Quarterly Review: Boris, Mother Bear, Sonja, Reverend Mother, Umbilicus, After Nations, Holy Dragon, Trillion Ton Beryllium Ships, Deer Creek, Riffcoven


Welcome back to the Fall 2022 Quarterly Review. It’s not quite the same as the Mountain of Madness, but there are definitely days where it feels like they’re pretty closely related. Just the same, we, you and I, persist through like digging a tunnel sans dynamite, and I hope you had a great and safe weekend (also sans dynamite) and that you find something in this batch of releases that you truly enjoy. Not really much point to the thing otherwise, I guess, though it does tend to clear some folders off the desktop. Like, 100 of them in this case. That in itself isn’t nothing.

Time’s a wastin’. Let’s roll.

Quarterly Review #51-60:

Boris, Heavy Rocks

Boris Heavy Rocks (2022)

One can’t help but wonder if Boris aren’t making some kind of comment on the franchise-ification of what sometimes feels like every damn thing by releasing a third Heavy Rocks album, as though perhaps it’s become their brand label for this particular kind of raucousness, much as their logo in capital letters or lowercase used to let you know what kind of noise you were getting. Either way, in 10 tracks and 41 minutes that mostly leave scorch marks when they’re done — they space out a bit on “Question 1” but elsewhere in the song pull from black metal and layer in lead guitar triumph — and along the way give plenty more thick toned, sometimes-sax-inclusive on-brand chicanery to dive into. “She is Burning,” “Cramper” and “My Name is Blank” are rippers before the willfully noisy relative slowdown “Blah Blah Blah,” and Japanese heavy institution are at their most Melvinsian with the experiment “Nosferatou,” ahead of the party metal “Ruins” and semi-industrial blowout “Ghostly Imagination,” the would-be-airy-were-it-not-crushing “Chained” and the concluding “(Not) Last Song,” which feeds the central query above in asking if there’s another sequel coming, piano, feedback, and finally, vocals ending what’s been colloquially dubbed Heavy Rocks (2022) with an end-credits scene like something truly Marvelized. Could be worse if that’s the way it’s going. People tend to treat each Boris album as a landmark. I’m not sure this one is, but sometimes that’s part of what happens with sequels too.

Boris on Facebook

Relapse Records store


Mother Bear, Zamonian Occultism

Mother Bear Zamonian Occultism

Along with the depth of tone and general breadth of the mix, one of the aspects most enjoyable about Mother Bear‘s debut album, Zamonian Occultism, is how it seems to refuse to commit to one side or the other. They call themselves doom and maybe they are in movements here like the title-track, but the mostly-instrumental six-track/41-minute long-player — which opens and closes with lyrics and has “Sultan Abu” in the middle for a kind of human-voice trailmarker along the way — draws more from heavy psychedelia and languid groove on “Anagrom Ataf,” and if “Blue Bears and Silver Spliffs” isn’t stoner riffed, nothing ever has been. At the same time, the penultimate title-track slows way down, pulls the curtains closed, and offers a more massive nod, and the 10-minute closer “The Wizaaard” (just when you thought there were no more ways to spell it) answers that sense of foreboding in its own declining groove and echo-laced verses, but puts the fuzz at the forefront of the mix, letting the listener decide ultimately where they’re at. Tell you where I am at least: On board. Guitarist/vocalist Jonas Wenz, bassist Kevin Krenczer and drummer Florian Grass lock in hypnotic groove early and use it to tie together almost everything they do here, and while they’re obviously schooled in the styles they’re touching on, they present with an individual intent and leave room to grow. Will look forward to more.

Mother Bear on Facebook

Mother Bear on Bandcamp


Sonja, Loud Arriver

sonja loud arriver

After being kicked out of black metallers Absu for coming out as trans, Melissa Moore founded Sonja in Philadelphia with Grzesiek Czapla on drums and Ben Brand on bass, digging into a ‘true metal’ aesthetic with ferocity enough that Loud Arriver is probably the best thing they could’ve called their first record. Issued through Cruz Del Sur — so you know their ’80s-ism is class — the 37-minute eight-tracker vibes nighttime and draws on Moore‘s experience thematically, or so the narrative has it (I haven’t seen a lyric sheet), with energetic shove in “Nylon Nights” and “Daughter of the Morning Star,” growing duly melancholy in “Wanting Me Dead” before finding its victorious moment in the closing title-track. Cuts like “Pink Fog,” “Fuck, Then Die” and opener “When the Candle Burns Low…” feel specifically born of a blend of 1979-ish NWOBHM, but there’s a current of rock and roll here as well in the penultimate “Moans From the Chapel,” a sub-three-minute shove that’s classic in theme as much as riff and the most concise but by no means the only epic here. Hard not to read in catharsis on the part of Moore given how the band reportedly came about, but Loud Arriver serves notice one way or the other of a significant presence in the underground’s new heavy metal surge. Sonja have no time to waste. There are asses to kick.

Sonja on Facebook

Cruz Del Sur Music store


Reverend Mother, Damned Blessing

Reverend Mother Damned Blessing

Seven-minute opener ends in a War of the Worlds-style radio announcement of an alien invasion underway after the initial fuzzed rollout of the song fades, and between that and the subsequent interlude “Funeral March,” Reverend Mother‘s intent on Damned Blessing seems to be to throw off expectation. The Brooklynite outfit led by guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Jackie Green (also violin) find even footing on rockers like “Locomotive” or the driving-until-it-hits-that-slowdown-wall-and-hey-cool-layering “Reverend Mother,” and the strings on the instrumental “L.V.B.,” which boasts a cello guest spot by High Priestess Nighthawk of Heavy Temple, who also returns on the closing Britney Spears cover “Toxic,” a riffed-up bent that demonstrates once again the universal applicability of pop as Reverend Mother tuck it away after the eight-minute “The Masochist Tie,” a sneering roll and chugger that finds the trio of Green, bassist Matt Cincotta and drummer Gabe Katz wholly dug into heavy rock tropes while nonetheless sounding refreshing in their craft. That song and “Shame” before it encapsulate the veer-into-doom-ness of Reverend Mother‘s hard-deliver’d fuzz, but Damned Blessing comes across like the beginning of a new exploration of style as only a next-generation-up take can and heralds change to come. I would not expect their second record to sound the same, but it will be one to watch for. So is this.

Reverend Mother on Instagram

Seeing Red Records store


Umbilicus, Path of 1000 Suns

Umbilicus Path of 1000 Suns

The pedigree here is notable as Umbilicus features founding Cannibal Corpse drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz and guitarist/engineer Taylor Nordberg (also visuals), who’s played with Deicide, The Absence and a host of others, but with the soar-prone vocals of Brian Stephenson out front and the warm tonality of bassist Vernon Blake, Umbilicus‘ 10-song/45-minute first full-length, Path of 1000 Suns is a willful deep-dive into modernly-produced-and-presented ’70s-style heavy rock. Largely straightforward in structure, there’s room for proto-metallurgy on “Gates of Neptune” after the swinging “Umbilicus,” and the later melodic highlight “My Own Tide” throws a pure stoner riff into its second half, while the concluding “Gathering at the Kuiper Belt” hints at more progressive underpinnings, it still struts and the swing there is no less defining than in the solo section of “Stump Sponge” back on side A. Hooks abound, and I suppose in some of the drum fills, if you know what you’re listening for, you can hear shades of more extreme aural ideologies, but the prevailing spirit is born of an obvious love of classic heavy rock and roll, and Umbilicus play it with due heart and swagger. Not revolutionary, and actively not trying to be, but definitely the good time it promises.

Umbilicus on Facebook

Listenable Insanity Records on Facebook


After Nations, The Endless Mountain

After Nations The Endless Mountain

Not as frenetic as some out there of a similar technically-proficient ilk, Lawrence, Kansas, double-guitar instrumental four-piece After Nations feel as much jazz on “Féin” or “Cae” as they do progressive metal, djent, experimental, or any other tag with which one might want to saddle the resoundingly complex Buddhism-based concept album, The Endless Mountain — the Bandcamp page for which features something of a recommended reading list as well as background on the themes reportedly being explored in the material — which is fluid in composition and finds each of its seven more substantial inclusions accompanied by a transitional interlude that might be a drone, near-silence, a foreboding line of keys, whathaveyou. The later “Širdis” — penultimate to the suitably enlightened “Jūra,” if one doesn’t count the interlude between (not saying you shouldn’t) — is more of a direct linear build, but the 40-minute entirety of The Endless Mountain feels like a steep cerebral climb. Not everyone is going to be up for making it, frankly, but in “}}}” and its punctuationally-named companions there’s some respite from the head-spinning turns that surround, and that furthers both the dynamic at play overall and the accessibility of the songs. Whatever else it might be, it’s immaculately produced and every single second, from “Mons” and “Aon” to “))” and “(),” feels purposeful.

After Nations on Facebook

After Nations on Bandcamp


Holy Dragon, Mordjylland

Holy Dragon Mordjylland

With the over-the-top Danzig-ian vocals coming through high in the mix, the drums sounding intentionally blown out and the fuzz of bass and guitar arriving in tidal riffs, Denmark’s Holy Dragon for sure seem to be shooting for memorability on their second album, Mordjylland. “Hell and Gold” pulls back somewhat from the in-your-face immediacy of opener “Bong” — and yet it’s faster; go figure — and the especially brash “War” is likewise timely and dug in. Centerpiece “Nightwatch” feels especially yarling with its more open riff and far-back echoing drums — those drums are heavy in tone in a way most are not, and it is appreciated — and gives over to the Judas Priestly riff of “Dunder,” which sounds like it’s being swallowed by the bass even as the concluding solo slices through. They cap with “Egypt” in classic-metal, minor-key-sounds-Middle-Eastern fashion, but they’re never far from the burly heft with which they started, and even the mellower finish of “Travel to Kill” feels drawn from it. The album’s title is a play on ‘Nordjylland’ — the region of Denmark where they’re from — and if they’re saying it’s dead, then their efforts to shake it back to life are palpable in these seven songs, even if the end front-to-back result of the album is going to be hit or miss with most listeners. Still, they are markedly individual, and the fact that you could pick them out of the crowd of Europe’s e’er-packed heavy underground is admirable in itself.

Holy Dragon on Instagram

Holy Dragon on Bandcamp


Trillion Ton Beryllium Ships, Consensus Trance

Trillion Ton Beryllium Ships Consensus Trance

Lincoln, Nebraska, trio Trillion Ton Beryllium Ships are right there. Right on the edge. You can hear it in the way “Beg Your Pardon” unfolds its lumbering tonality, riff-riding vocals and fervency of groove at the outset of their second album, Consensus Trance. They’re figuring it out. And they’re working quickly. Their first record, 2021’s TTBS, and the subsequent Rosalee EP (review here) were strong signals of intention on the part of guitarist/vocalist Jeremy Warner, bassist Karlin Warner and drummer Justin Kamal, and there is realization to be had throughout Consensus Trance in the noisy lead of “Mystical Consumer,” the quiet instrumental “Distalgia for Infinity” and the mostly-huge-chugged 11-minute highlight “Weeping Beast” to which it leads. But they’re also still developing their craft, as opener “Beg Your Pardon” demonstrates amid one of the record’s most vibrant hooks, and exploring spaciousness like that in the back half of the penultimate “Silo,” and the sense that emerges from that kind of reach and the YOB-ish ending of capper “I.H.” is that there’s more story to be told as to what Trillion Ton Beryllium Ships have to offer in style and substance. So much the better since Consensus Trance has such superlative heft at its foundation.

Trillion Ton Beryllium Ships on Facebook

Trillion Ton Beryllium Ships on Bandcamp


Deer Creek, Menticide

Deer Creek Menticide

Kind of funny to think of Menticide as a debut LP from Deer Creek, who’ve been around for 20 years — one fondly recalls their mid-aughts splits with Church of Misery and Raw Radar War — but one might consider that emblematic of the punk underpinning the sludgy heavy roll of “(It Had Neither Fins Nor Wings) Nor Did it Writhe,” along with the attitude of fuckall that joins hands with resoundingly dense tonality to create the atmosphere of the five originals and the cover medley closer “The Working Man is a Dead Pig,” which draws on Rush, Bauhaus and Black Sabbath classics as a sort of partially explanatory appendix to the tracks preceding. Of those, the impression left is duly craterous, and Deer Creek, with Paul Vismara‘s mostly-clean vocals riding a succession of his own monolithic riffs, a bit of march thrown into “The Utter Absence of Hope” amid the breath of tone from his and Conan Hultgren‘s guitars and Stephanie Hopper‘s bass atop the drumming of Marc Brooks. One is somewhat curious as to what drives a band after two full-length-less decades to make a definitive first album — at least beyond “hey a lot of things have changed in the last couple years” anyhow — but the results here are inarguable in their weight and the spaces they create and fill, with disaffection and onward and outward-looking angst as much as volume. That is to say, as much as Menticide nods, it’s more unsettling the more attention you actually pay to what’s going on. But if you wanted to space out instead, I doubt they’d hold it any more against you than was going to happen anyway. Band who owes nothing to anyone overdelivers. There.

Deer Creek on Facebook

Deer Creek on Bandcamp


Riffcoven, Never Sleep at Night

Riffcoven Never Sleep at Night

Following the mid-’90s C.O.C. tone and semi-Electric Wizard shouts of “Black Lotus Trance,” “Detroit Demons” calls out Stooges references while burl-riffing around Pantera‘s “I’m Broken,” and “Loose” manifests sleaze to coincide with the exploitation of the Never Sleep at Night EP’s cover art. All of this results in zero-doubt assurance that the Brazilian trio have their bona fides in place when it comes to dudely riffs and an at least partially metal approach; stylistically-speaking, it’s like metal dudes got too drunk to remember what they were angry at and decided to have a party instead. I don’t have much encouraging to say at this juncture about the use of vintage porn as a likely cheap cover option, but no one seems to give a shit about moving past that kind of misogyny, and I guess as regards gender-based discrimination and playing to the male gaze and so on, it’s small stakes. I bet they get signed off the EP anyway, so what’s the point? The point I guess is that the broad universe of those who’d build altars to riffs, Riffcoven are at very least up front with what they’re about and who their target audience is.

Riffcoven on Facebook

Riffcoven on Bandcamp


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