Joy, Ride Along: Been Set Free (Plus Full Album Stream)

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on April 27th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

joy ride along

[Click play above to stream Joy’s Ride Along in full. Album is out this Friday, April 29, on Tee Pee Records.]

San Diego trio Joy made their debut on Tee Pee Records in 2014 with their second album overall, Under the Spell of… (review here), a jammy, boogie-loaded outing that seemed to distill much of what has become identified with the boom in Californian heavy, particularly centered around San Diego in bands like Radio Moscow and EarthlessJoy‘s exclamatory third LP, Ride Along!, continues the thread, features contributions from members of those two outfits as well as labelmates Sacri Monti, and refines the band’s approach both in its making — guitarist/vocalist Zach Oakley also stepping up to produce at San Diego’s Audio Design Studios — and in style, Oakley, returning bassist Justin Hulson and new drummer Thomas DiBenedetto (also Sacri Monti) stripping away some of the expanse songs on their last outing offered in favor of a more straightforwardly structured approach, if one still presented through torrents of winding blues riffs, fervent psychedelic boogie and heavy-minded grooves.

The elements are familiar — guitar, bass, drums, vocals, a flash of organ on “Red, White and Blues” and elsewhere, acoustics on “Peyote Blues,” etc. — but it’s the energy Joy bring to their delivery and the turns their material makes that ultimately distinguish them from the crowded West Coast heavy sphere, and in accordance with being of their place and of the heavy ’10s pastiche, Ride Along! issues an invitation that’s hard to refuse as it careens through its 10-track/40-minute run with little care for what or whom it leaves in its dust.

If a release like Ride Along! is going to work in the slightest, vibe is essential, and fortunately, Joy have it in spades. As guest personnel come and go, the band retains a solid — and by solid I mean utterly molten — foundation of hard-hitting blues boogie, the entirety of side A making for an opening salvo that seems to have launched only to launch again, retaining momentum across the first three cuts, “I’ve Been Down (Set Me Free),” “Misunderstood” and “Evil Woman” just to propel itself yet again with the infectious “Going Down Slow” and the ZZ Top cover, “Certified Blues,” which caps the first half of the record. In that span, Joy still find room to jam, whether that’s the layers of guitar on “Going Down Slow” or extended solo section in “Evil Woman” — she’s evil because she left, if you’re wondering — both of which traffic in wah-drenched gnarl, “Evil Woman” adding a touch of organ along the way or at least seeming to as it winds its way toward a return to the hook.


Classic heavy is a touchstone there as on the preceding “Misunderstood” and “I’ve Been Down (Set Me Free),” but the sing-along shuffle chorus of the opener sets the tone for a natural, live-tracked feel that may owe even more than it realizes to the likes of Nebula even as it seems to be Oakley working on his own and pushing up against Radio Moscow-style rhythmic insistence. Speaking of, that band’s guitarist/vocalist, Parker Griggs, shows up on “Peyote Blues,” and Earthless drummer Mario Rubalcaba contributes to “Evil Woman” and side B’s “Red, White and Blues,” the former also featuring Sacri Monti‘s Brenden Dellar on guitar alongside Oakley. The guest spots are a welcome touch — not going to argue against hearing any of those people play — but Joy make the album’s primary impression on their own, twisting and turning to start side B with “Help Me,” a rawer sound adding elements of unhinged garage rock that suit them well amid the maddening insistence of DiBenedetto‘s drumming.

Its stomp no less riotous than “I’ve Been Down (Set Me Free)” at the start of the record, “Help Me” pushes into “Red, White and Blues,” which hardly tops three minutes but remains a standout for how it begins to push against the straightforward take much of Ride Along! has to this point presented, refusing to return from its solo section jam and instead giving way to the acoustic/percussion fade-in of “Peyote Blues,” which seems a kind of companion to “Death Hymn Blues” from Under the Spell of…, though more brightly psychedelic. The entrance of drums and electrified soloing near the halfway point builds to a head, and though the roots might be similar, “Peyote Blues” turns out to be arguably the most adventurous arrangement on the album. Even so, it seems to thrust its way toward the finish, leading to the all-swing-all-the-time “Ride Along!,” on which Oakley howls out the LP’s title line and adds a kind of far-back atmospheric sense as it fades out long but ultimately quickly, letting closer “Gypsy Mother’s Son” cap Ride Along! on a spacier, fuzzier note.

Also the longest inclusion at 6:27, it basks in the chemistry between OakleyHulson and DiBenedetto, lead lines tossed in over warm basslines and enviable snare shuffle, wah, vocal reverb, weighted shove — and finally, the departure into the jam at about three minutes in, drums leading the way out on a (temporary) boogie excursion that effectively captures stage-born vitality as the entirety of Ride Along! has been doing all the while. They turn back to the chorus, offer a big rock finish, decide they’re not done, ride out another measure or two, and cut “Gypsy Mother’s Son” cold to end. One can almost hear a crowd erupt. And who would argue? Joy‘s fleet-footed turns, their catchy songs, their balance between tripped-out effects and air-tight performances assure that, once again, they live up to their name. They’ve had a few jammier releases in addition to their proper studio albums, so I wouldn’t necessarily expect Joy to be finished altogether with the kind of acid-vibed explorations they previously honed, but it would be wrong to ignore the quality of the work they’ve done in carving these songs out of those jams in the meantime.

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Friday Full-Length: Grayceon, All We Destroy

Posted in Bootleg Theater on April 22nd, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

Grayceon, All We Destroy (2011)

One of the most underrated albums of this decade, hands down. Aside from boasting cellist/vocalist Jackie Perez Gratz — whose formidable CV includes entries for Neurosis and Om guest spots in addition to her own other bands, Amber Asylum and Giant Squid among them — Grayceon‘s 2011 third outing, All We Destroy (review here) offered a richness of scope, progressive complexity and vibrant emotionalism across its span that from where I sit you can just about count on one hand the records that have come along in the last half-decade that can stand up to it. I was a fan of it at the time too, and in the years since it’s one of those albums to which I’ve returned over and again, some memory pushing forward in my consciousness that leads me back to it. As with the best of anything, it has lasted through this test of time and continues to resonate even now, where so many others have fallen by the wayside since.

Released through Profound LoreAll We Destroy comprises six tracks — interestingly the Bandcamp stream switches “Dreamer Deceived” and “Shellmounds” at the open — and lasts a substantial pre-vinyl-explosion 50 minutes, but it’s the grandeur of the thing that’s ultimately so striking, its blend of classicism and extremity, and the fluidity with which Grayceon are able to shift from one side to the other, here thrashing mad before the first galloping verse of “Shellmounds” and there quiet and folkish to gracefully unfold the start of “Once a Shadow.” Together with guitarist/vocalist Max Doyle and drummer Zack FarwellGratz courses gracefully along a path that’s doom and yet very much not at the same time in “Dreamer Deceived,” the song’s interplay of guitar and cello given firm foundation through the drums, though truth be told, it’s all viciously creative. It just also happens to be that Grayceon are able to hold the material together even as they seem to be spinning off in different directions at various points, toward blackened screams, multi-layered cello solos, or crushing sludge riffs. Oh yeah, and all that happens in about 30 seconds too.

I won’t take away from “A Road Less Traveled” or “War’s End” as the closing duo or “Once a Shadow”‘s weary melancholy, or the frantic mournfulness of “Shellmounds,” but All We Destroy‘s crowning achievement is undoubtedly “We Can,” a 17-minute album-unto-itself that pulls together the best of what works in all Grayceon‘s other tracks and executes a flawless tiered build through distinct movements, each of which flows into the next, but all of which make a memorable impression. It was my pick for the best song of 2011, and that’s something I stand by five years later. For an record that seems to have war as its underlying theme, All We Destroy has so much life in it, and “We Can” envisions a distinctly feminine struggle at the center of the record in a manner both insightful and emotionally gripping — the play of screams back and forth, “We can — build — nothing,” a brilliant reverse reminder of the album’s title.

All We Destroy followed Grayceon‘s 2008 sophomore album, This Grand Show, and their 2007 self-titled debut, as well as a split with Giant Squid (2007’s The West) and was answered in 2013 with an EP, Pearl and the End of Days. As of January 2015, they were at work on a fourth full-length, but I haven’t seen any word of further progress than that. Doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen or that it is, just that it hasn’t been announced. Maybe by the time it shows up I’ll have finished digesting this record, though somehow I doubt it.

Hope you enjoy.

My book, Electroprofen, is out now. You can buy it from War Crime Recordings here:

It’s limited to 300 copies. If you pick one up, I hope you dig it. And thank you.

That alone would be enough to make this a busy week, but add in stuff like the Wo Fat review yesterday, making the podcast that went up a bit ago, and that Wren stream today, it was pretty packed even before you consider book releases and/or the big comedown after being at Roadburn last weekend, traveling all day Monday, the development of the annual post-Roadburn cold, announcing EYE for the All-Dayer, job stuff, and everything else that life presents in its assault. It was madness, to be honest with you. I’m very, very tired.

Almost through the day though and looking forward to a phone call in a bit and then a hopefully laid back weekend in Connecticut. Two hours to get there, two hours to get back, but screw it, that’s worth that trip and the DayQuil will kick in sooner or later and I’ll be grooving.

Next week looks like this so far: Monday a live video premiere of some new Atavismo — awesome — and a track premiere/review of new Samavayo. Tuesday a show announcement from Gozu. Wednesday a video premiere from Stone Machine Electric and full-album stream from Joy. Thursday not sure yet but I sure would like to review that Beastwars record or the Supervoid and Red Desert split, but we’ll see what time allows. Also have a Crypt Sermon interview waiting to be posted, so that’ll be up sometime in there as well. Maybe next Friday.

That’s how it’s in the notes now, though of course any of that could change between today and when we get there.

I’ve also started planning the next Quarterly Review — just in case you were wondering how much time actually goes into those things. The answer is a lot. It’ll start at the end of June/beginning of July.

Thank you for reading.

And please have a great and safe weekend.

And please check out the forum and the radio stream.

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Ides of Gemini Announce New Lineup

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 22nd, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

The news that Ides of Gemini has a new rhythm section is doubly interesting since it means vocalist Sera Timms (also Zun, Black Mare, ex-Black Math Horseman) will no longer be playing bass, as she did on their 2014 sophomore outing, Old World New Wave (review here) and its 2012 predecessor, Constantinople, both of which were released by Neurot. Timms and fellow founder J. Bennett (guitar) have hooked up with bassist Adam Murray and drummer Scott Batiste for the new lineup, the latter splitting his time with Saviours, with whom Ides of Gemini will be playing this month as they get the new band settled in.

They’re at Stumpfest this weekend in Portland and Psycho Las Vegas in August, as the PR wire affirms:

ides of gemini (Photo by David Lee Dailey)

IDES OF GEMINI Announces New Lineup + Band To Kick Off Short Run Of Live Dates This Weekend

Following a short slumber, IDES OF GEMINI are back and ready to bring their otherworldly odes to the stage once again on a weekend run of live performances this weekend. The short trek includes an appearance at Stump Fest in Portland, Oregon and will showcase not only some brand new psalms but also an updated lineup featuring drummer Scott Batiste of Saviours and bassist Adam Murray of Deth Crux alongside veteran IDES man, guitarist J. Bennett, and vocalist Sera Timms.

“These gentlemen are top-notch players and wicked handsome to boot,” issues Bennett of the new cast. “We’ll be breaking in the new lineup with a handful of West Coast shows with Saviours this month, during which we’ll be debuting some new songs.”

Additionally, the band will make an appearance at Psycho Vegas this August in Las Vegas, Nevada with more live rituals to be announced in the not so distant future. Stand by.

4/22/2016 The Chapel – San Francisco, CA
4/23/2016 Stump Fest – Portland, OR
4/24/2016 Starlite Lounge – Sacramento, CA
8/26-28/2016 Psycho Vegas – Las Vegas, NV

IDES OF GEMINI released their critically-hailed, Chris Rakestraw (Danzig)-produced Old World New Wave full-length in 2014 via Neurot Recordings as well as a special, limited Carthage/Strange Fruit seven-inch via Magic Bullet last year.

Ides of Gemini, Old World New Wave (2014)

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Atala Premiere “Gravity”; Shaman’s Path of the Serpent Available to Preorder

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on April 12th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster


Desert-dwelling trio Atala release their new album, Shaman’s Path of the Serpent, on May 20. With the returning lineup of guitarist/vocalist Kyle Stratton, bassist John Chavarria and drummer Jeff Tedtaotao, it’s a 32-minute four-songer that might lead one to wonder just what happened to the band between their 2015 self-titled debut (review here) and this second album, arriving about a year after they took the first record on the road. There is a stark difference in sound between the two releases, the prior outing having been produced by Scott Reeder and finding the trio exploring desert rock roots in a vaguely sludgy context, some harsher vocals worked in amid familiar rhythmic turns and driving heavy rock. Recorded in Oregon with Billy Anderson when they went on the aforementioned tour, Shaman’s Path of the Serpent is stylistically bolder and enacts a much larger sonic space, still capable of pushing into more caustic territory, as “King Solomon” shows, but more atmospheric on the whole, more patient and fluid. Perhaps with the first outing under their collective belt, they were able to gain a clearer picture of what they wanted their sound to do, or maybe Shaman’s Path of the Serpent will be a stylistic one-off. Either way, it’s a radical departure from where they were last year and, especially with the confidence they display throughout, one that suits them remarkably well.

Opener “Gravity” is the longest track on the album (immediate points) at 10 minutes flat, and it unfolds with echoing lines of prog-metal guitar, setting an ambient impression right away upon which the rest of the record continues to build. There’s a post-metallic element at play in the slow-rolling rhythm, but a vocal hook keeps the proceedings relatively grounded. A slowdown in the opener’s second half pushes into more cavernous fare, and they build back up to round out the track on a fittingly weighted note. Ultimately, “Levity” atala shamans path of the serpentfollows suit in its atmosphere, but between the blown-out vocals post-Electric Wizard and an Uncle Acid-style swinging riff, it does much to increase the album’s scope all the same, its post-midpoint cut in tempo leading to an open-spaced bridge and satisfying build topped by Stratton‘s echoing vocals, layered to rich effect. When they bring “Levity” back to its chorus, it gives a sense of structure to what seems to have long ago left that behind, and the percussive finish presages the heavier portions of “King Solomon” to come, which as the most abrasive stretches on Shaman’s Path of the Serpent, come across as driven more by Neurosis-style impulses than anything that’s come out of the desert in the last couple decades. This fervency comes offset by quieter, spacious parts, and where much of the long-player is geared toward a fluid overarching vibe, “King Solomon” feels more bent on basking in the contrast.

All the better to suit the scope of Shaman’s Path of the Serpent as a whole, which closer “Shapeshifter” continues to expand. In a way not entirely unlike the 10-minute “Sun Worship” from Atala, it finishes the outing with a particular fullness of sound, but from the warmth in Chavarria‘s bass to the push in the guitar tone that follows, it also emphasizes how far Atala have come in such a short time. There’s something foreboding lurking beneath “Shapeshifter”‘s early going, and it gradually comes forward so that by about five minutes in, the band are working at a slow crawl with far-back vocals to enact the biggest-sounding movement of the entire record. Unlike “Levity,” they make it pretty clear they’re not pulling this one back to any kind of hook once it’s gone, and for doing so, they make themselves even less adherent to a single methodology. Taken front to back, Shaman’s Path of the Serpent would seem to have been the result of a conscious shift in approach on the part of Atala, since, played next to their debut they’re barely recognizable as the same group. I won’t decry what they were able to accomplish last time out, but among the expectations I had for a follow-up, the kind of reach they show throughout these four tracks utterly surpasses them.

Please enjoy “Gravity” on the player below, followed by the dates and cities for Atala‘s upcoming tour, as well as the preorder link for Shaman’s Path of the Serpent.


ATALA’s Shaman’s Path of the Serpent encapsulates the raw and mature essence of the band today. The album is a journey through the mind of guitarist/vocalist Kyle Stratton. Lord of Heaviness Billy Anderson (SLEEP, MELVINS, MASTODON) engineered the album, capturing the raw emotion and sonic heft that the band delivers in speaking to the listener. Shaman’s Path of the Serpent will leave the listener wondering if Stratton is lamenting the idea of death, reveling in the joy of its inevitability.

ATALA will embark on a U.S. tour in support of Shaman’s Path of the Serpent. Confirmed dates are below. Stay tuned for venue confirmations and additional dates!

ATALA on tour:
05.20 Bend, OR
05.21 Stockton, CA
06.18 Mesa, AZ
06.19 Albuquerque, NM
06.20 Oklahoma City, OK
06.21 St. Louis, MO
06.22 Pittsburgh, PA
06.24 Maryland Doom Fest, Frederick, MD
06.27 Charlotte, NC
06.28 Nashville, TN
06.30 Dallas, TX
07.01 El Paso, TX
07.02 Bisbee, AZ
07.03 Temecula, CA

Shaman’s Path of the Serpent preorder

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Black Cobra Post “Eye Among the Blind” Video

Posted in Bootleg Theater on April 12th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

black cobra

If you’re sensitive to flashing lights or generally prone to night-terrors, the new Black Cobra video might not be for you. If you pass those two tests and can live up to the general endurance challenge that is the San Francisco two-piece to start with, then by all means, “Eye Among the Blind” should be just your cup of roiling, poisonous tea. The track comes from Black Cobra‘s latest outing and Season of Mist debut, Imperium Simulacra (review here), and like much of that record, it sets a balance between all-out assault of heavy thrash and an atmosphere of threat and overarching heft, the band having found this time out that maturity doesn’t have to come at the sacrifice of extremity.

Last week, I was fortunate enough to see Black Cobra (review here) at what is thus far the apex of their career. Not just in terms of being on a new label, I’m talking about creatively — and to be fair, that’s not at all to say I think guitarist/vocalist Jason Landrian and drummer Rafa Martinez have progressed as far as they can go; quite the opposite — and as much as they get credit for being the blistering, out-rock-the-entire-room-and-then-play-the-last-two-thirds-of-the-set live act that they are, they don’t get nearly as much credit for being progressive either in their songwriting or in the technical interplay between Martinez and Landrian. Part of that might be because the guitar tone is so thick that the nuance is sometimes looked over, but especially as Imperium Simulacra finds them adding further dynamics of tempo and more melody to their sound than ever before, their mastery has clearly come to extend to more than just the stage.

“Eye Among the Blind” has a narrative set to ancient mythology, and you can watch the clip and read more about that from director Zev Deans below, courtesy of the PR wire.


Black Cobra, “Eye Among the Blind” official video

BLACK COBRA release new video, “Eye Among the Blind”

Critically-acclaimed metal band BLACK COBRA have released a new video for the track “Eye Among the Blind”. The video is directed by Zev Deans (BEHEMOTH, PORTAL, and more).

Regarding the concept behind the video, Zev comments,

“Sisyphus, the two-faced king with the blood of war and betrayal on his hands, was sentenced to Tartarus, the prison below hell, for deceiving Zeus. In my version of the story, he is trapped in a Panopticon, ruled by Panoptes, the giant with one hundred eyes. His struggle reflects that of modern man, forever pushing the same stone up a hill each day, under the omnipresent eye of the ruling class. This project was not possible without a brilliant cast and the talents of Rebeccah Lak, who built the maze from scratch.”

BLACK COBRA have released their new album ‘Imperium Simulacra’ worldwide. The album is streaming in full at the band’s official Bandcamp page.

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Sidewave Stream “Honest to God” from Glass Giant

Posted in audiObelisk on April 11th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster


Sidewave‘s Glass Giant will be the first vinyl release from newly-minted French label Left Front Door Records. The imprint was founded using money from an indemnity from France’s government after the attack at Le Bataclan concert hall in Paris last November, paid out to founder Arthur Dénouveaux, who was fortunate enough to have escaped the shooting and the bomb blasts. Wanting to do something that supported his love of music with the money, Dénouveaux started the label and hooked up with the California-based heavy alt rockers, who first issued Glass Giant last Fall as their debut full-length. The 180g vinyl, which includes a download, also comes with a download for a 10-track B-sides offering.

Bottom line is don’t call it a premiere, but I’m glad nonetheless to feature “Honest to God” from Glass Giant. It’s the centerpiece of the album’s nine tracks and offers particular crunch in relation to the bulk of its surroundings, though as you can hear a clear sense of atmosphere is maintained through the Jesu-style sidewave glass giantsoftened churn. A strong undercurrent of Failure runs throughout songs like “Moonshine” and the especially airy “Supersonic,” but there’s a post-rock sense of patience across the record as well, the Los Angeles four-piece of vocalist/guitarist Phil Golyshko, guitarist Bill Collins, drummer Brandon Dickert and bassist Matt Russell bringing open-feeling textures to traditional structures and working in varying degrees of heft along the way.

Most of Glass Giant finds Sidewave exploring a line between emotionalism and psychedelia, but there is something grounding the release as well, and I think it’s the songwriting. All songs but the shorter opener “Grounded” and the longer closing duo of “Hearts” and “This is Who You Are” run in the four-minute range — and the others aren’t far off — but more than that, there’s an ambient consistency that ties the material together so that as Sidewave lean in one direction or another, their songs stay true to the overarching flow of the whole work. A few catchy hooks along the way certainly don’t hurt either, as “Honest to God” also shows.

You’ll find that track streaming below, followed by some more info off the PR wire. If you caught wind of it around its release in October, or if this is your first time checking it out, I hope you enjoy:

The band recently released their debut album mixed by Aaron Harris (Palms, ISIS) and is now ready to release it in vinyl format.

The songs from the album started as a collection of demos written by songwriter, singer, and guitarist, Phil Golyshko. These demos were dubbed the “Big Time Demos” and once shared online, opened the door to a new chapter in the early life of Sidewave.

It was these demos that allowed Phil to reconnect with his cohorts from Chicago – now Southern California residents – drummer Brandon Dickert and guitarist Bill Collins. Within weeks, the group had found bassist and composer Matt Russell to round out the low end and provide “more bass”.

The band has already shared the stage with great rock acts such as The Life and Times, Black Map and Æges. With a new album on the market and a live show that just keeps getting bigger and better, 2016 promises to be even more exciting for fans of epic live rock music.

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Sidewave webshop

Left Front Door Records

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War Cloud Release New Single “Vulture City”

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 7th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

war cloud

I was all set to think of War Cloud‘s new single as their debut, but then — intrigue! A quick clickover to their BigCartel store reveals that not only is “Vulture City” not the Oakland, California, four-piece’s debut single, as posited in their initial communication, but they’ve already got an EP under their collective belt called Hurricane, with upward of five tracks on it. Entirely possible they’ve got a new lineup or something like that, and “Vulture City” is (obviously) my first exposure to the band, but just because it’s the only thing on their Bandcamp page doesn’t mean it’s the only thing they’ve put out. Life lessons all over the place.

First or no, “Vulture City” finds War Cloud digging into an encouraging dual-guitar blend of early thrash and heavy rock and roll, not necessarily out of place with the West Coast’s current riffy boom, but looking for a niche within it. I asked vocalist/guitarist Alex Wein for some comment on the track, and he confirmed that War Cloud will hit the studio again this summer and tour on the West Coast.

Info on “Vulture City,” words from him and the stream of the song itself follow here:

war cloud logo

Our latest track, Vulture City, now available here!

Recorded at Different Fur Studios, San Francisco, California. Mixed and mastered by Ron Graves.

Alex Wein on “Vulture City”

War Cloud received the opportunity to record at Different Fur Studios for Converse Rubber Tracks and we wrote Vulture City only days prior. We draw from all eras of rock, bringing Lizzy-like twin guitar leads, driving Motörhead rhythms, and bellowing Pentagram vocals. We are booked to record again in July at Louder studios for various upcoming projects and splits, which will be announced soon, as well as a west coast tour towards the end of Summer.

Alex Wein – Vocals/Guitar
Tony Campos – Guitar/Vocals
Sean Nishi – Bass/Vocals
Joaquin Ridgell – Drums/Vocals

War Cloud, “Vulture City”

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Blaak Heat, Shifting Mirrors: Molten Realization

Posted in Reviews on April 7th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

blaak heat shifting mirrors

Even unto their moniker, Blaak Heat remain somewhat amorphous. The band that got their start as Blaak Heat Shujaa with a 2010 self-titled debut (review here) in Paris and linked up with Tee Pee Records after moving to New York en route to eventually settling in Los Angeles for the release of the 2012 The Storm Generation EP (review here) and subsequent 2013 sophomore full-length, The Edge of an Era (review here), continues to change in approach and to progress on their third outing, Shifting Mirrors, issued through Tee Pee and Svart Records. In some ways, the 10-track/44-minute album is a direct follow-up to what Blaak Heat, as they’re now properly known, accomplished on prior outings in blending desert tonality and heavy psychedelic rock with Middle Eastern scales and folk influence, but particularly in playing up the latter and in working with producer Matt Hyde (SlayerMonster Magnet), the trio of guitarist/vocalist Thomas Bellier, new bassist Henry Evans (ex-Spindrift) and drummer Mike Amster have pushed well beyond even the grander scope of The Edge of an Era in their latest offering’s complexity and rhythmic insistence.

While cuts on Shifting Mirrors like “The Peace Within” and “The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim” make sense in the context of the last album and the one before it with Bellier‘s songcraft at the fore, the flow that Blaak Heat create and the clarity of their purpose in doing so are emblematic of a maturity in their processes that, by its very nature, couldn’t have been on the prior releases. In many ways, it’s appropriate that they’d finish this album with a song called “Danse Nomade” (I’m going to assume no translation necessary), since even though it’s instrumental, it tells the band’s story: Always moving, always changing.

One of the things that makes Shifting Mirrors exciting is that the listener can’t quite be sure where Blaak Heat are headed next, but there are consistencies from their past work. Their focus remains instrumental. They start with “Anatolia” and through “Ballad of Zeta Brown,” “Mola Mamad Djan,” the aforementioned “Danse Nomade” and the shorter interludes “Taqsim” and “Tamazgha,” nearly half of the album’s runtime is dedicated to instrumental tracks, and that’s to say nothing of the extended passages in “The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim” and “The Peace Within,” but where and when vocals do arrive, they do show progression. Part of that may be due to working with Hyde, but Bellier‘s vocals even on “Sword of Hakim,” which chugs into high gear immediately and only grows more insistent as it moves through its four minutes, are compressed, laden with effects and have clearly been carefully treated.

blaak heat (photo by Andrew Baxter)

This avoids some of the Om-style patterning of Blaak Heat‘s past work, and helps further distinguish the bass and percussion-led “The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim,” its blend of desert psych and Middle Eastern rhythms and vibes playing out with a sense of motion that Bellier directs in a way that emphasizes the growth of his control over putting these parts together to create a fluid whole from them. In addition, Amster‘s drumming throughout is no less creatively broad, and though sometimes tasked with holding together an exploration of guitar, bass and/or keys, Shifting Mirrors is equally rhythmically than melodically expressive. That’s true from the turns of “Anatolia” onward, but especially so in “The Approach to Al-Mu-tasim” and “Ballad of Zeta Brown,” which follows the spacious string interlude “Taqsim” and wraps the first half of the album with a wordless thrust that highlights Blaak Heat‘s ability to play up one side or another within the context of their sound — in this case, leaning more toward classic psychedelia.

They continue that molten methodology — shifting, if you’d like — through side B. Though less frenetic than “Sword of Hakim,” “Black Hawk” features a relatively straightforward heavy psych take, and hits its stride with a gallop beneath a dual-layered lead from Bellier that hits into a nodding bridge groove; something more grounded than Blaak Heat will very often allow in their material. Fuller fuzz rounds out as well, and lest the listener get worried they’re settling on more of a rock feel, the repurposed Afghan folk song “Mola Mamad Djan” moves more back toward traditionalism even if it is a fuzzed out guitar playing those scales. Percussion, bass, keys, drums and guitar, and other elements come together for a final apex that speaks more to a rock mindset, but clearly the the band are indulging other influences, even if working them into their own context. There are debates to be had about cultural appropriation, the history of European and American colonialism in the Middle East, and so on, but Blaak Heat‘s material, whether it’s “Mola Mamad Djan” or the 2:41 thudding/lead interlude “Tamazgha” that follows, is less about exoticizing an “other” outside of Western rock tradition than about bringing different sides together.

By way of an example, with underlying organ and fleet twists of groove, “The Peace Within” drives toward a penultimate start-stop apex that’s basically the peak of the album, and it does so with a mixture of elements from both sides, letting the real serenity come with “Danse Nomade” as Evans‘ bass holds sway and the guitar and keys push outward in desert style backed by bells and drums as they make their way toward a last, open-feeling solo and final crashes, organ scratch and shaker rounding out. One can’t help but wonder if Shifting Mirrors, as a title, is referring to the idea of a changing picture of the self — that is, the self as something unrecognizable over time. If so, it is fitting with the stylistic nuance Blaak Heat make their own throughout, since it’s something that half a decade ago would’ve been unfathomable to come from them. Among the greatest appeals of their work to-date, though, has always been that they come across as being completely unwilling to settle in terms of their progression. As such, I wouldn’t be surprised if their next outing takes yet another step forward from here, since they don’t seem to know how to move any other way, despite their songs’ head-spinning twists and turns.

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Blaak Heat at Svart Records

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