Spectral Haze Post Title-Track & Cover Art for Turning Electric

Posted in Whathaveyou on August 7th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

spectral haze

I’m not entirely sure how long Spectral Haze‘s Turning Electric has been in the works, or if the band even deigns to recognize the linear motion of our space-time continuum, but it seems like it might be a while. In 2015, the Oslo, Norway, heavy psych/space rockers posted a notice about new t-shirts coming soon and said “prepare to turn electric” as a part of that, so at very least they’ve been sitting on the title for some time. They signed to France-based imprint Totem Cat Records at the end of last year and said at that point that the record would be out in May, so its current Oct. 20 release date is the end result of some delay as well — reportedly owing to the usual concerns of pressing vinyl.

What matters, of course, is that the album is coming out. Then a five-piece and apparently having some fluidity of lineup anyhow, Spectral Haze made their debut in late 2014 with I.E.V.: Transmutated Nebula Remains (review here) via Soulseller Records, which followed a self-titled 2012 demo EP that you can still hear on their Bandcamp. Speaking of audio, the now-foursome are giving a first taste of what’s to come on Turning Electric by means of streaming the title-track, which is only 3:42 long, but still gives a sense of the cosmic thrust they’re working with anyhow, as excellently complemented by the gorgeous Adam Burke cover art that’s also newly unveiled.

I mean seriously, just look at this thing. I could do a year-end list of the best artwork and just have it all be Burke covers. Hell, maybe I should.

While I kick that idea around, here’s that cover and release date confirmation from the label, followed by the song stream:

spectral haze turning electric

Totem Cat Records – COMING NEXT / Spectral Haze – Turning Electric

Available October 20 on CD/LP
Artwork by Adam Burke

Psyched Out Doom Rock Rituals

Spectral Haze is:
Spacewülff – Interstellar Howls/Geetarrrgh
Sönik Slöth – Supercosmic overdrive pedalinfused guitarvoid
Döômdögg – Dronemachinated AUM
Cëlestïal Cöbra – Conjurer of souls through ritual drums

Occasional appearances:
Elêctrïc Stårlïng – Space wizard beckoning astral animal guardians, manipulating aether
Pòwêr Pänthêr – Percussive boddhisattva, aspect of the conjuring ritual drums

https://www.facebook.com/SpectralHaze/
https://spectralhaze.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/totemcatrecords/
http://totemcatrecords.bigcartel.com/

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The Obelisk Presents: 12 of 2016’s Best Album Covers

Posted in Features, Visual Evidence on December 12th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

This list could easily go to 20. Or 30. Or 50. The democratization of media and the flourishing of aesthetic thanks to wide-open digital interaction across national and cultural borders has meant that bands in Texas can get artwork from Spain easily — something we’ve come to take for granted in this age of messages flying through space in indeterminate instants. There’s a lot of art out there. A lot of it is very, very good. Not all, but a lot.

In the particular realm of heavy rock and doom, I’ve spent a lot of time this year being discouraged at the continued and apparently flourishing objectification of women. Cartoon tits. Get out of here with that shit. You’ll notice none of the covers on this list go that route. It’s boring, it’s easy and it’s sexist. If you want to establish your masculine dominance, go pull your dick out at the mall and see how that does for you. Putting other people down to make yourself feel bigger is for kindergarten. As human beings, we should be past it.

Nonetheless — and I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t also note the lack of women on this list — there is a ton of interesting and forward-moving work being done around the world and I think that’s worth taking a couple minutes to celebrate even just a fraction of it. Hopefully you agree, and if you have some favorite art you’d like to add to the list, please hit up the comments.

Ordered alphabetically by artist

Sourvein, Aquatic Occult

sourvein aquatic occult

Cover by Jordan Barlow. Artist website.

Sourvein‘s Aquatic Occult (review here) was a dense, multi-faceted work, and one imagines that for Jordan Barlow of New Orleans’ Abracadabra Tattoo, part of the challenge was in either finding or creating a design that coincided with that without coming across as confused or off-theme. This bevvy of undersea elements gives us a central figure in a frustrated Neptune with a shark-teeth crown, a human presence in the two diver helmets (is anyone in there?) and highlights the dangers of the ocean with its hammerheads and threatening-looking seahorse, as well as what seems to be a whirlpool and another swirl in opposite top corners. All told, the deep blue and green tones complement the morass of Sourvein‘s sound, raw and natural as it is, and provide moody intrigue to coincide with the wide variety of songwriting on display. Like the album, it is defined in no small part by its haze.

Holy Grove, Holy Grove

holy grove holy grove

Cover by Adam Burke. Artist website.

Portland-based Adam Burke is something of a repeat offender when it comes to badass artwork. He regularly posts works in progress on social media and the lushness of his technique astounds me nearly every time out. Holy Grove‘s self-titled debut (review here) was far from the only piece of his a band used this year, but what stood it out most was the balance between nighttime — as seen in the stars and the darkness of the sky and trees — and the aurora borealis that offered such a rich, otherworldly feel. Beautiful, immediately recognizable as Burke‘s, and it pays subtle homage to his and the band’s Cascadian home region with the shapes of the tall evergreens in the foreground, speaking all the more to the beauty of the Pacific Northwest and the classic soul fused into the record itself.

Duel, Fears of the Dead

duel fears of the dead

Cover by Pol Abran Cantador. Artist website.

How could one not look at the cover of Duel‘s debut album, Fears of the Dead (review here), and not immediately think of the Misfits? And yet, Barcelona-based Pol Abran Cantador, operating under the banner of Branca Studio, brings a freshness to the striking, landmark skull design. The face is off-center, the eyes looking outward. While there’s little doubt as to the visual reference being made, it’s just that — a reference, not an emulation. Treading that balance would be admirable enough for inclusion here, but impact of the piece becomes greater with the distressed look and the deep blood red surrounding, giving dimension as a backdrop, reinforcing the perspective of the figure, and providing Duel with a horror-cinema vibe that begs the question of just what those eyes are staring at.

Brutus, Wandering Blind

brutus wandering blind

Cover by Maarten Donders. Artist website.

Sometimes something just stays with you. On the surface, Dutch artist Maarten Donders brings forward a pretty simple idea for Norwegian boogie rockers Brutus‘ third album, Wandering Blind (review here). Images from ’60s-style psychedelic pulp horror come to mind — the bat, the spiderwebs, the blank stare on the face, the flowing hair through the open mouth of the skull, the monster eyeballs, the purposefully hand-drawn logo — but at the same time, the execution of these things is so intricate. Look at the bags under those eyes, the black holes where the teeth of that skull should be, the weird bubbles by the eyeballs, and the comic-style lettering of the album title itself, which switches back and forth between capitalized and lowercase letters. Look at the shadowed impression of a vinyl record that encircles the design but lets the chin of the skull and the band’s logo protrude. It’s so immediate but so deceptive, hiding its devils in its details.

Seedy Jeezus with Isaiah Mitchell, Tranquonauts

tranquonauts seedy jeezus isaiah mitchell
Cover by Mr. Frumpy. Artist website.

While it’s true that for this collaboration between Earthless guitarist Isaiah Mitchell and Melbourne heavy psych rockers Seedy Jeezus, the front cover only tells half the story of the full Tranquonauts (review here) gatefold, even 50 percent is enough to justify inclusion here. Put together by Mr. Frumpy Frumpedia, aka Seedy Jeezus guitarist Lex Waterreus, it was one of several artworks this year to feature smaller figures against a grand backdrop — Geezer‘s self-titled and Sunnata‘s Zorya, featured below, come to mind immediately, as well as the last Fu Manchu — but it was the openness of the space itself that Waterreus captured, both on the ground and in the sky, and the atmosphere that brought to the instrumental, jammed-put proceedings on the LP’s two sides, that made it work so well. The humanoid figures — maybe the total four-piece of the lineup? — are so utterly overwhelmed by their surroundings, and yet they seem more than ready to make their journey through them, finding life along what seems to be a barren path.

Greenleaf, Rise Above the Meadow

greenleaf rise above the meadow

Cover by Sebastian Jerke. Artist website.

Sebastian Jerke has kind of become Napalm Records‘ go-to artist over the last couple years, as his past and upcoming work for the likes of My Sleeping Karma, monkey3, Ahab, The Answer and others can attest, but the strangeness of the natural world, the three-dimensional protrusion of the trees, the layered depths, and the commanding presence of the bear, owl, snake and winged insects standing above it all made his work for Greenleaf‘s Rise Above the Meadow (review here) my favorite album cover of the year. It’s very much in his painterly, somewhat classical style, but the way the light seems to come from the band’s logo and behind the planet, the use of shadow and shading on the trees, and the monstrously blank eyes of the bear and owl give it a depth and narrative that remains nothing short of breathtaking. Clearly a labor of love.

Beastwars, The Death of all Things

beastwars the death of all things

Cover by Nick Keller. Artist website.

My only question was whether it was the cover for The Death of all Things (review here) I’d include or Keller‘s piece that was used for Child‘s new album, Blueside (review here), but with the context of this very likely being the final offering from New Zealand sludgecrushers Beastwars, the answer was plain. Either way, Keller‘s sense of scale and scope remains immense and he continues to bring a feel of the epic to his work here as he did to his two prior covers for Beastwars, on 2013’s Blood Becomes Fire (review here) and the band’s 2011 self-titled debut (review here), resulting in a more than suitable pairing of visual representation and impact of sound. Rarely does one find an artist and a band so much on the same page.

Goatess, II: Purgatory Under New Management

goatess ii purgatory under new management

Cover by Göran Nilsson. Artist website.

Charm goes a long way in my book, always, and Göran Nilsson‘s cover for the second outing by Swedish doomers GoatessII: Purgatory Under New Management (review here), has it in bulk supply. The underlying mischief of depicting the four-piece as medieval-esque saints painted on wood like something out of the Middle Ages — their faces grim with a seriousness of purpose not at all letting on to the tongue-in-cheek nature of the record’s title — with halos behind their heads and scripture in tow, well, it’s got a humor that most doom wouldn’t dare go near for fear of losing the edge of its miseries. For Goatess, however, it works perfectly in conveying an essential piece of where the band is coming from, in that their output in the first place seems to be as much about getting together and celebrating the act of writing songs as a unit as it is worshiping the traditions of the style.

Droids Attack, Sci-Fi or Die

droids

Cover by Eli Quinn. Artist website.

While a jpeg of the cover alone doesn’t quite do justice to the full presentation of Eli Quinn‘s artwork for Droids Attacks‘ Sci-Fi or Die (review here), which went so far as to print the title of the record in gold ink on the CD case, feature even more detailed work inside and even go so far as to create an entirely separate artwork scheme for a bonus track hidden on a mini-CD under the back tray under the disc for the album (detailed here), I still find the image of the launching South American-style pyramid as a full diamond taking off — especially with the lights beaming out the bottom — among the most striking of 2016. Reminiscent of Arik Roper‘s detailed style, Quinn‘s cover added depth and purpose to the band’s never-tighter songcraft while also speaking to the love of science-fiction storytelling that drove them to use the title in the first place. Hard not to win with ancient aliens.

Sunnata, Zorya

sunnata zorya

Cover by Jeffrey Smith. Artist website.

Derived it would seem at least in part from a piece called “Erosion of Self,” or at very least of a kin to it, like a lot of Smith‘s work, his art for Zorya (review here) by Polish heavy rockers Sunnata treats light with a religious reverence. Like a Kubrick shot, the sun is dead-center of the painting itself, framed and encircled by gaseous-looking clouds, and as the dawn seems to break over this landscape (or is it sunset?), it becomes difficult to tell where the robed monks end and the rocky protrusions begin. Our eyes are drawn immediately toward the light, and it’s the light that ultimately defines the story here, the way the beams of light shoot outward and turn the desert floor white so that it almost reminds of a body of water as much as a place where nothing seems to grow. Stark but consuming.

High Fighter, Scars and Crosses

high fighter scars and crosses

Cover by Dominic Sohor. Artist website.

This one was so dark, so malevolent, with such a violent bend in its prominent central figure, that it seemed to encapsulate the underlying threat that always seemed to loom over High Fighter‘s Svart Records debut album, Scars and Crosses (review here). Because the faceless blue skin and hanging, stringy hair are so reminiscent of Japanese horror films, and because the heart  in the right hand stands out so much in its silvery tone and because the pattern on the dress/cowl is so intricate, you almost don’t notice at first that it’s blood shooting out of that figure’s left wrist filled with upside-down and rightside-up crosses or that it seems to be veins in the top left corner acting as puppet strings, propping up the entire play. But it definitely is, and that only furthers the horrific, nightmarish imagery surrounding, where even the shaded background seems to want to lure you in with no hope of escape.

Bridesmaid, International House of Mancakes

bridesmaid international house of mancakes

Cover by W. Ralph Walters. Artist website.

Come on. So you mean to tell me you went ahead an reinvented KISS‘ cover for Destroyer with Ohio heavy rockers Bridesmaid dressed as the Village People? Be still my beating heart. The art for International House of Mancakes (review here) offers subversive humor without judgment, winking at the homoeroticism that has always been and likely will always be a part of rock and roll, and ultimately mocks the ridiculousness of the denial of that same homoeroticism. From the hands raised in triumph on either side (an element pulled right from the original KISS cover) to the stacks of pancakes the instrumental outfit is standing on, it functioned as artwork to say so much about the band and was perhaps all the more effective in conveying its message and their message since there were no lyrics to pull in other directions. It’s all right there in your face; bright and brilliant.

Because I can’t seem to get out of one of these lists without a series of honorable mentions, I’ll say too that 2016 offerings from Borracho, SubRosa, Inter Arma, Mars Red Sky, Vokonis, Elephant Tree, EYE, Slomatics, Gozu and Black Moon Circle managed to strike on one level or another.

Thanks for reading. Like I said at the outset, this is barely a fraction of the amazing art that came down the line this year. If you’ve got something to add, please hit up the comments.

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The Planet of Doom Trailer Premieres; Kickstarter Launched

Posted in Bootleg Theater on April 10th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

the planet of doom trailer

The title The Planet of Doom has been tossed around for the last eight months or so as artists Tim Granda and David Paul Seymour assembled the team that would bring their story to life. Today the real process of completing the animated film for its stated 2017 release date really begins, with the premiere of the first trailer and the launch tomorrow of a Kickstarter to help fund the remainder of the project.

One need only to look at the roster of bands — The WellGoyaMos GeneratorSummoner, and so on — to know this is a project made with a strong love of music in mind. I’ve only seen the trailer, but it’s plain to see the inheritance from a landmark blend of heavy music and animation like 1981’s Heavy Metal, and the elements of fantasy, beard-clad motorcycle warriors, bizarre (and mostly unclothed) Amazonian-type tribes, and of course a fair heaping of monsters, not only bring these ideas to a new generation of fans, but push those boundaries further with the scope of the project itself.

That said, I could gush and go on and on about the admirable undertaking that is bringing so many artists and bands together for one special project, never mind the distribution at film festivals and three-band package tour (will be very interested to see who winds up on that) to come, but this isn’t a time for a review. You’re better off watching the trailer itself — you’ll notice the Mos Generator right away — getting the details and grabbing the Kickstarter link so that when they open it up tomorrow, Monday, April 11, for contributions, you’re ready to go.

Trailer and info follow, with thanks to Seymour and Granda for letting me host the premiere.

Enjoy:

The Planet of Doom official trailer

Riff Lodge Animation has launched the full-length trailer and Kickstarter campaign for its highly anticipated animated tale of metal and art, “The Planet of Doom.”

The creative duo of Art Director/Writer David Paul Seymour and Director/Animator Tim Granda—the team behind the heavily buzzed-about music video for Conan’s “Throne of Fire” (watch it here)—now offer a full-length animated tale set to 14 of the heaviest new stoner-rock and doom-metal tunes this side of Valhalla.

“‘The Planet of Doom’ is very much in the spirit of music/animated films like ‘Heavy Metal’ and the works of Ralph Bakshi,” said Granda.

Added Seymour, “It’s a tribute to heavy music and the art that accompanies that type of music. With this film, we’re seeking to encapsulate the music and art community that Tim and I are a proud part of with one epic body of work. We are also naturally bringing in all sorts of fringe countercultures who’ve attached to this same community—bikers, skateboarders, comic book and sci-fi fantasy fans. It’s a really vibrant and diversified community and we’ve certainly brought in the right ambassadors to represent it properly.”

“The Planet of Doom” contains no spoken dialogue, opting instead to regale the revenge tale of hero Halvar through the lyrics of the film’s original music. The story unwinds across 14 song-chapters, each interpreted by a different artist-and-band team, including Orchid, Conan, Phillip Cope, Wo Fat, Mos Generator, Slow Season and The Well, paired with artists like Skinner, Vance Kelly, Jason Cruz, Alexis Ziritt, Adam Burke, David Paul Seymour and legendary tattoo artist Forrest Cavacco.

The Bands
Orchid
Phillip Cope (Kylesa)
Conan
Mos Generator
Wo Fat
Slow Season
Scorpion Child
Summoner
The Well
Order of the Owl
Mother Crone
Destroyer of Light
Goya
Ironweed

The Artists
Skinner
David Paul Seymour
Vance Kelly
Jason Cruz
Alexis Ziritt
Adam Burke
Maarten Donders
Tony Papesh
Scott Trerrotola
Simon Berndt
Burney
Gorgeous George
Brian Profilio
Nicholas Coleman
Tim Granda

Every fan of the project can now be a part of “The Helping Hands of Doom” fundraising campaign, which began last March when it raised more than $20,000 in support from company sponsorships. Through the film’s Kickstarter campaign, which launched today, fans can show their love by helping get this worthwhile film underway, while getting some prized goodies in the process—everything from an HHOD official shirt up to having yourself featured in the film as an animated “extra” and more! Fans and supporters can donate to the film at www.theplanetofdoom.com.

“The Planet of Doom” will screen at major music and film festival events, as well as on a cross-country package tour with three of the film bands once production is completed.

The Planet of Doom Kickstarter campaign (starts April 11)

The Planet of Doom on Thee Facebooks

The Planet of Doom on Instagram

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The Obelisk Presents: 10 of 2015’s Best Album Covers

Posted in Features, Visual Evidence on December 4th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

I didn’t get to do this list last year — at least not that I can find — but especially as vinyl continues to grow as the dominant media for underground and/or heavy genres, it seems more and more necessary to highlight quality cover art as a focal point. This is, of course, not an exhaustive list. There were way more than 10 badass album covers, and I’m hoping you’ll add your favorites to the comments on this post, but these were some of the ones and some of the artists who most caught my eye. A few of the names are familiar — one artist also appeared on the 2013 list — and the work of some was new to me, but all made striking impressions one way or another in a range of styles, and I hope you’ll agree.

No need to delay. Let’s dive in:

Ordered alphabetically by artist

Ruby the Hatchet, Valley of the Snake

ruby the hatchet valley of the snake

Cover by Adam Burke. Artist website here.

Formerly (or at least sort-of-formerly) of Fellwoods and currently also playing in Pushy, Adam Burke‘s style has become essential to the aesthetics of doom and heavy rock. His work for bands like Ice Dragon, Mystery Ship, Pastor, Mos Generator and a slew of others — including me — never fails to impress with its deep colors, natural tones and, in many cases, a sense of underlying threat. So it is with Ruby the Hatchet‘s Tee Pee Records label debut, Valley of the Snake (review here). Burke presents the title literally as a winding serpent in the sky becomes a river leading to a waterfall, the colors of a sun either rising or setting giving a glimpse of the otherworldly while the earth below is presented in darker browns and the jagged rocks in the foreground. There were a few candidates for Burke this year, but this one continues to stun.

Elder, Lore

elder lore

Cover by Adrian Dexter. Artist website here.

A record that, for many, defines 2015 in a major way, Elder‘s Lore (review here) is not the first collaboration between the Massachusetts trio and artist Adrian Dexter, but the results this time around are particularly satisfying. And since we’re talking about vinyl, the creativity in the gatefold design and the other pieces Dexter contributed to the album proves no less impressive than the progressive turn Elder took in their songwriting — a fitting match in scope and execution. Released by Armageddon Shop and Stickman RecordsLore has pushed Elder into a different echelon entirely, and this will not be the final year-end-type list on which it appears around here, but Dexter‘s work, detail, subtlety and use of color for the cover simply had to be seen to be believed.

Kings Destroy, Kings Destroy

kings destroy self titled

Cover by Josh Graham. Artist website here.

Though he’s perhaps best known for his work doing live visuals over a stretch of years for Neurosis, Brooklyn-based Josh Graham‘s list of cover art accomplishments also include Soundgarden, KENmode, Vattnet Viskar and his own projects, A Storm of Light, Battle of Mice and Red Sparowes. With the cover for the self-titled third album from fellow New Yorkers Kings Destroy (review here), he seemed to encapsulate everything the War Crime Recordings release was driving toward with its urban crunch, aggression, and the feeling that all of this is a part of something larger and barely understood. Is it a bowl? Part of some ritual offering? Is it a drain? The expertly manipulated photography takes landmarks from the city and turns them into something as beautiful as it is malevolent, and Kings Destroy lived up to that standard on the album itself.

Snail, Feral

snail feral
Cover by Seldon Hunt. Artist website here.

Every bit worthy of the frame it has. Going back to pieces for Neurosis, Isis, Made out of Babies and more, Seldon Hunt‘s work is always widely varied, covering a range of styles and media. His piece for Feral (review here), a pivotal fourth album by West Coast heavy psych rockers Snail (released by Small Stone), seems to play off the single-word title in portraying a threatening vision of nature. At the bottom, we see human skulls as giant snails, weird glowing dogs and a deer with yellow eyes and snakes entwined in its antlers survey the landscape of huge mushrooms and sparse grass. Behind, two tangled trees add to the sense of foreboding, and a sky that runs from black to red speaks to a night that doesn’t look like it’s about to end anytime soon. Is this Hunt‘s vision of nature’s revenge? Either way, it’s engrossing in its three-dimensionality.

Valkyrie, Shadows

valkyrie shadows

Cover by Jeremy Hush. Artist website here.

Valkyrie‘s third full-length, first for Relapse Records and first in seven years, Shadows (review here), was a classic guitar rock fan’s dream come true. Brothers Jake and Pete Adams led the band through cascading solos, memorable songs and unpretentious vibes. The cover art by Jeremy Hush stood out to me particularly for the violence of its depiction. We see smaller blackbirds using spears or arrows to attack a hawk, and three on one is hardly a fair fight, even with a bird of prey, as a skull looks on from nearby grass. What I don’t know, ultimately, is whose side we’re on — ravens are hardly a traditional harbinger of good fortune — but somehow not knowing that only makes the piece more evocative, and from the detail and use of empty space in its parchment-style background to the struggle it portrays, Hush‘s work certainly grabbed attention.

Ahab, The Boats of the Glen Carrig

ahab the boats of the glen carrig
Cover by Sebastian Jerke. Artist website here.

A Germany-based painter who’s done art for Desertfest Berlin, Colour Haze, as well as the Freak Valley and Keep it Low festivals, Sebastian Jerke contributed several artworks to Napalm Records this year. He’ll continue that thread in 2016 with Greenleaf likely among others, but in 2015, his pieces for My Sleeping Karma and Ahab especially stood out, and the latter most of all. The funeral doomers don’t to anything on a scale less than grand, and Jerke‘s cover for The Boats of the Glen Carrig (review here) offered scope to match. Its sea monsters have breathtaking color and detail, and are familiar and alien at the same time, the central figure’s human-esque hand drawing a crowd either awed or looking to feast. This was one you could stare at over and over again and still always find something new.

Acid King, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere

acid king middle of nowhere center of everywhere
Cover by Tim Lehi. Artist website here.

I actually saw when Acid King unveiled the cover for their first album in a decade, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere (review here), that there were some people giving them shit for the artwork out front. Don’t get me wrong, everyone’s entitled to their opinion, and if you ever wanted to find a bunch of conflicting ones look no further than the internet, but excuse me — it’s a wizard (Hell, that might be Gandalf), riding a tiger, in outer space. If there’s any part of that that isn’t frickin’ awesome, I’m not sure what it might be. What directive tattoo artist Tim Lehi was given going into the project, which would eventually surface on Svart Records, I don’t know, but it’s hard for me to listen to the far-no-farther out riffs of “Center of Everywhere” and not at very least want to be that wizard. Riding that tiger. In outer space. I’ll defend this one all day if necessary.

Serial Hawk, Searching for Light

serial hawk searching for light
Cover by Samantha Muljat and Sara Winkle. Artist websites here and here.

If I had gotten to do this list in 2014, Samantha Muljat could have easily appeared on it for her manipulated landscape that adorned Earth‘s Primitive and Deadly. For Serial Hawk‘s debut album, Searching for Light (review here), she’s partnered with Sara Winkle, whose work ranges from commercial design and album covers to animation and more. What the two offer in their work for Serial Hawk is a blend of the real and the unreal. We don’t see the face of the photographed subject, but she leads our eye toward the white circle, which, on a horizon could be the sun, but here seems to have descended to the field, landed there toward some unknown purpose. The tall grasses seem to fade into a wash of lighter green, but note the angle of the arm on the right side and the legs toward the center is nearly identical and seems to be working opposite the windblown direction of the field surrounding. Like the piece as a whole, it’s as much natural as unnatural.

Various Artists, Electric Ladyland [Redux]

various artists electric ladyland redux
Cover by David Paul Seymour. Artist website here.

My notes for this list contain no fewer than three separate entries for Minneapolis artist David Paul Seymour. There’s one for ChiefsTomorrow’s Over (review here), and one for Wo Fat‘s Live Juju (review here), but when it came time to pick just one, nothing stood out like Magnetic Eye RecordsElectric Ladyland [Redux] (review here). The full-gatefold spread is my favorite album cover of the year — and a good deal of this year’s covers were by Seymour, who has become nigh on ubiquitous in heavy and psychedelic rock — and for Jimi Hendrix, who’s been portrayed so many times it would be impossible to count, to show up in an original way in an original setting, it showed creativity on a scale fitting to the logistics of the compilation itself, which pulled together groups from around the world in due homage to Hendrix‘s 70th birthday. Its colors, its shading, its strange mercurial pool and waterfall — it’s just perfect for what it was intended to do.

Kind, Rocket Science

kind rocket science
Cover by Alexander von Wieding. Artist website here.

He’s split his time these last several years with his one-man band incarnation Larman Clamor, but Hamburg’s Alexander von Wieding continues to find time for copious design work for the likes of Brant BjorkKarma to BurnEnos and more. This year, in addition to a logo for a forthcoming The Obelisk t-shirt, he also did a cover for a split between Larman Clamor and Blackwolfgoat, whose Darryl Shepard also plays guitar in Kind, so to have him also illustrate that project’s Ripple debut, Rocket Science (review here), only seems fair. I’ll make no pretense of being anything other than a fan of von Wieding‘s work, and he’s in his element with Rocket Science, line drawing a spacescape with a crashed ship manned by what appears to be a frustrated chicken and rabbit (“Rabbit Astronaut” is one of the song titles). A lizard looks on and sticks a forked tongue out at the scene, and as mountains and planets loom behind, von Wieding reinforces a charm in his work that has drawn bands and labels his way for the better part of the last decade.

Like I said at the outset, there were far too many covers for me to call this list comprehensive — right off the top of my head: SunderGroanMos Generator/StubbMonolord (that solo figure walking into the lake continues to haunt), BaronessHigh on FireGraveyardMonster MagnetThe MachineEggnogg/BorrachoEcstatic Vision, Uncle Acid, on and on — but these were just some that particularly resonated with me. If you feel like something was criminally ignored — maybe I missed it — please let me know in the comments.

And thanks for reading.

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On the Radar: Pushy

Posted in On the Radar on April 29th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

It’s only a practice recording, and a first one at that, but with “El Hongo,” Portland, Oregon’s Pushy made an opening statement that stands them out from both the bulk of West Coast heavy rock that seems to drive toward a skater-ized ideal of gnarly and much of international ’70s ritualizing, which is bent either on analog-worship or cult-minded vagaries. There’s no telling in listening to “El Hongo” where Pushy will necessarily end up — they might decide sometime between now and their first record that they really, really like Satan — but at least from the rough take we get from their rehearsal space, the four-piece seem to have more in common with a nascent movement of upbeat, positive-vibing classic heavy rock than with downtrodden grit or whiskey-soaked dudely caricature.

The band is an amalgam of Portland scene-dwellers — your scene hasn’t arrived until things start getting incestuous — including Crag Dweller‘s Travis Clow, Adam Burke of Fellwoods, Hosmanek‘s Ron Wesley and Bison Bison‘s Dylan Reilly, and what the conglomeration get down to on “El Hongo” (“the fungus”) marks itself out as classic ’70s boogie right from the first strike of the cowbell. Fitting to the band’s name, there’s not much subtle about it, and while the recording is raw the groove is smooth, the swagger so deep you can almost smell it and there’s enough there to give an impression of a good time not so disparate from that which Brooklyn’s The Golden Grass have on offer with their 2014 self-titled outing, serving a lighthearted reminder that the reason a bunch of friends might get together to write songs in the first place is because they think it’s fun.

Obviously it wouldn’t be fair to judge the band’s ultimate mission by what they do with their first public recording, but even the fact that they basically tossed off a rehearsal-space jam and put it out there for name-your-price download speaks to a laid back approach, and for these kinds of grooves, that’s just the way you want to take it. Nice and easy.

Pushy, “El Hongo” demo (2014)

Pushy on Thee Facebooks

Pushy on Bandcamp

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Visual Evidence: New Header Art and Logo by Adam Burke and Christophe Szpajdel

Posted in Visual Evidence on January 3rd, 2014 by JJ Koczan

This whole thing came about because I mentioned a few months back that it was a personal dream of mine to have Belgian-born “lord of the logos” Christophe Szpajdel do a logo for this site. I’ve dug Szpajdel‘s work since I first saw it editing a feature about him in Metal Maniacs, in what I like to think of now as “the before time.” Well, Kiffin Rogers of Napalm Christ/Rwake was kind enough to put me in touch and Szpajdel, instead of pointing to the nearest cliff and asking me in so many words to leap from it, was on board with designing a logo for The Obelisk. This was most certainly exciting news.

Now, I like the Skillit header currently on this site. Fucking love it, in fact, and I plan on keeping it in use along with the new design. In its every detail, it excellently encapsulates a lot of the vibe that I enjoy most about this site. However, to ask Skillit‘s work to mesh with Szpajdel — who’s more known for his associations on the extreme end of black and death metal than anything resembling desert rock — would be unfair to both artists. Adam Burke (interview here), however, seemed like a perfect fit, with his watercolor style, deep tones and fantasy influence.

A phrase I actually used in my email to Burke talking about what I had in mind for the header piece: “A land-octopus off to one side or the other’s always welcome by me.” Rules to live by, people.

Obviously, when the finished product came in, I was flabbergasted. Here’s a look at the details of both the header art and the logo. Click any to enlarge.

Header Art by Adam Burke

You ever have a picture in your mind of what you want and then what you wind up with not only is that thing, but is that thing better? Yeah, that’s kind of how it went with this one. The land-octopus, the sunscape, the crags on the left side, Burke absolutely nailed it. I damn near wept when I opened the file.

Logo by Christophe Szpajdel

This is the original hand-drawn version of the logo. You can see the marker marks and the lighter spaces where his stroke lifted. So fucking cool. If you do or don’t know Szpajdel‘s work, he’s an absolute master. It was an honor to email with him, let alone actually have him send this as an attachment.

I, on the other hand, am not at all a master when it comes to graphic design, and though I tried for an embarrassingly long time, I couldn’t get the logo either completely black or onto a transparent background. Outside help was enlisted, and this emerged as the finished version (turned white for posting here — also maybe for t-shirts):

When I put them together — that I could do — this is how it wound up:

The Finished Product

I don’t think I could be any happier with how it all came out in the end of I tried. Huge thanks to Christophe Szpajdel and Adam Burke for their attention and hard work. Please check out their sites/portfolios and support underground art by giving them money and telling other people how much ass they kick.

Christophe Szpajdel on Flickr

Lord of the Logos book on Amazon

Adam Burke on Thee Facebooks

Fellwoods on Bandcamp

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Adam Burke Interview: Knight, Death and the Devil

Posted in Features on September 26th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

You’ve probably seen some of Adam Burke‘s art. Maybe it was an Ice Dragon album cover, or a show poster for any number of bands out of the Portland area and Pacific Northwest — in addition to playing in Fellwoods, Burke has worked with Diesto, Ancient Warlocks, Danava, Crag Dweller, Hobosexual, Sons of Huns, Mystery Ship and many others — and as the poster that went up with the Oberon and Grel tour dates yesterday proves, his reach is beyond regional. Drawing on a visual style influenced by classic fantasy artists like Frank Frazetta and other old pulp sci-fi paperbacks, Burke has come to create works that immediately stand out and are easily identifiable as his own.

Raised Baptist, as he notes, Burke began like a lot of artists to draw early, and discovered music later. The two seem to have become intertwined, however, and more and more parties are taking his works for their own, whether it’s The Golden Grass from Brooklyn asking him to design their logo or the podcast The Soggy Bog of Doom using one of his paintings for its banner. Colors are rich and deep throughout most of Burke‘s watercolors and acrylics, and whether it’s a stark, foreboding landscape or a rainbow-shooting eyeball with a fetus in a teardrop, what seems at first like a familiar stylistic ideal is given a fresh perspective.

Fellwoods released their debut album, Wulfram in 2011 (discussed here), then working under the moniker The Moss, and signed with Svart Records to issue the follow-up Gyromancer EP, initially streaming it early in 2013 before taking  it down ahead of the still-to-come Svart version. In the interview that follows, Burke gives the latest on that as well as some background on the development of his style, his influences as an artist and some of the processes that go into making his pieces, working with bands in and around Portland and some of the differences between creating a visual work and writing songs with Fellwoods.

Complete Q&A and a sampling of Burke‘s art follows the jump. Click any image to enlarge it and please enjoy:

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