Posted in Whathaveyou on January 30th, 2017 by JJ Koczan
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit to a definite personal connection with Lansing, Michigan, doomers Cruthu, whose guitarist, “Postman Dan” McCormick, I consider a close friend despite geographic distance. Nonetheless, there comes a time when your friends put together albums, and they’re good, and you want to write about them, and I guess that brings us around to The Angle of Eternity, the forthcoming Cruthu debut album. Set for a limited LP release circa March and streaming now in its doomed entirety below, the record does well in balancing classic ideas of what doom is with some atmospheric nuance. Metal with a rock vibe, rock that’s too dark to not quite be metal, and so on. I’m predisposed to like it, particularly after their 2014 demo, Creation (review here), and seeing their prior lineup live in their hometown (review here), but screw it. I’d dig it anyway.
Distro is set through to be through respected Michigan-based purveyor Emetic Records. Here’s a press release I wrote as circled back through the PR wire:
Cruthu: Classic Doom Abounds on ‘The Angle of Eternity’
Midwestern doom metal outfit Cruthu have announced a March release for their debut full-length, The Angle of Eternity. Comprised of six tracks, the album follows their 2014 demo, Creation, and will be pressed in an edition of 500 jet-black LPs with distribution via Emetic Records.
Based in Lansing, Michigan, Cruthu is comprised of vocalist Ryan Evans, guitarist Dan McCormick, bassist Erik Hemingsen (Scott Lehman also plays on the album), and drummer Matt Fry. The Angle of Eternity was produced by McCormick and George Szegedy at The Black Lodge in Lansing, and features cover art by Dan McDonald Studios in a grim style perfectly suited to the band’s downer and ethereal songcraft.
“The album is traditional doom metal with heavy ’70s movements and passages — well structured and deliberate,” says McCormick in assessing the aesthetic. “We were going for a more lo-fi, circa-’70s sound. Our current goal is to progress the project into some early-NWOBHM over time without compromising our traditional influence.”
Songs like the lurching “Lady in the Lake” and “Bog of Kildare” will earn understanding nods from fans of doomed greats like Trouble, Pagan Altar and The Gates of Slumber, and the progressive edge brought to “Seance” and the closing title-track make a clear statement that Cruthu offer a richness of approach to coincide with their memorable riffing and thematic lyrics.
Recorded 100 percent to tape, The Angle of Eternity weaves a natural-sounding tapestry of doom across its course, capturing a raw vision of heavy metal’s roots as righteous in its execution as its foundations. It is doom by doomers, for doomers, and readily lets the rest be as damned as they are.
The Angle of Eternity tracklisting: 1. Bog of Kildare 2. Lady in the Lake 3. Seance 4. From the Sea 5. Separated From the Herd 6. The Angle of Eternity
Cruthu live: 03/15 Mac’s Bar, Lansing, MI w/ Castle, Sauron 03/17 State Street Pub, Indianapolis, IN w/ Apostle of Solitude, Tarpit Boogie 03/18 New Dodge Lounge, Hamtramck, MI w/ Apostle of Solitude, Tarpit Boogie
Posted in Reviews on October 6th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
I’ll admit I’m a little surprised at the shape this Quarterly Review has taken. As I begin to look back on the year in terms of what records have been talked about over the span, I find it’s been particularly geared toward debut albums, both in and out of wrap-ups like this one. There’s less of that this time around, but what’s happened is some stuff that doesn’t fall into that category — releases like the first two here, for example — are getting covered here to allow space for the others. Let’s face it, nobody gives a shit what I have to say about Russian Circles anyhow, so whatever, but I’m happy to have this as a vehicle for discussing records I still think are worth discussing — the first two releases here, again for example — rather than letting them fall through the cracks with the glut of new bands coming along. Of course things evolve as you go on, but I wish I’d figured it out sooner. Let’s dive in.
Quarterly Review #31-40:
Russian Circles, Guidance
From the warm wash of guitar that begins “Asa” onward, and no matter how weighted, percussive and/or chug-fueled Russian Circles get from there, the Chicago trio seem to be offering solace on their latest outing, Guidance. Recorded by Kurt Ballou and released through Sargent House, the seven-track offering crosses heavy post-rock soundscapes given marked thickness and distinct intensity on “Vorel,” but the record as a whole never quite loses the serenity in “Asa” or the later “Overboard,” crushing as the subsequent “Calla” gets, and though the spaces they cast in closer “Lisboa” are wide and intimidating, their control of them is utterly complete. Six albums in, Russian Circles are simply masters of what they do. There’s really no other way to put it. They remain forward thinking in terms of investigating new ideas in their sound, but their core approach is set in the fluidity of these songs and they revise their aesthetic with a similar, natural patience to that with which they execute their material.
Following their 2014 RidingEasy Records debut, …Lurar ut dig på prärien (discussed here) – which, presumably met with some pronunciation trouble outside the band’s native Sweden – Salem’s Pot return with Pronounce This!, further refining their blend of psychedelic swirl, odd vibes and garage doom riffing. They remain heavily indoctrinated into the post-Uncle Acid school of buzz and groove, and aren’t afraid to scum it up on “Tranny Takes a Trip” or the slower-shifting first half of “Coal Mind,” but the second portion of that song and “So Gone, so Dead” take a more classically progressive bent that is both refreshing and a significant expansion on what Salem’s Pot have accomplished thus far into their tenure. Still weird, and one doubts that’ll change anytime soon – nor does it need to – but as Pronounce This! plays out, Salem’s Pot demonstrate an open-mindedness that seems to have been underlying their work all along and bring it forward in engaging fashion.
International House of Mancakes – yup – is the follow-up to Bridesmaid’s 2013 long-player, Breakfast at Riffany’s, and like that album, it finds the Columbus, Ohio, instrumentalists with a penchant for inserting dudes’ names into well-known titles – see “Hungry Like Nick Wolf” and “Ronnin’ with the Devil” – but it also expands the lineup to the two-bass/two-drum four-piece of Scott Hyatt and Bob Brinkman (both bass) and Cory Barnt and Boehm (both drums). Topped off with KISS-meets-Village People art from W. Ralph Walters, there are shortages neither of snark nor low end, but buried underneath is a progressive songwriting sensibility that doesn’t come across as overly metal on cuts like “Ricky Thump” and doesn’t sacrifice impact or heft for the sake of self-indulgence. Opening with its longest track (immediate points) in “It’s Alectric (Boogie Woogie Woogie),” International House of Mancakes unfolds a heavy rock push that, while obviously driven in part by its sense of humor, earns serious consideration in these tracks for those willing to actually listen.
Too thick in its tones to be a completely vintage-style work, the sleazy vibes of Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell’s Keep it Greasy! (on Rise Above) are otherwise loyal to circa-1971 boogie and attitude, and whether it’s the rewind moment on opener “U Got Wot I Need” or proto-metallic bass thrust of the “Hawkline Monster” or the brash post-Lemmy push of “Tired ‘n’ Wired,” the album is a celebration of a moment when rock isn’t about being any of those things or anything else, but about having a good time, letting off some steam from a shit job or whatever it is, and trying your damnedest to get laid. Radio samples throughout tie the songs together, but even that carries an analog feel – because radio – and the good Admiral are clearly well versed in the fine art of kicking ass. Familiar in all the right ways with more than enough personality to make that just another part of the charm.
The invitation to completely immerse comes quickly on the 13-minute “Delusion Sound,” which opens Landing’s Third Sight (on El Paraiso), and from there, the Connecticut four-piece sway along a beautiful and melodic drift, easing their way along a full-sounding progression filled out with airy guitar and backing drones, moved forward patiently by its drum march and topped with echoed half-whispers. It’s a flat-out gorgeous initial impression to make, and the instrumental “Third Site” and “Facing South” follow it with a tinge of the experimentalism for which Landing are more known, the former led by guitar and the latter led by cinematic keyboard. To bookend, the 14-minute “Morning Sun” builds as it progresses and draws the various sides together while creating a rising soundscape of its own, every bit earning its name as the vocals emerge in the second half, part of a created wash that is nothing short of beautiful. One could say the same of Third Sight as a whole.
While they’ve spent the last few years kicking around the deeper recesses of Brooklyn’s heavy underground, Reign of Zaius mark their debut release with the 26-minute Planet Of… EP, bringing together seven tracks that show what their time and buildup of material has wrought. Opener “Hate Parade” reminds of earliest Kings Destroy, but on the whole, Reign of Zaius are rawer and more metal at their core, the five-piece delving into shuffle on “Out of Get Mine” and showing an affinity for classic horror in both “They Live” – which starts with a sample of Roddy Piper being all out of bubblegum – and “Farewell to Arms,” previously issued as a single in homage to Evil Dead. The charm of a “Dueling Banjos” reference at the start of “Deliver Me” leads to one of the catchier hooks on Planet Of…, and the shorter “Power Hitter” closes with a bass-heavy paean to smoking out that digs into punkish summation of where Reign of Zaius are coming from generally as they continue to be a band up for having a good time without taking themselves too seriously.
Kind of a mystery just where the time goes on Sydney rockers Transcendent Sea’s self-released 50-minute first album, Ballads of Drowning Men. Sure, straightforward cuts like “Over Easy” and “Mind Queen” are easily enough accounted for with their post-Orange Goblin burl and boozy, guttural delivery from vocalist Sean Bowden, but as the four-piece of Bowden, guitarist Mathew J. Allen, bassist Andrew Auglys and drummer Mark Mills get into the more extended “Throw Me a Line,” “Blood of a Lion” and closer “Way of the Wolf” – all over 10 minutes each – their moves become harder to track. They keep the hooks and the verses, but it’s not like they’re just tacking jams onto otherwise structured tracks, and even when “Way of the Wolf” goes wandering, Bowden keeps it grounded, and that effect is prevalent throughout in balancing Ballads of Drowning Men as a whole. It takes a few listens to get a handle on where Transcendent Sea are coming from in that regard, but their debut proves worth at least that minimal effort.
Brothers Rael and Ryan Andrews, both formerly of Lansing, Michigan, art rockers BerT, revive their heavy punk duo Red Teeth with the four-song Light Bender 7” on GTG Records. Both contribute vocals, and Ryan handles guitar and bass, while Rael is on drums and synth through the quick run of “Light Bender, Sound Bender,” “Tas Pappas,” “134mps” and “Elephant Graveyard,” the longest of which is the opener (immediate points) at 4:49. By the time they get down to “Elephant Graveyard,” one can hear some of the Melvinsian twist and crunch that often surfaced in BerT, but whether it’s the ‘90s-alt-vibes-meet-drum-madness of “134mps” or the almost rockabilly riffing of “Tas Pappas,” Red Teeth – whose last release was eight years ago – have no trouble establishing personality in these songs. Approach with an open mind and the weirdness that persists will be more satisfying, as each track seems to have a context entirely of its own.
One can hear the kind of spacious darkness and through-the-skin cold of New England winters in this new split EP from Connecticut crushers Sea of Bones and grinding New Hampshire compatriots Ramlord from Broken Limbs Recordings. What the two share most of all is an atmosphere of existential destitution, but there’s an underlying sense of the extreme that also ties together Sea of Bones’ “Hopelessness and Decay” (10:36) and Ramlord’s “Incarceration of Clairvoyance (Part III)” (10:10), the latter of which continues a series Ramlord started back in 2012 on a split with Cara Neir. Both acts are very much in their element in their brutality. For Sea of Bones, this is the second release they’ve had out this year behind the improvised and digital-only “Silent Transmissions” 27-minute single, which of course was anything but, and for Ramlord, it’s their first split in two years, but finds their gritty, filthy sound well intact from where they last left it. Nothing to complain about here, unless peace of mind is your thing, because you certainly won’t find any of that.
Philadelphia-based five-piece Holy Smoke formed in the early hours of 2015, and the exclamatory Holy Smoke! It’s a Demo! three-track EP is their debut release. Opening with its longest cut (immediate points) in “Rinse and Repeat,” it finds them blending psychedelic and heavy rock elements and conjuring marked fluidity between them. As the title indicates, it’s a demo, and what one hears throughout is the first material Holy Smoke thought enough of to put to tape, but on “Rinse and Repeat” and the subsequent “Blue Dreams” and “The Firm,” they bring the two sides together well in a way it’s easy to hope they continue to do as they move onto whatever comes next, pulling off “The Firm” particularly with marked swing and a sense of confidence that undercuts the notion of their being their first time out. They have growing to do, and by no means would I consider them established in style, but there’s a spark in the songs that could absolutely catch fire.
We’re on the downhill swing of this edition of the Quarterly Review, so it’s time to get into some extremes, I think. Today, between death-doom lurch, drone-as-fuck exploring, gritty aggression and a whole lot more, we pretty much get there. I’m not saying it’s one end of the universe to another, but definitely a little all-over-the-place, which is just what one might need when staring down the fourth round of 10 reviews in a row in a week’s time. Feeling good though, so let’s do it.
Quarterly Review #31-40:
Kamchatka, Long Road Made of Gold
It would really be something if Swedish blues rockers Kamchatka released six albums over the course of the last decade and didn’t know what they were doing by now. Fortunately, that’s not the case with Long Road Made of Gold (Despotz Records), their sixth, as the Verberg three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Thomas Juneor Andersson, bassist Per Wiberg (see also: Spiritual Beggars, Candlemass, Opeth, etc.) and drummer Tobias Strandvik modernize classic heavy rock with equal comfort in including a banjo on “Take Me Back Home” and progressive-style harmonies on “Rain.” They seem to get bluesier as they go, with later cuts “Mirror,” “Slowly Drifting Away,” “Long Road” and “To You” rounding out the album with Clutch-style bounce, but the prevailing impact of Long Road Made of Gold is one of unflinching class, the chemistry of its players – not to mention Wiberg’s bass tone – ringing through loud and clear from the material as Kamchatka make their way down that long road to their inevitable next outing.
I said as much when the Tokyo duo released their 2013 debut EP (review here) as well, but their first long-player Iron Scorn (on At War with False Noise) only confirms it: Legion of Andromeda are fucked. Theirs is a doomed-out death metal given further inhumanity by programmed drums and the blown-out growls of vocalist -R-, while guitarist/programmer –M- holds down grime-encrusted chug and dirge riffing. Perhaps most fucked of all is the fact that Iron Scorn uses essentially the same drum progression across its seven tracks/44 minutes, varying in tempo but holding firm to the double-kick and bell-hit timekeeping for the duration. The effect this has not only ties the material together – as it would have to – but also makes the listener feel like they’ve entered into some no-light-can-escape alternate universe in which all there is is that thud, the distortion and the growls. Not a headphone record, unless you were looking to start psychotherapy anyhow, its extremity is prevalent enough to feel like a physical force holding you down.
Relentlessly creative and geographically amorphous drone warriors Queen Elephantine compile eight tracks from eight years of their perpetual exploration for Omen on Atypeek Music, which launches with its titular cut, the oldest of the bunch, from 2007. It’s a gritty rolling groove that, even as nascent and riff-noddy as it is, still has underpinnings that might clue the listener in to what’s to come (especially in hindsight) and comes accompanied by the sludgy “The Sea Goat,” a rawer take recorded the same year in Hong Kong. Newest on Omen is the blissfully percussed “Morning Three” and an 18-minute live version of “Search for the Deathless State” from 2010’s Kailash full-length. Lineups, intent and breadth of sound vary widely, but even into the reaches of “1,000 Years” (2012, Providence, RI) and “Shamanic Procession” (2009, New York), Queen Elephantine remain unflinching in their experimentalism and the results here are likewise immersive. Vastly underrated, their work remains a world waiting to be explored.
Consuming undulations of tectonic riffing. Two of them, actually. Watchtower’s Radiant Moon EP serves as their debut on Magnetic Eye, and like their fellow-Melbourne-resident labelmates in Horsehunter, the four-piece Watchtower slam heavy-est riffs into the listener’s cerebral cortex with little concern for lasting aftereffects, all in worship of nod and volume itself. Where the two acts differ is in Watchtower’s overarching sense of grit, harsh vocals pervading both “Radiant Moon” (9:03) itself and the accompanying “Living Heads” (7:09), standalone vocalist Nico Guijt growing through the tonal fray wrought by guitarist Robbie Ingram and bassist Ben Robertson, Joel McGann’s drums pushing the emergent roll forward on “Living Heads,” a High on Fire-style startoff hitting the brakes on tempo to plod over any and all in its path. I’m trying to tell you it’s fucking heavy. Is that getting through? Watchtower had a live single out before Radiant Moon, but I’d be eager to hear what they come up with for a full-length, whether they might shift elsewhere at some point or revel in pure onslaught. Now taking bets.
The use of multiple vocalists gives Roman trio Ape Skull’s ‘70s fetishism a particularly proggy air. Fly Camel Fly is their second full-length for Heavy Psych Sounds behind a 2013 self-titled, and the boogie of “My Way” and “Early Morning,” the solo-topped groove of “Fly Camel Fly,” and the raw Hendrixology of “A is for Ape” position it as a classic rocker through and through. Vocalist/drummer Giuliano Padroni, bassist/vocalist Pierpaolo Pastorelli and guitarist/vocalist Fulvio Cartacci get down to shuffling business quick and stay that way for the 39-minute duration, the Mountainous “Heavy Santa Ana Wind” missing only the complement of a sappy, over-the-top ballad to complete its vintage believability. Even without, the triumvirate stand tall, fuzzy and swinging on Fly Camel Fly, the cowbell of “Tree Stomp” calling to mind the earthy chaos of Blue Cheer without direct mimicry. A quick listen that builds and holds its momentum, but one that holds up too on subsequent visits.
Mad-as-hell trio Hordes have had a slew of releases out over the last eight years or so – EPs, splits, full-lengths with extended tracks – but their experimental take on noise rock topped with Godfleshy shouts arrives satisfyingly stripped down on their latest self-titled five-track EP, recorded in 2013 and pressed newly to tape and CD (also digital). “Eyes Dulled Blind” dials back some of the pummeling after the bruises left by “Cold War Echo,” guitarist/vocalist Alex Hudson at the fore in the JK Broadrick tradition. Centerpiece “Summer” starts with a slow and peaceful ruse before shifting into brash and blown-out punk – Chris Martinez’s hi-hat forward in the mix to further the abrasion – and finally settles into a middle-ground between the two (mind you, the song is four minutes long), and bassist Jon Howard opens “Life Crusher,” which unfolds quickly into the most oppressive push here, while a churning atmosphere pervades the more echo-laden closer “Fall” to reinforce Hordes’ experimentalist claims and steady balance between tonal weight and noise-caked aggression.
There’s a theatrical element underlying Welsh rockers Dead Shed Jokers’ second, self-titled full-length (on Pity My Brain Records). That’s not to say its eight songs are in some way insincere, just that the five-piece of vocalist Hywel Davies, guitarists Nicky Bryant and Kristian Evans, bassist Luke Cook and drummer Ashley Jones know there’s a show going on. Davies is in the lead throughout and proves a consummate frontman presence across opener “Dafydd’s Song,” the stomping “Memoirs of Mr. Bryant” and the swinging “Rapture Riddles,” Dead Shed Jokers’ penultimate cut before the cabaret closer “Exit Stage Left (Applause),” but the instrumental backing is up to its own task, and a clear-headed production gives the entire affair a professional sensibility. They veer into and out of heavy rock tropes fluidly, but maintain a tonal fullness wherever they might be headed, and Cook’s bass late in “Made in Vietnam” seems to carry a record’s worth of weight in just its few measures at the forefront before Davies returns for the next round of proclamations.
Berlin’s These Hands Conspire aren’t through the two-minute instrumental “Intro” before they’re showing off the heft of tone that pervades their metallized debut album, Sword of Korhan, but as they demonstrate throughout the following seven tracks and the total 45-minute runtime, there’s plenty to go around. Vocalist Felix delivers an especially noteworthy performance over the dual-guitars of Tom and Stefan, the bass of Paul and Sascha’s drums, but heavy metal storytelling – the sci-fi narrative seems to be a battle in space – is just as much a part of the record’s progressive flow, longer cuts like “Praise to Nova Rider,” “The Beast Cometh,” which directly follows, and “Ambush at Antarox IV” feeding one into the next sonically and thematically. The penultimate title-track brings swinging apex to an ambitious first outing, but the foreboding, winding guitar echoes of “Outro” hint at more of the tale to be told. Could be that Sword of Korhan is just the beginning of a much longer engagement.
Maybe it doesn’t need to be said, since if it weren’t the case, they wouldn’t have paired at all, but Enos and Mangoo pair well. The UK chimp-obsessed space metallers – that’s Enos, on side A – and the Finnish modernized classic heavy rock outfit – that’s Mangoo, on side B – don’t ask much of the listener across their Son of a Gun/The Grey Belly split (on H42 Records) beyond a little over 10 minutes of time and a willingness to follow a groove. “Son of a Gun” finds Enos blending particularly well with Mangoo’s methodology via the inclusion of organ in their swinging but still forward-directed movement, and after that, it’s an easy mesh to flip the platter and find Mangoo’s “The Grey Belly” waiting, its own keys playing a huge role in carrying across the ‘70s-via-‘90s vibe the band projects so well. Flourishes of percussion in the former seem to complement the progressive guitar work in the latter, and whichever side happens to be spinning, it all works out just fine.
Born in 2007 as Spice and the RJ Band and rechristened Band of Spice in 2010 prior to their third album, Feel Like Coming Home, the Swedish unit boasting vocalist Christian “Spice” Sjöstrand (founding vocalist of Spiritual Beggars, also Mushroom River Band, currently also in Kayser) release their fourth full-length half a decade later in the form of Economic Dancers on Scarlet Records. It’s a straightforward heavy rocker in the organ-laced European tradition that Spice helped create, with some shades of quirk in the intro to “The Joe” and the arena-ready backing vocals of “In My Blood,” but mostly cutting its teeth on modernized ‘70s jams like “On the Run,” “Down by the Liquor Store” and “True Will,” though the six-minute centerpiece “You Will Call” touches on more psychedelic fare and is backed immediately by two metallers in “You Can’t Stop” and “Fly Away,” so it’s not by any means one-sided, even if at times the mix makes it feel like the 11 tracks are a showcase for the singer whose name is on the marquee.
Posted in Features on October 27th, 2014 by JJ Koczan
10.27.14 — 2:27PM — Monday afternoon — En route to Cleveland
“She’s not real pretty, but she’s rich.” — Postman Dan, on Senator Dianne Feinstein
I snapped the above picture last night before the show of the sunset in Michigan. If it looks peaceful or serene in any way, then please just imagine the exact opposite for how the rest of the night played out after the show ended. As ever, the party was at Postman Dan’s place — the Postmansion — which is an old converted church that he’s essentially corrupted in the name of riff worship and nuanced horticulture. Radio Moscow, who’d been hanging out at the show, came back as well, and Travis from Hydro-Phonic and two of the other members from Dan’s band Cruthu, and of course Mama Jo, Connie, Jim Pitts and I. Made for a crowded kitchen, but there were drinks flowing and Elonkorjuu playing through Dan’s kitchen setup — Swedish heavy prog as party music: awesome — and it escalated quickly. Charm-laden debauchery. Loud voices. Blatant social interaction. Enjoyment of good people and good times. Terrifying.
Dan had set me up with a bedroom, but once I’d charged the camera battery and dumped the pics from the show, I abdicated to Steve to let him sleep in a bed and said I’d go crash in the van. Great idea. Believe it or not, it wouldn’t be the first time I slept in a van in Postman Dan’s driveway. I think the third. It was about 3:30 in the morning by then and I was ready to crash out, so I went into the driveway. It wasn’t quite at the freezing point, but it was certainly cold enough that Carl remarked this morning that the beer left out here overnight was still chilled. I set up on the back bench with my hoodie on and my bookbag for a pillow and Mystery Science Theater 3000 playing and managed to crash for about an hour, but by 4:45, I was awake and too cold to really go back to sleep, so I decided to see if I could find someplace in the house that wasn’t yet occupied.
My mistake was thinking the festivities would’ve ended by then. Dan, Scott from Cruthu and Paul from Radio Moscow were up playing pool. I couldn’t see them at first through the window and the front door was locked and my phone was dead, so I had a moment of panic that I was going to be stuck outside for the night, but they were there and Dan let me in, wondering why I wasn’t upstairs asleep. Music still playing, though they’d moved on from Elonkorjuu to something else heavy ’70s. Fair enough. Dan took me up to his room and told me to take his bed, he’d sort something out and it was 5AM and I was too cold and tired to argue. I could still hear the music coming up from downstairs, but I nodded off for about an hour and a half and then set to work sorting pictures around 6:30, which I’d find out later was when the last stragglers fell out. I started writing the show review but was nodding off again soon enough and slept for maybe another hour between seven and eight. I’ve been up since.
No shower on the way out, but breakfast at the Fleetwood Diner in Lansing hit the spot — try the Hippie Hash — and we got on the highway shortly thereafter to head for Cleveland. The tour resumes tonight with Kings Destroy, Pentagram, Radio Moscow and Bang and the show is at House of Blues, so should be more like Minneapolis than Grand Rapids, though I’ll take it either way. I expect by the end of the night I’ll smell even worse than I already do, and there are some vicious sleepytime farts floating around the mostly-napping rear portion of this van. Might need to air that out at some point as we roll toward the cruel inevitability of the Ohio Turnpike.
Posted in Reviews on October 27th, 2014 by JJ Koczan
Michigan’s capital city has always been good to me. I’ve been to Lansing five or six times at this point and I’ve continually found it a cool place utterly void of investment. That is to say, if anyone gave a shit or had money to spend, Lansing would be like Stroudsberg, PA, or Portland, Maine, in the ranks of those post-industrial towns that the creative types have moved to and opened brewpubs. The Avenue Cafe on Michigan Ave., which is being positioned as an alternative to the long-running Mac’s Bar down the road, has a vibe that speaks to the potential of Lansing overall. It has space, people who obviously care deeply about it and a prevailing sense of having gone it alone, no doubt reflecting the reality of the situation.
It was a night off from Kings Destroy‘s tour with Pentagram, Radio Moscow and Bang, and they joined with three Michigan locals in Cruthu, Hordes and Beast in the Field for one of the shows I’ve been most anticipating om this tour and one that, in the interest of full disclosure, I had a hand in putting together at least so far as making the intro between Kings Destroy and Cruthu guitarist and all-around excellent guy “Postman Dan” McCormick, and asking Dan if there was any shot at getting Beast in the Field out for it. I mark it an even bigger win that there was that chance now that I’ve seen them play.
They were completely different than I expected. What I knew of Lansing’s own Hordes came courtesy of their split tape with Bert, and it was drawn out and droney and more noise than song. Seems at some point Hordes got a drummer and that’s had some grounding effect on what they do, which is a blend of industrial and noise rock impulses. There was a lot of Godflesh in there, right down to how guitarist A. Hudson stands and shouts into the microphone, but some rawer crunch, and the live drummer made a huge difference alongside bassist Jon Howard‘s rumble. I was a little thrown off, to the point of wondering until I saw that tape at their merch table if I was thinking of the same band, but indeed, Hordes were Hordes. Once my mind made that jump — and I’m pleased to note it happened much more efficient than the explanation of it — their churning and chugging came together well throughout their set and made me eager to hear what they bring to their next recording.
I always get nervous writing about friends’ bands — I’ve known Postman Dan for a decade at this point — but with Cruthu, the issue was avoided in the best way possible in that they were actually good. As I understand it, this was their second show, and you could tell they were just getting going on stage, still feeling things out in terms of relating to each other in the material, but it was still easy to get a sense of where they were headed, the vocals of Teri Brown and McCormick‘s clean guitar tone nestled right into the heavy ’70s style, Brown belting out lyrics with a powerful push. She backed off the mic at times, and it just emphasized how little she actually needed it in the first place for how well you could still hear her standing out front. Bassist Scott Lehman added copious wah to his bass and joined in on vocals for the closer, and drummer Matt Fry kept the laid back grooves moving straight through. There were a couple awkward transitions and things to tighten up, but that’s why you play out in the first place. Cruthu had already surpassed their Creation demo (review here), recorded earlier this year, in pulling off the right mix of vibe, groove and tonal presence.
Allowed a somewhat longer set as the evening’s headliner and the only touring band of the four playing, Kings Destroy took advantage and stretched out to include some stuff not yet aired. “A Time of Hunting,” the title-track from 2013’s sophomore full-length, was played for the first time ever — and supposedly the last according to both vocalist Steve Murphy and guitarist Chris Skowronski, though I have my doubts — and they opened with “XXY” from the first album and threw in “Dusty Mummy” too, clearly relishing the chance to change it up on the small Avenue Cafe stage. Actually, I’m pretty sure the only reason Murphy was on stage at all was because the mic cable wasn’t long enough to let him leave it. He found plenty to do anyway, wrapping his scarf around his face for “Turul,” which ended the set paired well with “Embers” before it, and making shadow impressions on the wall. “Smokey Robinson” was the highlight, and is a song for which I’ve got only growing affection, but the whole set was a thrill, and it was fun to watch Skowronski, Murphy, guitarist Carl Porcaro, bassist Aaron Bumpus and drummer Rob Sefcik make the most of the gig. There were people there — hell, even Radio Moscow showed up — but I wouldn’t call the place crowded. If it was a set Kings Destroy were playing for their own enjoyment (and at one point Murphy did say something about masturbation), then at least that enjoyment was infectious.
Beast in the Field
One of the biggest problems with internet criticism is that there’s so much hyperbole out there and it comes out so readily that when you actually happen into something special like Beast in the Field — the duo of guitarist Jordan Pries and drummer Jamie Jahr — there almost isn’t a language to convey how righteous what you’re seeing is. One almost wants to be like, “Okay, but really guys, this is where it’s at.” Pries and Jahr played in front of what I hear tell is half their usual amount of amps, but it still made for a formidable wall, and rendered earplugs all but useless against the tonal onslaught. Doing headbanger calisthenics during the deceptively catchy “Wakan Tanka” from last year’s The Sacred above, the Sacred Below (review here), Pries looked like he was trying to shake his skull off, and Jahr made each tom thud count in following along with the wrecking ball of riffs slamming through the cabinets behind him. I had been very, very much looking forward to seeing them play, and Beast in the Field wound up surpassing my expectation. Like staring at a single-color canvas painted with volume. Superlatively heavy. I’ve bought one record this whole tour so far and it’s their new live album/comic book, The Astral Path to Satan’s Throne: Live at WIDR. I’m itching to check it out but need my ears to stop ringing first.
The party, and by then it was one, moved to Postman Dan‘s, less than a mile away, with most of his band, Kings Destroy, Radio Moscow, Travis from Hydro-Phonic and so on. I stayed upstairs for the most part and wound up sleeping in the van for a bit before I got too cold — Michigan at the end of October, might want to bring a blanket next time, buddy — and had to come back inside. I guess I’ll probably have more on that later on.
I guess this is the part where I complain about lack of time, blah blah blah. Last week was a mess, it’s true, as were the last couple days, but what it comes down to is I do what I can when I can. That’s been my policy all along. A couple of these discs — Cruthu, Deamon’s Child — are my own rips as well from discs that were sent in, and as ever, there’s more that went up than just what is listed here. So one way or another, activity abounds. I need to find out how close I am to filling the three terabytes of the hard drive used for the server, but until then, the additions will continue unabated. It’s good to keep busy.
The Obelisk Radio adds for July 31, 2014:
Sleep, “The Clarity”
To call the first new Sleep track since Dopesmokeran “event” would be underselling it. “The Clarity” arrives via the Adult Swim Singles Series not only as the Iommian legends’ first outing since that landmark release, but also their debut recording with drummer Jason Roeder and their first studio work since guitarist Matt Pike and bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros went on to destroy/expand minds in High on Fire and Om, respectively, for the last decade-plus. A near-10-minute stonerly sprawl finds Sleep‘s central methodology intact. Grown up some from what it was 20 years ago, expectedly, but loyal to what they were without trying to recapture a magic that’s gone with that time. Cisneros has taken some flack for not roughing up his vocals à la Sleep’s Holy Mountain, but from where I sit, his cadence and cleaner style only makes “The Clarity” more honest, and if lyrics like “Iommic life complete” and “The dealer is my refuge” are easier to understand, you won’t find me complaining. They jam out most of the song’s second half, and ultimately “The Clarity” collapses in a sudden cut, leaving you to wonder if it ever happened at all — until of course you go back to the start for another glorious hit. If this portends more to come, I’m even more excited about the prospect of new Sleep than I was before the single arrived. Sleep on Thee Facebooks, Adult Swim Singles.
Deamon’s Child, Deamon’s Child
Even before you get to the dolphin sample in “Delfine,” and the garage thrashiness of the subsequent “Alles Bio, Immer Bio,” German trio Deamon’s Child give some hints that there’s more to what they do than the standard heavy noise rock. Comprised of guitarist Sven “Missu” Missulis (aka John Reebo of Reebosound, also ex-Psychedelic Avengers), bassist/vocalist Ana Maija Muhi (who also contributed to Reebosound‘s 2010 outing, This is Reebosound) and drummer Tim Mohr (also WhiteBuzz), Deamon’s Child debuted last year with an engaging demo and follow it with a self-titled debut of increased complexity and a sound that’s varied without the pretense, culling together punk, grunge, heavy rock and noise to create songs that feel like they could turn in any direction at once. The production plays up the frayed edges, and Muhi‘s layered vocals on a chugger like “Lutscher!” sound all the more Melvins-esque. Deamon’s Childis loaded with surprises, but doesn’t feel any more haphazard than it’s meant to, and while it may take a couple listens to catch up to it, the songs are consistent in their invitation for repeat visits. Deamon’s Child on Thee Facebooks, on Bandcamp.
Red Fang, TeamRock.com Presents an Absolute Music Bunker Session with Red Fang
A free Red Fang acoustic EP — who’s going to argue with that? Not me, though the cumbersome and corporate-style title leaves something to be desired. Nonetheless, once you get through all the namebrandery, what you come out with are acoustic renditions from Red Fang of “Failure” from late 2013’s Whales and Leechesand “Malverde” and “Human Herd” from the preceding 2011 outing, Murder the Mountains(review here). Hearing guitarist Bryan Giles soften up his usually-rough vocal approach on “Malverde” is interesting, given how much of the album version of that track is about the impact of the thing, but “Failure” becomes a brooding plea rather than the threat it is at full thrust, and “Human Herd” a kind of meditation that makes for the highlight of the whole release. One tries not to read too much into what was clearly a one-off thing, but it would be cool to hear what an acoustic album track from Red Fang might sound like. Their songwriting clearly translates, and between Giles and bassist/vocalist Aaron Beam — let’s not forget guitarist David Sullivan or drummer John Sherman — they prove here they can pull it off sounding confident and comfortable. Kind of an unexpected turn from the chicanery-fueled rock we’re used to from Red Fang, but they’re as easy to dig as ever on (deep breath) TeamRock.com Presents an Absolute Music Bunker Session with Red Fang. Red Fang on Thee Facebooks, on Bandcamp.
The Jackpine Snag, The Fire Tower EP
Tonally, Michigan’s The Jackpine Snag seem rooted in punk, but a strong undercurrent of the weirdo runs throughout the songs on their new EP, The Fire Tower, and whether it’s the shouting on “With Wings” or “The Missaukee Strut” or the motoring noise of closer “Gonna Wreck My Life,” the trio present an individualized approach to bruiser expression. The Fire Toweris their longest outing yet at seven songs following a four-track 2013 debut 7″, but they have no trouble changing up their take enough to hold interest, while also keeping the tracks themselves relatively lean and concise. Maybe what the EP does best is balance that efficiency with a loose, tossoff-punker vibe, but The Jackpine Snag — guitarist/vocalist Joe Hart, bassist Jason Roedel and drummer Todd Karinen — show a keen awareness of how far out they want to go and how oddball they want to get in their ragged, grungy craftsmanship. No doubt that will serve them well should they decide next to tackle a debut full-length. The Jackpine Snag on Thee Facebooks, on Bandcamp.
Cruthu, Creation Demo
The debut release from Lansing, Michigan’s Cruthu, the Creation Democulls together an initial three tracks that sound somewhat raw but hold significant stylistic promise, blending a heavy ’70s psych-blues mentality with drearier rock tendencies and analog worship. Frontwoman Teri Brown provides a soulful lift to “S.O.S.,” as guitarist Dan McCormick leads bassist Scott Lehman and drummer Matt Fry through a subtly doomed murk, but pushes into rawer, strained-throat vocalizing on “Walk with Me” that immediately stands the Creation Demoapart from much of what claims to have been recorded live in terms of sheer honesty. And to Cruthu‘s further credit, I don’t think the tracks were recorded live. Particularly in “Separated from the Herd” and “Walk with Me,” which closes, Cruthu find some room for instrumental exploration along with Brown‘s vocals, and the path they’re on suits them well as the demo plays out. I’d be interested to hear them branch out further instrumentally, get weird with some percussion or strings or psychedelics, but there’s time for such things, and they’re off to an evocative start. Cruthu on Thee Facebooks, on Bandcamp.
They’re a new band with some classic influences, and on their debut demo tape, Thirst for Misery, Lansing, Michigan, five-piece The Swill blend heavy ’70s rock, garage thrash and early metal into a stew that’s sonically their own and almost surprisingly vital. The five-songs on Thirst for Misery— a play on Black Flag/Saint Vitus‘ “Thirsty and Miserable” — were recorded and mixed by Kevin Kitchell and Matt Preston, and the band boasts within its ranks vocalist Matt “War” Watrous (Wastelander), bassist Rob Hultz (ex-Solace and currently in Trouble), guitarist “Postman Dan” McCormick (ex-The Fallopian Dudes and one of the best people you could ever hope to meet), Preston (Borrowed Time) also on guitar/keys, and drummer Rael Andrews (Bert). With everyone having been involved in an assortment of other bands over the years and being kind of a mash of different elements, The Swill is probably as self-effacing a moniker as one could ask.
Hultz is based in Chicago, so Derek Kasperlik (Mountain Goat) plays live. Thirst for Misery is pro-pressed and hand-numbered to 50 copies (I got number five) with a four-panel J-card and Brad Moore artwork. For their first release, The Swill probably could’ve just thrown together a dubbed demo in a line-drawn cover, but take it as a sign of the players’ experience they didn’t. Likewise, the songs themselves give off a similar mature feel. It’s a raw recording, but opener “You are Alone,” which shared side 1 with “Demons and Rust,” has a classic heavy rock stomp to its verse before taking off on a NWOBHM gallop in the second verse, Watrous‘ vocals at the fore until the guitars take hold for a quick, metallic solo. They nestle into a swaying groove with Preston adding some keys, though it could be Andrews as he’s credited with them as well, but they draw back to the central and more upbeat progression for a last run through the chorus before a sample from the 1982 documentary Another State of Mind.
Listening digitally, you know that’s at the end of “You are Alone” and not the beginning of “Demons and Rust,” but on the tape it’s harder to tell where one ends and the other begins. Once “Demons and Rust” gets going though, it’s slower, groovier, a fatter riff at its core with plenty of leads around it, almost a waltz if it isn’t one, and Watrous is more restrained vocally. The whole first part of the track is a build, and the second half pays it off, so side 1 gets a suitable finale, but when you turn the tape over, “Deeper Dungeons” is off in a rush of sleazy metal, a winding guitar line given further intensity by blastbeats and over-the-top metal vocalizing that rounds out with a fervent Tom G. Warrior grunt just before the guitar solo kicks in. “Deeper Dungeons” goes more or less apeshit and the delay-soaked interlude “Analysis Paralysis” offers a momentary breather before closer “The Void and the Vision” takes hold to finish out Thirst for Miseryon The Swill‘s most realized note yet. The band moves fluidly through tempo shifts and hit into the tape’s catchiest chorus, the winding lead guitar line being no less of a hook. They go big, get loud and end off in a suitable burst of energy, dropping to silence immediately after the last hit.
With that kind of precision and a more swaggering heavy rock influence working in tandem, I’ll be interested to hear how The Swill grow into their sound, but for now, the demo’s worth a listen either way and on tape, it sounds like something you’d be happy you traded for when it showed up in the mail. If pay-what-you-will downloads are more your thing, they’ve got that going too at their Bandcamp.
By the time I was on Route 80 headed back east, I had assembled one of my finest record-shopping hauls to date. I said at the time it was no coincidence I was making a stopover in Toledo on my way out to Days of the Doomed III. Hitting Ramalama Records I regarded as an imperative. Flat, Black and Circular in Lansing, Michigan, was another, and adding Kalamazoo’s Green Light Records to the return voyage after the fest was like a bonus round of flipping through stacks that made the long ride to follow that much closer to tolerable.
All told, it was four separate hauls that made it back in the one full stack above. I haven’t had the chance yet to listen to everything — it last year’s acquisitions are anything to go by, it’s going to take a while — but I’ve had the full pile on my desk for the better part of two weeks now and it’s been a blast to make my way through, one album to the next to the next and so on.
Since I had so much fun buying this stuff, I thought I’d take an opportunity to nerd out and give a rundown of what I ended up with, where and how. Some of this has been reviewed, some not so much, but from Acid Witch to Whaler, it all seemed relevant one way or another. Screw it, I just like talking about buying albums.
As always, click any picture to enlarge. Let’s do this thing:
Ramalama Records — Toledo, OH
My basic plan for Ramalama was to pick up new albums and recent releases. More new stuff than used. Their used section is actually pretty good, for rock and metal both, but I had some CDs I wanted to buy of stuff that had been given to me digitally for review — have I mentioned yet today how much I think that’s horseshit? — and I knew doing it while supporting a place like Ramalama would take some of the sting out. Grabbing the Uncle Acid (review here) and Church of Misery (review here) was kind of a given, and along with the new Kylesa — I’ve been wanting to give a revisit since it was reviewed — and Anciients‘ Heart of Oak, which I meant to review so hard but was never able to make it happen, I picked up both of the Spitting Firelive albums by High on Fire — which could’ve been one CD so easily it’s almost funny and makes me wonder if there’s some contractual reasoning behind splitting them up — Circleby Amorphis (for whom I’m forever a nerd), and Voivod‘s Target Earth, which seems to be proving a point in how forward the guitars are though I’m not sure what that point might be. Out of the used section, I also managed to find two bootlegs: Demos 84 & 85from Celtic Frost, which I’m pretty sure is just a crappy rip of Morbid Taleswith some early live tracks added, and Clutch, Live 2002 Tour, which seemed like it was all one show until “A Shogun Named Marcus” came on, was twice as loud, and at least six years before 2002. Still cool to get live versions of “Cattle Car” and “Walpole Man” (here listed as “Warpole”), which were reworked into different songs by the time Blast Tyrantcame out, as well as a live version of the Jethro Tull cover “Cross Eyed Mary.” No complaints.
Flat, Black and Circular — Lansing, MI
The Heads’ 1995 debut, Relaxing With…might have been the find of the whole trip. It was released in a limited run 18 years ago (since reissued), but most importantly, the record itself fucking smokes. Killer heavy psych/space rock that even sounds ahead of its time for how it sounds dated. You can’t really see it in the pic above, but at the bottom of the mini-stack is a tin-box version of Dragging Down the Enforcerby Eyehategod offshoot Outlaw Order. I never bought it when it came out and figured if I was ever going to get a copy, this would be the one to get. The Stone Age ComplicationsEP by Queens of the Stone Age and Also Risingby SubArachnoid Space felt like good finds, and I grabbed another Amorphis just in case I wanted to listen on the way home, Iron Monkey and Slough Feg just because I didn’t have them yet and for a heavy ’70s fix, the self-titled Granicus and the second Warhorse album, Red Sea. Hoping for a funk fix, I snagged Fireby Ohio Players, and it’s decent but skirts a line with disco that takes away some of the weight in the rhythm section. Needless to say, I have a copy of Rootsby Curtis Mayfield currently on order and am anxiously attending its arrival. Flat, Black and Circular has yet to disappoint in the three or four times I’ve been fortunate enough to peruse its wares, and it was another one I was looking forward to hitting up. There’s always some treasure waiting.
Days of the Doomed III — Cudahy, WI
It might not look like so much, but the thing about it was that a lot of the bands playing the Days of the Doomed fest, I already had their stuff. I had hoped Beelzefuzz would have copies on hand of their forthcoming debut long-player, but no such luck. Still, I managed to do pretty well with what was available. Getting a copy of 2013’s Somnium Excessum directly from Dream Death was an experience that only underscored how lucky I felt to see the band live — they’d only had the vinyl at Roadburn when I asked bassist Rich Freund — and the reissue of The Gates of Slumber‘s 2004 debut, The Awakening, fell easily under the must-buy category. I also happened into a Thirst for Misery demo from Michigan classic metal/heavy rockers The Swill that stood out even before I put it on for its cover photo of a hoodie-wearing stormtrooper hoisting a can of PBR, and was glad to be given a copy of Sleestak‘s new Book of Hours EP, which I’ll be reviewing at some point in the coming weeks. Put those together with the gorgeous layout of Whaler‘s Deep Six and The Gates of Slumber‘s Scion-sponsored Stormcrow EP (which was free), and it was two days’ worth in quantity and quality. That Whaler record is a killer.
Green Light Music and Video — Kalamazoo, MI
The trip out of Wisconsin began sometime around 8:30AM. It was Sunday, and I had 700-plus miles to drive, but how many times a year do I get to pass through Kalamazoo? Right, once. So a stop seemed warranted, and when I walked into Green Light Music and Video and they were playing Queens of the Stone Age‘s Rated R, I knew I was in the right place. They had some choice vinyl and a few snazzy looking turntables, the kind of promo posters I didn’t know record labels still made, and a slew of old stickers — Roadsaw, Core, etc. — that let me know their affiliation to heavy rock was nothing new. An Acid Witch reissue, some Uriah Heep and Nick Cave were decent enough to happen upon — the Uriah Heep especially — and since it was on Man’s Ruin, I got Laced Candyby The Gaza Strippers, though it turned out to be a double. My favorite of the bunch, however, was Live at Colonia Dignidad by Finland’s Opium Warlords. I bought it because the description on the back cover promised a host of contradictions, including, “A celebration of psychosexual isolation” and “Quality time for a suicidal inner-space astrodoomonaut.” Turns out Opium Warlords is a solo-project for Sami “Albert Witchfinder” Hynninen (ex-Reverend Bizarre), and in what I can only assume is deliberate contrast to the whites and pinks of the album art, the music itself is experimental drone-doom, at times vicious and near-unlistenable, at other times minimal and atmospheric. It didn’t make for great driving music, but I dug it anyway, and Green Light made a fitting epilogue to a weekend of CD-buying excess I don’t anticipate being able to match for some time.
Ye olde Googlymaps lists the drive from Wisconsin to my humble river valley at a little over 15 hours with the stop-off in Michigan. I won’t say these records were much comfort to me when I lost over an hour sitting at a dead stop for bridge construction before getting 100 miles eastbound into Pennsylvania, but if anything was going to aid so helpless a situation, they probably would’ve done it.