Posted in Whathaveyou on July 13th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
West Coast psychedelic exports JOY and Amsterdam proto-punk riffers Death Alley will pair up for a run through Europe in September. Labelmates on Tee Pee, Death Alley will be supporting their 2015 debut full-length, Black Magick Boogieland (review here), while JOY have been tossing out word of their next outing for about two months now without any official confirmation of a release date, which presumably is coming soon. When it arrives, their second offering for Tee Pee will serve as the follow-up to 2014’s lived-up-to-its-name Under the Spell of Joy (review here).
Cool pairing, in any case, which each band offering something of its own in a way that I’d imagine will make for a complementary vibe at the shows. Tour announcement follows, as sent down the PR wire:
Swamp Booking and TeePee Records are pleased to present:
DEATH ALLEY & JOY European Tour 2015 05/09/15 Siegen/Germany Vortex 06/09/15 Amsterdam/Netherlands Vrankrijk 07/09/15 Rotterdam/Netherlands V11 08/09/15 Wurzburg/Germany Immerhin 09/09/15 Münich/Germany Backstage 10/09/15 Wien/Austria Arena 11/09/15 Marina di Ravenna/Italy Hana-Bi 13/09/15 Villimpenta (Mn)/Italy Parco Giochi 14/09/15 Torino/Italy Blah Blah 15/09/15 Zurich/Switzerland Kinski 16/09/15 Kreuzlingen/Switzerland Horst Club 18/09/15 Berlin/Germany SWAMP FEST 19/09/15 Mannheim/Germany Mohawk Festival 22/09/15 Hamburg/ Germany Rock Cafe´St. Pauli 23/09/15 Copenhagen/Denmark KB18 25/09/15 Oslo/Norway Hostsabbat Festival 26/09/15 Linkoping/Sweden The Crypt
The sound of JOY has been described as “a spaced-out sonic groove-ride” and “outer reach freak out”, but that hyperbole alone doesn’t do justice to the group’s measured mode of attack. JOY puts a premium on establishing both structure and dynamics, its kaleidoscopic flurry and full-throttle riffage is anchored by both subtle detail and surprising textural depth. Record Collector says that JOY “take the blues about as far out as they can stretch ’em and they’re far more psychedelic than a band like Blue Cheer ever was, even in their most lysergic moments,” a claim that can be debated by those whom have seen JOY share the stage with acts such as Dead Meadow, Harsh Toke, Hot Lunch, Sacri Monti and at last year’s well-documented west coast tour with psychedelic giants (and new labelmates) Earthless. The follow-up to JOY’s 2012 self-titled debut, Under the Spell of Joy was recorded and mixed by ASTRA guitarist Brian Ellis and features eight smoldering songs that suck the listener into a a surging sea of searing solos and psychedelic swagger. Special guests on Under the Spell of Joy include Nik Turner (Hawkwind), Parker Griggs (Radio Moscow) and Ellis.
Amsterdam’s heavy, punked-out, proto-metal outlaws DEATH ALLEY have signed to NYC’s Tee Pee Records. The ferocious four piece will let loose the full length LP, Black Magick Boogieland, on May 19. The album is the highly anticipated debut from the underground band featuring former The Devil’s Blood guitarist Oeds Beydals and ex-members of Gewapend Beton and Mühr.
The sound of DEATH ALLEY has been described as “an unorthodox cross contamination of MC5, Captain Beyond, Blue Öyster Cult, Motörhead and Black Sabbath” and “Rock ‘N’ Roll played with metal finesse and a pitch black psychedelic soul”. In 2013, DEATH ALLEY released the limited 12? split vinyl single, “Peter Pan Speedrock vs. Death Alley”, which announced the group’s formation with a vengeance. The band’s debut 7? — Over Under b/w Dead Man’s Bones — dropped last year via Van Records and was hailed as “a serious musical Rock ’N’ Roll statement.” DEATH ALLEY followed the release of the 7? with an appearance at the 2014 Roadburn Festival and month-long European tour with new label mates, The Shrine.
“It’s thrilling to release our first full-length on Tee Pee, to become part of a family of bands whose music inspires us and with people we know well,” says DEATH ALLEY front man Douwe. “It’s about time Tee Pee opens the gates to Black Magick Boogieland.”
Posted in Features on July 6th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
If 2015 ended tomorrow, I think you’d still have to say it was a pretty good year for heavy rock. Doom veered into a swath extremes — its own subgenres emerging almost one by one in a growing splinter that nonetheless continues to draw water from its roots — while the neo-stoner ignition of the West Coast continued its boom of new acts proffering classic groove. The East reveled in a progressive vision just waiting to be picked up by others, and in Europe, the ’70s traditionalist movement spread ever wider, essentially defining a modern sound in organic sounding, sometimes-vintage elements. Whether you’re going for crushing, oppressive barbarism or cosmos-bound blissouts, it is, in short, a good time to be alive.
Of course, 2015 doesn’t end tomorrow, and there’s still a whole lot of year to come. About half, as it happens. So, as has been the tradition around here for the last half-decade — and seems to be the tradition in a growing number of outlets; not taking credit or claiming to have invented anything, just noting a proliferation — it’s time to count down the best records of the year so far. There have been more than a handful of gems, and since in December I’m planning on doing a top 30, we’ll mark half the year with a top 15. Seems only fair.
Please note that this isn’t purely a critical evaluation, but a personal list, and that what I’ve put on most is as crucial a factor in my ranking as how important I think a given record is. You know the drill by now. Let’s go:
Kiev three-piece Stoned Jesus have a varied stylistic history, and their third outing, The Harvest was ultimately a success in large part because of its complete refusal to be defined. Atop a foundation of quality songcraft, the trio proffered a sound that was not necessarily experimental in terms of anti-structure noise or effects onslaughts, but bold in each of its forays outward from its heavy rock underpinnings.
It has consistently taken me a while to get a hold on what Freedom Hawk are up to. The steady elements in their sound are held to so firmly that on the first couple listens, it seems to just be more of the same. But the more one digs in, the more there is to be found, and with Into Your Mind, the Virginia Beach trio overcome losing a member to create their most progressive outing to date, flourishes of psychedelia melding easily with their signature style of sunshiny riffing.
Five albums deep, Germany’s My Sleeping Karma are an act unto themselves. Their progress has been natural, fueled by a clear, varied sense of exploratory will, and the results on this year’s Moksha were nothing short of stunning. Branching out their arrangements might not be new to them, but the inclusion of horns, drones, percussion, etc., amid the central guitar, bass, keys and drums lent an almost orchestral feel to the flow between the tracks, and one can only hope they continue on their current path, because it is unquestionably the right one.
So much potential, so much vitality at the heart of this debut from Death Alley. The Amsterdam-based four-piece (interview here) stormed out of the gate with a ripper of a debut, and just when you seemed to have it all figured out, they hit the ignition on a 12-minute full-impulse space rock thrust, a guest vocal appearance from Farida Lemouchi (a former bandmate of Death Alley guitarist Oeds Beydals in The Devil’s Blood) adding both mystique and emotional resonance to what was already a stunning track. With all the riotousness preceding, Black Magick Boogieland readily lived up to its righteous title.
Midwestern-turned-West-Coast heavy psych rockers Mondo Drag may have taken their time in releasing their self-titled sophomore outing, which followed their 2010 debut, New Rituals (review here), and was recorded in 2012, but it’s easy to imagine that’s because they wanted the circumstances to be as special as the album itself, recorded with a fleeting five-piece lineup that included the one-time rhythm section of Radio Moscow who wound up leaving to further their then-nascent project, Blues Pills. Even without that lineup shift as a factor, the late ’60s vibe Mondo Drag brought out across the release proved eminently listenable and has held up on repeat visits.
A gorgeous, shimmering and melodically resonant debut from the Dutch four-piece Cigale, their self-titled gracefully maintained tonal presence and warmth while also enacting a psychedelic sprawl and grooving serenity that acted like the landscape in which the songs took place. It was a rich, bright vibe, and an utter joy to behold, tracks like “Harvest Begun,” “Feel the Heat” and “Eyes Wide Shut” proving as memorable as they were inviting. Having two former members of the much-missed fuzz rock outfit Sungrazer may have initially turned some heads in their direction, but Cigale‘s first album proved they’re an outfit with their own personality, their own development to undertake, and already much to offer.
The awaited return of The Machine brought the band’s fifth album and a further-refined sense of maturity in their processes, as well as intrigue as to where they might be headed, two dual modes of open-ended jamming and more structured songwriting playing off each other in the extended “Chrysalis (J.A.M.)” and “Come to Light” and the more verse/chorus stylizations of “Dry End” and “Off Course.” To be perfectly honest, I doubt The Machine will ultimately pick one side over another, since if Offblast! proved anything it’s that they can easily handle either or both, but as they continue to grow, it’s encouraging to have their style establish itself as so multi-faceted.
First time I pressed play on Gravitron was a real “oh shit!” moment. The last release from NJ stalwarts The Atomic Bitchwax was 2011’s The Local Fuzz (review here), a single-song full-length instrumental riff onslaught that had its charm but was inherently divorced from the appeal of the band’s songwriting. Not only does Gravitron re-factor that in with songs like “Roseland,” “It’s Alright,” “Coming in Hot” and “Ice Age Hey Baby,” among others, but it hits with kick-in-the-ass production force and an all-out heaviness that 2008’s TAB4 showed the three-piece steering directly away from. Just a killer record. Utterly void of pretense. No bullshit. No need to rely on anything more than chemistry, and with the Bitchwax, that’s plenty.
7. Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth
Right now, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth are my band to beat for Debut of the Year, and I’m quite frankly not sure how anyone is going to be able to do it, so if list time comes in Dec. and you see Tad Doyle‘s trio marked out as such, know that it’s been that way in my head for some time. The three-piece of Doyle, bassist Peggy “Pegadeth” Tully and drummer Dave French arrived with a roar, and even when their self-titled let up sonically, the atmosphere remained viscerally heavy. Six years having passed since the release of their first demo (review here), I wasn’t sure there was ever going to be an album, but then to have Brothers of the Sonic Cloth show up and enact such thorough demolition only made it more impressive.
It can’t possibly be a surprise to have Luminiferous show up somewhere on this list. The seventh long-player by High on Fire had all the rage and bombast in “Slave the Hive” and “The Black Plot” that have become the band’s hallmarks over their 17 years together, but branched out progressively as well in songs like “The Cave” and “The Falconist,” the latter of which was brazenly catchy and about as emotionally direct as the band has ever gotten, their general modus being — and in that song too, just to a lesser extent — a metaphor-laced lyrical approach. That song was a triumph and so was the album as a whole; the second collaboration with producer Kurt Ballou building on the rampaging victories of 2012’s De Vermis Mysteriis (review here) while also showing growth on the part of one of modern metal’s most pivotal bands.
Hitting more or less concurrent with a vinyl release of their prior album, 2013’s A Time of Hunting (review here), Kings Destroy‘s Kings Destroy is not at all coincidentally titled. Over the course of now three full-lengths, the New York five-piece — about whom I feign no impartiality, let it be noted — have distinguished themselves with a sound neither noise, nor doom, nor heavy rock, but drawing on elements of all three when it suits their purposes with chemistry built from years of being in bands together of various stripes and in various genres. What stands the self-titled out from their past work, in part, is that it is the closest they’ve yet come to capturing their live sound in the studio, and accordingly, it’s a volatile kind of heavy that bends aesthetic to its will rather than capitulating to expectations of any sort. I don’t think they’re done growing by any stretch, but Kings Destroy feels like an arrival front-to-back.
This one was almost a sneak-attack. German heavy psych forerunners Colour Haze released To the Highest Gods We Know, their 11th full-length, in Dec. 2014 on CD (the vinyl was in 2015, which is what we’re counting in this instance), with very, very little fanfare of any sort. There was a track premiere here that came shortly after the album was announced, but I think it was officially out less than a month after its existence was made public, which for a band of Colour Haze‘s stature and influence was surprising. Less devoted to grandeur than 2012’s 2CD She Said (review here), it nonetheless pushed the band’s sound forward and found them experimenting in their studio, particularly on the string-quartet-inclusive finale title-track, which offset jams like “Überall” and the laid back highlight “Call” with a rhythmic oddness that was somehow still Colour Haze‘s own. I couldn’t help but wonder where it was leading, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t masterful in its own right.
Goatsnake didn’t have it easy going into their third album. It had been 15 years since their sophomore outing, Flower of Disease, 11 since their last EP, and five since they first started playing shows again. Expectations? Through the roof. Among heavy rock heads, a new Goatsnake was like seeing the mountaintop. I mean, a big fucking deal and then some. Then the record hits, and there’s just about no way it can live up to the anticipation, but god damn if Goatsnake not only finally put out a third album, but one that was better than I think anyone could’ve hoped for. Hearing Pete Stahl with however many backup singers he had on “Another River to Cross” et. al. was like finding an animal in its native habitat, and between his soul, Greg Anderson‘s riffs, bassist Scott Renner‘s low end rumble and drummer Greg Rogers‘ roll, Black Age Blues won almost immediately and then spent the rest of its 47 minutes throwing itself a victory party. “Elevated Man,” “House of the Moon,” “Jimi’s Gone,” “Grandpa Jones,” almost on a per-track basis, Goatsnake added to the reasons they’ve been so heralded despite a decade-plus’ absence from the studio.
On the level of achievement alone, Elder‘s Lore will be the album of the year for many, and there are times (such as right now) when I listen to it and question whether or not it isn’t also my pick for that honor, but wherever it falls on whatever list, far more important is what the Massachusetts/Rhode Island/New York trio manage to accomplish across their third LP’s formidable five-track/59-minute span, songs like “Compendium” and “Deadweight” bridging a rarely approached gap between heavy and progressive rocks while maintaining a flow consistent with the psychedelic vibing of 2011’s Dead Roots Stirring (review here) but grown outward in another aesthetic direction and no sooner setting foot on the ground than seeming to master it in a flurry of blinding turns, sprawling soundscapes and clarity of mind that found perhaps its greatest expression in the centerpiece title-track, the 15-minute “Lore” itself, which I’ve no doubt will stand among if not atop the best songs of 2015 when the year is over and encapsulates the ambition and the corresponding breadth of Elder‘s songwriting, the trio of guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan, and drummer Matt Couto rising as one of the East Coast’s most pivotal acts, with a sound completely their own.
1. Acid King, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere
I use the word “molten” pretty regularly to describe an album or song that seems to just ooze its way out of the speakers or shift seamlessly between its songs, but Acid King set an entirely new standard for the term with Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere. Their first outing for Svart and their first release in a decade, its 55 minutes were a riff-rolling nirvana of lurching fuzz and tonal excellence, the guitar of Lori S. at the fore accompanied by Mark Lamb‘s bass and Joey Osbourne‘s drums, the swing of which propelled a highlight track like “Coming down from Outer Space” right back into it, while elsewhere on the record, “Silent Pictures,” “Red River” and “Infinite Skies” torched stoner conventions into a new space-biker rock, culminating in the heavy psych of “Center of Everywhere,” which seemed to emanate from the place it was describing, at once empty and full. More than just a welcome return after a long dearth of releases, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere found Acid King progressed even beyond where they were with 2005’s III, though more than anything else, what makes it my top pick for the year so far is the fact that I can’t seem to walk away from it for too long before going back, and ultimately, that’s what it all comes down to with his kind of thing. I’ve yet to find a standard to which these songs don’t live up.
A few others worth noting. The Sun Blood Stories album (streamed here) continues to resonate. Also Monolord, Valkyrie, Lamp of the Universe, Garden of Worm, Wo Fat‘s live record, The Midnight Ghost Train‘s Cold was the Ground and Ufomammut‘s Ecate. The Black Rainbows was a joy, as was Spidergawd‘s second LP, and while I still feel like I haven’t given it its due, the Sumac won many over and should get a mention. Steve Von Till‘s solo outing and the latest from Enslaved are worth seeking out as well for anyone who hasn’t heard them yet.
More to Come:
The year’s only half over, which is kind of a scary thought but true nonetheless. Watch out in the coming months for new stuff from Bloodcow, All Them Witches, Clutch, Graveyard, Zun, Sacri Monti (if that one’s not already out), Snail, Uncle Acid, and Kind. The new Kadavar is a sure-fire top tenner, and between that, the potential for a new Neurosis album and stuff like Magnetic Eye Records‘ Electric Ladyland [Redux], there’s no way the book is written on the best of 2015.
So stay tuned.
And if I’ve still got your attention, thanks for reading.
Posted in Reviews on July 3rd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
The final day of the Quarterly Review is upon us. It has been one hell of a week, I don’t mind saying, but good and productive overall, if in a kind of cruel way. I hope that you’ve been able to find something in sifting through all these releases that you really dig. I have, for whatever that’s worth. Before we dig into the last batch, I just want to thank you for checking in and reading this week. If you’ve seen all five of these or if this is the first bunch you’ve come across, that you’re here at all is appreciated immensely.
Quarterly Review #41-50:
Lucifer, Lucifer I
Vocalist Johanna Sadonis, who burst into the international underground consciousness last year with The Oath, resurfaces following that band’s quick dissolution alongside former Cathedral guitarist and riffer-of-legend Gary “Gaz” Jennings in Lucifer, whose Lucifer I eight-song debut LP is released on Rise Above Records. Joined by bassist Dino Gollnick and drummer Andrew Prestidge, Sadonis and Jennings wind through varied but thoroughly doomed atmospheres across songs like opener “Abracadabra” – the outright silliness of the “magic word” kind of undercutting the cultish impression for which Lucifer are shooting – or early highlights “Purple Pyramid” and “Izrael.” A strong side A rounding out with “Sabbath,” Lucifer I can feel somewhat frontloaded, but on repeat listens, the layered chorus of “White Mountain,” “Morning Star”’s late-arriving chug, the classically echoing “Total Eclipse” and the atmospheric finish of “A Grave for Each One of Us” hold their own. After a strong showing from Lucifer’s debut single, the album doesn’t seem like it will do anything to stop the band’s already-in-progress ascent. Their real test will be in the live arena, but they sustain a thematic ambience across Lucifer I’s 44 minutes, and stand ready to follow Rise Above labelmates Ghost and Uncle Acid toward the forefront of modern doom.
Drone-prone Philadelphia post-metallers Rosetta return with Quintessential Ephemera, the follow-up to 2013’s The Anaesthete and their fifth LP overall, which resounds in its ambience as a reinforcement of how little the band – now a five-piece with the inclusion of guitarist Eric Jernigan – need any hype or genre-push to sustain them. Through a titled intro, “After the Funeral,” through seven untitled tracks of varying oppressiveness and rounding out with the unabashedly pretty instrumental “Nothing in the Guise of Something,” they continue to plug away at their heady approach, relentless in their progression and answering the darker turns of their prior outing with a shift toward a more colorful atmosphere. At 52 minutes, Quintessential Ephemera isn’t a slight undertaking, but if you were expecting one you probably haven’t been paying attention to the last decade of Rosetta’s output. As ever, they are cerebral and contemplative while staying loyal to the need for an emotional crux behind what they do, and the album is both dutiful and forward-looking.
Pressed up by Brutal Panda Records for Stateside issue following a 2014 release in Europe on Svart, Death by Burning is the debut full-length from sans-bass Hamburg duo Mantar – vocalist/guitarist Hanno, drummer/vocalist Erinc – and as much as it pummels and writhes across its thrash-prone 10 tracks, opener “Spit” setting a tone for the delivery throughout, there are flourishes of both character and groove to go with all the bludgeoning throughout standout cuts like “Cult Witness,” “The Huntsmen,” the explosive “White Nights,” “The Stoning” and the more lumbering instrumental closer “March of the Crows,” the two-piece seamlessly drawing together elements of doom, thrash and blackened rock and roll into a seething, tense concoction that’s tonally weighted enough to make one’s ears think they’re hearing bass strings alongside the guitar, but still overarchingly raw in a manner denoting some punk influence. Bonus points for the Tom G. Warrior-style “ough!” grunts that make their way into “The Stoning” and the rolling nod of “Astral Kannibal.” Nasty as hell, but more subtle than one might expect.
Though it seems King Giant’s fate to be persistently underrated, the Virginian dual-guitar five-piece offer their most stylistically complex material to date on their third full-length, Black Ocean Waves (released on The Path Less Traveled Records and Graveyard Hill), recorded by J. Robbins (Clutch, Murder by Death, etc.) as the follow-up to 2012’s Dismal Hollow (streamed here). Still commanded by the vocal presence of frontman Dave Hammerly, the album also finds moments of flourish in the guitars of David Kowalski and Todd “T.I.” Ingram on opener “Mal de Mer,” the leads on “Requiem for a Drunkard” or the intro to extended finishing move “There Were Bells,” bassist Floyd Lee Walters III and drummer Keith Brooks holding down solid rhythms beneath the steady chug of “The One that God Forgot to Save” and “Blood of the Lamb.” Side A closer “Red Skies” might be where it all ties together most, but the full course of Black Ocean Waves’ eight tracks provides a satisfying reminder of the strength in King Giant’s craftsmanship.
The 14 single-word-title tracks of Si Ombrellone’s Horns on the Same Goat were originally recorded in 2006, but for a 2015 release, Connecticut-based multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Simon Tuozzoli (Vestal Claret, King of Salem) took them back into his own UP Recording Studio for touch-ups and remastering. The endeavor is a solo outing for Tuozzoli, styled in a kind of post-grunge rock with Frank Picarazzi playing drums to give a full-band feel, and finds catchy, poppy songwriting coming forward in the layered vocals of “Innocence,” while later, “Forgiveness” and “Darkness” offset each other more in theme than sound, as “Love” and “Hate” had done earlier, the album sticking to its straightforward structures through to six-minute closer “Undone,” which boasts a more atmospheric take. It’s an ambitious project to collect 14 sometimes disparate emotional themes onto a single outing, never mind to do it (mostly) alone – one might write an entire record about “Trust,” say, or “Rage,” which opens – but Tuozzoli matches his craftsmanship with a sincerity that carries through each of these tracks.
Boasting a close relationship to Duster69 and Mother Misery and featuring in their ranks Daredevil Records owner Jochen Böllath, who plays guitar, German heavy rockers Grand Massive revel in commercial-grade Euro-style tonal heft bordering on metallic aggression. 2 is their aptly-titled second EP (on Daredevil) and it finds Böllath, lead guitarist Peter Wisenbacher, vocalist Alex Andronikos, bassist Toby Brandl and drummer Holger Stich running through six crisply-executed tracks of catchy, fist-pumping riffy drive, slowing a bit for the creepy ambience of the interlude “Woods” or the more lurching tension of “I am Atlas,” but most at home in the push of “Backseat Devil” and closer “My Own Sickness,” a mid-paced groove adding to the festival-ready weight Grand Massive conjure. Word is they’re already at work on a follow-up. Fair enough, but 2 has plenty to offer in the meantime in its tight presentation and darker vibes, Grand Massive having been through a wringer of lineup changes and emerged with their songwriting well intact.
Carlton Melton Meets Dr. Space, Live from Roadburn 2014
If you guessed “spacey as hell” as regards this meeting between NorCal psych explorers Carlton Melton and Scott “Dr. Space” Heller of Danish jammers Øresund Space Collective, go ahead and give yourself the prize. Limited to 300 copies worldwide courtesy of Lay Bare Recordings and Space Rock Productions, Carlton Melton Meets Dr. Space’s Live from Roadburn 2014 is a consuming, near-100-minute unfolding, Heller joining Carlton Melton on stage for four of the total seven inclusions, adding his synthesized swirl to the swirling wash, already by then 26 minutes deep after the opening “Country Ways > Spiderwebs” establishes a heady sprawl that only continues to spread farther and farther as pieces unfold, making “Out to Sea” seem an even more appropriate title. It will simply be too much for some, but as somebody who stood and heard the sounds oozing from the stage at Cul de Sac in Tilburg, the Netherlands, as part of the Roadburn 2014 Afterburner event, I can say it was a special trip to behold. It remains so here.
According to El Paraiso Records, Sela was held up as so many releases have been owing to plant production having been overwhelmed by Record Store Day and will be out circa August. Fair enough. Consider this advance warning of Danish improve collective Shiggajon’s first outing for the Causa Sui-helmed imprint, then, and don’t be intimidated as we get closer to the release and people start talking about things like “free jazz” and dropping references to this or that Coltrane. The real deal with Shiggajon – central figures Mikkel Reher-Lanberg (percussion, drums, clarinet) and Nikolai Brix Vartenberg (sax) here joined by Emil Rothenborg (violin, double bass), Martin Aagaard Jensen (drums), Mikkel Elzer (drums, percussion, guitar), Sarah Lorraine Hepburn (vocals, flute, electronics, tingshaws) – is immersive and tipped over into music as the ritual itself. One might take on the two 18-minute halves of Sela with a similarly open mind as when approaching Montibus Communitas and be thrilled at the places the album carries you. I hope to have more to come, but again, heads up – this one is something special.
“The Spell” proves right away that Alps-based heavy rockers Mount Hush (I love that they don’t specify a country) have the post-Queens of the Stone Age fuzz-thrust down pat on their debut EP Low and Behold, but the band also bring an element of heavy psychedelia to their guitar work and the vocals – forward in the mix – have a bluesier but not caricature-dudely edge, so even as they bounce through the “Come on pretty baby” hook of “The Spell,” they’re crafting their own sound. The subsequent “King Beyond” showcases how to have a Graveyard influence without simply pretending to sound like Graveyard, even going so far as to repurpose a classic rock reference – “Strange Days” by The Doors – in its pursuit, and the seven-minute “The Day She Stole the Sun” stretches out for a more psychedelic build. Most exciting of all on a conceptual level is closer “Levitations.” Drumless, it sets ethereal vocals and samples over a tonal swirl and airy, quieter strumming. Hardly adrenaline-soaked and not intended to be, but it shows Mount Hush have a genuine will to experiment, and it’s one I hope they continue to develop.
Joined for the first time by drummer Bas Snabilie (apparently since replaced by Aletta Verwoerd) Amsterdam heavy art rockers Labasheeda mark four full-length releases with Changing Lights on Presto Chango, the violin/viola of vocalist/guitarist Saskia van der Giessen and guitar/bass/keyboard of Arne Wolfswinkel carrying across an open but humble atmosphere, touching here on Sonic Youth’s dare-to-have-a-verse moments in “My Instincts” and pushing into more blown-out jarring with the slide-happy “Tightrope.” They bring indie edge to a cover of The Who’s “Circles,” and round out with a closing duo of the album’s only two tracks over five minutes, “Cold Water” and “Into the Wide,” van der Giessen’s croon carrying a sweetness into the second half of the former as the latter finishes Changing Lights with a rolling contrast of distortion and strings as engrossing as it is strange. Labasheeda will go right over a lot of heads, but approached with an open mind it can just as easily prove a treasure for its blatant refusal to be pinned to one style or another.
Posted in Reviews on July 1st, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
And so we cruise into day three. Not sure how you’re holding up, but I feel like I’m hanging in pretty well. We pass the halfway point today, which is significant, but of course there are still plenty of records to come. I’m not sure I have a favorite day — I tried to spread stuff around as best I could when I was planning the whole thing — but there are definitely a couple highlights today as well. No doubt the standouts will stand out as we make our way through.
Quarterly Review #21-30:
Minsk, The Crash and the Draw
Six years after the release of their third album, With Echoes in the Movement of Stone (review here), the 75-minute breadth of The Crash and the Draw (on Relapse) marks a welcome resurgence for Illinois post-metallers Minsk. Only keyboardist/vocalist Timothy Mead and guitarist/vocalist Christopher Bennett (also of Lark’s Tongue) remain from what was a four-piece and is now five with Aaron Austin on guitar/vocals, Zachary Livingston on bass/vocals and Kevin Rendleman on drums, but Minsk’s cascading heft is well intact as they show immediately on 12-minute opener and longest cut (immediate points) “To the Initiate.” True enough one is bound to be initiated after it, but it hardly scratches the surface of the atmospheric sludge Minsk continue to develop over the course of the four-parter “Onward Procession,” the glorious later melodies of “The Way is Through,” or the tribal tension in the percussion-led “To You there is No End.” They cap with the 10-minute “When the Walls Fell” and find themselves standing after all else has crashed down. A sprawling and triumphant return.
Not to be confused with New York’s King Buffalo, Michigan’s Bison Machine or any number of other large mammals in the well-populated fur-covered contingent of American heavy rockers, King Bison make their self-titled debut via Snake Charmer Coalition, comprising seven riffy bruisers owing a deep debt to Clutch and, in that, reminding a bit of their Pennsylvanian countrymen in Kingsnake. Songs like “One for the Money” and “March of the Sasquatch” signal a watch for stoner-roller grooves to come in “Queen of the South” and “Pariah,” the dudeliness of the proceedings practically oozing from the speakers in the gruff vocals of guitarist/vocalist Chris Wojcik, who’s joined in the trio by bassist Dean Herber and drummer Scott Carey. The penchant for booze and blues, ladies and US auto manufacturing holds firm in “Night Ride” and the slower “I’m Gone,” and while one might expect a closer called “Space Boogie” to flesh out a bit, King Bison instead reinforce the foundation they’ve laid all along of Southern-style heft, remaining light on pretense and heavy on riffs.
Originally issued digitally late last year, Salzburg, Austria, instrumental trio Les Lekin are set to give their debut long-player, All Black Rainbow Moon, a second look with a 180g vinyl pressing in Fall 2015. Comprised of six tracks, the record is a spacious 49 minutes, and the three-piece of guitarist Peter G., bassist Stefan W. and drummer Kerstin W. enact a fluid heavy psych groove, somewhat less dense in its fuzz than the post-Colour Haze sphere and following plotted courses throughout, whether it’s in the Arenna-esque “Solum,” which unfolds after the album’s wash of an intro, the efficient exploration of “Useless,” which seems to pack a 12-minute jam into a six-minute song, or the still-open-sounding bluesy stretchout of “Loom,” the longest inclusion here at 13:16. Familiar in aesthetic perhaps, the songs are nonetheless complex enough to represent the band’s beginnings well, the closer “Release” coming to a heavier apex that could perhaps foreshadow future expansions of the chiaroscuro elements at which the title of this debut is hinting.
After releasing their 2012 debut, Voyage, on Nuclear Blast last year, young Icelandic trio The Vintage Caravan return in 2015 with their sophomore full-length, Arrival – the second record seeming by title to be an answer to the first. Maybe that’s the intention musically, but the 10 tracks/55 minutes comprising Arrival do well to stand on their own, with the impressive lead work of guitarist/vocalist Óskar Logi never too far from the fore on songs like the standout “Babylon” or “Sandwalker,” though backed capably by the rhythm section of bassist Alexander Örn (also backup vocals) and drummer Stefán Ari Stefánsson. While unquestionably a more mature outing than their debut and more accomplished in its chemistry and songwriting, Arrival still gives a sense of the progression to come, and it’s easy to worry that by the time the listener gets to the powerful closing trio of “Innerverse,” “Carousel” and “Winter Queen,” the dizzying play throughout will have dulled the senses past the point of full appreciation. Room to tighten? Perhaps, but still a strong second outing for a band loaded with potential.
Guitarist/vocalist Jim Healey is known more for the aggressive edge he’s brought over the years to bands like We’re all Gonna Die, Black Thai and most recently Shatner, but his solo material brings a different look. Joined in this “solo” endeavor by guitarist/vocalist/organist Joe McMahon, cellist/backing vocalist Dana Fisher, drummer Kyle Rasmussen and accordionist/backing vocalist Bridget Nault, Healey’s songwriting is nonetheless front and center across the nine tracks of This is What the End Looked Like, memorable cuts like “A Whole Lot of Nothing,” the more subdued “Radio” (written by Eddy Llerena) and closer “World War Eight” fleshing out arrangements that could work and/or have worked just as well on solo acoustic guitar for Healey in live performances. Worth noting that for all the vocal and instrumental embellishments on the studio incarnations, the songs lose none of the heartfelt feel at their core, Healey’s voice remaining a lonely presence despite obviously keeping good company.
Nighthymns marks a return for ANU and the band’s sole inhabitant Chad “Drathrul” Davis (Hour of 13/Night Magic, Tasha-Yar, The Sabbathian, and so many others) after a four-year absence following the release of 2011’s III EP. Offsetting blasting, ripping black metal on cuts like “Enter the Chasm” and “The Eternal Frost” with the ambient drones of “Risen within the Mist of Obscurity,” the longer “Winterfall” and the title-track, Nighthymns nonetheless gnashes its teeth in a dense blackened murk, screams far back in “Enter the Chasm” beneath programmed-sounding thud and full-on guitar squibblies. A project Davis has had going in one form or another since releasing a first demo in 1999, and likely before that, ANU’s slicing extremity and atmospherics rest well alongside each other, but neither is accessibility a remote concern. If you get it, you get it, and if you don’t, you don’t. Nighthymns is way more concerned with separating wheat from chaff than it is with making friends, and that plays much to its ultimate success.
Comprised of gruff-shouting vocalist Henning L., guitarists Christopher P. and Stephan M., bassist Matthias B. and drummer Torsten H., German riff idolizers Iron and Stone debuted in 2013 with an EP titled Maelstrom and Old Man’s Doom is a follow-up short release. Pressed to DIY cassettes, the three-tracker preaches loud and clear to the nod-ready converted in “Place in Hell” and “Into the Unknown,” big riffs lumbering out stone vibes, intertwining rhythms and leads in the latter as Henning works his shouting into a corresponding notation. “Into the Unknown” ends large and Sabbathy, but speedier closer “Bliss of Diversion” is a high point unto itself for the consistency of the tonal morass that the uptick in pace brings out of the guitar and bass, resulting in a kind of noisy, dense-in-the-low-end punk that suits Iron and Stone well despite operating in defiance of the EP’s title. New material reportedly in the works as well.
Their first album, Second Sun follows a 2012 self-titled EP from Indiana trio Gorgantherron, but is in a different league entirely. A well-set mix balance establishes itself on the opening title-track and develops throughout “Superliminial” and “Bookbinder” as they get rolling, and Gorgantherron – guitarist/vocalist Clint Logan, bassist/vocalist Toby Richardson and drummer Chris Flint – continue to foster grooving largesse over the nine tracks/47 minutes, veering skillfully between boogie and doom on “Pre-Warp Civilization” before airing out an atmospheric take on “Seventh Planet,” the rough-edged vocals prevalent in quieter surroundings. Richardson’s fuzz on “The Stone” ensures the song lives up to its name, and the soft guitar noodling that opens “Paranoia” brings a surprising touch of Colour Haze influence out of the blue before a count-in from Flint puts the band’s roll back on its appointed track. Closing duo “Entropy” and “Defy” offer some shuffle and chug, respectively, but by then the trio have already made the album’s primary impression in their heavy riffs, burl and more than capable execution.
The two cuts of Spanish trio Elephant Riders’ Challenger EP take Kyuss-style desert riffing and reset the context to something altogether less jammy. Tight and presented with a near-metallic crispness in their production, both “Challenger” – rerecorded from an earlier EP – and its more rolling B-side “Lone Wolf” push the line between heavy and hard rock, but riffs remain central to their purposes. Having released their debut full-length, Supernova, in 2014, they’re still getting settled into their sound, but a blend of heavy rock, grunge and metal impulses pervades these two songs, and when “Lone Wolf” shifts into a couple measures of start-stop fuzz riffing in its second half, they show off just a reminder nod for where they got their name. Two catchy tracks that maybe aren’t reinventing the stoner rock game, they nonetheless provide a quick sample of Elephant Rider’s songwriting development in progress and plant the seeds of future hooks to come.
When placed next to each other, the five one-word titles on Lend Me Your Underbelly’s Hover – either the project’s third or fourth full-length, depending on what you count – result in the phrase “Everything” “Was” “Deep” “Dark” “Green.” Whether or not that is of special significance to Netherlands-based multi-instrumentalist/sampler Christian Berends, I don’t know. The whole idea across these tracks seems to be experimentation and improvisation, so if the titles were grabbed from somewhere at random or carrying a rich emotional connection, either is just as likely. Not knowing turns out to be half the fun of Hover itself – not knowing that, not knowing what Berends is going to do around the next turn as each track builds, not knowing where all this noise is leading as the swirls and riffs of “Green” close out. Layers careen, appear and disappear throughout, but the wide open structures and creative sensibility remain consistent and tie Hover together as an intricate work of exploratory psychedelia.
Posted in audiObelisk on June 30th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
I was especially eager to see Bongripper at the Afterburner at this year’s Roadburn. They had played a couple nights before as well (that set is streaming here), performing their 2014 album, Miserable (review here), in its entirety, but I’d had to miss that set and knew going into the fest that I wanted to see them one way or another follow-up on the performance they gave in 2012, which had been chest-shakingly heavy.
No regrets, of course. They proved to be devastating and I’m anxious to revisit the set today via the newly released live stream. Also included in this latest of the four-so-far batches is a bunch of stuff I missed, including two of the most-talked-about bands of the entirety of Roadburn 2015: SubRosa and Thou. The former outfit played the first day and I continued to hear about them through to Sunday, while Thou‘s atmosludge devastated the crowd at Het Patronaat and were bandied about as one of the highlights of the whole fest.
Along with performances by Acid Witch, Death Hawks, Mugstar (another one whose name I kept hearing), Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, Der Weg Einer Freiheit, and KEN mode, this makes for a pretty diverse round of streams. If you get to dig into any or all of them, I hope you enjoy:
Acid Witch – Live at Roadburn 2015
Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell – Live at Roadburn 2015
Bongripper – Live at Roadburn 2015 (Afterburner)
Death Hawks – Live at Roadburn 2015
Der Weg Einer Freiheit – Live at Roadburn 2015
Kenmode – Live at Roadburn 2015
Mugstar- Live at Roadburn 2015
Subrosa – Live at Roadburn 2015
Thou – Live at Roadburn 2015
Special thanks to Walter as always for letting me host the streams. To read all of this year’s Roadburn coverage, click here. For the first, second and third batches of streams, click here and then click here and then click here.
Posted in audiObelisk on June 12th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Some good stuff here, but that’s pretty much like walking outside and noting all the oxygen in the air. Roadburn 2015’s newest batch of audio streams continues the thread from last time around in including one of the most talked-about performances at the festival in Tilburg, the Netherlands, this past April — namely Bell Witch. Many American bands head over there and make a special impression on the largely European crowd, but Bell Witch, the Seattle duo who were traveling abroad to herald the arrival of their 2015 sophomore outing, Four Phantoms (review here), on Profound Lore, seemed to earn extra acclaim from those who caught their performance. I wasn’t lucky enough to be one of them, but the response was universally positive.
Likewise the impact made by Monolord, who also feature here, but for my money, one of the highlights of the entire weekend was watching Uzala slay the Green Room. The ethereal doom trio who trace their roots to Boise, Idaho, were a surprise even though I’d seen them before, to the point that I did something I don’t often do at Roadburn, and that’s stay put for the entire set. Massive sound. Killer. Argus (pictured above) were a fist-pumping launch for the Afterburner on Sunday after the fest proper came to a close, and their classic metallurgy is no less welcome now as I pay it a revisit with the live stream.
Hope you enjoy the whole bunch:
Anthroprophh – Live at Roadburn 2015
Argus – Live at Roadburn 2015
Bell Witch – Live at Roadburn 2015
Monolord – Live at Roadburn 2015
Oozing Wound – Live at Roadburn 2015
Svartidauði – Live at Roadburn 2015
The Osiris Club – Live at Roadburn 2015
Uzala – Live at Roadburn 2015
Special thanks to Walter as always for letting me host the streams. To read all of this year’s Roadburn coverage, click here. For the first and second batches of streams, click here and then click here.
Posted in Reviews on June 8th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
By its nature, you can’t have an alley without something on one side and something else on another, so if we apply the same logic to Amsterdam four-piece Death Alley and their Tee Pee Records debut full-length, Black Magick Boogieland, they’re running right down the middle somewhere between classic, Motörhead-style boozy heavy rock and roll groove — “Dead Man’s Bones,” “Bewildered Eyes,” and the early going of “The Fever” — and grander stylistic aspirations of psychedelia, (relatively) lush arrangements and spacey flourish — “Golden Fields of Love,” the back half of opener “Over Under,” 12-minute closer “Supernatural Predator” — ultimately refusing to give into one over the other and not so much balancing between them as working to convince the square peg and the round hole they’re made for each other. It turns out to be a more satisfying fit than one might initially think, in no small part because the four-piece of vocalist Douwe Truijens, guitarist Oeds Beydals, bassist Dennis Duijnhouwer and drummer Ming Boyer (all four interviewed here) are able to make such a fluid case by means of their songwriting. Part of that can be attributed to their experience. Truijens, Boyer and Beydals played together in the hardcore punk band Gewapend Beton — the latter also handled guitar in The Devil’s Blood alongside vocalist Farida Lemouchi, who makes an appearance here on the aforementioned “Supernatural Predator” — while Duijnhouwer toiled in cosmic doomers Mühr, so they’re not new to their craft and they’ve come by their stylistic blend honestly. Their first 7″, Over Under/Dead Man’s Bones (review here), was released early in 2014, and already one can hear the progress underway in their sound on Black Magick Boogieland in both the raw and the expansive moments on hand.
And by the way, as righteous a title as Black Magick Boogieland is, it also fits. Beydals‘ time in The Devil’s Blood notwithstanding — and the elephant in the room is the 2014 suicide of that band’s founder, Selim Lemouchi, whose influence can be felt in some of the swirl of the closer — Death Alley aren’t really gearing themselves toward cultistry, unless one counts a cult of alcohol and the manner in which distortion, when thrust at driving speeds at an audience’s eardrums, might compel one to pump their fist. There’s no shortage of that kind of “magick,” and one isn’t past the shuffling and stomping of “Over Under” before it’s clear any quota of “boogie” is going to be duly met and exceeded. The record lives up to that promise, with Truijens‘ command of the hooks as a grounding force running at a fair clip in songs that get in, leave an impression, and get out in punkish tradition, and as for the “black” speaking to something darker atmospherically or a sense of threat, there’s an element of that as well. Two songs mention eyes — “Bewildered Eyes,” on side A, and “Stalk Eyed,” on side B — so there’s a feeling of confrontation underscoring at least some of the proceedings, but both tracks are more of party than malevolence, with Beydals‘ lead work a key factor in conveying that ideology. His work throughout is stellar, and somewhat unsurprisingly is best met by Duijnhouwer‘s bass in the later reaches of “Supernatural Predator,” with Farida Lemouchi‘s vocals deep in the mix as Boyer holds a tension in rolls in his snare for a space rock exploration that’s dynamic and engrossing in kind, cleverly moving back toward a resurgent verse to end out in a manner that only underscores the victory at hand. That’s not the band’s first impressive turn of craftsmanship, but it says something about their mindset that they’re not willing to let you go without one last kick in the ass.
If the 41-minute entirety of Black Magick Boogieland relies on any singular element to make its case, however, it’s motion. Whether it’s the quick turns of “Over Under,” the strut of the title-track, the drive of “Bewildered Eyes” that seems to crash through the windshield and into classically heavy soloing within its brief 2:26 span, or the more winding course taken by “The Fever,” with suitably frenetic falsetto backing vocals, Death Alley make these songs move. The only place one might accuse them of coming up for air is on “Golden Fields of Love,” which downshifts in tempo and takes an atmospheric break as it heads into its second half, but even that has a last-minute surge of NWOBHM chug-riffing and some over-the-top vocal harmonies, Truijens developing a melodic sensibility to go with his gruff approach that will only make the band a stronger unit as they continue to progress. From that momentary inhale, “Stalk Eyed” bursts out with more swing and push, “Dead Man’s Bones” fully revives the hook-and-thrust of earlier cuts, and even in its most cosmic stretching, “Supernatural Predator” holds firm to its kinetic side, and if Death Alley are exploring, they’re doing it at light speed. With the already noted core of songwriting as their foundation — that is, writing songs that are both catchy when they need to be and varying in their construction — the four-piece meet their ambitious aesthetic target head on. I had some fairly high anticipation for their first full-length after the 7″, and with the added complexities in pieces like “Golden Fields of Love” and that finish in “Supernatural Predator,” any expectation I had has been easily blown out of the water. No doubt Black Magick Boogieland will stand as one of the best heavy rock debuts of 2015, and in keeping with that, it ignites the imagination as to what Death Alley might go on to accomplish in its wake.
Posted in Reviews on May 28th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
In the works on one level or another since the second half of 2013, The Machine‘s fifth album arrives in the form of the 50-minute Offblast! via Elektrohasch Schallplatten, and marks a distinct turn for the band. The delay? A mix of technical trouble during mixing and personal life, and while that could easily mean the jam-prone Dutch trio have another batch of songs in the works to follow it up, Offblast! nonetheless resonates with a maturity that even 2012’s Calmer than You Are (review here) or their 2013 split with likeminded countrymen Sungrazer (review here) couldn’t claim, their songwriting process proving more cohesive as they explore the roots of stoner and desert riffing on songs like “Dry End” or “Gamma” and keeping the instrumental chemistry that even their early work — 2007’s debut, Shadow of the Machine, 2009’s Solar Corona (on Nasoni) or their first for Elektrohasch, 2011’s 80-minute jamfest Drie (review here) — housed, the lead guitar work of David Eering (also vocals and recording) as much of a calling card as the band has amid the fleshed out roll and bounce provided by bassist Hans van Heemst — whose tone has always been The Machine‘s secret weapon and is most of all on Offblast! — and drummer Davy Boogaard, who shows himself again malleable to whatever the changes in the six included tracks might require of him, be it the quick stops early in “Off Course” or the jazzy ride work in the spacious midsection of “Chrysalis (J.A.M.),” the sprawling, 16:25 opener that acts as the record’s immersive and in some ways defining statement.
With six tracks, it would just about have to be the longest of the bunch, and it is (immediate points to them for starting with their longest cut), living up to its spelled-out parenthetical with a breadth to match its runtime, shifting between its raucous first half and more swinging second fluidly, launching its later movement with a quiet break with some choice, naturally-toned wah from Eering. His affinity for Hendrix shows itself early and often on Offblast! as it has throughout The Machine‘s five LPs, but the influence seems more like an afterthought to the band’s identity here than it ever has. By the time “Chrysalis (J.A.M.)” is over, one feels as though they’ve listened to an entire album, and in a way, it’s true, but that’s only the beginning of the tale, and before the Rotterdam natives bookend their latest with the similarly-directed but noisier-finishing 12-minute closer “Come to Light” (the name of the song submitted by yours truly), they dance with sandy demons on “Dry End,” “Coda Sun,” “Gamma” and “Off Course,” which don’t add up to the two extended pieces time-wise, but still provide some of Offblast!‘s most lasting impressions in their hooks, fuzzy drive, and flourishes like sitar in “Dry End” and Boogaard‘s snare work in “Coda Sun” — not to mention vocals, which neither the opener nor the closer has. It’s not so outlandish a scope for a band to have, with two bigger jams and more straightforward material to complement each other, but it’s much to The Machine‘s credit in how they’ve structured the album that it not only flows front-to-back, but is so hypnotic at the start and still so memorable by the end. If you’re looking for evidence of the band’s maturity, it’s right there.
“Dry End” (3:06) and the winding “Coda Sun” (5:34), Eering‘s vocals compressed and watery for use as another element in the psychedelic overtones, are met by “Gamma” and “Off Course,” both over six minutes, and while one comes to feel by the end of the latter that The Machine are setting the listener up for a return to heady reaches in “Come to Light” — and they are, make no mistake — both retain a distinctive feel. “Gamma” is marked out by van Heemst‘s bassline, which emerges in the second half of the song and seems to pay direct homage to Queens of the Stone Age‘s “You Can’t Quit Me Baby” from their 1998 self-titled. That album makes a solid comparison point for the tonal impression of Offblast! overall, as it happens, so the feel is purposeful and The Machine take the familiar line and work in layers of guitar building in volume en route back to a last measure of the chorus. While it has a longer solo from Eering, “Off Course” follows a similar structure, but its vibe carries some of the punkish undertone the band held aloft on their 2013 split thanks to the sharp starts and stops and an added layer in the chorus either of piano or keys (or something that sounds like them) deep in the mix, giving further urgency to the already forward progression. And when they get there, “Come to Light” is a more gradual unfolding than was “Chrysalis (J.A.M.),” but the end result carries no less vitality, the dynamic between Eering, van Heemst and Boogaard writ large over its organic and laid back but still engaging course. Perhaps most satisfying of all is that while it works on varying levels between its songcraft and its jams, Offblast! comes across with no lack of cohesion or choppy shifts. As “Come to Light” inevitably descends to effects noise and feedback to end the album, it seems to do little more than highlight the level of execution that The Machine have brought to their fifth outing and the satisfying path down which their development has led them and those who’ve been fortunate enough to follow along the way. If you’ll pardon the cliché, it was worth the wait.