawing the heavy psychedelic and progressive influences together, taking the adventurous ambience and arrangements of their interludes and the solidified movement of their longer tracks and bringing them into a new cohesion. Whether that comes from expanding the interludes or broadening their songwriting as a whole, I don’t know what shape it might take, but five albums deep, that’s part of what makes My Sleeping Karma an exciting listen. Airy guitars continue amid a poignant surge on “Interlude 4,” while “Jalam” continues the expansive cascade of “Moksha,” careening into and through heavier parts en route to a sprawling, firm-rooted middle ground, the turn in one direction or another sudden but easy enough to follow, and the last of the interludes, the aforementioned “Interlude 5″ has a smokier feel in its guitar and keyboard spread. Almost a bluesy drama, if filtered through the band’s own style. That leaves “Agni” to close out Moksha with a note reinforcing the album’s progressive vibe, which it does via intricate riffing and overarching thrust offset by more open “verse” riffs and a calm midsection that acts as the launch point for the last of the record’s builds, My Sleeping Karma taking one more lead-topped run into weightier distortion amid a comfortable lumber, adding intensity to the push until a final crash lets the ending tones fade away. One way or another, My Sleeping Karma have already made an impact on heavy psychedelia, not notably in Europe, but if listening to Moksha and trying to parse out what they might do next proves anything, it’s how fascinating a project theirs continues to be even a decade after its inception. Whatever direction My Sleeping Karma may or may not go, their output has only become more resonant with time, and as the most recent check-in on their progress, Moksha finds them at their most accomplished yet. But they in no way sound like they’re done, either.

My Sleeping Karma, “Prithvi” official video

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My Sleeping Karma’s website

Moksha at Napalm Records

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Cherry Choke, Raising the Waters: Hypnotized with Flesh and Bone

Posted in Reviews on May 11th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

cherry choke raising the waters

It’s been a fascinating journey Mat Bethancourt has undertaken for the last half-decade or so. Since putting underrated fuzz rock trio Josiah to rest in 2009 with Procession (review here), a collection of unreleased and live tracks, the Leicester-based guitarist/vocalist has spent time in Dexter Jones’ Circus Orchestra, been in and out of The Kings of Frog Island and founded and released two, now three, albums with Cherry Choke, all operating under different parameters within the umbrella of heavy rock and psychedelia. With The Kings of Frog Island, Bethancourt explored a fuzzed-out expanse on the first two records and then stripped down the methods for his final album with them, 2010’s III (review here), his songwriting not comprising the whole core of their sound — as subsequent Kings outings would prove — but having a significant impact on it all the same. That more garage rock style would seem to be foundation on which Cherry Choke was based. On Elektrohasch, the trio released their self-titled debut (review here) in 2009 and followed it relatively quickly with A Night in the Arms of Venus (review here) in 2011, the second album expanding on the ideas of the first but keeping the elemental feel intact. Four years later, Cherry Choke offer Raising the Waters, their third full-length on Elektrohasch, recorded and mixed analog with label head and Colour Haze guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek at his Colour Haze Studio (Koglek also adds some vocals and 12-string acoustic), which brings together Bethancourt and drummer Daniel Lockton with bassist/vocalist Simon Beasley, formerly of — wait for it — Josiah.

So yes, more than half a decade and numerous twists and turns of sound and cohort later, Cherry Choke brings together a two-thirds reunion of Josiah on their third album, but they’re doing precious little across the 10-track/50-minute outing to recapture former glories, and instead, Cherry Choke‘s Raising the Waters pursues a blend of classic, laid-back heavy rock songwriting and psychedelic exploration, beginning with the seven-minute “Rage On,” which presents with its first lines one of the record’s landmark and defining hooks, “You move like Lucifer on the floor/Hypnotize me with your flesh and bone,” around which the three-piece builds a psychedelic roll that proves immediately immersive, Bethancourt‘s well-established penchant for layering wah leads and nodding rhythm tracks met by Lockton‘s swinging groove and Beasley‘s warm-toned low-end. The opener is a fitting summary of what the album as a whole has to offer, and there’s no shortage of vibe throughout the rest of side A, but as the hooks of the speedier, Monster Magnet-esque “Mindbreaker,” the preaching “Black Aniss” and the jamming-but-still-chorus-driven “Used to Call You Friend” play out, it’s easy to lose touch with the more psychedelic aspects presented in “Rage On,” perhaps even more so since the aforementioned “You move like Lucifer…” line is given a reprise on “Hypnotize Me,” but the second half of the tracklist brings this further into focus, making Raising the Waters not just a step forward in the aesthetic presented on the first two Cherry Choke outings, but a grander leap into a pool of tone that more than lives up to the goal a title like “Hypnotize Me” sets forth. With guest sitar from Mario Oberpuncher — who also mastered with Koglek — and Hammond M3 and Fender Rhodes by Martin Bischof, the back end of Raising the Waters fulfills in short order the atmospheres that “Rage On” seems to promise, still in league with the memorable songwriting of “Mindbreaker” and “Black Aniss,” but pushing throughout the rolling “6ix and 7even,” the grounded “My Mind to Lose” and acoustic-led “Discarded Hearts” into a bliss of their own making.

cherry choke

That’s not to say the earlier tracks aren’t likewise tripped out or that Raising the Waters plays out like two records in one. There’s a flow between the album’s two halves and the creativity across both is open to be sure, it’s just a question of structure, and what turns out to be side B on the vinyl is clearly intended to expand on the ideas of side A, bringing about a bold, unexpected sonic foray into Euro-style heavy psych that, by the time “Discarded Hearts” is over, has offered as much emotional as aural breadth. “Where the Sun Rises” is an instrumental highlight as deep and lush in sound as one might ask, and “6ix and 7even” picks up that psychedelic thread and adds — Hammond! — yes, the Hammond, but also the fervent rhythmic push of “Mindbreaker” and “Rage On”‘s clever structuring, and while “My Mind to Lose” has a back-to-earth-again effect for the clarity of its chorus, it still spreads wide across a back-half lead section that recalls the best of Bethancourt‘s work with The Kings of Frog Island. A tone wash emerges to carry “Discarded Hearts” into a moment of silence, from which “Where the Sun Sets” picks up as the album’s closer and, entirely backwards, provides a mirror to “Where the Sun Rises” in much the same way “Hypnotize Me” answered back “Rage On” on side A. It’s a dreamy, droning kind of finish a long way from the already-stuck-in-your-head “Rage On,” but fitting somehow for the progression that Cherry Choke have undertaken across Raising the Waters, as BethancourtBeasley and Lockton take the band to ground new and familiar and forge a character sound-wise that’s neither one thing nor the other, but encompassing with songwriting that remains graceful in the expanse. It’s a delicate balance to strike, but Cherry Choke make it seem easy and manage to stay afloat no matter how high the waters rise.

Cherry Choke, Raising the Waters (2015)

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