Posted in Whathaveyou on January 27th, 2017 by JJ Koczan
In the place where most bands might put some biographical information, Swedish cult-style doom rockers Alastor offer only the advice: ‘Die in fire.’ Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. While hardly descriptive in terms of their background, it is a pretty concise summation of the vibe offered by their 14-minute single “Black Magic,” which you can stream below via their Bandcamp page. The band has signed to Twin Earth Records — so you know immediately going into it their tones are on point; and they are — and will release a new album in May on CD/DL with vinyl to follow in July.
Is Black Magic the title of that album? Will the song actually be on the record? Just what do the initials of the band members stand for? All these questions and several more have yet to be answered, but the band gives kind of a quick middle-finger rundown of what they’ve got going — shows in summer with Vokonis — and that’ll just have to be enough to work with for now. Sometimes you take what you can get.
As forwarded on by Twin Earth:
Alastor signs to Twin Earth Records
Digital/CD due out in May 2017
Vinyl LP July 2017
“Well, we all live in different towns around ‘Southern Sweden’ so I guess we could just go with that. Band members; H – guitar, J – guitar, R – bass/vocals and S – drums. Simple as that. We all come from different bands but the only relevant is Alastor, as that’s where we put the focus now.
“Full length of the Album is 34:36 minutes. We have one show in Malmö, Sweden, booked for the 11th of March as well as some gigs in Belgium and Germany in June currently being planned together with our friends in Vokonis, but that’s pretty much all at the moment.”
Alastor is: J – guitars H – guitars S – drums R – bass/vox
“Black Magic” recorded by Magnus Sörensen at KulturVerkstan. Mixed and mastered by Hannes Heed at Black Sword Studios. Cover art by Helfvete Art.
Posted in Reviews on January 2nd, 2017 by JJ Koczan
Now having spanned multiple years since starting way back in 2016, this Quarterly Review ends today with writeups 51-60 of the total 60. I’ve said I don’t know how many times that I could go longer, but the fact of the matter is it would hit a point where it stopped being a pleasant experience on my end and I’d rather keep things fun as much as possible rather than just try to cram in every single release that ever came my way. Make sense? It might or it might not. I can’t really decide either. From the bottom of my heart though, as I stare down the final batch of records for this edition of the Quarterly Review, I thank you for reading. Let’s dive in.
Quarterly Review #51-60:
Crippled Black Phoenix, Bronze
Nine albums and just about 10 years on from their 2007 debut, A Love of Shared Disasters, the UK’s Crippled Black Phoenix arrive on Season of Mist with the full-length Bronze and remain as complex, moody and sonically resolute as ever. If we’re lucky, they’ll be the band that teaches a generation of heavy tone purveyors how to express emotion in songwriting without giving up the impact of their material, but the truth is that “Champions of Disturbance (Pt. 1 & 2),” “Deviant Burials,” “Scared and Alone” and take-your-pick-from-the-others are about so much more depth than even the blend of “heavy and moody” conveys. To wit, the spacious post-rock gaze of “Goodbye Then” gives a glimpse of what Radiohead might’ve turned into had they managed to keep their collective head out of their collective ass, and the penultimate “Winning a Losing Battle” pushes through initial melancholia into gurgling, obtuse-but-hypnotic drone before making a miraculous return in its finish – then closer “We are the Darkeners” gets heavy. Multi-instrumentalist, founder and chief songwriter Justin Greaves is nothing shy of a visionary, and Bronze is the latest manifestation of that vision. One doubts it will be the last.
Nothing shy about Trouble in Eden, the third full-length from San Jose heavy rockers Zed and second for Ripple Music. From its hey-look-guys-it’s-a-naked-chick cover to the raw vocal push from Pete Sattari –which delves into more melodic fare early on “The Only True Thing” and in rolling closer “The Mountain,” but keeps mostly to gruff grown-up-punker delivery throughout – the 10-tracker makes its bones in cuts like “Blood of the Fallen” and the resonant hook of “Save You from Yourself,” which are straightforward in intent, brash in execution and which thrive on a purported “rock the way it should be” mentality. Well, I don’t know how rock should be, but Zed – Sattari, guitarist Greg Lopez, bassist Mark Aceves and drummer Rich Harris – play to classic structures and seem to bring innate groove with them wherever they go on the album, be it the one-two punch of “High Indeed” and “So Low” or the Clutch-style bounce in the first half of “Today Not Tomorrow,” which leaves one of Trouble in Eden’s most memorable impressions both as a song and as a summary of their apparent general point of view.
Limited to just 200 copies on We Empty Rooms and Gotta Groove Records, the Collective Fictions split 180g LP between Melbourne noise duo Dead and Mark Deutrom (Bellringer, Clown Alley, ex-Melvins) is a genuine vinyl-only release. No digital version. That in itself gives it something of a brazen experimentalism, never mind the fact that one can barely tell where one track ends and the next track starts. Purposeful obscurity? Maybe. It’s reportedly one of a series of four LPs Dead are working on for the next year-plus, and they present two cuts in “Masonry” and “In the Car,” moving through percussion and mid-range drone to build a tense jazz on the former as drummer Jem and bassist Jace make room for the keys and noise of BJ Morriszonkle, which continue to play a prominent role in “In the Car” as well, which is also the only inclusion on Collective Fictions to feature vocals, shortly before it rumbles and long-fades snare hits to close out Dead’s side of the LP, leaving Deutrom – working here completely solo – thoroughly dared to get as weird as he’d like. An opportunity of which he takes full advantage. Over the course of four tracks, he unfurls instrumentalist drone of various stripes, from the nighttime soundscaping of “The Gargoyle Protocol,” which seems to answer the percussive beginning of Dead, through the spacier reverb loneliness of “Presence of an Absence,” like a most pastoral, less obtuse Earth, dreamy but sad in a way that denotes self-awareness on the part of the title, or at very least effective evocation thereof. Likewise, “Bring the Fatted Calf,” with its gong hits, Master Musicians of Bukkake-style jingling and minimalist volume swells, is duly ritualistic, which makes one wonder what the prog-style keys at the open of “View from the Threshold” are looking at. Deutrom moves through that side-closer patiently but fluidly and ends at a drone, tying up Collective Fictions as something of a curio in intent and execution. By that I mean what seems to have brought the two parties together was a “Hey, wanna get weird?” impulse, but each act makes their own level and then works on it, so hell yes, by all means, get weird.
Any record that starts with a narration beginning, “In the not too distant future…” is going to find favor with my MST3K-loving heart. So begins The Apocalypse Trilogies: Spacewolf and Other Dark Tales, the cumbersomely-named but nonetheless engaging Salt of the Earth Records debut full-length from Toronto’s Ol’ Time Moonshine, whose 2013 The Demon Haunted World EP (review here) also found favor. The burl-coated outing is presented across three chapters, each beginning with its own narration and comprising three subsequent tracks – trilogies – tying into its theme as represented in the cover art by vocalist/guitarist Bill Kole, joined in the band by guitarist Chris Coleiro, bassist John Kendrick and drummer Brett Savory. They shift into some more complex fare on the instrumental “Lady of Light” before the final chapter, but at its core The Apocalypse Trilogies remains a (very) heavy rock album with an undercurrent of metal, and whatever else Ol’ Time Moonshine bring to it in plotline, they hold fast to songwriting as the most crucial element of their approach.
Italian four-piece Ufosonic Generator (also stylized as one word: UfosonicGenerator) make themselves at home straddling the line between doom and classic boogie rock on what seems to be their debut album, the eight-track The Evil Smoke Possession, released through Minotauro Records. Marked out by the soaring and adaptable vocals of Gojira – yup – the band offer proto-metal shuffle on shorter early cuts “A Sinful Portrait” and the rolling nod of “At Witches’ Bell,” but it’s the longer pairing of “Meridian Daemon” (7:47) and “Silver Bell Meadows” (6:53) on which one finds their brew at highest potency, sending an evil eye Cathedral’s way without forgetting the Sabbathian riffery that started it all or the Iron Maiden-gallop it inspired. They cap with the suitable lumber of their title-track and pick up toward the finish as if to underscore the dueling vibes with which they’ve been working all along. Ultimately, the meld isn’t necessarily revolutionary, but it does pay homage fluidly across The Evil Smoke Possession’s span, and as a debut, it sets Ufosonic Generator forward with a solid foundation on which to progress.
Issued digitally in late-2015 and subsequently snagged for a 2016 vinyl issue through Krauted Mind, Nocturnes is the debut full-length from Dublin five-piece Mother Mooch, and in its eight tracks, they set their footing in a genre-spanning aesthetic, pulling from slow-motion grunge, weighted heavy rock, psychedelic flourish and even a bit of punk on the shorter, upbeat “My Song 21” and “L.H.O.O.Q.” Those two tracks prove crucial departures in breaking up the proceedings and speak well of a penchant on the part of vocalist Chloë Ní Dhúada, guitarists Sid Daly (also backing vocals) and Farl, bassist Barry Hayden and drummer Danni Nolan toward sonic diversity. They bring a similar sensibility to the closing Lead Belly cover “Out on the Western Plain” as well, whereas cuts like opener “This Tempest,” “Into the Water” and “Misery Hill” work effectively to find a middle ground between the stylistic range at play. That impulse, seemingly innate to their songraft, is what will allow them to continue to develop their personality as a band and is not to be understated in how pivotal it is to this first LP.
To my knowledge, this only-70-pressed five-song tape release is the second self-titled EP from off-kilter North Carolina heavy rockers The Asound following a three-songer back in 2011 (review here). Offered by Tsuguri Records, the new The Asound starts with its longest track (immediate points) in the 6:54 “Moss Man” and touches on earliest, most righteous High on Fire-style brash, but holds to its own notions about what that that blend of groove and gallop should do. Through splits with Flat Tires (review here), Magma Rise (review here), Lenoir Swingers Club (review here) and Mark Deutrom (review here), the trio of Guitarist/vocalist Chad Wyrick, bassist Jon Cox and drummer Michael Crump have always had an element of the unpredictable to their sound, and that’s true as centerpiece “Human for Human” revives the thrust of the opener coming off “Controller”’s less marauding rhythm, but the sludgy rollout and later airy lead-work of “Pseudo Vain” and chugging nod of closer “Throne of Compulsion” speaks to the consciousness at play beneath the unhinged vibes that’s been there all along. They’ve sounded ready for a while to make a full-length debut. They still sound that way.
Immediate bonus points to Richmond, Virginia’s Book of Wyrms for titling a track on their full-length debut “Infinite Walrus,” but with the Garrett Morris-recorded tones they proffer with the seven-song/53-minute Sci-Fi/Fantasy (on Twin Earth Records), they don’t really need bonus points. The five-piece of vocalist Sarah Moore Lindsey, six-stringers Kyle Lewis and Ben Coudriet, bassist Jay Lindsey and drummer Chris DeHaven mostly avoid the sounding-like-Windhand trap through stretches of upbeat tempo, theremin and other noise flourish, and harmonies on guitar, but they’re never far from an undercurrent of doom, as opener “Leatherwing Bat” establishes and the long ambient midsection and subsequent nod of centerpiece “Nightbong” is only too happy to reinforce. “All Hallows Eve” gets a little cliché with its samples, but the dueling leads on 11-minute closer “Sourwolf” and included keyboard noise ensure proper distinction and mark Book of Wyrms as having come into their first long-player with a definite plan of action, which finds them doing well as a showcase of potential and plenty immersive in the here and now.
Despite the sort of cross-cultural ritualism of its cover art, Oxblood Forge’s self-titled debut EP has only the firmest of ideas where it’s coming from. The Whitman, Massachusetts-based five-piece boasts former Ichabod vocalist Ken MacKay as well as bassist Greg Dellaria from that band, and guitarist Robb Lioy (also in Four Speed Fury with MacKay) alongside guitarist Josh Howard and drummer Chris Capen, and in a coherent, vigilantly straightforward five-tracker they touch on aggressive fare in “Lashed to the Mast” as their Northeastern regionalism would warrant – we’re all very angry here; it’s the weather – and demonstrate a knack for hooks in “Inferno” and “Sister Midnight,” the latter blending screams and almost Torche-style melodies over clam chowder riffing before closer “Storm of Crows” opens foreboding with Dellaria’s bass and moves into the short release’s nastiest fare, MacKay sticking to harsher vocals as on the earlier “Night Crawler,” but in a darker instrumental context. They set a range here, and might be feeling things out in terms of working together as this band, but given the personnel involved and their prior familiarity with each other, it’s hard to imagine that if a follow-up is in the offing it’ll be all that long before it arrives. Consider notice served.
Ukrainian trio The Heavy Crawls set out as a duo called just The Crawls and released a self-titled debut in 2013 that was picked up in 2015 by ultra-respected German imprint Nasoni Records. Under the new moniker, they get another stab at a first album with the 10-track/42-minute classic rocker The Heavy Crawls, the three-piece of founding guitarist/bassist/keyboardist/vocalist Max Tovstyi, drummer Inessa Joger and keyboardist/vocalist/percussionist Iryna Malyshevska evoking spirited boogie and comfortable groove on “She Said I Had to Wait” and the handclap-stomping “Girl from America.” Elements of garage rock show up on “Too Much Rock ‘n’ Roll” and the soul-swinging “I Had to Get Away,” but The Heavy Crawls are more interested in establishing a flow than being showy or brash, and the payoff for that comes in eight-minute closer “Burns Me from Inside,” which stretches out the jamming sensibility that earlier pieces like the organ-laced “One of a Kind” and the staccato “Friday, 13th” seem to be driving toward. Some growing to undertake, but the pop aspect in The Heavy Crawls’ songcraft provides intrigue, and their (second) debut shows a righteous commitment to form without losing its identity to it.
Posted in Reviews on December 28th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
Today is the day the Quarterly Review passes the halfway point. This will be 21-30 of the total 60 for the six days, so there’s still a ways to go — you might say 50 percent — but it’s a milestone nonetheless. Once again it’s another roundup of cool stuff, kind of all over the place a little more than the last two days were, but as we go further along with these things, it’s good to mix it up after a while. There’s only so many times you can throw the word “lysergic” around and talk about jamming. That said, you’re getting some of that today as well from Portugal, so when it pops up, don’t be surprised. Much to do, so no need to delay.
Quarterly Review #21-30:
Bus, The Unknown Secretary
Athenian double-guitar four-piece Bus execute a stylistically cohesive, crisp debut with The Unknown Secretary (on Twin Earth Records), presenting classic heavy rock elements without going full-retro in their sound itself and marking songs like “Masteroid” as immediately distinct through the harmonized vocals of guitarist Bill City, joined in the band by guitarist Johnnie Chez, bassist Chob D’oh and drummer Aris. Together they run through a clean two sides that play back and forth between proto-metallic and doom shading – “Don’t Fear Your Demon” touches on slower Pentagram – while sounding perhaps most comfortable in rockers like “Withered Thorn” or the earlier stomper “New Black Volume,” which puts its two guitars to excellent use ahead of and between unabashedly poppy (not sure a full Ghost comparison is warranted) verse, and craft a highlight in the 7:38 arena-ready thrust of “Rockerbus” prior to the surprisingly nodding finale of “Jimi.” A strikingly efficient and clear-headed first full-length that would seem to hold much promise of things to come from yet another player in Greece’s emergent heavy scene.
With the start-stop riff of opener “As Fangs in Stone,” a mastering job by Mathias Schneeberger and the breadth of pop melodicism in cuts that one, the swinging “Made of Ghosts,” and the more percussive “Through the Sun,” Italian four-piece Them Bulls make a pretty strong beeline for early-Queens of the Stone Age-style heavy desert rock. Their self-titled Small Stone debut isn’t without individualized flourish, but the 10-track/41-minute offering makes it clear from the start what its intentions are and then sets about living up to them, whether on the careening Songs for the Deaf-ery of “Pot Gun” or the penultimate “We Must Live Up” itself. Vocal interplay from guitarists Daniele Pollio and Franscesco Pasi – joined by the rhythm section of bassist Paolo Baldini and drummer Giampaolo Farnedi – provides an opportunity for future growth, but it’s worth noting that for a band to take on such a specific stylization, their songwriting needs to be in check, and Them Bulls’ is.
What seems to be Stinkeye’s debut recording, Llantera Demos, arrives as a free download of four tracks and 16 minutes rife with thickened boogie and dense mecha-stoner fuzz, reminding of Dead Meadow immediately in the echoing vocals and rhythmic bounce of “Orange Man” but moving into some shuffle on the subsequent “Fink Ployd” and “Llantera,” the latter a well-earned showcase of bass tone. While out on the coast, ‘70s vibes reign supreme, the Phoenix, Arizona, trio are on a different tip, looser in their swing and apparently more prone to drift. For what it’s worth, they call it “hash rock,” and fair enough as “Pink Clam,” which closes Llantera Demos, rides more of a grunge-laden nod to an immersive but still relatively quick five-minute finish, building after three minutes in to a satisfying final instrumental push. Loaded with potential in tone, execution, vibe and dynamic between the three-piece, Llantera Demos immediately marks Stinkeye out as a band to watch and is just begging for the right person to come along and press it to tape.
Want to grab attention with your debut long-player? Calling a song “Louder than God” might be a good way to go. That track, at seven minutes, is the longest on Connecticut five-piece Buzzard Canyon’s Hellfire and Whiskey (on Salt of the Earth), and following a quiet initial stretch, it launches into Down-style Southern chug, the dual vocals of Amber Leigh and guitarist Aaron Lewis (the latter also of When the Deadbolt Breaks) veering into and out of more metallic impulses to build on the initial momentum established on the earlier “Highway Run” and “SomaBitch.” The two-minute “For the End” basks in some nightmarish vision of rockabilly, while “Red Beards Massacre” and “Wyoming” dig into more straightforward stylistic patterning, but if Buzzard Canyon want to get a little weird either here or going forward, that’s clearly not about to hurt them. Closer “Not My Cross” hints at some darker visions to come in how it moves into and out of a droning interlude, adding yet more intrigue to their deceptively multifaceted foundation.
Though “Atomic Rodeo” dips into some Queens of the Stone Age-style groove, Motherbrain’s third album, Voodoo Nasty (on Setalight Records), comes across as more defined by its nasty than its voodoo as the Berlin four-piece demonstrate a penchant for incorporating harsher sludge tendencies, especially in vocal shouts peppered in amid the otherwise not-unfriendly proceedings. That gives the nine-song/48-minute offering a meaner edge but does little ultimately to take away from the groove on offer in the opening title-track or “Ghoul of Kolkata,” and though it retains its raw spirit, Voodoo Nasty digs into some more complex fare later in longer cuts like “Baptism of Fire” and “Half Past Human,” having found a place in centerpiece “Dismantling God” where blown-out noise aggression and semi-psychedelic swirl can coexist, if not peacefully then at least for a while until Motherbrain decide it’s time to give Kyuss-style desert rock another kick in its ass, as on “Sons of Kong,” which, yes, does proclaim a lineage.
Sludge-rolling five-piece Elder Druid riff forth with their debut studio offering, the five-song/33-minute Magicka EP, which one might be tempted to tag as a demo were it not for a few prior live-tracked short releases that appear to have served that purpose, the latest of which, The Attic Sessions (discussed here), came out in Jan. 2016. The experience of putting that together as well as their prior singles clearly benefited the Northern Irish outfit on Magicka, and while they retain a shouty spirit on opener “Rogue Mystic,” middle cut “The Warlock” offers nod that reminds of The Kings of Frog Island’s “Welcome to the Void,” and that’s about all I ever need. Ever. Served up with bloated tones and geared toward establishing a blend of gruff vocals and consuming fuzz, Elder Druid’s first studio recording has a solid footing in what it wants to accomplish sound-wise and plainly showcases that, and while they have some growing to do and patience to learn in their songcraft, nothing I hear on Magicka argues against their getting there in time.
The Crazy Left Experience, Bill’s 108th Space Odyssey
The Crazy Left Experience – the moniker seeming to refer to the side of the brain at work in their processes – present Bill’s 108th Space Odyssey almost as an album within an album. The framework from the at-least-party-improvised Portuguese cosmic jammers on the seven-track/56-minute outing centers around William Millarc, who in 1955 was documented while taking part in LSD experiments. Samples of Millarc are peppered into opener “Subject Bill,” the later “Funky Meteor Drop” and the closing duo “Bill Sided Flashback” and “God of the Outer Rings,” but between the opener and the latter trio of cuts comes “Unarius,” a three-part excursion listed as “Part V” through “Part VII” that presumably is the representation of when our friend Bill has left his body behind. So be it. One can hardly call that departure incongruous either sonically or in terms of The Crazy Left Experience’s chosen theme – though there are some unrelated samples spliced into “Unarius – Part VII (Space Brothers)” that are somewhat jarring – and the entire flow of the record is so hypnotic that the band can basically go wherever they want, which of course they do.
Were it not for the context of knowing that vocalist Tim Narducci and bassist Cornbread hail from SpiralArms and White Witch Canyon, drummer Carter Kennedy from Orchid and guitarist Jeremy Von Eppic from Black Gates, the Sabbath Highway debut EP (on Ripple Music) from California’s The Watchers would be almost impossibly coherent for a first outing. Classic in form but modern in its presentation, the five-tracker – four plus the church-organ interlude “Requiem” between the opening title-cut (video here) and “Call the Priest” – makes the most of Narducci’s ‘70s-style vocal push, reminding of one-time Ripple troupe Stone Axe in his oldschool feel, but as “Today” (premiered here) makes plain, The Watchers are much more focused on learning from the past than repeating it. The straightforward songwriting and all-we’re-here-to-do-is-kick-ass sentiment behind Sabbath Highway might well prove formative compared to what The Watchers do next – presumably that’s a full-length, but one never knows; they sound ready to get down to business – but it makes its ambitions plain in its hooks and swiftly delivers on its promises.
I can’t speak to the present status of California’s Of the Horizon, since last I heard bassist Kayt Vigil was in Italy working with Sonic Wolves, but their self-titled five-track debut full-length arrives via Kozmik Artifactz no less switched on for the half-decade that has passed since it was recorded. Guitarist Mike Hanne howls out throaty incantations to suit the post-Sleep riffing of opener “3 Feet” and drummer Shig pushes the roll of “Caravan” forward into its final crashing slowdown effectively as Vigil ensures the subsequent centerpiece “Unknown” is duly thick beneath its spacious, jammy strum. The two longest slabs hit at the end in “Gladhander” (8:55) and the righteously lumbering “Hall of the Drunken King” (10:31) and feel somewhat like an album unto themselves, but when/if Of the Horizon make a return, they’ve established a working modus on this first full-length that should well satisfy the nod-converted and that demonstrates the timelessness of well-executed tonal onslaught.
Though it’s fair enough in terms of runtime, it almost seems like Milano sludge-rollers Raj (also written stylized in all-caps: RAJ) do the six tracks of their 20-minute self-titled debut EP a disservice by cramming them onto a single LP side. Not that one gets lost or the band fails to make an impression – far from it – but just that sounds so geared toward largesse and spaciousness beg for more room to flesh out. That, perhaps, is the interesting duality in Raj’s Raj, since even the massive plod of closer “Iron Matrix” lumbers through its course in a relatively short 4:45, never mind the speedier “Magic Wand” (2:47) or drone interlude “Black Mumbai” (1:51) – gone in a flash. The release moves through these, the earlier “Omegagame” and “Eurasia” and the penultimate “Kaluza” with marked fluidity and efficiency, giving Raj a mini-album feel, and with the atmosphere in “Black Mumbai” and in the surrounding material, their rumble sets up a dynamic that seems primed for further exploration.
Posted in Reviews on December 26th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
2016 ends and 2017 starts off on the right foot with a brand new Quarterly Review roundup. The first time I ever did one of these was at the end of 2014 and I called the feature ‘Last Licks.’ Fortunately, I’ve moved on from that name, but that is kind of how I’m thinking about this particular Quarterly Review. You’ll find stuff that came out spread all across 2016, early, middle, late, but basically what I’m trying to do here is get to a point where it’s not March and I’m still reviewing albums from November. Will it work? Probably not, but in order to try my damnedest to make it do so anyway, I’m making this Quarterly Review six full days. Monday to Monday instead of Monday to Friday. 60 reviews in six posts. Sounds like madness because it is madness. Let’s get started.
Quarterly Review #1-10:
San Francisco trio Hornss debuted on RidingEasy Records with 2014’s No Blood No Sympathy (review here) and further their raw genre blend on Telepath, their half-hour follow-up LP delivered via STB, melding heavy punk and metallic impulses to a noisy, thick-toned thrust on songs like “Atrophic” and the bouncing “Sargasso Heart” while opener “St. Genevieve” and the penultimate “Old Ghosts” dig into more stonerly nod. The latter track is the longest inclusion on the record at 3:26, and with 11 cuts there’s plenty of jumping between impulses to be done, but the trio of guitarist/vocalist Mike Moracha, bassist/vocalist Nick Nava – both formerly of desert punkers Solarfeast – and drummer Bil Bowman (ex-Zodiac Killers) work effectively and efficiently to cast an identity for themselves within the tumult. It’s one that finds them reveling in the absence of pretense and the sometimes-caustic vibes of songs like “Leaving Thermal,” which nonetheless boast an underlying catchiness, speaking to a progression from the first album.
Easily justifiable decision on the part of Denver’s Khemmis to return to Flatline Audio and producer Dave Otero (Cephalic Carnage, etc.) for their second album, Hunted. No reason to fix what clearly wasn’t broken about their 2015 debut, Absolution (review here), and on the 20 Buck Spin Records release, they don’t. A year later, the four-piece instead build on the doomly grandeur of the first outing and push forward in aesthetic, confidence and purpose, whether that’s shown in mournful opener “Above the Water,” the darker “Candlelight” that follows, or the centerpiece “Three Gates,” which opens as muddied death metal before shifting into a cleaner chorus, creating a rare bridge between doom and modern metal. Khemmis save the most resonant crush for side B, however, with the nine-minute “Beyond the Door” capping with vicious stomp before the 13-minute title-track, which closes the album with an urgency that bleeds even into spacious and melodic break that sets up the final apex to come, as emotionally charged as it is pummeling.
In addition to the outright charm of titles like “Doominati,” “Coup d’étwat,” “Murdercycle” and “Urinal Acid” (the latter a bonus track), Rochester, New York’s Fox 45 offer fuzzy roll on their Twin Earth Records debut full-length, Ashes of Man, the three-piece of Amanda Rampe, Vicky Tee and Casey Learch finding space for themselves between the post-Acid King nod of “Necromancing the Stone” and more swing-prone movements like the relatively brief “Soul Gourmandizer.” Playing back and forth between longer and shorter tracks gives Ashes of Man a depth of character – particularly encouraging since it’s Fox 45’s first record – and the low-end push that leads “Phoenix Tongue” alone is worth the price of admission, let alone the familiar-in-the-right-ways straightforward heavy riffing of “Narcissister” a short while later. Very much a debut, but one that sets up a grunge-style songwriting foundation on which to build as they move forward, and Fox 45 seem to have an eye toward doing precisely that.
Double-guitar Pittsburgh four-piece Monolith Wielder make their self-titled debut through Italian imprint Argonauta Records, bringing together Molasses Barge guitarist Justin Gizzi and Zom guitarist/vocalist Gero von Dehn with bassist Ray Ward (since replaced by Amy Bianco) and drummer Ben Zerbe (also Mandrake Project) for 10 straightforward tracks that draw together classic Sabbathian doom with post-grunge heavy rock roll. There’s a workingman’s sensibility to the riffing of “No Hope No Fear” and the earlier, more ‘90s moodiness of “Angels Hide” – von Dehn’s vocals over the thick tones almost brings to mind Sevendust on that particularly catchy chorus – but Monolith Wielder’s Monolith Wielder isn’t shy about bringing atmospherics to the Iommic thrust of its eponymous cut or the penultimate “King Under Fire,” which recalls the self-titled Alice in Chains in its unfolding bleakness before closer “Electric Hessian” finishes with a slight uptick in pace and a fade out and back in (and a last sample) that hints at more to come.
The stomp and clap intro “The Man Who Would be King” casts an immediately bluesy hue on No Man’s Valley’s debut album, Time Travel (LP release on Nasoni), and the Netherlands-based five-piece seem only too happy to build on that from there. It’s a blend outfits like The Flying Eyes and Suns of Thyme have proffered for several years now between heavy psychedelia and blues, but No Man’s Valley find a niche for themselves in the dreamy and patient execution of “Sinking the Lifeboat,” a highlight of the eight-track/33-minute LP, and bring due personality to the classic-style jangle-and-swing of “The Wolves are Coming” as well, so that Time Travel winds up more textured than redundant as it makes its way toward six-minute piano-laden finale “Goon.” Once there, they follow a linear course with a post-All Them Witches looseness that solidifies into a resonant and deeply engaging apex, underscoring the impressive reach No Man’s Valley have brought to bear across this first LP of hopefully many to come.
Barcelona classic rocking four-piece Saturna seem to avoid the boogie trap when they want to, as on the more rolling, modern heavy groove of “Five Fools,” and that keeps their World in Sound/PRC Music third album, III/Lost in Time, from being too predictable after the opening “Tired to Fight” seems to set up Thin Lizzy idolatry. They dip into more complex fare on “Leave it All,” somewhere between Skynyrd leads, Deep Purple organ-isms topped with a rousing hook, but keep some shuffle on songs like “Disease” and the earlier “All Has Been Great.” Highlight/closer “Place for Our Soul” seems to be literal in its title, with a more subdued approach and harmonized vocal delivery, and listening to its more patient delivery one can’t help but wonder why that soul should be relegated to the end of the album instead of featured throughout, but the songwriting is solid and the delivery confident, so while familiar, there’s ultimately little to complain about with what III/Lost in Time offers.
Especially with the title of their second EP set as Hate from the Bong, one might be tempted to put Belgian outfit MØLK immediately in the same category of malevolent stoner/sludge metal as the likes of Bongripper, but frankly they sound like they’re having too much fun for that on the five-tracker, reveling in lyrical shenanigans on the politically suspect “Stonefish” and opener “Methamphetamine.” Make no mistake, they’re suitably druggy, but even Hate from the Bong’s title-track seems to keep its tongue in cheek as it unfolds its post-Electric Wizard echoes and tonal morass. That gives the five-piece an honest vibe – they’re a relatively new band, having released their first EP in 2016 as well; why shouldn’t they be having a good time? – to coincide with all that thickened low end and vocal reverb, and though they’re obviously growing, there isn’t much more I’d ask of them from a debut full-length, which is a task they sound ready to take on in these songs.
Italian cult rock outfit Psychedelic Witchcraft have proven somewhat difficult to keep up with over the last year-plus. As they’ve hooked up with Soulseller Records and reissued their Black Magic Man EP (review here), their full-length debut, The Vision, and already announced a follow-up compilation in 2017’s Magick Rites and Spells, the band consistently work to feature the vocals of Virginia Monti (also Dead Witches) amid semi-retro ‘70s-style boogie, as heard on the debut in cuts like “Witches Arise” and “Wicked Ways.” At nine tracks/34 minutes, however, The Vision is deceptively efficient, and though they’re unquestionably playing to style, Psychedelic Witchcraft find room to vary moods on “The Night” and the subdued strum of “The Only One Who Knows,” keeping some sonic diversity while staying largely on-theme lyrically. To call the album cohesive is underselling its purposefulness, but the question is how the band will build on the bluesy soulfulness of “Magic Hour Blues” now that they’ve set this progression in motion. Doesn’t seem like it will be all that long before we find out.
Following the heavy post-rock wash of their 2016 debut album, Tidals, Brooklynite two-piece Spotlights – bassist/guitarist/vocalist Sarah Quintero and guitarist/synthesis/vocalist Mario Quintero – return on the quick with a three-track EP, Spiders, and set themselves toward further sonic expansion. The centerpiece “She Spider” is a Mew cover, electronic beats back opener “A Box of Talking Heads V2” and the spacious closer “Joseph” is a track from Tidals remixed by former Isis drummer Aaron Harris. So, perhaps needless to say, they hit that “expansion” mark pretty head-on. The finale turns out to be the high point, more cinematic in its ambience, but still moving through with an underlying rhythm to the wash of what one might otherwise call drones before becoming more deeply post-Nine Inch Nails in its back half. How many of these elements might show up on Spotlights’ next record, I wouldn’t guess, but the band takes an important step by letting listeners know the potential is there, adding three wings onto their wheelhouse in three tracks, which is as efficient conceptually as it is sonically immersive.
This self-titled second full-length from Malmö, Sweden-based Moon Coven begins with its longest track (immediate points) in “Storm” and works quickly to nail down a far-reaching meld between heavy psych and riffy density. Issued through the much-respected Transubstans Records, it’s a nine-track/50-minute push that can feel unipolar on an initial listen, but largely avoids that trap through tonal hypnosis and fluid shifts into and out of jams on cuts like “The Third Eye,” while centerpiece “Haramukh High” provides a solidified moment before the organ interlude “The Ice Temple” leads into the mega-roll of finisher “White Sun.” What seems to be a brooding sensibility from the artwork – a striking departure from their 2014 debut, Amanita Kingdom – is actually a far more colorful affair than it might at first appear, and well justifies the investment of repeat visits in the far-out nod of “Conspiracy” and the swirling “Winter,” which goes so far as to add melodic texture in the vocals and notably fuzzed guitar, doing much to bolster the proceedings and overarching groove.
There is an essential truth in Operator Generator‘s 2001 debut, Polar Fleet, and if you’ll indulge me for a minute or two, I’d like to explore it. The San Jose, California, four-piece of vocalist Mitchell French, guitarist Tom Choi, bassist Joe Tucci and drummer Michael Parkinson released the eight-track outing in 2001 during the latter days of Man’s Ruin Records — it’s catalog number MR-2008, which means it came after the label’s ill-fated 1999 distribution alignment with Artemis Records, so that makes sense — and even beyond the basic fact of its quality riffing, or of its groove, to me it represents a clear marker in the march of generations of heavy rock. I’ve talked about this a lot, in Friday Full-Length posts, in reviews, and so on, but while it’s by no means the only example — Man’s Ruin alone remains a treasure trove of now-obscure pre-social-media heavy, from Suplecs, Bottom, Begotten and Drunk Horse to the rawer Mass and Greenmachine, let alone anything anyone else put out on a label or independently — Operator Generator remains a perfect example of a record that, now, it’s almost too easy to view as being ahead of its time.
Granted, they had a direct line to Sleep via Choi, who previously played guitar in Asbestosdeath as part of a lineup that also included Matt Pike, Al Cisneros and Chris Hakius, but to listen to the post-Sleep’s Holy Mountain chug of “Infinite Loop” and any number of acts who send me the Bandcamp links to their “debut EP” — a demo by any other name — on a weekly basis, you would in many ways think the last 15 years never happened. I’m not saying these bands aren’t allowed to take influence from the past. Far from it. One could and probably should quite easily argue that representing aesthetic traditionalism is half the point of working within any genre — the other half, hopefully, being originality — but as listeners, I feel like we have a responsibility to dedicate ourselves to understanding where those traditions come from, and so that’s why I tend to go on at such lengths about the days before Facebook and Instagram brought a new wave of bands particularly from the US, Europe and Australia. That might sound like I’m advocating a dry, academic approach to listening to music, and I’m not — at least not to the extent that cold analysis would trump actual enjoyment — but part of moving a style forward, or moving anything forward, is exploring the history that birthed it. Enjoying the output of new bands is one of the greatest joys the planet has to offer, and it’s one I feel can only be enriched by a fuller framework.
What’s the fucking point? The fucking point is riffs weren’t invented in 2006. Or 2001. Or 1995. Or 1969. Or 1955. Or 1928. The impulse to create something of meaning and presence goes back to cave drawings and probably long before that. Listening to Polar Fleet, whether it’s the forward push the title-track or the on-theme vibes of the later “Arctic Quest,” I’m reminded of just how crucial it is that as creative people — and both hearing and making records can be creative acts, make no mistake — attempts are made to engage with history. Not at the sacrifice of the present, but toward its future. Operator Generator had two releases out in their time in this long-player and a prior self-titled EP on 12th Records, and if either showed up in my inbox today, I might note the dated sound of the drums on “Museum’s Flight,” but I’d be just as likely to offer high praise to the psychedelic expansion of closer “Soil of Lavamore,” and if I didn’t know the album’s origin, I’m sure I could be convinced it was brand new. I invite you to put it next to any number of current releases and see if you don’t get where I’m coming from. The more time passes, the more records like this one become important, and the more important it becomes to realize the effect they’ve had on the development of heavy music worldwide. Context matters.
Polar Fleet has an impending reissue by Twin Earth Records — which, if you want the context, is headed by Ric Bennett, of high-grade Sabbath worshipers Starchild and Stars that Move. More on that as I hear it.
As always, I hope you enjoy.
I appreciate your indulging the preach, but as we come down to the wire on 2016 and lists start to come out and stuff like that, I can’t help but feel like there are an awful lot of not-that-new ideas being celebrated as revolutionary. That’s the nature of things, I suppose, and end-of-year critical hyperbole is a fact of life — I’ve certainly been guilty of it as well — but I don’t know. Maybe I’m just getting old. I remember being 22 and starting to seriously dig into heavy rock — hardly ground floor; this is circa 2002-2003 — and it all sounded so fresh, when even bands like Operator Generator were feeding off what came before them. Dudes who saw Kyuss in 1992, or for that matter Mountain in 1971, were probably shaking their heads and wondering what the big deal was. Like I said, nature of things.
This weekend is the Xmas holiday. If it’s one you celebrate for either religious or secular reasons, I hope it’s a good one for you. Family, gift-giving, food, the whole bit. The Patient Mrs. and I will head south, first to her family in Connecticut and then to mine in New Jersey — not that her family isn’t my family and my family isn’t hers, I’m just categorizing by blood relation; love abounds from all sides and I feel remarkably fortunate for that — but should return to Massachusetts on Monday following the revelry. Not certain on the exact timing yet, but it’s hardly our first time at this rodeo, so we’ll figure it out, and as I’ve discovered time and again, I can run a decent enough hotspot from my phone on the I-95 corridor to get posts up from my laptop while on the road.
That’s good, because Monday starts the Quarterly Review, which will take us into the New Year as it’s six days this time instead of the traditional five. I’m thinking of it as kind of a wrap-up for 2016, so there’s a lot to cover. It could’ve been two full weeks, but I’d lose my mind. I’ll be plenty busy as it is. Here’s a tentative look at the week-plus:
Mon.: Quarterly Review day one; comment from Geezer on touring Europe.
Tue.: Quarterly Review day two; track premiere from Michael Wohl.
Wed.: Quarterly Review day three.
Thu.: Quarterly Review day four.
Fri.: Quarterly Review day five.
Sun.: Year-End Poll results out.
Mon.: Quarterly Review day six.
Yup, look for those results on New Year’s Day, and the last batch of Quarterly Review writeups — 10 records per day, as usual — that Monday. Starting on the first, I’ve also got a new sponsorship deal for the site being tried out that I’m excited for, and of course there’s plenty of news and videos and other stuff peppered throughout the week that still needs to be sorted. It will be busy and require much coffee, and that’s apparently how I like it.
But as I sign off even momentarily — because really I’m just about to get back to work on the aforementioned Quarterly Review; not actually going anywhere — let me please wish you once again a happy holiday. Be safe, have a great time, and listen to awesome music. If you missed it, there’s a four-hour podcast that went up yesterday that might help in that endeavor. Just saying.
All the best and back Monday. Thanks for reading, and please check out the forum and radio stream.
[TO ENTER GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment on this post with your email address in the form. You’ll be contacted at that address if you win.]
Free signed record. Boom. Post over. Who said I wasn’t a salesman?
Oh wait. I say that. All the time. And while that’s true, I honestly don’t think it should take much convincing to get you on board with entering this giveaway for an LP copy of Fox 45‘s Ashes of Man hand-signed by the Rochester four-piece. Their debut album following a 2014 EP, it was released earlier this year via Twin Earth Records.
You can stream the record in full via the label’s Bandcamp below, and for giveaways I like to keep the posts pretty short — in hope that people will, you know, actually read them — but I’ll say that while it took me a little time to catch onto Ashes of Man, the band do make a striking debut. Raw in the spirit of grunge but unafraid to indulge a bit of boogie on a song like “Coup d’Etwat” — only one of several clever wordplay titles — or some doom on “Snake Oil,” it preaches righteously in a manner that the converted should have no problem hearing.
Particularly when it’s coming in the form of FREE FRICKIN’ SIGNED VINYL, so get on that.
Fox 45 will join Eternal Black, Clouds Taste Satanic and Goat Wizard at the second Ode to Doom show presented by Freebird Productions and The Obelisk at Arlene’s Grocery in Manhattan on Nov. 16, 2016.
You can find more info about the gig at the link below, which will open in a new tab. That’s convenient because you can still enter this giveaway; something I cannot encourage you enough to do.
Thanks to all who participate, to the band, to Ode to Doom and to Twin Earth Records. Winner will be picked at random one week from today and contacted at the email provided, which of course will never be shared. One more time, the prize is a signed copy of Fox 45‘s Ashes of Man on vinyl.
[TO ENTER GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment on this post with your email address in the form. You’ll be contacted at that address if you win.]
Posted in Reviews on October 4th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
Day Two starts now. I don’t know if you’re ready for it. I don’t know if I’m ready for it. Ah hell, who am I kidding? I love this stuff. No place I’d rather be right now than pounding out these reviews, batch by batch, all week. This one gets heavy, it goes far out, it rocks hard and relentless and it gets atmospheric. And more. But don’t let me try to sell you on reading it. Even if you skim through and click on players, I hope you find something you dig. If not today, then yesterday, or tomorrow or the next day. Or hell, maybe the day after. It’s 50 records. There’s bound to be one in there. Here we go.
Quarterly Review #11-20:
Monolord, Lord of Suffering / Die in Haze
A relatively quick two-songer issued via RidingEasy to mark the occasion of the Swedish trio’s first US headlining tour this summer, Lord of Suffering / Die in Haze offers a more stripped-down feel than did Monolord’s second full-length, Vænir (review here), which came out last year. The roll elicited by guitarist/vocalist Thomas V. Jäger, drummer Esben Willems and bassist Mika Häkki, however, remains unspeakably thick and the band’s intent toward largesse and nod continues to ring true. They’re in and out in 11 minutes, but the ethereal, watery vocal style of Jäger and the more earthbound pummel of the three-piece as a whole on “Lord of Suffering” and the grueling spaciousness of “Die in Haze” – not to mention the bass tone – show that Monolord are only continuing to come into their own sound-wise, and that as they do, their approach grows more and more dominant. They make it hard not to be greedy and ask for a new album.
Seattle two-piece Teacher served notice early this year of their then-forthcoming self-titled, self-recorded debut LP, and it was easy to tell the Tony Reed-mastered full-length would be one to watch out for as it followed-up their prior EP1812, released in 2015. Arriving via Devil’s Child Records, the 10-track Teacher does indeed dole out a few crucial lessons from drummer/guitarist/vocalist Jonathan Ethan Mercer and guitarist/vocalist Solomon Arye Rosenschein. Whether it’s “Heavy Metal Parking Lot 1979” or the swinging “Peripatetic Blues” or the gone-backwards psych interlude “Wildcard Jambalaya” that immediately follows, the record basks in an organic diversity of approach drawn together by the clear chemistry already present between Mercer and Rosenschein. A harder edge of tone keeps a modern feel prevalent, but even the forward punker charge of “Mean as Hell” has classic roots, and as they finish with “Home for the Summer” as the last of three out of the four EP tracks included in a row to round out the LP, they seem to have entered the conversation of 2016’s most cohesive debuts in heavy rock. Their arrival is welcome.
There’s an element of danger to Rosy Finch’s debut long-player, Witchboro (on Lay Bare Recordings). Actually two. One: it sounds like it could come apart at any given moment – it never does. Two: any given one among its nine component tracks could wind up just about anywhere. Though the Spanish trio of bassist/vocalist ElenaGarcía, guitarist/vocalist Mireia Porto and drummer Lluís Mas keep individual songs relatively raw sounding – or at very least not overproduced as something so progressive could just as easily have wound up – but even the soothing “Ligeia” holds to a driving sense of foreboding. Punk in its undercurrent with more than a touch of grunge, Witchboro is as much at home in the atmospheric crush of “Polvo Zombi” as the quick-turning finale thrust of “Daphne vs. Apollo,” and its overarching impression is striking in just how readily it manipulates the elements that comprise it. Ambitious, but more defined by succeeding in its ambitions than by the ambitions themselves.
Holy Mountain Top Removers, The Ones Disappearing You
Psychedelic surf? Wah-soaked, bass rumbling foreboding? Euro-inflected lounge? All of the above and much more get a big check mark from Nashville instrumentalists Holy Mountain Top Removers, whose The Ones Disappearing You LP covers an enviable amount of stylistic ground and still leaves room near the end for bassist/keyboardist Mikey Allred to lead a blues dirge on trombone. He’s joined by drummer/percussionist Edmond Villa and guitarist Anthony Ford, as well as guest trumpeter Court Reese and violinist Allan Van Cleave, and as they careen through this vast terrain, Holy Mountain Top Removers only seem to revel in the oddness of their own creation. To wit, the early jangle of “Monsieur Espionnage” is delivered with gleeful starts and stops, and the later “Serenade for Sexual Absence” given a mournful snare march and what sounds like tarantella to go with Van Cleave’s violin lead. Playful in the extreme, The Ones Disappearing You nonetheless offers rich arrangements and a drive toward individuality that stands among its core appeals, but by no means stands there alone.
Chris Forsyth and the Solar Motel Band, The Rarity of Experience I
Philadelphia four-piece Chris Forsyth and the Solar Motel Band must have worked quickly to turn around so soon a follow-up to last year’s debut album, Intensity Ghost (review here), but their second offering, The Rarity of Experience lacks nothing for growth. A two-disc, 72-minute 10-tracker also released through No Quarter, The Rarity of Experience hops genres the way rocks skip on water, from the exploratory psychedelic vibing of “Anthem II” to the Talking Heads-style jangle of “The Rarity of Experience II” and into horn-infused free-jazz fusion on “The First 10 Minutes of Cocksucker Blues” – which, by the way, is 12 minutes long. A big change is the inclusion of vocals, but the penultimate “Old Phase” still holds to some of the pastoral atmospherics Forsyth and company brought together on the first record, but principally, what The Rarity of Experience most clearly shows is that one doesn’t necessarily know what’s coming from Chris Forsyth and the Solar Motel Band, and as much as they offer across this massive stretch, I wouldn’t be surprised if they continue to expand their sound.
Initially released by the band in January, the self-titled debut from Munich heavy rockers Swan Valley Heights sees wider issue through Oak Island Records in an edition of 200 LPs. After rolling out the largesse of welcome-riff in opener “Slow Planet,” the three-piece dig into longform groove on “Alaska” (9:09), “Mammoth” (11:02) and “Let Your Hair Down” (9:35), finding a balance between hypnotic flow and deeply weighted tones. Riffs lead the way throughout, and while there aren’t a ton of surprises, once they make their way through “Caligula Overdrive,” the shimmer at the start of “Mountain” and some of the more patient unfolding of closer “River” called Sungrazer to mind and I couldn’t help but wonder if Swan Valley Heights would make their way toward more lush fare over time. Whether they do or not, their debut engages in its warmth and cohesion of purpose, and offers plenty of depth for those looking to dive in headfirst.
I can’t help but feel like Portland, Oregon’s Cambrian Explosion are selling themselves a little short by calling The Moon an EP. At five songs and 35 minutes, the follow-up to their 2013 The Sun outing boasts a richly progressive front-to-back flow, deep sense of psychedelic melodicism and enough crunch to wholly satisfy each of the payoffs its hypnotic wanderings demand. Sure sounds like a full-length album to my ears, but either way, I’ll take it. The four-piece set an open context in the intro noise wash of “Selene,” and while “Looming Eye” and “Mugen = Mugen” push further into ritual heavy psych, it’s in the longer “Innocuous Creatures” (9:24) and closer “Crust of Theia” (8:23) – the two perfectly suited to appear together on the B-side from whatever label is lucky enough to snap them up for a release – that The Moon makes its immersion complete and resonant, blowing out in glorious noise on the former and basking in off-world sentiment as they round out. Gorgeous and forward-thinking in kind. Would be an excellent debut album.
Not sure if there’s any way to avoid drawing a comparison between Italian five-piece Haunted’s self-titled debut (on Twin Earth Records) and Virginian doomers Windhand, but I’m also not sure that matters anymore. With the two guitars of Francesco Bauso and Francesco Orlando meting out post-Electric Wizard churn and Cristina Chimirri’s vocals oozing out bluesy incantations on top as Frank Tudisco’s low end and Valerio Cimino’s drums push the lumber forward, it’s all doom one way or another. “Watchtower” has a meaner chug than opener “Nightbreed,” and the centerpiece “Silvercomb” delves into feedback-laden horror atmospherics, but it’s in the closing duo of “Slowthorn” and “Haunted” that Haunted most assuredly affirm their rolling intention. They’ll have some work to do in distinguishing themselves, but there’s flourish in the wash of guitar late and some vocal layering from Chimirri that speaks to nuance emerging in their sound that will only serve them well as they move forward from this immersive first offering.
Taking their name from a track off Monster Magnet’s 2010 outing, Mastermind, Brazilian heavy rockers Gods and Punks mark their debut release with The Sounds of the Earth, a self-released five-track EP awash in classic influences and bolstered through a double-guitar dynamic, maybe-too-forward-in-the-mix vocals and a rock solid rhythm section. These are familiar ingredients, granted, but the Rio de Janeiro five-piece present them well particularly in the mid-paced “The Tusk” and the catchy, more extended closer “Gravity,” and are able to put a modern spin on ‘70s vibing without becoming singularly indebted to any particular band or era, be it ‘70s, ‘90s or the bizarre combination of the two that defines the ‘10s. Gods and Punks are setting themselves up to progress here, and how that progression might play out – more space rock to go with the theme of their excellent artwork, maybe? – will be worth keeping an eye on given what they already show in their songwriting.
Mostly instrumental, deeply atmospheric and clearly intended to divide into the two sides of a vinyl for which it seems more than primed, A Cure for Time is the second album from Copenhagen post-metallers Gaia. Each half of the four-track/39-minute outing pairs a shorter piece with a longer one, and the flow the trio set up particularly on the closing title cut calls to mind some of YOB’s cosmic impulses but with a spaciousness, roll and context that becomes their own. Shades of Jesu in the vocals and the balance of rumble and echo on the earlier “Nowhere” make A Cure for Time all the more ambient, but when they want to, Gaia produce a marked density that borders on the claustrophobic, and the manner in which they execute the album front to back emphasizes this spectrum with a progressive but still organic flourish. I wouldn’t call A Cure for Time directly psychedelic, but it’s still easy to get lost within its reaches.sh
Georgia-based trio Stars that Move released their self-titled debut (review here) in the second half of last year, so that they’d turn around and bring forth a follow-up in less than 12 months’ time in the form of No Riders (on Twin Earth Records) comes across as something of a surprise initially. In truth, the quick turnaround is in line with the band’s ’70s ethic — Black Sabbath released their self-titled debut in Feb. 1970 and answered back with Paranoid in September of that same year. Whether that’s the thinking behind Stars that Move‘s desire to press forward beyond their first album, some of the material from which was also featured on a prior Demo Songs EP (review here), I don’t know, but the three-piece of guitarist/bassist Richard Bennett, drummer Frank Sikes and vocalist Elisa Maria definitely draw from that well stylistically, so it would make a kind of sense to follow suit in their methods.
Could be the debut was recorded earlier or Bennett and Sikes — both of whom play/ed in Starchild as well — had the material and decided to track it, but No Riders, which clocks in at an utterly manageable 29 minutes, does show progression from where Stars that Move started out just months ago. That’s something of an impressive feat — consider that some bands take years between records and don’t grow at all — but in addition to Maria sounding more comfortable on vocals, the band seems to have set about smoothing edges in their songwriting in a way that sets up even more of a flow across the included eight tracks than was featured last time out.
An encouraging sign, no doubt, but No Riders is still just months removed from Stars that Move, so one wouldn’t necessarily expect the second record to be leaps and bounds ahead of the first. Opener “The Devil’s Fountain” finds the band reestablishing the post-Uncle Acid riffing that worked so well on “The Blue Prince” from the self-titled and backing it with some proggy noodling on the guitar, buried deep in the verses. The sound on No Riders overall is clearer and fuller, less demo-feeling, and as “The Devil’s Fountain” gives way to the more shuffling “Witchtower,” Stars that Move seem to be right in their element, somewhere between modern cult heavy rock, classic proto-doom and fuzzy psychedelia.
With echo on Maria‘s voice, “Castles” takes a subtler approach rhythmically, is a little more subdued in its beginning, but finds Bennett nailing down a bluesy solo that’s a multi-layered joy of Iommic tendencies, feeding back to the verse before a long fadeout brings the shorter “Lost Beyond the Stars,” the end of side A and something of a stylistic landmark, with a faster push and backing vocals behind Maria that further distinguish it from its surroundings. Again, at 2:26, it’s in and out quickly, but “Lost Beyond the Stars” is a definite example of the progress Stars that Move are making as a band. Whether it’s indicative of an overall direction they might head, faster songs with more of a straightforward thrust, departing the swing of “Witchtower” or “Oh Sharon” still to come, I wouldn’t speculate, but it already shows variety growing in their songcraft, and for that is a highlight.
Expansion of process is what I’m talking about on a general level, and that will continue in the second half of No Riders as well, less in cuts like closer “People of the Sea,” which seems in direct conversation with “The Devil’s Fountain” in its purpose and execution, and more in the cover of ZZ Top‘s “TV Dinners,” which has an ultra-simple, no-way-it’s-taking-itself-too-seriously lyric — it’s actually about tv dinners — and shows that while they might start out with the creeper-doom of “Burning Village,” Stars that Move are nnot limited to cultish imagery by any means. They remain exceedingly catchy either way, but where “Burning Village” exudes grim classicism and “Oh Sharon” follows with a more upbeat garage inflection, “TV Dinners” would be punk if its central riff wasn’t straight out of an early ’80s arena rock playbook.
The self-titled had a cover of Sabbath‘s “A National Acrobat,” so “TV Dinners” feels like a reasonable answer for that and is a mega-hook departure before “People of the Sea” caps off with layered guitar boogie and a return to the ethereal heavy swing that the beginning of the album set forth. Though consistent in its sound, No Riders actually benefits from its variation in mood and rhythm. I wouldn’t call it anything but guitar-led on the whole, but Bennett steers the songwriting with a mind toward classic LP structuring, and that suits the material well. Whenever they get around to a third one, maybe sooner, maybe later, it’ll be worth keeping an eye out for, but in the meantime, Stars that Move have established themselves in a niche of post-Sabbathian heavy rock that’s both loyal to its sources and moving toward an identity of its own.