Hound the Wolves Announce Northwestern Tour; New Video Posted

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 6th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Portland atmospheric sludge five-piece Hound the Wolves release their debut full-length, Camera Obscura, on Feb. 14. They cite the likes of Earth and Neurosis as influences in a kind of we-play-post-metal dogwhistle, but to that list I’d also add acts like Kylesa when it comes to the opening riff of “Masquerade,” Khanate (never a comparison I make lightly) for the ambient harshness and minimalist desolation of “Omnia in Numeris Sita Sunt” and even Dillinger Escape Plan for some of the screams from guitarist/vocalist Juan Carlos Caceres that are mixed in among cleaner vocals. It’s a rarefied-enough mix that one might almost dare to call it individual.

The band head out on the road to support the release pretty much immediately after it comes out, playing shows in Oregon and Washington over the course of a five-day stretch. They also have a recent official video for album opener “If Lost in Mind” — kind of an intro to the record, which plays out as a singular flow from one song to the next — and you can see that and the tour dates below, both off the PR wire:

hound the wolves

Hound the Wolves Announce Tour Dates in Support of New Album Camera Obscura

Hound the Wolves are gearing up to hit the road on a short stint in their home region, playing shows in support of their debut album Camera Obscura, out this Valentine’s Day. The band is set to hit adored local haunts in Oregon and Washington, landing in their hometown right in the middle of their tour stint. Dates are below and links can be followed for more info.

February 15th – The Shakedown, Bellingham, Wa
February 16th – The Funhouse, Seattle, Wa
February 17th – High Water Mark, Portland, Or
February 18th – Old Nick’s Pub, Eugene, Or
February 19th – The Capital, Bend, Or

About Hound the Wolves:

Portland, Oregon’s Hound the Wolves liken themselves much to the climate that surrounds them – moody, mysterious and beautifully glum. Their creations are rooted in cyclical repetition and contrast, sonically transforming ritualistic practice into dark and gritty psych metal and droned stoner rock. Fans of Earth, Neurosis and U.S. Christmas now have a new band to enjoy.

Hound the Wolves is:
Tim Burke – lap steel, drones, soundscapes
Juan Carlos Caceres – Guitar, vocals, words
Cory DeCaire – Bass
Ryan McPhaill – Drums
Nate Wright – Moog, aux percussion

https://houndthewolves.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/houndthewolves/
https://twitter.com/HoundTheWolves
https://www.instagram.com/houndthewolves/
https://www.facebook.com/Monochord-Records-2003885266558540/

Hound the Wolves, “If Lost in Mind” official video

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Holy Grove Announce West Coast Tour

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 5th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

holy grove foto phortress

Holy Grove are hitting the road once again. Word comes down of the West Coast trek less than a month after the soulful Portland four-piece announced signing to Ripple Music to release their second full-length later this year, and ahead of an appearance this coming Spring as part of a bill at Stumpfest VII that also includes Windhand, Black Mare, Ruby the Hatchet and Dead Meadow, among others.

If you’re thinking this might be a release tour for the new long-player — I had the thought too — the band aren’t quite there yet. Rather, this seems to be the trip by which they’ll tighten up the new songs before hitting the studio to lay everything down. Certainly a great time to see them either way, and they’ll be keeping some good company as well. Check it out:

holy grove tour

We’re headed out on a little West Coast tour before we go in the studio to record our 2nd record. We’re going to playing a bunch of places we’ve never played before. We’re playing with some great bands, check out the poster for details. We’d love to see you. Tell your friends, we’d love to see them too.

Thanks to Martin Ontiveros for the poster!

Holy Grove live:
03/15 Bellingham WA The Shakedown w/ Crystal Myth
03/16 Seattle WA Substation w/ Into the Storm
03/17 Astoria OR Charlie’s Chop House w/ Void Realm
03/18 Eugene OR Old Nick’s Pub w/ Elephant Gun, Coyote
03/19 Reno NV Jub Jub’s Thirst Parlor w/ TBD
03/20 Las Vegas NV Dive Bar w/ Sonolith, Plague Doctor
03/21 San Diego CA Tower Bar w/ War Cloud
03/22 Los Angeles CA 5 Star Bar w/ War Cloud
03/23 San Jose CA The Caravan w/ ZED, KOOK
03/24 Nevada City CA Cooper’s Ale Works w/ War Cloud
03/25 Sacramento CA Blue Lamp w/ Royal Thunder, Pinkish Black, Brume
03/26 Portland OR Tonic Lounge w/ Royal Thunder, Pinkish Black
04/20 Portland OR Stumpfest VII

Holy Grove is:
Andrea Vidal – Vocals
Trent Jacobs – Guitar
Gregg Emley – Bass
Eben Travis – Drums

https://www.facebook.com/holygroveband/
https://twitter.com/holygroveband
http://holygrove.bandcamp.com/
http://www.ripple-music.com
https://ripplemusic.bandcamp.com
https://www.facebook.com/theripplemusic/

Holy Grove, Holy Grove (2016)

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Mane of the Cur to Release Retreat of the Glaciers in March; New Single Posted

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 31st, 2018 by JJ Koczan

mane of the cur

Portland, Oregon’s Mane of the Cur will mark the release of their new album, Retreat of the Glaciers, at this year’s Ceremony of Sludge on March 9, where they’ll join the likes of Disenchanter, Witch Mountain, Usnea, Will and many others at the two-night shindig made all the more special by the coming of their new record. If you can dig it — and oh, I believe you can — the progressive heavy rockers have newly unveiled the eight-plus-minute single “9 Lives” as a precursor to the full-length’s arrival. It’s the second song from Retreat of the Glaciers behind “1000 Years,” which went up for stream and download to mark the beginning of preorders for the limited cassette version of the long-player, which will be limited to 100 copies.

I’m sorry — and don’t get me wrong, tapes are awesome — but I have to believe someone will pick this up for a CD and/or vinyl release at some point soon if that’s not already in the works. You can stream both advance tracks at the bottom of this post and I think you’ll pretty immediately hear where I’m coming from in that assessment. I’m hoping to have more coverage of Mane of the Cur and Retreat of the Glaciers as we get closer to the March release date, so stay tuned. Till then, the band was kind enough to send the following along the PR wire:

mane of the cur 9 lives

Mane of the Cur – Retreat of the Glaciers

Portland, Oregon’s heavy rock quintet, Mane Of The Cur announces release of 2nd full length Album, Retreat Of The Glaciers. See them live at Ceremony of Sludge VII at Tonic Lounge March 9th 2018.

Heavy rockers, Mane Of The Cur are proud to announce the release of their second album, Retreat of the Glaciers. This 2 year in the making album will have its release date at the next annual heavy music festival, Ceremony of Sludge VII on March 9th, 2018. A pre-sale of ROTG will begin Tuesday January 30th from the band’s Bandcamp website.

In addition to the pre-sale order of the Retreat Of The Glaciers at www.maneofthecur.bandcamp.com, a 2nd full length track, 1000 years, will be available for unlimited streaming and download. This song has a touch of 80’s hard rock vocals with not-so-subtle lyrical political commentary. MOTC released its 1st single, 9 Lives in December 2017 and it is currently streaming and available for download. This “single” has a slightly more doomy and contemplative timber, clocking in at a cool 9 minutes. The band is very happy with the direction that they have taken with this new release both collaboratively and musically.

MOTC will be donating 40% of sales of this single to the non-profit organization, Music Unites (musicunites.org) in memoriam of Samuel Lennon. Music Unites is an organization dedicated to bringing music education to underprivileged children in underfunded inner city school systems.

Mane Of the Cur was originally formed in 2012 in Portland, OR and the current line-up of Blaine Burnham (Lamprey, Hot Won’t Quit), Cory DeCaire (Old Junior, Hound the Wolves), Nathan Baisch (Ghostmob), Shawn Mentzer (Ghostmob) and Melynda Amann (Jamais Jamais, Eight Bells) has been playing together since February 2015. MOTC have opened for heavy hitters such as Lord Weird Slough Feg, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, Witch Mountain and Holy Grove and played local festivals, Hoverfest and Ceremony of Sludge.

Tracklisting:
1. Retreat of the Glaciers
2. Uncovering Time
3. 1000 Years 04:19
4. White Beard
5. 9 Lives
6. Reefer Magnus (Lonely Mountain)
7. 1 Bullet
8. Tiberious

maneofthecur.bandcamp.com
facebook.com/maneofthecur/

Mane of the Cur, “9 Lives”

Mane of the Cur, “1000 Years”

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Troll to Release Self-Titled Debut March 16 on Shadow Kingdom

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 19th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

troll

Schooled in the mystical doom of old, Portland four-piece Troll will reissue their self-titled debut on March 16 via Shadow Kingdom Records. Nothing else to really say about this one beyond ‘fucking a.’ Not that Shadow Kingdom needed to do anything to flaunt its taste in trad doom at this point — they’re already putting out Iron Void this year, plus, you know, there’s the their-whole-catalog thing to consider — but Troll do make for an exceedingly cool pickup. The vibe is heavy, the tones, melodies and groove likewise, but there’s still something eerie beneath the roll of “The Witch” that, so much to the band’s credit, doesn’t sound like a cult rock put-on or play to genre. They just nailed the balance. And as ever, Shadow Kingdom knows righteous fare when it hears it. So much respect.

Troll‘s Troll is out March 16 on CD and tape, and as the PR wire informs, the band is at work on a follow-up. Dig it:

troll troll

Portland’s TROLL to have debut album reissued by SHADOW KINGDOM, preparing second album

Shadow Kingdom Records sets March 16th as the international release date for the reissue of Troll’s cult self-titled debut album on CD and cassette tape formats.

Hailing from Portland, Oregon, Troll released their first demo in 2015. Not long after came Troll, their debut album, which was originally self-released on cassette tape. Its original edition sold out quickly, and soon came to the attention of Shadow Kingdom. Duly impressed, the label simply had to release Troll’s album on wider-available physical formats and get the band the attention they so truly deserve.

And even just one spin through Troll and you can immediately detect the magic coursing through Troll’s molten stomp. Reverently within the doom spectrum, there’s a particularly swampy groove to their thundering chunder that’s less like something rooted in the American South and more like primordial ooze that’s been bubbling eerily since time immemorial. Likewise, Troll largely steer clear of regular rock-rooted verse/chorus structures and instead build rolling, rumbling epics that nod to classic prog more often than not. But, let it be known that Troll has a wealth of hooks across its concise and fully satisfying 34-minute runtime – and much of that stems from frontman John, whose pipes have that hauntingly forlorn quality of Ozzy in his early ’70s prime.

Ready for a trip through the eldritch slime? Then hop on the shoulders of this Troll! A brand-new Troll album will be released by Shadow Kingdom later this year. In the meantime, stream the entirety of Troll HERE at Shadow Kingdom’s Bandcamp, where the album can be preordered.

Tracklisting for Troll’s Troll
1. The Summoning
2. The Witch
3. An Eternal Haunting
4. Infinite Death
5. Savage Thunder

Troll is:
John – Vocals
Lou – Guitars
Ryan – Drums
Wayne – Bass

www.facebook.com/trollPDX
https://trollpdx.bandcamp.com/
www.shadowkingdomrecords.com
www.facebook.com/shadowkingdomrecords

Troll, Troll (2018 reissue)

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BlackWater HolyLight to Release Self-Titled Debut April 6; Preorders up Now & New Song Streaming

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 9th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

blackwater holylight

Led by former Grandparents vocalist Allison Faris, Portland, Oregon, newcomers BlackWater HolyLight will make their self-titled debut this April via RidingEasy Records. The album rolls out weighted fuzzgaze rife with melody and psychedelic fascinations, and in songs like “Sunrise,” which you can stream below, finds a deft balance between heft of groove and spaciousness of vibe. Short version: I dig it. Long version: So far, I dig it a lot.

Some records you wait for. Some you wait for years and years and then they finally come out. Some records, on the other hand, you didn’t even know you were waiting for until you hear them. Hello, BlackWater HolyLight.

RidingEasy has preorders up for the CD and LP now. Take a listen to “Sunrise” and enjoy:

blackwater holylight blackwater holylight

The notion of “heavy music” is continuing to expand of late, with many intrepid artists finding new ways to incorporate the power of traditional metal into new music, but without all of its trappings. Enter Portland, OR quartet BlackWater HolyLight to further swirl musical elements into a captivating hybrid of emotional intensity. Heavy psych riffs, gothic drama, folk-rock vibes, garage-sludge and soaring melodies all collide into a satisfying whole with as much contrast as the band’s name itself.

“I wanted to experiment with my own version of what felt ‘heavy’ both sonically and emotionally,” says founder and vocalist/bassist Allison Faris. “I also wanted a band in which vulnerability of any form could be celebrated.” BlackWater HolyLight — Faris, guitarist/vocalist Laura Hopkins, drummer Cat Hoch and synth player Sarah Mckenna — formed upon the breakup of Faris’ longtime band and she sought a fresh start. “In my last band I was the only female in a group of 6, so I wanted to see how my song writing and vulnerability could glow taking the drivers seat and working with women.”

The band’s self-titled debut begins with a simple, almost grunge-like riff as a chorus of voices introduce a melodic line in call-and-response until the band kicks in, slowly building into crescendo like a lost outtake from Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy. Elsewhere, “Sunrise” begins with a chorus-drenched post-punk groove until a sonic boom of heavily distorted guitar skree erupts out of nowhere. Nearly as suddenly, the song returns to its lulling core, subtly building the tension until it ruptures completely in a blast of noise. Likewise, “Carry Her” establishes a dark, sparse melody and distinctly thin sounding drums not far removed from early work of The Cure. However, BlackWater HolyLight’s penchant for surprise attack finds a sudden shift into a doom-like dirge, colored with eerie synth notes and pounding shards of fuzz. Throughout the album, their songs shirk traditional verse-chorus-verse structure in favor of fluid, serpentine compositions that move with commanding grace. The band expertly, yet subconsciously, incorporates hints of Chelsea Wolfe, Celebration, Captain Beefheart, The Raincoats, The Stooges, Pink Floyd, Jane’s Addiction and more to form their unique brand of dark’n’heavy transcendence.

BlackWater HolyLight was recorded by Cameron Speice at Gold Brick Studios and The Greenhouse, and with Eric Crespo at Touch Tourcher Recording in Portland. The album will be available on LP, CD and download April 6th, 2018 via RidingEasy Records. Preorders are available for LP & CD at www.ridingeasyrecs.com and digital at blackwaterholylight.bandcamp.com.

Artist: BlackWater HolyLight
Album: BlackWater HolyLight
Label: RidingEasy Records
Release Date: April 6th, 2018

01. Willow
02. Wave of Conscience
03. Babies
04. Paranoia
05. Sunrise
06. Slow Hole
07. Carry Her
08. Jizz Witch

instagram.com/blackwaterholylight
blackwaterholylight.bandcamp.com
ridingeasyrecs.com

Blackwater Holylight, “Sunrise”

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Holy Grove Sign to Ripple Music; New Album out This Year

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 9th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Portland, Oregon’s Holy Grove have signed to Ripple Music and will release their second full-length through the label this year. Of course, the four-piece made their debut with their self-titled (review here) via Heavy Psych Sounds in 2016, and especially after touring the US and Europe to support it, the prospect of a follow-up outing has intrigued since it was first discussed here last fall.

Obviously there’s no audio or anything like that to go on yet from the new record, but presumably we’ll get there. Holy Grove‘s first outing for Ripple, however, will be a reissue of the debut that’s also being positioned as its first North American release. Seems fair to think Holy Grove will hit the road at some point this year as well either at home or abroad, though I’d imagine a lot depends on the issue date that winds up being slated for the album, and as we all know, Ripple‘s calendar is pretty full these days. Nonetheless, I’m excited to see how it plays out. Kudos to the band and to the label on joining forces. Seems like a win for everyone involved.

The announcement was short and sweet:

holy grove ripple music

Please welcome with open arms. Holy Grove to the Ripple Family.

“Holy Grove have already proven to be one of the rising forces in the doom scene, with their atmospheric yet crushingly heavy sound,” says Ripple’s Todd Severin. “Thrilled to welcome them into the family and do our best to spread their music around the world.”

Says the band: “When it came time for us to plan the release of our second record, we had a list of labels we wanted to work with, and Ripple was at the top. We are extremely proud to be a part of the Ripple family and looking forward to everyone hearing our new record this year!”

Portland, Oregon’s Holy Grove walks in the long footsteps of tradition, pitting soulful vocals, searing guitar solos, and swinging grooves into its own Bic-flicking dinosaur stomp.

Together they have made waves on stage in the company of Uli Jon Roth, Jucifer, and Lord Dying, as well as at festivals like Psycho Las Vegas, the Malt Ball, Hoverfest, Ceremony of Sludge, and PDXPOPNOW!

Holy Grove live:
Mar 23 Caravan Lounge San Jose, CA
Mar 24 Eli’s Mile High Club Oakland, CA

Holy Grove is:
Andrea Vidal – Vocals
Trent Jacobs – Guitar
Gregg Emley – Bass
Eben Travis – Drums

https://www.facebook.com/holygroveband/
https://twitter.com/holygroveband
http://holygrove.bandcamp.com/
http://www.ripple-music.com
https://ripplemusic.bandcamp.com
https://www.facebook.com/theripplemusic/

Holy Grove, Holy Grove (2016)

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The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2017

Posted in Features on December 18th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk top-20-debut-albums

Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2017 to that, please do.

Every successive year brings an absolute inundation of underground productivity. Every year, someone new is inspired to pick up a guitar, bass, drums, mic, keyboard, theremin, cello — whatever it might be — and set themselves to the task of manifesting the sounds they hear in their head.

This is unspeakably beautiful in my mind, and as we’ve done in years past, it seems only fair to celebrate the special moment of realization that comes with a band’s first album. The debut full-length. Sometimes it’s a tossed-off thing, constructed from prior EPs or thrown together haphazardly from demo tracks, and sometimes it’s a meticulously picked-over expression of aesthetic — a band coming out of the gate brimming with purpose and desperate to communicate it, whatever it might actually happen to be.

We are deeply fortunate to live in an age (for now) of somewhat democratized access to information. That is, if you want to hear a thing — or if someone wants you to hear a thing — it’s as simple as sharing and/or clicking a link. The strong word of mouth via ubiquitous social media, intuitive recording software, and an ever-burgeoning swath of indie labels and other promotional vehicles means bands can engage an audience immediately if they’re willing to do so, and where once the music industry’s power resided in the hands of a few major record companies, the divide between “listener” and “active participant” has never been more blurred.

Therefore, it is a good — if crowded — time for an act to be making their debut, even if it’s something that happens basically every day, and all the more worth celebrating the accomplishments of these first-albums both on their current merits and on the potential they may represent going forward. Some percent of a best-debuts list is always speculation. That’s part of what makes it so much fun.

As always, I invite you to let me know your favorite picks in the comments (please keep it civil). Here are mine:

telekinetic-yeti-abominable

The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2017

1. Telekinetic Yeti, Abominable
2. Rozamov, This Mortal Road
3. Mindkult, Lucifer’s Dream
4. Dool, Here Now There Then
5. Eternal Black, Bleed the Days
6. Arduini/Balich, Dawn of Ages
7. Vinnum Sabbathi, Gravity Works
8. Tuna de Tierra, Tuna de Tierra
9. Brume, Rooster
10. Moon Rats, Highway Lord
11. Thera Roya, Stone and Skin
12. OutsideInside, Sniff a Hot Rock
13. Hymn, Perish
14. Riff Fist, King Tide
15. Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree, Medicine
16. Abronia, Obsidian Visions/Shadowed Lands
17. Book of Wyrms, Sci-Fi Fantasy
18. Firebreather, Firebreather
19. REZN, Let it Burn
20. Ealdor Bealu, Dark Water at the Foot of the Mountain

Honorable Mention

Alastor, Black Magic
Devil’s Witches, Velvet Magic
Elbrus, Elbrus
Green Meteor, Consumed by a Dying Sun
Grigax, Life Eater
High Plains, Cinderland
Kingnomad, Mapping the Inner Void
Lord Loud, Passé Paranoia
Masterhand, Mind Drifter
The Necromancers, Servants of the Salem Girl
Owlcrusher, Owlcrusher
Petyr, Petyr
The Raynbow, The Cosmic Adventure
Savanah, The Healer
War Cloud, War Cloud
WhiteNails, First Trip

I could keep going with honorable mentions, and no doubt will add a few as people remind me of other things on which I brainfarted or whathaveyou, preferably without calling me an idiot, though I recognize that sometimes that’s a lot to ask. Either way, the point remains that the heavy underground remains flush with fresh infusions of creativity and that as another generation comes to maturity, still another is behind it, pushing boundaries forward or looking back and reinventing what came before them.

Notes

Will try and likely fail to keep this brief, but the thing I find most striking about this list is the variety of it. That was not at all something I planned, but even if you just look at the top five, you’ve got Telekinetic Yeti at the forefront. Abominable is something of a speculative pick on my part for the potential it shows on the part of the Midwestern duo in their songcraft and tonality, but then you follow them with four other wildly different groups in Rozamov, Mindkult, Dool and Eternal Black. There you’ve got extreme sludge from Boston, a Virginian one-man cult garage project, Netherlands-based dark heavy rock with neo-goth flourishes, and crunching traditionalist doom from New York in the vein of The Obsessed.

What I’m trying to say here is that it’s not just about one thing, one scene, one sound, or one idea. It’s a spectrum, and at least from where I sit, the quality of work being done across that spectrum is undeniable. Think of the prog-doom majesty Arduini/Balich brought to their collaborative debut, or the long-awaited groove rollout from Vinnum Sabbathi, or how Italy’s Tuna de Tierra snuck out what I thought was the year’s best desert rock debut seemingly under everybody’s radar. Stylistically and geographically these bands come from different places, and as with Brume and Moon Rats, even when a base of influence is similar, the interpretation thereof can vary widely and often does.

That Moon Rats album wasn’t covered nearly enough. I’m going to put it in the Quarterly Review coming up just to give another look at the songwriting on display, which was maddening in its catchiness. Maddening in its cacophony of noise was Stone and Skin from Brooklyn’s Thera Roya, which found itself right on the cusp of the top 10 with backing from the ’70s heavy rock vibes of the post-Carousel Pittsburgh outfit OutsideInside. Norway’s Hymn thrilled with their bleak atmospheres, while Australia’s Riff Fist showed off a scope they’d barely hinted at previously, and Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree offered surprises of their own in their warm heavy psych tonality and mostly-instrumental immersion. That record caught me almost completely off-guard. I was not at all prepared to dig it as much as I did.

Thrills continue to abound and resound as the Young Hunter-related outfit Abronia made their first offering of progressive, Americana-infused naturalist heavy, while Book of Wyrms dug themselves into an oozing riffy largesse on the other side of the country and Sweden’s Firebreather emerged from the defunct Galvano to gallop forth and claim victory a la early High on Fire. REZN’s Let it Burn got extra points in my book for the unabashed stonerism of it, while it was the ambience of Ealdor Bealu’s Dark Water at the Foot of the Mountain that kept me going back to it. An album that was genuinely able to project a sense of mood without being theatrical about it was all the more impressive for it being their first. But that’s how it goes, especially on this list.

There you have it. Those are my picks. I recognize I’m only one person and a decent portion of my year was taken up by personal matters — having, losing a job; pregnancy, childbirth and parenting, etc. — but I did my best to hear as much music as I could in 2017 and I did my best to make as much of it as new as I could.

Still, if there’s something egregious I left out or just an album you’d like to champion, hell yes, count me in. What were some of your favorites? Comments are right down there. Let’s get a discussion going and maybe we can all find even more music to dig into.

Thanks for reading and here’s to 2018 to come and the constant renewal of inspiration and the creative spirit.

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Review & Track Premiere: Young Hunter, Dayhiker

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on October 3rd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

young hunter dayhiker

[Click play above to stream ‘The Feast’ from Young Hunter’s Dayhiker. Album is out Oct. 13 on The Fear and the Void Recordings.]

Thus far in a career that spans more than half a decade back to 2011’s semi-blackened Children of a Hungry World EP and 2012’s Stone Tools (discussed here) debut full-length — though at this point the band might be more comfortable considering both as demos — the tenure of Young Hunter has been marked by standout songwriting, geographic and personnel shift, and unmitigated stylistic growth. One might think that a certain amount of circumstantial upheaval might result in a corresponding sonic chaos, but after triumphant 2013 three-songer Embers at the Foot of Dark Mountain (review here) was issued as a split tape with Ohioan, founding guitarist/vocalist Benjamin Blake moved himself and thereby the band from the Arizona desert to Portland, Oregon, and completely revamped the lineup around himself.

This new Pacific Northwestern incarnation of Young Hunter issued their of-sorts self-titled debut (review here) in 2016, and though it turned the group away from the rawness of impact that had in part served to highlight the sincere emotionalism driving Embers at the Foot of Dark Mountain, it also demonstrated just how distinct Young Hunter‘s sound had become up to that point — that Blake could essentially reform the band, and they’d still sound like Young Hunter. Of course, his own performance as guitarist/vocalist is no small factor in that, but as the third Young Hunter album, Dayhiker, surfaces through The Fear and the Void Recordings with the returned lineup of keyboardist/vocalist Sara Pinnell, guitarist Erik Wells, bassist Sam Dean and drummer Grant Pierce alongside Blake, the same holds true in the seven-song/39-minute new offering, even as the band as a whole continues to progress and refine the scope of its individualized style.

Dayhiker was recorded by The Fucking Champs‘ Tim Green (Comets on FireEarthless, Citay, etc.) at Louder Studios in Grass Valley, California (NorCal, about an hour out from Sacramento), over the course of five days, and one can hear in the swing and punctuation of Pierce‘s snare/hi-hat and the vocals from Pinnell and Blake, respectively, in the sharp rhythmic stops of “In the Shadow of the Serpent” and “Black Mass” that there is a heavier push in these tracks than on the preceding outing, which is something that suits Young Hunter well, giving the contemplation of cuts like “Entered Apprentice,” with its steady line of organ behind a bouncing bassline from Dean, dual vocal arrangement and ’80s metallic shuffle, a resonant force behind its thrust when called upon to do so, as behind the quick solo just passed the halfway mark. The aforementioned “In the Shadow of the Serpent” is the leadoff, and the acoustic plucking with which it starts sets an immediately folkish underpinning even as it’s met with thuds and crashes and a slow march that gradually introduces the elements at play — guitar, bass, drums, keys — before moving into its swinging verse, which is delivered with enough tempo to be insistent and urgent but not more than it necessarily wants to be.

young hunter

Pinnell takes the first lead vocal and she and Blake trade fluidly as the subsequent power-hooks of “The Feast,” “Entered Apprentice” and “Hunger” play out, coming together atop the rolling groove of “The Feast,” letting Blake hold sway on “Entered Apprentice” with some complement, and finishing side A in duet fashion on “Hunger,” which answers the consistent organ line of the song before it with more keys establishing the root notes of the melody in the central riff played by Blake and Wells and shoved forward by the rhythm section, Dean working in dynamic basslines circa the four-minute mark that only enhance the effectiveness of the guitars surrounding. Young Hunter, in short, have it all working, and sound more like themselves than they have yet.

That means heft, patience, songwriting, naturalism of performance, a focus on emotionality and sonic elements drawn from classic heavy rock and metal put to modern and progressive use. Their sound, as they move into side B of Dayhiker with the lead guitar embellishment of “Dark Age,” has never felt so much like a tapestry and has come to owe no less of its richness to the forests of the Pacific Northwest than to nighttime visions of the sands around Tucson. “Dark Age” once again brings Pinnell and Blake together on vocals atop a rolling but tense progression topped with airy guitars held together by Dean‘s bass and Pierce‘s steady snare, and though the pace picks up after halfway through its near-six-minute run, Young Hunter save the larger payoff for “Black Mass,” which follows.

Working in multiple stages, the nine-minute side B centerpiece and penultimate inclusion on Dayhiker is ambitious and memorable in kind, setting its hook instrumentally in the intro and unfolding quickly into its first verse, deftly peppering in a guitar solo for a bridge before the second, and exploring a social thematic in progressive texture with a graceful balance of keys throughout, cycling through a longer guitar lead before another verse crosses the midpoint and brings a refrain of the repeated line, “This is the face I wore before I was born” from Blake and Pinnell that leads to a full stop at 6:14, crashing back in with a more urgent thrust and cymbal wash to introduce the next movement — a fuller and more weighted, all-in shove that, with yet another engaging vocal melody overhead, will carry Dayhiker to and through its apex, ringing out amp and effects noise as an acoustic guitar line enters the slow fade almost in answer to “In the Shadow of the Serpent.”

That’s closer “Night Hiker” ending the record with Pinnell holding sway on a last bit of forest folk that, were it not so gorgeously done, might be thought of as an epilogue. Keys join in subtly but only help the overall resonance as they have all along, and they and the gently swaying guitar back a farewell verse before cutting out and giving a few seconds of thoughtful silence before the track actually finishes. It’s a gorgeous and somewhat unexpected ending, but not by any means beyond the reach of Young Hunter at this stage, since if Dayhiker demonstrates anything, it’s that their maturity has brought them to a place where little would be. And they are mature enough at this point with the clear benefit of having worked together on the self-titled to make the most of the opportunity to craft something special here, which is exactly what they’ve done. What the ultimate impact of Dayhiker will be depends in no small part on the band — i.e., they need to tour, a lot — but no question that in style and substance they’ve reached a new echelon and only seem poised to continue to flourish.

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