Quarterly Review: Holy Sons, WEEED, Mala Suerte, Eternal Black, Were-Jaguars, Vinnum Sabbathi & Bar de Monjas, Black Tremor, Aave, Derelics, Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor

Posted in Reviews on September 29th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster


Day one down, four more days to go. I forget each time how different it is writing shorter reviews as opposed to the usual longer ones, but kind of refreshing to bust through something, force myself to say what needs to be said as efficiently as possible and move on. Reminds me of working in print, with word counts and such. Only so much room on the page. Not something that usually comes up around these parts, but I guess it’s good to keep that muscle from complete atrophy. Though taking that line of thought to its natural conclusion, I have no idea why. Anyway, feeling good, ready to take on another 10 records, so let’s roll.

Fall 2015 Quarterly Review #11-20:

Holy Sons, Fall of Man

holy sons fall of man

It would be hard to overstate the smoothness with which Emil Amos, who serves integral creative and percussive roles in both Grails and Om, brings different styles together on Fall of Man, his second album for Thrill Jockey under the Holy Sons solo moniker and upwards of his 11th overall. An overriding melancholy vibe suits dark, progressive pop elements on the opener “Mercenary World,” Amos at the fore playing all instruments and still vocalizing like a singer-songwriter, while the later wash of “Being Possessed is Easy” takes on ‘90s indie fragility and turns what was purposeful minimalism into an expanse of melody and “Discipline” creeps out lyrically while forming experimentalist soundscapes around a steady line of acoustic guitar. Joined by bassist Brian Markham and drummer Adam Bulgasem on “Aged Wine” – the only other players to appear anywhere on Fall of ManAmos leads the trio through soaring leads and heavier crashing to give the album a crescendo worthy of its scope, which while astounding on deeper inspection presents itself with simple, classic humility.

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Holy Sons at Thrill Jockey

WEEED, Our Guru Leads us to the Black Master Sabbath


From the opening drone-groan throat-singing of the 14-minute “Dogma Dissolver,” it seems like not-quite-Seattle trio Weeed are making a run for the title “Most Stoned of the Stoner” with their second full-length, Our Guru Leads us to the Black Master Sabbath. They earn that extra ‘e.’ A double-LP on Illuminasty Records, the album is a 54-minute trip into low tone and deep-running vibe, spaced way out, and well at home whether jamming heavy and hypnotized on “Rainbow Amplifier Worship” – a highlight bassline – or nestling into an ambient stretch like “Bullfrog” preceding. Mostly instrumental, Weeed hit their most active in “Enuma Elish” and then chill and strip back to acoustics and sax (yup) for the Eastern-flavored “Caravan Spliff,” bringing back the throat-singing in the process. How else to finish such a work than with the 15-minute “Nature’s Green Magic,” a 15-minute push along a single build that goes from minimal, pastoral acoustics to nod-on-this megastoner riffing? Weeed might be going for the gold, but they end up in the green, and somehow one imagines they’ll be alright with that. They get super-ultra-bonus points for sounding like Kyuss not even a little.

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WEEED on Bandcamp

Mala Suerte, Rituals of Self Destruction

mala suerte rituals of self destruction

Formed in 1999 and having made their full-length debut a decade later with The Shadow Tradition (review here), last heard from in a 2012 split with Boise’s Uzala (review here), Austin, Texas, doomly five-piece Mala Suerte return with the 10-track Rituals of Self Destruction, which moves past its four-minute intro into chugging The Obsessed-style trad doom with a touch of Southern heavy à la Crowbar and a generally metallic spirit in cuts like “Utopic Delusions” that gets expanded on later cuts like the swirling, crawling almost Cathedral-ish “Labyrinth of Solitude.” Comprised of forward-mixed vocalist Gary Rosas, guitarists David Guerrero and Vincent Pina, bassist Mike Reed and drummer Chris Chapa (now John Petri), Mala Suerte sound as rueful as ever across the album’s span, rounding out with the hardcore sludge of “Successful Failure” and “The Recluse,” which builds from slow, brooding chug to a more riotous finish. It’s been a while, but it’s good to have them back.

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Mala Suerte on Bandcamp

Eternal Black, Eternal Black

eternal black eternal black

Guitarist/vocalist Ken Wohlrob leads Brooklyn’s Eternal Black through the riffy doom of their debut self-titled three-track EP. Unpretentious in the style’s tradition, the trio is anchored by Hal Miller’s bass and pushed forward by the drums of Joe “The Prince of Long Island” Wood (also of Borgo Pass), the rolling groove of Sabbathian opener “Obsidian Sky” setting the tone for straightforward, few-frills darkness, and Eternal Black follow it up with the workingman’s doom of “The Dead Die Hard” and “Armageddon’s Embrace,” the former started out with an extra lead layer before it unfurls the EP/demo’s most satisfying crawl, and the latter a little more swinging, but still Iommic metal at its core, Wohlrob’s gruff vocal and Wino-style riff backed by Miller’s deep-mixed rumble as Wood goes to the cowbell/woodblock (it’s one or the other) during the guitar solo. Even if Joe Wood wasn’t one of the best human beings I’d ever met, it would still be pretty easy to dig what these cats are doing, and it’ll be worth keeping an eye for how they follow this first installment.

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Eternal Black on Bandcamp

Were-Jaguars, II

were-jaguars ii

Austin, Texas-based trio Were-Jaguars have already issued a follow-up EP to their earlier-2015 second album, II, but from its opening and longest track “Between the Armies” (immediate points), the three-piece dig into weirdo psych vibes and dense tones across their latest full-length, released through respected Russian purveyor R.A.I.G. Not at all a minor undertaking at 13 tracks, 68 minutes, it gets into garage ritualism in “Let My Breath be the Air” and unfolds immediate doomadelia on “Bishop Kills Enchanter,” but if you need confirmation that Were-Jaguars – the three-piece of Chad Rauschenberg, James Adkisson and Rick McConnell – aren’t just screwing around in these songs and lucking into a righteous result, let it come on the later “Lost Soul,” which melds a flowing instrumental roll to a host of spiritual and pseudo-spiritual samples, loses itself completely, and then returns at the end to finish cohesive, engagingly complex and sure in the knowledge that all has gone to plan. Figuring out what that plan is can be a challenge at times, but it’s there.

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Vinnum Sabbathi & Bar de Monjas, Fuzzonaut Split


The Fuzzonaut split between Mexico’s Vinnum Sabbathi and Bar de Monjas takes its name from the closing track, provided by the latter act, but it serves as a fitting title for the work as a whole as well. Vinnum Sabbathi launch the six-track offering with “HEX I: The Mastery of Space,” a slow-rolling instrumental topped by samples pulled from rocket launches, and after the 1:45 droning interlude “Intermission (Fluctuations),” they melt their way into the companion “HEX II: Foundation Pioneers,” doomier in its chug, but similarly-minded overall in intent, with the warm bass, copious samples, and planet-sized riffing. Though their portion is shorter overall, Bar de Monjas answer back with relatively upbeat push in “Hot Rail,” winding up in stoner rock janga-janga before stomping their way into “The Ripper,” cowbelling there as part of an impressively percussed spin and capping with “Fuzzonaut” itself, a shroomy 7:45 creeper with big-riff bursts that rises and recedes effectively, ending with a long residual hum.

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Fuzzonaut on Bandcamp

Black Tremor, Impending

black tremor impending

An immediate touchstone for the droning pastoral drear that Saskatoon three-piece Black Tremor elicit on their four-song debut EP, Impending, is Earth’s HEX: Or Printing in the Infernal Method, but the newcomer trio distinguish themselves immediately with an approach that replaces guitar with violin, so that not only can Black Tremor tie into these atmospheres, they can do so in a way that speak to country roots in a way their forebears didn’t at the time date. Bassist Alex Deighton, violinist Amanda Bestvater and drummer Brennan Rutherford have only just begun the work of developing their sound, but already nine-minute opener “The Church” and its buzzing follow-up “Rise” prove evocative and come across as more than exercises in ambience. “Markhor” hits with an even heavier roll and an almost Melvinsy undertone, while the title-track makes its way through horse-trod mud to emerge at the end not only clean but positively bouncing. It’s still pretty dark, but they’ve given themselves a vast Canadian Midwestern expanse to explore.

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Black Tremor on Bandcamp

Aave, There’s Nothing

aave there's nothing

A bright tonal bliss pervades There’s Nothing, the Rock Ridge Music debut long-player from Nashville all-lowercase psychedelic post-rockers aave. The band court indie progressivism across the album’s eight component tracks, but with just one song over four minutes long – closer “Turn Me Off” (4:30) – there’s little about it that feels overly indulgent or beyond the pale stylistically. That is to say that while aave set a sonic course for great distances, they get to where they’re going efficiently and don’t hang around too long in one place. That has its ups and downs in terms of vibe, but the resonant vocal melodies of “Nothing Here” – hard not to be reminded of Mars Red Sky’s sweet emotionality, but there are other comparisons one might make – the focus remains grounded in an accessibility that goes beyond getting lost in dreamy guitars. Aesthetically satisfying, they find an intense moment in the later thrust of “Blender,” but even that retains the overarching wistful sensibility of what’s come before and that unites the material throughout.

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Rock Ridge Music

Derelics, Introducing

derelics introducing

Spacious, melodic and entrancingly heavy, Derelics’ debut EP, Introducing, indeed makes a formidable opening statement, and in a crowded London scene of post-Orange Goblin burl and Downy sludge, the trio set more progressive ambitions across “To Brunehilde,” “California” and “Ride the Fuckin’ Snake to Valhalla,” psych-funking up the centerpiece after the grooving largesse of the opener en route to the wider-spreading tones of the closer, guitarist/vocalist Reno cutting through his and bassist Nacim’s tones easily with higher-register vocals that push the limits of his range as he encourages one to “ride that fuckin’ snake,” before cutting out to let drummer Rich lead the charge with toms through a build-up bridge that returns to the echoing fullness conjured earlier, ending on a long-fading organ note. An encouraging first offering from the three-piece, and hopefully they continue develop along an original-sounding path as they move ahead. Already they seem to show a knack for melding atmospherics and songwriting toward the same ends.

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Derelics on Bandcamp

Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor, Desert Brain

sisters of your sunshine vapor desert brain

True to its krautrock-style cover art, Desert Brain, the third outing from Detroit’s Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor, has an element of prog at work within its psychedelic unfolding. But that’s reasonable. With four years since their second release, Spectra Spirit (review here), and the inclusion of bassist/keyboardist Eric Oppitz and drummer Rick Sawoscinski with guitarist/vocalist Sean Morrow, the dynamic in the band has legitimately shifted, even though Oppitz (who also did the aforementioned cover art) has recorded all three of their records. Still, they keep the proceedings fluid across the two vinyl sides, finding their inner garage on “Major Medicine” and tripping out easy on “What’s Your Cloud Nine, 37?” on side A before digging in with fuzz and push on side B’s “The Prettiest Sounds of Purgatory” and stretching into ritual stomp on the title cut. All the while, they’re drenched in vibe and a flow that’s languid even as it’s running you over, and while some songs barely have a chorus, they implant themselves in the mind anyway, almost subliminally.

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Last Licks 2014: The Re-Stoned, Anthroprophh, Lavagoat, Ketch, Eternal Khan, Mount Carmel, Pocket Size, Zoltan, The Garza, Dot Legacy

Posted in Reviews on January 2nd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

Yesterday was pretty rough. Some excellent stuff in that batch of 10 discs, but man, by the end of it I don’t mind telling you I was dragging more than a bit of ass. I guess that’s to be expected. Still, I think that, as a project, this was worthwhile. There was a lot of stuff — too much — sitting around that was going to go undiscussed coming out of 2014, and now here we are, it’s the New Year, and I feel like at least a small percentage of what came my way got its due. Small victories.

So this is it. Reviews 41-50. After this, there isn’t much from 2014 that I’ll be looking back on; it’s mostly stuff to come, which is a different matter entirely. I’m sure we won’t be out of Jan. before I’m behind again in a major way, but what the hell, at least I’m trying, and at least there’s 50 discs that showed up on my desk that can be put on the shelf instead. Yes, it’s a very complex filing system. Ask me sometime and I’ll tell you all about it. Until then, let’s finish it like the final battle from Highlander. There can be only… 10… more…?

Okay maybe not.

Thanks for reading.

The Re-Stoned, Totems

the re-stoned totems

Helmed since 2008 by the multifaceted Ilya Lipkin, Moscow mostly-instrumentalists The Re-Stoned release their fourth album in the form of Totems on R.A.I.G., a 58-minute wide-breadth journey into heavy rock groove with touches of psychedelia, plotted jazz-jamming and a raw tonal sensibility. Wo Fat guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump contributes a noteworthy solo to “Old Times,” and along with bassist Alexander Romanov, Lipkin (who himself handles the artwork design, guitar, bass, shaman drum, jew’s harp, mandala and some voice work) employs a guest drummer, percussionist and didgeridoo player, so there’s a measure of variety to the proceedings, be it the jerky pauses in “Shaman” or the earlier effects-laden exploration of “Chakras.” “Old Times” has a bit of funk to it even before Stump’s arrival, and the acoustics of “Melting Stones,” which follows, border on cowboy Americana. They’ve never had the most vibrant production, but The Re-Stoned manage to convey a natural feel and confidence as they progress, the creative growth of Lipkin always at the center of what they do.

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Anthroprophh, Outside the Circle

anthroprophh outside the circle

For his second album under the moniker Anthroprophh, guitarist/vocalist Paul Allen (also of The Heads) brings in a rhythm section to aid him in his time-to-get-really-weird purposes. Thus, bassist Gareth Turner and drummer Jesse Webb, who together form the duo Big Naturals, add to the strangeness of songs like “2013 and She Told Me I was Die” on Anthroprophh’s Outside the Circle, a 45-minute excursion into warped sensibilities and things meant to go awry. Songs are made to be broken, and that happens with drones, sudden shifts in atmosphere, some smooth transitions, some jagged, all designed to transport and ignite stagnation. It does not get any less bizarre as Outside the Circle moves toward its nine-minute title-track, but one doesn’t imagine Allen would have it any other way, and one wouldn’t have it any other way from him. I call a fair amount of music adventurous for deviating from the norm. Anthroprophh makes most of that sound silly in comparison with its buzzsaw guitar and raw experimental display.

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Rocket Recordings

Lavagoat, Weird Menace

lavagoat weird menace

Saskatoon four-piece Lavagoat continue to challenge themselves even as they bludgeon eardrums. Their single-track CD EP, Weird Menace, pulls together six individual songs recorded mostly live in their rehearsal space with a purposeful drive toward rawness and a horror thematic. Sure enough, where their 2012 LP, Monoliths of Mars (review here) and 2010 self-titled debut (review here) offered increasing stylistic complexity, Weird Menace steps forward atmospherically by pulling back on the production value. Murky screams permeate “Ectoplasm” only to be immediately offset by the low growls and deathly groove of “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” presented as nasty as possible. There are still some touches of flourish in the guitar – one can’t completely cast off a creative development, even when trying really, really hard – but to call Weird Menace’s regressive experimentalism anything but a success would be undervaluing the turn they’ve made and how smoothly they’ve made it. Note: a follow-up LP, Ageless Nonsense (actually recorded earlier than this EP), has already been released.

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Lavagoat on Bandcamp

Ketch, Ketch

ketch ketch

Limited to 50 CD copies and presented in an oversize sleeve, soon-to-be-picked-up-by-somebody Colorado five-piece Ketch’s self-titled debut demo/EP is death-doom brutal and doom-death grooving. Vocalist Zach Salmans and guitarist Clay Cushman (who also recorded) trade off growls and screams over plus-sized, malevolent riffs and guitarist Jeremy Winters, bassist Dave Borrusch and drummer David Csicsely (also of The Flight of Sleipnir) only add to the pummel, which hits a particularly vicious moment in the grueling second half of “Counting Sunsets,” a dirge of low growls giving way to churning, nodding despair. Beginning with 9:18 longest cut “Shimmering Lights” (immediate points), Ketch deliver a precision extremity that even on this initial offering makes its villainous intent plain with volume and overarching drear. The midsection stomp of “Chemical Despondency” and the gurgle in closer “13 Coils” affirm that Ketch have found their stylistic niche and are ready to begin developing their sound from it. One looks forward to the growth of this already maddening approach. Bonus points for no obvious Lovecraft references.

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Ketch on Bandcamp

Eternal Khan, A Poisoned Psalm

eternal khan a poisoned psalm

Somewhere between death, black and doom metals, one finds Rhode Island three-piece Eternal Khan exploring cosmic, existential, literary and mythological themes on their self-released debut full-length, A Poisoned Psalm, the jewel case edition of which includes both lyrics and liner note explanations of each of its seven tracks. It’s an ambitious take from a trio who seem destined at some point to write a concept album – maybe based on Faust, maybe not – but the actual songs live up to the lofty presentation, be it the suitable gallop of “Raging Host,” despondent push of centerpiece “The Tower” or double-kick bleakness of “Void of Light and Reconciliation.” Guitarist/vocalist N. Wood, guitarist T. Phrathep and drummer D. Murphy mash their various styles well, but there’s room to grow here too, and I’d wonder how “The Black Stork” might work with an element of drone brought into the mix to add to the atmosphere and provide contrast to the various sides of Eternal Khan’s extremity. Even without, A Poisoned Psalm serves vigorous notice.

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Eternal Khan on Bandcamp

Mount Carmel, Get Pure

mount carmel get pure

Rife with ‘70s swagger and easy-rolling blues grooves, Get Pure is the third record from Columbus, Ohio trio Mount Carmel, and it goes down as smooth as one could ask, the guitar work of Matthew Reed, bass of his brother, Patrick Reed (since out of the band and replaced by Nick Tolford) and drums of James McCain meshing with a natural, classic power trio dynamic only furthered by the vocals, as laid back as Leaf Hound but with an underlying bluesiness on cuts like “One More Morning” and “No Pot to Piss.” At 11 tracks and a vinyl-minded 35 minutes, neither the album as a whole nor its component tracks overstay their welcome, and late pushers like “Hangin’ On” and “Fear Me Now” leave the listener wanting more while closer “Yeah You Mama” bookends with opener “Gold” in hey-baby-ism and irrefutable rhythmic swing. Comfortable in its mid-pace boogie, Get Pure offers a party vibe without being needlessly raucous, and its laid back mood becomes one of its greatest assets.

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Alive Naturalsound

Pocket Size, Exposed Undercurrents

pocket size exposed undercurrents

One could hardly accuse Stockholm classic proggers Pocket Size of living up to their name on Exposed Undercurrents, their second album. Even putting aside the expansive fullness of their sound itself, there are nine people in the lineup. It would have to be some pocket. The group is led by guitarist Peder Pedersen, whose own contributions are met by arrangements of saxophone, Hammond B-3, flute, theremin and so on as the 11 tracks of Exposed Undercurrents play off intricately-conceived purposes to engaging ends. One is reminded some of Hypnos 69’s takes on elder King Crimson, but Pocket Size have less of a heavy rock stylistic base and are more purely prog. A clean production – this is clearly a band that wants you to hear everything happening at any given moment – serves the 54-minute offering well, and though it’s by no means free of indulgence, Exposed Undercurrents is imaginative in both the paths it follows and those it creates, the joy of craftsmanship clearly at the core of its process.

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Pocket Size website

Zoltan, Sixty Minute Zoom

zoltan sixty minute zoom

Though it’s actually only about 41 minutes, I doubt if Zoltan’s Sixty Minute Zoom would benefit from the extra time in terms of getting its point across. The instrumental London trio of keyboardist Andy Thompson, bassist/keyboardist Matt Thompson and drummer/keyboardist Andrew Prestidge revel in ‘70s synth soundtrack stylizations. For good measure I’ll name-check Goblin as a central influence on “Uzumaki,” the second of Sixty Minute Zoom’s five inclusions, but John Carpenter’s clearly had a hand as well in brazenly cinematic texturing of synth and the late-‘70s/early-‘80s vibe. The various washes culminate in the side B-consuming 21-minute stretch of “The Integral,” which is broken into separate movements but flows smoothly between them, pulsations and drones interweaving for a classic atmosphere of tension and balance of the chemistry between the Thompsons and Prestidge and the progressive, immersive sound they create. Fans of earlier Zombi will find much to chew on, but Zoltan dive even further into soundtrack-style ambience. All that’s missing is Lori Cardille running down a dimly lit hallway.

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Cineploit Records

The Garza, The Garza

the garza the garza

Offered as a nine-track full-length plus a four-song bonus EP, the self-titled debut from Madison, Wisconsin’s The Garza meters out noise rock punishment with sludgy ferocity. A trio of notable pedigree – drummer/vocalist Magma (Bongzilla, Aquilonian), guitarist Shawn Blackler (Brainerd, Striking Irwin), and bassist Nate Bush (ex-Droids Attack, ex-Bongzilla) – they fluidly pull together post-hardcore elements and Crowbar-esque turns while retaining a core of punk rock. “Rage” is a solid example of this, but it’s true of just about all of the album proper, which largely holds to its approach, adding some melody to the seven-minute pre-bonus-tracks closer “Kingdoms End” and varying tempo here and there around its destructive central ideology. The four bonus tracks are of a similar mind as well, Magma switching up his vocals every now and then to add variety to proceedings that otherwise prove vehemently assured of their position. I’m not sure if the extra cuts help reinforce the album’s rawness or detract from the closer, but The Garza aren’t exactly light on impact either way.

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The Garza on Bandcamp

Dot Legacy, Dot Legacy

dot legacy dot legacy

Dot Legacy’s self-titled Setalight Records debut, particularly for a green-backed CD with vinyl-style grooves on front, is not nearly as stoned as one might think. The Parisian foursome of Damien Quintard (vocals/bass/recording), Arnaud Merckling (guitar/keys/vocals), John Defontaine (guitar/vocals) and Romain Mottier (drums/vocals) employ a broad range on the 46-minute album’s nine tracks, from the shoegaze post-rock of “The Passage” to the driving heavy psych of “Gorilla Train Station,” all the while holding firm to a creative reasoning geared toward individuality. If they wound up adopting “The Midnight Weirdos” as a nom de guerre, I wouldn’t be surprised, but in fact there’s little sense that at any point Dot Legacy aren’t in full command of where their material is headed. All the better for the surprising opening duo of “Kennedy” and “Think of a Name,” which shift between reverb-soaked meditation and vibrant, hook-laden heavy rock. A fascinating and original-ish debut that could be the start of something special. They should hit the festival circuit hard and not look back.

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Setalight Records

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Old Major, …With Love: Picking Lightning Flowers

Posted in Reviews on July 1st, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

Depending on how you want to look at it, Old Major‘s …With Love is either their first album or their third release. It’s the Toronto trio’s debut on respected Russian imprint R.A.I.G., and it’s definitely a full-length at 54 minutes long, but it’s also compiled from two prior outings, 2013’s In Dog Years, from which the first seven (in order) of …With Love‘s total 12 tracks and the closer come, and a preceding 2011 self-titled, from which another four songs and the unlisted presumed bonus cut “Fanning Flames” are taken. Recordings span from 2009 to 2013, and the trio of guitarist/vocalist Mark Zerenyl, bassist/vocalist Mike Kennedy (since replaced by Alex) and drummer Joey Pavone show palpable growth in that time. The earlier material on …With Love, particularly in the context of knowing the songs are culled from past releases, sounds more developed and cohesive, Old Major having apparently mastered the post-Queens of the Stone Age start-stop bounce, where earlier cuts — which here are later in the tracklisting; stay with me — vary wider in feel but are less assured overall of their direction. It’s a tradeoff that makes Old Major come across as more mature for the first seven (and the 12th) tracks, their personality more prevalent, while what would be the bulk of a “side B” in a magical land where you could fit 54 minutes onto a vinyl platter serves to expand the scope of the release overall. So, with …With Love, you do get a release that functions as a full-length album, it just takes a quirky route to get there.

All the more suitable to the material on the disc itself, then, since Old Major demonstrate no shortage of quirky sensibilities in the music. It’s a noteworthy endorsement for In Dog Years that its first seven songs are presented in the same order here and that its closer remains the closer (pre-bonus cut) on …With Love. Doesn’t say much for the songs they left off, but it indicates that the trio believe they’re on the right track to where they want to be. The four songs from their self-titled are more jumbled, beginning with the “You Let Us,” which was the penultimate cut on Old Major before moving into the first three tracks, “Spel Chek,” “Wagoneers” and “Elbows Out,” the latter of which seems to have been a blueprint for much of the In Dog Years songwriting, with its particularly QOTSA jangle and smooth, dry vocal approach. Opener “Heels and Hooves” shows a drive toward complexity immediately, with intricate shifts to mesh with a penchant for hooks that becomes a staple of Old Major‘s style, along with an assortment of ’90s influences from Primus on the self-titled’s “Spel Chek” — the splash cymbal at the apex is telltale — to Red Hot Chili Peppers‘ quieter side on “Lightning Flowers,” which is the last of the In Dog Years inclusions and departs from the fuzzy drive of “In Dog Years” (a highlight and the longest at 6:38) and the more forceful “Rhino” to a subdued feel that still keeps some of its funk, particularly in Kennedy‘s bass. The earlier momentum of “Snake Charmer,” “Lint Giver” and “Epsom Salts” — the last of which finds the guitar just a little higher than it needs to be in the mix in leading a softer start-stop progression — carries through the rest of …With Love, however, and once Old Major get going, they don’t stop.

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Nice Package: The Re-Stoned, Plasma

Posted in Visual Evidence on February 15th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Moscow-based heavy psych outfit The Re-Stoned have sandwiched the bulk of the material on their new album between two massive 11-minute tracks, opener “Faces of Earth” and closer “Alpha Rhythm,” but that’s really just the beginning of the story when it comes to how Plasma is put together. The instrumental band led by and mostly comprised of guitarist/bassist Ilya Lipkin released their last record, Analog (review here), through R.A.I.G. in 2010, and Plasma sees issue through the same label as well, but instead of a jewel case arrives bundled in a folded cardboard box — almost like a miniaturized vinyl mailer with the logo printed on the front and the album info on back. It may not prove the most durable packaging option when it comes to standing the test of time, but it certainly is creative.

Lipkin, who is joined by drummers Vasily Bartov, Pavel Voloshin and Evgeny Tkachev throughout Plasma‘s eight tracks/58 minutes, employs a host of effects on his guitar and bass to add flourish to the tradicionnyj stoner riffing that lies at the heart of the band’s sound, and while the cardboard packaging doesn’t seem to have any direct correlation to what’s happening musically or thematically with the album or its titles —  though one does unfold the package and the flow of the album unfolds as well — it does grab the attention as only intricate physical media can. I’ve never thought of cardboard as particularly groovy, but maybe that’s what Lipkin is going for. I couldn’t really say.

The album boasts two covers — an extended jam on Jefferson Airplane’s “Today” in the first half and one on Pink Floyd‘s “Julia Dream” in the second — and with guest vocals from Veronika Martynova, they stand out in the tracklisting immediately and wind up as some of the record’s strongest material, incorporating elements of psychedelic folk with Lipkin layering acoustic and electric guitar. Elsewhere, the standout soloing of “Moon Dust” seems to be surfing with Joe Satriani‘s alien, while the riffs on the earlier “Grease” remind of some of the Karma to Burn-isms that showed up last time around. Fittingly titled, “Acoustic” is no less rich than any of the other material, given depth by Arkady Fedotov‘s synth and Tkachev‘s percussion, and as it occurs directly toward the middle of the album, it too seems to fall in line as another well-placed element at work to the benefit of Plasma.

Really, rather than be fed into by the music as part of an overarching theme, the uncommon packaging option for Plasma serves as an example of how intricately the record as a whole is constructed, be it the space-rocking jam of “The Clay God” or the more open, airy musicality of “Alpha Rhythm,” slowly developing over the calming course of its 11:26. The Re-Stoned and in particular Lipkin as the driving force behind the band impress on all fronts, and if it’s the package housing the CD that gets you to notice the album first, it’s one more thing to be thankful for after you’ve heard it later.

I’ve spouted off plenty of times about what a difference physical media can make in giving someone an impression of a work, so I’ll spare it, but in a case like this, the artwork — Lipkin also designed the logo — and the presentation to the audience becomes a part of the experience, and every time I reach for Plasma, it will be a different feeling than anything else that might be situated on that shelf, including Analog. If the record wasn’t up to par as a listen, it would be gimmicky, but The Re-Stoned have even more tools with which to satisfy sonically than they do in terms of the aesthetic in their choice of casing, so in addition to being a nice package, Plasma is also a complete one.

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Fire to Fields, Products: The Sludge and the Snows

Posted in Reviews on January 12th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

There’s a lot of sludge in this world. It comes from everywhere. From places warm and sunny and cold and dank, dry and wet, north and south. And somehow, the sound manages to fit. Based around a universal core of dissatisfaction and misanthropic fuckall, sludge can speak to similar ideas coming from India or New Orleans. Geography really doesn’t matter, and yet, in listening to Products, the R.A.I.G. debut from sludge extremists Fire to Fields , I can’t get the fact that they’re from Siberia out of my head. It makes the flames on their album cover seem to have an element of wishful thinking, adds a bone-chill to the vicious screams of frontman Stas, and renders the six-track/55-minute outing even less pleasant in a cross-sensory kind of way, burying the doomed riffing and plodding groove under a weighted blanket of snow and biting wind. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the album is a challenge. The best extreme sludge should be fundamentally unpleasant on the ear, and Fire to Fields are almost entirely amelodic. Their rhythms are slow, progressions lag and drag, and whether it’s the trashcan snare sound from drummer Oleg, buzzsaw distortion of guitarist Vova and bassist Dima or Stas’ largely one-sided extremity of delivery, there’s really no letup in the pummel. Products is comprised of four new recordings and two older ones — the penultimate Eyehategod cover “Depress” and closer “Fire to Fields” were on the band’s original 2009 demo – and though the difference between the first four tracks and the last two is audible, if you’re listening to Fire to Fields for the sound fidelity, you’re doing it wrong. This is feedback-drenched noise malevolence that plays out like it’s in a contest with itself to see how fast it can get you to beg mercy or at least press stop, the already-extended “From Illness into Sickness” (7:08) and “Manufacturing Corpse” (10:45) giving way to the droning molasses of “Fat,” the longest track at 12:22 and an easy focal point of Products for the radicalism on display in its musical ideology. Its cold is that much colder.

Their formative Eyehategod cover is a good establishing point for their overall sonic ethic (as much as you can call music like this ethical), but no question the newer tracks or at least newer recordings are more developed in terms of approach. On “From Illness to Sickness,” lyrics are there but almost completely indecipherable through listening – they appear printed in the CD liner – and Stas cuts through the morass of guitar and bass nastiness to become a singularly defining element in the band. There will be many who can’t listen to Products on account of his vocals alone, never mind the high-pitched noise solo Vova works into the opener’s halfway point and the barrage of feedback that occurs throughout, but the album doesn’t feel haphazard or like its assault is without purpose. Even nihilism has to have a reason behind it, and Fire to Fields’ method is there underlying the violence for anyone willing to find it. The question is just whether or not a given listener is going to be able to stand said violence, and in the case of most, the answer is probably no. Likely this suits Fire to Fields well enough, if the inhumanity of “Manufacturing Corpse” is anything to go by, since they show little interest in being friendly and establish only the most cursory of riff-led grooves, their sound based more around a lurch than anything that might elicit a nod from all but the most angry of show-going drunkards… in Siberia. Both “From Illness to Sickness” and “Manufacturing Corpse” have a chorus, as it were, but by the time you’ve dug it out, you’re so caked in dirt that it doesn’t matter anymore. And when “Fat” kicks in with its ultra-plodding, slow, slower, slowest-type pacing, Stas winds up eliciting a sense of agony few have been able to harness since Alan Dubin. Oleg drives the plod of “Fat,” slamming into toms and cymbals while Dima’s thickened tone rumbles along and the guitars seem to growl in kind with fits of disturbing noise. They’re nearly 11 minutes in before the foot moves off your neck, and even then, the only real difference is that the tempo picks up slightly, a searing chirp of tube-melting gurgle leading into the rumbled beginning of “Superstore Fodder.”

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Reviewsplosion II: The Return of 10 Records in One Post

Posted in Reviews on October 16th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

I am constantly working at a deficit. Financially, yes, because like many of my countrymen I’m am tens of thousands of dollars in debt — but also in terms of reviews. I’malwaysbehind on reviews. Hell, it was into July of this year before I finally put the kybosh on writing up anything from 2011, and I’m pretty sure if I hadn’t put my foot down on it, I’d still have year-old albums going up or older. My to-do list grows like a witchcult.

It’s not something to complain about and I’m not complaining. I’m stoked people give enough of a shit to send their CDs in to be reviewed — especially those who actually send CDs — and it’s for that reason that I do this second reviewsplosion (first one here).

Yeah, as ever, I’m behind on reviews, but I’m also working on being more concise — I swear I am; check out the At a Glance reviews if you don’t believe me — and one of the things I liked so much about the last reviewsplosion was it forced me to get to the fucking point. As direct a line as possible to a review. Boiling the idea down to its essential core.

With that in mind, here’s my attempt to both balance my review budget and be as clear as humanly possible. Hope you dig:


Altar of Oblivion, Grand Gesture of Defiance

The subject of some spirited debate on the forum, the second record from Danish five-piece Altar of Oblivion revels in traditional doom methods. There’s an air of pomp in some of the songs — “Graveyard of Broken Dreams” lays it on a little thick — but by and large, Grand Gesture of Defiance (Shadow Kingdom) is a more than solid showing of genre. Classic underground metal flourishes abound, and while it’s not a record to change your life, at six tracks/34 minutes, neither does it hang around long enough to be overly repetitive. You could do way worse. Altar of Oblivion on Thee Facebooks.


Blooming Látigo, Esfínteres y Faquires

Primarily? Weird. The Spanish outfiit Blooming Látigo make their debut on Féretro Records (CD) and Trips und Träume (LP) with the all-the-fuck-over-the-place Esfínteres y Faquires, alternately grinding out post-hardcore and reciting Birthday Party-style poetry. They reach pretty hard to get to “experimental,” maybe harder than they need to, but the on-a-dime stops and high-pitched screams on tracks like “Onania” and “Prisciliano” are well beyond fascinating, and the blown-out ending of “La Destrucción del Aura” is fittingly apocalyptic. Who gave the art-school kids tube amps? Blooming Látigo on Bandcamp.


El-Thule, Zenit

Five years since their second offering, Green Magic, left such a strong impression, Italian stoner rock trio El-Thule return with Zenit (Go Down Records), which makes up for lost time with 50 minutes of heavy riffs, fuzzy desert grooves and sharp, progressive rhythms. The band — El Comandante (bass), Mr. Action (guitar/vocals) and Gweedo Weedo (drums/vocals) — may have taken their time in getting it together, but there’s little about Zenit that lags, be it the faster, thrashier “Nemesis” or thicker, Torche-esque melodic push of the highlight “Quaoar.” It’s raw, production-wise, but I hope it’s not another half-decade before El-Thule follow it up. El-Thule on Thee Facebooks.


Botanist, III: Doom in Bloom

It’s a nature-worshiping post-black metal exploration of what the History Channel has given the catchy title “life after people.” If you’ve ever wondered what blastbeats might sound like on a dulcimer, Botanist‘s third album, III: Doom in Bloom has the answers you seek, caking its purported hatred of human kind in such creative instrumentation and lyrics reverent of the natural world rather than explicitly misanthropic. The CD (on Total Rust) comes packaged with a second disc called Allies, featuring the likes of Lotus Thief and Matrushka and giving the whole release a manifesto-type feel, which suits it well. Vehemently creative, it inadvertently taps into some of the best aspects of our species. Botanist’s website.


GravelRoad, Psychedelta

Say what you will about whiteboys and the blues, the bass tone that starts “Nobody Get Me Down” is unfuckwithable. And Seattle trio GravelRoad come by it pretty honestly, having served for years as the backing back for bluesman T-Model Ford. The album Psychedelta (on Knick Knack Records) jams out on its start-stop fuzz in a way that reminds not so much of Clutch but of the soul and funk records that inspired Clutch in the first place, and though it never gets quite as frenetic in its energy as Radio Moscow, there’s some of that same vibe persisting through “Keep on Movin'” or their Junior Kimbrough cover “Leave Her Alone.” Throaty vocals sound like a put-on, but if they can nail down that balance, GravelRoad‘s psychedelic blues has some real potential in its open spaces. GravelRoad on Thee Facebooks.


The Linus Pauling Quartet, Bag of Hammers

Texas toast. The Linus Pauling Quartet offer crisp sunbursts of psychedelic heavy rock, and after nearly 20 years and eight full-lengths, that shouldn’t exactly be as much of a surprise as it is. Nonetheless, Bag of Hammers (Homeskool Records) proffers a 41-minute collection of heady ’90s-loving-the-’70s tones while venturing into classic space rock on “Victory Gin” and ballsy riffing on “Saving Throw.” Being my first experience with the band, the album is a refreshing listen and unpretentious to its very core. Eight-minute culminating jam “Stonebringer” is as engaging a display of American stoner rock as I’ve heard this year, and I have to wonder why it took eight records before I finally heard this five-man quartet? Hits like its title. LP4’s website.


Odyssey, Abysmal Despair

It’s the damnedest thing, but listening to Abysmal Despair, the Transubstans Records debut from Swedish prog sludge/noise rockers Odyssey, I can’t help but think of Long Island’s own John Wilkes Booth. It’s the vocals, and I know that’s a really specific association most people aren’t going to have, but I do, and I can’t quite get past it. The album is varied, progressive, and working in a variety of modern underground heavy contexts nowhere near as foreboding as the album’s title might imply, like Truckfighters meets Entombed, but I just keep hearing JWB‘sKerry Merkle through his megaphone. Note: that’s not a bad thing, just oddly indicative of the greater sphere of worldwide sonic coincidence in which we all exist. If anything, that just makes me like Abysmal Despair more. Odyssey on Soundcloud.


Palkoski, 2012 Demo

Conceptual Virginian free-formers Palkoski released the three-track/67-minute 2012 demo earlier this year through Heavy Hound. Most of it sounds improvised, but for verses here and there that emerge from the various stretches, and the band’s alternately grinding and sparse soundscapery results in an unsettling mash of psychotic extremity. It is, at times, painful to listen, but like some lost tribal recording, it’s also utterly free. Limited to 100 CDs with a second track called “The Shittiest  EP Ever” and a third that’s a sampling of Palkoski‘s ultra-abrasive noise experimentation live, this one is easily not for the faint of heart. Still, there’s something alluring in the challenge it poses. Palkoski at Heavy Hound.


Radar Men from the Moon, Echo Forever

Following their charming 2011 EP, Intergalactic Dada and Space Trombones, the Eindhoven instrumental trio Radar Men from the Moon (On the Radar’ed here) return on the relative quick with a 51-minute full-length, Echo Forever. More progressive in its jams, the album’s psychedelic sprawl shows the band developing — I hesitate to compare them to 35007 just because they happen to be Dutch, but the running bassline that underscores “Atomic Mother” is a tempter — but there’s still an immediacy behind their changes that keeps them from really belonging to the laid-back sphere of European jam-minded heavy psychedelia. They’re getting warmer though, stylistically and tonally, and I like that. Interesting to hear a song like “Heading for the Void” and think Sungrazer might be burgeoning as an influence. Cool jams for the converted. Radar Men from the Moon on Bandcamp.


Sound of Ground, Sky Colored Green

There are elements of of Yawning Man, or Unida or other acts in the Californian desert milieu, but basically, Moscow’s Sound of Ground sound like Kyuss. They know it. Their R.A.I.G. debut full-length, Sky Colored Green, makes no attempt to hide it, whether it’s the “Green Machine” riffing of “Lips of the Ocean” or the speedier Slo-Burnery of “El Caco,” though the metallic screaming on “R.H.S.” is a dead giveaway for the band’s youth, coming off more like early Down than anything Josh Homme ever plugged in to play. While not necessarily original, the trio are firm in their convictions, and Sound of Ground tear through these 11 tracks with engaging abandon. The Russian scene continues to intrigue. Sound of Ground on Thee Facebooks.

Thanks for reading.

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Evil Cosmonaut, We Have Landed: Moscow Heavy Rock vs. Big Super Mega Monsters

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

Near as I can tell, the plot in the lyrics of Evil Cosmonaut’s “Boris Yeltsin vs. Giant Ants” is that huge bugs come and attack the world. Buildings fall, people die, and then Boris Yeltsin shows up, does an evil dance, and saves the planet. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that’s fucking awesome. Much of the Moscow three-piece’s R.A.I.G. debut, We Have Landed, follows that kind of course – not always to such heights of badassery, but nonetheless with a notable degree of charm. “My Moustache” calls its titular subject, “My present from God,” and “Armageddon” playfully name-checks the stars of the 1998 blockbuster, even going so far as to mention Steve Buscemi. That, in combination with the clay artwork, the crunchy tone of guitarist/vocalist Alex “Kaza” Kazachev and the bluesy groove of “The Song We Will Never Play Again,” seems to make We Have Landed a record that gets by more on personality than innovation, but whatever does it does it. The album’s nine tracks and 42 minutes feel quick, songs vary enough to hold interest, and periodic bursts of punkish energy keep the pace from being mired by sleepy stonerisms. A mostly dry production keeps Evil Cosmonaut grounded from where some of the space-program thematics might otherwise take them, giving the album a garage-esque feel at times, but between Kazachev and bassist Denis “Memphis Dead” Petrov, the tones are thicker than most of what passes these days for that aesthetic. It’s all rock.

And if anything, it’s hard to pick a highlight from among We Have Landed’s fare. “Armageddon” certainly makes a case for itself, with its rudimentary chugging riff and live feel, as well as its lyrics, but “Old Guy Neil,” which recalls the moon landing and Neil Armstrong’s first steps out of the craft, starts the album off with a crisp (if somewhat misleading) aggressive bent and foretells a lot of the perspective to come. Drummer Konstantin Sosnin, the only member of Evil Cosmonaut without a nickname, is straightforward in his approach and well-suited to Kazachev’s riffs, which for the most part lead the way. The upbeat shuffle of “Marvin” – either an inside joke or a reference I don’t get to an old man who lives in a cave – features some of We Have Landed’s best fuzz, to be later complemented by closer “The Golden Apples of the Sun,” and maintains the forward motion of the opener, leading to the even more rocking “Big Super Mega Monsters,” which earns its chorus shout of the title line late in the track. The song can’t help but be memorable with a name like that, but the music stands up to it with a marked simplicity of approach and a cheeky self-awareness that matches Kazachev’s vocal. However simple the album might seem, Evil Cosmonaut have a clear mindfulness of structure, as “The Song We Will Never Play Again” shows by slowing down the momentum of “Big Super Mega Monsters” and giving way in turn to the middle-pacing of “Armageddon.” Given the tongue-in-cheek nature of most of the lyrics – here a drunken alien abduction is recounted – I’d doubt the veracity of the title “The Song We Will Never Play Again,” or at least hope it’s not true, since the song’s relatively lumbering groove is among the album’s most fascinating assets.

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Temple of the Smoke, …Against Human Race: Not Nearly as Mad as it Reads

Posted in Reviews on November 15th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

Checking in from Serbia, the Belgrade double-guitar outfit Temple of the Smoke make their debut on R.A.I.G. in the form of …Against Human Race, an album that immediately sets about defying expectations. From the black and white inked artwork – courtesy of Nikola Vitkovi? – reminiscent of Scott Stearns’ manic style, to the album’s title itself, Temple of the Smoke set a course for abrasive, misanthropic sludge and then wind up somewhere else completely, blending almost entirely instrumental space rock, dub and the occasional stretch of heavy riffing to result in a widely-varied 57 minutes. Extensive use of synth ties the diversity together, and since all but one of the eight tracks are over five and a half minutes long, the material has plenty of time to flesh out, layers beginning to pile on immediately with opener “Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator.” Guitarists Janko Stojanovi? and Dušan Žica both also handle synth, and …Against Human Race puts them to work adding swirls and swells that seem to come in and out of the spaciest parts, making the whole album more complex and enriching the surprise of what it turns out to be. Temple of the Smoke riff heavy for most of the first cut, but as “Unnatural Regression” – the previously-alluded-to shortest cut at 4:39 – takes hold from a cold stop, drummer Dragan Mirkovi? introduces a drastic turn into bouncing reggae-influenced dub and right away the bearings are lost.

…Against Human Race, for all the vitriol the title seems to convey, isn’t actually that angry. As Marko Ili?’s smooth basslines underscore the laser sounds and easy-flowing soundscaped synth-itude of “Unnatural Regression,” the vibe is anything but hateful. There’s a peaceful aspect to what Temple of the Smoke are doing, and not even necessarily zoned or stoned out, just contented. That some of the songs are drawn together one into the next adds to the overall flow of …Against Human Race and helps ease the transition into and out of the differing sides of Temple of the Smoke’s sound. “Naked Sun” stretches nearly to 11 minutes and is the longest single track, but led into from the end of “Unnatural Regression” as it is, the shift is hardly noticeable. For about the first two minutes, the psychedelics have the floor, but gradually, Ili? comes in on bass and the song’s build begins to develop, eventually cycling through twice before the track is over. Ambition being a key factor throughout …Against Human Race, the progressive elements of “Naked Sun” aren’t such a surprise in the context of the whole album, but the almost-synthless flat-out stoner rock groove of “Deadly Sins” are yet another unexpected turn, cutting from Temple of the Smoke’s most complex offering to their simplest. The jammed-out feel of the preceding cut is maintained, but executed with a Sleep-style riff at the fore until the last minute, when frantic guitar soloing and overdriven bass speed the song to its finish.

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