Foehammer, Second Sight: Deep Reaches

Posted in Reviews on July 12th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

foehammer second sight

Fires glowing in the distance as a lone ship sails troubled waters by moonlight, a single figure visible in the glow — you might say the Luciana Nedelea cover art of Foehammer‘s Australopithecus Records-delivered debut full-length, Second Sight, is appropriate for the album itself. The Virginian outfit might’ve also gone with someone peeling their face off or a fire burning away an ancient forest, but if the idea is conveying a sense of warning or foreboding, they got there anyhow. And fair enough. Foehammer‘s 2015 self-titled EP (review here) was unbridled in its rumbling devastation, and Second Sight — which is actually their third release, if you count a prior 2014 demo — either builds on the accomplishments of its predecessor or slow-motion-wrecking-ball smashes them to pieces, depending on how you want to look at it.

Their violence is wrought in the traditional death-doom heightened language: in opener “Black Númenórean,” the sailor with the tattered sails is “in Carn Dûm [let’s assume that’s pronounced “Doom” — ed.] amongst his kinsmen and his thralls” as he tells of a coming war, and the three-piece of bassist/vocalist Jay Cardinell (ex-Durga Temple/Gradius), guitarist Joe Cox (ex-Gradius) and drummer Ben “Vang” Blanton (ex-VOG) — who seems since to be out of the band since the album was made and replaced by Ben Price (also At the Graves) — don’t limit the dark prophecy just to the opener. Likewise, 16-minute closer “The Seer” gives itself to bleak visions of things to come. And the accompanying guitar, bass and drums could hardly be more evocative of that sentiment either. Anyone who heard the self-titled and lived to tell the tale can indeed speak to the level of tonal onslaught Foehammer hurled forth like they were loading bricks to hand-build an endtime temple, and Second Sight keeps the lurk ‘n’ lurch vision of überdoom central to the proceedings. In four songs and 46 minutes, they cast a pall over the spirit that extends even beyond the maddeningly thick tones and slow rumbling to a tension that seems to cry out for release all the while and is flatly denied.

Basically, they just let the pressure build in your bones until you want to send them an email begging mercy. “Dear sirs; Please. I only have one skull and I need it to keep my brain from falling out of my ear,” and so on. I’m sure they’d get back and be really polite about it, but that certainly doesn’t stop Second Sight‘s visceral bludgeoning, and if all of this sounds like hyperbole, so do the tracks themselves. Hyperbolic doom. Extreme extremity. They offer no letup when it comes to the excruciating pace of “Black Númenórean” (10:15) or “Recurring Grave” (7:54), “Axis Mundi” (11:17) and “The Seer” (16:41) which follow, and though it doesn’t necessarily seem to be a concept record in the sense of telling a single story — that is, there’s no wizard journeying across a barren tundra in search of craft beer or whatever it is people write concept albums about these days — there’s no question the songs tie together in flow and are united in their focus on brutality. Moments like the quiet intro to “Axis Mundi” after the blunt force of “Recurring Grave” bolster the darkened atmosphere overall, and as Foehammer roll out the overwhelming back-to-back lumber of the album’s two longest tracks in “Axis Mundi” and “The Seer,” one can almost feel the sound waves vibrating in their stomach, regardless of the actual volume.

Foehammer (Photo Ben Price)

Cox takes an echoing solo at the end of the former, but even that feels viscous in its tone, and by the time Foehammer get that far, the die is well cast as regards overarching ambience. As much as Cardinell and Cox both deserve praise for bringing such consuming low-end to bear, likewise the job of engineer/mixer Kevin Bernsten at Developing Nations in Baltimore, and the mastering of James Plotkin deserve to be highlighted, because for as much of Second Sight feels willfully given over to noise, feedback, and sustained low-tone wash, there’s no actual lack of clarity either in sound or in purpose. Foehammer capture every bit of their specific kind of aural cruelty in its full bloom, and while even in its post-midpoint stretch of minimalism, one wouldn’t necessarily call “The Seer” clean, its sound 100 percent matches the band’s intention toward the outermost reaches of the imagination’s nightmarish manifestations.

That means conjuring a breadth that might seem contradictory to some of the more claustrophobic effects of such tonal thickness or the unremitting gurgles from Cardinell on vocals that render the lyrics largely decipherable without a cheat sheet, but it’s not. If Foehammer are world-building, they’re just creating a space to tear down. But that doesn’t mean the space never existed. To wit, from the ultra-slow unfolding of “Black Númenórean” onward through the throat-singing chants in “The Seer,” Second Sight seems to carry the listener ever downward. Its movement varies some in tempo, but the ambience is central to the mission, and that is never compromised regardless of the cosmic moments of flourish that at times remind of YOB at their heaviest. In hearing it, I have to remind myself it’s the band’s first long-player. They’ve been around five years, and even the EP seemed to arrive with a sense that Foehammer knew what they were doing, but Second Sight is on another level entirely. It’s not just that CoxCardinell and Blanton manage to stay within such grueling tempos or that they bring such a sense of max-volume execution to what’s still a headphone-worthy offering, but that every step they take, even unto the last noisy fade of the closer, holds meaning.

As they seem to dig deeper and deeper into “Axis Mundi” after “Recurring Grave” — which if I’m not mistaken is actually the speediest inclusion at a pace of “really quite slow” — Foehammer are in complete control of the churn they wield. I know that no matter how big or menacing it sounds it’s still just guitar, bass and drums, but for something where the aesthetic is so much a part of the statement being made, there’s an underlying current of songwriting that provides the assurance Second Sight won’t simply deconstruct itself along with whatever else should happen to be in its plodding path. No doubt in my mind it’s one of the best debut albums of 2018, but even such a designation would seem to minimize the achievements in these tracks. Among the best albums of the year, period, and still hopefully only the beginning of the horrors Foehammer will ultimately realize.

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EYE, Second Sight: Into Beyond

Posted in Reviews on December 10th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

Birthed in a not-at-all cosmic reality known as Columbus, Ohio, the four-piece space rock outfit EYE nonetheless execute their sound with classical majesty on their sophomore full-length, Second Sight. Their first outing, 2011’s Center of the Sun (discussed here and here), was gorgeous enough to get the attention of Kemado Records, who issued it on vinyl in 2012, and the still-quick follow-up comes preceded by a 7″ single (discussed here) and a live tape (review here). Clearly, EYE — who also self-recorded the new long-player — aren’t ones for sitting still, and that sense of movement extends to the music on Second Sight as well, beginning in the gong hits and synth waves that patiently establish the psychedelic course of 21-minute opener “Lost are the Years.” Here EYE begin to unfold not just the first side, but the LP as a whole, and though it’s only been about a year and a half since Center of the Sun was released, the sense is that something ancient has awakened. There is a near-immediate sense of texture to “Lost are the Years,” also the longest track on the 45-minute outing (bonus points), and that comes in large part from the wash of Moog and analog synth effects created by Adam Smith. Guitarist/vocalist Matt Auxier has no shortage of effects on his guitar either, and even drummer Brandon Smith gets in on the ambience with chimes, congas, the aforementioned gong and other percussion in addition to regular old rock drums, so while bassist Matt Bailey would seem to be the one charged with holding the five tracks of Second Sight together, actually it works out more that the four-piece never really lose control. As spaced-out as they go — and they go plenty spaced out — the record keeps a mood that’s calm-ing if not calm-ed, and when they want to, EYE drift with futuristic efficiency into atmospherics that even the first record only seemed to hint at, a song like “Wooden Nickels” retaining some human element through harmonized vocals from Auxier and both Smiths.

Vocals are never really the complete focal point (Amy Michelle Hoffman and Anthony Jacobs contribute as well), but they’re gorgeous anyway and make the band that much richer and more lush-sounding. It is nearly five minutes of build-up before they arrive over bass and acoustic guitar on “Lost are the Years,” signaling the start of the song’s peaceful second movement. Tension is minimal, melody is rampant, and EYE are immediately the masters of the universe they’re exploring. Auxier takes a bluesy, echoing solo over acoustic strum and Bailey‘s bassline, and Adam keeps the texture varied while Brandon seems to rest until about the seven-minute mark a fill leads to the next progression, a more upbeat, distorted and somewhat foreboding swirl. The vocals are deeper in the mix, part of that swirl, not above it, and the swaying riff that backs the subsequent guitar solo calls to mind some of Hypnos 69‘s more recent progressive triumphs. The course of “Lost are the Years” is winding as the third movement builds to a crashing finish and the acoustic strum of the second movement returns, backed by subtle percussion and bathed in mellotron sunshine. It is even more graceful in its Floydian sprawl than when it first appeared, and it shifts fluidly into more exploratory acoustic guitars, a thunder sample signaling the change impending before a full stop brings back the heavier swirl, all channels full and vibrant as they transition into a shuffle led by Brandon‘s drums and soon joined by Adam‘s keys, rising, cresting and receding. They’ve departed the back and forth of one part to another that they’d previously established in favor of an extended jam, the guitars, bass, drums and keys all serving to further the atmosphere, layers of lead and rhythm guitars coming forward for a King Crimson-style push after 16 minutes in even as Auxier is in mid-rip on another solo. A series of hits ensues and backed by a jazzy snare roll, the guitars lead down a psych rock rabbit hole, ending up in a winding line that brings a return of vocals and precedes the key-driven push into the final payoff. It would need to be sizable to answer for all the twists and turns of “Lost are the Years” so far, and it is, but not necessarily any more grandiose than is warranted. Guitar is still are the fore, trading off lead lines and heavy riffing, and they cap with a return to the hits that led the way into the last movement, ending a song that, if you try to consciously keep pace with each of its changes, you’re going to wind up exhausted in the best way possible.

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