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Quarterly Review: Red Fang, Black Moon Circle, Druglord, Drone Hunter, Holy Serpent, Lugweight, Megaritual, Red Lama, Lacy, Valborg

Posted in Reviews on December 27th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk winter quarterly review

Feeling good going into day two of the Quarterly Review. The good news about how heavy music has become such a vast universe is that there’s always plenty to cover without having to really dig into stuff I don’t find interesting. Of course, the other side of that is feeling constantly behind the curve and overwhelmed by it all, but let’s not talk about that for the moment. Point is that as we make our way through this week and into the next — because, remember, it’s six days this time, not five — a big part of me still feels like I’m just scratching the surface of everything that’s out there. It still seems just to be a fraction of the whole story being told around the world in the riffiest of languages. We all do what we can, I guess. Let’s get started.

Quarterly Review #11-20:

Red Fang, Only Ghosts

red-fang-only-ghosts

Four albums into one of the decade’s most successful and influential heavy rock careers, doesn’t it seem like Portland, Oregon’s Red Fang are due for a truly great record? Their 2013 outing, Whales and Leeches (discussed here), was rushed by the band’s own admission – their focus, as ever, on touring – and Only Ghosts (on Relapse) unites them with producer Ross Robinson and mixer Joe Barresi, two considerable names to bring heft and presence to the 10-track/42-minute outing. And I’ve no doubt that “Shadows” and the bigger-grooving “The Smell of the Sound” and opener “Flies” kick ass when delivered from the stage, and it’s true they sound more considered with the ambience of “Flames” positioned early, but Only Ghosts still comes across like a collection of songs united mostly by the timeframe in which they were written. Doesn’t mean they don’t build on Whales and Leeches, but now five years on from 2011’s Murder the Mountains (review here), and with their dynamic, charged and momentum-driven sound firmly established, Red Fang still seem to be at the threshold of some crucial forward step rather than stomping all over it as one might hope.

Red Fang on Thee Facebooks

Relapse Records website

 

Black Moon Circle, Sea of Clouds

black-moon-circle-sea-of-clouds

After releasing a self-titled debut (review here) and the follow-up Andromeda (review here) in 2014, 2016’s Sea of Clouds (on Crispin Glover/Stickman) is the third proper studio full-length from Norway’s Black Moon Circle – though at that point, define “proper.” In 2015, the trio/four-piece – Trondheim-based guitarist Vemund Engan, bassist Øyvin Engan and drummer Per Andreas Gulbrandsen, plus Scott “Dr. Space” Heller of Øresund Space Collective on synth – also released The Studio Jams Vol. I (discussed here) and in addition to the four tracks of Sea of Clouds, they’ve also had a Vol. II (review here) out this year. The definitions become fluid, is what I’m saying, and that couldn’t be more appropriate for the sound of “Lunar Rocket,” the outward-gazing space rock of “The Magnificent Dude,” “Moondog” and “Warp Speed,” which indeed offer enough kosmiche expanse to make one wonder where the song ends and the jam begins. Or, you know, reality. One has to wonder if Black Moon Circle might bridge the gap at some point between studio improv and more plotted songwriting, but as it stands, neither side of their dual personality fails to engage with its flow and drift.

Black Moon Circle on Thee Facebooks

Black Moon Circle at Stickman Records

Black Moon Circle at Crispin Glover Records

 

Druglord, Deepest Regrets

druglord-deepest-regrets

A one-sided 12” EP issued by STB Records in late 2015 as the follow-up to Richmond dirge-fuzzer trio Druglord’s debut album, Enter Venus (review here), the three-track Deepest Regrets represents the band’s final studio material with bassist Greta Brinkman (ex-L7) in the lineup, who’s since been replaced by Julian Cook. That distinction matters in no small part because so much of Druglord’s purposes on Deepest Regrets’ three component songs – “Regret to Dismember,” “Speedballs to Hell” and “Heaven Tonight” – is about reveling in low end. Rawer than was the album preceding, they find guitarist/vocalist/organist Tommy Hamilton, Brinkman and drummer Bobby Hufnell emitting an oozing lurch, blasting out thickened motor-riffing, and fortifying a darkly psychedelic drear – in that order. True to EP form, each song gives a sampling of some of what Druglord has to offer coming off the album, and with a recording job by Garrett Morris, who also helmed the LP, it remains a fair look at where they might head next, despite the shift in lineup.

Druglord on Thee Facebooks

STB Records webstore

 

Holy Serpent, Temples

holy serpent temples

Melbourne’s Holy Serpent return with Temples (on RidingEasy), their second full-length after 2015’s self-titled debut (review here), and continue to offer an engaging blend of well-blazed psychedelia and heavier-rolling groove. Especially considering they’ve still only been a band for two years, the four-piece of guitarists Nick Donoughue and Scott Penberthy (the latter also vocals), bassist Dave Barlett and Lance Leembrugen remain striking in their cohesion of purpose, and Temples opener “Purification by Fire” and ensuing cuts like the fuzz-wall centerpiece “Toward the Sands” and echo-laden “The Black Stone” only continue to stretch their intentions toward ever more acid-ic flow. They called it “shroom doom” last time out, and seem to have moved away from that self-branding, but however one wants to label Temples, its five tracks/43 minutes push ahead from where Holy Serpent were just a year ago and, rounding out with the slower churn of “Sativan Harvest,” still reminds that mind expansion and deeply weighted tonecraft are by no means mutually exclusive.

Holy Serpent on Thee Facebooks

Holy Serpent at RidingEasy Records

 

Drone Hunter, Welcome to the Hole

drone hunter welcome to the hole

Self-releasing Croatian instrumental trio Drone Hunter devise vigilantly straightforward riffing on their second album, Welcome to the Hole, finding room for some charm in titles like “Wine Dick,” “Crazy Ants with Shotguns” and the closing “A Burning Sensation,” the latter of which seems to draw particularly from the playbook of Karma to Burn. That comparison is almost inevitable for any riff-led/sans-vocal three-piece working in this form, but the crunch in “Fog Horn” and “Waltz of the Iron Countess” isn’t without its own personality either, and as with a host of acts from the Croatian underground, they seem to have a current of metal to their approach that, in the case of Welcome to the Hole, only makes the entire affair seem tighter and more precise while maintaining tonal presence. Fitz (guitar), Klen (bass) and Rus (drums) might not be much for words or last names, but their sophomore full-length comprises solid riffs and grooves and doesn’t seem to ask anything more than a nod from its audience. A price easily paid.

Drone Hunter on Thee Facebooks

Drone Hunter on Bandcamp

 

Lugweight, Yesterday

lugweight yesterday

Lugweight is comprised solely of Brooklyn-via-Richmond-Virginia transplant Eric Benson, and the project makes its full-length debut with the evocatively-titled drone wash of Yesterday following one EP and preceding another. Fair to call it an experimental release, since that’s kind of the nature of the aesthetic, but Benson demonstrates a pretty clear notion of the sort of noise he’s interested in making, and there’s plenty of it on Yesterday in “Sleeping on Cocaine,” on which one can hear the undulating wavelengths emanating from speaker cones, or the penultimate “Love Song for the Insane,” which features chanting vocals in echoes cutting through a tonal morass but still somehow obscure. A 33-minute five-tracker, Yesterday doesn’t overstay its welcome, but alternates between sonic horrors and warmer immersion in the shorter centerpiece “Bleed My Sorrow” and closer “Show Me Where the Shovel Is,” coming dangerously close in the latter to doom riffing that one might almost dare to put drums to. Solo drone guitar, even when this thick, is never for everyone, but one doubts Benson was shooting for accessibility anyhow.

Lugweight on Bandcamp

Forcefield Records website

 

Megaritual, Eclipse

megaritual eclipse

To hear Australia’s Megaritual tell it, the 25-minute single-song Eclipse EP was recorded on Mt. Jerusalem in New South Wales this past summer, the one-man outfit of vocalist/guitarist/sitarist/drummer Dale Paul Walker working with bassist/Monotronist Govinda Das to follow-up his prior two Mantra Music EPs, recently compiled onto an LP (review here) by White Dwarf Records. Whether or not that’s the case, “Eclipse” itself is suitably mountainous, building along a linear course from sea level to a grand peak with droning patience and gradual volume swells, lush and immersive psychedelia in slow-motion trails, a sparse verse, percussion, sitar, guitar, bass, and so on coming to a glorious vista around the 17:30 mark only to recede again circa six minutes later in a more precipitous dropoff. The digital edition (and that’s the only edition thus far) comes with a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun,” which makes good company for the hypnotic titular exploration and the quick progression it represents after the other two short releases.

Megaritual on Bandcamp

White Dwarf Records website

 

Red Lama, Dreams are Free

red lama dreams are free

Heavy psychedelic pastoralists Red Lama enter the conversation of 2016’s best debut albums with Dreams are Free, initially released on All Good Clean Records and subsequently picked up by Stickman. Leaning more toward the liquid end of psych-blues, the Danish seven-piece immediately transcend with opener “Inca” (video here) and quickly showcase a subtlety for build that only gets more potent as they move through “Sonic Revolution” and “The World is Yours,” unfolding due heft in the latter without losing the laid back sensibility that the vocals bring sweetly, melodically, to the material. The later “Mekong River” seems almost like it’s going to shoegaze itself into post-rock oblivion, but Red Lama hold their sound together even into the 10-minute closer “Dalai Delay” – aptly-titled twice over – and deliver with striking patience a languid flow with hints of underlying prog experimentation. How that will come to fruition will have to remain to be seen/heard, but Dreams are Free also dips into funkier groove on “Dar Enteha,” so while they probably could be if they were feeling lazy, Red Lama don’t at all seem to be finished growing. All the better.

Red Lama on Thee Facebooks

Red Lama at Stickman Records

 

Lacy, Andromeda

lacy andromeda

Lacy is an experimental solo-project from former Lord guitarist Stephen Sullivan, based in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and part of a deep sludge underground that goes back well over a decade. Andromeda is his third album with the outfit and the second to be released in 2016, though unlike the preceding Volume 2. Blue, its 12 tracks were recorded in a matter of months, not years. All instruments, arrangements, vocals and the raw recording were handled by Sullivan himself (he also took the photo on the cover) but cuts like “Gyre Hell” and the acoustic “Push Me Away” veer around self-indulgence or hyper-navelgazing – I’d call “Offal and the Goat Brains” experimental, but not narcissistic – and he seems more interested in writing songs than making a show of being outside this or that imaginary box. Still, Andromeda offers diversity of instrumentation and arrangement, unplugging once more for “Healer” before closer “Always” finishes the album as a rumbling and grunge-laden love song.

Lacy on YouTube

Lacy on Bandcamp

 

Valborg, Werwolf

valborg werwolf

After catching on late to German metallers Valborg’s 2015 fifth album, Romantik, I told myself I wasn’t going to miss whatever they did next. The single Werwolf (on Temple of Torturous and Zeitgeister) might be a quick check-in of just two songs – “Ich Bin Total” and “Werwolf” itself – but the classic European-style death-doom chug of the latter and the vicious crash of the former I still consider a reward for keeping an eye out. “Ich Bin Total” is less than three and a half minutes long, and “Werwolf” just over five, but both feature choice chug riffing, darkened atmospherics and art-metal growls that only add to the clenched-teeth intensity of the instruments surrounding. They spare neither impact nor ambience nor lives as Werwolf plays out, the title cut riding its massive progression forward to a sensory-overload of nod before finally offering some release to the tension in a second-half guitar lead, only to revive the brutality once more, repetitions of “werwolf” chanted in growls over it. Awesome.

Valborg on Thee Facebooks

Temple of Torturous website

 

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Holy Serpent to Release New Album Temples on Sept. 30

Posted in Whathaveyou on August 8th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

holy serpent (Photo by Sally Townsend)

If you’ll recall, Melbourne’s Holy Serpent got a nod at the start of the year for their impending second album as being one of the most anticipated for 2016. They were an easy pick, to be honest. Their 2015 self-titled debut (review here) effectively tapped into and built on a foundation of classic stoner rock, and the news that RidingEasy Records will have the follow-up, titled Temples, out on Sept. 30 is most welcome. I haven’t heard the whole thing yet, but they have the new song “Toward the Sands” streaming now to give an advance sampling, and it sounds right on.

It has been and no doubt will be interesting to hear RidingEasy bands — Electric CitizenHoly SerpentThe WellMonolord, etc. — as they start to kind of develop in their own directions. The label seems to have done well in picking acts who bring a focus on songwriting but have a will toward growth as well. Good ears. Looking forward to hearing the rest of Temples when the time comes.

Preorders are available now, as the PR wire confirms:

holy serpent temples

Holy Serpent announce followup to acclaimed 2015 debut

The concept of “skate-rock” has been around for many years, but it has never been embodied as well as on Temples, the new album by Holy Serpent. While the band members are just casual skateboarders themselves, one might be tempted to think that skating has subtly influenced the band’s sound. Not only are there the elements of 70s hard rock crossed with punk values and energy. But, the music itself is like riding a skateboard: slow grooving passages can shift on a dime into fast thrill-ride riffs. There’s an exhilarating freedom of movement and unpredictability to the sound.

In the short time since their self-titled RidingEasy debut in mid-2015, Melbourne, Australia’s Holy Serpent have gained a lot of attention for their rather punk version of heavy psych and metal. Fittingly, there’s a strong vibe of early Soundgarden, Saint Vitus and Kyuss to Temples in that it’s undeniably heavy, but also clever in its experimentation with subtle tempo shifts, multiple vocal effects and other production techniques. But it’s still more Sabotage than Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.

Temples is heavier in tone than the first album, and also more sonically rich and aggressive. The 5-song, 44-minute album finds vocalist/guitarist Scott Penberthy, guitarist Nick Donoughue, bassist Dave Bartlett and drummer Danny Leo (new drummer Lance Leembrugen has replaced Leo since recording to complete the live lineup) expanding the hooks while simultaneously taking listeners on a rigorous ride.

“We’ve found playing slow all the time got a tad boring so we’ve mixed it up a bit with tempo changes and added more parts to each song to make them sort of flow like a story,” Penberthy says. “The challenge was making sure it still flowed as it should. ‘All killer no filler’ was a bit of a motto this time around when writing the songs.”

Album opener “Purification by Fire” emerges slowly from a primordial swamp of a reversed gong crash, synth swells, guitar feedback and lightly plucked bass notes before it all coalesces into a driving but slow-burn riff that spans the length of the fretboard as the drum patterns also subtly shift and slide underneath. It’s a brilliant effect, albeit one you might miss if you’re not paying attention. “Bury Me Standing” launches full throttle with a raging guitar solo over a driving riff/rhythm before a quick about-face into a march as Penberthy’s effect-soaked vocals wail above the proceedings. The song builds slowly upon its elements until Penberthy howls an impassioned plea, “bury me standing, I will not forgive you.” Album centerpiece “Toward the Sands” further pushes the tempo changes and sonic experimentation to great effect as the song effortlessly turns on a dime from fast rager to doom, while all sounding cohesive and melodically infectious. Album closer “Sativan Harvest” is an epic nearly 12-minute multi-part journey, built around a central blues motif that drifts into a massive haze of droning guitars set to fat rhythm pickup tone as it swells then recedes, only to restructure into a mutated version of the original motif that eventually abruptly ends with violin, cello and synths in a slow fade into the ether.

Temples will be available on LP, CD and download on September 30th, 2016 via RidingEasy Records. Pre-orders are available for physical here and digital here.

Artist: Holy Serpent
Album: Temples
Label: RidingEasy Records
Release Date: September 30, 2016

01. Purification By Fire
02. Bury Me Standing
03. Toward The Sands
04. The Black Stone
05. Sativan Harvest

facebook.com/HolySerpentBand
www.ridingeasyrecords.com
holyserpentband.bandcamp.com

Holy Serpent, “Toward the Sands”

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Temples, Periplaneta Nova: Gone in Search of the Sun

Posted in Reviews on February 21st, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Their sound is rife with space rock mystique and full of encompassing low-end, but what really stands Finland’s Temples out among their peers in the increasingly crowded spectrum of European heavy psychedelia is the fact that their songs never stop being songs, no matter how jammed-out they get. That may not have been the case on 2009’s Taajuuksia or the demos that preceded it, but with their latest outing, the full-length Periplaneta Nova (Mikrofoni Records), the Helsinki four-piece keep a grounded sense of structure even as they purposefully veer away from it into the charted course of clicked-wah antigravity. I won’t say the four extended tracks on Periplaneta Nova – “Perimetri” (9:10), “The Atheist” (12:20), “In Search of the Sun” (6:27) and “Attar” (11:35) – don’t have any openness to them at all, that’s far from the case and as gradually as “Perimetri” unfolds at the album’s beginning, a laid back feel is clearly paramount in their sound, but it’s easy to divine a purpose behind their meanderings. Accordingly, Temples are as adept at conveying a mood as they are the casual, live vibe of the recording, and though the material is obviously split up time-wise to allow for the two sides of a vinyl release, the flow crafted is total and runs throughout all four tracks.

Their keeping info sparse as regards personnel also speaks to an underlying philosophy at work – the CD’s liner and all internet info credits Ville, Miina, Mikko and Tommi, but says no more about who does what than that – and adds an element of mystery that doesn’t necessarily affect the listening process one way or another, but nonetheless colors the band’s overall image. It’s worth noting as well that the long intro of “Perimetri,” the first two-and-a-half minutes, accounts for almost all of the difference time-wise between that song and its side B mirror, “In Search of the Sun.” On that song, it’s 42 seconds before the quiet, echoing vocals kick in, and – the intro of “Perimetri” notwithstanding – that’s as long as Temples seem willing to go. Indeed, their quickness to introduce the verses on “The Atheist” and “Attar,” the two longer cuts, is a big part of what allows Periplaneta Nova to feel grounded structurally even in the face of such lengthy divergence. With its long, fuzz-soaked instrumental passages, “The Atheist” benefits greatly from its relatively straightforward beginning, offering a sense of development within itself as well as an expansion on what the listener expects after “Perimetri.” Some sense of early Om-style ritual can be heard in the bass’ inflection, and, to a lesser extent, the vocal cadence, but however rich the low-end gets, the guitars are never too far out of control. “The Atheist” weaves into verses and grand sections of riff-led jamming with apparent ease, culminating in a long solo that seems to languish over the slowdown until, finally, the song collapses.

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On the Radar: Temples

Posted in On the Radar on November 9th, 2009 by JJ Koczan

In my ignorant American world of generalizations, Scandinavia is divided thusly: Sweden gets death metal and stoner rock, Finland gets death/doom and folk metal, and Norway gets black? metal. Denmark doesn’t really get anything Thanks Arik Roper or someone just like him.other than the shaft and the occasional garage rock trio. All these countries have crossover bands, of course, I’m just talking about specialties, like local delicacies. It’s all fish anyway.

Blowing away my puny concept of what Finland can produce is the four-piece Temples from Helsinki. Checking them out was suggested to me by Obelisk attendee Shrike, and many thanks for the pointer, because I’ve been grooving on the Sleepy riffs and throaty pirate vocals ever since. They’re geared toward the jammier psych end of the tube amped spectrum, but their tones ride high in the ’90s tradition and it’s the kind of thickened stoner goo that just liquefies your mind and next thing you know it’s 20 minutes later and “The Ashes” is over.

It’s solid riff worship in the spirit of Electric Wizard, which is rarely a bad thing when a band decides, as Temples does, to keep it simple. They’d be a good pickup for MeteorCity, who seem similarly geared on the preservation and furthering the ’90s stoner sound, but in the meantime, Temples has tracks on their MySpace available for streaming, and have even more available for download on their website, which is more elaborate than any band site I’ve been to in a while. Usually it’s just a link to the MySpace. I guess Finland is full of surprises these days.

Temples – I

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