The Grand Astoria, Punkadelica Supreme: Picking Space Orchids

Posted in Reviews on August 16th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Russian heavy rockers The Grand Astoria have traveled a long way in a relatively short amount of time. With a seemingly amorphous lineup surrounding multi-instrumentalist/vocalist/principle songwriter Kamille Sharapodinov and guitarist Igor Suvarov, the band has made a point of refusing to settle either in terms of their sound or their work ethic. Amidst a handful of European tours, The Grand Astoria have released three prior albums — 2009′s I (review here), 2010′s II (review here) and 2011′s Omnipresence (review here) — the 2013 live album Good Food – Good Show! (streamed here) and a host of other singles, including a split with U.S. Christmas that coincided with a tour together. In short, they keep busy, and that extends to their latest full-length studio outing as well, the ambitiously-titled Punkadelica Supreme. While marrying influences ranging from classic metal to heavy psych and even throwing in a touch of bluegrass in opening intro “Welcome to the Club” and some prog metal on the 13:40 penultimate “Score,” The Grand AstoriaSharapodinov, Suvarov and drummer Alexander Chebotarev — incorporate no fewer than four keyboardists, three bassists, the aforementioned banjo, a sitar and a metallophone. Outside of the core trio and backing vocalist Danila Danilov, who is fairly easy to spot, sorting out who is contributing what to which of Punkadelica Supreme‘s 13 tracks can be a confusing affair, and as the album reaches to a full 77-plus minutes, the band are making no bones about pushing the limits both of their own creativity and of the CD format itself to which it’s pressed in a six-panel foldout digipak released through Setalight Records with well-drawn and stylized artwork by Sophia Miroedova, featuring The Grand Astoria‘s unnamed mascot who has graced all of their covers to date. With that kind of runtime, it is an expansive outing in more than just its sonic breadth. Each of The Grand Astoria‘s prior studio efforts was longer than its predecessor, but even Omnipresence was a full 20 minutes shorter than Punkadelica Supreme, and with the proliferation of extended solos and jams between bursts of metallic crunch and the other experimental elements, it is a challenge to sort out the purposes one song even as it leads into the next.

That’s not to say it’s not worth the effort of doing so — an attentive listen pays dividends — just that the likelihood of the average listener being able to dedicate 77 minutes solid of their attention span to Punkadelica Supreme‘s twists and turns seems slim, particularly as the jammy, sitar and metallophone-ized “Space Orchid vs. Massive Drumkit” arrives ultra-hypnotic prior to the halfway point in the tracklist. Standout moments like the Tool reference at the beginning of “Street Credit” and the locked-in, immediate groove of the later “To Cross the Rubicon” provide landmarks along the way, but by the time second cut “Slave of Two Masters” has reached its massive, lead-laden peak, the solos have stretched upwards of eight minutes and though the opener, on which Sharapodinov sets up a narrative of looking forward to and then finally being at a show and it being great, is lacking nothing for charm, that narrative is lost almost immediately and doesn’t seem to come up again until track 10, “King Has Left the Building,” on which the famous clip of Horace Lee Logan informing the screaming young girls in his audience that Elvis is gone is aired, and even that’s kind of a stretch bringing it back to the opener. You could argue that the 1:23 instrumental jam “Intermission” that closes after “Score” is part of it as well, and that everything between is the meat of the show that you as “the audience” are experiencing. With as far out as they go sonically, I’m not sure that’s enough to tie that together, so if it’s a setup, it’s one that goes more or less without an answer. What we get instead is a richly varied but ultimately consistent — surprisingly so considering the swath of personnel involved — collection of tracks that represent the boldest creative statement yet from The Grand Astoria. There may be a lot of it, but Punkadelica Supreme is rife with engaging stretches and fluid transitions. Sharapodinov has never sounded so confident as a frontman (the backing vocals of Danilov) also go a long way in complementing), and in the arrangements of extended cuts like “To Cross the Rubicon,” “Punkadelica Supreme,” “King Has Left the Building” and of course the monolithic “Score,” show payoff for the relentless creative growth he’s demonstrated as a songwriter over the course of The Grand Astoria‘s prior offerings.

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The Grand Astoria Get Down in New Video for “Then You Win”

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 12th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

The track “Then You Win” by prolific, always-busy Russian heavy rockers The Grand Astoria was released as a digital single earlier this year (streamed here), but as there’s a new 7″ version of the single out as a precursor to their latest full-length, Punkadelica Supreme, the St. Petersburg-based weirdo revelers decided they’d put together a video for it as well. Culled from footage from some recent shows in their native land, “Then You Win” gives those of us who may never get to see the band live some view of what we’re missing.

From the looks of it, plenty. The Grand Astoria never shy away from injecting their material with a healthy individualized sensibility, and “Then You Win” sets ’90s-style guitar crunch against some off-kilter melodies, resulting in a feel that — true to the upcoming album — isn’t quite punk, isn’t quite psych, somehow relatable to the Melvins but not seeming remotely interested in actually sounding like them. One of my favorite things about the band is that I have a hard time classifying them, and as they make ready to release Punkadelica Supreme, that doesn’t seem to have dissipated in the slightest.

Enjoy:

The Grand Astoria, “Then You Win” official video

The Grand Astoria on Thee Facebooks

The Grand Astoria on Bandcamp

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The Grand Astoria are at Home in the Fuzz

Posted in Bootleg Theater on April 8th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Diagnosed with a terminal case of “the weird,” adventurous Russian heavy rockers The Grand Astoria are shortly to loose their latest full-length, Punkadelica Supreme. The St. Petersburg outfit have become stewards over the last couple years of the Russian riffy scene, touring around their native land and across Europe while keeping up a fairly prolific clip of singles, EPs and even a split with U.S. Christmas.

I’m not sure on the release date for Punkadelica Supreme, but The Grand Astoria posted a new video for the track “Feels Like Home,” directed by guitarist Igor Suvorov, and if you’re prone to seizures as a result of flashing lights, I can’t really advise checking it out, but for everyone else, it’s pretty rocking even if you put it on and just listen to the audio. Fuzz-toned and punk-shouting, given break in its stomp by organ, it sounds like The Grand Astoria are really shooting for the mark their title sets up.

Dig it:

The Grand Astoria, “Feels Like Home” Official Video

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The Grand Astoria Stream New Single; Live and Studio Albums Coming

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 5th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Something tells me that even if they didn’t live all the way in Russia, I’d probably have a hard time keeping up with The Grand Astoria. Maybe it’s the fact that every time I turn around, the St. Petersburg-based outfit have a new release coming, if not more than one. Their split with venerated North Carolinian psych merchants U.S. Christmas still fresh off the press, The Grand Astoria have announced three new works on the way — a single and a live album due in April and a new studio album due later in the year. As much music and info as I could get follow here, grabbed from The Grand Astoria Bandcamp and Thee Facebooks pages:

The Grand Astoria, Then You Win (April 18)

Music and lyrics by K. Sharapodinov

Kamille Sharapodinov – vocals, guitars
Igor Suvorov – guitars
Eugene Korolkov – bass
Danila Danilov – backing vocals, keyboards
Alexander Chebotarev – drums
Sergey Ryltsev – sound

The Grand Astoria, Good Food – Good Show! (April 17)

A selection of live performances from different countries

1.Mania Grandiosa (Yellowstock,BE 2012)
2.Rat Race In Moscow (Yellowstock,BE 2012)
3.Evolution Of The Planet Groove (Yellowstock,BE 2012)
4.All The Same (St.Petersburg,RU 2013)
5.Omniabsence (Potsdam,DE 2011)
6.Something Wicked This Way Comes (Potsdam,DE 2011)
7.The Man.The Sun.The Desert (Seville,ES 2010)
8.Wikipedia Surfer (Preili,LV 2010)
9.Lenin Was A Mushroom (St.Petersburg,RU 2010)
10.Map Of The Starry Night (St.Petersburg,RU 2010)
11.Shoreline Melody (St.Petersburg,RU 2010)

The Grand Astoria, Punkadelica Supreme (Later 2013)

1.Welcome To The Club
2.Slave Of Two Masters
3.I Know
4.Punkadelia Supreme
5.Street Credit
6.Space Orchid vs Massive Drumkit
7.Dropping Aitches
8.Feels Like Home
9.To Cross The Rubicon
10.King Has Left The Building
11.Visualize
12.Score
13.Intermission

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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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Keeping up with The Grand Astoria: New Releases, Tour, Recording

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 23rd, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

Bit of a media blitz on this one, so bear with me. The Grand Astoria released the track “To Whom it May Concern” on a split with U.S. Christmas at the beginning of last month. The St. Petersburg, Russia, outfit went all out on it. The song is a 19-minute sprawl of psychedelic experimentation, rife with samples, winding riffs and ethereal flourishes and swirls. Don’t just take my word for it, though. They’ve put it up on their Bandcamp, so you can check it out here:

Pretty wild stuff. Over the course of their three albums — last year’s Omnipresence (review here), 2010′s II (review here) and 2009′s self-titled (On the Radar’ed here) — the band have quickly grown to cast a wide stylistic berth, but I think “To Whom it May Concern” is the farthest out The Grand Astoria have gone yet. Should be interesting to see what they do with it on tour, whether they strip it down or jam out on its space rocking elements. They hit the road on Friday, dates below (click to enlarge):

Ever ones for multi-media, they’ve also put together a video flyer for the run of shows, which they posted on the ol’ TubesofYou:

Now, they don’t really highlight it in there — presumably out of humility — but on this tour, The Grand Astoria will be taking part in Mudfest, which is happening Nov. 9-10 in Venlo, in the Netherlands, at Peron55. They’ll be playing with the likes of Sungrazer, Wheelfall, Kadavar, Black Bombaim, Glowsun and Belzebong on a stacked two-day bill. Here’s the poster for that one:

They’ve also announced they’ll play Roskilde Festival next year in Denmark. One would think this flurry of activity and the recently-issued split would be enough to keep The Grand Astoria busy, but according to a pic they recently posted on their Thee Facebooks, they’re also looking to have a new album out next spring. It may or may not be titled Punkadelica Supreme (though I certainly hope it is), and if you squint, you can check out the maybe-tracklisting below:

The really crazy part is, there’s probably more. I’m sure as we get closer to 2013 and the new album release, there’ll be further updates on The Grand Astoria and their manifold adventures, but that’s all my limited research skills could muster for the moment. In any case, plenty to look forward to, and if you want to check out more of their records, they’re all up on Bandcamp. Right on.

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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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The Re-Stoned, Analog: Finding the Inner Fuzz

Posted in Reviews on June 29th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

If it feels like there’s been a lot of instrumental heavy psych reviewed around here lately, you’re right. Joining the pack with their second studio full-length on R.A.I.G. (they also had a live album out) is previously On-the-Radar’ed Moscow trio The Re-Stoned, whose latest seven-track collection of wah-jam voodoo is called Analog. A lot of what you need to know about the band and the album is right there. As their moniker might lead you to believe, they’re stoned again – playing a kind of heady guitar-led stoner/psych rock – and they’re not at all shy about highlighting the analog warmth of the cuts included; calling it Analog feels almost brazen, daring the listener to take on the album’s natural feel. And in so doing, one is making a considerable investment in both time and energy. The three-piece cover a wide swath of mostly familiar ground on Analog, and with opener “Northern Lights” as the shortest piece at 5:58 and closer “Dream of Vodyanoy” the longest at 14:01, the record clocks a robust 61 and a half minutes, which is a lot and feels like it.

Immediately that’s a kind of drawback for The Re-Stoned. “Fronted” in a musical sense by heavily-effected, Orange-amped guitarist Ilya Lipkin, Analog takes shape around classic psych jams like “Crystals,” and while the bluesy favor in Lipkin’s playing is often satisfying as offset by the double-Vladimir rhythm section of Vladimir Nikulin (bass) and Vladimir Muchnov (drums), as “Crystals” turns into “Feedback” turns into “Music for Jimmy” and the album’s middle becomes its end, the course of jam parts, the occasional plotted riff and extended solos starts to feel samey, in concept if not actual sound. The Re-Stoned recorded Analog live, which was undoubtedly the way to go considering the spontaneous vibe of the material, and in multiple sessions, and one can hear that mostly in Muchnov’s drums, which have an entirely different snare sound on the title-track than they do on the riffier “Put the Sound Down or Get the Hell Out.” And while this change in the actual audio keeps Analog from sounding overly redundant, there’s no denying the ethic is the same. That said, “Analog” blends the more riff-led and jammier elements in The Re-Stoned’s approach better than nearly everything else on the album, so it’s not like Analog is lacking in satisfying moments or is somehow entirely without merit or appeal. Just the opposite.

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Without God, Lambs to the Slaughter: Drawn to the Sound of Broken Glass

Posted in Reviews on May 24th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

Though both their band moniker and album title smack of grindcore or some form of metal more typically thought of as “extreme,” Moscow outfit Without God’s debut, Lambs to the Slaughter, is doom and sludge the whole way through. The first offering from the four-piece (who may or may not have gotten their name from the Katatonia song), Lambs to the Slaughter finds its release through R.A.I.G., perhaps the most major of players in the still-developing Russian heavy/riff-led scene – that’s not to say “stoner,” because it’s not all stoner rock, though those elements are present in many of R.A.I.G.’s bands (The Re-Stoned and The Grand Astoria come to mind), Without God among them. But the 10 cuts on Lambs to the Slaughter are darker, more doomed atmospherically, and among the band’s influences — readily on display in various stretches throughout the album – the Californian desert is all but completely inconsequential. Without God are shooting for something altogether more tonally weighted, and about as close as they come is some similarity early on between vocalist/guitarist Anton Brovkin and former The Awesome Machine singer John Hermansen’s guttural croon on opener “They Rot.”

I’d chalk that up to coincidence more than influence, and rather, it seems the actual intent of Without God is to play off a Crowbar-style riffy sludge, throw in some melody – as both Brovkin and fellow guitarist Olga Grieg do effectively in the instrumental breaks of “They Rot” – and write traditionally structured heavy songs. Noble enough intent, and they’re not bad at it. Small flourishes of individuality go a long way toward complementing the more genre-based ideas on Lambs to the Slaughter, and a string of slower, bluesy guitar leads across several of the tracks — “Believe,” “Crossroads/Eat the Shit,” “Forgiveness Sunday,” “Altar of Medicine,” and closer “Faithless” – shows personality in the playing that’s still only beginning to emerge. Crowbar is the chief influence on much of Lambs to the Slaughter, whether it’s a slower song like “Altar of Medicine” or a faster one like “Homeless,” but they’re by no means the only point of inspiration on display. Brovkin’s vocal cadence on the awesomely-named “Space Weed” is pure Lee Dorrian from Cathedral’s classic “Hopkins (The Witchfinder General),” and you can’t get away with putting the exclamation “Alright now!” over a grooving riff as he does on “Believe” without earning a comparison to Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf.” Especially not over that grooving riff.

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The Grand Astoria, Omnipresence: Being Everywhere, All the Time

Posted in Reviews on March 9th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

After releasing the well-received II last year through R.A.I.G., Russian genrenauts The Grand Astoria make a quick return with their third album, Omnipresence. Self-released and stretching to nearly a full-hour despite paring down song lengths from last time out, Omnipresence finds the St. Petersburg four-piece joined by a host of guests, paying tribute to Ray Bradbury (who shows up in the liner art), and managing at different times to play to their noisy strengths while also reaching beyond the limitations of stoner or heavy rock with funk and jam-based experimentation. Omnipresence has moments that work and moments that don’t, but as a band, The Grand Astoria are quickly growing into their sound, and their third offering documents that process well.

They’ve since lost their rhythm section, but guitarists Kamille Sharapodinov (also vocals) and Igor Suvorov are leading the charge on Omnipresence anyway, crisscrossing into and out of conventionality with ease unnerving for a band still so young, having just formed two years ago. Their restless nature shows off the bat with the stoner punk of opener “Doomsday Party,” in which Sharapodinov, Suvorov, then-bassist Farid Azizov and then-drummer Nick Kunavin are right in their element. Sharapodinov’s vocals on “Doomsday Party” and several of the more upbeat Omnipresence tracks remind of the blown-out feel Hank Williams III used on the earliest Assjack demos, but I’d imagine that’s more coincidence — and the effect is by no means exclusive to him, it’s just that with the quick tempo and punk feel, that’s what comes to my mind first. Azizov and Kunavin provide well-placed backing vocals on the opener and a few of the later tracks, including “Something Wicked This Way Comes” and “Rat Race in Moscow,” two of the strongest songs on the album.

At their strongest, The Grand Astoria bite off a piece of Fu Manchu’s hardcore roots and make it their own, and some of Omnipresence shows that. “Hungry and Foolish,” which follows “Doomsday Party,” has formidable and unabashed stoner rock groove, but some of the spacier ideas that came to the fore on II show themselves in the echoey instrumental “Omniabsence,” which follows “Mania Grandiosa” (probably Sharapodinov’s best vocal here) and sets up the centerpiece section of the album. Its hypnotic affect is considerable – a four-minute trip into an alternate sonic galaxy – but if anything is going to snap the listener back to awareness, it’s the catchy “Rat Race in Moscow.” The vocals are high in the mix (I always think that, so take it with a grain of salt), but if The Grand Astoria were ever right to want to feature the chorus, it’s here. The track opens with a big rock finish and gives perhaps a more playful take on some of the punk influence shown earlier on in Omnipresence’s starting moments.

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On the Radar: Sex Type Thing (RU)

Posted in On the Radar on February 2nd, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

Not to be confused with an alternative rock band from San Francisco, the Sex Type Thing in question hail from Saint Petersburg (much different), in Russia, and play a straightforward type of heavy/stoner rock that they adopted in 2007 after years of development, lineup and style changes. Their first album, Southern Dreams from Northern Reality, came out in 2009, and in March, they’ll follow it with Checked up by Time, snippets from which are available for listening on the Bandcamp player below.

I suppose one doesn’t name a band after a Stone Temple Pilots song and not have some measure of ’90s commercial rock influence, but for anyone who’d care to visit their MySpace to hear tracks off the first album, Sex Type Thing filter any grunge leanings through a riff-heavy approach that’s aiming for something different entirely. The vocals of Michael Chigidin come across a little too forward in the mix on the older material — “Long Way Home Blues” and “Freeway Ride,” for example — but judging by the snippets, that seems to have been at least somewhat taken care of on the new cuts. Hey, at least he can sing.

Straight-ahead European-style stoner rock is nothing new by this point, but Russia‘s burgeoning scene (bands like The Re-Stoned and The Grand Astoria) is only now starting to make itself known internationally, so it’s worth a look and listen to acts like Sex Type Thing to hear what kind of influences are at work. Or, if you’d rather just groove on it, that’s fine too.

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Distorted Space and Literary Appreciation with The Grand Astoria

Posted in Reviews on August 10th, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster

With their origins in the chilly Russian climes of Saint Petersburg, The Grand Astoria are bound to bring something unique to their take on stoner rock, and sure enough, with their appropriately-titled second offering, II (R.A.I.G.), they do just that, eschewing a fuzzy sound for a harsher, noisier distorted jamming that occasionally goes full-cosmic. While some of the material on last year’s self-released self-titled effort seemed punkish, II comes from a less hurried place and shows The Grand Astoria as unafraid to experiment within their sound, adding samples or feedback to the mostly instrumental material as a way of engaging their audience.

Immediately noticeable about II is the way it’s organized. In terms of track length, the five songs that comprise the album would make a ‘U’ were you to graph them. Opener “Enjoy the View” reaches furthest at 14:50, then the cumbersomely-named “The Inner Galactic Experience of Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath” (Plath was referenced on the self-titled as well) clocks in at 7:40. “Visit Sri Lanka” gives a Siena Root-esque moment of Subcontinental Asian influence at 2:44, then it’s back to the longer material with “Wikipedia Surfer” at 9:02 and closer “Radio Friendly Fire” at 12:18. What was behind The Grand Astoria arranging the tracks this way I don’t know, but II does have a rich and smooth flow to it and “Visit Sri Lanka” breaks up the surrounding tracks in a way as to make the second half of the album as refreshing as the first, so no complaints.

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On the Radar: The Re-Stoned

Posted in On the Radar on July 22nd, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster

On one of these endless summer days, nothing fits the bill quite like good old fashioned stoner rock, and if anyone knows about beating the heat, it’s The Re-Stoned, who come to us all the way from — MOSCOW? Okay, so maybe they’re not much for sunshine, but damn if they haven’t learned the lessons Karma to Burn and Fu Manchu have been teaching. Right on.

The trio are entirely instrumental, and guitarist Ilya Lipkin likes to experiment with effects, so some of that bleeds into the songs (a couple of which you can hear on The Re-Stoned‘s MySpace page), but there’s a lot here that’s just straight up fuzzriffic — so much so, in fact, The Re-Stoned even have their own custom distortion pedal. You know that’s damn fuzzy.

Hard not to dig the wah-bass Vladimir Nikulin provides on “Return,” and I don’t know what the groove of “Mountain Giant” is In Search Of, but I’m pretty sure it found it. They’ve also got a live jam posted that’s pretty tasty, and a mellower cut called “Sleeping World” where they let their inner “Planet Caravan” shine. The three studio tracks come off 2009′s Return of the Reptiles EP (R.A.I.G.), but they’ll be featured on the forthcoming Revealed Gravitation full-length as well, which is expected out soon.

I know I say it all the time, but it just goes to show how universal The Heavy really is. Kids in the desert can get down every bit as easily as kids in snowy Moscow, and on a sweltering day, all you have to do is fire up the intertubes and you’ve got a main line to yet another killer band. This is a wondrous age, my friends.

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