Live Review: Høstsabbat 2018 Night Two in Oslo, Norway, 10.06.18

Posted in Reviews on October 6th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

hostsabbat 2018 poster

I knew this was going to be a quick trip, but now that I’m sitting on the other end of Høstsabbat 2018 it feels even quicker than it did on paper. Today was — church pun totally intended — little short of immaculate. It picked up from the energy and personality of yesterday’s show and directed the personalities of each stage in a different way. Upstairs on the altar, it was rock and psych for most of the night, while downstairs in the Crypt, it dug deep into post-metal. Then, for the final two acts, they pulled a total swap. Just when you think you’ve caught the pattern: no dice.

Slept hard after posting that last review and stopped at the organic market on my way back to the Kulturkirken Jakob and picked up a little natural-rubber frog for The Pecan back home, then hit the venue to check in. I should note: Coffee was had. In bulk. I didn’t count cups, but I wouldn’t have been able to keep track anyhow. I know I put down two or three before Taiga Woods were finished opening the day in the basement, and I stopped in for more several times along the way after that. Big quality of life improvement.

I’m not sure how else to say it — today was a special day. I am not young, and I have been to many shows in my time. That’s not bragging; I’ve by no means seen the most shows. But I’ve seen a few. And a day like this doesn’t come along all that often. I know already I’ll be looking back on my time here fondly. I haven’t even left the hotel to go to the airport yet, and frankly I’m already feeling nostalgic.

Thank you for reading. This is how it went:

hostsabbat art

Taiga Woods

Taiga Woods (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Rockin’ start to the proceedings. Oslo’s own Taiga Woods tapped into a traditional style of desert heavy, showing shades of Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age early on, but working their way toward their own identity in style and presence. Most of what they played came from their 2017 self-titled debut, though it’s worth noting that it would seem guitarist/vocalist Erik Skundberg has undergone a total revamp of the band in the 13 months since that LP was released, bringing on board drummer Jonatan Eikum as well as guitarist Jøran Normann, who played upstairs yesterday as a member of Lonely Kamel, and bassist Ole Ulvik Rokseth, who opened the Crypt yesterday as part of SÂVER. Familiar faces or no, that’s not a minor change when it’s three-fourths of the lineup. But as refreshing as it was to see an act get down to the ’90s roots of modern-style heavy rock, they lacked nothing for chemistry between them, and the new song “Step Up” fit well ahead the catchy “Slow Burning” as they made their way toward finishing with “The Great Machine.” I didn’t see CDs for sale, which only says to me they’re ready for someone to step up and put that record out either before or in conjunction with a new one to come.

Elephant Tree

Elephant Tree (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Maybe once — maybe — at a festival like this, I’ll see something that makes me pull the plugs out of my ears. Elephant Tree were that band at Høstsabbat. Kind of hard not to feel like the universe was doing me favors, lining up them, Asteroid and Electric Moon one into the next on the upstairs stage. The London three-piece were freshly arrived off a tour with Mothership and Stoned Jesus, and they sounded like it. I was lucky enough to see them in their hometown this past May (review here), and of course the context was different them play on an actual church altar in a room with a ceiling at least three stories high, but even so, they were locked in like a band who’ve been touring, and while they were joking around and guitarist/vocalist Jack Townley and bassist/vocalist Peter Holland were ragging on drummer Sam Hart for forgetting to get a beer before they took stage — someone brought him one — they were utterly locked in through “Dawn,” “Surma” and “Aphotic Blues” from their 2016 self-titled debut (review here). The harmonies between Townley and Holland were dead on, and they only showed progression in that regard with two new songs that carried the tentative titles “Wasted” and “Bella” before they closed out with a slowed-down cover of Black Sabbath‘s “Paranoid.” Because of the tempo, I actually thought they might dip into the Type O Negative version, but they ultimately stayed loyal at least in structure to the original. To call them a highlight of the trip would be underselling it viciously. A blast all the way through. They played Psycho Las Vegas last year, but I hope their next album brings them to the US for a full tour. They sounded ready and well up to the task.

Dwaal

Dwaal (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I knew nothing about Dwaal going into their set, and sometimes I like that. Also based in Oslo, they packed their five-piece lineup into the basement stage such that bassist Stian spent a decent portion of the set playing at least half behind a concrete support pillar. Metal. Actually, post-metal, and sludge, and doom, but fittingly atmospheric for an evening that would be headlined by Amenra. Their debut EP, Darben, came out last year comprised of two extended cuts — I’d call it a full-length since it topped 30 minutes, but why argue? — and they’ve reportedly got an album in the works, and while I don’t know if the bulk of what they played was new or older, their aggression and their level of crushing riffing were obviously a far cry from both Elephant Tree and Taiga Woods, but they marked the beginning point of a second thread running throughout the evening, which comprised more ambient and aggro post-whatnottery in contrast to the more rock-minded or psychedelic fare. Either way, the room knew them more than I did and they had heads banging and nodding in front of the “stage” — that’s not to say “the spot on the floor where the rug was” — and on the side as well, which was closed yesterday and opened today presumably to accommodate a broader flux of attendees. It was full for Dwaal, and reasonably so.

Asteroid

Asteroid (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Such boogie. Such warmth. I mean, come on. All other things in the universe being equal — especially money — the chance to see Asteroid alone would’ve justified this trip. I made my way up early to the Chapel stage, to make sure I got a spot up front to see them, and was rewarded with a set that gracefully spanned all three of their albums to-date and found them jamming out psychedelic heavy blues with a naturalism that was present not only in the individual tones and voices of guitarist/vocalist Robin Hirse and bassist/vocalist Johannes Nilsson, or the swing and shuffle in Jimmi Kohlscheen‘s drumming, but in the sonic conversation between the the three of them. That might be the most classic aspect of the Örebro trio’s sound, and it’s something that comes across on their records as well — their 2007 self-titled debut (discussed here), 2010’s II (review here) and 2016’s return from hiatus, III (review here) — but of course, to see it in the moment as it’s happening, to see them make the easy shift between “Garden” and “Disappear” or to have them turn to the riffy “Speaking to the Sea” from the first album ahead of “Mr. Strange” from the latest one, it was all the more powerful of an impression made. I hear tell there’s new material in the works; songs coming together for the next record and plans to tour ahead of hitting the studio. As Asteroid have been off and on the better part of the last five years, it only bodes well to know they’re thinking ahead for good things to come. They only make the world a better place for existing, and the more they do that, the merrier.

The Moth Gatherer

The Moth Gatherer (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Back downstairs for more post-metallic volume assault. Sweden’s The Moth Gatherer in some ways picked up where Dwaal left off, but traded in some of the rawness of their Crypt-stage predecessors for an even-more atmospheric take. They had an EP out last year called The Comfortable Low, but their latest full-length was 2015’s The Earth is the Sky (review here), and their more post-rock-based style sat well with the crowd downstairs that was packed to capacity with a line outside waiting to get in as other people made their way out. A very thoughtful, progressive sound nonetheless had its share of claustrophobia, which was all the more fitting given the basement where they played, and watching them, it was evident just how righteously Høstsabbat had managed to capture not just a “club show” experience with its smaller stage, but more like a house show. To low light and periodically bludgeoning intensity, The Moth Gatherer filled that Crypt with sound as much as people, and they were a band I’d probably never have the chance to see anywhere else, so I felt all the more fortunate for the chance to do so here, in that small room where the walls seemed so ready to cave in at a moment’s notice. The thread that started with Dwaal and continued with The Moth Gatherer would pick up again with Amenra at the end, but there was still more rock to be had first.

Electric Moon

Electric Moon (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Before the German instrumentalist space/psych jammers got started, they shared a hug on the side of the stage, and then guitarist Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt got on mic and wished everyone a pleasant flight. With the core trio of the band made all the more lush owing to guest synth from Burt Rocket (SEID) at the center of the stage, that trip took off quickly and didn’t bother to look back at ground below. Schmidt and bassist/sometimes-vocalist “Komet Lulu” Neudeck were rejoined by original drummer Pablo Carneval about a year ago, and their adventures only seemed to take them farther and farther out as their set went on, washes of guitar and synth floating up to the high ceiling while the bass and drums held together a fluidity of groove that showed the band for the masters of the form — such as it is a “form” with a sound so utterly molten — that they are. I’ve been lucky enough to catch them at Roadburn in years past (review here) and with their members in various projects, as the band’s pedigree runs through acts like Zone Six and WeltraumstaunenKrautzone, etc., but to see Electric Moon on stage is something unto itself. They’re never overly showy in terms of thrashing about or anything, but the experience of their sonic exploration comes through vividly as they play, and that suits the laid back feel of the resultant material itself perfectly. They did not in any way fail to invite the audience along on what indeed turned out to be a pleasurable, radiant-in-the-sense-of-light journey.

Brutus

Brutus (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I did not see nearly enough of Brutus. They were killer, and they were killing, and I did not see nearly enough of them doing it. To be fair to myself, I’d probably say the same if I’d managed to watch their full set, but the Norwegian traditionalist heavy rockers headlined in the Crypt, and they had the basement of Kulturkirken Jakob so jammed with bodies that for the first time in the whole weekend, I felt the press of the crowd almost knock me over up front. And even if I do at some point in my life get to see Brutus again, chances are, it won’t be in the kind of situation where I’m in danger of tripping over the stage monitors on the floor because of the push of people behind me, so I relished the opportunity while I could. And Brutus — clearly hometown heroes of boozy riff-purveyance — were a thrill to behold in that headlining spot. They could’ve played upstairs easily, I’m sure, but despite their sonic discrepancy with The Moth Gatherer and Dwall directly before, they made that basement into a party all the way, and while I knew that in just a little while, Amenra were going to close out the festival on a much darker note, the chance to see Brutus play, and to play in a place that small, wasn’t to be overlooked. I didn’t see enough of it, but I’m grateful for what I did catch, because that’s not an opportunity that will come along often, if it ever does again at all.

Amenra

Amenra (Photo by JJ Koczan)

The Belgian post-metal kingpins have toured the US more than a couple of times at this point, I believe most recently as support for the wallop duo of Neurosis and Converge — their also on the former’s label, Neurot Recordings — but I’m still not sure America really appreciates just how huge Amenra are in Europe. They’re gods here. I knew that from seeing them at Roadburn in 2016, but the intervening years have only seen them all the more don a headliner role. They would seem to have taken the post-metal crown that once belonged to Cult of Luna, and while I’ll admit I could in no way match my fellow fest-goers’ sense of worship when it came time for them to go on, there’s absolutely nothing one can take away either from their intensity or their obvious dedication to how they present themselves. I don’t know if it would be possible to find a more fitting locale for Amenra to play than in a church with cathedral ceilings of height enough for their projections to be shown massively to the assembled congregation, but even if you discount all of that, and ignore the we-play-in-the-dark-until-the-strobes-hit lighting and the fact that frontman Colin H. van Eeckhout doesn’t face the audience until the last song, if then, they’re still a formidable presence live, and there would’ve been nowhere else to put them on the Høstsabbat bill if they weren’t at the top of it. I’m not 100 percent sure I’m ready to call myself a full-on convert to the “church of ra,” as they put it, but I definitely didn’t have any trouble seeing the appeal of their dogma. And I reserve the right to become a total fanboy at some later date.

I left out of Kulturkirken Jakob into the chilly Oslo air without my hoodie on. Just wanted to feel that cold as it was rather than shy away from it. Something about the sensory experience on my bare neck and forearms seemed like a good idea at the time. It’s coming up on three in the morning CET and my flight is at nine-something, so I won’t get to see a lot of the city on this trip. Maybe that was my way of taking as much of it in as I could.

When I got back around the block to the Anker Hotel, I messaged Johannes from Asteroid. We had talked earlier in the day about doing an interview for “The Obelisk Show” on Gimme Radio, and it didn’t happen at the venue, but I thought if they were around the hotel maybe it could work. Was worth a shot, anyhow. Robin was asleep, but I chatted in the hotel bar with Johannes and Jimmi, and that was a blast. I spoke with Elephant Tree earlier in the day as well, and with Ole Helstad and Jens Storaker, who run the fest, so I think I’ll probably just dedicate a whole episode to having been here. I think I have a few weeks before I get there, but I’ll keep you posted.

I haven’t sorted any pics yet from tonight, so need to do that, but I’m not sleepy yet, so hopefully my brain won’t come crashing down before I have to leave for the airport. Help me, last tiny drops of adrenaline.

My eyelids are getting heavy just thinking about it.

I can’t possibly thank you enough for reading if you have.

Thank you.

Thank you so much to Jens and to Ole for having me back here. Thank you to The Patient Mrs. and to Cate Wright for taking on my Pecan duties in my absence. Thank you to my mother and my sister for their undying support. My only hope is they know how grateful I am for it. Thanks to Falk-Hagen Bernshausen for always being so great to run into at fests, to Andrea who I met here, to Kai, who is an institution unto himself, to Pete, Jack and Sam from Elephant Tree, to Robin, Johannes and Jimmi from Asteroid, to Sula Bassana, Martin from Domkraft, Jens Heide, Lex and everyone else I spoke to over the last two days who said hi. It’s hugely appreciated and humbling. People say nice things. It feels good. Thank you.

Alright. On to photos, and then to shower, and then to airport. I doubt I’ll have it in me to post again before I’m back home, and don’t look for much on Monday, but really, one more time, thank you. So much. I don’t even get it, how lucky I am. My soul feels restored for having been here.

Thank you for that.

Pics after the jump.

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The Obelisk Presents: 12 of 2016’s Best Album Covers

Posted in Features, Visual Evidence on December 12th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

This list could easily go to 20. Or 30. Or 50. The democratization of media and the flourishing of aesthetic thanks to wide-open digital interaction across national and cultural borders has meant that bands in Texas can get artwork from Spain easily — something we’ve come to take for granted in this age of messages flying through space in indeterminate instants. There’s a lot of art out there. A lot of it is very, very good. Not all, but a lot.

In the particular realm of heavy rock and doom, I’ve spent a lot of time this year being discouraged at the continued and apparently flourishing objectification of women. Cartoon tits. Get out of here with that shit. You’ll notice none of the covers on this list go that route. It’s boring, it’s easy and it’s sexist. If you want to establish your masculine dominance, go pull your dick out at the mall and see how that does for you. Putting other people down to make yourself feel bigger is for kindergarten. As human beings, we should be past it.

Nonetheless — and I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t also note the lack of women on this list — there is a ton of interesting and forward-moving work being done around the world and I think that’s worth taking a couple minutes to celebrate even just a fraction of it. Hopefully you agree, and if you have some favorite art you’d like to add to the list, please hit up the comments.

Ordered alphabetically by artist

Sourvein, Aquatic Occult

sourvein aquatic occult

Cover by Jordan Barlow. Artist website.

Sourvein‘s Aquatic Occult (review here) was a dense, multi-faceted work, and one imagines that for Jordan Barlow of New Orleans’ Abracadabra Tattoo, part of the challenge was in either finding or creating a design that coincided with that without coming across as confused or off-theme. This bevvy of undersea elements gives us a central figure in a frustrated Neptune with a shark-teeth crown, a human presence in the two diver helmets (is anyone in there?) and highlights the dangers of the ocean with its hammerheads and threatening-looking seahorse, as well as what seems to be a whirlpool and another swirl in opposite top corners. All told, the deep blue and green tones complement the morass of Sourvein‘s sound, raw and natural as it is, and provide moody intrigue to coincide with the wide variety of songwriting on display. Like the album, it is defined in no small part by its haze.

Holy Grove, Holy Grove

holy grove holy grove

Cover by Adam Burke. Artist website.

Portland-based Adam Burke is something of a repeat offender when it comes to badass artwork. He regularly posts works in progress on social media and the lushness of his technique astounds me nearly every time out. Holy Grove‘s self-titled debut (review here) was far from the only piece of his a band used this year, but what stood it out most was the balance between nighttime — as seen in the stars and the darkness of the sky and trees — and the aurora borealis that offered such a rich, otherworldly feel. Beautiful, immediately recognizable as Burke‘s, and it pays subtle homage to his and the band’s Cascadian home region with the shapes of the tall evergreens in the foreground, speaking all the more to the beauty of the Pacific Northwest and the classic soul fused into the record itself.

Duel, Fears of the Dead

duel fears of the dead

Cover by Pol Abran Cantador. Artist website.

How could one not look at the cover of Duel‘s debut album, Fears of the Dead (review here), and not immediately think of the Misfits? And yet, Barcelona-based Pol Abran Cantador, operating under the banner of Branca Studio, brings a freshness to the striking, landmark skull design. The face is off-center, the eyes looking outward. While there’s little doubt as to the visual reference being made, it’s just that — a reference, not an emulation. Treading that balance would be admirable enough for inclusion here, but impact of the piece becomes greater with the distressed look and the deep blood red surrounding, giving dimension as a backdrop, reinforcing the perspective of the figure, and providing Duel with a horror-cinema vibe that begs the question of just what those eyes are staring at.

Brutus, Wandering Blind

brutus wandering blind

Cover by Maarten Donders. Artist website.

Sometimes something just stays with you. On the surface, Dutch artist Maarten Donders brings forward a pretty simple idea for Norwegian boogie rockers Brutus‘ third album, Wandering Blind (review here). Images from ’60s-style psychedelic pulp horror come to mind — the bat, the spiderwebs, the blank stare on the face, the flowing hair through the open mouth of the skull, the monster eyeballs, the purposefully hand-drawn logo — but at the same time, the execution of these things is so intricate. Look at the bags under those eyes, the black holes where the teeth of that skull should be, the weird bubbles by the eyeballs, and the comic-style lettering of the album title itself, which switches back and forth between capitalized and lowercase letters. Look at the shadowed impression of a vinyl record that encircles the design but lets the chin of the skull and the band’s logo protrude. It’s so immediate but so deceptive, hiding its devils in its details.

Seedy Jeezus with Isaiah Mitchell, Tranquonauts

tranquonauts seedy jeezus isaiah mitchell
Cover by Mr. Frumpy. Artist website.

While it’s true that for this collaboration between Earthless guitarist Isaiah Mitchell and Melbourne heavy psych rockers Seedy Jeezus, the front cover only tells half the story of the full Tranquonauts (review here) gatefold, even 50 percent is enough to justify inclusion here. Put together by Mr. Frumpy Frumpedia, aka Seedy Jeezus guitarist Lex Waterreus, it was one of several artworks this year to feature smaller figures against a grand backdrop — Geezer‘s self-titled and Sunnata‘s Zorya, featured below, come to mind immediately, as well as the last Fu Manchu — but it was the openness of the space itself that Waterreus captured, both on the ground and in the sky, and the atmosphere that brought to the instrumental, jammed-put proceedings on the LP’s two sides, that made it work so well. The humanoid figures — maybe the total four-piece of the lineup? — are so utterly overwhelmed by their surroundings, and yet they seem more than ready to make their journey through them, finding life along what seems to be a barren path.

Greenleaf, Rise Above the Meadow

greenleaf rise above the meadow

Cover by Sebastian Jerke. Artist website.

Sebastian Jerke has kind of become Napalm Records‘ go-to artist over the last couple years, as his past and upcoming work for the likes of My Sleeping Karma, monkey3, Ahab, The Answer and others can attest, but the strangeness of the natural world, the three-dimensional protrusion of the trees, the layered depths, and the commanding presence of the bear, owl, snake and winged insects standing above it all made his work for Greenleaf‘s Rise Above the Meadow (review here) my favorite album cover of the year. It’s very much in his painterly, somewhat classical style, but the way the light seems to come from the band’s logo and behind the planet, the use of shadow and shading on the trees, and the monstrously blank eyes of the bear and owl give it a depth and narrative that remains nothing short of breathtaking. Clearly a labor of love.

Beastwars, The Death of all Things

beastwars the death of all things

Cover by Nick Keller. Artist website.

My only question was whether it was the cover for The Death of all Things (review here) I’d include or Keller‘s piece that was used for Child‘s new album, Blueside (review here), but with the context of this very likely being the final offering from New Zealand sludgecrushers Beastwars, the answer was plain. Either way, Keller‘s sense of scale and scope remains immense and he continues to bring a feel of the epic to his work here as he did to his two prior covers for Beastwars, on 2013’s Blood Becomes Fire (review here) and the band’s 2011 self-titled debut (review here), resulting in a more than suitable pairing of visual representation and impact of sound. Rarely does one find an artist and a band so much on the same page.

Goatess, II: Purgatory Under New Management

goatess ii purgatory under new management

Cover by Göran Nilsson. Artist website.

Charm goes a long way in my book, always, and Göran Nilsson‘s cover for the second outing by Swedish doomers GoatessII: Purgatory Under New Management (review here), has it in bulk supply. The underlying mischief of depicting the four-piece as medieval-esque saints painted on wood like something out of the Middle Ages — their faces grim with a seriousness of purpose not at all letting on to the tongue-in-cheek nature of the record’s title — with halos behind their heads and scripture in tow, well, it’s got a humor that most doom wouldn’t dare go near for fear of losing the edge of its miseries. For Goatess, however, it works perfectly in conveying an essential piece of where the band is coming from, in that their output in the first place seems to be as much about getting together and celebrating the act of writing songs as a unit as it is worshiping the traditions of the style.

Droids Attack, Sci-Fi or Die

droids

Cover by Eli Quinn. Artist website.

While a jpeg of the cover alone doesn’t quite do justice to the full presentation of Eli Quinn‘s artwork for Droids Attacks‘ Sci-Fi or Die (review here), which went so far as to print the title of the record in gold ink on the CD case, feature even more detailed work inside and even go so far as to create an entirely separate artwork scheme for a bonus track hidden on a mini-CD under the back tray under the disc for the album (detailed here), I still find the image of the launching South American-style pyramid as a full diamond taking off — especially with the lights beaming out the bottom — among the most striking of 2016. Reminiscent of Arik Roper‘s detailed style, Quinn‘s cover added depth and purpose to the band’s never-tighter songcraft while also speaking to the love of science-fiction storytelling that drove them to use the title in the first place. Hard not to win with ancient aliens.

Sunnata, Zorya

sunnata zorya

Cover by Jeffrey Smith. Artist website.

Derived it would seem at least in part from a piece called “Erosion of Self,” or at very least of a kin to it, like a lot of Smith‘s work, his art for Zorya (review here) by Polish heavy rockers Sunnata treats light with a religious reverence. Like a Kubrick shot, the sun is dead-center of the painting itself, framed and encircled by gaseous-looking clouds, and as the dawn seems to break over this landscape (or is it sunset?), it becomes difficult to tell where the robed monks end and the rocky protrusions begin. Our eyes are drawn immediately toward the light, and it’s the light that ultimately defines the story here, the way the beams of light shoot outward and turn the desert floor white so that it almost reminds of a body of water as much as a place where nothing seems to grow. Stark but consuming.

High Fighter, Scars and Crosses

high fighter scars and crosses

Cover by Dominic Sohor. Artist website.

This one was so dark, so malevolent, with such a violent bend in its prominent central figure, that it seemed to encapsulate the underlying threat that always seemed to loom over High Fighter‘s Svart Records debut album, Scars and Crosses (review here). Because the faceless blue skin and hanging, stringy hair are so reminiscent of Japanese horror films, and because the heart  in the right hand stands out so much in its silvery tone and because the pattern on the dress/cowl is so intricate, you almost don’t notice at first that it’s blood shooting out of that figure’s left wrist filled with upside-down and rightside-up crosses or that it seems to be veins in the top left corner acting as puppet strings, propping up the entire play. But it definitely is, and that only furthers the horrific, nightmarish imagery surrounding, where even the shaded background seems to want to lure you in with no hope of escape.

Bridesmaid, International House of Mancakes

bridesmaid international house of mancakes

Cover by W. Ralph Walters. Artist website.

Come on. So you mean to tell me you went ahead an reinvented KISS‘ cover for Destroyer with Ohio heavy rockers Bridesmaid dressed as the Village People? Be still my beating heart. The art for International House of Mancakes (review here) offers subversive humor without judgment, winking at the homoeroticism that has always been and likely will always be a part of rock and roll, and ultimately mocks the ridiculousness of the denial of that same homoeroticism. From the hands raised in triumph on either side (an element pulled right from the original KISS cover) to the stacks of pancakes the instrumental outfit is standing on, it functioned as artwork to say so much about the band and was perhaps all the more effective in conveying its message and their message since there were no lyrics to pull in other directions. It’s all right there in your face; bright and brilliant.

Because I can’t seem to get out of one of these lists without a series of honorable mentions, I’ll say too that 2016 offerings from Borracho, SubRosa, Inter Arma, Mars Red Sky, Vokonis, Elephant Tree, EYE, Slomatics, Gozu and Black Moon Circle managed to strike on one level or another.

Thanks for reading. Like I said at the outset, this is barely a fraction of the amazing art that came down the line this year. If you’ve got something to add, please hit up the comments.

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Quarterly Review: The Order of Israfel, Landskap, Pooty Owldom, Celophys, Dunbarrow, Brutus, Vallihauta, Pater Nembrot, Floodlore, Red Cloud

Posted in Reviews on June 23rd, 2016 by JJ Koczan

the-obelisk-summer-2016-quarterly-review

We continue today to make our way through The Obelisk’s Summer 2016 Quarterly Review. Yesterday we passed the halfway point, always pivotal, and today brings another batch of 10 albums from the realms of doom, heavy rock, heavy psych, boogie rock, and beyond that I’m looking forward to digging into. I’ve been waking up early mornings all week to put these together — in bed circa 10PM, out of bed at 6AM — but it’s been worth it to see the response the posts have gotten so far and, I’ll say it once again, I hope you’ve found something you dig in what’s already out there, or if not, that by the time we wrap tomorrow something piques your interest. Let’s do it.

Quarterly Review #31-40:

The Order of Israfel, Red Robes

the-order-of-israfel-red-robes

Swedish double-guitar four-piece The Order of Israfel make their second offering in Red Robes. Issued, like its 2014 predecessor, Wisdom, by Napalm Records, the new collection tops out at 59 minute/eight tracks of classically rolling doom. Guitarist/vocalist Tom Sutton (also Horisont, ex-Church of Misery) leads the charge for the Gothenburg-based unit, and along with guitarist Staffan Björck, bassist Patrik Andersson Winberg and drummer Hans Lilja, he brings to light a trad doom not so far removed in some of its impulses from some others throughout Northern Europe in the post-Reverend Bizarre sphere, but showing a personality of its own in the layered vocals of “Von Sturmer” and the acoustic “Fallen Children,” which follows, the choral arrangement in the earlier “The Red Robes” and the speedier “A Shadow in the Hills,” which precedes the crawling 16-minute closer “The Thirst,” its slow-nodding finish underscoring what The Order of Israfel bring of themselves to the classic form in songwriting and overall cohesion of purpose.

The Order of Israfel on Thee Facebooks

The Order of Israfel at Napalm Records

Landskap, III

LANDSKAP III

It’s a little bit of everything. Landskap’s aptly-titled third album, III, brings out ‘70s vibe with the organ and underlying shuffle of opener “Wayfarer’s Sacrifice,” but offers a doomier feel in the vocals and guitar, and the band go on to execute Doors-gone-prog moodiness on centerpiece “The Trick to Letting Go” and more psychedelic fuzz on the subsequent “The Hand that Takes Away.” So yeah, the London five-piece of vocalist Jake Harding, guitarist George Pan, bassist Christopher West (ex-Trippy Wicked, Groan), drummer Paul Westwood and keyboardist Kostas Panagiotou cover a good bit if ground in just five tracks, tying it all together via Harding’s vocals and a comfortable pace across the board, even on the more insistent “Awakening the Divide,” though that consistency gets toyed with some as nine-minute closer “Mask of Apathy” moves from its dreamy, spacious initial stretch into more uptempo push as payoff for the album as a whole. All the better to have Landskap shift their own methods as fluidly as they meld different styles across III’s engaging span.

Landskap on Thee Facebooks

Landskap on Bandcamp

Pooty Owldom, Pooty Owldom

pooty owldom pooty owldom

If I have a speed at this point, Pooty Owldom is pretty much it. The Virginia-based duo of Matt “Big Jim” Shively and Walter Barry – also two-thirds of the trio Olson/Shively/Barry, which released their debut, Teirra del Fuego Blues (review here), in 2014 – cross the lines between psychedelia, krautrock, folk, weirdo prog and funk with the carefree fluidity of pre-jam-band Ween on their self-titled first outing under their new moniker, and hopefully it’s not the last one, because whether it’s the soap-opera daydream keys of “The Owlet” or any number of the other owl-themed cuts here – “Fuzzy Pellet” is a personal favorite, but who could argue with the bassline/piano tap of “Owls with Big Donuts?” – there’s a considerable creative breadth at work in kind with what sounds like a really good time in progress. Not one for everybody, but for me, I’d love to hear Shively and Barry flesh these ideas out further over longer pieces – “Torus Landing” goes furthest here at 4:53 – and bring the jazzy rhythmic sunbathing of “Target: Mouse” to even greater experimental realization. However it comes, more please.

Pooty Owldom on Bandcamp

Walter Barry website

Celophys, Ammonite

celophys ammonite

A guitar/drum duo based in Cherkasy, Ukraine, Celophys issued their third album, Ammonite, last year through Robust Fellow Records. The CD arrives as yet another example of the Ukraine’s burgeoning heavy scene, along with Kiev acts like Stoned Jesus, Bomg, Soom, Mozergush, Ethereal Riffian and others, and brings a noteworthy sense of lumbering across its mostly-extended seven tracks, beginning with 12-minute opener and longest cut (immediate points) “Baron,” which melds slow-grind sludge riffing with deathly growls and rasp, which the charmingly-named “Spaceburger” and the later drumless drone-feast “Caveman Ritual” continue to build out in atmosphere and snail’s-pace intensity. Feedback, massive tonality, plodding groove – these are hardly unfamiliar elements, but drummer/vocalist Alexander Beregovoy and guitarist Miroslav Kopeyka bring about a fervent bludgeoning across Ammonite that should have even the jaded among those who approach it nodding approval. Also noteworthy is the limited-to-53 “Nautilus Pack” which comes in a hand-carved, custom-designed oversized wood case with special graffiti art, a sticker and a pin, as well as the digipak version of the album.

Celophys on Thee Facebooks

Robust Fellow Productions on Thee Facebooks

Robust Fellow Records on Bandcamp

Dunbarrow, Dunbarrow

dunbarrow dunbarrow

Dunbarrow’s self-titled debut hits at a curious moment. They might be a few years ahead of their time in returning to the roots of vintage-style heavy rock, but in so doing, they basically take up the mantle that groups like Witchcraft, Graveyard, Kadavar and Blues Pills have left behind in favor of more modern production styles. Specifically, the Norwegian four-piece, who had a handful of shorter digital releases out before, come across in direct conversation with the self-titled Witchcraft debut from 2004. Strange to think that a record with an aesthetic so bent on looking backward could actually be forward-thinking — portrait of what goes around, coming around — but Dunbarrow offer persuasive argument in favor of retro orthodoxy in the swaying “You Knew I was a Snake” and the subdued brooding of “Guillotine.” Whether their bet pays off will be something to find out over the next couple years and as their sound continues to develop, but for their first full-length, they show clever songcraft, a clear idea of what they want to do, and the potential to move that forward in intriguing ways.

Dunbarrow on Thee Facebooks

Dunbarrow on Bandcamp

Brutus, Wandering Blind

brutus wandering blind

I’ll rarely hone in on one instrument throughout an album, but the bass tone on Brutus’ third LP, Wandering Blind (on Svart), has to be heard to be believed. With a goodtime take on ‘70s shuffle, there’s plenty of room for the low end to wind its way around the guitar, and it does. Of course, that’s not all the Swedish/Norwegian five-piece have going for them in these nine live-sounding tracks, as shown in the swaying solo section of “Whirwind of Madness” or the stomp of “Blind Village.” They’re not through the opening title-track before multiple Sabbath references are dropped in the lyrics, and indeed they’re a touchstone, but the more upbeat feel of “The Killer” and the back and forth of closer “Living in a Daze” play to deeper influences from classic heavy rock and its modern incarnations, culminating in a multi-layer guitar solo backed by tambourine, bass, and drums that really seems to sum up the friendly and unpretentious vibe Brutus elicit.

Brutus on Thee Facebooks

Brutus at Svart Records

Vallihauta, Vallihauta

vallihauta vallihauta

Finnish trio Vallihauta make their self-titled debut on Future Lunch with eight raw tracks that span between the hardcore punk/death ‘n’ roll of “Puoliverinen” and the doomed churn in the early going of “Reviiri.” One can basically tell looking at the runtimes of the cuts where Vallihauta are headed with each song, and they adjust their songwriting capably to coincide with the given tempo shifts, resulting in a back and forth as playful as it is aggressive in its sound and harsh low-end buzz, but to their credit, they bring the two approaches together effectively on closer “Ote,” shifting from the record’s most gurgling rumble and tortured plod to increasingly intense punkishness that hits headfirst into a final slowdown to end the album. A multi-faceted approach is rarely something to complain about, and it certainly isn’t here, but the challenge going forward for Vallihauta will be to build on that bridging of gaps in “Ote” without losing either the ferocity of their faster material or the weight of the slower.

Vallihauta on Thee Facebooks

Vallihauta at Future Lunch webstore

Pater Nembrot, Nusun

pater nembrot nusun

The third Pater Nembrot album, Nusun (on Go Down Records), follows five years behind 2011’s Sequoia Seeds (review here), and for Italian heavy rock, it’s been a hell of a half-decade. Now recognized as one of the strongest scenes in Europe, Italy has become a hotbed and Pater Nembrot’s return couldn’t be better timed. The nine-track outing brings some genuinely expansive moments, as with the 10-minute “Architeuthis” for which Christian Peters (Samsara Blues Experiment) guests on synth, or the wah-soaked second half of “The Rich Kids of Teheran,” but even shorter pieces like “Young Rite” effectively bring together grunge and heavy psych influences. The piano-laced opener “Lostman” and acoustic-strummed closer “Dead Polygon” seem to be speaking right to each other and are somewhat at remove with the rest of the record, perhaps the minute-long bass interlude “Uknap” aside (perhaps not), but the four-piece know their game by this point and just when a song like “Overwhelmed” seems like it’s going to lose its course, they bring it around to Nusun’s most satisfying instrumental build.

Pater Nembrot on Thee Facebooks

Pater Nembrot at Go Down Records

Floodlore, When it was Written

floodlore when it was written

Almost immediately upon the band starting “Device,” the sense of ambition in Floodlore’s debut album, When it was Written, is palpable. A psych-infused trio from Northern Virginia, they range freely between the classic-minded “Justice” and fuzzy push of “Bars” before heading back to jammier fare for “Release,” which calls to mind All Them Witches for its meandering blues, and into harder-edged winding riffs for “Evening.” Both “Peace” and “Glow” continue to flesh out one side or the other, but an obvious focal point is the three-part/28-minute closer “Sun/When the Floodlore was Written/In Praise of Alan Watts,” which starts out nodding at surf rock before space-progging out for about 20 minutes, working into an out of extended solos and culminating in swirl and thrust that lives up to the band’s clear will for exploration. Some smoothing out to do in terms of balancing the mix (vocals came through high, though I’ll allow that could be my speakers), but When it was Written impresses in concept and execution and as Floodlore’s first full-length, it’s remarkably encouraging.

Floodlore on Thee Facebooks

Floodlore on Bandcamp

Red Cloud, Ursa Minor

red cloud ursa minor

When it starts to feel like maybe you’ve got a given track figured out, that seems to be the moment when Eugene, Oregon, five-piece Red Cloud turn something around on their full-length debut, Ursa Minor, and though their foundation is still very much in heavy rock, they build on that shifting into and out of desert stylizations and psychedelic swirl. The band – here guitarist/vocalist/bassist Aaron Williams, guitarist Dennis Medina, drummer/engineer Lauren Roberts and bassist/guitarist Sean Loos, though Loos seems to have left the band and bassist Mike Nemeth and keyboardist Garrett Davis come aboard – keep the material consistent by going back to that heavy rock foundation and through a clear focus on songwriting. Even in the somewhat lumbering starts and stops of “Smoke Screen,” these tracks feel worked on and carefully arranged, and though they go different places – “Ghost Dance” with its manic shuffle, closer “Sick Eagle” with its Songs for the Deaf-style drive – they universally take an efficient route to get there.

Red Cloud on Thee Facebooks

Red Cloud on Bandcamp

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Brutus Set May 20 Release for Wandering Blind on Svart

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 23rd, 2016 by JJ Koczan

Norwegian classic heavy rockers Brutus will release their third long-player, Wandering Blind, May 20 via Svart Records. The band previously unveiled the single “Drowning” in a lyric video (posted here), and they follow that now with the oh-so-vinyl-ready cover art for the album and the tracklisting, which between the title cut, “Axe Man,” “The Killer” and “Creepin'” offers no shortage of threat from the Oslo-based five-piece, whose last offering, Behind the Mountains, was issued in 2013.

Clearly they were going for something-you’d-see-in-an-old-vinyl-shop-and-be-stoked-to-have-found with the cover, and that’s cool by me. Dig it and the info below, all courtesy of the PR wire:

brutus wandering blind

BRUTUS set release date for new SVART album

Today, Svart Records sets May 20th as the international release date for Brutus’ highly anticipated third album, Wandering Blind. These days, too many so-called bands try their best to convey that “we don’t belong to that decade” feeling, hoping that few bell-bottom jeans, plenty of facial hair, and a few vintage instruments will do. And then there are those who truly ooze of that natural yet unmistakable grit, that loose impression that they indeed fell through some lost wormhole directly from, say, 1971 and just belong here, in the good sense of the term.

Oslo’s Brutus are one of those rare breed, a solid and non-corrupted pure blues/hard-rock powerhouse, started by three Swedes and two Norwegians ten years ago and openly in awe of Leaf Hound, Grand Funk Railroad, and Blue Cheer, right on the fence separating the ’60s from the ’70s when musicians were already letting their hair hang but had yet to compromise their vision to please the money-hungry business man.

Recorded live in four days only at Engfelt & Forsgren Studios in Oslo by Christian Engfelt, who already worked with Cato Salsa Experience and Big Bang, Brutus’ third album, Wandering Blind, is as honest and down-to-earth as it gets: no modern tricks, no pose, no fancy moves, just pure and greasy music right from a time when those things mattered and nothing else. According to guitarist Johan Forsberg, “That recording was done like our first album, but this time, we nailed it even better! We’ve known Christian for many years and knew he shared our taste for ’60s and ’70s music and also was the right guy as far as how to record that sound and feel. He got a new fantastic studio, and we did the whole thing quickly through an old tape machine and old preamps. This is the first time we used someone that we could work with as a producer, but we welcomed his ideas and thoughts in the process, and it worked out perfectly.”

In a nutshell, Wandering Blind is going to rock you like a mutha and Brutus are your man! Tracklisting is as follows:

Tracklisting for Brutus’ Wandering Blind
1. Wandering Blind
2. Drowning
3. Axe Man
4. Whirlwind Of Madness
5. The Killer
6. Blind Village
7. Creepin
8. My Lonely Room
9. Living In A Daze

www.facebook.com/brutusband
www.svartrecords.com
www.facebook.com/svartrecords
www.twitter.com/svartrecords

Brutus, “Drowning” official video

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Brutus Post Lyric Video for “Drowning”; New Album Due in April

Posted in Bootleg Theater on February 15th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

brutus

Scandinavian classic heavy rock five-piece Brutus will release their third album, Wandering Blind, April 29 through Svart Records. The full-length comes preceded by a new single, “Drowning,” for which the band have a lyric video posted now, and it finds the band as veterans of a still-booming set of ’70s-inspired European heavy, their self-titled debut (discussed here) having arrived in 2010, akin to the likes of second-LP Witchcraft and the then-doomier Burning Saviours. Brutus had their heads deep in boogie rock on their second offering, 2013’s Behind the Mountains, and that release found them playing Høstsabbat in their native country as well as international fests like RoadburnDesertfest and Freak Valley.

They mark a decade together in 2016, and that tenure finds them staking out their own territory within the style that apparently today I’ve decided I’m calling New Millennium Analog — see also “the heavy ’10s” and any number of other intermittent descriptors — still definitely rooted in classic methods, but moving forward as well. That’s been an interesting challenge for bands like Brutus, how to progress and invariably become more individual while keeping the sense of homage to what’s come before. I don’t know this, but I’d imagine it’s a gradual process that comes through songwriting rather than something Brutus plotted out — that is, nobody’s sitting around going, “We’re gonna be 20 percent more modern this time” — but their sound remains natural and you can still hear their roots in “Drowning,” which keeps a positive air despite something of a downer lyric.

You can read more about the album below, courtesy of the PR wire. Video follows. Enjoy:

Brutus, “Drowning” official video

Today, Norwegian heavy blues-rockers Brutus premiere the video for “Drowning.” The track is being released today as a single on 7″ vinyl – featuring an exclusive B-side, “Ute av fokus,” and which can be ordered HERE – as well as digitally via iTunes, Spotify, Tidal, and more. “Drowning” is also the first single off Brutus’ forthcoming new album, Wandering Blind, set for international release on April 29th via Svart Records.

Self-described as “heavy blues rock for the new generation,” Brutus was started 10 years ago by three Swedes in Oslo who found two Norwegians, and “we started to jam together. Despite that it was 2006, the music that came out was more akin to what was made in England and the US in 1969-1970 – good rocking stuff like Leaf Hound, Grand Funk, Blue Cheer, and Pentagram that we were spinning a lot on our turntables.”

Brutus’ third album to date, Wandering Blind was recorded at Engfelt & Forsgren Studios in Oslo by Christian Engfelt (Cato Salsa Experience, Big Bang, Serena Maneesh). In 2010, they released the self-titled debut album on Swedish label Transubstans, and in 2013 came the critically acclaimed Behind The Mountains via Svart Records. Following the release of Behind The Mountains, Brutus have toured around Europe a couple of times and played festivals like Roadburn, Desertfest, Bukta Festivalen, Stone Rising Festival, Freak Valley Festival, and many more. Cover and tracklisting are as follows:

Tracklisting for Brutus’ Drowning
1. Drowning
2. Ute av fokus

Brutus website

Brutus on Thee Facebooks

Svart Records

Svart Records on Thee Facebooks

Svart Records on Twitter

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DesertFest Belgium 2014: Colour Haze, 1000mods, Death Alley and More Added to Lineup

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 18th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

You know, the thing about DesertFest Belgium 2014 is that, if you look at the poster, it’s like every logo on the damn thing should be huge. Colour HazeBlues PillsYOB, Toner LowBrant Bjork, ConanPallbearer? Seriously, what, is everyone headlining? I know there are some bands on there who aren’t necessarily as huge as the likes of Electric Wizard, but thus far, the inaugural Belgian edition of the DesertFest has over 40 bands, and there isn’t a dud in the bunch. If you were putting on a show with half as many killer acts, I’d want to know about it.

Barring a fiscal miracle, I’ve got no hope of getting over to see this festival, but still it’s worth the daydream while I kick around in my jammies and dwell on the thought of seeing Colour Haze again, or Death Alley — who were awesome at Roadburn this year — or 1000mods, and on and on. Good times.

Here’s the latest from the fest and the stream of Death Alley‘s debut single (review here), in case you missed it:

MORE BANDS!

Less than a month to go and we’re not done just yet! Proud to welcome Colour Haze (GER), Death Alley (NL), Cowboys & Aliens (B), 1000mods (GR), Bloodnstuff (US) and BRUTUS (B)!
To find out what day each band is playing, take a look at our line up page!

There’s been a tiny change to our starting time on Friday;

Friday:
Doors – 6PM
1st band – 6:30PM

Saturday and Sunday:
Doors – 3PM
1st band – 3:30PM

Ticket sales are going faster and faster, don’t hesitate! Hotel tickets are completely sold out! If you’re coming from abroad, we suggest you have a look at Booking.com to find the best accommodations in Antwerp.

Don’t forget Belgians can head to FatKat (Antwerp) and GigaSwing (Hasselt) to pick up their hard ticket!

https://www.facebook.com/desertfestbelgium
http://www.desertfest.be/

Death Alley, Over Under/Dead Man’s Bones (2014)

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Roadburn 2014: Sets from Bong, Age of Taurus, Windhand, Samothrace, Noothgrush, Brutus, Whitehorse and Regarde les Hommes Tomber Available to Stream

Posted in audiObelisk on June 18th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

One of the things I enjoy most about these Roadburn streams every year is that not only do they allow the people who were there to relive the awesome (and in many cases, fuzzy) memories of seeing these bands, but they allow everyone, whether they were there or not, to get a glimpse at some of what they didn’t get to see. Because you can try your damnedest to catch everything at Roadburn every year — I know I have on the years I’ve been fortunate enough to go — but it’s just not going to happen. At any point during the three days of the fest-proper, there are at least four stages running simultaneously, and there’s just no way to be everywhere at once. I saw Noothgrush at Roadburn 2014, but I missed Brutus, saw Samothrace and missed Windhand.

With the audio streams — diligently recorded at Roadburn 2014 by Marcel van de Vondervoort and his team, as ever — that doesn’t matter. It would be something if the fest set up a security system for the audio one of these years that you had to be there to hear it (actually it would suck, aside from being a logistical/coding nightmare), but fortunately that’s not the case, and whether you were at the 013 or in the Netherlands or not, you can enjoy the fruits of Roadburn‘s considerable labors. If it sounds utopian, it is.

To listen and enjoy:

Age of Taurus – Live at Roadburn 2014

Bong – Live at Roadburn 2014

Brutus – Live at Roadburn 2014

Noothgrush – Live at Roadburn 2014

Regarde Les Hommes Tomber – Live at Roadburn 2014

Samothrace – Live at Roadburn 2014

Whitehorse – Live at Roadburn 2014

Windhand – Live at Roadburn 2014

Thanks as always to Walter and the Roadburn crew for allowing me to host the streams. The first batch is still available as well, and for all of the Roadburn 2014 coverage, click here.

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Brutus to Play Roadburn 2014

Posted in Whathaveyou on August 21st, 2013 by JJ Koczan

Norwegian classic heavy rockers Brutus released their second album, Behind the Mountains, earlier this year. They were the first band I found out about through The Obelisk Forum, so they’ll always hold a special place in my heart. All the better then that they’ve been added to the 2014 Roadburn festival. No telling at this point if I’ll get there to see them — I seem to be losing jobs faster than I can keep up with this week — but good for the Oslo five-piece either way. The 013 won’t know what hit it.

Roadburn put it thusly:

Brutus Added to Roadburn 2014 Lineup

Over the years, we have been mining Scandinavia for the best heavy 70?s inspired rock and invited the likes of Witchcraft, Abramis Brama, Graveyard, Dead Man, Horisont, Troubled Horse, Spiders, Blues Pills et al to previous festivals.

To keep in line with our tradition – not just because they are part Swedish, part Norwegian, but simply because they deliver the 70s in spades with a healthy dose of soulful hardrock, head down boogie and amped up blues luster – we’re excited to announce that Brutus will appear at Roadburn Festival 2014 on Thursday, April 10th at the 013 venue in Tilburg, The Netherlands.

Inspired by proto metal pioneers such as Dust, Budgie and Buffalo, with nods toward Sabbath and Grand Funk Railroad as well, Brutus know how to throw a good keg-party, as both their self-titled debut album and the recently released Behind The Mountains reek of a good time; these albums could easily be the alternate soundtrack to Dazed and Confused – muscle cars, pick up trucks, high school chicks in flares, denim, beer, sweat, smoking those doobies and anything else you’d imagine to happen when school’s out for summer.

Simply put: no frills, good time hard rock, played from the heart, the gut and the crotch!

Roadburn Festival 2014 will run for four days from Thursday, April 10th to Sunday, April 13th, 2014 at the 013 venue in Tilburg, The Netherlands.

Brutus, “Personal Riot” official video

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