Small Stone Records Fundraiser Launched

Posted in Whathaveyou on August 18th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

It was painful last week to see the pictures of the Small Stone Records offices, flooded out from powerful storms that tore through the Detroit area. Still sealed label product floating through dirty water, files and CDs, the fruit of countless hours of work on the part of label owner Scott Hamilton, simply ruined. In one of the pictures, however, you can also see a floating vacuum cleaner, and that’s also important, because it reminds us that more even than being where kickass riffs come from, this is somebody’s home.

Scott is somebody whose tastes and whose efforts have helped greatly to shape the course of American heavy rock in the last decade-plus. Whether you’re a fan of Dixie Witch or Roadsaw or Sasquatch or Wo Fat or anyone else on his enviable roster, chances are even if you don’t listen to those bands, someone in a band you listen to does. Small Stone has become the standard-bearer, and you can see the influence it has had not only in bands going for “that Small Stone sound,” but also in labels who have come up in the last several years wanting to support the music they’re passionate about in a similar way.

But again, this is about more than music. It’s Scott‘s house too, and that’s why it’s so important that this community comes together to help him out. You and I are part of a worldwide subculture. Don’t believe me? Go to a show anywhere and look around you. It’s the same every place you go, and that’s no mistake. One of our own — someone who’s directly participated in making this weird, ongoing thing to which we belong — needs our help. Frankly, that should be enough to make you want to get involved.

Donations are being taken through the middle of next month, but since it’s a water cleanup process and there’s the ever-present threat of mold, time’s a factor. Thanks for reading and thanks for your support.

http://www.youcaring.com/helpscott

In August 2014, bad storms dumped flood waters all through the Detroit area, including into the offices of Small Stone Records, the label home of Sasquatch, Wo Fat, Greenleaf, Lord Fowl, Dixie Witch, Roadsaw and so many others.

Gear and product were both destroyed and insurance in Michigan is crap, so we’re coming together to help Scott from Small Stone with some of the massive expense of cleaning up from this flood.

Scott’s support for heavy music over the last 19 years that he’s run Small Stone has never wavered and this is a chance to help somebody who’s helped us by enriching our lives with great bands and great riffs.

Every bit helps. Thank you for your support.

–Please note that YouCaring.com takes no fees from donations and unlike other sites, ALL THE MONEY YOU DONATE GOES DIRECTLY TO HELP SCOTT.

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The Obelisk Questionnaire: Scott Hamilton of Small Stone Records

Posted in Questionnaire on March 25th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

This coming weekend, Detroit’s Small Stone Records hosts two label showcases on the East Coast. The first takes place Friday night at the Middle East in Boston and the second is Saturday at Brooklyn’s St. Vitus bar (info on both here). With Gozu and Freedom Hawk and Wo Fat headed overseas and new releases to come in 2014 from Dwellers, Jeremy Irons and the Ratgang Malibus, Greenleaf, Wo Fat and Lo-Pan, it’s arguable that Small Stone has never had as much of an impact as it’s having now. A foray into the vinyl market seems to have paid off, and with acquisitions from across the pond like France’s The Socks, Italy’s Isaak and Portugal’s Miss Lava, the imprint’s reach only seems to be growing.

In 2015, Small Stone marks 20 years since its inception. It has succeeded against odds, trends and, frankly, logic, thanks to the vigilance and keen ear of its founder and owner, Scott Hamilton, who also plays guitar in the prog/psych rock outfit Luder. As a curator, Hamilton‘s ear is second to none, and his passion for searching out the underground’s best has led to landmark heavy rock from the likes of Dixie Witch, Sasquatch, Dozer, Los Natas, Halfway to Gone, Roadsaw, Acid King and many more. I sometimes feel like a nerd for covering as much Small Stone stuff as I do, but it’s inevitable. There’s no getting around the quality of the work being fostered by Hamilton‘s steady hand.

So I’ll probably keep going with it.

The Obelisk Questionnaire: Scott Hamilton

How did you come to do what you do?

I have been obsessed with music for my entire life (both as a fan and as musician), so I am pretty sure that obsession led me into what I do now. I knew in my high school and college years that I wanted to do music in some form for a career (plus you had the added bonus of not needing cut your hair or work in a stuffy office environment), but I had no clue or connections to point myself in the proper direction to make it a reality. After many an odd job in the early ’90s at various music related gigs (playing in bands and working at record stores, radio stations, major record labels, etc.), I discovered that I both wanted and needed to start a record label. Small Stone was born out of this.

Describe your first musical memory.

This is easy…  It was my Dad blasting Jimi Hendrix, The Stones, James Brown and Santana in the house on his very vintage hi-fi system. I think by the time I was three, I was actually spinning the records from his collection myself, and mostly likely ruining a few of them in the process… Shortly thereafter, discovering bands like KISS and Aerosmith also have had a very lasting effect on me too.

Describe your best musical memory to date.

There are too many… so I will list my top five:

1. Seeing The Cult in 1985 on the Love Tour when I was a Junior in High School. To this day, one of the best concerts I have ever been too.

2. Playing in my first band in high school was awesome, even if it was the ’80s. It was great discovering that thing my bandmates and I used to call “the buzz.” The buzz is when you and your fellow musicians all lock in, everything clicks, and you go on this crazy spiritual high where the hair on the back of your neck stands up. It is was  and is the ultimate feeling that every musician and music fan is always looking for. I sometimes get it with my current band Luder when we are rehearsing and working on new material from time to time.

3. Purchasing my first KISS album… It was KISS Alive, by the way. My mother still says that KISS ruined my life.

4. About eight years ago when I had shitty day job for Live Nation, I got to stand behind Joe Perry’s rig for the majority of the concert, and that was a big deal for me… It also helped that setlist was 95 percent pre-’80s Aerosmith, and for as lame as the band is now, they were fantastic on that evening.

5. Jane’s Addiction… I must have seen them 10 times between 1988 and 1991, and that band had the magic, and also gave that “buzz” I was talking about.

When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?

I think that this happens on a monthly basis. It is just part of living, growing, and moving forward. It is usually not a fun experience, either…

Where do you feel artistic progression leads?

I think it leads to greatness down the line for any individual that is creating something, be it music, art, whatever. A creative person will always feel the need to keep exploring and learning new things to better sharpen their skill sets. If I had more time, I would spend it writing riffs and melodies, and improve on any and all basic skills when it comes to a guitar, but I have limited time to do that since I have a family and a business that must come first. With that said, I am always humming something in my head, and I will sneak off to the basement for about 30 minutes per day when I can to make some music.

How do you define success?

To me, success means that I get to do what I want for a vocation versus wearing a suit at some soul-sucking corporate job. In that sense, I have great success. But on the other hand it would be nice to break a band on the roster and help get them to a level of a band like Clutch. But that has not happened as of yet, so I just keep on keeping on until I obtain that level of success in the future.

What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?

In 1989 I was driving on the freeway about 20 miles west of Hartford, CT (on my way back to MSU from a Summer working on Nantucket). This convertible Corvette cam flying past me, and seconds later it somehow rear-ended the pickup truck in front of me. The Vette flew up in the air, flipped over the pickup and landed on on the freeway with his roof facing down — but the convertible top was down. The Vette driver was killed, blood, brains, and flesh all over the freeway. That vision has stuck with me ever since.

Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.

I would love to be involved in creating a timeless album — a classic if you will. Something that has the staying power of Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, Led Zep IV, etc., and more realistically, I would love to create a very large swimming pool in my backyard.

Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?

70 degree days.

Small Stone Records on Thee Facebooks

Small Stone Records website

Luder, Adelphophagia (2013)

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Against the Grain Announce Winter Tour Dates and Motor City Speed Rock 10″ Vinyl

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 21st, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

If I’ve learned one thing in this still-pretty-new New Year, it’s that there’s going to be a ton of shit going on all the time, and on that level, kudos to Detroit four-piece Against the Grain for putting their hats and beards in the ring. The dudely duders who released their third full-length Surrounded by Snakes last year (review here) and subsequently hit the road alongside Church of Misery will once more take it to the people starting next month, hitting the Midwest and the East Coast before heading back for a hometown release show for the forthcoming Self-Destructo Records 10″ vinyl issue of their 2012 Motor City Speed Rock release.

That EP is available to preorder now, and the link for that and tour dates follow here, courtesy of the PR wire:

Against The Grain announce tour – Re-release of “Motor City Speed Rock” 10″

Against The Grain announce three week tour across Mid West/East Coast.

10” re-release of Motor City Speed Rock out this February via Self Destructo Records. Pre-order activated right now through the link below. Limited quantity of 500 pressed on both coke clear and black vinyl, each one hand numbered and hand stamped by Self Destructo Records.

http://www.shopturbojugend.com/

Pre-order up and running right now, all are hand numbered and stamped. Comes in coke clear and regular black 10” and all pre-orders through www.shopturbojugend.com come with an exclusive patch designed for this release.

Detroit’s own Motor City Madmen – Against The Grain start off 2014 with a two month trek across Middle America and the Eastern Seaboard in support of their vinyl re-release of Motor City Speed Rock. Originally released in 2012, it was the album that laid the foundation for their presence in the heavy music community in their city of Detroit and neighboring states alike and opened doors for them to play alongside the likes of The Dwarves, Valient Thorr, Zeke, Holley 750, Riverboat Gamblers and The Meatmen.

Self Destructo Records released their third LP entitled “Surrounded By Snakes” in 2013, which catapulted the band full on into the world of stoner rock/doom. Following the release of Surrounded By Snakes, opening slots in Detroit for Saint Vitus, Orange Goblin and a tour with Japanese doom veterans Church of Misery ensued.

Stream Surrounded By Snakes and Motor City Speed Rock in its entirety below, available for a week upload.
https://selfdestructorecords.bandcamp.com/album/surrounded-by-snakes-sdr-003

Tour Dates:
2/21 Berlin Music Pub (Fort Wayne, IN)
2/22 The Melody Inn (Indianapolis, IN)
2/23 The Earl (Atlanta, GA) w/ Lord Dying & Lazer/Wulf, Order of the Owl
2/24 The Nick (Birmingham, GA)
2/25 TBA (Tallahassee, FL)
2/26 TBA (TBA, FL)
2/27 Kreepy Tiki Lounge (Ft. Lauderdale, FL)
2/28 The Mill (Charleston, SC)
3/1 The Jinx (Savanna, GA)
3/2 New Brookland Tavern (Columbia, SC)
3/3 The Maywood (Raleigh, NC) w/ Revolving Beast (members of Valient Thorr)
3/4 TBA (Washington D.C.)
3/5 The Sidebar (Baltimore, MD)
3/6 Mill Hill Basement (Trenton, NJ)
3/7 Tabb’s House (Richmond, VA)
3/8 VFW hall (Lansdale, PA)
3/9 Grand Victory (Brooklyn, NY)
3/10 Bogies (Albany, NY)
3/11 Dusk (Providence, RI)
3/12 O’Brien’s (Boston, MA)
3/14 31st St. Pub (Pittsburgh, PA)
3/15 Corktown Tavern (Detroit, MI) – Vinyl release show

https://www.facebook.com/Againstthegraindetroit
http://www.selfdestructorecords.com
https://www.facebook.com/SelfDestructoRecords
http://www.shopturbojugend.com/category/selfdestructorecords
https://selfdestructorecords.bandcamp.com

Against the Grain, Motor City Speed Rock (2014 Reissue)

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Temple of Void, Demo MMXIII: Living in the Gateway

Posted in Reviews on January 10th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

It’s a brief but intense catalog of miseries that Detroit double-guitar five-piece Temple of Void emit on their 2013 debut release, Demo MMXIII. It is a demo, obviously, and self-released in an initial CD pressing of 200 — reportedly there’s a repress in the works — and it comprises just three tracks that total 22:15 between them, with “Beyond the Ultimate” and “Exanimate Gaze” hovering around six minutes each while closer “Bargain in Death” extends the lurch to 10:36, rounding out with cyclical riffing that more or less could go as long as the band wanted it. Aggressive, tonally weighted and dark in its atmosphere, Demo MMXIII is on the sludgier end of doom, but follows a course derived in no small part from extreme metal — death metal, particularly — and vocalist Mike Erdody, also of the live incarnation of Acid Witch and formerly of Borrowed Time, is a big part of what situates them as such. His vocals aren’t unipolar in the sense of just being low-register growls, but there’s no clean singing to be found in any of the three tracks, so Temple of Void wind up with a newer-school feeling take on death-doom. The tones of guitarists Eric Blanchard and Alex Awn are oppressively heavy, but not overly concerned with adhering to a classic approach, and though “Exanimate Gaze” speeds up some toward its end, the demo by and large makes its sonic impression with a thunderous plod thickened and pushed forward by bassist Brent Satterly and drummer Jason Pearce, and presents its extremity in a manner both professional and vicious.

Production quality comes into play quickly with Demo MMXIII in that it would be a much different release if recorded dirtier. I guess that’s universally true — if things were different, they would be different — but it comes into relief with Temple of Void in that where their moniker might lead a listener to expect cave echoes and direct-to-Maxell rehearsal-room quality in the recording, “Beyond the Ultimate” dispels that idea before even the first verse has begun. Erdody sets the tone with a welcoming growl over a nasty, hulking riff, and by the time they’re a minute deep, Demo MMXIII has established a course far from the dictates of doomly trend. That is to say, there’s nothing cultish in their temple. Sure, the lyrics of “Beyond the Ultimate,” which come included with the CD version but are also available online, talk of “Haunting, cryptic visions,” and sacrificial summonings, but the vibe is utterly terrestrial and rather than try to creep you out with its vibe, it takes the (admittedly, more efficient) route of bludgeoning you with a hammer. The actual words to the song are largely indecipherable through Erdody‘s growls — at least until you’re reading along — and the aggression in his style is the stuff more of modern deathcore than most of what one runs into even in death-doom, where playing ultra-low growls and clean vocals or spoken parts, Novembers Doom-style, is the expected norm. Both for that reason and the sheer fact that the band sound so pissed off, I’m more inclined to think of Demo MMXIII as death-sludge, but its foundations are unquestionably metal and the result is brutal and poised in like measure.

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Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor, Beast in the Field and More to Play Echo Fest 4 in Detroit

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 21st, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Even if you told me it was just Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor playing with Beast in the Field and Electric Citizen, I’d still call it a hell of a gig, but Echo Fest 4 pushes genre lines in melding swirling psych with blistering noise and a lot more. The show is set to take place Nov. 16 in Detroit — Spindrift plays the pre-party on the 12th — and aside from the fact that there’s a band playing called Oblisk, it seems to be a cool assemblage of creative Midwestern acts. Dig the PR wire info below:


DETROIT PSYCH-ROCK BAND SISTERS OF YOUR SUNSHINE VAPOR ANNOUNCE THE 4thANNUAL ECHO FEST AT THE LOVING TOUCH IN FERNDALE, MI ON SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 16TH, FEATURING 12 BANDS FROM DETROIT AND THE MIDWEST.

ECHO FEST IS AN 18-AND-UP SHOW FEATURING THE BEST OF THE MIDWEST’S PSYCHEDELIC SOUNDS September 26, 2013 — (Detroit, MI) — Detroit psych rock band Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor are very excited to announce their 4th annual ECHO Fest, to be held at The Loving Touch in Ferndale, MI on Saturday, November 16th at 6:00PM. Formed and curated by the band, ECHO Fest showcases Detroit’s and the Midwest’s burgeoning and varied psychedelic music scene, including psych rock, shoegaze, garage and more. Mixed with its trademark visuals and mood-filled lighting it has become an event that stands on its own. The night will be filled with swirling lights, fuzzed out guitars, and of course so much delay that time travel may become possible.

After three successful years at PJ’s Lager House in Detroit, ECHO Fest’s steadily growing popularity has required the organizers to move it to a more spacious venue. This has allowed us to not only include more bands but also to expand the overall vision. This year’s ECHO Fest will feature 12 bands on two stages from across the Midwest, half of which are from the Detroit area. Also, for the first time, ECHO Fest is an 18-and-over show. This year’s line-up includes ECHO Fest organizers Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor, Beast in the Field (Mt. Pleasant, MI), Electric Citizen (Cincinnati, OH), Heaven’s Gateway Drugs (Ft. Wayne, IN), Moss Folk (Milwaukee, WI), Oblisk (Detroit, MI),Haunted Leather (Grand Rapids, MI), and more.

ECHO Fest tickets are on-sale now for $8 through TicketWeb.com. Doors will open at 6PM and the first act will start at 7PM. To encourage folks to get there early, the first fifty audience members through the door will receive a screen printed ECHO Fest record bag full of swag from the bands and our sponsors, and The Loving Touch will be offering early drink specials.

ECHO Fest Pre-Party: Los Angeles spaghetti-western psych rock veterans Spindrift will be kicking off the festival with a pre-party at PJ’s Lager House in Detroit on Tuesday, November 12th at 9:00PM. They will be touring in support of their new album, Ghost of the West, available October 22nd on Tee Pee Records. They will be supported by local acts PALACES and Electric Lion Sound Wave Experiment. This show is 21+ and admission is $7.

Sponsors: We are currently still accepting sponsorships. If there are any local businesses or organizations who would like to have their name attached to this event please let us know and we can work out the details.

ECHO Fest 4
Where: The Loving Touch
22634 Woodward Ave
Ferndale, MI 48220
When: Saturday, November 16th, 2013. Doors at 6:00PM, Music at 7:00PM
How Much: $8 in advance, and at the door
Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/567226530002906

ECHO Fest 4 Lineup:
Beast in the Field (Mt. Pleasant)
Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor (Detroit)
Electric Citizen (Cincinnati, OH)
Heaven’s Gateway Drugs (Ft. Wayne, IN)
Moss Folk (Milwaukee, WI)
Wasabi Dream (Detroit)
Oblisk (Detroit)
Haunted Leather (Grand Rapids)
Brujas del Sol (Columbus, OH)
3FT (Detroit)
The Philter (Detroit)
VS TR S (ex FUR / Warhorses) (Detroit)

ECHO Fest Pre-Party
Where: PJ’s Lager House
1254 Michigan Avenue
Detroit, MI 48226
When: Tuesday, November 12th, 2013. Doors at 9:00PM, Music at 10:00PM
How Much: $7 at the door

ECHO Fest Pre-Party Lineup:
Spindrift (Los Angeles)
PALACES (Detroit)
Electric Lion Sound Wave Experiment (Detroit)

Watch the ECHO Fest Facebook page or follow ECHO Fest on Twitter for details on special offers and other information.

Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor, Spectra Spirit (2011)

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Luder, Adelphophagia: Sustenance to the Dominant

Posted in Reviews on October 3rd, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Detroit four-piece Luder made their debut with 2009′s Sonoluminescence on Small Stone. A band born from tragedy in that it was the death of Slot guitarist Billy Rivkin that led that band’s bassist/vocalist Sue Lott and drummer Eddie Alterman — the latter replaced by Novadriver‘s Eric Miller before the first album was released — to enlist guitarists Phil Dürr (Big Chief) and Scott Hamilton in the renamed outfit, they nonetheless immediately set about exploring a vast sonic scope on Sonoluminescence (review here), and in a few key ways, the sophomore outing, Adelphophagia, follows suit. Aside from being likewise syllabically cumbersome, the second Luder album picks up in some respects where the debut left off, pushing forth stylistically open and progressive vibes tied together through brisk melodicism and Lott‘s varied singing. Songs on the nine-track/62-minute full-length are mostly extended, with opener “Never Liked You” being the only one to dip below the five-minute mark, and the chief difference between Adelphophagia and Sonoluminescence lies not necessarily in a dramatic shift in approach — certainly there’s stylistic growth evident, but it doesn’t feel forced or the result of some master plan — but in the warmth of the tones and the foursome’s willingness to explore the textures they’ve created. Longer pieces like “One Eye” (7:33), “Heartfelt” (8:57), “Dirge” (9:48) and the closer “Remember What I Said” (9:19) make use of the room in their runtime to allow Hamilton and Dürr the space to enact a rich tonal wash, and with a kick drum less forward in the mix and excellent balance of Lott‘s voice in the mix — you can hear it particularly on “Remember What I Said,” but it’s true of the album as a whole as well — Adelphophagia hits a remarkable mixture of heavy psychedelia, progressive rock, and ’90s-style riffy crunch, coming across on the whole as less aggressive than its predecessor, but all the more aesthetically accomplished for that because of the sense of flow within and between the songs included.

Not to speak for anyone else, but I think there’s a certain reticence on the part of reviewers to gush when it comes to Luder because of Hamilton‘s involvement in the band in addition to his being the head of Small Stone Records. That’s fair enough. While Luder don’t sound like anything else on the Small Stone roster, between their Detroit roots and the underlying heavy rock sensibility – Lott‘s bass is thick the way you think of Michigan snowfall as a blanket — I can see that side of the argument. Nobody wants to appear as being in someone else’s pocket. Frankly, I don’t either, whether it’s Small Stone or anyone else. The validity of critique relies on the illusion of impartiality — and yes folks, it’s an illusion. At the same time, Adelphophagia‘s achievements stand worthy of praise regardless of who’s in the lineup, and in fact the effects Hamilton brings to the mix alongside Dürr‘s leads are a big part of what makes the record so immersive and easy to get lost within as “Never Liked You” — the lyrics of which cast an immediate indictment that stands in line as a follow-up to “Selfish and Dumb” from Sonoluminescence – transitions into the slowly churning groove of “Astrolabe,” an early one-two shot of progressive heft further distinguished by the underlying heft of Lott‘s bass and the smoothness which which their choruses are launched. A dreamy but solidified course for Adelphophagia is set, “Astrolabe” building instrumentally to a formidable crescendo before ringing out into the languid guitar intro of “One Eye,” which in like form sets about rising from the bed its made itself. There are verses and choruses, but the central riff is a hook unto itself, building tension but staying in control even as the second chorus gives way to the more raucous crashes that launch the instrumental build that brings “One Eye” to its greatest wash, guitars embroiled alternately in leads and sustained, hard strums echoing in a plod of their own while Miller‘s drum fills add a sense of chaos before the quieter ending cuts to the start of “Heartfelt,” similarly minded in its scope, but even airier and more fluid in its transitions.

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Small Stone Records Announce Date for Fall Detroit Showcase

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 16th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

This is just the preliminary of the preliminary announcements, but a Small Stone label showcase is always a good time — seriously, I’m the most miserable bastard you could ever hope to (not) meet and I have a blast whenever I’m fortunate enough to attend one of the things — so I figured better to get the word out early so anyone interested in making the trip could mark the calendar now. The lineup for this year’s Detroit gig is still coming together, but already you’ve got Gozu, Lord Fowl, Lo-Pan and Luder on the bill, so for a whopping $10, it officially qualifies as what I believe the kids might call a “sick show.”

Oct. 12 is the date, The Magic Stick is the place. Here it is from the source:

Date: 10/12/2013
Venue: The Magic Stick
Location: Detroit, MI
Line Up: Gozu, Lord Fowl, Lo-Pan, Luder, TBA (most likely Freedom Hawk or Sasquatch).
Doors: 7:30 – All Ages
Price: $10.00

Small Stone Records

Small Stone on Thee Facebooks

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The Obelisk Radio Add of the Week: Against the Grain, Surrounded by Snakes

Posted in Radio on July 10th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Bouncing Motörhead via Zeke influence off thicker heavy rock tonality and periodic bouts of metallic shuffle, Against the Grain storm out of the proverbial gate with Surrounded by Snakes. The 12-track collection released via Self Destructo Records is the Detroit-area outfit’s second in as many years, coming hot on the heels of last year’s mission statement debut, Motor City Speed Rock, and front to back on its 31-minute crash-course, it’s a rager. Vocals switch up going from post-earliest Metallica thrash-style (see “Get Ready”) to a more punkish speed-delivery system (see “Outta Touch), but musically, but for the relatively extended later cut “Last Breath” — which reaches up to a sprawling four minutes! — Against the Grain keep their heads down and their motion forward, touching on the “Ace of Spades” riff no fewer than three times, on “Surrounded by Snakes,” “Comin’ Home” (also some Maiden in there), and “Padded Cell,” but nods to Slayer on “Livin’ a Lie” and the earlier Black Flag boogie of “Get in the Van” do much to expand the scope of the short, intense full-length.

“Under Attack” calls out “The Four Horseman” blatantly enough that it has to be on purpose, but comes across distorted enough to the band’s own nefarious ends that it remains consistent with the rest of Surrounded by Snakes, the opener of which, “Raise Your Glass,” sets an upbeat party vibe that Against the Grain seem only too glad to keep going, their punk not quite ready to grow up yet because it still seems to be having too much fun. Although it’s not always jibing with my particular tastes, I have a hard time holding Against the Grain‘s enjoyment of what they do against them, and as “Padded Cell” hints at grungier territory and the most striking impression of “Last Breath” is how I keep hearing Uncle Acid riffs in my head once it’s over (they’re still coming from someplace completely different vocally), I get the feeling the book isn’t yet closed on Against the Grain‘s growing their aesthetic. For what it’s worth, they seem no less capable enacting the dual-guitar leads that cap “Last Breath” than they are with the ultra-catchy, ultra-stripped down thrust of “Raise Your Glass,” and as “Extinction” ends off with a touch of organ after a post-halfway slowdown, there’s a lot more to Surrounded by Snakes than shows itself at first.

But at 31 minutes, if you’re not careful, you’ll miss it. The idea behind adding them to The Obelisk Radio wasn’t so much to showcase the nascent stylistic diversity taking root in their sound as to give just a quick sampling to those who might happen on them in the stream and dig what they do while also providing counterpoint to some of the more plodding or morose fare surrounding. Against the Grain have also made a sampling of the songs from Surrounded by Snakes available to stream via Bandcamp, and that player is below. Enjoy:

Against the Grain, Surrounded by Snakes (2013) Sampler

Against the Grain on Thee Facebooks

Self Destructo Records

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Small Stone Records Detroit Showcase: A Great Way to Lose Your Liver

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 28th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

A friendly reminder that this very Saturday is Small Stone‘s showcase at The Magic Stick in Detroit. Since the one in Boston earlier this month was such an unholy good time, I can only heartily recommend that the entire Midwest shows up and prepares itself for riffy communion. Even if The Obelisk wasn’t presenting it, it’d still be a kickass rock gig, and probably as far east as we’re going to get Sasquatch anytime soon.

Label honcho (and Luder guitarist, as it happens) Scott Hamilton was recently interviewed by Detroit’s Metro Times about how he manages to thrive where so many others have succumbed to the likes of internet piracy, generational disinterest in rock, and so on. Pretty fascinating read, but before you click over, make sure you’ve got the skinny on the gig Saturday, because you don’t want to miss it.

Info comes courtesy of the Thee Facebooks event page:

Since many folks have been asking us for a few years now, we have finally caved in… So here it is in all its glory, a full blown SSR Showcase in the state that we actually live in. We have put together a top notch line up which features the return of New Jersey’s Halfway To Gone for the first time since 2005! Come early, stay late… The Magic Stick is great venue, and the drinks will be flowing at reasonable prices too… It should be an epic evening of rawk… Hell, we might even have copies of the new album from Five Horse Johnson at the show too.

Featuring:

Halfway To Gone (Long Branch, NJ)
Five Horse Johnson (Toledo, OH)
Sasquatch (Los Angeles, CA)
Freedom Hawk (Virginia Beach, VA)
Luder (Ferndale, MI)

Doors: 7pm
Tickets: $10.00

The Fine folks over at Tito’s Vodka are helping us and the Magic Stick will have Tito’s Drink Specials All Night!

Advance tickets can be purchased here.

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Coven, Worship New Gods: To Unravel the Riddle of Steel

Posted in Reviews on August 22nd, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

Not to be confused with the early ‘70s occult folk outfit of the same name, the metal band Coven formed in Detroit in 1985. Soon after the release of their 1987 debut album, Worship New Gods, the foursome would be contacted by the Jinx Dawson-fronted unit who once reminded us that witchcraft destroys minds and reaps souls, and forced to change their name to Coven 13, but for the first record, which came to enjoy a kind of limited cult appeal over the years since its initial issue, they were still Coven, and so it is on the new Shadow Kingdom Records repress of Worship New Gods. The new version is billed as a 25th anniversary celebration release, but it’s not bloated with special bonus tracks, interviews or anything like that, instead just focusing on the album itself. Frankly, that’s treat enough. Shadow Kingdom have spent the last few years paying direct homage to the NWOBHM and classic metal, but Coven are a bit harder to place stylistically, aligning themselves to fantasy metal on songs like “Riddle of Steel” and the Camelot-themed “Wicked Day,” a sort of non-industrial proto-goth on “Kiss Me with Blood” and keep a semi-pagan sensibility in their use of runes on the album cover and in the memorable finale, “Loki.” Whatever else it has going for it, Worship New Gods bleeds personality. The vocals of David Landrum are more swaggering than one might expect for something so stylistically varied and roughly produced (the album sounds both of its era and of its budget), and bassist/keyboardist Roger Cyrkiel, who also recorded, adds a flourish of melody and atmosphere that goes beyond the traditional metal  songwriting. A song like “Ruler” may have gang-chant-esque backing vocals in its chorus, but “Threshold of the New,” despite having a near-Misfits punkish forward drive in Brian McGuckin’s drums, is as atmospheric as it is abrupt, Landrum’s vocals holding to a sub-swirl of compression and echo and guitarist Todd Kreda offering surprising shred in his solo.

It’s pretty easy to see why Worship New Gods earned its reissue. Apart from the fact that Coven have reunited as Coven 13 with second guitarist Richie Karacynski and reportedly begun work on a new album to be released on Shadow Kingdom, this nine-track/39-minute collection seems to feed off its blend, and while in the years since its initial release, some of the elements at work across this material have broken off into their own styles – goth, doom, pagan metal, etc. – these songs arguably capture a crossroads moment in the growth of metal as a whole. Apart from that, it sounds cool. More to the point, it sounds Old, and mysterious, and obscure, which no doubt accounts for a good portion of its appeal. That said, Coven had a surprising grasp on their aesthetic, multifaceted as it was, and songs like “Burial Ground,” “Wicked Day,” “Ruler,” and “Threshold of the New” sound dated here, but not at all irrelevant. “General’s Eyes” is memorable in more than just its commonality of progression with Metallica’s “Four Horsemen” (and, by extension, Megadeth’s “Mechanix”), and whether the foursome is thrashing out as they are early in that track or working in the more open, plodding style of “Loki,” they maintain a strong undercurrent of craft and pop hooks that works to tie Worship New Gods together as a cohesive whole. Landrum’s vocals are rough in some places – on the closer he seems to be struggling to keep up with the chorus – and his over-the-top approach probably isn’t going to sit well in all ears, but he effectively caps the atmosphere in “Riddle of Steel” and “Kiss Me with Blood,” and despite only being three tracks apart, the stylistic gap between those songs is much wider. I don’t know if Coven set out to make an album so varied – it’s hard to listen to a reissue like this and divorce hindsight from what actually went into making it a quarter-century ago – but the nuances they bring to their approach make Worship New Gods a richer listen than one might initially think on the first or second time through.

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Where to Start: The Obelisk’s Guide to Small Stone Records

Posted in Where to Start on May 3rd, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

Founded in 1995 by Scott Hamilton, Detroit imprint Small Stone Records is the single most influential American heavy rock label of the post-Man’s Ruin era. What started as Hamilton releasing local Detroit acts of varied genres like Morsel, 36D and Perplexa soon took on a dedication to the heavy aesthetic that remains unmatched in both its scope and its reach of influence. Looking back, Five Horse Johnson‘s 1997 Double Down debut, seems to have been the beginning of Small Stone‘s turn down the fuzzly path. It’s like Hamilton followed the riff right down the rabbit hole and never looked back.

Now, 17 years on, Small Stone has a reach that goes beyond even the distribution of the albums it puts out. Thanks to the diligent work of Hamilton and oft-encountered names like Mad Oak Studios engineer/mixer Benny Grotto, mastering engineer Chris Gooseman, graphic artist Alexander von Wieding, among others, the label has earned a reputation for quality output that new releases are constantly reaffirming. Over the years, Man’s Ruin refugees like Sons of Otis, (The Men Of) Porn, Acid King and VALIS have come into the fold, but the crux of Small Stone‘s catalog is made up of acts like Roadsaw, Dixie Witch, Halfway to Gone, Throttlerod, Puny Human and Novadriver, who no matter what else they put out or who they put it out with, will always be considered “Small Stone bands.”

That designation and those groups specifically have helped establish a core American-style heavy rocking sound that the label seems to delight in toying with even as it continues to promulgate. Next generation bands like Gozu, Lo-Pan, Freedom Hawk, Backwoods Payback and even newer newcomers Wo Fat, Supermachine, Lord Fowl and Mellow Bravo — who don’t yet have albums out on the label — are expanding its breadth, and recent international signees Asteroid, Abrahma, Mangoo, Nightstalker and Mother of God should help ensure that Small Stone keeps pushing both itself and genre boundaries well into the next several years.

One of the hazards, however, of an ever-growing catalog, is that it can be hard to figure out where to start taking it on, and to that end, I’m happy to provide you with 10 essential Small Stone picks. Note I didn’t say “the 10 essential Small Stone picks,” because the reality of the situation is this is just the tip of the fuzzberg. If it’s any indication, I started out with five and couldn’t leave the rest out.

Here they are, ordered by the date of release:

 
1. Novadriver, Void (ss-022/2001)

Still an album that’s more or less impossible to pin to just one genre, the stoner/space/weirdo jams of Novadriver‘s 2001 outing, Void, reside somewhere between Monster Magnet‘s early Hawkwind worship and the unbridled intensity of groove that came out of Detroit’s early- and mid-’70s heavy rock and proto-metal. The fact that Novadriver also came from the Motor City speaks to the label’s local roots, but if Void was coming out even today, it’d be coming out on Small Stone.

2. Los Natas, Corsario Negro (ss-028/2002)

Personally, I think 2005′s El Hombre Montaña is a better album and 2009′s Nuevo Orden de la Libertad is an even better album than that, but Corsario Negro earns the edge as a starting point because it was the beginning of the Argentinian rockers’ relationship with Small Stone (they too were left without a home in the wake of Man’s Ruin folding). Plus, if you haven’t heard them before and you get this, you can still marvel at the subsequent offerings. Either way, totally necessary.

3. Various Artists, Sucking the ’70s (ss-032/2002)

In a lot of ways, this is what it’s all about. Badass bands playing badass songs. By this point, The Glasspack, Los Natas, Fireball Ministry, Halfway to Gone and Five Horse Johnson (who lead off the first disc) had already put out at least one album through Small Stone, but Sucking the ’70s made the most of the label’s burgeoning reputation, bringing in Clutch, Alabama Thunderpussy and Lowrider, along with bands who’d later add records to the catalog like Roadsaw, Suplecs and Lord Sterling, all covering hits and obscurities from the heavy ’70s. A gorgeous collection that would get a sequel in 2006. Still waiting on part three.

4. Dixie Witch, One Bird, Two Stones (ss-037/2003)

The Austin, Texas, trio would go on to become one of the most pivotal acts on the Small Stone roster, and they’d do so on the strength of their Southern riffs and the soul in their songwriting. Led by drummer/vocalist Trinidad Leal, Dixie Witch hooked up with Small Stone on the heels of their 2001 debut, Into the Sun, which was released by Brainticket, and quickly gained a reputation for some of the finest classic road songs that Grand Funk never wrote (see “The Wheel”). Their 2011 offering, Let it Roll, affirmed their statesmen status among their labelmates.

5. Sasquatch, Sasquatch (ss-044/2004)

I was pretty well convinced that when the L.A.-based Sasquatch released their self-titled debut in 2004, rock and roll was saved. Whoever it needed saving from, whatever needed to take place to make that happen, this record did it. Truth is, rock and roll didn’t really need to be saved — it needed a stiff drink, as we all do from time to time — but Sasquatch would’ve been right there even if it had. They’re a Small Stone original with all three of their records to date out through the label, and still one of the strongest acts in the American rock underground, even though they’d never be quite this fuzzy again.

6. Dozer, Through the Eyes of Heathens (ss-061/2005)

Even now, seven years later, I can’t look at this album cover without hearing the chorus to “The Roof, the River, the Revolver.” Between that and songs like “Man of Fire,” “Born a Legend” and “From Fire Fell,” Swedish rockers Dozer made their definitive statement in their label debut (fourth album overall). Another former Man’s Ruin band, they’d already begun to grow past their desert rock roots by the time they hooked up with Hamilton, and Through the Eyes of Heathens played out like what heavy metal should’ve turned into after the commercial atrocities of the late-’90s. A gorgeous record and still a joy to hear.

7. Greenleaf, Agents of Ahriman (ss-074/2007)

It’s like they built nearly every song on here out of undeniable choruses. Even the verses are catchy. I’ve championed Agents of Ahriman since before I started this site, and I feel no less vehement in doing so now than I did then. A side-project of Dozer guitarist Tommi Holappa that on this, their third album, included and featured members of Truckfighters, Lowrider, The Awesome Machine and others, Greenleaf became a distillation of many of the elements that make Swedish heavy rock unique in the world. It wasn’t aping classic rock, it was giving it a rebirth, and every Hammond note was an absolute triumph.

8. Iota, Tales (ss-084/2008)

Once, I had a t-shirt with the cover of Iota‘s Tales on the front. I wore it until it got holes, and then I bought another. That’s the kind of album Tales was. A trio crawled from out of Utah’s Great Salt Lake, Iota took Kyuss, launched them into space, and jammed out for five, 10 or 20 minutes to celebrate the success of the mission. Recently, guitarist/vocalist Joey Toscano has resurfaced in the bluesier, more earthbound Dwellers, which teams him with the rhythm section of SubRosa. Their debut, Good Morning Harakiri, was a highlight of early 2012, building on what Iota was able to accomplish here while pushing in a different direction.

9. Solace, A.D. (ss-093/2010)

It took the better part of a decade for the Jersey-bred metallers to finish what became their Small Stone debut after two full-lengths for MeteorCity, but when it finally dropped, there was no denying A.D.‘s power. My album of the year in 2010, the band delivered front to back on seven years’ worth of promise, and though it was recorded in more studios than I can count over a longer stretch than I think even Solace knows, it became a cohesive, challenging album, giving listeners a kick in the ass even as it handed them their next beer. I still get chills every time I put on “From Below,” and I put it on with near-embarrassing regularity.

10. Lo-Pan, Salvador (ss-116/2011)

If you know this site, this one’s probably a no-brainer pick, but the Columbus, Ohio-based riff merchants took on unabashed stoner rock fuzz for their Small Stone debut (third album overall) and made some of 2011′s most memorable songs in the process. Subversively varied in mood and heavy as hell no matter what they were doing, every part of Lo-Pan‘s Salvador worked. There was no lag. Small Stone also reissued the band’s 2009 outing, Sasquanaut, in 2011, but Salvador surpassed it entirely, bringing the band to new heights of professionalism they’d confirm by touring, well, perpetually. They’re still touring for it. You should go see them and behold the future of fuzz.

That’s the list as much as I could limit it. If you want to immediately add five more, throw in Roadsaw‘s self-titled (they’re writing the best songs of their career right now, I don’t care how attached to the early records you are), Puny Human‘s Universal Freak Out, Halfway to Gone‘s High Five, Milligram‘s This is Class War and Five Horse Johnson‘s Fat Black Pussycat. If you want to semi-immediately add five more than that, get the reissue of Acid King‘s Busse Woods, Mos Generator‘s Songs for Future Gods, The Brought Low‘s Third Record, Tummler‘s Early Man and Erik Larson‘s The Resounding. There. We just doubled the length of the list.

And the real trouble? I could go on. We didn’t even touch on curios like Axehandle, Lord Sterling and Brain Police, or The Might Could‘s Southern aggression, Hackman‘s instrumentalism or the druggy post-grunge of VALIS. Suffice it to say that Small Stone is one of very few labels out there from whom any output will at least be worth a cursory investigation. As the label continues to grow and develop in 2012 and beyond with new bands and new releases from its staple acts, taking on new avenues of commerce — like releasing vinyl for the first time, which it did in 2011 — whatever changes might crop up, Small Stone seems ready to meet the future, distortion pedal first. Can’t ask more of rock than that.

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Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor, Spectra Spirit: Riders on the Lion’s Roar

Posted in Reviews on December 8th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

Some days it just feels like we’re all living in the echo of Dead Meadow’s ringing tones. The impression is reinforced by the full-yet-somehow-minimalist-sounding Detroit trio, Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor, whose fashion-worthy, restrained distortion blends the shoegaze wanderings of the aforementioned East Coast expats with some of The Doors’ storm-riding slinkiness (Baltimore‘s The Flying Eyes come to mind as compatriots in that regard). The album is Spectra Spirit, and it’s Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor’s second self-release behind a 2009 self-titled, comprised of nine varied tracks of tilt-your-head-back cave pop, open-spaced Americana and the kind of neo-psychedelic spirit fostered in Tee Pee sub-hipster bands like Quest for Fire and Weird Owl. Periodic hooks like “You go downtown to the hole in your brain” from the centerpiece “The Hole in Your Brain” serve as landmarks for would-be travelers, and though at this point the line between poser indie and American heavy psych is about as blurry as a hipstamatic press shot, Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor’s warmth of tone and occasional shift into thickly-delivered bliss makes Spectra Spirit work on its own terms. Greatly aided by a natural-feeling production, the songs can’t help but flow smoothly in themselves and between each other, setting a vibe of grander exploration without ever really going full-on experimental or lapsing into more self-indulgence than is warranted by the style.

And “style” is a keyword when it comes to Spectra Spirit. As their European counterparts seem to be morphing into jam-based, lengthier compositions, American acts like Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor present a darker take. The later cut “Sweet Girl Insanity” is the longest on the album at 5:46 and has probably the most effective build of any of the songs here, with drummer/backing vocalist Rick Sawoscinski announcing the payoff with the loudest snare hits on the whole of Spectra Spirit and guitarist/vocalist Sean Morrow clicking whichever of what I can only assume is a vast collection of pedals puts his tone into full-rock mode. By contrast, bassist/backing vocalist Eric Oppitz (who also handles organ when there’s organ to handle) stands out more in the song’s subdued beginning, cutting through the subtle swirl with an anchoring tone that not only keeps the rhythm, but enhances the atmosphere. Earlier, in the upbeat opening duo of “Untitled” and “Black Mind” – the latter which features Oppitz’s long-held organ notes – the bass occurs as part of a larger barrage of noise, and it’s absent from the acoustic-based “Howlers on the Roam,” but where it’s brought to the fore, Spectra Spirit is fuller and more effective for it. Morrow’s guitar leads most of the material, unsurprisingly, and his vocals are responsible for much of Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor’s chic feel. The Jim Morrison comparison has already been hinted at and is worth reiterating for Morrow’s delivery of “Howlers on the Roam” and the post-centerpiece “Did You Hear the Lion Roar, Mr. Wig,” the latter of which sets its late-night boozery and pill-popping against a backdrop of late ‘60s echoing and would fall utterly flat in its first half as the low point of the album were it not for Oppitz’s work on bass.

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On the Radar: Knife

Posted in On the Radar on November 23rd, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

It’s a rare band that will have me throwing the horns at my desk, but so help me Robot Jeebus, the first time I listened to the self-titled EP from Detroit five-piece Knife, up they went at the end of opening track, “The Mess.” It was a gut reaction. No choice in the matter. The song is the perfect balance of catchy choruses and bearded burl, like the first Queens of the Stone Age record after getting its ass kicked a couple times.

As much as Detroit has seen the growth of a hipster culture the last few years, Knife have nothing to do with any of that. In the same vein as like-minded heavy Motor City bastards Chapstik and Mean Mother, they rock straightforward and more than a bit angry, pulling back some on the aggression for “Lake of Tar” (especially as compares to “This Field was Made for Killing” preceding) but giving little slack in the momentum. Knife is only six songs, 25 minutes, but in that time, the band establishes a firm pattern of riffs and solos, earning their two guitars and still leaving room for the standalone vocals of Curt Massof, which more than earn it.

Whether it’s the start-stop semi-Southern chugga groove of “Outrider” (little Danzig in there) or the unbridled energy of “Lineage,” Knife make sure their foot is right at home in the ass of their listener, and though I don’t know what the deal is with them and a label, them and a full-length, them and touring, them and their lineup, etc., I just wanted to put these songs on here because I actually dig the music. Figure the rest will work itself out.

If you want to hit the band up, do so on their Thee Facebooks profile or buy the EP via Bandcamp. Enjoy this stream of Knife‘s Knife, courtesy of the latter portal:

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Mean Mother, Rock ‘n’ Roll Shakedown: It’s Like Some Kind of Shakedown… But with Rock ‘n’ Roll. Get it?

Posted in Reviews on June 20th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

They’ve made a beeline for the rock, have Michigan’s Mean Mother. The Detroit/Grand Rapids four-piece – who formed in 2003 as a side-project of more metallic acts like Ganon and Today I Wait – make their full-length debut (I think; there seems to be one release before it, but info is scarce) in the form of Rock ‘n’ Roll Shakedown (Saw Her Ghost Records), an album the name of which pretty much tells you everything you need to know about it. The first lines of the opening title cut read as follows: “Make a fist for rock ‘n’ roll/Yeah/Come on/Right now,” and from right there, it only gets more apparent that Mean Mother have no interest in poetry, no interest in brooding melancholy, no interest in pompous artistic posing. They’re here to drink, riff and groove, and Rock ‘n’ Roll Shakedown only asks that you come along for the catchy 42-minute joyride.

It’s the kind of heavy rock one expects to come more from Texas than Michigan – acts like Blood of the Sun and SuperHeavyGoatAss springing to mind as comparison points; or maybe even the new school of Small Stone rockers like Backwoods Payback and Lo-Pan (neither of whom is Texan) – but no question the double-guitar foursome have their papers in order when the issue is heavy rock influences. From Clutch to Deep Purple to the obvious Sabbath and Motörhead cues, they only want to rock, and the utter lack of pretense of anything else is what makes Rock ‘n’ Roll Shakedown work. A track like “Easy Livin’” makes its bones on ‘70s riffing and the white-guy-soulful delivery of guitarist Roxy Vega as backed by bassist Clint Debone, and there’s a million directions one could go in saying, “I’ve heard this before” in citing bands, but Mean Mother do what they do well and write a solid heavy rock song. Vega and fellow guitarist Cobra O’Kelly offer righteous riff-grooves and soloing, and Debone and drummer Bronco Johnson consistently lay down warm foundational rhythms. There’s a reason it’s become the heavy rock formula over the last 40 years, and the reason is it sounds cool.

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Small Stone Enters the Vinyl Market

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 10th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

Coming off yesterday’s bummer news of Backwoods Payback‘s partial tour cancellation, Small Stone Records has revealed their schedule for their first-ever batch of vinyl releases. Small Stone, who’ve traditionally stuck to the smaller-form plastic discs, are preparing to launch limited editions of records new and old, starting with Californian classic rockers Sasquatch‘s 2010 release, III, next month.

Label honcho Scott Hamilton sent over the following update with the schedule in tow, links to preorder (click the band names) and notice that two additional vinyls are to come before 2011 is over:

So, we just got word from the folks at United Record Pressing that the Sasquatch III vinyl is scheduled to get pressed on Monday, March 7. If you happened to pre-order a copy, we estimate that your order will go out sometime in the next two weeks. Literally, whatever day we have them back from URP, all pre-orders will get processed and mailed out on that same day. Unless of course, the LPs show up when we are down at the SXSW Festival, in which case, all pre-orders will be sent out on Monday, March 21.

We have also been getting a ton of emails about our forthcoming vinyl releases, so here is a rough vinyl release schedule that we currently have in the works for 2011. Also, all of these will be specially remastered for vinyl, and printed in limited edition, one-time-only runs between 300-500 copies. So when they are gone, they will be Sold Out and Out Of Print.

SasquatchIII - 180g LP (April)
Roadsaw
- S/T – 180g LP (May)
Tia Carrera
Cosmic Priestess - Gatefold/ 180g LP (June)
Lo-Pan
Salvador - 180g LP (July)
Ironweed
– Your World of Tomorrow – Gatefold/ 180g LP (August)
Gozu
- Locust Season – 180g LP (September)
The Brought Low
- Right on Time – 180g LP (October)

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