Pale Grey Lore to Begin Recording New Album This Weekend

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 26th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

New Pale Grey Lore, you say? 2019, you say? Playing Maryland Doom Fest, you say? Fascinating, captain.

Actually, if you happen to be in the area of their native Columbus, Ohio, this very evening, you can catch Pale Grey Lore opening for Le Butcherettes at Ace of Cups (event page here) — not that you shouldn’t see them as part of the ultra-stacked lineup for Maryland Doom Fest 2019 as well — but yes, the good news is indeed that the now-four-piece band will hit the studio this coming weekend in order to begin recording their second album. Of course, with the addition of Xander Roseberry on guitar and backing vocals, it’s bound to have something of a different dynamic than their righteously righteous 2016 self-titled debut (review here), but as so much of that album’s strength came from its songwriting, I wouldn’t necessarily about them getting too far away from what already worked so much in their favor. That impulse doesn’t just go away.

Oak Island Records picked up their first one for release but I’m not sure if that was a longterm deal or a one-off for just that record. One more level of intrigue to see if they issue the yet-untitled new outing through that label or end up shopping it around.

Here’s what they have to say about beginning the recording process:

pale grey lore (Photo by Dan Simone)

Pale Grey Lore – New Album

We were quite happy with the way the first album turned out so we’ve decided to work with Columbus engineer/producer Andy Sartain again for our second one. Once we explained what we were looking for and gave him some feedback on the early mixes, he was able to dial in pretty much exactly the sound we were looking for. Andy is super easy to work with and has a really great ear. He had a lot of cool production ideas and interesting suggestions that really improved the first album, so we’re looking forward to collaborating with him on this next one.

One big difference between the writing of the first and second albums obviously is the addition of Xander, our second guitarist, whose background in audio engineering definitely helped inform the songwriting this time around. With the first album, a good chunk of the core material was the result of live jam sessions in which Michael and Adam were testing out ideas and writing parts together. When Donovan joined the band, he was encouraged to re-interpret the existing material in his own style and collaborate in the rest of the writing process. We tracked a few basic demos to nail down some overdub ideas, but a lot of what you hear in terms of additional guitars and vocal harmonies on the first record was basically written in the studio.

By contrast, in preparation for the second album we were thinking about arrangements and production choices right from the start, which resulted in more complex and nuanced writing. This time, we were able to do more extensive demoing with Xander which allowed us to hear how certain ideas were being realized in playback and adjust our writing accordingly. We’ve been pretty pleased with the results, and we’re very excited about the material that will make up this new record.

Pale Grey Lore is:
Michael Miller (guitar, vocals, theremin)
Adam Miller (drums)
Donovan Johnson (bass)
Xander Roseberry (guitar, backing vocals)

https://www.facebook.com/palegreylore/
https://twitter.com/palegreylore
http://palegreylore.bigcartel.com/
http://palegreylore.bandcamp.com/

Pale Grey Lore, Pale Grey Lore (2016)

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Rebreather Return with Self-Titled EP Release

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 1st, 2018 by JJ Koczan

rebreather

Ohio’s Rebreather always brought a sense of character and individuality to sludge, and while it’s been the better part of a decade since their last release, they still do. The Youngstown trio — who will forever live in doom trivia by being the first band ever to grace the Nyabinghi stage at the inaugural Emissions from the Monolith Festival in 2000 — are back with a six-song self-titled EP that follows up on their return to the stage and general band activity. “Open Your Eyes” and “Countdown” have plenty of the bombast for which they’re known, the rawness taken from noise rock and slowed to a pummel, while “Sunday” forms a melodic center around which the rest of the EP seems to revolve, getting an answer in the rawer heavy rock of closer “Five.”

Because they can be so scathing when they want to be, they’ve always been a band whose atmospheres are somewhat deceptive, but going back to 2002’s Need Another Seven Astronauts — a title that was as topical at the time — and that essential characteristic is certainly revived in the depth of these songs. If this is Rebreather declaring who they are in 2018, I’ll take it.

From the PR wire:

rebreather self-titled ep

REBREATHER RELEASE NEW EP

Ohio band returns after indefinite hiatus

Heavy Ohio rock outfit Rebreather have self-released a new EP. The band, originally formed in 1999, exited the doom/stoner/sludge music scene in 2013 with no immediate plans for return. Fast-forward to 2017, when founding member and vocalist/guitarist Barley Rantilla and drummer Steve Gardner began playing shows of back catalog material with new bassist Steve Wishnewski. Momentum built quickly, and the band’s 18-year fanbase returned in full force to fill up venues.

“Things picked up very rapidly when we started playing shows again, and it just made sense to continue and see what would develop.” – Barley Rantilla

Rebreather invite you to review the new EP, as well as peruse their entire back catalog at https://rebreather-ohio.bandcamp.com

“The sleeping giant awakens…” – Josh Roman, MindRocket Recording Studio

Tracklisting:
1. Open Your Eyes 05:04
2. Starved 03:09
3. Sunday 05:43
4. Countdown 05:13
5. Destroy That Silence 04:11
6. Five 04:21

Rebreather is:
Barley Rantilla – Guitars and Vocals
Steve Gardner – Drums
Steve Wishnewski – Bass

https://www.facebook.com/rebreather-372407815879/
https://www.instagram.com/rebreather_band/
https://rebreather-ohio.bandcamp.com/
http://www.stevewishnewski.com/rebreather

Rebreather, Rebreather EP (2018)

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Vessel of Light, Woodshed: Beyond the Cellar Door

Posted in Reviews on October 23rd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

vessel of light woodshed

With grisly tales to tell and equally grisly riffing to roll, Vessel of Light make their full-length debut through Argonauta Records with the chugging heft of Woodshed. The collaboration between Ancient VVisdom vocalist Nathan Opposition and guitarist Dan Lorenzo of Hades and formerly — perhaps more relevant in this case — the bluesier-rocking side-project The Cursed, first appeared with a 2017 self-titled EP (review here), and the 11 tracks and 41 LP-ready minutes of Woodshed very much build on the aesthetic principles that the short release laid out. Lorenzo brings a decidedly East Coast crunch to his guitar, reminding as he leads the way through the swing of second track “Part of My Plan” of Danzig‘s “Twist of Cain” while the later “Man’s Sin” finds a more aggressive push ahead of the doomly “Day of Rest,” and Opposition answers with vocals memorable in their melody and lyrics so creeper they should probably be reported.

It’s not so much ‘woodshed’ as it is ‘woodshed with a trap door underneath where you’ll find the bodies of all those missing women.’ I haven’t actually done a body count, but a hypothetical “she” meets a ghastly fate on more than one occasion in cuts like “Son of Man” and “Beyond the Cellar Door.” Indeed, following the rollout title-track introduction, Woodshed seems to follow a narrative course of love, maybe-betrayal and violence. Murder balladry is nothing new — dudes have been axing their significant others in art for as long as there’s been art — but Vessel of Light are resoundingly premeditated about it, and as the album finds resolution in the closing duo of “End it All” and the acoustic finale “Pray for a Cure,” the gothic edge brought to the proceedings through Opposition‘s vocals becomes only a part of the resentment-fueled plotline.

Malevolence abounds. Even in “Part of My Plan,” which is a classic I’m-on-drugs-rolling-out-having-a-good-time vibe, there’s an undercurrent of something darker, or maybe that’s just expectation after the EP. Either way, the lyrics tie together with references between songs to each other and by the time Vessel of Light are through “Part of My Plan” and “A Love So True” and into “Son of Man,” things have clearly taken a turn.

It doesn’t seem like a controversial position or a “hot take” to say one is against the taking of another human life. Again, Vessel of Light are hardly the first to make that aesthetic choice, but something about the darkness that surrounds Opposition‘s lyrics gives their violence a formidable presence throughout Woodshed. As “Son of Man” leads into the massive chugging lurch of “Watching the Fire,” the sense of going deeper into a twisted mindset is palpable, but while much of the material is slow in the tradition of the doom at its roots — TroubleType O Negative — monotony is held at bay through subtle shifts in volume and delivery.

“A Love So True” stretches out the guitar work and relies more on the drums to roll itself forward, while in following “Beyond the Cellar Door” — which is the longest track at 5:46 — “One Way Out” answers the layered vocals with not only another dual-melody there leading to vicious screaming, but layers of intertwined guitar as well, Lorenzo filling out the sonic space before Opposition recounts “Now it’s over/The deed is done/Homicide, suicide” in a harsh-throated rasp. Those aren’t the last screams, either. As the storyline moves through “Man’s Sin” and “Day of Rest” and the passion of the crime becomes so central to the thread uniting the songs, and that’s further realized in the album’s second half.

vessel of light

The turning point would seem to be “Beyond the Cellar Door,” which is a standout reminding of slowed-down Dirt-era Alice in Chains with a meatier chug and pervasively grim atmosphere offset by vocal harmonies ahead and after sampled screams and the guitar solo. “Beyond the Cellar Door” is resolved in chug ahead of the similarly-intentioned “One Way Out,” and that leads to the destructive apex of the album in “Man’s Sin,” “Day of Rest” and “End it All” ahead of the closer.

Momentum is a key factor there, and if you might accuse Vessel of Light of neglecting the details, it’s worth noting that the push through those three tracks — “Man’s Sin,” “Day of Rest” and “End it All” feels specifically geared to have the listener lose themselves in the dive. Even the song titles feel arranges so that one piece will carry into the next, and as “Beyond the Cellar Door” lumbers into that movement that consumes so much of side B, one might consider the arrangement of words “Man’s Sin” as opposed to the earlier “Son of Man” as indicative of the gear being shifted in Woodshed‘s second half. That is, it’s subtle, but something Lorenzo and Opposition do extremely well is build that momentum in songs that still never really get all that fast. It becomes a question of songwriting efficiency, and there’s plenty of that to go around from Vessel of Light, but neither do they lose the sense of mood that they’ve worked so hard to construct.

That is, they don’t just get to “Beyond the Cellar Door” and say, “okay here we go” and speed through the rest of the record. With the linearity of the story being told and the fact that the first-person speaker in the lyrics is descending into madness and dealing with the fallout of that, rather, it makes sense. Short sentences. Lots of stops. Build tension. Affect rhythm. Get it? Okay. The crawling finish in “End it All” accounts for itself in letting the audience know how the plot ends, but that leaves “Pray for a Cure” as a curious outlier in both sound and perspective. Its acoustic foundation is something of a turn given the rest of the full-bodied guitar tone surrounding — though that puts it right in Opposition‘s wheelhouse, given his work in Ancient VVisdom — but even more, are we in the moment where the protagonist is dying?

Because “End it All” sure comes across as pretty final, and “Pray for a Cure” is therefore an epilogue, and all the more so because it’s unplugged. I’m not at all against the track — expanding the sonic foundation isn’t going to hurt the band or the album at all — but that turn in perspective is somewhat jarring at the album’s end. That may well be intentional, as Vessel of Light offer little comfort throughout the record preceding either. What they do instead is set of a current of atmospheric dread; depression, anger and, yes, violence taking root in each track one way or another.

The disturbing parts are supposed to be disturbing, and Woodshed does nothing to desensitize the violence in a problematic way. The key takeaway from Vessel of Light‘s debut is that there’s life in the collaboration between Opposition and Lorenzo, and that the two work well together. Whether it’s a one-off or an ongoing project with a follow-up will remain to be seen, but with their first LP, they show the potential for a gruesome craft they can continue to make their own should they decide to do so.

Vessel of Light, “Son of Man” official video

Vessel of Light on Thee Facebooks

Vessel of Light on Instagram

Argonauta Records website

Argonauta Records on Thee Facebooks

Argonauta Records on Twitter

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Brujas del Sol Premiere “Sisterlace”; II Preorders Available; Art and Tracklisting Revealed

Posted in audiObelisk, Whathaveyou on October 5th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

brujas del sol

We’re getting dangerously close to the previously-announced Oct. 19 release date for Brujas del Sol‘s second album, II. Preorders have gone up through the label, Kozmik Artifactz, and below, you’ll find the unveiling of the Will Fugman cover art and the tracklisting, as well as the premiere of the track “Sisterlace,” which is the first audio to come from the heavy progressive mostly-instrumentalists’ latest work. The song features on side A of the vinyl, following “Teenage Hitchhiker” and “Sea Rage,” and features a echoing tones that are spacious and resonant in a way that very much typifies a lot of what’s coming from the Columbus, Ohio-based four-piece, as well as vocals from guitarist Adrian Zambrano, which only serve to make it more memorable as it moves into a fuzzy crunch and uptempo push ahead of “Fringe of Senility,” which rounds out the first half of II with a New Wave/krautrocking feel still marked out by Zambrano‘s own drifting guitar.

Zambrano is joined in the band by bassist Derrick White, drummer Josh Oswald and keyboardist Phillip Reed, the latter two of whom would seem to have come aboard since 2015’s Starquake 7″ (review here), which followed the digital track “Occultation” and their prior full-length debut, 2013’s Moonliner. In the five years since that first outing, Brujas del Sol have undergone not just the lineup changes, but a process that makes them both more patient in their execution and also more purposeful as songwriters. II ranges pretty broadly, but it’s by no means inaccessible, tapping spacey Floyd and Hawkwind impulses and filtering through prog rock as only Rush fans could do.

Art, info and audio follow here. Dig:

brujas del sol ii

Adrian Zambrano on “Sisterlace”:

“Sisterlace” was the first song we wrote for this album and coincidentally, the first song we decided needed vocals. The title came to our bassist, Derrick, in a strange dream, which inspired us to write it. If we had to choose the quintessential Brujas song, with all the elements that define our band, this is it.

Preorders available at: http://shop.bilocationrecords.com/navi.php?suche=brujas+del+sol&lang=eng

Brujas del Sol, II tracklisting:
Teenage Hitchhiker
Sea Rage
Sisterlace
Fringe of Senility
White Lights
Polara
Spiritus

Album art work done by Will Fugman, http://willfugman.com/

The album release show is Nov. 9 at Rumba Cafe with Pale Grey Lore and Playing to Vapors.

Brujas del Sol is:
Adrian Zambrano – High end/Vocals
Derrick White – Low end
Josh Oswald – Percussion
Phillip Reed – Keyboards

https://www.facebook.com/BrujasdelSol/
https://brujasdelsol.bandcamp.com/
http://kozmik-artifactz.com/
https://www.facebook.com/kozmikartifactz

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Akula Self-Titled LP out This Week on Hellmistress Records

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 24th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

akula

Ohio-based post-metal-tinged progressive heavy rockers Akula self-released their self-titled debut (discussed here) in the early hours of 2018, right about the time everyone’s New Year’s headaches were dissipating and it was time to get back to real life. The four-track outing arrived without much fanfare, which was true enough to the motivations behind its making — basically the players involved wanted to do a thing and they did it — but it doesn’t take much more than one listen, if that, to realize the thing deserves a place in physical reality. Hellmistress Records has stepped up to bring Akula‘s Akula into the third dimension and will have the record out later this week on limited 12″ vinyl and ye olde compact disc for those of us without an entire wing of the house to dedicate to our sprawling collections.

As it happens, I wrote the bio that’s included in the press release below (paragraph starting “Comprised of…” and ending with the sentence “It could take them…”), but with the issue-date fast approaching and obviously my thinking the album’s worth your time anyhow, what with the interview linked above, it seems only fair to mark the occasion, which the PR wire facilitates thusly:

akula akula

AKULA: Ohio-Based Progressive/Psychedelic Heavy Rock Collective Featuring Members Of Lo-Pan To Release Self-Titled Debut Via Hellmistress Records; New Track Streaming + Preorders Available

Ohio-Based progressive/psychedelic heavy rock collective AKULA — featuring within its ranks members of Lo-Pan — will release its self-titled debut September 28th via Hellmistress Records.

Comprised of four immersive tracks weighted as much in tone as emotional resonance, AKULA runs an atmospheric gamut led by the undulating and spacious riffing of guitarist Chris Thompson and Sergei Parfenov and the soulful melodies of vocalist Jeff Martin.

Martin is best known for his work in heavy rock unit Lo-Pan, but in the four songs of AKULA’s self-titled debut, he, Parfenov, Thompson (also now in Lo-Pan), bassist Scott Hyatt, and drummer Ronnie Miller hone an ambience that erases the line between progressive heavy rock and post-metal, capturing a vast reach on opener “A Pound Of Flesh” and holding it for the duration of the churning and memorable “Force Me Open,” the later crush in “Born Of Fire” and the consuming march that bookends twelve-minute closer “Predators.”

“I was feeling an overabundance of creative energy,” Martin explains. “I had been listening to a lot of heavier psychedelic stuff in the vein of YOB, Neurosis, and even some Mastodon. I knew Chris could do pretty much anything from seeing him play. I contacted him and asked if he would be interested in getting some people together for a purely fun project. He was all for it. I told him what I was thinking in terms of style and he said he actually already had some part ideas he had been messing around with that might be a fit.

“We talked about bass players and drummers and rhythm guitarists and invited some guys to meet up and discuss,” he continues. “And stylistically, everyone seemed to understand what we were looking for: a darker, heavier psychedelic sound with melodic vocals. Longer format and prog shifts seemed like a natural thing for everyone. So we got to work.”

The result of that work is as stylistically ambitious for AKULA as it is engaging for the listener, and the balance they strike belies the notion of Akula being their first full-length. Now aligned with Hellmistress Records for a physical release of the previously digital-only tracks, AKULA begins a larger exploration of sound with that same restlessness. It could take them just about anywhere.

Akula will be available on CD and limited-edition vinyl in three color variants – 150 baby blue/ opaque yellow/white bleed, 175 heavy orange splatter on translucent green, and 175 on translucent blue. For vinyl preorders, visit Hellmistress Records at THIS LOCATION. For CD orders go HERE.

Akula Track Listing:
1. A Pound Of Flesh
2. Force Me Open
3. Born Of Fire
4. Predators

http://www.facebook.com/akulaband/
https://akulaband.bandcamp.com/
http://hellmistressrecords.com
http://www.facebook.com/hellmistressrecords
http://twitter.com/hellmistressrec
http://www.instagram.com/hellmistressrecords

Akula, Akula (2018)

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Brujas del Sol Sign to Kozmik Artifactz; New Album II out Oct. 19

Posted in Whathaveyou on August 29th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Columbus, Ohio-based atmospheric heavy rockers Brujas del Sol — who might be more progressive than they are psychedelic but are still a pretty good bit of both and why quibble anyway? — have signed to Kozmik Artifactz. They’ll release their second album, titled simply II, through the storied imprint on Oct. 19 with the full vinyl treatment. The four-piece was last heard from with late-2015’s single, Starquake (review here), and II will follow some five years behind their 2013 debut, Moonliner. That outing was released through Devouter Records.

Brujas del Sol mark the latest in an impressive and geographically varied string of pickups for Kozmik Artifactz, which in addition to the label comprises one of the leading European distros, and one wonders if perhaps in aligning with them, Brujas del Sol might have eyes on a European tour sometime in 2019. Or maybe they just wanted to put the record out on wax. That’d be fair enough, and Kozmik Artifactz certainly seem to know what they’re doing when it comes to such things. I guess the point is kudos all around. I’ll hope to get to hear the album.

The label’s announcement follows here:

brujas del sol

***NEW SIGNING – BRUJAS DEL SOL***

Today we officially welcome Brujas del Sol to the Kozmik fold. We’ll be releasing their new album “II” on the 19th of October, on heavy weight gatefold vinyl.

“We are very thrilled to be a part of the Kozmik Artifactz family. It is an honour to be among such an incredible line-up of bands.

Our new album, II, comes on the tail end of big changes among the members in the band. Both musically and personally. With influences within the prog, psych and post-rock communities, we feel we will be a nice addition the Kozmik Krew.

Those who enjoy hypnotic rhythms, fuzzy and modulated guitars, pulsating analogue synthesis and songs that blend progressive, space rock and heavy influences will appreciate II.”

Brujas del Sol is:
Adrian – High end/Vocals
Derrick – Low end
Josh – Percussion
Phillip Reed – Keyboards

https://www.facebook.com/BrujasdelSol/
https://brujasdelsol.bandcamp.com/
http://kozmik-artifactz.com/
https://www.facebook.com/kozmikartifactz

Brujas del Sol, Starquake (2015)

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Weed Demon Post “Sigil of the Black Moon” Video

Posted in Bootleg Theater on August 9th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

weed demon

With their debut album, Astrological Passages (review here), Columbus, Ohio, four-piece Weed Demon step into one of the country’s most vicious sludge legacies. There are few phrases that strike fear into the heart of pharmaceuticals like “Ohio sludge,” and with good reason. From Fistula and Rue to Rebreather and Sofa King Killer, the Buckeye State has produced landmarks for the genre to rival anything that’s come out of New Orleans or any of the other US hotbeds on the West or East Coasts. Issued by the band in 2017 and pressed to vinyl by Electric Valley Records, Weed Demon‘s four-tracker LP bring in shades of modern riff tectonics à la groups like Monolord and rumbles with a tonal heft that seems to extended even to the high end of their guitar solos. Vocals have a tendency to roar accordingly.

“Sigil of the Black Moon,” for which the band has a new video out, is the second-longest song on Astrological Passages at 10:46 — only closer “Jettisoned” tops it, at 12:37 — and is a fervent, lumbering beast of a track. Shades of Goya‘s ultra-stonerism pervade, but with the harsher edge, there’s little question where Weed Demon‘s collective corrupt heart lies in terms of style. You’d call it brutal and not be wrong. The band appear in the video, playing through the song in front of what looks like a really nice rock wall in someone’s living room maybe. They’ve got some candles set up around them and it’s all well and good. Then there’s another part of the video, where it cuts to this guy and his lady and they’re like covered in dirt makeup and chocolate sauce or whatever it is and making out. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to sit here and judge anyone’s kink, it’s just not the kind of thing you usually see in a sludge clip.

All the better, I guess. It’s pretty hilarious though to watch the guy in the mirror putting on his makeup and think of the Primordial video earlier this year that was basically their frontman doing the same thing. Context goes a long way.

The clip follows here, along with some PR wire background on its making and live dates.

Enjoy:

Weed Demon, “Sigil of the Black Moon” official video

WEED DEMON are pleased to reveal their new video for “Sigil Of The Black Moon”. The song is taken from the album Astrological Passages which is getting a fresh release on vinyl July 27th.

The band commented “We started working on the video for “Sigil” in August of last year. A handful of setbacks and numerous bowl packs later we finally got around to wrapping everything up. Seeing the final product was like a huge collective exhale for us. It’s no easy task to put together an almost 11 minute video. A huge thanks to Josh Richter for helping to keep the project moving forward. Keep it heavy. Keep it hazy.”

Weed Demon live:
Aug 10 The Green Lantern Lexington, KY
Aug 11 Urban Artifact Cincinnati, OH
Sep 13 The Spacebar Columbus, OH

Weed Demon is:
Jordan Holland – Bass, Vocals
Andy Center – Guitars, Vocals (backing)
Brian Buckley – Guitars, Vocals (backing)
Chris Windle – Drums

Weed Demon, Astrological Passages (2018)

Weed Demon on Thee Facebooks

Weed Demon on Instagram

Weed Demon on Bandcamp

Electric Valley Records on Thee Facebooks

Electric Valley Records website

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Review & Track Premiere: Electric Citizen, Helltown

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on July 17th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

electric citizen helltown

[Click play above to stream ‘Lunch’ from Electric Citizen’s Helltown. Album is out Sept. 28 on RidingEasy Records.]

The stated intention behind Electric Citizen‘s third album for RidingEasy RecordsHelltown, is a turn from where the band was two years ago on their sophomore outing, Higher Time (review here). Likewise, Higher Time brought the Cincinnati four-piece to someplace their 2014 debut, Sateen (review here), hadn’t dared to go. Around a central core of memorable hooks and classic heavy rock riffing, Electric Citizen wove a vision of heavy glam, taking the riff-led fare of Sateen to someplace entirely bigger — in production value, in scope, in its unabashed poppiness. Helltown once more finds vocalist Laura Dolan, guitarist Ross Dolan, bassist Nick Vogelpohl and drummer Nate Wagner in an aesthetic pivot. While it would same to be driven by the same impulse toward refining their sound and trying to bring their songs to different levels of expression, etc., the manifestation is markedly different. Dolan‘s voice still commands the proceedings with pointed melodicism, and the guitar runs the instrumental charge beneath with classic swing from the rhythm section.

What’s different is largely down to presentation, and it’s one that finds Electric Citizen engaged in entirely rawer fare. Gone is the pop-ready sheen of Higher Time, and it’s been replaced by proto-metal tonality on the part of Dolan — as heard in the solo of second cut “Hide it in the Night,” as well as the riffs throughout — and Vogelpohl, as well as a decided lack of the keys/organ that featured so prominently last time out — “Father Time,” “New Earth” and “Mother’s Little Reject” notwithstanding — in favor of a more stripped down approach overall. Vocals are treated but not as many-layered, and the album as a whole is shorter, running nine songs and 32 minutes where the last one was 10 and 40. They largely stay away from following a punkish impulse — even centerpiece “Ripper,” which is definitely not a cover of Judas Priest‘s “The Ripper,” holds more to classic metal style — but the LP’s purpose is clearly to shoot for a more live sound, something that can be brought to life on stage, say, when the band tours as support for Monster Magnet in support of Helltown this Fall.

That’s not to say there isn’t any progressive edge to be found. Dolan as a guitarist is an intricate riffer and has been since he was doing his best mid/late-’70s Iommi on Sateen. As much as the smoothness and fluidity of Higher Time suited his style, he thrives here in showcasing his chemistry with Laura‘s vocals and with the righteous solidity of the bass and drums. Of course, a more barebones production style like this is no less an aesthetic choice than something hyper-elaborate, but the stylistic turn suits him and the rest of the band well, and would seem to have been something purposefully brought to the songwriting process. These tracks, in addition to being fewer in number, feel shorter and tighter in their structure. There are still drum transitions in “Lunch” and Dolan isn’t shy about taking a solo when called on to do so, but Helltown — named for the Cincinnati neighborhood the band calls home, as if to further telegraph the “back to their roots” sentiment at play — seems to pull back on some of the expanse that Electric Citizen made their own last time out, and it’s a meaner sound for it.

electric citizen

Of course, what draws the work together is the craft behind it. “Father Time” is the longest cut on Helltown at 4:25, and its quiet, more gradual introduction would seem to be a departure from some of the immediacy held forth in songs like prior opening salvo of “Heart Attack,” “Hide it in the Night” or “Cold Blooded Blue,” all of which are into their first verse before the first 30 seconds are up. Pacing in general is a big part of what makes Helltown distinct in Electric Citizen‘s catalog. Sateen was dug into semi-garage doom shuffle, and so had a middling pace, and Higher Time followed suit with its more outwardly accessible fare. Helltown isn’t a Motörhead record or anything, but “Ripper,” “The Pawn,” “Heart Attack” have a quick pulse to be sure, and even as “New Earth” would seem to be a transitional moment into the closing duo of “Lunch” and “Mother’s Little Reject,” the momentum holds steady. And though “Lunch” digs into that eased-up tempo somewhat and “Mother’s Little Reject” starts out with organ-backed spoken word over a “War Pigs”-esque progression before igniting a finale-worthy bounce, the energy in Electric Citizen‘s delivery is unflinching.

If Helltown has a central message, that’s it. It’s enough of a declaration of who Electric Citizen are that part of me is surprised it isn’t self-titled. That identity can change, of course, and likely will if their three-to-date albums are anything to go by, but the statement in these tracks is clear and unmistakable. Whatever else Electric Citizen might do and wherever their sound might take them, they’re a heavy rock band at heart. Helltown is a performance-minded collection that would seem to be the result of some genuine soul-searching on the part of the band. It could well be they’ve found themselves as players and as a group and that whatever they do from here will be a hopeful step forward from where they currently are. Or it could be that this album, like the one before it, will spur an equal and almost-opposite reaction and the Electric Citizen will move in a different direction entirely. I like the fact that, four years and three records into their tenure as a band, I have no idea what to expect from them next.

Other than songwriting. That’s the key. It let them serve introductory notice on Sateen and it provided the foundation for the expanded-sound of Higher Time, and now it serves as the very core of being for Helltown. And if it wasn’t there, there’d be no hiding it. This is as stripped-down as Electric Citizen have gotten, and if they didn’t have the songs and didn’t have the performance and the vibe, it simply wouldn’t work. Fortunately, they do and it does. I won’t discount what each of the past two records did for their own accomplishments in their own contexts, but listening to Helltown, it very much seems to be marking a new level for Electric Citizen, and as they cull the most essential facets of their approach as a band, they emerge from that process stronger than ever and at their most vital.

Electric Citizen, “Hide it in the Night”

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