Review & Full Album Stream: Bison Machine, Seas of Titan

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on September 24th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

bison machine seas of titan

[Click play above to stream Bison Machine’s Seas of Titan in its entirety. Album is out Sept. 27 on Small Stone Records.]

It feels like an exceedingly long four years since Michigan classic heavy rockers Bison Machine issued their debut LP, Hoarfrost (review here), through Kozmik Artifactz after first releasing it themselves to significant acclaim. They boogied their way through a 2016 split with SLO and Wild Savages (review here) and issued the single “Cloak and Bones” (premiered here) the next year, and they’ve done a fair amount of touring between, mostly but not entirely in the Midwest, but as second-record Seas of Titan arrives via Small Stone Records — Detroit(-ish) band, Detroit label, Detroit rock — one seems to greet it almost with an exhale of relief: “ah, finally.” The winding shuffle of “Cloak and Bones” makes an appearance on side A amid semi-vintage stylized jams like the proto-metallic opener “The Tower,” “Knights of the Stars” and the somebody-please-isolate-the-bass-track-and-send-it-to-me shuffler “Echoes in Space,” which indeed trips out its guitar solo from Casey O’Ryan, who’s been in the band for a while now but is still the ‘new guy’ alongside vocalist Tom Stec, bassust/Moog-ist Anthony Franchina and drummer Breck Crandell.

But beyond that, everything on Seas of Titan at least feels fresh in listening to it, which is something of an accomplishment for a band so readily paying homage to the heavy ’70s in atmosphere and method. Brought together by a stellar recording job from Al Sutton and Steve Lehane, the latter of whom also co-produced with the band and handled mixing duties — Chris Goosman mastered, which is how it goes for most Small Stone releases — Seas of Titan comes across as natural to a clearly purposeful degree, taking that organic vibe and using it to bolster a live-feeling sound that further adds to the already considerable chemistry between Bison Machine as players. The tones are warm, the balance of instruments and vocals in the mix just right, and the flow between the songs enough to carry through the eight-track/42-minute run even before you know it’s over.

A sense of movement is essential to what Bison Machine do on their sophomore full-length, and that starts from the galloping guitar and emphasize-the-point snare of “The Tower” and continues one way or another through everything that follows. An echo treatment on Stec‘s vocals proves a uniting factor throughout, but isn’t any more overdone than intended, and as he seems to tap his inner Plant on “The Tower,” the message of what he’s going for comes through clearly. One might say the same of the band’s work on the whole. They inject boogie rock with a much-needed sense of energy and a much-needed sense of danger, not through violent lyrical themes or anything like that, but through the vitality of their swing, of the sharpness of their performance as captured here. Hooky enough to warrant its leadoff position, “The Tower” leads to “Knights of the Stars,” whereby Thin Lizzy‘s boys end up back in town and in a brawl with Cactus, only to resolve their differences peacefully in the song’s languid, solo-enriched second half, which cuts out before its 5:11 are done and gives way to “Cloak and Bones,” which channels biker-style death fetishism in its lyrics and sets it to an insistent rhythm and percussive foundation.

bison machine

Bass and guitar wind their way around the snapping drums, and together with Stec, all seem to be resolved to conveying the same crucial aspects of their performance. Like “The Tower,” “Cloak and Bones” is more proto-metallic than not, but Bison Machine‘s ability to shift the balance between such runs and jams or boogie-downs is a big part of what makes Seas of Titan work so well for the duration. As “Echoes in Space” digs into a mellower softshoe riff, that range becomes that much clearer as a part of the listening experience, and while it’s all still well within a similar-enough vibe to be coherent — that is, Bison Machine aren’t trying to do something just to catch their audience off-guard — neither are they repeating themselves anymore than they want to be doing to nail down the grooves that so well populate the album, and indeed “Echoes in Space,” which picks up its tempo and adds a line of presumably Moog or other keyboard under the broad-sounding guitar solo for which one assumes the song was named in the first place.

So yes, movement. But also warmth. The synth that begins the side-B-opening title-track is an intro for one of Seas of Titan‘s most driving progressions, but even that carries a distinctly human warmth and character, mirroring the chorus of “The Tower” and some of that same burst of energy, but locking into a bluesier chorus as well, reminding a bit of Radio Moscow as it struts into and out of lead sections. “Seas of Titan” is the longest inclusion at 6:10, but not by so much over “Cloak and Bones” (6:02) or “The Tower” (5:46) that it’s out of step with the rest of the record that shares its name — that intro is essentially the difference, but it’s well enough earned.

They follow-it with a build of momentum through “Star Child,” which oddly enough is more Rainbow than KISS in terms of its sound, but a welcome delving into minor-key fretwork either way as O’Ryan‘s guitar swaps channels before the hook comes back through and leads to an effective section of starts and stops and a last push ahead of the already-going-already-gone “Electric Eliminator,” which somehow finds room in its sub-four-minute run for a winding, boogie-dense jam in its midsection that almost seems like it’s going to hold sway for the duration and then turns quickly back to the central riff. That lets the initial strum of closer “A Distant Sun” make an immediately more peaceful impression, but the tempo remains up and fuller fuzz makes its way in, Stec‘s vocals seeming to tap their inner Freedom Hawk past the midpoint just before they ride the last solo into a roundout with the last hook and then end the set with a ringout and fade, their sense of class coming through almost in spite of the grit of their presentation.

One wouldn’t necessarily accuse Bison Machine of reinventing the wheel in terms of aesthetic, but the fact of the matter is their take on boogie rock is presented with an energy and an edge of its own on Seas of Titan, and though acts like KadavarGraveyard, and half the population of San Diego have cut their teeth on ’70s riffage over the last decade, the grit Bison Machine bring to the proceedings — and again, that class underlying — is well on display throughout these songs. I wouldn’t be surprised in the future to find them loosening up the structure a bit — contrary to my usual impulse, I almost found myself wishing “Electric Eliminator” just let itself go without returning to the hook; the band’s songwriting acumen had already been thoroughly established, so why not? — but their tightness here extends to all levels of what they do and it becomes part of the overarching statement Seas of Titan makes, and makes resoundingly. Maybe it’ll be four years until the next one and maybe not, but it’ll be worth waiting for, in any case.

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Review & Track Premiere: Pale Grey Lore, Eschatology

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on July 24th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Pale Grey Lore Eschatology

[Click play above to stream ‘Before the Fall’ from Pale Grey Lore’s Eschatology. Album is out Sept. 6 on Small Stone Records.]

In theology, eschatology refers to the ultimate fate of humanity, whether that’s the apocalypse or being one with the universe or whatever it might be in a given belief system. Ohio heavy rock four-piece Pale Grey Lore, whose Eschatology marks their debut on Small Stone Records and follows behind a well-received 2016 self-titled debut (review here), it’s a fairly grim picture of environmental destruction, capitalist ravaging and otherworldly semi-salvation, and it comes expressed in 10 tracks and 42 minutes of varied, atmospheric songcraft that roughs up the sound of the first album somewhat without losing the underlying structure that helped make those songs so memorable, so that from opener “Sunken Cities” onward, Pale Grey Lore establish a balance between spaciousness and hook-making, and whether that’s heard in the massive low-end roll of “Before the Fall” or the winding, Queens of the Stone Age-style “Greed Springs Eternal” just before it, the sense of poise comes through in overarching vocal melodies and harmonies between guitarists Michael Miller and Xander Roseberry as well as in the fluidity of groove from bassist Donovan Johnson and drummer Adam Miller.

Those who heard the first album will perhaps be most struck by the pervasiveness of mood throughout Eschatology, and that comes through whether a given song is fast or slow, loud or quiet, as Miller and Roseberry vary arrangements of acoustic and electric guitar and sundry effects, and even “Sunken Cities” begins with a minute and a half of ambient introduction before the bassline kicks in to lead into the first verse. But the mood suits Pale Grey Lore, and while it means that their hooks aren’t necessarily as immediate or as up-front as they were, the tradeoff for that is a richer listening experience on the whole, with a depth of tone and concept fleshing out the penchant for songwriting that serves as their foundation. In other words, Pale Grey Lore have become and are becoming a more complex band. This can only be a good thing.

“Sunken Cities” is a suitable plunge to set the tone for the rest of the record, and its mid-paced rollout (after the intro) makes an enticing contrast for the speedier, hookier “Greed Springs Eternal,” which as noted leads into the more lumbering “Before the Fall.” It’s telling that this salvo should be more focused on diversity of craft rather than “frontloading” all the rockers — which they certainly would have had plenty of material to do, with songs like “The Rift,” “Undermined” and “Silent Command” tucked safely away on side B — as it speaks not only to the narrative mission of Eschatology and the story being told, but also the band’s growth as a unit and more progressive priorities, as perhaps most shown on the closing title-track. Even cuts like “Regicide” and “Waiting for the Dawn,” which round out the first half of the album, do so with a marked distinction between them, as the former finds a grungier middle ground and is fleshed out in its verses by howling lead guitar before a second-half crash out and resounding final solo, and the latter caps side A with a quieter arrangement of fuzzy leads and combined acoustic and electric guitar as a bed for echoing vocals, a steady level of snare activity beneath wisely keeping a feeling of movement and grounding to the proceedings.

pale grey lore

By the time they get there, Pale Grey Lore have already shown their proggy intent, but “Waiting for the Dawn” highlights the point and, in a linear format — that is, a CD or DL not requiring the side flip of a vinyl — it’s less an interruption of momentum than a landmark ahead of the takeoff that follows with “The Rift,” as side B works quickly in the three-minute track to give its sense of momentum before slamming it headfirst into album highlight “Void-Cursed,” the arrival of which is marked with a wash of low-end with a solo cutting through and a more lumbering movement that’s soon enough met with resonant vocal harmonies leading to a march outward and, one assumes, a sonic payoff intended to convey the vastness of the void itself. So be it.

The deftness of the turn from “Void-Cursed” to the bouncing surf-punkishness of “Silent Command” isn’t to be understated, as it and the penultimate “Undermined,” which follow, seem to pick up where “The Rift” and “Greed Springs Eternal” left off, still changing their approach from track to track — the backing vocals on “Silent Command,” the Thin Lizzy-isms of “Undermined,” etc. — but keeping runtimes tighter and allowing more of a push to take hold. The fact that those changes occur next to songs like “Waiting for the Dawn” and “Sunken Cities” and “Void-Cursed” and indeed “Eschatology” itself put emphasis on how dynamic Pale Grey Lore‘s approach is becoming on the whole. With the title-track, the clear focus in on melody, but even then, there’s a thrust into noise and a final descent (ascent?) into cacophony that comes coupled with chant-sounding harmonized vocals — pretty sure there’s a screamed layer in there too — before the song itself finishes at just under four minutes and a bookending outro takes hold with echoes of the start of “Sunken Cities” and chimes courtesy of Roseberry leading the way into a more ethereal oblivion.

What the hell happens next? I don’t know, but I’m as curious to find out in terms of the storytelling as I am when it comes to the band itself, who seem to be signaling their readiness to enter a different level of consideration with these songs, and, more specifically, a readiness to tour. Eschatology is a record full of purpose, and the realization of not just a plotline, but a creative vision fleshed out across the work (one would guess) of multiple songwriters coming together toward a common end. It is simultaneously gorgeous and troubling, thoughtful in composition and impact-making in result. I do not know to what it might lead in terms of the band’s plans, but like “Sunken Cities” leads the way into the world they’re creating, so too does Eschatology feel much more like a beginning than an end of all things.

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Bison Machine Announce Seas of Titan Due Sept. 27; New Song Streaming

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 19th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Even if you go by when the album came out on Kozmik Artifactz, it’s been four years since Bison Machine released their debut LP, Hoarfrost (review here), and that’s plenty long enough. They’ve done copious touring over the course of their near-decade together, and had other offerings out along the way, but if you believe in due, they’re due for a record. Fortunately, Seas of Titan will see release through Small Stone on Sept. 27 as their sophomore full-length, arriving not a moment too soon as far as I’m concerned. The album art pretty much rules, and I’ve been seeing posts on thee social medias about their widely available new t-shirt designs, so all that makes me think they’ll continue to hit the road as they have all along, and that’s only a good thing. They’re streaming the opening track from Seas of Titan now. I suggest you dig in.

PR wire info follows. I know I worked on this bio, but I think it was an update from what was already there rather than something I wrote from scratch. Kind of hard to keep it all straight in my head.

Either way, here it is:

bison machine seas of titan

BISON MACHINE: Michigan Fuzz Rockers To Release Seas Of Titan Full-Length Via Small Stone This Fall; New Track Streaming + Preorders Available

Michigan fuzz rockers BISON MACHINE will release their Seas Of Titan full-length via Small Stone this fall.

Since 2010, BISON MACHINE has been plying their trade in the dank, vinyl-smelling basements of Detroit, Michigan, the birthplace of a rock tradition for brashness and all-in physicality to music that the group lovingly upholds. Seas Of Titan is the band’s first album for Small Stone and a record years in the making. Since getting their start in early 2015 with the critically-lauded Hoarfrost, the four-piece have spent time putting out material in drips and drabs — a video here, a split there — all the while honing their craft on stages throughout the greater Midwest and beyond. This has all been in the name of chipping away at the marble that would become an awaited sophomore outing; a long-player from a band whose reputation already precedes them among the converted and who leave nothing unsaid in their sweating-blood approach to rock and roll.

Progressive and intense, the eight smoking tracks that comprise Seas Of Titan finds BISON MACHINE melding the best of classic heavy rock a la Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Captain Beyond, and MC5 with a forward-thinking style that is as much class as it is likely to show up in a loincloth. Rooted now in Hamtramck, Michigan, the band are hungry to the point of starving and bring a spirit to their latest work that serves to remind why they made guitars electric in the first place. Seas Of Titan was recorded by Al Sutton (Five Horse Johnson, Don Cabellero) and Steve Lehane (Sasquatch, Luder, The Black Dahlia Murder) at Rustbelt Studios, mastered by Chris Goosman (La Chinga, Gozu, Acid King, The Glasspack) at Baseline Audio Labs and features artwork by Alan Forbes (The Black Crowes, Lucifer, Earthless, Ghost). 

BISON MACHINE’s Seas Of Titan will be released September 27th on CD and digitally via Small Stone. A limited-edition vinyl edition will also be released through Kozmik Artifacts in conjunction with Small Stone. Preorders are available at the label’s Bandcamp page at THIS LOCATION where first single, “The Tower,” can be streamed.

Seas Of Titan Track Listing:
1. The Tower
2. Knights Of The Stars
3. Cloak & Bones
4. Echoes In Space
5. Seas Of Titan
6. Star Child
7. Electric Eliminator
8. A Distant Sun

BISON MACHINE:
Casey O’ryan – guitar
Anthony Franchina – bass, moog
Breck Crandell – drums, percussion
Tom Stec – vocals

https://www.facebook.com/bisonmachinedetroit
https://www.instagram.com/bisonmachine/
https://bisonmachine.bandcamp.com/
http://www.smallstone.com
http://www.facebook.com/smallstonerecords
http://www.smallstone.bandcamp.com

Bison Machine, Seas of Titan (2019)

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Pale Grey Lore Set Sept. 6 Release for Eschatology on Small Stone Records

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 10th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

I was way into Pale Grey Lore‘s 2016 self-titled debut (review here) and bummed out hard on missing them at Maryland Doom Fest last month, but the news today is good in that the Columbus, Ohio, natives will release their second long-player, Eschatology — the theological study of death — through Small Stone Records on Sept. 6. They’ve got the opening track posted now, as is the label’s wont when preorders go live, and they’ve revealed the album details and themes. It’s not a pretty picture they paint, to be sure. Remember when a grim future run by villainous, impossibly-wealthy technological oligarchs was the stuff of science fiction? Well, prescience comes in many forms. Pale Grey Lore are indeed telling a story through these tracks, and I’ll look forward to hearing how it plays out as they make their way toward the title cut at the end, and where the balance of narrative and songwriting leads them.

The PR wire brings info and the song:

Pale Grey Lore Eschatology

PALE GREY LORE: Psychedelic Garage Doom Collective Joins Small Stone Recordings For The Release Of Eschatology September 6th; New Track Streaming + Preorders Available

Columbus, Ohio-based psychedelic garage doom collective PALE GREY LORE recently joined forces with Small Stone Recordings for the release of their second full-length Eschatology, set for release this September.

Blending elements of garage psych, space rock, post-punk, and stoner doom, PALE GREY LORE manifests focused, hook-driven, heavy, rock ‘n’ roll. Melodic vocals and subtle harmonies echo alongside the molten groove in the guitar, bass, and drums, taking a time-tested formula and proving it indeed to be timeless. Produced by the band’s own Xander Roseberry and Michael Miller, engineered and mixed by Andy Sartain, and mastered by Harold LaRue, with artwork and layout by Adam Eckley, Eschatology can be best described as heavy on the heavy, and fuzzy and trippy in all the right places.

“Eschatology tells the story of a depleted planet beset by vast inequality, ravaged by climate catastrophe, and poisoned by nuclear disaster,” relays the band of the record’s themes. “The masses are left to suffer and die while the wealthy techno-industrialists responsible for the destruction flee in luxury spacecraft that will become their tombs. The sheer magnitude of this planetary devastation summons cosmic beings whose presence warps reality itself, and the world is utterly transformed as the present collides with an ancient timeline. When the survivors finally emerge from their underground shelters, they discover that half the planet remains a post-apocalyptic wasteland while the other half has become lush and verdant. One hemisphere is strewn with melted reactors, crashed spacecraft, and bombed-out ruins; the other is an untamed wilderness, teeming with strange creatures, and dotted with ominous towering edifices that pulsate with eldritch power.”

Eschatology will be released on CD, limited LP, and digital formats on September 6th. In advance of its release, PALE GREY LORE is pleased to unveil the record’s opening track “Sunken Cities.”

Issues the band, “‘Sunken Cities’ creates tension by moving from eerie, cavernous spaciousness to tight, claustrophobic riffing and back again. The cinematic intro was based on an improvisation we developed after the rest of the song had come together. It provided us an opportunity to expand our sound in a more prog-rock direction, which is one of many influences we wanted to explore on this new record. Our goal was to experiment and evolve our sound without straying too far from the core aesthetic that animated our self-titled debut. We think we were able to achieve that balance well.”

For Eschatology preorders and to sample “Sunken Cities,” visit the Small Stone Bandcamp page at THIS LOCATION.

Eschatology Track Listing:
1. Sunken Cities
2. Greed Springs Eternal
3. Before The Fall
4. Regicide
5. Waiting For The Dawn
6. The Rift
7. Void-Cursed
8. Silent Command
9. Undermined
10. Eschatology

PALE GREY LORE:
Michael Miller – lead/backing vocals, six-string electric/acoustic guitars, theremin, mellotron
Xander Roseberry – backing vocals, six-string/twelve-string electric/acoustic guitars, theremin, chimes
Donovan Johnson – bass
Adam Miller – drums, auxiliary percussion

http://www.facebook.com/palegreylore/
htps://www.instagram.com/palegreylore
http://www.smallstone.com
http://www.facebook.com/smallstonerecords
http://www.smallstone.bandcamp.com

Pale Grey Lore, “Sunken Cities”

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Quarterly Review: Tia Carrera, Inter Arma, Volcano, Wet Cactus, Duskwood, Lykantropi, Kavod, Onioroshi, Et Mors, Skånska Mord

Posted in Reviews on July 4th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review

Day four. I should’ve known we’d hit a snag at some point in the week, but it happened yesterday afternoon when Windows decided I desperately needed some update or other and then crapped the bed in the middle of said update. I wound up taking my laptop to a repair guy down the road in the afternoon, who said the hard drive needed to be wiped and have a full reinstall. Pretty brutal. He was going to back up what was there and get on it, said I could pick it up today. We’ll see how that goes, I guess. Also, happy Fourth, if America’s your thing. Let’s dive in.

Quarterly Review #31-40:

Tia Carrera, Visitors / Early Purple

tia carrera visitors early purple

They had a single out between (review here), but the two-song LP Visitors / Early Purple is Tia Carrera‘s first album since 2011’s Cosmic Priestess (review here). The Austin, Texas, three-piece — which now includes bassist Curt Christianson of Dixie Witch alongside guitarist Jason Morales and drummer Erik Conn — haven’t missed a beat in terms of creating heavy psychedelic sprawl, and as the side-consuming “Visitors” (18:32) and “Early Purple” (16:28) play out, it’s with a true jammed sensibility; that feeling that sooner or later the wheels are going to come off. They don’t, at least not really, but the danger always makes it more exciting, and Morales‘ tone has been much missed. In the intervening years, the social media generation has come up to revere Earthless for doing much of what Tia Carrera do, but there’s always room for more jams as far as I’m concerned, and it’s refreshing to have Tia Carrera back to let people know what they’ve been missing. Here’s hoping it’s not another eight years.

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Small Stone Records on Bandcamp

 

Inter Arma, Sulphur English

inter arma sulphur english

I can’t help but think Inter Arma‘s Sulphur English is the album Morbid Angel should have made after Covenant. And yes, that applies to the harmonies and organ of “Stillness” as well. The fourth full-length (third for Relapse) from the Richmond, Virginia, outfit is a beastly, severe and soulful 66-minute stretch of consuming, beyond-genre extremity. It punishes with purpose and scope, and its sense of brutality comes accompanied by a willful construction of atmosphere. Longer pieces like “The Atavist’s Meridian” and the closing title-track lend a feeling of drama, but at no point does Sulphur English feel like a put-on, and as Inter Arma continue their push beyond the even-then-inventive sludge of their beginnings, they’ve become something truly groundbreaking in metal, doing work that can only be called essential to push forward into new ground and seeming to swallow the universe whole in the meantime. It’s the kind of record that one can only hope becomes influential, both in its purpose toward individualism and its sheer physical impact.

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Relapse Records website

 

Volcano, The Island

volcano the island

So you’ve got Harsh Toke‘s Gabe Messer on keys and vocals and JOY guitarist/Pharlee drummer Zach Oakley on guitar, and bassist Billy Ellsworth (also of Loom) and Matt Oakley on drums, plus it seems whoever else happened to be around the studio that day — and in San Diego, that could be any number of players — making up Volcano, whose debut, The Island (on Tee Pee) melds Afrobeat funk-rock with the band’s hometown penchant for boogie. The songs are catchy — “10,000 Screamin’ Souls,” “Naked Prey,” “Skewered,” “No Evil, Know Demon”; hooks abound — but there’s a feeling of kind of an unthinking portrayal of “the islander” as a savage that I can’t quite get past. There’s inherently an element of cultural appropriation to rock and roll anyway, but even more here, it seems. They make it a party, to be sure, but there’s a political side to what Afrobeat was originally about that goes unacknowledged here. They might get there, they might not. They’ve got the groove down on their first record, and that’s not nothing.

Volcano on Instagram

Tee Pee Records website

 

Wet Cactus, Dust, Hunger and Gloom

wet cactus dust hunger and gloom

Sometimes you just miss one, and I’ll admit that Wet CactusDust, Hunger and Gloom got by me. It likely would’ve been in the Quarterly Review a year ago had I not been robbed last Spring, but either way, the Spanish outfit’s second long-player is a fuzz rocker’s delight, a welcoming and raucous vibe persisting through “Full Moon Over My Head,” which is the second cut of the total five and the only one of the bunch under seven minutes long. They bring desert-jammy vibes to the songs surrounding, setting an open tone with “So Long” at the outset that the centerpiece “Aquelarre” fleshes out even further instrumentally ahead of the penultimate title-track’s classic build and payoff and the earth-toned nine-minute finale “Sleepy Trip,” which is nothing if not self-aware in its title as it moves toward the driving crescendo of the record. All throughout, the mood is as warm as the distortion, and Wet Cactus do right by staying true to the roots of desert rock. It’s not every record I’d want to review a year after the fact; think of it that way.

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Wet Cactus on Bandcamp

 

Duskwood, The Long Dark

duskwood the long dark

A follow-up EP to Duskwood‘s 2016 debut long-player, Desert Queen, the four-track The Long Dark is a solid showcase of their progression as songwriters and in the capital-‘d’ Desertscene style that has come to epitomize much of the UK heavy rock underground, taking loyalism to the likes of Kyuss and topping it off with the energy of modern London-based practitioners Steak. The four-piece roll out a right-on fuzzy groove in “Mars Rover” after opening with “Space Craft” and show more of a melodic penchant in “Crook and Flail” before tying it all together with “Nomad” at the finish. They warn on their Bandcamp page this is ‘Part 1,’ so it may not be all that long before they resurface. Fair enough as they’ve clearly found their footing in terms of style and songwriting here, and at that point the best thing to do is keep growing. As it stands, The Long Dark probably isn’t going to kick off any stylistic revolution, but there’s something to be said for the band’s ability to execute their material in conversation with what else is out there at the moment.

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Duskwood on Bandcamp

 

Lykantropi, Spirituosa

Lykantropi-Spirituosa

Sweet tones and harmonies and a classic, sun-coated progressivism persist on Lykantropi‘s second album, Spirituosa (on Lightning Records), basking in melodic flow across nine songs and 43 minutes that begin with the rockers “Wild Flowers” and “Vestigia” and soon move into the well-paired “Darkness” and “Sunrise” as the richer character of the LP unfolds. “Songbird” makes itself a highlight with its more laid back take, and the title-track follows with enough swing to fill whatever quota you’ve got, while “Queen of Night” goes full ’70s boogie and “Seven Blue” imagines Tull and Fleetwood Mac vibes — Flutewood Mac! — and closer and longest track “Sällsamma Natt” underscores the efficiency of songwriting that’s been at play all the while amidst all that immersive gorgeousness and lush melodicism. They include a bit of push in the capper, and well they should, but go out with a swagger that playfully counteracts the folkish humility of the proceedings. Will fly under many radars. Shouldn’t.

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Lightning Records website

 

Kavod, Wheel of Time

kavod wheel of time

As Italian trio Kavod shift from opener “Samsara” into “Absolution” on their debut EP, Wheel of Time, the vocals become a kind of chant for the verse that would seem to speak to the meditative intention of the release on the whole. They will again on the more patient closer “Mahatma” too, and fair enough as the band seem to be trying to find a place for themselves in the post-Om or Zaum sphere of spiritual exploration through volume, blending that aesthetic with a more straight-ahead songwriting methodology as manifest in “Samsara” particularly. They have the tones right on as they begin this inward and outward journey, and it will be interesting to hear in subsequent work if they grow to work in longer, possibly-slower forms or push their mantras forward at the rate they do here, but as it stands, they take a reverent, astral viewpoint with their sound and feel dug in on that plane of existence. It suits them.

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Kavod on Bandcamp

 

Onioroshi, Beyond These Mountains

onioroshi beyond these mountains

Onioroshi flow smoothly from atmospheric post-sludge to more thrusting heavy rock and they take their time doing it, too. With their debut album, Beyond These Mountains, the Italian heavy proggers present four tracks the shortest of which, “Locusta,” runs 10:54. Bookending are “Devilgrater” (14:17) and “Eternal Snake (Mantra)” (20:30) and the penultimate “Socrate” checks in at 12:29, so yes, the trio have plenty of chances to flesh out their ideas as and explore as they will. Their style leans toward post-rock by the end of “Devilgrater,” but never quite loses its sense of impact amid the ambience, and it’s not until “Socrate” that they go full-on drone, setting a cinematic feel that acts as a lead-in for the initial build of the closer which leads to an apex wash and a more patient finish than one might expect given the trip to get there. Beyond These Mountains is particularly enticing because it’s outwardly familiar but nuanced enough to still strike an individual note. It’s easy to picture Onioroshi winding up on Argonauta or some other suitably adventurous imprint.

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Et Mors, Lux in Morte

et mors lux in morte

Whoever in Maryland/D.C. then-four-piece Et Mors decided to record their Lux in Morte EP in their practice space had the right idea. The morose death-doom three-songer takes cues from USBM in the haunting rawness of “Incendium Ater,” and even though the 19-minute “House of Nexus” comes through somewhat clearer — it was recorded to tape at Shenandoah University — it remains infected by the filth and grit of the opener. Actually, “infected” might be the word all around here, as the mold-sludge of closer “Acid Bender” creeps along at an exposed-flesh, feedback-drenched lurch, scathing as much in intent as execution, playing like a death metal record at half-speed and that much harsher because they so clearly know what they’re doing. If you think it matters that they mixed stuff from two different sessions, you’re way off base on the sound overall here. It’s patch-worthy decay metal, through and through. Concerns of audio fidelity need not apply.

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Skånska Mord, Blues from the Tombs

skanska mord blues from the tombs

When Sweden’s Skånska Mord are singing about the deep freeze in album opener “Snow” on the Transubstans-released Blues from the Tombs, I believe it. It’s been seven years since Small Stone issued their Paths to Charon LP (review here), and the new record finds them more fully dug into a classic rocker’s take on hard-blues, rolling with Iommic riffs and a mature take on what earliest Spiritual Beggars were able to capture in terms of a modern-retro sound. “Snow” and “Simon Says” set an expectation for hooks that the more meandering “Edge of Doom” pulls away from, while “The Never Ending Greed” brings out the blues harp over an abbreviated two minutes and leads into a more expansive side B with “Blinded by the Light” giving way to the wah-bassed “Sun,” the barroom blueser “Death Valley Blues” and the returning nod of closer “The Coming of the Second Wave,” stood out by its interwoven layers of soloing and hypnosis before its final cut. It’s been a while, but they’ve still got it.

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Transubstans Records website

 

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Irata Premiere “Tower” Video

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 12th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

irata

The other day as I made my usual rounds of social media perusal and dicking around not getting anything done, I came across a post — don’t even remember who it was, so don’t ask — griping about how awesome Helmet used to be and why don’t they make bands like that anymore and so on. Well, okay. That’s one way to look at the universe. Yeah, they were cool in their day. On the other hand, fucking Irata. The North Carolinian four-piece made their debut on Small Stone in April with Tower, their second album overall, and if what you’re looking for is to hear a band belting out full-tilt riffs with an emphasis on rhythmic groovemaking, they’ve got you covered — plus melody. Tower is eight songs/39 minutes, and the title-track, with lead vocals from drummer Jason Ward, go-crush guitar work from Cheryl Manner and Owen Burd and low-end force from Jon Case is just the very beginning of what’s on offer on the album that shares its name. And not just because it’s the first track, either. Whether it’s the proggy winding of “Waking Eye” or the wistful guitar melody in “Innocent Murmur,” the Jane’s Addiction-meets-Torche vibe of “Weightless” or the spacier nuance in the early going of “Crawl to Corners,” there’s more dynamic on display throughout Tower than, frankly, anyone bitching about how “they don’t make bands like Band X anymore” probably deserves. Who gives a shit? They make bands like Irata.

Shades of prog metal work their way into side B leadoff “Leviathan” and the harmonies find their most righteous manifestation in closer “Constellations,” but somehow Irata‘s prevailing atmosphereirata tower still seems to be in straight-up heavy rock. They’re grounded in structure, but Manner and Burd have a fluid and often subtle interplay on guitar — the second half of the finale is a fitting example, but the if-you’re-going-to-have-two-guitars-then-use-them-both ethos applies just as well to “Innocent Murmur” and other tracks surrounding — and with the variety in the arrangements of vocals and periodic bouts of thrust like that at the outset of “Waking Eye,” Tower is able to keep its audience guessing in terms of just where the band are headed, something which wouldn’t be possible without Ward‘s drums as an anchor for the material structurally. In the turns of “Waking Eye” and the jabs of the penultimate “Golden Tongue,” the drums provide the flow over which the guitars and bass are able to so effectively careen, giving the vocals an all-the-more solid foundation even as that foundation seems so intent on movement throughout. Dynamic is the word, and chemistry is for sure a factor as well, but whether it’s the fuzzed airiness of “Weightless” or the insistent and deep-weighted apex of Ward‘s synth at the beginning of “Leviathan,” there’s a sense of control in Irata‘s material that only lends consciousness to the creativity of their songwriting — the choices they make in terms of transitions, vocals, etc.

All of this comes together to make Irata‘s sound something of a modern amalgam, definitely drawing from ’90s alternative rock but filtering that through heavy impulses born of the current generation of riffy practitioners of various stripes. It’s a combination that works and still sets Irata up for further growth down the line. I’m not saying it’s revolutionary, but I am saying it knows exactly what it’s doing, and that’s rare enough in itself.

And to the original point, this is a thing that’s happening right now. Wouldn’t you rather make future nostalgia than lament the past?

While you’re thinking about it, here’s a video premiere for “Tower” to smack you upside the head.

Enjoy:

Irata, “Tower” official video premiere

“Tower” is the title track from Irata’s 2019 LP of the same name. Shot in 2018 on location in Greensboro and Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

IRATA
Jon Case – bass, vocals
Jason Ward – drums, vocals, synth
Cheryl Manner – guitar
Owen Burd – guitar

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Irata website

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Review & Full Album Stream: Abrahma, In Time for the Last Rays of Light

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on May 22nd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

abrahma in time for the last rays of light

[Click play above to stream Abrahma’s In Time for the Last Rays of Light in its entirety. Album is out Friday on Small Stone Records and Deadlight Entertainment.]

It has been an especially long four years since France’s Abrahma released their second album, Reflections in the Bowels of a Bird (review here). As early as 2016, the topic of a new full-length had been broached, and they revealed recording plans in consecutive Junes across 2017 and 2018. The latter took. By the time they got there, guitarist/vocalist and principle songwriter Sébastien Bismuth was the lone remaining original member of the band, with a changing lineup around him that contributed in no small part to the delay. In the end, it was by absorbing the entirety of the band Splendor Solis that Bismuth was able to construct Abrahma as a five-piece and enter Orgone Studios to record with Jaime Gomez Arellano, known for his work with Paradise Lost, GhostDream DeathOrange Goblin, etc., and the resulting LP, In Time for the Last Rays of Light, harvests cohesion from the tumult of its making.

With Bismuth joined by guitarist/synthesist/noisemaker Benoît Carel, guitarist/vocalist Florian Leguillon, bassist/vocalist Romain Hauduc and drummer/vocalist Baptiste Keriel, the eight tracks and 49 minutes of the record play out with a fullness and a patience that undercuts the basic idea that this is a completely new lineup — perhaps the fact that CarelLeguillonHauduc and Keriel were a band previously helps — and builds on the atmospheric impression Abrahma made on their second LP with a greater focus on songwriting patience and telling a story with the songs front to back. The operating theme is coping with mental illness, specifically depression, and whether it’s the wailing guitar of “Lost. Forever.” or the turns between massive chug and harmonized vocals of the penultimate “Eclipse of the Sane Pt. 2: Fiddler of the Bottle,” Bismuth and company hold firmly to that focus across the record’s span. Methodical pacing and tonal weight lend depth to the mood of the material, and while there’s certainly a creative range at play, the songs serve the purpose of conveying that theme regardless of arrangement or other factors.

Those who remember Abrahma‘s 2012 debut, Through the Dusty Paths of Our Lives (review here), might be surprised at just how metal some of the guitars sound throughout In Time for the Last Rays of Light, be it at the end of 8:41 third and longest cut “Eclipse of the Sane Pt. 1: Isolation Ghosts” or in the six-minute side B leadoff “Last Epistle,” which emerges from a short intro “Dusk Contemplation” with what would be the album’s most intense spirit — capping in some unabashedly death metal-style chugga-chug in the fadeout accompanied by double-kick drum that’s only too appropriate — were it not for the subsequent “Wander in Sedation,” which swirls in on a dark severity of tone and resolves its lumbering progression in a culminating stretch of blastbeats, echoing those earlier of “Lucidly Adrift” on side A, which takes hold from side A and marries together heavy post-rock with these more extreme impulses.

abrahma

What actually keeps Abrahma from being full-tilt metal is their melodic sensibility and the overarching groove of In Time for the Last Rays of Light. There are moments certainly where one might call out a doom-rooted sense of theatricality, as on closer “There Bears the Fruit of Deceit,” in which a complex arrangement of multiple vocalists — or at least multiple layers — brings mournful resolution to the turbulence preceding, going so far as to have some shouting behind Bismuth in a call-and-response in the pre-chorus, touching on a vibe that would nod to Arellano‘s work with Paradise Lost in its general atmosphere, but working from a foundation of heavy rock instead of classic doom. Still, Abrahma make the lines between styles blurrier on In Time for the Last Rays of Light than they ever have before, and that in itself is something of a victory when it comes to establishing their sound on their third record. They are their most progressive here and their most sonically bold, from the memorable lead line of “Lost. Forever.” setting the downer course for what follows through the last march of “There Bears the Fruit of Deceit” into its fading ringout.

In keeping with that, Bismuth‘s presence as a frontman has never been so palpable. His vocal melodies range further than they have before, and with the others surrounding him at various points throughout, it leads to a more complete and more engaging experience, contrasting the instrumental thrust at times, but finding a foothold in that contrast. And maybe that’s the idea of the record as a whole — exploring or at least trying to come to an understanding of that dynamic and finding a place within it from which to express the emotionality at the core of In Time for the Last Rays of Light. Depression is not an easy to talk about. If it were, it would probably be less pervasive. But Abrahma do not shy away from saying what they want to say about it, and while they don’t go so far as to offer some clichéd hopeful ending, they do manage to craft something beautiful out of the darkened foundations from which they work. The inevitable question, then, is what it will lead to, and how indicative In Time for the Last Rays of Light ultimately will be of where the band are headed, creatively as well as in the simple reality of the players involved.

I don’t know if Abrahma‘s lineup woes are done or not, but listening to “Last Epistle,” “Lucidly Adrift,” “Eclipse of the Sane Pt. 2: Fiddler of the Bottle” and each of the other tracks that make it, it’s clear In Time for the Last Rays of Light was an album that the band needed to make, almost to exorcise it from their collective system. It is a record of striking instrumental purpose and expressive intent. It not only moves their sound forward from where it was four years ago, but it changes the narrative of the group’s function and that of Bismuth as a bandleader and songwriter. What might come next, I won’t speculate, but for the way it lays bare the personal and pushes Abrahma to places they’ve never been, it is an achievement worthy of the obvious pains taken to make it.

Abrahma website

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Abrahma Post “Lost Forever” Video; In Time for the Last Rays of Light Available to Preorder

Posted in Bootleg Theater on April 23rd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

abrahma

It is exceedingly hard to discuss depression. The second one enters into the classification of a diagnosis, the conversation changes. You become less of a person than the manifestation of an idea. This is true of any diagnosis. Think of the simple language involved sometimes. Depressives. Schizophrenics. Cancer patients. Not “people with…” but a simple, easily-filed categorization that saps the individual of their humanity when, let’s face it, acknowledging one’s humanity could potentially go a long way as a first step to addressing the issue in question. It doesn’t always help — it’s not going to make tumors stop growing — but it never hurts.

Making their return after an even-longer-feeling four-year absence, French progressive heavy rockers Abrahma are tackling the issue of depression head on with their new album, In Time for the Last Rays of Light, which is out May 24 on Small Stone and Deadlight Entertainment. The follow-up to 2015’s Reflections in the Bowels of a Bird (review here) indeed puts a human face on depression and the effects thereof on oneself and those surrounding. The video for “Lost Forever” directly portrays the despondency and loneliness that one can feel, even when in the company of loved ones. It manifests in the clip directed by Michael Leclere as a grueling agony with a tragic end and is by no means easy to watch.

“Lost Forever” is the opening track on In Time for the Last Rays of Light. I’m hoping to set up a premiere with a review as we get closer to the release, so keep an eye out for that (or, you know, don’t, if it doesn’t happen), but in the meantime, you can see the clip for “Lost Forever” below, followed by more info from the PR wire. I’d normally say “enjoy” here, but it seems crass given the context. Maybe just understand?

Here goes:

Abrahma, “Lost Forever” official video

In Time For The Last Rays Of Light is the third full-length from French progressive heavy rock outfit ABRAHMA. Set for release next month via Small Stone, the record follows three tumultuous years of personal challenges and lineup changes and is a chronicle of the ravages of coping with loss and mental illness, brought to bear with heavy and progressive songwriting, melodic catharsis, and an impact that goes beyond the material itself.

In advance of its release, the band has unveiled the moving video clip for “Lost Forever.” Offers director Michael Leclere, “‘Lost Forever’ unequivocally deals with depression, so I wanted to evoke identity quest as a parry to nothingness; when you lose yourself into the wilderness and have to draw in your own resources, facing yourself and looking after your animus, finding the strength to fight for things that may seem meaningless. Moving slowly toward an inextricable death, whether you do it to get a little more time or to find epiphany as a last shield before the abyss. We keep scattering pieces of ourselves through our constant efforts to stay alive. It’s like dying a little more each time. And it’s what will get us in the end.”

ABRAHMA’s In Time For The Last Rays Of Light will be released May 24th on CD and digital formats worldwide via Small Stone Records and in France on Deadlight Entertainment. For preorders go to THIS LOCATION.

Abrahma is:
Sébastien Bismuth – Vocals, Guitars
Florian Leguillon – Guitars, Vocals
Benoît Carel – Guitars, Synths & Effects
Romain Hauduc – Bass, Vocals
Baptiste Keriel – Drums, Vocals

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