Roadburn 2018 Day Four: They Have Dreams

Posted in Features, Reviews on April 22nd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

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04.22.18 – 11:31PM CET – Sunday night – Hotel Mercure Rm. 224

I saw a lot of cool shit today. This whole long weekend. There wasn’t one day that didn’t deliver some moment that seemed to me to be something special, whether it was Earthless‘ first set, or Volcano, or The Heads, or Joy tonight jamming out with Dr. Space. This afternoon, though, I stood in the back of the V39 across the alleyway from the 013 venue and watched a Q&A with Roadburn‘s creative director, Walter Hoeijmakers, aka Walter Roadburn, aka just Walter, run by Becky Laverty, who runs the fest’s PR.

He spoke about how the festival has grown organically over the time since he started it, how it changed as his tastes changed to encompass an expanding definition of what “heavy” becky and walter (Photo by JJ Koczan)is and means, and even about some of what the future holds in Roadburn 2019’s lineup. He wasn’t giving away who’s curating or anything, but as one might expect, there will be more commissioned projects like Waste of Space Orchestra on Thursday and the Icelandic black metal group work Vánagandr: Sól án varma, this afternoon. Talking about how young and creative the Icelanders specifically are, he said, “They have dreams,” and you could hear in his voice the deep level of respect that notion commanded from him.

That was a beautiful moment, and like so many I’ve seen in the 10 times I’ve been fortunate enough to make this trip to Tilburg, I felt lucky to be there when it happened.

There was still a lot to see today, though, and while I did stop by uninvited to catch some of Vánagandr, my final day of Roadburn 2018 began in the Green Room with Iron Chin. For much of the day, I sought out spacier fare, reminiscent somewhat of the spirit of the old Afterburner, which has kind of been subsumed into the festival proper even though there were “only” four stages running today: the Main Stage, Het Patronaat, the Green Room, and Cul de Sac. You’ll have to take my word for it when I say it was plenty.

So I had made my way to the Green Room with all the grace of a low-self-esteamboat for Iron Chin, and my reasoning was simple: Oeds Beydals. The Death Alley guitarist was leading the charge in the new group — fronting the band, on vocals as well as guitar — iron chin (Photo by JJ Koczan)and playing alongside for The Devil’s Blood bandmate Job van de Zande (now also in Dool), Ries Doms (Powervice) and Wout Kemkens (Shaking Godspeed), the idea behind the band seemed to be the Dutch heavy scene’s way of welcoming San Diego’s scene to town. The actual output was somewhere between space rock, heavy psych and jamming, with Beydals riding dynamic grooves as he sometimes does in Death Alley but bringing that side of things more into focus. Naturally, there was a song called “Iron Chin,” and just as naturally, its chorus made fitting and frequent use of the title.

I had caught a couple minutes of their soundcheck before doors opened, and knew it was going to be worth the time, but an even more pleasant surprise was when Beydals brought out guitarist Zack Oakley, drummer Thomas Dibenedetto and bassist Justin Hulson — in other words, the entire trio of Joy — to sit in on a few jams. Oakley‘s guitar fit right in the psychedelic wash, Hulson manned a Nord to bring some organ to the proceedings, and he and Dibenedetto both added percussion as well. It was a trip, and that was clearly the intention.

When I saw Beydals later, I asked him if they were going to record, and he confirmed it. That’ll be one to keep an eye out for. He’s developed a considerable stage presence since I first saw Death Alley at the Hardrock Hideout in 2014, and he wasn’t exactly lacking one to start with.

Keeping with the ethereal and/or cosmic, I clomped to Cul de Sac in order to see Belgian progressive rockers Hidden Trails. I knew the challenge in writing about them would be going a single sentence beforehidden trails (Photo by JJ Koczan) mentioning their connection via bassist Dave Houtmeyers and drummer Tom Vanlaer to the much-missed Hypnos 69, and now that I’ve thoroughly failed at that, I feel a little bit like I can move on. Houtmeyers, Vanlaer and guitarist/vocalist Jo Neyskens released their debut, Instant Momentary Bliss (review here) in 2016, and while it’s a thrill for me pretty much anytime I can watch a band play who’ve put something out on the label Elektrohasch Schallplatten, their blend of classic proggy exploration, organic tones and melodicism made it all the more special.

The concept of the Afterburner, with fewer stages running, etc., was that it was a smaller day to kind of transition from being neck-deep in the full force of Roadburn and returning to regular day-to-day existence. As I started to think about things like flight times home and changing trains at den Bosch on the way to Schiphol — always a challenge because I never know which track the train to the airport is coming in on and have to ask at the info counter, where they basically call me a moron every single time — the soothing vibe of Hidden Trails eased my anxious brain a bit and gave me another chance to bask in the breadth and warmth that Roadburn can sometimes offer, you know, when it’s not tearing your face off.

Speaking of, Wiegedood were next on the Main Stage. I have no problem admitting that, at 36 years of age, after three-plus days of festival-being-at, late-night-reviewing, ‘zine-editing and the rest, my ever-expanding ass was fairly well kicked. I went up top in the Main Hall and sat for a while of Wiegedood‘s set, flashing red strobes, skin-peeling sharpness and all, and then flumped back downstairs to have a quick dinner — the return of the fish in lemon cream sauce; I’d happily eat it every night until I died from mercury poisoning, if that’s even a thing here — before Zonal and Moor Mother took to the Main Stage at 19.00.

Zonal, with Justin K. Broadrick of Godflesh and Kevin Martin aka The Bug, who was here collaborating withmoor mother (Photo by JJ Koczan) Dylan Carlson last year (review here), claimed half the stage for a table flanked by bass stacks and left author and spoken word artist Camae Ayewa, aka Moor Mother, the other half to annihilate as she saw fit, silhouetted by lights behind and enough fog machine output that even the hallway outside the Main Stage area was enshrouded.

And annihilate she did, though her words were somewhat obscured by the wash of electronic noise surrounding. It was a performance geared for impact and it seemed to make one on parties either curious or who knew what they were getting, and as the bass beats vibrated in my chest, my mind flashed back to Walter earlier at V39 talking about pushing into new concepts of what “heavy” means. There it was, right in front of me. Impossible to see for all the smoke, but there just the same.

Word had spread of Harsh Toke playing a secret set on the skate ramp up by Hall of Fame, and I know I’ve said before that when Harsh Toke are jamming, that’s where you want to be, but I didn’t see Godspeed You! Black Emperor last night specifically knowing that I’d have the chance to catch them today, and in my mind the commitment was made. With video projection art behind them, they came out to the Main Stage gradually and arranged themselves in a semicircle under barely-there light and like the chamber music of the damned, they treated Roadburn 2018 to their massively influential and richly evocative instrumentalism, creating a space for themselves in the room much as they’ve essentially created a genre for themselves over their 20-plus-year history. I’d never seen them before and won’t claim any expertise on their back catalog, but though the audience in the back was sitting — as was a goodly portion of the band — it was clear they were also being taken somewhere else completely.

That one-two punch, of Zonal with Moor Mother and godspeed you black emperor (Photo by JJ Koczan)then Godspeed You! Black Emperor probably would’ve been enough to call it a day, a weekend, and a festival. That is, I couldn’t have reasonably at that point asked for more than I’d gotten out of Roadburn 2018. But the day started spaced-out, and I knew it would end the same way. Joy and Dr. Space jamming together at the Cul de Sac? Yeah, you can count me in for that.

In fact, since I looked at the final schedule and knew that I’d be in Tilburg again this year, I’ve known that Joy and Dr. Space was how I wanted to close out my Roadburn. Scott HellerDr. Space himself and bandleader of the Øresund Space Collective — started out the set on his own for a while, just oozing vibe on the crowd from his custom-built synth setup, arranged facing away from the audience like a secret box of magic tricks. Cosmic rabbits in lysergic hats and all that. Joy — the aforementioned OakleyHulson and Dibenedetto — arrived a short time later and with Oakley‘s guitar easing their way in, embarked on a longform jam that absolutely melted the room surrounding. Also helps that the Cul de Sac was wall-to-wall with bodies and about 100 degrees (or whatever that is in celsius; a million?), but yeah, one way or another, it was going to be molten.

Even without the unforeseen symmetry of opening and closing the day in the company of Joy, I was right in my pick for how to cap the night. The groove was easy, the vibe fluid and the mood in the room just about perfectly embodied the two parties themselves: “joy” and “space.” Beat as I was, I had a hard time dragging myself out of there. But I did, and after a few quick goodbyes back at the 013 itself, I doltishly florped back to the hotel past drunkards young and old, pissed and reckless, dazed andjoy dr space (Photo by JJ Koczan) dancing and riding bicycles. It was another Sunday night in Tilburg. Tomorrow morning they’ll powerwash Weirdo Canyon again and it’ll be like none of it ever happened.

Except it did. And everyone who was here will carry it with them wherever they might be headed next. Home, far and wide, another bar, whatever. I don’t think it’s possible to be here and not be touched in some way by the spirit of it. For me, after 10 times, I can hardly begin to conceive the ways it’s helped shape who I’ve become over the last decade, how I’ve thought about music and culture and art in general, and the lessons that each year reinforces about what truly matters in creativity, which is that it keeps moving forward. Always forward. That it keeps dreaming.

I’ll have a wrap-up post tomorrow at some point. Till then, thanks for reading and more pics after the jump.

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Roadburn 2018 Day Three: No Evil No Demon

Posted in Features, Reviews on April 21st, 2018 by JJ Koczan

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04.21.18 – 11:31PM CET – Saturday night – Hotel Mercure Rm. 224

A text came in this morning from The Patient Mrs., who told me she wanted me to be kinder to myself in how I described moving through the world around me. I saw this right when I woke up this morning, so had no idea what she was talking about. It was all the “galumphing” and “lumbering” and “waddling” and whatnot I’ve been doing the last few days. I told her it’s a running gag and that in describing my every movement from placebell witch 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan) to place today, I would use the word “farting” exclusively.

It was a busy day. I did a lot of farting back and forth. We did not set a new land-speed record in getting the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch to the press, but we did still manage to get it out on time like the pros that we are. It was a good thing, too, because Roadburn 2018 day three started extra early with Bell Witch at Koepelhal, and it was not to be missed. Clearly there would be no time for farting around.

The Seattle-based duo play here tomorrow as well, but today they were performing last year’s brilliant and affecting Mirror Reaper (review here) in its entirety, with six-string bassist Dylan Desmond and drummer Jesse Shreibman joined by Erik Moggridge, also known as the solo-performer Aerial Ruin, to contribute guest vocals as he does on the album, which was written in memory of former drummer Adrian Guerra, who passed away in 2016. The piece, an 80-minute single-song full-length, was to be rendered in its complete form, with all the crushing tones and searing emotional resonance brought to life.

I’ll be honest with you, it felt a little voyeuristic to watch. I’ve seen tribute sets at Roadburn before — one recalls the Selim Lemouchi tribute in 2014, and even as Bell Witch were playing today at Koepelhal, back at Het Patronaatbell witch (Photo by JJ Koczan)Stephen Brodsky and Adam McGrath of Cave In were paying homage to their late former bandmate, Caleb Scofield, who died in a car accident last month. But still. Maybe it’s just because it was so heavy coming from Bell Witch, or maybe it was the way Shreibman started out with his head down on his snare, or how he, Desmond and Moggridge all came together on vocals, but there was something so raw about the grief on display that it would’ve been next to impossible not to be affected by it. Powerful. Moving. One only hopes there some measure of catharsis derived from the process, because they managed to turn the darkest of feelings and sounds into something beautiful.

Somewhat dazed, I dragged my oafish, unworthy, hideous fucking carcass out of the Koeplhal — where in the merch area they couldn’t even find a Sacri Monti t-shirt big enough to wrap around my bloated fucking form (shit just got tragic; dial it back) — and over to the Hall of Fame where even-younger-than-I-thought-they-were-and-I-thought-they-were-pretty-young boogie rockers Supersonic Blues were getting set to go on. Hall of Fame is the smallest of Roadburn 2018’s venues, and I hadn’t been supersonic blues (Photo by JJ Koczan)inside yet other then to pop in on Petyr playing heavy ’70s covers yesterday, so this was my first real set there. Supersonic Blues also did a set of covers at some point in the last two days, and they worked a UFO song into this set of originals as well, I suspect because they just don’t have that much original material yet. They were allotted 50 minutes, and they’ve only released one two-song single (review here), so yeah. Maybe they just ran out of songs.

As happens in some fortunate occasions with young acts who aren’t arrogant as hell, Supersonic Blues are a better band than they know. They were somewhat timid on stage, or at least subdued, but their boogie, their tones and their swing were all right on, and their material was warm and classic feeling in a way that fit with some of the San Diego Takeover groups — PetyrArcticSacri Monti, etc. — but laid back enough to still be its own vibe. I was already looking forward to their next release and am only more so after seeing them play.

My next move was something of a debate. In the Green Room, Minami Deutsch and Damo Suzuki were doing a set together, which sounds like, yes, something you want to stand in front of for as long as you can. On the Main Stage, however, Panopticon were doing a full-on full-hour, and well, I watched both Minami Deutsch and Damo Suzuki yesterday — albeit in different contexts — and I’ve never seen Panopticon, so the Minnesota-based, folk-infused American black metallers won out. Not a phrase I say often. Led by guitarist/vocalist Austin Lunn, who also owns and operates Hammerheart Brewing in Minnesota, which smells delightfully like fresh-cut and/or burning wood when you go therepanopticon (Photo by JJ Koczan)Panopticon absolutely packed out the Main Hall, and with family members to the side of front of the crowd, they unleashed a torrent of USBM intensity that made no bones about its intent to scorch.

For a band who doesn’t tour nine months out of the year, their ownership of the big stage was complete and unflinching, and as they have a brand new record out in the form of The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness I and II on Bindrune, their energy level was no less ferocious than the material itself, though there was plenty of dynamic to be had as well. I knew I wanted to be back in the Green Room for Volcano, so I hopscotched out of the Main Hall and downstairs to grab a quick bite to eat. Some vegan meatballs and seasoned mystery (actual-)meat later, I lubbered up to the front of the Green Room and there planted myself to wait for Volcano to hit it.

And I mean hit it. Led by the keys of Harsh Toke‘s Gabe Messer and the guitar of Joy‘s Zach Oakley, with Red Octopus‘ Billy Ellsworth on bass, I don’t even know who on drums, Sacri Monti and Joy drummer Thomas Dibenedetto on percussive sticks and Earthless‘ own Mario Rubalcaba sitting in on volcano (Photo by JJ Koczan)bongos and other percussion, Volcano were an Afrobeat-inspired melee of psychedelic funk, starting out their set with a song called “Naked Prey” and ending with their previously-posted single, “10,000 Screaming Souls” (discussed here), and in between, they were an absolute blast of rhythm, vibe and motion. “No Evil No Demon” invited shouting sing-alongs, and as my understanding is that their record is already done and they’re already signed to Tee Pee for the release — hardly a surprise given the personnel involved — I was thinking of their set as something of a preview of what’s to come when the album lands, but they were already crazy tight, locked in, and looking and sounding like they were having a total blast.

It was their second show. Two. I’d sat next to Ellsworth on the bus ride from the airport to Tilburg the other day and he told me the band figured they might as well get one under their belt before playing Roadburn. Their second show. In the Green Room. And they totally killed it.

They are a band about which you will no doubt hear more in the months, maybe years, to come, and they made an excellent lead-in for the psychedelic masterclass that long-running UK cosmotrodders The Heads delivered in the same space. I’ve seen The Heads at Roadburn before — they played the Main Stage in 2015 (review here) and subsequently released it as the live album, Burning up With… (review here) — and their history with the festival and with Walter goes back much farther than that, and as he worked the live video mixing projected behind them once again in the Green Room, the swirl was unmistakable and irresistible. Before they went on, the heads (Photo by JJ Koczan)I had been reading a news story about diamonds found in a meteorite that were supposed to be leftover from a planetary collision 4.7 billion years go or something like that.

Could there possibly be a better analog to what The Heads bring to the stage? Diamonds from space? Shit, as I watched them conjure a gravity well with “Coogans Bluff” and “Widowmaker,” all I could think about was a giant rock slamming with a couple billion years’ worth of momentum into the earth and Paul AllenWayne MaskellHugo Morgan and Simon Price popping out of the thing like a presidential birthday cake and jamming a swirl hot enough to melt crucial elements into new molecules. Heavy. Psychedelic. Perfection. I don’t think there’s really any other option when The Heads play except to stand there with your mouth agape and just try to retain as much of it as humanly possible. The only challenge is not snapping back to reality when they’re done and realizing you’ve lost time, like on an old episode of X-Files.

Oh, and by the way, The Heads are really, really, really fucking good.

I did not at all envy Sacri Monti the task of following them up, but the San Diego five-piece represented the Takeover well, with a contingent of their clique on hand to watch as guitarist/vocalist Brendan Dellar, guitarist Dylan Donavon, organist Evan Wenskay, bassist Anthony Meier (also of Radio Moscow) and Dibenedetto sacri monti (Photo by JJ Koczan)on drums tore into songs from their 2015 self-titled debut (review here) and some new material from the follow-up that that first album is due. I’ve no idea what the state of their next record is, but what they played sounded right on and though they were less spaced-out than The Heads, one could still get a sense of the intended continuity in the Green Room as they played, which started with Petyr and Minami Deutsch with Damo Suzuki, got far out with Volcano and The Heads and came back to the boogie via Sacri Monti before Sweden’s Maggot Heart closed out the room for the night with more of a post-punk vibe.

After poking my laughably-gargantuan cranium into the Main Hall to take a peak at Godspeed You! Black Emperor, whose second set of the weekend I’ll watch tomorrow, I poor-coordinationed my way over to Het Patronaat to close out my night with a blast of Japanese sludge from Greenmachine, who were performing their 1997 debut, D.A.M.N., in its entirety. Their onslaught was immediate save for a small technical issue with one of the amps, and they delivered a pummel worthy of the underground influence they’ve had in their home country and beyond. I was digging the hell out of it, but have no problem admitting I was done before they were. When it’s time to go greenmachine (Photo by JJ Koczan)back to the hotel and write, there’s really nothing else to be done except that.

With the banana I’d found earlier in the day backstage still in the side pocket of my cosmic backpack, I knuckledragged back to the hotel through a Weirdo Canyon that looked like some kind of clash of civilizations, with dance clubs open and beardo metallers sitting out in cafes red-eyed and addled from a long day of whathaveyou. The anthropologist in me — and no, there isn’t an anthropologist in me — wanted to start interviewing members of different subcultures to see how they could possibly exist in the same space at the same time, but, well, there’s still Day Four of Roadburn 2018 to go tomorrow, and plenty enough already to keep me busy in the meantime.

You know what I did tonight? I introduced myself to Ester Segarra. Zero chance you remember, but a couple months back, I posted about how incredibly talented a photographer she is (and she is) and the collection she had coming out via Season of Mist and I said that in all the years I’d seen her in the photo pit at Roadburn, I’d never been brave enough to introduce myself. Well, as I was on my way from Sacri Monti to Greenmachine, she was walking the opposite direction in the front hallway of the 013 and I stopped her, shook her hand and said who I was. It might’ve been the bravest thing I’ve done this weekend up to this point, and to be frank, I don’t really see myself trying to top it tomorrow. But hey, I said hi to Ester Segarra. And she didn’t even tell me to go fuck myself. She was super-nice. Bonus.

More of my nowhere-near-as-good-as-Ester-Segarra’s photography after the jump, if you’re up for it. Thanks for reading.

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Roadburn 2018 Day Two: Sessions of Light

Posted in Features, Reviews on April 20th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

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04.20.18 – 11:25PM CET – Friday night – Hotel Mercure Rm. 224

You know what I did this afternoon before the show started? I slept. For about an hour. It was fucking crazy. A post-‘zine, pre-Roadburn-day-two nap. I’m not sure I can convey to you the novelty of such a thing. With a 3:10PM start to the day, it never would’ve been possible before, as I’d be folding copies of the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch. Yesterday, today and tomorrow that task is outsourced. Sunday will be folding penance. But damn I enjoyed that nap.

I also enjoyed an inhuman(e) amount of espresso today. You might say I’m sipping one right now. By the time Motorpsycho took to the Main Stage for their two-hour early-headlining set, I’d certainly had a few, and they came in handy in keeping up with the Norwegians’ semi-psychedlic heavy progressive rock. I will not at all pretend to motorpsycho (Photo by JJ Koczan)be an expert on the band — I saw the a few years ago in Eindhoven and they were doing a concept show or something and it didn’t really hit a nerve — but what may or may not still be their latest LP, 2017’s The Tower (review here), was a thrill, so to hear cuts from that like “In Every Dream Home (There’s a Dream of Something Else)” was likewise and as they settled in for the longest haul to feature today on the Main Stage, the crowd seemed to do much the same.

For anyone in the US who might be reading this, Motorpsycho are a huge deal over here. They are legends, legitimately. They’ve been at it for nearly 30 years, and they have a discography that at this point is nigh on insurmountable to which they continuously add releases. They’re relatively obscure in America compared to some other progressive rock-type outfits, but they’re the kind of band who can get on stage, play a song called “Starhammer” from an album called Heavy Metal Fruit and have a couple thousand people absolutely wrapped around their collective finger. Their material is enticingly complex, with ebbs and flows in energy and volume, and when they want to, they can be quite heavy, but while their delivery is technically precise, they’re not overly showy, and the sense of class with which they play holds firm throughout. They, and the response they got, were both a joy to watch.

There was, however, a reason I only stayed for an hour and 45 minutes of their full two-hour set, and that was because over at Cul de Sac, Toronto’s Comet Control were on next, and I was taking zero chances when it came to the potential of missing them. I showed up too late for Insect Ark yesterday and missed my shot. Getting to see Comet Control meant showing up as Ulsect were finishing and waiting the 40comet control 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan) minutes for them to load their gear in, set up, soundcheck, etc. Time well spent as far as I’m concerned, because as I think I’ve said several times by now, there was simply no way I wasn’t going to see them.

My vigilance in doing so was rewarded with a shit-eating-grin-on-my-face life-affirming set the likes of which I’ve only ever experienced at Roadburn. I stayed down the front of the Cul de Sac and stood in front of the stage the entire time. They were my first complete set of the weekend (and only one to this point) and were so good that I wanted to sit it down and explain it to them. Or write a letter. “Dear Comet Control: You guys and gal are fucking awesome. When you played ‘Blast Magic’ I thought my heart was going to explode.” They did that track and “Dig out Your Head” from their excellent 2016 sophomore full-length, Center of the Maze (review here), and were joined on stage by Mario Rubalcaba from Earthless who took over on guitar from Chad Ross for a song — holding the instrument upside down to play left-handed — before they dug back into Ross‘ and fellow guitarist Andrew Moszynski‘s former outfit, Quest for Fire, to play “Greatest Hits by God” and “Sessions of Light,” the opening and closing cuts from 2010’s Lights from Paradise (review here; discussed here).

That. Well. That. That kind of felt like a birthday present to the universe. Quest for Fire played Roadburn in 2011 in what was then called the Bat Cave. I remember standing there in the hallway of the pre-redo 013 and watching them through the door in the smallest of the then-three rooms in the buildingcomet control (Photo by JJ Koczan). Cul de Sac isn’t the smallest venue at Roadburn 2018 — that honor goes to Hall of Fame, up by the Kopelhal and the merch area — but it was an intimate, packed show all the same, and it was the only time so far this weekend that I pulled my earplugs even part of the way out of my ears during a set to let the loudness in. Ross‘ and Moszynski‘s guitars were a wash across two channels, and even though the skin on the kick drum broke, the band made it work. They were my one “must” of the day, and completely justified my anticipation. I sincerely hope this isn’t the only time I get to see them.

When they were done, I lumbered clumsily back to the 013 proper to check out Crowbar on the Main Stage playing Odd Fellows Rest in full as part of Jacob Bannon from Converge‘s curated day. They very much sounded like Crowbar, and that’s not a complaint. The New Orleans sludge purveyors are pro-shop the whole way through and their set was likewise. It’s always interesting to see who gets into the spirit of Roadburn and who plays it like another gig. Again, nothing against Crowbar, who’ve no doubt played European fests in front of tens of thousands of people, and it being a full-album performance, it was still something special to see, founding guitarist/vocalist Kirk Windstein thanking the crowd profusely as well as Jacob Bannon and Walter for having them back.

I dipped out to grab a quick bite for dinner — there’s this fish in like a lemoncrowbar (Photo by JJ Koczan) cream sauce kind of thing this year in the catering room backstage; I felt like I didn’t want to stop — and made it back in time to catch Crowbar play their cover of “No Quarter” and close out their set with a couple other tunes before Windstein said they were gonna “do that gay thing everyone does” and take a picture on stage with the crowd behind them. Pulled the wind right out of my enjoyment of seeing them. Like a balloon making a fart noise as the air escapes. Bummer. You can call me PC or whatever. I don’t give a fuck. Crowbar has ruled for a long-ass time, but that shit is lame. Moving on.

The delightfully punctuated Seinäjoki, Finland, progressive psych outfit Kairon; IRSE! were wrapping up in the Green Room around the same time, so I waddled in there and caught the end of their set from the balcony. The assembled masses before them were clearly loyal to the cause and it was easy to see why. Heady stuff. They’re on Svart, which is all the endorsement they need as far as I’m concerned, and I may yet pick up their albums in the merch area, where the label has a table all set up that I’ve now visited twice, but I was really in the Green Room to catch Minami Deutsch.

My thinking was that I owed it to myself to catch at least some of the Japanese Psych Experience while I was here — set up by Walter with the minami deutsch (Photo by JJ Koczan)label Guru Guru Brain in a similar kind of thing to the San Diego Takeover, only, you know, from Japan, with acts like Kikagaku Moyo, Dhidalah and Minami Deutsch playing — and I’d heard all along that Minami Deutsch were the mellowest of the bunch. That suited me just fine. I waited for them to go on and when they did, it was easy-groove spacial drift the whole way through and it turned out to be just the vibe I was looking for. I was not the only one, as the room was loaded with people all the way out the door. How many times in my life will I get to see them? I don’t know. Maybe twice if I’m lucky. Point is they were right on and especially as a part of the J-psych theme, a band I felt extra fortunate to be able to catch.

Speaking of possibly-once-in-a-lifetime experiences, up at the Koepelhal — which is on the other side of the train tracks from the 013 in what, with the weather so nice and all the people laying in the grass outside smoking, drinking, whatever, looked like the Roadburn Annex — it was nearly time for Earthless and Damo Suzuki to fuse their mind energies for a set of what I believe was fully improvised psychedelic wandering. There was a little time, so I hobbled next door to the Hall of Fame to watch Petyr play heavy ’70s covers for a minute or two, and perused the merch again, only making myself sad in the process on any number of levels. These are interesting days. Did I mention I ate dinner?

Anyhow, when it was time for Earthless and Damo Suzuki to play their set — which, once more, is the kind of thing that may or may not ever, ever happen again — the Koepelhal was absolutely rammed with bodies looking for a bit of psychedelic communion. As it happens, damo suzuki earthless (Photo by JJ Koczan)that is precisely what they got. The mood started out quiet and built up and came down, with Suzuki on mic, someone else playing another stringed instrument, and EarthlessIsaiah Mitchell, Mike Eginton and Mario Rubalcaba not quite playing the role of the backing band, but definitely giving Suzuki respect on stage and the space to do what he does in terms of proclamations largely indecipherable but completely in the moment. The whole thing, really. Completely in the moment. That seemed to be the entire point.

And maybe it was the heat, or maybe it was the humidity, or maybe it was just me being a sucker and remembering how good they were last time I saw them here in 2013, but something drove me back toward the 013 Main Hall in order to catch the start of Godflesh performing 1994’s Selfless in its entirety. I knew I wasn’t going to see the whole thing — writing to do — but I also knew there was no way I’d be able to consider the night complete without watching them at least for a while. So I did. I peeled myself out of Koepelhal and floundered back to the 013, wheregodflesh (Photo by JJ Koczan) Justin K. Broadrick — with hair, no less — and G.C. Green went on about 10 minutes past their allotted start time and only built on the tension that late start created with their dissonant, crushing industrial aggression.

Like few bands I’ve ever seen, Godflesh seem to have the power to just reach into your lungs and squeeze them until they’re all the way empty. It’s something to behold. Selfless had them beginning to experiment with melody, but the electronic beats and the intensity were (and still are) there to be sure, and Broadrick and Green captivated a full Main Stage area, spaced out across the stage just as they were when I saw them play their 1989 debut, Streetcleaner here in 2011. That was also an adventure in sonic brutalism.

After a while, the get-to-work itch started to become unbearable and I blundered my way back through Weirdo Canyon to the hotel where so-much-and-yet-not-enough coffee awaited. It had been another excellent day — it was hard to believe it was only the second one of the fest itself — but Roadburn 2018 picks up early tomorrow with Bell Witch playing Mirror Reaper in its entirety, and well, if I’m going to have my head cleaved open with doom, the very least I can do is be well rested in advance for it.

Thanks for reading. More pics after the jump and more to come tomorrow.

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Roadburn 2018 Day One: Gifted by the Wind

Posted in Features, Reviews on April 19th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

roadburn 2018 banner

04.19.18 – 11:33PM CET – Thursday Night – Hotel Mercure Rm. 224

Long day. Great day. I saw more bands than I photographed, which was among my most essential goals for Roadburn 2018: Just watch music. Just enjoy it. Don’t sweat getting down the front. Don’t sweat anything. This is a good time.

That whole “not sweating” part? Pretty much impossible. It’s apparently Global Warming Week in the Netherlands, so while Waste of Space Orchestra — the first of the weekend’s two commissioned projects, with members involved from Finnish fest-veteran outfits Oranssi Pazuzu and Dark Buddha Rising — were tearing the Main Hall to shreds with their avantdelic blackened swirl, outside the sun was shining brightly in a conceptual contrast that, to be perfectly honest, was almost too much to take. waste of space orchestra (Photo by JJ Koczan)Outside, the cafes of Weirdo Canyon were packed to the hilt with libation quaffers. Inside, the goal seemed to be who could be first to prove the human soul exists and then tear it apart.

Hyperbole, you say. Fucking a right. How’s this for hyperbole? Waste of Space Orchestra‘s set might have been some of the most forward-thinking music I’ve heard since BorisFlood. Maybe. I’d have to hear it recorded, which hopefully will happen in a Live at Roadburn-style context, if not an actual studio album — it seems to me the substance there is too great to be left as a one-time-thing-and-gone experience. The ebbs and flows from almost-nothing drones to full-intensity, dual-drummed madness set a scope worthy of its dream-based concept, and there did not seem to be a moment of it that departed from the central mission of exploration. The gorgeous derived from the hideous and vice versa. A laugh in the face of anyone’s expectations, my own included. A first “holy shit” moment for a span of days that promises many.

My brain already so much goo only kept from leaking out of my skull by my earplugs blocking the way, I galumphed in that American-with-a-sore-back kind of way over to Het Patronaat to watch Colorado’s Khemmis play their first European show ever. Imagine that. Your first show on the continent, and it’s at Roadburn. I hope anything else on the tour measures up, because they absolutely packed out the church, and the assembled congregation bid them much welcome once they got going following a moment of turns-out-this-isn’t-plugged-in technical difficulties. That is to say, the crowd knew them and knew their two albums, 2016’s Hunted (review here) and 2015’s Absolution (review here), so there was none of that awkward getting-to-know-you phase. Everyone dove right in.

In fact, that seemed to be the way it went all around, not just for Khemmis or even Waste of Space Orchestra. Sometimes it takes a day khemmis (Photo by JJ Koczan)or two for Roadburn to really dig in. Not this year. From the moment Sannhet started in the Green Room, the vibe was set. Whether they were inside watching the bands or standing in the open air having a smoke of this or that — did you know Europeans put tobacco in their joints? I’ve been coming to the Netherlands for a decade and that’s some shit I just found out today, which I guess tells you how concerned I am generally with the matter. Still, fascinating.

What was I saying? Oh yeah, the vibe. The vibe was right on. I don’t know if it was starting off the Main Stage with such a landmark performance, or the sense of gratitude that Khemmis had from the beginning of their set on, or just all these super-laid-back West Coast dudes walking around, but it was quick immersion in and about the 013 venue. The good times were immediate. The rooms were jammed right from the beginning, and in the best way possible, it felt way more like day three than day one. Again, I did my best to take it easy and just enjoy it, soak in everything I could.

That’s not to say there wasn’t a bit of back and forth to the evening. Plenty, actually, but I knew that Earthless were on my must-see list for the day. The forerunners of San Diego’s heavy rock boom are wrapping a European tour here supporting their new album, Black Heaven (review here). They had a decent portion of acolytes rocking out at the side of the stage, and guitarist Isaiah Mitchell casually noted that it had been 10 years since the first time they played the fest, which of course resulted in the now-legendary LP, Live at Roadburn (discussed here). He wished everyone a great weekend. My big question going into their Main Stage set was how their new material, specifically that with his vocals, would fit alongside the three-piece’s longform instrumentalism.

The answer couldn’t possibly be dumber:earthless 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan) It just does. It’s the same band. It absolutely works. After about 20 minutes of their set, and further, as they moved into “End to End” and “Gifted by the Wind,” I began to wonder exactly what the hell I thought was going to happen, like all of a sudden Mitchell would start singing and bassist Mike Eginton and drummer Mario Rubalcaba would stop and be like, “Dude, what’re you doing?” in the middle of a song. It’s a big transition they’ve made with Black Heaven, but they 100 percent pulled it off on the record, and they did likewise live. Once they started playing, there was no doubt. They absolutely owned the stage and owned the room, the dynamic between each member of the band and the others making all of them utterly essential to the whole; a classic power trio with boogie enough to move thousands. I know. I saw it happen.

And while we’re on the subject, bonus points to Rubalcaba for wearing a t-shirt representing their tourmates Comet Control, who play tomorrow at Cul de Sac and are my absolute must-see band for the day. Like, not staying the whole time for Crowbar, missing Supersonic Blues‘ covers set, Panopticon and Kikagaku Moyo to see them. That’s how fucking essential I consider that. I also hope to get my own shirt.

My intended next stop after Earthless was Insect Ark, at Cul de Sac. I ran back to the hotel room to throw water on my face and drop off the issues I’d snagged of Weirdo Canyon Dispatch, but got back to the venue in Weirdo Canyon itself 20 minutes early and probably about 10 too late to get a spot down front. They went on and I stood in back nursing my regrets and my umpteenth espresso for the day that I picked up from the machine in the hotel lobby, then tweedledummed my way back to the Main Stage toearthless 2 (Photo by JJ Koczan) watch some of Converge playing last November’s The Dusk in Us.

I made it in time to catch the title-track, which frontman and Roadburn 2018 curator Jacob Bannon took a moment to explain was about depression and that if anyone “could relate,” the most important thing to do was survive. “Nothing is more important than you,” he said. I had to stop for minute as the song got going with its slow build and dramatic semi-spoken lyrics and realize that I’ve never felt that to be less true. I don’t begrudge Bannon the sentiment, but yeah. Not a chance, bro.

Harder to argue with Converge‘s on-stage delivery, though. They’ve been at it for nearly 30 years, and while I can’t claim to have seen them in 1990, the passion seems not to have dulled in the slightest. My stop in the Main Hall was temporary though, as I knew I wanted to head to the Green Room to catch Ex Eye, about whom I’ve been hearing more or less since I got to Tilburg yesterday. And actually much longer than that.

Somewhat telling that I walked into the Green Room with more than half an hour to go before the New York-based four-piece took the stage — they were soundchecking at the time — and still couldn’t get a spot to take a semi-decent photo. When they actually rolled in, Ex Eye represented the league of hyperprog better than anyone I’ve seen in a good long while. Guitar, sax, Moog, drums — though no shortage of low end. Instrumental experimentation turning metal into jazz and jazz into metal in a way that would have Cynic blushing and Colin Marston breaking out his Warr guitar to try and get in on the fun. Now I know what people who saw Blind Idiot God in 1989 must’ve felt like.

And I guess by that I mean outclassed by a decade or two. I’d never heard Ex Eye before — look at me, trying new things! — and they were as opaque as they were breathtaking, but it was clear they were on their own wavelength.ex eye (Photo by JJ Koczan) Is extreme prog a thing? If it is or it isn’t, they are.

Having some time before my last stop for the night, I popped up to the merch area to see what was what for shirts and CDs and the like. Part of my annual sojourn in the past has been catching up on Nasoni Records releases by buying a host of CDs, but there were none to be had. I consoled myself with some treasures from Svart — Talmud BeachGarden of WormKimi Kärki‘s solo record, Hallatar — and an old compilation on Hellhound that I’d never seen around before. Distros had a lot of vinyl, same as everywhere, and I usually allot myself one piece of it before the weekend is out. I may yet, but didn’t this time. I’m sure I’ll get there.

But as to that last stop for the day, it was Mirror Queen back at the Cul de Sac. A bit of New York to wrap up a day that spanned even more broadly in terms of style than I could’ve planned had I actually circled names on the schedule. If I could end every night of this fest with some good old fashioned heavy rock and roll, I think I could only call it a win. Mirror Queen brought exactly that: wholesome ’70s flavor with not an ounce of pretense to be found. They’d been on tour for a week alongside Lonely Kamel and were tight enough to make one believe it, and they pulled a good crowd supporting their new single “Inviolate” (video premiere here) and last year’s full-length, Verdigris (review here), which was likewise rife with classic heavy charm and a naturalist modern presentation.

Not my first time seeing them by any stretch, but in my experience there’s always a difference between seeing a band at Roadburn and seeing them anywhere else. Plus, this was my first time watching them play with guitarist Morgan McDaniel in the lineup alongside founding guitarist/vocalist Kenny Sehgal, drummer Jeremy O’Brien and bassist James Corallo. I saw McDaniel here a couple years back when he played bass in The Golden Grass, but he can and did shred on lead guitar and it was a pleasure to watch. He fit right in that band in a way that made me hope he stays.

After taking pictures down front, I made my way to the back of the room for a mirror queen (Photo by JJ Koczan)bit to catch my breath prior to heading out. It had been, as I noted at the outset, a long, great day, but the get-back-to-the-hotel-and-start-writing-you-jerk itch was making itself felt, so I eventually departed the boogie proceedings and lumped it down Weirdo Canyon and back here, where I remain, somewhat stunned by the news that Sleep are apparently releasing a previously-unannounced album tomorrow, on April 20. I would be very surprised if some clever venue DJ doesn’t have it playing somewhere here this weekend. What a way to end day one.

Up in the morning early to work on the ‘zine again, so I’ll leave it there for now. I’ve got some more pictures up after the jump if you get the chance to check them out. Thanks for reading either way. More to come.

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Live Review: Roadburn 2018 Hardrock Hideout, 04.18.18

Posted in Features, Reviews on April 18th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

butcher on stage photo jj koczan

04.19.18 – 12:11AM CET – Wednesday night – Hotel Mercure Rm. 224

The Hardrock Hideout is Roadburn‘s annual way of bringing fest-goers into the world of the happening itself. I’d say it eases them in, but there’s usually very little easing happening at all. This year? Three Belgian acts — one multi-genre noise assault and two thrashing speed-rippers each more metal than the last. It was a bill organized in conjunction with Babylon Doom Cult Records and booked in honor of Bidi van Drongelen, who worked at the fest, was close with Walter, and passed away last year. Thrash with a purpose, then. So be it.

One consistent theme for Roadburn each year is growth and I look at how the personality of the Hardrock Hideout has changed even over the last couple years as an example of that. There’s still space for the occasional bit of doom — Atala played, as did The Skull maybe two years back — but the dominant persona of the evening is way more metal than it once was; a capsule analog for how the festival itself has redefined and expanded its scope.

It was an 8:30PM start for a bill with Witch TrailSpeed Queen and Bütcher, in that order, and after a nap that I was going to take whether I wanted to or not, I made it down to Cul de Sac well in advance of the start time.

Here’s how it went from there:

Witch Trail

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I already wish I’d bought a copy of their 2017 album, Thole, which doesn’t bode well for the weekend to come in terms of pulling the trigger on merch-regrets, but so it goes. The three-piece were easily the odd-men-out on the bill and that seemed like a position they should be well used to considering the complexity of the stylistic blend they play, running anywhere from alt-noise riffing in the ’90s style to doomed crash and plod to blackened blastbeating and screams. Based in Ghent, they impressed on cuts like “Splendour” and “Unnatural Caresses,” which took their time unfolding the aesthetic gamut, but never seemed more patient than was warranted or failed to justify one turn into the other. They were right on, in short, and it’s a good thing Thole is up as a name-your-price download so at least I can mitigate my not-CD-buying woes. It’s not the same of course, but it’s hard to argue with, anyhow. They had a couple hiccups during their set but were my pick for the night, hands down, with a sound that seemed as likely to pique the interest of Fenriz as that of Thurston Moore. Not an easy bridge to cross for most bands.

Speed Queen

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High tops, studded belts, two guitars speed-picking, fists raised, beer downed, Speed Queen had the thing nailed, and the thing was classic thrash. For their traditionalist West Coast presentation — see above re: high tops, etc. — they were notably tight, which was doubly remarkable considering the liberal amount of beer pounded while on stage. Frontman Thomas Kenis, with “1992” tattooed on one wrist and an infinity symbol tattooed on the other — it’s good to have goals — didn’t even lose his balance in all that windmill headbanging during songs like “Speed Queen,” “Midnight Murder” and “Live Hard” early in the set. “King of the Road,” somewhat sadly, was not a cover (in fact it’s the title-track of their 2017 debut EP), but “Nice Boys Don’t Play Rock ‘n’ Roll” was, and they gave the Rose Tattoo track a thrashing sneaker to the ass no less fervent than that delivered to their originals. By the time they were deeper into their set, the shouts of “Hey! Hey! Hey!” were coming from more than just their road crew, and it was plain to see Speed Queen‘s classic style had won the hearts and increasingly addled minds of the assembled.

Bütcher

butcher (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Their setlist promised a “Speed Metal Attakk,” and that’s precisely what Antwerp-based five-piece Bütcher delivered as they supported last year’s debut album, Bestial Fükkin’ Warmachine. Need I say more? Probably not, but I will. A rare moshpit was formed at the Cul de Sac, which generally I wouldn’t think has the size to support such a thing, let alone the festival temperament, and yours truly got shoved around a bit as I watched the band deliver their oldskööl metal onslaught, one slicing, punishing cut into the next. Frontman R. Hellshrieker was quick to throw a spiked-armband claw when not holding onto his upside-down-spiked-cross mic stand, and guitarists KK Rippeand DB Deströyer tore into classic-style everything while bassist JA Pulsatör and drummer PB Tormentor pummeled ahead into the forward-thrust grooves. It was heavy, duh, and while I could say I was tired, jetlagged, needed to go back to the hotel and write, and so on, the truth is that Hellshrieker and his elaborately named companions gave oldschool metal a culminating representation worthy of being called true homage, and still managed to find space to inject a personality of their own into the proceedings. I’m telling you, I’ve seen a lot of bands play the Cul de Sac. I can’t recall any of them inducing a mosh. Clearly that takes something special in intent and execution, and Bütcher‘s unabashed metal-for-the-love-of-metal was exactly that.

I’m at least several things, if not many. Two or three. One thing I’m not is the “partying kind.” Socialization? Good times? Sounds utterly horrifying, and I don’t care what anti-anxiety meds you put me on, it won’t be enough for me to not notice how much that party isn’t me-in-front-of-laptop. Weirdo Canyon was jumping off for a Wednesday night — a whole other level on which Roadburn 2018 was being launched, and as I walked out of Cul de Sac, I not only saw Walter and Becky, but Lee from The Sleeping Shaman — with whom I’m once again sharing a hotel room and considering myself fortunate to be in his company — and the artist Cavum, Yvonne, the photographer Dante Torrieri, the dudes from Mirror Queen and a goodly portion of the San Diego Takeover guys with whom I’d rode into town this morning. Strange sometimes to feel like you don’t belong in the one place you belong. That’s all I’ll say about it.

Tomorrow’s a busy day. First day of the fest, sure, but also the first day Lee and I will be finalizing the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch and, for the first time, sending it off to a professional press to be done ahead of doors opening. That makes me less guaranteed to get a copy, but I’m going to try anyhow, of course. This is our fifth year of the WCD daily festival fanzine. It’s hard to imagine how stupid lucky I am to be able to be here and to work on that as a part of my trip every year. I’ve been looking forward to sitting in the office for months. Really.

Lots more to come. Thanks for reading in the meantime. Some extra pics after the jump if you’re up for such things.

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Review & Full Album Premiere: Sun Voyager, Seismic Vibes

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on April 18th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Sun Voyager Seismic Vibes

[Click play above to stream Sun Voyager’s Seismic Vibes in its entirety. Album is out April 20 on King Pizza Records.]

Here’s a post from May 2014 about how Sun Voyager‘s debut album would be out that summer. The band had two demos to their name at that point — early 2013’s Cosmic Tides and late 2013’s Mecca (review here) — and though it turn out their first long-player would in no way be out that summer or any time between then and now, they filled the intervening years via splits with Greasy Hearts (discussed here) and The Mad Doctors (review here), as well as 2015’s Lazy Daze EP (review here). The Orange County, New York, heavy psych outfit discussed the making of their full-length and even went so far as to post the opening track “Trip” in early 2017. So to say that Seismic Vibes, which at last sees release through King Pizza Records, has been a while in the making is maybe understating it a little.

They’ve kept consistent playing live shows, and since Lazy Daze came out they’ve pared down their lineup from a two-guitar four-piece to a trio — though in addition to the core of vocalist/guitarist Carlos Francisco, bassist/guitarist/vocalist Stefan Mersch and drummer Kyle Beach, the album’s credits also list Evan Heinze on keyboard and Sam Bey on percussion; that trio may or may not be in a process of expansion — and between that and leaking tracks from the originally self-titled Seismic Vibes, one could hardly accuse them of laziness in bringing the record to fruition. Sometimes these things just take a while. Tracked by Paul Ritchie down the Jersey Shore and mastered by Alan Douches, the eight-song/34-minute offering that has resulted from whatever arduous process was undertaken can only be considered worth the effort.

Maybe that’s not saying much, but the point to be made is that one can hear on Seismic Vibes the growth that’s taken place in Sun Voyager‘s sound even since Lazy Daze, which opened with “God is Dead,” a song that’s turned into the extended, jammed-out closer on the full-length. That track is the only carry-over between the two outings, and as one might hope, Sun Voyager use the opportunity of their first full-length to showcase the dynamic they’ve worked hard through the last several years to build. The keys and vocal arrangement on a song like “Hair Brained” speak to an increase in complexity overall, not to mention the sitar-sounding guitar solo that follows and the effects swirl surrounding, but even the opening salvo of “Trip,” “Open Road” and “Caves of Steel” seem to signal a driven purposefulness of intent — that is, the fact that these tracks aren’t just cobbled together, but placed consciously to affect the listener’s experience of the record. All under four minutes and pointedly uptempo, the first three tracks work quickly to establish the momentum that will carry the listener through the ensuing dynamic that unfolds.

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Beginning with an unassuming hum, “Trip” is among the catchiest hooks on Seismic Vibes, tambourine and all, and the keyboard-laced “Open Road” holds a tension in its drums that drives mellower verses into the more densely-fuzzed chorus, keyboards filling out the melody during the verse and the cacophonous-but-quick payoff at the end. Mersch‘s bass and Francisco‘s guitar swirl begins “Caves of Steel,” but this too unveils itself quickly as a fuzz riot, and thrusts into tom runs backing a hook repeating the title line and a jammy ending that cuts short at about 3:10 but sounds like it could just as easily keep going into perpetuity. Though it too is short at 3:38, there’s a marked change in pace as “Stellar Winds” comes on, and for the first time, Sun Voyager introduce their more languid side; a sound more derived from shoegaze than the spaced-out semi-punk of “Caves of Steel” just prior. Francisco‘s voice is well-suited to drift, which is not something every singer can pull off, and though “Stellar Winds” is mellower than the first three cuts, it still offers a sense of build and turns directly into “Hair Brained,” which is arguably the speediest and most active inclusion here, reminiscent as it is of some of early Nebula‘s frenetic stoner punk.

As noted, the keys are a factor in fleshing out “Hair Brained,” and they play a role in offsetting the bouncing rhythm as it makes its way to a winding cold-stop finish, and it might be the keys as well that tie “Hair Brained” to the subsequent “Too Much,” which is an immediate switch in method from its predecessor and the most open-feeling song on Seismic Vibes, molten and hypnotic in a way that much of the record has simply chosen not to be. At five minutes, its roll is second in length only to the aforementioned “God is Dead,” and the two tracks are separated by the 3:35 “Psychic Lords,” a slowdown leading to the quiet/loud tradeoffs as Sun Voyager find a place for themselves in a niche of cosmic grunge that calls back to the hooks earlier on the album without giving up the expansion that’s happened since.

The start of “God is Dead” is a bit jarring coming out of the subdued end of “Psychic Lords,” and I suspect it will be all the more for anyone who encountered Lazy Daze, as it was a standout there, but in this redone, expanded version, it provides a fitting summary of just about everything Seismic Vibes delivers, with a jammy feel underscoring forward drive, shifts in tempo and a controlled psychedelic sensibility that’s light on self-indulgence and still manages to feel like it’s exploring new terrain. One would be remiss in not noting that though it’s been some time in its realization, this is still Sun Voyager‘s debut album, and yes, there is room for the band to continue to grow into their sound, to refine their balance of volume and tempo and straightforward and open structures, but the core of songwriting is there as it has been for the last half-decade, and there’s little chance Seismic Vibes won’t end up as one of 2018’s best first LPs. As a fan of the band, I’m just glad it finally happened.

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Review & Track Premiere: Svvamp, Svvamp 2

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on April 17th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

svvamp svvamp 2

[Click play above to stream the premiere of ‘Hillside’ from Svvamp’s new album, Svvamp 2, out June 8 on RidingEasy Records and available now to preorder.]

The soothing effect of the 42-second intro to Svvamp 2 is immediate, and from there, the Swedish trio of vocalist/guitarist Henrik Bjorklund, vocalist/bassist Erik Stahlgren and vocalist/drummer Adam Johansson present a run of pointedly classic-vibing heavy rock and roll. They made something of an understated self-titled debut (review here) in 2016, catching ears among the converted and reaping praise for their endearing sonic naturalism. That theme very much continues on Svvamp 2, which moves from its introduction into the heavier-riffed highlight “Queen” and the blues-rolling “The Wheel,” with the first of several vocalist switches working subtly to add variety and texture to the straightforward songwriting and traditionalist, vintage spirit of the recording.

While the groups who arguably led the charge for recrafting heavy ’70s sonic warmth — fellow Swedes like Witchcraft, Graveyard, Burning Saviours, etc. — have moved on toward more modern aesthetics, Svvamp hold firm to the tenets of the subgenre while proving there’s still new ground to cover, as the poppy, soul-derived bounce of “Sunshine Street” demonstrates, the fuzz subtle and the drums spacious like they were beamed straight in from 1969, and the subsequent “How Sweet Would it Be” only reinforces this notion, like a lost studio cut from the Get Back sessions, the guitars leading the easy groove punctuated by steady, languid cymbal timekeeping. Semi-harmonized vocal melodies evoke the sweetness in the title without losing the effectiveness of the hook that emerges: “Oh, out in the country/Me and my baby/We’re gonna be so damn free now.”

It is the fodder of humid summer singalongs, and much to their credit, they make you believe it. Plenty of vintage bands have popped up in the wake of the likes of Kadavar, Blues Pills, and so on, and attempted to capture heavy blues lightning in a psychedelic bottle. Well, Svvamp may be reverse-engineering innovation, but whatever they might be doing throughout their second album, their heart is in it, from the chorus of “Queen” through Stahlgren‘s bassline in (presumed) side B opener “Hillside” and on to closer “Alligater” (sic), the expression remains genuine and the swing remains a fervent, crucial factor. With a current running through it of analog synth or effects, “Surrender” nonetheless mirrors the fluidity of “The Wheel” earlier, and while the “beep-boop-beep” might seem a little out of place among all the focus on organic elements and execution, it’s ultimately the latter that win out in the song.

svvamp

To follow side A/B symmetry as they have so far, Svvamp should be dipping into more soulful fare à la “Sunshine Street” with “Out of Line,” but they change the script and instead offer a swaggering bounce and riff-forward groove, a touch of wah worked into a midsection that seems to layer its guitar solo across both left and right channels. More akin to “Queen” and “Hillside” for its rhythm and good-time rocking feel, “Out of Line” caps with another call and response solo — maybe in three layers? — on a long fadeout and gives way to the acoustic penultimate cut “Blues Inside,” the shortest inclusion on Svvamp 2 save for “Intro,” and a quiet reflective moment before “Alligater” taps Blue Cheer for the most raucous stretch on the album to close.

Once again, Svvamp find themselves nestled into heavy blues, but “Alligater” is more blown out on the whole and more of a wash than any of its rocking predecessors on Svvamp 2, and the crashing, the layers of fuzz, the rumble beneath all come together to give a sense of the kind of party the trio can hone when the mood strikes. I wouldn’t exactly call the record subtle in its purposes, but Svvamp 2 does build on the debut’s accomplishments, and for all the changes in singer and approach it presents throughout its 35 minutes, the flow remains consistent across the span, and perhaps the band’s greatest strength lies in their utter lack of pretense. While some in a vintage mindset have attempted to capture a progressive feel and met with varying degrees of success, by keeping their material outwardly simple, catchy and friendly, JohanssonStahlgren and Bjorklund are able to give their audience something to latch onto without an overdose of self-indulgence or a departure from their core purpose.

Apart perhaps from “Intro” and “Blues Inside” — and mostly for length in the case of the latter — there isn’t one song between “Queen,” “The Wheel,” “Sunshine Street,” “How Sweet it Would Be,” “Hillside,” “Surrender,” “Out of Line” and “Alligater” that wouldn’t work as a 45RPM single, its paper sleeve crinkled and found in some dusty record shop bin like so much buried treasure. And though they may be looking back aesthetically in terms of finding their points of inspiration in classic heavy rock circa 1968-’72, they’re also pushing themselves forward as songwriters and stewards of this sonic legacy. They wield it better than most, and on Svvamp 2 they demonstrate plainly that even something so plainly tied to a specific era can also sound timeless.

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Mane of the Cur, Retreat of the Glaciers: Time Uncovered

Posted in Reviews on April 12th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Mane of the Cur Retreat of the Glaciers

Somewhere along the line, Portland, Oregon’s Mane of the Cur decided to open their debut full-length, Retreat of the Glaciers, with its eight-minute instrumental title-track. It would be hyperbole to say this made all the difference in the general impression the vinyl-ready eight-song/45-minute record makes, but it certainly goes a long way in establishing a progressive context for even the most straightforward of the material that follows. It was the bold choice, and the right one. “Retreat of the Glaciers” wouldn’t have worked anywhere else, and while its side-B-opening counterpart “9 Lives” — also the longest inclusion at 8:49 — unveils Melynda Marie Amann‘s vocals within its first 30 seconds, the fact that almost 20 percent of the album’s runtime is gone before she arrives on second track “Uncovering Time” gives all the more of a landmark feel to that arrival.

Comprised of Amann, guitarist Shawn Mentzer, bassist Cory DeCaire, keyboardist/cover artist Nate Baisch and drummer Blaine Burnham, Mane of the Cur have roots in the Portland heavy underground going back even beyond the band’s founding in 2012 — their last release was 2015’s Three of Cups EP (review here) — and accordingly, while Retreat of the Glaciers feels like a debut in the potential it shows and some of the turns it makes especially later in its going, the more pervasive sense is that this is an experienced band making conscious decisions about how they want to be perceived in terms of style and songwriting.

The opening title-track — so close at 8:40 to earning those immediate points for also being the longest song — plays a big role in that, and while it’s the kind of dogwhistle that a given listener might not even perceive consciously, more consumed perhaps by the languidly rolling groove, the inclusion of flute (or flute sounds) and the classic rocking, almost pastoral guitar triumph that emerges near the halfway point and carries through to a return of heavier riffing and an eventual keyboard-led finish, the message comes through clearly one way or the other.

Retreat of the Glaciers was recorded and mixed by Eric Leavell at Husk Recording and mastered by Justin Weis at Trakworx Studio, and its presentation is clear but not necessarily unnatural. There are moments, as on “1,000 Years,” when some of the forward-pushing riffing calls to mind fellow Portlanders Young Hunter, but the spirit behind what Mane of the Cur are exploring is different and their sound is their own. Amann, absent entirely from the opener, ends up playing a significant role in standing out the individuality of the band. Her vocals are melodic and soulful, and whether it’s a straightforward verse/chorus rocker like second track “Uncovering Time,” which launches right away into its first lyrics, or “9 Lives,” which reminds of the spaciousness Ancestors brought to their brilliant In Dreams and Time LP, or the harmonies put atop the penultimate “1 Bullet,” which holds forth a more thoroughly doomed progression and pace until its chugging payoff in bridge in the final third, where a solo might otherwise be, she holds a commanding presence within complex material, providing an element to ground the listening experience without sacrificing any of the underlying complexity of the arrangements between the keys and guitar, the guitar and the guitar, the bass and drums, the drums and keys, etc.

mane of the cur logo

While crisply presented, these intertwinings all come together to form the complete picture Mane of the Cur seem to want to evoke with Retreat of the Glaciers: something classic in style, modern in presentation, and forward-thinking in its construction. That they ultimately reach those individual goals while also creating a full-album flow between the eight individual tracks and two intended vinyl sides is what makes their debut a success. That and the fact that it rocks, anyway. But it also rocks while feeling like a complete idea — which is to say, there doesn’t seem to be a missing element from the listening experience. Perhaps Mane of the Cur have realized the aesthetic that Three of Cups and the preceding Wild Hunt EP were moving toward. If so, Retreat of the Glaciers is all the more a victory for them.

That’s not to say there isn’t still room for growth in their sound, however. It’s been six years since the band got their start and while it took them a while to solidify their lineup, it’s still been three since Three of Cups surfaced. I wouldn’t call Retreat of the Glaciers, even with the accomplishment that is “Reefer Magnus (Lonely Mountain)” or the closing Sabbath-gone-noodling boogie of “White Beard” to its credit, the be-all-end-all of Mane of the Cur‘s potential. Rather, it provides the group a basis from which to expand their sound going forward. Nothing new for debut albums, except perhaps that despite their consistent use of traditional structures, the foundation on which Mane of the Cur have to build feels particularly broad. And I go back again to the decision to open with that instrumental. It’s the kind of brazen, and frankly, brave, thing that most bands toss around in the studio as a joke when they’re putting together the track order and then go with something hookier or more structured.

The signal one gets from Mane of the Cur, both there and across the album as a whole, is that while they definitely have an interest in traditional rock songwriting and structure, they’re not necessarily looking to be limited by them, and that thoughtfulness is what earns them the “progressive” tag in terms of style. It was a while waiting for Retreat of the Glaciers — could’ve been longer; it wasn’t enough time to, say, earn a crappy line about the pace being “glacial” — and I don’t know how long it will be before the band presents a follow-up or what form that might ultimately take, but perhaps the clearest signal they send throughout these eight songs is their desire to step forward creatively, to grow tighter in their dynamic and more sure of who they are as a unit. The key, as for so many progressive heavy rockers, will be staving off and/or finding a balance with self-indulgence, but Mane of the Cur seem to have made an encouraging opening statement in that regard as well.

Mane of the Cur, Retreat of the Glaciers (2018)

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