Friday Full-Length: Ichabod, Merrimack

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 14th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

I’ve lived in Massachusetts for six years. It’s long enough to not completely feel like a Yankees fan interloping on foreign territory in New England, but I’d never call myself a native, and on the periodic occasion when someone has asked where I’m from, I almost always said New Jersey. There’s something about the atmosphere of New England that I feel like I never quite earned, and Ichabod‘s Merrimack (review here), which is coming up on five years since its initial release in Oct. 2014, captures that spirit better than any other heavy record I can think of. It’s there in the Northern work song “The Strong Place” — taken from the translation from Algonquin of the name of the Merrimack River, for which the album is titled — and in vocalist John Fadden‘s crooning, “Give our souls to the river,” in the subsequent “Two Brothers Rock.” It’s there in the underlying aggression behind the drift of Dave Iverson‘s effects-laced solos and Jason Adam‘s riffing, in the flowing grooves from bassist Greg Dellaria and drummer Phil MacKay, whose brother, Ken (now of Oxblood Forge), helped Iverson start the band some 20 years ago in 1999.

Ichabod revamped in 2011, bringing aboard Fadden as frontman, as well as Adam, while MacKay had served behind the kit since 2000 and Dellaria (also now of Oxblood Forge) on bass since 2002. Merrimack was the band’s sixth full-length was unquestionably their broadest ranging work. For Iverson and Fadden, it held the personal significance of being an homage to their mothers as well as to the land and river itself, and even unto that internalization of place, its songs bleed a passion that is genuine and striking. From the summer-sun celebration “Watershed” and the progressive tension (also highlight bass) in “Life at the Loom” — featuring the line, “I wish I could sit around and talk about the weather forever,” which itself might be the most New England thing I’ve ever heard — to the blatantly Doors-style fearcrafting in “Child of the Bear,” slaughter in the three-minute “The Ballad of Hannah Dustin” and subsequent paranoid-in-the-woods noisy chaos of closer “The Return,” Merrimack distilled into psychedelic metal and sludge the varying sides of Massachusetts itself: the history, alternatingly troubled and beautiful — they sure burned witches and killed a bunch of native people, but golly those leaves are nice in Fall — the inherent Northeastern intensity, the contradictions between such a prevalent working class culture and the fact that Boston hosts some of the most elitist learning institutions in the country, and the ability to find space within that sphere where one can almost pretend to be at peace for a while. For me, it was looking at the high pines and thinking about the years those trees had seen. For Ichabod, clearly it was the river.

The peak achievement of Merrimack hit early, in its longest track, the 9:39 “Squall.” Well placed to build outward from “Two Brothers Rock,” it conveyed the storm to which its title alluded and ichabod merrimacksummarized much of the approach of the record as a whole, really only leaving out of its accounting the warmer and inviting vibe of “Watershed” and “Life at the Loom,” which follow in succession. “Squall” found little peace amid its tale of fishing boats bashed by nature’s power, Fadden moving between layered screams, emphatic spoken word and cleaner belting-out — a style that in itself has been the region’s ply and trade at least as much as seafood for the last 20 years in metal, since the kids of New England’s hardcore started to remember they all grew up as Metallica fans and began to blend the two sides at the turn of the century. Even the song’s quieter stretch in the middle held that undercurrent of threat in its e-bow guitar and the fluid rhythm, and the payoff that emerged therefrom left no choice but to end with a torrent of feedback afterward, giving way directly to the contrasting transition/introduction to “Watershed.” Grayscale in its cover art with a picture of the river itself — “Subjugated long ago when industry did reign/The mill towns, they are burning down/The river, it remains,” went the lyrics of “The Strong Place” — Merrimack was more colorful than one might initially think, but it was an album made very much to depict a specific idea and a specific, real place, and in its character and breadth, it was an utter success. Again, I’ve only ever been a dabbler in Massachusetts, but to my ears, Ichabod‘s portrait of the Bay State experience via this one river would seem to lack nothing in its realism. Maybe a Patriots bumper sticker on its back cover. Local sports is a big part of the culture up there.

By the end of this summer, I’ll be moved away from New England, back to New Jersey, where I grew up, to live in what was my grandmother’s house in the shadow of a different pine tree, planted almost 60 years ago by my grandfather, Joe Peterson, who died five years before I was born. As I embrace this personal history in a new way, I can’t help but think of what Ichabod did in speaking to theirs with Merrimack and the nature of the concept behind this record, how much it managed to bring to life of the place that, after more than half a decade there, could still make me feel like a tourist, and where I still had to use my phone to navigate the twisting back roads. It was there home. As I return to mine, it’s with some new measure of clarity of what it means to be from somewhere, and how even when one might leave a place, one never really loses the effect that place has had. Or the accent. I’ve definitely still got that as well, as regards New Jersey.

Ichabod were in the studio in 2015 and 2016 for a record that was set to be called Somewhere Between Zero and Infinity, and even went so far as to post a snippet of a rough version of the title-track to Soundcloud and another song as well. I wouldn’t put it past them to have another album out at some point, but neither am I holding my breath. If Merrimack indeed turned out to be their swansong, at very least one would have to say they put everything they had into making it. Some bands never get there.

As always, I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.

Next week is Maryland Doom Fest, if you can believe that. I think I leave on Wednesday to head south? Maybe Thursday? I’m not really sure. Either way, I’ll be there all weekend as I cash in all of the domestic capital I earned (and probably then some) running point on childcare in Ireland for two weeks in trade for four days of being pummeled into the ground by riffs. Thanks in advance to The Patient Mrs.

We’ve had people in the house all week to talk about doing windows, doing a kitchen, doing whatever else. A guy came and fixed a leak in the flashing above the fireplace. We got blown off by an electrician. All our furniture is still in MA, and frankly I have no idea where any of it is going to go, but I guess that’s a worry for when that place actually sells. I think it’s been on the market for three weeks? I don’t know. The sooner an offer comes in, the better. I don’t think anyone really wants to drag this out anymore than we need to.

Also, if anyone wants to help me pack vinyl, that’d be great. Thanks. I’ll be back up there sometime in July, I think. Gotta get the mail, if nothing else.

Speaking of, I know the contact form on here is broken again. Just hit me up on Facebook in the meantime.

No new The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio this week. I’ll have one next week though, so hang in. There’s still a repeat Sunday night at 7PM Eastern if you get the chance. Hit up http://gimmeradio.com for the schedule.

We’ve been down in Jersey pretty much since we got back (last weekend?) from Ireland. I think we stayed in Connecticut for a night. I don’t really know. I know I missed taking out the garbage yesterday morning and there’s copious baby poop in the garage as a result. Whatever raccoon decides to get in our trash is in for a surprise.

But this weekend is… stuff? I don’t know. I have writing to do, and a bunch of whatnot I want to get done before Doom Fest, but I’ll the skip the notes. Look for a Pinto Graham track premiere Monday and an Across Tundras review Tuesday. That’s the plan as of now. Might do Burning Gloom on Wednesday.

It’s 5:48AM and The Pecan just woke up. The sun just came through the trees. I can see on the baby monitor he’s standing, so it’s likely the real deal. Takes him a few minutes to get going sometimes. But I’ll go grab him and then start the day here, which involves the usual amount of running around and probably me stressing about emails and whatever else. Who can keep up.

Anyway, I wish you a great and safe weekend. I think we’re grilling tomorrow if you want to come by. We’ll be back here after the duck races in the afternoon. Because when we do wholesome, we go all the fuck out.

Thanks for reading.

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Roadsaw, Tinnitus the Night: Knock ‘Em All Down

Posted in Reviews on June 12th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

roadsaw tinnitus the night

If you believe in ‘due,’ Roadsaw were most certainly that. The Boston heavy rock kingpins have been somewhat limited in their activity over the last half-decade or so, as their core members Tim CatzIan Ross and Craig Riggs explored other projects like White DynomiteMurcielago and Kind, but with Tinnitus the Night, the band’s signing to Ripple Music back in 2016 bears long-awaited fruit and they give their 2011 self-titled (review here) the follow-up it so much deserved, even eight years after the fact. Their sixth full-length overall in a span of 24 years going back to 1995’s One Million Dollars (discussed here), it finds this pared-down version of the band with Riggs handling frontman and drum duties alike while Catz, as ever, is on bass and some background vocals and Ross turns in a you-should-be-talking-about-IanRoss-when-you-talk-about-heavy-rock-guitarists-style performance. As a three- or four-piece, Roadsaw are an absolute powerhouse, and the luster of their work has not dulled with time away.

Tinnitus the Night, which earns immediate charm points for its title alone, comprises 10 tracks and 45 minutes of high-quality songwriting and hooks, the band essentially serving their fanbase a reminder of why they’ve been missing Roadsaw all these years. Cuts like the opener “Along for the Ride,” the extra-scorching “Final Phase” and side B’s “Find What You Need” are barn-burners in classic Roadsaw fashion, though the latter features a slowdown in its second half mirrored in its lyrics as well, while the more extended “Peel” (6:40) and “Midazolam” (7:03) — a sedative; I guess somebody had surgery? — are more spacious, touching on psychedelia while also emphasizing the vinyl construction of the album as a whole, the former positioned as the finale of side A led to by the catchy “Along for the Ride,” “Shake,” “Fat Rats” and “Final Phase” while the latter pushes outward on a solo-topped drift until its sudden stop that brings about the acoustic-based closer “Silence,” so not the actual finish of the record, but clearly the apex just the same. The sense of variety and depth that these songs add to the two sides of Tinnitus the Night isn’t to be taken for granted.

And still, one gets the sense that Roadsaw could just sit down for five minutes and bang out a tune like “Shake” whenever they felt like it. The middle component of the opening salvo is a bruiser riff with an echoing vocal melody and harmonized layers that is air-tight in its structure — nothing wasted, nothing without purpose — and RiggsRoss and Catz make it sound like just another day at the office. That’s not a comment on their performance — far from it; throughout the entire offering, they sound awfully driven for a band who haven’t released an LP in eight years — but on just how easy and natural they make what they do sound. Part of that is experience, obviously, but it goes to the heart as well of who they are as a band. They’ve never been overly flashy or indulgent — they’re punks as much as classic heavy rockers — but they’re a band who will step on stage and blow everyone else out of the room, and that’s also what’s happening with Tinnitus the Night.

roadsaw

“Along for the Ride” brings the audience into the creation of forward momentum, “Shake” pushes deeper and “Fat Rats” cuts the tempo but draws out the melody and makes them three-for-three on memorable choruses. Much the same happens on side B, with “Knock ‘Em All Down” — the chorus, “I’ve seen ’em come, I’ve seen ’em go/But none of that matters now/I’ve had enough, more than enough/You wanna set ’em up I’ll knock ’em downs” feels purely autobiographical — “Find What You Need” (likewise) and “Under the Devil’s Thumb.” If we’re picking highlights, the latter might be mine, at least for today, as it answers back the vocal layering of “Shake” while holding an upbeat rhythm and makes tradtionalist fare sound fresh as only truly great songcraft can. But again, Roadsaw make it all sound easy, fluid, natural. Ain’t no thing to just toss out six or seven flawless slabs of heavy rock, then, you know, maybe space out a bit or kick into the next gear, whichever suits the moment. I’m not in a band, but I imagine that if I was, Roadsaw would be infuriating to listen to.

So if “Along for the Ride,” “Shake,” “Fat Rats,” “Knock ‘Em All Down,” “Find What You Need” and “Under the Devil’s Thumb” serve as the root of Tinnitus the Night‘s impact, the moments where the band branches out are no less pivotal. After the rush of “Final Phase,” “Peel” rolls forth on a slower, thicker-feeling progression that pushes the vocals deeper to give a sense of largesse and seems to pull the punch of Catz‘s bass forward for the same reason, even as Ross solos into oblivion, seeming to crunch as the track winds its way toward the five-minute mark, but they were right to leave it. A mellower stretch follows but the nod resumes and takes its time fading. “Midazolam” feels even bigger in its melody, and its crescendo tops Ross‘ solo with the chorus in such a way as to unquestionably be the payoff for the album as a whole, but cuts short at 6:48, perhaps to convey the moment of losing consciousness. Its transition to “Silence” is stark and clearly meant to be that. Keys, drums, acoustic guitar, effects wash and a quiet distorted riff back Riggs in “Silence” and the feeling is very much one of epilogue to Tinnitus the Night; the party is over and they know it. Fair enough.

Even that swapping position — “Final Phase” before the longer track on side A, “Silence” after the longer track on side B — and the fact that those two songs are more or less opposites, should give the audience some idea of the range with which Roadsaw are ultimately working while still basically keeping to verse/chorus patterning. They don’t need to do otherwise. The only question as regards Tinnitus the Night is what it might lead to. Is it the last Roadsaw album? One final blowout? They certainly sound like they have more to say, but that’s never stopped bands from stopping before. When in 2008 they released See You in Hell! after an eight-year absence, they followed three years after that with the self-titled. They had three records out between 1995 and 2000. So maybe Roadsaw do things in bunches. I don’t know. What feels more important in listening to Tinnitus the Night is appreciating the level of accomplishment Roadsaw bring to what they do. It is a majestic execution of a purposefully un-majestic form.

Maybe it leads to something, maybe it leads to nothing. The point is that after eight long years and a shift in lineup, Roadsaw came back to stake their claim on their legacy and add to it with one more round of their nigh-unmatched execution. It’s a gift to their listenership and should be received as such.

Roadsaw, Tinnitus the Night (2019)

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Roadsaw Announce June 7 Release for New Album Tinnitus the Night

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 20th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

roadsaw

I’m gonna try real hard not to take it personally that I’m leaving the Boston area and Roadsaw FINALLY decide to release a new album. And, actually, after eight years since their self-titled (review here) on Small Stone, they’re kind of doing it on the quick. June 7 is like three weeks from now. “Oh, by the way, we haven’t done a record in the better part of a decade, but so here’s one.” Whatever, I’ll take it as it comes.

To that end, they’re streaming “Shake” now and it’s a fitting reminder of why you’ve been missing Roadsaw all this time even as members have embarked on developing other projects like White DynomiteMurcielago or Kind — oh yeah, then there’s that whole thing about Riggs joining Sasquatch — all of which are most certainly welcome ways for them to spend their time. Still, there’s only one Roadsaw, and the reaffirmation is welcome.

Preorders are up now from Ripple, so have at it:

roadsaw tinnitus the night

ROADSAW: Boston’s Hard Rock Bruisers Are Back, Louder and Heavier Than Ever! | New Album Out Next Month, Share New Song ‘Shake’

Tinnitus the Night by Roadsaw is officially released on 7th June 2019

It’s been a long time coming but the wait is finally over. Boston legends Roadsaw return this June with their eighth full-length album, Tinnitus the Night, a record that’s sure to please their faithful followers, while pulling in plenty of new ones along the way.

With a sound as searing and sleazy today as it was eighteen years ago, the heart and soul of the classic Roadsaw line-up has remained intact with Ian Ross on guitar, Tim Catz on bass and Craig Riggs doubling up on vocal and drum duties. Once again the band holed up in familiar digs at Mad Oak Studios in Allston with Benny Grotto on production. Packed front to back with rippers, trippers, killers and thrillers, from opener ‘Along for The Ride’ through to the stoner opus ‘Peel’, and weighty epic of ‘Midazolam’, Roadsaw dig deep to deliver the goods.

With every tour and new record released, their fans and friends come back for more. On the road, they’ve shared stages big and small on both sides of the Atlantic with the likes of Orange Goblin, Fu Manchu, Queens of The Stone Age, Nebula, Karma To Burn, Black Label Society and many others. They’ve also been regular guests at CMJ and SXSW events and played every metal and stoner festival that would have them.

Tinnitus the Night by Roadsaw is officially released on 7th June 2019 via Ripple Music, www.ripple-music.com

TRACK LISTING:
1. Along For The Ride
2. Shake
3. Fat Rats
4. Final Phase
5. Peel
6. Knock Em All Down
7. Find What You Need
8. Under The Devil’s Thumb
9. Midazolam
10. Silence

Roadsaw:
Ian Ross – Guitar
Craig Riggs – Vocals
Tim Catz – Bass

https://www.facebook.com/ROADSAW-106440249390336/
https://www.facebook.com/theripplemusic/
https://ripplemusic.bandcamp.com/
http://www.ripple-music.com/

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Here’s the Bio I Wrote for Worshipper’s Light in the Wire

Posted in Features on May 17th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Today marks the release date of Worshipper‘s second album, Light in the Wire (review here). Out on Tee Pee Records, it lands immediately following the return of the Boston four-piece from a European tour alongside labelmates The Skull that included stops at Desertfest in London and Berlin to follow-up on both bands’ appearance at the inaugural Desertfest NYC a few weeks back (review here).

The release will be celebrated tonight in Cambridge, MA, with a live in-store performance at Newbury Comics in Harvard Square. The retail outlet also has an exclusive color vinyl edition available that looks just lovely in the pictures that I’ve seen. I was fortunate enough to be asked when they were putting the promo package together to write the bio for the album, and I did so happily.

For the occasion of the release, here’s that bio I wrote, as it appears currently on their Bandcamp page:

worshipper light in the wire

Worshipper – Light in the Wire bio

Whatever frame you want to give it, Worshipper’s story is one of growth. What started four years ago with a couple digital singles has blossomed — yes, blossomed — into an expansive and individualized sound that’s like nothing else in heavy rock and roll. With patient and graceful songwriting, and thoughtful, detailed arrangements, the Boston-based four-piece bring something new to the hordes of those building altars to the capital ‘r’ Riff. Their second album, Light in the Wire, presents a progressive vision that’s not just about “oh hey we threw a keyboard on some guitar,” but instead bleeds into every melody, every smoothly-delivered rhythmic change, and every performance captured on the recording.

Worshipper’s first album, Shadow Hymns, came out in 2016 on Tee Pee, and they followed it with the 2017 covers EP Mirage Daze, a four-song jaunt exploring influences like Pink Floyd, The Who, Uriah Heep and doom rockers The Oath. That release gave new context to Shadow Hymns, and it informs Light in the Wire as well, though with the new LP, Worshipper are most recognizable as themselves.

Led by would-be-reluctant-were-it-not-for-all-that-pesky-stage-presence frontman John Brookhouse (guitar/vocals/synth), with Alejandro Necochea on lead guitar/synth, Bob Maloney on bass and backing vocals and Dave Jarvis on drums, Worshipper recorded Light in the Wire with Chris Johnson (also of Deafheaven, Summoner, etc.) at GodCity Studios and The Electric Bunker. Their intention to capture a sonic narrative has resulted in a fluidity tying the two sides of the album together even as individual pieces stand out with a sheen of classic heavy metal, rock, psychedelia and prog. At the center, always, is the crafting of the songs themselves, so that each verse isn’t simply a placeholder for the next hook, but a statement unto itself, and each solo drips soul rather than devolving into a needless showcase of wankery.

Light in the Wire not only sees Worshipper grow as songwriters and performers, but it expands the palette they’re working with to do that. A stage-born chemistry pervades their musical conversation, but even more, the confidence with which they take on darkness and light, weight and drift, brings into focus how faithworthy their sound has become. They may push farther still, but hearing Light in the Wire leaves no question of their realization.

-JJ Koczan

https://www.facebook.com/worshipperband/
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Worshipper, Light in the Wire (2019)

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Friday Full-Length: Elder, Dead Roots Stirring

Posted in Bootleg Theater on May 10th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

So yes, I’ve been thinking about what are some of the best heavy records of the decade. We’re almost halfway into 2019, it’s time for a bit of reflection on what the heavy ’10s have wrought. I’ll probably do a poll at some point in the next couple months instead of my own list — frankly, I’m more curious what everyone else thinks — but I have to imagine Elder‘s 2011 second album for MeteorCity, Dead Roots Stirring (review here), belongs somewhere in that discussion. I don’t think it’s album of the decade, or even the greatest achievement Elder have had in the last 10 years, but it was an important moment for the Massachusetts then-trio of guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto, when they began to really show who they were becoming as a band and how their songwriting process was beginning to realize a more progressive vision. Their prior 2008 self-titled debut (discussed here) made its impression via riffs and grooving largesse. Dead Roots Stirring, at the time, was an entirely different level of achievement for Elder, and it set them on the path toward not only emerging as a touring band, but becoming an essential voice of progressive heavy rock and an influence for others to follow.

That’s hindsight, so I’ll stress that when it came out, no one knew that was going to happen. Elder had played some outside of their native Boston and gained a reputation for blowing much older bands off the stage, but I can remember vividly putting on Dead Roots Stirring for the first time, making my way through “Gemini” and the 12-minute title-track that follows it, and being fairly blindsided by the leap in their sound. Now, that’s just what they do, right? Every album is a considerable step forward from the one before it. They’ve done it four times. But Dead Roots Stirring was the first leap, and I still feel the impact of that when I listen to the record. The turn to acoustics in the intro to the instrumental “III” and the graceful build-up from there; the way they embraced not only the longer-form work of the debut, but shifted that to tell a story with the music as well as the lyrics. Elder‘s songwriting process has long since defied conventional logic. That is, they’ve never really been a verse-chorus-verse-chorus band. It’s always, “We’ll take this part and put it next to this part and sometimes we’ll maybe repeat a part and it’ll be awesome because Matt half-times the drums or something.” And why the hell should that work? Aside from Couto half-timing the drums, because I’m sorry, but that’s always going to be great. But seriously, Elder manage to turn a part played once into a hook, and one can hear that throughout Dead Roots Stirring, on “Dead Roots Stirring” itself, certainly, so elder dead roots stirringthat when a riff does come back around, its effect is all the more highlighted. It’s dumbfounding. It shouldn’t work. Other bands do it, and it just sounds like part-mashing. Elder do it and it’s brilliant.

I won’t take away from the opening salvo of which that title-track is part. “Gemini” into “Dead Roots Stirring” is probably one of the strongest one-two punches a heavy rock record has offered in the last 10 years — and yes, I mean that — but “III,” “The End” and “Knot” showed even more how far their reach had expanded in the three years since their debut. Already noted was the poise of “III,” which not only served its individual function, but fed into the overarching flow of the entire album as its centerpiece, leading to the tumbling fuzzout of “The End,” which was probably the most guitar-led of an album that’s still very much guitar-led. Peppered throughout with leads and backed by a solid groove, the song moved through a long instrumental passage at its end to cap with undulating volume swells and give a direct transition into close “Knot,” which was just a few second shy of the title-cut’s 12 minutes. The finale showed rare swagger on the part of the band, much bolstered by Donovan‘s bass, and swung its way into a overload wash of noise at the end, something Elder‘s cleaner tones on subsequent work would never really allow them to do again. I recall hearing a lot of Colour Haze in Dead Roots Stirring at the time, and I hear some less now, but there’s no question Elder were already pulling from more than just the conventional heavy-rock-riffout playbook even eight years ago. This was something special. Still is.

And of course, Elder have continued to build on it to a point where they’ll be back on tour in Europe starting next week (click here to pop out tour banner). I was fortunate enough to see them two weeks ago headlining the inaugural Desertfest NYC (review here), and they were every bit the headlining act, professional in their delivery but still clearly passionate about what they do and with the kind of draw to anchor a festival lineup. Their last two albums, 2015’s landmark Lore (review here) and 2017’s Reflections of a Floating World (review here), have pushed them further along the progressive path, growing increasingly clearheaded in their purposes as they step forward from what Dead Roots Stirring and its 2012 companion EP, Spires Burn/Release (review here), accomplished, and their profile has only grown to match. The last album was doubly notable for being the point where they added a fourth member in guitarist/keyboardist Mike Risberg, and allowed themselves a little more room to explore different textures touching on psychedelia and jamming in ways they never had before. They’re slated to release a new EP along those lines called The Gold and Silver Sessions of instrumental work — kind of a one-off — but it will be interesting to hear when they embark on a fifth full-length if and how that plays into their sound.

Because if Elder‘s output over the last 11 years been anything, it’s been a narrative thread of progress, with each offering using the one before it as a springboard to new modes of expression. I won’t guess where their next record will take them in terms of sound, but I’ll be glad to find out when the time comes, just as I was that first time I put on Dead Roots Stirring years ago.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

Oh, my aching head. Whenever I get a real-deal toothache, I think of that scene in Cast Away where Tom Hanks goes DIY-dentist on his mouth with an ice skate. Something on the stage left side of my mouth has been giving me similar impulses all week, and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a distraction from writing. Last night I was up a few times overnight from the combined pain of the toothache plus the inevitable jaw clenching I do in my sleep because, well, unresolved trauma, I guess? I don’t know. Anyway, it hurt like a bastard to the point that 2AM found me downstairs digging the tube of Orajel out of the couch cushion to numb it up. Good fun.

So yes, this week, as American democracy develops yet-more cracks in its imitation-Roman marble and the UN says like a million species are dying because humans exist, I’ve been busy thinking about my hurty tooth. Is it the worst thing that’s every happened to anyone in the existence of mankind? Yes. It is. Sorry. It’s the worst.

It’s been two weeks since I properly closed out a week. Whoops. Two weeks ago was Desertfest NYC. That was fun. Last week was the New England Stoner and Doom Fest, and though I didn’t end up going — family matters; it happens — I didn’t really pull the plug on it until Friday afternoon, and as I was already in the car and driving, just didn’t have the opportunity to put something together. I only mention it because it was noted in a comment. If you’ve been aching for a Friday Full-Length, I thought Elder would probably do the job nicely. I hope that’s the case.

This past weekend was The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio. The 15th episode. I’ve been talking this week to the program director, Brian Turner, about swapping out for a weekday shift, since apparently the Thursday replays have been going well. I think that’s pretty nifty. I didn’t really imagine doing the radio thing would last this long. I thought it would be a couple episodes, the audience would be like, “This isn’t Dave Mustaine — screw you!” and I’d get summarily shitcanned. Not to say it couldn’t still happen, but it hasn’t yet. I’ll keep you posted when the next episode is going to go live, but it looks like maybe Friday the 24th at 1PM Eastern? We’ll see if that’s final. I need to email Brian back, which I’ll do as soon as I finish writing this.

Neat either way, though, and twice as encouraging, because basically with that show I’m trying to play so much new stuff. I don’t know. It feels good to do a thing and have it be well received. That’s all. Give me my moment. I know it won’t last.

Next week is packed. I’ve been getting to the point where people hit me up for coverage and stuff and I’ve had to issue flat turn-downs. Not because I don’t want to cover whatever it is, just because everything’s already slated. It’s madness, I tell you.

Here are the notes, subject to change blah blah:

MON 05/13 LAMP OF THE UNIVERSE REVIEW
TUE 05/14 ETHEREAL RIFFIAN VID PREMIERE; LANGFINGER LIVE ALBUM TRACK PREMIERE
WED 05/15 SLOMATICS PREMIERE
THU 05/16 KALEIDOBOLT TRACK PREMIERE
FRI 05/17 VALLEY OF THE SUN ALBUM STREAM

There might also be another video premiere on Monday if I can properly coordinate it in time. If not, maybe later in the week? I don’t know. This week was oddly light on news, but I’ve already got stuff slated for Monday — friggin’ Truckfighters are putting together a festival in Stockholm; thanks guys, I was gonna do that! — so that’s good. I feel better when I’m playing catchup.

But seriously, new Slomatics, Kaleidobolt, Valley of the Sun and Langfinger next week? All premieres? And a new Ethereal Riffian video? Even if nothing else happens, that’s a pretty badass week right there. I’m stoked to be doing a Slomatics premiere. Their new album frickin’ fantastic. Likewise Valley of the Sun. Two year-end-listers for sure.

Alright, this post has gone on long enough and I won’t delude myself into thinking anyone’s still reading, but if you are, thanks for doing so. I hope you have a great and safe weekend, and I hope you check out the forum, radio stream and merch over at Dropout.

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Review & Track Premiere: Worshipper, Light in the Wire

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on April 24th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

worshipper light in the wire

[Click play above to stream ‘Visions from Beyond’ from Worshipper’s new album, Light in the Wire, out May 17 on Tee Pee Records. European tour dates here.]

“Become one with the circuit/Come alive with a purpose/You are light in the wires/Transcend, higher and higher,” croons Worshipper frontman John Brookhouse on the mid-paced pluralized-title-track “Light in the Wires” from his band’s second album, Light in the Wire. Brookhouse, guitarist Alejandro Necochea, bassist Bob Maloney and drummer Dave Jarvis make their return through Tee Pee Records and find a suitable home for their richly melodic, guitar-based proggy heavy rock, seeming to draw influences from across decades — and no, that’s not limited to the ’70s and ’90s, as one might usually expect; there’s an unmistakable ’80s sheen to the sound, and the interplay of humans and technology is as much of a theme as I could possibly think of for the aughts, unless they wanted to write about needless war — to create a sound that’s forward thinking, impeccably modern, righteously arranged, sharply executed, and engaging in its craft and structure, with verses, choruses, solos aplenty and an overarching atmosphere that all work to pull the listener in further as the band progresses.

It feels like a relatively quick turnaround but isn’t for Worshipper, whose debut, Shadow Hymns (review here), was released through Tee Pee in 2016 and who also had the Mirage Daze EP (review here) out last year as a stopgap with covers of Uriah Heep, The Oath, Pink Floyd and The Who, but more important than the span of time between records is the clear growth the Boston-based outfit have undertaken since their first record. They’ve had songwriting on their side since their 2015 singles, Black Corridor b/w High Above the Clouds (review here) and Place Beyond the Light b/w Step Behind (discussed here), but as dynamic tracks like “Wither on the Vine” and the second cut “Who Holds the Light” demonstrate, the level at which they’re working has simply become more complex and more cohesive at the same time. Worshipper‘s identity as a band, and more, their identifiability — that is, the “hear a song and know it’s them” factor — is more prevalent and offers more depth throughout Light in the Wire, and with that same foundation in craft and performance supporting that the first album made so plain, it is the work of a band beginning to realize their potential and one of the best albums of 2019. “Come alive with a purpose.” And so they have.

They make that clear early on in opening with “Coming Through.” Also the longest track on Light in the Wire (immediate points), it is the proverbial closer-as-opener, with a stirring build to its crescendo beginning at about the halfway point that consumes much of the rest of what follows, a resonant sense of melody throughout and a style that blends psychedelia, heavy rock, cult riffing, classic metal and probably six or seven other factors that blend together naturally to give Worshipper their own style. Whatever else it might be, it is guitar rock, most certainly. Necochea is a six-stringer’s six-stringer, and his interaction with Brookhouse‘s melodies is a big part of what makes Light in the Wire — and “Coming Through” at the outset — so fluid. That’s not to minimize the work of Maloney on bass or backing vocals or Jarvis on drums, just to note that it’s called “lead guitar” for a reason, and “Coming Through” very much sets that tone for the rest of the record to follow, as well as establishing the science-fiction thematic that continues to play out loosely to some degree or other in tracks “Lights in the Wire,” “Visions from Beyond” and closer “Arise.”

worshipper (Photo by Tim Bugbee)

In terms of lyrics, these ideas are brought into an interpersonal context, so Worshipper aren’t just talking about uploading your consciousness into the cloud and attaining digital immortality, but approaching these concepts from a perspective based around the human heart. That suits the emotionality of Brookhouse‘s vocals well, and in songs like “Nobody Else,” which follows “Who Holds the Light” as side A plays out, that plays a forward role in the delivery of the songs while also setting up the easy flow into the subdued beginning of “Light in the Wires,” which slows down the forward push but still moves readily and gives way to “Visions from Beyond” with the kind of smooth transition that argues for linear formats. Otherwise, “Visions from Beyond” starts side B with a subtle urgency to its central riff and rhythm and one of Light in the Wire‘s strongest hooks.

Plenty of competition in that regard, but the turns from “Nobody Else” to “Light in the Wires” and “Visions from Beyond” should serve to emphasize the reach that Worshipper have made their own here. While remaining consistent in tone, they’ve massively expanded their sound, and done so with confidence and poise enough to actually pull it off. “It all Comes Back” ups the tempo in its central progression and features some highlight bass from Maloney in its second half before turning back to the guitar to show the way out, and the arrival of “Wither on the Vine” with a stomping riff that immediately conjures images of early-’80s Iommi feels like a landmark indeed for the entire album. Momentum is long since on Worshipper‘s side, and they make the most of it in the 6:37 cut, playing with pace and melody while holding to that central figure on a long fade that mirrors what “Coming Through” did at the beginning of the record as it provides a seeming apex for the end of it. That would seem to make “Arise” something of an afterthought, which it isn’t really, despite a more straightforward progression and a right-on wash of crash from Jarvis behind the lumbering guitars.

Another particularly Sabbathian riff — I’m thinking Vol. 4, but could be the mid-’70s era — serves as the foundation for the finale, and Worshipper seem happy to ride that groove all the way through, leaving the listener off with some residual amp noise feeling refreshed and, as perhaps was the intent, not overwhelmed by the twists and turns preceding. It’s almost as though in putting the closer first with “Coming Through,” they also decided to put what would otherwise be the rocking opener “Arise” as the closer. Tricky, tricky. Bottom line, it works, and it’s another example of Worshipper knowing just what the album needs not only to stand out from its predecessor or the heavy rock underground at large, but to create a more memorable impression generally as an entire piece. Light in the Wire very much functions in that way, and while that leads one to wonder if a concept record might be in their future, what matters now is the sheer accomplishment Worshipper have made with these songs and how they’re put together. That is not a minor consideration, and if Light in the Wire has any core statement to make, it’s that Worshipper are onto something that could be really special. I don’t know about becoming one with the circuit, but there would seem to be plenty of transcendence to go around.

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Gozu Announce June Tour Dates to Electric Funeral Fest

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 18th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

gozu (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I had the merry occasion last month to see Gozu twice. Once in their native Boston (review here), and the next night in Brooklyn (review here). Both nights, they killed. They were playing with a new drummer, and accordingly, one might’ve expected some lull as they get their feet under them with a new lineup dynamic, but their songs are fucking good that they just locked into them and went for it and the rest seemed to take care of itself. I’d expect that they’ll get even more solid as they go forward — certainly this upcoming tour in June will help that too — but it wasn’t like there was a lull when they played. They’re one of the strongest heavy rock acts to come out of New England in the last 15 years. Seeing them live is never anything but a boon to one’s evening.

They’re hitting some cool places on this tour as well — Lincoln, Nebraska, and Canton, Ohio, among some more expected stops in Chicago, Detroit, Buffalo, Brooklyn, etc. — so all the better as they make their way toward finishing off at Electric Funeral Fest in Denver, Colorado. Gozu have always put their work in and they continue to, but as I think the video below shows, their command of the stage has never been quite so palpable as it is now.

Their social medias post for the shows went as follows:

gozu june tour

Hitting the road in June and incredibly excited for these upcoming shows leading up to Electric Funeral Fest IV in Denver, CO!!

GOZU Tour
06.07.19 Friday Boston, MA Mid East Up
06.08.19 Saturday Brooklyn, NY Saint Vitus
06.09.19 Sunday Canton, OH Buzzbin
06.10.19 Monday Buffalo, NY Mohawk Place
06.11.19 Tuesday Detroit, MI Sanctuary
06.12.19 Wednesday Chicago, IL Reggies (Acid Witch, Against the Grain)
06.13.19 Thursday St. Paul, MN Turf Club
06.14.19 Friday Lincoln, NE 1867 Bar
06.15.19 Saturday Denver, CO Electric Funeral Fest- (Torche, Dead Meadow, Tombs, Call of The Void, Fotocrime, Un, GOZU, BUMMER, TEETH, the Munsens, The Lion’s Daughter, Sun Voyager, Trapped Within Burning Machinery, Chrome Waves, Horseneck, YATRA, Casket Huffer, Dizz Brew, THRA, Red Mesa.)

https://www.facebook.com/GOZU666
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instagram.com/gozu666
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Gozu, Live at Saint Vitus Bar, March 2, 2019

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Magic Circle, Departed Souls: A Way to Die

Posted in Reviews on April 3rd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

magic circle departed souls

There’s an awful lot of year left, so it’s probably best to avoid “best of”-type hyperbole, but it’s safe to say that whoever else puts out a traditional doom album in 2019 is going to have a hell of a time topping Magic Circle‘s Departed Souls. The Massachusetts five-piece’s third album and second through 20 Buck Spin behind 2015’s sophomore outing Journey Blind (review here) — they released the Scream Live! tape in 2016 as well — and their 2013 self-titled debut (review here). The intervening years between Journey Blind and Departed Souls would seem to have been crucial particularly for vocalist Brendan Radigan, who stepped in to act as live frontman for Pagan Altar. Singing for one of doom’s formative acts would seem to have had an effect on Radigan‘s approach, and where Journey Blind introduced a NWOBHM-style aspect to Magic Circle‘s sound, Departed Souls absolutely refuses to compromise between that and the doom that was so pervasive at their start.

I have said on more occasions than I care to count that classic metal belongs to doom, and Departed Souls proves it. Hell, “I’ve Found My Way to Die” alone might prove it, let alone anything else on the eight-song/45-minute LP. In terms of doom, they dig right to the root. The opening title-track begins with a synthesized-sounding sweep like that in Black Sabbath‘s “After Forever,” and from there, guitarists Chris Corry and Renato Montenegro begin a master class in tone and riff. Backed by the swing in Michael “Q” Quartulli‘s drums and the utterly crucial bass work of Justin DeTore, the two guitars fluidly drive tempo changes like that 3:33 into “Departed Souls,” where they kick into speedier shuffling after setting a middling pace prior — a classic Sabbathian move, and far from the last one on the album.

Particularly in terms of tone and the production of Will Killingsworth at Dead Air Studios Corry mixed and Andy Pearce and Matt Wortham mastered — it’s not just Black Sabbath, but particularly post-Master of Reality-era Sabbath, moving into the crunching riffs of Vol. 4Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and Sabotage circa 1973-’75, that seem to define album highlights like “Valley of the Lepers” and the closing “Hypnotized,” even as the melding of lead and rhythm tracks give the band an opportunity they most certainly take to make that style their own. One might say the same of the layers of background harmonies periodically surrounding Radigan in the otherwise relatively straightforward arrangements, as introduced in “Valley of the Lepers” and brought to bear in the acoustic-led “A Day Will Dawn Without Nightmares,” which follows, as well as on and off again throughout “Nightland,” “Gone Again” and the slower-marching “Hypnotized.” It’s not the first time he’s had backing vocals, but their use here shows not only his increased command of melody in his already-powerful voice, but the ability to use that command to a defined purpose. “A Day Will Dawn Without Nightmares” is a song that simply doesn’t happen either on Magic Circle or Journey Blind, but on Departed Souls, the band seems well at home in its making, Mellotron-style keys and all.

Magic Circle (Photo by Dakota Gordon)

Acoustic guitar returns on the side B interlude “Bird City Blues” placed right ahead of “Hypnotized,” but it’s an 80-second instrumental piece that seems intended to enhance the titular effect of the closer — i.e., hypnosis — and keyboards make even more of an impression in the subsequent “Nightland” and “Gone Again,” but it’s how it all comes together in “A Day Will Dawn Without Nightmares” that makes the difference, as well as the showcase the song provides for Radigan, though admittedly, that’s more a question of context than quality of performance. There isn’t a point on Departed Souls in which he or the band around him doesn’t shine, whether it’s repurposing the rhythm of the bridge riff to “Sabbra Cadabra” in “Gone Again” or building the hook to “I’ve Found My Way to Die” as an understated anthem of anti-conformity — the lines, “I will never die with the herd/I gotta make my stand/Right!,” efficiently capturing the middle-finger ideology that the earliest of heavy metal raised to the mainstream popular culture that left it on the margins and that has come in the years since to be one of metal’s most defining aspects. Who needs you when I’ve got this?

They make every crash of Q‘s drums in the finale count, every subtle interaction between the lead and rhythm guitars, as in the first half of “Nightland,” the uptempo side B leadoff that breaks to a stretch of harmonies and mellotron that borders on the progressive but never loses its rawer, essential edge before it builds back up into the solo apex that finishes. With the swaggering title-track at the outset and the morose dirge of “Hypnotized” capping, Departed Souls is every bit a work of the classic metal that inspired it. Magic Circle are obviously versed in the style in which they’re working, but Departed Souls pushes further and internalizes that in a way that showcases the growth on the part of the band over the last six years. It’s as though they’ve taken the best of the first two outings and moved them both another step forward. On the most basic level, their songwriting has never sounded stronger, and their performances have never seemed so assured.

Add to that the atmosphere brought forth from the tones of DeToreCorry and Montenegro — hell, even the snare has a classic pop — and Magic Circle have tapped into something genuinely special within their sound. Subtleties like the guitar layering in “Gone Again” or the, yes, cowbell in “Departed Souls,” or even just the way they delay the entry of the vocal harmonies, letting that opener and “I’ve Found My Way to Die” act as a salvo before expanding the palette in “Valley of the Lepers” speak to an overarching fruition to their approach that, even those who’ve stood behind them since the first record would’ve been unlikely to predict. It is a triumph of style and substance that without question deserves consideration among the best albums of 2019.

Magic Circle, Departed Souls (2019)

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