Posted in Whathaveyou on January 12th, 2017 by JJ Koczan
Brooklyn extremists Tombs have started work on their fourth album. Also their debut on Metal Blade after three outings for Relapse Records, the yet-untitled release is being tracked with Hate Eternal‘s Erik Rutan (who, because I’m from New Jersey, I’ll note was in Ripping Corpse) at Mana Recording in sunny St. Pete, Florida. The black ‘n’ roll ‘n’ more genremashers released their last full-length, Savage Gold (discussed here), in 2014, and have continued to support it steadily with shows and tours at home and abroad.
That thread, it seems, will continue despite the label jump. Tombs have announced what would seem to be a hey-we-just-finished-a-record tour for March alongside the very metal lineup of Darkest Hour, Ringworm and Rivers of Nihil, kicking off on the West Coast and making its way into the Midwest over two-plus weeks.
The PR wire had dates and more info to share:
Tombs enters studio to begin recording fourth full-length album; announces USA tour dates with Darkest Hour, Ringworm, Rivers of Nihil
Brooklyn-based experimental metal outfit Tombs has entered Mana Recording Studio (http://www.manarecording.com) in St. Petersburg, FL to begin recording their fourth full-length. Produced once again by Erik Rutan (Hate Eternal), this currently untitled album is set for a summer release via Metal Blade Records.
Guitarist/vocalist Mike Hill comments: “I’ve been gearing up for this moment for all of past year. Rutan is a master and I’m intending on us delivering the most punishing Tombs record to-date.”
After recording this upcoming album, Tombs will head back out on the road in March, joining Darkest Hour, Ringworm, and Rivers of Nihil for a USA tour. See below for all dates!
Tombs tour dates w/ Darkest Hour, Ringworm, Rivers of Nihil Mar. 5 – Portland, OR – Analog Theater Mar. 6 – Seattle, WA – Studio Seven Mar. 8 – San Francisco, CA – DNA Lounge Mar. 9 – Sacramento, CA – Colonial Theater Mar. 10 – Los Angeles, CA – The Regent Mar. 11 – San Diego, CA – Brick By Brick Mar. 12 – Phoenix, AZ – Club Red Mar. 13 – Tucson, AZ – Club XS Mar. 14 – Albuquerque, NM – Blu Phoenix Venue Mar. 15 – Lubbock, TX – Backstage Lubbock Mar. 16 – Austin, TX – Grizzly Hall Mar. 17 – Houston, TX – White Oak Mar. 18 – San Antonio, TX – The Korova Mar. 19 – Dallas, TX – Gas Monkey Bar and Grill Mar. 21 – Cincinnati, OH – Northside Yacht Club
Tombs line-up: Mike Hill – Guitar/Vocals Charlie Schmid – Drums Ben Brand – Bass Evan Void – Guitar Fade Kainer – Synth / Vocals
[Click play above to stream Kings Destroy’s None More EP in full. It’s out Jan. 13 on War Crime Recordings, and Kings Destroy are on tour with Truckfighters starting Jan. 18 (dates here)]
Brooklyn heavy noise specialists Kings Destroy will release their new EP, None More, on Jan. 13 via War Crime Recordings. Like everything they’ve done up to this point in their seven-year tenure, it’s a departure. It departs from their last album, 2015’s self-titled (review here), and from 2013’s A Time of Hunting (review here), and certainly from their 2010 debut, And the Rest Will Surely Perish (originally released through this site’s then-existent label, The Maple Forum). “Departure” is pretty much the running theme of everything the five-piece do in one way or another, so it’s all the more intriguing as regards None More — this limited, one-song, 14-minute curio EP pressed to tape with a Mech-battle Josh Graham cover almost two full years after the band’s last record came out and with numerous tours home and abroad behind them — that they should sound so much like themselves on it.
“None More,” the track itself, is presented in five component parts, each with a subtitle: “I. Rise of the Betrayer,” “II. The Blood Waters,” “III. The Battle,” “IV. Requiem,” “V. The Awakening” and “VI. Rise of the Betrayer (Reprise).” It does not feel like some great leap of insight to note the clear narrative at play here, or that “None More” comes full circle at its conclusion — an instrumental move as much as a dramatic turn — or that it’s the grandest scope the lineup of vocalist Steve Murphy, guitarists Carl Porcaro and Chris Skowronski, bassist Aaron Bumpus and drummer Rob Sefcik have enacted in a given piece. More to their credit, None More moves through its extended but brief stretch, it flows not like a disjointed assemblage of parts, but with a careful and patiently executed arc. It’s not the first time Kings Destroy have told a story in their work, but it’s the first time they’ve put so much into the telling.
I alluded to it above but should say outright that Kings Destroy and I have collaborated in the past and I continue to consider myself a fan of what they do and I’m fortunate enough to feel comfortable calling them friends — something I’ll just about never do — so what minuscule impartiality I might otherwise claim is right out the window. If that means this review comes with a grain of salt, so be it. That does nothing to change the level of achievement Kings Destroy have reached as they’ve grown over the course of the last seven-plus years, or the substantial mark in their progression None More signifies. One might be tempted to relate “None More” to “Time for War” from the self-titled, and indeed, the EP track does seem to make a direct predecessor of the last album’s closer.
But true to their commitment to always moving forward, it builds on what that song did, beginning after an initial crash and extended count-in by establishing the nodding, Earth-style riff that will serve as its bookend. In less than a minute they’re into the verse — the sound full and spacious as captured by Mike Moebius at Moonlight Mile (Pilgrim, etc.), whose work with Kings Destroy extends back to their first 7″ single (review here) — and guitar leads mournfully interweave beneath as Murphy begins to set up the storyline. Like “Time for War,” it’s a battle.
Specifically the Battle of Clontarf, which took place in Ireland in 1014 and pitted the Irish High King Brian Boru against Vikings as well as other Irish forces, and which — though everyone seems to have died in the process, because war — resulted in the first Irish victory over the Vikings and a turning point in Irish culture after nearly 300 years of raids. Murphy‘s telling is way less prog-rock-history-lesson and way more working to convey the impression of the sunrise-to-sunset slaughter. With a shift into a quicker tempo at around 2:45, ‘The Blood Waters’ takes hold and introduces layered-in tight backing vocals, almost chanting, but more grunted. Sefcik‘s drums hold together a torrent of guitar soloing and the band settles in around a faster riff that’s as much classic metal as it is true to the band’s New York hardcore lineage, and as the next movement makes its way in, what seems to be the key line of the whole song is delivered in dual layers for effect: “We will be victorious/The dead will honor all of us.”
From there, they’re in the thick of it. We would seem to have been through ‘The Battle,’ which plays out instrumentally until about six minutes in, but as it should, “None More” gets murkier from there. Some turns are clearer than others — you know it when they hit into the reprise of ‘Rise of the Betrayer,’ for example, at the 11-minute mark — but between ‘The Battle,’ and the subsequent pair of ‘Requiem’ and ‘The Awakening,’ the progression is fluid enough that they essentially bleed into each other. Harmonized guitar lines lead a march punctuated by Sefcik and Bumpus through the midsection in an intricate play of melody and stomp, and by seven and a half minutes, all has come to a halt and what’s probably ‘The Awakening’ has begun. It’s a from-the-ground-up motion, quiet and ultimately shortlived, but it further conveys Kings Destroy‘s growth in its lack of rush to get where it’s going, instead spreading out a kind of hypnotic drift until they crash back in with the more emotional crux of the song, patient and effective. That they can pull it off and not give in to tension or sound like they’re just waiting to pounce is a definitive step.
Again, it’s quick, but telling. The rolling groove that ensues will carry through to ‘Rise of the Betrayer (Reprise),’ with a momentary break between the two sections and then a resumption of the introductory movement, bringing “None More” full circle rhythmically as a guitar solo takes hold at 11:40 and serves as a finishing move topping the nodding fluidity until the drums and bass drop out and feedback holds sway until clicking off just past 14 minutes. That ending conveys an in-the-studio feel that offsets some of the gritty grandeur of “None More” itself, but has the dual effect of jerking the listener back to reality after the band has dug so deep into the track’s final statement, and that would seem to be intentional. In any case, it fits with the narrative of Kings Destroy themselves, which is no less prevalent here than the Battle of Clontarf, and is shown through the dedication to pushing their approach forward in style and performance. None More might prove to be a stopgap en route to a fourth full-length, but it finds Kings Destroy in a crucial moment as a group and presents their story in a metaphor that could hardly be more apt.
It’s been a long time. Long enough that I’m not even going to link back to the last time I did a round of Radio Adds. Life happens, and with the Quarterly Review, I guess my focus went elsewhere. Well, I just did a Quarterly Review, and that actually kind of inspired this, since I found there was yet more records that wanted covering even after that over-full round of 60 that closed out 2016 and opened 2017. So here we are.
There are, in fact, more than 50 albums being added to The Obelisk Radio playlist today. I can’t promise I’ll do Radio Adds weekly like I once did, or monthly, or again in 2017, or ever, but the opportunity presented itself and it seemed only right to take advantage. This stuff all came out last year, so it’s all readily available, and audio samples are included, because, you know, music and such.
Let’s dig in:
Lord Mountain, Lord Mountain
Of all the styles under the vast umbrella of “heavy,” traditional doom is among the hardest to execute – especially, I’d think, for new bands. You need a balance of atmosphere and lack of pretense, a classic vibe, riffs, and groove. On the surface, you’re playing to the past, but if you put out something that just sounds like Sabbath and bring nothing of yourself to it, you’re sunk. Santa Rosa, California’s Lord Mountain – vocalist/guitarist Jesse Swanson, guitarist Sean Serrano, bassist Dave Reed and drummer Pat Moore – would seem to have it figured out on their self-titled debut EP. Released by King Volume Records on limited tape, it brings forth four tracks in 21 minutes that are no less comfortable playing to the downer riffing of Candlemass – opener “Fenrir” – than to the epic chanting of Viking-era Bathory – “Under the Mountain” – and that find distinction for themselves in nodding to one side or the other as they make their way across the bass-y Sabbathism of “Dying World” and into the concluding solo-topped gallop of “Tomb of the Eagle” (more Dio-era there, but effectively translated tonally). As an initial offering, its presence is more stately than raw, and part of that is aesthetic, so I still think Lord Mountain will have growth to undertake, but their EP shows marked potential and brings a fresh personality to doom’s rigid traditionalism, and there’s nothing more one could reasonably ask of it. A CD would probably be too much to ask, but it’s hard to believe no one’s snagged it for a 10” release yet.
Behold the winding, self-directed narrative of underrated, underutilized and underappreciated New York heavy rockers The Giraffes, who issued Usury via Silver Sleeve Records in Jan. 2016, on the cusp of their 20th anniversary and with it welcomed back frontman Aaron Lazar (also a one-time contributor to The Book of Knots, speaking of underrated) to the fold alongside guitarist Damien Paris, drummer Andrew Totolos and bassist Josh Taggart. Comprised of just six songs with a 28-minute runtime, it nonetheless holds to a full-album sentiment, with songs like the tense “Washing Machine” working in a vein not dissimilar to their righteous 2008 offering, Prime Motivator (review here), while the preceding “Facebook Rant” and “Product Placement Song” bask in a social commentary that one can only hope the ensuing decades make dated and the subsequent “White Jacket” has a melancholy danceability that one might’ve related around the time of The Giraffes’ 2005 self-titled debut related to System of a Down, but now just sounds like an enrichment of their approach overall. Usury gets off to a slow start (not a complaint, given the groove) with “Blood Will Run,” which seems to shake off its dust initially before commencing its real push and chug circa the halfway point, but by the time they get down to eight-minute finale “How it Happened to Me,” the sudden conclusion of the jam leaves one to wonder where they went and when they’ll be back, which presumably is the whole idea. Behold a band who did it before it was cool, should’ve been huge, and still kept going. The story is more complicated than that, but there are few tales more admirable.
The first Saint Vitus live album – Live – surfaced in 1990 via Hellhound Records and captured the band in Germany in 1989. Its 2005 reissue on Southern Lord played a large role in introducing the pivotal doomers to a new generation of fans. Live Vol. 2 follows some 26 years later via Season of Mist and likewise documents a crucial era in the four-piece’s existence, having been recorded in 2013 in Luxembourg following the release of their 2012 album, Lillie: F-65 (review here), with the lineup of vocalist Scott “Wino” Weinrich, guitarist Dave Chandler, bassist Mark Adams and drummer Henry Vasquez. It’s a 59-minute set, all told – one suspects some of Chandler’s stage rants between songs were shortened or removed – and among the most striking impressions it makes is how seamlessly Lillie: F-65 cuts “Let Them Fall,” “The Bleeding Ground” and “The Waste of Time” fit in alongside classics like the speedy “War is Our Destiny” and “Look Behind You” or the more grueling “Patra (Petra)” and galloping “White Stallions.” Of course, the anthemic “Born too Late” closes out, with Chandler’s wash of feedback and all-low-end tone at the start the ultimate hallmark of what Saint Vitus have always been – a middle finger to square culture unlike any other. This era of the band may be over, with original vocalist Scott Reagers stepping back into the frontman role, but as one continues to hope for another studio album, Live Vol. 2 proves more than a stopgap and takes an active role in adding to the band’s legendary catalog.
After two successful full-lengths in 2010’s Skygrounds and 2012’s Slow Rivers, next-gen Swedish heavy rockers Långfinger join forces with Small Stone Records for their 10-song/46-minute third album, the crisply-executed Crossyears. Like their countrymen labelmates in Jeremy Irons and the Ratgang Malibus, the Gothenburg three-piece bring modern edge and production to what a few years ago might’ve been purely retro ‘70s boogie rock, as tracks like “Fox Confessor,” “Say Jupiter,” the more languid “Atlas” and “Caesar’s Blues” bask in a showcase of tight, natural performance with a clean production style that still highlights same, bassist/keyboardist/vocalist Victor Crusner, guitarist/backing vocalist Kalle Lilja and drummer/backing vocalist Jesper Pihl proving the maturity of their songwriting while still delivering the push of “Silver Blaze” and closer “Window in the Sky” with a sense of energy behind them. Their approach so solidified, Långfinger don’t seem to leave much to chance in their sound, but Crossyears engages heavy rock tradition effectively while bridging a gap of decades across its run, and that, frankly, seems like enough for any one record to take on.
Soggy’s self-titled LP, released in this edition by Outer Battery Records (see also Arctic, Earthless Meets Heavy Blanket), is a reissue of a 2008 collection of tracks from a span of years that find the blown-out French punkers paying direct homage to The Stooges with a cover of the seminal “I Wanna be Your Dog,” immediately drawing a line to what seems to have been the band’s most prominent influence. Some 35-plus years after they were initially put to tape, Soggy’s tracks continue to feel dangerous and raw in their frenetic proto-punkery, and that would seem to be exactly what the Soggy LP is looking to convey, digging into the vast trove of lost artifacts in heavy and punk rock and finding a treasure ripe for hindsight appreciation. As much as it just makes me want to put on the self-titled Stooges record or Fun House, I can’t argue with the success of Soggy’s Soggy or not admire its mission, even if some of its blows land harder than others.
Posted in Whathaveyou on January 5th, 2017 by JJ Koczan
As recently announced, early next month, both Aluk Todolo and Insect Ark will take part in Stardust VI – Dark Nights of the Soul, being held Feb. 3-5 at Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn. Almost immediately thereafter, the two experimentalist outfits — from France and Brooklyn, respectively — will head to the West Coast for a five-evening run of shows that will no doubt involve several late-night drives as they make their way in between Seattle and Los Angeles. The amount of geography involved in such things can be staggering.
You can see in the dates below that the shows are dirt cheap. Eerily so. For two bands who should probably play exclusively in museum settings, it feels excessively easy on the wallet in a way that says Aluk Todolo are about to experience one of the most crucial aspects of touring in the US: not being paid well enough. So if you go, make sure you buy all the merch. That’s my recommendation to balance things out.
From the social medias:
ALUK TODOLO + INSECT ARK USA 2017
Aluk Todolo will be back in February 2017 for two sets at NYC’s Stardust VI, and will team up with the instrumental doom drone band Insect Ark for a week of shows on the West Coast. Last time Aluk Todolo played in the USA was under the stars of Stella Natura Fest, in 2012. Since then the band has released Occult Rock and Voix, two milestones in their discography, an adventurous and magical exploration of black metal, psychedelic rock and jazz.
Aluk Todolo & Insect Ark: Feb 3,4,5 New York – Stardust VI – St Vitus Feb 7 Seattle – Highline w/ Caligula Cartel, Serpentent. $12 advance / $15 at door. Feb 8 Portland – High water mark w/ Miserable, HZ, High and Fragile. $10 advance / $13 at door. Feb 9 San Francisco – Elbo Room w/ Common Eider King Eider, Alaric. $12 advance / $15 at door. Feb 10 Sacramento – The Colony Feb 11 Los Angeles (Glendale California) – the Complex w/ TBD. $12 advance / $15 at door.
ALUK TODOLO (Grenoble, France) is an instrumental power trio performing Occult Rock since 2004. Their music is a methodical exploration of the powers of musical trance. Part occult black metal fiend and part snide kraut menace, the band conjures rabid obsessive rhythms and abyssal disharmonic guitars, subliminal spiritualist vibrations and bizarre, magick summonings. ALUK TODOLO reduces psychedelic improvisation to a bare, telluric instrumentation, in which dry, spare percussion grievously mines the scrapes, shrieks and shimmer of mutated guitar and bass. The band’s sound is monolithic and stabbing, hypnotic but unpredictable, minimalist yet teeming: a dangerous, noxious coil of all things black.
INSECT ARK is an instrumental doom-psych duo based in NYC / Portland (Dana Schechter – bass, lap steel, synths / Ashley Spungin – drums, synths). Schechter plays/has played with M. Gira’s Angels of Light (Swans), Wrekmeister Harmonies; Ashley Spungin also plays in Taurus. Since the band’s inception in late 2011, Insect Ark have toured internationally, had their music used in feature films, and released 5 records/singles. A new full-length LP is currently in production for a 2017 release.
If you’ll allow me a sentimental moment: I remember quite clearly standing in front of the stage at Kimo’s in San Francisco in 2010 and singing along with Snail‘s Mark Johnson and Matt Lynch to the titular hook of their 2009 return album, Blood (review here). It was among the greatest joys of the day to do so again this past August at The Obelisk All-Dayer at the Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn. Some time passed between the two events, obviously, and Snail have put out two more records in the meantime in 2012’s Terminus (review here) and 2015’s Feral (review here) and shifted from a four-piece back to the original trio of Johnson on guitar, Lynch on bass and drummer Marty Dodson, but still, it was something special.
When I announced The Obelisk All-Dayer was a thing that was happening, Snail were among the first acts who got in touch with me, offering to make their way across the continent for what would be their first East Coast appearance ever in a history that stretched as far back as their 1993 self-titled debut (review here). The generosity of that gesture was unbelievable, but the truth of the matter is I’d already dreamed of having Snail involved in the show, as Feral was so decisively their best album to-date and those songs ones I very, very much wanted to see brought to life onstage. I’m hardly an impartial observer at this point, but they were even better in Brooklyn than they’d been six years earlier in California.
The video below for “Blood” was recorded at The Obelisk All-Dayer and takes footage captured by the esteemed Frank Huang and Jennifer Hendrix and manipulates it with some additional psychedelic weirdness suited to the overall vibe. But listen to the sound as well. Snail were so on-point that I was just blown away, and as I watch “Blood,” I can only keep my fingers crossed they follow this up with a companion clip for “Thou Art That,” or, you know, a tape release of the whole set. Either way. No pressure. Ha.
I’ve included the full-stream of Feral at the bottom of this post also. I know you’ve heard it, but hell, you should hear it again.
And please enjoy:
Snail, “Blood” at The Obelisk All-Dayer official live video
Happy New Year! The high point of 2016 (for us) was getting to play The Obelisk All-Dayer in Brooklyn. Matt combined footage from a variety of sources and the board tracks and created a really trippy video of our performance of ‘Blood.’ Check it out! See if you can find the footage of a person giving blood at a blood bank…
Video and Sound Production: Matt Lynch Footage courtesy of Frank Huang and Jennifer Hendrix. Photos by Jennifer Hendrix.
Special Thanks to: Jennifer Hendrix, Frank Huang, JJ Koczan and The Obelisk and all the folks who came to rock.
Posted in Whathaveyou on January 4th, 2017 by JJ Koczan
Not that I’ve heard it yet or anything, but Thera Roya‘s debut full-length, Stone and Skin, takes some significant steps — plods? thudding wildebeest gallops? — forward from where even their 2015 Unraveling EP (review here) found them. Increasingly resonant in their atmospheric post-metal approach, the Brooklynite trio have begun to shift from the outward abrasion of their earliest work into more progressive spaciousness — a spaciousness that still has room for a crushing riff or vicious scream every now and again as well. Again, not saying I’ve heard it, but it presents a clear sense of development in progress on their part and challenges the listener to follow them on what turns out to be a surprisingly varied course.
Or… so the rumors tell me? Okay, I’ve heard the album. You got me. I’ll have an actual review up sooner or later, but the initial impression is certainly favorable, if the above didn’t make that clear.
Stone and Skin is out Feb. 17 as a self-release from the band. More details follow from the PR wire:
Brookyln based sludge/post-metal band THERA ROYA will release Stone and Skin on February 17 2017. The album is their first full-length album, after releasing several EPs and splits in the past.
Formed in 2012, Thera Roya have rapidly ascended the ranks of the underground metal world and become known for their grandiose sound and otherworldly soundscapes all steeped in the influence of Neurosis and Isis.
Coming off an extremely busy 2015/16 that saw the band release an EP, a split and then go on to play 88 shows, Thera Roya are clearly destined for greater things and their forward momentum is simply unending. Unafraid to hit the road and grind it out in the name of their craft, Thera Roya has been able to play with bands like Cult Leader, Seven Sisters Of Sleep, Birds In Row, Pilgrim, Generation Of Vipers, U.S Christmas, Tengger Calvary and North. As they face the future, they know that their unique brand of sludge meets post metal has the power to dominate the metal scene in 2017.
Now – with the upcoming release of their monolithic first full length, Stone & Skin, Thera Roya are preparing themselves to tour on their most important material yet. In a world where we are finally starting to see post metal get the recognition it deserves, Thera Roya will put out one of the genres most worthy records. Forward thinking, overpowering and strangely transcendent, Stone & Skin is the sound of the future.
Thera Roya is: Jonathan Cohn – Bass Ryan Smith – Drums/Vox/Guitar Christopher Eustaquio – Guitar
Posted in Features on December 30th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2016 to that, please do.
Yeah, I know I said as much when the Top 20 Debut Albums of 2016 went up, but I take it back: this is the hardest list to put together. And to be honest, there’s a part of me that’s hesitant even to post it because I know as soon as I do someone’s going to be like, “No way you dick your entire existence is shit because you forgot Release X,” and very likely they’ll be right. Up to the very moment this post is going live, I’ve been making changes, and I expect I’ll continue to do so for a while after it’s out there.
So what’s a “short release?” That’s another issue. Pretty much anything that’s not an album. Singles, digital or physical, as well as EPs, splits, demos, and so on. The category becomes nebulous, but my general rule is if it’s not a full-length, it qualifies as a short release. Sounds simple until you get into things like, “Here’s a track I threw up on Bandcamp,” and “This only came out as a bonus included as a separate LP with the deluxe edition of our album.” I’m telling you, I’ve had a difficult time.
Maybe that’s just me trying to protect myself from impending wrath. This year’s Top 30 albums list provoked some vehement — and, if I may, prickishly-worded — responses, so I might be a bit gunshy here, but on the other hand, I think these outings are worth highlighting, so we’re going forward anyway. If you have something to add, please use the comments below, but remember we’re all friends here and there’s a human being on the other end reading what’s posted. Thanks in advance for that.
And since this is the last list of The Obelisk’s Best-of-2016 coverage, I’ll say thanks for reading as well. More to come in the New Year, of course.
Here we go:
The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Short Releases of 2016
1. Scissorfight, Chaos County EP
2. Earthless / Harsh Toke, Split
3. Mars Red Sky, Providence EP
4. Mos Generator, The Firmament
5. Soldati, Soldati
6. Monolord, Lord of Suffering / Die in Haze EP
7. Wren, Host EP
8. Goya, The Enemy EP
9. The Sweet Heat, Demo
10. River Cult, Demo
11. Stinkeye, Llantera Demos
12. Megaritual, Eclipse EP
13. Ragged Barracudas / Pushy, Split
14. Mindkult, Witchs’ Oath EP
15. Iron Jawed Guru, Mata Hari EP
16. Brume, Donkey
17. Bison Machine / Wild Savages / SLO, Sweet Leaves Vol. 1 Split
18. BoneHawk / Kingnomad, The Second Coming of Heavy: Chapter Three Split
19. Wicked Gypsy, EP
20. Love Gang, Love Gang EP
An expansive category as ever. In addition to what’s above, the following stood out and no doubt more will be added over the course of the next few days. If you feel something is missing, please let me know.
Cambrian Explosion, The Moon EP
Candlemass, Death Thy Lover EP
Cultist, Cultist EP
Danava, At Midnight You Die 7″
Dos Malés, Dos Malés EP
Druglord, Deepest Regrets EP
Fu Manchu, Slow Ride 7″
Geezer, A Flagrant Disregard for Happiness 12″
Gorilla vs. Grifter, Split
Holy Smoke, Holy Smoke! It’s a Demo!
Karma to Burn, Mountain Czar
LSD and the Search for God, Heaven is a Place EP
Pallbearer, Fear and Fury
Reign of Zaius, Planet Of…
Sea of Bones / Ramlord, Split
Shallows, The Moon Rises
The Skull, EP
Snowy Dunes, “Atlantis Part I” digital single
Sun Voyager / The Mad Doctors, Split
Valborg, Werwolf 7″
Was it just the raw joy of having Scissorfight back? No, but that was for sure part of it. It was also the brazenness with which the New Hampshire outfit let go of their past, particularly frontman Christopher “Ironlung” Shurtleff, and moved forward unwilling to compromise what they wanted to do that made their Chaos County so respectable in my eyes. Having always flourished in the form, they delivered an EP of classic Scissorfight tunes and issued a stiff middle finger to anyone who would dare call them otherwise. They couldn’t have been more themselves no matter who was in the band.
At the same time, it was a hard choice between that and the Earthless / Harsh Toke split for the top spot. I mean, seriously. It’s Earthless — who at this point are the godfathers of West Coast jamadelica — and Harsh Toke, who are among the style’s most engaging upstart purveyors, each stretching out over a huge and encompassing single track. I couldn’t stop listening to that one if I wanted to, and as the year went on, I found I never wanted to.
I was glad when Mars Red Sky included the title-track of the Providence EP as a bonus cut on their subsequent album, Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul), both because it tied the two releases together even further and because it gave me another opportunity to hear it every time I listened to the record. Their short releases have always shown significant character apart from their full-lengths, and this was no exception. I still tear up when I hear “Sapphire Vessel.”
To bounce around a bit: Had to get Mos Generator on the list for the progressive expansion of the live-recorded The Firmament. Stickman was right to put that out on vinyl. Both Monolord and Goya provided quick outings of huge riffs to sate their respective and growing followings, while Megaritual’s Eclipse basked in drone serenity and the debut release from Sergio Ch.’s Soldati provided hard-driving heavy rock with the particular nuance for which the former Los Natas frontman is known. It’s the highest among a slew of first/early outings — see also The Sweet Heat, Wren (Host was their second EP), River Cult’s demo, Stinkeye, Mindkult, Iron Jawed Guru, Brume, Wicked Gypsy and Love Gang.
Ultimately, there were fewer splits on the list this year than last year, but I’ll credit that to happenstance more than any emergent bias against the form or lack of quality in terms of what actually came out. The BoneHawk and Kingnomad release, the Ragged Barracudas and Pushy split, and that heavy rocking onslaught from Bison Machine and company were all certainly welcome by me, and I’ll mention Gorilla vs. Grifter there too again, just because it was awesome.
One more time, thank you for reading, and if you have something to add, please do so in the comments below. Your civility in that regard is appreciated.
This is the last of my lists for 2016, but the Readers Poll results are out Jan. 1 and the New Year hits next week and that brings a whole new round of looking-forward coverage, so stay tuned.
Posted in Reviews on December 27th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
Feeling good going into day two of the Quarterly Review. The good news about how heavy music has become such a vast universe is that there’s always plenty to cover without having to really dig into stuff I don’t find interesting. Of course, the other side of that is feeling constantly behind the curve and overwhelmed by it all, but let’s not talk about that for the moment. Point is that as we make our way through this week and into the next — because, remember, it’s six days this time, not five — a big part of me still feels like I’m just scratching the surface of everything that’s out there. It still seems just to be a fraction of the whole story being told around the world in the riffiest of languages. We all do what we can, I guess. Let’s get started.
Quarterly Review #11-20:
Red Fang, Only Ghosts
Four albums into one of the decade’s most successful and influential heavy rock careers, doesn’t it seem like Portland, Oregon’s Red Fang are due for a truly great record? Their 2013 outing, Whales and Leeches (discussed here), was rushed by the band’s own admission – their focus, as ever, on touring – and Only Ghosts (on Relapse) unites them with producer Ross Robinson and mixer Joe Barresi, two considerable names to bring heft and presence to the 10-track/42-minute outing. And I’ve no doubt that “Shadows” and the bigger-grooving “The Smell of the Sound” and opener “Flies” kick ass when delivered from the stage, and it’s true they sound more considered with the ambience of “Flames” positioned early, but Only Ghosts still comes across like a collection of songs united mostly by the timeframe in which they were written. Doesn’t mean they don’t build on Whales and Leeches, but now five years on from 2011’s Murder the Mountains (review here), and with their dynamic, charged and momentum-driven sound firmly established, Red Fang still seem to be at the threshold of some crucial forward step rather than stomping all over it as one might hope.
After releasing a self-titled debut (review here) and the follow-up Andromeda (review here) in 2014, 2016’s Sea of Clouds (on Crispin Glover/Stickman) is the third proper studio full-length from Norway’s Black Moon Circle – though at that point, define “proper.” In 2015, the trio/four-piece – Trondheim-based guitarist Vemund Engan, bassist Øyvin Engan and drummer Per Andreas Gulbrandsen, plus Scott “Dr. Space” Heller of Øresund Space Collective on synth – also released The Studio Jams Vol. I (discussed here) and in addition to the four tracks of Sea of Clouds, they’ve also had a Vol. II (review here) out this year. The definitions become fluid, is what I’m saying, and that couldn’t be more appropriate for the sound of “Lunar Rocket,” the outward-gazing space rock of “The Magnificent Dude,” “Moondog” and “Warp Speed,” which indeed offer enough kosmiche expanse to make one wonder where the song ends and the jam begins. Or, you know, reality. One has to wonder if Black Moon Circle might bridge the gap at some point between studio improv and more plotted songwriting, but as it stands, neither side of their dual personality fails to engage with its flow and drift.
A one-sided 12” EP issued by STB Records in late 2015 as the follow-up to Richmond dirge-fuzzer trio Druglord’s debut album, Enter Venus (review here), the three-track Deepest Regrets represents the band’s final studio material with bassist Greta Brinkman (ex-L7) in the lineup, who’s since been replaced by Julian Cook. That distinction matters in no small part because so much of Druglord’s purposes on Deepest Regrets’ three component songs – “Regret to Dismember,” “Speedballs to Hell” and “Heaven Tonight” – is about reveling in low end. Rawer than was the album preceding, they find guitarist/vocalist/organist Tommy Hamilton, Brinkman and drummer Bobby Hufnell emitting an oozing lurch, blasting out thickened motor-riffing, and fortifying a darkly psychedelic drear – in that order. True to EP form, each song gives a sampling of some of what Druglord has to offer coming off the album, and with a recording job by Garrett Morris, who also helmed the LP, it remains a fair look at where they might head next, despite the shift in lineup.
Melbourne’s Holy Serpent return with Temples (on RidingEasy), their second full-length after 2015’s self-titled debut (review here), and continue to offer an engaging blend of well-blazed psychedelia and heavier-rolling groove. Especially considering they’ve still only been a band for two years, the four-piece of guitarists Nick Donoughue and Scott Penberthy (the latter also vocals), bassist Dave Barlett and Lance Leembrugen remain striking in their cohesion of purpose, and Temples opener “Purification by Fire” and ensuing cuts like the fuzz-wall centerpiece “Toward the Sands” and echo-laden “The Black Stone” only continue to stretch their intentions toward ever more acid-ic flow. They called it “shroom doom” last time out, and seem to have moved away from that self-branding, but however one wants to label Temples, its five tracks/43 minutes push ahead from where Holy Serpent were just a year ago and, rounding out with the slower churn of “Sativan Harvest,” still reminds that mind expansion and deeply weighted tonecraft are by no means mutually exclusive.
Self-releasing Croatian instrumental trio Drone Hunter devise vigilantly straightforward riffing on their second album, Welcome to the Hole, finding room for some charm in titles like “Wine Dick,” “Crazy Ants with Shotguns” and the closing “A Burning Sensation,” the latter of which seems to draw particularly from the playbook of Karma to Burn. That comparison is almost inevitable for any riff-led/sans-vocal three-piece working in this form, but the crunch in “Fog Horn” and “Waltz of the Iron Countess” isn’t without its own personality either, and as with a host of acts from the Croatian underground, they seem to have a current of metal to their approach that, in the case of Welcome to the Hole, only makes the entire affair seem tighter and more precise while maintaining tonal presence. Fitz (guitar), Klen (bass) and Rus (drums) might not be much for words or last names, but their sophomore full-length comprises solid riffs and grooves and doesn’t seem to ask anything more than a nod from its audience. A price easily paid.
Lugweight is comprised solely of Brooklyn-via-Richmond-Virginia transplant Eric Benson, and the project makes its full-length debut with the evocatively-titled drone wash of Yesterday following one EP and preceding another. Fair to call it an experimental release, since that’s kind of the nature of the aesthetic, but Benson demonstrates a pretty clear notion of the sort of noise he’s interested in making, and there’s plenty of it on Yesterday in “Sleeping on Cocaine,” on which one can hear the undulating wavelengths emanating from speaker cones, or the penultimate “Love Song for the Insane,” which features chanting vocals in echoes cutting through a tonal morass but still somehow obscure. A 33-minute five-tracker, Yesterday doesn’t overstay its welcome, but alternates between sonic horrors and warmer immersion in the shorter centerpiece “Bleed My Sorrow” and closer “Show Me Where the Shovel Is,” coming dangerously close in the latter to doom riffing that one might almost dare to put drums to. Solo drone guitar, even when this thick, is never for everyone, but one doubts Benson was shooting for accessibility anyhow.
To hear Australia’s Megaritual tell it, the 25-minute single-song Eclipse EP was recorded on Mt. Jerusalem in New South Wales this past summer, the one-man outfit of vocalist/guitarist/sitarist/drummer Dale Paul Walker working with bassist/Monotronist Govinda Das to follow-up his prior two Mantra Music EPs, recently compiled onto an LP (review here) by White Dwarf Records. Whether or not that’s the case, “Eclipse” itself is suitably mountainous, building along a linear course from sea level to a grand peak with droning patience and gradual volume swells, lush and immersive psychedelia in slow-motion trails, a sparse verse, percussion, sitar, guitar, bass, and so on coming to a glorious vista around the 17:30 mark only to recede again circa six minutes later in a more precipitous dropoff. The digital edition (and that’s the only edition thus far) comes with a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun,” which makes good company for the hypnotic titular exploration and the quick progression it represents after the other two short releases.
Heavy psychedelic pastoralists Red Lama enter the conversation of 2016’s best debut albums with Dreams are Free, initially released on All Good Clean Records and subsequently picked up by Stickman. Leaning more toward the liquid end of psych-blues, the Danish seven-piece immediately transcend with opener “Inca” (video here) and quickly showcase a subtlety for build that only gets more potent as they move through “Sonic Revolution” and “The World is Yours,” unfolding due heft in the latter without losing the laid back sensibility that the vocals bring sweetly, melodically, to the material. The later “Mekong River” seems almost like it’s going to shoegaze itself into post-rock oblivion, but Red Lama hold their sound together even into the 10-minute closer “Dalai Delay” – aptly-titled twice over – and deliver with striking patience a languid flow with hints of underlying prog experimentation. How that will come to fruition will have to remain to be seen/heard, but Dreams are Free also dips into funkier groove on “Dar Enteha,” so while they probably could be if they were feeling lazy, Red Lama don’t at all seem to be finished growing. All the better.
Lacy is an experimental solo-project from former Lord guitarist Stephen Sullivan, based in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and part of a deep sludge underground that goes back well over a decade. Andromeda is his third album with the outfit and the second to be released in 2016, though unlike the preceding Volume 2. Blue, its 12 tracks were recorded in a matter of months, not years. All instruments, arrangements, vocals and the raw recording were handled by Sullivan himself (he also took the photo on the cover) but cuts like “Gyre Hell” and the acoustic “Push Me Away” veer around self-indulgence or hyper-navelgazing – I’d call “Offal and the Goat Brains” experimental, but not narcissistic – and he seems more interested in writing songs than making a show of being outside this or that imaginary box. Still, Andromeda offers diversity of instrumentation and arrangement, unplugging once more for “Healer” before closer “Always” finishes the album as a rumbling and grunge-laden love song.
After catching on late to German metallers Valborg’s 2015 fifth album, Romantik, I told myself I wasn’t going to miss whatever they did next. The single Werwolf (on Temple of Torturous and Zeitgeister) might be a quick check-in of just two songs – “Ich Bin Total” and “Werwolf” itself – but the classic European-style death-doom chug of the latter and the vicious crash of the former I still consider a reward for keeping an eye out. “Ich Bin Total” is less than three and a half minutes long, and “Werwolf” just over five, but both feature choice chug riffing, darkened atmospherics and art-metal growls that only add to the clenched-teeth intensity of the instruments surrounding. They spare neither impact nor ambience nor lives as Werwolf plays out, the title cut riding its massive progression forward to a sensory-overload of nod before finally offering some release to the tension in a second-half guitar lead, only to revive the brutality once more, repetitions of “werwolf” chanted in growls over it. Awesome.