Towards Atlantis Lights Premiere “Alexandria’s Library” from Dust of Aeons

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on February 16th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Towards Atlantis Lights

You know what happens when you swim toward the lights of Atlantis? You fucking drown. Such would seem to be the overarching perspective from which multinational grief-laden doomers Towards Atlantis Lights are working on their Transcending Obscurity Records debut album, Dust of Aeons. Comprised of four tracks beginning with the utter consumption of the half-hour-long “The Bunker of Life” (immediate points for putting the longest song first), the record is due out March 5 and presents itself as a morose wash of death-doom impulses, part melancholic melody and part extremity of crawl and lurch. Shades of My Dying Bride‘s theatricality and Novembers Doom‘s brutal and downer growling metal make themselves known throughout the four-song/57-minute offering, and though very much of the style, Dust of Aeons successfully revels in its atmosphere and reminds listeners of the resonance this style of doom can hold when so properly executed.

The album pairs two longer songs with two shorter ones. I’d call it two-sided, but the break doesn’t really work that way, with “The Bunker of Life” basically an album unto itself. Even if that track was broken in half for the first of a double-LP, there would still be “Babylon’s Hanging Gardens” (5:57), “Alexandria’s Library” (16:35) and “Greeting Mausolus’ Tomb” (4:23) to account for, and those shorter tracks are more than just interludes. Vocalist/keyboardist Kostas Panagiotou brings as much presence to them as to either of the longer-form pieces, delving into poetry recitation in “Babylon’s Hanging Gardens” as Ivan Zara‘s guitar, Ivan Olivieri‘s drums and Riccardo Veronese‘s bass wait to reemerge from the shadows. But while it might not work as a vinyl in itTowards Atlantis Lights Dust of Aeonss current form without some rearranging, as a linear work it is tied together via a historical thematic and as the title Dust of Aeons might convey, the aesthetic is very much geared toward that sense of conveying something ancient, something lost in time, as well as something being mourned.

That mourning perhaps comes through most of all on “Greeting Mausolus’ Tomb,” which takes out the drums in favor of atmospheric guitar plucking and an overall minimal sensibility, but it’s there even at the heaviest stretches of “The Bunker of Life” as well, whether that’s in a soaring guitar lead or the rumbling low-end lurch beneath a line of piano. Though only about half as long, much the same applies to “Alexandria’s Library,” which is immediately darker but gives up none of the atmospheric reach of its longform companion, keys, vocal harmonies and sustained notes of guitar playing a large role in a break near the midsection which ultimately leads back to the track’s central dirge. At almost exactly 13 minutes in, more deathly chug takes hold and a relatively quick excursion into semi-blasting fare sets up an adrenaline-driven return to the chorus before Towards Atlantis Lights finish quiet and contemplative en route to the album’s shorter closer, weighted in emotion, tone and ambience as everything before it has likewise been.

The theme of loss is palpable throughout Dust of Aeons, with the passage of history presented through an emotional lens that acts as a thread woven between the individual pieces bringing them together as one whole work. And it’s not a minor undertaking by any stretch, but in its entirety really is the best way to experience Towards Atlantis Lights‘ debut album. Clearly they wanted their listeners to drown in its blend of depressive plunge and still be able to see beauty among the ruins before their eyes shut one last time.

I have the pleasure today of hosting “Alexandria’s Library” as a track premiere. Please find it below, followed by more info on the album from the PR wire. Dust of Aeons is available to preorder from the band’s Bandcamp page, linked at the bottom of the post.

Enjoy:

Towards Atlantis Lights, “Alexandria’s Library” official track premiere

Doom metal supergroup TOWARDS ATLANTIS LIGHTS give us a sublime album of heart-wrenching drama emanating from historical events. Members of acclaimed bands like PANTHEIST, APHONIC THRENODY and VOID OF SILENCE weave together a majestic tale brimming with melancholy and emotional strife. Each song is an elegant expression of their dreamlike visions of a world long past. They carry the burden of grief passed down from centuries with utmost grace and lend to the music an unmistakable nostalgic charm that is very much palpable. TOWARDS ATLANTIS LIGHTS have created a masterpiece of epic and atmospheric death/doom metal that is tempered with talent, experience and vision.

Band line up –
Kostas Panagiotou (PANTHEIST, LANDSKAP) – Vocals and keyboards
Riccardo Veronese (APHONIC THRENODY, DEA MARICA, ARRANT SAUDADE) – Bass
Ivan Zara (VOID OF SILENCE) – Guitar
Ivan Olivieri – Drums

Artwork and layout – Francesco Gemelli (KATATONIA, MAYHEM, ABIGOR)

Official release date – March 5th, 2018

Track listing –
1. The Bunker Of Life
2. Babylon’s Hanging Gardens
3. Alexandria’s Library
4. Greeting Mausolus’ Tomb

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Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe: Don’t Panic

Posted in Reviews on February 15th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

fu manchu clone of the universe

Hey, look. If you’re Fu Manchu — and if you are, thanks for the riffs — having a guest appearance from Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson on your new record isn’t going to hurt your cause. But make no mistake. With the SoCal fuzz innovators’ 12th full-length, Clone of the Universe — released through their own At the Dojo Records imprint — the case is much the same as with the rest of their discography: The highlight of the Fu Manchu album is the Fu Manchu album. I’m not decrying Lifeson‘s spot on the 18-minute “Il Mostro Atomico” that closes out Clone of the Universe. It’s a massive, multi-faceted, explorational space jam topped with killer solos set to a dead-on weighted nod; essential Fu Manchu fuzz setting off on a five-year mission. There’s one verse and it doesn’t start until after nine minutes in.

Cool as hell, right? Of course, but it’s the earlier songs — opener “Intelligent Worship,” “(I’ve Been) Hexed,” “Don’t Panic,” “Slower than Light,” “Nowhere Left to Hide” and “Clone of the Universe” itself — that really tell the story of the record. Side A. And side A finds the San Clemente foursome of guitarist/vocalist Scott Hill, bassist Brad Davis, guitarist Bob Balch and drummer Scott Reeder in tight and top form as regards songwriting. Following suit from their last long-player, 2014’s Gigantoid (review here), the band continue to strip out some of the thickness from their fuzz as compares to records like 2009’s Signs of Infinite Power or 2007’s We Must Obey (discussed here), and it’s telling that even in working with Jim Monroe at The Racket Room in Santa Ana, CA, they also returned to Moab guitarist/vocalist Andrew Giacumakis — who helmed Gigantoid — at SUSSTUDIO in Simi Valley for additional recording.

That moves gives a sense of continuity of approach between the two albums, despite the four years separating their release, and context to the rawness of tone coming from Hill and Balch‘s guitars throughout Clone of the Universe, which very much plays out in two-sided fashion. The already-noted “Il Mostro Atomico” consumes all of side B in four distinct movements, and fair enough for that, but the earlier cuts running from about two to four minutes apiece make up a varied side A drawn together by the universal tightness in the band. They’re not through “Intelligent Worship” before Reeder‘s on his cowbell, and neither should they be. One could easily argue Fu Manchu know who they are as a band — after 12 records, they ought to, frankly — and are content to play to that in their general approach.

Fu manchu John Gilhooley

Which is to say, Fu Manchu sound like Fu ManchuHill‘s core vocal style won’t really change at this point, groove always remains central, and they blend Southern Cali laid-back-itude with heavy rock shred like the best in the business in part because they helped invent that “business” in the first place. And Clone of the Universe doesn’t fix what wasn’t broken coming off Gigantoid. Hooks abound in “Intelligent Worship,” “(I’ve Been) Hexed,” “Slower than Light” and the title-track itself very much in a milieu that Fu Manchu fans will recognize as the band’s own. But on the other hand, there’s the raw drive of “Don’t Panic” — a 2:08 punker thrust with zero broach for nonsense that’s there and gone and still catchy that would be welcome to start any set I happen to be standing in front of — which, when paired with the easy-grooving start of “Slower than Light,” showcases the dynamic of tempo shifts that the band is working with across the still-quick span of the record as a whole, which even with 18 dedicated to “Il Mostro Atomico,” tops out at 38 minutes with seven songs.

Davis‘ bass signals a faster turn into the finishing movement of “Slower than Light” and with a semi-lurching rhythm, “Nowhere Left to Hide” delivers another memorable chorus in the ongoing series of them while also serving as the longest of the non-“Il Mostro Atomico” cuts at 4:27. Its vibe is foreboding but never really goes so far as to be a threat, despite the title, though the churning riff does bring to mind some unseen malevolent force. A later highlight guitar solo gives way back to the central riff that closes out and echo leads the way into the start-stop immediacy of the verse to “Clone of the Universe.”

No question why it’s the title-track; “Clone of the Universe” is quintessential, and it all the more represents the side of the album on which it appears for its ain’t-got-time-to-bleed lack of flourish and the push that emerges after the midpoint, only to slam into a wall of silence and then cut back to a slower version of the central riff to finish. From there, it’s off to “IlMostro Atomico,” which likewise wastes no time getting airborne and staying that way for the duration. There’s nod, there’s jangle, there’s tension building, and finally there’s angular space-o-prog that carries the band out, with a quick return to the first riff before a final fade.

Again, the Lifeson guest appearance is notable, and no doubt it was a thrill for Fu Manchu to bring him into the studio and get him on the record — mom always said there were two types of people in the world: Rush fans and the rest — but the focal point as one approaches Clone of the Universe shouldn’t be that singular moment or any other, rather what the record as a whole does with Fu Manchu‘s trademark sound and style, one part drawing it tighter than it’s ever been drawn before and the other pushing more broadly than it’s ever gone. Whichever side of the album happens to be on at any given point, Fu Manchu remain recognizable as who they are, and if anything, their will to add so much to that identity some 33 years after they got their start speaks to how special a band they really are. You can clone the whole universe, there’s still only going to be one Fu Manchu, and they’re in top form here.

Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe (2018)

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Review & Track Premiere: Naxatras, III

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on February 14th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

naxatras iii

[Click play above to stream the premiere of Naxatras’ ‘Machine.’ Their new album, III is out Feb. 16.]

Over the last two years, Greek trio Naxatras have worked quickly to establish themselves at the forefront of their home country’s fertile and widely varied scene. If 1000mods helped put this generation of Greek bands on the map in the wider European underground sphere, then it’s Naxatras brazenly showing that the country has more to offer than straightforward riff-led fare. Naxatras songs — their third album, III, has seven of them and tops out accordingly at 64 minutes long — wind their way around and through the consciousness in display of a penchant for sonic naturalism that goes even beyond the band’s no-compromise approach to recording analog at Magnetic Fidelity with Jesus I. Agnew, who helmed III, the preceding 2017 single All the Stars Collide into a Single Ray (discussed here), its 2016 predecessors, II (review here) and EP (discussed here), as well as their 2015 self-titled debut (discussed here).

Rather, that naturalism extends to the play itself, as the trio of bassist/vocalist John Vagenas, guitaist John Delias and drummer Kostas Harizanis embrace their inner chillout and bring to bear tracks of marked patience, fluidity and soothing. Yeah, III has its heavy moments — more than enough of them throughout extended jams like “On the Silver Line” (9:56), 11-minute opener “You Won’t be Left Alone” and even a later piece like “Prophet,” on which Vagenas‘ bassline sets a foreboding tone while the cymbals crash around and the guitar howls. Raucous as they get, however, it’s the drift of cuts like “White Morning,” the subtle reggae nods of “Land of Infinite Time” and the soothing pastoralia of the acid-folkish closer “Spring Song” that most typify the album’s impression, earthy and resonant as it is.

The only real question when it comes to listening to III is whether to blast it and be consumed by the tonal warmth, to let it wrap around you like a blanket of fuzz, or to put in headphones, get lost in the easy, patient rhythms of the thing and find that even a song like centerpiece “Machine,” which works in multiple, almost disjointed stages of building jamming, tense low end, and a bit of reggae guitar before giving away near the halfway point to whalesong volume swells and a turn to a moodier drone that’s so drastic it might just as easily have been a different song before making its way back to the initial progression with trance-inducing fluidity, ending just before the 11-minute mark. Like all of Naxatras‘ work, III blends instrumental and vocalized material to a place of marked flow, lending an even more exploratory sensibility to songs like “Prophet” and “You Won’t be Left Alone,” the latter opening with an introductory hypnosis before giving way to the warm fuzz of the song itself, its main riff popping in and out to allow for vocal lines.

These, again, are sparse and become part of the background context in which the record takes place rather than a direct frontman-style delivery. “You Won’t be Left Alone” might be the most direct in this regard, though “Pophet” has its moments as well and “Spring Song” is clearly meant to be working in a tradition of soothing hippie soulfulness. Nonetheless, it’s the instrumental portion of III that serves as the band’s clear focus — that’s nothing new for them in terms of overall aesthetic balance — and with their having spent significant time on the road around the first two records, the results can be heard in the ease of their transitions say, near the end of “Prophet” or as they dig into the 12-minute “Land of Infinite Time” with the bass leading the way through each measure traveled.

naxatras (Photo by Marko Devcic)

If you ultimately choose the hi-fi route, and let’s say, relax with a highball in your it’s-been-a-long-day burgundy housecoat and put III on your vintage turntable to ease your worried mind, no doubt you’ll find it does just that. It is a work of such patience as to be legitimately soothing in a way few records that can still justifiably be called heavy are, and yet that presence of tone and weight of rhythm is still very much a factor in what Naxatras do, even at their funkiest or quietest. If you go the headphone route, the listening experience is somewhat lonelier, but the spirit of III continues to resonate that calming, wholesome sensibility that seems to derive purely from the collective performance of HarizanisDelias and Vagenas, and if one is listening to Naxatras and perhaps looking to understand what it is that has allowed the band to have such an impact and to find such a considerable audience in a relatively short amount of time, the answer is right there in their interaction as a trio.

They may decide their next time out to just up and down and take a more active approach overall, or they may continue down this path of turning heavy psych jams into a statement of counterculture folksomeness to represent a movement of heavy hippies that, if it exists, could hardly ask for better PR than it gets in “Prophet” and the penultimate “White Morning.” Whatever they do and wherever they go from here, Naxatras have put all questions to rest about how well earned their place is at Greece’s heavy psych forefront, if there were any to start with. Their jams have an individualized character that speaks to the honest chemistry shared between them as players, and each of their successive full-lengths has furthered the seemingly ongoing process of their cohesion.

III, in that regard, is no different. But it also finds Naxatras reaching further stylistically than they have up to this point outward from that core of psychedelic jamming, and doing so successfully as demonstrated in the proggy “On the Silver Line,” the bouncing “Land of Infinite Time” and the lullaby dreamscape that finishes in “Spring Song.” One doubts these excursions of stylistic nuance represent the sum total breadth the three-piece have and will have to offer, and so it’s easy to argue coming out of III‘s immersive hour-plus that Naxatras‘ potential as a unit has never been so writ large even as their sound itself has never been so realized.

Naxatras, III (2018)

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Review & Full EP Stream: Green Lung, Free the Witch

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on February 12th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

green lung Free the Witch

[Click play above to stream the Free the Witch EP by Green Lung in its entirety. EP is out Feb. 19 on Deckhead Records.]

It’s only been eight months or so since London’s Green Lung issued their debut two-songer digital single, but apparently that’s been enough time for them to clarify a few things about their sound. Most notably: their sound itself. With the Deckhead Records tape release of their debut EP, the four-song Free the Witch, the four-piece turn away from some of the more blown-out aspects of the prior Green Man Rising (review here), with a crisp production that brooks no sacrifice either in its atmospheric spaces or tonal depth but nonetheless strikes with a clean, bright impression, whether it’s in the righteous hooks of opening duo “Lady Lucifer” and “Free the Witch” — which seem to be in competition with each other to determine the catchier chorus — or in “Living Fossil” and the eight-minute finale “Older than the Hills,” which respectively delve into low-end-driven nod (still pretty damn catchy) and slower, more patient build and payoff (also still pretty damn catchy).

Of course, a big part of the difference might be that this time around, Green Lung, which is comprised of vocalist Tom Templar, guitarist Scott Masson, bassist Andrew Cave and drummer Matt Wiseman, went to an actual studio — Bear Bites Horse, where the likes of Torpor, Terminal Cheesecake and Vodun have also recorded — to work with engineer/mixer Wayne Adams instead of putting the songs to tape in their practice space as they did with Green Man Rising, but another way in which Free the Witch distinguishes itself from the prior outing and in general is in the band’s focus on structure. These songs are executed with purpose, and while they have a flow, most especially between the latter two on a one-into-the-next level, and a sense of space throughout, they remain vigilant in their direction. They are as efficient.

That’s not to say they’re spare. “Lady Lucifer,” “Free the Witch” and “Living Fossil” all run between five and six minutes long, and even in the raucous, crashing opener — which surely would be or would’ve been or could still be, I suppose, a highlight of any debut full-length — there is room in that time for atmospheric diverging. This comes paired with a notable change in the vocal approach of Templar, who gave hints of the echoing style he uses here on “Green Man Rising,” but seems at least for the time being to have left behind the gruff, Ben Ward-style bark with which that post-Sabbath melodic approach shared time. It is another way in which Green Lung seem to be following the path of fellow Londoners Elephant Tree, whose aesthetic underwent similar clarifying between their first EP and album.

green lung

I wouldn’t bet that Green Lung are finished growing into themselves, but as “Lady Lucifer” gives way with a drum fill to the forward gallop of the complementary “Free the Witch” — a two-sided tape, indeed, since the latter ends in silence before “Living Fossil” takes hold — the work they’ve undertaken in beginning their progression is appreciable both in its effort and outcome. Their debut EP, in other words, kicks a good bit of ass. And as an early-outing EP should, it acts as a showcase of their material and potential for the longer term; promise displayed in their songwriting and breadth alike. “Free the Witch,” with a noteworthy guest organ spot in a pre-solo jam section by Joe Murgatroyd (also backing vocals), resolves with a slowdown into largesse that earns Templar‘s cavernous effects, and eases the way into “Living Fossil,” which though faster initially, continues to broaden the sphere.

While it seems to follow a similar structure to the title-track, with a bass-led break from the boogie at its midpoint where the preceding cut was more guitar-led, instead the penultimate cut picks up with its chorus again and moves into a secondary hook to finish with a vibrant last push and a ringout that paves the way for Cave to set the stage for “Older than the Hills,” which pushes further outward. Much as they were able to control the stricter chorusmaking of “Lady Lucifer,” so too do Green Lung prove ready to handle the increased stretch of “Older than the Hills,” which, again, is the slowest and most patient inclusion here, proclaiming its hook in a wide space of its own creation.

If it seems like I’m painting a picture of nothing but encouraging signs from the band, I am, and consciously, but that’s not to say I think their creative evolution has peaked or is finished. Rather, what’s impossible not to take away from Free the Witch is that Green Lungas a unit have begun what one hopes will be the ongoing task of growing as a band, and while their first single indicated a drive toward an individualized sound, to hear that come so much more to fruition after such a short stretch of time is satisfying to say the least. It is still soon to speculate on what a debut long-player from them might bring, but if they’re able to employ the lessons of these songs the way they were those of the single coming into this EP, they would seem to be poised to make a significant sonic impact. The real work is ahead of them, but even in leading one to think of Green Lung‘s longer-term prospects, Free the Witch helps establish their presence in London’s crowded scene and in the greater heavy underground. A success on every level.

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Lonely Kamel Premiere “Fascist Bastard” from New Album Death’s-Head Hawkmoth

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on February 9th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

lonely kamel

We live in an age of hyperspecialization. If a band isn’t playing vintage-style proto-progresssive boogie, they’re delving into semi-psychedelic heavy space doom with traditionalist metal elements. Microgenres emerge and disappear as quickly as hashtags and Bandcamp trends will allow, and while in many ways this signals a greater creative flux and that’s not something I’m about to disparage, every now and then it’s nice to be reminded that there was already a single sound that could be all of these things and more besides. It’s called rock and roll, and that’s kind of been the point of the thing all along.

Oslo’s Lonely Kamel play rock and roll, and in the decade since they released their self-titled debut, they’ve played plenty of it. With their fifth long-player, Death’s-Head Hawkmoth, the Oslo fivesome make their debut on Stickman Records after two records on Napalm, and from the opening gong and thickened fuzz sing-along hook of “Fascist Bastard” to the stomping forward thrust of “Inside,” the bouncing verses and later drift in “Psychedelic Warfare” and the start-stop blues of “The Day I’m Gone” that hits after the album’s mega-hook in “Inebriated,” they recall the best of turn of the century European heavy rock and roll: one foot in the heavy ’70s in terms of their influences,Lonely Kamel Deaths Head Hawkmoth and the other firmly engaged in the business of kicking their audience’s collective ass.

It’s been four years since Lonely Kamel released their last album, Shit City, and as one might guess from the title, all was not well with the band. They’ve swapped out lead guitarists for Death’s-Head Hawkmoth, and if there are any residual doubts about Vegard Strand Holthe‘s contributions to the record, one need only listen to the extended instrumental build and solo-topped payoff off of “The Day I’m Gone” to get it. It ain’t hard to see where they’re coming from. Nor should it be. The prevailing lack of pretense is one of Death’s-Head Hawkmoth‘s great strengths, and it goes hand in hand with the classic-style frontman presence of vocalist/guitarist Thomas Brenna, the guiding riffs of guitarist Jøran Normann and the rhythm section of bassist Stian Helle and drummer Espen Nesset, which proves unshakable unless we’re talking about dancing.

And if we are talking about dancing, well, there’s the jangle early in the rolling verse of “Fascist Bastard,” or the almost-a-freakout space rock push of “Inside” that follows the positive-self-talk interlude of “Move On,” or the post-Queens of the Stone Age stutter-shuffle in the second half of “More Weed Less Hate,” Death’s-Head Hawkmoth isn’t exactly short on opportunities for it. Whatever statements Lonely Kamel may or may not be making about aesthetic specificity in the digital age — something in “Inebriated” tells me they have better things to think about — their bluesy core becomes just one of the means by which they pull the listener along with them on a journey varied and distinct enough to earn at least a couple of its own hashtags but which would seem to have little use for them in comparison to a solid, primary and overarching groove. The very sound of doing it right.

Lonely Kamel release Death’s-Head Hawkmoth March 23 via Stickman Records. Below, you can hear the premiere of “Fascist Bastard” and check out some background courtesy of Helle on how the album came together.

Please enjoy:

Stian Helle on Death’s-Head Hawkmoth:

Death’s-Head Hawkmoth was written over a relatively long period, due to various reasons. I remember Thomas brought a six-song demo tape back in April-May 2015, and four of these ideas were initially recorded during the Hawkmoth sessions, while only three of them ended up on the record. We were in a different place back then, so maybe that’s why it took a long time to finish them. Our previous record, Shit City, kind of summed it all up at the time.

One of these demo tunes was actually from way back in the days. The opening riff and chorus on “Psychedelic Warfare” was used as a middle part of a song we called “All Star Veteran.” We have a few rehearsal takes from 2007 with this riff in a totally different setting. The song was never released though.

Most of the new songs were potentially good ideas but we struggled to nail them… Our new single, “Fascist Bastard,” was the first one to come alive. We toured Europe for 10 days in June 2016, and played this live on that tour. When our former lead guitarist quit we started playing with a friend of ours, Vegard Strand Holthe. This was just three or four weeks before we would go on tour again in October 2016. We didn’t play much of these new songs on that tour but continued to do “Fascist Bastard” live, and were ‘shaping’ it each night. So it’s a fresh version of the song that finally ended up on the new album.

Vegard continued to play with us after the tour and we started working more focused on the other new songs as well. And he was a big influence on a lot of the songs and how they ended up on the record. All songs were and written and arranged by Lonely Kamel and Vegard, who eventually became a part of the band. Another addition to the Kamel family is Jøran Normann who recorded parts of the album. He played some guitar on the record and toured with us in 2017, stepping in, doing the lead guitar live while Vegard was occupied with other projects. From January 2018, Lonely Kamel is officially a five-piece.

We recorded totally nine songs for Death’s-Head Hawkmoth, or 10, depending on how you see it. Songs three and four on the new record, “Move On” and “Inside” — are actually one song, we just divided it into two during the mix. “Inebriated,” “More Weed Less Hate” and “The Day I’m Gone” are new songs, written the last couple of months before recording. Even though it’s written over a period of time the album feels like an entity. Thomas did the all lyrics so I leave that it to him.

Death’s-Head Hawkmoth was recorded at Schumann Lydbureau in oSlo, February 2017, by Jo Schumann and Jørann Normann. Mixed by Ruben Willem in June & mastered by Brian Gardner in November same year.

Thomas Brenna – vocals & guitar
Espen Nesset – drums & backing vox
Stian Helle – bass & backing vox
Vegard Strand Holthe – guitar & backing vox
Jøran Normann – guitar & backing vox

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Green Druid, Ashen Blood: Altar of Stone

Posted in Reviews on February 8th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

green druid ashen blood

Green Druid are not quick to show off complexity in their debut release, Ashen Blood. If anything, just the opposite. Comprised of seven tracks and running a brazenly unmanageable 74 minutes, the full-length presents itself with a purposeful drive toward lunkheaded lumber, the plod of opener “Pale Blood Sky” pulling directly from the Sleep miieu of riff worship, thinking specifically of “The Druid” from Sleep’s Holy Mountain as a touchstone. It’s not until you dig in a bit that the complexity begins to show itself. The melodic callout to “Sweet Dreams are Made of This” early and airy solo late in “Pale Blood Sky” melting together doom and stoner impulses. The droning breadth that accompanies the tonal rumble of the subsequent “Agoraphobia.” The slow devolution into noise on the 18-minute album centerpiece “Cursed Blood” recalling Electric Wizard even as the drums of Ryan Sims stay clear in their thud as the final sustained element.

There is no shortage of low-end cinderblock-on-the-chest heft to the proceedings, as bassist Ryan Skates and guitarists Graham Zander and Chris McLaughlin (the latter also vocals) revel in the thickness of their own potent brew, but the periodically-enshrouded four-piece dig deep enough and voraciously enough into stonerism that it becomes kind of an atmosphere unto itself, not necessarily so separate at times from the murk conjured by Windhand, but definitely evolving its own direction, as the psychedelic flourish of guitar in “Rebirth” so readily puts on display. Oh, and just in case the point hasn’t yet gotten across: it’s really, really fucking heavy.

It does not seem at all like a coincidence that Green Druid have been plucked from an emergent underground in Denver, Colorado, to release Ashen Blood on Earache Records. One of heavy metal’s most historically celebrated imprints has a history of landmarks in terms of riffy fare — the aforementioned Sleep’s Holy Mountain chief among them but by no means the only one; albums from Cathedral, Iron Monkey, Fudge Tunnel, Deadbird and Hour of 13 come to mind — and even if it’s not the style for which Earache is chiefly known, Green Druid represent well the core values of modern stoner-doom idolatry, a nodder like “Dead Tree” rolling itself forward slowly but not without a fluid drive.

green druid

And surrounded as they are in their hometown by the likes of the pure onslaught of Primitive Man, the emotive doom of Khemmis, the unbridled boogie of Cloud Catcher, and so on, Green Druid succeed via the tortured string pulls and wails of “Cursed Blood” in finding a blown-out space of immersive rhythm and Iommic rollout, each righteous-for-righteousness’-sake riff helping to sculpt a niche for the band that, by the time they get around to the three-minute noise finale “Nightfall,” they’ve made their own and thoroughly dominated. Whatever it might seem to accomplish superficially, Ashen Blood proves deceptive in its ambition in displaying the band’s sheer will to overwhelm their listeners with viscous tonality, obscure shouts and jarring thud and crash. It should be considered nothing less than a joy to the already converted, and as they present their mystical lyrical themes with a bent more toward fantasy literature than cultish posturing, there’s a classic sensibility drawn from the metal of old that only makes Green Druid seem all the more human in their approach. They’re fans too. Clearly.

Four of Ashen Blood‘s seven tracks, including the knife-sharpening three-and-a-half-minute atmospheric finale “Nightfall” — not that one necessarily expected a Blind Guardian cover, but it might’ve been fun — appeared on Green Druid‘s 2015 EP, and they appear here presented in reverse order. That is, “Nightfall” opened that short release and “Cursed Blood” closed it, with “Ritual Sacrifice” and “Rebirth” in between. Forward or backward, up and down, side to side, Green Druid‘s Ashen Blood is like a long staircase down into some dark cavern that, as you go, even the torch you’re carrying — because of course you’re carrying a torch — seems to lose is light. Riffs are immersive to the point of hypnosis, the grooves varied and the ambience almost universally darkened in stretches of “Dead Tree” and the crash wash of “Ritual Sacrifice,” and none of it feels like happenstance.

If one regards “Pale Blood Sky,” “Agoraphobia” and “Dead Tree” perhaps as newer material than the four tracks that follow — and mind you, I don’t know what was written when; the album may or may not have been compiled from two EP-length releases — a narrative emerges already of creative development on the part of the band, more confident in cleaner vocal sections and showing just a tinge of The Wounded Kings-style theatricality in “Agoraphobia” while staying patient overall in their execution and turning the songs themselves into the rituals in question rather than just a means of describing same. One wouldn’t call it innovative in either its outcome or intention, but that’s not the point here so much as Green Druid establishing their place in the sphere of heavy within and without of the borders of their hometown. I’d gladly argue Ashen Blood accomplishes that, and puts out a showing of potential especially in its moments of flourish and detail that lets its listeners know the band has by no means finished growing or becoming what they will ultimately be. Yes, it’s true. Things could get even more massive from here.

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Review & Track Premiere: River Cult, Halcyon Daze

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on February 6th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

river cult halcyon daze

[Click play above to stream the title-track of River Cult’s Halcyon Daze. The album is out Feb. 9 with a release show March 15 via Blackseed Records and Nasoni Records.]

Getting and having one’s house inorder are two very different things, but River Cult seem to manage both on their Blackseed Records and Nasoni Records debut album, Halcyon Daze. The five-track long-player, on which not one song is under seven minutes long, follow a promising 2016 demo that was among the year’s best short releases, and takes a tack of exploring a variety of different styles and moods, all of them heay in one way or another and drawn together by an overarching sense of tonal heft that permeates whether it’s the tense build-up-leading-to-rolling-fuzz-wall of centerpiece “Seething” or the dreamy, drifting end of 11-minute second cut and highlight “The Sophist” just prior.

Either way, River Cult — the Brooklyn-based trio of Sean Forlenza, Anthony Mendolia, and Tav Palumbo — sound like they’ve definitely been to school when it comes to their influences, and whether it’s the Acrimony-style grit, roll, drift and nod of “The Sophist” or the West Coast boogie into spacious slowdown in opener “Likelihood of Confusion,” which only minutes prior to hitting the cosmos proffered softshoe-worthy wah swirl and swing and the first of the album’s many jammed-out-feeling leads. At various points throughout they ask aesthetic questions about what might’ve happened if Thrasher magazine had taken over the world circa 1997 and, particularly on the title-track, what might’ve happened had Chris Hakius taken on a role drumming for Acid King. These issues, along with shades of Dead Meadow-style shoegazing on closer “Point of Failure,” are met with workaday lyrics and a loose-swinging vibe that, at less than a moment’s notice, is prone to kick into explorations of full-on Man’s Ruin-style fuzz overdrive.

The key word there might be “explorations,” and that’s because although Halcyon Daze sets itself purposefully to the work of proffering earthy tonality and a classic stoner fuckall in its looseness of structure and willingness to depart from verses and choruses into more open jamming, River Cult by no means sound set in their ways, and the 41-minute album carries the spirit of a band in the process of discovering who they are together as players and where they want to go in terms of their sound. Having first gotten together in 2015, it’s not entirely surprising they’d be at this stage on their first full-length, and it’s much to their credit that they capture the moment with the obvious commitment to sonic organics they show here.

To wit, after unfurling a groove of such deeply-weighted fuzz, the title-track moves easily into a soundscape of vast, drifting post-rock guitar drones that work on a long fade into the garage-via-Stooges riff that starts closer “Point of Failure.” That they’d cover such a swath of ground on their first long-player is impressive enough, but to do so with the kind of fluidity they bring out of the patient opening minutes of “Seething,” for example, or the confidence on display as “Likelihood of Confusion” begins its pivot almost exactly at its midpoint before, at 4:30, crashing through the door of its next sonic dimension. They’re an East Coast band, to be sure, and “The Sophist,” “Halcyon Daze” and the crunchier, grunge-minded sections of “Point of Failure” show that edge, but there’s little here one might consider confrontational, and rather, River Cult invite their listeners along with them on their journey of discovery as they feel their way ahead into what one hopes is the just the beginning stages of a longer-term sonic development.

river cult

And to its credit and to the band’s credit, where that development might ultimately bring River Cult feels like a secondary consideration in comparison to the groove here, which at points recalls earliest Fu Manchu and other such before-stoner-rock-had-a-name rawness. Taking advantage of the room in each track to flesh out their parts and ride the riffs to hypnotic and repetitive effect, as on the title-track’s outward trajectory or what seems to be a switch from otherworldliness to personal criticism on “The Sophist,” the first chorus of which brings the standout lines, “Sophistry/Yeah, you talk too much.” This perspective, somewhat disaffected but not necessarily raging, is writ large throughout Halcyon Daze, and it helps River Cult find their balance between more weighted, riffier fare and more atmospheric psychedelia.

It’s also worth noting that, while I have little doubt that Halcyon Daze was put together with a vinyl release in mind — “Likelihood of Confusion” and “The Sophist” on one side, “Seething,” “Halcyon Daze” and “Point of Failure” on the other — the album works perhaps even better in linear form, taken as one whole work unfolding in different stages in ups and downs of energy, pace, volume and emotion, weaving its way into and out of jams whole always keeping its ultimate trajectory forward, as shown when the feedback and noise wash of “Seething” gives way into “Halcyon Daze” or the effects loops of “Likelihood of Confusion” seem to dive into the airy tones that spread themselves over the initial going in “The Sophist.”

The bottom line is there’s a lot happening on Halcyon Daze when it’s taken front-to-back — which is how it feels like it was meant to be taken — and while one might imagine or expect River Cult to continue solidifying their approach in style and structure, what they’ve crafted in the meantime stands among the most promising Brooklynite heavy psychedelic debuts since Naam‘s Kingdom EP and should be commended for its level of craft, naturalism of execution, and unbridled flow. It’s a good one to get lost in, so go ahead and get lost in it.

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Review & Full Album Stream: All Souls, All Souls

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on February 5th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

all souls all souls

[Click play above to stream All Souls’ All Souls in its entirety. Album is out Feb. 9 on Sunyata Records.]

Momentum is quickly on the side of the self-titled debut from Los Angeles heavy rockers All Souls, as the result of a resounding opening salvo of uptempo hooks released like years of pent-up tension. And they just might be. The four-piece trace their roots back to a brutally underappreciated outfit called Totimoshi, from whence guitarist/vocalist Tony Aguilar and bassist/vocalist Meg Castellanos both come, and here joined with guitarist/backing vocalist Erik Trammell of Black Elk and drummer Tony Tornay of Fatso Jetson, the couple/core duo in some ways pick up where their prior band left off — that is to say, driving riffs with roots in punk, grunge and heavy rock, emotive melodies and memorable songcraft brought to bear with a boldness of naturalism through a Toshi Kasai production that would scare most groups away even in concept.

Issued through Sunyata Records, which is owned by Barrett Martin of Screaming Trees and Mad Season (speaking of emotive melody), All SoulsAll Souls comprises nine tracks and runs an efficient but not bare 46 minutes, and whether it’s the blend of howling electrics and acoustic strum of “Sadist/Servant” later in the record — on which, by the way, Tool‘s Danny Carey puts in a guest appearance on drums — or the earlier circular chorus bludgeon of “Never Know,” it is a record varied of approach but unflinching in its expressive purposes. It builds unrepentantly on the past experience of the band’s members but finds them unwilling to give up exploring new ground in favor of simply retreading old paths, and particularly as side A moves into side B around centerpiece “Rename the Room,” grows into a listening experience that only becomes richer in repetition.

But those hooks. Those hooks — a one-two-three punch of upbeat rush that carries through opener “Party Night,” the aforementioned “Never Know” and the start-stop verse into stomping chorus launch of “Money Man” — set the course for All Souls, and it’s a 14-minute push that speaks to the high level of craft all throughout. Aguilar and Trammell weave complementary guitar lines fluidly from the outset — as in, immediately on “Party Night” — as Castellanos adds low-end tension to the Songs for the Deaf-style careen of the opener and Tornay finds his builds and crashing payoffs handed down alongside handclaps during the bridge. Leads, rhythms, acoustics, vocal harmonies, percussive presence and a residual tonal crunch permeate, but All Souls are firmly in control of “Party Night,” and they’ll remain so as “Never Know” — one of three inclusions here over six minutes long; the others being “Rename the Room” and closer “Time Bomb” — spins heads with its manically repeated title lyric.

Because Aguilar has such a distinct vocal delivery, because he’s often on his own during the verses, and because of the balance in the mix the inclusion of backing vocals from Castellanos and Trammell comes across as subtle, but it’s another aspect that, be it in “Never Know” or “Money Man” or the no-less-sing-along-ready “Silence,” which follows, adds a sense of cohesion to the tracks. And as to why “Silence” isn’t included in that opening salvo — because really there’s no dip in quality there or anywhere after — it’s a matter of vibe and tempo. “Silence” pulls back some on the accelerator from “Money Man” and introduces a more spacious sensibility especially in its echo-laden second half that “Rename the Room” continues to build upon, thereby serving as a transitional moment in the overarching flow rather than a furthering of the record’s initial argument in its own favor. That argument, in other words, is simply entering its next phase.

all souls photo Memo Villasenor

“Rename the Room” might be the emotional crux of All Souls‘ All Souls. Atop flourish of reverb guitar, Aguilar blends indie and grunge-style melodic sweetness in a serene, contemplative and still of-the-desert vibe as Tornay punctuates, and a break to minimalist quiet leads excitingly to a choice and unabashedly rocking groove in the second half, “cool” in the classic sense of sunglasses at night and a backdrop for a wailing solo, cyclical toms and an ambient feel that remains steady despite the uptick in activity, drawing the two sides of the track together, and really, doing the same for the album as a whole. It ends quiet and “The Ghost is Flying Home” stomps in quickly with a more foreboding mood before turning from the earlier-established structures to break into thirds with verses and choruses bookending an exploratory midsection that in addition to some highlight vocal interplay from Castellanos and Aguilar works to build to a driving thrust of a fuzz and payoff, leading to the quiet start of the emergently-percussive “Sadist/Servant.” I’m not sure if Tornay plays alongside Carey, but if you told me there were two drummers on the track, I’d believe it. Nonetheless, its primary impression comes through the woven guitars and melodies and the balance of rhythm and melody, rather than a showy or overly progressive spirit shoehorned into a record otherwise so brimming with humanity.

A galloping, squealing finish comes to a head and cuts out cold to set the stage for the mid-paced tension of the penultimate “Reveille,” which takes a more winding approach and winds up somewhat hypnotic for it despite a thud of toms two minutes in and resonant crescendo marked by thicker tones at the cymbal-wash finish. The varied course of “The Ghost is Flying Home,” “Sadist/Servant” and “Reveille,” in comparison to “Party Night,” “Never Know” and “Money Man” at the outset, does much to flesh out All Souls‘ aesthetic reach overall, and the finale/summary in the 6:51 of “Time Bomb” only underscores the achievement made in terms of dynamic and chemistry between players. Around yet another memorable chorus, All Souls swirl and churn and keep a forward trajectory even as they seem to willfully meander, pursuing sandy expanses one more time before pulling together and heading toward a last push, Tornay saving highlight snare work to cut through the echoing guitars before the whole thing seems to break apart amid residual tones and the album’s final notes.

It’s been seven years since Totimoshi released their last album, Avenger (review here), and nearly two decades since they made their self-titled debut in 1999. If All Souls, who’ve been together since 2015/2016, is to be a redirection of the work that Aguilar and Castellanos did in that outfit, then it’s a relief much of what made that band so underrated in terms of craft and performance and personality remains intact in this material. At the same time, it’s exciting to hear desert rock so readily engaged on the group’s own terms rather than those of the style itself, and used as part of a broad pastiche that one hopes continues to expand as they move forward. While it’s almost unfair to consider it a debut, for the excitement factor in the actual hearing, the songwriting on display and the potential in the already-so-prevalent chemistry among all four players, there’s no doubt All Souls‘ All Souls will stand among 2018’s best.

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