Six Dumb Questions with Cortez

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on August 16th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

cortez

Let’s face it: a new Cortez outing doesn’t come along every day. The Boston heavy rockers offered up their first release in 2007’s Thunder in a Forgotten Town EP through Buzzville Records. It would be five years before they’d answer with their 2012 Bilocation Records self-titled debut full-length (review here), and five more beyond that for the recently-landed second album, The Depths Below (review here), to make its mark this year as their first domestically-backed collection, issued via the Connecticut-based imprint Salt of the Earth Records. They had a 2014 split with Borracho (review here) and a 2016 digital single covering Deep Purple‘s “Stormbringer” (posted here), but still, they’re not exactly what you’d call prolific.

But, when a new Cortez outing does arrive, it’s all the more of an occasion worth marking. The last half-decade has brought some significant changes in the band, as seen in the departure of longtime drummer Jeremy Hemond (who still plays on The Depths Below) and his replacement with Alexei Rodriguez and the addition of second guitarist Alasdair Swan alongside founding six-stringer Scott O’Dowd, bassist/backing vocalist Jay Furlo and frontman Matt Harrington, but one thing that has remained central to the band is their songwriting. The Depths Below, from the opening aggro thrust of “All Gone Wrong” through the three-part storytelling of “Walk Through Fire,” “The Citadel” and “Blood of Heirs,” and the Life of Agony-esque “Dead Channel” late in the tracklisting, is a shining example of how Cortez are and seem to have always been underrated for the quality of their craft and the purpose of their execution. A well-kept secret known to denizens of smaller Boston-area venues and European labels, it would seem, but primed nonetheless for a wider reach.

As they have been all along. Maybe on that level the lessons of The Depths Below are a refresher course in the kind of straightforward righteousness Cortez have honed since they got their start more than a decade ago, but if check-ins from them are to be so periodic in their nature, then attention and appreciation for the band’s work on its own terms are no less duly earned than they might be if they busted out a new record every eight months. In the interview that follows, O’Dowd and Harrington talk about making The Depths Below and the shifts in lineup Cortez have undergone since the self-titled, as well as the work that’s already begun on their next outing, which is set to arrive whenever the hell they decide it’s good and ready to arrive.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

cortez the depths below

Six Dumb Questions with Cortez

A lot has changed for Cortez since the self-titled. How do you feel about everything that’s gone down with the band in the last five years? Tell me about bringing in Alasdair on guitar and Alexei on drums. How do you feel about where the band is at now?

Scott O’Dowd: In the five years since the release of our self-titled album, quite a lot has happened. Not the least of which was adding Alasdair on second guitar. We’ve always envisioned ourselves as a two-guitar band, but after Tony (our original second guitarist) left the band in 2008, we continued on as a four-piece. This was only because we didn’t have anyone else in mind to fill the position. We’re big believers in chemistry, both musically and personally, so rather than adding someone that we didn’t know, we decided to continue with the four remaining members until we found the right fifth member. Alasdair (who happens to be married to my wife’s cousin) had recently moved to the US from Scotland and we really hit it off on a musical and personal level. I told the rest of the guys about him and he came down to rehearsal. He was a perfect fit and has been with us ever since (2012).

We parted ways with our long time drummer Jeremy [Hemond] in November of 2016 when he moved back to Vermont. As might be expected, devoting time to the band had become an issue because of the distance. We decided to move on and look for another drummer. In a complete stroke of luck, Alexei came across an ad we placed and came down to audition. After trying out a handful of drummers who weren’t right for us, we knew Alexei was our guy from the first song. He fit right in and we all feel a renewed sense of purpose.

We’re really happy, looking forward to working on new material, and playing shows.

How did the writing process work out for The Depths Below? When did you start thinking about a follow-up for the self-titled and how did the material come together? Was there anything in particular you wanted to do coming off the first album?

SO: The writing process worked pretty much the same way it always does, except for Alasdair contributing to the songs, and Matt having even more input this time around. We very rarely stop and say, “OK, it’s time to write for the new album.” Instead, we are always working on ideas whenever we have a chance or are feeling inspired. It’s a perpetual thing for us. Sometimes songs will come together rather quickly, such as “Johnny” from the self-titled. Other times we may have a couple of parts and not be able to finish the song. When that happens we tend to put that particular idea on the back burner and come back to it at a later date. Sometimes even years later. We work on a particular idea until we feel it’s finished, however long that takes. It’s not enough for us to throw a few riffs together and call it done. It’s important that a song has a flow and makes sense. We work democratically and listen to each other’s input and tweak parts until we are satisfied. We’re our own toughest critics.

Some of the material written shortly after the self-titled was in the process of being recorded. Some of the other ideas were fleshed out later on. As I mentioned above, it’s an ongoing thing.

When did you know that “Walk Through Fire,” “The Citadel” and “Blood of Heirs” would tie together? How did that come about, and what is the narrative uniting the songs?

SO: I’m going to defer to Matt on this one.

Matt Harrington: If I’m remembering correctly, “The Citadel” was the first song we completed of the three. “Walk Through Fire” is in a different tuning, but I must have heard it right before “The Citadel” on a practice recording because I remember really liking the way they led into one another. I also knew I wanted to tell a little more of the story when I finished “The Citadel,” which also plays into the lyrical why of “Blood of Heirs.”

“In the Shadows of Ancients” is a loose adaptation of a story I wrote. “Walk Through Fire” is the radicalization of the disenfranchised, “The Citadel” is the execution of the oath by the faithful with a little familial revenge thrown in, and “Blood of Heirs” is a homecoming of sorts with the backdrop of a battle.

How about the recording? Was the album done in one shot or over multiple sessions? It seems like there’s a more aggressive sound this time around. Was that something you were looking to bring out purposefully, or just how it worked out in the writing and production?

SO: We recorded the whole album with Benny Grotto. I give him major credit for understanding exactly what we wanted and helping us capture it in the recording. The album was recorded in a few different sessions. The basic tracks (drums, bass, and some guitars) were recorded at Q Division in Somerville, MA, in December of 2014. We recorded most of the rest of the rhythm guitar tracks at Mad Oak in Allston, MA. We finished up leads and vocals at Moontower (R.I.P.) in Somerville. The actual recording was finished in June of 2015. From there we mixed with Benny and sent it off for mastering to Jeff Lipton and Maria Rice at Peerless Mastering.

As for the more aggressive sound, I think partly it just had to do with some of the songs themselves. We’ve always listened to all sorts of music, and I know I tried to bring some more of my metallic influences to the forefront on a few songs. “Walk Through Fire” for example, was a song that had a bit of a NWOBHM feel to me when I came up with the main riff. “Blood of Heirs” has more of an oldschool thrash-metal-meets-Bathory sort of feel to the main riff. I know we made a conscious effort to have a lot of variation in tempo and feel. I’m sure that directly contributed to the genesis of those two songs. Aside from wanting a good amount of variety, there were no strict “rules.” We like to write riffs and songs we enjoy and try not to worry too much about something being a stylistic outlier or odd man out sort of thing. If we like it, we go with it.

What’s the story behind “Dead Channel?”

MH: I’ve always loved dystopias. I never expected to live in one, but that’s a whole other thing.

The name is a nod to the first line of William Gibson’s seminal cyberpunk book, Neuromancer: “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

That line drew a young me in instantly, and the visual is a favorite of mine. Pretty soon, someone who picks up that book for the first time won’t know what that is without checking Google, if they even bother to. Isn’t it sort of weird, uncomfortable, and exciting all at once that culture and technology change so completely and frequently now?

Lyrically, this song is a companion of sorts to “Poor and Devoid,” in that they both touch on the idea that we are both consumer and product everywhere we go physically and virtually, and what is presented to us (and sometimes what we present) isn’t always genuine or real.

I watched online communities go from USENET and dialing into BBSs to message boards/forums to where we stand now in both the more mainstream and less accessible parts of a vast internet. These communities have become global cultures and I think this sort of connection without boundaries or borders has power, both positive and negative. The optimist in me likes to think that interconnectivity, community, and freedom are ultimately a good thing.

Do we want to live in a dying world or die knowing we built something that lives on? Maybe we find a better us together, and find better ways to communicate and collaborate without the noise, ideologies, or agendas. Maybe we take a look at the old and say… you know what, it’s okay that isn’t a thing anymore. Maybe we decide to tear every last vestige of those old things down completely. Sometimes it takes weird, uncomfortable, and/or exciting to make something new. Nostalgia and fear shouldn’t prevent people from building things. My hope is that the new things we create are real and genuine and not born from the distractions that are all around us now.

You did the release show earlier this month for The Depths Below, so what’s next for you guys? Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

SO: To be honest, there was a great sense of relief in releasing The Depths Below and playing the actual release show. The record had been a long time in the “gestation” period (which seems to be our pattern at this point), and it was our first Boston show with Alexei on drums. We wanted to pick up right where we left off and, at the same time, state our intent to continue progressing as a band. It was a packed house at our favorite club, with some of our favorite folks. We couldn’t have been happier.

As for what’s next, we’re working on new material, getting Alexei up to speed on some choice older tunes, and looking forward to the demo process for the new stuff. We’re already pretty booked up for the Fall with a bunch of regional shows. We also have a split 12″ in the works; that will hopefully be released late this year/early next year. We’re just looking to keep it rolling, wherever it takes us.

Our album is available from our Bandcamp page, or at shows.

Cortez, The Depths Below (2017)

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Scissorfight Premiere “We Ain’t Leaving” Video

Posted in Bootleg Theater on July 18th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

scissorfight photo muzzey

Are Scissorfight leaving? Nope. They ain’t. At least not until there’s more fucking rock than you ever have seen.

Such was the inarguable mission statement of the New Hampshire heavy riffers’ return EP, Chaos County (review here), which was issued last year via Salt of the Earth Records and served as my pick for the Best Short Release of 2016. Being the first offering of any kind from the band in a decade, “We Ain’t Leaving” is probably as much about saying “we’re back” as delaying any kind of premature departure, but one way or another, its huge, swaggering groove, granite-weighted tonality and gruff vocals get the message across to any and all willing to hear it: Scissorfight still destroy. That’s basically been their thing all along.

Chaos County returned them to the task with particular efficiency and force. The arrival of vocalist Doug Aubin and drummer Rick Orcutt alongside founding guitarist Jay Fortin and bassist Paul Jarvis only seemed to bolster the steamroller that the EP’s five tracks became, and as the leadoff, “We Ain’t Leaving” (also listed as “We Ain’t Leavin'” on the release itself) was the opening salvo that introduced listeners to the new hand from which Scissorfight‘s collective middle finger to planet Earth extended. Having hit the road in Europe this past Spring to play Roadburn 2017 (review here) and Desertfest London alongside compatriots Backwoods Payback, it seems only fair that the official video for “We Ain’t Leaving” should also come from the stage.

It finds them on their home turf — if I’m not mistaken, it’s The Shaskeen, in Manchester, NH — at a recent gig following their return from abroad, and you can see their rabble-rousing ways in full effect among the locals. Compiled in part from submitted footage from the show amid scenes of natural violence, car wrecks, and so on, “We Ain’t Leaving” portrays the riotousness for which Scissorfight have enjoyed a long-earned reputation live, and shows that while they’re long past the 20-year mark as a band, they’re still just getting (re-)started. Don’t expect them to leave anytime soon.

Some live dates follow the clip below. Please enjoy:

Scissorfight, “We Ain’t Leaving” official video

Scissorfight live:
Friday Oct 13 2017, The Stone Church – Newmarket NH
Friday Oct 20 2017, Empire – Portland ME
Friday Oct 21 2017, Great Scott – Allston MA

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Atala Post “Grains of Sand” Video; Labyrinth of Ashmedai Coming Soon

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 30th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

atala roadburn 2017 (Photo JJ Koczan)

High among the myriad pleasures offered at this year’s Roadburn festival in the Netherlands was the chance to see Twentynine Palms, California’s Atala play not one, but two sets (reviews here and here), both of them rife with new material from their forthcoming Labyrinth of Ashmedai album on Salt of the Earth Records. And among the new songs aired — cuts like “Death’s Dark Tomb” and “Infernal” — a decided standout was the raw thrust of “Grains of Sand,” for which the three-piece now present a corresponding video that also marks the reveal of the studio version of the song, which stands among their most aggressive and lumbering works to date.

Between their 2015 self-titled debut (review here) and its 2016 follow-up, Shaman’s Path of the Serpent (review here), the three-piece showed considerable sonic progression, and Labyrinth of Ashmedai would seem to hold that line. Produced once again by Billy Anderson, the third Atala long-player comes across as more sure of its direction and more confident in its approach than anything the band has done before, giving the impression that they’ve found the path they want to walk and are setting about leaving considerable footprints behind them as they go.

I’ll hope to have more on it as we get closer to the release — I’m still not sure of the exact date, but it can’t be too far off at this point — but you can check out the clip for “Grains of Sand” below, which gives the track a rehearsal-room showcase and recalls glory-days Crowbar videos in some of guitarist/vocalist Kyle Stratton‘s clawing at his own face and copious beardage. Good fun all the way around.

Enjoy:

Atala, “Grains of Sand” official video

Grains of Sand off the soon to be released Atala album. “Labyrinth of Ashmedai ” coming soon on Salt Of the Earth Records.

Filmed: Brooke Valls
Edited: Think Infinite Productions

ATALA is:
Kyle Stratton (Guitar and Vocals)
Jeff Tedtaotao (Drums)
John Chavarria (Bass)

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Serpents of Secrecy Sign to Salt of the Earth Records; New Singles Posted; Playing Maryland Doom Fest

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 22nd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

serpents-of-secrecy-Photo-by-Shane-Gardner

The path to a debut release from Baltimore-based supergroup Serpents of Secrecy has been particularly fraught. And granted, if you asked them, I doubt that’s what the band would want to focus on, but between lineup changes, legal threats, dissolved reunions of other outfits, the usual writing and recording travails, and medical issues that even this month threatened to derail their impending performance at Maryland Doom Fest 2017, they’ve been through their dose of shit and then some. It’s been half a decade since guitarist Todd “T.I.” Ingram of King Giant got together with bassist Rev. Jim Forrester of Sixty Watt Shaman (who’s also joined Foghound in the interim) and started writing, and this weekend, at the aforementioned Maryland Doom Fest, they’ll issue Uncoiled – The Singles, a limited-run two-song CD, as a celebration of signing to Salt of the Earth Records. It’s great news, but the timeline is telling.

Nonetheless, to listen to “Warbird’s Song” and “The Cheat” from the burl-rocking five-piece’s recording session with J. Robbins at the Magpie Cage, they hardly sound bogged down. With vocalist Mark Lorenzo at the fore with a throaty delivery, the propulsive drumming of Chuck Dukehart III (also ex-Sixty Watt Shaman/current Foghound), and the additional tonal boost from guitarist Steve Fisher (also of Borracho), Serpents of Secrecy come across as vibrant and charged. The mission and the songwriting are aligned: kick ass, take names, forget the names, kick more ass. “The Cheat” is a little more laid back in its roll, but works well to show a dynamic long-established between Forrester and Dukehart in the rhythm section around which the others have positioned themselves, riffs and vocals creating a mood over the solid foundation that’s at once emotionally resonant and rife with dudely push.

Either later this year or early next, Serpents of Secrecy will issue their first album, Ave Vindicta, via Salt of the Earth, as fitting labelmates for the likes of EarthrideCortez and Scissorfight. As an initial public offering, Uncoiled – The Singles makes a righteous impression in groove and force, and those fortunate enough to catch them either at Maryland Doom Fest this weekend or elsewhere between now and whenever the record surfaces would do well to heed the warning. They’ve been a long time coming, but it would seem Serpents of Secrecy are finally ready to arrive.

Forrester and Ingram comment on the signing below, and here’s more background as well on the band’s origins, along of course with the streaming tracks:

serpents-of-secrecy-uncoiled-the-singles

SERPENTS OF SECRECY signs with Salt of the Earth Records!

Rev. Jim Forrester on Serpents of Secrecy & Salt of the Earth:

Well over four years ago, Todd and I started writing this material, Chuck finding the swing and us orchestrating this beast. We’ve been through a lot of personal hardship and tragedy, most of the material coming out this first wave and upcoming album was born of tumultuous times, a lot of emotion, anger, and pain, as well as strength and perseverance. It was a long road to get to this point, but as Steve and Mark joined the fray, it all started taking shape. This is more than a band. We’ve become a family, with powerful music and a message of never giving up, barreling everyone’s way. I couldn’t be happier. It’s a culmination. It’s time.

I can say with great pride and certainty that Scott Harrington (SALT OF THE EARTH RECORDS owner) has been a true friend and brother to me over the years, stood by me through some truly trying times, and was very instrumental in the creation of Serpents of Secrecy in its formative stages. It makes complete sense that Salt of the Earth Records is where we call home now and staked our claim to bring this first collection of songs to the world.

Todd Ingram on Serpents of Secrecy:

No matter what circumstances or events threatened to derail this band, as many times as we’ve had to start over, Jim and I persevered because we believe in these songs. And now with the addition of Mark and Steve the chemistry, work ethic and attitude have only opened more possibilities and accelerated the writing process. We’re wrapping up the final touches to album number one. So now our biggest problem is the getting the songs we’re writing now recorded. It’s a good problem to have.

Serpents of Secrecy – Uncoiled at Maryland Doom Fest

“Uncoiled – The Singles” contains two tracks, “Warbirds Song” & “The Cheat” from the upcoming SALT OF THE EARTH RECORDS release “Ave Vindicta.”

CD SINGLE release: 6/24/17 at Maryland Doom Fest 2017, Cafe 611, Frederick, MD.

Album Release: Winter late 2017/early 2018

Produced by J Robbins & Serpents of Secrecy. Recorded at Magpie Cage Studios Baltimore, MD. Keyboard tracking at Empire Studios,Windsor Ontario Canada.

Mixed at Magpie Cage Studios, Baltimore, MD. Mastered by Dan Coutant at Sun Room Audio, New Windsor, NY.

The origin of SERPENTS OF SECRECY dates back to 2012. With the original lineup consisting of Rev Jim, Chuck Dukeheart III, Todd Ingram and Johnny Throckmorton (Alabama Thunderpussy) on vocals and also Aaron Lewis (Buzzard Canyon/when the deadbolt breaks) on guitar.

The Rev got sick and for awhile and Serpents Of Secrecy was just Rev and Todd writing material. This is when the Sixty Watt Shaman reunion shows came calling, so SoS was put on hold in order to support those shows. But when Sixty Watt Shaman failed to sustain itself, Serpents Of Secrecy was reignited. After months of writing and recording with a well known vocalist at the helm, the physical distance between the singer and the bands respective countries proved to be too big of a hurdle and the vocalist resigned.

Lots of musicians would be deterred by the setback, but Serpents Of Secrecy used this to feed their creative fire, and that’s when Mark Lorenzo was discovered. Amazing voice, great songwriting and one helluva stage presence… Mark has indelibly carved his spot out in SERPENTS OF SECRECY. The band now rounded out with the addition of master riff slinger Steve Fisher (Borracho) to form a must see dual guitar team… and SERPENTS OF SECRECY is ready to take over.

Serpents of Secrecy is:
Rev. Jim Forrester – Bass
Todd Ingram – Guitar
Chuck Dukehart III – Drums
Mark Lorenzo – Vocals
Steve Fisher – Guitar

https://www.facebook.com/serpentsofsecrecy/
https://serpentsofsecrecy.bandcamp.com/album/uncoiled-the-singles
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https://www.facebook.com/SaltOfTheEarthRec/

Serpents of Secrecy, Uncoiled – The Singles (2017)

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The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 of 2017 So Far

Posted in Features on June 12th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk top-20-2017-so-far

The time has come to take a look at some of the best albums of 2017 so far. I hardly know where to start. In some ways, this list is harder to put together than the end-of-year one that comes out in December, because by then not only do you have the full year to draw on, but it’s easier to sort of put a narrative to the course of events of 12 months, whereas in this case, obviously, the story is half told. So I guess if the list feels incomplete, that might be part of why.

Even with just six months to work from, the list has become fairly immense. I’ve been keeping track of 2017 releases since about September of last year, and the amount of stuff that’s come through has been staggering. Every year brings good music, and the basic fact of the matter is that if you don’t think so it’s because you’re either unwilling to find it or unwilling to let yourself hear it, but 2017 has been a multi-tiered assault of sounds from all over the world, and it seems like whatever you might be into, the universe stands ready to accommodate.

There’s a lot to say about that — is the market flooded? — but it’s a topic for a different post. I’ll keep it short here and just say that as always, it’s an honor to be covering the stuff that I cover and that I deeply appreciate you taking the time to read. I hope if there’s a release you feel deeply passionate about that you don’t see on my list below that you’ll please let me know about it in the comments.

Also, please note that in order to qualify for this list, a record had to come out on or before June 9. That’s the cutoff.

Okay, here goes:

The Top 20 of 2017 So Far

elder reflections of a floating world

1. Elder, Reflections of a Floating World
2. All Them Witches, Sleeping Through the War
3. Samsara Blues Experiment, One with the Universe
4. Colour Haze, In Her Garden
5. Atavismo, Inerte
6. Sun Blood Stories, It Runs Around the Room with Us
7. Cloud Catcher, Trails of Kozmic Dust
8. Vokonis, The Sunken Djinn
9. The Obsessed, Sacred
10. Mothership, High Strangeness
11. Spaceslug, Time Travel Dilemma
12. Electric Moon, Stardust Rituals
13. Alunah, Solennial
14. Arc of Ascent, Realms of the Metaphysical
13. Rozamov, This Mortal Road
14. Siena Root, A Dream of Lasting Peace
15. PH, Eternal Hayden
16. Geezer, Psychoriffadelia
17. T.G. Olson, Foothills Before the Mountain
18. Telekinetic Yeti, Abominable
19. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, II
20. Lord, Blacklisted

Notes

If you keep up with this site at all, there probably aren’t a lot of surprises in there. These are all records that have been discussed at great length over the last six months, reviewed, streamed, analyzed, whathaveyou’d all the way. If you don’t believe me, search any of the names. Still, as far as my personal picks go and who I think has crafted something special over the last six months, this feels pretty representative to me. I managed to live for a full week with the list as you see it above, without making changes. That’s usually my standard.

And as always, it’s a combination of what I’ve listened to most and what I feel has had the greatest impact thus far into the year. Between the two, there was little doubt Elder would take the top spot. I’ve probably listened to the All Them Witches record more than anything else this year, including Elder’s Reflections of a Floating World, but the truth is the Massachusetts trio are working at a level of their own making in terms of their sonic progression, and that they’ve emerged as one of if not the most pivotal American underground heavy rock bands going. The situation was much the same when they put out Lore in 2015 and claimed that year’s top-album spot, but even since then their sound has expanded and they continue to demand ultimate respect.

As for the All Them Witches album — absolute stunner. The increased depth of their arrangements on Sleeping Through the War came at no expense of songwriting, resulting in ultra-memorable material that could either wash over you with melody or shove you out of your seat with the force of its rhythm, and that band continues to be a treasure. No other way to put it.

From there, we move into what I think are the four best heavy psych offerings of 2017 so far, with Samsara Blues Experiment, Colour Haze, Atavismo and Sun Blood Stories, in that order. Samsara Blues Experiment’s return has been a joy to witness and their first album in four years lived up to the occasion. Colour Haze expanded the palette from their last album with In Her Garden and proved as immersive as always. I’m still getting to know that record. Atavismo’s second full-length upped the progressive influences without losing fluidity or cohesion in songwriting, and Sun Blood Stories’ hypnotic shoegaze offered expansive thrills and a sense of varied, beautifully crafted exploration.

A pair of exciting young bands thereafter in Colorado’s Cloud Catcher, whose boogie is right-on-right-on and whose development continues to hold much potential, and Vokonis, whose crushing riffs on The Sunken Djinn were met with an increased focus on structure and tightening of approach that maximized overall impact. The Obsessed’s unexpected return could only be called a triumphant one, and Mothership’s third long-player found them working in a richer sense of mood than previous outings, adding yet more character to what was still a blast of good-time rock and roll. They round out the top 10 in full command of who they are as players.

Granted, the next 10 releases are kind of all over the place, but I think that just shows the overarching quality of work being done across the board. From Spaceslug’s melodic stoner-psych to Electric Moon’s studio return — so, so, so good — to Alunah’s continued growth in nature-worshiping heavy and Arc of Ascent’s comebacker of rolling heavy riffs and metaphysical themes, there’s been so much to take in. I especially like the pairing of Rozamov and Siena Root as a sense of scope for 2017 so far; the former being so dark and crushing and the latter who lived up to calling their record A Dream of Lasting Peace. You want to know both ends of the spectrum? There they are.

PH’s Eternal Hayden gets a nod for its effective reset of the context of that band following the completion of their trilogy of albums, and Geezer’s Psychoriffadelia might have been something of a tossoff in the making, but the level at which the New York trio jams nonetheless assures it a spot here. Plus, a Nazareth cover. So duh.

I couldn’t help but include T.G. Olson’s Foothills Before the Mountain on the list as the Across Tundras frontman creeps closer to a full-band sound for his solo work, adding to his acoustic singer-songwriter foundations, and the crush of Telekinetic Yeti’s post-Sleep riffing evoked so many nods I thought they deserved one here as well. Placing The Devil and the Almighty Blues was difficult, but especially after seeing them live, I felt like I had a better idea of where they were coming from on II, so knew they belonged somewhere, even if it was tucked in at the end. And of course, Lord. Always killer, always experimenting, always chaotic. Never have grind and sludge sounded more cohesive together. They’re the band I wish Soilent Green had become, and yes, I mean that.

Honorable Mention

Let’s do another 10 releases, shall we?

21. Beastmaker, Inside the Skull
22. Arduini/Balich, Dawn of Ages
23. Brume, Rooster
24. John Garcia, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues
25. Six Sigma, Tuxedo Brown
26. Demon Head, Thunder on the Fields
27. Summoner, Beyond the Realm of Light
28. Steak, No God to Save
29. Six Organs of Admittance, Burning the Threshold
30. Dool, Here Now There Then

And just to make the point, here are even more worthy of note in this space:

Elbrus, Elbrus
Cortez, The Depths Below
Ecstatic Vision, Raw Rock Fury
Child, Blueside (a December 2016 release, maybe, but I think the vinyl was this year, so whatever)
Pallbearer, Heartless
Spidergawd, IV
Green Meteor, Consumed by a Dying Sun
Loss, Horizonless

There are of course other names as well that come to mind. Like I said at the outset, it’s a crowded field: Hymn, Arbouretum, Green Meteor, REZN, Demon Head, Galley Beggar, Devil’s Witches, Orango, Heavy Traffic, Coltsblood, Mt. Mountain, Vokonis, Solstafir, High Plains, on and on.

Also worth highlighting several really, really quality live records that have surfaced so far this year. I didn’t really know where to place them among the other studio offerings, but they deserve note for sure:

Causa Sui, Live in Copenhagen
Death Alley, Live at Roadburn
My Sleeping Karma, Mela Ananda – Live
Enslaved, Roadburn Live

More to Come

Of course, we’re still just barely halfway through the year, so keep on the lookout for more to follow. If you didn’t see my massive 200+ albums to watch for list in January, it has many that have come out and many more still to surface, but here are a few highlight names as well that you’re going to want to keep an eye on in the months ahead:

Queens of the Stone Age
Radio Moscow
The Atomic Bitchwax
Kadavar
Ufomammut
The Midnight Ghost Train
Moon Rats
Clamfight
Egypt
the Melvins
Bison Machine
Seedy Jeezus
High on Fire
Monster Magnet

Thanks for Reading

Before I check out, I’d like to give special mention to Lo-Pan’s In Tensions EP as the best short release of the year thus far. Along with EPs from Godhunter, Kings Destroy, Solace and Shroud Eater, it has assured those seeking a quick fix are handed their ass in return for asking.

Well, that’s about where I’m at with it. As per usual, I’m sure there are things I forgot and/or left off here, because I’m human and whatnot, so please if you have something to add, feel free to do so in the comments so long as you can keep it cordial. No name calling. I’m sensitive and you’ll ruin my whole day. I mean that.

Thanks again for being a part of this and here’s to an excellent rest of 2017.

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Cortez, The Depths Below: Blood Through the Citadel

Posted in Reviews on June 8th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Cortez_The_Depths_Below

A difference of intent behind the new Cortez album is signaled immediately through the artwork. Where their 2012 self-titled debut (review here) featured an Alex Von Wieding cover of a monstrous, armor-clad version of their namesake (who was also kind of a monster, actually) with red eyes and a laser being shot from his hand as he stands in outer space, The Depths Below opts for altogether deeper-toned fare. Drawn by David Paul Seymour, the front-piece for the Boston quintet’s sophomore outing, which is delivered via Salt of the Earth Records, features a horned dragon facing off in an underwater landscape with what seems to be a naked, neutered Aquaman-style character. Still in a comic style, its stark contrast of colors — blue, green, orange — speak more to harsh edges than than the kind of straightforward heavy rock which Cortez are known to proliferate.

But therein lies the key, because The Depths Below also greatly expands the scope of what Cortez accomplish sound-wise. Comprised of vocalist Matt Harrington, guitarists Scott O’Dowd and Alasdair Swan, bassist/backing vocalist Jay Furlo and drummer Alexei Rodriguez (though Jeremy Hemond plays here), Cortez touch on varied forms of classic metal throughout The Depths Below‘s nine-track/44-minute run and offer a few surprises along the way. They’ve never really been a touring band, but their reputation as songwriters is well established going back a decade to their 2007 Buzzville Records-issued Thunder in a Forgotten Town EP, and it’s that core of craftsmanship that allows them to go where they will sonically across this material. Despite several distinct sonic turns both early and late in the proceedings, Cortez remain in complete control of their direction, and so guide their listeners skillfully from front to back.

That’s fortunate, because they lead the way through some surprisingly dark places. With a notably spacious recording and mix by Benny Grotto at Mad Oak, Q Division and Moontower Recording Studio, a chug-plodder like second cut “Poor and Devoid” and the atmospheric spirit of “The Citadel” and closer “Orison” come through as particularly open-feeling despite their underlying structure. And even more uptempo movements like opener “All Gone Wrong” — heck of a title to start with — and its later companion-piece “To the Skies” have a moodier feel, the latter keeping a rhythmic swing behind near-militaristic layers of lead and rhythm guitar in its second half, Harrington seeming to take influence from Lo-Pan‘s Jeff Martin in his vocal presentation. A significant portion of The Depths Below‘s overall impact comes from its included three-parter, which follows “All Gone Wrong” and “Poor and Devoid” and seems to tell a story through “Walk Through Fire (Part I),” “The Citadel (Part II)” and “Blood of Heirs (Part III),” the last of which also plays a crucial role as the centerpiece of the tracklisting and (presumably) the end of a vinyl-style side A.

cortez

The three pieces act as a sort of album-within-the-album, and move from the aggressive thrust of “Walk Through Fire,” which roughs up mid-’90s chugging and adds gang vocals to its hook before a harmonized solo leads past the halfway point and into the even-more-thrashing back end of the track, setting up a contrast with the slower, ambient fluidity of “The Citadel” — a highlight of The Depths Below as a whole, but also arguably its darkest single moment, working back and forth through a downtrodden-feeling chorus toward a tempo pickup in the final third. It’s the longest inclusion at just over seven minutes, and again, is anchored by Cortez‘s songwriting in such a way as to allow for a fluid transition into the thrashing “Blood of Heirs.” One wonders if “Blood of Heirs” especially and some of the more generally metallic-feeling songs here have their root in O’Dowd‘s seemingly-defunct or at very least currently inactive other outfit, Black Thai, but either way, it would be hard to argue the shift in approach doesn’t suit Cortez, and so I won’t.

Part of that stems from overall progression of the band, though Harrington‘s vocal performance is especially noteworthy and he brings considerable frontman presence even to this studio output, whether that’s from deep in the mix of “The Citadel” or in topping the march of “To the Skies,” which leads off side B of The Depths Below with a return-to-ground hook that brings the listener back to a starting point similar to “All Gone Wrong” without directly aping that track’s impression. Each cut from here on out makes a decidedly distinct statement of who Cortez are as a band, whether it’s the grungier, somewhat melancholic heavy rock (again Lo-Pan seem to be a reference point) of “Kill Your Ghosts,” or the penultimate “Dead Channel,” which so directly calls out River Runs Red-era Life of Agony that it finds Harrington coming very, very close to rapping in a ’90s urban post-hardcore style, or the aforementioned closer “Orison,” which harmonizes over a more doomed vibe and broods its way toward a more active, chugging finish, very much a complement to “The Citadel” the way “To the Skies” seemed to speak to “All Gone Wrong.”

These changes in intent are no less striking than the sharp visual impression of Seymour‘s cover art, but once more, it’s Cortez‘s skill as songwriters that allows them to shift so drastically and still maintain their hold on their audience. Even parts that one doesn’t think of as “hooks” as an alternate word for “chorus,” whether it’s a standout riff, or bassline, or lyric manage to leave the listener with a memorable landmark — to say nothing of “Dead Channel,” on which the entire song itself becomes the standout — and that forms the basis of what Cortez ultimately bring to The Depths Below. As a group, they’ve never needed anything more than that to make their point, and they don’t here, but five years after their debut, it’s worth noting the multi-tiered development that’s taken place corresponding to their craft. They’re still very much a heavy rock band, and one suspects they always will be, but Cortez are brazenly pushing themselves to try new things on The Depths Below, and in direct contrast to the title, the results only seem to bring them to new heights of achievement.

Cortez on Thee Facebooks

Cortez website

Cortez on Bandcamp

Cortez on Twitter

Salt of the Earth Records website

Salt of the Earth Records on Thee Facebooks

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GIVEAWAY: Win a Prize Pack from Salt of the Earth Records with Cortez, Scissorfight, Atala and More!

Posted in Features on June 1st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

salt-of-the-earth-records-prize-pack

[TO ENTER GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment on this post with your email address in the form. You’ll be contacted at that address if you win.]

My pleasure today to partner up with Salt of the Earth Records for a nine-album prize pack giveaway that includes releases from Cortez, Scissorfight, Buzzard Canyon, Ol’ Time Moonshine, When the Deadbolt Breaks, Atala, Oxblood Forge and Shadow Witch.

The occasion is the June 16 release of Cortez‘s new album, The Depths Below, and to mark it, the label is giving away CD copies of its entire catalog and then some out of its online distro, plus buttons and stickers and presumably any other whatnot they might have laying around the office. You never know with this kind of thing. “Here’s a stapler just for the hell of it!,” and so on.

Please note: I don’t think you’ll actually get a stapler. You will get plenty of killer releases though, which Salt of the Earth details below. Leave a comment on this post to enter. Winner is chosen one week from today, on June 8. Good luck to all:

To celebrate the much anticipated release of CORTEZ “The Depths Below”, we would like to hook a lucky The Obelisk reader up with a killer collection of heavy ass tunes!

The whole damn complete SALT OF THE EARTH RECORDS catalog!!!

CORTEZ – “The Depths Below” (not pictured, but you still get it!)
SCISSORFIGHT – “Chaos County”
BUZZARD CANYON – “Hellfire & Whiskey”
OL’ TIME MOONSHINE -“The Apocalypse Trilogies”
WHEN THE DEADBOLT BREAKS – “Until It All Collides”

Plus from the gems from the SALT OF THE EARTH RECORDS distro vaults…

CORTEZ – “Thunder In A Forgotten Town”
ATALA -“S/T”
OXBLOOD FORGE – “S/T”
SHADOW WITCH – “Sun Killer”

And of course we will also throw in some badass Stickers and Buttons too!

Don’t forget to sign up for our email list @ www.SaltOfTheEarthRecords.com

Remember: The Obelisk does not keep, sell or otherwise use any personal info submitted. Email addresses are gathered simply so the winner can be notified. The end. Thanks.

[TO ENTER GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment on this post with your email address in the form. You’ll be contacted at that address if you win.]

Cortez, “Walk Through Fire”

Cortez on Thee Facebooks

Salt of the Earth Records website

Salt of the Earth Records on Thee Facebooks

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Thunderbird Divine: Wizard Eye & Skeleton Hands Members Announce New Band

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 12th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Well hello there, Thunderbird Divine. While I’m sorry to hear about the untimely disbanding of Philadelphia riff-rolling trio Wizard Eye, there’s nothing quite like a brand new band emerging to heal that wound. Thunderbird Divine brings Wizard Eye guitarist/vocalist Erik Caplan together with three former members of Philly heavy rockers Skeleton Hands — guitarist Flynn Lawrence, bassist Adam Scott and drummer Mike Stuart — and from the description below of how they got together, it hardly seems like it could’ve worked out any better timing-wise. They needed a frontman, he needed a band. Add to that the fact that both parties have a long established history of ass-kickery, and it’s all the better to find them joining forces.

They have a couple rehearsal clips up on their Thee Facebooks page, and they’re working toward hitting the studio for a first proper recording this Fall, but in the meantime, if you’d like to catch them in the flesh, your first opportunity to do so will be June 30 at The Century Bar with Faith in JanePale Divine and Sheena and Thee Nosebleeds. Good show. More info follows here:

thunderbird divine

Thunderbird Divine: Ex-Members of Wizard Eye and Skeleton Hands Join Forces in New Project

Erik Caplan, guitarist/vocalist/thereminist of Philadelphia’s now-defunct stoner-psych rockers Wizard Eye has teamed up with drummer Mike Stuart, bassist Adam Scott and guitarist Flynn Lawrence, all three of Skeleton Hands, to create Thunderbird Divine.

“Wizard Eye was very dear to me, and I am extremely proud of the work I did with those guys,” Caplan says. “Bands have a shelf life, unfortunately, and, as sad as it made me to see my involvement with Wizard Eye end, when it was over, I knew I wouldn’t be happy unless I was playing music again. I took some time, met new people and did some jamming, but nothing gelled into a real band situation until I met up with these fellows.”

Literally one hallway away in the same rehearsal complex, the former members of Skeleton Hands (minus a vocalist) were working on material and auditioning potential new members. In a situation paralleling Caplan’s, none of their prospects fit the bill.

“We played with some good people, but there weren’t any solid fits for what we wanted to do,” says Stuart. “We were standing on the sidelines, just waiting to get back into the game.”

Eventually, Caplan fostered an uneasy pairing with a young bassist, created some material and was ready to engage the services of a drummer to build what he imagined might be a new trio. While cataloging area drummers, one of the first skinsmen he considered was Stuart.

“I remembered a Facebook post about Skeleton Hands breaking up, and I remembered Mike’s style from playing shows with them,” Caplan explains. “I recalled a pleasant guy who was also a fun, energetic player with chops and a bit of flash, so I was hoping I could lure him into my new project.”

He reached out to Stuart and found a receptive audience, and when his almost-bassist stepped out, he and the drummer decided that the idea of combining his mojo with the remaining members of Skeleton Hands had the potential to bear fruit. Luckily, Lawrence and Scott agreed,

“The three of us always liked Wizard Eye, and we were really searching for the right final element for our group, so this opportunity just seemed to drop into our laps at the right time,” Stuart says.

Caplan was also enthusiastic about the collaboration.

“It was pretty cool to walk into the room and have a ready-made, experienced group of guys waiting to get to work,” he says. “You couldn’t really ask for a better situation. I was able to find a niche in their groove almost instantly.”

The band settled on Thunderbird Divine for a name, using the title of a Wizard Eye song with lyrics written by Caplan as inspiration.

“Thunderbird Divine was the street name of a homeless Vietnam veteran from my childhood neighborhood,” Caplan explains. “He was a wild character, and that name always stuck with me. I didn’t want that name to disappear after Wizard Eye folded, and I was very happy that my new band mates thought it had a nice ring.”

The members of this newly formed group got to work immediately, writing new material at every rehearsal. The vibe of the band will probably sound and feel familiar to those who enjoyed this collaboration’s previous work.

“I didn’t want to retread earlier ground with these guys, and I don’t think the Thunderbird Divine stuff sounds too much like either Wizard Eye or Skeleton Hands, but a lot of elements are obviously the same,” Caplan says. “I mean, we still play a lot of riffs, and I’m still singing and playing both guitar and theremin, so some similarities are obviously going to be present, but I think we’ll carve out our own space and sound in time.”

Caplan’s divorce from Wizard Eye also didn’t leave him empty-handed in terms of industry resources. His relationship with Scott Harrington of 313 INC Artist Management has carried through to his involvement with Thunderbird Divine, an endeavor Harrington fully supports.

“I’ve been a fan of Erik’s style as a guitarist and vocalist from the first time I saw Wizard Eye live at the Stoner Hands of Doom Fest in 2012,” Harrington says. “The work he did with that group was phenomenal, and that is what initially attracted me to the band. I mean, seriously, here’s this guy so lost in his music, trading off from guitar to theremin–it was absolutely mesmerizing. And now that he’s moved on to a new project with Thunderbird Divine, I can’t wait to see what they do in the future.”

The band is in the process of writing material for its first recording sessions, which will occur in the fall, and Thunderbird Divine will see its inaugural live performance venue June 30 at The Century Bar in Philadelphia with doom greats Pale Divine and Faith in Jane and Philly’s own Sheena and Thee Nosebleeds.

https://www.facebook.com/thunderbirddivine
IG: @thunderbird_divine

Wizard Eye, “Thunderbird Divine”

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