Merlin, The Wizard: Reedy Conjurings

Posted in Reviews on March 14th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

merlin the wizard

Generally speaking, I’m not one for writing off entire genres of music whatever that genre might happen to be, but there comes a time in every listener’s life when they invariably have to ask themselves one crucial question: “Is this ska?” A few years back, when everyone was on the collective dudely-parts of The Budos Band, I took a listen, stopped, asked myself that very question, and found that the answer was yes. Needless to say, it was the last time I listened to that particular group. I’m sorry. Everyone has a sound they can’t relate to — for some it’s country, for others it’s heavy metal — and for me, it’s ska. But, when I heard that Kansas City doom rockers Merlin had acquired a saxophonist/second guitarist in Stu Kersting for their fourth full-length, The Wizard — it’s also their first outing with Chase Thayer on bass — I wasn’t necessarily too nervous about it.

The band has always had kind of a weirdo streak, always geared themselves toward storytelling, but as the remaining founders in the lineup, vocalist Jordan Knorr, guitarist/keyboardist Carter Lewis and drummer Caleb Wyles expand from a four-piece to a five- and push into this new sax-laden sonic territory, it once again became necessary to listen to the seven-track/39-minute The Wizard (released by The Company) and ask myself if what I was hearing was ska. Is The Wizard ska? No. It’s not. It’s doom rock with a saxophone. Oh, and a guest appearance of trumpet on opener “Abyss.” That’s it though. Still not ska.

Admittedly, that would’ve been a fascinating if unfortunate sonic turn for Merlin to have made three albums deep. Their last outing, 2016’s Electric Children (review here), was arguably their darkest, and as they returned to Bert Liber to record, collaborate on the mix, and master The Wizard, one can only consider the shift in vibe a conscious decision. Liber (who also donates that trumpet guest spot), working in conjunction with the band, is no mess masterful in setting the depth and spaciousness of The Wizard‘s mix than he was on Electric Children, and songs like the buzzing, tense, guitar and key led “Gravelord” (premiered here) benefit immensely from the space they’re provided in which to flourish. Likewise, the pairing of shimmering guitar and horn on opener “Abyss” immediately sets a different tone than anything Merlin have collectively conjured before, swinging, deftly arranged, and no, still not ska.

merlin logo

Also worth taking into consideration when thinking of The Wizard‘s overall spirit is that at 39 minutes, it’s about 12 minutes shorter than its predecessor, and as it moves through songs like the thudding atmo-jazz of “Sage’s Crystal Staff” or the organ-and-wah laced catchy centerpiece “Golem” and the subsequent post-“Hand of Doom” stonerism of “Iron Borne,” en route to the extended “The Wizard Suite” 11-minute finale, which includes chanting repetitions of “I am the wizard,” a King Crimson-style chase, begins with All Them Witches-style guitar shimmer and resolves itself in chug of increasing tempo that leads to a final crescendo of guitar and sax working together around a twisting progression that ends with thuds and the line “I am the wizard” repeated once more, a quick-fading echo being the last sound of the record itself as it makes a cold finish, having come a long way even from the two-and-a-half-minute galloping doom insistence of “Tarantula Hawk” just prior. All of this, delivered with a tighter approach, gives the listener more to grasp onto as they make their way through.

Aside from its sound, overarching sonic dynamic and willful shift in texture, another key difference in The Wizard is a return on the part of the band to a narrative sphere, from which Electric Children departed after the band followed a storytelling course on 2014’s Christkiller LP (review here). That either matters a lot or not at all depending on how much a given listener wants to interact with this material — for what it’s worth I know nothing of the plot and have received no word of what The Wizard is about (one assumes there’s a wizard in there somewhere); presumably that’s the kind of info one would find in liner notes absent from a digital release but present with a vinyl or CD — but it says something of Merlin‘s overarching progression that they so readily allow for both levels of engagement on the part of their audience.

I’ve been hesitant to call them progressive before — am significantly less so after that blatant “21st Century Schizoid Man” reference in “The Wizard Suite” — but there can be no question that The Wizard brings their sound to new places for them and offers something in style and substance that none of their previous work has offered. That’s not just about the sax, though certainly that’s part of it, but also in the level of songcraft, and the spirit of sureness guiding the listener across various sonic changes, Merlin sound rife with confidence, and especially for a band who’ve put out four long-players over the course of a five-year (to-date) run with singles and other releases posted besides, their level of growth has been underscored by a consistency of songwriting quality that, even here, as they push farther out than they’ve ever pushed before, remains perhaps the most crucial aspect of who they are as a band. The Wizard has its novelty, sure, but fascinates well beyond that, and maybe most important of all, it is in no way, shape or form a ska release. Whew.

Merlin The Wizard (2018)

Merlin on Thee Facebooks

Merlin on Bandcamp

The Company webstore

The Company on Thee Facebooks

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Merlin Premiere “Gravelord”; The Wizard Available to Preorder

Posted in audiObelisk, Whathaveyou on December 1st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

merlin

Dramatic Kansas City heavy rockers Merlin release their new album, The Wizard, on Jan. 26 via The Company. With it, the band’s passions for sax and storytelling are revitalized in a fashion they haven’t presented since 2014’s Christ Killer (review here), their sophomore outing.  2016’s Electric Children (review here), then, may have been something of a detour in terms of approach, but either way, the thematic take is renewed here in songs like “Sage’s Crystal Staff,” “Gravelord,” “Iron Borne” and the 11-minute finale “The Wizard Suite,” which rounds out with insistent declarations of “I am the wizard” that come across remarkably like death throes.

And maybe they are — I don’t know. The plot of Merlin‘s latest opus remains something of a mystery, but their sound intrigues as ever, and The Wizard is available to preorder merlin gravelordfrom The Company as of today. To mark the occasion, I’ve been given permission to host a premiere for “Gravelord,” which you’ll find below in all its ragged and momentum-driven tidings. On the record, its garage-fuzz assault directly follows opener “Abyss,” and in comparison to cuts like the wah-drenched “Golem” or “Sage’s Crystal Staff,” it’s one of the more straightforward cuts The Wizard presents, with a strong foundation in its hook that forms the basis of what surrounds, which as ever feels chaotic and theatrical without ever actually losing its sense of craft.

That, to-date, has been Merlin‘s specialty. They revel in these dark, oft-obscured themes and take a correspondingly bizarre and quirky approach to songwriting, but they absolutely pull it off every time. Part psychedelia, part classic doom, part heavy rock, they refute easy classification and instead bask in a series of sonic turns that keep the listener attentive and guessing all the while. Don’t expect “Gravelord” to speak for the entirety of The Wizard, but do expect it to rock.

And please enjoy:

Merlin, “Gravelord” official premiere

Chapter II: Gravelord

In the Wizards absence, the world he had once protected has fallen victim to three ancient lords: The Gravelord, The Golem and the Atronach. The Gravelord being the Lord of the Dead has begun tainting the land of the living with his army of the undead…

It’s been 4 long years since Merlin’s last conceptual album, Christ Killer was released. In that time of chaos, band members have came and gone, the cast has changed, equipment has broke, alliances were created and a whole lot of rituals have been performed from KC to Psycho Las Vegas. Merlin have finally deemed it time to bring you their next concept story, The Wizard. Featuring new members Chase Thayer on bass guitar and Stu Kersting on Saxophone and Guitar, Merlin have twisted their sound even further into the realms of the mystic unknown and unfamiliar territory…

Tracklisting:
1. Abyss
2. Gravelord
3. Sages Crystal Staff
4. Golem
5. Iron borne
6. Tarantula Hawk
7. The Wizard Suite

Merlin is:
Carter Lewis – Guitars, Synth
Stu Kersting – Guitars, Saxophones
Chase Thayer – Bass Player
Caleb Wyels – Percussions
Jordan Knorr – Vocals, Storytelling, Omnichord

https://www.facebook.com/MERLIN666/
Merlin on Bandcamp
http://thecompanykc.bigcartel.com/
https://www.facebook.com/thecompanykc

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Merlin Announce New Album The Wizard Coming Soon

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 8th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

No solid release date yet from what I can tell, but Kansas City, Missouri, storytelling doom rockers Merlin are gearing up to issue their next conceptual full-length, The Wizard. Set for pressing in a vinyl edition of 300 through The Company, the band’s third full-length follows behind 2016’s Electric Children (review here), which stepped away from the narrative focus of the prior Christ Killer (review here), released in 2014. As to what the plot of The Wizard might be, I haven’t the foggiest idea, but my understanding is one exists, and that’s enough for me to go on at least for today. There’s plenty of time to figure out the rest.

I don’t know how long it takes to print up fancy-looking LPs these days — and goodness these are fancy looking — but an early 2018 release seems to me more likely than not. If the case turns out to be otherwise, I’ll let you know, and either way, I’ll hope to have more on the record, like a review, before it hits, so keep an eye out.

Everyone’s happy when this one walks by:

merlin the wizard vinyl

It’s been 4 long years since Merlin’s last conceptual album, Christ Killer was released. In that time of chaos, band members have came and gone, the cast has changed, equipment has broke, alliances were created and a whole lot of rituals have been performed from KC to Psycho Las Vegas. Merlin have finally deemed it time to bring you their next concept story, The Wizard. Featuring new members Chase Thayer on bass guitar and Stu Kersting on Saxophone and Guitar, Merlin have twisted their sound even further into the realms of the mystic unknown and unfamiliar territory…

Christ is dead.

The Electric children are Dead.

Long live The Wizard.

Tracklisting:
1. Abyss
2. Gravelord
3. Sage’s Crystal Stafr
4. Golem
5. Iron Borne
6. Tarantula Hawk
7. The Wizard Suite

Cast:
Carter Lewis – Guitars, Synth
Stu Kersting – Guitars, Saxophones
Chase Thayer – Bass Player
Caleb Wyels – Percussions
Jordan Knorr – Vocals, Storytelling, Omnichord

Mastered by Bret Liber
Recorded at Red Roof Productions
Mixed by Bret Liber and Merlin
Album Art – Nikki Fenn Art
Album Layout – Josh Wilkinson
https://www.facebook.com/MERLIN666/
Merlin on Bandcamp
http://thecompanykc.bigcartel.com/
https://www.facebook.com/thecompanykc

Merlin, Electric Children (2016)

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Desert Survival: How to Do Psycho Las Vegas on a Budget

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 18th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

psycho las vegas 2017 banner

Hey, if you’re going to go broke, let’s face it: You’re not likely to run into many causes as worthy as the lineup culled together for Psycho Las Vegas. It ain’t cheap — any event that advertises a payment plan obviously knows it’s a considerable ask — but whether you’re going to see Slo Burn for their only US gig or King Diamond doing Abigail or Mulatu Astatke because going to see Mulatu Astatke is a life-event, the arguments in favor are plentiful and convincing. Whatever else you want to say, Psycho Las Vegas is the first annually-held American festival with a focus on heavy and underground rock to really establish itself as world class.

That in itself is a reason to support the cause, whether it’s through a day ticket or a pass for the entire weekend, but it doesn’t necessarily lesson the expense of making the trip or staying in one of the US’ most lucrative tourist traps, let alone things like band merchandise, meals and the occasional adult beverage if you’re inclined to have one. The thought of seeing NeurosisSleep and Carcass share a stage over the course of a weekend or watching Conan, the new trio-incarnation of Pentagram and Yawning Man poolside or from the balcony of a room in the Casino Tower is incredible, and after hearing stories from those who undertook the journey in 2016 or attended the prior Psycho California in 2015, the idea wants nothing for appeal. Fiscal issues can be a bummer. By the time August rolls around, I’ll have been out of paid work for two months. I know how it goes.

And I’m hardly the most responsible person when it comes to money, but the truth of the matter is there are ways to mitigate costs for travel, lodging and other concerns, and if the thing preventing you from picking up a ticket to the show has been the seeming impossibility of affording a stay at the Hard Rock or of finding a cheap-enough flight to get there, maybe it’s worth trying to shift finances around to make it happen. Music is important, and when debt collectors are spamming your phone it’s hard to think about the non-cash value of life experiences, but the fact is the bills you need to pay will still be there. The bill with Corrosion of Conformity in a lineup alongside Kylesa‘s Laura Pleasants, Domkraft, Swans, Elephant Tree and Heavy Temple? Much less so.

Here are a few pointers that hopefully can save you a couple bucks. Some of it’s day-one stuff, but things like hotel picks and transportation nuances are good to know either way.

Check it out:

psycho-las-vegas-2017-poster

Flying In
• Buy tickets on a Tuesday for the cheapest rates.
• Use a discount flight search.
• If you can, fly in on Thursday and leave on Monday for better rates, search different days and times to come in and leave.
• Book early. Rates go up in the summer.

Getting There
• Ride apps cost less than cabs.
• The Hard Rock is less than a mile from the airport. Cheap trip anyway.
• There are free shuttles from most Vegas hotels to the strip and tourist attractions.

Staying There
• This one is huge… don’t stay at the Hard Rock if you can’t afford it! Alexis Park, RUMOR, Red Roof Inn are all across the street and cheap. Scope out a position on a map if you need to; that’s what Street View is there for.
• Partner up to share rooms. You’ve got social media and it’s not like you’re going to do more than sleep and (hopefully) shower there anyway. Might as well join forces and save expense where you can.

Drinks
• BYO. Vegas has open-container laws. If you think hooch is too expensive at the Hard Rock, get loaded on the sidewalk before you go in.
• One way or another, hydrate. You’re staying in the desert in August. Don’t be stupid.

Psycho Las Vegas 2017 Lineup
Abbath, Ace Frehley, Black Anvil, Blood Ceremony, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Buzzov*en, Carcass, Celeste, Chelsea Wolfe, Cirith Ungol, Cloud Catcher, Code Orange, Conan, Corrosion of Conformity, Cough, Cult Leader, Cult Of Luna With Julie Christmas Diamond Head, Domkraft, Earthless, Elephant Tree, Eternal Tapestry, Fister, Floorian, Gatecreeper, GEQ, Gojira, Gost, Graf Orlock, Heavy Temple, Hollow Leg, Inter Arma, Khemmis, King Diamond, Laura Pleasants & Special Guests, Magma, Manilla Road, Merlin, Minsk, Morne, Mothership, Mouth of the Architect, Mulatu Astatke, Murder City Devils, Mustard Gas & Roses, Myrkur, Neurosis, North, Oathbreaker, Pelican, Pentagram, Psychic TV, The Rods, Ruby the Hatchet, Sasquatch, Saturndust, Sleep, Slo Burn, Slomatics, Snail, Sons of Otis, Sumac, Summoner, Swans, The Skull, Toke, Urchin, Usnea, Vhol, Weedeater, Windhand, Wizard Rifle, Wolves in the Throne Room, Yawning Man, Year of the Cobra, Youngblood Supercult, Zeal & Ardor.

http://www.vivapsycho.com
https://www.facebook.com/psychoLasVegas
https://www.instagram.com/psycholasvegas

Pentagram, “Relentless / Broken Vows” Live in Richmond, VA, 2017

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Smokestock Announces First Lineup: Greenbeard, Youngblood Supercult, Merlin and More to Play

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 6th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Right away, the intent behind the new fest Smokestock is clear. Set for May 27 at the All Star Rock Bar in Kansas City, Missouri, the 10-band lineup finds it focused heavily on promoting the heavy rock underground local to the region. With a reach that dips down to Texas to bring Greenbeard aboard as headliners, it boasts Kansas and Missouri-based acts Youngblood Supercult, Merlin, Sons of Mourning, Custom Black, Gnarly Davidson, Spacetrucker and Hyborian, as well as Ohio’s Druid, so it’s safe to say that the native scene is well represented.

The plan seems to be to squeeze in 10 bands between 6PM and 12AM, so it’s gonna be a packed night for sure, but hard to argue with the righteousness of the mission. As a side note, Greenbeard, Youngblood Supercult, Spacetrucker and Merlin all have new releases in the works, so I wouldn’t be surprised to find them sharing some of that recent material from the stage, and I’ve heard rumors this isn’t the only fest Youngblood Supercult will be playing this year. Merlin have already been confirmed for Psycho Las Vegas, so there’s a legitimate groundswell happening in the Midwest, and I’ll be interested to see how what’s billed itself as a “stoner rock revival” — playing off tent churches? — plays out in fostering the movement of bands.

Dig into the lineup info and links below, as found on the social medias:

smokestock poster

RIP Presents Smokestock: A Midwest Stoner Rock Revival

Saturday, May 27
The All Star Rock Bar
7210 NE 43rd St, Kansas City, Missouri 64117

RIP Productions is proud to present a newly conceived annual event– SMOKESTOCK: A Midwest Stoner Rock Revival

SMOKESTOCK is a Kansas City-based festival aimed at bringing stoner rock, doom metal, and psych/fuzz to the Midwestern masses.

This year’s confirmed performing artists at The All Star Rock Bar:

Greenbeard (Texas)
Youngblood Supercult (Topeka, Kansas)
Druid (Ohio)
Custom Black (KCMO)
Sons Of Mourning (KCMO)
Keef Mountain (KCMO)
Merlin (KCMO)
Gnarly Davidson (Lawrence, Kansas)
Spacetrucker (St. Louis, Mo.)
Hyborian (KCMO)

All ages until midnight!
$10 for 21+/$12 for under 21
Doors at 5pm, music starts at 6!!

https://www.facebook.com/events/1035751783228166/
https://www.facebook.com/smokestock/

Youngblood Supercult, High Plains (2016)

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Psycho Las Vegas 2017 Makes Massive Lineup Announcement; Slo Burn, Vhöl, Pelican, Chelsea Wolfe, Melvins and Many More Added

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 17th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

Take a deep breath before you dive into the new lineup announcement from Psycho Las Vegas 2017. With 35-plus bands added, it officially qualifies as huge, and considering who those bands are — Slo Burn for a US-exclusive, plus bringing over the likes of Elephant Tree to play alongside SummonerHollow LegGatecreeper and others — it can be a lot to take in. If you haven’t had a meal yet today, you might want to eat something. Make sure you’re hydrated. Basically I want to avoid anyone fainting as a result of reading the list of bands. If you’re sensitive to flashing lights… you’re probably okay. But otherwise, check to see you have something soft to land on nearby, should you need it.

I missed Psycho this year owing to a new job and a general lack of funds. I’m not sure I can do the same in 2017. This one might just be a gotta-go kind of scenario. Fuckin’ Slomatics are gonna be there.

There are still more than 40 bands to announce, including headliners, whose names will be out at random points over the next 30 days.

Jeebus.

To the PR wire:

psycho las vegas 2017

Psycho Las Vegas 2017

August 18, 2017 – August 20, 2017
Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Las Vegas

Psycho Las Vegas today announces over 35 new additions to its massive 2017 lineup. The festival has quickly become the premier event in the US for underground heavy rock, psych, doom, alternative and beyond, and as the roster grows for this year’s edition, they’re clearly looking to push their boundaries even further.

Headliners remain TBA, but joining previously-announced generation-defining acts like Neurosis, Swans and French prog lords Magma, come UK grind legends Carcass, whose reunion continues to bring gruesome tales of dissections and unparalleled.

They’ll be in good company with Norwegian black metal legend Abbath, formerly of Immortal, who released a raging self-titled debut album under his own name this year, New York’s Myrkur, whose own debut, M, disrupted black metal genre convention on nearly every level, and USBM innovators Wolves in the Throne Room, who continue to refine a style they helped establish more than a decade ago.

Look for the Melvins to boggle brains with their brand of heavy rock – still unique unto itself after more than three decades – as well as for the new project Crystal Fairy with Buzzo and Dale from the Melvins, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (Mars Volta) and Teri Gender Bender (Le Butcherettes) to bring to life their debut album, which releases in February on Ipecac Recordings.

This latest announcement also brings sludge-laden chaos from the pair of Weedeater and Buzzov*en, and Chelsea Wolfe to emit a darkness that even Las Vegas in the summer won’t be able to hold at bay.

The reunited Slo Burn (vocalist John Garcia’s first project post-Kyuss) will play an exclusive US show at Psycho, and a special highlight performance from psych-jazz legend Mulatu Astatke is open eyes, ears and minds alike as he celebrates a career spanning more than 50 years.

Also added have been long-running mischief-makers Murder City Devils, alt-rock legends Echo and the Bunnymen, progressive thrashers Vhöl (members of YOB and Agalloch), Pelican, Cult of Luna, Psychic TV, and as it did with the landmark 2016 edition, the fest digs deep into the heavy rock underground once again to unearth the best of up-and-coming bands from the States and beyond. Along with the already confirmed riff-crushers Windhand, Blood Ceremony, Slomatics and Domkraft, Elephant Tree (UK) have signed on alongside fellow fest-newcomers Khemmis, Sumac, Gatecreeper, Snail, North, Cult Leader, Hollow Leg, Summoner, Floorian, Wizard Rifle, Merlin and Morne.

Further lineup announcements will follow in the New Year — including headliners — so stay tuned for more from the best and biggest heavy festival the US has ever seen.

Psycho Las Vegas 2017 Confirmed lineup:
MURDER CITY DEVILS
NEUROSIS
MULATU ASTATKE
SWANS
CARCASS
WOLVES IN THE THRONEROOM
CRYSTAL FAIRY
MAGMA
CHELSEA WOLFE
SLO BURN
CULT OF LUNA
ABBATH
SUMAC
MYRKUR
PELICAN
WEEDEATER
ZEAL & ARDOR
SLOMATICS
OATHBREAKER
VHOL
COUGH
BLOOD CEREMONY
INTER ARMA
THE SKULL
WINDHAND
BUZZOVEN
MINSK
CODE ORANGE
KHEMMIS
GATECREEPER
NORTH
CULT LEADER
SNAIL
WIZARD RIFLE
MERLIN
FLOORIAN
DOMKRAFT
ELEPHANT TREE
MORNE
HOLLOW LEG
SUMMONER

http://www.vivapsycho.com/
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/psycho-las-vegas-2017-tickets-27758793298
https://www.facebook.com/psychoLasVegas/
https://www.facebook.com/events/1636267026703732/
https://www.instagram.com/psycholasvegas/
https://twitter.com/psycholasvegas

Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree (2016)

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FreakTulsa 2016 Posts Updated Lineup

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 8th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

I’d be interested to witness the gathering of weirdos that FreakTulsa 2016 brings out. The festival — based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and of no relation to the German Freak Valley fest that I know of — culls bands from around the Midwest and well beyond, groups like King Buffalo and Destroyer of Light sharing the stage with Merlin and Red Wizard, among many others. It’s a three-day affair, June 17 through June 19, and while I won’t make it out for it, I’ll look forward to finding out how it goes. Seems like an event in the middle of the country could be a good regional pull, a haven of sorts, for followers of riff.

Bottom line, it looks like a good time. Hope it goes well.

Updated lineup, info and ticket links follow:

freaktulsa 2016 poster

Get it together folks, for the most fuzzed out, brain-jarring, facemeltingest fest to trample Tulsa, June 17th-19th at the Downtown Lounge. We’ve got an incredible and diverse lineup, from the deep and fuzzed out valleys to the peaks of devestating alpine thrash glory. Get your tickets now.

Freaktulsa 2016 is a 3 day psychedelic rock festival celebrating all that is hard, doomy and heavy. Join us and our diverse lineup at the Downtown Lounge in Tulsa Oklahoma June 17 – 19th. This is a show presented by and for enthusiasts of dark rock of all types. The Mid West Heshfest exists for the love of music above all else, driving our focus to be on providing the best possible musical experience for you.

FreakTulsa 2016 lineup:
Friday 6.17
Silver Screen Monsters, Violent Wednesday, Cobra Jab, Psychotic Reaction, Brother Gruesom, Senior Fellows, Burn Thee Insects, Merlin, Contagion 237, Dr. Rock Doctor, Oberon

Saturday 6.18
Smoke Offering, Idre, P.R.I., Sun Vow, King Buffalo, Grind, Destroyer of Light, Constant Peril, Rifflord, Book of Wyrms

Sunday 6.19
Skeleton Farm, Blunt Splinter, Lucid Awakening, Youngblood Supercult, The Great Electric Quest, Forever in Disgust, Red Wizard, Chainmail

https://www.facebook.com/FreakTulsa/
https://www.facebook.com/events/985580904860408/
https://www.picatic.com/FreakTulsa

Rifflord at FreakTulsa 2016 teaser

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Merlin, Electric Children: Night Creep Crawling

Posted in Reviews on March 21st, 2016 by JJ Koczan

merlin electric children

A sense of drama is nothing new in Merlin‘s sound. It’s been there since their 2013 self-titled debut from which came the single Execution (review here) and it certainly took a step forward on 2014’s Christkiller LP (review here). Their theatrics have come to be a part of what defines them and sets them apart from some of the modern and classic influences they distill in their material, some of it frontman Jordan Knorr‘s mastery of the ceremonies at hand, but Electric Children meets him head-on with more patient songwriting and an expanded palette.

While cuts like opener “Bad Trip” (premiered here), the shuffling “Electric Children” and more aggressive “Night Creep” are in line with what Merlin have offered to-date, two interludes, “Interlude” (2:28) and “A Reprisal for Julia” (1:40), bring the keyboard work of guitarist/backing vocalist Carter Lewis more forward than it has been in the past, and the consciousness that drives the Goblin and John Carpenter-style cues those brief sojourns show, respectively, is an important progressive move. That’s not to take anything away from what Knorr, Lewis, bassist Joey Hamm (since replaced by Chase Thayer) and drummer Caleb Wyels are doing on the more straight-ahead material, just that they’ve grown enough as a band to make the decision to shift the context in which their material appears even more than the intro “Overture” did at the start of the last album. This, in combination with their four-part, 23-minute closer, “Tales of the Wasteland,” and the facts that they’re nodding at classic prog by subtitling Electric Children as “An Understanding by Merlin” and that it was recorded at least mostly live, and Merlin are making clear efforts to back their style with substance. Their third record offers plenty of both.

At eight tracks and 51 minutes, the 4one8 Records (vinyl may or may not be through Poisoned Mind Records) release is substantial but not entirely unmanageable, and Merlin demonstrate throughout a clearheaded presence through their immersive and atmospheric songs. For those who’ve encountered their darkened paths before, not much has changed about their root influences in bands like Uncle Acid, Pentagram and Floyd, but their own sonic personality continues to develop and it’s more of a factor here, whether that’s in the crisp efficiency of “Bad Trip” thudding to introduce the album while also providing its first hook, or “Tales of the Wasteland” stretching beyond traditional structures to purposefully wander in the space it’s created. Between those two, songs like “Will o’ the Wisp” and “Warbringer” indulge psychedelic impulses while “Night Creep” mirrors the thunder of the opener, tempos fluctuate fluidly and ambience remains consistent despite swaps of mood and intensity.

Part of that is down to the recording itself and the depth of the mix, credited to Bret Liber and Merlin, but spaciousness isn’t something Merlin were lacking before, even if they’ve brought it to new levels here. Their craftsmanship on cuts like “Bad Trip,” “Electric Children,” “Will o’ the Wisp,” “Night Creep” and “Warbringer” — which is each of the album’s chorus-minded tracks — isn’t to be understated, but the songs feed into a linear flow as well, deepening in the second half of the album post-“Interlude,” as “A Reprisal for Julia” and “Tales of the Wasteland” push Merlin beyond the point of willfully breaking the rules that they seem to have set for themselves before. That mindfulness is essential to understanding what Merlin are doing on Electric Children, as it’s a key element of their growth. Recording live, spacing out, all of this is directed toward a conscious push ahead of where they were on Christkiller, and the new ground they cover, stomp on, dwell in, etc., is malleable to whatever they want to make it.

It will be interesting to see/hear how they develop with Thayer on bass in place of Hamm, since low-end is a considerable factor throughout Electric Children in shoving the material ahead along with Wyels‘ drumming, but in these songs an essential dynamic in Merlin‘s sound is highlighted between Knorr and Lewis. Not just in the two coming together on vocals on “Bad Trip” or the early verses in “Tales of the Wasteland” before the languid instrumental roll takes full control of the proceedings, but in the sense of challenging each other that seems to play out across the Mind Control-esque “Will o’ the Wisp” and more raging solo and finale of “Night Creep” as well. I don’t want to leave the drummer and bassist out of that dynamic, as if to relegate the rhythm section to some corner, it’s just that vocals and guitar/keys take charge of the atmospheres throughout Electric Children, and Lewis and Knorr seem to be in direct musical conversation in a variety of actual sonic contexts, as on the title-track, which departs from its hook early in order to flesh out a psych jam that only recalls its chorus in its final instrumental moments.

Merlin, three albums in, have established a multifaceted approach to high-grade songwriting, and Electric Children — a recording process from which they’re already nearly 18 months removed — finds them at a crucial stage in their evolution. It’s worth noting that that’s a process I don’t think is over, and while Merlin have made clear and successful efforts to come into their own across this material, there’s still growing to be done and new ground to explore, be it in further incorporating elements of “A Reprisal for Julia” into songs like “Bad Trip” — which “Night Creep” does briefly at its start — or in playing with the balance between heavy psychedelia, heavy rock and doom that has brought them to this place. Perhaps most encouraging of all is that the band make it so plain they too realize this, and among the easiest things to read into Electric Children is a commitment on Merlin‘s part to keep pushing their limits. One hopes they do.

Merlin, Electric Children (2016)

Merlin on Thee Facebooks

Merlin on Bandcamp

4one8 Records

Poisoned Mind Records

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