Quarterly Review: High on Fire, Ruff Majik, Merlin, Workshed, E-L-R, Sibyl, Golden Legacy, Saint Karloff & Devil’s Witches, Burden Limbs, El Supremo

Posted in Reviews on October 1st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

quarterly review

Another day, another batch of 10 reviews on the march to 50 by the end of the week. Will we make it? Yeah, probably. I mean, I think there was once when I had to skip a day or something but even then I made up for it and there’s never been an instance where the Quarterly Review fell apart. The one quarter I decided to nix it (was it last year?) I made up for it by doing 100 reviews instead of 50 the next time out, so we got there eventually. It being Tuesday, the end of the week looks far off, but indeed we’ll ge there eventually, and there’s a lot of good music between now and then, so let’s hit it.

Quarterly Review #11-20:

High on Fire, Bat Salad

high on fire bat salad

A limited vinyl EP released as part of Record Store Day 2019, High on Fire‘s Bat Salad comprises three songs: an original instrumental and two covers, one of Celtic Frost and one of Bad Brains. And I won’t take away from the “Rat Salad” Sabbath-does-blues-jazz-jam-except-it’s-HighonFire-so-it-sounds-nasty-as-hell spirit of “Bat Salad” at all, but the real highlight here is hearing Matt Pike‘s gravel-throated vocals take on “Into Crypts of Rays.” Celtic Frost have always been a central factor in what High on Fire were doing stylistically, so to have the band take them on directly seems long in the making. They approach Bad Brains‘ “Don’t Bother Me” with due reverence as well, careening through an intense three-minute burst of energy with the grit and underlying precision one has come to expect from these singular masters. Soon enough, bands will be covering High on Fire with the same spirit of fan homage. Doubly notable for being founding drummer Des Kensel‘s last recorded appearance alongside Pike and bassist Jeff Matz in the band.

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eOne Heavy on Thee Facebooks

 

Ruff Majik, Tårn

ruff majik tarn

Guitarist/vocalist Johni Holiday, bassist Jimmy Glass and drummer Ben Manchino return with Tårn, Ruff Majik‘s second album on a quick turnaround from their 2018 debut, Seasons (review here). Aligned with Lay Bare Recordings for the vinyl release, the deceptively quick and even more deceptively complex seven-track/36-minute offering finds Ruff Majik digging into dirt-caked tonality and classically punkish sneer in Holiday‘s vocals. There are moments where they sound like Queens of the Stone Age (“Speed Hippie”) and moments where they sound like Black Flag (parts of opener “Schizophrenic”), but as a roller like “Heretically Happy” or the earlier post-Zeppelin stoner sneak of “Gloom & Tomb” show, Ruff Majik are perhaps most interested in sounding like themselves. They’re gleeful as they toy with doomed vibes on closer “Seasoning the Witch,” and the seven-minute “I’ll Dig the Grave” earlier thrills with changes drawn together by a pervasive and righteous groove. With Tårn, Ruff Majik have found their wavelength, and it suits them.

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Lay Bare Recordings website

 

Merlin, The Mortal

merlin the mortal

Be it heretofore established that sax-laced Kansas City psych-doomers Merlin don’t give a fuck. They don’t give a fuck what you expect, they don’t give a fuck what everyone else is doing, they don’t give a fuck if they meme the crap out of their own band. They’ve got their thing and they’re doing it. And you know what? They’re right. The Mortal is their fifth full-length in six years, following as a sequel to early-2018’s The Wizard (review here), and with flourish galore in arrangements of organ, sax, flute, percussion, accordion, trumpet, etc., alongside the foundation of songcraft that comes through the guitar, bass, drums and always-theatrical vocals of Jordan Knorr, the band recount tales along a dark-magical mystery tour of gorgeously flowing and still-weighted psychedelic plunder. They have become a buried treasure of weirdo/geek rock, and whether it’s the peaceful drift of “Ashen Lake” or the cacophonous heavy riffing of “Basilisk,” the stage-setting prog of “Towerfall” or the consuming swell that carries out the apex of closer “The Mortal Suite” — King Crimson chase and all — Merlin‘s work has never sounded so masterful. Will there be a third installment in the tale? Nothing quite like a trilogy.

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The Company BigCartel store

 

Workshed, Workshed

workshed workshed

They’ve since added a third party in bassist Helen Storer (Fireball Ministry, among others), but Workshed‘s self-titled Rise Above Records debut LP was recorded as the duo of guitarist/vocalist Adam Lehan and drummer Mark Wharton. More than a quarter-century ago, both Lehan and Wharton played on Cathedral‘s pivotal first two albums, but in Workshed, and certainly there are some shades of doom on a stomper like “Anthropophobic” here, but the bulk of Workshed‘s nine-song/47-minute first offering is given to post-Entombed buzzsaw noise sludge, riffs crunched one into the next in an aggro, punk-rooted fashion that rife with a sense of willful punishment that comes through in sheer impact from front to back. Vocals call to mind Tom G. Warrior immediately and are suited to the social commentary of “If This is How it Is” and “This City Has Fallen,” while the grueling march of “A Spirit in Exile” leaves room for some atmosphere to eek through, which it does. They trash out in centerpiece “On Sticks of Wood” and chug their into a last fade on closer “It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way,” but by then they’ve long since made their statement and left a trail of destruction behind them. Would they have been signed to Rise Above without the Cathedral connection? Probably not. Does the album earn their place? Absolutely.

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Rise Above Records website

 

E-L-R, Mænad

e-l-r maenad

With their first full-length, Mænad, Swiss post-metallers E-L-R cart a gorgeous and textured course through patient and progressive songweaving that lends itself to hypnosis through its churning rhythm as much as its overarching melodies seem to evoke other worlds. It is not without its sense of challenge and certainly plenty heavy in its tone and groove — at least where it wants to be — but it’s also rich and provides a level of depth to its mix that should have others in the genre asking how they did it. A transitional drone at the end of “Devotee” brings about the 10-minute “Above the Mountains There is Light” and a long contemplation begins, working from the ground up on a pilgrim’s path to the eventual payoff. The resonance there is something unto itself, but even as “Ambrosia,” “Lunar Nights” and “The Wild Shore” find the stylistic footing that opener “Glancing Limbs” and “Devotee” seemed to hint at earlier, E-L-R maintain both an ambient sprawl and a consuming sense of passion that makes their work here all the more thrilling. This is a debut, following only a single 2018 demo that had two of the same tracks. What that tells me is look out for this band, because this kind of potential doesn’t come along every day and when it does, you want to be there for the follow-up. The impeccable taste of Prophecy Productions pays dividends once again.

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Prophecy Productions website

 

Sibyl, The Magic Isn’t Real

sibyl the magic isn't real

Otherworldly doom rock marked by echoing vocals oozing out from deep in the mix and gotta-hear-it bass tone complemented by choice riffage and a fervent thud in the drums, even if the aesthetic of Richmond’s Sibyl is familiar enough, there’s plenty to dig about their debut EP — what one might’ve called a “demo” in eras past — The Magic Isn’t Real. The stylistic elephant in the room is RVA’s own Windhand, but Sibyl take a more psychedelic path to heavy oblivion, and with four tracks in the range of four to five minutes, The Magic Isn’t Real comes across as well focused in its songwriting despite the ethereal touches in the actual sound. Cool vibe, and as they work some noisy shuffle into “Spinning Webs,” they show themselves as being less restricted than otherwise might be the case if they were purely committed to doomed drudgery. I’ll give bonus points as well for naming the penultimate track “Sexpionage,” just on principle, but it’s in stretches like the subdued creeper opening of “Blood Moon” and the engrossing, still-somehow-moving wash of “Pendulums” that Sibyl really showcase their intention.

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Sibyl on Bandcamp

 

Golden Legacy, Golden Legacy II

golden legacy golden legacy ii

London heavy noise duo Golden Legacy offer five tracks and 23 minutes of anti-genre, adrenaline rock to follow-up their 2016 self-titled EP. There’s a strong undercurrent of modern punk and indie to their sound, which is what gets them the “anti-genre” consideration, but it’s the energy of their delivery carrying them one way or the other as they drive through the harsh snare of “Cut and Crash” following the chunkier tone of opener “Moon” and just before centerpiece “Dirty Mouth” finds its way into grunge-style howling beastliness. Comprised of drummer/vocalist Lorena Cachito and guitarist Yanni Georgiou, the two-piece find winning momentum in “Salvation,” while closer “Thirsty” opens with a mellow drum progression gradually joined by the guitar and builds into more progressive and dramatic movement, casting off some of the rawness of the songs before it in favor of more complex fare. It still manages to soar at the end, though, and that seems to be what counts. They might be rawer now than they’ll eventually turn out, but that suits most of what they’re doing in adding to the emotionality on display in Cachito‘s vocals.

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Golden Legacy on Bandcamp

 

Saint Karloff & Devil’s Witches, Coven of the Ultra-Riff

saint karloff devils witches coven of the ultra-riff

Alright, look. I don’t even think I have the full thing, but whatever. Saint Karloff and Devil’s Witches came together to release the Coven of the Ultra-Riff split — it can be so hard to find the right coven for your family; have you considered the Ultra-Riff? — and they each play an original track and then they cover each other’s songs and then Saint Karloff introduce the progression of “Supervixen (Electric Return)” and Devil’s Witches take up the mantle and run with it on “Supervixen (Acoustic Return),” so yeah, it’s pretty awesome and kind of all over the place but whatever. Get your head around it and get on board with whatever version you can grab. Vinyl came out through Majestic Mountain Records and tapes were through Stoner Witch Records and I’m fairly certain it’s all sold out already and probably stupid expensive on Discogs, but do what you need to do, because this is what Sabbath worship in the year 2019 is supposed to sound like. It’s bombed out of its gourd and has long since dropped out of life. It’s exactly where and what it wants to be.

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Devil’s Witches on Thee Facebooks

Majestic Mountain Records BigCartel store

Stoner Witch Records BigCartel store

 

Burden Limbs, There is No Escape

burden limbs there is no escape

I’m not going to pretend to have the grounding in post-hardcore to toss off the influences under which Burden Limbs are working, but to listen to the blast of noise in “How Many Times Must I Reset” and the near-industrial wash of noise they conjure in the subsequent “Hypochondriac,” it’s clear they’re working under one influence anyway. There is No Escape (released through Glasshouse Records) runs 24 minutes and carries four songs, but in that time the band around founding figurehead and guitarist/vocalist Chad Murray manage to challenge themselves and the listener alike to keep up with their turns and emotional resonance. Murray is joined by two bassists, another guitarist, keyboards/synth and drums, so yes, there’s something of a busy feel to it, but even echoing cavernous as they are, the vocals seem to draw the songs together around a central presence and add a human core to the proceedings that only makes them all the more affecting as would seem to be the intent.

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Glasshouse Records on Bandcamp

 

El Supremo, Clarity Through Distortion

El Supremo Clarity Through Distortion

Sometimes these things take a while, but El Supremo was formed by now-ex-Egypt bassist Chad Heille has a solo-project and released a self-titled demo in 2008, to which Clarity Through Distortion is the follow-up full-length. Now joined by guitarist Neil Stein (also ex-Egypt, and who also played some on the demo) and organist Chris Gould as well as bassist Cam Dewald who came aboard after the album’s completion, the instrumentalist full-band incarnation of El Supremo waste no time diving into dead-on tonal and riffy righteousness, taking classic heavy cues and running with them in modern production richness, sounding clear but natural as a jam like “Moanin’ & Groanin'” turns into a shuffler as it moves into its second half, or the mellow sway of the 14-minute “Supercell” at last runs head-on into the lumbering motion that will carry it through to the end. I don’t know how much clarity — at least of the existential sort I think they mean in the title — they might’ve found by the time the bluesy “Lotus Throne” rolls over into the shreddy “Outro” that caps, but if the method is distortion, they’ve certainly got that part down.

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Quarterly Review: Monkey3, Asthma Castle, The Giraffes, Bask, Faerie Ring, Desert Sands, Cavalcade, Restless Spirit, Children of the Sün, Void King

Posted in Reviews on September 30th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

quarterly review

Call two friends and tell them to tell two friends to tell two friends, because the Quarterly Review has returned. This time around, it’s 50 records front to back for Fall 2019 and there are some big names and some smaller names and a whole lot of in between which is just how I like it. Between today and Friday, each day 10 album reviews will be posted in a single batch like this one, and although by Wednesday this always means I’m totally out of my mind, it’s always, always, always worth it to be able to write about so much cool stuff. So sit tight, because there’s a lot to get through and, as ever, time’s at a premium.

Thanks in advance for keeping up, and I hope you find something you dig.

Quarterly Review #1-10:

Monkey3, Sphere

monkey3 sphere

It’s a full-on Keanu Reeves “whoa” when opening track “Spirals” kicks in on Monkey3‘s sixth album, Sphere (released by Napalm), and that’s by no means the last one on the cinematic six-tracker. The long-running Swiss mostly-instrumentalists have been consistently, persistently underappreciated throughout their career, but whether it’s the aural scope of guitar and keys in “Axis” or the swaps between intensity and sprawl in 14-minute closer “Ellipsis,” their latest work is consuming in its sense of triumph. Even the four-minute “Ida,” which seems at first like it’s barely going to be more than an interlude, finds a thread of majestic cosmic groove and rides it for the duration, while the proggy immersion of “Prism” and the harder drive of “Mass” — not to mention that shredding solo — make the middle of the record anything but a post-hypnosis dip. I won’t pretend to know if Sphere is the record that finally gets the Lausanne four-piece the respect they’ve already well deserved, but if it was, one could only say it was for good reason. Blends of heft, progressive craft, and breadth are rarely so resonant.

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Napalm Records website

 

Asthma Castle, Mount Crushmore

Asthma Castle Mount Crushmore

When you call your record Mount Crushmore, you need to bring it, and much to their credit, Baltimorean sludge-rocking five-piece Asthma Castle do precisely that on their debut full-length. Issued through Hellmistress Records, the 37-minute/six-track outing is a wordplay-laced pummeler that shows as much persona in its riffing and massive groove as it does in titles like “The Incline of Western Civilization” and “The Book of Duderonomy.” Trades between early-Mastodonic twists and lumbering sludge crash add a frenetic and unpredictable feel to pieces like the title-track, while “Methlehem” trades its plod for dual-guitar antics punctuated by metallic double-kick, all the while the vocals trade back and forth between growls, shouts, cleaner shouts, the odd scream, etc., because basically if you can keep up with it, Asthma Castle wouldn’t be doing their job. One shudders to think of the amount of Natty Bo consumed during its making, but Mount Crushmore is a wild and cacophonous enough time to live up to the outright righteousness of its title. If I graded reviews, it would get a “Fuckin’ A+,” with emphasis on “fuckin’ a.”

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Hellmistress Records website

 

The Giraffes, Flower of the Cosmos

the giraffes flower of the cosmos

Some day the world will wake up and realize the rock and roll powerhouse it had in Brooklyn’s The Giraffes, but by then it’ll be too late. The apocalypse will have happened long ago, and it’ll be Burgess Meredith putting on a vinyl of Flower of the Cosmos in the New York Library as “FAKS” echoes out through the stacks of now-meaningless tomes and the dust of nuclear winter falls like snow outside the windows. The band’s tumultuous history is mirrored in the energy of their output, and yet to hear the melody and gentle fuzz at the outset of “Golden Door,” there’s something soothing about their work as well that, admittedly, “Raising Kids in the End Times” is gleeful in undercutting. Cute as well they pair that one with “Dorito Dreams” on this, their seventh record in a 20-plus-year run, which has now seen them find their footing, lose it, find it again, and in this record and songs like the masterfully frenetic “Fill up Glass” and the air-tight-tense “Like Hate” and “Romance,” weave a document every bit worthy of Mr. Meredith’s attention as he mourns for the potential of this godforsaken wasteland. Oh, what we’ll leave behind. Such pretty ruins.

The Giraffes website

The Giraffes on Bandcamp

 

Bask, III

bask iii

In the fine tradition of heavy rock as grown-up punk, North Carolina’s Bask bring progressive edge and rolling-Appalachian atmospherics to the underlying energy of III, their aptly-titled and Season of Mist-issued third album. Their foot is in any number of styles, from Baroness-style noodling to a hard twang that shows up throughout and features prominently on the penultimate “Noble Daughters II – The Bow,” but the great triumph of III, and really the reason it works at all, is because the band find cohesion in this swath of influences. They’re a band who obviously put thought into what they do, making it all the more appropriate to think of them as prog, but as “Three White Feet” and “New Dominion” show at the outset, they don’t serve any aesthetic master so much as the song itself. Closing with banjo and harmonies and a build of crash cymbal on “Maiden Mother Crone” nails the point home in a not-understated way, but at no point does III come across as hyper-theatrical so as to undercut the value of what Bask are doing. It’s a more patient album than it at first seems, but given time to breathe, III indeed comes to life.

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Season of Mist on Bandcamp

 

Faerie Ring, The Clearing

fairie ring the clearing

Listening to the weighty rollout of opening cut “Bite the Ash” on Faerie Ring‘s debut album, The Clearing (on King Volume Records), one is reminded of the energy that once-upon-a-time came out of Houston’s Venomous Maximus. There’s a similar feeling of dark energy surging through the riffs and echoing vocals, but the Evansville, Indiana, four-piece wind up on a different trip. Their take is more distinctly Sabbathian on “Lost Wind” and even the swinging “Heavy Trip” lives up to its stated purpose ahead of the chugging largesse of finisher “Heaven’s End.” They find brash ground on “The Ring” and the slower march of “Somnium,” but there’s metal beneath the lumbering and it comes out on “Miracle” in a way that the drums late in “Lost Wind” seem to hint toward on subsequent listens. It’s a mix of riff-led elements that should be readily familiar to many listeners, but the sheer size and clarity of presentation Faerie Ring make throughout The Clearing makes me think they’ll look to distinguish themselves going forward, and so their first record holds all the more potential for that.

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King Volume Records on Bandcamp

 

Desert Sands, The Ascent EP

Desert Sands The Ascent

Begun as the solo-project of London-based multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Mark Walker and presently a trio including Louis Kinder and Jonathan Walker as well, Desert Sands make their recorded debut through A Records with the three-song/half-hour The Ascent EP, a work of psychedelic existentialism that conveys its cosmic questioning even before the lyrics start, with an opening riff and rhythmic lurch to “Are You There” that seems to throw its central query into a void that either will or won’t answer. Does it? The hell should I know, but The Ascent proves duly transcendent in its pulsations as “Head Towards the Light” and 11:45 closer “Yahweh” — yeah, I guess we get there — bring drifting, languid enlightenment to these spiritual musings. The finale is, of course, a jam in excelsis and if drop-acid-find-god is the narrative we’re working with, then Desert Sands are off to a hell of a start as a project. Regardless of how one might ultimately come down (and it is, by my estimation at least, a comedown) on the question of human spirituality, there’s no denying the power and ethereal force of the kind of creativity on display in The Ascent. One will wait impatiently to see what comes next.

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A Recordings on Thee Facebooks

 

Cavalcade, Sonic Euthanasia

Cavalcade Sonic Euthanasia

Say what you want about New Orleans or North Carolina or wherever the hell else, Midwestern sludge is another level of filth. To wit, the Carcass-style vocals that slice through the raw, dense riffing on “Aspirate on Aspirations” feel like the very embodiment of modern disillusion, and there’s some flourish of melodic guitar pluck there, but that only seems to give the ensuing crunch more impact, and likewise the far-back char of “Freezing in Fire” as it relates to the subsequent “Dead Idles,” as Cavalcade refute the trappings of genre in tempo while still seeming to burrow a hole for themselves in the skull of the converted. “Noose Tie” and “We Dig Our Own Graves” tell the story, but while the recording itself is barebones, Cavalcade aren’t now and never really have been so simple as to be a one-trick band. For more than a decade, they’ve provided a multifaceted and trickily complex downer extremity, and Sonic Euthanasia does this as well, bringing their sound to new places and new levels of abrasion along its punishing way. Easy listening? Shit. You see that eye on the cover? That’s the lizard people staring back at you. Have fun with that.

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Cavalcade on Bandcamp

 

Restless Spirit, Lord of the New Depression

restless spirit lord of the new depression

Long Island chug-rockers Restless Spirit would seem to have been developing the material for their self-released debut album, Lord of the New Depression, over the last couple years on a series of short releases, but the songs still sound fresh and electrified in their vitality. If this was 1992 or ’93, they’d be signed already to RoadRacer Records and put on tour with Life of Agony, whose River Runs Red would seem to be a key influence in the vocals of the nine-track/39-minute offering, but even on their own, the metal-tinged five-piece seem to do just fine. Their tracks are atmospheric and aggressive and kind, and sincere in their roll, capturing the spirit of a band like Down with somewhat drawn-back chestbeating, “Dominion” aside. They seem to be challenging themselves to push outside those confines though in “Deep Fathom Hours,” the longest track at 7:35 with more complexity in the melody of the vocals and guitar, and that suits them remarkably well as they dig into this doomly take on LOA and Type O Negative and others from the early ’90s NYC underground — they seem to pass on Biohazard, which is fine — made legendary with the passage of time. As a gentleman of a certain age, I find it exceptionally easy to get on board.

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Restless Spirit on Bandcamp

 

Children of the Sün, Flowers

Children of the Sun Flowers

An eight-piece outfit based in Arvika, Sweden, which is far enough west to be closer to Oslo than Stockholm, Children of the Sün blend the classic heavy rock stylizations of MaidaVale, first-LP Blues Pills and others with a decidedly folkish bent. Including an intro, their The Sign Records debut album, Flowers, is eight track and 34 minutes interweaving organ and guitar, upbeat vibes and bluesier melodies, taking cues from choral-style vocals on “Emmy” in such a way as to remind of Church of the Cosmic Skull, though the aesthetic here is more hippie than cult. The singing on “Sunschild” soars in that fashion as well, epitomizing the lush melody found across Flowers as the keys, guitar, bass and drums work to match in energy and presence. For a highlight, I’d pick the more subdued title-track, which still has its sense of movement thanks to percussion deep in the mix but comes arguably closest to the flower-child folk Children of the Sün seem to be claiming for their own, though the subsequent closing duo of “Like a Sound” and “Beyond the Sun” aren’t far off either. They’re onto something. One hopes they continue to explore in such sünshiny fashion.

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The Sign Records on Thee Facebooks

 

Void King, Barren Dominion

void king barren dominion

Having made their debut with 2016’s There is Nothing (discussed here), Indianapolis downtrodden heavy rock four-piece Void King come back for a second go with Barren Dominion (on Off the Record Label), a title of similar theme that finds them doom riffing through massive tonality on “Burnt at Both Ends,” asking what if Soundgarden played atmospheric doom rock on “Crippled Chameleon” — uh, it would be awesome? yup — and opening each side with its longest track (double immediate points) in a clearly intended vinyl structure hell bent on immersing the listener as much as possible in the lumber and weight the band emit. Frontman Jason Kindred adds extra burl to his already-plenty-dudely approach on “Crippled Chameleon” and closer “The Longest Winter,” the latter with some harmonies to mirror those of opener “A Lucid Omega,” and the band around him — bassist Chris Carroll, drummer Derek Felix and guitarist Tommy Miller — seem to have no trouble whatsoever in keeping up, there or anywhere else on the eight-song/46-minute outing. Topped with striking cover art from Diogo SoaresBarren Dominion is deceptively nuanced and full-sounding. Not at all empty.

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Off the Record Label BigCartel store

 

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Blackwater Holylight, Veils of Winter: Moonlit Daylight

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

blackwater holylight veils of winter

About a year and a half ago, Portland, Oregon’s Blackwater Holylight released their RidingEasy Records-delivered self-titled debut (review here), and thereby immediately brought new character to Pacific Coast psychedelia, something distinct from Caliboogie and Douglas-fir meditations, yet drawing from those and a host of other sonic micropockets for a drifting take on what might otherwise just simply be a classic garage style. On the band’s quick-turnaround follow-up, Veils of Winter (also RidingEasy), it isn’t “just” or “simply” anything in terms of aesthetic, as the five-piece of bassist/vocalist Allison “Sunny” Faris, guitarist/vocalist Laura Hopkins, synthesist Sarah McKenna, guitarist Mikayla Mayhew and drummer Eliese Dorsay ignite a swath of heavy pulsations and drifting progressions, showcasing a patience for craft on cuts like “Daylight” that leaves one scratching their head at how it’s only been a year(-plus) since the first record.

Their dynamic, range and confidence in vocal harmonies have all progressed to a marked degree, and even with the new personnel involved, Veils of Winter feels very much like a moment in which Blackwater Holylight are becoming the band Farris set out to be in when she started the project. That includes setting a broader scope between the lumbering buzz of opener “Seeping Secrets” and the almost-surf bounce of the subsequent “Motorcycle,” which in its back half manages to offer some of Veils of Winter‘s heaviest bass, feeling all the more weighted for the ethereal line of synth floating overtop.

That’s to say nothing of the later soundscaping triumph of the penultimate “Lullaby” — okay, so maybe there’s some Cascadian forest worship happening after all as the title-line of the album is delivered — but one way or the other, what’s happening across the eight-track/40-minute offering is that Blackwater Holylight are harnessing their influences and stepping out in front of them in righteous fashion, whether that’s the foreboding, nigh-on-doomly plod of “The Protector” or the brighter, folk-infused melodies of closer “Moonlit.” Through hypnotic rhythm and engaging harmonies, Veils of Winter establishes Blackwater Holylight among the more essential US-based heavy psych purveyors, both accomplished in the work they’ve done to-date across their two LPs and still rife with potential.

As a whole, Veils of Winter is nothing less than a clinic in molten heavy psychedelia. It has an overarching flow that, if you’re not careful, is consuming to the point of losing oneself in the drift. Whether it’s Farris‘ languid vocal delivery or the depth and warmth of the tones surrounding — or, most often, both — Blackwater Holylight unite their songs through this natural presentation such that even a relatively straightforward rocker like the three-and-a-half-minute “Spiders” on side A, with a quieter verse and a takeoff in the chorus and a Halloween-style spooky riff that I’ll call fun and mean it 100 percent as a compliment, has a sense of presence both within itself and in the context of the surrounding material. Seemingly set up with vinyl in mind, Veils of Winter ends its initial salvo with “Spiders” following the yes-yes-yes rumble at the outset of “Seeping Secrets” and the likewise fluid groove of “Motorcycle,” both of which prove deceptively heavy for having so much of a sleepy mood.

blackwater holylight

The same could be said of what follows, but the direction taken shifts some with “The Protector,” and that serves as a transition to side B’s generally longer-form, more open-feeling pieces. The ending of “The Protector” is especially crucial, as the song seems to come apart even as it’s in the midst of riding out its last nod, leaving a stretch of silence — the vinyl flip if you’re listening to the 12″ — before the standalone guitar of “Daylight” takes hold. That moment of silence helps to convey the sense of going from one place to another, which, within the sphere of the album’s entirety, is essentially what has happened between the two tracks. “Daylight” is slower to take hold, more patient in its build, but resoundingly tense in its prominent keys and darker tonal undercurrent; affecting the sound of a gathering storm while remaining minimally theatrical in terms of the outward delivery. This as well is no minor feat.

More over, it is the lead-in to side B’s purposefully broader range. Think of it this way: side A has one song over five minutes long (“The Protector”), side B has one song under. And that track is “Death Realms,” at 4:43, which follows “Daylight” and answers its consuming morass with a revived sense of movement that nonetheless remains ethereal in its later wash of keys and guitar and a melody and vocal patterning that seems to swap out grunge for dark new wave in effective fashion as Blackwater Holylight toy with the new conventions of genre. What follows in “Lullaby” and “Moonlit” is simply some of the most beautiful psychedelic rock I’ve heard in 2019, encompassing in sprawl but still intimate feeling thanks to moments like the standout guitar line right after the vocal line at 3:33 into “Lullaby” or the sweet and winding keyboard line harnessing classic acid-folk past the halfway point in “Moonlit,” just when that song seems to be moving into the build that finds payoff in a forward guitar solo to come at about the 5:30 mark and the return to the central riff with added crash that caps off.

Veils of Winter, even in its most relatively earthbound moments on side A — and that’s some serious relativity there — is full of these nuances and details, flourishes of arrangement that are more than simple indulgences for what they do in serving and enriching the lush front-to-back listening experience. Blackwater Holylight made it clear with their first record that they were bringing to life a specific aesthetic idea, and Veils of Winter answers that with a more complex manifestation that feels even closer to an initial vision hinted at by its predecessor. At the same time, it is unquestionably a forward step in terms of songwriting and performance, and shows the dynamic the five-piece have been able to harness on tour over the last year. Given the work they’ve done here, it feels greedy to hope they keep pushing themselves in this direction, but I do anyway. It’s hard not to with a band making records this exciting.

Tune in, switch on. Recommended.

Blackwater Holylight, Veils of Winter (2019)

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Review & Full Album Stream: Bison Machine, Seas of Titan

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

bison machine seas of titan

[Click play above to stream Bison Machine’s Seas of Titan in its entirety. Album is out Sept. 27 on Small Stone Records.]

It feels like an exceedingly long four years since Michigan classic heavy rockers Bison Machine issued their debut LP, Hoarfrost (review here), through Kozmik Artifactz after first releasing it themselves to significant acclaim. They boogied their way through a 2016 split with SLO and Wild Savages (review here) and issued the single “Cloak and Bones” (premiered here) the next year, and they’ve done a fair amount of touring between, mostly but not entirely in the Midwest, but as second-record Seas of Titan arrives via Small Stone Records — Detroit(-ish) band, Detroit label, Detroit rock — one seems to greet it almost with an exhale of relief: “ah, finally.” The winding shuffle of “Cloak and Bones” makes an appearance on side A amid semi-vintage stylized jams like the proto-metallic opener “The Tower,” “Knights of the Stars” and the somebody-please-isolate-the-bass-track-and-send-it-to-me shuffler “Echoes in Space,” which indeed trips out its guitar solo from Casey O’Ryan, who’s been in the band for a while now but is still the ‘new guy’ alongside vocalist Tom Stec, bassust/Moog-ist Anthony Franchina and drummer Breck Crandell.

But beyond that, everything on Seas of Titan at least feels fresh in listening to it, which is something of an accomplishment for a band so readily paying homage to the heavy ’70s in atmosphere and method. Brought together by a stellar recording job from Al Sutton and Steve Lehane, the latter of whom also co-produced with the band and handled mixing duties — Chris Goosman mastered, which is how it goes for most Small Stone releases — Seas of Titan comes across as natural to a clearly purposeful degree, taking that organic vibe and using it to bolster a live-feeling sound that further adds to the already considerable chemistry between Bison Machine as players. The tones are warm, the balance of instruments and vocals in the mix just right, and the flow between the songs enough to carry through the eight-track/42-minute run even before you know it’s over.

A sense of movement is essential to what Bison Machine do on their sophomore full-length, and that starts from the galloping guitar and emphasize-the-point snare of “The Tower” and continues one way or another through everything that follows. An echo treatment on Stec‘s vocals proves a uniting factor throughout, but isn’t any more overdone than intended, and as he seems to tap his inner Plant on “The Tower,” the message of what he’s going for comes through clearly. One might say the same of the band’s work on the whole. They inject boogie rock with a much-needed sense of energy and a much-needed sense of danger, not through violent lyrical themes or anything like that, but through the vitality of their swing, of the sharpness of their performance as captured here. Hooky enough to warrant its leadoff position, “The Tower” leads to “Knights of the Stars,” whereby Thin Lizzy‘s boys end up back in town and in a brawl with Cactus, only to resolve their differences peacefully in the song’s languid, solo-enriched second half, which cuts out before its 5:11 are done and gives way to “Cloak and Bones,” which channels biker-style death fetishism in its lyrics and sets it to an insistent rhythm and percussive foundation.

bison machine

Bass and guitar wind their way around the snapping drums, and together with Stec, all seem to be resolved to conveying the same crucial aspects of their performance. Like “The Tower,” “Cloak and Bones” is more proto-metallic than not, but Bison Machine‘s ability to shift the balance between such runs and jams or boogie-downs is a big part of what makes Seas of Titan work so well for the duration. As “Echoes in Space” digs into a mellower softshoe riff, that range becomes that much clearer as a part of the listening experience, and while it’s all still well within a similar-enough vibe to be coherent — that is, Bison Machine aren’t trying to do something just to catch their audience off-guard — neither are they repeating themselves anymore than they want to be doing to nail down the grooves that so well populate the album, and indeed “Echoes in Space,” which picks up its tempo and adds a line of presumably Moog or other keyboard under the broad-sounding guitar solo for which one assumes the song was named in the first place.

So yes, movement. But also warmth. The synth that begins the side-B-opening title-track is an intro for one of Seas of Titan‘s most driving progressions, but even that carries a distinctly human warmth and character, mirroring the chorus of “The Tower” and some of that same burst of energy, but locking into a bluesier chorus as well, reminding a bit of Radio Moscow as it struts into and out of lead sections. “Seas of Titan” is the longest inclusion at 6:10, but not by so much over “Cloak and Bones” (6:02) or “The Tower” (5:46) that it’s out of step with the rest of the record that shares its name — that intro is essentially the difference, but it’s well enough earned.

They follow-it with a build of momentum through “Star Child,” which oddly enough is more Rainbow than KISS in terms of its sound, but a welcome delving into minor-key fretwork either way as O’Ryan‘s guitar swaps channels before the hook comes back through and leads to an effective section of starts and stops and a last push ahead of the already-going-already-gone “Electric Eliminator,” which somehow finds room in its sub-four-minute run for a winding, boogie-dense jam in its midsection that almost seems like it’s going to hold sway for the duration and then turns quickly back to the central riff. That lets the initial strum of closer “A Distant Sun” make an immediately more peaceful impression, but the tempo remains up and fuller fuzz makes its way in, Stec‘s vocals seeming to tap their inner Freedom Hawk past the midpoint just before they ride the last solo into a roundout with the last hook and then end the set with a ringout and fade, their sense of class coming through almost in spite of the grit of their presentation.

One wouldn’t necessarily accuse Bison Machine of reinventing the wheel in terms of aesthetic, but the fact of the matter is their take on boogie rock is presented with an energy and an edge of its own on Seas of Titan, and though acts like KadavarGraveyard, and half the population of San Diego have cut their teeth on ’70s riffage over the last decade, the grit Bison Machine bring to the proceedings — and again, that class underlying — is well on display throughout these songs. I wouldn’t be surprised in the future to find them loosening up the structure a bit — contrary to my usual impulse, I almost found myself wishing “Electric Eliminator” just let itself go without returning to the hook; the band’s songwriting acumen had already been thoroughly established, so why not? — but their tightness here extends to all levels of what they do and it becomes part of the overarching statement Seas of Titan makes, and makes resoundingly. Maybe it’ll be four years until the next one and maybe not, but it’ll be worth waiting for, in any case.

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Review & Full Album Stream: Goatess, Blood and Wine

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on September 23rd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Goatess Blood and Wine

[Click play above to stream Goatess’ Blood and Wine in full. Album is out Friday on Svart Records.]

Let’s get it established right away that the third Goatess full-length, Blood and Wine, continues the thread of quality output the Swedish outfit began with their 2013 self-titled debut (review here) and pushed forward on their 2016 second album, II: Purgatory Under New Management (review here). Blood and Wine arrives holding firm to an every-three-year pace and to notions of traditional Sabbathian heavy alike, but the band’s circumstances have changed considerably. Guitarist Nicklas Jones and drummer Kenta Karlbom are the only remaining original members of the four-piece, and along with bassist Samuel Cornelsen, who comes aboard as at least the third low-end specialist with whom the band have worked over the course of their decade together, Goatess also have a new frontman in vocalist Karl Buhre. Also of Stockholm-based death metallers CrucifyreBuhre takes the place of Christian “Chritus” Linderson (still of Lord Vicar, ex-Count Raven, Saint Vitus, etc.), and therein lies the inevitable narrative of the record.

At 65 minutes long, Blood and Wine tips the scales of manageability, but the songs it collects groove enough and are memorable enough to effectively carry the listener through that extended run, whether it’s the loosely drifting verses of “Jupiter Rising” or the weighted landmark hooks of “Dead City” early on and the penultimate “Stampede,” both of which stand out in Goatess catalog as a whole, no matter who’s in the band. Songwriting has always been Goatess‘ secret weapon, and it comes more to the forefront with Blood and Wine, and in bookending the record with its two longest tracks in opener “Goddess” (8:15) and closer “Blood and Wine” (14:07), they create a context of immersion that grabs attention from the first lead lines of “Goddess” and holds through the extended fading jam of the finale. All of this is to say that while invariably there are those for whom Blood and Wine will be defined by the change in personnel up front — and fair enough — Goatess remain unflinching in their commitment to the proliferation of high grade traditionalist doom heavy.

And riffs. Oh, they’ve got riffs. Jones leads much of the proceedings throughout, and as Goatess dig into rockers like “Black Iron Mark” and “Dark Days,” there’s an undercurrent of classic heavy rock that comes through in a way that Buhre‘s vocals only help emphasize. The latter of those is the centerpiece of the tracklisting and also the shortest inclusion at 4:23, and it’s about as straight-ahead a rocker as I can ever recall the band putting together, though they’ve had a few at this point. Still, a raw production sound on Karlbom‘s snare and the manner in which Buhre follows the rhythmic patterning of the guitar gives “Dark Days” a rudimentary mood that suits the sans-frills structure, and there’s plenty of heft in the subsequent “Dunerider” as the lead tone recalls the opener but moves into a speedier chug and finds the vocals engaging some effective layering in the hook that one hopes will become a point of further development in the future.

goatess

“Dunerider” is the opener of the second of Blood and Wine‘s two LPs, so perhaps its mirroring “Goddess” is intentional, but it works either way, no less so than the psych flourish of “Jupiter Rising” seeming to be in sonic conversation with the languid build in the second half of “What Lies Beneath” at the outset of side B. Amid a generally more swinging, rocking approach, there’s still plenty of doom to be found in Goatess‘ sound, they’ve simply become more dynamic in how it’s applied. As resistant as a fan of their first two records might be to such a change, it’s not actually so radical a leap from one to the other so much as it is a readjustment of the balance that’s been at the core of their work all along. There are shifts in style, sure, but it’s nothing that those who heard and dug the self-titled or its follow-up shouldn’t be able to get on board with, barring any “no Chritus no Goatess“-type griping.

Maybe that’s inevitable to some degree in the current social media climate even as it applies to underground heavy and doom, and I’m not trying to minimize the presence Linderson brought to Goatess at all. What remains, however, is a band who set themselves to the task of reestablishing their place in a heavy pantheon where they’d previously found vigilant welcome, and, I’d argue, doing that to righteous effect. A second debut? Not really, but certainly a debut for Buhre, who gives flashes here of the singer he might become in Goatess going forward, as heard on “Dunerider” and again in the side D-consuming title-track, which effectively summarizes Blood and Wine‘s blend of doom and rock while bringing a more open sensibility to the proceedings than Goatess have ever had before.

That jam takes hold shortly after about minutes in and carries through in semi-hypnotic fashion, the band essentially riding the final riff into oblivion and stretching it outward across a wash-soaked landscape before the march moves into its long fadeout. Certainly Goatess have had long tracks before, but “Blood and Wine” owns its 14 minutes with a sense of mastery that is very much evidence of a band on their third album knowing where they’ve been before and willing themselves to push beyond it. Given the changes they’ve undertaken since the last offering, Goatess do succeed in that progression on Blood and Wine — much, honestly, to one’s relief as a fan of the first two LPs. And in some subtle ways, they demonstrate where they might go in terms of style in the future as the chemistry with their new lineup more fully develops. More harmonies, more toying with structure, and a malleable sense of weight and production style can only be assets to Goatess from here on out, as they certainly help make their third record a victory in much more than let’s-just-keep-going fashion. This is a band who still have more to say.

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Live Review: Brant Bjork & Ecstatic Vision in New Jersey, 09.20.19

Posted in Reviews on September 21st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Brant Bjork (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Good coffee at the Debonair Music Hall. Someone there clearly gives a crap about it. The menu advertises it as a custom blend, which can mean anything from they hand-pick the beans at the roaster to they pour two smaller cans of instant into one bigger can, but it came in a small French press and was served with a glass mug that perfectly contained the liquid when poured into it with nothing left to sit too long in its own grounds. Even the little bit of sludge that came through in the bottom of the mug tasted good. It was $3 a cup and worth every penny and then some.

I found this out while sitting upstairs and watching Added Color launch the three-band evening topped by Ecstatic Vision and Brant Bjork. They were more hard rock than heavy rock, and if you don’t think there’s a difference I’m going to guess you haven’t heard much hard rock lately. Just not my thing. They covered Rage Against the Machine‘s “Bulls on Parade” with the drummer and guitarist sharing vocal duties. They were tight, performed well, all the rest of it. Just not my thing. So I went up to the balcony, sat down, and ordered a coffee. No regrets on that.

It was release day for Ecstatic Vision‘s new album, For the Masses (review here), and they celebrated with a good amount of the new album live, including closer “Grasping the Void” and, reportedly for the first time, the especially-wild “Like a Freak.” Line of the night went to frontman Doug Sabolik — joined in the band by bassist Michael Field Connor, guitarist/saxophonist/flutist Kevin Nickles and drummer Ricky Kulp — who, before they ignited into one or the other of their riotous heavy space rock anthems of personal freedom, said, “I called Dave Wyndorf to try and get him to come to the show, but he never takes my calls.” That got a chuckle out of me, and it was backed by the kind of cosmic burst that called to mind Monster Magnet at their most Hawkwindian, as Sabolik switched back and forth between playing guitar and not, seeming to wind up and throw his buried-under-wash, semi-shouted lyrics at the crowd standing up front, who only increased in number while they played.

The new stuff? Killer. The tour had hit Brooklyn the night before with River Cult and It’s Not Night: It’s Space on the bill, and would head down to Ecstatic Vision‘s native Philly the following night, with Heavy Temple opening, but either way, this show was just about halfway through the 16-gig run, and Ecstatic Vision played like it. Smiling on stage, their energy was infectious, and with the flashing lights, Nickles swapping out his guitar for a sax or flute — and yes, he did kick his leg up Ian Anderson-style when the flute came out; how could he not? — and Sabolik‘s nigh-on-perfected Stooges-era-IggyPop-turned-acid-priest preach met by periodic megaphone harmonica or stepping down into the crowd to go over and stand on one of the chairs toward the back of the room, yeah, it was right on. Very much the kind of set an album like For the Masses deserved on the day it came out. It had been a while since I last saw them, but they were pure, righteous mania.

And though it’s a somewhat counterintuitive match on paper, Ecstatic Vision were also a great lead-in for their Heavy Psych Sounds labelmate Brant Bjork. Of course, the desert rock mainstay’s style is more laid back as it would almost have to be, but the vibe was nothing if not warm after Ecstatic Vision played — scorched, more like — so as Bjork and his Low Desert Punk Band came out and did a quick line check before hitting into “Swagger and Sway” and “Chocolatize” from last year’s Mankind Woman (review here), “Stokely up Now” from 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here) and the boogie-down “Humble Pie” from 2016’s Tao of the Devil (review here). With collaborator Bubba Dupree on guitar, secret-weapon Dave Dinsmore on bass and Ryan Güt on drums, it was the same lineup that featured on the Europe ’16 (review here) live record, and well, they had it nailed three years ago, so, what, they would have lost it? Hell no. Chemistry full-on, groove full-on, heavy full-on. If you ever needed a reason to visit Teaneck, New Jersey, on a surprisingly balmy Friday, watching Brant Bjork and his band jam out more than an hour of the finest in Low Dez-nod is about the best I could hope to come up with.

I can’t imagine Debonair Music Hall was as packed as either Brooklyn or Philly would’ve been, but shit. The chance to see Brant Bjork play at all is something special, let alone play in my beloved Garden State. And whether or not the building hit capacity, I don’t think anything was going to stop Brant Bjork from delivering his show. “Mankind Woman,” “The Greeheen,” “Controllers Destroyed” and the mellow jam “Somebody” that brought Dupree‘s vocals into the mix emphasized the crucial work Bjork has done over his last couple records, while a particularly dug-in take on “Let the Truth Be Known” from 2005’s Saved by Magic, and “Too Many Chiefs… Not Enough Indians,” “Low Desert Punk” and the set-finale “Automatic Fantastic” with its clarion riff prefaced by Dinsmore in the jammy “Lazy Bones” represented Bjork‘s recently-reissued ultra-essential 1999 solo debut, Jalamanta (review here; also discussed here), with due vitality. The classics, alive! By the time they were hitting into “Low Desert Punk,” they owned the room and did not relinquish that until Bjork gradually turned down his guitar feeding back as it rested in front of his cabinet on stage. I called it his Sunn O))) cover, because I’ve always been the clever sort, but the bit of residual noise was welcome either way. You take what you can get.

If you’re reading this — and thanks if you are — I’m going to assume you don’t need me to tell you to go see Brant Bjork when and if the opportunity should present itself. Aside from his legit-legendary pedigree as drummer for Kyuss and Fu Manchu, his founding and underrated work with Ché and the two decades he’s put into building a solo-ish catalog that’s made for more than a few highlights of desert rock as a whole, the set’s a party. There’s no substitute for a good time, and that’s a good time. So yes, go. And have a good time. Buy a shirt when it’s over and tell Bubba Dupree his lead tone is incredible, because it is.

Because it was Teaneck and that’s how North Jersey rolls, I was back at my ancestral homestead about half an hour after the show ended, give or take for a wrong turn or two on the way. Takes a while to get your bearings after something like that, I guess, which is a small price to pay for having “Automatic Fantastic” stuck in my head, I can only hope into perpetuity.

More pics after the jump. Thanks again for reading.

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Mars Red Sky, The Task Eternal: On Proving Grounds

Posted in Reviews on September 20th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

mars red sky the task eternal

The approach of Bordeaux, France’s Mars Red Sky continues to grow richer on their fourth long-player, The Task Eternal. Also their third outing for Listenable Records, it comprises an eight-track/49-minute run that digs into many of what have become the trio’s signature elements — fragile melodies, tonal heft, nod and march, etc. — while playing toward a wider atmospheric breadth than even 2016’s Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) (review here) could offer. As ever, the new album was led into by an EP, in this case the short self-release Collector (discussed here) earlier this year, and what was the title-track there shows up early here as well, following opener and longest cut (immediate points) “The Proving Grounds” on side A. Whatever patterns it has followed along the way, Mars Red Sky‘s progression has been steady from release to release, with perhaps the most major jump being from the sweet melodies and hooky bounce of their 2011 self-titled debut (review here) to the second album, 2014’s Stranded in Arcadia (review here), which even with a 2012 split with Year of No Light (discussed here) and 2013’s Be My Guide EP (review here) between them was the point when the band signaled the proggier intent that their subsequent outings have allowed to flourish in their songwriting.

Notable that it was around that same time that the lineup solidified with Matieu “Matgaz” Gazeau on drums alongside founding guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras and bassist/sometimes vocalist Jimmy Kinast, since as they moved through Stranded in Arcadia, 2016’s Providence EP (review here), Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul), 2017’s Myramyd EP (discussed here) and Collector — touring all the while — their chemistry has only become more palpable. That rings true throughout The Task Eternal as well as the band provides their listenership with much to dig into in laid back tempos, some surprisingly aggro lyrics on “The Proving Grounds” and an expansive vision of heavy psychedelia that sees them toying with even their own conventions of songcraft as the paired tracks “Recast” and “Reacts” play one into the next with the latter using the former as a launch point for a plotted instrumental jam that winds up longer than the song that birthed it.

Largesse of tone is nothing new for Mars Red Sky, and as ever, they bring a warmth to the guitar and bass that is engaging to the point of hypnosis as the opener shifts from its initial roll into a section of shimmering guitar-led drift as it oozes into the second half. The stop and return of the marching bassline is sudden and wants to be, but Pras tops it with obscure vocal lines that become part of the melodic wash and the effect is gorgeous as “The Proving Grounds” — you might recall Apex III began with the intro “Alien Grounds,” so clearly the band are conscious of their starting points — fades to silence ahead of the rumble at the outset of “Collector.” At 4:13, “Collector” is shorter even than the closing acoustic outro “A Far Cry” — the band essentially swapping the method of putting the longest track last and the lead-in track first; it works much to the album’s advantage — and something of a return to earth structurally after the relative sprawl of “The Proving Grounds,” still working in deeply mixed layers but doing so around a central chorus and never departing too far from it. That ends up all the more appreciable as “Recast” begins with a quiet sway ahead of unveiling its howling wah over the slow, graceful movement that is unfurled.

mars red sky

Subtle angularity and subtler speed in the riff adds presence and urgency to the verse, but the overarching vibe is still soothing as “Recast” heads in linear fashion toward its chugging crescendo — Gazeau giving nods toward extreme metal in the drums — before the same riff returns at the start of “Reacts,” and becomes the foundation on which that instrumental exploration is built. It’s fitting that “Reacts” should be so utterly entrancing, as it’s tucked at the end of side A, but as it lumbers toward and through its halfway point, it pulls back on the residual energy leftover from “Recast” and instead moves into a sleepy roll, which Pras eventually meets with a solo followed by a section of ethereal vocals (thinking at 5:00, or maybe I’m just hearing things) that quiets down again and rebuilds, ending with a short section of noise as the first half of the album is complete.

One has to consider the possibility that The Task Eternal, the title itself, is referring to the ongoing evolution of the band, and that the task in question is their process of chasing down whatever vision of sound they’re ultimately trying to represent at any given time. A roving target, perhaps. It seems only fair, then, that they’d put “Soldier On” before “A Far Cry” at the album’s conclusion, but before they get there, “Crazy Hearth” and “Hollow King” give something of an effect like “Collector” in their relative return to ground after the float of “Reacts.” Sure, “Hollow King” has plenty of spread in the guitar of its second half and sweeping final chorus, but that comes complemented with a solidified rhythm and that chorus stands among the most memorable throughout The Task Eternal. Particularly following “Crazy Hearth,” it’s a chance for Mars Red Sky to emphasize their well-honed ability to create spaciousness within set sonic and structural ideas.

They reserve a final showcase of swing for “Soldier On,” which also featured on Collector in two versions, and shift into the second half with a quiet stretch before reviving the shove onward toward the last chorus and delivery of the title lines, a theme of persistence emerging between “Soldier On” and “The Proving Grounds” upon which “A Far Cry” allows a moment to reflect with its acoustic and electric lines and emergent effects, smoothly building to a wash so that even after most of it cuts out, there’s still enough left to carry The Task Eternal to its serene conclusion. From the intricacy of its layers to the nuance in how it’s actually put together in terms of where the tracks are and how they play off each other, Mars Red Sky‘s latest is a triumph in what’s becoming a tradition thereof. As they resume the chase next time, it may only be another step along the way, but as only a mature band can, Mars Red Sky know their strengths and how to bring them to light in ways that are as exciting as they are individualized. I’ll readily admit to being a fan, but simply put, they are something special. If you don’t hear that in The Task Eternal, it’s your loss.

Mars Red Sky, The Task Eternal (2019)

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Live Review: Ode to Doom with Leather Lung, Mother Iron Horse, Somnuri & Grandpa Jack, 09.18.19

Posted in Reviews on September 19th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Leather Lung (Photo by JJ Koczan)

The third anniversary celebration of NYC-based curated show series Ode to Doom was a special occasion. The bands knew it, the venue knew it, and the people who showed up knew it. Everyone who played had new material and was excited to share. Everyone said thanks. The vibe was chill from before the show even started, and even as heavy and as raucous as things got as the bluesy opening Grandpa Jack delivered gave way to the noisier likes of Somnuri, Mother Iron Horse and Leather Lung, it stayed chill for the duration. For being what Somnuri guitarist/vocalist Justin Sherrell referred to as, “a school night” — can’t argue with facts — it was also a welcome escape from midweek blues; all parties involved seemed happy to shed the uphill slump from their shoulders, or maybe that’s just me projecting.

One way or the other, it was the best argument I’ve encountered in a while for sitting in workday-evening traffic. The air was crisp but not bitingly cold. When I signed on three years ago to have The Obelisk be among the presenters for Ode to Doom, which is run with clear dedication by Claudia Crespo at Arlene’s Grocery with input from indomitable entrepreneur Vadim Dyadyuk of Made in Brooklyn Silkscreeners, who’s done merch for this site and will again — new colors coming for the holiday season, plus did I hear you asking for Obelisk sweatpants? no? well they’re happening anyway — part of the appeal for me was nostalgic. I remembered great times at Precious Metal in the basement at Lit Lounge and other Manhattan-based shows. I don’t think it’s a bad thing that it’s all moved to Brooklyn over the last generation and now is headed to Queens, but someone keeping the flame of a Manhattan underground alive felt like an idea well worth preserving. Turns out I was right.

Suitably enough given my recent move, the unstated theme for the evening was NY-meets-MA, with Brooklyn’s Grandpa Jack and Somnuri getting started and Salem, Mass, heavybringers Mother Iron Horse and Boston’s Leather Lung closing the night. If you don’t know Grandpa Jack — and I’ll admit I didn’t hear their self-titled debut LP last year; my loss — give it time. You will. The three-piece turned classic heavy rock shades of doomly purple with vintage tone emanating from the finger-picked guitar of Johnny Strom, who also shared vocal duties with drummer Matt C. White while Jared Schapker provided warm and engrossing low end to suit their blues-infused spirit. Their periodic dips into melody on vocals were welcome and hopefully telling of things to come, and the languid pace of their material brought to mind Radio Moscow played at two-thirds speed, with jammy intent. They were a more than welcome start to the proceedings.

I hadn’t seen Somnuri yet, but was excited to. having so thoroughly dug their late-2017 self-titled debut (discussed here) and subsequent split with fellow purveyors-o’-noise Godmaker (review here). They’ve got a new album mastered as of earlier this month and will cover “Dirt” on Magnetic Eye‘s upcoming Alice in Chains redux (presumably that’s what the cover they posted a snippet of on social media is for, unless they’re just going rogue with it, which might be fun too), and the aforementioned Sherrell, bassist Philippe Arman (also of Tower) and drummer Phil SanGiacomo both brought and demolished the evening’s crowd. The new material had more melody in a post-grunge, still-volatile kind of way that made me really excited to hear it in recorded form, but there was plenty of crushing going on as well, and as wheelhouses go, that’s a good one to be in. I’ll go out on a limb and say that barring disaster this won’t be the last time I see them play, but knowing that and knowing there’s a new record in the offing only made me enjoy their set more. Until next time.

There was time for a quick walk around the block between bands, which beat staring at the baby monitor on my phone — did it? — so I walked out of the venue for a minute to get some air, made it back well in time for Mother Iron Horse, who released their debut, The Lesser Key, in May and who seem primed to get picked up by some label or another if they haven’t yet. Their energy built on what Somnuri had been doing, but their sound was more rock-based, and the double-guitar riffing was complemented by right-on classic-style lead work and excursions into more uproarious stretches. Comprised of Adam Luca, Marco Medina, Devin Fields and Chris Kobialka, they made it easy to get into what they were doing in cuts like “Gehenna” and “Scepter of Ice” from the album, and as they’re on tour with Leather Lung — they’ll play Montclair, NJ’s The Meatlocker tonight, of course with Dutchguts — they started off that run in top form with what was still a good crowd who stuck around after Somnuri‘s set. Another band I’d never seen before, another one I’ll try to see again. That’s three for three on the night so far at Ode to Doom.

By contrast, I had seen Leather Lung before, but it was upwards of four years ago in Boston and they’ve got a new record out through Magnetic Eye called Lonesome, On’ry and Evil that produced the set-highlight “Miscreant,” which perfectly summarized the band’s approach rooted in mosh-ready riffs and massive aggro-sludge tones. Coming out to the familiar strains of Waylon Jennings, frontman Mike Vickers had apparently busted his arm and had it in a sling. He left the audience to guess how he’d done it, so insert here whatever pulled-a-ligament hyperbole you’d like to about him lifting the riffs of guitarist Zach and lumbering bass of Jesse — whose backing vocals also added a sense of extremity throughout the set. Set to the crash of drummer Ben, Leather Lung‘s willfully lunkheaded sludge metal was nothing short of a hit on a Wednesday night in Manhattan, which if that doesn’t sound like an accomplishment absolutely was one. Dudes up front lost their mind, and even standing in the back, beat as I was, the groove was palpable. And by “palpable” I mean shaking the floor. They’re going to kill at Descendants of Crom this weekend in Pittsburgh.

So what did we learn? I hadn’t planned on sticking around through the entirety of Leather Lung‘s set, as I’d been up since 4AM and knew I still had the drive back to my ancestral homestead ahead of me, but I did, and so did a lot of others who no doubt had trains, Ubers, hoverboards or Citibikes to catch. And I won’t take away from what Leather Lung were doing, but the vibe of the whole night was a big part of what kept me there. It felt like I had showed up to a party three years late and still been welcomed. That’s a rare thing.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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