Review & Track Premiere: Solace, The Brink

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on November 21st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

solace the brink

[Click play above to stream the premiere of ‘Waste People’ from Solace’s The Brink. Album is out Dec. 13 on Blues Funeral Recordings and available to preorder here.]

You never know with Solace. Like the persistent radiation emanating from a hyperpolluted Jersey Shore superfund site, they might have a half-life of 50,000 years, but there are times when it seems like it’ll be at least that long before they get their due. But you never know. In 2010, when the Long Branch, NJ, five-piece returned after seven years with A.D. (review here) on Small Stone Records — their third LP and follow-up to 2003’s 13 (discussed here) as well as a 2005 split with Greatdayforup and the The Black Black EP in 2007 — I called it the beginning of a new era for the band. Even reading that back at the time, I can remember it was a fan’s wishful thinking, but neither did I imagine it would be nine years before they put out a fourth album, or that they’d do so with three-fifths of an entirely new lineup, rebuilt around guitarists Justin Daniels and band founder Tommy Southard.

Yet, The Brink emerges with a title that seems self-aware in identifying the place Solace have dwelled since even before the release of their debut, Further, in 2000, right on the sharpest corner, of the unknown, on the proverbial edge itself. You never know with Solace. Whether the whole thing’s about to fly apart. Whether the release date is going to get pushed back. Whether this is going to be the last time you see them. Whether they might finally get some inkling of the recognition they’ve long since deserved. Imagine a 2001 with Solace touring heavy in support of the MeteorCity release of Further. Maybe they get picked up by Atlantic for the follow-up. Maybe they get one song on the radio. Maybe there’s a video. Maybe the tours get bigger. Maybe they do Ozzfest the next year or for the second record. Maybe their crowds get bigger, the venues get bigger. Maybe Solace become the band Atlantic wanted the Melvins to be, having an influence over the wider sphere of heavy rock than even they could’ve imagined.

As a Solace fan, I genuinely think the world would be a better place if that had happened.

Understand, Solace aren’t just the best at what they do. They’re it at what they do. They have been and they remain equal parts vital and dangerous. There’s no one else who can ride a heavy rock groove, lock in a righteous doom riff en route to a shredding solo, blaze through hardcore punk, metal and classic ’70s vibes all while still conjuring memorable songs and melodies at the level Solace have done throughout their career and continue to do on The Brink. The album — which with issue through Blues Funeral Recordings reunites them with MeteorCity founder Jadd Shickler — runs 11 tracks and an utterly unmanageable 67 minutes. It is too long for a modern listener’s attention span by at least 20 minutes, but it’s also very clearly a band laying it all on the line. Is this the last Solace record? One final burst before they cross the brink into oblivion? You never know, but even with the possibility, they’re obviously not taking the chance of leaving anything unsaid, even if that means they’re saying everything while they can.

New vocalist Justin Goins has been with Solace at least four years now and unquestionably has the biggest task before him in replacing original singer Jason — who is probably the person most committed to only using his first name I’ve ever encountered; I saw his last name once and can’t remember it, but it wasn’t that weird — but Goins gives a performance laced with potential, fits well in the band both in his voice and work on keyboard as he shows on the could’ve-closed nine-minute title-track and works in a similar-enough style that from opener “Breaker of the Way” onward, Solace never cease to sound like Solace. With full tones behind him from SouthardDaniels and bassist Mike Sica (who fills the special-order-sized shoes of Rob Hultz) set to the fervent push of Tommy Gitlan on drums, Goins makes the most of hooks in second cut “Desert Coffin,” “Waste People,” “The Light is a Lie,” and the prior-issued single “Bird of Ill-Omen” (review here) to give listeners a marker to follow on the outward, intense path The Brink follows, progressive and linear, downward and outward as it is.

solace

But if time or cumulative beer intake have dulled Solace‘s ferocity at all, The Brink doesn’t show it. Even rockers like “Dead Sailor’s Dream” or “Crushing Black” play out through headspinning turns and verses that seem to stretch out one into the next. There’s structure there, a plan at work. The songs are crafted and have the carefully mixed layers to prove it. But the plan is chaos, and chaos is what it sounds like. Maybe Solace are in control of it, but they’ve almost never been so much so as to put out a record every couple years, hit the road and take their band to the “next level” that would seem to have been waiting for them 15 years ago. Is The Brink too little too late? You never know, but for what it’s worth, nothing about the album is too little, from its runtime to the largesse of sound to the front-to-back quality of the material and its delivery.

They wisely save a few tricks for later in the run to change things up, bringing in Daniels on vocals for the brief, acoustic-led “Shallows Fade” ahead of “The Brink” itself, which has a more severe atmosphere bolstered by the cut before it, and then are off at a sprint for the penultimate “Until the Last Dog is Hung” — not quite as I-wanna-see-you-tear-shit-up as A.D.‘s hardcore paean “The Skull of the Head of a Man,” but not far off either — before rounding out with “Dead Sailor’s Reprise,” which indeed answers back to “Dead Sailor’s Dream” and, unlike most reprisals, is actually longer than the piece it’s building from, repeating the line, “Down where dead men go” (see also the cover art), before fading itself out and then returning with a storm-backed acoustic guitar line that plays out the riff of the original.

At that point it has been a long day’s journey since the bounding initial riff of “Breaker of the Way,” but perhaps the most staggering aspect of The Brink is how much it is Solace. One assumes if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t exist. It’s not like Solace were under a contract and needed to get a record out. It’s not like they had to do it for cash. It may be that the urgency of expression here derives from the thought that this might actually be it for them, and yet the balance they set that against is coming across as utterly refreshed in their most forward position — i.e. the vocals — and in the rhythm section backing their signature ace riffs and leads. What the hell is an audience supposed to make of that? Band comes back after nine years for what might be one more blowout and has the energy of a debut album? How is that even fair? What do you do with that?

My best guess is appreciate it for what it is. Because it’s so long, and because it’s so winding in its progression, and because there’s just so much to dig into across its span, it’ll be a while before The Brink really settles in on those who properly take it on. Nine months, maybe a year, but time in any case. For all the immediacy of their work, Solace demand that time. But these tracks, their peaks and valleys, their shove and rest, their melody and their motion, earn it, too. But the only way to take The Brink is on its face. If you think about where Solace have come from, or where they might go from here, what their future will be — Southard recently said he was “retired” from playing local shows, presumably relegating the band to fest appearances and other one-offs that might come up — your head will surely explode. Accept it. You never know with Solace. You never know. So all you can do is embrace what’s there on its own level or walk away, and if walk away, you’re missing out.

For all the changes The Brink brings about — don’t forget, more than half this band has never played on a Solace record before and we’re more than 20 years out from the group’s first release — its identity is unquestionable. Unmistakable. Unstoppable? You never know.

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Review & Track Premiere: Vessel of Light, Thy Serpent Rise

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on November 20th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

vessel of light thy serpent rise

[Click play above to stream Vessel of Light’s cover of Black Sabbath’s ‘Wasp.’ Their third album, Thy Serpent Rise, is out now.]

With that title and that artwork, is there any way it’s at all possible, even in the remotest of distant universes, that the “serpent” in question in Vessel of Light‘s Thy Serpent Rise isn’t a cock? Not in this genre, folks. The lines from “Rush of Blood” — you’ll never guess where the blood is going — read, “You make my serpent rise/When you stare into my eyes” before transitioning into the chorus, “I feel a rush of blood/And a rush of drugs/Coursing through my veins/The fire and the flood,” and indeed: cock. By then, the New Jersey/Ohio outfit founded by guitarist Dan Lorenzo (Hades, Non-Fiction) and vocalist Nathan Opposition (né Jochum) and now featuring Jimmy Schulman (also Hades and Dan Lorenzo‘s solo band) on bass and Ron Lipnicki (ex-Overkill) on drums have run through a tight trio of songs for a post-intro opening salvo to Thy Serpent Rise, finding a sound on an aggressive end of the spectrum of traditional doom and heavy rock and roll, Opposition‘s sometimes guttural vocals upping the metallic quotient amid mostly AA/BB rhyme scheme murder and death poetry lyrics. “Rush of Blood” is something of an aberration, if a still-kinda-violent one.

The band’s second long-player behind last year’s Woodshed (review here) and a 2017 self-titled EP (review here) — both released by Argonauta Records — Thy Serpent Rise is comprised of 12 tracks with the title-track intro at the outset and two other guitar-based interludes, titled “Skin in the Game” and “Hello Darkness” interspersed throughout, the latter appearing just before the finale duo of “Decomposing Mental Health” and “After Death.” Ending with “After Death” of course seems fair enough after opening with “Abandon Life,” as the death fetish comes to define the point of view from which the songs stem, and as Opposition leans back and forth between suicide on “After Death” and “Decomposing Mental Health” and murder on “Meet and Bone” and “Bleed into the Night” — the latter of which boasts some ’90s-era Marilyn Manson-style “hey!” shouts in its later moments — the territory should be familiar to anyone who’s followed Vessel of Light at all, walking the fine line as it does between cultish and silly-cultish.

But though the words are the kinds of things that would’ve gotten you suspended from your junior year of high school for furiously scribbling in your notebook during class — picture Vice Principal Ludwig, horrified — there’s no question that Thy Serpent Rise is a figuring-it-out point for Vessel of Light. As the band expands beyond just Lorenzo and Opposition, their songwriting seems to tighten, such that the cuts in that initial push, “Abandon Life,” Meet and Bone” and “Urge to Kill,” barely top three minutes in the longest of them, but are strikingly efficient in getting the message across and still conveying a sense of darkness in the atmosphere. As with Woodshed, hooks about, and even if Opposition is consistent in rhyme scheme, he is a singer of marked presence whose voice is a distinguishing factor here and across his entire discography.

vessel of light

As “Save My Soul” emerges in bluesy swinging fashion from “Skin in the Game,” he adjusts his approach subtly to ride the groove behind him in order to enhance it rather than contradict, working with the band and not against them with what might be the album’s most uptempo vibe, though oddly enough “After Death” might give it some competition in that regard. Contrast that either way with the slamming weight of “Eternal Sleep,” the stomping force of which is a highlight unto itself as the band drive home the more metal side of their sound in a way that feels natural and intended for the stage. Following “Hello Darkness,” “Decomposing Mental Health” has more of a rolling nod and is a welcome arrival for that, as Lorenzo‘s riff changes are telegraphed around a chorus that would seem to be a point at which Vessel of Light come into their own and establish their identity in this grim mood, a kind of exploration of troubled self lyrically accompanied by choice, straightforward motion, clear, full production and structures that are tight to a point of feeling like they’re about to snap, which as it happens only suits the lyrics all the more, since that’s basically what Opposition would seem to be shooting for as well. Nice when things work out like that.

Are Vessel of Light going to be universally appealing? Nope. Their style finds them in a place between larger genre scopes, hard to pin to one thing or the other, and their report-this-post lyrics are anything but friendly to the listener. But of course, neither are they intended to be universal. It’s now what they’re going for now and not what they’ve been going for over the last two years as they’ve worked quickly to establish themselves and develop this aesthetic. At just 34 minutes — compared to Woodshed‘s 41 — the brevity suits Thy Serpent Rise, and the down-to-business intensity toward which Lorenzo and Opposition steer the material is effective and feels hammered out on a professional level.

What’s the endgame? Who the hell knows. But as Vessel of Light explore the elements that make up their sound, they seem to have with Thy Serpent Rise to have found the balance they were looking for their last time out, which sets them up for a third album should they get there that’s all the more sure of where it stands. At least that’s the narrative I’m going with. That’s not to say the record isn’t without its drawbacks — I’ll come out and say it if it’s not already clear; the lyrics aren’t really my thing, though they’re well performed and carried through with conviction; I just have a hard time believing anyone that into murder isn’t either in jail or too busy killing people to make records about it — but the “Skin in the Game” is as much the band’s own as it is whoever’s face they’re wearing like a mask, and in putting it all on the line, they at very least offer an alternative interpretation to the sense of “rising” in the title on a meta-level, if not one directly in the song itself, which, well, yeah, is about cock.

Vessel of Light, “Meet and Bone” official video

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Serial Hawk, Static Apnea: Depths and Passages

Posted in Reviews on November 18th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Serial Hawk Static Apnea

At its core, Static Apnea is an exploration of distance and weight. How much space can be conveyed in a song even as a full-on tonal crush is enacted? The second album from Seattle outfit Serial Hawk — the core trio of guitarist/vocalist Will Bassin, bassist Adam Holbrook and drummer Sean Bulkley (who would seem to have parted ways with the band in the interim, with Jason Bledsoe and Brock Bledsoe stepping in), here working with a swath of guests — is presented as a 49-minute self-released 2LP and spreads across six tracks that range from the megaplod of “Detatch” and the growling aggression of the subsequent “Depths and Passages” on side B to the sweet post-rocking pastoralia drift of “Surrender” at that I suspect is the outset of the second platter. Longer cuts “Resting Waters” (10:15) and “Diminished Return” (13:46) would seem to consume the first and last sides, and in immersive fashion, they help present and bolster the impressive scope with which Serial Hawk are working this time out, taking the largesse of their debut and focusing it on conveying a sense of atmosphere amid all the sheer sonic plunder.

Even as “Depths and Passages” seems to chug-march into trenchant low end and a post-Helmet vision of what West Coast noise rock could’ve become, the open space is as much responsible for the sense of heaviness as are the distorted vocals buried beneath the mountainous guitar and bass. And when they want to be, they are tectonically heavy, but from the post-Isis/Ancestors build in “Resting Waters” and the howling guitar solo that takes hold in the first half there to the final riff that leads the march outward in the final minute of “Diminished Return,” Serial Hawk maintain a poised presentation of their songs that not only emphasizes their dynamic, but the patience behind their composition and execution. As they come up on marking a decade together in 2020 and have numerous tours to their credit, they bring that dynamic to its most forward position yet in a recording, and use it as the foundation to craft a collection that is gorgeous, cohesive, and, on occasion, outright pummeling.

The album takes its title from the practice of holding one’s breath underwater without necessarily swimming anywhere; you put your face in the water (the cover art could be seen as interpreting this) and see how long you can go I guess before you either pass out or have to give up. Aside from the dopey-internet-challenge potential there, there’s a sense of meditative ritual to the notion of pushing oneself to physical extremes without really knowing what those extremes are, and through I don’t know whether or not that’s what Serial Hawk had in mind when they named Static Apnea as they did, the chasms and the sheer physical force with which the band bring a song like the penultimate “Summon” to bear, letting it devolve into noise in its second half before ultimately rescuing it from that void of their own making, is palpable and dramatic, and while much of what they do here might be traced to one style or another — a post-metal moment here, a doomed riff, some sludge groove, etc. — it is the way these personality aspects are combined that makes the album such an exciting and adventurous listen.

serial hawk

It is aware of its range, aware of its depths — hell, it has a song called “Depths and Passages” — but not at all hindered by that consciousness of self. Instead, it results in flashes like when “Resting Waters” seems to hint ever so slightly toward the melodies that will find their answer as “Surrender” opens LP2 in a striking turn that nonetheless flows smoothly into “Summon,” which in turn gives way directly to “Diminished Return,” as the band shows an obvious concern for the listening experience beyond structuring for vinyl and create a linear overarching progression that encompasses all the tracks in one way or the other. For a record that’s 11 minutes longer than its predecessor — and certainly longer than anything else they’ve done — that flow proves essential to the listening experience, as every step outward seems to bring them to a new place that they immediately make their own. The sense of identity here — of Serial Hawk as Serial Hawk — is among Static Apnea‘s greatest strengths.

There are, as noted, a host of others contributing besides BassinHolbrook and Bulkley. The names listed are Robert Cheek, Paurl Walsh, Jessica Kitzman, Aaron Krause, Evan Ferro and Michael Sparks Jr., but as to who does what, I don’t have that information and the choice on the band’s part to keep that nebulous seems purposeful. Instead, their focus seems to be on the wash of noise itself. Static Apnea is noisy, it is aggressive, it is at times downright nasty — as in, “Oh, that’s nasty” — but if one takes a step back from the band voluminous slow-ish motion plunder, a fuller picture of what they’re doing emerges. That is, it’s a record that needs to be appreciated as a whole statement. There is no neat summary of aesthetic, though in the 13 minutes of “Diminished Return,” one could argue they come close. Still, the spirit of the offering they make is one that requires a complete engagement. I usually recommend headphones for something much more psychedelic, but they can only bolster the feeling of being surrounded by the richness of Serial Hawk‘s sound, and that richness is writ large across these songs, be it the rawer riff-led nod of “Detach” or the ultra-slow culmination circa seven minutes into “Summon.”

The band’s utter mastery of their approach comes through in either context and all across Static Apnea, and though the record would seem to be the result of careful plotting or at very least willful experimentation subject to scrutiny afterward in the recording process, it maintains an exciting feeling that goes beyond pace not just for the energy in its execution, but for the forward-thinking nature of the work itself. Serial Hawk are actively working against genre pigeonholing. They’re not looking to be classified. Their project, instead, is to search for the individualism that their influences can bring to bear, and they succeed purely because they let nothing, including their own awareness of what they’re doing, hold them back. Four years between first and second LPs is a pretty significant stretch. Serial Hawk‘s time has obviously not been misspent.

Serial Hawk, Static Apnea (2019)

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Mos Generator, Spontaneous Combustions: All in a Day’s Work

Posted in Reviews on November 14th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

mos generator Spontaneous Combustions

Issued just a month after the Exiles collection of outtakes and covers, the four-song, Kozmik Artifactz-released Spontaneous Combustions LP is a sort of conceptual one-off from Port Orchard, Washington, heavy rockers Mos Generator. The narrative — blessings and peace upon it — is that the Tony Reed-led three-piece had an opportunity to get together and rehearse and record at a rental house before new tenants moved in and Reed, bassist Sean Booth and drummer Jono Garrett began a US tour the following day. One assumes they started fairly early in the morning. Even so, for a group whose material is historically so structured and well put-together, it hardly seems like the the ideal circumstance for making an album. And one assumes that is precisely why they did it in such a manner.

The title Spontaneous Combustions, then, refers to the tracks themselves as being the result of improvisational jams; the trio setting up a few mics and hitting it with an eight-track recorder rolling to capture whatever came out. Mos Generator stepped back from the road this year, but between 2013 and 2018, they toured heavily with the Reed/Booth/Garrett lineup, and thereby developed the sort of chemistry that might, say, allow them to make an album in a single day’s time. But though the inclusions are plenty jammy and each one hovers somewhere around 10 minutes long — the exception is second track “Things to Unremember,” at 9:14 — the tracks aren’t just jams in the sense of the raw instrumentalist exploration proffered by some outfits. While opener “Bonehenge (Parts 1 & 2)” speaks to the urgency of its making in a kind of manic guitar line and sans-vocal approach, “Things to Unremember” and especially the subsequent “Who Goes There?” have vocals over top, and layered vocals in the case of the latter, meaning that at some point after the initial instrumental bed was laid down — even if it was on the same day — it was further developed.

Mos Generator, and Reed particularly, almost can’t help but write songs. The rule under which he worked was that things could be added to the basic track but not removed or changed, and indeed, “Who Goes There?” was an earlier piece they finished as a part of the session. So maybe Spontaneous Combustions-plus? However one wants to draw that line of distinction, the fact remains that one of American heavy rock’s most powerful power trios took a bold step in making a record like this, and after nearly two decades mostly-together in one form or another, the simple fact that they would push themselves to try something new at all is testament to the admirable nature of their creativity. The impulse — conceptual and in terms of the execution in these songs — bears fruit, whether it’s in the long, quiet stretch that opens “Who Goes There?” or the keyboard-added smooth jam at the beginning of closer “Age Zero,” also the longest song at 10:34.

And sure, one can hear a hiccup here and there on a probably-too-close inspection. Maybe that’s a hesitation because Garrett is wondering if there’s a change coming. Maybe that’s Reed pulling a bum note. Whatever it is, it’s to Spontaneous Combustions‘ credit that it’s left in. That might be the biggest departure Mos Generator make here, since while they’ve certainly done warts-and-all live releases in the past — the past year, that is — recent studio outings like 2018’s Shadowlands (review here), 2016’s Abyssinia (review here) and 2014’s Electric Mountain Majesty (review here) have been clean and increasingly progressive affairs. “Who Goes There?” has shades of that, certainly, but the first impression with “Bonehenge (Parts 1 & 2)” and the last impression with “Age Zero” that Spontaneous Combustions makes is one of taking a far more open and naturalist approach. While I don’t doubt that time felt like a crunch with one day to work on all the material and get a usable take, etc., it’s just as likely it was a relief to record live, since once the song was down, that was it. The rules were set, and they required that the band be free from hammering out all the rougher spots in the material. It’s an intense process, but it throws open a range of possibilities as well.

mos generator spontaneous combustions

To be sure, the three-piece take advantage. “Things to Unremember” moves from its shreddy march into a more drifting verse, bluesy licks from Reed and a steady bass from Booth seemingly led by the plodding drums of Garrett. An Iommic riff emerges — as it would almost have to given the jam setting and the tempo — and “Things” threatens to come apart just before six and a half minutes in, but Reed‘s solo holds its course and the trio builds back up around it, eventually finishing with a last rendition of the semi-hook to give just a hint of how organically a sense of structure comes to Mos Generator. The song, as an idea and ideal, is always there. Even with just a matter of hours to put together an album. Why would they even try to get away from it?

In that way, “Who Goes There?” is an emphatic highlight, even if something of an outlier on Spontaneous Combustions for having been to some degree prior-composed. One can quibble with that if so inclined — as a fan of the band, I tend to think Mos Generator have earned the trust that they know what’s best for their own albums — but in its hypnotic beginning, emergent depth of groove and absolute standout melody it brings together the best of their more progressive recent work with this offering’s sonic reach, essentially tying the two sides together before “Age Zero” bookends with another instrumental push, mellower on the whole than that of “Bonehenge (Parts 1 & 2),” which maybe toys subconsciously with some Earthless influence, but still sweeping up at the end to finish in raucous fashion.

Time has proven Mos Generator can go where they please when they please and still retain their identity. They’ve done hardcore punk, they’ve done psychedelia, they’ve done prog, and they’ve done a whole lot of heavy rock and roll. It has come to a point where it’s almost shocking to think of them as still being a relatively straightforward act, but it’s always the songcraft that comes through no matter how it’s being put to use. In putting that to the side even somewhat, Spontaneous Combustions feels particularly brave on the part of ReedBooth and Garrett, but that’s nothing new for them either, and they demonstrate not only the roots of their process here, but the clarity of vision that underscores their material even at its foundations. I won’t attempt to predict what they might do next — their every-two-years pace for a proper studio release has one due in 2020, if they intend to hold to it — but I do hope this isn’t the last time Mos Generator take on a project like this. The possibilities are as vast as they want them to be.

Mos Generator, “Shadowlands” live in Cleveland, OH, 2018

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Canyon of the Skull Stream New Album Sins of the Past in Full

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

canyon of the skull

Founded in Austin and now located in Chicago, Canyon of the Skull release their third album, Sins of the Past, on Nov. 20. It’s only been two years since founding guitarist Erik Ogershok — who then also handled bass duty — stood astride the band’s second full-length, the 37-minute single-tracker The Desert Winter, and yet clearly much has changed. For one, what had for a time been a duo with Ogershok and drummer Adrian Voorhies is now a trio with a full rhythm section in bassist Todd Haug and drummer Mike Miczek (also The Atlas Moth, etc.), and the latest work is produced and mixed by Sanford Parker with mastering by Collin Jordan, so yes, very much embracing the Windy City and its various resources. The changes go beyond that, however, as Sins of the Past brings forth two massive instrumentalist riff-slabs, lumbering and metallic in their root in kind, with “The Ghost Dance” hitting 25 minutes long as “The Sun Dance” on its own nearly matches the entirety of The Desert Winter at 34:12. The simple math has it at 59 minutes of plodding, sans-vocal sprawl, atmospheric but not overly ethereal or psychedelic while still managing to bring together elements out of post-metal, sludge, doom and traditional heavy metal.

Most impressively, Sins of the Past — which takes its thematic from Native American issues and stories from the Southwest — does not simply shift between styles. Throughout “The Ghost Dance” and “The Sun Dance” alike, it isn’t a case of “a doom part” and “a Canyon of the Skull Sins of the Pastmetal part,” or some such. Rather, OgershokHaug and Miczek bring these various sides together into one cohesive sound that is fluid in tipping its balance from one genre to another. This would almost have to be truer of “The Sun Dance,” which is even more extended than the leadoff track, but the ethos is the same across both, and it comes to fruition in thoughtful but not overthought progressions of patient, guitar-led rollout and sections of alternately tense and open-feeling movement. It’s not exploratory in the sense of jamming and seeing what happens — there’s a definite plan being followed here — but there’s still something about Sins of the Past that seems to draw the listener deeper into this complexity. It’s a heady release, to be sure, and a challenge in the sense of asking its audience to keep up with changes across 25- and 34-minute pieces that offer no vocals, much substance and purposefully little by way of an instrumental hook, but that only means there is more to dig into, and even in its later reaches, “The Sun Dance” in particular is immersive while holding to the relatively straightforward, grounded tones of its predecessor and the general spirit of the release overall, which doesn’t stray too far from the central, earthy atmosphere that “The Ghost Dance” incites early on — an immediacy underlying all the sprawl and end-to-end distance of the material.

It probably goes without saying (and yet, here I am, saying it) that a record comprised of two so drawn-out instrumental movements and makes so little play toward general accessibility probably isn’t going to be for everybody, but for more adventurous metallurgists and those craving depth and breadth alike, there’s plenty in Sins of the Past to inspire deep-dive listening, tracking each movement of the guitar, bass and drums as you go. I won’t say a negative word about that approach — it certainly has its advantages — but when it comes to Canyon of the Skull, it seems no less important to consider the overarching ambience that comes through the material even as the material itself isn’t all that ambient. That is, if one thinks of the record as a single work, then what’s the mood of that work? What is the work as a whole saying? In some ways, I wish Ogershok was more open in discussing the specific themes he’s working with in his songwriting — sometimes instrumentalists are surprisingly verbose on such matters, but apparently less so in this case — but his approach of “letting the listener decide” has arguable merits of its own as well. I’ll take it either way, I guess.

The more crucial matter would seem to be the urgency of the music itself, so maybe it’s best to let that do the not-talking. Ogershok does offer some comment on the record’s making below, following the player on which one can find the entirety of Sins of the Past streaming ahead of its Nov. 20 release.

I hope you enjoy:

Erik Ogershok on Sins of the Past:

“I try to do different things with each record and this one is no exception. This record is visceral and immediate, like the self-titled, while being highly conceptual and dynamic like The Desert Winter. ‘The Ghost Dance’ is probably the best thing that I have written to date. ‘The Sun Dance’ is unlike anything that I have ever written before. It incorporates my basic philosophies of composition but applies them differently, one that I jokingly call prog-doom.

The main aesthetic and themes that Canyon of the Skull was founded on remain unchanged. This band has always been focused on telling the stories of Indigenous Americans and their environments, specifically those of the American Southwest. I am still surprised at how many people have never met an Indigenous American, but we are not extinct, and this band exists to tell our stories both past, present, and future. This record is a bit more broad with the subject matter since it involves the rituals of tribes far from the land of my people. Also, this record is more influenced by recent events that have an impact beyond Native communities. I don’t like to talk specifically about the deeper meaning of any of my compositions as I want people to discover their meaning in our music. These two pieces have very specific meanings to both me and the wider world and googling the titles is my recommendation for people that want to delve deeper for the literal meanings.”

Recorded at Decade Music Studios March 2019
Recorded and Mixed by Sanford Parker
Produced by Sanford Parker and Canyon of the Skull
Mastered by Collin Jordan at Boiler Room Mastering
Artwork Layout and design by Erik Bredthauer

Canyon of the Skull is:
Erik Ogershok- Guitars
Todd Haug- Bass Guitar
Mike Miczek- Drums

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Kamchatka Premiere “Rainbow Ridge” from Hoodoo Lightning; Album out Nov. 29

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on November 8th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

kamchatka

Swedish trio Kamchatka release Hoodoo Lightning on Nov. 29, and they’ll celebrate by hitting the road in Europe alongside Clutch and Graveyard on a tour that will run some 19 gigs as the three-piece herald the arrival of their seventh long-player. Pick a lineage for heavy rock and roll and it’s easy enough to find the manner in which the duel-vocal Stockholm/Varberg outfit do it justice, whether it’s the towering, channel-panning leads of guitarist Thomas Juneor Andersson on the hook-laden “Rainbow Ridge” (premiering below) or the trades back and forth as Andersson and bassist/keyboardist Per Wiberg — he of Spiritual Beggars, Opeth, the even-bluesier Kamchatka-kinda-offshoot King Hobo, and so many others — run a call and response through the classic metal-tinged “Fool” (think Dio-era Sabbath early on). There’s no escaping the ’70s rock influence, and neither does one feel inclined to try throughout the nonetheless cleanly produced 40-minute 10-tracker, but among the histories by which Hoodoo Lightning‘s material does right is that of Sweden’s particular rock legacy itself. Of course, Kamchatka have been around since the turn of the century — their self-titled debut came out in 2005, but they formed earlier — and as noted this is their seventh record. So, even considering that the four years it’s been since they issued their sixth, 2015’s Long Road Made of Gold (review here) — they also had the Stone Cold Shaky Bones 7″ (discussed here) in 2018 — it doesn’t necessarily feel like a surprise that Andersson, Wiberg and drummer Tobias Strandvik know what they’re doing. Their style modernizes classic sounds and brings melodic consciousness and exciting arrangements together with a firm sense of structure and an energetic delivery. Their material is high quality and their presentation of that material is high energy. There’s nothing one could reasonably ask Hoodoo Lightning to be that it isn’t.

And man, is it Swedish. Not German. Not Norwegian. Certainly not Danish. Definitely Swedish. Think about Spice-era Spiritual Beggars or the early work of acts like Mustasch and The Quill and more modern Siena Root. Not nearly as retro as Kamchatka Hoodoo LightningGraveyard, or as definitively fuzzed as Dozer or Lowrider, but that mindset of heavy rock and roll that works so fluidly under the philosophy of straightforward craft and fullness of sound to find a place where Soundgarden circa ’93 and Sabbath circa ’73 exist at the same time. One hears a nod to “Hole in the Sky” as “Blues Science Pt. 1: Thunder Rise” launches Hoodoo Lightning, and the subsequent title-track sets up the bluesy underpinnings that will find bluesy complement on closer “A Drifter’s Tale.” That title-track, also billed as “Blues Science Pt. 2,” begins a string of memorable stompers that continues as “Fool” tells a classic temptation-of-boy-leads-to-his-downfall tale and “Rainbow Ridge” touts the power of love to stand up to the “hard times ahead.” Good to know Kamchatka have been keeping an eye on the rise of right-wing populism in Europe — keep those borders open, folks. Meanwhile, amid starts and stops and a chugging verse, “Supersonic Universe” recounts leaving behind one’s family/existence to tour, that moment of saying goodbye and heading off to do a thing one feels called to even if others don’t fully understand why. The parade of hooks continues there and through the more brash “Monster” and “Let it Roll” — both of which feel created if not specifically to be played on stage, then certainly like they should be as soon as possible (I guess that’d be Nov. 29, so fair enough), before “Stay in the Wind” brings Andersson and Wiberg together on vocals over a more subdued vibe, pulling back on some of the thrust of the two songs prior, though the penultimate “El Hombre Dorado” revives the electric charge with some extra swing from Strandvik and thereby leads smoothly into “A Drifter’s Tale” with its final showcase of traditionalist, blues-crunched heavy rock.

There’s flourish of keys and percussion and some layering in the vocals, but Kamchatka aren’t a band who need a lot of fancy tricks to get their point across, and among Hoodoo Lightning‘s many positive attributes is the fact that while the sound is crisp and modern, it’s not overly so to the point of losing the natural dynamic of the group beneath. Bottom line is, it is a rock album and should be treated accordingly: by rocking it.

Couldn’t be more thrilled to host the premiere of “Rainbow Ridge” below for your streaming pleasure. Hope you like having it stuck in your head, because you’re going to.

Tour dates and more PR wire background on Hoodoo Lightning follow.

Please enjoy:

Hoodoo Lightning, the 7th full length album by long running Swedish three-piece Kamchatka is due for release Nov 29 2019. 10 brand spanking new slabs of relentless blues infused riffage, soulful hooks and wild playing. Mixed and mastered by Black Lounge Studios head honcho Jonas Kjellgren in Sweden.

One step back but two steps forward might be an appropriate way of describing Hoodoo Lightning as all the signature ingredients we’ve come to know are there. The guitar wizardry and heartfelt vocals from Thomas Juneor Andersson as well as the rock solid swinging rhythm section of Tobias Strandvik & Per Wiberg are present as always and guides the listener through all the rock and roll twists and turns imaginable.

But, sonically it’s a grittier Kamchatka we hear this time and it’s evident that there’s a new level of energy shining through Hoodoo Lightning, a more confident take-no-prisoners kind of attitude and closer to the uncompromising experience of seeing the band live. Also introducing the shared lead vocals from Thomas & Per on many of the tracks gives the power trio format an extra punch and a wider dynamic range as well. Combined with the classy as ever songwriting and vigorous performances it’s the sound of a band who knows what they want and what they’re good at!

Produced by Kamchatka & Jonas Kjellgren
Mixed & mastered by Jonas Kjellgren at Black Lounge Studios
Recorded by Tobias Strandvik at Kamchatka Shelter

Hoodoo Lightning strikes!

Kamchatka supporting Clutch/Graveyard December 2019
*only Kamchatka
29.11 SE Borlänge, House Of Blues*
30.11 SE Varberg, Oscars*
02.12 DE Wiesbaden, Schlachthof
03.12 DE Oberhausen, Turbinenhalle
05.12 DE Bremen, Aladin
06.12 DE Nürnberg, Löwensaal
07.12 FR Strasbourg, La Laitere
08.12 FR Lyon, Le Transbordeur
10.12 ES Barcelona, Sala Apolo
11.12 ES Madrid, Sala But
12.12 ES Ourense, Café Cultural Auriense*
13.12 ES Madrid, Sala But Extra show on sale now!
14.12 ES Bilbao, Santana
15.12 FR Bordeaux, Le Rocher de Palmer
17.12 UK Southampton, O2 Guildhall
18.12 UK London, Roundhouse
19.12 UK Leeds, O2 Academy
20.12 UK Nottingham, Rock City
22.12 NL Arnhem, Luxor Live*

Kamchatka is:
Thomas Juneor Andersson – Vocals, Guitars & percussion
Tobias Strandvik – Drums & Percussion
Per Wiberg – Vocals, Bass & Keys

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Lemurian Folk Songs, Ima: Pyramid Dreams of Triacontagon

Posted in Reviews on November 7th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Lemurian Folk Songs Ima

Sonic escapism can take any number of shapes or any number of non-shapes, and Lemurian Folk Songs do likewise. The first thing one hears on the nine-minute opener “Highself Roadhouse” is a chant-like vocal from singer/keyboardist Benus Krisztina that’s just two words: “Eternal circle.” Amid echo and reverb spaciousness comes a tonal warmth that extends from Ambrus Bence‘s guitar and newcomer Nemesházi Attila‘s bass to Baumgartner István‘s snare drums, adding to a fluid mix of fuzz and psychedelic vibing that becomes the running theme throughout the four-song/38-minute long-player, Ima. The title of the album is properly written with a kind of pyramid symbol next to the word (I can never get those things to show up in text; this site runs on a very old framework), but it would seem to tie into the pyramid-minded artwork, conjuring visions of ancient astronaut weirdness and all sorts of amalgamated who-knows-what.

And fair enough, since the Para Hobo Records-released album operates in a not completely dissimilar manner, with each song finding its own way around that central warmth as the Budapest-based four-piece steer its direction through airy post-whatnot or psychedelic boogie in second track “Füst,” indeed a bit of folk serenity in the penultimate “Pillanat,” and, on the 15:42 closer “Melusina III,” a deluxe, nod-ready fuzzed-out jam that resolves itself in a wash of noise and residual effects, seeming to leave nothing behind as the guitar line drifts out and leaves the bass and drums to hold out the central rhythm until that too dissipates, leaving just the lasers-in-space of guitar, which also fades out over the final minute-plus. That’s an as-reasonable-as-anything ending for a record like Ima — which is the band’s second behind 2017’s Maro and their 2016 debut EP, Nommo, from before Krisztina joined — but of course the focus such as it is is much more centered around the journey to get there rather than what happens at the end. That’s the nature of an offering such as this, but it’s a form in which Lemurian Folk Songs thrive, finding a home for themselves among a host of otherworldly sensibilities.

They would seem to be aware of such a trajectory, as well. Even the band’s moniker refers to some vision of a lost world, with Lemuria having been a once-postulated sunken continent that united India, Madagascar and Australia via what’s now the Indian Ocean. Obviously it would’ve been a sizable continent, but it was theorized because of similarities primate fossils in those places — thus Lemuria from “lemur.” Some Tamil writers adopted Lemuria as an interpretation of their own legendary sunken continent, Kumari Kandam (thanks Wikipedia), and others have taken on the idea of a lost civilization and so on. Lemurian Folk Songs, then, would be what these mythical people in this forgotten culture sang, whoever and whenever they were. So it is that the ethereal is manifest throughout Ima, and though the moniker is more a framework than a conceptual lens — that is, I don’t think they’re actually trying to write a lost culture’s folk music so much as they’re trying to write quality heavy psychedelia; a goal they achieve and then some, by the way — the feeling of being in another place is nonetheless crucial to the affect of the material.

Lemurian Folk Songs (Photo by Robert Kranitz)

From those initial chants, “Highself Roadhouse” sets itself out across a sonic sprawl that’s immersive and rife with intertwining energies, hypnotic in its repetitions but with enough change throughout to stave off being redundant. The trajectory is outward, but “Highself Roadhouse” is less about space than spirit, and as one can’t see a song title containing the word “roadhouse” without thinking of The Doors, it’s worth noting that Krisztina does work a bit of Jim Morrison swagger into her cadence on the opener. That’s all the more fitting as Ima shifts gears into “Füst,” which is faster and more physical in its movement, Bence showcasing choice lead work as Attila‘s bass tone continues to be a highlight unto itself. I am an eternal sucker for righteous low-end warmth, but even so, the work done here in anchoring the proceedings in complementing István in the rhythm section as well as the Bence‘s guitar is the kind that only makes a good album or band that much better.

“Füst” smooths and chills out effectively over its 8:25 run, and that makes the transition into the shorter “Pillanat” that much more of a highlight unto itself. The line between “Highself Roadhouse” and “Füst” was drawn with a quiet guitar and silence before the boogie riff started, but with “Füst” and “Pillanat” it’s more direct, an echoing vocal ending the second track shortly before the third picks up with its soft and melodic line. And “Pillanat” may be the briefest cut on Ima at just over five minutes, but it’s a beautifully meditative moment that does much to enrich the record as a whole in vibe, mood and aesthetic, showcasing a patience and broader dynamic than Lemurian Folk Songs have yet shown while also acting as a setup for “Melusaina III,” the rolling fuzz of which hits immediately and in hell-yes fashion, with Bence wasting no time in establishing the central riff as effects come to swirl around it, the drums take a laid back push and the bass, as ever, thickens the proceedings engagingly, given further dimension to the space the tones occupy.

It’s also Attila‘s bass that holds to the central figure as Bence‘s guitar goes wandering in the closer’s midsection, eventually working its way back to the roll and out again as Krisztina‘s keys fill out the melody. From there, there’s just about no coming back and Lemurian Folk Songs know it. But “coming back” was seemingly never in the plans anyway, and their already-noted departure-via-noise gives a last-minute flourish of experimentalism that comes across as underscoring the live feel of the performances preceding. I don’t know if they recorded live or not, but there’s a vitality to the work throughout Ima that very much suits Lemurian Folk Songs, and with the range of their songcraft and the meld of spontaneity and structure they bring to the offering, the converted among heavy psych heads should be well on board for the voyage as they present it. A sleeper, maybe, but not to be missed, with each track doing something to enhance the entirety in such a way as to make it all the more resonant by the time it’s done.

Lemurian Folk Songs, Ima (2019)

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Review & Track Premiere: Brume, Rabbits

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on November 6th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

brume rabbits

[Click play above to stream ‘Scurry’ by Brume. Rabbits is out Nov. 22 on Magnetic Eye Records.]

There are few if any moments in the lifespan of a band more exciting than when the potential they’ve shown early on comes to its moment of realization, and that is precisely where Rabbits finds San Francisco three-piece Brume. The five-track/43-minute label debut for Magnetic Eye Records follows their earlier-2019 split with Witch Ripper (review here) and answers the call put out by their 2017 full-length debut, Rooster (review here), as well as the 2015 12″ EP, Donkey (discussed here). It reaches toward new levels of atmospheric accomplishment, taking lessons from SubRosa on the quiet unfolding of opener “Despondence,” Uzala on the piano-and-string-laden centerpiece “Blue Jay,” mid-period Kylesa in the duet vocals of the penultimate “Lament” and Neurosis‘ landmark “Stones From the Sky” in the ending of closer “Autocrat’s Fool” without ever losing its sense of self. The three-piece of vocalist/bassist Susie McMullan, guitarist/vocalist Jamie McCathie and drummer Jordan Perkins-Lewis recorded with Billy Anderson (Acid KingSleepNeurosis, so many others), and their mission seems to have been to capture a sound somewhere between consciousness and a dream-state, to find that place that is aware enough to understand that it is not awake but still doesn’t completely wake up. I’m tempted to call it lucid dreaming, if only for how in control Brume seem to be of their approach within this ambient sprawl, but that shouldn’t be taken as saying that what they’re doing comes across as some kind of sham, because it doesn’t. Rather, whatever familiar aspects one might stumble upon in the nuance of Rabbits or in a given riff, the primary impression the trio make is individualized and clearly only growing more so.

Of course, this is an ideal, but as one listens to McMullan‘s commanding voice in the YOBby melodic triumph of the chorus to second cut “Scurry” with McCathie in a backing role only to come to prominence himself in a quieter post-solo midsection, Rabbits makes a clear argument for the difference between internalizing an influence and acting off it and simply aping the work of others. They do the former, if I haven’t made that plain, following a linear path across two pairs of longer tracks split by the shorter “Blue Jay,” that only grows more hypnotic as it progresses from one section to the other. This too is a classic notion, that a full-length should unfurl itself like a journey and become more immersive as it takes its outward course from song to song, but saying that does little to convey the work that “Despondence” and “Scurry” — and I suppose “Blue Jay” as well — do in setting up the complementary trance-induction that comes with “Lament” and “Autocrat’s Fool.” And it’s not a radical change in running time, either. The first two cuts are a little over eight minutes apiece and the final two are just under 11 and 10, respectively. It’s not like they’re going from three-minute songs to 20-minute songs. But there’s a definite shift that takes place from one movement to the other nonetheless. It may just be a question of the patience and tempo of delivery, but it makes the overarching progression of Rabbits all the more engaging.

brume

That setup begins with the sparse guitar that opens “Despondence,” a soothing melancholy drift greeted by ethereal echoes as a bed for McMullan‘s voice, and it’s not until after three minutes in that the heavier push kicks in with drums, bass and a burst of volume that then plays through a series of back-and-forths, resolving itself in a weighted melodic wash as the vocals move to the front of the mix heading into the chorus at the song’s midpoint. This progression is fluid in itself and in the whole-LP groove it sets forth, and the effect that quiet beginning has is ongoing, both as a showcase of Brume‘s dynamic sound and as a direct lead-in for the rolling “Scurry,” which gets underway with more immediacy but still keeps some sense of the ambience of its predecessor as it does so, its hook more prevalent and a highlight of the album and the band’s career to-date. Specifically it seems to take influence from YOB‘s “Marrow,” but the sweep of McMullan‘s singing and McCathie‘s guitar is more than enough to pull that off in style and substance alike, and the emotion behind it feels nothing if not sincere. With McCathie‘s backing vocals positioned deeper in the mix, there’s all the more a sense of breadth to what’s still a prevalent forward push thanks to Perkins-Lewis‘ drumming, building through the verses only to open wider during the two choruses before guitar, bass and drums drop out to what would seem to be piano/keyboard with McCathie‘s voice in standalone fashion for a moment before the soaring lead takes hold en route to a more direct McMullan/McCathie duet that is a suitable payoff and then some.

With “Blue Jay” as the key moment of transition, there’s the threat that its own substance might be lost in the proceedings, especially as it’s shorter at just 5:46, but the arrangement takes care of that handily. It is, instead, another high point for Brume and, one hopes, something they continue to build on as they go forward from here — one could easily say the same of Rabbits as a whole. “Lament,” by contrast as the longest track, echoes the beginning of “Despondence” but is less stark in its own turns of volume and instead holds its swaying motion for seven of its 11 minutes before its full heft takes shape, again around a well-wielded vocal duet. If this is the direction Brume intend to follow, it is only to the fortune of anyone who might do likewise and will only see their personality as a band come further forward. The closing statement of “Autocrat’s Fool” plays severity off ambience off harmonies on the way to what seems to be a quiet finish until the aforementioned “Stones From the Sky” moment — all the more interesting since I wouldn’t necessarily call Brume post-metal, which is where one usually finds such things — kicks in to cap off, indeed cutting itself short mid-measure at the end. It’s a moment that underscores the message of the album as an entire work in that it sees Brume recast a familiar element or stylistic aspect toward their own purposes. Make no mistake, whatever Brume have done or will do, this is a special moment for this band. It sets up some lofty expectations for their next outing, to be sure, but most importantly, it establishes them as more than up to the challenge of creative evolution and expression.

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