Posted in Reviews on May 10th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
I don’t know how many times I’ve said so – probably at least once for each time I’ve actually brought myself to do it – but I hate reviewing compilations. For most of them, there’s no flow between the tracks, being that it’s different artists, different recordings and sometimes different genres, and even when you get a gem, a non-album track or something like that, there’s no real context for being able to enjoy it, because once it’s over, you’re swept abruptly off to the next thing. Most of the enjoyment I get out of them is in hindsight, years later, when that non-album track is legitimately rare and hard to track down, or the alternate version has never appeared anywhere, or when the comp itself has built up some mystique as a landmark moment – those are even fewer and farther between, but it happens sometimes – either for an artist or the genre. Even if they’re alright to listen to, reviewing them is terrible. You’re either promoting the release outright – “hey, these people are doing good work and you should spend your money on it” – or doing little more than listing the bands involved – “this comp is cool because it has so-and-so involved and they do this song, whereas this band does another song,” and so on. I’ve never been able to find a middle ground in comp reviews and while I do genuinely think there are people out there putting in significant effort to promote artists they believe in, the pain in my ass that reviewing a compilation becomes is enough that I generally try to avoid it as much as possible.
So this is the part where, post-disclaimer, I tell you the case is wholly different with Kept in a Cave, Vol. 1, the 13-track mining operation of Europe’s heavy underground undertaken by Stonerrock.eu, right? Sort of. Kept in a Cave certainly gets a flow going, thanks in part to the similarities in fuzz and jam-minded process of the bands that make up its midsection – Sungrazer into The:Egocentrics into Been Obscene into Electric Moon works rather well and with a healthy dose of Elektrohasch and Elektrohasch-style heavy, there’s not much room for stuff to be out of place – but I still find myself in the position of wanting either to run through the tracklist or just promote it because I respect the effort on their behalf in making the release and its four-panel digipak with giant-mantis artwork happen. To counteract the first, here’s the rundown of artists and songs in its entirety, taken directly off the back of the package:
1. Grandloom, “Larry Fairy” (7:07)
2. Under Brooklyn Palms, “Restlessness” (6:20)
3. Mars Red Sky, “Sadaba” (5:07)
4. Kosmic Elephant, “Bloot Pilot” (6:38)
5. Sungrazer, “Wild Goose” (5:19)
6. The:Egocentrics, “Lost and Found” (4:54)
7. Been Obscene, “Endless Scheme” (6:55)
8. Electric Moon, “Triptriptrip” (8:45)
9. Samsara Blues Experiment, “Hangin’ on the Wire” (5:30)
10. Stonehenge, “Concrete Krieger” (7:36)
11. The Machine, “5 & 4” (6:14)
12. DxBxSx, “Problemkind” (2:16)
13. Sahara Surfers, “Gas” (6:00)
All this adds up to a 79-minute front-to-back listen, about as much as a single-CD will hold. Of the included artists, Sungrazer, Been Obscene, The Machine and DxBxSx are signed to Elektrohasch, and certainly familiar acts like Mars Red Sky, Samsara Blues Experiment and Electric Moon fit aesthetically with that fuzzy, jammy sound as well, so though it’s long, Kept in a Cave makes for a decent listen if you’re going to take it on as a whole, put it on for a party – I’m told music at parties is something human beings do – or whathaveyou, and even the likes of Grandloom, Under Brooklyn Palms (who, yes, are German), Kosmic Elephant, Stonehenge and Sahara Surfers fit on a sonic level. Nothing here is really out of place and obvious consideration has been given to how one song is met by the next – for emphasis, I’ll cite putting the punkier DxBxSx as the second-to-last cut, giving a short burst of energy after the fuzzfests preceding – so the project becomes even more admirable.
Posted in Features on April 21st, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
04.21.13 — 23.02 — Sunday night — Hotel Mercure, Tilburg
My watch alarm went off at 13.00 to serve notice that it was time to wake up, get cleaned up and head back over to the 013 for Astra kicking off the traditional Afterburner, the final, pared-down day of Roadburn 2013. I hadn’t fallen asleep until after seven, could hear people leaving for an early start to the day outside my room, but rolled into the Main Stage room still with minutes to spare to see another showing of Costin Chioreanu‘s Outside the GreatCircle. This time through, I learned Current 93‘s David Tibet was also involved in the music. Not that it was lacking dark and artsy cred anyway, but Tibet always seems to have some to spare.
Though it was a contrast to Outside the Great Circle‘s bleak visuals and the Attila Csihar groans those visuals came with, Astra‘s Cali sunshiny early-King Crimson prog was a welcome way to start the Afterburner. The lush melodies and multiple layers of keyboard wash work especially well in the morning, though of course it was 14.30 when they got on stage. Morning to me, though, so right on. They played most of last year’s The Black Chord(review here), including the title-track, “Bull Torpis,” “Cocoon,” “Quake Meat and the closer, “Barefoot in the Head,” but ultimately, they went back to the first album, The Weirding, to finish out with the eponymous cut.
I was a much bigger fan of the second album than the first, but “The Weirding” is a good song and Astra did justice to the expansive and psychedelic feel of their albums, without losing themselves in the staid, passionless presentation prog often winds up having. Switching between guitar and the keys (a Memotron and then some, it looked like), Richard Vaughn was out front and center with lead guitarist Brian Ellis, who seemed to have dressed up for the occasion. I hadn’t seen the San Diego five-piece since 2009 and they seemed all around a more solid band at the 013, and their heavy prog was just the sort of complex but welcoming start a lineup like this one deserved.
A second round of Pallbearer? Sure, why not? Diagonal, who were supposed to open in the Green Room, canceled on account of illness, so the Arkansas four-piece stepped in for another round in the smaller space — the Green Room is the middle space at 013; smaller than the main stage, bigger than Stage01; also smaller than Het Patronaat, which was closed today at least to Roadburn 2013 types — and were once more filled with potential, emotionally resonant and crushingly heavy. The setlist varied some from the Thursday night show, but they got their point across anyway. Interesting that for such morose music, the mood in the room was pretty up. I guess people were excited to see Pallbearer again or excited to see them having missed out the other night, but when whoever it was in the crowd shouted out a request for “Owner of a Lonely Heart” came through, there were laughs on stage and off. Even guitarist/vocalist Brett Campbell was more animated — not quite thrashing out like bassist Joseph Rowland or guitarist Devin Holt or drummer Mark Lierly — but still more than he was on the Main Stage earlier in the fest.
So be it. Even with less tickets sold than for the fest proper, the same basic rules apply to the Afterburner. If you want to see a band up close and personal, you need to get there early. I’ve done a lot of back and forth this weekend and don’t regret any of it, but with less bands on the bill, there’s more time to stick around and see a full set if you’re so inclined, and that takes some getting used to where over the last three days it’s been, “Okay, I have to run in here, stay for 15 minutes then split out and catch so-and-so over here” and so on. It’s a different vibe, and from all the Dutch I heard being spoken, it seemed that a lot of the people who hadn’t stuck around for this fourth day/transition back to reality were the ones traveling, which made sense.
That said, the crustpunkers — crustpunk is the new doom; also atmospheric black metal; also d-beat hardcore; also doom — behind me watching Pallbearer and brushing my back with their headbanging hair were from Australia, so clearly a sizable “fuck it” contingent was present as well, which I guess I also represented to some degree. Not to that degree, but some degree, anyway. I poked my head in the Main Stage as Sigh were getting ready to go on and found the Japanese black metallers duly theatrical. One doesn’t see fire on stage much anymore, or at least not in the venues I go to on the regular — which is fortunate, because everyone would die — but Sigh had a candle going and some light blowtorchery to go with the pummel and dual vocals. They were black metal-plus. Plus sax, plus fire, plus percussion, and so on. Their albums are supposed to be the shit according to a few in the know, but I’ve never been especially in the know, and the thought of leaving town tomorrow started weighing on me, so I ran back to the hotel to ask the kind soul at the counter if she could print my train ticket, and after about an hour, it worked out that she could.
Sigh were done upon my return, but I watched a couple minutes of Dutch black metallers Nihill (interesting about the lineup; had Diagonal showed, it would’ve been prog on one stage, prog on the other, then black metal on one stage, black metal on the other) through the doorway of the Green Room. Actually, I could’ve at least listened to them in the alley outside the venue, since they were loud enough to make the concrete wall of the building sound paper thin. It was supposedly their first show, though you’d never know it by the crowd gathered to see them play it. I guess everyone who hadn’t yet fully gotten their fix from Sigh were still looking for grim satisfaction.
Me, I was looking for Golden Void, but there was still a long time till they went on ahead of Spiritual Beggars and Electric Moon, the two acts who would close out the list I’d see today and my path through Roadburn 2013 as a whole. Neu! founder Michael Rother was going on doing music from that band and his subsequent project Harmonia, sort of bridging the gap between the prog elements and the psychedelic as only krautrock truly could. Being only remotely familiar with Neu! on any level other than the academic, the driving, spacy rhythms were enough to keep me hooked, but I did break for an early dinner partway through — chicken and gravy, mashertaters, salmon and salad — because I could feel myself dragging ass and wanted to be ready for Golden Void‘s set in the Green Room.
Another Californian act, the Bay Area four-piece set an immediately friendly vibe. The curtain in the Green Room was closed when I got there, I guess from Nihill (maybe someone can confirm that?) but before it was even reopened, Golden Void guitarist/vocalist Isaiah Mitchell – whose reputation as slinger of epic solos in influential heavy psych jammers Earthless preceded him — poked his head out from under to say hi. He made conversation as the band set up their gear and even when they got started, kept the atmosphere friendly and unpretentious, which couldn’t be anything but welcome. At one point, Mitchell pointed to someone up front in an Earthless shirt and said, “Nice one.”
Camilla Saufley-Mitchell‘s keys played a big role in their sound, bigger than I recalled from their self-titled debut (review here), and they ran through a JCM800 head, so presence wasn’t lacking, and she added backing vocals as well here and there. The Afterburner marked the end of a 12-date (13 if you count the Brooklyn show they did on their way out of the States) European tour, so no wonder they were feeling good. Golden Void were jammier live than on record, Mitchell taking what seemed to be a couple extended solos, or maybe it just came off that way because of the striking verse/chorus structures on the record where one wouldn’t expect from his work in Earthless that they’d be included at all, but they more than held the crowd’s attention, and the new song “Rise out of the Reach” — which they were selling as a Record Store Day-exclusive 7″ single — makes me look forward even more to their next record than I already was.
I would’ve loved to stay, but Spiritual Beggars were going on the Main Stage and it was time for me to once again “Excuse me” and “I’m sorry” my way through the crowd out from the Green Room. The Beggars – I can call them that now that I’ve seen them live — have a new record out called Earth Blues, and they were selling LPs and signed CDs. I’ll pick it up at some point, but haven’t bothered to listen to it for the same reason I don’t listen a ton of shit that comes out: No time and I fucking hate digital promos. That frustration actually made me less inclined to buy the record, though having autographs from Michael Amott (Arch Enemy/Carcass) and his formidable assembled lineup does hold a certain nerdish appeal. In this incarnation of the band are bassist Sharlee D’Angelo (Arch Enemy/Mercyful Fate), drummer Ludwig Witt (Firebird), organist Per Wiberg (Opeth) and vocalist Apollo Papathanasio (Firewind), who now has two albums under his belt in the band and did a more than able job filling the frontman role while also tackling Spiritual Beggars tracks from the eras of Spice and JB Christoffersson, the former now of Band of Spice and the latter in Grand Magus.
Not easy voices to take on by any stretch of the imagination, as both singers could add dramatic flair, soaring highs or growling lows to any given song at any given time, but again, Papathanasio did well in that spot, and the newer stuff they played seemed right in line with their long-standing love of classic heavy rock. Amott‘s the driving force in that he writes all the material, but everyone was clearly on board – Ludwig Witt is a monster drummer — and the stage show was engaging, professional and fun to watch. They played “Turn the Tide” from the new album and dipped back to 2002′s On Firefor “Young Man/Old Soul,” which was a highlight, and just before “Wonderful World” from 2000′s Ad Astra, Papathanasio asked the crowd, “Have you got the energy left?”
The honest answer? Nah, man. It’s been four days solid of rock and rolling and I’m feeling pretty demolished. He got a response from the crowd that was probably less than the roar he’d hoped for, but the band didn’t miss a beat. Their shit was pro-tight and as next year will mark 20 years since the release of their self-titled debut, for all their love of classics, they’re on their way to becoming one as well. A band of string lights wrapped around the inside frame of Amott‘s speaker cabinet, Wiberg had a tapestry hanging from the front of his keyboard, and in everything they did, Spiritual Beggars were very put together, very rehearsed, but also very effective. It wasn’t the first time I liked a band more than I thought I would this weekend, but it was a nice surprise anyway.
Entirely true, I would have relished the notion of seeing Switchblade live, but I had an early-ish train looming, was beat and knew that I wanted Electric Moon to close out my Roadburn 2013. The German jammers were just right for the job — heavy, psychedelic, totally switched on in their groove and, as I learned, swirl-ready at a moment’s notice. Before they were even ready to play, before guitarist Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt had his shoes off, he and bassist Komet Lulu and drummer Michael Bongolious Orloff were jamming. I don’t think they even realized they were doing it, but all of a sudden, Komet Lulu had a groove locked in and the other two stepped right into it. Their set was great to watch too, but I found that little pre-jam even more telling, since it goes to show just how much chemistry there is between these three players. Lulu led a lot of the changes, with Orloff responding accordingly and Schmidt spacing out in guitar swirls, but she also took the time to add to the effects wash with her bass. I was really, really glad to see them.
What songs they played, I don’t know. They jammed like mad and had a recorder set up at the front of the stage, so hopefully audio or video surfaces at some point. Truth be told, they were the one band I really regretted not seeing at last year’s Roadburn, so watching them tonight was an absolute must, and though former Emperor frontman Ihsahn was on the Main Stage backed by progressive rockers Leprous, I couldn’t have felt better about being where I was. Nothing left to do then but slowly peel myself away from Roadburn 2013 as the thought of that train and what time I’m actually going to get to sleep tonight started to gnaw at me. I’d hoped to see fest promoter Walter and tell him thank you for another fantastic year, but no such luck. I tossed my earplugs in the trash, and bid farewell to the 013 for another year, when hopefully I’ll be back to have my brain melted all over again.
Many people to thank before I sign off from Tilburg and make my way to London tomorrow, but I’m going to save it for now and do a big thanks at the end of the trip next weekend. There’s still another week to go before I head back to Jersey — I cannot even begin to tell you about the plate of pasta I’m going to have upon my arrival there — and plenty more to come in the meantime, so please, stay tuned.
Thanks to all for reading. More pics after the jump.
Posted in Whathaveyou on April 15th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Edging ever closer to the molten core at the very heart of psychedelic jamming, German trio Electric Moon are heading out on a tour starting this Friday that will see them hit Tilburg for the Roadburn Afterburner on Sunday, where I’m stoked I’ll get to see them after not being able to catch their set last year. I expect much bliss to ensue, and it’s even better that they’re coming through not, since they’ve got a new 10″ of studio recordings (they’re pretty prolific, but most of their stuff is concert material) called You Can See the Sound of…as well that you can hear a track from below. Could that be Sula Bassana joining Komet Lulu on those super-effects-laden vocals? I guess I’ll have to let you know when I know.
The You Can See the Sound of Electric Moon10″ is only available at gigs and it’s limited to 499 copies pressed to white vinyl, so if you’re in Europe throughout May or June, you might want to run into Electric Moon here or there. They’ll be playing the following:
ELECTRIC MOON: 19.04. GER-Krefeld, Kulturrampe 21.04. NL-Tilburg, Roadburn Afterburner 03.05. GER-Lippstadt, LiLu 04.05. GER-Itzehoe, Atzehoe 05.05. DK-Nyborg, Muzirkus 09.05. N-Oslo, Café Mir (+Wind) 10.05. S-Gothenburg, Truckstop Alaska 11.05. DK-Copenhagen, Dragens Hule (+ØSC) 19.06. UK-St. Albans, The Horn 21.06. UK-Liverpool, Blade Factory 22.06. UK-Builth Wells, Wales, Sonic Rock Solstice 23.06. UK-Leicester, The Musician 27.06. UK-Cambridge, Man On The Moon 28.06. UK-London, The Shacklewell Arms 29.06. UK-Dover, The Louis Armstrong 11.08. AT-Vienna, Rhiz 13.08. HU-Szeged, Club Noir 15.08. RO-Alba Iulia, Dark Bombastic Evening
Posted in Whathaveyou on February 1st, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Given a second chance to see German psych jammers Electric Moon after arriving too late for the start of their set at Roadburn 2012, you can bet your ass I’m not missing them this year. Roadburn just put out notice that the trio have joined the lineup for this year’s Afterburner, and I can’t think of a better setting to enjoy their improv wah-soaked bliss.
This is gonna rule:
Psychonauts rejoice! Electric Moon will propel you through hyperspace to some distant psych galaxy at the traditional Roadburn Afterburner on Sunday, April 21st at the 013 venue in Tilburg, Holland.
Invited for Voivod‘s curated Au-delà du Réel in 2012, Electric Moon ranked among the very highlights of Roadburn last year. As it’s no secret that we like to explore the vast cosmos through hallucinatory space-rock at Roadburn, it’s truly a pleasure to invite Electric Moon back this year for the Afterburner.
Led by Sula Bassana‘s fuzzed-out, heavy guitar explorations, Electric Moon weave pure-psychedelia, dub, doom, krautrock and drone into kosmische improvisations via a myriad of intergalactic riffs, stellar effects and deep-space transmissions.
The overall vibe of their epic but hypnotic freak-outs can be utterly mesmerizing or darker than the depths of the most monstrous of black holes, but all the while remaining deeply psychedelic.
Roadburn Festival 2013 will run for four days from Thursday, April 18th to Sunday, April 21st, 2013 (the traditional Afterburner event) at the 013 venue in Tilburg, Holland. Tickets for the Afterburner are still available!
Posted in Reviews on January 4th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
German psychedelic jammers Electric Moon have issued two live recordings from 2012, aptly dubbed Live 2012 Oneand Live 2012 Two. Each of the separately-issued jewel case CDRs (limited to 150 copies each) comes with artwork by bassist Komet Lulu and finds release through guitarist Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt‘s Sulatron Records imprint. The songs — six on Live 2012 Oneand four on Live 2012 Two– are named only for their runtime, and only the last track on each disc is under 10 minutes, while others range from 10:43 to 29:04. The implication is that the band, already prolific in terms of having multiple releases per year for the last few years, will add to the series as they go on, keeping and solidifying their penchant for limited live releases into a cohesive level of self-sustaining output.
I like where this is going.
Where is it going? Well, it’s going toward a catalog of live Electric Moon discs issued by the band on their own terms. Their music, their recordings, their label, their art. Even more, it’s going toward the very heart of what the trio of Schmidt, Lulu and drummer Michael Orloff are searching for musically. Where one segment of European heavy rock seems bent on capturing retro vibes of the early ’70s and another hints at a commercial vision of melodic heavy metal, Electric Moon are after something different altogether, their often-improvised jams reaching toward the very foundations of songwriting. Electric Moon on Live 2012 One and Live 2012 Twoare stripping heavy psychedelia down to its essential core of three players on a stage, a massive range of effects and an ever-expanding sense of open space.
On the back of both discs, along with trippy fractals and the tracklisting, is the bold-letter message, “Underground will never die! Fuck the system!” That’s just about the most aggressive thing Electric Moon have to say with either of the releases — the band is instrumental and their music never approaching caustic in its explorations — both of which top 72 minutes long. That does make for a lot of material to dig into for followers of the band or anyone who might be so bold as to take them on for the first time, but the idea here is to be lost in the music, and once you are, it really doesn’t matter how long it goes for. On Live 2012Two, which was recorded at the 2012 Rockt Den See Festival, Lulu leads the charge on “18:06″ with a running bassline while Schmidt trips out psychedelic swirling and Orloff keeps a fast tempo on drums while also changing up his fills and cymbal hits to match the changes. Even for those who haven’t had a studio primer for Electric Moon or who might be new listeners, most of what they do no matter how it’s recorded is live, and both of these albums capture their vibe excellently, sounding full in the low end and rich across the spectrum.
The highlight of Live 2012 Twois “29:04,” third of the four included jams, which starts off quiet and bursts to life as it embarks on a massive cosmic sprawl, Schmidt noodling echoed tones into oblivion while the rhythm section holds it together across what could’ve easily accounted for a full-album flow on its own. By seven minutes in, it’s huge, but the tide recedes and rises again, and it’s perhaps the best showing of the trio’s chemistry here — no coincidence it’s also the longest; Electric Moon have since their inception been given to developing ideas over their more extended pieces. Live 2012One, recorded at Zytanien Festival,is longer overall at over 78 minutes, but its six tracks have a shorter average runtime and so might come off as the more varied of the two, but understand, we’re still talking about gradually unfolding builds and lengthy repetitions. Even thought closer “7:07″ feels more plotted in its progression than a lot of what precedes it on Live 2012 One, it’s not exactly like Electric Moon are breaking out the hit radio singles.
And it’s for that reason largely that I consider them an “extreme” band. They’re not extreme in the heavy metal sense of depicting graphic violence lyrically or blastbeating their audience to a pulp, but there’s no perceptible effort either at meeting anyone halfway or sacrificing any aspect of their creative process to crowd capitulation. Perhaps it’s a very specific extremity, of psychedelic or space rock, but it’s an extremity all the same of those genres, and Electric Moon seem only more comfortable with their format over time. Because of that almost as much as because of the interplay between guitar, bass and drums, Live 2012 One and Live 2012 Two fill a specific niche for anyone who might look at the laid back end of European heavy psych and wonder what it would be to take the jammed songwriting basis to its limits. If it’s those limits that Electric Moon are searching for, they haven’t found them yet, and the more immersive their material gets, the more I hope they keep looking.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Posted in Reviews on July 9th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
A glimpse at the enviable discography of prolific German psychedelonaut Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt will result in a lifetime’s worth of albums, live releases and jamming lysergic sprawl. Both on his own under the Sula Bassana moniker and with bands like Liquid Visions, Südstern 44, Zone Six and most recently Electric Moon, Schmidt has overseen the creation of an entire scene’s worth of output, sustaining leads carving out a niche almost entirely his own within European heavy psych rock. His latest solo outing to be released through his own Sulatron Records is called Dark Days, and on it, Schmidt plays guitar, bass, drums, synth, organ, performs what little vocals there are and, on all but two of the tracks which feature live drumming (by Pablo Carneval, also formerly of Electric Moon), he programs the drum machine. Thus Dark Days is a solo record in the truest sense of being the realization of one person’s vision, but as one expects from Schmidt by now, the material is richly textured and a wash of melodic light is crafted from a swirl of effects and synth. As on Sula Bassana’s past works, elements of electronica work their way into some of the material here, even apart from the drum machine, so that 16:47 closer “Arriving Nowhere” borders at times on some blend of psychedelia and trip-hop (I’d call it “dub,” but wouldn’t want to use the term incorrectly). The six tracks of Dark Days were recorded between 2007-2012, and are noted in the liner notes as having been inspired by the artwork from Electric Moon bassist Komet Lulu, which in turn was inspired by Sula Bassana’s music. The painting that adorns the cover, inside liner, and back of the CD is gorgeous, intricate and naturally toned, but there isn’t much dark about the music of the record itself. With some parts obviously improvised (the layers of guitar in the midsection of “Surrealistic Journey” come to mind), Schmidt works comfortably in psychedelic expanse both familiar to him and exciting for its spontaneity.
I have nothing to support this claim save for my best interpretation of the music and Dark Days’ overall flow, but the tracks seem to be following a narrative course. Perhaps less surprisingly, it’s a trip. We begin “Underground,” and then comes the shorter burst of “Departure,” followed by the ranging 20 minutes of “Surrealistic Journey,” the delving movements of “Dark Days” and “Bright Nights,” and then, at the end, we’re finally “Arriving Nowhere.” It’s hard to imagine Sula Bassana set out in 2007 to begin recording a narrative concept record, but maybe as Dark Days began to take shape, he saw how well the songs worked to express these ideas. In that, he wasn’t wrong. “Surrealistic Journey” does nothing if it doesn’t live up to its name. As someone who’s gleefully followed Electric Moon’s progression so far into the upper reaches of space rock improvisation, the jazzy synth ascendency that comes 15 minutes into “Surrealistic Journey” is a magic touch out of some Doors outtake, and one almost immediately greeted by the guitar. Such subtle moments are sprinkled throughout Dark Days, and though it’s easy for the album – which tops 71 minutes and features only of its six tracks that’s under nine (that being “Departure” at 6:04) – to overwhelm the listener, with this kind of thing, that’s half the point. What you discover and rediscover along the way during subsequent listens is what makes a project like Sula Bassana so successful. As the swirls beginning “Departure” suddenly become topped by one of the record’s most straightforward guitar progressions, it’s easy to hear what it was in Hawkwind that so turned on Monster Magnet. Schmidt is operating in that kind of ultra-exploratory realm, and that he’s able to put something so cohesive together on his own (it’s pretty obvious from the outset this isn’t his first time doing so) while still maintaining the hypnotic looseness the more jam-minded corner of the genre demands is a testament both to his experience and the potency of his output. But for the skill and thought put into the craft, I’d be tempted to call it a miracle.
Posted in Features on April 19th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Right now, on my rather lengthy reviews-to-do list, there is a double-disc live release from German heavy jam trio Electric Moon. This is a situation to which I’ve become rather accustomed over the past several months, as it seems the mere act of keeping up with the band’s output would require a full-time staff working around the clock. Their music, almost always captured live, is vibrant, colorful, dynamic and hypnotic in a way that most improvisation based material simply isn’t. You want to try as hard as you can to get lost in it.
They make that easy. Recently covered albums like The Doomsday Machine (review here) and Flaming Lake (streaming here) and their split with Glowsun (review here) are extended trips to some psychic “otherplace,” they ensnare the attentions and proceed to zone out the mind’s eye. Guitarist Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt (also of Zone Six and the head of Sulatron Records), bassist/vocalist/visual artist Komet Lulu and drummer Alex offer a guiding hand, but really, even they’re not sure where the journey is going to end up, and they’re as much riding the crescendo as you are.
It only serves to make the music more exciting, and while you can put on an Electric Moon album and know you’re going to be there for a while, the spirit with which those albums are constructed and the ultra-organic processes from which they come about provides more than enough impetus for multiple visits. And unlike a lot of jam-based heavy psych, with Electric Moon, the songs never come off as wholly redundant or all pointed in the same direction. Sure, a flow is established, but the structures that exist (you’ll note I say “structures” and not “boundaries”) are open and more dependent on the whims of the players than vice versa.
As they continue to mine the visible spectrum and interpret it freeform into music, I recently hit up Sula Bassana and Komet Lulu for some insight as to how the project came about, their reliance on improv, Lulu‘s artwork, Sula‘s upcoming releases with Sulatron Records, and more. It’s kind of a short interview, but if you’re not familiar with Electric Moon or how they came to be the endearing, fascinating band they now are, it should be well enough to give you some idea of where they’re coming from. In a word: Space.
Complete email Q&A is after the jump. Please enjoy.
Posted in Reviews on March 13th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
When last we checked in with German heavy psych jammers Electric Moon, they had released the limited live recording, Flaming Lake, on guitarist Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt’s own Sulatron Records. Like the rest of the trio’s output, that album was comprised of massive, extended space rock jams, recorded live and venturing out into improvised reaches where few dare to tread after someone’s pressed ‘record.’ Their follow-up, released either by or in cooperation with Nasoni Records, is the studio full-length The Doomsday Machine, an album that pushes their already expansive sound into new territories. The jam is the center of what they do – always. The interaction and chemistry between Schmidt, bassist Komet Lulu (who also handles vocals and the band’s gorgeous hand-drawn artwork; the cover for The Doomsday Machine is a painting by Ulla Papel, her father) and drummers Alex and Pablo Carneval remains the core of the band here, though since it’s Alex on the opening title-track and Carneval on the other four inclusions, I’d hazard the guess that the first song is the newest and the remaining cuts are older – Alex replaced Carneval on drums last year. In any case, Electric Moon’s überjams have taken on new and engaging personality here, whether it’s Komet Lulu’s bass shining through on the heavy grooving “Stardust Service” (19:46) or the darker, near-Ufomammut tube-driven push of the final moments of “Doomsday Machine” (19:37).
If you didn’t note those runtimes, I’ll repeat them: “Stardust Service” is 19:46 and “Doomsday Machine” starts the album off at 19:37. “Kleiner Knaller,” the second cut, is the shortest by far at 5:17, and “Spaceman” follows at 13:17 and closer “Feigenmonolog” tops out at 21:44. Electric Moon jam until the tape stops. Their sound is warm, their methods helping to set the new-European space rock tradition, and increasingly, their songs are becoming pivotal within that sphere. The Doomsday Machine (also the name of a Star Trek episode) is the best yet of their work that I’ve encountered – limited live CDR releases abound and are quickly sold out – thanks in large part to Komet Lulu’s vocals, which, while utterly spaced out and often buried under a heap of effects, amp noise, distortion, etc., help ground the songs and let you know that there are people in there somewhere making this music and it hasn’t just emanated from some kind of portal to another dimension. Left to your own devices alone with the stonerized otherwordliness of “Feigenmonolog,” you might be inclined to believe otherwise. Schmidt’s guitar is a multi-directional typhoon of tone, and this material, new or old, seems to warm its way from out of the speakers. Sleepy grooves meet with interstellar building – see “Kleiner Knaller” – and periodic but still unpredictable freakouts remind that you could wind up anywhere the band wants you to be on a given path. The music is potent, smells like outside, and shines a brighter light than either the title or the cover would have you believe.
Posted in audiObelisk on November 25th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
A little while back, I reviewed a Sulatron Records split between German heavy psych jammers Electric Moon and similarly-minded French act Glowsun. The first comment received with the review was a request for a full-stream, and, well, it didn’t seem like such a bad idea.
But I figured instead of doing the split on its own, might as well go all out and tackle something truly massive, like Electric Moon‘s Flaming Lake full-length, released earlier this year also on Sulatron. The four tracks are a bit like staring into the raw nebular elements of creation — just extended jams, recorded live by guitarist Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt. Everything is unpolished, everything sounds made up on the spot. It’s fantastically spontaneous and freaked way the hell out.
Joined by drummer Alex and bassist Komet Lulu (alsoPhilipp of Daturana on drums for closer “Burning Battenberg”), Bassana leads Electric Moon through these four massive jams, leaving structures open but a clear direction ahead, so that although immersive, the jams are also intricate-feeling, and hold up whether you want to rake your mind over each groove or let it wash over you.
And with just under 80 minutes of material, Flaming Lake provides plenty of wash. Or maybe I should take the ‘s’ out of that and just have it read “wah.” Either way, get ready for some ultra-spaced psychedelics and weighted instrumental exploration, courtesy of Sula and the rest of Electric Moon. The whole record is streaming on the player below. Hope you enjoy:
Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!
Flaming Lake is out now on Sulatron Records and is limited to 250 physical, jewel case copies with art by Komet Lulu that are available here. The latest info on Electric Moon can be found at their Thee Facebooks page as well. Special thanks to Sula Bassana for allowing me to host Flaming Lake.
Posted in Reviews on November 3rd, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
Caked in a foamy, lysergic head, the Sun and Moon split between French and German psychedelic trios Glowsun and Electric Moon practically floats into the ears. It’s just five tracks, but both bands jam their way to just below 42 minutes on the limited 180 gram Sulatron Records vinyl. Longtime followers of European psych will recognize the name Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt from acts like Liquid Visions, the underrated Weltraumstaunen, Zone Six and that bearing his nom de plume. Prolific as ever, he handles guitar in Electric Moon – who’ve also released two limited CD-Rs this year – and is the man behind Sulatron Records, while Glowsun’s guitarist, Johan Jaccob, is responsible for the art, which is no less colorful than the music contained on the record. The two bands mesh incredibly well together, one being entirely instrumental and the other being mostly instrumental and the both of them reveling in spaced-out, heavy jams. A relatively consistent production between the two bands only makes the transition smoother, and as much as Sun and Moon is a great way to be introduced to the methods of either band, it also makes it easy to appreciate how well they play off each other.
The subdued bass of Glowsun’s Ronan Chiron opens “Death’s Face,” following some spooky backwards whispers presumably from Jaccob, who handles vocals for the band when there are any to handle – which there aren’t here. An immediate trippy tone to the guitar work comes through with back and forth effects play, and it skirts the line between lyrical and annoying in the song’s beginning, but is nonetheless well woven into the overall context of the track, the structure of which is not completely open despite feeling that way. Glowsun keep to progressions of fours, and launch into a heavier, fuzzier, more directly-riffed movement in the song’s second half, Jaccob answering his earlier noodling with an engaging solo as drummer Fabrice Cornille adds a finality to each start and stop behind. Cornille’s snare is high in the mix, but rather than sound abrasive or overly bright, it gives the listener something to hold onto as the shorter “Lost Soul” goes further into stonerly groove and crunch. Jaccob’s guitar leads begin to take the place of vocals in Glowsun’s middle cut, but the vibe of Sun and Moon is such that it hardly matters. If you’re going to go with it, but the time you’re halfway through “Lost Soul,” you’ll be lucky to be aware enough of your surroundings to appreciate Chiron’s excellent fills or the subtle technicality the band puts into its winding finale, leading directly into the jungle samples that open “Monkey Time.” In listening to the animal sounds before the guitar kicks in, I can’t help but be reminded of what Orson Welles gave as his reason for putting a loud squawking parrot halfway through Citizen Kane (if you’ve seen the movie, you know the bird I’m talking about). He said it was there to wake people up. The monkey noises of “Monkey Time” have that effect somewhat, but everything Glowsun have presented so far has been so natural-sounding, it’s easy to read them as an extension of that. The jam that ensues only seems to underscore the point.