Astra Set to Begin Work on Third Album

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 27th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Wasn’t it just at the end of last week that I was wishing Astra would get together again and put out a third album? Why, yes. Yes it was. I’m not by any means about to take credit for the coming of this update from guitarist, vocalist, Mellotronist and synthesist Richard Vaughan, but I’m pretty happy it’s here one way or the other. The good news? Astra will indeed set to work on a follow-up full-length to 2012’s The Black Chord (review here), and though details are obviously minimal at this point, since it’s not like said record exists yet or anything, any word from the band whatsoever is welcome, since as noted the other day, it’s been a while.

You can read Vaughan‘s update below. More to come as I hear or see it:

astra update banner

ASTRA – Status Update 2017

First off, I have to apologize for just dropping off the map for so long. You all deserve much more than that and since so many of you have been nice enough to write and ask “What’s going on with ASTRA?” I wanted to give you all a status update.

Back when our drummer David Hurley left ASTRA in 2013, no one could really foresee the difficulties ahead. We knew carrying on without Dave would be a hard road to travel but we had no idea just how much of an impact his departure would have on us. The 5 of us had an undeniable chemistry that just worked so well in every aspect, but especially when it came to songwriting. After Dave left, I think we were all pretty bummed out and while we were working on writing material for our 3rd album, our frustrations slowly started cropping up. We decided to take a short break which turned into a long break, which turned into a longer break, which happens to be where we’re at now. Because of this long hiatus some of the guys have become extremely busy with their own musical projects which, unfortunately, now leaves very little time for ASTRA.

However, I do have some good news! I just recently spoke with all of the original ASTRA members, including Dave, and everyone is down to record a 3rd ASTRA album if we can get enough material together. Another bit of good news is that Stuart and I have been playing and writing together and we’re hoping that we can eventually make this 3rd album a reality.

Now, none of this is a guarantee but I think it is a step in the right direction. ASTRA will always be my baby and my first love when it comes to music and I don’t want to give up on her so I’m going to do all that I can to make this happen. This will most likely take quite some time since everyone is so busy but I will try to keep you all updated as best I can. I will also try to be much more diligent in responding to your emails and messages in the future.

Lastly, a huge THANK YOU is long overdue, so, thank you all for sticking with ASTRA through the years and for being such amazing fans. I love you all more than words can say and I’m going to do my best to bring some new ASTRA music to your ears as soon as possible.

Be seeing you,
-Richard Vaughan

https://www.facebook.com/astrasound/
http://astratheband.com/
http://www.riseaboverecords.com/

Astra, The Black Chord (2012)

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Friday Full-Length: Astra, The Weirding

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 23rd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Astra, The Weirding (2009)

In hindsight, Astra were at least as much ahead of their time as they were behind it. I won’t speak for everyone, but I know that when in 2009 the San Diego heavy progressive-psychedelic rockers released their debut album, The Weirding (review here), on Rise Above Records, I didn’t really have the context for understanding where they were coming from. I saw the five-piece live that year at the one-time-only Planet Caravan festival in Asheville, North Carolina, and even then I feel like I didn’t properly appreciate the fluidity and the richness of what they were doing or the effect it would have on the then-nascent scene around them. But though few around them would come close to touching on the same kind of Mellotron-soaked artistry of extended pieces like “Beyond to Slight the Maze” and the earlier key-worship and Moog textures of “Silent Sleep,” Astra and The Weirding in particular would have a significant impact on the overall mindset of what we now think of as the West Coast psych boom, still very much in progress. If nothing else, the title of the album seems to have given the entire process of dudes picking up guitars and shredding with SoCal gnarl and abandon a name: What else would you call it if not a weirding of the wicked world?

When I hear The Weirding on my mental jukebox, as I still do from time to time these eight years after the fact, that line from the early-appearing 15-minute title-track remains a standout, in part because it’s catchy — and it is, despite the extended runtime — but also because of the willful sense of defiance in it. These are the freaks talking to the norms, and if you look at the Arik Roper cover art and listen to the eight tracks/78 minutes of The Weirding as a whole, it’s happening all across the record. What I called “pastoral” at the time I might call otherworldly today, but the work of Richard Vaughan (guitar, vocals, Mellotron, synth), Conor Riley (guitar, vocals, Mellotron, synth, piano and other keys), Brian Ellis (guitar and Moog), Stuart Sclater (bass) and David Hurley (drums, percussion and flute) hits like a dream either way, and as a debut, The Weirding is all the more of a stunner. The patience and sure hands that guide the currents of “The River Under,” or the sweet folkishness of “Broken Glass” — which is like a piece of buried treasure after the hypnotic 17-minute “Ouroboros” before it — land with such a resonant feeling of their own direction and confidence behind them, that it’s nearly impossible not to be swept up in it. Lush in its melodies and unremittingly graceful in the flow between its tracks, The Weirding remains a joyous update of classic progressive rock, reveling in joy at what King Crimson seemed to take almost too seriously in their formative work and thereby establishing Astra‘s own sonic persona as one bright and brimming with life despite being so thoughtful in its presentation.

That blend of concept and poise in execution has proven a precious rarity in the years since The Weirding arrived, and accordingly, it’s only become easier to appreciate what Astra brought to their first offering — which is to say nothing of the ultra-trustworthy getting-it on the part of Rise Above, who over the years have proven able time and again to meet bands’ visions on their own levels, whether it’s a group like this or Orange GoblinUncle Acid, earliest Witchcraft, and so on. The same imprint would stand behind the second Astra full-length, The Black Chord (review here), in 2012, and having played to support the debut in 2010, the group returned to the Netherlands for an appearance at the Roadburn festival in 2013 (review here), where they brought both records to the stage with due energy and molten kosmiche. Sadly, The Black Chord remains the final Astra album to-date. Ellis has continued to make contributions to the West Coast aesthetic through producing and the crafting of solo/side-projects on El Paraiso Records, and Vaughan has a graphic design company, but half a decade after their sophomore long-player, there’s been little sign of a third installment from the band either in the writing or recording stages. Never say never in rock and roll — that is, it could still very much happen — but to the best of my knowledge, there’s nothing currently in progress.

Still, one doesn’t need the promise of a new record to grasp the importance or immersiveness of The Weirding, which is fortunate, and whether you’re listening to it for the hundredth time or the first time, it’s very much the kind of album in which one can always find something new. I hope you do, anyhow, and I hope, as always, that you enjoy.

Thanks for reading and listening.

You’ll forgive me if I don’t really think of this week as being “over” in the true sense of the word, since for me it isn’t. Yeah, I’m gonna check out of Obelisk stuff for a day or so as much as I ever do — I don’t — but after being on the road since leaving Pawtucket, Rhode Island, last Friday following my last day at work, I’ve yet to return home to Massachusetts.

To recap: The Patient Mrs. and I headed on Friday from my work to York, Pennsylvania, for a wedding on Saturday. Sunday night and Monday we stayed with family in Sparks, Maryland. Tuesday we made the eight-hour trip to Statesville, North Carolina, to see my father. We stayed there through Wednesday, saw my aunt and uncle and cousins whom I hadn’t seen in at least 20 years, and then left Thursday morning — yesterday morning — to arrive back in MD as kind of a waypoint/crash-spot. Shortly, we’ll get back in the car and make a break north for New Jersey, where my mother and sister and her family are celebrating my grandmother’s 102nd birthday. Dinner with them tonight, then we stay with my other cousin nearby — still in North Jersey — before seeing friends tomorrow morning quickly, grabbing my mother (who will be staying with us for the next week) and heading back north at least as far as Connecticut, where I think we’ll probably stay until Sunday, if only because it’s less driving than heading directly back home to MA. What’s one more day away at this point?

It’s been a long trip already, I don’t mind saying. And it hasn’t all been pleasant, I also don’t mind saying. But The Patient Mrs. and I went to bed at around 9PM last night and I slept an extra hour this morning, getting up at 5:45AM instead of 4:45, and I had a mug of coffee for breakfast with cinnamon-flavored protein powder in it, and it’s been quiet as I had time to write about the Astra record above, so I can’t really argue with the moment’s setting. One has to steal minutes where one can sometimes. I feel like I’ve managed to do that somewhat effectively this morning. It’s just before 9AM now. We want to be on the road by 1PM.

The elephant in the room here is Maryland Doom Fest, which I’m missing this weekend. I wouldn’t be were it not for the legitimacy of the family occasion — Earthride are fucking great, but how many times does one of your relatives turn 102? — and perhaps even in my younger days I would’ve blown off the celebration in favor of the riffs. I don’t know if it’s a product of being an adult or what, but the can’t-miss factor seems to have shifted my priorities. That lineup is incredible, and if you’re going, I hope you have a great time, but yeah, from where I sit, my presence seems more crucial at the birthday. Getting old is strange.

Whether you’re in Frederick for that fest or not — you should be — I hope you have a great and safe weekend. Here’s what’s in the notes for next week, subject to change as usual:

Mon.: Sasquatch review; Robustfellow giveaway.
Tue.: Tuna de Tierra review/track premiere; Bones of Minerva video premiere.
Wed.: Shroud Eater review/track premiere; The Great Beyond video.
Thu.: Fat Dukes of Fuck video premiere; Six Dumb Questions with Stoned Jesus.
Fri.: Bible of the Devil/Leeches of Lore split review/stream; Atala video.

So that’s what I’ve got as of this moment. Week after (yes, the week of July 4) will be the Quarterly Review. Busy times as always. Once again, have a great couple days, whatever you’re up to. Thanks for reading, listening, watching, sharing, commenting, and so on, and please check out the forum and radio stream.

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

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audiObelisk: Stream Roadburn 2013 Sets from Elder, Pallbearer, Astra, Spiritual Beggars, Witch Mountain, Seremonia, and More

Posted in audiObelisk on September 11th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

Of all the batches of Roadburn 2013 audio that have thus far come to light, this one might be both my favorite and the most comprehensive. From Pallbearer‘s morose doom to Elder‘s heavy psych righteousness, the progressive metal of The Ocean and Spiritual Beggars‘ classic heavy rock, seething black metal from A Forest of Stars, with post-metal from Process of Guilt, blues doom from Witch Mountain and prog from Camera and Astra between — that’s not to mention the genreless freakout of Seremonia — it’s a series as varied as the fest itself.

Please enjoy the Roadburn 2013 streams on the players below and kiss your afternoon goodbye. As you make your way through, don’t forget to check the news below about The Shrine, Papir and Glitter Wizard being added to the Roadburn 2014 lineup, as that continues to impressively take shape.

Thanks as always to Walter and the Roadburn crew:

A Forest of Stars – Live at Roadburn 2013

Astra – Live at Roadburn 2013

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Elder – Live at Roadburn 2013

Pallbearer – Live at Roadburn 2013

Process of Guilt – Live at Roadburn 2013

Seremonia – Live at Roadburn 2013

Spiritual Beggars – Live at Roadburn 2013

The Ocean – Live at Roadburn 2013

The Ruins of Beverast – Live at Roadburn 2013

Witch Mountain – Live at Roadburn 2013

As noted above, Roadburn 2014 has continued this week to add bands to its already considerable lineup. Here’s the latest, courtesy of the fest:

LA’s The Shrine To Bring Some Heavy, Psychedelic, Riff Based Rock n’ Roll To Roadburn Festival 2014

Grab a six pack! It’s time for some high energy, rock ‘n roll action when Los Angeles’ The Shrine hits the stage on Thursday, April 10 at the 013 venue in Tilburg, The Netherlands. We’re feeling inspired… should we put up a skate ramp at Roadburn 2014?

No, let’s empty some pools, and conquer these concrete bowls! Right here, right now, as the hairy dudes in The Shrine could easily have been part of the 1970s Zephyr skateboard team. Or at least, they would have put up their big ass amps (draped with an American flag, of course) next to the pools, and crank some drug addled, SoCal primitive blast to get it all going, pure and simple!

Denmark’s Papir To Transcend Heavy Psych Territory at Roadburn Festival 2014

We here at Roadburn are on our own path and we ensure that when booking the festival it encompasses everything we like – from krautrock through post rock to heavy psych.

Papir, hailing from the suburbs of Copenhagen, are definitely kindred spirits, as this fascinating instrumental three piece have created their own extraordinary type of semi-improvised psychedelic rock by transcending the usual labels – something we immensely admire. Thus we simply can’t wait to dive headfirst into the band’s richly textured sound on Saturday, April 12 at the 013 venue in Tilburg, The Netherlands.

Take A Trip Way Back Into The Future With Glitter Wizard at Roadburn 2014

In our ongoing quest to exhume every artifact of 60s and 70s proto metal, we recently stumbled up on San Francisco’s Glitter Wizard. For a moment, it seemed that we unearthed a forgotten gem, as Hunting Gatherers, the band’s sophomore album, could be easily mistaken for a long lost album from the early 70s.

In our hazy minds’ imagination, the band shared the stage with Steppenwolf, Bloodrock, Black Widow, The Stooges or Iron Butterfly, but Glitter Wizard‘s trippy, swinging sound — replete with catchy riffs, amusing lyrics and space-age keyboards, sax and flutes — isn’t some kind of Nuggets discovery, they are here and now.

Don’t get behind the times when the devil worships Glitter Wizard at Roadburn 2014 on Saturday, April 12 at the 013 venue in Tilburg, The Netherlands. They will take you into future through a doorway hidden in the past.

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ROADBURN 2013 AFTERBURNER: Floating on Mountains

Posted in Features on April 21st, 2013 by JJ Koczan

04.21.13 — 23.02 — Sunday night — Hotel Mercure, Tilburg

My watch alarm went off at 13.00 to serve notice that it was time to wake up, get cleaned up and head back over to the 013 for Astra kicking off the traditional Afterburner, the final, pared-down day of Roadburn 2013. I hadn’t fallen asleep until after seven, could hear people leaving for an early start to the day outside my room, but rolled into the Main Stage room still with minutes to spare to see another showing of Costin Chioreanu‘s Outside the Great Circle. This time through, I learned Current 93‘s David Tibet was also involved in the music. Not that it was lacking dark and artsy cred anyway, but Tibet always seems to have some to spare.

Though it was a contrast to Outside the Great Circle‘s bleak visuals and the Attila Csihar groans those visuals came with, Astra‘s Cali sunshiny early-King Crimson prog was a welcome way to start the Afterburner. The lush melodies and multiple layers of keyboard wash work especially well in the morning, though of course it was 14.30 when they got on stage. Morning to me, though, so right on. They played most of last year’s The Black Chord (review here), including the title-track, “Bull Torpis,” “Cocoon,” “Quake Meat and the closer, “Barefoot in the Head,” but ultimately, they went back to the first album, The Weirding, to finish out with the eponymous cut.

I was a much bigger fan of the second album than the first, but “The Weirding” is a good song and Astra did justice to the expansive and psychedelic feel of their albums, without losing themselves in the staid, passionless presentation prog often winds up having. Switching between guitar and the keys (a Memotron and then some, it looked like), Richard Vaughn was out front and center with lead guitarist Brian Ellis, who seemed to have dressed up for the occasion. I hadn’t seen the San Diego five-piece since 2009 and they seemed all around a more solid band at the 013, and their heavy prog was just the sort of complex but welcoming start a lineup like this one deserved.

A second round of Pallbearer? Sure, why not? Diagonal, who were supposed to open in the Green Room, canceled on account of illness, so the Arkansas four-piece stepped in for another round in the smaller space — the Green Room is the middle space at 013; smaller than the main stage, bigger than Stage01; also smaller than Het Patronaat, which was closed today at least to Roadburn 2013 types — and were once more filled with potential, emotionally resonant and crushingly heavy. The setlist varied some from the Thursday night show, but they got their point across anyway. Interesting that for such morose music, the mood in the room was pretty up. I guess people were excited to see Pallbearer again or excited to see them having missed out the other night, but when whoever it was in the crowd shouted out a request for “Owner of a Lonely Heart” came through, there were laughs on stage and off. Even guitarist/vocalist Brett Campbell was more animated — not quite thrashing out like bassist Joseph Rowland or guitarist Devin Holt or drummer Mark Lierly — but still more than he was on the Main Stage earlier in the fest.

So be it. Even with less tickets sold than for the fest proper, the same basic rules apply to the Afterburner. If you want to see a band up close and personal, you need to get there early. I’ve done a lot of back and forth this weekend and don’t regret any of it, but with less bands on the bill, there’s more time to stick around and see a full set if you’re so inclined, and that takes some getting used to where over the last three days it’s been, “Okay, I have to run in here, stay for 15 minutes then split out and catch so-and-so over here” and so on. It’s a different vibe, and from all the Dutch I heard being spoken, it seemed that a lot of the people who hadn’t stuck around for this fourth day/transition back to reality were the ones traveling, which made sense.

That said, the crustpunkers — crustpunk is the new doom; also atmospheric black metal; also d-beat hardcore; also doom — behind me watching Pallbearer and brushing my back with their headbanging hair were from Australia, so clearly a sizable “fuck it” contingent was present as well, which I guess I also represented to some degree. Not to that degree, but some degree, anyway. I poked my head in the Main Stage as Sigh were getting ready to go on and found the Japanese black metallers duly theatrical. One doesn’t see fire on stage much anymore, or at least not in the venues I go to on the regular — which is fortunate, because everyone would die — but Sigh had a candle going and some light blowtorchery to go with the pummel and dual vocals. They were black metal-plus. Plus sax, plus fire, plus percussion, and so on. Their albums are supposed to be the shit according to a few in the know, but I’ve never been especially in the know, and the thought of leaving town tomorrow started weighing on me, so I ran back to the hotel to ask the kind soul at the counter if she could print my train ticket, and after about an hour, it worked out that she could.

Sigh were done upon my return, but I watched a couple minutes of Dutch black metallers Nihill (interesting about the lineup; had Diagonal showed, it would’ve been prog on one stage, prog on the other, then black metal on one stage, black metal on the other) through the doorway of the Green Room. Actually, I could’ve at least listened to them in the alley outside the venue, since they were loud enough to make the concrete wall of the building sound paper thin. It was supposedly their first show, though you’d never know it by the crowd gathered to see them play it. I guess everyone who hadn’t yet fully gotten their fix from Sigh were still looking for grim satisfaction.

Me, I was looking for Golden Void, but there was still a long time till they went on ahead of Spiritual Beggars and Electric Moon, the two acts who would close out the list I’d see today and my path through Roadburn 2013 as a whole. Neu! founder Michael Rother was going on doing music from that band and his subsequent project Harmonia, sort of bridging the gap between the prog elements and the psychedelic as only krautrock truly could. Being only remotely familiar with Neu! on any level other than the academic, the driving, spacy rhythms were enough to keep me hooked, but I did break for an early dinner partway through — chicken and gravy, mashertaters, salmon and salad — because I could feel myself dragging ass and wanted to be ready for Golden Void‘s set in the Green Room.

Another Californian act, the Bay Area four-piece set an immediately friendly vibe. The curtain in the Green Room was closed when I got there,  I guess from Nihill (maybe someone can confirm that?) but before it was even reopened, Golden Void guitarist/vocalist Isaiah Mitchell — whose reputation as slinger of epic solos in influential heavy psych jammers Earthless preceded him — poked his head out from under to say hi. He made conversation as the band set up their gear and even when they got started, kept the atmosphere friendly and unpretentious, which couldn’t be anything but welcome. At one point, Mitchell pointed to someone up front in an Earthless shirt and said, “Nice one.”

Camilla Saufley-Mitchell‘s keys played a big role in their sound, bigger than I recalled from their self-titled debut (review here), and they ran through a JCM800 head, so presence wasn’t lacking, and she added backing vocals as well here and there. The Afterburner marked the end of a 12-date (13 if you count the Brooklyn show they did on their way out of the States) European tour, so no wonder they were feeling good. Golden Void were jammier live than on record, Mitchell taking what seemed to be a couple extended solos, or maybe it just came off that way because of the striking verse/chorus structures on the record where one wouldn’t expect from his work in Earthless that they’d be included at all, but they more than held the crowd’s attention, and the new song “Rise out of the Reach” — which they were selling as a Record Store Day-exclusive 7″ single — makes me look forward even more to their next record than I already was.

I would’ve loved to stay, but Spiritual Beggars were going on the Main Stage and it was time for me to once again “Excuse me” and “I’m sorry” my way through the crowd out from the Green Room. The Beggars — I can call them that now that I’ve seen them live — have a new record out called Earth Blues, and they were selling LPs and signed CDs. I’ll pick it up at some point, but haven’t bothered to listen to it for the same reason I don’t listen a ton of shit that comes out: No time and I fucking hate digital promos. That frustration actually made me less inclined to buy the record, though having autographs from Michael Amott (Arch Enemy/Carcass) and his formidable assembled lineup does hold a certain nerdish appeal. In this incarnation of the band are bassist Sharlee D’Angelo (Arch Enemy/Mercyful Fate), drummer Ludwig Witt (Firebird), organist Per Wiberg (Opeth) and vocalist Apollo Papathanasio (Firewind), who now has two albums under his belt in the band and did a more than able job filling the frontman role while also tackling Spiritual Beggars tracks from the eras of Spice and JB Christoffersson, the former now of Band of Spice and the latter in Grand Magus.

Not easy voices to take on by any stretch of the imagination, as both singers could add dramatic flair, soaring highs or growling lows to any given song at any given time, but again, Papathanasio did well in that spot, and the newer stuff they played seemed right in line with their long-standing love of classic heavy rock. Amott‘s the driving force in that he writes all the material, but everyone was clearly on board — Ludwig Witt is a monster drummer — and the stage show was engaging, professional and fun to watch. They played “Turn the Tide” from the new album and dipped back to 2002’s On Fire for “Young Man/Old Soul,” which was a highlight, and just before “Wonderful World” from 2000’s Ad Astra, Papathanasio asked the crowd, “Have you got the energy left?”

The honest answer? Nah, man. It’s been four days solid of rock and rolling and I’m feeling pretty demolished. He got a response from the crowd that was probably less than the roar he’d hoped for, but the band didn’t miss a beat. Their shit was pro-tight and as next year will mark 20 years since the release of their self-titled debut, for all their love of classics, they’re on their way to becoming one as well. A band of string lights wrapped around the inside frame of Amott‘s speaker cabinet, Wiberg had a tapestry hanging from the front of his keyboard, and in everything they did, Spiritual Beggars were very put together, very rehearsed, but also very effective. It wasn’t the first time I liked a band more than I thought I would this weekend, but it was a nice surprise anyway.

Entirely true, I would have relished the notion of seeing Switchblade live, but I had an early-ish train looming, was beat and knew that I wanted Electric Moon to close out my Roadburn 2013. The German jammers were just right for the job — heavy, psychedelic, totally switched on in their groove and, as I learned, swirl-ready at a moment’s notice. Before they were even ready to play, before guitarist Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt had his shoes off, he and bassist Komet Lulu and drummer Michael Bongolious Orloff were jamming. I don’t think they even realized they were doing it, but all of a sudden, Komet Lulu had a groove locked in and the other two stepped right into it. Their set was great to watch too, but I found that little pre-jam even more telling, since it goes to show just how much chemistry there is between these three players. Lulu led a lot of the changes, with Orloff responding accordingly and Schmidt spacing out in guitar swirls, but she also took the time to add to the effects wash with her bass. I was really, really glad to see them.

What songs they played, I don’t know. They jammed like mad and had a recorder set up at the front of the stage, so hopefully audio or video surfaces at some point. Truth be told, they were the one band I really regretted not seeing at last year’s Roadburn, so watching them tonight was an absolute must, and though former Emperor frontman Ihsahn was on the Main Stage backed by progressive rockers Leprous, I couldn’t have felt better about being where I was. Nothing left to do then but slowly peel myself away from Roadburn 2013 as the thought of that train and what time I’m actually going to get to sleep tonight started to gnaw at me. I’d hoped to see fest promoter Walter and tell him thank you for another fantastic year, but no such luck. I tossed my earplugs in the trash, and bid farewell to the 013 for another year, when hopefully I’ll be back to have my brain melted all over again.

Many people to thank before I sign off from Tilburg and make my way to London tomorrow, but I’m going to save it for now and do a big thanks at the end of the trip next weekend. There’s still another week to go before I head back to Jersey — I cannot even begin to tell you about the plate of pasta I’m going to have upon my arrival there — and plenty more to come in the meantime, so please, stay tuned.

Thanks to all for reading. More pics after the jump.

Read more »

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Readers Poll Results: The Top 20 of 2012

Posted in Features on January 1st, 2013 by JJ Koczan

Happy New Year to everyone around the world. It’s January 1, 2013, and to celebrate the New Year the best way I know how, I got right to work on tabulating the results of the 2012 Readers Poll. I’ve been tracking the results as they’ve come in over the course of December, and as you can see in the list below, it was a tight race for the top spot right up to the end.

Before we run down the finished list, I want to extend gratitude to each and every one of the 296 people who contributed their top 12 so this list could be put together. It’s an amazing response and I was super stoked that so many of you were able to take part. Thank you for that. Right from the first day the form went up, I knew this was going to be awesome, and it wound up exceeding my every expectation. It was a great sendoff to the year. Much appreciated.

Here are the results of the Top 20 of 2012 Readers Poll:

1. Om, Advaitic Songs – 108 votes

2. High on Fire, De Vermis Mysteriis – 106

3. Graveyard, Lights Out – 86

4. Neurosis, Honor Found in Decay – 65

5. Ufomammut, Oro – 63

5. Witchcraft, Legend – 63

6. Colour Haze, She Said – 56

6. Saint Vitus, Lillie: F-65 – 56

7. Kadavar, Kadavar – 49

7. Pallbearer, Sorrow and Extinction – 49

8. Orange Goblin, A Eulogy for the Damned – 46

9. Baroness, Yellow and Green – 39

10. Conan, Monnos – 38

11. Swans, The Seer – 35

12. Astra, The Black Chord – 31

13. Greenleaf, Nest of Vipers – 31

13. The Sword, Apocryphon – 31

14. Royal Thunder, CVI – 26

14. Wo Fat, The Black Code – 26

15. Ancestors, In Dreams and Time – 25

16. Torche, Harmonicraft – 23

17. Corrosion of Conformity, Corrosion of Conformity – 22

18. Enslaved, Riitiir – 19

19. Goat, World Music – 18

19. Melvins Lite, Freak Puke – 18

19. Soundgarden, King Animal – 18

20. Amenra, Mass V – 17

20. Samothrace, Reverence to Stone – 17

16 Votes

Witch Mountain, Cauldron of the Wild
Rush, Clockwork Angels
Stoned Jesus, Seven Thunders Roar
Troubled Horse, Step Inside

15 Votes

Converge, All We Love We Leave Behind – 15
Mighty High, Legalize Tre Bags – 15
My Sleeping Karma, Soma – 15

Pretty wild to have Om and High on Fire so close, and they were tied for a long, long time, but Om retained an early lead and managed to pull it out in the end. As you can see, there were a number of releases that tied with others for their position. Seemed only fair to me to include all of them, and I also threw in those with 16 and 15 votes as well, just because it was close. In total, there were an astounding 1,200+ albums entered into consideration.

Once again, thanks to everyone for making this Readers Poll happen and for taking the time to be a part of it. Already looking forward to some fantastic things to come in 2013, so please stay tuned and keep your lists handy.

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Buried Treasure in a Garden of Sound

Posted in Buried Treasure on November 26th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Driving past the homogenized “warmth” of the brick retail chains that have appeared since I was last down on the outskirts of Baltimore’s Fell’s Point neighborhood, I couldn’t help but think of John Brenner from Revelation discussing the inner harbor in that interview that went up last week. These places with all the trappings of economic stimulus except any investment back into the community that hosts them the way feet host blisters. There for a painful while and then gone. Pop.

It was different once I actually got into Fell’s Point. Not that the neighborhood wasn’t gentrified from its working class harbor roots, but that at very least it was actual gentrification, independently owned businesses or at least smaller, regional chains and a most welcome onslaught of pubs, eateries, and other gastro-type decadences. Kooper’s Tavern, where The Patient Mrs. and I had lunch, had tables set up outside selling oysters and recycling the shells for use by — wait for it — other oysters. Seems nobody is immune to the economic ravages of our age. Even the oysters have to buy used.

Fitting that act of conservation would be prelude to a radical haul whose like — in what otherwise might be considered a regular ol’ record shop — I’ve not seen in some time. Sound Garden (no relation) was just down the street from the pub where we ate and several others, and it wasn’t my first time there by any stretch (seems impossible that it would’ve been over three years ago, but I guess that’s why old posts are dated), but I didn’t remember it being quite the trove it was this time around. Walking up the middle of the three aisles, I went past the metal and the midsection divide — I’d come back to the metal, no worries — something strange compelling me forward, and that’s when I saw it:

The Psychedelic section.

Oh yeah, that’s right. The monkey that lives in my head where my brain should be clicked on the dim bulb of his cavernous abode and for a moment I said a prayer to my pagan octopus god that I might win the $300 million Powerball and come back to Sound Garden to purchase every album in the Psychedelic section on principle alone. A mere celebration of the existence of such a thing. Portrait of the mouth, drooling.

What fun I had. Flipping through was like opening presents. I limited myself to two discs about which I knew absolutely nothing but what was written on the eloquent description labels — Truth‘s Truth from 1969 and EscombrosEscombros, from 1970. The former is a poppy, folksy thing, not bad but not quite as bizarre as I was hoping based on the cover, and Escombros is a heavier Chilean obscurity that opens with a cover of Hendrix‘s “Stone Free,” so I guessed I was pretty safe in grabbing it. Turns out I was right about that. The vocals sounded mixed too high on my office speakers when I listened, but I expect on a different system, it might not be an issue at all, and there were a couple gems there anyway. Wicked Lady‘s Psychotic Overkill was a welcome find as well, all buzzsaw-this and early-’70s narcodelia that.

I also picked up Goat‘s World Music based on the tarantula-sized hype surrounding. That hype is probably earned, and however problematic I might find European acts copping a feel on some Fela Kuti afrobeat fuzz, they’re hardly the first and they did it well enough. I wasn’t quite enchanted, but sometimes with albums like that I go into it determined not to like them and usually find I don’t. That wasn’t the case with Goat.

In the “I reviewed this and I’m annoyed at buying it” category, the newest ones from Golden Void (review here), Astra (review here) and Six Organs of Admittance (review here) were fodder enough for a grumble, even if Astra and was used. Six Organs was $15 new and the sleeve isn’t even a gatefold. Call me a privileged shit if you want — boo hoo you don’t get free stuff, etc. — but for the time and effort I put into even a shorter review, I don’t think a CD is too much to ask, especially when I know that I’m one of like three remaining motherfuckers who cares in the slightest. Apparently the music industry disagrees. Grumble grumble, man.

One might include the new Neurosis (review here) in that category as well — and the Grand Magus I didn’t even step to this time around — but the fact is on that one I was just being impatient and that a physical promo of Honor Found in Decay would show up sooner or later (it did, today). However, my wanting to hear it right that minute met with such logic on the field of diplomacy and the compromise reached was that I’d buy the digipak edition, because it’s limited and the promo would likely be the jewel case anyway. I never got the digi version of 2007’s Given to the Rising and there’s a little bit of me that still regrets it. That same part is very much enjoying listening to “My Heart for Deliverance” as he types this.

There were odds and ends as well. With Kalas on my brain after The Johnny Arzgarth Haul resulted in another promo, Used Metal paid dividends in the first full-artwork copy I’ve ever owned — and in case you were wondering why I care so much about physical media, that’s how long I remember shit like that — and over in Used Rock, the first Grinderman happened to be situated next to a special edition of 2009’s Grinderman 2, the unmitigated sleaze of which I friggin’ loved at the time, as well as Grails‘ cinematic 2012 outing, Deep Politics (review here).

I wound up with a used copy of Dungen‘s 2002 third album, Stadsvandringar, getting the band confused with Black Mountain, I think because they both used to have the same PR. Thanks a lot, Girlie Action Media circa 2005. I felt a little pathetic when I discovered my error, but I checked out the Dungen and it wasn’t bad, covering some of the same sunny psych folk territory that Barr did on their 2012 sophomore installment, Atlantic Ocean Blues (track stream here), and giving me a new context for not onlyBarr, but a slew of other acts as well. Could’ve been much worse.

Cap it off with a used copy of Lewis Black‘s The Carnegie Hall Performance from 2006 — a stellar two-disc show recorded in the depths of American hopelessness post-Katrina but for the bit about air traffic control — and when I brought it all to the counter, the dude asked me, “Are you local?” I said I wasn’t and he said, “Well, I’m going to give you a discount anyway.” It was much appreciated, regardless of the geography involved, and by the time I left Sound Garden, I was more pleased with the outcome I carried in a red plastic bag than I’ve been coming from a single record store in a long time. Probably since I visited Flat, Black and Circular in Lansing, Michigan, over the summer, and that’s saying something.

My hope is that it’s not another three years before I get back there — appropriately enough, Lewis Black has a whole section early into his show about time moving faster as you age, and he’s absolutely right — but whenever it is, Sound Garden is definitely on the must-hit list for next time I’m in Baltimore. If you want to look them up, their website is here.

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Scion A/V and Roadburn Partner for Label Showcase

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 15th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Roadburn goes Hollywood! If there was any conflict involved, you could almost call this a clash of the titans. Somehow “alliance of the titans” doesn’t have the same kind of ring to it, or “titans putting on a killer show.” Still, pretty bitchin’ that Roadburn and Scion A/V Metal could get it together for a label showcase. How bitchin’, you ask? Well, it’s just about giant-size poster bitchin’.

Dig it:

Scion A/V Metal are excited to announce their next Scion Label Showcase with Roadburn Records!

We are taking over The Roxy in West Hollywood, CA on Saturday, November 10, and we’re bringing Enslaved, White Hills, Scott Kelly, Earthless, and Astra with us. RSVP coming soon, so stay tuned to Scion A/V Metal’s Facebook page.

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Astra Added to Roadburn 2013 Lineup

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 10th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

The first time I listened to Astra‘s The Black Chord (review here) was on the plane over to see Desertfest in London and Roadburn this year, and I think probably as a result of that, I’ll always associate the album with the feeling of ascending, climbing into the sky and watching the ground recede below. I like that about the album, and I think the San Diego outfit’s multifaceted approach is suited to that wide open sensibility and the feeling that at any minute it can all come crashing down. Lush but still ultimately fragile.

Word just came down that Astra will make their second Roadburn appearance in 2013 as part of the Afterburner, for which tickets are still available, unlike the fest itself, which sold out within 24 hours. Check it:

Astra confirmed for Roadburn Afterburner

Roadburn are delighted to announce that San Diego’s psychedelic / progressive rock outfit Astra, will return to Roadburn on Sunday, April 21th (The traditional Afterburner event) at the 013 venue in Tilburg, Holland.

Deeply influenced by the European prog rock bands from the 60s and 70s, Astra blew people away with their Roadburn 2010 performance in support of The Weirding (their much acclaimed debut album) released on Rise Above Records.

Astra have continued to expand their style and grow as a band — as showcased on their sophomore album, The Black Chord — by employing some impressive gear (from Mellotrons to Moogs and Oberheims, and from Hammonds to flutes and 12-string guitars) to back up their intricate songwriting.

With prog rock making its way back, we can hardly wait to welcome Astra back to Roadburn, to massage our ears with their harmonious, melodious and heavenly combination of psychedelia and progressive rock.

Roadburn Festival 2013 will run for four days from Thursday, April 18th to Sunday, April 21st, 2013 (the traditional Afterburner event) at the 013 venue in Tilburg, Holland. Tickets for the Afterburner are still available!

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