Tombstones, Vargariis: When Heathens Strive (Plus Full Album Stream)

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on November 24th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

tombstones vargariis

[Please note: Click play above to stream Vargariis in full. It’s out Dec. 4 on Soulseller Records. Thanks to Tombstones and Soulseller for letting me host the stream.]

It may or may not be right to call such barbarity progressive, but there is definitely a sense of growth in Vargariis, the new full-length from Norwegian trio Tombstones. Released by Soulseller Records, it’s their fourth long-player — something I also said about late-2013’s Red Skies and Dead Eyes (review here) — and finds the lineup of guitarist/vocalist Bjørn-Viggo Godtland, bassist/vocalist Ole Christian Helstad and drummer Markus Støle in an entirely more brutal, vicious era. Granted, the rather sizable wall of fuzz in Godtland and Helstad‘s tones remains, but they’ve shifted the context in which that wall is constructed, and Vargariis‘ six-track/56-minute run is made simultaneously broader and more oppressive by flourishes of sludge and black metal extremism, as on “The Dark High,” which starts side B, or “Oceans of Consciousness” right before it.

On one side or the other, each track hovers around the nine-minute mark in runtime, but what Tombstones do with that time is varied in aesthetic despite being universally dark appropriate to the tones of the album’s cover art. Like the release before it, Vargariis was recorded live, tracked by Joona Hassinen at at Studio Underjord in Norrköping, Sweden (Audun Strype mastered), but the two are very different in terms of concept and execution, Tombstones having grown thanks to some considerable roadtime the last couple years into a more patient, sonically ambitious and lethally grooving outfit, willing and capable to bend the genre of doom to suit their purposes rather than the other way around.

They start with a slow-motion pummel in “Barren Fields,” which seems to nod at Conan in its tablesetting opening riff before shifting into more hypnotic fare. For a release so aggressive on the whole, it doesn’t seem appropriate to think of Vargariis‘ leadoff track as easing the listener into the rest of what’s to come, but a big function of “Barren Fields” seems to be in establishing a baseline — also a bassline; that roll is thick — on which the rest of the songs continue to build. Godtland and Helstad trade vocals effectively as Støle, who makes his first studio appearance with the band here, bashes away beneath the morass, a midsection break providing a breather before a quickened ending movement grows more and more headbang-worthy as it thrusts toward an inevitable conclusion. Bass and drums start the semi-title-track, “And When the Heathen Strive, Vargariis Rise,” and the snare continues to be a punctuating factor through an extended intro and into a punishing slowdown of corresponding screams and growls that sets up a stretch of chugging, abrasive sludge topped with screams, moving into roaring shouts, Tombstones clearly having as much fun toying with the instrumental back and forth as that in the vocals.


There’s not much by way of hope to be found in any of it, but the guitar takes just a touch of brightness to its tone in the final third before a sudden drop-off in the drums brings about a quick fade and the blasting, charred-black opening of “Oceans of Consciousness” to stamp it out. They don’t keep up the onslaught for the entire 10:14 (the longest runtime), but play again with tradeoffs and heathen and sludge nod before all the bombast and gutturalism crashes to a halt at about 5:20 in and they begin the linear build that will consume the rest of the track with minimalist rumble and percussive gruel. Even in the quietest reaches, “Oceans of Consciousness” is filthy, and the lead that marks the beginning of the last minute is likewise, but by the time they get there, Tombstones‘ plunder is long-since established and the only thing to do is sit back and be impressed at how they manage to make mud so dense flow so well.

Vargariis is a definitive step forward from Red Skies and Dead Eyes because where that album played one side off another somewhere between stoner and doom impulses — and did it well, I’ll add — Vargariis flagrantly refuses to be bound by those or other constrictions, and where the predecessor worked its two sides with a duality in accord with its title, Vargariis is multi-faceted throughout and cohesive in spite of which element might be forward at any given moment. Even for appearing on a band’s fourth record, that cohesion is an impressive feat in “Oceans of Consciousness,” and the second half of Vargariis continues to build outward from there, “The Dark High” conjuring darkened swirl early on, breaking in the middle and finishing with more uptempo push à la “When the Heathen Strive, Vargariis Rise” as Støle distinguishes himself on drums and a long-sustained scream reminds of how effective harsh vocals can be when put to the right use. In addition to supplying a surprising dual-vocal hook, “Underneath the Earth” also brings about the most crushing tones on offer early on before shifting after six minutes — via standalone drums — into a fuzzier build that closes out.

That fuzzier vibe holds firm as the drums lead the way into “Pyre of the Cloth,” which is something of a further departure from the material before it in terms of its overall affect, though the oppressive heft is certainly a factor, particularly in the faster parts of the first half. There’s something psychedelic lurking beneath the surface ooze of “Pyre of the Cloth,” however, that isn’t in songs like “The Dark High,” and the closer locks in a central groove even as it rolls its way past excruciatingly slow sludge and higher-speed chugging Sleepism, ultimately finishing on the latter, and that winds up being the uniting factor holding it together. Like the bulk of the album before it, “Pyre of the Cloth” works structurally to hold together material that’s deceptively broad beyond its superficial drive toward the extreme, and most importantly, it shows Tombstones four albums in as a band whose palette is continuing to expand and who are clearly making the most of the experience they’re gaining along their way.

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Moon Curse, Spirit Remains: Noble Pursuits (Plus Full Album Stream)

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on November 23rd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

moon curse spirit remains

[Please note: Click play above to stream Moon Curse’s Spirit Remains in full. It’s out Nov. 28 on Kozmik Artifactz. Thanks to the band and label for letting me host the premiere.]

When it comes to a record like Spirit Remains, one of the aspects easiest to appreciate is its honesty. Milwaukee trio Moon Curse make their intentions as plain and up-front as they possibly can over the course of their sophomore outing’s five tracks/42 minutes: They want to pummel and they want to do it with riffs. The three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Matt Leece, bassist/vocalist Rochelle Nason and drummer/synth-specialist Keith Stendler (as of this post, Matt Presutti, who also designed the Spirit Remains cover, may join/has joined as a second guitarist, but they are a trio on the record) issued their self-titled debut in 2012 and sold through multiple pressings both independent and through Kozmik Artifactz, which also stands behind the follow-up. Both full-lengths share largely the same mission, but Moon Curse clearly took some lessons from their debut, and these songs find them sounding massive, professional and confident in their ability to complete the task at hand, and though it has stretches that slow to an absolute crawl like that preceding the galloping finale of closer “Witches Handbook,” there’s more nuance to their approach than it might at first seem.

That fact shows itself in the vocal arrangements between Leece and Nason on “Vicious Sky,” the layered soloing on the preceding side-B opener “Lord of Memories/Spirit Remains,” the added psychedelic flourish that the tambura of Andrew Shelp (Moss Folk) lends to “Electric Veins” or even the marching pace that opener “Beneath the Waves” sets and the spaciousness of its riffing and leads. Yes, Moon Curse want to cave your head in, and with the help of the recording/mixing job Nolan Treolo does (Tony Reed mastered), they just might get there, but while heft is at the core of their purposes, it does not comprise the entirety thereof. Rather, while their nod and grooving largesse definitely puts them in the post-Sleep riff-led milieu, it’s the distinguishing elements of sonic personality throughout that provide the band’s most memorable impressions, whether that’s Leece howling upward from under the riffs of “Beneath the Waves” or the quick turns of chug in “Vicious Sky.”

As was the case when I was fortunate enough to see them play live in 2013, a major factor in driving home their plodding, stomping, running groove — whichever it might be at any given moment — is Stendler‘s drumming. At no point on the record is he putting on a clinic, technically-speaking, but from the first ride hits in the quiet intro of “Beneath the Waves” through to the rampaging toms at the apex conclusion of “Witches Handbook,” he is persistently in the right place at the right time to bolster the work of Leece and Nason and make the most of the material at hand. The album breaks into two sides, though not evenly, and both offer rolling or driving rhythms, and the fullness of sound that a seemingly persistent wash of cymbals provides is never too far from the forefront of the album’s heavier moments. Still, it is the riffs in the lead, and that is true even as “Beneath the Waves” breaks from its initial rollout to a section of layered psychedelic leads, backed by Nason‘s resonant bass tone on an extended instrumental excursion marked out by minor-key twists tossed in before the eventual return to the central verse riff and the echoing shouts that cut through it.

moon curse (Photo by Luke Mouradian)

The aforementioned tambura does much to flesh out “Electric Veins,” but a slower tempo overall adds to the spaciousness as well, and shows immediate breadth coming after “Beneath the Waves,” even if it does return to a lumber more consistent with the opener before breaking into a subdued section of crashes and watery vocals that one just knows is setting up something huge. The drums pick up their pace on returning and push past a halfway point into a short but engaging solo and the eventual return of the verse for another cycle through, trading between Om, Sleep and High on Fire influences before finding itself in a more distinct solo section and the consuming cap of its near-11-minute span and that of side A as a whole. It is a finish worthy of the weight preceding.

Its march takes a little longer to unfold, but there’s plenty of room for a hypnotic intro in the 11:26 runtime of side B opener “Lord of Memories/Spirit Remains,” which ultimately lands on a janga-janga riff for its central figure, Nason and Leece coming together on vocals as it marches past its midsection at a not-at-all hurried clip and into the already-noted solo section, which is followed by howling and crashes that finish out before what one presumes is the split between the first and second parts of its title. “Spirit Remains,” then, comprises the last two minutes of the track in a subdued acoustic break topped with quiet psychedelic vocals, wind sounds or manipulated amp noise taking hold near the end as a ringing bell marks the transition into the feedback-soaked opening of “Vicious Sky,” which is the shortest song on Spirit Remains at 5:03 and a chugging riff that gets married with some post-Baroness shouts to engrossing effect.

Perhaps the most encouraging portion of the track is toward its finish, however, when the drums, guitars, bass and vocals all align to move into a section of washing leads and repeated nod for about the last 50 seconds or so. It seems to bring the various sides of Moon Curse‘s approach together in a way that, if it went on for another two minutes, I wouldn’t argue, but one can only fit so much on a single platter. A direct bleed brings about the quiet but tense beginning of “Witches Handbook,” which bursts open shortly after the two-minute mark for a drawling verse and goes on to recede and swell again before shifting into the galloping ending section, a touch of Morricone thrown in for good measure as Stendler‘s snare matches step with the guitar, which closes out on a solo and relative lack of fanfare as if to tease a sequel already in the making. Given the three years it took for Spirit Remains to surface after Moon Curse, I wouldn’t be surprised if one is, but either way, what the band accomplishes across these tracks is worth more than a passing glance en route to the next thing. The converted will have a deeper appreciation for its preachings, but Spirit Remains gets its point across one way or another.

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Kungens Män, Förnekaren: Fleeting Repudiation (Plus Full Album Stream)

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

kungens man fornekaren 1

[Please note: Click play above to hear the full album stream of Förnekaren by Kungens Män. Album is out Dec. 1 on Adansonia Records. Thanks to the label and band for letting me host the premiere.]

It is the first to be pressed to vinyl, but Förnekaren is upwards of the 15th or 16th full-length release by Stockholm-based jammers Kungens Män. If they’d been around for 20 years, that would still be impressive, but the band got together in 2012. Between Oct. 2013 and Sept. 2014, they released an album every month, and Förnekaren (released through Adansonia Records) is their third of 2015 behind April’s four-song Diskbänksockultism and January’s Kungens Män Spelar I Evighet. Amen.. It is a 2LP, mostly instrumental, comprised mostly of extended psychedelic jams, improvised at least in part and culminating in seven tracks/85 minutes of neo-krautrock immersion, rich in texture and almost universally hypnotic. Its lead-in with opener “Järnvägsdröm” transitions the listener between the waking world and Kungens Män‘s jammy realm, the vocals of guitarist Mikael Tuominen adding a Doors-style flair to what sets up the rest of the work’s mostly instrumental breadth.

Somewhere between Electric Moon or the Øresund Space Collective‘s jammy modus and the more plotted desert-prog style of Causa SuiKungens Män stake a claim in their own little slice of the cosmos, Tuominen joined throughout by guitarists Hans Hjelm and Björn Eriksson, bassist/graphic artist Magnus Öhrn, synthesist Peter Erikson and drummer Mattias Indy Pettersson as the band weaves their way through “Järnvägsdröm” and the title-track’s relative earthiness en route to the wholly-spaced fare of the 22-minute “Sista Ordets Krigsdans Genom Snickeriet,” which follows.

Pettersson‘s drumming is a foundational element throughout, as both the opener and quick-popping snare of the title-cut demonstrate, but on “Sista Ordets Krigsdans Genom Snickeriet,” it becomes even more apparent just how much is built on top of the laid back, steady percussion line. The song is not without movement between the interweavings of guitars and synth, and the bass, though deeper down in the mix, is pivotal as well, but it’s the drums that push the rest through the dreamy soundscape they’re creating as they go. A chugging undertone emerges as they pass the halfway point that becomes the bed for the fuzzy apex, but in the song’s fading finish, it’s only over when the drums stop. Kungens Män follow with “Krautespark,” which at 6:37 feels like an interlude in comparison, but no doubt that’s the idea. Öhrn‘s bass is more forward and more insistent and jazzy, as one might expect given the title, and the guitars add a touch of foreboding in their spacious overlaid noodling, a jazzy dissonance taking hold before they bring it together in the midsection only to have it turn jagged again by the finish, time more or less dissipating along the way.

kungens man

“Krautespark” is the shortest track on Förnekaren and the only one under 10 minutes other than “Järnvägsdröm,” which comes close at 9:47, but though instrumental, it serves a similar function as the opener, launching the second LP with a relatively grounded offering leading to more extended kosmiche fare. The bass makes the transition to “Kringströdda Silverbestick” particularly smooth, but it’s the lead guitar that gradually comes to the fore on the 13-minute jam riding a funky rhythm to a first-half crescendo before the vibe breaks — the drums holding steady — and things get quiet and spacious, building up again somewhat before some obscure speech echoes and effects noise bring the piece to a close.

Side D finishes out Förnekaren with a pair of cuts both over 10 minutes, “Förensligandet I Det Egentliga Aspudden” and “Hur Ska Vi Stå?,” the former of which starts out slow and contemplative before introducing a more active rhythm shortly before the two-minute mark that sets it on its building, ethereal course. Both the drums and the guitar sound noticeably bigger, more open, but it’s the guitar which slowly comes to swallow up the rest of the elements, a wah-drenched buzzsaw lead arriving at 6:41 and carrying through to the end, a patient swirl behind full of motion that seems to send ripples upward to the surface of the song itself.

The jam fades, presumably before it comes apart, and “Hur Ska Vi Stå?” comes in with a sleek guitar line over steady marching snare, jabbing proggy rhythms intertwined and fits of synth that arrive early and don’t come again, but continue to loom as a threat among the more peaceful noodling and frenetic but not abrasive manipulations of what may or may not be bass. A quiet guitar solo kicks in after halfway through, but the drum beat (maybe electronic or programmed?) and the other noise refuse to give ground and ultimately the jam unfolds, the kick drum run through echoing effects and manipulated as the final piece to go. It’s a fair enough ending to a record that has for the most part avoided showing its audience what it sounds like when the wheels come off an instrumental conversation, but the simple truth is that if you’re listening and you’re not already entranced by what Kungens Män have done in the prior 83 minutes, the last two of “Hur Ska Vi Stå?” aren’t likely to make a difference one way or another. A subdued, moody undertone can be felt throughout the album, but the prevailing spirit is nonetheless calm, and while one doubts they’ll wait around too long to let it sink in, Förnekaren has a wide enough scope that, if they were so inclined, Kungens Män could easily rest on its laurels for a while.

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Øresund Space Collective, Out into Space & Different Creatures: The Nature of Cosmic Creation

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

oresund space collective out into space

Øresund Space Collective are among psychedelia’s most open and most stringent of bands. Now active for more than a decade, the Danish collective are fiercely committed to a single idea — it just happens to be that single idea is being open to all things at all times. To wit, the prolific, prone-to-documentation Danish/Swedish outfit led by synth-player and bandleader Scott “Dr. Space” Heller have maintained their ethic of being entirely improvisational and amorphous in their lineup, and that has resulted in an expansive catalog of live and studio recordings of some of the world’s most expansive space and kosmiche rock.

Their latest pair of offerings through Space Rock Productions, released within a month of each other, together stand as a solid compendium of some — not all — of their scope. Released last month, Out into Space, is a 3CD live offering captured in Feb. 2015 at their 10th anniversary show at Loppen in Christiania, playing to support 2014’s Music for Pogonologists (review here) though obviously not actually playing anything from the record since it’s all improvised, and the even-newer Different Creatures is a 2CD/3LP studio album. Both are completely different lineups apart from Heller — in fact, in the case of Out into Space, it’s no fewer than three different incarnations of the band playing a single show. It suddenly makes sense why Øresund Space Collective would have the recorder running as often as they do. How else to keep track of what they’re doing at any given point?

The concept for Out into Space is an exception to start with, though. Their 10th anniversary gig was more than the average show. They played three sets, again, each with a different lineup, in an attempt to capture the beginning, middle and current eras of the band — or at least give them some representation. As a result, each set has its own specific feel, whether it’s the way the band seem to rally around the guitar in “The Last Glide” on disc one or how “Stargate 7431” on disc two has its own progressive edge. Heller speaks to the assembled crowd between jams, informing them of what’s happening and introducing each band, and though at over three and a half hours of material, one could hardly call Out into Space anything other than comprehensive, it’s worth noting that it’s not complete. The third set, the recorder gave out. They literally out-jammed the recording equipment. That’s the scale of jams we’re talking about here.

oresund space collective different creatures

Heller announces it’s 1AM as that third set kicks off with the 34-minute “A Long Night Amongst Friends” — he says, “Time to go to another planet” as the ultra-fluid track gets underway with a soft jazzy roll on the drums and yet another foundational bassline, the low end seeming to be the factor that holds the material together no matter who’s playing it at any given time — Jocke first, Thomas second, Jiri third — and it’s around the solid groove that the molten jamming happens in extended earlier pieces like the krautrocking “Has Anyone Seen Nick?” from the first or the particularly spacey “Chocolate Orange Candle” in the second set. While each has its own personality, I’m not inclined to pick a favorite from among the three lineups. It seems against the concept of Out into Space entirely, which was so clearly to bring these different personae together as one cohesive (if constantly shifting) whole, rather than to drive them apart. While it can be overwhelming in a single sitting — it is an afternoon long, after all — Out into Space provides years’ worth of psychedelic fodder to dig into.

So naturally they let it breathe for about a month before dishing out a follow-up. That’s not a criticism. In the tradition of the best of space rock, Øresund Space Collective do not stop to examine, do not stop to bask. They continue to move forward and on to the next thing, letting history sort it all out in their wake. The next thing? Different Creatures, which was recorded over a period of three days, Oct. 24-26, 2014, and found the band working as an eight-piece with Heller on synth as ever, plus Alex on drums and percussion, guitarists Jonathan (also violin, Theremin, electric mandolin and Hammond), Mattias (also pedal steel and shaker) and Mats (also bass on “Juggle the Juice,” “Digestive Raga” and “Bon Voyage”), bassist Hasse, key specialist Jonas and sitarist/synth-player KG. This lineup tears into over two and a quarter hours’ worth of material, showcasing distinct and differing vibes on the half-hour “Digestive Raga” and “The Man from Wales” while universally impressing with the chemistry at the heart of their improvisations. “Digestive Raga” — which, presumably, was performed after lunch — or the penultimate “Raga for Jerry G.” would be highlight candidates were it not for the sheer immersiveness of closer “20 Steps Towards the Invisible Door,” which is an album unto itself at 45:14 and emphasizes not only the beauty at heart in Øresund Space Collective‘s creative process — getting to the very core of group performance that brings individuals together working toward a common purpose — but also the beauty in the result of that process.

Hypnotic from its launch stages through to the strings and synth at its gradual comedown, it lives up to the promise of album-opener “The Ride to Valhalla” and speaks in its entirety to what makes Øresund Space Collective such a special project to begin with. To compare it to Music for Pogonologists seems moot since it’s different players throughout, but it wouldn’t matter anyway. “20 Steps Towards the Invisible Door” and Different Creatures as a whole have their own persona, and in capturing that special moment in time, unfiltered, unrestrained, gorgeously mixed, Øresund Space Collective once again affirm their position as the foremost jammers in the known cosmos. There are others who jam, and others who improvise their work along similar lines, but nobody who seeks to turnover their lineup with such regularity and still maintain such a consistent quality of output. Even within the vast realm of space rock and heavy psychedelia, Øresund Space Collective remain one of a kind.

Øresund Space Collective, Out into Space (2015)

Øresund Space Collective, Different Creatures (2015)

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Live Review: Scott Kelly and Bruce Lamont in Chicago, 11.11.15

Posted in Reviews on November 13th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

scott kelly and bruce lamont 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

It had been a few days since I’d gone outside. Seriously. In Chicago for a work trip, I’d been holed up either at the conference I was in town for or the hotel immediately adjacent to it. Dinner had been ordered in three nights in a row, and I’d gone precisely nowhere since arriving in the city on Sunday. Not healthy. Not living right. In the end, it was the phone call from hotel security — checking on the wellness of the room’s occupant, since housekeeping hadn’t been allowed to clean in more than 48 hours — that shamed me into leaving to see Corrections House bandmates Scott Kelly (also Neurosis) and Bruce Lamont (also Yakuza and Bloodiest). Shame sometimes does the trick.

As it happened, they were playing a different hotel, the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, in a space carved out as the “Drawing Room” and decorated in what I can only describe as man-bun living room chic; dimly lit (as the pictures I got will attest — god damn I need a new camera), all things made to look old and comfortable, leather-bound everything, like the Harvard club where people go to talk about how their new app is going to do away with various plights of inequality. “Gamechanging” modern design by making it look like a slavemaster’s parlor. I’m sure it was all very expensive. It looked very expensive. Strange setting for a show.

bruce lamont 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)Not to say that with Misters Kelly and Lamont both playing solo sets — they shared a guitar — it should’ve been in a dive bar. The chair I sat in was perfectly comfortable. It was the second night of the Kelly/Lamont tour, which may or may not be taking the place of a full Corrections House run to support that group’s new album, Know How to Carry a Whip, out on Neurot Recordings, and the plan seemed to be in order: Lamont would play first, Kelly second, and then they’d play together. Not a method entirely dissimilar from the first time I saw Corrections House early in 2013 (review here), but obviously a different sonic context without Sanford Parker‘s beats — likely on his way to the West Coast with Buried at Sea — and without Mike Williams of Eyehategod‘s semi-spoken drug poetics. Worth it to say that nothing felt overly like it was missing once the show got started.

Part of that is probably thanks to Lamont‘s kitchen-sink experimental approach. Surrounded by his saxophone, clarinet, the guitar he was sharing with Kelly, at least two vocal mics and sundry other processors, pedals and effects, he was able to create a wash of droning noise all on his own. Lamont‘s solo album, 2011’s Feral Songs for the Epic Decline, was the basis for some of the performance, but much of what he did was manipulated, echoed, spaced out, and layered into something new. I know Bloodiest have a new full-length coming at the start of 2016 via Relapse, but if Lamont hasn’t considered recording a follow-up solo outing live and putting it out even in limited numbers through War Crime Recordings, his label co-owned by Sanford Parker, he probably should. Some of the most affecting moments came as he tilted his head back and let loose a soulful howl that reminded me of some of the spaciousness he was able to conjure in Yakuza, but the whole set was saturated with creativity and Lamont‘s sense of controlling the chaos was palpable.

The switch to bringing out Scott Kelly was done via an extended saxo-drone and a wave of the hand. Both mics were already set up, and so Kelly came out from the crowd and picked up the guitar. There were a couple songs he played I didn’t recognize — maybe new, maybe covers I couldn’t identify — but his meditative takes on the works of Townes van Zandt are always welcome. He did “Tecumseh Valley” early in the set, but the highlights were cuts from his 2012 Scott Kelly and the Road Home album, The Forgiven Ghost in Me (review here). I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping for “The Field that Surrounds Me,” but “The Sun is Dreaming in the Soul” scott kelly 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)did just fine, and particularly following “The Ladder in My Blood” from 2008’s solo album, The Wake. “We Let the Hell Come” provided an intense finish to his solo portion — Kelly rocking back and forth behind the mic in a less neck-dislocating fashion than he might on stage with Neurosis, but definitely with a similar rhythmic sensibility — arriving at its title line after gravel-throated incantations for which he backed off the mic about a foot but that still came through clear in their intent and vision.

A similar wave brought Lamont back to the front. Together Kelly and Lamont offered renditions of Townes Van Zandt‘s “The Rake” and Neil Young‘s “Cortez the Killer,” before finishing off with the Corrections House track “Run through the Night,” taken from their 2013 debut, Last City Zero. Standing side-by-side, Kelly‘s guitar and Lamont‘s sax cast a Morricone-style spell over the room, a hard strum spacious with both adding vocals until Lamont, having layered backing “ooh”s, created a sufficient wash and apex that seemed to swell one voice at a time until appropriately consuming. The studio version of that song gets pretty noisy, but live, it was more melodic, and when Kelly got back on mic to whisper out the last few lines, the multi-layer barrage he cut through made it plain that nothing else would follow. They cut out together and the show was over with a quick plug for merch, which had been placed on a table behind them while they played.

It was raining outside when they were done, so I took a quick cab back to my temporary lair and tried to get a night’s sleep. No dice there, but I didn’t the least bit regret how the evening had been spent, whatever it took to get me out the door.

Thanks for reading.

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With the Dead, With the Dead: Viral Birth

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

with the dead with the dead

Newly-formed trio With the Dead make zero effort to hide their malevolent intent. As frontman Lee Dorrian said in a recent interview here, they wanted to make, “the most depressive, soul-destroying heavy record we can possibly make between us,” and the six songs/42 minutes of their self-titled Rise Above Records debut bleed that intent front to back. Dorrian, both formerly of Cathedral and the head of Rise Above, adds his signature vocal declarations to the filth laden sludge ritual riffing of guitarist Tim Bagshaw (also bass) and the plod is pushed along by drummer Mark Greening.

Both Greening and Bagshaw were founding members of Electric Wizard, who also of course worked with Rise Above for years, but if anything is going to prevent With the Dead being pigeonholed as the “People Screwed Over by Jus Oborn Club,” it’s the album itself. More akin to the obscure, extreme drear proffered by Greening and Bagshaw together in Ramesses — though the lead of “I am Your Virus” has a touch of witchculting to it — With the Dead ultimately stands apart even from that in its vicious aural force and singular darkness. There are elements of preaching to the converted, which is to say that if With the Dead is the first doom record you’ve ever heard, your appreciation for it will be somewhat one-dimensional, but honestly, these songs have such a starting-point feel to them that I doubt audience was a consideration one way or another. Still, as doom for doomers, it stands among the top debuts and most crushing albums of 2015, and absolutely cakes itself in dirt and muck to meet its stated goal.

In a way, that’s the story of the thing. They made the album to be unreasonably heavy and succeeded.

It is not a record rife with nuance, and while the recording job by Jaime Gomez Arellano allows for an abyss of depth to the mix, With the Dead are much more concerned with bludgeoning than impressing with their subtlety. That’s true as feedback and odd sampling starts “Crown of Burning Stars,” which launches the album with a mid-paced roll that signals their immediate sonic dominance. Specifically to Dorrian‘s credit as the lyricist, he brings a hook to each of these tracks, and that of “Crown of Burning Stars” is particularly memorable as the leadoff, giving way to the faster “The Cross,” wherein a torrential riff races forward into chaos marked out by churning rhythms and, in the second half, some sampled Latin praying over a languid but thoroughly doomed solo. Bullshit factor: zero.


Closing out side A is “Nephthys,” a paean to the Egyptian goddess of the dead, which finds itself in comfortable nod as Bagshaw‘s riff opens up to Dorrian‘s effects-laden vocals. In addition to the chorus, Dorrian takes a page out of Black Widow‘s book, repurposing the “Come to the Sabbat” cadence of “Come, come, come to the sabbat/Come to the sabbat/Satan’s there,” into “Come, come, come to me Nephthys/Come to me Nephthys/I’m waiting here.” The affect is no less ritualized than the original, and Greening‘s toms plod out beneath the chant, punctuating and bolstering the words before Bagshaw takes over on a solo and they close out with noise and feedback.

For those who’d indoctrinate themselves into With the Dead‘s tumults and stretches of outright slaughter, “Living with the Dead” will no doubt be a highlight. After a quick sample, the song slams in and immediately chugs out the first line repeating the title. A defining moment for the album, its hypnotic through the guitar work of Bagshaw and and the lyrical repetitions, but more, it speaks to the kind of brutal decay on offer throughout. Later, the track offers as close to a “letup” as With the Dead ultimately come in a midsection break of organ, sparse guitar and drums that builds its way back up at around four and a half minutes in, at which point the riff that will lead the way out is established and ridden hard for the remaining three minutes, some far-back shouts providing a human touch early but giving way to the guitar, bass and drums soon enough. The subsequent “I am Your Virus” has a break of its own, but it’s shorter and the surroundings are overall less destructive, a companion piece for “The Cross,” though not nearing the same tempo, and when Greening crashes to start closer “Screams from My Own Grave,” it’s a clear signal of the slog that’s about to ensue.

Much to the band’s credit, they stick to the lumbering dirge the entire 8:40, and yeah, there’s a bit of weirding out with organ and all-tinted-brown guitar swirl, but the core of the finale, like the core of the album as a whole, is in the oppressive weight brought to bear. It’s easy to think that With the Dead might invariably expand their sound some as they move forward, which they reportedly will, but their real challenge in doing so will be finding a way to progress (regress?) and keep things interesting for themselves while also holding onto the rawness that makes their debut so unbridled and harsh. Or maybe they’ll go prog — who the hell knows? Point is, With the Dead‘s With the Dead is a temple built on misanthropic riffs and standout performances from three longtime contributors to the style who very obviously knew what they were doing when they came together in the first place. Whatever they do next, this album will remain devastating.

With the Dead, “Crown of Burning Stars” official video

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Magic Circle Premiere “The Damned Man” from Journey Blind

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on November 10th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

magic circle (Photo by Dakota Gordon)

Boston doomers Magic Circle release their second album, Journey Blind, Nov. 20 on 20 Buck Spin. A dual-guitar five-piece, the band was a force to be reckoned with even before the release of their 2013 self-titled debut (review here), having garnered a formidable response to their initial single, Scream Evil/Lighting Her Fire, both online and in the physical realm with a 7″. The self-titled was light on frills but heavy on dark atmospherics and weighted riffing, and Journey Blind‘s seven tracks/45 minutes follow suit in that regard, but add stylistic nuance in the form of a decided lean toward ’80s-era NWOBHM metallurgy, taking cues on the opening title-track from Judas Priest fist-pumping chug in the guitars of Chris Corry and Dan Ducas, unconcerned with genre boundaries as it motors forward on a groove thickened by Justin DeTore‘s bass and propelled by the drumming of Q, topped off with classically soaring vocals from Brendan Radigan.

Their take on the sound is righteous and unabashed, and while Journey Blind is unmistakably different from what they were doing on Magic Circle, it makes sense as a next step. “Journey Blind” is both the opener and the longest track (immediate points) at 8:26, and does much work in setting the tone for what follows, but though it’s shorter, “The Damned Man” takes hold with pre-thrash intensity and vocal layering in its hook on the way to a surprising slowdown and build-up, a breakdown riff stomped out at around four minutes in that becomes the bed for soloing and a final verse before ending — wait for it — acoustic.

How any of that makes any fucking sense whatsoever, I haven’t the foggiest, but it does. In context, the acoustic finish of “The Damned Man” is as much intro for “A Ballad for the Vultures” as it is its own outro, but as a standalone it shows how willing Magic Circle are to bend the rules of verse-chorus to suit their whims, and that they can do it and not have a track fall apart. They’re due for a doom-out, and “A Ballad for the Vultures” delivers one in its first half, still tinged with Iron Maiden-style grandiosity and Dio-style poise, a midsection break serving as transition to a faster, more swinging movement of furious guitars and an magic circle journey blindongoing sense of build until its unbridled conclusion. They even slow down in there, but by the end, they’re at their most raging.

The subsequent “Lightning Cage” is maybe more ’70s than ’80s in its central riff early on, but the difference works out to be trivial with as much effort as Magic Circle put into making it their own. A meatier nod emerges in an extended bridge, but again, they end fast, reveling in the play of one tempo off another in a centerpiece track that’s the shortest inclusion at 4:19 but a standout moment all the same for its efficiency and the energy of its delivery. Already to this point, Magic Circle have galloped and stomped, they’ve howled and marauded, and they’ve torn into classic metal without giving up the atmospheric heft of their debut. More than a little impressive. They’ve grown — quickly — and remained cohesive working through a variety of structures. The final three songs of Journey Blind, which may or may not be side B, depending on where the vinyl puts “Lightning Cage,” present another turn, this time into more Sabbathian territory.

A doom band sounding like Sabbath? Not exactly news, but across “Ghosts of the Southern Front,” “Grand Deceivers” and the closing “Antediluvian,” Magic Circle seem to be on a campaign to redeem Tony Iommi‘s work post-Ian Gillan, and they make a convincing argument, whether it’s the steady pacing of “Ghosts of the Southern Front” or the highlight bass work DeTore brings to “Antediluvian.” And since this era of the genre progenitors coincides with the NWOBHM coming of age and even the birth of the thrash movement, it also makes sense in terms of the timeline in which Magic Circle are working throughout that they’d dip into such an influence.

The final three songs are almost an album unto themselves, but the straight-backed posture of “Grand Deceivers,” the chug and chorus of “Ghosts of the Southern Front” and the speedier takeoff that closes out “Antediluvian”‘s even-earlier Sabbathism mesh with Journey Blind‘s first four cuts in a way that maintains the flow of the record front to back. A considerable momentum is built across Journey Blind‘s span that makes it a quick listen, but the substance that Magic Circle put on offer isn’t to be discounted. Their second full-length outing goes beyond simply being a follow-up and pushes them into new stylistic ground that they conquer with boldness and confidence.

I have the pleasure today of hosting “The Damned Man” as a track premiere. Find it below, followed by more on the album, and please enjoy:

20 Buck Spin will round out its roster for 2015 with the release of Journey Blind, the triumphant sophomore LP from Boston-based quintet MAGIC CIRCLE. This year has already been the most productive and expansive year for the label, but Journey Blind will fit into your parents’ unwavering classic rock collection the same as it could be the hottest thing on your younger cousin’s latest playlist.

Following their self-titled debut which was well-received in metal and hardcore circles, MAGIC CIRCLE returns with forty-five minutes of dominant, pure heavy metal on Journey Blind, a record which sees the outfit doing what they do, but doing it even better. Self-produced and recorded by the band at guitarist CC’s The Pain Cave, the record surges with the viscosity a team of top-tier producers would be proud to back.

The cover art for Journey Blind is an unused piece dating to 1979 by legendary artist Joe Petagno (Motorhead, Mammoth Grinder, Autopsy) which has been properly fitted to this modern ripper which could have been captured three decades ago yet booms with a refreshed spirit to guide today’s misguided youth back to their unbeknownst roots. Devotees to the scriptures immotalized by 1980s Black Sabbath, 1980s Trouble, Pagan Altar, Saint Vitus and the like should not pass this one by.

20 Buck Spin will make MAGIC CIRCLE’s Journey Blind a reality on November 20th in CD and digital formats, with the vinyl to follow in mid-December or whenever the pressing plants can get their shit together.

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Mammatus, Sparkling Waters: Crisp, Clear and Refreshing

Posted in Reviews on November 9th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster


A quicker turnaround for Coastal Cali psych rockers Mammatus brings their fourth album, Sparkling Waters (on Spiritual Pajamas), just two years after their third, Heady Mental (review here). Reasonable by any stretch of the imagination, but it was six years between Heady Mental and its 2007 predecessor, The Coast Explodes, so worth noting. The Coast Explodes also featured a beach scene on its cover, though one tinted yellow either by sunset or manipulation, and had a cast of characters. True to the music on its four extended tracks — one per side on a 2LP — Sparkling Waters is more clearheaded.

Mammatus‘ latest work builds on the progressive turn they showcased on Heady Mental, but the trio of guitarist Nicholas Emmert, bassist Chris Freels and drummer Aaron Emmert still have undertones of the psychedelia that populated The Coast Explodes and their 2006 self-titled debut, though on “Sparkling Waters Part One” (22:04), it comes through not in lysergic jamming, but in a hypnotic repetition of Nicholas‘ guitar lead, sweetly melodic and captured with the utmost clarity by Phil Manley (Trans Am), who mixed Heady Mental and was brought in this time to produce. Since that clarity becomes such a defining feature of Mammatus‘ sound this time through, it seems only fair to tag the 74-minute Sparkling Waters as more prog than psych. In everything they do across these four pieces, there is a sense of poise and reason, from the aural sunrise at the beginning of “Sparkling Waters Part One” to the explosive finish of the fuzzier “Ornia,” which closes.

Between and including those two, Sparkling Waters is more joyous pilgrimage than slog by a wide margin, the Emmerts and Freels bringing the listener through a complex but naturalist wash much bolstered and fleshed out with synth that adds to the melodies of the guitar and fills some of the spaces cast open by the drums, which, along with Freels‘ bass tone, are themselves a highlight for the energy they bring to what in many hands would be simple repetition. “Sparkling Waters Part One” is both opener and longest track (immediate points) and it breaks roughly in half, its second linear build even more satisfying than the first for the context the first gives it. A foundation of keys and quiet drums swells in dreamy fashion as it moves ahead, and as they approach 15 minutes in even vocals seem to arrive (!) as part of the crashing cymbal waves, and finally, at about 16:40, the guitar stuns like a type-2 phaser shot and bolts outward to consume much of the track’s remaining five minutes with increasingly unhinged noodling.


I half expected “Sparkling Waters Part Two” (20:30) to pick up right where “Part One” finished, but while it has the same sampled ocean sounds, it fades in even on the digital version, marking a clear change in side that’s matched with a shift in intent as “Part Two” unfolds. Synth textures weave in and out of the first 12-plus minutes, Mammatus‘ otherworldly vibe taking various shapes across a trance-enducing span that, in the end — and by “the end,” I mean “with eight minutes still to go in the song” — is consumed by the arrival of a standalone guitar line. They finish with odd-time chugging, a long, long way from whence they came, even after the guitar started, but by the time they’ve gotten there, the conventions of songwriting are so far gone they’re easily forgotten. As it is technology I don’t understand, I have no choice but to call it magic.

Certainly the two-part title-track(s) should be a focal point in listening, but “The Elkhorn” (15:00) and “Ornia” (17:20) are an album unto themselves and showcase how willing Mammatus is to play to one side or another within their sound. “The Elkorn” is more intense initially than the bulk of the first or second part of “Sparkling Waters” and so brings Heady Mental to mind, since a major distinguishing factor between the newer material and the older is it’s more patient. An opening run of guitar and synth, bass and drums lead into more synthly travels, the keys taking hold as a major driving force before the halfway mark and, amid crowd noise, pushes into a more temperate movement of well-punctuated drums, lyric-less vocals, thicker distortion and slow-motion space rock. With about four minutes to go, the song essentially ends, and keys pick up and cap the track in a complete wash, gorgeous if somewhat unexpected.

There isn’t much left by the time they get to the last fade, but as ever, it’s getting there that’s the trip. And to finish out, “Ornia” more or less offers a summary not only of what Mammatus have done to this point on Sparkling Waters, but also to this point in their career. It’s graceful in how it plays out, and plenty progressive, but they also dig into thicker distortion, doomier rolling, vocals following the guitar, synth minimalism and, finally, a tap into the jammier style of their early work which, though definitely plotted, is an engaging final statement for Mammatus to make. Not only does it highlight their growth as a unit that they’ve shown all across these pieces, but that they haven’t forgotten where they started out sonically either. Its grand finish winds up making Sparkling Waters feel all the more refreshing, and that seems to be precisely what Mammatus had in mind. I wouldn’t speculate where they’ll go from here or when their next outing will arrive, but on Sparkling WatersMammatus sound like a band who want to keep moving forward, and hopefully they do.

Mammatus, Sparkling Waters (2015)

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