Posted in Reviews on April 18th, 2017 by JJ Koczan
As part of the long-established New Jersey Shore region’s heavy rock underground centered around acts like Solace, The Atomic Bitchwax, Halfway to Gone and a slew of others in the post-Monster Magnet sphere playing gigs at the Brighton Bar in Long Branch when Jacko Monahan was handling the booking, the three-piece Six Sigma made their debut in 2000 with the full-length The Spirit is Gone. Founded by guitarist/vocalist Doug Timms (ex-Drag Pack), bassist Scott Margolin and drummer Mappy, they gigged regionally and never in my experience failed to deliver a good time. The story goes that in 2001, the three-piece entered Trax East in South River, NJ, to record a follow-up and that album, Tuxedo Brown — or, the full title, Six Sigma Presents… Tuxedo Brown — was never released until now.
What might cause a release to be delayed 16 years? I don’t know. Anything, I guess. Life? Jobs? Just want to tweak that last vocal track one more time? Again, could be anything. Point is, the seven-track Tuxedo Brown arrives in 2017 as a limited run of CDs and 180g vinyl (out in May) after more than a decade and a half on the shelf, and one can only imagine the deep sense of relief Six Sigma feel in finally getting it out to the public. At seven songs/28 minutes, it straddles the line between EP and LP, but given the context I’m inclined to call it a full-length — and if one wants to consider The Spirit is Gone a demo, it could even be the band’s debut. Math can be fun sometimes.
Rest assured, the production bears some of the marks of its era in the sound of the drums on “Here’s Yer Stoner Anthem” (not a complaint), but the grooves come easy, the vibe is unpretentious, and Tuxedo Brown plays out like a time capsule unearthed from the Man’s Ruin era just waiting to find a new generation of appreciators. With cuts like “Curb Feeler” and opener “Tuxedo Brown” proffering thick boogie and the later “She Burn in Blues” nestling into eight minutes of languid flow — remember: the record’s only 28 minutes long, so that’s a substantial portion of it — they just might get there. The prevailing vibe is ultimately like earlier Fu Manchu with an undercurrent of East Coast intensity, which one can hear on the aforementioned title-track and its complementary bookend, closer “Mean Streak.”
The two have in common that they’re under three minutes long, and the same goes for the garage-punkish “Scalawag” at 0:51 before the airy Zeppelin-fied Echoplex-ery of “She Burn in Blues” takes hold as the penultimate cut, but the fuzz of “Tuxedo Brown” is a cowbell-laced delight and “Mean Streak” reaffirms a deep love of wah that Timms shows in the layered leads of “Curb Feeler” earlier. That track, “Curb Feeler,” is one of three that follow “Tuxedo Brown” and at four minutes each give a feeling of being the meat of the album.
That might be true in the sense of “Here’s Yer Stoner Anthem,” “Curb Feeler” and the centerpiece “Black Sand Valley Cover-Up” being where Timms, Margolin and Mappy settle into the funk-fuzz that in some ways comes across as the foundation from which the moves into punkier or more psychedelic territory veer to one side or the other — they’re the center, in other words — but the truth is more complex, and elements of one side feed into the other as the inclusion of organ on “Curb Feeler” nods toward the trip-out to come or the shuffle of “Black Sand Valley Cover-Up” jabs its way into “Scalawag” with more wah-pedal stomp and what’s by now a classic lead-with-the-riff mentality.
Given the organic representation of the era in which it was written and tracked, Six Sigma‘s Tuxedo Brown highlights where heavy rock has been and indeed the essential core of the style that, 16 years after the fact, remains relevant. It could be argued that the cyclical nature of stylization means that the trio just happen to be striking at the right moment for their sound to come across as well as it does, but listening to “Here’s Yer Stoner Anthem,” “Curb Feeler” and “Black Sand Valley Cover-Up” as they give way to “Scalawag” and “She Burn in Blues,” I think it goes further than that. The lineage Six Sigma establish to a modernization of ’70s rock — most typically heard in the band’s absence by what became the “Small Stone sound” post-Man’s Ruin — speaks to what might’ve been had these guys gone on to become labelmates with the likes of Dixie Witch, Halfway to Gone and, a few years later, Sasquatch.
Is it possible to be so right on time and late to the party? I don’t know, but that would seem to be the paradox of Tuxedo Brown, which winds up as both as it plays out its energetic course. I’m not sure how much Six Sigma circa 2017 did in terms of finalizing these songs for release — in addition to Trax East, recording is listed at Word of Mouth Studios in West Long Branch, NJ, and along with Eric Rachel (who also mastered), Chuck Schafer is credited with mixing — but they don’t by any means sound like they’ve been sitting untouched on a hard drive for the last half-decade-plus. That’s a credit to Six Sigma‘s songwriting as well as to whatever work they may have done in preparing Tuxedo Brown for its awaited issue, and while one is tempted as “Mean Streak” brings the record to its raucous finish to think of what the band might have in store as a follow-up, it’s essential to keep in mind the context of this release. 16 years’ context. How likely does that make a “next album” from Six Sigma, and what might something like that actually sound like as they move forward from these songs? One could only speculate.
They wouldn’t be the first to get going again after so prolonged an absence — Snail have done more since returning in 2009 than they did in their initial run during the early ’90s — and the exorcist purge of issuing Tuxedo Brown might prove a crucial first step for Six Sigma on their own march toward a resurgence, but that’s up in the air at this point. What matters right now is that after being such a long time coming, Timms, Margolin and Mappy have realized this album and clearly demonstrated that they did and still do have much to offer listeners who’d take them on. For relative newcomers to heavy rock, Tuxedo Brown offers a fresh taste of how things were done in the post-Kyuss early-aughts heavy rock movement, and for longer-term heads, it should and does just feel like coming home.
One doesn’t necessarily associate Southern California with snow-capped anything, but I guess if you look hard enough on enough mountaintops, anything’s possible. Sludge extremists Sixes have posted a new song that, at 10 minutes, seems likely to consume a substantial portion of their impending debut long-player, and as they proffer the ethic of ‘Worship amps, not gods,’ the track “A Cross to Burn” (uh, really? burning crosses? did we think this one through? am I crazy?) boasts enough feedback, noise and grit to embody the tagline. If you’ve got 10 minutes and want to have the foulness of your mood reinforced, the four-piece work in defiance of their regional climate to kick the shit out of your ears for a while. Sure enough, it’ll make your sunny day dark.
They’ll be in Los Angeles supporting Conan and North on May 10, as the PR wire — which also brought the aforementioned new track — dutifully informs:
Sixes – Worship Amps, Not Gods.
Blackened, Doom, Sludge outfit Sixes have just released their new single ‘A Cross To Burn’.
After trudging their way through Anaheim’s backyard scene, this long awaited release has proven that Sixes will be a force to be reckoned with in 2017. Recorded deep in the snow covered mountains of Southern California at 13 O’ Clock Studios, during one of the coldest winters California has seen in a long time, A Cross To Burn captures the essence of what blackened doom is, and will be to come.
This quartet was formed in 2016 and quickly got to work laying down their unique brand of doom, using unconventional amplifier and cabinet combinations to create unique tones that make this band stand at the forefront of what California doom is all about. Expect to see a lot more from Sixes in 2017, as this is only the beginning. Full length due for release late 2017.
Sixes are: Hannes Bogacs (guitar) Eddie Estrada (drums) Stephen Cummings (vocals, guitar) Zander Reddis (bass)
See Sixes live opening for Conan on May 10th at The Complex in Los Angeles.
So is this it? Is this the last we’ll hear from New Zealand crushers Beastwars? Is this their goodbye? As they and their group-therapy audience seem to get raptured at the end of this clip for “Some Sell Their Souls” — I’d have said “spoiler alert,” but we all know the joy is in the journey, not the destination — should we also consider that the actual process of the four-piece being absorbed into oblivion?
If so, they die as they lived — viciously underrated.
Beastwars released their final album, The Death of all Things (review here), last year. At the time, they called it the third in a trilogy behind 2013’s Blood Becomes Fire (review here) and their 2011 self-titled debut (review here), but the bottom line was the band was basically announcing they were done, one way or the other. Their tenure ended with their never having gotten their due internationally for the quality of their output across those three records, and though they drew well in their native New Zealand and Australia, to my knowledge they never made it to Europe for a tour, let alone North America, much to the loss of both continents.
I’ve learned the hard way — also the easy way — over time that you never say never in rock and roll. That is, because Beastwars are done today doesn’t necessarily mean that will be the case in a year, three years, five. It might be wishful thinking on my part, but though we see in the clip for “Some Sell Their Souls” the lineup of vocalist Matt Hyde, guitarist Clayton Anderson, bassist James Woods and drummer Nathan Hickey be taken from this earthly plane as the PR wire seems to confirm that, indeed, that’s a wrap for them, it just seems like this band had something special to them, and they knew it. That can’t be easy to walk away from, say it’s permanent, and have it stick.
But I’ve also learned the hard way to never assume one way or the other. What we have to go on right now, in April 2017, is that after three stellar, grueling, grinding, and at times genuinely uncomfortable albums, Beastwars have called it a day. Whether or not that lasts, it should go without saying they’ll be missed, and should they ever decide to embark on a fourth installment of their “trilogy,” its arrival will be welcome.
To mark their passing, Beastwars have made their three full-lengths available as a name-your-price download via their Bandcamp page from now until April 20. If there’s one of those records you don’t have, you might want to get on that.
Enjoy “Some Sell Their Souls” below:
Beastwars, “Some Sell Their Souls” official video
Having returned in 2016 with one of the year’s most revelatory releases in The Death Of All Things, Beastwars are back one final time with a new video directed by Alistair MacDonald for ‘Some Sell Their Souls’.
The song, sung from the perspective of a troubled singer at a small suburban church who is trapped by his demons and plagued by memories proved to be one of the most talked about songs on last year’s album. Attributed in no small part to singer Matt Hyde’s weathered and worn viewpoint on morality and redemption.
“Like ‘Witches’, the first video off our last album, it was inspired by experiences of the band,” explains drummer Nathan Hickey. “In the case of ‘Witches’ it was in response to a record label exec shrieking, ‘They’re so old!’ when he saw a video of us. So we decided to replace ourselves with a coven of female musicians. The video for ‘Some Sell Their Souls’ was inspired by a set of studio videos we did called The Sundae Sessions, where the audience was sitting around us on chairs. Some of the YouTube comments are hilarious with complaints about how sedate the crowd look, why isn’t there a mosh pit etc. With this video we took the audience response to a Beastwars experience to its extreme.”
The album, produced by the band and James Goldsmith in their hometown of Wellington, New Zealand, mixed by Andrew Schneider (Unsane, Big Business) and mastered by Brad Boatright (Sleep, Windhand) brought with it the closing chapter in the band’s post-apocalyptic trilogy of albums.
As a thank you for the continued support Beastwars received in 2016, their unremitting triptych of sludge – their 2011 debut Beastwars, 2013’s Blood Becomes Fire and last year’s The Death Of All Things – are being offered on Bandcamp as ‘Name Your Price’ up until 20th April 2017 –www.beastwars.bandcamp.com.
Beastwars: Clayton Anderson – Guitar Nathan Hickey – Drums Matt Hyde – Vocals James Woods – Bass
Calgary three-piece Woodhawk have set an April 7 release for their new album, Beyond the Sun. It’s their first full-length following a 2014 self-titled EP, and it’s hard to imagine that, given the cohesive songwriting, resonant fullness of tone and crisp harmonies that make up its foundation, I won’t be posting a news item in the near-ish future about this or that label picking it up for a vinyl and/or CD issue. They’re taking care of a first run on their own, of course, and have preorders available through Bandcamp, but it seems to me that once people get a grasp on the hooks of songs like “The High Priest,” “Living in the Sand,” the Star Wars paean “A New Hope” and “Quest for Clarity” that the interest won’t be there. Hell, they recently shared the stage with Truckfighters, and listening to album centerpiece “Lawless,” it seems to me they’d make excellent Fuzzorama Records labelmates for Valley of the Sun. Not trying to tell anyone — band or imprint — how to live their lives, I’m just trying to note in my cumbersome way that while Beyond the Sun is the debut long-player from the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Turner Midzain, bassist/vocalist Mike Madmington and drummer Kevin Nelson, it has a professionalism at its core that’s hard to miss as you make your way through its platter-ready 38 minutes.
You can hear it in the call and response of “Living in the Sand” to be sure, but it’s there from the start of “Beyond the Sun” itself, which opens the record that shares its name. One is reminded at first of post-Queens of the Stone Age London rockers Crystal Head, but that kind of moodiness is only one aspect of Woodhawk‘s delivery, and the band ultimately feels much more at home dug into the active drive that emerges later in that track and continues with “The High Priest.” Later, “Magnetic North” brings an organ-laced (keys added by Jesse Gander) semi-lumber to the proceedings before “Lawless” answers in chugging verse fashion, and the bass opening of “Quest for Clarity” plays up the harmonies en route to the closing third of the nine-track outing. That final segment starts with the aforementioned “A New Hope” — kind of had me wondering if they were talking about Star Wars or Star–Wars-as-existential-metaphor, but yeah, it seems to just be a song about Star Wars; okay then — and continues into the drifting interlude “Foresee the Future” and the not-at-all-an-Electric–Wizard-cover “Chrononaut,” which seems to expand the arrangements in all directions, instrumentally and vocally, as if to underscore the quickness and efficiency with which the journey from the title-track has been made, looking back on the formidable amount of ground covered with due purpose and clearheadedness. If they’ve been on any kind of “Quest for Clarity” at all, they’ve found it.
Woodhawk will celebrate the arrival of Beyond the Sun with two release shows next weekend and then head out on a 10-date Canadian tour in May. The dates came down in an announcement from the PR wire, and you’ll find them under the premiere of “Quest for Clarity” below, which I’m happy to host, along with some welcome perspective from Midzain on the song’s making and how it relates to the rest of the tracks around it.
Woodhawk, “Quest for Clarity” from Beyond the Sun (2017)
Turner Midzain on “Quest for Clarity”:
“‘Quest for Clarity’ was one of the last songs we wrote for the record. It’s about taking a step back and really looking around at what’s going on. Sometimes you need to step back in order to move forward. We felt this song really tied the two sides of the album together. It’s a bit of a different side of us with more harmonies and contrast than some of our previous straight-ahead riffers.”
Slathered in rock and roll riffs and dealing with a case of wanderlust, Calgary’s rock revival heroes WOODHAWK set out to unleash their debut full-length ‘Beyond The Sun’ paired with dates across Western Canada.
Their album ‘Beyond The Sun’ is produced by the band with Jesse Gander (Bison, Japandroids) and is slated for release April 7, 2017. Pre-order of Vinyl, CD or Digital with an instant download of the first single ‘The High Priest’ available via their bandcamp at https://woodhawk.bandcamp.com.
After opening for Truckfighters, Yawning Man and We Hunt Buffalo in Calgary, WOODHAWK will be hitting the road for tour of Western Canada to quell their hunger for playing shows.
Show Dates: April 7 – Edmonton, AB – Sewing Machine Factory (CD Release Show) April 8 – Calgary, AB – The Palomino (CD Release show)
Vagabonds of The Western Gig Tour: May 4 – Vancouver, BC – The Cobalt May 5 – Nanaimo, BC – The Queens May 6 – Victoria, BC – Logan’s Pub May 7 – Kelowna, BC – Doc Willoughby’s May 8 – Edmonton, AB – Rendezvous Pub May 9 – Saskatoon, SK – Vangelis Tavern May 10 – Winnipeg, MB – The Handsome Daughter May 11 – Regina, SK – The German Club May 12 – Calgary, AB – Palomino May 13 – Fernie, BC – Northern Bar
Woodhawk is: Turner Midzain – Vocals/Guitar Mike Badmington – Bass/Vocals Kevin Nelson – Drums
Posted in Reviews on March 31st, 2017 by JJ Koczan
Arrival. Welcome to the final day of The Obelisk’s Spring 2017 Quarterly Review. After today, I clean off my desktop and start over with a mind toward the next round, which in my head I’ve already scheduled for late June. You know, at the end of the next quarter. I do try to make these things make sense on some level. Anyway, before we get to the last 10 albums, let me please reiterate my thanks to you for reading and say once again that I hope you’ve found something this week that really speaks to you, as I know I have and continue to today. We finish the Quarterly Review out strong to be sure, so even if you’re thinking you’re done and you’ve had enough, you might be surprised by the time you’re through the below.
Quarterly Review #41-50:
Grails, Chalice Hymnal
Even if one counts the 2013 collection culled from Grails’ Black Tar Prophecies ongoing series of short releases that showed up via Temporary Residence, it’s been a long while since their last proper outing. Deep Politics (review here) was issued in 2011, but it seems the intervening time and members’ participation in other projects – among them Om and Holy Sons in the case of Emil Amos – disappear for Grails on Chalice Hymnal, which speaks directly to its predecessor in sequel pieces like “Deeper Politics,” “Deep Snow II” and “Thorns II,” taking the prog-via-Tangerine–Dream cinematics of Deep Politics to vibrant and continually experimental places on the surprisingly vocalized “Empty Chamber,” the soundscaping “Rebecca” and the imaginative, evocative jazz homage “After the Funeral,” the album’s 10-minute closer. Hearing the John Carpenter keyboard line underpinning “Pelham,” I’m not sure I’d call Chalice Hymnal limitless in its aesthetic – Grails have definitive intentions here, as they always have – but they continue to reside in a space of their own making, and one that has yet to stop expanding its reach.
Yes. Yes. This. With extended two tracks – “First Movement” (22:17) and “Second Movement” (27:04) – unfolding one massive longform immersion that drones pastoral, delves into hypnotic bliss and fills the soul in that way that only raw exploration can, the America Here and Now Sessions from Kansas City (by way of the moon) outfit Expo Seventy is an utter joy to experience. Purposeful and patient in its execution, graceful in the instrumental chemistry – even with a second drummer sitting in amid the core trio led by guitarist Justin Wright – the album well fits the deep matte tones and nostalgic feel of its accompanying artwork, and is fluid in its movement from drone to push especially on “Second Movement,” which sandwiches a resonant cacophony around soundscapes that spread as far as the mind of the listener is willing to let them. Whether you want to sit and parse the execution over every its every subtle motion and waveform or put it on and go into full-brain-shutdown, America Here and Now Sessions delivers. Flat out. It delivers.
After surviving the acquisition of Candlelight Records by Spinefarm, UK doom extremists Coltsblood return with their second album, Ascending into Shimmering Darkness, and follow-up 2014’s Into the Unfathomable Abyss (review here) with 54 minutes of concrete-thick atmospheric bleakness spread across five tracks. The headfuckery isn’t quite as unremitting as it was on the debut – a blend of airy and thick guitar in the intro of the opening title-cut (also the longest inclusion; immediate points) reminds of Pallbearer – but the three-piece thrive in this more-cohesive-overall context, and their lumbering miseries remain dark and triumphant in kind. A closing duo of “Ever Decreasing Circles” and “The Final Winter” also both top 12 and 13 minutes, respectively, but the shorter second track “Mortal Wound” brings blackened tendencies to the fore and centerpiece “The Legend of Abhartach” effectively leads the way from one side to the other. Still, the most complete victory here for bassist/vocalist John McNulty, guitarist Jemma McNulty and drummer Jay Plested might be “The Final Winter,” which melds its grueling, excruciatingly slow crash to overarching keyboard drama and becomes a work of cinematic depth as well as skull-crushing wretchedness. Such ambient growth fascinates and shows marked progression from their first offering, and even if the primary impression remains one from which no light escapes, don’t be fooled: Coltsblood are growing and are all the more dangerous for that.
Once they get past the aptly-titled minute-long “Intro,” Rhino keep their foot heavy on the gas for the vast majority of The Law of Purity, their Argonauta Records debut album. The 10 included tracks veer into and out of pure desert rock loyalism – “Eat My Dust” comes across as particularly post-Kyuss, perhaps melded with some of the burl of C.O.C.’s “Shake Like You” – and the throttle of “Nuclear Space,” “Nine Months,” “A. & B. Brown” and “Cock of Dog” later on come to define the impression of straightforward push that puts the riffs forward even more than earlier inclusions like the post-“Intro” title-track or the more mid-paced “Bursting Out,” which hints at psychedelia without really ever fully diving into it. Capping with the roll of “I See the Monsters,” The Law of Purity reminds at times of earlier Astrosoniq – particularly in the vocals – but finds the Sicilian five-piece crafting solid heavy rock tunes that seem more concerned with having a couple beers and a good time than changing the world or remaking the genre. Nothing wrong with that.
As it happens, I wrote the bio and release announcement for Cruthu’s debut album, The Angle of Eternity (posted here), and I count guitarist “Postman Dan” McCormick as a personal friend, so if you’re looking for impartiality as regards the self-released six-tracker, look elsewhere. If you’re looking for primo trad doom and classic metal vibes, the Michigan-based four-piece offer touches of progressive flourish amid the shuffle of opener “Bog of Kildare,” a grueling post-“Crystal Ball” nod in “From the Sea” and a bit of ‘70s proto-metallurgy in the closing title-track, which finds vocalist Ryan Evans at his most commanding while McCormick, bassist Erik Hemingsen (Scott Lehman appears as well) and drummer Matt Fry hold together the fluid and patient groove of weighted downer metal. The sense of Cruthu as an outfit schooled in the style is palpable through the creep of “Lady in the Lake” and the post-Trouble chug of “Séance,” but they’re beginning to cast their own identity from their influences – even the penultimate interlude “Separated from the Herd” is part of it – and the dividends of that process are immediate in these tracks.
From the Kozik-style artwork of their cover to the blown-out vocals on opener “New Pubes” of guitarist Matt Owen, St. Louis three-piece Spacetrucker – how was there not already a band with this name? – make no bones about their intentions on their late-2016, 26-minute Launch Sequence seven-track EP. Owen, bassist Patrick Mulvaney and drummer Del Toro push into a realm of noise-infused stoner grunge loyal to the ‘90s execution of “Supa Scoopa and Mighty Scoop” in the stops of the instrumental “Giza” even as they thicken and dirty up their tonality beyond what Kyuss laid forth. The cowbell-inclusive “Science of Us” rests easily on Mulvaney’s tone and nods toward burl without going over the top, and cuts like “Old Flower,” the penultimate roller “Trenchfoot” and the closing post-Nirvana punker blast of “Ain’t Gonna be Me” reimagine a past in which the language of heavy rock was there to explain where grunge was coming from all along. Not looking to reinvent stylistic parameters in their image at this point, Spacetrucker is nonetheless the kind of band one might’ve run into at SXSW a decade and a half ago and been made a fan for life. As it stands, the charm is not at all lost.
Clocking in at half an hour, the self-titled debut release from viola-infused Arizona two-piece Black Habit could probably qualify as an EP or an LP. I’m inclined to consider it the latter considering the depths vocalist/guitarist/bassist Trey Edwin and violist/drummer Emily Jean plunge in the five included tracks, starting with the longest of the bunch (immediate points) in the slow-moving “Escape into Infinity” before shifting the tempo upward for “Suffer and Succumb” and digging into deep-toned sludge marked out by consistently harsh vocals. I wouldn’t be surprised if Black Habit became more melodic or at least moved into cleaner shots over time, as the doomly centerpiece “South Beach” and more fuzz-rocking “Travel Across the Ocean” seem to want to head in that direction, but it’s hard to argue with the echoing rasp that accompanies the rumble and hairy tones of finale “Lust in the Dust,” as Black Habit’s Black Habit rounds out with an especially righteous nod. An intriguing, disaffected, and raw but potential-loaded opening salvo from a two-piece discovering where their sound might take them.
Massive. Patterns in the Ashes is a malevolent, tectonic three-song EP following up on New Zealand trio Stone Angels’ 2011 debut, Within the Witch, as well as a few shorter live/demo offerings between, and it’s an absolute beast. Launching with the seven-minute instrumental “White Light, White Noise II” – indeed the sequel to a cut from the first album – it conjures a vicious nod and bleeds one song into the next to let “Signed in Blood” further unfold the grim atmospherics underscoring and enriching all that tonal heft. Sludge is the core style, but the Christchurch three-piece’s broader intentions come through with due volume on the grueling “Signed in Blood” and when “For the Glory of None” kicks in after its sample intro, the blasts and growls that it brings push the release to new levels of extremity entirely. As a bonus, the digital edition includes all three tracks put together as one longer, 21-minute piece, so the consuming flow between them can be experienced without any interruption, as it was seemingly meant to be.
If Switzerland-based resonance rockers Black Willows had only released the final two tracks, “Jewel in the Lotus” and “Morning Star,” of their late-2016 second full-length, Samsara, one would still have to call it a complete album – and not just because those songs run 15 and 25 minutes long, respectively. Throughout those extended pieces and the four shorter cuts that appear before them, a palpable meditative sensibility emerges, and Black Willows follow-up the promise of 2013’s Haze (review here) by casting an even more immersive, deeper-toned vibe in the post-Om nod of “Sin” (8:08) and the more percussive complement, “Rise” (9:28), keeping a ritualized feel prevailing but not defining. From the lead-in title-track and the spacious psych trip-out of “Mountain” that gives way to the aforementioned extended closing duo, Black Willows find their key purpose in encompassing tonality and languid grooving. Nothing is overdone, nothing loses its patience, and when they get to the linear trajectory of “Morning Star,” the sense is they’re pushing as far out as far out will go. It’s a joy to follow them on that path.
Anytime you’re at all ready to quit your job and explore the recesses of your mind via the ingestion of psychedelics, rituals and meditation, Sweden’s Lamagaia would seem to stand prepared to accompany. The Gothenburg four-piece offer two extended tracks of encouragement in that direction on their self-titled 12” (released through Cardinal Fuzz and Sunrise Ocean Bender), and both “Aurora” and “Paronama Vju” carry a heady spirit of kosmiche improvisation and classically progressive willfulness. They go, go, go. Far, far, far. Vocals echo out obscure but definitely there in post-The Heads fashion, but there’s Hawkwindian thrust in the fuzzed bass and drums driving the rhythm behind the howling guitar in “Aurora,” and that only sets up the peaceful stretch that the drones and expansive spaciousness of “Paronama Vju” finds across its 18:55 as all the more of an arrival. Immersive, hypnotic, all that stuff that means gloriously psychedelic, Lamagaia’s Lamagaia offers instrumental chemistry and range for anyone willing to follow along its resonant and ultra-flowing path. Count me in. I never liked working anyway.
Posted in Reviews on March 30th, 2017 by JJ Koczan
From harsh doom to urban pastoralism to heavy blues rock to rolling doom nonetheless metallic in its defiance, Day Four of the Quarterly Review spins around a swath of styles and hopefully, hopefully, finds something you dig in the doing. It’s been a long week already. You know it. I know it. But it’s also been really good to dig into this stuff and I know I’ve found a few records that have made their way onto the already-ongoing 2017 lists — best short releases, debuts, albums, etc. — so to say it’s been worth it is, as ever, an understatement. Today likewise has gems to offer, so I won’t delay.
Quarterly Review #31-40:
Unearthly Trance, Stalking the Ghost
Brooklyn’s Unearthly Trance make a somewhat unexpected reentry with Stalking the Ghost (on Relapse), their sixth album. In the years since 2010’s V (review here), guitarist/vocalist Ryan Lipynsky has delved into a wide variety of extreme genres, from the blackened fare of The Howling Wind to the deathly-doom of Serpentine Path, in which Unearthly Trance bassist Jay Newman and drummer Darren Verni also shared tenure, but reuniting as Unearthly Trance feels like a significant step for the three-piece, and on tracks like “Dream State Arsenal” and the darkly post-metallic “Lion Strength,” they remind of what it was that made them such a standout in the first place while demonstrating that their years away have done nothing to dull the surehandedness of their approach. At eight tracks/52 minutes, Stalking the Ghost is a significant dirge to undertake, but Unearthly Trance bring pent-up anguish to bear across this varied swath of punishing tracks, and reassert their dominance over an aesthetic sphere that, even after all this time, is thoroughly their own.
Probably a smart move on the part of Heavy Traffic spearhead guitarist Ian Caddick and drummer/vocalist Tav Palumbo to swap coasts from Santa Cruz to Brooklyn ahead of putting together their sixth (!) full-length in three years and Twin Earth Records debut, Plastic Surgery. Cali is awash in heavy psych anyway and Brooklyn’s been at a deficit (as much as it’s at a deficit of anything) since space forerunners Naam became one with the cosmos, so even apart from the acquisition of bassist David Grzedzinki and drummer Dan Bradica, it’s a solid call, and one finds the fruits yielded on Plastic Surgery’s dream-fuzzed blend of heft and roll, heady jams like “See Right Through,” the oh-you-like-feedback-well-here’s-all-the-feedback “Broth Drain” and winding “Medicated Bed” finding a place where shoegaze and psychedelia meet ahead of the low-end-weighted closing title-cut and the bonus track “White and Green,” which finishes with suitable push and swirl to mark a welcome and vibe-soaked arrival for the band. Hope you enjoy the Eastern Seabord. It could use you.
In the second Saturn album, Beyond Spectra, one can hear one of retro rock’s crucial next movements taking place. The Swedish four-piece, who debuted on Rise Above with 2014’s Ascending and return with a periodically explosive 10-track/45-minute outing here, find a niche for themselves in adding dual-guitar NWOBHM elements to ‘70s-style (also ‘10s-style) boogie, as on the scorching “Still Young” or opener “Orbital Command.” They’re not the only ones doing it – Rise Above alums Horisont come to mind readily – but they’re doing it well, and the last three years have clearly found them refining their approach to arrive at the tightness in the shuffle of “Wolfsson” and the creeping Priestism of “Helmet Man” later on. I’ll give bonus points for their embracing the idea of going completely over the top in naming a song “Electrosaurus Sex,” but by the time they get down to closing duo “Silfvertape” and “Sensor Data,” I’m left thinking of the subdued intro to “Orbital Command” and the interlude “Linkans Delight” and wondering if there isn’t a way to bring more of that dynamic volume and tempo breadth into the songwriting as a whole. That would really be far out. Maybe they’ll get there, maybe they won’t. Either way, Beyond Spectra, like its predecessor, makes a largely inarguable case for Saturn’s potential.
Measuring its impact between doomly traditionalism and attitudinal fuckall, Lucifer’s Fall’s II: Cursed and Damned (on Nine Records) is a doom-for-doomers affair that tops 55 minutes with its nine tracks, recalling Dio-era Sabbathian gallop on opener “Mother Superior” and landing a significant blow with the slow-rolling nine-minute push of “The Necromancer.” Shades of Candlemass, Reverend Bizarre, and the most loyal of the loyalists show themselves throughout, but whether it’s the crawl in the first half of “Cursed Priestess” or the blistering rush of the clarion centerpiece “(Fuck You) We’re Lucifer’s Fall,” there’s an undercurrent of punk in the five-piece’s take that lends an abiding rawness to even the album’s most grueling moments. One looks to find a middle ground in songs like “The Mountains of Madness” and closer “Homunculus,” but Lucifer’s Fall instead offer NWOBHM-style guitar harmonics and soaring vocals, respectively, only pushing their stylistic breadth wider, playing by and breaking rules they’re clearly setting for themselves rather than working toward outside expectation. As a result, II: Cursed and Damned keeps its fist in the air for the duration, middle finger up.
Over the course of six-minute opener “A New Architecture,” guitarist Trevor Shelley de Brauw gradually moves the listener from abrasive noise to sweet, folkish acoustic guitar backed by amplified wavelengths. It’s a slowly unfolding change, patiently done, and it works in part to define Uptown (on The Flenser), the Pelican guitarist’s six-song solo debut long-player. Noise and drone make themselves regulars, and there’s a steady experimentalism at root in pieces like “Distinct Frequency,” the low-end hum and strum of “You Were Sure,” and the should’ve-been-on-the-soundtrack-to-Arrival “Turn up for What,” which unfurls a linear progression from minimalism to consuming swell in eight minutes ahead of the more actively droning 11-minute sendoff “From the Black Soil Poetry and Song Sprang,” but de Brauw manages to keep a human core beneath via both the occasional acoustic layer and through moments where a piece is being palpably manipulated, à la the spacious distorted churn of “They Keep Bowing.” I’m not sure how Uptown didn’t wind up on Neurot, but either way, it’s an engaging exploration of textures, and one hopes it won’t be de Brauw’s last work in this form.
Someone in Scuzzy Yeti has roots in metal, and the good money’s on it being vocalist Chris Wells. Joined in the Troy, New Hampshire, five-piece by guitarists Brad Decatur and Jason Lawrence (ex-Skrogg), bassist Wayne Munson and drummer Josh Turnbull, Wells casts a sizable frontman presence across the five-tracks of Scuzzy Yeti’s self-titled debut EP, belting out “Westward” and “BTK” as the band behind him hones a blend of classic heavy rock and doom. The sound is more reminiscent of Janne Christoffersson-era Spiritual Beggars than what one might expect out of New England, and the band amass some considerable momentum as centerpiece “Conqueror” and the shorter shuffle “Knees in the Breeze” push toward slower, lead-soaked closer “Flare,” which finds the lead guitar stepping up to meet Wells head-on. They might have some work to do in finding a balance between the stylistic elements at play, but for a first outing, Scuzzy Yeti shows all the pieces are there and are being put into their rightful place, and the result is significant, marked potential.
The insistent push from punctuated Denver trio Urn.’s self-titled debut demo/EP is enough to remind one of the days when the primary impression of Mastodon wasn’t their complexity, but the raw savagery with which that complexity was delivered. Urn. – the three-piece of Scott Schulman, Graham Wesselhoff and Jacob Archuleta – work in some elements of more extreme metal to “Rat King” after opener “Breeder,” both songs under three minutes and successfully conveying an intense thrust. The subsequent “Stomach” ranges further and is the longest cut at 4:45, but loses none of its focus as it winds its way toward closer “To the Grave,” which in addition to maintaining the nigh-on-constant kick drum that has pervaded the three tracks prior, offers some hints of lumbering stomp to come. As a first sampling, Urn.’s Urn. is a cohesive aesthetic blast setting in motion a progression that will be worth following as it develops. Call it rager metal and try not to spill your beverage while you windmill, you wild headbanger.
2016 found San Diego aggressors Nebula Drag making their self-titled, self-released debut (review here) with a record that seemed to work in willful defiance of their hometown’s psychedelic underground while at the same time occasionally nodding to it. The forebodingly-titled Always Dying three-song EP does likewise, launching with a vengeance on “Crosses” before burying the vocals and spacing out behind the crashes of the more languid-rolling title-track and giving a bit of both sides with the four-minute closer “Flying Fuckers.” It’s almost as if the three-piece of Corey Quintana, bassist Mike Finneran and drummer Stephen Varns, having thus completed their first album, decided to boil it down to its essential stylistic components and the result of that was this 14-minute outing. An intriguing prospect, but it could also be these were leftovers from the prior session with Jordan Andreen at Audio Design Recording and putting them up for a free download was an easy way to give them some purpose. In any case, if you haven’t yet been introduced to the band, Always Dying is an efficient telling of their story thus far.
If their moniker doesn’t have you immediately running through the most legendary of cheat codes, congratulations on being born after 1990. Cleveland burl-sludge metallers Contra make their full-length debut on respected purveyor Robustfellow with the 10-track/41-minute Deny Everything, and if it sounds like they have their shit together – at least sound-wise – it should make sense given the pedigree of drummer Aaron Brittain (ex-Rue), bassist/guitarist Adam Horwatt (So Long Albatross), guitarist Chris Chiera (ex-Sofa King Killer) and vocalist Larry Bent (ex-Don Austin). Be it established that songs like “Snake Goat” and “Son of Beast” are nobody’s first time at the sludge rodeo. Fair enough. Doesn’t mean Contra don’t establish their own personality in the overarching fuckall and total lack of pretense throughout Deny Everything – hell, seven-minute closer “Shrimp Cocktail” proves that on its own – just that that personality has roots. What Contra wants to do with them still kind of seems up in the air, but something about these tracks makes me think the band likes it that way. See the aforementioned “fuckall.”
Comprised of four songs tracked live in the trio’s native Córdoba at 440 Estudio, the self-titled debut EP from Argentine trio IAH – guitarist Mauricio Condon, bassist Juan Pablo Lucco and drummer José Landín – would seem destined to catch the attention of South American Sludge Records if it already hasn’t. In the interim, the three-piece have made the instrumental EP available as a free download and its unpretentious heavy psychedelics and edge of rock-minded thrust on opener “Cabalgan los Cielos” and the early going of closer “Eclipsum” more than justify their intention to spread the word as much as possible. Set to a balance of post-rock guitar, the bassline of “Stolas” carries a progressive inflection, and the fuzz that emerges halfway into second track “Ouroboros” shows a desert rock influence that blends well into its surroundings as a part of a richer sonic entity. A nascent but palpable chemistry at work across its 26 minutes, IAH’s IAH could portend expansive ideas to come, and one hopes it does precisely that.
Two songs, 21 minutes. Loops, drones, probably some feedback and… vocals? Interested to hear what Florent Paris has come up with for this latest outing under his Hors Sujet experimentalist moniker. The prolific project has been a source of ambient depth and cinematic soundscaping over the better part of the last decade, and it seems development of new ideas is ongoing, as well as bringing the material into the physical realm. The new EP, dubbed Seuls les Moins Humbles en Hériteront, will be released in a limited edition of 30 signed physical copies on April 24.
Just to reiterate that number: 30. Not very many at all. The two-tracker will of course be posted up on the Hors Sujet Bandcamp as well, so you can keep an eye out for it there, but if you’re a stickler for tangible media like me and think it’s something you might want to have and hold, you should know that your chance to do so will no doubt be fleeting. Like, 30 copies fleeting.
Paris sent the following down the PR wire:
HORS SUJET announces a new EP
The France-based musical project Hors Sujet is proud to announce the release of its new EP, “Seuls les moins humbles en hériteront”. This new EP composed by Florent Paris, states within these 21 minutes of music a new-found confidence: the drone parts of a silent desert with vulnerable vocals and handmade tape loops. The official release will be on April 24th 2017, and the EP will be available on musical platforms (Bandcamp, Spotify, iTunes) and in a physical limited serie of 30 hand-signed copies.
Hors Sujet is the personal and musical project of Florent Paris, mainly fluctuating between post rock, instrumental ambient, drone, doom and experimental. As soon as EPs, albums and live concerts were stated, Hors Sujet started to contribute to a lot of various artistic projects, such as cine-concerts, video live performance, original soundtracks, contemporary dance plays…. Everything is composed, arranged, recorded, edited, mixed and mastered by the only man behind this project.
Improvised music, sound experiments, combining forms, layers, noise, feebacks and landscapes, mostly seeking inspiration in dreamlike frames and visual representations, favoring improvisation and sound research, it’s by combining meticulousness and rough draft that Hors Sujet builds his music and blurs the boundaries between ambient, drone and post-rock.
[Click play above to hear ‘BVO’tje (1 More 4)’ from The Whims of the Great Magnet’s The Purple and Yellow Album, out April 1.]
Even before the book was closed in 2013 on fuzz rockers Sungrazer, bassist/backing vocalist Sander Haagmans had begun to explore new ground in The Whims of the Great Magnet. The rock was lower-fi, still pulling influence from a ’90s sphere, but rawer in tone and intent alike. Haagmans, alternating between a full-band and completely-solo approach, oversaw the release of several EPs — 2012’s EP being the first, followed the next year by a collection of home recordings, then April Fool in 2015 — and now makes a full-length debut with The Purple and Yellow Album, once more working on his own and in arguably the most intimate incarnation of The Whims of the Great Magnet to-date.
Comprised of 12 self-recorded songs and running a vinyl-ready 37 minutes, The Purple and Yellow Album brings forth an at-times psychedelic vision of grunge folk. Instrumental and vocal layering and arrangement varies as songs like “Falling to Pieces” and the later “Better Stay at Home” might only feature an acoustic guitar while others build further out, whether it’s the howling guitar of “BVO’tje (1 More 4),” the incorporated keys of “As I Felt Alright Before,” the garage psych of “Ow What Have I Done” (which gets an experimentalist reprise at the album’s conclusion), the Mellotron-infused “Debussy” or the six-minute “Slowburner,” which shifts from its solo melancholy into an acoustic/bass/drum progression at the end over a six-minute run that makes it the longest inclusion overall.
Wherever he takes a given track, Haagmans unites the material on The Purple and Yellow Album through his own performance and an overarching sense of honesty in the songwriting. Some songs have a self-aware humor, like “Better Stay at Home” or the preceding “Teen Anger,” but even these are executed with harmonic depth and a resonant emotionalism, and while one can hear shades of Haagmans‘ former outfit in pieces like “As I Felt Alright Before” and “I Could Just Leave it Like That,” that becomes only one context in which his songwriting lives up to the considerable ambition behind the concept of these tracks and the finds balance with the humility with the circumstances of their recording and release, providing a nonetheless rich and engaging front-to-back listening experience.
Below, Haagmans talks about the songs’ making and some of his future plans, threatening a doom record and more.
Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:
Six Dumb Questions with The Whims of the Great Magnet
Tell me about writing for The Purple and Yellow Album. At what point did you know the material would take a more acoustic direction?
Right from the start. It’s a collection of home recordings. And at home I had mainly acoustic guitars, so… But I just moved to a new house where we’re making a rehearsal room in the back, so my next recording might be a doom record.
Home recording is a very intimate process and you’ve decided to really convey something raw in these tracks in terms of sound. How did that come about? What is it you’re looking to say in these songs?
I just wanted to record some songs, sounds and sketches on my four-track cassette recorder (actually it’s my wife’s; thank you, wife). There’s lots of imperfections and vocals out of tune and all. But I wanted it to be loose and whimsical. So I kept many first ideas and mistakes and just played around. Also I used all of my ideas. So the cheesy songs, the sing-a-longs, the quasi serious songs and the slow boring songs are all in there. It’s a pretty good reflection of what music comes out of me at home. And I didn’t leave things out because it might not be cool enough in some setting or whatever.
Why purple and yellow? Is it just the artwork or is there some further significance to using those colors?
I remember I had a period in my childhood that I would only colour and paint with these two colours. And since I’m feeling more and more nostalgic as I’m getting older I went back to this period for the cover. Wish I could do the same with my music. But I will probably never reach the level I had when I was 12.
Will future The Whims of the Great Magnet recordings take a similar direction, or do you see yourself moving back toward a full-band sound again?
I really don’t know where the path will take me. I will keep doing stuff as The Whims of the Great Magnet for sure and it can go in any direction. Maybe a doom record isn’t such a bad idea. Also I really need to get a band together again but that would probably be with a different name.
Of course we have to mention your past playing in Sungrazer and that band’s ongoing legacy (you recently appeared on Spaceslug’s Time Travel Dilemma, for example). The Purple and Yellow Album has a laid back feel but some grunge to it as well. How do you view it in relation to your past work?
Ah the grunge thing! Anything I did in the past is not what I’m doing now. When we were with Sungrazer, we played as a band. We were in that moment together. Now with this album I’m doing something on my own. That’s a difference. But I’m sure it has some similarities as well which is obvious. But because I’m doing this album alone, it’s more personal and closer to me than anything I have done with a band. Because it’s just me, uncompromised and unfiltered. You could be right when you say that this doesn’t necessarily have to be better for the result. But that’s just the way it is (Bruce Hornsby!). And I’m not only into solo and mellow acoustic stuff. Nooooo, no, no, no, no. The other things still attract me just as much but weren’t around when I hit record.
Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?
I would like to thank you and the people so very much who supported my music in the past and especially in the present. Cowabunga dudes!