Psychedelic conglomerate project Ayahuasca Dark Trip will embark on a European tour next month heralding the arrival of their second album, II. The multinational outfit draws members from Peru, Brazil, Greece, the US and the Netherlands and outfits like Montibus Communitas, Queen Elephantine and Necro, so if you’re wondering why a second full-length behind 2012’s Mind Journey (review here) might’ve taken five years to realize, consider the amount of logistics coordination involved in everything the band does. Consider that as well when wondering about whether or not you should show up at a gig — an Ayahasca Dark Trip tour does not seem like the kind of thing that will happen every day.
To further entice participation and perhaps to give the open-minded a glimpse at some of the dronescaping they’re up to on II, Ayahuasca Dark Trip today premiere the song “Water from Above, Water from Below,” which encompasses seven-plus minutes of weighted lysergic resonance, seeming to pull from all sides and all contributors around its central guitar figure as it lumbers toward its noisy, echoing conclusion. How it may play into the rest of II surrounding remains to be heard, but if the band wanted to effectively tease their second outing, consider the mission accomplished. I’ll hope to have more as we get closer to the release.
For now, an album announcement, a tour announcement and a track premiere seem like plenty for one day. Dig into all of it below, and enjoy:
Uncompromising and fearless in its approach, AYAHUASCA DARK TRIP creates hypnotic music that combines doom metal, acid psychedelia and ritual drone into an intense and explosive trip.
FEBRUARY 2017 EUROPEAN TOUR —— The band is preparing for their first European tour. Looking for release, performance, and press opportunities. We need help to fill Feb 11-12 in Netherlands and Feb 25 between Wiesbaden and Amsterdam.
Ayahuasca Dark Trip Feb. 2017 tour: 02/13: Gent, BE – Kinky Star. 02/14: Brussels, BE – Cafe Central. 02/16: Karlsruhe, DE – P8. 02/17: Dresden, DE – ChemieFabrik. 02/18: Berlin, DE – Urban Spree. 02/19: Prague, CZ – Potrvá. 02/21: Vienna, AT – Weberknecht. 02/22: Ljubljiana, SI – Prul?ek. 02/23: Nuremberg, DE – Kunstverein. 02/24: Wiesbaden, DE – Kreativfabrik.
The multinational project was formed in 2010 by prolific Peruvian musician Brayan Anthony (Montibus Communitas) and Buddy van Niuewenhoven of the Netherlands (Cosmic Nod). The group soon expanded with Indrayudh Shome (USA, Queen Elephantine), Pedro Ivo Araújo (Brazil, Necro), Sifis Karadakis (Greece), and Floris Moerkamp (Netherlands). AYAHUASCA DARK TRIP blasted off to explore revolutionary new possibilities of fluid musical collaboration across great physical and cultural distances.
DISCOGRAPHY New album “II” coming 2017. Mind Journey (2010, 2012. Cosmic Eye/Greece) “Manantial” Falling Down IVV compilation (2012. Falling Down/France) Unknown Trip at the Top of the Mountain (2011. Buh/Peru)
Posted in Whathaveyou on January 11th, 2017 by H.P. Taskmaster
A second full-length from Norwegian heavy rockers The Devil and the Almighty Blues is an intriguing prospect. The Oslo five-piece impressed with their 2015 self-titled debut (review here), and the aptly-titled follow-up, II, is set to arrive March 17 via Blues for the Red Sun Records (with distribution through Stickman). As the debut was one of 2015’s best and band have spent the last year-plus taking part in fests like Freak Valley and playing shows and getting themselves recently confirmed for Roadburn 2017, it seems fair to expect some marked forward movement in their sound. I guess the underlying point here is I hope to get the chance to find out.
Info follows, as well as the band’s upcoming live dates, as scoured from the social medias:
Finally! Blues For The Red Sun are proud to announce release of the second The Devil And The Almighty Blues album!
The album will hit the streets Friday 17th March 2017. From early January there will be possible to pre-order the limited edition (on white vinyl). More info will follow.
When the 60’s turned into the 70’s there was a musical crossroads. The American blues had had it’s run with teens on both sides of the Atlantic long enough so that the blues-offspring named rock’n’roll had to expand or die. It did not die, it expanded in all kinds of directions! And right there in the crossroads between blues-based rock and all the world’s other sub-genres of rock, something happened to the blues. The format got experimented with, expanded and almost made unrecognizable. But at the same time the roots to the original ’real’ blues was never lost. The result was a highly electric musical revolution, where e.g. the newly born genre hard rock walked hand in hand with traditional delta blues.
It is out from this musical mud The Devil and the Almighty Blues have found their inspiration. Their music is slow, heavy, melodic and raw, all without losing the almighty blues out of sight.
The Devil and the Almighty Blues live shows:
APR 6 The Devil and the Almighty Blues / supp. There Will Be Blood Parkteatret Oslo, Norway
APR 7 The Devil And The Almighty Blues + There Will Be Blood Studentsamfunnet driv Tromsø, Norway
APR 20 Roadburn Festival 2017 Apr 20 – Apr 23 Tilburg, the Netherlands
The Deivl and the Almight Blues is: Arnt Andersen Petter Svee Kenneth Simonsen Torgeir Waldemar Engen Kim Skaug
Posted in Features on December 20th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2016 to that, please do.
I say this every year: These are my picks. If you’re unfamiliar with this site, or you don’t come here that often, or if you do and just normally don’t give a crap — all of which is cool — you should know it’s all run by one person. One human being. Me. My name is JJ, and this is a list of what I think are the best albums that were released in 2016.
Since before 2016 began, I’ve kept a running list of releases. My criteria for what gets included in this list is largely unchanged — it’s a balance between what I feel are important records on the level of what they achieve, what I listened to most, what held some other personal appeal, and what I think did the best job of meeting the goals it set for itself. Pretty vague, right? That’s the idea.
The nature of worldwide heavy has become so broad that to encompass it all under some universal standard is laughable. Judging psychedelia, garage rock, heavy psych, doom, sludge and so on by the same measure makes no sense, and as genres continue to splinter and remake themselves as we’ve seen them doing all year and over the last several years, one must be malleable in one’s own taste. We’ve seen a new generation of heavy rock bands emerge in the last three-plus years. It’s been amazing, and there are a few pivotal second and third records that came out in 2016 to affirm that movement underway. Look for it to continue into 2017 and beyond.
This year more than any other seemed to want to bring the different sides together. A laudable goal. Thick riffing marked with flourish of psychedelia. Spacious doom bred against folk impulses. There’s been experimentation around melds that have led to considerable triumphs, and it just doesn’t seem to me that rigid standards can apply. It’s why I don’t grade reviews and never did.
Sound is evolving now as it always has been and as it will keep doing, but like any year, 2016 had a full share of landmarks to offer as a part of that process. As universal development hopefully remains ongoing, it’s only right that we celebrate the accomplishments helping to push it along its winding and sometimes divergent-seeming paths.
I have no doubt you know what I mean. Let’s get to the list:
Seems only fair to start with a record I couldn’t put down. Finnish trio Talmud Beach‘s second album and Svart debut, Chief, hit on just the right blend of laid back, semi-acoustic groove-blues, psychedelia and classic progressive folk rock, but with the exception of its sprawling dreamscape title-track (a welcome arrival at the finale), it also kept the songwriting simple, resulting in a natural, pastoral feel that only highlighted their melodic range in songs like “Mountain Man” and “Snow Snow Snow.” I think it flew under a lot of people’s radar, but I’ve kept going back to it over the course of the year and I see no reason to stop.
Space is still the place. I’ve already highlighted closer “Artificial Light” from Comet Control‘s sophomore LP, Center of the Maze as my favorite song of 2016, so I’ll spare you the longwinded treatise on its languid cosmic glories — this time — but consider this a reminder that that song was by no means the limit of what the eight-track release had to offer in terms of breadth. From the opening push of “Dig out Your Head” to the dream-drift of “Sick in Space,” it unfolded tonal presence and a melodic depth that engaged a gorgeous, multifaceted sonic wash as it moved onward toward that landmark conclusion.
There was not a level on which Madison, Wisconsin’s Droids Attack didn’t make it clear they were going all-out, all-in on Sci-Fi or Die. Even the title speaks to the stakes involved. And sure enough, the trio executed their fourth album with a sense of urgency and professionalism in songcraft, production, artwork (discussed here) and nuance of presentation that managed to make even a song called “Clawhammer Suicide” a classy affair. As guitarist/vocalist Brad Van said on the hidden title-track, “Death to false stoner thrash.” Droids Attack brought that ethic and more to life across the entire record.
A winding road brought Beelzefuzz around to following up their 2013 self-titled debut (review here), and as The Righteous Bloom brought guitarist/vocalist Dana Ortt and drummer Darin McCloskey together with bassist Bert Hall and lead guitarist Greg Diener, it found their songwriting more expansive, more progressive and dug further into their own particular oddball sense of grandeur. I’ve said on multiple occasions that no one out there is doing what Beelzefuzz are doing and that continues to be true. Even as a first offering from a new lineup of the band, The Righteous Bloom took bold and exciting forward steps.
Down to business. Immediately. Not a moment to spare. Taking part in what can only be considered a landmark year for Ripple Music, Baltimore’s Foghound issued The World Unseen as an answer to their 2013 debut, Quick, Dirty and High (review here), and upped their game across the board. From the intensity in the hooks of “Message in the Sky” and Rockin’ and Rollin'” to the quiet interlude of “Bridge of Stonebows” and the mid-paced heavy rock nod of “Never Return,” they made a strong case for themselves among their label’s foremost acts and found individualism in the growth of their songwriting. It was a kick in the ass you weren’t going to forget.
Put out by the band digitally in Dec. 2015 and issued on vinyl in 2016, Egypt‘s second LP, Endless Flight may be somewhat debatable in terms of when it actually landed (hence “25a.,” above), but the quality of the six-tracker more than warrants inclusion anyway. Rolling dense, massively-fuzzed groove, its nine-minute opening title-track set the course for the Fargo, North Dakota, three-piece, and they only grew the heavy revelry from there, as heard on the penultimate “Black Words,” which seemed to be chewing on rocks even as it played back and forth in tempo, build and push. The converted never had it so good.
There seems to be no stopping the Chiliomodi-based 1000mods, who with their third album have stepped to the forefront of Greece’s populous and vibrant heavy rock underground. Progressed well beyond where even 2014’s impressive Vultures (review here) found them, they seemed to hit a stride with Repeated Exposure To… thanks in part to road time and the ability to bring that energy directly into songs like the eight-minute roller “Loose” and the sizable crashes of “Groundhog Day.” Momentum working in their favor could be heard front-to-back from “Above 179” to “Into the Spell,” moving them toward something ever-more crucial and marking a considerable achievement along that path. 2017 might be a good time for them to test the waters with initial US shows.
Quick turnaround from Roman heavy psych magnate Gabriele Fiori (guitar/vocals) and company, but though it hit just about 13 months after their fourth full-length, Hawkdope (review here), Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy wholly succeeded in making an impact of its own, cuts like the oozing, organ-laced “Woman” and 11-minute jam-out triumph “Golden Widow” showcasing an approach in a continuous state of refinement that seems to get rawer as it goes, shifting like a rogue planetoid toward some maddening cosmic realization. How something can seem both so frenetic and so blissful is still a mystery, and perhaps that’s part of what makes Stellar Prophecy resonate as it does, but either way, Black Rainbows brought together some of the year’s most efficient psychedelic immersion.
Borracho don’t seem to release an album until they have something to say. That was to their credit on Atacama, their third LP and label debut for Kozmik Artifactz debut. Also their second collection issued as a trio behind 2013’s Oculus (review here), it distinguished itself from its predecessor in its sense of overarching flow, shifting between the ahead-thrust of “Gold from Sand” into the 10-minute sample-laden jam “Overload” to start out with such ease that the listener had little choice but to follow along. With an expanded scope on “Drifted away from the Sun” and the lightly-strummed memento mori “Flower,” Borracho found new avenues of expression to complement their well established dense, heavy riffing, and took obvious care in crafting their most realized LP yet.
Nothing Brooklyn’s The Golden Grass does feels like happenstance, and though their classic-styled boogie is imbued with a vibrant, friendly positive energy, there’s an underlying meticulousness in their arrangements and in their songwriting that came further into focus on Coming Back Again, their sophomore release 2014’s self-titled debut (review here). A more progressive take showed itself in “Reflections” and “Down the Line,” and taken in combination with the bookends “Get it Together” and “See it Through,” the three-piece stood on ground that was even more their own than on the first record, striking a careful balance between the willful exploration of new elements and the outright need for tracks to directly engage their listeners with catchy hooks and upbeat vibes. They did it. Expect continued growth.
For something so awash in fuzz, so nodding in its rhythms, so let’s-push-the-vocals-back-under-this-huge-awesome-fucking-riff, Curse the Son‘s Isolator was also remarkably clearheaded in its purposes. With the added vocal harmonies of “Callous Unemotional Traits,” the far-off spaces of “Hull Crush Depth” and the stoner metal despair of “Aislamiento,” the Connecticut three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Ron Vanacore, capital-‘d’ Drummer Michael Petrucci and newcomer bassist Brendan Keefe drew a direct, intentional line to sometimes-grueling (hello, “Sleepwalker Wakes”) weighted tonality and found justification for their largesse in its own being. Like 2012’s Psychache (review here), I expect to be returning to Isolator over a longer term than this single year of release.
I feel like I need to explain myself here. Make no mistake, Neurosis‘ Fires Within Fires is among the year’s most accomplished offerings. There’s just about no way it wouldn’t be. So why not top 10? Top five? It’s a question of timing. With the long-running post-metal progenitors, it’s always a longer digestion period. It was about two years before 2012’s Honor Found in Decay (review here) really sunk in, and I expect Fires Within Fires will work similarly over the greater term. Maybe a little guilt on my part for the disparity between its quality and its placement, but rest assured, Neurosis remain among the most imperative bands walking the earth, and as they took on the full brunt of 30 years of unmitigated progression through Fires Within Fires, they were no less brazen in pushing themselves creatively than they’ve ever been.
Though the narrative of Conan has remained largely unchanged since their inception — hack, slash, kill, riff — and they still bask in nigh-on-unmatched tonal slaughter, their third full-length brings a few key developments. Perhaps most notable from opener “Throne of Fire” onward is the vocal interplay between guitarist/founder Jon Davis and bassist/longtime-engineer Chris Fielding, who joined after 2014’s Blood Eagle (review here). Adding Fielding‘s deeper growls allowed Davis to subtly move into a cleaner shout, and the emergent dynamic between them made Revengeance a decidedly expanded affair compared to Conan‘s past work. Adding drummer Rich Lewis to the mix was no minor shift either, and as much as Conan had already established their sheer dominance, they also sounded refreshed and set themselves up to keep growing.
Some records just feel like gifts, and though many of its lyrical positions were cynical — “Reality,” “21st Century Slave,” “Mind Control Machine,” “Red the Sign Post,” etc. — Freedom marked the 15th anniversary of Danish garage-psych rockers Baby Woodrose with dripping lysergic aplomb, reminding some four years after their last LP, 2012’s Third Eye Surgery (review here), that bandleader Lorenzo Woodrose is unparalleled when it comes to manifesting his take on the psychedelic victories of 13th Floor Elevators and classic-era Hawkwind — firmly at home levitating on the edge of time. Its swirl and underlying foundation of songwriting, its Richie Havens cover title-track, and its sprawling interstellar “Termination” were like a welcome check-in from another dimension, and I only hope it’s not four years before Woodrose sends the next signal. Earth needs this band.
I’m not going to discount the shuffle of “Sunday Speed Demon” or sleeze of “Sunday Speed Demon,” but where Geezer‘s self-titled third full-length really showed how far the New York heavy blues-psych trio have come was in its extended midsection jams, “Sun Gods,” “Bi-Polar Vortex” and “Dust,” each of which showed a distinct approach while feeding into an engaging flow between them, offering a blend of trailmarker hooks as they drifted into realms of organic chemistry previously uncharted by the band. The slow-motion swing of “Hangnail Crisis,” raucous push of “Superjam Maximus” and concluding bounce of “Stoney Pony” brought them back down to earth to finish out with a symmetry to the album’s opening, but Geezer kept a collective hand on the controls the whole voyage and when they landed, it was an arrival indeed, and very much what their two previous records were building toward.
Beautifully experimental with its 27-minute finisher “As Sure as the Sun,” EYE‘s Vision and the Ageless Light seemed throughout its whole 46-minute run to be executing a cohesive vision in its synth-soaked progressive textures. Between the intro “Book of the Dead” and the subsequent “Kill the Slavemaster,” “Searching,” “Dweller of the Twilight Void” and the already-noted closer, each piece had something different to offer that added to the full impact of the whole, and with guitarist Jon Finely and bassist Michael Sliclen joining founding drummer/vocalist Brandon Smith and synth/Mellotron/Moog-ist Lisa Bella Donna (also vocals and acoustic guitar), EYE added to the scope of 2013’s Second Sight (review here) and found a place for themselves where prog complexity didn’t need to come at the expense of memorable songwriting and spaced-out vibes. An absolute joy, front to back.
Even Fatso Jetson themselves would probably have to admit that six years — even a six years that saw several splits, singles, etc. — was too long between albums. Fortunately, Idle Hands saw the desert rock forebears in top form as regards their quirk-fueled songwriting, angular approach to punk and inimitable groove. Following 2010’s Archaic Volumes (review here) was no easy task, but with additional depth to the material from the contributions of guitarist Dino von Lalli — son of founding guitarist/vocalist Mario Lalli and nephew of founding bassist Larry Lalli — guest spots from his sister Olive Lalli as well as Sean Wheeler (the latter moves second cut “Portuguese Dream” into high-echelon strangeness) and the ever-propulsive drumming of Tony Tornay, Fatso Jetson were both all over the place and right at the core of where they most ought to be sonically. At 56 minutes, it hardly seemed long enough.
Each song was like a different persona the band adopted momentarily, whether it was the Bowie-goes-proto-goth-prog of organ-ic opener “Transparent Eyeball” or the grim pastoralia of “Mirror Boy” and the condemnations/proclamations of “Drugged up on the Universe,” but wherever Hexvessel went on their third full-length and Century Media debut, When We are Death, that unifying theme went with them. Death. It was everywhere in the Finland-based genre-benders’ deeply varied approach, though its presence made their material in no way off-putting, and in the case of cuts like “Cosmic Truth” or the later “Mushroom Spirit Doors,” not even dark, and as it drew the tracks together despite working in different sounds and style, it became apparent that When We are Death worked because of a universal quality in songwriting and presentation allowing for such drastic shifts without any risk of losing the audience.
Yawning Man guitarist Gary Arce — a key figure in the development of desert rock and a player of unmatched tone, period — had quite a year, between Zun‘s Burial Sunrise, his main outfit and his collaboration with Fatso Jetson vs. HifiKlub, but it was the dreamscape drift of songs like “Come Through the Water” and “All that You Say I Am” as well as the subtle hooks of “Into the Wasteland” and “All for Nothing” that, for me, made this the highlight. Sure, bringing in vocalists Sera Timms (Ides of Gemini, Black Mare) and John Garcia (ex-Kyuss, Slo Burn, Vista Chino, etc.) and having them swap back and forth between the tracks didn’t hurt either, but the wash of ethereal presence in Arce‘s guitar was an excellent showcase for his patience and improvisational sensibilities, and the spaces Burial Sunrise covered seemed to have an infinite horizon all their own. Will hope for a follow-up, will hope Garcia and Timms return, and will hope for a duet.
One had reasonably high expectations for the debut full-length from London’s Elephant Tree after their 2014 EP Theia (review here) so deftly blended spacious, sitar-laced heavy psychedelic rock with more visceral sludge impulses — a difficult mix to pull off — but I think it would’ve been impossible to see the quality of this self-titled outing coming in any substantive way. Gone were the screams, in was a depth of tone and nigh-on-perfect tempo — see “Dawn” and “Aphotic Blues,” as well as the acoustic “Circles” between them — and where some first albums have a kind of tentative, feeling-it-out vibe, guitarist/vocalist Jack Townley (interview here), bassist/vocalist Peter Holland, drummer Sam Hart and sitarist/vocalist/engineer Riley MacIntyre took utter command of the proceedings. They won’t have the element of surprise working for them next time, but as Elephant Tree made perfectly clear in its biggest surprise of all, neither do they need it.
If you were to ask me to summarize in one word the last four-plus years of Mos Generator‘s tenure, since their reactivation with 2012’s Nomads (review here) and the subsequent lineup changes and hard-touring that followed 2014’s Electric Mountain Majesty (review here), I’d say “go.” I might say it three times: Go-go-go. One of three LP-ish offerings out this year, the studio album Abyssinia embodied this ethic as it started with immediate momentum on “Strangest Times” and “You’ve Got a Right” and seemed to push itself into new ground as it went. Guitarist/vocalist/founder Tony Reed brought heavy boogie to bear at a frenetic clip, but Abyssinia offset its early mania with later progressive stylization on “There’s No Return from Nowhere,” “Time and Other Thieves” and harmonized closer “Outlander,” so that in addition to representing their furious creativity, it also brought them to places they’ve never been before in sound.
In some ways, Future Echo Returns was simply picking up where Belfast’s Slomatics left off with 2014’s Estron (review here), as heard on the riff of lead-in track “Estronomicon,” but as the third in a purported trilogy following that record and 2012’s A Hocht, it also brought the tonecrushing three-piece to Skyhammer Studio to work with producer Chris Fielding (Conan) and presented a linear storyline that, while rife with standout moments in cuts like “Electric Breath,” the ambient “Ritual Beginnings” and ultra-catchy “Supernothing,” found a genuine sense of resolution in the finale “Into the Eternal” that spoke to the scope the entire work was meant to represent — not just itself, but an entirety spanning three albums. Not a minor feat, but what also made Future Echo Returns so resonant was how well the material stood on its own, so that even without the narrative context, it was immersive, hypnotic and unbridled in its heft.
After two landmarks issued by Small Stone in 2014’s The Conjuring (review here) and 2012’s The Black Code (reviews here and here), Texas forerunners of riff Wo Fat gave a concise rundown of their appeal in the six-track Ripple debut and sixth LP overall, Midnight Cometh. Their ongoing development as found them bringing together a two-sided personality of memorable songs and open, fluid jams, and cuts like “There’s Something Sinister in the Wind,” “Of Smoke and Fog,” “Three Minutes to Midnight” and “Nightcomer” emphasized the next stage of this process, while the shuffling “Riffborn” and swaggering blues rock of “La Dilleme de Detenu” gave listeners a chance to touch ground every now and again. Over the last two-plus years, Wo Fat have become a point of influence for other, particularly American, acts — see labelmates Geezer — and Midnight Cometh assured that will be the case going forward too; a status well-earned.
Offered up this summer as a limited self-release and picked up by no less than Stickman Records (Motorpsycho, Elder), Orion might be the most molten inclusion on this list. It’s also my pick for 2016 Debut of the Year, and to hear cuts like “She Sleeps on a Vine,” “Kerosene,” the sprawling closer “Drinking from the River Rising,” or even just to take the whole record front-to-back, which was clearly how the band intended it be experienced, there’s just about no competition in that regard that stands up. The Rochester, NY, three-piece showed marked promise on their 2013 demo (review here) and 2015 split with Lé Betre (review here), but the listenability of Orion — which earned every single one of its repeat visits — made it a triumph on a different level entirely, and distinguished King Buffalo as a formidable presence in the sphere of US heavy psychedelia, fostering a sound no less soulful for its outward cosmic reach and to-be-measured-in-lightyears scale of potential.
7. Wight, Love is Not Only What You Know
Released by Fat and Holy Records, Kozmik Artifactz, Import Export Music and SPV. Reviewed Sept. 7.
German outfit Wight answered significant anticipation on their third album, Love is Not Only What You Know, some four years after 2012’s Through the Woods into Deep Water (review here) and undertook a significant evolution in sound. A transition from a trio to a four-piece and adding a strong current of funk to their heavy psych groove and boogie resulted in cuts like “The Muse and the Mule,” the jammed-out “Kelele” and “The Love for Life Leads to Reincarnation,” which were as danceable as they were nod-ready, and when complemented by shorter classic rockers like “Helicopter Mama” and “I Wanna Know What You Feel” (still plenty funky) and the Eastern-tinged interlude “Three Quarters,” gave Love is Not Only What You Know scope to match its ass-shaking encouragement. It was a spirit unto itself among 2016 releases, but ultimately, the key to understanding the record was right there in the title: It was all about love, and wherever Wight went in a given track, they never lost sight of that.
A decade and a half after 2001’s Revolution Rock (discussed here), Sweden’s Greenleaf most embodied that ethic with Rise Above the Meadow, their sixth long-player and Napalm Records debut. 2014’s Trails and Passes (review here) represented the key step of founding guitarist Tommi Holappa (interview here) bringing vocalist Arvid Johnsson into the lineup, but Rise Above the Meadow built exponentially on what that album achieved, bolstered by work as a touring band and a revitalized songwriting process heard in “Howl,” “A Million Fireflies,” “You’re Gonna be My Ruin,” the stomping “Golden Throne” and “Tyrants Tongue,” among others. I refuse to discount the quality of Trails and Passes, 2012’s Nest of Vipers (review here) or 2007’s landmark Agents of Ahriman (review here), but as Greenleaf shifted toward a style more reminiscent of Holappa‘s later output with Dozer, they also seemed to stake their claim on the forefront of European heavy rock and roll, which was just waiting for them to do so.
Perhaps the most believable lyric of 2016 was the opening line of leadoff cut “The Gree Heen” from Brant Bjork‘s Tao of the Devil: “I got all that I need. I got the gree-heen.” From the prominent pot leaf on the cover to that single clause — which set the tone for that song’s mega-nod as much as everything that followed in the boogie of “Humble Pie” and “Stackt,” the so-laid-back-it’s-almost-unconscious title-track and the longer-form explorations of “Dave’s War” and the wah’ed-out “Evening Jam” — the inimitable Bjork seems to have embraced the role of stoner guru and the Godfather of Desert Rock. Tao of the Devil was his second release through Napalm behind 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here), which introduced the Low Desert Punk Band, and far from hanging its hat on the man’s historical accomplishments from his days in Kyuss, Fu Manchu, Che, Vista Chino, etc., the 50-minute eight-tracker came fueled by the soul most typified in Bjork‘s solo catalog, which it’s increasingly easy to argue is his greatest contribution to the desert aesthetic. Definitely in his wheelhouse, but what a wheelhouse.
What a relief it was to have Asteroid back, and what a relief it was to have III arrive some six years after II (review here) and find the Örebro, Sweden, trio’s certified-organic chemistry undulled by that long stretch. The songs — “Pale Moon,” “Last Days,” “Til Dawn,” “Wolf and Snake,” “Silver and Gold,” “Them Calling,” “Mr. Strange” — there wasn’t a miss in the bunch, and in addition to the reignited craftsmanship, III made clear a progression as players and the intent to move forward from guitarist/vocalist Robin Hirse, bassist/vocalist Johannes Nilsson and drummer Elvis Campbell (since replaced by Jimmi Kolscheen), so that the material didn’t just let listeners know Asteroid was a band again after having unceremoniously faded out for a half-decade, but gave a signal that perhaps they were just getting started. One can only hope that turns out to be the case, but either way, III felt like a reward dolled out to their fanbase after a long absent stretch, and one that, like II and their 2007 self-titled debut (discussed here) before it, will reverberate its echoes for years to come. Hands down 2016’s most welcome return.
Though it would carry the context of its scorching opener “Nature Boy” with it for the duration and, accordingly, hit with a more intense feel than its 2013 predecessor, The Fury of a Patient Man (review here), Gozu‘s fourth album overall and Ripple label debut was a kick in the ass on more than just that one level. It found the Boston foursome with the finally-solidified lineup of vocalist/guitarist Marc Gaffney, guitarist Doug Sherman, bassist Joe Grotto and drummer Mike Hubbard, and while one could argue they still wound up under the banner of a heavy rock band, that became happenstance to the songs themselves. That is, even more than The Fury of a Patient Man or 2010’s Locust Season (review here), Gozu came across as writing not to style, but to their own impulses, as demonstrated in “Big Casino,” the echoing soul of “Tin Chicken” and shuffle-thrust of “Oldie,” and as they moved beyond their initial swath of influence into this individualized sonic persona, they reaped the benefits of the locked-in lineup and a process of craft that never sounded so purposeful. Revival was indeed typified by its vitality, but it was also the sound of a band maturing as a unit, becoming who they were meant to be, and there is almost nothing more exciting than that for a single album to represent. Plus, it had a song called “By Mennen,” and, you know, references.
2. Mars Red Sky, Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul)
It was unreasonable to expect the third full-length from Bordeaux, France, trio Mars Red Sky to surpass 2014’s Stranded in Arcadia (review here) and the progressive crux that album brought to the warm tones and sweet melodicism of their 2011 self-titled debut (review here), but Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) reinforced the elements that worked so well on previous outings while pushing inarguably onto what the band seemed to know was “Alien Ground” if the title of their intro was anything to go by. More over, it did so with a natural fluidity and poise that were as striking as they were encompassing in sound. Tying to earlier 2016’s Providence EP (review here) in concept and execution through that intro and the title-track following it, Apex III presented the to-date pinnacle of Mars Red Sky‘s growth in songs like “The Whinery,” “Mindreader,” the tear-inducing “Under the Hood,” the swing-happy “Friendly Fire,” the willful atmospheric crash of closer “Prodigal Sun” — each one a crucial advancing step from the trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Mathieu “Matgaz” Gazeau — and brilliantly fed them one into the other, so that in addition to the standout impressions of each, there developed a personality to the whole span of the album; a world of Mars Red Sky‘s own creation, where they dwelt for what seemed too short a time before returning to earth and on from here to who knows where next.
Most of all, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages was fearless. For their fourth album, Salt Lake City’s SubRosa adapted themes from 1924’s We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, which laid out a futuristic dystopia wherein all identity is subsumed to the state and even love is outlawed when not properly sanctioned. This framework, obscure if influential, gave guitarist/vocalist Rebecca Vernon, violinist/vocalist Sarah Pendleton, violinist/backing vocalist Kim Pack, bassist/vocalist Levi Hanna, drummer/engineer Andy Patterson (formerly of Iota, among others), and a range of other contributors, a space in which to explore gender and LGBT issues across the six included tracks, and from the opening build and crush of the chorus to “Despair is a Siren” through the depiction of privilege in “Wound of the Warden,” the 97-second Italian-language ballad “Il Cappio” (translated: “the noose”) and into the gut-wrenching finale of “Troubled Cells,” their musical accomplishment was no less stunning than lyrics like, “Isn’t it good to be acquainted with darkness?/To caress it gently/To slit its throat,” from “Black Majesty.” Tense in its quiet stretches, harmonized vocally, given orchestral presence through its use of strings, flute, French horn, and so on, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages worked fluidly in what for most acts would be a contradictory modus of careful, meticulous arrangements and raw, emotional realism. No matter how deep it dove — and by the time identity was being erased and the state was taking control of the body on “Killing Rapture,” it was diving pretty deep — SubRosa never lost their sense of poise, so that the defiance in the last movement of “Troubled Cells” in which Heaven itself is rejected with the clearest of justifications, “Paradise is a lie if you’re not by my side,” the band seemed to stand as straight and tall as their multi-tiered righteousness would warrant. But even if one took For this We Fought the Battle of Ages with politics aside, its achievement in marrying post-metallic structures, gothic texture and progressive atmospherics was on a plane of its own making, operating under its own rules and in its own definitive space. Albums like it do not happen every year, and forward motion for genre as a whole is rarely so visible as it was in this special offering, which seems only fair to regard as a landmark for the band and anyone whose ears and hearts it touched.
The Next 20
Like any good Top 30, mine goes to 50. Here is the next batch:
31. Blaak Heat, Shifting Mirrors
32. Truckfighters, V
33. West, Space & Love, Vol. II
34. Seedy Jeezus with Isaiah Mitchell, Tranquonauts
35. Yawning Man, Historical Graffiti
36. Causa Sui, Return to Sky
37. Vokonis, Olde One Ascending
38. Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Phantomonium
39. The Wounded Kings, Visions in Bone
40. It’s Not Night: It’s Space, Our Birth is but a Sleep and a Forgetting
41. Beastwars, The Death of all Things
42. Naxatras, II
43. Holy Grove, Holy Grove
44. Worshipper, Shadow Hymns
45. Wretch, Wretch
46. Colour Haze, Live Vol. I: Europa Tournee 2015
47. Zaum, Eidolon
48. Bellringer, Jettison
49. Young Hunter, Young Hunter
50. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Y Proffwyd Dwyll
From the kinetic desert artistry of Blaak Heat to Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard’s ethereal synth-laden doom, there are more than a few essentials here. I’ve never before done a year-end list that had so many releases on it, but my motivation in doing so this time around couldn’t have been simpler: They were simply too good and had too much to offer to leave out. It would’ve been an oversight to do so.
Even a Top 50 fails to grasp the full scope of what 2016 brought about musically, so here are even more, alphabetically:
Ancient Warlocks, II
Black Moon Circle, Sea of Clouds
Sergio Ch., Aurora
Lamp of the Universe, Hidden Knowledge
Mondo Drag, The Occultation of Light
Øresund Space Collective, Visions Of…
-(16)-, Lifespan of a Moth
The Well, Pagan Science
Wovenhand, Star Treatment
And if that’s still not enough, here are 60-plus more names who shouldn’t be left out of the discussion, also alphabetically:
Akris, Atala, Atomikylä, Backwoods Payback, Beastmaker, BigPig, Black Cobra, Black Lung, Blood Ceremony, Blues Pills, Bright Curse, Bus, Dee Calhoun, Captain Crimson, Child, La Chinga, Church of Misery, Conclave, Cough, Devil to Pay, Domkraft, Dot Legacy, Electric Citizen, Estoner, Eternal Elysium, Fatso Jetson & Gary Arce vs. Hifiklub, Fox 45, Goatess, Goblin Cock, Graves at Sea, Heavy Temple (they’ll be back on next year’s list), High Fighter, Holy Serpent, Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Inter Arma, Joy, Kaleidobolt, Khemmis, King Dead, Lord, Lord Vicar, Merchant, Mirrors for Psychic Warfare, Helen Money, Monkey3, Moon Coven, Mother Mooch, Necro, New Keepers of the Water Towers, T.G. Olson, Oranssi Pazuzu, Pooty Owldom, Russian Circles, Salem’s Pot, Samavayo, Seremonia, Skuggsjá, Sourvein, Spirit Adrift, Stone Machine Electric, Suma, Surya Kris Peters, Swans, Throttlerod, Virus, Wasted Theory, Wretch, and Zaum.
In case none of the above has made it clear, I’ll just say flat out that 2016 has been an amazing year for music, and that every time I feel like maybe underground heavy has hit a wall and there’s nowhere left for it to go, sure enough about three minutes later another record shows up that slaps me in the face with a reminder of just how wrong that notion is.
If you’re still reading — how could you be? — thank you so much for your incredible support throughout 2016 and all the years The Obelisk has been in progress. I already know that 2017 is going to bring some incredible music as well, but that’s another list for another time, so I’ll just say again how much I appreciate your being a part of this ongoing project, how much it means to me to have you here. Thank you, thank you, and thank you.
And please, if there’s anything I forgot, got wrong, misspelled, or if you just think I used the word “breadth” too many times, please let me know about it in the comments.
Posted in Whathaveyou on November 23rd, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
Preorders start Dec. 5 for the second album from Bordeaux-based doomers Endless Floods. Aptly titled II, the record itself will arrive right after the New Year as a follow-up to the band’s 2015 self-titled debut and a split with the Netherlands’ Uur and finds issue on vinyl through Dry Cough Records and the band’s own Fvtvrecordings, as well as cassette via Breathe Plastic Records. You don’t need me to tell you this, but Dry Cough and Breathe Plastic are two labels who’ve done an excellent job keeping their ears to the ground over the last several years for all things sludgy and extreme, so while there hasn’t been any audio come to the surface from II yet, it might be one to watch out for as we plunge deeper into winter’s biting harshness.
I’ll turn it over to the PR wire for particulars:
French craftsmen of despair ENDLESS FLOODS to release their doom-laden new LP “II” this January 6th.
France’s cathartic doom specialists ENDLESS FLOODS announce the release of their second full-length “II” this January 6th. A realm of darkness awaits.
Following on from their self-titled debut and split EP with Dutch doomsters Uur, ENDLESS FLOODS’ new album “II” will be released this January 6th, 2017 on vinyl format via Dry Cough Records and Fvtvrecordings, and on cassette tape via Breathe Plastic Records.
On this new offering, the French trio digs deeper within the realm of bleakness they established on their debut “Endless Floods”, making the listener enter a trance-like contemplation through the 20+ minute-long monoliths “Impasse” and “Procession”. In the same vein as their previous works, ENDLESS FLOODS blend their doom and sludge origins with noisier tones and crisper drone-sounding parts, following their path in a never-ending land of heavy. Straight from the limbo, crushing, boundary-free doom.
ENDLESS FLOODS – New album “II” Out January 6th on Dry Cough Records / Breathe Plastic Records Vinyl pre-orders from December 5th
The Bordelais trio released their self-titled debut in 2015, which was reissued on cassette tape via Breathe Plastic Records in February 2016. The band subsequently released a split EP with Dutch doomers UUR this May, which artwork was designed by Derek Setzer. The prolific ENDLESS FLOODS have already announced the release of their sophomore full-length “II” this January 6th, 2017 on vinyl via Dry Cough Records and the band’s label Fvtvrecordings, as well as on cassette tape via Breathe Plastic Records.
Posted in Reviews on October 7th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
Last day. As ever, I am mentally, physically and spiritually exhausted by this process, but as ever, it’s been worth it. Today I do myself a couple favors in packing out with more familiar acts, but whatever, it’s all stuff I should be covering anyway, so if the order bothers you, go write your own 50 reviews in a week and we can talk about it. Yeah, that’s right. That’s what I said. Today we start with Swans. Everything’s a confrontation.
Once again, I hope you’ve found something somewhere along this bizarre, careening path of music that has resonated with you, something that will stick with you. That’s why we’re here. You and me. If you have, I’d love to know about it. Until then, one more time here we go.
Quarterly Review #41-50:
Swans, The Glowing Man
Oh fucking please. You want me to try to summarize The Glowing Man – the culmination and finale of an era of Swans that Michael Gira began now more than half a decade ago – in a single review? Even putting aside the fact that the record two hours long, the notion is ridiculous. If there ever was a chart, the scope here is well off it. The material unfolds and churns and is primal and lush at once on “Cloud of Forgetting,” genuinely chaotic on the 28-minute title-track, and it ends with a drone lullaby, but seriously, what the fuck? Some shit is just beyond, and if you don’t know that applies to Swans by now, it’s your own fault. You want a review? Fine. I listened to the whole thing. It ate my fucking soul, chewed it with all-canine teeth and then spit it out saying “thanks for the clarity” and left me dazed, bloodied and humbled. There’s your fucking review. Thanks for reading.
Oslo trio Virus have long since established that they’re a band working on their own wavelength. Memento Collider (on Karisma Records) is the jazzy post-black metallers’ first album in five years and brings together adventurous rhythms, poetic declarations, dissonant basslines and – in the case of “Rogue Fossil,” the occasional hook – in ways that are unique unto Virus. Look at this site and see how often I use the word “unique.” It doesn’t happen. Virus, however, are one of a kind. Memento Collider makes for a challenging listen front to back on its six-track/45-minute run, but it refuses to dumb itself down or dull its progressive edge, bookending its longest (that’s opener “Afield” at 10:41; immediate points) two tracks around jagged explorations of sound like “Steamer” and “Gravity Seeker,” which engage and intrigue in kind after the melodic push of “Dripping into Orbit” and leading into “Phantom Oil Slick,” a righteous affirmation of the angular thrust at the core of Virus’ approach.
In 2010, Moscow troupe The Re-Stoned issued their first EP, Return to the Reptiles, and being obviously concerned with evolution, they’ve now gone back and revisited that debut release with Reptiles Return, a reworking of the four studio tracks that made up the initial version – “Return,” “Run,” “The Mountain Giant” and “Sleeping World.” The opener is a straight re-recording, as is one other, where another is remixed and the other two remastered, and Reptiles Return – which is presented on limited vinyl through Clostridium Records and a CD box set with bonus tracks via Rushus Records – pairs them with more psychedelic-minded soundscape pieces like “Winter Witchcraft,” “Walnut Talks,” the proggy “Flying Clouds” and sweetly acoustic “Roots Patter,” that showcase where founding multi-instrumentalist Ilya Lipkin is taking the band going forward. The result is a satisfying side A/B split on the vinyl that delights in heavy riffing for its own sake in the first half and expands the scope in the second, which should delight newcomers as well as those who’ve followed The Re-Stoned along this evolutionary process.
It may well be the fate of San Francisco’s hard-touring, ass-kicking, genre-refusing duo Castle to be terminally underappreciated, but that has yet to stop them from proliferating their righteous blend of thrash, doom and classic, fistpump-worthy metal. Their latest outing, Welcome to the Graveyard, arrives via respected purveyor Ván Records, and entices in atmosphere and execution, cohesively built tracks like “Hammer and the Cross” and the penultimate “Down in the Cauldron Bog” finding a balance of personality and delivery that the band has long since honed on stage. The Dio-esque barnburner riff of “Flash of the Pentagram” makes that cut a highlight, but as they roll out the cultish vibes of “Natural Parallel” to close, there doesn’t seem to be much on the spectrum of heavy metal that doesn’t fit into Castle’s wheelhouse. For some bands, there’s just no justice. Four records deep, Castle have yet to get their due, and Welcome to the Graveyard is further proof of why they deserve it.
One can hear a new wave of modern doom taking shape in Chained to Oblivion, the Prosthetic Records debut from Arizona one-man outfit Spirit Adrift. The work of Nate Garrett alone in the studio, the full-length offers five mostly-extended tracks as a 48-minute 2LP of soaring, emotional and psychedelic doom à la Pallbearer, but given even further breadth through progressively atmospheric passages and a marked flow in its transitions. To call it personal seems superfluous – it’s a one-man band, of course it’s personal – but Garrett (also formerly of metallers Take Over and Destroy) brings a palpable sense of performance to the songwriting, and by the time he gets to the 11-minutes-apiece finale duo of the title-track and “Hum of Our Existence,” it’s easy to forget you’re not actually listening to a full band, not the least because of the vocal harmonies. Calling Chained to Oblivion a promising first outing would be underselling it – this is a project with serious potential.
Unpredictable from the start of opener “Flesh ‘n’ Steel,” Once upon the Wings is a first-time multinational collaborative effort from Robbi Robb of California’s 3rd Ear Experience and Paul Pott of Germany’s The Space Invaders. Its five tracks/42 minutes arrive through no less than Nasoni Records, and provide a curious and exploratory blend of the organic and the inorganic in sound, as one finds the 11-minute “Grass” no less defined by its percussion solo, guitar line and ‘60s-style vocal than the electronic drums that underscore the layered wash of noise in its midsection. Further definition hits with the 16-minute centerpiece “Prophecy #1,” which works in a space-rocking vein, but the shorter closing duo of the catchy “Looney Toon” and darkly progressive “Space Ear” show a creative bent that clearly refuses to be tamed. Robb & Pott, as a project, demonstrates remarkable potential throughout this debut, as they seem to have set no limits for where they want their sound to go and they seem to have the command to take it there.
Most of the tracks on Brooklyn progressive noise rockers Family’s second album and Prosthetic Records debut, Future History, come paired with interludes. That cuts some of the growling intensity of winding pieces like “Funtime for Bigboy” and “Floodgates,” and emphasizes the generally experimental spirit of the record as a whole, broadening the scope in sound and theme. I’m somewhat torn as to how much this actually works to the 51:50 outing’s benefit, as shorter pieces like “Prison Hymn” and “Transmission,” while adding dynamic to the sound and narrative drama, also cut the immediacy in impact of “The Trial” or closer “Bone on Bone,” but it’s entirely possible that without them Future History would be an overwhelming tumult of raw prog metal. And while the play back and forth can feel cumbersome when one considers how effectively “Night Vision” bridges the gap between sides, I’m not sure that’s not what Family were going for in the first place. It’s not supposed to be an easy record, and it isn’t one.
France’s Les Discrets haven’t had a studio offering since 2012’s Ariettes Oubliées (review here), and while they released Live at Roadburn (review here) last year documenting their 2013 set at that festival, there’s little there that might presage the stylistic turn the Fursy Teyssier-led outfit takes on their new EP, Virée Nocturne (on Prophecy Productions). With four tracks – two new, complete recordings, one demo and the last a remix of the opener by Dälek and Deadverse – Les Discrets attempt to find a stylistic middle ground between post-rock and trip-hop, and for the most part, they get there. “Virée Nocturne” itself leads off and can be jarring on first listen, but successfully blends the lush melodicism for which the band is known with electronic-driven beats, and both “Capricorni. Virginis. Corvi” and even the demo “Le Reproche” continue to build on this bold shift. The finale remix adds over two minutes to “Virée Nocturne,” but uses that time to make it even more spacious and all the more immersive. For anyone who thought they might’ve had Les Discrets figured out, the surprise factor here should be palpable.
Presented across four tracks beginning with the 12-minute and longest-of-the-bunch (immediate points) “The Corpse of Dr. Funkenstein” (double points for the reference), II, the aptly-titled second album from Liquido di Morte expands the progressive atmospherics of the Italian four-piece’s 2014 self-titled debut (review here) without losing sight of the performance and spirit of exploration that helped bring it to life. Isaak’s Giacomo H. Boeddu guests on brooding vocals and whispers for “The Saddest of Songs I’ll Sing for You,” which swells in seething intensity as it moves forward, while “Rodents on the Uphill” casts a vision of post-space rock and closer “Schwartz Pit” rounds out with crash and wash that seems only to draw out how different the two halves of II actually are. Not a complaint. Liquido di Morte make their way across this vast span with marked fluidity, and if they prove anything throughout, it’s that they’re able to keep their command wherever they feel like using it to go.
Canberra, Australia, trio Witchskull initially released their debut full-length, The Vast Electric Dark, last year, and caught the attention of the cross-coastal US partnership between Ripple Music and STB Records, who now align for a reissue of the eight-tracker. Why is quickly apparent. In addition to having earned a fervent response, The Vast Electric Dark basks in quality songcraft and doomly, heavy vibes, keeping a consistent pace while rolling through the semi-metallic push of “Raise the Dead” or the later rumble/shred of “Cassandra’s Curse.” All the while, guitarist/vocalist Marcus De Pasquale provides a steady presence at the fore alongside bassist Tony McMahon and drummer Joel Green, and what’s ultimately still a straightforward rocker of an album finds a niche for itself between varies underground styles of heavy. Between the balance they strike across their 37 minutes and the energy that courses through their songs, Witchskull’s The Vast Electric Dark proves easily worth the look it’s getting.
Posted in Whathaveyou on June 29th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
London heavy rockers Oak have issued Oak II, their aptly-titled follow-up to their self-titled debut EP (review here), which came out late last year. Like that release, the new four-tracker is available now as a name-your-price download via the band’s Bandcamp page. I haven’t seen anything about a physical release for either EP, or both together for that matter, or anything else, but Oak seem to be making their way toward these things one step at a time, and I look forward to digging into these new tracks to hear what they’ve been up to for the last seven months.
Art and release info follow, courtesy of the PR wire, Bandcamp, and the social medias:
We’re proud to announce that we’ve just released another batch of 4 tunes for you to enjoy. Several sets of strings, a few drumsticks and a studio loudspeaker have given their lives during the making process of this EP. So we’re hoping you’ll have as much of a blast listening to it, as us making it.
Recorded over a weekend in London’s Kore Studios back in May, Oak II sees the band take on a heavier, more focused sound with the new addition of Clinton Richie on drums.
Formed in the summer of 2015, London stoner rockers Oak have just released Oak II, the follow up to November 2015’s debut EP Oak.
The band combine desert rock grooves with fuzzed out 70s inspired hard rock and have spent 2016 gigging – sharing the stage with bands such as Elephant Tree, Welsh uber-dudes Sigiriya and Black Lung from the USA.
Oak II tracklisting: 1. Mirage 05:36 2. Against The Rain 05:41 3. A Bridge Too Far 06:30 4. Smoke 05:48
Andy Valiant: Lead Vocals Kevin Germain: Guitars, Backing Vocals (tr. 1 & 2), Talk Box Voice Scott Masson: Bass, Backing Vocals (tr.3), Talk Box Guitar Clinton Ritchie: Drums
All songs by Oak Engineered, mixed and mastered by Kevin Germain Artwork by Unexpected Specter
Posted in Reviews on May 10th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
Greek heavy psych trio Naxatras issued their second album with little by way of fanfare — just posting II on their Bandcamp page as a quick follow-up to the Thessaloniki outfit’s well-received 2015 self-titled full-length debut — and that method suits the stripped back nature of their musical approach as well. Comprised of six tracks that, if they’re not solely jams, certainly feel built out from them, II is a flowing exercise in organic execution, vinyl-ready at 37 minutes but even better taken as a front-to-back whole, an entire work the parts of which make each other stronger for the different sides of the band’s sound they represent. At their core, Naxatras are an instrumental band, and that remains true despite the vocals on “Sisters of the Sun” (perhaps a companion to the also-vocalized “Sun is Burning” from the debut).
A central running theme here is the chemistry between guitarist John Delias, bassist/vocalist John Vagenas and drummer Kostas Harizanis, the language they’ve learned to speak together since forming in 2012, and the fluidity they’re able to harness across these songs, which maintain the raw, live, analog feel of the debut, but feel more laid back in the consciousness of what they’re doing. The album was recorded live to reel-to-reel tape by Jesus I. Agnew at Magnetic Fidelity Studio, and particularly in Harizanis‘ drums, I think that comes through, but the tone in Delias‘ guitar and the ’60s garage psych-pop echo on Vagenas‘ vocals on “Sisters of the Sun” complement this natural feel with a lush vibe, so that there’s depth to the mix as well as movement in what Naxatras are playing, however fast, slow, active or still it might be.
In terms of bare influences, Colour Haze are an automatic touchstone for just about anything warm-toned and jammy in heavy psych, definitely out of Europe if not the world over, but Naxatras also indulge an experimental aspect — see the drum-led beginning of “The Great Attractor” — that makes II feel even more kin to Causa Sui in concept if not actual sound. Either way, their second offering would fall flat if they didn’t bring their own sonic identity to the proceedings, and fortunately they do. A quiet intro, “Oort Cloud,” begins with a faded-in drone and some minimal note plucking, a wash of cymbals, and a backwards guitar loop cuts to drums to start “Proxima Centauri,” which teases tension at its start but soon unfolds a languid spaciousness, delving into thicker tones and more driving rhythm as it moves toward its midsection, but ultimately defined by the serenity of its just-under-eight-minute expanse; not to take anything away from the nod at the end.
The aforementioned “Sisters of the Sun” picks up from there with appropriate luster in the guitar and shimmy on a tambourine, and as the only song with sung verses and choruses is of course a standout. Even more so for its classic psychedelic spirit than the simple fact that Vagenas put vocals on it, though. It wouldn’t be right to call Naxatras a retro band, but “Sisters of the Sun” is speaking to a tradition of psychedelic pop rock that feels drawn directly from 1967, and they do it remarkably well, Harizanis holding together an effective, simple swing as Delias takes a solo out to wander for a while in the back end of the track. In terms of chemistry, “Sisters of the Sun” is no less reliant on it than was “Proxima Centauri” or than is “The Great Attractor,” which follows, but even the fact that Naxatras would so purposefully switch up method of craft here proves a commitment to progressing their sound and continuing to push themselves to create in different ways.
With a more space rock-derived sense of thrust, “The Great Attractor” represents still another side of the band’s sound, and between the 10-minute jam “Garden of the Senses,” which follows as the penultimate cut, and the sax-laden “Evening Star,” which closes with a guest appearance from John‘s father, Alexis Vagenas, Naxatras have by no means told the full story stylistically. Their breadth is drawn together by the resonance of their tones and the chemistry underneath, but while the formula appears simple, that doesn’t necessarily mean nothing went into making it work. “Garden of the Senses” is a defining moment for side B of II in a similar way that “Sisters of the Sun” was for side A, though what it’s defining is much different. With the earlier track, it was about setting up the varied course to follow — with the later one, it’s getting lost in the exploration. Which is easy to do. Even the drums at the start are hypnotic, and what unfurls from there as the guitar and bass build in is only more entrancing.
They build and release tension through heavy psych nod and wind up in a peaceful psych jazz — something Jim Morrison might’ve seen fit to ruin with poetry — which works as well as a lead-in for “Evening Star,” which starts quiet only to be led by the saxophone, less constructed than anything Hypnos 69 ever did with a sax, but still with a memorable guitar line beneath leading a subdued march. As it makes its way toward the finish, “Evening Star” sort of falls apart, and a last blow of the horn is drawn into a pool of effects that fades out as the close. It’s as natural a finish as one might expect for II, which if the debut didn’t should most definitely mark the arrival of Naxatras within the European heavy psych community and possibly beyond. The subtle variety and sense of purpose they bring to this material is pivotal to absorbing (and being absorbed by) the flow between and within the tracks, and while they seem to be on a progressive course moving forward, I wouldn’t speculate where their journey might lead them their next time out. At the rate they’re working, we might find out soon anyhow.
Posted in Whathaveyou on May 2nd, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
Upstart heavy psych trio Naxatras have issued their second album, II. It arrives less than a month after a prior two-songer, aptly-titled EP (discussed here), and only a year after the Greek outfit made their self-titled debut, which continues to sell through every pressing of it they do. The reception to that album still resonating, it feels quick for a follow-up, but as Naxatras are basking in instrumental chemistry born of psychedelic and space rock explorations, interpreting moods and vibes across II‘s six-track span, plus recording live, it makes sense that as soon as the jams were ready to go, they’d go. Working mostly instrumentally in the tradition of acts like Causa Sui, Naxatras bring forth a classic psychedelic pop rock on “Sisters of the Sun,” the near-centerpiece of II, which will reportedly be granted a physical release later this month.
Info on the record follows as posted by the band, who’ve very quickly thrust themselves to the fore of Greece’s fertile heavy underground, and who play the official release show on May 22 at Death Disco in Athens:
A homage to space travel, inner and outer…
We’d like to thank you so much for your warm reception of our second album!
This time we tried a different, darker and “spacier” attempt in order to capture the strange loneliness and spirituality of Space.
This is reflected in the sound, where with Jesus at Magnetic Fidelity we followed a more raw, minimalist approach with the Direct-to-Master recording (again every track of this album is performed 100% live).
It is also reflected in the magnificent, otherworldly cover our dear friend CHRIS RW delivered.
You can buy the complete album in digital form in bandcamp and there will be CD’s by the middle of May as well as DSD version for the audiophiles!
Cassettes and vinyl as well as a reel-to-reel version are on the line for the (hopefully near) future!