Review & Full Album Premiere: The Age of Truth, Threshold

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on October 17th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the age of truth threshold

[Click play above to stream The Age of Truth’s Threshold in its entirety. Album is out Nov. 1 via Kozmik Artifactz.]

Philadelphia heavy rockers The Age of Truth make their full-length debut via Kozmik Artifactz with the eight-track Threshold. They are a four-piece comprised of guitarist Michael DiDonato, standalone vocalist Kevin McNamara, bassist/vocalist William Miller and drummer Adam LauverEric Fisher played on the album, which was recorded and mixed by Joseph Boldizar at Retro City Studios in Philly — and all of these details become crucially important to the record itself when one actually digs in for a listen. This is because The Age of Truth so quickly establish a range of influence that veers well outside the City of Brotherly Love. Songs like “Supernatural Salesman,” the verses of eight-minute side B opener “Caroline” and “Oceanbones” find the singer very much out front on vocal duties as the backing progressions bring to mind Clutch, but Maryland isn’t so far from Eastern Pennsylvania if we’re thinking of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, and the bulk of Threshold gives a far more European impression.

Enough so particularly in the performance and production around the vocals that one might be tempted to look at their lineup and wonder if there’s any way McNamara could be interpreted as a Swedish name. From the moment the frontman begins to top the semi-prog chug of DiDonato‘s thick, layered guitar in opener “Host (Demon in Me),” and certainly in subsequent cuts like “Come back a God,” “Holding Hands Like Thieves” the soaring chorus of “Caroline” and the winding closer of a title-track, McNamara‘s performance has enough gut-tightened lung push push to recall the likes of Janne “JB” Christoffersson during his time in Spiritual Beggars, John Hermansen‘s work on The Awesome Machine‘s underrated Soul of a Thousand Years, or even the classic presence that Magnus Ekwall brings to The Quill.

These comparisons are compliments not made lightly when it comes to what McNamara adds to the 44-minute album, which tops 50 minutes when the bonus track “Honeypot” is factored in, but the band is by no means only about this one element. Rather, the varied impressions of the songs are bolstered through a clearly diverse writing process — one suspects but has no confirmation of multiple contributors — and given further depth still by being drawn together through the fullness of the production and an edge of noise rock that seems to infiltrate the sound no matter where The Age of Truth are ultimately headed. It’s not just about intensity of delivery, either. True, “Come Back a God” wants nothing for energy behind its densely-packed fuzz tones and blown-out hook — one of several landmarks throughout Threshold — but even in the more laid back “Holding Hands Like Thieves,” the blues-driven “Caroline” or the rolling burl of “Honeypot,” where DiDonato‘s tone seems to singularly shout out toward The Resurrection of Whiskey Foote-era Scott “Wino” Weinrich, there’s an almost intangible aspect to The Age of Truth that draws from punk-based roots.

the age of truth photo useless rebel

The production around Miller‘s low end and the crispness of Lauver‘s drumming are big factors as well. One can hear it in “Supernatural Salesman” as much as the initial thrust of “Host (Demon in Me),” which launches Threshold in medias res and ties together with the finale title-track in underscoring a further complementary enrichment of the band’s sound: the previously-alluded-to progressive underpinning. They’re not engaging anything technically showy or anything like that but neither are their arrangements or progressions unthinking, and that’s shown in the two longer tracks — “Host (Demon in Me)” is 7:42, second only to “Caroline” at 8:11 — as the opener breaks into an open midsection before delivering its parenthetical title line as it builds toward its second-half apex and ends in feedback, and likewise, as “Caroline” moves from its blues to boogie shuffle, there’s an echoing space set in motion by DiDonato‘s dual-layer solo that, as it leads into the final slowdown, brims with enough complexity and purpose to resonate as progressive fare.

A further degree of nuance shows itself as “Threshold” seems to directly answer the spirit of “Host (Demon in Me)” in unfolding its own guitar-led movement, more patient and less aggressive in its charge than the opener, but still rich in its presentation and how it ties together sundry pieces of the record that bears its name. McNamara seems to underscore the representative point by referencing the band’s moniker in the chorus even as he draws upon another previously unheard influence, topping the last bit of shove with a series of repeated “Come on!”s that one half expects to be followed by an invitation to go “Space Trucking.” Sadly (maybe), that invite doesn’t come, but “Honeypot” as a bonus cut does offer a more classic feel to its roll that stands it out somewhat from the bulk of Threshold, though in its comfortable mid-paced fluidity, one finds again an impression drawn from European fare in terms of the vocals.

This may be a source of novelty or intrigue when it comes to early listens of Threshold, but between the record’s art drawing from the theme of the alleged C.I.A. murder of Frank Olson (a scientist experimenting with biological agents who was also dosed with LSD without his knowledge as part of the MK-Ultra project) and the fact that the band’s range is nonetheless presented as a cohesive and well-developed sonic persona of their own rather than simply a series of pieces sourced elsewhere, their debut hits with a marked impact that more than earns multiple revisits. Indeed, “Holding Hands Like Thieves” and “Oceanbones,” which might seem easily digested or overshadowed by compatriot tracks in some way, stand themselves out further on going back through Threshold again, and ultimately do much to tie together the flow that emerges throughout this impressive and thoughtful-but-not-overcooked debut. That The Age of Truth would strike such a rare balance their first time out of course speaks to the forward potential for what they might go on to accomplish craft-wise, but that shouldn’t be considered in place of the achievements they’ve already made in this material, which are significant.

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Hound Premiere “Suitable for Framing”; Born Under 76 out Oct. 20

Posted in audiObelisk on October 12th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

hound

Philly-based heavy rockers Hound have an Oct. 20 release show booked for their new album, Born Under 76, which is due out accordingly via SRA Records on CD and Let’s Pretend Records on vinyl. On whichever format one might choose to engage it, it’s the third Hound full-length behind 2015’s sleeper hit Out of Space (review here), and while hearing the crisp three-minute delivery of the hook and subtle organ inclusion in “Aqualamb,” one might be tempted to relate Hound to some vision of Monster Magnet channeled through Mos Generator‘s penchant for straightforwardness of craft, the greater impression of Born Under 76 overall stems from cuts like opener “Born Under a Blacklight,” “Death Lends a Hand,” “Best Wishes,” “Two Horns,” “Bad One” and closer “Any Day Now,” which strip down the presentation overall from the debut in favor of a more charging, punkish tack. These influences were certainly present on Out of Space as well, but in tone and rhythm, the balance brings them forward even more so that even as second track “Eyes in the Dark” nestles into a comfortable tempo, it does so tonally informed by punk rock traditionalism, and the returning three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Perry Shall, bassist Pat Hickey and drummer Chris Wilson (also Ted Leo and the Pharmacists), make the most of that just as much in the swagger of the Thin Lizzy-esque “Suitable for Framing” as in the later fuzz rollout of “That’s a Famous Feeling.”

An underscore of noise rock or heavier tone balanced against punker intent and some measure of classic heavy rock influence? Sounds like the wheelhouse of producer J. Robbins (ClutchJawbreakerMurder by DeathColiseum, etc.), hound born under 76who would seem to have been the perfect choice to helm Born Under 76 if the transition between “Two Horns” and “Bad One” and the momentum the record builds in general is anything to go by. The balance of sonic naturalism and impact across Hound‘s 12-track/40-minute run — whether it’s the lumbering swing of the penultimate “Welcome to the Land of Bad Magic” or the midtempo chorus-leaning of “Demon Eyes” setting up the thrust and channel-panning lead of “Best Wishes” in the album’s midsection — serves as one of the LP’s most effective assets, and it’s what allows that momentum to be maintained despite some rather striking shifts in approach on a per-track basis, as when the ultra-catchy “Aqualamb” and “Suitable for Framing” boogie and big-rock-finish their way into the oncoming train that is “Death Lends a Hand,” or when the later charge of “Welcome to the Land of Bad Magic” winds its way to a sudden stop before the piano-inclusive blues intro of “Any Day Now” sets up its own spring-loaded-snake-in-the-can-of-peanuts with the song’s final push. This, like what precedes, is a transition as fluid as it wants to be, and indeed it ends up being some of these contrasts that makes Born Under 76 such a fun listen. As the material is drawn together by the quality of its songwriting, Hound are free to explore a greater divide of influences and still maintain their hold on their audience’s attention.

That sense of command is fitting for a band on their third album, Hound having made their debut with 2014’s Out of Time, but as Born Under 76 steps away from the apparent thematic modus of record titles — out of the Out of…, if you will — so too does it seem to present the strongest case for the three-piece as being somewhat underrated as well. As Philadelphia has taken shape in recent years as a hotbed of heavy rock and psychedelia on the East Coast — bands like Ruby the HatchetEcstatic Vision, etc. — one can only wonder what it might take to bring Hound more to light in that emergent set, since they seem so much to be earning their place in these tracks.

Once again, Born Under 76 is out Oct. 20. Today I have the pleasure of hosting “Suitable for Framing” as a track premiere. You’ll find it below, followed by some words from Shall about the track and more background from the PR wire.

Please enjoy:

Perry Shall on “Suitable for Framing”:

“We recorded this record with J. Robbins at the Magpie Cage in Baltimore. It was such an honor to work with someone who we consider a legend and now a good friend. He knew how to find the perfect balance between the punk aspect of our music along with a big rock sound and somehow make it work in perfect harmony.”

When a thunderclap met a tornado, Hound was born in the Philly dark, bred off primal energy, and unleashed without warning. If 2015’s Out of Space orbited around murky prog textures and metal snarls, its forthcoming follow-up Born Under 76 gets soaked in the swamp between punk and hard rock. Whether that winning concoction is the sum of Hound’s ragtag parts – featuring Chris Wilson (Ted Leo and the Pharmacists) on drums, Perry Shall on guitar/vocals, and Pat Hickey on bass – or the LP’s dances with the devil, it’s obvious something burbles under the streets of Philadelphia. It’s sinister yet familiar, and bites with its own maniacal energy. But don’t worry – it’s delivered with a smile. Hound is back, and they’re armed with a dozen reasons to answer their howl. Maybe they’ll bring one out of you, too.

Hound release show:
10/20 – Philadelphia, PA – Space 1026 (Album release show w/ “Financial Guru” Greg Gethard, Dialer, Mary Houlihan, Alicia Camden, Michael Sneeringer)

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Ruby the Hatchet, Planetary Space Child: Oh, the Places You’ll Trip

Posted in Reviews on August 29th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

ruby-the-hatchet-planetary-space-child

It’s been a steady creep enacted by Philadelphia’s Ruby the Hatchet into the greater and expanding consciousness of American heavy psychedelia. The organ-laced five-piece from the City of Brotherly Love debuted on respected purveyors Tee Pee Records in 2015 with Valley of the Snake (review here), their second album overall behind 2012’s subsequently reissued Ouroboros and 2014’s Eliminator EP, and Planetary Space Child is their third and most cosmically expansive outing yet.

There have been and continue to be consistent themes in the band’s work — the Adam Burke cover art, the prominent vocals of frontwoman Jillian Taylor, the forward rhythmic push from bassist Lake Muir (who’s come aboard since the last record) and drummer Owen Stewart, a feel somewhere between garage heavy, doom rock and classically stoned ’70s-ism — but the seven-track/41-minute Planetary Space Child from nearly every angle simply brings their approach to a new level, whether that’s the additional percussion and Sean Hur‘s keyboard flourish amid the consuming swirl of effect from guitarist Johnny “Scarps” Scarperia in “Pagan Ritual” or the immediate landmark that the hook in the opening title-track gives the band to build from, so that the later drift of centerpiece “The Fool” after the subtly metallized “Killer” and “Pagan Ritual” has a decided outward direction in which it’s moving. One might say the same of the album as a whole in relation to the band’s preceding material. It’s going farther out.

And make no mistake, it gets there, but with Taylor‘s carefully layered vocals, a depth of mix conjured by Hur and engineers Joe Boldizar of Retro City Studios and Zach Goldstein of Kawari Sound, that easily accommodates the spaciousness required by the blend of keys, guitar, bass and drums as well as the atmosphere of Taylor‘s vocals and those backing her in, say, the seven-minute roller “Symphony of the Night” (is that a Castlevania reference?), there’s never any sense of confusion in terms of Ruby the Hatchet‘s intent. Their command of the song is never relinquished, so that as the just-mentioned “Symphony of the Night” moves toward its speedier midsection via an uptick in organ drama, the listener has no trouble following the band through the shift in ambience. Of course, the righteousness of the gallop that ensues and the clear demonstration of dynamic on the part of the group as a whole don’t hurt either in that regard, but that’s nothing new for Ruby the Hatchet, and whether they’re actively engaging galaxial grandiosity on “Planetary Space Child” — just in case you were looking for the perfect phrase to spraypaint on the back of your van to go with that mountaintop wizard you just put on the side of it — or digging into the more proto-metallic “Killer,” which feels perhaps a bit born of their time on the road alongside Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats and is just one of two songs under five minutes long in a mirror with the penultimate “Gemini,” the vibe they set in these early moments holds firm throughout.

ruby the hatchet

The album was reportedly recorded in an 1800s mansion out in the woods of Pennsylvania, and if nothing else, it’s easy to imagine the place had high ceilings, because while Stewart‘s snare has a decided grounding effect, his perfectly-balanced cymbals ring out like splashes complementing the turns in “Killer” and the momentum that boogie-fueled riff of “Pagan Ritual” thrusts toward, and there is a strong feeling of “room” throughout the proceedings as a whole. That can certainly happen in a cramped studio space as well, of course — age of technological wonders and all that — but if Ruby the Hatchet‘s choice of locale was motivated in part by setting a mood for themselves in addition to the audience, it would seem they made the right choice in that regard and the dividends can be heard as much in the unmitigated hookery of “Killer” and “Planetary Space Child” as well as in the Rocka Rolla chug of “Gemini” or the languid motion of “The Fool.”

Anyone who heard Valley of the Snake and paid even a modicum of attention to what the band was doing therein can tell you they want nothing for songcraft, but this too seems to have been refined in the last two years, and while of course “Symphony of the Night” and grand-finale closer “Lightning Comes Again” — which itself is just shy of the seven-minute line that “Symphony of the Night” so fluidly crosses — have their meandering aspects, there’s zero loss of purpose throughout. To wit, the rhythmic change at 2:14 into “Lightning Comes Again” is a masterpiece moment of transition, and the band utterly nails it, bringing the track to its next stage with unmistakable precision without sounding forced or losing the flow that has brought them so gracefully not only through the quiet opening of that song itself, but of the six prior. The band is signaling at that point that they’ve hit the summary moment for Planetary Space Child as a whole, and so they have. Before the next five-ish minutes are up, they’ll call back to the 8-track-ready circa-’73 idolatry of “Gemini” and “Killer,” the staging sensibility of the title-cut, the rhythmic churn of “Pagan Ritual” and even a bit of the horror-rock flourish of “Symphony of the Night,” with Scarperia finding room for a highlight guitar solo and Stewart marking the ending with a flurry of tom fills behind the assurance from Taylor that, “Lightning will come again.”

She makes it a believable proposition, to say the least, though if lightning is what the band caught in a bottle their last time out on Valley of the Snake, then it would seem it’s already returned. They bring the record to an end with no less a sure hand than they began it, and only bring emphasis to the point that especially if they hit the road again as hard for their third LP as they did for their second, it’s time to start considering Ruby the Hatchet among the top purveyors of heavy psych at least along the East Coast. Where so many other acts seem to get mired in the intensity of the region, the cold weather, the traffic, whatever it is, Ruby the Hatchet have plotted and made their escape from the Northeastern crush, and one can only hope that others will follow the path they’re blazing in these tracks. For its standout choruses, the unrestrained feeling of openness that unites them, the flow and richness of its presentation as a whole, front-to-back listening experience, Planetary Space Child is an absolute must and easily one of 2017’s finest offerings.

Ruby the Hatchet, “Planetary Space Child” official video

Ruby the Hatchet, Planetary Space Child (2017)

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Rosetta: New Album Utopioid out Sept. 1; Tour Starts Oct. 5

Posted in Whathaveyou on August 10th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

rosetta

Philly’s self-sustaining DIY post-metallers Rosetta will hit the road on the West Coast and in the Midwest in October supporting their upcoming sixth album, Utopioid. The record, like 2015’s Quintessential Ephemera (review here) before it, will be issued as a name-your-price download through Rosetta‘s Bandcamp page, and the five-piece’s ongoing commitment to a lack of bullshit remains singularly admirable. They do things on their own terms, exclusively, or they don’t do them. I don’t care who you are or how you spend your days — and I’m not necessarily the hugest Rosetta fan in the world; nothing against them, but there are those out there who dig their stuff way more than I do — integrity like that is pretty goddamn rare.

So I guess that’s why I’m leaving the ticket-buy links in the list of tour dates below, where I’d usually take them out because they look shitty in posts and take up a ton of space. And I guess that’s why I’m including all three of Rosetta‘s studio update videos about the making of Utopioid. And that’s probably why, once the record is posted, I’m going to grab a download and give it at least a short review like the last one. Because respect. Profound, profound respect.

From the PR wire:

rosetta utopioid

ROSETTA ANNOUNCES FALL NORTH AMERICAN TOUR; NEW ALBUM, ‘UTOPIOID,’ OUT SEP 1ST

Philadelphia avant-metal band Rosetta will embark on a headline North American tour this fall in support of their forthcoming, 6th studio album, Utopioid, which is due out on September 1st. The band will be supported by Tucson sludge act North. Tickets are on sale now; dates are listed below.

“We’re thrilled to play shows throughout the Western US and Canada this Fall, in support of our new album Utopioid. And we’re especially proud to be joined by our longtime friends in North, who we’ve had the pleasure to tour with several times over the years. Even beyond our brotherly kinship, they bring a level of inspired creativity to the stage night after night. For our part, we’re crafting a setlist pulling from the new album as well as many of our past releases, and look forward to connecting with old and new friends along the way. Can’t wait to see you out there.” – Rosetta

On their 6th studio album, Utopioid, Rosetta has unshackled themselves from past restraints and are further exploring their sound, pushing their music beyond the confines of what’s expected. The highly-anticipated album is a crushing hour long, intense journey that takes fans through a dynamic range of emotions while soaring to new creative heights.

“Composing Utopioid, we were wholly devoted to realizing the concept, disciplining ourselves to let the narrative shape all parts of the album — not just the lyrics, but everything down to the subtle ways rhythm or effects could alter the mood. We quickly let go of the imperative to write for live performance; although we will play many of these songs live, we felt freedom to explore the furthest reaches of our skills and imaginations.” – Eric Jernigan, guitar/vocals

“It’s the first album we’ve made where every single element, top to bottom, was created collaboratively — each of us has more of ourselves invested in this record than ever before.” – Matt Weed, guitar

Utopioid was engineered and mixed by Francisco Botero with assistance from Alexis Berthelot at Studio G, Brooklyn, NY, July-August 2017. The record was produced by Botero and Rosetta, mastered by Carl Saff with artwork by Jordan Butcher for Studio Workhorse.

Fans can purchase the digital record exclusively at BandCamp on September 1st. Studio updates, album art, track listing and tour dates are found below.

Utopioid Track List:
1. Amnion
2. Intrapartum
3. Neophyte Visionary
4. King Ivory Tower
5. 54543
6. Détente
7. Hypnagogic
8. Qohelet
9. Intramortem

Rosetta Tour Dates:
10/05/2017 Scottsdale AZ – Rogue http://ticketf.ly/2vubbIN
10/06/2017 San Diego CA – Soda Bar http://ticketf.ly/2f8z6Hu
10/07/2017 Los Angeles CA – Five Star http://bit.ly/2v1ThfT
10/09/2017 San Francisco CA – Brick and Mortar http://bit.ly/2v2kGyd
10/10/2017 Sacramento CA – Blue Lamp http://bit.ly/2vwB3ns
10/11/2017 Portland OR – Ash St Saloon http://bit.ly/2hrNj2S
10/12/2017 Seattle WA – TBA
10/13/2017 Vancouver BC – Pub 340 – http://ticketf.ly/2hvwrsk
10/16/2017 Edmonton AB – Brixx – http://ticketf.ly/2hosrd3
10/17/2017 Calgary AB – The Palomino http://bit.ly/2u8pt25
10/18/2017 Saskatoon SK – Amigos http://ticketf.ly/2fcOoew
10/19/2017 Regina SK – TBA
10/20/2017 Montana – TBA
10/21/2017 Boise ID – Shredder http://bit.ly/2u7WB6f
10/22/2017 Salt Lake City UT – Metro Music Hall http://ticketf.ly/2vr1wCP
10/23/2017 Denver CO – Globe Hall http://ticketf.ly/2vl2KzE
10/24/2017 Lawrence KS – Replay Lounge -Tickets Available at Door
10/25/2017 Ft Worth TX – Lolas http://ticketf.ly/2vkLbj9
10/26/2017 Austin TX – Lost Well – Tickets Available at Door
10/27/2017 Houston TX – Green Room http://bit.ly/RosettaWHL
10/28/2017 El Paso TX – Lowbrow Palace http://ticketf.ly/2u5TpI1
10/29/2017 Albuquerque NM – Sister http://bit.ly/2u1YPnI
10/30/2017 Tucson AZ – Flycatcher http://ticketf.ly/2u6bYjx

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Rosetta, Utopioid studio update 1

Rosetta, Utopioid studio update 2

Rosetta, Utopioid studio update 3

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Ruby the Hatchet Post “Planetary Space Child” Video; Playing Psycho Las Vegas and More

Posted in Bootleg Theater on August 8th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

ruby-the-hatchet-Photo-Mike-Petzinger

Call me crazy, but am I wrong in thinking that at some point at least one of the sci-fi movies featured in Ruby the Hatchet‘s new video for the title-track of their third album, Planetary Space Child, was on Mystery Science Theater 3000? Aside from being a blatant take on the Star Wars opening scene, that ship underbelly at the beginning of the clip is awfully familiar. Is it Space Mutiny? Or maybe Starcrash from the new season? I can’t say for sure, and apparently there was an endless supply of budget science fiction in the wake of A New Hope in 1977, so I’m sure it could be from any number of films. Probably a few of them used the same ship models anyway.

Whether or not Tom Servo ever ripped on the visuals, what matters is the song “Planetary Space Child” itself. Aside from the righteous, righteous, righteous righteousness of the title, the cut from the album that shares its name — and how would one ever dare to call a record anything else given the opportunity to call it Planetary Space Child? — stands as a demonstration of the kind of breadth Ruby the Hatchet are exploring as they follow-up and expand the cosmic aspects of their sound from even where they were on 2015’s Valley of the Snake (review here) while also emphasizing a natural core of performance true to the live feel the Philly natives bring to their gigs.

Later this month, Ruby the Hatchet will take the stage at Psycho Las Vegas, and if the energy they carry into the Nevada desert is anything like that which they brought to their set this past April at Roadburn 2017 (review here), then those who are fortunate enough to be there to see them will be glad they were. Planetary Space Child, meanwhile, lands on Aug. 25 — it’ll be here before you know it — and the band will also play other shows around the fest. You can find all the info, dates, links, etc., under the video below, courtesy of the PR wire.

Please enjoy:

Ruby the Hatchet, “Planetary Space Child” official video

Philadelphia psych rock quintet RUBY THE HATCHET will release its new album, Planetary Space Child, on August 25 via Tee Pee Records. The record showcases richly layered songs that unite heavy, doomy psychedelia with acid rock, proto-prog and melodic, hypnotic songcraft. The far-out title-track clip was created by Jordan Vance (Inter Arma, Windhand) for 3grit.com.

“We didn’t realize ‘Planetary Space Child’ was going to be the title track for the album, but it ended up being the perfect summation,” says vocalist Jillian Taylor. “Lyrically, this song is a perspective play from ancient kings to sci-fi space beings. Create. Destroy. Repeat. It’s an imaginative play on the cyclical nature of humanity, and the music rides the theme; don’t I know you from another world?”

On August 17, RUBY THE HATCHET will perform alongside Mastodon, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, SLEEP and more as one of the featured acts at the 2017 Psycho Las Vegas Festival, set for August 18-20. For more details, visit this location.

RUBY THE HATCHET tour dates:
August 14 Kansas City, MO The Riot Room
August 15 Denver, CO Streets Of London Pub
August 16 Salt Lake City, UT Metro Music Hall
August 17 Las Vegas, NV Hard Rock Hotel (* As part of Psycho Las Vegas Festival)
August 20 Albuquerque, NM Sister
August 22 Saint Louis, MO Fubar
September 9 Philadelphia, PA Johnny Brenda’s

RUBY THE HATCHET features vocalist Jillian Taylor, guitarist Johnny Scarps, bassist Lake Muir, drummer Owen Stewart and organist Sean Hur. Find the band online at RubytheHatchet.com.

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Quarterly Review: Ecstatic Vision, Norska, Bison, Valborg, Obelyskkh, Earth Electric, Olde, Deaf Radio, Saturndust, Birnam Wood

Posted in Reviews on July 14th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

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It turns out that, yes indeed, I will be able to add another day to the Quarterly Review this coming Monday. Stoked on that. Means I’ll be trying to cram another 10 reviews into this coming weekend, but that’s not exactly a hardship as I see it, and the stuff I have picked out for it is, frankly, as much of a bonus for me as it could possibly be for anyone else, so yeah, look out for that. In the meantime, we wrap the Monday-to-Friday span of 50 records today with another swath of what’s basically me doing favors for my ears, and I hope as always for yours as well. Let’s dig in.

Quarterly Review #41-50:

Ecstatic Vision, Raw Rock Fury

ecstatic-vision-raw-rock-fury

Hard touring and a blistering debut in 2015’s Sonic Praise (review here) quickly positioned Ecstatic Vision at the forefront of a Philadelphia-based mini-boom in heavy psych (see also: Ruby the Hatchet, Meddlesome Meddlesome Meddlsome Bells, and so on), and their Relapse-issued follow-up, Raw Rock Fury, only delves further into unmitigated cosmic swirl and space-rocking crotchal thrust. The now-foursome keep a steady ground in percussion and low end even as guitar, sax, synth and echoing vocals seem to push ever more far-out, and across the record’s four tracks – variously broken up across two sides – the band continue to stake out their claim on the righteously psychedelic, be it in the all-go momentum building of “You Got it (Or You Don’t)” or the more drifting opening movement of closer “Twinkling Eye.” Shit is trippy, son. With the echoing-from-the-depths shouts of Doug Sabolik cutting through, there’s still an edge of Eastern Seaboard intensity to Ecstatic Vision, but that only seems to make Raw Rock Fury live up to its title all the more. Still lots of potential here, but it’ll be their third record that tells the tale of whether they can truly conquer space itself.

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Norska, Too Many Winters

norska-too-many-winters

Issued through Brutal Panda, Too Many Winters is the second full-length from Portland five-piece Norska, and its six tracks/48 minutes would seem to pick up where Rwake left off in presenting a progressive vision of what might be called post-sludge. Following an engaging 2011 self-titled debut, songs like the title-track and “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” churn and careen through Sourvein-style abrasion, vaguely Neurosis-style nod and, in the case of the latter or closer “Fire Patience Backbone,” soundscaping minimalism that, in the finale, is bookended by some of the record’s most intense push following opener “Samhain” and the subsequent “Eostre.” That salvo starts Too Many Winters with a deceptive amount of thrust, but even there atmosphere is central as it is to the outing as a whole, and a penultimate interlude in the 2:22 “Wave of Regrets” does well to underscore the point before the fading-in initial onslaught of “Fire Patience Backbone.” Having Aaron Rieseberg of YOB in the lineup with Jim Lowder, Dustin Rieseberg, Rob Shaffer and Jason Oswald no doubt draws eyes their way, but Norska’s sonic persona is distinct, immersive and individualized enough to stand on its own well beyond that pedigree.

Norska on Thee Facebooks

Norska at Brutal Panda Records website

 

Bison, You are Not the Ocean You are the Patient

bison-you-are-not-the-ocean-you-are-the-patient

Think about the two choices. You are Not the Ocean You are the Patient. Isn’t it the difference between something acting – i.e., an object – and something acted upon – i.e., a subject? As British Columbian heavy rockers Bison return after half a decade via Pelagic Records, their fourth album seems to find them trying to push beyond genre lines into a broader scope. “Until the Earth is Empty,” “Drunkard,” “Anti War” and “Raiigin” still have plenty of thrust, but the mood here is darker even than 2012’s Lovelessness found the four-piece, and “Tantrum” and closer “The Water Becomes Fire” bring out a more methodical take. It’s been 10 years since Bison issued their debut Earthbound EP and signed to Metal Blade for 2008’s Quiet Earth, and the pre-Red Fang party-ready heavy rock of those early works is long gone – one smiles to remember “These are My Dress Clothes” in the context of noise-rocking centerpiece “Kenopsia” here, the title of which refers to the emptiness of a formerly occupied space – but if the choice Bison are making is to place themselves on one side or the other of the subject/object divide, they prove to be way more ocean than patient in these songs.

Bison on Thee Facebooks

Bison at Pelagic Records website

 

Valborg, Endstrand

valborg-endstrand

With its churning, swirling waves of cosmic death, one almost expects Valborg’s Endstrand (on Lupus Lounge/Prophecy Productions) to be more self-indulgent than it is, but one of the German trio’s greatest assets across the 13-track/44-minute span of their sixth album is its immediacy. The longest song, “Stossfront,” doesn’t touch five minutes, and from the 2:14 opener “Jagen” onward, Valborg reenvision punk rock as a monstrous, consuming beast on songs like “Blut am Eisen,” “Beerdigungsmaschine,” “Alter,” “Atompetze” and closer “Exodus,” all the while meting put punishment after punishment of memorable post-industrial riffing on “Orbitalwaffe,” the crashing “Ave Maria” and the noise-soaked penultimate “Strahlung,” foreboding creeper atmospherics on “Bunkerluft” and “Geisterwürde,” and landmark, perfectly-paced chug on “Plasmabrand.” Extreme in its intent and impact, Endstrand brings rare clarity to an anti-genre vision of brutality as an art form, and at any given moment, its militaristic threat feels real, sincere and like an appropriate and righteous comment on the terrors of our age. Fucking a.

Valborg on Thee Facebooks

Valborg at Prophecy Productions website

 

Obelyskkh, The Providence

obelyskkh-the-providence

Probably fair to call the current status of German post-doomers Obelyskkh in flux following the departure of guitarist Stuart West, but the band has said they’ll keep going and their fourth album, The Providence (on Exile on Mainstream) finds them capping one stage of their tenure with a decidedly forward-looking perspective. Its six-song/56-minute run borders on unmanageable, but that’s clearly the intent, and an air of proggy weirdness infects The Providence from the midsection of its opening title-track onward as the band – West, guitarist/vocalist Woitek Broslowski, bassist Seb Fischer and drummer Steve Paradise – tackle King Crimson rhythmic nuance en route to an effects-swirling vision of Lovecraftian doomadelia and massive roll. Cuts like “Raving Ones” and 13-minute side B leadoff “NYX” play out with a similarly deceptive multifaceted vibe, and by the time the penultimate “Aeons of Iconoclasm” bursts outward from its first half’s spacious minimalism into all-out High on Fire thrust ahead of the distortion-soaked churn of closer “Marzanna” – which ends, appropriately, with laughter topping residual effects noise – Obelyskkh make it abundantly clear anything goes. The most impressive aspect of The Providence is that Obelyskkh manage to control all this crunching chaos, and one hopes that as they continue forward, they’ll hold firm to that underlying consciousness.

Obelyskkh on Thee Facebooks

Exile on Mainstream Records website

 

Earth Electric, Vol. 1: Solar

earth-electric-vol-1-solar

Former Mayhem/Aura Noir guitarist Rune “Blasphemer” Ericksen leads breadth-minded Portuguese four-piece Earth Electric, and their devil-in-the-details Season of Mist debut, Vol. 1: Solar, runs a prog-metal gamut across a tightly-woven nine tracks and 35 minutes, Ericksen’s vocals and those of Carmen Susana Simões (Moonspell, ex-Ava Inferi) intertwine fluidly at the forefront of sharply angular riffing and rhythmic turns from bassist Alexandre Ribeiro and drummer Ricardo Martins. The organ-laced push of “Meditate Meditate” and “Solar” and the keyboard flourish of “Earthrise” (contributed by Dan Knight) draw as much from classic rock as metal, but the brew Earth Electric crafts from them is potent and very much the band’s own. “The Great Vast” and the shorter “Set Sail (Towards the Sun)” set up a direct flow into the title cut, and as one returns to Earth Electric for repeat listens, the actual scope of the album and the potential for how the band might continue to develop are likewise expansive, despite its many pulls into torrents of head-down riffing. Almost intimidating in its refusal to bow to genre.

Earth Electric on Thee Facebooks

Earth Electric at Season of Mist website

 

Olde, Temple

olde-temple

After debuting in 2014 with I (review here), Toronto’s Olde return via STB Records with Temple, proffering sludge-via-doom vibes and a center of weighted tonality around which the rest of their aesthetic would seem to be built, vocalist Doug McLarty’s throaty growls alternately cutting through and buried by the riffs of guitarists Greg Dawson (also production) and Chris “Hippy” Hughes, the bass of Cory McCallum and the rolling crashes of drummer Ryan Aubin (also of Sons of Otis) on tightly constructed pieces like “Now I See You” and the tempo-shifting “Centrifugal Disaster,” which reminds by its finish that sometimes all you need is nod. Olde have more to offer than just that, of course, as the plodding spaciousness of “The Ghost Narrative” and the lumbering “Maelstrom” demonstrate, but even in the turns between crush and more open spaces of the centerpiece title-track and the drifting post-heavy rock of closer “Castaway,” the underlying focus is on capital-‘h’ Heavy, and Olde wield it as only experts can.

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STB Records webstore

 

Deaf Radio, Alarm

deaf radio alarm

Based in Athens and self-releasing their debut album, Alarm, in multiple vinyl editions, the four-piece of Panos Gklinos, Dimitris Sakellariou, Antonis Mantakas and George Diathesopoulos – collectively known as Deaf Radio – make no bones about operating in the post-Queens of the Stone Age/Them Crooked Vultures sphere of heavy rock. To their credit, the songwriting throughout “Aggravation,” “Vultures and Killers” and the careening “Revolving Doors” lives up to that standard, and though even the later “Oceanic Feeling” seems to be informed by the methods of Josh Homme, there’s a melodic identity there that belongs more to Deaf Radio as well, and keeping Alarm in mind as their first long-player, it’s that identity that one hopes the band will continue to develop. Rounding out side B with the howling guitar and Rated R fuzz of the six-minute “…And We Just Pressed the Alarm Button,” Deaf Radio build to a suitable payoff for the nine-track outing and affirm the aesthetic foundation they’ve laid for themselves.

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Deaf Radio on Bandcamp

 

Saturndust, RLC

saturndust rlc

The further you go into Saturndust’s 58-minute second LP RLC, the more there is to find. At any given moment, the São Paulo, Brazil-based outfit can be playing to impulses ranging from proggy space rock, righteously doomed tonal heft, aggressive blackened thrust or spacious post-sludge – in one song. Over longform cuts like “Negative-Parallel Dimensional,” “RLC,” “Time Lapse of Existence” and closer “Saturn 12.C,” the trio cast a wide-enough swath to be not quite genreless but genuinely multi-tiered and not necessarily as disjointed as one might expect in their feel, and though when they want to, they roll out massive, lumbering riffs, that’s only one tool in a full arsenal at their apparent disposal. What tie RLC together are the sure hands of guitarist/vocalist Felipe Dalam, bassist Guilherme Cabral and drummer Douglas Oliveira guiding it, so that when the galloping-triplet chug of “Time Lapse of Existence” hits, it works as much in contrast to the synth-loaded “Titan” preceding as in conjunction with it. Rather than summarize, “Saturn 12.C” pushes far out on a wash of Dalam’s keyboards before a wide-stomping apex, seeming to take Saturndust to their farthest point beyond the stratosphere yet. Safe travels and many happy returns.

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Saturndust on Bandcamp

 

Birnam Wood, Triumph of Death

birnam wood triumph of death

Massachusetts doomers Birnam Wood have two prior EPs under their collective belt in 2015’s Warlord and a 2014 self-titled, but the two-songer single Triumph of Death (kudos on the Hellhammer reference) is my first exposure to their blend of modern progressive metal melody and traditional doom. They roll out both in able fashion on the single’s uptempo opening title-track and follow with the BlackSabbath-“Black-Sabbath” sparse notemaking early in their own “Birnam Wood.” All told, Triumph of Death is only a little over nine minutes long, but it makes for an encouraging sampling of Birnam Wood’s wares all the same, and as Dylan Edwards, Adam McGrath, Shaun Anzalone and Matt Wagner shift into faster swing circa the eponymous tune’s solo-topped midpoint, they do so with a genuine sense of homage that does little to take away from the sense of individuality they’ve brought to the style even in this brief context. They call it stoner metal, and there’s something to that, but if we’re going on relative balance, Triumph of Death is more doom-stoner than stoner-doom, and it revels within that niche-within-a-niche-within-a-niche sensibility.

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Birnam Wood on Bandcamp

 

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Clamfight Sign to Argonauta Records; Announce New Album III

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 11th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Before the end of 2017, Clamfight will release their aptly-titled third album, III, via Argonauta Records. I’ve made no secret over the years of my love for this band. They’re personal friends and as such I couldn’t be more thrilled to see the news that they’ve inked the deal with Argonauta. I’ve heard the new record and it’s a huge step forward for them in terms of overall maturity and the complexity of their songwriting, which has grown in leaps since their 2010 debut, Volume I (review here).

It’s been over four years since the four-piece offered their second long-player, I vs. the Glacier (discussed here), through what was then this site’s in-house label, The Maple Forum, which they followed later that year with the two-song CDR single Block Ship/Bathosphere. They’ve been recording III intermittently since 2015 at Gradwell House in my beloved Garden State, and while I acknowledge my own bias, the results are worth the wait. If you missed it, their last outing was the Contaminated Tones limited live tape Thank You Delaware (review here).

This is reportedly one in a series of announcements from Argonauta coming soon — the next one never seems too far off — so stay tuned for further word from both the band and the label, but in the meantime, all the best to Clamfight and to the imprint on their partnership going forward into and through the release of III. More to come.

Until then, the PR wire makes it official:

clamfight

US Sludgers CLAMFIGHT signed to ARGONAUTA Records; new album out soon

Italian label ARGONAUTA Records is thrilled to announce to have inked a deal with U.S. sludgers CLAMFIGHT.

The members of Clamfight are four childhood friends turned grown-ass men who are almost as committed to big riffs as they are to each other.

Influenced in equal parts by their dads’ vinyl, that sketchy older kid from woodshop class’ thrash and hardcore tapes as well as touchstone heavy bands like Sleep, Clutch, Neurosis, eyehategod and Mastodon, the band has plied its unique brand of suburban working slob metal up and down the East Coast of the United States since 2005.

The band says: “We’re thrilled to be working with Argonauta for the upcoming release of III. We had a few options available to us however we kept going back to Argonauta because Gero seemed so genuine and honest to work with. We’re also pretty tight with the lads in Hollow Leg and they had nothing but great things to report regarding their experience with Argonauta. We’re excited about the potential that exists with this budding relationship and look forward to broadening our reach across the Atlantic and helping promote the other great bands on the Argonauta roster!”

Drummer/vocalist Andy Martin comments on the new album: “For us III is the logical progression of where ‘I Versus the Glacier’ left off. We took the formula of ‘Stealing the Ghost Horse’ and ran with it, with longer more dynamic songs. With ‘Glacier’ our purpose was Neanderthal pummeling but with ‘III’ we wanted to let the songs breathe and experiment with melody…before resuming the Neandrathal pummeling.

Having issued a debut album, Vol. I, in 2010, and a second album, I vs. the Glacier, in 2013 through The Maple Forum, the quartet is now poised to release its third full length, III, due later this year.

www.facebook.com/Clamfight
https://twitter.com/clamfight
https://www.instagram.com/clamfight/
https://clamfight.bandcamp.com/
www.argonautarecords.com
https://www.facebook.com/argonautarecords

Clamfight, Block Ship / Bathosphere (2013)

Clamfight, Live at Saint Vitus Bar, Feb. 7, 2015

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Chris Forsyth and the Solar Motel Band Announce Dreaming in the Non-Dream Due Aug. 25

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 20th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

This is a good one. I’ve covered the last two records from Chris Forsyth and the Solar Motel Band, last year’s The Rarity of Experience I (review here) and 2015’s Intensity Ghost (review here) — both released by No Quarter — and I honestly don’t feel like I gave either one of them due appreciation. The Philly-based experimental psych outfit have shown themselves to be genuinely adventurous on a sonic level, and that holds true on the four-track long-player Dreaming in the Non-Dream as well, which — don’t be fooled by the cover art — is filled to the brim with color.

Hopefully before Aug. 25 gets here and is gone I’ll have a chance to really dig into the album and show it the proper respect, but either way, take this as an early heads up to keep an eye out for it, because these guys are on a special kind of trip.

Okay, I said my piece. Here’s PR wire stuff:

chris-forsyth-solar-motel-band-dreaming-in-the-non-dream

Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band – Dreaming In The Non-Dream

Release date: Friday, August 25th 2017

New SMB record is out Aug 25. You can pre-order it from No Quarter and pick up an extra 30+ minutes of previously unheard live material on a limited edition pre-order only cassette with download. In addition to the UK Tour Aug 16-28, some Northeast US dates in Sept to be announced soon. Grab it:

http://noquarter.net/product/chris-forsyth-the-solar-motel-band-dreaming-in-the-non-dream-pre-order-bundle/

The idea that rock music ever pretended to promise ‘transcendence’ is ridiculous, or at least it seems so under present conditions. Leaving aside the obvious question even (‘transcendence’ of what?), the idea seems archaic, optimistic in a way that’s hard to access in the Trump/Brexit era. Chris Forsyth’s music is too kinetically aware, too intelligent, and frankly too goddamn punk to make any such outsized promises, but also nearly impossible to hear without considering the idea. Because as sure as Dreaming In The Non-Dream is subject to all the dread pressures that have contorted us all of late —it would be a drab mistake to call this a “political record,” but also straight-up lazy to miss its subtle cues— it offers… one won’t say a “way out,” exactly (hardly), but something along the lines of a way through. It’s a record that conveys ecstasy as surely as Pharoah Sanders does, or the Velvet Underground did.

In this respect, it’s hard to imagine who Forsyth’s contemporaries might be. But then it’s always been this way: the greats tend to feel a little out-of-plumb with their moment (only hindsight lets us see it otherwise), and Forsyth’s music has been sparring with some large forces from the beginning. He’s always united the homely with the astral, the abstract with the visceral in his Solar Motels and Intensity Ghosts. There’s something different about Dreaming In The Non-Dream, though. There’s a fresh economy involved here, a sense, strange as this is to say about a record with two songs longer than eleven minutes, of not a note wasted. Despite psychedelic leanings, Forsyth’s records have always trained toward concision — plenty of space, yet never slack— but these tunes erupt with startling swiftness, then spend the rest of their quick-burning lives teasing multiple moods and patterns out of relatively simple materials. “History & Science Fiction” pads in on the back of a slinky, almost shy, bass line, then —after a little blast of glassy percussion— hurls us about a mile into the air before arriving, startlingly, at a saxophone arrangement (!) that evokes early Roxy Music. The title track seems to gene-splice two of the great minimalist themes, Pere Ubu’s “Heart of Darkness” and Neu’s “Hallogallo,” into one surging, winding, pulsing ride: Music For Speeding Tickets. Even the pensive, aqueous “Two Minutes Love,” which sounds a bit like something Ry Cooder could’ve written for the Paris, Texas soundtrack troubled by ghosts both placid and deranged, does a lot —really, a lot— with barely more than a whisper.

Those titles, though. It’s hard not to notice that “History & Science Fiction” might refer to the intersection we’re all standing at now, pinned by the consequences of the former and living, abruptly, within the latter; “Two Minutes Love” inverts Orwell’s “Two Minutes Hate” from 1984; as for the title track, well, that utilitarian “non-dream” could just as well be a euphemism for nightmare. But it’s “Have We Mistaken The Bottle For The Whiskey Inside?” that’s most explicit. Over a prowling, stabbing, Stones-ish backdrop —one that, naturally, will accelerate itself into something different— Forsyth sings about, well, transcendence: about “los(ing) my senses” and the suspension of self-judgment, about the gaps between ideation and execution, and, of course, between container and content. Perhaps the most canny thing about Forsyth’s music is how little explanation he’s willing to attach to it. Not out of coyness, or any need to gin up a little mystery: there just isn’t any need for it. When the whiskey’s this strong, who needs a bottle at all?
– Matthew Specktor

Chris Forsyth and the Solar Motel Band live:
Aug 17 Brecon Beacons National Park Brecon Beacons, UK
Aug 19 The Wightman Shrewsbury, UK
Aug 22 The Crescent York, UK
Aug 24 The Green Door Store Brighton, UK
Sep 22 Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia Liverpool, UK

Chris Forsyth: High Strings, Vocal
Peter Kerlin: Low Strings
Shawn Edward Hansen: Prophet 12, Wurlitzer, Alto Saxophone
Ray Kubian: Drums & Percussion
Jeff Zeigler: Sonics

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Chris-Forsyth/131555540199988
http://noquarter.net/

Chris Forsyth and the Solar Motel Band, Dreaming in the Non-Dream (2017)

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