Lightning Born, Lightning Born: Warnings Issued

Posted in Reviews on August 13th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

lightning born self titled

There’s a word for a band like Lightning Born, with a powerhouse singer, powerhouse riffs and a powerhouse rhythm section. Give me a minute, it’ll come to me.

In the meantime, the North Carolinian four-piece’s self-titled debut for Ripple Music willfully obliterates the line between any number of forms of heavy rock and roll, whether it’s classic doom and boogie or straightforward push and nod. The lineup is enviable, with Brenna Leath (The Hell No, also Crystal Spiders) channeling Stevie Nicks and Laura Dolan on songs like “Salvation” and “Out for Blood” while backed by guitarist Erik Sugg (also Demon Eye), bassist/recording engineer Mike Dean (Corrosion of Conformity) and drummer Doza Hawes (Mega Colossus, ex-Hour of 13), and at 11 songs and 51 minutes, their first outing is a substantial undertaking that signals the cues it’s taken from Sabbath Bloody Sabbath-era Black Sabbath in the lead riff of opener “Shifting Winds” and lives up to that standard throughout in both production and songcraft method.

Of course, they by no means limit themselves to that sphere, and broaden the palette in later cuts like “Out for Blood” and “Power Struggle,” or even the shuffle of second track “Renegade,” which recontextualizes the speedier riff from “Into the Void,” they show their will to create something new from their root influences. They seem most comfortable in the mid-paced groove of “Silence” and the semi-Southern blues-burner “Oblivion,” but do right to change up the tempo as they move forward through the material, or even within the songs themselves, as with “Salvation” and the seven-minute finale “Godless,” which caps the generally-more-patient side B with a rousing argument for viewing Lightning Born‘s Lightning Born as a first step en route to future more complex songwriting. I’m inclined to do that — that is to say: debut album is a debut album — but between the fluidity of the songs from one to the next and the reminder the album delivers of the all-important value of craft and performance in the final tally of the listening experience, one could hardly accuse them of merely getting their feet wet. More of a headfirst dive.

And fair enough. I’ll admit, there are few phrases that in my estimation are going to hurt your band less than “Mike Dean on bass,” but one would be remiss not to single out Leath‘s vocals as a defining factor in Lightning Born‘s approach. She toys some with layering, but by and large sticks to a single, stage-ready take that distinguishes itself from the hook of “Shifting Winds” onward as being malleable to the energy level of the song, as “Renegades” and “Wildfire” or the midsection slowdown of “Power Struggle” and the greater sprawl of “Godless” show. She’s forward in the mix, but that ends up feeding the notion of Lightning Born‘s heavy ’70s roots. The band aren’t shy about those anyway, but neither does that seem to have been the impetus behind their creation. I don’t imagine Lightning Born got together and said, “Okay, let’s form a classic rock band.”

lightning born

Rather, their execution is organic enough to make one believe their material is based around what came out of jams among friends, eventually structured into bluesy verses and choruses, bridges, the start-stop softshoe of “You Have Been Warned,” and so on. Whatever the case, they’re certainly in conversation with the 1969-1974 era, but are by no means a retro band looking to simply recreate it. Once again, their material speaks more to their own forward potential than the past glories of others. It’s plain to hear in “Magnetic” as the guitar shimmers in the buildup to the hook and in how the bass and drums lead the subsequent final slowdown, the subtle layering from Leath adding ambience to what on the whole is a strikingly straightforward release. That is, there are some light moments of flourish here and there, but in the fine tradition of “nuthin’ too fancy,” Lightning Born stand tall in a stripped-down sound that doesn’t want for anything in making its intentions known or accomplishing its stylistic goals. It’s all about the songs.

Future releases might find Leath self-harmonizing, or Sugg topping solos with solos and solos, or even Hawes and Dean employing some manner of studio-based whatnot into their methods, but Lightning Born‘s first LP holds to a strikingly natural ethic. If you told me “Power Struggle” was recorded live, with the four of them in a room — or maybe Leath in a booth for isolation — I’d believe it. And that feel pervades throughout the entire record, ultimately proving central to its purpose, because while the members of Lightning Born aren’t strangers to the act of being in a group creating music, that’s clearly the spirit in which they’re most looking to revel in these 11 cuts. “Salvation” might be the point at which that’s most readily displayed, but “Godless” might stand as the means through which the band most signal their drive to progress as a unit.

It’s not so radically different from some of what precedes it, but maybe more Dio Sabbath than later-Ozzy, and for the already-converted to whom the record is largely targeted, it is a striking enough distinction, marked out by a more gradual linear build over the first four minutes that give way eventually to some “Electric Funeral”-izing stomp and a slowdown apex given its due momentousness by the vocals that accompany. It’s the finish the album deserves, certainly, but something of a departure as well even from the likes of “Magnetic” and “Out for Blood,” which build on the initial shove and swing of “Shifting Winds” and “Renegade,” changing the structural flow of the offering even as it draws it to a close. This too is well within the tenets of heavy rock traditionalism in terms of style, but stands out owing to what Lightning Born make of it. They could go in any number of directions from here, and given the members’ other commitments I won’t try and predict when that might happen, but if this self-titled is what gets them in motion, that motion is more than infectious enough to make one look forward to what may come.

By the way, the word is powerhouse. I can’t think of one that fits them better.

Lightning Born, Lightning Born (2019)

Lightning Born on Thee Facebooks

Lightning Born on Instagram

Lightning Born on Bandcamp

Ripple Music on Thee Facebooks

Ripple Music on Bandcamp

Ripple Music website

Tags: , , , , ,

Live Review: Neurosis, Bell Witch & Deafkids in Brooklyn, 08.11.19

Posted in Reviews on August 12th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Neurosis (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I’ve seen two shows now at Brooklyn Steel, and the other one was Sleep, so needless to say I’m developing something of a crush on the massive warehouse-space-turned-venue, from its nearby public parking to the balcony space where one might, if the band is loud enough, feel the floor shake just a little bit. Needless to say, at both shows I’ve seen there, that particular phenomenon has occurred.

Three-band touring bill on a Sunday night: Brazil’s Deafkids, Seattle duo Bell Witch and post-metal’s own lawgivers, Neurosis — originally from Oakland but now more spread out along the West Coast and inland — headlining. I was interested to see Deafkids, having missed them at Roadburn earlier in the year, and Bell Witch have yet to disappoint anytime I’ve caught a set, but it was the thought of Neurosis in that room that got me out from under my grandfather’s pine tree and into Brooklyn for the show, rocking out to Sunday evening NPR all the way.

It was a relatively early start for Deafkids, but the three-piece from São Paulo made the most of their time and then some. Their sound is broad and encompassing enough that you can basically hear whatever you want to in it. Punk, psychedelia, organic techno, prog brilliance and space-garage rawness, experimentalism and barebones anti-craft, heavy riffs and pounding rhythms, modern disaffection and futurist ethereality — it’s all there. And at the same time, it’s jazz. Deafkids are the shape of jazz to come. I hadn’t realized. To me it like peak-era Ministry and most-lysergic Monster Magnet got together and decided hooks were for the weak, but again, you could hear anything in what they were doing.

Their 2019 full-length, Metaprogramação — which Neurosis released through their own Neurot Recordings imprint — is likewise stylistically ranging, but live, the effect was brilliant, most especially in the drums, which not only held together the effects wash when they wanted to, but through repetition became part of the overarching churn as offered by the guitar and bass. They were not a super-happy-funtime experience, but they were engrossing, demanding and earning attention from front to back for a set that felt short when it was over.

I heard someone say afterward that Bell Witch were playing a single song from their new album, as in, post-Mirror Reaper (review here), but I don’t think that’s true. I’ve been wrong before, but from the gradual pickup to the way they rolled in linear fashion through their final crashes and receded, it seemed to be a piece culled from that 83-minute 2017 single-song outing — might’ve just been the first half of it; the “As Above” portion of the 2CD release — with drummer/vocalist Jesse Shreibman and bassist/vocalist Dylan Desmond dug into the mournful weight of that album’s spacious emotionalism. Crushing they were, either way, but I was kind of shaking my head when they were done, wondering if I had been incorrect the whole time about what I was hearing. But no, I wasn’t.

Should they actually be moving past Mirror Reaper, they’ve got their work cut out for them in following it, but one might’ve said the same when they put out Four Phantoms (review here) in 2015, and in fact many did, so there. The darkness they conjure is luscious even at its most minimal, and though they didn’t have Aerial Ruin‘s Erik Moggridge to add vocals as he does on the studio version of “Mirror Reaper,” or the time to play the thing in its rather considerable entirety, they delivered a set that was as open as it was claustrophobic, excruciating in its patience but still vital in expression. They had a hard task preceding Neurosis on a Sunday night in Brooklyn, but they more than admirably faced that challenge.

Neurosis opened with the title-track of 2001’s A Sun that Never Sets (discussed here), and I decided about halfway through the song that if they walked off the stage after it without saying a word to the crowd, it still would’ve been worth the drive from NJ. Nearly 35 years on from their inception, Neurosis are the best live band I’ve ever seen. Their shows are on a different wavelength entirely from most acts, and when you go see Neurosis, whether it is your first time or your umpteenth time, it is reasonable to go in with high expectations. I found myself with eyes closed, earplugs mostly out for “End of the Harvest,” from 1999’s Times of Grace, which was the penultimate inclusion in the set and as deep into their discography as they went, but it was “Bending Light” and “Reach” from 2016’s Fires Within Fires (review here) that wound up making the greatest impression on me.

Entirely possible it was a mood thing, or the circumstance of where I was standing, but I seemed to hear more nuance in the guitars of Steve Von Till and Scott Kelly, more psychedelia in how they wove in with Noah Landis‘ ultra-crucial keys and samples, and of course with the weight of bassist Dave Edwardson and the intricate drumming of Jason Roeder, the raw impact of their heaviest moments did indeed shake the floor of Brooklyn Steel‘s balcony. “At the Well” and “Given to the Rising,” “To the Wind” and “My Heart for Deliverance” were certainly more than welcome, but I decided I needed a visit with Fires Within Fires, from which “A Shadow Memory” was also aired, its blend of atmospheric guitar and swinging crunch further encouraging the refresher. Was that album Neurosis‘ way of blending the punk of their roots with a forward-looking psych churn? Did I know it at the time? Was there something I missed, so caught up in the fact of their 30th anniversary? I wonder now.

A bit of homework, maybe, but before Neurosis sent the Sunday night crowd packing, they finished out with “Stones from the Sky,” the closer of A Sun that Never Sets, which was, as ever, a behemoth in its execution. Roeder seemed to change up his drums at the end, opening up the beat just a little bit as the song descended into chaos, and the effect was to make the sudden cut to silence all the more stark. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Neurosis do an encore, but I stood around for a while anyway, hoping they might decide on a whim to come out and roll through “Locust Star” just for the hell of it. No dice, but no complaints either.

In the leadup to this show, I was thinking about the first time I saw Neurosis, at the Theatre of the Living Arts in Philadelphia in 2004. They didn’t really tour at the time, but they were heralding the release of the just-recently-reissued Neurosis & Jarboe collaboration, as well as that’s year’s The Eye of Every Storm (review here). It was the kind of night that changes your perspective on live music. Having had that experience 15 years ago and been fortunate enough to see Neurosis multiple times over since, as they’ve returned to the road more regularly, I had a pretty good sense of what I was going into at Brooklyn Steel. They still managed to exceed expectation. May they go forever doing precisely that.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

Read more »

Tags: , , , , ,

Sleeping Giant, Sleeping Giant: Awake in Visions

Posted in Reviews on August 7th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

sleeping giant sleeping giant

Sometimes a band comes right out of their second rehearsal with a batch of songs, ready to hit the studio and make a record — or at least that’s how it feels. That’s not the case with Sleeping Giant, who emerge from Australia’s crowded heavy underground some six years after forming as Lowpoint. Their self-titled and self-released-but-probably-not-for-long debut album is the result of the subsequent half-decade of writing and woodshedding, and comprises a clean eight tracks and 42 minutes of solid-foundation fuzz rock, turning influences from earlier Queens of the Stone Age, Lowrider, Kyuss and more rolling fare into a collection of original songs that bask in their fuzzy familiarity but still feel geared toward their own approach, perhaps because they’ve been so worked on. Even the recording process for Sleeping Giant‘s Sleeping Giant took a year, which sounds excruciating, but the resultant long-player finds guitarist/vocalist Steven Hammer, bassist James Wright and drummer Pali Emond-Glenn sounding well aware of who they are as a band and able to manifest that in their material without losing their first-album edge.

Even without knowing it was so long in coming together, the songs don’t feel off-the-cuff. They feel worked on, thought out, considered, and that’s by no means a detriment to their execution, which remains plenty energetic. That’s an achievement unto itself, but it’s just one of the ways Sleeping Giant ultimately impress throughout, as they move through a tracklisting that’s no less impeccably arranged than the songs themselves in terms of bringing out the different sides of the band’s approach, growing richer as it goes from side A to B in what’s clearly a vinyl-intended progression — the cover by Emond-Glenn would seem geared toward that as well — that nonetheless flows smoothly throughout, making its way toward the three-part finale, “Visions I,” “Visions II” and “Visions III,” which together introduce new elements of atmosphere and aggression to the proceedings, taking the straightforward core of heavy rock from which Sleeping Giant work and using it as a basis for exploring different ideas. However long it took to make it happen, there’s little more one could reasonably ask of a debut album.

Sleeping Giant opens, suitably enough, with “Sleep,” which begins an initial salvo that will continue basically through the first four songs to one degree or another. A mid-paced groove takes hold with effective, laid back vocal melodies overtop from Hammer and a fuzz that’s both warm-sounding and right on in terms of capturing a desert-style feel while still giving Wright‘s bass room to make an impression. One is reminded early on of Sungrazer to a degree, but Sleeping Giant are on a less jammy trip overall, and the roll of “Sleep” is offset by the sheer thrust of “Temptress,” which pushes the vocals forward in the mix and offers as support for them a fervent push and tempo kick, the trade from one to the next crucial to understanding how side A works, since the subsequent “Empire” and “Serpent” will essentially make the same moves, though of course there are changes in the approach to be considered.

sleeping giant

“Temptress” resolves itself in a nod and final shove before dropping out to a series of curses — somebody’s mad about something, comically — and leading to the six-and-a-half-minute “Empire,” which is a highlight for its blend of bounce and roll, the chorus reminding of some lost late-’90s/early-’00s gem from somewhere in Northern Europe, even as the tones and production by Erek Ladd and Jarod Meadows remains modern. Guitar drops out in the second half of “Empire” for a moment to let the bass introduce the apex nodder riff and the slow-motion swagger that ensues is more than welcome upon the return of the full tonal breadth. In comparison, “Serpent” — also the most direct source of the Lowrider comparison above — is arguably the highest-energy of the bunch, with a careening Homme-style central riff and sense of movement brought out all the more by the shift into a slower section at the midpoint, only to return to a speedier finish. Again, not by any means revolutionary, but effective in conveying Sleeping Giant‘s priorities, which are clearly geared toward songcraft.

The basic structure of side B changes, thanks largely to the aforementioned “Visions” trilogy. “Gypsy” unfolds very much in the character of side A’s tradeoffs between longer and shorter songs, finding Hammer‘s malleable vocals in a lower register over a slower riff before opening up for the chorus, trading tempos much in the spirit of “Serpent,” only reversed. In the overarching progression of the record, “Gypsy” is inherently outshined by “Visions,” but its being there makes sense and the work it does to tie the two halves of the album together isn’t to be forgotten. Still, it’s a significant turn when the instrumental “Visions I” begins its subdued unfolding, reminding of progressive-era Truckfighters‘ less jumpy moments, with a linear build toward the heavier guitar’s full brunt.

They get there before the track’s three minutes are up, and turn directly into “Visions II,” which unfolds a King Buffalo-y psychedelic blues vibe until a more severe riff leads at 2:42 to harsher growling in post-hardcore fashion — actually, the voice reminds me of Elegy-era Amorphis, but I’m willing to chalk that up to sonic coincidence — gradually working in clean and harsh layers effectively to carry Sleeping Giant to a genuinely unexpected crescendo, leaving “Visions III” to pick up immediately from there, which it does by shifting into another engaging nod-roll as a bed for a return of sung vocals and the gradual build of a melodic wash of tone, which acts not so much as an epilogue to the prior part’s payoff, but as a different stage of the same idea — in that way, “Visions” is all the more well executed as a whole. And it’s in that last three-parter that Sleeping Giant most show the potential in their sound for bringing a range of styles together under a fuzzy banner and crafting an identity of their own from them. After six years and a name change leading to this debut, I won’t speculate on where they might go from here or when they might get there, but the obvious care they put into the writing and honing and construction of this material shows through one way or another in each track, which is no less than they deserve.

Sleeping Giant, Sleeping Giant (2019)

Sleeping Giant on Thee Facebooks

Sleeping Giant on Instagram

Sleeping Giant on Bandcamp

Tags: , , , , , ,

Frozen Planet….1969, Meltdown on the Horizon: Roll Back the Sun

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

Frozen Planet 1969 Meltdown on the Horizon

Jammers gotta jam, and though they’re less than a year removed from their sixth full-length, 2018’s The Heavy Medicinal Grand Exposition (review here), clearly it was time for Frozen Planet….1969 to get down to business on the seventh. Released like that album through Headspin Records on vinyl and Pepper Shaker Records on jewel-case CD, Meltdown on the Horizon compiles four tracks from a session helmed by drummer Frank Attard in the band’s native Canberra, Australia, as he, bassist Lachlan Paine and guitarist Paul Attard set themselves to a four-track/54-minute stretch of cosmic meandering, rife with effects and an improvisational energy that affects even the most spaced-out of moments, like the midsection of 22-minute opener and longest inclusion (immediate points) “Rollback,” as the band depart the initial solo-topped groove and funky display for more atmospheric turns before gradually making their way back with the guitar in the lead. It’s not a minor journey and it’s not intended to be, but the last album was arranged as one long, 39-minute track and a six-minute reprise, so neither is it the farthest Frozen Planet….1969 have gone down that road.

More importantly, it harnesses a gorgeous, organic kind of chaos, with a hypnotic spread of float above a molten river of groove, all natural and emblematic of a sincere will to explore musically, the band dug into the joy of their own creation, starting off in medias res as though we, the audience, join their journey already in progress, which of course we do. And long before they come around to the drums picking up in “Rollback” as the song heads into its 17th minute and winding final realization en route to “Bellhop Shindig” (8:11), “Dandy Chai” (6:41) and “Sunset Variations” (17:01), the trio have locked in the essential character that will define Meltdown on the Horizon in the song’s psychedelic persona, a heavy acid rock spirit emerging that continues into “Bellhop Shindig,” which is no less jazzy than the title might indicate, as Paine‘s bass holds together the flow of drums and guitar surrounding, bridging the gap that’s essential in crafting the spaciousness of the record on the whole. Cool vibe? Yeah, cool vibe. They’ve got it locked down.

When it comes to this kind of jam-based heavy psychedelic instrumentalism, I’m usually a proponent of a conscious listen. That is, in the face of trippy sonics and go-anywhere adventuring, I’ll mostly argue in favor of keeping your wits about you and paying attention to what the band are doing in order to most enjoy it. You know, listening to a record by listening to it. Not a particularly deep concept. And I’m not about to tell you not to give Meltdown on the Horizon the consideration it deserves. I will say though that there’s also a value to engaging with the ultra-chill moments of “Sunset Variations” or “Dandy Chai” on that existential level as well — just sharing the same headspace. This is particularly true of the penultimate cut, which is the shortest of the four as noted above, since its structure seems to kind of come apart about two minutes before it’s done and leave Paul in the position of weaving out pulled guitar notes on an intertwining delay, hypnotic and minimal compared to some of the other stretches on the record, but again, a wholly organic moment.

frozen planet 1969

And one that’s well worth experiencing consciously, but also one that’s a whole lot of fun to just kind of go with. Seven albums deep, Frozen Planet….1969 have more than earned the benefit of the doubt, I think, and even as they lose track of where they’re heading on “Dandy Chai,” including that is purposeful. It’s not just about some “well, we’ll put in a missed note to sound natural” kind of thing, and it’s not that they don’t care. It’s the risk you run in doing improv, and the way in which you roll with it. Shit, Frozen Planet….1969 are giving life lessons, never mind jamming out. They’re telling you how to read their work even as they’re performing it. Just go with it. How could you not want to do that, especially when they pull it off so effectively moving into the subdued start of “Sunset Variations?”

But just to be clear: I’m not saying Meltdown on the Horizon is background music. It’s not. “Bellhop Shindig” is way too busy being funky cosmic boogie to be relegated to the background of anything, and while “Rollback” is hypnotic, it never loses its sense of purpose. What I’m saying is that Frozen Planet….1969‘s explorations hold up to multiple kinds of listens. You can sit and analyze every turn they make throughout “Rollback” and “Sunset Variations,” catch the moment where “Dandy Chai” begins to kind of pull itself apart, or get down with “Bellshop Shindig” note for airy note. I’m not arguing against that. Do it. But the next time you put it on, be aware that Meltdown on the Horizon can hold its own and hold attention without that kind of direct engagement.

It’s a strong enough performance on the part of the band to carry the audience through from one end to the other, and even when there’s a bump in that path, they’re experienced enough to ride it out and go where it takes them. This is the sign, ultimately, of a band who have mastered their approach — at least as much as one can when so much of that approach is improv — and who are not only in control of what they do, but are strong enough to cede that control when it suits the work they’re doing. That ability makes Meltdown on the Horizon an all the more exciting listen, no matter how one engages with it, and it shows both the depth of the chemistry between the Attards and Paine, and the continued daring they bring to their output and their off-the-cuff composition style. The former and the latter alike serve them well here, and their raw creativity earns every single kind of listen it will get.

Frozen Planet….1969, Meltdown on the Horizon (2019)

Frozen Planet….1969 on Thee Facebooks

Pepper Shaker Records on Thee Facebooks

Pepper Shaker Records on Bandcamp

HeadSpin Records website

HeadSpin Records on Thee Facebooks

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Oblivion Reptilian, Fried on Rock: Into Isotropic

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

Oblivion Reptilian Fried on Rock

Sometimes an experiment works. Last year, Sydney, Australia’s Comacozer and UK spacefarers Blown Out released a split LP with one song from the former and three from the latter on Riot Season Records. Much acid-soaked chicanery was had. It is from out of that stellar nursery that Oblivion Reptilian, as a concept, comes, bringing together Comacozer drummer Andrew Panagopoulos and Blown Out guitarist Mike Vest (also of Bong, etc.). Together, the two very-very-far-apart players present the instrumentalist Fried on Rock through Sound Effect Records, with Vest handling bass as well as guitar and collaborating with Panagopoulos across a distance vast enough to be genuinely planetary. No challenge, right? A Dropboxed riff here, some drum backbeat there, done. Easy. On some level that’s probably true, but what that fails to capture as regards Oblivion Reptilian in particular is the live and improvisational feel of the five tracks on Fried on Rock and the cosmic reaches with which they’re able to commune.

There are parts that feel led by the drums and parts that feel led by the guitar, and the effect is such that if one didn’t know they had operated remotely as a two-piece, it would be no challenge to believe their kraut-y jams were tracked live with at least three players all in the same room, let alone on the same continent. That mission makes the 36 minutes of Fried on Rock a more complex affair than just the output of two dudes who dug each other’s bands and decided to start a band — though there’s nothing wrong with that either, of course — and it’s in setting and attaining that goal that Oblivion Reptilian‘s outward course is defined. Do you need that context to listen to the eight-minute post-Nebula scorcher “Daraconian” at the start of the album? Nope, not at all. You could put on Fried on Rock, dig the jams, freak out when the freakness gets freaky, and go about your business as you otherwise might. The record’s a burner either way. But it’s in understanding where its foundation lies that the true drive behind its expression is fully revealed.

That is, when you know what Oblivion Reptilian were going for and the circumstances through which the tracks were made, with ideas passed back and forth from the UK to Australia and parts recorded as beds for improv by both players, it’s all the more an impressive feat. “Daraconian” finds its way into a wash of airy guitar scream, and though it must’ve been a question at some point, Vest‘s decision to also play bass in the duo was without a doubt the right call. The fuzz he adds under his own solo at the outset of “Alien Shit” bolsters that track in ways that speak to some of Earthless‘ more kosmiche moments without being a direct descendant thereof, and as Panagopoulos‘ uptempo swing holds together a forward exploration of vibe and righteously Hendrixian wankery. Even unto the way it sputters out at the end, it feels live.

oblivion reptilian jealousy

The recording is raw in just the right way from both parties so that it sounds like they’re playing together, and as the consuming loops of delay take hold in centerpiece “Amplification from Stimulated Emission,” that vitality comes through. It’s resonant in the brief “Saurian Architect,” and as 8:51 closer “Isotropic Transucent” claws its way onto the brain stem, the wash of guitar hits a new level, layer piled upon layer with the drums and bass acting out a common groove beneath in classic power trio modus. It’s not that Oblivion Reptilian are trying to put one over, like they’re going to trick someone into thinking two players are three, but their intention creatively seems to have been to pay homage to this particular strain of heavy psychedelia, and even if they just decided to work together and see what came out and this is what did, that’s all the more honest to the roots from which their work stems. Isn’t that how it always goes, at least in the ideal scenario for jam-based psych and space rock?

One is left to wonder what might happen if Vest and Panagopoulos ever manage to get into the same studio at the same time, but as the creeping low-end severity of the final progression in “Isotropic Transucent” play out, it’s not like there’s something missing for the approach they’ve taken. I guess that’s ultimately what’s so impressive about the debut from this collaboration — it runs directly counter to the narrative of “oh, you have to all be there playing live, capture lightning in a bottle, blah blah.” There’s no right way to make an album except the way you want to or can do, and while I know both these players have experience working in that fashion, their output as Oblivion Reptilian finds a way around it in order to not just effectively layer tracks on top of each other, but to give a real sense of chemistry and nascent dynamic between them. That’s especially true as the far-back hypnosis of “Saurian Architect” leads into “Isotropic Transucent,” a long fade from the penultimate cut bringing about the emergence of the closer, sounding like a jam captured already in progress, which it may well have been.

It’s so effectively done and so dead-on spaced that the listener just goes where the band leads, getting perhaps willfully lost as the last solos begin to intertwine and lead to the maybe-keyboard/maybe-effects topped finish. Radness abounds. Gnarl abounds. The universe abounds. This kind of fare is never for everybody, but however it was made, the fact remains that Oblivion Reptilian‘s Fried on Rock marks the beginning point of a collaboration with noteworthy potential for future exploration, and that if it’s not an unspeakable pain in the ass to do so, Panagopoulos and Vest should make every effort to keep it going and see where they end up, as reportedly they will. Because if what this debut does is establish the effectiveness of their methodology — I’ll argue it does that and more — then surely the only thing to do at that point is set to refining and innovating that and discovering where the path might go. Right now they’re here. Next time, they can be anywhere.

Oblivion Reptilian, Fried on Rock (2019)

Oblivion Reptilian on Thee Facebooks

Oblivion Reptilian on Bandcamp

Sound Effect Records website

Tags: , , , , ,

Review & Track Premiere: Horseburner, The Thief

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on July 29th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

horseburner the thief

[Click play above to stream ‘Drowning Bird’ from Horseburner’s The Thief. Album is out Aug. 9 on Ripple Music.]

Though the inherent energy of their material and the fact that they’re newly signed to Ripple Music read otherwise, West Virginia’s Horseburner are not actually a new band. They played their first show just over a decade ago, and released two EPs before making such a splash with their 2016 full-length debut, Dead Seeds, Barren Soil (review here). That album was picked up for release through Hellmistress Records and subsequent touring and response led to the Ripple signing ahead of The Thief, their second LP and label debut. It’s worth mentioning not only for basic background, because when one listens to The Thief front-to-back, Horseburner‘s chemistry is not that of a new band.

While they recently parted ways with guitarist Zach Kaufman and brought in Matt Strobel to take on the role alongside guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist Jack Thomas, drummer/vocalist Adam Nohe and bassist Seth Bostick, the lineup that appears on the nine-song/46-minute The Thief feels wholly solidified in its songwriting approach, taking cues from modern progressive metal, NWOBHM and shades of traditional doom. Thomas‘s vocals remind here and there of Butch Balich‘s work in Argus — thinking of songs like “A Joyless King” and the later “Fathoms,” but it’s a comparison one might make elsewhere too, and not a comparison made lightly — and the winding course of riffing over which he and Nohe harmony-shout is reminiscent of the likes of Leviathan-era Mastodon in its hard edge and obviously considered composition.

Across intense pieces like “Drowning Bird” and “The Fisherman’s Vow,” they manifest crunch and gallop in kind and still set up a smooth-moving flow within and between the songs. It’s fast, and it’s a lot to keep up with, but that’s the idea, and when Horseburner are at a sprint, as on “Hand of Gold, Man of Stone” (premiered here), the effect is righteously head-spinning. Movements within songs mesh well together and take shape as verses and choruses, and as its two-minute titular introduction, and the likewise-timed centerpiece “Seas Between” and closer “Thiefsong” weave an acoustic-based thread throughout all the heft, the feeling of a masterplan at work becomes all the more prevalent.

If Horseburner are telling a story here — and they may or may not be; I haven’t had the benefit of a lyric sheet — then it’s one that sets up across intricately conceived chapters that balance indulgence and creative will against sheer impact of groove, “A Joyless King,” “Drowning Bird” and “The Fisherman’s Vow” separated by “Seas Between” from the side B salvo “Hand of Gold, Man of Stone,” “The Oak” and “Fathoms.” The underlying modus doesn’t necessarily change between the two sections — in fact, I’d argue The Thief is best enjoyed on a linear format so as to get the whole effect of “Seas Between” as the centerpiece without having to worry about a side flip as one would on vinyl — but flourish of proggy guitar interplay and keyboard in “The Oak” and the fact that “Fathoms” is the only song on the record to top eight minutes does speak to a certain amount of branching out, though there’s no question that in the case of the latter, its position as the full-album payoff is purposeful as well.

 

HORSEBURNER new lineup

One imagines that if Horseburner didn’t already know it when they were writing the song, it quickly became clear in the recording process that “Fathoms” would close out ahead of “Thiefsong,” such is the thump with which it lands and the heights to which it soars in its finishing, solo-topped sway. That puts further emphasis on the flow that’s been happening all along throughout The Thief, as all the more it seems “A Joyless King” and “Drowning Bird” are meant to draw the listener into the varied but linear whole-album progression. The short version is it works, and with deceptive subtlety, because as they’re setting up this linear motion, Horseburner are also bashing and crashing through killer chug and hairpin-turn rhythms, stomping through headbang-ready heavy parts and adding more than hints of nuance to deepen the proceedings beyond what might otherwise be “cool riffs, bro.”

Nothing against that, understand, but The Thief is on a different and more complex mission, and the band bear that out in the means by which they maintain both the thoughtfulness of the material and the conversation they’re having with their audience here. Because whatever layering there might be between Thomas‘s keys and guitar, the recording itself is geared toward capturing a live setting. With so much vitality, it could hardly be otherwise. Tracked at Amish Electric Chair Studios and Green Mist Studios respectively by Neil Tuuri (who also mixed) and Thomas himself, there’s no lack of clarity in the offering, and even the most distorted, driving moments have a crispness to them that speaks further to the band’s will to actively engage their listenership, but the balance with raw energy across The Thief‘s span is striking, and it’s exactly that engagement that’s the reason why.

Horseburner want you to get into this album. They make it plain. The Thief is the output of a band who’ve been around for 10 years, have gotten their shit together, built up some momentum and decided to make a real push at having an impact. They sound hungry more than angry, but most of all they sound ready, and that’s true in the brief quiet interlude in “The Fisherman’s Vow” as much as in the fist-pumping early dual-guitar theatrics and subsequent all-out start-stop crunch of “The Oak.” The only question is what that engagement is leading to? If, after 10 years as a band, Horseburner want to hit the road and make a go of selling full-color t-shirts to various US and eventually European cities, I have no doubt in my mind they could pull that off in a fashion that’s at least no more or less sustainable than anyone else doing the same. Time will tell what their goals ultimately are and whether or not they get there, but most importantly, The Thief is a resonant announcement of their arrival, and that is not at all to be missed.

Horseburner website

Horseburner on Thee Facebooks

Horseburner on Bandcamp

Horseburner on Instagram

Ripple Music on Thee Facebooks

Ripple Music on Bandcamp

Ripple Music website

Tags: , , , ,

Live Review: Crowbar, Lo-Pan and Dutchguts in New Jersey, 07.25.19

Posted in Reviews on July 26th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Crowbar (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Teaneck, huh? On a Thursday? Yeah, alright. I’ll waddle down and check that out. One night ahead of starting their tour with Corrosion of Conformity, New Orleans sludgemasters Crowbar and Ohio fuzzy soul-lifters Lo-Pan made a stop at Debonair Music Hall — the former Mexicali Blues — in the suburb of Teaneck, New Jersey, with local modern sludgers Dutchguts opening. It doesn’t feel like a stretch to me to say heavy shows don’t happen every day in North Jersey. And if you’re not up on geography, that’s because right on the other side of that bridge and/or tunnel is New York City, which is where shows do happen every day and are generally guaranteed to draw more people. Seeing a band like Crowbar — or even Lo-Pan, for whom this was their second Jersey show — without having to cross the Hudson River at rush hour? The very least I could do would be to show up. So I did that.

Incidentally and maybe less surprising given their 30-plus-year history, it wasn’t Crowbar‘s first North Jersey show. They played a place called Obsessions in Randolph circa ’93 that’s long since gone, which I remember not becauseDutchguts (Photo by JJ Koczan) I was there — I was 12 — but from graffiti on the wall in the tiny room that was their “backstage” area. Whether or not they returned to the area between the two gigs, I couldn’t say.

They’d headline the early night, with Lo-Pan playing the middle of the three slots and Dutchguts kicking off the proceedings at 7:45PM sharp. The Debonair Music Hall at that point could not be accused of being overly populated, but there were several in the crowd who very clearly knew the four-piece, likely from the DIY scene they’ve built up around the Meatlocker basement venue in Montclair — though as I recall, someone in the band was local enough to me to know the bar Hoover’s on Rt. 53 when the subject came up years ago. Their take on sludge is more brash and less metal than Crowbar‘s, and it had clearly been a while since I last saw them. Like the better part of a decade, since I seemed to remember them as kids. Their roots were the same — big Eyehategod influence, some Converge, some other dark hardcore punk, plenty of tonal heft, and so on — but their delivery was 10 years wiser, more experienced and vicious.

Dutchguts will open for Eyehategod in Jersey City in September and that feels about right in terms of fit. Though their most recent outing is a 2017 split with Chained to the Dead (discussed here), they’ve done a fair amount of touring, including last month, and have something of a reputation that precedes them. I thought they were cool. After 10 years though, it might be time to put out an album if you’re ever going to. I’ll admit a 7″-only attitude is pretty punk, but still. A compilation, maybe?

How I found out about this show in the first place was hearing it from the guys in Lo-Pan last month before their set at Maryland Doom Fest 2019 (review here), and frankly, even with Crowbar on top of the bill, I was thinking of it as “the Lo-Pan show” in my head. This site is presenting their upcoming Fall European tour with Steak and Elephant Tree (dates here), and I knew from their Maryland set that they’d be playing mostly if not entirely material from their new album, Subtle (review here), which came out through Aqualamb in May. That indeed Lo-Pan (Photo by JJ Koczan)was the case, and though there was no “Ten Days” this time, having “Everything Burns,” “Law & the Swarm” and “Khan!” in the setlist gave Subtle its due, along with the near-mandatory “Ascension Day,” “Savage Heart” and “Sage.” I’ll be curious to hear how the set changes when they come back through Jersey (further south) with Crowbar and C.O.C. in just about one month.

About that: this was pretty much a warm-up show for them, as well as for Crowbar. The tour with C.O.C. headlining starts in Poughkeepsie at The Chance, and I guess they had occasion to make the show happen — picking up a bus in the Meadowlands, perhaps? — and it was a way to give them a leg-up on getting into the groove of the next month to come. Hey, I’ll take it however it comes, but the first night of a tour is always a specious time to see a band. They’re getting their feet under them. They’re tired from a long day of travel. They’re looking ahead to the weeks to come. They’ve not yet developed every tour’s inevitable thousand-yard-stare, locked-in, almost-traumatized sense of I-live-23-hours-to-play-for-one that they will have, say, after five or so nights of gigs in a row. Lo-Pan held it down, and so did Crowbar, but mostly that means that when they circle back, they’ll be that much more on fire.

Nonetheless, one appreciates seeing bands like this the way one appreciates the breaking of a humid Jersey heatwave. Pro-shop, get-on-stage-and-go professionalism is a marker of who a band are as players and a unit and Crowbar are unmistakable even besides that. Guitarist/vocalist Kirk Windstein thanked the crowd, including specifically a kid up front who couldn’t have been more than 10 if he was that — thereby, one assumes, making a fan for life — and they tore into their set with all the lumbering ferocity one could expect. This was my second time seeing them after catching the earlier legCrowbar (Photo by JJ Koczan) of their tour with C.O.C. in Boston (review here), and whether it was that sold-out date or this Thursday night in Teaneck, Crowbar played their show regardless. It was great to see and of course they killed it, opening with “All I Had I Gave” and rolling “Lasting Dose” into “To Build a Mountain” early on.

It was mostly the same set from February, which is fair enough, but with “Conquering” included ahead of “Planets Collide” and “Like Broken Glass,” so I’ll go ahead and mark that a win if you don’t mind. A “pit” broke out of kids having fun during “To Build a Mountain” — that riff’ll do it — and the vibe on the whole was intimate, friendly and l-o-u-d. I wouldn’t have asked for anything more than that, if I’d felt entitled to ask in the first place.

The tour-proper will be a sight to see, with Quaker City Night Hawks and Corrosion of Conformity alongside Crowbar and Lo-Pan. This show, in addition to being my first-not-last time at Debonair Music Hall unless a piano falls on my head between now and the next one, gave me something to look forward to for August, served to remind of the strength of the local NJ underground, and took less than 35 minutes to drive home from when it was over, which was still on the relatively early end. I kind of felt like they were doing me a favor all the way around.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

Read more »

Tags: , , , ,

Review & Track Premiere: Pale Grey Lore, Eschatology

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on July 24th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Pale Grey Lore Eschatology

[Click play above to stream ‘Before the Fall’ from Pale Grey Lore’s Eschatology. Album is out Sept. 6 on Small Stone Records.]

In theology, eschatology refers to the ultimate fate of humanity, whether that’s the apocalypse or being one with the universe or whatever it might be in a given belief system. Ohio heavy rock four-piece Pale Grey Lore, whose Eschatology marks their debut on Small Stone Records and follows behind a well-received 2016 self-titled debut (review here), it’s a fairly grim picture of environmental destruction, capitalist ravaging and otherworldly semi-salvation, and it comes expressed in 10 tracks and 42 minutes of varied, atmospheric songcraft that roughs up the sound of the first album somewhat without losing the underlying structure that helped make those songs so memorable, so that from opener “Sunken Cities” onward, Pale Grey Lore establish a balance between spaciousness and hook-making, and whether that’s heard in the massive low-end roll of “Before the Fall” or the winding, Queens of the Stone Age-style “Greed Springs Eternal” just before it, the sense of poise comes through in overarching vocal melodies and harmonies between guitarists Michael Miller and Xander Roseberry as well as in the fluidity of groove from bassist Donovan Johnson and drummer Adam Miller.

Those who heard the first album will perhaps be most struck by the pervasiveness of mood throughout Eschatology, and that comes through whether a given song is fast or slow, loud or quiet, as Miller and Roseberry vary arrangements of acoustic and electric guitar and sundry effects, and even “Sunken Cities” begins with a minute and a half of ambient introduction before the bassline kicks in to lead into the first verse. But the mood suits Pale Grey Lore, and while it means that their hooks aren’t necessarily as immediate or as up-front as they were, the tradeoff for that is a richer listening experience on the whole, with a depth of tone and concept fleshing out the penchant for songwriting that serves as their foundation. In other words, Pale Grey Lore have become and are becoming a more complex band. This can only be a good thing.

“Sunken Cities” is a suitable plunge to set the tone for the rest of the record, and its mid-paced rollout (after the intro) makes an enticing contrast for the speedier, hookier “Greed Springs Eternal,” which as noted leads into the more lumbering “Before the Fall.” It’s telling that this salvo should be more focused on diversity of craft rather than “frontloading” all the rockers — which they certainly would have had plenty of material to do, with songs like “The Rift,” “Undermined” and “Silent Command” tucked safely away on side B — as it speaks not only to the narrative mission of Eschatology and the story being told, but also the band’s growth as a unit and more progressive priorities, as perhaps most shown on the closing title-track. Even cuts like “Regicide” and “Waiting for the Dawn,” which round out the first half of the album, do so with a marked distinction between them, as the former finds a grungier middle ground and is fleshed out in its verses by howling lead guitar before a second-half crash out and resounding final solo, and the latter caps side A with a quieter arrangement of fuzzy leads and combined acoustic and electric guitar as a bed for echoing vocals, a steady level of snare activity beneath wisely keeping a feeling of movement and grounding to the proceedings.

pale grey lore

By the time they get there, Pale Grey Lore have already shown their proggy intent, but “Waiting for the Dawn” highlights the point and, in a linear format — that is, a CD or DL not requiring the side flip of a vinyl — it’s less an interruption of momentum than a landmark ahead of the takeoff that follows with “The Rift,” as side B works quickly in the three-minute track to give its sense of momentum before slamming it headfirst into album highlight “Void-Cursed,” the arrival of which is marked with a wash of low-end with a solo cutting through and a more lumbering movement that’s soon enough met with resonant vocal harmonies leading to a march outward and, one assumes, a sonic payoff intended to convey the vastness of the void itself. So be it.

The deftness of the turn from “Void-Cursed” to the bouncing surf-punkishness of “Silent Command” isn’t to be understated, as it and the penultimate “Undermined,” which follow, seem to pick up where “The Rift” and “Greed Springs Eternal” left off, still changing their approach from track to track — the backing vocals on “Silent Command,” the Thin Lizzy-isms of “Undermined,” etc. — but keeping runtimes tighter and allowing more of a push to take hold. The fact that those changes occur next to songs like “Waiting for the Dawn” and “Sunken Cities” and “Void-Cursed” and indeed “Eschatology” itself put emphasis on how dynamic Pale Grey Lore‘s approach is becoming on the whole. With the title-track, the clear focus in on melody, but even then, there’s a thrust into noise and a final descent (ascent?) into cacophony that comes coupled with chant-sounding harmonized vocals — pretty sure there’s a screamed layer in there too — before the song itself finishes at just under four minutes and a bookending outro takes hold with echoes of the start of “Sunken Cities” and chimes courtesy of Roseberry leading the way into a more ethereal oblivion.

What the hell happens next? I don’t know, but I’m as curious to find out in terms of the storytelling as I am when it comes to the band itself, who seem to be signaling their readiness to enter a different level of consideration with these songs, and, more specifically, a readiness to tour. Eschatology is a record full of purpose, and the realization of not just a plotline, but a creative vision fleshed out across the work (one would guess) of multiple songwriters coming together toward a common end. It is simultaneously gorgeous and troubling, thoughtful in composition and impact-making in result. I do not know to what it might lead in terms of the band’s plans, but like “Sunken Cities” leads the way into the world they’re creating, so too does Eschatology feel much more like a beginning than an end of all things.

Pale Grey Lore on Thee Facebooks

Pale Grey Lore on Instagram

Small Stone Records website

Small Stone Records on Thee Facebooks

Small Stone Records on Bandcamp

Tags: , , , , ,