Days of Rona: John Brookhouse of Worshipper

Posted in Features on April 1st, 2020 by JJ Koczan

The statistics of COVID-19 change with every news cycle, and with growing numbers, stay-at-home isolation and a near-universal disruption to society on a global scale, it is ever more important to consider the human aspect of this coronavirus. Amid the sad surrealism of living through social distancing, quarantines and bans on gatherings of groups of any size, creative professionals — artists, musicians, promoters, club owners, techs, producers, and more — are seeing an effect like nothing witnessed in the last century, and as humanity as a whole deals with this calamity, some perspective on who, what, where, when and how we’re all getting through is a needed reminder of why we’re doing so in the first place.

Thus, Days of Rona, in some attempt to help document the state of things as they are now, both so help can be asked for and given where needed, and so that when this is over it can be remembered.

Thanks to all who participate. — JJ Koczan

worshipper john brookhouse

Days of Rona: John Brookhouse of Worshipper (Salem, Massachusetts)

How are you dealing with this crisis as a band? Have you had to rework plans at all? How is everyone’s health so far?

We’re somewhat lucky in that we just did a tour with Weedeater that ended right about when everything got shut down, but NONE of the dates we did were cancelled (they were for Weedeater the day after we left). Toward the end there, it was a little stressful wondering if we should even be out there, seeing shows get cancelled left and right back home, but somehow our train kept a’rollin. So, we were able to do our shows and go home, unlike a lot of bands who just had to pack it up and go home.

Now that we’re back, I think we are all just trying to figure out what the hell is happening and how to adapt to this new reality. We really need to write a new record, and with all of this time on our hands, it seems like a great time to be creative… but, you know, it’s not just “free time.” I’m working from home (I design billboards, which, are more effective if people can leave their house) and am dealing with that adjustment. We’re dealing with something we’ve never dealt with before. Everyone is trying to figure out how to get by right now. It’s pretty stressful and not totally conducive to being creative, but, I did write one new tune so far, and I’ve played tons of guitar. We’re tossing some ideas around online. I pulled out my old lap steel and have been trying to actually learn some proper techniques and tunings with it. (I put up a couple one-minute Instagram vids of it.) It’s a diversion, mostly, but I’m hoping it will end up inspiring something for the next batch of tunes we do.

So far, we’ve only had one show on the horizon postponed (New England Stoner & Doom Fest 3). Beyond that, we have some stuff lined up in June that we are kind of waiting to see how things pan out for…

Health-wise, we’re all doing okay. When we left for the tour, I felt like I was fighting a cold, but managed to kick it by the second date. Bob and Jarvis had or contracted colds during the run. I can’t speak for them, but coming down with an illness on tour is bad enough, but getting sick during the early days of the shit hitting the fan with COVID had to be stressful. It was the kind of thing where you’d hear people cough or sniffle at clubs and you’d be on edge.

What are the quarantine/isolation rules where you are?

In Boston, pretty much everything is shut down and people are being told to stay home until April 7, but as we all know, it changes every day. I feel like it will end up being longer. I’m in Salem, and it’s weird how it seems like there are more people out walking than usual. Not necessarily being irresponsible with social distancing, but I definitely encounter more people walking around town now than I usually do, which is starting to stress me out a little, to be honest. We all need to get a little exercise and air right now, but, seriously, stay away from me.

How have you seen the virus affecting the community around you and in music?

It’s pretty heartbreaking to see the people and businesses immediately financially impacted by this. Especially music venues and my friends in the retail and service industries. I have seen a bunch of people rally and do online shows trying to raise money for the venues and places that have supported them, so in some ways, there are some great things happening now. Selfishly, I really miss just going record shopping and hitting Notch Brewing (my favorite local brewery) and not being afraid of getting within six feet of someone I see on the sidewalk. I think we all feel like there is just a giant gaping hole in our lives without being able to play shows or even just get together. BUT, we all need to do our part to slow the spread of this. Hopefully, we can all help get the scene back on its feet when we can get back to normal life, or whatever the new normal ends up being.

What is the one thing you want people to know about your situation, either as a band, or personally, or anything?

I don’t really think my situation, personally, is more unique than anyone else’s at the moment. I am doing okay, considering, and I really just want to try and help others or help shine a light on others who may need help right now. Worshipper just got to actually FINISH our tour, and we played to more people than any of our other tours, so we are thankful and lucky for that. So, we’re just going to regroup, write some songs, and try to help out our friends right now.

https://www.facebook.com/worshipperband/
https://www.instagram/worshipperband
https://worshipper.bandcamp.com/
http://teepeerecords.com

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Come to Grief Announce June Weekender; Welcome New Bassist

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 17th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

come to grief

Holding down low end for a band as heavy as Come to Grief is no minor task, and it has been taken on by Randy Larsen of Connecticut-based sludge rockers Cable, who’ll join the extreme-sludge offshoot of Grief for their set weekender in Brooklyn, Connecticut and New Hampshire at the end of June and then head into the studio with them later in the summer to track a new album which, if it comes out as we head into winter 2021 can only be an appropriate soundtrack to the lifeless wasteland society is sure to be by that point. Can’t wait. Look forward to it.

Come to Grief issued their latest EP, Pray for the End, last month, and, well, it’s got all the disdain for humanity as a whole that one could possibly ask, plus riffs. If you choose to take it on, you won’t hear anything else today more scathing, I assure you.

Good luck to us all:

come to grief shows

COME TO GRIEF – 2020

We are very pleased to announce the addition of our new bassist Randy Larsen (Cable/Slow Death)! We’ve been hard at work the past few weeks rehearsing the set, as well as making great progress on the new album, which we will be recording in August! More good news, the new line up will be hitting the road with our friends BARISHI on a short, three day run to get a few shows in with Randy prior to returning to the studio. We won’t be playing many shows this year, so we’re looking forward to seeing you all for these! We hope to see you all there!

Terry, Jonathan, Chuck, Randy, and Carl!

Come to Grief live:
June 25 – Come to Grief & Barishi at Saint Vitus Bar
June 26 – Come to Grief & Barishi in New Haven at the State House
June 27 – Come to Grief & Barishi at the Stone Church

Come to Grief are:
Terry Savastano – Guitars / Backing vocals
Jonathan Hébert – Vocals / Guitars
Chuck Conlon – Drums
Randy Larsen – Bass

https://www.facebook.com/extremesludge/
https://cometogrief.bandcamp.com/

Come to Grief, Pray for the End (2020)

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SEA, Impermanence: Awaited Cascade

Posted in Reviews on January 23rd, 2020 by JJ Koczan

SEA Impermanence (cover by Nathaniel Parker Raymond)

In the nearly five years since they released their 2015 self-titled debut EP (review here), Boston-based four-piece Sea — generally stylized all-caps: SEA — have toured Europe, and released two splits, one in 2016 with Weedwolf (discussed here) and one in 2017 with KYOTY (discussed here) — all the while working toward their inevitable debut full-length. Self-released and running five tracks and a surprisingly tidy 42 minutes considering the expansiveness involved, Impermanence is that album. Recorded in 2018 with Keith Gentile at Labyrinth Audio, mastered by Nick Twohig and topped off with suitably colorful and deep-toned artwork by Nathaniel Parker Raymond, its songs bring together elements of SubRosa-style emotive post-metal with bursts of blackened intensity, a wistfulness that seems to fight against itself emerging in the flow of tracks that show a striking amount of patience for being a debut that speaks to the conscious sense of purpose behind the music being created.

That is, on progressive terms, SEA come across as having control of what they want their sound to be, and their songwriting is built accordingly, with headphone-ready lushness of tone from guitarists Mike Blasi (also theremin) and Liz Walshak (also vocals) and bassist Stephen LoVerme (also vocals) and further texture of synth added by drummer Andrew Muro, since out of the band and replaced by the same Keith Gentile who produced. That reorganization of lineup may be part of the delay between the recording process and actually releasing the digipak CD and righteously snazzy, limited-to-100 gold-painted cassette, but there may have been other factors or delays as well, whether it was a question of a label search or a simple holdup in manufacturing.

In any case, the adage “good food takes time” would seem to apply, and one could hardly call SEA‘s efforts and the time they’ve put into crafting this material anything but correctly spent, however long it took to actually put it out. Their clarity of intent is realized in the breadth and resonant scope of their shifts, and in stretches aggressive or pastoral, they retain a balance of urgency and atmosphere that makes Impermanence all the more engrossing.

To return briefly to one point above, one generally thinks of “headphone-worthy” as a designation reserved for trans-dimensional psychedelia, and there are few clichés in any form of rock and roll more trite than “louder is better,” but the more attention to detail a listener can put into Impermanence, the more that listener is going to be rewarded for the effort, and if that takes headphones and volume to properly tune the focus, so be it. Whether it’s the interplay between LoVerme (ex-Olde Growth) and Walshak (ex-Rozamov) on vocals, throughout the love song that is second cut “Shrine” or Walshak‘s screams early in opener “Penumbra,” the placement of which at the outset of the record proves a brilliant move in terms of quickly broadening expectation on the part of the audience and setting a vast context for the rest of what follows.

The melodic arrangements have no less depth than their harsher counterparts though, and both exude a proggy reach that, in “Penumbra,” resolve in a wistful guitar line that’s familiar but not easy to place — is it Neurosis? Something more metal? It’s hard to be sure, and that ends up part of the appeal, because while one is sitting and trying to figure it out, SEA are fluidly moving into the reverence of “Shrine,” which brings LoVerme to the fore vocally backed by whispers and presents a heavy ambience not unlike the aforementioned SubRosa‘s 2016 apparent-swansong, For This We Fought the Battle of Ages. Yes, that is a compliment, and not one given lightly. The procession of “Shrine” brings duet-style melodies from Walshak and LoVerme over the steady punch of snare from Muro, a growl deep in the background circa the halfway point positioned effectively for ambience.

sea

Ending with feedback on a fade, it’s the drums that start centerpiece “Ashes,” which brings further layered lyrical poetry over its subdued beginning and gradually unfolds to a weighted post-rock before the blastbeats kick in and Blasi and Walshak‘s guitars present a run of Alcest-worthy echoing squigglies, soon enough hitting a point of receding as the mellow cycle would seem to begin anew. Spoken and sung lines are woven together as “Ashes” works toward its shout-topped apex, giving ground to the four-minute interlude “Ascend” ahead of closer “Dust.”

The final movement of Impermanence is crucial. On the tape — and presumably the case would be the same on vinyl — “Ascend” and “Dust” stand alone on side two, and as the latter runs 13:32 and is far and away the longest inclusion on the record, with the instrumental, noisy experimentalism of “Ascend” leading directly into it, that’s fair enough. Of course, the interlude is just that — a shift putting the listener from one place to another on the longer course of the album — but its hypnotic aspects aren’t to be discounted, and it does fall back to silence before the steady lead-in from Muro begins “Dust” in earnest, soon joined by LoVerme‘s bass, and, eventually, the guitar. A full heft is brought to bear soon enough as the guitars arrive, and they’re not two minutes in before they’ve built up to a point of blasting away.

A key difference is in how those typically black metal elements are brought into the fold of SEA‘s post-metal style. As guttural shouts echo out over the still-early-going of “Dust” ahead of a turn to quiet guitar and more folkish melodies, setting in motion a build that the second half of the song will pay off in a wash of doom riffing, outward-directed guitar leads, and richly-conceptualized progression unfurling, the notion of the closer acting as a summary of the record on which it appears is very much a factor, but SEA are still pushing toward new ground as well, rhythmically and melodically.

Perhaps that too is a summary of the mindset driving the album and indeed the band overall, since as well directed as they are in terms of the flow in and between their songs and the construction of the material here, they never stop showcasing that will to find some nuance or melody yet uncovered. In terms of forward potential, that ethos speaks volumes — and the fact that it was recorded two years ago would seem to hint toward growth that’s likely already taken place — but one shouldn’t take Impermanence as simply a look at what SEA might become at the expense of appreciating what they’ve already accomplished. In ways most first albums could never hope for, its spaciousness and density work in tandem, and even its most purposefully ugly moments are gorgeous.

SEA, Impermanence

SEA on Thee Facebooks

SEA on Instagram

SEA on Bandcamp

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Kind Begin Recording New Album

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 14th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

This past weekend, Boston four-piece Kind entered Mad Oak Studios to begin recording their second album. The heavy psychedelic rockers tracked music for seven songs for the yet-untitled follow-up to their 2015 Ripple Music debut, Rocket Science (review here), and vocals for three.

Details on the record are sparse at this point, as they would be, but included will be new songs “Bad Friend” and “Trigger Happy,” the latter of which guitarist Darryl Shepard singles out as being especially doomed in its sound in contrast to some of the more psych and space rocking fare of the prior outing. Shepard, who in the intervening years since Rocket Science has also worked with Test Meat on several releases and his own experimental outfit Blackwolfgoat on last year’s Giving Up Feels So Good (review here), is just one of the members of Kind who’s kept busy in the interim. Bassist Tom Corino, also of Rozamov, released that band’s debut, This Mortal Road (review here), in 2017 and followed it with a live offering. Drummer Matt Couto, though he’s now left Elder, toured copiously with them and issued Reflections of a Floating World (review here) also in 2017, and vocalist Craig Riggs last year fronted Roadsaw on a long awaited new album, Tinnitus the Night (review here). So if you’re wondering why it’s taken Kind five years to get a new album going, there you have it.

The band is working with producer Alec Rodriguez at Mad Oak and will look to finish the recording process soon, then on to mixing, mastering and the eventual release. I’m not sure if Ripple will be putting it out or what, but even putting aside the pedigree of the group as much as such a thing is possible, it’s hard to imagine that based on Rocket Science alone they wouldn’t have any number of potential allies among labels. Who the hell wouldn’t want their logo on that?

Squares. That’s who.

Shepard was kind enough to take a few minutes and give a quick update on the proceedings and send a few studio pics, and you’ll find that below, along with the stream of Rocket Science if you’d like a refresher.

Dig:

kind studio

Darryl Shepard studio update:

So we finished up the music for 7 songs, it’s definitely over 40 minutes long, not sure of the exact length. Craig has been battling an ear infection of some sort so he wasn’t feeling well at all on Friday but he rallied and [Sunday] he sang three songs. We should finish up the vocals and some synth stuff soon. It’s sounding really good so far. Not sure when vocals will be finished but hopefully within a week or so. I think this album is a good continuation of Rocket Science but there’s some new sounding stuff on it for us too.

Kind is:
Matthew Couto – drums
Tom Corino – bass
Craig Riggs – vocals
Darryl Shepard – guitar

https://www.facebook.com/KINDtheband/
https://www.instagram.com/therockbandkind/
https://ripplemusic.bandcamp.com/album/rocket-science

Kind, Rocket Science (2015)

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Quarterly Review: Alcest, Superchief, Test Meat, Stones of Babylon, Nightstalker, Lewis & the Strange Magics, Room 101, Albatross Overdrive, Cloud Cruiser, The Spiral Electric

Posted in Reviews on January 8th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

quarterly review

Welcome to Day Three of The Obelisk’s Winter 2020 Quarterly Review. It’s gonna be kind of a wild one. There’s a lot going on across this batch of 10 records, and it gets kind of weird — also, it doesn’t — so sit tight. It’ll be fun either way. At least I hope so. I’ll let you know when I’m finished writing. Ha.

Today we pass the halfway point on the road to 50 reviews by Friday. I think I’m feeling alright up to this point. It’s been a crunch behind the scenes, but it usually is and I’ve done this plenty of times now, so it’s not so bad. I always hold my breath before getting started, but once I’m in it, I rarely feel anymore overwhelmed than I might on any other given day. Which is still plenty, but you know, you make it work.

So let’s do that.

Quarterly Review #21-30:

Alcest, Spiritual Instinct

alcest spiritual instinct

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the label’s modus in this regard as it’s picked up bands from the heavy underground over the last eight to 10 years — arguably a movement that began with Graveyard in 2012 — but Parisian post-black metal innovators Alcest make something of an aesthetic shift with their first outing for Nuclear Blast, Spiritual Instinct. Melody, of course, remains central to their purposes, but in the nine-minute side B opener “L’Île des Morts” as in its side A counterpart “Les Jardins de Minuit,” the subsequent “Protection” and “Sapphire” and even in the crescendo — glorious wash as it is — of the closing title-track, one can hear a sharper, decidedly metallic edge to the guitar and impact of the drums. That’s a turn from 2016’s Kodama (review here), which offered more of a conceptual progressivism, and of course the prior 2014 LP, Shelter (review here), which cast of metallic trappings almost entirely. Why the change? Who cares, it works, and they still have room for the cinematic keyboard-led drama of “Le Miroir” and plenty of the wistful emotionalism that’s been their hallmark since their debut in 2007. They’ve long since mastered their approach and Spiritual Instinct serves as another example of their being able to make their sound do whatever they want.

Alcest on Thee Facebooks

Nuclear Blast webstore

 

Superchief, Moontower

superchief moontower

Four records and just about a decade deep into a tenure that began with the 2010 Rock Music EP (review here), Iowa heavy rockers Superchief have found ways to bring an inventiveness to what’s still an ostensibly straightforward approach. Moontower, named for a lookout point where — at least presuming from the album’s artwork — people tailgate and get drunk, finds the dudely five-piece no less embroiled in burl than they’ve ever been, but using samples and other elements in interesting ways as with the revving motor matching step with the drums at the start of “Barking Out at the Blood Moon” or keyboards in “Rock ‘n’ Roll War” filling out the breaks where the riffs take a step back. Handclaps early in “Beer Me Motherfucker” — as much post-“Introduction” mission statement for the LP as a whole as anything — set the party tone, and from the shaker on “The Approach” to the Southern tinged shred and organ on closer “Priority of the Summer,” a car speeding by at the finish, Superchief find ways to make each of their songs stand out from its surroundings. Then they pair that with choice riffery, pro-shop sound and hooks. Sure enough, it’s once again a winning formula and a distinct showing of personality and craft that still comports with classic heavy style.

Superchief website

Superchief on Bandcamp

 

Test Meat, Enjoy

test meat enjoy

Boston duo Test Meat are so utterly bullshit-free as to be almost intimidating. Guitarist/vocalist Darryl Shepard (Kind, Blackwolfgoat, Hackman, Milligram, etc.) and drummer Michael Nashawaty (Planetoid) dig into heavy grunge and noise rock influences across a 10-track/27-minute full-length that resounds with punker roots and an ethic of willful straightforwardness. It’s not that the music is so intense there would be no room for frills, it’s that the structures are so tight and so purposefully barebones that they’d be incongruous. And it’s not that Test Meat are writing half-hearted songs, either. Frankly, neither the quality of their material nor the sharpness of the sound they captured at New Alliance Studio with Alec Rodriguez would remotely lead one to believe so, and nothing with such stylistic clarity happens by mistake. This is a band with a mission, and Enjoy finds them bringing that mission to life with a complete lack of pretense. It’s a reminder of what made grunge so appealing in the first place some 30 years and an entire internet ago. Songs and performance. Yes.

Test Meat on Thee Facebooks

Test Meat on Bandcamp

 

Stones of Babylon, Hanging Gardens

Stones of Babylon Hanging Gardens

Following a 2018 live demo, Portuguese instrumental three-piece Stones of Babylon — guitarist Rui Belchior, bassist João Medeiros, drummer Pedro Branco — embark with a conceptualist intent on their debut full-length, Hanging Gardens, issued through Raging Planet. An opening sample in the leadoff title-track describing the hanging gardens of Babylon sets the stage for what the band goes on to describe with wordless atmospheres over the five-song/47-minute long-player, their vision of heavy psychedelia touched with a suitable Middle Eastern/North African influence in the initial unfolding of the meditative 11-minute “Coffea Arabica” or the winding lead work over the punchy low end of “Black Pig’s Secret Megalith.” But Hanging Gardens is still very much a heavy rock release, and its material showcases that in tone and mood, with volume changes and builds taking hold like that in centerpiece “Ziggurat,” which in its second half sets a march of distorted largesse nodding forth until its final crashout. They save the most drift for “Babylonia (The Deluge),” and if they’re finishing with the story of the flood, one can’t help but wonder what narrative course they might follow in a second record. On the other hand, if one comes out of Hanging Gardens trying to envision Stones of Babylon‘s future, then the debut would seem to have done its job, and so it has. There’s stylistic and tonal promise, and with the edge of storytelling, an opportunity for development of which one hopes they avail themselves.

Stones of Babylon on Thee Facebooks

Raging Planet website

 

Nightstalker, Great Hallucinations

nightstalker great hallucinations

Frontman Argy and Greek heavy rock institution Nightstalker return with their eighth album in a quarter-century run, Great Hallucinations. Also their first LP for Heavy Psych Sounds after issuing 2016’s As Above So Below (review here) on Oak Island Records, it’s an up-to-par eight-track collection of catchy tracks marked out by psychedelic elements but underpinned by traditionalist structures, Argy‘s distinctive frontman presence, and an all-around unforced feeling of a mature, established band doing what they do. Not going through the motions in the sense of fulfilling some perceived obligation to stay on the road, but creating the songs they want to create in nothing less than the manner they want to create them. I won’t take away from the roll of “Seven out of Ten,” but as “Cursed” taps into a legacy of European heavy rock that runs from Dozer‘s turn of the century work — not to mention Nightstalker‘s own — to outfits today, it’s hard not to appreciate an act being so assured in what they do in terms of execution while actually doing it. In that way, Great Hallucinations is as refreshing as it is familiar.

Nighstalker on Thee Facebooks

Heavy Psych Sounds website

 

Lewis and the Strange Magics, Melvin’s Holiday

Lewis and the Strange Magics Melvins Holiday

From their beginnings in garage doom and subsequent dive into exploitation/vamp psych, Barcelona’s Lewis and the Strange Magics put themselves in even weirder territory on their third album, Melvin’s Holiday, centering a story around the titular character whose life is in turmoil and so he goes on vacation. The sound of the band seems to do likewise, veering into ’70s lounge sleaze and island influences, toying with funky rhythms and keyboards amid catchy choruses across what still would have to be called an experimental 34-minute run. It is a concept album, to be sure, and one that comes through in its stylistic choices like the dreamy keyboards of the centerpiece “Carpet Sun” or the fuzzy stomp in “Sad in Paradise” and the percussion amid the Ween-sounding lead guitar buzz of “Lounge Decadence.” This could be Lewis and the Strange Magics working purposefully to cast off any and all expectation that might be placed on them, or it could just be a one-off whim, but there’s no question they pull off an impressive turn and carry the concept through in story and substance. When it comes to what they might do next time, the payoff of closer “Afternoon on the Sand” serves as one more demonstration that the band can do whatever the hell they want with their sound, so I’d expect them to do no less than precisely that.

Lewis and the Strange Magics on Thee Facebooks

Lewis and the Strange Magics on Bandcamp

 

Room 101, The Burden

room 101 the burden

The debut EP from Lansing, Michigan, four-piece Room 101, called simply The Burden, would seem to take a scorched-earth approach to atmospheric sludge, setting their balance to exploring ambient textures and samples in pieces like “You Will Never Know Security” — which, sure enough, samples 1984 to recount the origin of the band’s name — and the brief “A Place to Bury Strangers,” while the churning “As the Crow Flies” and “Missing Rope” present an outright extremity that comes through in post-Godflesh vocal barks and a Through Silver in Blood-style intensity of churn and general approach. Yet I wouldn’t necessarily call Room 101 post-metal — at least not here. The solo on “Missing Rope” seems to draw from more traditional sources, and the manner in which the chugging in “Plague Dogs” caps with a sudden quick series of hits recalls grindcore’s pivoting brutality. One might hope all of these elements get fleshed out more over subsequent releases, but as a first outing, part of The Burden‘s promise is also drawn from the sheer rawness of its impact and the lack of compromise in its wrench of gut.

Room 101 on Thee Facebooks

Room 101 on Bandcamp

 

Abatross Overdrive, Ascendant

albatross overdrive ascendant

Albatross Overdrive‘s 2016 LP, Keep it Running (review here), ran 31 minutes. Their follow-up, Ascendant, reaches to 33, but loses two tracks in the doing. Clearly, one way or the other, this is a conscious ethic on the band’s part, and it tells you something about their approach to heavy rock as well. There’s nothing too fancy about it — even in “Come Get Some,” which is the longest song the band have ever written at 6:40 — and they are not an outfit to waste their time. Structures run from verse to chorus to verse to chorus led through by guitarists Andrew Luddy and Derek Phillips and Art Campos‘ gritty delivery with an expectedly solid underpinning from bassist Mark Abshire (ex-Fu Manchu) and drummer Rodney Peralta and songs like the careening title-track and the blues-licked shover “Undecided” are enough to give the impression that anything else would be superfluous. They’re not lacking style — because ’70s-meets-’90s-straight-ahead-heavy is, indeed, a style — but it’s the level of their craft that stands them out.

Albatross Overdrive on Thee Facebooks

Albatross Overdrive on Bandcamp

 

Cloud Cruiser, I: Capacity

Cloud Cruiser I Capacity

Kyuss-style riffing takes a beating at the hands of Chicago newcomers Cloud Cruiser — who are not to be confused with Denver’s Cloud Catcher — who make their debut on vinyl through Shuga Records with I: Capacity, giving an aggressive push to what’s commonly considered a more laid back sound. In tone and rhythm and general gruffness, they are a deceptively pointed outfit, with turns of broader groove like that at the outset of “575” that speak to more influences than simply those of the Cali desert. They start off catchy and familiar-if-reshaped, though, on “Transmission” and “Glow,” letting their tale of alien abduction unfold across the lyrics while setting up the shifts that “Gone” and “575” and the thick-boogie of “Orbitalclast” will make before the EP’s would-be-clean-but-for-all-that-dirt-it’s-kicked-up 23-minute run is through. The balance they present speaks to a background in metal, though if they’re fresh arrivals in this realm of heavy, you’d never know it from the lumbering finish they present. Sometimes you just gotta get mean to get your point across. It suits

Cloud Cruiser on Thee Facebooks

Shuga Records website

 

The Spiral Electric, The Spiral Electric

the spiral electric the spiral electric

It is a progressive interpretation of fuzz ‘n’ buzz that San Francisco four-piece The Spiral Electric realize on their self-titled, self-released debut long-player, with recording and mixing by Dead Meadow‘s Steve Kille, the band — vocalist/synthesist/noisemaker/guitarist/percussionist/co-producer Clay Andrews, lead guitarist/backing vocalist Nicolas Percey, bassist Michael Summers and drummer Matias Drago — bridge the generally disparate realms of heavy psych and riffer heavy rock, giving a dreamy sensibility to “Marbles” with no less an organic vibe than they brought to the howling, attitudinal push of “No Bridge Left Unburned” earlier. They skillfully mess with the scale across the lengthy 14-track span, and thereby hold their audience for the duration in longer pieces like “The True Nature of Sacrifice” (8:24) as easily as they do in a series of three episodic interludes of noise, field recordings, synth, etc. This is a band ready, willing and able to space. the hell. out., and after listening to the record, you’d be a fool if you wanted to try. Not that they don’t have aspects to shore up or shifts that could be tightened and so on, but from ambition to fruition, it’s the kind of first record bands should aspire to make.

The Spiral Electric on Thee Facebooks

The Spiral Electric on Bandcamp

 

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Quarterly Review: Dommengang, Ice Dragon, Saint Karloff, Witch Trail, Love Gang, Firebreather, Karkara, Circle of Sighs, Floral Fauna, Vvlva

Posted in Reviews on January 7th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

quarterly review

We begin Day Two of the Winter 2020 Quarterly Review. Snow on the ground fell overnight and the day ahead looks as busy as ever. There’s barely time to stop for sips of coffee between records, but some allowances must be made. It’s Tuesday after all. There’s still a lot of week left. And if we can’t be kind to ourselves in the post-holiday comedown of wintry gray, when can we?

So yes, pause, sip — glug, more likely — then proceed.

I don’t usually play favorites with these things, but I think today’s might have worked out to be my favorite batch of the bunch. As always, I hope you find something that speaks to you.

Quarterly Review #11-20:

Dommengang, No Keys

dommengang no keys

Driving heavy psych and rock meet with spacious Americana and a suburbanite dreaminess in Dommengang‘s No Keys, the now-L.A. trio’s follow-up to 2018’s Love Jail (review here). It is a melting pot of sound, with emphasis on melting, but vocal harmonies and consistently righteous basslines like that in “Stir the Sea” act to tie the nine component tracks together, making Dommengang‘s various washes of tone ultimately the creation of a welcoming space. Early cut “Earth Blues” follows opener “Sunny Day Flooding” with a mindful far-outbound resonance, and the later “Arcularius – Burke” finds itself in a linear building pattern ahead of “Jerusalem Cricket,” which reimagines ’70s country rock as something less about nostalgia than forward possibility. Having come far on their apparently keyboard-less journey, from the breadth-casting verses of “Stir the Sea” to the doomy interlude “Blues Rot,” they end with “Happy Death (Her Blues II)” which sure as hell sounds like it has some organ on it. Either way, whether they live up to the standard of the title or not is secondary to the album’s actual achievements, which are significant, and distinguish Dommengang from would-be peers in atmosphere, craft and melody.

Dommengang on Thee Facebooks

Thrill Jockey Records on Bandcamp

 

Ice Dragon, Passage of Mind

ice dragon passage of mind

Though they don’t do it nearly as often as they did between 2012 and 2015, every now and then Boston’s Ice Dragon manage to sneak out a new release. Over the last few years, that’s been a succession of singles, but Passage of Mind is their first LP since 2015’s A Beacon on the Barrow (review here), and though they’ll always in some part be thought of as a doom band, the unassuming organic psychedelia of “Don’t Know Much but the Road” reminds more of Chris Goss‘ work with Masters of Reality in its acoustic/fuzz blend and melody. The experimentalism-prone outfit have been down this avenue before as well, and it suits them, even as members have moved on to other projects (Brass Hearse among them), with the seven-minute “One of These Days” basing itself around willfully simplistic-sounding intertwining lines of higher and lower fuzz. There are moments of serenity, like closer “Dream About You” and “Sun in My Eyes,” but “The Sound the Rain Makes” is more of a blowout, and even the darker vibe of “Delirium’s Tears” holds hits melody as top priority. Hey guess what? Here’s an Ice Dragon album that deserves more attention than it’s gotten. I think it’s the 12th one.

Ice Dragon on Thee Facebooks

Ice Dragon on Bandcamp

 

Saint Karloff, Interstellar Voodoo

Saint Karloff Interstellar Voodoo

Oslo’s Saint Karloff squash the high standard they set for themselves on their 2018 debut, All Heed the Black God (review here), with the 41-minute single-song long-player Interstellar Voodoo, basking in bluesy Sabbathian grandeur and keeping a spirit of progressive adventuring beneath without giving over entirely to self-indulgent impulses any more than one could as they careen from one movement to the next in the multi-stage work. With vinyl through Majestic Mountain Records, tape on Stoner Witch Records and CD through Ozium Records, they’re nothing if not well represented, and rightly so, as they veer in and out of psychedelic terrain in exciting and periodically elephantine fashion, still making room for classic Scandi-folk boogie on side A before the second half of the track stomps all over everything that’s come before it en route to its own organ-laced jammy meandering, Iommi shuffle and circa-’74 howl. As a new generation of doom rock begins to take shape, Saint Karloff position themselves well as earlier pursuers of an individualist spirit while still drawing of course on classic sources of inspiration. The first record was encouraging. The second is more so. The third will be the real tell of who they are as a band.

Saint Karloff on Thee Facebooks

Majestic Mountain Records webstore

 

Witch Trail, The Sun Has Left the Hill

witch trail the sun has left the hill

The jangling guitar strum in centerpiece “Lucid” on Witch Trail‘s The Sun Has Left the Hill (Consouling Sounds) has the indelible mark of classic rock and roll freedom to it. One wonders if Pete Townshend would recognize it, or if it’s too far blasted into oblivion by the Belgian trio’s aesthetic treatment across The Sun Has Left the Hill‘s convention-challenging 29-minute span, comprising seven tracks that bring together a heavy alternative rock and post-black metal vision marked by spacious echoes and cavern screams that are likewise tortured and self-assured. That is to say, there’s no mistaking the intent here. In the early intensity of “Watcher” or the shimmering and more patiently unfolding “Silent Running,” the Ghent three-piece mark out their stylistic terrain between bursts of noisy chaotic wash and clearheaded execution. The six-minute “Afloat” hisses like a lost demo that would’ve rewritten genre history some 25 years ago, and even in closer “Residue,” one can’t help but feel like Witch Trail are indeed looking to leave some lasting effect behind them with such forward-thinking craft. Sure to be a shock for those who take it on with no idea of what to expect.

Witch Trail on Thee Facebooks

Consouling Sounds website

 

Love Gang, Dead Man’s Game

love gang dead mans game

Shortly before Love Gang are halfway through the opening title-track of their debut album, Dead Man’s Game, just when you think you might have their blend of organ-laced Radio Moscow and Motörhead figured out, that’s when Leo Muñoz breaks out the flute and the whole thing takes a turn for the unexpected. Surprises abound from the Denver foursome of Muñoz (who also handles organ and sax), guitarist/vocalist Kam Wentworth, bassist Grady O’Donnell and drummer Shaun Goodwin, who find room for psychedelic airiness amidst the gallop of “Addiction,” which doesn’t seem coincidentally paired with “Break Free,” though the two don’t run together. Love Gang‘s 2016 self-titled EP (review here) had a cleaner production and less aggro throb, and there’s some of that on Dead Man’s Game in the peaceful melody of “Interlude,” but even seven-minute closer “Endless Road” makes a point of finishing at a rush, and that’s ultimately what defines the album. No complaints. Love Gang wield momentum as another element of inventive arrangement on this encouraging first long-player.

Love Gang on Thee Facebooks

Love Gang on Thee Facebooks

 

Firebreather, Under a Blood Moon

firebreather under a blood moon

‘Tis the stuff of battle axes and severed limbs, but it’s worth noting that three of the six inclusions on Firebreather‘s second LP and first for RidingEasy Records, Under a Blood Moon, have some reference to fire in their title. The follow-up to their brazen 2017 self-titled debut (review here) starts with its longest track (immediate points) in the nine-minute “Dancing Flames,” then follows immediately with “Our Souls, They Burn” and launches side B with the eponymous “Firebreather,” as the Gothenburg trio of Mattias Nööjd, Kyle Pitcher and Axel Wittbeck launch their riffy, destructive assault with urgency that earns all that scarred land left in its wake. The High on Fire comparison remains inevitable, perhaps most of all on “Firebreather” itself, but Firebreather have grown thicker in tone, meaner in approach and do nothing to shy away from the largesse that such a sound might let them convey, as “Our Souls, They Burn” and in the volume surges of closer “The Siren.” Under a Blood Moon is a definite forward step from the first LP, showing an evolving sound and burgeoning individuality that one hopes Firebreather continue to hunt down with such vigilance.

Firebreather on Thee Facebooks

RidingEasy Records on Bandcamp

 

Karkara, Crystal Gazer

karkara crystal gazer

Presented through Stolen Body Records, the debut long-player from French trio Karkara purports to be “Oriental psych rock,” which accounts for an Eastern influence in the overall sound of its seven-track/41-minute run, but there are perhaps some geographical questions to be undertaken there, as “Camel Rider” and others show a distinctive Mideastern flair. Whatever works, I guess. At its core, Crystal Gazer is a work of psychedelic space rock, brought to bear with a duly open sensibility by guitarist/vocalist Karim Rihani (also didgeridoo), bassist Hugo Olive and drummer/vocalist Maxime Marouani as seemingly the beginning stages of a broader sonic adventure. That is to say, the stylistic aspects at play here — and they are very much “at play” — feel purposefully used, but like the foundation of what will be future growth on the part of Karkara as a unit. Will they progress along a more patient and meditative path, as “The Way” hints in some of its early roll, or will the frenetic winding of closer “Jedid” set their course for subsequent freakouts? I don’t know, but Karkara strike as a band who won’t see any point to standing still creatively any more than they do to doing so rhythmically.

Karkara on Thee Facebooks

Stolen Body Records website

 

Circle of Sighs, Desolate

circle of sighs desolate

Information is limited on Circle of Sighs, and by that I primarily mean I don’t have any. They list their point of origin as Los Angeles, so there’s that, but as to the whos and whats, wheres and so on, it’s a mystery. Something tells me that suits the band, whose four-track debut EP, Desolate, gracefully executes a blend of melodic downerism with more extreme elements at play, melodic vocal arrangements offset by screams in the closing title-track after the prior rolling groove of “Burden of the Flesh” offered a progressive and synth-laden take on Pallbearer-style emotive doom. Acoustics, keyboard, and a clear use of multiple singers give Circle of Sighs‘ first outing a kitchen-sink feel, but one can only admire them for trying something new at their (presumed) outset, and the catchy chug of “Hold Me, Lucifer” speaks to more complex aesthetic origins than the simplistic subject matter might lead one to believe. The outlier is the penultimate nine-minute cut “Kukeri,” which broods across its first three minutes in a manner that would make Patrick Walker proud before unfolding the breadth of its lumber and arrangement, harmonies and screams and the first real showcase of more extreme impulses taking hold in its second half — plus strings, maybe — which “Desolate” itself will build upon after a bookending acoustic close. There’s some sorting out to do in terms of sound, but already they show a readiness to push in their own direction, and that’s more than it would seem reasonable to ask.

Circle of Sighs on Thee Facebooks

Circle of Sighs on Bandcamp

 

Floral Fauna, Pink and Blue

floral fauna pink and blue

Way out west, Chris Allison of the band Lord Loud is taking on psychedelic shimmer under the ostensible solo moniker of Floral Fauna, but the situation of the project’s 11-tracker debut LP, Pink and Blue is more complicated in personnel and style than that, melding fuzzy presence, classic ’60s surf-tone, rampant hooky melody and ready-to-go-anywhere-as-long-as-it-works pop experimentalism together in a steaming lysergic cauldron of neo-yourface-ism that’s ether blissed enough to tie funk and ancient R&B to cosmic flow together in a manner that feels like an utter tossoff, like, hey, yeah man, this kind of thing just happens all the time here. You know, no big deal on this wavelength. Mellow dreams in “Great White Silence,” a spacey ramble in “Velvet and Jade” and the echoing leadwork of “Red Anxiety” continue the color theme from the opening title-track, and the record caps with “Herds of Jellyfish,” which at last brings forward the vocal harmony that the whole album seems to have been begging for. Cool debut? Shit, man. It’s 36 minutes of straight-up psych joy just waiting to bring you on board. Legal psilocybin now.

Floral Fauna on Thee Facebooks

King Volume Records on Bandcamp

 

Vvlva, Silhouettes

vvlva silhouettes

There are a couple things you can figure on in this wacky universe, and one of them is that German imprint World in Sound knows what it’s doing when it picks up a classic heavy rock band. Silhouettes is the second long-player the label has released from woefully-monikered Aschaffenburg-based four-piece Vvlva, and indeed in the upfront boogie of “Cosmic Pilgrim” or the more progressive unfolding of pieces like “Tales Told by a Gray Man,” the centerpiece “Gomorrah,” or the longer “Night by Night/The Choir” and “Dance of the Heathens,” which seem to bring the two sides together, there’s enough vintage influence to make the case once again. Like the more forward thinking of their contemporaries, Vvlva have brought this modus into the present when it comes to production value and clarity, and rather than sound like it’s 1973, they would seem to be making 1973 sound like them. Whether one dives in for the early hooks in “Cosmic Pilgrim” or “What Do I Stand For?” or the fuzzy interplay between the solo and organ in the maddeningly bouncing “Hobos,” there’s plenty in Silhouettes to demonstrate the vitality and continued evolution of the style.

Vvlva on Thee Facebooks

World in Sound website

 

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Quarterly Review: Mos Generator, Psychic Lemon, Planet of Zeus, Brass Hearse, Mother Turtle, The Legendary Flower Punk, Slow, OKO, Vug, Ultracombo

Posted in Reviews on January 6th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

quarterly review

I’d like to hope y’all know the drill by now. It’s the Quarterly Review. We do it (roughly) every quarter. The idea is 10 reviews per day for a Monday to Friday span, running 50 total. I sometimes do more. Sometimes not. Kind of depends on the barrage and how poorly I’ve been doing in general with keeping up on stuff. This time is ‘just’ 50, so there you go. You’ll see some bigger names this week and some stuff that’s come my way of late that I’ve been digging and wanting to check out. It’s a lot of rock, which I like, and a few things I’m writing about basically as a favor to myself because, you know, self-care and all that.

But staring down the barrel of 50 reviews over the next few days has me as apprehensive and how-the-hell-is-this-gonna-happen as ever, so I think I’ll just get to it and jump in. No time to waste.

Quarterly Review #1-10:

Mos Generator, Exiles

mos generator exiles

Worth it just for the Sabbath cover? Most definitely. As Mos Generator take on “Air Dance” from Never Say Die as part of the Glory or Death Records LP compilation release, Exiles, they blend the proggy swagger of later-’70s Iommi leads with the baseline acoustic guitar fluidity that makes those final Ozzy-era records so appealing in hindsight. It’s just one of the six reasons to take on Exiles however. The A side comprises three outtakes from 2018’s Shadowlands (review here), and guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed‘s Big Scenic Nowhere bandmate Bob Balch sits in on “Battah,” while a duly manic reworking of Van Halen‘s “Light up the Sky,” the Black Sabbath track and a live version of Rush‘s “Anthem” from 2016 make up side B. It’s a quick listen and it’s Mos Generator. It may be a stopgap on the way to whatever they’re doing next, but if you think about it, so is everything, and that’s no reason not to jump in either for the covers or the originals, both of which are up to the band’s own high standard of output.

Mos Generator on Thee Facebooks

Glory or Death Records on Bandcamp

 

Psychic Lemon, Freak Mammal

psychic lemon freak mammal

The distorted wails of Andy Briston‘s guitar echo out of Freak Mammal — the five-track/46-minute third LP from London’s Psychic Lemon — like a clarion to the lysergic converted. A call to prayer for those worshiping the nebulous void, not so much kept to earth by Andy Hibberd‘s bass and Martin Law‘s drums as given a solidified course toward the infinite far out. Of course centerpiece “Afrotropic Bomb” digs into some Ethiopian groove — that particular shuffling mania — and I won’t take away from the lower buzz of “Free Electron Collective” or the tense hi-hat cutting through all that tonal wash or the ultra-spaced blowout that caps six-minute finale “White Light,” but give me the self-aware mellower jaunt that is the 13-minute second track “Seeds of Tranquility” any day, following opener “Dark Matter” as it does with what would be a blissful drift but for the exciting rhythmic work taking place beneath the peaceful guitar, and the later synthesized voices providing a choral melody that seems all the more playfully grandiose, befitting the notion of Freak Mammal as a ceremony or at very least some kind of lost ritual. Someday they’ll dig up the right pyramid and call the aliens back. Until then, Psychic Lemon let us imagine what might happen after they return.

Psychic Lemon on Thee Facebooks

Drone Rock Records website

 

Planet of Zeus, Faith in Physics

PLANET OF ZEUS FAITH IN PHYSICS

There’s a context of social commentary to Planet of ZeusFaith in Physics that makes one wonder if perhaps the title doesn’t refer to gravity in terms of what-goes-up-must-come-down as it might apply to class hierarchy. The mighty, ready to fall, and so on. Songs like the post-Clutch fuzz roller “Man vs. God” and “Revolution Cookbook” (video premiere here) would seem to support that idea, but one way or the other, as the later “Let Them Burn” digs into a hook that reminds of Killing Joke and the dense bass of eight-minute closer “King of the Circus” provides due atmospheric madness for our times, there’s a sense of grander statement happening across the album. The Athens-based outfit make a centerpiece of the starts and stops in “All These Happy People” and remind that whatever the message, the medium remains top quality heavy rock and roll songcraft, which is something they’ve become all the more reliable to deliver. The more pointed perspective than they showed on 2016’s Loyal to the Pack suits them, but it’s the nuance of electronics and arrangements of vocals and guitar on cuts like “The Great Liar” that carry them through here. If you believe in gravity, Planet of Zeus have plenty on offer.

Planet of Zeus on Thee Facebooks

Heavy Psych Sounds website

 

Brass Hearse, Oneiric Afterlife

brass hearse oneiric afterlife

Experimentalist keyboard-laced psychedelic goth your thing? Well, of course it is. You’re in luck then as Brass Hearse — an offshoot of once madly prolific Boston outfit Ice Dragon — unveil three new songs (plus an intro) with the Oneiric Afterlife and in 10 minutes work to unravel about 30 years of genre convention while still tying their material to memorable hooks. “Bleed Neon,” “Indigo Dust” and “Only Forever” seem simple on the surface, and none of them touch four minutes long, let alone “A Gesture to Make a Stop,” the 26-second introduction, but their refusal of stylistic constraint is as palpable as it is admirable, with a blend of folk guitar and dark-dance-party keys and percussive insistence on “Bleed Neon” and a ’60s Halloweeny rock organ line in “Only Forever” that’s complemented by low-end fuzz and a chorus that would rightly embarrass Ghost if they heard it. In comparison, “Indigo Dust” is serene in its presentation, but even there is a depth of arrangement of keys, guitar, bass and drums, and the skill tying it all together as a cohesive sound is not to be understated. A quick listen with a lot to unpack, it’s not going to be everyone’s thing, but those who get it will be hit hard and rightly so.

Brass Hearse on Thee Facebooks

Brass Hearse on Bandcamp

 

Mother Turtle, Three Sides to Every Story

mother turtle three sides to every story

The first of three tracks on Greek progwinders Mother Turtle‘s fourth LP, Three Sides to Every Story, “Zigu Zigu,” would seem to cap with a message of congratulations: “You’ve listened to three musicians indulging themselves with some kind of weird instrumental music.” It then goes on to question its own instrumentalism, because it has the words presently being spoken, continuing in this manner until a long fadeout of guitar leads to the funky start of the 15-minute-long “Notwatch.” Good fun, in other words. Mother Turtle maybe aren’t so weird as they think they are, but they are duly adventurous and obviously joyful in their undertaking, bringing chants in over drifting guitar and synth swirl in “Notwatch” before building to a crescendo of rock guitar and organ, ultimately dominated by a solo as it would almost have to be, before intertwining piano lines in 16:46 closer “A Christmas Postcard from Kim” lead to further shenanigans, vocal experimentation, plays on metal, holiday shimmer, and a fade into the close. At 38 minutes, Three Sides to Every Story doesn’t at all overstay its welcome, but neither is it an exercise looking for audience engagement in the traditional sense. Rather, it resonates its glee through its offbeat sensibility and thus works on its own level to craft a hook. One can’t help but smile while listening to the fun being had.

Mother Turtle on Thee Facebooks

Sound Effect Records website

 

The Legendary Flower Punk, Wabi Wu

The Legendary Flower Punk Wabi Wu

It is something to consider, perhaps as you dive into the nine-minute “Prince Mojito” on The Legendary Flower Punk‘s Wabi Wu, that the band started as a psych-folk solo-project. Currently working as a core trio plus a range of guests, the Russian troupe make their debut on Tonzonen with the brazenly prog seven-tracker, totaling just a 44-minute run but with a range that would seem to be much broader. Alternately jazzy and synth-laden, technically intricate but never overly showy, pieces like the bass-led “Azulejo” and the penultimate “Trance Fusion På Ryska” present a meeting of the minds with founding guitarist Kamille Sharapodinov at the center of most compositions, he and bassist Mike Lopakov and drummer Nick Kunavin digging into nothing’s-off-limits textures from fusion onward through New Wave and dub. The abiding rule followed seems to be whatever moves the band about a given track is what they roll with, and though The Legendary Flower Punk has evolved well beyond its origins, there’s still a bit of flower and still a bit of punk amid all the legends being made. Good luck keeping up with it.

The Legendary Flower Punk on Bandcamp

Tonzonen Records website

 

Slow, VI – Dantalion

Slow VI Dantalion

With the follow-up to 2018’s V – Oceans (review here), Belgian duo Slow rattle off another 78 minutes of utterly consuming, crushing, atmospheric and melancholic funeral doom like it’s absolutely nothing. Well, not like it’s nothing — more like it’s a weight on their very soul — but even so. Issued through Aural Music, VI – Dantlion brings the two-piece of guitarist/vocalist/drummer Déhà and bassist/lyricist Lore B. once again into the grueling, megalithic churn of self-inflicted riff-punishment that’s so encompassing, so dark, so deep and so dramatic it almost can’t help but also be beautiful. To wit, second track “Lueur” is a 17-minute downward journey into ambient brutalism, yet as it moves toward the midsection one can still hear melodic elements of keyboard and orchestral sounds peaking through. There is letup in the lush finale “Elégie,” but to get there, you have to make your way through “Incendiaire,” which is possibly the most extreme movement of the seven inclusions. Though frankly, after a while, you’re buried so far down by Slow‘s glorious miseries that it’s hard to tell. The world needs this band. They are what humanity would sound like if it was ever honest with itself.

Slow on Thee Facebooks

Aural Music on Bandcamp

 

OKO, Haze

oko haze

Adelaide, Australia, newcomers OKO present their debut EP in the form of Haze, a 14:44 single-song outing that sees the instrumental three-piece of guitarist Nick Nancarrow, bassist Tyson Ruch and drummer Ash Matthews tap into organic heavy psych vibes while working cross-planet with Justin Pizzoferrato (known for his work with Elder, among others) on the mix and master. The resulting one-tracker has a clarity in its drum sound and clean feel that one suspects might speak of more progressive intentions on the part of OKO in the longer term, but as they are here they have a sense of tonal warmth that serves them well across the unpretentious span of “Haze” itself, the winding riff inevitably bringing to mind some of Colour Haze‘s jammier work but still managing to find its own direction. I hear no reason OKO can’t do the same, regardless of the influences they’re working under in terms of sound. Further, the longform modus suits them, and while future work will inherently develop some variety in general approach, the natural exploration they undertake on this first outing easily holds attention for its span and is fluid enough that, had they wanted, they could have pushed it further.

OKO on Thee Facebooks

OKO website

 

Vug, Onyx

vug onyx

Vug are not the first European heavy rock band to blend vintage methods with modern production. They’re not the first band to take classic swagger and drum urgency and meld it with a pervasive sense of vocal soul. I’m not sure I’d tell them that though, because frankly, they’re doing pretty well with it. At its strongest, their Tonzonen-released sophomore outing, Onyx, recalls Thin Lizzy via, yes, Graveyard, but there’s enough clarity of intention behind the work to make it plain they know where they’re coming from. Such was the case as well with their 2018 self-titled debut (review here), and though they’ve had some lineup turnover since that first offering, the self-produced four-piece bring a character to their material on songs like “Tired Of” and the penultimate boogier “Inferno” before closing with the acoustic “Todbringer” — a mirror of side A’s “On My Own” — that they carry the classic-style 39-minute long-player off without a hitch, seeming to prep the heavy ’10s for a journey into a new decade.

Vug on Thee Facebooks

Noisolution webstore

 

Ultracombo, Season 1

Ultracombo Season 1

As the title hints, the Season 1 EP is the debut from Italy’s Ultracombo, and with it, the five-piece of vocalist Alessio Guarda, guitarists Alberto Biasin and Giordano Tasson, bassist Giordano Pajarin and drummer Flavio Gola work quickly to build the forward momentum that brings them front-to-back through the 23-minute five-track release. “Flusso” and opener “The King” feel particularly drawn from an earlier Truckfighters influence, but Guarda‘s vocals are a distinguishing factor amidst all that ensuing fuzz and straight-ahead drive, and in “Sparatutto” and the closer “Il Momento in Cui Non Penso,” they seem to strip their approach to its most basic aspects and bring together the tonal thickness and melodicism that’s been at root in their sound overall. The subtlety, such as it is, is to be found in their songwriting, which results in tracks that transcend language barriers through sheer catchiness. That bodes better for them on subsequent outings better than a wall o’ fuzz ever could, though of course that doesn’t hurt them either, especially their first time out.

Ultracombo on Thee Facebooks

Ultracombo on Bandcamp

 

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Album of the Decade: Elder, Lore

Posted in Features on December 27th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

elder-lore

[NOTE: This is not the results of the best of the 2010s poll, which is ongoing. Please add your choice/choices there if you haven’t, and thanks.]

This has been an incredibly difficult choice. It’s something I started really thinking about in the middle of last year, and even this morning I was back and forth on what my final pick would be. You know what sealed the deal for Elder‘s Lore (review here) as album of the decade?

I put it on.

And it wasn’t two minutes into the sweeping 10-minute opener “Compendium” before the deal was sealed. The then-Massachusetts-based then-trio (hey, things change) of guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto — the latter of whom recently parted ways with the band — issued Lore in 2015, and it was album of the year at the time as well. I recall agonizing over that choice as well, but in the end, my reasoning is much the same now as it was then, in that I genuinely don’t think there is another full-length record released between 2010 and 2019 that works at the level of craft Elder do on Lore while at the same time being so purely forward thinking.

Lore‘s release through Armageddon Shop and Stickman Records followed 2011’s Dead Roots Stirring (review here) on MeteorCity and felt long in the making, but the jump in sound was even further. To compare the approach of the two records, some of the differences are superficial. Elder‘s penchant since their 2008 self-titled debut (discussed here) has always been for composing songs by marrying parts together and creating a flow based more on movements than traditionalist verses and chorus. I admit there are times when I personally find this hilariously maddening, but their work still finds ways to stand pieces out and make them memorable. It was true on Dead Roots Stirring and Lore alike, but the presentation and the mission were fundamentally different between the two.

It’s a question of clarity. Where Dead Roots Stirring was (and is, if you’re listening in the present tense) more rooted in heavy rock distortion and production, the Justin Pizzoferrato-recorded Lore certainly had those elements at play — the post-guitar-as-mellotron-orchestra sweep apex of the 15-minute centerpiece title-track being a riffy example, as well as the swinging rush earlier in “Compendium,” the finish in “Spirit at Aphelion,” etc. — but the album is much more defined by DiSalvo‘s shimmering guitar and its progressive edge. It is a clean sound. And what’s more, four years since Lore came out and listening to it, my head is still spinning. I mean it. You would have to sit with a flowchart for each track and measure out where one part ends and the next starts. And when you’re done doing that, once you have all the crescendos and twists and winding progressions measured and calculated and so on plotted, you’ll still only have one piece of Lore‘s puzzle configured, because in addition to its blindsiding, careening movements, there’s the melody.

elder (Photo by Ryan Boyd)

With the prescient experimental play at the start of “Deadweight” and even in the cascade wash that emerges in that track’s second half — a glorious noise bath that leads to a galloping end that at the time seemed outshined by the title-track before it and now stands as all the more testament to Lore‘s enduring quality — or in the lead and languid verse atop the rolling beginning of second cut “Legend,” Elder unfolded a new level of accomplishment in melodic reach instrumentally and vocally. With Donovan and Couto in rhythmic lockstep as the sure foundation of DiSalvo‘s tonal breadth, the three-piece used traditional power trio dynamics to pull tradition apart at the seams. And for an album that’s an hour long and begins at such an immediate rush with the opening guitar figure of “Compendium” daring the listener to keep pace, it still remains eminently listenable and enjoyable because of the work the melody does in carrying across all its many changes. Along with Couto‘s essential swing, it’s the melody most responsible for tying Lore together and uniting its five component tracks as a single work.

As the only song under 10 minutes long (it’s 9:28), “Deadweight” allows itself the indulgence of a little classic heavy rock soloing, but even in that, it takes its own approach. Consider the penultimate cut at four minutes in. DiSalvo, shredding. Donovan is holding down the central groove with Couto punctuating righteously. Then, at 4:14, they pivot, and it’s so quick and so sharply executed that you don’t even realize what you’re in is a transitional part and that 20 seconds later, they’re going to be off on the “next riff” along the song’s building course. Lore is rife with these moments, which are the kind of thing that, if they were on someone else’s record once, they’d make the whole album better. With Elder, they’re just another part on the way to the next part. It continues to be an astonishing work.

Of course, Lore closes with the 10:32 “Spirit at Aphelion,” and though one hardly thinks of any part of the 2LP as being understated — it is not without its indulgent stretches — the ending fadeout seems to ride the tension of its final riff in such a way as to hint at more to come. One almost expects the song, which is a victory lap in summarizing what precedes and certainly plenty dynamic in its stretch prior, to fade back in for another round, even after it’s over. But the end is, in fact, the end, and it would be just two years before Elder turned around and offered Reflections of a Floating World (review here) as the inevitable follow-up and next forward step in their ongoing progression. By then, the impact of Lore was already being felt in the work of other bands, and the ensuing two years, as well as the reception to the fourth long-player and their concurrent touring, have only seen Elder‘s influence spread further.

I could have made any number of choices here. But in looking back over the last decade, no single release seemed to encapsulate a vision of what heavy rock and roll could be in the way Lore did, and no single band have manifest their vision in way Elder have. It is an epicenter from which they and heavy rock as a whole will continue to grow.

Honorable Mention

Like I just said, I could’ve made any number of choices here. When I went to bed last night, it was planning to write about Om, so there you go. We’ll do the poll results early in January, but here are a few more of my own picks for album of the decade contention:

  • OmAdvaitic Songs
  • YOBClearing the Path to Ascend
  • Uncle Acid and the DeadbeatsBlood Lust
  • ClutchEarth Rocker
  • GraveyardHisingen Blues
  • High on FireSnakes for the Divine
  • All Them WitchesLightning at the Door

I’ll leave it there so as not to spoil anything for the poll to come, but yeah, there are plenty of noteworthy contenders. If you have one or 50 you’d like to add, please feel free to leave a comment here, or, of course, hit up the decade-end poll and drop a list there. Either way, your thoughts and consideration are always appreciated.

And thanks for reading.

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