Posted in Reviews on November 29th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
It feels like longer than three years since bass-driven Virginia sludge outfit Akris offered up their self-titled debut (review here), but part of that may be due to the rather significant changes the band has undergone in that stretch. Founded as a two-piece in the wake of bassist/vocalist Helena Goldberg‘s prior outfit, Aquila, Akris‘ second full-length, Your Mantis (on DGRecords), marks an entirely new beginning for the group, which in 2015 announced that joining Goldberg would be guitarist/vocalist Paul Cogle (Nagato, Black Blizzard) and drummer Tim Otis (Admiral Browning), establishing them as a trio for the first time. That’s no minor shift, adding guitar and second vocals for the first time, let alone a drummer with the fervor and intense personality and play that Otis brings, and the six-track/38-minute Your Mantis meets the change head-on with ambition, beginning a storyline reportedly intended to carry across a multi-album arc into the next Akris release, whatever form that may take when they get there.
This lineup made its opening statement with last year’s Fall EP (review here), so for those who heard that or the first record, perhaps Your Mantis won’t be so much a superficial sidestep from its predecessor — it’s still very much Goldberg at the core of group, and their blend of aggressive noise rock and weighted sludge tonality is consistent — but one can hear progression both in terms of the concepts with which Akris are working, and in the still-engagingly-raw sound they bring to bear, the track “Brown” offering a direct comparison point as it’s shared between both albums.
Worth noting that the version of “Brown” on Your Mantis is over a minute shorter than the one on Akris. The long-player itself follows suit. Recorded and mixed at Oubliette Studios with a mastering job by Noel Mueller of Grimoire Records and topped with Sean “Skillit” McEleny cover art, Your Mantis is over 20 minutes shorter than the preceding self-titled, and when it comes to a sound that plays back and forth between hypnotic melodicism and intense punkish fervor in the manner theirs does, building quickly into bursts of aggro thrust with a measure’s notice as Goldberg swaps out clean-singing for vicious screams, that brevity lends efficiency. Add to that a song like the well-placed “Burn with Me,” third of the six cuts, which finds Goldberg and Cogle working in duet-style vocals on a linear movement that’s clear and crisp in its execution, and Akris bring a sense of accomplishment and realization to Your Mantis that, while it may only be part of the story in terms of lyrical narrative, has plenty to say about how far they’ve come in the last three years.
Since her days in Aquila, brashness has always been a feature of Goldberg‘s work, and that’s no different as opener “Profit” shifts from its early swaying and thudding into searing sludge and noise, setting up one of the essential trades the album will continue to make if not telling the full story in terms of atmosphere, which begins to flesh out with the fuzzier, more patient and winding “Sturgeon.” Melodically sung for the duration, it nonetheless hits into a slow-rolling finish before its five minutes are up, but even more, it provides a transition point between the scorch of “Profit” and “Burn with Me,” which brings Cogle forward vocally for the first time. It’s a quieter pulse at first, kept somewhat tense through percussion à la “Planet Caravan,” but that doesn’t last, and just past the halfway point heavier guitar kicks in and drives the song into its apex, leaving enough room on the other side to finish quiet and bring a sense of symmetry to what one presumes would be the end of side A.
Though it’s shorter as already noted, “Brown” feels more spacious in its early meanderings, but still locks into a blasting drive in its second half. That move between where-am-I-who-am-I and oh-yeah-I’m-here-to-rip-your-throat-out is in some ways the key to making Your Mantis work as it does, but Akris aren’t afraid to screw with the formula either, as the biting “Row” demonstrates with a near-blackened blend of rumble and screams at its start, giving way to the single angriest push of the record, an insistent noisy post-grunge chug still consistent atmospherically with echo on Goldberg‘s vocals, which relent as the three-piece move into the brief chorus only to trade back again as the next verse takes hold. It’s not chaos exactly — there’s a plan at work on a structural level — but it sure sounds like it. “Row,” as the penultimate cut before the 10-minute finale “Visitor,” is the most brutal piece on Your Mantis, and Otis, who so frequently shines as a drummer in moments of fury, makes a highlight of the frustrated crashes that accompany its late payoff, but it is ultimately the closer tasked to sum up the record as a whole.
Not as easy a job as it might initially seem. Across its first five tracks, Your Mantis has careened, lurched, thrust, wandered, pivoted and turned, remaining cohesive and even flowing front to back in a manner born of some of the same impulses as the debut but grown outward from them on nearly every level of theme and performance — and with a new lineup. “Visitor” is wise to take its time in covering all this ground, and whether or not it was written with the intent of closing, it does the job well, representing the dynamic in sound and style that Akris have come to proffer on what might itself feel like a first outing were it not so clearly benefiting from the experience of having made the self-titled before it. Clear-headed? Certainly as far as its purposes go. Your Mantis may well be the beginning of something of larger scope for Akris, but they still hold onto that basic rawness beneath, and their approach is all the richer for it.
Grimoire Records has set an Oct. 21 release date for a new split titled Vortex 6 from instrumental outfits Thought Eater and Iron Jawed Guru. Each band will present four tracks recorded, as all of Grimoire‘s releases are, by label honcho Noel Mueller, and each band has tied their tracks to a theme born out of classic cult sci-fi. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to say what movies in particular, so I won’t give anything away.
In the case of Baltimore trio Thought Eater, this split marks their first outing and finds them somewhere between more aggressive chug and engaging depth of tone. They lead off on the first half and provide a tight but still grooving approach, their “Crushing Metaphysical Crisis” shifting easily from semi-blastbeats into more open fluidity and demonstrating a clear lack of respect for the boundaries of genre.
You might recall West Virginia’s Iron Jawed Guru offered up their debut EP, Mata Hari (review here) through Grimoire in the early hours of 2016. Relatively quick though it was, their straightforward approach to Appalachian-style riffy instrumentalism left an impression for sure, and here the duo tease a bit of melody in in their sound, showcasing early growth as they move forward.
Right now, if you play your cards right — and by that I mean click the player below — you can stream premieres of “Crystal Maze” from Thought Eater and “Emerald Seer” from Iron Jawed Guru.
Preorders for Vortex 6 are up as of today from Grimoire, who also had the following:
Thought Eater / Iron Jawed Guru split “Vortex 6” – 10/21/16 Grimoire Records
Thought Eater is a brand new 3-piece instrumental band from Baltimore, MD, featuring a 12-string bass through a big muff. This monstrosity is a standard bass with 3 of everything, producing a bizarre double-vision effect on every note. Uniquely hypnotic High on Fire riffs are woven into angular odd-time compositions reminiscent of Intronaut and Zebulon Pike.
Douglas Griffith – guitar Darin Tambascio – bass guitar Bobby Murray – drums
Iron Jawed Guru, an instrumental power duo from West Virginia, is back with their second Grimoire release of 2016. True to Mata Hari form, epic compositions reminiscent of Kyuss and Russian Circles. They too employ a novel technique to thicken up their sound, running their guitar through an array of different amps and octavers to create a mammoth wall of sound with a paradoxically clean edge.
Posted in Reviews on June 21st, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
Day Two of The Obelisk’s Summer 2016 Quarterly Review — that’s an awful lot of capital letters. I’m not sure if it’s quite such a formal occasion, but perhaps that’s just an effect of staring at some of the names in this particular batch, who from classic heavy rock to post-black metal to stoner riffs, drone, doom and beyond offer a pretty vast range and more than a small measure of profile throughout. It’s a substantial swath, is what I’m saying. If you can’t find something here to dig on, well, I’d say look again, but of course there’ll also be another 10 reviews tomorrow, Thursday and Friday, and there were 10 yesterday as well, so I’m sure something will turn up if it hasn’t yet. Here we go.
Quarterly Review #11-20:
Spiritual Beggars, Sunrise to Sundown
More than 20 years on from their self-titled debut, Sweden’s Spiritual Beggars release their ninth LP, Sunrise to Sundown (on Inside Out Music). They seem to have set themselves to the sole task of making the records that one wishes Deep Purple were making, full of righteous organ-laced classic heavy thrust, driven by top tier songwriting and performance on every level. Founding guitarist Michael Amott (also Carcass) has assembled a lineup of masters, and since 2010’s Return to Zero (review here), frontman Apollo Papathanasio (also Firewind) has provided the soaring voice to add to the keyboard majesty of Per Wiberg (ex-Opeth, Candlemass) on songs like “I Turn to Stone.” The album’s 11 cuts are catchy, universally structured, and varied in their feel enough to carry the listener through fluidly, bassist Sharlee D’Angelo (Mercyful Fate) and drummer Ludwig Witt (ex-Firebird) locking in weighted grooves and underscoring the flow of what comes across like an increasingly collaborative songwriting process. Sunrise to Sundown is the sound of a band knowing what they want to do and how they want to do it and then doing precisely that.
How many records does Ode to a Black Hole make it for Danish improve spacelords Øresund Space Collective? I honestly don’t know. Their Bandcamp lists 52 releases. Granted, not all of them are full-length studio LPs, but they jam whether they’re live or in the studio, so after a point it’s kind of moot. However many in the ultimate tally, Ode to a Black Hole is somewhat unique among them, exploring the darker side of the cosmic reaches in a bleaker, droning psychedelia spread across two instrumental tracks put to tape at the same time as 2015’s triple-LP Different Creatures (review here). Of course, it’s Øresund Space Collective, so there is still plenty of synth and effects swirl to be had, but it’s a slower galaxial movement as “Ode to a Black Hole Part 1” feeds directly into “Ode to a Black Hole Part 2.” Whatever their method of getting there, Øresund Space Collective prove once again how apparently boundless their scope has become with nuance of guitar and key flourish beneath the surface of the mix to let the listener know there’s life out in the expanse.
Phoenix, Arizona’s Goya continue their forward march with The Enemy EP (on STB Records). Still fair to say Electric Wizard are a primary influence, but as shown on their last full-length, 2015’s charmingly-titled Obelisk (review here), the trio are increasingly able to put more of themselves into their sound. In “The Enemy,” “Last” and “Light Years,” that shows in tighter songwriting, some vocal harmonies on “Light Years,” and a harder overall tonal impact than the tenets of post-Witchcult Today doomery might lead one to expect, reminding in parts of the raw in-room feel that Egypt have come to proffer, burly but more about groove than attitude. The EP closes with a nine-minute take on “The Enemy” itself, adding more harmonies, some screams at the end, and a lengthy midsection jam to flesh out its extra four minutes. Goya have been and still are a bright spot (existentially, if not in mood) in up-and-coming US doom, and The Enemy might be a stopgap coming off of Obelisk, but it reminds listeners of their growth very much still in progress.
In a universe full of pretenders to the throne of Eyehategod, German six-piece Black Shape of Nexus prove there’s room for genuine creativity in sludge. Their fourth offering, Carrier (on Exile on Mainstream), finds them past the 10-year mark and lumbering their way through five varied originals, from the cavernous opener “I Can’t Play It” through the droning “Lift Yourself” and the utter spacecrush that ensues in “Facepunch Transport Layer” before the villainous laughter at the end of “Sachsenheim” leads to a 12-minute take on Hellhammer’s “Triumph of Death,” which closes. It feels like no coincidence that of the Black Shape of Nexus-penned inclusions “Sand Mountain” is the centerpiece; the tortured screaming, claustrophobic riff and blend of rawness and lush depth speak to the originality at the core of their approach. There’s a firm sense of fuckall here, and my understanding is making Carrier was something of a trial, but the results are perhaps only more vicious for that, and thus stronger.
Six years and the ascent of an entire movement of similarly-minded acts later, Cough ooze back to activity with Still They Pray (on Relapse), their dirt-caked third full-length. That movement, by the way, includes fellow Richmonders Windhand, with whom Cough now share bassist Parker Chandler and whose Garrett Morris recorded here along with Jus Oborn of Electric Wizard, who remain a major influence in Cough’s grueling, nodding filth, brought to bear over eight tracks and a purposefully unmanageable 67-minute runtime. Stylistically it’s not so far from where Cough were on 2010’s Ritual Abuse (review here), the bleak anarchistic lurch and tonal immersion still very much at the fore of “Possession,” “Dead Among the Roses” and the organ-inclusive “The Wounding Hours,” but though they can play slow enough to make “Masters of Torture” seem positively thrashy by comparison, they never lose their sense of atmosphere, as the acoustic-led closing title-track makes plain in fashion no less heavy than the punishment meted out before it.
It feels factually inaccurate to call something so wilfully charred “vibrant,” but Oranssi Pazuzu’s fourth long-player, Värähtelijä (on Svart and 20 Buck Spin), not only finds light in its overarching darkness, but makes it a pivotal aspect of the album’s 69-minute course. Open structures, an enviable depth of mix between far-off guitar, keys, organ, various layers of screams, etc., songs like 12-minute opener “Saturaatio” and the later 17-minute chaoswirl of “Vasemann Käden Hierarkia” offer stylistic breadth as much prog as they are psychedelia or black metal, perhaps the next phase of the latter’s cosmic wing come to fruition. Relatively speaking, the more straightforward “Havuluu” offers listeners a moment to catch their breadth, but the organ-led experimentalism of 10-minute closer “Valveavaruus” gurgles in an exploration of ambient downward plunge. One of the most adventurous black metal releases of 2016, if you can still even tag a genre to it, which I’m not sure you can. A band doing pivotal and forward-thinking work.
Though they just got off a lengthy US run, the fact that Karma to Burn’s webstore offers their new Mountain Czar EP in euro instead of dollars could easily be taken as a sign of where the band’s general priorities lie. I don’t know if founding guitarist Will Mecum is actually living abroad or remains in West Virginia, but their label, Rodeostar Records, is European, they maintain a close relationship with German artist Alexander Von Wieding, and their tour schedule keeps a definite continental focus. So be it. Mountain Czar brings five new cuts, three by-the-numbers Karma to Burn instrumentals, the highlight of which is patient, jangly-guitar closer “63,” and “Uccidendo un Sogno,” an Italian-language cover of Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ down a Dream” sung by guest vocalist Stefanie Savy and featuring Manuel Bissig of Switzerland’s Sons of Morpheus on guitar. Karma to Burn very much remain Karma to Burn throughout, Mecum joined by drummer Evan Devine and bassist Eric Clutter, but they’re changing what that means in interesting ways.
Comprised solely of guitarist/vocalist Sleaze and drummer Izz, German Southern metallers Black Mood begin their seven-song sophomore outing, Squalid Garden (on Daredevil Records) with a sample of Cornelius from Planet of the Apes quoting the Lawgiver to “shun the beast man,” and so on. By the time they get around to the chugging and warbling “Ohh, save my soul” in second cut “IWNAR,” the Down/Crowbar vibe has been laid on so thick that it’s unmistakable. It’s been seven years since Black Mood made their self-titled debut in 2009 – they had an EP, Toxic Hippies, out in 2012 – but their chestbeating, dudely vibes are easily sourced, even in faster, more Pantera-style moments in “Reflected,” “100 Squalid Garden” or closer “Side,” making the album ultimately a matter of taste for anyone who’d take it on. For me, some aspects ring derivative, others show flashes of individualism, but it’s a very specific vision of Southern metal at work here, and it’s not going to be for everyone.
Newcomers Nebula Drag join the ranks of a crowded heavy psych scene in their native San Diego via their self-titled, self-released debut, but the trio distinguish themselves immediately with a solidified underpinning of punkish intent, so that the airy vocals of “Sano” float over an insistent, noisy crunch. That blend is toyed with in one direction or another throughout the release, the five-minute “So Low” finding some middle-ground in grunge push, but as the subsequent “Up and Down”’s Melvins-style roll and the hardcore-style drive of “Lost Time” play out, Nebula Drag seem far less tied to any single approach. It’s a dynamic that serves them well throughout the album’s 10-track/37-minute run, and they maintain a sense of rawness in the almost thrashy breakdown of “I Can Not Explain” that speaks to a lack of pretense to go along with their potential for development. Will be curious to hear if one side or the other wins out in their sound over the long-term, but in a town where so many bands are geared on being the most laid back, it’s refreshing to hear a group with a more forceful tack.
After a series of numbered full-lengths, Glasgow consciousness-stompers Ommadon offer their self-titled sixth album through Dry Cough Records, Burning World Records and Medusa Crush Recordings. Doubtless the three labels were needed in order simply lift the 41-minute, single-song release, which is so unspeakably and ridiculously heavy as to warrant comparison to Buried at Sea’s Migration. Its retching lumber is superlative, and in giving it their name, Ommadon signal (and say outright) that it’s the work they’ve been driving toward all along. Fair enough. There is no moment of relenting from the abysmal intentions of “Ommadon” itself, and if this is to be the piece that ultimately defines the band, it’s one worthy of consideration for the outright extremity it brings to doom, sludge and drone, as well as the methodical nature in which it unfolds. Whatever its ultimate impact, Ommadon have pushed themselves forward and crafted an excruciating contribution that feels like a monolith bent to their will.
Posted in Whathaveyou on May 19th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
The show Brimstone Coven are playing on June 25 in Ohio that precedes their run through the Midwest in July is being called Wookfest 2K16. It also features Druid and Clay Otter. A couple dates into the July stint, Brimstone Coven will link up with Castle — on their own extensive tour — for a few shows. They’re out supporting their 2016 debut full-length, Black Magic (review here), released by Metal Blade. Black Magic came out in January and is the follow-up to a 2015 self-titled (track stream here) that was a long-player in runtime but compiled from two earlier EPs.
Shows kick off July 23 in Cleveland and the tour includes stops in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Western Pennsylvania. Tour dates and some comment from the band, as well as a stream of the Black Magic title-track, follow here, courtesy of the PR wire:
BRIMSTONE COVEN: Dark Occult Rockers Announce US Tour Dates
West Virginia-based dark occult rockers, BRIMSTONE COVEN, have confirmed their Summer tour plans which include a one off show in Athens, Ohio on June 25 before kicking off a nine-date mini tour from July 23rd through July 31st alongside Castle on select dates.
Bassist Andrew D’Cagna comments: “The response we’ve received since the release of Black Magic has been phenomenal. Our Coven is growing, but our mission is never ending. We can’t wait to hit the road and spread the word of the Coven to those who’ve not yet witnessed our live ritual… See you this Summer! Behold! Believe!”
BRIMSTONE COVEN: 6/25/2016 The Smiling Skull – Athens, OH 7/23/2016 Maple Grove – Cleveland, OH 7/24/2016 Realm – Toledo, OH 7/25/2016 5th Quarter Lounge – Indianapolis, IN 7/26/2016 Reggies – Chicago, IL ** 7/27/2016 High Noon Saloon – Madison, WI ** 7/28/2016 Frank’s Power Plant – Milwaukee, WI ** 7/29/2016 Shakespeare’s Pub – Kalamazoo, MI ** 7/30/2016 Corktown Tavern – Detroit, MI ** 7/31/2016 Howler’s – Pittsburgh, PA ** ** w/ Castle
Brimstone Coven is: “Big John” Williams – vocals Corey Roth – guitar Andrew D’Cagna – bass Justin Wood – drums
Posted in Whathaveyou on April 5th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
That is a gosh darn significant lineup. The Obsessed, The Atomic Bitchwax and Karma to Burn? I mean, really. Who’s gonna complain about that show? Unless you happen to live in/near a city not being hit by the tour, I can’t really see anything to bitch about when it comes to pairing those acts up. Each offers something different from the others, but is completely excellent at what they do, whether that’s The Obsessed‘s trailblazing Maryland doom, The Atomic Bitchwax‘s frenetic winding riffage or Karma to Burn‘s instrumental crunch. Seems reasonable to expect these will be some killer evenings.
Word came out from The Obsessed a bit ago, but Karma to Burn — still in the midst of a current European tour — newly announced the run as follows via the PR wire:
KARMA TO BURN Announce North American Tour With The Obsessed and The Atomic Bitchwax
In support of their new release Karma To Burn will hit the road this spring with The Obsessed and The Atomic Bitchwax. The tour starts May 13th in Washington, DC and runs through June 11th in Atlanta, GA. A complete list of dates can be found below.
The band commented on the upcoming tour:
“What better way to follow a full European tour than following The Obsessed and Atomic Bitchwax around America? How about a month off in Sardinia, followed by a year living in the Netherlands. As much as we would like that, we should do the tour, it’s only our second full US tour in 5 years, so we’re a bit overdue in our own country. The stacked lineup and extensive schedule should make up for our absence. THE OBSESSED…Wino…the demi-god of DOOM…we couldn’t pick a better US band to support. But honestly we’re most excited about the burritos and burgers. See you on the road.”
There’s no indication that things are about to slow down for this band – what with their spring 2016 tour coming up, which has already been confirmed. So no signs of fatigue in the Karma To Burn camp. “More than 20 years ago, people told me that a purely instrumental band could never work in the long run,” William Mecum recalls. “But Karma To Burn are like a boxer with a big heart, amazing stamina and a talent for getting back on his feet again and again.” Which is just as well, seeing that in this case there’s a mountain to be conquered.
KARMA TO BURN W/ The Obsessed and The Atomic Bitchwax, 5/13: Washington DC @ Black Cat 5/14: Pittsburgh PA @ Altar Bar 5/15: Harrisonburg PA @ Golden Pony 5/16: Brooklyn NY @ Saint Vitus Bar 5/18: Richmond VA @ Strange Matter 5/19: Philadelphia PA @ Kung Fu Necktie 5/20: Huntington WV @ V Club 5/21: Indianapolis IN @ 5th Quarter Lounge 5/22: Chicago IL @ Beat Kitchen 5/23: Minneapolis MN @ 7th Street Entry 5/24: Rock Island IL @ Rock Island Brewing Co. 5/25: St. Louis MO @ Fubar 5/26: Kansas City MO @ Riot Room 5/28: Denver CO @ 3 Kings 5/30: Seattle WA @ El Corazon 5/31: Portland OR @ Dante’s 6/2: San Francisco CA @ Slim’s 6/3: Los Angeles CA @ Complex 6/4: San Diego CA @ Brick By Brick 6/5: Phoenix AZ @ Club Red 6/7: Austin TX @ Dirty Dog 6/8: Ft. Worth TX @ Tomcats West 6/9: Houston TX @ Walter’s 6/10: New Orleans LA @ Siberia 6/11: Atlanta GA @ Drunken Unicorn
Posted in Whathaveyou on March 30th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
More details have started to surface about Rhin‘s upcoming album, Passenger. Set for release May 6 as first announced here, Passenger is the West Virginian noisemakers’ second LP on Grimoire Records, recorded in the label’s traditional manner by Noel Mueller and topped with art by Rhin‘s Ben Proudman. The three-piece have announced a weekender run of shows the week before the LP is out that will take them through Philadelphia, Brooklyn and New Haven, Connecticut. Based on their history, one assumes it won’t be the only time they head out, but the first one is always worth noting.
The six-minute cut “Clay” that was premiered with the announcement linked above is also available to stream below, because I know how hard it is sometimes to open a new tab. I’m not being sarcastic, by the way. I mean that.
To the PR wire:
RHIN: West Virginia Noise/Stoner Metal Troupe Preps Passenger LP For Release Via Grimoire Records
Baltimore-based Grimoire Records is preparing the upcoming third album by West Virginia stoner/noise metal trio RHIN for release in April, with the diverse and damaging Passenger.
Passenger will see release on random splatter vinyl, cassette, and digital formats on May 6th, with a CD pressing coming a bit later. Preorders are available through Grimoire RecordsRIGHT HERE.
Following their well-received 2014-released Bastard LP, the third album from RHIN sees the band delivering just under thirty-four minutes of pummeling new riffery. Passenger shows these three super talented dudes – bassist/vocalist Dom, drummer Ben, and guitarist Tuck — rip through seven tracks of grungy rock n’roll reminiscent of The Melvins, Fu Manchu, The Sword, Unsane, and early Helmet. Tempos range from punk fast to doom slow and everything in between, while always keeping it ultra-heavy and catchy. Passenger was recorded in one day in October 2015 by Noel Mueller, in basically one take, resulting in an exceptionally live and legit sounding recording. The record was then mixed and mastered by Mueller, and fitted with artwork by Ben Proudman.
RHIN has a mini-tour planned for the week preceding the release of Passenger, where they’ll appropriately pair up with Connecticut’s Grizzlor for shows in Philadelphia April 28th, Brooklyn April 29th, and New Haven on April 30th. Stand by for updates on live performances, additional samples from Passenger to be released, and more in the weeks ahead.
RHIN w/ Grizzlor: 4/28/2016 The Fire – Philadelphia, PA 4/29/2016 Grand Victory – Brooklyn, NY 4/30/2016 Three Sheets – New Haven, CT
Tracklisting: 1. Uncle Tuck 2. Unwell 3. Drag My Feet 4. Snivlem 5. Clay 6. Basement 7. Bad Timing
Posted in Reviews on March 29th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
I thought yesterday went pretty well, by which I mean I didn’t receive any complaints that somebody’s name was spelled wrong (yet), so I feel alright going into the second batch of releases for the Quarterly Review. Today mixes it up a bit, which is something I always enjoy doing with these, and while I’ll take pains to emphasize that the list of releases today, as with every day, isn’t in order, there was no way I wasn’t going to start with the first record below. Some albums just demand top placement.
Quarterly Review #11-20:
Eight Bells, Landless
However you define the word “heavy” as it relates to music, Eight Bells are it. The Portland, Oregon, trio release their second album and first for Battleground Records in the form of the five-track Landless, and from the opening sprawl and lumber of “Hating” through the crawling-plus-blasting chaos of “Touch Me,” a strong progressive current underscores the material – most notably the 13-minute title-track, but really the rest as well, which flows gracefully even in its harshest moments, the blackened rush in the second half of “Landless,” for example, which follows psychedelic drones and harmonies just minutes before, or the similar thrust of centerpiece “Hold My Breath,” which works in tighter quarters but manages to span genres all the same. “The Mortal’s Suite” provides some respite in airy guitar and airier vocals, giving new drummer Rae Amitay a break while showcasing the harmonies of guitarist Melynda Jackson (ex-SubArachnoid Space) and bassist Haley Westeiner. As open atmospherically as the band is in their creative scope, there just isn’t a level on which Landless isn’t superb.
Swedish four-piece Öken do themselves huge favors by refusing to be easily categorized on their 2015 self-titled Ozium Records debut full-length, which runs an immersive 62 minutes and blends doom, classic heavy/desert rock and forest psych with subtle grace throughout its eight tracks, each of which is fleshed out in an overarching naturalist atmosphere. “Väktaren” dives headfirst into boogie only after initial minimalist teasing, and “Crimson Moon” bursts to life after a hypnotic psychedelic opening to find its crux in later runs of dueling guitars. The two closing cuts, “Under Vår Sol” and “Cuauhtémoc” are an album unto themselves, the former nodding initially at Sungrazer’s serene vibes before pushing into even more open psychedelic territory, and the latter proffering riffy largesse en route to a striking classic prog finish. That Öken make these elements work side-by-side and transition from one to the other fluidly is emblematic of the confidence at work in the band, and they carry their scope with organic-sounding ease.
West Virginian roots doomers Brimstone Coven made their debut on Metal Blade in 2015 with a self-titled EP compilation (track stream here), and Black Magic is their first full-length. Its 10 tracks/54 minutes take cues varyingly from classic heavy rock, doom and the less majestic side of the NWOBHM, but Brimstone Coven’s approach is marked out by the extensive use of vocal harmonies on cuts like the prog-tinged “Beyond the Astral,” the later moments of raw-roller “Upon the Mountain” and “The Plague.” Black Magic’s production is barebones enough that this singing – credited solely to “Big John” Williams, while Corey Roth handles guitar, Andrew D’Cagna bass and Justin Wood drums – doesn’t really soar so much as nestle in and enhance the begging-for-vinyl analog-worship of the instruments surrounding, a proliferation of cultish themes distinguishing Brimstone Coven even as a song like “The Seers” finds them inheriting a trad-doom soulfulness from The Gates of Slumber.
Between its vicious aggression, inhumane chug and have-fun-enduring-this stomp, the self-titled, self-released debut LP from Pants Exploder could just as easily be definitive New York noise, but the low-end heft of their assault right from opener “It’s Ok, I’m Wiccan.” (punctuation included in title) has an element of early-Mastodonic lumber, and that’s a thread that continues throughout “End of the World” and “You Don’t Strike Me as a Reader,” which offsets its slab-of-concrete-on-your-chest push with moments of respite, but remains driving in its intensity. As in, driving your head into the ground. Also the ground is pavement. It’s fucking heavy, is the point. To wit, the mega-plod of “Um, I Curated an Art Show in College, So…” and thrust of “God Has a Plan for Me.” Capping with the seven-minute “You Smug Bastard,” Pants Exploder pays off the tension they build in a noise-wash fury that is as impressive as it is scathing.
The rather ominous The Moon Rises EP is the first non-demo offering from Asheville, North Carolina, four-piece Shallows, who blend heavy psychedelic and grunge influences across its five tracks, opener “Shimmering” and closer “Distance” mirroring each other’s spacious push while between, “Zero,” “A Mile Beneath” and the Earth-influenced “The Barn Burning” enact gorgeous vocal harmonies between Cameron Zarrabzadeh and HannahLynn Cruey atop atmospheric heavy rock, hitting into Alice in Chains-meets-Kylesa territory on the centerpiece, “A Mile Beneath,” which is a fair bit of ground to cover. That cut is the high point in showcasing Shallows’ potential, but the Western take with “The Barn Burning” and meandering post-rock echoes and organ of “Distance” only add to the breadth of this impressive, too-short collection. With a focus consistently kept on ambience throughout, The Moon Rises flows like a full-length album, and so bodes that much better for what Shallows will be able to accomplish when they get there. I’ll look forward to it.
Even before they get to the all the aggro fuzz riffing, there’s a distinct threat of violence in Monumentum’s The Killer is Me. Its four songs, “Noose,” “Whore,” “Fiend and Foe” and “Killer Me,” each seem to find the Norwegian band doling out noise-influenced heavy rock, driven by some underlying dissatisfaction on this, their first EP. Released on vinyl through Blues for the Red Sun Records, it offsets being so outwardly pissed off through groove, the starts and stops of “Killer Me” and the rolling seven minutes of opener and longest track “Noose” (immediate points) both marked out for both their tonal weight and the force with which Monumentum push their material forward – not speedy, though “Whore” is by no means slow, but dense and emitting a residual tension all the same. Somewhat unipolar in its mood, The Killer is Me still manages to give an initial impression of what Monumentum are about sound-wise, and provides them with a solid start to work from.
While the UK isn’t at all short on doom or sludge at this point, Canterbury five-piece Famyne distinguish themselves on their self-titled first EP with a traditional take and the at-times theatric harmonies of vocalist Tom Vane. Along with guitarists Alex Tolson and Alex Williams, bassist Chris Travers and drummer Jake Cook, Vane nods at Alice in Chains on lumbering opener “Enter the Sloth” without going full-on “hey whoa momma yeah” and provides a considerable frontman presence, particularly for a debut recording. Comprising three songs with the speedier bonus track “Long Lost Winter” as an add-on download with the CD version, Famyne’s Famyne EP finds its crux in the nod and push of the 10-minute “The Forgotten,” which takes a cue atmospherically from The Wounded Kings but finds its own, less-cultish niche in bringing new energy to classic doom and setting in motion a progression that already puts an individual stamp on established tenets.
There’s patient, and then there’s Ethereal Riffian, whose riffy ritualizing and exploration nonetheless brims with some intangible energetic sensibility on their new live outing, Youniversal Voice. Heavy psychedelic wash, thick riffs, theatric vocals and guitar effects, stoner roll and the occasional fit of shredding, one might hear any of it at a given point in over-12-minute cuts like “Wakan Tanka” and “Anatman,” the latter which arrives as the penultimate of the eight-song/56-minute set. The clarity, for being a live album, is remarkable, and Ethereal Riffian add to the experience with a CD version that includes a candle, elaborate packaging and artwork, and tea, so the multi-sensory impression is obviously important, and where many live outings are throwaways or a means of bowing to contractual obligation, Youniversal Voice adds to Ethereal Riffian’s studio work a substantial ambassasorial feel, conveying an onstage vibe with a fullness of sound and clarity of mind not often heard.
Desert rock trio Wet Cactus don’t make any bones about where they’re getting their influence from on their late-2015 self-titled second EP. By the time they get around to the penultimate “The Road” on the five-track/24-minute outing, they’ve dug themselves in deep into the worship of crunchy Kyuss-style riffing, and you can throw in looks for Unida, Queens of the Stone Age, Slo Burn and whoever else of that milieu, but Kyuss is at the root of it all anyway. Less grand in their production than UK outfit Steak, who operated in similar territory on their 2014 debut LP, Slab City, Wet Cactus keep it natural in the tradition of their forebears, and while there’s room for them to grow into a more individual approach, the hazy fuckall in closer “World’s Law” has a stoner charm before and after it kicks into a punkish push to close out. Cool vibe either way, and the tone is dead on. If these cats go jammier, watch out.
I won’t say a bad word about the artwork of David Paul Seymour in the context of this review or any other, but ultimately, Louisiana doomers Forming the Void are coming from someplace much more in line with progressive metal than the three-eyed goat and robed figures on the cover of their second album, Skyward, might represent. Again, that’s not a knock on Seymour, or for that matter, the band, just that the look of the record is deceptive, dogwhistling stonerisms even as moody cuts like the opening title-track and “Three Eyed Gazelle” – while thoroughly doomed in their vibe – prove more lucidly constructed. That holds true through the chugging centerpiece “Saber” as well, marked out by vocal harmonizing, and “Return Again,” which rolls through atmospheric metal and an ambient interlude to enact the record’s most memorable payoff and set up the linear course of the more patient closer “Sleepwalker.” Cohesive in mood and clearly plotted, Skyward is ultimately darker and more driven than it might at first appear.
Not that Passenger doesn’t have its all-out assault moments. Plenty of them, in fact, but as the track premiere below makes plain, there continues to be more behind the attack of West Virginian trio Rhin than a single angle of approach. That’s true on bouncing, grunge-styled closer “Bad Timing” as much as “Clay” (which you can hear below) and even opener and shortest track “Uncle Tuck,” which peppers its noise rock insistence with a thicker-toned edge that continues through the rolling “Unwell” and “Drag My Feet,” the trio’s attack only broadening as the record plays out its cut (you) and run 33-minute span.
Rhin today announce the May 6 release of Passenger through respected Baltimore purveyors Grimoire Records, who also handled the band’s 2014 sophomore outing, Bastard (review here), and in representing the varied crux of the band’s furies, “Clay” does well to give a sense of where they’re coming from. Mid-paced compared to songs like “Uncle Tuck” and “Basement,” which follows, it answers the more expansive feel of centerpiece “Snivlem” and finds a place for itself between heavy rock groove and noise intensity that doesn’t necessarily ever slow itself down long enough to fall into the trap of being sludge. A bass break toward the middle sets up a shift into a crash-wash build that offers some surprising melody to go with all that push.
“Bad Timing” echoes some similar sentiments, but Rhin are neither ready nor willing to let go of their aggressive charge at this stage. Whether or not they get there eventually is anyone’s best guess, but the blend they offer on Passenger and the vitality with which they offer it, having recorded in “basically one take” (I love that) with Grimoire‘s Noel Mueller this past fall, result in an album that’s frenetic at times but not at all simply flailing without purpose.
You can hear for yourself in checking out “Clay” on the player that follows the album artwork by Ben Proudman and the announcement from Grimoire, which follows here:
It’s another a massive slab of riffs by Rhin called “Passenger.” It’s their 34 minute follow-up to their first 2014 release “Bastard”, this time on sweet, sweet vinyl!
Yet again, these 3 super talented dudes rip through 7 tracks of grungy rock n’roll reminiscent of The Melvins, Fu Manchu, Unsane and early Helmet. Tempos range from punk fast to doom slow and everything in between, while always keeping it ultra heavy and catchy.
The release date for “Passenger” is 05/06/16 on random splatter vinyl pressed by Gotta Groove Records, and pro-cassette by National Audio Company, with CD coming shortly after.
Rhin is Dom (bass/vocals), Ben (drums) and Tuck (guitar).