The Top 15 of the First Half of 2014

Posted in Features on June 23rd, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

It’s custom around here to do a Top 10 of the First Half of the Year, in advance of doing a Top 20 of the Year in December. The idea is that the later list will basically build on the earlier one. That’s never really how it works out — albums always drop off or appear unexpectedly depending on what gets listened to most, what gets reviewed late, etc. — but it always works out to be a good time anyway, and that’s really what it’s all about.

The difference this year is that instead of doing a Top 20 in December, I’m planning on expanding to a full Top 30, so to do a Top 10 of the stuff from January until now makes less sense. So here we are with a Top 15. A slightly longer list, but still the same basic idea as years past otherwise. These are albums I’m expecting will turn up again at the end of the year on the final Top 30, and though some will and some won’t and almost all of them will move around, there are more than a handful — particularly if we’re counting by fingers — of essential records released over the last six months recounted here.

If you missed something, I hope it’s something cool you get to check out, and if I missed something (as I inevitably did), I hope you’ll let me know in the comments. Please note that this is full albums only, no EPs, splits, singles or demos.

Enjoy:

 

15. Greenleaf, Trails and Passes

Released by Small Stone. Reviewed April 25.

I’ll freely admit I was more than a little thrown off by the change in approach on Greenleaf‘s fifth album. Where prior outings like 2012’s Nest of Vipers (review here) and 2007’s megatriumph Agents of Ahriman had been lush heavy rock affairs helmed by Dozer guitarist Tommi Holappa with a slew of guests on vocals, organ, etc., Trails and Passes dialed back the “extras” in favor of a more stripped down, stage-ready approach. Holappa‘s songwriting alone would likely be enough to have Greenleaf on this list one way or another, and Trails and Passes is one of the year’s best. The turn was just unexpected and I feel like I’m not caught up to it yet.

 

14. Druglord, Enter Venus

Released by STB Records. Reviewed Feb. 14.

Initially put out in a limited tape run in late 2013 (review here), the Enter Venus full-length from Richmond-based sludgers Druglord codified the noisy murk of their prior outings into one devastating wave of lurching riffage and echoing shouts. The Virginian three-piece recorded with Garrett Morris of Windhand and the STB vinyl topped off with artwork by W. Ralph Walters, making for a package both visually and sonically devastating, and though it’s short for an album at under a half-hour, the 12″ still earns the nod for the unmitigated heft its four songs carry. It’s one you can either dig or miss out, but Druglord show there’s more room for invention in sludge.

 

13. Wovenhand, Refractory Obdurate

Released by Deathwish Inc. Reviewed May 15.

There really isn’t much left to say when it comes to Wovenhand and their driving force, frontman David Eugene Edwards. Their first for Deathwish Inc., Refractory Obdurate is the latest document of one of this generation’s most accomplished songwriting progressions. It follows a brilliant record in 2012’s The Laughing Stalk (review here) and likely precedes one in whatever they decide to do next, and the enduring fascination on Edwards‘ part with tonal weight and groove continues to push Wovenhand into a creative territory that is without genre. Nobody else comes close.

 

12. Papir, IIII

Released by El Paraiso Records. Reviewed Jan. 24.

Quick-working Danish jammers Papir made a strong impression with IIII early in the year, offering a progressive take on the style of heavy instrumental jamming that has flourished throughout Europe over the last half-decade or so. Immediately individualized, the Copenhagen three-piece carried across four intricately constructed pieces, most open with the 21-minute “III” but never lacking for twists and turns that were an utter joy to follow. A band that has already collaborated with the even-jammier Electric Moon and who’ve aligned themselves with Causa Sui‘s El Paraiso Records, they seem like a safe bet to continue to grow into reliable purveyors of high-quality instrumental heavy psychedelia.

 

11. Ogre, The Last Neanderthal

Released by Minotauro Records. Reviewed March 10.

Its arrival was heralded by the righteousness of a Lego video for “Nine Princes in Amber,” though even that was little preparation for the classic doomery that would take place on the return long-player from Portland, Maine’s Ogre. The trio of guitarist Ross Markonish, bassist/vocalist Ed Cunningham and drummer Will Broadbent broke up in 2009, got back together in 2012, and with their fourth album, they made it clear they still had plenty to offer those who worship trad-style riffing, Sabbathy grooves and the kind of hooks that stay with you for days. The Last Neanderthal had plenty of those, and “Warpath,” the aforementioned “Nine Princes in Amber,” “Bad Trip” and “Son of Sisyphus” tapped into what makes the best of doom so ready for repeat listens.

 

10. Floor, Oblation

Released by Season of Mist. Reviewed April 22.

Another reunited trio, Floor had it tough coming into their first album in a decade, Oblation. The legacy of their 2002 self-titled would loom large over anything they put out, and guitarist/vocalist Steve Brooks had since gained a huge following as the spearhead of Torche, but four years after they started playing shows again, Floor met the challenge head-on with Oblation‘s 14 tracks, showing a natural progression from where they left off so long ago without seeming like they were trying to recapture a past that inevitably would prove irretrievable. Instead, they’ve set themselves on a course for continuing to develop as a band, and though Torche have a new album expected out this summer on Relapse and doubtless that will take some time and focus away from Floor, hopefully they keep pursuing that growth.

 

9. Mos Generator, Electric Mountain Majesty

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed March 14.

I’ll claim no impartiality when it comes to Port Orchard, Washington, heavy rock purveyors Mos Generator or the craftsmanship of guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed, but if half the point of a list like this is to nerd out over albums you dig (and I’ll gladly argue that it is), then Electric Mountain Majesty is right where it should be. Reed, bassist Scooter Haslip and drummer Shawn Johnson are clockwork-reliable when it comes to putting out high-grade material, and their second record since getting going again after Reed‘s few years in Stone Axe pushed beyond the considerable accomplishments of 2012’s Nomads (review here) and brought their sound to new and at times surprisingly doomed places while still keeping their core in a love of classic heavy rock songwriting. From where I sit, new Mos Gen is never one to pass up.

 

8. Blood Farmers, Headless Eyes

Self-released. Reviewed March 24.

Not that I didn’t expect a new Blood Farmers release to be cool, but Headless Eyes was still a surprise when it arrived earlier in 2014. Who was to say what the New York trio would concoct after a 19-year studio absence? Of course, what they came out with was dead-on horror-loving doomly plod, cuts like the instrumental “Night of the Sorcerers” and the deceptively catchy “Headless Eyes” not only worthy of Blood Farmers‘ substantial legacy but building on it. Void of pretense, Headless Eyes resonated with a brooding atmosphere capped by the surprising closer, “The Road Leads to Nowhere,” a cover of the theme from The Last House on the Left and positioned the three-piece of vocalist Eli Brown, guitarist/bassist David Szulkin and drummer Tad Léger among the fore of traditional doom’s practitioners.

 

7. The Golden Grass, The Golden Grass

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed March 25.

After seeing them live late last year (review here), digging their 456th Div. tape (review here) and putting their debut single on the best short releases of 2013 list, I had little doubt that their self-titled debut full-length would deliver a satisfying listen. Sure enough, the five-tracks of the quality-over-quantity release did precisely that, the Brooklyn three-piece harnessing unashamed positive vibes to mesh with a burgeoning psychedelic feel, catchy hooks and classic-style road songs serving as a reminder of the good times that rock and roll both provides and complements. Now that summer is here, I expect to revisit The Golden Grass plenty of time over these sunny, hot months, since it would seem the year has finally caught up with the band’s warmth and day-long spirit. The Golden Grass are reportedly headed to Europe later this year, so more to come on them for sure.

 

6. Ararat, Cabalgata Hacia la Luz

Released by Oui Oui Records. Reviewed April 4.

Every time I think I’m out, Cabalgata Hacia la Luz pulls me back in. The third full-length from Argentina trio Ararat seems to hit me with a different song each week. This week, it’s the six-minute “El Hijo de Ignacio,” with the insistent, punkish drums from Alfredo Felitte, backing noise and later keyboard eeriness from Tito Fargo and the low bass rumble of Sergio Chotsourian (ex-Los Natas), whose vocals seem to hover over the rest of the mix as though piped in from someplace else entirely. The whole album had a hypnotic effect that pulled the listener away from how diverse it actually was, moving into and out of heavy psych atmospherics with expert smoothness, but the more attention you paid, the more rewarding the experience became, as Ararat defied any expectations that might have come from their 2012 sophomore outing, II (review here), and boldly pushed toward new avenues of progression.

 

5. Conan, Blood Eagle

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Jan. 22.

Who’s heavier than Conan? The superlative UK trio have spent the two years since the release of their full-length debut, Monnos (review here), solidifying their dominance, and their first album for Napalm Records plays out like a victory lap over the skulls of lesser riffs. Opening with the near-10-minute lumber of “Crown of Talons,” Blood Eagle solidified the two-sidedness of Monnos into a back-breaking doom assault, and their pummel remains unparalleled as they continue to grow as players and songwriters. This year has also seen producer Chris Fielding join the band on bass, and as badass as Blood Eagle is — one would rarely think of a song called “Gravity Chasm” as being so aptly-named — I can’t help but look forward to hearing what Conan do from here and how they continue to refine one of doom’s most bludgeoning approaches.

 

4. Dwellers, Pagan Fruit

Released by Small Stone. Reviewed May 22.

It’s the songs. I really, really dug Dwellers‘ 2012 debut, Good Morning Harakiri (review here) as well, and I won’t say a bad word about that album, but Pagan Fruit is in a different class altogether. And you know, it’s not just the songs. It’s how the songs play next to each other, the mood they create, and the hooks that Dwellers bring to the table with so much stylistic poise, calling the bluffs of any number of heavy psych blues rockers on “Totem Crawler,” or “Creature Comfort,” or “Son of Raven” or “Spirit of the Staircase.” The Salt Lake City-based trio of guitarist/vocalist Joey Toscano, bassist Dave Jones and drummer Zach Hatsis brought new levels of cohesion to their sound throughout Pagan Fruit and it remains an album that I have yet to get enough of hearing, one that seems to offer more each time I put it on and let my mind drift to its patient, open spaces.

 

3. Fu Manchu, Gigantoid

Released by At the Dojo Records. Reviewed May 14.

From here on out, on any given day, any one of these is my album of the year. What a thrill it was to put on Fu Manchu‘s first album in five years, Gigantoid, and have it roll out such a tight-knit collection of heavy rolling excellence. The West Coast stoner riff gods of gnarl stripped down their production inspired in part by a reissue campaign of their earlier work on their own At the Dojo Records label, and the punkish feel suited them better than even they likely could’ve expected. With its opening four-song punch, the no-frills shot of “No Warning” and the closeout jam at the end of “The Last Question,” Gigantoid felt like more than one could’ve reasonably asked from a Fu Manchu long-player 20 years on from their debut, but the vitality they showed in its tracks, paired with the efficiency with which the songs were executed, showcased a timeless, perpetual appeal. They know what they’re doing and how they want to do it, and just because there was no doubt going into Gigantoid doesn’t make the end product any less of a payoff.

 

2. Mars Red Sky, Stranded in Arcadia

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed on March 11.

I’ve gone on at some length about what I find so appealing in the second full-length from Bordeaux trio Mars Red Sky, so even putting aside the deft hand with which they incorporated further heavy psych soundscapes into their songwriting, let me just focus on how memorable Stranded in Arcadia actually is. That was true as well of Mars Red Sky‘s 2011 self-titled debut (review here), but these songs are more ambitious, from the eight-minute opener “The Light Beyond” to the gorgeous melody-wash in the chorus of “Join the Race” and the stomp in the de facto closer “Seen a Ghost” before the leadout/refrain “Beyond the Light” calls all the way back to the first track. The development of Mars Red Sky‘s take isn’t necessarily such a surprise — the debut had its psychedelic, jammy feel as well — but the fact that the trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Matgaz managed to elicit such development while remaining true to the warm tones and humble, unpretentious vibe of the debut only makes Stranded in Arcadia more remarkable. I wouldn’t stop listening to it if I could.

 

1. Wo Fat, The Conjuring

Released by Small Stone. Reviewed June 18.

It wasn’t easy to hold off on reviewing the fifth album from the Texas power trio for as long as I did, but I thought the record was too good to jump the gun on, and so yeah, it’s a pretty recent writeup, but I feel comfortable putting The Conjuring at number one here because I’ve actually had a while to live with these songs. Or maybe “live in” them would be a better way to say it, since the dense wall of fuzz and jammed-out distortion Wo Fat create across this record is basically thick enough to take up residence. Recently back from a European tour, Wo Fat hit the road supporting their finest work to date, and as the lineup of guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump, bassist Tim Wilson and drummer/backing vocalist Michael Walter are more or less self-sustaining in their own Crystal Clear Sound studio in Dallas, there’s no reason they can’t just keep developing along the path they are. The Conjuring boasts their best jams yet but also holds firm to the already-planted-in-your-consciousness hooks that Wo Fat have long since established a penchant for, and one could just as easily put the band at the fore of traditional heavy rock riffing as of American heavy psych jammers. Any way you look at them, they’re at the top of their class.

Quick honorable mention goes to Radio Moscow, The Wounded Kings, 1000mods (review forthcoming), Eyehategod, Abramis Brama, Truckfighters, Valley of the Sun, the live Causa Sui record and Alcest. Been a hell of a year so far, and I’m already putting together a list of anticipated records for the next six months, so there’s much more to follow.

Thanks as always for reading.

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The Obelisk Radio Adds: Earthless Meets Heavy Blanket, Fever Dog, Thine, Dwellers and Electric Lucifer

Posted in Radio on June 17th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

These are a little later than I’d prefer, but if I ran everything on time around here as much as I wanted to, it would probably take me 24 hours a day. Sometimes you have to go to the post office, or to The Patient Mrs.‘ workplace to scam free printer paper. I’m just saying things come up that can alter the course of your planned afternoon. One can either be flexible or go insane.

So, better (perpetually) late than never, and I hope you’ll agree with me that this stuff was worth waiting for.

Adds for June 17, 2014:

Earthless Meets Heavy Blanket, In a Dutch Haze

Behold the megajam: The jam that launched a thousand jams, and insert further hyperbole here, because this one earns it. At Roadburn 2012, the illustrious lineup of J. Mascis (Witch, Dinosaur Jr.) and his Heavy Blanket bandmate Graham Clise (also Witch and Lecherous Gaze) joined forces with Earthless‘ rhythm section, bassist Mike Egington and drummer Mario Rubalcalba for a one-time-only, off-the-cuff instrumental jam that has since become the stuff of legend. Yes, a legend two years later. Now dubbed “Paradise in a Purple Sky,” that hour-long one-track excursion into pure heavy psychedelic bliss is available as Earthless Meets Heavy Blanket‘s In a Dutch Haze, and the vibe is less that of a live album than a historical document. Call it lightning in a bottle, call it any other cliche you might want, but chances are In a Dutch Haze is going to be the best live release you hear this year, and if the echoing intertwining guitar solos and unhindered thudding groove — immaculately captured by Marcel van de Vondervoort — aren’t enough to stir your soul and drive you to creation, then I’ve got nothing for you. This is heavy psych at its most vibrant and righteous. Burning World Records, Outer Battery Records.

Thine, The Dead City Blueprint


The Dead City Blueprint (out on Peaceville Records) is actually the third full-length from UK-based Thine, but it’s also their first since 2002, so the feel winds up somewhat like a debut anyway. What happened in the interim? Well, drummer Dan Mullins from the two-guitar five-piece has doubled in My Dying Bride since 2006, so that could at least partially explain the delay. Whatever else may have caused the stoppage, Thine make up for the years with 10 deep explorations of dark, melancholic rock. “Out of Your Mind and into a Void” is almost singularly indebted to Damnation-era Opeth, and opener “Brave Young Assassin” finds Thine somewhere between a less keyboarded Katatonia and a more active version of Anathema at their moodiest, but “The Precipice” provides an early peak to The Dead City Blueprint with a surprise reinterpretation of NWOBHM guitar intricacy and wonderfully arranged vocals from Alan Gaunt, whose performance takes the piece to someplace entirely the band’s own. Winding, airy lead lines in “The Rift” will be a dogwhistle to those in the know, but the piano-inclusive apex of “Scars from Limbo” and ambient finale “Adrift through the Arcane Isles of Recovery” speak to an individuality in development, and if Thine get a follow-up out sometime before 2026, I wouldn’t be surprised to find them grown further into their style. Thine on Thee Facebooks, Peaceville Records.

Dwellers, Live at Bar Deluxe 29-04-2014


As the title hints, Live at Bar Deluxe 29-04-2014 is a new live release from Salt Lake City heavy rockers Dwellers, recorded in their hometown at the end of April. That puts it prior to the street date for their second album, Pagan Fruit (review here), but two cuts from that — “Rare Eagle” and “Totem Crawler” — make appearances anyway alongside highlights drawn from the first Dwellers offering, 2012’s Good Morning Harakiri (review here). Both those records were on Small Stone, but this 34-minute set is a self-release free download, essentially a band-endorsed bootleg to be spread around. The audio quality is definitely in the “audience recording” vein, but clear enough to let the spaciousness of “Old Honey” sink in as it flows out of “Ode to Inversion Layer,” and as this is as close as I’ve yet come to seeing Dwellers – the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Joey Toscano, bassist Dave Jones and drummer Zach Hatsis – live, I’m more than inclined to take it. Hearing Toscano nail the chorus to “Totem Crawler” as well as he does here only emphasizes how much I need to catch a gig sooner rather than later. Maybe it’s a fan piece, but screw it, I’m a fan. Dwellers on Thee Facebooks, Dwellers on Bandcamp.

Fever Dog, “Iroquois”


Just a quick look from these jammy Palm Desert youngsters at what their forthcoming sophomore full-length, Second Wind, will hold, but “Iroquois” bodes well, and in its two-minute span one can hear space rock ideals beginning to make themselves felt amidst a still tonally weighted push, the band’s confidence emerging as their sound continues to expand. Comprised of guitarist/vocalist/thereminist Danny Graham, bassist/noisemaker Nathan Wood and drummer Joshua Adams (also synth), Fever Dog show they have a clear dedication to being more than a heavy rock band, and as brief as “Iroquois” is, the immediateness with which it enacts a vibe puts Second Wind on my list of most anticipated albums for the second half of this year. Lot of potential for the desert’s next generation. Fever Dog on Thee Facebooks, Fever Dog on Bandcamp.

Electric Lucifer, Coming to the Mountain


Not to be confused with Cincinnati’s Electric Citizen, Cleveland-based triple-guitar stoner rollers Electric Lucifer get down to some post-Electric Wizard idolatry on their Dec. 2013 Coming to the Mountain three-track EP. The nod is central and effective, and with three guitars at work, riffing is obviously half the point, though the leads mesh naturally with well-held grooves on “Electric Lucifer,” which leads off, and the subsequent “Phantoms from the Outer Rim” and “Red Wizard,” the last of which finds Electric Lucifer at their most blown-out, proffering stoner rock for stoner rockers with a clear passion for the tenets of the genre. There isn’t much fancy about it, but with a reemerging interest in straightforward Sabbath worship and a subsequent full-length released shortly after from Electric Lucifer, easy to think the five-piece would hit a nerve for heads already converted and looking to nod out. Electric Lucifer on Thee Facebooks, Electric Lucifer on Bandcamp.

Also added this week were releases by John Garcia and Swedish stoner punkers Lightsabres. For the full list of updates and more, check out The Obelisk Radio updates page.

Thanks as always for reading and listening.

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Dwellers, Pagan Fruit: The Arms of Delirium

Posted in Reviews on May 22nd, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

A guitar line echoes, swells, is met with a quick wash of cymbal, and almost before you realize it, Dwellers have eased you into the pulsing “Creature Comfort,” the opener of their second album for Small Stone, Pagan Fruit. The Salt Lake City, Utah, three-piece have refined the stylistic ideas put forth on their 2012 debut, Good Morning Harakiri (CD review here, vinyl review here), and the result is a molten nine tracks/48 minutes of graceful, patient, heavy psychedelic blues. Front to back, it is neither haphazard nor overly constructed feeling, guitarist/vocalist Joey Toscano (ex-Iota) leading the sway with the rhythm section of bassist Dave Jones and drummer Zach Hatsis (both also of SubRosa) helping to steer the material as much as ground it. Songs like the cello-infused “Spirit of the Staircase” drive into exploratory vibes, spaced out and ethereal, but there’s a melancholy at work underneath that, in combination with a more confident vocal and instrumental approach, gives Pagan Fruit a genuine sense of consciousness. It holds to these even in its most swaggering moments, say “Rare Eagle” on side A, “Devoured by Lions” or the penultimate “Waiting on Winter,” and finds its most vivid emotional ground in its moments of pleading, as on the rolling second cut, “Totem Crawler,” with its chorus, “Oh, my queen/To whom I crawl,” or the CD centerpiece “Son of Raven,” which begs, “Come home,” in repeated fashion. These songs are a far cry from any sort of toughguy mentality or dudely let’s-get-drunk-on-beer-and-write-songs-about-whiskey posturing, and ultimately it’s that sincere vibe paired with the memorable songwriting itself that makes Pagan Fruit such a satisfying, engaging experience.

It has its raucous stretches, and a steady flourish of organ from Jones and synth, vibraphone and Rhodes from Hatsis adds depth to the arrangements, and while its songs hit with no shortage of impact — recorded by Toscano‘s former Iota bandmate Andy Patterson, Hatsis‘ kick feels like it’s coming from inside your brain — Pagan Fruit is not a bombastic album. In pacing and execution it is patient and carefully done, a song like “Return to the Sky” finding its soul as much in the raindrop melody of its keys as in Toscano‘s lyrics. Guitar and bass tones are warm, perhaps most of all on the two longer cuts, “Rare Eagle” (7:10) and the closer “Call of the Hallowed Horn” (8:33). The first of the two, fourth of the total nine songs and likely the side A/B split, departs in its midsection to a psychedelic jam with subdued vocals over top, but picks up into insistent riffing, a space-rocking push emerging as organ, soloing and effects are layered in. They jam “Rare Eagle” to its finish, leading fluidly into the album-highlight “Son of Raven,” but “Call of the Hallowed Horn,” which brings in goth-rock singer-songwriter Raven Quinn for a guest vocal spot, reinterprets its chorus over its own sprawling, slow-rolling psych jam, bookending the song and album alike and showing Dwellers‘ care toward varying structures. Of course, by then, the band has done that for 40 minutes, so maybe the point is made, but they underline it well anyhow with the finale, further variety arriving earlier through elements like Toscano‘s harmonica on the swing-heavy “Devoured by Lions,” the steadily shifting key sounds or even just the changes of mood from song to song, all of which remains impeccably arranged and executed with a natural, organic feel, making non-traditional vibes and approaches sound immediately familiar.

Read more »

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Dwellers Premiere “Son of Raven” from New Album Pagan Fruit

Posted in audiObelisk on April 18th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

Given the chance to pick a track for streaming ahead of the May 6 official release date for Dwellers‘ second album, Pagan Fruit, my mind immediately gravitated to “Son of Raven.” It’s not a raging rocker by any means, and Pagan Fruit – which follows the Salt Lake City trio’s 2011 debut, Good Morning Harakiri (review here) — has a few of those, but it’s among the record’s most memorable anyway, with guitarist/vocalist Joey Toscano (ex-Iota) howling out a psych-blues chorus that sticks relentlessly in the listener’s head, all the while he, bassist Dave Jones and drummer Zach Hatsis (both culled from SubRosa) elicit a smooth progression, dynamic and flowing naturally between open, spacious verses and the return to the infectiously moving hook, subtle keys throughout leaving a mark almost unconsciously. “Son of Raven” is the centerpiece of Pagan Fruit, and for good reason.

Setting aside the quality of the songwriting itself, which is consistent throughout the nine-track/48-minute outing, what “Son of Raven” shows even more than opener “Creature Comfort” or a cut like the later, cello-infused “Spirit of the Staircase” is the level of growth between Dwellers‘ first time out and where they are now. Having recently revisited Good Morning Harakiri on vinyl, it sets up much of the soul one finds refined on Pagan Fruit, but just in terms of the sheer confidence of the three-piece in their approach, the newer album allows them to push further into their sound and come up with something that’s more their own. “Son of Raven” is a showcase of patience. Unhurried but not still, it’s the kind of song that would be all but impossible to find on a band’s first album and even on Dwellers‘ second, it makes an impressive accomplishment and is a landmark in the tracklist, among other highlights like the hard-driving “Devoured by Lions,” which follows, and the extended finale “Call of the Hollowed Horn,” which revels in the unpretentious atmospherics the entirety of Pagan Fruit has managed to maintain.

In part, it’s the balance between that atmosphere and the sonic forcefulness of Dwellers that makes the long-player such a special, engaging listen. The band pushes the traditional boundaries of rock, psychedelia and blues, and in so doing, finds an individual place within them.

Give it a couple seconds to start, and please enjoy “Son of Raven” on the player below:

Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!

Pagan Fruit was recorded by Andy Patterson at The Boars Nest in Salt Lake City, mixed by Eric Hoegemeyer in Brooklyn and mastered by Chris Gooseman in Michigan. Cover art is by Adrian Brouchy of Coven Illustración, and the album will be released on May 6 through Small Stone. More info at the links.

Dwellers on Thee Facebooks

Pagan Fruit at Small Stone’s Bandcamp

Small Stone Records

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On Wax: Dwellers, Good Morning Harakiri

Posted in On Wax on April 4th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

I think when Salt Lake City trio Dwellers released their 2011 debut, Good Morning Harakiri, I was still too enamored of guitarist/vocalist Joey Toscano‘s previous outfit, Iota, to fully appreciate it on its own level. Iota‘s 2008 full-length, Tales, presented a masterful and forward looking blend of Hawkwindian psychedelics and Kyuss-style stoner rockery, and though I enjoyed Good Morning Harakiri (review here) thoroughly at the time and have only grown to dig the band more since, its unrepentant bluesiness — made a vital element thanks in no small part to the swinging rhythm section of bassist Dave Jones and drummer Zach Hatsis (both of SubRosa) — fit oddly with the context of what I was expecting. I was thrown off by it and had to right my assumptions before I could really dig in.

Listening to Small Stone‘s LP edition of Good Morning Harakiri — limited to 500 copies and pressed either in cyan/red swirl (as mine is), black or transparent purple 180g vinyl — I have no such momentary hesitation, thanks both to the time I’ve already spent listening to Dwellers‘ debut and time spent with its forthcoming follow-up, Pagan Fruit (review pending), due out May 6. Particularly in light of the sophomore outing coming up, Good Morning Harakiri seems ripe for a revisit, and the vinyl version provides a perfect excuse, its six tracks rearranged from the CD such that what was the fourth track, “Ode to Inversion Layer,” is repositioned as the opener and the relatively brief “Lightening Ritual” moves up to end side A, leaving side B to the combined sprawl of “Vulture” and “Old Honey,” both of which hover around the 10-minute mark.

That change makes sense practically — there’s only so much room on a given side — and sonically. “Ode to Inversion Layer” unfolds more gradually than did “Secret Revival,” the former opener and here the second cut, setting the listener up to expect a more languid roll than the swaying tension of “Secret Revival” might have, with no sacrifice of hook from one to the other. As it is on the platter, “Ode to Inversion Layer” draws you in and “Secret Revival” provides a smack to the face, Hatsis slamming hard on his crash in the chorus while Toscano – who seems apprehensive in his vocal approach as compared to the new album; this is shown largely in where he sits in the mix in one compared to the other — drawls out a resonant chorus, slowing fluidly in its midsection to smooth the shift into “Blackbird,” which worked well on CD also, his vocals a far back swirl of echo amid the weighted fuzz of his guitar and rumble of Jones‘ bass.

A dead stop precedes “Black Bird”‘s arrival, but the changeover is easy nonetheless, and of the tracklisting shuffles between the CD and LP editions of Good Morning Harakiri, putting “Black Bird” and “Lightening Ritual” next to each other gives the album a midsection comprising its strongest hooks, the stomp of “Black Bird” and the blown-out intensity of “Lightening Ritual” playing exceedingly well together. And when it comes to “Vulture” and “Old Honey” on side B, 20 solid minutes of Dwellers jamming out supernova blues is not a proposition with which I’m about to argue. Seated together, “Vulture” and “Old Honey” offer more than simple long-form indulgences, the former making deft rhythmic turns into a newly-paved groove that runs a highway right through the wandering nighttime desert ritualism of the latter. I don’t have to pick a favorite from between them, so I won’t. Better just to enjoy them back to back as what makes for half an album more immersive than most full-lengths.

As Dwellers come more into their own in 2014 with Pagan Fruit, I’m glad to have the chance to give Good Morning Harakiri another spin and appreciate some of what seemed like unevenness at the time for the progressivism it actually represents. One can only hope the second album holds up so well three years later.

Dwellers, Good Morning Harakiri (2011)

Dwellers on Thee Facebooks

Small Stone Records on Bandcamp

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audiObelisk Transmission 034

Posted in Podcasts on January 20th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

Click Here to Download

 

Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!

I was all set to pat myself on the back for making a podcast and posting it when someone might actually see it, unlike the last two (033 and 032), which rather impractically both went up on the eve of a major holiday, and then I remembered today was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Whoops. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Oh well. There’s always next month.

This one took kind of a strange and fun turn in the making and got very languid, very spaced out and sort of dreamy but still heavy in the bottom end. We start out with new stuff from We Hunt Buffalo, Truckfighters and Dwellers right in a row, and I guess that set the tone for a heavy roll that carried through a lot of the rest of the nearly-two-hour span. Not a complaint. I think it flows really well, and of course I hope you do too.

Once again, no real theme, though in addition to the aforementioned, you’ll also find new tracks from Sahg, Papir, Radar Men from the Moon, Pontiak and The Wounded Kings, the latter providing a grim finish after All Them Witches and Black Skies offer prime terrestrial psychedelia. It’s a good mix, all told. It grooves. It nods.

First Hour:
We Hunt Buffalo, “Blood from a Stone” from Blood from a Stone (2014)
Truckfighters, “Get Lifted” from Universe (2014)
Dwellers, “Creature Comfort” from Pagan Fruit (2014)
Salitter, “But I am Not Consoled” from Salitter EP (2013)
Papir, “I” from IIII (2014)
Radar Men from the Moon, “Surrealist Appearance” from Strange Wave Galore (2014)
The Ravenna Arsenal, “The Desert Shows No Mercy” from I (2013)
Pontiak, “Surrounded by Diamonds” from Innocence (2014)
Sahg, “Blizzardborne” from Delusions of Grandeur (2014)

Second Hour:
Doctor Cyclops, “Cobweb Hands” from Oscuropasso (2014)
Mammatus, “Brainbow/Brain-Train” from Heady Mental (2013)
Sun Voyager, “Space Queen” from Mecca (2013)
All Them Witches, “Swallowed by the Sea” from Lightning at the Door (2013)
Black Skies, “Lifeblood” from Circadian Meditations (2013)
The Wounded Kings, “Consolamentum” from Consolamentum (2014)

Total running time: 1:58:52

 

Thank you for listening.

Download audiObelisk Transmission 034

 

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Dwellers, Backwoods Payback and Sasquatch L.A. Show Switches Venues

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 7th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

I’m taking the rest of today off because, fuck it, I need to. Before I run out of here to rent a 55-gallon drum and hide myself inside it, I wanted to post word that the Los Angeles gig previously referred to in the announcement of Backwoods Payback‘s March tour has switched venues.

It’ll now be taking place at Los Globos Nightclub on Sunset Blvd. I hear it’s lovely. And yeah, it’s a Monday night, but seriously, I know this site gets a bunch of hits from out that way, so if you can read this and you’re somewhere within showing-up range, I promise you this will be better than the Monday night of watching television, scratching your ass and not doing laundry you had previously planned.

Dig it:

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Dwellers Interview with Joey Toscano: Singing Odes to the Rituals of Inversion, OR: Tales Yet to be Told

Posted in Features on February 13th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

With his former trio, Iota, beginning to fizzle out, guitarist/vocalist Joey Toscano began Dwellers as a duo with SubRosa drummer Zach Hatsis. The Salt Lake City natives worked together when they could until Toscano, frustrated at missed practices and a band that seemed to be stagnating — practically if not creatively — said it was time to really make Dwellers happen.

Iota had released their Small Stone debut, Tales, in 2008. The album’s blend of space rock jamming and heavy riffs, combined with Toscano‘s far-back vocals and the thick production of Andy Patterson (who also played drums in the band), was well received and became over the next couple years something of a stoner rock cult classic outside of Salt Lake City. Interest endured in finding out how the band would follow it up, but when word finally came, it in the form of an avant garde Dwellers EP that preceded the now-trio’s own first Small Stone outing, Good Morning Harakiri.

The album (review here) takes its name from the Japanese ritualistic suicide by disembowelment and decapitation otherwise known as “seppuku,” and in terms of being honest about their influences and crafting what they want their music to be, innards are suitably spilled. Recorded by Patterson, Toscano‘s vocals are less drenched in effects and farther forward in the songs than they were on Tales; the direction of Dwellers has more in common with swampy marshes than Californian deserts. Hatsis and bassist Dave Jones are a complex but accessible rhythm section, providing stylistic depth and adding to Toscano‘s riffs more than just tonal weight.

As compares to the Peace and Other Horrors EP that came before it, Good Morning Harakiri is more straightforward and song-based, which Toscano says is on purpose. Along with discussion of blending the two sides of the band in the future, he also spoke about transitioning from Iota to having Dwellers as his main project, the growth of the heavy underground in the last several years, Iota‘s misadventures at SXSW, Dwellers‘ recent show with YOB, and much more.

Full Q&A is after the jump. Please enjoy.

Read more »

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Small Stone Announces SXSW Showcase Schedule

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 18th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

I know I’ve talked before about the amazing times and staggering drunken debauchery I’ve (allegedly) witnessed and/or been involved in at Small Stone‘s SXSW showcases. For all the years I went to SXSW, it was unquestionably the high point, and if I was going to go now, it would be just about the only reason.

The label just announced their 2012 schedule with an exceptionally well-constructed press release — I mean, seriously, whoever wrote the thing should be hired for some cushy work-from-home newsletter-writing gig at a major corporation with money to spend so he can spend his days blogging about European heavy psych records — and the lineup is enough to make me wistful for the hazy memories that could be.

Mic check!

Now entering its 17th year of operation, Small Stone Records has announced the final lineup for its 2012 SXSW showcase, set to take place Friday, March 16, on the outside back patio at Headhunters on Red River in Austin, TX. The label, home to the best in heavy and ‘70s-fueled motor rock, has assembled a roster of new and old blood for a night that’s sure to remind Austin why it loves volume so much in the first place.

Says label honcho Scott Hamilton, “We are very much looking forward to our yearly showcase in Austin. We have a great lineup that we’ll stuff into Headhunters, which is also one of our favorite little watering holes on Red River. It is always nice to tilt some back with some old friends, and some new ones too! Save the date, Friday March 16th!”

Spanning genres from the fuzz-drenched psychedelic improv jams of Austin natives Tia Carrera, who will close out the night, to the crunchy, noise-driven blues of New Orleans trio Suplecs, Small Stone’s showcase is an annual high point of South by Southwest for those who manage to remember it the next morning. The complete lineup is as follows:

Friday, March 16
Headhunters (Outside Back Patio) 720 Red River at 8th St.:
1am: Tia Carrera
12am: Dixie Witch
11pm: Suplecs
10pm: Lo-Pan
9pm: Gozu
8pm: Backwoods Payback
7pm: Dwellers

Original 18″x24″ silk screen concert poster available by New York-based artist and illustrator Joshua Marc Levy.

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What to Look Forward to in 2012, Pt. 1: The Sure Bets

Posted in Features on January 4th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

I’m a sucker for consistency, so I’m going to keep this to the same kind of format as last year’s 2011 preview — real low key, real stuff I’m actually looking forward to being released. It’s not about what band is the biggest, or who has the most hype, but about who’s kicking what ass and how much it’s happening. Pretty simple parameters we’re working with here.

If you don’t recall last year and didn’t already click that link in the paragraph above out of curiosity, here’s how it works: I take five records I”ve heard and five I haven’t, and over the course of two days, we get a list of 10 albums reportedly to come in 2012 (these things don’t always work out, as we’ll get into more tomorrow with Colour Haze) that hopefully most people can agree with or at least be only mildly outraged at.

Today, it’s the sure bets. These are records that’ll see release early this year that I’ve already heard and can vouch for. I haven’t reviewed all of them yet, but I will, so consider this a precursor to that if you want. They’re not in any order but that in which they occurred to me to write down. In any case, here goes:

Snail, Terminus: Their 2009 reunion album, Blood, has stood the test of the going-on-three years since its release on MeteorCity, and the four-piece are set to follow it up this year with Terminus, an album that hopefully doesn’t live up to its name in being their last. The songwriting, which made for ultra-memorable tracks on Blood, is just as epic here, and each cut seems to have a personality of its own while still flowing together as a whole. What you really need to know about it — it’s heavy as hell. I wouldn’t be surprised to see myself typing about it again come list time this December.

Orange Goblin, A Eulogy for the Damned: Another foreboding album title, this seventh full-length from the London doomers (review here) finds them embracing the anthemic on “The Filthy and the Few” and going full-on spooky for “The Fog.” It’s a mature album, and maybe a little too clean in terms of production, but these guys never fail to deliver, and A Eulogy for the Damned can only add to the increase in profile the last couple years has seen for Orange Goblin. When it comes down to it, they’re one of the best live acts in doom, so they can’t lose in bringing this material to the stage.

Dwellers, Good Morning Harakiri: Iota, the prior outfit of Dwellers guitarist/vocalist Joey Toscano, found a small but loyal cult when they released Tales on Small Stone in 2008. I’d expect no different for Dwellers, which teams Toscano with the rhythm section of SubRosa‘s last album, bassist Dave Jones and drummer Zach Hatsis. The album balances bluesy riffs and spacey ambience with terrifying ease, saving expansive jamming for its two side-closers while bolstering a classic songwriting feel elsewhere. A great mix and a welcome return from Toscano. Full review here.

Corrosion of Conformity, Corrosion of Conformity: I’ve got this slated to be reviewed tomorrow, and next week I’ll have my Q&A with bassist/vocalist Mike Dean posted, so between that, the live review Monday, and the announcement of their headlining tour, it’s an awful lot of C.O.C. around here lately. Can’t say they didn’t earn it. Their upcoming self-titled seems to distill about 30 years of growth into 11 high-quality tracks that not only recall the trio’s Animosity-era glory days, but push them further into places they’ve never gone before. It’s a fascinating and surprising album on a lot of levels, and I think once people have a chance to hear it, they’re going to really embrace what the band is doing.

Black Pyramid, II: A song from this went up just yesterday, so I admit, it’s on my mind lately, but the second LP from Massachusetts trio Black Pyramid is one of early 2012’s highlights for sure. If you don’t believe me, you can get it yourself ahead of its release date from MeteorCity at All That is Heavy, and when you do, I think you’ll find that it’s the melodies making the songs as epic as the riffs and the tales of battles and conquests. As the final statement from this incarnation of the band, it’s also the strongest work they’ve done yet.

There’s more, obviously. No matter how much you do, there’s always more. Records from The Devil’s Blood (which had its Euro release last year but will be out in North America this month), Infernal Overdrive (review here) and Sun Gods in Exile come to mind as being particularly killer, and in the “heard some already” category, the field expands to include the likes of Blood of the Sun, Pagan Altar, Stubb, Crippled Black Phoenix and others as well, so it already looks like it’s going to be a busy year.

The real challenge though is going to be narrowing tomorrow’s speculation picks down to just five. Not sure I’m going to be able to do it, but I’ll try my best.

Stick around — more tomorrow!

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audiObelisk: Dwellers Stream “Vultures” from Good Morning Harakiri

Posted in audiObelisk on December 29th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

Some diligent internet research on Dwellers (and by that I mean looking up their ReverbNation and Bandcamp pages) will result in a couple tracks already available from their Good Morning Harakiri debut full-length. The album is also already available on iTunes for those inclined to download it there, and will be pressed to CD by Small Stone at the end of January.

It hasn’t yet been a full week since I reviewed Good Morning Harakiri, so I’ll spare the long-winded descriptions of how the album as a whole functions and just say that the pairing of former Iota guitarist/vocalist Joey Toscano with the rhythm section of bassist Dave Jones and drummer Zach Hatsis — both of post-metal unit  SubRosa — results in a unique mixture of riff-driven heaviness and thickened jam explorations. While this elements aren’t necessarily uncommon, Dwellers‘ blend of space and blues winds up being almost entirely their own.

Case in point, “Vultures” is the longest track on Good Morning Harakiri at just over 10 minutes. It’s got a bluesy semi-Southern riff and Toscano‘s vocals are graveled as they deliver the initial verses, but the song soon opens up to an expansive heavy jam with a waltzing progression that feels born as much from willful exploration as from its classic rock soloing.

Small Stone was kind enough to let me host “Vultures” for your streaming pleasure, and you’ll find it on the player below. Hope you enjoy:

Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!

DwellersGood Morning Harakiri is available now on iTunes through Small Stone Records, and is set for CD release at the end of January. The band will be playing Burt’s Tiki Club in their native Salt Lake City, Utah on Jan. 21 with YOB and Old Timer, and will also take part in Small Stone‘s annual showcase at SXSW in Austin, Texas, on March 16. More info on that is here, and you can check out Dwellers on Thee Facebooks here.

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Dwellers, Good Morning Harakiri: Rituals of Skin and Bones

Posted in Reviews on December 23rd, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

Also written as “seppuku,” the traditional Japanese practice of harakiri is a form of samurai ritual suicide wherein one plunges a short blade into one’s own belly and slices the blade from left to right. A second person stands behind with a sword and, at a previously-agreed-upon time after the person has disemboweled himself, strikes a decapitating blow. How the notion came to be incorporated with the debut full-length from Salt Lake City, Utah, heavy trio Dwellers, I don’t know, but if there’s some tie in with the theme of “spilling one’s guts,” I’d believe it. Good Morning Harakiri (Small Stone) rocks heavy and naturally for its vinyl-ready 41-minute duration, and is not without its sense of ritual. The band, which unites guitarist/vocalist Joey Toscano of Iota with the same rhythm section that propelled SubRosa’s excellent 2011 offering, No Help for the Mighty Ones – that being bassist Dave Jones and drummer Zach Hatsis – is surprisingly assured in its approach for Good Morning Harakiri being the first album, and the six tracks play out with an organic, blues-based steadiness offset by genre-straddling excursions into psychedelia and doom.

In that way, Good Morning Harakiri is a fitting follow-up to Iota’s excellent 2008 Small Stone debut and swansong, Tales, which melded heavy and space rock together seamlessly and added psychedelic flourish even in Toscano’s vocals, which were melodic echoes from the deep reaches of the Andy Patterson mix (the label’s go-to knob-twiddler, Benny Grotto, also got a word in that regard). Patterson, who also drummed in Iota, handled production for Dwellers (he also did the SubRosa), and dials back that echo somewhat on Toscano’s singing, bringing him forward more early in the album so that, aside from closer “Old Honey,” the singing sounds more confident. And as much as one can read Good Morning Harakiri as an extension of some of Iota’s ideas – Toscano presumably being at the fore creatively in both bands adds to the validity of that read – there’s no discounting the fluidity and the depth of Jones’ and Hatsis’ contributions. Not only do they hold down the extended side A and B closers “Vultures” (10:12) and the aforementioned “Old Honey” (9:53) but they do so with range and personality befitting players well accustomed to working with each other. Also, rather than let Toscano range, so that it’s melody on one side and rhythm on another, with Dwellers, it’s the guitar, bass and drums working together as a solid unit, which is the power trio ideal, so that although every cut on Good Morning Harakiri begins with guitar, the album never strays too far in its indulgences.

Rather, it keeps somewhat to the sort of duality Iota showed in songwriting on Tales, balancing shorter, more straightforward material against longer pieces. With the exception again of “Old Honey,” the songs on Good Morning Harakiri are less space-oriented (and certainly less space-thematic), and though opener “Secret Revival” sets a bruising course after its crisply-strummed intro, the overall affect is more like an expansion on Facelift-era Alice in Chains, particularly given the tone of Toscano’s vocals. Hatsis’ kick is prominent but not dominating, and the already-considerable fuzz in Toscano’s guitar is given low-end boost by Jones on bass, which is smoothly toned and rich. Still, the song is notable in comparison to “New Mantis,” which opened Tales, for the intensity it doesn’t have. Where that song and “We are the Yithians” seemed almost in a rush get through themselves, both “Secret Revival” and “Black Bird,” which follows, replace that intensity with a firm grasp on a bluesy approach, and in the case of the latter, dead-on grooving stomp to match a semi-Southern riff. Not to belabor the point, but Good Morning Harakiri’s clear LP-minded presentation (that is, the two distinct sides that come through even on a CD or digital listen) marks another departure from Iota’s method, which bunched its longer songs together in a linear flow. Both work, but Dwellers shows more diversity in songwriting, so that while “Black Bird” veers into psychedelic guitar layering in its second half, “Vultures” is out of place neither with that nor the verses and chorus preceding, despite being longer and providing more room to jam.

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On the Radar: Dwellers

Posted in On the Radar on September 29th, 2009 by H.P. Taskmaster

Hairy.They’re not signed, they don’t have a release ready yet, I don’t even know if they’ve played any shows, but Salt Lake City fuzz duo Dwellers come with built in interest due to guitarist/vocalist Joey Toscano‘s presence in the criminally under-noticed Iota and drummer Zach Hatsis‘ in I Hate Records doomers Subrosa. Does that officially make Dwellers a side-project? Probably.

In any case, there are two tracks over at their MySpace that are easily worth the time (hardly any at all) and expense (absolutely none at all) it takes to check them out. Go forth and groove.

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