Quarterly Review: Khemmis, Mutant Flesh, War Cloud, Void of Sleep, Pretty Lightning, Rosy Finch, Ghost Spawn, Agrabatti, Dead Sacraments, Smokemaster

Posted in Reviews on March 24th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

quarterly review

Alarm went off this morning at 3:45. Got up, flicked on the coffee pot, turned the heat on in the house, hit the bathroom and was back in bed in four minutes with an alarm set for 4:15. Didn’t really get back to sleep, but the half-hour of being still was a kind of pre-waking meditation that I appreciated just the same. Was dozing when the alarm went off the second time, but it’s day two of the Quarterly Review, so no time to doze. No time for anything, as is the nature of these blocks of writeups. They tend to be all-consuming while they’re going on. Could be worse. Let’s roll.

Quarterly Review #11-20:

Khemmis, Doomed Heavy Metal

khemmis doomed heavy metal

Denver four-piece Khemmis have made themselves one of the most distinctive acts in metal, to say nothing of doom. With strong vocal harmonies out front backed by similarly-minded guitars, the band bring a sense of poise to doom that’s rare in the modern sphere, somewhat European in influence, but less outwardly adherent to the genre tenets of melancholy. They refuse to be Paradise Lost, in other words, and are all the more themselves for that. Their Doomed Heavy Metal EP (on 20 Buck Spin and Nuclear Blast) is a stopgap after 2018’s Desolation (review here) full-length, but at 38 minutes and six songs, it’s substantial nonetheless, headlined by the Dio cover “Rainbow in the Dark” — capably done with just a flair of Slough Feg — with a take on Lloyd Chandler‘s “A Conversation with Death” and “Empty Throne,” both rare-enough studio cuts, for backing, as well as three live cuts that cover their three-to-date albums. The growls on “Three Gates” are fun, but I’ll still take the Dio cover as the highlight. For a cobbled-together release, it feels at least like a bit of thoughtful fan-service, and really, a band could do worse than to serve their fans thoughtfully.

Khemmis on Thee Facebooks

20 Buck Spin store

Nuclear Blast Records store

 

Mutant Flesh, Evil Eye

mutant flesh evil eye

There are shades of doom metal’s origins underlying Mutant Flesh‘s first release, the eight-song/33-minute Evil Eye, but the Philly troupe are too gleeful in their weirdness ultimately to be paying full homage to the likes of Witchfinder General, and especially in a faster song like second cut “Meteoric” and the subsequent lead-guitar-flipout-and-vocal-soar title-track, they tap into the defiantly doomed vibe of earliest Saint Vitus. That’s true of the crawling “Euthanasia” as well, which crashes and nods as it approaches the six-minute mark as the longest inclusion here, but even the penultimate “Blight” brings that twisted-BlackFlag-noise-slowed-down spirit that lets you know there’s consciousness behind the chaos, and that while Mutant Flesh might seem to be all-the-way-gone, they’re really just getting started. Maybe their sound will even out over time, maybe it won’t, but for what it’s worth, they do ragged doom well from the opening “Leviathan (Lord of the Labyrinth)” onward, and feel right at home in the unhinged.

Mutant Flesh on Thee Facebooks

Mutant Flesh on Bandcamp

 

War Cloud, Earhammer Sessions

war cloud earhammer sessions

Having just shredded their way across Europe, War Cloud took their set into the Earhammer Studio with Greg Wilkinson at the helm in an attempt to capture the band in top form on their home turf. Did it work? The results on Earhammer Sessions (Ripple Music) don’t wait around for you to decide. They’re too busy kicking ass to take names, and if the resulting 29-minute burst is even half of what they brought to the stage on that tour, those must’ve been some goddamn shows. Songs like “White Lightning” and the snare-counted-in “Speed Demon” and “Striker” feel like they’re being given their due in the max-speed-NWOBHM-but-still-too-classy-to-be-thrash presentation, and honestly, this feels like War Cloud have found their method. If they don’t tour their next album and then hit the studio after and lay it down live, or at least as live as Earhammer Sessions is — one never knows as regards overdubs and isolation booths and all that — they’re doing themselves a disservice. War Cloud play metal. So what? So this.

War Cloud on Thee Facebooks

Ripple Music website

 

Void of Sleep, Metaphora

Void of Sleep Metaphora

Void of Sleep return after half a decade with the prog-doom stylings of their third album, Metaphora (Aural Music), which stretches dramatically through songs like “Iron Mouth” (11:00), preceded by the intro “The Famine Years” and the shorter “Unfair Judgements,” preceded by the intro “Waves of Discomfort,” and still somehow manage not to sound out of place tapping into their inner Soilwork in the growled verses/clean choruses of “Master Abuser.” They get harsh a bit as well on “Tides of the Mourning,” which uses its 10:30 to summarize the bulk of the proceedings and close out the record after “Modern Man,” but that song has more of a scope and feels looser structurally for that. Still, that shift is only one of several throughout Metaphora, which follows the Italian five-piece’s 2015 LP, New World Order (discussed here), and wherever Void of Sleep are headed at any given moment, they head there with a duly controlled presence. Clearly their last five years have not been wasted.

Void of Sleep on Thee Facebooks

Aural Music store

 

Pretty Lightning, Jangle Bowls

pretty lightning jangle bowls

As yet, Germany’s Pretty Lightning remain a well kept secret of fuzz-psych-blues nuance, digging out their own niche-in-a-niche-in-a-niche microgenre with a natural and inadvertent-feeling sense of just writing the songs they want to write. Jangle Bowls, which puts its catchy, semi-garage title-track early in the proceedings, is the duo’s second offering through Fuzz Club Records behind 2017’s The Rhythm of Ooze (review here), and seem to present a mission statement in opener “Swamp Ritual” before bringing a due sense of excursion to “Boogie at the Shrine” — damn that’s a smooth groove — and reviving the movement in “RaRaRa,” which follows. Closer “Shovel Blues” is a highlight for how it drifts into oblivion, but the underlying tightness of craft in “123 Eternity” and “Hum” is an appeal as well, so it’s a tradeoff. But it’s one I’ll be glad to make across multiple repeat visits to Jangle Bowls while wondering how long this particular secret can actually be kept.

Pretty Lightning on Thee Facebooks

Fuzz Club Records store

 

Rosy Finch, Scarlet

rosy finch scarlet

The painted-blood-red cover of Rosy Finch‘s second album, Scarlet (on Lay Bare Recordings), and horror-cinema-esque design isn’t a coincidence in terms of atmosphere, but the Spanish trio bring a more aggressive feel to the nine-track outing overall than they did to their 2016 debut, Witchboro (review here), with additional crunch in the guitar of Mireia Porto (also vocals and bass) and bassist Elena Garcia, and a forward kick drum from Lluís Mas that hammers home the impact of a cruncher like “Ruby” and even seems to ground the more melodic “Alizarina,” which follows, let alone the crushing opener/longest track (immediate points) “Oxblood” or its headspinning closing companion “Dark Cherry,” after which follows the particularly intense hidden cut “Lady Bug,” also not to be missed. Anger suits Rosy Finch, it seems, and the band bring a physicality to the songs on Scarlet that only reinforces the sonic push.

Rosy Finch on Thee Facebooks

Lay Bare Recordings store

 

Ghost Spawn, The Haunting Continuum

Ghost Spawn The Haunting Continuum

Brutal, gurgling doom-of-death pervades The Haunting Continuum from Denver one-man-unit Ghost Spawn, and while the guitar late in “Escaping the Mortal Flesh” seems momentarily to offer some hope of salvation, rest assured, it doesn’t last, and the squibbly central riff returns with its extremity to prove once more that only death is real. Multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Kevin Berstler is the lone culprit behind the project’s first full-length and second release overall (also second this year, so he would seem to work quickly), and across 43 minutes that only grow more grueling as they proceed through the centerpiece title-track and into “The Terrors that Plague Nightly” and the desolate incantations of “Exiled to the Realm of Eternal Rot,” there are some hints of cleaner grunts that have made their way through — a kind of repeated “hup” vocalization — but this too is swallowed in the miasma of cave-echo guitar, drums-from-out-of-the-abyss, and raw-as-peeled-flesh production. Can’t get behind that? Probably you and 99.9 percent of the rest of humanity. For us slugs, though, it’s just about right.

Ghost Spawn on Thee Facebooks

Ghost Spawn on Bandcamp

 

Agrabatti, Beyond the Sun

agrabatti beyond the sun

It’s kosmiche thrust and watery vibes when Agrabatti go Beyond the Sun. What’s there upon arrival? Nothing less than a boogie down with Hawkwind at the helm of a spacey spaced-out space rocking chopper that you shouldn’t even be able to hear the revving engine of in space and yet somehow you can. Also synth, pulsating riffs and psych-as-all-golly-gosh awakenings. Formed in 2009 by Chad Davis — then just out of U.S. Christmas, already at that point known for his work in Hour of 13 and a swath of other projects across multiple genres — and with songs begun to come together at that time only to be shelved ahead of recording this year, Beyond the Sun sat seemingly in some unreachable strata of anomalous subspace, for 11 years before being rediscovered from its time-loop like Kelsey Grammer in that one episode of TNG, and gorgeously spread across the quadrant in its five-cut run, with its cover of the aforementioned Hawkwind‘s “Born to Go” so much at home among its companions it feels like, baby, it’s already gone. Do you need sunglasses in the void? Shit yeah you do.

Agrabatti on Thee Facebooks

Agrabatti on Bandcamp

 

Dead Sacraments, Celestial Throne

Dead Sacraments Celestial Throne

Four sprawling doom epics comprise the 2019 debut album — and apparently debut release — from Illinois four-piece Dead Sacraments, who themselves are comprised from three former members of atmospheric sludgers Angel Eyes, who finished their run in 2011 but released the posthumous Things Have Learnt to Walk That Ought to Crawl (review here). Those are guitarist Brendan Burchell, bassist Nader Cheboub and drummer Ryan Croson, and together with apparently-self-harmonizing vocalist/guitarist Mark Mazurek, they cast a doom built on largesse in tone and scope alike, given an air of classic-metal grandiosity but filtered through a psych-doom modernity that feels aware of what the likes of Pallbearer and Khemmis have done for the genre. Nonetheless, as a first record, Celestial Throne shines its darkness brightly across its no-song-under-nine-minutes-long lumber, and affirms the righteousness of doom with a genuine sense of reach at its disposal.

Dead Sacraments on Thee Facebooks

Dead Sacraments on Bandcamp

 

Smokemaster, Smokemaster

smokemaster smokemaster

The languid and trippy spirit in opener “Solar Flares” is something of a misdirect on the part of organ-laced, Cologne-based heavy rockers Smokemaster, who go on to boogie down through songs like “Trippin’ Blues” before jamming out classic heavy blues-style on “Ear of the Universe.” I’m not saying they don’t have their psychedelic aspects, but there’s plenty of movement behind what they do as well, and the setup they give with the first two cuts is effective in throwing off the first-time listener’s expectation. A pastoral instrumental “Sunrise in the Canyon” leads off side B after, and comes backed by “Astronaut of Love” (yup, a lovestronaut) and “Astral Traveller,” which find an engaging midpoint between the ground and the great beyond, synth and keys pushing outward in the finale even as the bass and drums keep it tethered to a central groove. It’s a formula that’s worked many times over the last half-century, but it works here too, and Smokemaster‘s Smokemaster makes a right-on introduction to the German newcomers.

Smokemaster on Thee Facebooks

Tonzonen Records store

 

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Kristonfest 2020 Canceled

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 20th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Can anyone really blame them? Of course not. With governments across Europe and elsewhere telling people to stay at home, shelter-in-place and other foreboding-sounding shit as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Madrid’s Kristonfest 2020 has pulled the plug on what was to be a killer lineup with Swans and Masters of Reality and C.O.C. at the top of a righteous one-day bill with Brant BjorkMaidaVale and Norman Westberg rounding out. So it goes with just about everything. They’ve got ticket refunds going if you bought, but I think this is pretty indicative of the way things are happening right now, and as I’ve tried to keep up with the fest over the last few years, it’s a bummer to see. Not the first, won’t be the last. They’re smart to cancel outright rather than try to reschedule for the Fall, because who the hell knows what the situation will be in the Fall?

Here’s their statement, pulled from Thee Facebooks:

kristonfest 2020 poster

Kristonfest is still a project made with passion rather than with resources, with enthusiasm and crazy ideas rather than with head, that’s why this is a statement that hurts to write, but given the serious health situation we are suffering and the pessimistic forecasts that are being explaining for the coming weeks, we have no choice but to inform you that Kristonfest 2020 is cancelled.

We want to make it clear that this edition is not postponed, but is cancelled due to the impossibility of being able to match the artists on the same date in the coming months. That is why we open the return period of 30 days so that you can recover the money from your tickets through the Wegow platform. Those of you who bought your tickets at Escridiscos must have a little patience since, due to the State of Alarm decreed by the Government, record stores are not allowed to open within a minimum period of fifteen days.

Now is the time to assimilate and reflect on it, but also to continue supporting Swans, Masters Of Reality – Official, Corrosion Of Conformity, Brant Bjork, MaidaVale and Norman Westberg, who are losing a lot of money with all the cancellations that are taking place all over the world, as they depend on the concerts to keep going. That is why we ask that, as far as possible, you support them by purchasing their music and merchandising through their websites and social networks.

The good news is that this hard blow has not diminished our desire to continue working on line-ups at the height of the festival’s history. For this reason and starting today we are working on the edition of 2021, from which we hope to give you good news in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, take care of each other, follow the prompts of the authorities and act with responsibility and common sense. We will come out of this nightmare together and reinforced.

https://www.facebook.com/events/793147224452006/
https://www.wegow.com/es-es/festivales/kristonfest-2020
http://www.facebook.com/kristonfest
http://www.instagram.com/kristonfest/
https://www.kristonfest.com/

Brant Bjork, “Jungle in the Sound”

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Moura Premiere “Ronda das Mafarricas”; Self-Titled Debut LP out April 1

Posted in audiObelisk on February 28th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

MOURA

Spanish heavy progressive rockers Moura are set to make their self-titled debut on April Fool’s Day through Spinda Records. The A Coruña-based five-piece start the album off with a gentle meditation of keys and guitar, Floydian in atmosphere but duly modern in meditation, and soon enough are off into a thickened earlier-King Crimson mediation, guitar and organ working together, then apart, then together again with an insistent rhythmic backing and a vocal reminiscent of Moura‘s labelmates and countrymen on the Southern coast in Algeciras, Atavismo and Híbrido.

Moura, whose progressive elements are nonetheless presented in across a manageable 38-minute/four-track LP stretch, are comprised of vocalist/guitarist Diego Veiga, guitarist/vocalist Hugo Santeiro, bassist/vocalist Pedro Alberte, synthesist/organist Fernando Vilaboy and drummer Luis Casanova, and to coincide with their proggy movements, which are maintained throughout the just-under-nine-minutes-each opener “Eira” and “Da Interzona a Annexia,” there come fervent doses of psychedelia and folk sounds. “Da Interzona a Annexia” dips particularly into the latter in its second half, with harmonized vocals in a melody derived from Galician folk — the scales will sound Middle Eastern to many ears — with a lead line of Hammond following that ends up in a run alongside the guitar that is likewise gorgeous and effective in blending the different styles already put on display. This is, it has to be repeated, Moura‘s first album.

After “Eira,” which the band also released as a single in 2018, and “Da Interzona a Annexia,” the flip to side B brings the longest and shortest tracks on Moura, respectively, in “O Curioso Caso de Mademoiselle X” (13:43) and closer moura moura“Ronda das Mafarricas” (7:04). Both manage to successfully highlight the aesthetic aspects that side A brought to the table, but push further along similar lines as well, with the fluidity and patience of “O Curioso Caso de Mademoiselle X” bringing a  stretch of molten drift in intertwining synth and keys as it moves into its second half after a duly flowing beginning, moving in its own time to a sweep of organ and full-toned guitar. The “full-toned” there should be read with emphasis, particularly as it relates to what VeigaSanteiro and Alberte bring to the proceedings.

As much nuance as there is in what Moura are doing throughout these songs — and there’s plenty — there is also no lack of tonal presence as well, and that’s no less true in the longer cut than on either of the first two pieces before it or even the one after, though “Ronda das Mafarricas” is something of a departure as well in terms of how it shifts the balance toward the folkish side of their approach, reminding early on of some of Death Hawks‘ proggy key-laced melodic glories, but keeping an identity in step with the rest of the proceedings here. The shift into the verse is smooth and led more by the vocals than it might at first seem, and as “Ronda das Mafarricas” smooths out — such as it does — it taps into some of the rhythmic bounce of “Eira” and that feeling of perhaps-courtly (in the King Crimson-sense) chase the album indulged earlier on. The finale fades into folkish percussion but the organ and guitar aren’t ultimately done yet and they surge back for a last measure or two of bookending in a final nod to songcraft that speaks to a strength that’s been underlying the material all along.

The lushness of combining two guitars, organ and synth speaks for itself throughout Moura‘s Moura, and as the record will no doubt serve as the band’s introduction to many listeners who take it on, they leave an impression of encompassing dynamics that are only further bolstered by the kinetic rhythm that’s being fostered by the bass and drums. As to how Moura might develop going forward, their combination of varying influences makes it harder to guess and thus more exciting to imagine the possibilities, but listened back through “Eira” on another go and making my way toward “Ronda das Mafarricas” once more — as the LP makes for easy repeat visits — I’m less inclined to guess how their sound might wind up than I am to enjoy what they’re doing now. Tomorrow can be tomorrow, then. Today, we dance.

I’m grateful to the band and to Spinda Records for allowing me to host “Ronda das Mafarricas” as a streaming premiere, as it’s obviously a special piece of the album and for the band generally. You’ll find it on the player below, followed by more background on the band from the PR wire.

Please enjoy:

MOURA is all about going into trance around the bonfire and get ready for the coven. Psychedelic rock, prog rock, traditional folk and lyrics in Galician go together in their debut album. Spanish band formed by Diego Veiga (vocals, guitars), Hugo Santeiro (guitars), Pedro Alberte (bass), Fernando Vilaboy (keys) and Luis Casanova (drums) give us the key to open ourselves and meet our souls once again, those ones that real life wanted us to forget.

Band members are not new at all in the Spanish music scene… Lüger, Jet Lag, Ictus, Guerrera, Saharah, Elephant Band, Fogbound and Holywater are some of the projects in which they were involved in the past. But the present is MOURA, a new band which is making a name in the scene very quickly. This can explain how they managed to play huge names as Resurrection Fest 2019 or Monkey Week 2019 even without any album on the market. 2020 will be their year for sure: debut album and many gigs (Esmorga Fest and Barcelona Psych Fest are already confirmed).

For their debut album, which is an excellent candidate to be part of many top albums lists at the end of the year, MOURA joined Spanish underground label Spinda Records (Viaje a 800, Híbrido, Bourbon, The Dry Mouths, Habitar La Mar…) and got surrounded by very close people and friends: José Gutiérrez (production, recording and mixing); Fernando Mejuto (mastering); Leo López (photography); and Hugo Santeiro (artwork).

Moura are:
Diego Veiga (guitarra, voz)
Pedro Alberte (baixo, voz)
Hugo Santeiro (guitarra, voz)
Fernando Vilaboy (órgano Hammond, sintetizadores)
Luis Casanova (batería, percusións)

Moura on Thee Faceboooks

Moura on Instagram

Moura on Bandcamp

Spinda Records on Thee Facebooks

Spinda Records on Instagram

Spinda Records on Bandcamp

Spinda Records website

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Quarterly Review: Alcest, Superchief, Test Meat, Stones of Babylon, Nightstalker, Lewis & the Strange Magics, Room 101, Albatross Overdrive, Cloud Cruiser, The Spiral Electric

Posted in Reviews on January 8th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

quarterly review

Welcome to Day Three of The Obelisk’s Winter 2020 Quarterly Review. It’s gonna be kind of a wild one. There’s a lot going on across this batch of 10 records, and it gets kind of weird — also, it doesn’t — so sit tight. It’ll be fun either way. At least I hope so. I’ll let you know when I’m finished writing. Ha.

Today we pass the halfway point on the road to 50 reviews by Friday. I think I’m feeling alright up to this point. It’s been a crunch behind the scenes, but it usually is and I’ve done this plenty of times now, so it’s not so bad. I always hold my breath before getting started, but once I’m in it, I rarely feel anymore overwhelmed than I might on any other given day. Which is still plenty, but you know, you make it work.

So let’s do that.

Quarterly Review #21-30:

Alcest, Spiritual Instinct

alcest spiritual instinct

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the label’s modus in this regard as it’s picked up bands from the heavy underground over the last eight to 10 years — arguably a movement that began with Graveyard in 2012 — but Parisian post-black metal innovators Alcest make something of an aesthetic shift with their first outing for Nuclear Blast, Spiritual Instinct. Melody, of course, remains central to their purposes, but in the nine-minute side B opener “L’Île des Morts” as in its side A counterpart “Les Jardins de Minuit,” the subsequent “Protection” and “Sapphire” and even in the crescendo — glorious wash as it is — of the closing title-track, one can hear a sharper, decidedly metallic edge to the guitar and impact of the drums. That’s a turn from 2016’s Kodama (review here), which offered more of a conceptual progressivism, and of course the prior 2014 LP, Shelter (review here), which cast of metallic trappings almost entirely. Why the change? Who cares, it works, and they still have room for the cinematic keyboard-led drama of “Le Miroir” and plenty of the wistful emotionalism that’s been their hallmark since their debut in 2007. They’ve long since mastered their approach and Spiritual Instinct serves as another example of their being able to make their sound do whatever they want.

Alcest on Thee Facebooks

Nuclear Blast webstore

 

Superchief, Moontower

superchief moontower

Four records and just about a decade deep into a tenure that began with the 2010 Rock Music EP (review here), Iowa heavy rockers Superchief have found ways to bring an inventiveness to what’s still an ostensibly straightforward approach. Moontower, named for a lookout point where — at least presuming from the album’s artwork — people tailgate and get drunk, finds the dudely five-piece no less embroiled in burl than they’ve ever been, but using samples and other elements in interesting ways as with the revving motor matching step with the drums at the start of “Barking Out at the Blood Moon” or keyboards in “Rock ‘n’ Roll War” filling out the breaks where the riffs take a step back. Handclaps early in “Beer Me Motherfucker” — as much post-“Introduction” mission statement for the LP as a whole as anything — set the party tone, and from the shaker on “The Approach” to the Southern tinged shred and organ on closer “Priority of the Summer,” a car speeding by at the finish, Superchief find ways to make each of their songs stand out from its surroundings. Then they pair that with choice riffery, pro-shop sound and hooks. Sure enough, it’s once again a winning formula and a distinct showing of personality and craft that still comports with classic heavy style.

Superchief website

Superchief on Bandcamp

 

Test Meat, Enjoy

test meat enjoy

Boston duo Test Meat are so utterly bullshit-free as to be almost intimidating. Guitarist/vocalist Darryl Shepard (Kind, Blackwolfgoat, Hackman, Milligram, etc.) and drummer Michael Nashawaty (Planetoid) dig into heavy grunge and noise rock influences across a 10-track/27-minute full-length that resounds with punker roots and an ethic of willful straightforwardness. It’s not that the music is so intense there would be no room for frills, it’s that the structures are so tight and so purposefully barebones that they’d be incongruous. And it’s not that Test Meat are writing half-hearted songs, either. Frankly, neither the quality of their material nor the sharpness of the sound they captured at New Alliance Studio with Alec Rodriguez would remotely lead one to believe so, and nothing with such stylistic clarity happens by mistake. This is a band with a mission, and Enjoy finds them bringing that mission to life with a complete lack of pretense. It’s a reminder of what made grunge so appealing in the first place some 30 years and an entire internet ago. Songs and performance. Yes.

Test Meat on Thee Facebooks

Test Meat on Bandcamp

 

Stones of Babylon, Hanging Gardens

Stones of Babylon Hanging Gardens

Following a 2018 live demo, Portuguese instrumental three-piece Stones of Babylon — guitarist Rui Belchior, bassist João Medeiros, drummer Pedro Branco — embark with a conceptualist intent on their debut full-length, Hanging Gardens, issued through Raging Planet. An opening sample in the leadoff title-track describing the hanging gardens of Babylon sets the stage for what the band goes on to describe with wordless atmospheres over the five-song/47-minute long-player, their vision of heavy psychedelia touched with a suitable Middle Eastern/North African influence in the initial unfolding of the meditative 11-minute “Coffea Arabica” or the winding lead work over the punchy low end of “Black Pig’s Secret Megalith.” But Hanging Gardens is still very much a heavy rock release, and its material showcases that in tone and mood, with volume changes and builds taking hold like that in centerpiece “Ziggurat,” which in its second half sets a march of distorted largesse nodding forth until its final crashout. They save the most drift for “Babylonia (The Deluge),” and if they’re finishing with the story of the flood, one can’t help but wonder what narrative course they might follow in a second record. On the other hand, if one comes out of Hanging Gardens trying to envision Stones of Babylon‘s future, then the debut would seem to have done its job, and so it has. There’s stylistic and tonal promise, and with the edge of storytelling, an opportunity for development of which one hopes they avail themselves.

Stones of Babylon on Thee Facebooks

Raging Planet website

 

Nightstalker, Great Hallucinations

nightstalker great hallucinations

Frontman Argy and Greek heavy rock institution Nightstalker return with their eighth album in a quarter-century run, Great Hallucinations. Also their first LP for Heavy Psych Sounds after issuing 2016’s As Above So Below (review here) on Oak Island Records, it’s an up-to-par eight-track collection of catchy tracks marked out by psychedelic elements but underpinned by traditionalist structures, Argy‘s distinctive frontman presence, and an all-around unforced feeling of a mature, established band doing what they do. Not going through the motions in the sense of fulfilling some perceived obligation to stay on the road, but creating the songs they want to create in nothing less than the manner they want to create them. I won’t take away from the roll of “Seven out of Ten,” but as “Cursed” taps into a legacy of European heavy rock that runs from Dozer‘s turn of the century work — not to mention Nightstalker‘s own — to outfits today, it’s hard not to appreciate an act being so assured in what they do in terms of execution while actually doing it. In that way, Great Hallucinations is as refreshing as it is familiar.

Nighstalker on Thee Facebooks

Heavy Psych Sounds website

 

Lewis and the Strange Magics, Melvin’s Holiday

Lewis and the Strange Magics Melvins Holiday

From their beginnings in garage doom and subsequent dive into exploitation/vamp psych, Barcelona’s Lewis and the Strange Magics put themselves in even weirder territory on their third album, Melvin’s Holiday, centering a story around the titular character whose life is in turmoil and so he goes on vacation. The sound of the band seems to do likewise, veering into ’70s lounge sleaze and island influences, toying with funky rhythms and keyboards amid catchy choruses across what still would have to be called an experimental 34-minute run. It is a concept album, to be sure, and one that comes through in its stylistic choices like the dreamy keyboards of the centerpiece “Carpet Sun” or the fuzzy stomp in “Sad in Paradise” and the percussion amid the Ween-sounding lead guitar buzz of “Lounge Decadence.” This could be Lewis and the Strange Magics working purposefully to cast off any and all expectation that might be placed on them, or it could just be a one-off whim, but there’s no question they pull off an impressive turn and carry the concept through in story and substance. When it comes to what they might do next time, the payoff of closer “Afternoon on the Sand” serves as one more demonstration that the band can do whatever the hell they want with their sound, so I’d expect them to do no less than precisely that.

Lewis and the Strange Magics on Thee Facebooks

Lewis and the Strange Magics on Bandcamp

 

Room 101, The Burden

room 101 the burden

The debut EP from Lansing, Michigan, four-piece Room 101, called simply The Burden, would seem to take a scorched-earth approach to atmospheric sludge, setting their balance to exploring ambient textures and samples in pieces like “You Will Never Know Security” — which, sure enough, samples 1984 to recount the origin of the band’s name — and the brief “A Place to Bury Strangers,” while the churning “As the Crow Flies” and “Missing Rope” present an outright extremity that comes through in post-Godflesh vocal barks and a Through Silver in Blood-style intensity of churn and general approach. Yet I wouldn’t necessarily call Room 101 post-metal — at least not here. The solo on “Missing Rope” seems to draw from more traditional sources, and the manner in which the chugging in “Plague Dogs” caps with a sudden quick series of hits recalls grindcore’s pivoting brutality. One might hope all of these elements get fleshed out more over subsequent releases, but as a first outing, part of The Burden‘s promise is also drawn from the sheer rawness of its impact and the lack of compromise in its wrench of gut.

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Abatross Overdrive, Ascendant

albatross overdrive ascendant

Albatross Overdrive‘s 2016 LP, Keep it Running (review here), ran 31 minutes. Their follow-up, Ascendant, reaches to 33, but loses two tracks in the doing. Clearly, one way or the other, this is a conscious ethic on the band’s part, and it tells you something about their approach to heavy rock as well. There’s nothing too fancy about it — even in “Come Get Some,” which is the longest song the band have ever written at 6:40 — and they are not an outfit to waste their time. Structures run from verse to chorus to verse to chorus led through by guitarists Andrew Luddy and Derek Phillips and Art Campos‘ gritty delivery with an expectedly solid underpinning from bassist Mark Abshire (ex-Fu Manchu) and drummer Rodney Peralta and songs like the careening title-track and the blues-licked shover “Undecided” are enough to give the impression that anything else would be superfluous. They’re not lacking style — because ’70s-meets-’90s-straight-ahead-heavy is, indeed, a style — but it’s the level of their craft that stands them out.

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Cloud Cruiser, I: Capacity

Cloud Cruiser I Capacity

Kyuss-style riffing takes a beating at the hands of Chicago newcomers Cloud Cruiser — who are not to be confused with Denver’s Cloud Catcher — who make their debut on vinyl through Shuga Records with I: Capacity, giving an aggressive push to what’s commonly considered a more laid back sound. In tone and rhythm and general gruffness, they are a deceptively pointed outfit, with turns of broader groove like that at the outset of “575” that speak to more influences than simply those of the Cali desert. They start off catchy and familiar-if-reshaped, though, on “Transmission” and “Glow,” letting their tale of alien abduction unfold across the lyrics while setting up the shifts that “Gone” and “575” and the thick-boogie of “Orbitalclast” will make before the EP’s would-be-clean-but-for-all-that-dirt-it’s-kicked-up 23-minute run is through. The balance they present speaks to a background in metal, though if they’re fresh arrivals in this realm of heavy, you’d never know it from the lumbering finish they present. Sometimes you just gotta get mean to get your point across. It suits

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The Spiral Electric, The Spiral Electric

the spiral electric the spiral electric

It is a progressive interpretation of fuzz ‘n’ buzz that San Francisco four-piece The Spiral Electric realize on their self-titled, self-released debut long-player, with recording and mixing by Dead Meadow‘s Steve Kille, the band — vocalist/synthesist/noisemaker/guitarist/percussionist/co-producer Clay Andrews, lead guitarist/backing vocalist Nicolas Percey, bassist Michael Summers and drummer Matias Drago — bridge the generally disparate realms of heavy psych and riffer heavy rock, giving a dreamy sensibility to “Marbles” with no less an organic vibe than they brought to the howling, attitudinal push of “No Bridge Left Unburned” earlier. They skillfully mess with the scale across the lengthy 14-track span, and thereby hold their audience for the duration in longer pieces like “The True Nature of Sacrifice” (8:24) as easily as they do in a series of three episodic interludes of noise, field recordings, synth, etc. This is a band ready, willing and able to space. the hell. out., and after listening to the record, you’d be a fool if you wanted to try. Not that they don’t have aspects to shore up or shifts that could be tightened and so on, but from ambition to fruition, it’s the kind of first record bands should aspire to make.

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Review & Full Album Stream: Domo, Domonautas Vol. 1

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on December 13th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

domo domonautas vol 1

[Click play above to stream Domonautas Vol. 1 by Domo in its entirety. Album is out Dec. 15 on Clostridium Records.]

With psychedelia itself so often given to ideas of fluidity, being molten and/or in some way liquid, it only seems fair that Domo‘s Domonautas Vol. 1 should be such a melting pot. Issued on limited LP in an edition of 400 copies by Clostridium Records — 250 black, 150 red/black transparent splatter for a die-hard edition — the four-track/37-minute offering is the first offering of any kind from the Alicante, Spain, four-piece since 2015’s split with Pyramidal, Jams from the Sun (review here), which also followed some four years after their 2011 self-titled debut (review here).

Their stated intention is that Domonautas Vol. 1 is to be the first of a two-part continuity of albums with Maarten Donders cover art, and that Domonautas Vol. 2 will follow next year, essentially completing the single work across two LPs. I don’t know if Vol. 2 is written, let alone recorded — it could very well be both or either — but it’s an ambitious undertaking for the jam-based psych outfit, and however it works out over the next 12 months, it’s worth noting that Domonautas Vol. 1 in no way sounds incomplete. Its four included tracks are arranged for maximum immersion, with “Oxímoron” (5:15) at the outset giving way to “Astródomo” (12:28) on side A, and “Ritual del Sol” (12:04) and closer “Planisferio” (7:56) finishing the thread on side B.

This shorter-longer-longer-shorter construction, parabolic in its way, creates an arc that brings the listener deeper into the proceedings from the start of “Oxímoron,” which sets off in grandiose fashion, with effects-laced synth severity, like something out of a lysergic Ben-Hur, for almost its full initial two minutes, acting more as an intro to the album(s). From there, a drift of wah with a still-vaguely Middle Eastern vibe takes hold, echoing trumpet in the distance playing out alongside quiet drums from Paco and melodic guitar lines. Sam and Pablo (the latter also trumpet) handle six-string duties with due attention to effects sprawl.

Perhaps some of that Moorish architecture in the arrangement comes from a Viaje a 800 influence from further south in Algeciras on the coast, but, one way or the other, Domo use the final build to introduce bassist Óscar‘s first vocals of the record and with just a beat of a pause between, go from the end of “Oxímoron” to the full-on fuzz roll verse riff of “Astródomo,” thick and righteous, with vocals echoing up to further a sense of space, subtle layering of shouts and acoustic guitar flourish (or what sounds like it, anyhow) for further breadth. “Astródomo” is the longest cut on Domonautas Vol. 1 — not by a lot, but still — and it uses its time to affect multiple changes in movement, beginning a more winding transitional course at about three and a half minutes in as a bed for an emergent lead over a more forward rhythm before crashing into another verse, this one with a stomping march behind, and an extended ring-out and feedback course around the seven-minute mark, underscored and held together by the bassline.

domo (Photo by Rafa Perdomo)

It is a moment of hypnosis led by Óscar that the band will soon enough pay off with a return of vocals, guitar and drums, but that bassline — which seems to draw a bit from Clutch‘s “Spacegrass” in its construction; not a complaint — is a quiet moment that does much to showcase the range that seems to be at play across Domonautas Vol. 1, as the band are perfectly capable of moving between loud and quiet stretches, either creating a wash of effects and riffs or leaving open space for the unsuspecting audience to lose itself within. This serves them well during the instrumental passages of “Astródomo” and “Ritual del Sol,” the latter of which is arguably the most patient of the inclusions on the record.

It unfolds gradually across a multi-stage linear build, led by the guitar with effects/horn backing for atmosphere, and kicks in its fuzz at 3:45, still maintaining a post-rock kind of spirit, which will tie into “Planisferio” as well soon enough. A surge of low end accompanies the entry of vocals, and a new stage of nod is entered, but it’s short-lived as the bass and drums drop out to leave the guitar to set up a more forward riff that becomes the central adrenaline charge of the progression. They shift smoothly into a solo that carries them to and through the halfway point, turn back to a quick couple lines, then blast out even more desert-cosmic, eventually bringing the proceedings downward in energy level to a stretch of effects and subdued guitar float, tension holding in the bass as a tell that they’re not actually done yet.

Sure enough, after 10 minutes, they’re off and running again on the jam, and that leads them out in full party fashion. It would seem to be the apex of Domonautas Vol. 1 were it not for the instrumentalist work “Planisferio” does in setting up its grand finale, working from the ground up on a larger riff, receding again and gracefully executing a heavy psychedelic interpretation of what post-metal has taken on as a signature element: the “Stones from the Sky” moment, wherein that ultra-landmark Neurosis riff provides the foundation of a crescendo, usually manipulated in some way.

Domo join it to a melodic flourish of guitar and keep the central rhythm in focus all the while, pushing forward through that key progression and — most importantly — making it their own as the wind and twist toward the finish of the record, which comes in last crashes and residual guitars. I don’t know when Domonautas Vol. 2 might surface, and if there’s more to the story than Domo are telling here, I’ll be curious to find out just what that is, but it bears repeating that Domonautas Vol. 1 comes through as a coherent, complete statement, and doesn’t seem at its conclusion to be missing anything. That is, it doesn’t sound like you’re listening to half of a record, which is only a positive. Whatever Domo‘s future plans might be, after some years’ delay, they’ve given listeners plenty to explore with these tracks and the scope that seems to come so naturally from them.

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Sun of the Dying Release The Earth is Silent Vinyl

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 4th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

It’s winter and there’s snow on the ground, which means only two things: I want to leave the house even less than usual and it’s time for death-doom. Madrid-based Sun of the Dying have plenty of the keyboard-orchestral morose vibes and mournful wails that my soul needs this time of year, and their new album, The Earth is Silent, is newly issued through Art of Propaganda. The PR wire mentions Swallow the Sun as a reference point amid the classics of the style, and yeah, I can hear that in some of the more melodic moments of “A Dying Light,” but when that deathliness hits in Eduardo Guilló‘s growls, one almost can’t help but raise a claw in salute. I guess I missed out on their 2017 debut, The Roar of the Furious Sea, when that came out — hi, I suck at this, thanks — but I’m glad to be getting caught up now.

And by glad, I mean miserable.

You find solace where you can:

sun of the dying the earth is silent

Spain’s quickly rising death/doom band SUN OF THE DYING has released their second album, The Earth Is Silent, with AOP Records. Fans can check out the record that’s storming the genre now!

PURCHASE “THE EARTH IS SILENT” VINYL LP:
AOP Records (EU-Store) https://shop.aoprecords.de
AOP Records (US-Store) https://www.indiemerchstore.com/b/aop-records

SUN OF THE DYING crafts a style of death and doom with its roots drawing influence from early acts like MY DYING BRIDE, PARADISE LOST and ANATHEMA, and adding a more modern sound inspired by the likes of SHAPE OF DESPAIR, AHAB and SWALLOW THE SUN.

SUN OF THE DYING began in 2013 as a side project between Casuso and Lavín from their main bands (APOCYNTHION and CRYSTALMOORS). In April of 2017, the band released their debut record, “The Roar of the Furious Sea,” with the mexican label Throats Productions, and after which they performed shows with OCELON, ADE, TRONO DE SANGRE, MALAMMAR and ATREXIAL and WOMB.

Now the SUN OF THE DYING returns with a breathtaking and ferocious follow up, The Earth Is Silent; a bleak and beautifully chaotic record of some of the best death/doom to come out of Spain in years.

The Earth Is Silent Track Listing:
The Earth Is Silent
A Dying Light
A Cold Unnamed Fear
Orion
When The Morning Came
Monolith
White Skies and Grey Lands

Lineup:
Eduardo Guilló – vocals
Casuso – guitars
Roberto Rayo – guitars
José Yuste – bass
Diego Weser – drums
David Muñoz – keyboards and backing vocals

https://www.facebook.com/SunofTheDying/
https://www.instagram.com/sunofthedying
https://sunofthedying.bandcamp.com
http://www.aoprecords.de/
https://www.facebook.com/aoprecs/
https://www.instagram.com/aop.records/
https://artofpropaganda.bandcamp.com/
https://www.indiemerch.com/aoprecords

Sun of the Dying, The Earth is Silent (2019)

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Surya Premiere Debut Album Overthrown in Full; Out This Week

Posted in audiObelisk on November 19th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

SURYA

Based in Cádiz on Spain’s southern coast, the heavy psychedelic four-piece Surya make their debut through Spinda RecordsSurnia RecordsOdio Sonoro and a host of others — Spanish labels should form a conglomerate and take over the world or at very least the heavy underground — with the eight-track/40-minute LP, Overthrown. Set to release Nov. 20 (which, holy shit, is tomorrow), the unpretentiously atmospheric outing works smoothly to make itself comfortable in a balance between harder-pushing rhythms and tonal warmth, an overarching shimmer of melody coming through the lead work on tracks like “Golden Tower” that reminds some of their countryfolk to the east in Algeciras in groups like Híbrido and Atavismo, though their aims for the most part aren’t so directly progressive at this point. Rather, while “Crystal Gate” is the longest inclusion at 7:29, it uses most of that time in developing a jammy flow, and even the decidedly linear, post-Elder sway of “Turtle Shaman,” which would seem to be side B’s answer back to “Crystal Gate” in terms of soundscaping reach, manages not to overindulge in its own lushness.

I’m not sure if I’d call their approach measured in the sense of being overly controlled, but the songs have an organic, carved-from-jams feel, and whether it’s a SoCal riffer like opener “Tales of the Great Fharats” and the subsequent echoer “Sundazed” or the from-the-ground-up build of the finale in “No Further,” they once again make a noble drive toward finding their identity in a sense of balance between sides. The four-piece of guitarist/vocalist Antonio Hierro, guitarist/synthesist José Moares, bassist José María Zapata (also percussion) and drummer/acoustic guitarist/vocalist Carlos Camisón (also also percussion) do well in setting and attaining this goal for themselves on Overthrown, recounting a surya overthrownnarrative across the record’s span but not sacrificing the impressions made by individual tracks in order to do so — not taking away from the songs for the story, in other words, as “concept records” sometimes do.

Instead, whether it’s the boogie in the penultimate “Begone” or the dreamy acid-strum of side A capper “Thousand Year Bridge,” which though it’s just four and a half minutes long does much to bolster a kind of Floydian pastoralism that only adds to the overall tally of their breadth of sound. “Golden Tower” is a fine example of how they bring these different sides together — the acoustic guitar notwithstanding — but wherever Surya end up on their first full-length, they get there with a remarkable sense of awareness for what they’re doing and a style that’s all the more engaging for that. It’s that much easier to go along with the fluidity they conjure because they seem to present it with such confidence.

As to what their future might hold, it’s hard to surmise where the mix of sound might take them or, likewise, where they might take it. But that too is part of what makes Overthrown an exciting listening experience, as their prospects seem to unfold with each careening riff or each patiently-delivered turn. And whatever they do, one can only hope that the current of songwriting they bring to these eight tracks continues to develop along with their aesthetic, since it’s what ultimately works to tie the material together, long with Hierro‘s vocals and a quickly-earned sense of trust that they pay back in kind with laudable effort for the converted and open-minded alike.

Happy to host the stream of the full album below. Dig in and enjoy:

Surya is a 4-piece Heavy Rock/ Heavy Psych band based in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. After an EP (Vol. 1) released in 2017, Overthrown is their first full length album, culmination of almost one year of work. Although they are all in their early 20s, Surya takes influence from 70s dual guitars with plenty of harmonies, classic sounds and powerful vocals, but with a 90s twist to spice it all up. Recorded at Estudio 79 in April 2019 by Rafa Camisón (G.A.S Drummers, Gentemayor), Overthrown tells us the story of an banished prince and his revenge on his father with roaring guitars, earth-shattering bass and huge drums. A very limited 300 copy vinyl (released between Spinda Records, Odio Sonoro, Monasterio de Cultura, Surnia Records, Bandera Records, Violence in the Veins, Sacramento Records, Noizeland Records, Discosxmil and Gato Encerrado Records) is also available for purchase in their bandcamp. Enjoy!

Releases November 20, 2019

Surya:
Antonio Hierro – guitar & vocals
Carlos Camisón – drums, percussion, acoustic guitar & vocals
José Moares – guitars and synth
José María Zapata – bass and percussion

Recorded, produced and mixed at Estudio 79 by Rafa Camisón.
Mastered at Kadifornia by Mario G. Alberni.
Artwork by Nacho Fernández-Trujillo (@nachoooft).

Edited by Spinda Records, Surnia Records, Monasterio de Cultura, Violence In The Veins, Bandera Records, Sacramento Records, Odio Sonoro, Gato Encerrado Records, Discos X Mil and Noizeland Records.

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Lewis and the Strange Magics to Release Melvin’s Holiday Tape on Dec. 20

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 15th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

lewis and the strange magics

I haven’t given Melvin’s Holiday, the third long-player from Barcelona, Spain, retro weirdos Lewis and the Strange Magics, a proper review yet — it came out in September digitally — but perhaps the Dec. 20 tape release will light a fire under my ass in that direction. The record, which follows their 2018 EP, The Ginger Sessions (review here) and 2017’s Evade Your Soul (review here), embraces a narrative concept, telling the story of its titular character who falls into temptation on a post-divorce tropical bender. Lewis and the Strange Magics tell this story by embracing island vibes and heavy psychedelic oddity in a sound that has evolved out of its garage rock beginnings into something as progressive as it is bizarre, and the album is indeed a lot of fun. Their attention to detail is little short of meticulous and Melvin’s Holiday greatly benefits from it.

You can see that even in the vinyl-era artwork for the tape, which looks like something I might’ve picked up at Bradlee’s at the Morris County Mall circa 1988. If you can’t get behind that kind of loyalism, then I’m sorry, I’ve got nothing for you.

Melvin’s Holiday is of course streaming at the bottom of this post, and tape preorders are up now through Bandcamp.

Info follows:

Lewis and the Strange Magics – Melvin’s Holiday

Limited Edition White Cassette Out on December 20 via Wishu Wishu Records

Pre-Order now the ‘Melvin’s Holiday’ Limited Edition Cassette via: https://lewismagics.bandcamp.com/album/melvins-holiday

Ships worldwide on December 20.
Band logo by Branca Studio.

It’s a concept album that tells the story about a rich man, called Melvin, that after a divorce goes to spend his summer vacation to his Mediterranean countryside house, thinking he will feel free and happy.

The songs of the album describe every moment of his holiday, ending in a decadence which makes him coming back to the city and rethinking his life: although he has everything to live like a king he feels lonely and empty.

The album has been produced, recorded and mixed by Luis Pomés at his home studio (Barcelona), and mastered by Jarkko Mattheiszen at Tainted Studio (Finland).

Cover artwork by Shaun Miller (Weather Press).

1. Melvin 02:51
2. Sad in Paradise 03:48
3. The Answering Machine 02:11
4. Fashion Siren 05:31
5. Carpet Sun 02:21
6. Village’s Wizard 04:32
7. Only a Fantasy 04:13
8. Lounge Decadence 02:27
9. Afternoon on the Sand 06:28

Lewis and the Strange Magics is:
Lewis P. – vocals, guitar, keys, synth, bass, percussion
Ivan Miguel – drums, percussion
Javi Bono – guitar, vocals
Pol Parés – bass (track 1)
Marta N. Lloret – wordless vocals (track 5)

https://www.facebook.com/lewismagics
https://lewismagics.bandcamp.com/

Lewis and the Strange Magics, Melvin’s Holiday (2019)

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