Posted in Whathaveyou on April 1st, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Very interested to hear what Los Angeles desert rockers Blaak Heat Shujaa come up with for their next album. Their second record and first full-length on Tee Pee, The Edge of an Era (review here), is just about two years old at this point, and with their having recently switched out bassists, bringing on board Tom Davies, formerly of Nebula and currently also of The Freeks, I’m expecting good things to come from the three-piece, who manage to blend technical intricacy and psychedelic vibing in a way that detracts from neither.
Their next LP, yet untitled, is currently in pre-production, which I guess is something one does when working with the likes of Matt Hyde, who’s about as “real producer” as real producers come while still retaining an understanding of the sonically weird. No word yet on a release date, but the trio have put the new instrumental track “Anatolia” to use in a band-performing-in-a-dark-room video by longtime associates Andrew Baxter and Cole Jenkins, and while I’m pretty sure the recording is live, the sound is studio-clear so it’s easy to get a feel for what they’re doing in the relatively quick four-minute track.
And as you make your way there (the video’s at the bottom of this post, if I haven’t said that yet), take special note of the fact that the announcement of the clip’s arrival comes with the band mentioned as Blaak Heat only, no Shujaa. They haven’t said anything one way or another that I’ve seen, but I can’t help but wonder if a name change isn’t in the works or if one’s already taken place. Will let you know when I know.
BLAAK HEAT unleashes new song and video, “ANATOLIA”
Los Angeles-based, American-British-French psych rockers BLAAK HEAT have released footage of a live performance for a new song, “Anatolia”. Shot at Helena Markos’s Tanz Akademie by BLAAK HEAT official filmmakers Andrew Baxter and Cole Jenkins, the video is the band’s first officially released material since 2013.
BLAAK HEAT recently announced the arrival of new bass player Tom Davies (Nebula, The Freeks) and is currently in pre-production for its new album with Grammy Award winning-producer Matt Hyde (Slayer, Deftones).
Posted in Whathaveyou on February 18th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
News today from the camp of Cali-based psych-desert rockers Blaak Heat Shujaa, who’ve announced the addition of bassist Tom Davies. Known for his work in Nebula and The Freeks, Davies replaces Antoine Morel-Vulliez and arrives as the band is making preparations to enter the studio with Matt Hyde (Slayer, Monster Magnet) to track their yet-untitled third album, which will also be the follow-up to their first Tee Pee Records LP, 2013’s The Edge of an Era (review here). Not bad timing by any means.
Davies joins Blaak Heat Shujaa drummer Michael Amster and guitarist/vocalist Thomas Bellier — also of Spindrift and Sonny Simmons‘ psychedelic backing band, Moksha Samnyasin, whose late-2014 release, Nomadic (review here), will get many more plugs before I’m through with it — in a new version of the three-piece, whose last record followed the 2012 Tee Pee EP, The Storm Generation (review here), and whose experimental bent has led them to craft longform works of natural-toned psychedelic sprawl. As that EP and The Edge of an Era were recorded by Scott Reeder, whose heavy rock pedigree in Kyuss, The Obsessed, Goatsnake and most recently Fireball Ministry precedes him, one wonders what might come of sessions with Matt Hyde, who, yeah, has a Grammy under his belt (for a Jonny Lang record), but is much more known for more straightforward, commercial styles of sound.
Time will tell. No solid release date yet for the album (they might want to record it first; that’s fair), but here’s the announcement of Davies‘ entry into the band:
Psych rockers Blaak Heat Shujaa announce new album, new bass player Tom Davies (Nebula)
British bass player Tom Davies has joined the ranks of Los Angeles-based, Paris-born psychedelic rock trio Blaak Heat Shujaa. Know for his tenure with heavy psych mavericks Nebula (Sub Pop, TeePee Records), Davies is also active in The Freeks and LANTVRN.
Blaak Heat Shujaa have started pre-production on their third, full-length album. Grammy-winning producer Matt Hyde (Slayer, Deftones, Monster Magnet) will produce what is expected to be the finest collection yet of Blaak Heat’s signature pieces, a magical and unequaled blend of reverb rock, middle-eastern riffs and heavy psychedelia.
Posted in Whathaveyou on October 6th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Could probably count on three fingers the number of posts that have gone up in the last five-plus years that had much more to do with jazz than a vague influence via prog, but the upcoming Nomadic from Oakland, CA-based alto saxophonist/English horner Sonny Simmons sounds like an interesting project anyway, and incorporates a few familiar heads in Thomas Bellier of Blaak Heat Shujaa and Abrahma‘s Seb Bismuth. They make up two-thirds of Simmons‘ backing band, Moksha Samnyasin, with Michel Kristof of Other Matter rounding out.
The four have been working together for a few years now, so should be interesting to hear how the LP trips out when Svart issues it come late November. Until then, to the PR wire:
Free jazz legend SONNY SIMMONS to release new heavy psych experimentation on SVART
Today, Svart Records sets November 28th as the international release date for Nomadic, the latest psychedelic exploration of free jazz legend Sonny Simmons. At 82 years old, Simmons has joined forces with Moksha Samnyasin, a bass/drums/sitar trio consisting of French musicians Thomas Bellier (Spindrift, Blaak Heat Shujaa), Sebastien Bismuth (Abrahma), and Michel Kristof (Other matter).
Nomadic stands at the peak of Sonny Simmons’ quest for Middle-Eastern, psychedelic sonorities, the latest sonic accomplishment of a career spanning seven decades, during which Simmons has investigated and deconstructed every form of mind-expansive music. Moksha Samnyasin lays a heavy, vibrant, and improvised foundation that gives Simmons’ alto sax and English horn the space to explore the sonic spectrum and push the boundaries of conventional psychedelia. Unfolding visions of the Far East, hinting at the minimalism of free jazz, the result is a peyote-laced Bitches Brew making way for a brand-new form of “jazz fusion.” Recorded between Paris and New York, the album was mastered by Grammy Award-winning producer Matt Hyde (Slayer, Deftones).
One of the last originators and godfathers of 1950s free jazz alive, Sonny Simmons’ explosive sound was revealed to the public by Sonny Rollins, Eric Dolphy, and John Coltrane. Bridging the gap between the West Coast and the East Coast, Oakland (where he was raised) and Woodstock (where he co-founded an artist commune in 1968), he recorded for the visionary ESP label in the 1960s, rehearsed with Hendrix (the neighbor next door…), and relentlessly pushed the limits. Re-launched by Quincy Jones on Warner in the 1990s, while maintaining a high profile within jazz circles, Simmons’ interest in the newest electric and electronic experimentation continues to support his timeless reputation.
Nomadic features striking original artwork by renowned artist Tokyo Ayoama. The album will be released on CD, vinyl LP, and digital formats. Cover and tracklisting are as follows:
Tracklisting for Sonny Simmons & Moksha Samnyasin’s Nomadic 1. Help Them Through This World 2. We Are Entering The Place Of That 3. I Put It In A Dark Area Where I Don’t Remember No More 4. When It Comes, I Don’t Fight It
First thing, let me give the immediate and familiar disclaimer: This isn’t everything. If I wanted to call this list “The ONLY 10 Album Covers that Kicked Ass in 2013,” I would. I didn’t do that, because there were way more than 10 covers that resonated when I saw them this year. The idea here is just to check out a few artists’ work that really stuck out as memorable throughout the year and really fit with the music it was complementing and representing.
As always, you can click the images below to enlarge them for a more detailed look.
The list runs alphabetically by band. Thanks in advance for reading:
Like Nick Keller‘s cover for New Zealand heavy plunderers Beastwars‘ 2011 self-titled debut (review here), the darker, moodier oil and canvas piece that became the front of Blood Becomes Fire(review here) created a sense of something truly massive and otherworldly. A huge skull with sci-fi themes and barren landscape brought to it foreboding memento mori that seemed to suggest even land can die. It was an excellent match for the brooding tension in the album itself.
The level of detail in Arrache-toi un oeil‘s cover for Blaak Heat Shujaa‘s full-length Tee Pee Records debut, The Edge of an Era(review here), would probably be enough for it to make this list anyway, but the Belgium-based art duo seemed thematically to bring out the swirl, chaos and underlying order within the Los Angeles trio’s desert psychedelia. Blue was for the vinyl edition, brown for the CD digipak (both were revealed here), but in either format it was a reminder of how much visual art can add to a musical medium.
Black Pyramid, Adversarial
Cover by Eli Wood.
I look at the Eli Wood cover for Black Pyramid‘s Adversarial(review here) as representing the task before the band in putting out their third LP. Released by Hydro-Phonic, the album found Black Pyramid coming head to head with both their audience’s expectations of what they were in their original lineup and their own will to move past that and become something else. If there was a second panel to the cover, it would show the arrow-shot warrior standing next to the severed head of the demon he slayed. Easily one of my favorite covers of the year. The scale of it begged for a larger format even than vinyl could provide.
It was such a weird record, with the interludes and the bizarre twists, that Samantha Allen‘s cover piece for Ice Dragon‘s Born a Heavy Morning (review here) almost couldn’t help but encompass it. The direct, but slightly off-center stare of the owl immediately catches the eye, but we see the titular morning sunshine as well, the human hand with distinct palm lines, illuminati eye and other symbols — are the planets? Bubbles? I don’t know, but since Born a Heavy Morningwas such an engrossing listening experience, to have the visual side follow suit made it all the richer.
Kings Destroy, A Time of Hunting
Cover by Aidrian O’Connor.
In Magyar mythology, the bird-god Turul is perched atop the tree of life and is a symbol of power. With its theme in geometry, Aidrian O’Connor‘s cover piece for Kings Destroy‘s ATime of Hunting — which was originally titled Turul– gave a glimpse at some of that strength, positioning the viewer as prey below a creature and sky that seem almost impossible to parse. I felt the same way the first time I put on the finished version of the Brooklyn outfit’s second offering, unspeakably complex and brazenly genre-defiant as it was.
Alexander von Wieding deserves multiple mentions for his 2013 covers for Black Thai and Small Stone labelmates Supermachine, but he always seems to save the best for his own project, Larman Clamor. The one-man-band’s third LP, Alligator Heart(review here), was a stomper for sure, but in his visual art for it, von Wieding brilliantly encapsulated the terrestrial elements (the human and reptile) as well as the unknowable spheres (rippling water, sun-baked sky) that the songs portrayed in their swampadelic blues fashion. It was one to stare at.
Similar I guess to the Beastwars cover in its looming feel and to the Black Pyramid for its scale, John Sumrow‘s art for Monster Magnet‘s Last Patrol(review here) mirrored the space-rocking stylistic turn the legendary New Jersey band made in their sound, taking their iconic Bullgod mascot and giving it a cosmic presence, put to scale with the rocketship on the right side. It stares out mean from the swirl and regards the ship with no less a watchful eye than Dave Wyndorf‘s lyrics seem to have on society as a whole.
There’s a mania to Orion Landau’s cover for Red Fang‘s third album, Whales and Leeches, and while the songs that comprise the record are more clearly structured, the collage itself, the face it makes when viewed from a distance, and the (from what I’m told is brilliant) cut-out work in the physical pressing of the album, all conspired to make one of 2013’s most striking visuals. As the in-house artist for Relapse, Landau is no stranger to landmark pieces, but this was a different level of accomplishment entirely.
Fuck. Look at this fucking thing! Galaxy spiral, vagina-dentata, creepy multi-pupil eyes and a background that seems to push the eye to the middle with no hope of escape even as blues and oranges collide. Wow. Sandrider bassist JesseRoberts‘(see also The Ruby Doe) artwork for Godhead (review here) is the only cover on this list done by a member of the band in question, and though I’m sure there are many awesome examples out there, I don’t know if any can top this kind of nightmarishness. Unreal. The sheer imagination of it.
When I put together a similar list last year, it had Summoner‘s first album under the moniker, Phoenix, on it, and with their second, they went more melodic, more progressive, and showed that heaviness was about atmosphere as much as tone, and that it was a thing to be moved around rather than leaned on. The Alyssa Maucere art, dark but deceptively colorful, rested comfortably alongside the songs, with a deeply personal feel and unflinchingly forward gaze, somewhat understated on the black background, but justifying the portrayal of depth.
As I said above, there’s a lot of stuff I could’ve easily included on this list, from The Flying Eyes to Sasquatch to Black Thai to Lumbar, Samsara Blues Experiment, Goatess, At Devil Dirt and others. Hopefully though, this gives a sampling of some people who are doing cool work in an under-represented aspect of underground creativity.
If I left anything out or there was a cover that really stuck with you that I didn’t mention, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
Posted in Reviews on November 19th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Since the time change, it’s been getting dark at around 5PM, which means that as I made my way out west on the Masspike to Florence to see Blaak Heat Shujaa and Mirror Queen at the pleasantly-named JJ’s Tavern, it was too dark to enjoy the late-fall scenery. Too bad, as that’s some good forest. Anyone interested in demographic study might do well to take a look at how hardcore did so well up here in the ’90s instead of black metal. I’d suspect it has to do with socioeconomic factors — a hardcore 7″ is cheap and Norwegian LPs would’ve meant paying import prices; with its roots in zealotry, Massachusetts maintains a healthy love of its working class foundations — but from the bare branches to the legacy of witch burnings, it seems like someone would’ve put some corpsepaint on by now and given the misty Pacific Northwest a run for its money. So it goes.
I had time to consider these things on the drive to Florence (my grandmother’s name) and JJ’s Tavern (my name), which was a solid two hours. Both bands would be in Providence, Rhode Island, the next night, which is only half as far away, but I had other obligations and didn’t want to miss Blaak Heat Shujaa, who were making an overdue first appearance on the Eastern Seaboard in support of their sophomore full-length and Tee Pee long-play debut, The Edge of an Era(review here). The young desert rock trio from Los Angeles via Paris were partnered up for the excursion with NYC labelmates Mirror Queen, whose own style of grooving has become familiar at shows this year with The Atomic Bitchwax and Truckfighters (see here and here). There were four bands on the bill, but by the time I arrived at JJ’s, local radio rockers Odds of Eden were on as the second of four, which meant that Mirror Queen weren’t far behind.
Drummer Jeremy O’Brien was local to the area, so there was a familial contingent present in the short-ceilinged upstairs space — almost a loft, with a bar in another little room to the side and pool tables in back — as Mirror Queen got going. Lead guitarist Phi Moon and bassist James Corallo had played Brooklyn two weekends prior as members of Polygamyst, who opened for Orange Goblin at the St. Vitus bar (review here), and it hadn’t been that long anyway since I last caught Mirror Queen, so although I felt like I knew what I was getting, that didn’t make their set any less enjoyable, whether it was the Cream-y riffing of “Scaffold of the Skies” or the catchy and insistent chorus of “Vagabondage.” Guitarist/vocalistKenny Sehgal set up to the far right-side of the stage, and Moon and Corallo had plenty of room to rock out their parts in classic fashion.
And there was a twist! I’d anticipated they’d close with the Captain Beyond cover “Mesmerization Eclipse,” as they have the last couple times I’ve seen them, but no dice. Instead, they gave a take on Iron Maiden‘s “Phantom of the Opera” for their finishing move, and it only emphasized for me how tight their jams are at this point. Sehgal and O’Brien have been playing together going back to their days as Aytobach Kreisor, whose self-titled debut was issued on Rubric Records in 2002, but with Moon‘s swaggering solos and the sheer enjoyment for playing that Corallo brings to his work on bass, Mirror Queen seem all the more solid at the base of their sonic fluidity. I’ve yet to catch a set and be bummed out, and though I’d been looking forward to a little Captain Beyond, the Maiden worked just fine in its place.
Between reviews, video premieres, track premieres, interviews, news posts and whatever else I can’t think of at the moment (it’s all here), I’ve said an awful lot about Blaak Heat Shujaa the last couple years, and I was greatly anticipating seeing them play live. The three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Thomas Bellier, bassist Antoine Morel-Vulliez and drummer Mike Amster were surprisingly loud once they got going. Considerable volume. The effect was to make their sound even fuller than on the record, and give Bellier a task in letting his effects-laden vocals cut through the tones surrounding. Those tones, it’s worth emphasizing, were gorgeous. As much of a role as Morel-Vulliez‘s bass plays in setting the mood on The Edge of an Era, live it is all the more a foundational element, and Amster‘s drumming has a vitality behind it that a studio album would be hard-pressed to convey. Everything I’ve enjoyed about the band since I caught wind of their 2010 self-titled debut (review here) was only more prevalent in their stage presentation.
That’s especially true of some of their more subdued stretches. With Amster keeping a steady intensity to his tom runs even as Morel-Vulliez and Bellier set about the purposefully meandering jams of the “The Beast” two-parter which Bellier announced as “the first side of our new record,” smirking in full awareness of just how awesome that sounds to say, there was a sense of build that came across as hypnotic in its repetitions and still consciously focused on movement forward. This made the payoff in that progression all the more of one. It was gratifying to see, not just because I enjoyed the album, but because what the album seemed to be hinting that the band could do was right there on stage at full blast. Their jamming was jazz-tight and the surf rock in Bellier‘s guitar acknowledged the roots of the desert that Blaak Heat Shujaa has adopted as their home. Whether it was “Society of Barricades” or the closing sprawl of “Land of the Freaks, Home of the Brave,” I was really, really glad to have made the trip to see them play.
My new appreciation for their songs in tow, I split out of JJ’s Tavern when Blaak Heat Shujaa were done and made my way back east along the same route I’d taken west to get there. At around 1:40AM, still an hour out, I got pulled over doing 81 in a 65 and got a ticket. 16 miles over the limit at $10 a mile had me cursing the rest of the way, but traffic violations come and go, and nights like this one leave longer impressions than dents in a checking account.
You’ll probably find your own favorite moment in Blaak Heat Shujaa‘s new video for the 11-minute “The Obscurantist Fiend (The Beast Pt. I).” Maybe it’s when the band put on creepy animal masks and stalk through the woods. Or maybe it’s seeing them talking on office phones in the cosmic shame of a corporate-dayjob. All valid choices, but for me, it’s gotta be the point where, about halfway through, our be-suited protagonist calls 9-1-1 and gets a text back from “The Beast” and all it says is “You Are Fucked.” Brilliant. It’s the best use of a cellphone in a video since Infernal Overdrive‘s “Duel,” which was a while ago at this point.
“The Obscurantist Fiend (The Beast Pt. I)” comes from Blaak Heat Shujaa‘s sophomore outing and full-length Tee Pee Records debut, The Edge of an Era(review here), and the new video was directed by Andrew Baxter and Cole Jenkins, who previously helmed the documentary web-series aired here about the recording of the album with Scott Reeder, as well as the clip for “The Revenge of the Feathered Pheasant” from the preceding The Storm Generation EP (review here). Boasting a couple different locales — first they’re in the desert, then they’re in the woods, then they’re in front of the Los Angeles skyline — and some choice free-your-mind desert rock preaching, the clip is a winner all around.
Blaak Heat Shujaa are coming east for a run of dates in support of The Edge of an Era, and you can find them swiped from the prior announcement under the video below. Enjoy:
Blaak Heat Shujaa, “The Obscurantist Fiend (The Beast Pt. I)” official video
Blaak Heat Shujaa Northeast Tour: 11/08 Glasslands, Brooklyn NY 11/09 Kung Fu Necktie, Philadelphia PA 11/10 The Pinch, Washington DC 11/11 Mojo Main, Newark DE 11/12 Brillobox, Pittsburgh PA 11/13 CFC, Montréal QC, Canada 11/14 JJ’s Tavern, Florence MA 11/15 AS220, Providence RI 11/16 Cake Shop, New York NY
Posted in Whathaveyou on October 3rd, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
I’m stoked I’ll get to see Blaak Heat Shujaa. I guess that’s what it really comes down to as regards the announcement below that the L.A.-based desert rock trio are hitting the East Coast for the first time. Yeah, it’s cool that they’re continuing to support The Edge of an Era (review here), their 2013 full-length debut on Tee Pee Records, and even cooler that they’re doing it in front of new audiences, but basically, they’re a band I’ve dug for a while now and I’m glad I’ll have the chance to watch them playing their songs live. I get jaded pretty easily, so it’s nice to just be stoked for a show every now and again.
I know some of these gigs are with Mirror Queen and that Queen Elephantine are playing the Rhode Island show, so if you in any of the areas where the tour is rolling through, make sure you check out who else is on the bill. The band sent the info for the tour down the PR wire, and I decided to toss in “Pelham Blue” from The Edge of an Era, just thankful to have an excuse to revisit Mario Lalli‘s guest spot.
We are happy to announce that heavy psychedelic trio Blaak Heat Shujaa (Los Angeles, CA) will play nine US East Coast shows this November.
After their triumphant return from a month long European tour that saw the band perform in 14 different countries alongside label-mates Spindrift, Blaak Heat Shujaa will set on their first US East Coast tour to further support their sophomore release, The Edge Of An Era (out on Tee Pee Records).
11/08 Glasslands, Brooklyn NY 11/09 Kung Fu Necktie, Philadelphia PA 11/10 The Pinch, Washington DC 11/11 Mojo Main, Newark DE 11/12 Brillobox, Pittsburgh PA 11/13 CFC, Montréal QC, Canada 11/14 JJ’s Tavern, Florence MA 11/15 AS220, Providence RI 11/16 Cake Shop, New York NY
Posted in Features on August 8th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Begun in Paris, moved first to New York and then to Los Angeles and signed to Tee Pee Records for the release of their second album, which wound up becoming an album and an EP, the story of Blaak Heat Shujaa thus far is not wanting for twists and turns. In 2010, though they were then based in France, the trio traveled to CA to record their self-titled debut (review here) with Scott Reeder (yes, that ScottReeder). By the time they returned to Reeder‘s The Sanctuary studio to put to tape what would become their late-2012 EP, The Storm Generation(review here) and their first full-length for Tee Pee, 2013’s The Edge of An Era(review here), the band would be residents, touring their now-native West Coast alongside the likes of Yawning Man and Fatso Jetson, and working live and in the studio with gonzo poet Ron Whitehead on material greatly expanded in scope and sound from that which had come before.
The creative leaps the young band have made over the last couple years are no less dramatic than the geographical changes that brought them to L.A. With a sound set to melding desert rock and European heavy psych influences captured live in its crucial moment by Reeder, Blaak Heat Shujaa show with The Edge of an Erathat they not only understand what they want to be as a band, but that they are in full command of actually becoming that thing. The trio of guitarist/vocalist Thomas Bellier, bassist Antoine Morel-Vulliez and drummer Mike Amster are able to create a swirling hook or a memorable jam seemingly at their whim, and as a result, songs like “Shadows (The Beast Pt. II)” and “Society of Barricades” leave a lasting impression with their chaos and with the open-spaced desert ambience the band brings to them. They are strikingly patient, and even in breaking up the sessions into two releases, they show a maturity of approach that many who’ve been around much longer simply don’t have.
When I spoke to Bellier, he and the band were fresh off a long European tour alongside Morricone-style rockers Spindrift, and he was in France staying with family, waiting to hitch a ride with his former bandmates in Mirror Queen as they toured with The Atomic Bitchwax and Earthless last month. In the interview that follows, he discusses how that tour went, actually playing with Spindrift, making The Edge of an Eraand The Storm Generation with Reeder and bringing in Fatso Jetson‘s Mario Lalli for the standout track “Pelham Blue,” the possibility of US touring with Blaak Heat Shujaa, side-projects and much more.
You’ll find the complete Q&A after the jump. Please enjoy.