Live Review: Roadburn 2018 Hardrock Hideout, 04.18.18

Posted in Features, Reviews on April 18th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

butcher on stage photo jj koczan

04.19.18 – 12:11AM CET – Wednesday night – Hotel Mercure Rm. 224

The Hardrock Hideout is Roadburn‘s annual way of bringing fest-goers into the world of the happening itself. I’d say it eases them in, but there’s usually very little easing happening at all. This year? Three Belgian acts — one multi-genre noise assault and two thrashing speed-rippers each more metal than the last. It was a bill organized in conjunction with Babylon Doom Cult Records and booked in honor of Bidi van Drongelen, who worked at the fest, was close with Walter, and passed away last year. Thrash with a purpose, then. So be it.

One consistent theme for Roadburn each year is growth and I look at how the personality of the Hardrock Hideout has changed even over the last couple years as an example of that. There’s still space for the occasional bit of doom — Atala played, as did The Skull maybe two years back — but the dominant persona of the evening is way more metal than it once was; a capsule analog for how the festival itself has redefined and expanded its scope.

It was an 8:30PM start for a bill with Witch TrailSpeed Queen and Bütcher, in that order, and after a nap that I was going to take whether I wanted to or not, I made it down to Cul de Sac well in advance of the start time.

Here’s how it went from there:

Witch Trail

witch-trail-photo-jj-koczan

I already wish I’d bought a copy of their 2017 album, Thole, which doesn’t bode well for the weekend to come in terms of pulling the trigger on merch-regrets, but so it goes. The three-piece were easily the odd-men-out on the bill and that seemed like a position they should be well used to considering the complexity of the stylistic blend they play, running anywhere from alt-noise riffing in the ’90s style to doomed crash and plod to blackened blastbeating and screams. Based in Ghent, they impressed on cuts like “Splendour” and “Unnatural Caresses,” which took their time unfolding the aesthetic gamut, but never seemed more patient than was warranted or failed to justify one turn into the other. They were right on, in short, and it’s a good thing Thole is up as a name-your-price download so at least I can mitigate my not-CD-buying woes. It’s not the same of course, but it’s hard to argue with, anyhow. They had a couple hiccups during their set but were my pick for the night, hands down, with a sound that seemed as likely to pique the interest of Fenriz as that of Thurston Moore. Not an easy bridge to cross for most bands.

Speed Queen

speed-queen-photo-jj-koczan

High tops, studded belts, two guitars speed-picking, fists raised, beer downed, Speed Queen had the thing nailed, and the thing was classic thrash. For their traditionalist West Coast presentation — see above re: high tops, etc. — they were notably tight, which was doubly remarkable considering the liberal amount of beer pounded while on stage. Frontman Thomas Kenis, with “1992” tattooed on one wrist and an infinity symbol tattooed on the other — it’s good to have goals — didn’t even lose his balance in all that windmill headbanging during songs like “Speed Queen,” “Midnight Murder” and “Live Hard” early in the set. “King of the Road,” somewhat sadly, was not a cover (in fact it’s the title-track of their 2017 debut EP), but “Nice Boys Don’t Play Rock ‘n’ Roll” was, and they gave the Rose Tattoo track a thrashing sneaker to the ass no less fervent than that delivered to their originals. By the time they were deeper into their set, the shouts of “Hey! Hey! Hey!” were coming from more than just their road crew, and it was plain to see Speed Queen‘s classic style had won the hearts and increasingly addled minds of the assembled.

Bütcher

butcher (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Their setlist promised a “Speed Metal Attakk,” and that’s precisely what Antwerp-based five-piece Bütcher delivered as they supported last year’s debut album, Bestial Fükkin’ Warmachine. Need I say more? Probably not, but I will. A rare moshpit was formed at the Cul de Sac, which generally I wouldn’t think has the size to support such a thing, let alone the festival temperament, and yours truly got shoved around a bit as I watched the band deliver their oldskööl metal onslaught, one slicing, punishing cut into the next. Frontman R. Hellshrieker was quick to throw a spiked-armband claw when not holding onto his upside-down-spiked-cross mic stand, and guitarists KK Rippeand DB Deströyer tore into classic-style everything while bassist JA Pulsatör and drummer PB Tormentor pummeled ahead into the forward-thrust grooves. It was heavy, duh, and while I could say I was tired, jetlagged, needed to go back to the hotel and write, and so on, the truth is that Hellshrieker and his elaborately named companions gave oldschool metal a culminating representation worthy of being called true homage, and still managed to find space to inject a personality of their own into the proceedings. I’m telling you, I’ve seen a lot of bands play the Cul de Sac. I can’t recall any of them inducing a mosh. Clearly that takes something special in intent and execution, and Bütcher‘s unabashed metal-for-the-love-of-metal was exactly that.

I’m at least several things, if not many. Two or three. One thing I’m not is the “partying kind.” Socialization? Good times? Sounds utterly horrifying, and I don’t care what anti-anxiety meds you put me on, it won’t be enough for me to not notice how much that party isn’t me-in-front-of-laptop. Weirdo Canyon was jumping off for a Wednesday night — a whole other level on which Roadburn 2018 was being launched, and as I walked out of Cul de Sac, I not only saw Walter and Becky, but Lee from The Sleeping Shaman — with whom I’m once again sharing a hotel room and considering myself fortunate to be in his company — and the artist Cavum, Yvonne, the photographer Dante Torrieri, the dudes from Mirror Queen and a goodly portion of the San Diego Takeover guys with whom I’d rode into town this morning. Strange sometimes to feel like you don’t belong in the one place you belong. That’s all I’ll say about it.

Tomorrow’s a busy day. First day of the fest, sure, but also the first day Lee and I will be finalizing the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch and, for the first time, sending it off to a professional press to be done ahead of doors opening. That makes me less guaranteed to get a copy, but I’m going to try anyhow, of course. This is our fifth year of the WCD daily festival fanzine. It’s hard to imagine how stupid lucky I am to be able to be here and to work on that as a part of my trip every year. I’ve been looking forward to sitting in the office for months. Really.

Lots more to come. Thanks for reading in the meantime. Some extra pics after the jump if you’re up for such things.

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Review & Full Album Premiere: Sun Voyager, Seismic Vibes

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on April 18th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Sun Voyager Seismic Vibes

[Click play above to stream Sun Voyager’s Seismic Vibes in its entirety. Album is out April 20 on King Pizza Records.]

Here’s a post from May 2014 about how Sun Voyager‘s debut album would be out that summer. The band had two demos to their name at that point — early 2013’s Cosmic Tides and late 2013’s Mecca (review here) — and though it turn out their first long-player would in no way be out that summer or any time between then and now, they filled the intervening years via splits with Greasy Hearts (discussed here) and The Mad Doctors (review here), as well as 2015’s Lazy Daze EP (review here). The Orange County, New York, heavy psych outfit discussed the making of their full-length and even went so far as to post the opening track “Trip” in early 2017. So to say that Seismic Vibes, which at last sees release through King Pizza Records, has been a while in the making is maybe understating it a little.

They’ve kept consistent playing live shows, and since Lazy Daze came out they’ve pared down their lineup from a two-guitar four-piece to a trio — though in addition to the core of vocalist/guitarist Carlos Francisco, bassist/guitarist/vocalist Stefan Mersch and drummer Kyle Beach, the album’s credits also list Evan Heinze on keyboard and Sam Bey on percussion; that trio may or may not be in a process of expansion — and between that and leaking tracks from the originally self-titled Seismic Vibes, one could hardly accuse them of laziness in bringing the record to fruition. Sometimes these things just take a while. Tracked by Paul Ritchie down the Jersey Shore and mastered by Alan Douches, the eight-song/34-minute offering that has resulted from whatever arduous process was undertaken can only be considered worth the effort.

Maybe that’s not saying much, but the point to be made is that one can hear on Seismic Vibes the growth that’s taken place in Sun Voyager‘s sound even since Lazy Daze, which opened with “God is Dead,” a song that’s turned into the extended, jammed-out closer on the full-length. That track is the only carry-over between the two outings, and as one might hope, Sun Voyager use the opportunity of their first full-length to showcase the dynamic they’ve worked hard through the last several years to build. The keys and vocal arrangement on a song like “Hair Brained” speak to an increase in complexity overall, not to mention the sitar-sounding guitar solo that follows and the effects swirl surrounding, but even the opening salvo of “Trip,” “Open Road” and “Caves of Steel” seem to signal a driven purposefulness of intent — that is, the fact that these tracks aren’t just cobbled together, but placed consciously to affect the listener’s experience of the record. All under four minutes and pointedly uptempo, the first three tracks work quickly to establish the momentum that will carry the listener through the ensuing dynamic that unfolds.

sun voyager

Beginning with an unassuming hum, “Trip” is among the catchiest hooks on Seismic Vibes, tambourine and all, and the keyboard-laced “Open Road” holds a tension in its drums that drives mellower verses into the more densely-fuzzed chorus, keyboards filling out the melody during the verse and the cacophonous-but-quick payoff at the end. Mersch‘s bass and Francisco‘s guitar swirl begins “Caves of Steel,” but this too unveils itself quickly as a fuzz riot, and thrusts into tom runs backing a hook repeating the title line and a jammy ending that cuts short at about 3:10 but sounds like it could just as easily keep going into perpetuity. Though it too is short at 3:38, there’s a marked change in pace as “Stellar Winds” comes on, and for the first time, Sun Voyager introduce their more languid side; a sound more derived from shoegaze than the spaced-out semi-punk of “Caves of Steel” just prior. Francisco‘s voice is well-suited to drift, which is not something every singer can pull off, and though “Stellar Winds” is mellower than the first three cuts, it still offers a sense of build and turns directly into “Hair Brained,” which is arguably the speediest and most active inclusion here, reminiscent as it is of some of early Nebula‘s frenetic stoner punk.

As noted, the keys are a factor in fleshing out “Hair Brained,” and they play a role in offsetting the bouncing rhythm as it makes its way to a winding cold-stop finish, and it might be the keys as well that tie “Hair Brained” to the subsequent “Too Much,” which is an immediate switch in method from its predecessor and the most open-feeling song on Seismic Vibes, molten and hypnotic in a way that much of the record has simply chosen not to be. At five minutes, its roll is second in length only to the aforementioned “God is Dead,” and the two tracks are separated by the 3:35 “Psychic Lords,” a slowdown leading to the quiet/loud tradeoffs as Sun Voyager find a place for themselves in a niche of cosmic grunge that calls back to the hooks earlier on the album without giving up the expansion that’s happened since.

The start of “God is Dead” is a bit jarring coming out of the subdued end of “Psychic Lords,” and I suspect it will be all the more for anyone who encountered Lazy Daze, as it was a standout there, but in this redone, expanded version, it provides a fitting summary of just about everything Seismic Vibes delivers, with a jammy feel underscoring forward drive, shifts in tempo and a controlled psychedelic sensibility that’s light on self-indulgence and still manages to feel like it’s exploring new terrain. One would be remiss in not noting that though it’s been some time in its realization, this is still Sun Voyager‘s debut album, and yes, there is room for the band to continue to grow into their sound, to refine their balance of volume and tempo and straightforward and open structures, but the core of songwriting is there as it has been for the last half-decade, and there’s little chance Seismic Vibes won’t end up as one of 2018’s best first LPs. As a fan of the band, I’m just glad it finally happened.

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Review & Track Premiere: Svvamp, Svvamp 2

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on April 17th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

svvamp svvamp 2

[Click play above to stream the premiere of ‘Hillside’ from Svvamp’s new album, Svvamp 2, out June 8 on RidingEasy Records and available now to preorder.]

The soothing effect of the 42-second intro to Svvamp 2 is immediate, and from there, the Swedish trio of vocalist/guitarist Henrik Bjorklund, vocalist/bassist Erik Stahlgren and vocalist/drummer Adam Johansson present a run of pointedly classic-vibing heavy rock and roll. They made something of an understated self-titled debut (review here) in 2016, catching ears among the converted and reaping praise for their endearing sonic naturalism. That theme very much continues on Svvamp 2, which moves from its introduction into the heavier-riffed highlight “Queen” and the blues-rolling “The Wheel,” with the first of several vocalist switches working subtly to add variety and texture to the straightforward songwriting and traditionalist, vintage spirit of the recording.

While the groups who arguably led the charge for recrafting heavy ’70s sonic warmth — fellow Swedes like Witchcraft, Graveyard, Burning Saviours, etc. — have moved on toward more modern aesthetics, Svvamp hold firm to the tenets of the subgenre while proving there’s still new ground to cover, as the poppy, soul-derived bounce of “Sunshine Street” demonstrates, the fuzz subtle and the drums spacious like they were beamed straight in from 1969, and the subsequent “How Sweet Would it Be” only reinforces this notion, like a lost studio cut from the Get Back sessions, the guitars leading the easy groove punctuated by steady, languid cymbal timekeeping. Semi-harmonized vocal melodies evoke the sweetness in the title without losing the effectiveness of the hook that emerges: “Oh, out in the country/Me and my baby/We’re gonna be so damn free now.”

It is the fodder of humid summer singalongs, and much to their credit, they make you believe it. Plenty of vintage bands have popped up in the wake of the likes of Kadavar, Blues Pills, and so on, and attempted to capture heavy blues lightning in a psychedelic bottle. Well, Svvamp may be reverse-engineering innovation, but whatever they might be doing throughout their second album, their heart is in it, from the chorus of “Queen” through Stahlgren‘s bassline in (presumed) side B opener “Hillside” and on to closer “Alligater” (sic), the expression remains genuine and the swing remains a fervent, crucial factor. With a current running through it of analog synth or effects, “Surrender” nonetheless mirrors the fluidity of “The Wheel” earlier, and while the “beep-boop-beep” might seem a little out of place among all the focus on organic elements and execution, it’s ultimately the latter that win out in the song.

svvamp

To follow side A/B symmetry as they have so far, Svvamp should be dipping into more soulful fare à la “Sunshine Street” with “Out of Line,” but they change the script and instead offer a swaggering bounce and riff-forward groove, a touch of wah worked into a midsection that seems to layer its guitar solo across both left and right channels. More akin to “Queen” and “Hillside” for its rhythm and good-time rocking feel, “Out of Line” caps with another call and response solo — maybe in three layers? — on a long fadeout and gives way to the acoustic penultimate cut “Blues Inside,” the shortest inclusion on Svvamp 2 save for “Intro,” and a quiet reflective moment before “Alligater” taps Blue Cheer for the most raucous stretch on the album to close.

Once again, Svvamp find themselves nestled into heavy blues, but “Alligater” is more blown out on the whole and more of a wash than any of its rocking predecessors on Svvamp 2, and the crashing, the layers of fuzz, the rumble beneath all come together to give a sense of the kind of party the trio can hone when the mood strikes. I wouldn’t exactly call the record subtle in its purposes, but Svvamp 2 does build on the debut’s accomplishments, and for all the changes in singer and approach it presents throughout its 35 minutes, the flow remains consistent across the span, and perhaps the band’s greatest strength lies in their utter lack of pretense. While some in a vintage mindset have attempted to capture a progressive feel and met with varying degrees of success, by keeping their material outwardly simple, catchy and friendly, JohanssonStahlgren and Bjorklund are able to give their audience something to latch onto without an overdose of self-indulgence or a departure from their core purpose.

Apart perhaps from “Intro” and “Blues Inside” — and mostly for length in the case of the latter — there isn’t one song between “Queen,” “The Wheel,” “Sunshine Street,” “How Sweet it Would Be,” “Hillside,” “Surrender,” “Out of Line” and “Alligater” that wouldn’t work as a 45RPM single, its paper sleeve crinkled and found in some dusty record shop bin like so much buried treasure. And though they may be looking back aesthetically in terms of finding their points of inspiration in classic heavy rock circa 1968-’72, they’re also pushing themselves forward as songwriters and stewards of this sonic legacy. They wield it better than most, and on Svvamp 2 they demonstrate plainly that even something so plainly tied to a specific era can also sound timeless.

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Mane of the Cur, Retreat of the Glaciers: Time Uncovered

Posted in Reviews on April 12th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Mane of the Cur Retreat of the Glaciers

Somewhere along the line, Portland, Oregon’s Mane of the Cur decided to open their debut full-length, Retreat of the Glaciers, with its eight-minute instrumental title-track. It would be hyperbole to say this made all the difference in the general impression the vinyl-ready eight-song/45-minute record makes, but it certainly goes a long way in establishing a progressive context for even the most straightforward of the material that follows. It was the bold choice, and the right one. “Retreat of the Glaciers” wouldn’t have worked anywhere else, and while its side-B-opening counterpart “9 Lives” — also the longest inclusion at 8:49 — unveils Melynda Marie Amann‘s vocals within its first 30 seconds, the fact that almost 20 percent of the album’s runtime is gone before she arrives on second track “Uncovering Time” gives all the more of a landmark feel to that arrival.

Comprised of Amann, guitarist Shawn Mentzer, bassist Cory DeCaire, keyboardist/cover artist Nate Baisch and drummer Blaine Burnham, Mane of the Cur have roots in the Portland heavy underground going back even beyond the band’s founding in 2012 — their last release was 2015’s Three of Cups EP (review here) — and accordingly, while Retreat of the Glaciers feels like a debut in the potential it shows and some of the turns it makes especially later in its going, the more pervasive sense is that this is an experienced band making conscious decisions about how they want to be perceived in terms of style and songwriting.

The opening title-track — so close at 8:40 to earning those immediate points for also being the longest song — plays a big role in that, and while it’s the kind of dogwhistle that a given listener might not even perceive consciously, more consumed perhaps by the languidly rolling groove, the inclusion of flute (or flute sounds) and the classic rocking, almost pastoral guitar triumph that emerges near the halfway point and carries through to a return of heavier riffing and an eventual keyboard-led finish, the message comes through clearly one way or the other.

Retreat of the Glaciers was recorded and mixed by Eric Leavell at Husk Recording and mastered by Justin Weis at Trakworx Studio, and its presentation is clear but not necessarily unnatural. There are moments, as on “1,000 Years,” when some of the forward-pushing riffing calls to mind fellow Portlanders Young Hunter, but the spirit behind what Mane of the Cur are exploring is different and their sound is their own. Amann, absent entirely from the opener, ends up playing a significant role in standing out the individuality of the band. Her vocals are melodic and soulful, and whether it’s a straightforward verse/chorus rocker like second track “Uncovering Time,” which launches right away into its first lyrics, or “9 Lives,” which reminds of the spaciousness Ancestors brought to their brilliant In Dreams and Time LP, or the harmonies put atop the penultimate “1 Bullet,” which holds forth a more thoroughly doomed progression and pace until its chugging payoff in bridge in the final third, where a solo might otherwise be, she holds a commanding presence within complex material, providing an element to ground the listening experience without sacrificing any of the underlying complexity of the arrangements between the keys and guitar, the guitar and the guitar, the bass and drums, the drums and keys, etc.

mane of the cur logo

While crisply presented, these intertwinings all come together to form the complete picture Mane of the Cur seem to want to evoke with Retreat of the Glaciers: something classic in style, modern in presentation, and forward-thinking in its construction. That they ultimately reach those individual goals while also creating a full-album flow between the eight individual tracks and two intended vinyl sides is what makes their debut a success. That and the fact that it rocks, anyway. But it also rocks while feeling like a complete idea — which is to say, there doesn’t seem to be a missing element from the listening experience. Perhaps Mane of the Cur have realized the aesthetic that Three of Cups and the preceding Wild Hunt EP were moving toward. If so, Retreat of the Glaciers is all the more a victory for them.

That’s not to say there isn’t still room for growth in their sound, however. It’s been six years since the band got their start and while it took them a while to solidify their lineup, it’s still been three since Three of Cups surfaced. I wouldn’t call Retreat of the Glaciers, even with the accomplishment that is “Reefer Magnus (Lonely Mountain)” or the closing Sabbath-gone-noodling boogie of “White Beard” to its credit, the be-all-end-all of Mane of the Cur‘s potential. Rather, it provides the group a basis from which to expand their sound going forward. Nothing new for debut albums, except perhaps that despite their consistent use of traditional structures, the foundation on which Mane of the Cur have to build feels particularly broad. And I go back again to the decision to open with that instrumental. It’s the kind of brazen, and frankly, brave, thing that most bands toss around in the studio as a joke when they’re putting together the track order and then go with something hookier or more structured.

The signal one gets from Mane of the Cur, both there and across the album as a whole, is that while they definitely have an interest in traditional rock songwriting and structure, they’re not necessarily looking to be limited by them, and that thoughtfulness is what earns them the “progressive” tag in terms of style. It was a while waiting for Retreat of the Glaciers — could’ve been longer; it wasn’t enough time to, say, earn a crappy line about the pace being “glacial” — and I don’t know how long it will be before the band presents a follow-up or what form that might ultimately take, but perhaps the clearest signal they send throughout these eight songs is their desire to step forward creatively, to grow tighter in their dynamic and more sure of who they are as a unit. The key, as for so many progressive heavy rockers, will be staving off and/or finding a balance with self-indulgence, but Mane of the Cur seem to have made an encouraging opening statement in that regard as well.

Mane of the Cur, Retreat of the Glaciers (2018)

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Review & Track Premiere: Shrine of the Serpent, Entropic Disillusion

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on April 11th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

shrine of the serpent entropic disillusion

[Click play above to stream ‘Rending the Psychic Void’ by Shrine of the Serpent. Entropic Disillusion is out April 23 on Memento Mori.]

If death-doom’ had boxes, Shrine of the Serpent would put a big ol’ check mark next to just about each one. The band, founded by Portland-based guitarist/vocalist Todd Janeczek (also Aldebaran, Roanoke, etc.) took shape out of the prior, sludgier outfit Tenspeed Warlock, and Shrine of the Serpent‘s debut full-length, Entropic Disillusion (on Memento Mori), follows a 2015 self-titled EP and a 2016 split with Black Urn and shows an unmistakable turn toward the darkness. At nearly an hour long and marked by grueling atmospheres like a scar across the face, overwhelming waves of filthy distortion, and the general sense of being coated in a brew that’s equal parts filth and misery, its seven tracks, like any semi-responsible hunter, consume in its entirety, leaving no part of the listener to waste away.

By its very nature, the extremity of lumber brought to bear by Janeczek, former Uzala and Graves at Sea drummer Chuck Watkins and bassist/guitarist Adam DePrez (ex-Sod Hauler, etc.) seems to seek to overwhelm, the ambience as crushing as the riffs themselves, and no doubt that for some listeners, they simply will. Entropic Disillusion, reveling in the muck of “Hope’s Aspersion,” the chugging penultimate cut “Epoch of Annihilation,” and the earlier malevolently-conveyed solitude of “Hailing the Enshrined,” is not at all an easy listen. If it was, the band would have just about completely failed in their mission, which pretty clearly is to steamroll the hearts and minds of those who’d dare take them on. Sounds like hyperbole? It is. That’s the point. Entropic Disillusion, even unto the fact that its intro, “Descend into Dusk,” runs six minutes long before giving way to “Hailing the Enshrined,” is meant to be a work of extremity. It’s supposed to provoke a strong response, to pull one out from behind their mental blockade, and to toss them down a well of ultra-depressive thud.

That’s the thing, right? To celebrate the darkness, rather than be repelled by it? Or maybe to celebrate defying that sense of repulsion to embrace it? Either way, the result is a viciousness of purposeness that Shrine of the Serpent meet head on. Not nearly so lush as some in the style on songs like “Hope’s Aspersion,” with the aforementioned six-minute intro and materia generally so slow, there would almost have to be an emergent atmosphere, though it’s worth noting that even the intro — which one on paper might expect to be piano or something of the like, is stood-out by its foundation-crumbling riff. Bookended on either side by quieter guitar, “Descend into Dusk” indeed lurches forth, leading the listener down the spiraling path that bleeds into the soft opening of “Hailing the Enshrined.” This, like some of the other titles, like the band’s moniker and the name of the record, seems like it might be more derived from death metal, but even at their fastest, Shrine of the Serpent remain decidedly doomed in their pacing. “Hailing the Enshrined” unfurls itself patiently but bursts to full-boar tonality at 2:37 into its 9:47, and flows into an ever-noisier cacophony of pummel before once again dropping out the heavier push and ending on quiet guitar.

shrine of the serpent

The subsequent “Hope’s Aspersion,” though it’s 10 minutes long, immediately establishes its central march and holds to it for most of the first five minutes while also teasing the speedier progression still to come in the second half, in trades back and forth between faster and slower parts, ending with what’s arguably the most brutal stretch on Entropic Disillusion before the weeping guitar of centerpiece “Desecrated Tomb” takes hold, its full, not-to-be-understated heft kicking in before the first minute is out. Something of a roller, it reminds a bit of some of YOB‘s slowest crawls, but of course the stylistic context is different, and Janeczek‘s overwhelming distortion once again holds the day. Watkins‘ drums are effective in punctuating the roll and holding the proceedings together, and DePrez, whether he’s harmonizing on guitar or adding low end, fills out a sound that manifests a mood of disaffection and disdain universally without chestbeating or trying to tout its own righteousness. The only way it goes is down.

That is to say, if you’re looking for that sign of light that many of the bleakest records offer, Shrine of the Serpent aren’t giving. The 4:34 interlude “Returning” is a channel-swapping drone pulsation — I’ve had to stop it a couple times because it feels like pressure in the ears — met with spoken whispers, vague and echoing over other emergent noise. Affecting in terms of its brooding sensibility, it’s further reinforcement of the grim atmosphere that pervades throughout and cedes ground to “Epoch of Annihilation,” which calls back to the more uptempo stretches of “Hope’s Aspersion” eventually, but cakes itself in mud before getting there. It’s linear, forward build in terms of pace, and as the song is instrumental except perhaps from some vague and possibly imagined chants, the movement is all the more at the center. Shrine of the Serpent execute it well and cap with a wash of noise, a slowdown and, for the last 90 seconds of so, a quiet moment (there’s the piano!) that resonates even as it fades into the crash at the start of closer “Rending the Psychic Void.”

Second in length only to “Hope’s Aspersion” at 10:07, the finale of Entropic Disillusion underscores and summarizes much of the purpose of the records as a whole, which is geared toward the wretched and the vicious in intent. Unlike “Epoch of Annihilation,” there’s no surge waiting to happen, and instead, after plodding and growling their way through the first half of the song, the second turns to a long guitar lead that in turn shifts into a final verse and the noise that actually closes out. The rhythm holds together underneath for the most part, but after a few crashes the drums and bass drop out and guitar feedback is the last sound before it, too, fades out. As Janeczek has been arguably working toward this release for a decade since he got started with Tenspeed Warlock, it must be somewhat cathartic to see it realized. Another result of that time, however, is that Entropic Disillusion is also resoundingly sure in its approach, all the more so as a “debut,” and if this is the begging of an exploration of the darkened recesses, Shrine of the Serpent show themselves here of being more than capable of leading the way down.

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Quarterly Review: Primordial, Dead Meadow, Taarna, MaidaVale, Black Willows, Craang, Fuzz Lord, Marijannah, Cosmic Fall, Owl

Posted in Reviews on April 9th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Quarterly-Review-Spring-2018

Okay, so this is it. The Quarterly Review definitely ends today. I’m not sneaking in a seventh day tomorrow or anything like that. This is it. The last batch of 10, bringing us to a grand total of 60 records reviewed between last Monday and now. That’s not too bad, if you think about it. Me, I’m a little done thinking about it, and if you’ll pardon me, I’m going to enjoy the time between now and late June/early July, in which for the most part I’ll be writing about one record at a time. The thought feels like a luxury after this week.

But hey, we made it. Thanks for reading along the way.

Quarterly Review #51-60:

Primordial, Exile Amongst the Ruins

primordial exile amongst the ruins

Primordial’s flair for the epic has not at all abated over the years. The Irish post-black-metal forerunners follow-up 2014’s Where Greater Men Have Fallen with Exile Amongst the Ruins (on Metal Blade), and though there’s plenty of charge in “To Hell or the Hangman,” “Sunken Lungs” or “Upon Our Spiritual Deathbed,” with frontman Alan Averill proselytizing declarations as grandly as ever, one might read a certain amount of fatigue into the lyrics of songs like “Stolen Years” and the 10-minute closer “Last Call.” Granted, Exile Amongst the Ruins is 65 minutes long, so I don’t think the band has run out of things to say, but could it be that the cycle of writing, recording and touring is starting to wear on them some 25 years after their founding? I wouldn’t know or speculate, and like I said, Exile Amongst the Ruins retains plenty of its sonic force, the layering of the title-track and the preceding “Where Lie the Gods” offering a depth of sound to complement the complexity of their themes.

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Primordial at Metal Blade website

 

Dead Meadow, The Nothing They Need

dead meadow The Nothing They Need

Utter masters of their domain, Los Angeles’ Dead Meadow – comprised of guitarist/vocalist Jason Simon, bassist Steve Kille and drummer Juan Londono – mark 20 years of the band with the eight songs of The Nothing They Need (on Xemu Records), bringing in former members for guest spots mostly on drums but also guitar across a rich tapestry of moods, all of which happen to be distinctly Dead Meadow’s own. The ramble in opener “Keep Your Head” or “I’m So Glad” is unmistakable, and the fuzz of the six-minute “Nobody Home” bounces with a heavy psychedelic groove that should be nothing less than a joy to the converted. Recorded in their rehearsal space, released on their own label and presented with their own particularly blend of indie pulse, psych dreamscaping and more weighted tone, a song like the swaying eight-minute “The Light” is a reminder of everything righteous Dead Meadow have accomplished in their two decades, and of the vast spread their influence has taken on in that time. Perhaps the greatest lesson of all is that no matter who’s involved, Dead Meadow sound like Dead Meadow, which is about the highest compliment I can think of to pay them.

Dead Meadow on Thee Facebooks

Xemu Records website

 

Taarna, Sanguine Ash

taarna sanguine ash

It’s not entirely clear what’s happening at the start of Taarna’s 29-minute single-song EP, Sanguine Ash, but the samples are vague and violent sounding and the noise behind them is abrasive. A strum and build takes hold as the Portland, Oregon, black metallers, who feature former members of Godhunter in their ranks, continue in the first couple minutes to develop a suicidal thematic, and six minutes in, a wash of static takes hold with drums behind it only to give way, in turn, to lush-sounding keys or guitar (could go either way) that patiently leads to a rumbling, roiling lurch of blacksludge. Cavern-vocals echo and cut through molasses tones and Taarna ride that malicious groove for the next several minutes until, at around 18:30, samples start again. This leads to more quiet guitar, resonant blackened thrust, noise, noise, more noise and a final emergent wash of caustic anti-metal that couldn’t possibly be clearer in its mission to challenge, repel and come across as completely fucked as it can. Done and done, you scathing bastards.

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Taarna on Bandcamp

 

MaidaVale, Madness is Too Pure

maidavale madness is too pure

I already discussed a lot of what is working so well on MaidaVale’s second album, Madness is Too Pure (The Sign Records), when I put up the video for “Oh Hysteria!” (posted here), but it’s worth reemphasizing the sonic leap the Swedish four-piece have made between their 2016 debut, the bluesy and well-crafted Tales of the Wicked West (review here) and this nine-song offering, which stretches far outside the realm of blues rock and encompasses psychedelic jamming, spontaneous-sounding explorations, brazen but not at all caustic vibes, and an overarching energy of delivery that reminds both of a live presentation and, on a song like “Gold Mine,” of what Death Alley have been able to revitalize in space-punk. Memorable progressions like that of “Walk in Silence” and the freaked out “Dark Clouds” offer standout moments, but really, it’s the whole album itself that’s the standout, and if the debut showed MaidaVale’s potential, Madness is Too Pure ups that factor significantly.

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The Sign Records on Thee Facebooks

 

Black Willows, Bliss

black willows bliss

About a year and a half after releasing their 2016 sophomore outing, Samsara (review here), Swiss post-doomers Black Willows return with a 19-minute single-song EP they’ve dubbed Bliss. It is utterly hypnotic. The sonic equivalent of watching a bonfire take hold of dry wood. It consumes with its dense heft of riff and then lulls the listener with stretches of minimalism and ambience, the first of which provides the intro to the piece itself. Black Willows are no strangers to working with longform material, and as Bliss also appears as the band’s half of a Bloodrock Records split with Craneium, it’s understandable they’d want to bring their best, but the weight of their groove feels unexpected even in terms of having heard their past work. So they’ve gotten heavier? Yeah, maybe. What really matters is how they wield that weight, and on Bliss, they put it to use as much as an atmospheric table-setter as in a display of sheer force. Beware the noise wash at the end. That’s all I’ll say.

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Black Willows on Bandcamp

 

Craang, Shine

craang shine

Greek heavy psych rockers Craang set up a dynamic quickly on their new two-song full-length, Shine (also stylized as S H IN E) that both encourages and rewards patience and trust on the part of the listener. They begin 24:52 opener and longest track (immediate points) “Horizon – Tempest” quietly and commence to unfold through ebbs and flows, clean vocals and shouts, open spaces and dense(r) riffing. There is a break near and at the halfway point that presumably is the shift between one part of “Horizon – Tempest” and the other, and the second half follows that lead with a more active presentation. The accompanying “Ocean – Cellular” (19:41) launches with a bed of synth that fades as the bass, drums and guitar enter and begin a linear build that retains a progressive edge, dropping off at about eight minutes in perhaps as another transition into “Cellular,” which indeed follows a more winding, intricate path. One can only say Craang are clear in their representation of what they want to convey, and because of that, Shine is all the more of an engaging experience, the listener essentially following the band on this journey from place to place, idea to idea.

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Craang on Bandcamp

 

Fuzz Lord, Fuzz Lord

Fuzz Lord fuzz lord

We start at “The Gates of Hell” and end up in “Infamous Evil,” so one might say Ohio trio Fuzz Lord – guitarist Steven “Fuzz Lord” joined by bassist/vocalist “Stoner” Dan Riley and drummer/vocalist Lawrence “Lord Buzz” – have their thematic well set on their eight-track self-titled debut (on Fuzzdoom Records). Likewise, their tones and the sense of space in the echoing vocals of “Kronos Visions Arise” and the later, extra-Sabbathian “World Collide” seem to know precisely where they’re headed. Riley recorded the 39-minute outing, while Justin Pizzoferrato (Elder, Dinosaur Jr., many others) mixed, and the resulting conjuration is earthbound in its low end while allowing the guitar to either roll out riffy largesse or take an airier approach. The uptempo “The Lord of the Underground” speaks to a punker underpinning, while the preceding “The Warriors Who Reign” seems to have a more classic metal take, and “Infamous Evil,” also the longest track at 7:51, peppers in layered guitar leads amid a doomier, Luciferian vibe and fervent hook.

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Fuzzdoom Records on Thee Facebooks

 

Marijannah, Till Marijannah

Marijannah till marijannah

Comprised of members of Wormrot and The Caulfield Cult, Singapore-based newcomers Marijannah execute four tracks of blown-out tones and psychedelic cavernousness with their Pink Tank Records debut release, Till Marijannah. Touches of garage swing make their way into opener “1974,” and second cut “Snakecharmer” blazes and scorches with wah-drenched solos around crunching rhythms and melodic vocalizations. A march emerges on the nine-minute “Bride of Mine” and only gets more fervent as the track makes its way forward, and driving finale “All Hollow’s Eve” presents a cacophonous but controlled take from Marijannah that reinforces the notion of nothing on their first outing happening by accident. Impressive and just a bit frenetic, it leaves one wondering what further ground the band might look to explore from here, whether they’ve set their sonic course and will look to refine their processes along these lines or whether this is just the beginning of a wider stylistic melding, and their next offering might sound completely different than Till Marijannah. The one seems as likely as the other, and that’s incredibly refreshing.

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Pink Tank Records website

 

Cosmic Fall, In Search of Outer Space

cosmic fall in search of outer space

Immediate points to Berlin jammers Cosmic Fall for opening their six-song/43-minute third album, In Search of Outer Space, with the 11-minute longest track “Jabberwocky.” The three-piece introduced new guitarist Marcin Marowski last year on Jams for Free (review here), and as bassist Klaus Friedrich steps up to take the vocalist role and drummer Daniel Sax continues to hold together impossible spaciousness with a fluidity of groove, Marowski seems right at home wah-noodling in the open reaches of “Jabberwocky” and soldering shred and swirl together on the later “Lumberjam.” Some of In Search of Outer Space’s most effective moments are its quietest, as on “Purification” or second cut “Narcotic Vortex,” but neither will I decry the bass fuzz that takes hold near the finish there or the molten churn that bookends closer “Icarus,” but as “Spacejam” hits into the vastness, it seems Cosmic Fall as just as apt to float as to rocket their way out of the atmosphere. In either case, they most certainly get there.

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Cosmic Fall on Bandcamp

 

Owl, Orion Fenix

owl orion fenix

The solo-project of Christian Kolf of avant death-crunchers Valborg, Owl issues the 22-minute single-song EP Orion Fenix – with its chanting repetitions of “reborn in fire” – as a precursor to the upcoming LP, Nights in Distortion. Like Owl’s last EP, 2015’s wondrously dark Aeon Cult (review here), Orion Fenix is both intense churn and slow-rolling melancholy, bridging a gap between classic doom (that lead 15 minutes in) and post-doom rhythms and atmosphere. If the project’s purpose is to find beauty in darkness, Orion Fenix accomplishes this quickly enough, but the track’s runtime and lush layering allow Kolf to lend a sense of exploration to what is no doubt a meticulous creative process, since he’s handling all the instruments and vocals himself. Either way, Orion Fenix, as a herald, bodes remarkably well for forward progress on Nights in Distortion to come, and is a remarkable accomplishment on its own in both heft and spaciousness.

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Owl on Bandcamp

 

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Brond Premiere “Failure” from Debut Album Graveyard Campfire; Preorders up Now; European Tour Announced

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

brond

Intensity takes multiple forms on Brond‘s self-released debut album, Graveyard Camptfire, whether it’s found in higher-speed, hardcore-influenced material like “Impossible Downhill” or the intricacy of the progressive riffing on “Harvest the Sun.” The Sofia, Bulgaria-based four-piece find room to in the eight tracks and 43 minutes to blend elements from grunge on songs like “Failure” with an underlying core of heavy rock and roll, and if anything is clear from the very opening of “Enter Shamari” onward, it’s that they’re free to go wherever they feel the song wants them to go at any point in the process. All four members of the band — guitarists Vili Popov and Petar Peikov, bassist Oleg Shulev and drummer Maksim Stoimenov — contribute vocals, and this adds even more diversity of sound to the proceedings, which the foursome manage to hold together despite the breadth of their approach.

By way of an example, one might consider the seven-minute title-track itself, which moves from an airy opening lead to driving forward motion, a semi-metal thrust that gives waybrond graveyard campfire to one of the record’s most resonant hooks. The push ratchets up shortly on “Voice of the Void,” but this only seems to emphasize how much ground Brond cover along their way. A consistency of craft allows them to tip their hats to modern progressive metal — twisting riffs in a post-Mastodon vein put to their own purposes — and still make a chiefly melodic impression on songs like the aforementioned “Harvest the Sun,” the arrangement of multiple vocalists proving to be yet another strength put to welcome use. Likewise, the clear-headed approach to the production and a resulting crispness in the presentation carries that impression across all the more, and especially for a debut release, Brond sure sound a hell of a lot like they know what they’re doing.

Graveyard Campfire is being given a limited LP and CD pressing and the band will have copies with them as they embark on their European tour at the end of this month. Today I have the pleasure of hosting the premiere of “Failure” ahead of the April 18 release date for the album itself. You’ll find it below, followed by a quote from the band about the track, their upcoming tour dates, and more background.

Please enjoy:

Maksim Stoimenov on “Failure”:

“‘Failure’ comes from a pretty dark place, one of the implications of living with a constant hangover is the feeling of ineptitude to deal with life in general. A feeling that’s becoming more and more prevalent in society with or without “drugs” in our lives. Social media for example, can make you feel as much as a failure as any substance abuse. The song covers the denial, bargaining and acceptance phases after taking a good hard look in mirror after a long night.”

EUROPEAN TOUR 2018 ANNOUNCEMENT

We’re beyond stoked to announce that we will be hitting the road in April/May and we can’t thank enough all of the venues and promoters that helped us organise this endeavour. We will bring as the eternal Mike Watt would say “mersh”, so anyone attending will have the chance to grab one of the limited 100 copies of the LP and CD.

28.04 | PRAGUE | CZ| PANOPTIKON BARIKADA
30.04 | POTSDAM | DE | 2 STEPS DEEPER
01.05 | HAMBURG | DE| GO MOKRY
02.05 | AACHEN | DE | WILD ROVER
04.05 | HEUSDEN | NL | JONOSH
05.05 | LYON | FR | LE FARMER
07.05 | ZÜRICH | CH | EBRIETAS
09.05 | BUDAPEST | HU | ROBOT
10.05 | VIENNA | AT | KRAMLADEN
11.05 | LENDAVA | SL | MANSARDA
13.05 | ZAGREB | CR | Klub Mo?vara
19.05 | BUCHAREST | RO | COBRA FEST 2.0
23.05 | SOFIA | BG | MIXTAPE 5

In 2015 BROND released their debut EP “Feint” through Magnetic EyeRecords (US) with the lyrical themes including running forever, jumping into volcanoes, the social implications of living in a post-communist country, oils spills and humanity’s inherent greed. It was produced by Aaron Harris (ex-ISIS, Palms) and mastered by Maor Appelbaum.

In 2016 BROND started work on “Graveyard Campfire” partly inspired by the political self-immolation cases that took place in 2013 and 2014 in Bulgaria. The album was recorded in Sofia Session Studios by Plamen Penchev. The record was produced by Justin Pizzoferrato who has worked with Elder, Dinosaur Jr. & Thurston Moore. The master was done by James Plotkin.

Brond is:
Maksim Stoimenov – Drums/Vocals
Oleg Shulev- Bass/Vocals
Vili Popov – Guitars/Vocals
Petar Peikov – Guitars/Vocals

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Brond on Bandcamp

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Quarterly Review: All Them Witches, Anthroprophh, Orphan Gears, The Watchers, Grajo, Mythic Sunship, Empress, Monads, Nest, Redneck Spaceship

Posted in Reviews on April 6th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Quarterly-Review-Spring-2018

Well, we’ve reached the end of the week if not the end of the Quarterly Review itself. That’s right: after hemming and hawing all week and going back and forth in my silly little brain, I’ve decided to extend this edition to a sixth day, which will be Monday. That means 60 reviews in six days, not 50 in five. Honestly, I could probably keep going for three or four more beyond that if I had the time or inclination, and I may get there someday, but I’m definitely not there now.

But hey, there have been a couple comments left along the way, so thanks for that. I appreciate you taking the time to read if you have. Here’s the last for the week and we’ll pick back up on Monday.

Quarterly Review #41-50:

All Them Witches, Lost and Found EP

all them witches lost and found ep

If Nashville four-piece All Them Witches put together the free-download Lost and Found EP simply as a means of getting their take on the folk song “Hares on the Mountain” out there, it was worth it. In the hands of vocalist/bassist Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod, Rhodes specialist/violinist Allan Van Cleave and drummer Robby Staebler, the traditional tune becomes a wide open dronescape, bristling and vague like memory itself. It’s beautiful and a little confusing in just the right way, and it comes accompanied on the short release by the Fleetwood Mac cover “Before the Beginning,” an even-more-subdued take on “Call Me Star” from 2015’s New West Records debut, Dying Surfer Meets His Maker (review here), and a dub redux of “Open Passageways” – called, of course, “Dub Passageways” – from the same album. Might be a stopgap between full-lengths, but still, at 18 minutes, it’d make a more than worthy 10” release if they were looking for something new for the merch table.

All Them Witches on Thee Facebooks

All Them Witches on Bandcamp

 

Anthroprophh, Omegaville

anthroprophh omegaville

Next time you feel like, “Hey man, I’m so freaked out and weird and wow man whatever blah blah,” just take a second to remember you live in a dimension where dudes from The Heads have side-projects. Paul Allen and Anthroprophh – his trio with Gareth Turner and Jesse Webb, otherwise known as the duo Big Naturals – are a freaked out freakout’s freakout. The stuff of psychedelic mania. And that’s only on the first disc of the 2CD Omegavlle (Rocket Recordings). By the time they get around to the three-song second disc and dig into extended trips like “Omegaille/THOTHB” (14:48) and the subsequent finale, “Journey out of Omegaville and into the…” (20:57), they’re so far gone into noise and captured, manipulated audio that who the hell knows where we’ve ended up? At 88 minutes, the limits of manageability are long left behind, but to get some of the Velvet Underground-in-space vibes of “Maschine” in trade for undertaking the undertaking it’s well worth letting go of the rigidity of things like time, place, etc.

Anthroprophh on Thee Facebooks

Rocket Recordings on Bandcamp

 

Orphan Gears, Rat Race

orphan gears rat race

I’m pretty sure Orphan Gears used the Super Mario Bros. font for their logo on the cover of their latest EP, Rat Race, and for that, they should be saluted. The gritty-riffing semi-punker London four-piece offer five tracks and 20 minutes of workaday, boozy grooves, blowing off steam after putting in a shift at this or that crappy job. They are null as regards pretense, and ask little more of their audience than perhaps a beer from the stage or whatever else might be on the menu that night. They share initials, but unlike much of the London underground, they share little ultimately with Orange Goblin in terms of style, despite the shuffle of “Tough Luck, BJ” or the harmonica at the end of “Bitch-Slapped Blues,” and by the time they get to the classic strut of the title-track, they seem to be dug into AC/DC-style groove in the verse while blending in modern heavy rock impulses around it. They clearly save their best for last.

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Orphan Gears on Bandcamp

 

The Watchers, Black Abyss

the watchers black abyss

An immediately cogent, professional debut full-length is about what you’d expect from The Watchers, the San Francisco four-piece with members of SpiralArms, Orchid and Black Gates in their ranks, particularly after their prior EP, Sabbath Highway (review here), but that doesn’t stop the songwriting from impressing across the eight-song long-player, Black Abyss (on Ripple Music). The band’s presentation is crisp and pro-shop all the way through, from the soloing on “Oklahoma Black Magic” to the keyboard-laced TonyMartin-era-Sabbathism-meets-tambourine of “Suffer Fool” later on, and with the opening salvo of the title-track and “Alien Lust” right behind it, The Watchers set a quick expectation for hooks and a high standard of delivery that, thankfully, they show no hesitation in living up to for the duration, the chug-and-roll finale “Seven Tenets” satisfies in mood and efficiency, departing into airy guitar meditation and making its way back for a suitably rocking sendoff. Dudes know what they’re doing, where they’re headed and how they want to get there. All the listener needs to do is sit back and enjoy the ride.

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Ripple Music on Bandcamp

 

Grajo, Slowgod II

grajo slowgod ii

A sequel to their 2015 full-length, Slowgod II (on Underground Legends Records, Spinda Records and DHU Records), sees Córdoba-based four-piece Grajo dug into a deep-toned psychedelic doom. There are flashes of Eastern influence on “Malmuerta,” with frontwoman Liz crooning over the minor-key guitar noodling of Josef, the forward motion in Félix’s drums and the heft of Pistolo’s bass. That dynamic works across Slowgod II, from opener and longest track (immediate points) “Altares” through its closing eight-minute counterpart “Malstrom,” which moves from early crunch through spacious volume swells in its middle only to regain composure and offer a heavy post-rock payoff that, somehow, still isn’t that atmospherically removed from the swinging “Horror and Pleasure” right before it or the similarly speedier “Queen Cobra” that follows “Altares” at the outset. Definitely one for the converted, Grajo deliver tones thick enough to stand on and engaging melodicism without falling into any real traps of sonic redundancy, varying their pace effectively and conjuring consuming plod on “ER” while still holding to that notion of breadth that seems to unite all their material here.

Grajo on Thee Facebooks

DHU Records webstore

 

Mythic Sunship, Upheaval

mythic sunship upheaval

It just so happens this is exactly what the fuck I’m talking about. After releasing their Land Between Rivers (review here) LP through El Paraiso Records last year, the Copenhagen four-piece of Emil Thorenfeldt, Frederik Denning, Kasper Andersen and Rasmus “Cleaver” Christensen, collectively known as Mythic Sunship, return with four more slabs of exploratory bliss on Upheaval. Either completely or partially improvised, “Tectonic Beach” (12:42), “Aether Flux” (10:55), “Cosmic Rupture” (6:44) and “Into Oblivion” (13:56) flow together like the work of masters, and with shades of patient space rock at their core, the tracks are infused with life even beyond the spontaneity of their creation. Heavy jams. Heavy, spacy jams. Molten. Swirling. Badass. Even the shorter and more forward “Cosmic Rupture” is headed out of the atmosphere, and when they come around to the noisy payoff deep in “Into Oblivion,” it’s abundantly clear they’re not joking around when it comes to the title. You can get onboard with Mythic Sunship, or you can miss out. Bands like this separate the hip from the squares.

Mythic Sunship on Thee Facebooks

El Paraiso Records webstore

 

Empress, Reminiscence

Empress reminiscence

Those who miss the days when Mastodon or Baroness howled their shouts into a landscape of crunching tonal largesse might do well to dig into what Vancouver, British Columbia’s Empress have to offer on their late-2017 debut EP, Reminiscence. The 27-minute five-tracker isn’t without its sense of melody – there’s plenty of room in eight-minute second cut “Immer” – but guitarist/vocalist Peter Sacco, bassist Brenden Gunn and drummer Chris Doyle make their primary impression via the impact of their material, and as they swap back and forth between shorter tracks and longer ones, a sense of structural playfulness results that moves through the bass openings of “Baptizer” (2:50) and “They Speak Like Trees” (9:27) into the ambient guitar finisher “Dawn,” and the feeling is that, like their stylistic forebears in at the time what was thought of as a new take on sludge metal, Empress will only grow more progressive as they move forward from this first outing. One hopes they hold firm to the tectonic weight they present here that so many others seem to have given up along the way.

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Empress on Bandcamp

 

Monads, IVIIV

monads iviiv

Released some six years after Monads’ 2011 debut, Intellectus Iudicat Veritatem, the Aesthetic Death Records-issued IVIIV was, according to the Belgian five-piece’s own accounting, in the works for most of that time in one way or another. One might say, therefore, that its creation does justice to the glacial pace of some of its slowest moments, the crawling death-doom extremity of pieces like “To a Bloodstained Shore,” or the lurch before the gallop takes hold in “Your Wounds Were My Temple.” At four songs and 50 minutes, IVIIV is indicative enough of the style, but Monads legitimately showcase a persona of their own in and out of those genre confines, the melancholic atmosphere and expanded arrangement elements (piano, etc.) of 15-minute closer “The Despair of an Aeon” creatively used if familiar, and the smoothness of the transitions in opener “Leviathan as My Lament” setting a tone of scope as well as downward emotional trajectory. Not sure I’d count on a quick turnaround for a follow-up, but if half a decade from now a new Monads record surfaces, it’ll be worth keeping an eye out for.

Monads on Thee Facebooks

Aestehetic Death Records website

 

Nest, Metempsychosis

nest metempsychosis

Rolling from its untitled intro through its untitled outro through a barrage of charred-black, bludgeoning sludge extremity, the debut album from Lexington, Kentucky’s Nest, Metempsychosis (on Sludgelord Records), refers in its title to a transmigration of the soul, an inheritance almost as much as reincarnation. The band may be talking about themselves or they may be working on a theme throughout the record’s seven proper tracks, I don’t know, but if the idea is destruction and rebirth, they certainly sound more interested in the former. Songs like “Heretic” seethe and scour, while the lumbering and spacious closer “Life’s Grief,” capping with abrasive noise, would seem to be a mission statement in itself. Individual pieces like “Jewel of Iniquity” and the preceding atmosphere-into-mega-crush “Diving into the Entrails of Sheep” – of course the centerpiece of the tracklisting – are shorter unto themselves, but like everything else that surrounds, they feed into an overarching ambience of disgust and chaos.

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Redneck Spaceship, Grand Marshal Ape

redneck spaceship grand marshall ape

There are some issues as regards the balance of the mix pushing the vocals forward ahead of the guitar to work out, but Moscow’s Redneck Spaceship impress all the same with the intent and execution of their late-2017 self-released debut, Grand Marshal Ape. In riffs and songcraft, their influences stem from the classic days of stoner rock, but from opener “The Sands of Dakar” and the later “That Sounds Nuts,” one gets a vibe of underlying punk influence, while the twang in harmonized highlight “On the Roadside” and slide guitar of “Maverick” lends a Southern, bluesy swing that the penultimate “Enchained” answers back later ahead of the sample-laden psychedelic jam-out closer, “Antariksh,” which strikes as a far cry from the ultra-straightforward presentation earlier on “Empty Pockets,” but speaks to an immediate scope in Redneck Spaceship’s sound. One hopes they continue to meld elements as they progress beyond Grand Marshal Ape and bridge the gap between one side of their moniker and the other.

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Redneck Spaceship on Bandcamp

 

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