Monolord, Rust: Shimmer in Dirt

Posted in Reviews on October 26th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

monolord rust

Over the course of the last four years, Gothenburg trio Monolord have worked efficiently on a mission to establish themselves among the heaviest of riff-driven bands the world over. Rust is their third album for RidingEasy Records behind the 2016 Lord of Suffering / Die in Haze EP (review here) and 2015’s Vænir (review here) and 2013’s debut Empress Rising full-lengths, and in some crucial ways it continues the thread. For example? It’s incredibly heavy. Should be said outright. Self-produced with drummer Esben Willems at the helm of Berserk Audio, it finds guitarist/vocalist Thomas V. Jäger, bassist Mika Häkki and Willems unfolding a molten cascade of riffy largesse worthy of the reputation they’ve earned from their studio output and corresponding significant time on tour. At the same time, however, it’s easier to read a narrative of progression within Monolord‘s sound even as the title-track lumbers into some of the record’s most weighted doom — the Swedish trio have grown melodically bolder, and Jäger‘s vocals, while still coated in effects, are more confident in their delivery than they were even two years ago.

As a unit, they were already on a progressive path coming from Empress Rising into Vænir, but the shift feels even more marked on Rust, particularly as it caps with its two longest inclusions, “Forgotten Lands” (12:45) and “At Niceae” (15:36), which seem to bring Monolord successively into new depths and new heights of places they’ve never explored before. While it’s not necessarily a shock that a band who’ve spent as much time on the road as Monolord have and who have two prior LPs under their collective belt would be coming into their own in terms of songwriting, the corresponding uptick of scope they present across Rust‘s 54 minutes isn’t to be understated, and as much heft as they offer, it’s the space they cover with it that impresses even more.

Naturally, when one hears the rumble that begins “Dear Lucifer” or the roll of “Where Death Meets the Sea,” the temptation is to think of Rust as a continuation of Monolord‘s seismic plod, but the truth is that by the first verse of “Where Death Meets the Sea,” which opens, they’re telling a more complex sonic story of where they are as a group. It would be an oversight to discount the vocal performance of Jäger in conveying this — almost immediately (there’s an intro to “Where Death Meets the Sea,” but we’re talking soon after that) he steps into a prominent frontman role in a way that simply wasn’t done on the last record or Empress Rising before it, and by setting that vibe early, he’s better able to maintain it even as the three-piece trudges later into the deep recesses of “Forgotten Lands” and “At Niceae.” But it’s not just his voice.

The guitar opens up to a subdued, almost airy tone during the verse, and while Häkki‘s bass adds plenty of oomph to the low end in the hook — yup, it’s a hook — as the five-plus-minute track unfolds, Monolord demonstrate an intention to do more than simply overwhelm with tonal weight. Though slower, “Dear Lucifer” ultimately does likewise, with the vocals out front of a progression that, while still about as post-Electric Wizard as the band get on Rust, is even more their own. Organ starts the title-track and provides a backdrop for the first minute, but recedes once the guitar, bass and drums kick in, bringing forth a densely-fuzzed march around a straightforward verse/chorus interchange that builds on what “Where Death Meets the Sea” accomplished with less back and forth interplay of volume, and a chugging second half bridge that, much to its credit, doesn’t veer into being overdone either before or after its last run through the hook en route to the ending guitar solo that brings about the instrumental “Wormland.”

monolord

I’m not sure where the sides/platters split for Rust, but it’s fair either way to say that “Wormland” feels as much like an introduction leading the way into “Forgotten Lands” and “At Niceae” as it does a capstone for the three shorter cuts before it. The groove comes easily and is maintained likewise across the six-minute instrumental piece, and a hypnotic effect from the early repetition is given further breadth through the arrival of violin just after the four-minute mark. like the verse of “Where Death Meets the Sea” or the heavy psych vibing that the last two tracks will touch on, this is yet another moment on Rust where the breadth comes into direct focus, though admittedly, in the case of “Forgotten Lands,” the overarching impression is much more geared toward weight than reach. Still, even as they seem to plummet downward into this low-end mire, they complement with higher-register vocals from Jäger to give a more rounded feel. And as thoroughly doomed as Rust is, that turns out to be the story of the album.

“Forgotten Lands” and “At Niceae” invariably define much of it, in a way the extended “Died a Million Times” and “Vænir” did at the end of Vænir, but as those two were split by the two-minute “The Cosmic Silence,” the way Monolord thrust their listeners into this world feels more brazen, and even more so as “Forgotten Lands” dips into its post-midpoint tripout, anchored by the bass as the weedy guitar goes wandering around dreamy layered vocals. They come back around to crush again and cap just before the 12-minute mark, which leaves silence as a transition into “At Niceae,” which strums YOB-like at the outset but soon enough moves into its own thundering roll, finding a defining fuzzy moment right around eight minutes in as a setup for instrumental hypnosis that gives way at 13 minutes to pure Floydian acoustics.

Vocals return and so does a line of electric guitar that marks the fadeout, but by then the pivotal shift in impression has been made and Monolord have sent the last confirmation of the growth they’ve undertaken as a band, no less striking than the tonal onslaught with which they first made their mark on an international audience. Their narrative may in part always remain centered around that consuming sonic largesse, but if Rust proves anything about Monolord, it’s that they’re still just beginning to reveal their full potential.

Monolord, Rust (2017)

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R.I.P. Premiere “Unmarked Grave”; New Album Street Reaper Due Oct. 13

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on August 24th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

rip

R.I.P. will release their second album, Street Reaper, Oct. 13 through RidingEasy Records. I’m still not entirely sure what the Portland, Oregon, four-piece’s self-imposed designation ‘street doom’ is fully intended to convey, but as with their 2016 debut, In the Wind (review here) — first issued by Totem Cat and subsequently picked up by RidingEasy — it would seem on the 10-track Street Reaper to have to do with the overarching level of grit the band brings to their material, evident likewise in tone and theme. Also it makes it okay that songs like “The Casket” and “The Dark” owe almost as much to Dead Kennedys as to Saint Vitus or Pentagram. Whatever you or they want to call it, it’s way over the top and, even though at least half the cuts directly reference death, is a blast of filthy, classic-style raw metallic pummel.

Make no mistake: by “blast,” yes, I mean party. Because whatever else might be going on in the street on which R.I.P. are proliferating their guttural doom, they’re also having a really good time doing it. That impulse may be the facet of their approach most tying them to the Portland underground that gave them birth, where otherwise they would seem bent on bringing a hint of darkness to the heavy rock sphere of Southern California — certainly the cover art of Street Reaper bears out that spirit. It’s a distinct notion and not something every band would be so brash as to attempt, but brashness seems to be a specialty for the foursome of vocalist Fuzz, guitarist Angel Martinez, bassist John Mullett and drummer Willie D., and from the opening “Unmarked Grave” onward, Street Reaper manifests that as much in its beat-you-over-the-head hooks as its noise-coated distortion. Riffs lead the way as they invariably would, but Fuzz answers the presence he brought to In the Wind with willful excess in “Street Reaper,” the slow-creep-int0-full-thrust “Shadows Folds” and the deeper echoes of “The Other Side,” stepping into a cassette-era theatricality that suits the rawer production almost surprisingly well, R.I.P. finding a place for ’80s and early ’90s nostalgia that’s not overblown would-be glam or retro-minded thrash, but would nonetheless fit well on a bill next to Slayer during their big-hair days, despite the obvious sonic discrepancies.

Likewise, “Mother Road” — the longest track on Street Reaper at 5:56 — seems to take the rip street reapercentral riff of Mötley Crüe‘s “Looks that Kill” and cake it in Motörheady dust such as to make it that much harder to place in one era or another, and closer “Die in Vain” taps First Daze Here-style Pentagrammery and brings in organ foreshadowed on “The Other Side” before it as a primary aspect, adding distinction and positioning its open verses and building choruses as all the more the band’s own. A well-placed guitar-led interlude “The Cross” follows the ultra-nasty “Brimstone” as R.I.P. move deeper into side B, and winds up emphasizing the point of just how atmospheric Street Reaper has been all along. I wouldn’t call much of what R.I.P. do subtle, but in terms of ambience, their songs successfully convey notions of mood and purpose without giving losing an apparent focus on simplicity of structure. Indeed, that simplicity is a part of their aesthetic, and well wielded through the thickened push of “The Casket” or “The Other Side” as well as “The Casket,” on which one half expects Fuzz to remind his audience in the opening lines that, “Saint Vitus was a young man…” in his best Scott Reagers. He doesn’t though, and as much as one might trace the band’s roots to one act or another when it comes to the elements at play at a given moment, what’s undeniable about Street Reaper as a whole is that R.I.P. are engaging the work of building their own identity in these tracks, and just because they’ve named it — the already-noted “street doom” branding — doesn’t mean they can’t and aren’t using it as a basis for creative progression.

And that progression — unless I’ve read the album completely wrong — costs R.I.P. nothing in terms of their party-ready spirit, which sees development here as well as a part of their overarching personality. They hit the road to support In the Wind along the West Coast and I’d expect no less when it comes to Street Reaper, and these songs would seem to be tailored to a stage presentation, ready to be captured in some grainy-style video to further demonstrate their allegiance to the smoke-weed-and-chew-boulders heavy metal and doom of yore. Worth keeping an eye out, because like death on a skateboard, R.I.P. are as inevitable as they are inebriated.

Below, you’ll find the premiere of “Unmarked Grave,” followed by some comment from Fuzz about the track and more info from the PR wire. Once again, Street Reaper is out Oct. 13 via RidingEasy Records.

Please enjoy:

R.I.P., “Unmarked Grave” official premiere

Fuzz on “Unmarked Grave”:

“The seed of the song ‘Unmarked Grave’ was planted in my brain when we were on a tour stop in New Orleans and went through one of the city’s few in-ground burial cemeteries. The high water table in the swamp there makes it difficult to keep corpses interred, and the grounds were strewn with bone fragments and rotten human debris that had floated up through the dirt and the mud. What was once a man with hopes and dreams was now nothing but refuse broken to pieces and strewn about with some litter and trash. The disquietude these bodies were subject to stuck with me, and were on my mind when we wrote that track. I hope some of the despondency and humiliation of that situation come through to the listener, and that your grave offers you a more peaceful sojourn than it did to the souls that brought this song into being.”

When R.I.P. came crawling out of the sewers of Portland, OR last year, their grimy, sleazy Street Doom was already a fully formed monstrosity that quickly infected the minds of everyone it encountered. Now, borne from the band’s declining state of mental health and increasing focus on songwriting, Street Reaper is an even more unhinged and menacing album than their 2016 debut In The Wind.

Borrowing equally from 80s Rick Rubin productions and Murder Dog magazine aesthetics, Street Reaper is a streamlined yet brutally raw manifesto of heavy metal ferocity hearkening to the era when both metal and hip hop were reviled as the work of street thugs intent on destroying America’s youth. Throughout, Angel Martinez’s guitar and John Mullett’s bass are inextricably interlocked, sounding like a massive sonic steamroller, while drummer Willie D keeps the beat solid and simple for the most powerful impact. And, the band’s extensive touring and excessive virgin sacrifices have clearly endued singer Fuzz with evermore agile vocal chords to drive it all home with extreme precision.

Street Reaper will be available on LP, CD and download on October 13th, 2017 via RidingEasy Records.

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Wrapping up #VinylDay2017

Posted in Features on July 26th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Grooves and platters galore. My motivation behind doing Vinyl Day 2017 was simple: I felt like listening to records and sharing that process. It was kind of an off-the-cuff thing. Just an idea I had and ran with it. I figure it doesn’t need to be anything more than that, right? Isn’t putting on an album its own excuse for putting on an album? I tend to think so.

And yeah, I made it a hashtag. Because it’s the future, and hashtags. Instagrammaphone and whatnot. I’m a novice at best when it comes to the social medias, but it seems to me that if you’re going to share a full day’s worth of what you’re listening to, that’s the way to do it. So that’s what I did. If I clogged up your feed or whatever and it pissed you off, sorry.

For anyone who might’ve missed it, it turned out to be nine records of various sorts. Here they are, complete with accompanying audio when I could get it, because it’s the age of instant gratification:

There you have it. Had to be Sleep to end it. Pretty awesome day of music on the whole, and whatever was on your playlist yesterday, if it was this stuff or anything else, I hope you enjoyed. I’m gonna call Vinyl Day 2017 a definite win. Thanks for reading.

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audiObelisk Transmission 062

Posted in Podcasts on July 25th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk podcast 62

Click Here to Download

 

It’s easy when you’re putting one of these things together to get locked into a headspace and all of a sudden everything you’re putting next to each other kind of sounds the same, kind of blurs together. I’m immensely pleased to say that’s not at all what happened this time around. The sounds throughout vary from heavy psych to rock to proggy jams to Blaak Heat who are on their own wavelength entirely to doom and space rock and so on. It flows though. I’m really happy with how it flows.

That includes the second hour, which has a couple different vibes as opposed to just the usual all-psych head-trip. Also, as you make your way through, keep in mind that a lot of this stuff is coming from debut albums. Moon Rats, Kabbalah, Eternal Black, Mindkult, The Raynbow, Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree. Hell, Steak’s track is their second album, and Youngblood Supercult too, so yeah, there’s a lot of fresh stuff included from newer bands. I didn’t come into it with a plan at all. This is just how it worked out, which of course is more fun anyway.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

Track details follow:

First Hour:

0:00:00 Moon Rats, “Highway Lord” from Highway Lord
0:03:36 Youngblood Supercult, “The Hot Breath of God” from The Great American Death Rattle
0:07:31 Kabbalah, “Phantasmal Planetoid” from Spectral Ascent
0:12:11 Wretch, “The Wretch” from Bastards Born
0:20:25 Steak, “Creeper” from No God to Save
0:24:28 Eternal Black, “Stained Eyes on a Setting Sun” from Bleed the Days
0:31:44 Mindkult, “Howling Witch” from Lucifer’s Dream
0:36:51 Shooting Guns, “Flavour Country” from Flavour Country
0:45:04 Endless Boogie, “Vibe Killer” from Vibe Killer
0:53:22 Blaak Heat, “Marr El Kallam” from The Arabian Fuzz 7”
0:57:55 The Grand Astoria, “The Sleeper Awakes” from The Fuzz of Destiny

Second Hour:

1:02:45 Eggnogg, “Overture / Wild Goose Chase” from Rituals in Transfigured Time – Prologue
1:16:06 Elara, “Harmonia” from Deli Bal
1:31:41 Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree, “Sail Away I” from Medicine
1:45:50 The Raynbow, “Changes” from The Cosmic Adventure

Total running time: 2:01:51

 

Thank you for listening.

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Spelljammer to Reissue Inches from the Sun Sept. 22; Preorders Available

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 24th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

spelljammer

Is something still a reissue if it’s a first pressing on a given format? Underrated Swedish riffpounders Spelljammer released Inches from the Sun in 2010, before they signed to RidingEasy Records to put out Vol. 2 in 2012 and 2015’s third album, Ancient of Days (review here), but it’s never been released on vinyl. So is it a reissue or something else? Not to bother you with too many questions, but it’s four songs and 25 minutes long. Is it an album or an EP? Sure grooves like a full-length — the march of “Mountainside” wouldn’t really have it any other way, no matter what followed — but where’s that line? Does it matter?

Science demands answers to these queries of our age. Or, you know, maybe it’s just something to think about while you get your preorder in ahead of the Sept. 22 release of whatever you want to call the forthcoming Inches from the Sun vinyl. As a special note, I’d like to say thanks to RidingEasy for doing a CD version as well for those of us who still like tiny plastic discs and playing with lasers. That version is also dirt cheap, listed at a suitable $6.66. Just saying. There are advantages.

From the PR wire:

spelljammer-inches-from-the-sun

Spelljammer to reissue debut album Inches From the Sun

Swedish trio’s ‘desert rock’/doom masterwork’s first time on vinyl

Swedish trio Spelljammer announce the forthcoming reissue of their celebrated 2010 debut Inches From the Sun, to be released September 22nd via RidingEasy Records. This is the album’s first time on vinyl, and first proper release worldwide.

RidingEasy previously released Spelljammer’s 2015 album Ancient of Days, as well as the band’s Vol. II EP earlier that same year.

Inches From the Sun is a hypnotic groove-based hybrid of classic Desert Rock and rumbling European doom that launched the band to international acclaim following its release. The 4-song set will be available everywhere on LP, CD and download on September 22nd, 2017 via RidingEasy Records. Pre-orders are available now at ridingeasyrecs.com.

Artist: Spelljammer
Album: Inches From the Sun
Label: RidingEasy Records
Release Date: September 22nd, 2017

01. Mountainside
02. Witcher
03. Nine
04. Rise of the Sonic Surfer

Spelljammer is:
Robert – guitar
Jonatan – drums
Niklas – bass/vocals

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Spelljammer, Inches from the Sun (2010)

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Review & Track Premiere: Shooting Guns, Flavour Country

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on July 21st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

shooting guns flavour country

[Click play above to stream the premiere of ‘Flavour Country’ by Shooting Guns. Flavour Country is out Aug. 11 via RidingEasy Records and available to preorder here. You can also hear “French Safe” at the bottom of this post.]

There are no words on Shooting GunsFlavour Country except for a sample at the beginning of the penultimate title-track from Richard Linklater’s 1991 film, Slacker. An interviewer asks someone what it would take for them to get a job, and the answer comes back, “Hey, I’ll get a job when I hear the true call,” and it goes on from that point: “To all you workers out there: Every single commodity you produce is a piece of your own death.” Beyond that, the Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, outfit’s self-recorded third album and first for RidingEasy Records — with a noteworthy mastering job by former Monster Magnet and Wellwater Conspiracy guitarist John McBain (see also: Kandodo/McBain and Carlton Melton) — is completely instrumental. It would be hard to overstate the effect that single 30-second stretch has on the listener.

Taken as the beginning of a side-B comprised only of the title-track and languid, lumbering LP-closer “Black Leather Jacket,” each of which tops eight minutes on its own, the sample acts as a defining moment in terms of attitude and perspective for the six-piece, who in addition to the 2011 debut Born To Deal In Magic: 1952-1976 and 2013 Brotherhood of the Ram LPs put together the soundtrack for the Netflix film WolfCop in 2014 and have had a slew of short releases out, most recently 2015’s Himalaya to Mesopotamia split with fellow Canadian ritualists Zaum (review here). Imagine you get to say one thing on your record. One thing. You say “fuck work.” That’s kind of what’s happening here, and it aligns Shooting Guns to a dropped-out-of-life heavy hippiedom in which the space-rocking push of opener “Ride Free” and the drone-backed pastoral drift of “Vampires of Industry” feel equally at home.

Fluidity is the core impression. Liquefaction. Shooting Guns, who list their lineup with seven members (Keef, Laramee, Jay Loos, Jim Ginther, Toby Bond, Zach Low and Brennan Barclay despite showing six on the cover of Flavour Country, commence “Ride Free” with a simple riff and a faded in second guitar behind before the Hawkwindy thrust begins in earnest, giving an almost grunge-style impression in its first couple measures that winds up subtly showing the shared roots of space rock and punk in straight-ahead attitude. The difference is punk goes to ground while space rock goes far out, and Shooting Guns will wind up doing a bit of both and then some as Flavour Country runs through its six tracks/34 minutes, holding fast to an unpretentious throb while realizing moods from across a swath of headphone-ready heavy psychedelia and doom, malleable in style and tempo but keeping its course on an overarching cosmic trajectory. Dudes trip. Off they go. Whoosh and swirl. Sweep and churn and a bit of plod.

If one is listening to the CD or digital version of Flavour Country — something linear, rather than the vinyl requiring the side-A-to-B flip — it makes sense to break the album down into thirds. The first, made up of “Ride Free” and the subsequent “French Safe,” is the shortest at barely over five minutes between the two tracks, and “French Safe” (1:42) proves even faster and more raw-motor-punk than the opener before it. There’s still some noise and effects swirl behind, but it’s almost as though Shooting Guns are engaging the boosters that will carry them out of the atmosphere as a means of immersing their audience in the rest of the record to come.

Perhaps on that level it’s somewhat ironic that “Beltwhip Snakecharmer” and “Vampires of Industry,” the two six-minutes-each cuts that follow, are so earthy in their overall vibe. Earthy and Earth-y, actually, with “Beltwhip Snakecharmer” providing a dreamed-out hypnotic nod into a quickly-executed apex en route toward the more drone-informed ambience of “Vampires of Industry,” which is a serene and patient highlight of Flavour Country as a whole and effective transition point to set up the aforementioned sample at the intro to the title-track, quieting the proceedings and the mind before Shooting Guns deliver what would seem to be the core message behind the work they’re doing throughout.

And who could disagree? “Look at me,” say the character’s opening lines as cars pass behind, “I’m making it. I may live badly, but at least I don’t have to work to do it.” Feedback rises from beneath that sample and leads into the sludgy stomp of “Flavour Country” itself, the name of the song and album derived from cigarette ads and the tonal buzz ensuing suitably dried-leaf-brown in color. Guitar leads careen atop the core riff in a melodic semi-wash, but it’s the slow groove that’s central to the piece as it marches to its even-noisier crescendo, sounding all the more live-tracked and maybe even improv-based as the drums cut out for a final 30-seconds or so of feedback and amp hum that fades out to let “Black Leather Jacket”‘s stage-setting intro riff begin clean.

The closer is the longest piece on Flavour Country at 8:36 and consistent with the two-songs-as-thirds model, it rounds out the last movement of the album following suit from the title-track’s lumber before it. But it’s even slower, and despite being only about 20 seconds longer than “Flavour Country,” feels more purposefully drawn out, giving way similarly to noise after the seven-minute mark but bringing the drums back for an additional few measures of crash before they stop again and the noise fades quickly to end the record. This final section of Flavour Country, after the kosmiche opening salvo of “Ride Free” and “French Safe” and the trip across the Canadian prairie in “Beltwhip Snakecharmer” and “Vampires of Industry,” is heavier and more doomed, but it underscores the breadth Shooting Guns bring to their material.

If they’re ending on a somewhat sinister note, it’s a considerable journey Shooting Guns take to get there, and perhaps that sonic pilgrimage is itself the alternative the band are offering to the standard, commodity-making death of living in a capitalist system. Maybe that’s reading too much into it, but even if so, it’s a worthy achievement of evocation on the part of the group in putting their audience in that frame of mind, and all the more admirable on the level of both asking a question and answering it. Quit your job. Eat mushrooms. Trade one reality for another. It’s a quick listen, and no doubt it will fly under the radar for many, but Flavour Country‘s resonance makes righteous fodder for multiple repeat visits, and those who take it on with an open mind will be all the more engrossed. Right fucking on.

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Blackout Post Video for “Graves”; The Horse out Now

Posted in Bootleg Theater on July 4th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

blackout

When Brooklyn trio Blackout announced the release of their third album, The Horse (review here), they accompanied word of their new lineup and more aggressive-in-the-New-York-tradition sonic take with a stream of the track “Graves,” and now that it’s out as their second offering through RidingEasy Records, they’re following up with a video for the same song. Clearly it’s one they believe in, and in the clip, they’ve given it colorful, near-frenetic, meaty and thoroughly fucked visual accompaniment, taking the notion of what a “stoner rock” video might be and pushing it completely over the top as one could only hope they would.

I don’t know if they’re ultimately anymore aggro on The Horse than they were on their 2015 self-titled (review here) or the preceding 2013 self-release, We are Here (review here), but they’ve for sure come into their own in terms of aesthetic and songwriting, and yeah, I guess there’s an intensity to “Graves” — certainly as one sees it here — that one could attribute to Nor’easter origins. But dig into the accompanying swirl of effects in the vocals from guitarist Christian Gordy, who emerges in this clip as a kind of barbecue-driven evil cosmic guru, and there are clearly multiple impulses playing out across the song’s five-minute stretch.

Gordy is joined in Blackout by bassist Justin Sherrell and drummer Adam Taylor, who prove across The Horse to be a powerhouse of heavy nod, and “Graves” represents that well too in addition to giving a sense of the group as a whole’s offkilter persona. Clearly they’re ready to get weird, and the only question is if you’re ready to follow them down this bizarre Wonka path of low-end stomp and nightmarish psych freakout. I think you are. You probably think you are. So fucking a. Go for it.

Enjoy:

Blackout, “Graves” official video

NYC trio Blackout premiere the first video from their newly released album The Horse. The utterly insane video for “Graves” is like a bad acid trip sci-fi BBQ voodoo party gone totally right.

The Horse was recorded over 4 days in September 2016 at Spaceman Sound in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood, which the band describes as “a whirlwind session laced with loads of buds, Petey’s burgers and lipstick.”

The Horse is available on LP, CD and download as of June 23rd, 2017 via RidingEasy Records.

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Six Dumb Questions with Esben Willems

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on June 21st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

esben-willems-photo-Hank-Henrik-Oscarsson

Swedish tone-crushers Monolord recently finished work on their impending third album, which will be out later this year via RidingEasy Records. For drummer Esben Willems, the accomplishment is two-fold. In addition to playing, Willems also engineered — a credit he shares with guitarist/vocalist Thomas V. Jäger and bassist Mika Häkki — and mixed and mastered. This was done behind the board in the capacity of Berserk Audio, the nom de guerre under which Willems has helmed projects not only for his own outfits Monolord and formerly Marulk, but many others over the years including Långfinger, Vokonis and Cities of Mars.

Unsurprisingly, as Monolord‘s reputation has grown, that of Willems‘ capacity as an engineer has done likewise, and Berserk Audio has become more established as a result. Founded on principals of flexibility and passion — and coffee, of course — the studio is as mobile as the hard-touring Willems himself, and that’s fortunate, because as Monolord make ready to release the aforementioned new full-length, they’ve already announced a co-headlining Fall 2017 European tour with Conan (dates here) that will follow stops this summer at Stoned from the Underground in Germany, SonicBlast Moledo in Portugal, and so on.

A busy schedule, however, is the lifesblood of a recording engineer, and it would seem Willems‘ position is the more the merrier. Right on. Though he was interviewed here around the 2015 release of the second Monolord album, Vænir (review here), which was followed by the 2016 two-songer EP, Lord of Suffering / Die in Haze (review here), the work he’s done in bringing Berserk Audio to fruition isn’t to be underestimated, and it was high time to give due attention to this side of Willems‘ creative persona, which I hope the Q&A below does, at least in some measure.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

berserk audio logo

Six Dumb Questions with Esben Willems

How did you get your start in recording? What were some of your early projects and how did your technique develop? Do you have a philosophy when it comes to tracking bands or is each project different in what it requires from the engineer?

My first steps in recording was when I moved out of my parents’ house and to a different town in the early ‘90s, where I soon spent all free time in a rehearsal complex. After spending most of my childhood caught in uninspiring music theory in the local municipal music school – I’ve forgotten almost all of that, haha – I finally met likeminded people who just played music with focus on the music, not the strict theory behind it. That was a real eye-opener for me; I’ve been fascinated with the band format since before I even knew how to phrase that, and to be in an environment that was based on constant curiosity, testing, jamming, constantly forming new bands and side-projects, was pure inspiration. I learned so much more about music during those years than all previous years confined inside the make-believe rules of how music should be executed. The latter is still very mechanic to me; I think that mediating a feeling, a mood, a story, is the essence of music, regardless of genre. That’s still always the base of everything music related I do.

Anyway, that rehearsal complex was where I first started playing around with recording. The place had a small and very basic recording studio. One tiny recording room and one even tinier control room. The equipment wasn’t much more than a handful of crusty SM57’s and 58’s and a 4-track cassette recorder (constant creative mixdowns to get the channels you wanted, haha). That was it. We had so much fun at that house, I’m equally happy and sad that all those endless recording sessions are long gone.

Regarding my technique – if I really have any – I think that developed by the boundless and playful atmosphere at that place. Trying to capture a death metal session properly with a half broken 4-track machine forces your mind to come up with creative solutions. I still like to work that way, I’ve always felt that a certain amount of limitations is a good thing. It forces inspiration.

That also applies when recording different bands. All bands and all musicians are of course very different, with different references and experiences. So I don’t believe much in having a work template, apart from always – always – having a reliable supply of fresh coffee where I work.

Tell me about Berserk Audio. Did you build the studio? How did it all come together? What is the atmosphere like, what’s the layout of the rooms and how do you feel like the studio has developed over the last couple years as you’ve been doing more and more work there?

When I first started working professionally with audio I was aiming at building my own studio, and I wanted to do it by first being an apprentice at one or more established studios. I got the dream chance at a place I don’t want to name here, but it was everything I could ever hope for as a newly-graduated sound tech – welcoming atmosphere, fully booked with professional bands, great acoustics and equipment; and, I got the offer very early on to work there part time. But, the majority of bands recording there played a genre I just couldn’t stand, or understand, which is even more important. Also, the recording method was everything I feel takes the music out of music; sound replacing and quantizing drums, autotuning vocals, cut-and-paste editing in the mix and so on. So, after some grueling soul searching I came to the conclusion that it would kill my passion for music over time and I also wouldn’t do a proper job, since I wouldn’t be able to judge when the material was what the bands wanted. “Is this mechanic and sterile enough for you guys?” might not be the question a band wants. But with that said, I’m fully aware of that’s how the main part of the recording industry works and that it makes things very hard to exclude those studios.

But, I finally made the decision that most aspiring sound techs would feel was stupid: I kindly quit the apprenticeship at that studio, got freelance audio work at intensely boring conferences and invested in a small but efficient portable studio rig. I felt that if recording music that would just make me bitter, I might as well have a boring and undemanding day job and focus on recording bands I liked and with that contribute to a relevant production. That was over a decade ago and I haven’t regretted it once.

Of course I’d love to have my own studio, but never at the expense of the passion for music. I currently have a collab with a really cool place here in Gothenburg called Studio Svavel, which I rent when needed.

What have been some of your favorite projects to work on? Do you have a preference between recording, mixing and mastering?

I think my favorite projects are the ones where I’m part of the entire process, all the way from the rehearsal space. As I see it, most of the work should be done before entering the studio. Writing and selecting material, arranging, pre-production, discussions about sound, mood and feel of the production and so on. Most bands don’t have the possibility to rent a studio for a few months and just enter it with a blank slate, so in order to make the most of the time bands pay me for, I always emphasize the importance of that. If you’re well prepared, you’re actually able to compete with the bands that have all the studio time in the world. And the listener will never know or care about your budget. They’re gonna compare you with any and all of their favorite bands regardless.

That’s where that true essence of music comes in again. If your band is well rehearsed with songs you stand behind and your band sounds like an unbreakable unit – as opposed to a collection of humans just playing correctly in time – you actually will be able to make an album that kicks ass in spite of the ever-limited budget and time.

How has it been for you to record your own band? Is there a difference in how you approach working with Monolord as opposed to other acts? How do you coax a great performance out of a bandmate as opposed to someone who has hired you to work as a producer?

It’s weird and great. It’s inevitable that there’s a difference, since I’m one of the band members. But when we record, we all produce it collectively. We’re all part of the entire recording process. So in some ways the recording part doesn’t differ that much from everything else we do in the band. And the coaxing, I guess that’s a mutual three-way process, haha. When I tell my drum kit to go fuck itself, I rely on Thomas and Mika to filter my anger. And that goes the other way around as well.

The only part where I work alone is during mixing and mastering. But I constantly update my bandmates online, so they’re very much part of that process as well.

Recording your own band makes it a bit harder to be objective and to kill your darlings. But I enjoy that challenge. I’ve learned a lot from it through the years.

You recently finished mixing the third Monolord album. What’s the status of that release now? When can fans expect it to come out and what’s in store this time around from the band? How does splitting your time with being on the road and in the studio affect your ability to take on more recording jobs?

I really wish I could tell you everything about, but we’ll announce all details shortly. What I can tell you is that musically it’s groovier and more dynamic, in all aspects. Still misanthropic and still rumbling, though. The humanity is broken and this is our safety valve, as always.

The mixing and mastering is done and the album will be released in all its glory later this year. Hope you’ll like it!

Being a touring musician and also a studio leprechaun is actually the perfect combo. When I can, I work from home, which means I only have a deadline to consider. I’m not a fan of daily routines when it comes to working hours, so that fits me and my family life just perfectly. And my world is a world without borders, so I can easily have clients all over the planet. And when it comes to mixing and mastering they can easily hire me without insane travel expenses. I’m old enough to have grown up in an internet-free world, so I love the possibilities that has opened up thanks to the online community culture. Borders and flags are war tools. I’d rather work past them.

Who’s next in the studio? Any other recordings coming up, closing words or other plans you want to mention?

Next up is always working on new stuff with Monolord. That’s an ongoing process, so we’re always fiddling with ideas, regardless of actual future plans.

But apart from that, I have a few mastering projects this week I’m gonna sink my teeth into. I break every rule possible when I master and I’m sure most audiophiles would like to subject me to public torture, but the clients I’ve worked with seem to hear things the way I do, so I keep getting requests to do the things I do with their music.

And, with some actual free time for the first time in forever, I’m gonna start working on some side solo stuff that’s been rattling in the back of my head for a while. I have no idea what will come of it.

Monolord, “Lord of Suffering” official video

Berserk Audio on Thee Facebooks

Monolord on Thee Facebooks

Monolord on Twitter

RidingEasy Records website

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