Posted in Whathaveyou on August 11th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
Swedish heavy rockers Ponamero Sundown have decided to call it a day. Hung up their spurs. Punched out. Insert other cliche for not being a band anymore here. Their disbanding was announced via Thee Facebooks, and they took care to dub it a “hiatus” and leave open the possibility of playing together again if the timing and offer were right for a farewell show. As of now, so far as I know, nothing is planned.
Based in Stockholm, Ponamero Sundown released three albums during their time together. The latest of them was Veddesta, which came out last year on Transubstans and Ozium Records. Their third full-length, it was preceded by 2011’s Rodeo Eléctrica (review here) and their 2009 debut, Stonerized (review here), both of which were also issued by Transubstans.
They leave having recently posted the track “Black Widow” to mark their 10th anniversary as a band. Originally recorded in 2007 and reportedly a regular feature of live sets, the song was included as a bonus cut on the CD version of Veddesta and brings up a lot of the strengths they showed throughout their tenure in songwriting and energetic execution. New projects from members are reportedly in the works, so when and if I hear of anything, I’ll pass word along.
Until then, best of luck to the dudes who used to be Ponamero Sundown. Here’s their announcement, short, sweet, and Band-Aid-esque:
It’s time to release the clutch and move on…
So from today we’re on a hiatus until further notice.
There’s no bad blood, musical differences or anything, just life itself.
If any festival or similar would like to book us one last time we would be open for that. Other than that some of us got other plans…
Thanks for the support over the years! Much love to you all!
Cheers and stay fuzzed! Anders, Peter, Nicke and Robban
Posted in Reviews on June 22nd, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
Who’s ready for another round of 10 reviews in The Obelisk’s Quarterly Review? I know I am. We gotta hit 50 by Friday, and there’s still a lot — a lot — of ground to cover. Yesterday was all over the place style-wise and today has some of that going as well, but there’s a lot of quality in both, so hopefully you get to check some of it out. Today is the all important QR Hump Day, wherein we pass the halfway mark on our way to the total 50 reviews. If you’re wondering, it’s Lord Vicar who do the honors this time around at #25. Just kind of worked out that way, but I’ll take it. Down to business.
Quarterly Review #21-30:
Mirrors for Psychic Warfare, Mirrors for Psychic Warfare
Probably fair to call Mirrors for Psychic Warfare an offshoot of Corrections House, since its two members – Scott Kelly (also Neurosis) and Sanford Parker (producer extraordinaire/also Buried at Sea) – are also in that group, but the feel of their Neurot Recordings self-titled debut is substantially different, rawer and at times harsher. Parker handles beats and electronics, creating at times a wash of abrasive noise as in the culmination of “CNN WTZ,” the centerpiece of the five tracks, and elsewhere providing an industrial backdrop for Kelly’s voice for a gothic feel, as on “A Thorn to See.” Unsurprisingly, nothing about Mirrors for Psychic Warfare makes for particularly easy listening – though opener “Oracles Hex” has some commonality with Kelly’s solo work and his voice is resonant as ever – but as they round out the album with “43,” the keys, synth and guitar find some common ground, which leaves distorted shouts from Kelly to do the work of taking listeners to task. We already knew these two worked well together, and the partnership once again bears fruit here.
The four-song Death Thy Lover EP (on Napalm) is the first new studio offering of original material from Swedish doom legends Candlemass since their 2012 album, Psalms for the Dead (review here), marked the end of the tenure of vocalist Robert Lowe, also of Solitude Aeturnus. His replacement is the person who nearly had the job in the first place, Mats Levén (formerly Therion), who has a kind of stateliness to his presence in opener “Death Thy Lover” but suits the plod of “Sleeping Giant” well. Of course, at the center of the band is bassist/songwriter Leif Edling, whose style is unmistakable in these tracks, whether it’s the late-Iommi-style riffing of “Sinister ‘n’ Sweet” or “Death Thy Lover”’s chugging its way toward the hook. Candlemass save the most grueling for last with “The Goose,” as guitarists Mats “Mappe” Björkman and Lars “Lasse” Johansson intertwine a chugging rhythm and extended soloing over dirge-march drums from Jan Lindh to give the short release a darkened instrumental finale.
Talk about scope. Oh, only a country’s entire cultural history is fair game for Skuggsjá, the brainchild of Norwegian artists Ivar Bjørnson (also Enslaved) and Einar Selvik (also Wardruna) that crosses the line between black metal and Norse traditionalism probably better than anyone has ever done it before. A Piece for Mind and Mirror is the studio incarnation of the work the two composers and a host of others did as commissioned for the 200th anniversary of the Norwegian constitution, and though it’s broken into 10 movements for the album, it flows together as one orchestral entirety, the gurgle of Grutle Kjellson (Enslaved) recognizable in the eponymous track amid choral backing and a richly textured blend of traditional folk instruments and metallic thrust. The lyrics are Norwegian, but whether it’s the blowing horn of “Makta Og Vanæra (I All Tid)” or the lush melodies in the march of “Bøn Om Ending – Bøn Om Byrjing,” the sense of pride and the creative accomplishment of A Piece for Mind and Mirror ring through loud and clear.
Two years after making their self-titled debut, Baltimore heavy bluesfuzz trio Black Lung come swaggering back with the spacious vibes of See the Enemy (on Noisolution), which takes the establishing steps the first album laid out and builds on them fluidly and with a clear direction in mind. At eight tracks/45 minutes produced by J. Robbins, the album was clearly structured for vinyl, each half ending with a longer cut, the psych-jamming “Nerve” on side A, which resounds in an ending of scorching guitar from Adam Bufano atop the drums of Elias Schutzman (both of The Flying Eyes), and the closer “8MM,” on which Bufano, Schutzman, guitarist/vocalist Dave Cavalier and Robbins (who also contributes bass) roll out the record’s most massive groove and cap it with an impenetrable wall of noise. While the songs are striking in their cohesion and poise, there are moments where one wants Black Lung to really let loose, as after Trevor Shipley’s keyboard stretch in “Priestess,” but they have other ideas, feeding the title-track directly into “8MM” with no less a firm sense of control than shown earlier. All told, an excellent follow-up that deserves broader consideration among 2016’s finer offerings.
Offered through The Church Within Records as a paean to classic doom, Lord Vicar’s third LP, Gates of Flesh, nonetheless almost can’t help but put its own mark on the style. The Turku, Finland, outfit’s first album in five years, it finds guitarist Kimi Kärki (ex-Reverend Bizarre, Orne, E-Musikgruppe Lux Ohr, etc.), vocalist Chritus (also Goatess, ex-Saint Vitus, Count Raven, etc.), and drummer Gareth Millsted (ex-Centurions Ghost) — who, along with Kärki, also contributed bass after the band parted ways with Jussi Myllykoski and prior to adding Sami Hynninen as a temporary replacement — bold enough to shift into minimalist spaciousness on “A Shadow of Myself,” and really, they’re not through opener “Birth of Wine” before Kärki executes a gorgeous dual-layered solo. Trace those roots back to Trouble if you must, but there’s no question to whom the lurch of centerpiece “Breaking the Circle” or the sorrowful 10-minute closer “Leper, Leper” belongs, and the same holds true for everything that follows, be it the quiet start of “A Woman out of Snow” or the swinging second half of “Accidents.” Lord Vicar enact the doom of ages and take complete ownership of the sound, thus only adding to the canon as they go.
Like the stench of rotting, Dakessian’s The Poisoned Chalice provokes a visceral and physical response. The long-in-the-making debut release from the Portland-based duo of vocalist Kenny Snarzyk (also Fister) and multi-instrumentalist Aaron D.C. Edge (Lumbar, Roareth, so many others) had its music recorded back in 2013, and the vocals were added earlier this year, throat-searing screams and growls that top the noisy, claustrophobically weighted tones from Edge’s guitar. The onslaught is unrelenting, both longer songs like “Demons” and “Ten Double Zero” and shorter cuts “Nothing Forever” and the sample-laced opener “Choose Hate” brim with aggressive misanthropy, the will against. Even the penultimate “Baerial,” which offers a glimmer of melody, continues to crush, and starting with a slow drum progression, closer “Cosmic Dissolution” barely tops two and a half minutes, but it brings thorough reassurance of the project’s destructive force before its final drone rounds out. One never knows with Edge if a given band will ever have a follow-up, but as ever, the quality is consistent. In this case, brutally so.
Actually, if you want to get technical about it, Gypsy Chief Goliath are citizens of Ontario, but you’d never know it from listening to their third album, Citizens of Nowhere, which if you had to pin a geographic locale on it might be more of a fit for New Orleans than Canada. The Pitch Black Records release sees the triple-guitar-plus-harmonica six-piece outfit dug deep in Southern metal grooves, marked out by the burl-bringing vocals of frontman/guitarist Al “The Yeti” Bones, formerly of Mister Bones, Serpents of Secrecy and The Mighty Nimbus and the chug-and-churn of cuts like “Black Samurai” and the shuffle of “We Died for This.” The title-track winds its central riff with thickened-up ‘70s boogie, while “Elephant in the Room” and “The Return” space out a bit more, and the closing Black Sabbath cover “Killing Yourself to Live” (a CD bonus track) plays it loyal structurally while dude’ing up the original like it was on hormone therapy.
Hard-touring Richmond genre-benders Inter Arma are due for a landmark release. Their 2014 single-song EP, The Cavern, was wildly well received and earned every bit of praise it got. Their follow-up to that is Paradise Gallows, their third album and second for Relapse behind 2013’s Sky Burial (track stream here). Is Paradise Gallows that landmark? Hell if I know. Recorded, mixed and mastered by Mikey Allred, who also guests on trombone, bass violin, organ and noise, Inter Arma’s third brings an expansive 70 minutes of bleak progressivism, conceptually and sonically broad enough to be considered brilliant and still weighted enough that the prevailing vibe is extremity in their blend of sludge, doom, black metal, post-metal, atmospherics, and a moody acoustic closer. The only real danger is that it might take listeners time to digest – because it’s a lot to take in, all those twists and turns in “Violent Constellations,” particularly after the plod of the title-track – but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to find Inter Arma inhabiting any number of year-end lists for 2016. Once again, they earn it.
Virginian bruisers Helgamite manage to cover a deceptive amount of sonic ground on their second LP, Hypnagogia (on CD through Lost Apparitions with vinyl soon on Flesh Vessel), spending plenty of time in dense-toned sludge metal but using that as a foundation for a wider range of explorations, winding up in blastbeats by the time 13-minute side B finale “The Secret” comes around, but by then having torn through the aggro-thrash of “Origins,” lumbered through the mosher “Æstrosion” and topped off “Shaman’s Veil” with math-metal guitar fits melded to a saxophone arrangement. Growls from vocalist William Breeden and Jonah Butler’s drums tie it all together as guitarist Casey Firkin (also sax) and bassist Matthew Beahm pull off intermittently jazzy runs, but impressively, Helgamite never sound in danger of losing sight of the songs they’re serving, and Hypnogogia is stronger for its unwillingness to waste a second of its runtime, even in the aforementioned “The Secret” or its 10-minute side A counterpart, “Snowdrifter.”
Get it? Children of the Chron? I’ll admit it took me a second. While I was thinking about it, Allston, Massachusetts, duo Mollusk doled out sludge-punk-metal beatings via raw tones and shouts and a general sense of checked-out attitude, “Glacier” reminding of earliest, least-poppy Floor, but cuts like “Demon Queen” and “When You’re Gone” finding guitarist Hank Rose using a purposefully monotone vocal approach that works well over slower parts. Rose is joined in Mollusk by drummer Adam O’Day, and though I’ve already noted that the 11-track album is raw, their sound wants nothing for impact in the low end or any other end for that matter. Rather, the harsher aspects become part of the aesthetic throughout Children of the Chron and the band successfully navigates its own mire without getting lost in either its own “Torture Chamber” or “Zombie Apocalypse,” which like opener “Ride the #9,” is almost certainly a song about life in the Boston area.
Swedish heavy rockers Wheel in the Sky released their debut full-length, Heading for the Night (review here), earlier this year via The Sign Records. Prior to issuing the album, they released a video for the track “Jezebel” (posted here) that was a bizarre, kind of nightmarish affair featuring a vulture-human hybrid and strange black and white atmospherics. Cool looking, no doubt a metaphor for something or other, but not exactly representative of the song’s vibe, which wasn’t nearly so dark.
Wheel in the Sky come a lot closer to that in their new clip for the colorfully-yet-ominously titled “Rainbow of Evil,” pulling back from some of the arthouse vibe in favor of a more straightforward, late-night-cable-access analog-style grain in the footage, shot at odd angles to underscore that a touch of the weirdo still remains, but by and large it’s a friendlier spirit at work, and that suits the warm but modern feel of the track itself. The album gracefully balances itself between those two sides — classic and modern — and comes out of its duration having effectively drawn from both, so makes an encouraging debut. I didn’t realize until I saw the info below, or otherwise I didn’t remember, that David Berlin was a member of Mother Superior, but that makes a lot of sense considering where these guys are coming from.
Check out “Rainbow of Evil” below, followed by what the PR wire had to say about it, and please enjoy:
Wheel in the Sky, “Rainbow of Evil” official video
Wheel In The Sky – Rainbow Of Evil video release
“Rainbow Of Evil” is the second video from Wheel In The Sky’s debut album “Heading For The Night”. The Swedish band is fronted by David Berlin who previously was a member of Uppsala’s Mother Superior that released two classic pysch rock albums, “The Mothership Has Landed” and “The Mothership Movement”, during the 90’s. David Berlin formed Wheel In The Sky after working on a few tracks in his cellar. The band slowly formed during the recordings and the outcome was the album “Heading For The Night”. Check out the bands new video for the song “Rainbow Of Evil”.
Posted in Reviews on June 8th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
So-called traditional doom can be a difficult balance to walk, but when Goatess made their self-titled debut (review here) in 2013, it demonstrated clearly the vitality that, even more than four decades on from Black Sabbath‘s appearance, could still be injected into a sound that so often seems to be striving to come across as staid as possible. The Swedish four-piece benefited on that record from a standout vocal performance from Christian “Chritus” Linderson, whose pedigree includes stints in Count Raven, Saint Vitus and Lord Vicar, as well as memorable songwriting and smooth shifts in tempo among guitarist Nicklas, bassist Findlus (since replaced by Peter Svensson) and drummer Kenta Karlbom, and their second outing, Goatess II: Purgatory Under New Management — which, like the debut, is out on Svart Records — offers no less in that regard, but also comes across presenting Goatess as more of a full band, having done the work of their first album and come into their own more in terms of sound.
In eight songs/63 minutes, it’s a record heavy enough to justify calling a “slab,” but it maintains its sense of humor, which one need look no further than the album cover or titles like “Murphy was an Optimist” and “Crocodilians and Other Creepy Crawly Shhh…” to see, as well as its lack of stylistic pretense, and both of those work excellently in concert with their songcraft and performance to make II: Purgatory Under New Management a work of raw joy for the doom converted. Not everyone will get it — that, frankly, should be the case for doom at its best — but for those who do, Goatess become something even more special in these tracks.
They begin on a high note with “Moth to Flame” (premiered here), the opener and longest track (immediate points) and also the only song on the record to pass the 10-minute mark in runtime (double points). One of the most crucial elements “Moth to Flame” introduces — aside from Karlbom pulling back to half-time on the crash cymbals, also done to great effect on the later “Silent War” — is psychedelic flourish in Nicklas‘ guitar. It comes in a bridge in the second half of the song, long after the rolling nod has been established, and markedly expands the context for the song.
Goatess had their stonerized elements on the self-titled as well, so it’s not necessarily something coming out of nowhere, but it is used well in “Moth to Flame” and in the mostly-instrumental-save-for-samples “Crocodilians and Other Creepy Crawly Shhh…” and the penultimate “Wrath of God,” which is part of a strong closing trio of three tracks of surprisingly varied but universally solid doom, Goatess having clearly found their element between cuts like the lurching “Purgatory Under New Management” — marked out by some must-hear Butlerian bass — and the more uptempo rocker “Shadowland,” which leads the way into the second half of the record after the weirdo vibes of “Crocodilians and Other Creepy Crawly Shhh…” subside. Joining “Wrath of God” in that final salvo are “Silent War” before and closer “Good Moaning” after, and each cut is marked out by some element that emphasizes Goatess‘ progression as a band, whether that’s the cowbell-laden classic heavy rock swing of “Silent War,” the aforementioned guitar turn in “Wrath of God” or Linderson‘s vocal harmonies in the waning moments of “Good Moaning.”
One could easily extrapolate that standard to the rest of II: Purgatory Under New Management preceding — whether it’s the cowbell of “Shadowland,” the foreshadowing blend of “Moth to Flame” that sets the table for the entire album to follow, or the airy solo following the landmark hook in the tail end of “Murphy was an Optimist” — but it comes through particularly emphasized as the record begins to make its way out. Still, some of the most triumphant aspects of Goatess‘ second LP are how fluidly it moves between its tracks, how immersive its hour-plus runtime turns out to be, and how much of a wholeness it has front to back, songs united in spirit even as they offer variety in sonics and mood. Goatess rightly reaped considerable praise for their debut, but II: Purgatory Under New Management takes marked steps forward from where they were three years ago, and for that, outclasses its predecessor across the board.
Yes, Black Sabbath is still the key, ultimate, crucial aesthetic ingredient, but consider the gruff semi-spoken delivery from Linderson at the start of “Shadowland” or the patient rollout of the title-track and how its pagan-themed sample ties to “Crocodilians and Other Creepy Crawly Shhh….,” and it becomes clear Goatess are working with intent beyond riffing out in classic form, though they wind up doing that in more than able fashion at times as well. Some of their doom-for-doomers ethic might keep them from wider attention that they would otherwise earn, but for the audience they’re speaking to and for the manner in which they’re making their statement, II: Purgatory Under New Management feels like the exact right fit at the exact right time. Little doubt it will stand among the best outings in doom of 2016. It walks that delicate balance gracefully and makes the traditions of its genre entirely its own.
Posted in Whathaveyou on June 6th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
Swedish heavy rockers Blues Pills enter into the cycle for their forthcoming second album, Lady in Gold, at the forward position of a next phase in Europe’s classic heavy blues movement. The multinational four-piece made a self-titled debut (review here) in 2014 and since then have become a significant influence internationally — one can hear their impact in the US almost as much as the EU — and while that puts no small amount of pressure on the impending follow-up, which will be out on Nuclear Blast, there’s been nothing thus far into their career to make one doubt Blues Pills are up to the task before them. Instead, the potential they showed on Blues Pills seems to be looking for payoff in the full-sounding, blues-fueled “Lady in Gold,” for which a new video has just been released.
The clip itself brings frontwoman Elin Larsson to the fore, as does the mix of the song, and she proves more than able to carry the track with guitarist Dorian Sorriaux, bassist Zack Anderson and drummer André Kvarnström supporting. Hard to get a read on a full record from one four-minute song, obviously, but if “Lady in Gold” is representative at all of the album that bears its name, one might expect to find Blues Pills working in a more modern context à la their labelmates and upcoming tour partners in Kadavar (as well as Witchcraft and Graveyard, for that matter, both also labelmates) and pushing back on ’70s traditionalism with a fullness of production. Again, whether or not that pans out for the whole outing remains to be seen/heard — I haven’t gotten the record yet — but it’s something to maybe keep in mind as you check out the video.
You’ll find that below, followed by more info from the PR wire.
Blues Pills, “Lady in Gold” official video
Up and coming multi-national rock act BLUES PILLS released the official music video for the brand new first single and title track of their upcoming second album, Lady In Gold (out August 5). The video was directed by Johan Bååth (AVATARIUM, DREGEN) who is best known for his work with cult director Jonas Åkerlund (THE ROLLING STONES, U2, MADONNA, OZZY OSBOURNE, METALLICA) and shot by well known BACKYARD BABIES drummer Peder Carlsson.
“We shot the video for ‘Lady in Gold’ in Stockholm’s skärgård (what is like an old castle) with the amazing team around Johan Bååth,” commented singer Elin Larsson. “The idea behind the video is to visualize the ‘Lady in Gold’ in all the different ways she can come. She can be that beautiful young woman or a scary old witch. It was a lot of fun and super exciting to jump into these different roles and characters. The whole team did a great job and it was a pleasure to work with all these talented people. Clothes and design was made by Anna Bonnevier and make up and hair by Cecilia Lidén. We all hope you will enjoy the video.”
Furthermore, Lady In Gold is now available for pre-order. The album will be available in various formats: – CD-DIGI+DVD – CD-DIGI+PICTURE DISC – DIGI+DVD – Vinyl (black, gold, clear, bone, hot pink) – Vinyl Nuclear Blast Mailorder only (orange, yellow, lilac/neon pink bi-colored, clear+green/orange splatter)
Just as it’s highly successful predecessor, Lady In Gold was once again produced by Don Alsterberg (GRAVEYARD, DIVISION OF LAURA LEE, JOSÉ GONZÁLEZ, JERRY WILLIAMS). The cover art for Lady In Gold was created by Marijke Koger-Dunham (THE BEATLES, CREAM).
Something of a lost classic of its era now, Demon Cleaner‘s 2000 debut, The Freeflight isn’t actually all that lost. Molten Universe, the label that put it out 16 years ago along with early releases by related Swedish acts Dozer and Greenleaf, still has copies available. So maybe not lost, but in the pantheon of the beginnings of Europe’s stoner rock boom of the late ’90s and early ’00s, Demon Cleaner deserve consideration alongside Dozer and Lowrider, among others, and their name is often left off that list. Part of that I think is owed to timing. If the early-Fu Manchu fuzz of “Head Honcho” or “Megawheel” dropped today, it would come accompanied by a video of somebody skateboarding in slow motion and would be hailed for its post-grunge authenticity of tone and live feel. Because it was 2000 — a time when discovering music on the internet was something done largely through surfing somebody’s Napster offerings or the odd message board — the process was different and not nearly so widespread, and unlike Lowrider, who had US distribution through MeteorCity, or Dozer, who kept putting out records, Demon Cleaner called it quits after 2002’s self-titled follow-up (also on Molten Universe), with members moving onto Stonewall Noise Orchestra and drummer Karl Daniel Lidén joining Dozer and Greenleaf before embarking on solo material and a successful career as an engineer — he did the latest Katatonia, for example — so there hasn’t been the same kind of sustained legacy for Demon Cleaner as some of their peers.
That, of course, does nothing to diminish the “Spit blood and gasoline/Chrome and steel/Megawheel” appeal of that track or the nodding roll of “Up in Smoke,” or the push of a song like “Mothertrucker,” in which one can hear the roots of a brand of fuzz rock that countrymen acts like Truckfighters would continue to progress years later. Tone is a huge part of the appeal, as closer “Heading Home” successfully emphasizes, but there’s a rawness in the vocals, a dryness, where so much of what came afterwards was and has been drenched in reverb. It gives the delivery of guitarist Daniel Söderholm — joined at this point by Lidén, guitarist Kimmo Holappa and bassist/vocalist Martin Stangefelt — a punkish feel that’s ultimately much truer to the bulk of what came out of the Californian desert scene, whether it was Kyuss or heavy rock compatriots like the aforementioned Fu Manchu. Listening back to The Freeflight now, one can hear the aesthetic of pre-retro European heavy rock taking shape, and while Demon Cleaner may always be noted for having issued a trio of early splits alongside Dozer before their records dropped, linking those two acts and that scene, their albums deliver something from which even Dozer was operating on a different wavelength, and while of their time, I think these tracks still hold up all these years later.
If you’re worried about investing the time in checking it out, The Freeflight has a long break after “Heading Home” before a hidden cut, so it’s not actually 55 minutes long. I guess it was the Lowrider news earlier today got me thinking about these guys, but either way, I hope you enjoy.
If you’re at Desertfest this weekend in either Berlin or London, I hope you have an absolute blast. I’ll admit to being more than a little jealous. Maybe next year I’ll get to Berlin finally or make a triumphant return to Camden Town. I’ll go anywhere that’ll have me, basically.
Rough week at work but who cares? Dragged down by bullshit. Hate letting it get to me. Hate that it does at all. The list goes on. Screw it. Got a couple days not to think about it, so I’m gonna hold tight to that.
Next week: Monday, track stream from Bright Curse and an in-studio report about the new Scissorfight being tracked at the new Mad Oak. Tuesday (right now), Crypt Sermon interview. Wednesday, track stream from Wo Fat. Thursday and Friday I don’t know yet, but probably something will come along, and there are also videos for Kadavar, Limestone Whale, Spiritual Beggars and Drive by Wire that have all dropped in like the last day, so a bit of a backlog there, but I’ll do my best to get on top of that as well. We’re getting into May already. Amazing how quick this year is going.
Before I go — much as I’m ever “gone,” what with writing on the weekends and all — I want to say thanks for the tremendous amount of support I’ve gotten for the book release, for the All-Dayer in August, and for this year’s Roadburn coverage. It’s all hugely appreciated. Because I work full-time in addition to doing this, I don’t always have the chance to be as communicative as I should, because quite literally the choice I make every day is to write or to do everything else and if it’s one or the other I’m writing every time, but please know that if you’ve reached out to me over the last few weeks, thank you. And if you haven’t and you’re reading this, thank you anyway.
Please have a great and safe weekend, and please check out the forum and the radio stream.
Posted in Reviews on March 28th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
So it begins. I’d say this one snuck up on me, but the terrible truth of these things is that there are months of planning involved. You know the drill by now: Between today and Friday, I’ll be posting 50 record reviews in batches of 10 per day, and that’s the Quarterly Review. They’re not really in any order. Some have been out for a while, some aren’t out yet. I have tried to mark 2015 stuff where possible, if only to keep my own organizational modus straight. We’ll see how that goes as the week plays out. In any case, I hope you find something here that you dig. I know I have.
Quarterly Review #1-10:
Wheel in the Sky, Heading for the Night
Although Wheel in the Sky’s presentation is modern enough on their The Sign Records debut album, Heading for the Night, to steer them clear of Sweden’s boogie-mad masses, they’re still very clearly taking influence from classic rock, most notably The Who on cuts like opener “Fire, Death to All” (also the longest track; immediate points), “Total Eclipse of the Brain” and “Thrust in the Night.” The clarity of sound and approach puts them more in line with bands like The Golden Grass and, for a countrymen example, Troubled Horse, than Graveyard, and the Uppsala/Stockholm four-piece distinguish themselves further through the dual-lead interplay of “A Turn for the Wicked,” which hints just a bit toward Thin Lizzy bounce to feed into closer “God on High,” which coats its vocals in echo to add a sense of grandeur before the last instrumental push, which picks up the pace at the end to cap a first album from a band clearly looking to find their own niche within a classic heavy rock feel.
Offered first by the band in 2012 and reissued through Sulatron Records with two bonus tracks from the same recording session, Sun Dial’s Mind Control puts the long-running UK psych/space rockers in their element in a kosmiche expanse quickly on “Mountain of Fire and Miracles,” and while electronic experimentation is a factor throughout “Radiation” and “Burned In,” there’s always a human spirit underneath and sometimes out front in what Sun Dial do, and the newly-included “Seven Pointed Star” and “World Within You” fit in with the sense of acid ritual that the original album tracks convey, the title cut transposing Hawkwindian warp drive on a more relaxed atmosphere, each measure seemingly a mantra in a longer meditation. Even with its wah-soaked ending, “In Every Dream Home a Heartache” has a more straightforward tack, proving that even when you think you know what a group like Sun Dial are up to, you’re probably wrong.
The second EP from San Francisco-based shoegazing psychedelic rockers LSD and the Search for God, Heaven is a Place, arrives a whopping nine years after its self-titled predecessor. Granted, it might be the wash of effects and the almost-whispered vocal melodies that seem to barely break the surface of the waves of airy distortion, but if any of this material goes back that far, it doesn’t show its age. The five-piece – guitarist/vocalist Andy Liszt, vocalist Sophia Cambell, guitarist Chris Fifield, bassist Ryan Lescure and drummer Ricky Maymi – offer five tracks of blissed-out, dripping wet vibe, with “Outer Space (Long Way Home)” at the center of a post-grunge swirl following the cosmic push of “(I Don’t Think that We Should) Take it Slow” and before the serenity of “Elizabeth” takes hold as a lead-in for seven-minute finale “Without You,” simultaneously the most lucid and dreamy of the cuts included. Nine years is a long time. Heaven is a Place begs for a quicker follow-up.
Austin purveyors Duel make a striking impression from the cover onward with their Heavy Psych Sounds full-length debut, Fears of the Dead. The four-piece, which by all reports features two former members of Scorpion Child, get down with classic swing on the opening title-track and thereby broadcast the intent of the album as a whole, bringing ‘70s-style grooves and boogie forward in time with modern fullness and a crisp production that highlights the gruff vocals of guitarist Tom Frank, who alongside bassist/vocalist Shaun Avants, guitarist Derek Halfmann and drummer JD Shadowz, swaggers through the record’s eight included slabs as one might through a crowded venue for the next in a long series of an evening’s beers. Later cuts like “When the Pigs are Fed” and 7:52 closer “Locked Outside” bring some more variety to the approach, but the heart of Fears of the Dead remains brash and unbridled, and one doubts if Duel would have it any other way.
One might blink and miss the debut single from somewhat mysterious psychedelic rockers The Canadian Sweetmen, which totals its A and B sides together for a runtime of about four and a half minutes, but the fact that the 90-second “Intro” (the A side) manages to marry The Velvet Underground and The Beach Boys in that span is definitely something worth taking the time to note. There’s just about no information on the band as to who they are, where they come from, where they’re going, etc., but the three-minute “New Cigarettes” makes an impression on style and substance alike and offers an encouraging glimpse at what seems to be a psychedelia bolstered by organ and Rhodes and unbound by a need to adhere to genre tenets. “Intro” doesn’t even stick around long enough to do so, but “New Cigarettes” careens into a rhythmic push for its chorus that offers an earthy undertone to the heady, spaced-out vibe. More please.
Absolutely devastating. UK post-sludgers Wren dole out a punishment that won’t be soon forgotten on their second EP, Host (on Holy Roar), following up the blackened post-rock of their 2014 self-titled EP (review here) and their 2015 split with Irk (review here) with four pummeling but still richly atmospheric cuts. Working now as the lineup of Owen Jones, Chris Pickering, Robert Letts and John McCormick, Wren have had three different vocalists on their three releases, but not a one of them has failed to add to the ambience and crushing impression of their riffs, and the hook of “No Séance” particularly on Host signifies that despite whatever lineup shifts they may have had, Wren continue to progress and refine their attack. “Stray,” “No Séance,” “The Ossuary” and “Loom” are unshakable, deeply weighted and righteously spaced. They may have flown somewhat under the radar up to this point, but Wren are too loud to be a well kept secret for much longer.
Some 12 years after their initial demo surfaced in 2003, Massachusetts’ Transient present an atmospheric take on alt-metal with their self-titled debut full-length, self-released last fall. Bringing together nine tracks/46 minutes with a patient but tense pacing and underlying currents of progressive metal in cuts like “Ditch of Doubt” and “Wrong Time,” it unfolds gracefully with the intro “Voyager One” and finds an aggressive burst in “Wrong Time” and the Tool-gone-psych build of the penultimate “Slightest Scare.” That song is part of an extended two-cut closing suite with “Hold this Grudge,” which highlights Scott McCooe’s bass tone as it provides a surprising but satisfying laid back finish. McCooe, joined here by guitarist/vocalist Tim Hayes and drummer John Harris, splits his time with metalcore progenitors Overcast, and as Transient was recorded over a year’s stretch and then mixed and mastered a year after that – living up to the band’s name – it may be a while before a follow-up, but after so long from their demo, it’s still a welcome debut.
Issued by H42 Records in a limited edition for this year’s Desertfest, the new split 7” from UK heavy platoons Desert Storm and Suns of Thunder is so dudely they could sell it as vitamin supplements on late-night tv. A complex critique of gender it is not, heavy it is. One track from each band. Desert Storm bring the burl of “Signals from Beyond,” which with its strong hook and gravely vocals brings to mind Orange Goblin nestled into a nodding riff. For Swansea’s Suns of Thunder, it’s “Earn Your Stripes,” with its complex vocal arrangements for lyrics about small men and big men, paying your dues and other whathaveyou that dominant culture tells those with testicles will make them more complete people. Fine. Masculinity and femininity are scams to sell pants, but “Earn Your Stripes” is catchy as all anything and “Signals from Beyond” is even catchier than however catchy that is, so a testosterone overdose seems a small price to pay.
Telstar Sound Drone, Magical Solutions to Everyday Struggles
Magical Solutions to Everyday Struggles is the second album from Copenhagen-based auralnauts Telstar Sound Drone, and like much of what Bad Afro releases, it presents a strong temptation to drop out, tune in and turn on. Little surprise the band is something of an offshoot from Baby Woodrose, sharing guitarist Mads Saaby and drummer Hans Beck with the seminal garage rockers, but the lush impression made on “Something I Can’t Place” with the watery vocals of Sean Jardenbæk comes from an even more lysergic place, and the experimental side that comes through on “Closer Again,” “Dark Kashmir” and the languid “Dead Spaces” is a multi-tiered dreamscape that closer “Lean down on White” seems sad to leave. Reasonably so. With guest spots from members of Spids Nøgenhat, Bite the Bullet and Baby Woodrose (Kåre Joensen on bass/synth), Telstar Sound Drone’s sophomore outing is an otherworldly psychedelic vision that, as promised, does seem to cure what ails, exciting even in its most subdued moments.
Initially offered by the band in 2012 and subsequently pressed to a six-song 7” and jewel case CD, the self-titled debut EP from San Diego trio Fantasy Arcade only runs about 11 minutes, but that’s all it needs to bring together punk, thrash, sludge and heavy rock across fuckall-heavy cuts like “The Dwarves are Missing” – the longest song here at 3:38 – and the rumbling finale “Die Before You Suck,” which gallops and shouts and seems to crash into walls on its way out, though drummer/vocalist Adam, bassist/vocalist Chris and guitarist Mike actually do well in deciding when to keep control and when to let it go. More nuanced than it lets on, Fantasy Arcade is an aggressive pulse given to moments of frustration boiling over, but being rooted in metal as much as punk, its dwelling in two worlds gives heft to the freneticism at play, as shown in “Poison Arrow,” the first half of which runs at a sprint right into the brick wall slowdown of its second, and final, minute.
[Click play above to hear the premiere of “Tachyon Deep” from New Keepers of the Water Towers’ Infernal Machine, out April 1 on Listenable Records. Enjoy.]
Stockholm five-piece New Keepers of the Water Towers issue their fourth album, Infernal Machine, April 1 via Listenable Records. It is easily their most textured and expansive work yet. The band have been on an outward push since 2011’s The Calydonian Hunt (review here) followed their rawer 2009 debut, Chronicles (review here), but along with aligning themselves to Listenable in 2013 for the release of their third LP, The Cosmic Child (review here), the band also took a corresponding stylistic leap into progressive psychedelia, basking in Floydian contemplations and spacious heft, and Infernal Machine is very much born of that same tradition. The difference is in the amount of the cosmos that the lineup of vocalist/guitarist Rasmus Booberg, drummer/vocalist Tor Sjödén, guitarist/vocalist Victor Berg, bassist Björn Andersson and keyboardist Adam Forsgren cover over the seven-track/45-minute span of Infernal Machine, and in the precise manner by which they control the linear flow between and throughout the songs.
Clearly intended to be taken in its entirety, Infernal Machine has standout moments, but each one of them feeds into an overarching impression of the whole, and New Keepers of the Water Towers make themselves at home working in such a grand scope, beginning with the 11-minute opener and longest track (immediate points) “The Forever War” — also the name of the book on which the album is based — which eases the listener into the soundscapes they’ll inhabit as they make the journey from front to back, some alarming textures and wide-open guitar and keys gradually taking shape over a marching drum beat and howling tones.
Like a lot of Infernal Machine, “The Forever War” isn’t without some structure, but mood and atmosphere are for more central to the listening experience than hooks or anything of the sort. By its halfway point, “The Forever War” has locked into a kosmiche groove, but the band departs from there to go back to more spacious fare, guitar leading to an instrumental build that feels like it’s going to be grandiose but never actually goes overboard, quieting down as it makes ready to shift into “Tracks over Carcosa,” which swells initially like the monolith scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey and patiently transitions into more pulsing space rock. Patience is a virtue throughout Infernal Machine, something New Keepers of the Water Towers have learned over time, and something they use exceptionally well here.
The second cut morphs into kind of a surf rock if you were surfing on Titan, but the immersion that “The Forever War” began holds firm, and they pull back from the instrumental push to end the last minute-plus of “Tracks over Carcosa” on an ambient note before mellotron sounds set a peaceful beginning of “Tachyon Deep,” from which a standout rhythm will emerge along a contained linear build led by keyboard textures in a deceptively complex pastoral atmosphere. There’s just a hint of tension beneath to betray the insistence that will come as thicker tones enter the fray in the song’s back half, winding lead guitar echoing over the percussion and bassline in a way that recalls Ancestors‘ “First Light” — not a comparison I make lightly — before crashing to a finish that even with six minutes leading up to it feels somewhat sudden. Given the obvious intent shown in everything else on Infernal Machine and the song’s position right before centerpiece/likely-side-B-intro “Misantropin Kallar,” one has to imagine that’s on purpose, a cold ending following 20-plus minutes of graceful flow to toss a bucket of water on the audience before they flip the platter to its second half.
Either way, the effect is palpable even on the digital version, though its worth noting that the quiet fade-in of “Misantropin Kallar” makes for a cinematic reentry into the band’s cosmic sphere, bringing to mind Goblin‘s soundtrack work and even including a bit of spoken word dialogue, in Swedish, to highlight the point. A noisy wash comes to the fore in the last seconds of “Misantropin Kallar,” but drops out as “Escape Aleph Minor” begins its more immediate space rock push. The pattern of the drums is pure Hawkwind, but much to their credit, New Keepers of the Water Towers do about as much as anyone could to make such a recognizable element their own, surrounding the push with lush tones, manic rhythm guitar, piano/key lines and soaring vocals in the first half of the song and pushing through to a psych-jazz freakout in the second before bringing everything to a swirling head and crashing out to let the keys end on a subdued-into-silent note, from which “Jorden Wave” emerges, slowly crashing but eminently spacious.
Shorter, but mirroring the instrumental “Tracks over Carcosa,” its breadth works through in the melodies brought to bear over a simple rhythm, lumbering and made melancholy through mellotron, but still unremittingly progressive. There is a foreboding thud, crash and ring-out in the midsection — is that V’ger? — but they never let go of the restraint, and the tension crafted in the droning finish of “Jorden Wave” is all the more effective for the payoff the band refuses to give it. Silence — used here the way many bands use volume — leads into the closing semi-title-track “This Infernal Machine,” also the second-longest cut at 8:46, which, also instrumental, sets out to expand on the interplay of mellotron and lead guitar and cascading sweeps of “Tachyon Deep” as the moment of resolution to which the whole of Infernal Machine has been traveling. There’s even a bit of bounce in the keys à la “Misantropin Kallar,” so not only does it summarize the band’s stylistic accomplishments across the record, but bookends side B as well before it enters into its final build and caps, suitably, on a long tonal wash fadeout.
Those who caught wind of New Keepers of the Water Towers through The Cosmic Child will find that Infernal Machine is a more coherent representation of similar progressive sonic ideals, but the real triumph of the new record is how masterfully the band guide their audience through it and how smoothly it seems to flow. Patient, but heavy, Infernal Machine acts like a classic concept record in that it devotes more time to telling its story than to being impressed with itself for telling a story at all. That’s not to say there aren’t self-indulgent moments — there would have to be, or it wouldn’t be making its point — but that where their last time out, New Keepers of the Water Towers were making a foray into uncharted ground, this time they’ve made that ground their home and proven themselves able to remake it to suit their creative will.