Nice Package: Human Services, Human Services

Posted in Visual Evidence on November 8th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

The self-titled full-length debut from Virginian experimentalists Human Services is dense with Neurosis-style atmosphere and tonal crush, moments of effects-driven spoken word leading to grinding, bleak freakouts — bleakouts! — as the four-piece run a malevolent course through the July release. Later, with “Messmas” and the two-part “Demixmas,” the avant garde will take hold, semi-tribal rhythms and Book of Knots-style bang and clang serving as precursor to the garage violence of closer “A Lust Song,” but that’s hardly the beginning of how Human ServicesHuman Services catches the listener off guard.

You can see above the outside of the envelope  that houses the CD version of the album, which is available in a limited edition through the Human Services Bandcamp page. It is a handmade, numbered edition — I got #3 — put together by guitarist Jeff Liscombe (ex-Igon), and it adds greatly to the bizarre ambience of “Failsafe” or the darkened quirk of “Squirrel Cage,” giving a sense of premeditation to the record’s unhinged sprawl and nasty underlying weirdness.

On back, a QR code takes you to a page on their website with a stream of the album, video and a list of potential side-effects, but even keeping to the record itself, the look of it feeds remarkably well into what the band is doing musically. Open it up and you’ll see the following:

The disc is held in a plain white sleeve — not out of context with the rest of the package — and on the right is a foldout liner that opens to what looks like a scene of czarist oppression — or maybe its the czars being oppressed, kind of hard to tell.

It’s not until you flip that over that you see the tracklisting for the album itself, which is set over a nature scene of waterfalls and mountains behind.

If the idea is to juxtapose the cruelties of man with the power of nature, that would certainly complement some of the ideas present in Human Services‘ music as well — the band being comprised of Liscombe alongside Sean Sanford, Donnie Ballgame and Billy Kurilko — but they don’t go so far as to say explicitly whether or not that’s the intent, instead reveling in the obscurity and holding mystique in high regard as part of their process.

Human Services have already followed Human Services with a swamp-bluesy digital single called “Down to Your Last Goat,” but the album is still available to pick up, the limited package also including a t-shirt and stickers. More details can be found at their Bandcamp, from which the following stream also comes:

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Wino Wednesday: Shrinebuilder’s Shrinebuilder (Yes, all of it)

Posted in Bootleg Theater on October 10th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Next Saturday, Oct. 20, will mark three full years since Shrinebuilder‘s self-titled debut was released on Neurot. The most super of supergroups unleashed five tracks and just under 40 minutes of exploration, at times devastatingly heavy, at times contemplatively ambient, but always in motion and never predictable. Three years later, I still don’t think I have a grip on all of it — though I did a review when it came out — and even though the status of the band is unclear at this point, I’m not sure more time is going to help.

If you have to be outclassed, though, Shrinebuilder is the cast to do it. I’ll run down the list because it’s fun: Scott Kelly (Neurosis), Scott “Wino” Weinrich (The Obsessed, this feature, etc.), Al Cisneros (Sleep, Om) and Dale Crover (the Melvins), all contributing to the complex, driving psychedelic heaviness that successfully blended the approaches of its members. I spent a year in fanboy nerd-out mode waiting for it, and when it came, was certain my days were well spent.

I’ve griped about the longevity of Shrinebuilder‘s Shrinebuilder before, that I didn’t go back to it after 2009 and so forth, and I suppose that’s true, though I think it’s more on me than the album. In any case, with zero prospects of a follow-up anytime soon, I figure the full-length is ripe for a revisit, and if you’re gonna listen to a record with Wino on it, Wednesday’s the day.

Enjoy and have a great Wino Wednesday:

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Samothrace, Reverence to Stone: Emergent

Posted in Reviews on July 25th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

I have a problem Samothrace’s second album, Reverence to Stone, and that is as follows: I can’t seem to make it loud enough. That’s not a complaint with the recording itself, which is plenty loud, but I’ve tried speakers, headphones, in the car, whatever, and nothing seems to be worthy volume-wise. The human ear drum can only take so much, and Samothrace seem to be calling for more. Their first outing since 2008’s Life’s Trade announced their arrival in the newer school of ultra-distorted plod and also released via 20 Buck Spin, the album is comprised of two tracks – “When We Emerged” and “A Horse of Our Own” – that clock in at just under 35 minutes. Like its predecessor, it is a work of exceptional quality, but the key difference between the two is the marked increase in creative scope. Life’s Trade was doom, and Reverence to Stone is as well, but the definition thereof that Samothrace are working with on these tracks is far less rigid and far more individualized. The cave echo on Joe Axler’s drums will be familiar to many who’ve encountered their newer school brethren and sistren in the genre, and a lurching feeling of remorse in their weighted tonality should come as little surprise. It’s the manner in which these elements are put to use and the progression of the songs that gives Reverence to Stone its distinguished feel. The guitar work of Renata Castagna and Brian Spinks (the latter also handles vocals) adds melody to the pummel and the strength of the rhythm section of Axler and bassist Dylan Desmond lies not only in setting and maintaining a groove, but in highlighting and enriching the dynamics of the songwriting. And make no mistake, both “When We Emerged” (an earlier incarnation of which appeared on their initial 2007 demo) and “A Horse of Our Own” are songs. Each has its stretches of indulgence – at 14:20 and 20:29, respectively, that would just about have to be part of the point – but there are memorable landmarks along the way, whether it’s the guitar lead and bass interplay that forms a triumphant swirl on “When We Emerged” or the post-metallic gallop of “A Horse of Our Own.”

And though one doesn’t generally think of records with songs as long as these as possibly being short, a 35-minute runtime is not only manageable, but it allows the listener to be overwhelmed by the tones, by Samothrace’s droning riffs, by Spinks’ growls and screams, by the amelodic rumble and the melodic soloing it meets along the way, but still come out of the experience without suffering from overexposure. Life’s Trade was 47 minutes, and Reverence to Stone shaves a full 12 off that. For Samothrace, that might only be one song, but it might be a song that pulls away somehow from the accomplishments of these two. After four years between releases and their share of tumult – Castagna was out and back in the lineup between the prior album and this one and at some point the band relocated from Kansas to their current residence in Seattle — it’s commendable that Samothrace didn’t decide to top a full hour this time out, instead showing a restraint that better serves the impact their material has on the listener. In the case of “When We Emerged,” that impact is visceral. The song opens with a few ambient guitar lines, but foreboding volume swells give a sense of the crush to come, and as fitting as the title is for the collective’s reemergence, so too is the track well placed before “A Horse of Our Own.” Interplay between Castagna and Spinks is an immediate distinguishing factor, and around four minutes in when the latter unleashes the first of many roars to come, the effect is blistering. Echoing screams ensue over sparse riffing that nonetheless feels claustrophobic for its heft, and it’s not until shortly before six minutes in that Axler announces a change with a snare hit that the pace picks up and Samothrace offer any measure of counterpoint to their onslaught of über-doom misery. The aforementioned leads are like the light that hits the bottom of the ocean, and Desmond’s answer to them is fodder for low end fetishizing that emerges from the mix and sets up the crunching groove that takes hold at 7:24. What the differences are between this “When We Emerged” and the one from their demo might be, I don’t know, but it’s hard to see the song doing anything other than living up to its title.

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Isis Have a New Video. No, I Haven’t Watched it.

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Whathaveyou on November 11th, 2009 by JJ Koczan

In the interest of honesty and professional courtesy, I’m going to admit that I never listened to the last Isis record, Wavering Radiant. You’ll note it wasn’t reviewed here. That’s because I figured after 2006’s In the Absence of Truth, which I found to be phoned in and largely uninspired, the band didn’t have anything else to offer, and unless they underwent some radical change or progression, that was going to remain true for the duration.

That might sound harsh, but really, how many songs have Isis made in the last seven years with the exact same drum beat? I’m glad Aaron Turner learned how to sing, and I think he does it well, and I appreciate the influence Isis has had over the post-metal genre as second only to Neurosis, but anything they do at this point, they’re not going to be the first to do it. Neurosis is like The Simpsons to IsisSouth Park: “Simpsons did it.” Doesn’t mean South Park sucks, but it’s never going to be first.

And though I relished Oceanic and still think Panopticon is one of the best albums to come out this decade, my mind isn’t really open to what Isis are doing now. It’s simply lost my attention, and furthermore, nothing I’ve heard about Wavering Radiant or any of the reviews I’ve read have done much to change my mind. When I got the press release about their new video for the song “20 Minutes/40 Years,” yeah, I clicked on it and played the video, but I skipped my way through. From what I can tell, it looks like Tool. For the sake of fairness, here it is so you can make up your own mind.

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The Ocean in Flux

Posted in Reviews on July 28th, 2009 by JJ Koczan

New art and all.Despite both bands playing a modern and often staggeringly heavy form of progressive metal, I?ve always compared Germany?s The Ocean and Chicago?s Yakuza in terms of situation more than style. Basically, the deal is both bands offer parts that are ball-rattlingly heavy and few songs that are actually memorable the whole way through. Likewise, both bands have developed cult followings who would say I?ve got my head up my ass for thinking that. Maybe I do.

Regardless, my pre-listening impression (read: prejudice) of Pelagic/Metal Blade?s reissue of The Ocean?s 2004 full-length debut turned out to be pretty accurate. ?Gee, I bet this?ll sound kind of like The Ocean does now, but less fleshed out and more intense.? Sure enough, anyone who got bored or whose mind wandered during the ambient parts of 2007?s conceptually weighty sleeper hit Precambrian might have an easier time connection to the Fluxion material. It?s still some pretty heady post-metal, but not in the NeuroIsis sense, and hearing the hunger in the songwriting of guitarist/vocalist/songwriter/percussionist/Pelagic label owner/sampler specialist Robin Staps gives the songs a perceptible immediacy that some of their latter material, while much grander in scope, could never replicate.

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Late Night Review: Cult of Luna, Eternal Kingdom Limited Edition CD/DVD

Posted in Reviews on July 6th, 2009 by JJ Koczan

This is the limited edition cover. It rules.Start 1:10AM: There are almost no practical reasons for anyone to get involved in the trade inaccurately called “music journalism” despite having very little to do with either. The money (when you get any) sucks, and contrary to popular belief, finding out the vast majority of your rock heroes are morons, resentful assholes or both isn’t glamorous or enticing. It’s disappointing. The music industry, such as it is, doesn’t give a shit about you. People use you for what they can and are done with you, and you, if you’re good at it, are done with them too. There are good people and you make some friends, but mostly you exist in a cordial symbiosis. I need you and you need me. Until they don’t or you don’t, whichever comes first.

I’ve been thinking a lot about career lately. I’ve had time. The only reason I can come up with for doing this — aside from the “Aw man, do it for the love” line which is bullshit no matter what anyone tells you — is free goo. CDs and concert tickets. I’m 27 years old with a lifestyle and attitude unhealthy for me on almost every level and the realization I’ve been forced to come to is my entire professional life has been geared toward getting me free CDs and concert tickets. My mother used to tell me I had the potential to be anything I wanted, to do anything I wanted. Clearly she was lying.

The point here isn’t to moan, only to point out facts. If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t be doing it (likewise, if I didn’t love being miserable, I wouldn’t be), but in the words of someone wiser than myself, it is what it is. Usually it’s Can you find all eight???complacence. At least I’m not in the city every fucking day.

But on the topic of free CDs. Most of the “metal majors” don’t send out physical promos anymore. It’s all mp3s and album streams. So even that purpose is gone. Century Media used to ship their albums in cardboard sleeves, ditto for Nuclear Blast. Both have stopped, though the occasional care package from the latter is most welcome. Metal Blade sent liner notes, tray cards and CDs without cases, but that stopped. I don’t know what Roadrunner does these days. Relapse does streamers and sleeves, though they’re not always complete. If it’s a digipak, you get the disc and the liner notes. That’s how it was with the Voivod and Dysrhythmia records, anyway. I used to ask for the real deal retail versions from everyone when I didn’t get them automatically, as though I was entitled. Not anymore. Earache, on the other hand, just sent me a full copy — double disc jewel case and cardboard outer cover — of the limited CD/DVD reissue of Cult of Luna‘s last album, 2008’s Eternal Kingdom.

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Irreversible: Sins that Can’t be Undone

Posted in Reviews on June 18th, 2009 by JJ Koczan

Godflesh much? Maybe a little?Atlanta, Georgia‘s experinauts Irreversible have a marked hardcore influence that comes up not directly in the music, but more in the overall pacing and intensity of their heavier moments. On their 2007 full-length debut, Sins (HERO Entertainment), they meld Isis-style structures with thickened Torche tones and tread a mostly-instrumental path through thoughtful songwriting with some heavy rock flourishes and a whole lot of consideration put to atmosphere. Making use of three vocalists — guitarist Jackob Franklin, electronic specialist Billy Henis and guitarist JJ Hodge (the lineup is rounded out by bassist CJ Ridlings and drummer Zach Richards) — and numerous guest singers and screamers, Irreversible are able to add a diversity to their sound and avoid the post-metal trap of having a record that sounds really cool but is also boring as hell.

Sins opens with “Tambora,” one of four longer pieces spread out over the course of the album’s 64 minutes. With mood and flow as focal points, Irreversible offers three shorter tracks — including album high-point “Blackness that Spread” — before the 10:47 title track, offering a range that goes against what’s typical of their region. It’s nice to hear a band come out of Georgia not aping Mastodon, Zoroaster, Kylesa or American Heritage, and while Irreversible‘s sound still fits easily into the realm of modern (post-) metal, their liberal use of electronics and well-done shifts in direction are enough to stand them out among the others with similar musical goals.

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Inswarm: It’s Not a Dream and Don’t Call Me Shirley

Posted in Reviews on June 3rd, 2009 by JJ Koczan

Yes, I know I need to wipe off the bed of my scanner. I'll get to it eventually.As I sit in my pajamas looking out the window on the rainy valley Wednesday, both core members of Brooklyn‘s Inswarm — vocalist/programmer Fade Kainer and guitarist/bassist/vocalist Joshua Lozano — are on tour in Europe with Jarboe, getting ready for a show in Helsinki on their way to Poland Friday. Their debut full-length under the moniker (they used to be Still Life Decay), Surely Death is No Dream showed up here a little while Fact: any time Inswarm walks into a room, it instantly turns black and white. (Photo by Clay Patrick McBride)back and although I’d been avoiding putting it on because I anticipated not being into it and then feeling guilty about it because somehow it’s my duty to like everything not signed to a label, once I finally listened, I found myself intrigued and engrossed by their industrial post-metal turmoil.

Kainer mostly screams his vocals, though there are some ’90s-style Euro industrial sung parts on opener “This Moment,” and his voice is appropriately tortured throughout, adding a very human element to the otherwise cold and somewhat mechanical musical approach on the limited to 200 copies release. Live drums on “This Moment, ” “Tribulation” and “Drift” are contributed by Carl Eklof, bass comes from The Cutest Babyhead Ever‘s Brett Z. on the same tracks, setting up Surely Death is No Dream‘s variety of sound and ambience. There are three interludes (two named “Interlude”) and electronic noises throughout all the songs, distinguishing the stylistic/aesthetically-conscious Inswarm from generic post-metal or even more laptopped bands like Rosetta. The result is dark and well-suited to its album cover, with plenty of room for further creative development in any number of directions.

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