Six Dumb Questions with Esben Willems

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on June 21st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

esben-willems-photo-Hank-Henrik-Oscarsson

Swedish tone-crushers Monolord recently finished work on their impending third album, which will be out later this year via RidingEasy Records. For drummer Esben Willems, the accomplishment is two-fold. In addition to playing, Willems also engineered — a credit he shares with guitarist/vocalist Thomas V. Jäger and bassist Mika Häkki — and mixed and mastered. This was done behind the board in the capacity of Berserk Audio, the nom de guerre under which Willems has helmed projects not only for his own outfits Monolord and formerly Marulk, but many others over the years including Långfinger, Vokonis and Cities of Mars.

Unsurprisingly, as Monolord‘s reputation has grown, that of Willems‘ capacity as an engineer has done likewise, and Berserk Audio has become more established as a result. Founded on principals of flexibility and passion — and coffee, of course — the studio is as mobile as the hard-touring Willems himself, and that’s fortunate, because as Monolord make ready to release the aforementioned new full-length, they’ve already announced a co-headlining Fall 2017 European tour with Conan (dates here) that will follow stops this summer at Stoned from the Underground in Germany, SonicBlast Moledo in Portugal, and so on.

A busy schedule, however, is the lifesblood of a recording engineer, and it would seem Willems‘ position is the more the merrier. Right on. Though he was interviewed here around the 2015 release of the second Monolord album, Vænir (review here), which was followed by the 2016 two-songer EP, Lord of Suffering / Die in Haze (review here), the work he’s done in bringing Berserk Audio to fruition isn’t to be underestimated, and it was high time to give due attention to this side of Willems‘ creative persona, which I hope the Q&A below does, at least in some measure.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

berserk audio logo

Six Dumb Questions with Esben Willems

How did you get your start in recording? What were some of your early projects and how did your technique develop? Do you have a philosophy when it comes to tracking bands or is each project different in what it requires from the engineer?

My first steps in recording was when I moved out of my parents’ house and to a different town in the early ‘90s, where I soon spent all free time in a rehearsal complex. After spending most of my childhood caught in uninspiring music theory in the local municipal music school – I’ve forgotten almost all of that, haha – I finally met likeminded people who just played music with focus on the music, not the strict theory behind it. That was a real eye-opener for me; I’ve been fascinated with the band format since before I even knew how to phrase that, and to be in an environment that was based on constant curiosity, testing, jamming, constantly forming new bands and side-projects, was pure inspiration. I learned so much more about music during those years than all previous years confined inside the make-believe rules of how music should be executed. The latter is still very mechanic to me; I think that mediating a feeling, a mood, a story, is the essence of music, regardless of genre. That’s still always the base of everything music related I do.

Anyway, that rehearsal complex was where I first started playing around with recording. The place had a small and very basic recording studio. One tiny recording room and one even tinier control room. The equipment wasn’t much more than a handful of crusty SM57’s and 58’s and a 4-track cassette recorder (constant creative mixdowns to get the channels you wanted, haha). That was it. We had so much fun at that house, I’m equally happy and sad that all those endless recording sessions are long gone.

Regarding my technique – if I really have any – I think that developed by the boundless and playful atmosphere at that place. Trying to capture a death metal session properly with a half broken 4-track machine forces your mind to come up with creative solutions. I still like to work that way, I’ve always felt that a certain amount of limitations is a good thing. It forces inspiration.

That also applies when recording different bands. All bands and all musicians are of course very different, with different references and experiences. So I don’t believe much in having a work template, apart from always – always – having a reliable supply of fresh coffee where I work.

Tell me about Berserk Audio. Did you build the studio? How did it all come together? What is the atmosphere like, what’s the layout of the rooms and how do you feel like the studio has developed over the last couple years as you’ve been doing more and more work there?

When I first started working professionally with audio I was aiming at building my own studio, and I wanted to do it by first being an apprentice at one or more established studios. I got the dream chance at a place I don’t want to name here, but it was everything I could ever hope for as a newly-graduated sound tech – welcoming atmosphere, fully booked with professional bands, great acoustics and equipment; and, I got the offer very early on to work there part time. But, the majority of bands recording there played a genre I just couldn’t stand, or understand, which is even more important. Also, the recording method was everything I feel takes the music out of music; sound replacing and quantizing drums, autotuning vocals, cut-and-paste editing in the mix and so on. So, after some grueling soul searching I came to the conclusion that it would kill my passion for music over time and I also wouldn’t do a proper job, since I wouldn’t be able to judge when the material was what the bands wanted. “Is this mechanic and sterile enough for you guys?” might not be the question a band wants. But with that said, I’m fully aware of that’s how the main part of the recording industry works and that it makes things very hard to exclude those studios.

But, I finally made the decision that most aspiring sound techs would feel was stupid: I kindly quit the apprenticeship at that studio, got freelance audio work at intensely boring conferences and invested in a small but efficient portable studio rig. I felt that if recording music that would just make me bitter, I might as well have a boring and undemanding day job and focus on recording bands I liked and with that contribute to a relevant production. That was over a decade ago and I haven’t regretted it once.

Of course I’d love to have my own studio, but never at the expense of the passion for music. I currently have a collab with a really cool place here in Gothenburg called Studio Svavel, which I rent when needed.

What have been some of your favorite projects to work on? Do you have a preference between recording, mixing and mastering?

I think my favorite projects are the ones where I’m part of the entire process, all the way from the rehearsal space. As I see it, most of the work should be done before entering the studio. Writing and selecting material, arranging, pre-production, discussions about sound, mood and feel of the production and so on. Most bands don’t have the possibility to rent a studio for a few months and just enter it with a blank slate, so in order to make the most of the time bands pay me for, I always emphasize the importance of that. If you’re well prepared, you’re actually able to compete with the bands that have all the studio time in the world. And the listener will never know or care about your budget. They’re gonna compare you with any and all of their favorite bands regardless.

That’s where that true essence of music comes in again. If your band is well rehearsed with songs you stand behind and your band sounds like an unbreakable unit – as opposed to a collection of humans just playing correctly in time – you actually will be able to make an album that kicks ass in spite of the ever-limited budget and time.

How has it been for you to record your own band? Is there a difference in how you approach working with Monolord as opposed to other acts? How do you coax a great performance out of a bandmate as opposed to someone who has hired you to work as a producer?

It’s weird and great. It’s inevitable that there’s a difference, since I’m one of the band members. But when we record, we all produce it collectively. We’re all part of the entire recording process. So in some ways the recording part doesn’t differ that much from everything else we do in the band. And the coaxing, I guess that’s a mutual three-way process, haha. When I tell my drum kit to go fuck itself, I rely on Thomas and Mika to filter my anger. And that goes the other way around as well.

The only part where I work alone is during mixing and mastering. But I constantly update my bandmates online, so they’re very much part of that process as well.

Recording your own band makes it a bit harder to be objective and to kill your darlings. But I enjoy that challenge. I’ve learned a lot from it through the years.

You recently finished mixing the third Monolord album. What’s the status of that release now? When can fans expect it to come out and what’s in store this time around from the band? How does splitting your time with being on the road and in the studio affect your ability to take on more recording jobs?

I really wish I could tell you everything about, but we’ll announce all details shortly. What I can tell you is that musically it’s groovier and more dynamic, in all aspects. Still misanthropic and still rumbling, though. The humanity is broken and this is our safety valve, as always.

The mixing and mastering is done and the album will be released in all its glory later this year. Hope you’ll like it!

Being a touring musician and also a studio leprechaun is actually the perfect combo. When I can, I work from home, which means I only have a deadline to consider. I’m not a fan of daily routines when it comes to working hours, so that fits me and my family life just perfectly. And my world is a world without borders, so I can easily have clients all over the planet. And when it comes to mixing and mastering they can easily hire me without insane travel expenses. I’m old enough to have grown up in an internet-free world, so I love the possibilities that has opened up thanks to the online community culture. Borders and flags are war tools. I’d rather work past them.

Who’s next in the studio? Any other recordings coming up, closing words or other plans you want to mention?

Next up is always working on new stuff with Monolord. That’s an ongoing process, so we’re always fiddling with ideas, regardless of actual future plans.

But apart from that, I have a few mastering projects this week I’m gonna sink my teeth into. I break every rule possible when I master and I’m sure most audiophiles would like to subject me to public torture, but the clients I’ve worked with seem to hear things the way I do, so I keep getting requests to do the things I do with their music.

And, with some actual free time for the first time in forever, I’m gonna start working on some side solo stuff that’s been rattling in the back of my head for a while. I have no idea what will come of it.

Monolord, “Lord of Suffering” official video

Berserk Audio on Thee Facebooks

Monolord on Thee Facebooks

Monolord on Twitter

RidingEasy Records website

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Skraeckoedlan Sign to Fuzzorama Records; Premiere Live Video

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Whathaveyou on June 19th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

skraeckoedlan

It’s rare you’ll find a band and a label as made for each other as Skraeckoedlan and Fuzzorama Records. Even putting aside the fact that since their Transubstans-released first album, 2011’s Äppelträdet (review here), the Norrköping-based outfit have had a strong influence from the methods of Truckfighters — who, if it needs to be said, are at the helm of Fuzzorama, and whose bassist/vocalist, Oskar “Ozo” Cedermalm, recorded that debut — with their ongoing commitment to progressive songcraft, richness of tone, crisp presentation and energetic live performance kind of makes this the match that one has been waiting for. It just makes sense all the way around. They’ve been a Fuzzorama band all along, one way or the other.

Their second album, 2015’s Sagor (review here), was released via Razzia Records, which is an imprint overseen by Anders Fridén, vocalist of In Flames. That record found their processes even weightier and more refined than one found on Äppelträdet, and set a high standard that an impending third full-length and Fuzzorama debut will seek to surpass. As part of celebrating their signing, the four-piece of vocalist/guitarist Robert Lamu, guitarist/vocalist Henrik Grüttner, bassist/backing vocalist Tim Ångström and drummer Martin Larsson have posted a new video filmed live at Studio Underjord in their hometown that very cleverly captures material both new and old. One track from Äppelträdet, one from Sagor, and a sneak peak of a new song from the third long-player, the title and release date for which remain to be announced at this time.

Underneath the clip, which premieres today and which you can see below, you’ll find the announcement from Fuzzorama welcoming the band to the label, as well as their upcoming live dates for the next few months. Kudos to Skraeckoedlan and to Fuzzorama on getting together, and here’s looking forward to what materializes when the album arrives.

Please enjoy:

Skraeckoedlan, Live at Studio Underjord

Skraeckoedlan came to life in 2009 in Norrköping Sweden. The ambition was to create heavy psychedelic music with lyrics in Swedish and to explore themes connected to nordic folklore, sci-fi and to create a mysterious world with their songs. The name translates to what you could call Godzilla in Swedish.

The band recorded and released their two first EPs during 2009 and 2010. They got a lot of attention and toured a lot. In the summer of 2011 they released their first album called Äppelträdet (the apple tree), recorded and produced in Studio Bombshelter by Oskar Ozo Cedermalm of Truckfighters.

Äppelträdet got to a lot of “best of lists” that year and quickly sold out. The band did over 300 live shows the coming years and shared stage with bands like Orange Goblin, Kylesa, Truckfighters, Greenleaf and other giants of the genre.

In 2015 the album Sagor (Tales) was released. This time Skraeckoedlan worked with a few producers, like Niklas Berglöf (Ghost, Den Svenska björnstammen) and Daniel Bergstrand (Meshuggah, In flames, El caco) but it was when they met producer and technician Erik Berglund that they really found what was missing. The album really took the band to a new level musically and they really explored the world that they have created over the years. It reached number two on the Swedish vinyl sales the month it was released.

Now the quest for the next album has started. And what could be better than to work with the guys that got them in to this genre to start with.

“Signing with Fuzzorama records really connects the dots and is the missing link that Skraeckoedlan has been searching for all these years. We really feel like we have found our home.” –Skraeckoedlan.

To celebrate this, the band has recorded a live video that features a little bit of everything from their world of music. In “Skraeckoedlan Levande at Studio Underjord” you get to experience one song from their first album, one from their second album, the latest song they worked with Erik Berglund on and bit of a song that will be featured on their upcoming third album. The live video was recorded and produced by Joona Hassinen in Studio Underjord, mixed and mastered by Erik Berglund and filmed by Marcus Jehrlander.

Skraeckoedlan:
Robert Lamu – Vocals/Guitar
Henrik Grüttner – Guitar
Tim Ångström – Bass
Martin Larsson – Drums

Tour Dates:
Jul 08 Midnight Light Festival, Vilhelmina, Sweden
Jul 22 Noisenäsfestivalen, Nusnäs, Sweden
July 27 Copenhagen, Lygtens Kro, Denmark
Jul 29 Rock Im Wald, Michelau, Germany
Aug 10 Krökbacken Festival, Leksand, Sweden
Aug 26 Eksjö Stadsfest, Eksjö, Sweden
Oct 27 En lokal, Avesta, Sweden
Oct 28 Broken dreams, Borlänge, Sweden

Skraeckoedlan website

Skraeckoedlan on Instagram

Skraeckoedlan on Thee Facebooks

Skraeckoedlan on Twitter

Fuzzorama Records website

Fuzzorama Records on Thee Facebooks

Fuzzorama Records on Twitter

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Friday Full-Length: November, En Ny Tid Är Här…

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 16th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

November, En Ny Tid Är Här… (1970)

Eons from now, when rock archaeologists — rockaeologists? — unearth the ruins of our civilization in search of righteous tunes, some lucky muck will dust off a copy of November‘s 1970 debut, En Ny Tid Är Här…, and wind up crediting them with inventing heavy groove itself. They didn’t, of course, but there’s little doubt the Stockholm outfit were ahead of the curve in the post-hippie, post-psych movement of what was coming next in guitar-led fare. Informed by the blues much as were Cream, Sabbath, Hendrix, Zeppelin and Purple before them, November nonetheless preceded an entire wave of bands in taking the rock-via-blues licks and beefing them up with significant thrust of tone and rhythmic nod, so that songs like “En Annan Värld” and “Sekunder (Fövandlas Till År)” didn’t just shuffle, they nodded. Bands like Atomic Rooster and Bloodrock were still about a year off from figuring this out, but soon enough there would be an explosion of heavy rock and roll in their wake, and November — who released En Ny Tid Är Här… in the summer of ’70 with leadoff track “Mount Everest” as a single — seem to have got in just under the wire as an early adopter of the style.

Maybe that’s no less a narrative than someone saying they invented the whole thing, but at least it’s more realistic. November formed in 1969 with the lineup of bassist/vocalist Christer Stålbrandt, drummer/vocalist Björn Inge and guitarist Rickard Rolf, coming together around various other incarnations from Stålbrandt and Inge, and during their time together, they’d offer three full-lengths, gradually becoming more progressive over time. One might then think of the bounce in “Varje Gång Jag Ser Dej Känns Det Lika Skönt” as formative, but if that’s the case, the freshness of its energy remains steady even these 47 years later. Ditto that for the stomping “Gröna Blad,” which seems in direct conversation instrumentally with Leaf Hound‘s “Growers of Mushroom” — until one considers that it would be another year before that track and album surfaced from the British band. In terms of that conversation, however, it’s worth noting the use by November of Swedish-language lyrics and titles throughout the record. The notion of mass-marketing a project through the adoption of singing in English is something bands still grapple with, and while November are certainly well remembered thanks in part to reissues of En Ny Tid Är Här… both legitimate and bootleg, one can’t help but wonder if their legend would be even more widespread if they’d called the album A New Time is Here… instead.

Whatever the rockaeologists ultimately decide on that one, En Ny Tid Är Här… stands among the stronger offerings of its era in English or any language. In 1971, it would be followed by 2:a November and in 1972 by 6:e November, rounding out a trilogy of releases after which the group had run its course, members moving on to different projects in progressive rock and jazz. They’d get back together in the early ’90s and release a live album in 1993 via Mellotronen Records that was recorded in 1971, and have played periodic reunion shows since 2007, but they have remained underrated even among their entirely underrated epoch, and particularly En Ny Tid Är Här… seems ripe for a revisit, whether that’s through a deluxe vinyl reissue, new album from the band, whatever it might be. Some stuff is just too good to leave alone.

As always, I hope you enjoy. Thanks for listening and reading.

final fantasy viii bannerWell, today’s it. My last day at work. For the last year, I’ve been employed on a contract basis for Hasbro and that contract has expired. I was hoping said contract would get picked up for full-time employment, but I suck and am awful at everything and am too weird and off-putting as a human being for that to happen, apparently. People here have been nice enough about it, but yeah. I pretty much blew this one. Story of my professional life, to some degree or other.

On the right is a picture of one of my few cubicle decorations: a wall scroll for Final Fantasy VIII that I bought at the comic book store Pegasus Enterprises in Boonton, NJ (since closed), around the time the game came out. I was in high school, working at KB Toys #1051 in Morris Plains, and I also bought myself a new television for the sole purpose of playing that game on it. I still like Final Fantasy IV best of the bunch — VI or VII are the wider consensus picks; they’re both great — but VIII was a special time. 1999 had its ups and downs, I suppose.

Anyway, I don’t get to hang that thing up at home, so after I took that picture I rolled it up and it’s in the closet upstairs at home, already tucked away until who knows when. Bye Hasbro. The last thing to be taken out of the cube was the box of protein bars that I’ve been rotating through for lunch for the last however long and my water bottle. I met my replacement yesterday and I’m sure she’ll be better at this job than I was. I don’t know if she runs a music blog on the side. Somehow it didn’t come up. Ha.

If you know of anyone who needs a freelance editor or writer, I’m available.

Just not really for the next two weeks. Starting today, The Patient Mrs. (and thus the Pecan), the Little Dog Dio and I are hitting the road. The trajectory is Maryland this weekend for a family wedding. That’s Saturday. Sunday, we (minus the dog) are going to an Orioles game, and hanging out on Monday before heading to North Carolina on Tuesday to see my father. In North Carolina from Tuesday through Thursday, then back north. Stopping in Maryland again for Thursday night because seven hours of driving is enough for one day. Might hang in MD for the early part of Friday, but it’s really just a stop-over (I do feel guilty for missing Maryland Doom Fest), because up in Jersey my family will be celebrating my grandmother’s 102nd birthday. She’s the oldest lady. Very old. So you show up. That’s what you do. After that, next Saturday, we’ll hang out in NJ and see friends, then bring my mother back north probably to CT for the night and then eventually back up to Massachusetts to spend a week hanging out and doing baby-prep stuff.

It’s a lot of trip, but I’m looking forward to it. I haven’t been to New Jersey since Xmas and there’s a part of me that I suspect will always think of it as home, so yeah. Will be tiring, but good. I enjoy writing on the road as well and hope to hit a record shop or two along the way.

And in the meantime, the notes for next week are of course packed. Here’s what’s in store, subject to change:

Mon.: Mouth album stream/review; Skraeckoedlan announcement/video debut.
Tue.: Abronia album stream/review; new Sons of Morpheus video.
Wed.: Serpents of Secrecy track(s) premiere; Pyreship video premiere.
Thu.: Streaming the Burnout split from Tee Pee Records; Six Dumb Questions with Esben from Monolord.
Fri.: Greenbeard album stream/review.

Like I said. Jammed. The week after was supposed to be the Quarterly Review, but I’ve decided to push it back to the week after. That’s the 4th of July here in the States, but whatever. Maybe I’ll make that day all European bands or something just for fun. Most of that is planned out, but I figure with being on the road and the above-noted posts, plus any of a given day’s news that comes along, I’ll have plenty enough happening without worrying about gathering images and putting together the back end of those posts — let alone writing them — which is always time consuming.

But anyway, adventure begins. I hope you have a great and safe weekend. If you’re on the I-95 or I-81 corridors, I’ll see you there, and if you know of any record stores I should hit in Asheville, North Carolina, please let me know, as I’m thinking we might make a quick run over that way in the middle of next week, since I have fond memories of when I was there in 2009.

And while I’m asking for favors, please check out the forum and radio stream. Thanks for reading and listening.

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

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Conan & Monolord Announce Co-Headlining European Tour

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

Goodness gracious this is going to be heavy. If you live somewhere in Europe they’re not hitting or in the US and you’re jealous that Conan and Monolord won’t be co-headlining their way across your particular country this time around, don’t worry. I’m pretty sure wherever you’re at you’ll be able to hear them anyway. Just put your ear to the ground — not in a dirty or wet spot; nothing gross — and listen for the rumble. That’s them. Can’t miss it.

I don’t know who had the idea to pair up the UK riff destroyers with the Swedish masters of nod, but yeah, good work. You get a gold sticker. Conan, of course, are still out supporting early-2016’s Revengeance (review here), and this will mark their second European run of 2017 and follow a recent Obelisk-presented US stint that included a stop at Maryland Deathfest. For Monolord, they go heralding the arrival of their third album, newly completed and awaiting the publication of its release details. Presumably by the time October comes around, we’ll know when and how the record will be out even if we don’t yet.

You’ll note the included slots here at Desertfest Belgium 2017 in Antwerp and Keep it Low 2017 in Munich. I wouldn’t be surprised if another fest or two got added, time permitting. Poster and currently announced dates follow, as hoisted from the social medias:

conan monolord tour

Conan and Monolord – Co-Headline Fall 2017 European Tour

CONAN & MONOLORD live dates:
07.10.17 NL – Nijmegen / Soulcrusher II – Doornroosje
08.10.17 FR – Paris / GLAZART
09.10.17 FR – Nantes / La Scène Michelet
10.10.17 FR – Bordeaux / VOID // BDX
11.10.17 ES – Barcelona / Razzmatazz 3
12.10.17 ES – San Sebastian / Dabadaba
13.10.17 FR – Lyon / Jack Jack
14.10.17 FR – Audincourt / Le Molodo
15.10.17 BE – Antwerp / Desertfest Antwerp 2017
16.10.17 DK – Aarhus / Atlas
17.10.17 DE – Hamburg / Bambi galore
18.10.17 DE – Berlin / Musik & Frieden
20.10.17 DE – Bischofswerda / Morbvs Maximvs
21.10.17 DE – Munich / Keep It Low Festival 2017
22.10.17 CZ – Prague/Brno / Kabinet MÚZ
23.10.17 AT – Vienna / DasBACH
24.10.17 CH – Olten / Coq d’Or
25.10.17 IT – Bologna / Freakout Club
26.10.17 IT – Milan / Bloom
27.10.17 CH – Winterthur / Gaswerk
28.10.17 DE – Siegen / The VORTEX

Poster by Error! Design

https://www.facebook.com/conancavemanbattledoom/
http://www.hailconan.com
napalmrecords.com
https://www.facebook.com/napalmrecords/

https://www.facebook.com/monolordsweden/
twitter.com/MonolordSweden
https://monolord.bandcamp.com/
http://www.ridingeasyrecs.com/

Conan, “Throne of Fire” live at Maryland Deathfest 2017

Monolord, Vænir (2015)

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Review & Full Album Stream: Vokonis, The Sunken Djinn

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on June 5th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

vokonis the sunken djinn

[Click play above to stream The Sunken Djinn by Vokonis in its entirety. Album is out this Friday, June 9, via Ripple Music.]

With their second album in as many years, Swedish riffers Vokonis answer crucial questions about the kind of band they will be. They make their debut on Ripple Music with The Sunken Djinn, which was recorded at Studio Underjord in Norrköping with Joona Hassinen, and in addition to the quick turnaround — they’ll be a prolific band, perhaps — the trio’s follow-up to 2016’s Ozium Records-issued Olde One Ascending (review here) finds them working consciously to refine their processes. That in itself is telling when it comes to what guitarist/vocalist Simon Ohlsson, bassist/backing vocalist Jonte Johansson and drummer Emil Larsson want to convey and accomplish as artists, and from the group’s beginnings in 2015 as Creedsmen Arise, whose demo, Temple (review here), came out through Btnk Cllctv, one can now better trace a creative trajectory on a course of which The Sunken Djinn is playing an essential part.

Comprised of seven songs brought to bear over a rumbling, riffing, and righteous 40 minutes, The Sunken Djinn strips down and focuses Vokonis‘ songwriting in a way that Olde One Ascending, in a year-later hindsight, began to do. The difference is that where the debut was more concerned ultimately with establishing their presence in a crowded underground and standing them out for the impact of their material, tonal heft and lumbering groove, pieces here like “Calling from the Core,” “Rapturous” and the highlight centerpiece “Blood Vortex” — only 4:49 long, but arguably the most effective hook included — build confidently on that foundation and move forward in a way that in all fairness can only be called progressive.

Of course, that’s not to say Vokonis have gone prog. They may get there yet, but to-date, their purpose remains keyed into crushing heavy riffs and nodding out beastmaster rhythms. This is signaled quickly on the opening title-track — also the longest inclusion at 6:51 (immediate points) — as “The Sunken Djinn” introduces itself via Ohlsson‘s dense tonal push and sets to work efficiently in making its way toward the first of The Sunken Djinn‘s several standout choruses. Ohlsson and Johansson have worked smoothly in arranging dual vocals since the latter joined the band prior to the release of Olde One Ascending, and as the opener unfolds to a midsection bridge and plotted solo, their dynamic remains a threat even though it never materializes and instead the band fluidly transition into “Calling from the Core.”

An airier, atmospheric start is met head-on with fervent chug backed by Larsson‘s creative cymbal-ism and with the vocals farther back in the mix, “Calling from the Core” would seem to live up to its name, even as the guitarist and bassist come together once again for the chorus, a particularly Sleep-derived turn of riff that leads to a cleaner-sung couple lines at the halfway point that are yet another answer to where Vokonis might be headed overall. That is, one doubts that will be the last non-shout vocals we’ll hear from them, and fair enough for how well they’re pulled off that first time and the second, which pulls away from lyrics in favor of topping a build at the end of the track with “oohs” that call Greenleaf to mind without sacrificing their own cacophony to do so. Two cuts in and Vokonis have already shown a range that will keep expanding with the lurch of “The Coldest Night.” A more patient, gradual introduction leads to nod-out chug and pummel for what’s arguably the purest onslaught throughout The Sunken Djinn, keeping heft as its root intention as it hammers its central riff into the listener’s skull, departing from it only for a solo in the second half and only to return with even more low-end fuzz fortification from Johansson to close out.

vokonis

Fading residual rumble brings the arrival of the speedier “Blood Vortex,” the most straightforward rocker Vokonis have composed to this point in their career and one well-constructed to make its point about the status of their craftsmanship. Its thrust, its shorter runtime and the fact that it doesn’t necessarily have to depart tonally from its surroundings in order to move at the pace it does make it a standout, and if one considers it an experiment in songwriting — strange to think of what’s basically a classically-structured headbanger as an outfit’s brazen departure moment, but context is everything — the no-nonsense shove and balance of hook and weight once again bode remarkably well for where Vokonis‘ direction might take them. Likewise the dive into feedback and noise that starts the subsequent “Architect of Despair,” a slower crawl of a riff unfurling with Ohlsson and Johansson‘s vocals beneath a winding line that seems to straighten out as it passes the midpoint of the 6:34 run, but proves less about getting to the chorus à la “Blood Vortex” or “The Sunken Djinn” than making the journey itself, which it does with a marked flow into “Rapturous.”

What might be considered the closer, “Rapturous” is a late reinforcement of what The Sunken Djinn has accomplished across its span, taking its time to properly introduce its riff in traditionally stonerized fashion before the vocals arrive, stomping through its verse en route to delivering the title-line as a memorable chorus in the spirit of the album’s landmarks and still offering some expansion of purposes in subtle flourish of guitar melody as even in making their way out, Vokonis can’t seem to resist showcasing a bit of their ongoing growth. That melody comes to further prominence in the song’s second half, and for a moment, it almost seems like they’ll symmetrically bring back the cleaner vocals of “Calling from the Core,” but they don’t actually get there, instead shifting into the three-minute noise outro “Maelstrom” and choose to cap The Sunken Djinn with the opposite kind of experiment as “Blood Vortex.”

By that I mean “Maelstrom” takes Vokonis almost entirely away from the notion of song structure — there is a drum pattern caked in effects, so some motion is provided — in favor of raw noise. It’s a decided and willful shift in approach that seems to set the other end of breadth to what the three-piece consider “fair game” within their approach. Less a highlight — less a “song” — within itself, its statement nonetheless comes through clearly, and it works to answer yet another question about who Vokonis are and can become as a unit. The Sunken Djinn, as final as the title might make it sound — as in, “it’s sunk” — captures Vokonis in medias res as regards their growth as a band, and with it, they share not just a progress update with their burgeoning audience, but a collection of songs that will further help establish them as one of the European underground’s strongest riff-led up and comers. The best of both worlds, then. One wonders if they’ll keep up the studio productivity going forward or shift into more time spent touring over the rest of 2017-2018, but either way, the notice they serve with their second album isn’t to be ignored.

Vokonis, “The Sunken Djinn” official video

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Asteroid Announce Hiatus Citing Health Issues

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

Swedish fuzz rockers Asteroid have announced an indefinite hiatus effective immediately. Previously confirmed for slots at this summer’s Freak Valley and Lake on Fire festivals in Germany and Austria, respectively, the Örebro-based trio have canceled all future live dates and other plans citing longtime health issues that need to be addressed.

Last year, Asteroid marked a return from another lengthy stretch of inactivity with the release of III (review here) on Fuzzorama Records. Guitarist/vocalist Robin Hirse, bassist/vocalist Johannes Nilsson, then went on to introduce new drummer Jimmi Kolscheen in place of Elvis Campbell (who played on the record), and hit the road in Europe to support the album. Slots at Desertfest 2016 in London and Berlin found them welcomed as returning heroes of fuzzy riffing and it seemed their melodic, open, jammy sensibility was already beginning to have an influence on the European underground.

Given the overwhelmingly positive reception to III, it’s all the more a bummer to see them hit hard times, and of course on behalf of myself and this site I wish the members of Asteroid all the best, quick recovery, and that whatever help they need, they get so they can get back to making the richly toned and harmonized heavy rock and roll that has so much become their own over the last decade-plus. They promise in the announcement that follows here it won’t be six years like it was after 2010’s II (review here) before they release another album, and one certainly hopes that holds true as they go forward.

Here’s what they had to say:

asteroid

Dear Friends, fans and supporters,

it is with great sadness that we have to inform you that we’re forced to cancel all upcoming shows and future plans from now on. The reason for this decision are long time health issues that won’t allow us to keep on doing as initially planned for this year. We’re deeply sorry and once again want to thank you all for believing in us and your continued support!

This hiatus doesn’t mean we’re going to be dead for six years like the last time! We’re still feeling creative and have music in our hearts!

Love, Asteroid, Jimmi, Johannes and Robin

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Vokonis Premiere “The Sunken Djinn” Video; Album out June 9 on Ripple Music

Posted in Bootleg Theater on May 26th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

vokonis

In their new video for the title-track of the forthcoming The Sunken Djinn, Swedish trio Vokonis bring their audience into what might be considered their native habitat. That’s otherwise known as Studio Underjord in Norrköping, where the riff-hurling three-piece recorded The Sunken Djinn with Joona Hassinen. As the Borås-based outfit circles up to perform “The Sunken Djinn,” we can see the soft lighting, the tapestries, the posters on the wall and of course the wide array of microphones in that creative environment, and begin to get a better sense of what would lead them to want to record there in the first place. For one thing, it looks really, really clean. Cleaner than any studio I’ve ever been in, certainly.

The Sunken Djinn will serve as Vokonis‘ premiere release through Ripple Music when it arrives on June 9, following up on their well-received 2016 debut, Olde One Ascending (review here), and in addition to the video, the title-track — which also leads off the LP — was released as a 7″ single on May 13 in limited numbers with artwork calling to mind The Expanse‘s protomolecule and a live version of “Olde One,” which opened the first record. Unsurprisingly, that platter has completely sold through its three different limited editions, and I’ve no idea if the band will press up more. If you missed it — hey, I did too. That’s just how it goes sometimes.

If you’ve been paying attention, it’s been a lot of Vokonis around here lately. They led off the last podcast with this very song, they’ve already been interviewed about The Sunken Djinn, and even before I heard the record, they were in my list of 2017’s most anticipated albums. That’s not an accident. What guitarist/vocalist Simon Ohlsson, bassist Jonte Johansson and drummer Emil Larsson bring to the tenets of post-Sleep heavy riffage continues to show marked potential even as the band develops their own personality and tightens their songcraft, and I think that’s something definitely worth talking about. This won’t be the last time, either. Look for an album review and full stream on Monday, June 5, and I’m sure more to come after that as well.

Until then, you can enjoy “The Sunken Djinn” below and hopefully get a sense of where Vokonis are coming from with it, or at very least, the place that played a role in its making. Video is directed by Marcus Jehrlander.

Hope you enjoy:

Vokonis, “The Sunken Djinn” official video

Simon Ohlsson on “The Sunken Djinn”:

“When going into the studio to record some songs for an upcoming project we wanted to do a video fitting of the process. To give everyone who have an interest in us a chance to get a closer look at our recording process.”

The Sunken Djinn (LP) by Vokonis is released on 9th June on Ripple Music. Video filmed by Marcus Jehrlander at Studio Underjord.

Entitled The Sunken Djinn, for the Swedish doom trio – featuring guitarist/vocalist Simon Ohlsson, drummer Emil Larsson and bassist Jonte Johansson – this album marks a huge leap forward in sound and scope. Still loosely rooted in traditional stoner rock with enough lumbering fuzz riffs and monolithic grooves to keep you in a permanent fog of mystification, this time around their entire approach is tempered by an even darker psychedelic perspective. As best heard on the album’s epic title track, which consists of two parts sonic tapestry and one part bloodied ten-ton hammer.

Vokonis:
Simon Ohlsson – Guitars, Vocals
Emil Larsson – Drums
Jonte Johansson – Bass

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Review & Video Premiere: Siena Root, A Dream of Lasting Peace

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Reviews on May 19th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

siena-root-a-dream-of-lasting-peace

[Click play above to see the premiere of Siena Root’s video for ‘No Filter.’ Their new album, A Dream of Lasting Peace, is out May 26 in Europe and June 23 in the US on MIG Music/MVD.]

Among those playing classic-style heavy rock, there are few who do it with the conviction of purpose or the soul of Sweden’s Siena Root, and that has remained true in the 13 years since their 2003 Nasoni-delivered debut, A New Day Dawning, despite some significant shifts in personnel and sound. Their fifth studio full-length, A Dream of Lasting Peace, finds the Stockholm five-piece indisputable as masters reveling in the form, even as new frontman Samuel Björö makes his studio debut with the band following the departure of Jonas Åhlén after 2014’s Pioneers (discussed here).

Founding bassist/vocalist Sam Riffer and drummer/vocalist Love “Billy” Forsberg continue to resonate as the core of the group, and if their last outing captured them still in transition style-wise after splitting with guitarist/sitarist KG West, whose psychedelic ambience was a huge part of the craft of their early work on albums like the aforementioned debut, 2006’s Kaleidoscope (discussed here), 2008’s Far from the Sun and 2009’s Different Realities (discussed here), these 10 tracks/44 minutes show RifferForsbergBjörö, guitarist Matte Gustavsson and organist/keyboardist Erik “Errka” Petersson well in command both aesthetically and in terms of performance. Throughout the release, Björö shines as a singer and Petersson and Gustavsson play off each other — see the penultimate light-step boogie of “Imaginarium” — in a fashion that would and should make peak-era Deep Purple fans blush with delight.

A Dream of Lasting Peace offers touches of psychedelia in the drifting bluesy jam of “The Piper Won’t Let You Stay” and stage-ready vitality across the likes of “No Filters,” “Outlander” and the bouncing funk of “Tales of Independence,” but primarily, the album lands its impact with the strength of its hooks and the balance of its execution across this range of mostly positive-vibing moods. Siena Root are not a dark band, and they never have been, and A Dream of Lasting Peace sounds like the people who made it were having a good time in a way that proves as infectious as the chorus of opener “Secrets” and “Tales of Independence,” which follows in a righteous opening salvo that continues to build momentum as it shuffles into the more laid back “Sundown.” Harmonies pervade a more patient fluidity, but with Petersson‘s underlying organ line and toss-off lead flourish from Gustavsson, the melody is ever at hand, and an instrumental break at 1:48 into the song’s unassuming 4:19 gives the organ space for a solo complemented by guitar and propelled by the creative drumming of Forsberg, who adds chimes just before a tom roll signals the change back into the verse that reintroduces Björö on vocals.

It would be a worthy single with Riffer‘s bass as the foundational element, but it does just as well here as a transition into the even more subdued blues of “The Piper Won’t Let You Stay,” the longest inclusion at 6:08 and a graceful instrumental swell that seems drawn forward by Björö, who delivers his most impressive performance of the record in what feels like a showcase track despite a midsection crescendo that offers crisp, thicker guitar and key work and dynamic changes in tempo and volume. As they sleek their way through the crashing end of that song and into the organ rumble that starts “Outlander,” the return to a more energetic chorus and classic structure marked by its starts and stops is a welcome finish to side A, and the manner in which Petersson and Gustavsson end the track first together, then just with Petersson‘s keys, couldn’t feel more appropriate as the fadeout begins.

siena root

Already through the first half of A Dream of Lasting Peace, there is no level on which Siena Root aren’t delivering. In performance, in the quality of their songwriting, in the balance of clarity and natural feel of the recording itself and in the spirit driving them, they come across as revitalized, and if Pioneers was their way of exploring the possibilities of where their classic influences might take them post-West, here they take the lessons they learned from that experience and use them to grab the reins of their approach and hone something truly special. Traditionally, one would find a band experimenting a bit more on side B, and the Purple-hued rush of “Growing Underground” teases that possibility a bit in a direct call and response from Gustavsson and Petersson that’s just flat-out fun, leading to “Empty Streets,” which seems at first to echo “The Piper Won’t Let You Stay” but finds Riffer delivering a highlight bassline in tandem with the organ late as part of a rousing apex built outward from a nigh-on hypnotic but still progressive meandering.

The shorter and more straightforward “No Filters” has a push to echo “Secrets” and “Tales of Independence” early on, and makes a suitable centerpiece for side B as it regrounds Siena Root heading into the jazzy instrumental “Imaginarium” and subsequent closer “The Echoes Unfold,” which offers a spacious ending with echo on Björö‘s voice to fill a void of stopped guitar and keys and temporarily paused drums and bass. The play of volume and push that ensues is no less poised than anything preceding, less bluesy than “The Piper Won’t Let You Stay,” but thoroughly satisfying in its winding chorus and in the key-led ending section, which takes hold at about the three-minute mark and carries through to the long fade just past five minutes in, casting a symmetry with “Outlander” and once again feeling wholly befitting the course Siena Root have set overall.

Given the obvious care put into their presentation and the level of realization Siena Root attain within these tracks and through the overarching flow they create between them, A Dream of Lasting Peace is a joy that feels sculpted specifically to cast a celebration among the heavy rock converted. The band have their niche, to be sure, but they’ve long excelled in their work and their latest only furthers that thread while also setting them on a sustainable path going forward. Their lineup has always been subject to change and it’s entirely possible it will be in the future as well, but these songs hit on a balance worthy of being considered a highlight in their discography and if they serve as a model for the band to follow, at least for a while, that can only be to the benefit of players and fans alike. A no-doubter to stand among 2017’s best in classic and progressive heavy rock and roll.

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