Black Moon Circle, Flowing into the Third Dimension: Always Taking Shape

Posted in Reviews on November 1st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

black-moon-circle-flowing-into-the-third-dimension

It may well be that Black Moon Circle‘s Flowing into the Third Dimension will live up to its title. Not in the sense of adding depth to its length and width — the Trondheim, Norway, heavy psych explorers took care of that a long time ago — but in terms of marking the beginning of a next, and third, working methodology for the band. Whether or not it ultimately does, the Crispin Glover Records is alternately titled The Studio Jams Vol. III, so there’s a practical allusion as well to the more poetic name, and indeed it follows 2016’s Vol. II (review here) and 2015’s Vol. I (discussed here) in that regard.

Accordingly, while it could just be that guitarist Vemund Engan, bassist Øyvin Engan, drummer Per Andreas Gulbrandsen and synthesist Scott “Dr. Space” Heller (the latter also of Øresund Space Collective) got bored of the plain titles and decided to add something extra to this latest 49-minute improvisational outing, Flowing into the Third Dimension also represents a change in bringing an appearance from Motorpsycho guitarist Hans Magnus “Snah” Ryan, so it’s possible too that Black Moon Circle saw it as an opportunity to tie their jammier work with their more song-based outings, 2016’s Sea of Clouds (review here), 2014’s Andromeda (review here) and that same year’s self-titled debut (review here), or at least to take a forward step in a longer process of doing so. On the other hand, each vinyl side is consumed by a single track — “Barnard’s Loop” (23:27) on side A and “Waves” (26:15) on side B — with a prevailing vibe that’s nothing if not exploratory, it could entirely be the case that I’m reading too much into it. Pardon me while I completely undercut my own supposition. Won’t take a second.

Somehow though, one doubts Black Moon Circle — who, again, are working as a five-piece here, having started out as a trio in Trondheim before adding Heller to the mix — would be against multiple interpretations or different levels of thinking about the conceptual basis for their work. They are in three dimensions, after all, and “Barnard’s Loop” welcomes listeners into an unfolding fuzz mantra that seems to embrace any and all meditation. A record to get lost in for sure, Flowing into the Third Dimension also hits on a frequency of chemistry between its players that stands among some of the finest in heavy psych, a progressive instrumental mentality not unlike the get-on-stage-and-go approach of jazz artists, but of course interpreted through long-form psychedelia on its own journey into the heart of the creative process.

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“Barnard’s Loop,” perhaps unsurprisingly, takes its time getting there, as rumbles of guitar back waves of synth forward and receding in the mix in an increasingly noisy first half, which seems to find a more plotted-seeming movement of wah in its midsection, giving way at about 15 minutes in to a lead that makes the most of the newfound dynamic between the two guitars. Multi-tiered — three-dimensional! — swirl is unfolded gracefully, and the resonance holds as they pass the 20-minute mark and a particularly memorable lead line is tossed out in a defining moment for the piece as a whole. I obviously don’t know if that was thought of beforehand or just an off-the-cuff lick, but it shimmers gorgeously like a moment of emergence and stands atop the chugging bass and punctuating drums as a high point of Flowing into the Third Dimension as a whole, whatever shred and wash is still to come. And by the way, there’s still plenty of both to come.

It might not be appropriate to say “Barnard’s Loop” is ever raucous, but it is most definitely vibrant, and it shares that in common with the subsequent “Waves,” which follows a more serene and linear path across its near-half-hour runtime. Black Moon Circle have never left anything wanting for fluidity in their instrumentalist work, but “Waves” might stand as a new pinnacle of immersion for them. Bass provides a foundation for an expanding soundscape of guitars and synth as drums come and go from the depths beneath, and as much of a wash as was to be found in the ending reaches of side A, side B finds itself even more aptly named as it courses through its undulations, lapping at the shores of consciousness with multi-colored textures patiently brought to bear in a first half of subtle movement that drifts into atmospheric sandscape pastoralism increasingly between its ninth and 13th minutes, only to find itself coming dangerously close to falling apart on several occasions before managing to right itself each time.

For those engaging a close listen, those are exciting moments of nuance, but of course with a release like Flowing into the Third Dimension, one might just as simply put it on — headphones justified, volume necessary — shut eyes and let go into a hypno-anesthetic trance, essentially letting the sound carry them for the duration. Both are valid ways to experience Flowing into the Third Dimension, and whether or not Black Moon Circle intended that the album should stand as the beginning of a new stage for them, perhaps with Ryan as a full-time member, perhaps not — they’ve also recently added keyboards and Mellotron, which will reportedly feature on the next release — it is a work of kinematic liquefaction underscored by coherence of purpose that speaks of increasing mastery of the form.

Black Moon Circle, Flowing into the Third Dimension (2017)

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Quarterly Review: Hallatar, Alastor, The Dead-End Alley Band, Hair of the Dog, Soup, Kungens Män, Smoke Wizzzard, Highburnator, The Curf, Ulls

Posted in Reviews on September 29th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk quarterly review

Here we are, gathered for round four of the Fall 2017 Quarterly Review. After the technical issues with the site for the last couple days, I’m glad to have everything back up and running, and one more time I thank Slevin and Behrang Alavi for making that happen. Though I have no idea what it might actually entail, I don’t imagine switching hosts on the fly for a site with as much content as this one has is easy, but they of course killed it and it is thoroughly appreciated. We move forward, as ever, with 10 more records. So let’s go.

Quarterly Review #31-40:

Hallatar, No Stars Upon the Bridge

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Finland’s Hallatar was formed after the passing of Trees of Eternity vocalist Aleah Starbridge, life partner of guitarist and songwriter Juha Ravio (also Swallow the Sun). In the new outfit, Ravio pays homage to Starbridge with the debut long-player No Stars Upon the Bridge (on Svart) by using her poems as lyrics, samples of her voice reading on “Raven’s Song,” “Spiral Gate” and the piano-backed centerpiece “Pieces,” and by bringing in Amorphis vocalist Tomi Joutsen and ex-HIM drummer Gas Lipstick to complete a trio playing nine tracks/40 minutes of deeply mournful/beautiful death-doom. The extremity of lurch in “The Maze” late in the record is matched by the gorgeousness of the chants and shimmering guitar on closer “Dreams Burn Down,” and from the opening strains of “Mirrors,” the emotion driving No Stars Upon the Bridge is sincere and affecting. Cuts like “Melt” and the mostly-whispered-until-it-explodes “My Mistake” have a sense of the theatrical in their delivery, but that makes them no less genuine, and though one wouldn’t wish the circumstances leading to the band’s formation on anybody, there’s no question that with Hallatar, Ravio turns tragedy into a lush, resonant catharsis.

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Svart Records website

 

Alastor, Black Magic

alastor black magic

Cultish echoes pervade Black Magic, the debut album from Swedish doom-rolling four-piece Alastor, and it’s not so much that the initials-only four-piece of guitarists H and J, bassist/vocalist R and drummer S take influence from Electric Wizard and Black Sabbath, it’s what they do with that influence that’s most striking. Black Magic is made up of three extended tracks – “Enemy” (11:51), “Nothing to Fear” (7:42) and “Black Magic” (14:27) – and with a deep tonal engagement, each one embarks on a huge-sounding sprawl of doom. Yes, the guitars owe the swirl in “Nothing to Fear” to Jus Oborn, but the echoes behind R’s voice there and the melody have an almost New Wave-style feel despite the “all right now!” drawn right from the Ozzy playbook. In other words, Alastor are preaching to the converted, and that holds true in the snowblinded Luciferian spaciousness of the title-track’s early going as well, but the converted should have no problem finding the gospel in what they’re hearing, and as “Black Magic” rounds out with its chanted feel, Alastor affirm the potential to progress within this sound and to continue to develop it into something even more their own than it is now. Familiar superficially, but sneaky in the details, so watch out.

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The Dead-End Alley Band, Storms

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Lima-based four-piece The Dead-End Alley Band aren’t far into opener “Red Woman” before the dark-psych vibe and languid groove have properly emphasized just how much the guitar of Leonardo Alva and the organ of Sebastian Sanchez-Botta (also vocals) complement each other. Propelled by the rhythm section of bassist/vocalist Javier Kou and drummer Jafer Diaz, Storms is the third album from them behind 2015’s Odd Stories (discussed here) and 2013’s debut, Whispers of the Night (review here), and it continues to blend fuzz and classic garage doom impulses on songs like “Headstone Fortress” and the shuffling “Thunderbolts and Lace,” the latter of which wah-trips to the max around a stirring boogie before “The Clock has Stopped” weirds out on extra vocal echoes and nine-minute closer “Waiting for the Void” brings in the progressive touches of pan flute and percussion. Even in the earlier, shortest track “Need You (It’s Enough),” The Dead-End Alley Band bring no shortage of personality to the proceedings, and confirm that the rough edges of their early outings have matured into essential aspects of who they have become as a band, completely in control of their craft and able to conjure an atmosphere both classic and individual.

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Hair of the Dog, This World Turns

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Making their debut on Kozmik Artifactz, Scottish trio Hair of the Dog give their guitar-led compositions plenty of time to flesh out on This World Turns, their third album, as they demonstrate quickly on the nine-plus minute titular opener and longest track (immediate points), but one would hardly call their songwriting indulgent there or anywhere else as “This World Turns” flows easily into the following seven-minute push of “Keeping Watch over the Night” in a resolute one-two punch that soon gives way to the shorter and more driving “Ctrl-Alt-Del,” touching on influences from Thin Lizzy and Scorpions en route as well as modern practitioners like Kadavar, whose stamp can also be heard on side B launch “The Colours in Her Skin.” That’s not to say Hair of the Dog — guitarist/vocalist Adam Holt (interview here), bassist Iain Thomson and drummer Jon Holt – don’t leave their own mark as well, just that their blend stems from multiple sources. A bit of Lynottism surfaces in the penultimate “In Death’s Hands” as well, which has a more subdued feel despite fervent rhythmic movement underlying, and closer “4AM” soars with enough vigor and soul – and a little falsetto – to give This World Turns a suitably smooth and vibrant finish.

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Soup, Remedies

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With ties to Motorpsycho through guitarist Hans Magnus “Snah” Ryan, Soup issue their sixth long-player in the five-track lush melodicism of Remedies, which feels particularly aptly named for the immersion the wash that opener “Going Somewhere” is able to elicit. That is, of course, just the first of the spacious, semi-folk-infused progressions, and it’s with the longer-form “The Boy and the Snow” (11:33) and the psychedelic purposeful meandering of “Sleepers” (13:35) that Remedies truly unveils its considerable breadth, but the Crispin Glover Records release holds a sense of poise even in the two-minute centerpiece church organ interlude “Audion,” and the harmonies of “Nothing Like Home” bring to mind peak-era Porcupine Tree patience and fluidity while holding fast to the bright, orange-sunshiny warmth of the atmosphere as a whole, instruments dropping out just before three minutes in to showcase the vocals before returning to embark on the march to the final crescendo, not at all overblown but with just a touch of extra volume to let listeners dive deeper into the moment. Remedies feels quick at 42 minutes, but turns out to be just what the doctor ordered.

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Crispin Glover Records website

 

Kungens Män, Dag & Natt

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Prolific psych-progging Stockholmers Kungens Män return with Dag & Natt, a 2CD/2LP issued through Kungens Ljud & Bild (CD) and Adansonia Records (LP) that overflows with jazzy fluidity and gorgeous immersion. The band’s last studio outing was late-2015’s Förnekaren (review here), and whether it’s 13-minute pieces like opener “Morgonrodnad” and the even-more-krautrocking “Aftonstjärnan” or the seemingly complementary inclusions of the kosmiche-minded “Dag” and wonderfully drifting “Natt,” the album as a whole is a joy and a boon to anyone looking for an extended psychedelic meander. The saxophone of Gustav Nygren on the aforementioned leadoff and “Natt” makes a particularly striking impression, but with a steady, languid wash of guitar, synth and warm bass throughout, Dag & Natt wants nothing for flow, and the gentle, classy spirit is maintained even as the penultimate “Vargtimmen” ups the sense of thrust leading into the finisher payoff of “Cirkeln är Slut.” As of now, Kungens Män should be considered a too-well-kept secret of Scandinavia’s psych underground, though listening to Dag & Natt, one wonders just how long they’ll stay that way.

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Adansonia Records website

 

Smoke Wizzzard, Run with the Wolf

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Whether it’s through the striking and gruesome cover art or through the lumbering post-Sabbath, post-Cathedral stoner-doom nod contained within, Smoke Wizzzard’s five-song self-titled debut LP thoroughly earns its third ‘z’ – and, for that matter, its second one – with played-to-form thickness and a tonal push that starts with 10-minute opener/longest track (immediate points) “Astro Lord” and continues to swagger and swing with due viscosity through “Reptiles” after the minute-long punker curveball “Soul Train.” The highlight of the Pittsburgh trio’s first outing might be “The Pass,” which has a hazy patience and some rightly-featured bass tone, but as “Run with the Wolf” moves from its early Electric Wizard muckraking to cap with piano and included howls for a doomier feel, it becomes clear Smoke Wizzzard have yet to play their full stylistic hand and the real highlights may still be yet to come. Fair enough. Something tells me getting stranger is only going to be a boon to Smoke Wizzzard’s approach on the whole, so bring it on.

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Highburnator, Keystoned State

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If you hit up Highburnator’s Bandcamp and download their name-your-price Keystoned State EP, you might note the fifth and final inclusion is the entire live-recorded, 28-minute release presented as a single track. No doubt the Pennsylvania three-piece intend the four-song outing to be taken just that way. They begin with the “mad as hell” speech sampled from the 1976 film Network and from there unfold a potent riffly brew met head on with harsh East Coast hardcore-style vocals and more metallic growls. That’s nine-minute opener and longest track (immediate points) “The Brass Rail,” and it sets the tone for what follows on the eponymous “Highburnator” before “Desert Funeral” and the Sleep-style nod of “Peaking at the Coffin” push into even more stonerly vibes. This melding of pissed-off disaffection and mid-paced heavy rock groove is particular to the sludge of the Eastern Seaboard – think of it as regional fare – but Highburnator find space for themselves in the rawness of their riffs and the charm of their puns, and by the time they’re through the four songs, it makes sense why they might want to present the full onslaught as a single entity, essentially giving it to their listeners on one overflowing platter. Got the munchies? It’s right there waiting.

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The Curf, Death and Love

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Greek psych-doomers The Curf made their debut in 2007 with I and then went radio silent until last year’s Royal Water EP. Their sophomore full-length, Death and Love, then, arrives via Fuzz Ink Records with some amount of intrigue behind it, but either way, the sans-pretense heavy roll the band unfurls on “Dark Hado,” and the more uptempo “Smoke Ring,” the dig-in low end of “Lunar Lair” and the scream-topped start-stoppery of “California” present a varied take brought together through heft as well as the crispness of production and delivery, such that when it wants to, Death and Love can bite down hard, but as on the closing title-track or the earlier “Order ‘n’ Sin,” it can rumble out spaciousness as well. Whatever might’ve taken The Curf so long to put together a second album beats the hell out of me, but if they were looking to make an argument for a third one, they do so convincingly across these nine songs, which hold firmly to their overarching flow despite the emergent stylistic range.

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Ulls, I

ULLS I

For now, Ulls is the solo-project of Barcelona-based David Trillo, formerly guitarist/vocalist for the heavy progressive trio Lord Summerisle, but the hope seems to be to build a full band at some point in the future. The I EP might rightly be called a demo, then, but for the professionalism and cohesiveness of sound with which its three songs are presented and the clarity of intent behind them. With Trillo rumbling away on bass beneath, six-minute opener “Inhumat” fleshes out its arrangement with organ alongside guitar swirl and sets up the classically swinging strut of “Llot Convuls,” on which the drums post-midsection lead the way through starts and stops à la a restless King Crimson and the guitar joins with no less angularity. Eight-minute closer “L’Emersió de l’Executor” brings about a thicker overall tone, but holds to a similar mood through its first half, Trillo finding room after about the four-and-a-half-minute mark for a standout solo executed with the bass running fluidly alongside that carries the song to its fading finish just before seven minutes in, at which point a residual drone takes hold to lead the way out. That ending is telling when it comes to various impulses that might show themselves in Ulls going forward, but as an initial demonstration, suffice it to say that I makes it plain Trillo shouldn’t have much trouble finding other players to come aboard the band with him.

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Review & Track Premiere: Motorpsycho, The Tower

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on August 28th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

motorpsycho the tower

[Click play above to stream ‘A.S.F.E.’ from Motorpsycho’s The Tower. Album is out Sept. 8 via Stickman Records and Rune Grammofon.]

Maybe remaining Motorpsycho founders Bent Sæther and Hans Magnus “Snah” Ryan feel they have something to prove with their latest long-player, The Tower. For what it’s worth, they’re probably mistaken about that. The Trondheim natives are already in Norway’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and since first getting together in 1989, they’ve become a crucial influence in progressive, heavy and psychedelic rock across Scandinavia and greater Europe. They’ve scored plays, collaborated with orchestras, written commissioned works and been heralded by audiences and critics alike. Though they’re viciously under-known in the US, they’ve released upwards of 20 LPs, plus other singles and short releases, at a blazingly prolific rate, and constantly offered their listeners sonic development while retaining an identity that is unmistakably their own. Books have been written about them. Films made. To put it another way, they’re a big frickin’ deal, and they have been for quite some time.

In 2016, Sæther (who handles lead vocals, bass, guitar, keys and drums and also played in Spidergawd for their first three records) and Ryan (guitar, vocals, keys, bass and various other strings) said goodbye to longtime drummer Kenneth Kapstad (also and still of Spidergawd) following the particularly proggy Here be Monsters full-length, and with The Tower (released by Rune Grammofon in Norway and Stickman Records for the rest of Europe), they’ve redirected their efforts toward sounding fully reenergized. No doubt the acquisition of drummer Tomas Järmyr has something to do with that — the infusion of fresh blood seems to have brought a restorative effect even to the pacing of serene, drumless moments like the harmonies of the Mellotron-laced “Stardust” — but however it got there, The Tower comes across as a burst of creativity from Motorpsycho, continuing the progressive, forward march of Here be Monsters while also landing with a considerably heavier tonal impact on songs like the opening salvo of the title-track and “Bartok of the Universe,” as well as “In Every Dream Home (There’s a Dream of Something Else),” and the closing pair of “The Cuckoo” and “Ship of Fools.”

Now, it can be a fine line, because The Tower still shares plenty of the post-Greg Lake-era King Crimsoned progadelic pastoralism of its predecessor, but to put it in terms of that band, it’s like the difference between “The Court of the Crimson King” and “21st Century Schizoid Man,” where Here be Monsters is the former and The Tower is the latter. Still in the same vein, but by seamlessly integrating Järmyr into the trio, Motorpsycho can remain as intricate in their composition and arrangements as they were with Kapstad behind the kit, while offering more thrust behind The Tower in cuts like “A.S.F.E.” (an acronym for “a song for everyone”), which seems to imagine what would happen if “Weird Al” Yankovic decided to go space rock — hint: it would be awesome — and the subsequent “Intrepid Explorer,” which builds in a patient swell of melody to one of the album’s most satisfying payoffs before receding into the folkish “Stardust.” Of course, Motorpsycho are still very much Motorpsycho, but as they have all along, during Kapstad‘s 10-plus years with the band and before that as well, they’re making efforts to reshape that definition for themselves and their followers.

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Does it work? Yes, it does. The Tower is a significant climb, and well past the standards of manageability with its 10-track and nearly 85-minute runtime. But the final three tracks, the dreamy-into-percussive “A Pacific Sonata” and the aforementioned “The Cuckoo” and “Ship of Fools” consume more than 37 minutes of that on their own, and a clear 2LP structure to the placement of the songs — with “The Tower,” “Bartok of the Universe” and “A.S.F.E.” as side A, “Intrepid Explorer,” “Stardust” and “In Every Dream Home (There’s a Dream of Something Else)” as side B, the mood-setting psych-folk of “The Maypole” moving into “A Pacific Sonata” for side C and “The Cuckoo” and “Ship of Fools” as a final immersion on side D — makes it that much easier for the listener to put their trust in Sæther, Ryan and Järmyr for the duration. A clear shift in purpose between the first and second platters, from the harder prog of the earlier cuts to the peaceful vibes of “The Maypole” and “Pacific Sonata” — prefaced somewhat by “Stardust” — and the okay-now-it’s-time-to-get-swallowed-in-this closing statement of “The Cuckoo” and “Ship of Fools” (despite the memorable hook of the latter), only reinforces the message to those who’d engage with the material:

Relax. You’re in the hands of professionals.

Maybe it is that overarching sense of command that lets Motorpsycho not only introduce Järmyr without missing a beat (pun totally intended; why even ask?), but do so with a consuming double-LP nearly twice as long as its predecessor and arriving just a year later. If that’s the case, then Ryan and Sæther‘s many years working together are a context from which The Tower can’t and shouldn’t be divorced, but if they’re motivated by a need to reinforce their own will to keep going despite the lineup change or if they’ve simply hit a creative burst, the results are a triumph in these songs. Whether it’s in the longer-form explorations of “A Pacific Sonata” and “Ship of Fools” — the keys alone of which make it a highlight, let alone all the torrential churn surrounding at its apex — the quirky craftsmanship of “Bartok of the Universe” and “A.S.F.E.,” the brief acoustic excursions of “Stardust” and “The Maypole” or the arc-defining prog of the title-track, “Intrepid Explorer,” “In Every Dream Home (There’s a Dream of Something Else)” and “The Cuckoo,” there isn’t a moment that doesn’t earn its place, and as few 2LPs can, The Tower brings forth coherent realization without giving up on the varied nature of its delivery.

That is to say, Motorpsycho chart a difficult course for themselves and then navigate it with enviable ease. Longtime listeners would expect no less of them, but The Tower remains a marked achievement in a discography crowded with them, and if it’s signaling the start of a new era for the band, one can only look forward to the growth Motorpsycho will continue to foster as they inch closer to 30 years on from their beginning. They sound, and are, vital.

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Review & Track Premiere: Red Mountains, Slow Wander

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on August 16th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

red mountains slow wander

[Click play above to listen to the premiere of ‘Stone’ from Red Mountains’ Slow Wander. Album is out Sept. 1 on All Good Clean Records.]

With their steady rhythmic roll, jam-sounding foundations and tonally warm psychedelic affect, one almost expects the heady sounds of Red Mountains to originate from Munich, rather than the northern climes of Trondheim, Norway — nearly seven hours up from Oslo by rail — but their sound, perhaps informed by the Scandinavian Mountain chain running through their hometown, has its roots in soulful heavy rock just as much as airy drift. To wit, their second album and first for All Good Clean Records is the nine-track Slow Wander, which follows the Nasoni-issued 2015 debut, Down with the Sun (review here), and while one notes aesthetic continuity in the cover art by the esteemed Samantha Muljat — who seems to have done a number of short, digital releases for the band as well — the 47-minute offering takes decided action in moving them stylistically ahead from where they were two years ago.

Recorded outside Trondheim at Sørgården Studios with Spidergawd guitarist/vocalist Per Borten at the production helm, Håvard Soknes on the mix and Magnus Kofoed mastering, Slow Wander is maybe somewhat devious in its title in that even at its most drifting, on a cut like the vast, airy sway of “Oak” or the subsequent 10-minute blues-psych sprawl of “Endless Ocean,” there’s a clear sense of purpose maintained. And that bears fruit elsewhere in the more solidified songwriting process of vocalist/guitarist Magnus Riise, guitarist/vocalist Jostein Wigenstad, bassist Sverre Dalen and drummer Simen Mathiassen, who seem to take cues from UK heavy rockers Stubb in the soulfulness and hooks of the bouncing centerpiece “Stone,” “Cellar Door” and the earlier “Rat King,” which though slower and somewhat darker in its atmosphere contains arguably the catchiest chorus of the bunch.

Where the album ultimately succeeds is in establishing a balance between its two sides — the more rocking impulses and the wider-breadth jamming — and in conveying a direct sense of purpose in doing this. There’s no sense that anything on Slow Wander is happening by accident, whatever the name of the record might otherwise indicate. Rather, if one takes the title as advice from the band instead of a description of their own actions as regards its making, then Red Mountains are perhaps giving their listenership the best way possible to make its collective way through the tracks. From opener “Home” — like the starting point of a board game — onward through “Rat King” and “Oak” and “Endless Ocean,” Slow Wander earns not just a fleeting glance from its audience, but a real savoring experience.

red mountains

That’s not to say one should slow down playback or take a break from one track to the next and thereby miss out or undercut the flow between them, which is one of Slow Wander‘s most appealing aspects across what would seem to be its A and B sides, but just that the progression of the album as it unfolds is worth more than a passive listen, and the more one engages with moments like the echoing solo that tops the midsection of “Home” or the languid payoff deep into “Endless Ocean,” or the crunchier riffing on the penultimate “Acid Wedding” — which seems as well to sneak a guest vocal performance from Borten into its second half — the more those moments and the rest of the release repay that effort with satisfying detail of songcraft and execution. No question Red Mountains have an organic basis from which they’re working in that this material is born of jams, but whether it’s the rolling vibe of “Fog” or the nod-ready payoff of “Cellar Door,” there’s been an obvious commitment made and energy dedicated to shaping that basis into coherent, deceptively varied songs.

An argument could be made that in that process, Red Mountains are playing to style. I’m not sure I disagree, given how willful their sense of craft comes across in “Stone,” “Rat King,” “Home,” etc., but when one considers Slow Wander in light of Down with the Sun before it, the trajectory they’re on would seem to be toward a more individualized take on heavy psychedelia. Further, if playing to style is going to result in the chance to bask in the kind of immersion that “Endless Ocean” offers, then go right ahead. There is a grammar of aesthetic for any genre-based output, and Slow Wander demonstrates plainly that Red Mountains have been schooled via their influences in what they’re doing.

But again, the increase in production value between the debut and the follow-up, the precise placement of these songs — turning vinyl convention on its head with the more open material up front and the rockers in back — and even the overarching symmetry of answering the opener “Home” with the closer “Returning,” as though they knew the listener would finish the record and then immediately go back to the start to make their way around the board again, all of this shows a directed consciousness from RiiseWigenstadDalen and Mathiassen. Fortunately for them and for anyone who would take their second long-player on in a more than cursory manner, their chemistry carries through the structures they’ve built, and while it may not be a revolution in style, Slow Wander is a friendly, open-armed welcome to the converted and a forward step that affirms the potential of their debut and would seem to hint toward even broader reaches to come. There is nothing more one could reasonably ask of Slow Wander than to be precisely what it is, and in setting those terms, Red Mountains begin to lay claim to sonic territory of their own.

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Black Moon Circle to Release New Jams Collection Flowing into the Third Dimension

Posted in Whathaveyou on August 10th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

black moon circle

The Trondheim, Norway-based heavy psych jammers Black Moon Circle continue to evolve, and if you haven’t yet dug into that ongoing process, the two 20-minute-plus improvisations on The Studio Jams Vol. III — AKA Flowing into the Third Dimension — are as good a time to do so as either prior installment. Working once again as the four-piece of guitarist Vemund Engan, bassist Øyvin Engan, drummer Per Andreas Gulbrandsen, and synthesist Scott “Dr. Space” Heller (also of Øresund Space Collective), they set a course for 180 mark 0 and head about as far out as they’ve gone to-date, which bodes remarkably well for their impending full-length to come next year, on which they’ll also introduce organist/keyboardist Magnus. Intrigue abounds.

Note that Hans Magnus “Snah” Ryan of Motorpsycho sits in for The Studio Jams Vol. III as well. Because I guess if you’re going to happen to make your way into a new plane of reality — rest assured Black Moon Circle have spent time in multiple dimensions over the course of their offerings thus far — you should probably keep the best company possible as you go.

Info follows from the PR wire:

black-moon-circle-flowing-into-the-third-dimension

Black Moon Circle – The Studio Jams Vol III

MOON6CGR078 / LP

Black Moon Circle (BMC) is a psychedelic jam band from Trondheim, Norway. The band started off as a 3 piece (Vemund- Guitar, backing vocals; Øyvin- Bass, lead vocals; Per- Drums) in 2012 playing gigs in Trondheim, Oslo and Copenhagen.

In Copenhagen, they met Dr Space (Øresund Space Collective, Space Rock Productions) and a lasting collaboration started, and thrives and evolves to this day. The Plains EP was released on Space Rock Productions (2014) and included 2 songs from the bands set and one long in studio jam. The band did not sit idle for long and over the last 3 years the band has released 2 additional studio albums, a split 10”, split 7 and completed a trilogy of Studio Jam albums (Vols. 1-3). Most of these are released on the local, Crispin Glover Records label.

Vol 1 and 2 have been extremely well received and Vol 3 saw a further evolution in the band, with the addition of Snah, guitar player from Motorpsycho, who joined the band in the studio (he also played on the 10” record) for several jams.

2017 has seen the band expand into a five piece with the addition of Magnus on organ, mellotron, rhodes piano to further augment the bands sound. You will hear his contributions on the next studio album due in early 2018.

http://blackmooncircle.bandcamp.com
http://facebook.com/blackmooncircle
http://crispingloverrecords.com
https://www.stickman-records.com/

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Spidergawd, IV: What Comes to Pass

Posted in Reviews on April 11th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

spidergawd iv

Trondheim, Norway’s Spidergawd remain one of the best and worst kept secrets in Europe’s heavy underground. “Worst” because they do such a terrible job at it themselves, what with constantly touring and putting out new material. That’s no way to keep a secret. “Best” because no matter what they’ve done up to this point in their time together, they still seem underappreciated. Spidergawd IV is their fourth album in four years.

Released by Crispin Glover Records and Stickman Records, it continues a run of nigh-on-unparalleled consistency in songcraft that ran through 2016’s Spidergawd III (review here), 2015’s Spidergawd II (review here) and 2014’s Spidergawd (review here), and even as drummer Kenneth Kapstad (also Motorpsycho), saxophonist Rolf Martin Snustad and guitarist/vocalist Per Borten welcome new bassist Hallvard Gaardløs in place of Bent Sæther (also recording engineer), they weather the change smoothly and push their sound forward, playing toward elements of classic heavy metal in songs like “I am the Night,” “LouCille” and the insistent “What Have You Become,” among others, while maintaining their penchant for Borten leading the way through righteous, unabashedly accessible hooks on opener “Is this Love…?,” the ultra-swaggering “Heaven Comes Tomorrow” and “Ballad of Millionaire (Song for Elina).” As they turn and twist mindfully through this readjusted balance of influences, Spidergawd also hold fast to the underlying progressive sensibility that has always been at root in their songwriting, so that not only do they reimagine arena rock choruses with a more intense edge than ever before, but they do so with the same level of thoughtfulness they’ve brought to everything they’ve done up to this point.

In this, they have become one of the most immediately identifiable acts in underground heavy rock, and their signature is writ large over the eight tracks/41 minutes of Spidergawd IV no matter what pursuits individual pieces undertake, be it the deceptively pop-minded launch the album gets via “Is this Love…?” or the eight-minute semi-psychedelic nod of “What Must Come to Pass” on side B. Spidergawd sound like Spidergawd, and while one can pick out a riff like the gallop of “I am the Night” and say Iron Maiden or “Heaven Comes Tomorrow” and say Dio and/or Motörhead, or “Ballad of a Millionaire (Song for Elina)” and relate it more to the heavy rock side of their approach — think later Queens of the Stone Age, and no, I don’t just say that because the word “millionaire” is in the title — the sonic territory they claim they work to make their own, and though it may seem like they just bang albums out one after they other because on a basic level of timing that’s kind of how it happens, Spidergawd have never failed to offer a work of marked depth and nuance.

Spidergawd IV is no exception to that, whether it’s the forward charge of “LouCille” shifting slightly down from the rush of “Is this Love…?” and “I am the Night” at the outset as the band makes ready to move into “Ballad of a Millionaire (Song for Elina)” or the fluidity within that song itself, of Snustad‘s sax layered smoothly alongside the bass of the midpaced verse set to Kapstad‘s steady march to one of the album’s most melodically engaging hooks. After the crisp execution of the first three cuts and the likes of “What Have You Become” and “Heaven Comes Tomorrow” to follow, “Ballad of a Millionaire (Song for Elina)” is a standout for its looser rhythmic feel, but its structure is no less resilient than anything before or after, and its fade into a wash of noise at the end only adds a layer of hypnosis to foreshadow “What Must Come to Pass.”

spidergawd

If the sides of the vinyl split evenly in terms of having four tracks on each, “What Have You Become” is the leadoff for side B, and it’s certainly up to the task, reviving the thrust of “I am the Night” at an even higher level, Kapstad‘s snare jabbing and punctuating the careening verse groove. At 3:44, it is the shortest inclusion on Spidergawd IV, and arguably the most straightforward in its intent, so it’s fitting that the sax should open languidly to start “What Must Come to Pass” and immediately throw off the listener’s expectation. The intent at conveying a moment of arrival couldn’t be clearer, and “What Must Come to Pass” earns all eight of its minutes in a graceful unfolding process that builds through a structured start and moves outward shortly after its halfway point, Borten delivering the title line (or sort-of-title-line, anyhow) just ahead of a reverb-soaked classic guitar solo that begins the instrumental course the rest of the song will follow. In their willful abandonment of structure — i.e., not going back to the chorus before the end of “What Must Come to Pass” — Spidergawd remain dynamic.

This isn’t the first time they’ve broken their own rules, and the transition between the noise-fadeout ending of “What Must Come to Pass” and the initial crash-in of “Heaven Comes Tomorrow” nonetheless serves the greater purposes of the album overall. The penultimate song is duly raucous and swinging, marked out by the guitar solo in its second half and more choice interplay from the sax and bass amid a push that comes across perhaps as a grownup version of some of their earlier riotousness. This gives way to the ’80s metal riffing — one hears Mötley Crüe‘s “Looks that Kill” as much as anything from Judas Priest — and rougher vocal from Borten on closer “Stranglehold.” While its hook is representative of the quality of their work overall, the finale of Spidergawd IV is less a summary of the album as a whole than it is a reinforcement of and last bit of fun with the metallic side that’s been present all along. They strut out on layered soloing and the central start-stop riff à la Tipton/Downing, and do not linger, in part no doubt because it’s already time to start work on their next full-length.

When they put out Spidergawd III, I wondered how long they could keep up their pace of releases without losing their grip on either songcraft or presentation, and they answered that question with a decisively forward progression in style while also making a significant lineup change, not losing a step in the process, and still touring their collective ass off. Listening to Spidergawd IV, one isn’t so much tempted to imagine what could possibly derail the band at this point as to be thankful that nothing has, and whether or not they turn out Spidergawd V on schedule in the first half of 2018, they’ve added significant intrigue and accomplishment to a catalog that’s known little else with this latest collection.

Spidergawd, “Is this Love…?” live in studio

Spidergawd website

Spidergawd on Thee Facebooks

Stickman Records

Crispin Glover Records

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Barren Womb Premiere “Freak Flag” Video; Crown Control EP out April 22

Posted in Bootleg Theater on April 7th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

barren womb

With two full-lengths under their belt of skin-peeling noise rock, Trondheim, Norway, duo Barren Womb offer an aesthetic shift with their upcoming Record Store Day EP, Crown Control. Set for release April 22 through All Good Clean Records (distribution through Stickman), the five-track trades distorted guitar for banjo and adopts a neofolk and Americana stylization that removes the traces of post-Kvelertak black ‘n’ roll that otherwise make themselves felt in their sound. True, a song like “Devil Run the Game” from their 2015 sophomore long-player, Nique Everything, did much the same, but Crown Control brings this more into focus and is a more brazen move away from weighted sonic impact.

For example, listening to “Freak Flag,” for which Barren Womb have a new video premiering below, my most immediate comparison point for what Timo Silvola and Tony Gonzahl are doing is 16 Horsepower‘s “Straw Foot,” and that doesn’t feel like an accident on the band’s part. To listen to the lyrics of “Freak Flag,” there’s plenty of disaffection on offer, as well as some willfully less-than-charming raunch, but where they end up gets to the underlying message at the heart of the song. After urging an audience toward what they call “the dark side” and “the cool side” in the chorus, they finish with the lines, “…Because the worst is the best in a hive mind/And no one should have nothing to hide.”

What that last couplet lacks in grammar, it makes up in justifying the song’s overarching sense of alienation, and it seems that loud or quiet, Barren Womb bring a purpose to their material that’s about making a statement at least as much about conveying the wretchedness driving them toward that statement in the first place. I haven’t heard the rest of Crown Control, but there’s definitely an element of critique in the “Freak Flag” video as well, which features more hot dog eating than I, even as an American — and all we do is eat hot dogs; well, that and wars of aggression, anyway — have seen in a while, and a bit of NSFW-ness for decent measure.

Just a heads up on that.

Barren Womb‘s Crown Control is out April 22 and can be preordered now from All Good Clean Records. PR wire info follows the clip below.

Please enjoy:

Barren Womb, “Freak Flag” official video (NSFW)

Directed by Hanna Fauske.
From the EP “Crown Control” available now on All Good Clean Records.

On April 22nd, Records Store Day, the Trondheim-based power duo Barren Womb will release Crown Control, an EP somewhat out of the ordinary for the duo.

Lyrically it’s still rooted in their usual bleak universe, but the distorted guitars and drums have mostly been replaced by banjo and acoustic guitars. Crown Control comprises 5 winding, misanthropic tracks in the Dark Americana-/Folk-tradition, and will be released by All Good Clean Records.

The first hundred copies will be released as a special handnumbered edition including a signed insert and lyrics sheet.

Crown Control preorder at All Good Clean Records

Barren Womb on Thee Facebooks

Barren Womb on Twitter

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Dunbarrow to Release Self-Titled Debut on RidingEasy Records

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 13th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

It’s not a minor happening at this point when RidingEasy Records picks up anybody. Consider the Cali-based imprint’s track record: Monolord, The Well, Electric Citizen, Mondo Drag, Slow Season, on and on. Norway’s Dunbarrow now join these ranks on the sizable merits of their self-titled debut (review here), which was initially offered-up by the band last year and which will see issue on RidingEasy next month on CD with vinyl following in May.

What Dunbarrow bring to the RidingEasy lineup is a firm grip on an aesthetic born as much of ’70s worship as influence taken from earliest Witchcraft and the best of the Scandinavian retro doom set — the Pentagram loyalism of Burning Saviours comes to mind — as well as an abiding rawness of sound that complements the fluidity of their groove. Preorders, naturally, are up now.

The band and label are highlighting the track “Lucifer’s Child” ahead of the re-release, and you can hear it below, courtesy of the PR wire:

dunbarrow self-titled

Dunbarrow sign to RidingEasy Records

Trondheim, Norway quintet Dunbarrow announce their signing to L.A. label RidingEasy Records today. The label will reissue the band’s 2016 self-titled debut album worldwide with a special die-cut sleeve and insert for the LP. It will be on CD for the first time ever.

Summoned to play it the old way in a new age, Trondheim, Norway quintet Dunbarrow draws inspiration from freezing winter nights, unpolished demo tapes from the 70’s and the Swedish throwback rock from the beginning of the 21st century. The result is Norwegian proto-doom with a back-to-basics sound, from Pentagram and Witchfinder General to Quicksilver Messenger Service.

Dunbarrow’s clean, unadorned sound shares the unpretentious brilliance of classic heavy progenitors playing basements and barns, before the big budgets and bloated habits diluted hard rock into an echo chamber awash in reverb and layered in distant, screeching hobbits. The band’s 9-track self-titled album is a classic in the sense that every song becomes instantly recognizable after just one listen.

With lyrics like the clever paean to a young witch mother’s birth of “Lucifer’s Child”, Dunbarrow has a wealth of gloomy sentiments: “Can you understand my young mother’s plight / Away from the comforts that burn at the stake / She gave birth to a venomous snake / On her great pyre she smiled / For she carried Lucifer’s child.”

Dunbarrow is based in the far northern Norwegian city Trondheim, but is originally from Haugesund on the west coast of Norway. The band has been playing together for over 8 years through different band names and genres. In 2014, vocalist Espen Andersen joined the band upon the departure of original singer/bassist Richard Chappell. Sondre Berge went from playing drums to playing bass. Kenneth Lønning and Eirik Øvregård are still on the guitars, with Pål Gunnar Dale taking over the drums permanently in 2016. Espen Andersen recorded and mixed the debut album at Stoy Studios. Dunbarrow is hitting the studio for their second album this summer.

Dunbarrow will be available on CD on March 10th, 2017 and LP in May via RidingEasy Records. Pre-orders are available at RidingEasyRecs.com.

Artist: Dunbarrow
Album: Dunbarrow
Label: RidingEasy Records
Release Date: March 10th (CD) & May (LP), 2017

01. Try and Fail
02. The Wanderer
03. You Knew I Was a Snake
04. My Little Darling
05. Lucifer’s Child
06. Guillotine
07. The Crows Ain’t Far Behind
08. Forsaken
09. Witches of the Woods

Facebook.com/Dunbarrow
Instagram.com/Dunbarrow
Dunbarrow.Bandcamp.com
ridingeasyrecs.com

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