Quarterly Review: Black Helium, Seismic, These Beasts, Ajeeb, OAK, Ultra Void, Aktopasa, Troll Teeth, Finis Hominis, Space Shepherds


If you work in an office, or you ever have, or you’ve ever spoken to someone who has or does or whatever — which is everybody, is what I’m saying — then you’ll probably have a good idea of why I cringe at saying “happy Friday” as though the end of a workweek’s slog is a holiday even with the next week peering just over the horizon beyond the next 48 hours of not-your-boss time. Nonetheless, we’re at the end of this week, hitting 50 records covered in this Quarterly Review, and while I’ll spend a decent portion of the upcoming weekend working on wrapping it up on Monday and Tuesday, I’m grateful for the ability to breathe a bit in doing that more than I have throughout this week.

I’ll say as much in closing out the week as well, but thanks for reading. As always, I hope you enjoy.

Quarterly Review #41-50:

Black Helium, UM

Black Helium Um

It’s just too cool for the planet. Earth needs to step up its game if it wants to be able handle what London’s Black Helium are dishing out across their five-song third record, UM, from the sprawl and heavy hippie rock of “Another Heaven” to the utter doom that rises to prominence in that 12-minute-ish cut and the oblivion-bound boogie, blowout, and bonfire that is 15:47 closer “The Keys to Red Skeleton’s House (Open the Door)” on the other end, never mind the u-shaped kosmiche march of “I Saw God,” the shorter, stranger, organ-led centerpiece “Dungeon Head” or the motorik “Summer of Hair” that’s so teeth-grindingly tense by the time it’s done you can feel it in your toes. These are but glimpses of the substance that comprises the 45-minute out-there-out-there-out-there stretch of UM, which by the way is also a party? And you’re invited? I think? Yeah, you can go, but the rest of these fools gotta get right if they want to hang with the likes of “I Saw God,” because Black Helium do it weird for the weirdos and the planet might be round but that duddn’t mean it’s not also square. Good thing Black Helium remembered to bring the launch codes. Fire it up. We’re outta here and off to better, trippier, meltier places. Fortunately they’re able to steer the ship as well as set its controls to the heart of the sun.

Black Helium on Facebook

Riot Season Records store


Seismic, The Time Machine

seismic the time machine

A demo recording of a single, 29-minute track that’s slated to appear on Seismic‘s debut full-length based around the works of H.G. Wells sometime later this year — yeah, it’s safe to say there’s a bit of context that goes along with understanding where the Philadelphia instrumentalist trio/live-foursome are coming from on “The Time Machine.” Nonetheless, the reach of the song itself — which moves from its hypnotic beginning at about five minutes in to a solo-topped stretch that then gives over to thud-thud-thud pounding heft before embarking on an adventure 30,000 leagues under the drone, only to rise and riff again, doom. the. fuck. on., and recede to minimalist meditation before resolving in mystique-bent distortion and lumber — is significant, and more than enough to stand on its own considering that in this apparently-demo version, its sound is grippingly full. As to what else might be in store for the above-mentioned LP or when it might land, I have no idea and won’t speculate — I’m just going by what they say about it — but I know enough at this point in my life to understand that when a band comes along and hits you with a half-hour sledgehammering to the frontal cortex as a sign of things to come, it’s going to be worth keeping track of what they do next. If you haven’t heard “The Time Machine” yet, consider this a heads up to their heads up.

Seismic on Facebook

Seismic linktree


These Beasts, Cares, Wills, Wants

these beasts cares wills wants

Something of an awaited first long-player from Chicago’s These Beasts, who crush the Sanford Parker-produced Cares, Wills, Wants with modern edge and fluidity moving between heavier rock and sludge metal, the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Chris Roo, bassist/vocalist Todd Fabian and drummer Keith Anderson scratching a similar itch in intensity and aggression as did L.A. sludgecore pummelers -(16)- late last year, but with their own shimmer in the guitar on “Nervous Fingers,” post-Baroness melody in “Cocaine Footprints,” and tonal heft worthy of Floor on the likes of “Blind Eyes” and the more purely caustic noise rock of “Ten Dollars and Zero Effort.” “Code Name” dizzies at the outset, while “Trap Door” closes and tops out at over seven minutes, perhaps taking its title from the moment when, as it enters its final minute, the bottom drops out and the listener is eaten alive. Beautifully destructive, it’s also somehow what I wish post-hardcore had been in the 2000s, ripping and gnarling on “Southpaw” while still having space among the righteously maddening, Neurot-tribal percussion work to welcome former Pelican guitarist Dallas Thomas for a guest spot. Next wave of artsy Chicago heavy noise? Sign me up. And I don’t know if that’s Roo or Fabian with the harsh scream, but it’s a good one. You can hear the mucus trying to save the throat from itself. Vocal cords, right down the trap door.

These Beasts on Facebook

Magnetic Eye Records store


Ajeeb, Refractions

Ajeeb Refractions

Comprised of Cucho Segura on guitar and vocals, Sara Gdm on bass and drummer Rafa Pacheco, Ajeeb are the first band from the Canary Islands to be written about here, and their second album — issued through no fewer than 10 record labels, some of which are linked below — is the 11-song/42-minute Refractions, reminding in heavy fashion that the roots of grunge were in noisy punk all along. There’s some kick behind songs like “Far Enough” and “Mold,” and the later “Stuck for Decades” reminds of grainy festival videos where moshing was just people running into each other — whereas on “Mustard Surfing” someone might get punched in the head — but the listening experience goes deeper the further in you get, with side B offering a more dug-in take with the even-more-grunge “Slow-Vakia” building on “Oh Well” two songs earlier and leading into the low-end shovefest “Stuck for Decades,” which you think is going to let you breathe and then doesn’t, the noisier “Double Somersault” and closer/longest song “Tail Chasing” (5:13) taking the blink-and-it’s-over quiet part in “Amnesia” and building it out over a dynamic finish. The more you listen, the more you’re gonna hear, of course, but on the most basic level, the adaptable nature of their sound results in a markedly individual take. It’s the kind of thing 10 labels might want to release.

Ajeeb on Facebook

Spinda Records website

Clever Eagle Records website

The Ghost is Clear Records website

Violence in the Veins website


OAK, Disintegrate

Oak Disintegrate

One might be tempted to think of Porto-based funeral doomers OAK as a side-project for guitarist/vocalist Guilherme Henriques, bassist Lucas Ferrand and drummer Pedro Soares, the first two of whom play currently and the latter formerly of also-on-SeasonofMist extreme metallers Gaerea, but that does nothing to take away from the substance of the single-song full-length Disintegrate, which plies its heft in emotionality, ambience and tone alike. Throughout 44 minutes, the three-piece run an album’s worth of a gamut in terms of tempo, volume, ebbs and flows, staying grim all the while but allowing for the existence of beauty in that darkness, no less at some of the most willfully grueling moments. The rise and fall around 20 minutes in, going from double-kick-infused metallurgy to minimal standalone guitar and rebuilding toward death-growl-topped nod some six minutes later, is worth the price of admission alone, but the tortured ending, with flourish either of lead guitar or keys behind the shouted layers before moving into tremolo payoff and the quieter contemplation that post-scripts, shouldn’t be missed either. Like any offering of such extremity, Disintegrate won’t be for everyone, but it makes even the air you breathe feel heavier as it draws you into the melancholic shade it casts.

OAK on Facebook

Season of Mist store


Ultra Void, Mother of Doom

Ultra Void Mother of Doom EP

“Are we cursed?” “Is this living?” “Are we dying?” These are the questions asked after the on-rhythm sampled orgasmic moaning abates on the slow-undulating title-track of Ultra Void‘s Mother of Doom. Billed as an EP, the five-songer skirts the line of full-length consideration at 31 minutes — all the more for its molten flow as punctuated by the programmed drums — and finds the Brooklynite outfit revamped as a solo-project for Jihef Garnero, who moves from that leadoff to let the big riff do most of the talking in the stoned-metal “Sic Mundus Creatus Est” and the raw self-jam of the nine-minute “Måntår,” which holds back its vocals for later and is duly hypnotic for it. Shorter and more rocking, “Squares & Circles” maintains the weirdo vibe just the same, and at just three and a half minutes, “Special K” closes out in similar fashion with perhaps more swing in the rhythm. With those last two songs offsetting the down-the-life-drain spirit of the first three, Mother of Doom seems experimental in its construction — Garnero feeling his way into this new incarnation of the band and perhaps also recording and mixing himself in this context — but the disillusion comes through as organic, and whether we’re living or dying (spoiler: dying), that gives these songs the decisive “ugh” with which they seem to view the world around them.

Ultra Void on Facebook

Ultra Void on Bandcamp


Aktopasa, Journey to the Pink Planet


Italian trio Aktopasa — also stylized as Akṭōpasa, if you’re in a fancy mood — seem to revel in the breakout moments on their second long-player and Argonauta label debut, Journey to the Pink Planet, as heard in the crescendo nod and boogie, respectively, of post-intro opener “Calima” (10:27) and closer “Foreign Lane” (10:45), the album’s two longest tracks and purposefully-placed bookends around the other songs. Elsewhere, the Venice-based almost-entirely-instrumentalists drift early in “It’s Not the Reason” — which actually features the record’s only vocals near its own end, contributed by Mattia Filippetto — and tick boxes around the tenets of heavy psychedelic microgenre, from the post-Colour Haze floating intimacy at the start of “Agarthi” to the fuzzy and fluid jam that branches out from it and the subsequent “Sirdarja” with its tabla and either sitar or guitar-as-sitar outset and warm-toned, semi-improv-sounding jazzier conclusion. From “Alif” (the intro) into “Calima” and “Lunar Eclipse,” the intent is to hypnotize and carry the listener through, and Aktopasa do so effectively, giving the chemistry between guitarist Lorenzo Barutta, bassist Silvio Tozzato and drummer Marco Sebastiano Alessi a suitably natural showcase and finding peace in the process, at least sonically-speaking, that’s then fleshed out over the remainder. A record to breathe with.

Aktopasa on Facebook

Argonauta Records store


Troll Teeth, Underground Vol. 1

Troll Teeth Underground Vol I

There’s heavy metal somewhere factored into the sound of Philadelphia’s Troll Teeth, but where it resides changes. The band — who here work as a four-piece for the first time — unveil their Underground Vol. 1 EP with four songs, and each one has a different take. In “Cher Ami,” the question is what would’ve happened if Queens of the Stone Age were in the NWOBHM. In “Expired,” it’s whether or not the howling of the two guitars will actually melt the chug that offsets it. It doesn’t, but it comes close to overwhelming in the process. On “Broken Toy” it’s can something be desert rock because of the drums alone, and in the six-minute closer “Garden of Pillars” it’s Alice in Chains with a (more) doomly reimagining and greater melodic reach in vocals as compared to the other three songs, but filled out with a metallic shred that I guess is a luxury of having two guitars on a record when you haven’t done so before. Blink and you’ll miss its 17-minute runtime, but Troll Teeth have four LPs out through Electric Talon, including 2022’s Hanged, Drawn, & Quartered, so there’s plenty more to dig into should you be so inclined. Still, if the idea behind Underground Vol. 1 was to scope out whether the band works as constructed here, the concept is proven. Yes, it works. Now go write more songs.

Troll Teeth on Facebook

Electric Talon Records store


Finis Hominis, Sordidum Est

Finis Hominis Sordidum Est EP

Lead track “Jukai” hasn’t exploded yet before Finis HominisSordidum Est EP has unveiled the caustic nature of its bite in scathing feedback, and what ensues from there gives little letup in the oppressive, extreme sludge brutality, which makes even the minute-long “Cavum Nigrum” sample-topped drone interlude claustrophobic, never mind the assault that takes place — fast first, then slow, then crying, then slow, then dead — on nine-minute capper “Lorem Ipsum.” The bass hum that begins centerpiece “Improportionatus” is a thread throughout that 7:58 piece, the foundation on which the rest of the song resides, the indecipherable-even-if-they-were-in-English growls and throat-tearing shouts perfectly suited to the heft of the nastiness surrounding. “Jukai” has some swing in the middle but hearing it is still like trying to inhale concrete, and “Sinne Floribus” is even meaner and rawer, the Brazilian trio resolving in a devastating and noise-caked, visceral regardless of pace or crash, united in its alienated feel and aural punishment. And it’s their first EP! Jesus. Unless they’re actually as unhinged as they at times sound — possible, but difficult — I wouldn’t at all expect it to be their last. A band like this doesn’t happen unless the people behind it feel like it needs to, and most likely it does.

Finis Hominis on Facebook

Abraxas Produtora on Instagram


Space Shepherds, Losing Time Finding Space

Space Shepherds Losing Time Finding Space

With its title maybe referring to the communion among players and the music they’re making in the moment of its own heavy psych jams, Losing Time Finding Space is the second studio full-length from Belfast instrumentalist unit Space Shepherds. The improvised-sounding troupe seem to have a lineup no less fluid than the material they unfurl, but the keyboard in “Ending the Beginning (Pt. 1)” gives a cinematic ambience to the midsection, and the fact that they even included an intro and interlude — both under two minutes long — next to tracks the shortest of which is 12:57 shows a sense of humor and personality to go along with all that out-there cosmic exploratory seeking. Together comprising a title-track, “Losing Time…” (17:34) and “…Finding Space” (13:27) are unsurprisingly an album unto themselves, and being split like “Ending the Beginning” speaks perhaps of a 2LP edition to come, or at very least is emblematic of the mindset with which they’re approaching their work. That is to say, as they move forward with these kinds of mellow-lysergic jams, they’re not unmindful either of the listener’s involvement in the experience or the prospect of realizing them in the physical as well as digital realms. For now, an hour’s worth of longform psychedelic immersion will do nicely, thank you very much.

Space Shepherds on Facebook

Space Shepherds on Bandcamp


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