Solace, Bird of Ill Omen: What Rough Beast

Posted in Reviews on March 6th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

solace bird of ill omen electric funeral

When New Jersey bringers-of-chaos Solace released what was then their first album in seven years in their third full-length, A.D. (review here), I referred to it as the beginning of “a new era” for the band. Wishful thinking on my part as an admitted fan of their work. True, A.D., which was issued by Small Stone, had been in the making since 2003’s 13 (discussed here) came out on MeteorCity, and across their 2005 split with Greatdayforup and 2007 The Black Black EP, the band weren’t completely silent — quite the opposite, actually; they also toured Europe as well during this time — and A.D. was hands-down the best album of 2010, but it was much more an ending than a beginning.

To wit, they headlined in 2012 at Days of the Doomed II (review here) in Cudahy, Wisconsin, playing what would be considered their final show until guitarists Tommy Southard and Justin Daniels and bassist Rob Hultz showed up at 2015’s Vultures of Volume II (review here) in Maryland with new Solace members, vocalist/keyboardist Justin Goins and drummer Tim Schoenleber, in replacement of first-name-only singer Jason and drummer Kenny Lund. Even for Solace, who’d lived for years under the slogan “Die Drunk” and set their own standard for balancing unhinged sensibilities with some of the rawest heavy rock/metal performances one could hope to find in the US underground, it was unanticipated. By then, A.D. was already half a decade old. Southard had gone on to release outings with the malevolently, violently sludged supergroup The Disease ConceptHultz had joined doom legends Trouble in Chicago, and a Solace return didn’t seem the slightest bit likely.

Not gonna happen? Never gonna happen? Should’ve seen it coming all along.

The first studio offering from this still-fresh incarnation of Solace, who have been gigging periodically since that Vultures of Volume appearance, comes a somehow-fitting seven years after A.D., and is a limited-to-100-copies cassette single with just two tracks: the original “Bird of Ill Omen” and a cover of Black Sabbath‘s classic “Electric Funeral” from 1970’s metal-founding landmark Paranoid. Pressed through a newly-minted self-releasing Black Black Records and streaming nowhere, it has one song per side, inkjet-printed cover art, oldschool assembly in the spirit of Solace‘s punker roots, and a sound that, despite the personnel shifts, the prominent inclusion of Goins‘ keys alongside the guitars of Southard and Daniels and the passage of time between, remains indelibly the band’s own.

Production is rawer than was A.D., which even at its meanest was awash in careful layering and vigorous assembly, but they’re in there. It’s Solace. Now 17 years out from their 2000 debut, Further, 20 years removed from their first demo work, and even longer past their roots in Hultz and Southard‘s prior outfit, Godspeed — in which Schoenleber also played — Solace make the most unpretentious of returns, perhaps a bit testing the waters ahead of more work to come, or perhaps setting themselves up for another prolonged absence. If time has proven anything futile, it’s trying to predict what they might do next, but the fact that the tape exists at all speaks to a general desire toward activity, and Bird of Ill Omen b/w Electric Funeral finds them slamming home the notion of who they are as a band with characteristic intensity, volume, and unbridled rhythmic force. To be fair, I don’t think they could have it any other way if they wanted to, but clearly they don’t want to.

solace

Obviously, between the two inclusions, “Bird of Ill Omen” itself is the greater point of interest on the tape. That’s not to take away from the Sabbath cover — they do well reinterpreting the track in a manner that gives Goins further opportunity to make an impression on vocals and keys, and move from a mellow, brooding start to a more brash finish, keeping the core piece recognizable while putting their own stamp on it as much as anyone ever could — but in terms of telling the tale of who Solace are circa 2017, it’s “Bird of Ill Omen” doing that work on a songwriting level. It begins at a smooth, moody pace that finds picks up to a more traditionally-doomed bridge and chorus, the vocals adding to the build in progress as they make their way through lyrics that reference Yeats‘ “Second Coming” and marry it to further poetry in lines like, “Any you will know that a life is but the breadth of a stone’s throw/That a hanged man’s eye sees nothing in the dark of the belly of a starved crow.” Not exactly spare, but effectively proclaimed to enhance the atmosphere alongside the steady, forward push from Schoenleber and Hultz, and still giving room for peppered-in guitar leads.

Some backing screams add fervor to the hook and they shift into post-Sabbath shuffle with the organ forward in the mix ahead of dual-harmonized solos over low-end chug, and make their way back through another Southard lead and into final verse and chorus to finish out “Bird of Ill Omen” clean, true to structure, but right on the edge of sounding like it’s about to come apart at the seams and never actually doing so — the long-established specialty of Solace, who, make no mistake, are in complete control of the proceedings the entire time, on “Bird of Ill Omen” and in the noisy apex of “Electric Funeral” on the other side of the tape, which seems at its start to make an instrument of the analog hiss as it trades the verses between the left and right channels. It goes from whispers to full-on shouts and instrumental volume follows suit, but by the time they get louder in the second half, they’ve already made their mark on “Electric Funeral,” and they only highlight the point when they drop back down to the percussion-inclusive, more-“Planet Caravan” vibe once again for the final verse, ending with a slowed-down-but-full-volume last push to cap the tape.

Solace had already proved on stage that they would be able to keep going without Jason or Lund, and in the spirit of a classic demo tape, Bird of Ill Omen accomplishes the same for a studio incarnation of the band. Does that mean they’re going to set immediately to work on a follow-up long-player, that one is going to materialize before the end of 2017, or 2018, or 2019, and mark the beginning of an era in which they reap the acclaim they’ve long since been due? Hell if I know. They’re committed to contributing a track to Magnetic Eye Records‘ upcoming Pink Floyd tribute, The Wall [Redux], and they have a few shows laid out ahead of them, but for anyone to speculate long-term about what Solace might do, the simple fact that the band even exists at this point undercuts that completely. 20-plus years on from their launch, Solace are back with a new recording and they’ve found a way to move themselves forward as a group should choice and circumstance allow them to do so. For a two-song cassette to communicate that as clearly as does Bird of Ill Omen seems like plenty to ask. Let the rest happen as it will.

Solace, Live at Vultures of Volume II

Solace on Thee Facebooks

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Magnetic Eye Records Adds Greenleaf, Mars Red Sky, Pallbearer, Yawning Man, ASG, Ruby the Hatchet, Sasquatch and More to The Wall [Redux]

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 2nd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

The clock is ticking on the crowdfunding campaign to support the making and release of Magnetic Eye Records‘ upcoming Pink Floyd tribute, The Wall [Redux], and the NY-based label has broken out some big guns in terms of confirmations for who will take part. Greenleaf, Mars Red Sky, Pallbearer, Ruby the Hatchet, ASG, Yawning Man, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic and Sasquatch, as well as the likes of Swedish crushers Domkraft, L.A.’s LowFlyingHawks and Ghastly Sound from the label’s own roster — along with the previously-announced Summoner — would seem to only bolster the offering as a whole, for which preorders are being taken directly through the Kickstarter. This is the third of these projects Magnetic Eye has done, and as ever, the scope of the thing is massive and the logistics seem, frankly, nightmarish.

You don’t need me to sell you on shit and you already know this is a cause worthy of your support, so I’ll spare you all that it’s-an-emergency-you-gotta-help-out whatnot, but suffice it to say that this thing happening only makes the world a better place. So there you go.

Here’s the latest update, courtesy of the label:

the wall redux

Magnetic Eye’s ambitious homage to Pink Floyd, THE WALL [REDUX], has gained some serious momentum in the final week of its preorder/crowdfunding campaign. The confirmation of several higher-profile artists, including Greenleaf, Pallbearer, Mars Red Sky, Yawning Man, Sasquatch and Noveller all signing on to bring their distinct voices to the project has prompted the MER to add an exclusive “Best of Pink Floyd” companion LP for Kickstarter backers. This complement to the main THE WALL [REDUX] will feature a range of cuts from throughout the Floyd catalog by even more fantastic artists from the scene and beyond.

There are still a few days left to support the project by pre-ordering one of several versions of the record, all of which will reflect Magnetic Eye’s well-documented aesthetic and penchant for gorgeous vinyl. This also means there’s still time for a final few hush-hush conversations to potentially yield even more intriguing artist confirmations.

To see what an undertaking this has been (and what an amazing spectacle the finished albums will surely be), here’s a quick review of the latest list of confirmed bands and an exclusive first reveal of some tracks, with numerous more still to be announced:

ASG, “Mother”
Domkraft
Ghastly Sound
Greenleaf
Mos Generator
Low Flying Hawks (feat. Dale Crover of The Melvins)
Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard
Mars Red Sky, “Comfortably Numb”
Pallbearer, “Run Like Hell”
Ruby the Hatchet, “Pigs” (The Best of Pink Floyd)
Sasquatch
Sergeant Thunderhoof
The Slim Kings (feat. drummer Liberty DeVitto)
Solace, “In the Flesh”
Summoner
The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic (feat. Ed Mundell of Monster Magnet)
WhiteNails
Worshipper
Yawning Man
Year of the Cobra

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/magneticeye/the-wall-2
store.merhq.com
http://magneticeyerecords.com/
https://www.facebook.com/MagneticEyeRecords

Mars Red Sky, Alien Grounds short film

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Descendants of Crom: Penance to Headline; Solace, Karma to Burn, The Midnight Ghost Train and More Added to Lineup

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 14th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

descendants of crom

Lineup additions have continued to come out over the last week-plus since Pittsburgh-based fest Descendants of Crom made its first announcements with the formidable likes of EarthrideEYEFoghound and Stinking Lizaveta taking part. West Virginian instrumental trailblazers Karma to Burn, New Jersey rock destroyers Solace, Kansas boogie-thrusters The Midnight Ghost Train — as the names have appeared, the geographic reach of Descendants of Crom 2017, which is set for Sept. 30 on the Cattivo Nightclub‘s two stages, has only expanded, but perhaps the biggest addition yet brings the festival much closer to home.

Penance released their Alpha and Omega album in 2001 via the Martyr Music Group, and with it debuted a five-piece incarnation that will play for the first time in 15 years at Descendants of Crom, in a great add to the bill that fulfills the stated mission of the fest in honoring Pittsburgh’s own underground contributions as well as looking outside its borders. Badass all around.

In addition to the already-noted, CantOl’ Time Moonshine and Archarus, have also been added, so the more right on. Here’s the latest from the fest, including some comment from organizer Shy Kennedy on Penance signing on:

DESCENDANTS OF CROM – Penance to Headline with ‘Alpha & Omega’ Lineup

All-day fest set for Sept. 30, 2017, with two stages fueled by riffs created by the riddle of steel.

This all day music festival is the first of its kind in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The underground scene of stoner and doom here is healthy and thriving and the location at Cattivo Nightclub is perfect with two large floors, a stage on each, and good sound with friendly staff.

Descendants of Crom Festival lineup:
CANT
MONOLITH WIELDER
OL’ TIME MOONSHINE
ARCHARUS
HORSEBURNER
WASTED THEORY
FOGHOUND
EYE
BRIMSTONE COVEN
SOLACE
THE MIDNIGHT GHOST TRAIN
KARMA TO BURN
VALKYRIE
EARTHRIDE
STINKING LIZAVETA
PENANCE (Alpha & Omega lineup)

Shy Kennedy on Penance headlining:

It all starts out with an idea of, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be great if there were a gig in Pittsburgh that had a bunch of riff-fueled bands of all rock and metal genres?’ It’s the perfect place for it, really. The scene here is supportive and it’s an accessible city to many. It doesn’t come out of nowhere –- you have to make it happen.

Next, who headlines this underground, doom-rooted event? The answer would be Penance but they’ve been dormant for some time. The Alpha & Omega lineup are all right here and nearly all active in the scene someway or another. Turns out that you just have to ask. Penance are as excited to be a part of the Descendants of Crom as I am. A lot of the seasoned fans are going to appreciate this and for those who aren’t familiar with Penance are going to get a little lesson in Pittsburgh Doom History.

DESCENDANTS OF CROM will bring great regional talent to a hungry crowd, utilizing national fan favorites to lure them to learn about these other amazing artists. This first year is anticipated to be a contender among other established annual fests and will not be an event to miss.

http://facebook.com/descendantsofcrom
http://www.descendantsofcrom.com/

Penance, “Wizards of Mind”

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Magnetic Eye Records Announces The Wall [Redux] Compilation

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 14th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Well I mean, yes, clearly. I’m not even a Pink Floyd fan and it still makes almost too much sense to have a slew of heavy bands come together to honor their classic 2LP The Wall. Even setting aside whatever political commentary you might want to make, I just mean on a pure audio level, it’s one of those records that, even if you’re not into it, just about every band who ever walked the face of the earth either is or is influenced by another band who is, so yeah, pretty inescapable. And after the Jimi Hendrix tribute, Electric Ladyland [Redux] (review here), and taking on Helmet‘s genre-defining noise rock classic, Meantime, The Wall more than earns a spot in the pantheon of tributes the label is building.

But of course it would be nothing without the bands involved. So far, Magnetic Eye has announced Solace, Mos Generator, Worshipper, SummonerYear of the Cobra and The Slim Kings will take part in The Wall [Redux], and given the tracklisting there are many more to come. Room for just about everybody in a record so expansive.

I’ll keep you posted when I hear more, but for now here are the preliminaries hoisted from the project’s Kickstarter page:

magnetic eye records

Magnetic Eye Records – The Wall [Redux]

For our latest REDUX release, we re-imagine THE WALL from end to end… a project that couldn’t be more timely or challenging!

Magnetic Eye Records continues our REDUX release series, in which we choose an iconic album and invite an assortment of fantastic bands to re-imagine and cover its songs from end to end. Our first was ELECTRIC LADYLAND [REDUX], with bands like Earthless, All Them Witches, Mothership, Summoner, Wo Fat and Elephant Tree paying heed to the godfather of guitar gods, Jimi Hendrix.. This first installment in our REDUX series ruled. We worked with artists and illustrators such as Caitlin Hackett, Dale Sarok and David Paul Seymour who all contributed visual art to the project.

Our second REDUX release unleashed MEANTIME [REDUX], with Ken Mode, Meek is Murder, Fuck the Facts, Rosetta and other modern heavies taking on the Helmet hardcore classic. Jesse Schaller provided the layout design and cover art for Meantime [Redux] and the packaging alone was pretty amazing.

For our 3rd installment we are taking on one of the most ambitious projects we could imagine, Pink Floyd’s The Wall in full. The Wall is a 26 track album with a runtime of 121 minutes, making this our largest project to date. As this kickstarter campaign continues, we will release further details on bands and contributing artists and the members of our project team. We certainly cannot do this alone and need your full support!

We have already publicly announced that we have partnered again with David Paul Seymour, and he will be providing the cover art and layout for the project. Some of you may be aware that Magnetic Eye Records has worked with David many times on album art and label merchandise, and we are very involved with David and Tim Granda on their upcoming animated film, “The Planet of Doom.” You can visit their successfully funded Kickstarter campaign for the film at: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/theplanetofdoom/the-planet-of-doom-an-animated-tale-of-metal-and-a

We are going all in on this project, and the team that’s being assembled to create it are right men and women, artists and bands, to make it our most incredible release to date.

Check back over the next few weeks as we make new band announcements and begin to fill in this iconic tracklist with artists we know you’ll be stoked to see involved:

Side one

1. In the Flesh?
2. The Thin Ice
3. Another Brick in the Wall (Part I)
4. The Happiest Days of Our Lives
5. Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)
6. Mother
Side Two

1. Goodbye Blue Sky
2. Empty Spaces
3. Young Lust
4. One of My Turns
5. Don’t Leave Me Now
6. Another Brick in the Wall (Part III)
7. Goodbye Cruel World
Side Three

1. Hey You
2. Is There Anybody Out There?
3. Nobody Home
4. Vera
5. Bring the Boys Back Home
6. Comfortably Numb
Side Four

1. The Show Must Go On
2. In the Flesh
3. Run Like Hell
4. Waiting for the Worms
5. Stop
6. The Trail
7. Outside the Wall

Confirmed Bands (Song Selections Will Roll Out Shortly As Well):

#1 SOLACE – Incredibly excited to have our longtime friends from Jersey kicking things off by getting on board. You may remember Solace’s unforgettable albums “Further,” “13” and “A.D.” – and if you do, you know they are going to decimate their version of a Pink Floyd original. What a way to begin!

#2 WORSHIPPER (TeePee Records) – Damn! These guys rule. In case you’ve not had the opportunity to hear this great band before now, you can stream their debut album Shadow Hymns in full below, and start getting excited about what they’ll bring to this undertaking!

#3 SUMMONER – It may not come as a surprise, but with Summoner being one of the pillars upon which Magnetic Eye was built, you know there was no way this project was coming together without their majestic psych-metal glory. Oh, and did we mention they have a new album coming in the first half of 2017 as well?

#4 MOS GENERATOR – Prolific, forward-thinking, quasi-legendary… you can say many things about Tony Reed’s endlessly boundary-pushing outfit, but the main thing to say right now is that what they’ll do with a Pink Floyd classic is something we can’t wait to hear. Cheers to Tony and co. for their enthusiasm to jump on board!

#5 THE SLIM KINGS – Growing up next door to Liberty DeVitto gave Magnetic Eye’s founder many things, including a firsthand look at the career and talent of a true music industry lifer. After numerous decades drumming for the likes of Billy Joel, Karen Carpenter, Stevie Nicks, and Rick Wakeman, DeVitto’s current outfit The Slim Kings steps to the plate to show what monster musicianship and unparalleled experience can bring to a Pink Floyd classic.

#6 YEAR OF THE COBRA – Since their inception two years ago, this Seattle-based TWO-PIECE has been on the rise, making converts and fielding festival invitations around the world, especially following the release of their Billy Anderson-produced 2016 debut full-length. We can only guess how their stripped-down power will translate to Pink Floyd’s carefully-layered arrangements… but we’re excited to hear the result!

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/magneticeye/the-wall-2
store.merhq.com
http://magneticeyerecords.com/
https://www.facebook.com/MagneticEyeRecords

Worshipper, Shadow Hymns (2016)

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Friday Full-Length: Solace, 13

Posted in Bootleg Theater on November 25th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

Solace, 13 (2003)

None more Jersey. With the not-always-underlying current of hardcore punk in their sound, their ‘Die Drunk’ mantra, the sheer force of their delivery, and the absolute dogshit luck that has plagued them since their inception, Solace are about as Garden State as Garden State gets. Born of the same Red Bank/Long Branch-area heavy scene (oh, I do remember some shows at the Brighton Bar… vaguely) that ignited the likes of Monster Magnet, Core, Drag PackThe Atomic Bitchwax, The Ribeye Brothers, Halfway to Gone, Daisycutter, Solarized, Lord Sterling, on and on, Solace started life as Godspeed and like Core, were picked up by Atlantic Records, for whom they’d release one album. Guitarist Tommy Southard and bassist Rob Hultz — the latter now also in doom legends Trouble — recruited singly-named, massively-talented and no-you-can’t-see-my-lyrics vocalist Jason and ran through a slew of drummers during the period of their 1998 self-titled EP and subsequent split with Solarized, which led into their 2000 debut, Further. Released by MeteorCity, that was an album ahead of its time, and it would be another three years before Solace were able to make the follow-up that would ultimately embody the tumult that has in large part always defined them: 2003’s 13.

Southard, Hultz, Jason and no fewer than four drummers — John Proveaux, Keith Ackerman, Bill “Bixby” Belford and Matt Gunvordahl — combined across, sure enough, 13 songs to make a record of near impossible cohesion. The kind of album one puts on, listens through, hears cuts like “King Alcohol,” “Common Cause” (with its Wino guest appearance from before that was a thing people did), the opening classic/modern meld of “Loving Sickness/Burning Fuel,” the raw aggression of “In the Oven,” the swinging Pentagram cover “Forever My Queen” (again, from long before everyone had their own version), the languid initial roll of “Try,” the conquering individualized blend that surfaces in “Rice Burner,” and so on, feels like they have a good understanding of, then gets through the end of bonus track “Shit Kisser” and is in a the-hell-did-I-just-witness daze for the rest of the day. Like few before or since, Solace have been able to bend chaos to their will. Part of that is personality — if you’re fortunate enough to know Tommy, it makes more sense — but part of it also originates in an inimitable complexity of songwriting that still comes through clear in its intent toward kicking ass, and with its punker roots, is never in danger of losing its way in a wash of pretentious technicality. Metal, punk, classic heavy and more all seemed to be in Solace‘s wheelhouse on 13, and over the course of the unmanageable, CD-era hour-plus runtime, Solace pivoted between them and drew them together in a ferocious, vibrant attack that no one, in Jersey or out, has been able to match, on stage or in studio. Sorry. No one.

True to form, it would be seven years before 13 got its own follow-up. They released two EPs, Hammerhead and The Black Black, in 2004 and 2007, respectively, with the lineup solidified around SouthardHultzJason, guitarist Justin Daniels and drummer Kenny Lund, but it still wasn’t until 2010 that their third full-length, A.D. (review here), arrived as their ultimate, and to-date final, triumph. No doubt it’ll be featured in this space at some point as well, but it was my pick for Album of the Year that year, and I stand by that entirely. At the time, it seemed Solace were back and ready to roll. I talked about it as the beginning of a new era for the band. Well, in 2012 they broke up, so there you go. They played what was to be their last show headlining at Days of the Doomed II (review here) in Cudahy, Wisconsin, and then were done until a semi-reunion brought SouthardDaniels and Hultz together with drummer Tim Schoenleber and vocalist/keyboardist Justin Goins for an appearance at 2015’s Vultures of Volume II (review here) in Maryland, playing on the bill directly under their one-time compatriots in Spirit Caravan, on their own reunion.

As to what the future holds, I wouldn’t dare to predict. The new incarnation of the band were in the studio as recently as this summer and fall working on new material, though to what end, I don’t know. Chaos remains a factor never far from the center of what they do, but I’ll note that we are coming up on seven years since A.D. in 2017, which would match the span between that and 13 before it.

Whether it’s new to you or old, I hope you enjoy 13. I’ve been a fan of the band for a long time, played shows with them, seen them more times than I could or would like to count and still pronounce their name “sol-ah-chay” in the spirit of Puny Human frontman Jim Starace (R.I.P., four years this month), but I can still hear new things in this album, and my sincere wish is that you do as well.

Thanks for reading.

Had to be something from New Jersey to close out this week, since I’m down here visiting family for the Thanksgiving holiday. I don’t get to see my people that often, at least not en masse, and as I’ve gotten older and as the physical distance has settled in over the past few years since The Patient Mrs. and I moved north, I’ve come to miss them dearly. My nephews are growing up and I don’t get to be a part of it in the way I otherwise would. It makes me sad, and it makes me appreciate the chances I do get to be with them all the more. They’re eight (going on nine, he’d want me to note) and six now. The years fly.

If you’re in the States, I hope you had a great Thanksgiving, however you marked the day. Like a lot of stuff about this country, it has a pretty fucked origin, what with all that genocide of the land’s native people and culture — ongoing; look at DAPL — but at least it’s become a holiday less about cashing in and more about sitting down to a meal with loved ones, whatever rampant consumerism might happen the day after. It’s a little easier for me to take that than the holidays about selling greeting cards or candy or whatever else. Anyway, hope you enjoyed yours as I enjoyed mine.

Tonight, we head back north, The Patient Mrs. and I. Exhausting, but worth it in order to wake up at home tomorrow in our own bed. I will make myself an entire pot of coffee, as is my wont, and drink it leisurely as I begin to put stuff together for next week and play the Final Fantasy V remake on my cheapie tablet. Here are my current notes for what’s coming up:

Mon: Comacozer LP review and Year of the Cobra video premiere.
Tue: Akris review and Chubby Thunderous Bad Kush Masters video premiere.
Wed: Megaritual LP review and Black Moon Circle video.
Thu: The 2016 Readers Poll goes live. Yup, it’s Dec. 1 already. Also Backwoods Payback review.
Fri: Right now it’s a Child review, though that might shift depending on what else comes through.

Some of that still needs to be organized, but it’s a basic running plan anyhow. It’s a start. Whatever it winds up being, I appreciate you taking the time to read.

Please have a great and safe (holiday) weekend, and please check out the forum and the radio stream.

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

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Front to Back: Vultures of Volume II Day One in Hagerstown, MD, 09.04.15

Posted in Reviews on September 8th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

vultures of volume ii poster

Some farms, empty strip mall storefronts, a Confederate flag here and there, and you’ve pretty much got the story of Hagerstown, Maryland. Close to Frederick, which is where many of the bands featured at Vultures of Volume II either make their home or at least play on the regular, the Delmar Inn was a little bit further out of the way, a little less cops-are-likely-to-come-here, down a long stretch of road running along a hillside. Vibe was right on immediately.

Biker bar, and bigger inside than it looked from the parking lot. Near the front, a big bar with plenty of seating, tvs, and the like, and on the other side of a half-wall, a couple pool tables. Another room to the side had more pool tables and places to sit, and in the back where the show itself was held was the two-tier stage, full P.A., lighting rig and the whole nine. A pro shop. The walls were lined with banners of acts who’d been there before, the drop ceiling low but not ridiculously so, more tables in back for those who’d need a break, which by the end of the two-day/20-band Vultures of Volume II, was definitely me.

It was a long weekend of rock and roll, but I knew it would be going into it. It had been way, way too long since I’d last been able to pay a visit to the Maryland doom scene and its familiar and friendly faces. Used to be every year, year and a half or so, but living in Massachusetts adds another three-plus hours onto that trip — while we’re on the subject of the Bay State, I’ll say that the Delmar had its shit together more than every single venue in Boston of comparable size that I’ve been to — so it’s been a while. Felt good to be back.

Friday night’s lineup featured Bailjack, Faith in Jane, Kelly Carmichael, Pale Divine, King Giant, Solace and Spirit Caravan. Show got started at 7PM, and I was there early because I knew I didn’t want to miss a second of it:

Bailjack

bailjack 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

One thing you can always rely on at a fest like Vultures of Volume is that Maryland’s own particular brand of heavy — and for argument’s sake, I’ll note that Maryland’s heavy runs pretty much anywhere from Virginia to Pennsylvania, depending on what band we’re talking about — will be well represented. Following an intro from Wisconsin’s Mike Smith (he of the Days of the Doomed festival series), who was acting as the weekend’s M.C., dual-guitar four-piece took the stage to lead off the first night in deceptively intricate fashion. With three vocalists between guitarists Jason Barker and Blake Owens and bassist Ron “Fezz” McGinnis (also Pale Divine, Admiral Browning and about as bullshit-free an individual as you could hope to meet), and a distinctive split in style between the two guitars, Bailjack effectively divided their attention between freakout-led psych jamming and more classically progressive impulses, drummer Andy Myers holding the various changes together with Fezz‘s bass, which is about as much a staple of the MD scene at this point as riffs. No small feat to keep everything flowing, but they did it as arrangements tipped one way or another or they took off in this or that direction, only warming up more as they went, but though they ran a little late, Bailjack were a fitting leadoff for the night and a sure sign that we were underway.

Faith in Jane

Faith in Jane (Photo by JJ Koczan)

They came very highly recommended, and weren’t five minutes into their set before it was very apparent why. Faith in Jane tap into that classic heavy rock boogie and pull off fleet rhythmic turns essentially without sounding like they’re breaking a sweat to do it. An edge of blues here, a neo-stoner groove there, it’s easy to imagine them getting another release or two under their belt (they have a slew of digital and CD pressings from the last couple years) and catching the eye of a label like Tee Pee or Riding Easy, and they’re young enough that they still have time to develop the potential they showed. The locals obviously know it. Looking around at all the home-made Faith in Jane shirts, I was reminded of the vigilant manner in which Beelzefuzz was supported during their early days (the two acts have little sound-wise in common, but that also was a recommendation worth taking). Until Spirit Caravan played, Faith in Jane had the biggest and most responsive crowd of the night, and it was well earned in their swinging groove, tight execution of a stay-loose sound and nuances like guitarist/vocalist Dan Mize switching between finger-picking and strumming his guitar or bassist Brendan Winston tossing off a quick fill in classic rock fashion. Rounded out by drummer Alex Llewellyn, the MD natives aren’t without room to grow, but already they were a highlight of the weekend and definitely a band it will be well worth keeping an eye on going forward. Their closer, “Stormbringer,” was a beast.

Kelly Carmichael

Kelly Carmichael (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Only thing missing was a sample of John Cleese saying “And now for something completely different.” Kelly Carmichael is the former guitarist of Internal Void and also did a stint in Pentagram, but as traditional as doom gets, that’s really no match for his solo act, which dips back decades further to ’20s and ’30s-style acoustic roots blues. He covered both Robert Johnson and Leadbelly, doing “Preachin’ Blues (Up Jumped the Devil)” from the former and a prison worksong from the latter. It was a left-turn stylistically after Faith in Jane, but not at all a hard sell to the crowd that doom draws a line backward in time to the blues. People came and went, but Carmichael held a solid audience for the original “Salty Dog” from his 2009 Queen Fareena album, and had toes tapping all the while. An almost academic approach, but clearly driven by heartfelt passion for the style.

Pale Divine

pale divine 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Hard to picture a setting in which Pale Divine could be more in their element than a fest like Vultures of Volume II. The stalwart Pennsylvania trio mark their 20th year in 2015, with original members Greg Diener (guitar/vocals) and Darin McCloskey (drums) joined for the last three by the aforementioned Ron “Fezz” McGinnis, who also adds backing vocals. Their 2013 demo “Curse the Shadows” (streamed here) was aired, as were “Black Coven” from 2012’s Painted Windows Black (review here) and the finale “Cemetery Earth,” from the prior 2007 outing of the same name. They’ve always been a solid band, but haven’t ever really gotten their due outside of the local area and the odd German doom fest, but with Diener‘s steady presence as a frontman and unflappable lead work, McCloskey‘s straightforward style and Fezz‘s rumble, they had nothing to prove to what’s essentially their home crowd, and that suited them. Two decades is a long time to do anything, and one hopes that with their impending fifth album, Pale Divine might be able to reap a bit of reward from the downtrodden, trad-doom they’ve been planting all these years. Fingers crossed for a 2016 release.

King Giant

King Giant (Photo by JJ Koczan)

First two words in my notes on Virginia five-piece King Giant? “So pro.” And they are. King Giant‘s slot at Vultures of Volume II came on the heels of their 2015 third album, Black Ocean Waves (review here), which was accordingly their focus. I’ve never seen them live that they didn’t nail their set, and this time was no exception, though part of me wonders if maybe the flawlessness of their delivery doesn’t in a way undercut what they’re doing. People being more used to Southern metal that’s loose, not necessarily with as much of an atmospheric focus as King Giant have with their prevailing darkness, and between how comfortably they sit right on the border between doom and metal and the clear effort they put into how they present themselves and their songs — “Red Skies” from the new record was a highlight — I think people almost have a hard time believing what they’re seeing is genuine. But it’s not like there’s any money to be in it for, and a band like King Giant wouldn’t exist in the first place if their hearts weren’t into it, because why bother? With vocalist Dave Hammerly out front, guitarists Todd “T.I.” Ingram (also Serpents of Secrecy) and David Kowalski, bassist Floyd Walters III and singly-named drummer Brooks filling up the Delmar stage, King Giant delivered one of the most professional-sounding sets of the weekend until their set either got cut short or cut itself short — I never quite found out which — as the show continued to run late.

Solace

Solace (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I was fortunate enough to have been there in Wisconsin in June 2012 when New Jersey heavy rockers Solace played what was then believed to be their last show at Days of the Doomed II. In the intervening three years, bassist Rob Hultz has joined Chicago doom legends Trouble and he and guitarists Tommy Southard and Justin Daniels have welcomed a new vocalist and a new drummer into Solace, with Justin Goins filling the frontman role and Tim Schoenleber behind the kit. I’ll admit that I didn’t know Solace had a (partially) new lineup until a few hours before they loaded in, and I’ll admit further that I had no shortage of sentimental attachment to their prior incarnation — in no small part reinforced by the absolute blowout that was their final set three years ago — but with Southard‘s unhinged guitar at the core, the newcomers Goins and Schoenleber (who’s an ex-bandmate of Southard‘s in Godspeed) more than held their own amidst the chaos surrounding. I went into the set wondering if it could even be done, if it would be Solace, and they proved that yes, it was still Solace, and that if they wanted to move forward — they had new material in tow, so presumably the answer there is also yes — they’ll be able to do that. As they started to wind down the set, Daniels teased they were going to do the last two songs and then take another three years off, which got a laugh, but it seemed pretty clear that’s not what they have in mind looking ahead. Another Solace record? The results were glorious, but it took them nine years to put out 2010’s A.D. (review here), and their bass player lives in Chicago, so I’m not going to hold my breath to have it materialize next month. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it did happen at some point, because only a fool would ever really count them out.

Spirit Caravan

Spirit Caravan (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I’d never seen Spirit Caravan. Again. I’d never seen Spirit Caravan. As far as I was concerned, having them atop the bill as headliners was a big part of what made the trip so necessary in the first place. They brought their own crew, with Darren Waters of Weed is Weed and someone who may well have been Chris Kozlowski helping out guitarist/vocalist Scott “Wino” Weinrich, bassist/backing vocalist Dave Sherman and drummer Ed Gulli — a former bandmate of Wino‘s in The Obsessed stepping into the post-reunion role filled previously by Henry Vasquez, still in Saint Vitus — set up their gear. Wino and Sherman both had new cabinets as a result of what seemed to be a recent endorsement, and there were some technical issues early on, but Sherman finally asked to put a microphone in front of his bass cab and that solved it. They barreled through the speedy new song “Be the Night” first, almost I think before most in attendance could pick up on what they just heard, and dipped into classics like “Courage” and “Melancholy Grey,” also working “Streetside” by The Obsessed into the mix. I know Spirit Caravan is widely considered a “Wino band,” and Wino‘s the frontman, and the dude’s a legend and as the guy who’s about to wrap up a 200-part series of Wino Wednesdays, I’m not going to argue, but if there’s a singular passion driving Spirit Caravan, it’s Sherman‘s all the way. It’s just as much a Sherman band. If Bobby Liebling was the architect, (and yes, I know Pentagram were from D.C., but stay with me), and Wino is its ambassador, then Dave Sherman is the beating heart of Maryland heavy, and after seeing him for years with Earthride, he looked at home and gladdest of all to be on that stage playing Spirit Caravan songs. Already the reunion has had its share of drama after a fallout with former drummer Gary Isom, but between watching Sherman stomp out his parts or watching Wino turn around and smile to Gulli as they made their way through “Lost Sun Dance” en route to a cover of The Animals‘ “Inside Looking Out,” it was apparent just how precious a thing Spirit Caravan is to those who are a part of it. The house lights came up during the latter cover, which though it was late I’ll say flat out was a load. That’s what 30 years of playing doom gets you: the lights turned on in front of what’s basically your hometown crowd while you headline. Rightly, they kept playing, and finished out an otherwise excellent night with a take on The Obsessed‘s “Neatz Brigade” that seemed all the more righteous for the defiant stance it represented.

By the time I actually left the Delmar parking lot, it was 2AM. I drove back to the hotel where I was staying with the gentlemen of Elder, who were looking to go swimming, and while I appreciated the invite, I knew it was time to crash out. Saturday was 13 bands in over 12 hours, so every minute of sleep I could get counted.

That Day Two wrap will be up tomorrow or the next day. Thanks for reading in the meantime.

More pics after the jump.

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The Debate Rages: What are the Best Songs of the Last Five Years?

Posted in The Debate Rages on July 10th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

what are the best songs from the last five years

Mostly around here I concentrate on albums. Best albums of the year. Best albums of the decade. Still, kind of on a whim this morning I was thinking about the shape of heavy of the last half-decade — or rather, the shapes of it.

Different scenes moving in various directions, the emergence of the Pacific Northwest as a hotbed, the growth of West Coast psych and how in-conversation that seems to be both with California’s skater past and the current European market, itself branched out between heavy psych and ’70s traditionalism, which has also begun to take root throughout the US while, at the same time, a new generation has come up to embrace full-on stoner riffing and/or desert rock ideals.

While I have my album lists going back six years to refer to, this time around, I was wondering specifically about individual songs from the same era. What are the best songs from the last five years?

It’s not always the best album that has the best single piece of work on it, so it seemed worth asking the question separately.

Me, I go in for epics: YOB‘s “Marrow” (2014), Ancestors‘ “First Light” (2012), Colour Haze‘s “Grace” (2012), Hypnos 69‘s “The Great Work” (2011), Witch Mountain‘s “Can’t Settle” (2014), Elder‘s “Lore” (2015) definitely is worth having in the conversation, Solace‘s “From Below” (2010), Grayceon‘s “We Can” (2011), and so on.

But then you have Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats‘ “I’ll Cut You Down,” which has had a massive influence since it came out in 2011. And what about a cut like Clutch‘s “D.C. Sound Attack,” or Goatsnake‘s “Grandpa Jones,” or Graveyard‘s “Ain’t Fit to Live Here,” or Mars Red Sky‘s “Strong Reflection?” Does a track have to be long to make an impact? What if there’s a perfectly-executed two-minute verse/chorus trade? Shouldn’t that also be considered?

I guess that’s the question.

We haven’t done one of these in a while, so I’m hoping you’ll take the time to add your answers and picks for the best songs of the last five years 2010-2015 in the comments to this post. I know we’re not through 2015 yet, but we’re just trying to have some fun anyway.

Thanks to all who take the time to leave a note in the comments below.

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Drinking with the Devil Dick, by Tommy Southard

Posted in Columns on May 18th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

It’s been almost exactly three years since guitarist Tommy Southard of SolaceThe Disease ConceptSocial Decay, etc., last turned in a Drinking with the Devil Dick beer column, but hey, I’ve got an open door policy and a permanent soft spot for Tommy, so it’s not like when he hit me up and said he wanted to do one I was about to say no. Would never happen. This time around, he hits up Tired Hands and Weyerbacher Brewing near his home outside Philadelphia, and samples a variety of fare, including candied bacon and a beer called “Stoner Witch.”

Solace have a reunion gig booked for this fall at the Vultures of Volume II fest. More info on that to come. In the meantime, enjoy:

i see darkness imperial honey porter on cask with local rasberries

11179977_10206261615597564_3977048150518709014_nWell hello there Obelisk-ers,

It’s been a long time!

Devil Dick here to talk about my current favorite place on Earth to drink beer!

A few years ago a brewery opened up not to far away from where we live in Ardmore, PA. We were intrigued but did not visit right away because I remember my wife “Yelped” it and people were talking about the food portions being small. And my second fave thing after drinking beer is eating, so we passed. I remember telling her I didn’t want to leave being hungry. So it took a while before we took a chance and ventured in. Man, I wish we were there the day they opened because the beers were AMAZING.

The place is called “Tired Hands” and they’ve have become something of a sensation across the triple beers with candied bacon and pannini -1400country. Beer nerds all over salivate to get one of their limited bottle releases in their hands.

The beers are fresh, different and never disappointing. It didn’t take long before the small place that was pumping out 1,000 barrels per year was unable to keep up in production. The once-easy-to-get-a-spot-at bar was full to capacity almost all the time. Fast forward a few years and they opened up a new and much bigger spot called “Fermentaria” just a few blocks away. This larger facility has the capability to bring beer to the Pennsylvania masses, 10,000 barrels per year. The beer has now become available at other bars around the city of Philadelphia. Pretty awesome stuff!

Jean Broillet IV and his wife Julie Foster are locals who have created an instant Mecca for beer nerds in ‘burbs of Philadelphia.

He is mad scientist of brewing, making kooky and delicious beers using interesting ingredients of all kinds. He started out learning the brew trade at Weyerbacher Brewing Company in Easton Pennsylvania. Jean’s main brewing focus is farmhouse ales. The brewery has brewed so many different beers that I can’t even keep track of them all. Lucky for me, a while back I started saving my growler tags so I remember the beers I had! IStoner Witch really should keep a notebook but then I’d become one of those beer geeks, heh…

Jean along with his staff are also some really cool and interesting people, who all dig music. We have often talked with them about music heavy metal and punk rock or Orange Goblin or Venom… And don’t be surprised if you walk in the place and they are jamming The Misfits or Slayer on the sound system. My kind of place! Jean has even brewed beer with some musicians like Dave Witte of Municipal Waste who is not onlyan amazing drummer but also way into beer. Made a beer in honor of the bands Baroness and Pallbearer. Named one of the beers “Stoner Witch” in homage to the Melvins.

There was beer named “Screeching Loud Thrashing Death Metal Offensive Song” which was named after a comment a lady posted that on Yelp: “Great beer, decent food, really quaint, welcoming space. But the music positively ruined this place for me…. SCREECHING LOUD THRASHING DEATH-METAL OFFENSIVE SONG THAT SETS YOUR TEETH ON EDGE & FILLS YOU WITH MURDEROUS RAGE, The wife with a pea and carrot salad at Fermentaria-1400instantly rendering conversation impossible.”

Hey, not everyone loves Slayer — their loss! They often have the Mike Lorenz Quartet playing on weeknights or at monthly bottle releases. They do killer jazz versions of Sabbath tunes.

The food at “The Brew Café”: Don’t expect typical “bar” food. You won’t get greasy burgers and fries. You can get fresh bread made on the spot, local cheeses, Panini sandwiches and killer salads but by all means GET THE CANDIED BACON!

The new Fermentaria has full kitchen with killer tacos!!!

Oh yeah, and Jean does all the artwork for the place as well. Talented guy, that Jean is.candied bacon bread and cheese plate-1400

Great beer, great food, great music and good people, it’s a win, win, win, win.

I can’t do the place justice with my words. So take a peak their website and Facebook page and check out what they are up to. And if you are in the Philly area do yourself a favor and stop in. Tell them Devil Dick sent you! You won’t be sorry.

Tired Hands Brewing website

Tired Hands on Thee Facebooks

Weyerbacher website

Weyerbacher on Thee Facebooks

Solace on Thee Facebooks 

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