Sacri Monti, Waiting Room for the Magic Hour: Beautiful Demons

Posted in Reviews on July 19th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

sacri monti waiting room for the magic hour

It’s been a sneakily long four years since San Diego’s Sacri Monti loosed their 2015 self-titled debut (review here) through Tee Pee Records, and perhaps it’s because they’ve toured steadily — going to Europe at least twice and doing regular stints on the West Coast, etc. — that it doesn’t seem so long. The five-piece also took part in 2017’s Burnout three-way split with Harsh Toke and JOY (review here), so they’ve hardly been absent, but Waiting Room for the Magic Hour telegraphs a sense of anticipation with its title, and the eight-song/45-minute outing lives up to that with organ-soaked classic-style heavy rock that draws away from some of the boogie for which their hometown has become so known as the returning lineup of guitarists Brenden Dellar (also vocals) and Dylan Donovan, bassist Anthony Meier (also of Radio Moscow), organist Evan Wenskay and drummer Thomas Dibenedetto delve deeper into proggy-rocky explorations in cuts like “Fear and Fire,” “Starlight,” “Gone from Grace” and the brief penultimate instrumental “Wading in Malcesine.”

The last of those is more of an interlude — its title referring to a lakeside village in northern Italy that one assumes was a stop on some tour or other or at least an escapist fantasy — but still brings Sacri Monti to a place the first album didn’t dare to go with its post-rock guitar drift and Wenskay‘s synth giving the sub-three-minute proceedings an otherworldly feel. That seems to arrive light-years beyond where they start out with the five-minute opening title-track, which keeps to a more straightforward style that, particularly with the vocal patterning, is bound to remind some listeners of where Earthless were on their own last full-length — also earliest Witchcraft — but still keeps its own identity instrumentally as well and sets up moments like the jabbing surge at the end of side A’s “Starlight,” with organ and guitar winding together in an exciting crescendo that touches on Thin Lizzy and rises out of a more straight-ahead hook, itself led into by the instrumental, guitar-driven interlude/shorter piece “Armistice,” to which side B’s aforementioned “Wading in Malcesine” is something of a mirror.

Flow is essential to a work like this and Sacri Monti make it sound easy. Waiting Room for the Magic Hour, though it can seem rhythmically anxious at times as it shifts through its more progressive stretches, but it’s not without its trail markers as it goes farther out, and the place it winds up in closer “You Beautiful Demon” is a genuine surprise: an acoustic and pedal steel near-twang that still derives from Led Zeppelin, but does so in a way that still serves as a ready example of Sacri Monti‘s drive toward individualism. Amidst all the shuffle and ’70s worship of their crowded scene, Sacri Monti are finding a way to both fit in and distinguish themselves in these songs. They’re establishing a richer, less-bound personality to their songwriting that feels comfortable encompassing psychedelia as much as earthy folk-blues strum — back to back, no less — and most importantly, they’re pulling it off.

sacri monti waiting room for the magic hour back cover

Elements in “Fear and Fire” — the longest inclusion at 9:14 — and “Starlight” or even the more patiently melodic side B opener “Affirmation” will seem familiar to those with an affinity either for classic progressive rock or its modern heavy revisionists, but the fluidity of Sacri Monti‘s craft here and the lack of pretense they bring to their instrumentalism, their tonal warmth and overarching groove, help to give Waiting Room for the Magic Hour a distinguishing presence, and the take-it-as-a-whole feel of the album front to back feels not necessarily like a conceptual piece mandating it be experienced in a certain way, but an invitation issued to the listener to come in and sit down for a while and enjoy finding the places where the band end up. Songs like “Starlight,” “Affirmation,” “Gone from Grace” and even “You Beautiful Demon” — let alone the title-track — seem to speak to ideas beyond the bare physical world, and fair enough, but Sacri Monti succeed in carrying their audience along this sometimes-complex path without getting anymore lost along the way than they want to be. That’s the difference between Waiting Room for the Magic Hour being as engaging as it is and a flat mess, which it is not.

Indeed, even the name of the record seems to invite speculation as to meaning. What’s the magic hour? Where’s the waiting room? Beginning with stick clicks and a suitably live feel, the title-track would seem to hint that the show is the magic hour, and the waiting room might be the rest of life — the opening line, “Orange haze fall down on me again,” supports this — and given the place-name in “Wading in Malcesine” speaks to reflections on touring as well, but that’s a simplistic narrative to put to it and what feels more important about Waiting Room for the Magic Hour is the places the record takes Sacri Monti‘s sound, rather than the story behind it, and whether it’s the intricacies of “Armistice” and “Starlight” or the direct way the organ at the end of “Affirmation” seems to lead to the opening guitar line of “Gone from Grace,” there’s a natural vibe that ties the material here together and gives the listener all the more to dig into on repeat visits, putting emphasis on the raw dynamic not just between the two guitars or the instruments and the vocals, but the guitar and bass, the bass and keys, the guitar and keys, the drums and everything, and so on.

Though it often winds up being the guitar in the lead, Waiting Room for the Magic Hour stands on the shoulders of each member’s performance and is even more an accomplishment for what those performances produce. In a vast legion of sun-coated West Coast boogie, it builds something of its own from that foundation and highlights a potential that even the self-titled could only touch on in a tentative way. These songs feel more confident and more realized, and if they’re as much a show of potential as of their own manifestation — that is, if Sacri Monti continue to progress from what they achieve here — even if it takes them another four years to put out a follow-up, that LP will be well worth the wait. These cats could’ve played dumb and written a probably-cool-anyway record of capable ’70s-style heavy rock. They very clearly aimed higher, and they very clearly nailed it.

Sacri Monti, Waiting Room for the Magic Hour (2019)

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Burning Gloom, Amygdala: Out Beyond Walls

Posted in Reviews on July 15th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

burning gloom amygdala

For a band to switch names is no minor decision. First of all, once past the initial over-thought process of picking one in the first place, the band name becomes more than just a collective brand, it’s a flag you fly. And that’s for bands starting out, never mind those who already have a release under their belt. Italy’s My Home on Trees had two in 2015’s How I Reached Home (review here) debut and their prior 2013 self-titled EP before they made the decision to morph into Burning Gloom, so it seems all the more of consequence. The lineup of vocalist Laura Mancini, guitarist Marco Bertucci, bassist Giovanni Mastrapasqua and drummer Marcello Modica is intact despite the transition, and Burning Gloom offer their own debut, Amygdala, through Argonauta Records as an aggro-spirited eight songs/47 minutes that still keeps a sense of atmosphere in its echoing instrumentation and voices.

Mancini, joined by High Fighter‘s Mona Miluski on “Nightmares,” switches smoothly between melodic singing and harsher screams, either driving the change herself, as on “The Tower II” or following the linear build behind her, as in the payoff of the subsequent “Eremite.” Heavy rock is a tool in their arsenal, as the central riff to the penultimate “Beyond the Wall” will attest, but Amygdala is less centered on playing to genre than it is on establishing and developing this new identity for the group. There’s a current of ’90s alt rock in the proceedings from the outset, as brief 2:48 opener “The Tower I” sprints out of the proverbial gate, and though Burning Gloom will wind up in a much different place by the end of the record in the reggae-inflected initial verses and quiet melodic finish of eight-minute closer “Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder,” the journey from one to the other wants nothing for cohesion either in the individual songs or in how they’re drawn together. They seem to find middle ground, suitably enough, in the middle, with “Modern Prometheus” drawing together elements of sludge rock, grunge and heavier churning groove, but Amygdala is neither summarized within or built around a single track. It’s a whole-album album.

And that seems to suit Burning Gloom‘s purposes just fine as the Milano four-piece make their way deeper into the emotional and atmospheric mire as “Modern Prometheus” and “Nightmares” give way to “Warden,” which is longer at 7:47, has a slower rollout in its first half — they get into some gritty-style shuffle late, or at least what would be shuffle in a different context — and signals the arrival at Amygdala‘s final salvo. Though really, if one wants to trace the change further, the arrival of Miluski on “Nightmares” at the outset of side B is a departure in itself from the first four tracks — her recognizable scream and growl adding to Mancini‘s own approach as the track drives toward its fadeout. That plunge at the end feels especially crucial in what it does to set up the mood of “Warden” and the subsequent “Beyond the Wall,” and it’s not that “The Tower II” or “Eremite” or “Modern Prometheus” were wanting for some deeper sensibility, but the balance of aggression shifts after the Mancini/Miluski blowout in “Nightmares,” and the energy with which the end of that song is executed — the sheer metallic feel of it — seems to be as far as Burning Gloom are willing to push in that direction this time out.

burning gloom

To be fair, it’s pretty far, and Miluski‘s contributions there would be enough to make Angela Gossow blush. But it’s in “Warden,” “Beyond the Wall” and “Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder” that the dynamic of Amygdala more fully begins to show itself, and it’s not just that the songs are longer — “Beyond the Wall” isn’t, at 5:32 — but in how they relate to the initial impression of “The Tower I,” its companion and the others on side A. Everything fits together, and so Amygdala reveals itself as even more of a second album than a first, though part of what makes it exciting is that though the band benefits from their time as My Home on Trees on the level of basic chemistry, they’ve made this conscious decision to embark on something new together. As the manifestation of that, Burning Gloom‘s debut is all the more engaging, even down to the accented croon on “Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder,” which only adds to the sway of that song’s beginning moments.

Like a lot of Amygdala — the part of the brain’s limbic system in which emotions are processed — the finale is a subtle build, but it has enough time at its disposal to hit its payoff in the middle and even out again, choosing not to end the record not on an all-go push, but with a more gentle, easing letting go. It’s only about a minute and a half longer than, say, “Modern Prometheus,” but its purposes are compellingly different, and underscore the band’s purpose in crafting such breadth between the two sides of the record. If one goes back to the beginning of My Home on Trees, they’ve been a band for about seven years, and the shades of grunge, post-hardcore, heavy rock, sludge and whatever else they throw into Amygdala stand as testament to the work they’ve done thus far into their tenure to develop their sonic identity.

At the same time, Amygdala is Burning Gloom‘s first album, and an even-more-purposeful first album for the fact that they became a new band to make it, so while it’s forehead-slappingly plain to hear once one understands they’d worked together before, one has to acknowledge the element as well of forward potential in these songs and most of all in the way they interact with each other across the full span of the collection. I would say that’s the most resounding impression Amygdala makes, but it needs to be weighed against the atmospheric accomplishments of this material itself, and it’s pick-your-poison whether you want to appreciate what Burning Gloom are doing now or be excited at the prospect of what they might do next. Their heft, shove and melodic prowess is as much realized as it is pointing toward future realization.

Burning Gloom, Amygdala (2019)

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Review & Track Premiere: Seedy Jeezus with Tony Reed, Live in Liège

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on July 12th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Seedy Jeezus with tony reed live in liege

[Click play above to stream ‘Polaris Oblique’ from Seedy Jeezus with Tony Reed’s limited Live in Liege LP. Album will be available on the band’s upcoming European tour (dates here).]

The front cover of the LP is emblazoned with the heading ‘The Broken String Incident,’ and indeed, Seedy Jeezus guitarist/vocalist Lex “Mr. Frumpy” Waterreus does break a string as the Australian outfit make their stop in Liège, Belgium, on July 18, 2018. “Incident” might be stretching it — so far as I know no ambassadors were recalled — but you gotta call it something, and it underscores the intention of the limited-to-150-copies, only-available-on-tour LP, which is to capture a bootleg-style feel. The artwork for Live in Liège is taken from Waterreus‘ own tour poster for their 2018 European run, which was their first — the tour they’ll sell the LP on is their second — with Mos Generator‘s Tony Reed filling in on bass for Paul Crick, who couldn’t make the trip from Australia with Waterreus and drummer Mark Sibson.

And if Reed seems like an out-of-the-blue choice, the relationship there runs deeper than just the live shows, with Reed having traveled from his home in Washington to record Seedy Jeezus in their native Melbourne for their 2015 self-titled debut and again for last year’s Polaris Oblique (review here) — he’ll reportedly produce their next album as well whenever that happens. Bottom line, then, is Tony Reed is about as close as one could get to being in Seedy Jeezus, and sometimes he is kind of in the band. He plays like it, taking on a backing vocalist role in the 10-minute side B launcher “Dripping from the Eye of the Sun,” stepping in to introduce Waterreus during the second round of band introductions before they finish the set with “Oh Lord Pt. 2” from the sophomore LP. That the two parties would fit well together isn’t a huge surprise, since both play a style of largely straight-ahead heavy rock with a strong foundation in the classics of the form, an emphasis on songwriting as well as the tightness of the presentation. In the rhythm section with Sibson, Reed‘s right at home throughout “Polaris Oblique”  and the subsequent “Everything’ll Be Alright” — billed as “Everything’s Alright” on the back cover; a notable change in tense — and all throughout the 40-minute set that unfolds.

By the time they got to Péniche la Légia in Liège, Seedy Jeezus had already been on the road for somewhere in the neighborhood of 11 days, and they sound like it. The actual audio on Live in Liège is fairly raw. If we’re going on the scale of bootlegs, it’s definitely a soundboard, and it’s gorgeous compared to some recorded-in-a-jacket-pocket DAT shows I’ve heard in my time, but neither is it a polished live record even as much as was Seedy Jeezus‘ 2016 offering, Live in Netphen: Freak Valley 2015 (discussed here). Again, it’s not supposed to be. The whole idea behind this release is that it’s something special that documents this special moment of their European tour supporting their second album. As Waterreus rips into the solo at the furious outset of “Sun in My Car” at the end of side A — stopping amid that triumphal boogie between measures to give the crowd a well-earned moment to holler, whistle, etc. — before, indeed, that string breaks and he does the first round of band introductions presumably in the midst of changing it out. If it didn’t say so on the cover, they’d have gotten away with it no problem. No one would know.

Seedy Jeezus with tony reed live in liege back cover

Still, if that’s something to stand the show out from the others on the tour, they handle it smoothly enough, which is the kind of thing a band can do without being derailed when they’ve already been on the road for a week-plus. “Sun in My Car” picks up in all the more energized fashion when it returns and blasts off en route to the interstellar drift of “Dripping from the Eye of the Sun” after the side flip, recalling the initial punch of “Polaris Oblique” and “Everything’ll Be Alright” at the start of the set — those two also lead off the Polaris Oblique album in succession — and prefacing “Barefoot Travellin’ Man” and “Oh Lord Pt. 2” still to come. Seedy Jeezus excel at this kind of madcap shuffle, and Live in Liège brings that out well, but their range has never been limited to just one thing, as “Dripping from the Eye of the Sun” demonstrates that with its slower roll and more spacious feel, which isn’t something that one would necessarily expect to come across on a live record, since it’s doubly hard to set the mood for someone listening when that person isn’t at the gig, but Seedy Jeezus deliver the set as it happened and the rest takes care of itself.

I imagine there are some who would hear Live in Liège and not understand the “warts and all”-style vibe it hones or why a band would even put out a recording of a set where the guitarist breaks a string in the middle of a song. But isn’t it obvious? It’s cinéma vérité — the most stripped down manner in which they could showcase the reality of what the tour was like. The only way it could be more real is if they recorded the 23 hours that day they spent driving, sleeping, no doubt, waiting for the time when they could get on stage and kick ass as they do here. By the time they get to the end of “Barefoot Travellin’ Man,” the scorch in Waterreus‘ soloing is so encompassing that whatever concerns might exist about fidelity simply dissipate. You just get into it and that’s all there is. This is the bootleg ideal, of course. Seedy Jeezus put you where the show is happening just as they put the audience who was there where they wanted them.

This may only be a limited LP, offered up in plain style through the band’s own Blown Music imprint with no super-deluxe special edition or anything like that, but it represents something special about their approach just the same, where it’s not just the fact that they boogie down or riff out or get spacey or whatever it might be, but that they do so with such obvious, resonant joy. I can’t imagine a more compelling argument to go see a band than that.

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Review & Full Album Premiere: Arrowhead, Coven of the Snake

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on July 9th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Arrowhead Coven of the Snake

[Click play above to stream Arrowhead’s Coven of the Snake in full. Album is out Friday on Ripple Music.]

Now on their 11th year and releasing their third album, Coven of the Snake, Sydney, Australia’s Arrowhead continue to deliver on the promise of their earliest days, proliferating straightforward heavy rock with a meaner underpinning here and there but keeping the songwriting first, always. This has been their wont since their 2009 self-titled EP (review here), and across their 2012 debut, Atomsmasher (review here) and 2015/2016’s Desert Cult Ritual, initially released by the band and subsequently picked up by Ripple Music. One can only call that alliance correct on some grand cosmic scale — the band and label would seem to have been made for each other. Though the band came first, both embrace a traditionalist heavy rock sound that doesn’t necessarily eschew frills, but makes its point with riff-led fare, memorable choruses and an underlying appreciation for the classics of the style. One thinks of Ripple bands like Roadsaw, Devil to Pay, Freedom Hawk, Ape Machine, Fire Down Below, etc.

Arrowhead acquit themselves well in this company across their latest work, Coven of the Snake, having gone through the change of bringing in bassist Arron Fletcher to replace original member Dave Lopez alongside guitarist/vocalist Brett Pearl and drummer Matt Cramp, whose dynamic proves to be the core of the band’s craft. Granted they’ve had a couple years with Lopez at this point, so he’s not brand new to the band or anything, but listening to the clean, LP-ready eight tracks/40 minutes of Coven of the Snake, Arrowhead don’t seem to have missed a beat for the shift in personnel. Since recording, they’ve also brought in Thumlock‘s Raff Iacurto on second guitar, but he doesn’t actually play on the record. Timing is everything. More intrigue for next time, I suppose. Arrowhead give plenty to dig into in the meantime, as Coven of the Snake stands itself out as their most realized offering to-date in the old fashioned way: with songs. Depending on how deep you want to go, it can be as simple as that.

There’s nothing overly showy about what Arrowhead do. They’re technically proficient, sure enough, but not out to put on any kind of clinic in scale work or anything like that. Their music is conversational. It engages the listener and digs itself into the consciousness, and more over, it makes that process easy. It is accessible in the truest, not at all condescending definition of the word. They open with the title-track, and the lines in the chorus go, “Welcome to the coven of the snake/So why don’t you join?,” and I believe Pearl means it when he asks the question. It summarizes the central invitation that the entire album goes on to send. They are communicating directly with their audience, and while one would be remiss not to point out the phallic nature of the coven itself, but between the opener and “All Seeing Eye” and “Ceremony of the Skull,” which follow, they make it pretty plain that the suggestion to join is universal.

arrowhead

Apart from the 6:56 closer “Golden Thunder Hawk,” songs run between four and five and a half minutes, and PearlCramp and Fletcher spend that time making it easy to get on board. As they have all along, they get into some rougher terrain, calling to mind the dug-in low end of later Dozer on cuts like “Ceremony of the Skull” and the penultimate “March of the Reptiles,” the central riff of which feels specifically drawn from Through the Eyes of Heathens launchpoint “Drawing Dead.” Whatever similarities there might be, Arrowhead have never failed to add their own personality, and Coven of the Snake is no different, even as Pearl‘s vocals remind on that same penultimate track of Arc of Ascent, the context in which that line is drawn is obviously different. Likewise, the prior “Dopanaught” takes a more specifically winding approach, marked out by being the most “stoner” inclusion in terms of basic lyrical foundation — flirting with conspiracy theories and whatnot elsewhere suits the rest of the material as well as anything — and the accompanying lead guitar in its second half. Arrowhead add enough detail to each track so that it stands out from the rest while feeding into the straight-ahead overarching impression of the album.

This is more or less the ideal for this kind of heavy rock and roll songwriting — something that takes its influences and brings new elements to the mix in a style that is unpretentious about where it’s coming from and built to serve memorable, engaging songs. Somewhat understated on the whole, Arrowhead reserve any kind of grandiosity for “Golden Thunder Hawk,” which rolls out much of its extra runtime in a patient introduction to the gently-shuffling main progression, a laid back vocal helping set the mood before opening to a wider chorus. Soon enough they’re halfway through and from there it’s a matter of letting the build play out, which by then the band have well earned with their level of execution on the previous seven tracks. These are the kinds of songs where you read the titles and hear them delivered in your head as they are in the hooks, and that extends even to the finale, which takes a slightly different route to get there but still most certainly does, thereby summarizing much of the appeal of Coven of the Snake while also bringing new ideas to it.

Arrowhead are clearly past the stage where they might otherwise be discovering who they are as a band, and given the work they’ve done since starting out, I’d argue they’ve known all along. Nonetheless, the efforts they’ve made to refine their craft are audible throughout Coven of the Snake, and as they continue to move forward, as a live four-piece and as a creative unit, one hopes the dynamic they showcase here continues with them. This is heavy rock for a longer term; a quality that seeps in not through some novelty but through Arrowhead‘s ability to realize their intentions in impeccably constructed form. Its appeal will last that much longer for it.

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Quarterly Review: Pelican, Swan Valley Heights, Mark Deutrom, Greenbeard, Mount Soma, Nibiru, Cable, Reino Ermitaño, Cardinals Folly & Lucifer’s Fall, Temple of the Fuzz Witch

Posted in Reviews on July 8th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review

More computer bullshit this morning. I lost about 45 minutes because my graphics driver and Windows 10 apparently hate each other and before I could disable the former, the machine decided the best it could do for me was to load a blank screen. Hard to find the Pelican record on my desktop when I can’t see my desktop. The Patient Mrs. woke up while I was trying to fix it and suggested HDMIing it to the tv. When I did that, it didn’t project as was hoped, but the display came on — because go figure — and I was able to shut off the driver, the only real advantage of which is it lets me use the night light feature so it’s easier on my eyes. That’s nice, but I’d rather have the laptop function. Not really working on a level of “give me soft red light or give me death!” at this point. I may yet get there in my life.

Today’s the last day of this beast, wrapping up the last of the 60 reviews, and I’m already in the hole for the better part of an hour thanks to this technical issue, the second of the week. Been an adventure, this one. Let’s close it out.

Quarterly Review #51-60:

Pelican, Nighttime Stories

pelican nighttime stories

Split into two LPs each with its own three-minute mood-setter — those being “WST” and “It Stared at Me,” respectively — Pelican‘s Nighttime Stories (on Southern Lord) carries the foreboding sensibility of its title into an aggressive push throughout the album, which deals from the outset with the pain of loss. The lead single “Midnight and Mescaline” represents this well in directly following “WST,” with shades of more extreme sounds in the sharp-turning guitar interplay and tense drums, but it carries through the blastbeats of “Abyssal Plain” and the bombastic crashes of presumed side B closer “Cold Hope” as well, which flow via a last tonal wash toward the melancholy “It Stared at Me” and the even-more-aggro title-track, the consuming “Arteries of Blacktop” and the eight-minute “Full Moon, Black Water,” which offers a build of maddening chug — a Pelican hallmark — before resolving in melodic serenity, moving, perhaps, forward with and through its grief. It’s been six years since Pelican‘s last LP, Forever Becoming (review here), and they’ve responded to that time differential with the hardest-hitting record they’ve ever done.

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Swan Valley Heights, The Heavy Seed

swan valley heights the heavy seed

Though the peaceful beginning of 13-minute opener and longest track (immediate points) “The Heavy Seed,” for which the five-song album is named, reminds of Swan Valley Heights‘ Munich compatriots in Colour Haze, the ultimate impression the band make on their Fuzzorama Records debut and second album overall behind a 2016 self-titled (review here) is more varied in its execution, with cuts like “Vaporizer Woman” and the centerpiece “Take a Swim in God’s Washing Machine” manifesting ebbs and flows and rolling out a fuzzy largesse to lead into dream-toned ethereality and layered vocals that immediately call to mind Elephant Tree. There’s a propensity for jamming, but they’re not a jam band, and seem always to have a direction in mind. That’s true even on the three-minute instrumental “My First Knife Fight,” which unfurls around a nod riff and simple drum progression to bridge into closer “Teeth and Waves,” a bookend to The Heavy Seed‘s title-track that revives that initial grace and uses it as a stepping stone for the crunch to come. It’s a balance that works and should be well received.

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Mark Deutrom, The Blue Bird

Mark Deutrom The Blue Bird

Released in the wee hours of 2019, Mark Deutrom‘s The Blue Bird marks the first new solo release from the prolific Austin-based songwriter/producer/multi-instrumentalist through Season of Mist, and it’s a 50-minute run of genre-spanning outsider art, bringing ’70s folk vibes to the weepy guitar echoes of “Radiant Gravity” right before “O Ye of Little Faith” dooms out for six of its seven minutes and “Our Revels Now Are Ended” basks in 77 seconds of experimentalist winding guitar. It goes like that. Vocals are intermittent enough to not necessarily be expected, but not entirely absent through the midsection of “Hell is a City,” “Somnambulist” and “Maximum Hemingway,” and if there’s traditionalism at play anywhere, it might be in “They Have Won” and “The Happiness Machine,” which, toward the back end of the album, bring a sax-laden melancholy vibe and a straightforward heavy rock feel, respectively, ahead of the closer “Nothing out There,” which ties them together, somehow accounting for the 1:34 “On Fathers Day” as well in its sweetness. Don’t go into The Blue Bird asking it to make sense on any level other than its own and you should be fine. It’s not a minor undertaking at 50 minutes, and not without its indulgences, but even the briefest of pieces helps develop the character of the whole, which of course is essential to any good story.

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Greenbeard, Onward, Pillager

greenbeard onward pillager

Austin bringers of hard-boogie Greenbeard reportedly issued the three-song Onward, Pillager as a precursor to their next full-length — even the name hints toward it being something of a stopgap — but its tracks stand well on their own, whether it’s the keyboard-laced “Contact High II,” which is presumably a sequel to another track on the forthcoming record, or the chunkier roll of “WCCQ” and the catchy finisher “Kill to Love Yourself,” with its overlaid guitar solo adding to a dramatic ending. It hasn’t been that long since 2017’s Lödarödböl (review here), but clearly these guys are committed to moving forward in neo-stoner rock fashion, and their emergence as songwriters is highlighted particularly throughout “WCCQ” and “Kill to Love Yourself,” while “Contact High II” is more of an intro or a would-be interlude on the full-length. It may only be pieces of a larger, to-be-revealed picture, but Onward, Pillager shows three different sides of what Greenbeard have on offer, and the promise of more to come is one that will hopefully be kept sooner rather than later.

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Mount Soma, Nirodha

mount_soma_nirodha

Each of the three songs on Mount Soma‘s densely-weighted, live-recorded self-released Nirodha EP makes some mention of suffering in its lyrics, and indeed, that seems to be the theme drawing together “Dark Sun Destroyer” (7:40), “Emerge the Wolf” (5:50) and “Resurfacing” (9:14): a quest for transcendence perhaps in part due to the volume of the music and the act itself of creating it. Whatever gets them there, the trajectory of Nirodha is such that by the time they hit into the YOB-style galloping toward the end of “Resurfacing,” the gruff shouts of “rebirth!” feel more celebratory than ambitious. Based in Dublin, the four-piece bring a fair sense of space to their otherwise crush-minded approach, and though the EP is rough — it is their second short release following 2016’s Origins — they seem to have found a way to tie together outer and inner cosmos with an earthbound sense of gravity and heft, and with the more intense shove of “Emerge the Wolf” between the two longer tracks, they prove themselves capable of bringing a noisy charge amid all that roar and crash. They did the first EP live as well. I wonder if they’d do the same for a full-length.

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Mount Soma on Bandcamp

 

Nibiru, Salbrox

nibiru salbrox

One might get lost in the unmanageable 64-minute wash of Nibiru‘s fifth full-length (first for Ritual Productions), Salbrox, but the opaque nature of the proceedings is part of the point. The Italian ritualists bring forth a chaotic depth of noise and harsh semi-spoken rasps of vocals reportedly in the Enochian language, and from 14-minute opener “EHNB” — also the longest track (immediate points) — through the morass that follows in “Exarp,” “Hcoma,” “Nanta” and so on, the album is a willful slog that challenges the listener on nearly every level. This is par for the course for Nibiru, whose last outing was 2017’s Qaal Babalon (review here), and they seem to revel in the slow-churning gruel of their distortion, turning from it only to break to minimalism in the second half of the album with “Abalpt” and “Bitom” before 13-minute closer “Rziorn” storms in like a tsunami of spiritually desolate plunge. It is vicious and difficult to hear, and again, that is exactly what it’s intended to be.

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Ritual Productions website

 

Cable, Take the Stairs to Hell

Cable Take the Stairs to Hell

The gift of Cable was to take typically raw Northeastern disaffection and channel it into a noise rock that wasn’t quite as post-this-or-that as Isis, but still had a cerebral edge that more primitive fare lacked. They were methodical, and 10 years after their last record, the Hartford, Connecticut, outfit return with the nine-song/30-minute Take the Stairs to Hell (on Translation Loss), which brings them back into the modern sphere with a sound that is no less relevant than it was bouncing between This Dark Reign, Hydra Head and Translation Loss between 2001 and 2004. They were underrated then and may continue to be now, but the combination of melody and bite in “Black Medicine” and the gutty crunch of “Eyes Rolled Back,” the post-Southern heavy of the title-track and the lumbering pummel of “Rivers of Old” before it remind of how much of a standout Cable was in the past, reinforcing that not only were they ahead of their time then, but that they still have plenty to offer going forward. They may continue to be underrated as they always were, but their return is significant and welcome.

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Translation Loss Records webstore

 

Reino Ermitaño, Reino Ermitaño

Reino Ermitano Reino Ermitano

Originally released in 2003, the self-titled debut from Lima, Peru’s Reino Ermitaño was a beacon and landmark in Latin American doom, with a sound derived from the genre’s traditions — Sabbath, Trouble, etc. — and melded with not only Spanish-language lyrics, but elements of South American folk and stylizations. Reissued on vinyl some 16 years later, it maintains its power through the outside-time level of its craft, sliding into that unplaceable realm of doom that could be from any point from about 1985 onward, while the melodies in the guitar of Henry Guevara and the vocals of Tania Duarte hold sway over the central groove of bassist Marcos Coifman and drummer Julio “Ñaka” Almeida. Those who were turned onto the band at the time will likely know they’ve released five LPs to-date, with the latest one from 2014, but the Necio Records version marks the first time the debut has been pressed to vinyl, and so is of extra interest apart from the standard putting-it-out-there-again reissue. Collectors and a new generation of doomers alike would be well advised on an educational level, and of course the appeal of the album itself far exceeds that.

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Necio Records on Bandcamp

 

Cardinals Folly & Lucifer’s Fall, Split

cardinals folly lucifers fall split

Though one hails from Helsinki, Finland, and the other from Adelaide, Australia, Cardinals Folly and Lucifer’s Fall could hardly be better suited to share the six-song Cruz Del Sur split LP that they do, which checks in at 35 minutes of trad doom riffing and dirtier fare. The former is provided by Cardinals Folly, who bring a Reverend Bizarre-style stateliness to “Spiritual North” and “Walvater Proclaimed!” before betraying their extreme metal roots on “Sworn Through Odin’s and Satan’s Blood,” while the Oz contingent throw down Saint Vitus-esque punk-born fuckall through “Die Witch Die,” the crawling “Call of the Wild” and the particularly brash and speedier “The Gates of Hell.” The uniting thread of course is homage to doom itself, but each band brings enough of their own take to complement each other without either contradicting or making one or the other of them feel redundant, and rather, the split works out to be a rampaging, deeply-drunk, pagan-feeling celebration of what doom is and how it has been internalized by each of these groups. Doom over the world? Yeah, something like that.

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Lucifer’s Fall on Thee Facebooks

Cruz Del Sur Music website

 

Temple of the Fuzz Witch, Temple of the Fuzz Witch

Temple of the Fuzz Witch Temple of the Fuzz Witch

A strong current of Electric Wizard runs through the self-titled debut full-length from Detroit’s Temple of the Fuzz Witch (on Seeing Red Records), but even to that, the outfit led by guitarist/vocalist Noah Bruner bring a nascent measure of individuality, droning into and through “Death Hails” after opening with “Bathsheba” and ahead of unveiling a harmonized vocal on “The Glowing of Satan” that suits the low end distortion surprisingly well. They continue to offer surprises throughout, whether it’s the spaciousness of centerpiece “329” and “Infidel,” which follows, or the offsetting of minimalism and crush on “The Fuzz Witch” and the creeper noise in the ending of “Servants of the Sun,” and though there are certainly familiar elements at play, Temple of the Fuzz Witch come across with an intent to take what’s been done before and make it theirs. In that regard, they would seem to be on the right track, and in their 41 minutes, they find footing in a murky aesthetic and are able to convey a sense of songwriting without sounding heavy-handed. There’s nothing else I’d ask of their first album.

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Seeing Red Records on Bandcamp

 

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Quarterly Review: Elizabeth Colour Wheel, Black Lung, Giant Dwarf, Land Mammal, Skunk, Silver Devil, Sky Burial, Wizzerd, Ian Blurton, Cosmic Fall

Posted in Reviews on July 5th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review

Got my laptop back. Turned out the guy had to give me a new hard drive entirely, clone all my data on it, and scrap the other drive. I’m sure if I took it to another technician they’d have said something completely different, either for better or worse, but it was $165 and I got my computer back, working, in a day, so I can’t really complain. Worth the money, obviously, even though it was $40 more than the estimate. I assume that was a mix of “new hard drive” and “this is the last thing I’m doing before a four-day weekend.” Either way, totally legit. Bit of stress on my part, but what’s a Quarterly Review without it?

This ends the week, but there’s still one more batch of 10 reviews to go on Monday, so I won’t delay further, except to say more to come.

Quarterly Review #41-50:

Elizabeth Colour Wheel, Nocebo

elizabeth colour wheel nocebo

A rare level of triumph for a first album, Elizabeth Colour Wheel‘s aesthetic scope and patience of craft on Nocebo result in a genre-spanning post-noise rock that maintains an atmospheric heft whether loud or quiet at any given moment, and a sense of unpredictability that feels born out of a genuinely forward-thinking songwriting process. It is dark, emotionally resonant, beautiful and crushing across its eight songs and 47 minutes, as the Philadelphia five-piece ebb and flow instrumentally behind a standout vocal performance that reminds of Julie Christmas circa Battle of Mice on “Life of a Flower” but is ultimately more controlled and all the more lethal for that. Bouts of extremity pop up at unexpected times and the songs flow into each other so as to make all of Nocebo feel like a single, multi-hued work, which it just might be as it moves into ambience between “Hide Behind (Emmett’s Song)” and “Bedrest” before exploding to life again in “34th” and transitioning directly into the cacophonous apex that comes with closer “Head Home.” One of the best debuts of 2019, if not the best.

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The Flenser on Bandcamp

 

Black Lung, Ancients

black lung ancients

Ancients is the third full-length from Baltimore’s Black Lung, whose heavy blues rock takes a moodier approach from the outset of “Mother of the Sun” onward, following an organ-led roll in that opener that calls to mind All Them Witches circa Lightning at the Door and following 2016’s See the Enemy (review here) with an even firmer grasp on their overarching intent. The title-track is shorter at 3:10 and offers some post-rock flourish in the guitar amid its otherwise straight-ahead push, but there’s a tonal depth to add atmosphere to whatever moves they’re making at the time, “The Seeker” and “Voices” rounding out side A with relatively grounded swing and traditionalist shuffle but still catching attention through pace and presentation alike. That holds true as “Gone” drifts into psychedelic jamming at the start of side B, and the chunkier “Badlands,” the dramatic “Vultures” and the controlled wash of “Dead Man Blues” take the listener into some unnamed desert without a map or exit strategy. It’s a pleasure to get lost as Ancients plays through, and Black Lung remain a well-kept secret of the East Coast underground.

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Ripple Music website

Noisolution website

 

Giant Dwarf, Giant Dwarf

Giant Dwarf Giant Dwarf

This just fucking rules, and I feel no need to couch my critique in any more flowery language than that. Driving, fuzzy heavy rock topped with post-Homme melodies that doesn’t sacrifice impact for attitude, the self-released, self-titled debut from Perth, Australia’s Giant Dwarf is a sans-pretense 35 minutes of groove done right. They may be playing to genre, fine, but from the cover art on down, they’re doing so with a sense of personality and a readiness to bring an individual sensibility to their sound. I dig it. Summery tones, rampant vocal melodies in layers, solid rhythmic foundation beneath. The fact that it’s the five-piece’s first album makes me look less for some kind of stylistic nuance, but it’s there to be heard anyway in “Disco Void” and the bouncing end of “High Tide Blues,” and in surrounding cuts like “Repeat After Defeat” and “Strange Wool,” Giant Dwarf set to the task before them with due vitality, imagining Songs for the Deaf with Fu Manchu tonality in “Kepler.” No big surprise, but yeah, it definitely works. Someone should be beating down the door to sign this band.

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Giant Dwarf on Bandcamp

 

Land Mammal, Land Mammal

land mammal land mammal

Land Mammal‘s debut outing is a 14-minute, proof-of-concept four-songer EP with clarity of presentation and telegraphed intent. Marked out by the Robert Plant-style vocal heroics of Kinsley August, the band makes the most of a bluesy atmosphere behind him, with Will Weise on wah-ready guitar, Phillip PJ Soapsmith on bass, Stephen Smith on drums and True Turner on keys. On opener “Dark with Rain” and closer “Better Days,” they find a pastoral vibe that draws from ’90s alternative, thinking Blind Melon particularly in the finale, but “Earth Made Free” takes a bluesier angle and “Drippin’ Slow” is not shy about nor ashamed of its danceability, as its lyrics demonstrate. For all the crispness of the production, Land Mammal still manage to sound relatively natural, which is all the more encouraging in terms of moving forward, but it’ll be interesting to hear how they flesh out their sound over the course of a full-length, since even as an EP, this self-titled is short. They have songwriting, performance and production on their side, however, so something tells me they’ll be just fine.

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Land Mammal on Bandcamp

 

Skunk, Strange Vibration

skunk strange vibration

Even before they get to the ultra-“N.I.B.” patterning of second track “Stand in the Sun,” Skunk‘s Sabbathian loyalties are well established, and they continue on that line, through the “War Pigs”-ness of “Goblin Orgy” (though I’ll give them bonus points for that title), and the slower “A National Acrobat” roll of “The Black Crown,” and while that’s not the only influence under which Skunk are working — clearly — it’s arguably the most forward. They’ve been on a traditional path since 2015’s mission-statement EP, Heavy Rock from Elder Times (review here), and as Strange Vibration is their second album behind 2017’s Doubleblind (review here), they’ve only come more into focus in terms of what they’re doing overall. They throw a bit of swagger into “Evil Eye Gone Blind” and “Star Power” toward the end of the record — more Blackmore or Leslie West than Iommi — but keep the hooks center through it all, and cap with a welcome bit of layered melody on “The Cobra’s Kiss.” Based in Oakland, they don’t quite fit in with the Californian boogie scene to the south, but standing out only seems to suit Strange Vibration all the more.

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Skunk on Bandcamp

 

Silver Devil, Paralyzed

Silver Devil Paralyzed

Like countrymen outfits in Vokonis or to a somewhat lesser degree Cities of Mars, Gävle-based riffers Silver Devil tap into Sleep as a core influence and work outward from there. In the case of their second album, Paralyzed (on Ozium Records), they work far out indeed, bringing a sonic largesse to bear through plus-sized tonality and distorted vocals casting echoes across a wide chasm of the mix. “Rivers” or the later, slower-rolling “Octopus” rightfully present this as an individual take, and it ends up being that one way or the other, with the atmosphere becoming essential to the character of the material. There are some driving moments that call to mind later Dozer — or newer Greenleaf, if you prefer — such as the centerpiece “No Man Traveller,” but the periodic bouts of post-rock bring complexity to that assessment as well, though in the face of the galloping crescendo of “The Grand Trick,” complexity is a secondary concern to the outright righteousness with which Silver Devil take familiar elements and reshape them into something that sounds fresh and engaging. That’s basically the story of the whole record, come to think of it.

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Ozium Records website

 

Sky Burial, Sokushinbutsu

sky burial Sokushinbutsu

Comprised of guitarist/vocalist/engineer Vessel 2 and drummer/vocalist Vessel 1 (also ex-Mühr), Sky Burial release their debut EP, Sokushinbutsu, through Break Free Records, and with it issue two songs of densely-weighted riff and crash, captured raw and live-sounding with an edge of visceral sludge thanks to the harsh vocals laid overtop. The prevailing spirit is as much doom as it is crust throughout “Return to Sender” (8:53) and the 10:38 title-track — the word translating from Japanese to “instant Buddha” — and as “Sokushinbutsu” kicks the tempo of the leadoff into higher gear, the release becomes a wash of blown-out tone with shouts cutting through that’s very obviously meant to be as brutal as it absolutely is. They slow down eventually, then slow down more, then slow down more — you see where this is going — until eventually the feedback seems to consume them and everything else, and the low rumble of guitar gives way to noise and biting vocalizations. As beginnings go, Sokushinbutsu is willfully wretched and animalistic, a manifested sonic nihilism that immediately stinks of death.

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Break Free Records on Bandcamp

 

Wizzerd, Wizzerd

wizzerd st

One finds Montana’s Wizzerd born of a similar Upper Midwestern next-gen take on classic heavy as that of acts like Bison Machine and Midas. Their Cursed Tongue Records-delivered self-titled debut album gives a strong showing of this foundation, less boogie-based than some, with just an edge of heavy metal to the riffing and vocals that seems to derive not directly from doom, but definitely from some ’80s metal stylizations. Coupled with ’70s and ’90s heavy rocks, it’s a readily accessible blend throughout the nine-song/51-minute LP, but a will toward the epic comes through in theme as well as the general mood of the riffs, and even in the drift of “Wizard” that’s apparent. Taken in kind with the fuzzblaster “Wraith,” the winding motion of the eponymous closer and with the lumbering crash of “Warrior” earlier, the five-piece’s sound shows potential to distinguish itself further in the future through taking on fantasy subject matter lyrically as well as playing to wall-sized grooves across the board, even in the speedy first half of “Phoenix,” with its surprising crash into the wall of its own momentum.

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Cursed Tongue Records webstore

 

Ian Blurton, Signals Through the Flames

Ian Blurton Signals Through the Flames

The core of Ian Blurton‘s Signals Through the Flames is in tight, sharply-executed heavy rockers like “Seven Bells” and “Days Will Remain,” classic in their root but not overly derivative, smartly and efficiently composed and performed. The Toronto-based Blurton has been making and producing music for over three decades in various guises and incarnations, and with these nine songs, he brings into focus a songcraft that is more than enough to carry song like “Nothing Left to Lose” and opener “Eye of the Needle,” which bookends with the 6:55 “Into Dust,” the closer arriving after a final salvo with the Scorpionic strut of “Kick out the Lights” and the forward-thrust-into-ether of “Night of the Black Goat.” If this was what Ghost had ended up sounding like, I’d have been cool with that. Blurton‘s years of experience surely come into play in this work, a kind of debut under his own name and/or that of Ian Blurton’s Future Now, but the songs come through as fresh regardless and “The March of Mars” grabs attention not with pedigree, but simply by virtue of its own riff, which is exactly how it should be. It’s subtle in its variety, but those willing to give it a repeat listen or two will find even more reward for doing so.

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Ian Blurton on Bandcamp

 

Cosmic Fall, Lackland

Cosmic Fall Lackland

“Lackland” is the first new material Berlin three-piece Cosmic Fall have produced since last year’s In Search of Space (review here) album, which is only surprising given the frequency with which they once jammed out a record every couple of months. The lone 8:32 track is a fitting reminder of the potency in the lineup of guitarist Marcin Morawski, bassist Klaus Friedrich and drummer Daniel Sax, and listening to the Earthless-style shred in Morawski‘s guitar, one hopes it won’t be another year before they come around again. As it stands, they make the eight minutes speed by with volcanic fervor and an improvised sensibility that feels natural despite the song’s ultimately linear trajectory. Could be a one-off, could be a precursor to a new album. I’d prefer the latter, obviously, but I’ll take what I can get, and if that’s “Lackland,” then so be it.

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Cosmic Fall on Bandcamp

 

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Quarterly Review: Tia Carrera, Inter Arma, Volcano, Wet Cactus, Duskwood, Lykantropi, Kavod, Onioroshi, Et Mors, Skånska Mord

Posted in Reviews on July 4th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review

Day four. I should’ve known we’d hit a snag at some point in the week, but it happened yesterday afternoon when Windows decided I desperately needed some update or other and then crapped the bed in the middle of said update. I wound up taking my laptop to a repair guy down the road in the afternoon, who said the hard drive needed to be wiped and have a full reinstall. Pretty brutal. He was going to back up what was there and get on it, said I could pick it up today. We’ll see how that goes, I guess. Also, happy Fourth, if America’s your thing. Let’s dive in.

Quarterly Review #31-40:

Tia Carrera, Visitors / Early Purple

tia carrera visitors early purple

They had a single out between (review here), but the two-song LP Visitors / Early Purple is Tia Carrera‘s first album since 2011’s Cosmic Priestess (review here). The Austin, Texas, three-piece — which now includes bassist Curt Christianson of Dixie Witch alongside guitarist Jason Morales and drummer Erik Conn — haven’t missed a beat in terms of creating heavy psychedelic sprawl, and as the side-consuming “Visitors” (18:32) and “Early Purple” (16:28) play out, it’s with a true jammed sensibility; that feeling that sooner or later the wheels are going to come off. They don’t, at least not really, but the danger always makes it more exciting, and Morales‘ tone has been much missed. In the intervening years, the social media generation has come up to revere Earthless for doing much of what Tia Carrera do, but there’s always room for more jams as far as I’m concerned, and it’s refreshing to have Tia Carrera back to let people know what they’ve been missing. Here’s hoping it’s not another eight years.

Tia Carrera on Thee Facebooks

Small Stone Records on Bandcamp

 

Inter Arma, Sulphur English

inter arma sulphur english

I can’t help but think Inter Arma‘s Sulphur English is the album Morbid Angel should have made after Covenant. And yes, that applies to the harmonies and organ of “Stillness” as well. The fourth full-length (third for Relapse) from the Richmond, Virginia, outfit is a beastly, severe and soulful 66-minute stretch of consuming, beyond-genre extremity. It punishes with purpose and scope, and its sense of brutality comes accompanied by a willful construction of atmosphere. Longer pieces like “The Atavist’s Meridian” and the closing title-track lend a feeling of drama, but at no point does Sulphur English feel like a put-on, and as Inter Arma continue their push beyond the even-then-inventive sludge of their beginnings, they’ve become something truly groundbreaking in metal, doing work that can only be called essential to push forward into new ground and seeming to swallow the universe whole in the meantime. It’s the kind of record that one can only hope becomes influential, both in its purpose toward individualism and its sheer physical impact.

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Relapse Records website

 

Volcano, The Island

volcano the island

So you’ve got Harsh Toke‘s Gabe Messer on keys and vocals and JOY guitarist/Pharlee drummer Zach Oakley on guitar, and bassist Billy Ellsworth (also of Loom) and Matt Oakley on drums, plus it seems whoever else happened to be around the studio that day — and in San Diego, that could be any number of players — making up Volcano, whose debut, The Island (on Tee Pee) melds Afrobeat funk-rock with the band’s hometown penchant for boogie. The songs are catchy — “10,000 Screamin’ Souls,” “Naked Prey,” “Skewered,” “No Evil, Know Demon”; hooks abound — but there’s a feeling of kind of an unthinking portrayal of “the islander” as a savage that I can’t quite get past. There’s inherently an element of cultural appropriation to rock and roll anyway, but even more here, it seems. They make it a party, to be sure, but there’s a political side to what Afrobeat was originally about that goes unacknowledged here. They might get there, they might not. They’ve got the groove down on their first record, and that’s not nothing.

Volcano on Instagram

Tee Pee Records website

 

Wet Cactus, Dust, Hunger and Gloom

wet cactus dust hunger and gloom

Sometimes you just miss one, and I’ll admit that Wet CactusDust, Hunger and Gloom got by me. It likely would’ve been in the Quarterly Review a year ago had I not been robbed last Spring, but either way, the Spanish outfit’s second long-player is a fuzz rocker’s delight, a welcoming and raucous vibe persisting through “Full Moon Over My Head,” which is the second cut of the total five and the only one of the bunch under seven minutes long. They bring desert-jammy vibes to the songs surrounding, setting an open tone with “So Long” at the outset that the centerpiece “Aquelarre” fleshes out even further instrumentally ahead of the penultimate title-track’s classic build and payoff and the earth-toned nine-minute finale “Sleepy Trip,” which is nothing if not self-aware in its title as it moves toward the driving crescendo of the record. All throughout, the mood is as warm as the distortion, and Wet Cactus do right by staying true to the roots of desert rock. It’s not every record I’d want to review a year after the fact; think of it that way.

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Wet Cactus on Bandcamp

 

Duskwood, The Long Dark

duskwood the long dark

A follow-up EP to Duskwood‘s 2016 debut long-player, Desert Queen, the four-track The Long Dark is a solid showcase of their progression as songwriters and in the capital-‘d’ Desertscene style that has come to epitomize much of the UK heavy rock underground, taking loyalism to the likes of Kyuss and topping it off with the energy of modern London-based practitioners Steak. The four-piece roll out a right-on fuzzy groove in “Mars Rover” after opening with “Space Craft” and show more of a melodic penchant in “Crook and Flail” before tying it all together with “Nomad” at the finish. They warn on their Bandcamp page this is ‘Part 1,’ so it may not be all that long before they resurface. Fair enough as they’ve clearly found their footing in terms of style and songwriting here, and at that point the best thing to do is keep growing. As it stands, The Long Dark probably isn’t going to kick off any stylistic revolution, but there’s something to be said for the band’s ability to execute their material in conversation with what else is out there at the moment.

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Duskwood on Bandcamp

 

Lykantropi, Spirituosa

Lykantropi-Spirituosa

Sweet tones and harmonies and a classic, sun-coated progressivism persist on Lykantropi‘s second album, Spirituosa (on Lightning Records), basking in melodic flow across nine songs and 43 minutes that begin with the rockers “Wild Flowers” and “Vestigia” and soon move into the well-paired “Darkness” and “Sunrise” as the richer character of the LP unfolds. “Songbird” makes itself a highlight with its more laid back take, and the title-track follows with enough swing to fill whatever quota you’ve got, while “Queen of Night” goes full ’70s boogie and “Seven Blue” imagines Tull and Fleetwood Mac vibes — Flutewood Mac! — and closer and longest track “Sällsamma Natt” underscores the efficiency of songwriting that’s been at play all the while amidst all that immersive gorgeousness and lush melodicism. They include a bit of push in the capper, and well they should, but go out with a swagger that playfully counteracts the folkish humility of the proceedings. Will fly under many radars. Shouldn’t.

Lykantropi on Thee Facebooks

Lightning Records website

 

Kavod, Wheel of Time

kavod wheel of time

As Italian trio Kavod shift from opener “Samsara” into “Absolution” on their debut EP, Wheel of Time, the vocals become a kind of chant for the verse that would seem to speak to the meditative intention of the release on the whole. They will again on the more patient closer “Mahatma” too, and fair enough as the band seem to be trying to find a place for themselves in the post-Om or Zaum sphere of spiritual exploration through volume, blending that aesthetic with a more straight-ahead songwriting methodology as manifest in “Samsara” particularly. They have the tones right on as they begin this inward and outward journey, and it will be interesting to hear in subsequent work if they grow to work in longer, possibly-slower forms or push their mantras forward at the rate they do here, but as it stands, they take a reverent, astral viewpoint with their sound and feel dug in on that plane of existence. It suits them.

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Kavod on Bandcamp

 

Onioroshi, Beyond These Mountains

onioroshi beyond these mountains

Onioroshi flow smoothly from atmospheric post-sludge to more thrusting heavy rock and they take their time doing it, too. With their debut album, Beyond These Mountains, the Italian heavy proggers present four tracks the shortest of which, “Locusta,” runs 10:54. Bookending are “Devilgrater” (14:17) and “Eternal Snake (Mantra)” (20:30) and the penultimate “Socrate” checks in at 12:29, so yes, the trio have plenty of chances to flesh out their ideas as and explore as they will. Their style leans toward post-rock by the end of “Devilgrater,” but never quite loses its sense of impact amid the ambience, and it’s not until “Socrate” that they go full-on drone, setting a cinematic feel that acts as a lead-in for the initial build of the closer which leads to an apex wash and a more patient finish than one might expect given the trip to get there. Beyond These Mountains is particularly enticing because it’s outwardly familiar but nuanced enough to still strike an individual note. It’s easy to picture Onioroshi winding up on Argonauta or some other suitably adventurous imprint.

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Onioroshi on Bandcamp

 

Et Mors, Lux in Morte

et mors lux in morte

Whoever in Maryland/D.C. then-four-piece Et Mors decided to record their Lux in Morte EP in their practice space had the right idea. The morose death-doom three-songer takes cues from USBM in the haunting rawness of “Incendium Ater,” and even though the 19-minute “House of Nexus” comes through somewhat clearer — it was recorded to tape at Shenandoah University — it remains infected by the filth and grit of the opener. Actually, “infected” might be the word all around here, as the mold-sludge of closer “Acid Bender” creeps along at an exposed-flesh, feedback-drenched lurch, scathing as much in intent as execution, playing like a death metal record at half-speed and that much harsher because they so clearly know what they’re doing. If you think it matters that they mixed stuff from two different sessions, you’re way off base on the sound overall here. It’s patch-worthy decay metal, through and through. Concerns of audio fidelity need not apply.

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Et Mors on Bandcamp

 

Skånska Mord, Blues from the Tombs

skanska mord blues from the tombs

When Sweden’s Skånska Mord are singing about the deep freeze in album opener “Snow” on the Transubstans-released Blues from the Tombs, I believe it. It’s been seven years since Small Stone issued their Paths to Charon LP (review here), and the new record finds them more fully dug into a classic rocker’s take on hard-blues, rolling with Iommic riffs and a mature take on what earliest Spiritual Beggars were able to capture in terms of a modern-retro sound. “Snow” and “Simon Says” set an expectation for hooks that the more meandering “Edge of Doom” pulls away from, while “The Never Ending Greed” brings out the blues harp over an abbreviated two minutes and leads into a more expansive side B with “Blinded by the Light” giving way to the wah-bassed “Sun,” the barroom blueser “Death Valley Blues” and the returning nod of closer “The Coming of the Second Wave,” stood out by its interwoven layers of soloing and hypnosis before its final cut. It’s been a while, but they’ve still got it.

Skånska Mord on Thee Facebooks

Transubstans Records website

 

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Quarterly Review: Torche, Spillage, Pharlee, Dali’s Llama, Speedealer, Mt. Echo, Monocluster, Picaporters, Beaten by Hippies, Luna Sol

Posted in Reviews on July 3rd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review

We meet again. The Summer 2019 Quarterly Review. It’s four in the morning and I’m getting ready to start the day. I haven’t even managed to pour myself coffee yet, which even as I type it out feels like a crime against humanity, such as it is. I’ll get there though.

Wednesday in the Quarterly Review marks the halfway point of the week, and as we’ll hit 30 reviews at the end, it’s half of the total 60 as well, so yeah. Feeling alright so far. As always, good music helps. I’ve added a couple things for consideration to my ongoing best-of-the-year list for December, so that’s something. And I think I’ll probably be doing so again today, so let’s get to it.

Quarterly Review #21-30:

Torche, Admission

torche admission

15 years later and Torche‘s sound is still expanding. To that point, it’s never sounded quite as expansive as it does on Admission, their fifth album and second for Relapse behind 2015’s Restarter (review here). There are still plenty of straight-ahead heavy riffs on cuts like “Reminder” or “Slide” or the bomb-tone-laden “Infierno,” but in the title-track, in “Times Missing,” the closer “Changes Come,” “Slide” and even the 1:30-long “What Was,” there’s a sense of spaciousness and float to the guitars to contrast all that crunch, and it effectively takes the place of some of the manic feel of their earlier work. It’s consistent with the brightness of their melodies in songs like “Extremes of Consciousness” and the early pusher “Submission,” and it adds to their style rather than takes away, building on the mid-paced feel of the last album in such a way as to demonstrate the band’s continued growth long after they’d be well within their rights to rest on their laurels. Sharp, consistent in its level of songwriting, mature and engaging across its 36-minute entirety, Admission is everything one might ask of Torche‘s fifth album.

Torche on Thee Facebooks

Relapse Records website

 

Spillage, Blood of Angels

spillage blood of angels

If you, like me, believe doom to be the guardian style of classic heavy metal — you could also argue power metal there, but that’s why it’s an argument — Chicago’s Spillage might be the band to help make your case. With their own Ronnie James Dio in Elvin Rodriguez (not a comparison I make lightly) and a connection to the Trouble family tree via founding guitarist Tony Spillman, who also played in Earthen Grave, the band unfurl trad-metal poise throughout their 53-minute second album, Blood of Angels, hitting touchstones like Sabbath, Priest, and indeed Trouble on a chugger like “Free Man,” a liberal dose of organ on “Rough Grooved Surface” adding to the classic feel — Rainbow, maybe? — and even the grandiose ballad “Voice of Reason” that appears before the closing Sabbath cover “Dirty Women” staying loyal to the cause. I can’t and won’t fault them for that, as in both their originals and in the cover, their hearts are obviously in it all the way and the sound is right on, the sleek swing in the second half of “Evil Doers” punctuated by squealing guitar just as it should be. Mark it a win for the forces of metal, maybe less so for the angels.

Spillage on Thee Facebooks

Qumran Records on Thee Facebooks

 

Pharlee, Pharlee

pharlee pharlee

San Diego strikes again with Pharlee‘s self-titled debut on Tee Pee Records, a 29-minute boogie rock shove that’s marked out by the significant pipes of Macarena Rivera up front, the shuffling snare work of Zach Oakley (also guitar in JOY and Volcano) and the organ work of Garret Lekas throughout, winding around and accentuating the riffs of Justin “Figgy” Figueroa and the air-push bass of Dylan Donovan. It’s a proven formula by now, but Pharlee‘s Pharlee is like the band who comes on stage in the middle of the festival and surprises everyone and reminds them why they’re there in the first place. The energy of “Darkest Hour” is infectious, and the bluesier take on Freddie King‘s “Going Down” highlights a stoner shred in Figueroa‘s guitar that fits superbly ahead of the fuzz freakout, all-go closer “Sunward,” and whatever stylistic elements (and personnel, for that matter) might be consistent with their hometown’s well-populated underground, Pharlee take that radness and make it their own.

Pharlee on Thee Facebooks

Tee Pee Records website

 

Dali’s Llama, Mercury Sea

dalis llama mercury sea

Long-running desert rockers Dali’s Llama return with Mercury Sea, their first release since 2017’s The Blossom EP (review here) and their first full-length since 2016’s Dying in the Sun (review here), sounding reinvigorated in rockers like opener “Weary” and the subsequent grunge-vibing “Choking on the Same,” “When Ember Laughs” and the garage-style “She’s Not Here.” Persistently underappreciated, their albums always have a distinct feel, and Mercury Sea is no different, finding a place for itself between the laid-back desert blues and punkier fare on a cut like “Someday, Someday,” even delving into psychedelic folk for a while in the 6:54 longest track “Goblin Fruit,” and a bit of lead guitar scorch bringing it all together on closer “All My Fault,” highlighting the theme of love that’s been playing out all the while. The sincerity behind that and everything Dali’s Llama does is palpable as ever in these 11 tracks, an more than 25 years on from their inception, they continue to deliver memorable songs in wholly unpretentious fashion. That’s just what they do.

Dali’s Llama on Thee Facebooks

Dali’s Llama on Bandcamp

 

Speedealer, Blue Days Black Nights

speedealer blue days black nights

Speedealer ride again! And just about at top speed, too. The Dallas, Texas, outfit were last heard from circa 2003, and their turnabout is marked with the self-release of Blue Days Black Nights, a fury-driven 10-tracker that takes the best of their heavy-rock-via-punk delivery and beefs up tones to suit another decade and a half’s worth of hard living and accumulated disaffection. The Dallas four-piece blaze through songs like “Never Knew,” the hardcore-punk “Losing My Shit,” the more metallic “Nothing Left to Say,” and the careening aggro-swagger of “Rheumatism,” but there’s still some variety to be had throughout, as highlight “Sold Out,” “War Nicht Genung” and “Shut Up” find the band no less effective working at a somewhat scaled-back pace. However fast they’re going, though the attitude remains much the same, and it’s “fuck you fuck this” fuckall all the way. Those familiar with their past work would expect no less, and time has clearly not repaired the chip on Speedealer‘s shoulder. Their anger is our gain.

Speedealer on Thee Facebooks

Speedealer webstore

 

Mt. Echo, Cirrus

mt echo cirrus

Based in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, the instrumentalist four-piece Mt. Echo present a somewhat noisier take on Russian Circles-style heavy post-rock with their nine-song/46-minute debut, Cirrus. Not at all shy about incorporating a noise rock riff or a more weighted groove, the dual-guitar outfit nonetheless spend significant time patiently engaged in the work of atmosphere-building, so that their material develops a genuine ebb and flow as songs tie one into the next to give the entire affair a whole-album feel. It is their first outing, but all the more striking for that in terms of how much of a grip they seem to have on their approach and what they want to be doing in a song like “Lighthouse at the End of Time” with airy lead and chugging rhythm guitars intertwining and meeting head-on for post-YOB crashes and an eventual turn into a harder-pushing progression. Ambience comes (mostly) to the fore in the seven-minute “Monsters and the Men Who Made Them,” but wherever they go on Cirrus, Mt. Echo bring that atmospheric density along with them. The proverbial ‘band to watch.’

Mt. Echo on Thee Facebooks

Mt. Echo on Bandcamp

 

Monocluster, Ocean

Monocluster Ocean

Over the course of five longform tracks on Ocean, Germany’s Monocluster build fluidly on the accomplishments of their 2015 self-titled debut (review here), greatly expanding on the heft and general reach of their sound while, as opener “Ocean in Our Bones” demonstrates, still holding onto the ability to affect a killer hook when they need one. Ocean is not a minor undertaking at 56 minutes, but it dedicates its time to constructing a world in cuts like “Leviathan” and “A Place Beyond,” the giant wall of fuzzed low end becoming the backdrop for the three-part story being told that ends with the 11:43 “Home” standing alone, as graceful and progressive as it is brash and noisy — a mirror in that regard to the nine-minute centerpiece “Guns and Greed” and a fitting summation of Ocean‘s course. They keep this up for very long and people are going to start to notice. The album is a marked step forward from where Monocluster were a few years ago, and sets up the expectation of continued growth their next time out while keeping a focus on the essential elements of songwriting as well. If we’re looking for highlights, I’d pick “Leviathan,” but honestly, it’s anyone’s game.

Monocluster on Thee Facebooks

Monocluster on Bandcamp

 

Picaporters, XXIII

picaporters xxiii

The third full-length from Argentine trio Picaporters marks another level of achievement for them as a band. XXIII arrives three years after El Horror Oculto (review here) and is unquestionably their broadest-cast spectrum to-date. The album comes bookended by eight-minute opener “La Soga de los Muertos” and “M.I.,” an 18-minute finale jam that would give a Deep Purple live record reason to blush. Soulful guitar stretches out over a vast rhythmic landscape, and all this after “Jinetes del Universo” motorpunks out and “Vencida” pulls together Floydian melo-prog, “Numero 5” precedes the closer with acoustic interplay and the early “Despertar” offers a little bit of everything and a lot of what-the-hell-just-happened. These guys started out on solid footing with their 2013 debut, Elefantes (review here), but neither that nor El Horror Oculto really hinted at the scope they’d make sound so natural throughout XXIII, which is the kind of record that leaves you no choice but to call it progressive.

Picaporters on Thee Facebooks

Picaporters on Bandcamp

 

Beaten by Hippies, Beaten by Hippies

beaten by hippies beaten by hippies

As their moniker hints, there’s some edge of danger to Belgium’s Beaten by Hippies‘ self-titled debut (on Polderrecords), but the album ultimately resolves itself more toward songwriting and hooks in the spirit of a meaner-sounding Queens of the Stone Age in songs like “Space Tail” and “More is More,” finding common ground with the energy of Truckfighters though never quite delving so far into fuzzy tones. That’s not at all to the band’s detriment — rather, it helps the four-piece begin to cast their identity as they do in this material, whether that’s happening in the volatile sudden volume trades in “Dust” or the mission statement “Rock ‘n’ Roll,” which feels geared a bit to the anthemic but would probably work just as well in whatever pub they happen to be terrorizing on a given evening. Their delivery skirts the line between heavy and hard rock as only that vaguely commercially viable European-style can, but the songs are right there waiting to take the stage at whatever festival is this weekend and blow the roof — or the sky, I guess, if it’s outdoors — off the place.

Beaten by Hippies on Thee Facebooks

Polderrecords website

 

Luna Sol, Below the Deep

luna sol below the deep

Guitarist/vocalist Dave Angstrom may be best known in heavy rock circles for his work alongside John Garcia in Hermano, but in leading the four-piece Luna Sol through their 12-song/50-minute sophomore outing, Below the Deep (on Slush Fund Recordings), he proves a capable frontman as well as songwriter. Sharing vocal duties with bassist Shannon Fahnestock while David Burke handles guitar and Justin Baier drums, Angstrom is a steady presence at the fore through the well-constructed ’90s-flavored heavy rock of “Below the Deep” and “Along the Road” early, the later “Garden of the Gods” playing toward a more complex arrangement after the strutting “The Dying Conglomerate” paints a suitably grim State of the Union and ahead of the fuzz-rich ending in “Home,” which keeps its melodic purpose even as it crashes out to its languid finish. Whether it’s the charged “Man’s Worth Killin'” or the winding fuzz of “Mammoth Cave,” one can definitely hear some Hermano at work, but Luna Sol distinguish themselves just the same.

Luna Sol on Thee Facebooks

Slush Fund Recordings webstore

 

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