Live Review: ROADBURN 2019 – Ignition, 04.10.19

Posted in Features, Reviews on April 10th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

roadburn 2019 banner (Photo by JJ Koczan)

04.11.19 – 00.23 CET – Wednesday night – Hotel

Just like that, Planet Roadburn aligned to the hew-mon visible spectrum with the newly-relocated and rebranded pre-show, Ignition. Once upon a Roadburn or three ago, the Sunday was called the Afterburner. Now it’s just another day of the fest. Next year, maybe Ignition will be two stages. Then four. Then six. Then Roadburn will just be a week long. Then a month. Until, at last, three centuries from now, it will always be Roadburn and Roadburn will never not happen, and if our shitheel species is lucky enough to witness it, it’s as close to utopia as we’d ever be likely to get.

Spilled beer on the camera bag. The wafting smell of dudefart. Volume the likes of which vibrates the shirt you’re wearing. Pro-shop everything. It’s fucking Roadburn, children. Get on your goddamned feet. Yes. This.

Three bands held sway at the 013 — there’s construction at Cul de Sac; a revamp, but it will reportedly return — and it was Temple Fang, Great Grief and Hellripper to cast a spectrum of light, dark and blood across the Green Room for the faithful in attendance to bear witness. Was that you? It probably should’ve been.

Boogie oogie oogie:

Temple Fang

Temple Fang (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I was as impatient to see Temple Fang live as I am now for them to put out an album. The Amsterdam four-piece of bassist/vocalist Dennis Duijnhouwer and guitarist/sometimes-vocalist Jevin de Groot, guitarist Ivy van der Veer and drummer Jasper van den Broeke collided kraut and space rock visions with an even-heavier underpinning thanks to Duijnhouwer‘s formidable Rickenbacker tone. He and de Groot shared a tenure in hyper-underappreciated cosmic doomers Mühr, and Duijnhouwer featured in Death Alley as well, so there’s pedigree there as far as I’m concerned, but if Temple Fang had eyes for anything, it was only the silveriest of futures. I don’t know the name of a single song they played, but woof, they held it down in glorious fashion for the assembled masses. By the time they were done, I wanted to shout at the stage for them to immediately get in the studio and get something together. I’ll hope that while they do that, they also mix and master this live set so I can relive the magic in smug ground-floor fashion. They were the first band who played, and there’s no doubt in my mind that by the end of this weekend, I’ll still consider them a highlight. And sadly, they won’t have an album out by Monday either, so I’ll probably still be complaining about that too.

Great Grief

Great Grief (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Good grief, Great Grief. Roadburn‘s years-since-established fetish for the Icelandic underground in its many forms — yet seemingly not all that many people in the actual bands — continued with the heart-on-sleeve hardcore four-piece, who brought issues of diversity and coping with mental health struggles to the fore in their set, even as frontman Finnbogi Örn batted some dude’s beer out of his hand, and subsequently broke a beer bottle on stage (which was swept up afterward) and cut up his forehead with the shards. I’ve never been huge on hardcore, but I’m not about to take away from the fact that Örn, guitarist Gunnar Ágúst, bassist Fannar Már and drummer Leifur Örn were unreal in how tight they were despite also putting on a show energetic enough to be called visceral. They even had a little mosh going in the Green Room, which thankfully involved no kicking that I saw or felt. It wasn’t even until after their set that some dude dumped his beer on me trying to get a drumstick from Leifur, who was packing away his gear at the time. Up to that point, they very simply put everything they had into their material and the delivery thereof, and while I wouldn’t call myself a convert to the style, I readily acknowledge the convincing argument Great Grief made.

Hellripper

Hellripper (Photo by JJ Koczan)

For as long as Roadburn has had a pre-show, there’s been thrash. Hellripper, from Scotland, might’ve been the youngest dudes in the room, but the kind of no-nonsense, balls-out thrash. fucking. metal. they played is best meted out as a beating from a young person. They stripped the genre to its two-guitar essentials and charred it with an edge of rudimentary black metal and were nothing less than a total blast. Through such family-friendly hits as “Vomit on the Cross” and “All Hail the Goat,” which opens their newly-issued EP, Black Arts and Alchemy, the Aberdeen extremists lost none of their ferocity for also being a really good time, and they were a reminder that although Roadburn-proper over the next four days will unfold in a manner bound to no creative limits and celebrate artistry in multiple media sonic and otherwise, sometimes it really does just need to be about losing your mind and headbanging to a killer speed metal attack. Hellripper were only right to make the point, and their message was well received. By the time they were halfway through the set, Ignition was achieved, and it was Roadburn all the way. Let the vibe begin.

Usually, I’d get to the hotel, put my stuff down and sleep for a bit before the pre-show. Not this year. I’m jetlagged like a bastard and the alarm is set for a sadly few hours from now to get up tomorrow and put the finishing touches on the first issue of the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch, so with photos after the jump, I’m going to punch out and get every second of sleep I possibly can. Tomorrow is Roadburn. Let me take a second and breathe that in.

Thanks for reading.

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Centrum, För Meditation: Like a Mirror

Posted in Reviews on April 10th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

centrum for meditation

The album begins with a field recording of a busy street in India. Horns honk, cars whiz past. People speak. A bike bell chimes. Then the drone of “Vid Floden” begins and the essential message of Centrum‘s debut album, För Meditation, becomes clear in the feeling of leaving the world behind in search of a higher plane of consciousness. Or unconsciousness. Or of those parts of the mind that don’t have a name yet. Released through Rocket Recordings and Svensk Psych Aften, the four-track outing is a quick-enough session at 37 minutes; an unassuming single LP with two longer tracks bookending two shorter ones that unfolds graceful contemplative psychedelia worthy of its title. Across “Vid Floden” (11:02), “Sjön” (8:39), “Stjärnor” (05:14), and “Som En Spegel” (12:12), the lineup-less Swedish outfit whose members reportedly also take part in Weary Nous and rightfully acclaimed jam-lords Hills elicit a vibe that borders on the conceptual in its underlying purpose.

They have backward voices chanting at the outset of “Sjön” and a particularly effective use of strings and a classic wah solo laid overtop in “Stjärnor” and an apex of chanting following the flute-led procession of “Som En Spegel,” but wherever they go or whatever elements a given piece might introduce, the feeling of exploration and mind expansion is never far off. They never lose the serenity that “Vid Floden” seems to find once it floats away from the harsh reality of its outset, or maybe it’s finding the music in that cacophony and unearthing it for the listener. Either way, on the most basic level of setting a mood, Centrum‘s amalgam of ritual bells, drone, percussion and eventual turn to a slow march of drums and an emergent line of guitar or bass is hypnotic in the extreme and designed to be exactly that. The repetitive nature of the material is purposeful, and though there are some jarring moments like the sudden cut at the end of “Vid Floden,” by the time that opener’s 11 minutes are done, the effect of Centrum‘s intent is thoroughly felt. They called it För Meditation. It’s for meditation. This should not be shocking.

There is a subtle ambition in the arrangements, from the aforementioned strings and flutes and drones to the way in which “Sjön” seems to use an effects-laced sitar early in its second half and end with strings and a vague sample once its march is done. But everything in it counts. Nothing is without purpose. And in part because most of För Meditation moves at such a slow tempo, at no point does it sound maximalist or like Centrum just decided to throw something or other together with the guitar and drums. I wouldn’t call it overly careful in a way that detracts from the organic vibe of its sound overall, but there’s clearly care put into when pieces enter and exit, how a movement plays out with the core progression maintained beneath, and even the way in which the bell of the ride cymbal is hit in “Sjön” feels willful. That För Meditation could exist in such a way and still be so outwardly serene in its overarching affect should be a contradiction, but it just isn’t. That’s it.

Nothing that comes or goes, from that sample at the start to the last rising drone of “Som En Spegel” that seems to snap the listener back to reality, interrupts the flow of the material, be it instrument or the vocals that come forward in “Sjön” and “Stjärnor” after being relatively buried in “Vid Floden.” That serves as another example of the gentle manner in which the album unfurls as a whole work, and it’s telling that as Centrum reach their deepest point in “Som En Spegel,” they also wait until more than six and a half of the song’s total 12 minutes have passed in order to start the first verse. It’s a triumph of an alternative vision — the deep-breathing rhythm of a mind not at all clear but that still comes across that way even if just for a little while. Go, peacefully.

centrum

One could sit and debate the merits of escapism endlessly, but För Meditation only shows this kind of running in circles for the folly it is. While the band would hardly be the first psychedelic act to appropriate influences from traditional Indian music in melody, rhythm and arrangement to add spiritual flair to their material, Centrum make this melding a defining aspect and engage a conversation musically that stands well outside the bounds of “we played a rock song and put a sitar on it.” In truth, much of what one needs to know about För Meditation going into it is right there in the title. Like Om or some of Lamp of the Universe‘s work, Centrum‘s purpose is to evoke a state that’s apart from what one might think of as the crunch of modern existence.

Even in “Stjärnor,” which comes through like a brief summation of the greater mass of För Meditation, leaving its verses behind for the already-noted mesh of drone, strings and guitar, there’s the feeling of removing oneself from chaos, and the deeper one engages with the songs, the more that’s the case. It is itself a meditation on meditation, and whether the listener is formulating a personal relationship with the cosmos or just a personal relationship with the self — much as there’s a difference from the human perspective — the discovery feels genuine.

I wondered in listening for the first time if at the end of “Som En Spegel” Centrum might return to that initial sample from the start of “Vid Floden.” The two longer tracks bookend the album in a way that speaks to symmetry, and after departing the jarring realities of day-on-street, it seemed only fair to be redeposited there at the finish. They don’t. There are bells in the final moments of “Som En Spegel” before the drone takes hold, but it’s not from passing bikes, and ultimately, that seems no less purposeful than the initial departure. It’s not about just going back to where you came from, but about doing so with new or at very least changed sight, and clearly the last drone that swells and cuts off works on the part of Centrum to show faith in the listener’s ability to do that on their own. They have, to that point, provided sure direction.

With so little information on who Centrum are or their longterm plans, it’s hard to know in what context För Meditation arrives, whether it’s meant to be a first full-length from an ongoing project or it’s simply a one-off side gig from players otherwise spoken for. Right now, it doesn’t matter. It’s a beautiful expression, and it’s one of the best first albums you’ll hear in 2019. That’s enough.

Centrum, För Meditation (2019)

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Brant Bjork, Jacoozzi: Guerrilla Wonderland

Posted in Reviews on April 9th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

brant bjork jacoozzi

Roll tape. Jam. Repeat. It’s not a new methodology by any means, but it still works, and one imagines the process becomes more complicated when there’s only one person involved. Fortunately for anyone who might find themselves immersed in the Heavy Psych Sounds-issued Jacoozzi, that one person is Brant Bjork, who plays all instruments throughout the release recorded in 2010. It was a productive era for Bjork in the studio and on the road, as the years immediately preceding had seen him touring with his then-band, Brant Bjork and the Bros., as well as putting out LPs at a steady clip like 2006’s serene, acoustic Tres Dias (reissue review here), 2007’s Somera Sól (discussed here) and 2008’s Punk Rock Guilt (though that was recorded in 2005) through his Low Desert Punk Records imprint, and the former Kyuss drummer was still a couple years off from putting his solo career aside to participate in the semi-reunion Kyuss Lives!/Vista Chino circa 2011-2013. It would seem to have been during the making of what became 2010’s Gods and Goddesses (review here) that Bjork, apparently frustrated with how the material was coming together, scrapped everything and instead jammed out Jacoozzi with Tony Mason engineering for what has ended up as 10 tracks and 46 minutes of mostly-instrumentalist heavy chill mastery.

And like its cover art with an image of Bjork — ex-Kyuss as noted, also formerly of Fu Manchu and by 2010 already with no fewer than eight solo/bandleader full-lengths under his belt — staring directly at the camera, surrounded by an aura of muted shades like a ’70s wall hanging, Jacoozzi is about as dead-ahead and stripped-down as he’s ever gotten. As an entire work, it oozes vibe, and even the 44-second drum bed “Five Hundred Thousand Dollars” has a sleek groove, but it is definitely a collection of individual movements rather than something written as a single entity. It’s a different process of capturing the moment, then, not about bringing in a collection of pre-written songs and putting them down to establish an overarching feel, but getting there from another direction, piecing together jams one component at a time until finally a song like the mellow highlight “Black and White Wonderland” is built to where it needs to be.

That there are no vocals on the bulk of the material feels on one level like a missed opportunity at times — one imagines an improv rant over the tense wah guitar of “Oui” or a couple verses added to “Lost in Race” would’ve added to the effect rather than detracted from it — but it speaks to the circumstance in which the record was made and the fact that it likely wasn’t intended to be a record at all. It was Bjork expunging ideas in the studio, and getting stuff out of his head either as some kind of catharsis or to save and make into songs later before returning to work on Gods and Goddesses. Thus it is the nature of even the jazzy electric piano in “Mixed Nuts” or the cool-toned mood-setting in opener and longest track (immediate points) “Can’t Out Run the Sun” to be what they are and to feel like ideas waiting to be fleshed out. Jacoozzi isn’t a traditional Brant Bjork record, as much as that exists. At its core, it’s very much a drum album. The first element that enters on “Can’t Out Run the Sun” is a quiet tom progression, and “Mexico City Blues,” “Five Hundred Thousand Dollars” (which is only drums), “Oui,” and vocalized closer “Do You Love Your World?” all lead with drums one way or the other.

brant bjork

The only song that starts with guitar is the penultimate “Polarized,” which swells in with Hendrixian fuzz feedback before its slow ride cymbal backbeat takes hold and continues to wind its way forward in that fashion for all of its four minutes, with keys and bass and drums behind it. Other cuts like righteously on-the-beat “Guerrilla Funk” (premiered here) and the sleek “Mixed Nuts” and “Lost in Race” bring the drums and guitar, etc., in at the same time, but either way, it’s still drums at the foundation of the material, and that’s somewhat inevitable given how it was recorded, essentially constructed on top of improvised drum parts. Given an infinity of time, money and interest, might Bjork have turned all of these jams into full-fledged verse/chorus songs? I don’t know. Does it matter? Jacoozzi works as well as it does precisely because it’s not that, and it gives a different and heretofore largely unseen look at the process by which Bjork creates. It’s a single creative burst from nine years ago. One should not go into it expecting the same kind of fleshed-out songcraft as Bjork featured on last year’s Mankind Woman (review here), but if that bit of necessary context makes Jacoozzi a fan-piece, then the album is only an argument in favor of fandom.

Brant Bjork is no stranger to carrying a record on his own. The majority of his landmark 1999 solo debut Jalamanta (discussed here) was him alone, and certainly other outings along the way have been as well. Of those, it seems to make the most sense to liken Jacoozzi to Tres Dias. Not necessarily in terms of sound, but idea. Tres Dias was a mostly-unplugged collection of songs, some of which were older, some were newer, but all were given a new interpretation in a setting that was as intimate as possible. It was a rawer glimpse of Bjork‘s songwriting process than he’d given before. Jacoozzi functions to do much the same thing, but with a different target. “Do You Love Your World?” might be considered “finished,” but if Tres Dias was showcasing the songs, Jacoozzi is showcasing the jams that birthed them. And while Bjork has done plenty of jamming on recent albums, there’s never been a work so purely based around the idea, and that makes Jacoozzi all the more special of a moment to have been caught on tape, and after being shelved for nine years, its arrival is as welcome as it was awaited. It may be an aside, or a kind of footnote in Bjork‘s ongoing creative progression, but damn is it listenable.

Brant Bjork, Jacoozzi (2019)

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Bible of the Devil, Feel It: Speed of Night

Posted in Reviews on April 8th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

bible of the devil feel it

Recorded over a period of six months in the band’s native Chicago, Bible of the Devil‘s self-released Feel It arrives some 20 years after the band got their start, and 19 after their debut album, None More Raw. It is their eighth album overall and their first since that debut to be independently issued, the band forming their own Bible of the Devil Recordings imprint to handle pressing after releasing three full-lengths through Cruz Del Sur. Those records, 2006’s The Diabolic Procession, 2008’s Freedom Metal (discussed here) and 2012’s For the Love of Thugs and Fools (discussed here), comprise something of an (un)holy trinity throughout which the band solidified the style they began to develop on 2002’s Firewater at My Command, 2003’s Tight Empire and 2005’s Brutality, Majesty, Eternity, and some seven years after their last outing, Feel It arrives as just the second album of their second decade. They had a split out with Leeches of Lore (review here) in 2017, but compared to the stretch from 2002-2008 in which they issued five LPs, the four-piece’s general lack of output feels striking.

The effect that has, however, is to make Feel It seem all the more like a special occasion. It was hard to know if Bible of the Devil would put out another record, and not only have they done that in this 41-minute nine-tracker co-produced and mixed by Sanford Parker, but they take advantage of the opportunity to tear it up in classic fashion. Emphasis on the word “classic.” The cornerstone of Bible of the Devil‘s sound has long been its dual-guitar attack, and even as guitarist Chris Grubbs makes his debut here alongside guitarist/vocalist Nate Perry, taking on the role formerly occupied by Mark Hoffmann, the essential character of guitar-led, classic metal-influenced heavy rock and roll is consistent, led by the riffs and solos and propelled by bassist/backing vocalist Darren Amaya and drummer Greg Spalding, who is the last remaining founder of the band. Grubbs, whose status as the new guy on Feel It is somewhat tempered by the fact that he’s been in the band for upwards of six years, is of course well-integrated into the mix and paired well with Perry, who readily takes on a frontman role for cuts like “The Downtown Boogie” or the earlier “Ride Steel,” which sweeps in from the intro “The Light” — uh, hey guys, you spelled “night” wrong — and gives Feel It a righteous uptempo kick at the outset that sets the standard for the rest of what follows even as subsequent songs add breadth to the tones and methods established early.

For what it’s worth, the title Feel It comes across more as an invitation than a command, and while Bible of the Devil are somewhat prone to a tongue-in-cheek presentation — their ongoing penchant for songs about “the night” manifests here with “(Love at) The Speed of Night,” which follows “Ride Steel” — they may have been laughing about it at the time they were recording, but there’s little doubt in listening that they were also into what they were doing, or, feeling it, if you prefer. “Ride Steel” and “(Love at) The Speed of Night” and “Lifeline” form a salvo that puts the emphasis right where it belongs in their sound: on Iron Maiden and Thin Lizzy.

bible of the devil

Even as they scale back the pace a bit in the transition from the “(Love at) The Speed of Night” to “Lifeline,” thereby giving Amaya‘s bass a chance to shine in more of a swinging groove, they maintain their communion with their root influences, and as album-centerpiece “Idle Time” moves further into a ’70s vibe and makes its way toward a falsetto-topped crescendo, the NWOBHM energy holds firm even as they shift the balance in their approach from one side to the other. Bible of the Devil have never wanted for chemistry or songwriting, and maybe it’s just been so long since For the Love of Thugs and Fools, but the tightness of the material seems to make Feel It all the more urgent in its affect. As “Iron Ego” turns back more toward the biker metallurgy of “Ride Steel,” and sets its guitars to soar all the while, the good time being had doesn’t undercut the spirit of necessity for what they’re doing. Bible of the Devil didn’t need to put out another record from a business standpoint. It’s not like it’s paying the bills. But this is a record they very clearly felt like they had to make on a creative level, and that sense of this-needs-to-happen is emphasized not only in the faster material like the 2:55 scorcher “Hard Club” that follows “Iron Ego” and precedes “The Downtown Boogie,” but everywhere throughout Feel It. And true to the title, it’s palpable.

Like “Ride Steel” and “(Love at) The Speed of Night” at the outset, “The Downtown Boogie” and closer “Ultra Boys” form a concluding duo of marked purpose, the former standing as one of the most effective Iron Lizzy realizations they’ve ever had and the latter set to a rhythm that’s a hook in itself as Spalding‘s snare seems to beg for an audience to follow along clapping. Gang vocals and a potent hook follow as Bible of the Devil bring the guitars in and out while Amaya‘s bass serves as the foundation of the verses. Leads a-plenty ensue, gang vocals ensue, and they finish in top fashion with heat-blister soloing and a sudden drop to silence that’s only missing the applause after to let the listener know the set is done.

I won’t claim to know what Bible of the Devil‘s plans are, but the fact that Feel It has come together so long after the preceding LP and the lineup change would seem to speak as well to the fact that this is a record they needed to make on a creative level. It may be that it will kick off a new era of productivity for them — they certainly sound like they still have plenty of gas in the tank, as it were — or it may be that these songs have been assembled as their final blowout, one last chance to live up to the title and put everything they have into the music. Either way, Feel It stands as a testament to the force that Bible of the Devil have always been at their best, and its renewed commitment to who they are as a band is as refreshing as their solos are crisp. If in fact they are inviting you to feel what they’re feeling, they’ve absolutely laid it all out and made the most compelling case possible for doing just that.

Bible of the Devil, Feel It (2019)

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Live Review: YOB, Voivod & Amenra in Brooklyn, 04.04.19

Posted in Reviews on April 5th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

YOB (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I arrived at the Warsaw in Brooklyn early enough to go to the market across the street and buy gum, go inside the venue and use the restroom, come back out and meander a bit and still be first in line to get in the door to see YOB, Voivod and Amenra, so yes, I was eager to see the show. And I’ll confess that after seeing Voivod in August at Psycho Las Vegas (review here) and Amenra at Høstsabbat (review here) in Oslo this past October, the band I was most overdue in seeing was YOB. It would be my first YOB gig since the release last year of Our Raw Heart (review here) on Relapse and going back even further than that to 2015. It’s been an adventurous couple of years, but still, that’s unacceptable.

Fortunately for me and everyone else in the venue — and perhaps, given the volume, everyone on the entire block — YOB were headlining. Amenra were soundchecking before doors opened and this would be my first time seeing them not in a festival setting. Being somewhat used to the Belgium-based forerunners of European post-metal with a high-grade production value in terms of lights, projections, strobe effects and so on, I was interested to find out how it would translate to a smaller stage. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they were blisteringly intense. The drastic contrast of their ambience and weighted sway seemed especially powerful as I stood by the low-end side of the stage for the lurching “Plus Près de Toi” from 2017’s Mass VI. They’ve been to Brooklyn at least once each year since that record came out, but in this context, they brought a headliner presence to the opening slot. There wasn’t one band of the three who wouldn’t readily headline their own tour.

Amenra probably aren’t a band I’d seek out on their own, but I’ve never regretted watching them play when I’ve had occasion to do so, and from where I sit there’s no denying the creative force behind cuts like “Razoreater” and “A Solitary Reign,” both of which were aired at the Warsaw ahead of the finale of “Diaken” from the last album. They’re maybe a bit tighter in their conception of what they do than I can fully appreciate, but they remain sonically devastating, and for the contrast with Canadian sci-fi metal legends Voivod alone, it was a fascinating experience. The sheer incongruity of the one into the other was a sight to behold, but once the switch was flipped and Voivod went on, the whole vibe in the room changed and went along with them, the Quebecois four-piece running through a set of classics and newer songs, smiling all the while.

They are a very, very specific kind of fun. It’s not everyone’s kind of fun, otherwise Voivod would’ve become Metallica, but their alien-rhythm punk-metal-proto-thrash-prog remains not so much ahead of its time, but from its own dimension. The opened with “Post Society” and vocalist Denis “Snake” Bélanger mentioned ahead of “Obsolete Beings” that they’d recently won the Juno award for metal with their latest album, The Wake, from whence that song comes, but if it was more recent stuff or “Into My Hypercube” from 1989’s Nothingface and “The Lost Machine” from 1993’s The Outer Limits, they were absolutely unmistakable, and as was the case last summer in the sweltering Las Vegas heat, theirs was among the most unabashedly joyful performances I’ve ever seen from a band that might be considered in any way. Voivod were having their very own kind of fun.

It was infectious, and I think if there was going to be a vaccine, it probably would’ve been developed sometime in the last 38 years. They ended the night with “Voivod” and a heartfelt shout to founding guitarist Denis “Piggy” D’Amour, who passed away in 2005, before the band got even that portion of “their due” that they’ve received up to now. I’m not sure I’d put a percentage to that, but I know it’s on the low side, and when they were done, Snake, founding drummer Michel “Away” Langevin, bassist Dominique “Rocky” Laroche and guitarist Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain took time to pass out their setlists and shake hands in the crowd. It sounds corny to say, but they were essentially sharing their love for what they do with the audience, both while they were playing and after. They’re one of the most admirable bands on the planet, for that as well as the decades of aesthetic innovation.

And then YOB played. Ha.

Let’s face it. YOB have been at it one way or another for the last 20-plus years, and they’ve only ever pushed themselves forward. I think every single seeing-YOB-is-a-spiritual-experience cliché has been exhausted at this point in their career — true though it otherwise might be — so I’ll spare you that, but I think it’s worth taking a minute to appreciate the relentless creativity that drives the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt, bassist Aaron Rieseberg and drummer Travis Foster. And that’s not just a question of longevity. YOB don’t put out records because, “okay, well, we gotta go get back on tour, so we need to make an album.” They do it because they have something to express emotionally or something to contemplate and process through music. Their work has never ceased growing, and as they opened their set by tearing a chasm through the universe with “Prepare the Ground,” I couldn’t help but think how incredibly special and rare a band they are. To wit, there is one YOB. Eight billion people walking around the planet or something like that. One YOB.

The set was “Prepare the Ground,” “Kosmos,” “The Lie that is Sin,” “Marrow,” “Grasping Air” and “Burning the Altar,” and if six songs doesn’t sound like much to you, I humbly invite you to go listen to any single one of those cuts somewhere on the internet and be bowled over by them. “Marrow” had eyes moistened throughout the venue, and they brought out bassist Levy Seynaeve from Amenra to do guest vocals on “Grasping Air,” which I have a hard time thinking of as anything other than a dream come true. Even before that though, “Kosmos” and “The Lie that is Sin” made for a particularly resonant pairing ahead of “Marrow,” building on the momentous nod of “Prepare the Ground” with methodical groove that is continually YOB‘s own. Like I said at the outset, it had been too long. I didn’t realize until I was standing there watching them just how much too long it had been. Much too long.

No encore, but none necessary after “Burning the Altar.” I was kind of in a daze after that, to be honest, but stayed a couple minutes to chat rather than darting back to the car. It was a scheduling glitch that got me to see this show in Brooklyn rather than Boston, but no regrets. Nights like this one don’t happen all the time, and to not take advantage when they do is to genuinely miss out.

Thanks for reading. More pics after the jump.

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Magic Circle, Departed Souls: A Way to Die

Posted in Reviews on April 3rd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

magic circle departed souls

There’s an awful lot of year left, so it’s probably best to avoid “best of”-type hyperbole, but it’s safe to say that whoever else puts out a traditional doom album in 2019 is going to have a hell of a time topping Magic Circle‘s Departed Souls. The Massachusetts five-piece’s third album and second through 20 Buck Spin behind 2015’s sophomore outing Journey Blind (review here) — they released the Scream Live! tape in 2016 as well — and their 2013 self-titled debut (review here). The intervening years between Journey Blind and Departed Souls would seem to have been crucial particularly for vocalist Brendan Radigan, who stepped in to act as live frontman for Pagan Altar. Singing for one of doom’s formative acts would seem to have had an effect on Radigan‘s approach, and where Journey Blind introduced a NWOBHM-style aspect to Magic Circle‘s sound, Departed Souls absolutely refuses to compromise between that and the doom that was so pervasive at their start.

I have said on more occasions than I care to count that classic metal belongs to doom, and Departed Souls proves it. Hell, “I’ve Found My Way to Die” alone might prove it, let alone anything else on the eight-song/45-minute LP. In terms of doom, they dig right to the root. The opening title-track begins with a synthesized-sounding sweep like that in Black Sabbath‘s “After Forever,” and from there, guitarists Chris Corry and Renato Montenegro begin a master class in tone and riff. Backed by the swing in Michael “Q” Quartulli‘s drums and the utterly crucial bass work of Justin DeTore, the two guitars fluidly drive tempo changes like that 3:33 into “Departed Souls,” where they kick into speedier shuffling after setting a middling pace prior — a classic Sabbathian move, and far from the last one on the album.

Particularly in terms of tone and the production of Will Killingsworth at Dead Air Studios Corry mixed and Andy Pearce and Matt Wortham mastered — it’s not just Black Sabbath, but particularly post-Master of Reality-era Sabbath, moving into the crunching riffs of Vol. 4Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and Sabotage circa 1973-’75, that seem to define album highlights like “Valley of the Lepers” and the closing “Hypnotized,” even as the melding of lead and rhythm tracks give the band an opportunity they most certainly take to make that style their own. One might say the same of the layers of background harmonies periodically surrounding Radigan in the otherwise relatively straightforward arrangements, as introduced in “Valley of the Lepers” and brought to bear in the acoustic-led “A Day Will Dawn Without Nightmares,” which follows, as well as on and off again throughout “Nightland,” “Gone Again” and the slower-marching “Hypnotized.” It’s not the first time he’s had backing vocals, but their use here shows not only his increased command of melody in his already-powerful voice, but the ability to use that command to a defined purpose. “A Day Will Dawn Without Nightmares” is a song that simply doesn’t happen either on Magic Circle or Journey Blind, but on Departed Souls, the band seems well at home in its making, Mellotron-style keys and all.

Magic Circle (Photo by Dakota Gordon)

Acoustic guitar returns on the side B interlude “Bird City Blues” placed right ahead of “Hypnotized,” but it’s an 80-second instrumental piece that seems intended to enhance the titular effect of the closer — i.e., hypnosis — and keyboards make even more of an impression in the subsequent “Nightland” and “Gone Again,” but it’s how it all comes together in “A Day Will Dawn Without Nightmares” that makes the difference, as well as the showcase the song provides for Radigan, though admittedly, that’s more a question of context than quality of performance. There isn’t a point on Departed Souls in which he or the band around him doesn’t shine, whether it’s repurposing the rhythm of the bridge riff to “Sabbra Cadabra” in “Gone Again” or building the hook to “I’ve Found My Way to Die” as an understated anthem of anti-conformity — the lines, “I will never die with the herd/I gotta make my stand/Right!,” efficiently capturing the middle-finger ideology that the earliest of heavy metal raised to the mainstream popular culture that left it on the margins and that has come in the years since to be one of metal’s most defining aspects. Who needs you when I’ve got this?

They make every crash of Q‘s drums in the finale count, every subtle interaction between the lead and rhythm guitars, as in the first half of “Nightland,” the uptempo side B leadoff that breaks to a stretch of harmonies and mellotron that borders on the progressive but never loses its rawer, essential edge before it builds back up into the solo apex that finishes. With the swaggering title-track at the outset and the morose dirge of “Hypnotized” capping, Departed Souls is every bit a work of the classic metal that inspired it. Magic Circle are obviously versed in the style in which they’re working, but Departed Souls pushes further and internalizes that in a way that showcases the growth on the part of the band over the last six years. It’s as though they’ve taken the best of the first two outings and moved them both another step forward. On the most basic level, their songwriting has never sounded stronger, and their performances have never seemed so assured.

Add to that the atmosphere brought forth from the tones of DeToreCorry and Montenegro — hell, even the snare has a classic pop — and Magic Circle have tapped into something genuinely special within their sound. Subtleties like the guitar layering in “Gone Again” or the, yes, cowbell in “Departed Souls,” or even just the way they delay the entry of the vocal harmonies, letting that opener and “I’ve Found My Way to Die” act as a salvo before expanding the palette in “Valley of the Lepers” speak to an overarching fruition to their approach that, even those who’ve stood behind them since the first record would’ve been unlikely to predict. It is a triumph of style and substance that without question deserves consideration among the best albums of 2019.

Magic Circle, Departed Souls (2019)

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The Pilgrim Premiere “Dragonfly” from Walking into the Forest

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on April 3rd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

the pilgrim

Available to preorder since January, the debut album from The Pilgrim will be released April 26 through Heavy Psych Sounds. The 10-song/38-minute Walking into the Forest is a new venture for Gabriele Fiori, who’s already well known for being the head of the Heavy Psych Sounds label and booking agency as well as the frontman of Black Rainbows and Killer Boogie. Hey, some people like to stay busy.

Before the album was being announced, I was fortunate enough to be asked to write the bio for The Pilgrim, and of course I jumped at the opportunity as I tend to do. My motivation was pretty simple, and I think listening to Walking into the Forest makes the argument perhaps best of all, which was why I was so keen to host the premiere of “Peace of Mind,” the album’s opening track, when the time came for the announcement to go out. With The PilgrimFiori and his cohort drummer Filippo Ragazzoni don’t just take on new textures, but as songs like the Hawkwind cover “Brainstorm” show, there’s a definite tie-in with the work Fiori has done in the past. It comes in a more peaceful form throughout “The Time You Wait” and the finger-picked beginning of “Pendulum,” perhaps, but that sense of collective psychedelic trip is still there, and it feels all the more resonant for its foundation in earthy acoustic guitar, to which quiet-but-welcome drums/percussion are added along with keys and vocals. “Peace of Mind” begins the record at a hippie ramble, and soon enough after, “Sailor” seems to speak to the exploration that’s getting underway in this material, with a broader melodic scope and an affecting, bigger finish.

Because that’s what Walking into the Forest is: the beginning of a new exploration. It’s right The-pilgrim-walking-into-the-forestthere in the title in the word “into,” which implies you’re starting from somewhere else and entering the forest, and it’s right there in the prominent front foot of the Maarten Donders cover art. These songs may have been years in the making, but the recording unites them in the purpose of feeling out and establishing this unfamiliar sonic terrain, where it’s not about the effects wash or the space rock thrust, or about the classic ’70s shuffle, but about creating a not entirely dissimilar atmosphere through the most natural of folkish elements — a guitar and a voice. That’s the core of what The Pilgrim does, but of course Fiori and Ragazzoni expand the sound with drums and keyboards, echo on the vocals and so on. It’s all part of conjuring an acid folk vibe, and they do it well from “Peace of Mind” through the relatively subdued guitar/keys finish of “Suite #2.” Not every song is trying to manifest the same idea — that would invariably lead to a monotonous listening experience, which the album isn’t, but they all work together in order to create the sense of journeying along with the duo in the creative process.

When asked for the bio, Fiori described the song “Dragonfly” as a “mind-dream,” which I like a lot, as well as his favorite on the album. Indeed, the track traffics well in the ethereal, and makes its presence felt through early intertwining of soft vocals and guitar with spaced-out keys before the strumming and drumming picks up before the two-minute mark. Those keyboard droplets stay consistent throughout, and late in the track a sweeping solo comes forward in the mix and ends up gently leading the way out just past the song’s fifth minute — it’s the only inclusion on Walking into the Forest to cross that line.

Fiori, as noted, or at least implied, has a fairly manic (and admirable) work ethic, so it’s easy to imagine that, should he choose to focus on it, a second The Pilgrim record could arrive sooner than the years it took to put together Walking into the Forest. Between Black RainbowsKiller Boogie, putting out other bands’ albums and booking events like the Obelisk-co-presented Heavy Psych Sounds Fest tour in the US (info here), he’s not exactly short on current projects, but sometimes once you start on a path through the forest, the best thing to do is just keep going and see where it leads you.

I’ve included that bio I wrote for the album here, in case you’re interested. It’s under the player with the premiere of “Dragonfly” and a quick comment from Fiori about the track specifically.

Please enjoy:

Gabriele Fiori on “Dragonfly”:

Dragonfly is the fourth track of the album and the one I personally like the most because its different phases; one is heavenly and choral, but then suddenly starts with rhythm parts and nice vocals, to end with a guitar solo that intertwines with the other instruments to create something truly magic.

The Pilgrim’ debut album Walking Into The Forest will be released on April 26th via Heavy Psych Sounds. Cover art by Maarten Donders.

Preorder available now: https://www.heavypsychsounds.com/shop.htm?#HPS092

Bio:

Gabriele Fiori — already frontman of Rome-based outfits Black Rainbows and Killer Boogie and a key figure in Europe’s heavy underground as the head of the Heavy Psych Sounds label and booking agency — was not exactly lacking for things to do. And yet, a couple years back, The Pilgrim started to nebulously take shape as an idea for a solo-project, something different than the hard-driving psychedelia and garage heavy rock for which he’d already been so revered.

It wasn’t until Jan. 2018 that he really got to putting songs together, but the end result on Walking into the Forest is a space-folk release with a personality unto itself. Songs like opener “Peace of Mind” evoke some of Fiori’s more rocking side, while “Sunset in the Desert” feels like an ode to the acoustic album Kyuss never made, and side B, which starts with the Hawkwind cover “Brainstorm” and ends with the moody strum of “Suite #2” — originally from Void Generator’s 2004 debut EP; when Fiori was in the band — hones a cosmic drift and textures that nonetheless remain accessible and organic thanks to their acoustic foundation.

“The main point in common with Black Rainbows is the diversity of the songs,” Fiori explains. “You have mind-dreams like ‘Dragonfly’ or ‘Sailor,’ or the more folk rock ‘Peace of Mind,’ passing through space with ‘The Time You Wait’ and the melodic-melancholic ‘When I Call Your Name.’”

In completing the arrangements, Fiori turned to Black Rainbows drummer Filippo Ragazzoni, and as he says, “Songs came out so spontaneously and easy. I always played acoustic guitar and wanted to push further on this path. The songwriting, rehearsing and recording approach was so different from usual Rainbows or Boogie style, both to me and Filippo for drums, because all the instruments needed to be played smoothly, softly.”

With Walking into the Forest, Fiori evokes a sound that is both classic and fresh, melodically rich and creatively constructed. It is a new outlet for Fiori that demands spiritual as well as auditory engagement, and an all-things-permissible sonic context that one can only hope The Pilgrim continues to explore.

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The Devil and the Almighty Blues, Tre: Salting the Earth

Posted in Reviews on April 2nd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

the devil and the almighty blues tre

The Devil and the Almighty Blues‘ third album, titled simply Tre, arrives through Blues for the Red Sun Records almost exactly two years after its predecessor, II (review here). That in turn came out two years after their 2015  self-titled debut (review here). They are, it would seem, like clockwork. And just as II showed up and demonstrated a marked growth from the first record, so too does Tre push the Oslo, Norway, five-piece to a new echelon in their craft. It shares some methods with the preceding outing, including opening with its longest track (immediate points) in the 12-minute “Salt the Earth,” but finds the band — a returning lineup of vocalist Arnt O. Andersen, guitarists Petter Svee and Torgeir Waldemar Engen, bassist Kim Skaug and drummer Kenneth Simonsen — refining their style to a point of moving beyond their influences and truly stepping into their own style.

Oh, there’s the devil, and there’s the blues, and if you hold your breath long enough, you might even get a glimpse of the almighty, but much of what the band does so well throughout Tre can be heard in the eight-minute side B opener “Heart of the Mountain,” which finds the perfect tempo so that the measures of its verses don’t even seem cyclical so much as an unfolding line, and which bleeds soul from Andersen‘s vocals as well as the lead guitar and metered groove. The Devil and the Almighty Blues aren’t in a rush, and even when they offer up a bit of boogie, as on the hook-laden “Lay Down” or the penultimate “No Man’s Land,” they do so with a sense of poise that speaks not only to the confidence of their delivery, but how well they know what they want out of their songwriting. To listen to the background gospel vocals in second track “One for Sorrow” or even the quiet break in “Salt the Earth” that follows the chorus at about the 6:40 mark, one of The Devil and the Almighty Blues‘ greatest assets on Tre is the sense of space in the recording, and almost as important as how they fill it is how and when they choose to not fill it.

The verse of “One for Sorrow” wants nothing for sounding full. Its lead and rhythm guitar and bass tones are rich, its drums are understated but not absent, and its vocals are forward in classic fashion, yet even when the song — which is the shortest on Tre at 5:13, so well paired with the opener before it — sweeps into its more raucous solo section in the second half, there is still a bit of what seems to be space in the mix. Mastered at lower overall volume for vinyl, maybe? If that’s the case, then the adage about doing so letting a more natural and classic-style dynamic shine through certainly holds, as The Devil and the Almighty Blues have never sound so in charge of their direction as they do on this 48-minute six-tracker, but either way, the impression isn’t that the band are somehow holding back, but almost like they’re struggling against something bigger than themselves.

the-devil-and-the-almighty-blues

“Salt the Earth” very much sets the tone for this, from its soft opening to how its memorable chorus playing out in an echo cutting through held-out lumbering progression with a layer of backing vocals behind, a depth that seems only to go deeper in the aforementioned break, which they build up to a consuming place and still remain well in control, as shown in the melancholy guitar harmonies that take the place where a grandiose apex solo might otherwise show up. This is the band serving the song, the song serving the album and the album serving the expression. Tre casts the most resonant vibe The Devil and the Almighty Blues have yet conjured, and whether it’s the particularly Scandinavian-sounding classicism of “No Man’s Land” or closer “Time Ruins Everything” seeming to lose itself — but not actually getting lost — in the downtrodden soul of its chorus before it breaks à la “Salt the Earth” in order to set up the last push, which does feature the solo that might otherwise have come too soon in the opener.

Everything has its place, the band have a place in the moody aspect they create throughout Tre. The performance they give throughout “Lay Down” and “Heart of the Mountain” as side A gives way to side B isn’t to be missed, for its naturalism as well as the fluidity of the band’s conversing with aesthetic, and the atmosphere that results isn’t ever forced or overly dramatic; it just is. With subtlety and care, The Devil and the Almighty Blues build the world in which their tracks inhabit — and, I’d argue, thrive — and even more than two years ago, those tracks are able to affect the listener in multiple ways, whether its the well-placed upticks in motion with “Lay Down” and “No Man’s Land,” the crescendos in “Heart of the Mountain” and “Time Ruins Everything” or the organic feel that serves to tie it all together as a single work.

One thing to note. I went back and looked at the review for II, and it was laced with comparisons to other bands. I have none to make for Tre. One can hear shades of this and that, but nothing stands out so much as the level to which The Devil and the Almighty Blues have left their own mark on this material. Listening to the album, it is easy to believe this is to what their work up till now has been leading, and that may be the case, or Tre might just be another step forward on their path, but the sense of arrival here is palpable, and in kind with the quality of the songs, it makes The Devil and the Almighty Blues come across as all the more powerful in their approach. Not because they’re the loudest, or because they’re the most aggressive, or they have the nastiest tones, but because they give life to something that is theirs entirely, and because you can’t hear it and imagine you’re listening to someone else.

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