Quarterly Review: Royal Thunder, Strauss, Kult of the Wizard, Coogans Bluff, Papir Meets Electric Moon, We are Warwick Davis, Rongeur, Crowlegion, Chris Forsyth and the Solar Motel Band, EldoradoPosted in Reviews on April 1st, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Morale is good as I stare down day three of this Quarterly Review. I’m encouraged by the good response the two-so-far posts have gotten and hope if you’ve had the chance to check out any of this stuff you’ve been able to find something you’re into. Or if not, I hope the next three days can rectify that situation. There are 30 records still to go. Bound to be something in there for everyone, myself included.
Quarterly Review #21-30:
Royal Thunder, Crooked Doors
Royal Thunder’s second full-length for Relapse, Crooked Doors, is bound to surprise some listeners. A three-piece when they issued CVI through the label in 2012, the Savannah, Georgia, outfit arrives at Crooked Doors as a foursome with the addition of guitarist Will Fiore of Zoroaster, and embarks on a considerable shift in approach. Slickly, almost commercially produced, the album brisks past some riffy elements in songs like opener “Time Machine,” also the longest cut at 7:20 (immediate points), and “The Line” toward an aesthetic reinterpreting ‘80s pop-metal melodramas through a vaguely heavy rock filter. Between Fiore and might-spit-beer-on-you guitarist Josh Weaver, one might expect more tonal heft than Crooked Doors offers overall, but the album instead leans heavily on bassist/vocalist Mlny Parsonz to carry the emotional crux of the material (though Evan Diprima’s drums still hit with some impact as well). Parsonz’s voice proves up to the task — in pop-singer form, she carries the record — and is bolstered through layering, but by the time Crooked Doors’ hour runtime ends up at the lounge-blues and piano stylizations of “The Bear I” and “The Bear II,” it feels cumbersome and like the point has already been made.
A sophomore EP from this London five-piece following their impressive 2013 self-titled (review here), Luia doesn’t top half an hour, but its five included tracks show marked progression in pushing Strauss away from the Kyuss-isms that in large part defined their prior work. Opener “Mud at You” is immediately more aggressive, and though “Humanphobic (to Mary Shelley)” (note: anthropophobia), slows the pace and opens wide in its middle third, vocalist Stef shouts to remind of the core intensity in the songwriting. That takes a back seat as centerpiece “For all the Wrong Reasons” moves toward an apex of a cleaner-sung chorus, but the riffs of guitarists Charles and Bano, and the groove from bassist Bill and drummer Doc, remain heavy enough that the point isn’t lost. The eight-minute “Eclipse” has it all – doomed chug, screams, singing, crash, tempo changes, nod and so on – but the funky jam that starts closer “2015” shows Strauss are willing to have some fun with their heaviness as well. All the better. Time for a full-length.
Kult of the Wizard, The White Wizard
Comparisons to Witch Mountain are inevitable for Minneapolis four-piece Kult of the Wizard, whose vocalist, Mahle Roth, carries a bluesy inflection not dissimilar from Uta Plotkin on the five-song EP, The White Wizard. Self-released, it’s the band’s first work with Roth as frontwoman, guitarist Aaron Hodgson, bassist Ryan Janssen and drummer Travis Nordahl having released two prior outings – The Red Wizard (2013) and The Blue Wizard (2014) – instrumentally, and the difference is palpable. Roth adds a commanding presence to the rolling leadoff track “Tusk of the Mammoth,” showcases a noteworthy range on “Black Moon” and steps back only for an eerie wash of noise and samples on centerpiece “Plasma Pool,” but the finest performance on all fronts is closer “Devil Delight,” which meters out stomp and echo at its peak to concoct an otherworldly churn of psychedelic cult doom, Roth once again steering the progression with a sure hand. One does not expect The White Wizard to be the last we hear from Kult of the Wizard. Hell, they haven’t even done all the primary colors yet.
Coogans Bluff, Ein Herz Voller Soul
With 350 copies pressed by H42 Records in no fewer than five different color variations and at least that many versions of the cover art, Ein Herz Voller Soul, the latest 7” single from horn-laden German rockers Coogans Bluff hits with a fair amount of circumstance. It is, nonetheless, two songs and a quick listen. Its A-side is “Ein Herz Voller Soul,” a German-language retelling of “Heart Full of Soul” from the band’s 2014 full-length, Gettin’ Dizzy, and the B-side is “She Gave Her Life for a Man,” a classic rocker given middle-era Beatlesian flair by Stefan Meinking’s trombone, which feels fitting after the garage style of “Ein Herz Voller Soul,” though both cuts retain an element of the progressive in their approach, the band – Meinking, guitarist Willi Paschen, bassist/vocalist Clemens Marasus, drummer Charlie Paschen and saxophonist Max Thum – not afraid to branch wherever the song might take them, to a call and response hook or harder drum stomp. A stopgap, maybe, but Coogans Bluff have a tendency to engage and here they do so in hardly any time at all.
Papir Meets Electric Moon, The Papermoon Sessions Live at Roadburn 2014
Members of German psych-jam godsends Electric Moon and Copenhagen progressive explorers Papir took the stage at Roadburn 2014 in the Netherlands as a follow-up to their 2013 outing, The Papermoon Sessions (review here). I don’t think they’d played live together before and I’m pretty sure they haven’t since (though don’t quote me on that), but in any case, the billing Papir Meets Electric Moon isn’t something that happens every day, and the two north-of-20-minutes pieces conjured up for inclusion on The Papermoon Sessions Live at Roadburn 2014 only emphasize how special the collaboration actually is, washes of synth and effects layered over gloriously krautrocking rhythms, swiftly turning one minute and peaceful the next, but never disjointed, never losing the sense of flow. Each track — the second one is shorter at 22:15 — has its own movement, but the thing to do is put on The Papermoon Sessions Live at Roadburn 2014 and just let it go and go along with it. For a group that came together in the wake of a tragedy — the untimely passing of Danish promoter Ralph Rjeily — Papermoon proves yet again that beauty can spring even in dark times. I hope they do another record.
We are Warwick Davis, Storming the Castle
Seems unlikely a band is going to dive into songs like “Hippies are Dead,” “Whore Island (Jim Loves His Wife” or “King Mullet Destroyer” and not have a sense of humor, let alone call themselves We are Warwick Davis – please note: the actor is nowhere to be seen – so yeah, the Illinois double-guitar five-piece get up to some chicanery on their Storming the Castle full-length. Lots of chicanery, as it happens. Vocalist Joe Duffy is blown out over the punkish progressions of “Audio Visual” but reminds more of Jello Biafra on “Mind Enemy Mine,” which launches the album following a voicemail intro about blowing people off the stage. Former Monster Magnet guitarist John McBain mastered the album, and it was apparently a couple years in the self-recording process. It’s accordingly raw, and at 57 minutes, I doubt the band could be accused of understating their argument. Out of balance here and there to the point of abrasion, but ultimately harmless.
Rongeur, The Catastrophist and As the Blind Strive Demos
With members of folk metallers Trollfest, off-kilter hardcore punkers Ampmandens Døtre and atmospheric post-metallers Sju in tow, it may or may not be fair to call Rongeur a side-project, but they sure as hell are varied in their influences. The Oslo trio of drummer/vocalist Jostein, guitarist/vocalist Ken-Robert and bassist/vocalist Dag Ole (who belong respectively to the bands above) arrange their two-to-date demos with the newer tracks first on The Catastrophist and As the Blind Strive Demos, on Disiplin Media, so that the listener encountering them for the first time hears where the trio are as of 2014, then goes back to their first explorations, from 2013. Raw noise ensues, a post-hardcore vibe delivered with shouts and sludgy heft, but the older tracks offer a fuller distortion that they seem to have stripped down before getting around to songs like “Traitors” or the barebones-aggro “Jon Hogg.” One wonders where they might go from here, which is probably the whole point of the release.
Crowlegion, The First Offering
Heavy rock and death metal rarely tread the same ground without being immediately cast to one side or another. Gothenburg’s Crowlegion seem determined to stake a claim to both sides, and the 24-minute The First Offering EP, issued on CD by Grave Goods Productions, makes good on that attempt. The seven tracks are short – only two top four minutes – but stylistically ambitious, guitarist/vocalist Linus Pilebrand seeming to be the driving force behind the project’s blend of rolling riffs and guttural growls. He’s since replaced the rhythm section, having played bass on this recording in addition to guitar, with Jonas Jörgensen also on guitar and Sarah Tefke drumming, and four of the seven cuts also feature guest vocals, most of them working in extreme styles as well. I’m not sure if The First Offering is the release that finally crosses that long bridge between aesthetics, but Crowlegion position themselves well with these tracks to continue to make the journey. Nod or headbang. Your choice.
Chris Forsyth and the Solar Motel Band, Intensity Ghost
Less about the sonic heft of any given moment than the overarching freedom of exploration throughout its five instrumental tracks, Intensity Ghost is the first studio offering from Chris Forsyth and the Solar Motel Band (released on No Quarter), and it’s fucking brilliant. The Philly-based five-piece got together in 2013 but play like they’ve been sharing stages for a decade, whether it’s the smoothness with which they ride the bassline and current of synth in “Yellow Square” or closer “Paris Song”’s subtle move from minimalism into contemplative psychedelia. Dreamy centerpiece “I Ain’t Waiting” is the shortest of the bunch at 5:16, and opener “The Ballad of Freer Hollow” the longest and jammiest at 11:25 (immediate points), but wherever these guys – Forsyth on guitar, plus guitarist Paul Sukeena, bassist Peter Kerlin, drummer Steven Urgo and synth/organist Shawn Edward Hansen – seem to go, they get there with an engrossing fluidity that’s nothing short of masterful. A joy, front to back.
Eldorado, Babylonia Haze
Eldorado’s Babylonia Haze, at 10 tracks and 55 minutes, is not an insignificant undertaking. The Spanish four-piece brazenly take on classic rock hooks topped with organ-and-guitar fluidity and the soar-ready singing of Jesus Trujillo, joined in the band by guitarist Andres Duende, bassist Cesar Sanchez and drummer Christian Giardino (since replaced by Javier Planelles). A progressive clarity marks out acoustic-led cuts like “Breathe the Night” and the later “Resurrection Song,” the arrangements natural and purposeful in kind, and longer inclusions like “Flowers of Envy” (8:02) and “Karma Generator” (11:35) have breadth enough to sustain their runtimes while keeping a structured feel, the latter providing plotted movements toward the apex of the album before “Moon Girl” offers a lesser build of its own as afterthought, reimagining prog-fueled heavy rock as the fodder of a pop wistfulness. Accomplished and precise, it’ll be too clean for some ears, while others will no doubt wonder how its brilliance can be ignored.