Zone Six, Kozmik Koon: What’s in a Name?

Posted in Reviews on January 3rd, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Zone Six Kozmik Koon

To immediately address the giant psychedelic-neon-rainbow-swirl-pattern elephant in the room: the title of the latest Zone Six LP is, yes, Kozmik Koon. In addition to apparently being Persian for “ass” — thank you, internet — the fact that the word “koon” and more commonly the iteration thereof spelled with a ‘c’ is a racist slur in the US makes it something of an eye-catcher in far from the best way. I’ve been hesitant to review the album because, well, it’s called Kozmik Koon. I’ll come right out and say I don’t think Zone Six are trying to be racists or discriminatory in any way. I haven’t met guitarist Rainer Neeff (also The Pancakes), but I’ve been in touch with drummer/synthesist/keyboardist Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt (also of Electric Moon, Krautzone, etc., and the head of Sulatron Records) he and bassist/synthesist/sometimes-vocalist/noisemaker “Komet Lulu” Neudeck (also of Electric Moon and Krautzone) are hippies. Jammers. I’m going to go out on a limb and give them the benefit of the doubt that they don’t know other countries’ slurs and that the title Kozmik Koon, as they have said, derives from the fact that where they live has a lot of raccoons. Combine that with homage to Kozmik Ken who runs Kozfest, and boom, Kozmik Koon. The initial optic? Not great. But with even a modicum of digging, it’s readily explained by the band where they’re coming from, and sometimes across different languages misunderstandings happen. I’ve always wondered how to say “ass” in Persian.

With cover art by Ulla Papel, who also did the cover for Electric Moon‘s 2012 outing, Doomsday Machine (review here), and who’s also Lulu‘s father, Kozmik Koon is the second Zone Six studio LP since the band made a return after 11 years with 2015’s Love Monster (review here). They’ve had a few live outings, including 2017’s Forever Hugo (review here) and Live Spring 2017 (review here), as well as a 2018 split with New Zealand’s Arc of Ascent (review here), but a studio album from Zone Six doesn’t happen every day, and indeed, Kozmik Koon collects five tracks comprised of recordings produced and mixed by Schmidt from a period between 2015 and 2018, resulting in a 44-minute long-player that’s distinguished particularly for its emotional resonance despite being almost if not entirely instrumental — that is, if there’s voice here, it’s atmospheric singing mixed into the slow-churning space-rock fray, rather than clear lyrics in verses. Nonetheless, across the two longer-form openers “Maschinenseele” (12:53) and “Kozmik Koon” (10:58) and the closer “Song for Richie” (13:52) — which opens with a sample of Timothy Leary’s “turn on, tune in, drop out” speech and is dedicated to a friend of the band who passed away — as well as the two shorter pieces that separate that initial salvo from the finale, “Raum” and “Still,” both of which hover around three and a half minutes, Zone Six harness a progressive sense not only of composition in Neeff‘s guitar work but in the lush melodies in electric piano, synth, Mellotron, and so on, that surround.

zone six

There are moments that feel referential in the keyboard line in the later reaches of the title-track and in the soaring guitar of “Song for Richie,” but Zone Six‘s primary impact is hypnotic and their modus cleverly avoids some of jam-based heavy psychedelia’s most prevalent traps in terms of structure. First and foremost, it doesn’t get stuck in a linear build. NeeffNeudeck and Schmidt bring together plenty of dynamic throughout, from the explorations of “Maschinenseele” to the drone-minded centerpiece “Raum,” but it’s not just about starting quiet and getting louder as they go. Rather, the longer pieces that comprise the bulk of the record each seem to find their own way through shifts of volume and meter, and the feeling is organic as they move toward and into more active and more ambient sections. It is less pointedly improv-sounding than what Schmidt and Neudeck do with Electric Moon, but the depth of the mix is such that a feeling of spontaneity persists just the same, with the drums as a careful anchor punctuating the drift of “Maschinenseele” and the uptempo space rock in the first half of the title-cut, which hits with enough of an underlying Hawkwindian spirit to remind of some of The Heads‘ outbound scorch. These are not vibes easily tamed, and Zone Six are only so interested in taming them in the first place, but the album is, again, not without purpose, and its emotional expression, particularly in the quiet “Still” and “Song for Richie,” comes across in palpable fashion even without the direct aid of lyrics.

“Still” has a bouncing keyboard line that’s still somehow wistful and calls to mind a more patient take on ’70s prog, but devolves into effects ahead of drifting into silence before “Song for Richie” starts with a volume swell of guitar drone, and very much turns out to be a piece led by Neeff‘s soloing. There’s little doubt that “Song for Richie,” as well as “Kozmik Koon” and the opener before it are based on jams, and “Still” and “Raum” have an in-studio-experimentalist vibe as well, but they have been fleshed out with effects and synth and keys, and thereby carry more of a worked-on feel rather than the straight-ahead rawness that sometimes persists in the style (nothing against it), adding to the underlying feeling of intent. Though mastered by Eroc, perhaps the real credit should go to Schmidt on establishing the mix of all the elements at play. A vast sonic breadth is laid out across “Maschinenseele” and only continues to spread wider as the LP plays out, and even as “Song for Richie” pushes through its apex at around 10 minutes in, there is as much depth to factor in as there is sheer energy of performance. It is that much more, then, for the listener to dive into, and whether one chooses to lose one’s head in its trance-inducing, let-me-lead-you-from-this-place-to-another-place psychedelic meander, or to peel through the layers of nuance and drone and “which manner of synthesizer just made that noise again?,” Kozmik Koon delivers the kind of engagement one could only expect from masters of the form, and with a history stretching back some 23 years, Zone Six are most certainly that. What’s in a name? Plenty. But there’s even more when one actually listens.

Zone Six, Kozmik Koon (2019)

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Electric Moon, Hugodelia: Space Comes to Feldkirch

Posted in Reviews on June 10th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

electric moon hugodelia

The opening title-track of Electric Moon‘s latest live album, Hugodelia, pretty much tells the story. Not literally telling, since like the vast majority of the German psych-exploration trio’s work, it’s instrumental, but still, it gets the point across. “Hugodelia” itself is a 20-minute stretch that seems to start out with the band — guitarist Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt, bassist/occasional vocalist “Komet Lulu” Neudeck and drummer Pablo Carneval — kind of getting their bearings, almost like they’re waking up, and then that’s it: they’re gone.

Real gone.

It would be hard to overstate how much of a treasure in psychedelic heavy jamming Electric Moon have become over the decade they’ve been together. Fueled by Sula Bassana‘s effects-soaked guitar — and released on his label, Sulatron Records — the band are one of few whose reach extends to the genuine heart of lysergic creativity. The tonal flow and effects wash conjured by Sula and Lulu is not to be taken for granted, and though they’ve seen a couple drummers come and go, including Carneval, who was there at the outset, left, and came back, the chemistry he brings to the lineup proves itself essential quickly on “Hugodelia” and the live 2LP’s subsequent three extended tracks, four if you count the digital-only bonus cut “Ween.”

A 65-minute set, give or take, Hugodelia came to life in Austria on the night of the final concert at Graf Hugo, a venue in Feldkirch, on the western boarder with Switzerland, and the sense of homage comes through plainly in the offering itself. In listening, “Hugodelia” doesn’t just set the mood for open creativity and mellow-heavy vibes. It also carries the sense of homage that rings through the entire proceedings, as that jam wraps at 20:30 and leads into “Transmitter,” which goes to 20:34, and the two shorter, complementary side-consumers “Cellar Grime” (12:37) and “Cellar Slime” (10:25), both of which feature guest guitar from Erich Coldino, who was one of the promoters for the venue. It seems fitting to have Coldino take part directly in what’s clearly already a special occasion for the band, and his post-rocky lines come through Sula‘s amp to fill out a melody alongside the chugging space rock rhythm of “Cellar Grime” like, indeed, he was meant to be there. Like they planned it all along.

And yeah, they probably did, but Electric Moon‘s stock and trade is still at least somewhat based around improvisation and capturing the moment as it happens. They are one of few acts out there — Denmark’s Øresund Space Collective come to mind as another, but Electric Moon are more consistent in terms of their lineup — who so purposefully base what they do around jamming. That is, plenty of bands jam, but Hugodelia demonstrates once again that Electric Moon are able to capture the listener’s attention and imagination by letting go and seeing where the music takes them in a way that nearly no one else can.

electric moon

Even before Coldino sits in, “Hugodelia” and “Transmitter” offer 41 minutes of a kosmiche supreme, the momentum of the opener carrying well into “Transmitter” as Sula‘s guitar noodles early over a plotted-seeming rhythm held together by Lulu and Carneval and the band builds toward a post-midsection spaceout that arrives with Hawkwindian motorik thrust before winding through a nebular field of bright colors and hallucinatory serenity. I’ve said this about Electric Moon live records before, and I’ll probably say it again when the next one comes through — any minute now — but if it weren’t for the audience cheering between songs, they would be viable as studio releases. In terms of sonic clarity and a feeling of purpose behind them, they want for nothing. Electric Moon are not a band who go through the motions live in order to support an album. Each show, especially those that eventually are pressed to LP and/or CD, is part of the overarching mission to the heart of the sun.

Thus Hugodelia is a two-fold event. Coldino finds his place quickly enough in “Cellar Grime” and the more linear, drift-into-wash “Cellar Slime,” which follows, but the strength of the rhythm section in keeping the flow and groove steady is a highlight unto itself, particularly of the finale. It is difficult not to put too much narrative to it — it was their last time in this place that clearly they enjoyed playing, the last show there at all, reportedly, and the guy who booked it was taking part; clearly emotions would have been riding high — but that too speaks to the evocative nature of Electric Moon‘s work and their ability to convey feelings through cosmic jamming. It’s not just ambience for its own sake. It’s as deep as the listener is ready to go with it.

By now, 10 years on from their outset, that should be pretty deep. For the band, Hugodelia is one more check-in — a live album in a series of given under various titles and artwork packages also put together by Lulu — but what it also makes plain is the level of soul put into what they do. “Ween,” which was tracked in Vienna, is a 23-minute-long bonus track, and it starts off with a hypnotic, molten progression even before the drums enter as the three-piece gradually, with expert patience, embark on a journey to and through a crescendo of stratosphere-shattering energy and cap with residual comedown noise. Another day at the office for Electric Moon, maybe, but still so vital to understanding where they’re coming from and what it’s their intention to capture in sound.

This is the part where I tell you not everyone’s going to get it. And it’s true. It’s always been the case with Electric Moon, psychedelia as a whole, and, in fact, everything. But what distinguishes Hugodelia among the universe surrounding is how much reward is offered for active engagement with it. How much the listener gleans from listening. The bottom line — such as one can perceive direction amid such aurally-induced vertigo — is that Electric Moon continue to hone an approach that is something truly special in or out of heavy psych, playing with a character that has only grown richer and more immersive over time, and presenting it with a charge that is purely their own. Hugodelia is a welcome reminder.

Electric Moon, Hugodelia (2019)

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Lamp of the Universe, Align in the Fourth Dimension: Finding Inner Space

Posted in Reviews on May 13th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Lamp of the Universe Align in the Fourth Dimension

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Hamilton, New Zealand-based multi-instrumentalist Craig Williamson founding Lamp of the Universe as his primary solo outlet. At the time, he was best known as the guitarist of underrated pre-social-media heavy psychedelic rockers Datura, but in the years since, in addition to founding the trio Arc of Ascent at the dawn of this decade, he’s become a guru of mantra psych, acid folk and, of late, effects-swirling cosmic serenity. Lamp of the Universe is still identifiable from its 1999 debut, The Cosmic Union (review here), not the least because of Williamson‘s enduring penchant for sitar and his vocal style, but as one might hope over the course of 11 albums, the scope has increased for Lamp of the Universe, and the latest full-length for Sulatron Records, Align in the Fourth Dimension, puts emphasis on inward and outward exploration, with Williamson blending guitar and keys, percussion and voice, and always a lush and languid sense of melody that finds songs like “Light Receiver” and the later “Absolution Through Your Third Eye” poised and thoughtful works of assured execution.

Really, the same could be said of the eight-track/46-minute release as a whole. It’s the work of someone who has long since mastered the form but continues to refine processes naturally over time while keeping a central creative identity, shamanic in this case, but not at all overwrought or cartoonish. In some ways, Align in the Fourth Dimension, particularly in its acoustic-led side-closing tracks “New Forms” on side A and “Seasons of Love” on side B, calls back directly to the beginnings of the project in terms of the atmosphere created, somehow minimalist and spacious at the same time, but Williamson‘s arrangements have fleshed out. Layers of effects or keys/synth of various stripes give Lamp of the Universe a broader range, and even though opener “Visitors” is among the shortest inclusions at 4:39 — the CD-only penultimate cut “Call from Beyond” is the only one shorter, by a full minute — the context its backing waves of modular synth undulations and solar wind, eventual string-mellotron drama and slow-delivered vocal lend to the beginnings of Align in the Fourth Dimension is resonant enough to affect everything that follows. This, of course, is precisely the idea.

I don’t know at what point Williamson bought the organ that features so prominently on second track “Rite of Spheres” — seems to me it was a few albums ago — but it was the right choice. Still, it’s the drums that really make the difference. Williamson will generally employ some manner of percussion, but it’s not always a traditional drum set. Cymbals and snare and kick drum with quick fills maybe on a floor tom (?) give “Rite of Spheres” its pervasive sense of movement beneath the organ line and watery vocal. The drums are far back in the mix until the three-minute mark, when they come forward following a cymbal sweep and propel and electric guitar solo that puts even further emphasis on the full-band feel before the last fadeout leads to “Light Receiver.” With just a shaker for percussion, “Light Receiver” is a wash of melody in mellotron and guitar and sitar, etc., with an especially memorable chorus that holds to the rhythmic style of delivery one has come to expect from Lamp of the Universe, and it comes paired with the ultra-immersive “New Forms,” which feels more linear in its execution, but is gorgeously hypnotic while answering back the ambient spirit of the opener at the same time.

lamp of the universe

It’s by no means still, but the intertwining of acoustic guitar, soft eBow-sounding electric and effects, along with a purposeful-seeming lack of percussion, seems only to make it all the more gracefully fluid. As noted, it’s how the first half of Align in the Fourth Dimension ends, and the subsequent “The Leaving” begins side B with a likewise peaceful spirit, acoustic strum, vocals and organ flowing easily over the early going of the song only to turn more dramatic past the three-minute mark with the arrival of a fuzzy plugged-in solo, distant cymbal splash and general uptick of energy. It’s the organ and acoustic guitar though that hold sway when all is done, and “The Leaving” goes smoothly into “Absolution Through the Third Eye,” which sees the return of hand percussion and sitar along with a backing drone filling out the mix ahead of an echoing electric guitar lead that’s a subtle highlight of the album in its entirety not so much for what’s played as how it’s presented so seamlessly with its surroundings. The verse returns after with all the more a sense of drift, and makes its way eventually out, leaving “Call from Beyond” to push as far into minimalism as Lamp of the Universe will go.

Obviously, a big part of the appeal for Lamp of the Universe as an ongoing entity is Williamson‘s skill at varying arrangements for his material and his tack as a multi-instrumentalist. Working mostly alone if not always entirely alone, he’s able to bring either breadth of scope or deep-running intimacy to his craft in a way that is continually engrossing. With “Call from Beyond,” it’s the latter. Just him and his acoustic guitar. A bit of echo, but it seems to be mostly a single layer throughout, and I’d be surprised if at least the basic performance track wasn’t done live. As a “bonus” to the CD, it’s a standout, and placed well ahead of the finale and longest inclusion, “Seasons of Love,” which at 8:49 conjures a reach entirely its own with percussion, synth, acoustic guitar, more eBow, harmonized vocals and a flow unto itself that nonetheless makes a fitting conclusion to Align in the Fourth Dimension as a whole.

There is a linear flow that ties together Williamson‘s output as Lamp of the Universe that one can trace back across the last two decades, and for an ongoing project like this, it can be intimidating for a new listener to dig in. The age-old “where to start” dilemma. That’s fair. With 11 albums, who the hell knows. The truth, however, is that it doesn’t matter. And even less here than with many others. The overarching style and sound of Lamp of the Universe is welcoming enough that whether Align in the Fourth Dimension is someone’s first experience or they bought Heru from Williamson on MySpace in 2005, it isn’t going to make a difference. It’s about cosmic freedom — certainly not about to play the elitist. So, while time is often thought of as the fourth dimension and Williamson here aligns with it in a way that evokes a sense of infinity beyond what a human might conceive, I’ll just note that now would be as good a moment as one could ask for to get on board.

Lamp of the Universe, Align in the Fourth Dimension (2019)

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Quarterly Review: Stuck in Motion, AVER, Massa, Alastor, Seid, Moab, Primitive Man & Unearthly Trance, Into Orbit, Super Thief, Absent

Posted in Reviews on March 18th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review-spring-2019

Let the games begin! The rules are the same: 10 albums per day, this time for a total of 60 between today and next Monday. It’s the Quarterly Review. Think of it like a breakfast buffet with an unending supply of pancakes except the pancakes are riffs and there’s only one dude cooking them and he’s really tired all the time and complains, complains, complains. Maybe not the best analogy. Still, it’s gonna be a ton of stuff, but there are some very, very cool records included, so please keep your eyes and your mind open for what’s coming, because you might find something here you really dig. If not, there’s always tomorrow. Let’s go.

Quarterly Review #1-10:

Stuck in Motion, Stuck in Motion

stuck in motion self-titled

The classic style cover art of Swedish trio Stuck in Motion‘s self-titled debut tells much of the story. It’s sweet-toned vintage-style soul rock, informed by Graveyard to some degree, but more aligned to retroism. The songs are bluesy and natural and not especially long, but have vibe for weeks, as demonstrated on the six-minute longest-track “Dreams of Flying,” or the flute-laden closer “Eken.” What the picture doesn’t tell you is the heavy use of clavinet in the band’s sound and just how much the vintage electric piano adds to what songs like “Slingrar” with its ultra-fluid shifts in tempo, or the sax-drenched penultimate cut “Orientalisk.” Comprised of guitarist/vocalist Max Kinnbo, drummer Gustaf Björkman and bassist/vocalist/clavinetist Adrian Norén, Stuck in Motion‘s debut successfully basks in a mellow psychedelic blues atmosphere and shows a patience for songwriting that bodes remarkably well. It should not be overlooked because you think you’re tired of vintage-style rock.

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AVER, Orbis Majora

aver orbis majora

Following up their 2015 sophomore outing, Nadir (review here), which led to them getting picked up by Ripple Music, Australia’s AVER return with the progressive shove of Orbis Majora, five songs in 50 minutes of thoughtfully composed heavy progadelica, and while it’s not all so serious — closer “Hemp Fandango” well earns its title via a shuffling stonerly groove — opener “Feeding the Sun” and the subsequent “Disorder” set a mood of careful craftsmanship in longform pieces. The album’s peak might be in the 13-minute “Unanswered Prayers,” which culls together an extended linear build that’s equal parts immersive and gorgeous, but the rest of the album hardly lacks for depth or clarity of purpose. An underlying message from the Sydney four-piece would seem to be that they’re going to continue growing, even after more than a decade, because it’s not so much that they’re feeling their way toward their sound, but willfully pushing themselves to refine those parameters.

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Ripple Music on Bandcamp

 

Massa, Walls

massa walls

Flourish of keys adds nuance to Massa‘s moody, heavy post-rock style, the Rotterdam-based trio bringing an atmosphere to their second EP, Walls, across five tracks and 26 minutes marked by periodic samples from cinema and a sense of scope that seems to be born of an experimental impulse but not presented as the experiment itself. That is, they take the “let’s try this!” impulse and make a song out of it, as the chunky rhythm of instrumental centerpiece “Expedition” or the melodies in the prior “#8” show. Before finishing with the crash-into-push of the relatively brief “Intermassa,” the eight-minute “The Federal” complements winding guitar with organ to affect an engaging spirit somewhere between classic and futurist heavy, with the drums holding together proceedings that would seem to convey all the chaos of that temporal paradox. Perhaps it was opener “Shiva” that set this creator/destroyer tone, but either way, Massa bask in it and find a grim sense of identity thereby.

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Alastor, Slave to the Grave

alastor slave to the grave

The first full-length from Swedish doomplodders Alastor and their debut on RidingEasy Records, late 2018’s Slave to the Grave is the four-piece’s most expansive offering yet in sonic scope as well as runtime. Following the 2017 EPs Blood on Satan’s Claw (review here) and Black Magic (review here), the seven-song/56-minute offering holds true to the murk-toned cultism and dense low-end rumble of the prior offerings, but the melodic resonance and sense of updating the aesthetic of traditional doom is palpable throughout the roller “Your Lives are Worthless,” while the later acoustic-led “Gone” speaks to a folkish influence that suits them surprisingly well given the heft that surrounds. They make an obvious focal point of 17-minute closer “Spider of My Love,” which though they’ve worked in longer forms before, is easily the grandest accomplishment they’ve yet unfurled. One might easily say the same applies to Slave to the Grave as a whole. Those who miss The Wounded Kings should take particular note of their trajectory.

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RidingEasy Records website

 

Seid, Weltschmerz, Baby!

seid-weltschmerz_baby-web

If Norwegian space-psych outfit Seid are feeling weary of the world, the way they show it in Weltschmerz, Baby! is by simply leaving it behind, substituting for reality a cosmic starscape of effects and synth, the odd sample and vaguely Hawkwindian etherealism. The centerpiece title-track is a banger along those lines, a swell of rhythmic intensity born out of the finale of the prior “Satan i Blodet” and the mellow, flowing “Trollmannens Hytte” before that, but the highlight might be the subsequent “Coyoteman,” which drifts into dream-prog led by echoing layers of guitar and eventually given over to a fading strain of noise that “Moloch vs. Gud” picks up with percussive purpose and flows directly into the closer “Mir (Drogarna Börjar Värka),” rife with ’70s astro-bounce and a long fadeout that’s less about the record ending and more about leaving the galaxy behind. Starting out at a decent clip with “Haukøye,” Weltschmerz, Baby! is all about the journey and a trip well worth taking.

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Sulatron Records website

 

Moab, Trough

moab trough

A good record tinged by the tragic loss of drummer Erik Herzog during the recording and finished by guitarist/vocalist Andrew Giacumakis and bassist Joe Fuentes, the 10-track/39-minute Trough demonstrates completely just how much Moab have been underrated since their 2011 debut, Ab Ovo (discussed here), and across the 2014 follow-up, Billow (review here), as they bring a West Coast noise-infused pulse to heavy rock drive on “All Automatons” and meet an enduring punker spirit face first with “Medieval Moan,” all the while presenting a clear head for songcraft amid deep-running tones and melodies. “The Will is Weak” makes perhaps the greatest impact in terms of heft, but heft is by no means all Moab have to offer. With the very real possibility this will be their final record, it is a worthy homage to their fallen comrade and a showcase of their strengths that’s bound someday to get the attention it deserves whenever some clever label decides to reissue it as a lost classic.

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Primitive Man & Unearthly Trance, Split

primitive man unearthly trance split

Well of course it’s a massive wash of doomed and hate-filled noise! What were you expecting, sunshine and puppies? Colorado’s Primitive Man and Brooklyn’s Unearthly Trance team up to compare misanthropic bona fides across seven tracks of blistering extremity that do Relapse Records proud. Starting with the collaborative intro “Merging,” the onslaught truly commences with Primitive Man’s 10-minute “Naked” and sinks into an abyss with the instrumental noisefest “Love Under Will,” which gradually makes its way into a swell of abrasive drone. Unearthly Trance, meanwhile, proffer immediate destructiveness with the churning “Mechanism Error” and make “Triumph” dark enough to live up to its most malevolent interpretations, while “Reverse the Day” makes me wonder what people who heard Godflesh in the ’80s must’ve thought of it and the six-minute finishing move “418” answers back to Primitive Man‘s droned-out anti-structure with a consuming void of fuckall depth. It’s like the two bands cut open their veins and recorded the disaffection that spilled out.

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Relapse Records website

 

Into Orbit, Shifter

Into Orbit Shifter

Progressive New Zealander two-piece Into OrbitPaul Stewart on guitar and Ian Moir on drums — offer up the single Shifter as the answer to their 2017 sophomore long-player, Unearthing. The Wellington instrumentalists did likewise leading into that album with a single that later showed up as part of a broader tracklist, so it may be that they’ve got another release already in the works, but either way, the 5:50 standalone track finds them dug into a full band sound with layered or looped guitar standing tall over the mid-paced drumming, affecting an emotion-driven atmosphere as much as the cerebral nature of its craft. Beginning with a thick chug, it works into more melodic spaciousness as it heads toward and through its midsection, lead guitar kicking in with harmony lines joining soon after as the two-piece build back up to a bigger finish. Whatever their plans, Into Orbit make it clear that just because something is prog doesn’t mean it needs to be staid or lack expressiveness.

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Super Thief, Eating Alone in My Car

super thief eating alone in my car

Noise-punk intensity pervades Eating Alone in My Car, the not-quite-not-an-LP from Austin four-piece Super Thief. They call it an album, and that’s good enough for me, especially since at about 20 minutes there isn’t much more I’d ask of the thing that it doesn’t deliver, whether it’s the furious out-of-mindness of minute-long highlight “Woodchipper” or the poli-sci critique of that sandwiches the offering with opener “Gone Country” immediately taking a nihilist anti-stance while closer “You Play it Like a Joke but I Know You Really Mean It” — which consumes nearly half the total runtime at 9:32 — seems to run up the walls unable to stick to the “smoke ’em if you got ’em” point of view of the earlier cut. That’s how the bastards keep you running in circles, but at least Super Thief know where to direct the frustration. “Six Months Blind” and the title-track have a more personal take, but are still worth a read lyrically as much as a listen, as the rhythm of the words only adds to the striking personality of the material.

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Learning Curve Records website

 

Absent, Towards the Void

absent towards the void

Recorded in 2016, released on CD in 2018 and snagged by Cursed Tongue Records for a vinyl pressing, Absent‘s Towards the Void casts a shimmering plunge of cavernous doom, with swirling post-Electric Wizard guitar and echoing vocals adding to the spaciousness of its four component tracks as the Brasilia-based trio conjure atmospheric breadth to go along with their weighted lurch in opener “Ophidian Womb.” With tracks arranged shortest to longest between eight and a half and 11 minutes, “Semen Prayer,” “Funeral Sun” and “Urine” follow suit from the opener in terms of overall approach, but “Funeral Sun” speeds things up for a stretch while “Urine” lures the listener downward with a subdued opening leading to more filth-caked distortion and degenerate noise, capping with feedback because at that point what the hell matters anyway? Little question in listening why this one’s been making the rounds for over a year now. It will likely continue to do so for some time to come.

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Quarterly Review: Thou, Liquid Visions, Benthic Realm, Ape Machine, Under, Evil Triplet, Vestjysk Ørken, Dawn of Winter, Pale Heart, Slowbro

Posted in Reviews on December 10th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review

We meet again! The second week of this amply-proportioned Quarterly Review begins today as we move ever closer toward the inevitable 100-album finish line on Friday. There is an incredible amount of music to get through this week, so I don’t want to delay for too long, but as we look out across the vast stretch of distortion to come, I need to say thank you for reading, and I hope that you’ve been able to find something that’s kicking your ass a little bit in all the right ways so far. If not, well, there are 50 more records on the way for you to give it another shot.

Here goes.

Quarterly Review #51-60:

Thou, Magus

thou magus

How can something be so raw and forward thinking at the same time? Baton Rouge’s Thou might be the band of their generation who’ve added the most to sludge in terms of pushing the style in new directions and shaping genre to their purposes. Magus (on Sacred Bones), their fourth or fifth full-length depending on whom you ask, is an overwhelming 75-minute 2LP of inward and outward destructive force, as heavy in its ambience as in its weight and throat-ripping sonic extremity, and yet somehow is restrained. To listen to the march of “Transcending Dualities,” there’s such a sense of seething happening beneath the surface of that chugging, marching riff, and after its creeping introduction, “In the Kingdom of Meaning” seems intent on beating its own rhythm, as in, with fists, and even a stop-by from frequent guest vocalist Emily McWilliams does little to detract from that impression. Along with Magus, which rightly finishes with the lurching threat of “Supremacy,” Thou have released three EPs and a split this year, so their pace runs in something of a contrast to their tempos, but whether you can keep up or not, Thou continue to press forward in crafting pivotal, essential brutalizations.

Thou website

Sacred Bones Records website

 

Liquid Visions, Hypnotized

Liquid Visions Hypnotized

Sulatron Records‘ pressing of Liquid Visions‘ 2002 debut, Hypnotized, is, of course, a reissue, but also the first time the album has been on vinyl, and it’s not long into opener “State of Mind” or the grunge-gone-classic-psych “Waste” before they earn the platter. Members of the band would go on to participate in acts like Zone Six, Wedge, Electric Moon and Johnson Noise, so it’s easy enough to understand how the band ties into the family tree of underground heavy psych in Berlin, but listening to the glorious mellow-unfolding-into-noise-wash-freakout of 15-minute closer “Paralyzed,” the appeal is less about academics than what the five-piece of vocalists/guitarists H.P. Ringholz (also e-sitar) and Kiryk Drewinski (also organ), bassist Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt (also Fender Rhodes and Mellotron), drummer Chris Schwartzkinsky and thereminist Katja Wolff were able to conjure in terms of being both ahead of their time and behind it. As the album moves from its opening shorter tracks to the longer and more expansive later material, it shows its original CD-era linearity, but if an LP reissue is what it takes to get Hypnotized out there again, so be it. I doubt many who hear it will complain.

Liquid Visions on Thee Facebooks

Sulatron Records webstore

 

Benthic Realm, We Will Not Bow

Benthic Realm We Will Not Bow

The second short release from Benthic Realm behind a 2017 self-titled EP (review here) finds the Massachusetts-based trio of guitarist/vocalist Krista van Guilder (ex-Second Grave, ex-Warhorse), bassist Maureen Murphy (ex-Second Grave) and drummer Dan Blomquist (also Conclave) working toward a refined approach bridging the divide between doom and darker, harder hitting metal. They do this with marked fluidity, van Guilder shifting smoothly between melodic clean singing and harsher screams as Murphy and Blomquist demonstrate like-minded ease in turns of pace and aggression. The penultimate semi-title-track “I Will Not Bow” is an instrumental, but “Save us All,” “Thousand Day Rain” and closer “Untethered” — the latter with some Slayer ping ride and ensuing double-kick gallop — demonstrate the riff-based songwriting that carries Benthic Realm through their stylistic swath and ultimately ties their ideas together. If they think they might be ready for a debut full-length, they certainly sound that way.

Benthic Realm on Thee Facebooks

Benthic Realm website

 

Ape Machine, Darker Seas

ape machine darker seas

Maybe Ape Machine need to make a video with cats playing their instruments or something, but five albums deep, the Portland outfit seem to be viciously underrated. Releasing Darker Seas on Ripple, they take on a more progressive approach with songs like “Piper’s Rats” donning harmonized vocals and more complex interplay with guitar. It’s a more atmospheric take overall — consider the acoustic/electric beginning of “Watch What You Say” and it’s semi-nod to seafaring Mastodon, the likewise-unplugged and self-awarely medieval “Nocturne in D Flat (The Jester)” and the rocking presentation of what’s otherwise fist-pumping NWOBHM on “Bend Your Knee” — but Ape Machine have always been a band with songwriting at their center, and even as they move into the best performances of their career, hitting a point of quality that even producer Steve Hanford (Poison Idea) decided to join them after the recording as their new drummer, there’s no dip in the quality of their work. I don’t know what it might take to get them the attention they deserve — though a cat video would no doubt help — but if Darker Seas underscores anything, it’s that they deserve it.

Ape Machine on Thee Facebooks

Ripple Music on Bandcamp

 

Under, Stop Being Naive

under stop being naive

Stockport, UK, three-piece Under bring a progressive edge to their pummel with their second album, Stop Being Naive (on APF), beginning with the deceptively thoughtful arrangement of crushing opener and longest track (immediate points) “Malcontent,” which unfurls a barrage of riffs and varied vocals contributed by guitarist Simon Mayo, bassist Matt Franklin and drummer/keyboardist Andy Preece. Later cuts like “Soup” and “Grave Diggers” tap into amorphous layers of extremity, and “Happy” punks out with such tones as to remind of the filth that became grindcore in the UK nearly 40 years ago, but while “Big Joke” rolls out with a sneer and closer “Circadian Driftwood” has a more angular foundation, there’s an overarching personality that comes through Under‘s material that feels misanthropic and critical in a way perhaps best summarized by the record’s title. Stop Being Naive is sound enough advice, and it comes presented with a fervent argument in its own favor.

Under on Thee Facebooks

APF Records webstore

 

Evil Triplet, Have a Nice Trip

evil triplet have a nice trip

Trimming the runtime of their 2017 debut, Otherworld (review here) nearly in half, Austin weirdo rockers Evil Triplet present the six-song/38-minute single LP Have a Nice Trip on Super Secret with classic garage buzz tone on “A Day Like Any Other,” a cosmic impulse meeting indie sneer on opener “Space Kitten” and a suitably righteous stretch-out on “Aren’t You Experienced?” — which is just side A of the thing. The pulsating “Open Heart” might be the highlight for its Hawkwindian drive and momentary drift, but “Pyramid Eye”‘s blown-out freakery isn’t to be devalued, and the eight-minute capper “Apparition” is dead on from the start of its slower march through the end of its hook-topped jam, reminding of the purpose behind all the sprawl and on-their-own-wavelength vibes. A tighter presentation suits Evil Triplet and lets their songs shine through while still highlighting the breadth of their style and its unabashed adventurousness. May they continue to grow strange and terrify any and all squares they might encounter.

Evil Triplet on Thee Facebooks

Super Secret Records website

 

Vestjysk Ørken, Cosmic Desert Fuzz

Vestjysk orken Cosmic Desert Fuzz

To a certain extent, what you see is what you get on Vestjysk Ørken‘s debut EP, Cosmic Desert Fuzz. At very least, the Danish trio’s three-tracker first outing is aptly-named, and guitarist/vocalist Bo Sejer, bassist Søren Middelkoop Nielsen and drummer Thomas Bonde Sørensen indeed tap into space, sand and tone on the release, but each song also has a definite theme derived from cinema. To wit, “Dune” (11:41) samples Dune, “…Of the Dead” (9:13) taps into the landmark George Romero horror franchise, and “Solaris” (14:15) draws from the 1972 film of the same name. The spaciousness and hypnotic reach of the latter has an appeal all its own in its extended and subtle build, but all three songs not only pay homage to these movies but seem to work at capturing some aspect of their atmosphere. Vestjysk Ørken aren’t quite rewriting soundtracks, but they’re definitely in conversation with the works cited, and with an entire universe of cinema to explore, there are accordingly no limits as to where they might go. Something tells me it won’t be long before we find out how deep their obsession runs.

Vestjysk Ørken on Instagram

Vestjysk Ørken on Bandcamp

 

Dawn of Winter, Pray for Doom

Dawn of Winter Pray for Doom

I have no interest in playing arbiter to what’s “true” in doom metal or anything else, and neither am I qualified to do so. Instead, I’ll just note that Germany’s Dawn of Winter, who trace their roots back nearly 30 years and have released full-lengths on a one-per-decade basis in 1998, 2008 and now 2018 with Pray for Doom, have their house well in order when it comes to conveying the classic tenets of the genre. Issued through I Hate, the eight-track/51-minute offering finds drummer Dennis Schediwy punctuating huge nodder grooves led by Jörg M. Knittel‘s riffs, while bassist Joachim Schmalzried adds low end accentuation and frontman Gerrit P. Mutz furthers the spirit of traditionalism on vocals. Songs like “The Thirteenth of November” and the stomping “The Sweet Taste of Ruin” are timeless for being born too late, and in the spirit of Europe’s finest trad doom, Dawn of Winter evoke familiar aspects without directly worshiping Black Sabbath or any of their other aesthetic forebears. Pray for Doom is doom, because doom, by doomers, for doomers. The converted will be accordingly thrilled to hear them preach.

Dawn of Winter on Thee Facebooks

I Hate Records website

 

Pale Heart, Jungeland

pale heart jungleland

Semi-retroist Southern heavy blues boogie, some tight flourish of psychedelia, and the occasional foray into broader territory, Stuttgart three-piece Pale Heart‘s StoneFree debut long-player, Junegleland is striking in its professionalism and, where some bands might sacrifice audio fidelity at the altar of touching on a heavy ’70s aesthetic, guitarist/vocalist Marc Bauer, key-specialist Nico Bauer and drummer Sebastian Neumeier (since replaced by Marvin Schaber) present their work in crisp fashion, letting the construction of the songs instead define the classicism of their influence. Low end is filled out by Moog where bass might otherwise be, and in combination with Hammond and Fender Rhodes and other synth, there’s nothing as regard missing frequencies coming from Jungleland, the nine songs of which vary in their character but are universally directed toward honing a modern take on classic heavy, informed as it is by Southern rock, hard blues and the tonal warmth of yore. A 50-minute debut is no minor ask of one’s audience in an age of fickle Bandcamp attentions, but cuts like the 12-minute “Transcendence” have a patience and character that’s entrancing without trickery of effects.

Pale Heart on Thee Facebooks

StoneFree Records website

 

Slowbro, Nothings

Slowbro Nothings

UK instrumentalist three-piece Slowbro‘s full-length debut, Nothings, brings forth eight tracks and 51 minutes of heavy-ended sludge rock notable for the band’s use of dueling eight-string guitars instead of the standard guitar/bass setup. How on earth does something like that happen? I don’t know. Maybe Sam Poole turned to James Phythian one day and was like, “Hey, I got two eight-string guitars. So, band?” and then a band happened. Zeke Martin — and kudos to him on not being intimidated by all those strings — rounds out on drums and together the trio embark on cuts like “Sexlexia” (a very sexy learning disability, indeed) and “Broslower,” which indeed chugs out at a considerably glacial pace, and “Fire, Fire & Fire,” which moves from noise rock to stonerly swing with the kind of aplomb that can only be conjured by those who don’t give a shit about style barriers. It’s got its ups and downs, but as Nothings — the title-track of which quickly cuts to silence and stays there until a final crash — rounds out with “Pisscat” and the eight-strings go ever so slightly post-rock, it’s hard not to appreciate the willful display of fuckall as it happens. It’s a peculiar kind of charm that makes it both charming and peculiar.

Slowbro on Thee Facebooks

Creature Lab Records website

 

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Review & Double Track Premiere: UFO Över Lappland, UFO Över Lappland

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on September 21st, 2018 by JJ Koczan

ufo over lappland self titled

[Click play above to stream ‘JaEDeJaE’ and ‘Lemmy on the Beach’ from UFO Över Lappland’s self-titled debut. Reissue available to order now from Sulatron Records.]

Lappland is located in the north of Sweden. All the way up. It is home to the country’s largest nature preserve, and while I don’t know if there’s a particular history of flying saucer sightings, in 1959, a slice of sci-fi cheese called Rymdinvasion i Lappland — “Space Invasion of Lappland” — was released and maybe that’s where psych-jamming four-piece UFO Över Lappland got their name from. Or maybe they’re aliens. The latter would explain the extraterrestrial vibes of their self-titled debut, originally released in 2016 by Fluere Tapes in a glittery translucent blue-green pressed in an edition of 50 copies. 50 copies. Brutal. Long gone, of course.

Sulatron Records — helmed by Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt of Electric Moon, Zone Six, et al — has stepped in to reissue UFO Över Lappland‘s UFO Över Lappland on CD and LP, turning the original three-track digital outing from guitarist Krister Mörtsell, bassist Christer Blomquist, synthesist Peter Basun and drummer Andreas Rejdvik into a five-song/50-minute instrumentalist sprawl that includes “Lemmy on the Beach,” which featured as a bonus track on the original tape, and the oddly-capitalized “JaEDeJaE.” The UFO may be over Lappland, but space is for sure its final destination, and the band gives it well enough thrust to get there. Opener and longest track (immediate points) “Keep on Keepin’ on Space Truckin'” begins its 12-minute cast with tense, proggy lines of looped guitar as a and a solid forward drumbeat as a bed for the lead line. Swirl comes and goes via synth and the bass makes itself felt in low end swells working on their own wavelength to underscore the groove. It’s all on the beat, all working together toward the same end, which is the thorough and early immersion of the listener to be sustained over the course of the proceedings. Bridge to engine room: take us to full impulse.

I don’t think UFO Över Lappland have the intent of reinventing space rock or heavy psychedelia, but what they do exceedingly well throughout their first album is to balance fluidity and drift in their jams with a subtle outward push. The only time they really go full-on with a Hawkwindian rhythm is, suitably enough, in “Lemmy on the Beach,” but even in “Keep on Keepin’ on Space Truckin'” there’s an underlying movement happening that carries through the track such that when it hits into its fuller-toned payoff in the second half, the shift is natural. Tied to the earlier stretch via synth, they return soon enough to the bouncing rhythm and airy guitar to close out, giving way to “JaEDeJaE,” which begins with a rumble and feedback for the first minute of its total 6:52. The shortest track on UFO Över Lappland, it continues the modus of the opener in patiently building repetitions, but there’s a keyboard line that takes forward position early and is met by fuzzy lead guitar that stands it out among its companion cuts.

ufo over lappland

Obviously there isn’t time for the same kind of stretch as in the opener, but UFO Över Lappland still find room for a suitable payoff, with the drums signaling the change with tom runs and a switch to crash-cymbal timekeeping, adding to the overall wash. Noise and a few seconds of silence make a fitting enough bed for the lead into “Podzol” (10:40), which dedicates itself to the most patient and hypnotic unfolding on the record. Not a minor distinction, given the context of what surrounds. But even with the drums setting forth a progressive motion, that itself is gradual too. It opens minimal, then synth and guitar, then bass and drums, the latter just with toms, then snare, then cymbals. It all happens in stages, and it’s not until they’re about halfway through that the full breadth of the song comes to bear. “Podzol” has a payoff of its own, but the sense is that it’s more about the trip than where they wind up, though I won’t discount the dissolution into noise that happens in the last minute either, nor how it bleeds into the subsequent “Nothing that Lives Has… Such Eyes!…,” continuing the cosmic thread forward as it gracefully takes hold.

By this point they’ve set the parameters and the coordinates are locked in. “Nothing that Lives Has… Such Eyes!…” nonetheless marks itself out with its noisy second half and a slower-rolling finish, leaving little question as to why it originally was intended as the pre-bonus track capstone of the album. There is a feeling of waiting for that payoff to arrive that’s set up through the similar structures that run throughout the first three songs, but UFO Över Lappland make sticking it out worthwhile, and “Lemmy on the Beach” resolves itself in a space rock blast that’s true to form in a way the rest of UFO Över Lappland only hinted at being, so there’s a showing of some freakout genre fluidity as well following that closer’s early going, which again pairs active rhythms with spacious guitar work and synth, finding an atmosphere outside the atmosphere but still wearing mag-boots to stay grounded.

Again, it’s that balance that’s so crucial to UFO Över Lappland‘s first outing, and while they’ve given themselves room to grow and expand their style in terms of structure, there’s a tonal reach from top to bottom in the mix that proves to be height as much as depth. It might be for the converted, but the converted won’t complain at its arrival, and especially given the here and vanished nature of the original pressing — a second round of tapes is reportedly available from the band — there’s plenty of reason to see why Sulatron would invite listeners to get lost in its vastness. It’s a pleasure to do so, and considering the original release was two years ago, one hopes it won’t be that much longer before UFO Över Lappland offer a follow-up. It would only be welcomed, however it might ultimately be beamed in.

UFO Över Lappland on Thee Facebooks

Sulatron Records webstore

Sulatron Records on Thee Facebooks

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Review & Track Premiere: Sherpa, Tigris and Euphrates

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on September 17th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

sherpa tigris and euphrates

[Click play above to stream the premiere of ‘Kim (((o)))’ from Sherpa’s Tigris and Euphrates. Album is out Sept. 28 on Sulatron Records.]

Working around a theme of human evolution, Italian psychedelic scene-setters Sherpa showcase no small amount of progression themselves with their second offering through Sulatron Records, the six-song/42-minute Tigris and Euphrates. From their home-base in the Abruzzo region — think mountains running up against the Adriatic coastline, hillside houses of untold age with roofs of curved tile, lakes, rivers, old castles on the high ground and other things that if you saw them in a calendar you wouldn’t believe they’re real; fly into Rome and then head east — the core four-piece of guitarist/vocalist/synthesist Matteo Dossena, bassist Franz Cardone, dronemaker guitarist Axel DiLorenzo and drummer/percussionist Pierluca Michetti weave textures no less lush for their deceptive minimalism, conjuring gorgeous post-rock wash with the help of Ivano and Enrico Legnini on Fender VI and MicroKorg in closer “Descent of Inanna to the Underworld” and side B opener “Abscent to the Mother of Language” (sic), respectively, Davide DiBernardo‘s sitar on “Overwhelmed” and Federica Vignoni‘s violin on second track “Creatures from Ur.”

One might think that given all the personnel involved and the varied instrumentation, Tigris and Euphrates would arrive as some grand and overblown realization, but as anyone who heard the band’s late-2016 debut, Tanzlinde (review here), can likely tell you, that’s simply not going to be the case. Of course Tigris and Euphrates has a scope aurally and in its subject matter, but the fluidity with which that’s brought to bear and the patience in Sherpa‘s craft, the understated impact of their mellow, gradually-unfolding vision of tonal presence, aren’t to be understated. The end result is an offering that’s immersive and beautiful, foreboding at times and moodier, but never relinquishing its hold on the consciousness of the listener, the band not necessarily needing volume to make their statement heard. Whether it’s the (relative) surge in the second half of opener “Kim (((o)))” or the sitar-laced drift that hypnotizes into the fadeout of the penultimate “Overwhelmed,” the feeling of serenity never departs entirely from Sherpa‘s sound, giving Tigris and Euphrates a hopeful aspect that bleeds into every song in one way or another.

The flow between the tracks is no less resonant than the material itself, and the impression of Tigris and Euphrates as a whole work is palpable, foretold in the hints at darker tones in “Kim (((o)))” that show up in lower distortion beneath “Abscent to the Mother of Language” and in the culmination of “Descent of Inanna into the Underworld.” In this way, the tracks come together and enhance each other, not only supporting the overarching thematic intent of the record but creating a world in which that story plays out, giving a foundation for the exploratory nature of what Sherpa are doing that, like so much of the album itself, is softly and smoothly delivered. A punctuating snare in “Kim (((o))” holds a tension that speaks to the more weighted unfolding in the song’s second half — an interaction between low distortion and a lead guitar lick worthy in its warmth of a Colour Haze comparison — and the wash of noise that slowly consumes the opening track seems to find some clarity before it draws itself down.

sherpa

Immediately, Dossena‘s vocals are more forward on “Creatures from Ur” and they arrive atop a slow progression of drums, keys and quietly strummed guitar. A spacious, somewhat sparse beginning moves easily forward into more voluminous liquefaction, but the peaceful vibe persists thanks in no small part to the methodical timekeeping and waves of volume-swelling synth, Vignoni‘s violin making its presence felt around four minutes into the total 6:38 as it finds complement in the bassline and soon becomes part of the river current, ringing tones holding on at the finish to fade and transition into side A closer “Equiseto.” Also the shortest cut at 5:21, “Equiseto” — the title referring to horsetail, either the plant or the actual tail of a horse — boasts a quiet percussiveness, as a quiet backing crash and tom hits back vocals and guitar repetitions that may or may not be loops but nonetheless add an experimental edge to a particularly folkish moment on an album that for all its peace shows little outward interest in actually being folk. Or at least not subsuming itself to the genre — though one could say the same thing about Tigris and Euphrates and psychedelic rock. It’s not really interested in being anything other than itself.

This, naturally, is one of the album’s great strengths, and it continues into the harmonies of “Abscent to the Mother of Language,” vocal layers taking hold over an ultra-flowing wash of guitar and synth that works its way forward until at about 3:45, it pulls back and lets the bass set the tone for a lower, darker-toned roll that persists throughout the next few minutes, eventually receding to a bookending verse. The side B opener is both a highlight and the longest piece on Tigris and Euphrates at 7:52, and it leads the way into “Overwhelmed” and “Descent of Inanna to the Underworld,” both of which also top seven and a half minutes, where only “Kim (((o)))” approached it so on side A. “Overwhelmed” uses its time to proffer especially resonant soundscaping, its cymbal work and guitar combining to ease forward toward a split at the halfway point into the sitar-inclusive up-strummed kick, more active snare pops adding to the momentum and rhythmic course. Everything’s relative, of course, but the classic psychedelic notion of East meets West is put to effective use, and the turn from one movement to the second in “Overwhelmed” speaks to the confidence of the band’s delivery on the whole. They’re able to put the listener in the exact space they want them to be. This is not to be undervalued as an aspect of their style.

Given the smoothness of their execution throughout and the grace with which Sherpa unfurl Tigris and Euphrates as an entirety that draws strength from its individual components, headphone-ready sonic detailing — Cardone‘s bass is enough to stun on its own — and abiding ambience, it’s easy to read some kind of resolution into the finale of “Descent of Inanna to the Underworld,” which like “Abscent to the Mother of Language” before it also turns to more weighted-sounding fare, this time just before it begins its second half, drawing back quickly and launching once again to give the closer a crescendo ahead of a long fade of residual tones; an end no less encompassing than anything before it. I don’t know if Sherpa intend the story to be finished — isn’t human evolution ongoing? — but their telling is complete and enthralling in its entirety, and their ability to cast out as they do is indicative of the creative growth they’re undertaking as a unit. All the better. They may not have gotten the credit they deserved for what they accomplished on their first outing, but if they keep putting together records like Tigris and Euphrates, sooner or later someone’s going to notice.

Sherpa on Thee Facebooks

Sherpa on Instagram

Sherpa on Bandcamp

Sulatron Records webstore

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Quarterly Review: Lucifer, Heilung, Amarok, T.G. Olson, Sun Dial, Lucid Grave, Domadora, Klandestin, Poor Little Things, Motorowl

Posted in Reviews on July 19th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review-CALIFORNIA-LANDSCAPE-Julian-Rix-1851-1903

You know what’s disheartening? When someone goes ‘thanks dudes.’ You know, I share a review or something, the band reposts and goes ‘thanks to the crew at The Obelisk blah blah.’ What fucking crew? If I had a crew, I’d put up 10 reviews every single day of the year. “Crew.” Shit. I am the crew. In the description of this site, the very first thing it says is “One-man operation.” It’s a fucking solo-project. That’s the whole point of it. It’s like me looking at your bass and going, “Sweet guitar, thanks for the solos brah.” I’m happy people want to share links and this and that, but really? It’s been nine years. Give me a break.

Oh yeah, that’s right. Nobody gives a shit. Now I remember. Thanks for reading.

And while we’re here, please remember the numbers for these posts don’t mean anything. This isn’t a countdown. Or a countup. It’s just me keeping track of how much shit I’m reviewing. The answer is “a lot.”

Grump grump grump.

Quarterly Review #31-40:

Lucifer, Lucifer II

lucifer lucifer ii

Recorded as the trio of vocalist Johanna Sardonis (ex-The Oath), guitarist Robin Tidebrink (Saturn) and guitarist/drummer Nicke Andersson (Death Breath, ex-Entombed, ex-The Hellacopters), Lucifer’s second album, Lucifer II (on Rise Above), follows three years after its numerical predecessor, Lucifer I (review here), and marks its personnel changes with a remarkable consistency of mission. Like Mercyful Fate gone disco, the formerly-Berlin/London-now-Stockholm group bring stage-ready atmospheres to songs like “Phoenix” and the riff-led “Before the Sun,” while unleashing a largesse of hooks in “Dreamer” and the boogie-pushing “Eyes in the Sky.” “Dancing with Mr. D” brings nod to a Rolling Stones cover, and “Before the Sun” reaffirms a heavy ‘70s root in their sound. I can’t help but wonder if the doomier “Faux Pharaoh” is a sequel to “Purple Pyramid,” but either way, its thicker, darker tonality is welcome ahead of the bonus track Scorpions cover “Evening Wind,” which again demonstrates the ease with which Lucifer make established sounds their own. That’s pretty much the message of the whole album. Lucifer are a big band. Lucifer II makes the case for their being a household name.

Lucifer on Thee Facebooks

Rise Above Records webstore

 

Heilung, Lifa

heilung lifa

Lifa is the audio taken from the live video that brought Denmark’s Heilung to prominence. Captured at Castlefest in The Netherlands in last year, the impression the expansive Viking folk group made was all the more powerful with elaborate costuming, bone percussive instruments, antlers, animal-skin drums, and so on. Their debut studio album, Ofnir, came out in 2015 and like LIFA has been issued by Season of Mist, but the attention to detail and A/V experience only adds to the hypnotic tension and experimentalist edge in the material. Does it work with just the audio? Yes. The 12-minute “In Maijan” and somehow-black-metal “Krigsgaldr” maintain their trance-out-of-history aspect, and the 75-minute set blends multi-tiered melodies and goblin-voiced declarations for an impression unlike even that which Wardruna bring to bear. Whether it’s the drones of “Fylgija Futhorck” or the chants and thuds of “Hakkerskaldyr,” LIFA is striking from front to back and a cohesive, visionary work that should be heard as well as seen. But definitely seen.

Heilung on Thee Facebooks

Season of Mist website

 

Amarok, Devoured

amarok devoured

Eight years after their founding, an EP and several splits, Chico, California, atmosludge extremists Amarok make their full-length debut with Devoured on Translation Loss. If it’s been a while in the making, it’s easy enough to understand why. The album is rife with brutalist and grueling sensibilities. Comprised of just four tracks, it runs upwards of 70 minutes and brings a visceral churn to each cut, not forgetting the importance of atmosphere along the way, but definitely focused on the aural bludgeoning they’re dealing out. Tempos, duh, are excruciating, and between the screams and growls of bassist Brandon Squyres (also Cold Blue Mountain) and guitarist Kenny Ruggles – the band completed by guitarist Nathan Collins and drummer Colby ByrneAmarok make their bid for Buried at Sea levels of heft and rumble their way across a desolate landscape of their own making. Eight years to conjure this kind of punishment? Yeah, that seems about right. See you in 2026.

Amarok on Thee Facebooks

Translation Loss Records webstore

 

T.G. Olson, Ode to Lieutenant Henry

tg olson ode to lieutenant henry

Here’s a curious case: T.G. Olson, founding guitarist and vocalist of Across Tundras, is a prolific experimental singer-songwriter. His material ranges from psychedelic country to fuller-toned weirdo Americana and well beyond. He’s wildly prolific, and everything goes up on Bandcamp for a name-your-price download, mostly unannounced. It’s not there, then it is. Olson’s latest singe, Ode to Lieutenant Henry, was there, and now it’s gone. With the march of its title-track and a complementary cover of Townes van Zandt’s “Silver Ships of Andilar,” I can’t help but be curious as to where the tracks went and if they’ll be back, perhaps in some other form or as part of a different release. Both are plugged-in and coated in fuzzy tones, with Olson’s echoing vocals providing a human presence in the wide soundscape of his own making. The original is shorter than the cover, but both songs boast a signature sense of ramble that, frankly, is worth being out there. Hopefully they’re reposted at some point, either on their own as they initially were or otherwise.

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T.G. Olson/Across Tundras on Bandcamp

 

Sun Dial, Science Fiction

sun dial sci fi

If space is the place, Sun Dial feel right at home in it. The long-running UK psychedelic adventurers collect two decades’ worth of soundtrack material on Science Fiction, their new release for Sulatron Records. Made with interwoven keyboard lines and a propensity to periodically boogie on “Mind Machine,” “Airlock,” “Infra Red,” etc., the experimentalist aspect of Science Fiction is all the more remarkable considering the album is compiled from different sources. One supposes the overarching cosmos is probably what brings it together, but with the samples and synth of “Saturn Return” and the lower end space-bass of pre-bonus-track closer “Starwatchers” – that bonus track, by the way, is a 15-minute version of opener “Hangar 13” – and though the vast majority of the Science Fiction relies on synth and keys to make its impression, it’s still only fair to call the proceedings natural, as the root of each one seems to be exploration. It’s okay to experiment. Nobody’s getting hurt.

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Sun Dial at Sulatron Records webstore

 

Lucid Grave, Demo 2018

lucid grave demo 2018

There are three songs on Lucid Grave’s first outing, the aptly-titled Demo 2018, and the first of them is also the longest (immediate points), “Star.” It presents a curious and hard to place interpretation of psychedelic sludge rock. It is raw as a demo worthy of its name should be, and finds vocalist Malene Pedersen (also Lewd Flesh) echoing out to near-indecipherable reaches atop the feedback-addled riffing. Quite an introduction, to say the least. The subsequent “Desert Boys” is more subdued at the start but gets furious at the end, vocals spanning channels in an apparent call and response atop increasingly intense instrumental thrust. And as for “Ride the Hyena?” If I didn’t know better – and rest assured, I don’t – I’d call it doom. I’m not sure what the hell the København five-piece are shooting for in terms of style, but I damn sure want to hear what they come up with next so I can find out. Consider me enticed. And accordingly, one can’t really accuse Demo 2018 of anything other than doing precisely what it’s supposed to do.

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Lucid Grace on Bandcamp

 

Domadora, Lacuna

domadora lacuna

Comprised of four-tracks of heavy psychedelic vibes led by the scorch-prone guitar of Belwil, Domadora’s third album, Lacuna, follows behind 2016’s The Violent Mystical Sukuma (discussed here) and taps quickly into a post-Earthless league of instrumentalism on opener “Lacuna Jam.” That should be taken as a compliment, especially as regards the bass and drums of Gui Omm and Karim Bouazza, respectively, who hold down uptempo grooves there and roll along with the more structured 14-minute cut “Genghis Khan” that follows. Each of the album’s two sides is comprised of a shorter track and a longer one, and there’s plenty of reach throughout, but more than expanse, even side B’s “Vacuum Density” and “Tierra Last Homage” are more about the chemistry between the band members – Angel Hidalgo Paterna rounds out on organ – than about crafting a landscape. Fortunately for anyone who’d take it on, the Parisian unit have plenty to offer when it comes to that chemistry.

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Domadora on Bandcamp

 

Klandestin, Green Acid of Last Century

klandestin green acid of last century

That’s a big “fuck yes, thank you very much” for the debut album from Indonesian stoner metallers Klandestin. Green Acid of the Last Century arrives courtesy of Hellas Records and is THC-heavy enough that if they wanted to, they could probably add “Bong” to the band’s name and it would be well earned. Eight tracks, prime riffs, watery vocals, dense fuzz, stomp, plod, lumber, shuffle – it’s all right there in homegrown dosage, and for the converted, Green Acid of the Last Century is nothing short of a worship ceremony, for the band itself as well as for anyone taking it on. With the march of “Doomsday,” the unmitigated rollout of “Black Smoke,” and the swirling green aurora of “The Green Aurora,” Klandestin wear their holding-back-a-cough riffage as a badge of honor, and couldn’t be any less pretentious about it if they tried. From the hooded weedian on the cover art to the Sleepy nod of closer “Last Century,” Green Acid of Last Century telegraphs its intent front-to-back, and is all the more right on for it.

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Hellas Records on Bandcamp

 

Poor Little Things, Poor Little Things

poor little things poor little things

You get what you pay for with “Rock’n’Roller,” which leads off the self-titled debut EP from Bern, Switzerland-based Poor Little Things. Around the core duo of vocalist Tina Jackson and multi-instrumentalist Dave “Talon” Jackson (also of Australia’s Rollerball) on guitar, bass, synth and percussion is Talon’s The Marlboro Men bandmate Fernando Marlboro on drums, and together the band presents five tracks of remember-when-rock-rocked-style groove. Fueled by ‘70s accessibility and a mentality that seems to be saying it’s okay to play big rooms, like arenas, cuts like “Drive” seem prime for audience participation, and “Break Another Heart” gives a highlight performance from Tina while “About Love” showcases a more laid back take. They close with the 6:37 “Street Cheetah,” which struts appropriately, and end with a percussive finish on a fadeout repeating the title line. As a showcase of their style and songwriting chops, Poor Little Things shows significant promise, sure, but it’s also pretty much already got everything it needs for a full-length album.

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Poor Little Things on Bandcamp

 

Motorowl, Atlas

motorowl atlas

Every now and then you put on a record and it’s way better than you expect. Hello, Motorowl’s Atlas. The German troupe’s second for Century Media, it takes the classic stylizations of their 2016 debut, Om Generator, and pushes them outward into a vast sea of organ-laced progressive heavy, soaring in vocal melodies and still modern despite drawing from an array of decades past. The chug in “The Man Who Rules the World” would be metal for most bands, but on Atlas, it becomes part of a broader milieu, and sits easily next to the expansive title-track, as given to post-rocking airiness in the guitar as to synth-laden prog. That mixture of influences and aesthetics would be enough to give the five-piece an identity of their own, but Atlas is further characterized by Motorowl’s ambitious songwriting and benefits greatly from the melodic arrangements and the clear intention toward creative development at work here. Those who take on its seven-track/45-minute journey will find it dynamic, spacious and heavy in kind.

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Motorowl at Century Media website

 

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