The Moth Gatherer Announce New Album Esoteric Oppression out Feb. 22

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 17th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

the moth gatherer

Swedish post-metallers The Moth Gatherer have teased the release of a new single to precede their upcoming album, Esoteric Oppression, out Feb. 22 on Agonia Records. They say the new song will be out “before the end of the year.” I’ll just assume that means that as soon as this post goes live, they’ll post the track, which will render this news immediately obsolete in terms of keeping up with the band. And if that happens, I’ll post that song here, just so I can say — to myself, mind you — I told you so. Because that’s how I do.

Esoteric Oppression follows 2015’s sophomore outing, The Earth is the Sky (review here), which was an expansive and atmospheric push into weight of tone and ambience alike. You can stream that below, if you like, and find yourself caught in the maddening tension of 11-minute closer “In Awe Before the Rapture.” Frankly, there are far worse ways to lose your mind.

Info comes from the PR wire:

the moth gatherer esoteric oppression

THE MOTH GATHERER detail new album “Esoteric Oppression”

Sweden’s THE MOTH GATHERER, an atmospheric doom/sludge/post metal band based in Stockholm, will release its third studio album, successor to critically acclaimed “The Earth Is The Sky” (2015) on February 22nd via Agonia Records. The new album is titled “Esoteric Oppression”. Its cover artwork and tracklisting are available below, in anticipation of a new single, due out before 2019.

THE MOTH GATHERER is a band of varying genres, centered around atmospheric doom, sludge and post metal. Their prolific approach includes electric musical stylings, along with traces of melodic post-rock.

The band commented on the new album: “We’ve put our very fabric into it. Its creation has been a path paved with distress and frustration; one that has left us totally exhausted. But all our effort shows in the music and we can now say that it was worth the turmoil. We’re extremely proud to present Esoteric Oppression to you all. We hope you love it as much as we do”.

THE MOTH GATHERER emerged in 2008 on the initiative of Victor Wegeborn and Alex Stjernfeldt, as a form of therapy to help them deal with loss. The name of the band is an allegory for finding hope; similairly to moths who are always searching for the light. Operating as a duo, they released a debut album “A Bright Celestial Light” in 2010. The recording showcased an attraction towards long and complex compositions, rich in content, and exposed thet band’s urge to channel emotions and difficult experiences into music. Their sound evolved on the second and last album, “The Earth Is The Sky”, from 2015, which took the songwriting to a whole new level, and have deepened the band’s subtle, yet significant electronic aesthetic. The music clearly matured, along with the line-up, which now included Svante Karlsson on drums. Their sophomore work met with warm reception from fans and critics alike, with two singles featured on BBC Radio 1’s Rock Show with Daniel P. Carter, and numerous inclusions on year-end lists from magazines and websites. Having recruited Ronny Westphal on guitars, they later released an EP “The Comfortable Low” (2016), which featured a guest appearance from Dennis Lyxzén (Refused/INVSN) and Fred Burman (Satan Takes A Holiday). The EP also landed on Radio 1’s Rock Show, thanks to the track “This Providence Of Bones”. While the new album, “Esoteric Oppression”, follows in the same direction as previous works, the band went through a transformation, which left co-founder Alex behind. Even though he participated in writing lyrics for the album, bass duites have been taken over by Victor, who also handles vocals, guitars and electronis. Dan Hemgren has been introduced as a new bass player, who’ll continue with the group post the new album.

“Esoteric Oppression” was worked on in several recording studios. Guitars, bass and drums were tracked at Studio Underjord with Joona Hassinen, who later mixed the entire album. Electronics and vocals were recorded at The Lifestream Studio. Magnus Lindberg (Cult Of Luna) mastered the album at Redmount Studios, while the production was laid out by THE MOTH GATHERER. The recording features a guest appearance from Messy Mathi (Barst) on the track “The Drone Kingdom”. SCG prepared the album’s cover artwork and layout.

Tracklist:
1. The Drone Kingdom
2. Motionless In Oceania
3. Utopia
4. The Failure Design
5. Phosphorescent Blight

Line-up:
Ronny Westphal – guitars
Svante Karlsson – drums
Victor Wegeborn – vocals, guitars, electronics
Dan Hemgren – bass

https://www.themothgatherer.com/
https://www.facebook.com/TheMothGatherer/
https://twitter.com/themothgatherer
https://www.instagram.com/themothgatherer/
http://agoniarecords.com
http://tinyurl.com/agoniashop
https://facebook.com/agoniarecords
https://twitter.com/agoniarecords
https://soundcloud.com/agoniarecords
https://agoniarecords.bandcamp.com
https://instagram.com/agoniarecordsofficial

The Moth Gatherer, The Earth is the Sky (2015)

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Quarterly Review: Rotor, Electric Octopus, Randall Dunn, Graven, Near Dusk, Svuco, Stonus, Acolytes of Moros, Lime Eyelid, Tombtoker

Posted in Reviews on December 13th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review

I’ve been doing this for a while, the whole Quarterly Review thing. Not just talking about the last two weeks — though that also feels like a while to be doing it — but over the last few years. And in so doing I have a couple running gags kind of with myself. One obvious one is the “(immediate points)” for bands who put their longest song first on their album. There is no point system. There will be no tally at the end. I don’t grade records. It’s just a way of noting a decision I almost always find to be particularly bold.

Another is the use of “penultimate.” I don’t even know how this happened, but I use that word all the time in these reviews, way, way more than I might in day-to-day life. Somehow I’m always talking about the second-to-last song. Keep an eye out today, I’m sure it’ll be in there.

Indeed, I bring it up because today is the penultimate day of this extended Quarterly Review. We’ll finish out with the last 10 records tomorrow, and no doubt by the end of it I’ll be doling out more “(immediate points)” and talking about the “apex of the penultimate cut” or whatever else it is I do. Hard not to repeat yourself when you’re writing about 100 records. Or, you know, one.

Quarterly Review #81-90:

Rotor, Sechs

rotor sechs

Long-running Berlin instrumentalists Rotor issue Sechs, their aptly-titled sixth album, as their second for Noisolution after 2015’s Fünf (review here), and in so doing blend the best impulses from where they started with where they’ve ended up. Fünf, not without its moments of heavy psych drift, was a deeply progressive album, and Sechs is likewise, but it also brings in a more natural, warmer production sound like some of their earlier material, so that songs like “Vor der Hern” or “Allmacht” come across as nuanced but welcoming all the same. “Allmacht” is a highlight for its classic prog elements, but that’s not to discount the centerpiece “Abfahrt!,” with its raucous second half or the nine-minute penultimate cut “Druckverband,” which finds Rotor pushing themselves to new heights some 20 years on from their beginnings. Or anything else, for that matter, because it’s all brilliant. And that, basically, is how you know you’re listening to Rotor.

Rotor on Thee Facebooks

Noisolution website

 

Electric Octopus, Line Standing

electric octopus line standing

Next-level naturalism from Belfast trio Electric Octopus means that not only does the digital-only-otherwise-it’d-be-a-box-set Line Standing top four and a half hours, but those four and a half hours bring the listener into the studio with the band — guitarist Tyrell Black, bassist/keyboardist Dale Hughes and drummer Guy Hetherington — as they talk between jams, goof around and discuss what they just played in quick interludes. Complementing cuts like 35-minute opener “Iliudi,” the 38-minute “Line Standing 23336,” the 24-minute “Room Move” and the three-minute funk-reggae vibe of “Inspired by a Chicken,” the chatter gives Line Standing an even more organic vibe not by trying to capture a live feel, like what they’d do on stage — they have plenty of live albums for that — but by bringing the listener into the studio while they pick up their instruments and improvise their way through whatever it is that’s coming next, which is something that everyone seems to find out together. It’s not always smooth, but neither should it be. This is pure sonic exploration — and not a little of it.

Electric Octopus on Thee Facebooks

Electric Octopus on Bandcamp

 

Randall Dunn, Beloved

randall dunn beloved

Randall Dunn, through his production work, collaborations with Sunn O))), founding Master Musicians of Bukkake, etc., is no stranger to experimentalism, and his first solo album, Beloved (on Figureight), finds him evoking cinematic landscapes one at a time in ambient tracks that range from minimalist to consuming by sheer will. His range as a composer means that “Mexico City” shimmers with a near-overwhelming post-Vangelis splendor while “Lava Rock and Amber” is barren enough to make each strike of the piano keys feel like a lifeline before the synth horror takes hold near the end. Dunn brings in several guest vocalists for spots on “Something About that Night” and closer “A True Home,” but there’s hardly a lack of human presence throughout the material anyway, as the nine-minute centerpiece “Theoria : Aleph” resonates with the creative drive that made it. Not by any means a record that’s going to be for everyone, Beloved casts a sound that’s impeccably broad.

Randall Dunn on Thee Facebooks

Figureight on Bandcamp

 

Graven, Heirs of Discord

Graven Heirs of Discord

Heirs of Discord, indeed. With guitarist/vocalist Peter Maturi and drummer Chris Csar from the much-missed Swarm of the Lotus and bassist Teddy Patterson of Burnt by the Sun and Human Remains in the up-and-down-the-Eastern-Seaboard lineup with vocalist Jason Borowy, there’s no shortage of discord to go around. Deathly extremity and a pervasive grinding sensibility is conveyed with tones that absolutely crush and a groove that, while not shy with the blastbeats on “I Dreamt You Were Dead” — or the bonus track Human Remains cover “Human,” for that matter — is no less comfortable locked in the nod of the nine-minute “Thieves of Rotted Ilk.” It reportedly took Graven over a year to make the six-song/28-minute LP at various studios (including one two towns over from where I grew up in my beloved Garden State), and one only hopes the no-doubt daunting nature of that task doesn’t dissuade Graven from a follow-up, because whether it’s the angular starts and stops of “Backwards to Oblivion” or the initial assault of “A Failed Mask,” they bring a stylistic nuance to extreme metal that goes beyond the often dry showcase of technical prowess the style can sometimes be. However long it might take to put together, a sophomore outing feels well justified.

Graven on Thee Facebooks

Graven on Bandcamp

 

Near Dusk, Near Dusk

Near Dusk Near Dusk

The cleverly-titled “Humboldt Pie” finds them dipping into bluesier fare with some psychedelic effect on guitarist Matthew Orloff‘s vocals, and “We are the Buffalo” has a distinct spaciousness, but the core of Denver trio Near Dusk‘s self-released, self-titled debut is in straightforward heavy rock, and Orloff, bassist Kellen McInerney and drummer Jon Orloff sound well schooled in the ways of following the riff. “That Bastard” chugs out behind a vocal echo and the six-minute opener and longest track (immediate points) “No More” introduces the steady factor that is McInerney‘s bass behind some initial guitar noodling that leads to the first of many rolling grooves to come on the seven-track/34-minute outing. The bass again gets to shine in the subsequent “Sweet Home,” setting up the final push for a moment before being joined by the drums and guitar, and the low-end tone is right on, though by the time they close out with “Furnace Creek,” all three of them seem to tease some jammier sensibilities. Near Dusk allow themselves room to develop their approach and perspective, but establish a strong root of songwriting to serve as their foundation as they move forward.

Near Dusk on Thee Facebooks

Near Dusk on Bandcamp

 

Svuco, El Gran Mito de SanSaru

svuco El Gran Mito de SanSaru

At least some of the material on Svuco‘s debut long-player, El Gran Mito de SanSaru, dates back a few years. The release includes what was the title-track of their 2015 Mizaru EP as well as the title-track of 2016’s Kikazaru, as well as a number of tracks that also featured on the Iwazaru EP shortly before the album actually arrived. Still, taken in this form and with these recordings, the Granada-based four-piece unfurl a varied 13-song full-length that’s crisp in its production and smoothly constructed to hit hard but with a sense of tonal presence that speaks to a heavy rock influence. That is, there might be a current of noise rock to the ’90s-style chug of “Llorarás,” but “Fuzzia” still has room for organ and acoustic guitar along with its central riff. Later cuts like “Nobogo,” the layered-vocals of “El Color del Sol,” and the almost-industrial pulsations (conveyed through organic instrumentation) of “El Dios del Nuevo Mundo” branch out, but there’s an underlying identity taking shape all the while.

Svuco on Thee Facebooks

Svuco on Bandcamp

 

Stonus, Lunar Eclipse

Stonus Lunar Eclipse

Welcoming in its tone and bordering on cosmic in its atmosphere, Lunar Eclipse is the second EP from Cyprus-based troupe Stonus, and for the sprawl of its eight-minute title-track alone, it showcases distinct potential on the part of the band. Intro and outro tracks help set up a flow, but as “Aspirin” and “Spiritual Realities” fuzz their way toward “Lunar Eclipse” itself, it’s hardly like Stonus need the help. The tempo of “Aspirin” tells the tale, taking desert rock to three-quarters speed for an extra laid back vibe, still pushed along by the drums, but chill, chill, chill as it goes. “Spiritual Realities” is a little more tripped out in its lumber, and its vocals are more forward in the mix, but once again, “Lunar Eclipse” is nothing but a joy to behold from front to back, and in large part it defines the short release that shares its name. They close out with the minute of experimentalism on “Euphoric Misery” and only make one hope they don’t lost those impulses by the time they get around to a full-length, because they’ll only help them further distinguish themselves.

Stonus on Thee Faceboks

Stonus on Bandcamp

 

Acolytes of Moros, The Wellspring

acolytes of moros the wellspring

Seven years on from playing their first show, Swedish doomers Acolytes of Moros present their first full-length, The Wellspring (CD on Nine Records), and if that might stand as an indication of their pacing overall, it would certainly apply to the album itself. Presented as four extended tracks with an interlude/instrumental near seven minutes dividing the two halves, it’s a rawly-produced take on doom-death traditionalism with an emphasis on the first part of that equation. Calling it “morose” feels too easy given the band’s moniker, but they’re nothing if not self-aware, and the miseries they portray in “Quotidian” and the 14-minute “A Yen to Relinquish and Evanesce” border on the dramatic without ever really tipping too far in that direction, coming through as much in the grueling riffs as in the vocal declarations and willfully repetitive rhythms. It’s a slog and it’s supposed to be, but Acolytes of Moros eschew the sometimes lush presentation of their genre in favor of a barebones take that loses none of its emotional impact for that.

Acolytes of Moros on Thee Facebooks

Nine Records website

 

Lime Eyelid, Week of Wonders

lime eyelid week of wonders

As regards recording narratives, it’s hard to beat the image of Traveling Circle drummer Josh Schultz recording Lime Eyelid‘s debut album, Week of Wonders (as in, The Wonder Weeks?), alone in his kitchen. The resulting limited LP is comprised mostly of numbered instrumental experiments in drone and languid groove, save for “I Saw Waves,” which brings to mind some of Six Organs of Admittance‘s far-out earlier fare, but psychedelia holds a prominent sway and if you ever want a lesson in doing something new with familiar elements, look no further than the watery guitar line of “1” or “3,” with its Earth groove gone processional. The 12-minute soundscape of “4” follows as Schultz moves deeper into the realms of cosmic minimalism — that big, mostly empty, galaxy — but “5” somehow sounds even more piped in from outer space, and closer “6” rounds out with swells of high-pitched volume that seem to be speaking their own language in tone. Pretty vast reaches for a record to hit, having been recorded in the kitchen. One awaits further adventures in the follow-up.

Lime Eyelid on Soundcloud

Lime Eyelid on YouTube

 

Tombtoker, Coffin Texts

tombtoker coffin texts

I don’t know if the band’s moniker refers to one who actually tokes tombs or who tokes in tombs, but neither would surprise me. The Baltimorean five-piece Tombtoker unveil their 20-minute debut EP, Coffin Texts (on Seeing Red, tapes through Metal Swarm), with a melding of doom, sludge and metallic extremity that is righteous in its riffs and malevolent in its purposes. That is to say, they mean harm. “Warfare Revolution” and “Robo Cujo” demonstrate that plainly ahead of the centerpiece “Stenchsquatch” with its oh-you’re-gonna-have-to-play-that-at-all-the-shows lurching midsection of death, while the subsequent “Blood Freak” taps Eyehategoddy swing and closer/shortest track “Globster” (3:21) bludgeons its own riffs before a bit of Slayer-style ping ride late adds even more of that metal-for-metal feel. I’d call it promising, but maybe “foreboding” is a better word. Whether they’re smoking your corpse or just smoking near your corpse, Tombtoker bring a welcome sense of chaos to extreme sludge that hearkens to the genre’s original, unhinged appeal.

Tombtoker on Thee Facebooks

Seeing Red Records on Bandcamp

Metal Swarm website

 

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Candlemass Set Feb. 22 Release for The Door to Doom; Tony Iommi Makes Guest Appearance

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

candlemass (photo Anders Palsson)

Have you ever been ridiculously happy on a personal level for someone you’ve never actually met? That’s how I feel for Candlemass bassist, founder and principle songwriter Leif Edling on the occasion of his band having Tony Iommi in for a guest spot on their new record. Candlemass — now past the 30-year mark — reunite with original vocalist Johan Langquist for The Door to Doom, which is out Feb. 22, and they’ve been worshiping Black Sabbath in one way or another pretty much the whole time, so yeah, it seems only fitting. Oh, and of course Iommi sits in on the song about the giant octopus. Because fucking a right he does.

A new record from Candlemass would’ve been a highlight of 2019 in doom anyway. But with Langquist fronting the band and Iommi adding guitar? Yeah, well, I mean, you know, uh, yeah.

From the PR wire:

candlemass the door to doom

CANDLEMASS – New Album The Door To Doom Out February 2019

CANDLEMASS have come full circle: their first singer Johan Langquist (who left the band after singing on the legendary 1986 debut Epicus Doomicus Metallicus) has returned!

Now, the epic doom metal veterans announce their 12th full length album The Door to Doom! The album will be released February 22nd via Napalm Records

The Door To Doom unsurprisingly follows the plotline mastermind, songwriter and bass player Leif Edling established in the past years: epic world class doom metal that relies on slow mammoth riffing. With Johan Langquist`s highly dramatic vocal style and the love for details, the band made this album to the next “Epicus”. This masterpiece is rounded off by a beautiful guest appearance by none other than Black Sabbath`s Tony Iommi on ‘Astorolus – The Great Octopus.’

Tony Iommi on his appearance:
“Candlemass are a major force in Scandinavian heavy rock and have always acknowledged the influence we had on their music. They asked if I’d contribute to a track which sounded pretty good so I thought ‘why not’ “.
Leif Edling states:

“We feel very honoured that Tony Iommi said yes to play the solo on ASTOROLUS. The song was sent to the management and amazingly enough, the master agreed to let his mighty SG sing on the track! For me personally this is a dream come true. Tony Iommi has always been my hero and guiding light when it comes to heavy music, so to hear that he likes the song and also would like to play on it, gave me chills down the spine! I’m still in shock! But kudos to him to be so cool to even listen to it. Hats off! Tony Iommi is and will always be God!”

The Door to Doom Tracklisting:
1. Splendor Demon Majesty
2. Under The Ocean
3. Astorolus – the Great Octopus
4. Bridge Of The Blind
5. Death´s Wheel
6. Black Trinity
7. House Of Doom
8. The Omega Circle

Candlemass are:
Leif Edling: Bass
Mats “Mappe” Björkman: Guitars
Jan Lindh: Drums
Lars “Lasse” Johansson: Guitars
Johan Langquist: Vocals

WWW.FACEBOOK.COM/CANDLEMASS
https://www.instagram.com/CANDLEMASS_SWEDEN/
http://www.candlemass.se/
WWW.NAPALMRECORDS.COM

Candlemass, Epicus Doomicus Metallicus (1986)

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Domkraft Premiere “The Watchers” Video

Posted in Bootleg Theater on December 7th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

domkraft

Nothing like pulling an all-nighter if you’ve got to get something done, and that would seem to be how Swedish riffslingers Domkraft made their new video for “The Watchers” from their newly-issued second album, Flood (review here). An all-nighter guerrilla-style all the better. The story goes that the Swedish three-piece and their director, Peder Bergstrand made their way into an amphitheater in Stockholm — looks like Ralambshovparken, if my in-depth knowledge of the Swedish park system is anything to go by; they should do their next one in the skate park — and set up overnight to film at dawn. They don’t seem to have actually played the track live, which you can tell because of the lack of a generator behind the amps, but drummer Anders Dahlgren is still railing pretty hard on his cymbals, and even in syncing to a full-volume playback of the song, reportedly complaints were filed by the neighbors, whose domiciles you can see through the plantlife in the video.

Of course, Dahlgren, guitarist Martin Widholm, bassist/vocalist Martin Wegeland and Bergstrand — known as well for his recent graphic work for Crippled Black Phoenix and for being in Lowrider — would have been long gone by the time the constabulary arrived, and they split with the ultra-widescreen “The Watchers” in tow. Edited together in rhythmic lockstep with the song itself, the muted colors of “The Watchers” speak to the depths of tone brought to bear by Domkraft as well. What the video serves to further emphasize, though — and I’ll admit this is something more about the track than the actual clip — is how fluidly Domkraft blend a progressive style of songwriting with their tone-fueled atmosphere. That’s true throughout Flood — which is out on Blues Funeral Recordings following 2016’s The End of Electricity (review here) on Magnetic Eye — but like the single it is, “The Watchers” distills that impression to its most essential components.

The video of course sets its own vibe with the lighting at dawn and Bergstrand‘s camera work, and it’s my pleasure to host the premiere today. My suggestion is to go fullscreen on it and enjoy. And keep an eye out for new stuff from Domkraft in 2019. I have it on good authority there’s something in the works.

PR wire info follows:

Domkraft, “The Watchers” official video premiere

A dystopian take on Pink Floyd’s “Live at Pompeii,” the video for The Watchers was shot illegally by director and fellow Swede Peder Bergstrand, also singer/bassist of seminal stoner rock outfit Lowrider.

At dusk, band and filmmaker snuck into an old amphitheater in Stockholm and set up their amps and gear. As the first rays of the 5am sunrise hit, Domkraft let rip and played at full volume to the empty amphitheater.

To capture that epic Pompeii vibe and get the desired grit, Peder filmed it on a vintage Russian movie camera with an anamorphic lens. With their completely unauthorized footage secure, the foursome packed up and bolted into the morning before the almost certain arrival of the law.

Domkraft “Flood” is the first release on Blues Funeral Recordings, but it’s the band’s second album to date, with their debut “The End of Electricity” ending up on numerous year-end top lists in 2016.

Domkraft also appears on The Wall [Redux] alongside The Melvins, Pallbearer, Mark Lanegan, and Scott Reeder.

They’re also part of the forthcoming PostWax project in 2019, a lavish limited edition record record series that includes new music from Elder, Spotlights, and Lowrider. Domkraft’s PostWax release will feature several new recordings including a 13-minute monster with guest vocals from Mark Lanegan, Lea from Besvarjelsen and Marty from Slomatics.

Domkraft on Bandcamp

Domkraft on Thee Facebooks

Domkraft on Instagram

Blues Funeral Recordings on Thee Facebooks

Blues Funeral Recordings on Bandcamp

Blues Funeral Recordings website

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Quarterly Review: Earthless, Satan’s Satyrs, Mantar, Child, T.G. Olson, Canyon, Circle of the Sun, Mythic Sunship, Svarta Stugan, Bast

Posted in Reviews on December 6th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review

There isn’t enough coffee in the universe, but I’ve got mine and I’m ready to burn the living crap out of my tongue if that’s what it takes to get through. We’ve arrived at Day 4 of the Quarterly Review, and though we’re less than halfway to the 100-album goal set by some maniac sitting at his kitchen table with a now-burnt tongue, there’s been an awful lot of good stuff so far. More even than I thought going into it, and I slate this stuff.

That said, today’s list is pretty killer. A lot of these bands will be more familiar than maybe has been the case or will be on some of the other days of this Quarterly Review. It just kind of worked out that way as I was putting it together. But hey, a few bigger bands here, a few “debut EP” demos there. It’s all good fun.

So let’s go.

Quarterly Review #31-40:

Earthless, From the West

earthless from the west

Bonus points to whatever clever cat correctly decided that Earthless‘ 2018 studio album, Black Heaven (review here), needed a companion live record. With artwork mimicking a Led Zeppelin bootleg of the same name, From the West arrives through Silver Current and Nuclear Blast capturing the most powerful of power trios earlier this year in San Francisco, and it’s like the fire emoji came to life. With Mike Eginton‘s bass as the anchor and Mario Rubalcaba‘s drums as the driving force, guitarist Isaiah Mitchell starts ripping holes in the fabric of spacetime with “Black Heaven” and doesn’t stop until 64 minutes later as “Acid Crusher” dissolves into noise. Of course “Gifted by the Wind” from the latest LP is a highlight, and suitably enough, they cover Zeppelin‘s “Communication Breakdown,” but I’m not sure anything tops the extended take on “Uluru Rock” from 2013’s From the Ages (review here) — and yes, I mean that. Of course they pair it with the 1:48 surge of “Volt Rush,” because they’re Earthless, and brilliant is what they do. Every set they play should be recorded for posterity.

Earthless website

Silver Current Records on Bandcamp

Earthless at Nuclear Blast webstore

 

Satan’s Satyrs, The Lucky Ones

satans satyrs the lucky ones

Encased in cover art that begs the Spinal Tap question, “what’s wrong with being sexy?” and the response that Fran Drescher gave it, Virginia classic heavy rockers Satan’s Satyrs return with their fourth full-length, The Lucky Ones (on RidingEasy and Bad Omen), which also marks their first record as a four-piece with guitarist Nate Towle (Wicked Inquisition) joining the returning lineup of bassist/vocalist Clayton Burgess, guitarist Jared Nettnin and drummer Stephen Fairfield, who, between the fact that Burgess founded the band and played in Electric Wizard, and all the lead guitar antics from Nettnin and Towle, might be the unsung hero of the band. His performance is not lost in the recording by Windhand‘s Garrett Morris or Burgess‘ own hefty mix, and as one would expect, Satan’s Satyrs continue to deliver deceptively refined ’70s-heavy vibes caked in cult biker horror aesthetics. Some songs hit more than others, but Satan’s Satyrs‘ dust-kicking approach continues to win converts.

Satan’s Satyrs on Thee Facebooks

RidingEasy Records on Bandcamp

Bad Omen Records on Bandcamp

 

Mantar, The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze

mantar the modern art of setting ablaze

One generally thinks of Hamburg duo Mantar as having all the subtlety of a bone saw caught on video, and yet, in listening to “Seek + Forget” from their third album, The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze (on Nuclear Blast), there are some elements that seem to be reaching out on the part of the band. Guitarist Hanno‘s vocals are more enunciated and discernible, there is a short break from the all-out blackened-sludge-punk assault that’s been their trade since their start in 2012, and “Obey the Obscene” even has an organ. Still, the bulk of the 12-track/48-minute follow-up to 2016’s Ode to the Flame (review here) is given to extremity of purpose and execution, and in pieces like the churning “Anti Eternia” and the particularly-punked “Teeth of the Sea,” they work to refine their always-present threat of violence. Closer “The Funeral” brings back some of the quiet moodiness of intro “The Knowing” and underscores the point of sonic expansion. I hope next time they use a string section.

Mantar on Thee Facebooks

Nuclear Blast website

 

Child, I

child i

It took me a few minutes to get to the heart of what my problem with Child‘s I EP is. Really, I was sitting and listening to “Age Has Left Me Behind” — the first of the three included tracks on the 20-ish-minute 12″ — and I had to ask myself, “Why is this annoying me?” The answer? Because it’s not an album. That’s it. It’s not enough. Kudos to the Melbourne, Australia, heavy blues trio on having that be the biggest concern with their latest release — it follows 2016’s righteously-grooved Blueside (review here) — and kudos to them as well for their cover of Spirit‘s “The Other Song,” but of course it’s the 10-minute jam “Going Down Swinging” on side B that’s the immersive highlight of I, as Child‘s balance of softshoe-boogie and expansive mellow-psych is second to none in their subgenre. It’s not an album, and that’s kind of sad, but as a tide-ya-over until the next long-player arrives, I still does the trick nice and easy. And not to get greedy, but I’d take a II (or would it be You?) whenever they get around to it.

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Kozmik Artifactz website

 

T.G. Olson, Wasatch Valley Lady & The Man from Table Mountain

tg olson wasatch valley lady and the man from table mountain

Across Tundras frontman T.G. Olson, who by now has well lapped that band’s output with his solo catalog, would seem to have sat down with his guitar sometime in the last week and put two songs to tape. The resulting 10-minute offering is Wasatch Valley Lady & The Man from Table Mountain, its component title-tracks stripping down some of the more elaborate arrangements he’s explored of late — his latest full-length, Riding Roughshod (review pending; it’s hard to keep up), came out in October — to expose the barebones construction at root in his Rocky Mountain country folk style. “Wasatch Valley Lady” and “The Man from Table Mountain” make an engaging couple, and while Olson has a host of videos on YouTube that are similarly just him and his acoustic, something about the audio-only recordings feel like a voice out of time reaching for human connection. The first seems to have a natural fade, and the second a more prominent rhythm showcased in harder strum, but both are sweet melodies evocative as ever of open landscapes and wistful experience.

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T.G. Olson/Across Tundras on Bandcamp

 

Canyon, Mk II

canyon mk ii

The Deep Purple-referential Mk II title of Canyon‘s second EP, also the follow-up to their 2017 debut LP, Radiant Light, refers to the lineup change that’s seen Dean Welsh move to drums so that he and guitarist Peter Stanko can welcome bassist/vocalist Fred Frederick to the fold. The three included songs, the hooky “Mine Your Heart,” expansively fuzzed “Morphine Dreams” and bouncing “Roam” make a hell of a first offering from the reconstituted trio, who capture classic heavy naturalism in a chemistry between players that’s mirrored in the songwriting itself. Canyon‘s 2016 self-titled debut EP (review here) held marked promise, and even after the full-length, that promise would seem to be coming to fruition here. Their tones and craft are both right on, and there’s still some gelling to do between the three of them, but they leave no doubt with Mk II that this incarnation of Canyon can get there. And, if they keep up like this, get there quickly.

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Canyon on Bandcamp

 

Circle of the Sun, Jams of Inner Perception

Circle of the Sun Jams of Inner Perception

One man jams! Psych-jam seekers will recognize Daniel Sax as the drummer for Berlin-based trio Cosmic Fall. Circle of the Sun is a solo-project from Sax and Jams of Inner Perception collects six tracks for 39 minutes of adventuring on his own. Sax sets his own backbeat and layers bass and “effectsbass” for a full-lineup feel amid the instrumental creations, and those looking to be hypnotized by the space-rocking jams will be. Flat out. Sax is no stranger to jamming, and as one soaks in “Jamming in Paradise” or its nine-minute predecessor “Liquid Sand,” there’s little mistaking his intention. Curious timing that Circle of the Sun would take shape following a lineup change in Cosmic Fall — perhaps it was put together in the interim? — but whether Jams of Inner Perception is a one-off of the beginning of a new avenue for Sax, its turn to blues noodling on “Desert Sun,” thick-toned “Moongroove” and fuzzy roll on “Acid Dream” demonstrate there are plenty of outer realms still to explore.

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Mythic Sunship, Another Shape of Psychedelic Music

Mythic Sunship Another Shape of Psychedelic Music

The simplest way to put it is that Mythic Sunship‘s Another Shape of Psychedelic Music lives up to the lofty ambitions of its title. The Danish band is comprised of guitarists Kasper Stougaard Andersen and Emil Thorenfeldt, bassist Rasmus ‘Cleaver’ Christensen, drummer Frederik Denning and saxophonist Søren Skov, and with Causa Sui‘s Jonas Munk — who also produced the album — sitting in on the extended “Backyard Voodoo” (17:41) and “Out There” (13:53) as well as overseeing the release through El Paraiso, the band indeed makes there way into the far out reaches where jazz and psychedelia meet. It’s not about pretentiously saying they’re doing something that’s never been done. You’ll note it’s “another shape” and not a “new shape” or the “shape to come.” But immersion happens quickly on opener “Resolution” (14:23), and even quicker cuts like “Last Exit,” “Way Ahead” and “Elevation” carry the compelling spirit of forward-thinking creativity through their dynamic course, and if Mythic Sunship aren’t the shape of psychedelic music to come, it’s in no small part because there are so few out there who could hope to match what they do.

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El Paraiso Records website

 

Svarta Stugan, Islands / Öar

svarta stugan islands oar

Islands / Öar — the second word being the Swedish translation of the first — is the 40-minute debut full-length from Gothenburg atmospheric heavy post-rock instrumentalists Svarta Stugan, who demonstrate in influence from Hex-era Earth on the opener “Islands III” but go on in subsequent tracks to pull together a sound distinct in its cinematic feel and moody execution. Five out of the seven component tracks are “Islands” pieces, which are presented out of order with “Islands IV” missing and “Islands Unknown” perhaps in its place, and the respective side A/B finales “Inner Space” and “Prospects Quatsi” standing apart. Both bring to bear a style ultimately consistent with the melancholy so rife throughout Islands / Öar as a whole, but they’re obviously intended as outliers, and so they seem to be. The LP release follows a couple shorter outings, issued over the past six-plus years, and it’s clear from the depths and range on display here in the build-to-crescendo of “Inner Space” alone that Svarta Stugan haven’t misspent their time in their progression to this point.

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Bast, Nanoångström

bast nanoangstrom

Largesse of scope and largesse of tone work in tandem on Bast‘s Nanoångström full-length on Black Bow, as they bring together aspects of post-metallic churn and more extreme metal methods to hone a style highly individualized, highly weighted and as much cosmic as it is crushing. Through six tracks and 57 minutes, the London trio (plus two guest spots from Chris Naughton of Winterfylleth) careen and crash and set an atmosphere of chaos without actually being chaotic, their progressive craft working to tie the songs together into a larger impression of the work as a consuming entirety. It’s the kind of record you pick up and still hear new things in by the time they put out their next one. Production from Chris Fielding at Skyhammer Studio only helps creates the heights and depths of their dynamic, and whether they’re rolling out the severity of closer “The Ghosts Which Haunt the Space Between the Stars” or laying out the soundscape of “The Beckoning Void,” Bast shape the tenets of genre to suit their needs rather than try to work within the barriers of any particular style. Nanoångström is all the more complex and satisfying for their efforts in that regard.

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Quarterly Review: Sandrider, Witchkiss, Satta Caveira, Apollo80, The Great Unwilling, Grusom, Träden, Orthodox, Disrule, Ozymandias

Posted in Reviews on December 5th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review

Good morning from the kitchen table. It’s a couple minutes before 4AM as I get this post started. I’ve got my coffee, my iced tea in the same cup I’ve been using for the last three days, and I’m ready to roll through the next 10 records in this massive, frankly silly, Quarterly Review. Yesterday went well enough and I’m three days into the total 10 and I don’t feel like my head is going to explode, so I’ll just say so far so good.

As ever, there’s a lot to get through, so I won’t delay. I hope you find something here you dig. I certainly have.

Quarterly Review #21-30:

Sandrider, Armada

sandrider armada

Armada is the third full-length from Seattle noiseblasters Sandrider, and at this point I’m starting to wonder what it’s going to take for this band to get their due. Produced by Matt Bayles and released through Good to Die Records, the album is an absolute monster front to back. Scathing. Beastly. And yet the songs have character. It’s the trio’s first outing since 2015’s split with Kinski (review here) and follows 2013’s Godhead (review here) and 2011’s self-titled debut (review here) in melding the band’s West Coast noise superiority with a sense of melody and depth as the trio of guitarist/vocalist Jon Weisnewski, bassist/vocalist Jesse Roberts, and omegadrummer Nat Damm course and wind their way through intense but varied material. “Banger” has been tapped for its grunge influence. Eh. Maybe in the riff, but who cares when there’s so much more going on with it? “Brambles” is out and out brutal but still has a hook, and cuts like “Industry” and the closing “Dogwater” remind of just how skilled Sandrider are at making that brutality fun. If the record was six minutes long and just had “Hollowed” on it, you’d still call it a win.

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Good to Die Records website

 

Witchkiss, The Austere Curtains of Our Eyes

witchkiss the austere curtains of our eyes

Goodness gracious. Cavernous echo accompanies the roars of guitarist Scott Prater that are offset by the more subdued melodies of drummer Amber Burns, but even in the most spacious reaches of 11-minute second cut “Blind Faith,” Witchkiss are fucking massive-sounding. Their debut album, The Austere Curtains of Our Eyes, presents an especially crushing take on ritualistic volume, sounding its catharsis in a song like “Spirits of the Dirt” and sounding natural as it trades between a rolling assault and the atmospheres of its quieter moments. With the departure since the recording of bassist Anthony DiBlasi, the New York-based outfit will invariably shift in dynamic somewhat coming out of this record, but with such an obvious clarity of mission, I honestly doubt their core approach will change all that much. A band doesn’t make a record like this without direct intention. They may evolve, and one hopes they do just because one always hopes for that, but this isn’t a band feeling their way through their first record. This is a band who know exactly the kind of ferocity they want to conjure, and who conjure it without regret.

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Witchkiss on Bandcamp

 

Satta Caveira, MMI

Satta Caveira MMI

Argentinian instrumentalist trio Satta Caveira make a point of saying they recorded MMI, their second or third album depending on what you count, live in their home studio without edits or overdubs, click tracks or anything else. Clearly the intention then is to capture the raw spirit of the material as it’s happening. The eight songs that make up the unmanageable 62-minute listen of MMI — to be fair, 14 of those minutes are opener “Kundalini” and 23 are the sludge-into-jam-into-sludge riffer “T.H.C.” — are accordingly raw, but that in itself becomes a component of their aesthetic. Whether it’s the volume swell that seems to consume “Don Santos” in its second half, the funk of closer “Afrovoid” or the drift in “Kalifornia,” Satta Caveira manage to hone a sense of range amid all the naturalism, and with the gritty and more aggressive riffing of the title-track and the rush of the penultimate “Router,” their sound might actually work with a more elaborate production, but they’ve got a thing, it works well, and I’m not inclined to argue.

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Satta Caveira on Bandcamp

 

Apollo80, Lizard! Lizard! Lizard!

apollo 80 lizard lizard lizard

Vocalized only by spoken samples of astronauts, the thrice-exclamatory Lizard! Lizard! Lizard! is the debut EP from Perth, Australia, three-piece Apollo80, who are given mostly to exploring an outpouring of heavy molten vibes but still able to hone a bit of cacophony following the “godspeed, John Glenn” sample in second cut “FFH.” There are four songs on the 26-minute offering, and its spaciousness is brought to earth somewhat by the dirt in which the guitar and bass tones are caked, but it’s more the red dust of Mars than anything one might find kicking around a Terran desert. Unsurprisingly, the high point of the outing is the 10:46 title-track, where guitarist Luke, bassist Brano and drummer Shane push farthest into the cosmos — though that’s debatable with the interstellar drone of closer “Good Night” — but even in the impact of “Apollo” at the outset, there’s a feeling of low-oxygen in the atmosphere, and if you get lightheaded, that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be.

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Apollo80 on Bandcamp

 

The Great Unwilling, EP

the great unwilling ep

The prevailing influence throughout the untitled debut EP from Minnesota’s The Great Unwilling is Queens of the Stone Age, but listening to the layer of wah intertwine with the solo on “Sanguine,” there’s more to their approach than just that, however dreamy the vocal melodies from guitarist Jesse Hoheisel might be. Hoheisel, bassist Joe Ulvi and Mark Messina present a clean four tracks and 20 minutes on their first outing, and for having been together for about 18 months, their songwriting seems to have a firm grasp on what they want to do. “If 3 was 7” rolls along at a heavy clip into an effectively drifting midsection and second half jam before returning to the initial riff, while “Current” leads off with a particularly Hommeian construction, and soon gives way to the flowing pace and apparent lyrical references of the aforementioned “Sanguine.” They finish with the dirtier tonality of “Apostasy” and cap with no more pretense than they started, bringing the short release to a close with a chorus that seems to finish with more to say. No doubt they’ll get there.

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Grusom, II

grusom ii

A prominent current of organ alongside the guitars gives Grusom‘s aptly-titled second album on Kozmik Artifactz, II, a willfully classic feel, and even the lyrics of “Peace of Mind” play into that with the opening lines, “I always said I was born too late/This future is not for me,” but the presentation from the Svendborg six-piece isn’t actually all that retro-fied. Rather, the two guitars and organ work in tandem to showcase a modern take on those classic ideas, as the back and forth conversation between them in the extended jam of “Skeletons” demonstrates, and with a steady rhythmic foundation and soulful vocals overtop, Grusom‘s craft doesn’t need the superficial trappings of a ’70s influence to convey those roots in their sound. Songs like “Dead End Valley” and “Embers” have a bloozy swing as they head toward the melancholy closer “Cursed from Birth,” but even there, the proceedings are light on pretense and the atmosphere is more concerned with a natural vibe rather than pretending it’s half a century ago.

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Kozmik Artifactz website

 

Träden, Träden

traden traden

Having originated as Träd Gräs och Stenar, the group now known as Träden is the product of a psychedelic legacy spanning generations. Founder Jakob Sjöholm has joined forces with Hanna Östergren of Hills, Reine Fiske of Dungen and Sigge Krantz of Archimedes Badkar to create a kind of supergroup of serenity, and their self-titled is blissful enough not only to life up to Träd Gräs och Stenar‘s cult status, but to capture one of its own. It’s gorgeous. Presumably the painting used on the cover is the cabin where it was recorded, and its eight tracks — sometimes mellow, sometimes more weighted, always hypnotic — are a naturalist blueprint that only make the world a better place. That sounds ridiculous, I know. But the truth is that for all the terrible, horrifying shit humanity does on a daily basis, to know that there are people on the planet making music like this with such a genuine spirit behind it is enough to instill a bit of hope for the species. This is what it’s all about. I couldn’t even make it through the Bandcamp stream without buying the CD. That never happens.

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Träden on Bandcamp

 

Orthodox, Krèas

orthodox kreas

Last year, Spanish experimentalists Orthodox released Supreme and turned their free-jazz meets low-doom into a 36-minute fracas of happening-right-now creativity. Krèas, a lone, 27-minute track with the core duo of bassist Marco Serrato and drummer Borja Díaz joined by saxophonist Achilleas Polychronidis, was recorded in the same session but somehow seems even more freaked-out. I mean, it’s gone. Gone to a degree that even the hepcats who claim to appreciate free-jazz on anything more than a theoretical level (that is, those who actually listen to it) will have their hair blown back. The rest of the universe? Well, they’ll probably continue on, blissfully unaware that Orthodox are out there smashing comets together like they are, but wow. Challenging the listener is one thing. Krèas is the stuff of dissertations. One only hopes Orthodox aren’t holding their breath waiting for humanity to catch up to what they’re doing, because, yeah, it’s gonna be a while.

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Alone Records webstore

 

Disrule, Sleep in Your Honour

Disrule Sleep in Your Honour

Danish bruisers Disrule run a brash gamut with their second album, Sleep in Your Honour (on Seeing Red). Leading off with the earworm hook of the title-track (premiered here), the album puts a charge into C.O.C.-style riffing and classic heavy rock, but shades of Clutch-y funk in “Going Wrong” and a lumbering bottom end in “Occult Razor” assure there’s no single angle from which they strike. “(Gotta Get Me Some) Control” elicits a blues-via-Sabbath vibe, but the drums seem to make sure Disrule are never really at rest, and so there’s a strong sense of momentum throughout the eight-song/29-minute EP, perhaps best emphasized by two-minute second cut “Death on My Mind,” which seems to throw elbows as it sprints past, though even shouted-chorus closer “Enter the Void” has an infectious energy about it. If you think something can’t be heavy and move, Disrule have a shove with your name on it.

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Seeing Red Records on Bandcamp

 

Ozymandias, Cake!

ozymandias cake

First clue that all is not what it seems? The artwork. Definitely not a picture of cake on the cover of Ozymandias‘ debut album, Cake!, and accordingly, things don’t take long before they get too weird. “Jelly Beans” hits on harshest Nirvana — before it goes into blastbeats. “Mason Jar” scathes out organ-laced doom and vicious screaming, before “Hangman” gets all danceable like “All Pigs Must Die” earlier in the record. The wacky quotient is high, and the keyboards do a lot to add to that, but one can’t really call “Doom I – The Daisies” or the later “Doom II – The Lilies” anything but progressive in the Devin Townsend-shenanigans-metal sense of the word, and as wild as some stretches of Cake! are, the trio from Linz, Austria, are never out of control, and they never give a sense that what they’re doing is an accident. They’re just working on their own stylistic level, and to a degree that’s almost scary considering it’s their first record. I won’t claim to know where they might be headed, but it seems likely they have a plan.

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StoneFree Records website

 

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Wolves in Haze Premiere “All or Nothing”; New Single out Dec. 13

Posted in audiObelisk on November 29th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

wolves in haze (Photo by Emma Johansson)

Swedish grit-worshipers Wolves in Haze release their new single, All or Nothing, on Dec. 13. Comprised of two tracks, the 10-minute offering taps into a vibe that directly calls out the Sunlight Studio sound of nearly 30 years ago, as bands like Entombed, Grave and Dismember brought a new and raw shape to death metal with a strong influence from rock and roll as an undercurrent. Wolves in Haze tip that balance the other way, and while the guitar tones of Manne Olander and Olle Hansson carry some no shortage of severity in their distortion, the Gothenburg four-piece completed by bassist Vicke Crusner and drummer Kalle Lilja (also of Långfinger) are still definitively working from a heavy rock foundation. “All or Nothing” and “Leave Your Head” follow behind the band’s 2016 self-titled debut full-length — which they recorded and mixed themselves and Esben Willems of Monolord mastered — and find the band with a clearheaded approach to what they want their sound to do, starting with the compressed riff that begins “All or Nothing” and unfolding through the hook and darker exploration of “Leave Your Head.”

The first song is the shorter of the two at 4:09, and its presentation bears the hallmark crispness of sound that added such a lurking cavernousness to the classic Sunlight records, and the jabbing impact of that riff in “All or Nothing” wolves in haze all or nothingseems to draw a direct line to Entombed‘s To Ride, Shoot Straight, and Speak the Truth from 1997, as that band began to move out of the death metal style and into their “rock period” before ultimately circling back. Wolves in Haze to well with the marked influence, peppering the forward intensity with dual vocals from Olander and Hansson and a headbang-ready pounding chorus leading to a chugging verse before a post-midsection break of creeper bass leads to a minor-key lead line, the capstone solo and chug that seems to round out before a quick return to the central riff. A sample begins “Leave Your Head,” which thrashes harder initially but still has the same root in filthy low end despite a cleaner vocal in its aforementioned hook. Piano accompanies the break around the halfway point to add an eerie vibe and as they did with the prior track, they pick back up into an instrumental finish, this time with a bookending sample at the close.

For those who, like me, didn’t catch the first album when it was released, All or Nothing makes a quick opportunity to sample Wolves in Haze‘s wares while also showcasing the progression they’ve undertaken since that debut came out. They are working their way into a niche that, frankly, is right there waiting for them, and finding a stylistic blend that not only speaks to some of the most essential extreme records Sweden has ever produced, but still allows the band room to grow into their own take on it as well. It’s a fucking cool single. That’s what it comes down to. And Wolves in Haze bend that Sunlight sound to their will with a natural-sounding ease that only makes me look forward all the more to what they do next.

Enjoy “All or Nothing” followed by some words from the band below:

Wolves in Haze, “All or Nothing” official track premiere

Wolves in Haze on “All or Nothing”:

“All or Nothing” draws inspiration from actual events involving a serial killer in a small southern suburb of Gothenburg, Sweden. As there were many restless nights for the inhabitants of the area, these malicious acts dated to the summer of 2018 when Wolves in Haze started working with new material.

Wolves in Haze is:
Manne Olander – Voice, Guitar, Bass
Olle Hansson – Guitar, Bass, Voice
Victor Crusner – Bass, Grand Piano, Organs
Kalle Lilja – Drums, Moog, Organs, Bass, Guitar

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Greenleaf, Hear the Rivers: Sweet is the Sound

Posted in Reviews on November 26th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

greenleaf hear the rivers

The transformation Sweden’s Greenleaf have undergone within the last five-to-six years is not to be understated. After years as a side-project for founding guitarist Tommi Holappa from his main outfit, Dozer, and a modus operandi that involved recording with guests, the idea of a stable Greenleaf lineup began to surface really with 2012’s Nest of Vipers (review here), which was their first release after Dozer went to ground following their own 2008 LP. At that point, Holappa had two fellow Dozer bandmates along with him in first-guitarist-then-bassist Johan Rockner and drummer Olle Mårthans, and it was Greenleaf‘s second album to be fronted by Oskar Cedermalm following 2007’s Agents of Ahriman (vinyl reissue review here).

It would also be the last, as Cedermalm left to concentrate on his own main outfit, the now-defunct Truckfighters. Instead of going into hibernation, however, Holappa revamped Greenleaf with the idea of becoming a full touring act, and in just two years’ time, the band released 2014’s Trails and Passes (review here) as Holappa‘s first collaboration with vocalist Arvid Hällagård. It was a transitional record in its sound, very much settling into the chemistry between the founding member and central songwriter and the charismatic newcomer frontman. Greenleaf hit the road hard, signed to Napalm Records, and further established themselves as one of the European heavy underground’s most essential acts.

Their sound continued to evolve to a more modern execution than was found on their classic-style earlier offerings: 2007’s Agents of Ahriman (vinyl reissue review here), 2003’s Secret Alphabets (discussed here), 2001’s Revolution Rock (discussed here) and their 2000 self-titled EP (someday it will be mine), and by the time they got to 2016’s Rise Above the Meadow (review here), they were at last the crucial band they always had the potential to be. After 18 years of existence and five years-plus of working a heavy touring circuit, Hear the Rivers is the first Greenleaf album with what might be considered the stable lineup.

Of course, one uses those words cautiously for a group who’ve been through so many changes and so many different players in the past, but bassist Hans Fröhlich came aboard after the recording of Rise Above the Meadow, and as with Hällagård, this is drummer Sebastian Olsson‘s third album with Greenleaf, having also joined for Trails and Passes. This is Greenleaf, so really anything can change at any time save a departure from Holappa himself, but the idea of Hear the Rivers finally being Greenleaf presenting the outfit that Holappa started to build on Trails and Passes resonates further in the 10 songs included on this album.

This can be heard in barn-burners like “Oh My Bones” or the stomp of “Good Ol’ Goat” or the subdued blues of sneaky highlight “We are the Pawns” and the drift in eight-minute closer “The Rivers Lullaby,” just how far Greenleaf have come in their ongoing evolution, and the fact that the 46-minute, vinyl-ready collection was engineered by Karl Daniel Lidén, who was not only the band’s first drummer but has an enviable pedigree as a producer for Terra TenebrosaDozerSwitchbladeKatatonia and many others, only ties its sound to the history of Greenleaf‘s varied discography. His drum sounds are immediately recognizable and something of a trademark, but as well the spaciousness in a cut like “In the Caverns Below” and how purposefully it seems to slam into the sprint of the penultimate “High Fever,” which follows, seems to bear the mark of a careful recording as well as a careful placement.

greenleaf photo by edko fuzz

Also, as principal songwriter, Holappa seems to be marking something of a special occasion in this material, and he builds on the chemistry already so prevalent last time out with Hällagård and Olsson, while welcoming Fröhlich into the mix with due showcase of the fleet low end winding beneath so much gleeful, rampant fuzz guitar. To call Holappa anything less than a master of the form is to undersell his accomplishments herein, and to call Hear the Rivers anything less than Greenleaf‘s most realized work to-date would be a misstatement of its context and a devaluation of whats’s actually taking place on throughout.

Because as much as Holappa is the central figure in Greenleaf, especially here, he’s met head on by the rest of the band. Consider tailor-made set-launcher and opening track “Let it Out!,” which every bit earns the exclamation point in its title. Hällagård puts his stamp on Hear the Rivers from the very beginning — Fröhlich makes an early impression as well, while we’re talking about it — and continues to be both distinct of voice and a standout presence in the band, but his time on tour has made him all the more confident as a singer, and “Let it Out!” and the subsequent “Sweet it the Sound” find him dipping into bluesman’s soul to welcome and natural effect, with “Good Ol’ Goat” perhaps being the culmination here of that side of his identity in performance.

Likewise, on the straightforward rocker “A Point of a Secret,” he carries the melody while Olsson pops away on a rich-sounding snare behind, and on the side A closer “The Rumble and the Weight,” the entire band sets up symmetry with “The Rivers Lullaby” in digging into a more expansive atmosphere and mid-paced tempo while Hällagård cleverly arranges vocal layers in the chorus and Holappa and Fröhlich match wits for a brief solo section before the midpoint, leading to an even more spacious second-half.

In capping the album, “The Rivers Lullaby” works with a not-dissimilar purpose, demonstrating instrumental vibrancy and a vocal dynamic that builds to the last hook with genuine emotion as well as the sheer technical control to self-harmonize. That finale moves into a wash of noise to round out before swirling effects fade away as the last element to go — a distant cry from the thudding drums from Olsson that opened “Let it Out!,” but that would seem to be the point.

Speaking as a fan of the band — which I am — the achievements here aren’t to be understated, and they go well beyond merely hammering out a recording from the actual current Greenleaf touring lineup. That in itself isn’t nothing, since it contributes to the vitality so rampant all throughout the recording, but if the songs weren’t there in the first place, the band wouldn’t have a leg to stand on, and songwriting has always been at the core of Greenleaf no matter who’s involved. And as far as they have come even in just the past half-decade of a tenure about to hit 20 years, that central factor has never wavered. Hear the Rivers stands among its, and their, finest hours.

Greenleaf, “Good Ol’ Goat” official video

Greenleaf, “The Rivers Lullaby” lyric video

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Greenleaf at Napalm Records

Napalm Records website

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