Released to mark a month-long tour together earlier this year, the Setalight Records split 10″ between Berlin heavy rockers Samavayo and Russian genrenauts The Grand Astoria holds a few surprises along the way. Pressed to black vinyl, it’s a follow-up to Samavayo‘s 2014 joint release with One Possible Option, and for The Grand Astoria, who’ve worked with Setalight in the past on 2014’s La Belle Epoque (review here), as well as 2013’s Punkadelica Supreme (review here) and several other short releases along the way.
Though on paper it might seem like an awkward pairing — come to think of it, just about anybody paired with The Grand Astoria is kind of awkward on paper; their sound is expansive, and they’re more than capable songwriters, but you never quite know what they’re going to do next — they mesh pretty well, and with a side split between them, both bands give a quick glimpse at where they’re at stylistically without completely losing a thread going one into the other.
One might notice The Grand Astoria‘s skull-headed mascot on the cover art by Sophia Miroedova walking away from a temple — or maybe having his portrait painted in front of it? — over which Samavayo‘s sun-style logo resides in the sky. Both acts, then, are represented, one perhaps more subtly than the other. It’s much the same way with the music. On side A, Samavayo offer two tracks: “Intergalactic Hunt” (4:03) and “Soul out of Control” (8:06), while on side B, The Grand Astoria reaffirm their shift toward progressive rock with “Kobaïa Express” (11:30).
Each cut is distinct from those around it, one way or another, and “Intergalactic Hunt” stands out for its immediate sense of movement, the guitar of Behrang Alavi (also vocals) setting a tight rhythm that drummer/backing vocalist Stephan Voland and bassist/backing vocalist Andreas Voland match both in groove and nuance, building and releasing tension in the instrumental verses and chorus of the first half before shifting in the second to a bridge that gradually leads them back to where they started, the guitar line that started it all serving also as the leadout. Fitting somehow for Samavayo in terms of showing their range that they should go from an entirely instrumental track to one centered almost completely on its vocal hook.
Well, “almost completely” is a stretch. “Soul out of Control” still has its riff — a more laid back chug over which Alavi calls to mind any number of ’90s alt melodies — and at eight minutes, there’s plenty of room for Samavayo to give the song a sense of space. They do precisely that, even slowing down over the last two minutes to march the way out, but “Soul out of Control” remains a deceptively quick listen for topping eight minutes, and that too suits Samavayo well, their songwriting always at the core no matter how expansive a given track may or may not be.
And speaking of expansive, The Grand Astoria‘s “Kobaïa Express” takes its name from the fictional planet created by Magma drummer Christian Vander — or at least from the train that presumably gets you there with the minimum of stops en route — and is presented in the accompanying alien language, a morass of syllables sometimes closer to Italian, sometimes more Slavic depending on where the music is going in any particular movement. And it does go. Recorded as the six-piece of Kamille Sharapodinov (vocals, electric and acoustic guitar), Danila Danilov (vocals, keys, flute), Eugene Korolkov (bass), Vladimir Zinoviev (drums), and Igor Suvorov (lead guitar) with Ravil Azizov on clarinet, “Kobaïa Express” is nigh on visionary progressive metal, at times operatic and at times grinding, but always precise, heavy and intricately constructed.
The Grand Astoria have already followed this split up with a two-song full-length titled The Mighty Few on which each track tops 20 minutes, so we know it’s not as far as they’ll push into fleshing out arrangements and the like, but “Kobaïa Express” thrills nonetheless for its direct Magma-ism and the poise the band demonstrates throughout, and Samavayo‘s inclusions, both of which were recorded at the end of last year, bode well for what they might do on their own next outing. If nothing else, the moral of the story with their split would seem to be that that must have been one hell of a tour. Even though it’s long since over, the scope both bands show here does justice to the fact that they got together in the first place and unites in unexpected ways across a bridge of progressive stylization and heavy craftsmanship.
Posted in Reviews on January 14th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Russian heavy rockers The Grand Astoria have only gotten more progressive and more prolific. La Belle Epoque, which was released last month by Setalight Records, is their first long-player since 2013’s Punkadelica Supreme (review here) and their fifth overall, but in the time between the two albums, the Saint Petersburg-based outfit have unleashed a barrage of outings, including singles, EPs, splits and live releases, plus side-projects from guitarist/vocalist Kamille Sharapodinov (The Legendary Flower Punk) and lead guitarist Igor Suvarov (Lucifer in the Sky with Diamonds). Their increasing tendency toward exploration has led them to a more metallic approach on La Belle Epoque, and what seemed on their earlier works like a defining core of stoner rock and punk has become only pieces of a puzzle to which, apparently, more is being added. Their first three records, 2009’s I (review here), 2010’s II (review here) and 2011’s Omnipresence (review here), showed an increasing tendency to look outside the band itself — a rotating lineup around Sharapodinov and Suvarov has been part of that; near as I can tell, keyboardist/floutist/vocalist/metallophonist Danila Danilov is the only other returning player from Punkadelica Supreme — and La Belle Epoque further extends that impulse stylistically. It is their proggiest work to date, though at seven-tracks/43 minutes it’s not like they’ve gotten so indulgent as to surpass an easy vinyl fit, but the range of their material and their ability to fluidly bring listeners along for the ride throughout is indicative of their growth. As much as it is exploring, La Belle Epoque is also a mature, not-at-all-confused offering.
Opener “Henry’s Got a Gun” makes a surprising first impression in calling to mind Faith No More sonically, and I find the more I listen to La Belle Epoque, the more that band fits as a comparison point. Not always in sound — The Grand Astoria aren’t limited to aping one group or genre at this point, if they ever were — but in method. The likeness comes more from the ability to translate experimental tendencies into traditional or semi-traditional forms of songwriting; that is, to take the experiment and develop it into a fully-realized song. Be it the slight country touch of guest banjo in “The Answer,” the Metallica groove early in “Gravity Bong,” the Devin Townsend-style harmonies and prog-metal range of the 14:05 “Serpent and the Garden of Eden” or the sweet melodicism of the clarinet-inclusive title-track and the brief, positive moment provided in closer “Charming,” each song offers something different, but La Belle Epoque does not overbake its ideas or push too far in one direction or another, instead keeping a balance sound-wise and through Sharapodinov and Danilov‘s vocals that guides the listener across the various movements on hand. Overarching flow winds up one of the great strengths of the CD — the vinyl presumably splits just before “Serpent and the Garden of Eden” — though that’s not really a surprise given it’s The Grand Astoria‘s fifth full-length. The tonal quality is a bit more of a surprise, the guitars having more bite and bassist Eugene Korolkov and drummer Vladimir Zinoviev following them on runs like those of “Lisbon Firstborn”‘s instrumental first half, which shifts after four minutes to an acoustic homage to Lisbon that in turn builds to organ-topped classic rock groove and soloing to finish out.
In many other contexts, such shifts might come across as manic or disjointed, but by the time they get around to “Lisbon Fuzzborn,” The Grand Astoria have bent the rules far enough that they can more or less squeeze through whatever they want. Of course, at 14 minutes, “Serpent and the Garden of Eden” is a focal point, and from its grandiose opening build through the metallic tension that arises early, the tight groove, psychedelic vibe in Suvorov‘s first-half solo, and progressive changes and turns made from there on out, winding up in a second-half payoff for song and album alike, it’s a singular achievement in the band’s discography in its arrangement and execution. As an example of how far they’ve come since their debut six years ago, I don’t think there’s much more one could ask of it, though one could just as easily say the same of “La Belle Epoque” itself, which clocks in at a much shorter 3:19. So it’s not just about how they’ve written a long track, or found a metal-sounding production. It’s about how La Belle Epoque demonstrates a progression hard won through constant evolution of songwriting and work on the road. Most satisfying of all is how increasingly these elements belong solely to The Grand Astoria, and how they’ve carved an identity for themselves in their willful searching for their sound. They’re only going to keep moving forward, and while La Belle Epoque features their familiar cow-skull mascot on its cover by Sophia Miroedova, the tracks on the album itself are anything but repetitive. If anything, this is one in a series of ambitious adventures that character has had, and I’d be very surprised if it’s all that long before the next one arrives.
Posted in Reviews on January 2nd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Yesterday was pretty rough. Some excellent stuff in that batch of 10 discs, but man, by the end of it I don’t mind telling you I was dragging more than a bit of ass. I guess that’s to be expected. Still, I think that, as a project, this was worthwhile. There was a lot of stuff — too much — sitting around that was going to go undiscussed coming out of 2014, and now here we are, it’s the New Year, and I feel like at least a small percentage of what came my way got its due. Small victories.
So this is it. Reviews 41-50. After this, there isn’t much from 2014 that I’ll be looking back on; it’s mostly stuff to come, which is a different matter entirely. I’m sure we won’t be out of Jan. before I’m behind again in a major way, but what the hell, at least I’m trying, and at least there’s 50 discs that showed up on my desk that can be put on the shelf instead. Yes, it’s a very complex filing system. Ask me sometime and I’ll tell you all about it. Until then, let’s finish it like the final battle from Highlander. There can be only… 10… more…?
Okay maybe not.
Thanks for reading.
The Re-Stoned, Totems
Helmed since 2008 by the multifaceted Ilya Lipkin, Moscow mostly-instrumentalists The Re-Stoned release their fourth album in the form of Totems on R.A.I.G., a 58-minute wide-breadth journey into heavy rock groove with touches of psychedelia, plotted jazz-jamming and a raw tonal sensibility. Wo Fat guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump contributes a noteworthy solo to “Old Times,” and along with bassist Alexander Romanov, Lipkin (who himself handles the artwork design, guitar, bass, shaman drum, jew’s harp, mandala and some voice work) employs a guest drummer, percussionist and didgeridoo player, so there’s a measure of variety to the proceedings, be it the jerky pauses in “Shaman” or the earlier effects-laden exploration of “Chakras.” “Old Times” has a bit of funk to it even before Stump’s arrival, and the acoustics of “Melting Stones,” which follows, border on cowboy Americana. They’ve never had the most vibrant production, but The Re-Stoned manage to convey a natural feel and confidence as they progress, the creative growth of Lipkin always at the center of what they do.
For his second album under the moniker Anthroprophh, guitarist/vocalist Paul Allen (also of The Heads) brings in a rhythm section to aid him in his time-to-get-really-weird purposes. Thus, bassist Gareth Turner and drummer Jesse Webb, who together form the duo Big Naturals, add to the strangeness of songs like “2013 and She Told Me I was Die” on Anthroprophh’s Outside the Circle, a 45-minute excursion into warped sensibilities and things meant to go awry. Songs are made to be broken, and that happens with drones, sudden shifts in atmosphere, some smooth transitions, some jagged, all designed to transport and ignite stagnation. It does not get any less bizarre as Outside the Circle moves toward its nine-minute title-track, but one doesn’t imagine Allen would have it any other way, and one wouldn’t have it any other way from him. I call a fair amount of music adventurous for deviating from the norm. Anthroprophh makes most of that sound silly in comparison with its buzzsaw guitar and raw experimental display.
Saskatoon four-piece Lavagoat continue to challenge themselves even as they bludgeon eardrums. Their single-track CD EP, Weird Menace, pulls together six individual songs recorded mostly live in their rehearsal space with a purposeful drive toward rawness and a horror thematic. Sure enough, where their 2012 LP, Monoliths of Mars (review here) and 2010 self-titled debut (review here) offered increasing stylistic complexity, Weird Menace steps forward atmospherically by pulling back on the production value. Murky screams permeate “Ectoplasm” only to be immediately offset by the low growls and deathly groove of “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” presented as nasty as possible. There are still some touches of flourish in the guitar – one can’t completely cast off a creative development, even when trying really, really hard – but to call Weird Menace’s regressive experimentalism anything but a success would be undervaluing the turn they’ve made and how smoothly they’ve made it. Note: a follow-up LP, Ageless Nonsense (actually recorded earlier than this EP), has already been released.
Limited to 50 CD copies and presented in an oversize sleeve, soon-to-be-picked-up-by-somebody Colorado five-piece Ketch’s self-titled debut demo/EP is death-doom brutal and doom-death grooving. Vocalist Zach Salmans and guitarist Clay Cushman (who also recorded) trade off growls and screams over plus-sized, malevolent riffs and guitarist Jeremy Winters, bassist Dave Borrusch and drummer David Csicsely (also of The Flight of Sleipnir) only add to the pummel, which hits a particularly vicious moment in the grueling second half of “Counting Sunsets,” a dirge of low growls giving way to churning, nodding despair. Beginning with 9:18 longest cut “Shimmering Lights” (immediate points), Ketch deliver a precision extremity that even on this initial offering makes its villainous intent plain with volume and overarching drear. The midsection stomp of “Chemical Despondency” and the gurgle in closer “13 Coils” affirm that Ketch have found their stylistic niche and are ready to begin developing their sound from it. One looks forward to the growth of this already maddening approach. Bonus points for no obvious Lovecraft references.
Somewhere between death, black and doom metals, one finds Rhode Island three-piece Eternal Khan exploring cosmic, existential, literary and mythological themes on their self-released debut full-length, A Poisoned Psalm, the jewel case edition of which includes both lyrics and liner note explanations of each of its seven tracks. It’s an ambitious take from a trio who seem destined at some point to write a concept album – maybe based on Faust, maybe not – but the actual songs live up to the lofty presentation, be it the suitable gallop of “Raging Host,” despondent push of centerpiece “The Tower” or double-kick bleakness of “Void of Light and Reconciliation.” Guitarist/vocalist N. Wood, guitarist T. Phrathep and drummer D. Murphy mash their various styles well, but there’s room to grow here too, and I’d wonder how “The Black Stork” might work with an element of drone brought into the mix to add to the atmosphere and provide contrast to the various sides of Eternal Khan’s extremity. Even without, A Poisoned Psalm serves vigorous notice.
Rife with ‘70s swagger and easy-rolling blues grooves, Get Pure is the third record from Columbus, Ohio trio Mount Carmel, and it goes down as smooth as one could ask, the guitar work of Matthew Reed, bass of his brother, Patrick Reed (since out of the band and replaced by Nick Tolford) and drums of James McCain meshing with a natural, classic power trio dynamic only furthered by the vocals, as laid back as Leaf Hound but with an underlying bluesiness on cuts like “One More Morning” and “No Pot to Piss.” At 11 tracks and a vinyl-minded 35 minutes, neither the album as a whole nor its component tracks overstay their welcome, and late pushers like “Hangin’ On” and “Fear Me Now” leave the listener wanting more while closer “Yeah You Mama” bookends with opener “Gold” in hey-baby-ism and irrefutable rhythmic swing. Comfortable in its mid-pace boogie, Get Pure offers a party vibe without being needlessly raucous, and its laid back mood becomes one of its greatest assets.
One could hardly accuse Stockholm classic proggers Pocket Size of living up to their name on Exposed Undercurrents, their second album. Even putting aside the expansive fullness of their sound itself, there are nine people in the lineup. It would have to be some pocket. The group is led by guitarist Peder Pedersen, whose own contributions are met by arrangements of saxophone, Hammond B-3, flute, theremin and so on as the 11 tracks of Exposed Undercurrents play off intricately-conceived purposes to engaging ends. One is reminded some of Hypnos 69’s takes on elder King Crimson, but Pocket Size have less of a heavy rock stylistic base and are more purely prog. A clean production – this is clearly a band that wants you to hear everything happening at any given moment – serves the 54-minute offering well, and though it’s by no means free of indulgence, Exposed Undercurrents is imaginative in both the paths it follows and those it creates, the joy of craftsmanship clearly at the core of its process.
Though it’s actually only about 41 minutes, I doubt if Zoltan’s Sixty Minute Zoom would benefit from the extra time in terms of getting its point across. The instrumental London trio of keyboardist Andy Thompson, bassist/keyboardist Matt Thompson and drummer/keyboardist Andrew Prestidge revel in ‘70s synth soundtrack stylizations. For good measure I’ll name-check Goblin as a central influence on “Uzumaki,” the second of Sixty Minute Zoom’s five inclusions, but John Carpenter’s clearly had a hand as well in brazenly cinematic texturing of synth and the late-‘70s/early-‘80s vibe. The various washes culminate in the side B-consuming 21-minute stretch of “The Integral,” which is broken into separate movements but flows smoothly between them, pulsations and drones interweaving for a classic atmosphere of tension and balance of the chemistry between the Thompsons and Prestidge and the progressive, immersive sound they create. Fans of earlier Zombi will find much to chew on, but Zoltan dive even further into soundtrack-style ambience. All that’s missing is Lori Cardille running down a dimly lit hallway.
Offered as a nine-track full-length plus a four-song bonus EP, the self-titled debut from Madison, Wisconsin’s The Garza meters out noise rock punishment with sludgy ferocity. A trio of notable pedigree – drummer/vocalist Magma (Bongzilla, Aquilonian), guitarist Shawn Blackler (Brainerd, Striking Irwin), and bassist Nate Bush (ex-Droids Attack, ex-Bongzilla) – they fluidly pull together post-hardcore elements and Crowbar-esque turns while retaining a core of punk rock. “Rage” is a solid example of this, but it’s true of just about all of the album proper, which largely holds to its approach, adding some melody to the seven-minute pre-bonus-tracks closer “Kingdoms End” and varying tempo here and there around its destructive central ideology. The four bonus tracks are of a similar mind as well, Magma switching up his vocals every now and then to add variety to proceedings that otherwise prove vehemently assured of their position. I’m not sure if the extra cuts help reinforce the album’s rawness or detract from the closer, but The Garza aren’t exactly light on impact either way.
Dot Legacy’s self-titled Setalight Records debut, particularly for a green-backed CD with vinyl-style grooves on front, is not nearly as stoned as one might think. The Parisian foursome of Damien Quintard (vocals/bass/recording), Arnaud Merckling (guitar/keys/vocals), John Defontaine (guitar/vocals) and Romain Mottier (drums/vocals) employ a broad range on the 46-minute album’s nine tracks, from the shoegaze post-rock of “The Passage” to the driving heavy psych of “Gorilla Train Station,” all the while holding firm to a creative reasoning geared toward individuality. If they wound up adopting “The Midnight Weirdos” as a nom de guerre, I wouldn’t be surprised, but in fact there’s little sense that at any point Dot Legacy aren’t in full command of where their material is headed. All the better for the surprising opening duo of “Kennedy” and “Think of a Name,” which shift between reverb-soaked meditation and vibrant, hook-laden heavy rock. A fascinating and original-ish debut that could be the start of something special. They should hit the festival circuit hard and not look back.
Posted in Whathaveyou on November 12th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Released by the band in a hand-painted box in an edition of ONE copy, The Beginner’s Guide to The Grand Astoria includes nine CDs, two 7″s and a plethora of other pieces of memorabilia: backstage passes, stickers, and so on, plus some stuff from Kamille Sharapodinov‘s side-project. It’s really more than just a beginner’s guide, considering it’s everything, but an impressive assemblage all the same, and even more tempting since it’s put together personally by the band and they’re only doing one of them.
The Grand Astoria are a hard band to keep up with. The prolific Russian rockers have, by my count, six releases out this year. Two are singles, one is a 29-minute track on a split with Argentina’s Montenegro, one’s a live record, one is a front-to-back cover of Black Flag‘s The Process of Weeding Out EP, and most recent is the full-length La Belle Epoque, which was released in September. It can be an overwhelming amount of material, but if you were ever thinking of diving in headfirst, The Beginner’s Guide to The Grand Astoria would at very least mean you’re all caught up. For now.
Here’s the post from Sharapodinov on the auction for the box, which seems to be taking place on Thee Facebooks:
Okay folks! I promised something special for the real fans and supporters of THE GRAND ASTORIA and my other projects! Here is the box hand-painted by our lovely Sophia Miroedova which includes 9 CDs of The Grand Astoria, 2 seven inch singles of The Grand Astoria, 2 CDs of The Legendary Flower Punk with latest albums, 9 backstage passes from different festivals we played during these years, gently saved by me for this very moment, 1 ticket for our very FIRST SHOW EVER and also 1 sticker. I want only 130 euro (plus shipping costs) for this box.
Only one single copy in the whole world was made Because I am not sure how many of you may want to buy this – I decided to start an auction for this beauty which actually starts right now and will end on 22-00 (Russian time) on 18th of November 2014. If nobody is interested – I will put it to ebay later. All the money will support my recent music activities and I will really appreciate any sum! Put your bid under this post! Thank you and go ahead, first bid is 130 euro.
Posted in Whathaveyou on October 3rd, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
German/Russian heavy psych rockers Iguana kick off a round of European dates tonight that will cover the next couple months, playing with Naam in Weil der Stadt. Later this month, they’ll hit the Keep it Low festival and then on from there for a series of weekenders that goes into December. Their debut album, Get the City Love You (review here), came out in 2012. Rumor has it — and by “rumor” I mean what they said on Thee Facebooks — they’ve got new songs written, so perhaps they’ll use these dates as a means for working out the kinks en route to recording their sophomore outing sometime this winter or next year.
Either way, if you happen to be somewhere these dudes are playing and up for a jammy good time, you know what’s up.
The IGUANA-Tour starts with some highlights. On 3rd of October IGUANA shares the stage with brooklyn based psychrockers NAAM. On the 18.10. they will play Keep It Low Festival, with acts like KADAVAR, BLUES PILLS, MARS RED SKY and THE SHRINE. The bands’ personal highlite will take place on the 25th of October, when IGUANA will be playing with SPIDERGAWD (including two members of the fabulous MOTORPSYCHO). So there is a lot of parties to come. Please join us!
IGUANA are touring Europe for some years now in the good old manner of DIY. IGUANA played more than 120 shows with bands such as Colour Haze, Kadavar, Saint Vitus, Brant Bjork. And they played Stoned From The Underground twice, also Void Fest and Blue Moon Fest.
Tourdates 2014 – IGUANA – Fall Winter Tour 2014: 03.10.2014 – Weil der Stadt (DE), JH Kloster, w. Naam 18.10.2014 – München (DE), Feierwerk – Keep It Low Festival, w. Kadavar, The Shrine, Mars Red Sky 24.10.2014 – Lüneburg (DE), Jekyll & Hyde, w. Eta Lux 25.10.2014 – Hamburg (DE), Bambi Galore, w. Spidergawd 31.10.2014 – St. Gallen (CH), Rümpeltum, w. Wight, Bushfire 01.11.2014 – Kranichfeld (DE), Crossing All Over Fest 14.11.2014 – Nijmegen (NL), De Onderbroek 15.11.2014 – Den Haag (NL), Club tba 20.11.2014 – Dresden (DE), Ostpol, w. Kalamahara 22.11.2014 – Würzburg (DE), Immerhin, w. Stone Troopers 13.12.2014 – Berlin (DE), Cortina Bob, w. Deaf Flow
Posted in Radio on September 12th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
It’s been a couple weeks since the last time I was able to get together a proper round of adds to The Obelisk Radio, and the list as a result is accordingly huge. I’d have to go back and compare the last 18-plus months to be sure, but I think 40 albums is up there with what I might have uploaded during the initial buildup of the playlist, just basically getting everything I could think of and a bunch of stuff I couldn’t to expand on what was on the hard drive when I got it. We’ll be at two years since the Radio stream went live before I know it. Time goes quick, and seems to all the more when each post has a timestamp.
I say this every time, but there’s a lot of killer stuff included this week, so I hope you find something you enjoy.
The Obelisk Radio Adds for Sept. 13, 2014:
Bong, Bong Presents Haikai No Ku Ultra High Dimensionality LP
I wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to try to ascertain what plane of being Bong are residing on these days, but suffice it to say, they’ve evolved beyond corporeal form and merged with the all-consuming distortion of the universe. At least that’s how it sounds. The maddeningly prolific UK drone-doomers present this release but aren’t actually on it, save for guitarist Mike Vest, who leads the side-project Haikai No Ku through five tracks of blissful psychout on Ultra High Dimensionality. If you’re looking for differences between the two outfits, Haikai No Ku lean less toward grim droning than Bong, and songs like “Dead in the Temple” and “Blue at Noon” roll out huge psychedelic grooves — the band is completed by bassist Jerome Smith and drummer Sam Booth — but there’s consistency to be found in the wash of noise and the complete hypnosis of their repetitions anyway, and as high as the dimensionality might be, the volume should be higher. One to get lost in for sure, and there’s enough space for everyone. Bong on Twitter, on Bandcamp.
Lucifer in the Sky with Diamonds, The Shining One
The pun in the moniker of Moscow double-guitar four-piece Lucifer in the Sky with Diamonds probably doesn’t need to be pointed out. Featuring The Grand Astoria collaborator Igor Suvorov, Lucifer in the Sky with Diamonds pull together touches of psychedelic impulsiveness and classic heavy rock structures with the production clarity and catchy songwriting of mid-era Queens of the Stone Age. There’s a danger underscoring the boogie of “How to Fix Things” from the band’s self-released debut LP, The Shining One, that seems to find payoff later in the big-groove hook of “Highlow World,” which provides one of the album’s most satisfying listens before shifting into an airier dreamspace and fading into the noisier “Lords of the Damned,” reviving the largesse of riff prior to the closing title-track. An intriguing debut for an outfit loaded with potential, the fullness of their sound boding particularly well for their confidence in their sound and the precision of their execution. One not to be missed. Lucifer in the Sky with Diamonds on Thee Facebooks, on Bandcamp.
Desert Lord, To the Unknown
Finnish stoner-doom foursome Desert Lord get into some Sabbath-worship on their debut long-player, To the Unknown, but manage to avoid both the trap of retro ’70s-ism that has much of Europe so firmly in its grasp and the trap of sounding like Reverend Bizarre, whose legacy in their native land isn’t to be understated. Of particular note is that Desert Lord cite The Cult as an influence. One can hear shades of that in the guitars on opener “Forlorn Caravan,” but Desert Lord quickly move into doomier fare on the subsequent nine-minute “Wonderland,” which distinguished by weeded-out wah on Roni‘s bass. Middle-ground is sought and found on “New Dimensions,” with vocalist Sampo Riihimäki reminding of Earthride‘s Dave Sherman in his movement between rougher delivery, spoken word, and accentuated screaming, also hinting at roots in more traditional metal, though “Manic Survivor’s Song” gives way to more stoner territory in the guitar, reminding of some of Eggnogg‘s stylistic turns, though with less of a mind toward tonal thickness. They’re still figuring out where they want to be, but Desert Lord‘s To the Unknown has more than a few moments worth the effort of a listen. Desert Lord on Thee Facebooks, on Bandcamp.
Space Mushroom Fuzz, Onward, to the Future
Perpetually progressive and perpetually prolific bizarro psych rockers Space Mushroom Fuzz return with another new release, dubbed Onward, to the Future. The Boston outfit, led by Adam Abrams of Blue Aside, include two tracks this time out, “Onward, to the Future,” a laid back space rocker made strange in its midsection with some theremin-style keys, and the waltzing “Half the Way Down,” which shows off some classical guitar work over a subtly oompah backing rhythm with soft, brooding vocals. Is it possible to have a shoegazing waltz? Space Mushroom Fuzz never lack character in they do, Abrams periodically leading the way through jams that could and sometimes do run into indulgent (if satisfying) noodlefests, but particularly with “Half the Way Down,” there’s something more grounded and sadder at the root. “Onward, to the Future” tells a tale of alien invasion — short version: they win — and showcases the band’s exploratory side, but even that ends contemplative and relatively minimal, sort of dropping instruments one at a time by its finish on a long fade. A lesson in taming expectation, perhaps, and a fascinating, quick journey from this inventive outfit. Space Mushroom Fuzz on Thee Facebooks, on Bandcamp.
Plunger, Space Plumber
All seems to be on a course for weirdo noise punk as Los Angeles bass/drum duo Plunger get underway on their debut Space Plumber EP, some Melvins influence making itself felt on “Toxic Wrap,” and then they rumble and thump their way into the eight-minute centerpiece title-track, and it becomes apparent that there’s much more going on with twin brothers Mark (bass/vocals) and Kris Calabio (drums/vocals, also of Old Man Wizard) than it might at first seem. They quickly put their own minimalism to work for them on the faster opener “Blerg Rush,” but “Space Plumber” moves far off into sparseness, the drums barely there when they are and then gone ahead of the transition into “Sleep,” on which both Mark and Kris contribute vocals over a fuller rumble and steady roll, clearly enjoying the contrast. “Plunger” rounds out the release with a fuller take on some of the faster movement of the opener, starts and stops in the unpretentious 1;53 finale. One gets the feeling the (Super) Calabio Bros. are only going to get stranger from here, and that suits them well. Plunger on Thee Facebooks, on Bandcamp.
Once again, these are five cool releases, but there were 35 other records that join the playlist today, including full-lengths from Orange Goblin, Electric Wizard, Apostle of Solitude and on and on. A couple of these will be on the year-end list, so if you get the chance to check out The Obelisk Radio playlist and updates page, I think it’s worth a look.
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 Astoria — Sharapodinov, 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.
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.