Stahv Premiere “Voyage of the Dawndraper”; The Sundowner EP out Feb. 21

Posted in audiObelisk on December 9th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

stahv

Today, Seattle one-man outfit Stahv announce the Feb. 21 release of a new EP, The Sundowner, streaming where stuff streams and on limited edition tape through Solid 7 Records. Out as the follow-up to the project’s early-2018 self-titled debut (review here), it’s a quick instrumentalist run through a variety of anti-genre influences, maintaining a heft of atmosphere while exploring further reaches of echoing guitar in darkened progressive form. One might not know that from the noise-rock-origins-giveaway opener “Voyage of the Dawndraper,” which takes its skronk and you-go-here-while-you-go-here rhythm-making with jazzy seriousness and virtuosity, but from there, the prior single “All Seeing I” takes seven of the total 22 minutes of the offering and introduces a more willfully fluid course of post-heavy, upon which “Evhgot” builds with an added sense of churn and the finale title-track resolves in interweaving layers of guitar and drone, drums or drum sounds sitting out the final four and a half minutes to leave room for strumming breadth and undulating waves of keys or synth or effects or other noise.

It’s a course designed to be linear, I think. At lest that’s how it seems on listening. The leadoff is the outlier, which is a particularly progressive and — dare I say it? — fun move on the part of Stahv and Solomon Arye Rosenschein, who is the lone figure at the stahv the sundownerhelm of the band. It’s a purposeful act of disorientation. Meant to throw the listener off. Maybe that would happen wherever “Voyage of the Dawndraper” went, but it’s pretty clear that “All Seeing I,” “Evhgot” and “The Sundowner” all run together as a unified work, and before you get there, you have this bumpy two-and-a-half-minute ride through brash noise-jazz and, yeah, I’m sorry, but that’s just a blast. From the surf guitars to the freakout organ and the snare shuffle and the theremin-esque fuzz lead, it’s a rush and a head-spinner that by the time you’re two minutes into “All Seeing I” seems to have been a dream only to be led away by the melancholy YawningMan-of-the-Pacific-Northwest spirit of what follows, but that contrast, the sheer brazen nature of the incongruity, makes the whole release as far as I’m concerned.

That’s not to take away from the scope of what follows, however. Honestly, if Stahv put out The Sundowner without “Voyage of the Dawndraper,” I’d probably praise it anyway for its fluidity and the open-feeling nature of its course, the patience of its execution and the sense of atmosphere it builds. The fact that all of that happens after a two-minute blastoff, however, only adds an element of joy and celebration to the proceedings, even if those proceedings aren’t especially celebratory themselves. It is a surge of artistic honesty and playfulness that’s rare in underground music or otherwise, and as I find doing-whatever-he/she/they-want to be one of the most respectable drives a creative person or project can follow, it’s hard not to admire the entirety of The Sundowner all the more for the fact that it lets itself have a bit of a good time before getting down to business.

Again, the EP’s not out for another three months, so maybe sit tight for a bit until they get there, but between the premiere of “Voyage of the Dawndraper” below and the prior stream of “All Seeing I” (also at the bottom of the post), maybe you can get some idea of what’s going on with the thing. Listen to them back-to-back and you’ll get some sense of what I’m talking about.

However you go, enjoy:

STAHV – The Sundowner

On February 21st, STAHV will release The Sundowner EP, a 22-minute head trip dusted with traces of Meddle-era Floyd, Oxbow-style polyrhythms, bleak post-metal atmospherics, and auditory hallucinations a la Can. The Sundowner is the followup to STAHV’s self-titled 2017 debut.

A post-metal solo project by multi-instrumentalist Ari Rosenschein, STAHV expands its palette on The Sundowner to incorporate slide guitar, synth textures, even a smattering of vocals–new for the primarily instrumental act. The EP will appear on all streaming platforms with a limited-edition cassette version arriving via Solid 7 Records (Sons of Alpha Centauri, Yawning Man, Gary Lee Conner of the Screaming Trees).

The Sundowner’s opening salvo, “The Voyage of the Dawndraper,” pushes off the dock with odd-metered riffs and unhinged vocals. Included on The Sundowner, last year’s single “All-Seeing I” is a jumping-off point for the rest of the EP which takes STAHV into darker dimensions. At seven and a half minutes, the penultimate “Evhgot” incorporates both contemplative passages and frenetic soloing.

Live, STAHV has supported Scott Kelly of Neurosis, Sixes, Yamantaka//Sonic Titan, Mirrors for Psychic Warfare, Mondo Generator, Yawning Man, Indian, Usnea, and Conan. The band has also appeared on curated festivals like Northwest Terror Fest, Rat City Recon, and Freakout Fest.

Music: Solomon Arye Rosenschein
Image: Detail of Sundowner Moth by Bernard Dupont
Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

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Snail Recording Pink Floyd Cover “Fearless”; New LP in the Works

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 3rd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

snail in studio

As 2019 starts to wind down, it’s time to start looking ahead at some of what next year will offer, and I can pretty much tell you right now that if a new Snail full-length actually materializes, there’s just about no damn way I’m not going to spend a lot of time telling you to listen to it. Now then, the three-piece based in Los Angeles and Seattle aren’t quite recording the LP yet — that starts next month. But they’re currently tracking a take on Pink Floyd‘s “Fearless” as well as a new song called “Nothing Left for You” that will feature alongside it on a precursor single. Digital release seems to be how it’s going to happen, given the timing, but of course they’re open to a 7″, because why wouldn’t they be, should someone be up for releasing. Can’t imagine there wouldn’t be a taker there.

So we’re not to titles or release dates for the album yet. Hold your horses and I’ll do the best to do the same, but realizing it will have been five years since 2015’s Feral (review here) was released by the time the new one arrives, well, I think you’re almost justified in letting the anticipation run wild. It’s officially “a while in the making” as far as I’m concerned.

Bassist/vocalist/recording engineer Matt Lynch — pictured above with drummer/vocalist Marty Dodson this past weekend, while vocalist/guitarist Mark Johnson will track his parts in the Pacific Northwest — was kind enough to give an update on the proceedings:

We are recording Pink Floyd’s Fearless and a song I wrote that has lyrics partially inspired by Fearless [“Nothing Left for You”]. We have been wanting to cover Fearless for over 20 years now and feel the time is finally right. This will be released as an advanced digital single for the coming LP. Unless of course someone wants to put it out on a 7”, which would rule.

Currently no working title for the LP. We want to release this advance single for the new year, so early January. We are recording the rest of the basic tracks for the LP the second week of January. The material’s direction is similar to Feral in that it is varied with a wide range of sound and influences. There is melodic psych and heavy doom. Straight up Camaro stoner rock to galloping metal.

These two [tracks] Mark will do his parts from home in Seattle. The rest of the LP we will all do together at [Mysterious Mammal Recording/All Welcome Records] as much as possible with continued overdubs for Mark’s parts at home as usual.

SNAIL IS
Mark Johnson – Guitars, lead vocals, keys
Matt Lynch – Bass, keys, vocals
Marty Dodson – Drums, percussion, vocals

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Snail, “Nothing Left for You” drum recording

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Serial Hawk, Static Apnea: Depths and Passages

Posted in Reviews on November 18th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Serial Hawk Static Apnea

At its core, Static Apnea is an exploration of distance and weight. How much space can be conveyed in a song even as a full-on tonal crush is enacted? The second album from Seattle outfit Serial Hawk — the core trio of guitarist/vocalist Will Bassin, bassist Adam Holbrook and drummer Sean Bulkley (who would seem to have parted ways with the band in the interim, with Jason Bledsoe and Brock Bledsoe stepping in), here working with a swath of guests — is presented as a 49-minute self-released 2LP and spreads across six tracks that range from the megaplod of “Detatch” and the growling aggression of the subsequent “Depths and Passages” on side B to the sweet post-rocking pastoralia drift of “Surrender” at that I suspect is the outset of the second platter. Longer cuts “Resting Waters” (10:15) and “Diminished Return” (13:46) would seem to consume the first and last sides, and in immersive fashion, they help present and bolster the impressive scope with which Serial Hawk are working this time out, taking the largesse of their debut and focusing it on conveying a sense of atmosphere amid all the sheer sonic plunder.

Even as “Depths and Passages” seems to chug-march into trenchant low end and a post-Helmet vision of what West Coast noise rock could’ve become, the open space is as much responsible for the sense of heaviness as are the distorted vocals buried beneath the mountainous guitar and bass. And when they want to be, they are tectonically heavy, but from the post-Isis/Ancestors build in “Resting Waters” and the howling guitar solo that takes hold in the first half there to the final riff that leads the march outward in the final minute of “Diminished Return,” Serial Hawk maintain a poised presentation of their songs that not only emphasizes their dynamic, but the patience behind their composition and execution. As they come up on marking a decade together in 2020 and have numerous tours to their credit, they bring that dynamic to its most forward position yet in a recording, and use it as the foundation to craft a collection that is gorgeous, cohesive, and, on occasion, outright pummeling.

The album takes its title from the practice of holding one’s breath underwater without necessarily swimming anywhere; you put your face in the water (the cover art could be seen as interpreting this) and see how long you can go I guess before you either pass out or have to give up. Aside from the dopey-internet-challenge potential there, there’s a sense of meditative ritual to the notion of pushing oneself to physical extremes without really knowing what those extremes are, and through I don’t know whether or not that’s what Serial Hawk had in mind when they named Static Apnea as they did, the chasms and the sheer physical force with which the band bring a song like the penultimate “Summon” to bear, letting it devolve into noise in its second half before ultimately rescuing it from that void of their own making, is palpable and dramatic, and while much of what they do here might be traced to one style or another — a post-metal moment here, a doomed riff, some sludge groove, etc. — it is the way these personality aspects are combined that makes the album such an exciting and adventurous listen.

serial hawk

It is aware of its range, aware of its depths — hell, it has a song called “Depths and Passages” — but not at all hindered by that consciousness of self. Instead, it results in flashes like when “Resting Waters” seems to hint ever so slightly toward the melodies that will find their answer as “Surrender” opens LP2 in a striking turn that nonetheless flows smoothly into “Summon,” which in turn gives way directly to “Diminished Return,” as the band shows an obvious concern for the listening experience beyond structuring for vinyl and create a linear overarching progression that encompasses all the tracks in one way or the other. For a record that’s 11 minutes longer than its predecessor — and certainly longer than anything else they’ve done — that flow proves essential to the listening experience, as every step outward seems to bring them to a new place that they immediately make their own. The sense of identity here — of Serial Hawk as Serial Hawk — is among Static Apnea‘s greatest strengths.

There are, as noted, a host of others contributing besides BassinHolbrook and Bulkley. The names listed are Robert Cheek, Paurl Walsh, Jessica Kitzman, Aaron Krause, Evan Ferro and Michael Sparks Jr., but as to who does what, I don’t have that information and the choice on the band’s part to keep that nebulous seems purposeful. Instead, their focus seems to be on the wash of noise itself. Static Apnea is noisy, it is aggressive, it is at times downright nasty — as in, “Oh, that’s nasty” — but if one takes a step back from the band voluminous slow-ish motion plunder, a fuller picture of what they’re doing emerges. That is, it’s a record that needs to be appreciated as a whole statement. There is no neat summary of aesthetic, though in the 13 minutes of “Diminished Return,” one could argue they come close. Still, the spirit of the offering they make is one that requires a complete engagement. I usually recommend headphones for something much more psychedelic, but they can only bolster the feeling of being surrounded by the richness of Serial Hawk‘s sound, and that richness is writ large across these songs, be it the rawer riff-led nod of “Detach” or the ultra-slow culmination circa seven minutes into “Summon.”

The band’s utter mastery of their approach comes through in either context and all across Static Apnea, and though the record would seem to be the result of careful plotting or at very least willful experimentation subject to scrutiny afterward in the recording process, it maintains an exciting feeling that goes beyond pace not just for the energy in its execution, but for the forward-thinking nature of the work itself. Serial Hawk are actively working against genre pigeonholing. They’re not looking to be classified. Their project, instead, is to search for the individualism that their influences can bring to bear, and they succeed purely because they let nothing, including their own awareness of what they’re doing, hold them back. Four years between first and second LPs is a pretty significant stretch. Serial Hawk‘s time has obviously not been misspent.

Serial Hawk, Static Apnea (2019)

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Year of the Cobra, Ash & Dust: Dark Shadows Dance

Posted in Reviews on October 24th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

year of the cobra ash and dust

To some degree or other, every generation carries the fear that it will be the last. Some have better cases in that regard than others — world wars, the Black Plague, environmental catastrophe, etc. — but apocalypse-ism is a historical consistency in the way few things can claim to be, and Year of the Cobra‘s second album, Ash & Dust, seems not so much to proliferate this concern, but to dwell in the aftermath of it. Also their debut on Prophecy Productions, it is a deeply human offering that communes with old gods in “The Divine,” surveys oblivion, finds love amid a devastated landscape in the ultra-moody “Demons” and gives itself a road-weary pep talk on “Into the Fray,” the hook of which shows a new pinnacle of the Seattle duo’s songcraft. That was already a proven commodity, frankly, on 2016’s …In the Shadows Below (review here) debut LP as well as 2015’s The Black Sun EP (review here) before it and most especially 2017’s Burn Your Dead EP (review here) after, which worked directly to expand the sonic palette of the full-length in a way that the Jack Endino-produced Ash & Dust very much furthers, basking in heft and melodic drift alike, as well as a varied approach that’s no less at home in the rumble-punk of its early title-track as the airy pop evocations of “At the Edge” and the atmospheric, vocal-centric minimalism of closer “In Despair.”

The duo of bassist/vocalist Amy Tung Barrysmith and drummer Jon Barrysmith altogether offer eight tracks and 41 minutes for their sophomore outing, and their ability to trade back and forth between rawness and fullness of sound becomes a crucial asset to their approach, making the most or the least of their two-piece configuration depending on for what a given song is calling, and from seven-minute opener and longest track (immediate points) “The Battle of White Mountain” — which may or may not be about the slaughter of the Bohemians in 1620 in what’s now the Czech Republic — through the subtle nuance in the central verse progression of the penultimate “Dark Swan” and the ambience of the finale that follows, Ash & Dust is nothing less than the manifestation of what Year of the Cobra‘s earliest potential held the promise of them being.

They come by it honestly, and one can hear that as they begin to venture toward influences beyond the heavy rock standard — pop, punk, grunge; maybe even a bit of modern hip-hop’s rhythmic intricacy on “Demons” — and embrace a broader aesthetic on the whole. It’s easy enough to put this to a narrative of Year of the Cobra as a hard-touring band building confidence in their approach, to hear the sureness in Amy Tung Barrysmith‘s voice and the instrumental chemistry and inherent same-pageness of her bass and Jon‘s drums and understand that as something born of time on the road. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but they have toured a lot over the last few years domestically with increasing incursions abroad, and one seriously doubts that will cease with Ash & Dust and Prophecy‘s greater European reach. So be it, but at the same time, these songs are more than just pieces for the stage.

year of the cobra

From the very first measures of “The Battle of White Mountain,” glorious in their fuzz and only enhanced when the drums and “ooh” vocals join in, the songs offer depth for listener immersion, and even as Year of the Cobra contradict themselves, turning from the rolling “The Divine” into the outright raw insistence of “Ash & Dust” itself and finish out side A with “Demons” — each one bringing a different aspect of who they are to the forefront — they’re able to make these changes fluid in such a way as to bring the listener along with them on that journey. Hooks help. “The Divine” is an early highlight in that regard, as well as “Demons,” and in leading off side B, “Into the Fray” lumbers out perhaps the single most memorable chorus on the album, settling in on the lines of its last intonation, “Go slow/Stay low/In strength/We go.” It is difficult to read this as being about anything other than the band itself.

Of course, they don’t always go slow, and they don’t always stay low, but wherever Year of the Cobra go on Ash & Dust, they certainly go in strength and “face it head-on,” as an earlier verse says. Continuing the dynamic of side A, the subsequent “At the Edge” is grimmer lyrically, but the momentum of side B’s opening carries through nonetheless, and a subtle build of tension pays off in the song’s second-half melody, bringing about the drum start of “Dark Swan” and the patient and atmospheric build thereof, a background filled out by swirling drone touching on psychedelic impulses while ultimately remaining grounded by the drums and accompanying bassline. It never quite explodes, but neither does it seem to want to, and it does hit a peak in its final minute that serves the function well enough without being overstated, giving “In Despair” a smooth lead-in from silence from out of which the quiet bass and vocals emerge to hold sway for most of the duration. They’re five minutes in before sudden last crashes and feedback signal the end of the proceedings, and in that time, they never lost sight of the primacy of mood in the piece, making it all the more a standout finish.

What seems to remain for Year of the Cobra in terms of stylistic growth is to draw the different sides of their sound together, so that a track might carry the brooding vibe of “In Despair” and the push of Ash & Dust‘s title-track, but even if they went that route, I’m not sure it’d be worth the trade off in terms of how their output functions to interact here. Would they lose as much as they gained, in other words? I don’t have an answer for that, and I certainly wouldn’t speculate on where else the two-piece’s exploration outside genre confines might take them, but perhaps most of all, Ash & Dust finds Year of the Cobra earning the trust that they’ll figure it out when they get there, and that, yeah, one way or the other, they will indeed get there. This is a band interested in moving forward, in writing quality material with an engaging presentation and a cohesive, progressive underlying statement to make. From their first EP to now, they’ve yet to deliver anything that wasn’t a marked step forward from what they’d done prior. One doesn’t expect that would change anytime soon, and certainly hopes it doesn’t, in any case.

Year of the Cobra, Ash & Dust (2019)

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Cycles of the Damned Premiere “Those Left Behind”; A Time to Survive out Oct. 12

Posted in audiObelisk on September 25th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

cycles of the damned

Given the fact that the band is called Cycles of the Damned and the record is called A Time to Survive, should it really be any surprise that the outlook that encompasses the debut offering from the Seattle-based trio in question is grim? Probably not. And if you’re wondering what’s in a name, the reason A Time to Survive is Cycles of the Damned‘s debut album is because they used to be called Black Bone Exorcism, so clearly it’s a change they’ve made on purpose rather than just a phrase someone threw out in the practice room early on in their formation.

Comprised of guitarist/vocalist David Krone, bassist/vocalist Mike Lee and drummer Keith Greer, the three-piece recorded the hour-long churn-gruel work of post-metallic brutalism with none other than Tad Doyle, and the likeness to Doyle‘s own Brothers of the Sonic Cloth as well as to Neurosis in longform pummelers like “Cycles of the Damned” (12:24), “A Wound So Deep” (15:26), “Those Left Behind” (13:23) and the titular “A Time to Survive” (12:30) feels like more than happenstance — and while I’m implying a conscious decision-making behind their presentation, I’ll note that that likeness extends to A Time to Survive‘s fiery cover art. With a release through Doyle‘s Incineration Ceremony Recordings and DHU Records, which also stood behind Black Bone Exorcism‘s 2016 debut, Crack the Bone, Break the Heart, the record collects the above-noted crushers as well as the noise-drone interlude “Ring Shift of Light” (1:25) and the concluding barrage “The Last Transmission” (4:32), which mirrors the earlier “A Wound So Deep” in its use of specifically anti-organized-religion speech samples atop drone and a final lumbering riff.

I’m not going to cycles of the damned a time to surviveargue against resisting dogmatic hegemony — because, well, yeah — though with the capital-‘c’ Church having essentially skirted on raping generations of its followers, their children, and their children’s children, and the slow, willful dismantling of the American and European democratic political sphere into right-wing ethno-fascism over the last two-plus decades, I have to wonder if “god is dead” is really the ideological battle that needs to be fought in this moment. Particularly given the post-wasteland crush of “A Wound So Deep,” there may be more going on in A Time to Survive than just that, of course, but with the vocals rendered as guttural layers shouted up from an abyss of lumbering riffs and low-end, one has to work with the words that come through clearest.

A harsh, forward, metallic snare sound adds to a cold, mechanized feel for the album overall, and whether a given part is fast or slow or droning or crushing — mostly crushing — Cycles of the Damned deliver with conviction and a firm grip on atmosphere a compelling case for their own vicious mindset. Particularly with the trilogy of the eponymous opener, “A Wound So Deep” and “Those Left Behind” up front, A Time to Survive is consuming in its ambient and tonal weight alike, “Those Left Behind” for example seeming to find as much release in its second half through a nodding push as through a vicious, speedier thrust as through a final section of violin-accompanied residual guitar. The point is that as oppressive as Cycles of the Damned‘s sound can be and most definitely is, it’s not without reason behind either its point of view or sonic execution. That extends to “Ring Shift of Light” and to “The Last Transmission” as much as the title-track they surround on either side, as well as everything before.

One might go on through the thesaurus and find every other term to substitute for “brutal” in describing the aural oppression Cycles of the Damned emit or the frighteningly methodical nature of their delivery, but if you don’t get the idea by now, there’s probably nothing I can say that’s going to be as effective as hearing the music itself, so dig in below to the premiere of “Those Left Behind” and just have your face broken by that. PR wire info follows. Good luck.

And enjoy:

Seattle, Washington based trio CYCLES OF THE DAMNED successfully create a visceral experience sewn into intensely heavy and dark music. Showcasing a life experience in today’s world with malicious guitar onslaughts, hypnotic primeval rhythms, and despondently somber interludes, CYCLES OF THE DAMNED create the necessary chaos to violently break through the human subtopia of mediocrity into a new world with fresh, open eyes.

Members Dave Krone (Guitars/Vocals), Mike Lee (Bass/Vocals), and Keith Greer (Percussion) evolved past their original formation as Black Bone Exorcism, leaping forth from those years of musical craft and now rise to a higher level of heavy music.

CYCLES OF THE DAMNED invite you into their realm to hear their debut release ‘A TIME TO SURVIVE’, coming on October 12th, from Incineration Ceremony Recordings, the brainchild label of the legendary Tad Doyle. The trio of COTD continue their consistent message of roaring riffs, demolishing drums and bass, and creatively disturbing ambient landscaping to defy the boundaries of our vision of dystopia.

‘A Time To Survive’ Tracklist:
01. Cycles of the Damned
02. A Wound So Deep
03. Those Left Behind
04. Ring Shift of Light
05. A Time to Survive
06. The Last Transmission

The CYCLES OF THE DAMNED title track “A Time To Survive” is featured as the final track on the just-released September 2019 D.H.U. Records label sampler compilation, ‘MMCVII Vol. IV’ here. The Netherlands-based label is releasing the European edition of the CYCLES OF THE DAMNED debut album on vinyl, in conjunction with the U.S. release from Incineration Ceremony Recordings.

‘A Time To Survive’ was produced, engineered, mixed, and mastered by Tad Doyle at his Witch Ape Studio in Seattle, WA. All songs on ‘A Time To Survive’ were written and arranged by CYCLES OF THE DAMNED, with appearances in recording from Brandon Wilder (guitars) and Mischa Kianne (violins). Cover artwork by Adelyn Krone, with art production and photography by Chris Schanz.

The album ‘A Time To Survive’ will be available October 12th from Incineration Ceremony Recordings, with a limited vinyl pressing available globally from D.H.U. Records in Europe.

CYCLES OF THE DAMNED (l-r):
Keith Greer – Drums
Mike Lee – Bass, Vocals
David Krone – Guitars, Vocals

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Friday Full-Length: Alice in Chains, Alice in Chains

Posted in Bootleg Theater on July 19th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Alice in Chains, Alice in Chains (1995)

I’m sure one exists, but I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of a darker pop album than Alice in Chains‘ 1995 self-titled LP, and I just can’t come up with anything. Sure, most of its singles — opener “Grind,” the later “Again” with its inconsistent but catchy “boop-boop” hook, and even the acoustic-led “Heaven Beside You” — were rockers, but is 1992’s genre-defining classic Dirt was an exploration of the pain and longing of addiction, then surely the 64-minute, 12-song Alice in Chains captured something of its depths. Of course, it would be the band’s final album with frontman Layne Staley before the singer’s recession into heroin use and his eventual death in 2002 at the age of 34. That context, and the fact that until guitarist/vocalist Jerry Cantrell, bassist Mike Inez and drummer Sean Kinney released Black Gives Way to Blue in 2009 with then-new frontman William DuVall, it was their last record, period, unquestionably informs the listening experience, and songs like “Brush Away,” “Sludge Factory,” “Head Creeps,” “God Am,” “Nothin’ Song” and “Frogs” are that much darker for it, with the finale “Over Now” originally written by Cantrell about his girlfriend at the time, but seeming to mourn the band itself in the lines, “You know it’s been on my mind/could I stand right there/Look myself in the eye and say that it’s over now?/We pay our debt sometime.” One way or the other, there seemed to be an acknowledgement there that something was drawing to a close.

And so it was. Alice in Chains followed the 1994 EP Jar of Flies, which like the band’s preceding short release, 1992’s Sap (discussed here), was driven primarily by acoustic material — plus one goof track, lest they take themselves too seriously — which had followed the radio success of Dirt singles like “Would?” and “Rooster” with its own string of hits in “No Excuses” and “I Stay Away.” Neither of the self-titled’s harder singles — that’s “Grind” and “Again” — would have the same reach as “Heaven Beside You” or “Over Now,” but whether a given song was loud or quiet or brash and doomed as was “Sludge Factory” or even daring to show a little hope as was the particularly gorgeously harmonized “Shame in You,” which by my estimation is a lost treasure of the band’s discography, not the least for its meandering finish, which is something they rarely let themselves do, Alice in Chains was consuming and dark, varied in its execution but consistent in its message. With Cantrell — who would release his first solo album, Boggy Depot, three years later in 1998 and later tour with DuVall (also of Comes with the Fall) in his band — taking on the bulk of the songwriting duties, the songs had a largely unified perspective, and with Staley‘s addiction to heroin well documented as by then taking its toll on his ability to function in the band and more generally in life, it was the guitarist who stepped in to fill the void, essentially readjusting the balance that had been at work in Alice in Chains since (before) 1990’s Facelift, their debut album. Indeed, especially in light of Boggy Depot and its vastly-underrated follow-up, 2002’s Degradation TripAlice in Chains is very much emblematic of Cantrell‘s songwriting approach in its maturity, which of course would continue to manifest during Alice in Chains‘ second run beginning with their reunion in 2005.

alice in chains self titled

That isn’t to minimalize Staley‘s contributions vocally, however. “Head Creeps” was a six-and-a-half-minute chasm of grim psychedelic impact and tension with his voice overtop, and though its guitar patterning was more indicative of Cantrell‘s poppier work, “God Am” still bore the haunting quality that Staley brought to “Sludge Factory” and “Brush Away” immediately before it, following “Grind” in an opening salvo that seemed to push further into an abyss before “Heaven Beside You” stepped in to provide some measure of respite. Playing that dynamic, and indeed Staley and Cantrell, off each other — with the always-inventive drumming of Kinney and Inez‘s clinic-in-class bass as a foundation — became the push and pull of Alice in Chains, and the material thrived on the overarching conflict. Listening to it nearly a quarter-century later, it does not sound like an easy record to have made, and by all reports, it wasn’t, but its emotional basis, troubled sensibility and sheer level of craft still resonate, whether it’s the manic “So Close” or the sweet melodies corrupted in “Frogs,” which moved from its solidified hook into a wandering nod-off of Staley seeming to predict his own death in mumbles as the instruments behind offered a darker take on “Shame in You”‘s wandering sensibility, this time feeling isolated and almost nihilistic. Is it any wonder that “Over Now” began with a sample of “Good Night” by jazz bandleader Ted Lewis? What else was there to say?

Naturally, though it seemed like it would be their last record after Staley‘s death, Alice in Chains wasn’t the last music the band produced in this incarnation. In 1996, the live recording of their appearance on MTV Unplugged — I remember watching it on its first airing; it was incredible — became a hit in its own right, and two songs, “Get Born Again” and “Died,” recorded in 1998 for inclusion with the Music Bank box set. They would be the last tracks Staley recorded with Alice in Chains, though he also appeared on a cover of Pink Floyd‘s “Another Brick in the Wall” on a 1998 movie soundtrack as part of the assembled one-off “supergroup” Class of ’99 with Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and members of Jane’s Addiction. It was less than a career highlight.

Last year, Alice in Chains marked the release of their third post-Staley LP, Rainier Fog (discussed here), and the fact that they’ve gone 10 years with three records out with DuVall means they’ve at this point been around longer without him than with and put out as many albums. I won’t take away from the quality of Rainier Fog in manifesting a persona for Alice in Chains having moved forward in a way that even the prior 2013 outing, The Devil Put the Dinosaurs Here, and Black Gives Way to Blue couldn’t, but there are many for whom Staley‘s work in the band remains an essential facet. There are arguments to be made for either side, and frankly, I’m not interested in laying them out or begrudging a band whose work has legitimately changed my life their finding a path and continued success along it. Either way, their ’90s-era recordings stand as testament to the force they were at the time in creativity, performance and presence, and of those, Alice in Chains remains singularly affecting.

As always, I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.

Been up early the last two days. Like 1:45AM. Yesterday I was like, “Duh, I’ll get up and get all my writing done and then I can just relax when the baby naps and that’ll be great because I have infinite energy and I can just sit and read and there’s no way I’ll immediately fall asleep or anything.” Clearly that was dumb. Today was less of a conscious choice. I was just up. I tried to go back to sleep for an hour, read some, and then finally decided to say screw it and start the day. Coffee, Alice in Chains, the whole bit. It’s quarter-after-four now. I had the notion of going to 7-Eleven at around three to buy a bag of ice, but wanted to get this post done first. I may yet head out. It’s like three minutes away. Not such a journey. I used to walk there when I was a kid, probably listening to Dirt or Suicidal Tendencies’ Art of Rebellion or whatever on my Walkman.

We were back in Massachusetts earlier this week. Monday, I guess it was. The Patient Mrs. was giving a talk on campus up there — one of her last duties to Bridgewater State unless you count emptying her office and teaching an online class — so I went up as well and packed vinyl and a bunch of other stuff from the kitchen and around. Most of what’s left is like stuff from closets and furniture. The closing date on that place is in about a month, so hopefully nothing falls through with the buyer between now and then and we can be done with it, get everything else out before we close. We came back down to Jersey on Tuesday and have been here since, are staying here through the impending terrible heat this weekend. No central air, but window units should do the job fairly enough. One hopes, anyhow. There’s a ton to do in this house. Everyone is overwhelmed. Tense. Could probably stand to get laid.

This was my grandmother’s house before she died, we’re buying it from my mother. It’s been cleaned up, but not really cleaned out, so as we’re basically moving a house’s worth of stuff into it from, you know, our house in Massachusetts, there’s a concurrent house’s worth of stuff we’re moving out from here. Some of that has been donated, some my mother has taken, some is stuff my sister was storing here, some is going to my cousin, some we’re keeping, etc., but everything is an emotionally fraught process, and there is a fucking ton of it. Plus we found a leak in the wall upstairs in the rain yesterday and god fucking knows what that portends in terms of repair. Six years ago, when we moved to MA, we just packed our shit and left. This has thus far been much more complicated, and we have a long way to go.

But eventually, that will result in a new dishwasher, and I sincerely look forward to that.

Today at 1PM Eastern is a new episode of The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio. It’s my tribute to Maryland Doom Fest 2019, just playing some of the bands and talking about the festival a bit. It was a good time, so I wanted to highlight that. Call me nostalgic if you must.

Next week? Wolf Blood review, I think. With the AIC done, I’m listening to that record now and it’s pretty killer. Then maybe Morass of Molasses and we’ll see about the rest. Lo-Pan have a show in Teaneck next week that I’m going to hit up ahead of seeing them with C.O.C. in August, so I’ll review that — I don’t expect much in terms of lighting — and there are a couple sweet-ass The Obelisk Presents announcements coming as well, so keep an eye out.

The rest is and will be what it is and will be.

Everyone have a great and safe weekend. If you’re someplace warm, stay cool and hydrate. If you’re someplace cool, get some good snuggles going. Who doesn’t like snuggles?

Thanks again for reading. Forum, radio, merch.

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Quarterly Review: Earth, Heilung, Thronehammer, Smear, Deadbird, Grass, Prana Crafter, Vago Sagrado, Gin Lady, Oven

Posted in Reviews on July 1st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review

Deep breath. And… here we go.

Welcome to The Obelisk’s Summer 2019 Quarterly Review. You probably know the drill by now, but just in case, here’s what’s up: starting today and through next Monday, I’ll be reviewing 10 records per day for a total of 60. I’ve done this every three months (or so) for the better part of the last five years, each one with at least 50 releases included. Some are big bands, some are new bands, some are releases are new, some older. It’s a mix of styles and notoriety, and that’s exactly the intent. It’s a ton of stuff, but that’s also the intent, and the corresponding hope is that somewhere in all of it there’s something for everyone.

I’ll check in each day at the top with what usually turns out to be a “hot damn I’m exhausted, but this is worth it”-kind of update, but otherwise, if we’re all on board, let’s just get to it. First batch below, more to come.

Quarterly Review #1-10:

Earth, Full Upon Her Burning Lips

earth

Finding post-Southern Lord refuge with Sargent House in similar fashion to Boris, Earth seem to act in direct response to 2014’s Primitive and Deadly (review here) with the 10-track/62-minute Full Upon Her Burning Lips, stripping their approach down to its two essential components: Dylan Carlson‘s guitar and Adrienne Davies‘ drums. The former adds bass as well, and the latter some off-kit percussion, but that’s about as far as they go in the extended meditation on their core modus — even the straightforward photo on the cover tells the story — psychedelic and brooding and still-spacious as the music is. Gone are folk strings or vocals, and so on, and instead, they foster immersion through not-quite minimalist nod and roll, Carlson‘s guitar soundscaping atop Davies‘ slow, steady pulse. It’s not nearly so novel as the last time out, but timed to the 30th anniversary of the band, it’s a reminder that if you like Earth, this dynamic is ultimately why.

Earth on Thee Facebooks

Sargent House website

 

Heilung, Futha

heilung futha

It might seem like an incongruity that something so based in traditionalism conceptually would also turn into experimentalist Viking jazz, but I defy you to hear “Galgadr,” the 10-minute opener of Heilung‘s third full-length, Futha (on Season of Mist), and call it something else. Cuts like the memorable and melodic “Norupo” and the would-be-techno-but-I-think-they’re-actually-just-beating-on-wood “Svanrand,” which, like “Vapnatak” before it, is rife with the sounds of battle, but it’s in the longer pieces, “Othan,” 14-minute closer “Hamrer Hippyer,” and even the eight-plus-minute “Elivgar” and “Elddansurin” that precede it, that Heilung‘s dramas really unfold. Led by the essential presence of vocalist Maria Franz — who could hardly be more suited to the stated theme of calling to feminine power — Heilung careen through folk and narrative and full cultural immersion across 73 minutes, and craft something willfully forward thinking from the history it embellishes.

Heilung on Thee Facebooks

Season of Mist website

 

Thronehammer, Usurper of the Oaken Throne

thronehammer usurper of the oaken throne

The reliable taste of Church Within Records strikes again in picking up Thronehammer‘s first full-length, Usurper of the Oaken Throne. The project is a dark and warmaking epic mega-doom working mostly in longform material — it’s six tracks/78 minutes, so yeah — conjured in collaboration by the trio of vocalist Kat Shevil Gillham (Lucifer’s Chalice, etc.), guitarist/keyboardist Stuart Bootsy West (ex-Obelyskkh, ex-The Walruz) and drummer/bassist Tim Schmidt (Seamount), that hits with a massive impact from 17-minute opener “Behind the Wall of Frost” into “Conquered and Erased” (11:24) and “Warhorn” (19:12), making for an opening salvo that’s a full-length unto itself and a beast of doomed grandeur that balances extremity with clearheaded presentation. They simplify the proceedings a bit for “Svarte Skyer” and the eponymous “Thronehammmer,” but are clearly in their element for the 15-minute closing title-track, which rounds out one of the best doom debuts I’ve heard so far this year with due heft and ceremony.

Thronehammer on Thee Facebooks

Church Within Records on Bandcamp

 

Smear, A Band Called Shmear

Smear A Band Called Shmear

Smear‘s live-recorded A Band Called Shmear EP is basically the equivalent of that dude getting dragged out of the outdoor concert for being at the bottom of the puffing clouds of smoke going, “Come on man, I’m not hurting anybody!” And by that I mean it’s awesome. The Eugene, Oregon, four-piece get down on some psychedelic reefer madness tapped into weirdo anti-genre tendencies that come to fruition in the verses of “Guns of Brixton” after the drifting freaker “Old Town.” The whole thing runs an extra-manageable 21 minutes, and six of that are dedicated to the fuzzed jam “Zombie” — tinged in its early going with a reggae groove — so Smear make it easy to follow their outward path, whether it’s the surf-with-no-water “Weigh” at the outset or “Quicksand,” which hints at more complex melodic tendencies almost in spite of itself. You like vibe, right? These cats have plenty to go around, and they deliver it with an absolute lack of pretense. Whatever they do next, I hope they also record it live, because it clearly works.

Smear on Thee Facebooks

Smear on Bandcamp

 

Deadbird, III: The Forest Within the Tree

deadbird iii the forest within the tree

One hesitates to speculate on the future of a band who’ve just taken 10 years to put out an album, but Deadbird sound vital on their awaited third full-length: III: The Forest Within the Tree (arrived late 2018 through 20 Buck Spin), and with a revamped lineup that includes Rwake vocalist Chris Terry and Rwake/The Obsessed bassist Reid Raley as well as bassist Jeff Morgan, guitarist Jay Minish and founders Phillip (drums) and Chuck (guitar) Schaaf and Alan Short — all of whom contribute vocals — Deadbird emerge from the ether with a stunningly cohesive and varied outing of post-sludge, tinged Southern in its humid tonality but still very much geared toward heft and, certainly more than I recall of their past work, melody. In just 38 minutes they push the listener into this dank world of their creation, and seem to find just as much release in experiments “11:34” and “Ending” as in the crashes of “Brought Low” or “Heyday.” Are they really back? Hell if I know, but these songs are enough to make me hope so.

Deadbird on Thee Facebooks

20 Buck Spin on Bandcamp

 

Grass, Fresh Grass

grass fresh grass

Brooklyn four-piece Grass released a live recording in 2017, but the late-2018 EP Fresh Grass marks their studio debut, and it comprises five tracks digging into the traditions of heavy rock with edges derived from the likes of Clutch, Orange Goblin, maybe a bit of Kyuss and modern bluesier practitioners as well in cuts like “Black Clouds” — the lone holdover from one release to the next — and the swaggering “Runaway,” which veers into vocal layering in its second half in a way that seems to portend things to come, while the centerpiece “Fire” and closer “Easy Rider” roll out in post=’70s fashion a kind of rawer modern take. Their sound is nascent, but there’s potential in their swing and the hook of opener “My Wall.” Fresh Grass is the band searching for their place within a heavy rock style. I hear nothing on it to make me think they won’t find it, and if they were opening the show, you’d probably want to show up early.

Grass on Thee Facebooks

Grass on Bandcamp

 

Prana Crafter, MindStreamBlessing

Prana Crafter MindStreamBlessing

Reissued on vinyl through Cardinal Fuzz with two bonus tracks, Prana Crafter‘s 2017 offering, MindStreamBlessing, originally saw release through Eidolon Records and finds the Washington-based solo artist Will Sol oozing through acid folk and psychedelic traditions, instrumentally constructing a shimmer that seems ready for the platter edition it’s been granted. Songs like “As the Weather Commands” and “Bardo Nectar” are experiments in their waves of meandering guitar, effects and keys, while “Mycellial Morphohum” adapts cosmic ecology to minimal spaciousness and vague spoken word. Some part of me misses vocals in the earthy “FingersFlowThroughOldSkolRiver,” but that might just also be the part of me that’s hearing Lamp of the Universe or Six Organs of Admittance influences. The interwoven layers of “Prajna Pines,” on the other hand, seem fine without; bluesy as the lead guitar line is, there’s no doubting the song’s expressive delivery, though one could easily say the same of the krautrock loops and keys and reverb-drenched solo of “Luminous Clouds.”

Prana Crafter on Thee Facebooks

Cardinal Fuzz webstore

 

Vago Sagrado, Vol. III

vago sagrado vol iii

Heavy post-rockers Vago Sagrado set a peaceful atmosphere with “K is Kool,” the opening track of their third album, Vol. III, that is hard to resist. They’ll soon enough pump in contrast via the foreboding low end of “La Pieza Oscura,” but the feeling of purposeful drift in the guitar remains resonant, even as the drums and vocals take on a kind of punkish feel. The mix is one that the Chilean three-piece seem to delight in, reveling in tonal adventurousness in the quiet/loud tradeoff of “Fire (In Your Head)” and the New Wave shuffle of “Sundown” before “Centinela” kicks off side B with the kind of groove that Queens of the Stone Age fans have been missing for the last 15 years. Things get far out in “Listen & Obey,” but Vago Sagrado never completely lose their sense of direction, and that only makes the proceedings more engaging as the hypnotic “One More Time with Feeling” leads into the nine-minute closer “Mekong,” wherein the wash teased all along comes to fruition.

Vago Sagrado on Thee Facebooks

Vago Sagrado on Bandcamp

 

Gin Lady, Tall Sun Crooked Moon

gin lady tall sun crooked moon

I’m more than happy to credit Sweden’s Gin Lady for the gorgeous ’70s country rock harmonies that emanate from their fourth album, Tall Sun Crooked Moon (on Kozmik Artifactz), from the mission-statement opener “Everyone is Love” onward, but I think it’s also worth highlighting that the 10-track outing also features the warmest snare drum sound I’ve heard maybe since the self-titled Kadavar LP. The Swedish four-piece have nailed their sound down to that level of detail, and as they touch on twang boogie in “Always Gold” or find bluesy Abbey Roadian deliverance in the more riff-led chorus of “Gentle Bird,” their aesthetic is palpable but does not trump the straight-ahead appeal of their songwriting. The closing duo of “The Rock We All Push” and the piano-soother “Tell it Like it Is” are the only two tracks to push past five minutes long, but by then the mood is well set and if they wanted to keep going, I have a hard time imagining they’d meet with complaints. Serenity abounds.

Gin Lady on Thee Facebooks

Kozmik Artifactz website

 

Oven, Couch Lock

oven couch lock

For an EP called Couch Lock — i.e., when you’re too stoned to even stand up — there’s an awful lot of movement on Oven‘s debut release, from the punk thrust of “Get It” to the arrogant sleaze of “Go James” and even the drums in “This Time.” And the nine-minute “Dark Matter” is basically space rock, so yeah, hardly locked to the couch there, but okay. The five-tracker is raw in its production as would seem to suit the Pennsylvania trio, but they still get their point across in terms of attitude, and a closing cover of Nebula‘s “To the Center” seems only to reinforce the notion. One imagines that any basement where they unleash that and the nod that culminates “Dark Matter” just before it would have to be professionally dehumidified afterward to get the dankness out, and an overarching sense of stoner shenanigans only adds to the good times that so much of East Coast-ish psych misses the point on. They’re having fun. You should too.

Oven on Bandcamp

Oven on Thee Facebooks

 

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Year of the Cobra Announce European Release Tour for Ash and Dust This September

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 26th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

year of the cobra

If I was like, ‘Hey guess what Year of the Cobra are up to?’ and you were like, ‘Well, they’re probably out touring right now kicking ass with Forming the Void and then in September they’re going to put out a new album called Ash and Dust as their first record for Prophecy Productions and go tour Europe again and do awesome stuff like play Prophecy Fest in a cave and do shows with Monolord or Amenra,’ you’d be absolutely right. Also oddly specific.

The hard-touring Seattle two-piece are indeed out with Louisiana’s Forming the Void as we speak, and their upcoming album, Ash and Dust, will be out just in time for them to head abroad in support this September. There are TBA shows, so get in there and book them because, having seen them just this past weekend, I’ll happily affirm their righteous bona fides, whatever my word might be worth on the subject.

I also like the At the Gates-style logo on the tour poster. “We are blind to the worlds within us,” and all that. Dig it:

year of the cobra tour poster

We are very excited to announce our European album release tour for “Ash and Dust” happening this fall! We’ll be playing Prophecy Festival in Balver Höhle, which is in a massive cave, and also have dates with Amenra and Monolord. There are still a few dates to fill, so we’ll keep everyone posted as we solidify the rest of the tour. Cheers!

Year of the Cobra remaining US dates:
6/26/19 Kansas City, MO – Riot Room
6/27/19 St. Louis, MO – Fubar
6/28/19 Springfield, MO – Outland Ballroom
6/29/19 Norman, OK – Red Brick Bar
6/30/19 Denver, CO – Hi Dive

Year of the Cobra European tour:
12/09 – Cologne, DE – MTC
13/09 – Berlin, DE – Zukunft
14/09 – Balver Höhle, DE – Prophecy Festival
15/09 – Tilburg, NL – Little Devil
16/09 – Hamburg, DE – Markthalle
21/09 – Udine, ITA – Backyardie
22/09 – Salzburg, AT – Rockhouse
24/09 – Slavonice, CZ – Barak
25/09 – Brno Kabinet, CZ – Muz
26/09 – Dresden, DE – Chemiefabrik
27/09 – Siegen, DE – Vortex
28/09 – Amsterdam, NL – Paradiso w/ Amenra
01/10 – Glasgow, UK – Nice n Sleazy
02/10 – Edinburgh, UK – Opium Nightclub
03/10 – London, UK -The Dev
04/10 – Lille, FR – La Rumeur
05/10 – Paris, FR – Saturday Mud Fever w/ Monolord
06/10 – Utrecht, NL – DB´s

https://www.facebook.com/yearofthecobraband/
https://yearofthecobra.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/prophecyproductions/
https://prophecy-de.bandcamp.com/
https://en.prophecy.de/

Year of the Cobra, Burn Your Dead (2017)

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