Should we be surprised that Sergio Chotsourian has new material in the works? Yeah, probably not. At all. We’re barely a month removed from his last video, an animated clip for the song “La Historia de Hanuman” (posted here) from his 2015 debut solo album, 1974 (review here), and certainly less than a year out from his issuing the 2016 follow-up, Aurora (review here), but that’s just kind of how it goes with the former Los Natas and current Soldati and Ararat frontman. Multiple projects, multiple releases in the works. Always something happening. Dude is prolific. From where I sit, that only adds to the appeal of his work.
“El Latigo y las Riendas” is the first glimpse of material post-Aurora that Chotsourian has given, and among the things it tells us is that it seems like he’ll continue to keep his focus on solo work for the time being while still playing out with Soldati. That puts Ararat on the back burner as they have been for the last couple years as the Sergio Ch. solo-project has really started to take shape around Chotsourian and various collaborators, from Miagros Arrom, who played on Aurora, to his daughter, Isabel Chotsourian, who sat in on a re-recording of the 1974 the track “La Sal y Arroz” (posted here) last Spring.
I would doubt that the version of “El Latigo y las Riendas” featured in the video below — which if the curtain in the background is anything to go by seems to have been recorded in a living room (presumably Chotsourian‘s own) before being run through a line-drawing filter — is the final one, and kind of assume that by the time the track makes it onto whatever release it does, it will be fleshed out some, though one never really knows, and Sergio Ch. has never exactly been shy about giving his listeners a raw glimpse at his songwriting process. Or, you know, could be both, since it’s not like songs haven’t shown up in different forms across different releases, sometimes even different bands. One can never really be too sure. That’s part of the appeal too.
Please enjoy “El Latigo y las Riendas” below, followed by a translated version of the announcement that was posted when the track was shared on the social medias:
Sergio Ch., “El Latigo y las Riendas” official video
happiness is only real when shared… is a phrase that I stay in some movie. For those who are and for those who left us a message. New video premiere of Sergio Ch. “El Latigo y las Riendas.” Enjoy!
Posted in Reviews on March 30th, 2017 by JJ Koczan
From harsh doom to urban pastoralism to heavy blues rock to rolling doom nonetheless metallic in its defiance, Day Four of the Quarterly Review spins around a swath of styles and hopefully, hopefully, finds something you dig in the doing. It’s been a long week already. You know it. I know it. But it’s also been really good to dig into this stuff and I know I’ve found a few records that have made their way onto the already-ongoing 2017 lists — best short releases, debuts, albums, etc. — so to say it’s been worth it is, as ever, an understatement. Today likewise has gems to offer, so I won’t delay.
Quarterly Review #31-40:
Unearthly Trance, Stalking the Ghost
Brooklyn’s Unearthly Trance make a somewhat unexpected reentry with Stalking the Ghost (on Relapse), their sixth album. In the years since 2010’s V (review here), guitarist/vocalist Ryan Lipynsky has delved into a wide variety of extreme genres, from the blackened fare of The Howling Wind to the deathly-doom of Serpentine Path, in which Unearthly Trance bassist Jay Newman and drummer Darren Verni also shared tenure, but reuniting as Unearthly Trance feels like a significant step for the three-piece, and on tracks like “Dream State Arsenal” and the darkly post-metallic “Lion Strength,” they remind of what it was that made them such a standout in the first place while demonstrating that their years away have done nothing to dull the surehandedness of their approach. At eight tracks/52 minutes, Stalking the Ghost is a significant dirge to undertake, but Unearthly Trance bring pent-up anguish to bear across this varied swath of punishing tracks, and reassert their dominance over an aesthetic sphere that, even after all this time, is thoroughly their own.
Probably a smart move on the part of Heavy Traffic spearhead guitarist Ian Caddick and drummer/vocalist Tav Palumbo to swap coasts from Santa Cruz to Brooklyn ahead of putting together their sixth (!) full-length in three years and Twin Earth Records debut, Plastic Surgery. Cali is awash in heavy psych anyway and Brooklyn’s been at a deficit (as much as it’s at a deficit of anything) since space forerunners Naam became one with the cosmos, so even apart from the acquisition of bassist David Grzedzinki and drummer Dan Bradica, it’s a solid call, and one finds the fruits yielded on Plastic Surgery’s dream-fuzzed blend of heft and roll, heady jams like “See Right Through,” the oh-you-like-feedback-well-here’s-all-the-feedback “Broth Drain” and winding “Medicated Bed” finding a place where shoegaze and psychedelia meet ahead of the low-end-weighted closing title-cut and the bonus track “White and Green,” which finishes with suitable push and swirl to mark a welcome and vibe-soaked arrival for the band. Hope you enjoy the Eastern Seabord. It could use you.
In the second Saturn album, Beyond Spectra, one can hear one of retro rock’s crucial next movements taking place. The Swedish four-piece, who debuted on Rise Above with 2014’s Ascending and return with a periodically explosive 10-track/45-minute outing here, find a niche for themselves in adding dual-guitar NWOBHM elements to ‘70s-style (also ‘10s-style) boogie, as on the scorching “Still Young” or opener “Orbital Command.” They’re not the only ones doing it – Rise Above alums Horisont come to mind readily – but they’re doing it well, and the last three years have clearly found them refining their approach to arrive at the tightness in the shuffle of “Wolfsson” and the creeping Priestism of “Helmet Man” later on. I’ll give bonus points for their embracing the idea of going completely over the top in naming a song “Electrosaurus Sex,” but by the time they get down to closing duo “Silfvertape” and “Sensor Data,” I’m left thinking of the subdued intro to “Orbital Command” and the interlude “Linkans Delight” and wondering if there isn’t a way to bring more of that dynamic volume and tempo breadth into the songwriting as a whole. That would really be far out. Maybe they’ll get there, maybe they won’t. Either way, Beyond Spectra, like its predecessor, makes a largely inarguable case for Saturn’s potential.
Measuring its impact between doomly traditionalism and attitudinal fuckall, Lucifer’s Fall’s II: Cursed and Damned (on Nine Records) is a doom-for-doomers affair that tops 55 minutes with its nine tracks, recalling Dio-era Sabbathian gallop on opener “Mother Superior” and landing a significant blow with the slow-rolling nine-minute push of “The Necromancer.” Shades of Candlemass, Reverend Bizarre, and the most loyal of the loyalists show themselves throughout, but whether it’s the crawl in the first half of “Cursed Priestess” or the blistering rush of the clarion centerpiece “(Fuck You) We’re Lucifer’s Fall,” there’s an undercurrent of punk in the five-piece’s take that lends an abiding rawness to even the album’s most grueling moments. One looks to find a middle ground in songs like “The Mountains of Madness” and closer “Homunculus,” but Lucifer’s Fall instead offer NWOBHM-style guitar harmonics and soaring vocals, respectively, only pushing their stylistic breadth wider, playing by and breaking rules they’re clearly setting for themselves rather than working toward outside expectation. As a result, II: Cursed and Damned keeps its fist in the air for the duration, middle finger up.
Over the course of six-minute opener “A New Architecture,” guitarist Trevor Shelley de Brauw gradually moves the listener from abrasive noise to sweet, folkish acoustic guitar backed by amplified wavelengths. It’s a slowly unfolding change, patiently done, and it works in part to define Uptown (on The Flenser), the Pelican guitarist’s six-song solo debut long-player. Noise and drone make themselves regulars, and there’s a steady experimentalism at root in pieces like “Distinct Frequency,” the low-end hum and strum of “You Were Sure,” and the should’ve-been-on-the-soundtrack-to-Arrival “Turn up for What,” which unfurls a linear progression from minimalism to consuming swell in eight minutes ahead of the more actively droning 11-minute sendoff “From the Black Soil Poetry and Song Sprang,” but de Brauw manages to keep a human core beneath via both the occasional acoustic layer and through moments where a piece is being palpably manipulated, à la the spacious distorted churn of “They Keep Bowing.” I’m not sure how Uptown didn’t wind up on Neurot, but either way, it’s an engaging exploration of textures, and one hopes it won’t be de Brauw’s last work in this form.
Someone in Scuzzy Yeti has roots in metal, and the good money’s on it being vocalist Chris Wells. Joined in the Troy, New Hampshire, five-piece by guitarists Brad Decatur and Jason Lawrence (ex-Skrogg), bassist Wayne Munson and drummer Josh Turnbull, Wells casts a sizable frontman presence across the five-tracks of Scuzzy Yeti’s self-titled debut EP, belting out “Westward” and “BTK” as the band behind him hones a blend of classic heavy rock and doom. The sound is more reminiscent of Janne Christoffersson-era Spiritual Beggars than what one might expect out of New England, and the band amass some considerable momentum as centerpiece “Conqueror” and the shorter shuffle “Knees in the Breeze” push toward slower, lead-soaked closer “Flare,” which finds the lead guitar stepping up to meet Wells head-on. They might have some work to do in finding a balance between the stylistic elements at play, but for a first outing, Scuzzy Yeti shows all the pieces are there and are being put into their rightful place, and the result is significant, marked potential.
The insistent push from punctuated Denver trio Urn.’s self-titled debut demo/EP is enough to remind one of the days when the primary impression of Mastodon wasn’t their complexity, but the raw savagery with which that complexity was delivered. Urn. – the three-piece of Scott Schulman, Graham Wesselhoff and Jacob Archuleta – work in some elements of more extreme metal to “Rat King” after opener “Breeder,” both songs under three minutes and successfully conveying an intense thrust. The subsequent “Stomach” ranges further and is the longest cut at 4:45, but loses none of its focus as it winds its way toward closer “To the Grave,” which in addition to maintaining the nigh-on-constant kick drum that has pervaded the three tracks prior, offers some hints of lumbering stomp to come. As a first sampling, Urn.’s Urn. is a cohesive aesthetic blast setting in motion a progression that will be worth following as it develops. Call it rager metal and try not to spill your beverage while you windmill, you wild headbanger.
2016 found San Diego aggressors Nebula Drag making their self-titled, self-released debut (review here) with a record that seemed to work in willful defiance of their hometown’s psychedelic underground while at the same time occasionally nodding to it. The forebodingly-titled Always Dying three-song EP does likewise, launching with a vengeance on “Crosses” before burying the vocals and spacing out behind the crashes of the more languid-rolling title-track and giving a bit of both sides with the four-minute closer “Flying Fuckers.” It’s almost as if the three-piece of Corey Quintana, bassist Mike Finneran and drummer Stephen Varns, having thus completed their first album, decided to boil it down to its essential stylistic components and the result of that was this 14-minute outing. An intriguing prospect, but it could also be these were leftovers from the prior session with Jordan Andreen at Audio Design Recording and putting them up for a free download was an easy way to give them some purpose. In any case, if you haven’t yet been introduced to the band, Always Dying is an efficient telling of their story thus far.
If their moniker doesn’t have you immediately running through the most legendary of cheat codes, congratulations on being born after 1990. Cleveland burl-sludge metallers Contra make their full-length debut on respected purveyor Robustfellow with the 10-track/41-minute Deny Everything, and if it sounds like they have their shit together – at least sound-wise – it should make sense given the pedigree of drummer Aaron Brittain (ex-Rue), bassist/guitarist Adam Horwatt (So Long Albatross), guitarist Chris Chiera (ex-Sofa King Killer) and vocalist Larry Bent (ex-Don Austin). Be it established that songs like “Snake Goat” and “Son of Beast” are nobody’s first time at the sludge rodeo. Fair enough. Doesn’t mean Contra don’t establish their own personality in the overarching fuckall and total lack of pretense throughout Deny Everything – hell, seven-minute closer “Shrimp Cocktail” proves that on its own – just that that personality has roots. What Contra wants to do with them still kind of seems up in the air, but something about these tracks makes me think the band likes it that way. See the aforementioned “fuckall.”
Comprised of four songs tracked live in the trio’s native Córdoba at 440 Estudio, the self-titled debut EP from Argentine trio IAH – guitarist Mauricio Condon, bassist Juan Pablo Lucco and drummer José Landín – would seem destined to catch the attention of South American Sludge Records if it already hasn’t. In the interim, the three-piece have made the instrumental EP available as a free download and its unpretentious heavy psychedelics and edge of rock-minded thrust on opener “Cabalgan los Cielos” and the early going of closer “Eclipsum” more than justify their intention to spread the word as much as possible. Set to a balance of post-rock guitar, the bassline of “Stolas” carries a progressive inflection, and the fuzz that emerges halfway into second track “Ouroboros” shows a desert rock influence that blends well into its surroundings as a part of a richer sonic entity. A nascent but palpable chemistry at work across its 26 minutes, IAH’s IAH could portend expansive ideas to come, and one hopes it does precisely that.
Posted in Reviews on March 21st, 2017 by JJ Koczan
Pressed in an edition of 750 green translucent LPs, Death Sessions begins with a faded-in wash of cymbals, a warm bassline, and soon unfolds a special stage in the life cycle of one of Argentina’s most pivotal heavy rock acts — definitely of their generation and perhaps of all time. Buenos Aires trio Los Natas released five proper studio full-lengths in their decade and a half together, as well numerous jam collections, shorter offerings, EPs, splits, compilations and so on, and their work ranged from the pivotal desert fuzz of their 1996/1998 debut, Delmar (discussed here), on Man’s Ruin Records, to the socially conscious motor-thrust of 2009’s Nuevo Orden de la Libertad (review here), on Small Stone, never failing to offer something different and distinct along the way.
The three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Sergio Chotsourian — see also: Ararat, Soldati, his Sergio Ch. solo work, etc. — bassist Gonzalo Villagra and drummer Walter Broide called it a day circa 2012 after the 2011 release of the compilation Rutation (review here), but their influence has continued to thrive particularly in South America, where Chotsourian has spent the last several years building his label, South American Sludge Records, as a go-to outlet for underground heavy rock from the across the continent. Death Sessions comes stamped with a South American Sludge logo on it, arrives simultaneously with a reissue of the 2002 third album from Los Natas, Corsario Negro — also limited in its number — and again, finds Los Natas at a very particular point in their career. Tracked live in its eight-track entirety, mixed and mastered by Patricio Claypole at Estudio El Attic, it captures the last time they were in the recording studio together.
As to what they were doing in the studio that day in 2010, I’m not entirely sure. Four out of the eight inclusions on Death Sessions come from Nuevo Orden de la Libertad — that’s “Las Campanadas” and “Nuevo Orden de la Libertad” on side A and “Ganar-Perder” and “10.000” on side B — and the rest of the material derives, one song each, from the rest of their full-length catalog, so the clearest impression from the platter is that what we’re hearing is a live set being rehearsed. Why this particular rehearsal wound up being recorded, I couldn’t say. Maybe Los Natas were a band who always tracked their practices, as some do. If so, there should be countless such tapes out there, but Death Sessions of course feels special for both its context as well as for the immediacy of the three-piece’s delivery. Hearing songs like “Soma” from Delmar at the outset of side A feeding into “Las Campanadas” or hearing the track “Rutation,” which originally appeared on their second album, 1999’s Ciudad de Brahman (discussed here), close out after “10.000” not only shows the stylistic swath that Los Natas covered during their years together, but underscores how much their sound was their own across that time.
A live set ideally would function much the same. But live sets come and go. The difference with Death Sessions is in the clarity of the presentation. True, they grew tonally rawer over their records, moving away from the sandy warmth of their early work to incorporate influences from punk rock, Motörhead, and so on, but Death Sessions gives them an opportunity to draw the various sides of their personality together. “Humo Negro del Vaticano” from 2006’s El Hombre Montaña seems to find middle ground between the quieter opening of “Soma” and “10.000” still to come as it rounds out side A, and this is preserved it in a way that even a concert film — which would certainly be welcome but inherently about more than just the audio progression of the band — couldn’t do.
From the tiny stops in the winding riff of “Nuevo Orden de la Libertad” to the soothing patience in “Ganar-Perder” and the psychedelic mini-jam at the end, leading to the crashes at the start of the rolling, jazzy tempo-play of “El Cono del Encono” from Corsario Negro with Broide joining Chotsourian on vocals, Death Sessions ends up summarizing Los Natas‘ career in a way more fitting than even a greatest-hits-type compilation couldn’t, because it unites the songs in tone and performance, rather than simply drawing from various studio sources or other recordings.
Chotsourian leads a trail-off jam at the end of “El Cono del Encono” as well, which brings “10.000” around to reground the proceedings with a more straightforward push ahead of the finale, following that uptick in energy with another punkish drive, building in speed as it gets going, headed for a chaotic crash. This very obviously isn’t the first time Los Natas have finished a set with “Rutation,” and they seem to have a good time with it, adding some swing to the delivery, Chotsourian and Broide shouting out lines together. It’s a last bit of fun that, again, in the context of this being the final time Los Natas would record, puts emphasis on their chemistry, which if there’s an underlying message to Death Sessions at all, it’s that that’s where the emphasis belongs.
I’ll be blunt and say I continue to hope for a Los Natas reunion. As a fan of the band across the sundry points of their development, I think they broke up when they still had more to offer sonically, and to me, they seem all the more relevant now in the half-decade that’s passed since they stopped. A new album, whatever form it ultimately would take, feels like a prospect that would only build on their legacy. Whether or not that will happen, I don’t know and won’t speculate, but especially as a piece for fans, Death Sessions reinforces much of what made Los Natas so special in the first place. Though it may have been recorded in happenstance — that is, the band may or may not have known their time together was coming to a close — as a document of who they were and what they did, it is fortunate these songs and this moment can be so righteously preserved.
True, it might seem kind of curious that former Los Natas and current Soldati frontman Sergio Chotsourian would dip back to his 2015 debut solo album, 1974 (review here) and bring together a video for the track “La Historia de Hanuman” when in 2016 — working under his adopted Sergio Ch. moniker and releasing through his own South American Sludge Records imprint and Pirámide Records — he put out a follow-up, Aurora (review here). Generally one promotes the most recent release. My suspicion, however, is that the “La Historia de Hanuman” clip has been in the works for a while. Hand animation takes time, and it doesn’t seen unreasonable to think the second Sergio Ch. record happened while the process was ongoing.
As is my usual position when it comes to Chotsourian‘s work, I’ll take it as it comes. And frankly, I’m happy for the excuse to revisit 1974, which was an album filled with heartfelt personal emotionalism and grief expressed in raw acoustic fashion as well as an experimentalism and sonic range that Aurora only continued to broaden. Sharing some of its tracks — including “La Historia de Hanuman” — with Cabalgata Hacia la Luz (review here), the third full-length from the Chotsourian-led trio Ararat, 1974 found its maker coping with the loss of a parent and telling stories from his own life in a way that no one else could. I don’t speak the language, but those songs — once again, including “La Historia de Hanuman” — remain poignant and memorable. I expect they will be a part of Chotsourian‘s repertoire going forward no matter where his progression as a songwriter might lead him. Rightly so.
You’ll pardon me if I leave the credits for the video in their original Spanish. I think even if you don’t really speak the language you can probably figure out what they say, and somehow it seems more appropriate than translating this time around.
Sergio Ch. “La Historia de Hanuman” official video
VIDEO OFICIAL DEL DISCO DE SERGIO CH. – “1974” PRODUCIDO POR SERGIO CH. VIDEO REALIZADO POR JOAQUIN ZELAYA
Posted in Reviews on January 12th, 2017 by JJ Koczan
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to not think of Sergio Chotsourian as a kind of figurehead representative of South American heavy. From his work over the course of two decades in Los Natas and Ararat to the just-getting-started Soldati, as well as his Sergio Ch. solo offerings, other offshoot projects and collaborations, and the continuing impact he’s had on artists around him with his label, South American Sludge Records, the Buenos Aires native has positioned himself at the fore of a crucial and vibrant underground through both his own creative output and his commitment to helping promote others in Argentina and the surrounding nations. As the label has come into focus over the last several years and stood behind an increasing number of releases, Chotsourian‘s craft seems to have become all the more prolific for having the reliable outlet.
In 2015, he made his Sergio Ch. solo debut with 1974 (review here), and Aurora follows that album and Soldati‘s first demo (discussed here) as a late-2016-issue sophomore outing on South American Sludge and Pirámide Records. Like its predecessor, Aurora finds a basis in demos that were posted online circa 2013 — for the title-track, which opens, and “El Herrero,” which immediately follows — but these have been rerecorded and mixed by Chotsourian (who also did the cover art) at his own Death Studios, built upon within themselves and added to other pieces to result in a six-song/53-minute full-length that’s still in no small part defined by its opener, which is presented this time around in two component pieces, each one starting a half of the album.
Granted, some of that defining aspect of “Aurora” and “Aurora II” might be due the fact that they are 19 and 15 minutes long, respectively. One is reminded of Ararat‘s 2012 album II (review here), which made use of the extended “Caballos” and “La Ira del Dragon (Uno)” to make such an impression with shorter inclusions surrounding. But the vision on Aurora is clearer in its structural intent and the aesthetic different, with Chotsourian joined only by Milagros Arrom on guitar and metallophone throughout, instead of playing as part of a full trio band. And the experimental vibe with which “Aurora” (18:55) and “Aurora II” (15:17) play out isn’t to be understated. 1974 had some undertones of drone but made its primary impact with more traditional folk-style songwriting; guitar, piano, vocals at its core.
“El Herrero” and “El Laud” work in a similar vein — the former punctuated by Arrom‘s metallophone — and each half of the record finds a more plugged-in, fuzzy and psychedelic finish in “La Heroina” and the instrumental “El Llano,” but even these feel far removed from Chotsourian‘s last LP. Really, it doesn’t even take getting as far as two minutes into “Aurora” for the shift in approach to be made clear, the title-track starting with a drone-march of a guitar line backed by deep-mixed organ, a fuzzier guitar tone emerging amid a threat of drums before a turn into the verse riff after four minutes in brings the first lyrics. It leaves little room for middle-ground impressions, by which I mean the listener will either be hypnotized or not. “Aurora” celebrates its nod and does not depart from it until about 17 minutes in, as the central guitar figure is overwhelmed by swirling noise and feedback (and actually that guitar part is still there, just buried). Chotsourian has toyed with drone before, but “Aurora” marks the first time he’s brought Earth-esque drone rock to such account. To his credit, he makes it his own.
Likewise “Aurora II,” the arrival of which serves to emphasize the mirrored structure of Aurora‘s two halves, each of which begins with a longer experimental piece (the two “Aurora” tracks) and follows first with an acoustic-based cut (“El Herrero” and “El Laud”) and then a more electrified one to finish (“El Laud” and “El Llano”). Vinyl would seem to be the intent, at very least what’s meant to be conveyed, but I’m not sure the album would fit on a single platter in its current incarnation, i.e., without some form of editing for a shorter runtime. Nonetheless, “Aurora II” complements the preceding opener as the pinnacle of Chotsourian‘s experimentalism, moving from a wistful initial guitar line and metallophone flourish — one is reminded of Hexvessel‘s “Sacred Marriage,” though that’s likely sonic coincidence — through forwards and backwards psychedelic noodling into a wash of consuming and ritualized drone.
Instrumental in its entirety, its chimes, surrounding keyboard lines and opaque but still worship-prone soundscaping spread out as they go, moving further and further away from the earlier “Aurora,” the guitar line that started “Aurora II” and really just about any form of physical reality. What “Aurora II” shares in common with “Aurora” is trance and structure. Just as the opener held to its central guitar figure, “Aurora II” — while definitely departing from it in its extended midsection — bookends with that same wistful line, which returns following a stop at around 12 and a half minutes in to carry to the finish. At that point it’s hard not to think of “El Laud” as a return to ground, and that might indeed be Chotsourian‘s purpose, but wherever they were placed in the tracklisting, there could be little doubt Aurora would be defined by its titular pieces. That said, both “El Laud” and the fuzzy reaches of “El Llano” offer plenty of spaciousness in their own right, the latter finding a place within a drone more cosmic than that of “Aurora II” but not completely separate from it in its layering.
As the guitar on “El Llano” clicks off for the last time, kind of suddenly, the core message of Aurora is underlined in a stylistic expansion for Chotsourian‘s solo material. That is to say, if one was expecting a straight-ahead follow-up to 1974, this sophomore effort will no doubt come as something of a surprise. Taken in context within his discography — particularly some of the breadth attained on the aforementioned second Ararat disc — it’s not wholly out of place, but there’s a purposeful distance that Auroraputs between itself and just about everything else Chotsourian has done to-date. That makes it much more difficult to predict where he might go next, but also allows this collection to satisfy on another level, both on its own and in terms of the Sergio Ch. catalog, which it would seem has only begun to establish the broadness of its scope.
Posted in Features on December 30th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2016 to that, please do.
Yeah, I know I said as much when the Top 20 Debut Albums of 2016 went up, but I take it back: this is the hardest list to put together. And to be honest, there’s a part of me that’s hesitant even to post it because I know as soon as I do someone’s going to be like, “No way you dick your entire existence is shit because you forgot Release X,” and very likely they’ll be right. Up to the very moment this post is going live, I’ve been making changes, and I expect I’ll continue to do so for a while after it’s out there.
So what’s a “short release?” That’s another issue. Pretty much anything that’s not an album. Singles, digital or physical, as well as EPs, splits, demos, and so on. The category becomes nebulous, but my general rule is if it’s not a full-length, it qualifies as a short release. Sounds simple until you get into things like, “Here’s a track I threw up on Bandcamp,” and “This only came out as a bonus included as a separate LP with the deluxe edition of our album.” I’m telling you, I’ve had a difficult time.
Maybe that’s just me trying to protect myself from impending wrath. This year’s Top 30 albums list provoked some vehement — and, if I may, prickishly-worded — responses, so I might be a bit gunshy here, but on the other hand, I think these outings are worth highlighting, so we’re going forward anyway. If you have something to add, please use the comments below, but remember we’re all friends here and there’s a human being on the other end reading what’s posted. Thanks in advance for that.
And since this is the last list of The Obelisk’s Best-of-2016 coverage, I’ll say thanks for reading as well. More to come in the New Year, of course.
Here we go:
The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Short Releases of 2016
1. Scissorfight, Chaos County EP
2. Earthless / Harsh Toke, Split
3. Mars Red Sky, Providence EP
4. Mos Generator, The Firmament
5. Soldati, Soldati
6. Monolord, Lord of Suffering / Die in Haze EP
7. Wren, Host EP
8. Goya, The Enemy EP
9. The Sweet Heat, Demo
10. River Cult, Demo
11. Stinkeye, Llantera Demos
12. Megaritual, Eclipse EP
13. Ragged Barracudas / Pushy, Split
14. Mindkult, Witchs’ Oath EP
15. Iron Jawed Guru, Mata Hari EP
16. Brume, Donkey
17. Bison Machine / Wild Savages / SLO, Sweet Leaves Vol. 1 Split
18. BoneHawk / Kingnomad, The Second Coming of Heavy: Chapter Three Split
19. Wicked Gypsy, EP
20. Love Gang, Love Gang EP
An expansive category as ever. In addition to what’s above, the following stood out and no doubt more will be added over the course of the next few days. If you feel something is missing, please let me know.
Cambrian Explosion, The Moon EP
Candlemass, Death Thy Lover EP
Cultist, Cultist EP
Danava, At Midnight You Die 7″
Dos Malés, Dos Malés EP
Druglord, Deepest Regrets EP
Fu Manchu, Slow Ride 7″
Geezer, A Flagrant Disregard for Happiness 12″
Gorilla vs. Grifter, Split
Holy Smoke, Holy Smoke! It’s a Demo!
Karma to Burn, Mountain Czar
LSD and the Search for God, Heaven is a Place EP
Pallbearer, Fear and Fury
Reign of Zaius, Planet Of…
Sea of Bones / Ramlord, Split
Shallows, The Moon Rises
The Skull, EP
Snowy Dunes, “Atlantis Part I” digital single
Sun Voyager / The Mad Doctors, Split
Valborg, Werwolf 7″
Was it just the raw joy of having Scissorfight back? No, but that was for sure part of it. It was also the brazenness with which the New Hampshire outfit let go of their past, particularly frontman Christopher “Ironlung” Shurtleff, and moved forward unwilling to compromise what they wanted to do that made their Chaos County so respectable in my eyes. Having always flourished in the form, they delivered an EP of classic Scissorfight tunes and issued a stiff middle finger to anyone who would dare call them otherwise. They couldn’t have been more themselves no matter who was in the band.
At the same time, it was a hard choice between that and the Earthless / Harsh Toke split for the top spot. I mean, seriously. It’s Earthless — who at this point are the godfathers of West Coast jamadelica — and Harsh Toke, who are among the style’s most engaging upstart purveyors, each stretching out over a huge and encompassing single track. I couldn’t stop listening to that one if I wanted to, and as the year went on, I found I never wanted to.
I was glad when Mars Red Sky included the title-track of the Providence EP as a bonus cut on their subsequent album, Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul), both because it tied the two releases together even further and because it gave me another opportunity to hear it every time I listened to the record. Their short releases have always shown significant character apart from their full-lengths, and this was no exception. I still tear up when I hear “Sapphire Vessel.”
To bounce around a bit: Had to get Mos Generator on the list for the progressive expansion of the live-recorded The Firmament. Stickman was right to put that out on vinyl. Both Monolord and Goya provided quick outings of huge riffs to sate their respective and growing followings, while Megaritual’s Eclipse basked in drone serenity and the debut release from Sergio Ch.’s Soldati provided hard-driving heavy rock with the particular nuance for which the former Los Natas frontman is known. It’s the highest among a slew of first/early outings — see also The Sweet Heat, Wren (Host was their second EP), River Cult’s demo, Stinkeye, Mindkult, Iron Jawed Guru, Brume, Wicked Gypsy and Love Gang.
Ultimately, there were fewer splits on the list this year than last year, but I’ll credit that to happenstance more than any emergent bias against the form or lack of quality in terms of what actually came out. The BoneHawk and Kingnomad release, the Ragged Barracudas and Pushy split, and that heavy rocking onslaught from Bison Machine and company were all certainly welcome by me, and I’ll mention Gorilla vs. Grifter there too again, just because it was awesome.
One more time, thank you for reading, and if you have something to add, please do so in the comments below. Your civility in that regard is appreciated.
This is the last of my lists for 2016, but the Readers Poll results are out Jan. 1 and the New Year hits next week and that brings a whole new round of looking-forward coverage, so stay tuned.
Posted in Reviews on December 30th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
We press on with the Quarterly Review and writeups #41-50 of the total 60 to be featured. Some considerable names in this batch, as I suppose there have been all along, but one of the functions this feature has come to serve is to allow me a space to offer some comment on bigger records that, let’s be frank, are being covered everywhere in the universe, while fleshing out coverage elsewhere of things like bands’ debuts and some other less-ubiquitous offerings. That’s become the idea anyway. Doesn’t always go like that, but it’s kind of a relief to have somewhere I can put the extra 200 reviews per year rather than miss out. We’ll wrap this one up on Monday, but just because it’s the end of the week and because it’s my general sentiment, thanks for reading.
Quarterly Review #41-50:
40 Watt Sun, Wider than the Sky
With their second album, the awaited Wider than the Sky, London’s 40 Watt Sun continue to be defined by their depressive expressionism. The six-track/62-minute follow-up to 2011’s The Inside Room (review here) finds guitarist/vocalist Patrick Walker (ex-Warning), bassist William Spong and drummer Christian Leitch opening with the longest inclusion (immediate points) in the gorgeously mournful 16-minute unfolding of “Stages.” Sonically lush but still somehow raw and minimal in its emotionality, a slow drear sets the tone for what will follow in “Beyond You” and “Another Room,” “Pictures and “Craven Road,” which alternate on either side of the 10-minute mark until closer “Marazion” (3:57) seems to resonate a less-hopeless spirit. More than The Inside Room, Wider than the Sky realizes itself in emotional rather than tonal weight, and while one often identifies these feelings with things cold and grey, it would require a willful blindness not to recognize the humanity and warmth coming through in Walker’s delivery of this material. Wide it may be, but not at all distant.
The duality of Worm Ouroboros’ third album for Profound Lore, What Graceless Dawn, is almost as prevalent as the irony that its title should include the word “graceless” when the 63-minute six-tracker itself is so melodically poised. It’s dark, but hopeful, spacious and compact, challenging but simply and often minimally arranged, patient and emotionally intense, and heavy even as it seems to float from one extended piece to the next on a current of intertwining, nigh-operatic vocals from bassist Lorraine Rath (ex-Amber Asylum) and guitarist Jessica Way (World Eater) while Aesop Dekker (Agalloch, Vhöl) seems just as comfortable in the quiet midsection stretch of 13-minute centerpiece “Ribbon of Shadow” as in the rumbling payoff of “Suffering Tree” just before. Running from opener “Day” to closer “Night,” What Graceless Dawn is nothing if not coherent, and while the band’s core approach has been largely consistent across their 2010 self-titled debut (review here) and 2012’s Come the Thaw, the Bay Area trio maintain a clear commitment to forward-moving artistry that stirs the consciousness.
I was fortunate enough to be there when UK heavy psych legends The Heads played the Main Stage set at Roadburn 2015 captured on the Burning World Records release Burning up With…, and indeed the preservation of the band’s utter liquefaction of that large room is well worth preserving across the four sides of a double-LP. The only drawback to a vinyl version of their set is that while the individual songs are presented as side-consuming medleys – “Cardinal Fuzz/KRT,” “Gnu/Legevaan Sattelite/U33,” and so on – that still requires some measure of break to flip from one to the next, whereas in the all-at-once linearity of a CD or digital listen, one finds the overwhelming lysergic proceedings intact as they were from the stage, gloriously molten and entrancingly jammed out by the longtime masters of the form. I won’t even attempt to give its spaciousness a proper assessment since just about anything The Heads do is a gift defying impartiality, especially something like this, but yeah, get on it.
Back in 2010, Dead Meadow frontman Jason Simon released an eponymous solo debut on Tee Pee that found him working in a folkish sphere, and his six-years-later follow-up, Familiar Haunts (on Tekeli-Li, Cardinal Fuzz, Burger Records and Blind Blind Tiger), has some of those elements as well on the twanging, finger-plucking “Pretty Polly” and subdued strum of “Seven Sisters of Sleep,” but Simon has also assembled a four-piece band here, and from the pickup of opener “The People Dance, the People Sing,” through the fuzz experimentalism of “Now I’m Telling You” and the airy linear build of the penultimate 11-minute highlight “Wheels Will Spin,” there’s no lack of fullness in the sound. One finds a particularly engaging blend on “Hills of Mexico,” a six-minute rambler that fluidly brings together neofolk and desert ambience, though as Simon and company play sounds off each other in this material, “engaging blend” would seem to be the underlying theme of Familiar Haunts as a whole.
Over a decade removed from their 2006 self-titled debut and five years past their third album, 2011’s Hemisphere of Shadows, one might easily argue that Portland, Oregon’s Danava are due for a full-length release. Sure, the band led by guitarist/vocalist Gregory Meleny have toured plenty in that time in the US and abroad, put out splits and so on, and that has consistently and organically grown their fanbase. Sating that fanbase would seem to be the motivation behind the two-song 7” At Midnight You Die (on Tee Pee), on which the titular A-side finds the four-piece making the most of their dual guitars – Meleny and Pete Hughes (Sons of Huns) shredding in proto-NWOBHM fashion – while the B-side takes on the bizarre and foreboding folk ambience of “My Spirit Runs Free,” short at three minutes, acoustic and sourced from 1979’s The Capture of Bigfoot. So yeah, it’s like that. No new record, but a ripper and some delightful weirdness on hand, and I suspect at this point many of their followers will take what they can get.
Some bands are just on their own wavelength, and as much as one might be tempted to relate Sevilla’s Pylar to SunnO))) with their robes and their drones, the Spanish troupe’s four-track full-length, Pyedra (on Alone Records), sees them emitting a slew of horrors all their own. Working as a five-piece, Pylar open with “Menga” (10:57), their longest cut (immediate points) and establish a basis of amelodic, largely arrhythmic noise-jazz. There are more straightforward currents in the subsequent rumble and roll of “Megalitos” (10:33), and “Menhir” (9:37) would seem to draw both sides together before “Meteoros” (9:07) rounds out with an airy, horn-topped alternate-universe victory, but the whole of Pyedra remains informed by the way-off-kilter challenge it poses at the outset, and part of the thrill is making your way through with no idea of what’s coming next other than another extended song beginning with the letter ‘m.’ Will be too much for some, but Pylar’s bleak experimentalism assures cultish appeal worthy of those robes the band wears.
Proliferating a combination of speaker-punishing low-end riffs and post-rock-derived spaciousness, Swedish trio Domkraft debut on Magnetic Eye Records with the wholesale immersion of The End of Electricity and evoke heft no less substantial than their stated theme. They begin with their two longest tracks (which I guess is double points?) in “The Rift” and “Meltdown of the Orb,” and by the time they’re through them, bassist/vocalist Martin Wegeland, guitarist Martin Widholm and drummer Anders Dahlgren have already doled out a full LP’s worth of nod, which would seem to make what follows after the momentary breather of “Drones” in “Red Lead,” “All Come Hither” the shorter “Dustrider” and closer “We Will Follow” a bonus round – in which Domkraft also dominate. Because its heavy is so heavy and because Wegeland’s vocals arrive across the board as far-back, shouted echoes, it’s easy to lose sight of the ambience that goes with all that roll, but what ultimately gives The End of Electricity such character is that it creates as much of a world as it destroys.
Back in 2013, Buenos Aires outfit Picaporters made an encouraging debut with Elefantes (review here). They’ve teased the follow-up, El Horror Oculto (on South American Sludge), over the last year-plus with several digital singles, but the album’s arrival hits with a distinct fleshing out of atmosphere, as heard on the grueling second cut “Diferentes Formas de Ostras” or the manner in which the centerpiece title-track departs from its raucous opening into a heavy-psychedelic meander, never to return, feeding off of the structure of “Humo Ancestral” directly before. An interlude “Etude 6” leads into the opening drift of “Ra,” but it’s a ruse as Picaporters offer some of the album’s most driving heavy rock in that cut’s second half, and close out with Sabbath-darkness-via-Zeppelin-noodling on “War is Over,” the trio coming together in a molten psychedelic doom that seems to draw from the various sides they’ve shown throughout without losing sight of pushing further in its summary.
It would be a mistake to judge Deamon’s Child’s second full-length, Scherben Müssen Sein (on Zygmatron), by any single one of its tracks, as the German trio makes plain in the dramatic shift from the crushing sludge of “Zucker” into the raw punk thrust of the subsequent “Keine Zeit.” Elsewhere, they find funky footing before punking out once again in “Schweinehund, Kimm Tanz Mit Mir!” and rumble the outing to a finish consuming in its largesse on the 10-minute “Nichts,” so yes, as they follow-up their 2014 self-titled debut (review here), Deamon’s Child hold fast to the sense of the unhinged proffered therein while uniting their material through an intensity that comes across regardless of tempo or surrounding purpose. They are on the beat, not behind it, pushing forward always. That can make Scherben Müssen Sein difficult to keep track of as it moves swiftly through the blast of “Monster” and the manipulated samples of “In Kinderschuhen” toward that finale, but the mission here is far, far away from easy listening, so all the better.
Adansonia Records offers a bonus-track-laden revisit of the 2011 debut release, Bardo Abgrund Temple, from Seattle shroom-jammers Fungal Abyss, whose improvisational sensibility comes through the original four extended cuts with no diminishing of their otherworldly trip-out for the half-decade that’s passed since they first surfaced. Those looking for a US counterpart to European psych-improv outfits like Electric Moon or Øresund Space Collective – i.e., me – would do well to dig into opener “Arc of the Covenant” (20:12) or closer “Fungal DeBrist” (24:07) as a lead-in for the earlier-2016 follow-up, Karma Suture (review here), as well as their companion live outings, but whatever contextual approach a listener might want to take, the instrumental stretch of Bardo Abgrund Temple is a serenely heavy and meandering path to walk, given to bouts of space-rock thrust and long passages of low-end droner nod, as heard on the 10-minute “Timewave Zero,” turned on and duly ritualized in its swirl and far-off vocalizations. A reissue well-earned of a gracefully cosmic debut.
Posted in Whathaveyou on December 27th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
I feel reasonably comfortable posting about Los Natas‘ new Death Sessions LP because I’ve already sent my email seeing if I can purchase a copy. Sorry, but they only made 750 of the thing, and I gotta look out for number one. The Buenos Aires-based trio, who broke up following 2009’s Nuevo Orden de la Libertad (review here), were last heard from on 2012’s Rutation (review here), and Death Sessions would seem to take its name from the fact that it was their final session together, in 2010.
It’s comprised of tracks going all the way back to their 1996 debut, Delmar (discussed here), and its 1999 follow-up, Ciudad de Brahman (discussed here), and as far forward as their final outing, so it seems like a fitting summary of some of the breadth of their career, though I doubt that was the intention when they were actually recording. As much as frontman Sergio Ch. has done since in outfits like Ararat, the still-nascent Soldati and his own solo output — as well as with South American Sludge Records, which is behind this release — Los Natas remain a special band, and so just about anything one can get one’s hands on is a worthwhile endeavor. Like I said, I posted about it after sending that email to make a purchase.
Still keeping my fingers crossed for a reunion at some point. Till then:
Los Natas – Death Sessions [Vinyl LP]
It’s now available for the new album from Los Natas “death sessions”. 750 copies limited only on Vinyl LP Color Translucent Green. 180 GMS. Made in Germany. Unreleased versions recorded by Patricio Claypole studio in the attic in the year 2010. Hand-delivered mail to INFO@NATASROCK.COM.
Tracklist: 01 Soma 02 Las Campanadas 03 El Nuevo Orden de la Libertad 04 Humo Negro del Vaticano 05 Ganar-Perder 06 El Cono del Encono 07 10.000 08 Rutation
Recorded and mixed by Patricio Claypole at Estudio El Attic. Mastered by Patricio Claypole En Estudio El Attic. Illustration by Lucas Mascaro. Artwork by Sergio Ch. Produced by Patricio Claypole and Los Natas.