Quarterly Review: Crowbar, Katatonia, Ethereal Riffian, Dot Legacy, Salem’s Bend, Thonian Horde, Second Sun, Ten Ton Slug, Komatsu, The Blue Sunshine Family Band

Posted in Reviews on December 29th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk winter quarterly review

We continue with day four of the Quarterly Review. This batch is numbers 31-40 of the total 60, not that the numbers really mean anything. I know it’s list season — believe me, I know — but there’s no actual ranking going on. It’s just basically so I can keep track and remember what day it is. That’s not to say this is done off the cuff. Actually, there’s an embarrassing amount of planning behind these things. Months. And when I start actually getting the posts ready and realize I’ve slated the same record on two different days — something that’s happened no fewer than three times so far, needing each time to be corrected — it’s a clear demonstration of the value of my planning. Ha. Anyway, we press on. Together. Into the thick of it. Thanks for reading.

Quarterly Review #31-40:

Crowbar, The Serpent Only Lies

crowbar the serpent only lies

More than 25 years and 11 albums into a landmark career that helped prove the existence of the hairy beast known as “sludge metal,” Crowbar don’t owe anyone anything, and since returning to activity with 2011’s Sever the Wicked Hand (review here) and 2014’s Symmetry in Black, they’ve played like it. Their third post-resurgence outing is The Serpent Only Lies (on eOne Heavy), and though it works largely to form – that is, Crowbar are going to sound like Crowbar: low, slow, seeming to lurch even when dug into fits of gallop on “I am the Storm” or the early going of “The Enemy Beside You” – one still finds progression especially in the vocal approach of frontman and founder Kirk Windstein, who self-harmonizes effectively on the title-track’s standout hook as well as the later pair “On Holy Ground” and “Song of the Dunes,” the latter also resoundingly spacious in a way that offsets much of The Serpent Only Lies’ head-down intensity. This might be flourish or a companion to the core Crowbar sound that remains intact throughout, but the truth is it’s not like it needs to be there – Crowbar’s audience would still go to the shows even if the band stopped growing – but it’s entirely to the credit of the New Orleans legends that more than a quarter-century later they continue to progress. I guess that’s how Crowbar gets to be Crowbar.

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eOne Heavy on Thee Facebooks

 

Katatonia, The Fall of Hearts

katatonia the fall of hearts

Depending on what you count as a full-length, The Fall of Hearts (on Peaceville) is either the 10th or 11th studio record from Sweden’s Katatonia. It follows 2013’s acoustic Dethroned and Uncrowned, which reenvisioned 2012’s Dead End Kings and brings forth over an hour of new material from founding duo Jonas Renkse (vocals/guitar/etc.) and Anders “Blakkheim” Nyström (guitar/backing vocals), as well as Niklas Sandin (bass) and Daniel Moilanen (drums), who, working with engineer Karl Daniel Lidén (ex-Greenleaf, Demon Cleaner), continue to proffer resonant melancholy in abundance. As a band, Katatonia have had a number of different phases over the years, from their deathly beginnings through the later moves into melody, but as it stands on songs like “Decima,” with its acoustic and mellotron arrangement, and the seven-minute “Serac,” which plays back and forth between serene and some of The Fall of Hearts’ most intense thrust, they remain among heavy metal’s most recognizable acts. There is no one else who sounds like them, and they sound not quite like anyone else. This collection might be more about gradual steps forward than radical shifts in approach, but Katatonia have found a way to preach to their converted and keep growing at the same time, and that’s to be commended.

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Peaceville Records website

 

Ethereal Riffian, I am Deathless

ethereal riffian i am deathless

Issued via Robustfellow in a range of physical editions from an oversized CD digipak to cassette bundles, the two-song I. AM. Deathless EP from yet-underrated Ukrainian progressive ritualists Ethereal Riffian warrants the ceremony with which it arrives. Its two tracks, “Drum of the Deathless” (6:19) and “Sword of the Deathless” (9:57) closed and opened, respectively, the prior 2016 live outing, Youniversal Voice (review here), and in their studio form they bring to bear a vision of psychedelic metal given to atmospheric breadth that comes at the expense neither of purpose nor impact. The opener proves the more immediate of the pair, but as “Sword of the Deathless” plays out, it finds prog-metal swirl amid low-end starts and stops intertwined layers of multi-channel spoken word, acoustic and electric guitar and percussive tension, so that as it heads into its payoff and melodic finish, the resolution is both satisfying and something of a relief from the cacophony preceding. Forward-thinking and of marked substance, I. AM. Deathless offers a quick glimpse at the band’s scope and invites listeners to dive deep therein.

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Robustfellow Productions on Bandcamp

 

Dot Legacy, To the Others

dot legacy to the others

There isn’t much that’s off-limits to Parisian heavy rockers Dot Legacy. To wit, the near-rap-rock mania of opener “Horizon” from their second LP, To the Others (on Setalight Records), and the laid-back psych-lounge vibes that follow on “Grey Cardinal,” only to be swept away in crashes and chants later, leading to the driving desert punkery of “211.” Three songs, three distinct feels, and Dot Legacy only get weirder from there as they toy with fuzzed momentum on “5314” and “Dakota” before the dreamy post-rock meandering of “The Twelve,” the prog-pop of “Story of Fame” and piano-laden psych-drama of closer “Pioneer.” In 35 minutes, the four-piece cover more ground than most bands do in their whole careers, but that becomes even more admirable in that they manage not to just be all over the place, but to provide a consistent quality of songwriting to complement all that quirk. Add to that the attention to detail in vocal harmonies and arrangements, and as they follow-up their 2014 self-titled debut (review here), they reveal a clear sense of a master plan at work under all the brashness and genre-hopping.

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Setalight Records website

 

Salem’s Bend, Salem’s Bend

salem's bend self-titled

Self-released by the Los Angeles trio in late-2015 and picked up for a vinyl issue through Ripple Music, the self-titled debut from Salem’s Bend leaves little wonder as to why with its classic sensibility and the vibe proliferated by the natural-toned nod of a song like “Silverstruck.” Though still prone to a bit of Hendrix-style shred when it comes to lead guitar, the three-piece of Bobby (guitar/vocals), Kevin (bass) and Zach (drums) depart from some of the post-Radio Moscow all-thrust boogie in favor of more laid back fair and on that cut and the later “Sun and Mist,” which hits into a satisfying apex in its second half without feeling overcooked, as well as the six-minute finale “A Tip of Salem,” which nods through its initial movement before bursting out toward the end. In a crowded SoCal scene, just about anything Salem’s Bend can do to stand apart will serve them, and the fluidity they hone across these seven tracks sets them up to do just that.

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Ripple Music on Bandcamp

 

Thonian Horde, Thonian Horde

thonian horde self-titled

Given the personnel involved, the black ‘n’ roll extremity of Thonian Horde’s self-titled debut full-length will no doubt come as a surprise to listeners. Formed in Boonsboro, Maryland, by bassist/vocalist Ron “Fezz” McGinnis (Pale Divine, Admiral Browning, etc.), guitarists Darren “Dirty” Waters (Weed is Weed) and Dan “D-Mize” Mize (Faith in Jane), and drummer Tyler “The Beast” Lee (Weed is Weed), one might expect high-order Frederick-style post-The Obsessed doom. Thonian Horde have more in common with Immortal on their centerpiece track “Darkest Nights Shadow,” and even as the closing “Psychonaut” finds a rock groove in its chorus, it does so with the hooky edge of Satyricon more than any of the members’ other outfits. No doubt that’s the point: doing something different. Indeed, the nine-tracker is a refreshing aesthetic reboot for the scene from whence it comes, holding fast to their region’s crucial lack of pretense even as they brazenly walk their own path – left-hand, of course.

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Thonian Horde on Bandcamp

 

Second Sun, Tachyonregenerator

second sun tachyonregenerator

I don’t know about you, but I missed out on Hopp/Förtvivlan, which was the 2015 debut full-length from Swedish rockers Second Sun, so to have Gaphals provide gentle encouragement to check it out by getting behind the two-songer single Tachyonregenerator is most welcome. Both cuts included – “Tachyonregenerator” and “Tror Faktiskt På Dig” – bask in classic vibe without being overly showy when it comes to retroism, and are marked out by the inclusion of organ amid the natural-sounding guitar, drums and bass, the vocals presented in Swedish across both pieces. It’s a quick eight-minutes perfect for the 7” pressing it’s been given, but again, makes enough of an impression that one is inclined toward further investigation, and given that, I can’t call it anything other than a success. I’ll go ahead and chalk up one more quality Swedish act to keep track of, because Second Sun offer tight-knit progressive leanings in a crisp package on Tachyonregenerator, and even if I’m late to the party, I’m glad I got to hear it.

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Gaphals Records website

 

Ten Ton Slug, Brutal Gluttonous Beast

ten ton slug brutal gluttonous beast

Some pretty clear self-awareness demonstrated in Ten Ton Slug’s self-released debut EP, Brutal Gluttonous Beast. The Galway, Ireland, five-piece had a prior live-recorded two-tracker, but these four songs mark their first studio outing, and as they draw together massive sludge riffing and more extreme, death metal-style growls, there’s precious little one might say to more accurately describe a track like “Trollhunter” – the opener and longest on the release (immediate points) – than that it lives up to the title, its second-half slowdown lurch prefacing a similar move in “Bloodburns” before the more rampaging “Subterranean” and noise-soaked burl of “Unit” take hold. Intense and vicious, but not necessarily unhinged, Brutal Gluttonous Beast finds Ten Ton Slug sounding remarkably sure in their approach, and one will await the news of their traveling to England to record with Chris Fielding at Skyhammer, since that seems to be the kind of presentation for which the tonal onslaught here is begging.

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Ten Ton Slug on Bandcamp

 

Komatsu, Recipe for Murder One

komatsu recipe for murder one

A half-decade after releasing their self-titled EP (review here), Eindhoven heavy/noise rockers Komatsu reemerge on Argonauta Records with the follow-up full-length, Recipe for Murder One. Boasting a guest appearance from Nick Oliveri on the suitably tumultuous “Lockdown,” the album leaves little to wonder what’s in that recipe in the darker-desert vibe of “So How’s About Billy” and “There Must be Something in Your Water,” which teases airy serenity in its first half only to go full-throttle for the second, but as the bass-driven lumber of the title-track and subtle melodic expansion of “The Sea is Calm Today” show, Komatsu haven’t wasted the last five years, instead constructing their own take on sonic density and sludge impulses that seems to hit with formidable impact regardless of tempo or tension level, both of which prove to be fluid elements at the four-piece’s disposal. They get the point across quickly in the stomp of “The Long Way Home,” but find suitable resolution in the nod of closer “Breathe,” rounding out a debut of significant character and depth with one last surprise in ambience it’s only fair to call progressive.

Komatsu on Thee Facebooks

Argonauta Records website

 

The Blue Sunshine Family Band, The Blue Sunshine Family Band

the blue sunshine family band self-titled

A double-guitar instrumental four-piece from Santa Rosa, California, The Blue Sunshine Family Band make their debut with a six-song/51-minute self-titled. Tracks presented as Roman numerals “I” through “VI,” though whether or not they’re actually the first six pieces the band has written, I couldn’t say. Either way, the impression immediately draws from “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” – that great king of nod riffs – and first-name-only guitarists Billy and Kevin, bassist Matt and drummer Quinten build outward from there, dipping below the eight-minute mark only on “V” (7:14) as they unfurl solid grooves and tonal heft, seeming to leave room for vocals either consciously or not. The converted will find engagement and immersion in the crash and swinging turn of “IV,” as well as the David Paul Seymour cover art, and if The Blue Sunshine Family Band is the sound of this foursome getting their feet under them, they manage to accomplish that preliminary feat and then some in these tracks.

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The Blue Sunshine Family Band on Bandcamp

 

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Quarterly Review: Minsk, King Bison, Les Lekin, The Vintage Caravan, Jim Healey, Anu, Iron & Stone, Gorgantherron, Elephant Riders, Lend Me Your Underbelly

Posted in Reviews on July 1st, 2015 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk summer quarterly review

And so we cruise into day three. Not sure how you’re holding up, but I feel like I’m hanging in pretty well. We pass the halfway point today, which is significant, but of course there are still plenty of records to come. I’m not sure I have a favorite day — I tried to spread stuff around as best I could when I was planning the whole thing — but there are definitely a couple highlights today as well. No doubt the standouts will stand out as we make our way through.

Quarterly Review #21-30:

Minsk, The Crash and the Draw

minsk the crash and the draw

Six years after the release of their third album, With Echoes in the Movement of Stone (review here), the 75-minute breadth of The Crash and the Draw (on Relapse) marks a welcome resurgence for Illinois post-metallers Minsk. Only keyboardist/vocalist Timothy Mead and guitarist/vocalist Christopher Bennett (also of Lark’s Tongue) remain from what was a four-piece and is now five with Aaron Austin on guitar/vocals, Zachary Livingston on bass/vocals and Kevin Rendleman on drums, but Minsk’s cascading heft is well intact as they show immediately on 12-minute opener and longest cut (immediate points) “To the Initiate.” True enough one is bound to be initiated after it, but it hardly scratches the surface of the atmospheric sludge Minsk continue to develop over the course of the four-parter “Onward Procession,” the glorious later melodies of “The Way is Through,” or the tribal tension in the percussion-led “To You there is No End.” They cap with the 10-minute “When the Walls Fell” and find themselves standing after all else has crashed down. A sprawling and triumphant return.

Minsk on Thee Facebooks

Minsk at Relapse Records

King Bison, King Bison

king bison king bison

Not to be confused with New York’s King Buffalo, Michigan’s Bison Machine or any number of other large mammals in the well-populated fur-covered contingent of American heavy rockers, King Bison make their self-titled debut via Snake Charmer Coalition, comprising seven riffy bruisers owing a deep debt to Clutch and, in that, reminding a bit of their Pennsylvanian countrymen in Kingsnake. Songs like “One for the Money” and “March of the Sasquatch” signal a watch for stoner-roller grooves to come in “Queen of the South” and “Pariah,” the dudeliness of the proceedings practically oozing from the speakers in the gruff vocals of guitarist/vocalist Chris Wojcik, who’s joined in the trio by bassist Dean Herber and drummer Scott Carey. The penchant for booze and blues, ladies and US auto manufacturing holds firm in “Night Ride” and the slower “I’m Gone,” and while one might expect a closer called “Space Boogie” to flesh out a bit, King Bison instead reinforce the foundation they’ve laid all along of Southern-style heft, remaining light on pretense and heavy on riffs.

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Snake Charmer Coalition

Les Lekin, All Black Rainbow Moon

les lekin all black rainbow moon

Originally issued digitally late last year, Salzburg, Austria, instrumental trio Les Lekin are set to give their debut long-player, All Black Rainbow Moon, a second look with a 180g vinyl pressing in Fall 2015. Comprised of six tracks, the record is a spacious 49 minutes, and the three-piece of guitarist Peter G., bassist Stefan W. and drummer Kerstin W. enact a fluid heavy psych groove, somewhat less dense in its fuzz than the post-Colour Haze sphere and following plotted courses throughout, whether it’s in the Arenna-esque “Solum,” which unfolds after the album’s wash of an intro, the efficient exploration of “Useless,” which seems to pack a 12-minute jam into a six-minute song, or the still-open-sounding bluesy stretchout of “Loom,” the longest inclusion here at 13:16. Familiar in aesthetic perhaps, the songs are nonetheless complex enough to represent the band’s beginnings well, the closer “Release” coming to a heavier apex that could perhaps foreshadow future expansions of the chiaroscuro elements at which the title of this debut is hinting.

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Les Lekin on Bandcamp

The Vintage Caravan, Arrival

the-vintage-caravan-arrival

After releasing their 2012 debut, Voyage, on Nuclear Blast last year, young Icelandic trio The Vintage Caravan return in 2015 with their sophomore full-length, Arrival – the second record seeming by title to be an answer to the first. Maybe that’s the intention musically, but the 10 tracks/55 minutes comprising Arrival do well to stand on their own, with the impressive lead work of guitarist/vocalist Óskar Logi never too far from the fore on songs like the standout “Babylon” or “Sandwalker,” though backed capably by the rhythm section of bassist Alexander Örn (also backup vocals) and drummer Stefán Ari Stefánsson. While unquestionably a more mature outing than their debut and more accomplished in its chemistry and songwriting, Arrival still gives a sense of the progression to come, and it’s easy to worry that by the time the listener gets to the powerful closing trio of “Innerverse,” “Carousel” and “Winter Queen,” the dizzying play throughout will have dulled the senses past the point of full appreciation. Room to tighten? Perhaps, but still a strong second outing for a band loaded with potential.

The Vintage Caravan on Thee Facebooks

The Vintage Caravan at Nuclear Blast

Jim Healey, This is What the End Looked Like

jim healey this is what the end looked like

Guitarist/vocalist Jim Healey is known more for the aggressive edge he’s brought over the years to bands like We’re all Gonna Die, Black Thai and most recently Shatner, but his solo material brings a different look. Joined in this “solo” endeavor by guitarist/vocalist/organist Joe McMahon, cellist/backing vocalist Dana Fisher, drummer Kyle Rasmussen and accordionist/backing vocalist Bridget Nault, Healey’s songwriting is nonetheless front and center across the nine tracks of This is What the End Looked Like, memorable cuts like “A Whole Lot of Nothing,” the more subdued “Radio” (written by Eddy Llerena) and closer “World War Eight” fleshing out arrangements that could work and/or have worked just as well on solo acoustic guitar for Healey in live performances. Worth noting that for all the vocal and instrumental embellishments on the studio incarnations, the songs lose none of the heartfelt feel at their core, Healey’s voice remaining a lonely presence despite obviously keeping good company.

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Jim Healey on Bandcamp

Anu, Nighthymns

ANU Nighthymns

Nighthymns marks a return for ANU and the band’s sole inhabitant Chad “Drathrul” Davis (Hour of 13/Night Magic, Tasha-Yar, The Sabbathian, and so many others) after a four-year absence following the release of 2011’s III EP. Offsetting blasting, ripping black metal on cuts like “Enter the Chasm” and “The Eternal Frost” with the ambient drones of “Risen within the Mist of Obscurity,” the longer “Winterfall” and the title-track, Nighthymns nonetheless gnashes its teeth in a dense blackened murk, screams far back in “Enter the Chasm” beneath programmed-sounding thud and full-on guitar squibblies. A project Davis has had going in one form or another since releasing a first demo in 1999, and likely before that, ANU’s slicing extremity and atmospherics rest well alongside each other, but neither is accessibility a remote concern. If you get it, you get it, and if you don’t, you don’t. Nighthymns is way more concerned with separating wheat from chaff than it is with making friends, and that plays much to its ultimate success.

Anu on Thee Facebooks

Wohrt Records

Iron and Stone, Old Man’s Doom

iron and stone old man's doom

Comprised of gruff-shouting vocalist Henning L., guitarists Christopher P. and Stephan M., bassist Matthias B. and drummer Torsten H., German riff idolizers Iron and Stone debuted in 2013 with an EP titled Maelstrom and Old Man’s Doom is a follow-up short release. Pressed to DIY cassettes, the three-tracker preaches loud and clear to the nod-ready converted in “Place in Hell” and “Into the Unknown,” big riffs lumbering out stone vibes, intertwining rhythms and leads in the latter as Henning works his shouting into a corresponding notation. “Into the Unknown” ends large and Sabbathy, but speedier closer “Bliss of Diversion” is a high point unto itself for the consistency of the tonal morass that the uptick in pace brings out of the guitar and bass, resulting in a kind of noisy, dense-in-the-low-end punk that suits Iron and Stone well despite operating in defiance of the EP’s title. New material reportedly in the works as well.

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Iron and Stone on Bandcamp

Gorgantherron, Second Sun

gorgantherron second sun

Their first album, Second Sun follows a 2012 self-titled EP from Indiana trio Gorgantherron, but is in a different league entirely. A well-set mix balance establishes itself on the opening title-track and develops throughout “Superliminial” and “Bookbinder” as they get rolling, and Gorgantherron – guitarist/vocalist Clint Logan, bassist/vocalist Toby Richardson and drummer Chris Flint – continue to foster grooving largesse over the nine tracks/47 minutes, veering skillfully between boogie and doom on “Pre-Warp Civilization” before airing out an atmospheric take on “Seventh Planet,” the rough-edged vocals prevalent in quieter surroundings. Richardson’s fuzz on “The Stone” ensures the song lives up to its name, and the soft guitar noodling that opens “Paranoia” brings a surprising touch of Colour Haze influence out of the blue before a count-in from Flint puts the band’s roll back on its appointed track. Closing duo “Entropy” and “Defy” offer some shuffle and chug, respectively, but by then the trio have already made the album’s primary impression in their heavy riffs, burl and more than capable execution.

Gorgantherron on Thee Facebooks

Gorgantherron on Bandcamp

Elephant Riders, Challenger

elephant riders challenger

The two cuts of Spanish trio Elephant RidersChallenger EP take Kyuss-style desert riffing and reset the context to something altogether less jammy. Tight and presented with a near-metallic crispness in their production, both “Challenger” – rerecorded from an earlier EP – and its more rolling B-side “Lone Wolf” push the line between heavy and hard rock, but riffs remain central to their purposes. Having released their debut full-length, Supernova, in 2014, they’re still getting settled into their sound, but a blend of heavy rock, grunge and metal impulses pervades these two songs, and when “Lone Wolf” shifts into a couple measures of start-stop fuzz riffing in its second half, they show off just a reminder nod for where they got their name. Two catchy tracks that maybe aren’t reinventing the stoner rock game, they nonetheless provide a quick sample of Elephant Rider’s songwriting development in progress and plant the seeds of future hooks to come.

Elephant Riders on Thee Facebooks

Elephant Riders on Bandcamp

Lend Me Your Underbelly, Hover

lend me your underbelly hover

When placed next to each other, the five one-word titles on Lend Me Your Underbelly’s Hover – either the project’s third or fourth full-length, depending on what you count – result in the phrase “Everything” “Was” “Deep” “Dark” “Green.” Whether or not that is of special significance to Netherlands-based multi-instrumentalist/sampler Christian Berends, I don’t know. The whole idea across these tracks seems to be experimentation and improvisation, so if the titles were grabbed from somewhere at random or carrying a rich emotional connection, either is just as likely. Not knowing turns out to be half the fun of Hover itself – not knowing that, not knowing what Berends is going to do around the next turn as each track builds, not knowing where all this noise is leading as the swirls and riffs of “Green” close out. Layers careen, appear and disappear throughout, but the wide open structures and creative sensibility remain consistent and tie Hover together as an intricate work of exploratory psychedelia.

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Lend Me Your Underbelly on Bandcamp

 

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