Review & Track Premiere: Arcadian Child, Superfonica

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on November 16th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

arcadian child superfonica

[Click play above to stream the official premiere of ‘Bain Marie’ from Arcadian Child’s Superfonica. Album is out Nov. 23 on Rogue Wave/Ripple Music.]

The sense of drift is so graceful and the flow of the material is so natural that, in listening to Arcadian Child‘s Superfonica, I actually went and looked up the climate of Cyprus. Eight months of temperate summer on an island in the Eastern Mediterranean could hardly be a more fitting backdrop for the eight-track/38-minute offering — the band’s first new release for Rogue Wave Records/Ripple Music following a reissue of their 2017 debut, Afterglow (review here), earlier this year — which hones a peaceful spirit in songs like “Brothers” and the opening fuzz of “Bain Marie” while still retaining tonal presence and a sense of energy in the delivery. Leaving behind some of the Queens of the Stone Agery of their initial outing, the first-name-basis four-piece of Panagiotis, Andreas, Stathis and Christos find themselves nestled comfortably into a balance between spacey grunge rock and psychedelic impulses.

“She Flows” comes alive with a warm-toned push in its back half, but that’s not to say there’s stillness earlier in the song, or necessarily anywhere else on Superfonica that it’s not intended to be, as the Limassol-based outfit inject life even into their most minimalist spaces, as in the wide-open effects reaches of the penultimate “Before We Die” or the subdued, patient unfolding of closer “The March,” that follows, or even the midsection of the otherwise bouncing “Constellations” — arguably the most active piece on the record — which finds soft vocals half-whispering over like-minded guitar for a stretch that soon picks up again with a cue from the snare drum. The band cites The Black Angels as an influence and I’m not inclined to argue, as they seem to skirt the line between Dead Meadow-style shoegaze and ’90s alternative shove. Yet there’s a heavy rock root in their approach as well, and in a hidden treasure like “She Flows” on side B, which follows the 6:44 “Painting” (premiered here), they’re able to enact a heavier roll as they hold consistent with the mood of the album overall.

This is thanks in no small part to the vocals, which bring a steady humanity to what might otherwise be perceived as an otherworldly listen, but if one is mining Superfonica for highlights, it’s a relatively quick operation. The first three seconds of “Bain Marie” — and I suspect that’s how it got to open the record — tell the tale of one of the record’s greatest assets, and that’s the fuzz tone of the guitars. Arcadian Child prove adept at complementing the warm, inviting fuzz with airier, post-rock-style effects, and the vocals suit that well too, but while they don’t use riffs as an okay-we-have-a-riff-so-that’s-a-track-done kind of crutch in their songwriting, when they lock in around one, as on “Bain Marie” or the subsequent, relatively uptempo and hooky “Twist Your Spirit,” the bulk of “Constellations” or “She Flows,” the results are nothing but enticing. Again, though, that’s just one aspect of Arcadian Child‘s style, and the post-midpoint guitar meander of “Brothers” would have Gary Arce himself blushing, while the crash cymbal in “The March” is as much a highlight in its creation of a wash as anything done elsewhere by bass or guitar.

arcadian child

It’s a rare level of attention to sonic detail that makes Superfonica so ultimately effective. Their craft itself — the raw songwriting — is there as a foundation. And it’s absolutely necessary, since without it the more rocking side A salvo of “Bain Marie,” “Twist Your Spirit” and “Brothers” would fall flat en route to the expansion that takes place in “Constellations” as a preface to the more patient psychedelia that “Painting” unfurls at the outset of side B with “She Flows” as a quick touch to ground ahead of the stratospheric departure that is the capper duo “Before We Die” and “The March.” But the production, the arrangement of the tracklisting, and the vibe within the individual cuts themselves all work to feed into the central presentation of Superfonica as a cohesive entirety. It’s not just about this or that track, this or that chorus, this or that jam — but instead what these things can do in conversation with each other.

And I won’t take away either from what “Bain Marie” or “Brothers” or even “She Flows” does in terms of establishing a subtle underlying momentum to carry the audience through the material as a whole, but “Painting” and “The March” make a distinct impression as accomplishments of another degree. The former is the longest inclusion and an immediate high point in terms of its serene, oceanic motion to its apex, and it’s hypnotic enough to warrant multiple visits, but still finds itself on solid footing by its end, while “The March” is indeed something of a percussive showcase and in that it creates a tension that’s something of a standout from the rest of Superfonica, showing a restlessness that comes to a fervent head before it’s done and seems to speak to further exploration to follow on the part of the band as a whole. More power to it in that — forward potential is always welcome — but neither is the impact of “The March” on the record that precedes it to be overlooked. Like “Bain Marie” at the launch, it feels purposefully positioned as the finale, and it works no less efficiently to resonate the band’s intention for it.

Outwardly gorgeous, strident in its construction and with enough cast of adventure in sound that it not only takes a significant step from their debut but leads one to believe further such steps are to come on this path, Superfonica is the kind of record that speaks to the soul. It’s not a get-up-and-party, booze-your-face whatever record. It’s a good time, to be sure, but its motion is more wistful and quieter than it is brash, however active some parts might be, and the prevailing engagement is owed to Arcadian Child‘s ability to affect the mindset of their audience and so righteously convey the calmness that in no small part defines this material. Its details are there for those who want to hear them or are willing to go deeper, but even if you just put it on and find yourself following its easy, eight-month-summer fluidity, I don’t think you miss out. Not hearing it would be missing out.

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Goliathan Stream Albion EP in Full

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on November 15th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

 goliathan (Photo by Ekaterina Gorbacheva)

Goliathan issue their new EP, Albion, this Friday, Nov. 16, on Metal Assault Records with a release show to coincide at 5 Star Bar in their native Los Angeles (info here). The instrumentalist L.A. four-piece who share their name with Weedeater‘s 2015 album released their debut, Awakens, in 2016, and in Albion they offer three tracks and 24 minutes not of stoner sludge, but of more intricate post-metal and modern doom. “Albion,” “Vaalbara” and “Aberration” are progressive not in the sense of being a technical showcase — they clearly know what they’re doing, but nobody’s trying to put on a clinic — but in terms of the life breathed into the arrangement of sections, the flow of the material, and the interweaving of the two guitars from Shawn Doster and Kevin Cogill, as well as the overarching atmosphere of foreboding that seems to permeate the material. With pro-shop drums from Philip Bailey and the low end weight of bassist Neal Gardner anchoring, the band engage in conscious exploration that holds firm to considerations of structure along with tonal impact.

And “tonal impact” is a prevalent factor pretty much from the start of the leadoff title-track onward. An initial chug would seem to put Goliathan in a place somewhere between Isis and Russian Circles and the Ufomammut/YOB-style kosmiche, but they’re not really content to stick to one or the other, and are clearly more interested in developing their own take than emulating that of others. The build happening in “Albion” is based around that chug, which becomes a theme Goliathan Albionaround which the song is based in its early going, but a break in the middle third to ambient spaces does well in shifting the mindset toward a more linear stretch that builds from its airiness to heft-laden post-rock in its finish. Feedback echoes out and Bailey‘s drums launch “Vaalbara” with Gardner soon joining before the guitars lurch to life, but while the centerpiece is the shortest inclusion at 7:38, it marks a change in the construction from the eight-minute opener before it, taking a more straightforward approach as opposed to the melding of two disparate movements together, crafting a fluidity that’s enacted without molten effects overload but consuming even in its directed charge. Resolution comes in about the last minute, which sees the drums pull back and the guitars exhale some of the tension that’s been mounting, creating a wash of distortion that carries on a fade into “Aberration.”

Call me crazy, but with a song called “Aberration,” it doesn’t seem so unreasonable to think that might be where a band is changing it up. To a degree, that’s what happens in the finale, but really it’s more about bringing everything together in terms of the underlying rhythms and the guitars working overhead. A series of start-stops in the first two minutes smooths into a melodic roll before a lumbering nod and subsequent chug-out take hold, the latter sustained for an almost maddening amount of time. As the 8:47 closer works into its final third, Goliathan once again find their footing in a push of engrossing tonality and crash, but the last minute is dedicated to a return to the prior staccato-ism, giving yet another sense of there being a plot followed all along. And so there has been. More so than one might think to look at the runtimes of the songs themselves, Albion is a pretty efficient in-and-out listening experience, tracked live but with a steadiness to its execution that speaks to a burgeoning level of patience in their craft. I would not be surprised if the quiet stretch in “Albion” led to more such developments, and likewise, if the stomp of “Aberration” did the same, however much of an outlier it may be positioned as being for now.

You can hear Albion in its entirety on the player below ahead of the official release tomorrow, followed by the band’s bio, which is full of ‘L.A. band story’ stuff that’s always a good time.

Please enjoy:

The idea of Goliathan first came about in 2006 when Philadelphia punk veterans, childhood friends and longtime artistic co-conspirators Shawn Doster and Kevin Cogill found themselves living together in Los Angeles after their tour van broke down. It was then that the duo started to explore moodier and more mature frontiers, transcending the boundaries of the blackened crust music Shawn had been writing up to that point. After gestating for a full ten years, Goliathan finally found steady footing with Neal Gardner and Philip Bailey completing a perfectly balanced, permanent lineup. In 2016, the band released their debut EP Awakens, and began performing locally, garnering a unanimously awe-struck reaction from all who would bear witness.

Neal Gardner is an accomplished and versatile composer, producer, and educator, masterfully fluent in music theory who has found a home writing and playing bass in Goliathan. Drummer Phillip Bailey was a founding member of Systematic, discovered by Metallica’s Lars Ulrich, and signed to his Elektra imprint The Music Company before moving on to do session work in the Bay Area and Los Angeles. Shawn and Kevin (a.k.a. “Skwerl”) flank the rhythm section with dueling guitars and a telepathic chemistry refined over nearly 25 years of playing together.

Following up their 2016 debut, Goliathan is now ready to release a 3-track monsterpiece called Albion, recorded in Lincoln Heights by Manny Nieto (Health, Trash Talk, The Breeders), mixed by Sean Beavan (NIN, Marilyn Manson, Slayer), and mastered by Maor Appelbaum (Faith No More, Rob Halford). Albion is releasing on CD, LP and digital formats on November 16 2018 via Metal Assault Records.

Shawn Doster: Guitar
Kevin Cogill: Guitar
Neal Gardner: Bass
Phillip Bailey: Drums

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Review & Track Premiere: Sundecay, Gale

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on November 14th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

sundecay gale

[Click play above to stream “Gales” from Sundecay’s new EP, Gale. Vinyl is out Nov. 30.]

It’s an old debate, EP vs. LP. Where the line stops between a short release and a full-length. I take my cues from bands, and Sundecay have made it clear that their new self-released four-songer, Gale, is an EP. But I don’t necessarily agree. At half an hour long, it’s right on the border of one side or the other, but the key factor for me is the way the Toronto DIY five-piece arrange the songs themselves to set up a clear flow from opener “Heavy Motions” through the 11-minute closer “The Land that Never Thaws.” Gale breaks roughly even into two vinyl sides — which is fortunate, because they’ve pressed it up as a 12″ in limited numbers, gold-embossed front lettering, etc. — of two songs apiece, and especially in physical form, there’s no substance lacking that one would say it isn’t an impressive debut album.

Does it ultimately matter? Probably not, and it could well be that Sundecay will next year put out a full-length that’s a 70-minute 2LP and show themselves as thinking of an album as a completely different entity — I don’t know that that’s going to happen, I’m just positing a hypothetical — but the bottom line either way is that Gale presents a strong front-to-back fluidity amid its burly double-guitar riffs, spacious vocal echoes and largesse of groove to ignite the argument.

With Mark Chandler and Brian Scott (the latter also cover art) on guitar, Derek Hoffman as bassist, engineer and mixer, Julian Vardy on drums and Rich Pauptit on vocals, Sundecay bring together “Heavy Motions,” “Gales,” “From Corners” and “The Land that Never Thaws” with a firm sense of aesthetic, capturing some of the marauding sensibility of mid-period High on Fire but played at maybe two-thirds speed, so that the battle axe of riffs is swinging, but kind of in slow motion. Tempo shifts and moments of ambience like those that open “Heavy Motions” or appear in the second half of “The Land that Never Thaws” suit the band well, but of course the sheer level of impact is a major consideration in what they do.

And their work hits hard. “From Corners” is the shortest cut on the EP at 3:57, pairing smoothly with the closer on side B, and it has an almost classic doom approach to its swaggering groove, making it all the more understandable where they’re coming from in touting a Pentagram/proto-metal influence, but someone in this band listens to or listened to earlier Mastodon, and the effect of that style of weighted, almost-angular chugging tension is present in the guitar as well as the dreary atmospheres surrounding. It’s a fitting answer to the echoing beardo-burl of Pauptit‘s vocals, which seem to call up in “Heavy Motions” from beneath the rolling nod in a way that’s both headphone-worthy and calling for max-volume presentation, so, you know, watch your eardrums.

sundecay gale vinyl

If nothing else, “Heavy Motions” lives up to its name, moving from its gradual start into a melodic interplay of guitar for the verse before seeming to grow thicker as it progresses through the midsection and plods into a drum-dropout before the five-minute mark, only to resume the fervent march in apex fashion as the ending, which concludes in a long fade bringing about the foreboding open of “Gales,” the guitars evoking a bluster of wind from the outset that seems to blow in multiple directions. Like “Heavy Motions” before, the opening is gradual, but does much to establish the feel of the song itself, and when the drums and bass kick in at full-tone, there’s a feeling of arrival.

A more driven push takes hold before two minutes in with a faster meter and some of that crunching angularity brought forward in the guitar at the central position. They wind their way into a slowdown in the middle third but hold to it for a while, and make it unclear at first if they’l even go back at all to the chug from whence they came. When they do, it’s with about a minute left, and they run through the verse one more time before finishing out with a showcase of symmetry that seems all the more relevant for ending the first half of the record.

The relatively brief “From Corners” follows and plays a crucial role not only in offsetting “The Land that Never Thaws” still to come, but in allowing the band to expand the context of the album — (coughs loudly) — overall, with a departure from the methods of the two prior tracks. “From Corners” is inherently more straightforward in its structure, and while it remains tonally and rhythmically consistent with what surrounds, Sundecay use it to efficiently demonstrate a malleable methodology on the whole.

Their 2014 debut, Bodies at the Frontier, had a similar construction to its songs, if swapped in side A and B, but the band’s growth in sound is palpable and it’s hard to argue against closing with “The Land that Never Thaws,” which drops its title-line in the first verse and brings its slower chug to bear along with a markedly epic feel underscored by the lumber of the drumming at its root. It’s not the first time the band have gone marching, but they do it well and with a particularly downtrodden flare in “The Land that Never Thaws,” and as that gives way to the stretch of guitar, bass and vocals alone, the nigh-goth pastoralism is one more fascinating turn that makes the surge that begins after nine minutes in even more of a crescendo. Pauptit‘s vocals come to the fore of the mix with surrounding wails of guitar and plod of bass and drums, and the guitars cap in chugging fashion on a fade to mirror that of “Heavy Motions.”

Whether one considers Gale an EP or an LP, that symmetry is essential to the progressive impression the band makes on the whole. It may well be that this collection is just a sampling of their intent toward larger- and longer-form works to come. If so, fine. But the adage of “it’s just an EP” doesn’t really apply to the formidable presence Sundecay establish or the swath of heavy styles they seem to so naturally make their own in this material.

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Godmaker & Somnuri, Split LP: Excerpts and Edges

Posted in Reviews on November 13th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

godmaker somnuri split

Madness ensues. Some splits seem like a nightmare to set up. Bands are on opposite sides of the planet, have disparate sounds, there are different labels involved, all this extra whatnot before anyone actually gets to the process of writing songs. I’d imagine Godmaker and Somnuri getting together for a split LP released through The Company was easier. Like sending a text: “So, split?” “Sure.” Followed by the booking of studio time. The two bands, both of whom are based in Brooklyn, tap into a progressive take on New York’s long-established concrete-crunch noise rock, and both bands showcase considerable forward-forward-forward aesthetic ambition in their two included songs on this 30-minute offering. But even more than whatever commonalities exist in terms of geography, sound and intent, these dudes know each other. They’re not strangers assembled together haphazardly.

Check the lineups. Godmaker is guitarist/vocalists Pete Ross (ex-Cleanteeth) and Carmine Laietta (ex-Hull), bassist/keyboardist/vocalist Andrew Archey (Fashion Week) and drummer Jon Lane (ex-Bröhammer), and their 13-minute “An Excerpt” features guest vocals from Kurt Applegate (Family). Meantime, Somnuri are guitarist/vocalist Justin Sherrell (ex-Bezoar, Blackout), bassist Drew Mack (ex-Hull) and drummer Phil SanGiacomo (ex-Family). If you took everyone’s bands and put them all on a bill together you could have a festival at the Saint Vitus Bar. Granted you’d have to get a couple reunions going, but I think the point stands; it isn’t exactly anyone’s first time at the dance. And frankly, both Godmaker and Somnuri sound like it.

Godmaker released their self-titled debut (review here) in 2014, and Somnuri had their own (review here) last year, but regardless of the timing, the two bands both inhabit the modern sphere of New York noise, informed not only by the likes of Unsane, but by sludge and post-metal, by sundry other genres and experiences. The result is a sense of atmosphere to complement the aggressive push in both acts that remains coherent from one to the next, and as Godmaker‘s cover of Portishead‘s “Over” gives way to Somnuri‘s “Over and Out,” the ties there seem to extend beyond the title similarities.

So okay, they fit well together. Fair enough. Actually makes a lot of sense they’d get together for a joint release. As for the madness noted at the outset, that’s really more down to the audio itself. The chief impression I carried out of Godmaker‘s self-titled four years ago was one of scathe. It was skin-peelingly abrasive, but their “An Excerpt” hones a more patient delivery, unfolding with a buzzing tension beneath a steady guitar line and nonetheless enacting a fluidity around this darker theme. Recorded and mixed by Tom Tierney at Spaceman Sound, when it kicks in with a full-toned nod at about 90 seconds, barking vocals over top for a first verse that soon shifts into a chorus that reminds of Meatjack taking on the Melvins — that’s pretty specific, so I’m going to guess it’s sonic coincidence — it makes a return to the verse and the chorus for a second runthrough before shifting into the more complex aspects of its structure, introducing cleaner vocals amid screams and a chugging instrumental surge that gives way to winding triumph and, right about at the halfway mark, a falling apart of the proceedings entirely.

They crash out to near-silence with quiet bass and guitar setting the stage for the build back up — one can’t help but be reminded of Hull‘s layered-vocal victories here — as they shove toward and through the apex and set themselves on the final outward march that consumes the last two minutes, dedicating the final of them to sustained crashes and noise. After that, I’d question the necessity of the Portishead cover, but it’s listed as a “bonus track,” and I guess if you’ve got the space on the record, use it. They bring a beefed-up arrangement to “Over,” which appeared on Portishead‘s 1997 self-titled full-length, and include samples and a current of foreboding that comes through the cleaner vocals early and the later screams the accompany. It’s a welcome enough touch and shows a breadth of influence on the part of Godmaker, which is no doubt part of the reason it’s there, but “An Excerpt” is the highlight without question.

Somnuri answer back with two originals of their own in “Over and Out” and “Edge of the Forest,” neither of which hits the runtime of Godmaker‘s “An Excerpt,” but both of which find the trio building on the promise of their first record and bringing together a dynamic that benefits from the chemistry burgeoning among the players. Sherrell, who drummed in Bezoar and plays bass in Blackout, seems to be the kind of player who can handle just about any task he might take on in a band. Vocallly he’s in easy command in switching between clean and harsh lines, and his tone and that of Mack are both righteously thick without being indistinguishable from each other — Jeff Berner recorded at Studio G, while SanGiacomo mixed. “Over and Out” moves in its second half to a tight chug and weaves a lead line overhead to give a tonal contrast, and concludes with a full-brunt crush that’s absolutely punishing.

“Edge of the Forest” is longer by nearly three full minutes at 7:21, and uses some of that time to set up a more patient buildup à la Godmaker earlier with the crash-in happening right around the two-minute mark with far-back clean vocals reminding of the last Akimbo (yes, I know: wrong coast, but they were writing about New Jersey, so eat me) before the slow roars and screams drop in the midsection to atmospheric guitar leading not to a build, but a sudden slam forward that is propelled by the drums through a fierce but still controlled crescendo given vicious screams before a final return to the chug that first enveloped after that midsection quiet part gives a last-minute sense of symmetry and the piece ends on a notably progressive assault. The temptation with a split is to think of the bands involved in competition with each other, and maybe that’s what’s happening with Godmaker and Somnuri here, but the fact of the matter is both offer an intricacy of style that adds depth to their raw and sometimes angular heaviness. They work better together than they do as adversaries, in other words, and the aim in this split seems not to be to find them pitted against each other, but acting in unison toward their shared goal of conveying some of the best aspects on New York’s modern noise movement. It’s a thoughtful madness.

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Review & Full Album Premiere: Little Jimi, EP.1

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on November 12th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Little Jimi EP 1

[Click play above to stream Little Jimi’s debut LP, EP.1, in its entirety. Album is out Nov. 16 and available to preorder from Mars Red Sound.]

Doesn’t feel like a rash assumption to imagine who “Big Jimi” might be in this case, but Little Jimi is both the name of the band and the character whose story said band is telling. And while we’re on the subject of names, EP.1 is the somewhat counterintuitive title given to Little Jimi‘s debut LP, stemming from the fact that before they added the songs “Dock 11” and “Midnight Mojo” to close out sides A and B, respectively, it was their first EP, given the much more telling title: First EP. If it helps to think of EP.1 as an abbreviation of “episode one,” then fair enough, but at six songs and 38 minutes, it is an LP, and a smooth-flowing one at that. The heavy psychedelic rocking three-piece of guitarist/vocalists Guillaume Arancibia and Benjamin Monnereau and drummer Antoine Le Gall are based in Bordeaux, France, and given their propensity for trippy space-making, weighted low end, melodic range and rolling groove — not to mention the fact that they’re releasing through the label Mars Red Sound — a comparison to Mars Red Sky feels somewhat inevitable.

But if it’s to be a question of character in the songwriting, Little Jimi have their own both literally and figuratively, and the album finds its own reaches to inhabit apart from that influence, as one would hope it would. From opener “Jimi” through the memorable bounce of “Goodbye Katus” and the patient delivery of the stick-clicking in “Midnight Mojo,” Little Jimi present an engaging depth of mix and a varied craft built on a sense of narrative cohesion that nonetheless proves able to affect a hypnotic jamming vibe when it so chooses, as on that eight-minute finale track, rife with wah-laden guitar soloing, swinging drums and a fervent forward drive in its resolution. There is little about their presentation one could call pretentious from the natural sound of the recording style on down through the construction of the songs themselves, and whether one engages with the story of Jimi himself and his friend Katus — who might be a teddy bear — or not, there’s still a rich listening experience on offer.

Of course I’m not going to tell you to discount the quest of Jimi as he for some reason leaves home and looks for a new existence. The lyrics indeed present the first episode of his tale, from the introduction in the first song through the departure of a train at the end of “Goodbye Katus” with a journey in between. It’s not at all so plainly obvious what’s happening at any given moment — that is, Little Jimi haven’t exactly written a rock opera — but they’ve set themselves in the first-person, and it works well with their aesthetic, tapping inspiration from the progressive textures of Pink Floyd in “Molimoh” at the outset of side B while the opening rollout of “Jimi” hits into minor-key instrumental melodies even before the vocals arrive, giving a somewhat foreboding atmosphere throughout a spacious initial verse while building tension into the instrumental chorus.

little jimi tour poster

Though neither Arancibia nor Monnereau are credited with playing bass live, there is definitely a low end presence on the album itself, whether that’s layered in on the recording amid two guitars or just one of those guitars doing a bass impression. In either case, EP.1 lacks nothing as regards tonal presence, and among the primary elements of the band’s skillset is creating a molten atmosphere early that solidifies into a later thrust. It’s not quite the same as a straight linear build on “Jimi,” because the song works back and forth between its verse and instrumental chorus, but there is a sense of direction all the same. With its whispers and swirling, flute-like effects, there’s a likewise forward push in “Lamp Song,” though that actually is more of a linear build, brought to a head twice over the course of the song’s five and a half minutes, so there’s some structural variation as well. Naturally, that’s only to the band’s advantage as they tell their tale.

Or rather, as they begin it, because as much as there’s an ending — that train departs in “Goodbye Katus” and I’m not entirely sure what’s happening in the semi-spoken parts of “Midnight Mojo,” but we’ve left the station, so to speak — Little Jimi seem intent in the spirit of modern cinematics to set themselves up for a sequel. In that regard, “Dock 11” and “Midnight Mojo” feel extra crucial, since they represent the newest material on the record. And sure enough, they’re the most sonically adventurous, with bold diversions of guitar in “Dock 11” amid a rhythmic insistence and a tight sub-five-minute runtime and the aforementioned jam-out in “Midnight Mojo” during which they seem to capitalize on the fluidity they’ve been able to build up throughout “Molimoh” and “Goodbye Katus” while bringing themselves to even new places. In addition to this, one finds a greater depth of arrangement in these newer tracks, with acoustic guitar layered into “Dock 11” to highlight a sentimental feel. That’s less the case with “Midnight Mojo,” but amid all the Hendrixery it’s nonetheless noteworthy that Little Jimi showcase such a penchant for changing up their methods even in these two tracks, let alone the album of which they’ve been made a part.

As to what the next episode of Little Jimi‘s voyage might hold, or whether the band might drop the thread entirely and pursue other avenues, I wouldn’t want to speculate. Their showcase here, frankly, is enough for the moment in introducing their style to audience and creating a flow that only grows more immersive as the album plays out. There may be more to come in this thread, but as a first installment, EP.1 holds as much promise for the narration itself as for the plotline, and again, whether a given listener is inclined to follow Jimi’s adventure with each footfall or step back and see the whole picture as it’s presented in these tracks, it’s clearly a story worth hearing.

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Causa Sui, Free Ride: Enduring Vibe

Posted in Reviews on November 7th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

causa sui free ride

If you only know Causa Sui through their latter day work in their Summer Sessions series (review herediscussed here), or on their 2016 and 2017 studio albums bringing together heavy psychedelic exploration with progressive krautrock/jazz fusion, Return to Sky (review here) and Vibraciones Doradas (review here), a revisit to 2007’s Free Ride is going to highlight just how different a band they’ve become in the ensuing 11 years. Out of print in its original edition as their first outing for Elektrohasch Schallplatten following their 2005 self-titled debut on Nasoni (some day that CD will be mine), Free Ride is given a new art treatment in 2018 to bring its original cover in line with the aesthetics of their imprint El Paraiso Records and is presented as a 71-minute 2LP remastered by the band’s own Jonas Munk that includes a side D comprised entirely of a 19-minute rendition of the song “El Paraiso” for which the label is named, recorded live at Roadburn 2007.

The inclusion of that signature piece has been listed as the definitive version, though it’s also appeared on the band’s live outings, 2014’s Live at Freak Valley (review here) and 2017’s Live in Copenhagen (review here), so indeed it’s a staple of their performances. And it’s not a minor inclusion here, even next to Free Ride closer “Newborn Road,” which consumes side C and is 15 minutes long, but it doesn’t necessarily define the vibe of the album itself. That work is done more by the way the album unfolds with the increasing immersion of its side A, with the acoustics of the opening title-track leading to the spacier push of “Lotus” and the fuzzy-crunch into spacious, Made in Japan-style buildup of “White Sun.” That song is a riot and has been for 11 years, but again, for those who’ve taken on Causa Sui really at any point since the release of 2013’s Euporie Tide (discussed here), Free Ride is going to be a surprise in its rock-based sound and even more for the inclusion of vocals.

Understand, it’s not a completely different sonic context, and with cuts like “White Sun,” side B leadoff “Passing Breeze” and “Newborn Road” ranging upwards and north of 10 minutes apiece — not to mention “El Paraiso” as a bonus track pushing the outing to eight songs in 71 minutes — the adventurousness of sound for which Causa Sui have become known is still visible in hindsight in this material. Even “Free Ride” and the easy-flowing “Flowers of Eventide” that caps side B with its acoustic guitars, flutes and tambourine speak to the open vibe with which the Copenhagen-based outfit were working at the time, but the presence of Kasper Markus on vocals as frontman along with Munk (who also recorded, mixed and mastered the album originally) on guitar, organ, electrics and vocals, bassist Jess Kahr, drummer/percussionist/cover artist Jakob Skøtt puts Free Ride roundly in the territory of heavy psychedelia. The classic boogie on “Lotus,” the atmospheric organ work on “White Sun,” the sweeping fuzz, drift and final culmination of “Newborn Road” all seem to commune with a heavy ’70s mindset, but at the same time it’s impossible to ignore the influence of what was then Europe’s burgeoning heavy psych scene, and I don’t think we’re meant to.

causa sui free ride lp

In the guitar tones, in Markus‘ vocal approach and in the propensity for fluid, well-directed jamming, Free Ride has always been a smooth fit in the Elektrohasch canon of the time, along with records by Colour Haze, Josiah and even The Kings of Frog Island, which isn’t to mention others like Sgt. Sunshine or fellow Danish groups Gas Giant and the more garage-minded Baby Woodrose. What distinguished Causa Sui then still distinguishes them now: their instrumental chemistry. Listening to the winding blast of fuzz in “El Paraiso” or the sheer forward movement of “Lotus” earlier in the record, the foundation of what the band has become in the years since is right there in the work of Kahr, Skøtt and Munk. They’d go on to develop it in various directions, of course, but there’s no taking away from the prowess or how well they work together on Free Ride, the live-sounding production of which is organic enough to transition easily into “El Paraiso” such that it feels more like the closing of a set than the end of an album.

And of course, underscoring the instrumentality of a reissue from a band who’d go on to work instrumentally is a good deal of historical lensing, but that’s not to take away from what Markus does on vocals either. He’s a significant contributor to the heavy psych feel of these tracks, whether it’s the echo stretching out to lead into the midsection jam of “White Sun” or his standing out front of the charge of the raucous fuzzer “Top of the Hill,” providing a human anchor to the frenetic momentum built as the track shifts into its second-half nod-out. Markus had appeared on the self-titled as well, and at the time it wasn’t known this would be his final studio offering with them so this isn’t like a guest dropping by the studio and, “Oh hey, while I’m here I’ll be the frontman.” He was a member of this band, and especially in that light, including the “El Paraiso” recording from Roadburn seems prudent, since it so excellently captures this form of Causa Sui on stage, which is clearly how they were meant to be experienced given the live feel of the recording itself.

But if Free Ride is arguing in favor of its listeners showing up to a Causa Sui gig, one can only count that point as having been made in the years since, given their position at the forefront of Europe’s heavy psychedelic underground, their fostering of acts through El Paraiso RecordsMunk and Skøtt‘s solo work, etc. They are, in fact, relentlessly creative, and what this reissue does — aside from the simple fact of making the album available again; which is enough reason on its own for it to exist — is capture that creativity as it was just beginning to bloom. A year later, they’d start their Summer Sessions series and continue it through 2008-2009, and from there expand their sound immensely as their interests led them along various other directions for the Pewt’r SessionsEuporie Tide and their work since. What Free Ride does, though, is present one of the two examples of the foundation from whence that expansion grew, and whether being viewed as a document of modern heavy psych in the making or just as a killer heavy rock record with immersive jams, natural tones and a soulful vocal and instrumental execution, there’s no question it stands up to the 11 years since it first arrived.

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Review & Track Premiere: Sadhus, Big Fish

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on November 6th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

sadhus big fish

[Click play above to stream ‘Flesh’ by Sadhus, the Smoking Community. Their album, Big Fish, is out Dec. 18 on Fuzz Ink Records.]

With raw-throated screams atop dutifully hempen riffing, Sadhus, the Smoking Community conjure visions on their Fuzz Ink-issued second album, Big Fish, of sludge metal as a test of physical endurance. And by that I mean their own as well as trying to see how much punishment the listener can take. Will vocalist Stavros still have a larynx by the time the eight-minute “Lazarus” has finished? Can they hold it together during the tense buildup of “Flesh?” In truth, one might feel winded by the time the cacophony of opener “Hyper Roller” has finished, and it’s only 2:46 long. Joining Stavros in the band are guitarist Thomas G., bassist Nikos and drummer Greg, as well as Steve, who’s credited as being the “rolling engineer,” though whether that has more to do with recording or joints, I wouldn’t hazard a guess, and together the Athens-based band bring to mind the chaotic sludge aggression of bands like -(16)-, the this-is-a-lifestyle-ism of Bongzilla and Dopethrone, and the sense of fuckall that Eyehategod pioneered.

Though their work dates back to their 2011 involvement in the Miss Fortune was a Henhouse Manager compilation (review here) of the then-burgeoning Greek underground, Big Fish is their second album behind a 2014 self-titled that led to a couple split releases in the interim. Not a lack of productivity, necessarily, but neither are Sadhus putting out records for their own sake. Clearly this kind of disaffection requires something to drive it. Across the six-song/33-minute offering, I’m not sure if that’s personal, social or political, but it’s there. Stavros‘ vocals are all but indecipherable, but they get their point across anyway, and the point is “fuck you.” As “Lazarus” slams home its plodding, crashing, noise-laden apex, the message comes through clearly instrumentally as well as vocally, and their scathe is central to it.

They have a quiet part here and there throughout the album’s span — in “Flesh” or the title-cut that opens side B, for example — but there’s no question the more abrasive aspects of their sound are intended to be the central impression. That is, the quiet parts are how they change it up, where punishment is the norm. So be it. There are two basic modes of songwriting brought forth and they find the band balancing — so much as one would call any of this “balanced” — between longer songs and shorter ones. Four years ago, the self-titled worked in the same way, with three tracks over seven minutes long (one over eight) and three tracks shorter, under five minutes. Divisions are less stark on Big Fish than they were on the debut, with “Flesh” (4:52) and the penultimate “Sobbing Children” (3:42) and even “Hyper Roller” seeming to work toward an eventual bridging of the gap, though there seems to be little to no compromise either in overall intensity or in the length of the longer songs, so maybe they’re just working their way into a more exclusively longform modus.

sadhus the smoking community

If that were the case — and mind you, I wouldn’t predict either way for certain — they well prove able to carry themselves through more extended material, with “Lazarus” and “Big Fish” providing a back-to-back bludgeoning when taken in linear format that comprises nearly half the album’s runtime, and closer “I.P.S.,” which would seem to stand for “intelligent psycho sludge,” rounding out with a suitably vicious roll and chug, dipping into some more angular riffing late but keeping consistent in the overarching impression with the bulk of the album before it in terms of sheer destructive impulse. That comes through clearly in a recording that benefits from a stage-born energy without sacrificing clarity where it’s needed — Big Fish sounds angry, not sloppy. Thomas‘ and Nikos‘ tones are righteously thick and Greg‘s drumming is apparently up to the charge before it of pushing all that viscosity up the hill of its own creation, and Stavros is able to cut through not only his own vocal cords but the surrounding melee in order to be a key frontman presence even on the record. It isn’t necessarily a new dynamic for sludge metal, but Sadhus bring it to bear with a force that is decidedly their own.

Ultimately, Big Fish is the kind of record that makes you want to watch out for broken glass. Or flying glass. Or a glass bottle smashed into your cranium. Either way, it involves glass and blood that’s possibly yours. Maybe that’s a sign of inherent violence in the music, but while one might argue “Lazarus” has a “mosh part,” the guitar solo in “Sobbing Children” seems more typical of the band’s persona, and it’s not about punching your neighbor so much as lashing out at oneself or characterizing the violence that surrounds on an everyday basis. Maybe that’s reading too much into it, but Sadhus, the Smoking Community don’t necessarily direct their anger at a single target, instead presenting it as a general state to be manipulated as they see fit throughout their songs. It is brutal. And it is angry as a matter of will, but there’s a dynamic in the sound too, between longer slabs and bursts like “Hyper Roller” at the outset, in tempo and in volume.

All of these things come together as tools in Sadhus‘ arsenal, and they’re wielded in such a way as to keep the impact of Big Fish consistent the whole way through, so that even as they bring together two disparate sections in one song, that contrast becomes part of the overarching sound and the maddening atmosphere that pervades. As to the physical challenge aspect of it, Sadhus seem to come out of “I.P.S.” just fine, like they could do another five songs in the set, easy, but they’re right to keep it short, to get in and get out and leave their audience dazed from what just happened. It’s one more way Big Fish is effective in its delivery of its purported intelligent psychosis, and that lurking intelligence would seem to be the factor tying it all together. Also marijuana.

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Castle, Deal Thy Fate: Can’t Escape the Evil

Posted in Reviews on November 2nd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

castle deal thy fate

All Castle do is kick ass. That’s their whole thing, and they do not veer from that central purpose. They’ve been at it for nearly a decade. Deal Thy Fate is their fifth album in that time as well as their first for Ripple Music after releasing 2016’s Welcome to the Graveyard (review here) as a return to Ván Records out of Germany, which also released their debut in 2011, and the latest work continues to highlight the point of just how brutally underappreciated they are. It is nine songs — eight and a “Prelude” leading to “Hexenring” on side A — and runs a clean 36 minutes recorded live at least in its basic tracks with the core duo of bassist/vocalist Liz Blackwell and guitarist Mat Davis joined by touring drummer Chase Manhattan in Hallowed Halls Studio with Billy Anderson at the helm. That is not a new band/producer collaboration. Castle have worked with Anderson on the three albums since 2012’s Blacklands, that being 2014’s Under Siege and the aforementioned 2016 outing.

And as far as capturing their sound goes, it’s not by any means a broken system. Easily parsed into two vinyl sides, Deal Thy Fate captures eerie vibes and classically metal tones with a natural underpinning born of the developed instrumental chemistry between Blackwell and Davis, who in the band’s time have relocated first from Toronto to San Francisco and, for this album, from San Francisco to the Mojave Desert, where they wrote the songs. Perhaps though where they ultimately reside is moot, since they spend so much time on tour anyway. One way or the other, their sound is defined more by their own pursuit of truth in heavy metal rather than geography — that is, they didn’t move to the desert and start making desert rock. They’re still Castle, which for the steadily growing cult following they’ve amassed by delivering their sharp, thrash-informed riffing to listeners one gig at a time, should only be a relief. If you’ll pardon me for saying so, that cult should probably be bigger — hence “underappreciated” above.

The reasons to take that position run from the hooks of opener “Can’t Escape the Evil,” “Wait for Dark,” and “Haunted” to the eerie atmosphere that “Prelude” sets for “Hexenring” and the sharp turns later in “Red Phantom” ahead of the dynamic and spacious closer “Firewind.” To look at the tracklisting, with only “Hexenring” hitting five minutes long, its intro at 32 seconds and everything else somewhere in the four-minute range, Deal Thy Fate is deceptive, because while the runtimes are similar, what Castle does in each changes. Structures are largely straightforward, but as “Skull in the Woods” unfolds its central riff that seems to be trying to run away from itself after the brash moshfodder of “Can’t Escape the Evil,” a subtle sense of breadth begins to take hold. Davis by then has already tossed off however many pro-shop solos, and Blackwell‘s vocals have arrived in deftly-arranged layers, so the stage is well set, but the atmosphere continues to deepen as the album plays out subsequent to that, and in that way, Castle reveal perhaps their most distinguishing factor.

castle

Blackwell is nothing short of a metal hero as frontwoman, and Davis plays the quiet conjurer well, leading the way through tight, headbang-ready grooves that not only remind of when denim and leather brought people together, but also of the many seasons spent in the abyss. But what they bring by working so much in concert as they do — and especially with Manhattan, a real live drummer able to drive forward each of the album’s varied progressions — is a spirit of creepy-worship that goes beyond skulls in the woods, hauntings and phantoms. It goes beyond horror themes to the very core of the band itself, and in that, it’s difficult to pinpoint but all the more enticing for that. There’s something dark in their work that comes through almost on a subconscious level, and I’m not exaggerating. As familiar as some of their sonic elements inherently are — thrash isn’t new, and classic metal, by its very nature, is a known commodity — there’s a twisted layer of the psychological beneath. Something in the personality of the band that’s as intangible as it is grim.

It runs deeper than the busy iconography of the Patrick Zoller cover art, though perhaps that speaks as well to the complexity of the message across Deal Thy Fate. “Wait for Dark” rolls out a fist-pumper nod after the mostly-mid-paced mini-epic “Hexenring” and soon gives way to the title-track opening side B. From there, “Haunted,” “Red Phantom” and “Firewind” only affirm the fierce grip Castle have on their approach and their raw, unpretentious take on what metal should be and could have become. Maybe that’s it. Think of Castle not as a vision of what heavy metal is, but as a vision of what heavy metal could have become. It’s not about splitting into subgenres of subgenres, though one could tag any number of them to Deal Thy Fate, and hey, that’s fun, I won’t argue with it. But if you take the totality of what their work over the last decade does and more crucially what this album does, with the “Looks that Kill” riff of “Haunted” and the quiet start of “Firewind,” the razor’s-edge guitar slices in “Skull in the Woods” and the determined sweaty push of “Deal Thy Fate” itself, it does for metal what so much heavy rock does in providing an alternate modern interpretation of those classic forms.

Castle are outliers. They’re not retro thrash. They’re not trying to revisit the NWOBHM. They’re not strictly doom. They’re metal. And the metal they play isn’t about joining a side to the exclusion of all else, but about celebrating what brings — or could bring — it all together. Their metal is encompassing, and in that, it provides an alternative look at what might’ve happened had the development of metal — the umbrella-genre of it — grown to take everything in rather than splinter into various extremities. Is that their conscious intention? I have no idea. But it’s how Deal Thy Fate plays out. It’s the album’s fate. And we know from their past work as well as their current that Castle are nothing if not self-determined, so take it as you will.

More important even than their lack of pretense or the natural state from which their material seems to arise — that is, they’ve never sounded overly showy or dramatic about what they do and they don’t here either — is the fact that Castle are happening right now. It’s 2018, they’ve got five records out, and they’re the kind of band who, whenever they actually call it a day, are going to be more missed than people know. They’re reaped critical acclaim for a long time, and have worked hard to translate that into audience appreciation to the degree they have, but Castle deserve to be heard by as many ears as possible, and until the next one arrives, Deal Thy Fate is the best way to go about it. Young or old, their metal should be your metal.

Castle, “Deal Thy Fate” official video

Castle, Deal Thy Fate (2018)

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