Quarterly Review: ISAAK, Iron Void, Dread Witch, Tidal Wave, Guided Meditation Doomjazz, Cancervo, Dirge, Witch Ripper, Pelegrin, Black Sky Giant

the-obelisk-qr-summer-2020

Welcome to the Spring 2023 Quarterly Review. Between today and next Tuesday, a total of 70 records will be covered with a follow-up week slated for May bringing that to 120. Rest assured, it’ll be plenty. If you’re reading this, I feel safe assuming you know the deal: 10 albums per day from front to back, ranging in style, geography, type of release — album, EP, singles even, etc. — and the level of hype and profile surrounding. The Quarterly Review is always a massive undertaking, but I’ve never done one and regretted it later, and looking at what’s coming up across the next seven days, there are more than few records featured that are already on my ongoing best of 2023 list. So please, keep an eye and ear out, and hopefully you’ll also find something new that speaks to you.

We begin.

Quarterly Review #1-10:

ISAAK, Hey

isaak hey

Last heard from as regards LPs with 2015’s Serominize (review here) and marking 10 years since their 2013 debut under the name, The Longer the Beard the Harder the Sound (review here), Genoa-based heavy rockers ISAAK return with the simply-titled Hey and encapsulate the heads-up fuzz energy that’s always been at the core of their approach. Vocalist Giacomo H. Boeddu has hints of Danzig in “OBG” and the swing-shoving “Sleepwalker” later on, but whether it’s the centerpiece Wipers cover “Over the Edge,” the rolling “Dormhouse” that follows, or the melodic highlight “Rotten” that precedes, the entire band feel cohesive and mature in their purposeful songwriting. They’re labelmates and sonic kin to Texas’ Duel, but less bombastic, with a knife infomercial opening their awaited third record before the title-track and “OBG” begin to build the momentum that carries the band through their varied material, spacious on “Except,” consuming in the apex of “Fake it Till You Make It,” but engaging throughout in groove and structure.

ISAAK on Facebook

Heavy Psych Sounds on Bandcamp

 

Iron Void, IV

IRON VOID IV

With doom in their collective heart and riffs to spare, UK doom metal traditionalists Iron Void roll out a weighted 44 minutes across the nine songs of their fourth full-length, IV, seeming to rail against pandemic-era restrictions in “Grave Dance” and tech culture in “Slave One” while “Pandora’s Box” rocks out Sabbathian amid the sundry anxieties of our age. Iron Void have been around for 25 years as of 2023 — like a British Orodruin or trad-doom more generally, they’ve been undervalued for most of that time — and their songwriting earns the judgmental crankiness of its perspective, but each half of the LP gets a rousing closer in “Blind Dead” and “Last Rites,” and Iron Void doom out like there’s no tomorrow even on the airier “She” because, as we’ve seen in the varying apocalypses since the band put out 2018’s Excalibur (review here), there might not be. So much the better to dive into the hook of “Living on the Earth” or the grittier “Lords of the Wasteland,” the metal-of-yore sensibility tapping into early NWOBHM without going full-Maiden. Kind of a mixed bag, it might take a few listens to sink in, but IV shows the enduring strengths of Iron Void and is clearly meant more for those repeat visits than some kind of cloying immediacy. An album to be lived with and doomed with.

Iron Void on Facebook

Shadow Kingdom Records website

 

Dread Witch, Tower of the Severed Serpent

Dread Witch Tower of the Severed Serpent

An offering of thickened, massive lava-flow sludge, plodding doom and atmospheric severity, Dread Witch‘s self-released (not for long, one suspects) first long-player, Tower of the Severed Serpent, announces a significant arrival on the part of the onslaught-prone Danish outfit, who recorded as a trio, play live as a five-piece and likely need at least that many people to convey the density of a song like the opener/longest track (immediate points) “The Tower,” the eight minutes of which are emblematic of the force of execution with which the band delivers the rest of what follows, runtimes situated longest to shortest across the near-caustic chug of “Serpent God,” the Celtic Frost-y declarations and mega-riff ethos of “Leech,” the play between key-led minimalism and all-out stomp on “Wormtongue” and the earlier-feeling noise intensity of “Into the Crypt” before the more purely ambient but still heavy instrumental “Severed” wraps, conveying weight of emotion to complement the tonal tectonics prior. Bordering on the extreme and clearly enjoying the crush that doing so affords them, Dread Witch make more of a crater than an impression and would be outright barbaric were their sound not so methodical in immersing the audience. Pro sound, loaded with potential, heavy as shit; these are the makings of a welcome debut.

Dread Witch on Facebook

Dread Witch on Bandcamp

 

Tidal Wave, The Lord Knows

Tidal Wave the lord knows

Next-generation heavy fuzz purveyed with particular glee, Tidal Wave seem to explore the very reaches they conjure through verses and choruses on their eight-song Ripple Music label debut (second LP overall behind 2019’s Blueberry Muffin), The Lord Knows, and they make the going fun throughout the 41-minute outing, finding the shuffle in the shove of “Robbero Bobbero” while honing classic desert idolatry on “Lizard King” and “End of the Line” at the outset. What a relief it is to know that heavy rock and roll won’t die with the aging-out of so many of its Gen-X and Millennial purveyors, and as Tidal Wave step forward with the low-end semi-metal roll of “Pentagram” and the grander spaces of “By Order of the King” before “Purple Bird” returns to the sands and “Thorsakir” meets that on an open field of battle, it seems the last word has not been said on Tidal Wave in terms of aesthetic. They’ve got time to continue to push deeper into their craft — and maybe that will or won’t result in their settling on one path or another — but the range of moods on The Lord Knows suits them well, and without pretense or overblown ceremony the Sundsvall four-piece bring together elements of classic heavy rock and metal while claiming a persona that can move back and forth between them. Kind of the ideal for a younger band.

Tidal Wave on Facebook

Ripple Music on Bandcamp

 

Guided Meditation Doomjazz, Expect

Guided Meditation Doomjazz Expect

Persistently weird in the mold of Arthur Brown with unpredictability as a defining feature, Guided Meditation Doomjazz may mostly be a cathartic salve for founding bassist, vocalist, experimentalist, etc.-ist Blaise the Seeker, but that hardly makes the expression any less valid. Expect arrives as a five-song EP, ready to meander in the take-the-moniker-literally “Collapse in Dignity” and the fuzz-drenched slow-plod finisher “Sit in Surrender” — watery psychedelic guitar weaving overhead like a cloud you can reshape with your mind — that devolves into drone and noise, but not unstructured and not without intention behind even its most out-there moments. The bluesy sway of “The Mind is Divided” follows the howling scene-setting of the titular opener, while “Stream of Crystal Water” narrates its verse over crunchier riffing before the sung chorus-of-sorts, the overarching dug-in sensibility conveying some essence of what seems despite a prolific spate of releases to be an experience intended for a live setting, with all the one-on-one mind-expansion and arthouse performance that inevitably coincides with it. Still, with a rough-feeling production, Expect carries a breadth that makes communing with it that much easier. Go on, dare to get lost for a little while. See where you end up.

Guided Meditation Doomjazz on Facebook

The Swamp Records on Bandcamp

 

Cancervo, II

Cancervo II

II is the vocalized follow-up to Cancervo‘s 2021 debut, 1 (review here), and finds the formerly-instrumental Lombardy, Italy, three-piece delving further into the doomed aspects of the initial offering with a greater clarity on “Arera,” “Herdsman of Grem” and “The Cult of Armentarga,” letting some of the psychedelia of the first record go while maintaining enough of an atmosphere to be hypnotic as the vocals follow the marching rhythm as the latter track moves into its midsection or the rhythmic chains in the subsequent “Devil’s Coffin” (an instrumental) lock step with the snare in a floating, loosely-Eastern-scaled break before the bigger-sounding end. Between “Devil’s Coffin” and the feedback-prone also-instrumental “Zambla” ahead of 8:43 closer “Zambel’s Goat” — on which the vocals return in a first-half of subdued guitar-led doomjamming prior to the burst moment at 4:49 — II goes deeper as it plays through and is made whole by its meditative feel, some semblance of head-trip cult doom running alongside, but if it’s a cult it’s one with its own mythology. Not where one expected them to go after 1, but that’s what makes it exciting, and that they lay claim to arrangement flourish, chanting vocals and slogging tempos as they do bodes well for future exploration.

Cancervo on Facebook

Electric Valley Records website

 

Dirge, Dirge

Dirge Dirge

So heavy it crashed my laptop. Twice. The second full-length from Mumbai post-metallers Dirge is a self-titled four-songer that culls psychedelia from tonal tectonics, not contrasting the two but finding depth in the ways they can interact. Mixed by Sanford Parker, the longer-form pieces comprise a single entirety without seeming to have been written as one long track, the harsh vocals of Tabish Khidir adding urgency to the guitar work of Ashish Dharkar and Varun Patil (the latter also backing vocals) as bassist Harshad Bhagwat and drummer Aryaman Chatterji underscore and punctuate the chugging procession of opener “Condemned” that’s offset if not countermanded by its quieter stretch. If you’re looking for your “Stones From the Sky”-moment as regards riffing, it’s in the 12-minute second cut, “Malignant,” the bleak triumph of which spills over in scream-topped angularity into “Grief” (despite a stop) while the latter feels all the more massive for its comedown moments. In another context, closer “Hollow” might be funeral doom, but it’s gorgeous either way, and it fits with the other three tracks in terms of its interior claustrophobia and thoughtful aggression. They’re largely playing toward genre tenets, but Dirge‘s gravity in doing so is undeniable, and the space they create is likewise dark and inviting, if not for my own tech.

Dirge on Facebook

Dirge store

 

Witch Ripper, The Flight After the Fall

Witch Ripper The Flight after the Fall

Witch Ripper‘s sophomore LP and Magnetic Eye label-debut, The Flight After the Fall, touches on anthemic prog rock and metal with heavy-toned flourish and plenty of righteous burl in cuts like “Madness and Ritual Solitude” and the early verses of “The Obsidian Forge,” though the can-sing vocals of guitarists Chad Fox and Curtis Parker and bassist Brian Kim — drummer Joe Eck doesn’t get a mic but has plenty to do anyhow — are able to push that centerpiece and the rest of what surrounds over into the epic at a measure’s notice. Or not, which only makes Witch Ripper more dynamic en route to the 16:45 sprawling finish of “Everlasting in Retrograde Parts 1 and 2,” picking up from the lyrics of the leadoff “Enter the Loop” to put emphasis on the considered nature of the release as a whole, which is a showcase of ambition in songwriting as much as performance of said songs, conceptual reach and moments of sheer pummel. It’s been well hyped, and by the time “Icarus Equation” soars into its last chorus without its wings melting, it’s easy to hear why in the fullness of its progressive heft and melodic theatricality. It’s not a minor undertaking at 47 minutes, but it wouldn’t be a minor undertaking if it was half that, given the vastness of Witch Ripper‘s sound. Be ready to travel with it.

Witch Ripper on Facebook

Magnetic Eye Records store

 

Pelegrin, Ways of Avicenna

Pelegrin Ways of Avicenna

In stated narrative conversation with the Arabic influence on Spanish and greater Western European (read: white) culture, specifically in this case as regards the work of Persian philosopher Ibn Sina, Parisian self-releasing three-piece Pelegrin follow-up 2019’s Al-Mahruqa (review here) with the expansive six songs of Ways of Avicenna, with guitarist/vocalist Fran├žois Roze de Gracia, bassist/backing vocalist Jason Recoing and drummer/percussionist Antoine Ebel working decisively to create a feeling of space not so much in terms of the actual band in the room, but of an ancient night sky on songs like “Madrassa” and the rolling heavy prog solo drama of the later “Mystical Appear,” shades of doom and psychedelia pervasive around the central riff-led constructions, the folkish middles of “Thunderstorm” and “Reach for the Sun” and the acoustic two-minute “Disgrace” a preface to the patient manner in which the trio feel their way into the final build of closer “Forsaken Land.” I’m neither a historical scholar nor a philosopher, and thankfully the album doesn’t require you to be, but Pelegrin could so easily tip over into the kind of cartoonish cultural appropriation that one finds among certain other sects of European psychedelia, and they simply don’t. Whether the music speaks to you or not, appreciate that.

Pelegrin on Facebook

Pelegrin on Bandcamp

 

Black Sky Giant, Primigenian

Black Sky Giant Primigenian

Lush but not overblown, Argentinian instrumentalists Black Sky Giant fluidly and gorgeously bring together psychedelia and post-rock on their third album, Primigenian, distinguishing their six-song/31-minute brevity with an overarching progressive style that brings an evocative feel whether it’s to the guitar solos in “At the Gates” or the subsequent kick propulsion of “Stardust” — which does seem to have singing, though one can barely make out what if anything is actually being said — as from the denser tonality of the opening title-track, they go on to unfurl the spiritual-uplift of “The Great Hall,” fading into a cosmic boogie on the relatively brief “Sonic Thoughts” as they, like so many, would seem to have encountered SLIFT‘s Ummon sometime in the last two years. Doesn’t matter; it’s just a piece of the puzzle here and the shortest track, sitting as it does on the precipice of capper “The Foundational Found Tapes,” which plays out like amalgamated parts of what might’ve been other works, intermittently drummed and universally ambient, as though to point out the inherently incomplete nature of human-written histories. They fade out that last piece after seeming to put said tapes into a player of some sort (vague samples surrounding) and ending with an especially dream-toned movement. I wouldn’t dare speculate what it all means, but I think we might be the ancient progenitors in question. Fair enough. If this is what’s found by whatever species is next dominant on this planet — I hope they do better at it than humans have — we could do far worse for representation.

Black Sky Giant on Facebook

Black Sky Giant on Bandcamp

 

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