Review & Track Premiere: BlackWater HolyLight, BlackWater HolyLight

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on February 28th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

blackwater holylight blackwater holylight

[Click play above to stream ‘Wave of Conscience’ from BlackWater HolyLight’s self-titled debut. Album is out April 6 via RidingEasy Records and available to preorder here.]

With headphone-ready psychedelic immersion, dreamscape melodicism and an approach to pop hooks so completely unafraid it’s enough to make you forget you were wondering just what the hell their moniker is all about, Portland, Oregon’s Blackwater Holylight (also stylized as BlackWater HolyLight make their self-titled debut via respected West Coast purveyor RidingEasy Records. I’ll say flat out that it’s one of the best heavy psych debut albums you’ll hear in 2018, and perhaps the finest melding of indie and heavy-fuzz impulses on a first record since Witch‘s Witch in 2006.

At least perhaps for those at some geographical remove from the crowded Portland underground, BlackWater HolyLight might strike as having come out of the blue, but with vocalist/bassist Allison Faris as the apparent driving force behind the project with crucial contributions from her bandmates guitarist/vocalist Laura Hopkins (oh the fuzz, oh the harmonies!), drummer Cat Hoch (oh the echoing crash cymbal) and synth player Sarah Mckenna (oh the fuzz-bolstering progressive flourish), they hardly sound like a “new band” at all, instead having a clarity of intent that’s almost ironic even as it underpins the tonal murk and haze of “Slow Hole,” the longest cut on BlackWater HolyLight at 6:56 and a a stonerly highlight that seems to get high and wander off from some of the more lucid (relatively speaking) fare surrounding, whether it’s the key-heavy-into-riff-heavy brook-no-refusal groove of “Sunshine” before it or the drum-led bounce of “Carry Her” after, which delves into post-Queens of the Stone Age guitar-plunge antics before fuller fuzz takes hold and the four-minute song becomes a drifting horror show — that cuts back to its verse just before staring the last minute as though the whole thing never happened which, really, who the hell knows at that point. You could convince me either way.

It would seem to be Faris‘ band across these eight tracks and 41 minutes, and fair enough for that, but as the guitar and drums roll open the harmoony-topped intro to opener “Willow,” the real story of BlacKWater HolyLight still awaits telling. Faris‘ bass creates a tension in the midsection of the song, but the second half that follows, the payoff is as much driven by the underlying key work of Mckenna as Faris‘ creative fills or the echo-drenched solo from Hopkins. Ending with some swirl, tape loop noise and laughter, immediately, “Willow” sets a multifaceted dynamic for the band to follow, and follow it they do throughout the subsequent seven tracks, bending the balance of their sound to one side or another to suit their whims and those of their already-so-cogent songcraft.

Second track “Wave of Conscience,” bringing its verse/chorus approach to the forefront along with organ an guitar interplay and one of the record’s most memorable hooks, serves as a pointed highlight and an easy source point for the Witch comparison above, though when it comes right to it, BlackWater HolyLight bring more to the proceedings in terms of melody, and when they hit into a nod-nod-nod slowdown after about two and a half minutes in, the affect is all their own, gradually picking up speed again to lead into the subtle low end beginning of “Babies,” which has a kind of playfully spooky New Wave sensibility in its pointed snare hits and chorus keyboard declinations, still complemented by a deep-running fuzz in Hopkins‘. “Babies” is both toying with femininity in heavy rock and critical, but like its predecessor, wildly catchy and even more fun. No surprise then that with the subsequent “Paranoia,” the mood shifts to more brooding shoe-haze, a linear build that plays out over the course of an efficient four minutes and closes out side A with due wash of tonal reverie and residual keyboard notes.

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Though it seems to establish such a wide breadth, “Sunshine” sill doesn’t reach the five-minute mark, an early guitar ringout foreshadowing the highlight riffing to come while the keyboard, bass and drums seem to bounce along through the first two verses as though blissfully unaware of what lurks around the corner. Soon enough that darker guitar returns and at 2:17 into its 4:51, the track turns itself over to this wall of fuzz, which unveils a standout riff for both the track and for BlackWater Holylight as a whole; the kind of riff of which Acid King would be proud. They cycle through again and end, naturally, on that riff, fading away to let slow stick clicks from Hoch begin the low-end roll and rumble of “Slow Hole,” which is singularly hypnotic compared to its surroundings.

Even as far out as closer “Jizz Witch” seems to unfold in its languid meandering, it’s got nothing on “Slow Hole,” the bass fuzz of which consumes outright while the quiet melodies echo through in a fashion that would make Mars Red Sky jealous. The ending is sudden and with an uptempo — again, almost New Wave — beat, “Carry Her” is clearly meant to snap the listener back at least nearer to reality. I’m not sure it does, even as harsher guitar feedback becomes such a key component of its hook alongside the keys/organ. A dose of purposeful weirdness echoes some of the playful aspect of “Babies,” but there’s a creepy undertone here as well, as a slowdown in the second half bridge seems like it’s about to derail the song entirely heading toward the final minute.

To BlackWater HolyLight‘s credit, it doesn’t, and they return to the verse and chorus as suddenly as they got there the first time around, fading amp noise leading into the subdued beginning of “Jizz Witch,” which one assumes is sending up modern cult rock not a minute too soon. Either way, like the bulk of the album before it, the closer is a molten and groove-heavy bit of immersive heavy psychedelia, holding a sense of structure at its core while sounding neither shy about wandering away from that nor too formulaic in the moments it does so. As a debut, the coherence of its vision is all the more impressive, and the four-piece leave no doubt that they entered into the process of songwriting with an idea in mind of what they wanted to do as a band — a mission, in other words. Though one easily could, I’ll stop short of calling that mission accomplished and instead simply hope that this is just the point of its beginning.

BlackWater HolyLight on Instagram

BlackWater HolyLight on Bandcamp

RidingEasy Records website

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audiObelisk Transmission 065

Posted in Podcasts on February 26th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

aOT65

I recognize that saying so is the cliché equivalent to writing a song with the same bassline as ‘N.I.B.,’ but if this was December and not February and the year was about to end in a couple weeks’ time, would you really be able to complain about any lack of fantastic releases? It’s been two months and before the next one is out we will have seen and heard new offerings from Corrosion of Conformity, Monster Magnet, Earthless, Fu Manchu and literally hundreds of others. It’s been as awesome as it’s been impossible to keep up with.

This new podcast follows the same model as the last one, vis-a-vis using Spotify as the medium of conveyance. You can see the playlist in the player below, and you may accordingly wonder why I’ve bothered to type it out underneath as well. It’s because streaming sites disappear even quicker than they rise to dominance, and I’m not saying The Obelisk is going to outlast Spotify or anything, but just in case, I like to keep my own records. I appreciate the indulgence on your part.

Awesome mix this time around. No real theme other than it’s new stuff I’ve been listening to a lot and digging. I very much hope you enjoy it as well. 21 tracks. About two and a half hours long.

Thanks for listening and reading:

Track details:

Artist, Track, Album, Runtime
Earthless, “Black Heaven” from Black Heaven, 8:45
Sundrifter, “Targeted” from Visitations, 4:45
Psilocibina, “Acid Jam” from LSD / Acid Jam, 7:08
Blackwater Holylight, “Sunrise” from Blackwater Holylight, 4:51
Fu Manchu, “Clone of the Universe” from Clone of the Universe, 2:57
Green Lung, “Free the Witch” from Free the Witch, 5:55
Monster Magnet, “Mindfucker” from Mindfucker, 4:59
All Souls, “Never Know” from All Souls, 5:59
Red Lama, “Perfect Strangers” from Motions, 6:47
Blackwülf, “Sinister Sides” from Sinister Sides, 4:53
Fuzz Lord, “Worlds Collide” from Fuzz Lord, 6:58
Corrosion of Conformity, “Forgive Me” from No Cross No Crown, 4:06
Apostle of Solitude, “Ruination Be Thy Name” from From Gold to Ash, 6:37
Avon, “Space Native” from Dave’s Dungeon, 4:42
Psychic Lemon, “Exit to the Death Lane” from Frequency Rhythm Distortion Delay, 8:32
The Dry Mouths, “Catalonian Cream” from When the Water Smells of Sweat, 4:34
Insect Ark, “Windless” from Marrow Hymns, 8:38
Naxatras, “You Won’t Be Left Alone” from III, 11:17
Mythic Sunship, “Into Oblivion” from Upheaval, 13:56
King Buffalo, “Repeater” from Repeater, 13:40
Hound the Wolves, “Masquerade” from Camera Obscura, 13:10

If you’re interested, you can follow me on Spotify here.

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BlackWater HolyLight to Release Self-Titled Debut April 6; Preorders up Now & New Song Streaming

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 9th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

blackwater holylight

Led by former Grandparents vocalist Allison Faris, Portland, Oregon, newcomers BlackWater HolyLight will make their self-titled debut this April via RidingEasy Records. The album rolls out weighted fuzzgaze rife with melody and psychedelic fascinations, and in songs like “Sunrise,” which you can stream below, finds a deft balance between heft of groove and spaciousness of vibe. Short version: I dig it. Long version: So far, I dig it a lot.

Some records you wait for. Some you wait for years and years and then they finally come out. Some records, on the other hand, you didn’t even know you were waiting for until you hear them. Hello, BlackWater HolyLight.

RidingEasy has preorders up for the CD and LP now. Take a listen to “Sunrise” and enjoy:

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The notion of “heavy music” is continuing to expand of late, with many intrepid artists finding new ways to incorporate the power of traditional metal into new music, but without all of its trappings. Enter Portland, OR quartet BlackWater HolyLight to further swirl musical elements into a captivating hybrid of emotional intensity. Heavy psych riffs, gothic drama, folk-rock vibes, garage-sludge and soaring melodies all collide into a satisfying whole with as much contrast as the band’s name itself.

“I wanted to experiment with my own version of what felt ‘heavy’ both sonically and emotionally,” says founder and vocalist/bassist Allison Faris. “I also wanted a band in which vulnerability of any form could be celebrated.” BlackWater HolyLight — Faris, guitarist/vocalist Laura Hopkins, drummer Cat Hoch and synth player Sarah Mckenna — formed upon the breakup of Faris’ longtime band and she sought a fresh start. “In my last band I was the only female in a group of 6, so I wanted to see how my song writing and vulnerability could glow taking the drivers seat and working with women.”

The band’s self-titled debut begins with a simple, almost grunge-like riff as a chorus of voices introduce a melodic line in call-and-response until the band kicks in, slowly building into crescendo like a lost outtake from Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy. Elsewhere, “Sunrise” begins with a chorus-drenched post-punk groove until a sonic boom of heavily distorted guitar skree erupts out of nowhere. Nearly as suddenly, the song returns to its lulling core, subtly building the tension until it ruptures completely in a blast of noise. Likewise, “Carry Her” establishes a dark, sparse melody and distinctly thin sounding drums not far removed from early work of The Cure. However, BlackWater HolyLight’s penchant for surprise attack finds a sudden shift into a doom-like dirge, colored with eerie synth notes and pounding shards of fuzz. Throughout the album, their songs shirk traditional verse-chorus-verse structure in favor of fluid, serpentine compositions that move with commanding grace. The band expertly, yet subconsciously, incorporates hints of Chelsea Wolfe, Celebration, Captain Beefheart, The Raincoats, The Stooges, Pink Floyd, Jane’s Addiction and more to form their unique brand of dark’n’heavy transcendence.

BlackWater HolyLight was recorded by Cameron Speice at Gold Brick Studios and The Greenhouse, and with Eric Crespo at Touch Tourcher Recording in Portland. The album will be available on LP, CD and download April 6th, 2018 via RidingEasy Records. Preorders are available for LP & CD at www.ridingeasyrecs.com and digital at blackwaterholylight.bandcamp.com.

Artist: BlackWater HolyLight
Album: BlackWater HolyLight
Label: RidingEasy Records
Release Date: April 6th, 2018

01. Willow
02. Wave of Conscience
03. Babies
04. Paranoia
05. Sunrise
06. Slow Hole
07. Carry Her
08. Jizz Witch

instagram.com/blackwaterholylight
blackwaterholylight.bandcamp.com
ridingeasyrecs.com

Blackwater Holylight, “Sunrise”

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