Roadburn 2024: Notes From Day One

Posted in Features, Reviews on April 19th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

Roadburn welcomes you.

Before 2PM writing start. Check-in at the 013, easy, the ideal. Head up to the office, coffee, a bit of sitting around, loosely productive chatting. Some quick writing that hopefully turned out to be complete sentences. Nice to feel helpful.

Merch opened at noon. I arrived at Koepelhal about 20 minutes after and it was crammed as expected. Inching forward and imagining the shirts selling out, more urgent in my head than in real life, to be sure. I don’t even know how many lines — more of a congregation. Label stalls over there, band merch, etc. Soundcheck wubbing through from wherever. Come on, man. Live a little.

Back to the hotel after to drop off purchases — tote and hoodie for The Patient Mrs. acquired as requested, along with a tshirt for myself —Roadburn merch and charge the phone for a few minutes, then up to Koepelhal again in time for The Terminal stage to open. The sign above, “Roadburn welcomes you,” outside as you walk up to the building. Trying to breathe that in slowly.

I haven’t decided yet how I’m going to format the next few days of writing. Might just make words? Crazy thought, I know. The festival starts in about 15 minutes and I can feel it in my nervous blood. Slow down the brain, remember where you are. This used to be easier. Was never as easy as the check-in this morning. I’ll get the camera out in a bit. Fidget fidget. Are the batteries in of course the batteries are in. That kind of thing.

Lights come down, room fills up. The space is set up differently than last time I was here. I like that as a running theme. For what it’s worth — and in my estimation, that’s just about everything — I do feel welcome, and have since the moment I ran into Walter yesterday n the hotel lobby and ended up sitting down to the end of breakfast. I like that as a running theme as well.

Okay, Roadburn. Let’s see how this goes.

Hexvessel are a quintessential Roadburn band in my mind, and yes that’s a compliment. They were doing last year’s black-metal-adjacent Polar Veil (review here) in full, and thinking about past times I’ve seen them here, it brings to mind how broad their scope has been but how each whim they follow is wrapped around an organic core of craft whether it’s woods-worship folk mourning, dark post-punk, psych-pop experimentalism or the blend of melody and char of this latest work. The fact that you don’t know what’s coming next until it’s happened, and Hexvessel 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)the way they bring everything they do into their sphere rather than playing to style — whatever style — makes them a fitting lead-in for who knows what the next few days will bring. I watched the whole set.

Sunrise Patriot Motion were going on 10 minutes later in the Engine Room, which is right next door to the Terminal, so I sauntered over, casual-like, to check out an act I knew nothing about but had heard were cool. Not quite as sad as Crippled Black Phoenix, but a not-dissimilar feel in their post-everything-but-not-too-cool-for-their-owm-songs approach, the keyboard probably more prominent for where I was standing and the vocals blown out to add some rawness to the gothy vibe. I don’t know where they’re from but their music is English as fuck. Beacon, New York. The lineup is half of Yellow Eyes, I’m told. Fair enough. Knowing the actual geography, I couldn’t help but hear some Type O in their slower parts, but I admit that’s more in my head than in their sound.

Some quickly fixed technical hiccup and they were back at it with little actual momentum disruption. Apparently it was their first show ever. Hope the second one lives up. They finished 37 minutes into a 40-minute slot and with a half-hour before Body Void back over in The Terminal — which is the bigger of the two connected Koepelhal spaces — I sat in back and purposefully let myself be in no rush to anywhere. Someone offered me beer as they were walking by — I guess I happened to be in the path of their generosity — but I don’t drink, so politely declined. When I was just about the last one in the Engine Room who wasn’t breaking down the stage, I decided to go find some water. I don’t know if it’ll last, but I like my low key approach so far. In my head, I’m calling it Freeburn as of like 30 seconds ago.Sunrise Patriot Motion (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Emphasis on ‘burn’ there as regards Body Void, who in performing their Atrocity Machine LP in full set alight grind and caustic sludge for a feedback and noise-drenched onslaught of extreme, churning disaffection. Harsh harsh harsh, but, you know, they’re probably super-nice people. I didn’t get mean vibes certainly as their bassist took a couple selfies during one of the breaks in the songs. Laced with synth for further noise drench, thudding with a pulse you could feel in the side of your head, and with screams cutting through to offer no comfort whatsoever, they were brutally life-affirming, a wave of self-declarative volume, music wielded as expression of self coincidental to self-expression. To call it inviting would be to undercut just how far they were pushing limits, so I’ll say that there was room for everybody in that slaughterhouse of sound.

A quick stop to see Andreas Kohl at his Exile on Mainstream both, big hugs, then walked back behind the warded off doings of the Koepelhal, took a cup from an errant pot of coffee, heard something like somebody sawing through metal — no competition for Body Void — and ended up by the art show space and re-met Maarten Donders, bought a couple prints from Vince “Cavum” Trommel, who had an 1860s printing press ready for a workshop tomorrow. Outside briefly and over to Hall of Fame for the start of Seán Mulrooney, 5:10PM in a deceptively quick passage of time for the day. People, places, music. Vibe is on. It’s one to the next, but the resonance of Mulrooney intoning “Slow down, do what you want” from Tau and the Drones of Praise’s “The Sixth Sun” might just be the key to my time here. I know enough now to know this might not come again. I never took Roadburn for granted, but I’ve missed it more than I understood, and maybe more than I wanted to understand.

I damn near wept as Mulrooney — who’s the type Body Void (Photo by JJ Koczan)of hippie folk troubadour that just might make a chorus out of the single word “osmosis” — brought out “Seanóirí Naofa” and “Ceol ón Chré,” fronting a four-piece solo-band built up around the initial duo of himself switching between guitar and piano with a stompbox for percussion along with standup bass. He’d get get to electric guitar in his time, but it was a quiet start that grew more outwardly vibrant, as he said it would. But while he wasn’t onstage alone by any means, it was his first solo show performed under his own name, and I sincerely doubt it will be the last. The crowd knew the Tau stuff, as they would given that the band played here, did the Roadburn Redux thing that non-year, etc., but if it seems like a stark contrast going from Body Void to Seán Mulrooney, he was no less a realization than they were, just working from a different point of view. Maybe I don’t have to tell you that.

Was hit by the old you-need-to-go-write itch as I stood there on front of the Hall of Fame stage, and I almost heeded it, but stopped myself before actually leaving my spot. That’s not how we’re doing Freeburn. Me and that bird that pecks at my compulsive brain with its gotta-remove-myself-from-a-thing-before-I-actually-start-enjoying-it beak go back a long way, but I’m glad it’s a habit I’m trying to break. If I only succeed in doing so one time this weekend, I’m glad it was for Mulrooney’s set, but his was the third full set of the day I saw, and that’s more than I’ve done in entire years at Roadburn.

A few more hellos en route to the fourth, which was Inter Arma back at The Terminator — that’s an autocorrect typo, but I’m leaving it because Inter Arma are nothing if not cybernetic organisms from the future sent to undo history by killing us all — as they presented their yet-unreleased New Heaven LP, which is out next week on Relapse. I’ve heard the record, in all its sweltering progressive death metal dissonance and encompassing crush, but they are aSean Mulrooney (Photo by JJ Koczan) particular beast live and I’ve put off really digging in until I saw it in-person. They should be playing art galleries, and not just for the theremin, but close enough at Koepelhal.

Every now and then they still lock in a doom groove, but they’ve been in obvious pursuit of their own thing as they’ve grown darker, more vicious and experimental in terms of their willingness to fuck around stylistically. Their last record was 2019’s Sulphur English (review here), and between you and me, I thought that was as far as they could go, but I’d sat down along the wall to write and stood back up when the harmonized leads and cleaner vocals — later on, they’d get Nick Cavey with voice and piano — started. So is New Heaven it? Maybe. Hell if I know, but I can’t think of anyone else who does what they do better, in, out or around progressive death metal, though I acknowledge I’m no expert. At the very least, it’s a new mark on their forward path, another reach into the threatening, staring-back void, and definitely enough to flatten an audience in the Netherlands most of whom haven’t heard it yet, so take it as you will.

I ate before the day started, finishing off the last of a half-pint of home-ground almond and pecan butter I brought with me, but hydrating had been trickier. I ran into Dennis and Jevin from Temple Fang, as well as Rolf from Stickman Records, saw Désirée from Lay Bare and chatted briefly, said hi to Jurgen from Burning World, hugged Amy Johnson, all of whom are very kind, nice people I’m glad to know. It had been posted on social media as well, but the Temple Fang guys let me know that Heath were doing a secret show at the skate park at 9:40, and my night got immediately more complex. They were on their way here or there, to piss first, I believe, so I hung back and by 8PM I could feel myself needing water if not more calorically complex sustenance. The line at the bar in the Engine Room meant it would have to wait until after I got whatever photos of White Ward I could and their set was properly underway. The Ukrainian black metallers have been four years in the making for Roadburn between the plague and the Russian invasion, and I didn’t want to miss it. I took my pictures, got two waters from the bar — however much they cost it was worth it — and was in much better spirits after for the scathing black metal catharsis that ensued, like tearing off your flesh to let your soul go. All that tension and release. Next time they’re here, and I have to imagine there will be one, they’ll probably play the main stage.

They took the stage as a four-piece and mentioned it was because one of their members had joined the military. I don’t know if that was voluntary or conscription, but it brought the ongoing conflict in and for White Ward’s home country into the room — it was there anyway — and showed it’s real for them in a way war never has been for me as an American.Inter Arma (Photo by JJ Koczan) War is a thing that happens elsewhere, exclusively, though there’s never a lack of random violence, whether repressive in nature or the woefully normalized mass shootings. In any case, despite being down a member, White Ward shredded the Engine Room into little tiny pieces with glorious intensity that extended even to the sampled sax over some of the songs, the piano, spoken sampling and such and sundry added to their core fury. Once again, I watched the full fucking set. I hope I do this all weekend.

It wasn’t an easy decision, but my heart said that going to see Heath at the skate park was a probably-once-in-a-lifetime chance and that even though I’d miss Chelsea Wolfe to do it — Roadburn means hard choices — I’d already had my one-per with Chelsea Wolfe, albeit brief, watching her and the band rehearse the night before in a group of five people in a room that holds well over a thousand, all that empty space filled with sound. So when White Ward finished, I made a right turn out of Koepelhal to get to the Hall of Fame, and from there, asked a helpful security guy where to go. Sure enough, the skatepark was closed but the doors had ‘there’s something secret happening here’ printed on them. A small group of people had gathered, and a couple minutes later we were let inside.

White Ward (Photo by JJ Koczan)Secret shows have become a Roadburn tradition, like commissioned pieces, the side programme, full-album sets. It’s part of the thing. There were three tonight, between Backxwash on the main stage at the 013 — a big deal — and Heath and Ontaard at the skate park. Like everything, there are arguments for and against the notion, but they add a chance for intimacy at an event where every room you stand in is most likely to be slammed with people, so I’ll take it when I can get it. And bonus, Heath were a hoot.

Some shuffle here, some grassy, pastoral psychedelia there, and a lot of classic prog rhythms topped off with in-on-the-jams harmonica from their frontman, who can both sing and keep up with the twisting riffs throughout their songs. Their debut album, Isaak’s Marble, is out next month. I’ll be interested to see how it’s received, but the songs, energy and spirit are there, and they looked like they were having fun playing the material live, whether it was breaking out the mallets for the drums, putting effects on the harmonica for the psych parts, trading solos between the two guitars or the builds and runs on bass. Fiery at their most upbeat, trance-inducing in their atmospheric stretches; I found myself recognizing parts from the record, which was even more encouraging, and digging the fact that they had more going for them as regards character than being young. Potential for growth and more than a little boogie to boot. There weren’t 100 people in the room, and I was very, very glad to be one of them.

They’re a band to tell your friends about,Heath (Photo by JJ Koczan) so here’s me telling you about them. None of the singles on their Bandcamp are on the album, which is on Suburban Records, but the title-track is on YouTube here. Happy travels.

I could’ve kept going after they finished — say it with me now: “I watched the whole set” — but it would’ve been an uphill push and that’s not the Freeburn way. I got back to the hotel a bit before 11, a little over 12 hours from when I left in the morning. Roadburn day one was a reminder of how special this time is to me, and I’m thankful to be here to be reminded. Thank you for reading. Sorry for the writing-on-my-phone typos.

More photos after the jump.

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Album Review: Heavy Temple, Garden of Heathens

Posted in Reviews on April 11th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

Heavy Temple Garden of Heathens

Absolute ripper. You wouldn’t have called Heavy Temple timid as a band on their 2021 debut, Lupi Amoris (review here), but Garden of Heathens is confident in its stride from the first clarion riff in leadoff “Extreme Indifference to Life” and throw-elbows brash through the head-spinning, double-kick-propelled instrumental thrash finish in “Psychomanteum”; less about playing to style than doing what feels right in the songs, dynamic, heavy, and charged. Now more than a decade on from their start, the Philadelphia trio led by bassist/vocalist High Priestess Nighthawk with Baron Lycan on drums and, here, Lord Paisley making his final appearance on guitar — Christian Lopez (also Sun Voyager) has stepped into the role — present a clear vision of who they are across eight songs and 45 minutes brimming with attitude, righteous intent, groove and swagger as they bounce back and forth between longer and shorter cuts, building momentum fast and never quite letting it go even in the later reaches of the near-nine-minute “Snake Oil (And Other Remedies)” with its abundant layers of shred, emphatic physical push and willfully noisy apex.

Maybe you’ve seen them on stage in the last couple years. Maybe you haven’t. Either way, that’s the likely origin point of the urgency they offer to underpin whatever a given piece might be doing, as with “Hiraeth” following the declarative hook and roll (actually there’s some double-kick there too, and elsewhere; don’t be scared) of the opener with an internalized worship that brings together Queens of the Stone Age and Slayer, or the tension wrought in the three minutes comprising the ambient, hypnotic “In the Garden of Heathens,” marked by cymbal wash and guest cello from John Forrestal, who also produced at The Animal Farm in the idyllic countryside of Flemington, New Jersey. That semi-title-track is the only real comedown provided, and the breather is all the more appreciated in complementing “Snake Oil (And Other Remedies)” as the band make ready to topple the gatekept walls of metal in the penultimate “Jesus Wept,” hitting hard with a heroic dose of lead guitar and a scorch that by that point in Garden of Heathens has already left no shortage of blisters.

But if ‘over the top’ is where it’s at — and no, you’re not wrong if you’re picturing Sylvester Stallone arm wrestling in the 1987 movie of the same name — then Heavy Temple are at home in the excess, and what most brings the material on Garden of Heathens together is the fuckall fury and tightness of their execution. The proverbial band on fire, as demonstrated through the seven minutes of “Divine Indiscretion” as it courses fluidly through a twisting verse and a chorus that only grows more melodic with the additional vocal layer the second time through. Nighthawk‘s increased command-of-instrument as a singer is given due punctuation by the stomping, headbang-worthy riff and solo from Paisley that follow said verse/chorus as they gallop into the song’s midsection, toy with a flash of ’70s Motörheadular shuffle and stop to give the crowd — whatever, wherever, whoever — a chance to shout back in response before the noise wash circa 4:30 brings it to a standalone, maybe-part-improv Hendrix meander backed by a layer of effects that soon enough rises to earth-consuming proportion before the shred goes full-Iommi and they turn back to the central riff for a fast, loud, big, big, big crash to end.

Heavy Temple photo by Crystal Engel Mama Moon

Movement, a heavy immediacy in the songwriting, has been wheelhouse for Heavy Temple since their 2014 self-titled EP (review here) and has carried them through multiple lineup changes, but with Garden of Heathens, they are sharper and more focused than they’ve yet been on record. While the strut is still there in “Hiraeth” and the not-actually-slow-but-still-a-nod “House of Warship,” some of the funk that rested beneath the fuzzy surface of their earlier work has been traded out in favor of more direct intensity. Given the unenviable positioning between “Divine Indiscretion” and “Snake Oil (And Other Remedies),” “House of Warship” announces itself with a standalone harmonized vocal sweep joined shortly by creeper guitar, and gets bombastic as Lycan‘s drums give pulse to the dug-in riff, while Nighthawk gets theatrical in the multi-layered hook and pushes to higher notes in the song’s consuming midsection. Ready to noiseblast at a moment’s notice, they make “House of Warship” a highlight, touching on doom and toying with goth and metal in ways that make the careful balances in their approach sound as organic as they likely are. To me, it most sounds like Heavy Temple stepping forward creatively and bending genre to their increasingly individualized purposes.

Because it’s loud regardless of actual volume, because it varies tempos, departs and returns, shoves, swings, bobs and weaves, and ultimately because it has so much energy behind its delivery, Garden of Heathens reveals more of its complexities on repeat listens, whether that’s the okay-here-we-go transition into the shredding finish of “Extreme Indifference to Life” or the High on Fire-informed push in “Jesus Wept.” The finer details are worth it, to put it mildly, as is the raw force with which the tracks land, each contributing something of its own to the broadened scope of the entirety. That they choose to end with “Psychomanteum,” the fastest and most brazen attack, teasing a slowdown but finishing with a suitable defiance of expectation both in style and lack of vocals, sends the message (expedited) that Heavy Temple aren’t done. It may or may not hint at future dives into thrash and other more aggressive styles to be melded with their weighted tones, but at a certain point it’s moot to speculate since, aside from whatever progression or whims may manifest, their next release will invariably present some shift in dynamic as a result of the personnel change.

That too is part of the story of Heavy Temple and Garden of Heathens, but the bloodlust in these songs isn’t out of the blue, and one can only hope remains as much a piece of who they will become as it is of who they are today. Few and far between on this wretched earth are bands who can inhabit both the wrecking ball and the afterparty dancing atop the rubble. Now mosh, ye pagans.

Heavy Temple, Garden of Heathens (2024)

Heavy Temple on Facebook

Heavy Temple on Instagram

Heavy Temple on Bandcamp

Magnetic Eye Records store

Magnetic Eye Records website

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Review & Full Album Premiere: Bottenhavet, Ljud i Tysta Rum

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on April 10th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

Bottenhavet Ljud i tysta rum

Stockholm’s Bottenhavet make their full-length debut this week with Ljud i Tysta Rum on Fuzzorama Records. And yes, it’s in Swedish; titles and lyrics. I’ll spare you Anglicizing the songs or words — part out of respect to what feels like an aesthetic choice on the part of the four-piece, part just because there’s only so much room to go around and I’d rather talk about the music — and the truth of the matter is that while I don’t doubt the band have something to say, there’s plenty that gets posted around here in English that’s even less decipherable. If you find yourself wanting to sing along, swept up perhaps by opening cut “Våg” as it moves into its soaring chorus driven by a duly-fuzzed surge from Andreas Bohman‘s guitar, David Lecander‘s bass and Marcus Wigren‘s drums with the vocals of Kim Minkkinen, especially to my fellow Americans reading this sentence, I’ll just remind you that nobody’s gonna yell at you if you get the accent wrong in following the melody. We’re all friends here.

Its eight songs split in half such that the cyclical hum of interlude “Frågor Utan Svar” feeds into the start of “Jord” on side B — obviously in CD/DL, that’s a direct shift — Ljud i Tysta Rum (‘sound in quiet rooms’) plays out its 36 minutes with hook-minded accessibility, hitting hard at the outset with the aforementioned “Våg” to make sure all who are getting on board have good reason, before letting a more spacious verse hint at some of the progressive aspects that underscore “Bränn Broar” or the piano-inclusive “I Skuggan” in the shimmering, patient solo that matches the soulful vocal atop its post-Soundgarden nodding fluidity, and the twisting stylizations of guitar leading through vibrant closer “Hennes Liv.” To complement this emergent nuance, the big-riff ideology of “Talar Miljon,” the space cast in “Motorväg” to follow that of “Våg,” and even the drop to strum and vocals at the culmination of “Jord” — just talking about the last 20 seconds of the song, never mind what’s before that — offer character and craft alike, resulting in anBottenhavet across-album flow that is neither hurried nor content to dwell in one place in terms of sound.

These elements seem to have been there at the band’s beginnings in 2021’s Ett Hav av Tå​rar EP, which was answered over the next year by a trio of standalone singles, but Ljud i Tysta Rum is clear in its intention to continue to move forward along its varied course. What draws the individual pieces that comprise the record together are the tones, the vocals and the commitment to traditional heavy rock verse/chorus structures — “Frågor Utan Svar” notwithstanding — that make “Våg,” “Talar Miljon” and “Bränn Broar” with its furiously-drummed intro such an effective opening salvo. And while the dynamic at root in Bottenhavet‘s sound lets them explore the reaches and breadth in the payoff of the latter there before side A ends with its guitar almost solely focused on atmosphere is surely bolstered through the production of Robert Pehrsson, the immediacy of those initial moments never dissipates, even as the melancholic blues of “I Skugget” set out on their linear building course soon followed by . That is to say, in the foundations of the songs, Bottenhavet capture and maintain a live energy and momentum front-to-back, and the audience’s listening experience feels like a consideration in that balance.

And balance is a big part of by Ljud i Tysta Rum works so well and holds such promise. Regardless of the language barrier, it is thoroughly Swedish in style, and whether it’s a flash of Skraeckoedlan‘s melodiousness or Truckfighters‘ shove, Graveyard‘s soul or a Dozerian charge — and don’t make me namedrop November for classic prog; I’m just crazy enough to do it — a rich history and tapestry of Bottenhavet‘s native underground influences can be felt throughout, even as the band begin to distill them into the persona that they will hopefully carry ahead on subsequent offerings. To present thrills and optimistic futures, then. Skål.

Ljud i Tysta Rum streams in its entirety below. Bottenhavet have dates coming up in Sweden, Poland and Finland, and you’ll find those along with more PR wire background and the video for “Våg” after the YouTube embed.

Happy trails:

Bottenhavet, Ljud i Tysta Rum album premiere

Preorder link: https://www.fuzzoramastore.com/

Bottenhavet (translates to ’The Bothnian Sea’) was originally formed in 2020 by Marcus Wigren, Kim Minkkinen and Charlie Karlsson (2020-2023), and later joined by Andreas Bohman (2021). All being musicians with various musical backgrounds adding their skills and preferences to the mix that together creates the ”Bothnian sound”. To add another layer of uniqueness to the music, the songs are sung in their native language, Swedish. After gaining a steadily increasing following with their initial four track EP release “Ett hav av tårar” (released March 19th 2021) as well as follow up singles “När tiden dör”, “Faller” (released summer and autumn of 2021) and “Allt på svart” (released spring of 2022), the band knew it was about time to start working on their debut album.

The writing process started late 2022. And in mid April 2023 Bottenhavet entered Studio Humbucker, owned and run by the legendary Robert Pehrsson (known from Robert Pehrsson Humbucker, Death breath, Dundertåget, Imperial state electric etc), to record drums. Vocals and guitars were recorded by the band themselves before Pehrsson later mixed and mastered the album. In the summer of 2023 Bottenhavet signed a record deal with Fuzzorama Records, run by none less than the masterminds behind fuzz rock giants Truckfighters, Oskar Cedermalm and Niklas Källgren. The album ‘Ljud i tysta rum’ is to be released on Fuzzorama Records in early 2024.

In 2023 the band played the 4th edition of Fuzz Festival in Stockholm and David Lecander joined the band.

‘Ljud i tysta rum’ album tracklisting:
1. Våg
2. Talar miljon
3. Bränn Broar
4. Frågor Utan Svar
5. Jord
6. Motorväg
7. I Skuggan
8. Hennes Liv

Touring coming up as well, don’t miss out:

APR 13 – LATITUDE 59 – Uppsala, SWE
APR 18 – UTOPIA – Turku, FIN
APR 19 – TULLIKAMARI KLUBI – Tampere, FIN
MAY 4 – TBA – Stockholm, SWE
MAY 16 – 2PROGI – Poznan, PL
MAY 17 – PROXIMA – Warzawa, PL
MAY 24 – DIRTY DEEDS ROCK CLUB – Göteborg, SWE

Get tickets HERE: https://www.bottenhavet.se/gigs

Bottenhavet:
Kim Minkkinen – Vocals
Marcus Wigren – Drums
Andreas Bohman – Guitar
David Lecander – Bass

Bottenhavet, “Våg” official video

Bottenhavet on Facebook

Bottenhavet on Instagram

Bottenhavet on YouTube

Bottenhavet on Bandcamp

Bottenhavet website

Fuzzorama Records website

Fuzzorama Records on Facebook

Fuzzorama Records on Instagram

Fuzzorama Records on Bandcamp

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Zolfo Premiere “Apoptosis”; Descending Into Inexorable Absence Coming Soon

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on April 8th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

zolfo

Italian lurch-conjurers Zolfo return with their second album, Descending Into Inexorable Absence, on Zann’s RecordsViolence in the Veins and Riff Merchant Records. Comprised of six tracks running 58 doom-resounding minutes, it is the light-consuming follow-up to their 2020 debut, Delusion of Negation (review here), which set them forth on the course of malevolent extremity that the new album continues. The initially subdued take on post-“Black Sabbath” nod with the sax-laced intro “Last Layers” that provides entry into the dark, scream-topped churn that is foundational to the titular descent — and the sax gets a little jazz-active, but otherwise, the movement down is already grueling — and “Lament of the Light” seems to raise the level of impact as each of its crashes and thuds slams down, a correspondingly huge death growl providing decisively inhuman presence.

In the midsection of “Lament of the Light,” the five-piece — first names only: Dave on vocals, Fabrizio (also sax) and Nicolò on guitar, Saverio on bass and Piero on drums — preface some of the speed they’ll inject periodically throughout, whether it’s the early rush of “Apoptosis” (premiering below), the title of which references a withering and death of a body’s cells, or the wall o’ punishment that the subsequent 18-minute closer “Silence of the Absolute Absence” becomes around 10 minutes in. You know, before the guitar hints at psych and drops out to leave the listener momentarily to their fate with bass and drums before shifting into a more post-metallic procession. Extremity is the thread that draws Descending Into Inexorable Absence together, though, and that resonates even in the spaces of “No Home for an Eternal Wayfarer” purposefully left open early on in the style of Bell Witch, an engrossing melancholy pushing toward caustic with the screams overlaid on its about-to-explode dirge. There is a beat’s pause right about at 7:35 into “No Home for an Eternal Wayfarer,” barely there, but there, and the build that ensues thereafter pushes into an absolute overwhelm of harsh, densely-toned chaos, wielded with a controlled hand but pointedly vicious. Have you ever been shoved off a cliff into a pit of metal spikes? Me neither, but if I was, I have to think the silence to which that track cuts at its end is how it would feel to be thusly impaled.

Active in its drums at the start, “Admire the Mire” almost teases respite in context. At Zolfo Descending into Inexorable Absencenine minutes long, its tempo finds a mid-paced groove in which to dwell, but even here the gnashing harshness of the vocals and the punishing brutality led by the guitars preside, and as it gets faster, it gets noisier, and the outright will to crush persists, certainly no less so with the big-doom slowdown around seven minutes in. Later in the reaches of “Silence of the Absolute Absence,” Dave‘s voice doesn’t so much give out, but echoes with the kind of high-register shout that results when your throat is done tearing itself apart for the next however long, and I don’t know over how long a period Descending Into Inexorable Absence was tracked, but I remember recording screaming takes, and if “Admire the Mire” and that finale were done the same day, or even just the latter piece on its own, I’d have no trouble believing genuine physical recovery was required afterward. That they chose to preserve that moment rather than dub it over is admirably organic, and gives “Silence of the Absolute Absence” a suitably desperate crescendo to its initial voidward cries and fuller death-doom plod.

Before they get there, “Apoptosis” bursts forth from the faded feedback of “Admire the Mire,” a count-in of one before the onslaught begins. While still nowhere near accessible in terms of broader stylistic geography, the effects-topped shouts that cut through in the first half are as close as Zolfo come to ‘clean’ vocals, but the screams and growls resume amid a pummel that tips the balance toward more death than doom, holding to the monolithic presence and tonality of its surroundings as its pushes itself down your throat, no doubt with some kind of cellular decay in mind. If by the time “Silence of the Absolute Absence” kicks in — and the only question is if it’s your life or all life that’s gone; could go either way — you don’t feel as though the chasm into which you’ve plunged was inside you all along, chances are you’ve already stopped listening and gone about your day as a probably-well-adjusted human being. Depressive aural misanthropy has never been for everyone, and Descending Into Inexorable Absence could hardly be called shy in its motives.

Nonetheless, if you’re up for it, “Apoptosis” premieres in the embed below, courtesy of the band. Some other preliminaries follow — recording credits, tracklisting, lineup; the necessities — and the music is the rest of what you need to know at this point, apart perhaps from an exact release date, which is to-be-announced. Don’t worry though, you’ll hear it coming in the distance when it’s time.

With best wishes:

Zolfo, “Apoptosis” track premiere

This spring we are going to release our new full-length album “Descending into Inexorable Absence”.

A polyphasic compound of 58 minutes, divided into a massive blend of doom/sludge intensity and layers of blackened and post-metal contamination, recorded at MOLOTOV recording by Andrea Lenoci, mixed and mastered at Skyhammer Studio by Chris Fielding and framed by Khaos Diktator Design.

The second chapter of our discography, will be released on double gatefold coloured vinyl by Zann’s Records and Violence In The Veins, and on a limited edition tape by Riff Merchant Records.

TRACKLIST:
1. Last Layers (2:55)
2. Lament of the Light (9:25)
3. No Home for an Eternal Wayfarer (11:19)
4. Admire the Mire (9:43)
5. Apoptosis (6:14)
6. Silence of the Absolute Absence (18:04)

Zolfo:
Dave – Vocals and Lyrics
Fabrizio – Guitars and Sax
Nicolò – Guitars
Saverio – Bass
Piero – Drums

Zolfo on Facebook

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Zolfo linktr.ee

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Violence in the Veins linktr.ee

Riff Merchant Records linktr.ee

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The Vulcan Itch Premiere “Wasted” Video; Rise of the Fallen Out Now

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Reviews on April 4th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

the vulcan itch

Athens-based heavy rockers The Vulcan Itch released their second full-length, Rise of the Fallen, this past Friday through The Lab Records, and there’s barely a second to spare in its 10-song/31-minute run. Sure, in the later reaches of side B’s “The Way” and “Chained Freedom” the trio might have a measure or two of flourish as part of their pointed, directed, plan-in-action execution, and closer/longest track “Drowning” dares to top four minutes, but particularly as “Wasted” (video premiering below) opens with such charge, the subsequent “Perfect Life” makes its sub-three minutes a showcase of perpendicular-feeling corners while unveiling the shoutier backing vocals from bassist and recording engineer Nikos “Lizard” Chalkousis that add a singalong kind of feel soon reinforced in the call-and-response payoff of “Addicted to the Dark” — the verse of which is the first time they really take their foot off the gas in terms of tempo, and even there they stay busy en route to the next chorus surge — the emphasis from Chalkousis, guitarist/lead vocalist Spy Das and drummer Erotokritos “Pepper” Kolaitis is on immediacy.

Their Spring 2020 self-titled debut hardly wanted for urgency in cuts like “Don’t Give a Fuck” or “Addiction,” and 2022’s Trapped in a Cage EP hit a similar degree of rush in “Find Yourself,” but on Rise of the Fallen — and yeah, the title is kinda generic; could you do better in Greek? — The Vulcan Itch have made an obvious effort to strip away anything that could be considered ‘excess’ during the writing process, and as such, “Now or Never,” the side B leadoff “Liars and Betrayers” that both hints at the sociopolitical lyric of “Chained Freedom” and has a bit of Don Henley in the lead guitar, and the already-noted one-two punch that starts the record come across as both worked on and an energetic rush. Das‘ vocals lean almost into pop-punk in “Wasted” and “Now or Never,” etc., but while thrust is such an overarching factor, they’re not at all monolithic in sound or arrangement as “Is it Happening” changes up the melody to evoke vibes from Beatles and Queens of the Stone Age at some remove from the palm-muting The Vulcan Itch Rise of the Fallenand crunching tonality of “The Way,” which puts riffy twists at the end of its start-stop verse measures and straightens its course through the hook before cycling through again.

As one might anticipate, it’s “Drowning” that is the real slowdown, but even there the fuzzy low end flow intertwines with airy guitar and the sense of movement isn’t given up in the chugging bridge and nodder chorus. Whether it’s the skronky flourishes of “Is it Happening,” the return of the shouts in “So Cold” and “Chained Freedom,” or the welcoming burst of speed offered in “Wasted,” The Vulcan Itch are professional in both the production and the consideration of their audience in the writing. Their material is accessible even at its most aggressive and able to deliver “Addicted to the Dark,” which is by no means optimistic in its theme, in such a way as to sound organic coming out of “Perfect Life” as part of Rise of the Fallen‘s momentum build rather than departing from that as more of the record’s personality is revealed. The sense of command and direction is palpable, the writing not at all haphazard in its level of depth or detail, and even at their most all-go-now-now-now, they never lose sight of their goals within the individual songs or in the overarching front-to-back journey, however brief that may be.

And while, yeah, that’s about Rise of the Fallen — the entirety of which is streaming near the bottom of this post — being on the shorter side of ‘full-length,’ that The Vulcan Itch didn’t pad it out and thereby risk giving up the efficiency so central to their purposes should be taken as further indication that they know what the hell they’re doing. The clip for “Wasted” premiering below is about as straightforward as you can get — the band, in a place, playing the track — but as with the record the song leads off, there’s no denying the personality brought to it through their collective performance.

Credits and such follow under the embed. Please enjoy:

The Vulcan Itch, “Wasted” video premiere

The Vulcan Itch – “Wasted” from the album “Rise Of The Fallen”
The Lab Records (2024)

Video credits:
Directed by Gerasimos Kolaitis
Cinematography by Alex Haritakis

Album credits:
Music written and performed by The Vulcan Itch
Lyrics by Spy Das
Recorded and mixed by Nikos Chalkousis at Lychnopolis studio
Mastered by Bill Lagos at Entasis studio
Design and illustration by A.D.Visions

Tracklitsing:
1. Wasted (2:12)
2. Perfect Life (2:47)
3. Addicted to the Dark (3:11)
4. Now or Never (2:44)
5. Is it Happening (3:18)
6. Liars and Betrayers (2:28)
7. The Way (3:37)
8. So Cold (3:23)
9. Chained Freedom (3:32)
10. Drowning (4:14)

Formed in 2018, The Vulcan Itch have released one self-titled album and one EP titled “Trapped In A Cage” which were both met with great critical acclaim and allowed the band to play numerous throughout Greece.

The Vulcan Itch are:
Vocals and guitars : Spy Das
Bass and backing vocals : Nikos “Lizard” Chalkousis
Drums : Erotokritos “Pepper” Kolaitis

The Vulcan Itch, Rise of the Fallen (2024)

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Album Review: Viaje a 800, Coñac Oxigenado: Deluxe Edition

Posted in Reviews on April 3rd, 2024 by JJ Koczan

viaje a 800 Conac Oxigenado deluxe edition

I readily count Viaje a 800 among the most criminally undervalued heavy rock bands Europe has ever produced, so maybe if you’re looking for an impartial assessment of Spinda Records‘ do-it-up-right Coñac Oxigenado: Deluxe Edition reissue of their 2012 swansong (review here), I’m not the one to provide it. They were never super-prompt on output, but between 2001’s Diablo Roto Dë… and 2007’s Estampida de Trombones, the band that in 2010 would record as the trio lineup of bassist/vocalist/keyboardist Poti, guitarist/backing vocalist J. Angel and drummer Andres, fostered a style of heavy rock that was utterly their own and represented not only influences from the Californian desert, but from classic progressive rock as well as Andalusian folk melodies, flamenco rhythms and percussion, and a resulting atmosphere that was ahead of its time.

As the culmination of Viaje a 800’s original run, Coñac Oxigenado pushed their craft as far as it would ever go (to-date; never say never) into those proggy leanings, and from its 12-minute opener “Oculi Omnium In Te Sperant Domine” through the in-English cover of “What’s Going On” originally by Australian heavy-’70s rockers Buffalo, the fluidity, depth and presence they were able to establish in this material still feels innovative 12 years after the fact. And it may well be that having such an individual sound is part of the reason they’ve been so undervalued – I’m sure out there somewhere is a German band who’ve got handclaps in a song like those in the purpose-declaring, scorcher-solo-inclusive jammy middle of Coñac Oxigenado’s lead track, but I wouldn’t expect it to work as well – but even from an outsider’s perspective, it’s easy enough to read an element of cultural discrimination in how isolated the Iberian heavy underground for the most part is even today, beyond whatever language barrier may or may not apply to a given act as it might here.

Thus Coñac Oxigenado: Deluxe Edition — which arrives coinciding with a return to the stage for limited live shows this year — feels something like an 88-minute love letter to Viaje a 800, whose original 1998 demo, Santa Agueda, also saw release through Spinda in 2019, and its 3LP presentation captures an archivalist impulse, preserving a complicated narrative of the recording and of the band more generally. In addition to the five-song/51-minute original tracklisting, the ‘deluxe’-ness manifests in four additional cuts, three of which are alternate versions — “Oculi Omnium In Te Sperant Domine,” “Tagarnina Blues” and “Eterna Soledad” — and the last of which is the previously-unreleased “Todo es Nada.” To my understanding, none of these recordings have surfaced before (the difference being that a re-recorded “Todo es Nada” didn’t make the final 2012 LP), and that lineup changes were part of it — anybody looking for a probably-wrong complete retelling of Viaje a 800‘s lineup history here? I didn’t think so; moving on — but with 15 years’ distance from the original 2009 sessions at Seville’s Doghouse Studios with Curro Ureba, the previously-lost tracks present a new look at the scope of the band’s sound.

A full rundown of the changes between the 2009 and 2010 recordings — the latter of which became the album released in 2012 — would be academic and (again) probably wrong unless I was cut and pasting factoids like Orthodox‘s Marco Serrato guesting on vocals for the ’09 session or the guitar contribution from 2010-version producer José María Sagrista to “Eterna Soledad.” Neither of those is irrelevant, but neither gives much of an impression of the differences most resonant when setting the tracks in question side-by-side. While the finished, non-prequel Coñac Oxigenado presented itself as Viaje a 800‘s fullest-sounding recording in the low end, and the band always had a brooding element in their vocal melodies, the 2009 versions feel closer to chasing an ideal based on live performance, and so come through as both rawer in their basic sound and brighter in tone.

VIAJE A 800 (Photo by Tomoyuki Hotta)

The acoustic strum of “Eterna Soledad” feels more direct in its folk lineage without the keys accompanying the transition from the initial verses to it, and “Tagarnina Blues” hits with more punch in its snare as it makes ready to shift into the solo, and as anyone who’s ever sat in for a mixing process can tell you, a lot can be done to change the personality of a song in minute adjustments to the balance of its component elements. As they perhaps inevitably would, the 2010 recordings feel more realized and considered in terms of the transitions from one to the next, and there’s a smoother overall sound to their production. Does that mean that the force with which 2009’s “Oculi Omnium In Te Sperant Domine” hits doesn’t work. Oh no. It absolutely does. But it’s fascinating to hear Viaje a 800 working toward two different goals in style with the same material, and where the lushness of Coñac Oxigenado became a marked example of how the band had grown since Estampida de Trombones half a decade before, Coñac Oxigenado: Deluxe Edition broadens the appeal further by showcasing a heretofore-unheard side of these songs. And frankly, they rock.

I won’t say they were wrong to trade out “Todo es Nada” for “Ni Perdón, Ni Olvido” for the 2012 release, not the least for the movement the latter enacts across a similar seven-minute runtime from a riff I likened in the original review to Megadeth to the psychedelic build that leads into its later charging chorus and multi-stage crescendo, but through its start-stop repetitions, semi-spoken lyrics and the procession it undertakes into crash and vocal effects, “Todo es Nada” offers a bleaker ambience than anything that did wind up on Coñac Oxigenado while still holding to a progressive structure and in its vocals-over-drums ending, capping Coñac Oxigenado: Deluxe Edition with an invitation to speculate at what they might have done had they kept going into the 2010s.

Does it matter? I think so, but again, I was a fan of the original Coñac Oxigenado, of the band generally, and of outfits like Atavismo and Mind! that Poti went on to found in Viaje a 800‘s wake. And if you don’t care about art or music or those who’ve made contributions in service to either, yeah, a 3LP reissue of a Spanish heavy band’s record from 2012 might not be the birthday present you’re asking for this year, but the very, very least I can tell you about Coñac Oxigenado, deluxe or not, is that it holds up, and if you’ve never engaged with the band before, these songs are a world waiting for you to find your place in them. I don’t know if Coñac Oxigenado: Deluxe Edition will be how Viaje a 800 come to receive a modicum of the respect they deserve for what they accomplished during their time, but it’s a big piece of why they deserve that respect in the first place, and this revisit is a celebration well earned.

Viaje a 800, Coñac Oxigenado: Deluxe Edition (2024)

Viaje a 800, “Todo es Nada” official video

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Borer Premiere Video for Title-Track of Debut LP Bag Seeker; Album Out May 10

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Reviews on April 2nd, 2024 by JJ Koczan

BORER Photo by Dan Cooper

New Zealand’s Borer are set to make their full-length debut May 10 with Bag Seeker, on Landmine Records. With it, they bring the sludge of one thousand deaths, and no, that doesn’t mean they’re giving you a bunch tiny cuts until eventually you bleed out. It means they sound like they’ve died inside a thousand times and perhaps, somewhere around 920 or so with that last 80 still ahead of them, they got bitter about it. The resulting five-tracker waves its disaffection like a banner; a resolved call to everybody who, perhaps only for today, has landed at “fuck it” as the endgame of their existence. If you can’t relate as the leadoff title-track “Bag Seeker” moves from its opening sample of Ozzy talking about drugs — immediately writing off 99 percent of the planet’s population who won’t get how brilliantly on/up the nose that is — into the dense low-end lurch wrought through Boden Powell and Tim Hunt‘s guitars and Greg Newton-Topp‘s bass, with Josh Reid‘s drumming making it roll and vocalist Tom Brand‘s mood-defining, actively-doing-damage raspy gurgle telling a story few will be able to decipher but getting the point across anyhow in its omnidirectional fuckyouism, well, you’re probably lucky.

The video premiering below for “Bag Seeker” brings this ultra-stoned, ultra-heavy despondency to the visual realm as Brand stands in a not-warm-looking flow of river water and mimes the lyrics deadpan for the bulk of the song’s nine minutes as the rest of the band hangs around behind. Save for passing a joint, vaping and drinking some beer, they barely move until it’s time to de-tableau and split as a bookending sample of some guy from a viral TikTok talking about how having too much gear is better than running out of gear brings the track to its end — Terence McKenna starts the subsequent “Ket Witch,” pontificating on the effects of ketamine — and the vibe is set.

There’s more on offer in Bag Seeker‘s 55-minute stretch than raw, searing punishment, but the more subdued moments happen around the core extremity, like the baked-creeper nod in the five-minute buildup of “Ket Witch” before it reverts to the primitive assault methodology of the opener or the shorter backdrop at the outset of 21-minute finale “Lord of the Hanged,” which puts dialogue from the 2010 Cohen Bros. remake of True Grit of three men about to be executed saying their last words before the riff kicks in and Borer dive into a by-then-characteristically scathing verse section with stops beneath the screams offset BORER Bag Seekerby crash and death-stench sensory overload. These stretches, a longer break in “Lord of the Hanged” after that verse, and the two-and-a-half-minute centerpiece “6.32” — mostly harsh noise and a likely-inebriated voicemail telling you that you missed the party; “I hope you had a good sleep” sounds like an accusation — add to the atmosphere and provide some opportunity to breathe before, say, the markedly-soaked-in-feedback “Wretch” or the next round of tonally-consuming gnash in “Lord of the Hanged” takes hold, but the five-piece leave no question as to where their priorities lie in the filthier end of caustic, slow subjugation.

I had to go to the urgent-care place down the road yesterday. They built it in the middle of a strip-mall parking lot last summer, which should tell you the state of the American healthcare system just by virtue of being somehow normal, last summer. It is cube-shaped. I’ve had an infection in my left middle finger, probably a hangnail I tore out; can’t really remember. The doctor — who was not an actual doctor, but I don’t even ask anymore because I trust nurses more anyway in that kind of situation — took some cold-spray and numbed up the swollen, hard and very-clearly-full-of-pus side of my finger before digging in with a scalpel to drain it and as I watched this fluid ooze out of my person, saw the faces of the two women in the room trying to maintain their professional aspect in the face of something universally ‘ugh,’ it was echoes of Borer‘s Bag Seeker ringing in my head. I felt the cut despite the cold, felt the gunk being pushed out, got a band-aid and a prescription and was sent on my unmerry way, alone. You check in with a QR code now. They already have your information because of course they do. $15. Supposed to be a bargain.

This experience may end up defining my engagement with Borer‘s first album, because as much as I’ve been unable to get that picture of metal cutting into my skin and some tiny manifestation of the sheer wretchedness of my being leaking forth, the physical catharsis, the Kingdom Animalia satisfaction of resolving a thing, resonates as the extended soloing in the back half of “Lord of the Hanged” gives over to the last screams, crashes and feedback that end Bag Seeker as they invariably would. Release of pressure bought with pain. Expurgation. Put on the record again and churn into foul-smelling-goo oblivion what used to be vaguely human. Fucking a.

“Bag Seeker” video follows below. Jewel case CD of the album is limited to 100 copies. If you get one, give it plenty of room.

Enjoy:

Borer, “Bag Seeker” video premiere

Clocking just under a ten-minute runtime, the resin-coated title track to Bag Seeker is delivered through a video directed by Tim Hunt and edited by Nick Smith, that rolls in like the tidal waters depicted within. The band reveals, “‘Bag Seeker’ captures a year-long descent into the shadows, where a man pursues fleeting happiness through the enigmatic allure of a bag, a quest for joy in the embrace of ephemeral highs.”

Bag Seeker will be released on CD and all digital platforms on Landmine Records May 10th. Find preorders HERE: https://borersludge.bandcamp.com/album/bag-seeker

Bag Seeker was recorded and mixed in Christchurch by Joseph Veale (Blindfolded And Led To The Woods), mastered by Luke Finlay at Primal Mastering, and completed with artwork and layout by Jake Clark (Mr Wolf), and is a detrimental listen for fans of Iron Monkey, Bongzilla, Weedeater, Fistula, Indian, Dystopia, and Electric Wizard.

Tracklisting:
1. Bag Seeker (9:33)
2. Ket Witch (11:36)
3. 6.32 (2:30)
4. Wretch (10:21)
5. Lord of the Hanged (21:44)

BORER has also booked two release shows for the album, taking place in Dunedin on Bag Seeker’s release date and in their hometown of Christchurch the following day. Watch for additional shows to be announced over the months ahead.

BORER Bag Seeker album release shows:
5/10/2024 The Crown Hotel – Dunedin, NZ w/ Brackish, Festering Death
5/11/2024 Churchill’s Tavern – Christchurch, NZ w/ Witchcult, From Moose Mountain

Tickets: https://www.cosmicticketing.co.nz/

BORER:
Tom Brand – vocals
Boden Powell – guitar
Tim Hunt – guitar
Greg Newton-Topp – bass
Josh Reid – drums

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Album Review: Craneium, Point of No Return

Posted in Reviews on April 1st, 2024 by JJ Koczan

Craneium Point of No Return

Each successive full-length from Turku, Finland’s Craneium up to this point has been a progressive step forward from the one before it. It’s where that progression has brought them that makes their fourth long-player, Point of No Return, a special moment. As the sweeping, lush and gorgeous crescendo of opening track “One Thousand Sighs” to its final peak — a tonally rich and urgent but not too fast chug pushed forward by emphatic snare carefully placed in the mix, surrounded by layers of melodic vocals in a dynamic movement that prefaces the encompassing breadth of much of what follows before dropping with residual echo to a sentimental intertwining of acoustic and electric guitar as denouement across the last 40 seconds of its 5:34 — the band’s mastery is glaringly obvious, a brightness cast in kind with the Jaime Zuverza cover art. Point of No Return is the four-piece’s second outing backed by The Sign Records after 2021’s Unknown Heights (review here), and sees them working again with that album’s producer, Joona Hassinen, who also mastered late-2018’s The Narrow Line (review here), at a Studio Underjord now relocated from Norrköping to Finspång, Sweden, while Karl Daniel Lidén of Stockholm’s Studio Gröndahl handled the mix and master.

Across the six songs and deceptively-expansive 37 minutes, whether it’s in the underlying performances of guitarist/vocalists Andreas Kaján and Martin Ahlö, bassist Jonas Ridberg and drummer Joel Kronqvist, or the more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts grandeur they cast in the memorable choruses of “One Thousand Sighs,” “The Sun,” “A Distant Shore,” “…Of Laughter and Cries,” “Things Have Changed” and “Search Eternal” — yeah, that’s all six; it’s front-to-back — or the way even the most impact-minded stretches complement and maintain the atmospheres harnessed through contemplative, patient, purposeful semi-drift, the overarching mastery can’t be ignored. More than a decade on from first getting together in 2011 and nine years after their debut LP, Explore the Void, got them picked up by Ripple Music for a 2016 release, Craneium present themselves as mature and intentional in their craft, graceful in rhythm and melody alike, and aware of what they want their songs to be doing and how they want each to inform the greater context and undulating flow of the album as a whole.

This is conveyed in Frida Eurenius of Spiral Skies guesting on vocals to help put that already-noted apex of “One Thousand Sighs” over the top, as well as Skraeckoedlan‘s Robert Lamu contributing lead guitar to “The Sun” — I’ll note also what seem to be keyboard or piano strikes in that song’s verse; Lamu‘s band employed similar urgency in “Mysteria” from their own new album for a nice shout-out — and, for a just-them example, the way the final solo of “A Distant Shore” holds its tension in Kronqvist‘s soon-fading toms as the non-lyric vocals (ready for an audience singalong as much as they are an epilogue), far-back Mellotron and airy guitar end side A only to have the initial crash of “…Of Laughter and Cries” immediately reground with the more uptempo groove that follows. With a direct shift, that bit of contrast echoes how the buildup of “The Sun,” which is Point of No Return‘s most fervent shove, responds to the quiet finish of “One Thousand Sighs” just before, and though the interaction changes as the couple seconds of silence on side B between the penultimate “Things Have Changed” — the chugging verse and declarative chorus of which mirror “The Sun” in their grounded execution — and “Search Eternal” are tense with anticipation, Craneium nonetheless feel mindful in these pairings and their arrangement across the two sides, each set up such that its procession complements the other.

craneium

The split on the vinyl version (I’m not sure there is a CD; take that, ’90s heads), between “A Distant Shore” and “…Of Laughter and Cries,” makes for three songs on each side, and the symmetry of construction extends to “A Distant Shore” (7:35) and “Search Eternal” (7:23) each as the longest running track among its respective three. It’s not the most radical difference between those and the others between five and six minutes long, but still a choice that feels purposeful, especially as “Search Eternal” enters its final outward-pointed movement in a midsection marked by near-elephantine keyboard swells and cycles of guitar that, indeed, seem to be exploring and finding their way forward. And that “Search Eternal” has a hook in its early going is no less representative of Point of No Return as a whole.

On sound alone, it and “A Distant Shore” both work as grand finales. The side-A-capper plunging into Mellotron-laced melancholy and a post-stoner float, and its chorus stands ready to imprint itself on your brain, but the way its riff hits more straight-on before the cymbal wash and danger-zone guitar lead into a heavier rush — still methodical in the detailing with key or guitar sounds peppered in the momentary tumult — before the solo brings “A Distant Shore” to a head and it recedes into the aforementioned, immersive ending, Ridberg‘s bass and Kronqvist‘s drums tasked with keeping feet on the ground through the transition as the melody and ambience lend an aspect of drama without feeling like Craneium have pushed too far and gotten lost. What makes “Search Eternal” function so well where it does is how it emphasizes the fluidity of everything preceding. Beginning with resonant low end fuzz and moving swiftly into its verse, it lacks nothing for fullness of sound at its heaviest — and the mix is a significant space to fill — but Point of No Return would be a much different album if volume was its only priority.

Further, the ease with which they turn from a few measures of bombast to the march-through-the-cosmos instrumental ending, while evocative of the stated climate-crisis thematic, underscores the point of the directorial role they’ve played a songwriters. It’s not that they’ve given up the riffy foundations from whence they’ve come, but while the core “The Sun” could be read as extrapolated from Songs for the Deaf-era Queens of the Stone Age, there’s no denying that Craneium take that particular charge and use it toward their own ends. That, coupled with the care and attention so clearly paid to the root performances and the additional layers constructed around them, affirms Point of No Return as the defining statement of Craneium‘s tenure thus far. Accordingly, where their own ‘search eternal,’ i.e., their collective ambitions in sound, craft and expression, might take them from here feels broader in possibility than it ever has.

Craneium, “Things Have Changed” official video

Craneium, “One Thousand Sighs” official video

Craneium, Point of No Return (2024)

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