Friday Full-Length: The Atomic Bitchwax, 3

Posted in Bootleg Theater on July 3rd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

The Atomic Bitchwax, 3 (2005)

I guess after closing out last week with Truckfighters, my head got to thinking about heavy rock from that same year and that same era in general. A decade isn’t an inconsiderable amount of time, but to look at it in terms of records come and gone, it’s been a quick jump from 2005 to 2015, though one could easily argue that the entire shape of the heavy underground in the US and Europe, has changed. This shift has been generational, no doubt about it — Gen X moving out, the Millennials coming up — but when I think of a band like The Atomic Bitchwax, who formed in 1999 and are still going strong, the fact that they’ve managed to cross that divide where so many didn’t make it to the other side only increases their appeal in my mind. They have, at least to this point, stood the test of time.

No need to lie, The Atomic Bitchwax weren’t hurting for “appeal in my mind” anyway. As I was discovering heavy rock and roll, finding new bands and checking out all these incredible sounds from all around the world, the Long Branch, New Jersey, trio very quickly became hometown heroes. Their roots trace back to the more metallic Godspeed, in which bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik played, and Monster Magnet, in which founding lead guitarist Ed Mundell cut his teeth. Alongside Kosnik and then-drummer Keith Ackerman, 3 was a pivotal, turning-point moment for the band in that it was their first to bring aboard guitarist Finn Ryan, formerly of NJ rockers Core — whose two outings, Revival (1996) and The Hustle is On (1999), remain gems well worth searching out — who would not only bring a different style of play to the band’s winding riffs, but would add his vocals to Kosnik‘s changing the dynamic of the band both on stage and on record.

The songs on 3, up to and including the Deep Purple cover “Maybe I’m a Leo,” were the band’s first to capitalize on that new dynamic, but they’d continue to progress from there on 2008’s TAB4, 2011’s riff-fest instrumental The Local Fuzz (review here) and this year’s excellent Gravitron (review here), drummer Bob Pantella (also Monster Magnet) coming aboard in replacement of Ackerman in time for TAB4 and continuing in that position through to the current day, his fluid grooves and crisp style adding both swing and a grounding effect on the head-turning riffs of Kosnik and Ryan, who have long since mastered the kind of turns that “Going Guido” here presents while keeping the memorable songwriting at their core that one finds on 3‘s “The Destroyer,” “You Oughta Know,” “You Can’t Win,” “If I Had a Gun” and “The Passenger,” the latter of which seems to directly address Mundell‘s departure from the band in the line from the chorus, “I fill the space with fuzz.”

3 for sure offers plenty of that. As much as The Atomic Bitchwax are an underrated band now — though they’ve started to get their due with increased touring in Europe after re-signing to Tee Pee — this record remains something of a hidden treasure of their songwriting, and as it’s 10 years old this year, it seemed all the more worth a revisit. I hope you enjoy.

Gonna make this very quick because I’m already missing hangout time with my niece and nephew to put this together, and that’s a limited resource. This weekend in the US is the 4th of July holiday. Today was a much-appreciated day off work. I felt like sleeping in alone was well worth all the troublesome colonialism in my country’s history. Or at least that whole Tea Party thing. The actual one with tea, not the one with the shitheads upset about having a black dude for president. Nothing justifies that.

Anyway. Thanks to all who checked in this week and caught any part of the Quarterly Review. I hope you found something in there you dug. I did. 50 reviews and I got one comment off it on here. I had to laugh.

Next week, reviews of Kadavar, Anathema‘s three vinyl reissues and whatever else I can come up with. I wish I could say the Quarterly Review completely caught me up on reviews, but yeah. Also a Fuzz Evil premiere in the works and more to come. It will be busy. It will not be as busy as this week. I will like that about it. Ha.

Alright. I hope you have a great and safe weekend, whether you’re someplace celebrating or not. See you back here Monday for more good times, and please check out the forum and the radio stream.

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Friday Full-Length: Truckfighters, Gravity X

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 26th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

Truckfighters, Gravity X

In part because its opener has become such a clarion, reliably launching — and I do mean launching — every gig the band plays, and because July marks 10 years since its original release, it’s tempting to view Truckfighters‘ 2005 debut full-length, Gravity X, as a watershed moment or generational swap-out in Swedish heavy rock. The truth of that is more complicated. Even as Truckfighters were stomping their way onto the scene after their first release following two early EPs, a 2003 joint offering with bassist/vocalist Oskar “Ozo” Cedermalm‘s prior outfit, Firestone, titled The Fuzzsplit of the Century (discussed here), that was also Fuzzorama Records‘ premiere catalog entry, bands like Dozer were well into their tenure, releasing Though the Eyes of Heathens the same year, while at the same time, fellow Örebro natives Witchcraft were releasing their second album, Firewood, almost precisely the same day on Rise Above. Nonetheless, if Gravity X‘s arrival through Fuzzorama and MeteorCity has become something of a landmark in the annals of Swedish and/or European heavy rock at large — and it’s pretty easy to argue that it has — that status is a testament to the grueling work that the band has put in in the years since it was first issued, writing and recording, touring incessantly across an ever-widening geographic range, and of course fostering other acts at the helm of Fuzzorama. As much as “Desert Cruiser” seems now to be an immediate and resounding call to those ready to worship at the altar of fuzz, it’s worth remembering it took Truckfighters years of hand-delivering what’s become their signature riff to audiences for it to become that.

The athleticism involved in that delivery notwithstanding, there has always been more to Truckfighters — the core of Cedermalm and guitarist Niklas “Dango” Källgren, as portrayed in the 2012 “fuzzomentary” A Film about a Band Called Truckfighters (review here), along with a cast of drummers that has continued to rotate over the last several years — than jumping around on stage. Even on Gravity X, the reaches of which are considerable with a 67-minute runtime, the band showcased a penchant for instrumental exploration that would continue to serve them well as they progressed through subsequent offerings like 2007’s Phi, 2009’s Mania (review here) and last year’s long-awaited Universe (review here), balanced against a core of songcraft that remained prevalent no matter who happened to be in the band with Källgren and Cedermalm at the time — former drummers Oscar Johansson and Andre Kvarnström have gone on to play in Witchcraft and Blues Pills, respectively — and cuts like “Gargarismo,” “In Search of (The),” “Gweedo-Weedo” and “Manhattan Project” have maintained their vitality over the 10-year span as highlights both of Truckfighters‘ catalog and that of Swedish heavy rock, the one only becoming more and more pivotal to the other over that same stretch. Meanwhile the toying with spaciousness of “Superfunk” seems in hindsight to presage some of the moodier turns of Universe and Mania before it, the band’s dynamic growing as relentlessly as their tour schedule, which has seen them become a fixture of both the European and American circuits particularly over the last half-decade.

Gravity X was compiled with Phi onto what was dubbed the Super 3-LP in 2013 — the band also put out their The Chairman EP that year as a stopgap between Mania and Universe — and of course, as forward as they’ve progressed in the years since, some of this material remains a staple of live sets, and among heavy rock records, I think you’ll find Gravity X has rare staying power, undulled by time. Hope you enjoy.

Well, next week is it: the Quarterly Review. I’ve been teasing it for about the last month, I’ll be writing reviews all weekend to get a jump on it, and next week, from Monday to Friday, somehow, some way, we’ll have 10 reviews each day for a total of 50. Don’t ask me how that’s going to get done. It just is.

If you downloaded the new podcast this week, that is hugely appreciated.

Not much more to come other than the Quarterly Review, honestly. I’ve got a Mammoth Mammoth video premiere slated for Thursday, but I’m basically trying to keep it pretty stripped down other than the big post each day and whatever news comes down the PR wire. That should be plenty to work with. I’m thinking of doing a vinyl week the next week, just to keep things as complicated and time-consuming for myself as possible. You know, bash my head on the rocks to keep from drowning and all that.

If you’re headed to the Maryland Doom Fest this weekend — should be starting right around now, actually — I hope it’s great. I wish I could be there as well. I’ll look forward to seeing video of Spirit Caravan and hopefully they do a The Obsessed cover or two.

To be perfectly honest, there’s more, but I’m so beat I don’t even know what it is. Long work day, and I’m planning on spending the next two days working behind the scenes on the site, so while nothing’s going to be posted Saturday and Sunday, I’m not so much signing off as checking out for the evening.

Either way, I hope you have a great and safe weekend. See you back here Monday and please check out the forum and radio stream.

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

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Wino Wednesday: The Hidden Hand, “The Last Tree” from Divine Propaganda

Posted in Bootleg Theater on March 26th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

The Hidden Hand happened at a pretty interesting juncture for American heavy, just when underground riff-worship was really starting to get a foothold in a wider public consciousness beyond what it had been in the days before the widespread instant-gratification of the internet became a way to access just about anyone’s music anytime. Their second album, the stellar Mother Teacher Destroyer, certainly got some attention when it was issued by Southern Lord in 2004 — helped perhaps by the publicity of Dave Grohl‘s Probot project, released that same year, and Wino‘s visible involvement in that on guitar and vocals — but the preceding full-length debut, 2003’s Divine Propaganda, had no such high-profile lead-in. Not to shoehorn it into too convenient a narrative, but it was simply Wino‘s new band after Spirit Caravan broke up.

Listening back now, over a decade later and in light of the two albums The Hidden Hand released after it, Divine Propaganda is a standout if somewhat uneven release. Issued by MeteorCity, it was the first studio output from Wino, bassist/vocalist Bruce Falkinburg and drummer Dave Hennessy, and it introduced a lot of the Illuminati/conspiracy/socio-political framework in which a good portion of the band’s lyrics would work for the duration of their tenure, but thanks in no small part to the Weinrich/Falkinburg collaboration in the songwriting, it also pushed into territory that was neither The Obsessed-style doom nor the freewheeling heavy rock of Spirit Caravan. There was something else going on, and that’s evident on Divine Propaganda, even if the trio were still figuring out what they wanted their sound to be and what shape that collaboration would take.

In all honesty, “The Last Tree” — track seven of the record’s total 10 — probably could’ve been a Spirit Caravan song with its rolling groove of a chorus riff, but as the verse shows, The Hidden Hand were already becoming something distinct, and the fuzz that Falkinburg puts on his bass in the track is not to be missed. It’s something of a forgotten gem from the largely underappreciated band, whose timing and whose songwriting continue to intrigue.

Happy Wino Wednesday:

The Hidden Hand, “The Last Tree” from Divine Propaganda (2003)

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Friday Full-Length: Lowrider, Ode to Io

Posted in Bootleg Theater on March 8th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

Lowrider, Ode to Io (2000)

MeteorCity released some fantastic stuff in their early going — records from Nebula, The Ribeye Bros., Spirit Caravan and Solace come to mind — but I don’t know if anything from that era matches up to Lowrider‘s 2000 full-length debut, Ode to Io. By any standard you might want to measure it, what remains Lowrider‘s only long-player to date is an absolute classic, and one that stands up with the best that fuzz and heavy rock have to offer, even 14 years later. Not only has it been wildly influential in Sweden’s fertile underground and beyond, but it still sounds fantastic. To put it on and hear that opening riff of “Caravan” remains an absolute pleasure, and Ode to Io is one of those records at this point that, if you and I are total strangers, one of us can say to the other, “Dude, Ode to Io?” and we’re immediately friends.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not 100 percent that I haven’t closed a week out with it before — in fact, I’m relatively sure I have at least with “Texas Pt. I & II,” but screw it. I’ve had Lowrider on the brain since they let the news out that they had a sophomore outing in the works, that they’re set to record this year for their first release since Ode to Io, and after seeing them at the 2013 Desertfest in London — something I never through I’d be able to say I’ve done — I couldn’t be more thrilled at the prospect. I’ve already encountered a few records over the last couple months that I know will be landmarks for the year, but even sight-unseen, a new Lowrider earns a place on that list. I wouldn’t go into it expecting a clone of Ode to Io, but I do believe the band still has plenty to offer, and I’m greatly looking forward to finding out what that might be.

And if it’s an excuse to break out Ode to Io again in the meantime, you definitely will not hear me complaining. As always, I hope you enjoy.

Quite a week. I feel like I never stopped from last week because, oh wait, I didn’t. I’ve heard stories for years about people coming home from a tour and having a rough go adjusting back to real life. Presumably it’s different when you’re playing a show, but making an adjustment back wasn’t so much my problem as being tired and braindead. I might’ve phoned it in for a while but I felt like I couldn’t even get a dial tone. Of course there was more I wanted to write about this week than I had time or energy to cover — that’s pretty much standard — but even trying to keep up with email was a challenge.

The weather in Massachusetts is supposed to be halfway decent tomorrow, and The Patient Mrs. and I have a good friend in from out of town, so I’m hoping the combination will prove restorative somewhat over the next couple days. Next week I’ll look to pick back up with reviews of Ogre and a batch of ’60s/’70s psych records from World in Sound. I’ve still got a Conan interview in the can that golly, I’d love to get posted, and a ton of other stuff as well. The Spirit Caravan reunion tour starts tonight, so hopefully by Wednesday there’ll be some video from one of the shows. Got my fingers crossed.

I hope you have a great and safe weekend. Please check out the forum and the radio stream.

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Wino Wednesday: Spirit Caravan, “Brainwashed”

Posted in Bootleg Theater on February 5th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

After checking out the track “The Last Embrace” from Spirit Caravan‘s 2003 swansong compilation of the same name last week — doing so in honor of the trio’s upcoming reunions at Desertfest London, at Desertfest Berlin and at Hellfest 2014 in France — it seemed to make sense to keep running with the theme. So after “The Last Embrace,” consider “Brainwashed” the second in a series we’ll wrap next Wednesday of the three songs from that MeteorCity release that pulled together much of Spirit Caravan‘s recorded output, save for the Dreamwheel EP, issued through the same label in 1999, prior to the arrival of the second full-length, Elusive Truth, on Joe Lally of Fugazi‘s Tolotta Records.

In both its instrumental arrangement and lyrical theme, “Brainwashed” is a much different track than “The Last Embrace,” which it follows immediately as the second song on the compilation. Centered around a nod-ready heavy stomp of a riff — the kind that bassist Dave Sherman and drummer Gary Isom handled so well throughout Spirit Caravan‘s tenure — it finds guitarist/vocalist Scott “Wino” Weinrich diving headfirst into more grounded political themes than the epic framework of the prior cut. By 2003, Wino was no stranger to social commentary, having covered that ground in The Obsessed on songs like “To Protect and Serve” and “Streetside” from 1994’s The Church Within, but the lyrics of “Brainwashed” seem to engage directly with ideas of conspiracy, the Illuminati, surreptitious elements at work:

I’ll take your evil wind and give it right back to ya
Hungry buzzards are waiting on the grey fence of ignorance
It’s a classic case, they obfuscate, a brainwashed populace
Screaming crows and sirens, a normal world is crying
Bright bird of redemption, winged truth, with eyes of fire
One more fool, divide and rule, a brainwashed populace
You dance around the question, because the answers, you must hide
You crept into the dimension, now be lost through all time
It’s a classic case, they obfuscate, a brainwashed populace

There’s a better audio quality version of the track on YouTube paired with images from John Carpenter’s 1988 film, They Live, and that doesn’t feel like an inappropriate complement (I’d have used that one instead of this, but the clip gets into “9/11 was an inside job” stuff, and I wouldn’t want to come off as arguing one way or another), since lines like “One more fool, divide and rule, a brainwashed populace” cover similar ideology. Of course, in 2003, Wino would dive further into these themes with The Hidden Hand‘s debut, Divine Propaganda (also MeteorCity), so it’s interesting as well to think of “Brainwashed” as a precursor to that.

Enjoy and have an excellent Wino Wednesday:

Spirit Caravan, “Brainwashed”

Spirit Caravan on Thee Facebooks

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Wino Wednesday: Spirit Caravan, “The Last Embrace”

Posted in Bootleg Theater on January 29th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

With reunion slots booked at Desertfest in London and Berlin this April as well as Hellfest in France this June — nothing Stateside yet, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed — it seemed fitting to take a look at some of the very last Spirit Caravan recordings. The tracks “The Last Embrace” and “Brainwashed” were included as the first and second cuts on disc one and “Dove-Tongued Aggressor” track one of disc two of the 2003 MeteorCity compilation, The Last Embrace, which as the band’s to-date swansong culled to one place the bulk of their studio output. With material from everything the trio put out during what’s now become their initial run save for 1999’s Dreamwheel EP — their two full-lengths, 1999’s Jug Fulla Sun and 2001’s Elusive Truth, with some alternate versions, and songs from their early demos and split 7″ with Sixty Watt Shaman and the 2002 So Mortal Be single — it’s about as complete as one could ask of a 2CD release. As to why Dreamwheel was left out, I guess between runtime considerations and the fact that it was still in print on MeteorCity, they figured there was no need. Fair enough.

For the leadoff, “The Last Embrace” hardly hints at the tonal warmth and groovy vibes to come throughout. Spirit Caravan were always plenty heavy, but “The Last Embrace” centers more around an emotional resonance than a fuzzy one. Over acoustic guitar and a straightforward rhythm from bassist Dave Sherman and drummer Gary Isom, Wino delivers a subdued, melancholy vocal with image-based, almost impressionist lyrics contemplating time and mortality, maybe the end of the band. It’s a dark mood to start with, if a great song, but as Spirit Caravan were done by that time — Sherman had released Earthride‘s self-titled EP in 2000 and followed in 2002 with the Taming of the Demons full-length, and The Hidden Hand‘s Divine Propaganda surfaced the same year as The Last Embrace — there wasn’t going to be a more fitting title for their final release.

Whether or not The Last Embrace will remain that, I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Enjoy “The Last Embrace” and have a fantastic Wino Wednesday:

Spirit Caravan, “The Last Embrace”

Spirit Caravan on Thee Facebooks

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Wino Wednesday: The Hidden Hand, “Sunblood” Live in Germany, 2003

Posted in Bootleg Theater on August 28th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

I know I’ve gone on about the persistent undervaluing of The Hidden Hand in Wino‘s catalog again and again. How they’re constantly overshadowed by Spirit Caravan, which came before, and subsequent acoustic work, the Wino trio, the Saint Vitus reunion, and so on. The fact remains that particularly with their last album, 2007’s The Resurrection of Whiskey Foote, the trio began to hit on a progressive, conceptual sound unlike anything else Wino played on, before or since. Obviously things weren’t good in the band at that point, or they’d probably have kept going, but considering that The Hidden Hand got three full-lengths out during their time, that puts them on numerical par with Wino‘s run with The Obsessed and it’s more than Spirit Caravan ever got out.

Although a reunion seems unlikely at best, the progression with The Hidden Hand is of special interest because the collaboration between Wino and bassist/vocalist/producer Bruce Falkinburg — however bitterly it may have ended; I’ve heard some stories — was among the most successful of Wino‘s career. The only other people he’s worked with consistently enough to get three records out are Saint VitusDave Chandler, Mark Adams and Armando Acosta (R.I.P.). With them, he produced three full-lengths between 1986-1990 (and other singles as well) and with the former two, reunited for last year’s Lillie: F-65, which if you saw the news last week, you know they’re continuing to support with touring.

So while the profile wasn’t quite the same as The Obsessed or Spirit Caravan or certainly Saint Vitus, The Hidden Hand remains a fascinating section within the Wino canon and the progressive spirit that emerges makes one wonder what might have been had some of the other bands, Spirit Caravan come to mind first, been able to keep going, or what a reformed act like The Obsessed might be able to do now on a studio album. We’ll see if they get there.

Until then, here’s The Hidden Hand early into their run, about a decade and a month ago, performing “Sunblood” from the first album, Divine Propaganda, on July 23, 2003, at Schwimmbad Musik Club, in Heidelberg, Germany, taped for Underground Live TV. Happy Wino Wednesday:

The Hidden Hand, “Sunblood” Live in Heidelberg, Germany, 07.23.03

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Wino Wednesday: The Obsessed, Lunar Womb in Full

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 12th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Reissued in 2006 on CD through MeteorCity and vinyl through 20 Buck Spin, the 1991 Lunar Womb sophomore outing by The Obsessed still seems underappreciated on repeat listens. It was the recorded debut of the lineup of drummer Greg Rogers, bassist Scott Reeder and guitarist/vocalist Scott “Wino” Weinrich — then winding down his tenure with Saint Vitus following the release of V in 1990 — and indeed the only album this trio would put out. By the time The Obsessed got around to releasing the follow-up, 1994’s The Church Within, Reeder was long since departed to Kyuss and replaced by Guy Pinhas.

Reeder winds up a major contributor to Lunar Womb, whether it’s his bass coming to the fore on the later “No Mas” or his taking lead vocals on second track “Bardo” or side B’s “Back to Zero,” but the album is best taken as a whole and on that level, it’s easy to see how it became so central to the blueprint of modern traditional doom. From Wino‘s dreary riffing on the title-track to the faster rush of “Spew” and the ultra-primitive “No Blame” to the muffled heartbeat noises that cap closer “Embryo,” the completeness of Lunar Womb as both an overarching flow of songs and a collection of individual standouts isn’t to be overlooked.

It’s easy to argue the enduring appeal of Lunar Womb and its tracks is part of why The Obsessed have been able to reunite to such fanfare at fests like Roadburn and this year’s Maryland Deathfest (video posted here). With production from the band along with Mathias Schneeberger and the striking Saturn Devouring His Son (circa 1819) cover art by Spanish painter Francisco de Goya, the album taps into a timeless sphere of doom that’s perhaps even more resonant with 22 years of hindsight than it was at the time. After hosting the band’s 1990 self-titled debut a couple weeks back, it seems only fair to give some follow-up.

Here’s The Obsessed‘s Lunar Womb in its entirety. Enjoy and have a great Wino Wednesday:

The Obsessed, Lunar Womb (1991) in Full

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