Moscow-based heavy psych outfit The Re-Stoned have sandwiched the bulk of the material on their new album between two massive 11-minute tracks, opener “Faces of Earth” and closer “Alpha Rhythm,” but that’s really just the beginning of the story when it comes to how Plasma is put together. The instrumental band led by and mostly comprised of guitarist/bassist Ilya Lipkin released their last record, Analog(review here), through R.A.I.G. in 2010, and Plasma sees issue through the same label as well, but instead of a jewel case arrives bundled in a folded cardboard box — almost like a miniaturized vinyl mailer with the logo printed on the front and the album info on back. It may not prove the most durable packaging option when it comes to standing the test of time, but it certainly is creative.
Lipkin, who is joined by drummers Vasily Bartov, Pavel Voloshin and Evgeny Tkachev throughout Plasma‘s eight tracks/58 minutes, employs a host of effects on his guitar and bass to add flourish to the tradicionnyj stoner riffing that lies at the heart of the band’s sound, and while the cardboard packaging doesn’t seem to have any direct correlation to what’s happening musically or thematically with the album or its titles – though one does unfold the package and the flow of the album unfolds as well — it does grab the attention as only intricate physical media can. I’ve never thought of cardboard as particularly groovy, but maybe that’s what Lipkin is going for. I couldn’t really say.
The album boasts two covers — an extended jam on Jefferson Airplane’s “Today” in the first half and one on Pink Floyd‘s “Julia Dream” in the second — and with guest vocals from Veronika Martynova, they stand out in the tracklisting immediately and wind up as some of the record’s strongest material, incorporating elements of psychedelic folk with Lipkin layering acoustic and electric guitar. Elsewhere, the standout soloing of “Moon Dust” seems to be surfing with Joe Satriani‘s alien, while the riffs on the earlier “Grease” remind of some of the Karma to Burn-isms that showed up last time around. Fittingly titled, “Acoustic” is no less rich than any of the other material, given depth by Arkady Fedotov‘s synth and Tkachev‘s percussion, and as it occurs directly toward the middle of the album, it too seems to fall in line as another well-placed element at work to the benefit of Plasma.
Really, rather than be fed into by the music as part of an overarching theme, the uncommon packaging option for Plasmaserves as an example of how intricately the record as a whole is constructed, be it the space-rocking jam of “The Clay God” or the more open, airy musicality of “Alpha Rhythm,” slowly developing over the calming course of its 11:26. The Re-Stoned and in particular Lipkin as the driving force behind the band impress on all fronts, and if it’s the package housing the CD that gets you to notice the album first, it’s one more thing to be thankful for after you’ve heard it later.
I’ve spouted off plenty of times about what a difference physical media can make in giving someone an impression of a work, so I’ll spare it, but in a case like this, the artwork — Lipkin also designed the logo — and the presentation to the audience becomes a part of the experience, and every time I reach for Plasma, it will be a different feeling than anything else that might be situated on that shelf, including Analog. If the record wasn’t up to par as a listen, it would be gimmicky, but The Re-Stoned have even more tools with which to satisfy sonically than they do in terms of the aesthetic in their choice of casing, so in addition to being a nice package, Plasmais also a complete one.
Posted in Reviews on October 16th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
I am constantly working at a deficit. Financially, yes, because like many of my countrymen I’m am tens of thousands of dollars in debt — but also in terms of reviews. I’malwaysbehind on reviews. Hell, it was into July of this year before I finally put the kybosh on writing up anything from 2011, and I’m pretty sure if I hadn’t put my foot down on it, I’d still have year-old albums going up or older. My to-do list grows like a witchcult.
It’s not something to complain about and I’m not complaining. I’m stoked people give enough of a shit to send their CDs in to be reviewed — especially those who actually send CDs — and it’s for that reason that I do this second reviewsplosion (first one here).
Yeah, as ever, I’m behind on reviews, but I’m also working on being more concise — I swear I am; check out the At a Glance reviews if you don’t believe me — and one of the things I liked so much about the last reviewsplosion was it forced me to get to the fucking point. As direct a line as possible to a review. Boiling the idea down to its essential core.
With that in mind, here’s my attempt to both balance my review budget and be as clear as humanly possible. Hope you dig:
Altar of Oblivion, Grand Gesture of Defiance
The subject of some spirited debate on the forum, the second record from Danish five-piece Altar of Oblivion revels in traditional doom methods. There’s an air of pomp in some of the songs — “Graveyard of Broken Dreams” lays it on a little thick — but by and large, Grand Gesture of Defiance(Shadow Kingdom) is a more than solid showing of genre. Classic underground metal flourishes abound, and while it’s not a record to change your life, at six tracks/34 minutes, neither does it hang around long enough to be overly repetitive. You could do way worse. Altar of Oblivion on Thee Facebooks.
Blooming Látigo, Esfínteres y Faquires
Primarily? Weird. The Spanish outfiit Blooming Látigo make their debut on Féretro Records (CD) and Trips und Träume (LP) with the all-the-fuck-over-the-place Esfínteres y Faquires, alternately grinding out post-hardcore and reciting Birthday Party-style poetry. They reach pretty hard to get to “experimental,” maybe harder than they need to, but the on-a-dime stops and high-pitched screams on tracks like “Onania” and “Prisciliano” are well beyond fascinating, and the blown-out ending of “La Destrucción del Aura” is fittingly apocalyptic. Who gave the art-school kids tube amps? Blooming Látigo on Bandcamp.
Five years since their second offering, Green Magic, left such a strong impression, Italian stoner rock trio El-Thule return with Zenit (Go Down Records), which makes up for lost time with 50 minutes of heavy riffs, fuzzy desert grooves and sharp, progressive rhythms. The band — El Comandante (bass), Mr. Action (guitar/vocals) and Gweedo Weedo (drums/vocals) — may have taken their time in getting it together, but there’s little about Zenit that lags, be it the faster, thrashier “Nemesis” or thicker, Torche-esque melodic push of the highlight “Quaoar.” It’s raw, production-wise, but I hope it’s not another half-decade before El-Thule follow it up. El-Thule on Thee Facebooks.
Botanist, III: Doom in Bloom
It’s a nature-worshiping post-black metal exploration of what the History Channel has given the catchy title “life after people.” If you’ve ever wondered what blastbeats might sound like on a dulcimer, Botanist‘s third album, III: Doom in Bloom has the answers you seek, caking its purported hatred of human kind in such creative instrumentation and lyrics reverent of the natural world rather than explicitly misanthropic. The CD (on Total Rust) comes packaged with a second disc called Allies, featuring the likes of Lotus Thief and Matrushka and giving the whole release a manifesto-type feel, which suits it well. Vehemently creative, it inadvertently taps into some of the best aspects of our species. Botanist’s website.
Say what you will about whiteboys and the blues, the bass tone that starts “Nobody Get Me Down” is unfuckwithable. And Seattle trio GravelRoad come by it pretty honestly, having served for years as the backing back for bluesman T-Model Ford. The album Psychedelta (on Knick Knack Records) jams out on its start-stop fuzz in a way that reminds not so much of Clutch but of the soul and funk records that inspired Clutch in the first place, and though it never gets quite as frenetic in its energy as Radio Moscow, there’s some of that same vibe persisting through “Keep on Movin’” or their Junior Kimbrough cover “Leave Her Alone.” Throaty vocals sound like a put-on, but if they can nail down that balance, GravelRoad‘s psychedelic blues has some real potential in its open spaces. GravelRoad on Thee Facebooks.
The Linus Pauling Quartet, Bag of Hammers
Texas toast. The Linus Pauling Quartet offer crisp sunbursts of psychedelic heavy rock, and after nearly 20 years and eight full-lengths, that shouldn’t exactly be as much of a surprise as it is. Nonetheless, Bag of Hammers(Homeskool Records) proffers a 41-minute collection of heady ’90s-loving-the-’70s tones while venturing into classic space rock on “Victory Gin” and ballsy riffing on “Saving Throw.” Being my first experience with the band, the album is a refreshing listen and unpretentious to its very core. Eight-minute culminating jam “Stonebringer” is as engaging a display of American stoner rock as I’ve heard this year, and I have to wonder why it took eight records before I finally heard this five-man quartet? Hits like its title. LP4′s website.
Odyssey, Abysmal Despair
It’s the damnedest thing, but listening to Abysmal Despair, the Transubstans Records debut from Swedish prog sludge/noise rockers Odyssey, I can’t help but think of Long Island’s own John Wilkes Booth. It’s the vocals, and I know that’s a really specific association most people aren’t going to have, but I do, and I can’t quite get past it. The album is varied, progressive, and working in a variety of modern underground heavy contexts nowhere near as foreboding as the album’s title might imply, like Truckfighters meets Entombed, but I just keep hearing JWB‘sKerry Merkle through his megaphone. Note: that’s not a bad thing, just oddly indicative of the greater sphere of worldwide sonic coincidence in which we all exist. If anything, that just makes me like Abysmal Despair more. Odyssey on Soundcloud.
Palkoski, 2012 Demo
Conceptual Virginian free-formers Palkoski released the three-track/67-minute 2012 demo earlier this year through Heavy Hound. Most of it sounds improvised, but for verses here and there that emerge from the various stretches, and the band’s alternately grinding and sparse soundscapery results in an unsettling mash of psychotic extremity. It is, at times, painful to listen, but like some lost tribal recording, it’s also utterly free. Limited to 100 CDs with a second track called “The Shittiest EP Ever” and a third that’s a sampling of Palkoski‘s ultra-abrasive noise experimentation live, this one is easily not for the faint of heart. Still, there’s something alluring in the challenge it poses. Palkoski at Heavy Hound.
Radar Men from the Moon, Echo Forever
Following their charming 2011 EP, Intergalactic Dada and Space Trombones, the Eindhoven instrumental trio Radar Men from the Moon (On the Radar’ed here) return on the relative quick with a 51-minute full-length, Echo Forever. More progressive in its jams, the album’s psychedelic sprawl shows the band developing — I hesitate to compare them to 35007 just because they happen to be Dutch, but the running bassline that underscores “Atomic Mother” is a tempter — but there’s still an immediacy behind their changes that keeps them from really belonging to the laid-back sphere of European jam-minded heavy psychedelia. They’re getting warmer though, stylistically and tonally, and I like that. Interesting to hear a song like “Heading for the Void” and think Sungrazer might be burgeoning as an influence. Cool jams for the converted. Radar Men from the Moon on Bandcamp.
Sound of Ground, Sky Colored Green
There are elements of of Yawning Man, or Unida or other acts in the Californian desert milieu, but basically, Moscow’s Sound of Ground sound like Kyuss. They know it. Their R.A.I.G. debut full-length, Sky Colored Green, makes no attempt to hide it, whether it’s the “Green Machine” riffing of “Lips of the Ocean” or the speedier Slo-Burnery of “El Caco,” though the metallic screaming on “R.H.S.” is a dead giveaway for the band’s youth, coming off more like early Down than anything Josh Homme ever plugged in to play. While not necessarily original, the trio are firm in their convictions, and Sound of Ground tear through these 11 tracks with engaging abandon. The Russian scene continues to intrigue. Sound of Ground on Thee Facebooks.
Posted in Reviews on January 26th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Near as I can tell, the plot in the lyrics of Evil Cosmonaut’s “Boris Yeltsin vs. Giant Ants” is that huge bugs come and attack the world. Buildings fall, people die, and then Boris Yeltsin shows up, does an evil dance, and saves the planet. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that’s fucking awesome. Much of the Moscow three-piece’s R.A.I.G. debut, We Have Landed, follows that kind of course – not always to such heights of badassery, but nonetheless with a notable degree of charm. “My Moustache” calls its titular subject, “My present from God,” and “Armageddon” playfully name-checks the stars of the 1998 blockbuster, even going so far as to mention Steve Buscemi. That, in combination with the clay artwork, the crunchy tone of guitarist/vocalist Alex “Kaza” Kazachev and the bluesy groove of “The Song We Will Never Play Again,” seems to make We Have Landed a record that gets by more on personality than innovation, but whatever does it does it. The album’s nine tracks and 42 minutes feel quick, songs vary enough to hold interest, and periodic bursts of punkish energy keep the pace from being mired by sleepy stonerisms. A mostly dry production keeps Evil Cosmonaut grounded from where some of the space-program thematics might otherwise take them, giving the album a garage-esque feel at times, but between Kazachev and bassist Denis “Memphis Dead” Petrov, the tones are thicker than most of what passes these days for that aesthetic. It’s all rock.
And if anything, it’s hard to pick a highlight from among We Have Landed’s fare. “Armageddon” certainly makes a case for itself, with its rudimentary chugging riff and live feel, as well as its lyrics, but “Old Guy Neil,” which recalls the moon landing and Neil Armstrong’s first steps out of the craft, starts the album off with a crisp (if somewhat misleading) aggressive bent and foretells a lot of the perspective to come. Drummer Konstantin Sosnin, the only member of Evil Cosmonaut without a nickname, is straightforward in his approach and well-suited to Kazachev’s riffs, which for the most part lead the way. The upbeat shuffle of “Marvin” – either an inside joke or a reference I don’t get to an old man who lives in a cave – features some of We Have Landed’s best fuzz, to be later complemented by closer “The Golden Apples of the Sun,” and maintains the forward motion of the opener, leading to the even more rocking “Big Super Mega Monsters,” which earns its chorus shout of the title line late in the track. The song can’t help but be memorable with a name like that, but the music stands up to it with a marked simplicity of approach and a cheeky self-awareness that matches Kazachev’s vocal. However simple the album might seem, Evil Cosmonaut have a clear mindfulness of structure, as “The Song We Will Never Play Again” shows by slowing down the momentum of “Big Super Mega Monsters” and giving way in turn to the middle-pacing of “Armageddon.” Given the tongue-in-cheek nature of most of the lyrics – here a drunken alien abduction is recounted – I’d doubt the veracity of the title “The Song We Will Never Play Again,” or at least hope it’s not true, since the song’s relatively lumbering groove is among the album’s most fascinating assets.
Posted in Reviews on June 29th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
If it feels like there’s been a lot of instrumental heavy psych reviewed around here lately, you’re right. Joining the pack with their second studio full-length on R.A.I.G. (they also had a live album out) is previously On-the-Radar’edMoscow trio The Re-Stoned, whose latest seven-track collection of wah-jam voodoo is called Analog. A lot of what you need to know about the band and the album is right there. As their moniker might lead you to believe, they’re stoned again – playing a kind of heady guitar-led stoner/psych rock – and they’re not at all shy about highlighting the analog warmth of the cuts included; calling it Analog feels almost brazen, daring the listener to take on the album’s natural feel. And in so doing, one is making a considerable investment in both time and energy. The three-piece cover a wide swath of mostly familiar ground on Analog, and with opener “Northern Lights” as the shortest piece at 5:58 and closer “Dream of Vodyanoy” the longest at 14:01, the record clocks a robust 61 and a half minutes, which is a lot and feels like it.
Immediately that’s a kind of drawback for The Re-Stoned. “Fronted” in a musical sense by heavily-effected, Orange-amped guitarist Ilya Lipkin, Analog takes shape around classic psych jams like “Crystals,” and while the bluesy favor in Lipkin’s playing is often satisfying as offset by the double-Vladimir rhythm section of Vladimir Nikulin (bass) and Vladimir Muchnov (drums), as “Crystals” turns into “Feedback” turns into “Music for Jimmy” and the album’s middle becomes its end, the course of jam parts, the occasional plotted riff and extended solos starts to feel samey, in concept if not actual sound. The Re-Stoned recorded Analog live, which was undoubtedly the way to go considering the spontaneous vibe of the material, and in multiple sessions, and one can hear that mostly in Muchnov’s drums, which have an entirely different snare sound on the title-track than they do on the riffier “Put the Sound Down or Get the Hell Out.” And while this change in the actual audio keeps Analog from sounding overly redundant, there’s no denying the ethic is the same. That said, “Analog” blends the more riff-led and jammier elements in The Re-Stoned’s approach better than nearly everything else on the album, so it’s not like Analog is lacking in satisfying moments or is somehow entirely without merit or appeal. Just the opposite.
Posted in Reviews on May 24th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
Though both their band moniker and album title smack of grindcore or some form of metal more typically thought of as “extreme,” Moscow outfit Without God’s debut, Lambs to the Slaughter, is doom and sludge the whole way through. The first offering from the four-piece (who may or may not have gotten their name from the Katatonia song), Lambs to the Slaughter finds its release through R.A.I.G., perhaps the most major of players in the still-developing Russian heavy/riff-led scene – that’s not to say “stoner,” because it’s not all stoner rock, though those elements are present in many of R.A.I.G.’s bands (The Re-Stoned and The Grand Astoria come to mind), Without God among them. But the 10 cuts on Lambs to the Slaughter are darker, more doomed atmospherically, and among the band’s influences — readily on display in various stretches throughout the album – the Californian desert is all but completely inconsequential. Without God are shooting for something altogether more tonally weighted, and about as close as they come is some similarity early on between vocalist/guitarist Anton Brovkin and former The Awesome Machine singer John Hermansen’s guttural croon on opener “They Rot.”
I’d chalk that up to coincidence more than influence, and rather, it seems the actual intent of Without God is to play off a Crowbar-style riffy sludge, throw in some melody – as both Brovkin and fellow guitarist OlgaGrieg do effectively in the instrumental breaks of “They Rot” – and write traditionally structured heavy songs. Noble enough intent, and they’re not bad at it. Small flourishes of individuality go a long way toward complementing the more genre-based ideas on Lambs to the Slaughter, and a string of slower, bluesy guitar leads across several of the tracks — “Believe,” “Crossroads/Eat the Shit,” “Forgiveness Sunday,” “Altar of Medicine,” and closer “Faithless” – shows personality in the playing that’s still only beginning to emerge. Crowbar is the chief influence on much of Lambs to the Slaughter, whether it’s a slower song like “Altar of Medicine” or a faster one like “Homeless,” but they’re by no means the only point of inspiration on display. Brovkin’s vocal cadence on the awesomely-named “Space Weed” is pure Lee Dorrian from Cathedral’s classic “Hopkins (The Witchfinder General),” and you can’t get away with putting the exclamation “Alright now!” over a grooving riff as he does on “Believe” without earning a comparison to Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf.” Especially not over that grooving riff.
Posted in On the Radar on July 22nd, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster
On one of these endless summer days, nothing fits the bill quite like good old fashioned stoner rock, and if anyone knows about beating the heat, it’s The Re-Stoned, who come to us all the way from — MOSCOW? Okay, so maybe they’re not much for sunshine, but damn if they haven’t learned the lessons Karma to Burn and Fu Manchu have been teaching. Right on.
The trio are entirely instrumental, and guitarist Ilya Lipkin likes to experiment with effects, so some of that bleeds into the songs (a couple of which you can hear on The Re-Stoned‘s MySpace page), but there’s a lot here that’s just straight up fuzzriffic — so much so, in fact, The Re-Stoned even have their own custom distortion pedal. You know that’s damn fuzzy.
Hard not to dig the wah-bass Vladimir Nikulin provides on “Return,” and I don’t know what the groove of “Mountain Giant” is In Search Of, but I’m pretty sure it found it. They’ve also got a live jam posted that’s pretty tasty, and a mellower cut called “Sleeping World” where they let their inner “Planet Caravan” shine. The three studio tracks come off 2009′s Return of the Reptiles EP (R.A.I.G.), but they’ll be featured on the forthcoming Revealed Gravitation full-length as well, which is expected out soon.
I know I say it all the time, but it just goes to show how universal The Heavy really is. Kids in the desert can get down every bit as easily as kids in snowy Moscow, and on a sweltering day, all you have to do is fire up the intertubes and you’ve got a main line to yet another killer band. This is a wondrous age, my friends.