Review & Track Premiere: Green Meteor, Consumed by a Dying Sun

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on March 13th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

green-meteor-consumed-by-a-dying-sun

[Click play above to hear ‘Mirrored Parabola Theory’ from Green Meteor’s Consumed by a Dying Sun. Album out April 21 on Argonauta Records.]

From the abiding buzzsaw fuzz that permeates the five included tracks to the samples at the beginning of “Acute Emerald Elevation” and “Sleepless Lunar Dawn” to the comic book cover art that adorns the front cover to the density of groove as they roll out reefer riff after reefer riff, the intention behind Green Meteor‘s Consumed by a Dying Sun seems to be to tap into the raw roots of ’90s-style stoner rock. Fortunately, the Philadelphia four-piece bring a few crucial lessons of modernity with them along this trip through neo-retroism. I don’t recall even early Acid King being this blown-out, for example, and the tonal devouring here from first-names-only guitarists Amy and Leta (the latter also vocals) and the bass of Algar that’s shoved forward by Tony‘s drums does not forget to chew. It has teeth. And bite.

That proved to be the case last year when the band unveiled “Acute Emerald Elevation” (posted here) as a lead-in teaser prior to signing with Argonauta Records for the actual album release, and the same song does well on Consumed by a Dying Sun to let the listener know that while indeed they might be blasting off into space, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride getting there. The key to understanding the record’s utterly-manageable 32-minute run is realizing that Green Meteor are using the roughness of sound to their advantage, giving their aesthetic a garage-derived feel so that the Hawkwind-via-Monster Magnet thrust of the intro to the closing title-track seems as well to be playing off an Uncle Acid mindset in a manner that almost foreshadows the noise-soaked roller apex before the punkier last push of the record as a whole.

All of this happens quickly, but with immersion, and because Green Meteor are so tonally-centered — even Leta‘s voice seems to have been swallowed by the instruments surrounding — Consumed by a Dying Sun is able to work through its material while deceptively changing pace and the intentions of a given song. It is Green Meteor‘s first album, and it sounds like a first album in how the band seems to be working through the process of figuring out where they want to take their material and where they want their material to take them, but as that unfolds, they demonstrate a clear penchant for melding hooks and an underlying focus on songwriting that, while buried like the vocals, remains a present, consistent theme from “Acute Emerald Elevation” onward. Another manner in which Green Meteor prove loyal to the ’90s roots of stoner rock? It’s three minutes into the six-minute opener before the first verse starts.

It would seem to be as close to an eponymous cut as the band is willing to come, rounding out with repetitions of “green meteor” from Leta, who pushes her voice in a manner reminiscent of Stars that Move, and leading to “Sleepless Lunar Dawn” which is the longest track at 9:37 and a mid-paced swing that roughs up and blisses out Sleep-style grooving en route to a snare-mania from Tony that chills for its middle third before resuming in a kind of back-and-forth between languid flow and energetic uptick — intermittent thrusters; it happens — as it aligns planets for the more massively-riffed arrival of centerpiece “In the Shadow of Saturn.” It’s shorter at just over seven minutes, but “In the Shadow of Saturn” brims with addled purpose, and where “Sleepless Lunar Dawn” seems to grow impatient in its back half, here the foursome largely stick to the slow-oozing molasses from whence they begin. There’s a bit of kick here and there, but the primary focus is nod and that suits Green Meteor well at the beginning of what would likely be an LP’s side B.

“In the Shadow of Saturn” caps with radar ping that leads, on rhythm, into the uptempo start of “Mirrored Parabola Theory.” It’s the shortest inclusion at 3:34, and some of that might be due to pace alone, but as Leta finds her way into a memorable stretch ranting about a tilting hourglass — strange things are afoot, but science is happening — toward the end of the track, it’s also the most direct emphasis Green Meteor put on songwriting throughout Consumed by a Dying Sun, and it proves essential between the hypnotic gravitational field of “In the Shadow of Saturn” and the finale’s more blistering cosmic pulsations. Like a radar signal from space to let you know someone’s out there? Maybe. Might be a stretch. There’s telemetry from the probe that needs more analysis, but it’s important to consider that with “Mirrored Parabola Theory,” Green Meteor give clear notice to their listener that their purview includes more traditional structures as well as the kind of all-go explosiveness with which they choose to end “Consumed by a Dying Sun.”

In hindsight, they let you know it’s coming at the start of the track, but by the time it comes around again just past four minutes in, the molten midsection of the closer — a touch of Electric Wizard, more Acid King, more Sleep, lots of noise; no complaints — has melted consciousness away to the point where it’s legitimately an unexpected turn. That’s to the band’s advantage, certainly. They end on a final verse at full speed and an almost surprising amount of human presence amidst the onslaught, and wind up underscoring the primary are-my-speakers-blown wash of Consumed by a Dying Sun with the feeling that our species and the untamed vacuum can in fact coexist in their work. I won’t speculate on how Green Meteor might develop from here or the shifts they could make in aesthetic or which impulses will ultimately win out as they move forward, but Consumed by a Dying Sun deftly asserts honesty in its rawness and is all the more refreshing for that. As far as launch points go, theirs provides a suitable blast.

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Review & Track Premiere: The Devil and the Almighty Blues, II

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on March 10th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the-devil-and-the-almighty-blues-ii

[Click play above to stream ‘These are Old Hands’ from The Devil and the Almighty Blues’ new album, II, out March 17 on Blues for the Red Sun Records.]

As it should, the second full-length from Oslo five-piece The Devil and the Almighty Blues shows marked growth from its predecessor. The Norwegian outfit released their self-titled debut (review here) early in 2015 via Blues for the Red Sun Records (with distribution through Stickman), and the six-song II works quickly to build on the potential shown previously in a thick, smokey vibe of classic heavy rock, laid back jam-prone psychedelia and pervasive melancholy. The blues, in other words, indeed proves mighty, even if one might still hear the sorrowful roll of “North Road” and liken its vinyl-ready compression to Scandinavia’s still-pervasive retro movement.

In that second cut and pieces like 10-minute opener and longest inclusion (immediate points) “These are Old Hands,” “Low” and “How Strange the Silence,” The Devil and the Almighty Blues display a wider array of influences and seem to nod as much to the Rolling Stones as to Graveyard while drawing on the languidly open sensibilities of bands like ChildAll Them Witches or even Dwellers, if not directly than certainly through some measure of shared inspiration. The lineup of Arnt Andersen, Petter Svee, Kenneth Simonsen, Torgeir Waldemar Engen and Kim Skaug accomplishes this while enacting an immersive full-album flow that begins with “These are Old Hands” and does not let up across II‘s 47 minutes, offering patient execution and natural atmospherics through closer “Neptune Brothers” whether an individual part or an individual track is as brooding as “When the Light Dies” or as rocking as the finale itself.

That finale makes a fitting bookend to the start of “These are Old Hands,” which also finds The Devil and the Almighty Blues kicking out one of II‘s more upbeat thrusts. In context, and especially on repeat listens, “These are Old Hands” nonetheless does tremendous work in setting the tone for the rest of what follows — perhaps most notably in its blink-and-you-missed-them transitions and the fluidity with which it shifts between parts. Hypnotic but memorable in its underlying shuffle, the song crashes out after about four minutes in and eases its way into a subdued jam topped by warm lead guitar and kept in motion thanks to ride cymbal and a prevalent low-end rumble. A louder solo emerges at about the seven-minute mark, and The Devil and the Almighty Blues seem to have hit their peak by the time the next two minutes are up, but they draw back to the chorus to round out in a reinforcement of structure that lets the listener know right away they’re in capable hands. “North Road” and “When the Light Dies,” the pair that round out the presumed vinyl side A, bring further confirmation of the band’s control over what their sound does at any given moment.

Both halves of II will mirror each other in working from their longest track to their shortest, but with “North Road” and “When the Light Dies” particularly, the turn from one to the other is smooth, live-feeling and palpably organic, as though they were performed together in the studio in one take. There’s a volume swell toward the middle of “North Road” that’s the source of the Rolling Stones comparison above in the vocal cadence, but like “Neptune Brothers” still to come, it reminds somewhat of Oskar Cedermalm-era Greenleaf as well, even if the ultimate direction is different. And it is, as “North Road” draws down to guitar minimalism before noodling quietly into the start of “When the Light Dies,” the bluesiest single moment on II and most outwardly moody, but still not without some motion beneath. Unlike “Low” and “How Strange the Silence” to come on side B, which find a middle ground between one feel and the other, “When the Light Dies” jumps headfirst into spacious but emotionally-tinged jamming, marking a triumph all its own in character as it enriches the album’s breadth.

True, just about anything short of drone would feel like an uptick in energy after “When the Light Dies” — and that’s the point, make no mistake — but “Low” is one anyway, starting quiet and working over its 8:49 to enact the smoothest of II‘s builds, holding to a steady and slower tempo even as the band gets louder in another welcome demonstration of patience done right. Harmonized/layered guitar solos make it stand out all the more, accompanying and complementing the soulful vocals over a suitably weighted groove. Again, “Low” might be between the two sides represented alternately by “When the Light Dies” at the end of side A and “Neptune Brothers” at the end of side B, but The Devil and the Almighty Blues do well finding that niche in their own aesthetic spectrum. “How Strange the Silence” follows suit with more stellar guitar work and more direct initial tradeoffs between quiet and louder parts, moving into a less linear form in an effective structural expansion that remains consistent in vibe as it makes a tempo adjustment at 4:40 toward a more shuffling finish, turning its head from “Low” before it to “Neptune Brothers” after.

More likely it wasn’t written with that transitional intent, but it’s the key shift in side B’s fluidity and The Devil and the Almighty Blues make it with class and understated ceremony. A flurry of guitar leads and a cymbal wash cap “How Strange the Silence” and stick clicks count in the modern update to classic boogie of “Neptune Brothers,” the hook for which calls to mind The MC5 as well as the already-mentioned Greenleaf while stomping out its own place in the generations-spanning pantheon between them — something II as a whole does graciously in showing the band’s development over the last couple years and their growth and chemistry that still, encouragingly, seems to be taking shape around a broadening songwriting process. Like “These are Old Hands” before it, “Neptune Brothers” takes some time to chill itself out, but it’s not long before The Devil and the Almighty Blues are ending their second offering on a crisp and cohesive final rendition of the hook. By then, the album has made its impression on a variety of levels — conceptual, atmospheric, performance, etc. — but it’s worth noting that where one might’ve expected them to jam their way into oblivion in the closer, they instead finish tight, locked into a purposeful finale as if to convey to their audience that in fact they’re in no way done and have much more to say. In listening to II, one hopes that turns out to be precisely the case.

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Review & Track Premiere: Colour Haze, In Her Garden

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on March 9th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

colour haze in her garden

[Click play above to stream ‘Labyrinthe’ from Colour Haze’s new album, In Her Garden. CD is out this month with vinyl to follow in May, both via Elektrohasch.]

In part, it’s a question of scale. The 12th studio album from Munich-based trio Colour Haze, titled In Her Garden and featuring an array of tracks named for plant-life including “Black Lilly,” “Magnolia,” “Arbores,” “Lotus,” “Lavatera,” and so on, lands less than three full years after its predecessor, 2014’s To the Highest Gods We Know (review here) — they also had the live album, Live Vol. 1 – Europa Tournee 2015 (review here), out in 2016 — but in its sound and scope, it might have more in common in terms of presentation with the record before that, 2012’s She Said (review here). Like that offering, In Her Garden is a sprawling, 2LP affair — its 72 minutes fit on one CD, however, which She Said didn’t — rife with progressive forward steps on the part of the self-recording three-piece guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek, bassist Philipp Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald, who work with Jan Faszbender on modular synth, Rhodes, Hammond and, on the 63-second interlude “sdg I” and the nine-minute “Labyrinthe,” an arrangement of bass-clarinet, trombone and tuba.

Horns and wind at this point aren’t anything new for Colour Haze, and the inclusion of a string quartet arranged by Mathis Nitschke on “Lotus” will be familiar to anyone who encountered “Grace” from She Said or the closing title cut from To the Highest Gods We Know, but even in how these elements are integrated, In Her Garden demonstrates continued growth on the part of Colour Haze who, 22 years on from making their debut with 1995’s Chopping Machine (discussed here), absolutely refuse to stagnate on any creative level. To be clear, In Her Garden is the most progressive Colour Haze offering to-date, and whether that’s heard in the unabashedly joyous bounce of “Lotus,” blending acoustics and electrics along with the aforementioned strings, or the earlier fuzz immersion of “Lavatera,” or the noodling in “Magnolia” that later receives an echo backed by dream-toned Rhodes in “sdg II,” it is true of the complete front-to-back experience of the 13-track entirety.

Another factor drawing comparison between In Her Garden and She Said over To the Highest Gods We Know is the basic length. The 2012 album was a massive 81 minutes long — as noted, too much for a single CD — where its follow-up was just 40. With that came more stripped-down ideas built off what She Said accomplished before it, and likewise, In Her Garden continues the movement forward from To the Highest Gods We Know. Its LPs divide into an even 36 minutes each, and each component LP into roughly even sides of about 18 minutes apiece. Only side A has four tracks, the rest have three, and each side begins with an intro/interlude of its own. In the case of side A, that’s the semi-title-track “Into Her Garden,” but the rest are given the lowercase initials “sdg” and offered as “sdg I,” a minute of horn warmup and clarinet melody, the 1:49 “sdg II,” which as noted brings back the standout progression of “Magnolia,” and finally the 1:55 “sdg III” an acoustic/sitar (the latter performed by Mario Oberpucher) run that one only wishes went on longer as it leads the way into the closing duo of “Skydancer” and “Skydance.”

These short pieces do much to enhance the atmosphere and structure of In Her Garden as a whole, whether it’s providing a sneaky foreshadow of things to come or reinforcement tying together what’s already happened, but from Faszbender‘s organ work on “Lavatera” to Koglek‘s shimmering guitar lead “Arbores” to the additional percussion contributed by Robert Schoosleitner, formerly of Elektrohasch jammers Been Obscene, the album brims with a diversity befitting its garden theme — a variety of different species that, when arranged as impeccably as they are, create something that gives a sense of wholeness and a sense of beauty that, individually, each species could not. Moving between more traditional structures early in “Black Lilly,” “Magnolia” and “Arbores” into more jam-based ideas like 11-minute side B/LP1 closer “Islands,” which follows the swirling “Lavatera” and holds back its vocals until nearly eight minutes in, Colour Haze enact a fluidity often imitated but still distinctly their own, and while each song seems to be precisely placed just where it needs to be to maximize symmetry, instrumental or vocalized, to put on In Her Garden and listen front-to-back on CD or digital, the flow between tracks is practically seamless.

colour haze in her garden booklet

Granted, it shouldn’t be especially surprising that a group more than two decades into their career knows how to make songs work well next to each other, and it’s true that some of the aspects of In Her Garden show themselves to be signature Colour Haze, whether it’s the riff that appears in the apex of “Skydance” as the album moves toward its conclusion, the unmatched class and instrumental chemistry between KoglekMerwald and Rasthofer or the live feel between the three of them that underscores even the broadest of arrangements, on side C’s horn-laden “Labyrinthe” or the subsequent, string-infused “Lotus.” None of this is to In Her Garden‘s detriment. Rather, even as the second LP takes its cue from “Islands” and moves away somewhat — “Lotus” aside — from the garden theme and plant-based titles, it’s the core strength of Colour Haze‘s style giving them the foundation on which to build their arrangements.

The pair of “Labyrinthe” and “Lotus” most outwardly emphasize this, but it’s true to varying degrees of “Lavatera” and “Islands,” of “Black Lilly,” “Magnolia” and “Arbores,” and of “Skydancer” and “Skydance” as well — the whole record does it, and then finds further enrichment through the intro to each LP side. One can listen to the Rhodes on “sdg II,” or hear the patient drawl of horns in “Labyrinthe” or the swing in “Black Lilly” and point to individual achievements that demonstrate Colour Haze‘s relentless, continual evolution of ideas, but with In Her Garden the more appropriate way to look at it is with the resounding affect of the entirety. It’s not just about one song. It’s about the conversation of songs, and how they interact with each other. “Lotus,” which wants only for the inclusion of a full nine-part harmony chorus in its finish, nonetheless provides a wonderful crescendo in its bouncing apex, but it’s not just for itself — it’s for “Labyrinthe” before it and the closing duo still to come. Each cut feels an effect from its surroundings, and the whole experience of In Her Garden becomes a world that lets the listener come inside and wander as they will, or just sit quietly and let these special moments wash over.

I feign no objectivity when it comes to this band or their output. I am a fan and when I put on In Her Garden to bask in the winding rhythm of “Magnolia,” the keys on “Skydancer” or the glorious pull of “Lotus,” I hear them with a fan’s ears and experience a fan’s joy in returning to them. That said, In Her Garden only provides further argument for why that’s the case in its concept and its memorable songcraft, and shows clearly why a generation of heavy psych rockers has worked so hard to capture a fraction of what makes the work of KoglekRasthofer and Merwald so continually and enduringly special. We’re now 13 years on from their self-titled LP (discussed here) and 11 from its 2006 follow-up, Tempel (discussed here), which in many ways have become defining outings for Colour Haze, but time has done nothing to dull either their aesthetic luster nor the will that drives them to create.

One can trace a line from earlier works like 1999’s Periscope, 2000’s CO2, 2001’s Ewige Blumenkraft (reissue review here) and 2003’s Los Sounds de Krauts — their first double-album — on through Colour Haze, Tempel, 2008’s All and into their latter-day works and find no point at which they did not push themselves to find new avenues to explore as players and writers. When one considers this body of work — the whole garden — Colour Haze become all the more a singular entity in Europe’s heavy underground as well as a defining presence within it, but even taken out of its context, In Her Garden not only stands up to the legacy behind it, but feels like just as much an invitation to those who’ve never heard the trio as it is the latest welcome return for longtime followers. Its warmth of tone, overall scope, melodic depth and thoughtful ambition ensure it is entirely Colour Haze‘s own and that its resonance will hold for years to come even as it stands tall and graceful among the best full-lengths of 2017. Recommended.

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Review & Track Premiere: Wounded Giant, Vae Victis

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on March 8th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Wounded-Giant-Vae-Victis

[Click play above to stream ‘Scum of the Earth’ by Wounded Giant. Vae Victis is out April 1 on STB Records.]

Translated from the Latin, the title of Wounded Giant‘s second long-player, Vae Victis, reads as ‘woe to the defeated.’ I’m not sure what contextually that might have to do with the image of Grigori Rasputin, whose wide-eyed glare haunts the mushroom-laden front cover of the regularly-topless Seattle band’s first full-length for STB Records, which arrives following their 2015 split with Goya (review here) on the same label and a self-released 2013 debut album, Lightning Medicine, unless they’re somehow making reference to the Russian Revolution, but if defeat is the theme throughout Vae Victis, the band seem to do an awful lot of conquering for it to work on a meta level.

Rather, from the nine-minute opening title-track — also the longest cut of the seven included (immediate points) — the three-piece stomp and chug their way triumphantly through a dense slog of riffly mud and Pacific Coast grode, gleefully coated in hesher grungus on the Matt Pike-schooled “Vae Victis” itself and all that follows, whether it’s the interlude “Emmanentize the Eschaton” with samples from the Jonestown death tape or the nodding groove they bring to the politically suspect and woefully catchy take on Devo‘s “Mongoloid” that closes. One does not imagine guitarist/vocalist Bobby James, bassist Dylan A. Rogers or drummer Alex Bytnar would be quick to claim any such victories unless perhaps the requisite trophy came coated in mud and had a statue on top flipping the bird, but the LP-limit-stretching 49-minute run of Vae Victis, produced by Billy Anderson and presented in STB‘s usual gorgeous array of limited and deluxe vinyl editions (one includes a ring), could easily put a few notches in its belt if it so chose.

To wit, Wounded Giant have their own nine-percent ABV beer courtesy of Oliver Brewing. Woe to your defeated liver.

The first line of the album? “I love corruption.” What unfolds from there in the title-cut — which includes its own translation — is a deceptive hook that arrives amid blown-out, riff-led sludge rock, somewhere between Sleep and High on Fire that establishes the tones but not necessarily the complete methodology or scope with which Wounded Giant will work on subsequent tracks. As an opener and accounting for roughly 20 percent of the album, though, its willful filth resounds amid all the drop-out-of-life proselytizing and increasingly harsh, noise-soaked paranoia, ending finally in a scream that gives way to the tom hits and rumble at the start of “Dystheist.”

Shorter, the second cut takes momentum from the end of “Vae Victis” and shoves it along via chugging guitar and double-kick from Bytnar, a more subdued vocal from James marking out a low-fuzzed verse that shifts into an explosive chorus, underlining an influence from thrash in its interplay between tension and release and leaving space in the second half for a guitar solo still too slow to call shredding but that gets the job done anyway and adds depth under the resurgent vocals as the apex hits.

An apparent drawdown is in the works, however, as the organ (or effects-guitar) of “Emmanentize the Eschaton” backs an even slower and even quieter launch for that four-plus-minute break, Wounded Giant moving toward the hypnotic perhaps in an effort to lull listeners into a false sense of security prior to the bludgeoning they’ll receive with centerpiece “Scum of the Earth” and “The Room of the Torch,” the two seven-minute slabs that follow. Either way, the Jonestown clips are manipulated for a suitably otherworldly feel and the ambience builds to some measure of payoff, though purposefully restrained.

Effectively so in making “Scum of the Earth” seem like a return to ground. Unless “Mongoloid” is a bonus track left off one or the other of the LP editions, I don’t know where the split between vinyl sides occurs, but presumably it’s “Scum of the Earth” starting side B, and if so, it seems fair to call the ensuing final four tracks of Vae Victis more straightforward than the first three, and as a (potential) second opener, “Scum of the Earth” sets that in motion. Rolling motion. Tense motion. Furious motion. The middle cut offers a hook and a payoff ending that make it a standout among its peer inclusions, again propelled by Bytnar‘s drumming, and the flow into the organ and tambourine intro of “The Room of the Torch,” over which James declares, “This is a love song,” before howling, is palpable; the groove of the subsequent track about as dug in as Wounded Giant get on their second outing. They execute it with a patience that seems far removed from “Dystheist,” but still maintain an energy especially in the later moments, the guitar working in some melody in a plotted lead over galloping kick and metallic winding basslines.

It comes apart at the end rather than claiming its ultimate victory — so close — but the slowdown into the post-Electric Wizard “Green Scar” is another marked win anyhow, with cleaner vocals and a grueling downer vibe that echoes some of what they did in the first half of the album without such a drastic departure in songwriting. As the last of the originals, “Green Scar” does right to finish with its chorus and a move into fading rumble and noise, as if to highlight the underlying core of structure that’s been at work on Vae Victis all along, if barely recognizable as such for the roughing-up it has received on an aesthetic level. “Mongoloid,” which was controversial upon its release in 1979, rounds out, and to their credit, Wounded Giant do well in recognizing what they can bring to its nodding rhythm tonally. I’m not sure they need it given the heavy lifting their own songs do in conveying their progression since the debut, but I doubt it’ll meet with much protest. Heavy Devo? Yeah, okay.

Across its two halves and six original inclusions, Vae Victis is quick to make a show of its corrosive aspects, but the ultimate story of the record is as much about what Wounded Giant accomplish in putting a spin on the churning semi-metal morass as it is about the thematic woes and defeats that may or may not outwardly define it. That duality can be heard in the interplay between songs on each side as well as in the fuckall that the trio proffer in their general attitude, but though it may seem incongruous at first, over repeat listens it provides Vae Victis with a depth that only makes the experience richer and more satisfying over a longer term. Wounded Giant are good at wallowing, in other words. They get sonic dirt under their fingernails and aren’t shy about putting it on display. And in so doing, they find a way to celebrate defeat without sacrificing the edge of loss amid the revelry.

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Review & Track Premiere: Mothership, High Strangeness

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on March 7th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

mothership-high-strangeness

[Click play above to stream ‘Helter Skelter’ by Mothership. High Strangeness is out March 17 on Ripple Music and Heavy Psych Sounds.]

Texas heavy rock trio hit a crucial moment with their third album. Their first two records, 2012’s self-titled debut (review here) and the aptly-named 2014 follow-up, Mothership II (review here), brought them to the fore of the then-emergent/now-dominant Ripple Music as one of the label’s best acts and the seeming inheritors of a Lone Star heavy rock legacy spanning decades from Bloodrock and ZZ Top to Dixie Witch and Blood of the Sun. Persistent touring at home and abroad has brought them to the forefront of the US underground and they’re hitting a point where their reputation for an on-stage energy blast is preceding them. Accordingly, it’s time for the trio of guitarist/vocalist Kelley Juett, bassist/vocalist Kyle Juett and drummer Judge Smith to step up and claim that place as their own.

Easier said than done, but this is the place where High Strangeness — the third Mothership full-length and second for Ripple, with a release in Europe via Heavy Psych Sounds — sees them. They have moved beyond the brash upstart position where they started, having collectively played a disruptor role as only a badass guitar-led outfit can, and while no doubt each subsequent tour introduces them to new ears and eyes, among a core audience of the converted, they’ve become more of a known, established quantity. They demonstrated last time out that their songwriting could take a multifaceted approach to classic-style heavy rock, working in elements of psychedelia at a whim and more measured execution, and much to its and the band’s benefit, High Strangeness follows suit in not only expanding their palette, but doing so with a more stripped-down, from-the-stage sound.

While the Adam Burke cover art might lead one to think High Strangeness is gearing toward maximum lushness with its depth of color and detail, its eight-track/33-minute run goes the other way almost entirely. True, the intro title-track and the later subdued instrumental interlude “Eternal Trip” dip into patient psych and offer listeners a stretch to chill out, but Mothership are much more about the raw charge in tracks like “Ride the Sun” — the second cut and a nigh-on-flawless nod to ’90s-style stoner rock à la Fu Manchu — the subsequent chugger “Midnight Express” or the six-plus-minute finale “Speed Dealer,” and the sound and vibe of the album bolsters that intention. Hooks remain a consistent factor in their work — “Midnight Express” is infectious, as is side A closer “Crown of Lies,” as is side B opener and not-at-all-a-Beatles-cover “Helter Skelter” and so on — but a noteworthy change in production method, working at Fire Station Studios in San Marcos, Texas, with Crypt Trip‘s Ryan Lee to record and mix (Tony Reed of Mos Generator mastered), as opposed to the first two LPs, which were produced by Kent Stump of Wo Fat, seems to be the conscious choice driving the change in the overarching feel.

mothership-photo-by-Andree-Brown

With distinct separation between the guitar, bass and drums, as well as some well-placed trades between the Juett brothers on vocals — perhaps best represented in the shift between the brief, penultimate “Wise Man” and “Speed Dealer” as High Strangeness rounds out — Mothership come across as professionally crisp but road-hardened, caked perhaps by the grit of the highways they’ve traveled. Kelley‘s solos on the galloping “Crown of Lies,” the motor-riffed “Ride the Sun” (in layers), snuck in toward the end of “Midnight Express,” etc., will likewise leave scorch marks as ever, but these too carry a rawer, more live impression. If Mothership are looking to represent what they do on tour in these tracks — and listening to the groove locked into at the end of “Helter Skelter,” it’s an easy argument to make that they are — then they’re doing it well. It sounds like a show one would want to catch.

And while there’s still an ‘album’ sensibility, as emphasized by “High Strangeness” itself at the outset — a hypnotic three-minute first impression the band righteously counteracts with the punch in the face of “Ride the Sun” — and the guitar-only spaciousness of “Eternal Trip” prior to the closing duo, it’s worth noting that the naturalistic feel of High Strangeness gives the Juetts and Smith an opportunity to highlight the efficiency in their songwriting in a way that their material simply hasn’t done before. Its 33-minute runtime is over 20 minutes shorter than was Mothership II, and so each track here does more work in crafting the spirit of the record, including those instrumental pieces, and while Mothership come across with fewer tonal frills than they have in the past, playing toward the organic roots of their approach suits them. They may not be upstarts anymore, but they’re still plenty brash.

It’s a wholly unpretentious front-to-back flow, asking next to nothing as far as indulgences and delivering on its early promises. As “Speed Dealer” rounds out — one would not say “winds down” for such a song — with its balance between speed and push and shouted vocals on top, rolling into its bigger-riffed second half, Mothership have found a way to continue their forward growth while driving toward this leaner modus. They could have gone either way and, to be perfectly honest, with the strength of their choruses they’d probably still come out successful in the end had they chosen a more grandiose path, but High Strangeness especially on repeat listens shows its maturity in making the exact moves it needs to make at exactly the times it needs to make them, and it would seem that Mothership — whose momentum carries right through each of these tracks and on to their next tour, recording, whatever it might be — have done exactly the same.

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Solace, Bird of Ill Omen: What Rough Beast

Posted in Reviews on March 6th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

solace bird of ill omen electric funeral

When New Jersey bringers-of-chaos Solace released what was then their first album in seven years in their third full-length, A.D. (review here), I referred to it as the beginning of “a new era” for the band. Wishful thinking on my part as an admitted fan of their work. True, A.D., which was issued by Small Stone, had been in the making since 2003’s 13 (discussed here) came out on MeteorCity, and across their 2005 split with Greatdayforup and 2007 The Black Black EP, the band weren’t completely silent — quite the opposite, actually; they also toured Europe as well during this time — and A.D. was hands-down the best album of 2010, but it was much more an ending than a beginning.

To wit, they headlined in 2012 at Days of the Doomed II (review here) in Cudahy, Wisconsin, playing what would be considered their final show until guitarists Tommy Southard and Justin Daniels and bassist Rob Hultz showed up at 2015’s Vultures of Volume II (review here) in Maryland with new Solace members, vocalist/keyboardist Justin Goins and drummer Tim Schoenleber, in replacement of first-name-only singer Jason and drummer Kenny Lund. Even for Solace, who’d lived for years under the slogan “Die Drunk” and set their own standard for balancing unhinged sensibilities with some of the rawest heavy rock/metal performances one could hope to find in the US underground, it was unanticipated. By then, A.D. was already half a decade old. Southard had gone on to release outings with the malevolently, violently sludged supergroup The Disease ConceptHultz had joined doom legends Trouble in Chicago, and a Solace return didn’t seem the slightest bit likely.

Not gonna happen? Never gonna happen? Should’ve seen it coming all along.

The first studio offering from this still-fresh incarnation of Solace, who have been gigging periodically since that Vultures of Volume appearance, comes a somehow-fitting seven years after A.D., and is a limited-to-100-copies cassette single with just two tracks: the original “Bird of Ill Omen” and a cover of Black Sabbath‘s classic “Electric Funeral” from 1970’s metal-founding landmark Paranoid. Pressed through a newly-minted self-releasing Black Black Records and streaming nowhere, it has one song per side, inkjet-printed cover art, oldschool assembly in the spirit of Solace‘s punker roots, and a sound that, despite the personnel shifts, the prominent inclusion of Goins‘ keys alongside the guitars of Southard and Daniels and the passage of time between, remains indelibly the band’s own.

Production is rawer than was A.D., which even at its meanest was awash in careful layering and vigorous assembly, but they’re in there. It’s Solace. Now 17 years out from their 2000 debut, Further, 20 years removed from their first demo work, and even longer past their roots in Hultz and Southard‘s prior outfit, Godspeed — in which Schoenleber also played — Solace make the most unpretentious of returns, perhaps a bit testing the waters ahead of more work to come, or perhaps setting themselves up for another prolonged absence. If time has proven anything futile, it’s trying to predict what they might do next, but the fact that the tape exists at all speaks to a general desire toward activity, and Bird of Ill Omen b/w Electric Funeral finds them slamming home the notion of who they are as a band with characteristic intensity, volume, and unbridled rhythmic force. To be fair, I don’t think they could have it any other way if they wanted to, but clearly they don’t want to.

solace

Obviously, between the two inclusions, “Bird of Ill Omen” itself is the greater point of interest on the tape. That’s not to take away from the Sabbath cover — they do well reinterpreting the track in a manner that gives Goins further opportunity to make an impression on vocals and keys, and move from a mellow, brooding start to a more brash finish, keeping the core piece recognizable while putting their own stamp on it as much as anyone ever could — but in terms of telling the tale of who Solace are circa 2017, it’s “Bird of Ill Omen” doing that work on a songwriting level. It begins at a smooth, moody pace that finds picks up to a more traditionally-doomed bridge and chorus, the vocals adding to the build in progress as they make their way through lyrics that reference Yeats‘ “Second Coming” and marry it to further poetry in lines like, “Any you will know that a life is but the breadth of a stone’s throw/That a hanged man’s eye sees nothing in the dark of the belly of a starved crow.” Not exactly spare, but effectively proclaimed to enhance the atmosphere alongside the steady, forward push from Schoenleber and Hultz, and still giving room for peppered-in guitar leads.

Some backing screams add fervor to the hook and they shift into post-Sabbath shuffle with the organ forward in the mix ahead of dual-harmonized solos over low-end chug, and make their way back through another Southard lead and into final verse and chorus to finish out “Bird of Ill Omen” clean, true to structure, but right on the edge of sounding like it’s about to come apart at the seams and never actually doing so — the long-established specialty of Solace, who, make no mistake, are in complete control of the proceedings the entire time, on “Bird of Ill Omen” and in the noisy apex of “Electric Funeral” on the other side of the tape, which seems at its start to make an instrument of the analog hiss as it trades the verses between the left and right channels. It goes from whispers to full-on shouts and instrumental volume follows suit, but by the time they get louder in the second half, they’ve already made their mark on “Electric Funeral,” and they only highlight the point when they drop back down to the percussion-inclusive, more-“Planet Caravan” vibe once again for the final verse, ending with a slowed-down-but-full-volume last push to cap the tape.

Solace had already proved on stage that they would be able to keep going without Jason or Lund, and in the spirit of a classic demo tape, Bird of Ill Omen accomplishes the same for a studio incarnation of the band. Does that mean they’re going to set immediately to work on a follow-up long-player, that one is going to materialize before the end of 2017, or 2018, or 2019, and mark the beginning of an era in which they reap the acclaim they’ve long since been due? Hell if I know. They’re committed to contributing a track to Magnetic Eye Records‘ upcoming Pink Floyd tribute, The Wall [Redux], and they have a few shows laid out ahead of them, but for anyone to speculate long-term about what Solace might do, the simple fact that the band even exists at this point undercuts that completely. 20-plus years on from their launch, Solace are back with a new recording and they’ve found a way to move themselves forward as a group should choice and circumstance allow them to do so. For a two-song cassette to communicate that as clearly as does Bird of Ill Omen seems like plenty to ask. Let the rest happen as it will.

Solace, Live at Vultures of Volume II

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My Sleeping Karma, Mela Ananda – Live: Blissful Gathering

Posted in Reviews on March 3rd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

my-sleeping-karma-mela-anada-live

It’s now been about 11 years since Bavarian heavy psych outfit My Sleeping Karma made their self-titled debut on Elektrohasch Schallplatten. One can recall getting that album from the label, with its mostly-white cover, its Eastern inflections, and what would turn out to be a nascent version of their approach that subsequently incorporated themes from Hinduism and Buddhism, drop the idea of vocals entirely, and greatly expand the sonic palette overall while remaining vigilantly consistent in its flow. From 2008’s Satya (review here) onward, My Sleeping Karma have become a considerable presence in the European underground because they’ve proven themselves able to foster their sound into something and progressive and individualized without letting that core groove slip away. Their growth can be charted across 2010’s Tri (review here), 2012’s Soma (review here) — which found them releasing through Napalm Records for the first time — and 2015’s Moksha (review here), which pushed them beyond limitations of genre in a way both natural and driven by an underlying consciousness.

But even that happened while My Sleeping Karma sounded like My Sleeping Karma, and as they’ve come into their own over their years, they’ve begun to have an influence on other acts around them, particularly the psych-jam sphere — though to my ears much of what they do has always carried over as more meticulous in tone and structure, however based in jams it might initially be. As such, a live album is probably overdue, and the arrival of Mela Ananda – Live via Napalm is most welcome in how it provides a glimpse of what the experience might be like of watching them play — sadly and more than a bit to my shame, I’ve never had the chance to do so — and how it spans their catalog to highlight their evolution. Unsurprisingly, it flows like mad.

Accompanied in its digipak form by a bonus DVD of the band’s Rockpalast performance, Mela Ananda – Live rightly keeps Moksha in focus. The cover art by Sebastian Jerke alludes to that album as well with a return of the horn-throwing Ganesha that appeared on its front, though the position of that character on a stage with a band before a crowd of freaks and aliens also speaks directly to the idea of performance and the title here, which reportedly translates to “a gathering of bliss.” Fair enough for the four-piece of guitarist Seppi, bassist Matte, drummer Steffen and keyboardist Norman, who’ve made spiritualism and the exploration thereof through music central to My Sleeping Karma since they first set out on their path, but Mela Ananda – Live also gives the band a showcase to let their audience realize how steady their output has been over the last decade-plus.

my sleeping karma

I don’t know if it’s comprised of one recorded evening-with or multiple gigs, but the 10-song/69-minute offering would seem to find them at the top of their game — at least to-date. As Moksha opener “Prithvi” begins here, they construct a momentum that carries through the set with a fluidity that’s striking in how akin it is to their studio work. Because their tones have always been so smooth, and have only grown more so over time, it wouldn’t seem unreasonable to think they’d have a harsher edge in a live setting, but though “23 Enigma” from the self-titled — here listed as “Enigma 42” — builds to a weightier thrust as closer “Hymn 72” from the same record also will at the end of the show, both it and “Glow 11” — which follows and appeared on the self-titled as well as Soma  demonstrate the patience that has emerged in My Sleeping Karma‘s aesthetic.

Their delivery is energetic and all the more able to hold the crowd rapt for that, but they don’t lose sight of the immersive aspects of what they do either; the entrancing way in which the bass sets the foundation for the guitar and keys in the memorable “Ephedra,” or how Tri opener “Brahama” so gracefully unfolds its peaks and valleys. “Vayu” and “Akasha” represent Moksha well back to back, and the turns that follow into “Brahama,” “Psilocybe” (from Soma) and the penultimate “Tamas” (from Tri) bask in the molten naturalism that has become, in many ways, the defining hallmark of My Sleeping Karma around which their evolution has taken place.

Granted, this probably shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who’s followed them for a stretch of time, but being their first live recording, it’s a new context in which to hear their songs interact with each other. Even “Hymn 72,” which follows the band thanking the audience (off-mic) and seemingly coming back out for an encore, doesn’t feel out of place with its more hurried, straightforward push. My Sleeping Karma may have developed considerably since the self-titled was released, but while Moksha and Soma were more progressive in their outward impression and that seems to be the direction they’ll keep moving, there’s further emphasis in Mela Ananda – Live of just how essential their beginning was in making that happen.

They’ve proven over the last 10 years to be one of Europe’s most forward-thinking heavy psych bands, and gained plenty of due acclaim as a result, so even if one wants to level the live-album-as-fan-piece accusation at this release, it seems to me to be well earned on their part both in celebration of what they’ve accomplished to this point and as a representation of how they view their own material, which only deepens the understanding of the listener in kind. One doesn’t necessarily want to venture a solid guess at what might come next from them, but if Mela Ananda – Live makes anything plain, it’s how signature My Sleeping Karma‘s sound is, and how committed they are to evolving it with sincerity, atmosphere and a continuing sense of adventure.

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Rozamov, This Mortal Road: Beating a Path

Posted in Reviews on March 2nd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

rozamov this mortal road

Consuming in its atmospheric darkness and vicious in intent, the debut album from Boston trio Rozamov arrives not without the ground suitably prepared. Actually, it’s been something of a wait. Founded in 2011 by the trio appearing here of guitarist/vocalist Matt Iacovelli (also piano), bassist/vocalist/noisemaker Tom Corino (also of Kind) and drummer Will Hendrix (since replaced by Jeff Landry), as well as guitarist Liz Walshak, they would quickly turn around two EPs, a self-titled and Of Gods and Flesh, in 2012 and 2013, offering heavy-toned crusher riffs with a thrashy edge and a nascent undertone of doom.

It didn’t seem unreasonable to think a full-length would follow soon after, but Rozamov took something of a turn at that point. They parted ways with Walshak (now in Sea) and undertook their first real stretch of touring. I don’t know what other work they were doing, but by the time 2015 came around and they released their cross-coastal split 7″ with L.A.’s Deathkings (review here), they were a different band. Still heavy, still nasty, but driven in a post-sludge direction in a new way and one that, excitingly, was more their own than what they’d shown on their earliest work. As their first long-player, This Mortal Road lands via Battleground Records and Dullest Records with five tracks/40 minutes that draw that line further out to a new point in their longer-term progression. It has been a while in the making, but it’s a pivotal declaration from Rozamov of who they are as a band, and it comes through loud and clear in these songs. Emphasis on loud.

With a recording and mix by Jon Taft at New Alliance Audio and mastering by Nick Z. at New Alliance East Mastering, This Mortal Road seethes with a particularly New England-style anger and intensity. It is bookended by its two longest pieces in the opening title-track (10:49) and closer “Inhumation” (11:29), and finds a sense of variety in switching between Iacovelli‘s shouts and cleaner, post-Oborn howls, and Corino‘s shouts, which particularly on the rolling second cut “Wind Scorpion” remind of Rwake‘s poetic extremity. There is precious little letup, as “This Mortal Road” makes plain at the outset, beginning almost like the listener got there late with an unfolding mid-paced intro that leads the way into the first verse, cleaner-sung than much of what will follow and thoroughly doomed.

At about three minutes in, the roll-and-rumble comes to a halt and they turn to a quieter but still tense stretch of guitar and either keys or guitar effects leading to an instrumental midsection that gradually, patiently, brings them around to the opener’s grueling, shouted apex, in which the full impact of their churn really begins to show itself, perhaps as a precursor to “Wind Scorpion,” which is marked out by Hendrix‘s tortured thud and the play between the bass — which, on a tonal level, feels like it might just bury us all — and the airier impulses of the guitar.

rozamov-photo-by_Reid_Haithcock

When they hit into a stop, as they do several times in the verse, I don’t care what speaker you’re listening on, it sounds like it’s about to blow. Vocals are shouted with a sense of the space in the room in which they were recorded, but not necessarily buried in the mix for effect, and as “Wind Scorpion” passes its midpoint, Corino and Iacovelli seem to come together on vocals in a moment of extra-righteous malevolence, transitioning into a slow-motion nod drawn to more resonant thudding and a plotted but effective layered-in lead that rounds out. They cap side A with a final chug that, in the context of the lurch and push before it, feels almost humorous in its understatement.

It’s important to note that while This Mortal Road is unquestionably structured to break into two sides, as mentioned above, the flow front-to-back is linear and the resulting full-album feel palpable. Listening digitally or on CD, there’s a quick stop between “Wind Scorpion” and the subsequent “Serpent Cult,” which brings back the clean vocals, but in their order as much as in how “Serpent Cult” feeds into the two-minute interlude “Swallowed and Lost” and that feeds into the finale, Rozamov do well in creating an immersive experience — think Steve Buscemi in a woodchipper, you children of the ’90s — across the presentation of the record as a whole, which is something that, as a newer and less mature outfit, they probably wouldn’t have been able to do.

“Serpent Cult” proves a worthy centerpiece of the tracklist as it oozes forth to execute its seven minutes of hellscaping, and though its instrumental aspects are thoroughly, persistently sludged, the shifts in vocal approach offer diversity both on their own and in relation to “Wind Scorpion” before it. Vague speech, either sampled or spoken, accompanies the piano of “Swallowed and Lost,” and the movement into “Inhumation” — a title that brings to mind some lost death metal band from either Florida or New York — comes via a brief foreboding drone. Fittingly enough, “Inhumation” is the darkest, most outwardly brutal inclusion on This Mortal Road, making its way toward a crawl in its second half that seems bent on tearing itself apart from about its seventh minute onward.

Noble, and I’m not sure how else Rozamov might’ve ended the album other than with the noise and feedback they do, but it follows a churning roll into the bleakest sphere the band has yet to occupy, as though they were forcibly willing themselves to be heavier, meaner, rawer. That impression, savage as it turns out to be in the actual listening experience, is another sign of how much they’ve grown, and while This Mortal Road was recorded over a span of months, the obvious efforts Rozamov have put into crafting their aesthetic with it can be heard in the overarching cohesiveness of purpose in the songs. In other words, it took a while for the band to realize This Mortal Road, but This Mortal Road seems to be all the more realized for that, and as their debut, it strikes with deceptive efficiency and poise. Is it possible for something so harsh to be progressive? One gets the sense that as Rozamov continue forward, they’re setting themselves up to pursue an answer.

Rozamov, This Mortal Road (2017)

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