The Obelisk Radio Add of the Week: Doomsower, Upon an Obsidian Throne

Posted in Radio on May 2nd, 2013 by JJ Koczan

I’m all for bands recording as much as possible and releasing it themselves, and I’m all for warts-and-all live bootlegs, so it’s no big surprise that when it comes to Beaverton, Oregon’s Doomsower and their first official bootleg, Upon an Obsidian Throne, I’m right on board with the proceedings. The doomly rocking three-piece manage to sneak four songs into the half-hour set, which was recorded earlier this year at the second annual Ceremony of Sludge, put on by the folks at Captain Couch Records at The Alleyway in Portland, and yeah, it’s pretty raw-sounding, but so was Doomsower‘s 1974 full-length (review here), so even for being bare-bones, Upon an Obsidian Throne is at very least consistent.

More importantly, it’s also comprised completely of what I assume is new material written since the release of 1974 — well, maybe not completely, since it starts out with a nod to “War Pigs” and that’s definitely older — and the songs feel suitably developed from the analog-minded lurch-and-groove of the album, whether it’s the bizarre, droning course of “Astoria,” which might actually be more than one song, or the riffed-out chorus to “Shrine of the Timber Gods.” I’ll give “Troll Hunter” best title, and though like a lot of bootlegs you kind of have to adjust your ear to the sound of it, Upon an Obsidian Throne winds up well worth the effort, sounding on the proto-metal shuffle of “Magic Bullet” like it’s just begging for a tape release. Or, for that matter, a tape trade.

Obviously I don’t know whether these four songs will appear on Doomsower‘s next studio offering or not, but taken on its own level, Upon an Obsidian Throne gives a decent showing of where the three-piece might be headed, blending brash heavy rock and crunchier doomed passages to something engagingly heavy and a little dangerous at the same time. In hopes of getting to know it better and maybe spreading the word a bit, I’ve made it the Add of the Week for The Obelisk Radio, so you can hear it in rotation as part of that playlist, as well as download it from the player below, which comes directly courtesy of the Doomsower Bandcamp. Either way, please enjoy.

Doomsower, Upon an Obsidian Throne (2013)

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10 Album Covers that Kicked Ass in 2012

Posted in Visual Evidence on December 13th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Whatever medium you enjoy music through, LPs, CDs, digital, tapes, reel-to-reel, Edison cylinders, the fact of the matter is that artwork — the visual representation of the album — makes a huge difference in the overall impression a record makes. There are bands who slave away for months negotiating fine details with artists and there are bands who snap a picture of themselves and throw it out front on their way to grab their next beer. Both methods have yielded classic results.

As 2012 winds down, I thought it might be fun to go back to the start of the year and take a look at some of the best album art that accompanied some killer albums. This isn’t the Best Albums list, just some of what I think is the Best Art. I’ll try my best to keep my reasons short as we go along alphabetically:

Alcest, Les Voyages de l’Âme

The sort of gloomy lushness that artist Fursy Teyssier brought to the cover for Alcest‘s Les Voyages de l’Âme was breathtaking from the first glance. Teyssier (also of Les Discrets; interview here) wonderfully captured the morose beauty in Alcest‘s music and painted a masterpiece that transcended “rock art” as much as the album itself transcended black metal or any other genre in which one might try to pigeonhole it.

Conan, Monnos

The sentinel that has now graced the cover of the last couple Conan releases has mirrored the British act’s ascent in joining the ranks of great heavy metal mascots. Tony Roberts, who drew the piece on the cover of Monnos, has become an essential part of the band’s mythology, meeting their ultra-crushing tonality with visuals that seem to work in atmospheres no less oppressively brutal. If art was ever heavy, it was heavy here.

Doomsower, 1974

A pretty simple idea, but wonderfully executed, the front of Portland neo-traditionalists Doomsower‘s debut EP, 1974, came from an EPA photo documentary project that took place the same year. I picked it for this list not because it was so intricate or anything like that, but proof that sometimes something that seems basic can also be just right for the songs — the rails parallel, but joining, seeming to indicate Doomsower‘s journey undertaken.

Electric Moon, The Doomsday Machine

The question wasn’t so much would there be an Electric Moon cover on this list, but which one? The prolific German heavy psych jammers have a cache of treasure in the work of bassist Komet Lulu, and when it came time to choose from among the several recordings the band released in 2012, The Doomsday Machine stood out as a departure from the bright colors and classic psychedelia, being a painting by Lulu‘s father, Ulla Papel. Here’s to genetics.

Groan, The Divine Right of Kings

Having also handled Groan‘s split with Finnish trad doomers Vinum Sabbatum, W. Ralph Walters outdid himself with Groan‘s full-length follow-up, The Divine Right of Kings. With strong References to Hieronymus Bosch‘s vision of hell, Walters visualized the band’s move into classic metal and mixed it with manic get-stoned-and-stare kitchen-sinkery much as Groan continued to consort with brash heavy rock and doom. Walters‘ work on Blue Aside‘s The Moles of a Dying Race was no less distinct an achievement.

Larman Clamor, Frogs

Aside from thinking frogs are awesome in general, I was stoked to see how incredibly well Alexander von Wieding‘s art for his band Larman Clamor‘s 2012 offering fit the music. Otherworldly, darkly psychedelic and caked in haze, the dead stare of the frankenfrog on the front of Frogs perfectly matched von Wieding‘s swampy, bluesy style and looked even better on vinyl. Having also contributed to records by Lord Fowl, Wo Fat, Cortez and others this year, von Wieding has made himself one of the most essential heavy rock artists the world over.

Neurosis, Honor Found in Decay

Were it not for the discussion about the process of putting it together in the interview I did with Neurosis guitarist/vocalist Steve Von Till at the end of October, Josh Graham‘s cover for Honor Found in Decay — especially being so similar in idea to his work on Soundgarden‘s King Animal — probably wouldn’t have made this list, but knowing the level of construction that went into making the piece, from painting the jawbones to using artifact arrowheads from Slovakia, I couldn’t help but see it in a different light. Graham‘s ended his association with Neurosis, but if this is how he went out, they couldn’t have asked for more.

Summoner, Phoenix

I had spent some serious time with Summoner‘s Phoenix by then, had been in talks with the band about releasing it on The Maple Forum, but it wasn’t until I held the LP in my hands at SHoD and really saw the Alyssa Maucere cover in-person that I realized what I was looking at. And once you see it, it’s not really subtle at all. Get it yet? There’s a cock and balls on the right side. I gotta give it to the Boston outfit and to Maucere for sneaking and yet not at all sneaking that one in there. Hey, if you don’t appreciate some phallic humor every now and again, you’re probably not going to start a website called The Obelisk.

Ufomammut, Oro: Opus Primum & Oro: Opus Alter

Is it cheating to include both covers from Ufomammut‘s Oro two-album series? Probably. Do I give a shit? Not in the slightest, because the Italian collective — who for visual purposes go by the name Malleus — tapped into new territory of psych art with the pieces for Oro: Opus Primum and Oro: Opus Alter, manifesting the idea of “psychedelic metal” in the actual style and inks used, while also contrasting dark and light and conveying the permanent nature of gold itself and the notions of hypnotic ritual that show up in their music. These covers were proof that Ufomammut are more than just the masters of their sound.

Undersmile, Narwhal

Another Tony Roberts creation, but in a completely different style from Conan‘s Monnos above, the bleak cover of UK nautical doomers Undersmile‘s 80-minute debut LP Narwhal seemed to embody everything the band had to offer on the album. It was dark, with hard drawn structural lines, but also sprawling, encompassing every panel of the digipak and running into the liner much as Undersmile‘s oceanic themes ran into every minute of the music, crushingly heavy or minimalist and ambient. Less about the titular creature within and more about the sea itself, it conveyed an utter hopelessness and the smallness of humanity when set against something so massive as the sea.

There were plenty more I could’ve included here — records from High on Fire, Om, Graveyard, Wight, Caltrop, Ancestors, Samothrace, Vulture and several others all are worthy of honorable mention, but for one reason or another, these were the standouts to me and I hope you agree that even in this go-ahead-and-download-it age of immediate convenience, the visual art remains pivotal to an album experience.

Someone you think got left out? If you’ve got any suggestions to add, agreements or disagreements, I’d love to get a discussion going in the comments, so please, have at it.


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Six Dumb Questions with Doomsower

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on November 14th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

As with their 1974 self-released full-length debut, Oregonian trio Doomsower are completely straightforward (if parenthetical) in their interview answers. Justin Kaye, guitarist/vocalist of the doom-rocking three-piece, informs as to their origins and the process that led to the assembling of Doomsower‘s current lineup — Kaye alongside bassist/vocalist Levi Campbell and drummer Matt Amott — as well as their songwriting, analog recording and more, with as clear a sense of focus as he brings to the four extended tracks of the record. If you want to put a hyphenated buzzword to it, try “bullshit-free.”

Kaye, in detailing how the band got together, gives an account of his own discovery of doom, particularly with the encounter of Reverend Bizarre‘s first album, In the Rectory of the Bizarre Reverend. Some of that Finnish outfit’s seminal penchant for traditionalism can be found in the work of Doomsower, who adhere to the guitar-heavy tenets of the year for which their debut is named. As an album, 1974 (review here) is raw and organic, but with a strong focus on tone, the band give a glimpse of their potential going forward, as well as hint at some of the metallic extremity in which their sound has taken root.

And there’s a love for classic rock inherent in what they do as well — as one would have to figure with a record called 1974 — that comes across in their analog methods and in the vintage riffing of “Stone,” which closes the album. While the blend is formative and the band is by no means finished growing after this full-length, there’s a cohesive vision at work right down to the photos that comprise the cover art, culled from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Documerica project, all the pictures from which were taken in the year — you guessed it — 1974.

Looking forward to more from these guys, but in the meantime, please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

1. Give me the background on how Doomsower got together. When the band first get started, and how has the sound developed over the course of the last four years? How did you land on “pure heavy metal doom no compromise” as your motto?

Doomsower began in the summer of 2008. I recently befriended a kid by the name of Kalvin and we began jamming constantly that summer – around June or so. He played drums and I played guitar/”sang.” Our direction then was more of the black/death route and the whole idea of “doom” wasn’t in our foresight. One day at the local record shop I stumbled upon Reverend Bizarre’s first album, In the Rectory of the Bizarre Reverend. I had read about it in some magazines, read some good things and decided to buy it. Got home, put it on and was blown away at the heaviness of it. The “newness” of it to me was astounding. We were writing songs during the summer of course, but like I said, they fell more within the black/death realm of metal and not so much doom. But with this discovery of heavier, slower, more powerful music, we knew we had to do something like it. Not to imitate, mind you, but to channel our thoughts, ideas, and feelings, through this new sonic music. Also, that in Portland to us at least, there weren’t many bands doing the slow and low kind of music (obviously things have changed!). So by August of 2008 we had a vision. I shouldn’t have to explain where the name Doomsower comes from, but needless to say we wanted to stand out from other bands. In October of 2008 we self-released a demo titled Ov Doom. It was brash, VERY rough (one mic recording!) and needless to say, amateur. Looking (and hearing) back on it, it’s full of energy, naivety, and fun. They were fun songs to play, simple mind you, but still fun. It was received well enough that we made some connections with bands in Portland and began some relationships (that eventually would fall apart of course…) and started gigging. Our first show was with The Gates of Slumber. Great guys and a great band. We got lucky from the booker for that one for sure.

So yes, off to a great start! We got a bassist around January of 2009 – that didn’t last. All the while still gigging in Portland with non-doom bands (mostly thrash and black/death metal bands). The end of 2010 brought in another new face and we gigged with him for awhile and then recorded another demo, Vintage Era. This, like the first demo, was home recorded, messy, brash, somewhat catchy, and overall “OK.” Of course at the time, we thought it was marvelous (what else are you supposed to think?). The song development was still the same of me having a riff and the others adding to it. Not much collaboration. I started to feel like a Captain on a sinking ship…

2011, though, would lead to the biggest change in Doomsower. Got a new bassist, kicked the drummer out, got Matt on drums, and then released Earth in September. Quite the shift. Musically speaking from 2008 to 2011 Doomsower’s sound was a bit unfocused. Riff-driven yes, but timing and sloppiness were all over (not going to point fingers on that one). As I delved more and more into music — everything from Yes to Bathory to Thin Lizzy to Uriah Heep to Grand Funk Railroad to more and more “heavy rock bands” like Goatsnake, Reverend Bizarre or Truckfighters — those influences started to seep into my writing.

Again, a bass player quit, and in comes Levi. 2012 marked a brand new beginning for the band. A very stable one with an actual goal. Between Levi, Matt, and myself, we are three different individuals with the same passion and drive for our music. We’re all weirdos and don’t take no for an answer when it comes to songwriting (we have keyboards from time to time for Lord’s sake). So again, from 2008 to 2011 it was me coming with an idea and going from there. But now, with three powerful minds, we work as a group. Levi will have a riff (for example “Mistress of Frost”) and I put my spin on it. Or Matt will say, “play du du dah du dah” and we transpose that to songs. We all write lyrics as well (even though I would consider Matt the Neil Peart of the band). So now it is a very much a band and a group effort.

As far as “Pure Heavy Metal Doom No Compromise,” that stems from the fact that we won’t compromise to fit a certain crowd. We do what we want and what feels right to us. We just wrote a 20-minute song that has more to do with Deep Purple and Rush than say Evoken or Goatsnake (not to discredit those bands, love em both!) Also sonically speaking, we made an actual album this year as well!

2. The production on 1974 is raw, but still really full-sounding. How did the band decide tape was the way to go? What was it like working with Rick Duncan recording analog, and how much of the album was done live?

Sami Hynninen of Reverend Bizarre once told me that he liked the old Doomsower stuff because it was, “raw and real.” I’ve never let that leave my mind. I hate over-polished music and doing things digitally makes me want to barf. We decided on working with Rick because he decided on working with us. His band, Towers, became great friends with us this year and once we heard he had an analog studio it was a no brainer. We listened to some songs he had recorded for other bands, were impressed, and started to figure on when we could record.

April worked out best so we spent two days in the studio. Yes two. Nothing was rushed though, simply because we had the songs down and as Rick put it, “you guys really practice your shit.” We spent day one recording all the parts and day two we spent mixing. Rick did another day or so away from us mixing then sent us the mix and we all loved it. Through Justin [Brown] of Lamprey, I came to befriend Brad Boatright of Audiosiege and he mastered our record. It was very easy saying yes to the guy who just mastered Sleep’s Dopesmoker album…

Working with analog was fun and not too difficult. Rick knows what he is doing – it was no amateur operation by any means. All instruments were recorded live. There are no guitar overdubs anywhere. The solos are all live. There is only one guitar track and one bass track. The drums were recorded Bonham-style too to give it that full feeling. The only overdubs were of vocals and the Hammond you hear in “Mistress of Frost.” Other than that, the studio Rick has was comfy and relaxing (so much so that I fell asleep when the others were working!).

3. Does Doomsower have a set songwriting process? The four tracks on 1974 are pretty varied, but still seem to be led by the riff. Are parts and changes just born out of jamming, or are they pieced together beforehand and then everyone adds their own ideas in the rehearsal space?

Like I was saying earlier, the songwriting process is a group effort. I wrote most of the riffs but Levi brings in his fair share as well to the table. We discuss parts, lengths, where this word should go and so forth. Mostly it is very straightforward, we don’t think like Yes and most songs do come from jamming. It’s a giant mixture of ideas, randomness, errors, and fun. I think some bands forget to have fun in their music.

The thing, to me, is that there are too many bands that fit into a mold. So many bands try to be Neurosis sleeping fests, or death-doom’s bastard offspring. Doomsower is everything that a ‘70s rock band was (or at least we try to be). We can have a fast number, a slow number, a song with keyboards, and song with soft guitars, etc., etc. Think about Sabbath… you have a song like “Supernaut,” then you have a song like “Megalomania.” Hearing it live (my experience from the Past Lives album), and it all gels very well. Or Judas Priest where you have, “Beyond the Realms of Death” and then they bust out “Pain Killer.” I’d rather hear a band that yes, has a style, but also isn’t opposed to branching out. Doomsower is a representation of us.

4. What’s the story behind the lyrics of “El Camino Real,” and what was it about that narrative that fit so well with the music?

I’ll leave this to the man that wrote the words, Matt Amott:

In the early days of California, the Spanish set up the Mission system. These churches and villas were about 100 miles apart and ran along the coast from San Diego to San Francisco. The idea was to colonize and “civilize” the natives with Catholicism but instead most native tribes became slaves to the mission priests and almost all of their culture was destroyed. I grew up in Agoura, California, and the major tribe that occupied the coast from Malibu up to San Luis Obispo was the Chumash, expert fishermen who were known as a very peaceful people. In 1824, the Chumash revolted against some of the missions that had already killed thousands of their people. The title comes from “monument bells” that today line the 101 freeway in Southern California. The inscription on the bell reads “El Camino Real” which translates to “The Kings Road (Highway),” that is what the 101 used to be called when it was a horse/wagon road that linked all the missions. I actually wrote the lyrics a few years before I joined Doomsower with the idea that there would be a chorus between the verses. But we had the music pretty close to the final version before I brought the guys the lyrics. We adjusted it a bit, like having just a floor tom during the solo to kind of reflect the Native American storyline and ditching any chorus to have one long verse in the beginning with three stanzas so the narrative continued to flow. Other than that, it just came together.

5. Tell me about the artwork for the CD, how you discovered the Documerica photo project and came to choose that for the cover.

Well I am finishing up my Bachelors Degree in graphic design at Portland State University and came across the Documerica project last year from a peer. I generally take hold of all design within Doomsower and was working on a few different ideas for a cover. The title 1974 comes from Matt (I think…) who stated in the studio, “this shit sounds straight out of 1974!” Our friend Noelle Barce offered to do a logo (she’s awesome, unfortunately she doesn’t have a site up…) so I had that to work with too. A few ideas were done up, tossed out, and then a random spark of thought brought me back to the Documerica project. Not to give the whole, “mystique” away, but all the pictures are from the year, 1974. Turns out the guy whose photos they are ended up being a famous wine photographer in the ‘80s, ‘90s, and now (thanks Charles O’Rear!). The train thing though you’ll have to figure out on your own.

6. Portland and the surrounding area has had such an explosion of heavy bands over the last few years. Is there anyone in particular with whom you especially enjoy playing, or anyone whose name hasn’t gotten out yet that you’d like to recommend?

Yes it has indeed! When we started I didn’t know or couldn’t think of any other “heavy” bands. Now all my of my best friends are in great, “heavy” bands. Lamprey, Towers, and Fellwoods (formerly The Moss) have been mentioned here on The Obelisk, and for good reason, before. To give credit to some maybe more “unknowns” – DEFINITELY Witchasaurus Hex. They’re from Eugene but out rule all of Portland [their 2011 demo was reviewed here – ed.]. Goatsnake and Orange Goblin blended with sweet ‘70s sounds is what they’re all about, at least to me. They really need to get an album recorded, that’s for sure.

Doomsower on Thee Facebooks

Doomsower on Bandcamp

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Doomsower, 1974: Born to be Stone

Posted in Reviews on October 9th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

A self-released, full jewel case, four-track/36-minute full-length with tonal burl, a simple but effective songwriting modus, drum sound hijacked right from garage rock and the title 1974 – I’m having a harder time coming up with an argument against near-Portland, Oregon’s Doomsower’s first LP than arguments for it. The impulse is not to try. Yeah, the trio of Justin (vocals/guitar), Levi (bass/vocals) and Matt (drums) have some pretty rough production on 1974, and if we’re going by Deep Purple and Sabbath albums alone, 1971 was unquestionably a better year, but the rawness of the recording – which was put to one-inch tape at the hands of engineer Rick Duncan – adds to the charm and the front cover (also appearing as a foldout in the CD liner) and the back cover photo come from an EPA photo project that took place in ’74, so everything works in the context of the record as a whole, most especially the main riff of closer “Stone,” which comes right out of the Steppenwolf, “Born to be Wild” playbook. That track and opener “El Camino Real” both appeared in shorter versions on Doomsower’s 2011 Earth Demo, and “Beam Machine” – the third and shortest cut on 1974 at 6:44 – was released as a digital single with a Weedeater cover “Time Served” (from Sixteen Tons) as the B-side earlier in 2012. That leaves the 10:54 “Mistress of Frost/Judgement” (sic) as the only track making its first appearance on 1974 – though “Stone” was previously called “Stone Pussy” – though it matters little, as all the material is relatively recent and the band creates a full-album flow without being hindered by unintentional choppiness in either the writing or the recording, beginning with opener “El Camino Real,” which opens with a mission statement of a bassline from Levi and moves shortly to insistent and well-fuzzed groove that sets the tone for much of 1974’s blend of classic doom, heavy rock riffing and a punk-born carefree mindset that contributes greatly to the laid back feel the album conveys despite being righteously heavy and at times, abrasive.

One of those times, as it happens, comes toward the end of “El Camino Real,” when screams back Justin’s early-The Obsessed-style vocals in the last round of the chorus, “One day’s ride/El Camino Real/The path to heaven/Only leads to hell.” Prior to that, there was little in Justin’s wah’ed glory and ultra-fuzzed leads that hinted at a bent toward the extreme. It’s not out of place, but it doesn’t happen again on 1974 and it’s a little bit like Doomsower fired the gun in their first act. I’d call it a sequencing issue, but “El Camino Real” works where it is on the album and Justin’s cleaner vocals hold sway for the vast majority of the time, as does his guitar, which leads through an improvised-feeling solo past the midsection, leaving Matt to provide the subtly adept changes behind, driving the band headfirst into a slamming groove before breaking and punctuating the swirling fuzz rumble before the vocals kick back in at 6:42. Lyrically, the song deals with the clash between native peoples and Spanish colonialists in California, so the last-minute anger works in terms of the historical narrative, it’s just surprising. To compare, “Mistress of Frost/Judgement” is relatively minimal, beginning with bass, guitar and vocals only – no drums – and setting a more downtrodden mood immediately, personal with lines about the speaker in the lyrics having his heart stepped on and so forth. Levi and Justin are through two verse/chorus cycles (perhaps that’s the “Mistress of Frost” portion of the song) before the drums kick in and the pace kicks up, but the effect is engaging in a kind of raw early-‘80s woman-done-me-wrong metallicism. Wah takes them through a rough-hewn psychedelia, but even when it slows, the song has less patience and more emotional intensity than a designation like psych might convey – though Justin’s lead just before the halfway mark has sufficient buzzsaw to it to make it still applicable, and backing organ gives a spooky feel as Doomsower bring up a wash with about four minutes still to go. They emerge from the mini-melee with a potent stoner rock groove, familiar but wholly unpretentious, and ride its fuzz through a lead section and the gradual deconstruction of the song, the layers of effects on the guitar held to a strong foundation by Levi and Matt’s playing so that when Justin goes back to the riff in the last 15 seconds, the guitar has a place to land.

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Two-Night Ceremony of Sludge Coming to Portland March 2-3

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 20th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Who could argue with the Captain Couch Records crew when they make the assertion that Portland, Oregon, is one of the hottest spots in the country and possibly the world right now when it comes to heavy music? I think it’s maybe been two whole weeks since I posted about the many doings in Oregon, and it feels like an eternity. Lo and behold, the Ceremony of Sludge is here to remedy the situation.

Good fun, y’all:

Portland is quickly becoming one of the biggest metal hubs in North America, if not the world, and our first annual Ceremony of Sludge is aimed at capturing this heavy moment in time. March 2-3 we are bringing you two nights of some of Portland’s up-and-coming heavy acts at The Alleyway!

The first night features Heavy Voodoo, Axxicorn, Avi Dei and Zmoke.

The second night features Lamprey, Towers, Doomsower, and Witch Throne.

Everyone who attends will receive a voucher for a free download of Ceremony of Sludge Vol. 1 a live compilation from both nights of music. If you cannot make it to the show, Ceremony of Sludge Vol. 1 will be available for purchase on Captain Couch Records’ website.

It’s $4 per night, and music starts at 8PM sharp.

Blaine, Justin and Andy
Captain Couch Records

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