Quarterly Review: Horsehunter, Church, Corpse Light, Sunder, T-Tops, The Space Merchants, Etiolated, Blown Out, Les Discrets, Beast ModulusPosted in Reviews on June 30th, 2015 by JJ Koczan
Day one down and feeling good so far. Day two continues the thread of mixing more known quantities with bands either self-releasing or putting out demos, etc., and I like that. More than last time around — last quarter, if you want to use the business-y sounding language for it — I tried to really get a balance across this batch of reviews, posted yesterday and coming up over the next couple days. We’ll see how it works out when it’s over. It remains a ton of stuff, and I hope you dig it. Day two starts right now.
Quarterly review #11-20:
Horsehunter, Caged in Flesh
Pushing their way to the fore of Melbourne’s heavy surge, double-guitar four-piece Horsehunter proffer oppressive tonal crush on the four tracks of their 2LP Magnetic Eye Records debut, Caged in Flesh. The story goes that, unsatisfied the initial recordings weren’t heavy enough, the band – guitarists Michael Harutyanyan (also vocals) and Dan McDonald, bassist/vocalist Himi Stringer and drummer Nick Cron – went back into the studio and redid the entire thing. Mission accomplished. By the time 16-minute opener and longest track (immediate points) “Stoned to Death” is done, lungs are suitably deflated, spines are cracked, skulls cleaved, and so on. They’re hardly the only ones in the world to conjure formidable tonal heft, but it’s the deft changes in vocals – clean here, shouts there, more abrasive at the start of the title-track – and the sense of atmosphere in the three-minute penultimate interlude that really distinguish Horsehunter, as well as how smoothly that atmosphere integrates with the pummel in the second half of closer “Witchery,” attention to detail and awareness of the need for more than just sonic weight boding well for future progression.
Church, Unanswered Hymns
A staggeringly heavy debut full-length from Sacramento, CA, five-piece Church, Unanswered Hymns was initially released digitally by the band and quickly picked up for a cassette issue by Transylvanian Tapes and forthcoming LP through Battleground Records. One gets the sense listening to the three extended tracks – 19-minute opener “Dawning” being the longest of the bunch (immediate points) – that those won’t be the last versions to come. Psychedelic doom blends seamlessly with vicious sludge extremity, creating a morass engulfing in its tones, spacious in its breadth and unrepentantly heavy, making it one of 2015’s best debut releases, hands down, and a glorious revelry in bleak tectonics that challenges the listener to match its level of melancholy without giving into an impulse for post-Pallbearer emotive theatrics. As thrilling as they are plodding, expect the echoes of “Dawning,” “Stargazer” and “Offering” to resonate for some time to come, and should Church show any predilection for touring in the next couple years, they have the potential to make a genuine impact on American doom. Yes, I mean it.
Corpse Light, Without Form
Recorded in a day and released by Grimoire Records, the four-track Without Form is slated as the debut from Baltimore atmospheric doomers Corpse Light, but the band have had tracks come out in drips and drabs since getting their start as Ophidian in mid-2012, even if this is their first proper release. Either way, “The Fool” sets up an immediate and grim ambience, the churning lurch from guitarists Keiran Holmes and Don Selner and bassist Aurora Raiten set to roll by Lawrence Grimes (The Osedax) and given earthy aggression by the vocals of Jim Webb. “Lying in State” fleshes out these morose aggro vibes, but it’s with the drop-everything-and-kill peak of the subsequent “R Complex” that Corpse Light hit their angriest mark. If Without Form was just about that, it would be the highlight, but the album’s 29 minutes have more to offer than pissed off tonally-weighted post-hardcore, as closer “Kenophobia”’s clever turns and deceptive forward momentum demonstrate, though a touch of that kind of thing never hurts either.
Heavy psych four-piece Sunder will make their debut this summer through Tee Pee and Crusher Records with a 7” for “Cursed Wolf,” so consider this notice of the tracks on their not-for-public-consumption demo a heads up on things to come. Their “Deadly Flower” was streamed here this past April, and the band’s previous incarnation, The Socks, released their self-titled debut (review here) on Small Stone in 2014, but with songs like the key-laced stomper “Bleeding Trees,” the ‘70s rusher “Against the Grain,” and the Uncle Acid-style swinging “Daughter of the Snows,” the Lyon, France, outfit continue to refine a style drawing together different vibes of the psychedelic era. “Deadly Flower” was also distinguished by its key work, and as for “Cursed Wolf” itself, the melody reminds of proto-psych Beatles singles (thinking “Rain” specifically), but the groove still holds firm to a sense of weight that’s thoroughly modern, and by that I mean it sounds like 1972. Keep an eye out.
Granted not everyone is going to make this immediate association, but when I first saw the moniker T-Tops, I couldn’t help think of like C-grade generic stonerisms, songs about beer and pretending to be from the South and all that. If you experienced something similar in seeing the name, rest easy. The Pittsburgh trio of guitarist/vocalist Pat Waters (ex-The Fitt, Wormrigg), bassist Jason Orr (Wormrigg) and drummer Jason Jouver (ex-Don Caballero) are down with far more sinister punk and noise on their self-titled, self-released debut full-length, riding, shooting straight and speaking truth on cuts like “Wipe Down” and the catchy “Pretty on a Girl” after the tense sampling of “A Certain Cordial Exhilaration” turns over the power-push to “Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’.” “Ralphie” is probably an inside-joke if not a Christmas Story reference, but point is these guys are way less about-to-sing-about-muscle-cars than the name implies and their tight, crisp rhythmic turns come accompanied by vicious tonal force and an utter lack of bullshit, which is a scenario far preferable to that which one might otherwise expect.
The Space Merchants, The Space Merchants
Issued by Aqulamb in the imprint’s standard 100-page art book/download format, the self-titled debut from fellow Brooklynites The Space Merchants seeks to draw a line between psychedelic rock and country. And not pretend country like people with a Johnny Cash fetish because he covered that Nine Inch Nails song one time – actual, bright, pastoral, classic country. Call the results psychtwang and applaud the effort, which works oddly well in a thoroughly vintage context to come across on “Mainline the Sun” like something from a lost ‘60s variety show. Parts of “One Cut Like the Moon” and the later fuzz of “One Thousand Years of Boredom” give away their modernity, but The Space Merchants’ push toward a stylistic niche suits them well, and the intertwined vocal arrangements from guitarist Michael Guggino, bassist Aileen Brophy and keyboardist Ani Monteleone – Carter Logan drums to round out the four-piece – add to the rich, welcoming feel that remains prevalent even as the eight-minute “Where’s the Rest of Life” slips into wah-soaked noise to finish out.
Etiolated, Grey Limbs, Grey Skies
The undercurrent of black metal coursing beneath the surface of Etiolated’s debut full-length, Grey Limbs, Grey Skies, eventually comes to the surface in 10-minute opener “Internal Abyss” and 16-minute eponymous closer, which bookends, but in part it’s the tension of waiting for those rampaging surges that keeps one hooked to the Armus Productions release. Guttural death growls echo up from dense tonal reaches, and tempo shifts, whether in those longer tracks or three-minute lumbering slice “Futility” are fluid, the North Carolina five-piece executing a slow-grinding chug in centerpiece “Exsanguinate,” which seems like a murk without end until the 1:47 “For Your Hell” kicks into a speedier, more blackened rush, guest vocalist Ryan McCarthy joining guitarist/vocalists James Storelli and Walls, bassist Cody Rogers and drummer Elliot Thompson in furthering the already prevalent sense of extremism before “Etiolated,” after a surprisingly peaceful if brooding midsection, plods the album to a close. To say “not for the faint of heart” would be putting it lightly, but if I had a vest and if Etiolated had patches, the two parties would definitely meet up at some point in the near future.
Blown Out, Planetary Engineering
It has not taken long for the discography of UK psych jammers Blown Out to become a populated murky cosmos of its own. Planetary Engineering is released on Oaken Palace Records and finds the three-piece of guitarist Mike Vest (also Bong, etc.), bassist John-Michael Hedley (also Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs) and drummer Matt Baty (also the head of Box Records) exploring two mesmeric and sprawling instrumentals – one per side – that bend and flourish and hypnotize in organically-concocted swirl. Side A’s “Transcending Deep Infinity” tops 20 minutes and shifts from its spacey build to a low key groove at about 7:30 in, pulsing forward once more amid head-turning repetition, deep echoes and longform nod, culminating in a two-minute fadeout that brings forward “Thousand Years in the Sunshine,” an immediate bass groove and interstellar swirl no less trance-inducing than its predecessor. Cyclical drum fills morph over time behind the guitar and bass, and Planetary Engineering seems to push continually further out until, of course, it disintegrates, presumably as it crosses the galactic barrier.
Les Discrets, Live at Roadburn
I was fortunate enough to have been in attendance at Het Patronaat in Tilburg when French post-black metallers Les Discrets took the stage at Roadburn 2013. As such, it’s with some trepidation I approach their Live at Roadburn recording on Prophecy Productions – the impression they made live wasn’t something I’d want potentially spoiled or brought to earth by a document proving it was just another set. With Neige of Alcest on bass with guitarist/vocalist Fursy Teyssier, Les Discrets proved to be something really special to those who, like me, were there to catch them, and the eight-track Live at Roadburn – fortunately – captures both the majestic lushness they brought with them and the underlying weight that seemed to add impact to the material. What might sound like post-production mixing on “L’Echappée” or the wash of “Chanson D’Automne” isn’t – it really was that beautiful and that perfectly balanced coming from the stage. A vastly underrated act and a document that reminds of how stellar they were without sullying the memory in the slightest.
Beast Modulus, Beast Modulus
Brooklynite foursome Beast Modulus seem to care less about meshing with ideas of genre than sticking them in a meatgrinder and seeing what comes out. To wit the riotous chugging of “Cowboy Caligula,” and the blackened thrust of “WaSaBi!” on their self-released, self-titled outing, which leads to dueling growls and screams on the tonally weighted post-hardcore “Fabulous,” and the appropriately mathy turns of the thrashing “Tyranny of Numbers.” Inventive in their stylizations and in where the six songs included on the release actually go – hint: they go to “heavy” – the lineup of vocalist Kurt Applegate, guitarist Owen Burley, bassist Jesse Adelson and drummer Jody Smith have some post-Dillinger Escape Plan vibe in the calculated chaos of “Kalashnikov,” but closer “Killing Champion” is too impatient to even be held by that, the prevailing manic angularity of Beast Modulus ultimately crafting its own identity from the physical assault the music seems intent on perpetrating upon the listener.