Quarterly Review: Nibiru, The Ditch and the Delta, Cyanna Mercury, Surya Kris Peters, Golden Bats, Blind Hen, The Black Wizards, Low Flying Hawks, Brother Sister Hex, Cold Insight

Posted in Reviews on September 28th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk quarterly review

Ready for round three of the Fall 2017 Quarterly Review? I hope so, because it’s a doozy. Things get pretty weird and pretty rockin’ in this batch, and at the risk of being completely honest, I much prefer it that way. It’s a varied group — maybe the most diverse in terms of sound throughout the entire week, though there’s stiff competition still to come — and as we hit the 30th review, that brings us to the halfway point of the Quarterly Review itself, which if all keeps proceeding according to plan will wrap up on Monday with a grand total of 60 done. Let’s hope no pianos fall on my head between now and then, literally or figuratively. Onward.

Quarterly Review #21-30:

Nibiru, Qaal Babalon

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The fourth full-length from Italian sludge ritualists Nibiru, Qaal Babalon (on Argonauta) is an encompassing, 57-minute grind comprised of four extended tracks, the longest of which is opener (immediate points) “Oroch” at 19:07 – a song whose depths run dark and cruel and which, even when the tempo pushes upward from its initial slow crawl, still feels massively slow. Still, the spirit behind “Oroch” as well as the following and much faster “Faboan” (10:51), the buzzsaw noise cutting avant insanity of “Bahal Gah” (16:40) and full-drone rite of “Oxex” (11:05) is less directly about the punishment itself than about the exploration enacted thereby. That is, Nibiru aren’t just heavy for heaviness’ own sake and they’re not just assaulting their listenership without reason. Though I won’t take away from its raw sonic impact, Qaal Babalon’s greatest asset is its atmospheric impression and the experimentalism it brings to bear, which moves Nibiru into a terrifying place sound-wise that they seem to have all to themselves.

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Argonauta Records website

 

The Ditch and the Delta, Hives in Decline

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Hailing from the unlikely heavy hotbed of Salt Lake City, Utah – though where better for a counterculture to emerge? – sludge rocking trio The Ditch and the Delta made their debut earlier in 2017 with the seven-song Hives in Decline via Battleground Records before being picked up by Prosthetic for this reissue. Comprised of bassist/vocalist Kory Quist (see also: Making Fuck), guitarist/vocalist Elliot Secrist and drummer Charles Bogus, the three-piece pummel handily throughout early cuts like opener and longest track (immediate points) “Hives in Decline” “Fuck on Asphalt” and the nodding “Sleeping Dogs,” but with the instrumental interlude “Dry Land,” they tap into post-Across Tundras heavy Americana and in that brief two-minute stretch deeply affect the mood of the release overall. They’re back to angular noise rock turns soon enough on “Till Body Quits” and the Remission-era-Mastodon-style “Mud” before alternating between lurching crush and airier prog/post-rock on closer “Dread Spectacle,” but by then the secret’s out of their underlying complexity, and rather than offset the sense of drive in the prior cuts, one finds them only enhanced by the later unfolding. Intense, and very much in the process of sorting through these impulses, but loaded with potential.

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The Ditch and the Delta at Prosthetic Records

 

Cyanna Mercury, Archetypes

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From Greek dialogue in “Hermes” to the Nick Cave-style piano balladry of “Apollo” to the organ-and-handclaps Mediterranean pop underscoring “Lilith”’s boogie and the spoken verses and explosive hook of “Snake” ahead of moody closer “There will be a Time,” Cyanna Mercury’s debut long-player, Archetypes, seems to leave no sonic stone unturned. The Athens-based five-piece hone a thoroughly progressive approach across the 10-track/40-minute (plus a CD bonus track) outing, touching on heavy psych in opener “Horse Dark as Night” and injecting a darker theatricality into centerpiece “Ode to the Absent Father” and the later “Nothing We Can Do,” but refusing to relegate themselves ultimately to one sound or another. Elements of folk, heavy rock, psychedelia, classic prog, pop and more besides show themselves across what’s a legitimate head-trip of a record, and though it’s hard to get a grip on where Cyanna Mercury are ultimately headed with this sonic brew already so potent and already so much their own, they seem to be completely in control of how it all plays out in arrangement and songwriting, and they work quickly to earn the listener’s trust via a resonant overarching flow that renders Archetypes truly immersive. Will fly under most radar, but a stunningly creative debut.

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Cyanna Mercury on Bandcamp

 

Surya Kris Peters, 2nd Chances

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Numerically-titled three-song EP 2nd Chances is – since we’re going by the numbers – the third release of 2017 from Surya Kris Peters, behind the synth-driven Dream Exit EP digitally-issued this past summer and January’s Holy Holy Holy (review here) full-length. With it, Samsara Blues Experiment frontman Christian Peters further expands the contextual breadth of his solo work, revisiting songs from his prior outfit Terraplane in the Mellotron-infused melancholy of “Smalltown Blues” and the quick, folkish rambling instrumental “Dark Euphoria” while also covering Jefferson Airplane’s “Come up the Years” between. All told, it’s only 10 minutes long, but Peters brings a particularly progressive psychedelic folk vibe to the tracks, and from the shimmering guitar lead that takes hold in “Come up the Years” and the intimate feel of “Smalltown Blues” despite an arrangement of keys, vocals, multiple layers of guitar and effects, an emotional and sonic resonance is still very much achieved. One never wants to guess what Peters will do next, but if he had a full-length of this kind of thing out at some point, you wouldn’t be likely to find me complaining.

Surya Kris Peters on Soundcloud

Electric Magic Records on Bandcamp

 

Golden Bats, Residual Dread

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An underlying mournfulness pervades Golden BatsResidual Dread, or maybe that’s just the Brisbane-based solo-project of multi-instrumentalist/vocalist/engineer Geordie Stafford living up to the title chosen for the album on “Nothing.” Elsewhere, Residual Dread takes on guitar-as-keyboard plotted soloing in 11-minute closer “The Crows Build a Fire” and find a place between black metal and doomly roll, and add piano to tapped Godflesh-style programming on opener “Trouble in the Sewers” and bring organ to the relative bounce of “Eye Juices” as far-back echoing shouts provide the vocal presence. Setting elements against each other would seem to be a core aspect of Stafford’s intent, and the feel on Residual Dread is more about the smashing them together and seeing what happens than trying to gently meld one idea from two or three. That lends a raw, experimentalist sensibility to the lumber of “Outer Body” and “Into the Silver Valley” that serves them well, like a Large Hadron Collider driven by riffs and thickness of tone.

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Haemorrhage Records webstore

 

Blind Hen, Life

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In its first two minutes, Blind Hen’s “As a Monster” moves from electronica-style Euro dance rock to heavy-riffed progressive metal. Then it turns back. This is just the start of the Finnish four-piece’s four-track/21-minute Life EP, and “Titanic” follows stylistic suit with an even more intense thrust early before moving into psychedelia in its second half with an underlying tension in its beat to contrast the melodic wash overtop. The chugging “The Maze” is more guitar-led and straightforward, but even there, Blind Hen find room for nuance in their vocal arrangement, also bringing in acoustics amid the multiple layers of singing, and with a sample at the outset, closer “Catch” moves once again toward the danceability of the earlier fare, if in a via-Mr.Bungle rhythmic restlessness rather than the fusion beatmaking. Weird, weird, weird. What draws Life together is the fact that Blind Hen cross this aesthetic swath with stuck-in-your-head choruses as a constant, essentially giving the audience something to grasp onto while they go wherever they want in terms of sound. It is appreciated to say the least, and shows the band to be all the more attuned to their craft, even when they seem at their most unhinged.

Blind Hen on Thee Facebooks

Blind Hen on Bandcamp

 

The Black Wizards, What the Fuzz!

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If you’ve got 68 minutes, Portuguese four-piece The Black Wizards are ready to have a heavy blues shindig on their second 2LP full-length, What the Fuzz!, and I do believe we’re all invited. The nine-song outing emphasizes the vocals of guitarist Joana Brito, who emerges on post-intro opener “Freaks and Geeks” with a prominent kind of trilling in her voice of the sort Parker Griggs brings to Radio Moscow that holds for the duration as a steady presence. Joined by guitarist Paulo Ferreira, bassist/acoustic guitarist B and drummer/backing vocalist Helena Peixoto, Brito leads the way through the fuzzy rollout of the nine-minute “The Story of an Hopeless Drummer” (sic), stepping back to let the guitar/bass have a righteously nodding moment late in the track, but holds firm in a forward position on the short, twanging “Just Not Today” as well as the early going of the prior subdued-blues-smoker highlight “Floating Blues.” “Build Your Home,” “I Don’t Wanna Die” and the particularly-classic-sounding “Fire” revive the classic heavy rock spirit of “Freaks and Geeks,” and 16-minute finale “Everything is Good Until Trouble Comes” uses its extra runtime for a satisfying and patient execution with an expanded arrangement including choral vocals, organ and additional guitar effects. You might be boogied out by the time they’re done, but as The Black Wizards crash through their big finish, they sound like their party’s just getting started.

The Black Wizards on Thee Facebooks

The Black Wizards on Bandcamp

 

Low Flying Hawks, Genkaku

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One might expect that with all the Melvins affiliation going on in the second Magnetic Eye Records full-length from L.A. duo Low Flying Hawks, Genkaku would sound, you know, more like the Melvins, but despite working with bassist Trevor Dunn, drummer Dale Crover and producer Toshi Kasai, and despite bringing in Buzz Osbourne for guest vocal spots on eight-minute opener/longest track (immediate points) “Smile” and side B leadoff “Space Wizard,” initials-only multi-instrumentalists EHA and AAL follow their 2016 debut, Kofuku (review here), with a sound even more their own, balancing between thick riffy rollout and post-rock atmospherics. Of course, they weird out a bit on “Smile” and the lumberingly spacious “Uncool” and “Virgin Witch,” but whether it’s the later mournfulness of “Hallucination” or “Twilight” toying with noisy fuckall while seeming to mock heavy rocker burl ahead of the melodic payoff in closer “Sinister Waves,” there’s more EHA and AAL in Low Flying Hawks than the prominent pedigree of their collaborators might lead you to believe. All the better for what becomes a richly satisfying 43-minute listen rife with depth, patience, and yes, personality.

Low Flying Hawks on Thee Facebooks

Magnetic Eye Records on Bandcamp

 

Brother Sister Hex, End Times

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Coherent songwriting rests at the core of what Denver’s Brother Sister Hex bring to their five-song third EP, End Times, which darkens up Queens of the Stone Age-circa-Songs for the Deaf vibing on its title-track (also a bit of Kyuss’ “El Rodeo” in there for good measure) before delving into more ambient fare on the centerpiece “Confessions.” Vocalist/guitarist Colfax Mingo demonstrates SubRosa-style vocal command there, but the context is more rock-based, uptempo and straightforward as she, guitarist Patrick Huddleson, bassist Drew Hicks and guest-drummer Jordan Palmer (Plastic Daggers) meld traditionalist structures with atmospheric moodiness. Opener “Hey” offers a suitable greeting through hook and groove, and the shuffle of “Sweet and Sleazy” and the rumbling fuzz (Hicks makes it a highlight) of closer “News Feed” wraps with another grunge-style QOTSA melody efficiently drawn, shouting the question “what have we done?” as it thuds into its second half. Uh, you’ve made a professional-sounding, excellently-constructed EP that shows you’re more than ready to embark on a debut full-length, permanent drummer or no. So yeah, get on that.

Brother Sister Hex on Thee Facebooks

Brother Sister Hex on Bandcamp

 

Cold Insight, Further Nowhere

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As progressive as it is brutal, Further Nowhere is ostensibly the debut release from Paris’ Cold Insight. The material seems to date back at least to 2013, if not earlier than that, when band-spearhead Sébastien Pierre (also of Enshine, Fractal Gates, and others) first issued what’s now tagged as a “pre-production album” version, but it’s hardly as though the lush, growling, melodeathly doom sounds dated. With sonic likenesses throughout to bands like Amorphis, Dark Tranquility and Paradise Lost, Cold Insight – on which Pierre, who also did the artwork, is joined by drummer Christian Netzell while Jari Lindholm adds lead guitar – hit on a very particular, very European style, and not an unfamiliar one as displayed in the righteously driving “Distance,” but the find-the-beauty-in-darkness spirit behind “Close Your Eyes” and songs like “Even Dies a Sun” and the more uptempo later piece “I Will Rise” help ensure that the formidable 12-song/66-minute run of Further Nowhere never gets too bogged down in its melancholy. It may have been a while in the making, and one hopes a follow-up won’t take as long to arrive, but the precise execution Pierre hones in these songs and the depths to which he can bring a willing audience are a fitting payoff for the years of work that went into their construction.

Cold Insight on Thee Facebooks

Cold Insight on Bandcamp

 

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Various Artists, The Sun, the Moon, the Mountain: Of Ancients and Futures

Posted in Reviews on September 13th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

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One should note immediately that the subtitle of The Sun, the Moon, the Mountain is ‘A Passage Through Greek Psychedelia.’ A passage. Not the passage. Because while the six-track debut offering from Archaeopia Records covers plenty of ground across its intricate, varied and obviously-curated 35 minutes — perfect for a limited LP made even earthier and more naturalistic via woodcut-screened cover art and hand-designed calligraphy — there’s just about no way it could be comprehensive at this point in drawing together all sides of Greece’s underground. The scope has simply gotten too big. Certainly to fit on one LP. You might get a sampling across three 12″ platters, but by then the cost is prohibitive and you too easily run the risk of losing listeners’ attentions somewhere along the “journey.”

No. Archaeopia head Theo Prasidis plays it smart with his assemblage here, bringing together seven acts diverse in sound to represent multiple sides of a Greek scene that’s undergone a massive boom in the last five to 10 years with acts like Planet of Zeus and 1000mods spearheading a presence becoming even more known across the wider sphere of Europe. As a movement, it’s still a nascent scene when one compares it to the decades-since established heavy rock output of countries like Sweden or Germany, but in taking influence from these places and bands, the acts represented in The Sun, the Moon, the Mountain bring something of their own — something definitively Greek — to the mix as well, and as that continues to be refined and defined in the years to come, it will no doubt be the foundation of an influence spreading within and without the country’s borders alike. As a document of that process’ beginnings, this passage through Greek psychedelia couldn’t be more welcome.

For convenience’s sake, the roster of bands and tracklisting:

SIDE A THE SUN, THE MOON
1. Tau & Villagers of Ioannina City, Wakey Wakey
2. The Road Miles, 600 Miles
3. Cyanna Mercury, The Flood
4. Sleepin’ Pillow, Amplifier in My Heart

SIDE B THE MOUNTAIN
5. Green Yeti, Monkey Riders
6. Craang, When in Ruins

Part of the challenge The Sun, the Moon, the Mountain puts to its audience is in helping figure out just what that “something definitively Greek” actually is. This may be a question never answered. Why is grunge grunge? What makes Southern heavy Southern? Where does one style end and another begin? Ultimately this kind of question is academic in its nature — it’s entirely possible to make your way through the songs here, not care at all and still have a perfectly good time — but as the leadoff cut “Wakey Wakey” by a collaboration between Tau (who are actually based in Berlin) and Villagers of Ioannina City delves into a ritualized Americana lyrical thematic and sets its foundation in strummed post-Monster Magnet laid back fuzz jangle, the message is clear: buckle up. “Wakey Wakey,” with mantra-esque vocals and an overriding moodiness marked by flourish of slide guitar deeper in the headphone-worthy mix, sets a distinctive tone, but it’s one of only multiple directions in which the release will decide to go.

the sun the moon the mountain woodcut

The Road Miles make a more classic impression with spacey organ and a fervent heavy push on their “600 Miles,” and Cyanna Mercury‘s “The Flood” seems to Europeanize All Them Witches-style heavy rock blues, their own keys a predominant factor but not overwhelming the strength of their chorus, which retains a link to Greek folk in its scale work and later jabbing starts and stops, reminding the listener that right across the border lies Turkey and the gateway to the Middle East. As side A rounds out with the sleek, electronic-beat-inclusive “Amplifier in My Heart” by Sleepin’ Pillow, an already expansive breadth pushes even further outward. A quiet and hypnotic verse rises to a volume swell of guitar for the chorus and rolls out an immersive groove thereafter, tying together with the somewhat darker ambience of “Wakey Wakey” earlier, but in a much different sonic context. And while the aural surroundings could hardly be more modern, somehow it feels appropriate that Sleepin’ Pillow should cap the first half of The Sun, the Moon, the Mountain with talk of an “ancient fire,” since that seems in part to be what’s driving the offering as a whole.

And that spirit — of offering, of passage — is one that only continues as side B pushes into the longer-form work of Green Yeti and Craang. Both acts are upstarts in the Greek scene, but both have already made a mark as well, and their respective inclusions, “Monkey Riders” and “When in Ruins,” are the two longest tracks at 8:21 and 7:56. Sure enough, the flow that results between them is all the more complementary for that, hitting a level of immersion even beyond side A between Green Yeti‘s rolling, feedbacking central riff on “Monkey Riders” and the galloping payoff that ends and Craang‘s patient but still deeply weighted heavy psych execution that caps with a prog-rock dreamscape of keys and fading, drifting guitar. There’s no mystery in the intention on the part of Archaeopia to take the audience to the edge of space and then give that last little shove, but as that scenario plays out, it seems even more crucial for the listener to realize the cultural interplay at work as well and the various traditions being engaged and built upon, by Craang and indeed by all their counterparts included here.

One might rightly accuse Archaeopia of aiming high with its first release. Indeed, little says scope like The Sun, the Moon, the Mountain — short of “the ocean,” you might as well have called the compilation “Light, Dark and Everything” — but what’s happening in these six pieces is not only a showcase of some of the sonic persona of Greece’s underground, but a representation of the forces modern and otherwise that have taken root and helped shape that persona in the first place. For many who engage it, that will of course be a secondary concern to just checking out a new track from Cyanna Mercury, or from Craang, or hearing what Tau & Villagers of Ioannina City bring to light in working together, and that’s fine too, but there’s an underlying message being conveyed, and in the end, it’s less about saying “these are the Greek bands you need to know” than “this is why you should know Greek bands.”

That works out to be a huge difference in the listening experience. I don’t know whether The Sun, the Moon, the Mountain is the beginning of a series or not from Archaeopia — that’s an awful lot to ask of a new label, and no doubt Prasidis wants to get down to the business of releasing proper albums, etc. — but it could be, and even if it’s only a fleeting, one-time passage, it serves notice of the arrival of yet another player of note in the Greek heavy underground in its conceptual purpose and the sheer class of taste behind its selections. “Wakey Wakey” indeed. Nicely done.

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Archaeopia Records website

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Archaeopia Records Announces The Sun, The Moon, The Mountain Compilation; Cyanna Mercury Track Premieres

Posted in audiObelisk, Whathaveyou on September 4th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Click play at the bottom of this post to stream the premiere of a new Cyanna Mercury track featured on the upcoming compilation The Sun, the Moon, the Mountain from Archaeopia Records. The song is titled ‘The Flood’ and it’s one of five to be featured on the vinyl release, which is appropriately subtitled as ‘A Passage Through Greek Psychedelia,’ and which also features works by Tau in collaboration with Villagers of Ionnina City, The Road Miles, Craang, Green Yeti and Sleepin Pillow. Six bands on five tracks for a 36-minute deluxe LP that’s rich in vibe throughout and brimming with homage to Greece’s history in heavy, in mythology, and more.

At the same time, if you needed further evidence of the heavy psych and heavy rock explosion happening in Greece right now, at this very moment, look no further. Archaeopia isn’t just highlighting random bands — these acts have been selected and curated for an offering that flows from front to back across its two sides — and not only are they relevant to the past, but to the future of the Greek scene as well. As the label’s slogan goes: “Where Cosmic Beats Vibrate the Deathless Soil.” Clearly we’re looking to cross a span of time here.

That admirable mission bears some righteous fruit on the LP, about which you can read more below ahead of preorders going live in the coming weeks for the Fall release. I’ll have a review up as well soon, so keep an eye out, and the meantime, enjoy the track premiere:

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The Sun. The Moon. The Mountain. Three fundamental elements of the Greek psyche. From the Homeric hymns of the fiery-stallion-riding sun-god Helios and his ethereal sister Selene, goddess of the moon, to the myriad myths and legends surrounding the highlands and the consecration of Mount Olympus as the dwelling of the gods, these inextricable components of the Greek landscape, brimming with rich symbolism and religious gravitas, have dominated indigenous lore, mythology, literature, poetry and music for millennia.

In modern-day Greece, one of the music genres that largely incorporated with such symbols and concepts of old -either lyrically or musically- is undoubtedly psychedelic rock. The pioneering work of Socrates Drank The Conium and Aphrodite’s Child in the seventies, established the connection between Greek psychedelic music and religious/folkloric themes. Vangelis’ epically toned solo career focused on mythical ideas, while psych bards Purple Overdose delved deeper into the magical mysticism of antiquity.

Today we’re amidst a full-on psychedelic rock revival. New bands emerge consecutively, recalling old motifs on one hand, contributing essentially to the genre with new ideas on the other, whereas occult and spiritual notions are commonplace. With this release we want to honour the ever-growing Greek psychedelic rock scene that stands strong in the current global renaissance of the genre.

Juxtaposing our title to the collection of songs featured on this vinyl, the following concept might arise: The sun represents psychedelic rock in its most lurid expression, a euphoric desert plain walkabout towards a bacchic celebration of light. The moon takes us on a slow-burning trip into the night, with the melancholic exaltation of glazed psychedelia. The mountain is manifested by a massive wall of sound, evoking visions of dark rites and primordial cults. Each featured band mirrors a singular element,
steering into a substantial whole.

The Sun. The Moon. The Mountain. As influential and imposing and radiant as ever. Enjoy!

Tracklisting:
SIDE A THE SUN, THE MOON
TAU & VILLAGERS OF IOANNINA CITY, WAKEY WAKEY
THE ROAD MILES, 600 MILES
CYANNA MERCURY, THE FLOOD
SLEEPIN PILLOW, AMPLIFIER IN MY HEART

SIDE B THE MOUNTAIN
GREEN YETI, MONKEY RIDERS
CRAANG, WHEN IN RUINS

All tracks are original recordings, except “600 Miles” by The Road Miles, featured in the album “Ballads for the Wasteland” and “Amplifier In My Heart” by Sleepin Pillow, featured in the album “Apples On An Orange Tree”, both newly remastered and presented in vinyl format for the first time.

Artwork by Fotis Varthis. Woodcut engraved, inked and printed by hand on Rosaspina Fabriano 180gr paper by the artist. Watch the entire procedure here: youtu.be/w5QI9L36ICE

www.behance.net/FotisVarthis
cargocollective.com/FotisVarthis

Assembled by Theo Prasidis
Post-mastered by George Nikoglou

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