Six Dumb Questions with Esben Willems

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on June 21st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

esben-willems-photo-Hank-Henrik-Oscarsson

Swedish tone-crushers Monolord recently finished work on their impending third album, which will be out later this year via RidingEasy Records. For drummer Esben Willems, the accomplishment is two-fold. In addition to playing, Willems also engineered — a credit he shares with guitarist/vocalist Thomas V. Jäger and bassist Mika Häkki — and mixed and mastered. This was done behind the board in the capacity of Berserk Audio, the nom de guerre under which Willems has helmed projects not only for his own outfits Monolord and formerly Marulk, but many others over the years including Långfinger, Vokonis and Cities of Mars.

Unsurprisingly, as Monolord‘s reputation has grown, that of Willems‘ capacity as an engineer has done likewise, and Berserk Audio has become more established as a result. Founded on principals of flexibility and passion — and coffee, of course — the studio is as mobile as the hard-touring Willems himself, and that’s fortunate, because as Monolord make ready to release the aforementioned new full-length, they’ve already announced a co-headlining Fall 2017 European tour with Conan (dates here) that will follow stops this summer at Stoned from the Underground in Germany, SonicBlast Moledo in Portugal, and so on.

A busy schedule, however, is the lifesblood of a recording engineer, and it would seem Willems‘ position is the more the merrier. Right on. Though he was interviewed here around the 2015 release of the second Monolord album, Vænir (review here), which was followed by the 2016 two-songer EP, Lord of Suffering / Die in Haze (review here), the work he’s done in bringing Berserk Audio to fruition isn’t to be underestimated, and it was high time to give due attention to this side of Willems‘ creative persona, which I hope the Q&A below does, at least in some measure.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

berserk audio logo

Six Dumb Questions with Esben Willems

How did you get your start in recording? What were some of your early projects and how did your technique develop? Do you have a philosophy when it comes to tracking bands or is each project different in what it requires from the engineer?

My first steps in recording was when I moved out of my parents’ house and to a different town in the early ‘90s, where I soon spent all free time in a rehearsal complex. After spending most of my childhood caught in uninspiring music theory in the local municipal music school – I’ve forgotten almost all of that, haha – I finally met likeminded people who just played music with focus on the music, not the strict theory behind it. That was a real eye-opener for me; I’ve been fascinated with the band format since before I even knew how to phrase that, and to be in an environment that was based on constant curiosity, testing, jamming, constantly forming new bands and side-projects, was pure inspiration. I learned so much more about music during those years than all previous years confined inside the make-believe rules of how music should be executed. The latter is still very mechanic to me; I think that mediating a feeling, a mood, a story, is the essence of music, regardless of genre. That’s still always the base of everything music related I do.

Anyway, that rehearsal complex was where I first started playing around with recording. The place had a small and very basic recording studio. One tiny recording room and one even tinier control room. The equipment wasn’t much more than a handful of crusty SM57’s and 58’s and a 4-track cassette recorder (constant creative mixdowns to get the channels you wanted, haha). That was it. We had so much fun at that house, I’m equally happy and sad that all those endless recording sessions are long gone.

Regarding my technique – if I really have any – I think that developed by the boundless and playful atmosphere at that place. Trying to capture a death metal session properly with a half broken 4-track machine forces your mind to come up with creative solutions. I still like to work that way, I’ve always felt that a certain amount of limitations is a good thing. It forces inspiration.

That also applies when recording different bands. All bands and all musicians are of course very different, with different references and experiences. So I don’t believe much in having a work template, apart from always – always – having a reliable supply of fresh coffee where I work.

Tell me about Berserk Audio. Did you build the studio? How did it all come together? What is the atmosphere like, what’s the layout of the rooms and how do you feel like the studio has developed over the last couple years as you’ve been doing more and more work there?

When I first started working professionally with audio I was aiming at building my own studio, and I wanted to do it by first being an apprentice at one or more established studios. I got the dream chance at a place I don’t want to name here, but it was everything I could ever hope for as a newly-graduated sound tech – welcoming atmosphere, fully booked with professional bands, great acoustics and equipment; and, I got the offer very early on to work there part time. But, the majority of bands recording there played a genre I just couldn’t stand, or understand, which is even more important. Also, the recording method was everything I feel takes the music out of music; sound replacing and quantizing drums, autotuning vocals, cut-and-paste editing in the mix and so on. So, after some grueling soul searching I came to the conclusion that it would kill my passion for music over time and I also wouldn’t do a proper job, since I wouldn’t be able to judge when the material was what the bands wanted. “Is this mechanic and sterile enough for you guys?” might not be the question a band wants. But with that said, I’m fully aware of that’s how the main part of the recording industry works and that it makes things very hard to exclude those studios.

But, I finally made the decision that most aspiring sound techs would feel was stupid: I kindly quit the apprenticeship at that studio, got freelance audio work at intensely boring conferences and invested in a small but efficient portable studio rig. I felt that if recording music that would just make me bitter, I might as well have a boring and undemanding day job and focus on recording bands I liked and with that contribute to a relevant production. That was over a decade ago and I haven’t regretted it once.

Of course I’d love to have my own studio, but never at the expense of the passion for music. I currently have a collab with a really cool place here in Gothenburg called Studio Svavel, which I rent when needed.

What have been some of your favorite projects to work on? Do you have a preference between recording, mixing and mastering?

I think my favorite projects are the ones where I’m part of the entire process, all the way from the rehearsal space. As I see it, most of the work should be done before entering the studio. Writing and selecting material, arranging, pre-production, discussions about sound, mood and feel of the production and so on. Most bands don’t have the possibility to rent a studio for a few months and just enter it with a blank slate, so in order to make the most of the time bands pay me for, I always emphasize the importance of that. If you’re well prepared, you’re actually able to compete with the bands that have all the studio time in the world. And the listener will never know or care about your budget. They’re gonna compare you with any and all of their favorite bands regardless.

That’s where that true essence of music comes in again. If your band is well rehearsed with songs you stand behind and your band sounds like an unbreakable unit – as opposed to a collection of humans just playing correctly in time – you actually will be able to make an album that kicks ass in spite of the ever-limited budget and time.

How has it been for you to record your own band? Is there a difference in how you approach working with Monolord as opposed to other acts? How do you coax a great performance out of a bandmate as opposed to someone who has hired you to work as a producer?

It’s weird and great. It’s inevitable that there’s a difference, since I’m one of the band members. But when we record, we all produce it collectively. We’re all part of the entire recording process. So in some ways the recording part doesn’t differ that much from everything else we do in the band. And the coaxing, I guess that’s a mutual three-way process, haha. When I tell my drum kit to go fuck itself, I rely on Thomas and Mika to filter my anger. And that goes the other way around as well.

The only part where I work alone is during mixing and mastering. But I constantly update my bandmates online, so they’re very much part of that process as well.

Recording your own band makes it a bit harder to be objective and to kill your darlings. But I enjoy that challenge. I’ve learned a lot from it through the years.

You recently finished mixing the third Monolord album. What’s the status of that release now? When can fans expect it to come out and what’s in store this time around from the band? How does splitting your time with being on the road and in the studio affect your ability to take on more recording jobs?

I really wish I could tell you everything about, but we’ll announce all details shortly. What I can tell you is that musically it’s groovier and more dynamic, in all aspects. Still misanthropic and still rumbling, though. The humanity is broken and this is our safety valve, as always.

The mixing and mastering is done and the album will be released in all its glory later this year. Hope you’ll like it!

Being a touring musician and also a studio leprechaun is actually the perfect combo. When I can, I work from home, which means I only have a deadline to consider. I’m not a fan of daily routines when it comes to working hours, so that fits me and my family life just perfectly. And my world is a world without borders, so I can easily have clients all over the planet. And when it comes to mixing and mastering they can easily hire me without insane travel expenses. I’m old enough to have grown up in an internet-free world, so I love the possibilities that has opened up thanks to the online community culture. Borders and flags are war tools. I’d rather work past them.

Who’s next in the studio? Any other recordings coming up, closing words or other plans you want to mention?

Next up is always working on new stuff with Monolord. That’s an ongoing process, so we’re always fiddling with ideas, regardless of actual future plans.

But apart from that, I have a few mastering projects this week I’m gonna sink my teeth into. I break every rule possible when I master and I’m sure most audiophiles would like to subject me to public torture, but the clients I’ve worked with seem to hear things the way I do, so I keep getting requests to do the things I do with their music.

And, with some actual free time for the first time in forever, I’m gonna start working on some side solo stuff that’s been rattling in the back of my head for a while. I have no idea what will come of it.

Monolord, “Lord of Suffering” official video

Berserk Audio on Thee Facebooks

Monolord on Thee Facebooks

Monolord on Twitter

RidingEasy Records website

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Cities of Mars Sign to Argonauta Records; Temporal Rifts Due this Fall

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 4th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

The only real question with Swedish riff-bringers Cities of Mars was who it was going to be that eventually picked them up. Today we get that answer in the form of Italian imprint Argonauta Records, which adds the Gothenburg trio to its ever-growing roster for the Fall 2017 release of their debut full-length. Titled Temporal Rifts, the anticipated long-player will follow on the heels of last year’s Celestial Mistress EP (review here) and the prior first single, Cyclopean Ritual / The Third Eye (streamed here), continuing the narrative thread that those two offerings began concerning Mars, ancient civilizations, and of course, the KGB.

As Cities of Mars have already toured supporting Celestial Mistress last Autumn, I’d expect no less from them as they dig into a cycle for the upcoming Temporal Rifts. I’ll hope to have much more on that and the album itself prior to the release. You might recall, it was one of my most anticipated for 2017.

Here’s the latest from Argonauta:

cities of mars

Cities of Mars signing with Argonauta Records!

Thrilled to welcome Swedish doom metal band Cities of Mars in our family!

“We’re happy to announce that we’ve signed a deal with Italian doom titan label Argonauta Records for the release of our first full length album. Argonauta dedication and growth as a relentless force in the heavy underground scene suits our own hands-on hard work ethic” says the band.

The Swedish renowned band Cities of Mars has taken the genre with storm with their last EP Celestial Mistress (http://citiesofmars.bandcamp.com).

All songs are written as a part of an intergalactic story taking place on Mars with a timeframe that stretches from ancient days up until now. The concept is well incorporated in the band’s all releases and really appreciated according to multiple reviewers all over Europe.

The band is planning a massive three-week European tour to promote the release of the upcoming album, Temporal Rifts. The full length album will contain five new songs firmly rooted in the ancient Martian civilization later discovered by a covert KGB agent.

Temporal Rifts will be available on LP, CD, downloads and via various streaming services during Fall 2017.

“Sonically, we are still roaming the deep space of slow riffs, but are also expanding into a few selected up-thrusts. We believe you’ll like it as much as we do! We are very excited to join forces with Argonauta Records and together enter the next phase of the Cities of Mars saga” the band ends.

https://www.facebook.com/citiesofmars
citiesofmars.bandcamp.com
https://instagram.com/citiesofmars/
http://www.citiesofmars.se/
https://www.facebook.com/ArgonautaRecords/http://www.argonautarecords.com/

Cities of Mars, Celestial Mistress EP (2016)

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Firebreather Sign to Suicide Records; Self-Titled Debut Coming Soon

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 10th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Swedish burl-riffers Firebreather will make their self-titled debut later this year through Suicide Records. I don’t know exactly when, but the label in announcing it had signed the band gave a tentative date of “summer” and as it seems that the record’s already been mastered — by none less than Brad Boatright of Audiosiege himself — so given invariable pressing delays, that sounds about right as a seasonal ballpark. The Göteborg trio, which boasts in its ranks former Galvano guitarist Mattias Nööjd, have a minute-long trailer for the album playing now that you can hear below, and yeah, that sounds about right.

Firebreather have been playing locally in Sweden and done a few dates out, but I wouldn’t be surprised if more touring was to come. You might recall Galvano had at one point hit the road with Zaum and were signed to Candlelight, so it seems entirely likely Nööjd will look to recapture some of that momentum with this new outfit as they move into releasing their first long-player and getting out to support it. When, if and what I hear, I’ll let you know.

Till then, Suicide Records sent over the following:

firebreather

We are extremely psyched to announce that Swedish Sludge/Doom trio Firebreather has signed with us at Suicide Records and that we will be releasing their debut S/T album this summer on Vinyl, Cassette, CD and Digital, exact date TBA.

Firebreather emerged from the ashes of doom-metal heavy-weights Galvano when riff extraordinaire and Orange Ambassador Mattias Nööjd decided to start a new band after Galvano being put to rest.

Forming in the spring of 2016 FIREBREATHER have quickly gained attention and notoriety for their distinct heavy sound and songwriting.

Since FIREBREATHERs’ beginnings, the band has established a growing grass-roots underground following throughout Europe after only a short tour and taking to the stage with bands such as Zaum (CAN) and finally performing their first hometown show with Boris (JPN) in the late fall of 2016.

Line-up
Mattias Nööjd – Guitar & Vocals
Tommy Hanning – Drums
Kyle Pitcher – Bass

https://www.facebook.com/firebreathergbg/
https://www.instagram.com/firebreathergbg/
https://www.facebook.com/suiciderds/
http://www.suiciderecords.se/

Firebreather, Firebreather album teaser

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Quarterly Review: Grails, Expo Seventy, Coltsblood, Rhino, Cruthu, Spacetrucker, Black Habit, Stone Angels, The Black Willows, Lamagaia

Posted in Reviews on March 31st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

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Arrival. Welcome to the final day of The Obelisk’s Spring 2017 Quarterly Review. After today, I clean off my desktop and start over with a mind toward the next round, which in my head I’ve already scheduled for late June. You know, at the end of the next quarter. I do try to make these things make sense on some level. Anyway, before we get to the last 10 albums, let me please reiterate my thanks to you for reading and say once again that I hope you’ve found something this week that really speaks to you, as I know I have and continue to today. We finish the Quarterly Review out strong to be sure, so even if you’re thinking you’re done and you’ve had enough, you might be surprised by the time you’re through the below.

Quarterly Review #41-50:

Grails, Chalice Hymnal

grails chalice hymnal

Even if one counts the 2013 collection culled from GrailsBlack Tar Prophecies ongoing series of short releases that showed up via Temporary Residence, it’s been a long while since their last proper outing. Deep Politics (review here) was issued in 2011, but it seems the intervening time and members’ participation in other projects – among them Om and Holy Sons in the case of Emil Amos – disappear for Grails on Chalice Hymnal, which speaks directly to its predecessor in sequel pieces like “Deeper Politics,” “Deep Snow II” and “Thorns II,” taking the prog-via-TangerineDream cinematics of Deep Politics to vibrant and continually experimental places on the surprisingly vocalized “Empty Chamber,” the soundscaping “Rebecca” and the imaginative, evocative jazz homage “After the Funeral,” the album’s 10-minute closer. Hearing the John Carpenter keyboard line underpinning “Pelham,” I’m not sure I’d call Chalice Hymnal limitless in its aesthetic – Grails have definitive intentions here, as they always have – but they continue to reside in a space of their own making, and one that has yet to stop expanding its reach.

Grails on Thee Facebooks

Grails at Temporary Residence Ltd.

 

Expo Seventy, America Here and Now Sessions

expo seventy america here and now sessions

Yes. Yes. This. With extended two tracks – “First Movement” (22:17) and “Second Movement” (27:04) – unfolding one massive longform immersion that drones pastoral, delves into hypnotic bliss and fills the soul in that way that only raw exploration can, the America Here and Now Sessions from Kansas City (by way of the moon) outfit Expo Seventy is an utter joy to experience. Purposeful and patient in its execution, graceful in the instrumental chemistry – even with a second drummer sitting in amid the core trio led by guitarist Justin Wright – the album well fits the deep matte tones and nostalgic feel of its accompanying artwork, and is fluid in its movement from drone to push especially on “Second Movement,” which sandwiches a resonant cacophony around soundscapes that spread as far as the mind of the listener is willing to let them. Whether you want to sit and parse the execution over every its every subtle motion and waveform or put it on and go into full-brain-shutdown, America Here and Now Sessions delivers. Flat out. It delivers.

Expo Seventy on Thee Facebooks

Essence Music website

 

Coltsblood, Ascending into Shimmering Darkness

coltsblood ascending into shimmering darkness

After surviving the acquisition of Candlelight Records by Spinefarm, UK doom extremists Coltsblood return with their second album, Ascending into Shimmering Darkness, and follow-up 2014’s Into the Unfathomable Abyss (review here) with 54 minutes of concrete-thick atmospheric bleakness spread across five tracks. The headfuckery isn’t quite as unremitting as it was on the debut – a blend of airy and thick guitar in the intro of the opening title-cut (also the longest inclusion; immediate points) reminds of Pallbearer – but the three-piece thrive in this more-cohesive-overall context, and their lumbering miseries remain dark and triumphant in kind. A closing duo of “Ever Decreasing Circles” and “The Final Winter” also both top 12 and 13 minutes, respectively, but the shorter second track “Mortal Wound” brings blackened tendencies to the fore and centerpiece “The Legend of Abhartach” effectively leads the way from one side to the other. Still, the most complete victory here for bassist/vocalist John McNulty, guitarist Jemma McNulty and drummer Jay Plested might be “The Final Winter,” which melds its grueling, excruciatingly slow crash to overarching keyboard drama and becomes a work of cinematic depth as well as skull-crushing wretchedness. Such ambient growth fascinates and shows marked progression from their first offering, and even if the primary impression remains one from which no light escapes, don’t be fooled: Coltsblood are growing and are all the more dangerous for that.

Coltsblood on Thee Facebooks

Candlelight Records website

 

Rhino, The Law of Purity

rhino the law of purity

Once they get past the aptly-titled minute-long “Intro,” Rhino keep their foot heavy on the gas for the vast majority of The Law of Purity, their Argonauta Records debut album. The 10 included tracks veer into and out of pure desert rock loyalism – “Eat My Dust” comes across as particularly post-Kyuss, perhaps melded with some of the burl of C.O.C.’s “Shake Like You” – and the throttle of “Nuclear Space,” “Nine Months,” “A. & B. Brown” and “Cock of Dog” later on come to define the impression of straightforward push that puts the riffs forward even more than earlier inclusions like the post-“Intro” title-track or the more mid-paced “Bursting Out,” which hints at psychedelia without really ever fully diving into it. Capping with the roll of “I See the Monsters,” The Law of Purity reminds at times of earlier Astrosoniq – particularly in the vocals – but finds the Sicilian five-piece crafting solid heavy rock tunes that seem more concerned with having a couple beers and a good time than changing the world or remaking the genre. Nothing wrong with that.

Rhino on Thee Facebooks

Argonauta Records website

 

Cruthu, The Angle of Eternity

cruthu the angle of eternity

As it happens, I wrote the bio and release announcement for Cruthu’s debut album, The Angle of Eternity (posted here), and I count guitarist “Postman Dan” McCormick as a personal friend, so if you’re looking for impartiality as regards the self-released six-tracker, look elsewhere. If you’re looking for primo trad doom and classic metal vibes, the Michigan-based four-piece offer touches of progressive flourish amid the shuffle of opener “Bog of Kildare,” a grueling post-“Crystal Ball” nod in “From the Sea” and a bit of ‘70s proto-metallurgy in the closing title-track, which finds vocalist Ryan Evans at his most commanding while McCormick, bassist Erik Hemingsen (Scott Lehman appears as well) and drummer Matt Fry hold together the fluid and patient groove of weighted downer metal. The sense of Cruthu as an outfit schooled in the style is palpable through the creep of “Lady in the Lake” and the post-Trouble chug of “Séance,” but they’re beginning to cast their own identity from their influences – even the penultimate interlude “Separated from the Herd” is part of it – and the dividends of that process are immediate in these tracks.

Cruthu on Thee Facebooks

Cruthu on Bandcamp

 

Spacetrucker, Launch Sequence

spacetrucker launch sequence

From the Kozik-style artwork of their cover to the blown-out vocals on opener “New Pubes” of guitarist Matt Owen, St. Louis three-piece Spacetrucker – how was there not already a band with this name? – make no bones about their intentions on their late-2016, 26-minute Launch Sequence seven-track EP. Owen, bassist Patrick Mulvaney and drummer Del Toro push into a realm of noise-infused stoner grunge loyal to the ‘90s execution of “Supa Scoopa and Mighty Scoop” in the stops of the instrumental “Giza” even as they thicken and dirty up their tonality beyond what Kyuss laid forth. The cowbell-inclusive “Science of Us” rests easily on Mulvaney’s tone and nods toward burl without going over the top, and cuts like “Old Flower,” the penultimate roller “Trenchfoot” and the closing post-Nirvana punker blast of “Ain’t Gonna be Me” reimagine a past in which the language of heavy rock was there to explain where grunge was coming from all along. Not looking to reinvent stylistic parameters in their image at this point, Spacetrucker is nonetheless the kind of band one might’ve run into at SXSW a decade and a half ago and been made a fan for life. As it stands, the charm is not at all lost.

Spacetrucker on Thee Facebooks

Spacetrucker on Bandcamp

 

Black Habit, Black Habit

black habit self titled

Clocking in at half an hour, the self-titled debut release from viola-infused Arizona two-piece Black Habit could probably qualify as an EP or an LP. I’m inclined to consider it the latter considering the depths vocalist/guitarist/bassist Trey Edwin and violist/drummer Emily Jean plunge in the five included tracks, starting with the longest of the bunch (immediate points) in the slow-moving “Escape into Infinity” before shifting the tempo upward for “Suffer and Succumb” and digging into deep-toned sludge marked out by consistently harsh vocals. I wouldn’t be surprised if Black Habit became more melodic or at least moved into cleaner shots over time, as the doomly centerpiece “South Beach” and more fuzz-rocking “Travel Across the Ocean” seem to want to head in that direction, but it’s hard to argue with the echoing rasp that accompanies the rumble and hairy tones of finale “Lust in the Dust,” as Black Habit’s Black Habit rounds out with an especially righteous nod. An intriguing, disaffected, and raw but potential-loaded opening salvo from a two-piece discovering where their sound might take them.

Black Habit on Thee Facebooks

Black Habit on Bandcamp

 

Stone Angels, Patterns in the Ashes

stone angels patterns in the ashes

Massive. Patterns in the Ashes is a malevolent, tectonic three-song EP following up on New Zealand trio Stone Angels’ 2011 debut, Within the Witch, as well as a few shorter live/demo offerings between, and it’s an absolute beast. Launching with the seven-minute instrumental “White Light, White Noise II” – indeed the sequel to a cut from the first album – it conjures a vicious nod and bleeds one song into the next to let “Signed in Blood” further unfold the grim atmospherics underscoring and enriching all that tonal heft. Sludge is the core style, but the Christchurch three-piece’s broader intentions come through with due volume on the grueling “Signed in Blood” and when “For the Glory of None” kicks in after its sample intro, the blasts and growls that it brings push the release to new levels of extremity entirely. As a bonus, the digital edition includes all three tracks put together as one longer, 21-minute piece, so the consuming flow between them can be experienced without any interruption, as it was seemingly meant to be.

Stone Angels on Thee Facebooks

Stone Angels on Bandcamp

 

Black Willows, Samsara

the black willows samsara

If Switzerland-based resonance rockers Black Willows had only released the final two tracks, “Jewel in the Lotus” and “Morning Star,” of their late-2016 second full-length, Samsara, one would still have to call it a complete album – and not just because those songs run 15 and 25 minutes long, respectively. Throughout those extended pieces and the four shorter cuts that appear before them, a palpable meditative sensibility emerges, and Black Willows follow-up the promise of 2013’s Haze (review here) by casting an even more immersive, deeper-toned vibe in the post-Om nod of “Sin” (8:08) and the more percussive complement, “Rise” (9:28), keeping a ritualized feel prevailing but not defining. From the lead-in title-track and the spacious psych trip-out of “Mountain” that gives way to the aforementioned extended closing duo, Black Willows find their key purpose in encompassing tonality and languid grooving. Nothing is overdone, nothing loses its patience, and when they get to the linear trajectory of “Morning Star,” the sense is they’re pushing as far out as far out will go. It’s a joy to follow them on that path.

Black Willows on Thee Facebooks

Black Willows on Bandcamp

 

Lamagaia, Lamagaia

lamagaia lamagaia

Anytime you’re at all ready to quit your job and explore the recesses of your mind via the ingestion of psychedelics, rituals and meditation, Sweden’s Lamagaia would seem to stand prepared to accompany. The Gothenburg four-piece offer two extended tracks of encouragement in that direction on their self-titled 12” (released through Cardinal Fuzz and Sunrise Ocean Bender), and both “Aurora” and “Paronama Vju” carry a heady spirit of kosmiche improvisation and classically progressive willfulness. They go, go, go. Far, far, far. Vocals echo out obscure but definitely there in post-The Heads fashion, but there’s Hawkwindian thrust in the fuzzed bass and drums driving the rhythm behind the howling guitar in “Aurora,” and that only sets up the peaceful stretch that the drones and expansive spaciousness of “Paronama Vju” finds across its 18:55 as all the more of an arrival. Immersive, hypnotic, all that stuff that means gloriously psychedelic, Lamagaia’s Lamagaia offers instrumental chemistry and range for anyone willing to follow along its resonant and ultra-flowing path. Count me in. I never liked working anyway.

Lamagaia website

Cardinal Fuzz webstore

 

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Monolord Post Video for “Lord of Suffering”

Posted in Bootleg Theater on January 19th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

monolord photo by mike bax

Because so much of the story around Swedish trio Monolord has, since they made their debut with 2014’s Empress Rising, been about the largesse of riff they proffer, the massive nod and so on, I feel like the underlying narrative of their progression has been somewhat lost.

Don’t get me wrong, if you’re asking the question, “What do Monolord sound like?” the answer is no doubt going to be, “They sound frickin’ huge,” but across their 2015 second LP, Vænir (review here), and last year’s Lord of Suffering / Die in Haze EP (review here), guitarist/vocalist Thomas V. Jäger, bassist Mika Häkki and drummer Esben Willems have enacted a chartable sonic growth that’s been as much about expanse as volume. They still crush — or “crosh,” if you prefer the emphatic pronunciation — but both tracks on the latest EP offer atmospheric density as well as tonal.

Does that mean Monolord are moving past their foundation? Probably not, but it does mean Jäger is becoming more comfortable as a singer and as a whole they’re becoming less tied to unipolar heft. The watery effects that one hears on “Lord of Suffering” add a psychedelic flavor to what’s otherwise a pretty straightforward fuzz roll, and one gets the sense in listening that it captures the three-piece at a transitional moment, which makes the prospect of a third album — which has been hinted at for 2017 — all the more enticing.

If/when Monolord do hit the studio this year, they’ll do so as part of what will no doubt remain a busy schedule of live dates. Already they’ve been confirmed for Germany’s Stoned from the Underground (info here) in July and for SonicBlast Moledo (info here) in Portugal this August, and no doubt more announcements are to come. I haven’t heard anything to this effect, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were on the road for the entire month between those two. That’s kind of how Monolord do.

Fittingly, the video below for “Lord of Suffering” was filmed on tour. One way or another, expect more from Monolord as we move through 2017.

March on:

Monolord, “Lord of Suffering” official video

Swedish trio Monolord premiere the first video from their new 10″ EP. The seven-minute video is culled from footage shot throughout the band’s extensive US and EU touring last summer.

Monolord’s full discography is available on RidingEasy Records.

Monolord on Thee Facebooks

Monolord on Twitter

RidingEasy Records website

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Långfinger and Captain Crimson Announce Feb. Tour Dates

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 11th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Långfinger and Captain Crimson both put out records this past autumn in a one-two punch of high-grade next-gen Swedish heavy rock. Next month, the Small Stone labelmates — from Gothenburg and Örebro, respectively — are pairing up for a round of mostly-German tour dates put together by Total Volume Booking that will find them supporting those new albums and continuing to bring their long-simmering underground reputations to turning more heads on the road. I would not expect this to be either band’s final announcement for 2017 in terms of shows and/or festivals — that’s just speculation, not insider info or anything — because it seems to me that the longer time goes on, it’s just more opportunity for Crossyears (review here) and Remind (review here) to catch on.

Dates come courtesy of Långfinger‘s social medias, other info from Small Stone. One likes to properly source these things:

langfinger captain crimson tour

We’ve teamed up with fellow swedes Captain Crimson for February’s central European tour. The earthquake starts on Feb 15. Prepare yourselves for swedish rock n roll deluxe, multiplied by two!

Feb 15 – Kiel (DE) @ Die Kieler Schaubude
Feb 16 – Berlin (DE) @ Jägerklause Berlin
Feb 17 – Den Helder (NL) @ Rockcafé de Engel
Feb 18 – Siegen (DE) @ Vortex Surfer Musikclub
Feb 19 – Antwerp (BE) @ AMC (Antwerp Music City)
Feb 21 – Cologne (DE) @ Limes Köln
Feb 23 – Mannheim (DE) @ Kurzbar
Feb 24 – Luzern (CH) @ The Bruch Brothers

Långfinger, from the fertile rock ‘n’ roll city of Gothenburg, are masters of the art. They’ve been playing together since they were in their early teens, and their third album, called ‘Crossyears’, is both the thrilling culmination of their collective endeavour, and a rumination on it – on how Time has shaped them and brought them to this point. Within its hard-hitting grooves, the interlocking of Långfinger’s three disparate characters – Kalle, the unflappable, precision axeman; Jesper, the athletic sticksman battering out physical revenge on his kit; and Victor, the intense, exploratory spirit, bridging thundering bass and howling exorcism – is a magical proposition.

Formed in 2010 by vocalist Stefan Lillhager, formerly of Blowback, Captain Crimson draws inspiration from the classic sounds of The Groundhogs, Blue Cheer, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Jethro Tull and Cactus, meeting heavy boogie head-on with a modern swagger that has carried over to their latest and third album, Remind – their first for Small Stone Records. Make no mistake: Captain Crimson’s latest is nothing less than a testament to the timeless power of groove, of memorable choruses that take you back to when you felt such things deep in your soul, and indeed offer a reminder that you still can and that you still do.

https://www.facebook.com/Langfingerofficial/
https://www.facebook.com/CaptainCrimsonSwe/
https://www.facebook.com/totalvolumebackline/
https://www.facebook.com/smallstonerecords/
https://smallstone.bandcamp.com/

Långfinger, Crossyears (2016)

Captain Crimson, Remind (2016)

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Långfinger Premiere “Fox Confessor” Video; Crossyears LP out Now

Posted in Bootleg Theater on October 13th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

Langfinger (Photo by Bengt Persson)

Swedish power trio Långfinger released their third album, Crossyears, on Sept. 30. Their first for Small Stone Records, the record — which was first announced here — comes jammed with premium boogie and classic songcraft delivered with a new generation’s energy. One need look no further than the track “Fox Confessor” for clear demonstration of all of the above. The side A cut finds itself a comfortable pace and builds tension in its verse only to let loose in a righteous hooked backed up by spacious lead guitar. Then they turn around and do it all again. Another round for everybody.

That, incidentally, could also be said to be the theme of the video, though Långfinger push deeper into narrative than just playing a show and selling their amps (and dog) for alcohol after being stiffed by the club owner, actually going so far as to take revenge on the club owner themselves. Street justice! They wind up living the high life on a rooftop, praising high art and chipping golf balls into the urban setting below. You know, as one does. It’s about a four-minute clip to tell this story, and about a three-minute song underneath, so efficiency is a major factor here to be sure, but Långfinger don’t need any more time than they take in order to make an impression. Crossyears benefits across its span from their clarity of purpose as much as it does from their choice riffing and rhythmic fluidity.

Plus it’s a bass tone you just gotta hear.

The band was kind enough to offer some comment on the making of the video and the song, which you’ll find below. Crossyears is also streaming in full at Small Stone‘s Bandcamp, linked at the bottom of this post.

Please enjoy:

Långfinger, “Fox Confessor” official video

Långfinger on “Fox Confessor”:

“Fox Confessor” is the first collaboration between Långfinger and cinematographer Anders Bryngel. We were exploring the idea of working together for some years and with the new album looming, it was more appropriate than ever.

One day we devised a syndicate. We then determined that the effort should be focused on a narrative and as the storyline progressed we let it evolve naturally with the group’s dynamic. A spontaneous process driven by our collective efforts.

As for the actual song, which like many of our songs, established itself as an instrumental; was inspired by our favorite Krautrock bands from the late sixties. That was up until I spent some time in rural Argentina. The lyrics began as rough scribbles, and in the attempt to characterize the broad landscape, which seemed to encompass most of my days spent there, a sort of comic relief broke out into lyric.

Långfinger:
Kalle Lilja – Guitars & backing vocals
Victor Crusner – Bass, keys & lead vocals
Jesper Pihl – Drums & backing vocals

Långfinger on Thee Facebooks

Långfinger website

Crossyears at Small Stone Bandcamp

Small Stone on Thee Facebooks

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Quarterly Review: Monolord, Teacher, Rosy Finch, Holy Mountain Top Removers, Chris Forsyth & the Solar Motel Band, Swan Valley Heights, Cambrian Explosion, Haunted, Gods & Punks, Gaia

Posted in Reviews on October 4th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

the-obelisk-fall-2016-quarterly-review

Day Two starts now. I don’t know if you’re ready for it. I don’t know if I’m ready for it. Ah hell, who am I kidding? I love this stuff. No place I’d rather be right now than pounding out these reviews, batch by batch, all week. This one gets heavy, it goes far out, it rocks hard and relentless and it gets atmospheric. And more. But don’t let me try to sell you on reading it. Even if you skim through and click on players, I hope you find something you dig. If not today, then yesterday, or tomorrow or the next day. Or hell, maybe the day after. It’s 50 records. There’s bound to be one in there. Here we go.

Quarterly Review #11-20:

Monolord, Lord of Suffering / Die in Haze

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A relatively quick two-songer issued via RidingEasy to mark the occasion of the Swedish trio’s first US headlining tour this summer, Lord of Suffering / Die in Haze offers a more stripped-down feel than did Monolord’s second full-length, Vænir (review here), which came out last year. The roll elicited by guitarist/vocalist Thomas V. Jäger, drummer Esben Willems and bassist Mika Häkki, however, remains unspeakably thick and the band’s intent toward largesse and nod continues to ring true. They’re in and out in 11 minutes, but the ethereal, watery vocal style of Jäger and the more earthbound pummel of the three-piece as a whole on “Lord of Suffering” and the grueling spaciousness of “Die in Haze” – not to mention the bass tone – show that Monolord are only continuing to come into their own sound-wise, and that as they do, their approach grows more and more dominant. They make it hard not to be greedy and ask for a new album.

Monolord on Thee Facebooks

RidingEasy Records website

 

Teacher, Teacher

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Seattle two-piece Teacher served notice early this year of their then-forthcoming self-titled, self-recorded debut LP, and it was easy to tell the Tony Reed-mastered full-length would be one to watch out for as it followed-up their prior EP1812, released in 2015. Arriving via Devil’s Child Records, the 10-track Teacher does indeed dole out a few crucial lessons from drummer/guitarist/vocalist Jonathan Ethan Mercer and guitarist/vocalist Solomon Arye Rosenschein. Whether it’s “Heavy Metal Parking Lot 1979” or the swinging “Peripatetic Blues” or the gone-backwards psych interlude “Wildcard Jambalaya” that immediately follows, the record basks in an organic diversity of approach drawn together by the clear chemistry already present between Mercer and Rosenschein. A harder edge of tone keeps a modern feel prevalent, but even the forward punker charge of “Mean as Hell” has classic roots, and as they finish with “Home for the Summer” as the last of three out of the four EP tracks included in a row to round out the LP, they seem to have entered the conversation of 2016’s most cohesive debuts in heavy rock. Their arrival is welcome.

Teacher on Thee Facebooks

Devil’s Child Records webstore

 

Rosy Finch, Witchboro

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There’s an element of danger to Rosy Finch’s debut long-player, Witchboro (on Lay Bare Recordings). Actually two. One: it sounds like it could come apart at any given moment – it never does. Two: any given one among its nine component tracks could wind up just about anywhere. Though the Spanish trio of bassist/vocalist Elena García, guitarist/vocalist Mireia Porto and drummer Lluís Mas keep individual songs relatively raw sounding – or at very least not overproduced as something so progressive could just as easily have wound up – but even the soothing “Ligeia” holds to a driving sense of foreboding. Punk in its undercurrent with more than a touch of grunge, Witchboro is as much at home in the atmospheric crush of “Polvo Zombi” as the quick-turning finale thrust of “Daphne vs. Apollo,” and its overarching impression is striking in just how readily it manipulates the elements that comprise it. Ambitious, but more defined by succeeding in its ambitions than by the ambitions themselves.

Rosy Finch on Thee Facebooks

Lay Bare Recordings website

 

Holy Mountain Top Removers, The Ones Disappearing You

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Psychedelic surf? Wah-soaked, bass rumbling foreboding? Euro-inflected lounge? All of the above and much more get a big check mark from Nashville instrumentalists Holy Mountain Top Removers, whose The Ones Disappearing You LP covers an enviable amount of stylistic ground and still leaves room near the end for bassist/keyboardist Mikey Allred to lead a blues dirge on trombone. He’s joined by drummer/percussionist Edmond Villa and guitarist Anthony Ford, as well as guest trumpeter Court Reese and violinist Allan Van Cleave, and as they careen through this vast terrain, Holy Mountain Top Removers only seem to revel in the oddness of their own creation. To wit, the early jangle of “Monsieur Espionnage” is delivered with gleeful starts and stops, and the later “Serenade for Sexual Absence” given a mournful snare march and what sounds like tarantella to go with Van Cleave’s violin lead. Playful in the extreme, The Ones Disappearing You nonetheless offers rich arrangements and a drive toward individuality that stands among its core appeals, but by no means stands there alone.

Holy Mountain Top Removers on Thee Facebooks

Holy Mountain Top Removers on Bandcamp

 

Chris Forsyth and the Solar Motel Band, The Rarity of Experience I

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Philadelphia four-piece Chris Forsyth and the Solar Motel Band must have worked quickly to turn around so soon a follow-up to last year’s debut album, Intensity Ghost (review here), but their second offering, The Rarity of Experience lacks nothing for growth. A two-disc, 72-minute 10-tracker also released through No Quarter, The Rarity of Experience hops genres the way rocks skip on water, from the exploratory psychedelic vibing of “Anthem II” to the Talking Heads-style jangle of “The Rarity of Experience II” and into horn-infused free-jazz fusion on “The First 10 Minutes of Cocksucker Blues” – which, by the way, is 12 minutes long. A big change is the inclusion of vocals, but the penultimate “Old Phase” still holds to some of the pastoral atmospherics Forsyth and company brought together on the first record, but principally, what The Rarity of Experience most clearly shows is that one doesn’t necessarily know what’s coming from Chris Forsyth and the Solar Motel Band, and as much as they offer across this massive stretch, I wouldn’t be surprised if they continue to expand their sound.

Chris Forsyth and the Solar Motel Band on Thee Facebooks

No Quarter

 

Swan Valley Heights, Swan Valley Heights

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Initially released by the band in January, the self-titled debut from Munich heavy rockers Swan Valley Heights sees wider issue through Oak Island Records in an edition of 200 LPs. After rolling out the largesse of welcome-riff in opener “Slow Planet,” the three-piece dig into longform groove on “Alaska” (9:09), “Mammoth” (11:02) and “Let Your Hair Down” (9:35), finding a balance between hypnotic flow and deeply weighted tones. Riffs lead the way throughout, and while there aren’t a ton of surprises, once they make their way through “Caligula Overdrive,” the shimmer at the start of “Mountain” and some of the more patient unfolding of closer “River” called Sungrazer to mind and I couldn’t help but wonder if Swan Valley Heights would make their way toward more lush fare over time. Whether they do or not, their debut engages in its warmth and cohesion of purpose, and offers plenty of depth for those looking to dive in headfirst.

Swan Valley Heights on Thee Facebooks

Oak Island Records at Kozmik Artifactz

 

Cambrian Explosion, The Moon EP

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I can’t help but feel like Portland, Oregon’s Cambrian Explosion are selling themselves a little short by calling The Moon an EP. At five songs and 35 minutes, the follow-up to their 2013 The Sun outing boasts a richly progressive front-to-back flow, deep sense of psychedelic melodicism and enough crunch to wholly satisfy each of the payoffs its hypnotic wanderings demand. Sure sounds like a full-length album to my ears, but either way, I’ll take it. The four-piece set an open context in the intro noise wash of “Selene,” and while “Looming Eye” and “Mugen = Mugen” push further into ritual heavy psych, it’s in the longer “Innocuous Creatures” (9:24) and closer “Crust of Theia” (8:23) – the two perfectly suited to appear together on the B-side from whatever label is lucky enough to snap them up for a release – that The Moon makes its immersion complete and resonant, blowing out in glorious noise on the former and basking in off-world sentiment as they round out. Gorgeous and forward-thinking in kind. Would be an excellent debut album.

Cambrian Explosion on Thee Facebooks

Cambrian Explosion on Bandcamp

 

Haunted, Haunted

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Not sure if there’s any way to avoid drawing a comparison between Italian five-piece Haunted’s self-titled debut (on Twin Earth Records) and Virginian doomers Windhand, but I’m also not sure that matters anymore. With the two guitars of Francesco Bauso and Francesco Orlando meting out post-Electric Wizard churn and Cristina Chimirri’s vocals oozing out bluesy incantations on top as Frank Tudisco’s low end and Valerio Cimino’s drums push the lumber forward, it’s all doom one way or another. “Watchtower” has a meaner chug than opener “Nightbreed,” and the centerpiece “Silvercomb” delves into feedback-laden horror atmospherics, but it’s in the closing duo of “Slowthorn” and “Haunted” that Haunted most assuredly affirm their rolling intention. They’ll have some work to do in distinguishing themselves, but there’s flourish in the wash of guitar late and some vocal layering from Chimirri that speaks to nuance emerging in their sound that will only serve them well as they move forward from this immersive first offering.

Twin Earth Records on Thee Facebooks

Haunted on Bandcamp

 

Gods and Punks, The Sounds of the Earth

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Taking their name from a track off Monster Magnet’s 2010 outing, Mastermind, Brazilian heavy rockers Gods and Punks mark their debut release with The Sounds of the Earth, a self-released five-track EP awash in classic influences and bolstered through a double-guitar dynamic, maybe-too-forward-in-the-mix vocals and a rock solid rhythm section. These are familiar ingredients, granted, but the Rio de Janeiro five-piece present them well particularly in the mid-paced “The Tusk” and the catchy, more extended closer “Gravity,” and are able to put a modern spin on ‘70s vibing without becoming singularly indebted to any particular band or era, be it ‘70s, ‘90s or the bizarre combination of the two that defines the ‘10s. Gods and Punks are setting themselves up to progress here, and how that progression might play out – more space rock to go with the theme of their excellent artwork, maybe? – will be worth keeping an eye on given what they already show in their songwriting.

Gods and Punks on Thee Facebooks

Gods and Punks on Bandcamp

 

Gaia, A Cure for Time

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Mostly instrumental, deeply atmospheric and clearly intended to divide into the two sides of a vinyl for which it seems more than primed, A Cure for Time is the second album from Copenhagen post-metallers Gaia. Each half of the four-track/39-minute outing pairs a shorter piece with a longer one, and the flow the trio set up particularly on the closing title cut calls to mind some of YOB’s cosmic impulses but with a spaciousness, roll and context that becomes their own. Shades of Jesu in the vocals and the balance of rumble and echo on the earlier “Nowhere” make A Cure for Time all the more ambient, but when they want to, Gaia produce a marked density that borders on the claustrophobic, and the manner in which they execute the album front to back emphasizes this spectrum with a progressive but still organic flourish. I wouldn’t call A Cure for Time directly psychedelic, but it’s still easy to get lost within its reaches.sh

Gaia on Thee Facebooks

Virkelighedsfjern on Bandcamp

 

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