On the Radar: Methadone Skies

Posted in On the Radar on January 8th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

A four-piece hailing from Romania, Methadone Skies waste no time busying themselves balancing ethereal post-rock noodling off heavier-ended psychedelic grooves. Periodically driving but never quite losing its focus despite an obvious jam-based ethic, their second album, Enter the Void, arrived in 2012 as a self-released sleeve CD preceding an allegiance with Sweden-based Ozium Records. The six-track offering sandwiches lengthy explorations with even lengthier explorations, the opening title-track topping out at 13:36 as the longest of the bunch (immediate points) while its closing companion piece, “Exit the Void” answers back at 11:54. Between, “Hyperspace,” “Long Day’s Journey into Night,” “Versus Evil,” and “Mudstar” tap into modern heavy psych ethics like they’re trying to bridge the gap between Russian Circles and Colour Haze. Frankly, it’s not a bad gap to bridge.

Both guitarists — Wehry and the more effects-laden Casi, who also handles keys — satisfy on a tonal level, with rich and warm fuzz that melds well with the echoing lead notes peppered throughout, as one can hear in the second half of “Hyperspace” on Enter the Void. The bass and drums provided by Mihai and Retea, respectively, are mostly relegated to a follower’s role, but  as “Hyperspace” slows to its finish and “Long Day’s Journey into Night” ensues, their presence is more than duly felt in the added heft to the capably executed instrumental builds, which seem to be as much about going from spaced-out to grounded as from calm to chaotic. It works, perhaps most of all on “Versus Evil” — the lead lines of which I’ll mark as the most memorable on the album — which finds its culmination after six minutes into its total 9:33 as the two guitars match step with the complex rhythm for a thickened, oddly-timed apex.

The level of noodling might be too much for some. They’re not exactly subtle about it. But for Methadone Skies‘ second outing behind 2010’s Explosions of the Sun, Enter the Void can offer an engrossing listen if approached with an open mind and willingness to go along with its hypnotic aspects. “Mudstar” is a bit crunchier, but “Exit the Void” re-ups the space elements and gives a solid tripout to close with, the leads taking a more active role early on with a cascading line only to give way later to thicker entanglements before ending with even more  echoing riffery and a surprisingly quick fade. One might have expected a long sustained echo or something like that, but I guess at 53 minutes in, Methadone Skies figured they’d said all there was to say. True enough, if you haven’t gotten the point by then, well, yeah.

Methadone Skies can be found upon Thee Facebooks, and Enter the Void is available for stream and purchase via Bandcamp, from whence this player comes:

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The :Egocentrics, Center of the Cyclone: Chasing the Storm

Posted in Reviews on February 14th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

It’s been a productive several months for Romanian power trio The :Egocentrics. The Timisoara band’s debut, Love Fear Choices and Astronauts (review here), earned them a deal with German psych juggernaut Nasoni Records, they played numerous shows, and apparently somehow found time to write and record their new sophomore outing, Center of the Cyclone, showing remarkable growth in the process. Their sound is still aligned to the jammy side of the international desert rock scene – bands like Colour Haze, My Sleeping Karma and earlier Los Natas providing reference points – but compared to the debut, this vinyl-ready seven-song, 40-minute outing feels much more accomplished, structured and self-assured. It’s still the same band, the same players involved, but there’s a newfound sense of purpose behind what they’re doing, as though they’ve found the sound they want to execute and now have the prowess and chemistry to make it happen.

And don’t get me wrong, I liked Love Fear Choices and Astronauts. I’m not about to start slagging that record in favor of Center of the Cyclone, but it’s a different breed of the same animal. The songs here – still completely instrumental, still led mostly by guitarist Brenn with sampled or spoken vocals mixed into the ambience – are more complete in terms of ideology. They’re not just jams, but actively trying to evoke an atmosphere. Right from opener “A Road Less Travelled,” which features the organ work of Mihai Toma, who also recorded Center of the Cyclone this past fall, The :Egocentrics sound calmer, more confident and solid all around. The pastoral feel continues through the more active “Off the Center,” which is the longest song on the album at just over eight minutes. Drummer Hera and bassist Jess give the guitars plenty of room without losing sight of the rhythm at work, and their space-charged ring-outs and crashes lend a surprisingly epic feel where otherwise “A Road Less Travelled” would just fizzle.

Brenn’s guitar offers newfound lyricism on “Sink or Swim,” which is perhaps the cut most reminiscent of NatasDelmar or Ciudad de Brahman, Mihai Toma again contributing, this time on electric piano and spoken vocals. The :Egocentrics keep a lively feel to their approach across the entirety of Center of the Cyclone, but contrary to the album’s name, it’s not all whirlwind and craziness. Rather, the band incorporate a variety of moods and vibes, the wistful fuzz of “Sink or Swim” being just one of them, and balanced immediately by centerpiece track “Blissful Idiot,” which is faster, near-punkish in its percussion and about the most straightforwardly stoner rock song the trio have on offer. The back-and-forth interplay between more subdued and active material works because The :Egocentrics don’t just rely on “riff and crash” as a formula for either. Rather, the parts of which these songs are constructed are intricate and well developed, their changes subtle and warm without being trite or redundant stylistically. If Brenn, Hera and Jess sounded genuine in their affection for psychedelia before, now they sound completely at home in it as well.

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Negura Bunget: If Brilliant Blackened Folk Metal Falls in the Forest…

Posted in Reviews on July 20th, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster

The 2006 release by Romanian folk-inspired black metallers Negura Bunget, titled simply Om, was a landmark for those who heard it. Up and down, the record was praised for its masterful balance of influences, its groundbreaking genre-defiance, and the fact that, where so much “folk metal” is goofy beyond repair, Negura Bunget seemed able to affect a serious and dark atmosphere that was neither laughable nor steeped in black metal cliché (some would argue the two aren’t mutually exclusive).

The story goes that after Om, the central parties responsible for Negura Bunget – namely multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Hupogrammos Disciple’s (real name Edmond Karban), guitarist Sol Faur and drummer Negru (real name Gabriel Mafa) – had a falling out, and the band effectively broke up in 2009, only to be revived by Negru alone, with a new lineup, whose first album together is Vîrstele Pamîntului (Aural Music/Code666). Joining Negru in this new Negura Bunget are guitarists Corb (also vocals and dulcimer) and Spin, bassist/flutist Gadinet, keyboardist Inia Dinia and vocalist/percussionist aGer (real name Ageru Pamîntului), who’s been in the band since 2003 and also handles pan flute and sundry folk instrumentation I’m not even going to pretend to know the first thing about.

In a way, it’s silly to expect this lineup of Negura Bunget to be able to top the majesty of a record like Om, since Vîrstele Pamîntului is more like a band’s first album than it is their fifth – though it should be noted that Negura Bunget’s Maiestrit, which showed up earlier this year, is not a new full-length, but rather a re-recording of 2000 opus Maiastru Sfetnic, so technically speaking this isn’t the first time we’re hearing this new incarnation of the band, just the first time we’re hearing them perform new material. In any case, to think these players will be able on their first outing to stand up to the fully realized vision that was Om is nonsensical. Rather, in listening to Vîrstele Pamîntului, one hopes Negru will be able to get his band to that point again, or even surpass it in terms of style and atmosphere.

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The :Egocentrics Have an Extra Colon and a Delay Pedal with Your Name on Them

Posted in Reviews on May 18th, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster

From the jazzy opening notes of “Spacewulf,” a three-part 12-minute epic the last two parts of which come before the first (which is third — kablooie went my brain), colon-ized Romanian instrumental trio The :Egocentrics make no bones about their love of jamming heavy psychedelia on their debut long player, the comma-less Love Fear Choices and Astronauts. The album’s already been picked up for release by Nasoni Records, bringers of all that is spacey and European, but guitarist Brenn, bassist Jess and drummer Hera (all on a first-name basis) did an issue on their own first, pushing the record’s four tracks the old fashioned way… on MySpace.

If you blinked, you probably missed it, but yes, I did say there are only four tracks on Love Fear Choices and Astronauts, which means The :Egocentrics are bound to be packing some heady expanse in the songs. Sure enough, not a one of them is under 10 minutes, and all four — “Spacewulf,” “20 12,” “Bright Dawn of the Soul” and “Mystic Initiation” — show the expansive influence that acts like Colour Haze (who have vocals, but are given to similar lengthy instrumental passages anyway), 35007 and Rotor have had on the next crop of European stoner rockers. The :Egocentrics and likeminded groups like The Machine from The Netherlands, who also focus more on jams than structure and warmth of atmosphere than tightness of execution, have an analog classic psych feel, but are actually pulling off a style almost entirely modern. Their jams are heavy and driving, but still somehow best experienced as a whole without parsing the component parts or analyzing the experience to death.

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