Greenleaf, Agents of Ahriman: Climbing Alishan Mountain

Posted in Reviews on July 31st, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

greenleaf agents of ahriman cover and lp

The story of Swedish heavy rockers Greenleaf is one of perpetual evolution. There is no point in the outfit’s 16-year history at which they were doing the same thing twice. From their 2000 self-titled debut EP on Molten Universe (someday it will be mine), through the subsequent 2001 debut full-length, Revolution Rock (discussed here), the beginnings of their association with Small Stone Records on 2003’s Secret Alphabets, the grand productions of 2007’s Agents of Ahriman and 2012’s Nest of Vipers (review here) and the sustainable touring presence they became with 2014’s Trails and Passes, which recently led to their signing with Napalm Records for the release of their next album — currently in production — they’ve never been quite in the same place as a band. And for the most part, they haven’t had the same lineup either.

Begun as a side-project of Dozer by guitarist Tommi Holappa and Bengt Bäcke, who produced some of Dozer‘s earliest work and has played bass in Greenleaf through their entire tenure, Greenleaf has evolved from a studio outfit putting out occasional records in Dozer‘s downtime to Holappa‘s main focus — a considerable swap in position. When they released Agents of Ahriman, that transition was still a ways off, but the roots were being dug. Bäcke and Holappa were joined on drums by former Dozer drummer Erik Bäckwell and vocalist Oskar Cedermalm, who was at that time only beginning to make an impression with his own band, Truckfighters. Former Lowrider vocalist Peder Bergstrand (who was also the first singer in Greenleaf) and John Hermansen, who was then in the transition between The Awesome Machine and Mother Misery, also make notable guest appearances on vocals.

I do not at all mind telling you that Agents of Ahriman stands among my favorite heavy rock records — period. Of any era. Certainly it was one of the finest outings of the aughts, and I consider it a flawless execution of songwriting and performance. Not one second of its nine tracks/37 minutes is superfluous. Led by Holappa, Greenleaf bring a character to the modus of classic heavy rock that few have been able to parallel, let alone match, both presaging and out-boogieing the retro rock movement while still sounding modern in Bäcke‘s production, melodically complex in Cedermalm‘s arrangements, varied through the guest appearances — not at all limited to vocals; Jocke Åhslund‘s Hammond featuring on “Black Tar,” “Alishan Mountain,” “The Lake” and “Ride Another Highway,” while John Hoyles (now of Troubled Horse) adds a guitar solo to opener “Highway Officer” and Linus Arnberg brings cowbell stomp to swing-happy closer “Stray Bullit Woman” — and outright unstoppable in its righteousness of groove. Front to back, it is the kind of record one could use as a textbook to teach children about the joys of rock and roll.

And if this sounds like hyperbole, it is earned in the hyper-memorable choruses of “Alishan Mountain” and “Ride Another Highway” — Hermansen‘s one-man call and response rivaling Cedermalm‘s own — and in the spaciousness of the six-minute “Sleep Paralysis,” which in its last moments finally seems to be driving toward a payoff of its track-long tension, only to cut out at the moment of impact, breaking the rule under which it seemed to be playing, in Bergstrand doing his best Mark Lanegan on the attitude-soaked “Black Tar,” and in the riffs of “Highway Officer,” “Treehorn” and particularly organ-ic “The Lake,” which was the centerpiece of the CD and on the vinyl is the beginning point for a five-track side B that only gets richer as it pushes — and, in the case of “Ride Another Highway,” propels — toward “Stray Bullit Woman” as the closing statement. A more swaggering performance from Cedermalm there never has been, and the progression over which it comes is worthy of being called Mountain-esque — not a comparison to be made lightly.

There is one last guest appearance before Agents of Ahriman is finished, and it’s Emil Leo, who after emerging from a swirl of effects asks the simple question “And now what?” Eight years after the album’s initial release — worth noting this is the first time it’s out on vinyl — we know to some extent. Dozer would issue their final (to-date; one can always hope) full-length in the form of 2008’s Beyond Colossal, and after a few years of inactivity, Greenleaf would be resurrected again, this time with Dozer‘s Johan Rockner on guitar and Olle Mårthans on drums for Nest of VipersDozer bassist/vocalist Fredrik Nordin also made a guest appearance, along with Bergstrand and keymaster Per Wiberg — and began a touring cycle. That would be the end of Cedermalm‘s run with the band, Truckfighters taking priority as a worldwide touring entity and an outfit of increasing profile, and vocalist Arvid Jonsson took up the difficult mantle ably on Trails and PassesSebastian Olsson also stepping into the drummer role.

Greenleaf remains in seemingly permanent flux, and what their next record might bring when it arrives I wouldn’t speculate to say other than to note the reliable quality of Holappa‘s songcraft, which in partnership with Bäcke‘s production, was so plainly on display with Agents of Ahriman in its whole-album, all-killer impact. The LP version is a somewhat different experience, the sides not quite breaking evenly with the second longer than the first, but whether you’ve experienced what I consider Greenleaf‘s finest hour yet — Nest of Vipers was a grander affair and showed progression, but these songs are tattooed on my brain — or whether you’ve never heard the thing, it still proves itself to be an utterly essential listen for anyone and everyone who wants to know what heavy rock sounds like at its most right. You can say I’m overstating it if you want. You’re wrong. It’s already stood up to eight years, and listening to the vinyl, I hear no reason Agents of Ahriman won’t continue to endure into perpetuity. Recommended.

Greenleaf, Agents of Ahriman (2007/2015)

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Small Stone Records

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Snail West Coast Tour Starts July 30

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 22nd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

snail

I’ll have much more about Snail‘s fourth album, Feral, as we get closer to the Sept. 25 release date, but by way of an early heads up, it’s killer. The tones, the vibe, it all takes the steps the band made with 2012’s Terminus (review here) and matches them in force with the memorable songwriting and thick-toned rolling psychedelia of 2009’s return, Blood (review here), the effect both crushingly heavy and airborne all at once. Their first album as a trio since their 1993 self-titled debut (reissue review here), Feral marks the beginning of a new era for the West Coast outfit, and it’s only fitting they should get out and tour a bit to mark the occasion.

They’ll hit the road starting July 30 with company along the way from SasquatchThe Freeks and Virginia’s Akris, so if you happen to be on the West Coast, keep an eye out. Info follows as seen on the PR wire, along with the album preorder link and paragraph of their new bio that I wrote this past weekend, way overdue as it was:

snail feral tour

With the challenge of a “first new album” — 2012’s Terminus — behind them, Snail set to work on Feral, their fourth full-length and first for Small Stone. Taking the varied approach of Terminus to new degrees of psychedelia and sonic heft, songs like “Smoke the Deathless” and “Thou Art That” epitomize the weighted melodic appeal of the band, while closer “Come Home” steps forward in its brazen emotionalism. Topped off with mind-bending artwork by Seldon Hunt, Feral is their best work to date, demonstrates the progressive capacity of the once-again trio of Johnson, Lynch and Dodson, and shows that Blood and Terminus may have just been the start of the wildness to come.

Snail will be slowly and deliberately crushing the West Coast with tourmates Akris and The Freeks in late July/early August 2015. See dates below:

July 30 – Tower Bar, San Diego, CA with Sasquatch and Desert Suns
July 31 – Cafe Nela, Los Angeles, CA with The Freeks and The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic
August 1 – Cellar Door, Visalia, CA with The Freeks
August 2 – The Golden Bull, Oakland, CA with Blackwulf, Forgotten Gods, Lowcaster
August 4 – Starlite Lounge, Sacramento, CA with Akris and Amarok
August 6 – Ash Street Saloon, Portland, OR with Akris and Night of Elegance
August 7 – The Astoria Pub, Vancouver, BC with Akris, Mendozza and Bog
August 9 – The Highline, Seattle, WA with Akris and Dura Madre

https://smallstone.bandcamp.com/album/feral
https://www.facebook.com/snailhq
http://www.snailhq.com/
http://www.mysteriousmammal.com/

Snail, “Building a Haunted House”

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The Obelisk Presents: The Top 15 of 2015 So Far

Posted in Features on July 6th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

top 15 of 2015 so far the-rhinoceros-albrecht-durer

If 2015 ended tomorrow, I think you’d still have to say it was a pretty good year for heavy rock. Doom veered into a swath extremes — its own subgenres emerging almost one by one in a growing splinter that nonetheless continues to draw water from its roots — while the neo-stoner ignition of the West Coast continued its boom of new acts proffering classic groove. The East reveled in a progressive vision just waiting to be picked up by others, and in Europe, the ’70s traditionalist movement spread ever wider, essentially defining a modern sound in organic sounding, sometimes-vintage elements. Whether you’re going for crushing, oppressive barbarism or cosmos-bound blissouts, it is, in short, a good time to be alive.

Of course, 2015 doesn’t end tomorrow, and there’s still a whole lot of year to come. About half, as it happens. So, as has been the tradition around here for the last half-decade — and seems to be the tradition in a growing number of outlets; not taking credit or claiming to have invented anything, just noting a proliferation — it’s time to count down the best records of the year so far. There have been more than a handful of gems, and since in December I’m planning on doing a top 30, we’ll mark half the year with a top 15. Seems only fair.

Please note that this isn’t purely a critical evaluation, but a personal list, and that what I’ve put on most is as crucial a factor in my ranking as how important I think a given record is. You know the drill by now. Let’s go:

15. Stoned Jesus, The Harvest

stoned jesus the harvest

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 20.

Kiev three-piece Stoned Jesus have a varied stylistic history, and their third outing, The Harvest was ultimately a success in large part because of its complete refusal to be defined. Atop a foundation of quality songcraft, the trio proffered a sound that was not necessarily experimental in terms of anti-structure noise or effects onslaughts, but bold in each of its forays outward from its heavy rock underpinnings.

 

14. Freedom Hawk, Into Your Mind

freedom hawk into your mind

Released by Small Stone. Reviewed June 26.

It has consistently taken me a while to get a hold on what Freedom Hawk are up to. The steady elements in their sound are held to so firmly that on the first couple listens, it seems to just be more of the same. But the more one digs in, the more there is to be found, and with Into Your Mind, the Virginia Beach trio overcome losing a member to create their most progressive outing to date, flourishes of psychedelia melding easily with their signature style of sunshiny riffing.

 

13. My Sleeping Karma, Moksha

my sleeping karma moksha

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed May 12.

Five albums deep, Germany’s My Sleeping Karma are an act unto themselves. Their progress has been natural, fueled by a clear, varied sense of exploratory will, and the results on this year’s Moksha were nothing short of stunning. Branching out their arrangements might not be new to them, but the inclusion of horns, drones, percussion, etc., amid the central guitar, bass, keys and drums lent an almost orchestral feel to the flow between the tracks, and one can only hope they continue on their current path, because it is unquestionably the right one.

 

12. Death Alley, Black Magick Boogieland

death alley black magick boogieland

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed June 8.

So much potential, so much vitality at the heart of this debut from Death Alley. The Amsterdam-based four-piece (interview here) stormed out of the gate with a ripper of a debut, and just when you seemed to have it all figured out, they hit the ignition on a 12-minute full-impulse space rock thrust, a guest vocal appearance from Farida Lemouchi (a former bandmate of Death Alley guitarist Oeds Beydals in The Devil’s Blood) adding both mystique and emotional resonance to what was already a stunning track. With all the riotousness preceding, Black Magick Boogieland readily lived up to its righteous title.

 

11. Mondo Drag, Mondo Drag

mondo drag self titled

Released on RidingEasy Records and Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed Jan. 8.

Midwestern-turned-West-Coast heavy psych rockers Mondo Drag may have taken their time in releasing their self-titled sophomore outing, which followed their 2010 debut, New Rituals (review here), and was recorded in 2012, but it’s easy to imagine that’s because they wanted the circumstances to be as special as the album itself, recorded with a fleeting five-piece lineup that included the one-time rhythm section of Radio Moscow who wound up leaving to further their then-nascent project, Blues Pills. Even without that lineup shift as a factor, the late ’60s vibe Mondo Drag brought out across the release proved eminently listenable and has held up on repeat visits.

 

10. Cigale, Cigale

cigale self-titled

Self-released. Reviewed May 4.

A gorgeous, shimmering and melodically resonant debut from the Dutch four-piece Cigale, their self-titled gracefully maintained tonal presence and warmth while also enacting a psychedelic sprawl and grooving serenity that acted like the landscape in which the songs took place. It was a rich, bright vibe, and an utter joy to behold, tracks like “Harvest Begun,” “Feel the Heat” and “Eyes Wide Shut” proving as memorable as they were inviting. Having two former members of the much-missed fuzz rock outfit Sungrazer may have initially turned some heads in their direction, but Cigale‘s first album proved they’re an outfit with their own personality, their own development to undertake, and already much to offer.

 

9. The Machine, Offblast!

the machine offblast

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed May 28.

The awaited return of The Machine brought the band’s fifth album and a further-refined sense of maturity in their processes, as well as intrigue as to where they might be headed, two dual modes of open-ended jamming and more structured songwriting playing off each other in the extended “Chrysalis (J.A.M.)” and “Come to Light” and the more verse/chorus stylizations of “Dry End” and “Off Course.” To be perfectly honest, I doubt The Machine will ultimately pick one side over another, since if Offblast! proved anything it’s that they can easily handle either or both, but as they continue to grow, it’s encouraging to have their style establish itself as so multi-faceted.

 

8. The Atomic Bitchwax, Gravitron

the atomic bitchwax gravitron

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed April 20.

First time I pressed play on Gravitron was a real “oh shit!” moment. The last release from NJ stalwarts The Atomic Bitchwax was 2011’s The Local Fuzz (review here), a single-song full-length instrumental riff onslaught that had its charm but was inherently divorced from the appeal of the band’s songwriting. Not only does Gravitron re-factor that in with songs like “Roseland,” “It’s Alright,” “Coming in Hot” and “Ice Age Hey Baby,” among others, but it hits with kick-in-the-ass production force and an all-out heaviness that 2008’s TAB4 showed the three-piece steering directly away from. Just a killer record. Utterly void of pretense. No bullshit. No need to rely on anything more than chemistry, and with the Bitchwax, that’s plenty.

 

7. Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth

brothers of the sonic cloth self titled

Released by Neurot Recordings. Reviewed March 3.

Right now, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth are my band to beat for Debut of the Year, and I’m quite frankly not sure how anyone is going to be able to do it, so if list time comes in Dec. and you see Tad Doyle‘s trio marked out as such, know that it’s been that way in my head for some time. The three-piece of Doyle, bassist Peggy “Pegadeth” Tully and drummer Dave French arrived with a roar, and even when their self-titled let up sonically, the atmosphere remained viscerally heavy. Six years having passed since the release of their first demo (review here), I wasn’t sure there was ever going to be an album, but then to have Brothers of the Sonic Cloth show up and enact such thorough demolition only made it more impressive.

 

6. High on Fire, Luminiferous

high on fire luminiferous

Released by eOne Heavy. Reviewed June 15.

It can’t possibly be a surprise to have Luminiferous show up somewhere on this list. The seventh long-player by High on Fire had all the rage and bombast in “Slave the Hive” and “The Black Plot” that have become the band’s hallmarks over their 17 years together, but branched out progressively as well in songs like “The Cave” and “The Falconist,” the latter of which was brazenly catchy and about as emotionally direct as the band has ever gotten, their general modus being — and in that song too, just to a lesser extent — a metaphor-laced lyrical approach. That song was a triumph and so was the album as a whole; the second collaboration with producer Kurt Ballou building on the rampaging victories of 2012’s De Vermis Mysteriis (review here) while also showing growth on the part of one of modern metal’s most pivotal bands.

 

5. Kings Destroy, Kings Destroy

kings destroy self titled

Released by War Crime Recordings. Reviewed April 15.

Hitting more or less concurrent with a vinyl release of their prior album, 2013’s A Time of Hunting (review here), Kings Destroy‘s Kings Destroy is not at all coincidentally titled. Over the course of now three full-lengths, the New York five-piece — about whom I feign no impartiality, let it be noted — have distinguished themselves with a sound neither noise, nor doom, nor heavy rock, but drawing on elements of all three when it suits their purposes with chemistry built from years of being in bands together of various stripes and in various genres. What stands the self-titled out from their past work, in part, is that it is the closest they’ve yet come to capturing their live sound in the studio, and accordingly, it’s a volatile kind of heavy that bends aesthetic to its will rather than capitulating to expectations of any sort. I don’t think they’re done growing by any stretch, but Kings Destroy feels like an arrival front-to-back.

 

4. Colour Haze, To the Highest Gods We Know

colour haze to the highest gods we know

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed Jan. 6.

This one was almost a sneak-attack. German heavy psych forerunners Colour Haze released To the Highest Gods We Know, their 11th full-length, in Dec. 2014 on CD (the vinyl was in 2015, which is what we’re counting in this instance), with very, very little fanfare of any sort. There was a track premiere here that came shortly after the album was announced, but I think it was officially out less than a month after its existence was made public, which for a band of Colour Haze‘s stature and influence was surprising. Less devoted to grandeur than 2012’s 2CD She Said (review here), it nonetheless pushed the band’s sound forward and found them experimenting in their studio, particularly on the string-quartet-inclusive finale title-track, which offset jams like “Überall” and the laid back highlight “Call” with a rhythmic oddness that was somehow still Colour Haze‘s own. I couldn’t help but wonder where it was leading, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t masterful in its own right.

 

3. Goatsnake, Black Age Blues

goatsnake black age blues

Released by Southern Lord Recordings. Reviewed May 19.

Goatsnake didn’t have it easy going into their third album. It had been 15 years since their sophomore outing, Flower of Disease, 11 since their last EP, and five since they first started playing shows again. Expectations? Through the roof. Among heavy rock heads, a new Goatsnake was like seeing the mountaintop. I mean, a big fucking deal and then some. Then the record hits, and there’s just about no way it can live up to the anticipation, but god damn if Goatsnake not only finally put out a third album, but one that was better than I think anyone could’ve hoped for. Hearing Pete Stahl with however many backup singers he had on “Another River to Cross” et. al. was like finding an animal in its native habitat, and between his soul, Greg Anderson‘s riffs, bassist Scott Renner‘s low end rumble and drummer Greg Rogers‘ roll, Black Age Blues won almost immediately and then spent the rest of its 47 minutes throwing itself a victory party. “Elevated Man,” “House of the Moon,” “Jimi’s Gone,” “Grandpa Jones,” almost on a per-track basis, Goatsnake added to the reasons they’ve been so heralded despite a decade-plus’ absence from the studio.

 

2. Elder, Lore

elder lore

Released by Armageddon Shop and Stickman Records. Reviewed Feb. 19.

On the level of achievement alone, Elder‘s Lore will be the album of the year for many, and there are times (such as right now) when I listen to it and question whether or not it isn’t also my pick for that honor, but wherever it falls on whatever list, far more important is what the Massachusetts/Rhode Island/New York trio manage to accomplish across their third LP’s formidable five-track/59-minute span, songs like “Compendium” and “Deadweight” bridging a rarely approached gap between heavy and progressive rocks while maintaining a flow consistent with the psychedelic vibing of 2011’s Dead Roots Stirring (review here) but grown outward in another aesthetic direction and no sooner setting foot on the ground than seeming to master it in a flurry of blinding turns, sprawling soundscapes and clarity of mind that found perhaps its greatest expression in the centerpiece title-track, the 15-minute “Lore” itself, which I’ve no doubt will stand among if not atop the best songs of 2015 when the year is over and encapsulates the ambition and the corresponding breadth of Elder‘s songwriting, the trio of guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan, and drummer Matt Couto rising as one of the East Coast’s most pivotal acts, with a sound completely their own.

 

1. Acid King, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere

acid king middle of nowhere center of everywhere

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed March 19.

I use the word “molten” pretty regularly to describe an album or song that seems to just ooze its way out of the speakers or shift seamlessly between its songs, but Acid King set an entirely new standard for the term with Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere. Their first outing for Svart and their first release in a decade, its 55 minutes were a riff-rolling nirvana of lurching fuzz and tonal excellence, the guitar of Lori S. at the fore accompanied by Mark Lamb‘s bass and Joey Osbourne‘s drums, the swing of which propelled a highlight track like “Coming down from Outer Space” right back into it, while elsewhere on the record, “Silent Pictures,” “Red River” and “Infinite Skies” torched stoner conventions into a new space-biker rock, culminating in the heavy psych of “Center of Everywhere,” which seemed to emanate from the place it was describing, at once empty and full. More than just a welcome return after a long dearth of releases, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere found Acid King progressed even beyond where they were with 2005’s III, though more than anything else, what makes it my top pick for the year so far is the fact that I can’t seem to walk away from it for too long before going back, and ultimately, that’s what it all comes down to with his kind of thing. I’ve yet to find a standard to which these songs don’t live up.

Honorable Mention:

A few others worth noting. The Sun Blood Stories album (streamed here) continues to resonate. Also MonolordValkyrie, Lamp of the UniverseGarden of WormWo Fat‘s live record, The Midnight Ghost Train‘s Cold was the Ground and Ufomammut‘s Ecate. The Black Rainbows was a joy, as was Spidergawd‘s second LP, and while I still feel like I haven’t given it its due, the Sumac won many over and should get a mention. Steve Von Till‘s solo outing and the latest from Enslaved are worth seeking out as well for anyone who hasn’t heard them yet.

More to Come:

The year’s only half over, which is kind of a scary thought but true nonetheless. Watch out in the coming months for new stuff from BloodcowAll Them WitchesClutchGraveyardZunSacri Monti (if that one’s not already out), SnailUncle Acid, and Kind. The new Kadavar is a sure-fire top tenner, and between that, the potential for a new Neurosis album and stuff like Magnetic Eye Records‘ Electric Ladyland [Redux], there’s no way the book is written on the best of 2015.

So stay tuned.

And if I’ve still got your attention, thanks for reading.
 

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Freedom Hawk, Into Your Mind: Underneath a Blood Red Sky

Posted in Reviews on June 26th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

freedom hawk into your mind

No question that Into Your Mind is, in its songwriting and construction and in the stylistic breadth it covers, a step forward for Virginia Beach heavy rockers Freedom Hawk. Named perhaps for being where the songs go, it’s their fourth outing overall and second for Small Stone behind 2011’s Moving On (review here), its 10-track/52-minute run reinforces the classic metal and heavy rock influences under which they’ve been working all along (Ozzy, Fu Manchu, etc.) while also pushing ahead into new ground, subtly psychedelic but still woven around earthy and traditional structures. Perhaps the biggest change of all is that the band are now a trio, having parted ways with guitarist Matt Cave since their last time out and continued to operate as the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist T.R. Morton, bassist Mark Cave and drummer Lenny Hines.

Where the band might have been in the writing for Into Your Mind when that split occurred, I don’t know, but Matt is given a writing credit on opener “Blood Red Sky,” “Journey Home,” “Waterfall” and side B’s “Beyond Our Reach” — the tracklisting broken into sides even on back of the CD and very much operating in that kind of structure despite the format — though he doesn’t seem to have participated in the actual recording, the trio tracking the instrumental portion of the LP live with producer/engineer/mixer Jim Woodling with Morton handling the vocals afterward. Their chemistry comes through what’s still a crisp production across the board, though, and while there still sounds like a layer of rhythm guitar under the solo in “Blood Red Sky,” their operation with their new lineup configuration is fluid and the momentum they build over the course of the first two tracks, that opener and “Journey Home,” carries through to some of the more stylistically expansive material that follows.

One thing to get straight, we’re not talking about leaps and bounds here, but natural, incremental stylistic progression. Reasonable. It begins on side A, though the let’s-get-to-it-ness of “Blood Red Sky” and “Journey Home”‘s hooks signals business as usual from Freedom Hawk, “Lost in Space,” with its more patient intro from all three and keys from Morton, brings a turn that presages some of side B’s more adventurous moments. At its heart, it’s still catchy and largely straightforward, but the shift in atmosphere is palpable from the first two cuts and it begins a broadening process that continues later. The lead on “On Your Knees” is a standout, though more so the turn in approach of the vocals, which will later get a fuller exploration on the title-track, and Hines‘ drumming proves able to push the material along at whatever pace is set or direction it might be headed.

freedom hawk

He holds a tension in “Lost in Space” and the later “The Line” and is forward-minded, but definitely not without a sense of swing to coincide. “Journey Home” showcases that and he begins side A closer “Waterfall” with snare work that sets up the song’s more laid-back vibe, the verse arriving later, a few lines tossed out as a precursor to a relatively stripped down chorus compared to that of “Lost in Space” or “Blood Red Sky,” the trio ready and willing to let their chemistry do the talking when it suits them. Side B’s launch, “Radar,” is more of a riff-rocker, but it picks up in its midsection to find more of a rush in which the band seems utterly at home for the bridge before they turn back to the chorus, chugging central nod and surprisingly airy finish. With the shifts that the second half of Into Your Mind brings about, the beginning of that half is still pretty much in line with the cuts preceding. It’s not really until “Beyond Our Reach” kicks in that they fully show their hand.

A jazzy start like something Fatso Jetson might conjure begins “Beyond Our Reach,” and that rhythm holds after the riff and a NWOBHM-style lead progression commence to give an alternate vision of Freedom Hawk‘s brand of heavy rock. Layered vocals seem to mirror guitar harmonies and while the effect is still heavy and a shuffle is present, once again the context has changed. The previously-alluded-to vocal turn on “Into Your Mind” pushes further against expectation — Morton‘s compression-on higher-register vocals are as much a signature as the band has — and they’re not completely gone, but even changing into and out of the chorus establishes a dynamic in an unanticipated way, and “Into Your Mind” also proves to be Cave‘s best performance on bass, his presence in the pocket just behind the guitar only helps in setting that righteous tone.

At 6:51, the penultimate “The Line” is the longest inclusion by nearly a full minute, and they use that extra time for an instrumental drive, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it a “jam,” since though it finds Hines on his ride, there always seems to be a plotted course being followed. Keys or layered-in background leads pepper the pre-chorus and return later during the extended instrumental part, which is also how they finish before bringing things back to earth for “All Because of You,” a more hook-based start-stopper that seems to be geared toward bookending with “Blood Red Sky,” but honestly, by the time they get there, the opener’s straight-ahead thrust feels like a long time ago and a long ways away. That feeling itself is evidence of the growth Freedom Hawk have undertaken despite losing a player, and though Into Your Mind finds them branching out, it also serves to reinforce the aspects of their sonic personality that have been their hallmarks up to this point in their career. They’re still Freedom Hawk, they’re just working to expand the definition of what that means.

Freedom Hawk, Into Your Mind (2015)

Freedom Hawk on Thee Facebooks

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Backwoods Payback Announce Acoustic European Tour

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 24th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

backwoods-payback

Fresh off completing the second of consecutive June weekenders heading out from their home base in West Chester, Pennsylvania, grit rock trio Backwoods Payback have announced they’ll make their inaugural incursion to European shores in July. Quite a jump from one to the other, but the band promised a return to activity when those weekenders were first posted, teasing the possibility of a new album to be recorded that would serve as the follow-up to their 2011 Small Stone debut, Momantha (review here), the arrival of their new drummer Pierson Roe and so on, and touring in the UK and Europe certainly counts as a return to activity, so they’re nothing if not keeping their word.

Operating as the trio of guitarist/vocalist Mike Cummings, bassist Jessica Baker and the aforementioned Roe — who, since it’s an acoustic run, I’m not even sure will be making the trip — Backwoods Payback will begin in London on July 9 and work their way from there into Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France, finishing with two nights in Paris. Kind of curious that they’d make their first tour abroad unplugged, but then, I guess that’s less amps to cart around and/or a cheaper backline. Hard not to admire the pick-up-your-guitar-and-go ideal under which they seem to be working, if nothing else.

And if you happen to be in that part of the world and free one of these nights from what I’ve no doubt is a busy schedule, tell them I said hi.

Tour announcement follows:

backwoods payback euro tour

Next month JULY 2015 we hit Europe for the first time ever. Acoustic shows throughout the land. Can’t wait to meet everyone across the pond!!

07/09 London UK Bowler Pub
07/10 Kingston UK Wiloughby Arms
07/12 Berlin DE Schokoladen
07/13 Berlin DE Arconoa
07/14 Amsterdam NL Backstage Hotel
07/15 Amsterdam NL Muzieke Cafe
07/16 Cologne DE Tankstelle
07/17 Liege BE Le Surlet
07/19 Paris FR The Pop In
07/20 Paris FR Le Tennessee

https://www.facebook.com/backwoodspayback
https://twitter.com/BckwoodsPayback
http://backwoodspayback.bandcamp.com/
https://instagram.com/backwoodspayback/

Backwoods Payback, In the Ditch (2014)

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Freedom Hawk to Release Into Your Mind on June 23

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 8th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

freedom hawk

Next month, Virginia Beach trio Freedom Hawk head overseas to tour in Germany and the Netherlands around an appearance at this year’s Freak Valley festival. Shortly after their return to the States, they’ll present their new album, Into Your Mind. Their fourth full-length and second for Small Stone RecordsInto Your Mind tightens up the tones and songcraft that made the band’s 2011 outing, Holding On (review here), a riffy standout, and marks their first offering as a trio.

Into Your Mind is available to preorder now. Links, info and tour dates follow, hoisted off the PR wire:

freedom hawk into your mind

US heavy trio FREEDOM HAWK to unleash new album “Into Your Mind” this June on Small Stone Records; European tour dates announced.

If you need seriously heavy and high-spirited rock music in your life, then Virginia Beach’s groove-mongers FREEDOM HAWK are about to give you some, with their fourth album coming out this June on Small Stone Records. Leather, jean and maximum volume mandatory!

Emanating from the barrier dunes of Virginia, FREEDOM HAWK’s heavy riffs, rolling groove, and soulful guitar melodies definitely produce a sound of their own. The trio’s brand of heavy rock capitalizes on the best of the heavy ‘70s, while presenting a modern fuzzy take based around quality songwriting rather than style-over-substance retro posturing.

FREEDOM HAWK made their debut on Small Stone Records with 2011’s Holding On. The follow-up, and their fourth album overall, is Into Your Mind, which brings a new dynamic to their buttery fuzz with all the stomp and swagger one could ask for after the previous effort. Get a taster with first excerpt “Blood Red Sky” HERE.

New album “Into Your Mind”, out June 23 on Small Stone Records
CD & Limited Edition 180gr Vinyl preorder AT THIS LOCATION

Veterans already of Roadburn in the Netherlands, FREEDOM HAWK will return to Europe this June, including a special appearance at Germany’s Freak Valley Festival:

FREEDOM HAWK EUROPEAN TOUR
04.06 – ANTWERP (BE) Antwerp Music City
05.06 – NETPHEN (DE) Freak Valley Festival
06.06 – DÜSSELDORF (DE) Pitcher – Rock’n’Roll Headquarter
07.06 – NÜRNBERG (DE) Klub Nychka
08.06 – HAMBURG (DE) Bar 227
09.06 – JENA (DE) Kulturbahnhof
10.06 – BERLIN (DE) Jägerklause
11.06 – NIJMEGEN (NL) De Onderbroek
12.06 – MÜNSTER (DE) Rare Guitar
13.06 – LEIPZIG (DE) Black Label
14.06 – ROESELARE (BE) De Verlichte Geest

FREEDOM HAWK IS
Lenny Hines – Drums
T.R. Morton – Vocals, Guitar
Mark Cave – Bass

www.facebook.com/freedomhawkmusic
www.smallstone.com

Freedom Hawk, “Blood Red Sky”

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Abrahma Premiere “Weary Statues” from New Album Reflections in the Bowels of a Bird

Posted in audiObelisk on April 3rd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

abrahma

Parisian outfit Abrahma release their second album for Small StoneReflections in the Bowels of a Bird, on May 12. The heavy psych rockers’ sophomore outing follows 2012’s debut, Through the Dusty Paths of Our Lives (review here), and while the two records share some things in common, like a multi-part thematic piece running throughout, or a title on the longer side, the moods are remarkably distinct. Reflections in the Bowels of a Bird, a gruesome mirror, is darker than its predecessor, moodier overall, with a primary impression of slower tempos and a somewhat grungier feel. Still psychedelic in terms of the airy guitar work of Seb Bismuth (also vocals and keyboards) and Nicolas Heller, the 10-track offering might have its dreamy side, but even that often comes accompanied by downer pacing and a pervasive melancholy.

There are exceptions to this rule, of course. “Square the Circle” has the record’s shortest runtime at 3:42 and also its fastest push, and the ending of “Weary Statues” picks up effectively, but to compare that to the doomly swirl, effects and sax over churning riffs, of “Omens Pt. 2″ or even opener “Fountains of Vengeance,” which boasts one of Reflections in the Bowels of a Bird‘s strongest hooks, and the darker side is made plain. The rhythm section of bassist Guillaume Colin and drummer/engineer Benjamin Colin — the two are brothers — is well at home in making changes fluid and allowing the guitars the appropriate space, songs like “Kapal Kriya” and “An Offspring to the Wolves” proffering big riffs and echoes greatly bolstered by the rumble beneath Abrahma Reflections in the Bowels of a Birdand the thud and crash pushing them along. Guitarist Ed Mundell (The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic, ex-Monster Magnet), who also appeared on Through the Dusty Paths of Our Lives, makes a return guest spot for “A Shepherd’s Grief,” and comes to the fore suitably shredding in the midsection, and even that song ultimately gives way to a kind of depressive largesse, transitioning into the quiet minimalism of closer “Conium,” which builds to an effects-laden peak in its last 90-or-so seconds and provides the album with a particularly hypnotic finish.

Another constant held over from the debut, however, is the songwriting. As far out as Abrahma went on Through the Dusty Paths of Our Lives, they never lost track of the fact that they were writing a piece to contribute to the whole of the record, and the same is true of Reflections in the Bowels of a Bird. More so, even, since the material is tighter and more cohesive and the album itself is nearly 20 minutes shorter at 52:41. It’s that core of songwriting that enables Abrahma to continue to engage the listener in this brooding manner, their attention to detail evident in the effects, solos, rhythmic changes and depth of the mix, which is the kind of abyss in which it’s a pleasure to lose oneself.

Today I have the pleasure of hosting “Weary Statues” for streaming ahead of the album’s release next month. Both one of the most driving and most open-sounding cuts on Reflections in the Bowels of a Bird, it pulls together the varying sides of the record’s personality well, and speaks to the emotional and sonic intensity Abrahma bring to bear on their second offering. They’ll be on tour with Lo-Pan starting next week, and you can find those dates along with a short comment from Bismuth about “Weary Statues,” after the song on the player below.

Please enjoy:

“‘Weary Statues’ is surely the most aggressive but also emotive song we’ve ever done with ABRAHMA, as well as a good proof of the evolution we’ve made in our music.” — Seb Bismuth

ABRAHMA will be touring Europe with their labelmates Lo-Pan this spring, including a stop at Roadburn Festival in Holland.

09.04 – STRASBOURG (FR) Mudd Club
10.04 – LICHTENFELS (DE) Paucnhy Cats Inn
11.04 – MUNSTER (DE) Rare Guitar
12.04 – TILBURG (NL) ROADBURN FESTIVAL
13.04 – France TBA
14.04 – MONTPELLIER (FR) Black Sheep
15.04 – MADRID (SP) Maravillas Club
16.04 – BARCELONA (SP) Rocksound
17.04 – VITORIA (SP) Helldorado
18.04 – NICE (FR) Le Volume
19.04 – CALENZANO (IT) ASD Factory Club
20.04 – SAVIGNANO SUL RUBICONE (IT) Sidro Club
21.04 – MUNICH (DE) Feierwerk
22.04 – DRESDEN (DE) Ost-Pol

NEW ALBUM Reflections In The Bowels Of A Bird – Out May 12th on Small Stone Records

Abrahma is:
Sebastien Bismuth: vocals, guitars, effects & keyboards
Nicolas Heller: guitars
Guillaume Colin: Bass guitar
Benjamin Colin: drums

Additional Musicians:
Ed Mundell: guitar solos on “A Shepherd’s Grief”
Vincent Dupuy: saxophone on “Omens Pt. 2″

Recorded by Benjamin Colin at Hakesound Studios, Romainville (France). Produced by Abrahma & Thomas Bellier. Mixed by Eric Hoegemeyer at Tree Laboratory, Brooklyn, NY (USA) except Conium, mixed by Benjamin Colin at Hakesound Studio, Romainville (France)

Abrahma’s website

Abrahma on Thee Facebooks

Abrahma on Twitter

Small Stone Records

Small Stone on Bandcamp

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Artwork Premiere: Snail, Feral Cover by Seldon Hunt

Posted in Visual Evidence on March 26th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

snail

Feral is the upcoming fourth album and Small Stone debut from West Coast (CA/WA) outfit Snail. Their first record as the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Mark Johnson, bassist/engineer Matt Lynch and drummer Marty Dodson since their 1993 self-titled debut (reissue review here), Feral is set to issue this summer and features cover art by Brooklyn-based artist Seldon Hunt, known for his work with NeurosisIsisPelicanMade out of BabiesKings Destroy and on and on. Always varied in his approach, from photography to line-drawings to exquisite fractals to whatever the hell you might call the cover of the recent Blind Idiot God album, Hunt has consistently been able to adjust his own style to suit the project at hand, and Snail‘s Feral is no exception.

There is a snail on it, somehow subtly despite it being right up front on the left side of the picture. Gorgeously colorful with natural reds, browns and greens, two knotted trees frame what in other hands might’ve been a simple nature scene. Two snakes wrap around a deer’s antlers, and there’s some kind of scared-looking 10-legged creature hiding partially behind one of the four large mushrooms in the foreground. But the real story is in the deer’s eyes, dead and yellow. They have a threatening look to them which seems to find its answer in the partially-buried human skulls at the bottom and the new-growth grass coming up around them. All of a sudden, it’s more revolution than nature scene, as though human civilization has given way to a new natural order.

In its colorful psychedelic vibe and quiet foreboding, Hunt‘s piece fits the Snail record well, and I’m happy to be able to premiere the cover art. Click the image below to enlarge it if you’d like a closer look. Some comment from the band follows:

snail feral seldon hunt

Says Matt Lynch:

It was actually [The Obelisk’s] doing that we hooked up with him. I saw the art he did for Blind Idiot God because of your feature and we were still kinda exploring our options after many failed attempts by me to get something we could all agree on.

And I saw that art and thought “this guy gets it” you know, he had the feel of the record in him. The first idea he sent us was spot on. It was just a scribble sketch but we knew by the description that this was our guy.

Snail on Thee Facebooks

Seldon Hunt’s website

Small Stone Records

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