Atala Post “Tabernacle Of” Video; Labyrinth of Ashmedai out Now

Posted in Bootleg Theater on February 2nd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

atala jenifer stratton

Atala kicking ass in the desert. Very much an imaginable scenario, as far as scenarios go, and it’s how it goes in the post-sludgers’ new video for ‘Tabernacle Of’ from their just-issued new long-player, Labyrinth of Ashmedai (review here), which came out last week on Salt of the Earth Records. At this point I’ve been through the album I don’t know how many times and between that and the recent interview posted with Atala guitarist/vocalist/spearhead Kyle Stratton, it doesn’t take me much more than seeing the title “Tabernacle Of” to have the opening lines of the song stuck in my head, let alone the shoutier hook of its chorus.

That’s not me trying to be like “I’m Mr. Dude-Really-Knows-this-Album” or anything or be like I have some special fucking connection with how Atala work. If anything, I think the clumsiness of my Six Dumb Questions in the above-linked interview proves very much the opposite, but just serves to show how god-damn catchy “Tabernacle Of” actually is. Very much part of the full-LP flow of Labyrinth of Ashmedai, it nonetheless stands out from its surroundings, and in so doing represents the record well as a whole, as one could easily say the same of accompanying cuts like “Death’s Dark Tomb” or “Grains of Sand.” Whole damn thing is full of highlights, I guess is what I’m saying.

Video is loaded with a sense of disaffection, and the groove is undeniable. If you need to know anything else about it — oh wait, you don’t.

PR wire info follows. Enjoy:

Atala, “Tabernacle Of” official video

Twentynine Palms, CA-based sludge/doom metal group ATALA just released their upcoming full-length concept album, Labyrinth of Ashmedai, via Salt of the Earth Records. Labyrinth of Ashmedai can be ordered now via

As a follow up to their most recent music video for the sludge metal anthem “Wilted Leaf”, ATALA has just revealed another sweltering desert-based music video for the track “Tabernacle Of”.

The “Tabernacle Of” music video was filmed by Brooke Valls, edited by Konrad Pagdilao, and produced by Brooke Valls, Konrad Pagdilao and Kyle Stratton.

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Six Dumb Questions with Atala

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on January 19th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

atala photo jenifer stratton

One needs only to examine the purposeful creative growth undertaken over the last couple years by Atala to get a sense of the focus and intensity that drives guitarist/vocalist Kyle Stratton. The Twentynine Palms, California-based trio have, in the course of three full-lengths and as many years, developed and begun to refine an aesthetic as much dedicated to the individualism heralded by the Southern CA desert’s stand-apart-ness as it is distinct from the genre fare commonly associated with the region. Moving from their 2015 self-titled debut (review here) through 2016’s Shaman’s Path of the Serpent (review here) and the forthcoming Labyrinth of Ashmedai (review here) — which releases Jan. 26 via Salt of the Earth Records — Atala have worked diligently to find a sonic place of their own, and never has that been more manifest than in the crisp, mindful execution of post-sludge they proffer in the latest collection.

Produced like its predecessor by Billy Anderson (as in, yes, that Billy Anderson; he of manning the board for Sleep, the MelvinsNeurosisAcid King, so many more), Labyrinth of Ashmedai showcases its progression in the melody of “Infernal” and “I am Legion” as well as in the raw scathe of songs like “Death’s Dark Tomb” and “Wilted Leaf,” and through both, Atala have only become more recognizable as a unit. With Stratton at the forward position backed by bassist John Chavarria — since replaced by Dave Horn — and secret-weapon-until-you-actually-hear-him-play-then-way-too-loud-to-be-a-secret-anymore-weapon drummer Jeff Tedtaotao, the band present an atmospheric and conceptual reach that’s mirrored in the leanness of the songwriting and how little there actually seems to be to spare in their material. Labyrinth of Ashmedai is just under 36 minutes long. Not one minute of that time is wasted.

Likewise, Stratton does not mince his words in the interview that follows here, and I very much consider that another example of the forward-directed impulse that fuels his work with his band. Life is too short for bullshit. And it’s a fair enough argument. In talking about the album, Stratton — also a noted tattoo artist responsible for the cover art designs on Atala‘s records — relays his thoughts on the conditions of the world around him, his personal relationships, the status of the group moving into the New Year (and beyond), and more.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

atala labyrinth of ashmedai

Six Dumb Questions with Kyle Stratton of Atala

Tell me about choosing the title Labyrinth of Ashmedai. What’s the significance for you of Asmodeus and what does the use of that figure represent? Are you working with any kind of mysticism themes in the lyrics? How does the album art tie in, or does it?

The meaning behind the title Labyrinth of Ashmedai was quite simple: I wanted to use this fictional character as a way to conceal my truths in a metaphor. I wanted to vent my frustration towards the ludicrousy of anglo Saxon culture. I find it hilarious that our society is 70 percent people who believe in fairytales.

They use these fairytales to condemn others with different cultures, beliefs or even disbeliefs. At the same time using their religious beliefs, condoning their own horrible behaviors. I thought it would be interesting to wrap my frustrations up on a metaphor about raising the 72 legions of Hell and using the occult to damn souls for eternity. It was fun.

As far as the artwork, it is based off the three-headed demon Ashmedai; it is definitely meant to tie in. I prefer to use the original Hebrew name Ashmedai over the Roman copy Asmodeous. The religious texts were originally written in the Middle East not Europe.

In terms of following up Shaman’s Path of the Serpent, was there anything you knew you specifically wanted to do differently this time around? What lessons were you able to take from making that album and bring into the writing and recording processes for this one?

Truth is I wanted to drive more and be more aggressive both musically and vocally. I held back a lot on Shaman’s Path. I get bored with that stuff. It’s to blah… I want to be more honest in my art and I felt like we did that. I am not always sad or soft spoken. I can be. But, I am also at times aggressive and very vocal. Well, let’s face it: I am super bipolar.

Tell me about recording with Billy Anderson. This was your second time with him. What was the vibe in the studio like and what did he end up contributing to the record in terms of noise? How big a role has he played in how your sound has developed so far?

Most of the vibe and feedback is my guitar sounds, he contributed to the noise at the end of “Death’s Dark Tomb,” which was genius. As far as vibe in the studio. There was a whole lot of tension between John, the former bass player, and I. Our lifestyles were beginning to clash. Lots of tensions. I am a family man; he is something else.

That was something everyone in the studio had to deal with. I thought Billy was really good at channeling it, using the tension for the good of the record. He has helped mold us in as far as ironing out a few wrinkles but ultimately it is our songwriting. He is great at capturing it.

I was fortunate enough to see Atala play at Roadburn in 2017. How was that experience for you guys as a band? Will you look to get back to Europe in support of Labyrinth of Ashmedai?

It was a lot of fun. Especially with my hand-picked lineup. Playing with Jeff and Dave is my ideal lineup, I loved when Dave was in Rise of the Willing. We had a killer connection. Jeff, he is a rock, such a solid drummer and stable person. Holland was smooth and we were treated very well by the Roadburn crew.

I was proud of what we presented. Especially getting Dave prepared to play an hour set of material in just seven weeks. He and Jeff both did great. I am not sure if we are getting back to Europe this year but I am told it is in the works.

What’s the status of Atala overall going into the album release? You had put up a pretty frustrated-seeming post about dealing with making music and preferring graphic art and tattoo culture specifically. Will the band continue? What is the relationship for you between working in design and writing songs?

The band will definitely continue, with a team who wants to push forward in a more professional manner. I like the tattoo industry because I am responsible for my own art. Most artist in the community grind to pay bills and work as a means to earn a living with hard work and focus. My frustration, it was personal. I am tired of the elitism and the whole party scene, I don’t party anymore, so I don’t fit in well.

I am at point where I want to show my family and children you can play music as a career. Not just surround yourself with shitbags who will never amount to anything. I love Pentagram musically but I think characters like Bobby Liebling being marketed as “rock and roll” is embarrassing. I don’t want to be part of that. I would not be able to handle a person like that around me. I would be like, dude, get your shit together. I mean this is what we are told rockers are. Yuck. I don’t want to be that at all.

I just watched a good friend, a brother throw his fucking life away to drugs. That is some hard shit to see. I personally had to step away. In design I don’t focus too heavily on my own head – I draw what others want — whereas in songwriting it is very internal. Getting that far in my own mind is very dangerous.

Any plans or closing words you want to mention?

You can be cool without being a junkie. We all make mistakes and fall short at times. Just try and live the best way you can.

Atala, “Grains of Sand” official video

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Atala, Labyrinth of Ashmedai: Building a Tabernacle

Posted in Reviews on December 20th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

atala labyrinth of ashmedai

To say an album gets better with volume is one of rock’s all-time clichés. It’s also usually bullshit. In the case of Labyrinth of Ashmedai, the third full-length from desert-dwelling post-sludge trio Atala, I’ll say it doesn’t hurt. The Twentynine Palms, California, three-piece make their debut on Salt of the Earth Records with their latest collection, with an early 2018 release following up on 2016’s Shaman’s Path of the Serpent (review here) and their 2015 self-titled debut (review here), and like its predecessor, the tight, six-song/35-minute outing was produced and engineered by Billy Anderson (MelvinsNeurosisSleepAcid King, etc.) and demonstrates considerable growth from the release before it. One could argue Shaman’s Path of the Serpent was a moment in which Atala — now the lineup of guitarist/vocalist Kyle Stratton, bassist Dave Horn (who replaces John Chavarria) and drummer Jeff Tedtaotao — discovered the atmospheric reaches they wanted to cover with their sound, following the initial exploration of their Scott Reeder-helmed first offering.

Even so, Labyrinth of Ashmedai, with its cover art by Stratton, flowing presentation of one piece into the next, more accomplished use of vocal melodies (and harmonies) and offsetting of patient ambience with crushing tonality and crash, stands as a remarkable forward manifestation of the next step in the direction that Shaman’s Path of the Serpent laid out. Arranged across two three-song sides, each capping with a track longer than eight minutes — those being “Death’s Dark Tomb” (8:35) and the triumphant finale “Infernal” (8:19) — Labyrinth of Ashmedai immerses the listener its in nodding groove and fluidly executes a deceptive precision in building an arc of momentum that carries across the entire span. And though relatively short with its noted, manageable, vinyl-ready runtime, that span remains significant.

A resounding spaciousness is perhaps what Atala take most from the Californian desert, but they have little in common ultimately with “desert rock” as a genre outside of geography (and it’s certainly arguable geography is irrelevant in the aesthetic concern), and instead meld influences from Neurosis and YOB together with the rawer impulses of sludge. After an initial sample and a measure-long intro to initiate the stomp, “Grains of Sand” finds Stratton guttural in his railing against mediocrity and contemplating universal mortality atop a chugging riff fervently pushed ahead by Tedtaotao‘s creative drumming.

They are not a minute into the song before the lumbering hook churns out its furies and takes a twisting route back to the verse, chugging and vaguely hinting at melody to come along the way. The subsequent “Tabernacle of” revives the heavier ’90s-derived alt. metal melodicism one heard on cuts like “Gravity” from the last record, but in so doing, shifts with a newfound subtlety from the more scathing “Grains of Sand” via an emerging call and response Stratton sets up between cleaner and harsh vocals. With a more lumbering groove at its foundation, “Tabernacle Of” nonetheless retains the momentum of the opener before it, and feeds directly into “Death’s Dark Tomb,” which begins with a few seconds of droning noise — which Anderson may or may not have provided — before the guitar, bass and drums kick in to unveil the greatest sense of weight Atala have yet to bring to Labyrinth of Ashmedai, the vocals recalling Crowbar in the first verse as they set up a more spacious chorus that proves to be arguably the most landmark hook the album has to its credit.

atala photo jenifer stratton

Tedtaotao works in some notable double-kick moving back into the second verse and is head-spinning on tom runs throughout, while the low end density provides the foundation from which the band’s atmosphere spreads outward in a manner one might call psychedelic were it not so much imbued with the taste of dry dirt. Maybe psych, but for sure bound to the earth as well as its Mike Scheidt-style squibbly guitar lead gives way to a huge slowdown and the song devolves in its last minute-plus into feedback and noise, ending side A with particular and pointed viciousness.

While progressive in how it sees the band willfully pushing themselves stylistically, Labyrinth of Ashmedai is noteworthy as well for what StrattonHorn and Tedtaotao bring to it in terms of songwriting, and the linear pairing of “Death’s Dark Tomb” and side B opener “I am Legion” emphasizes the range they’ve developed in what seems like just a few short years of working as a group. Heard without the split of sides — that is, on a CD or digital format, rather than flipping a record — “I am Legion” picks up with drums from the silence left behind after “Death’s Dark Tomb” and centers almost entirely around its chorus, but in that, the two pieces end up complementing each other with a fluidity that even with the stark divide between them is undeniable.

Further, “I am Legion” works to reestablish and expound on the melodic basis of “Tabernacle Of,” and does so effectively, so that immediately Atala seem to be reaching even further out with the second half of the album. Time, then, for a radical redirect away from the expected, and that’s just what “Wilted Leaf” brings. At 3:59, it’s the shortest inclusion on Labyrinth of Ashmedai, and though awash in echo, it’s also the rawest since “Grains of Sand” at the outset, with shouts crawling upward from the depths of the mix barely decipherable in the riff-led torrent surrounding, and even a more fuzz-toned solo in the back half does little to take away from the sense of assault. This also is part of a larger plan, however, and closer “Infernal” — which is neither the catchiest nor the heaviest song here but might be the record’s greatest aesthetic accomplishment all the same; also bearing some of the hallmarks of a YOB influence in its initial rollout — takes hold with an immediate shift toward melody. Stratton seems to loosely touch on Electric Wizard in the verse’s bounce, but is ultimately headed elsewhere, toward more individualized fare that represents one last considered shove into new territory for Atala.

A final chorus underscores the point as they pass the halfway mark and turn to an instrumental finish that, rather than give itself to an overblown payoff, slows down, gets quieter and eases the listener’s way out with a stretch of bass and drone and residual effects, and though they’ve managed to stave off pretense for the duration, Atala have all the same given their audience a glimpse of the realization of the potential they’ve shown all along. Does that mean they’re finished growing? I don’t think so and I hope not, but it does mean that the expansion of their approach pays significant dividends in these tracks already. And yeah, volume doesn’t hurt when it comes to the overall listening experience, but at whatever level one might take it on, Labyrinth of Ashmedai successfully leads through the maze it creates.

Atala, “Grains of Sand” official video

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Atala Set Jan. 26 Release for Labyrinth of Ashmedai

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 20th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

atala photo jenifer stratton

Among my regular supply of stock phrases I might employ on a given day, I feel like ‘in the hopper’ isn’t one I go to all that often. Nonetheless, that’s where Atala‘s third album, Labyrinth of Ashmedai, has been for at least the better part of a year if not actually a full year’s time. Recorded by Billy Anderson, it was originally set to see release in Spring 2017 via Salt of the Earth Records, but has now been given an official Jan. 26, 2018, issue date.

Makes life a little easier for me, since as I compile my year-end list for 2017 and the most anticipated list for 2018 one is finite and the other can pretty much just keep going at this point, but I honestly doubt the Twentynine Palms, California-based three-piece had that in mind throughout what’s almost certainly been a frustrating delay in bringing the record to public ears. Almost there, dudes.

The PR wire has the latest:

atala labyrinth of ashmedai

ATALA to Release New Album, “Labyrinth of Ashmedai”, on January 26, 2018

After years of turning heads in the subterranean metal scene, Twentynine Palms, CA-based sludge/doom metal group ATALA are rising above with the release of their most confident album yet – the full-length crusher Labyrinth of Ashmedai – out January 26, 2018 via Salt of the Earth Records. Pre-orders for Labyrinth of Ashmedai are available now via

Conjuring grit-laced sludge inspired by their barren and often oppressive desert backdrop, ATALA grips the listener with reflective, crushing doom atmospheres dripping with stoner rock and experimental influences to boot. As with their last record, Shaman’s Path of the Serpent, Labyrinth of Ashmedai was produced by Billy Anderson, recognized for his work with colossal bands such as Sleep, Melvins and Acid King.

ATALA draws inspiration from their local environment, but not in the way other bands from the area do. “Contrary to popular belief, we aren’t from Joshua Tree, the tourist-trap,” starts guitarist/frontman Kyle Stratton. “Unlike our silver spoon-fed, trust-funded neighbors, we’re from the blue collar side of town. Twentynine Palms is a military base area – our surroundings inspire our music in a way that is pretty different from the way other local bands describe their own inspirations. It’s not all meditation and serenity out here.”

Stratton continues, “We feel more sullen in our outlook. Not only do we deal with weather reaching nearly 130 degrees, we see and experience the effects of true struggles – war, poverty, death, drugs, gang violence, prostitution and murder – quite often. Gun stores, casinos, churches, liquor stores, bars, wild animals and greed-based-politics just touch the surface of what our town offers. Without going into too much detail… it’s no easy life for us out here. Our music is a mirror that reflects the truth of our personal life experiences.”

Stratton says working with producer Billy Anderson gives ATALA a great advantage, because not only does he bring out their best, he understands their background on a personal level. “Billy was born and raised in Twentynine Palms, so not only does he understand our feelings of despair, he understands the heaviness we are trying to express musically. He helped mold us; he knows how to package heavy in a palatable way. You can hear his industrial stylings and noise contributions adding to the experimental vibe we have on this record. Because we are so comfortable with him, he is able to push us and bring us to a higher level.”

ATALA, Labyrinth of Ashmedai tracklist:
1. Grains of Sand
2. Tabernacle of
3. Deaths Dark Tomb
4. I am Legion
5. Wilted Leaf
6. Infernal

Kyle Stratton (Guitar and Vocals)
Jeff Tedtaotao (Drums)
Dave Horn (Bass)

Atala, “Grains of Sand” official video

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Roadburn 2017 Audio Streams Mega-Batch Posted Featuring Bongzilla, Slomatics, Valborg, Warning and More

Posted in audiObelisk on September 15th, 2017 by JJ Koczan


It’s been tradition around these parts for I don’t even know how long to post the annual audio streams as they come out from each Roadburn, and I hope the case will be no different as we move further away from Roadburn 2017 this past April in Tilburg, the Netherlands, and inexorably toward the first announcements for Roadburn 2018 to come. This process — the posting — used to require a slew of links and media players, which I actually kind of liked because it allowed for emphasis on just how much material there was emerging from the festival, how much work Marcel van de Vondervoort and his team put into the recording and mixing of these sets for all the bands, and so on.

Well, it’s the future now — or I guess it was the future like five years ago? I may have missed when it actually became the future; whatever — and we apparently don’t even need to have 22 different media players to post 22 different streams from Roadburn 2017. We need one. Netherlands-based media company 3voor12, which has always hosted the sets, brings forth a mega-batch today featuring the likes of (alphabetically) Atala, Author and Punisher, Bongzilla, Carpenter Brut, Casual Nun, Cobalt, Disfear, Forn, GNOD, Inter Arma, Joy, Les Discrets, Nadra, Pontiak, Serpent Venom, Slomatics, Temple ov BBV, Trans Am, Ultha, Valborg, Warning and Wolvennest.

Not inconsiderable. It’s been mere hours since Slomatics‘ Futurians: Live at Roadburn was reviewed here, but I also had occasion to see Warning (pictured above), JoyLes DiscretsAtalaValborg and others on that list, and I can attest to their being a joy to behold. Part of the fun of these streams is also getting some sense of what you missed at Roadburn due to making the inevitable hard choice of a schedule conflict, so I guess this is my shot at hearing what Bongzilla got up to during their time on stage. If you need me I’ll be doing that.

Hope you enjoy as well:

Thanks as always to Walter for sending the embed my way. For all this site’s Roadburn 2017 coverage, click here.

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Atala Post “Grains of Sand” Video; Labyrinth of Ashmedai Coming Soon

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 30th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

atala roadburn 2017 (Photo JJ Koczan)

High among the myriad pleasures offered at this year’s Roadburn festival in the Netherlands was the chance to see Twentynine Palms, California’s Atala play not one, but two sets (reviews here and here), both of them rife with new material from their forthcoming Labyrinth of Ashmedai album on Salt of the Earth Records. And among the new songs aired — cuts like “Death’s Dark Tomb” and “Infernal” — a decided standout was the raw thrust of “Grains of Sand,” for which the three-piece now present a corresponding video that also marks the reveal of the studio version of the song, which stands among their most aggressive and lumbering works to date.

Between their 2015 self-titled debut (review here) and its 2016 follow-up, Shaman’s Path of the Serpent (review here), the three-piece showed considerable sonic progression, and Labyrinth of Ashmedai would seem to hold that line. Produced once again by Billy Anderson, the third Atala long-player comes across as more sure of its direction and more confident in its approach than anything the band has done before, giving the impression that they’ve found the path they want to walk and are setting about leaving considerable footprints behind them as they go.

I’ll hope to have more on it as we get closer to the release — I’m still not sure of the exact date, but it can’t be too far off at this point — but you can check out the clip for “Grains of Sand” below, which gives the track a rehearsal-room showcase and recalls glory-days Crowbar videos in some of guitarist/vocalist Kyle Stratton‘s clawing at his own face and copious beardage. Good fun all the way around.


Atala, “Grains of Sand” official video

Grains of Sand off the soon to be released Atala album. “Labyrinth of Ashmedai ” coming soon on Salt Of the Earth Records.

Filmed: Brooke Valls
Edited: Think Infinite Productions

Kyle Stratton (Guitar and Vocals)
Jeff Tedtaotao (Drums)
John Chavarria (Bass)

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GIVEAWAY: Win a Prize Pack from Salt of the Earth Records with Cortez, Scissorfight, Atala and More!

Posted in Features on June 1st, 2017 by JJ Koczan


[TO ENTER GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment on this post with your email address in the form. You’ll be contacted at that address if you win.]

My pleasure today to partner up with Salt of the Earth Records for a nine-album prize pack giveaway that includes releases from Cortez, Scissorfight, Buzzard Canyon, Ol’ Time Moonshine, When the Deadbolt Breaks, Atala, Oxblood Forge and Shadow Witch.

The occasion is the June 16 release of Cortez‘s new album, The Depths Below, and to mark it, the label is giving away CD copies of its entire catalog and then some out of its online distro, plus buttons and stickers and presumably any other whatnot they might have laying around the office. You never know with this kind of thing. “Here’s a stapler just for the hell of it!,” and so on.

Please note: I don’t think you’ll actually get a stapler. You will get plenty of killer releases though, which Salt of the Earth details below. Leave a comment on this post to enter. Winner is chosen one week from today, on June 8. Good luck to all:

To celebrate the much anticipated release of CORTEZ “The Depths Below”, we would like to hook a lucky The Obelisk reader up with a killer collection of heavy ass tunes!

The whole damn complete SALT OF THE EARTH RECORDS catalog!!!

CORTEZ – “The Depths Below” (not pictured, but you still get it!)
SCISSORFIGHT – “Chaos County”
BUZZARD CANYON – “Hellfire & Whiskey”
OL’ TIME MOONSHINE -“The Apocalypse Trilogies”
WHEN THE DEADBOLT BREAKS – “Until It All Collides”

Plus from the gems from the SALT OF THE EARTH RECORDS distro vaults…

CORTEZ – “Thunder In A Forgotten Town”
SHADOW WITCH – “Sun Killer”

And of course we will also throw in some badass Stickers and Buttons too!

Don’t forget to sign up for our email list @

Remember: The Obelisk does not keep, sell or otherwise use any personal info submitted. Email addresses are gathered simply so the winner can be notified. The end. Thanks.

[TO ENTER GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment on this post with your email address in the form. You’ll be contacted at that address if you win.]

Cortez, “Walk Through Fire”

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ROADBURN 2017 Day Two: Death’s Dark Tomb

Posted in Features, Reviews on April 21st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

roadburn banner photo jj koczan

04.21.17 — 23.22 — Friday night — Hotel room

Issue #2 of the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch is available here. Get it while the PDF is hot.

Because no attendee of this festival can possibly be in two or five places at once, something with which every Roadburner must contend is the notion of self-curation. You look at the schedule and you pick your own path. I’ve said time and again that every Roadburn means hard choices, but make no mistake, Roadburn is meticulously put weirdo canyon dispatch #2together to enable those who are fortunate enough to be here to be able to find their path among one of the most packed bills in the universe.

Case in point, today was John Dyer Baizley‘s curated day. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Baroness fan. If you are, great. You certainly have plenty of company, especially here, especially this weekend. Just never been my thing. Yes, I’ve seen them. Yes, I’ve heard the records. Not my thing. My priorities, then, were inherently going to be much different today than many attendees. It was a light day for me. For many others, I very much suspect it was not. That’s cool. Like a good choose-your-adventure book, Roadburn 2017 accommodates any number of contingency plans.

Mine started early. I knew after watching them at Cul de Sac the other night (review here) that I was not done with California’s Atala. Today they opened Extase at 14.00. I left the 013 office mid-folding session and was already dragging ass as I have been the last couple days — I’ll explain why shortly — and headed around the corner to the smallest Roadburn venue, where I closed out last night with Backwoods Payback and to which I’d return twice again this afternoon and evening. Atala did pretty much the same set as the other night — reasonably so — but seeing it a second time gave me a better feel for the material that comprised it, whether it was the harshness in “Grains of Sand” and “Death’s Dark Tomb” or the textured hook of “I am Legion.”

But for the flashing strobe behind them, the Twentynine Palms residents were an easy band to watch again, drummer Jeff Tedtaotao and guitarist/vocalist Kyle Stratton both in YOB shirts while bassist Dave Horn represented Graveyard. Whatever the wardrobe, Atala were righteous again, but the light proved abrasive and hit me pretty hard, so I split after “I am Legion” and headed over to the Main Stage to catch the start of classic French mesmerproggers Magma. I was not the only person who had this idea, and like yesterday’s early headlining gigs from Crippled Black Phoenix and SubRosa, today it was Magma drawing an afternoon crowd into the big room. Soon Roadburn will just be headliners on the Main Stage. All sets headlining sets. Think it won’t happen? It’s already happening.

There was a point at which I was watching Magma, who were no less of a joy today than they were when they played in 2014 as part of the curated day helmed by Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth, and trying to imagine what it would be like for a normal person to bear witness to their set. That is to say, what does a square make of the band who for the last 40-plus years have been led by drummer Christian Vander in telling Magma (Photo by JJ Koczan)stories of the planet Kobaïa in a made-up language, who are positively orchestral on stage and so deadly serious about what they do that to insinuate otherwise could only offend band and assembled audience alike? Where I finally landed was that said hypothetical square — how that person would even get in front of a stage where Magma was playing, I don’t know, but for the sake of argument let’s say they did — would probably think they were from another planet.

So in other words, the group’s desired effect would be achieved. Whatever you’re doing, Magma, it’s still working. Keep it up, you legendary weirdos!

Before they were done, my wanderer’s soul had me headed back toward Extase to get a spot up front for Ruby the Hatchet. You know how sometimes you just get a feeling there’s a place you need to be? That was me watching the Philly-area troupe today. Not that I couldn’t see them in the States at some point, and not that I haven’t before, but especially at Roadburn you just know some bands are going to bring everything they’ve got, and the sense I had was that Ruby the Hatchet would be doing precisely that.

To absolutely toot my own horn, I was 100 percent correct in that impression. Getting underway with the new song “Planetary Space Child” from their recently-finished third album, which frontwoman Jillian Taylor announced would be out this summer on Tee Pee Records — they’d also share a cut called “Pagan Ritual” from the record and one or two others the titles of which I didn’t manage to remember when I asked the band about them later outside a cafe in Weirdo Canyon — Ruby the Hatchet completelyRuby the Hatchet (Photo by JJ Koczan) owned that stage and that room. Their organ-laced post-Uncle Acid garage-psych-doom was nothing short of a thrill to behold, and watching them play I look forward all the more to hearing how the obvious growth they’ve undertaken since the release of their 2015 sophomore album, Valley of the Snake (review here), manifested itself in the studio — because it certainly did in terms of their live presence. They were a blast; no question the most fun I could’ve been having at that moment was watching them play.

And yet, I had to bow out. Speaking of feeling like you need to be somewhere. I couldn’t rightly figure out what the problem was, but I made my way to the back of the room and decided to head back to the hotel before Joy went on. Instead of turning right, though, I turned left, and wound up directed back toward the 013. What was going on? I didn’t know. And why was it that the smell of the barbecue cooking outside the venue made me want to take my own life? And why was it that I wanted to build an altar to the French fries being served in paper cones to the eager, smiling denizens of Roadburn 2017?

Suddenly it dawned on me that today was Friday and the last time I had a meal it was Monday.

Joy (Photo by JJ Koczan)Since then it’s been nothing but protein bars and powder in coffee. I was, apparently, starving. And this was a genuine surprise for me to discover.

Well, I didn’t get barbecue and I certainly didn’t get fries — because, you know, self-denial and all that — but I did go downstairs into the basement of the 013 where the crew dinner was set up and have an arugula salad topped with some pesto-covered fresh mozzarella from a tomato dish, other shredded cheese and hot sauteed spinach. Look. I don’t know if you’ve ever felt like sauteed spinach saved your life before, but after two plates of this makeshift salad, I was pretty well convinced it had saved mine. And I was at least half-sure that shit came out of a giant can. Didn’t even care. I pounded as much as my ailing system could take and still made it back to Extase in time to catch a most-righteous pre-set drum solo from Joy‘s Thomas DiBenedetto.

One would not usually think of a drummer’s soundcheck as something earning audience response at all let alone rapturous applause, but the dude tore into it and the room was well on board — myself included. And no, it was just post-spinach euphoria on my part either, because once the rest of the San Diego three-piece was ready to roll, they were all-shred on all fronts. Guitarist/vocalist Zach Oakley punished both his whammy bar and his wah pedal thoroughly while ripping into choice leads and bassist Justin Hulson reminded me directly of the subdued presence of Anthony Meier from Radio Moscow — quiet, unassuming, and an incredibly adept player capable either of being the anchor while the guitar goes off or going off himself at a moment’s notice on a whim of winding basslines and classically rocking dynamic.

I dug Joy‘s third and most recent full-length, Ride Along (review here), plenty when it came out on Tee Pee last Spring, but like the best of the West Coast heavy psych set from Earthless on down through the Joy (Photo by JJ Koczan)aforementioned Radio MoscowMondo Drag, etc., they blew the record right out of the water with the energy and power behind their delivery. Head-spinning, really. I knew they were a band I wanted to watch today, but I didn’t know just how much I wanted to watch them until they were actually on stage handing Extase its ass like it was wrapped in a paper cone. Lesson learned.

Though today was a lighter day than yesterday in terms of what I needed/wanted to see, it did have probably my most mandatory performance of the weekend smack in the middle, which was SubRosa‘s mostly-acoustic “SubDued” set at Het Patronaat. I knew to get there early, so I scooted over from Extase as Emptiness were still pummeling the place with their blackened post-Goth and made my way toward the front in anticipation of what was to come. Sometimes in those instances one can wind up sitting in a spot for more than half an hour to watch 15 minutes of a performance before having to run off to the next thing. For SubRosa, however, I wasn’t budging. Clear my calendar! Hold all my calls! No email. No Facebook. No texts. Nothing. For a solid hour, I stood in front of the Patronaat stage and had my mind blown and my spirit lifted as SubRosa reinvented/revisited songs from their back catalog as dark, dramatic neofolk the likes of which seemed to offer nothing less than true Americana redemption.

Set of the weekend? How about set of the year? Every Roadburn brings some landmark moment — at least one — andSubRosa (Photo by JJ Koczan) for me, SubRosa‘s performance of “Mirror” was it. Lined up across the front of the stage, Rebecca Vernon led Sarah Pendleton and Kim Pack in harmonies while tapping one of Andy Patterson‘s drum sticks on the mic stand. It was gorgeous and devastating. Patterson backed on percussion, and though bassist Levi Hanna had that song off, his still-plugged-in low end gave heft to the rest of the band’s material, including set-closer “No Safe Harbor,” which with bars of light shooting down from the rig above them proved just as heavy as their runthrough of For this We Fought the Battle of Ages yesterday on the Main Stage. It was stunning. Something genuinely special. In my notes, I wrote, “How stupid I am to every do anything that’s not this. Unreal. In a way that makes reality itself the facade, while delving into its own vision of truth.” I’m not sure what that means, but give me a few years to process what I saw tonight and I’ll get back to you on it. By then I should’ve come to grips with it enough to have it make sense.

My brain duly melted, I stumbled out of the church and across the alley to the 013. I had decided I owed it to myself to check out tonight’s set from artists-in-residence Gnod, but there was still a while to go before they went on. Amenra were on the Main Stage as they were last year, and fair enough, but my interests were elsewhere. I decided to make my way back to the hotel to get a jump on dumping photos from my memory card, which seemed like an especially dangerous proposition only because there was a decent chance I wouldn’t leave again, would miss Gnod tonight and end up calling it a day at like 9PM or whatever time it was. Risky move.

Fortunately, it didn’t happen that way. I did take a brief respite, and was tempted to put my pajamas on to go see Gnod, but wound up in the Green Room still in jeans and all in time to see the dual-bass/dual-guitar UK heavy psych bizarros start their pulsating set. Ultimately, I’m not sure I owed to myself at all in the sense of having in some way earned it, but it was cool to see anyway, and as Sunday opens with a collaboration Gnod (Photo by JJ Koczan)between Gnod and Radar Men from the Moon called Temple of BBV that I’d like to see, catching the former on their own felt like a solid precursor to that. Or, at very least, a molten, liquefied precursor. It got really weird, really quickly, and clearly that’s what Gnod were going for. No regrets for being there to watch it happen, except maybe not wearing my pajamas for the occasion. That might’ve been fun.

Tomorrow’s another packed day here in Tilburg, starting with the ceremonial Weirdo Canyon Dispatch folding session bright and early, so I’ll leave it there and say thanks for reading and if you’re so inclined you can check out more pics after the jump. Bing bong.

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