Quarterly Review: Eight Bells, Öken, Brimstone Coven, Pants Exploder, Shallows, Monumentum, Famyne, Ethereal Riffian, Wet Cactus, Forming the Void

Posted in Reviews on March 29th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

the obelisk quarterly review spring 2016

I thought yesterday went pretty well, by which I mean I didn’t receive any complaints that somebody’s name was spelled wrong (yet), so I feel alright going into the second batch of releases for the Quarterly Review. Today mixes it up a bit, which is something I always enjoy doing with these, and while I’ll take pains to emphasize that the list of releases today, as with every day, isn’t in order, there was no way I wasn’t going to start with the first record below. Some albums just demand top placement.

Quarterly Review #11-20:

Eight Bells, Landless

eight bells landless

However you define the word “heavy” as it relates to music, Eight Bells are it. The Portland, Oregon, trio release their second album and first for Battleground Records in the form of the five-track Landless, and from the opening sprawl and lumber of “Hating” through the crawling-plus-blasting chaos of “Touch Me,” a strong progressive current underscores the material – most notably the 13-minute title-track, but really the rest as well, which flows gracefully even in its harshest moments, the blackened rush in the second half of “Landless,” for example, which follows psychedelic drones and harmonies just minutes before, or the similar thrust of centerpiece “Hold My Breath,” which works in tighter quarters but manages to span genres all the same. “The Mortal’s Suite” provides some respite in airy guitar and airier vocals, giving new drummer Rae Amitay a break while showcasing the harmonies of guitarist Melynda Jackson (ex-SubArachnoid Space) and bassist Haley Westeiner. As open atmospherically as the band is in their creative scope, there just isn’t a level on which Landless isn’t superb.

Eight Bells on Thee Facebooks

Battleground Records

 

Öken, Öken

oken oken

Swedish four-piece Öken do themselves huge favors by refusing to be easily categorized on their 2015 self-titled Ozium Records debut full-length, which runs an immersive 62 minutes and blends doom, classic heavy/desert rock and forest psych with subtle grace throughout its eight tracks, each of which is fleshed out in an overarching naturalist atmosphere. “Väktaren” dives headfirst into boogie only after initial minimalist teasing, and “Crimson Moon” bursts to life after a hypnotic psychedelic opening to find its crux in later runs of dueling guitars. The two closing cuts, “Under Vår Sol” and “Cuauhtémoc” are an album unto themselves, the former nodding initially at Sungrazer’s serene vibes before pushing into even more open psychedelic territory, and the latter proffering riffy largesse en route to a striking classic prog finish. That Öken make these elements work side-by-side and transition from one to the other fluidly is emblematic of the confidence at work in the band, and they carry their scope with organic-sounding ease.

Öken on Thee Facebooks

Ozium Records

 

Brimstone Coven, Black Magic

brimstone coven black magic

West Virginian roots doomers Brimstone Coven made their debut on Metal Blade in 2015 with a self-titled EP compilation (track stream here), and Black Magic is their first full-length. Its 10 tracks/54 minutes take cues varyingly from classic heavy rock, doom and the less majestic side of the NWOBHM, but Brimstone Coven’s approach is marked out by the extensive use of vocal harmonies on cuts like the prog-tinged “Beyond the Astral,” the later moments of raw-roller “Upon the Mountain” and “The Plague.” Black Magic’s production is barebones enough that this singing – credited solely to “Big John” Williams, while Corey Roth handles guitar, Andrew D’Cagna bass and Justin Wood drums – doesn’t really soar so much as nestle in and enhance the begging-for-vinyl analog-worship of the instruments surrounding, a proliferation of cultish themes distinguishing Brimstone Coven even as a song like “The Seers” finds them inheriting a trad-doom soulfulness from The Gates of Slumber.

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Metal Blade Records

 

Pants Exploder, Pants Exploder

pants exploder pants exploder

Between its vicious aggression, inhumane chug and have-fun-enduring-this stomp, the self-titled, self-released debut LP from Pants Exploder could just as easily be definitive New York noise, but the low-end heft of their assault right from opener “It’s Ok, I’m Wiccan.” (punctuation included in title) has an element of early-Mastodonic lumber, and that’s a thread that continues throughout “End of the World” and “You Don’t Strike Me as a Reader,” which offsets its slab-of-concrete-on-your-chest push with moments of respite, but remains driving in its intensity. As in, driving your head into the ground. Also the ground is pavement. It’s fucking heavy, is the point. To wit, the mega-plod of “Um, I Curated an Art Show in College, So…” and thrust of “God Has a Plan for Me.” Capping with the seven-minute “You Smug Bastard,” Pants Exploder pays off the tension they build in a noise-wash fury that is as impressive as it is scathing.

Pants Exploder on Thee Facebooks

Pants Exploder on Bandcamp

 

Shallows, The Moon Rises

shallows the moon rises

The rather ominous The Moon Rises EP is the first non-demo offering from Asheville, North Carolina, four-piece Shallows, who blend heavy psychedelic and grunge influences across its five tracks, opener “Shimmering” and closer “Distance” mirroring each other’s spacious push while between, “Zero,” “A Mile Beneath” and the Earth-influenced “The Barn Burning” enact gorgeous vocal harmonies between Cameron Zarrabzadeh and HannahLynn Cruey atop atmospheric heavy rock, hitting into Alice in Chains-meets-Kylesa territory on the centerpiece, “A Mile Beneath,” which is a fair bit of ground to cover. That cut is the high point in showcasing Shallows’ potential, but the Western take with “The Barn Burning” and meandering post-rock echoes and organ of “Distance” only add to the breadth of this impressive, too-short collection. With a focus consistently kept on ambience throughout, The Moon Rises flows like a full-length album, and so bodes that much better for what Shallows will be able to accomplish when they get there. I’ll look forward to it.

Shallows on Thee Facebooks

Shallows on Bandcamp

 

Monumentum, The Killer is Me

monumentum the killer is me

Even before they get to the all the aggro fuzz riffing, there’s a distinct threat of violence in Monumentum’s The Killer is Me. Its four songs, “Noose,” “Whore,” “Fiend and Foe” and “Killer Me,” each seem to find the Norwegian band doling out noise-influenced heavy rock, driven by some underlying dissatisfaction on this, their first EP. Released on vinyl through Blues for the Red Sun Records, it offsets being so outwardly pissed off through groove, the starts and stops of “Killer Me” and the rolling seven minutes of opener and longest track “Noose” (immediate points) both marked out for both their tonal weight and the force with which Monumentum push their material forward – not speedy, though “Whore” is by no means slow, but dense and emitting a residual tension all the same. Somewhat unipolar in its mood, The Killer is Me still manages to give an initial impression of what Monumentum are about sound-wise, and provides them with a solid start to work from.

Monumentum on Thee Facebooks

Blues for the Red Sun Records

 

Famyne, Famyne

famyne famyne

While the UK isn’t at all short on doom or sludge at this point, Canterbury five-piece Famyne distinguish themselves on their self-titled first EP with a traditional take and the at-times theatric harmonies of vocalist Tom Vane. Along with guitarists Alex Tolson and Alex Williams, bassist Chris Travers and drummer Jake Cook, Vane nods at Alice in Chains on lumbering opener “Enter the Sloth” without going full-on “hey whoa momma yeah” and provides a considerable frontman presence, particularly for a debut recording. Comprising three songs with the speedier bonus track “Long Lost Winter” as an add-on download with the CD version, Famyne’s Famyne EP finds its crux in the nod and push of the 10-minute “The Forgotten,” which takes a cue atmospherically from The Wounded Kings but finds its own, less-cultish niche in bringing new energy to classic doom and setting in motion a progression that already puts an individual stamp on established tenets.

Famyne on Thee Facebooks

Famyne on Bandcamp

 

Ethereal Riffian, Youniversal Voice

ethereal riffian youniversal voice

There’s patient, and then there’s Ethereal Riffian, whose riffy ritualizing and exploration nonetheless brims with some intangible energetic sensibility on their new live outing, Youniversal Voice. Heavy psychedelic wash, thick riffs, theatric vocals and guitar effects, stoner roll and the occasional fit of shredding, one might hear any of it at a given point in over-12-minute cuts like “Wakan Tanka” and “Anatman,” the latter which arrives as the penultimate of the eight-song/56-minute set. The clarity, for being a live album, is remarkable, and Ethereal Riffian add to the experience with a CD version that includes a candle, elaborate packaging and artwork, and tea, so the multi-sensory impression is obviously important, and where many live outings are throwaways or a means of bowing to contractual obligation, Youniversal Voice adds to Ethereal Riffian’s studio work a substantial ambassasorial feel, conveying an onstage vibe with a fullness of sound and clarity of mind not often heard.

Ethereal Riffian on Thee Facebooks

Ethereal Riffian on Bandcamp

 

Wet Cactus, Wet Cactus

wet cactus wet cactus

Desert rock trio Wet Cactus don’t make any bones about where they’re getting their influence from on their late-2015 self-titled second EP. By the time they get around to the penultimate “The Road” on the five-track/24-minute outing, they’ve dug themselves in deep into the worship of crunchy Kyuss-style riffing, and you can throw in looks for Unida, Queens of the Stone Age, Slo Burn and whoever else of that milieu, but Kyuss is at the root of it all anyway. Less grand in their production than UK outfit Steak, who operated in similar territory on their 2014 debut LP, Slab City, Wet Cactus keep it natural in the tradition of their forebears, and while there’s room for them to grow into a more individual approach, the hazy fuckall in closer “World’s Law” has a stoner charm before and after it kicks into a punkish push to close out. Cool vibe either way, and the tone is dead on. If these cats go jammier, watch out.

Wet Cactus on Thee Facebooks

Odio Sonoro

 

Forming the Void, Skyward

forming the void skyward

I won’t say a bad word about the artwork of David Paul Seymour in the context of this review or any other, but ultimately, Louisiana doomers Forming the Void are coming from someplace much more in line with progressive metal than the three-eyed goat and robed figures on the cover of their second album, Skyward, might represent. Again, that’s not a knock on Seymour, or for that matter, the band, just that the look of the record is deceptive, dogwhistling stonerisms even as moody cuts like the opening title-track and “Three Eyed Gazelle” – while thoroughly doomed in their vibe – prove more lucidly constructed. That holds true through the chugging centerpiece “Saber” as well, marked out by vocal harmonizing, and “Return Again,” which rolls through atmospheric metal and an ambient interlude to enact the record’s most memorable payoff and set up the linear course of the more patient closer “Sleepwalker.” Cohesive in mood and clearly plotted, Skyward is ultimately darker and more driven than it might at first appear.

Forming the Void on Thee Facebooks

Forming the Void on Bandcamp

 

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Live Review: Cortez and Pants Exploder in Somerville, 10.04.13

Posted in Reviews on October 7th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

The Patient Mrs. decided at the last minute to tag along to the Friday night show at Radio in Somerville. I knew she wouldn’t last too long, but frankly, it had been a long week and I wasn’t sure how long I’d last either. All I knew was it had been way too long since the last time I saw Cortez. They were playing second on a four-band bill with Brooklyn’s Pants Exploder opening, and Jack Burton vs. David Lo Pan and Automatic Death Pill third and fourth, respectively. I didn’t know too much about the latter, but had heard good thing about Jack Burton vs. David Lo Pan, so thought if I got to see even a little of their time, I could probably mark it  a win. I didn’t, but I’ll mark it a win anyway, since it was a low-key, no-bullshit way to spend a couple hours and, really, there’s only so many evenings you can stay home and watch Donnie Yen movies on Netflix, no matter how furious his fists might be.

We rolled into Radio having found parking on the next block our second time around (not bad) and the show was a couple minutes from starting. It wasn’t crowded, but there were people there who weren’t in the bands, so I’ve definitely seen emptier. Radio‘s red lights and red walls, wood floor, small, low stage give an immediate sense of warmth. It’s out of the way enough to be off Somerville’s main drag, but still right in the thick of things. The more I go there, the more I like it. Pants Exploder went on with little ceremony and reminded right off what it is in their sound that earns them their name. I saw them almost a year ago at The Grand Victory in Brooklyn and they only sounded thicker this time around. A guitar, bass and drums trio, they didn’t need much space, but they worked quickly and efficiently to blast through ultra-heavy tones in the newer school vein — thinking post-Torche bomb-rumble, no less able to move when they want to do so — but with shouty vocals from guitarist Grady Walker that gave an almost post-metal feel. I asked later on if they had any CDs. Indeed, no dice. Maybe next year.

My green khakis remained as intact as they were when I got there, but Pants Exploder impressed all the same. I could tell there’d been some development in their sound over the last year, which is what you want for a new band, and they seemed to be coming into their own in a stage presence light on frills in a punkish kind of way but tight and engaged all the same. Bassist Jason LaFarge and drummer Robin Fowler looked content to be as locked in as they were, and while Walker was hardly fronting the trio in the sense of whooping up the crowd and showing off, I don’t think it would’ve worked with their sound if he had been. They may yet get to a level of heft that poses a threat to trousers — somehow I think that would require more amps — but they showed promise all the same and gave Cortez a plenty-high standard of volume to reach.

Cortez, however, are pros. Between sets, I ran out to the car, where The Patient Mrs. had resigned herself, and we took the little dog Dio — who also came along for the trip — for a walk up and down the block. When I got back in, Cortez were just about to kick off their set with “Johnny” from their 2012 self-titled (next time I see them I need to buy that CD; only reason I didn’t was I thought I already had it), which is up there among the catchiest heavy rock songs I’ve heard in the last five years. Just a perfect hook and every time I’ve been fortunate enough to see him do it, vocalist Matt Harrington absolutely nails it, this one included. A surprise that underscored how many moons had passed since last I caught Cortez came in the form of second guitarist Alasdair Swan. I knew Cortez was a five-piece in the long, long ago, but hadn’t realized they’d brought in someone else to play guitar alongside Scott O’Dowd, bassist Jay Furlo and drummer Jeremy Hemond. Like I say, it’d been too long.

So although they were coming from somewhere entirely more rocking than Pants Exploder, who probably belong to this or that expanded definition of stoner metal, Cortez had no trouble providing a voluminous onslaught of their own, and as they move past the songs on the self-titled, some of which were several years old when they were recorded, they’re only developing more of a sonic personality. Last time I saw O’Dowd play, it was with Black Thai, and it seems like as that band has gotten darker and heavier, Cortez have been freed up to boogie a little bit. New song “Vanishing Point” had more than a touch of classic rock shuffle and I was glad to hear that emerge in their sound among their many comfortable mid-paced grooves. Harrington said from the stage they were getting ready to record this week, and it turns out they’ll be at Mad Oak Studios with Benny Grotto, so I’ll look forward to what comes out of that

By the time they closed out with “Wormwood,” The Patient Mrs. had gone out again, and between that and the dog being in the car — you’re just going to have to trust me when I say the dog would rather be in the car than left at home, and being nighttime and October, I wasn’t at all concerned about sunshine or overheating — I knew my chances of seeing Jack Burton vs. David Lo Pan were just about nil. Needless to say, they join Planetoid, Cult 45, Phantom Glue and The Proselyte on my gotta-see list. I imagine our paths will cross sooner or later, and in the meantime,The Patient Mrs.’ company on the ride back to the south shore was worth whatever the tradeoff was going to be.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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Live Review: Elder, Thinning the Herd, Reign of Zaius and Pants Exploder in Brooklyn, 10.25.12

Posted in Reviews on October 26th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

Another shitty day in another shitty week had me in full-on Fuck Everything Mode. Riffy redemption? Well, it wouldn’t be the first time, but it wasn’t going to be easy going, and the traffic en route to The Grand Victory in Brooklyn to catch Boston’s Elder, with NYC natives Thinning the Herd, Reign of Zaius and Pants Exploder wasn’t helping. You ever yell at someone in your car with the windows up? I do it. All. The. Time. I honestly don’t know how I’ve made it this long.

So obviously I was drinking, right? I mean what’s better than the existential boner pill alcohol provides? What’s that? Depressant? Fuck that, let’s rock and roll.

I was (born too) late getting there, and so Pants Exploder — who immediately won moniker of the night — were already on. It was my first time at The Grand Victory, which is right across Grand St. (fancy that) from the Trash Bar, but I could tell right away when I walked in that I liked the place. Small, longer than it was wide, the bar was on the left side walking in, loaded with decent micro taps — I had a Brooklyn Somethingorother to start and switched after one to Kelso’s Pilsner, which I found wanted for crispness but went down smoothly nonetheless — and the small stage was in the back of the room. It was unrepentantly a rock and roll bar, but dark in the back and intimate enough that even if there wasn’t a show, I’d drink there. Maybe that’s not saying much these days.

Upon hearing that there was a band called Pants Exploder on the bill, I knew I wanted to see them. I mean, some names just dare the act to live up to them. It’s like naming your band We Will Blow Your Fucking Mind, right? You wanna be like, “Okay, so go ahead, make my pants explode, I brought an extra pair and they’re in the car so I’m ready to go.” They gave it their best shot. A noisy trio, there were elements on hand of High on Fire thrash offset by Torche-type melodies, and they showed they could rage when they wanted to, and they were metal-tight and punk-energetic, which is what you want on a hoppy Thursday night. Good fun. One more band to make me regret living in the suburbs.

There wasn’t much of a changeover, but I had another couple beers and before long, Reign of Zaius started up. It was my second time seeing the Brooklyn newcomers — the first was at Public Assembly in August with The Midnight Ghost Train (review here) — and I don’t know whether it was the beverages, the sound at The Grand Victory or just my already vastly-improved mood, but I got way more of a sense of where they were coming from this time around. Their sound has its classic ’70s elements in the riffs, but with charismatic vocalist David “Viking” Damiecki up front, they seemed way more in line with a post-grunge heavy ’90s rock this time out. One of their songs started out so much like “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” that I thought they were doing a Primus cover. They weren’t, but they put that riff to good use anyway.

Elsewhere, Kyuss flourished as an influence, but there was a garage-type feel to their sound as well, guitarist Brady keeping a subdued presence while drummer Brian and bassist Davis added groovy push to the varying tempos. They’re pretty straightforward, and still feeling out where they want to be, but they seemed to have a much better idea last night than even two months ago, so I take that as an encouraging sign. It’ll be interesting to hear where they go sound-wise next time they hit the studio, and ditto that for Thinning the Herd, who followed and once again found guitarist/vocalist Gavin Spielman surrounded by a different band.

Admittedly, it’s been a while since I’ve seen them, but even since last year’s Oceans Rise (review here), Spielman has revamped the three-piece, bringing in mustachioed bassist Wes Edmonds and drummer Rick Cimato to underscore his should-be-heard riffs and solos and bluesy vocal delivery. I dug the band before — I’m pretty sure they’ve had a different bassist every time I’ve run into them, but none of them have been bad — but the latest incarnation seemed to be the most professional-minded. I don’t know what their plans are, if they’re looking to tour or whatever, but they were apparently recording with Steve Albini in August, so they’ve got something in the works.

They closed out by covering Fu Manchu‘s “Hell on Wheels” like it was no big deal, and that was an awesome surprise, since I don’t generally think of them as being aligned to that kind of sunshiny fuzz — their sound is dirtier, rougher around the edges — but they pulled it off well, and even in the back of the room, I was singing along. With just Elder to go, the night had already proven solid. All three of bands who’d played were going for something different under the umbrella of capital-‘h’ Heavy, and the varying senses of identity on stage made it an interesting show as well as just being good sets. Right about when I got to thinking about how many different ways there are to spin your red sun blues, Elder got on stage and moiderlized the joint.

Elder were on their way south to this weekend’s inaugural Autumn Screams Doom fest at the Sidebar in Baltimore, and well, I was really glad they made a stop in town. This was my second time being fortunate enough to see them without a piano falling on my head or some such other hindrance (the first was at SHoD in Sept.), and the trio just flat out destroyed. It was the kind of good that makes you stand back and go, “Holy fuck this is good,” backing it up with all kinds of ridiculous hyperbole about how they’re the best band you’ve seen since this one time 17 years ago when you saw someone else who were really killer. Point is, they’re something special to watch on a stage.

It should say something to that effect that when we did that informal Top 10 Stoner Rock Albums poll last month, their last full-length, Dead Roots Stirring, was right on the cusp of making the list — Brant Bjork and High on Fire aren’t bad company, if you have to tie with somebody. They started their set with the title-track from that record, and played material off the Spires Burn/Release 12″ as well (streaming here), guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto missing no steps in the songs and seeming to outmatch even Pants Exploder‘s volume level. Donovan had his mullet in a ponytail — I guess you can’t unleash a beast like that every single night, lest the back of your neck overheat — but they made the most nonetheless of the small stage and proved it was no fluke when after last time I said they’re some of the best American heavy psych I’ve ever seen. If you’re in Baltimore tonight, count yourself lucky.

I’d lost the cap to one of my lenses, and by the time I got back to my humble river valley, I was back to being impotently furious at everything, but it was probably good to get out of my own head for a couple minutes, you know, like a real human being might. Nonetheless, I stomped my feet like a spoiled child taking out the garbage and debated further beerings, but eventually crashed out, gritting my teeth in my sleep to the point of waking up with a sore jaw this morning. Went well with my half-hungover headache.

Music still sounds good.

Extra pics after the jump.

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