Quarterly Review: Fuzz, Crippled Black Phoenix, Bethmoora, Khan, The Acid Guide Service, Vexing Hex, KVLL, Mugstar, Wolftooth, Starmonger

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

THE-OBELISK-FALL-2020-QUARTERLY-REVIEW

Day III of the Inexplicably Roman Numeralized Winter 2020 Quarterly Review, commence! I may never go back to actual numbers, you should know. There’s something very validating about doing Day I, Day II, Day III — and tomorrow I get to add a V for Day IV! Stoked on that, let me tell you.

You have to make your own entertainment these days, lest your brain melt like wax and drip from your nostrils.

Plurp.

Quarterly Review #21-30:

Fuzz, III

fuzz iii

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In the Red Records on Thee Facebooks

In the Red Records on Bandcamp

 

Crippled Black Phoenix, Ellengæst

crippled black phoenix ellengaest

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Crippled Black Phoenix on Thee Facebooks

Season of Mist website

 

Bethmoora, Thresholds

Bethmoora Thresholds

Copenhagen’s Bethmoora served notice in a 2016 split with Dorre (review here) and their debut full-length, Thresholds hone destructive lumber across four low-toned tracks that begin with “And for Eternity They Will Devour His Flesh” and only get nastier from there. One imagines being in a room with this kind of rumbling, maddeningly repetitive, slow-motion-violence noise wash and being put into a flight-or-fight panic by it, deer in doomed headlights, and all that, but even on record, Bethmoora manage to cull, and when their songs explode in tempo, as the opener does late in its run, or “Painted Man” does, that spirit is maintained. Each side of the LP is two tracks, and all four are beastly, pile-driver-to-the-core-of-the-earth heavy. “Keeper”‘s wash of noise has willful-turnoff appeal all its own, but the empty space in the middle of “Lamentation” is where they go in for ultimate consumption. And yeah. Yeah.

Bethmoora on Thee Facebooks

Sludgelord Records on Bandcamp

 

Khan, Monsoons

khan monsoons

Khan‘s second album, Monsoons is a departure in form from 2018’s Vale, if not necessarily in substance. Heavy, psychedelic-infused post-rock is the order of business for the Melbourne trio either way, but as guitarist Josh Bills gives up playing synth and doing vocals to embark on an instrumental approach with bassist Mitchell Kerr (also KVLL) and drummer Beau Heffernan on this four-track/31-minute offering, the spirit is inescapably different. Probably easier to play live, if that’s a thing that might happen. Monsoons still has the benefit, however, of learning from the debut in terms of the dynamic among the three players, and Bills‘ guitar reaches for atmospheric float in “Orb” and attains it easily, as the midsection rhythm of the closing title-track nods at My Sleeping Karma and the back end of the prior “Harbinger” manages to shine and not sound like Earthless in the process, and quite simply, Khan make it work. The vocals/synth might be worth missing — and they may or may not be back — but to ignore the breadth Khan harness in little over half an hour would be a mistake.

Khan on Thee Facebooks

Khan on Bandcamp

 

The Acid Guide Service, Denim Vipers

the acid guide service denim vipers

Jammy, psychedelic in parts, Sabbathian in “Peavey Marshall (and the Legendary Acoustic Sunn Band)” and good fun from the doomly rollout of 11-minute opener and longest cut (immediate points) “In the Cemetery” onward, the second full-length from Idaho’s The Acid Guide Service, Denim Vipers, brings considerable rumble and nod, but these guys don’t want to hurt nobody. They’ve come here to chew bubblegum and follow the riff, and they’re all out of bubblegum. Comprised on average of longer songs than 2017’s debut, Vol. 11 (review here), the four-tracker gives the trio room to branch out their sound a bit, highlighting the bass in the long middle stretch of the title-track while the subsequent “Electro-Galactic Discharge” puts its guitar solo front and center before sludge-rocking into oblivion, letting “Peavey Marshall (and the Legendary Acoustic Sunn Band)” pick up from there, which is as fine a place as any to begin a gallop to the end. Genre-based shenanigans ensue. One would hope for no less.

The Acid Guide Service on Thee Facebooks

The Acid Guide Service on Bandcamp

 

Vexing Hex, Haunt

vexing hex haunt

Based in Illinois, Vexing Hex make their debut on Wise Blood Records with Haunt, and yes, playing catchy, semi-doomed, organ-laced cult rock with creative and melodic vocal arrangements, you’re going to inevitably run into some Ghost comparisons. The newcomer three-piece are distinguished by a harder edge to their impact, a theremin on “Planet Horror” and a rawer production sensibility, and that serves them well in “Build Your Wall” and the buildup of “Living Room,” both of which play off the fun-with-dogma mood cast by “Revenant” following the intro “Hymn” at the outset of Haunt. Not quite as progressive as, say, Old Man Wizard, there’s nonetheless some melodic similarity happening as bell sounds ensue on “Rise From Your Grave,” the title of which which may or may not be purposefully cribbed from the Sega Genesis classic Altered Beast. There’s a big part of me that hopes it is, and if Vexing Hex are writing songs about retro videogames, they sound ready to embark on a Castlevania concept album.

Vexing Hex on Thee Facebooks

Wise Blood Records on Bandcamp

 

KVLL, Death//Sacrifice

kvll death sacrifice

Proffering grueling deathsludge as though it were going out of style — it isn’t — the Melbourne duo KVLL is comprised of bassist/vocalist/guitarist Mitchell Kerr (also Khan) and drummer Braydon Becher. It’s not without ambient stretches, as the centerpiece “Sacrifice” shows, but the primary impression KVLL‘s debut album, Death//Sacrifice makes is in the extremity of crash and heavy landing of “The Death of All That is Crushing” and “Slow Death,” such that by the time “Sacrifice” ‘mellows out,’ as it were, the listener is punchdrunk from what’s taken place on the prior two and a half songs. There’s little doubt that’s precisely KVLL‘s intention here, as the cavernous screams, mega-lurch and tense undercurrent are more than ably wielded. If “Sacrifice” is the moment at which Death//Sacrifice swaps out one theme for another, the subsequent “Blood to the Altar” and nine-minute closer “Beneath the Throne” hammer the point home, the latter with an abrasive noise-caked finale worthy of standard-bearers Primitive Man.

KVLL on Thee Facebooks

KVLL on Bandcamp

 

Mugstar, GRAFT

mugstar graft

Not that the initial droning wash of “Deep is the Air” or the off-blasted “Zeta Potential” and warp-drive freneticism in “Cato” don’t have their appeal — oh, they do — but when it comes to UK lords-o’-space Mugstar‘s latest holodeck-worthy full-length, GRAFT, it’s the mellow drift-jazz of the 12-minute “Ghost of a Ghost” that feels most like matter dematerialization to me. Side B’s “Low, Slow Horizon” answers back later on ahead of the motorik linear build in the finale “Star Cage,” but the 12-minute vibe-fest that is “Ghost of a Ghost” gives GRAFT a vastness to match its thrust, which becomes essential to the space-borne feel. It’s 41 minutes, still ripe for an LP, but the kind of album that has a genuine affect on mood and mindset, breaking down on a molecular level both and remolding them into something hopefully more evolved on some level through cosmic meditation. Fast or slow, up or down, in or out, it doesn’t ultimately matter. Nothing does. But there’s a moment in GRAFT where the one-skin-on-another thing becomes apparent and all the masks drop away. What’s left after that?

Mugstar on Thee Facebooks

Centripetal Force Records website

Cardinal Fuzz Records BigCartel store

 

Wolftooth, Valhalla

Wolftooth Valhalla

Hooks abound in power-stoner fashion throughout Indiana four-piece Wolftooth‘s second album, Valhalla, which roughs up NWOBHM clarity in early-Ozzy fashion without going overboard to one side or the other, riffs winding and rhythms charging in a way not entirely unlike some of Freedom Hawk‘s more recent fare, but with a melodic reach of its own and a dynamism of purpose that comes through in the songwriting. Grand Magus‘ metallic traditionalism might be an influence on a song like “Fear for Eternity,” but “Crying of the Wolfs” has a more rocking swagger, and likewise post-intro opener “Possession.” With tightly constructed songs in the four-to-five-minute range, Valhalla never feels stretched out more than it wants to, but “Molon Labe” pushes the vocals deeper into the mix for a bigger, more atmospheric sound, and subtle shifts like that become effective in distinguishing the songs and making them all the more memorable. Recently signed to Napalm after working with Ripple, Ice Fall, Cursed Tongue and Blackseed, they seem to be poised to pay off the potential here and in their 2018 self-titled debut (review here). So be it.

Wolftooth on Thee Facebooks

Ripple Music on Bandcamp

Cursed Tongue Records BigCartel store

Ice Fall Records BigCartel store

 

Starmonger, Revelations

starmonger revelations

Parisian riff-blaster trio Starmonger have been piecemealing tracks out for the last five years as a series of EPs titled Revelation, and the full-length debut, Revelations, brings these nine songs together for a 49-minute long-player that even in re-recorded versions of the earliest cuts like “Tell Me” and “Wanderer” show how far the band has come. It’s telling that those two close the record out while “Rise of the Fishlords” and “LĂ©thĂ©” from 2019’s Revelation IV open sides A and B, respectively, but older or newer, the band end up with a swath of stylistic ground covered from the more straightforward and uptempo kick of the elder tracks to the more progressive take of the newer, with plenty of ground in between. Uniting the various sides are strong performances and strong choruses, the latter of which would seem to be the thread that draws everything together. Whether or not it takes Starmonger half a decade to put out their next LP, one can hardly call their time misspent while listening to Revelations.

Starmonger on Thee Facebooks

Starmonger on Bandcamp

 

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Quarterly Review: -(16)-, BoneHawk, DĂ–, Howling Giant & Sergeant Thunderhoof, Chimney Creeps, Kingnomad, Shores of Null, The Device, Domo, Early Moods

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

THE-OBELISK-FALL-2020-QUARTERLY-REVIEW

I just decided how long this Quarterly Review is actually going to be. It’s seven days, then I’ll do my year-end list and the poll results on New Year’s Eve and Day, respectively. That’s the plan. Though honestly, I might pick up after that weekend and continue QR-style for that next week. There’s a lot more to cover, I think. The amount of releases this year has been pretty insane and completely overwhelming. I’ve tried to keep up as best I can and clearly have failed in that regard or I probably wouldn’t be so swamped now. So it goes. One way or the other, I don’t think a lot of emails are getting answered for the next two weeks, though I’ll try to keep up with that too.

But anyhow, that’s what’s up. Here’s Day II (because this is the QR where I do Roman numerals for absolutely no reason).

Quarterly Review #11-20:

16, Dream Squasher

16 Dream Squasher

The fourth long-player since 16‘s studio return with 2009’s Bridges to Burn, the 10-track Dream Squasher begins with tales of love for kid and dog, respectively. The latter might be the sweetest lyrics I’ve ever read for something that’s still bludgeoning sludge — said dog also gets a mention amid the ultra-lumbering chug and samples of “Acid Tongue” — and it’s worth mentioning that as the Cali intensity institution nears 30 years since their start in 1991, they’re branching out in theme and craft alike, as the melody of the organ-laced “Sadlands” shows. There’s even some harmonica in “Agora (Killed by a Mountain Lion),” though it’s soon enough swallowed by pummel and the violent punk of “Ride the Waves” follows. “Summer of ’96” plays off Bryan Adams for another bit of familial love, while closing duo “Screw Unto Others” and “Kissing the Choir Boy” indict capitalist and religious figureheads in succession amid weighted plod and seething anger, the band oddly in their element in this meld of ups, downs and slaughter.

16 on Thee Facebooks

16 at Relapse Records

 

BoneHawk, Iron Mountain

bonehawk iron mountain

Kalamazoo four-piece BoneHawk make an awaited follow-up to their 2014 debut, Albino Rhino (discussed here), in the form of Iron Mountain, thereby reminding listeners why it’s been awaited in the first place. Solid, dual-guitar, newer-school post-The Sword heavy rock. Second cut “Summit Fever” reminds a bit of Valley of the Sun and Freedom Hawk, but neither is a bad echelon of acts to stand among, and the open melodies of the subsequent title-track and the later “Fire Lake” do much to distinguish BoneHawk along the way. The winding lead lines of centerpiece “Wildfire” offer due drama in their apex, and “Thunder Child” and “Future Mind” are both catchy enough to keep momentum rolling into the eight-minute closer “Lake of the Clouds,” which caps with due breadth and, yes, is the second song on the record about a lake. That’s how they do in Michigan and that’s just fine.

BoneHawk on Thee Facebooks

Cursed Tongue Records webstore

 

DĂ–, Black Hole Mass

do black hole mass

DĂ– follow the Valborg example of lumbering barking extremity into a cosmic abyss on their Black Hole Mass three-songer, emitting charred roll like it’s interstellar background radiation and still managing to give an underlying sense of structure to proceedings vast and encompassing. “Gravity Sacrifice” and “Plasma “Psalm” are right on in their teeth-grinding shove, but it’s the 10-minute finale “Radiation Blessing” that steals my heart with its trippy break in the middle, sample, drifting guitar and all, as the Finnish trio build gradually back up to a massive march all the more effective for the atmosphere they’ve constructed around it. Construction, as it happens, is the underlying strength of Black Hole Mass, since it’s the firm sense of structure beneath their songs that allows them to so ably engage their dark matter metal over the course of these 22 minutes, but it’s done so smoothly one hardly thinks about it while listening. Instead, the best thing to do is go along for the ride, brief as it is, or at least bow head in appreciation to the ceremony as it trods across rigid stylistic dogma.

DĂ– on Thee Facebooks

Lay Bare Recordings website

 

Howling Giant & Sergeant Thunderhoof, Turned to Stone Chapter 2: Masamune & Muramasa

turned to stone chapter 2 howling giant sergeant thunderhoof

Let this be a lesson to, well, everyone. This is how you do a conceptual split. Two bands getting together around a central idea — in this case, Tennessee’s Howling Giant and UK’s Sergeant Thunderhoof — both composing single tracks long enough to consume a vinyl side and expanding their reach not only to work with each other but further their own progressive sonic ideologies. Ripple Music‘s Turned to Stone split series is going to have a tough one to top in Masamune & Muramasa, as Howling Giant utterly shine in “Masamune” and the rougher-hewn tonality of Sergeant Thunderhoof‘s “Maramasa” makes an exceptional complement. Running about 41 minutes, the release is a journey through dynamic, with each act pushing their songwriting beyond prior limits in order to meet the occasion head-on and in grand fashion. They do, and the split easily stands among the best of 2020’s short releases as a result. If you want to hear where heavy rock is going, look no further.

Howling Giant on Thee Facebooks

Sergeant Thunderhoof on Thee Facebooks

Ripple Music on Bandcamp

 

Chimney Creeps, Nosedive

chimney creeps nosedive

Punkish shouts over dense noise rock tones, New York trio Chimney Creeps make their full-length debut with Nosedive, which they’ve self-released on vinyl. The album runs through seven tracks, and once it gets through the straight-ahead heavy punk of “March of the Creeps” and “Head in the Sand” at the outset, the palette begins to broaden in the fuzzy and gruff “Unholy Cow,” with the deceptively catchy “Splinter” following. “Creeper” and “Satisfied” before it are longer and accordingly more atmospheric, with a truck-backing-up sample at the start of “Creeper” that would seem to remind listeners just where the band’s sound has put them: out back, around the loading dock. Fair enough as “Diving Line” wraps in accordingly workmanlike fashion, the vocals cutting through clearly as they have all the while, prominent in the mix in a way that asks for balance. “Bright” I believe is the word an engineer might use, but the vocals stand out, is the bottom line, and thereby assure that the aggressive stance of the band comes across as more than a put-on.

Chimney Creeps on Thee Facebooks

Chimney Creeps on Bandcamp

 

Kingnomad, Sagan Om Rymden

Kingnomad - Sagan Om Rymden

Kingnomad‘s third album, Sagan Om Rymden certainly wants nothing for scope or ambition, setting its progressive tone with still-hooky opener “Omniverse,” before unfurling the more patient chug in “Small Beginnings” and taking on such weighted (anti-)matter as “Multiverse” and “The Creation Hymn” and “The Unanswered Question” later on. Along the way, the Swedish troupe nod at Ghost-style melodicism, Graveyard-ish heavy blues boogie — in “The Omega Experiment,” no less — progressive, psychedelic and heavy rocks and no less than the cosmos itself, as the Carl Sagan reference in the record’s title seems to inform the space-based mythology expressed and solidified within the songs. Even the acoustic-led interlude-plus “The Fermi Paradox” finds room to harmonize vocals and prove a massive step forward for the band. 2018’s The Great Nothing (review here) and 2017’s debut, Mapping the Inner Void (review here), were each more accomplished than the last, but Sagan Om Rymden is just a different level. It puts Kingnomad in a different class of band.

Kingnomad on Thee Facebooks

Ripple Music on Bandcamp

 

Shores of Null, Beyond the Shores (On Death and Dying)

Shores of Null Beyond the Shores On Death and Dying

By the time Shores of Null are nine minutes into the single 38-minute track that makes up their third album, Beyond the Shores (On Death and Dying), they would seem to have unveiled at least four of the five vocalists who appear throughout the proceedings, with the band’s own Davide Straccione joined by Swallow the Sun‘s Mikko Kotamäki as well as Thomas A.G. Jensen (Saturnus), Martina Lesley Guidi (of Rome’s Traffic Club) and Elisabetta Marchetti (INNO). There are guests on violin, piano and double-bass as well, so the very least one might say is that Shores of Null aren’t kidding around when they’re talking about this record in a sense of being ‘beyond’ themselves. The journey isn’t hindered so much as bolstered by the ambition, however, and the core five-piece maintain a steady presence throughout, serving collectively as the uniting factor as “Beyond the Shores (On Death and Dying)” moves through its portrayal of the stages of grief in according movements of songcraft, gorgeously-arranged and richly composed as they are as they head toward the final storm. In what’s been an exceptional year for death-doom, Shores of Null still stand out for the work they’ve done.

Shores of Null on Thee Facebooks

Spikerot Records website

 

The Device, Tribute Album

the device tribute album

Tectonic sludge has become a mainstay in Polish heavy, and The Device, about whom precious little is known other than they’re very, very, very heavy when they want to be, add welcome atmospherics to the lumbering weedian procession. “Rise of the Device” begins the 47-minute Tribute Album in crushing form, but “Ritual” and the first minute or so of “BongOver” space out with droney minimalism, before the latter track — the centerpiece of the five-songer and only cut under six minutes long at 2:42 — explodes in consuming lurch. “Indica” plays out this structure again over a longer stretch, capping with birdsong and whispers and noise after quiet guitar and hypnotic, weighted riffing have played back and forth, but it’s in the 23-minute closer “Exhale” that the band finds their purpose, a live-sounding final jam picking up after a long droning stretch to finish the record with a groove that, indeed, feels like a release in the playing and the hearing. Someone’s speaking at the end but the words are obscured by echo, and to be sure, The Device have gotten their point across by then anyhow. The stark divisions between loud and quiet on Tribute Album are interesting, as well as what the band might do to cover the in-between going forward.

Galactic SmokeHouse Records on Thee Facebooks

The Device on Bandcamp

 

Domo, Domonautas Vol. 2

Domo Domonautas Vol 2

Spanish progressive heavy psychedelic semi-instrumentalists Domo follow late-2019’s Domonautas Vol. 1 (review here) with a four-song second installment, and Domonautas Vol. 2 answers its predecessor back with the jazz-into-doom of “Avasaxa” (7:43) and the meditation in “Dolmen” (13:50) on side A, and the quick intro-to-the-intro “El Altar” (2:06) and the 15-minute “VientohalcĂłn” on side B, each piece working with its own sense of motion and its own feeling of progression from one movement to the next, never rushed, never overly patient, but smooth and organic in execution even in its most active or heaviest stretches. The two most extended pieces offer particular joys, but neither should one discount the quirky rhythm at the outset of “Avasaxa” or the dramatic turn it makes just before five minutes in from meandering guitar noodling to plodding riffery, if only because it sounds like Domo are having so much fun catching the listener off guard. Exactly as they should be.

Domo on Thee Facebooks

Clostridium Records website

 

Early Moods, Spellbound

early moods spellbound

Doom be thy name. Or, I guess Early Moods be thy name, but doom definitely be thy game. The Los Angeles four-piece make their debut with the 26-minute Spellbound, and I suppose it’s an EP, but the raw Pentagram worship on display in the opening title-track and the Sabbath-ism that ensues flows easy and comes through with enough sincerity of purpose that if the band wanted to call it a full-length, one could hardly argue. Guitar heads will note the unbridled scorch of the solos throughout — centerpiece “Isolated” moves from one into a slow-Slayer riff that’s somehow also Candlemass, which is a feat in itself — while “Desire” rumbles with low-end distortion that calls to mind Entombed even as the vocals over top are almost pure Witchcraft. They save the most engaging melody for the finale “Living Hell,” but even that’s plenty grim and suited to its accompanying dirt-caked feel. Rough in production, but not lacking clarity, Spellbound entices and hints at things to come, but has a barebones appeal all its own as well.

Early Moods on Thee Facebooks

Dying Victims Productions website

 

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Quarterly Review: Boris, DVNE, Hydra, Jason Simon, Cherry Choke, Pariiah, Saavik, Mountain Tamer, Centre El Muusa, Population II

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

THE-OBELISK-FALL-2020-QUARTERLY-REVIEW

Kind of a spur of the moment thing, this Quarterly Review. I’ve been adding releases all the while, of course, but my thought was to do this after my year-end list went up, and I realized, hey, if I’ve got like 70 records I haven’t reviewed yet, maybe there’s some of that stuff worth considering. So here we are. I’ve pushed back my best-of-2020 stuff and basically swapped it with the Quarterly Review. Does it matter to you? I seriously, seriously doubt it, but I believe in transparency and that’s what’s up. Thought I’d let you know. And yeah, this is going to go into next week, take us through the X-mas holiday this Friday, so whatever. You celebrate your way and I’ll celebrate mine. Let’s roll.

Quarterly Review #1-10:

Boris, No

boris no

As a general project, reviewing Boris is damn near pointless. One might as well review the moon: “uh, it’s big and out there most of the time?” The only reason to do it is either to exercise one’s own need to hyperbolize or help the band sell records. Well, Boris doesn’t need my push and I don’t need to tell them how great they are. No is 40 minutes of the widely and wildly lauded Japanese heavy rock(s) experimentalists trying to riff away existing in 2020, delving high speed into hardcore here and there and playing off that with grueling sludge, punk, garage-metal and the penultimate “Loveless,” which is kind of Boris being their own genre. Much respect to the band, and I suppose one might critique Boris for, what?, being so Boris-y?, but there really isn’t a ton that hasn’t been said about them because such a ton has. I’m not trying to disparage their work at all — No is just what you’d expect as regards defying expectation — but after 20-plus years, there’s only so many ways one wants to call a band genius.

Boris on Thee Facebooks

Boris on Bandcamp

 

DVNE, Omega Severer

DVNE Omega Severer

Kind of a soft-opening for Edinburgh’s DVNE as an act on Metal Blade Records, unless of course one counts the two songs on the Omega Severer EP itself, which are post-metallic beasts of the sort that would and should make The Ocean blush. Progressive, heavy, and remarkably ‘next-wave’ feeling, DVNE‘s awaited follow-up to 2017’s Asheran may only be about 17 and a half minutes long, but it bodes remarkably well as the band master a torrent of intensity on the 10-minute opening title-cut and answer that with the immediately galloping “Of Blade and Carapace,” smashing battle-axe riffing and progressive shimmer against each other and finding it to be an alchemy of their own. Album? One suspects not until they can tour for it, but if Omega Severer is DVNE serving notice, consider the message received loud, clear, dynamic, crushing, spacious, and so on. Already veterans of Psycho Las Vegas, they sound like a band bent on capturing a broader audience in the metallic sphere.

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Hydra, From Light to the Abyss

hydra from light to the abyss

There’s no questioning where Hydra‘s heart is at on their debut full-length, From Light to the Abyss. It belongs to the devil and it belongs to Black Sabbath. The Polish four-piece riff hard and straightforward throughout most of the five-track offering (released by Piranha Music), and samples set the kind of atmosphere that should be familiar enough to the converted — “No One Loves Like Satan” reminds of Uncle Acid in its initial channel-changing and swaggering riff alike — but doomly centerpiece “Creatures of the Woods” and the layered vocal melodies late in closer “Magical Mind” perhaps offer a glimpse at the direction the band could take from here. What matters though is where Hydra are at today, and that’s bringing riffs and nod to the converted among the masses, and From Light to the Abyss offers no pretense otherwise. It is doom rock for doom rockers, grooves to be grooved to. They’re not void of ambition by any means — their songwriting makes that clear — but their traditionalism is sleeve-worn, which if you’re going to have it, is right where it should be.

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Jason Simon, A Venerable Wreck

jason simon a venerable wreck

Dead Meadow guitarist/vocalist Jason Simon follows 2016’s Familiar Haunts (review here) with the genre-spanning A Venerable Wreck, finding folk roots in obscure beats and backwards this-and-that, country in fuzz, ramble in space, and no shortage of experimentalism besides. A Venerable Wreck consists of 12 songs and though there are times where it can feel disjointed, that becomes part of the ride. It’s not all supposed to make sense. Yet what happens by the time you get around to “No Entrance No Exit” is that Simon (and a host of cohorts) has set his own context broad enough so that the drone reach of “Hollow Lands” and sleek, organ-laced indie of closer “Without Reason or Right” can coexist without any real interruption of flow between them. The question with A Venerable Wreck isn’t so much whether the substance is there, it’s whether the listener is open to it. Welcome to psychedelic America. Please inject this snake venom and turn in your keys when you leave.

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Cherry Choke, Raising Salzburg Rockhouse

Cherry Choke-Raising Salzburg Rockhouse-Cover

You won’t hear me take away from the opening psych-scorch hook of “Mindbreaker” or the fuzzed-on, boogie-down, -up, and -sideways of “Black Annis” which follows, but there’s something extra fun about hearing Frog Island’s Cherry Choke jam out a 13-minute, drum-solo-inclusive version of “6ix and 7even” that makes Raising Salzburg Rockhouse even more of a reminder of how underrated both they are as a band and Mat Bethancourt is as a player. Look no further than “Domino” if you want absolute proof. The whole band rips it up at the Austrian gig, which was recorded in 2015 as they supported their third and still-most-recent full-length, Raising the Waters (review here), but Bethancourt puts on a Hendrixian clinic in the nine-minute cut from 2011’s A Night in the Arms of Venus (review here), which is actually less of a clinic than it is pure distorted swagger followed by a mellow “cheers, thanks” before diving into “Used to Call You Friend.” A 38-minute set would be perfect for an vinyl release, and anytime Cherry Choke want to get around to putting together a fourth studio album, well, that’ll be just fine too.

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Pariiah, Swallowed by Fog

Pariiah swallowed by fog

It’s a special breed of aggro that emerges as a result of living in the most densely populated state in the union, and New Jersey’s Pariiah have it to spare. Bringing together sludge tonality with elder-style New York hardcore lumbering riffs on their Trip Machine Laboratories tape, Swallowed by Fog, they exude a thickened brand of pissed off that’s outright going to be too confrontation for many who take it on. But if you want a middle finger to the face, this is what it sounds like, and the six songs (compiled into four on the digital version of the release) come and go entirely without pretense and leave little behind except bruises and the promise of more to come. They’re a new band, started in this most wretched of years, but there’s no learning curve whatsoever among the members of Devoid of Faith, The Nolan Gate, Kill Your Idols, Changeörder and others. I’d go to Maplewood to see these cats. I’m just saying. Maybe even Elizabeth.

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Saavik, Saavik

saavik saavik

So you’ve got both members of Holly Hunt in a four-piece sludging out with spacey synth and the band is named after a Star Trek character? Not to get too personal, but that’s going to pique my interest one way or the other. Saavik — and they clearly prefer the Kirstie Alley version, rather than Robin Curtis, going by drummer Beatriz Monteavaro‘s artwork — are damn near playing space rock by the end of “He’s Dead Jim,” the opener of their self-titled debut EP, but even that’s affected by a significant tonal weight in Didi Aragon‘s bass and the guitar of Gavin Perry, however much Ryan Rivas‘ synth and effects-laced vocals might seem to float overhead, but “Meld” rolls along at a steadier nod, and “Horizon” puts the synth more in the lead without becoming any less heavy for doing so. Likewise, “Red Sun” calls to mind Godflesh in its proto-machine metal stomp, but there’s more concern in Saavik‘s sound with expanse than just pure crush, and that shows up in fascinating ways in these songs.

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Mountain Tamer, Psychosis Ritual

mountain tamer psychosis ritual

There’s been a dark vibe all along nestled into Mountain Tamer‘s sound, and that’s certainly the case on Psychosis Ritual, with which the Los Angeles-based trio make their debut on Heavy Psych Sounds. It’s their third full-length overall behind 2018’s Godfortune // Dark Matters (review here) and 2016’s self-titled debut (review here), and it finds their untamed-feeling psychedelia rife with that same threat of violence, not necessarily thematically as much as sonically, like the songs themselves are the weapon about to be turned on the listener. Maybe the buzz of “Warlock” or the fuckall echo of the prior-issued single “Death in the Woods” (posted here) aren’t out there trying to be “Hammer Smashed Face” or anything, but neither is this the hey-bruh-good-times heavy jams for which Southern California is known these days. Consider the severity of “Turoc Maximus Antonis” or the finally-released screams in closer “Black Noise,” which bookends Psychosis Ritual with the title-track and seems at last to be the point where whatever grim vibe these guys are riding finally consumes them. Mountain Tamer continue to be unexpected and righteous in kind.

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Centre El Muusa, Centre El Muusa

centre el muusa centre el muusa

Hypnotic Estonian psychedelic krautrock instrumentals not your thing? Well that sounds like a personal problem Centre El Muusa are ready to solve. The evolved-from-duo four-piece get spaced out amid the semi-motorik repetitions of their self-titled debut (on Sulatron), and that seems to suit them quite well, thanksabunch. Drone trips and essential swirl brim with solar-powered pulsations and you can set your deflectors on maximum and route all the secondaries to reinforce if you want, there’s still a decent chance 9:53 opener an longest track “Turkeyfish” (immediate points, double for the appropriately absurd title) is going to sweep you off what you used to call your feet when that organ line hits at about six minutes in. That’s to say nothing of the cosmic collision later in “Burning Lawa” or the just-waiting-for-a-Carl-Sagan-voiceover “Mia” that follows. Even the 3:46 “Ain’t Got Enough Mojo” lives long enough to prove itself wrong. Interstellar tape transmissions fostered by obvious weirdos in the great out-there in “Szolnok,” named for a city in Hungary that, among other things, hosts the goulash festival. Right fucking on.

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Population II, À La Ô Terre

Population II a La o Terre

The first Population II album, a 2017 self-titled, was comprised of two tracks, each long enough to consume a 12″ side. Somehow it’s fitting with the Montreal-based singing-drummer trio’s aesthetic that their second long-player, À la Ă” Terre, would take a completely different tack, employing shorter freakouts like “L’Offrande” and “La Nuit” and the garage-rocking “La Danse” and what-if-JeffersonAirplane-but-on-Canadian-mushrooms “Ă€ la Porte de Demain” and still-more-drifting finisher “Je Laisse le Soleil Briller” amid the more stretched out “Attaction,” the space-buzzer “Ce n’est RĂ©ve” while cutting a middle ground in the greaked-out (I was gonna type “freaked out” and hit a typo and I’m keeping it) “Il eut un Silence dans le Ciel,” which also betrays the jazzy underpinnings that somehow make all of Ă€ la Ă” Terre come across as progressive instead of haphazard. From the start to the close, you don’t know what’s coming next, and just because that’s by design doesn’t make it less effective. If anything, it makes Population II all the more impressive.

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Miss Lava Premiere “The Great Divide” Video From Doom Machine LP

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Reviews on December 18th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

miss lava the great divide

Portuguese heavy rockers Miss Lava release their new album, Doom Machine, Jan. 15 on Small Stone and Kozmik Artifactz. The band’s fourth long-player and second through Small Stone behind 2016’s Sonic Debris (review here), it is an explosion of well-crafted, professional-sounding material that feels built for European heavy-fest stages. Your Desertfests, certainly SonicBlast, they’re already booked for a festival in Spain this March (which seems ambitious), and so on. It was, appropriately enough, recorded live, with Miguel “Veg” Marques at the helm of Generator Music Studios in Sintra. The energy with which the songs are delivered is only part of the album’s personality though, because the CD version comes with a whopping 15 tracks running a total of 56 minutes, as the returning four-piece of vocalist Johnny Lee, guitarist K. Raffah, bassist Ricardo Ferreira and drummer J. Garcia tear into one hook after the other, careening with desert-inspired purpose through “Fourth Dimension” and “In the Mire” at the outset like an all-grown-up Kyuss with the rest of the album that follows working in different stages set off by interludes, groups of one or two songs complemented by short pieces of varied atmosphere that lend breadth to the proceedings as a whole.

Most of those spacers are quick instrumentals. Guitar, bass, drums. “Magma,” the first of them, and “Karma” follow that pattern, while “Alpha” adopts a more mellow spirit and the last, “Terra” captures wave sounds and guitar noise ahead of the closing title-track, which is also the longest song on the outing at 6:58. The interludes bolster Doom Machine‘s flow and make it all the more immersive despite being largely based around straightforward craft of high grade verses and choruses, though certainly longer stretchesmiss lava doom machine like “Brotherhood of Eternal Love” (5;46), the Alice in Chains-style harmonized “The Fall” (6:31) and “Doom Machine” itself want nothing for atmosphere. “The Fall” is a highlight in that regard, but it contends with single-worthy cuts like the maddeningly catchy “Sleepy Warm” and the slower, more spacious “The Great Divide” nearby for that title, with the latter as the assumed end of the vinyl’s side A and, indeed, the split between the first half of the album and the second — not counting the bonus tracks. That’s not to mention a cut like “The Oracle,” later on, which singlehandedly shows how Miss Lava take cues from classic desert rock and turn them into something of their own all across Doom Machine as a whole. Maybe it’s safer not to talk about highlights.

Amid the many hooks, interludes and spot-on moves made throughout Doom Machine is the narrative of K. Raffah having lost a child after only a month and a half from birth. That brutal context underpins even the most uptempo of Miss Lava‘s songs here, and adds weight to already impactful pieces like “The Fall” and “In the Mire” earlier on, the melodies and momentum betraying little of what’s actually going on but remaining expressive nonetheless. One doesn’t want to call it a disconnect, but Doom Machine hardly sounds dragged down by grief or anything else as Miss Lava courses through. Even the bonus tracks, “God Feeds the Swine,” ‘Feel Surrea” and “Red Atlantis,” boast quality hooks — the last one of them especially so — so there is a balance of elements and themes at play throughout, and the band aren’t necessarily beholden to one or the other of them, as impossible as that might seem.

To wit, the video premiering below for “The Great Divide” takes a post-apocalyptic environmentalist stance, looking out at the world and seeing it being used and torn down by humanity as a whole. The clip was directly by JosĂ© Dinis, who offers some comment on it below, along with that of Johnny Lee.

As always, I hope you enjoy:

Miss Lava, “The Great Divide” official video premiere

According to singer Johnny Lee, “‘The Great Divide’ is a euphemism for death, an apocalyptic vision for mankind. We keep destroying our planet and forgetting that when this ends, it ends for everyone.”

Director JosĂ© Dinis reflects that this is “A concept story about an apocalyptic world, where an unhopeful man just tries to survive. As in real life, there is always a way out, a solution, a chance to live a more colourful life, no matter what.”

“The Great Divide” was filmed at Mina de SĂŁo Domingos, a deserted open-pit mine in Alentejo, Portugal. The site is one of the volcanogenic massive sulfide ore deposits in the Iberian Pyrite Belt, which extends from the southern Portugal into Spain. It was the first place in Portugal to have electric lighting.

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Album Review: Mr. Bison, Seaward

Posted in Reviews on December 17th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

mr bison seaward

Seaward is the fourth album from Cecina, Italy’s Mr. Bison, and unquestionably the most progressive. Issued through Subsound Records and Ripple Music, the seven-track/39-minute collection brings together songs based around the a narrative of the sea itself, drawing on mythology about the creation of the Tuscan Archipelago as seven pearls broken off a necklace by Aphrodite — those love goddesses, so clumsy — falling into the water and making the islands. Good fun, and a nice linkup for a record from the Italian coast with seven songs on it, but Seaward reaches broader in terms of its actual subject matter and storytelling, as the three-piece of guitarist/vocalists Matteo Barsacchi and Matteo Sciocchetto and drummer/noisemaker/vocalist Matteo D’Ignazi engage not only myths and ancient stories — “Oudeis” translating to “no one” or “nobody” from Greek, but referring also to Odysseus — but look out over the waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea in the opening title-track, “I’m the Storm” and the penultimate “Underwater.”

Should it be any surprise that the album flows? That it’s immersive? No. It’s about water. It damn well better flow and be immersive. But the scope of Seaward is a considerable shift from where the trio could be found in terms of aesthetics even two years ago. Their 2018 offering, Holy Oak (review here), certainly had its proggier moments, but carried them amid a tonal warmth born of heavy psychedelic impulse, and their roots in playing more straight-ahead, uptempo, post-Truckfighters heavy rock on their first two records, 2016’s Asteroid and 2012’s We’ll Be Brief, were still evident in some of the material. Seaward is a rock album, to be sure, but as the band showed earlier in 2020 on their split with Spacetrucker (review here), they are pushing toward a cleaner-toned flourish, perhaps less driven directly toward warmth of tone but distinctly broader in melody and more accomplished-sounding on the whole. Since Barsacchi — the lone remaining founder of the band — brought in Sciocchetto and D’Ignazi on Asteroid, the band would seem to have been pushing in this direction, but there’s little mistaking the proggy intent in these tracks.

Certainly, Mr. Bison aren’t the only group who’ve embarked on more complex structures and methods over the last few years — heavy rock as a whole has moved in this direction, fueled in no small part by the work of Elder and a few others — but there’s an underlying classic sensibility too in Seaward, and “Seaward,” the song, still opens with a mighty roller of a riff once it kicks in from the quiet introduction. The title-track may or may not have been composed for the purpose of leading off the LP, but it’s definitely suited for it, hitting into its verse before the three-minute mark as Mr. Bison find nuance between the ’70s style of heavy prog — Captain Beyond, et al — and modern heavy execution. But it’s the focus on melody that’s most striking, and the fact that while individual songs have gotten longer on the whole — Holy Oak had two tracks over seven minutes and Seaward has one in “I’m the Storm” (7:40), but that’s the longest song the band have made and the average of the surrounding cuts is higher — the band have managed to keep their songwriting sensibility intact.

mr bison

Second cut “From the Abyss” emphasizes this, fluidly picking up from the end of “Seaward” with a shorter, more straightforward run on a short linear course, with a memorable chorus and instrumental thrust, giving way to vocals and lush guitar deceptive in its nuance for how peaceful it sounds. The final surge feels a bit manic in comparison, but they still manage to bring it down in time to end the song for a smooth transition into “I’m the Storm,” which brings a thicker chug as it might be expected to do, but coats it too in melody, pushing the distortion lower in the mix so that it’s part of the overall affect rather than entirely consuming, though the final echoing shout of the title line brings to mind Stoned Jesus‘ “I’m the Mountain” just the same. The residual drift marks the end of side A, and “I’m the Storm” is no less suited in its place than was “Seaward” at the outset, but the 6:45 “Oudeis,” introduced by organ in the spirit of Celeste and other classic Italian prog, is a special advent as the centerpiece of the tracklisting as well.

Scorching guitar, high-energy lead vocals that shift into harmony as the song moves into its midsection, and a proggy shuffle to accompany, “Oudeis” is clearly intended as a focal point example of Mr. Bison‘s sonic evolution — a show-piece, if there were shows — and it leads into side B with the sense that not only have the band taken on this sonic growth, but they’ve brought it to bear with the necessary control and mastery. As with “From the Abyss,” “The Sacrifice” follows “Oudeis” with a more forward motion, but the multiple layers of vocals, continued organ line and tension in the guitar and drums builds toward what’s arguably Seaward‘s most satisfying payoff. It’s ironic that it should come on the shortest track, but the vitality on display speaks for itself. With the subtle shift of an atmospheric intro, “Underwater” returns to more patient fare, but remains somewhat angular in its groove, coming apart later as its core strum leads the way out toward closer “The Curse.”

Saving room for one last push, Mr. Bison bring their watery proceedings to a close with “The Curse,” and in so doing offer one final linear build, perhaps the album’s most direct up to that point. A layer of guitar solo floats airily over the central riff, giving ambience to an earlier chug complementary to that of “I’m the Storm,” and the song’s ending, cut after a verse, feels somewhat sudden but leaves little more one might ask that isn’t delivered. The same is true of Seaward as a whole. Mr. Bison bring vitality to sonic progressivism in such a way as to distinguish themselves from their many peers of similar intent, and it is the energy of their material, as well as the theme, that allows them to tie together heavy rock and progadelia with such grace and class. Where their course might ultimately bring them has only become more of a mystery with this turn, but they’re only more exciting an act for that, and for the richness of craft they harness here.

Mr. Bison, Seaward (2020)

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Album Review: Arcadian Child, Protopsycho

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

Arcadian Child Protopsycho

With their third album, Protopsycho, Cypriot four-piece Arcadian Child enter a new stage of realization. Their progression has been quick in terms of productive turnaround from one album to the next, with 2017’s Afterglow (review here) getting picked up by Ripple Music‘s imprint Rebel Waves for release in 2018 ahead of the band’s second album, Superfonica (review here), that same year. Lockdown 2020 brought the live album From Far, For the Wild (review here) and word of Protopsycho in the making, and its arrival through Ripple, Kozmik Artifactz and the band’s own Bitter Tea Records finds Arcadian Child at a pivotal moment of their progression in terms of finding their sound. As in, they have.

They do so amid a swath of cultural and aesthetic influences. Cyprus’ position as an island nation finds it situated near the Middle East, Mediterranean Europe and Northern Africa, and Arcadian Child dig into melodies and rhythmic progressions endemic to the region. Early on Protopsycho, the second half of opener “Snakecharm” unfolds a groove that feels born of classic Greek psychedelia, and the winding melody of the subsequent “Wave High” builds on that feel in terms of style, as guitarists Stathis Hadjicharalambous and Panagiotis Georgiou (the latter also vocals), bassist/backing vocalist Andreas Kerveros and newly-arrived drummer Constantinos Pavlides purposefully bring together such traditionalism with a modern edge, not just as regards their own tonality or the production — the album was recorded, mixed and co-produced with Andreas Trachonitis in Nicosia — but on a deeper level of composition as well.

Perhaps most of all, Protopsycho is conscious of what it’s doing sound-wise without necessarily being restrained by that. It is the tightest core of songwriting Arcadian Child has yet brought to bear — which is saying something — and its eight tracks and 37 minutes play through with an unhurried but consistent motion, heavy but fluid thanks in no small part to the intricacy of their rhythms throughout and the apparent ease with which they tie together their verses and choruses. “Snakecharm” and “Wave High” are joined on side A by the more lumbering “Sour Grapes” and the apropos finale “The Well,” which begins at a drift and solidifies in its second half around a classic fuzz rock riff transmuted tonally and in tuning to suit the band’s purposes. In both, there is an emerging current of modern heavy influence, particularly centered around Nashville heavy psych/blues rockers All Them Witches.

It is telling that Mikey Allred at Dark Art Studio mastered Protopsycho, as the former member of Across Tundras has also worked engineering and mastering several All Them Witches albums. Something about the shimmer in the guitar on “The Well” and in “Bitter Tea,” which follows, leading off side B, speaks directly to that. There’s a blend of meditative spaciousness and creative spark that comes to bear feeling like a signature. And yet there’s no denying Arcadian Child make this their own as well, and in purposeful form as “Bitter Tea” begins with a Dying Surfer Meets His Maker-style guitar progression and unfolds with a fuzzy gracefulness and confidence born of a mature band who know what they’re doing. Again, this is Arcadian Child being aware of their choices as a group but not held back by that conscious.

Arcadian Child

“Bitter Tea” and the subsequent “Bodies of Men” are the two shortest cuts on Protopsycho at a respective 3:52 and 3:38, but the tone they set for the second half of the tracklisting isn’t to be understated, as the latter cut picks up with Dead Meadow-style roll in its brief excursion of verse and hook, letting the fuzzy tones of the two guitars lead the way as the vocals push further out in echo, bass and drums providing the solid foundation on which the quirky but structurally sound bounce takes place. The penultimate “Raising Fire” is something of a slower and more ritualized psych burn, vocals following the guitar pattern before fuller tonality kicks in as part of the call-and-response chorus’ thrust. All the while, the abiding atmosphere of “Raising Fire” is patient and built around a tempo that refuses to move at anything other than its own pace for the first four minutes of the track’s 5:35, drums signaling the shift thereafter into a more uptempo instrumental progression that carries the song to its finish.

The splashing crash cymbal deep in the mix of the title-track signals some of the tension Arcadian Child are building as the finale plays out, but though they hit a payoff sure enough, “Protopsycho” never takes off to such a degree as to feel cheap or especially predictable. Rather, it emphasizes just how much the band have been able to set a mood throughout Protopsycho and how far especially side B has worked to bring together the different sides of their sound, the varied folk and psychedelic and heavy influences, not forsaking one for the other, but creating something fresh from pieces of all of them. This is, as noted above, the work Arcadian Child has undertaken in answering the potential of Superfonica and Afterglow, finding both a niche for themselves sound-wise that listeners can hear and readily identify, but pairing that with memorable and well-composed songs.

In essence, this is what Arcadian Child have been building toward for the last three-plus years, and as such it is all the more an injustice they can’t get out and support Protopsycho live, as it represents a special moment for the band. However, what’s perhaps most comforting in terms of listening to these songs and understanding their place in Arcadian Child‘s overarching progression is that there’s still plenty of forward potential on display. How might they move the impulses driving “Snakecharm” forward next time out? Or “Bitter Tea?” Or “Raising Fire?” What shifts might they undertake to continue to bring ideas from multiple sources together under their own banner, while also still pushing themselves on the root levels of performance and craft? As much as Protopsycho manifests Arcadian Child‘s mission up to this point, and achieves what seem to be its goals, it could just as easily be another step in their ongoing evolution.

Arcadian Child, Protopsycho (2020)

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Cardinal Wyrm Stream Devotionals in Full; Album out Friday

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on December 9th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

cardinal wyrm

Oakland, California’s Cardinal Wyrm will release their fourth full-length, Devotionals, this Friday, Dec. 11. And like its certifiably badass Kim Holm cover art, the independently-issued follow-up to 2016’s Cast Away Souls finds the trio at the entryway of some unknown dungeon, fire and demons filling the sky. And not the kind of dungeon where synth happens either. The kind of dungeon with random-encounter battles and quickly depleting health points. The kind of dungeon in which there inexplicably dwells some kind of octopus monster and if you don’t figure out that its weakness is lightning spells, you’re boned no matter how much you’ve been grinding on the low-yield imps or slimes outside in the forest. Radness ensues, with swinging battle axe, leaping dragoons and, indeed, flashes of elemental magic.

More than a decade on from their inception, Cardinal Wyrm are a band perhaps even more diverse than their pedigree, which includes the deathly likes of Vastum, post-whathaveyou outfit Terebellum and undervalued trad metallers Hammers of Misfortune, among others. Devotionals, as it would, has its paean moments to old gods of metal and otherwise, but instrumentally, there’s such a strong sense of self throughout the eight-track/50-minute run of the LP that they could’ve just as easily called the album ‘iconoclasm.’ Extreme metal intertwines with sludge riffing (“The Abbess”), doom with aggressive hardcore chug (“Selimesh”), deathly growls play off declarative proclamations in “Canticle,” and above all, Devotionals becomes an album of ideas and narrative. The further you cardinal wyrmgo, the deeper you are into the world it makes, and as vocalist/drummer Pranjal Tiwari, bassist/vocalist Leila Abdul-Rauf and guitarist Nathan A. Verrill push through the initial punkish breakout of “Gannet” at the outset and into “Mrityunjaya,” the just-wait-for-the-explosion-it’s-coming “Imposter” and “Selimesh” on side A, already the notion of the album as a journey is palpable and only becomes more so across the second half of the LP as the more extreme aspects are brought to bear.

A strange thing happens when one encounters Devotionals in repeat fashion. Usually with records, the more you hear, the more you know, but Cardinal Wyrm manage to answer engagement with nuance, and there always seems to be something else to hear. That might not seem to be the case on a first listen. One might put it on, be like, “Okay, trad metal, bit of doom, punk, and so on,” and go about the day — and if that’s how you listen to music the first time through, I feel you — but even as the guitar solo rises up in the back end of “Canticle” only to be consumed by howls, or “Abbess” gallops into a wall o’ chug, “Nightmarchers” indulges Candlemassian grandiosity while also coating it in grit and closer “Do We Have Another Battle Left in Us?” offers a questioning self-assessment of the band that of course speaks to much, much more as well in this most confusing and terrible of years, Cardinal Wyrm find persona in grim intricacy, tearing limbs off different microgenres to construct a monster of their own.

My only regret in streaming the album ahead of its release on Friday is not asking permission to post the full lyric sheet, because the words — some more discernible than others in the actual hearing — deserve to be read as well as listened to. Alas. Perhaps you’ll consider this a cue to dig further on your own into the considerable and deeply appreciated text that Tiwari offers below. I know everybody’s busy, but one can hope, and it holds true of Cardinal Wyrm‘s Devotionals that the more you’re willing to put into it, the more you’re going to get out when you ultimately emerge from that dungeon.

Please enjoy:

Pranjal Tiwari on Devotionals:

“Devotionals” was a labor of love. We’re all immensely proud of these songs and put a lot of work into getting them just right. It’s been a somewhat hard road to releasing this album, we pretty much had to do all the heavy lifting ourselves, with no support from labels or anything. At times it really felt like we were crazy, that we were the only people in the world that believed in this record, like some mad group of preachers ranting on a street corner while the world walked past bemused. Add to that the whole saga of physical, mental, and financial turmoil that we’ve all experienced in 2020, it’s pretty much been a shitshow all around. Now that the album is finally seeing the light of day, I think it’s perfect that we chose the title “Devotionals.” It takes something extra to keep going through times like this, it takes an almost fanatical devotion to keep walking a path that can seem both pointless and hopeless. In that sense, it’s also perfect that we put this album out ourselves, because I think that sort of fanatical devotion I’ve described is exactly what fuels the DIY spirit and the independent music scene that we’ve all been a part of for so many years.

There seems to be a lot of talk about whether this record is “doom” or not, even among people who have enjoyed the album. My response is, who cares? This is a Cardinal Wyrm record – and I absolutely think what you’re hearing on “Devotionals” is the culmination of the Cardinal Wyrm sound. For starters, all three of us had a hand in writing and shaping every song on this record at the practice space, it’s our most collaborative album to date. But beyond that, I think you can really hear the sound of a band that loves playing together, and whose members had an absolute blast recording these songs. I think that energy and that spirit shines through. For me, arguing about what category to shoehorn this album into is about as boring as you can get, I’d rather people just take the time to listen to it with an open mind and absorb it for what it is – after that you can call it whatever you like.

Lyrically and thematically, ‘Devotionals’ also goes back to storytelling, telling stories has always been a big thing for us. Every song on this album tells a story, tapping into various strands of mythology both old and new. The opener ‘Gannet’ is about being out of place in the world and the paranoia and anxiety that instills, about being intimately controlled by the all-knowing and negative voices in your head. The track ‘Imposter’ is a story about casting a shadow that has a life of its own, the darkness that stares at you from the other side of the mirror.

Other tracks on the album are more literal in their storytelling. ‘Mrityunjaya’, for example, the title means ‘death conqueror’ in Hindi or Sanskrit, and it’s a term associated with the story of Karna from the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. Karna is such a great and evocative character, rejected at birth by those who should have raised him and cared for him, but realizing his life’s potential through loyalty and love to those who took him in, eventually fighting against his blood relatives to defend his chosen family. The song isn’t a literal retelling of the tale, it’s only very loosely based on Karna, sort of reimagining him as a stray wolf that finds a pack to run with. Probably because we all love rescue dogs so much.

The tracks ‘Canticle’ and ‘Abbess’ are both stories about false promises. ‘Canticle’ is the age-old tale of meeting the devil at the crossroads, told from the point of view of the devil making the listener an offer. ‘Abbess’ is a similar tale from the point of view of the one taking the bargain, a story about being seduced by a mirage, and made to do terrible things by the fear of being forgotten.

The final song on the album, “Do We Have Another Battle Left In Us?” is both a question and a rallying cry. Old friends gather and raise drinks to remember the trials they’ve shared and overcome. They toast to all they have loved and lost and those that remain. On the horizon, the enemy recoups their forces and presses forward. Our friends stand, lay hands on their weapons and wonder if they still have the strength to draw them again. “I think right now in the world, everyone is tired, physically and mentally, especially after the year that 2020 has been, and faced with a future that seems so hopeless. It’s a genuine question at this point – can we, do we want to keep going? It’s terrifying, but also thrilling to face that head on, and to forge your own path into the future.

There’s a lot going on musically too. I think the riffs are more intricate and the song structures are tighter than on previous albums. The overall feel is one of shorter and more driving bursts, and I wouldn’t say the whole thing is FAST, but it feels just a little bit faster than before. As one of the lines in the track “Nightmarchers” proclaims, “this beast has a bite.””

CARDINAL WYRM is embodied by lead vocalist/drummer Pranjal Tiwari (S.C.R.A.M.), bassist/vocalist Leila Abdul-Rauf (Vastum, Terebellum, Hammers Of Misfortune, Fyrhtu), and guitarist/vocalist Nathan A. Verrill (Terebellum, Fyrhtu). The follow-up to their Cast Away Souls album, released via Svart Records in 2016, Devotionals can be described as heavy, intricate, driving, progressive, and genre-bending music that seeks to tell a story.

Devotionals was recorded and mixed by Greg Wilkinson at Earhammer Studios (Necrot, Vastum, Brainoil) and mastered by Brad Boatright at Audiosiege (Obituary, Sunn O))), Vastum). The record features striking cover artwork by Kim Holm, photography by Michael Thorn and Amy Oshit, and layout/design by Shelby Lermo.

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Album Review: Kadavar, The Isolation Tapes

Posted in Reviews on December 8th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

kadavar the isolation tapes

When the various histories of 2020 are written, they may or may not deign to include a sentence about the struggle of creativity for survival amid the global COVID-19 pandemic. And even if they do, that sentence will very likely leave out the persistence and the urgency with which that struggle has been met. German trio Kadavar, who in addition to touring consistently the world over would’ve this year hosted their own outdoor festival for the first time, were early adopters of the streaming model, resulting in the Studio Live Session Vol. I digital outing that they now follow up with The Isolation Tapes on their own nascent Robotor Records imprint through Pelagic Records. Like so much of 2020 has been, The Isolation Tapes feels like a step outside the normal progression of time, and in Kadavar‘s case, of sound as well. It was just Fall 2019 that the band — guitarist/vocalist Christoph “Lupus” Lindemann, bassist Simon “Dragon” Bouteloup and drummer Christoph “Tiger” Bartelt — offered up For the Dead Travel Fast (review here). Their fifth full-length and fourth through Nuclear Blast, it continued the trio’s exploration of moodier vibes and blends of classic heavy rock and metal that the prior Rough Times (review here) introduced in 2017.

Their sound and delivery has always been a mercurial thing. Together now for a decade, Kadavar began their evolution as arguably the best vintage-styled act of the 2010s, and their 2012 self-titled debut (discussed here) and 2013 sophomore outing, Abra Kadavar (review here), remain a standard other acts strive meet. Already there was progression from one record to the next, but 2015’s Berlin (review here) was a departure point, boldly modernizing Kadavar‘s production style and aesthetic while staying loyal to the songwriting that’s always underpinned their efforts. Running 10 tracks and 44 minutes, The Isolation Tapes reads as another such pivot in approach in some ways, but in others it is resoundingly consistent. It is easily the most atmospheric release the band has ever done, and yes, that includes things like the occasional sprawling album-closer and their “The White Ring” collaboration with Aqua Nebula Oscillator in 2012. Its spaciousness is born in part from synth contributions from all three members and a dynamic that ranges between minimalism and restlessly bouncing rock and roll, but it’s also a reaction toward structure itself, as the band demonstrates plainly by positioning the 6:19 longest track “The Lonely Child” as the opener (immediate points).

Entirely instrumental and rich in its blends of keys, guitar, foreboding drones and triumphant crash, “The Lonely Child” seems to draw on U2 guitar shimmer and classic krautrock synthesizer progressivism in kind, and in so doing, it throws wide the doors of Kadavar‘s sound. From there, they can, and mostly do, go anywhere. With recording by Bartelt, The Isolation Sessions is at once the most vintage-sounding album Kadavar have done in more than half a decade, and the most forward thinking, nodding throughout toward The Beatles circa Abbey Road, David Bowie, smooth ’70s blues and soulful progressive heavy rock. “I Fly Among the Stars” offers mellow drift underscored by warm-sounding drums and given a hook through echoing melodies met by floating slide guitar and a deceptively catchy chorus. Songs come and go with abiding melancholy throughout, but side A picks up with the quirkier bass-bouncing “Unnaturally Strange (?)” and uses that weirdo tempo momentum in the post-Queens of the Stone Age push that emerges from the quiet start of “(I Won’t Leave You) Rosi.” That stretch of about two and a half minutes in the song’s total 5:15 comes to the noisy, crashing finish it deserves, and that’s a rarity on The Isolation Tapes that’s met by the subdued build of side A closer “The World is Standing Still.”

kadavar

Beginning drumless, the end of the album’s first half comes to a head in its own second with lead and rhythm guitars intertwining over subtly tense keys for a quick and classy payoff before once again receding and giving way for “Eternal Light (We Will Be OK)” to open side B with echoing sounds of children and a wash of melodic synth and vocals, moving gradually into a proggier foray that in tone and mood mirrors “The Lonely Child” at the outset, if quicker and busier in its galloping drums, itching as it seems to be to get to its own apex. The first of two shorter pieces, “Peculiareality (!)” (1:51) follows with a McCartneyan organ line, choral melodies and a mounting echo that seems to underscore the drifting-away vibe. “Everything is Changing,” which picks up the key-bounce theme from the song prior and sets it to more straightforward use, has at least three layers of synth happening atop the drums, but is neither overwrought or falling over itself in the mix. This is a testament to Kadavar as a band, of course, but also to the strength of the chorus, which is among the most resonant throughout The Isolation Tapes, the simple core message of the song’s title working with a grounding effect for the point of view of the listener.

Once again, melancholy is the preeminent spirit, but “Everything is Changing” moves all the while, where “The Flat Earth Theory,” which follows, seems to come to a purposeful halt. Mournful organ, gorgeously harmonized vocals and sweet keyboard notes find Lindemann wondering how anyone can believe the earth isn’t round, and the feel is that this question too is a stand-in for wondering how humanity got to such a place in general where one might be hunkered down in quarantine because of a pandemic raging outside, conspiracy theories abounding and so on. Valid question, but the piece — the second of the shorter ones on side B at 1:50 — doesn’t dwell, and instead transitions smoothly into the finale “Black Spring Rising,” with vocals courtesy of German singer-songwriter Ilgen-Nur Borali and lyrics by Rosa Merino Claros. Another departure? In some ways, but also consistent with the rest of what surrounds in general atmosphere and melodic resonance. Kadavar aren’t playing tricks at that point in the album, and The Isolation Tapes itself is enough of a curve that one doesn’t get the sense they’re looking to play to some idea of novelty.

Rather, the LP as a whole stands as a statement of the moment it was created amid the terror of this past Spring and Summer. As to what the future will bring on any level, either sound-wise for the band or anything else, one wouldn’t dare predict. But in addition to meeting its goal of speaking to the strange otherworldly feel that so much of the last 11 months has brought, The Isolation Tapes also reaffirms the strength of Kadavar‘s songwriting and the fact that they can bend aesthetic to their will at will. And that they, yes, will, as they see fit. Response has been mixed as it invariably will be for a group of their profile, but whether it’s a one-off or these impulses bleed into their “normal” aesthetic, Kadavar are only richer stylistically for having done this work. Whatever comes next will come.

Kadavar, The Isolation Tapes (2020)

Kadavar, “Eternal Light (We Will Be OK)” official video

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