Posted in Whathaveyou on December 8th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
Swedish fuzz forerunners Truckfighters will return to the US next month for a tour that will find them joined by Brooklyn heavy noise rockers Kings Destroy. The shows, presented by Tone Deaf Touring and Fuzzorama Records, begin Jan. 18 in Somerville, MA, at the Once Ballroom and head into the Midwest and down into the South before looping back up the East Coast to finish at Goldsounds in Brooklyn, NYC.
For both bands, the January touring follows European runs. Truckfighters are currently wrapping an extensive stint supporting their latest full-length and Century Media debut, V (review here), for which they’ve basically been on the road since September. Even then, a US tour was in the works, as bassist/vocalist Oskar “Ozo” Cedermalm confirmed in an interview conducted at Høstsabbat in Oslo, Norway. It is hardly their first, and judging by the “LEG 1” that appears on the tour poster below, I’m guessing it won’t be their last before the cycle for V comes to a close, probably sometime late in 2017 or in 2018.
You might recall Truckfighters‘ first US tour was in 2011, half a decade ago, and it just so happens that Kings Destroy played the New York stop on it (review here) — a night at the Cake Shop on which a crowd who largely didn’t know what it was in for was handed its collective ass. Five years later, Kings Destroy are recently returned from a European tour of their own, conducted alongside The Skull in November, still heralding their 2015 self-titled third album (review here). They’ll take a break from writing the follow-up to do these shows, which is about as good an excuse as any I can come up with for leaving the rehearsal space. Whether or not they’ll have new material ready for the stage, I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem like the least likely thing in the world. I seem to recall some of the songs for the self-titled being thoroughly road-tested.
I’ve been invited on this tour and am hoping to tag along starting either in Kansas City or Tulsa, depending largely on which I can fly into directly and for what cost. We’ll see how it goes. In the meantime, here are the dates, which I dutifully transcribed from the poster and turned blue:
Truckfighters with Kings Destroy: 01.18 Somerville MA Once Ballroom 01.19 Montreal QC Bar Leritz 01.21 Ottawa ON House of Targ 01.22 Toronto ON Hard Luck 01.23 Pittsburgh PA Cattivo 01.24 Chicago IL Reggies 01.25 Minneapolis MN 7th St. Entry 01.26 Kansas City MO Riot Room 01.27 Tulsa OK Downtown Lounge 01.28 Dallas TX Curtain Club 01.30 New Orleans LA Siberia 01.31 Atlanta GA Drunken Unicorn 02.01 Richmond VA Strange Matter 02.02 Philadelphia PA Kung Fu Necktie 02.03 Brooklyn NY Goldsounds
Posted in Features on November 25th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
Truckfighters‘ ascent to the forefront of European heavy rock is no accident. For over a decade, the Örebro, Sweden, natives have been nearly unparalleled in their efforts both to be heard and to compose and execute material worthy of the attention they’ve demanded for it. Their loyalty to fuzz tones and thick grooves has come packaged with an unflinching dedication to creative growth on the part of the core duo of bassist/vocalist Oskar “Ozo” Cedermalm and guitarist Niklas “Dango” Källgren, and their live performance remains among the most physically engaged in the genre. More than nearly any other current act, Truckfighters aspire to literally throw themselves into their music.
As their influence has continued to spread — there are an awful lot of bands jumping around Euro club stages these days, it seems — so has the range of their songwriting. This fall, they released V (review here) as their debut in licensed conjunction with Century Media after years working exclusively through their own Fuzzorama Records imprint on prior outings like earlier-2016’s live album, Live in London (review here), 2014’s Universe (review here), 2009’s Mania (review here), 2007’s Phi and their landmark 2005 debut, Gravity X (discussed here), and offered the latest chapter in their ongoing progression. More confident in the sometimes-brooding sensibility that came to fruition on Universe, songs like “Calm Before the Storm,” “The Contract” and “Storyline” nonetheless retained the memorable craftsmanship that has always been at root in Truckfighters‘ work, and only become broader in its emotional and sonic reach.
Like most good things in life, my conversation with Cedermalm happened outside a café in Oslo, Norway. It was the second night of the Høstsabbat festival, which Truckfighters would headline, and the band had finished soundcheck shortly before. We’ve met a few times over the years, but this was my first sit-down with him and I was grateful for the chance to talk about V, some of the controversy that had been stirred by the then-recently-released video for “Calm Before the Storm,” the particulars of the deal with Century Media, their apparent inability to keep a drummer in the lineup, and most importantly, about the creative partnership he shares with Källgren, since that is ultimately what has always been the center of the band.
Fortunately, he was open about all of these things and much more. Seemingly perpetual in their touring ethic, Truckfighters were out through parts of October and earlier this month and are once again on the road to finish off 2016. They’ll continue into 2017 to support V. Here are the remaining current dates:
Truckfighters with Deville & Dot Legacy:
Nov 25 Underground, Koln, Germany
Nov 26 Hublot, Nancy, France
Nov 27 Petit Bain, Paris, France
Nov 28 Le Ferrailleur, Nantes, France
Nov 30 Magasin 4, Brussels, Belgium
Dec 04 Mama Roux’s Birmingham, United Kingdom
Dec 05 King Tuts, Glasgow, United Kingdom
Dec 06 Rescue Rooms, Nottingham, United Kingdom
Dec 07 Thekla, Bristol, United Kingdom
Dec 08 The Ruby Lounge, Manchester, United Kingdom
Dec 09 Islington Academy, London, United Kingdom
Dec 10 Patterns, Brighton, United Kingdom
Dec 27 Sankt Hell Festival, Hamburg, Germany w/ Orange Goblin, Bullet and more
Full Q&A can be found after the jump. Thanks for reading.
It’s hard to convey without actually listening to it just quite how wholesome the sound of Captain Crimson winds up being. The four-piece from the familiar terrain of Örebro, Sweden, issued their third album, Remind (review here), last month on Small Stone, and their new clip for “Love Street,” which finds them rocking out basically warehouse-style amid rhythmic editing that seems to ride the track’s easygoing groove, underscores the point well. Their sound is both familiar and their own, their hook is unassuming, and the lyric, about taking “a ride down Love Street” — which let’s just assume is an actual place being written about — is sweet enough to have come from 1956.
Of course, Captain Crimson wouldn’t be the first Swedish band to indulge nostalgia, but that’s not really what’s happening on Remind, or at very least not in what’s become the expected manner of vintage gear and ’70s-style boogie. I think some elements of that would be largely unavoidable at this point coming from where they are and in the age they are, but Captain Crimson‘s modernity is pervasive in their production and while the songwriting beneath relies on time-tested structures in the straightforward changes between verses and choruses, the ideal toward audience engagement in a get-down-to-business-and-do-it-right kind of way speaks to the lack of time to waste. Frankly, there’s nothing more modern than that.
So they hit on their blend throughout the record, and it might come across as confused aesthetically were it not for the cohesiveness of their approach to it and the current of songwriting, both of which find emphasis in “Love Street.” All the better then they should have a video for it, and one that also gets to the point of what it’s all about: the good things that can happen when the right combination of people and ideas come together.
More info from the PR wire follows the clip below.
Captain Crimson, “Love Street” official video
Last month, Swedish blues rock collective CAPTAIN CRIMSON released their delightfully riff-laden Remind full-length via Small Stone. A genuine testament to the timeless power of groove and of memorable choruses that take you back to when you felt such things deep in your soul, CAPTAIN CRIMSON manifest the kind of rock and roll that speaks to the essence of the form.
In commemoration of its release comes the visual companion to Remind super boogie, road rager “Love Street.” “‘Love Street’ is the third track on our new record, Remind,” the band reflects of the tune. “It was the last track that got written and it’s also the shortest one on the record. But it shows off everything that CAPTAIN CRIMSON is all about! It’s got a heavy blues rock feeling with a groovy rhythm section, big chorus, a ripping guitar solo and bluesy vocals. In the video we try to capture the raw live feeling we had when we recorded the album and how much fun we have while playing together as CAPTAIN CRIMSON.”
Remind is out now on CD, digitally, and limited edition vinyl formats. Orders are available at THIS LOCATION where you can also stream the record in full. Additionally, you can sample the band’s video for “Bells From The Underground” RIGHT HERE.
Posted in Reviews on October 28th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
It’s fitting somehow that Time should ask more questions than it answers. Six years ago, Witchcraft frontman and retro heavy rock innovator Magnus Pelander (also previously of Örebro forebears Norrsken) issued his four-song solo outing, titled simply EP, on Svart Records. It was an intricate, intimate and progressive offering, if short, and the context in which it arrived was wholly different from that which sees Time arrive via Nuclear Blast.
In 2010, it had already been three years since Witchcraft‘s third album, The Alchemist added elements of classic prog to the vintage stylization of 2005’s sophomore effort, Firewood, which had already cleaned up the band’s presentation from the live-feeling rawness of their 2004 self-titled debut (discussed here); still a landmark in helping define the tenets its subgenre continues to follow.
In 2016, in addition to Pelander taking his last name for a solo moniker as he puts forth the six-song/37-minute Time, Witchcraft released their fifth LP, the sprawling, fully-modernized, 69-minute Nucleus (review here), building on the massive shift in lineup and crisper production style that their 2012 return and Nuclear Blast debut, Legend (review here), began.
All the more curious, then, that Time should arrive with such stripped-down, minimal arrangements — a sweet combination of guitars, strings and voices on “The Irony of Man,” or the UK-style folk flute on opener “Umbrella,” or Pelander and his accompanying guest vocalist backed by acoustic guitar, bass and simple, intermittent percussion on the closing title-track — bearing his name as its banner, since it’s so far removed from the direction his songwriting has taken over the course of the last half-decade. Maybe that’s the point.
One way or another, Time presents the most willfully organic production in which Pelander has taken part at least since Firewood if not since Witchcraft‘s self-titled. I’m reasonably sure that isn’t how he’d want it measured, but it’s true nonetheless. Beginning with the warm welcome of “Umbrella”‘s folksy balladry and classic lyrical patterning — “Never thought I,” and so on — the album holds to a clean but natural sound that, at least in some degree, still translates to a full-band fullness. That is, though parts are quiet, minimalist, rarely is Pelander actually sounding alone on this solo album.
There’s flourish of violin and the aforementioned flute and backing vocals to go with the guitar, bass and percussion working under his lead on “Umbrella,” and a quick ’60s-style psychedelic electric guitar solo even shows up briefly before the acoustic guitar takes the fore once again in a final movement that seems to be referencing Black Sabbath‘s “Sweet Leaf.” Bottom line is it’s not like all Time is working from is Magnus Pelander and an acoustic guitar, but it has an intimate vibe in part due to personal-feeling lyrics like “Family Song,” which directly names mother, father, brother, sister and self as characters early on to a humble strum and some sweet fret work setting up a powerful vocal push as the track moves into its second half.
Some kind of keys — might just be piano — are introduced briefly but not out of place in their coming and going before the last verse section, and “Family Song” ends with a quieter feel, suitable for the transition into the soft open of “The Irony of Man.” The aforementioned backing vocals — I don’t know accompanies Pelander throughout, but her harmonies add enough to the tracks on which she appears that I’d give credit if I could — and another showcase of melodic prowess, this time over a more melancholic instrumental arrangement, driven once more by acoustic guitar but building outward with strings as it moves through toward the two longest cuts on Time, “True Colour” and “Precious Swan.”
Between them, “True Colour” (8:57) and “Precious Swan” (9:53) comprise more than half of the total 36:50 runtime of Time, and with Pelander having proved his mettle in structure and creating a full-album flow across five Witchcraft full-lengths, it’s hard to imagine their placement next to each other is an accident.
Back to back, they make for the most immersive section of the record — admittedly less if you get the version with the bonus track “Rebecka” — broadening the context with Spanish-style guitar and more active percussion before the halfway point of “True Colour” only to dip back into the quiet verse like nothing ever happened before stretching out with broader strumming, progressive string turns in the back end and a subtle, wistful finish with a ticking clock at close. The play in “Precious Swan” is “precious one.” The song starts with that line and individually plucked notes to set up a patient development that, once it starts unfolding with the drawn violin and more forceful vocals, does not seem to stop.
Tension rises with electric guitar leading to start-stop bass and far-back swirl of guitar that fades out to let piano and acoustics take hold at the halfway mark, building in volume and arrangement to a noisy cacophony that, at 6:29, finally cuts to let a strummed electric guitar play the central line of the song. Then, only then, does the acoustic figure return, Pelander once again crooning “precious one” or “precious swan,” whichever it might be. Strings come back in the instrumental meandering that follows, and there’s a sample of a woman singing in what seems to be Swedish — unsure who or when, but regardless the sense of nostalgia is palpable.
That emotional resonance would seem to stand in direct contrast to the actual last lines of the album, in which Pelander, with an audible sigh, declares, “I don’t want to live here/My enemy is time.” This comes after clever plays off words that rhyme with the title, delivered in succession, a flash of percussion, and a final guest vocal appearance that seems to tie everything together as it gives way to the final movement of subdued acoustic guitar that closes the song and the record as whole.
In its last moments, Time brings listeners back to that sense of asking questions. We don’t, in the end, know whether time is an enemy or an ally, as “Precious Swan” might lead one to believe. We don’t know whether it’s a sense of looking back on his career that caused Pelander to revive this solo-project, or if the very sound of Time itself is an acknowledgement of the role that notions of the bygone have played out in his work aesthetically over the course of his career.
And we don’t know how, or if at all, Magnus Pelander will continue to develop Pelander as an entity separate from Witchcraft, or if Time is a one-off as collections of its ilk sometimes can be; a collection of tracks accumulated over some measure of time — there’s that word again — that he felt it was finally time to get out of his system. All of these things, and more, have yet to be answered, but there’s value in the asking, and for as much as it revels in the uncertain, Pelander‘s Time is guided by the surest of hands.
Posted in Reviews on October 21st, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
Much of Asteroid‘s aptly-titled third album, III, is unassuming. It arrives via Fuzzorama Records with a photo of the band’s gear — artfully shot, but a gear photo — on the front cover, and at seven tracks/36 minutes, it’s quick, almost humble listen. That’s precisely the point. It’s been six years since the Örebro, Sweden, three-piece released II (review here), and while they would’ve been well within their rights to turn III into some grandiose, probably hyper-produced excursion given the occasion, it also would’ve been completely out of character. Asteroid went a much more fitting way, and III benefits from that choice.
Natural vibe, on every level. That’s what the gear shot represents. It’s not about some over-the-top presentation, but about the work that guitarist/vocalist Robin Hirse, bassist/vocalist Johannes Nilsson and drummer Elvis Campbell (since replaced by Jimmi Kolscheen) do in that rehearsal or studio space. It’s their chemistry that shines through, in combination with the unremittingly memorable songcraft of cuts like “Last Days” (premiere here), “Wolf and Snake,” “Silver and Gold,” “Them Calling,” and so on. And yes, III does build on the accomplishments of II in the direction it takes, since that record — thought to be their swansong, notwithstanding the 2013 7″ single Move a Mountain/One Foot in the Grave (review here), until their reunion was announced here late in 2015 — shifted from the more straight-ahead fuzz rock of their 2007 self-titled debut (discussed here) toward a more open, bluesier, jammier style.
III pushes further in that direction from the gentle way Campbell‘s drums seem to start opener “Pale Moon” in medias res joined soon by Nilsson‘s inimitable warm bass tone and ambient guitar swirl from Hirse down to the soaring leads and into-the-night howls of closer “Mr. Strange.” There is no song of the seven that doesn’t deliver a standout factor, whether it’s a hook, solo, overall groove, vocal tradeoff between Hirse and Nilsson, and the flow created between the tracks makes III a better return than one could’ve reasonably hoped for from Asteroid.
I say that as a fan of the band, which I acknowledge I am. Nonetheless, to have Asteroid come back in a manner that not only reinforces the work they’ve done before but actively builds on it and pushes it forward almost gives III a spirit of making up for lost time. It was three years between the self-titled and II, and even with the 7″ factored in, they’ve doubled that span between full-lengths. In the interim, Hirse went on to found The Sun, the Moon and the Witch’s Blues, and it legitimately seemed Asteroid were done. It was no minor loss to the sphere of European heavy rock and psychedelia, since what Asteroid effectively represent as a band is an alternative in audio organics that doesn’t necessarily need to rely on vintage presentation to get its point across.
In that regard, they pick up where they left off on III and move ahead from there. “Pale Moon,” one of just two inclusions over six minutes long, enters with a jammy feel, winding guitars, a minimal vocal presence, and eases the listener into what follows. No stretch to imagine it came out of the three of them picking up their instruments and playing the first thing that came to mind, whether or not that’s actually the case. Near the end, a wash of effects takes hold and comes forward, and the song ends with a rumble that leads into the opening of “Last Days,” which turns from its rolling introduction into a Beatlesian bounce marked out by Nilsson‘s bassline and some call and response singing underscored by the just-in-case-you-weren’t-thinking-Abbey–Road short instrumental chorus riff.
The verse itself is the hook, and shows the band’s penchant for darker lyrical themes — “Death will come, he always does/For each and every one of us” is a standout line traded between Nilsson and Hirse — that comes up again on “Wolf and Snake” and the penultimate “Them Calling.” “Til Dawn,” which follows immediately with a warmth of shuffle given to fuzzy push, is shorter and somewhat faster, but doesn’t let go of the underlying groove of “Last Days” before it, instead building momentum as it starts and stops fluidly and shoves its way toward what’s probably the end of side A, turning around the 2:30 mark into a denser tone that they ride out for most of the duration, turning back to a cleaner guitar line to finish out in the last few seconds.
If you happen to be listening on a linear format — or if the vinyl side split is elsewhere — that makes the transition into “Wolf and Snake” all the more seamless. The centerpiece and longest track on IIIat a still-manageable 6:31, it’s a classic blues morality play with the standout lyrics in its first verse, “In the end we are the same/Said the wolf to the snake/You and me we’ve been asleep/While everybody else had to stay awake,” and it comes delivered with patience, dynamic shifts in tempo and a chorus that makes it stand among the highlights of the record and Asteroid‘s catalog as a whole.
Emphasizing the turns they’re able to pull off without even a measure’s notice, Hirse‘s layered lead work, and the way in which Nilsson and Campbell sustain cohesive rhythms while bolstering the guitar in classic power trio form. When they get back to the chorus from the solo section near the midpoint, it’s a release in tension, but the real shift comes in the subsequent slowdown — a transition into thickly-fuzzed, peppered-with-ambience riffing instrumental departure that carries them through the bulk of the remainder of the song, until the drums and bass drop out and the guitar lightly strums out the finish for the last minute or so.
At that point, the impact has been made, but just how much “Wolf and Snake” offers in its time serves as a summary of much of what the rest of III has to offer, though the subsequent two tracks, “Silver and Gold” and “Them Calling” are marked points of departure and contrast — at least from each other if not from the style of the band entirely. Rising quietly from the finish of “Wolf and Snake,” “Silver and Gold” is the shortest slice of III at 3:11, and from the swirling echoes preceding the first verse onward through the harmonies brought forth by Hirse and Nilsson, it’s the most ambitious vocal arrangement they’ve ever done.
And it marks a shift in approach as well, since so much of their appeal has always been about the tone of the guitar or bass and even the drum sounds, but while the dual-vocals has long been a key element of what they do, “Silver and Gold” is a level of performance and a level of confidence in that performance that’s perhaps the clearest marker of their progression on this album entirely, and reinforces Asteroid‘s fierce commitment to moving forward even as they get their feet under them following their years away. It makes III all the more special, and with a couple far-back hits from Campbell, shifts into a peaceful kind of gallop in its second half, vaguely Western, and topped with more non-lyricized harmonies echoing out over the space created, wrapping with a stretch of silence after the passing of some residual effects.
The role that brief quiet plays is no less pivotal than any of III‘s other transitions, since what it sets up is the outright crash into “Them Calling,” an outright fist-pump fuzz rocker that’s almost all thrust and raises a glass with the lines, “Now I stand at the gates of hell/Waiting for you to arrive/I hear them calling, calling for me/But I want you here by my side,” as it careens through headbang-worthy proto-metallic groove.
Tonally, it’s the densest material on the album, but it hits at just the perfect moment after “Silver and Gold,” and brings Nilsson and Hirse together righteously for the above-noted chorus, and shows that as far out as Asteroid are willing to go, they know the value as well that staying grounded can have. They rightly keep “Them Calling” to a straightforward structure, and in sheer effect, its leanness pushes it well into highlight status even before the solo in the second half gives way to one last bookend runthrough of the chorus and a couple hits to close. A “wow” moment, delightful in how unprecedented it is on III but still not at all a backward step on the part of the band, especially in the context of how it interacts with “Silver and Gold” before it and the closer “Mr. Strange” after.
As much as “Pale Moon” had a clear opening sensibility, “Mr. Strange” feels like it’s winding down — though, admittedly just about anything would with “Them Calling” before it — but as Nilsson takes the lead vocal, the foundation is laid for what will be the final push, complemented by memorable “whoa”s and a nodding lead-topped fuzz that once more casts out a sense of vastness without playing to the need for “sounding huge” or departing from the overarching class that Asteroid have shown all throughout the album to this point. In the end, it’s more active at its finish than “Pale Moon” was at its start, but no less fitting in the unassuming manner in which it rises to its occasion.
That is perhaps the most prevalent impression III leaves behind when it’s over. Asteroid probably could’ve made a “reunion” album. They didn’t. They made a third album, and the songs are stronger and more genuine for it in how they sound and what they signify as the band’s conceptual priorities now and going from here. III is one of 2016’s best, no question, and more over, it reminds of just how crucial Asteroid are and can continue to be as an influence to those who will invariably, hopefully, benefit from following their path. Recommended.
Posted in Reviews on October 17th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
If you want to look at the trajectory of Swedish heavy rockers Truckfighters, it’s easy to read their catalog as a series of forward steps. There is a clear narrative arc to their work that can be traced right to its latest chapter in their new offering, V. Their 2005 debut, Gravity X, boasts a few tracks that even 11 years later tap into a timeless imperative of desert rock. It established them as a noteworthy presence within the sphere of European fuzz and set in motion a touring and promotion ethic that has gone largely unmatched within that sphere.
Working as a four-piece for Phi in 2007, the Örebro-based outfit began to branch out, but it was with 2009’s Mania (review here) that their progressive side really first showed itself as the path they would follow in songwriting. They hit the road hard in the years that followed, released a feature-length documentary, and began a seemingly endless round of changes in lineup, with the core duo of vocalist/bassist Oskar “Ozo” Cedermalm, guitarist Niklas “Dango” Källgren joined by an ongoing succession of drummers. On 2014’s Universe (review here), which was preceded by the EP The Chairman in 2013 and followed earlier this year by Live in London (review here), it was Andre “Poncho” Kvarnström, now of Blues Pills. For V, it’s Daniel “El Danno” Israelsson of Dexter Jones’ Circus Orchestra taking up the call, though my understanding is he too is already out of the band.
These shifts around Cedermalm and Källgren seem to have done little to ultimately slow the progression or momentum of Truckfighters, who as well as being one of the heavy underground’s most kinetic live acts have established one of its most immediately identifiable sounds — you know when you’re listening to Truckfighters — have taken another step forward in inking a deal with Century Media for the distributing of the seven-track/47-minute V, licensing through their own Fuzzorama Records, which has been home to each of their prior outings. A shift in profile, if not necessarily aesthetic, but noteworthy all the same in showing the multi-tiered evolution of the band, whose songcraft continues to grow as well. To listen to V front to back from opener and longest track (immediate points) “Calm Before the Storm” to the finisher “Storyline,” the larger portion of what the trio does in the span will be recognizable to those who heard Universe.
Certainly, in tone, their penchant for fuzz has remained consistent. It’s what they do with that fuzz that has changed over time, and a steady development in vocal confidence from Cedermalm combined with an increased comfort with complex modes of expression overall, which on the first two albums simply wasn’t there and in hindsight was only beginning to emerge on Mania, that results in such fluidity throughout V. Credit in setting the mood has to go to “Calm Before the Storm” as well. While V has plenty of upbeat moments of push in “Hackshaw,” “The 1,” “Gehenna,” and “Fiend” — and indeed the opener increases thrust as it builds through its hook — “Calm Before the Storm” is an especially bold choice to lead off for its brooding sensibility, which seems to find complement and emphasis even in the most raucous of moments that immediately follow, be it the winding chorus of “Hackshaw” or the thick-fuzzed push that begins “The 1.”
To an extent, this was true of Universe as well, and with half as much time between Universe and V as there was between Mania and Universe, it’s not surprising the two would share some characteristics, whatever Truckfighters have been through over the last couple years. But the scope has once again broadened, and one can hear that in how smoothly centerpiece “Gehenna” ebbs and flows, how the momentum of “The 1” seems to subside only to rise again, in the melodic reach of the chorus to “The Contract,” which might be V‘s standout moment, and in the poise with which Truckfighters claim such breadths and depths as their own. As much of their persona — which is not to say “brand” — is defined by onstage acrobatics, Källgren‘s madman energy running back and forth, jumping up and down, spinning in circles, etc., on record they seem even more daring how deeply they plunge into contemplative stretches.
The verse to “The Contract” is spacious, the bridge in the second half of “Hackshaw” dizzying but precisely executed, and the interplay of acoustic and electric guitar in “Storyline” a new level of emotional crux entirely. That Truckfighters can be patient and that band who are such a force in a live setting, and that they can ultimately do so without contradicting themselves and having their foundation collapse under them, makes them all the more special as a group contributing to the expansion of their genre. Even the subtlety that shows itself in the midsection of “Fiend,” teasing those acoustics that play a more prominent role after the blown-out push that starts “Storyline,” stands as an example of the delicate balance Truckfighters strike.
And though they then seem to delight in stomping all over that balance, it emerges unscathed. It might be fair to call this the triumph within V itself were it not for the level of songwriting Cedermalm and Källgren bring forth. Fifteen years on from their first getting together and with countless miles under their collective belt, they’ve become one of heavy rock’s most crucial teams, and more encouragingly, while they’ve clearly established a working modus, they refuse to sit still from one release to the next, to rest on past laurels, or to give in to the expectations of others. It is a rare band who, five albums in, can remain defined by their forward potential, and Truckfighters have worked hard to hold true to that reality.
[Click play above to stream Captain Crimson’s Remind in full. Album is out Friday, Oct. 14, on Small Stone Records.]
Swedish four-piece Captain Crimson make their debut on Small Stone Records with their third album, Remind. It’s a record that begs the question of just what we’re being reminded. Comprised of 10 boogie-laden, grooving, swinging, catchy tracks, it follows just two years behind 2014’s Ageless Time (on Moving Air and Nasoni) and four behind the band’s 2012 Dancing Madly Backwards debut that found them paying so strongly to their namesakes in Captain Beyond and King Crimson.
Now working with the lineup of vocalist Stefan Lillhager (ex-Blowback), guitarist Andreas Eriksson, bassist Chris David and drummer/organist Mikael Läth, the Örebro natives have come unquestionably into their own throughout these tracks, moving well beyond the ‘70s worship for which their hometown is so known in favor of a full sound, marking a less dramatic shift than that of, say, Witchcraft, but mostly because Captain Crimson were less of a directly vintage mindset to start with. In any case, what they arrive with on Remind is a 42-minute collection of tightly written, smoothly executed cuts that seem to be vying with each other to occupy space in the listener’s consciousness.
Will it be “Black Rose” or “Let Her Go” stuck in someone’s head? I don’t know, but there’s a good chance that something here will hit a nerve among the converted, as Captain Crimson favor quality songcraft over the trappings of hyper-stylization, and so have no need of the latter as they make their way through, energetically and deftly using the momentum of one track to push through the next.
In the album’s ultimate affect, it feels ahead of the curve in such a way as to recall (which is not to say “remind”) of young-gun countrymen rockers and labelmates Jeremy Irons and the Ratgang Malibus, who made their debut in 2011 and have followed a similar stylistic trajectory in taking what more vintage-minded outfits have been able to accomplish over the last decade-plus and carry it forward, blending with ’90s influences, yes, but coming across with something new from that mixture.
In the case of Captain Crimson, there are elements at play in early pieces like opener “Ghost Town” or “Bells from the Underground,” which immediately follows and is the longest inclusion at 5:29, that tie them further into the long legacy of quality Swedish heavy rock; most notably in what they’re able to do with the hooks of these songs and the ease of their transitions one might liken their work here to Greenleaf‘s earlier days, or specifically for “Bells from the Underground,” from some of what Astrosoniq had on offer with their last outing, Quadrant, at least on some superficial level, but neither does Remind lack its own personality.
The 10 tracks break evenly onto two neatly-structured vinyl sides, and though each song seeks to deliver an impact, and succeeds on one level or another, they tie together fluidly as well, as one can hear in the crisp jive of “Love Street,” on which Eriksson‘s guitar leads a strut bolstered by layered vocals in the chorus and punchy bass, and the subsequent “Black Rose,” which pulls back on some of the thrust initially to lock in a sleek, classically metallic groove, easily turns into an acoustic break, and emerges with newfound vigor to lead to the side A closer “Money.”
Bluesier licks permeate, backed by serene organ flourish, and a flowing jam ensues, more patient than any of the faces Captain Crimson have yet shown, and so a decent setup for some of side B’s expansion of the album’s overall scope. Of course, before they get there, it’s only fair to match “Money” with a barnburner, and “Drifting” opens Remind‘s second half in raucous form, effectively reestablishing the momentum of “Ghost Town” as side B begins to unfold.
There’s some twang underlying the title-track, which follows, but the focus remains on the chorus, cleanly realized with push coming from Läth‘s kick drum, a prominent but not ever really out of place element across the record. Stomp suits Captain Crimson, and “Let Her Go,” with its blues-inflected harmonica (a guest performance from Timo Tilli), backs that up, finding a comfortable pace that allows them to continue to spread out their sound from its foundation of craft and structure in subtle and intriguing ways that become clearer on repeat listens. Then there’s the more drastic change brought on by the penultimate “Alone.”
Almost snuck in before closer “Senseless Mind” reaffirms the decades-spanning stylistic meld, the acoustic-led alone offers Lillhager a showcase in which to shine and he does not disappoint. With vocals and guitar, Captain Crimson depart from the rest of the album toward a different level of emotional resonance, but the presentation is still clear, and there’s never any sense of control lost.
Maybe “Senseless Mind” is meant to work as a reaction to that, or maybe it’s just the drastic contrast between the final two songs, but the ending feels especially riotous by the time it’s over. Before that, like “Black Rose” earlier, it cuts to a quieter interlude, but when the four-piece slam into the final thrust, there’s little doubt the apex has been reached. Like the record as a whole, they telegraph their intentions there, but three albums in, I don’t think there’s anything one could call to question in their intentions.
They clearly know what they’re doing, in the construction of their material, in putting together a record, and in filtering out anything that doesn’t best serve the song at hand. That makes Remind a strong depiction of a group who’ve clearly hit their stride, and leaves one to suppose that perhaps the title is referring to how much of a force such a group can be when captured at their best.
Posted in Reviews on October 5th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
Today we hit the halfway mark on the Fall 2016 Quarterly Review. Always an occasion worthy of song — or, you know, another batch of 10 records — which happens to be precisely the plan. We pick up much where we left off yesterday in working across a broad spectrum of heavy, and though there are some major releases in here as seems to be the case increasingly, please make sure to note some of the deeper underground stuff as well, whether it’s Hands I Annul Yours or Astral Cult, as nothing here is included by mistake. Some of this I’m late on, some of it isn’t out yet, but all of it is pretty current, so if there’s something here you’ve missed, bigger name or smaller, I hope you get some use out of the lot of it. Here goes.
Quarterly Review #21-30:
Blues Pills, Lady in Gold
Blues Pills – like their Nuclear Blast labelmates in Witchcraft, Graveyard and Kadavar before them – have modernized. Their second album behind what became a landmark self-titled debut (review here) in 2014, Lady in Gold arrives with a slick production casting off the vintage vibes while holding onto classic sensibility and rightfully continuing to feature the soulfulness of vocalist Elin Larsson, joined in the band by guitarist Dorian Sorriaux, bassist Zack Anderson (ex-Radio Moscow) and drummer André Kvarnström (ex-Truckfighters). Its 10 tracks/40 minutes are unmistakably pop in their construction, and deftly, complexly arranged, and play to an alternative vision of commercial accessibility in rock that I’m not sure exists anymore even in Europe. Or needs to for an album like Lady in Gold to be successful. As they weave into and out of gospel and R&B conventions, Blues Pills take a bold step away from what one might have expected coming off their debut and ultimately define themselves precisely through that boldness. Whether that works for them in the longer term will have to remain to be seen. For now, Lady in Gold can be jarring at first, but one would be hard pressed to come up with something else out there that sounds quite like it.
Los Angeles three-piece Arctic make their entry into Southern California’s crowded sphere of heavy/psychedelic rock with their self-titled debut on Outer Battery Records. To call them skate rock seems fair enough, since guitarist Justin “Figgy” Figueroa (also Harsh Toke), bassist Don “The Nuge” Nguyen and drummer Frex are all professional skateboarders, but the core of Arctic’s five-track/half-hour-flat runtime is in mixing classic stoner impulses with heavy psych jamming. Most of the record is instrumental, including 8:51 opener and longest track (immediate points) “Over Smoked,” but vocals pop up to surprise on centerpiece “Burnt Ice” and return again in form drawled enough to justify their having called the nodding closer “High” as they do. At very least they make it believable. Between the dankness throughout, the guitar-led fuzz boogie of “Cryptic Black Sun,” the natural vibes, the Arik Roper cover art and the utter lack of pretense, Arctic summarize much of the appeal of the West Coast’s current heavy movement, and so, should have no trouble continuing to make their name as part of it.
Three new tracks from Poland’s Major Kong is nothing to complain about. The Lublin trio have been not-at-all-quietly stomping out quality riffs for more than half a decade now, and with “Energy Whip,” “Escape from the Holodeck” and “Pollution Halo,” the instrumentalists are in and out of Brave New Kong in under 14 minutes, working quickly and efficiently with a crisp but still thick production that pulls away from some of the focus on crush from late last year’s Galactic Cannibalism EP (review here). That may well be the Brave New Kong to which the title refers, or it’s entirely possible they’re just having fun with their own moniker – subsequent offerings will tell the tale – but Major Kong continue to be a well-kept secret for Poland’s fertile heavy underground, and if nothing else, they sound like a group due for a third full-length album, which will hopefully arrive sooner than later.
One could make the argument that given the swath of cultural icons passed away, 2016 is the Year of Death to which Hands I Annul Yours are alluding to in the title of their latest Major Destroyer Records three-song tape, but aside from the fact that they specify it was 2013, one seriously doubts they give a shit about famous people dying. Beginning with the drone and feedback noise of “Year of Death Part I,” the cassette moves into a 19-minute stomp and crush that’s as misanthropic as it is weighted, and much as there is one, the prevailing sentiment is less reflecting on loss than it is rolling out claustrophobic heft. Fair enough. Following the tape-only “Verloren,” “Year of Death Part II” boasts more sample manipulation and a discernible lead from the guitar, but finds its way toward abrasion as well, rounding out Year of Death with a dissolution into feedback that would seem to bring it full circle.
Fortunately, the fact that Storm Ross named the opening track of Welcome, Sunshine “We Need to be Fugazi Now, More than Ever” is only the start of the 37-minute/10-track LP’s experimentalist charms. The follow-up to the Michigan-based guitarist’s 2014 return full-length, The Green Realm (review here), this new collection finds Ross himself once again making his way through soundscapes manic and pastoral with like ease, and as one piece feeds into the next on “Please Don’t Kill My Family” and “Benzie County Farm Fire, 1973” or the synth-infused, tech-shredding “Atheon” fading into the penultimate post-rock drift of “The Smiler” later (think Dylan Carlson solo gone sentimental for the West, plus a late uptick of noise), the sense of Welcome, Sunshine as a whole work is even more palpable than was the last outing, even as Ross jumps from one style to another or incorporates keys, percussion, etc., following various whims toward a universally progressive payoff. Limited to 300 copies on yellow vinyl or on cassette through Already Dead Tapes and Records.
Virginian doomers Sinister Haze follow-up their 2015 debut EP, Betrayed by Time (review here), with the raw and scummed up Laid Low in the Dust of Death LP on STB Records. Recorded by Chad Davis (Hour of 13), it’s their first outing to feature Naam’s Eli Pizzuto on drums, and they do trip out a bit on guitar, but if you’re thinking slow space rock here you’ve got the wrong picture. Guitarist/vocalist Brandon Marcey (ex-Cough) and bassist/vocalist Sam Marsh lead the charge – the low-end is particularly satisfying in its roll throughout – and fellow newcomer JK (Lost Tribe) adds to the mix as well, so the spirit of Laid Low in the Dust of Death is bare-bones and classic, but positively covered in its titular dust. And maybe one or two other kinds. Six tracks split easily onto two sides, Sinister Haze’s first full-length outing comes across as a reaction against cleanliness in doom – call it gutter doom – flowing in its 12-minute closer “A Buried Dream,” but still clearly from the gut.
The flute-laden heavy rock with which Denver’s Love Gang open their debut EP might stand among the best outcomes of Colorado’s marijuana legalization. A four-piece with a full sound only enhanced by the organ/woodwind work of Leo Muñoz, Love Gang self-release their first outing as four tracks that sap classic prog of its pretense and offer ‘70s heavy chemistry without leaning on vintage production. Guitarist/vocalist Kam Wentwork, bassist Grady O’Donnell and drummer Shaun Goodwin, together with Muñoz, get down to business on “Can’t Seem to Win” and the instrumental “Lonely Man,” go bluesy on “Highway” and boogie to a finish in “Sands of Time,” all the while sounding ready in their songcraft and execution for whatever label might come calling to stand behind their work. It’ll be somebody. Some bands take time to develop into their own sound, and some break the doors down out of the gate. Love Gang are the latter. Whenever they get around to a first full-length, I hope they remember to weird out a little bit.
Though five of the eight tracks on Nap’s debut, Villa, have words at one point or another, it’s probably still fair to note the psych-inflected German trio as a mostly-instrumental outfit. The lyrics, when they’re there, arrive in short verses, lines included it seems more to create the impression of a human presence rather than affirm a structure. They are vague in theme for the most part, but there, though there isn’t a song in the bunch that goes as far as a chorus. No complaints. Nap, as a project, feel much more given toward the spacious and atmospheric exploration one finds in the midsection of second cut “Sabacia” than the four or five lines in the driving riff subsequent. As the record plays out, they incorporate elements of surf – surprisingly more on “Duna” and closer “Autobahn” than “Xurf,” but it could also be a Yawning Man influence surfacing – resulting in an overarching progressive feel that serves their fluidity on this first album.
Heavy rocking Buenos Aires three-piece Manthrass issued their debut, Blues del Destino, last year and were subsequently snagged for release through South American Sludge Records, no doubt for the record’s cohesive, hard-driving bluesy push, natural tones and easy-grooving feel. The shuffle of “Una Flor” is a highlight, but neither will you find me arguing with the Pappo’s Blues cover “El Brujo y el Tiempo,” with a burlier vocal and a rolling progression that seems to sum up a lot of where Manthrass are coming from to start with, though closer “Navegar” gets down with more raucous fare. A quality first full-length with a crisp production balanced by a fervent live feel in the energy from the trio of guitarist/vocalist Mariano Castiiglioni, bassist/vocalist Ángel Rizzo and drummer/backing vocalist Fede Martínez, who are clearly versed in modern heavy as well as the classics, and are able to control their own destiny here accordingly.
Commencement comes on Astral Cult’s second album, The Sacred Flame, via the ritualized psychedelic incantations of “Prayer,” and from there, the Californian four-piece unfold a molten vision of heavy space rock that stands apart from a lot of what bands further sound in San Diego or even San Francisco are doing, vocalist Alexandre Lapuh, guitarist Ryan Musser, bassist Stefan Henskens and drummer Brazdon Goodwin (since replaced by Cristian Gonzalez) finding their footing in a lumbering and deceptively doomed “Quetzalcotl” after so much lysergic preaching on “Call of the Wild” and “Beacon of Darkness.” The range is surprising, but more so is the fluidity Astral Cult conjure between what are often disparate styles, the four-piece nearly hitting the 13-minute mark on the closing title-tack as they lay the two sides together, one into the next. It’s a rarer blend, but The Sacred Flame, at nearly an hour long, gears itself for maximum immersion.