Review & Track Premiere: Howling Giant, Black Hole Space Wizard: Part 2

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

howling-giant-black-hole-space-wizard-part-2

[Click play above to stream ‘Circle of Druids’ from Howling Giant’s Black Hole Space Wizard: Part 2. EP is out Aug. 25 and available to preorder on Bandcamp.]

At very least, we can be sure that by the time Nashville progressive metal/heavy rockers Howling Giant finish telling the story that thus far spans their second and third EPs, they will have long since outgrown the goofball title they’ve given the series. In truth, the complexity and scope of Black Hole Space Wizard: Part 2 might be a little undercut by the stoner-is-as-stoner-does banner it seems to fly, if only because someone who didn’t hear either the trio’s 2015 self-titled or last year’s Black Hole Space Wizard: Part 1 (review here) could potentially too easily write it off based on superficialities and miss out on what’s actually a marked depth and individual purpose of craft.

Released almost precisely a year after its predecessor, its six tracks/31 minutes bring the self-releasing trio of guitarist/vocalist Tom Polzine, bassist/vocalist Roger Marks and drummer/vocalist Zach Wheeler to new levels of execution in their material, rife with wonderfully realized vocal harmonies, epic-feeling crescendos, and a still-weighted tonality that they seem to be able to move and shift according to whatever whim drives a given piece, whether it’s the introductory “Henry Tate” with its spoken-word vocals and the first of many guest key/synth contributions throughout from Drew Harakal beneath the first of many swirling, character-laden solos from Polzine, or the galloping apex that leads into a wide-breadth wash at the end of “Visions,” layers of effects swirl — and again, keyboard/synth from Harakal — coming to the forefront of the longest inclusion here at 7:39. Flirting with long-player flow in its front-to-back delivery and the fact that it’s 10 minutes longer than the installment prior, Black Hole Space Wizard: Part 2 establishes Howling Giant‘s underlying commitment to developing their approach and benefits from a quickly and righteously burgeoning stylistic reach.

Because it’s a chapter in a (presumably ongoing) series, one looks for consistencies with what’s come before as well as the growth so plain to hear in the material. And it’s there in the overall sonic take and in some of the intensity of the prog-metal cascade in “The Pioneer” or the penultimate highlight “Circle of Druids,” as well as in the sung harmonies, but there isn’t an element present that doesn’t seem to have moved willfully forward from where the band was a year ago. While they may be working in the same narrative, based around the end of civilization and the adventures of the last remaining human (dubbed “The Pioneer”) among future-mystical presences — last time the Space Wizard, this time the Earth Wizard, as manifest in the closer of the same name — even down to its basic structure as mirrored sides A and B each with an introductory piece, shorter middle cut and longer finale, Black Hole Space Wizard: Part 2 simply has more to offer than what was already an impressive display in songwriting.

howling giant

Arrangement flourish brings a complementary baritone sax guest appearance from Kim Wheeler on the interlude/side B intro “The Forest Speaks” that picks up alongside acoustic pluck and leads gently into “Circle of Druids,” and as much momentum as Polzine, Marks, Wheeler and Harakal — the latter of whom apparently recorded in Texas but might need to relocate and actually join this band given what the organ and synth add to the tracks here — build throughout “Henry Tate,” the low-end fuzz roll of the early verses and ending of “The Pioneer” and the precise, all-class linearity of “Visions,” they remain likewise committed to broadening the palette of their aesthetic and if one thinks of Black Hole Space Wizard: Part 2 as an EP and thus a showcase of where Howling Giant are in the inevitable march toward a first full-length, one would be remiss to think of them as anything but ready for that crucial next step.

Whether or not that’s actually where Howling Giant are directly headed — that is, if they’ll do an LP next or follow this Part 2 with a Part 3 EP — I don’t know, but on a creative level, they bring a vibrant persona to these tracks enough to give the impression that their evolution will continue in either context. Beginning with a quick spoken intro, “Circle of Druids” launches from out of “The Forest Speaks” and unfolds to an especially satisfying blend of chugging riffery and a wide-open payoff hook, underscored by Wheeler‘s double-kick and given/needing few frills around its basic structure. Like some of Black Hole Space Wizard: Part 1, it reminds a bit of Devin Townsend‘s heavier progressive metallurgy, but ultimately proves more distinct, and “Earth Wizard” effectively follows in dropping the tempo to hit a balance like a more straightforward vision of what Ancestors brought to their 2012 triumph, In Dreams and Time.

This initial patience gradually shifts into a fuller charge in “Earth Wizard”‘s back half, which feels somewhat inevitable, but the finale is both earned and once more plays to the notion of Black Hole Space Wizard: Part 2 as a kind of proto-full-length in its overarching fluidity. As the last vestiges of guitar and synth fade out to bring the EP to its end, the sense is still one of being a shorter release, but if that means Howling Giant are leaving their audience wanting more of the arc coming to life in their tracks, then that only bodes well for a next outing, whatever form it might take. Likewise, one has to acknowledge that while the title might just as likely turn a given listener off as on when it comes to taking up Black Hole Space Wizard: Part 2, its goofballery also stands as a signal of an abiding lack of pretense that extends to the songwriting as well. That is, while their arrangements are thought out, their performances clear-headed and impeccably mixed, the corresponding quotient of self-indulgence is remarkably low for something so progressive. If the tradeoff for that is a silly name, it’s a small price to pay — sometimes it’s fun to have fun — and for those who do decide to dig into Howling Giant‘s third EP, the rewards are no less expansive than the band’s sound itself.

Howling Giant, Black Hole Space Wizard: Part 2 (2017)

Howling Giant on Thee Facebooks

Howling Giant on Twitter

Howling Giant on Bandcamp

Tags: , , , , ,

Review & Track Premiere: Papir, V

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on August 2nd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

PAPIR V

[Click play above to stream the premiere of Papir’s ‘V.I’ from the new album V, out Aug. 18 on Stickman Records and available for preorder here.]

There isn’t a harsh moment on it — not one blastbeat, scream, or malevolent dirge — but Papir‘s V is a work of extremity all the same. The suitably-named fifth album from the instrumentalist Copenhagen trio of guitarist Nicklas Sørensen, drummer Christoffer Brøchmann Christensen and bassist Christian Becher Clausen, its 2CD/2LP run of seven tracks and 94 minutes pushes into a psychedelic wash of such breadth and immersion that there’s no other word to describe it. Its tones are warm air on cold skin, and its rhythms are cool water on a hot day. It is among the longest hugs you will receive this year. More to the point, it is an ultra-liquid, ultra-engaging flow of heavy psychedelia that stretches well beyond the confines of what one might consider manageable but offers a solar system’s worth of worlds to explore in trade.

In terms of basic circumstance, V notably finds the band shifting from El Paraiso Records — which released 2011’s second album, Stundum, 2013’s III and 2014’s IIII (review here), a compilation of III and IIII together in 2014, as well as their Live at Roadburn outing and a special edition 10″, both in 2015 (their self-titled debut came out in 2010 via Red Tape) — to Stickman Records. That removes them from partnership with like-minded Danish countrymen Causa Sui but establishes them as labelmates to forward-thinking outfits such as MotorpsychoElder, and Orango, among others. Papir show themselves to be no less progressive on V, which brims with a sense of universal expansion playing out across its nigh-on-impossible span; numbered individual pieces — “V.I,” “V.II,” V.VI,” and so on — taking on a life of their own, including “V.III,” which is the shortest of the bunch and the only cut included on V to check in under 10 minutes. If you’re wondering, it is 9:07.

Clearly Papir are envisioning a broad listening scenario. That is, you put the platter or the disc on and let yourself get lost in their jazzy progressive krautrocking psychedelia. Maybe you have headphones in to better experience nuances like the underlying acoustic strum beneath the soaring leads of 15-minute centerpiece “V.IV,” or maybe the space-rock thrust of “V.II” is turned up through speakers in order to let Clausen‘s highlight bassline rumble through the floors. Either way you go, Papir‘s skillful blend of proggy elements, post-rock ambience, mega-patient delivery and aesthetic cohesion proves second to none with V, and the sheer scope of the work they’re doing becomes even more staggering when one considers that it doesn’t necessarily sound like it’s just jamming.

papir

While I have no doubt that at least parts of their material are improvised or based around initial improvisations, listening to the emerging dreamscape clarity of “V.V” — arguably the lushest and most gorgeous single piece Papir have produced to-date, with Christensen‘s drums keeping steady motion beneath guitar, synth and bass interplay that is stirring in a manner instrumental output rarely achieves — there’s a consciousness and a direction at work as well. It could be Sørensen leading the way as his guitar meanders and explores open, vast soundscapes, but it’s definitely a spirit to which all three members of Papir contribute, so that it’s less about the work of one of them and the variety of texture, stylistic complexity and the flow — my god, the flow — they’re able to bring to bear when working together with the effectiveness and they chemistry they show here. Much to their collective credit, as they move toward the 25-minute finale “V.II” through the rumbling and ringing “V.VI” (11:03), there isn’t a moment of redundancy to be found. On a release that’s 94 minutes long, one would hardly be able to hold it against them if there were, but each track on offers something distinct from its surroundings while refusing to sacrifice the overarching purpose that seems to drive the band continually farther and farther outward.

And they end up pretty far out, to be sure. One could easily posit that Papir broke through creativity on III and really defined their course and sonic persona in the reaches of IIII, but even if that’s so, V surpasses both in its scope and execution. Holding to an organic vibe even as “V.VII” drifts along a slow path of effects wash and drone in its early going, this may not be the moment at which Papir make their first declaration of who they are as a band — nor should it be; this is their fifth LP — but it is a moment that finds them blowing that prior definition away like dandelion seeds with such a willful expansion as to be staggering when taken in its entirety. Yes, it is long, but even the length seems to serve a mission more about the effect produced by the material than the length itself — not just that Papir take that time, but what they’re able to accomplish with it.

Circa 20 minutes in, “V.VII” finds Christensen picking up momentum on the drums, and there’s a build of tension there, but if you think Papir are headed for some blowout crescendo, you’ve missed the point. A few cymbal crashes behind the steadily-exploratory guitar and bass serve as an exciting finish that stays true to the high level of class the three-piece have shown throughout V, and emphasizes once more the gracefulness they bring to this massive, encompassing fuller-than-full-length. That may be the theme that most draws the individual tracks together, but when taken as a single entirety, there’s no turn so drastic as to necessarily interrupt the movement of the proceedings overall. Still, no doubt V will simply prove too much for some, and so despite its poise and gentleness and readiness to converse with its audience rather than repel, one continues to think of it as a work of extremity. It just so happens that that extremity finds Papir stepping out from behind their influences to make themselves leaders in heavy psychedelia and in so doing takes the form of one of 2017’s best and most satisfying listening experiences.

Papir on Thee Facebooks

Papir on Bandcamp

Papir Blogspot

Stickman Records website

Stickman Records on Thee Facebooks

Stickman Records on Twitter

Tags: , , , , ,

Review & Lyric Video Premiere: Eternal Black, Bleed the Days

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Reviews on August 1st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

eternal-black-bleed-the-days

[Click play above to see the premiere of the lyric video for the title-track of Eternal Black’s Bleed the Days. Album is out Aug. 8.]

Doom prevails in gritty fashion on Bleed the Days, the seven-track debut long-player from New York trio Eternal Black. Self-released through their own Obsidian Sky Records in a digipak that includes a note on its back cover to pay attention to the lyrics and those printed on its inside glossy panels, it is a grimly cast 46 minutes brimming with downer intent as led by the churning-concrete riffing of guitarist/vocalist Ken Wohlrob (also a published novelist and clearly someone for whom words matter) and with significant reinforcement provided by bassist Hal Miller and drummer Joe Wood — the latter also of long-running Long Island rockers Borgo Pass and a former bandmate of mine twice over. Because I consider him among the finest examples of a human being I’ve ever encountered, I’ll note a decided bias on my part in favor of his work here and elsewhere, so if that’s the grain of salt with which you need to take this review, so be it. I won’t fight you.

Either way, Eternal Black‘s full-length ode to downcast nodder traditionalism, recorded and mixed by Joe Kelly and Kol Marshall with mastering by Mos Generator‘s Tony Reed, follows their 2015 self-titled EP/demo (review here) and received a substantial preview earlier this year on the digital offering Live at WFMU (review here), recorded at that venerable open-format radio station in Jersey City, New Jersey, but makes its primary impression in the uniformity of its mood such that even the three-minute centerpiece interlude “Into Nothing” ties to the rest of its surroundings in speaking to the overarching theme of death and the mythology thereof, despite being instrumental. They are nothing if not focused.

But as the saying goes, if you can’t handle brain-crushing singularity of purpose, doom probably isn’t for you, and whether it’s the post-Wino riffing on opener “The Lost, the Forgotten, and the Undying” or second cut “Snake Oil and Coffin Nails,” which is led off by Miller‘s bass in the spirit perhaps of The Hidden Hand circa Mother Teacher Destroyer and shifts into faster gallop in its midsection with a highlight guitar lead, or a slower piece like the lumbering “Stained Eyes on a Setting Sun” (premiered here), Eternal Black do bring a sense of character and a developing sonic persona to the tenets of the style. Wohlrob‘s vocal delivery is a gruff and dudely semi-growl suited to tying the songs together and his lyrics — as one has been advised to regard — grow increasingly vivid as the tracklisting progresses into “Stained Eyes on a Setting Sun,” “Bleed the Days” itself and 11-minute closer “All Gods Fall,” pulling references from Biblical and other Inferno-y sources concerning death.

eternal black photo shane gardner

It’s arguable six of the seven inclusions on Bleed the Days deal directly with the motif — see also: the entirety of Western culture and the human condition — whether it’s the interaction of death and belief on “Snake Oil and Coffin Nails” and “All Gods Fall” or the grim picture-painting of “The Lost, the Forgotten, and the Undying,” “Sea of Graves,” “Into Nothing,” “Stained Eyes on a Setting Sun,” and “Bleed the Days,” but there’s also an underlying use of water imagery. The opener speaks of a ballast of the dead, snake oil is “flooding the plains,” it’s a “Sea of Graves,” bodies are thrown into the sea in “Stained Eyes on a Setting Sun,” walls of rain unleash a river in the title-track, and flames rain down and oceans reabsorb in the finale. Again, that’s six of six tracks with words in them. One can’t help but wonder if that was a purposeful aesthetic choice in the composition of the material or simply a fitting representation of the abyss. In any case, like Wohlrob‘s vocals, the tonal density of his guitar and Miller‘s low end and the ultra-solid push of Wood‘s drums, it is another aspect of Bleed the Days that serves to tie the songs together.

Taking into account Bleed the Days as Eternal Black‘s debut, the album becomes even more impressive in its establishment of theme and aesthetic — well earning the amount of purple on its Joshua M. Wilkinson cover art — and when given repeat listens, further nuance of intent gradually unveils itself, whether it’s the airy flourish of guitar layering buried in the second half of “All Gods Fall” or the force with which the overall trajectory of the trio’s procession leads them to that closer. That shift takes place between the songs themselves, which seem to grow slower from “The Lost, the Forgotten, and the Undying” onward, but “Into Nothing” becomes a crucial divide between the first three cuts and the latter three that follow, which cast a plodding and weighted mire that, even when it picks up a bit in terms of tempo in the title-track, remains enduringly bleak.

Thus “All Gods Fall” can be read as a moment of arrival for Eternal Black and their audience alike, and it meets that task ably in summarizing the atmosphere of what’s come before it, showcasing an avenue for potential forward growth on the part of the band and providing a landing point for the consistently downward push that brings it on. Like the stated subject of death, “All Gods Fall” feels inevitable by the time it hits, and its final lines, “Man faces his eternity/Standing alone,” encapsulate the perspective of Bleed the Days as a whole. There could hardly be a more fitting end for an album that stands so willfully in doomed gruel, and as “All Gods Fall” marches to its fading finish, the sound of crashing waves would seem to provide an answer as to the corresponding watery elements that so much of the material highlighted previously.

I don’t know if I’d call Bleed the Days a concept album in terms of a singular narrative playing out, but neither would I be surprised if Eternal Black went that route sometime in the future, as there is a decided interest in storytelling here, and pivotally, they back that with quality songwriting that’s no less a foundation than the roll in Wood‘s drums. They’ve left themselves room to grow in terms of branching out arrangements and style, but as doom for doomers by doomers, Eternal Black‘s first album brings a host of depressive delights.

Eternal Black, Bleed the Days (2017)

Eternal Black website

Eternal Black on Bandcamp

Eternal Black on Thee Facebooks

Eternal Black on Instagram

Eternal Black on Soundcloud

Tags: , , , , , ,

Youngblood Supercult, The Great American Death Rattle: Sunsets and Wildfires

Posted in Reviews on July 28th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Youngblood-Supercult-The-Great-American-Death-Rattle

With three albums to their credit in the four-year span since they got together in 2013, Topeka, Kansas, heavy garage rockers Youngblood Supercult are establishing themselves as working at a fairly prolific clip. Their debut was 2014’s Season of the Witch, which they followed with High Plains (review here) in 2016, and the four-piece’s third album is the rather severely-titled The Great American Death Rattle, which finds them aligned to The Company and DHU Records for US and EU distribution. Across this run, the band has kept a consistency to their aesthetic purposes, basking in an earthbound psychedelia and distorted grit, touching on the languid sleek of post-Uncle Acid buzzsaw tonality in the guitar of Bailey Smith, but not shy either about veering into fuller-on psychedelic wash, even if only for a quick lead on a song like “Master of None” from the new album.

Tone, in Smith‘s guitar and Brad Morris‘ bass, is essential to setting the vibe, and to-date, Youngblood Supercult have yet to not deliver on that level, but as it should, The Great American Death Rattle finds this aspect of their approach at its most realized. Songs are spacious enough to allow for echoes in David Merrill‘s vocals on the early cuts “Draugr” and the motor-shuffling hook-fest “Wormwood” that follows, but not strictly adherent to one methodology, so that when the semi-twang of “Mr. Gallows” unfolds in folkish layers of harmonized Zeppelin-ism, the proceedings remain fluid and the listener doesn’t feel blindsided by what’s a not-insignificant sonic turn. Youngblood Supercult, in other words, are in control, and in keeping with the strong pocket-dwelling swing provided by drummer Weston Alford — whose “tone” is no less essential here than either that of Smith or Morris and might be even more directly heavy-’70s — it’s the songwriting that allows them to keep that level of command at their foundation.

Craft. Sound. Performance. It’s an interesting circumstance around The Great American Death Rattle because there’s so much about Youngblood Supercult‘s style that’s been previously established. That is, they seem to have come into being knowing what they wanted to do, and they’ve set about working hard to do it over the last four years. Four years is less time than it takes some acts to put out their first record, let alone their third. And while there are elements that have been carried from one offering to the next, Youngblood Supercult also still come across very much as a growing band.

The Great American Death Rattle is their most refined presentation yet, but its nine tracks and 40 minutes — from the wah-soaked, languid, flowing roll and post-Alice in Chains vocal melody of the opening title-track onward — refuse to sound settled. There’s progression at work, a willful moving forward on the band’s part in how their material has come together, and it’s audible in the patience they show at the record’s outset and through the nod of “Burning Messiah,” which finds Merrill pushing his own limits effectively in delivering bluesy poetic metaphor as he will throughout the bulk of the subsequent tracks, malleable to the mood of what SmithMorris and Alford are doing behind him but having clearly honed a frontman presence that bolsters rather than competes with that instrumental chemistry while still speaking to the audience.

youngblood supercult

I don’t think a band would title a full-length something like The Great American Death Rattle if on some level they weren’t looking to engage a social theme, and certainly there’s plenty to talk about these days in the current US sociopolitical sphere if one wants to talk decline or regression, but even in “The Great American Death Rattle” and the penultimate “Liberty or Death,” the lyrics take a more general tack, couching any specific commentary in images of biblical destruction on “Burning Messiah” (though tanks do show up there) and four-minute centerpiece “The Hot Breath of God,” which tells a story of post-industrial economic disaffection leading to suicide even as its central riff reshapes the groove of Scorpions‘ classic “The Zoo” to back it, making for one of The Great American Death Rattle‘s most memorable overall impressions.

The mournful vibe there is countered immediately by the punch of “Master of None,” which further emphasizes the sense of dynamic and flow Youngblood Supercult bring to bear in these tracks. Particularly as they move through the headed-to-the-highway “Wormwood” after the shuffle that emerges in the Fuzzorama-worthy second half of “Draugr,” The Great American Death Rattle expands its range in execution and feel. “Master of None” draws on a cycling repetitions of a Sabbath-meets-NWOBHM riff before closing with a highlight solo from Smith, and the aforementioned “Mr. Gallows” taps even deeper into poise and pastoralia, showcasing a depth of arrangement that’s new from Youngblood Supercult and that one hopes gives them the confidence to work again along similar lines and build on what they accomplish in it.

An uptempo turn in “Liberty or Death” splits “Mr. Gallows” and the thicker chug that begins the finale “Sticky Fingers” before that song — the longest here at 5:30 — shifts into a rare and thoroughly earned indulgence of noise wash and the guitar lead that tops its last march outward, and the play back and forth sees the foursome’s collective guiding hand at its steadiest, leading their audience through easily-paced twists with a maturity that belies their we’ve-been-around-for-less-than-half-a-decade status. One is tempted to call that process graceful, though in truth there’s a good amount of dirt under the fingernails of Youngblood Supercult — left there on purpose; why bother getting rid of it when there’s still so much digging to be done? — and that’s not to be discounted as an aspect of what works so well about their third outing.

Perhaps most crucially, they bask in their heavily stylized take while refusing to be defined on the basis of their influences alone. If The Great American Death Rattle is anything in relation to its predecessors, it’s the moment at which Youngblood Supercult are the most their own, and the manifold achievements that album makes are all the more satisfying for that. May they continue to evolve, reshape and cultivate as they move forward from here.

Youngblood Supercult, The Great American Death Rattle (2017)

Youngblood Supercult on Thee Facebooks

Youngblood Supercult on Twitter

Youngblood Supercult on Instagram

Youngblood Supercult on Bandcamp

The Company Records webstore

DHU Records webstore

Tags: , , , , , ,

Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree, Medicine: Walking Trails

Posted in Reviews on July 27th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

bees-made-honey-in-the-vein-tree-medicine

Primarily, Medicine feels like an exploration of depth. Not just in the sense of asking how low they can go in terms of tone, but what kind of distance can they set up between those lows and highs, how far can a song stretch from one end to the other before, like taffy, it is pulled apart. Excitingly, the cumbersomely-named Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree (as opposed, one assumes, to doing so in the lion’s skull, à la Earth) never find out, and their five-song/46-minute first full-length stands among 2017’s strongest — and most weighted — heavy psychedelic releases as a result. The Stuttgart, Germany, four-piece recorded Medicine late in Fall 2016 at Milberg Studios and issued it themselves digitally and on CD in January, but a Pink Tank Records vinyl edition brings it to a well-deserved wider distribution and positions the work of guitarist/vocalist/cover artist Simon Weinreich, guitarist Lucas Dreher, bassist/graphic designer Christopher Popowitsch and drummer/vocalist Marc Dreher (relation to Lucas presumed) as particularly satisfying in its blend of extended, jammed-out instrumental sections and denser tonality.

Without losing sight of their core mission, Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree proffer liquefied flow between and within their tracks, coming across as cohesive and patient as a cut like the 14-minute penultimate “Sail Away I” demonstrates in unfolding lines of intertwining guitar and bass held together by the underlying drums on a steady, immersive build that’s warm, headphone-ready, melodically rich and hypnotic without being meandering. Medicine works quickly in that song’s echoing spaces and those of the 10-minute opener “Every Night I Walk the Same Trail of Thought” to earn a place as one of the best debuts of the year.

One can hear the influence of Colour Haze in some of the more open stretches, and that never hurts, but even more than the Munich-based progenitors of the style, Medicine directly reminds of the 2010 debut from Dutch trio Sungrazer. That’s not a comparison I make lightly, and while some of the fuzz that coats the driving first crescendo (preceding the crashing second one) of “Sail Away I” might draw a sonic line in that direction, it’s one even more about the act of blending heavy rock and psych impulses in a specific way and with an overarching naturalism that becomes a righteously defining element. If I note that Medicine might be the most engaging heavy psych debut I’ve heard since Sungrazer‘s self-titled, it will invariably sound like hyperbole, but I’m hard pressed to think of more than a handful of first offerings that have brought forth the same clearheaded idea of what they wanted to do and realize it in the same way. If nothing else, it sets Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree on a path of becoming a truly special kind of band, and one whose impact, in the tradition of Samsara Blues Experiment or Black Moon Circle or others building memorable songs out of jams, may resonate over a longer term.

bees made honey in the vein tree

Structurally, Medicine benefits greatly from starting its two sides with the longer pieces. “Every Night I Walk the Same Trail of Thought” begins so quietly that at first one might be tempted to double-check that it’s actually playing, and while neither “Burn the Sun” (7:40) nor “Medicine” (6:38) slouches in terms of runtime, there’s a notable departure from the shimmering guitar that sounds the opener’s first notes toward crunchier-riffed push as “Burn the Sun” gets moving. There’s still space for space, to be sure, but even as the guitars air out leads late before turning to the heads-down riff that brings the song to its end, there’s an undercurrent of low-end heft behind them that makes for both counterpoint and complement. Likewise, the title-cut and centerpiece launches open and jammy to foreshadow some of the post-rock elements still to come in closer “Sail Away II” (6:54), but makes its way after the two-minute mark via feedback into a heavier plod that would seem to be the source of the band’s claim on an aspect of doom within their approach. It’s slow and heavy, anyhow. In context, the mood doesn’t necessarily feel down or dark in the way one might expect, but to quibble about self-imposed genre tags feels like missing the point. There’s a fluidity there. Better to go with it.

And Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree make a convincing argument for doing so, which turns out to be one of Medicine‘s great strengths. Its tracks earn the listener’s trust such that following the band along the trail they’re walking becomes an absolute joy rather than something done tentatively, and the jammier vibe of “Sail Away I” and willful delve into post-rocking drift in “Sail Away II” gracefully expand on what side A accomplishes before them, “Sail Away I” resolving itself in blown-out echoing vocals and a nodding apex, and the finale holding to its peaceful guitar progression even as some of Medicine‘s heftiest lumbering plays out beneath. That last emphasis on the two sides meeting head on in Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree‘s work serves to highlight the duality at work across the album’s entirety, but it’s not a staid thing by any means, and it wouldn’t work if it was.

The band are clearly comfortable in adjusting the balance to suit the needs of their material, and whether that’s done consciously in arranging parts and pieces or something that just comes out of different jams, it’s no less crucial to Medicine‘s ultimate success. There’s a telling moment after “Sail Away II” has blissed itself into final lines of fading guitar when we hear a chair creak and what sounds like drum sticks get laid down. It’s over. These quick, last few seconds are an effective acknowledgement that Medicine is intended to convey a live experience — it may well have been recorded live, I don’t know — and Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree, who’ve already proliferated such an organic chemistry, seem to hint that along with the exploration of spaciousness at work throughout their material, the corresponding message with that is that the direction in which they’re headed has been plotted naturally, i.e. in an unforced manner. One can only hope they continue to tread the path Medicine lays out before them.

Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree, Medicine (2017)

Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree on Thee Facebooks

Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree on Bandcamp

Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree at Pink Tank Records

Pink Tank Records on Thee Facebooks

Tags: , , , , ,

Review & Track Premiere: Brant Bjork, Europe ’16

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on July 26th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

brant-bjork-europe-16

[Click play above to hear ‘Controllers Destroyed’ from Brant Bjork’s live album Europe ’16, out Sept. 22 via Napalm Records.]

One severely doubts it’s a coincidence that a Brant Bjork set would start with “Buddha Time (Everything Fine).” That laid back, instrumental, rolling desert groove speaks to an aspect of Europe ’16 that’s apparent before the needle even hits the wax of the Napalm Records release, and that’s the manner in which Bjork — whose career pedigree in as drummer/songwriter in Kyuss and Vista Chino, drummer in Fu Manchu, guitarist/vocalist in Ché and multi-instrumentalist, bandleader and songwriter in the various incarnations of his solo work from Brant Bjork to Brant Bjork and the OperatorsBrant Bjork and the Bros. and Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band has made him the undisputed godfather of desert rock — directly acknowledges the stoner side of who he is and what he does.

It’s right there on the cover of Europe ’16, which is the first official live album of Bjork‘s nearly-20-year solo career which began with 1999’s Jalamanta (discussed here; also here) on Man’s Ruin, a full-length that continues to resonate and inform his soulful, funk-infused delivery to-date, and while so many others of Bjork‘s ilk, geographical cohort and generation have tried to distance themselves from a “stoner” tag, he’s made it a part of his aesthetic. Some might say an essential part, and it’s become a defining piece of the ultra-laid back, groove-ready persona he showcases throughout Europe ’16, which captures 12 tracks and 85 minutes of Brant Bjork on the road last year with The Low Desert Punk Band supporting his two studio albums for Napalm: 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here) and 2016’s Tao of the Devil (review here) — both of which, it’s worth noting, were of a similar leafy theme in terms of their artwork.

Is it fair, then, to think of Europe ’16 as the third in a trilogy of offerings for NapalmBjork has said openly that Tao of the Devil was the final studio outing on his contract for the Austrian imprint, and if one presumes a three-album deal, then it’s quite possible Europe ’16 is the farewell piece. If so, it marks a righteous summary of what Bjork has accomplished as a songwriter and performer over the last few years, returning to solo output after a successful run with Vista Chino following much tumult around touring as Kyuss Lives! and the also-Napalm-backed issue of 2013’s Peace (review here) offering with that band.

Highlighting cuts from Black Power Flower like “Controllers Destroyed,” the aforementioned mindset-setting opener “Buddha Time (Everything Fine)” and the later “Stokely up Now,” and even more from Tao of the Devil in “Humble Pie,” “Stackt,” “The Gree Heen,” as well as the later and more extended jams “Dave’s War/Dave’s Peace” (based on “Dave’s War” from the record) and “Biker No. 2,” Europe ’16 finds Bjork, guitarist Bubba DuPree (formerly of Void), bassist Dave Dinsmore (Ché) and drummer Ryan Güt at the proverbial top of their game in terms of chemistry, and of all the times Bjork could have issued a live album over the last decade-plus, it’s easy to hear why now would be an obvious choice.

brant bjork photo kip dawkins

Joined by guest vocalist Sean Wheeler in the second half of the set, this incarnation of Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band saunter through pieces from Bjork‘s substantial catalog like “Low Desert Punk” and “Lazy Bones/Automatic Fantastic” from Jalamanta, “Freaks of Nature” from 2007’s Somera Sól and “Let the Truth be Known” from 2005’s Saved by Magic, and while live albums rarely exist that don’t make the performing act come out on the positive side — that is, nobody wants to put out a shitty-sounding show — neither does Europe ’16 shy away from the rawer side of the band’s presentation, especially as regards Wheeler‘s vocals in “Biker No. 2” and “Freaks of Nature” and the natural movement and flow of the group’s jams, which unfold beginnings and endings organically here, sounding unretouched and all the more engaging for that. Whether or not it’s the last in a series of three, Europe ’16 is a document of an era in Bjork‘s career that has not only seen a rise in his profile, but resulted in some of the most memorable material he’s ever written.

To wit, songs like “Stackt” and “Humble Pie” not only stand up to the landmark riff of “Automatic Fantastic,” but they underscore the progression that’s played out over time and a span of 11 LPs in Bjork‘s approach, and by embracing a jammier vibe later in the set in “Dave’s War/Dave’s Peace,” “Biker No. 2,” “Freaks of Nature,” “Low Desert Punk” and “Let the Truth be Known,” which includes a finale take on the Rolling Stones‘ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” Europe ’16 sets an immersive trajectory that feels true to the live experience. Of course, there’s a big difference between watching a band onstage and soaking in an 85-minute live record, and the latter process is no minor undertaking, but even if one thinks of Europe ’16 as a fan piece, it more than earns its place in Bjork‘s catalog, and the poise with which the band handles its turns and the commanding presence of Bjork at the forefront speak to not only the well-earned maturity of his craft but a showmanship that a studio outing simply wouldn’t be able to bring into focus.

Not saying much in terms of stage banter throughout, the man himself gets on mic before the get-your-ass-stoned advising of “Let the Truth be Known” to thank Berlin specifically after several “dankeschön”s earlier on, and that brings to mind the relationship between desert rock and the EU heavy underground. There’s a bit of irony there, since the Palm Desert scene, as it was in the ’80s and early/mid ’90s and as its legacy has grown in the years since, is so much based on the Californian landscape and American suburban culture, but no question Bjork has become the key ambassador for that movement and for the unique creativity and sound those sands helped to foster.

He’ll head back abroad this fall (dates posted here) to mark the release of Europe ’16 and perhaps take a victory lap with The Low Desert Punk Band before moving on to other projects and ideas (or at least another outlet), but that stint, like this live album built from the last one, should only serve to reaffirm what Black Power Flower and Tao of the Devil continued to establish: that when it comes to desert rock, there’s only one Brant Bjork. Nobody else brings the same level of soul to their sound, the classic feel and the steadiness of vibe that he does, and on Europe ’16, some 17 years after first embarking on a solo career, he continues to show that in new and exciting ways.

Brant Bjork on Thee Facebooks

Brant Bjork website

Napalm Records website

Tags: , , , , , ,

Review & Track Premiere: The Judge, Tell it to the Judge

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on July 25th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the-judge-tell-it-to-the-judge

[Click play above to stream the premiere of ‘Strange Ways’ by The Judge. Tell it to the Judge is out Aug. 4 on Ripple Music.]

Illinois heavy rock traditionalists The Judge made their first offering through Ripple Music last year with a reissue of their initially-self-released late-2014 self-titled debut. That release was initially positioned as an EP, so one might think of Tell it to the Judge as the Granite City four-piece’s proper label debut, or their first for Ripple anyhow, but either way, what matters is the band has culled together a warm collection of nine tracks drawing influences from sources classic and modern in the spirit of heavy ’10s boogie. Tell it to the Judge is a little long at just under 45 minutes for something of its style — one tends to think of boogie rock LPs in the range of 36 to 38 minutes, and that can make a difference — but the still-young lineup of standalone vocalist Tyler Swope, guitarist Dylan Jarrett, bassist Kevin Jones and drummer Evan Anderson use that time to position themselves within a burgeoning wave of next-generation American heavy boogie.

Thinking of output from groups like Slow Season, labelmates Salem’s Bend and countless others in the expansive post-Radio Moscow/Earthless West Coast sphere, or fellow Midwesterners like the frenetically progressive Cloud Catcher and the biker-grooving Bison Machine — for either of whom The Judge‘s measured pace would make an excellent tour pairing — one finds Tell it to the Judge straightforward in its intent and less geared toward weirdo culture certainly than those freaking out along the Pacific. However, in so being, they’re putting focus on craft rather than style in a way that, particularly with Swope‘s easy melodic execution of highlight choruses like those of “Strange Ways” and “Go on Home,” as well as the verses of the penultimate “Darkest Daze,” brings to mind the earlier work of Nashville’s Dirty Streets in culling modern vibes from the likes of Blue CheerLed Zeppelin and maybe even a bit of Dio-era Sabbath (at least as regards the warning-you-against-evil-ladies perspective of “Go on Home”; see “Walk Away” for reference) thrown in for good measure.

They’re clearly still in the process of sorting out the various elements that will ultimately solidify as their own sound, but the youthful excitement they bring to side A cuts like opener “Empty Halls,” “From the Mountain” and “Changing World” gives them an edge in terms of their songwriting, as do the righteous solos of Jarrett and the blue-eyed soul of Swope, whose verses in the 6:51 centerpiece “Islands” are no less essential to conveying the ’70s-meets-now vibe than the punctuation of Anderson‘s snare — the drums sound fantastic throughout; a boon to the organic feel of the recording overall along with Jones‘ bass. The latter is of particular note in “Islands” and the also-extended “High Flyin’,” shining through in the more languid roll from beneath Jarrett‘s leads.

the judge

It’s a proven formula, and one would be remiss to leave out the clear affect European acts like Graveyard and Kadavar have had on this movement as a whole — one could argue even the title Tell it to the Judge is modeled on something like Abra Kadavar, though that German trio were hardly the first to put the name of their band in the name of their second record — but the fluidity The Judge bring to these tracks, their ease in moving between varied tempos and undercurrent of developing chemistry on the whole lend a sense of personality to the material from which it very much benefits.

Again, they’re growing, and searching out their place within the genre aesthetic, but hearing that in the upbeat stomp of “From the Mountain,” the impressively-controlled thrust of “Changing World” and the shuffling finale “Parade of Sin,” which returns from the gone-further-out blues ranging of “High Flyin'” to earthier ground, only makes Tell it to the Judge a more engaging listen. They’re inviting their audience to be a direct witness to their evolution, already in progress. And with the initial sweep of “Empty Halls,” the flow in unfolding “Islands” and the sincerely unpretentious nod of “Go on Home” — which makes up for in catchiness what its woman-done-me-wrong lyric lacks in being politically correct — they make it a simple invitation to accept.

Like many of their up-and-coming cohorts, The Judge showcase potential over staid or studied realization, but there’s already stylistic nuance to be heard in shifting tones throughout “Darkest Daze”‘s light psych-blues flourish and the swing of “Strange Ways,” and that stands as one of the most encouraging factors when one considers Tell it to the Judge‘s place in the modern sphere. They have and will continue to have their work cut out for them in cutting out a niche for their work, but while Anderson and Jarrett trace The Judge‘s founding back to 2009/2010, they still come across in these tracks like a new band, and that is something they should embrace for the vitality it implies in their delivery, which make no mistake, is very much there. Whether that will be what defines their course as a group remains to be seen, and as a result, Tell it to the Judge is all the more fun as a front-to-back classic-minded listening experience.

The Judge on Thee Facebooks

The Judge on Bandcamp

Ripple Music website

Ripple Music on Thee Facebooks

Ripple Music on Bandcamp

Tags: , , , , ,

Live Review: Primus and Clutch in Boston, 07.23.17

Posted in Reviews on July 24th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

primus photo jj koczan

Primus and Clutch both played new material. Their tour together hit Boston’s let’s-make-this-all-artisanal-condos waterfront on a breezy Sunday night and the semi-open-air venue Blue Hills Bank Pavilion, with its sprawling white canvas over top, seats, high stage and crisp sound, was a suitable enough place to host them, if somewhat staid in a corporate-venue kind of way.

The crowd? Awesome. An eclectic mix of rockers, hippies, headbangers, couples, young and old. Parents were there with their kids — saw a dad and his son in matching Clutch work shirts, Grateful Dead tye-dye, the usual local-fahkin’-spoahts-khed logos representing, along with t-shirts for Inquisition, Slayer, a Meshuggah hoodie and so on. One dude brought his blankie and wrapped himself in it, another had hippie Hammerpants tucked into his Doc Martens because it’s 1994 all over again and not one fucking moment too soon. Brilliant vibe. Amazing to see all these people agree they were in the right pace.

And to be sure, they were. Early start with Clutch on at 7:45, but that worked for my old ass just fine. I had The Patient Mrs. along, and therefore The Pecan as well — he goes where she goes, what with that whole in-the-womb thing and whatnot — and was counting this as my son’s first rock show. He could hardly ask for a better warm-up gig to, you know, life.

The tour started July 17 and this was show number six, so Clutch were on form but still plainly getting settled in. The long-running Marylander foursome of vocalist Neil Fallon, guitarist Tim Sult, bassist Dan Maines and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster are now two years removed from their most recent album, Psychic Warfare (review here), and though the set featured several cuts from that record — “Firebirds!,” “Noble Savage,” “Sucker for the Witch,” “A Quick Death in Texas” and “X-Ray Visions” — they seemed ready to move forward. From the stage, Fallon said their plan was to record in January and before they launched into the new song “How to Shake Hands,” he noted, “You don’t know the material, I don’t know the material,” which got a good chuckle out of the assembled masses. Then, of course, he and the whole band completely killed it.

Because that’s what Clutch do. At this point in their career, fans know what they’re getting when they show up to a Clutch gig, and while it was somewhat odd to see them opening for another act instead of headlining, and that showed itself in some of the tempos they worked with — that was easily the fastest incarnation of “Spacegrass” I’ve ever witnessed; it was like it was playing on 45RPM — their presence and their delivery are undeniable. Opening with “Cyborg Bette” and “Crucial Velocity” from 2013’s most righteous Earth Rocker (review here), they wanted nothing for momentum, and while speed would be the order of their time onstage, as emphasized with a one-two punch of Earth Rocker‘s title-track and “Noble Savage,” both proselytizing the same message of rock-liferdom, they wanted nothing for groove.

Along with the aforementioned “Spacegrass,” which always feels like something special when they break it out, “Escape from the Prison Planet” from 1995’s landmark self-titled was well placed in a multi-song nod to older-school fans — there were a few on hand, to be sure — that was excellently interrupted by a rendition of “D.C. Sound Attack” that snuck in a cowbell-laden jam at the end like it was sliding numbers facedown across a table: smooth and casual. “Passive Restraints,” which followed, might have pushed it on going way back, but you won’t hear me complain.

Fallon demands and rightly gets a lot of the focus in the band, and Sult‘s funk-infused riffing is second to none, but what an absolute joy it was to watch Maines and Gaster in the rhythm section. They don’t even have to look at each other. I don’t know if it’s possible to call them underrated, since Clutch has reaped plenty of acclaim in their time, but they might be anyway, and with Les Claypool and Tim Alexander in Primus still to follow, the evening-with wasn’t short on quality rhythm sections. Kind of the running theme of the night. But still. Whether it was “The Mob Goes Wild” and “Profits of Doom” early in the set or the tight transitions in “Electric Worry” near the end, they were on point to a frightening degree, and even a little flub in “Escape from the Prison Planet” became all-part-of-the-show-folks. The kind of bass and drums you would watch all night, even if there were no guitar and vocals to go with them.

So what about that new song? Well, despite Fallon‘s saying otherwise, they’ve been playing the politically-themed “How to Shake Hands” for at least a couple months now, and they all seemed to know it pretty well. Some of the lyrics felt tentative — a bridge about being born to be president reused the word “born” in a way that felt awkward and one expects will be revised before the track is final — but there was zero screwing with the hook:

“First thing I’m gonna do is go for ride in a UFO
Put Jimi Hendrix on the 20 dollar bill and Bill Hicks on a five note
Hot damn, the democratic process — what a time to be alive
I’m ready to give the people what they want
And what they want is straight talk, and no jive”

Needless to say, it was stuck in the head of all parties involved by its second runthrough in the relatively short, upbeat song. One to look forward to, to be sure. They’ve also been playing a song called “We Love a Good Fire,” but it wasn’t aired in Boston. Instead, they placed “X-Ray Visions” in the spot usually reserved for “One-Eyed Dollar” coming directly out of “Electric Worry.” A bit of a bumpy transition there, but credit to them for changing that up anyhow after years of doing it the other way. It was dark out by the time they were done, and Boston — hopped up as ever on lobster, beers and Chris Sale’s strikeout total for the season — was no less raucous than they might’ve been otherwise for it being Sunday.

I suspect my narrative as regards Primus is like many who showed up to see them. I’ve been a fan since I was 10 years old. I’ll be 36 in a couple months. One of the first CDs I ever owned was 1991’s Sailing the Seas of Cheese and I still have both that copy and my cassette and beat-to-crap digipak version of 1993’s Pork Soda as well. I remember staying up late to watch the video of “Mr. Krinkle” on Headbanger’s Ball — because Primus were no less unclassifiable by MTV back then than they are by anyone now — to the point that when they played it with the clip playing on the backing screens behind them, I had flashbacks. It had been more than a decade since the last time I saw them; I still knew “Sgt. Baker” by heart.

My central question going into their set was how jammed out it would be. Les ClaypoolTim Alexander and guitarist Larry LaLonde are gods to the jam-band contingent, and since Primus came back with the 2003 Animals Should Not Try to Act Like People EP — and really before that with Claypool side-projects like Colonel Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog BrigadeOysterheadColonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains, as well as the more recent The Claypool Lennon Delirium and Duo de Twang — they’ve very much worked toward that audience. Still, in partnering with Clutch for this tour, the weirdo stalwarts were embracing an entirely different crowd, so would they expand their songs with improv or cut back toward a more straightforward delivery?

I’ve long been of the conviction that if the language of “heavy rock” had existed at the time Primus were commercially flourishing in the way it does now, they never would’ve even been considered a heavy metal band. They never were one; even at their heaviest and despite LaLonde‘s roots playing in Possessed, they didn’t have the aggression behind the slapped-string punch of Claypool‘s bass or Alexander‘s drumming to be metal. Nor, I think, did they ever want to be. “Heavy rock,” as a concept, is more of a catch-all, and while I think it undersells both the unique nature of their approach and its progressive aspects, the path of their career and their turn toward jam-band affiliations might’ve worked out much differently had they not been so wrongly tagged for so long.

Was I thinking about this at the show? A little bit. They opened with a medley of “Too Many Puppies” sandwiched around “Sgt. Baker” before going into “Last Salmon Man,” which was a highlight of 2011’s Green Naugahyde, so a somewhat less jammy start had me thinking early they’d keep to basic structures, but as they moved through the 1995 mega-single “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” and “Southbound Pachyderm” — also from that year’s Tales from the Punchbowl — they began to unfold more of an open mood, and that would continue to flourish through a drum solo by Alexander that filled time while Claypool swapped to a stand-up bass to lead through Primus‘ take on “Candyman” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, a film the entire soundtrack of which the band took on in 2014 on Primus and the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble.

That was probably the only moment of their set that left me cold, but I was in a clear minority in that regard. The druggy overtones were laid on thick and I guess if that’s your thing, fair enough, but as soon as I saw Claypool in his pig mask, I was waiting for “Mr. Krinkle,” and that came next, followed by “The Toys Go Winding Down” and the new song listed as “Seven,” which will reportedly be the title-track of their impending ninth album to be recorded sometime after this tour, presumably for release in 2018. By way of stating the obvious and offering the most critical insight one might hope to conjure as regards Primus more than 30 years on from their first getting together, I’ll say it sounded like Primus. That should be considered high praise as well.

A mellow and bizarro deep-dive followed with “On the Tweek Again” and “Mrs. Blaileen,” both again from Tales from the Punchbowl, but the Pork Soda monument “My Name is Mud” brought everyone back to ground and as the three-piece extended the jabs at the end before launching into “Jerry was a Race Car Driver” from Sailing the Seas of Cheese — another delightfully creepy video to remember while it played behind them — it was obvious they were coming around to the finale. And at that point, fair enough. They’d jammed, they’d rocked, they’d spaced out, been heavy, showed off a new song, gone obscure and dug into classics, all the while offering unparalleled performance and personality from the stage. Fucking Primus. They do not, contrary to any and all sloganeering otherwise, suck.

The residual high-school-stoner in me delighted in the nod to 1997’s Brown Album that came in “Golden Boy,” which started a three-song encore that rounded out with “Mr. Knowitall” — he is so eloquent; perfection is his middle name and… whatever rhymes with “eloquent” — and the march of “Here Come the Bastards,” Claypool taking the opportunity work in some last-minute shred in a bass solo before they finished out a couple minutes ahead of what was likely an 11PM curfew and the lights came up. People had been quite literally dancing in the aisles, a kind of friendly mosh took shape a few rows back, dudes jumping up and down and bumping into each other rather than throwing punches or kicks.

All in good fun, in other words — and that was the emergent spirit of the night. During either Clutch or Primus, one couldn’t help but smile at the proceedings, the surroundings, the weather, whatever. It all worked excellently and the two bands fed off each other’s strengths in a manner that, even thinking “hell yeah, this is gonna be a great show” beforehand, was a surprise. I expect as this tour rolls on for the better part of the next month, that complementary aspect is only going to grow more prevalent, and right on. If only they’d made a t-shirt with both logos. I’d have been all over it, and maybe even gotten one for my unborn son to grow into as well. Next time.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

Read more »

Tags: , , , ,