Review & Full Album Stream: Death Hawks, Psychic Harmony

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on June 3rd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

death hawks psychic harmony

[Click play above to stream Death Hawks’ Psychic Harmony in full. Album is out June 7 on Svart Records.]

Nearly a decade after their inception, Tampere, Finland’s Death Hawks are rewriting the script on where synth-led prog, psychedelia, and pop meet. Psychic Harmony arrives via Svart Records as their fourth album, and it takes the dreamscape aspects that showed themselves throughout the deep-ranging melodies of 2015’s Sun Future Moon (review here) and pushes them into a mega-lush wash of synth, periodic bouts of sax and a glamourized emotionality that comes through in slow-burners like “Re-Run” as well as in the disco-fied “Whisper,” which seems to nod at Blondie‘s flirtations with funk and eminent danceability. The returning four-piece of vocalist/guitarist Teemu Markkula, bassist/vocalist Riku Pirttiniemi, drummer Miikka Heikkinen and keyboardist/saxophonist Tenho Mattila present 10 tracks for a fluid single LP tied together by style amid varying moods driven as much if not more by keys as by guitar, the band showcasing a vision of pop sexuality that’s as much ’70s androgyny as it is krautrock exploration.

These would seem to be contrasts until one actually listens to Psychic Harmony, which lives up to its title in bringing into a single context such a swath of impulses, and making something deeply human at the same time so much of it is based around synthesizer. It is a significant leap or sidestep in sound even from the preceding Sun Future Moon, let alone anything that came before it, but here too, it is the focus on melodicism that makes Psychic Harmony within the band’s sphere even as it seems to expand the radius thereof, and Markkula‘s voice throughout is a uniting factor the contributions of which are not to be understated. Pirttiniemi has his parts as well, and Nicole Willis contributes a guest spot to acoustic-led closer “I am a Tree,” but still, Markkula helps establish the mood in which much of the album is operating, and the vibe set forth in “Secret Isle” at the outset is one that holds firm across nearly everything that follows, wherever else it might go sound-wise.

And that vibe? Well, it starts with the sound of a needle hitting a record. The idea isn’t just that you’re listening to a vinyl album, but what Death Hawks are shooting for immediately is the idea of being transported through the audio that comes — that cinematic otherworldliness of the keys that start the song and the outward voyage that ensues from there. It’s as though they’re signaling to their audience the intention for the music to take them someplace, and the lyrics to song bear that out as well. Psychic Harmony itself becomes that secret isle, and as the opener moves into the multi-color wash of “Like Lovers Do,” with a change in the vocals, sax buried far back in the mix and keys pushed far forward with voice overtop, the feel becomes all the more spacious, the world created in “Secret Isle” seeming to open wide with programmed beats and a second half that seems to purposefully lose itself in the moment.

death hawks (Photo by Sami Sanpikkila)

“Re-Run” follows and seems to work in the same vein initially, but even after the synth handclaps arrive after about a minute in, the feel is more mellow, with the mix completely filled out from top to bottom with rhythm and melody. Piano enters at the two-minute mark and “Re-Run” moves into its jazzier break, with the sax included as well, but the chorus returns with layers of vocals, leading just to Markkula‘s voice echoing through the chorus toward the title line again, ethereal sounds following and echoing away to lead out and toward the all-things fusion of the instrumental “Aleya,” which only furthers the atmosphere built to that point with horn harmonies and keys coinciding and a movement from mellow jazz to a more grandiose wash at the finish, bringing about the presumed side A capper “Synchronicity,” with a more prominent beat and effects-laden vocals, repetitions of the title word that make it seems almost like an advertisement from the future, and that shift into a stretch of dance-drift and end with fading swirl noise.

Bass beat starts “Whisper” at the (again, presumed) launch of side B, with a more direct play on dance pop that ensues, the aforementioned disco flush coming through not with the urgency of cocaine that actually typified so much of the material from the era with with the song is conversing, but a more laid back mindset, third eye open and ready to get funky. Still, the chorus lands with more insistence thanks in no small part to the beat behind it as well as the layers of vocals, so a guitar solo isn’t out of place when Death Hawks come around to the final section of the song. It’s the kind of thing that would have an extended dance mix in another time, another place. The drama continues in “A Room with a View” amid keyboard starts and stops, krautrock nuance and the prominent layers of vocals that emphasize the bright and progressive mood soon taken further with the arrival of the saxophone. I’d say “Play for Rewind” brings the proceedings back to ground, but yeah, that’s clearly not where Death Hawks are interested in going with Psychic Harmony.

Instead, they they move forward in deceptively efficient upbeat prog-pop form with a drum motion that increases subtly in intensity until at about 3:10 into the total 3:32, it moves to a double-kick to finish out, cutting to silence ahead of “Scent of Life,” a penultimate single-worthy piece that does indeed recall some of the album’s earlier moments, feeling familiar not in the sense of repeating anything, but of adding to what’s already there. It is the crescendo for the album as a whole, without question, and the departure of “I am a Tree” — the purposeful connection to earth, to the ground that “Play for Rewind” so readily rejected — is palpable, but through the prominence of voice throughout, maintains a complementary place with the other tracks before it. Like much of the album, it is beautiful and it knows it, but it is not content to let that self-awareness carry it. And as Death Hawks have thrown open the doors of perception here and discovered such shimmer on the other side, I would not expect their journey of discovery to stagnate anytime soon.

Death Hawks, “Re-Run” official video

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Death Hawks Post “Re-Run” Video; Psychic Harmony out June 7

Posted in Bootleg Theater on May 21st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

death hawks (Photo by Sami Sanpikkila)

Let’s answer the most pressing question immediately: Yes, the new Death Hawks video does feature a saxophone being played on the edge of a cliffside shorline, the ocean roiling below. If you’re not the patient kind, it starts at 2:45, and it’s of course glorious. Other highlights include petting the leaves of a bush and shooting a laser out of a diamond encased in a pineapple. If there’s any mystery left as to why I’m such a proponent of this band, I sincerely ask you to read the last sentence again and find your answer therein.

Death Hawks release their new album, Psychic Harmony on June 7 through Svart, and with it tap into synth-prog and danceable pastoralism the likes of which could only result from a cosmic collision of influences. Don’t ask me what — I’m not that cool — but suffice it to say the Finnish four-piece have their thing set and they’re running with it. Or at least walking. On the side of some rock formations. Also on the beach. Also in a field. They’re pretty much everywhere, and yet not at all touching the ground. Approach with mind and ears open. Do that.

Assuming all goes according to my evil plans — which, now that I’m telling them to you, it most certainly will not — I’m going to have a review and a front-to-back stream of Psychic Harmony on next Monday, so you’ll pardon me if I save some ethereal-type hyperbole for that. In the meantime, to get yourself a little taste of what the record’s all about, “Re-Run” is on the player below, followed by just a quick bit of perspective from the PR wire.

Please enjoy:

Death Hawks, “Re-Run” official video

Kaleidoscopic enigmas Death Hawks reveal the new video “Re-Run.” The track hails from highly anticipated fourth album, Psychic Harmony, set for international release on June 7th via Svart Records.

On their continual shift in sound, vocalist/guitarist Teemu Markkula expounds: “We have always been searching new unforeseen ways in music to express ourselves. It is almost like a chemical reaction. Combining pieces of different elements can lead to an explosion or maybe to a state of euphoria. A sense of harmony is usually what does the trick for me.” He adds, “It’s a continuous quest for new. To get stuck, stay put, or stuck in reverse, even, is certain death. That’s why for us it’s better to stay lost, even, and keep flying and searching. Inspiration is a highly addictive feeling.”

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Kaleidobolt Premiere “Deadpan Blues” from Bitter out May 31

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on May 16th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

kaleidobolt

Finnish boogie-made-prog heavy rockers Kaleidobolt will issue their third album, Bitter, on May 31 as their debut release for Svart Records, and though the track premiering below from it is called “Deadpan Blues,” make no mistake, there’s just about nothing deadpan about the entire outing. Instead, the returning Helsinki trio of guitarist/vocalist Sampo Kääriäinen, bassist/vocalist Marco Menestrina and drummer Valtteri Lindholm bask in the experience gleaned from touring to support their second album, 2016’s The Zenith Cracks (review here), and use the recording process itself like another instrument in exciting and engaging ways. “Deadpan Blues” on the album follows directly after the previously unveiled “I am the Seer” (posted here, but also way down at the bottom of this post), a song that in answering the organ-laced righteousness and jangle of opener “Another Toothpick” and the cavernous rock-formation spaces of “Big Sky Land” (lead guitar there reminding just a bit of Elder‘s vivid tonality) melds frenetic boogie with surf rock guitar ping, consuming megafuzz undulations and a bluesy, boozy repeated lyric about being torn apart by memory. The roll that ends it devolves into static amp noise as Menestrina‘s bassline begins “Deadpan Blues” with an immediate sense of tension and the guitar (slide?) and snare march smoothly enter. It’s about a minute before the rush-o’-riff ensues, but man, what a blast when it does. It’s a track that takes the best of what the ’70s-worship set has brought to bear and pushes it into the now-future not only with tonal presence, but with a sharp delivery that speaks to the consciousness at work all the while. Kaleidobolt have been plenty diggable since their 2015 self-titled (review here) came out on Pink Tank, but Bitter feels like a different level of achievement.

And yeah, it should. The second album was a step forward from the first and their sound was immediately nuanced enough to make one think they were a band interested kaleidobolt bitterin growing creatively. Bitter not only builds on The Zenith Cracks in terms of its form — or in the case of the absolute diversion into noisy fuckall at the end of “Deadpan Blues,” its anti-form; fortunately the subsequent prog guitar lullaby “Interlude” gives the listener a moment to recover — but affirms Kaleidobolt‘s intent toward individualism and developing something deeper than the standard execution of genre. Even as the penultimate “Coyote” dives into Thin Lizzyism, it does so with its own take. And a mellotron! But part of what gives Bitter that sonic nuance is the recording itself, which lends particular space to Kääriäinen‘s guitar and has a consistent thread of reverb/echo that draws the ear toward the Spaghetti West without ever really going full-Morricone. A place in-between seems only too comfortable for Kaleidobolt, and with the whole-album-highlight drum performance of Lindholm as the grounding factor and Menestrina‘s winding basslines as the supporting structure, the guitar is free to construct as it will, an aesthetic focal point in a way that feels like a given for heavy rock, but is still make a conscious choice here thanks to variety in tone — that fuzz on “I am the Seer” returns on closer “Hydra” before it gets kicked in the psychedelic dirt for about nine minutes or so — and the ability of the band as a whole to affect varying degrees of mood and, from the outset on, maddening vitality, in their material. The underground universe is not short on bands updating classic forms. One would have a difficult time thinking of another doing so with as much character as Kaleidobolt bring to Bitter.

Again, the production, which was helmed by Niko Lehdontie, who’s worked with a number of experimental outfits like Oranssi Pazuzu and so is no stranger to thoughtful chaos, is part of that, but even Kaleidobolt‘s decision to push outside of the “norm” on the general sound of Bitter is emblematic of the consciousness at work behind what they’re doing here. On first listen, it can be a tough record to keep up with — because it moves, moves, moves, and requires your attention to do likewise — but if you need to, dig into “Deadpan Blues” twice in a row and already the second time you’ll hear it differently. It takes a minute to adjust to the scope of what Kaleidobolt manifest, but doing so makes the listening experience all the more satisfying, and not just for the kinetic nature of their ur-groove. Bitter is as much about aesthetic purpose as it is boogie-down, and for all its accomplishments, I’d offer zero guarantees the band are done growing. As much as their course throughout these seven tracks twists and turns, it is inextricably forward. Get down, and know why.

Kaleidobolt have tour dates upcoming this summer that will take them to Stoned from the Underground and that include shows with Yawning Man. You’ll find those and more info on the record included under the track below.

Please enjoy:

Kaleidobolt, “Deadpan Blues” official track premiere

With one foot in classic heavy power-trio rock ‘n’ roll and the other knee-deep in psychedelic frenzy, Finland’s Kaleidobolt blast off into inner space with their third album, Bitter. Having perfected their craft on the road all across Europe, with two previous albums under their collective belt, Kaleidobolt have become a fierce live experience, guaranteed to blow minds and ears.

Kaleidobolt, however, are far from your usual deafening stoner rock experience. Their music is all about texture and depth, and beneath the lysergically frenzied riffs hide worlds of exquisite soundscapes. For the new album, the band decided to take an even greater leap into worlds beyond and hired Niko Lehdontie (Kairon; IRSE! and Oranssi Pazuzu) to produce the album and Lauri Eloranta (the current go-to guy in Finland for indie pop and rock bands) to mix it.

Bitter is rock music frenzy that intermittently disintegrates into sonic cotton candy and the occasional western theme. Bitter is also Kaleidobolt’s debut for Svart Records, and we are proud to release it on May 31st on CD, vinyl LP, and digital formats.

Kaleidobolt live:
5.7 Gothenburg / Truckstop Alaska (SWE)
6.7 Malmö / @PlanB – malmö (SWE)
7.7 Kiel / Die Kieler Schaubude (GER)
8.7 Berlin / Toast Hawaii (GER)*
9.7 Wiesbaden / Schlachthof Wiesbaden (GER)*
10.7 Cottbus / Zum Faulen August, Cottbus (GER)*
11.7 Wien / ARENA WIEN (AUT)*
12.7 Salzburg / Rockhouse Salzburg (AUT)*
13.7 Erfurt / Stoned from the Underground – Festival
*with Yawning Man

Kaleidobolt is:
Sampo Kääriäinen – guitar, vocals
Marco Menestrina – bass, vocals
Valtteri Lindholm – drums

Kaleidobolt, “I am the Seer” official video

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Kaleidobolt Sign to Svart Records for Bitter out May 31; New Video Posted

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 28th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

kaleidobolt

It’s a marriage made in Finnish weirdness. Helsinki-based progressive heavy rockers Kaleidobolt are a natural fit for Svart Records given their blend of old and new, prog and and heavy, this and that, up and down, side to side, space and earth, all good things and so on. Granted that’s a pretty wide standard, but the jazzy elements of what they’ve done over the course of their two LPs to date — 2016’s ultra-righteous The Zenith Cracks (review here) and the prior no-slouch-either 2015 self-titled (review here) — only make the alliance more reasonable, as Svart has readily shown an affinity for such things in past offerings. Everybody wins, is what I’m saying, and all the more those who take a few minutes out of their hectic day to dig into the new video “I Am the Seer” — at the bottom of the post, duh — and thereby get an early sampling of Kaleidobolt‘s wares on their impending third album, Bitter, which will mark their debut on the label upon its release May 31.

These guys have been on their own wavelength of heavy since they started out, and one is glad to see them continue the thread. Looking forward to the record.

Info came down the PR wire:

kaleidobolt bitter

KALEIDOBOLT set release date for SVART debut, reveal first video

Svart Records sets May 31st as the international release date for Kaleidobolt’s highly anticipated third album, Bitter. The album, which will be the band’s debut for the label, will be released on CD and vinyl LP formats.

With one foot in classic heavy power-trio rock ‘n’ roll and the other knee-deep in psychedelic frenzy, Finland’s Kaleidobolt blast off into inner space with their third album, Bitter. Having perfected their craft on the road all across Europe, with two previous albums under their collective belt, Kaleidobolt have become a fierce live experience, guaranteed to blow minds and ears.

Kaleidobolt, however, are far from your usual deafening stoner rock experience. Their music is all about texture and depth, and beneath the lysergically frenzied riffs hide worlds of exquisite soundscapes. For the new album, the band decided to take an even greater leap into worlds beyond and hired Niko Lehdontie (Kairon; IRSE! and Oranssi Pazuzu) to produce the album and Lauri Eloranta (the current go-to guy in Finland for indie pop and rock bands) to mix it.

“We aim to make music that sounds dangerous, that is on its way to critical mass and could all fall apart at any moment,” comments bassist Marco Menestrina. “This time, we were thankful to have Niko the producer with us to ensure things were kept freaky and noisy enough.”

Bitter is rock music frenzy that intermittently disintegrates into sonic cotton candy and the occasional western theme. Bitter is also Kaleidobolt’s debut for Svart Records, and we are proud to release it on May 31st on CD, vinyl LP, and digital formats.

In the meantime, see & hear a special video for the new track “I am the Seer.”

Tracklisting for Kaleidobolt’s Bitter
1. Another Toothpick
2. Big Sky Land
3. I Am The Seer
4. Deadpan Blues
5. Interlude
6. Coyote
7. Hydra

https://www.facebook.com/kaleidobolt
https://kaleidobolt.bandcamp.com/
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www.twitter.com/svartrecords

Kaleidobolt, “I am the Seer” official video

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Death Hawks Set June 7 Release for Psychic Harmony; New Song Posted

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 21st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

death hawks (Photo by Sami Sanpikkila)

I know damn well you’ve been waiting for news about a new Death Hawks record since they put up the video for the single “Atitlán” (posted here) last summer, so don’t even pretend otherwise. Well, to herald the announcement of their upcoming LP, Psychic Harmony — which, rest assured, will bring long-awaited peace throughout the galaxy — they’re streaming the new track “Scent of Life” now, and if you can’t dig its glam-soaked psychedelic synth push — like what happened if New Wave, but like, New Wave from Saturn? — then it’s your loss. Me, I’m so into it I already sent an email to Svart‘s PR begging for more. June 7 is the release date, so there’s plenty of time to go, but preorders are up, and you should preorder it because god damn it just listen to that fucking song at the bottom of this post. Everybody’s who goes, “it’s all been done” or “it all sounds the same,” is just trying to cover up for the fact that they’re boring. Death Hawks have the proof!

From the PR wire:

death hawks psychic harmony

DEATH HAWKS set release date for new SVART album, reveal first track

Svart Records announces June 7th as the international release date for Death Hawks’ highly anticipated fourth album, Psychic Harmony, on CD and vinyl LP formats.

On the flipside of the days of northern darkness are the endless sub-Arctic summer nights, where the midnight sun never sets and Finnish nightlife is brilliantly illuminated. Here happiness has a deeper meaning. This is where Finland’s Death Hawks have spread their unique wings, phoenix-like, on their fourth album, Psychic Harmony. Stemming from a rich foundation of euphoric stage shows that has seen the band electrify and joyously anaesthetise their audiences at home and abroad over the years since their inception in 2011, with luxurious synths, psych-blues, and climactic jazz sections, this is the quartet’s bravest and most eclectic trip into the unknown so far.

As if Sophia Coppola got high with Wes Anderson on the Finnish archipelago in late summer, with the cerebral futurism of their Nordic disco countryman Jori Hulkkonen remixing Piirpauke or Wigwam as their soundtrack, Psychic Harmony is a journey into the meaning of euphonic connection itself. It’s boldly cinematic, but their soundscape movie is a genre crash of beautiful alienation, stranded on a desert paradise full of surreal life-forms. Featuring guest appearances by Pekko Käppi on bowed lyre and violin, and lush vocals by Nicole Willis on “I Am A Tree,” Psychic Harmony is an opulent vista.

Spinning out under the mirrorball, the album coolly references modern acts like Thundercat, The Seshen, Fever Ray, and Evil Needle mixed with chic French connections from Francoise Hardy to Daft Punk, Serge Gainsbourg and his daughter Charlotte. Sophisticated tranquil pop songs like the single track “Scent Of Life” or the synth swathes of “Synchronicity” bring to mind the timeless dancefloor mastery of Madonna, Prince, and Michael Jackson, with all the eclectic abandon of ’70s greats like Aphrodite’s Child, Yes, and Funkadelic. Lead singer/guitarist Teemu Markkula calls their influences “soulful connections for a fuller and higher vibration. Different languages, so to speak, but all from the same source connecting in harmony.”

This is personal psychedelia, with lyrics that reference a blissful state of metamorphosis, like “step into a new world,” the enlightenment of “a new beginning,” and “dancing in a spiral of change,” Death Hawks have come into their career stride, finding their own personal groove and sense of rhythm on this re-defining album.

On their continual shift in sound, Teemu Markkula expounds: “We have always been searching new unforeseen ways in music to express ourselves. It is almost like a chemical reaction. Combining pieces of different elements can lead to an explosion or maybe to a state of euphoria. A sense of harmony is usually what does the trick for me.” He adds, “It’s a continuous quest for new. To get stuck, stay put, or stuck in reverse, even, is certain death. That’s why for us it’s better to stay lost, even, and keep flying and searching. Inspiration is a highly addictive feeling.”

Jewels of Finland’s rising music treasures, Death Hawks are soaring with Psychic Harmony, and your sonic flight on their sound waves will connect you to higher vibrations. Death Hawks are out there on their ocean of sound, ready to lift you up when you feel like you’re slipping under. Get lifted with the aforementioned first single “Scent of Life” at Svart’s official YouTube channel. Preorder info can be found HERE. Cover and tracklisting are as follows:

Tracklisting for Death Hawks’ Psychic Harmony
1. Secret Isle
2. Like Lovers Do
3. Re-Run
4. Aleya
5. Synchronicity
6. Whisper
7. A Room with a View
8. Play For Rewind
9. Scent of Life
10. I am a Tree

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http://svartrecords.com/shoppe/en/
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Death Hawks, “Scent of Life”

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Kings Destroy, Fantasma Nera: Where You’ll Find Yourself

Posted in Reviews on March 15th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Kings Destroy Fantasma Nera

The usual disclaimer: I won’t pretend to be impartial about a new Kings Destroy release. I’ve followed with great intrigue the process by which the New York five-piece have made Fantasma Nera, from the composition of the songs to working with producer David Bottrill — who has helmed records for Tool, King Crimson, and many, many others — to their aligning with Svart Records for the release with an eye toward touring around it, right up to attending the release show at the Saint Vitus Bar last weekend (review here). I’m not bragging, like I’m Johnny Groundfloor or something; I’m telling you this because in addition to being a fan of their work — something that should already do away with any false-anyway notion of impartiality when it comes to critique — I consider these guys friends and I can’t and won’t pretend otherwise for the purposes of an album review. If that somehow for you invalidates whatever I say about Fantasma Nera or the band in general, then fine. Tune back in Monday for plenty more overly wordy stoicism. Or don’t. Up to you.

At 10 tracks and 43 minutes, Fantasma Nera is the most accomplished album Kings Destroy have put out in the decade they’ve been together. Their fourth behind a 2015 self-titled (review here) and 2017’s single-song None More EP (review here), it redefines their scope as a band entirely, with a greater focus on melody and a nothing-spare efficiency of songcraft that enhances rather than detracts from the impact of moments like the apex to “Seven Billion Drones” or the swinging chug and hook of “Yonkers Ceiling Collapse,” the winding beginning of opener “The Nightbird” or the angular turns of the penultimate “Bleed Down the Sun.”

Tonally, it’s the smoothest-sounding Kings Destroy have ever been, as Carl Porcaro and Chris Skowronski suit their sound to a more rocking feel overall that sets well in the rush of “Barbarossa” early in the record or the more foreboding riffing of “You’re the Puppet” later on, and even in the presentation of the underlying groove of bassist Aaron Bumpus and drummer Rob Sefcik (also of Begotten), the shift is palpable, puling away from some of the outward confrontationalist attack that seemed most to define their second outing, 2013’s A Time of Hunting (review here), and instead metering the in-your-facery in a way they never have before. I do not imagine that getting a bunch of dudes whose roots are in New York hardcore on board with the idea that not everything needs to be played as hard as possible at all times was an easy task, but the truth is Kings Destroy laid the foundation for this kind of work their last time out, even if the actual result is a considerable leap forward.

kings destroy

Perhaps most of all, it’s a collection of songs by a band putting everything on the line. As vocalist Steve Murphy successfully brings in falsetto on “Unmake It,” or is joined by a gang chorus on “The Nightbird” — a theme that continues directly from self-titled closer “Time for War” — or pushes into new levels of melodic complexity that seem drawn from YOB‘s “Marrow” in melancholy album highlight “Dead Before,” which is brilliantly paired with the bouncing riff of “Yonkers Ceiling Collapse” right after, there’s a sense that Kings Destroy, all five of them, are leaving it all out there. Closer “Stormy Times,” in which Skowronski and Porcaro come together in a final stretch of harmonized soloing to end the record, seems to be a moment of exhalation, and it ends with notes held out to fading feedback as though at the end of it the band could finally breathe. Though Fantasma Nera is unquestionably their most “rock” album in the sheer listening process, it carries a sense of extremity nonetheless in how much of themselves they put into making it.

And I haven’t said this to anyone in the band yet, but my principle concern in listening to these tracks is that Fantasma Nera might be the last Kings Destroy record. That after putting everything into this, there might not be anything left. I don’t know that, of course, and I don’t think at this point they would either, but Kings Destroy aren’t just making a sonic turn with this material — they’re providing a culmination of what their prior offerings were driving toward. In a way, Fantasma Nera defines them more than did the self-titled. What do you do after that? Where do you go from there?

Hell if I know.

They’re questions that don’t need immediate answering, but the thought lingers in the back of my head even while the title-track and “Barbarossa” proffer hooks in a salvo with the opener that help define the spirit of what follows, and even as the second half of the record takes on more of a commentary component between “Yonkers Ceiling Collapse,” “Seven Billion Drones,” “You’re the Puppet” and “Stormy Times” — hell, even “Bleed Down the Sun” could be read that way, if you take the imagery as metaphor — it retains the urgency of expression of “Fantasma Nera” itself or “Dead Before,” which in its verses is the most subdued Kings Destroy get here, but is nonetheless vital in its melody and emotionalism.

If Fantasma Nera were to be the last Kings Destroy record — and I’m not saying it is, or that it should be; I’m just working in a hypothetical; they’ll probably put out another album in a couple years and blow this one out of the water — then they’re not leaving anything in reserve. There’s no holding back in these songs. It’s all laid bare for the listener to take in, as though the band reeled back and unleashed the material they’ve been aiming for all this time. My hope is that it’s not the last one, but whether it is or not, there’s no doubt after “Stormy Times” works its way out that they’ve pushed themselves to what at least for right now is their limit in terms of craft and performance. It is a new peak for them, and a triumph begging to be heard.

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Demon Head, Hellfire Ocean Void: Own the Hour

Posted in Reviews on February 15th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

demon head hellfire ocean void

There are those who’ll argue against there being any room for growth in a retro aesthetic. That the style is inherently stagnant. It sounds old, therefore it sounds redundant. It’s an argument as simple as it is ridiculous and Copenhagen’s Demon Head give a compelling glimpse at why by means of Hellfire Ocean Void. It is their third full-length and first through respected purveyor Svart Records, and it manifests a theatricality and progressive sense of drama all its own while staying loyal to an underlying classicism. As songs like “The Night is Yours” and “In the Hour of the Wolf” dynamically blend aspects of gothic post-punk, dark psychedelia, doom and proto-metallic tonality, the five-piece — a returning lineup of vocalist Marcus Ferreira Larsen, lead guitarist Thor Gjerlufsen Nielsen, rhythm guitarist/keyboardist Birk Gjerlufsen Nielsen, bassist Mikkel Sander Fuglsang and drummer Jeppe “No You Can’t Know My Middle Name” Wittus — bring individualism to established styles by crafting a blend that is theirs alone.

To be sure, this has been their trajectory all the while. Their second album, 2017’s Thunder on the Fields (review here), built fluidly on the prior 2015 debut, Ride the Wilderness (review here), and in that context, Hellfire Ocean Void is another forward step in the series — but it’s a big step. That can be heard as “In the Hour of the Wolf” picks up from the jangly “A Flaming Sea,” in which Larsen delivers the title line, and shifts in its second half to hypnotic progressive guitar lines as it moves toward its final, sweeping solo. It can be heard in the folkish vocal harmonies that begin side B with the acoustic-led intro “Labyrinth,” the way in which scorching leads of the subsequent “Strange Eggs” draw down the tempo ahead of the final dirge march, or how closer “Mercury and Sulphur” seems to pull the various sides together into one cohesive entirety for its eight and a half minutes. Simply put, this is the record that those who’ve caught on to Demon Head have been hearing the potential for up till now. It is the realization of their promise as a band.

Much of the noted drama involved can be traced to the vocals, and again, that’s been a steady factor in Demon Head since their beginnings five years ago with Demo 2014 (review here) and the single Demon Head b/w Winterland (review here), but neither should the work of the Nielsens on guitar be understated in its contribution. Even Wittus‘ crash cymbal seems to have a grand purpose in crafting the wash by the time “Mercury and Sulphur” is hitting its payoff, and sure enough the last piece to go from that track is Fuglsang‘s bass, so indeed, it’s everybody. And it’s a question of confidence, definitely. Demon Head are fast veterans at the half-decade mark, and while they haven’t spent six months out of each year touring and playing festivals, they’ve done a fair share of road time, so they should be as sure of themselves and what they’re doing as they are. They sound throughout the eight songs/40 minutes of Hellfire Ocean Void like a band experienced in the studio, who know how to balance live energy of performance with the opportunities for sonic expansion that recording allows.

demon head

Their scope, their sheer sonic reach, has never been so broad, and as the album opens with the quiet piano introduction “Rumours,” the intent of grandeur is clearly stated. And yet Hellfire Ocean Void isn’t overblown. It isn’t consumed by its own progression at the expense of the songs. Demon Head‘s naturalist tonality keeps them grounded, and their level of songcraft assures that even as “The Night is Yours” and “The Flaming Sea” provide an initial showcase of the band’s intent in conveying the maturity of their approach and how far they’ve come, their work is still catchy and engaging on a basic structural level. That remains true even in the wider soundscaping of “In the Hour of the Wolf,” with its goth disco animalia, the delightfully and willfully bizarre “Strange Eggs” and the patiently expansive and doomed “Mercury and Sulphur,” which comprise a movement unto themselves of nuance and character, but have their hooks nonetheless.

Further, Demon Head evince a whole-album approach not only within the songs, but in the patterning of the album itself. From “Rumours” into “The Night is Yours,” “A Flaming Sea” into “In the Hour of the Wolf,” “Labyrinth” into “Strange Eggs” and the penultimate “Death’s Solitude” into “Mercury and Sulphur,” Hellfire Ocean Void shifts from shorter-track/longer-track in such a way as to directly portray the dynamism of the band and a feeling of stylistic diversity. In particular, “Death’s Solitude,” with its xylophone (I’m pretty sure I hear that elsewhere too, unless I’m imagining things) and tension-building tom runs, acts as a direct line into the finale in such a way as to make one believe it was written precisely for that purpose. It’s longer than “Rumours” or “Labyrinth,” and the quiet guitar of its first half seems to foreshadow the breakout that comes circa 1:20 in, but after that, it’s the vocals in a showcase over an instrumental tempest that ultimately holds sway and moves into the closer after a quick fade to set up the stark strum of guitar at the start of “Mercury and Sulphur.”

It’s one more moment in which Demon Head so carefully but so naturally prove themselves to be masters of their sound. Hellfire Ocean Void is not necessarily immediate — it may take a few listens to completely unveil its scope — but when it does, it’s all the more satisfying a listening experience. And it’s worth noting that even as they reach this new echelon of craft, Demon Head maintain an abiding lack of pretense. As far out as they go, they don’t lose themselves in the work, and they don’t lose sight of the songs. The difference that makes across the LP’s two-sided span is massive when it comes time for “Mercury and Sulphur” to make its final outward plod; a stretch that is neither over-the-top emotionally nor failing to connect in terms of affecting a mood. With Hellfire Ocean VoidDemon Head serve notice that they’ve been underrated up to this point in their tenure, and not only reaffirm and manifest their own forward potential, but that of their genre as a whole, even as they grow beyond its confines.

Demon Head, Hellfire Ocean Void (2019)

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The Obelisk Presents: Kings Destroy Fantasma Nera Release Tour with Gozu & Forming the Void

Posted in The Obelisk Presents on January 31st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

kings destroy

Brooklyn’s Kings Destroy are getting ready once again to fuck with the formula via their fourth long-player, Fantasma Nera, which branches into new levels of progressive songwriting and melody while turning their confrontational aspect inward as much as outward in theme and execution. Like everything they’ve done, it leaves the past in its dust. Set to release March 8 on Svart Records — which is a label of taste broad and reliable enough to suit them — its arrival will be preceded by a run up the Eastern Seaboard in the company of Gozu and Forming the Void, and it’s my sincere pleasure to be among the presenters of the tour.

They’ll be at Maryland Doom Fest 2019 as well this June — along with many, many others — but even for those planning to see them there, this is an early chance to get introduced to the songs and, presumably, pick up a copy of the album before it’s officially out. Preorders are great and available now, but there’s nothing quite like a merch table either.

The shows kick off Feb. 27 in Kingston, New York, with hometown heroes Geezer and head into Canada for a stop on Montreal before swinging through Rochester, Cleveland and Pittsburgh to finish up. I’ll be at the Brooklyn gig that has Clamfight as the much-welcome fourth for the bill, and there’s no doubt in my mind it’s going to be a party. A sweaty, sweaty party.

Poster is by Bill Kole, and you can stream the Fantasma Nera title-track below:

kings destroy tour poster

Fantasma Nera pre-orders are available now via Svartrecords.com/artist/kings-destroy with physical bundles including colored vinyl and other merchandise. Digital pre-orders include an instant download of the title track.

The band has announced an East Coast Tour prior to the week of release as well as a recently announced performance at the Maryland Doom Fest on June 20.

Kings Destroy tour dates:
February 27 Kingston, NY The Anchor w/ Geezer
February 28 Portland, ME Geno’s
March 1 Boston, MA Middle East w/ Test Meat
March 2 Brooklyn, NY Saint Vitus w/ Clamfight
March 3 Montreal QC TurboHaus
March 4 Rochester, NY Bug Jar
March 5 Cleveland, OH Now That’s Class
March 6 Pittsburgh, PA Howlers w/ Horehound

Kings Destroy is Aaron Bumpus (bass), Stephen Murphy (vocals), Carl Porcaro (guitar), Rob Sefcik (drums) and Chris Skowronski (guitar).

Kings Destroy, “Fantasma Nera”

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