Review & Track Premiere: Sons of Otis, Isolation

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on September 30th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Sons of Otis Isolation

[Click play above to stream ‘Blood Moon’ from Sons of Otis’ Isolation. Album is out Oct. 16 on Totem Cat Records. Preorders here.]

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2018 saw the release of the limited live album, In search of the best academic How To Write The Phd Proposal? You are in the right place! Enjoy hiring our experienced writers to do a successful research paper, term Live in Den Bosch (discussed here), as a beginning of the band’s relationship with  College Admission Advisors - professional essays at moderate prices available here will make your studying into delight Benefit from our affordable Totem Cat that has also included reissues of their 1994 You can email your finance problems to help@teddycan.com or call toll free 866-930-6363 for FREE A Letter For Application. TutorTeddy offers free finance Paid to Suffer debut EP and follow-up debut LP, 1996’s  Spacejumbofudge (discussed here), and Concrete Lo-Fi also backed a reissue of 2001’s Songs for Worship in 2017, but a dearth of new Sons of Otis has been a notable absence. Perhaps all the more because in the years since Seismic, a new generation of listeners has emerged hungry for precisely the kind of largesse of groove the band has so long had on offer. Add to that the automatic cred their years give them — Sons of Otis outlived grunge and they’ll outlive you too — and all the makings of well-earned weedian cult plaudits would seem to be in place.

Their methodology, long established, is not messed with on IsolationBaluke‘s throaty vocals — more “mucus” than “sludge” — echo up from a hazy nod of riff while languid pacing evokes doomed vibes. They might be doomed. We might all be doomed. The difference is they don’t care, and across the two sides of the LP, from the inward dive and purposeful beginning that the record gets with “Hopeless” to the plodding repurpose of Black Sabbath‘s “Black Sabbath” that is “Blood Moon,” they absolutely prove it.

And just who on or beyond earth could get away with brazenly, recognizably putting to use that most landmark of genre-making riffs? Well, Sons of Otis and pretty much nobody. As in the past they’ve donned works by Saint Vitus and Funkadelic, they inextricably make “Blood Moon” their own, and if you’re not on board with wherever they want to go by the time that song opens side B, you should probably just punch out. “Hopeless,” “JJ” (no relation) and “Trust” comprise the first half of Isolation and they are a willful slog through a mire of distortion, Baluke and Sargeant‘s tones a wash of low-end air-push, Aubin‘s toms an accompanying thud as Baluke intones, “Free my soul,” on the opener, soon enough to follow by referencing “Amazing Grace” in “JJ.”

None of the first three tracks touches nine minutes long, but the level of submersion Sons of Otis offer in their material is unmistakable. As an initial salvo, “Hopeless” and “JJ” are crawlingly slow — maybe anguished, but not entirely beaten down — and relentless in their paean to the riffs themselves. This may well be the band raising their collective hand to testify to the glory of their own process, and if so, it’s fairly enough earned, and the watch-your-brain-melt-because-yes-you-can-see-it effect on the listener is palpable.

At once huge and obfuscated, these first moments of Isolation play out as a single morass, and while “Trust” — shorter at 6:24 — ups the tempo to some degree in order to highlight its funkier wah riff, by then the record is more than 16 minutes deep into its run and, the vibe is set. One sincerely doubts the band would have it any other way, and if they did, would they still be Sons of Otis? I don’t know. But consider acts like Electric Wizard, Weedeater or Bongzilla — the latter two harsher vocally but all with well-known sounds. With any prior experience as a listener, you have a sense of what’s coming from a new release. Sons of Otis‘ sound operates in a similar fashion, but Isolation isn’t redundant either in the years it’s been since the band’s preceding album or on the level of its own songs.

sons of otis

Or rather, if it’s redundant, it’s gloriously redundant.

“Blood Moon” leads off Isolation‘s second half, as noted, and is followed by the LP’s two shortest tracks in “Ghost” and the closing instrumental wash that is “Theme II,” both on either side of six minutes long. In delivering to expectation, Sons of Otis nonetheless surpass it. After the thunderstomp that is “Blood Moon,” “Ghost” functions with a similar sense of repetitiveness, but more than any of the other tracks seems to put Aubin in the lead position. His drums start the song with two slow stick-clicks, and then even as the bass and guitar lurch to life, it’s the round-and-round-we-go tom fills that most distinguish the penultimate track.

A tension set early is never really released, and as drawling spaciousness surrounds, the feeling is almost one of sensory overload. It’s the moment when Isolation most comes across like it’s going to swallow you entirely, and even when it seems like that tension is being released, it’s really just moving to another stage. Sandwiched between “Blood Moon” and “Theme II,” it is in just the right position for what it presents, and as it leaves off with noise and lets the thud and rumble of the closer — an apparent sequel to the well-feedbacked “Theme” from Spacejumbofudge — the roiling completeness of Isolation is hard to miss.

This is Sons of Otis in full-album mode, and if “Theme II” is half a song topped with noise, a more fitting summation of the fuckall represented throughout the LP preceding it is hard to imagine. A cymbal wash and residual rumble fades out at the close, and all that’s left is the hungover sense of reality-departure from which one is somewhat cruelly returned. Put your head in it — or maybe put it in your head via those fancy earbuds you’ve got there — and Isolation might just stretch you out for years. My advice is to let it do so. One never knows when the follow-up might be coming.

Sons of Otis, Isolation (2020)

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Album Review: Enslaved, Utgard

Posted in Reviews on September 29th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

enslaved utgard

Few bands last. Fewer still last while maintaining their commitment to creative progression, and Bergen, Norway’s Enslaved have pushed themselves forward once again with Utgard in broad-reaching and exciting ways. The album is their sixth to be delivered through Nuclear Blast, and as the band approach their 30th anniversary in 2021, they seem to enter an entirely new era of their sound, more boldly engaging with the krautrock and prog influences they’ve touted for years and bringing them into their long-established extreme metal context.

The founding duo of bassist/vocalist Grutle Kjellson and guitarist/sometimes backing vocalist Ivar Bjørnson, along with Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal, who joined in 2002, have set the band on a trajectory over the course of their career, and Utgard — which runs nine songs and 44 minutes, making it the shortest full-length they’ve put out since 1998’s Blodhemn — is a fitting next step along their path. At the same time, from the choral vocals that start opener “Fires in the Dark” and running through the additional percussion in “Jettegryta,” the almost poppy melody in the hook of “Sequence” offset delightfully by Kjellson‘s rasp, the darkened space rock thrust of “Homebound” and the galloping culmination to which it leads, on and on across the clearly-delineated two sides of the LP, Utgard also sees Enslaved more committed to embodying “progressive black metal” as an ideal than they would ever have seemed to be, and it toys with the balance between the progressive and the charred with grace and an electrifying sense of creativity.

On 2017’s E (review here), the group introduced keyboardist Håkon Vinje, and in taking up the clean-vocal role formerly occupied by Herbrand Larsen, Vinje soared. He does so again throughout Utgard, but Enslaved have made another pivotal change in personnel, bidding farewell to drummer Cato Bekkevold after 15 years and bringing aboard Iver Sandøy, who also adds clean vocals to complement those of Vinje. Sandøy — who has worked with Ivar Bjørnson in other projects like his Skuggsjá collaboration with Einar Selvik — is also a noted producer in Bergen and has engineered on Enslaved albums going back a decade to 2010’s Axioma Ethica Odini (review here), but again, by bringing him into the band as well as having him helm the recording, it is one more way in which Enslaved are adjusting the balance of what they do in order to discover new breadth in their aesthetic.

As the “new guys,” Vinje and Sandøy make formidable contributions to Utgard‘s songs, and from the lushness in the momentary atmospheric break of “Sequence” and the harmonies that follow to the unabashed kraut-ness of the electronica fusion at the outset of side B’s “Urjotun,” they are crucial in Enslaved‘s success across the record’s span.

It is worth underscoring that, even with the shifts in lineup that recent years have brought, and with the movement toward prog in their sound, Utgard is still very much an Enslaved record. Kjellson stakes his claim to the forefront early following the Viking chants at the outset of “Fires in the Dark” — one imagines them playing that song in open air to stirring effect to begin a set at the 2020 Fire in the Mountains festival in Wyoming, which Bjørnson was to have curated — and themes of heritage, mythology, and even the symbolism of the crow in Truls Espedal‘s cover art feel like a part of the longer narrative the band has been conveying at some level for nearly the last 20 years.

enslaved

What Utgard shows, however, is just how vast the idea of being “an Enslaved record” can be nearly 30 years into the band’s career. The droning, spoken-word semi-title-track “Utgardr” carries an experimental feel that builds into “Urjotun” and reminds of Bjørnson‘s Bardspec project, and just two songs later, the furious double-kick and harsh vocals in the verse of “Flight of Thought and Memory” offer one of Utgard‘s most pummeling moments. That’s soon offset by Vinje‘s extended chorus, but the point and the contrast holds true, and even as they move toward that highlight cut’s crescendo, they do so with exacting propulsion, leading to a quieter finish and silence ahead of “Storms of Utgard” and the finale “Distant Seasons,” the former marked out by its straight-ahead structural approach as well as its tambourine and the latter something of a hidden gem that seals the band’s ultimate triumph in a mere four and a half minutes.

“Distant Seasons” finishes not so much summarizing Enslaved‘s achievements across the preceding tracks, but using them as a preface to go even further into a wash of melody and thereby leave their listenership with the clear message that the journey — that undertaken by the band and joined by the audience — isn’t over yet. And indeed, it might not be. The ideal Enslaved are chasing on Utgard is not a static target. It is an evolving notion of creativity, and as much as these songs are able to do in setting themselves as a landmark, “Distant Seasons” leaves one assured that Enslaved have yet more exploring to do.

The advent of Vinje in the band was a significant distinguishing factor of E from recent predecessors like 2015’s In Times (review here) and 2012’s Riitiir (review here), as he bolstered the tenets of their sound and helped bring new ideas to the fore. Sandøy, as a drummer, backing vocalist and presence in the production, would seem to have no less of an effect throughout Utgard, and as a result, continue to sound refreshed. It would be hyperbole to say they come across like a new band — because, come on, it’s their 15th record; also one wouldn’t want to belittle either their experience as songwriters or the overarching nature of their progression — but as resonant and masterful as Utgard is, it’s also brimming with possibilities for how the new ideas it presents might flourish in works to come.

Few bands last. Fewer still last while growing. Almost nobody can look back on 30 years of breaking ground and still leave a listener with the notion that the best may be yet to come. Enslaved have been around long enough that their audience can pick and choose favorite albums from along the way, but Utgard is a singular accomplishment, and thinking of the band as a life’s work for Kjellson and Bjørnson, all the more worthy of that designation. Recommended.

Enslaved, “Urjotun” official video

Enslaved, “Jettegryta” official video

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Review & Track Premiere: Tony Reed, Funeral Suit

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on September 28th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

tony reed funeral suit

[Click play above to stream ‘Waterbirth’ from Tony Reed’s Funeral Suit. Album is out Nov. 6 on Ripple Music. Says Reed, ‘Musically the genesis of “Waterbirth” came to me by accident. I was visiting a friend who had an old National M4 resonator that he was playing in a tuning I wasn’t familiar with (DGDGBD). He was playing it with a slide in a blues style. I asked him if I could borrow it for the night to write something in my style with that tuning. This is what I recorded that night. The song is about being hopelessly lost and turning to the one you love to help guide you home.’]

The acoustic solo debut from Tony Reed arrives as part of a creative explosion that has been going on for years at this point. Recording at his own HeavyHead Studio in Port Orchard, Washington, Reed issues Funeral Suit through Ripple‘s ‘Blood and Strings’ series — which began with Wino‘s Forever Gone this summer –and it joins at least two splits, a dug-up-and-deconstructed single and another EP from his main outfit, Mos Generator, an archival release from the earlier goth-tinged project Constance Tomb (with a promise of a new album to follow, already in the works), and a debut full-length and second EP from the supergroup Big Scenic Nowhere, in which Reed works alongside members of Fu Manchu and Yawning Man, among a rotating cast of guests. Plus a swath of mixing and mastering projects for other artists and bands, as always. And there’s a good chance that I’ve left one or two things out.

In the context of this frenetic productivity, it’s somewhat astonishing that Reed found the time to add nuances like the self-harmonies and the Mellotron early in and the dual-layers of strum in the final fadeout of the title-track of Funeral Suit, or to tap into CatStevens-meets-AlainJohannes vibes on the progressive, finger-plugged and richly melodic opener “Waterbirth.” There are a couple reworked Mos Generator songs in “Lonely One” — originally “Lonely One Kenobi” from 2012’s Nomads (review here), which began the band’s association with Ripple Music — and “Wicked Willow” from 2016’s Abyssinia (review here), as well as closer “Who Goes There,” which appeared as a two-parter on late-2019’s Spontaneous Combustions EP (review here), but even these are given due treatment rather than simply played in “unplugged” fashion. To wit, the impassioned vocal of “Lonely One” and layers of guitar that accompany, or the slow piano balladry that suddenly feels like such a natural context for “Wicked Willow” and the choral effect that acts as a culmination for the entirety of Funeral Suit at the end of “Who Goes There.” These moments balance intimacy and melodic grandeur, emotional expression and stylistic experimentation.

As those who follow Reed‘s work to some degree or other would have to expect, he delivers this material with a steady, masterful hand. His approach to melody is clean and clear, his playing is precise but organic, and across the ultra-manageable eight-song/34-minute span of Funeral Suit, he demonstrates an awareness of his audience not only through a customary lack of pretense or in the lyrics to “Lonely One” (“I can tell you right now, people…”) and “Funeral Suit” (“…Can I find worth in you and you and you?”), but also in the breadth of arrangements throughout. A crucial first clue of the diversity to come arrives with “Waterbirth,” which is played in a style unlike anything else on the album. It’s the shortest track at 3:07, and along with the charm of a subtle Voivod reference in the first verse, it brings a melodic wash worthy of its title, Reed joining himself in the chorus for an effect conveying depth and melancholy.

tony reed

There’s a turn just before the last minute that brings handclaps and a feel like languid gospel, but of course a return to the chorus finishes, the structure duly reinforced. Even so, the message to the listener that Funeral Suit is more than guy-and-a-guitar folk emulation is immediate, and by putting “Waterbirth” first and then following it with the more straight-ahead strum of “Moonlighting,” the aforementioned Mellotron on “Funeral Suit,” and the relatively serene amble of “Along the Way” on the record’s first side, Reed likewise frames the progressive reach of the album as a priority. Thus the mind of the audience is more open to whatever the subsequent tracks might bring, and because the material that follows asks relatively few indulgences, it’s that much easier to follow along where each piece leads. This is a skill born of experience, and it makes an essential contribution to the spirit of the album as a whole.

“Lonely One Kenobi” was a standout hook on Nomads, and there may be a bit of reorienting the listener happening as “Lonely One” — the title dropping the Star Wars reference that seemed to distract from the emotionally-fueled, frankly lonely lyrics — but whether or not one assumes a given listener taking on Funeral Suit is already familiar, its harder-edged strum and its soulful vocals find it serving as a memorable inclusion here as well. It is followed and complemented by “Wicked Willow,” which departs from guitar in classic side B fashion, taking its own familiar basis and from it bringing a new texture to Funeral Suit only previously hinted toward. Slow, mellow and wistful as only a slow piano can be, it’s about as stripped-down as Reed gets here, and as it inevitably would, it highlights the songcraft that underscores all of these pieces, new or old. The same applies to the subsequent and penultimate “Might Just…” which feels stylistically like a reset back to where the album was on side A circa “Moonlighting” or “Along the Way,” with doubled-vocals in the repeated-line chorus of “Rolling along…,” melodic and straightforward, short at 3:30 but enough to satisfy and do its job between “Wicked Willow” and “Who Goes There,” which is the longest inclusion at 5:37 as well as the already-noted finale of the record, encompassing and ready for judgment-free sing-alongs as it is.

A linear build, it holds a tension in the guitar of its first half, the title lyric delivered with due paranoia. A break after two verse/chorus cycles comes at 3:25 in, and from there, the song launches into its righteous capstone movement, not a departure from what’s come before throughout Funeral Suit, but an extension thereof that speaks to one more prevailing factor of Reed‘s work across the LP, which is the forward potential. Not that he doesn’t have plenty going on besides, but having so risen to the challenge of this first offering, as a fan (I also wrote the bio for the album, which I’ll note was uncompensated only because I knew I’d want to review it as well), one only hopes he’ll continue to explore outward from the already-broad reach he establishes here. If Funeral Suit is a one-off, fair enough, but what it conveys to the listener feels far more substantial.

Tony Reed, Funeral Suit (2020)

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Review & Full Album Stream: Across Tundras, LOESS – LÖSS

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on September 25th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Across Tundras LOESS LoSS

[Click play above to stream Across Tundras’ LOESS – LÖSS in full. Album is out Oct. 2]

For those who’ve followed the inward-bound trajectory of Across Tundras and founding frontman and songwriter T.G. Olson over the past five-plus years, the new album, LOESS – LÖSS, will seem both like a reaching out and a continuation. The expansive nine-track/51-minute release brings a return of the lineup from last year’s The Rugged Ranges of Curbs and Broken Minds (review here) with Olson on guitar, keys, percussion and vocals joined by bassist/vocalist Ben Schriever, vocalist Abigail Lily O’Hara, synthesist/keyboardist/noisemaker Caleb R.K. Williams and drummer Noel Dorado, and would seem to be compiled from recordings done remotely by OlsonSchriever (the pair who also mixed the album, while Mikey Allred mastered), and Williams and O’Hara (the latter two in France).

There is a breadth to the material that begins to show itself in the concluding, hypnotic drone and sampled reading of the Carl Sandburg poem “Hoof Dusk” in second track “Our Mother of Infinite Sorrows,” which continues throughout the subsequent nine-minute prairie sprawl of “Unsatiated” and on from there. Opener “#GDSOG” sets forth with an open atmosphere, and one would expect no less from Across Tundras in any incarnation, but is more straight-ahead structurally and clearly positioned as a lead-in for what follows. And certainly The Rugged Ranges of Curbs and Broken Minds — which after its release received a track-by-track series of remix EPs later bundled together as the box set Complete Altered States (discussed here) — had its sense of mood and landscape too.

The reaching-out noted above, then, comes from the overall sound of LOESS – LÖSS, which has a fuller and more immersive mix than its predecessor, as well as a generally cleaner production value despite the same personnel involved in making it, and plays out almost like what was referred to tongue-in-cheek as the “Hot Radio Mix” of the last album in that box set. Even as “Unsatiated” resolves in drum-backed mellow ambience in its comedown and gives way to the intertwining lines of guitar and slide on “Feral Blues,” and LOESS – LÖSS digs into some of its most meditative vibes, there is an overarching sense of clarity behind what the band are doing.

And part of the difference a year can make is just how much Across Tundras feel like a band on these tracks. “#GDSOG” makes that impression early, and the thread plays out in the heavy Americana ramble of “Feral Blues” and coinciding march of “In a Veil of Dark Smoke” as well, the latter telling a sort of gold-prospector’s-curse narrative that seems to play into ideas of ecological devastation as well, engaging the time in which we live and tying it to the past as Across Tundras‘ music itself does through its roots in folk, country and even post-sludge’s weighted tonality.

Across Tundras LOESS LoSS tape art

But where The Rugged Ranges of Curbs and Broken Minds seemed to come across as an extension of the arrangements and impulses of Olson‘s solo work, which had seen a boom in productivity since the prior Across Tundras LP, 2013’s Electric Relics (review here), especially with the incorporation of drones and more explicit soundscapes, LOESS – LÖSS embraces a greater range of ideas and has an all the more encompassing spirit for that. “In a Veil of Dark Smoke” leads off the second half of the tracklisting — at 51 minutes, the album would push the limits of vinyl, but if you wanted to call it the start of side B, I don’t think anyone would fight you — and dissolves into a haunted melodic wash with keys and residual distortion crafting an ambience that is striking if relatively short-lived as the guitar-led lurch of “The Boundary Waters” revives the forward momentum.

At 4:50, it’s the shortest cut since “#GDSOG” and has a prominent chug of blended acoustic and electric guitar (a regular feature ’round these parts) and deep-mixed drums behind that seem to focus the listener’s attention directly on the instrumental melody that takes hold. There is a chorus, though somewhat obscured, and “The Boundary Waters” also gives way to a drone finish before the more immediate start of the nine-minute “Piasa,” which runs 8:59 and, despite its made-in-isolation reality, seems to jam its way through its second half, departing its structured foundation as much of LOESS – LÖSS has done up to this point in favor of drifting exploration, inviting the listener to wander along, get lost, whatever it might be.

Sure enough, Across Tundras have always brought a feeling of space to their material. It’s part of what made early outings like 2008’s Western Sky Ride or 2006’s Dark Songs of the Prairie so groundbreaking, but LOESS – LÖSS does so in a new and progressive-feeling way, playing verses and choruses off of sonic vastness in a readjusted balance of their approach even from what they were doing a year ago. They cap with “No Secret in the Tomb,” which is marked out by string sounds alongside its layers of guitar and percussion, building in volume as it moves forward in one of the record’s most memorable hooks, and as they’ve used the drones all along to transition from one track to the next, so too do they use one to shift into the end of the record, with “No Secret in the Tomb” giving over its last 90 seconds or so to the windy sounds and intermittent chimes that set a foreboding tension before simply fading out.

A sign of things to come? I wouldn’t bet one way or the other, much as I wouldn’t have bet that, after six years between Electric Relics and The Rugged Ranges of Curbs and Broken MindsAcross Tundras would turn around another full-length in a year’s time. But LOESS – LÖSS feels on some levels like an answer to the questions posed by the album before it, and it finds the band, which has traveled like a ghost entity with Olson from Denver, to Nashville, to Nebraska, harnessing some of the strongest aspects of their past outings while keeping their eye unblinking on the horizon far off. At the same time, these songs stand boldly on their own and are distinct unto themselves, in and out of the context of Across Tundras‘ catalog. An end of one era? A beginning of another? Is there any difference? 16 years on from the band’s inception, that they’d inspire those questions at all is evidence of the engrossing nature of their work.

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Review & Full Album Stream: Somnus Throne, Somnus Throne

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on September 22nd, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Somnus Throne Somnus Throne

[Click play above to stream Somnus Throne’s Somnus Throne in full. Album is out Sept. 24 on Burning World Records.]

Gutter riffs. Riffs to turn your soul green. The narrative — blessings and peace upon it — has it that Somnus Throne‘s self-titled debut was realized after years spent on the part of guitarist/vocalist Evan hobo’ing around the country, living in flops and finding himself in that very lost, druggy, American vastness, all the while accompanied by a latent urge for volume satisfied only upon discovery of amp-worshiping doom, sludge and stoner idolatry. As narratives go, it’s a pretty good one, and though one has learned over time to approach such things with a healthy raised eyebrow of curiosity if not outright skepticism, the fact that Evan, bassist Haley and drummer Luke — everyone in the trio seems to have lost their surname along the way — all hail from different cities would seem to speak to a certain transient nature behind their work.

Congregation, as it were, happened in Los Angeles to record the album, and Evan credits Luke for having it together enough to corral the band and make Somnus Throne happen, and if that’s the case, then those seeking immersive nod and back-to-zero distorted lumber will want to send a thank-you card — address it to “Luke in L.A.” and I’m sure it’ll get there — since the three-piece manifest four rolling, downer-vibing, what’s-this-again-oh-well-shrug-and-inhale subfloor slabs of weighted groove. Apart from the 47-second intro “Caliphate Obeisance,” there is nothing on Somnus Throne‘s first album under 10 minutes long — a statement in itself — and throughout “Sadomancer,” “Shadow Heathen,” “Receptor Antagonist” and the 14-minute finale “Aetheronaut – Permadose,” they bask in darkly-lysergic disaffection and a sense of abiding fuckall as few in the post-Electric Wizard strain of anti-artisans have been able to conjure. It is noteworthy that their first outing comes courtesy of Burning World Records, which was once responsible for unleashing Conan‘s early work, but what Somnus Throne represent is the stylistic going to ground of a new generation, digging to find the roots of what heavy has become over the last 20 years.

That has led Somnus Throne to a style that wouldn’t have been at all be out of place on Man’s Ruin Records during that era, with a sense of overarching fog that reminds of a more aggro Sons of Otis — so, say, earlier Sons of Otis — even when “Receptor Antagonist” kicks into its speedier second half. It wouldn’t be appropriate to call it a “fresh” take on that style, because sounding “fresh” is far from the intent of these songs — fetid, more like — but the energy they bring to the material is unmistakably that of a group who are excited about what they’re playing as they’re playing it, who are realizing something new for them even if the aesthetic scope is playing toward genre. Throughout “Sadomancer” and “Shadow Heathen” especially, this happens with a palpable sense of will behind it. Somnus Throne are letting their audience know that their mission is to harness the primitive.

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Think of how the first Monolord record seemed so simple on its surface that one could almost miss its innovation, or even earlier Conan to some degree. Somnus Throne operate in a similar fashion, but are rawer in their substance and still manage to offer hints of variety in the changes in vocal approach from Evan. There are moments that sound like call and response as his voice shifts from one line to the next. If indeed that is all him and not, say, Luke, taking on a backing role — information is purposefully sparse in this regard — then that malleability is an asset already working in the band’s favor that one can only expect to do so even more as they move forward. As it stands, the plodding wash in “Shadow Heathen” is enhanced, and the rough edge that emerges circa nine minutes into “Aetheronaut – Permadose” and directly winks at ’90s-era Sleep being a further sense of character to the songs, and however barebones the offering may feel as a whole, there’s no taking away either from the effectiveness of those changes or the fullness of tone in the mix that surrounds them. Somnus Throne, in short, know their shit.

And to take it back for a second to the narrative, to the context of the album’s making, one can hear the disillusion. They’re not hiding it. Even in “Sadomancer” with all the discussion of witches and spells and samples about the devil and other trappings of turn-of-the-century sludge-doom, the atmosphere feels genuine, and being aware of that background changes the listening experience, making Somnus Throne all the more relevant as a record of a particular On the Road American experience set to task by and for a generation who came of age in a time of rampant corruption, economic collapse, climate change and endless war. Throw in governmental collapse and a global pandemic for the next album, and how else should it sound? Somnus Throne don’t tackle these issues directly — again, witches, spells, monsters, etc. — but their material feels affected and influenced by the moment of its creation in an intangible drudgery throughout. Plod born of turmoil. So be it.

Even the use of the word “caliphate” in the title of the intro — which is a sample offering young people an experience of a quaint, gourmet drug culture that gives way to noise — speaks to the time in which the album was made and the generation of its makers. The question is what Somnus Throne might do next. If this album represents a turn toward stability and sustainability as a band, despite the members living in different places between Portland, Oregon, Los Angeles and San Antonio — if they can find a way to operate — they’ve given themselves a crucial first outing from which to progress; and should that progression keep or enhance the rawness here, that’s still progression, not regression, in aesthetic terms. Even if they can’t or don’t, or whatever, and Somnus Throne becomes a one-off, what-could’ve-been footnote of a heavy release in arguably the worst year to put out an album in the last half-century, it does its part to capture the wretchedness of the time and turn it back on itself with disgust that is righteous and heavy in kind.

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Review & Track Premiere: All Souls, Songs for the End of the World

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on September 21st, 2020 by JJ Koczan

All Souls Songs for the End of the World

[Click play above to stream the premiere of ‘Coming with Clouds’ from All Souls’ Songs for the End of the World. Album is out Oct. 2.]

Consider the tragedy of our postmodern apocalypse, with none of the drudgery of actually living through it. With their self-released second full-length, Songs for the End of the World, punk-rooted Los Angeles-based heavy rockers All Souls lyrically convey a yes-this-is-personal politics — namely that of being a person with brown skin in America circa 2020 — mourn for a changed climate, and, despite such perspectives as those found in tracks like “Bleeding Out,” “Death Becomes Us,” “You Just Can’t Win,” “Empires Fail” and “Lights Out,” all of which appear in one after the other in that order, manage to do so while exploring progressive textures and varied songwriting that refuses to be beaten down. All Souls‘ 2018 self-titled debut (review here) worked along similar lines, and the group remains melodic at their core and driven by the guitars of Antonio Aguilar (also vocals, formerly Totimoshi) and Erik Trammell (Black Elk) and the insistent punch in the rhythm section of bassist/backing vocalist Meg Castellanos (also formerly Totimoshi) and drummer Tony Tornay (Fatso Jetson, etc.), captured with a balance between rawness and depth once again by producer Toshi Kasai.

The difference is one of breadth. Certainly in the seven-minute “Winds,” which arrives following the opening pair of “Sentimental Rehash” and “Twilight Times,” there’s room to air out and reach for new ground in terms of melody and atmosphere, but even in the early build-up and stretch of the later “Lights Out,” or in sub-four-minute pieces like “Bleeding Out” and closer “Coming with Clouds,” All Souls seem to let no opportunity for creative interplay and shimmer in the guitars slip through their collective fingers. Even in the chorus of “Sentimental Rehash,” which is clearly intended to start the record off with a kick of intensity and is Aguilar‘s most gnashing vocal to be found throughout, there are hints of the melodic flow that will soon enough come to fruition as “Twilight Times” moves into “Winds” and the album continues to unfold from that particular landmark, which on many offerings would probably be placed last but here serves as a gateway into the wider sphere of what follows, the grace of its key-strings-and-guitar finish informing “Bleeding Out” and the particularly catchy desert-rock bouncer “Death Becomes Us.”

A tension persists, and well it should. Aguilar‘s style of riffing, even back to Totimoshi‘s earliest work around the turn of the century, has long played a game of trying to catch the listener off-guard with its turns and changes and the places one groove might lead. This can be heard certainly on the chug-into-rush of “Sentimental Rehash,” but also more subtly in the twists of “You Can’t Win,” and Tornay‘s drumming isn’t so much a foil for this impulse as a gleeful enabler, which is how a song like “Death Becomes Us” can border on fun despite its thematic downerism. Add to this the sheer melodic character All Souls bring to their second album, in the guitars as heard in the second half of “You Just Can’t Win,” as well as the moments of flourish like those aforementioned keys or in the combination of Aguilar and Castellanos‘ vocals throughout — on and on — and at the same time Songs for the End of the World basks in this punker-poet energy, it is thoughtful and purposeful in its push toward reaches even the self-titled didn’t attain.

all souls

No doubt the band’s experience on tours with the likes of Tool and the Melvins and even a few years ago Fatso Jetson with Tornay pulling tip-your-hat double-duty will have played into this development, but that’s not the same as manifesting it either in the songwriting or in the studio as they do here, and the continued collaboration with Kasai is a factor as well. There is space in the mix that in quiet moments remains, and the fact that “You Just Can’t Win” can evolve from its subdued beginning into the torrent it becomes, that this shift happens so smoothly and with such natural-sounding efficiency, is evidence of the dynamic at the heart of their approach. One found Aguilar and Castellanos able to bring shades of similar methods into Totimoshi‘s later output, but bolstered as it is here by Trammell and Tornay, there’s no question the strength of All Souls comes from the root combination of its players and the songcraft around which they’ve gathered. It is at moments a sad record when one considers the subject matter — it was also recorded in 2019, so… simpler times? — but willing to be beautiful even in its rawest moments, and for that, nothing other than a triumph on the part of the band.

So what? So, in the immortal words of Rodney Dangerfield in Caddyshack, “let’s dance.” And in doing so, coincide with Laurie Lipton‘s also-ready-dead figures on Songs for the End of the World‘s front cover. In its final movement — seeming to begin with the backing vocals in post-midsection “Empires Fail” (though I guess one might pull back further to the start of side B with “You Just Can’t Win” as well) and running through the emotional heft of “Lights Out,” the headphone-ready intricacy of “Bridge the Sun” that builds off that heft, and the perhaps-epitaph that is “Coming with Clouds” at the end — the 10-track/44-minute outing most realizes its ambitions of mood and method, “Winds” having served as a foreshadow earlier on.

Ultimately, All Souls reside in a place between genres. They are a rock band, to be sure, but are they too punk for the rockers, too rock for the punkers, too progressive for the lunkheads, too raw for the proggers? I’m not sure it matters. What does, by contrast, is just how much All Souls, separate from the other acts in which its members have or currently still take part, have found their voice through these songs and what that means for them as they move forward. I won’t speculate except to note that even underpinning some of the most urgent moments on Songs for the End of the World, on “Sentimental Rehash,” or the rush in the apex of “You Just Can’t Win,” there is a patience and an attention to detail that complements the from-gut nature of the composition, and the balance between the two when tipped one way or the other is part of what makes All Souls as much themselves as they are here. If they can hold onto that and grow that as they so obviously have already, anyone who hears them will be lucky.

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Stream Review: Vokonis, Live at Klubb Undergrunden, Sept. 18, 2020

Posted in Reviews on September 21st, 2020 by JJ Koczan

vokonis klubb undergrunden

My wife and I threw rock-paper-scissors in a best of three to decide which of us was going to put our son down for nap. She won. I had a run of victories that lasted for years but ever since then it’s been like the curse of the Bambino. I’m lucky if I make the playoffs.

But then I looked at my watch and saw it was 1:58PM and that in two minutes it would be time for Borås, Sweden, trio Vokonis to begin their live stream from Klubb Undergrunden in their hometown, and I called in the favor. Though she was plenty ready for a nap herself, the love of my life relented and took the kid upstairs to lie down.

A few minutes later, as Klubb Undergrunden Sessions II was underway with the progressive-heavy three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Simon Ohlsson, bassist/vocalist Jonte Johansson and drummer Peter Ottoson opening their relatively quick 27-minute set with the title-track of 2017’s The Sunken Djinn (review here), I got the call from upstairs.

He’d thrown up. Not uncommon but not unheard of; generally he’s not much of a puker, but of course timing is anything. As the band nestled into the stomp of the verse in “The Sunken Djinn,” with Ohlsson and Johansson sharing vocal duties as they’ve done more and more effectively since making their debut with 2016’s Olde One Ascending (review here), I hit pause, grabbed some paper towels, and went to assess the damage.

It wasn’t so bad, and soon enough, I was back in front of the television, watching the multi-camera, pro-sound, pro-lighting cast of the trio playing “Grasping Time” off of 2019’s Grasping Time (review here) as I seemed to be doing so myself, but it goes to the ongoing discussion of how music and especially the experience of live music interacts with the rest of our lives in this pandemic era.

Having recently experienced a socially-distant live performance for direct comparison, I’ll say that the simple act of having to leave one’s house makes a huge difference.

I’ve never lived in a major city or particularly close to any relevant venues, so I’m fairly used to traveling for shows, but I would think if you were down the block from your favorite concert hall, the same would still apply. You have to pull yourself out of your own space to see a show (unless you own the venue, in which case, congratulations to you on living my dream) in a way that, watching a COVID-born stream, the whole point is to not.

When you’re at a show, you’re not thinking about doing the dishes. You’re not throwing pillowcases in the laundry. You’re not taking the fucking dog out for the 15th time because she has the world’s most expensive UTI and will invariably piss all over everything if you don’t. Even if you’re the type to text or engage social media while out and about — and by “type,” mostly at this point I think I mean “human” — you’re physically somewhere else.

Vokonis played five songs in this — again — fairly brief mini-gig, with “The Sunken Djinn” and “Grasping Time” giving way to “Antler Queen” and “I Hear the Siren,” before closing out with the quick energy burst of “Exiled”; the latter three tracks all from Grasping Time as well, which is unmistakably the band’s best work made public to-date, though as Ohlsson noted in April, their next offering is already well in progress.

I would imagine that, as different as it is for the audience of a stream, it’s no less a new world for the performers involved. Of course, in a shoot like this one there are other people in the room, working lights, the live mix and camera direction, but that’s hardly the same as a boozy crowd come to see a good show. Still, OhlssonJohansson and Ottoson were able to get into the spirit, headbanging a bit while issuing forth through a series of proggy turns and adrenaline-fueled hooks.

They have worked relatively quickly over the last several years to grow beyond the influences that sparked their earliest efforts — and that work has been successful — and even though Ottoson didn’t appear on Grasping Time, the dynamic between the trio came across as that of a band whose evolution was serving a greater aesthetic purpose. A band who, in stylistic terms, are going somewhere and exploring new ideas.

And so they are. “Exiled” capped with a quick “tack” from Ohlsson and it was over. My wife long since gone for her own nap, our son upstairs, blowing off his own but playing peacefully enough, I disconnected the stream, turned off the tv and sat for a minute to process. I’ve never seen Vokonis live — a planned trip to Esbjerg Fuzztival this year would’ve been the first time — and I came away from the stream feeling like my experience of it was afflicted by the rest of what was going on.

But here’s the thing with the stream: As the house had finally settled down — even the dog was in her crate — I happened to have another 27 minutes at my disposal. Not something that happens every day. So I just put it on, on my laptop this time, and watched Vokonis kill it once again so I didn’t come away feeling like I’d missed anything.

That’s something that, were I pulled away from an in-person show by some domestic consideration — it’s happened before; you get bad news, etc. — I wouldn’t have been able to do. Everything has its ups and downs. And in a time that seems perpetually to find new lows, I’ll take every 27 minutes of positivity I can get.

The stream is still up and you can see it below. Thanks for reading.

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Review & Full Album Stream: Kariti, Covered Mirrors

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on September 16th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

kariti covered mirrors

[Click play above to stream Kariti’s Covered Mirrors in full. Album is out Sept. 18 on Aural Music.]

This Friday, native Russian solo artist Kariti — also stylized all-lowercase: kariti — will release her debut full-length, Covered Mirrors, through Aural Music. Comprising nine songs reportedly tracked in rural seclusion in Italy, where Kariti now lives, it is an almost uniformly melancholy 34-minute affair, based largely around voice and acoustic guitar, but with moments of flourish in other arrangement elements. Harmonies — more over, self-harmonies — abound as Kariti gives expressive weight to this mournfulness, and in songs like “Sky Burial,” “Absent Angels” and the album’s centerpiece “Penance,” the patient sensibility Kariti brings to her songwriting comes through in each passing measure.

With two titles in Russian — they translate to “The Baptism of a Witch” and “Abyss” — some contributions of acoustic and slide guitar from engineer Lorenzo Della Rovere on “Sky Burial” and “The Baptism of a Witch,” as well as electric from Grime‘s Marco Matta on “Sky Burial” and “Anna (Requiem to Death)”, the slow progressions and background echoes and other sonic details are highlighted by the relatively minimal arrangements of which they’re part. That is, because there aren’t a kitchen sink’s worth of elements being used, each flourish stands out, perhaps most especially the electric guitar on “Anna (Requiem to Death)” and “Sky Burial,” which opens the LP following the “Intro” of what’s apparently traditional Russian funeral dirge. Make no mistake, however, Covered Mirrors is lush, and Kariti‘s voice sees to that all on its own.

The folk singing at the outset is given an eerie, ghostly echo — voice from the past, manifest — and unfolds into the opening plucked strings and immediate harmonies of “Sky Burial” smoothly as Kariti comes forward in the mix. The electric guitar joins later, adding to the sense of grief and playing off the otherwise soft delivery. Feedback is effective in ending the song as it gives way to “Kybele’s Kiss,” wherein the dynamic of single-voice and layering becomes more prominent. In terms of technique, it’s certainly not that Kariti can’t carry her songs in solo fashion, but the aesthetic choice to layer is engaging where and when employed throughout Covered Mirrors, as on “The Baptism of a Witch,” harder-strummed on the guitar for an angular feel but still well within the bounds of neo-folk in its presentation.

A language switch is easily made, whether you speak Russian or not, and if anything, the themes of loss, death and what lay beyond come through in the mystery of what’s being said as well as in the music surrounding. Bottom line is it is no challenge to follow along the path Kariti is leading. “Penance” follows with a quiet intensity and what feels like more than one progression of guitar happening behind, indeed, more than one progression of voice, but “intensity” must be understood on the relative terms of Covered Mirrors itself. It’s not as though Kariti is suddenly breaking out blastbeats.

kariti

It is striking though when electric guitar arrives at the outset of “Anna (Requiem to Death)” and one is reminded of the atmospheric approach of acts like Silver Summit, as well as the current flush of groups and artists blending together ambient elements of heavy music with folkish styles — the PR wire has a list below if you’re looking for names; I won’t patronize you by repeating them here — but “Anna (Requiem to Death)” is short at just over three minutes, so its mark is made but fleeting, capping with a hard, low, distorted strum giving way to what seems to be manipulated crow calls at the start of “Il Corvo,” which is the only piece on Covered Mirrors to top five minutes.

There is more electric guitar in “Il Corvo” as well that strikes like thunder in the distance of the mix, not so much intended to play off the acoustic and vocal lines as to add to them in atmospheric terms, to flesh out the space in which the rest of the song is happening. Is it a march? Maybe. If so, it’s one given contradiction by the subsequent going-to-ground in “Absent Angels,” which returns Kariti to what one might think of as the foundation upon which the rest of the album is built, namely guitar and voice.

That reset is well timed and a tactic that speaks to some influence from a classic rock LP structure, being that side B is often where an artist might broaden the scope of arrangements or craft — as Kariti does — and then reorient the listener one last time ahead of the finale. A move skillfully employed here, and by no means the first, as subtle shifts have been taking place all along that reveal themselves more with each deeper-dive listen. “Abyss” caps the offering in likewise resonant and spacious fashion, and its lyrics are in English despite the Cyrillic title, but it’s in the ensuing “aah”s and overarching melody that the finale makes its lasting impression. Covered Mirrors is an album for the middle of the night, and the spaces it leaves open in its mix seem to be waiting to be filled by the noises of the natural world — chirping insects, leaves in wind, maybe rainfall.

That the style in which Kariti is immersed has taken on the trappings of a genre does precious little to undercut the emotional impact being made by the material and the album’s execution, and while its power is quiet, it nonetheless exists. In terms of thinking of Covered Mirrors as a debut, the nuances of arrangement stand out as an area that Kariti might continue to explore, whether that’s furthering the use of electric guitar as an atmospheric, sort-of-impressionist element alongside the acoustic, or perhaps even employing keys or percussion of one sort or another should she choose to do so. That those don’t appear in these songs, that this first record is as stripped-to-the-core as it is, is emblematic of the creative bravery involved in its making, and that too resonates when it’s over, whatever promise for the future it might accompany.

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