Review & Track Premiere: River Cult, Chilling Effect

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on April 2nd, 2020 by JJ Koczan

river cult chilling effect

[Click play above to stream “Neo Dog” from River Cult’s Chilling Effect. Album is out May 1 through Nasoni Records (LP) and Tee Pee Records Annex (DL).]

River Cult feel like a band-in-waiting for the hype machine to take notice. They are as yet likewise underrated and loaded with potential. Chilling Effect is their second LP behind 2018’s righteous debut, Halcyon Daze (review here), and a well-received 2016 EP, and the three-piece use it as an opportunity to organically present a sound that spans decades as fluidly as it spans tracks. Uniting through an overarching loose and psych-prone tonality and vibe, they conceive a vision of heavy that’s adherent to a ’70s-style power trio ethic of putting the live performance to tape in as meaty fashion as possible, while 11-minute opening title-track and longest inclusion (immediate points) could hardly feel more modern, with guitarist Sean Forlenza offering a vocal pattern that calls to mind All Them Witches even as the massive jam that ensues sets the stage for the thickened, slowed Fu Manchu roll of “Left Hand Path,” the Nebula-esque strut through “Neo Dog” and the heavy psych instrumentalism of the penultimate “Red Return” ahead of “Fool’s Gold,” which rounds out with a surprising post-punk-goes-grunge shimmer.

Concerning their overall craft and range, they are likely a few years ahead of their time, but with the sure presence of groove from bassist Anthony Mendolia and drummer Tav Palumbo behind Forlenza‘s riffing and airier leads, there is never a misstep when it comes to transitions within and between the songs. This is true even as “Fool’s Gold” hits the brakes on its swirling solo and moves into a doomier slowdown before shifting back toward more molten fare and ultimately capping Chilling Effect not much with a scorching apex — which they’d be well within their rights to do, given the proceedings as a whole — but with an expanse of residual amp noise and hum, hypnotic in its drone, a lower-end echo and complement to the keyboard flourish that begins the outing in the title cut. One way or another, the name of the record would seem to be no coincidence.

So be it. If the measure of River Cult‘s sophomore full-length is to be the record’s ability to have an effect of the mood of the listener or at very least its own atmosphere in terms of how one might relate to it, then Chilling Effect can only be considered a success. At the same time, it’s hardly void of movement, even if one counts the most basic level of tempo alongside the shifts from one element of style to another. As “Chilling Effect” emerges from that initial keyboard line, it does so around a fuzzy groove that’s comfortably paced and makes a fitting bed for Forlenza‘s proclamations. A doubtful influence, but there’s some of the natural density that drove defunct North Carolinian acts like Caltrop and Black Skies in the aughts, picking up on a nascent heavy Americana that came to fruition in this past decade at the behest of other acts. River Cult never quite touch that line either, but in the wailing guitar and spoken lines that set up the solo as “Chilling Effect” oozes through its midsection, there’s a bluesy shade being drawn just the same.

river cult

In River Cult‘s hands, however, it becomes the foundation of the aforementioned jam, an instrumental outward motion that brings into emphasis the bolder ideology of putting the longest song first on the record — the safe thing to do would be otherwise. As it is, the feedback of “Chilling Effect” fades seamlessly into the creeping opening progression of “Left Hand Path,” which unveils its sludgy sleeze early and holds to it for the duration. Mendolia makes it a high point of low frequencies. Even as the noisy guitar solo arrives late and the drums pick up in kind, the bassline is a repetitive and hypnotic joy, giving further credence to the laid back delivery of the verses before. The rumble resumes after the solo and a cold stop brings to the digital version the arrival of “Neo Dog,” which is something of a departure in being about half as long as the shortest of what surrounds at just 3:11, but makes up for runtime in attitude and its alternating between swing and push, neither refusing to give ground as it winds to a stylized, stage-ready bop of a conclusion.

With that, River Cult put themselves to the task of pushing deeper and deeper into side B. Leads are layered in “Red Return” and the song forms around welcome returns to a drifting line of guitar, quiet and nodding all the more as it starts to meander in blues fashion after four minutes in, coming to a full stop before a snare snap from Palumbo brings the three-piece into a faster closing section, this one marked by a wash of noise that continues in abrasive fashion even after the drums and bass cut out as the guitar seems intent on breaking whatever manner of amplified conveyance it’s being run through.

The initial turn of “Fool’s Gold” is rightfully jarring coming out of that, but as River Cult shift into more densely-toned riffing — recalling the heft of “Left Hand Path” — they do so around a particularly Sleep-y progression, which soon gets translated into a floating lead that becomes the ground for the Forlenza‘s last solo, returning to guide the band through their final quiet stretch ahead of one more dose of mega-fuzz before the last 90 seconds or so drone into an oblivion that comes not with the long fade one might expect, but a sudden, cold finish that stands in defiance of much of Chilling Effect‘s chilling effect. Perhaps that’s the band’s way of shocking their audience out of the trance they’ve incited, but in any case, the prevailing sentiment throughout the 35-minute stretch is one that, even in its most thrillingly savage moments, exudes a casualness and a raw chemistry that can only help earn the attention River Cult are proving to be due.

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Aural Hallucinations Stream Debut LP Alucinações Auditivas in Full; Preorders up Now

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on April 1st, 2020 by JJ Koczan

aural hallucinations

Aural Hallucinations will release their debut album, Alucinações Auditivas, through Space Rock Productions on May 1. The ocean-spanning experimentalist duo brings together Massachusetts-based Matt Couto — best known as the now-former drummer for Elder, and also currently of Kind — with Scott “Dr. Space” Heller, who, though currently residing in Portugal, nonetheless continues to work as the prolific synthesist and bandleader of Øresund Space Collective and also, so far as I know, still hold a place in the otherwise-Norwegian Black Moon Circle and a few other projects as well.

The semi-self-titled Alucinações Auditivas is their first release of any sort as well as being their first album — though they led up to it by unveiling “Brain Stimulator” and “Fly Free, Furry Friend” as singles — and in its vinyl-ready form it runs seven tracks and 41 minutes of way-far-gone mostly-instrumental collaboration. Pieces like “Hills White, House Blue” become a kind of miasma of synthesizer sounds, and from the leadoff cut “Formigas,” on which the applied “vocals” would seem to be recorded and manipulated breathing, onward, the prevailing sentiment is that anything is welcome noise-wise so far as the vibe is maintained.

To wit, the underlying low end synth progression behind the penultimate “Don’t Take the Granite Acid” follows an eerily similar rhythm to that of my basement washing machine when heard through the floor of my living room. There are eerie whispers there as well (not in my basement, fortunately), and “Spore Cloud Dispersion” offers a drum progression and bassline that echoes the space rock at its most frenetic, while closer “Surreal InhiVisions” finds its anchor in acoustic guitar almost in a manner reminiscent of Lamp of the Universe were that outfit more given to conjuring a total wash AURAL HALLUCINATIONS ALUCINACOES AUDITIVASof effects rather than sticking to some semblance of structural traditionalism.

Despite all the far-out-itude of Alucinações Auditivas and the piercing high-pitched frequency that makes its way into “Brain Stimulator,” the project is consistent with elements of both Couto‘s and Heller‘s past work. Certainly the latter has been no stranger to improvised-seeming experimentation — that’s Øresund Space Collective‘s wheelhouse — and the former has handled modular synth and other noisemaking whatnots in Kind as well, so it’s not that Aural Hallucinations comes out of nowhere in terms of their approach, just that the two parties involved have very clearly made a conscious decision to highlight this aspect of their creativity together.

The mission and resulting LP are likewise admirable though both by their very nature are not necessarily widely accessible. Still, the wide open range that Alucinações Auditivas establishes nearly immediately and only continues to push into broader spaces is a closed-eyes-headphones-on escape that one can easily imagine as a ready foundation for future such expeditions. With their driving principle seeming to be just building pieces from the ground up and seeing what works, they show an awareness of that and a corresponding awareness of when a piece is done or might not need anything else going on in it.

This makes Aural Hallucinations dynamic as well as varied in their approach, and from minimal to maximal, Alucinações Auditivas demonstrates a dimensionality that goes beyond the depth of its mix. Actually, its dimensionality kind of goes outside of this dimension altogether, but I suppose that’s a different matter.

Also it’s not made of matter.

You get the point.

With preorders open as of today ahead of the release next month, Aural Hallucinations have opened the floodgates and are letting the noise drift through with a full album stream of Alucinações Auditivas below. Should you choose to plunge in, I most certainly hope you enjoy:

This is the debut album by Matt Couto (Kind, ex-Elder) and Dr Space (Øresund Space Collective, Black Moon Circle). It features a number of tracks to have Aural Hallucinations to. Luis Antero has kindly provided us with several field recordings that have been mixed into a few of the tracks.

Matthew Couto- Moog Opus III, Moog Werkstatt, VRL Modular Synthesizer, Drums, Bass, Acoustic guitar, Electric Guitar, Vocal

Dr Space- Yamaha CS10, Custom Modular Synthesizer, KORG SQ-10, Nord Lead 2, ARP Odessey, Vocal

Artwork by Matt. Logo and cassette/CD layouts by Josh Yelle.

Mixing and mastering at Éstudio Paraíso nas Nuvems, Central Portugal by Dr Space.

Aural Hallucinations on Bandcamp

Space Rock Productions website

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Album Review: Spacegoat, Superstition

Posted in Reviews on March 31st, 2020 by JJ Koczan

spacegoat superstition

Monterrey, Mexico’s Spacegoat released their debut full-length, Superstitions, in late 2016 as a self-issued digital outing comprised of 10 songs running over 50 minutes long, and set about building a following on stages in their home country to support. The release follows a well-received self-titled 2012 EP that introduced the classic-style sound of the four-piece and in particular the powerful vocal presence of guitarist Gina Rios, whose work indeed acts as a feature across Superstition as well, highlighted once more on a March 2020 limited vinyl issue — purple LP; 300 pressed — through Germany’s Electric Magic Records, the imprint helmed by Christian Peters of Samsara Blues Experiment.

The two bands shared the stage in 2018 in Monterrey, and obviously Spacegoat made an impression. Reasonably so. The LP edition of Superstition drops the track “Astral” from the digital release in order to obtain a more vinyl-ready 46-minute runtime, but its nine-song stretch is still more than enough opportunity for the band to showcase their craft, as guitarist Miguel Rios, bassist Rigo Vigil and drummer Rey Fraga back Gina‘s soulful approach to construct tracks of well-made classic-style heavy, fluid in its unfolding but largely straightforward despite some flourish of psychedelia and a jaunt like “The Wooden Path,” which calls to mind the lucid strum of acoustic Zeppelin.

Less cult rock than one might expect given the cover art and the title hinting at things-not-quite-on-kilter, Superstition packs a healthy dose of doom rock into its proceedings, beginning with the the rolling midtempo groove led by the two guitars on “Doomensional,” which is almost surprising in how fuzzy it isn’t. Not that Spacegoat don’t have distortion or tonal presence, but it comes through much clearer in the recording than one might expect, playing up the band’s classic rock roots rather than any strict adherence to heavy-style genre tenets or even doom itself, though they remain undeniably a heavy band in style and purpose.

At the same time, neither are they retro or overly stylized when it comes to “performing” classic rock — they don’t attempt a vintage production, and their tones, while not unnatural, brim with a modern fullness. It may be that the Rioses, Vigil and Fraga are using this collection in order to search out a niche for themselves in terms of sound, to find some place in between the intersection of one microgenre and another, either consciously or not, but I’d suspect it comes simply from an impulse of wanting to sound more like themselves than any other single band, and that in itself is admirable. They shift into a speedier tempo on second track “Transmuta” and are no less at home than in the comfortable “Doomensional,” and finish their opening salvo with “As We Land,” with the drums holding back during the verses to kick in with the arrival of one of the record’s more memorable hooks and the build that caps.

spacegoat

The title-track follows as the first of four inclusions over six minutes long spaced out over the remainder of Superstition, initially quiet but foreboding in a way that telegraphs the kick in sonic heft that arrives shortly before two minutes in. That quiet/loud tradeoff plays out again and the more voluminous spirit carries Spacegoat through the end of the song, with fading residual tones giving way to silence and “Purple Sand” at the presumed end of side A. At 6:06, it is a highlight of Miguel Rios‘ guitar work, with semi-psychedelic spaciousness that adds to the depth provided by the bottom end of bass in the mix, a solo starting at about 4:15 echoing out in soundscape fashion effectively ahead of a final chorus.

Indeed, “The Wooden Path” has an organic feel made all the more resonant by its foundation of acoustic guitar, and its placement before “Erase the Sun” — arguably the heaviest and inarguably the most Sabbathian of the riffs to be had on Superstition can only be purposeful. There’s a bit of that solo echo in “Erase the Sun” as well, if perhaps not as emphasized as on “Purple Sand” as the vocals soon return to top it, but adds to the Iommi vibe as the longest song on the album moves into its second half, a bit of effects treatment on Gina‘s vocals too putting one in mind of earlier Alunah‘s forest worship, especially with “The Wooden Path” immediately preceding.

The two songs, as the start of side B, would seem to indicate a shift in purpose from some of the first half of the album’s more rocking fare, and even without “Astral” to further the cause, that’s how the rest of the offering plays out to some degree, even as “Sacred Mountain” finds itself nestled into Graveyardy swing operating at a tight, concise 3:39 in a seeming echo to the mission of “Transmuta” earlier, Fraga‘s drums shoving the song through its first minute-plus before a temporary slowdown allows everyone to catch their breath ahead of the next verse.

They finish quick and unfold the doom-blues of “Sleeping Hours” (6:48) as the closer to pay off all prior hints toward atmosphere in the songwriting, with a quiet and patient initial progression shifting gradually toward its first volume surge (just after two minutes in) and a satisfyingly soulful lead once that distortion has receded. Vocals in layers and a final thrust of tone brings the last march of “Sleeping Hours” to a head, and it’s another surprise that Spacegoat have in store for those who make their way through the LP, considering how much of the band’s focus throughout is on straight-ahead execution. With that in mind, their departure at the finish offers one more means by which to glimpse their potential, the abundance of which is the underlying message of the album as a whole.

It’s been over three years since Superstition was initially released, and Spacegoat haven’t been idle in that time in terms of playing shows. I haven’t seen word of a follow-up to this debut, but if such a thing might be in the works on any level, the Electric Magic LP only gives those who heard it digitally and those who didn’t a chance to get introduced ahead of that inevitable next step from the band, and with the quality of the work and performances they bring to it, it’s likely to find fervent welcome among the listeners who chase it down.

Spacegoat, Superstition (2016)

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Review & Full Album Stream: Beesus, 3eesus

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on March 30th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

beesus 3eesus

[Click play above to stream 3eesus by Beesus. Album is out Friday on Go Down Records, More Fuzz Records and New Sonic Records.]

As the title hints, 3eesus is the third full-length from Roman heavy fuzz rockers Beesus. Also their first offering through long-established Italian imprint Go Down Records as well as More Fuzz Records and New Sonic Records, the seven-song excursion spreads languid and loose across 40 minutes that are alternately spaced and driving and swinging and rolling, with guitarist/vocalist Francesco Pucci, bassist/vocalist Emiliano Gianni and drummer/vocalist Adriano Bartoccini putting a clear priority on sonic diversity throughout. Consistency is maintained through the tones of the guitar and bass — that is, the fuzz is thorough — but after the push of opener “Reproach” and the spacier “Sand for Lunch,” third cut “Suffering Bastards” offsets its hooky nodder chorus with verses of spoken word on the way to a jammier second half marked out by airy soloing and unbridled groove.

Having all three members of the band ready and willing to contribute vocals adds to the band’s ability to build more complex arrangements, and even as the wall of fuzz overwhelms the shouts of centerpiece “Sleng Footloose,” those shouts clearly arise from different sources and are themselves something of a shift from what’s come before. Those who’ve followed Beesus across their two prior outings, 2015’s The Rise of Beesus (review here) and 2018’s Sgt. Beesus… & the Lonely Ass Gangbang! will find the elements at work to be familiar, particularly with the latter, which expanded on the more straight-ahead approach of the debut, but while it wouldn’t feel appropriate to go so far as to call 3eesus experimental, there’s no question the band are actively working to push their sound in multiple directions, thinking of the album on its own terms with individual cuts serving a larger purpose within the whole. Those efforts are successful across the 40 minutes of 3eesus, right down to how “Sand for Lunch” teases some of the more psychedelic aspects of side B’s “Flags on the Sun,” “Gondwana” and the scorching closer “Sacoph.”

In some ways, whether it’s the interwoven layers of synth in the opener or the overarching Fu Manchu-style groove they offset, 3eesus reminds of some of fellow Romans Black Rainbows‘ melting-pot take on grunge, fuzz and psychedelia, but Beesus bring a more terrestrial sound on the whole, and the multi-vocalist aspect is a distinguishing factor that, along with the persistent sonic changes from one track to the next, helps distinguish PucciGianni and Bartoccini from the arguably forerunning counterpart three-piece. Beesus are nonetheless well at home in the psychedelic flourish of “Sand for Lunch,” calling to mind a ’90s drift without being shoegaze or post-rock, letting the bass and drums carry the guitar across the chasms of its own making, like a river cutting through a canyon.

beesus

beesus 3eesus gatefold

The elements at work in “Sand for Lunch” are exceedingly well balanced without purposefully sounding like it, and the band are able to affect a laid back atmosphere and a looseness of rhythm even though they’re very clearly pushing the song ahead toward its break before the five-minute mark at which point a more solidified low-end riff takes hold and the three players lock into the progression and ride out through the final chorus. That song, surrounded on side A by “Reproach,” “Suffering Bastards” and “Sleng Footloose,” is something of a triumph for 3eesus, and it’s doubly fortunate that it acts as a precursor to some of what the second half of the record brings with the final three tracks. The more the merrier, as it were. That’s not to discount what they do across the rest of side A, which is to bring more than just a feeling of variety to the work in terms of quality, whether it’s the structural play of “Suffering Bastards” — the chorus lyric, “We’re never wrong,” repeated as an anchor for some of the LP’s most out-there fare — just to point out the success on the part of the band in terms of tying the material together despite the shifts that take place particularly early in the proceedings.

And when it comes to the massive groove of “Sleng Footloose,” well that’s just good fun, and all the more as 3eesus‘ centerpiece. “Flags on the Sun” follows immediately as the longest individual song at 7:29 with a Doors-y night-in-desert — the time of day somewhat ironic given the sunny title — openness of tone and a relatively patient unfolding compared to some of what comes before; a clear indication of the shift taking place from side A to B, even in the digital realm. Deceptive in its melody, the track moves with marked fluidity and a gradual forward progression, not building to a huge payoff, but instead bringing in (seemingly) all three players on vocals toward the finish and capping with a somewhat understated flourish of drums behind distorted strumming guitar, the arthouse-grunge vibe palpable. “Gondwana,” which takes its name from the Neoproterozoic supercontinent made up of India, Arabia, Australia, South America, Africa and Antarctica, revives some push in its second half while also calling back to the spoken word of “Suffering Bastards,” but still draws atmospheric impression from “Flags on the Sun” prior and even as it moves through its shouts just prior to six minutes in, it does so with the current of effects/synth running alongside swirling to the inevitable fade at the conclusion and arrival of “Sacoph,” which, in contrast, seems to be named for a grocery store. Go figure.

The final cut begins with a righteously slow nod and some scorcher lead work from Pucci, and that sets the tone for what follows as the band with three singers decides to go it instrumental at the end, letting the guitar ring out into open space with a clarion shimmer underscored by the weight of the bass and accompanying fuzz. There’s a kick of tempo in the second half, but they end slow and dramatic and that feels well earned after all the various turns preceding, both within and between the songs. As much as that’s a somewhat inevitable focal point of 3eesus, the greatest effect it has on the band’s work overall is to emphasize the cohesion with which Beesus are able to unite the material. I don’t know whether the tracks were recorded live or not, but the feel of band-in-a-room is palpable, and it’s that singular energy that most comes through in drawing songs together as a singular presentation. It enhances the various strengths of the trio and only makes the listening experience richer and more consuming, which would seem to have been precisely their intent for it.

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Quarterly Review: Ocean Chief, Barnabus, Helen Money, Elder Druid, Mindcrawler, Temple of Void, Lunar Swamp, Huge Molasses Tank Explodes, Emile, Saturno Grooves

Posted in Reviews on March 27th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

quarterly review

I’m not saying I backloaded the Quarterly Review or anything — because I didn’t — but maybe subconsciously I wanted to throw in a few releases here I had a pretty good idea I was gonna dig beforehand. Pretty much all of them, as it turned out. Not a thing I regret happening, though, again, neither was it something I did purposefully. Anyone see A Serious Man? In this instance, I’m happy to “accept the mystery” and move on.

Before we dive into the last day, of course I want to say thank you for reading if you have been. If you’ve followed along all week or this is the only post you’ve seen or you’re just here because I tagged your band in the post on Thee Facebooks, whatever it is, it is appreciated. Thank you. Especially given the global pandemic, your time and attention is highly valued.

Quarterly Review #41-50:

Ocean Chief, Den Tredje Dagen

ocean chief den tredje dagen

The first Ocean Chief record in six years is nothing if not weighted enough to make up for anything like lost time. Also the long-running Swedish outfit’s debut on Argonauta Records, Den Tredje Dagen on CD/DL runs five songs and 59 minutes, and though it’s not without a sense of melody either instrumentally or vocally — certainly its guitars have plenty enough to evoke a sense of mournfulness at least — its primary impact still stems from the sheer heft of its tonality, and its tracks are of the sort that a given reviewer might be tempted to call “slabs.” They land accordingly, the longest of them positioned as the centerpiece “Dömd” seething with slower-Celtic Frost anxiety and the utter nastiness of its intent spread across 15-plus minutes of let-me-just-go-ahead-and-crush-that-for-you where “that” is everything and “no” isn’t taken for an answer. There’s respite in closer “Den Sista Resan” and the CD-bonus “Dimension 5,” but even these maintain an atmospheric severity consistent with what precedes them. One way or another, it is all fucking destroyed.

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Argonauta Records store

 

Barnabus, Beginning to Unwind

barnabus beginning to unwind

Come ye historians and classic heavy rockers. Come, reap what Rise Above Relics has sown. Though it’s hard sometimes not to think of the Rise Above Records imprint as label-honcho Lee Dorrian (ex-Cathedral, current With the Dead) picking out highlights from his own record collection — which is the stuff of legend — neither is that in any way a problem. Barnabus, who hailed and apparently on occasion still hail from the West Midlands in the UK, issued the Beginning to Unwind in 1972 as part of an original run that ended the next year. So it goes. Past its 10-minute jammy opener/longest track (immediate points) “America,” the new issue of Beginning to Unwind includes the LP, demos, live tracks, and no doubt assorted other odds and ends as well from Barnabus‘ brief time together. Songs like “The War Drags On” and “Resolute” are the stuff of ’70s-riff daydreams, while “Don’t Cry for Me My Lady” digs into proto-prog without losing its psych-folk inflection. I’m told the CD comes with a 44-page booklet, which only furthers the true archival standard of the release.

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Rise Above Relics store

 

Helen Money, Atomic

helen money atomic

To those for whom Helen Money is a familiar entity, the arrival of a new full-length release will no doubt only be greeted with joy. The ongoing project of experimental cellist Alison Chesley, though the work itself — issued through Thrill Jockey as a welcome follow-up to 2016’s Become Zero (review here) — is hardly joyful. Coping with the universality of grief and notions of grieving-together with family, Chesley brings forth minimalism and electronics-inclusive stylstic reach in kind across the pulsating “Nemesis,” the periodic distortion of her core instrument jarring when it hits. She takes on a harp for “Coppe” and the effect is cinematic in a way that seems to find answer on the later “One Year One Ring,” after which follows the has-drums “Marrow,” but wherever Chesley goes on Atomic‘s 47 minutes, the overlay of mourning is never far off.

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Thrill Jockey Records store

 

Elder Druid, Golgotha

elder druid golgotha

Belfast dual-guitar sludge five-piece Elder Druid return with seven tracks/39 minutes of ready punishment on their second album, Golgotha, answering the anger of 2017’s Carmina Satanae with densely-packed tones and grooves topped with near-universal harsh vocals (closer “Archmage” is the exception). What they’re playing doesn’t require an overdose of invention, with their focus is so much on hammering their riffs home, and certainly the interwoven leads of the title-track present some vision of intricacy for those who might demand it while also being punched in the face, and the transitional “Sentinel,” which follows,” brings some more doomly vibes ahead of “Vincere Vel Mori,” which revives the nod, “Dreadnought” has keys as well as a drum solo, and the penultimate “Paegan Dawn of Anubis” brings in an arrangement of backing vocals, so neither are they void of variety. At the feedback-soaked end of “Archmage,” Golgotha comes across genuine in its aggression and more sure of their approach than they were even just a couple years ago.

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Mindcrawler, Lost Orbiter

mindcrawler lost orbiter

I know the whole world seems like it’s in chaos right now — mostly because it is — but go ahead and quote me on this: a band does not come along in 2020 and put out a record like Lost Orbiter and not get picked up by some label if they choose to be. Among 2020’s most promising debuts, it is progressive without pretense, tonally rich and melodically engaging, marked out by a poise of songcraft that speaks to forward potential whether it’s in the coursing leads of “Drake’s Equation” or the final slowdown/speedup of “Trappist-1” that smoothly shifts into the sample at the start of closer “Dead Space.” Mindcrawler‘s first album — self-recorded, no less — is modern cosmic-heavy brought to bear in a way that strikes such a balance between the grounded and the psychedelic that it should not be ignored, even in the massively crowded international underground from which they’re emerging. And the key point there is they are emerging, and that as thoughtfully composed as the six tracks/29 minutes of Lost Orbiter are, they only represent the beginning stages of what Mindcrawler might accomplish. If there is justice left, someone will release it on vinyl.

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Mindcrawler on Bandcamp

 

Temple of Void, The World That Was

Temple of Void The World that Was

Michigan doom-death five-piece Temple of Void have pushed steadily toward the latter end of that equation over their now-three full-lengths, and though The World That Was (their second offering through Shadow Kingdom) is still prone to its slower tempos and is includes the classical-guitar interlude “A Single Obulus,” that stands right before “Leave the Light Behind,” which is most certainly death metal. Not arguing with it, as to do so would surely only invite punishment. The extremity only adds to the character of Temple of Void‘s work overall, and as “Casket of Shame” seems to be at war with itself, so too is it seemingly at war with whatever manner of flesh its working so diligently to separate from the bone. Across a still-brief 37 minutes, The World That Was — which caps with its most-excellently-decayed nine-minute title-track — harnesses and realizes this grim vision, and Temple of Void declare in no uncertain terms that no matter how they might choose to tip the scale on the balance of their sound, they are its master.

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Shadow Kingdom Records store

 

Lunar Swamp, Shamanic Owl

Lunar Swamp Shamanic Owl

Lunar Swamp have spawned as a blusier-directed offshoot of Italian doomers Bretus of which vocalist Mark Wolf, guitarist/bassist Machen and drummer S.M. Ghoul are members, and sure enough, their debut single “Shamanic Owl,” fosters this approach. As the band aren’t strangers to each other, it isn’t such a surprise that they’d be able to decide on a sound and make it happen their first time out but the seven-minute roller — also the leadoff their first EP, UnderMudBlues, which is due on CD in June — also finds time to work in a nod to the central riff of Sleep‘s “Dragonaut” along with its pointed worship of Black Sabbath, so neither do they seems strictly adherent to a blues foundation, despite the slide guitar that works its way in at the finish. How the rest of the EP might play out need not be a mystery — it’s out digitally now — but as far as an introduction goes, “Shamanic Owl” will find welcome among those seeking comfort in the genre-familiar.

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Lunar Swamp on Bandcamp

 

Huge Molasses Tank Explodes, II

Huge Molasses Tank Explodes II

The nine-track/42-minute second LP, II, from Milano post-this-or-that five-piece Huge Molasses Tank Explodes certainly finds the band earning bonus points based on their moniker alone, but more than that, it is a work of reach and intricacy alike, finding the moment where New Wave emerged from out of krautrock’s fascination with synthesizer music and bring to that a psychedelic shimmer that is too vintage-feeling to be anything other than modern. It is laid back enough in its overarching affect that “The Run” feels dreamy, most especially in its guitar lines, but never is it entirely at rest, and both the centerpiece “No One” and the later “So Much to Lose” help continue the momentum that “The Run” manages so fluidly to build in a manner one might liken to space rock were the implication of strict adherence to stylistic guidelines so implicit in that categorization. They present this nuance with a natural-seeming sense of craft and in “High or Low,” a fuzzy tone that feels like only a welcome windfall. Those who can get their head around it should seek to do so, and kudos to Huge Molasses Tank Explodes for being more than just a clever name.

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Retro Vox Records on Bandcamp

 

Emile, The Black Spider/Det Kollektive Selvmord

Emile The Black Spider Det Kollektive Selvmord

Set to release through Heavy Psych Sounds on the same day as the new album from his main outfit The Sonic Dawn, The Black Spider/Det Kollective Selvmord is the debut solo album from Copenhagen-based singer-songwriter and guitarist Emile Bureau, who has adopted his first name as his moniker of choice. Fair enough for the naturalism and intended intimacy of the 11-track/39-minute outing, which indeed splits itself between portions in English and in Danish, sounding likewise able to bring together sweet melodies in both. Edges of distortion in “Bundlos” and some percussion in the second half’s title-track give a semblance of arrangement to the LP, but at the core is Emile himself, his vocals and guitar, and that’s clearly the purpose behind it. Where The Sonic Dawn often boast a celebratory feel, The Black Spider/Det Kollective Selvmord is almost entirely subdued, and its expressive sensibility comes through regardless of language.

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Heavy Psych Sounds store

 

Saturno Grooves, Cosmic Echoes

saturno grooves cosmic echoes

Sonic restlessness! “Fire Dome” begins with a riffy rush, “Forever Zero” vibes out on low end and classic swing, the title-track feels like an Endless Boogie jam got lost in the solar system, “Celestial Tunnel” is all-thrust until it isn’t at all, “Blind Faith” is an acoustic interlude, and “Dark Matter” is a punk song. Because god damn, of course it is. It is little short of a miracle Saturno Grooves make their second album, Cosmic Echoes as remarkably cohesive as it is, yet through it all they hold fast to class and purpose alike, and from its spacious outset to its bursting finish, there isn’t a minute of Cosmic Echoes that feels like happenstance, even though they’re obviously following one impulse after the next in terms of style. Heavy (mostly) instrumentalism that works actively not to be contained. Out among the echoes, Saturno Grooves might just be finding their own wavelength.

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LSDR Records store

 

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Quarterly Review: Slift, IIVII, Coogans Bluff, Rough Spells, Goblinsmoker, Homecoming, Lemurian Folk Songs, Ritual King, Sunflowers, Maya Mountains

Posted in Reviews on March 26th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

quarterly review

Thursday. Everyone doing well? Healthy? Kicking ass? Working from home? There seems to be a lot of that going around, at least among the lucky. New Jersey, where I live, is on lockdown with non-essential businesses shuttered, roads largely empty and all that. It can be grim and apocalyptic feeling, but I’m finding this Quarterly Review to be pretty therapeutic or at least helpfully distracting at a moment when I very much need something to be that. I hope that if you’re reading this, whether you’ve been following along or not, it’s done or can do the same for you if that’s what you need. I’ll leave it at that.

Quarterly Review #31-40:

Slift, Ummon

slift ummon

The second album from French space/psych trio Slift is a 72-minute blowout echoshred epic — too aware not to be prog but too cosmic not to be space rock. Delivered through Stolen Body Records and Vicious Circle, Ummon is not only long, it speaks to a longer term. It’s not an album for this year, or for this decade, or for any other decade, for that matter. It’s for the ongoing fluid now. You want to lose yourself in the depths of buzz and dreamy synth? Yeah, you can do that. You want to dig into the underlying punk and maybe a bit of Elder influence in the vocal bark and lead guitar shimmer of “Thousand Helmets of Gold?” Well hell’s bells, do that. The mega-sprawling 2LP is a gorgeous blast of distortion, backed by jazzy, organic drum wud-dum-tap and the bass, oh, the bass; the stuff of low end sensory displacement. Amid swirls and casts of melodic light in “Dark Was Space, Cold Were the Stars,” Slift dilate universal energy and push beyond the noise wash reaches of “Son Dong’s Cavern” and through the final build, liftoff and roll of 13-minute closer “Lions, Tigers and Bears” with the deft touch of those dancing on prior conceptions. We’d be lucky to have Ummon as the shape of space rock to come.

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Stolen Body Records store

Vicious Circle Records store

 

IIVII, Grinding Teeth/Zero Sleep

Two LPs telling two different stories released at the same time, Grinding Teeth/Zero Sleep (on Consouling Sounds) brings Josh Graham‘s aural storytelling to new cinematic reaches. The composer, guitarist, synthesist, programmer, visual artist, etc., is joined along the way by the likes of Jo Quail, Ben Weinman (ex-The Dillinger Escape Plan), Dana Schecter (Insect Ark), Sarah Pendleton (ex-SubRosa) and Kim Thayil (Soundgarden) — among others — but across about 90 minutes of fluidity, Graham/IIVII soundtracks two narratives through alternatingly vast and crushing drone. The latter work is actually an adaptation from a short sci-fi film about, yes, humanity losing its ability to sleep — I feel you on that one — but the former, which tells a kind of meth-fueled story of love and death, brings due chaos and heft to go with its massive synthesized scope. Josh Graham wants to score your movie. You should let him. And you should pay him well. And you should let him design the poster. And you should pay him well for that too. End of story.

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Consouling Sounds store

 

Coogans Bluff, Metronopolis

coogans bluff metronopolis

Following the initial sax-laden prog-rock burst and chase that is opener “Gadfly,” Berlin’s Coogans Bluff bring a ’70s pastoralia to “Sincerely Yours,” and that atmosphere ends up staying with Metronopolis — their fifth album — for the duration, no matter where else they might steer the sound. And they do steer the sound. Sax returns (as it will) in the jabbing “Zephyr,” a manic shred taking hold in the second half accompanied by no-less-manic bass, and “Creature of the Light” reimagines pop rock of the original vinyl era in the image of its own weirdness, undeniably rock but also something more. Organ-inclusive highlight “Soft Focus” doesn’t so much touch on psychedelics as dunk its head under their warm waters, and “The Turn I” brings an almost Beatlesian horn arrangement to fruition ahead of the closer “The Turn II.” But in that finale, and in “Hit and Run,” and way back in “Sincerely Yours,” Coogans Bluff hold that Southern-style in their back pocket as one of several of Metronopolis‘ recurring themes, and it becomes one more element among the many at their disposal.

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Noisolution store

 

Rough Spells, Ruins at Midday

rough spells ruins at midday

An underlying current of social commentary comes coated in Rough Spells‘ mysticism on Ruins at Midday, the Toronto unit’s second LP. Recorded by Ian Blurton and presented by Fuzzed and Buzzed and DHU Records, the eight-track LP has, as the lyrics of “Chance Magic” say, “No bad intentions.” Indeed, it seems geared only toward eliciting your participation in its ceremony of classic groove, hooks and melodies, even the mellow “Die Before You Die” presenting an atmosphere that’s heavy but still melodic and accessible. “Grise Fiord” addresses Canada’s history of mistreating its native population, while “Pay Your Dues” pits guitar and vocal harmonics against each other in a shove of proto-metallic energy to rush momentum through side B and into the closing pair of the swaggering “Nothing Left” and the title-track, which is the longest single cut at five minutes, but still keeps its songwriting taut with no time to spare for indulgences. In this, and on several fronts, Ruins at Midday basks in multifaceted righteousness.

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Fuzzed and Buzzed store

DHU Records store

 

Goblinsmoker, A Throne in Haze, A World Ablaze

goblinsmoker a throne in haze a world ablaze

Upside the head extreme sludgeoning! UK trio Goblinsmoker take on the more vicious and brutal end of sludge with the stench of death on A Throne in Haze, A World Ablaze (on Sludgelord Records), calling to mind the weedian punishment of Belzebong and others of their decrepit ilk. Offered as part two of a trilogy, A Throne in Haze, A World Ablaze is comprised of three tracks running a caustic 26 minutes thick enough such that even its faster parts feel slow, a churning volatility coming to the crash of “Smoked in Darkness” at the outset only to grow more menacing in the lurch of centerpiece “Let Them Rot” — which of course shifts into blastbeats later on — and falling apart into noise and echoing residual feedback after the last crashes of “The Forest Mourns” recede. Beautifully disgusting, the release reportedly furthers the story of the Toad King depicted on its cover and for which the band’s prior 2018 EP was named, and so be it. The lyrics, largely indecipherable in screams, are vague enough that if you’re not caught up, you’ll be fine. Except you won’t be fine. You’ll be dead. But it’ll be awesome.

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Sludgelord Records on Bandcamp

 

Homecoming, LP01

homecoming lp01

Progressive metal underpins French trio Homecoming‘s aptly-titled first record, LP01, with the guitars of second cut “Rivers of Crystal” leading the way through a meandering quiet part and subsequent rhythmic figure that reminds of later Opeth, though there’s still a strong heavy rock presence in their tones and grooves generally. It’s an interesting combination, and all the more so because I think part of what’s giving off such a metal vibe is the snare sound. You don’t normally think of a snare drum determining that kind of thing, but here we are. Certainly the vocal arrangements between gruff melodies, backing screams and growls, etc., the odd bit of blastbeating here and there, bring it all into line as well — LP01 is very much the kind of album that would title its six-minute instrumental centerpiece “Interlude” — but the intricacy in how the nine-minute “Return” develops and the harmonies that emerge early in closer “Five” tell the tale clearly of Homecoming‘s ambitions as they move forward from this already-ambitious debut.

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Homecoming on Bandcamp

 

Lemurian Folk Songs, Logos

lemurian folk songs logos

Tracked in the same sessions as the Budapest outfit’s 2019 album, Ima (review here), it should not come as a major surprise that the six-track/49-minute Logos from Lemurian Folk Songs follows a not entirely dissimilar course, bringing together dream-drift of tones and melodies with subtle but coherent rhythmic motion in a fashion not necessarily revolutionary for heavy psych, but certainly well done and engaging across its tracks. The tones of guitar and bass offer a warmth rivaled only by the echoing vocals on opener/longest cut (immediate points) “Logos,” and the shimmering “Sierra Tejada” and progressively building “Calcination” follow that pattern while adding a drift that is both of heavy psych and outside of it in terms of the character of how it’s played. None of the last three tracks is less than eight minutes long — closer “Firelake” tops nine in a mirror to “Logos” at the outset, but if that’s the band pushing further out I hear, then yes, I want to go along for that trip.

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Para Hobo Records on Bandcamp

 

Ritual King, Ritual King

ritual king ritual king

Progressive heavy rockers Ritual King display a striking amount of grace and patience across their Ripple Music-issued self-titled long-player. Tapping modern influences like Elder and bringing their own sense of melodic nuance to the proceedings across a tightly-constructed seven songs and 42 minutes, the three-piece of vocalist/guitarist Jordan Leppitt, bassist Dan Godwin — whose tone is every bit worthy of gotta-hear-it classification — and drummer/backing vocalist Gareth Hodges string together linear movements in “Headspace” and “Dead Roads” that flow one into the next, return at unexpected moments or don’t, and follow a direction not so much to the next chorus but to the next statement the band want to make, whatever that might be. “Restrain” begins with a sweet proggy soundscape and unfolds two verses over a swaying riff, then is gone, where at the outset, “Valleys” offers grandeur the likes of which few bands would dare to embody on their third or fourth records, let alone their first. Easily one of 2020’s best debuts.

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Ripple Music on Bandcamp

 

Sunflowers, Endless Voyage

sunflowers endless voyage

You know what? Never mind. You ain’t weird enough for this shit. Nobody’s weird enough for this shit. I have a hard time believing the two souls from Portugal who made it are weird enough for this shit. Think I’m wrong? Think you’re up for it and you’re gonna put on SunflowersEndless Voyage and be like, “oh yeah, turns out mega-extreme krautrock blasted into outer space was my wavelength all along?” Cool. Bandcamp player’s right there. Have at it. I dare you.

Sunflowers on Thee Facebooks

Stolen Body Records store

 

Maya Mountains, Era

maya mountains era

Italian heavy rockers Maya Mountains formed in 2005 and issued their debut album, Hash and Pornography, through Go Down Records in 2008. Era, which follows a narrative about the title-character whose name is given in lead cut “Enrique Dominguez,” who apparently travels through space after being lost in the desert — as one does — and on that basis alone is clearly a more complex offering than its predecessor. As to where Maya Mountains have been all the time in between records — here and there, in other bands, etc. But Era, at 10 tracks and 44 minutes, is the summation of five years of work on their part and its blend of scope and straight-ahead heavy riffing is welcome in its more heads-down moments like “Vibromatic” or in the purposefully weirder finale “El Toro” later on. Something like a second debut for the band after being away for so long, Era at very least marks the beginning of a new one for them, and one hopes it continues in perhaps more productive fashion than the last.

Maya Mountains on Thee Facebooks

Go Down Records store

 

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Quarterly Review: The Cult of Dom Keller, Grandpa Jack, Woven Man, Charivari, Human Impact, Dryland, Brass Owl, Battle City, Astral Bodies, Satyrus

Posted in Reviews on March 25th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

quarterly review

Ah, the Wednesday of a Quarterly Review. Always a special day in my mind. We hit and pass the halfway point today, and I like the fact that the marker is right in the middle of things, like that sign you pass in Pennsylvania on Rt. 80 that says, “this is the highest point east of the Mississippi,” or whatever it is. Just a kind of, “oh, by the way, in case you didn’t know, there’s this but you’re on your way somewhere else.” And so we are, en route to 50 reviews by Friday. Will we get there? Yeah, of course. I’ve done this like 100 times now, it’s not really in doubt. Sleeping, eating, living: these things are expendable. The Quarterly Review will get done. So let’s do it.

Quarterly Review #21-30:

The Cult of Dom Keller, Ascend!

the cult of dom keller ascend

They’re not going quietly, that’s for sure. Except for when they are, at least. The Cult of Dom Keller send their listeners — and, it would seem, themselves — into the howling ether on the exclamatory-titular Ascend!, their fifth LP. Issued through Cardinal Fuzz and Little Cloud records it brings a bevvy of freakouts in psych-o-slabs like “I Hear the Messiah” and the early-arriving “Hello Hanging Rope” and the building-in-thickness “The Blood Donor Wants His Blood Back,” and the foreboding buzz of “We’re All Fucked (Up),” peppering in effective ambient interludes ahead of what might be some resolution in the closing “Jam for the Sun.” Or maybe that’s just narrative I’m putting to it. Does it matter? Does anything matter? And what is matter? And what is energy? And is there a line between the two or are we all just playing pretend at existence like I-think-therefore-I-am might actually hold water in a universe bigger than our own pea-sized brains. Where do we go from here? Or maybe it’s just the going and not the where? Okay.

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Cardinal Fuzz on Bandcamp

Little Cloud Records on Bandcamp

 

Grandpa Jack, Trash Can Boogie

Grandpa Jack Trash Can Boogie

Brooklynite trio Grandpa Jack are working toward mastery of the thickened midtempo groove on their second EP, Trash Can Boogie. Led by guitarist/vocalist Johnny Strom with backing shouts from drummer Matt C. White and a suitable flow provided by bassist Jared Schapker, the band present a classic-tinged four tracks, showing some jammier psych range in the 7:47 second cut “Untold” but never straying too far from the next hook, as opener “Ride On, Right On” and the almost-proto-metal “Imitation” show. Finishing with “Curmudgeon,” Grandpa Jack ride a fine line between modern fuzz, ’90s melody and ’70s groove idolatry, and part of the fun is trying to figure out which side they’re on at any given point and which side they’ll want to ultimately end up on, or if they’ll decide at all. They have one LP under their collective belt already. I’d be surprised if their next one didn’t garner them more significant attention, let alone label backing, should they want it.

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Grandpa Jack on Bandcamp

 

Woven Man, Revelry (In Our Arms)

woven man revelry in our arms

There’s metal in the foundation of what Woven Man are doing on their 2019 debut, Revelry (In Our Arms). And there’s paganism. But they’re by no means “pagan metal” at least in the understood genre terms. The Welsh outfit — featuring guitarist Lee Roy Davies, formerly of Acrimony — cast out soundscapes in their vocal melodies and have no lack of tonal crunch at their disposal when they want it, but as eight-minute opener/longest track (immediate points) shows, they’re not going to be rigidly defined as one thing or another. One can hear C.O.C. in the riffs during their moments of sneer on “I am Mountain” or the centerpiece highlight “With Willow,” but they never quite embrace the shimmer outright Though they come right to the cusp of doing so on the subsequent “Makers Mark,” but closer “Of Land and Sky” revives a more aggressive push and sets them toward worshiping different idols. Psychedelic metal is a tough, nearly impossible, balance to pull off. I’m not entirely convinced it’s what Woven Man are going for on this first outing, but it’s where they might end up.

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Woven Man on Bandcamp

 

Charivari, Descent

charivari descent

Whether drifting mildly through the likes of drone-laden pieces “Down by the Water,” the CD-only title-track or “Alexandria” as they make their way toward the harsh bite at the end of the 11-minute closer “Scavengers of the Wind,” Bath, UK, heavy post-rockers Charivari hold a firm sense of presence and tonal fullness. They’re prone to a wash from leadoff “When Leviathan Dreams” onward, but it’s satisfying to course along with the four-piece for the duration of their journey. Rough spots? Oh, to be sure. “Aphotic” seethes with noisy force, and certainly the aforementioned ending is intended to jar, but that only makes a work like “Lotus Eater,” which ably balances Cure-esque initial lead lines with emergent distortion-crush, that much richer to behold. The moves they make are natural, unforced, and whether they’re trading back and forth in volume or fluidly, willfully losing themselves in a trance of effects, the organic and ethereal aspects of their sound never fail to come through in terms of melody even as a human presence is maintained on vocals. When “Down by the Water” hits its mark, it is positively encompassing. Headphones were built for this.

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Worst Bassist Records on Bandcamp

 

Human Impact, Human Impact

human impact human impact

Bit of a supergroup here, at least in the underrated-New-York-art-noise sphere of things. Vocals and riffy crunch provided by the masterful Chris Spencer (formerly of Unsane), while Cop Shoot Cop‘s Jim Coleman adds much-welcome electronic flourish, Swans/Xiu Xiu bassist Chris Pravdica provides low end and the well-if-he-can-handle-drumming-for-Swans-he-can-handle-anything Phil Puleo (also Cop Shoot Cop) grounds the rhythm. Presented through Ipecac, the four-piece’s declarative self-titled debut arrives through Ipecac very much as a combination of the elements of which it is comprised, but the atmosphere brought to the proceedings by Coleman set against Spencer‘s guitar isn’t to be understated. The two challenge each other in “E605” and the off-to-drone “Consequences” and the results are to everyone’s benefit, despite the underlying theme of planetary desolation. Whoops on that one, but at least we get the roiling chaos and artful noise of “This Dead Sea” out of it, and that’s not nothing. Predictable? In parts, but so was climate change if anyone would’ve fucking listened.

Human Impact on Thee Facebooks

Ipecac Recordings store

 

Dryland, Dances with Waves

dryland dances with waves

The nautically-themed follow-up to Bellingham, Washington, progressive heavy/noise/post-hardcore rockers Dryland‘s 2017 self-titled debut album, the four-song Dances with Waves EP finds the thoughtful and melodic riffers working alongside producer/engineer Matt Bayles (Mastodon, Isis, etc.) on a recording that loses none of its edge for its deft changes of rhythm and shifts in vocals. There’s some influence from Elder maybe in terms of the guitar on “No Celestial Hope” and the finale “Between the Testaments,” but by the time the seven-minute capper is done, it’s full-on Pacific Northwest noise crunch, crashing its waves of riffs and stomp against the shore of your eardrums in demand of as much volume as you’ll give it. Between those two, “Exalted Mystics” moves unsuspectingly through its first half and seems to delve into semi-emo-if-emo-was-about-sailing-and-death theatrics in its second, while “The Sound a Sword Adores” distills the alternating drive and sway down to its barest form, a slowdown later setting up the madness soon to arrive in “Between the Testaments.”

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Dryland on Bandcamp

 

Brass Owl, State of Mind

brass owl state of mind

Brass Owl foster on their self-released debut full-length, State of Mind, a brand of heavy rock that maintains a decidedly straightforward face while veering at the same time into influences from grunge, ’70s rock, the better end of ’80s metal and probably one or two current hard or heavy rock bands. You might catch a tinge of Five Horse Johnson-style blues on “No Filter – Stay Trendy” or the particularly barroom-ready “Jive Turkey,” which itself follows the funkier unfolding jam-into-shredfest of “The Legend of FUJIMO,” and the earlier “Hook, Line & Sinker” has trucker-rock all over it, but through it all, the defining aspect of the work is its absolute lack of pretense. These guys — there would seem to have been three when they recorded, there are two now; so it goes — aren’t trying to convince you of their intelligence, or their deep-running stylistic nuance. They’re not picking out riffs from obscure ’80s indie records or even ’70s private press LPs. They’re having a good time putting traditionalist-style rock songs together, messing around stylistically a bit, and they’ve got nine songs across 43 minutes ready to roll for anyone looking for that particular kind of company. If that’s you, great. If it ain’t, off you go to the next one.

Brass Owl website

Brass Owl on Bandcamp

 

Battle City, Press Start

Battle City Press Start

From even before you press play on Press Start, the 22-minute debut release from South Africa’s Battle City, the instrumental duo make their love of gaming readily apparent. Given that they went so far as to call one song “Ram Man” and that it seems just as likely as not that “Ignition” and “Ghost Dimension” are video game references as well, it’s notable that guitarist/bassist Stian “Lightning Fingers Van Tonder” Maritz and drummer Wayne “Thunder Flakes” Hendrikz didn’t succumb to the temptation of bringing any electronic sounds to the six-song offering. Even in “Ghost Dimension,” which is the closer and longest track by about three minutes, they keep it decidedly straightforward in terms of arrangements and resist any sort of chiptune elements, sticking purely to guitar, bass and drums. There’s a touch of the progressive to the leadoff title-track and to the soaring lead “Ignotion,” but Press Start does likewise in setting the band’s foundation in a steady course of heavy rock and metal, to the point that if you didn’t know they were gaming-inspired by looking at the cover art or the titles, there’d be little to indicate that’s where they were coming from. I wouldn’t count myself among them, but those clamoring for beeps and boops and other 8-bit nonsense will be surprised. For me, the riffs’ll do just fine, thanks.

Battle City on Thee Facebooks

Battle City on Bandcamp

 

Astral Bodies, Escape Death

Astral Bodies Escape Death

Spacious, varied and progressive without losing their heft either of tone or presence, Manchester, UK, trio Astral Bodies debut on Surviving Sounds with Escape Death, working mostly instrumentally — they do sneak some vocals into the penultimate “Pale Horse” — to affect an atmosphere of cosmic heavy that’s neither indebted to nor entirely separate from post-metal. Droning pieces like the introductory “Neptune,” or the joyous key-laced wash of the centerpiece “Orchidaeae,” or even “Pale Horse,” act as spacers between longer cuts, and they’re purposefully placed not to overdo symmetry so as to make Escape Death‘s deceptively-efficient 36-minute runtime predictable. It’s one more thing the three-piece do right, added to the sense of rawness that comes through in the guitar tone even as effects and synth seem to surround and provide a context that would be lush if it still weren’t essentially noise rock. Cosmic noise? The push of “Oumuamua” sure is, if anything might be. Classify it however you want — it’s fun when it’s difficult! — but it’s a striking record either way, and engages all the more as a first long-player.

Astral Bodies on Thee Facebooks

Surviving Sounds on Thee Facebooks

 

Satyrus, Rites

satyrus rites

Following its three-minute chanting intro, Satyrus let opener and longest track (immediate points) “Black Satyrus” unfold its cultish nod across an eight minutes that leads the way into the rest of their debut album, Rites, perhaps more suitably than the intro ever could. The building blocks that the Italian unit are working from are familiar enough — Black Sabbath, Saint Vitus, Electric Wizard, maybe even some Slayer in the faster soloing of second cut “Shovel” — but that doesn’t make the graveyard-dirt-covered fuzz of “Swirl” or the noisefest that ensues in “Stigma” or subsequent “Electric Funeral”-ist swing any less satisfying, or the dug-in chug of bookending nine-minute closer “Trailblazer.” Hell, if it’s a retread, at least they’re leaving footprints, and it’s not like Satyrus are trying to tell anyone they invented Tony Iommi‘s riff. It’s a mass by the converted for the converted. I’d ask nothing more of it than that and neither should you.

Satyrus on Thee Facebooks

Satyrus on Bandcamp

 

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Quarterly Review: Khemmis, Mutant Flesh, War Cloud, Void of Sleep, Pretty Lightning, Rosy Finch, Ghost Spawn, Agrabatti, Dead Sacraments, Smokemaster

Posted in Reviews on March 24th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

quarterly review

Alarm went off this morning at 3:45. Got up, flicked on the coffee pot, turned the heat on in the house, hit the bathroom and was back in bed in four minutes with an alarm set for 4:15. Didn’t really get back to sleep, but the half-hour of being still was a kind of pre-waking meditation that I appreciated just the same. Was dozing when the alarm went off the second time, but it’s day two of the Quarterly Review, so no time to doze. No time for anything, as is the nature of these blocks of writeups. They tend to be all-consuming while they’re going on. Could be worse. Let’s roll.

Quarterly Review #11-20:

Khemmis, Doomed Heavy Metal

khemmis doomed heavy metal

Denver four-piece Khemmis have made themselves one of the most distinctive acts in metal, to say nothing of doom. With strong vocal harmonies out front backed by similarly-minded guitars, the band bring a sense of poise to doom that’s rare in the modern sphere, somewhat European in influence, but less outwardly adherent to the genre tenets of melancholy. They refuse to be Paradise Lost, in other words, and are all the more themselves for that. Their Doomed Heavy Metal EP (on 20 Buck Spin and Nuclear Blast) is a stopgap after 2018’s Desolation (review here) full-length, but at 38 minutes and six songs, it’s substantial nonetheless, headlined by the Dio cover “Rainbow in the Dark” — capably done with just a flair of Slough Feg — with a take on Lloyd Chandler‘s “A Conversation with Death” and “Empty Throne,” both rare-enough studio cuts, for backing, as well as three live cuts that cover their three-to-date albums. The growls on “Three Gates” are fun, but I’ll still take the Dio cover as the highlight. For a cobbled-together release, it feels at least like a bit of thoughtful fan-service, and really, a band could do worse than to serve their fans thoughtfully.

Khemmis on Thee Facebooks

20 Buck Spin store

Nuclear Blast Records store

 

Mutant Flesh, Evil Eye

mutant flesh evil eye

There are shades of doom metal’s origins underlying Mutant Flesh‘s first release, the eight-song/33-minute Evil Eye, but the Philly troupe are too gleeful in their weirdness ultimately to be paying full homage to the likes of Witchfinder General, and especially in a faster song like second cut “Meteoric” and the subsequent lead-guitar-flipout-and-vocal-soar title-track, they tap into the defiantly doomed vibe of earliest Saint Vitus. That’s true of the crawling “Euthanasia” as well, which crashes and nods as it approaches the six-minute mark as the longest inclusion here, but even the penultimate “Blight” brings that twisted-BlackFlag-noise-slowed-down spirit that lets you know there’s consciousness behind the chaos, and that while Mutant Flesh might seem to be all-the-way-gone, they’re really just getting started. Maybe their sound will even out over time, maybe it won’t, but for what it’s worth, they do ragged doom well from the opening “Leviathan (Lord of the Labyrinth)” onward, and feel right at home in the unhinged.

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War Cloud, Earhammer Sessions

war cloud earhammer sessions

Having just shredded their way across Europe, War Cloud took their set into the Earhammer Studio with Greg Wilkinson at the helm in an attempt to capture the band in top form on their home turf. Did it work? The results on Earhammer Sessions (Ripple Music) don’t wait around for you to decide. They’re too busy kicking ass to take names, and if the resulting 29-minute burst is even half of what they brought to the stage on that tour, those must’ve been some goddamn shows. Songs like “White Lightning” and the snare-counted-in “Speed Demon” and “Striker” feel like they’re being given their due in the max-speed-NWOBHM-but-still-too-classy-to-be-thrash presentation, and honestly, this feels like War Cloud have found their method. If they don’t tour their next album and then hit the studio after and lay it down live, or at least as live as Earhammer Sessions is — one never knows as regards overdubs and isolation booths and all that — they’re doing themselves a disservice. War Cloud play metal. So what? So this.

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Ripple Music website

 

Void of Sleep, Metaphora

Void of Sleep Metaphora

Void of Sleep return after half a decade with the prog-doom stylings of their third album, Metaphora (Aural Music), which stretches dramatically through songs like “Iron Mouth” (11:00), preceded by the intro “The Famine Years” and the shorter “Unfair Judgements,” preceded by the intro “Waves of Discomfort,” and still somehow manage not to sound out of place tapping into their inner Soilwork in the growled verses/clean choruses of “Master Abuser.” They get harsh a bit as well on “Tides of the Mourning,” which uses its 10:30 to summarize the bulk of the proceedings and close out the record after “Modern Man,” but that song has more of a scope and feels looser structurally for that. Still, that shift is only one of several throughout Metaphora, which follows the Italian five-piece’s 2015 LP, New World Order (discussed here), and wherever Void of Sleep are headed at any given moment, they head there with a duly controlled presence. Clearly their last five years have not been wasted.

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Aural Music store

 

Pretty Lightning, Jangle Bowls

pretty lightning jangle bowls

As yet, Germany’s Pretty Lightning remain a well kept secret of fuzz-psych-blues nuance, digging out their own niche-in-a-niche-in-a-niche microgenre with a natural and inadvertent-feeling sense of just writing the songs they want to write. Jangle Bowls, which puts its catchy, semi-garage title-track early in the proceedings, is the duo’s second offering through Fuzz Club Records behind 2017’s The Rhythm of Ooze (review here), and seem to present a mission statement in opener “Swamp Ritual” before bringing a due sense of excursion to “Boogie at the Shrine” — damn that’s a smooth groove — and reviving the movement in “RaRaRa,” which follows. Closer “Shovel Blues” is a highlight for how it drifts into oblivion, but the underlying tightness of craft in “123 Eternity” and “Hum” is an appeal as well, so it’s a tradeoff. But it’s one I’ll be glad to make across multiple repeat visits to Jangle Bowls while wondering how long this particular secret can actually be kept.

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Fuzz Club Records store

 

Rosy Finch, Scarlet

rosy finch scarlet

The painted-blood-red cover of Rosy Finch‘s second album, Scarlet (on Lay Bare Recordings), and horror-cinema-esque design isn’t a coincidence in terms of atmosphere, but the Spanish trio bring a more aggressive feel to the nine-track outing overall than they did to their 2016 debut, Witchboro (review here), with additional crunch in the guitar of Mireia Porto (also vocals and bass) and bassist Elena Garcia, and a forward kick drum from Lluís Mas that hammers home the impact of a cruncher like “Ruby” and even seems to ground the more melodic “Alizarina,” which follows, let alone the crushing opener/longest track (immediate points) “Oxblood” or its headspinning closing companion “Dark Cherry,” after which follows the particularly intense hidden cut “Lady Bug,” also not to be missed. Anger suits Rosy Finch, it seems, and the band bring a physicality to the songs on Scarlet that only reinforces the sonic push.

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Lay Bare Recordings store

 

Ghost Spawn, The Haunting Continuum

Ghost Spawn The Haunting Continuum

Brutal, gurgling doom-of-death pervades The Haunting Continuum from Denver one-man-unit Ghost Spawn, and while the guitar late in “Escaping the Mortal Flesh” seems momentarily to offer some hope of salvation, rest assured, it doesn’t last, and the squibbly central riff returns with its extremity to prove once more that only death is real. Multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Kevin Berstler is the lone culprit behind the project’s first full-length and second release overall (also second this year, so he would seem to work quickly), and across 43 minutes that only grow more grueling as they proceed through the centerpiece title-track and into “The Terrors that Plague Nightly” and the desolate incantations of “Exiled to the Realm of Eternal Rot,” there are some hints of cleaner grunts that have made their way through — a kind of repeated “hup” vocalization — but this too is swallowed in the miasma of cave-echo guitar, drums-from-out-of-the-abyss, and raw-as-peeled-flesh production. Can’t get behind that? Probably you and 99.9 percent of the rest of humanity. For us slugs, though, it’s just about right.

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Agrabatti, Beyond the Sun

agrabatti beyond the sun

It’s kosmiche thrust and watery vibes when Agrabatti go Beyond the Sun. What’s there upon arrival? Nothing less than a boogie down with Hawkwind at the helm of a spacey spaced-out space rocking chopper that you shouldn’t even be able to hear the revving engine of in space and yet somehow you can. Also synth, pulsating riffs and psych-as-all-golly-gosh awakenings. Formed in 2009 by Chad Davis — then just out of U.S. Christmas, already at that point known for his work in Hour of 13 and a swath of other projects across multiple genres — and with songs begun to come together at that time only to be shelved ahead of recording this year, Beyond the Sun sat seemingly in some unreachable strata of anomalous subspace, for 11 years before being rediscovered from its time-loop like Kelsey Grammer in that one episode of TNG, and gorgeously spread across the quadrant in its five-cut run, with its cover of the aforementioned Hawkwind‘s “Born to Go” so much at home among its companions it feels like, baby, it’s already gone. Do you need sunglasses in the void? Shit yeah you do.

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Dead Sacraments, Celestial Throne

Dead Sacraments Celestial Throne

Four sprawling doom epics comprise the 2019 debut album — and apparently debut release — from Illinois four-piece Dead Sacraments, who themselves are comprised from three former members of atmospheric sludgers Angel Eyes, who finished their run in 2011 but released the posthumous Things Have Learnt to Walk That Ought to Crawl (review here). Those are guitarist Brendan Burchell, bassist Nader Cheboub and drummer Ryan Croson, and together with apparently-self-harmonizing vocalist/guitarist Mark Mazurek, they cast a doom built on largesse in tone and scope alike, given an air of classic-metal grandiosity but filtered through a psych-doom modernity that feels aware of what the likes of Pallbearer and Khemmis have done for the genre. Nonetheless, as a first record, Celestial Throne shines its darkness brightly across its no-song-under-nine-minutes-long lumber, and affirms the righteousness of doom with a genuine sense of reach at its disposal.

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Smokemaster, Smokemaster

smokemaster smokemaster

The languid and trippy spirit in opener “Solar Flares” is something of a misdirect on the part of organ-laced, Cologne-based heavy rockers Smokemaster, who go on to boogie down through songs like “Trippin’ Blues” before jamming out classic heavy blues-style on “Ear of the Universe.” I’m not saying they don’t have their psychedelic aspects, but there’s plenty of movement behind what they do as well, and the setup they give with the first two cuts is effective in throwing off the first-time listener’s expectation. A pastoral instrumental “Sunrise in the Canyon” leads off side B after, and comes backed by “Astronaut of Love” (yup, a lovestronaut) and “Astral Traveller,” which find an engaging midpoint between the ground and the great beyond, synth and keys pushing outward in the finale even as the bass and drums keep it tethered to a central groove. It’s a formula that’s worked many times over the last half-century, but it works here too, and Smokemaster‘s Smokemaster makes a right-on introduction to the German newcomers.

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Tonzonen Records store

 

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