Buried Treasure: Ogre, Dawn of the Proto-Man and Seven Hells Reissues

Posted in Buried Treasure on April 27th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

ogre dawn of the proto-man and seven hells cds

One hesitates uniformly to toss out words like “definitive,” but it’s hard to imagine a descriptor more accurate for Minotauro Records‘ recent reissues of the first two albums — 2003’s Dawn of the Proto-Man and 2006’s Seven Hells — by Portland, Maine, traditional doomers Ogre. The Sabbathian trio called it quits for the second time last year, but far from bitter, these thick-stock LP-style gatefold digipaks carry an air of celebration for what was always an underrated band, and prove to be archive-worthy versions of what were arguably Ogre‘s two most landmark contributions to doom.

Both are limited to 500 copies. Dawn of the Proto-Man, the debut, includes an obi-strip, a CD sleeve liner, vertical gatefold art by drummer Will Broadbent and a two-sided foldout poster that includes a larger version of the gatefold art with characters from Ogre‘s lyrics all the way up to their 2014 swan song, The Last Neanderthal (review here), the album itself, of course, plus three bonus tracks, separate liner notes written by guitarist Ross Markonish, a sticker, credits and more art on the CD sleeve. All of which can be housed in the digipak that itself fits in a protective plastic sleeve.

Packaged similarly, Seven Hells is even more expansive. A six-panel gatefold houses the CD of the album as well as a DVD with two live shows, from 2007 and 2006, filmed at Geno’s in their hometown of Portland, plus a two-sided poster with photos from throughout the band’s tenure, including the 2008 tour that took them to Japan alongside Blood Farmers and Church of Misery, as well as pics from the studio, equipment shots, and so on. It also has an obi strip proclaiming its limited edition, liner notes from Markonish and art and info on the CD sleeve expanded from the Gustave Doré cover, as well as — like on the debut — the advice to “Listen to this album as loud as humanly possible!” which is about as sagely as wisdom gets when it comes to experiencing an Ogre record, whichever one it might happen to be.

They are, in short, gorgeous, and it’s rare to see a band in doom get their due in such a fitting manner. Bassist/vocalist Ed CunninghamMarkonish and Broadbent were as much ahead of their time in their Sabbath worship as they were behind it, and each of these discs seems to be heralding these records for the special documents that they are.

To wit:

Dawn of the Proto-Man (2003)

ogre dawn of the proto-man

What’s most striking about Ogre‘s first album 12 years on isn’t how well it holds up — it does, make no mistake — but how raw it is. Ogre‘s brand of doom on Dawn of the Proto-Man is about as barebones as you can get. Guitar, bass and drums are topped off with Cunningham‘s vocals, which veer into madman shouts of various sorts on “The Jaded Beast” and “Black Death,” but for the most part retain an Ozzy-style cadence. And maybe context has something to do with this, but listening to it now, Ogre don’t sound tentative through the first record at all. They’re completely willing to stand on this sans-frills foundation. Opener “Ogre” is a clarion of classic riffery, and the swing of “Colossus” and the faster, bass-led boogie of “78” showcase all the breadth Ogre would need, each track offering something distinct from the one before it, but serving an overarching album flow. The tones aren’t overly thick, but the groove they enact is, and between doom and classic heavy rock, Ogre carved their place in stone with a sense of poise that one rarely finds credited to bands who sing about monsters, invaders from the East, etc. Its epics, “The Jaded Beast” and “Black Death” branch out smoothly with Broadbent‘s steady roll and Markonish‘s righteous leads, and already one can hear the power trio dynamic at the heart of what Ogre would accomplish together. What was a 50-minute record here stretches to 79 with the three bonus tracks, which were recorded in 2000, and have a demo feel and rougher recording, but still show that Ogre knew where they wanted to take their sound even in their earliest going.

Seven Hells (2006)

ogre seven hells

Launching with “Dogmen (of Planet Earth),” which is one of Ogre‘s most signature tracks, their 2006 sophomore outing, Seven Hells expands on the debut’s straight-ahead doomly drive by proffering more classic fuzz in Markonish‘s tone and by and large longer, jammier tracks. They’re not out of “Dogmen” before an extended ripper of a solo has made an impression following the initial swing of the verses, Cunningham‘s vocals still by and large dry and forward in the mix, but even more assured. More than Dawn of the Proto-Man, Seven Hells carries the feel of a guitar album, but I won’t take away from the low-end heft or punctuating snare of “The Gas” either, though after the jams in “Dogmen” and the 10-minute “Soldier of Misfortune,” which follows, there’s plenty that would seem ground — though, to Ogre‘s credit, even “Soldier of Misfortune” gets reigned in for a final verse before continuing on its howling, classically-metallized over-the-top way. The notable Pentagram cover “Review Your Choices” is the only cut on Seven Hells under six minutes long, so wherever Ogre might be headed at any given moment, they give themselves plenty of time to get there, but the growth in chemistry and the personality they bring to the established tenets of classic doom throughout Seven Hells, even on that cover or in a choice rocker like “Woman on Fire,” which boasts Broadbent‘s best drum performance as well as a fluid tempo shift into a second-half slowdown, would make the album a standout even if the songs weren’t so memorable. They still had plenty of their Sabbathian core intact at this point — as they would for their whole career — but were clearly looking to make their own stamp as well, as shown in the strange stoner vibes late in “Sperm Whale” or the noise wash that takes hold as closer “Flesh Feast” draws down. The DVD, which present the two sets in reverse chronological order, has a host of selections from the two albums, as well as a killer take on Saint Vitus‘ “Mystic Lady” to close out the 2007 one. Maybe not for casual fans, but again, as a document of where they were at the time, of unquestionable value.

Minotauro released The Last Neanderthal in a similar style package, and whether or not that will actually prove to be Ogre‘s final offering, only time can show. With just their third album, 2008’s Plague of the Planet (review here), left unissued by the label, it seems likely it will show up sooner or later, though whether CunninghamMarkonish and Broadbent will make a return at that time, well, you get the idea. Whatever the future does or doesn’t bring, there’s little about Dawn of the Proto-Man or Seven Hells that these reissues leave unsaid, and for the obvious passion that went into producing them as well as for the songs themselves, they’re deeply admirable outings that deserve every bell and whistle they’ve been given.

Ogre, Dawn of the Proto-Man (2003)

Ogre, Seven Hells (2006)

Ogre on Thee Facebooks

Ogre on Bandcamp

Minotauro Records

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Ogre Reissue Dawn of the Proto-Man and Seven Hells

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 6th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

ogre

Minotauro Records, which also released Ogre‘s The Last Neanderthal (review here) in 2014, has overseen CD reissues for the Maine trio’s first two albums, 2003’s Dawn of the Proto-Man and 2006’s Seven Hells. Both come packaged in the style of the latest album, and Seven Hells has a bonus DVD included with two shows from Geno’s in their stomping ground of Portland, ME. Dawn of the Proto-Man includes a comic by drummer Will Broadbent and bonus tracks.

The perennially underrated Northern doomers originally put out their debut independently, while Seven Hells arrived through Japan’s Leaf Hound Records, and needless to say both have been out of print for some time. Minotauro has it like this:

ogre dawn of the proto-man seven hells

Ogre Update! Now available! The Last Neanderthal, Seven Hells, and Dawn of the Proto-Man!

CD Now Available at minotaurorecords.com!

All three CDs are packaged in deluxe Japanese-style mini LP packaging with tons of additional liner notes, pictures and expanded artwork, and custom OBI card.

“Dawn of the Proton-Man” has never-before-heard bonus tracks, and “Seven Hells” comes with a bonus DVD! Very limited. Get them while you can!

OGRE Seven Hells CD + DVD

Re-release with bonus DVD and expanded liner notes, containing two live shows from Portland’s (Maine) legendary Geno’s Rock Club. Mini LP gatefold Japanese style papersleeve packaging with custom OBI, poster. CD Track List: Dogmen (of Planet Earth), Soldier of Misfortune, The Gas, Woman on Fire, Review Your Choices, Sperm Whale, Flesh Feast

DVD: Live at Geno’s 2007 show: Dogmen (of Planet Earth), God of Iron, The River, Flesh Feast, Age of Ice, Mystic Lady

2006 show: Dogmen (of Planet Earth), Woman On Fire, The Gas, 78, Sperm Whale, Flesh Feast, Age of Ice

OGRE Dawn of the Proto-Man CD

Re-release with bonus tracks and expanded liner notes. Expanded artwork and original, never-before-seen Ogre comic strip by Ogre drummer Will Broadbent. Mini LP gatefold Japanese style papersleeve packaging with custom OBI, poster. Track List: Ogre, Colossus, 78, The Jaded Beast (out of the east, Invasion), Skeletonized, Suicide Ride, Black Death (i.de vermis mysteriis, ii.rats, lice, and history), The Jaded Beast (Bonus Track), Colonizer (Plague of the Planets)(Bonus Track), Black Death (Bonus Track)

https://www.facebook.com/Rockogre/
http://www.minotaurorecords.com/

Ogre, “Colossus”

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The Obelisk Presents: The Top 30 of 2014

Posted in Features on December 22nd, 2014 by JJ Koczan

the-obelisk-top-30-of-2014

Please note: These are not the results of the Readers Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t added your list yet, please do.

This was a hard list to put together. The top three have been set in my mind for probably the last month, but trying to work my way backwards from there was a real challenge — what’s a top 10 record, a top 20 record, a top 30, honorable mentions and all the rest. I’ve never done a full top 30 before, always 20, but the truth is there was just too much this year to not expand.

I’m still juggling numbers even as I put together this post, and I’m sure that by the time I’m done several records will have switched places. That’s always how it seems to go. What I’m confident that I have is a list accurately representing critique and my own habits, both what I gravitated toward in listening throughout the year and what I feel is noteworthy on a critical level. This site has always been a blend of those two impulses. It’s only fair this list should be as well.

Before we dig in, you should note this is full-length albums only. I’ll have a list of short releases (EPs, singles, demos) to come, as well as a special list of debut releases, since it seemed to be a particularly good year for them. And since I’m only one person, I couldn’t hear everything, much as I tried.

Okay. Here we go:

30. Orange Goblin, Back from the Abyss

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Released by Candlelight Records. Reviewed on Nov. 17.

The kings of London’s heavy scene offered more powerhouse heavy rock with their eighth album and second for Candlelight, and their rabid and ever-growing fanbase ate it up. Back from the Abyss proved yet again that few can attain the kind of vicious force that seems to come so natural to Orange Goblin, and made it clear their domination shows no signs of losing momentum.

 

29. Mos Generator, Electric Mountain Majesty

mos-generator-electric-mountain-majesty

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed on March 14.

A darker affair from Port Orchard, Washington’s Mos GeneratorElectric Mountain Majesty still found its core in the songwriting led by guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed. They’re a band with some changes on the horizon, and I’ll be interested to hear what hindsight does to these songs. As it was, the hooks and downer vibes may have been in conceptual conflict, but the execution was inarguable.

 

28. Pilgrim, II: Void Worship

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Released by Metal Blade Records. Reviewed on April 15.

Richer in the listening than 2012’s Misery Wizard debut, Pilgrim‘s II: Void Worship nonetheless held firm to the doomly spirit that’s made the Rhode Island outfit such a sensation these last couple years. Its longer songs, “Master’s Chamber,” “Void Worship” and the emotionally weighted “Away from Here,” were particularly immersive, and they remain a bright spot in doom’s future.

 

27. John Garcia, John Garcia

john-garcia-john-garcia

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed on July 7.

His long-awaited solo debut, John Garcia‘s John Garcia offered memorable tracks culled from years of songwriting from the former Kyuss, Slo Burn, Unida and Hermano frontman, performed in the classic desert rock style he helped define. I’m not sure it was worth trading a second Vista Chino record for, but it was hard to argue with “The Blvd” and “All These Walls.”

 

26. Swans, To be Kind

swans-to-be-kind

Released by Mute/Young God Records. Reviewed on May 9.

An overwhelming two-disc barrage from a relentless creativity that, more than 30 years on from its first public incarnation, is still to be considered avant garde. I’m not sure planet earth realizes how lucky it is to have Swans running around unleashing all this chaos, but I hope they don’t stop anytime soon. To be Kind was brutal and beautiful in like measure.

 

25. Alunah, Awakening the Forest

alunah awakening the forest

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Oct. 14.

I initially made this list without Alunah‘s excellent third album and Napalm Records, but when it came down to it, not having the UK four-piece on here haunted me to the point where I had to come back in and swap them out with somebody else. Just couldn’t live with myself for not giving this record its due, which, to be frank, I’m still not since it should be higher on the list than it is. At least it’s here though, so the mistake is somewhat corrected.

 

24. Greenleaf, Trails and Passes

greenleaf-trails-and-passes

Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed on April 25.

The follow-up to Greenleaf‘s stellar 2012 outing Nest of Vipers (review here) brought lineup changes and stripped away many of the textural elements of the band’s sound — guest appearances, arrangement flourishes — in order to get back to a classic heavy rock sound and translate better to the stage. With guitarist Tommi Holappa‘s songwriting ever at the core, it would be unfair to call the process anything but a success.

 

23. Earth, Primitive and Deadly

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Released by Southern Lord Recordings. Reviewed on Sept. 9.

Most of the headlines went to the fact that Primitive and Deadly had vocals, where the generally-instrumental Earth had avoided singers for 18 years prior, but even putting aside Mark Lanegan and Rabi Shabeen Qazi, whose performance on “From the Zodiacal Light” was the high point of the record, presented Earth‘s always progressive tensions in a rawer, heavier production, and was a joy for longtime fans.

 

22. Ogre, The Last Neanderthal

ogre-the-last-neanderthal

Released by Minotauro Records. Reviewed on March 10.

Six years and one breakup later, Portland, Maine, doom trio Ogre returned with The Last Neanderthal, neither afraid to revel in Sabbathian traditionalism or rock out a more upbeat cut like opener “Nine Princes in Amber.” For bassist/vocalist Ed Cunningham, guitarist Ross Markonish and drummer Will Broadbent, it was a welcome resurgence of pretense-free heavy riffs and grooves.

 

21. The Wounded Kings, Consolamentum

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Released by Candlelight Records. Reviewed on Jan. 30.

Of course, at the time we didn’t know it would be the final outing from this lineup of UK doomers The Wounded Kings, whose guitarist/founder Steve Mills has now reunited with original vocalist George Birch, but Consolamentum was a hell of a closing statement anyway for this era of the band, showcasing their murky, increasingly progressive style still waiting for wider appreciation.

 

20. Floor, Oblation

floor-oblation

Released by Season of Mist. Reviewed on April 22.

Wasn’t sure where to put Floor‘s reunion offering, Oblation, on this list at first, since I kind of fell off listening to it as the year went on, but I’ve gone back to it over the last couple weeks and it has held up to the revisit, whether it’s songs like the extended “Sign of Aeth” or shorter, catchy pummelers like “Rocinante” or “War Party.” Floor‘s 2002 self-titled holds an untouchable legacy in heavy rock, but I think the years will prove Oblation a worthy successor. Nobody knew what they had with Floor at the time either.

 

19. Druglord, Enter Venus

druglord-enter-venus

Released by STB Records. Reviewed on Feb. 14.

Little on 2011’s Motherfucker Rising (review here) or their 2010 demo (review here) prepared for the kind of assault that Druglord‘s Enter Venus brought to bear. Four stomp-laden slabs of tectonic crash and distortion, vocals buried under and calling up from the amp-bred fog. The Virginian trio were in and out on the 27-minute 12″ release, but had enough heavy for a record twice as long, and the tinges of darkened psychedelia made their songs like a lurking presence just on the edge of consciousness, a threat waiting to be unleashed.

 

18. Ararat, Cabalgata Hacia la Luz

ararat-cabalgata-hacia-la-luz

Released by Oui Oui Records. Reviewed on April 4.

For the sheer variety of Ararat‘s third album in rockers like “Nicotina y Destrucción,” “El Hijo de Ignacio,” the experimentalism of “El Arca” and the piano-driven “Los Viajes” and the acoustic closer “Atalayah,” and the assured, flowing manner in which the Argentina trio pulled it all off, Cabalgata Hacia la Luz should be higher on this list than it is. Part of that might be my frustration at my apparent inability to buy a copy, but don’t let that take away from the quality of the material here, which is wonderfully chaotic, memorable and engaging, rushing in some places and stopping to weep in others.

 

17. Radio Moscow, Magical Dirt

radio-moscow-magical-dirt

Released by Alive Naturalsound. Reviewed on May 29.

You won’t hear me deny that Radio Moscow‘s primary impact is as a live band, but their fifth album, Magical Dirt, managed to bring forth much of their psychedelic blues presence in “Death of a Queen,” “Before it Burns” and “Gypsy Fast Woman,” the blinding rhythmic turns and wah-soaked guitar supremacy of Parker Griggs front and center throughout. Together with bassist Anthony Meier (also Sacri Monti) and drummer Paul Marrone (also Astra and Psicomagia), Radio Moscow are hitting their stride as one of heavy rock’s most powerful power trios. One never knows what to expect, but hopefully they keep going the way they are.

 

16. Apostle of Solitude, Of Woe and Wounds

apostle-of-solitude-of-woe-and-wounds

Released by Cruz del Sur. Reviewed on Nov. 6.

Four years isn’t the longest time I’ve ever waited for a record to come out, but in the case of Indianapolis’ Apostle of Solitude, it felt like an especially long stretch. Their third full-length and first for Cruz del Sur, Of Woe and Wounds followed the anticipation-building Demo 2012 (review here) and a couple splits and brought aboard bassist Dan Dividson and guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak (also Devil to Pay), who fit well with drummer Corey Webb and guitarist/vocalist Chuck Brown to result in a payoff worthy and indicative of the time that went into its making. Hands down one of the finest acts in American doom.

 

15. Stubb, Cry of the Ocean

stubb-cry-of-the-ocean

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed on Nov. 24.

Stubb‘s second long-player, also their debut on Ripple, gets a nod for the sense of progression it brought in answering the potential of the trio’s 2012 self-titled debut (review here), guitarist/vocalist Jack Dickinson, bassist Peter Holland and new drummer Tom Fyfe expanding the scope to include more heavy psych influence and soul along with the fuzz riffs and steady rolling while giving no ground in terms of the level of craft at work. Cry of the Ocean has become one of those albums where all I have to do is look at a title, be it “Cry of the Ocean Pt. I” or “Sail Forever” or “Heartbreaker,” and the song is immediately stuck in my head. With these tracks, that’s not at all a complaint.

 

14. Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, Black Power Flower

brant-bjork-and-the-low-desert-punk-band-black-power-flower

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed on Nov. 10.

Brant Bjork has worn many hats, literal and figurative, over the years, whether it’s drummer in Kyuss or Fu Manchu, producer, solo artist or bandleader. With Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, he steps once again into the latter role, and with guitarist Bubba DuPree, bassist Dave Dinsmore and drummer Tony Tornay, presents not only on his heaviest record to date, but what could easily begin a sustainable full-band progression that can go just about anywhere his songwriting wants to take it. “Stokely up Now,” “That’s a Fact Jack,” “Controllers Denied” and “Boogie Woogie on Your Brain” made for some of 2014’s best in desert rock, and Black Power Flower was an stellar return for Bjork to his “solo” work.

 

13. Dwellers, Pagan Fruit

dwellers-pagan-fruit

Released by Small Stone. Reviewed on May 22.

An earlier version of this list had Pagan Fruit at a lower number, but I couldn’t live with it not being closer to the top 10. Salt Lake City’s Dwellers pushed deeper into laid back psych and blues on their second album, and in doing so, crafted an atmosphere entirely their own. From “Creature Comfort” down to “Call of the Hollowed Horn,” with triumphs along the way like “Rare Eagle,” “Totem Crawler” (“Ohh, my queen… To whom, I crawl…) and “Son of Raven,” Pagan Fruit became a staple of my 2014, building off their 2012 debut, Good Morning Harakiri (review here), but presenting their stylistic growth with a confidence and poise that can only come from a band who’ve figured out what they want to be doing and how they want to do it. Front to back, Pagan Fruit sounds like an arrival.

 

12. The Golden Grass, The Golden Grass

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Released by Svart Records. Reviewed on March 25.

What made Brooklyn trio The Golden Grass‘ self-titled debut such a special released wasn’t just that it was heavy, or that the tracks were catchy, or that guitarist Michael Rafalowich and drummer Adam Kriney could harmonize over Joe Noval‘s warm-toned basslines. That was all great, don’t get me wrong, but what really stood out about The Golden Grass was its irony-free positivity, the way it was able to capture an upbeat, sunshiny feel without having to smirk about it on the other side of its mouth. It was self-aware, to be sure — knew what it was doing — but the way I see it, consciousness only makes the stylistic choices more impressive. Add to that the nuance they brought to ’70s revivalism, and all that stuff about catchiness and the harmonies, and there just wasn’t a level on which the album didn’t work.

 

11. The Well, Samsara

the-well-samsara

Released by RidingEasy Records. Reviewed on Sept. 22.

My appreciation continues to grow for The Well‘s Samsara, which successfully pulled together influences from garage doom and heavy psychedelia while crafting an identity for the Austin, Texas, three-piece at once raw and melodically accomplished, guitarist Ian Graham and bassist Lisa Alley sharing vocals to classic effect on “Refuge” while otherwise trading off lead position to bolster variety in the material. The high point might’ve been the eight-minute “Eternal Well,” on which GrahamAlley and drummer Jason Sullivvan conjured some of their grooviest demons, but the hooks of “Mortal Bones,” “Trespass” and the attitude-laced “Dragon Snort” were no less engaging. One of many strong releases from their label this year — Slow SeasonThe Picturebooks, etc. — they seemed to come ready to serve notice of a stylistic movement underway.

 

10. Montibus Communitas, The Pilgrim to the Absolute

montibus-communitas-the-pilgrim-to-the-absolute

Released by Beyond Beyond is Beyond. Reviewed on Dec. 4.

Peruvian psych adventurers Montibus Communitas more or less blew my mind when I heard their late-2013 offering, Harvest Times earlier this year, and the narrative, conceptual 2014 release, The Pilgrim to the Absolute, is even more of an achievement in its portrayal of improvised exploration, sonic ritualism and open creativity. The weaving of longer pieces against shorter ones with the various steps along the path as presented in the titles, some journeying, some arriving, some descriptive, almost all accompanied by nature in one form or another, gives The Pilgrim to the Absolute an almost impressionistic quality, so that even as you listen to it, you engage it as much as it carries you along its vibrant, breathtaking progression en route to the closing title-track, which is a destination every bit worthy of the journey. This is the most recently reviewed inclusion on this list, but Montibus Communitas‘ latest readily earns its place in the top 10. It is unique in its surroundings.

 

9. Fu Manchu, Gigantoid

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Released by At the Dojo Records. Reviewed on May 14.

Looking back at the last two Fu Manchu records, 2007’s We Must Obey and 2009’s Signs of Infinite Power, it seemed reasonable to expect the groundbreaking SoCal fuzz foursome to put out another collection of big-sounding riffs in a big-sounding production. Nothing to complain about, but probably not a landmark. By going the other way completely — stripping their buzzed-out riffing down to its punkish core thanks in no small part to recording with Moab‘s Andrew GiacumakisFu Manchu served up a raw reminder both of where they came from and how top notch their songwriting remains. Reissuing their earliest work and being on their own label might’ve had something to do with it, but whatever it was, the 35 minutes of Gigantoid was as efficient a heavy rock outing as one could hope from an already legendary band, whether it was the hook-prone opening salvo of “Dimension Shifter,” “Invaders on My Back,” “Anxiety Reducer” and “Radio Source Sagittarius” or the righteous ending jam “The Last Question.”

 

8. The Skull, For Those Which are Asleep

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Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed on Nov. 5.

Given the origins of The Skull — ex-Trouble members Eric Wagner, Jeff “Oly” Olson and Ron Holzner joining with Lothar Keller and a series of other guitarists, finally Matt Goldsborough, working essentially as a tribute band to their former outfit — I think not only did the quality of the material and performance on For Those Which are Asleep surprise, as well as the classically doomed feel that resonates throughout the album, but the sheer heartfelt nature of songs like “Sick of it All,” “Send Judas Down” and the title-track itself. This wasn’t a cynical attempt to make a go of an already set legacy. It was an expression of appreciation both for what they accomplished as Trouble and a desire to continue that work. The Skull‘s whole thing has been that they’re “more Trouble than Trouble,” and in their lineup that’s been true since they brought Olson on board. For Those Which are Asleep demonstrated that the classic spirit of that band is alive and well, its address has just changed. Moreover, it’s the beginning of a new progression for that spirit, and I hope it continues.

 

7. Blood Farmers, Headless Eyes

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Self-released on CD, LP on PATAC Records. Reviewed on March 24.

Nineteen years after releasing their self-titled debut, New York’s Blood Farmers contended for 2014’s comeback of the year with their sophomore outing, Headless Eyes — a morose, horror-obsessed six-track collection that on “Night of the Sorcerers” owed as much to Goblin as to Sabbath. The closing cover of David Hess‘ theme from The Last House on the Left, “The Road Leads to Nowhere,” was a late bit of melodic flourish to add depth, but how could the highlight be anything other than the 10-minute title-track itself, with its samples from the 1971 horror flick The Headless Eyes, bassist Eli Brown in a call and response with lyrics comprised of lines directly taken from the movie? That after playing shows the last several years, Blood Farmers managed to get a record out was impressive enough. That Headless Eyes turned out to be the year’s best traditional doom release was an entirely different level of surprise. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for their third, but Brown, guitarist David Szulkin and drummer Tad Leger gave plenty to chew on with Blood Farmers‘ second. It was better than would’ve been fair to expect.

 

6. Lo-Pan, Colossus

lo-pan-colossus

Released by Small Stone. Reviewed on Oct. 7.

A lot of what you need to know about Lo-Pan‘s fourth album you learn in the first five seconds of opener “Regulus.” There’s no fancy intro, no time wasted, nothing to take away from the directness of the song itself. Tones are crisp — the verse is already underway — and guitar, bass and drums are laser-focused in their forward movement. Even when vocalist Jeff Martin enters the song, roughly six seconds later, his arrival comes with no indulgence, no pomp. Colossus is easily Lo-Pan‘s most immediate work to date, and throughout, Martin, guitarist Brian Fristoe (since replaced by Adrian Zambrano), bassist Scott Thompson and drummer Jesse Bartz retain that focus no matter where the material takes them, delivering a clinic in how to kick as much ass as possible at any given moment on cuts like “Marathon Man” and “Eastern Seas,” or even bringing in guest vocalist Jason Alexander Byers, who also designed the album cover, for a spot on “Vox.” They had a hard task in following up 2011’s Salvador (review here), but the Columbus, Ohio, unit stood up to the challenge and met it and everyone else head-on.

 

5a. All Them Witches, Lightning at the Door

all-them-witches-lightning-at-the-door

Self-released. Reviewed on Sept. 25.

What to do with All Them Witches‘ Lightning at the Door? The Nashville four-piece released the album last fall digitally, but it wasn’t until this September that it saw a physical manifestation. In fact, if you go back, it was included on the Top 20 of 2013 as well. Which is the release date? I don’t know. What I know is that in terms of the sheer amount of time spent listening, I put on Lightning at the Door more than any other record this year. From where I sit, that alone gets it a place in the top five. Yeah, it might be a cop-out to do a “5a,” but sometimes exceptions have to be made, and All Them Witches have proved to be nothing if not exceptional in their still relatively brief, jam-laden history, the psych-blues dynamic between bassist/vocalist Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod, Fender Rhodes specialist Allan van Cleave and drummer Robby Staebler pushing them quickly to the fore of American heavy rock’s innovators, their natural, improv-sounding material feeling brazen and exploratory while reshaping the elements of genre to suit their needs. One can only see this dynamic developing further as they continue to grow as a live band, so Lightning at the Door may just be the start, and that’s perhaps most exciting of all.

 

5. Witch Mountain, Mobile of Angels

witch-mountain-mobile-of-angels

Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed on Aug. 20.

A beautiful, stunning work made even more powerful by the honesty driving it. Portland, Oregon’s Witch Mountain completed a trilogy with the Billy Anderson-produced Mobile of Angels that brought about some of the best doom of this young decade, their 2011 return from a years-long hiatus, South of Salem (review here) serving as the foundation for a stylistic progression that continued on the following year’s Cauldron of the Wild (review here) and onto Mobile of Angels itself as the four-piece’s most accomplished album to date. The reason it feels like such a concluding chapter is because of the departure of vocalist Uta Plotkin, whose voice helped establish Witch Mountain both on stage and in the studio, leaving founders Rob Wrong (guitar) and Nathan Carson (drums) with the sizable task of finding a replacement. That situation will be what it will be, but Mobile of Angels remains a gorgeous, lonely testament. Plotkin gives a landmark performance on “Can’t Settle” and “The Shape Truth Takes,” which in the context of what was happening in Witch Mountain at the time ring with a truth that’s rare in or out of doom, and she seems to have left the band just as they were hitting their finest hour. So it goes.

 

4. Conan, Blood Eagle

conan-blood-eagle

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed on Jan. 22.

In all of heavy, there is no assault so severe as Conan‘s. With their second full-length and debut on Napalm Records, the UK trio solidified the two sides of the preceding 2012 outing, Monnos (review here), in constructing material that, fast or slow, short or long, retained an epic feel melded with their ungodly tonality and memorable songwriting. Their first recording at guitarist/vocalist Jon DavisSkyhammer Studio, it affirmed Conan‘s will to conquer in its two massive bookends, “Crown of Talons” and “Altar of Grief,” and in the High on Fire-worthy gallop of “Foehammer” — a bludgeon commandingly wielded by Davis, bassist/vocalist Phil Coumbe and drummer Paul O’Neil, the latter to of whom have since left the band to be replaced by longtime-producer Chris Fielding and Rich Lewis, respectively. What effect the changes might have on the band — except apparently more touring, which isn’t a bad thing — have yet to be seen, but Conan are already in the process of writing a follow-up to Blood Eagle, so it doesn’t seem like it’ll be all that long until we find out. With Davis still steering the band in songwriting and overall direction, one severely doubts they’ll be fixing what obviously isn’t broken anytime soon. None heavier.

 

3. Wo Fat, The Conjuring

wo-fat-the-conjuring

Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed on June 18.

Dallas riff-rockers Wo Fat have grown steadily over the course of their five albums, from the nascent heavy roll of 2006’s The Gathering Dark, to the hooks of 2008’s Psychedelonaut (review here), the jamming that started to surface on 2011’s Noche del Chupacabra (review here) and was pushed further on 2012’s The Black Code (review here). And their approach has been as steady as the frequency of their releases. In making The Conjuring, the three-piece were simply engaging the next step in their progression, but the material on the five-track/48-minute outing goes further than just that. Putting aside (momentarily) the 17-minute closer “Dreamwalker,” the other cuts, “The Conjuring,” “Read the Omens,” “Pale Rider from the Ice” and “Beggar’s Bargain” each found a place for themselves in pulling together jammed-sounding elements with a memorable construction, and when guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump, bassist Tim Wilson and drummer Michael Walter did kick into “Dreamwalker,” they hit on not only their longest piece yet, but their most accomplished showcase of the chemistry that has developed between them. That song is a beast unto itself, but as has been the case with Wo Fat each time out so far in their career, there’s nothing on The Conjuring to give the impression the band can’t or won’t continue to keep going on the path that’s worked so well for them on this point. They’ve spent the last eight years on the right track and have yet to waiver. The Conjuring should be played at top volume for anyone who contends there’s no life left in heavy rock and roll.

 

2. Mars Red Sky, Stranded in Arcadia

mars-red-sky-stranded-in-arcadia

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed on March 11.

Mars Red Sky‘s second LP and first for Listenable, Stranded in Arcadia was originally supposed to be recorded in the California desert, but visa problems kept the French trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Matgaz in Brazil, where they’d previously been touring. Thus, “stranded in Arcadia,” which is basically another way of saying “lost in paradise.” Can’t say the Bordeaux three-piece didn’t make the most of it, though. Songs like “The Light Beyond” and “Hovering Satellites” — not to mention the utter melodic bliss of “Join the Race” — took cues from their 2011 self-titled debut (review here) in terms of memorable songwriting and melodic craft, but added to that heft and tonal richness more of a psychedelic vibe, so that not only was there fuzz and wah, but a spacious world in which the songs took place. With Kinast on lead vocals, the sneaky boogie of “Holy Mondays” became a highlight, and the one-two swing ‘n’ stomp of “Circles” and “Seen a Ghost” were a perfect demonstration by the band of the various sides of their sound, particularly following after the dreamy instrumental “Arcadia,” an echoing jam distinguished by Pras‘ wistful guitar lead and coming before the closing “Beyond the Light,” which reprises the opener’s resonant unfolding. It probably wasn’t the record they intended to make, but Stranded in Arcadia became one of my go-to albums for 2014, and like the best of any given year’s output, I’ve no doubt it will transcend the passage of time and continue to deliver for years to come. Hell, I was barely done with the debut when this one came out.

 

1. YOB, Clearing the Path to Ascend

yob-clearing-the-path-to-ascend

Released by Neurot Recordings. Reviewed on Sept. 3.

“It’s time to wake up.”

Can’t imagine this is any great surprise. Not only did Clearing the Path to Ascend — YOB‘s seventh album and first for Neurot — produce my pick for song of the year in its sprawling, emotionally weighted 18-minute closer, “Marrow,” but in the three full-lengths the Eugene, Oregon, trio of drummer Travis Foster, bassist Aaron Rieseberg and guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt have released since the latter reformed the band after breaking it up following 2005’s The Unreal Never Lived, all three have been my album of the year. The Great Cessation was in 2009, and Atma was in 2011. Consistency aside, I’ll point out specifically that each of the same three records has earned that position, perhaps Clearing the Path to Ascend most of all for its progressive feel, moving past genre even at its most raging moment, second cut “Nothing to Win,” the chorus of which proved that among everything else YOB could be, they could be anthemic. The cosmic, spiritual questing that has always been present in their songs, that feeling of searching, showed up in opener “In Our Blood,” but even there, it was evident YOB were pushing themselves beyond what they’ve done before, rewriting their own formulas incorporating lessons from their past in among their other points of inspiration. “Unmask the Spectre” could have easily been an album closer itself, with its patient exploration and feverishly intense payoff, but with the melodic progressivism of “Marrow” and the soul poured into every second of that track, every verse and chorus, solo and build — including the Hammond added to the last of them by producer Billy Barnett — YOB created a landmark both for themselves and the increasing many working under their influence. I’ve said on several occasions (bordering on “many” at this point) that YOB are a once-in-a-generation band, and it feels truer in thinking of Clearing the Path to Ascend than it ever has. Without a doubt, album of the year and then some.

 

 

Honorable Mention

First, special note to Colour Haze‘s To the Highest Gods We Know. I’ve decided to count it as a 2015 release since the vinyl will be out in Spring, but otherwise surely it would earn a place on this list. Blackwolfgoat‘s Drone Maintenance also deserves note.

A few other honorable mentions:

MothershipMothership II — It’s hard to argue with a classic heavy rock power trio kicking ass. I won’t try.

Sólstafir, Ótta — They were originally on the list proper but had to be moved to make room for Alunah. I didn’t really get to know this record in 2014 anyway.

Ice DragonSeeds from a Dying Garden — Boston experimental psych/garage doomers continue to defy expectation. May their weirdness last forever and continue to produce material so satisfying.

TruckfightersUniverse — I thought at some point I’d go back to Universe again, but never really did. A problem with me more than the album.

SteakSlab City — An impressive debut following two strong EPs.

GodfleshA World Lit Only by Fire — I never got a review copy, so I never reviewed it. Its name is here because I’m a fan of the band and glad they’re back.

ThouHeathen — Just recently purchased this and am only getting to know it, but a ridiculously strong album.

Corrosion of ConformityIX — Everybody who gets a boner whenever Pepper Keenan is mentioned in connection with this band has missed out. This record and the self-titled kick ass.

SpidergawdSpidergawd — Holy shit they’re over here! No they’re over there! No wait over here again! Oh my god I’ve just gone blind!

Monster MagnetMilking the Stars — I wasn’t sure what to do with this since technically it’s not a new album, mostly reworked songs from the last one. I still listened to it a ton though, whatever it is.

SlomaticsEstron — Another one I’m just getting to know, but am very much digging.

Electric WizardTime to Die — People seem to do this thing where Electric Wizard puts out a record, everyone slathers over it for a few months and then spends the next two years talking about how it sucked. I guess I’ll be on the ground floor with not having been that into Time to Die.

PallbearerFoundations of Burden — Had to put their name somewhere on this list or someone would burn my house down. Album of the year for many.

The list goes on: Monolord, Comet Control, Mammatus, Triptykon, Eyehategod, Fever Dog, Moab, Karma to Burn, Atavismo, Grifter, 1000mods, Megaton Leviathan, Wovenhand, Mr. Peter Hayden, Primordial, and many more.

Before I check out and go sit in a corner somewhere to try and rebuild brain power after this massive dump of a purge, I want to sincerely thank you for reading. If you check in regularly, or if you’ve never been to the site before, if you don’t give a crap about lists or if you’re gonna go listen to even one band on here, it’s fantastic to me. Thank you so much for all the support this site receives, for your comments, for sharing links, retweeting, whatever it is. I am a real person — I’m sitting on my couch at this very moment — and being able to do this and have people see it and be a part of it with me is unbelievable. I realize how fortunate I am. So thank you. Thank you.

Thank you.

More to come as we close out 2014. I’ll have a list of short/split/demo releases, a year-end podcast, a list of the best debuts, a round up of the best live shows I saw, as much more as time allows. Please stay tuned.

And again, thank you. If I left anyone off the list, I hope you’ll let me know in the comments and contribute your own top albums, however many there are, to the Readers Poll.

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Ogre Announce Weekender Tour

Posted in Whathaveyou on August 20th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

While it looks like Ogre won’t be appearing at next weekend’s Vultures of Volume fest in Delaware as was originally slated, the illusive Maine-based doom rocking trio will still be out and about in the Northeast. Shows for a weekender they’re calling the “Trilogy of Terror” are booked in Philly, Connecticut and New Hampshire, and they’re playing with some excellent local support, including Heavy Temple and Cactus Hag. No doubt the good times will abound as they say goodbye to summer and continue to support their 2014 release, The Last Neanderthal (review here), their first album since getting back together after initially calling it quits half a decade ago.

That album is a worthy cause to support, and the notice the band sent down the PR wire is right when it urges you to catch them if you can. Ogre don’t really tour at this point, and who knows how long it’ll be before they next set foot back into civilization from their home in the northern wilds.

Or, as they put it:

ogre kung fu necktie

Portland, Maine doomsters OGRE are closing out the summer with three out-of-town gigs over the Labor Day weekend. The “Trilogy of Terror”, as the band has dubbed the trip, begins on Thursday, August 28th with the band’s first ever show in Philadelphia, performing at Kung Fu Necktie with local support from Heavy Temple and Skeleton Hands. Then, they will head up the coast for a Friday, August 29th show in New Haven, CT at Three Sheets with VRSA and Mind Over Master. The road-trip ends on Saturday, August 30th at Sonny’s in Dover, NH. Opening that show will be Cactus Hag and Black Norse.

OGRE is not sure when they’ll be hitting the road again, so try to catch them at these gigs if you can. For more info about the shows and to see drummer Will Broadbent’s killer gig flyers, check out the band’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/rockogre

OGRE’s most recent CD, The Last Neanderthal, was released by Italy’s Minotauro Records in March 2014 and is still available at numerous on-line retailers and through the Minotauro website (www.minotaurorecords.com).

https://www.facebook.com/rockogre
http://www.minotaurorecords.com

Ogre, “Nine Princes in Amber” Lego video

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The Top 15 of the First Half of 2014

Posted in Features on June 23rd, 2014 by JJ Koczan

It’s custom around here to do a Top 10 of the First Half of the Year, in advance of doing a Top 20 of the Year in December. The idea is that the later list will basically build on the earlier one. That’s never really how it works out — albums always drop off or appear unexpectedly depending on what gets listened to most, what gets reviewed late, etc. — but it always works out to be a good time anyway, and that’s really what it’s all about.

The difference this year is that instead of doing a Top 20 in December, I’m planning on expanding to a full Top 30, so to do a Top 10 of the stuff from January until now makes less sense. So here we are with a Top 15. A slightly longer list, but still the same basic idea as years past otherwise. These are albums I’m expecting will turn up again at the end of the year on the final Top 30, and though some will and some won’t and almost all of them will move around, there are more than a handful — particularly if we’re counting by fingers — of essential records released over the last six months recounted here.

If you missed something, I hope it’s something cool you get to check out, and if I missed something (as I inevitably did), I hope you’ll let me know in the comments. Please note that this is full albums only, no EPs, splits, singles or demos.

Enjoy:

 

15. Greenleaf, Trails and Passes

Released by Small Stone. Reviewed April 25.

I’ll freely admit I was more than a little thrown off by the change in approach on Greenleaf‘s fifth album. Where prior outings like 2012’s Nest of Vipers (review here) and 2007’s megatriumph Agents of Ahriman had been lush heavy rock affairs helmed by Dozer guitarist Tommi Holappa with a slew of guests on vocals, organ, etc., Trails and Passes dialed back the “extras” in favor of a more stripped down, stage-ready approach. Holappa‘s songwriting alone would likely be enough to have Greenleaf on this list one way or another, and Trails and Passes is one of the year’s best. The turn was just unexpected and I feel like I’m not caught up to it yet.

 

14. Druglord, Enter Venus

Released by STB Records. Reviewed Feb. 14.

Initially put out in a limited tape run in late 2013 (review here), the Enter Venus full-length from Richmond-based sludgers Druglord codified the noisy murk of their prior outings into one devastating wave of lurching riffage and echoing shouts. The Virginian three-piece recorded with Garrett Morris of Windhand and the STB vinyl topped off with artwork by W. Ralph Walters, making for a package both visually and sonically devastating, and though it’s short for an album at under a half-hour, the 12″ still earns the nod for the unmitigated heft its four songs carry. It’s one you can either dig or miss out, but Druglord show there’s more room for invention in sludge.

 

13. Wovenhand, Refractory Obdurate

Released by Deathwish Inc. Reviewed May 15.

There really isn’t much left to say when it comes to Wovenhand and their driving force, frontman David Eugene Edwards. Their first for Deathwish Inc., Refractory Obdurate is the latest document of one of this generation’s most accomplished songwriting progressions. It follows a brilliant record in 2012’s The Laughing Stalk (review here) and likely precedes one in whatever they decide to do next, and the enduring fascination on Edwards‘ part with tonal weight and groove continues to push Wovenhand into a creative territory that is without genre. Nobody else comes close.

 

12. Papir, IIII

Released by El Paraiso Records. Reviewed Jan. 24.

Quick-working Danish jammers Papir made a strong impression with IIII early in the year, offering a progressive take on the style of heavy instrumental jamming that has flourished throughout Europe over the last half-decade or so. Immediately individualized, the Copenhagen three-piece carried across four intricately constructed pieces, most open with the 21-minute “III” but never lacking for twists and turns that were an utter joy to follow. A band that has already collaborated with the even-jammier Electric Moon and who’ve aligned themselves with Causa Sui‘s El Paraiso Records, they seem like a safe bet to continue to grow into reliable purveyors of high-quality instrumental heavy psychedelia.

 

11. Ogre, The Last Neanderthal

Released by Minotauro Records. Reviewed March 10.

Its arrival was heralded by the righteousness of a Lego video for “Nine Princes in Amber,” though even that was little preparation for the classic doomery that would take place on the return long-player from Portland, Maine’s Ogre. The trio of guitarist Ross Markonish, bassist/vocalist Ed Cunningham and drummer Will Broadbent broke up in 2009, got back together in 2012, and with their fourth album, they made it clear they still had plenty to offer those who worship trad-style riffing, Sabbathy grooves and the kind of hooks that stay with you for days. The Last Neanderthal had plenty of those, and “Warpath,” the aforementioned “Nine Princes in Amber,” “Bad Trip” and “Son of Sisyphus” tapped into what makes the best of doom so ready for repeat listens.

 

10. Floor, Oblation

Released by Season of Mist. Reviewed April 22.

Another reunited trio, Floor had it tough coming into their first album in a decade, Oblation. The legacy of their 2002 self-titled would loom large over anything they put out, and guitarist/vocalist Steve Brooks had since gained a huge following as the spearhead of Torche, but four years after they started playing shows again, Floor met the challenge head-on with Oblation‘s 14 tracks, showing a natural progression from where they left off so long ago without seeming like they were trying to recapture a past that inevitably would prove irretrievable. Instead, they’ve set themselves on a course for continuing to develop as a band, and though Torche have a new album expected out this summer on Relapse and doubtless that will take some time and focus away from Floor, hopefully they keep pursuing that growth.

 

9. Mos Generator, Electric Mountain Majesty

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed March 14.

I’ll claim no impartiality when it comes to Port Orchard, Washington, heavy rock purveyors Mos Generator or the craftsmanship of guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed, but if half the point of a list like this is to nerd out over albums you dig (and I’ll gladly argue that it is), then Electric Mountain Majesty is right where it should be. Reed, bassist Scooter Haslip and drummer Shawn Johnson are clockwork-reliable when it comes to putting out high-grade material, and their second record since getting going again after Reed‘s few years in Stone Axe pushed beyond the considerable accomplishments of 2012’s Nomads (review here) and brought their sound to new and at times surprisingly doomed places while still keeping their core in a love of classic heavy rock songwriting. From where I sit, new Mos Gen is never one to pass up.

 

8. Blood Farmers, Headless Eyes

Self-released. Reviewed March 24.

Not that I didn’t expect a new Blood Farmers release to be cool, but Headless Eyes was still a surprise when it arrived earlier in 2014. Who was to say what the New York trio would concoct after a 19-year studio absence? Of course, what they came out with was dead-on horror-loving doomly plod, cuts like the instrumental “Night of the Sorcerers” and the deceptively catchy “Headless Eyes” not only worthy of Blood Farmers‘ substantial legacy but building on it. Void of pretense, Headless Eyes resonated with a brooding atmosphere capped by the surprising closer, “The Road Leads to Nowhere,” a cover of the theme from The Last House on the Left and positioned the three-piece of vocalist Eli Brown, guitarist/bassist David Szulkin and drummer Tad Léger among the fore of traditional doom’s practitioners.

 

7. The Golden Grass, The Golden Grass

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed March 25.

After seeing them live late last year (review here), digging their 456th Div. tape (review here) and putting their debut single on the best short releases of 2013 list, I had little doubt that their self-titled debut full-length would deliver a satisfying listen. Sure enough, the five-tracks of the quality-over-quantity release did precisely that, the Brooklyn three-piece harnessing unashamed positive vibes to mesh with a burgeoning psychedelic feel, catchy hooks and classic-style road songs serving as a reminder of the good times that rock and roll both provides and complements. Now that summer is here, I expect to revisit The Golden Grass plenty of time over these sunny, hot months, since it would seem the year has finally caught up with the band’s warmth and day-long spirit. The Golden Grass are reportedly headed to Europe later this year, so more to come on them for sure.

 

6. Ararat, Cabalgata Hacia la Luz

Released by Oui Oui Records. Reviewed April 4.

Every time I think I’m out, Cabalgata Hacia la Luz pulls me back in. The third full-length from Argentina trio Ararat seems to hit me with a different song each week. This week, it’s the six-minute “El Hijo de Ignacio,” with the insistent, punkish drums from Alfredo Felitte, backing noise and later keyboard eeriness from Tito Fargo and the low bass rumble of Sergio Chotsourian (ex-Los Natas), whose vocals seem to hover over the rest of the mix as though piped in from someplace else entirely. The whole album had a hypnotic effect that pulled the listener away from how diverse it actually was, moving into and out of heavy psych atmospherics with expert smoothness, but the more attention you paid, the more rewarding the experience became, as Ararat defied any expectations that might have come from their 2012 sophomore outing, II (review here), and boldly pushed toward new avenues of progression.

 

5. Conan, Blood Eagle

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Jan. 22.

Who’s heavier than Conan? The superlative UK trio have spent the two years since the release of their full-length debut, Monnos (review here), solidifying their dominance, and their first album for Napalm Records plays out like a victory lap over the skulls of lesser riffs. Opening with the near-10-minute lumber of “Crown of Talons,” Blood Eagle solidified the two-sidedness of Monnos into a back-breaking doom assault, and their pummel remains unparalleled as they continue to grow as players and songwriters. This year has also seen producer Chris Fielding join the band on bass, and as badass as Blood Eagle is — one would rarely think of a song called “Gravity Chasm” as being so aptly-named — I can’t help but look forward to hearing what Conan do from here and how they continue to refine one of doom’s most bludgeoning approaches.

 

4. Dwellers, Pagan Fruit

Released by Small Stone. Reviewed May 22.

It’s the songs. I really, really dug Dwellers‘ 2012 debut, Good Morning Harakiri (review here) as well, and I won’t say a bad word about that album, but Pagan Fruit is in a different class altogether. And you know, it’s not just the songs. It’s how the songs play next to each other, the mood they create, and the hooks that Dwellers bring to the table with so much stylistic poise, calling the bluffs of any number of heavy psych blues rockers on “Totem Crawler,” or “Creature Comfort,” or “Son of Raven” or “Spirit of the Staircase.” The Salt Lake City-based trio of guitarist/vocalist Joey Toscano, bassist Dave Jones and drummer Zach Hatsis brought new levels of cohesion to their sound throughout Pagan Fruit and it remains an album that I have yet to get enough of hearing, one that seems to offer more each time I put it on and let my mind drift to its patient, open spaces.

 

3. Fu Manchu, Gigantoid

Released by At the Dojo Records. Reviewed May 14.

From here on out, on any given day, any one of these is my album of the year. What a thrill it was to put on Fu Manchu‘s first album in five years, Gigantoid, and have it roll out such a tight-knit collection of heavy rolling excellence. The West Coast stoner riff gods of gnarl stripped down their production inspired in part by a reissue campaign of their earlier work on their own At the Dojo Records label, and the punkish feel suited them better than even they likely could’ve expected. With its opening four-song punch, the no-frills shot of “No Warning” and the closeout jam at the end of “The Last Question,” Gigantoid felt like more than one could’ve reasonably asked from a Fu Manchu long-player 20 years on from their debut, but the vitality they showed in its tracks, paired with the efficiency with which the songs were executed, showcased a timeless, perpetual appeal. They know what they’re doing and how they want to do it, and just because there was no doubt going into Gigantoid doesn’t make the end product any less of a payoff.

 

2. Mars Red Sky, Stranded in Arcadia

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed on March 11.

I’ve gone on at some length about what I find so appealing in the second full-length from Bordeaux trio Mars Red Sky, so even putting aside the deft hand with which they incorporated further heavy psych soundscapes into their songwriting, let me just focus on how memorable Stranded in Arcadia actually is. That was true as well of Mars Red Sky‘s 2011 self-titled debut (review here), but these songs are more ambitious, from the eight-minute opener “The Light Beyond” to the gorgeous melody-wash in the chorus of “Join the Race” and the stomp in the de facto closer “Seen a Ghost” before the leadout/refrain “Beyond the Light” calls all the way back to the first track. The development of Mars Red Sky‘s take isn’t necessarily such a surprise — the debut had its psychedelic, jammy feel as well — but the fact that the trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Matgaz managed to elicit such development while remaining true to the warm tones and humble, unpretentious vibe of the debut only makes Stranded in Arcadia more remarkable. I wouldn’t stop listening to it if I could.

 

1. Wo Fat, The Conjuring

Released by Small Stone. Reviewed June 18.

It wasn’t easy to hold off on reviewing the fifth album from the Texas power trio for as long as I did, but I thought the record was too good to jump the gun on, and so yeah, it’s a pretty recent writeup, but I feel comfortable putting The Conjuring at number one here because I’ve actually had a while to live with these songs. Or maybe “live in” them would be a better way to say it, since the dense wall of fuzz and jammed-out distortion Wo Fat create across this record is basically thick enough to take up residence. Recently back from a European tour, Wo Fat hit the road supporting their finest work to date, and as the lineup of guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump, bassist Tim Wilson and drummer/backing vocalist Michael Walter are more or less self-sustaining in their own Crystal Clear Sound studio in Dallas, there’s no reason they can’t just keep developing along the path they are. The Conjuring boasts their best jams yet but also holds firm to the already-planted-in-your-consciousness hooks that Wo Fat have long since established a penchant for, and one could just as easily put the band at the fore of traditional heavy rock riffing as of American heavy psych jammers. Any way you look at them, they’re at the top of their class.

Quick honorable mention goes to Radio Moscow, The Wounded Kings, 1000mods (review forthcoming), Eyehategod, Abramis Brama, Truckfighters, Valley of the Sun, the live Causa Sui record and Alcest. Been a hell of a year so far, and I’m already putting together a list of anticipated records for the next six months, so there’s much more to follow.

Thanks as always for reading.

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The Skull, Unorthodox and More to Play Vultures of Volume Fest this August

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 16th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

Frederick, Maryland, has doubled as a secondary Doom Capitol for some time now. For several years the home of the Stoner Hands of Doom festival, is just happens to be in a place central enough to pull bands from near-enough-by Baltimore, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. It has kind of an out-of-the-way feel, but for years there was a genuine scene around Krug’s Place on the outskirts of the town that was strong and true to the roots of doom, which in the US more or less began in that region as well. The first Vultures of Volume will bring a doom fest back to the town after a couple years’ absence, and has assembled a lineup worthy of showing up for, with Trouble offshoot The Skull and a rare Unorthodox reunion headlining and backup on the bill from the likes of Nagato, GorgantherronBlack Manta, Beelzefuzz, Blizaro, Ogre and Pale Divine.

Of those, I think Ogre might be traveling furthest — from Maine — but Indiana to Maryland is no picnic either in terms of road time, so Gorgantherron will put some miles on as well. Between Unorthodox, Nagato, Beelzefuzz and Black Manta, Maryland is also well represented.

Vultures of Volume is set for Aug. 30, 2014 at Cafe 611 in Frederick. Poster art by Brad Moore and info follow:

“VULTURES OF VOLUME FEST” SET TO DEBUT IN FREDERICK, MD THIS AUGUST

Mark your calendars for Saturday, August 30, 2014 for the debut of “Vultures of Volume”, a new annual festival coming to Cafe 611 in Frederick, MD.

“Vultures of Volume” promises to shine the spotlight on local and national acts that bring it loud, hard, and above all else, heavy! This first installment of “VoV” proudly presents the return of Maryland legends UNORTHODOX, featuring the 1995 “Balance of Power” lineup of Ronnie Kalimon (drums), Josh Hart (bass) and the legendary Dale Flood (guitar/vocals) for this one time only reunion! Not to be missed!

Also joining in on the worship of the riff will be Chicago’s THE SKULL, featuring original Trouble members Eric Wagner and Jeff ‘Oly’ Olson, as well as fellow Trouble alumni Ron Holzner (rounded out by guitarists Matt Goldsborough, formerly of Pentagram, and Lothar Keller). THE SKULL will commemorate the 30th anniversary of their classic 1984 debut album “Psalm 9” by performing it in its entirety at the inaugural “Vultures of Volume” fest!

As if that wasn’t enough, also performing will be a strong supporting roster of local and national heavy weights: Nagato (MD), Gorgantherron (IN), Black Manta (MD), Beelzefuzz (MD), Blizaro (NY) Pale Divine (PA) and Ogre (ME).

For more info including door times, full schedule, ticket prices, and sale dates, please visit the official “Vultures of Volume” event page at: www.facebook/pages/Vultures-of-Volume-FEST/578873918893964

Cafe 611: 611 N Market St, Frederick, MD 21701 Ph: (301) 631-1460

Unorthodox, “Lost in Tomorrow” from Balance of Power (1995)

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Front to Back: Eye of the Stoned Goat 4 in Worcester, MA, 05.03.14

Posted in Reviews on May 5th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

It was a 20-band bill spread out evenly across two days, so right away, The Eye of the Stoned Goat 4 was going to be a considerable undertaking. Fortunately for me, it was close. Worcester is precisely 75 minutes from where I live. I’ve driven further to see three bands, let alone 20, so a trip down the Masspike and there I was, back in Worcester. It had been a decade-plus since the last time I was in that town — famed in metal circles most probably for the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival held at the Palladium — and it was way less of a dump than it was back then, though with much to see in Ralph’s Rock Diner, I obviously wasn’t taking a tour of the local infrastructure. Ralph’s had plenty to catch the eye anyway, even apart from the Saturday lineup with Birch Hill Dam, SET, John Wilkes Booth, Second Grave, Beelzefuzz, Lord Fowl, Ogre, Kings Destroy, Cortez and Sixty Watt Shaman.

There is, sure enough, a classic-style dining car when you walk in, and building that’s sort of sprouted up out of it, the way one tree grows out of another. Turn a corner, you’re in a bar, tv on, pool table, etc., but find your way up a flight of stairs and you’re in the venue itself. Decent-size stage, bar in back along the side wall with plenty of room for merch, a little side-stage area for equipment, and the best lighting I’ve seen since I moved to this state last year — this being my first time at Ralph’s, I was immediately relieved at the quality of the place. Very, very cool room, and sound to match. It made a fitting home for Eye of the Stoned Goat, which last nestled itself into Brooklyn’s The Acheron in July 2013 (review here) and this year was expanded to two days for the first time, organizer Brendan Burns of Snakecharmer Booking and the band Wasted Theory pulling out the stops in mixing locals and out-of-towners, which I’ve found is a balance one should be careful to maintain around these parts. Fortunately there’s no shortage of quality acts.

A 5PM start got underway on time with Birch Hill Dam leading off, and there was no turning back from there:

Birch Hill Dam

As I made my way through the downstairs part of the venue and bought my weekend pass, I was handed a copy of Birch Hill Dam‘s 2011 CD, Colossus, which the MA natives had donated as a door giveaway. A nice touch. I had known I wanted to see them anyway — been more or less waiting to run into Birch Hill Dam again since I moved here — but even if I hadn’t, that would certainly make me more inclined to check them out. My last experience with the band was in 2012 at Stoner Hands of Doom XII in Connecticut, and my prevailing impression was a Kyuss influence. That was far less the case this time around. With some Down/C.O.C. chug in their thick-toned riffs and some double-guitar antics featured later on in the set, Birch Hill Dam were way further into their own sound than when last we met. Frontman Mike Nygard was one of the weekend’s few standalone vocalists (six out of the 20 bands, most of them on Saturday), and he held down his position well with unforced throatiness and just a hint of metal underneath all that rock. They played a decent amount of new material along with “2600” and finale “Boozehound,” both culled from Colossus, and as slick as that album was, I’ll be fascinated to hear the direction their new stuff takes in the studio.

SET

There were two bands on the Saturday bill I’d never seen before — Worcester’s SET (which they seem to prefer written all-caps) and headliners Sixty Watt Shaman — and SET were the surprise of the weekend. Part of that owes to the fact that in my head, I had imagined they were a completely different band, but to find their newer-class doom tempered with thrash and even some crusty black metal, I was blown away by the quality and cohesion in what they were doing, and how natural they made it sound. A two-guitar, two-vocal four-piece, they seemed to have clearly worked on their tone and presentation, and if it had been the West Coast instead of the East, I’d call the results “gnarly.” They were tight, worked fluidly in moving between fast and slower tempos, and looked to be working from a fairly wide swath of influences. They had tapes for sale in the back at $3 each, but I missed my shot at one. Still, I’ll look forward to seeing them again and knowing a little bit more of what I’m getting when they kick into the badass roll of “Wolves behind the Sheep,” taken from their Valley of the Stone debut long-player, apparently set to release on vinyl this summer. I don’t know if they tour, but they should.

John Wilkes Booth


Among the few things I’ll never argue against is a chance to catch John Wilkes Booth live. The house band of Mr. Beery’s out on Long Island and I go way back at this point, but they were another one I hadn’t seen since SHoD in Connecticut, so I felt somewhat overdue. They were doing their thing, which is fine by me since they’re good at it. They had a fair amount of what seemed to me to be newer material, and as he stood in front of the weekend’s most elaborate pedal board, vocalist Kerry Merkle plugged a new EP in the works that would BE done “as soon as [they] get [their] shit together.” I had thought that was going to be a full-length, but it’s been long enough at this point that I’d take whatever came. I’ve seen them burn rooms to the ground with brash riffing, thick groove and megaphoned-incantations, but this was a somewhat moodier set, more exploratory feeling, and that suited them just as well, as they managed to maintain their underlying crunch. I’ve said it of the Booth before that they’re a ’90s NYC noise rock band and they just don’t know it, and I got that vibe again at Ralph’s, but they showed a brooding side to complement, and that made the heavier parts land that much harder in comparison. Made me wonder where their EP might be headed.

Second Grave


Eye of the Stoned Goat 4 marked two last shows, both of them for Massachusetts’ own David Gein. The now-former Black Pyramid four-stringer was playing his final (never say never in rock and roll, but at least for the time being) gigs with Second Grave on Saturday and with The Scimitar on Sunday ahead of a move to the West Coast, so it was twice the occasion. I don’t know if you could really call anything Second Grave do “celebratory,” however, unless you’re celebrating slow, plodding and every now and again viciously extreme metal — which, now that I think about it, is fun to do — but the four-piece did justice to their bass player in delivering a crisp, tight-wound set, the clean vocals and apex-topping screams of guitarist Krista Van Guilder cutting through a morass of tonal bite courtesy of her own and Chris Drzal‘s guitars and Gein‘s bass while drummer Chuck Ferreira shoved the lumbering progressions forward. During their last song — was it “Mountains of Madness?” — the lights went blood red and the visual change helped put their final payoff over the top. I’m not sure how, being in a band that can be so utterly ruthless, they resist the temptation to be that way all the time, but Second Grave‘s restraint, however momentary it may or may not be in a given track, is part of why the band works so well.

Beelzefuzz

Maryland trio Beelzefuzz released one of 2013’s best in the form of their self-titled debut (review here), and having spent so much time with that material since the record came out last August, I felt like I was seeing them in a different context than before. I wasn’t the only one in the crowd who knew the songs, whether it was “Hard Luck Melody,” or “Hypnotized” and “All the Feeling Returns” from the album, they got a welcoming response from the ESG4 crowd. Between Dana Ortt‘s guitar tone, bassist Pug Kirby‘s trancelike-state stage presence and the classy, carefully-understated drumming of Darin McCloskey (also of Pale Divine), Beelzefuzz took the stage at Ralph’s well in command of their sound and bizarre, progressive take on traditional doom. Ortt thanked the audience for being so “cool,” and mentioned he’d taken some pills before going on — Claritin, for hay fever — but if he was under the weather, there was little sign of it as they tackled “Ride the Sky” by Lucifer’s Friend to close out. I couldn’t help but think of their taking on the same song last year at Days of the Doomed III in Wisconsin with Trouble‘s Eric Wagner joining in on vocals, but they handled it well on their own as well, though I’m not sure if that was as much a highlight as “Reborn” from the self-titled, which would remain stuck in my head for the rest of the evening.

Lord Fowl

Granted, after Beelzefuzz just about anything is a left turn, but I was curious to see how Connecticut’s Lord Fowl — who, if you’ve never seen them, are a boot to the ass; an absolutely kinetic live band — would follow their more languid predecessors. I’m not sure what I was hung up on, but about two seconds into Lord Fowl‘s set, they had the crowd on their side, and they had no trouble keeping them there for the duration of their all-too-short half-hour set. It hasn’t quite been a year since the last Stoned Goat fest, which the two-guitar foursome also played, but I would’ve hoped to see them again before this weekend, fantastic as they are on stage. I was glad to see them get a response when they kicked into the title-track from 2012’s excellent Small Stone debut, Moon Queen (review here), with guitarists Vechel Jaynes and Mike Pellegrino trading vocals back and forth in the chorus while bassist John Conine and drummer Don Freeman thrashed suitably on the Ralph’s stage. For an act who puts so much effort into their shows, it’s worth noting that Lord Fowl don’t come across as forced, or like they’re trying to cloy their way into fan-appreciation. It’s just a good time, and that goes even more for the boogie-fied new jam they locked into. Still instrumental and formative though it was, it was also plain to see why they’d want to break it out.

Ogre

The Portland, Maine, trio were pretty fresh on my mind, having seen them in March at the release show for their fourth album, The Last Neanderthal (review here), but a quick check-in was cool by me, particularly with “Nine Princes in Amber” as the opening song — that hook was among the day’s most irresistible. They dipped back to their 2003 Dawn of the Proto-Men debut for “The Jaded Beast,” and “Dogmen (of Planet Earth)” from 2006’s Seven Hells was time well spent, but as had been the case last time, it was the new stuff that had them excited, the raw Sabbathery of “Bad Trip” and the classic metal of “Warpath” coming through with what felt like an especially fervent delivery. For Ogre to emerge as the most singularly indebted to Sabbath on a fest like this is saying something — and they did, at least for Day One if not for both — but the closing cover of The Bags‘ “Naked Lady” which they once again squeezed in the few remaining minutes of their time found them in a higher gear distinct from some of the doomy wanderings of “Bad Trip” and “The Jaded Beast,” formidable as the impressions those tracks left were, particularly “The Jaded Beast” with bassist Ed Cunningham moving into and out of screams in the chorus while guitarist Ross Markonish belted out a steady series of solos and drummer Will Broadbent stomped away behind.

Kings Destroy

I had missed hearing “Embers.” After being so lucky to accompany Kings Destroy on their West Coast run earlier this Spring, I guess I had been spoiled hearing their new material each night, but I took out my earplugs for song on the first day of Eye of the Stoned Goat 4, and that was for “Embers,” from the New York five-piece’s reportedly-recorded but as-yet-untitled third album. Aside from being good to see them, as people, I was delighted to catch them on stage for the eighth time this year. All the more for the new songs “W2” and “Smokey Robinson,” which I hadn’t heard yet, as well as opener “Old Yeller,” and the closing whallop of “Blood of Recompense” — another one I’d missed — and “Turul,” which is so wonderfully strange that I almost enjoy watching people hear it as much as hearing it myself. Probably goes without saying that the follow-up to 2013’s A Time of Hunting is among my most anticipated releases for the rest of 2014, but I’ll say it anyway and add to that how fortunate I feel to have seen this band come into their own over the last few years. They’ve hit the point where their sound is utterly separate from what one might classify it genre-wise, and the weirder they go into their blend of slow, mournful heavy, brash confrontationalism and dead-on rock — watch out for “Mr. O.” when the album hits — the more righteous they become. There’s not a lot about New York that I miss, but I miss Kings Destroy.

Cortez

When the weekend was over, it would be Cortez who pulled the best crowd. Massachusetts’ reputation for loving its own is well earned, but even more than that, the four-turned-fivesome legitimately rocked the pants off of Ralph’s, guitarists Scott O’Dowd and Alasdair Swan trading leads as the set progressed with a completely fluid charge, bassist Jay Furlo joining vocalist Matt Harrington on vocals in a chorus here and there all the while sticks tossing into the air behind from drummer Jeremy Hemond. Putting Cortez in the context of outfits like Roadsaw and Lamont, they’re just about everything right in Boston’s brand of heavy rock. They opened with “Johnny” from their 2012 self-titled debut (review here), which Darryl Shepard and I agreed should be the closer, and offered new material in “Vanishing Point” from their split 7″ with Borracho (discussed here) and “Keeping Up,” which carried no shortage of swagger. It was “Monolith” that finished out their time in grand fashion, and propelled by Hemond‘s cymbal wash, theirs was as big a big-rock-finish as the two days of Eye of the Stoned Goat 4 would boast. They played the veterans they are despite only having one LP out, and that’s my polite way of saying they should do more. Frankly, they’re a better band than most people know. Fortunately, the crowd at Ralph’s seemed reasonably well informed.

Sixty Watt Shaman

Before they went on, Sixty Watt Shaman drummer Chuck Dukehart III — who’d pull double-duty on Sunday in Foghound — had the room cracking up with some classic Paul Stanley stage rants: “Do you people like the taste of AL-CO-HOL?” “Alright listen,” and so on. Fucking great. The reunited Maryland (etc.) bruisers were in a rough spot following Cortez and starting after midnight as the headliners, and while they started out to a packed house, by the time they were done much of the evening was as well. Still, for a band who haven’t played more than a handful of shows in the last decade, it was hard to argue with what Sixty Watt Shaman — bassist Rev. Jim Forrester (interview here), Dukehart, guitarist Todd Ingram (also of King Giant) and vocalist Daniel Soren — were getting up to with a barrage of dudely grooves that only underscored the influence they’ve had on Maryland and Southern heavy rock in general over the last 10-plus years. Though still newly-reactivated, they were tight and fresh from the London and Berlin Desertfest‘s as well as Dukehart‘s own Moving the Earth festival in Baltimore (go O’s!) prior. The title-track from 2000’s Seed of Decades was a highlight for me, though neither “Cactus Mexicali,” “Southern Gentleman” nor “Pull the Strings” from 1998’s Ultra Electric prompted argument. As they’d have to, they closed out with “Red Colony” from Seed of Decades and capped a day full of heavy with some of its burliest groove. Some bands you don’t expect to ever get the chance to see, and given the limited nature of their doings as of now — two shows in Europe, two in the US, this being one — I felt lucky to see them and they were fitting closer for a raucous night.

I pulled out of the Ralph’s Rock Diner parking lot at 1:30AM, having left shortly after Sixty Watt Shaman finished. The ride home was uneventful, which is probably for the best, and I managed to knock two or three minutes off the trip. That doesn’t seem like much now, but as I crashed out in anticipation of waking up and making my way back to Worcester for Day Two of Eye of the Stoned Goat 4, I knew every little bit was going to count.

Day Two coverage tomorrow, and more pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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GIVEAWAY: Enter to Win a Copy of Ogre’s The Last Neanderthal!

Posted in Features on March 24th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

Well, this one pretty much sells itself. Leave a comment on this post to enter to win a copy of Portland, Maine, trio Ogre‘s new CD, The Last Neanderthal, from Minotauro Records. I’ve got one copy of the album to give away (plus some nifty buttons), and as long as you enter with your email address in the appropriate box in the comment form, you’re eligible to make it yours.

Two things to note: First, I don’t keep email addresses and I wouldn’t know what to do with them if I did, so if privacy is your concern, I have neither the time nor the inclination to violate it perhaps other than with a note to let you know you’ve won the CD. Second, the album (review here) smokes and is well worth your time. Presented with weathered-looking art from drummer Will Broadbent in a sturdy gatefold-style digipak, it’s a doomer’s delight of underground riff worship and heavy groove, up to and including the cover “Soulless Woman,” originally performed by ’70s heavy rockers Ogre. Yup, Ogre covers Ogre. The concept alone should be enough to blow your mind.

If not, be sure to check out the most excellent Lego video for The Last Neanderthal highlight “Nine Princes in Amber,” posted for a refresher of the album’s righteousness and will to not take itself too seriously. Ogre — Broadbent, guitarist Ross Markonish and bassist/vocalist Ed Cunningham — have also just been added to the bill of The Eye of the Stoned Goat 4, which is set to take place May 3 and 4 at Ralph’s Rock Diner in Worcester, Massachusetts. They’ll be in good company alongside the reunited Sixty Watt Shaman, Kings Destroy, Beelzefuzz and many others.

CD winner is chosen at random. Good luck to everyone who enters and thanks for your continued support of this site.

Leave a comment on this post to win! Don’t forget to include your email address in the contact form!

Ogre, “Nine Princes in Amber” Lego video

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