Friday Full-Length: Strapping Young Lad, Alien

Posted in Bootleg Theater on May 24th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

At the risk of being Dude On The Internet With Opinions™, I’ll profess to having strong feelings about Strapping Young Lad‘s 2005 opus, Alien. Specifically, about the version of the song “Love?” that appears on the final record.

Sometime between when Century Media sent out the sleeve-promo CDs for review and when the album was actually released, both now 19 years ago, there was an edit made to “Love?” that took out just over a minute of runtime. What’s actually missing — and yes, it is very much missing — is a section of muted chugs, a turn back to a tremolo riff and an “Awww shit/Fuck it.” The playlist above has both versions — the longer one is tacked onto the end, along with the concurrent Melvins cover “Zodiac.”

And I acknowledge that if you’ve never heard the record before, or maybe didn’t hear the original version of “Love?” as part of the original 11-song/55-minute tracklisting coming out of “Shitstorm” and going into “Shine,” then maybe it wouldn’t be such a big deal, but I’ll tell you honestly, I took the CD from the jewel case I eventually got and put it in the sleeve, and took the one from the promo and put that in the jewel case. That’s the album in my mind. The other “Love?” sounds butchered to my ears.

Having that association, and “Love?” as part of what I’ll put forward as one of metal’s most righteous opening salvos regardless of microgenre — the intro “Imperial” and “Skeksis” and “Shitstorm” merrily blasting away and running through a litany of power-declarations and complaints; to wit, the lyrics of “Shitstorm”: “And I don’t want to fight because I don’t know what’s WRONG or RIGHT/But I’ll do ANYTHING just to get some FUCKING sleep tonight/And I can’t even EAT/And I can’t even FUCKING PISS/All I’ve been doing is thinking about GOD and DEATH/Infinity” in founding guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist/producer/principle-songwriter Devin Townsend‘s trademark conversational-with-self style — all drawing up to the exhaled single word question, “love?” and the immediate snapback answer, “Children!”

And that’s where you find out what the purported shitstorm is really about. Having a baby. Underscoring all that initial tumult as Townsend, guitarist/backing vocalist Jed Simon, bassist Byron Stroud and megadrummer Gene Hoglan tore away at the fabric of the universe while dropping references to Jim Henson’s legit-terrifying-to-a-five-year-old 1986 film The Dark Crystal was insecurity about procreating, thinking about love and the power dynamics of relationships (“This love, it’s about control”), the direction of one’s life in the face of one of the most major changes one can make to it. Dude was scared having a kid would wreck is life.

Townsend‘s correspondingly brilliant solo follow-up, 2006’s Synchestra (discussed here), worked under a similar thematic and tied to Alien in its lyrics and music. The two are very much complements, but Strapping Young Lad were unto themselves in catharsis, and that’s audible in “Love?” (either version, admittedly) and the from-void screams of “Shine,” which follows and the gallop-thrash charge of “We Ride” strapping young lad alientrying to see the upside of life outside the band from within its cycles while a little bit making fun of Pantera in the solos, the way the wretched-but-funny shout at the start of “Possessions” becomes the opening line that unfolds seconds later into chugging impact and a build of tension as Townsend grapples lyrically, “Children and money and family and DEATH and TAXES and CAREER and PICKET FENCES…JUST GET OUT OF MY HEAD!!!/TAKE IT!!!/FUCK IT ALL!!!”

“Possessions” makes it even clearer early on, “”…And being HUMAN is FUCKED as it is./With all these questions of FAITH, and of…KIDS!!!/So what do you wanna do now baby???/Do you wanna have a fucking BABY?!” The answer that comes in the song is an immediate and emphatic negative. As I understand it, this is a traditionally masculine point of view — reproduction as subtracting from (your life) rather than adding to (your family) — but stereotyping it undercuts the honesty of expression throughout Alien, raw language used to convey raw feelings. Backed by a choir for its push-pull, ugh-pop hook, “Possessions” prefaces some of the more accessible turns SYL would make on their cobbled-together 2006 final LP, The New Black, but is a highlight in context as Alien plunges deeper into its second half, giving over to the acoustic-led Floydian escapism of “Two Weeks.”

Remember vacation? “What do you wanna do now, baby?/Should we take the day, maybe go to the beach?” The opening lines set the scene: easy breezy, no need to be anywhere and thus able to be everywhere. Compare it to “So what do you wanna do now, baby?” from the song before, and it’s clear there’s a different kind of life being represented here, at least in ideal. Freedom of movement and a claim to one’s own time. “Two Weeks” drifts and drones in preface to what the closing 12-minute experimentalist sample/synth excursion “Info Dump” will bring, but before the band gets there, “Thalamus” begins the culmination by returning — gradually, considering how prone the band was to plunge headfirst at this point — to the onslaught with its verse and more melodic chorus, releasing some if not all of the jaw-clench before moving into an almost operatic but still definitely metal procession and “Zen” finding its peace, such as it is, in Hoglan‘s endless double-kick and resolve, the line “Connect now and emerge” calling back to “We Ride” before it all comes to a head and gives over to “Info Dump” at the finish.

Toward the end of that extended drone piece, a machine static takes hold and is willfully abrasive — I guess after so much blowout, that’s what a blowout might sound like. I’ll admit I don’t always listen to “Info Dump” in its totality, but it’s usually a couple minutes before I realize I’m in it because Alien front-to-back leaves you so mesmerized and/or punchdrunk. As regards heavy metal, it’s one of the best records I’ve ever heard, and even before I had a kid, its tales of terror were vividly relatable. The better part of two decades later, they remain such.

I won’t attempt to summarize the varied directions of Devin Townsend‘s career since. You’re on the internet. You can look it up. But for me, while Strapping Young Lad‘s early-career industrial-metal-let’s-do-FearFactory-but-less-robots-and-more-personality take holds a special place, Alien is a pinnacle among several in Townsend‘s catalog. For something more recent, less aggro and perhaps working from a similarly over-the-top point of view, hit up his 2019 Empath album, though genius abounds in the discography, the label-needs-a-single “Love?” edit notwithstanding.

Either way, I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.

Next week is Freak Valley Festival. Flight is booked for Wednesday, but I don’t know that I’m actually going to make it. My mother was scheduled to have knee surgery this week, had to postpone, now it’s slated for — you guessed it — this coming Wednesday. The Patient Mrs.’ take was, “You seem like you could use some time standing in a field with people you like.” She is correct, but what’s a boy to do.

That trip hangs pretty much in the balance of timing. If her surgery is early in the day, I can be there to support her and my sister and then go to the airport and embark on a few days that I very much consider as supporting myself. If it’s afternoon, which it was gonna be this week, less. But my mother is in her late 70s and getting her knee replaced has been years in the making and she’s finally willing to do it because basically she can’t walk anymore, so if it’s happening, I don’t have much choice. Certainly I’ve been that selfish in the past — what’s the point of being the youngest kid if you can’t? — but this is my mother, and she is both my only remaining parent and the only one I ever connected with on any human level.

It is… complicated.

Or maybe just sad.

This is a long weekend. The Pecan is off from school today (it’s coming on 7AM, she should be up momentarily), Monday and Tuesday for an extended Memorial Day giveback of snow days worked into the calendar apparently without need because it doesn’t snow here anymore. Definitely used to. The Patient Mrs. wants to go north to her mother’s place on the beach in Connecticut — The Cottage, we call it — and either tomorrow or Sunday she’ll take the kid and head up.

At her suggestion, I’ll stay home for another day, do as much of Monday and Tuesday’s writing as I can stand, and then likely spend the rest of that day in a stoned stupor playing the already-at-100-perecent-complete Tears of the Kingdom, slaughtering Lynels and picking mushrooms in pursuit of restorative boredom, loin-girding for following them north on Sunday or Monday, staying there I guess until Tuesday so we can all come home and be tired going into the shortened school week and the arrival of June with all of its what’s-that-black-dot-on-the-ceiling little jumpy spiders and emergent Northeastern humidity.

The dog needs a bath. The kid needs one more. I could use one myself. We’ve been extra-extra-broke this just-ended semester, and today’s payday, so Costco’s in the offing and maybe Job Lot if we can keep it together long enough to hit two stores. Big if.

As implied above, I’ve got stuff slated for Monday and Tuesday despite the long weekend here. There’s news to catch up on from being in the Quarterly Review, and premieres and all that throughout the week, regardless of my travel situation. Fuck I hope I get to go to that festival, but — and I know this won’t surprise you if you’ve ever spent more than five minutes on this site — I’m not optimistic about my chances.

Whatever you’re up to (or not), I hope you have a great and safe weekend. Watch your head, be safe, all that stuff. And thank you for reading, as always.

FRM.

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Quarterly Review: Lamp of the Universe Meets Dr. Space, Inter Arma, Sunnata, The Sonic Dawn, Rifflord, Mothman and the Thunderbirds, The Lunar Effect, Danava, Moonlit, Doom Lab

Posted in Reviews on May 24th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

The-Obelisk-Quarterly-Review

This is it. This one’s for all the marbles. Well, actually there are no marbles involved, but if you remember way back like two weeks ago when this started out, I told you the tale of a hubristic 40-something dickweed blogger who thought he could review 100 albums in 10 days, and assuming I make it through the below without having an aneurysm — because, hey, you never know — today I get to live that particular fairy tale.

If you’ve kept up, and I hope you have, thanks. If not, click here to see all the posts in this Quarterly Review. Either way, I appreciate your time.

Quarterly Review #91-100:

Lamp of the Universe Meets Dr. Space, Enters Your Somas

Lamp of the universe meets dr space Enter Your Somas

Who’s ready to get blasted out the airlock? New Zealand solo-outfit Lamp of the Universe, aka multi-instrumentalist Craig Williamson (also Dead Shrine, ex-Datura, etc.), and Portugal-residing synth master Dr. Space, aka Scott Heller of Øresund Space Collective, Black Moon Circle, and so on, come together to remind us all we’re nothing more than semi-sentient cosmic dust. Enters Your Somas is comprised of two extended pieces, “Enters Your Somas” (18:39) and “Infiltrates Your Mind” (19:07), and both resonate space/soul frequencies while each finds its own path. The title-track is more languid on average, where “Infiltrates Your Mind” reroutes auxiliary power to the percussive thrusters in its first half before drifting into drone communion and hearing a voice — vague, but definitely human speech — before surging back to its course via Williamson‘s drums, which play a large role in giving the material its shape. But with synthy sweeps from Heller, Mellotron and guitar coming and going, and a steady groove across both inclusions, Lamp of the Universe Meets Dr. Space offer galactic adventure limited only by where your imagination puts you while you listen.

Lamp of the Universe on Facebook

Dr. Space on Facebook

Sound Effect Records website

Inter Arma, New Heaven

inter arma new heaven

Richmond, Virginia’s Inter Arma had no small task before them in following 2019’s Sulphur English (review here), but from the tech-death boops and bops and twists of New Heaven‘s leadoff title-track through the gothic textures of “Gardens in the Dark,” self-aware without satire, slow-flowing and dramatic, this fifth full-length finds them continuing to expand their creative reach, and at this point, whatever genre you might want to cast them in, they stand out. To wit, the blackdeath onslaught of “Violet Seizures” that’s also space rock, backed in that by the subsequent “Desolation’s Harp” with its classically grandiose solo, or the post-doom lumber of “Concrete Cliffs” that calls out its expanse after the seven-minute drum-playthrough-fodder extremity of “The Children the Bombs Overlooked,” or the mournful march of “Endless Grey” and the acoustic-led Nick Cavey epilogue “Forest Service Road Blues.” Few bands embrace a full spectrum of metallic sounds without coming across as either disjointed or like they’re just mashing styles together for the hell of it. Inter Arma bleed purpose in every turn, and as they inch closer to their 20th year as a band, they are masters unto themselves of this form they’ve created.

Inter Arma on Facebook

Relapse Records website

Sunnata, Chasing Shadows

sunnata chasing shadows

The opening “Chimera” puts Chasing Shadows quickly into a ritualized mindset, all the more as Warsaw meditative doomers Sunnata lace it and a decent portion of their 11-track/62-minute fifth album with an arrangement of vocals from guitarists Szymon Ewertowski and Adrian Gadomski and bassist/synthesist Michal Dobrzanski as drummer/percussionist Robert Ruszczyk punctuates on snare as they head toward a culmination. Individual pieces have their own purposes, whether it’s the momentary float of “Torn” or the post-Alice in Chains harmonies offset by Twin Peaks-y creep in “Saviours Raft,” or the way “Hunger” gradually moves from light to dark with rolling immersion, or the dancier feel with which “Like Cogs in a Wheel” gives an instrumental finish. It’s not a minor undertaking and it’s not meant to be one, but mood and atmosphere do a lot of work in uniting the songs, and the low-in-the-mouth vocal melodies become a part of that as the record unfolds. Their range has never felt broader, but there’s a plot being followed as well, an idea behind each turn in “Wishbone” and the sprawl is justified by the dug-in worldmaking taking place across the whole-LP progression, darkly psychedelic and engrossing as it is.

Sunnata on Facebook

Sunnata on Bandcamp

The Sonic Dawn, Phantom

The Sonic Dawn Phantom

Among the most vital classic elements of The Sonic Dawn‘s style is their ability to take spacious ideas and encapsulate them with a pop efficiency that doesn’t feel dumbed down. That is to say, they’re not capitulating to fickle attention spans with short songs so much as they’re able to get in, say what they want to say with a given track, and get out. Phantom is their fifth album, and while the title may allude to a certain ghostliness coinciding with the melancholy vibe overarching through the bulk of its component material, the Copenhagen-based trio are mature enough at this stage to know what they’re about. And while Phantom has its urgent stretches in the early going of “Iron Bird” or the rousing “Think it Over,” the handclap-laced “Pan AM,” and the solo-topped apex of “Micro Cosmos in a Drop,” most of what they’re about here harnesses a mellower atmosphere. It doesn’t need to hurry, baby. Isn’t there enough rush in life with all these “21st Century Blues?” With no lack of movement throughout, some of The Sonic Dawn‘s finest stretches here are in low-key interpretations of funk (“Dreams of Change,” “Think it Over,” “Transatlantique,” etc.) or prog-boogie (“Scorpio,” “Nothing Can Live Here” before the noisier crescendo) drawn together by organ, subdued, thoughtful vocal melodies and craft to suit the organic production. This isn’t the first The Sonic Dawn LP to benefit from the band knowing who they are as a group, but golly it sure is stronger for that.

The Sonic Dawn on Facebook

Heavy Psych Sounds website

Rifflord, 39 Serpent Power

RIFFLORD 39 Serpent Power

It’s not until the hook of second cut “Ohm Ripper” hits that Rifflord let go of the tension built up through the opening semi-title-track “Serpent Power,” which in its thickened thrashy charge feels like a specific callout to High on Fire but as I understand it is just about doing hard drugs. Fair enough. The South Dakota-based five-piece of bassist/vocalist Wyatt Bronc Bartlett, guitarists Samuel Hayes and Dustin Vano, keyboardist Tory Jean Stoddard and drummer Douglas Jennings Barrett will echo that intensity later in “Church Keys” and “Tumbleweed,” but that’s still only one place the 38-minute eight-track LP goes, and whether it’s the vocals calling out through the largesse and breadth of “Blessed Life” or the ensuing crush that follows in “LM308,” the addled Alice in Chains swagger in the lumber of “Grim Creeper” or the righteously catchy bombast of “Hoof,” they reach further than they ever have in terms of sound and remain coherent despite the inherently chaotic nature of their purported theme, the sheer heft of the tonality wielded and the fact that 39 Serpent Power has apparently been waiting some number of years to see release. Worth the wait? Shit, I’m surprised the album didn’t put itself out, it sounds so ready to go.

Rifflord on Facebook

Ripple Music website

Mothman and the Thunderbirds, Portal Hopper

Mothman and the Thunderbirds Portal Hopper

At the core of Mothman and the Thunderbirds is multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Alex Parkinson, and on the band’s second album, Portal Hopper, he’s not completely on his own — Egor Lappo programmed the drums, mixed, and plays a guitar solo on “Fractals,” Joe Sobieski guests on vocals for a couple tracks, Sam Parkinson donates a pair of solos to the cause — but it’s still very much his telling of the charmingly meandering sci-fi/fantasy plot taking place across the 12 included progressive metal mini-epics, which he presents with an energy and clarity of purpose that for sure graduated from Devin Townsend‘s school of making a song with 40 layers sound immediate but pulls as well from psychedelia and pop-punk vocals for an all the more emphatic scope. This backdrop lets “Fractals” get funky or “Escape From Flatwoods” hold its metallic chicanery with its soaring melody while “Squonk Kingdom” is duly over-the-top in its second-half chase soon enough fleshed out by “So Long (Portal Hopper)” ahead of the lightly-plucked finale “Attic.” The specificity of influence throughout Portal Hopper can be striking as clean/harsh vocals blend, etc., but given the narrative and the relative brevity of the songs complementing the whims explored within them, there’s no lack of character in the album’s oft-careening 38-minute course.

Mothman and the Thunderbirds on Instagram

Mothman and the Thunderbirds on Bandcamp

The Lunar Effect, Sounds of Green and Blue

The Lunar Effect Sounds of Green & Blue

Given its pro-shop nature in production and performance, the ability of The Lunar Effect to grasp a heavy blues sound as part of what they do while avoiding either the trap of hyper-dudely navelgazing or cultural appropriation — no minor feat — and the fluidity of one piece into the next across the 40-minute LP’s two sides, I’m a little surprised not to have been sick of the band’s second album, Sounds of Green and Blue before I put it on. Maybe since it’s on Svart everyone just assumed it’s Finnish experimentalist drone? Maybe everybody’s burnt out on a seemingly endless stream of bands from London’s underground? I don’t know, but by the time The Lunar Effect make their way to the piano-laden centerpiece “Middle of the End” — expanding on the unhurried mood of “In Grey,” preceding the heavy blues return of “Pulling Daisies” at the start of side B that mirrors album opener “Ocean Queen” and explodes into a roll that feels like it was made to be the best thing you play at your DJ night — that confusion is a defining aspect of the listening experience. “Fear Before the Fall” picks on Beethoven, for crying out loud. High class and low groove. Believe me, I know there’s a lot of good stuff out already in 2024, but what the hell more could you want? Where is everybody?

The Lunar Effect on Facebook

Svart Records website

Danava, Live

danava live

Even if I were generally inclined to do so — read: I’m not — it would be hard to begrudge Portland heavy rock institution Danava wanting to do a live record after their 2023’s Nothing But Nothing (review here) found them in such raucous form. But the aptly-titled Live is more than just a post-studio-LP check-in to remind you they kick ass on stage, as side A’s space, classic, boogie, heavy rocking “Introduction/Spinning Temple” and “Maudie Shook” were recorded in 2008, while the four cuts on side B — “Shoot Straight with a Crooked Gun,” “Nothing but Nothing,” “Longdance,” “Let the Good Times Kill” and “Last Goodbye” — came from the European tour undertaken in Fall 2023 to support Nothing But Nothing. Is the underlying message that Danava are still rad 15 years later? Maybe. That certainly comes through by the time the solo in “Shoot Straight with a Crooked Gun” hits, but that also feels like reading too much into it. Maybe it’s just about representing different sides of who Danava are, and if so, fine. Then or now, psych or proto-thrashing, they lay waste.

Danava on Instagram

Heavy Psych Sounds website

Moonlit, Be Not Afraid

moonlit be not afraid

A free three-songer from Varese, Italy’s Moonlit, Be Not Afraid welcomes the listener to “Death to the World” with (presumably sampled) chanting before unfurling a loose, somewhat morose-feeling nighttime-desert psych sway before “Fort Rachiffe” howls tonally across its own four minutes in more heavy post-rock style, still languid in tempo but encompassing in its wash and the amp-hum-and-percussion blend on the shorter “Le Conseguenze Della Libertà” (1:57) gives yet another look, albeit briefly. In about 11 minutes, Moonlit — whose last studio offering was 2021’s So Bless Us Now (review here) — never quite occupy the same space twice, and despite the compact presentation, the range from mid-period-QOTSA-gone-shoegaze (plus chanting! don’t forget the chanting!) to the hypnotic Isis-doing-space-push that follows with the closer as a but-wait-there’s-more/not-just-an-afterthought epilogue is palpable. I don’t know when or how Be Not Afraid was recorded, whether it’s portentous of anything other than itself or what, but there’s a lot happening under its surface, and while you can’t beat the price, don’t be surprised if you end up throwing a couple bucks Moonlit‘s way anyhow.

Moonlit on Instagram

Moonlit on Bandcamp

Doom Lab, Northern Lights

Doom Lab Northern Lights

Much of Northern Lights is instrumental, but whether or not Leo Scheben is barking out the endtimes storyline of “Darkhammer” — stylized all-caps in the tracklisting — or “Night Terrors,” or just digging into a 24-second progression of lo-fi riffing of “Paranoid Isolation” and the Casio-type beats that back his guitar there and across the project’s 16-track latest offering, the reminder Doom Lab give is that the need to create takes many forms. From the winding scales of “Locrian’s Run” to “Twisted Logic” with its plotted solo lines, pieces are often just that — pieces of what might otherwise be a fleshed-out song — and Doom Lab‘s experimentalism feels paramount in terms of aural priorities. Impulse in excelsis. It might be for the best that the back-to-back pair “Nice ‘n’ Curvy” and “Let ’em Bounce” are both instrumental, but as madcap as Scheben is, he’s able to bring Northern Lights to a close with resonant homage in its title-track, and cuts like “Too Much Sauce on New Year’s Eve” and “Dark Matter” are emblematic of his open-minded approach overall, working in different styles sometimes united most by their rawness and uncompromising persona. This is number 100 of 100 records covered in this Quarterly Review, and nothing included up to now sounds like Doom Lab. A total win for radical individualism.

Doom Lab on YouTube

Doom Lab on Bandcamp

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Quarterly Review: Harvestman, Kalgon, Agriculture, Saltpig, Druidess, Astral Construct, Ainu, Grid, Dätcha Mandala, Dr. Space Meets Mr. Mekon

Posted in Reviews on May 23rd, 2024 by JJ Koczan

The-Obelisk-Quarterly-Review

This is the next-to-last day of this Quarterly Review, and while it’s been a lot, it’s been encouraging to dig into so much stuff in such intense fashion. I’ve added a few releases to my notes for year-end lists, but more importantly, I’ve gotten to hear and cover stuff that otherwise I might not, and that’s the value at a QR has for me at its core, so while we’re not through yet, I’ll just say thanks again for reading and that I hope you’ve also found something that speaks to you in these many blocks of text and embedded streaming players. If not, there’s still 20 records to go, so take comfort in that as needed.

Quarterly Review #81-90:

Harvestman, Triptych: Part One

Harvestman Triptych Part One

The weirdo-psych experimental project of Steve Von Till (now ex-Neurosis, which is still sad on a couple levels) begins a released-according-to-lunar-orbit trilogy of albums in Triptych: Part One, which is headlined by opening track “Psilosynth,” boasting a guest appearance from Al Cisneros (Sleep, Om) on bass. If those two want to start an outsider-art dub-drone band together, my middle-aged burnout self is here for it — “Psilosynth (Harvest Dub),” a title that could hardly be more Von Till and Cisneros, appears a little later, which suggests they might also be on board — but that’s only part of the world being created in Triptych: Part One as “Mare and Foal” manipulates bagpipes into ghostly melodies, “Give Your Heart to the Hawk” echoes poetry over ambient strum, “Coma” and “How to Purify Mercury” layer synthesized drone and/or effects-guitar to sci-fi affect and “Nocturnal Field Song” finds YOB‘s Dave French banging away on something metal in the background while the crickets chirp. The abiding spirit is subdued, exploratory as Von Till‘s solo works perpetually are, and even as the story is only a third told, the immersion on Triptych: Part One goes as deep as the listener is willing to let it. I look forward to being a couple moons late reviewing the next installment.

Harvestman on Facebook

Neurot Recordings website

Kalgon, Kalgon

kalgon kalgon

As they make their self-titled full-length debut, Asheville, North Carolina’s Kalgon lay claim to a deceptive wide swath of territory even separate from the thrashier departure “Apocalyptic Meiosis” as they lumber through “The Isolate” and the more melodic “Grade of the Slope,” stoner-doom leaning into psych and more cosmic vibing, with the mournful “Windigo” leading into “Eye of the Needle”‘s slo-mo-stoner-swing and gutted out vocals turning to Beatlesy melody — guitarist Brandon Davis and bassist Berten Lee Tanner share those duties while Marc Russo rounds out the trio on drums — in its still-marching second half and the post-Pallbearer reaches and acoustic finish of “Setting Sun.” An interlude serves as centerpiece between “Apocalyptic Meiosis” and “Windigo,” and that two-plus-minute excursion into wavy drone and amplifier hum works well to keep a sense of flow as the next track crashes in, but more, it speaks to longer term possibilities for how the band might grow, both in terms of what they do sonically and in their already-clear penchant for seeing their first LP as a whole, single work with its own progression and story to tell.

Kalgon on Facebook

Kalgon on Bandcamp

Agriculture, Living is Easy

agriculture living is easy

Surely there’s some element in Agriculture‘s self-applied aesthetic frame of “ecstatic black metal” in the power of suggestion, but as they follow-up their 2022 self-titled debut with the four-song Living is Easy EP and move from the major-key lightburst of the title-track into the endearingly, organically, folkishly strained harmonies of “Being Eaten by a Tiger,” renew the overwhelming blasts of tremolo and seared screams on “In the House of Angel Flesh” and round out with a minute of spoken word recitation in “When You Were Born,” guitarists Richard Chowenhill (also credited with co-engineering, mixing and mastering) and Dan Meyer (also vocals), bassist/vocalist Leah B. Levinson and drummer/percussionist Kern Haug present an innovative perspective on the genre that reminds of nothing so much as the manner in which earliest Wolves in the Throne Room showed that black metal could do something more than it had done previously. That’s not a sonic comparison, necessarily — though there are basic stylistic aspects shared between the two — but more about the way Agriculture are using black metal toward purposefully new expressive ends. I’m not Mr. Char by any means, but it’s been probably that long since the last time I heard something that was so definitively black metal and worked as much to refresh what that means.

Agriculture on Facebook

The Flenser website

Saltpig, Saltpig

Saltpig saltpig

Apparently self-released by the intercontinental duo last Fall and picked up for issue through Heavy Psych Sounds, Saltpig‘s self-titled debut modernizes classic charge and swing in increasingly doomed fashion across the first four songs of its A-side, laces “Burn the Witch” with samples themed around the titular subject, and dedicates all of side B to the blown out mostly-instrumental roll of “1950,” which is in fact 19 minutes and 50 seconds long. The band, comprised of guitarist/vocalist/noisemaker Mitch Davis (also producer for a swath of more commercially viable fare) and drummer Fabio Alessandrini (ex-Annihilator), are based in New York and Italy, respectively, and whatever on earth might’ve brought them together, in both the heavy-garage strut of “Demon” and the willfully harsh manner in which they represent themselves in the record’s back half, they bask in the rougher edges of their tones and approach more generally. “When You Were Dead” is something of a preface in its thicker distortion to “1950,” but its cavernous shouted vocals retain a psychedelic presence amid the ensuing grit, whereas once the closer gets underway from its feedback-soaked first two minutes, they make it plain there’s no coming back.

Saltpig on Facebook

Heavy Psych Sounds website

Druidess, Hermits and Mandrakes

druidess hermits and mandrakes

Newcomer UK doomers Druidess nod forth on their debut EP, Hermits and Mandrakes, with a buzzing tonality in “Witches’ Sabbath” that’s distinctly more Monolord than Electric Wizard, and while that’s fascinating academically and in terms of the generational shift happening in the heavy underground over the last few years, the fuzz that accompanies the hook of “Mandragora,” which follows, brings a tempo boost that situates the two-piece of vocalist Shonagh Brown and multi-instrumentalist/producer Daniel Downing (guitar, bass, keys, drum programming; he even had a hand in the artwork, apparently) in a more rocking vein. It’s heavy either way you go, and “Knightingales” brings Green Lung-style organ into the mix along with another standout hook before “The Hermit of Druid’s Temple” signs over its soul to faster Sabbath worship and closer “The Forest Witches’ Daughter” underscores the commitment to same in combination with a more occult thematic. It’s familiar-enough terrain, ultimately, but the heft they conjure early on and the movement they bring to it later should be plenty to catch ears among the similarly converted, and in song and performance they display a self-awareness of craft that is no less a source of their potential.

Druidess on Facebook

Druidess on Bandcamp

Astral Construct, Traveling a Higher Consciousness

astral construct traveling to a higher consciousness

One-man sans-vocals psych outfit Astral Construct — aka Denver-based multi-instrumentalist Drew Patricks — released Traveling a Higher Consciousness last year, and well, I guess I got lost in a temporal wormhole or some such because it’s not last year anymore. The record’s five-track journey is encompassing in its metal-rooted take on heavy psychedelia, however, and that’s fortunate as “Accessing the Mind’s Eye” solidifies from its languid first-half unfolding into more stately progressive riffage. Bookended by the dreamy manifestation of “Heart of the Nebula” (8:12) and “Interstellar” (9:26), which moves between marching declaration and expansive helium-guitar float, the album touches ground in centerpiece “The Traveler,” but even there could hardly be called terrestrial once the drums drop out and the keys sweep in near the quick-fade finish that brings about the more angular “Long View of Astral Consciousness,” that penultimate track daring a bit of double-kick in the drums heading toward its own culmination. Now, then or future, whether it’s looking inward or out, Traveling a Higher Consciousness is a revelry for the cosmos waiting to be engaged. You might just end up in a different year upon hearing it.

Astral Construct on Facebook

Astral Construct on Bandcamp

Ainu, Ainu

ainu ainu

Although their moniker comes from an indigenous group who lived on Hokkaido before that island became part of modern Japan, Ainu are based in Genoa, Italy, and their self-titled debut has little to do sound-wise with the people or their culture. Fair enough. Ainu‘s Ainu, which starts out in “Il Faro” with sparse atmospheric guitar and someone yelling at you in Italian presumably about the sea (around which the record is themed), uses speech and samples to hold most positions vocals would otherwise occupy, though the two-minute “D.E.V.S.” is almost entirely voice-based, so the rules aren’t so strictly applied one way or the other. Similarly, as the three-piece course between grounded sludgier progressions and drifting post-heavy, touching on more aggressive moods in the late reaches of “Aiutami A. Ricordare” and the nodding culmination of “Khrono” but letting the breadth of “Call of the Sea” unfold across divergent movements of crunchier riffs and operatic prog grandiosity. You would not call it predictable, however tidal the flow from one piece to the next might be.

Ainu on Facebook

Subsound Records website

Grid, The World Before Us

grid the world before us

Progressive sludge set to a backdrop of science-fiction and extrasolar range, The World Before Us marks a turn from heretofore instrumental New York trio Grid, who not only feature vocals throughout their 38-minute six-tracker third LP, but vary their approach in that regard such that as “Our History Hidden” takes hold following the keyboardy intro “Singularity” (in we go!), the first three of the song’s 12 minutes find them shifting from sub-soaring melodicism to hard-growled metallic crunch with the comfort of an act who’ve been pulling off such things for much longer. The subsequent “Traversing the Interstellar Gateway” (9:31) works toward similar ends, only with guitar instead of singing, and the standout galloping kickdrum of “Architects of Our World” leads to a deeper dig into the back and forth between melody and dissonance, led into by the threatening effects manipulations of the interlude “Contact” and eventually giving over to the capstone outro “Duality” that, if it needs to be said, mirrors “Singularity” at the start. There’s nuance and texture in this interplay between styles — POV: you dig Opeth and Hawkwind — and my suspicion is that if Grid keep to this methodology going forward, the vocal arrangements will continue to evolve along with the rest of the band’s expanding-in-all-directions stylizations.

Grid on Facebook

Grid on Bandcamp

Dätcha Mandala, Koda

Datcha Mandala Koda

The stated intentions of Bordeaux, France’s Dätcha Mandala in bringing elements of ’90s British alternative rock into their heavier context with their Koda LP are audible in opener “She Said” and the title-track that follows it, but it’s the underlying thread of heavy rock that wins the day across the 11-song outing, however danceable “Wild Fire” makes it or however attitude-signaling the belly-belch that starts “Thousand Pieces” is in itself. That’s not to say Koda doesn’t succeed at what it’s doing, just that there’s more to the proceedings than playing toward that particular vision of cool. “It’s Not Only Rock and Roll (And We Don’t Like It)” has fuzzy charm and a hook to boot, while “Om Namah Shivaya” ignites with an energy that is proggy and urgent in kind — the kind of song that makes you a fan at the show even if you’ve never heard the band before — and closer “Homeland” dares some burl amid its harmonized chorus and flowing final guitar solo, answering back to the post-burp chug in “Thousand Pieces” and underscoring the multifaceted nature of the album as a whole. I suppose if you have prior experience with Dätcha Mandala, you know they’re not just about one thing, but for newcomers, expect happy surprises.

Dätcha Mandala on Facebook

Discos Macarras Records website

Dr. Space Meets Mr. Mekon, The Bubbles Scopes

dr space meets mr mekon dr space meets mr mekon

Given the principals involved — Scott “Dr. Space” Heller of Øresund Space Collective, Black Moon Circle, et al, and Chris Purdon of Hawklords and Nik Turner’s Space Ritual — it should come as no surprise that The Bubbles Scopes complements its grammatical counterintuitiveness with alien soundscape concoctions of synth-based potency; the adventure into the unknown-until-it’s-recorded palpable across two extended tracks suitably titled “Trip 1” (22:56) and “Trip 2” (15:45). Longform waveforms, both. The collaboration — one of at least two Heller has slated for release this Spring; stay tuned tomorrow — makes it clear from the very beginning that the far-out course The Bubbles Scopes follows is for those who dwell in rooms with melting walls, but in the various pulsations and throbs of “Trip 1,’ the transition from organ to more electronic-feeling keyboard, and so on, human presence is no more absent than they want it to be, and while the loops are dizzying and “Trip 2” seems to reach into different dimensions with its depth of mix, when the scope is so wide, the sounds almost can’t help but feel free. And so they do. They put 30 copies on tape, because even in space all things digitalia are ephemeral. If you want one, engage your FOMO and make it happen because the chance may or may not come again.

Dr. Space on Facebook

Dr. Space on Bandcamp

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Quarterly Review: Bongripper, Destroyer of Light, Castle Rat, Temple of the Fuzz Witch, State of Non Return, Thief, Ravens, Spacedrifter, Collyn McCoy, Misleading

Posted in Reviews on May 22nd, 2024 by JJ Koczan

The-Obelisk-Quarterly-Review

I wouldn’t say we’re in the home stretch yet, but this 100-release Quarterly Review is more than three-quarters done after today, so I guess it’s debatable. In any case, we proceed. I hope you’ve enjoyed what’s been on offer so far. Yesterday was a little manic, but I got there. Today, tomorrow, I expect much the same. The order of things, as that one Jem’Hadar liked to say.

Quarterly Review #71-80:

Bongripper, Empty

BONGRIPPER empty

Eight albums and the emergence of a microgenre cast partly in their image later, it would take a lot for Chicago ultra-crush instrumentalists Bongripper to surprise their listenership, at least as regards their basic approach. If you think that’s a bad thing, fine, but I’d put the 66 minutes of Empty forward to argue otherwise. Six years after 2018’s two-song LP Terminal (review here) — with a live record and single between — the four new songs of Empty dare to sneakily convey a hopeful message in the concave tracklisting: “Nothing” (20:40), “Remains’ (12:04), “Forever” (12:43), “Empty” (21:24). That message might be what’s expressed in the echoing post-metallic lead guitar on the finale and the organ on the prior “Forever,” or, frankly, it might not. Because in the great, lumbering, riffy morass that is their sound, there’s room for multiple interpretations as well as largesse enough to accommodate the odd skyscraper, so take it as you will. Just because you might go into it with some idea of what’s coming doesn’t mean you won’t get flattened.

Bongripper on Facebook

Bongripper BigCartel store

Destroyer of Light, Degradation Years

destroyer of light degradation years

My general policy as regards “last” records is to never say never until everybody’s holograms have been deleted, but the seven songs and 39 minutes of Degradation Years represent an ending for Destroyer of Light just the same, and the Austin-based troupe end as they began, which is by not being the band people expected them to be. Their previous long-player, 2022’s Panic (review here), dug into atmospheric doom in engrossing fashion, and Degradation Years presents not-at-all-their-first pivot, with post-punk atmospherics and ’90s-alt melodies on “Waiting for the End” and heavy drift on “Perception of Time.” “Failure” is duly sad, where the shorter, riffier “Blind Faith” shreds and careens heading into its verse, and the nine-minute “Where I Cannot Follow” gives Pallbearer‘s emotive crux a look on the way to its airy tremolo finish. Guitarist/vocalist Steve Colca has a couple other nascent projects going, guitarist Keegan Kjeldsen and drummer Kelly Turner are in Slumbering Sun, and Mike Swarbrick who plays bass here is in Cortége, but Destroyer of Light always stood on their own, and they never stopped growing across their 12-year run. Job well done.

Destroyer of Light on Facebook

Destroyer of Light on Bandcamp

Castle Rat, Into the Realm

castle rat into the realm

If you take away the on-stage theatricality, the medieval/horror fetish play, and all the hype, what you’re left with on Castle Rat‘s first album, Into the Realm is a solid collection of raw, classic-styled doom rock able to account for the Doors-y guitar in the quiet strum of the gets-heavy-later “Cry for Me” as well as the shrieks of “Fresh Fur” and opener “Dagger Dragger,” the nod and chug of “Nightblood” and the proto-metal of “Feed the Dream” via three interludes spaced out across its brief 32-minute stretch. Of course, taking away the drama, the sex, and aesthetic cultistry is missing part of the point of the band in the first place, but what I’m saying is that Into the Realm has more going for it than the fact that the band are young and good looking, willing to writhe, and thus marketable. They could haunt Brooklyn basements for the next 15-20 years or go tour with Ghost tomorrow, I honestly have no clue about their ambitions or goals in that regard, but their songs present a strong stylistic vision in accord with their overarching persona, resonating with a fresh generational take and potential progression. That’s enough on its own to make Into the Realm one of the year’s most notable debuts.

Castle Rat on Instagram

King Volume Records store

Temple of the Fuzz Witch, Apotheosis

Temple of the Fuzz Witch Apotheosis

With their third full-length and first for Ripple Music, Detroit trio Temple of the Fuzz Witch — guitarist/vocalist Noah Bruner (also synth), bassist Joe Peet and drummer Taylor Christian — follow their 2020 offering, Red Tide (review here), with a somewhat revamped imagining of who they are. Apotheosis — as high as you can get — introduces layers of harsh vocals and charred vibes amid the consuming lumber of its tonality, still cultish in atmosphere but heavier in its ritualizing and darker. The screams work, and songs like “Nephilim” benefit from Bruner‘s ability to shift from clean to harsh vocals there and across the nine-songer’s 39 minutes, and while there’s plenty of slog, a faster song like “Bow Down” stands out all the more from the grim, somehow-purple mist in which even the spacious midsection of “Raze” seems to reside. The bottom line is if you think you knew who they were or you judged them as a bong-metal tossoff because of their silly name, you’re already missing out. If you’re cool with that, fair enough. It’s not my job to sell you records anyway.

Temple of the Fuzz Witch on Facebook

Ripple Music website

State of Non Return, White Ink

State of Non Return White Ink

Among the final releases for Trepanation Recordings, White Ink is the years-in-the-making first LP from Bologna, Italy’s State of Non Return — and if you’re hearing a dogwhistle in their moniker for meditative fare because that’s also the name of an Om song, you’re neither entirely correct or incorrect. From the succession of the three circa-nine-minutes-each cuts “Catharsis,” “Vertigo” and “White Ink,” the trio harness a thoughtful take on brooding desert nod, with “Vertigo” boasting some more aggro-tinged shouts ahead of the chug in its middle building on the spoken word of the opener, and the intro to the title-track building into a roll of tempered distortion that offers due payoff in its sharp-edged leads and hypnotic repetitions, to the 15-minute finale “Pendulum” that offers due back and forth between minimal spaces and full-on voluminosity before taking off on an extended linear build to end, the focus is more on atmosphere than spiritual contemplation, and State of Non Return find individualism in moody contemplation and the tension-release of their heaviest moments. Some bands grow into their own sound over time. State of Non Return, who got together in 2016, seem to have spent at least some of that span of years since doing the legwork ahead of this release.

State of Non Return on Facebook

Trepanation Recordings on Bandcamp

Thief, Bleed, Memory

thief bleed memory

Writing and recording as a solo artist under the banner of Thief — there’s a band for stage purposes — Los Angeles-based multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Dylan Neal (also Botanist) pulls back from the ’90s-attitudinal industrial and nü-metal flirtations of 2021’s The 16 Deaths of My Master (review here) and reroutes the purpose toward more emotive atmospheric ends. Sure, “Dead Coyote Dreams” still sneaks out of its house to smoke cigarettes at night, and that’s cool forever and you know it, but with an urgent beat behind it, “Cinderland” opens to a wash that is encompassing in ways Thief had little interest in being three years ago, despite working with largely similar elements blending electronica, synth, and organic instrumentation. The narrative — blessings and peace upon it — holds that Neal‘s father’s onset of dementia inspired the turn, and that’s certainly reason enough if you need a reason, but if there’s processing taking place over the 12 inclusions and 44 minutes that Bleed, Memory spans, along with its allusions to James Joyce, Vladimir Nabokov, etc., that does not at all make the work feel anymore lost than it’s intended to be in the post-techno of “Paramnesia” or the wub-and-shimmer of “To Whom it May Concern” that rounds out. I’ll allow that being of a certain age might make it more relatable.

Thief on Facebook

Prophecy Productions website

Ravens, Ravens

ravens ravens

New Jersey’s Ravens mark their first public offering with this seven-song self-titled debut, spacious in its vocal echo and ostensibly led by riffs though that doesn’t necessarily mean the guitar is foremost in the mix throughout. The guitar/drum duo of Zack Kurland (Green Dragon, ex-Sweet Diesel, etc.) and drummer Chris Daly (Texas is the ReasonResurrection, etc.) emerges out of the trio Altered States with grounded rhythmic purpose beneath the atmospheric tones and vocal melodies, touching on pop in “Get On, Get On” while “New Speedway Boogie” struts with thicker tone and a less shoegazing intent than the likes of “To Whom You Were Born,” the languid “Miscommunication” and “Revolution 0,” though that two-minute piece ends with a Misfits-y vocal, so nothing is so black and white stylistically — a notion underscored as closer “Amen” builds from its All Them Witches-swaying meanderings to a full, driving wah-scorched wash to end off. Where they might be headed next, I have no idea, but if you can get on board with this one, the songs refuse to be sublimated to fit genre, and there are fewer more encouraging starts than that.

Ravens on Instagram

Ravens on Bandcamp

Spacedrifter, When the Colors Fade

Spacedrifter When the Colors Fade

Each of the 10 songs on Spacedrifter‘s first full-length, When the Colors Fade, works from its own intention, whether it’s the frenetic MondoGenerator thrust of “(Radio Edit)” or the touch of boogie in opener “Dwell,” but grunge and desert rock are at the root of much the proceedings, as the earliest-QOTSA fuzz of “Buried in Stone” will attest. But the scope of the whole is richer in hearing than on paper, and shifts like the layered vocal melodies in “Have a Girl” or the loose bluesy swing of the penultimate “NFOB,” the band’s willingness to let a part breathe without dwelling too long on any single idea, results in a balance that speaks to the open sensibilities of turn-of-the-century era European heavy without being a retread of those bands either. Comprised of bassist/vocalist/producer Olle Söderberg, drummer/vocalist Isac Löfgren guitarist/vocalist Adam Hante and guitarist John Söderberg, Spacedrifter‘s songwriting feels and organic in its scope and how it communes with the time before the “rules” of various microgenres were set, and is low-key refreshing not like an album you’re gonna hear a ton of hyperbole about, but one that’s going to stay with you longer than its 39 minutes, especially after you let it sink in over a couple listens. So yeah, I’m saying don’t be surprised when it’s on my year-end debuts list, blah blah whatever, but also watch out for how their sound develops from here.

Spacedrifter on Facebook

Spacedrifter on Bandcamp

Collyn McCoy, Night of the Bastard Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Collyn McCoy Night of the Bastard Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Assembled across varied movements of synthesizer ranging from half-a-minute to a bit under four minutes long, the score for the indie horror film Night of the Bastard finds L.A.’s Collyn McCoy (also of Circle of Sighs, bassist for Unida, etc.) performing under his experimental-and-then-some electronic alias Nyte Vypr, and if that doesn’t telegraph weirdness to come, well, you can just take my word for it that it should. I can’t claim to have seen the movie, which is reportedly available hither and yon in the clusterfuck that is the modern streamscape, but ’80s horror plays a big role in pieces like “Shards and Splinters” and the opening “Night of the Bastard” itself, while “If We Only Had Car Keys” and “Get Out” feel even more specifically John Carpenter in their beat and keyboard handclaps. Closer “The Sorceress” is pointedly terrifying, but “Turtle Feed” follows a drone and piano line to more peaceful ends that come across as far, far away from the foreboding soundscape of “Go Fuck Yourself.” Remember that part where I said it was going to get weird? It does, and it’s clearly supposed to, so mark it another win for McCoy‘s divergent CV.

Collyn McCoy website

Collyn McCoy on Bandcamp

Misleading, Face the Psych

Misleading Face the Psych

I hate to be that guy, but while Face the Psych is the third long-player from Portugal’s Misleading, it’s my first time hearing them, so I can’t help but feel like it’s worth noting that, in fact, they’re not that misleading at all. They tell you to face the psych and then, across seven cosmos-burning tracks and 54 minutes in an alternate dimension, you face it. Spoiler: it’s fucking rad. While largely avoiding the trap of oh-so-happening-right-now space metal, Misleading are perfectly willing to let themselves be carried where the flow of “Tutte le Nove Vite” takes them — church organ righteousness, bassy shuffle, jams that run in gravitational circles, and so on — and to shove and be shoved by the insistence of “Cheating Death” a short while later. The centerpiece “Spazio Nascoto” thickens up stonerized swing after a long intro of synth drone, and 12-minute capper “Egregore” feels like the entire song, not just the guitar and bass, has been put through the wah pedal. As likely to make you punchdrunk as entranced, willfully unhinged, and raw despite filling all the reaches of its mix and then some, it’s not so much misleading as leading-astray as you suddenly realize an hour later you’ve quit your job and dropped out of life, ne’er to be seen, heard from or hounded by debt collectors again. Congrats on that, by the way.

Misleading on Facebook

Misleading on Bandcamp

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Quarterly Review: Ufomammut, Insect Ark, Heath, The Cosmic Dead, The Watchers, Juke Cove, Laurel Canyon, Tet, Aidan Baker, Trap Ratt

Posted in Reviews on May 21st, 2024 by JJ Koczan

The-Obelisk-Quarterly-Review

Good morning and heavy riffs. Today is day 7 of the Quarterly Review. It’s already been a lot, but there are still 30 more releases to cover over the next three days, so I assure you at some point I’ll have that nervous breakdown that’s been ticking away in the back of my brain. A blast as always, which I mean both sincerely and sarcastically, somehow.

But when we’re done, 100 releases will have been covered, and I get a medal sent to me whenever that happens from the UN’s Stoner Rock Commission on Such Things, so I’ll look forward to that. In the meantime, we’re off.

Quarterly Review #61-70:

Ufomammut, Hidden

ufomammut hidden

Italian cosmic doomers Ufomammut celebrate their 25th anniversary in 2024, and as they always have, they do so by looking and moving forward. Hidden is the 10th LP in their catalog, the second to feature drummer Levre — who made his debut on 2022’s Fenice (review here) alongside bassist/vocalist Urlo and guitarist Poia (both also keyboards) — and it was preceded by last year’s Crookhead EP (review here), the 10-minute title-track of which is repurposed as the opener here. A singular, signature blend of heft and synth-based atmospherics, Ufomammut roll fluidly through the six-tracker check-in, and follow on from Fenice in sounding refreshed while digging into their core stylistic purposes. “Spidher” brings extra tonal crush around its open verse, and “Mausoleum” has plenty of that as well but is less condensed and hypnotic in its atmospheric midsection, Ufomammut paying attention to details while basking in an overarching largesse. The penultimate “Leeched” was the lead single for good reason, and the four-minute “Soulost” closes with a particularly psychedelic exploration of texture and drone with the drums keeping it moving. 25 years later and there’s still new things to discover. I hear the universe is like that.

Ufomammut website

Supernatural Cat website

Neurot Recordings website

Insect Ark, Raw Blood Singing

insect ark raw blood singing

Considering some of the places Dana Schechter has taken Insect Ark over the project’s to-date duration, most of Raw Blood Singing might at times feel daringly straightforward, but that’s hardly a detriment to the material itself. Songs like “The Hands” bring together rhythmic tension and melodic breadth, as soundscapes of drone, low end chug and the drumming of Tim Wyskida (also Khanate, Blind Idiot God) cast a morose, encompassing atmospheric vision. And rest assured, while “The Frozen Lake” lumbers through its seven minutes of depressive post-sludge — shades of The Book of Knots at their heaviest, but still darker — and “Psychological Jackal” grows likewise harsher and horrific, the experimentalist urge continues to resonate; the difference is it’s being set to serve the purposes of the songs themselves in “Youth Body Swayed” or “Cleaven Hearted,” which slogs like death-doom with a strum cutting through to replace vocals, whereas the outro “Ascension” highlights the noise on its own. It is a bleak, consuming course presented over Raw Blood Singing‘s 45 minutes, but there’s solace in the catharsis as well.

Insect Ark website

Debemur Murti Productions website

Heath, Isaak’s Marble

Heath Isaak's Marble

Laced through with harmonica and organic vibes, Netherlands-based five-piece Heath make their full-length debut with the four extended tracks of Isaak’s Marble, reveling in duly expansive jams keyed for vibrancy and a live sound. They are somewhat the band-between as regards microgenres, with a style that can be traced on the opening title-cut to heavy ’70s funk-boogie-via-prog-rock, and the harmonica plays a role there before spacing out with echo over top of the psychedelia beginning of “Wondrous Wetlands.” The wetlands in question, incidentally, might just be the guitar tone, but that haze clears a bit as the band saunters into a light shuffle jam before the harder-hitting build into a crescendo that sounds unhinged but is in fact quite under control as it turns back to a softshoe-ready groove with organ, keys, harmonica, guitar all twisting around with the bass and drums. Sitar and vocal harmonies give the shorter-at-six-minutes “Strawberry Girl” a ’60s psych-pop sunshine, but the undercurrent is consistent with the two songs before as Heath highlight the shroomier side of their pastoralism, ahead of side B capper “Valley of the Sun” transitioning out of that momentary soundscape with clear-eyed guitar and flute leading to an angular progression grounded by snare and a guitar solo after the verse that leads the shift into the final build. They’re not done, of course, as they bring it all to a rousing end and some leftover noise; subdued in the actual-departing, but still resonant in momentum and potential. These guys might just be onto something.

Heath website

Suburban Records store

The Cosmic Dead, Infinite Peaks

The Cosmic Dead Infinite Peaks

The Cosmic Dead, releasing through Heavy Psych Sounds, count Infinite Peaks as their ninth LP since 2011. I’ll take them at their word since between live offerings, splits, collections and whatnot, it’s hard sometimes to know what’s an album. Similarly, when immersed in the 23-minute cosmic sprawl of “Navigator #9,” it can become difficult to understand where you stop and the universe around you begins. Rising quickly to a steady, organ-inclusive roll, the Glaswegian instrumental psilocybinists conjure depth like few of their jam-prone ilk and remain entrancing as “Navigator #9” shifts into its more languid, less-consuming middle movement ahead of the resurgent finish. Over on side B, “Space Mountain” (20:02) is a bit more drastic in the ends it swaps between — a little noisier and faster up front, followed by a zazzy-jazzy push with fiddle and effects giving over to start-stop bass and due urgency in the drums complemented by fuzz like they just got in a room and this happened before the skronky apex and unearthly comedown resolve in a final stretch of drone. Ninth record or 15th, whatever. Their mastery of interstellar heavy exploration is palpable regardless of time, place or circumstance. Infinite Peaks glimpses at that dimensional makeup.

The Cosmic Dead website

Heavy Psych Sounds website

The Watchers, Nyctophilia

The Watchers Nyctophilia

Perhaps telegraphing some of their second long-player’s darker intentions in the cover art and the title Nyctophilia — a condition whereby you’re happier and more comfortable in darkness — if not the choice of Max Norman (Ozzy Osbourne, Death Angel, etc.) to produce, San Francisco’s The Watchers are nonetheless a heavy rock and roll band. What’s shifted in relation to their 2018 debut, Black Abyss (review here), is the angle of approach they take in getting there. What hasn’t changed is the strength of songwriting at their foundation or the hitting-all-their-marks professionalism of their execution, whether it’s Tim Narducci bringing a classic reach to the vocals of “Garden Tomb” or the precise muting in his and Jeremy Von Epp‘s guitars and Chris Lombardo‘s bass on “Haunt You When I’m Dead” and Nick Benigno‘s declarative kickdrum stomping through the shred of “They Have No God.” The material lands harder without giving up its capital-‘h’ Heavy, which is an accomplishment in itself, but The Watchers set a high standard last time out and Nyctophilia lives up to that while pursuing its own semi-divergent ends.

The Watchers on Facebook

Ripple Music website

Juke Cove, Tempest

juke cove tempest

Leipzig’s Juke Cove follow a progressive course across eight songs and 44 minutes of Tempest, between nodding riffs of marked density and varying degrees of immediacy, whether it’s the might-just-turn-around-on-you “Hypnosis” early on or the shove with which the duly brief penultimate piece “Burst” takes off after the weighted crash of and ending stoner-rock janga-janga riff of “Glow” and precedes the also-massive “Xanadu” in the closing position, capping with a fuzzy solo because why not. From opener “The Path” into the bombast of “Hypnosis” and the look-what-we-can-make-riffs-do “Wait,” the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Mateusz Pietrzela, bassist/vocalist Dima Ogorodnov and drummer Maxim Balobin mine aural individualism from familiar-enough genre elements, shaping material of character that benefits from the scope wrought in tone and production. Much to its credit, Tempest feels unforced in speaking to various sides of its persona, and no matter where a given song might go — the watery finish of “Wait” or the space-blues drift that emerges out of psych-leaning noise rock on “Confined,” for example — Juke Cove steer with care and heart alike and are all the more able to bring their audience with them as a result. Very cool, and no, I’m not calling them pricks when I say that.

Juke Cove on Facebook

Juke Cove on Bandcamp

Laurel Canyon, East Side EP

laurel canyon east side

A little more than a year out from their impressive self-titled debut LP (review here), Philly three-piece Laurel Canyon — guitarist/bassist/vocalist Nicholas Gillespie, guitarist/vocalist Serg Cereja, drummer Dylan DePice — offer the East Side three-songer to follow-up on the weighted proto-grunge vibes therein. “East Side” itself, at two and a half minutes, is a little more punk in that as it aligns for a forward push in the chorus between its swaggering verses, while “Garden of Eden” is more directly Nirvana-schooled in making its well-crafted melody sound like something that just tumbled out of somebody’s mouth, pure happenstance, and “Untitled” gets more aggressive in its second half, topping a momentary slowdown/nod with shouts before they let it fall apart at the end. This procession takes place in under 10 minutes and by the time you feel like you’ve got a handle on it, they’re done, which is probably how it should be. East Side isn’t Laurel Canyon‘s first short release, and they’re clearly comfortable in the format, bolstering the in-your-face-itude of their style with a get-in-and-get-out ethic correspondingly righteous in its rawness.

Laurel Canyon on Facebook

Agitated Records website

Tet, Tet

tet tet

If you hadn’t yet come around to thinking of Poland among Europe’s prime underground hotspots, Tet offer their four-song/45-minute self-titled debut for your (re-)consideration. With its lyrics and titles in Polish, Tet draws on the modern heavy prog influence of Elder in some of the 12-minute opener/longest track (immediate points), “Srebro i antracyt,” but neither that nor “Dom w cieniu gruszy,” which follows, stays entirely in one place for the duration, and the lush melody that coincides with the unfolding of “Wiosna” is Tet‘s own in more than just language; that is to say, there’s more to distinguish them from their influences than the syllabic. Each inclusion adds complexity to the story their songs are telling, and as closer “Włóczykije” gradually moves from its dronescape by bringing in the drums unveiling the instrumentalist build already underway, Tet carve a niche for themselves in one of the continent’s most crowded scenes. I wonder if they’ve opened for Weedpecker. They could. Or Belzebong, for that matter. Either way, it will be worth looking out for how they expand on these ideas next time around.

Tet linktr.ee

Tet on Bandcamp

Aidan Baker, Everything is Like Always Until it is Not

aidan baker Everything is Like Always Until it is Not

Aidan Baker, also of Nadja, aligns the eight pieces of what I think is still his newest outing — oh wait, nope; this came out in Feb. and in March he had an hour-long drone two-songer out; go figure/glad I checked — to represent the truism of the title Everything is Like Always Until it is Not, and arranges the tracks so that the earlier post-shoegaze in “Everything” or “Like” can be a preface for the more directly drone-based “It” “Is” later on. And yes, there are two songs called “Is.” Does it matter? Definitely not while Baker‘s evocations are actually being heard. Free-jazz drums — not generally known for a grounding effect — do some work in terms of giving all the float that surrounds them a terrestrial aspect, but if you know Baker‘s work either through his solo stuff, Nadja or sundry other collaborations, I probably don’t need to tell you that the 47 minutes of Everything is Like Always Until it is Not fall into the “not like always” category as a defining feature, whether it’s “Until” manifesting tonal heft in waves of static cut through by tom-to-snare-to-cymbal splashes or “Not” seeming unwilling to give itself over to its own flow. I imagine a certain restlessness is how Aidan Baker‘s music happens in the first place. You get smaller encapsulations of that here, if not more traditional accessibility.

Aidan Baker on Facebook

Cruel Nature Recordings on Bandcamp

Trap Ratt, Tribus Rattus Mortuus

Trap Ratt Tribus Rattus Mortuus

Based in the arguable capitol of the Doom Capitol region — Frederick, Maryland — the three-piece Trap Ratt arrive in superbly raw style with the four-song/33-minute Tribus Rattus Mortuus, the last of which, aptly-titled “IV,” features Tim Otis (High Noon Kahuna, Admiral Browning, etc.), who also mixed and mastered, guesting on noise while Charlie Chaplin’s soliloquy from 1940’s The Dictator takes the place of the tortured barebones shouts that accompany the plod of 13-minute opener/longest track (immediate points) “The Sacred Skunk,” seemingly whenever they feel like it. That includes the chugging part before the feedback gets caustic near the song’s end, by the way. “Thieving From the Grieving” — which may or may not have been made up on the spot — repurposes Stooges-style riffing as the foundation for its own decay into noise, and if from anything I’ve said so far about the album you might expect “Take the Gun” to not be accordingly harsh, Trap Ratt have a word and eight minutes of disaffected exploration they’d like to share with you. It’s not every record you could say benefits aesthetically from being recorded live in the band’s rehearsal space, but yes, Tribus Rattus Mortuus most definitely does.

Trap Ratt on Facebook

Trap Ratt on Bandcamp

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Quarterly Review: Pelican, My Dying Bride, Masonic Wave, Bismarck, Sun Moon Holy Cult, Daily Thompson, Mooch, The Pleasure Dome, Slump, Green Hog Band

Posted in Reviews on May 20th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

The-Obelisk-Quarterly-Review

Welcome back to the Quarterly Review. Good weekend? Restful? Did you get out and see some stuff? Did you loaf and hang out on the couch? There are advantages to either, to be sure. Friday night I watched my daughter (and a literal 40 other performers, no fewer than four of whom sang and/or danced to the same Taylor Swift song) do stand-up comedy telling math jokes at her elementary school variety show. She’s in kindergarten, she likes math, and she killed. Nice little moment for her, if one that came as part of a long evening generally.

The idea this week is the same as last week: 50 releases covered across five days. Put the two weeks together and the Spring 2024 Quarterly Review — which I’m pretty sure is what I called the one in March as well; who cares? — runs 100 strong. I’ll be traveling, some with family, some on my own, for a bit in the coming months, so this is a little bit my way of clearing my slate before that all happens, but it’s always satisfying to dig into so much and get a feel for what different acts are doing, try and convey some of that as directly as I can. If you’re reading, thanks. If this is the first you’re seeing of it and you want to see more, you can either scroll down or click here.

Either way, off we go.

Quarterly Review #51-60:

Pelican, Adrift/Tending the Embers

pelican adrift tending the embers

Chicago (mostly-)instrumentalist stalwarts Pelican haven’t necessarily been silent since 2019’s Nighttime Stories (review here), with a digital live release in Spring 2020, catalog reissues on Thrill Jockey, a couple in-the-know covers posted and shows hither and yon, but the stated reason for the two-songer EP Adrift/Tending the Embers is to raise funds ahead of recording what will be their seventh album in a career now spanning more than 20 years. In addition to that being a cause worth supporting — they’re on the second pressing; 200 blue tapes — the two new original tracks “Adrift” (5:48) and “Tending the Embers” (4:26) reintroduce guitarist Laurent Schroeder-Lebec as a studio presence alongside guitarist Trevor Shelley de Brauw, bassist Bryan Herweg and drummer Larry Herweg. Recorded by the esteemed Sanford Parker, neither cut ranges too far conceptually from the band’s central modus bringing together heavy groove with lighter/brighter reach of guitar, but come across like a tight, more concise encapsulation of earlier accomplishments. There’s a certain amount of comfort in that as they surf the crunching, somehow-noise-rock-inspired riff of “Adrift,” sounding refreshed in their purpose in a way that one hopes they can carry into making the intended LP.

Pelican website

Pelican on Bandcamp

My Dying Bride, A Mortal Binding

My Dying Bride A Mortal Binding

Something of a harsher take on A Mortal Binding, which is the 15th full-length from UK death-doom forebears My Dying Bride, as well as their second for Nuclear Blast behind 2020’s lush The Ghost of Orion (review here. The seven-song/55-minute offering from the masters of misery derives its character in no small part from the front-mixed vocals of Aaron Stainthorpe, who from opener “Her Dominion” onward, switches between his morose semi-spoken approach, woeful as ever, and dry-throated harsher barks. And that the leadoff is all-screams feels like a purposeful choice as that rasp returns in the second half of “The 2nd of Three Bells,” the 11-minute “The Apocalyptist,” “A Starving Heart” and the ending section of closer “Crushed Embers.” I don’t know when the last time a My Dying Bride LP sounded so roiling, but it’s been a minute. The duly morose riffing of founding guitarist Andrew Craighan unites this outwardly nastier aspect with the more melodic “Thornwyck Hymn,” “Unthroned Creed” and the rest that isn’t throatripper-topped, but with returning producer Mark Mynett, the band has clearly honed in on a more stripped-down, still-room-for-violin approach, and it works in just about everything but the drums, which sound triggered/programmed in the way of modern metal. It remains easy to get caught in the band’s wretched sweep, and I’ll note that it’s a rare act who can surprise you 15 records later.

My Dying Bride website

Nuclear Blast webstore

Masonic Wave, Masonic Wave

Masonic Wave Masonic Wave

Masonic Wave‘s self-titled debut is the first public offering from the Chicago-based five-piece with Bruce Lamont (Yakuza, Corrections House, Led Zeppelin II, etc.) on vocals, and though “Justify the Cling” has a kind of darker intensity in its brooding first-half ambience, what that build and much besides throughout the eight-song offering leads to is a weighted take on post-hardcore that earlier pieces “Bully” and “Tent City” present in duly confrontational style before “Idle Hands” (the longest inclusion at just under eight minutes) digs into a similar explore-till-we-find-the-payoff ideology and “Julia” gnashes through noise-rock teethkicking. Some of the edge-of-the-next-outburst restlessness cast by Lamont, guitarists Scott Spidale and Sean Hulet, bassist Fritz Doreza and drummer Clayton DeMuth reminds of Chat Pile‘s arthouse disillusion, but “Nuzzle Up” has a cyclical crunch given breadth through the vocal melody and the sax amid the multiple angles and sharp corners of the penultimate “Mountains of Labor” are a clue to further weirdness to come before “Bamboozler” closes with heads-down urgency before subtly branching into a more spacious if still pointedly unrelaxed culmination. No clue where it might all be headed, but that’s part of the appeal as Masonic Wave‘s Sanford Parker-produced 39 minutes play out, the songs engaging almost in spite of themselves.

Masonic Wave on Bandcamp

Masonic Wave on Bandcamp

Bismarck, Vourukasha

BISMARCK VOURUKASHA

There are shades of latter-day Conan (whose producer/former bassist Chris Fielding mixed here) in the vocal trades and mega-toned gallop of opening track “Sky Father,” which Bismarck expand upon with the more pointedly post-metallic “Echoes,” shifting from the lurching ultracrush into a mellower midsection before the blastbeaten crescendo gives over to rumble and the hand-percussion-backed whispers of the intro to “Kigal.” Their first for Dark Essence, the six-song/35-minute Vourukasha follows 2020’s Oneiromancer (review here) and feels poised in its various transitions between consuming aural heft and leaving that same space in the mix open for comparatively minimal exploration. “Kigal” takes on a Middle Eastern lean and stays unshouted/growled for its five-plus minutes — a choice that both works and feels purposeful — but the foreboding drone of interlude “The Tree of All Seeds” comes to a noisy head as if to warn of the drop about to take place in the title-track, which flows through its initial movement with an emergent float of guitar that leads into its own ambient middle ahead of an engrossing, duly massive slowdown/payoff worthy of as much volume as it can be given. Wrapping with the nine-minute “Ocean Dweller,” they summarize what precedes on Vourukasha while shifting the structure as an extended, vocal-inclusive-at-the-front soundscape bookends around one more huge, slow-marching, consciousness-flattening procession. Extremity refined.

Bismarck on Facebook

Dark Essence Records website

Sun Moon Holy Cult, Sun Moon Holy Cult

Sun Moon Holy Cult Sun Moon Holy Cult

That fact that Sun Moon Holy Cult exist on paper as a band based in Tokyo playing a Sabbath-boogie-worshiping, riff-led take on heavy rock with a song like “I Cut Your Throat” leading off their self-titled debut makes a Church of Misery comparison somewhat inevitable, but the psych jamming around the wah-bass shuffle of “Out of the Dark,” longer-form structures, the vocal melodies and the Sleep-style march of “Savoordoom” that grows trippier as it delves further into its 13 minutes distinguish the newcomer four-piece of vocalist Hakuka, guitarist Ryu, bassist Ame and drummer Bato across the four-song LP’s 40 minutes. Issued through Captured Records and SloomWeep Productions, Sun Moon Holy Cult brings due bombast amid the roll of “Mystic River” as well, hitting its marks stylistically while showcasing the promise of a band with a clear idea of what they want their songs to do and perhaps how they want to grow over time. If this is to be the foundation of that growth, watch out.

Sun Moon Holy Cult on Instagram

Captured Records website

SloomWeep Productions on Bandcamp

Daily Thompson, Chuparosa

Daily Thompson Chuparosa

Dortmund, Germany’s Daily Thompson made their way to Port Orchard, Washington, to record Chuparosa with Mos Generator‘s Tony Reed at the helm, and the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Danny Zaremba, bassist/vocalist Mercedes Lalakakis and drummer/vocalist Thorsten Stratmann bring a duly West Coast spirit to “I’m Free Tonight” and the grunge-informed roll of “Diamond Waves” and the verses of “Raindancer.” The former launches the 36-minute outing with a pointedly Fu Manchuian vibe, but the start-stops, fluid roll and interplay of vocals from Zaremba and Lalakakis lets “Pizza Boy” move in its own direction, and the brooding acoustic start of “Diamond Waves” and more languid wash of riff in the chorus look elsewhere in ’90s alternativism for their basis. The penultimate “Ghost Bird” brings in cigar-box guitar and dares some twang amid all the fuzz, but as “Raindancer” has already branched out with its quieter bassy midsection build and final desert-hued thrust, the album can accommodate such a shift without any trouble. The title-track trades between wistful grunge verses and a fuller-nodding hook, from which the three-piece take off for the bridge, thankfully returning to the chorus in Chuparosa‘s big finish. The manner in which the whole thing brims with purpose makes it seem like Daily Thompson knew exactly what they were going for in terms of sound, so I guess you could say it was probably worth the trip.

Daily Thompson on Facebook

Noisolution website

Mooch, Visions

mooch visions

Kicking off with the markedly Graveyardian “Hangtime,” Mooch ultimately aren’t content to dwell solely in a heavy-blues-boogie sphere on Visions, their third LP and quick follow-up to 2023’s Hounds. Bluesy as the vibe is from which the Montreal trio set out, the subsequent “Morning Prayer” meanders through wah-strum open spaces early onto to delve into jangly classic-prog strum later, while “Intention” backs its drawling vocal melody with nylon-stringed acoustic guitar and hand percussion. Divergence continues to be the order of the day throughout the 41-minute eight-songer, with “New Door” shifting from its sleepy initial movement into an even quieter stretch of Doors-meets-Stones-y melody before the bass leads into its livelier solo section with just a tinge of Latin rhythm and “Together” giving more push behind a feel harkening back to the opener but that grows quiet and melodically expansive in its second half. This sets up the moodier vibe of “Vision” and gives the roll of “You Wouldn’t Know” an effective backdrop for its acoustic/electric blend and harmonized vocals, delivered patiently enough to let the lap steel slide into the arrangement easily before the brighter-toned “Reflections” caps with a tinge of modern heavy post-rock. What’s tying it together? Something intangible. Momentum. Flow. Maybe just the confidence to do it? I don’t know, but as subdued as they get, they never lose their momentum, and as much movement as their is, they never seem to lose their balance. Visions might not reveal its full scope the first time through, but subsequent listens bring due reward.

Mooch on Facebook

Mooch on Bandcamp

The Pleasure Dome, Liminal Space

The Pleasure Dome Liminal Space EP

The narrative — blessings and peace upon it — has it that guitarist/vocalist Bobby Spender recruited bassist Loz Fancourt and drummer Harry Flowers after The Pleasure Dome‘s prior rhythm section left, ahead of putting together the varied 16 minutes of the Liminal Space EP. For what it’s worth, the revamped Bristol, UK, trio don’t sound any more haphazard than they want to in the loose-swinging sections of “Shoulder to Cry On” that offset the fuller shove of the chorus, or the punk-rooted alt-rock brashness of “The Duke Part II (Friends & Enemies),” and the blastbeat-inclusive tension of “Your Fucking Smile” that precedes the folk-blues finger-plucking of “Sugar.” Disjointed? Kind of, but that also feels like the point. Closer “Suicide” works around acoustic guitar and feels sincere in the lines, “Suicide, suicide/I’ve been there before/I’ve been there before/On your own/So hold on,” and the profession of love that resolves it, and while that’s at some remove from the bitter spirit of the first two post-intro tracks, Liminal Space makes its own kind of sense with the sans-effects voice of Spender at its core.

The Pleasure Dome on Facebook

Hound Gawd! Records website

Slump, Dust

Slump Dust EP

A solid four-songer from Birmingham’s Slump, who are fronted by guitarist Matt Noble (also Alunah), with drummer David Kabbouri Lara and bassist Ben Myles backing the riff-led material with punch in “Buried” after the careening hook of “Dust” opens with classic scorch in its solo and before the slower and more sludged “Kneel” gets down to its own screamier business and “Vultures” rounds out with a midtempo stomp early but nods to what seems like it’s going to be a more morose finish until the drum solo takes off toward the big-crash finish. As was the case on Slump‘s 2023 split with At War With the Sun, the feel across Dust is that of a nascent band — Slump got together in 2018, but this is their most substantial standalone release to-date — figuring out what they want to do. The ideas are there, and the volatility at which “Kneel” hints will hopefully continue to serve them well as they explore spaces between metal and heavy rock, classic and modern styles. A progression underway toward any number of potential avenues.

Slump on Facebook

Slump on Bandcamp

Green Hog Band, Fuzz Realm

Green Hog Band Fuzz Realm

What dwells in Green Hog Band‘s Fuzz Realm? If you said “fuzz,” go ahead and get yourself a cookie (the judges also would’ve accepted “riffs” and “heavy vibes, dude”), but for those unfamiliar with the New Yorker trio’s methodology, there’s more to it than tone as guitarist/producer Mike Vivisector, bassist/vocalist Ivan Antipov and drummer Ronan Berry continue to carve out their niche of lo-fi stoner buzz marked by harsh, gurgly vocals in the vein of Attila Csihar, various samples, organ sounds and dug-in fuckall. “Escape on the Wheels” swings and chugs instrumentally, and “In the Mist of the Bong” has lyrics in English, so there’s no lack of variety despite the overarching pervasiveness of misanthropy. That mood is further cast in the closing salvo of the low-slung “Morning Dew” and left-open “Phantom,” both of which are instrumental save for some spoken lines in the latter, as the prevailing sense is that they were going to maybe put some verses on there but decided screw it and went back to their cave (presumably somewhere in Queens) instead, because up yours anyhow. 46 minutes of crust-stoned “up yours anyhow,” then.

Green Hog Band on Facebook

The Swamp Records on Bandcamp

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Friday Full-Length: Solace, Further

Posted in Bootleg Theater on May 17th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

The riff-mad scourge of the Jersey Shore, Solace made their full-length debut in 2000 through MeteorCity with the somewhat counterintuitively titled Further. What was then the four-piece of guitarist Tommy Southard, bassist Rob Hultz (now of Trouble), drummer Bill “Bixby” Belford and the vocalist I only ever knew by his first name, JasonSouthard and Hultz had been in punk bands together before their heavier post-grunge outfit Godspeed — whose lineup also featured Chris Kosnik pre-The Atomic Bitchwax and current Solace drummer Tim Schoenleber — were snagged in a major label cull by Atlantic Records (see also: Core) following the emergence of Monster Magnet. In 1994, they released their lone LP, Ride, toured with Black Sabbath and Cathedral, and collaborated with Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden on the Nativity in Black tribute album. It was quite a time.

Solace was a different animal. And very definitely an animal. Further was preceded by the Jersey Devils EP (discussed here), which came out in 1999 through MeteorCity and Freebird Records as a split with fellow Garden Staters Solarized, as well as a demo tape (yes, a tape) and a two-songer 7″, but obviously its 53-plus minutes were the first deeper look at what they were about. Mostly volatility.

Were they punk? Hardcore? Metal? They could be righteously aggressive and noisy, roll on a riff for however long, or twist their way through polar shifts within the span of a song like “Black Unholy Ground” or charge through the scorching “Whistle Pig” before turning to acoustic-led melancholia on “Hungry Mother.” Further was likewise chaotic and dynamic, but it all somehow held together. Southard would prove to be the madman behind the madcap, but taken as a whole, Further feels untamed and willful, and when they hit it, the force of their delivery remains unto itself. I’m not going to pretend to be impartial about the band or this record, but after I don’t even want to guess how many times I’ve heard it, I’m still blindsided almost every time.

The seven-minutes-each “Mandog” and “Black Holy Ground” open, and “Followed,” which follows (ha.), tops eight, so by the time you’re three songs into it, it’s been about 25 minutes. And from the first punch of solace furtherHultz‘s bass as “Mandog” kicks in to the manic careening circa five minutes in, the shred and the way they seem to throw the song down the stairs as they enter the fade, it remains a signature piece. “Black Holy Ground” is tense in the drums and finds Jason brooding in the first verse, but malleable enough as a singer to carry that melody and move to a shoutier approach as the proceedings grow more intense. It all ends in a wash of noise, but before that, there’s that-era-Clutch-worthy nod and hardcore-punk forward thrust, and 24 years later you’re still kind of left wondering how it all holds together.

Because with some bands, it’s the bass or the drums keeping a central rhythm while the guitar goes off and does it’s thing. You hear that a lot. It’s the classic power trio modus. With Further, it’s not that Solace aren’t tight — if they weren’t, the album probably wouldn’t exist — but that it’s all-in on all-out. Everybody’s in on it. Maybe that applies to the vocals to a lesser extent, but even over the course of “Followed,” Jason ends up in a much different place than he began in topping the build first with subdued, low-mouth singing and barking out later for “Some semblance of self/Some semblance of love” before the cymbal wash leads into the finish. “Whistle Pig” and the later “Suspicious Tower” are shorter and more direct, but still dare the listener to keep up if they can, and on the other side of “Hungry Mother” awaits the tense plod of “Angels Dreaming,” which spends its first four minutes holding itself back tempo-wise before finally breaking free with what in a lot of contexts would be boogie but in Solace‘s hands becomes a sledge. And of course the solo nudges in on psychedelic territory before the big slowdown, because how could it not?

It’s not that Solace, even at this point, were ever lazy in songwriting or haphazard stylistically. Rest assured, they’ve always known precisely what they’re about; it’s who they are. And Further was cohesive — it’s not that Solace got pissed off, hit record and that was it. The record makes its own kind of sense, and its refusal to do otherwise or to compromise in persona or spirit is palpable, whether it’s “Hungry Mother” or “Suspicious Tower,” which starts with a sample from the 1962 sci-fi flick The Creation of the Humanoids, or the 11-minute “Heavy Birth/2-Fisted,” for which my brain still does a “holy shit here we go” every time it comes on. Aggro groove, a trippy middle with toms thudding away behind paid off by shred and a cacophonous but controlled assault to end its extended, sweeping course. I’m not sure how many other bands could even turn that into a song, let alone that one.

Tumult be thy name. Different editions of Further have bonus covers of Iron Maiden‘s “Another Life” and Misfits‘ “We Bite,” the latter of which feels like a better fit but both of which are thoroughly brought into Solace‘s own sound. And maybe that’s not such a surprise now, nearly a quarter-century after the fact with however many microgenres branched off from the core of heavy rock and roll, but the punk-metal Solace wrought on Further would remain a definitive presence in their subsequent work, whether it was 2003’s 13 (discussed here), the 2004 split with Greatdayforup that introduced Justin Daniels on yes-we-need-more guitar, or the fraught-in-the-making 2010 third album, A.D. (review here), after which they actually disbanded until coming back with a new lineup for the 2017 EP, Bird of Ill Omen (review here) and ensuing fourth full-length, The Brink (review here), which in all honesty I’ll tell you was something I didn’t imagine would ever actually happen until late-2019 when it did.

And what could be more Solace than that? The very definition of ‘you never know.’ Now fronted by Justin “Has a Surname” Goins, with Southard and Daniels on guitar, the aforementioned Schoenleber on drums and bassist Mike SicaSolace are slated to play next year’s Planet Desert Rock Weekend in Las Vegas, and whether it’s there or some dive in Asbury — they were the kings of Long Branch’s The Brighton Bar, sadly closed — I would encourage you heartily to witness first-hand what they bring to the stage when the opportunity presents itself. Fury like no other.

As always, I hope you enjoy. The band have been putting songs up one at a time through their catalog on their YouTube, if you want to hit that up.

How ’bout that Quarterly Review, huh? It’s a doozy, and if you missed it the other however-many times I said so, it’s only halfway over. 50 more reviews will roll out next Monday to Friday, so sit tight. Plenty more to come.

Tonight is the variety show for The Pecan’s school. It’s at the high school auditorium, kind of a big deal to the kids, blah blah. She’s doing a stand-up routine of math jokes. Killed at dress rehearsal. Brave, all that. Fine. It’s at 6PM, which because I’m in my 40s feels like a decent time for a show to start.

The Zelda saga continues in our home. We borrowed my nephew’s old GameCube so we could play The Wind Walker this week. Between The Patient Mrs. and I, I’m pretty sure someone has gotten hit in Zelda-related incidents the last three days in a row, so you can see how that’s going. Last night I got hit — hard — for falling in lava in whatever early-game dungeon it was, and just kind of shut down for the night. The Patient Mrs., prone to taking it all on herself anyway, stepped in and got the grappling hook, but yeah. Broadly speaking, it sucked. We had a good first night with it on Sunday, but then, the new thing is always an easy day.

Parenting.

We’re also shit-broke, so that’s a fun additional layer of stress. Turns out the impending Budapest trip cost all the money forever. Yay.

Have a great and safe weekend. I’m gonna shower after dropoff, throw in a load of laundry and try to find some kind of breakfast that isn’t binge-eating cheese or almond/pecan butter. I’ll start setting up the next QR post for Monday and maybe do some listening, but the break is what I’m after, so the sooner I’m in it the better. Though the shower is imperative there as well.

Thanks for reading.

No merch up right now, but FRM anyway.

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Quarterly Review: Pallbearer, BleakHeart, Pryne, Avi C. Engel, Aktopasa, Guenna, Slow Green Thing, Ten Ton Slug, Magic Fig, Scorched Oak

Posted in Reviews on May 17th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

The-Obelisk-Quarterly-Review

By the time today is through — come hell or high water! — we will be at the halfway point of this two-week Quarterly Review. It hasn’t been difficult so far, though there are ups and downs always and I don’t think I’m giving away secrets when I tell you that in listening to 50 records some are going to be better than others.

Truth is that even outside the 100 LPs, EPs, etc., I have slated, there’s still a ton more. Even in something so massive, there’s an element of picking and choosing what goes in. Curation is the nice word for it, though it’s not quite that creatif in my head. Either way, I hope you’ve found something that connects this week. If not yet, then today. If not today, then maybe next week. As I’m prone to say on Fridays, we’re back at it on Monday.

Quarterly Review #41-50:

Pallbearer, Mind Burns Alive

pallbearer mind burns alive

While I won’t take away from the rawer energy and longing put into their earlier work, maturity suits Pallbearer. The Little Rock, Arkansas, four-piece of vocalist/guitarist Brett Campbell, guitarist/backing vocalist Devin Holt, bassist/synthesist/backing vocalist Joseph D. Rowland and drummer Mark Lierly have passed their 15th anniversary between 2020’s Forgotten Days (review here) and the self-recorded six tracks of Mind Burns Alive, and they sound poised harnessing new breadth and melodic clarity. They’ve talked about the album being stripped down, and maybe that’s true to some degree in the engrossing-anyhow opener “When the Light Fades,” but there’s still room for sax on the 10-minute “Endless Place,” and the quieter stretches of the penultimate “Daybreak” highlight harmonized vocals before the bass-weighted riff sweeps in after the three-minute mark. Campbell has never sounded stronger or more confident as a singer, and he’s able to carry the likewise subdued intro to “Signals” with apparent sincerity and style alike. The title-track flashes brighter hopes in its later guitar solo leads, but they hold both their most wistful drift and their most crushing plod for closer “With Disease,” because five records and countless tours (with more to come) later, Pallbearer very clearly know what the fuck they’re doing. I hope having their own studio leads to further exploration from here.

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Nuclear Blast website

BleakHeart, Silver Pulse

Bleakheart silver pulse

With its six pieces arranged so that side A works from its longest track to its shortest and side B mirrors by going shortest to longest, Denver‘s BleakHeart seem to prioritize immersion on their second full-length, Silver Pulse, as “All Hearts Desire” unfolds fluidly across nearly eight minutes, swelling to an initial lumbering roll that evaporates as they move into the more spacious verse and build back up around the vocals of Kiki GaNun (also synth) and Kelly Schilling (also bass, keys and more synth). Emotional resonance plays at least as much of a role throughout as the tonal weight intermittently wrought by JP Damron and Mark Chronister‘s guitars, and with Joshua Quinones on drums giving structure and movement to the meditations of “Where I’m Disease” before leaving the subsequent “Let Go” to its progression through piano, drone and a sit-in from a string quartet that leads directly into “Weeping Willow,” the spaces feel big and open but never let the listener get any more lost in them than is intended. This is the first LP from the five-piece incarnation of BleakHeart, which came together in 2022, and the balance of lushness and intensity as “Weeping Willow” hits its culmination and recedes into the subdued outset of “Falling Softly” and the doomed payoff that follows bodes well, but don’t take that as undercutting what’s already being accomplished here.

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Seeing Red Records website

Pryne, Gargantuan

PRYNE Gargantuan

Austria’s Pryne — also stylized all-caps: PRYNE — threaten to derail their first album before it’s even really started with the angular midsection breakdown of “Can-‘Ka No Rey,” but that the opener holds its course and even brings that mosher riff back at the end is indicative of the boldness with which they bring together the progressive ends of metal and heavy rock throughout the 10-song/46-minute offering, soaring in the solo ahead of the slowdown in “Ramification,” giving the audience 49 seconds to catch its breath after that initial salvo with “Hollow Sea” before “Abordan” resumes the varied onslaught with due punch, shove and twist, building tension in the verse and releasing in the melodic chorus in a way that feels informed by turn-of-the-century metal but seeming to nod at Type O Negative in the first half bridge of “Cymboshia” and refusing flat-out to do any one thing for too long. Plotted and complex even as “The Terrible End of the Yogi” slams out its crescendo before the Baronessy verse of “Plaguebearer” moves toward a stately gang shout and squibbly guitar tremolo, they roll out “Enola” as a more straight-ahead realignment before the drone interlude “Shapeless Forms” bursts into the double-kick-underscored thrash of closer “Elder Things,” riding its massive groove to an expectedly driving end. You never quite know what’s coming next within the songs, but the overarching sense of movement becomes a uniting factor that serves the material well regardless of the aggression level in any given stretch.

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Avi C. Engel, Too Many Souls

avi c engel too many souls

Backed by looped percussive ticks and pops and the cello-esque melody of the gudok, Toronto experimental singer-songwriter Avi C. Engel is poised as they ask in the lyrics of “Breadcrumb Dance,” “How many gods used to run this place/Threw up their hands, went into real estate” near the center of the seven-song Too Many Souls LP. Never let it be said there wasn’t room for humor in melancholy. Engel isn’t new to exploring folkish intimacy in various contexts, and Too Many Souls feels all the more personal even in “Wooly Mammoth” or second cut “Ladybird, What’s Wrong?” which gets underway on its casual semi-ramble with the line, “One by one I watch them piss into the sun,” for the grounded perspective at root. An ongoing thread of introspection and Engel‘s voice at the center draw the songs together as these stories are told in metaphor — birds return in the album’s second half with “The Oven Bird’s Song” but there’s enough heart poured in that it doesn’t need to be leaned into as a theme — and before it moves into its dreamstate drone still with the acoustic guitar beneath, “Without Any Eyes” brings through its own kind of apex in Engel‘s layered delivery. Topped with a part-backmasked take on the traditional “Wayfaring Stranger” that’s unfortunately left as an instrumental, Too Many Souls finds Engel continuing their journey of craft with its own songs as companions for each other and the artist behind them.

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Somnimage website

Aktopasa, Ultrawest

aktopasa ultrawest

The 13-minute single “Ultrawest” follows behind Aktopasa‘s late-2022 Argonauta Records debut, Journey to the Pink Planet (review here), and was reportedly composed to feature in a documentary of the same name about the reshaping of post-industrial towns in Colorado. It is duly spacious in its slow, linear, instrumentalist progression. The Venice, Italy, three-piece of guitarist Lorenzo Barutta, bassist Silvio Tozzato and drummer Marco Sebastiano Alessi are fluid as they maintain the spirit of the jam that likely birthed the song’s floating atmospherics, but there’s a plan at work as well as they bring the piece to fruition, with Alessi subtly growing more urgent around 10 minutes in to mark the shift into an ending that never quite bursts out and isn’t trying to, but feels like resolution just the same. A quick, hypnotic showcase of the heavy psychedelic promise the debut held, “Ultrawest” makes it easy to look forward to whatever might come next for them.

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Guenna, Peak of Jin’Arrah

Guenna Peak of Jin Arrah

Right onto the list of 2024’s best debuts goes Guenna‘s Peak of Jin’Arrah, specifically for the nuance and range the young Swedish foursome bring to their center in heavy progressive fuzz riffing. One might look at a title like “Bongsai” or “Weedwacker” (video premiered here) and imagine played-to-genre stoner fare, but Guenna‘s take is more ambitious, as emphasized in the flute brought to “Bongsai” at the outset and the proclivity toward three-part harmonies that’s unveiled more in the nine-minute “Dimension X,” which follows. The folk influence toward which that flute hints comes forward on the mostly-acoustic closer “Guenna’s Lullaby,” which takes hold after the skronk-accompanied, full-bore push that caps “Wizery,” but by that point the context for such shifts has been smoothly laid out as being part of an encompassing and thoughtful songwriting process that in less capable hands would leave “Ordric Major” disjointed and likely overly aggressive. Even as they make room for the guest lead vocals of Elin Pålsson on “Dark Descent,” Guenna walk these balances smoothly and confidently, and if you don’t believe there’s a generational shift happening right now — at this very moment — in Scandinavia, Peak of Jin’Arrah stands ready to convince you otherwise. There’s a lot of work between here and there, but Guenna hold the potential to be a significant voice in that next-gen emergence.

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The Sign Records website

Slow Green Thing, Wetterwarte / Waltherstrasse

Slow Green Thing Wetterwarte Waltherstrasse

The interplay of stoner-metal tonal density and languid vocal melody in “I Thought I Would Not” sets an atmospheric mood for Slow Green Thing on their fourth LP, Wetterwarte / Waltherstrasse, which the Dresden-based four-piece seem to have recorded in two sessions between 2020 and 2022. That span of time might account for some of the scope between the songs as “Thousand Deaths” holds out a hand into the void staring back at it and the subsequent “Whispering Voices” answers the proggy wash and fuzzed soloing of “Tombstones in My Eyes” with roll and meditative float alike, but I honestly don’t know what was recorded when and there’s no real lack of cohesion within the aural mists being conjured or the heft residing within it, so take that as you will. It’s perhaps less of a challenge to put temporal considerations aside since Slow Green Thing seem so at home in the flow that plays out across Wetterwarte / Waltherstrasse‘s six songs and 44 minutes, remaining in control despite veering into more aggressive passages and basing so much of what they do on entrancing and otherworldly vibe. And while the general superficialities of thickened tones and soundscaping, ‘gaze-type singing and nod will be familiar, the use made of them by Slow Green Thing offers a richer and deeper experience revealed and affirmed on repeat listens.

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Ten Ton Slug, Colossal Oppressor

TEN TON SLUG COLOSSAL OPPRESSOR

Don’t expect a lot of trickery in Ten Ton Slug‘s awaited first full-length record, Colossal Oppressor, which delivers its metallic sludge pummel with due transparency of purpose. That is to say, the Galway, Ireland, trio aren’t fucking around. Enough so that Bolt Thrower‘s Karl Willetts shows up on a couple of songs. Varied but largely growled or screamed vocals answer the furious chug and thud of “Balor,” and while “Ghosts of the Ooze” later on answers back to the brief acoustic parts bookending opener “The Ooze” ahead of “Mallacht an tSloda” arriving like a sledgehammer only to unfold its darkened thrash and nine-plus-minute closer “Mogore the Unkind” making good on its initial threat with the mosh-ready riffing in its second half, there’s no pretense in those or any of the other turns Colossal Oppressor makes, and there doesn’t need to be when the songs are so refreshingly crushing. These guys have been around for over a decade already, so it’s not a surprise necessarily to find them so committed to this punishing mission, but the cathartic bloodletting resonates regardless. Not for everyone, very much for some on the more extreme end of heavy.

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Magic Fig, Magic Fig

magic fig magic fig

Don’t let the outward Beatles-bouncing pop-psych friendly-acid traditionalism of “Goodbye Suzy” lull you into thinking San Francisco psych rockers Magic Fig‘s self-titled debut is solely concerned with vintage aesthetics. While accessible even in the organ-and-synth prog flourish of “PS1” — the keyboards alone seeming to span generations — and the more foreboding current of low end under the shuffle and soft vocals of “Obliteration,” the six-song/28-minute LP is no less effective in the rising cosmic expanse that builds into “Labyrinth” than the circa-’67 orange-sun lysergic folk-rock that rolls out from there — that darker edge comes back around, briefly, in a stop around the two-minute mark; it’s hard to know which side is imagining the other, but “Labyrinth” is no less fun for that — and “Distant Dream,” which follows, is duly transcendent and fluid. Given additional character via the Mellotron and birdsong-inclusive meditation that ends it and the album as a whole, “Departure” nonetheless feels intentional in its subtly synthy acoustic-and-voice folkish strum, and its intricacy highlights a reach one hopes Magic Fig will continue to nurture.

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Silver Current Records on Bandcamp

Scorched Oak, Perception

Perception by Scorched Oak

If you followed along with Dortmund, Germany’s Scorched Oak on their 2020 debut, Withering Earth (review here), as that album dug into classic heavy rock as a means of longer-form explorations, some of what they present in the 39 minutes of Perception might make more sense. There was plenty of dynamic then too in terms of shifts in rhythm and atmosphere, and certainly second-LP pieces like “Mirrors” and “Relief” come at least in part from a similar foundation — I’d say the same of the crescendo verse of “Oracle” near the finish — but the reportedly-recorded-live newer offering finds the band making a striking delve into harder and more metallic impacts on the whole. An interplay of gruff — gurgling, almost — and soulful melodic vocals is laid out as opener/longest track (immediate points) “Delusion” resolves the brooding toms of its verse with post-metal surges. Perhaps it’s obvious enough that it doesn’t need to be said, but Scorched Oak aren’t residing in a single feel or progression throughout, and the intensity and urgency of “Reflection” land with a directness that the closing “Oracle” complements in its outward spread. The element of surprise makes Perception feel somewhat like a second debut, but that they pull off such an impression is in itself a noteworthy achievement, never mind how much less predictable it makes them or the significant magnitude of these songs.

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