Quarterly Review: Russian Circles, Church of the Cosmic Skull, Pretty Lightning, Wizzerd, Desert 9, Gagulta, Obiat, Maunra, Brujas del Sol, Sergeant Thunderhoof


On occasion, throughout the last eight years or so that I’ve been doing this kind of Quarterly Review roundup thing, I’ve been asked how I do it. The answer is appallingly straightforward. I do it one record at a time, listening to as much music as possible and writing as much as I can. If you were curious, there you go.

If, more likely, you weren’t curious, now you know anyway. Shall we?

Quarterly Review #31-40:

Russian Circles, Gnosis

russian circles gnosis

You wanna know how big a deal Russian Circles are? I didn’t even get a promo of this record. Granted, I’m nobody, but still. So anyway, here I am like a fucking sucker, about to tell you Gnosis is the heaviest and most intense thing Russian Circles — with whose catalog I’m just going to assume you’re familiar because they’re that big a deal and you’re pretty hip; bet you got a download to review, or at least an early stream — have ever done and it means literally nothing. Just makes me feel stupid and lame. I really want to like this album. That chug in “Conduit?” Fuck yeah. That wash in “Betrayal?” Even that little minimalist stretch of “Ó Braonáin.” The way “Tupilak” rumbles to life at the outset. That’s my shit right there. Chug chug crush crush, pretty part. So anyway, instead of sweating it forever, I’ll probably shut Gnosis off when I’m done here and never listen to it again. Thanks. Who gives a shit? Exactly. Means nothing to anyone. Tell me why I do this? Why even give it the space? Because they’re that big a deal and I’m the nerdy fat kid forever. Total fucking stooge. Fuck it and fuck you too.

Russian Circles on Facebook

Sargent House store


Church of the Cosmic Skull, There is No Time

church of the cosmic skull there is no time

Are not all gods mere substitutes for the power of human voices united in song? And why not tonight for finding the grace within us? As Brother Bill, Sister Caroline and their all-colours Septaphonic congregation of siblings tell us, we’re only one step away. I know you’ve been dragged down, wrung out, you’ve seen the valleys and hills, but now’s the time. Church of the Cosmic Skull come forward again with the message of galactic inner peace and confronting the unreality of reality through choral harmonies and progressive heavy rock and roll, and even the Cosmic Mother herself must give ear. Come, let us bask in the light of pure illumination and revolutionary suicide. Let us find what we lost somewhere. All gods die, but you and I can live forever and spread ourselves across the universe like so much dust from the Big Bang. We’ll feel the texture of the paper. We’ll be part of the team. Oh, fellow goers into the great Far Out, there’s reverence being sung from the hills with such spirit behind it. Can you hear? Will you? There’s nothing to fear here, nothing sinister. Nothing to be lost except that which has held you back all along. Let it all move, and go. Open your eyes to feel all seven rays, and stand peeled like an onion, naked, before the truth being told. Do this. Today.

Church of the Cosmic Skull on Facebook

Church of the Cosmic Skull store


Pretty Lightning, Dust Moves

Pretty Lightning Dust Moves

Saarbrücken duo Pretty Lightning follow 2020’s stellar Jangle Bowls (review here) with a collection of 14 instrumental passages that, for all their willful meandering, never find themselves lost. Heady, Dead Meadowy vibes persist on ramblers like “Sediment Swing” and “Splinter Bowl,” but through spacious drone and the set-the-mood-for-whatever “Glide Gently (Into the Chasm),” which is both opener and the longest track (immediate points) at just over five minutes, the clear focus is on ambience. I wouldn’t be the first to liken some of Dust Moves to Morricone, and sure, “Powdermill” has some of that Dollars-style reverb and “The Secret is Locked Inside” lays out a subtle nighttime threat in its rattlesnake shaker, but these ideas are bent and shaped to Pretty Lightning‘s overarching purpose, and even with 14 songs, the fact that the album only runs 43 minutes should tell you that even as they seem to head right into the great unknown wilderness of intent, they never dwell in any single position for too long, and are in no danger of overstaying their welcome. Extra kudos for the weirdness of “Crystal Waltz” tucked right into the middle of the album next to “The Slow Grinder.” Sometimes experiments work.

Pretty Lightning on Facebook

Fuzz Club Records store


Wizzerd, Space‽: Issue No. 001

wizzerd space issue no 001

Combining burly modern heavy riffage, progressive flourish and a liberal dose of chicanery, Montana’s Wizzerd end up in the realm of Howling Giant and a more structurally-straightforward Elder without sounding directly like either of them. Their Fuzzorama Records label debut, the quizzically punctuated Space‽: Issue No. 001 echoes its title’s obvious nods to comic book culture with a rush of energy in songs like “Super Nova” and “Attack of the Gargantuan Moon Spiders,” the swinging “Don’t Zorp ‘n’ Warp” space-progging out in its second half as though to emphasize the sheer delight on the part of the band doing something unexpected. So much the better if they’re having fun too. The back half of the outing after the duly careening “Space Chase” is blocked off by the noisy “Transmission” and the bleep-bloop “End Transmission” — which, if we’re being honest is a little long at just under five minutes — but finds the band establishing a firm presence of purpose in “Doom Machine Smoke Break” and the building “Diosa del Sol” ahead of the record’s true finishing moment, “Final Departure Part 1: The Intergalactic Keep of the Illustrious Cosmic Woman,” which is both an adventure in outer space and a melodic highlight. This one’s a party and you’re invited.

Wizzerd on Facebook

Fuzzorama Records store


Desert 9, Explora II

Desert 9 Explora II

Desert 9 is one of several projects founded by synthesist Peter Bell through a collective/studio called Mutaform in the Brindisi region of Southern Italy (heel of the boot), and the seven-song/63-minute Explora II follows quickly behind June’s Explora I and works on a similar theme of songs named for different deserts around the world, be it “Dasht-e Margo,” “Mojave,” “Gobi” or “Arctic.” What unfolds in these pieces is mostly long-ish-form instrumental krautrock and psychedelic exploration — “Arctic” is an exception at a somewhat ironically scorching three and a half minutes; opener “Namib” is shorter, and jazzier, as well — likewise immersive and far-outbound, with Bell‘s own synth accompanied on its journeys by guitar, bass and drums, the former two with effects to spare. I won’t take away from the sunburn of “Sonoran” at the finish, but the clazzic-cool swing of “Chihuahuan” is a welcome respite from some of the more thrust-minded fare, at least until the next solo starts and eats the second half of the release. The mix is raw, but I think that’s part of the idea here, and however much of Explora II was improvised and/or recorded live, it sounds like the four-piece just rolled up, hit record and went for it. Not revolutionary in aesthetic terms, but inarguable in vitality.

Mutaform on Facebook

Mutaform on Bandcamp


Gagulta, Gagulta

Gagulta Gagulta

Originally pressed to tape in 2019 through Fuzz Ink and brought to vinyl through Sound Effect Records, Greek sludgers Gagulta begin their self-titled debut with an evocation of the Old Ones before unfurling the 13-minute assault of “Dead Fiend/Devil’s Lettuce,” the second part of which is even slower than the first. Nods and screams, screams and nods, riffs and kicks and scratches. “Late Beer Cult” is no less brash or disaffected, the Galatsi-based trio of ‘vokillist’ Johny Oldboy, baritone bassist Xen and drummer Jason — no need for last names; we’re all friends here — likewise scathing and covered in crust. Side B wraps with the 10-minute eponymous “Gagulta” — circle pit into slowdown into even noisier fuckall — but not before “Long Live the Undead” has dirty-steamrolled through its four minutes and the penultimate “War” blasts off from its snare count-in on a punk-roots-revealing surge that plays back and forth with tortured, scream-topped slow-riff madness. I don’t know if the Old Ones would be pleased, but if at any point you see a Gagulta backpatch out in the wild, that person isn’t fucking around and neither is this band. Two years after its first release, it remains monstrous.

Gagulta on Facebook

Sound Effect Records store

Fuzz Ink Records store


Obiat, Indian Ocean

obiat indian ocean

Some 20 years removed from their debut album, Accidentally Making Enemies, and 13 past their most recent, 2009’s Eye Tree Pi (review here), London’s Obiat return at the behest of guitarist/keyboardist Raf Reutt and drummer Neil Dawson with the duly massive Indian Ocean, an eight-song collection spanning an hour’s listening time that brings together metallic chug and heavy post-rock atmospherics, largesse of tone and melody central to the proceedings from opener “Ulysses” onward. Like its long-ago predecessor, Alex Nervo‘s bass (he also adds keys and guitar) is a major presence, and in addition to vocalist Sean Cooper, who shines emotively and in the force of his delivery throughout, there are an assortment of guests on “Eyes and Soul,” “Nothing Above,” “Sea Burial” and subdued closer “Lightness of Existence,” adding horns, vocals, flute, and so on to the wash of volume from the guitar, bass, drums, keys, and though parts were recorded in Wales, England, Australia, Sweden, Norway and Hungary, Indian Ocean is a cohesive, consuming totality of a record that does justice to the long wait for its arrival while also earning as much volume as you can give it through its immersive atmospherics and sheer aural heft that leads to the ambient finish. It is not a minor undertaking, but it walks the line between metal and post-metal and has a current of heavy rock beneath it in a way that is very much Obiat‘s, and if they’re really back to being a band again — that is, if it’s not another 13 years before their next record — watch out.

Obiat on Facebook

Obiat on Bandcamp


Maunra, Monarch

Maunra Monarch

Vienna five-piece Maunra enter the fray of the harsher side of post-metal with Monarch, their self-released-for-now debut full-length. With throaty growling vocals at the forefront atop subtly nuanced double-guitars and bouts of all-out chugga-breakdown riffing like that in “Wuthering Seas,” they’re managing to dare to bring a bit of life and energy to the generally hyper-cerebral style, and that rule-breaking continues to suit them in the careening “Embers” and the lumbering stomp-mosh of the title-track such that even when the penultimate “Lightbreather” shifts into its whispery/wispy midsection — toms still thudding behind — there’s never any doubt of their bringing the shove back around. I haven’t seen a lyric sheet, so can’t say definitively whether or not opener “Between the Realms” is autobiographical in terms of the band describing their own aesthetic, but their blend of progressivism and raw impact is striking in that song and onward, and it’s interesting to hear an early ’00s metal influence creep into the interplay of lead and rhythm guitar on that opener and elsewhere. At seven tracks/41 minutes, Monarch proffers tonal weight and rhythmic force, hints toward more melodic development to come, and underscores its focus on movement by capping with the especially rousing “Windborne.” Reportedly the album was five years in the making. Time not wasted.

Maunra on Facebook

Maunra on Bandcamp


Brujas del Sol, Deculter

Brujas del Sol Deculter

Still mostly instrumental, formerly just-Ohio-based progressive heavy rockers Brujas del Sol answer the steps they took in a vocalized direction on 2019’s II (review here) with the voice-as-part-of-the-atmosphere verses of “To Die on Planet Earth” and “Myrrors” on their third album, Deculter, but more importantly to the actual listening experience of the record is the fact that they’ve never sounded quite this heavy. Sure, guitarist Adrian Zambrano (also vocals) and bassist Derrick White still provide plenty of synth to fill out those instrumentalist spaces and up the general proggitude, and that’s a signal sent clearly with the outset “Intro,” but Joshua Oswald (drums/vocals) pounds his snare as “To Live and Die on Planet Earth” moves toward its midsection, and the aggression wrought there is answered in both the guitar and bass tones as 12-minute finishing move “Arcadia” stretches into its crescendo, more about impact than the rush of “Divided Divinity” earlier on, rawer emotionally than the keyboardier reaches of “Lenticular,” but no less thoughtful in its construction. Each piece (even that intro) has an identity of its own, and each one makes Deculter a stronger offering.

Brujas del Sol on Facebook

Kozmik Artifactz website


Sergeant Thunderhoof, This Sceptred Veil

Sergeant Thunderhoof This Sceptred Veil

A definite 2LP at nine songs and 68 minutes, Sergeant Thunderhoof‘s fifth full-length, This Sceptred Veil, is indeed two albums’ worth of album, and the songs bear that out in their complexity and sense of purpose as well. Not to harp, but even the concluding two-parter “Avon/Avalon” is a lot to take in after what’s come before it, but what Bath, UK, troupe vary their songwriting and bring a genuine sense of presence to the material that even goes beyond the soaring vocals to the depth of the mix more generally. There’s heavy rock grit to “Devil’s Daughter” (lil eyeroll there) and progressive reach to the subsequent “Foreigner,” a lushness to “King Beyond the Gates” and twisting riffs that should earn pleased nods from anyone who’s been swept up in Green Lung‘s hooky pageantry, and opener “You’ve Stolen the Words” sets an expectation for atmosphere and a standard for directness of craft — as well as stellar production — that This Sceptred Veil seems only too happy to meet. A given listener’s reaction to the ’80s metal goofery of “Show Don’t Tell” will depend on said listener’s general tolerance for fun, but don’t let me spoil that for them or you. Yeah, it’s a substantial undertaking. Five records in, Sergeant Thunderhoof knew that when they made it, and if you’ve got the time, they’ve got the tunes. Album rocks front to back.

Sergeant Thunderhoof on Facebook

Pale Wizard Records store


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3 Responses to “Quarterly Review: Russian Circles, Church of the Cosmic Skull, Pretty Lightning, Wizzerd, Desert 9, Gagulta, Obiat, Maunra, Brujas del Sol, Sergeant Thunderhoof”

  1. Nerdy Fat Kid with Glasses and Beard says:

    GNOSIS chugs so hard I spilled my IPA as I…chugged it.

  2. Lloyd Dieser says:

    Never heard of Russian Circles but after this review if you can call it that i feel for the band.JJ what i like about your reviews is your brutal honesty and you don’t hide your feelings. Your views do matter, but this review i don’t know.

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