Review & Track Premiere: Lowrider, Refractions

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on January 24th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Lowrider Refractions

[Click play above to stream the premiere of ‘Red River’ from Lowrider’s Refractions. Album is out Feb. 21 on Blues Funeral Recordings with preorders here.]

Peder Bergstrand on “Refractions”:

“’Red River’ has been with us since maybe 2001-2002… It’s the first riff we wrote for our second album, we even recorded it in 2003 — but it just one of those songs that needed to mature to become what it was intended to be. It feels so right that it’s the first one out of the gate from this forever-in-the-making album, and it couldn’t feel more like the perfect amalgamation or Lowrider then and Lowrider now. Absolutely STOKED to share it with you.”

Then and now, it is an elite class to which Lowrider‘s work belongs. Few single albums have helped steer the course of the European heavy underground to the degree of their MeteorCity-issued 2000 debut, Ode to Io (reissue review here). Along with fellow Swedes Dozer, as well as Colour Haze, Orange Goblin and a select group of others from around the continent, they helped pave the path of the emergent stoner rock scene at the turn of the century, taking lessons from California desert heavy and inherently bringing something of their own to the creative process that more than a generation of bands has learned from in their wake. Two key differences between Lowrider and those other bands who made such a mark at the time: they were very young and they only did the one record. Both are crucial when it comes to understanding how their first full-length in 20 years, Refractions — released through Blues Funeral Recordings — manages to sound so vibrant in its 41-minute front-to-back.

Comprised of bassist/vocalist Peder Bergstrand, lead guitarist/vocalist Ola Hellquist, guitarist Niclas Stålfors and drummer Andreas ErikssonLowrider‘s youth gave Ode to Io an imitable energy, and with Refractions, in “Red River” and “Ol’ Mule Pepe,” that original, vital spark is honored and expanded upon in a way that’s mature but by no means “old-sounding.” That is, as much as one might and probably should consider Refractions a “comeback” album, Lowrider do not come across in pieces like the organ-laced second cut “Ode to Ganymede,” the eight-minute side A finale “Sernanders Krog” and the 11-minute closer “Pipe Rider” like old men trying to recapture past glories.

Rather, the great triumph of Refractions, which also saw limited issue last year through Blues Funeral‘s Postwax vinyl subscription service (and for which I had the honor of doing liner notes), is to acknowledge the accomplishments Lowrider made two decades ago but not be restrained by them. This is where the fact of their only having been one prior full-length comes most into play. Lowrider had a couple other releases — a 1997 split with Sparzanza (discussed here), their 1998 split with Nebula (discussed here) — but their legacy and influence was localized almost entirely in Ode to Io, and that essentially set that record up as a monolith in time.

One record. And they were basically kids. Bergstrand was a teenager.

It doesn’t even seem fair. How could a modern incarnation of Lowrider possibly be expected to live up to such a standard? Refractions meets this question head-on. It does not shirk the responsibility Lowrider have in following their debut — and that may have something to do with why it’s coming out now when their reunion began at Desertfest some seven years ago — but it shows that Lowrider are different people than they were at 17 or in their early 20s, etc., and it brings new character and breadth to their craft that is more progressive than one could have reasonably hoped.

lowrider (Photo by Anna Liden Wiren)

In particular, Bergstrand‘s time fronting the pop-tinged melodic rock outfit I are Droid — whose underrated 2013 second LP, The Winter Ward (review here), still resonates — doesn’t seem to be forgotten, and even as “Pipe Rider” builds its forward wash of fuzz leading to the jam that will carry Refractions to its finish, its vocals deep in the mix bask in a melody more complex than anything Lowrider have done previously. That song is twice-over pivotal to Refractions, since its lyrics directly acknowledge the central task of the album in carrying forward what the band were into what they are: “Give me something new…Fragments from our youth,” and so on (that’s a point I raised in the liner notes as well, but it applies just the same).

And preceded by the instrumental pair “Sun Devil/M87,” the finale’s arrival is all the more an occasion on a side B, expanding on the lushness of “Ode to Ganymede” in tone and depth while finding its own course much as Lowrider themselves do all across the album, whether it’s the hooky nod and crash — I’ll just say outright that Eriksson‘s drums are a highlight unto themselves across the entire span of the record both in what he’s playing and the production value — of “Red River” or “Ol’ Mule Pepe” with Hellquist taking the lead vocal spot on the latter. At five minutes long, that brash rocker is paired well as the side B leadoff counterpart to “Red River” opening Refractions as a whole, but its vibe is even more of a standout for drawing the clearest line between the stoner rock of Lowrider‘s past and the heavy rock of their present, manifesting the Kyuss idolatry that fueled the band’s early work into a shuffling riff that’s righteous in its genre familiarity even as they take ownership of it.

Especially with the turn into “Sun Devil/M87” afterward, one gets the impression that even as Lowrider know the formidable task they’re facing, they’re still unafraid to have a good time here. It doesn’t all need to be a serious we-put-out-a-very-important-record-20-years-ago museum piece. It’s still rock and roll. “Sun Devil” is a wah-solo-topped blast, and “M87” picks up at the divide with a bassline from Bergstrand that sets a fuzzy course of pulled notes hypnotic in their repetition that end up a perfect lead-in for the closer, which again serves to mirror its side A counterpart in “Sernanders Krog” while at least in part telling the story of what Refractions is intended to be and what it means to the band. These are central moments for Lowrider, and they make it obvious on all six tracks that, while they know that Ode to Io means a lot to a lot of people, the best justice they can do to that album is to leave it in its place. So that’s what they do. Beautifully.

Refractions has been thus far received with a considerable amount of album-of-the-year-type hyperbole. Though it’s early in 2020 for such assignations and with the prior Postwax release, I admit I’m not sure if it counts as 2019 or not (or if it matters), but as a fan of Lowrider‘s past accomplishments, I can’t disagree with the excited sentiment around these songs. The album succeeds in every way in bringing Lowrider into the present and finds them indeed reflecting on the past, but refusing to lose themselves in it. As an entire generational shift has taken place in terms of audience over the last 10, let alone 20, years, Lowrider reestablish their place among heavy rock’s most momentous purveyors. If their new album is an occasion, it is one to which on every level they live up.

Recommended.

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SEA, Impermanence: Awaited Cascade

Posted in Reviews on January 23rd, 2020 by JJ Koczan

SEA Impermanence (cover by Nathaniel Parker Raymond)

In the nearly five years since they released their 2015 self-titled debut EP (review here), Boston-based four-piece Sea — generally stylized all-caps: SEA — have toured Europe, and released two splits, one in 2016 with Weedwolf (discussed here) and one in 2017 with KYOTY (discussed here) — all the while working toward their inevitable debut full-length. Self-released and running five tracks and a surprisingly tidy 42 minutes considering the expansiveness involved, Impermanence is that album. Recorded in 2018 with Keith Gentile at Labyrinth Audio, mastered by Nick Twohig and topped off with suitably colorful and deep-toned artwork by Nathaniel Parker Raymond, its songs bring together elements of SubRosa-style emotive post-metal with bursts of blackened intensity, a wistfulness that seems to fight against itself emerging in the flow of tracks that show a striking amount of patience for being a debut that speaks to the conscious sense of purpose behind the music being created.

That is, on progressive terms, SEA come across as having control of what they want their sound to be, and their songwriting is built accordingly, with headphone-ready lushness of tone from guitarists Mike Blasi (also theremin) and Liz Walshak (also vocals) and bassist Stephen LoVerme (also vocals) and further texture of synth added by drummer Andrew Muro, since out of the band and replaced by the same Keith Gentile who produced. That reorganization of lineup may be part of the delay between the recording process and actually releasing the digipak CD and righteously snazzy, limited-to-100 gold-painted cassette, but there may have been other factors or delays as well, whether it was a question of a label search or a simple holdup in manufacturing.

In any case, the adage “good food takes time” would seem to apply, and one could hardly call SEA‘s efforts and the time they’ve put into crafting this material anything but correctly spent, however long it took to actually put it out. Their clarity of intent is realized in the breadth and resonant scope of their shifts, and in stretches aggressive or pastoral, they retain a balance of urgency and atmosphere that makes Impermanence all the more engrossing.

To return briefly to one point above, one generally thinks of “headphone-worthy” as a designation reserved for trans-dimensional psychedelia, and there are few clichés in any form of rock and roll more trite than “louder is better,” but the more attention to detail a listener can put into Impermanence, the more that listener is going to be rewarded for the effort, and if that takes headphones and volume to properly tune the focus, so be it. Whether it’s the interplay between LoVerme (ex-Olde Growth) and Walshak (ex-Rozamov) on vocals, throughout the love song that is second cut “Shrine” or Walshak‘s screams early in opener “Penumbra,” the placement of which at the outset of the record proves a brilliant move in terms of quickly broadening expectation on the part of the audience and setting a vast context for the rest of what follows.

The melodic arrangements have no less depth than their harsher counterparts though, and both exude a proggy reach that, in “Penumbra,” resolve in a wistful guitar line that’s familiar but not easy to place — is it Neurosis? Something more metal? It’s hard to be sure, and that ends up part of the appeal, because while one is sitting and trying to figure it out, SEA are fluidly moving into the reverence of “Shrine,” which brings LoVerme to the fore vocally backed by whispers and presents a heavy ambience not unlike the aforementioned SubRosa‘s 2016 apparent-swansong, For This We Fought the Battle of Ages. Yes, that is a compliment, and not one given lightly. The procession of “Shrine” brings duet-style melodies from Walshak and LoVerme over the steady punch of snare from Muro, a growl deep in the background circa the halfway point positioned effectively for ambience.

sea

Ending with feedback on a fade, it’s the drums that start centerpiece “Ashes,” which brings further layered lyrical poetry over its subdued beginning and gradually unfolds to a weighted post-rock before the blastbeats kick in and Blasi and Walshak‘s guitars present a run of Alcest-worthy echoing squigglies, soon enough hitting a point of receding as the mellow cycle would seem to begin anew. Spoken and sung lines are woven together as “Ashes” works toward its shout-topped apex, giving ground to the four-minute interlude “Ascend” ahead of closer “Dust.”

The final movement of Impermanence is crucial. On the tape — and presumably the case would be the same on vinyl — “Ascend” and “Dust” stand alone on side two, and as the latter runs 13:32 and is far and away the longest inclusion on the record, with the instrumental, noisy experimentalism of “Ascend” leading directly into it, that’s fair enough. Of course, the interlude is just that — a shift putting the listener from one place to another on the longer course of the album — but its hypnotic aspects aren’t to be discounted, and it does fall back to silence before the steady lead-in from Muro begins “Dust” in earnest, soon joined by LoVerme‘s bass, and, eventually, the guitar. A full heft is brought to bear soon enough as the guitars arrive, and they’re not two minutes in before they’ve built up to a point of blasting away.

A key difference is in how those typically black metal elements are brought into the fold of SEA‘s post-metal style. As guttural shouts echo out over the still-early-going of “Dust” ahead of a turn to quiet guitar and more folkish melodies, setting in motion a build that the second half of the song will pay off in a wash of doom riffing, outward-directed guitar leads, and richly-conceptualized progression unfurling, the notion of the closer acting as a summary of the record on which it appears is very much a factor, but SEA are still pushing toward new ground as well, rhythmically and melodically.

Perhaps that too is a summary of the mindset driving the album and indeed the band overall, since as well directed as they are in terms of the flow in and between their songs and the construction of the material here, they never stop showcasing that will to find some nuance or melody yet uncovered. In terms of forward potential, that ethos speaks volumes — and the fact that it was recorded two years ago would seem to hint toward growth that’s likely already taken place — but one shouldn’t take Impermanence as simply a look at what SEA might become at the expense of appreciating what they’ve already accomplished. In ways most first albums could never hope for, its spaciousness and density work in tandem, and even its most purposefully ugly moments are gorgeous.

SEA, Impermanence

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Review: Spacetrucker & Mr. Bison, Turned to Stone Chapter 1 – Enter Galactic Wasteland Split

Posted in Reviews on January 22nd, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Turned to Stone Chapter 1 Spacetrucker Mr Bison

On a level of ambition, a series of split releases is second perhaps only to a series of compilations in terms of the massive amount of work that is involved in coordination. Most ‘Vol. 1’-type outings do not get to ‘Vol. 2.’ An exception to this rule was Ripple Music‘s The Second Coming of Heavy, which, though its title wanted for generational context (the heavy ’10s were at least the third coming), was a deeply admirable 10-installment series that brought bands into the Ripple fold who otherwise wouldn’t have gotten the exposure while staying tied together through artwork as well as the titular presentation. It allowed the label to expand its reach and had a curated, carefully-picked sensibility behind it.

Those 10 offerings were not haphazard. Ripple would hope to bring the same mindset to Turned to Stone, a new series that essentially picks up where The Second Coming of Heavy left off. I guess they’re gluttons for punishment when it comes to logistics? There’s no end-figure stated for Turned to Stone so far as I know — that is, they haven’t said “10 and done” as they did with the prior series — but however far it ends up going, its first installment, the full and somewhat cumbersome title of which is Ripple Music Presents: Turned to Stone Chapter 1 – Mr. Bison & Spacetrucker: Enter Galactic Wasteland, already crosses continental borders in bringing together its component acts.

From Pisa, Italy, come the trio Mr. Bison, whose moniker continues to immediately touch of Gen-X nostalgia for the lost hours of my youth playing Street Fighter II, and from St. Louis, Missouri, the three-piece Spacetrucker, whose three tracks run across side B in deceptively atmospheric fashion. The two bands are complementary in some ways, contrasting in others, but one suspects that’s the idea, and like most landscapes described as a wasteland, one finds the LP’s 38-minute run not at all void of life, but a vital ecosystem of heavy rock and roll that helps to demonstrate just how multifaceted the genre has become.

Mr. Bison don’t make it through the seven-minute “The Grace of Time” before they break out the organ and work in elements of psychedelia and classic prog — and that’s just fine. There are shades of Golden Void in the dramatic arrival of organ amid the guitar, bass and drums, but I wouldn’t call the all-Matteo lineup of guitarist/vocalists Matteo Barsacchi and Matteo Sciocchetto and drummer Matteo D’Ignazi overly derivative. Rather, the drift they inject into moments like the opening stretches of “The Stranger” and “Oracle Prophecy,” which builds as it moves forward, receding in the middle only to surge again at the conclusion in not-unforeseeable but still exciting and progressive fashion.

Their 2018 album, Holy Oak (review here), was like-minded in its somewhat deceptive approach, appearing simpler on the surface than it actually was, and as Barsacchi and Sciocchetto arrange vocals here, layering solos and effects all the while to create a sense of swirl as “Oracle Prophecy” comes to a head, the impression is that the band have obviously continued to solidify and become more assured of their approach. This creative next step is, of course, the ideal, though I don’t actually know how long ago the songs were recorded.

Either way, that Mr. Bison would leave one feeling like the band is making forward progress is, indeed, forward progress, and as their three inclusions are longer than those of Spacetrucker by about four minutes, running 21 minutes, their time only seems to be well-spent in setting up an atmosphere and flow. Listening digitally, this flow is immediately, strikingly contrasted by the shift in production value to Spacetrucker‘s three tracks, which are rawer and more directly fuzz-driven. Guitarist/vocalist Mike Owen, bassist/vocalist Rob Wagoner and drummer/multipadder Del Toro present a ready charge in the five-and-a-half-minute “Nosedive,” eschewing the proggier aspects of their side A counterparts in favor of a more direct attack.

That’s not to say that “Nosedive” or the subsequent instrumental “Distant Earth,” which is the longest track on the release at 7:56, don’t have a sense of atmosphere, just that said atmosphere is more based around the sheer punch of what they do. And when the low-end on “Distant Earth” kicks in there’s no shortage of punch to be had. “Distant Earth” resolves itself in some prog-metal-style chugging completed by a chiming bell, and then moves into a solo before rounding out in similar rhythmic terrain, an impressive more-than-jam that’s fluid if less sonically lush than some of what appeared on the split’s first half. Spacetrucker round out with the shorter “King Cheeto,” an early-Fu Manchu-style fuzz punker that revives some of the more aggressive thrust of “Nosedive” and finishes in a satisfying rush of noise and cut momentum. If that’s what being turned to stone sounds like, then so be it.

In terms of what ties the two bands together, aside from the basic umbrella of “heavy” that is horoscope-vague enough to be applicable on all counts, there’s an undercurrent of stylistic depth shared by Spacetrucker and Mr. Bison that comes through in different contexts, but is there just the same. Spacetrucker are not unaffected by Truckfighters-esque energy, but like Mr. Bison before them, they seem to be engaged in the project of internalizing their influences in order to craft their own sound from them.

In that case, the sheer thrust and rawness of production works for them, standing them out from Mr. Bison and adding to their own take, which doesn’t necessarily shy away from aggression. As Ripple Music stares down the prospect of this new series, one wonders just what will emerge from Turned to Stone. Standing astride The Second Coming of Heavy helped the label become among the foremost purveyors of American underground heavy rock and found them increasingly branching out in aesthetic. If Turned to Stone furthers that mission, it can only be considered a worthy cause.

[Clarification: The digital version of the release lists Mr. Bison as the first band, where on vinyl it’s Spacetrucker on side A. Apologies for any confusion this causes.]

Spacetrucker & Mr. Bison, Turned to Stone Chapter 1 – Enter Galactic Wasteland (2020)

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Live Review: Ode to Doom w/ Dutchguts, Sigils, The Druids & Eternal Black in NYC, 01.15.20

Posted in Reviews on January 16th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Eternal Black (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Traffic was Defcon Go-Fuck-Yourself on the way to New York, but I had anticipated such things and still made it in plenty of time for a bit of hanging out ahead of the start of the first Ode to Doom of 2020 at Arlene’s Grocery in Manhattan. This site has been involved in presenting these shows for over three years now, but I’ve been to exactly two of them — a source of shame, but one of so many it just kind of blends in with the rest — and that’s counting this one. Still, it’s a familial vibe — which is one more reason to salute the work put in over the aforementioned years by Claudia Crespo — and that kind of thing is hard to beat, even if you have to sit for a while on the way there. I streamed PBS Newshour on my phone in the car. We do what we have to do to get by.

Anxiety earlier in the day had been brutal, but I was glad to have left the house even before the gig started and that only of course became more the case once Dutchguts went on, playing ahead of a four-band bill that was front-to-back righteous, with SigilsThe Druids and Eternal Black rounding out as they celebrated drummer and best-dude-ever Joe Wood‘s birthday. Was there singing? Yes. There was.

First band was on a little after 7:30PM, and the night went thusly:

Dutchguts

Dutchguts (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Oh, I do enjoy a bit of them Dutchguts. Not the least because they’re from my home area in the northern end of my beloved Garden State, but because they’re so dead-on in sludge fuckall. They take the stage, almost say hi, and rip into killer, volatile and pummeling sludge riffs one after another, with an abandon befitting a band who are on the road 15o days a year and I’ve seen them play empty rooms, filling rooms like this one was or even their own space at The Meatlocker in Montclair, and the result is consistently awesome. At any moment, the whole thing might fall apart, and if it does, fuck it. It hasn’t yet, at least not that I’ve seen, but hell, one more reason to keep showing up. Seems like they’re about due for an LP — or at least a 27-minute half-punk-songs collection of feedback and riffs they press to a 12″ and call an LP — but hell if I know if they have anything in the works or not. They are, in the meantime, convincingly stoned and convincingly disaffected in equal measure, and that’s not easy to pull off amid such rampant cynicism. Punk rock. Punk rock. Plus destruction.

Sigils

Sigils (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Good band. As it was my first time seeing New York’s own Sigils live, and as I very much enjoyed their 2019 debut, You Built the Altar You Lit the Leaves (review here), they were probably the band I was most looking forward to catching at the show. No disappointment. As one might expect, they were somewhat rawer on stage than on record — because duh; also they were people — but as a part of that, some of what just came across on the LP as tonal and effects wash came through a little bit clearer in the double-guitar dynamic. Add to that vocals with, as the request was made, as much reverb as possible and then more reverb, and the ambience factor was still high, but that didn’t necessarily take away from the impact either. They’re a kind-of-newer-ish band, and the album bore that out as well in its sound and style, but on stage they were able to bring the material across not just convincingly, but with a sense of purpose underscoring the emotionalism of the tracks in question. New York has a decent amount of Heavy at this point — not as much as a decade ago, but still —  but not a lot of it touches on psychedelic crush in the manner of Sigils, and one hopes they continue to stand out in that regard as they progress, which, given their sound live and recorded, they will actively work to do. Or, to put it another way: Good band. They played a short set, but I’ll take it.

The Druids

The Druids (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Last seen at Maryland Doom Fest 2019 (review here), the D.C.-area riffers brought a bit of the Chesapeake to Ode to Doom‘s otherwise NYC Metro focus, and I don’t just mean they blew a guitar head, though that also happened. And early in the set, too. Kind of rough. They continued on, however, with bass and drums rolling on in extra-sludgy fashion as a Sunn amp came out to replace the Marshall that would seem to have bit it. The lone guitar — there were two at MDDF — kicked back in just in time for a solo, so that was kind of a fun way to arrive, and The Druids were off and lumbering from there. Some of the psychedelic aspects of their sound seemed to have dissipated in comparison to what I remember of them from last summer, but their earlier-2019 debut, Totem (review here), was pulling in any number of directions, so where they end up is still anyone’s best guess. My own would be useless, I’m sure. Still, heavy edge and a band in development. The absence of Gary Isom on drums was notable, but Ben “Vang Ghazi” Blanton (ex-VOG, ex-Foehammer, Ambition Burning) has a pedigree of his own and certainly had no trouble holding down the weightiest of their grooves, significant as they were. Despite the technical troubles, I came out of their set more intrigued, not less, to find out where they’re going with their sound.

Eternal Black

Eternal Black (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I don’t think I have a run for Manhattan city council in my bones, but if I did, I can hardly imagine a better platform than renaming one of these streets after Eternal Black‘s Joe Wood. Or better yet, all of Long Island. Joe Wood Island. Property values would skyrocket. On the day of his birth, Wood anchored the weighted and pro-shop-delivered doom crunch of Ken Wohlrob‘s guitar and Hal Miller‘s bass, emphasizing the point that was made so effectively on their second album, Slow Burn Suicide (review here), self-released last year. I have been wondering ever since I first heard those songs just how direct their intent to bring in noise and NY hardcore vibes has been, and as Wohlrob has been doubling in End of Hope, the answer would seem to be pretty damn intentional. and Eternal Black showed it too in the two new songs they played, “A Million Ways to Die” and “River Runs Eternally Red” — not to be confused with the Life of Agony song/album — though the latter was a riffer all the way. They are nonetheless a doom band, and they groove accordingly. Watching them, it works though because it’s a mesh rather than a competition of influences in their sound, and the nod-with-aggro-edge is more New York than any deli you could ever hope to name, and they closed with a roughed-up take on “Stained Eyes on a Setting Sun” from their first album, 2017’s Bleed the Days (review here), as if to prove it. As a human being, I hope Joe Wood had a great birthday. I know Eternal Black certainly made my night, fitting well in the hometown heroes role as they were.

The ride back to my ancestral compound was simple enough. Some flashing lights, some hit the brakes. No deer in the road, so mark it a Jersey win, and it wasn’t long before my eyes were sagging and my brain was coming out through my runny nose. Fair enough. I could go on a rant about the integrity of an event like this, the obvious passion driving it and the community it’s built, or even the need for a Manhattan underground to exist now more than ever, but hell’s bells, just show up to the next Ode and see for yourself. No one believes anything they read on the internet anyway, and the shows will be their own best argument. Good bands, good friends, good times. Nights like these you remember.

Thanks for reading.

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Review & Video Premiere: Yuri Gagarin, The Outskirts of Reality

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Reviews on January 15th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

yuri gagarin the outskirts of reality

[Click play above to see the premiere of Yuri Gagarin’s new video for ‘QSO.’ The Outskirts of Reality is out Jan. 31 on Kommun 2 and Sound Effect Records.]

One tends to think of the motorik beat and the notion of the kosmiche in terms of kraut- and progressive space rock as being ideas drawing from influences half a century ago, but Yuri Gagarin readily demonstrate that it doesn’t have to be so. The Gothenburg-based troupe realize a modernist vision of krautrocketing hypnosis on their third long-player, The Outskirts of Reality, and drill to the molten core of a planetoid all their own with an approach that, far from reckless, approaches grandeur as though wielding a cosmic hammer, ready to smash the last vestiges of the reality in its title to shards floating in the sonic ether. Instrumental and running over a stretch of 44 minutes that begins with the ultra-fueled 10-minute blaster “QSO” and follows immediately with the 13-minute dimension-bending immersion of “Oneironaut,” resulting in a side A that seeks to pummel brain cells through the subspace barrier, never to be seen or heard from again. But the important thing to remember amid all this we’re-all-star-stuff-so-let’s-start-acting-like-it aural going-boldly is that Yuri Gagarin, in following up late-2015’s sophomore LP, At the Center of All Infinity — which was also recorded with Linus Andersson — is that Yuri Gagarin manage to pull together this sound of such a vast range and atmospheric willfulness without simply repeating the past. The Outskirts of Reality isn’t classic space rock. At least not yet. It’s forward thinking. It’s urgent and it’s energetic and it’s not just about who plays to what time or what stylistic rules are being followed. It’s about rewriting those rules to suit its own purposes.

And what are those purposes? What is it that Yuri Gagarin seek there in the outskirts? If the synth-laden closing title-track — which follows the delightfully airy “Crystal Dunes” and the even-more-experimentalist “Laboratory 1” on side B — has secrets to unveil, it’s doing so in the wash of guitar and keyboard creating melodic instrumentalist surges setting themselves to convey a feeling of “The Outskirts of Reality” as a point of arrival rather than a place of departure. That is, if we’re buying into the cliché of the album as a journey — and hell yes, we most certainly are — then ‘the outskirts’ is clearly the place we’re headed. The positioning of the title-track last speaks to this, as does the progression of the song itself, which one might think of as answering the liftoff-ignition-blast of “QSO” with a last, consuming wash of noise. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I don’t think so, because while Yuri Gagarin are jamming here in the sense of following instrumental paths of their songs to the places they might naturally lead — linear builds, ebbs and flows, and so on — the dynamic the Swedish outfit bring to space rock has so much intentionality behind it that to give anything less than full consideration to its complexity feels half-assed. Even as the push-push-push of “QSO” departs and the song’s last two minutes or so are given to a stretch of quiet guitar fade that lead directly into “Oneironaut,” there’s a plan at work, if not a direct narrative. This isn’t just about self-indulgence or a showcase of effects wash. There’s more to it.

yuri gagarin the outskirts of reality

Certainly Yuri Gagarin are aware of space rock’s past glories. Almost 50 years later, Hawkwind looms over the entire genre as much as ever, but there’s a significant difference between being aware of something and beholden to it and it seems to be the latter where the band draw the line. It isn’t just a question of having modern production or a sleek gatefold by Påhl Sundström — though neither hurts in terms of presentation — but about the forward push in the material itself. To wit, the winding guitar of “Crystal Dunes” and how that song touches on Middle Easternism or Mediterranean folk without fully abandoning the overarching outward thrust of The Outskirts of Reality‘s entirety, instead bringing those elements into the context of the song and the record as it moves ahead toward the track’s emergent wash and eventual dissolution around a final resonant hum and strum. That this happens en route to the time-warp manipulations of “Laboratory 1” likewise isn’t a coincidence. Aside from being a fit in terms of runtime, the otherwise-interlude is a readjustment of mentality that sets up and reinforces the spirit of arrival at “The Outskirts of Reality” itself. And while the title-track doesn’t hit 13 minutes like “Oneironaut” or even the 10 of “QSO” back on side A, it doesn’t need to.

Rather, the point comes across in the encompassing effects and keys and the scorching guitar soloing, as undulations and surges of melodies take hold and recede and return in nigh-on-maddening fashion. They’re five minutes in before you realize what’s happened, and by then, you couldn’t get out if you wanted to. The shift to the final progression is subtle, but there, and soon Yuri Gagarin are engulfed in a last wash of noise that takes hold despite the ongoing and adjoining loops. If you’re wondering who wins, the answer is noise. Noise wins. The band doesn’t so much deconstruct the piece as let it drift off into the crushing vacuum, and as harsh as the noise is, it fades out in surprisingly gentle fashion. Perhaps there’s room for sentiment in the cosmos after all. One way or the other, Yuri Gagarin‘s The Outskirts of Reality portrays space rock as a reinvigorated aesthetic in such a way as to make it exciting not just to established fans of the style, but those who might be taking it on for the first time. It’s a rare sense of outreach in terms of audience-building, and thus something of a gamble on the part of the band, but in terms of world-building and making its own impression, it is likewise resonant and organic: An ultrasonic blowout for all tomorrow’s todays. Sometimes with records that see envelopes as things to push there is purist backlash as a result, and maybe Yuri Gagarin are at least potentially exposing themselves to that, but there’s much work being done on The Outskirts of Reality to open the minds of those who take it on, and those willing to meet the band on their level will find doing so all the more rewarding.

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Grey Skies Fallen Premiere “Visions From the Last Sunset” from Cold Dead Lands

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on January 13th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

grey skies fallen

New York trio Grey Skies Fallen release their new album, Cold Dead Lands, on Jan. 24. Pick your apocalypse-in-progress and you just might find it in the pages of the story they’re telling across their fifth LP’s six-song/53-minute span, which begins with “Visions From the Last Sunset” and ends with “After the Summer Comes the Fall,” and all throughout paints its point of view clearly in the band’s well-established modus bringing together progressive death and depressive doom melody. The expansive vision the three-piece of founding guitarist/vocalist Rick Habeeb, bassist Tom Anderer and drummer Sal Gregory makes a perfect backdrop on which the theme unfolds, whether it’s the biting extremity of “Procession to the Tombs” and the penultimate “Ways of the World” or the broad reach of longer pieces like the aforementioned opener and closer as well as “Picking up the Pieces.” In these more fleshed-out, 10-minute-plus songs, Cold Dead Lands presents its scope as the first Grey Skies Fallen release in six years and the work of a band who are not just mature in their approach — having come together in 1996 — but who are unwilling to do anything other than continue to push forward and expand their range. “Visions From the Last Sunset,” “Picking up the Pieces” and “After the Summer Comes the Fall” make a kind of mini-album unto themselves, with “Cold Dead Lands,” “Procession to the Tombs” and “Ways of the World” — neither of which lacks breadth for their relatively shorter runtime — expanding the grim palette and theme around which the record is largely based.

The outlier in terms of perspective would seem to be “Picking up the Pieces,” if only because it presents some basic notion of there being any hope on any level whatsoever, but amid its early gallop grey skies fallen cold dead landsand later stateliness of lead guitar and harmonized vocals the prevailing spirit is still markedly doomed. This too is the case with “Visions From the Last Sunset,” which basks in its progressive aspects enough that the standalone guitar line that kicks in shortly before two minutes in reminds of Devin Townsend, and amid all the inevitable Opeth and Paradise Lost comparisons, the prog in prog-death shouldn’t be understated just because it plays out at a nodding tempo. HabeebAnderer and Gregory unfold the opener with a sense of purpose and thoughtful arrangement, not overly dramatic, but with clear intent toward making a statement about the world around them. In this way, Cold Dead Lands is very much built on what the leadoff track lays out. That’s the case tonally and melodically as well, but the title-track and “Procession to the Tombs,” which follow in immediate succession, effectively tip the balance of elements to one side or the other of the deathlier side of their sound. This too is a clear sign of intent as the band executes these changes with grace that might be considered deceptive given the harshness of some of what plays out — those who’d argue there’s no beauty in the grotesque are simply mistaken — and one finds in listening through that as they careen here and there, pauses like that preceding the final march in the title-track and more sudden turns like that from melodic to growling vocals early in “Picking up the Pieces” are united by a sense of creative will to serve the needs of the song and album as a whole at that moment.

In that way, Cold Dead Lands argues to be heard in its front-to-back entirety — so here’s a single track (ha!) — and with as much attention and willing immersion as one is ready to give. It is immediate in its deathly urgency and resonant in its melodicism, not overly emotional in the My Dying Bride sense, but neither unaffected by the decay it convincingly describes and portrays. It’s not an easy thing to position yourself at some distance to comment on the world around you falling apart. Grey Skies Fallen do it well in concept and execution, and if these are the endtimes, at least the fossil record will show we saw it coming.

You can and should stream “Visions From the Last Sunset” on the player below. Some quick band comment and PR wire info follow.

Please enjoy:

Grey Skies Fallen, “Visions From the Last Sunset” official track premiere

Rick Habeeb on “Visions from the Last Sunset”:

We wanted to open the album on an epic note, setting the stage for what’s to come. It’s about the end times and how at that moment people finally realize that humanity is the cause of our own demise. Most of the album shares this theme. We don’t consider it a concept album, but it definitely follows a central theme. There just seems to be a lot of people in denial about the state of the world.

New York-based melodic death/doom metal veterans, Grey Skies Fallen are proud to present “Visions from the Last Sunset.” The track is the second single taken from the group’s forthcoming album Cold Dead Lands. Video was created by former Grey Skies Fallen member, Craig Rossi. Grey Skies Fallen will release the album independently on their own imprint, Xanthos Music on January 24th, 2020. It is the fifth album in the band’s 23-year career.

Cold Dead Lands was recorded and engineered by Keith Moore at Audio Playground and produced by Grey Skies Fallen. Mixed and mastered by renowned musician/producer, Dan Swanö (Witherscape, ex-Edge of Sanity, ex-Bloodbath). Travis Smith (Death, Opeth, Nevermore, Katatonia) created the cover art. Dan Gargiulo (Revocation, Artificial Brain) and Will Smith (Buckshot Facelift, Artificial Brain, Afterbirth) appear as guests.

Cold Dead Lands Tracklist
1. Visions from the Last Sunset
2. Cold Dead Lands
3. Procession to the Tombs
4. Picking Up the Pieces
5. Ways of the World
6. After the Summer Comes the Fall

Grey Skies Fallen is:
Rick Habeeb – Guitar/Vocals
Tom Anderer – Bass
Sal Gregory – Drums

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Quarterly Review: Sunn O))), Crypt Sermon, The Neptune Power Federation, Chron Goblin, Ethereal Riffian, Parasol Caravan, Golden Core, Black Smoke Omega, Liquid Orbit, Sun Below

Posted in Reviews on January 10th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

quarterly review

Hey all, we made it to the final day of the Winter 2020 Quarterly Review, so congrats to ‘us’ and by us I mean myself and anyone still reading, which is probably about two or three people. On my end today is completely manic in terms of real-life, offline logistics — much to do — but no way I’m letting one last batch of 10 reviews fall by the wayside, so rest assured, by the time this goes live, it’ll be complete, even though I’ve had to swap things out as some stuff has been locked into other coverage since I first slated it. Plenty around waiting to be written up. Perpetually, it would seem.

But before we dive in, thank you for reading if you’ve caught any part of this QR. I hope your 2020 is off to an excellent start and that finding new music to love is as much a part of your next 12 months as it can possibly be.

Quarterly Review #41-50:

Sunn O))), Pyroclasts

sunn o pyroclasts

The narrative — because of course there’s a narrative; blessings and peace upon it — is that drone-metal progenitors Sunn O))), while in the studio recording earlier-2019’s Life Metal (review here) with Steve Albini, began each day doing a 12-minute improvised modal drone working in a different scale. They used a stopwatch to keep time. Thus the four tracks of Pyroclasts were born. They all hover around 11 minutes after editing, which settles neatly onto two vinyl sides, and it’s the rawer vision of Sunn O))), with just Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley‘s guitars, rather than some of the more elaborate arrangements which they’ve been known to undertake. That they’d put out two studio records in the same year is striking considering it had been four years since 2015’s Kannon (review here), but I think the truth of the matter is they had these tapes and decided they were worth preserving with a popular release. I wouldn’t say they were wrong, and the immersion here is a good reminder of the core appeal of Sunn O)))‘s conjured depths.

Sunn O))) on Bandcamp

Southern Lord Recordings website

 

Crypt Sermon, The Ruins of Fading Light

Crypt Sermon The Ruins of Fading Light

Traditional doom rarely sounds as vital as it does in the hands of Crypt Sermon. The Philly five-piece return with The Ruins of Fading Light on Dark Descent Records as an awaited follow-up to 2015’s Out of the Garden (review here) and thereby bring forth classic metal with all the urgency of thrash and the poise of the NWOBHM. Frontman Brooks Wilson — also responsible for the album art — is in command here and with the firm backing of bassist Frank Chin and drummer Enrique Sagarnaga, guitarists Steve Jannson and James Lipczynski offer sharpened-axe riffs and solo scorch offset by passages of keyboard for an all the more epic vibe. The rolling “Christ is Dead” is pure Candlemass, but the galloping “The Snake Handler” might be the highlight of the 10-track/55-minute run, though that’s not to take away either from the Dehumanizer chug of “Key of Solomon” or the melodic reach of the closing title-track either. Take your pick, really. It’s all metal as fuck and glorious for that. If they don’t sell denim jackets, they should.

Crypt Sermon on Thee Facebooks

Dark Descent Records on Bandcamp

 

The Neptune Power Federation, Memoirs of a Rat Queen

the neptune power federation memoirs of a rat queen

“Can you dig what the Imperial Priestess is laying down?” is the central question of Memoirs of a Rat Queen, the first album from Sydney, Australia’s The Neptune Power Federation to be released through Cruz Del Sur Music, and it arrives over an ELO “Don’t Bring Me Down”-style arena rock beat on leadoff “Can You Dig?” as an intro to the rest of the LP. Strange, epic, progressive, traditional, heavy and cascading rock and roll follows, as intricate as it is immediately catchy, and whether it’s “Watch Our Masters Bleed” or “I’ll Make a Man out of You,” the Imperial Priestess Screaming Loz Sutch and company make it easy to answer in the affirmative. Arrangements are willfully over the top as “Bound for Hell” and “The Reaper Comes for Thee” engage a heavy rocker take on heavy metal’s legacy, maddened laughter and all in the latter track, which closes, and the affect on the listener is nothing less than an absolute blast — a reminder of the empowering sound of early metal on a disaffected generation in the late ’70s and early ’80s and how that same fist-pump-against-the-world has become timeless. No doubt the costumes and all that make The Neptune Power Federation striking live, but as Memoirs of a Rat Queen readily steps forward to prove, the songs are there as well.

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Cruz Del Sur Music on Bandcamp

 

Chron Goblin, Here Before

chron goblin here before

Have Chron Goblin been here before? The title of their album speaks to a kind of creepy deja vu feeling, and that’s emblematic of the Canadian band’s move away from the party rock of their past offerings, their last LP having been Backwater (review here) 2015. Fortunately, while they seek out some new aesthetic ground, the 11 tracks of Here Before do maintain Chron Goblin‘s penchant for straight-ahead songcraft and unpretentious execution — and frankly, that wasn’t at all broken. Neither, perhaps was the let’s-get-drunk-and-bounce-around spirit of their prior work, but they sound more mature in a song like the six-minute “Ghost” and “Slipping Under” (premiered here) successfully melds the shift in presentation with the energy of their prior output. Maybe it’s still a party but we watch horror movies? I don’t know. They’ve still got “Giving in to Fun” early in the tracklisting — worth noting it follows the swaying “Oblivion” — so maybe I’m misreading the whole thing, or maybe it’s more complex than being entirely one thing or the other might allow for. Perish the thought. Either way, can’t mess with the songs.

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Ethereal Riffian, Legends

ethereal riffian legends

Ukrainian heavy rockers Ethereal Riffian make a pointed sonic shift with their Legends album (on Robustfellow), keeping some of the grunge spirit in their melodies as the eight-minute “Moonflower” and closer “Ethereal Path” show, but in songs like “Unconquerable” and the early salvo of “Born Again,” “Dreamgazer” and “Legends” and even the second half of “Kosmic” and “Pain to Wisdom,” they let loose from some of the more meditative aspects of their past work with a fiery drive and a theme of enlightenment through political and social change. A kind of great awakening of the self. There’s still plenty of “ethereal” to go with all that “riffian” in the intro “Sage’s Alchemy,” or the first half of “Kosmic” or the CD bonus “Yeti’s Hide,” but no question the balance has tipped toward the straightforward, and the idea seems to be that the electrified feel is as much a part of the message as the message itself. The only trouble is that since putting Legends out, Ethereal Riffian called it quits to refocus their energies elsewhere in the universe. Are they really done? I’m skeptical, but if so, then at least they went out trying new things, which always seemed to be a specialty, and on a note of directly positive attitude.

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Robustfellow Productions on Bandcamp

 

Parasol Caravan, Nemesis

parasol caravan nemesis

A second long-player behind 2015’s Para Solem, the eight-song/35-minute Nemesis is not only made for vinyl, but it’s made for rockers. Specifically, heavy rockers. And it’s heavy rock, for heavy rockers. Based in Linz, Austria, the double-guitar four-piece Parasol Caravan have their sound and style on lockdown, and their work, while not really keeping any secrets in terms of where it’s coming from in its ’70s-via-’90s modern take, is brought to bear with a clarity that seems particularly derived from the European heavy rock tradition. Para Solem was longer and somewhat fuzzier in tone, but the stripped down approach of the title-track at the outset and its side B counterpart, “Serpent of Time” still unfold to a swath of ground covered, whether it’s in the subdued instrumental “Acceptance” or “Transition,” which follows the driving “Blackstar” and closes the LP with a bit of a progressive metal edge. Even that has its hook, though, and that’s ultimately the point.

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Golden Core, Fimbultýr

golden core fimbultyr

The title Fimbultýr translates to “mighty god” and is listed among the alternative names of Odin, which would seem to be who Oslo’s Golden Core have in mind in the leadoff title-track of their second album. Issued through Fysisk Format, it is not necessarily what one thinks of as “Viking metal” in the post-Amon Amarth or post-Enslaved context, but instead, the eight-song collection unfolds a biting modern sludge taking an edge of the earlier Mastodon lumber and bringing it to harshly-vocalized rollout. The 11-minute “Runatal” and only-seconds-shorter “Buslubben” are respective vocal points around which sides A and B of the release center, and each finds a way to give like emphasis to atmosphere and extremity, to stretch as well as pummel, and much to Golden Core‘s credit, they seem not only aware of the changes they’re presenting in their material, but in control of how and when they’re executed. The resulting linear flow of Fimbultýr, given the shifts within, isn’t to be understated as a victory on the part of the band.

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Fysisk Format on Bandcamp

 

Black Smoke Omega, Harbinger

Black Smoke Omega Harbinger

Harbinger may well be just that — a sign of things to come. The debut offering from Black Smoke Omega wraps progressive death-doom and gothic piano-led atmospherics around a thematic drawing from science-fiction, and while I’m not certain of the narrative being told by the Dortmund, Germany-based band, their method for telling it is fascinating. It’s not entirely seamless in its shifts, and it doesn’t seem like the band — seemingly spearheaded by multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Jack Nier, though Ashley James (The Antiquity) plays guitar on “A Man without a Heart” and Michael Tjanaka brings synth/piano to “Kainé” — want it to be, but there’s no denying that by the time “Falling Awake” seems to provide some melodic resolution to the often-slow-motion tumult prior, it’s doing so by bringing the different sides together. It’s a significant journey from the raw, barking shouts on “The Black Scrawl” and the lurching-into-chug-into-lurch of “The Man without a Heart” to get there, however. But this, too, seems to be on purpose. How it all might shake out feels like a question for the next release, but Black Smoke Omega seem poised here to leave heads spinning.

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Liquid Orbit, Game of Promises

Liquid Orbit Game of Promises

While on the surface, Liquid Orbit might be on familiar enough ground with Game of Promises for anyone who has encountered the swath of up-and-comers working in the wake of Blues Pills, the Bremen, Germany, five-piece distinguish themselves through not just the keyboard work of Anders alongside Andree‘s guitar, Ralf‘s bass, Steve‘s drums and Sylvia‘s vocals, but also the shifts between funk, boogie, and edges of doom that play out in songs like “Shared Pain” and “Please Let Her Go,” as well as the title-track, which starts side B of the Nasoni Records-issued vinyl with a highlight guitar solo and an insistent snare tap beneath that works to bring movement to what’s still one of Game of Promises‘ shorter tracks at six and a half minutes, as opposed to the earlier eight-minute-toppers on side A or the psych-prog finale “Verlorene Karawane,” which translates in English to “lost caravan” and indeed basks in some Mideastern vibe and backward-effects vocal swirl. Bottom line, if you go into it thinking you know everything you’re getting, you’re probably selling it short.

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Nasoni Records website

 

Sun Below, Black Volume III

Sun Below Black Volume III

As the title hints, the name-your-price Black Volume III is the third EP release from Toronto’s Sun Below. All three have been issued over roughly a year’s span, and the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Jason Craig, drummer/backing vocalist Will Adams, bassist/backing vocalist Garrison Thordarson — who as far as I’m concerned wins this entire Quarterly Review when it comes to names; that’s an awesome name — and two have featured covers. On their debut, they took on “Dragonaut” by Sleep, and on Black Volume III, in following up the 12-minute nod-roller “Solar Burnout,” they thicken and further stonerize the catchy jaunt that is “Wires” by Red Fang. They’ve got, in other words, good taste. Black Volume III opens with “Green Visions” and thereby takes some righteous fart-fuzz for a walk both that and “Solar Burnout” show plenty of resi(n)dual Sleep influence, but honestly, it’s a self-releasing band with three dudes who sound like they’re having a really good time figuring out where they want to be in terms of sound after about a year from their first release, and if you ask anything else of Black Volume III than what it gives, you’re obviously lacking in context. Which is to say you’re fucking up. Don’t fuck up. Dig riffs instead.

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Quarterly Review: We Lost the Sea, Nebula Drag, Nothing is Real, Lotus Thief, Uncle Woe, Cybernetic Witch Cult, Your Highness, Deep Valley Blues, Sky Shadow Obelisk, Minus Green

Posted in Reviews on January 9th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

quarterly review

Yesterday was marked by a decisive lack of productivity. I got there, don’t get me wrong, but it took friggin’ forever to make it happen. I’m obviously hoping for a different result today and tomorrow. You would think 10 records is 10 records, but some days it’s easy flowing, bounce from one to the next without any trouble, and some days you’re me sitting there wondering how many times you can get away with using the word “style” in the same post. Punishing. The saving factor was that the music was good. Amazing how often that serves as the saving factor.

Just today and tomorrow left, so let’s dive in. Lots of different kinds of releases today, so keep your ears and mind open.

Quarterly Review #31-40:

We Lost the Sea, Triumph and Disaster

we lost the sea triumph and disaster

There is plenty of heavy post-rock floating — and I do mean floating — around these days, spreading ethereal and contemplative vibes hither and yon, but none have the emotional weight brought to bear instrumentally by Sydney, Australia’s We Lost the Sea. Across their 65-minute 2LP, Triumph and Disaster (on Translation Loss), the six-piece band recount a wordless narrative of the aftermath of the end of the world through the eyes of a mother and child on their last day. It is a touching and beautiful flow of sentiment, regret and weight that comes through the wash of three guitars and synth, bass and drums, and though 2015’s Departure Songs (review here, discussed here) worked in a similar vein in terms of style if not story, these seven tracks and 65 minutes are wholly distinguished by a willful-seeming progression on the part of the band and a patience and poise of execution as they alternate between longer and shorter pieces that only underscores how special their work truly is. At least the apocalypse is gorgeous.

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Translation Loss store

 

Nebula Drag, Blud

nebula drag blud

Nothing against the progenitors of the form, but Nebula Drag seem with Blud to pull off the feat that Helmet never really could, bringing together a noise-rock derived dissonance of riff with a current of melody in the vocals and even moments of patience in the guitar to go along with the crunch of its more aggressive points. This inherently makes the Desert Records offering from the San Diego outfit a less outwardly intense affair than it might otherwise be, but songs like “Always Dying,” “Numb” and the closer “Mental” — as well as the album as a whole — are ultimately richer for it, and there’s still plenty of drive in opener “Dos Lados” and the shorter “Faces” and “What Went Wrong,” which arrive back to back on side B and lend the momentum that carries Nebula Drag through the remainder of the proceedings. It’s easy to hear to Blud superficially and pass it off as noise or heavy rock or this or that, but Nebula Drag earn and reward deeper listens in kind.

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Desert Records on Bandcamp

 

Nothing is Real, Pain is Joy

nothing is real pain is joy

Los Angeles oppressive and misanthropic noise project Nothing is Real manifested some of the harshest sounds I heard in 2019 on Only the Wicked are Pure (review here), and the just-months-later follow-up, Pain is Joy, reminds of the constant sensory assault under which we all seem to live. Across five extended tracks of increased production value — still raw, just not as raw — the band seems to be forming a coherent philosophical perspective in “Existence is Pain,” the guest-vocalized “Realms of Madness,” “Life is but a Dream,” “Pain is Joy,” and “We Must Break Free,” but if there’s a will to explain the punishment that is living, there’s not much by way of answer forthcoming in the sludgy riffing, grinding onslaught and surprising solo soar of “We Must Break Free,” instrumental as it is. Still, the fact that Pain is Joy allows for the possibility of joy to exist at all, in any form, ever, distinguishes it from its predecessor, and likewise the clearer sound and cogent expressive purpose. A focused attack suits Nothing is Real. I have the feeling it won’t be long before we find out where it takes the band next.

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Nothing is Real on Bandcamp

 

Lotus Thief, Oresteia

lotus thief Oresteia

If the name Oresteia isn’t immediately familiar, maybe “Agamemnon” will give some hint. San Francisco’s Lotus Thief, with their third full-length and second for Prophecy Productions, not only bring together progressive black metal, post-rock and drama-laced doom, but do so across eight-tracks and 38 minutes summarizing a 5th century Greek tragedy written in three parts. Ambitious? Yes. Successful? I’ll claim zero familiarity with the text itself, but for the eight-minute “Libation Bearers” alone — never mind any of the other immersive, beautiful wash the band emits throughout — I’m sure glad they’re engaging with it. Ambient stretches like “Banishment” and “Woe” and the barely-there “Reverence” add further character to the proceedings, but neither are “The Furies,” “Agamemnon,” “Sister in Silence” or subdued-but-tense closer “The Kindly Ones” lacking for atmosphere. Oresteia is grim, theatrical, stylistically forward-thinking and gorgeous. A perfect, perfect, perfect winter record.

Lotus Thief website

Prophecy Productions on Bandcamp

 

Uncle Woe, Our Unworn Limbs

Uncle Woe Our Unworn Limbs

Chugging, sprawling, and most of all reaching, the late-2019 debut LP, Our Unworn Limbs, from Ontario as-yet-solo-outfit Uncle Woe — composed, performed and recorded by Rain Fice — is one of marked promise, taking elements of modern progressive and cosmic doom from the likes of YOB‘s subtly angular riffing style and unfolding them across an emotionally resonant but still manageable 43-minute span. The stomp in “That’s How They Get You” is duly oppressive in following the opener “Son of the Queen,” but with the one-minute experiment “When the Night Fell Pt. 2” and jagged but harmonized “Mania for Breaking” ahead of 15-minute closer “Push the Blood Back In,” the record’s tumult and triumphs are presented with character and a welcome feeling of exploration. I would expect over time that the melodic basis and vocal presence Fice demonstrates in “Mania for Breaking” will continue to grow, but both are already significant factors in the success of that song and the album surrounding it, the first 20-plus minutes of which is spent mired in “Son of the Queen” and “That’s How They Get You,” as early proof of the sure controlling hand at the helm of the project. May it continue to be so.

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Uncle Woe on Bandcamp

 

Cybernetic Witch Cult, Absurdum ad Nauseam

cybernetic witch cult absurdam ad nauseam

Guitarist/vocalist Alex Wyld, bassist Doug MacKinnon and drummer Lewis May have processed the world around them and translated it into a riffy course of sci-fi and weirdo semi-prog thematics across Absurdum ad Nauseam. What else to call such a thing? At eight songs and 52 minutes, it stands astride the lines between heavy rock and doom and sludge in lengthier pieces like “The Cetacean,” “The Ivory Tower” and the finale “Hypercomputer Part 2,” yet when it comes to picking out discernible influences, one has to result to generalizations like Black Sabbath and Acrimony, the latter in the rolling largesse of “Spice” and “The Myth of Sisyphus” later on in the outing and the vocal effects there particularly, but neither is enough to give a sense of what Cybernetic Witch Cult are actually about in terms of the modernity of their approach and the it’s-okay-we-know-what-we’re-doing-just-trust-us vibe they bring as they rush through “Cromagnonaut” after the intro and “Hypercomputer Part 1.” I’m inclined to just go with it, which should tell you something in itself about the band’s ability to carry their listener through. They earn that trust.

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Your Highness, Your Highness

Your Highness Your Highness

Heavy blues meets heavy metal on Your Highness‘ self-titled and self-released third album, collecting eight tracks that divide evenly across two sides of an LP, each half ending with a longer piece, whether it’s “Black Fever” (9:00) on side A or “Kin’s Blood” (14:14) on side B. Through these, in full-throttle movements like opener “Devil’s Delight” and “Rope as a Gift” and in nestled-in groovers like “The Flood” and “To Wood and Stone,” Your Highness don’t shy away from bringing a sense of atmosphere to their material, but maintain a focus on burl, gruffness and tonal weight, an aggressive undercurrent in a song like “Born Anew” — the riff to which is nonetheless particularly bluesy — being emblematic of the perspective on display throughout. It moves too fleetly to ever be considered entirely sludge, but Your Highness‘ 51-minute span is prone to confrontation just the same, and its ferocious aspects come to a head in satisfying fashion as the wash of crash pays off “Kin’s Blood,” shouts cutting through en route to a finish of acoustic guitar that lands as a reminder to release the breath you’ve been holding the whole time. Heavy stuff? Why yes, it is.

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Deep Valley Blues, Demonic Sunset

Deep Valley Blues Demonic Sunset

Italy’s fervor for stoner rock is alive and well as represented in Demonic Sunset, the eight-song/34-minute debut full-length from Catanzaro’s Deep Valley Blues. Their sound works out to be more heavy rock than the desert one might imagine given the album cover, but that influence is still there, if beefed up tonally by guitarists Alessandro Morrone and Umberto Arena (the latter also backing vocals), bassist/vocalist Giando Sestito and drummer Giorgio Faini, whose fluid turns between propulsion and swing enable a song like “Dana Skully” to come together in its verse/chorus transitions. The penultimate nine-minute “Tired to Beg For” is an outlier among more straight-ahead songwriting, but they use the time well and close with the acoustic-led “Empire,” an encouraging showcase of sonic breadth to follow up on the start of “Lust Vegas” and a widening of the melodic range that one hopes Deep Valley Blues push further on subsequent releases. Centered around issues of mental health in terms of its lyrics, if somewhat vaguely, Demonic Sunset is a first LP that extends its focus to multiple levels while still keeping its feet on the ground in a way that will be familiar to experienced genre heads.

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Sky Shadow Obelisk, The Satyr’s Path

sky shadow obelisk the satyrs path

You can toss a coin as to whether Sky Shadow Obelisk are death-doom or doom-death, but as you do, just keep an eye on the bludgeoning doled out by the solo-project of Rhode Island-based composer Peter Scartabello on his latest EP, The Satyr’s Path, because it is equal parts thorough and ferocious. Flourish of keys and melody adds a progressive edge to the proceedings across the five-track release, particularly in its two instrumentals, the centerpiece “Ouroboros” and the first half of closer “Shadow of Spring,” but amid the harnessed madness of “Chain of Hephaestus” — which from its lyrics I can only think of as a work song — and the one-two of “The Serpent’s Egg” and the title-track early on, those moments of letup carry a tension of mood that even the grand finish in “Shadow of Spring” seems to acknowledge. It’s been since 2015 that Scartabello last offered up a Sky Shadow Obelisk full-length. He shows enough scope here to cover an album’s worth of ground, but on the most basic level, I’d take more if it was on offer.

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Minus Green, Equals Zero

Minus Green Equals Zero

Following up on a 2015 self-titled the material on Minus Green‘s sophomore album, Equals Zero, would seem to have at least in part been kicking around for a couple years, as the closer here, “Durial” (11:22) was released in a single version in 2016. Fair enough. If the other three cuts, opener “Primal” (9:58), “00” (11:51) and the penultimate “Kames” (10:08), have also been developed over that span, the extra rumination wouldn’t seem to have harmed them at all — they neither feel overthought to a point of staleness nor lack anything in terms of the natural vibe that their style of progressive instrumentalist heavy psychedelia warrants. The procession unfolds as a cleanly-structured LP with two songs per side arranged shorter-into-longer, and their sound is duly immersive to give an impression of exploration underway without being entirely jam-based in their structure. That is, listening to “00,” one gets the feeling it’s headed somewhere, which, fortunately it is. Where it and the record surrounding go ultimately isn’t revolutionary in aesthetic terms, but it is well performed and more than suitable for repeat visits. Contrary to the impression they might seek to give, it amounts to more than nothing.

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