Posted in Whathaveyou on January 23rd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
The ties between Blues Pills and the Freak Valley festival run pretty deep. For one thing, the band is named after fest-founder Jens Heide‘s old ‘zine, and my understanding is they’ve been tight all along as Blues Pills have ascended to such high profile over the last couple years, leading to the release of their massively-well-received 2014 self-titled full-length debut. Blues Pills played the fest last year and they’ll be at Freak Valley 2015 as well, headlining Thursday night, June 4, and their 2014 set will be released in limited vinyl/CD fashion. Presumably copies will be on hand in Netphen, Germany.
Freak Valley 2015 runs from June 4-6:
+++ FREAKIN’ AWESOME NEWS +++
While BLUES PILLS say “thank you” to Freak Valley Festival with the release of a superlimited Live @ Freak Valley Festival 2014 album on Vinyl and CD we are proud and more than happy to announce that Blues Pills will return and headline Thursday June 4th!!
We are totally thrilled and honoured about these two massive news!
Thank you so much Elin, Zack, Dorian & André. We’ll never forget!
The mindblowing poster beauty is done by Mr-Frumpy Frumpedia
Tickets are running low already. Please make sure you get yours in time!!
Also: At our Club shows @ Vortex Surfer Musikclub (next show Saturday Jan. 24th w/ Vibravoid Official, HARSH TOKE & Comet Control
FREAK VALLEY FESTIVAL: No Fillers – Just Killers Blues Pills – Orchid – Eyehategod – Earthless – Goatsnake – Crippled Black Phoenix – Horisont – The Vintage Caravan – Electric Moon – Gas Giant – Monkey3 – Danava – Egypt – Siena Root – Bröselmaschine – Sigiryia – Kamchatka – Purson – Dead Man – Freedom Hawk – Mountain Witch – Tuber – Valley of the Sun – Tombstones – Travelin’ Jack – more tba soon!!
Posted in Radio on December 5th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
I try to do these every week. I’d like to, ideally, but it seems to be more like when folders and zip files clog up my desktop enough to really get on my nerves. Fair enough. A full 20 records joined the playlist today, including a couple wintry classics from Anathema that either were overlooked by me or wrongly left out, plus the new Witch Mountain album, and some other recently-reviewed and otherwise-written-about stuff. It’s actually a pretty killer list. If you’re into it, or if you want to see what else has been added lately or what was played today, check out the Playlist and Updates Page. I spend an embarrassing amount of time there. Here are a few more reasons why.
The Obelisk Radio Adds for Dec. 5, 2014:
Burning Saviours, Unholy Tales from the North
The unheralded heroes of Sweden’s retro heavy movement return with their first full-length since 2007. Their fifth outing overall, Burning Saviours‘ Unholy Tales from the North follows a series of four singles released between 2012 and 2013 (recently compiled by I Hate Records and released under the title Boken Om Förbannelsen) and finds the Örebro four-piece reveling in ’70s-style doom once more, albeit with a rawer and less directly ’70s-style production. That is, it’s not as directly fuzzed as their self-titled debut was nine years ago, when it was pretty much them and Witchcraft digging on classic Pentagram alone, but still presented in the same spirit, a strong opening trio of “They Will Rise Tonight,” “And the Wolves Cried Out” and “Your Love Hurts Like Fire” creating a lasting impression somewhere between early metal (think Rocka Rolla-era Priest) and the heavy rock that preceded it. Two Swedish-language tracks, “Ondskan” and “Lyktgubben,” end each side, and at 28 minutes, it’s a quick runthrough, but shows easily that Burning Saviours – since 2010 the lineup of guitarist/vocalist Mikael Monks, lead guitarist Jonas Hartikainen, bassist Fredrik Evertsson and drummer Martin Wijkström — remain vital in their approach, cuts like “Inside My Mind” and “The Sons of the North” exploring metal’s roots effectively and organically while crafting something new, if familiar, from them. Burning Saviours on Thee Facebooks, at Transubstans Records.
Soldat Hans, Dress Rehearsal
Swiss newcomers Soldat Hans seem to be embarking on an admirably ambitious journey with their self-released debut, Dress Rehearsal, the title of which hints at their thinking of it as a demo, but for which the extended four tracks included serve to craft a sense of ambience that marks it unmistakably as a full-length. Engrossing in its atmosphere, patient in its construction and impeccably conceived, Dress Rehearsal plays out lengthy builds fluidly and takes listeners from minimalist drone and slow unfolding to massive, feedback-caked sludge, and then back again, sounding natural in the process and brilliant for both its pummel and restraint. None of the four cuts — “Meine Liebste; Sie zerbricht sich” (15:21), “Esthère (im bronzefarbenen Licht)” (13:34), “Zikueth! Zikueth!” (18:25) and “Liefdesgrot” (15:08) — really departs from a bleak, moody feel, but there are shifts throughout, as “Esthère (im bronzefarbenen Licht)” moves from the linearity of the opener to brooding post-rock and jazzy exploration before hitting its own wash of viciousness. To have a band take such control of their sound on their first outing is remarkable, and the longest and farthest ranging of the tracks, “Zikueth! Zikueth!” provides Soldat Hans their shining moment, theatrical but not overdone, melodic early and raging late, hypnotic in the middle, as classic as it is avant garde. They close out with another maddening payoff in “Liefdesgrot,” and while in the future I’d be interested to hear them take on structures as wide-ranging as what they bring sonically to Dress Rehearsal, if this is just practice, I can’t wait for the show to start. Soldat Hans on Thee Facebooks, on Bandcamp.
If you were to go by their sound alone, I don’t think there’s any way you could come out of hearing burly five-piece Olde‘s Hypaethral Records debut long-player, I, and not imagine they were from Virginia. In fact, they come from Toronto, but the aggro Southern metal they purvey on the album’s eight bruising tracks would be right at home in the heart of sludgeland, full as it is of steady rolls — Sons of Otis drummer Ryan Aubin provides trailmarking thud — the from-the-chest growling from Doug McLarty and lumbering riffs, songs like “Heart Attack” and “Changelings” in the tracklist’s midsection readily crossing the line between sludge and doom, all mudhole stomp, metallic affiliation and violent groove. There’s atmosphere at work, but it comes out through the aggression portrayed, and ultimately, I has about as all the ambience of having your teeth kicked in. And yes, that counts the variation on the theme in the closing “Perimeter Walk,” the more echoing guitar, farther back vocals, and so on. With a crisp production behind it, Olde‘s debut knows precisely the kind of beatdown it wants to deliver and sets about its task with brutal efficiency. Olde on Thee Facebooks, Hypaethral Records on Bandcamp.
Holy Grove, Live at Jooniors
Recorded at some point between then and now at Joonior Studios in Seattle, Washington — I’m guessing more toward “then” — the 2014 outing Live at Jooniors from Portland four-piece Holy Grove is only two songs, but even one would be enough to serve notice of their warm tonality and the bluesy vocals of Andrea Vidal, who pushes her voice to its reaches on “Holy Grove” and still manages to nail the emotional crux. Honestly, that would probably be enough to carry “Holy Grove” and the following “Nix” on its own — sold; I’m on board — but I won’t discount the fuzz in Trent Jacobs‘ guitar or bassist Gregg Emley‘s fills in “Nix,” or the seamless shift drummer Craig Bradford leads between subdued verses and the tense chorus of “Holy Grove.” As far as serving notice goes, Live at Jooniors does so and then some, and without sacrificing sound quality as so many underground live recordings do. Seems to me a 7″ release wouldn’t be out of order, but Holy Grove seem more intent on getting together their full-length debut, which if they can bring to the studio the vibe they create in just 13 minutes on stage, is going to be something to look out for indeed. Learn the name, because you’ll hear it again. Holy Grove on Thee Facebooks, on Bandcamp.
Buenos Aires instrumental four-piece Persona formed in 2004/2005, but their newly-released self-titled appears to be their first LP, preceded by a 2012 EP. If the better part of the intermittent decade was spent jamming, it doesn’t seem to have hurt the band, who present nine plotted but flowing tracks that keep some loose sensibility to them while following a course of classic heavy and fuzz rock. The lineup of guitarist/bassists Lucas Podestá and Santiago Adano, guitarist Gustavo Hernández and drummer Esteban Podestá touch here and there on more metal tendencies, as on “Los Perros” and the brief “Cortina,” but that’s no more out of place than the proggy exploration of “Cuna de Fantasmas,” a King Crimson-style noodling underscored by subtly engaging snare work and giving way to a heavier push. The lead guitar on “Cazador” provides a particularly engaging moment of payoff for the album’s first half, but there’s enough variety throughout that Persona‘s Persona offers a range of satisfying moments. Still room for the band to develop their style, but they obviously have the will and chemistry to do so. Persona on Thee Facebooks, on Bandcamp.
Dungaree, Climb out of the River
I’ll give it to Hungarian four-piece Dungaree based on their moniker alone. It’s simple, fun to say, and it evokes the rebelliousness of a bygone time. Their debut release, a three-song EP dubbed Climb out of the River, is likewise sharp-dressed, with a grunge-style production that pushes the dudely vocals of László Gergely to the fore ahead of Horváth T. Zoltán‘s guitar, Balogh Attila‘s bass and Dencs Dominik‘s drums to result in a sound that comes across to my American ears more akin to commercial hard rock than underground heavy, though in my experience the line in Europe and particularly Eastern Europe is both less distinct and less relevant. The tracks are short, straightforward, hard-hitting and catchy, with “Climb out of the River” a strong opening hook, “Dream Again” pushing into metallic guitar chugging in its breakneck chorus, and “Right Words” toying with a lounge boogie — snapping fingers and all — that assures the listener that although Dungaree have their sharp corners, they’re not about to take themselves too seriously either. Might not be for everyone, but shows a strong foundation of songwriting, and I wouldn’t ask any more of a first outing than that. Dungaree on Thee Facebooks, on Bandcamp.
Six releases, and a pretty varied bunch at that. It’s still really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what went up to the server. I always like putting stuff on there — it’s like casting a fishing lure, except maybe without killing? I don’t know. More like tossing a fish in the ocean maybe and not knowing when it will swim by the boat again. Or maybe I just (re)watched Jaws recently and have aquatics on the brain.
Either way, we’ve passed the two-year mark since the stream went online and I’m very happy with how The Obelisk Radio has turned out. Special thanks to Slevin for all the work he’s put in over that time in helping me with hosting and making it go, and thank you as always for reading and listening.
Posted in audiObelisk on September 15th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
It’s worth noting that of all the bands Truckfighters have brought into the fold of their label, Fuzzorama Records – from Dexter Jones Circus Orchestra, to Asteroid, to Valley of the Sun – Austrian four-piece Witchrider are the first with whom the Örebro fuzzlords have actually teamed up for a release. Dubbed The Return of the Fuzzsplitwith the heading of Truckfighters vs. Witchrider, the new 12″ is available now from Fuzzorama and hearkens back to the very first release on the imprint, “fuzz CD001,” 2003’s Fuzzsplit of the Century between Truckfigthers vs. Firestone.
That split (review here) marked a transition point for Truckfighters, since it would be the last thing bassist Oskar “Ozo” Cedermalm would release with his former band (i.e. Firestone) and, as noted, the first Truckfighters outing through their own label. 11 years later, the fuzzsplit’s returnfinds Truckfighters in a much different situation. Four albums out, including this year’s Universe (review here), a documentary in their honor, and more tours and photos of them jumping up and down than I think even they could be bothered to count at this point, Truckfighters are among the foremost purveyors of fuzz the world over. They’ve busted their collective ass and a few drummers along the way to get there — the role is currently filled by Axel “Enzo” Larsson alongside Cedermalm on bass/vocals and guitarist Niklas “Dango” Källgren — but especially live, they’re undeniable. Their slogan at this point has become “Quite Possibly the Best Band in the World,” and they play like it every night out.
Whether they’re reviving the Fuzzsplit in order to introduce Witchrider to their built-in, increasing, and loyal fanbase or just to have something to take with them on their upcoming European tour together, the endorsement speaks volumes and provides yet another example of Truckfighters‘ unwavering work ethic. The three-piece’s contribution to The Return of the Fuzzsplit is called “Dig You Down,” and I have the pleasure of premiering the audio of the track for your streaming pleasure. They’ve also got a brand new video for the song that you can find snuck in down below the dates for the impending run, which begins Oct. 10 at DesertFest Belgium and unfolds from there for the rest of the month until Truckfighters hit the UK in November.
Dig, and enjoy:
Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!
We will once again bring our friends in White Miles and the new Fuzzorama Records signing Witchrider! Check out these bands if you have not already!
Complete list of dates: Sep 18 Close Up Båten, Stockholm, Sweden Sep 20 Reeperbahn Festival Hamburg, Germany Oct 10 Trix (Desertfest) Antwerp, Belgium Oct 13 Tivoli Utrecht, Netherlands Oct 14 Effenaar Eindhoven, Netherlands Oct 15 Die Pumpe Kiel, Germany Oct 16 Kleine Freiheit Osnabruck, Germany Oct 17 FZW Dortmund, Germany Oct 18 Conne Island Leipzig, Germany Oct 19 Kantine Augsburg, Germany Oct 21 Keller Klub Stuttgart, Germany Oct 22 ZOOM Frankfurt Frankfurt Am Main, Germany Oct 23 Bei Chez Heinz Hannover, Germany Oct 24 Kulturzentrum Lagerhaus Bremen, Germany Oct 25 Minoga Poznan, Poland Oct 26 Hydrozagadka Warsaw, Poland Oct 28 Club 007 Prague, Czech Republic Oct 29 Szene Vienna, Austria Oct 30 Conrad Sohm Dornbirn, Austria Oct 31 Bad Bonn Dudingen, Switzerland Nov 01 Kiff Aarau, Switzerland Nov 10 Brudenell Leeds, United Kingdom Nov 11 Sound Control Manchester, United Kingdom Nov 12 King Tuts Wah Wah Hut Glasgow, United Kingdom Nov 13 The Basement Nottingham, United Kingdom Nov 14 O2 Academy Islington London, United Kingdom Nov 15 Hard Rock Hell Pwllheli, United Kingdom Nov 16 Oobleck Birmingham, United Kingdom
Posted in On the Radar on September 11th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
There are probably a couple distinct jams within the 18-minute span of the eponymous track on Swedish duo The Sun, the Moon and the Witch’s Blues‘ self-titled debut EP, in terms of the songwriting. By that I mean although the Örebro duo of Robin Hirse (ex-Asteroid) and Jonas Ljungkvist get pretty deep in an immersive flow, it still sounds like more happened in the track than they hit record and went to town on an improv heavy psych exploration. Individual movements they may be, still better to get lost in the whole. The beginning unfolds with echoing Morricone guitar, and unfolds a slow heavy rock groove, and they proceed through numerous shifts and movements that piece together well but have some breaks between them as well. What individual titles might be, I don’t know, but with the results Hirse and Ljungkvist get across the sprawl in “The Sun, the Moon and the Witch’s Blues,” which fleshes out with organ before the vocals kick in right around the five-minute mark, I’m not about to argue.
Hirse‘s voice will sound familiar to those who heard him with Asteroid, who released their second and apparently final full-length in 2010’s II (review here), and to a degree, one might consider the new, cumbersomely-monikered two-piece an outgrowth from that album’s jam-minded heavy rock sensibility, but the feel on The Sun, the Moon and the Witch’s Blues represents a discernible stylistic shift as well, and not just in the occasional Westernism. The vibe here is bluesier, the build looser. Hirse and Ljungqvist credit Tobias Eriksson, Joakim Kohlscheen and Jimmi Kohlscheen as “helping” with the EP and don’t get more specific than that, but they’re definitely working toward a full-band aesthetic one way or another, rather than the minimalism that duos can sometimes purposefully convey. Even as “The Sun, the Moon and the Witch’s Blues” pushes through its heavier apex and into foot-stomp-and-hand-clap revival, vocals layered for a near-gospel effect, this is true in the space the song creates, and as the song is led into its final phase groove by the guitar, one gets a sense of a unit clicking pedals on to make the machine go.
I was a nerd for Hirse‘s prior outfit even unto their swansong 7″ (review here), and The Sun, the Moon and the Witch’s Blues present enough of a turn sonically to clearly be on their own path, but neither is the development of Hirse‘s craft scrapped entirely or burned to the ground in favor of starting completely over. What the EP sounds like, when you get right to it, is a vinyl side, and after listening through more than a couple times in the days since its Sept. 6 release, I’d like to find out what’s on side B. The Sun, the Moon and the Witch’s Blues are reportedly heading back into the studio in short order, so it might not be all that long before we get there. Right on.
The Sun, the Moon and the Witch’s Blues, Self-titled EP (2014)
I usually like to think of myself as being pretty up to date on this kind of thing, but Troubled Horse‘s new video for “Bring My Horses Home” slipped through the cracks, I guess. Not sure why. Not like I’ve had a lot going on lately or anything like that.
Anyway, better late than never. You could probably say the same thing for the video itself, as it’s been two years since Troubled Horse‘s full-length debut, Step Inside (review here), was released on Rise Above Records. If I’m working behind the times (which I am, always), at least I’m not the only one, but actually, making a video — it was directed by Jonas Wahlstrand — so long after the album came out basically has the effect of reminding listeners of how badass that record was in the first place. Two years later, one might not reach for Step Insidewith the same regularity as when it first hit, so along comes “Bring My Horses Home,” and wham, the “Whoa-oh-oh” chorus gets stuck in the head again like it never left.
Because god damn, this song is catchy. The Örebro band’s ties to Witchcraft‘s retro-rocking glory days notwithstanding, frontman Martin Heppich carries the chorus with perfect drunkard’s swagger, and as Troubled Horse are reportedly getting ready to unveil details of their second long-player, a reissue of their original 2010 single — which just happened to have “Bring My Horses Home” as its A-side — provides further occasion to revisit the track ahead of their next outing.
So it’s off to the woods, then. Filmed as a four-piece, though they’re are apparently five of them now if the photo above is anything to go by, “Bring My Horses Home” is dark and engaging and only leaves the question about where that organ sound is coming from so deep in the forest.
Troubled Horse, “Bring My Horses Home” official video
Posted in Whathaveyou on June 30th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
For a band to bring together members from four different nations is complicated enough, but Blues Pills, who seem to have settled in Swedish retro/heavy rock hotspot Örebro (home to Truckfighters, Witchcraft, etc.), make a fluid debut with their self-titled. The record is set to land on North American shores on Aug. 5 via Nuclear Blast (July 25 in Europe), and it follows the Devil Man EP and a Live at Rockpalast recording issued on the label last year, a buzz having more or less build around the four-piece since their demo surfaced in 2010 and their first single arrived in 2011.
They’ll play the Totem Psych Fest on July 25 in Italy, will play other fests all summer and have tour dates booked this fall around appearances at Desertfest in Belgium and the Up in Smoke and Keep it Low fests in October. More to come, I’m sure. Here’s the album info off the PR wire:
Multicultural Rock Band BLUES PILLS to Release Self-Titled Debut August 5
Örebro, Sweden-based blues rock force BLUES PILLS will release its debut LP Blues Pills on August 5 via Nuclear Blast Records. The stunning young American-Swedish-French quartet, featuring vocalist Elin Larsson, drummer Cory Berry, bassist Zack Anderson and 17- year-old guitar phenom Dorian Sorriaux, are wise beyond their years, creating unique, intense and extraordinary rock music fueled by the timeless greats. The highly-anticipated follow up to 2013’s Devil Man EP, Blues Pills was recorded in Gothenburg, Sweden with producer Don Alsterberg (Graveyard, Horisont) and is advanced by the release of the blowback lead single “High Class Woman”.
Led by sensational Swedish songstress Elin Larsson, whose powerful, versatile and emotionally direct voice could enliven the raunchiest blues as well as the subtlest love songs, BLUES PILLS is a true musical experience; one we thought was long gone, lost forever in time. Larsson’s incredible, soul-filled vocals and siren-like presence recalls Hall of Fame heroines such as Etta James, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner, impressively guiding and corralling the group’s deep dynamics; driving bass lines, tasty, fiery guitars and overarching hard edge that call for comparison to early hard rock and heavy metal greats such as UFO, Rainbow, Fleetwood Mac, Cream and the kingly Led Zeppelin.
Simply stated, BLUES PILLS create a beautiful and powerful mix of both old and new, mashing the sounds of legendary rock and soul pioneers while incorporating their own distinctive marks. The end result is impeccable, nearly-timeless blues-based power rock. Hearing is believing!
The album’s cover art was created by world renowned artist and musician Marijke Koger-Dunham, hailed as the mother of psychedelic art. Koger-Dunham designed clothing for The Beatles and Cream, created custom-painted instruments for John Lennon, Eric Clapton and George Harrison, printed posters sold at the counter culture shops of the day and was commissioned as a muralist to exercise her talents in large format for The Beatles’ Apple Boutique on Baker Street. Her striking artwork was chosen by the band because, in their own words, “it is a representation of the balance of life, as shown in all the symbolism of natural duality such as darkness and light, sun and moon, life and death. It shows how opposite forces are interconnected and compliment each other to form a whole. Besides that, it looks absolutely amazing!” Can you dig it?
Track listing: 1.) High Class Woman 2.) Ain’t No Change 3.) Jupiter 4.) Black Smoke 5.) River 6.) No Hope Left for Me 7.) Devil Man 8.) Astralplane 9.) Gypsy (Chubby Checker cover) 10.) Little Sun
I didn’t hear the 2007 self-titled debut from Swedish fuzz rockers Asteroid until two years later, but even half a decade after that, it remains a record I’ve gone back to over time when the situation calls for something brilliantly laid back, heavy, fuzzed out and catchy. There’s a band now from Ohio called Doctor Smoke; the closing track on this album is where they got their name. And while at nearly an hour long, the Örebro trio made their first outing a considerable undertaking, that song makes an excellent place to wind up as the journey rounds out.
And it is that. For all its stoner rocking charm, Asteroid‘s debut has a psychedelic flow underlying that would come more to the fore in 2010 with the delightfully jammy II(review here), but can be heard in the funky groove in the verse of “Panoramic Telescope,” and elsewhere of course. One of the album’s chief strengths, however, is its sense of flow, how easy the material leads you along the full-length course, how smooth Asteroid sound. Impressive for a band of any experience, let alone for a debut. On summer nights, I’ve sat and looked at the stars with this album, and I’ve used it like a blanket in winter. There’s no time that “The 13th Witching Hour” doesn’t feel just right.
Asteroid released a 7″ late in 2012 (review here), and word got around last year they had signed to Small Stone, but nothing has surfaced as yet. I consider myself lucky to have heard them jam out some of this material at Desertfest London in 2012, and though Fuzzorama,who initially released both albums, just put out a new pressing of the second one, hopefully it’s not too long before Asteroid‘s jammy take gets another studio installment. Got my fingers crossed.
Also my eyes are crossed, but that’s just from being tired. I doubt it’s been a major consideration in your life either way, but if you were wondering at all where I’ve been the last two days, I’ve been getting ready to move. Yesterday, The Patient Mrs. and I closed on a condo in East Bridgewater — 16 minutes away as I timed the trip last night. We went there yesterday to start taking some stuff over and to clean. We’ve been packing for the better part of the last 10 days. Today was cleaning all day, from morning to night, and getting the internet set up. We’re back at the other place now, in Abington, and I’m pirating signal off one of the neighbors. Thanks and sorry to whoever it is.
The closing was originally supposed to be today. It’s good we bumped it up a day, with so much cleaning to do. People never vacuum. Fucking cruelty. It was hot over there and sleeping on an aerobed with two people sucks, and we still had more stuff to pack, so we came back here. Movers come in the morning. The Patient Mrs. leaves for Greece for a month tomorrow night at 10:45. Get ready for some classic “I miss my wife”-type shit, as I expect I’ll be there by the end of next week. No central air and no Patient Mrs. is gonna be a rough July, I expect.
But at least while I’m sitting in the new place all next week (and presumably the subsequent three weeks), unpacking, etc., at least I’ll have plenty of time to write, which I didn’t this week. Monday, look out for that Wo Fat instrumental stream. Was supposed to go up today, but there were 10 hours of vacuuming and dusting to do, so there you go. I’d also like to do a batch of radio adds, and I should be able to transcribe that Lowrider interview as well, so keep an eye out for that. It was a doozy.
So, moving tomorrow, more cleaning, saying goodbye to The Patient Mrs. for a month, etc., but hopefully things will be workable by Monday. Whatever you’re up to this weekend, I hope it’s a great time. It’s hot out there. Don’t forget to hydrate.
Posted in Reviews on January 3rd, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
When Swedish three-piece Truckfighters debuted in 2005 with Gravity X, it was clear they had a firm grip on the traditions of fuzz rock. That album bristled with desert and stoner influence; Kyuss, Fu Manchu, flourishes of countrymen acts like Dozer. There were flashes of brilliance in cuts like “Desert Cruiser” — which still opens all their shows with its clarion riff — and “Manhattan Project,” “In Search of (The)” and elsewhere.On 2007’s Phi, lineup changes brought a second guitar and though the output was quality, the dynamic didn’t work quite as well as the debut. Phi and subsequent touring led them to 2009’s Mania (review here), which seemed like the capstone on the decade of quality semi-revivalist fuzz. Progressive in songs like “The New High,” “Majestic” and “Con of Man,” the trio of vocalist/bassist Oskar “Ozo” Cedermalm, guitarist Niklas “Dango” Källgren and drummer Oscar “Pezo” Johansson proved there was more to their sound than riff worship and that they indeed had something to offer that even their Californian influences couldn’t at that point match: A future. It’s been four years since Mania– twice as long as all the other breaks between albums — and after years of road time across Europe and the US and losing Johansson to Witchcraft only to replace him with Andre “Poncho” Kvarnström, the trio from Örebro make a return with the long-awaited Universeon their own Fuzzorama Records. Self-sustaining between the label and recording in their own Studio Bombshelter, Truckfighters are a more mature band than they were four years ago, but they keep both the roots in fuzz from their earliest work and the progressive mindset of Maniaintact on the 44-minute/seven-track Universe, resulting in a vinyl-minded flow that in longer cuts like “The Chairman” (7:54), “Get Lifted” (7:55) and closer “Mastodont” (13:54) pushes the boundaries of what Truckfighters have done before and blends that with catchy hooks and strong riffing on the shorter opener “Mind Control” (3:57), on “Prophet” (4:47) and the penultimate “Dream Sale” (4:30).
The tracklisting is ordered in alternating fashion, shorter song into longer, into shorter, and so on. Anomalous in this is standout and (what I imagine is) side B opener “Convention,” which clocks in at 1:40 and arrives before “Dream Sale” and “Mastodont.” One might expect an interlude or throwaway filler based on its runtime, but they actually launch and completely payoff an instrumental build in that time and manage to provide a hook as well. A lesson in efficiency, then. It’s not the first on Universe. From the gritty-to-full launch of “Mind Control” on through its signature Truckfightersian tonality and chorus, there’s little waste to be found. Cedermalm sounds clear, comfortable and dynamic as a vocalist and as the layers in the chorus of “Mind Control” illustrate, Truckfighters are continuing to do something they’ve always done: Making complex ideas sound easy. He pushes himself vocally throughout, perhaps most of all on “Get Lifted,” but between touring with Truckfighters and his tenure in Greenleaf supporting their 2012 outing, Nest of Vipers(review here) — he’s since left the band — there’s clearly growth evident in his approach and comfort with harmonies, as displayed both in “Mastodont,” which very much is the culmination of Universe, and in “Prophet,” which feels almost in direct conversation with the unceasing movement of “Monte Gargano” from Mania. Second cut “The Chairman,” which also served as the title-track for a late-2013 EP released by Fuzzorama and Last Hurrah Records, offers a glimpse at Truckfighters‘ more exploratory tendencies, with Cedermalm starting on vocals before Källgren and Kvarnström join in and lead the way toward the first verse. The tone is fuzz but there’s an underlying thud to “The Chairman” in the bass and drums that works exceedingly well to give it a sense of gravity, and though they hold back on delivering the chorus, that only serves to make it all the more satisfying upon its arrival, Källgren soloing past the halfway point to a boogie break that leads to a payoff that is both a landmark within the album itself and a foreshadow for what “Get Lifted” and “Mastodont” will continue to build upon.
It’s worth pointing out that for as much as Universewas intentionally structured to feed shorter songs into longer ones, it has already mounted considerable momentum by the time “The Chairman” is done, getting quiet and wandering a bit in layers of acoustic and electric guitar with steady drum thump and subdued vocals before exploding into its apex just before seven minutes in, and positioned as it is, “Prophet” only keeps that push going. Kvarnström is steady on his kick for a desert rocker with a restrained verse with open guitar and underscoring bass rumble, and the song solidifies around its chorus, which is one of Universe‘s strongest. A full stop around the three-minute mark gears into full-on fuzz riffing for the bridge that builds, stops, repeats, and the drums circle around to establish the transition back to a final chorus, ending cold with a ringing cymbal that gives way to the silence from which “Get Lifted” fades in its bassline. Were it not for the level of execution shown in “Mastodont” and the diversity within that song, “Get Lifted” would be the high point of Universe. Its build is masterful, its hook infectious, and its linear construction only highlights how far Truckfighters have come as songwriters and how seamlessly Kvarnström has blended with the founding and core duo of Cedermalm and Källgren, being a player of both power and character. He’s rarely driving the material here — that’s mostly left to the guitar or bass — but in moments like that bridge in the back half of “Prophet” and in his transitions throughout “Get Lifted,” he’s no less fluid than either of the other two members, and at 2:25 when “Get Lifted” launches from its quiet start to full-breadth, full-weight rocking, he doesn’t oversell it, doesn’t overplay it, just rides the groove with class. Like “The Chairman” before it, “Get Lifted” teases its chorus before it actually unveils the thing, but they get there around the halfway point and though Cedermalm‘s vocals are deep in the mix as if to suggest he’s being swallowed by the fuzz emanating from his and Källgren‘s amps, you just know in listening that a bigger payoff is soon to arrive.