Review & Full Album Premiere: Firebreather, Firebreather

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

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[Click play above to stream Firebreather’s self-titled debut in its entirety. Album is out Friday, Oct. 13, via Suicide Records. Tour dates posted here.]

During their decade together, Sweden’s Galvano grew increasingly progressive in their delivery of semi-sludged metal, such that the chugging of their 2015 swansong, Trail of the Serpent, found them more in line with bands like The Ocean than the Black Cobra-style thrust proffered by their prior 2012 debut, Two Titans. Aligned to Candlelight, that two-piece was led by guitarist/vocalist Mattias Nööjd and would seem to have come to an end sometime after touring with Snailking and Zaum in Autumn 2015.

Nööjd resurfaces in Firebreather alongside bassist Kyle Pitcher and drummer Tommy Hanning, and in terms of relating to his past songwriting, it would seem he’s made clear efforts to get back to basics: pummel, tone, and push. Firebreather‘s self-titled debut runs a bone-crunching but totally manageable 33 minutes. Its four songs — “Fire Foretold” (7:09), “Emerald Eyes” (7:42), “The Ice Lord” (6:13) and “Release the Lava” (11:34) — split neatly into two vinyl sides, and the whole affair is somewhat unassuming on the surface. But just as the deep-toned Adam Burke cover art carries such a sense of illumination in darkness — just what fire has been lit in that cave? — so too does Firebreather‘s material soon unveil the breadth of its threat in the push and gallop that takes hold after the wind-swirl and nodding intro to “Fire Foretold,” Pitcher‘s bass leading a charge that, particularly when Hanning‘s steady snare joins and Nööjd adds his guttural vocals to start the first verse, feels almost singularly derived from High on Fire.

But not just any High on Fire, and not just any derivation. Early High on Fire. High on Fire at their most marauding, when the notion of taking filthy sludge tones and making them do things that only Celtic Frost and Slayer might otherwise dare was a novelty. This era — begun with their 1999 self-titled demo and continued onto 2000’s The Art of Self-Defense and 2002’s Surrounded by Thieves — is recognizable in the speedy immediacy of “Fire Foretold” as well as the lurching buildup that begins around the midpoint of “The Ice Lord,” and Nööjd‘s vocals are a big part of it, recalling pre-melody Matt Pike telling tales of monsters and conquests through material material that seems so violent one almost doesn’t notice how catchy it is; hello, “Emerald Eyes.” It’s more than just Nööjd‘s approach to singing though.

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In the structure of the lyrics and the rhythm of their delivery, one can hear it, and in the guitar and bass tones as well. These latter could be likened to a dull battle axe. That sounds like it’s not a compliment — wouldn’t one want to be sharp? — but if we keep with Firebreather in terms of representing a take on the aesthetic of formative High on Fire, the idea of the blade being dulled is crucial. A sharp blade cuts cleanly. It slices through: one swing. Swoop, done. It’s fresh, crisp. Maybe unused. A dull battle axe, on the other hand, maybe has a chip in one side of its blade from the neckbone of an enemy. It does not cut cleanly. When it cuts, it has to tear into chunks of raw meat its chosen target. The process is bloody, messy, full of gore. And the difference is one could argue High on Fire have become more and more sharpened over time, but in interpreting their influence on this self-titled, Firebreather dig back to the nastier, rounded edges that once so brutally cleaved the skulls of the unsuspecting.

Whether that’s done in the thud-and-churn in which “Emerald Eyes” is resolved or the broader epic-style storytelling that takes place across the fluid tempo shifts of “Release the Lava,” it’s a spirit Firebreather bring to life with marked purpose and a suitably righteous insistence, and despite the clear focus as regards their chief point of inspiration, their songs are not without an identity of their own. Particularly with the closer’s more patient delivery, rolling through its first two and a half minutes before the drums drop out to let the central riff be introduced and the first verse built toward, Nööjd, Pitcher and Hanning begin the process of carving out their niche, which includes some subtle, perhaps nascent use of melody in the still-from-the-gut shouted vocals that on “Fire Foretold” or “Emerald Eyes” hardly seemed to be a consideration despite layering in the hooks.

How Firebreather might continue to develop and distinguish themselves from their chief influence and from Nööjd‘s past efforts in Galvano, their debut presents a clear stylistic vision and intent — which is to say that the material doesn’t at all feel like it just stumbled into this sound. Rather, like a hilltop declaration of war, Firebreather‘s Firebreather sets forth with bludgeonry in mind and benefits from the knowledge of how to make it happen. It is the underlying memorability that comes through in the band’s songwriting, however, that will most let them flourish in the years and releases to come, and one hopes that as they storm the countryside on horseback spattering brain matter in their wake they remember that craft is the handle of the axe they so capably wield here.

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Review & Full Album Premiere: Turn Me on Dead Man, Heavymetal Mothership

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

Turn-Me-on-Dead-Man-Heavymetal-Mothership

[Click play above to stream Turn Me on Dead Man’s Heavymetal Mothership in its entirety. Album is out Oct. 13 via Heavy Psych Sounds.]

Long associates of Jello Biafra‘s Alternative Tentacles imprint, space rocking outfit Turn Me on Dead Man make their debut on Heavy Psych Sounds with Heavymetal Mothership, their fifth overall full-length. Their moniker of course is a reference to the backmasked Beatles message said to be in “Revolution No. 9” as a hidden clue to the alleged death of Paul McCartney, and sure enough there’s plenty of classically psychedelic elements to their sound, but for anyone who’s never encountered them before — one recalls their colorful debut, God Bless the Electric Freak, and is surprised to see it came out 12 years ago in 2005 — the title of the album actually does much more work in conveying the identity of its own sound, because while the San Francisco-based troupe have plenty of slippery trippery happening from launchpoint “Vimana” down through the 11-track/37-minute cosmic offering, there’s an underlying crunch to their fuzz and to their rhythms as well, and they never truly seem to let go of the notion of structure.

That’s hardly a drawback. Rather, “Vimana” sets a catchy tone on which cuts like the subsequent “Asteroid 9,” “Maharishi,” “Master Planet + Mother Star + Secret Moon” and the languid-drawling-into-thrash-galloping “White Slave/Black Master” only build, and elsewhere, it’s pieces like “Diamond Endless,” the effects-coated thrust of “Mind of Oz,” the watery and synth-laden centerpiece “Monolith 1971” and the purely space-driven closer “Room 237” that provide the corresponding freakout sensibility; a willingness to get weird, get weirder, and finally, get weirdest, that pits Turn Me on Dead Man in line for stellar alignment that finds their Heavymetal Mothership running at full warp speed, bearing four mark 20.

And while we’re keeping to vaguely Star Trek-derived starship references (frankly, one is amazed no one has captained a U.S.S. Lennon, registration #NCC-1967, but that’s besides the point), it’s worth noting that Turn Me on Dead Man are fully crewed and then some. Around the core tableau of guitarist, vocalist, bassist, synthesist and noisemaker Mykill Ziggy Minucci, guitarist Nick Doom, drummer/percussionist/vocalist Christopher Melville Lyman and bassist Attis Ngo — the latter also credited with keys on ninth cut “Hologram Universe”; and who seems to be out of the band since Heavymetal Mothership was recorded in 2015, perhaps replaced by Jeff Vengeance — a range of guests are employed on vocals, percussion, keys, bouzouki, and so on. Perhaps it’s best just to cut and paste the full list, as it is extensive:

Chris “Dr.” Fantasy: synthesizers on “Room 237” and “White Slave Black Master”
Scott Reategui Richards: bass on “Master Planet”
Kati Williams: violin on “Forest Damask”
Aaron John Gregory: bouzouki on “Cosmo Nymph”
Steve “Robot Speak” Taormina: chaos and noise on “Room 237”
Jonsey Daysleeper: keys on “Floating In Zen,” “Diamond Endless,” and “Maharishi”
Lith Amenti: vocals on “Floating in Zen”
Mike Thompson: percussion on “Hologram Universe”
Kiyoko Stella: vocals on “Cosmo Nymph” and “Maharishi”

So in terms of personnel, it’s more than twice as many guest spots as actual full-time band members appearing throughout the album. Can only hope the Mothership has a nice lounge area with a vending machine. Perhaps even more crucially, what results from all this flux across the still-manageable span of the record’s two sides is a rife-with-spaciousness feeling of variety that makes almost each track have its own underlying persona. Songs like “Asteroid 9,” “White Slave Black Master” and “Forest Damask” tie into the central notion of sonic dualism hinted at in the title — more often than not, heavy metal and space rock or funk (with which a mothership might also be associated) are thought of as separate aesthetic entities — but even within these, there’s a diversity of approach that becomes utterly crucial to the overarching impression of the material. And whether it’s the taut, lead-topped thrust of bliss in the middle of “Maharishi” or the toms beneath the outward, semi-post-rocking reach of “Diamond Endless,” Turn Me on Dead Man successfully execute this sonic breadth while balancing experimentalism and accessibility such that they never seem to be lost in the wash they’re creating. At times — looking at you, “Hologram Universe” — this is a genuine accomplishment.

Something that Turn Me on Dead Man seem to turn to their advantage in this, however, is the fact that individual songs are short. “Hologram Universe?” Yeah, it’s got keys, effects-soaked guitar strum, slow-freakout vibes and all that. It’s also about 75 seconds long. “Mind of Oz” cuts itself open and bleeds catchy acid, but it’s done in 2:22, and though “Forest Damask” has a somewhat farther-gone spirit to it, and is a little darker in its atmosphere as the longest inclusion, its listener immersion is enacted and gone in 4:42. The early work of Nebula comes to mind as a touchstone when thinking of a group so skillfully balancing songwriting and lysergics, and Turn Me on Dead Man are willful in their intention to push deeper into uncharted sectors. Needless to say, stellar cartographers will be thrilled, but moreover — and this is the real point at which Heavymetal Mothership finds its ultimate triumph — there’s a flow between the songs such that, as they bounce from one idea and fade it into the next, bring in different players to build out the songs and find themselves in these unknown positions in the galaxy, they come across as no more disjointed than they mean to be.

Diversity of approach, rather, is one of Heavymetal Mothership‘s great strengths, and the songs the album contains become like psychedelic snippets showing the places one can travel at the speed of thought. Like their underrated labelmates in Farflung, or like some of what White Hills and younger-days Monster Magnet were able to conjure in their own halls of space-worship, Turn Me on Dead Man provide sure guidance the whole way through Heavymetal Mothership, and if one thinks of recently-floated post-Roddenberryan notions of astrophysics and biology as one, travel by spores, etc., then it’s all the more fitting that Heavymetal Mothership sounds shroomy as fuck. If you can get on board, you’re in for a hell of a ride.

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Radio Moscow, New Beginnings: Burn the Ground, Torch the Cosmos

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

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If you don’t already know Radio Moscow are one of the best and most vital bands currently boogieing their way around the planet, you’ve probably never seen them live. It’s cool — sometimes it’s hard to get out and there will hopefully be many more opportunities for you to do so, but the truth of the matter is that when it comes to on-stage energy, presence and delivery of classic heavy rock, frenetically cast into a one-of-a-kind bluesy shuffle, there’s no one who does it better than the San Diego-based three-piece of founding guitarist/vocalist Parker Griggs, bassist Anthony Meier (also Sacri Monti) and drummer Paul Marrone (also PsicomagiaBirth). They’ve had a tumultuous history to bring them to where they are, casting a wide influence second perhaps only to Earthless over the West Coast heavy boom of recent years, but as Griggs debuted the lineup with Meier and Marrone on 2014’s Magical Dirt (review here), it was clearly the start of a new era for Radio Moscow as a whole.

Their fifth album overall and first following a label change from Alive Records to Century Media — significant as the former had issued everything they’d done up to this point, from their 2007 self-titled debut through 2016’s Live! in California 2LP — New Beginnings continues their forward push into max-impact rock and blues with 10 new tracks and just under 40 minutes of genuine, bona fide scorch the likes of which, again, most other bands simply would not be able to conjure. Griggs‘ history of helming Radio Moscow recordings goes back to the early demos that were released in 2012 as 3 & 3 Quarters, and he once more steps into the producer role on New Beginnings, seemingly with a mission to bring an added sense of color to cuts like the instrumental “Woodrose Morning” or the later harmonica-and-tom-thudding swirl-and-stomper “Last to Know,” which highlights the blend of Echoplex-laden heavy psych and earthy blues on display throughout, operating, as ever, in top form.

A fast hi-hat count-in from Marrone sets the pace for the charge of opening semi-title-track “New Beginning,” which at just over four minutes is actually one of the longer cuts on the album that mostly shares its name. The sense of setting a vibe is quick as Meier‘s always-classy basslines and Griggs‘ furious guitar work unleash their barrage atop Marrone‘s jazzy snare rolls and impossible-sounding tom hits, some tambourine backing the first verse lines as guttural lines are meted out with the band’s trademark blue-eyed soul. It’s constant motion, and that’s no less a hallmark of Radio Moscow‘s approach than the hook that follows, the madcap pacing, reverb-soaked vocals or the head-spinning result of all these elements combined. Radio Moscow being Radio Moscow, in other words. “New Beginning” jams into the swirling start-stop boogie of “Deceiver,” which once again finds Griggs‘ voice drenched in effects atop his Hendrix-style guitar, but pulls back on the tempo to give more of a cyclical feel to its verse lines, punctuated by Marrone‘s drumming.

In its last minute, “Deceiver” builds from its comfortable fluidity into an all-out surge of groove, cutting to silence ahead of the relatively serene, atmospheric start of “Woodrose Morning,” the lysergic feel of which is hinted at in the title, and the effect of which is hypnotic enough that almost before one realizes it, the wash has given way to the subsequent “Driftin’,” which with its flourish of harmonica and bluesy shove reorients the listener back on solid ground despite a guitar solo that seems to maintain some of the echo from “Woodrose Morning” between its verses, a quick turn efficiently done in under three minutes to give way to the key-inclusive presumed side A finale, “No One Knows Where They’ve Been,” which rounds out the formidable momentum built up across New Beginnings thus far with a fervent shuffle, peppered-in string-tearing leads and a swaggering hook that anchors the first half while the second pushes outward into a jam, sounding like it’s about to fly off the rails which of course it never actually does. As if to remind that they’re songwriters after all, they move back into the chorus and cap “No One Knows Where They’ve Been” with fading Echoplex noise.

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If this first half of New Beginnings is about building up that momentum, that forward push, with the trippy excursion of “Woodrose Morning” tucked neatly in the middle as the centerpiece of the initial five cuts, then side B would seem to be where Radio Moscow take that momentum and move it into even more expansive terrain. “Last to Know” leads off the back end of the tracklisting with toms at the outset, as swirl of guitar effects and harmonica, and briskly moves into its verse progression, with Griggs holding out the ends of his lines with the reverb that has by now become familiar. Like “Pacing” still to come, “Last to Know” offers one of New Beginnings‘ primo hooks, but in the molten guitar effects, added percussion and holding-it-all-together bass of the jam in its second half, it seems to border up to Afrobeat before its fadeout and so signals the wider berth of some of what follows nonetheless.

One might think of the instrumental “New Skin” as a relatively straightforward answer to “Woodrose Morning,” but the song ultimately proves Radio Moscow don’t necessarily need to go full-wash to draw the listener into a trance — the rhythm section leads the way and one can only delight in following the route toward “Pacing,” which follows the verse/chorus pattern of “Last to Know,” but pulls back from the jammy sensibility of the side B launcher — at least a bit — its bridge shorter and moving back to the hook after giving Griggs proper space to unleash yet another blinding solo. This also sets up the penultimate “Pick up the Pieces,” which serves as one of the most distinct departures New Beginnings makes as it digs into more laid back, airy blues. Gradually, tension builds in bass and drums behind Griggs‘ guitar and vocals, and before its 3:21 are up, the song explodes in about its last 40 seconds, but by then the mood is set, and a few final quiet notes underscore the point before giving ground to closer “Dreams,” also the longest inclusion at 5:57.

Have I mentioned “scorch” yet? Yes? Well, “Dreams” has plenty, just in case Radio Moscow haven’t burnt their own music to enough of a crisp yet. The tempo starts out smooth enough, but before long, the power trio put emphasis on the power and charge through verses into a tense build from which the guitar takes flight propelled by the bass and drums moving past the halfway point, disintegrating into Echoplex effects and finding itself in a wash of swelling volume — might be e-bow? — but feeling off-the-cuff and organically jammed out all the same. This psychedelic triumph spins in circles as the band hits five minutes and resolves itself in a peeling-the-paint-off-the-walls-distortion apex that does not so much cross a finish line as obliterate it. Righteously.

Clearly, the set is over. Radio Moscow have gone as far out as they’re going to go and after turning back multiple times along the way throughout “Deceiver” or “No One Knows Where They’ve Been,” they’ve finally decided to stay all the way gone. As a fan of the band, I can’t say I blame them. I don’t ultimately know if New Beginnings will go down as the record that fully captures the vigor of what they bring to their live show, but its emphasis on the chemistry between GriggsMeier and Marrone is unmistakable, and the songs that comprise it make a compelling argument for Radio Moscow‘s work in the studio being no less essential to their impact than what they do onstage. In either context, they are not to be missed.

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Black Mare, Death Magick Mother: The Opening of Vaults

Posted in Reviews on October 5th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

black mare death magick mother

The crystalline voice of Sera Timms is one of the heavy underground’s most affecting assets. Based in California, Timms made a breakthrough with 2009’s Scott Reeder-produced, Tee Pee-released Wyllt (discussed here) in an outfit called Black Math Horseman, and since then she’s contributed to a range of projects, from the collaboration between herself, Gary Arce of Yawning Man and fellow vocalist John Garcia (Kyuss, etc.) that manifested as Zun‘s 2016 Small Stone release, Burial Sunrise (review here), to the three full-lengths to-date she’s issued as frontwoman of heavy post-rock explorationists Ides of Gemini, the latest of which, Women (discussed here), came out this past Spring via Rise Above. In 2013, she made her full-length debut with the solo-project Black Mare on Field of the Host (review here), and she’s gone on to offer a smattering of short releases under the banner since that time, including a 2015 split with Lycia (review here).

Death Magick Mother, on Magic Bullet Records, is the second Black Mare long-player, and though the moniker would seem to recall Timms‘ time in Black Math Horseman, the progressive sensibility she shows throughout the seven-song/36-minute outing is distinctly her own and feels more like a culmination drawing from aspects of all her prior work, from than band through Ides of Gemini‘s heavier thud, spaciousness and crunch, and it is with her voice particularly that she sets the deeply resonant spirit in songs like the bassy “Babylon’s Fold” and the earlier, harmonized “Femme Couverte,” which follows opener “Ingress to Form” and carves out its space on Death Magick Mother with an emergent, distorted chug of guitar over which Timms‘ delivery remains patient, soaring and otherworldly.

Indeed, the ethereal has a central role to play throughout Black Mare‘s forward cast, and that’s a vibe set almost from the first ringing notes of “Ingress to Form,” an inclusion that would seem to be aware of how much it’s acting as an introduction to Death Magick Mother as a whole, though its purposes by no means are limited to that. At 6:46, it is tied with “Babylon’s Fold” for being the longest track (semi-immediate points), and it builds to a graceful and deceptively heavy push, marked by the separation of bass, guitar and drums in the sonic space it has created. This will prove true on the songs that follow as well, but each element at play throughout Death Magick Mother, including the layers of Timms‘ self-harmonies when they arrive, are readily distinguishable from their surroundings. One suspects that if one’s stereo were fancy enough, it would be possible to listen to nothing but the guitar, or to isolate an acapella version of third track “Death by Desire.”

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Might be fun to try, but taken as a whole, it brings a purposeful sense of the disjointed to Death Magick Mother and makes Black Mare feel all the more experimental in construction. Timms, in addition to writing and performing everything on the album (she shares credit for “Babylon’s Fold” with Ides of Gemini bandmates), also recorded, so credit goes to her for this as well as to mixer Andrew Clinco, and ultimately it is one more manner in which she leads the listener through this deeply atmospheric sphere she’s created. It’s neither separate from the desert nor wholly part of it, and it’s more grounded in meter and percussiveness than one generally thinks of the sonically cosmic as being, but it is a modus and a place that is recognizably Timms‘ own, and she is thoroughly at home in its transcendental reaches, even as she continues to expand its borders via complexity of craft and arrangement.

With a decided thump of drums behind, “Babylon’s Fold” sets its tension early and begins a process of release just past two minutes in with a swell of guitar and bass behind the commanding vocals. The volume recedes and the bass maintains a steady presence to act as the ground beneath the echoing strums of guitar, such that its footing is maintained on the next upcycle just before five minutes in that carries what might be the side B opener toward its shimmering last stretch, leading to the penultimate “Kala.” A threat of distortion is issued prior to the first verse and finds its way into the pattern periodically before coming more completely forward after two minutes into the total 3:42 and acting as the key element in an efficient linear build that results in one of Death Magick Mother‘s most consuming moments of wash — a more than fitting setup for the solo vocals that start closer “Inverted Tower” for how plainly the end of the one song and the beginning of the next demonstrate the dynamic approach Timms is able to harness even in this solo context.

The opening of “Inverted Tower” is patient and no less immersive than anything before it, but rather than attempt to summarize the entirety of Death Magick Mother, the final chapter seems to keep on the outbound path of ambience — maybe that is the best summary — and in the jangle of guitar and the foreboding progression that takes hold just past the midpoint, met by complementary layers of higher and lower register singing, there’s a sense of goth theatricality that, at 5:10, explodes to crashing cymbals and layers of howling and screams and moans, somehow black metal but not at all furious. Resolved. It’s a moment there and gone after a few measures and the final surprise is how Death Magick Mother draws itself to a close, which again, is about as appropriate as anything could be in the situation.

Truth be told, by that point, the listener is either going to be well on board for the journey Timms is guiding or not. Naturally the former is the more satisfying option in terms of the basic listening experience, but both on the level of being a personal expression and in its sheer sprawl, Black Mare isn’t by any means a vie for accessibility. Still, to those for whom its wavelengths find sympathy, the depths and overall richness it casts will be yet another example of Timms as an underrated performer and composer, and further proof of how much her work only grows more realized with the passage of time.

Black Mare, Death Magick Mother (2017)

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Enslaved, E: Horses and Water

Posted in Reviews on October 4th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

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First of all, no, Enslaved didn’t just title their 14th studio album, E, after the first letter of their name. The letter is a translation/reference to the rune ‘ehwaz’ that appears on the Truls Espedal cover art — looks more like an ‘M,’ but there it is — and among the meanings it holds are ‘partnership,’ ‘collaboration’ and ‘horse.’ It’s a one-letter title and a complete concept thematic on which to base the record. And as it happens, E is the most progressive outing the Bergen, Norway, extreme metallers have yet composed in their 26-year career, offering an expanse of sound and intensity that continues to push ahead of their last full-length, 2015’s In Times (review here), while clarifying production ideas, answering the varied intentions of their first live album, earlier-2017’s Roadburn Live (review here), and — in unquestionably the most major change the band has undergone in at least the last decade — introducing new keyboardist/vocalist Håkon Vinje to the lineup. Vinje worked with Enslaved founding guitarist Ivar Bjørnson and bassist/vocalist Grutle Kjellson (among many others) in the broad-reaching and historically-minded Skuggsjá project, and in joining Enslaved with Bjørnson, Kjellson, guitarist Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal and drummer Cato Bekkevold, he fills the role formerly held by Herbrand Larsen, whose contributions to the band’s overall sound in atmospherics and melodic vocals had only increased in scope since he made his debut on 2004’s landmark Isa LP.

That was six records ago, and in the 13 subsequent years, Enslaved only grew more dynamic as they progressed through 2006’s Ruun, 2008’s Vertebrae, 2010’s Axioma Ethica Odini (review here), 2012’s Riitiir (review here) and the aforementioned In Times, though the latter drew back toward a rawer production feel that E once again pulls outward into a larger sphere, and the soaring, soothing melodies of Vinje‘s vocals from opener “Storm Son” through cuts like “Axis of the Worlds” and closer “Hiindsiight” greatly enhance that impression. That Enslaved would introduce someone new in such a pivotal role feels like a bold enough step to make on a new album — one could hardly hold being tentative on some level against them, given how much Larsen brought to their sound — but they brazenly continue their apparently ceaseless and willful growth as songwriters and performers, and Vinje absolutely shines in the role into which he’s stepped, carrying the penultimate “Feathers of Eolh” (8:06) through ambience the thrust alike as Enslaved gallop with the fury that’s become one of their trademarks and step back to allow vocal harmonies to carry more subdued verses. It is a stunning late-album moment.

And by then, not the first time Enslaved have made the spine shiver. E launches with its longest track (immediate points) in the adventurous 10:54 “Storm Son,” which begins with captured outdoor sounds — birds, a shout, a Viking horn, a whinnying horse — leading to an unfolding of shimmering guitar and emergent push. It is a patient opening and when the verse kicks in, Vinje backs Kjellson‘s telltale rasp to set the stage for an exploration of proggy guitar-led turns and chug past the midpoint, heading toward a forward surge that carries them toward a repeated chorus that doubles as crescendo. The chant-style vocals in back of that hook are a foreshadow of what will become a major element throughout E, and one can’t help but wonder if perhaps Bjørnson is carrying a bit of influence from working with Wardruna‘s Einar Selvik (who also makes a guest appearance here) on Skuggsjá into these tracks, since even second cut “The River’s Mouth” — which is the shortest at 5:12 and an immediate contrast to “Storm Son” as it brings Kjellson to the fore in the verse and instead lets Vinje handle the chorus — seems to have some aspects therefrom at play.

Of course, creative arrangements of vocals, guitars, keys, and other instrumentation, are nothing new for Enslaved, but as “The River’s Mouth” swirls to its apex and the acoustic opening of “Sacred Horse” — a definitive moment of arrival, if brief — there’s a prevalence factor for resonance of mood that’s impossible to ignore. “Sacred Horse” (8:12) kicks into a vicious pummel with some of Bjørnson‘s roaring growls complementing Kjellson in the verse before a spacious-but-classy guitar lead takes hold before the next push, building a tension that continues as Vinje takes an organ solo after the three-minute mark and brings a melodic verse shortly before a break at 4:25 introduces the guitar part that will serve as the rhythmic bed for a thudding march that proves to be a standout moment of E as a whole, Bekkevold introducing the progression on toms before crashing cymbals to get officially underway. Guitars make a neighing sound to recall the ‘ehwaz’ theme, and choral vocals top the nodding groove in one of the record’s most singularly affecting moments. Amid laughter, they bring it back around to a few last measures of furious push to close out, and let “Axis of the Worlds” (7:49) take hold with more immediacy and a rocking feel at the start of side B.

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As their titles would seem to acknowledge, “Sacred Horse” and “Axis of the Worlds” feel very much like the heart of E in their presentation. I won’t take anything away from the impact of “Storm Son” or “Hiindsiight” at the start or the conclusion, and the direct contrast between “The River’s Mouth” as the second cut and “Feathers of Eolh” as the second-to-last seems nothing if not a purposeful display of range, but with the one-two of “Sacred Horse” and “Axis of the Worlds,” Enslaved provide some of their proggiest stretches and show how they’ve made these elements cohesive with the context of their own, ever-shifting approach. To wit, the organ lines of “Axis of the Worlds,” the chorus hook “Chase the serpent/Step on his tail” delivered in clean and echoing screams, the movement into returning chants amid a section that’s as much black metal as it is still somehow drawing from psychedelic and classic progressive rock, and the way the song seems to resolve itself in making its way back to the chorus at the end, the band clear enough in knowing what they want to do to not even in this moment lose sight of the underlying foundation of structure amid all the raging complexity. Especially after the thundering “Sacred Horse” — and, for that matter, before “Feathers of Eolh” — it gets to the core of what Enslaved accomplish with E, manifesting ideas of duality, complement, collaboration, whether that’s between band members or between the band itself and their craft or the instruments they’re playing.

Begun at a rhythmic rush, “Feathers of Eolh” is peppered with nuance of play and topped by piano sounds and guitar flourish for its proggy intro, kicking at about the minute mark into chant-backed drive and bringing in the aforementioned highlight performance from Vinje on vocals. His voice — clear, confident, powerful, layered — recalls some of what Larsen did melodically, but he brings his own edge to the changes in key as well and one expects he’ll only continue to make the role more his own as Enslaved move forward. “Feathers of Eolh” touches on what might be considered Viking post-rock (stick that in your genre search engine) in a brief interlude before springing forth again for the next verse and turns circa six minutes deep into a head-spinning reinterpretation of the intro that meets with further chanting, double-kick from Bekkevold and piano skronk that builds to a sudden finish, bringing the melodic first-minute intro of “Hiindsiight,” which wraps up E fluidly while still holding a surprise or two of its own.

Namely: saxophone. At 9:36, “Hiindsiight” is the second longest inclusion and thereby bookends E with “Storm Son,” but its structure is decidedly working on another wavelength. Cutting from the intro to about as close to a doomed roll as Enslaved have ever come, before the track is into its third minute, it has turned once again to lush melodies from the guitar and keys, trading back again before introducing what sounds like a tenor sax for an echoing solo prior to the halfway point from which Kjellson‘s vocals pick up like throaty searing and jazz instrumentation just go together all the time and there’s nothing at all unusual about it — it’s brilliantly pulled off — and with airy noodling guitar holding the melody beneath, “Hiindsiight” welcomes Vinje back to the arrangement briefly, but gurgles out at around 5:45 to let the guitar set the stage for the E‘s final stretch: a patiently delivered build of melody, chants, the sax, and a wash that’s unlike anything Enslaved have done before and yet so definitively theirs that it couldn’t possibly have come from anyone else.

It is a suitably glorious ending to an album that does nothing less than begin a new era for the band. I’m writing as a fan, but the bravery with which Enslaved take to the formidable task before them in E only underscores how special this group truly is, and in thinking of the stated them of collaboration, one would be remiss to ignore how pivotal the core founding duo of Bjørnson and Kjellson are, and how much their work together has changed over the years while still holding fast to the creative drive that has been so easy as a listener to take for granted all along. It’s only one letter, but E spreads itself across the consciousness with worldbuilding mastery, and is a work of true vision simply not to be missed. One of 2017’s best and then some. Recommended.

Enslaved, “Storm Son” official video

Enslaved on Thee Facebooks

Enslaved on Instagram

Enslaved on Twitter

Enslaved website

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Nuclear Blast on Twitter

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Review & Track Premiere: Young Hunter, Dayhiker

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on October 3rd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

young hunter dayhiker

[Click play above to stream ‘The Feast’ from Young Hunter’s Dayhiker. Album is out Oct. 13 on The Fear and the Void Recordings.]

Thus far in a career that spans more than half a decade back to 2011’s semi-blackened Children of a Hungry World EP and 2012’s Stone Tools (discussed here) debut full-length — though at this point the band might be more comfortable considering both as demos — the tenure of Young Hunter has been marked by standout songwriting, geographic and personnel shift, and unmitigated stylistic growth. One might think that a certain amount of circumstantial upheaval might result in a corresponding sonic chaos, but after triumphant 2013 three-songer Embers at the Foot of Dark Mountain (review here) was issued as a split tape with Ohioan, founding guitarist/vocalist Benjamin Blake moved himself and thereby the band from the Arizona desert to Portland, Oregon, and completely revamped the lineup around himself.

This new Pacific Northwestern incarnation of Young Hunter issued their of-sorts self-titled debut (review here) in 2016, and though it turned the group away from the rawness of impact that had in part served to highlight the sincere emotionalism driving Embers at the Foot of Dark Mountain, it also demonstrated just how distinct Young Hunter‘s sound had become up to that point — that Blake could essentially reform the band, and they’d still sound like Young Hunter. Of course, his own performance as guitarist/vocalist is no small factor in that, but as the third Young Hunter album, Dayhiker, surfaces through The Fear and the Void Recordings with the returned lineup of keyboardist/vocalist Sara Pinnell, guitarist Erik Wells, bassist Sam Dean and drummer Grant Pierce alongside Blake, the same holds true in the seven-song/39-minute new offering, even as the band as a whole continues to progress and refine the scope of its individualized style.

Dayhiker was recorded by The Fucking Champs‘ Tim Green (Comets on FireEarthless, Citay, etc.) at Louder Studios in Grass Valley, California (NorCal, about an hour out from Sacramento), over the course of five days, and one can hear in the swing and punctuation of Pierce‘s snare/hi-hat and the vocals from Pinnell and Blake, respectively, in the sharp rhythmic stops of “In the Shadow of the Serpent” and “Black Mass” that there is a heavier push in these tracks than on the preceding outing, which is something that suits Young Hunter well, giving the contemplation of cuts like “Entered Apprentice,” with its steady line of organ behind a bouncing bassline from Dean, dual vocal arrangement and ’80s metallic shuffle, a resonant force behind its thrust when called upon to do so, as behind the quick solo just passed the halfway mark. The aforementioned “In the Shadow of the Serpent” is the leadoff, and the acoustic plucking with which it starts sets an immediately folkish underpinning even as it’s met with thuds and crashes and a slow march that gradually introduces the elements at play — guitar, bass, drums, keys — before moving into its swinging verse, which is delivered with enough tempo to be insistent and urgent but not more than it necessarily wants to be.

young hunter

Pinnell takes the first lead vocal and she and Blake trade fluidly as the subsequent power-hooks of “The Feast,” “Entered Apprentice” and “Hunger” play out, coming together atop the rolling groove of “The Feast,” letting Blake hold sway on “Entered Apprentice” with some complement, and finishing side A in duet fashion on “Hunger,” which answers the consistent organ line of the song before it with more keys establishing the root notes of the melody in the central riff played by Blake and Wells and shoved forward by the rhythm section, Dean working in dynamic basslines circa the four-minute mark that only enhance the effectiveness of the guitars surrounding. Young Hunter, in short, have it all working, and sound more like themselves than they have yet.

That means heft, patience, songwriting, naturalism of performance, a focus on emotionality and sonic elements drawn from classic heavy rock and metal put to modern and progressive use. Their sound, as they move into side B of Dayhiker with the lead guitar embellishment of “Dark Age,” has never felt so much like a tapestry and has come to owe no less of its richness to the forests of the Pacific Northwest than to nighttime visions of the sands around Tucson. “Dark Age” once again brings Pinnell and Blake together on vocals atop a rolling but tense progression topped with airy guitars held together by Dean‘s bass and Pierce‘s steady snare, and though the pace picks up after halfway through its near-six-minute run, Young Hunter save the larger payoff for “Black Mass,” which follows.

Working in multiple stages, the nine-minute side B centerpiece and penultimate inclusion on Dayhiker is ambitious and memorable in kind, setting its hook instrumentally in the intro and unfolding quickly into its first verse, deftly peppering in a guitar solo for a bridge before the second, and exploring a social thematic in progressive texture with a graceful balance of keys throughout, cycling through a longer guitar lead before another verse crosses the midpoint and brings a refrain of the repeated line, “This is the face I wore before I was born” from Blake and Pinnell that leads to a full stop at 6:14, crashing back in with a more urgent thrust and cymbal wash to introduce the next movement — a fuller and more weighted, all-in shove that, with yet another engaging vocal melody overhead, will carry Dayhiker to and through its apex, ringing out amp and effects noise as an acoustic guitar line enters the slow fade almost in answer to “In the Shadow of the Serpent.”

That’s closer “Night Hiker” ending the record with Pinnell holding sway on a last bit of forest folk that, were it not so gorgeously done, might be thought of as an epilogue. Keys join in subtly but only help the overall resonance as they have all along, and they and the gently swaying guitar back a farewell verse before cutting out and giving a few seconds of thoughtful silence before the track actually finishes. It’s a gorgeous and somewhat unexpected ending, but not by any means beyond the reach of Young Hunter at this stage, since if Dayhiker demonstrates anything, it’s that their maturity has brought them to a place where little would be. And they are mature enough at this point with the clear benefit of having worked together on the self-titled to make the most of the opportunity to craft something special here, which is exactly what they’ve done. What the ultimate impact of Dayhiker will be depends in no small part on the band — i.e., they need to tour, a lot — but no question that in style and substance they’ve reached a new echelon and only seem poised to continue to flourish.

Young Hunter, Dayhiker teaser promo

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Young Hunter on Bandcamp

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Quarterly Review: Primitive Man, Black Lung & Nap, Zone Six, Spectral Haze, Cosmic Fall, Epitaph, Disastroid, Mastiff, Demons from the Dungeon Dimension, Liblikas

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

the obelisk quarterly review

The final round of the Fall 2017 Quarterly Review starts now. 60 reviews done. I think if this particular QR session proves anything it’s that come hell or high water, once it’s set, there’s no stopping this train. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but the site was down for half of last week and we’re still getting to 60 reviews from Monday to Monday. That’s not not impressive from where I sit, especially since I spent that downtime going out of my mind trying to get things up and running again while also trying to write posts that I didn’t even know if they were going to happen. But they happened — thanks again, Slevin and Behrang — and here we are. All is well and we can get back to normal hopefully for the rest of this week. Thanks for reading any of this if you did. Let’s get to it.

Quarterly Review #51-60:

Primitive Man, Caustic

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Primitive Man’s Caustic is the concept of “heavy” taken to the superlative. It is a 12-track/77-minute onslaught for which no less than absolute hyperbole will suffice. In following-up their 2013 Relapse Records debut, Scorn (review here), a series of splits and 2015’s Home is Where the Hatred Is EP (review here), the Denver trio reign in terror as they make Caustic live up to its name in the crushing tones, feedback of and slow churn of “My Will,” “Commerce” “Tepid,” and “Sugar Hole,” the consuming wave of “Victim,” the blastbeating death assault of “Sterility,” and the biting atmospherics of harsh interludes “Caustic,” “Ash” and “The Weight,” which preface the nine minutes of vague noise that close on “Absolutes,” following the grueling slaughter of “Disfigured” and the rightfully-named 12-minute “Inevitable,” which seems even slower and more weighted somehow than everything before it. On the sheer level of heft for that song alone, it’s time to start thinking about Primitive Man among the heaviest bands in the world. I’m serious. Caustic is an overwhelming masterwork of unbridled extremity, and with it, Primitive Man set a new standard both for themselves and for anyone else who’d dare to try to live up to it in their wake.

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Relapse Records webstore

 

Black Lung & Nap, Split

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A heavy blues trio from Baltimore and a progressive boogie outfit from Oldenburg, Germany, might seem like an odd pairing, but by the time the 25 minutes of Black Lung and Nap’s split 12” platter (on Noisolution) are up, the release has come to make its own peculiar kind of sense. In following 2016’s See the Enemy (review here), Black Lung present two new songs in “Strange Seeds” and “Use this Stone” as well we the prior-issued Marvin Gaye cover “Inner City Blues” done in collaboration with rapper Eze Jackson, where Nap answer their debut album, Villa (review here), with the shuffle-into-psychedelia of “Djinn,” the spacious, patient rollout of the airy guitars in “Vorlaut” and the final thrust of “Teer.” Each of the two acts establishes a context for itself quickly – Black Lung brazenly defying theirs in the shift from “Use this Stone” to “Inner City Blues”; Nap expanding between “Djinn” and “Vorlaut” – and though one wouldn’t be likely to mistake one group for the other, their disparate sounds don’t at all hinder the ability of either group to make an impression during their brief time.

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Black Lung on Thee Facebooks

Noisolution webstore

 

Zone Six, Zone Six

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Originally issued in 1998 via Early Birds Records with the lineup of bassist/synthesis/Mellotronist Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt, guitarist Hans-Peter Ringholz, drummer/keyboardist Claus Bühler and vocalist Jodi Barry, the self-titled debut from German space/krautrock explorationists Zone Six sees something of a redux via Sulatron Records to mark the 20th anniversary of the band’s founding. Eight minutes shorter than the original edition at 51 minutes, the new version whittles down the original 13-track presentation to two vinyl sides – titles: “Side A” (27:04) and “Side B” (24:39) – and drops the vocal tracks entirely to make it a completely instrumental release. That’s a not-insignificant change, of course, but let there be no doubt that it works in terms of highlighting the flow, which as it transitions between what used to be one song and another loses not one step and instead simply becomes an engrossing and multifaceted jam. This is truer perhaps to the band Zone Six have become – if you missed their 2015 full-length Love Monster (review here), it was glorious and it’s not too late to catch up – than the band they started out as, but Zone Six have found a way to make an old release new again, and new Zone Six is never anything to complain about, whatever the occasion.

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Sulatron Records? webstore

 

Spectral Haze, Turning Electric

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Space rock warriors Spectral Haze return after three years in the Gamma Quadrant with Turning Electric via Totem Cat Records, a six-song sophomore outing behind 2014’s I.E.V.: Transmutated Nebula Remains (review here) that quickly enters a wormhole of Hawkwindian thrust on opener “The Dawn of the Falcon” – perhaps that’s what’s represented on the glorious Adam Burke cover art – and takes a winding but directed course deeper and deeper into interstellar realms for its duration of what on earth is only six songs and 33 minutes. Each of the intended two vinyl sides boasts a longer track, be it “Cathexis/Mask of Transformation” on side A or “They Live” on side B, but whether it’s in those or shorter rocket boosters like the title-track, “Ajaghandi” or the aforementioned leadoff, the Oslo-based four-piece keep it dreamy and kosmiche even unto the doomlier roll of closer “Master Sorcerer,” a collection of final psychedelic proclamations that cuts off quickly at the end as though breaking a transmission from the heart of the galaxy itself. Heck of a destination, and getting there’s a blast, too.

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Totem Cat Records webstore

 

Cosmic Fall, Jams for Free

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Kind of a bummer how Jams for Free came about, but for the reassurance that Berlin heavy psych improvisationalists Cosmic Fall will keep going after what seems to have been an unceremonious split with now-ex-guitarist/vocalist Mathias, I’ll take it. With two new explorations, bassist Klaus and drummer Daniel introduce new guitarist Martin, and those worried they might lose the funk of their original incarnation should have their fears duly allayed by “A Calmer Sphere” (12:19) and “The Great Comet” (8:10), which begin a new era of Cosmic Fall after the remaining founders were forced to stop selling their prior works. If there’s anger or catharsis being channeled in Jams for Free, though, it comes through as fluidity and serene heavy psych, and with the resonant live-in-studio vibe, Cosmic Fall essentially seem to be picking up where they left off. With Martin making a distinguishing impression in the soloing of “A Calmer Sphere”’s second half particularly, the future continues to look bright for the German asteroid riders. Right on, guys. Keep jamming.

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Cosmic Fall on Bandcamp

 

Epitaph, Claws

Epitaph-Claws

Doomers of Verona Epitaph trace their origins back some 30 years, but Claws (on High Roller Records) is just their second long-player behind 2014’s Crawling out of the Crypt. Matters not. Theirs is the doom of ages one way or the other, presented in this collection of five songs in traditional fashion with an edge of the Italian bizarrist movement (think early Death SS) and, from the “Neon Knights”-style riff of “Gossamer Claws” to the “After All (The Dead)”/”Falling off the Edge of the World”-style dramaturge of “Wicked Lady,” the nods to ‘80s and early-‘90s Black Sabbath are manifold and executed with what sounds like a genuine love for that era of the band and classic metal in general. Hard to fault Epitaph that influence, particularly as they bring it to bear in the guttural riffly chug of centerpiece “Sizigia,” tonally as much as in the form of what’s actually being played. As a mission, the homage is perhaps a bit single-minded, but as they continue to build their own legacy in these classic sounds, it’s impossible to say Epitaph’s collective heart isn’t in the right place.

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High Roller Records webstore

 

Disastroid, Screen

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The nine songs of Disastroid’s fourth self-released LP, Screen, are drawn together by a songwriting prowess that’s better heard than described and by a heft of tone that, especially on stompers like “Dinosaur” early and “Coyote” later on, proves likewise. Is the point of this review, then, that you should listen to the album? Yuppers. At a crisp 35 minutes, Screen finds the Bay Area trio willfully nestled someplace between heavy rock riffing, noise crunch, punk and metal, and they fly this refusal to commit to one style over another no less proudly than they do the hook of “Getting in the Way” or “I Didn’t Kill Myself,” which along with the push of “Choke the Falcon” and the Melvinsian “Clinical Perfection” make up a series of short burst impressions contrasted by the longer “Screen” and “New Day” at the outset and the six-minute finale “Gunslinger,” though wherever Disastroid seem to go, they bring a current of memorable craft with them, making an otherwise purposefully bumpy ride smooth and a chaos-fueled joy to undertake.

Disastroid website

Disastroid on Bandcamp

 

Mastiff, Bork

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Ultimately, bludgeon-ready UK five-piece Mastiff might owe as much to grind as they do to doom or sludge – at least if “Nil by Mouth” has anything to say about it – but more than loyalty to any subgenre or other, the Hull unit’s 25-minute Bork full-length (released on CD by APF Records) is interested in presenting an extreme vision of sonic heft. Brutal pummel infects the rolling chorus of “Everything Equals Death” and the initial chug of “Tumour” alike, and where opener “Agony” was content to blast out its cacophony in fury of tempo as much as weight, as they settle in for the mosh-ready six minutes of closer “Eternal Regret,” Mastiff seem to have dug out a position between lumbering doom and early ‘00s deathcore, a telltale breakdown capping Bork in grooving and familiar fashion. Their intensity might prove a distinguishing factor over the longer term, though, and they certainly have plenty enough of it to go around.

Mastiff on Thee Facebooks

APF Records website

 

Demons from the Dungeon Dimension, An Organic Mythology

demons-from-the-dungeon-dimension-an-organic-mythology

The righteously-monikered Demons from the Dungeon Dimension made a striking and individualized – and bizarre – impression in 2016 with the There was Ogres EP (discussed here), a follow-up to the debut full-length, As the Crow Flies, released just weeks earlier. With the new single An Organic Mythology and the five-minute, raw-recorded track of the same name, the Durban, South Africa-based project is laid to rest. A burly opening and thickened distortion lead to a pushing verse with dry vocals over top – sounding very much like a home-recorded demo outright and not trying to be anything else – and soon enough the track shifts into a spoken-word-dissertation over an instrumental build that carries it into its final minute, at which point the verse kicks back in to end. As with the prior EP, which topped 25 minutes, the vibe is willfully strange throughout “An Organic Mythology,” and if this is indeed the last we’ll hear from Demons from the Dungeon Dimension (doesn’t it just sound like something TOR Books would put out?), somehow it seems right we live in an age where the material can reside in the digital ether, waiting to be stumbled on by curious parties soon to be blindsided by what they hear.

Demons from the Dungeon Dimension on Bandcamp

Demons from the Dungeon Dimension on YouTube

 

Liblikas, Unholy Moly

liblikas-unholy-moly

From the initial semi-gothic vibes from vocalist Oliver Aunver to the progressive fuzz rock that ensues on opener “Holy Underground,” Estonian five-piece Liblikas seem to specialize in the unexpected on their second full-length, Unholy Moly. Aunver, guitarists Temo Saarna (also vocals) and Henrik Harak, bassist Joosep Käsper and drummer/backing vocalist Mihkel Rebane, oversee a brisk 45-minute run across eight tracks of genre-spanning grooves, from the chugging almost-doom of “Highest Hound” to the semi-folk experimentalist interlude “Fugue Yeah! (Diary Pt. II),” which follows “Dear Diary, Yeah!” a track that starts out with what might be a Japanese-language sample and psychedelic unfolding to more cohesive, harmony-topped prog rock bounce before the fuzz emerges and meets with forward vocals and effective interplay of acoustics in the chorus. Why yes, there is a six-minute song called “Pornolord” – funny you should ask. It appears before the oud-laced “Ol’ Slime” and nine-minute closer “Keezo,” which embraces the difficult task of summing up the weirdo intensity that’s been on display throughout Liblikas’ songwriting all along, and with wispy guitar leading to a big, noisy finish, succeeds outright in doing so.

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Liblikas on Bandcamp

 

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Quarterly Review: Wucan, Lucifer in the Sky with Diamonds, Thera Roya, Ojos Rojos, Ett Rop På Hjälp, BongCauldron, Nomadic Rituals, Mental Tremors, Gin Lady, Swanmay

Posted in Reviews on September 29th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk quarterly review

Round five of the Fall 2017 Quarterly Review begins now. After dealing with the technical issues this week and changing hosts and having the site down for – well, as I write this, it’s still down, so I don’t really have a finished count yet, though obviously by the time you’re reading it it’ll be back up – yeah, it’s made putting together a batch of 10 reviews a day seem like a breeze. “Oh, you mean you’re only writing 10 reviews today? Well now this is happening.” That kind of thing. Didn’t I say something earlier this week about a piano falling on my head? Prescient.

Plan is to finish the QR on Monday and then get back to what passes for normalcy around here. Still plenty of good stuff to come between now and then though, so let’s dive in.

Quarterly Review #41-50:

Wucan, Reap the Storm

wucan reap the storm

Bilingual heavy blues rockers Wucan offer their second full-length, Reap the Storm, through MIG Music, and with it showcase a stunning range of songwriting. The album is set up as a 2LP and runs eight songs/73 minutes from the Dresden, Germany, four-piece of vocalist Francis Tobolsky (also flute, guitar, theremin, sitar and percussion), guitarist/keyboardist Tim George, bassist Patrik Dröge and drummer Philip Knöfel, and from the expansive jamming of 10-minute opener “Wie Die Welt Sich Dreht,” it solidifies into the classic-prog-meets-heavy-boogie of “Ebb and Flute/The Eternal Groove” and nestles into driving semi-psychedelic rock on “Out of Sight out of Mind” to lead the charge on a side B marked out by the organ in “I’m Gonna Leave You,” the interplay of trippy/soulful vocals and flute on “The Rat Catcher” and the quiet, German-language post-Zeppelin acoustic folk of “Falkenlied.” Okay. Already your head’s spinning. Then Wucan dive into “Aging Ten Years in Two Seconds” and “Cosmic Guilt,” which together comprise the second of the two LPs, the former running 21:05 and the latter 18:04, and basically between them represent another album entirely, tying all of the elements previously listed together into one richly complex, progressive-but-still-warm delivery. Their breadth is met by an overarching organic feel – the flute and Tobolsky’s vocals help greatly in this – and though the results are somewhat unmanageable, Wucan remain impressively cohesive throughout the many twists and turns.

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MIG Music website

 

Lucifer in the Sky with Diamonds, Silent Echo

Lucifer-in-the-Sky-with-Diamonds-Silent-Echo

The new single “Silent Echo” is an awaited return from Moscow progressive heavy rockers Lucifer in the Sky with Diamonds, who showed up with an encouraging debut, The Shining One (review here), in 2014. In the rhythmic push and balance of melody and hook, “Silent Echo” reaffirms the appeal of that album and presses it forward, and the band – now comprised of guitarist/bassist/vocalist Oleg Sakharov, guitarist Sergey Starykh, drummer Ramis Cervantes and backing vocalist Alexey Fedotov – hold fast to the underlying proggy sensibilities that fall so well in line with the crispness of their production and the clarity of intent in their songcraft. If they were German or Swedish, they’d already be signed. After three years, a new album would be welcome, but perhaps “Silent Echo” is a harbinger of things to come, and if indeed the six-minute track is all we’re getting for now, it’s got resonance enough behind it to last at least for a while. Hard to hear it though and not want more from these guys.

Lucifer in the Sky with Diamonds on Thee Facebooks

Lucifer in the Sky with Diamonds on Bandcamp

 

Thera Roya, Masterful Universe

thera-roya-masterful-universe

Tracked a year ago in North Carolina, Thera Roya’s Masterful Universe two-songer follows behind their earlier-2017 debut long-player, Stone and Skin (review here), and continues their headfirst dive into noise-laden riotousness across the seven-minute “Static Transmission” (I’m sorry, but are those monkey sounds around the three-minute mark?) and five-minute “Confused Population,” which starts out with a sample of the bomb-riding end sequence of Dr. Strangelove, because I guess the Brooklyn/NJ trio of drummer/vocalist Ryan Smith, guitarist Christopher Eustaquio and bassist Jonny Cohn are feeling topical. Fair enough. That song pushes into cleaner vocals, almost drone-chants, for a particularly experimental feel, and keeps samples as a running theme (at least until the blackened cave-echo screams at the end), where “Static Transmission” is more scathingly aggressive at its core, but in both tracks, the message of Thera Roya getting weirder and weirder comes through clearly, and that only works to their benefit on this short but consuming offering. Run with it, dudes.

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Thera Roya on Bandcamp

 

Ojos Rojos, Sons of Love and Death

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It’s been seven years since California-based heavy psych rockers Ojos Rojos made their debut with the full-length Disappear (review here), but you’d hardly know it from the vibrancy of their new five-song/26-minute Sons of Love and Death EP, which from its opening title-track – also the longest here (immediate points) – through the rightly spacious “Atmosphere” and smoothly rolling centerpiece “Say Goodbye” affects desert-hued shoegaze engagement that asks little of the listener more than to drift along with its easy path. “A Hole Inside” (pun sense tingling) brings especially satisfying fuzz in the guitar and a swirling couple leads to complement like stars overhead, and closer “So Free” doesn’t at all let the fact that it’s so darn laid back let it stop it from strutting its start-stop groove with such swagger. All told, Sons of Love and Death is a work of drippingly lysergic vibe, reminiscent of Dead Meadow at their most languid, but it comes across neither as staid nor redundant. Be it in the rhythmic push of “Atmosphere” or the final crashes of “So Free,” Ojos Rojos find the means to portray an active ecosystem in something that, from the surface, seems still and peaceful.

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Ett Rop På Hjälp, Sans och Balans

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Ett Rop På Hjälp, quite simply, deserve a higher profile than they’ve got for their second album, Sans och Balans. The Gothenburg natives are a half-decade removed from their 2012 debut, Hur Svårt Kan Det Vara? (review here), on Transubstans, and the new collection is a more than worthy follow-up, offering classic-style boogie rollout on cuts like “En Djavuls Falla” and the later solo work on “Blanka Eftermiddagen,” while “Defenestration” (the only English title present, though it’s still sung in Swedish), highlights organ/keys alongside its low end depth and catchy movement, shifting at its midpoint to an instrumental jam that carries it into the bluesy build and harmonies of “Snomannen.” The penultimate “Leker Med Karlek” is particularly heavy ‘70s, but skirts the trap of sounding like Graveyard, Witchcraft or most others of that vintage ilk, and the finish in “Slutat Tro” prefaces its payoff with a subtle heft that comes to the fore late, manifesting a proto-doom working well to contrast the sweetness of the earlier vocal melody. It may be harder for those who don’t speak Swedish to grasp the verses and howling chorus of “Folkhemsdesperado” and the other inclusions here, but Sans och Balans is nothing if not worth that effort and clearly a record that earns more attention than it’s getting.

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BongCauldron, Binge

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Leeds trio BongCauldron have been kicking around the UK’s fertile heavy underground for the last five-plus years since their self-titled EP, issuing a series of shorter releases and splits and gradually readying themselves for a larger attack. That arrives as their eight-song/40-minute debut full-length, Binge, which sludge-bludgeons (yes, it sludgeons) its listener into submission with thickened nod, growls and an attitude that’s best represented perhaps in the title of second cut “Bury Your Axe in the Crania of Lesser Men.” Yeah, it’s like that. “68” and closer “Yorkshire Born” offer a Motörhead/High on Fire-style gallop, but the larger impression Binge makes comes from the pairing of the title-track and “Bigfoot Reigns” in the middle of the album. These two longest tracks, back to back, pummel their viscous onslaught, and even when the latter swaps out its faster first half for the massive slowdown of its second, its shift is purely from one extreme to the other. Feels like it’s been a while in the making, and maybe it has, but BongCauldron’s first long-player has nastiness a-plenty to make up for any and all lost time.

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Nomadic Rituals, Marking the Day

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Marking the Day builds from minimalist drone over the first couple minutes of “From Nothing” into a maddeningly heavy, grueling, hour-long slog of noise-soaked and extremist post-sludge. It is the second album from Belfast, Northern Ireland, three-piece Nomadic Rituals, and its cosmically-themed lumber is utterly vicious as it plays out across six tracks, the shortest of which, “Expansion,” is just under eight minutes long. Over the course of this creation-to-destruction journey, guitarist/vocalist Peter Hunter, bassist/vocalist Craig Carson and drummer Mark Smyth (all three also contribute noise and/or synth) take listeners “From Nothing” and leave them “Face Down in the Sea of Oblivion,” and it’s that 14-minute finale and specifically the tumultuous, pushed-even-further apex thereof, that is intended to capture the grand undoing of everything. One imagines when the end comes it won’t actually sound quite so glorious, but an interpretive representation, Nomadic Rituals give brutal portrayal that seems to fit the onslaught of chaos, and the final amp hum reminds that every ending is likewise a new beginning, even one so mammoth and consuming as this.

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Mental Tremors, Mental Tremors

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A duo who manage to sound like a full band on a studio album is nothing new at this point, between layering and tonal heft and whatever else might be at play in a given act’s aesthetic. Fortunately, Melbourne two-piece Mental Tremors don’t need to rely on novelty. In the fuzz of songs like “Bastard Son” and “Violently” – that’s a riff you should hear – their self-titled debut long-player offers legit chops in craft and performance, yes, sounding full, but still natural as it makes its way through the weirdo-psych nod of the six-minute “Patient Man,” solidifying as it goes, and seeming to turn the classic LP dynamic of straightforward A and more expansive B sides on its head as it rounds out with “Hunters” and “The Fevering,” individualizing catchy, post-Queens of the Stone Age impulses and hairy riff-led raucousness. Initially self-released earlier this year, Mental Tremors was picked up for a vinyl pressing by Cursed Tongue Records, and whether it’s the clarion groove of opener “Like a Broken Town” or the nods and echoes that pervade “The Cascade,” there’s no question it earns that preservation that only physical media can provide.

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Gin Lady, Electric Earth

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Modern enough in its production, Gin Lady’s fourth album, Electric Earth (on Kozmik Artifactz) is nonetheless in pretty direct conversation with the ‘60s, whether it’s “I’m Your Friend” chatting it up with Paul McCartney circa Rubber Soul or the acoustic/piano stomp of “Mercy” in a back and forth with The Rolling Stones, even going so far as to reference “Satisfaction” in the lyrics. These pop-minded textures are met with some heavier rock vibes, but at its loudest, Electric Earth still sticks to a pretty serene feel, starting off at a dancey clip with “Flower People” and capping with the quick Lennonism of “Running No More,” while in between, the four-piece of vocalist Magnus Kamebro, guitarist/vocalist Joakim Karlsson, bassist/vocalist Anthon Johansson and drummer Fredrik Normark gracefully capture bygone vibes on the wistful “The Things You Used to Do,” the jammy “Brothers of the Canyon” and the crisp, clear “Water and Sunshine,” the hook of which could’ve easily come from a lost single from 1965. It’s a niche not everyone’s playing toward at this point, but still instantly familiar and engagingly, efficiently done.

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Swanmay, Stoner Circus

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Unabashed stoner rock riff-led ideology persists throughout Stoner Circus, the hard-driving debut full-length from Linz, Austria, three-piece Swanmay. Working from a center of dense but not overblown fuzz, the rockers cast forth a clear-in-its-purposes nine tracks highlighted by “Lake on Fire,” which one can only wonder if whether or not was written in homage to the Austrian annual festival of the same name. In any case, that hook is one of several that feel particularly engaging throughout Stoner Circus, and the depth of tone on the instrumental “Dopechild” is enough to make that song memorable despite a lack of lyrics. Far from revolutionary, ultimately, but clearly not trying to be either, Swanmay’s first LP preaches its post-Kyussism on “Dharma” and in the Lowrider-style roll of “Sylvan” earlier on, but there’s an aggressive edge to it as well that comes to the fore on “Padawan” ahead of closer “Shiva,” which rounds out with a satisfying-if-telegraphed slowdown to make the point one more time about putting the groove first. So be it. As a debut, Stoner Circus gives Swanmay something to build on and already shows promise in songwriting and its well-honed execution of genre tenets.

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