Friday Full-Length: The Devil’s Blood, III: Tabula Rasa or Death and the Seven Pillars

Posted in Bootleg Theater on January 3rd, 2020 by JJ Koczan

The 2013 release of the third and final The Devil’s Blood full-length, III: Tabula Rasa or Death and the Seven Pillars, will be forever tainted by the context of the subsequent suicide-by-overdose of the band’s founder and mastermind Selim Lemouchi, but even by the time the record came out, the band had broken up. Based in the Netherlands, and with a legacy there that continues to spread thanks to the likes of erstwhile The Devil’s Blood members Oeds Beydals and Ron Van Herpen — not to mention vocalist Farida Lemouchi, sister to Selim, whose singular voice was essential in conveying The Devil’s Blood‘s theatricality and thereby setting the course of European cult rock for years to come — The Devil’s Blood were only together for about seven years, but their work continues to resonate for those who’d dare take it on. In the case of III: Tabula Rasa or Death and the Seven Pillars, it is an alternately dense and sprawling inwardly-churning cosmic storm, with 22-minute opener “I Was Promised a Hunt” set up across side A of a 2LP like a wall to keep out all but the bravest of listeners, harnessing krautrock-derived repetitions, spacious echoes in the vocals of both Lemouchis and a nigh-opaque feeling of purpose behind its expression. By the time it’s nine minutes in, it’s almost gothic in its level of drama, and the atmosphere it creates is pervasive throughout subsequent tracks “The Lullaby of the Burning Boy,” “…If Not a Vessel?” and “In the Loving Arms of Lunacy’s Secret Demons” on side B or the second platter’s longer stretches in “Dance of the Elements” and “White Storm of Teeth” and the consuming/consumed finale “Tabula Rasa.” With the years of hindsight, it is a powerful and at times overwhelming listening experience.

“Overwhelming” simply because of its scope. The Devil’s Blood had already proven expansive at an increasing rate on their prior full-lengths, 2011’s The Thousandfold Epicentre (review here) and 2009’s The Time of No Time Evermore (review here), and even the formative 2009 Come, Reap EP (review here) as well as other itinerant short releases demonstrated the potential in their craft and style. III: Tabula Rasa or Death and the Seven Pillars, however, was simply working on another level. Refusing genre constraints, it was as much progressive as it was psychedelic, as much metal as dark heavy rock, and it was as much spirit and soul as it was tied to the earth as it was unwilling to do anything but soar. With guitar, bass, drum programming, vocals, music and lyrics and recording by Selim, vocals by Farida and a mix and master by Peter G. Kloos, it was nothing short of a vision manifested and turned into reality — such as it was — through songwriting of rare introspective urgency. Self-indulgent? You bet your ass. From the invocation of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” in the last movement of “I Was Promised a Hunt” down through the intertwining bass/guitar noodling of “In the Loving Arms of Lunacy’s Secret Demons” and the galloping final build and Floydian wash of “Tabula Rasa,” the seven-song/65-minute offering carried a sense of pushing The Devil’s Blood‘s sound as far as it could go — all the more in light of the band’s breakup. It was and is gorgeous and damaged, deeply human andthe devils blood iii tabula rasa or death and the seven pillars otherworldly, and propelled as much by these conflicts as by Farida‘s operatic vocals.

A masterpiece, in other words, and the work to which everything The Devil’s Blood had done up to that point had been leading. Releasing through Ván Records in Europe and Metal Blade in the US as of the second album, they’d taken on increasing notoriety. They’d toured the States as well as Europe and were already seen as having some measure of influence, and that has only continued to grow as the years have passed and the wound of Selim Lemouchi‘s death has, if not healed — because it hasn’t; it looms over the songs on III and is inseparable from the album — then at least become less fresh with time. But it’s important to remember that came later. Selim had already moved on to Selim Lemouchi and His Enemies, and it was The Devil’s Blood‘s breakup that so much snapped their forward momentum. Metal Blade gave a cursory push as I recall, but really, what was to be done with III: Tabula Rasa or Death and the Seven Pillars if The Devil’s Blood weren’t a band anymore?

But that circumstance, bummer as it was, can’t now take away from the accomplishment that III: Tabula Rasa or Death and the Seven Pillars represents. In the barrage of verses throughout “White Storm of Teeth,” the final lines of the album are delivered thusly:

I fall into the spaceless space
The timeless time, the endless end
Neither here nor there, above or below
Into the night I go

Even this final statement seems to carry extra weight because of Selim‘s death. It made it all real and terrible, and even years later, it makes listening to III: Tabula Rasa or Death and the Seven Pillars harder — and the album is by no means easy listening anyhow, despite its melodic range. But the album also stands as a testament to how beautiful the work could be, and as time passes, that seems to come more into focus. One hopes it will continue to be the case.

Among the most touching live experiences I’ve ever witnessed was at Roadburn Festival in 2014 as Farida LemouchiOeds Beydals and others took to the Main Stage as Selim Lemouchi’s Enemies and paid tribute to Selim little more than a month after his passing. By then, Beydals had already formed Death Alley and was ramping up momentum with that outfit, and other Job Van De Zande would join Dool while Ron Van Herpen continued on periodically with Astrosoniq and Rrrags, etc. Farida would remain unheard-from until 2019 when, again at Roadburn (review here) she appeared fronting Molasses with BeydalsVan Herpen, Van De Zande and other The Devil’s Blood associates in tow. A concurrent single was released in the form of Mourning Haze / Drops of Sunlight, but at the time it was a question as to whether or not the project — commissioned specifically for the festival — would continue, and certainly considering the emotional drain of performing essentially together without Selim there, especially on Farida Lemouchi, it’s easy enough to understand why. They have two live performances booked thus far for 2020: The Abyss Festival in Gothenburg, Sweden, on March 28, and Eros at Arms in Zürich on April 25. After that, your guess is as good as mine.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

Thanks for reading.

I slept an extra half-hour this morning on a gamble that The Pecan: Toddlerian would also sleep late. It seems to have worked out thus far — quarter after six — but I expect him up at any minute. Nothing major, but I’m having a kind of minor outpatient surgical procedure done on my left leg later on, and they said no coffee beforehand — I could cry — and it was that much harder to get out of bed with the extra incentive of turning on the Chemex in the kitchen to make the first pot of the day. I had a protein bar and drank a bunch of water instead. Not nearly the same, but so it goes.

Rumor has it I’ll be laid up for a good portion of the weekend — at least tomorrow — so it seems like a good time to begin work on the Quarterly Review, which is precisely my intention. It’ll be next Monday through Friday, 10 reviews per day, 50 total, kind of putting a bow on 2019 and a little bit looking ahead to the months to come. It’ll be fun. Usually is, anyhow, by the time it’s finished.

There’s also a new Gimme Radio show today at 1PM Eastern listen here: http://gimmeradio.com.

I like doing that a lot, and I wonder if now that I’m back in NJ I might be able to volunteer at WFMU as a DJ. Think they’d take me? They sure as hell didn’t last time. I cut a voice sample and then never heard from Brian Turner again. He works at Gimme now. We email a lot. Go figure. Seems like a nice guy. I’ve never reminded him of the time I tried to join his staff. That was maybe 2007-2008. I was still at Metal Maniacs.

My illustrious career.

What a wreck.

I don’t have any New Year’s resolutions, and I frankly believe they’re bullshit, but it is important to set reasonable, attainable goals for oneself, and at some point in the next 12 months, I’d like to conceive of and begin a new book project. What does that look like? I have no idea. Could be a children’s book I’ll write in a day and spent two months revising to get the meter right. Could be a collection of essays I’ll map out and put together over the next couple years. Could be a compilation of stuff from on here. I don’t know. But I’d like to get something moving in that regard. I don’t think it’ll be fiction on the order of the first book. It started to feel too formulaic and “literary,” which, I’m sorry, but screw that. The universe needs my white-cis-male ass to be making literary proclamations like it needs a supermassive black hole in its infinitely expanding head.

So I’ve been thinking about that and will continue to do so and see where it takes me and where I take it. I’m sure I’ll find some way to keep you posted if you’re interested, if not here then on thee social medias.

Oh, and I put out the notion of doing a newsletter a bit ago and seemed to get a positive response. Then I signed up for MailChimp and forgot all about it when the holidays hit. Ha. Survival-mode came on. I’ll maybe get on that sooner or later if anyone really cares.

And speaking of the social medias, I put out word there that the Decade-End Poll was staying up an extra week. If you haven’t turned in a list or however many picks for your favorite records of the 2010s yet, please do so here.

It’s also my mother’s birthday tomorrow. Happy birthday, mom.

Alright, I think that’s everything.

FRM: Forum, Radio, Merch at MiBK.

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

The Obelisk merch

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Splinter Post Video for “Bitter Sounds”; Debut Single out Now

Posted in Bootleg Theater on October 8th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

splinter logo

Before you start feeling like you’re out of the loop — I promise you, you’re way more in the loop than I am; stuck in the rhombus over here — Splinter are a pretty new band. Based in the Netherlands (I think probably Amsterdam or somewhere thereabouts), they did what was most likely their first recording session this past March, with Igor Wouters (indeed in Amsterdam), and from that issued the debut single Hurt b/w Brand New Future that they self-released as a 7″ vinyl with the logo you see above as its cover. There was a video for “Hurt” — no it’s a not a cover of the Nine Inch Nails song later taken on by Johnny Cash — that went up last month, and that’s now been followed-up with a new clip, this time for a song called “Bitter Sounds.”

The thing about “Bitter Sounds?” It wasn’t on that single.

So clearly there’s more to come.

Fair enough. Splinter‘s heralding of a busier future is extra notable given that the band is fronted by Douwe Truijens, formerly of Death Alley, and also features guitarist Sander Bus, who was brought in as that group’s second bassist, as well as drummer Barry van Esbroek and organist Gertjan Gutman (also of Utrecht’s Birth of Joy, who played their final show in January), whose contributions to both “Hurt” and “Bitter Sounds” are significant. The sound is either a formative punker take on classic heavy rock or a formative heavy rocker take on classic punk, depending on the angle you look at it, and for an act who are just getting going, they’ve clearly got their songwriting ducks a row. That is to say, get ready to want to put on “Bitter Sounds” twice, and maybe clap along the second time.

Video follows here, and definitely stay tuned for more.

Please enjoy:

Splinter, “Bitter Sounds” official video

Recorded and mixed by Igor Wouters at Amsterdam Recording Company

Mastered by Attie Bauw at Bauwhaus

Video by Hakki Takkie, shot and cut by Max Westendorp

Splinter live:
Oct 19 Ballroom Fest Zukunft am Ostkreuz Friedrichshain

Splinter is:
Douwe Truijens – vocals
Sander Bus – guitar
Gertjan Gutman – organ
Barry van Esbroek – drums

Splinter on Thee Facebooks

Splinter BigCartel store

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Quarterly Review: Total Fucking Destruction, Hippie Death Cult, The Cosmic Dead, Greenthumb, Elepharmers, Nothing is Real, Warish, Mourn the Light & Oxblood Forge, Those Furious Flames, Mantra Machine

Posted in Reviews on October 3rd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

quarterly review

I’d like to find the jerk who decided that the week I fly to Norway was a good time for the Quarterly Review. That, obviously, was a tactical error on my part. Nonetheless, we press on with day four, which I post from Oslo on CET. Whatever time zone you may find yourself in this Thursday, I hope you have managed to find something so far in this onslaught of whatnot to sink your chompers into. That’s ultimately, why we’re here. Also because there are so many folders with albums in them on my desktop that I can’t stand it anymore. Happens about every three months.

But anyhoozle, we press on with Day Four of the Fall 2019 Quarterly Review, dutiful and diligent and a couple other words that start with ‘d.’ Mixed bag stylistically this time — trying to throw myself off a bit — so should be fun. Let’s dive in.

Quarterly Review #31-40:

Total Fucking Destruction, #USA4TFD

Total Fucking Destruction USA4TFD

Who the hell am I to be writing about a band like Total Fucking Destruction? I don’t know. Who the hell am I to be writing about anything. Fuck you. As the Rich Hoak (Brutal Truth)-led Philly natives grind their way through 23 tracks in a 27-minute barrage of deceptively thoughtful sonic extremity, they efficiently chronicle the confusion, tumult and disaffection of our age both in their maddening energy and in the poetry — yeah, I said it — of their lyrics. To it, from “Is Your Love a Rainbow”: “Are you growing? Is everything okay? Are you growing in the garden of I don’t know?” Lines like this are hardly decipherable without a lyric sheet, of course, but still, they’re there for those ready to look beyond the surface assault of the material, though, frankly, that assault alone would be enough to carry the band — Hoak on drums/vocals, Dan O’Hare on guitar/vocals and Ryan Moll on bass/vocals — along their willfully destructive course. For their fourth LP in 20 years — most of that time given to splits and shorter releases, as one might expect — Total Fucking Destruction make their case for an end of the world that, frankly, can’t get here fast enough.

Total Fucking Destruction on Thee Facebooks

Give Praise Records website

 

Hippie Death Cult, 111

Hippie-Death-Cult-111

Issued first by the band digitally and on CD and then by Cursed Tongue Records on vinyl, 111 is the impressively toned debut full-length from Portland, Oregon’s Hippie Death Cult, who cull together heavy rock and post-grunge riffing with flourish of organ and a densely-weighted groove that serves as an overarching and uniting factor throughout. With the bluesy, classic feeling vocals of Ben Jackson cutting through the wall of fuzz from Eddie Brnabic‘s guitar and Laura Phillips‘ bass set to roll by Ryan Moore‘s drumming, there’s never any doubt as to where Hippie Death Cult are coming from throughout the seven-track/42-minute offering, but longer, side-ending pieces “Unborn” (8:24) and “Black Snake” (9:06) touch respectively on psychedelia and heavy blues in a way that emphasizes the subtle turns that have been happening all along, not just in shifts like the acoustic “Mrtyu,” but in the pastoral bridge and ensuing sweep of “Pigs” as well. “Sanctimonious” and “Breeder’s Curse” provide even ground at the outset, and from there, Hippie Death Cult only grow richer in sound along their way.

Hippie Death Cult on Thee Facebooks

Cursed Tongue Records BigCartel store

 

The Cosmic Dead, Scottish Space Race

The Cosmic Dead Scottish Space Race

Heavyweight Glaswegian space jammers The Cosmic Dead present four massive slabs of lysergic intensity with their eighth long-player, Scottish Space Race (on Riot Season Records), working quickly to pull the listener into their gravity well and holding them there for the 2LP’s 75-minute duration. As hypnotic as it is challenging, the initial churn that emerges in the aptly-named 20-minute opener “Portal” clenches the stomach brutally, and it’s not until after about 12 minutes that the band finally lets it loose. “Ursa Major,” somewhat thankfully, is more serene, but still carries a sense of movement and build in its second half, while the 12-minute title-track is noisier and has the surprising inclusion of vocals from the generally instrumental outfit. They cap with the 24-minute kosmiche throb of “The Grizzard,” and there are vocals there too, but they’re too obscured to be really discernible in any meaningful way, and of course the end of the record itself is a huge wash of fuckall noise. Eight records deep, The Cosmic Dead know what they’re doing in this regard, and they do it among the best of anyone out there.

The Cosmic Dead on Thee Facebooks

Riot Season Records website

 

Greenthumb, There are More Things

greenthumb there are more things

With just three tracks across a 20-minute span, There are More Things (on Acid Cosmonaut) feels like not much more than a sampler of things to come from Italian post-sludgers Greenthumb, who take their name from a Bongzilla track they also covered on their 2018 debut EP, West. The three-songer feels like a decided step forward from that offering, and though they maintain their screamier side well enough, they might be on the verge of needing a new name, as the rawness conveyed by the current moniker hardly does justice to the echoing atmospherics the band in their current incarnation bring. Launching with the two seven-minute cuts “The Field” and “Ogigia’s Tree,” they unfurl a breadth of roll so as to ensnare the listener, and though “The Black Court” is shorter at 5:37 and a bit more straight-ahead in its structure, it still holds to the ambient sensibility of its surroundings well, the band obviously doing likewise in transposing a natural feel into their sound born of landscape real or imagined.

Greenthumb on Thee Facebooks

Acid Cosmonaut Records on Bandcamp

 

Elepharmers, Lords of Galaxia

Elepharmers Lords Of Galaxia Artwork

Riffy Sardinians Elepharmers set themselves to roll with “Ancient Astronauts” and do not stop from there on Lords of Galaxia, their third LP and debut through Electric Valley Records. There are some details of arrangement between the guitars of El Chino (also bass, vocals and harmonica) and Andrea “Fox” Cadeddu and the drums of Maurizio Mura, but as Marduk heralds his age on second cut “Ziqqurat,” the central uniting factor is g-r-o-o-v-e, and Elepharmers have it down through “The Flood” and into side B’s classic stoner rocking “Foundation” and the driving “The Mule,” which shifts into laser-effects ahead of the fade that brings in closer “Stars Like Dust” for the last 10 minutes of the 47-minute offering. And yes, there’s some psychedelia there, but Elepharmers stay pretty clearheaded on the whole in such a way as to highlight the sci-fi theme that seems to draw the songs together as much as the riffage. More focus on narrative can only help bring that out more, but I’m not sure I’d want that at the expense of the basic songwriting, which isn’t at all broken and thus requires no fixing.

Elepharmers on Thee Facebooks

Electric Valley Records website

 

Nothing is Real, Only the Wicked are Pure

nothing is real only the wicked are pure

How do you recognize true misanthropy when you come across it? It doesn’t wear a special kind of facepaint, though it can. It doesn’t announce itself as such. It is a frame. Something genuinely antisocial and perhaps even hateful is a worldview. It’s not raise-a-claw-in-the-woods. It’s he-was-a-quiet-loner. And so, coming across the debut album from Los Angeles experimentalist doom outfit, one gets that lurking, creeping feeling of danger even though the music itself isn’t overly abrasive. But across the 2CD debut album, a sprawl of darkened, viciously un-produced fare that seems to be built around programmed drums at the behest of Craig Osbourne — who may or may not be the only person in the band and isn’t willing to say otherwise — plays out over the course of more than two hours like a manifesto found after the fact. Imagine chapters called “Hope is Weakness,” “Fingered by the Hand of God,” and “Uplift the Worthy (Destroy the Weak).” The last of those appears on both discs — as do several of the songs in different incarnations — as the track marries acoustic and eventual harder-edged guitar around murderous themes, sounding something like Godflesh might have if they’d pursued a darker path. Scary.

Nothing is Real on Thee Facebooks

Nothing is Real on Bandcamp

 

Warish, Down in Flames

warish down in flames

The fact that Warish are blasting hard punk through heavy blowout tones isn’t what everyone wants to talk about when it comes to the band. They want to talk about the fact that it’s Riley Hawk — of royal stock, as regards pro skateboarding — fronting the band. Well, that’s probably good for a built-in social media following — name recognition never hurts, and I don’t see a need to pretend otherwise — but it doesn’t do shit for the album itself. What matters about the album is that bit about the blasting blowout. With Down in Flames (on RidingEasy), the Oceanside three-piece follow-up their earlier-2019 debut EP with 11 tracks that touch on horror punk with “Bones” and imagine grunge-unhinged with “Fight” and “You’ll Abide,” but are essentially a display of tonal fuckall presented not to add to a brand, but to add the soundtrack to somebody’s blackout. It’s a good time and the drunkest, gnarliest, most-possibly-shirtless dude in the room is having it. Also he probably smells. And he just hugged you. Down in Flames gets high with that dude. That matters more than who anyone’s dad is.

Warish on Thee Facebooks

RidingEasy Records website

 

Mourn the Light & Oxblood Forge, Split

It’s a double-dose of New England doom as Connecticut’s Mourn the Light and Boston’s Oxblood Forge pair up for a split release. The former bring more material than the latter, particularly when one counts the digital-only bonus cover of Candlemass‘ “Bewitched,” but with both groups, it’s a case of what-you-see-is-what-you-get. Both groups share a clear affinity for classic metal — and yes, that absolutely extends to the piano-led drama of Mourn the Light‘s mournful “Carry the Flame” — but Oxblood Forge‘s take thereupon is rougher edged, harder in its tone and meaner in the output. Their “Screams From Silence” feels like something from a dubbed-and-mailed tape circa ’92. Mourn the Light’s “Drags Me Down” is cleaner-sounding, but no less weighted. I don’t think either band is out to change the world, or even to change doom, but they’re doing what they’re doing well and without even an ounce of pretense — well, maybe a little bit in that piano track; but it’s very metal pretense — and clearly from the heart. That might be the most classic-metal aspect of all.


Mourn the Light on Thee Facebooks

Oxblood Forge on Thee Facebooks

 

Those Furious Flames, HeartH

those furious flames hearth

Swiss heavy rockers Those Furious Flames push the boundaries of psychedelia, but ultimately remain coherent in their approach. Likewise, they very, very obviously are into some classic heavy rock and roll, but their take on it is nothing if not modern. And more, they thrive in these contradictions and don’t at all sound like their songs are in conflict with themselves. I guess that’s the kind of thing one can pull off after 15 years together on a fifth full-length, which HeartH (on Vincebus Eruptum) is for them. Perhaps it’s the fact that they let the energy of pieces like “VooDoo” and the boogie-laced “HPPD” carry them rather than try to carry it, but either way, it’s clearly about the songs first, and it works. With added flash of organ amid the full-sounding riffs, Those Furious Flames round out with the spacey “Visions” and earn every bit of the drift therein with a still-resonant vocal harmony. You might not get it all the first time, but listening twice won’t be at all painful.

Those Furious Flames on Thee Facebooks

Vincebus Eruptum Recordings BigCartel store

 

Mantra Machine, Heliosphere

mantra machine heliosphere

This is what it’s all about. Four longer-form instrumentalist heavy psych jams that are warm in tone and want nothing so much as to go out wandering and see what they can find. Through “Hydrogen,” “Atmos,” “Delta-V” and “Heliosphere,” Amsterdam-based three-piece Mantra Machine want nothing for gig-style vitality, but their purpose isn’t so much to electrify as to find that perfect moment of chill and let it go, see where it ends up, and they get there to be sure. Warm guitar and bass tones call to mind something that might’ve come out of the Netherlands at the start of this decade, when bands like Sungrazer and The Machine were unfolding such fluidity as seemed to herald a new generation of heavy psychedelia across Europe. That generation took a different shape — several different shapes, in the end — but Mantra Machine‘s Heliosphere makes it easy to remember what was so exciting about that in the first place. Total immersion. Total sense of welcoming. Totally human presence without speaking a word. So much vibe. So much right on.

Mantra Machine on Thee Facebooks

Mantra Machine on Bandcamp

 

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Quarterly Review: Elizabeth Colour Wheel, Black Lung, Giant Dwarf, Land Mammal, Skunk, Silver Devil, Sky Burial, Wizzerd, Ian Blurton, Cosmic Fall

Posted in Reviews on July 5th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review

Got my laptop back. Turned out the guy had to give me a new hard drive entirely, clone all my data on it, and scrap the other drive. I’m sure if I took it to another technician they’d have said something completely different, either for better or worse, but it was $165 and I got my computer back, working, in a day, so I can’t really complain. Worth the money, obviously, even though it was $40 more than the estimate. I assume that was a mix of “new hard drive” and “this is the last thing I’m doing before a four-day weekend.” Either way, totally legit. Bit of stress on my part, but what’s a Quarterly Review without it?

This ends the week, but there’s still one more batch of 10 reviews to go on Monday, so I won’t delay further, except to say more to come.

Quarterly Review #41-50:

Elizabeth Colour Wheel, Nocebo

elizabeth colour wheel nocebo

A rare level of triumph for a first album, Elizabeth Colour Wheel‘s aesthetic scope and patience of craft on Nocebo result in a genre-spanning post-noise rock that maintains an atmospheric heft whether loud or quiet at any given moment, and a sense of unpredictability that feels born out of a genuinely forward-thinking songwriting process. It is dark, emotionally resonant, beautiful and crushing across its eight songs and 47 minutes, as the Philadelphia five-piece ebb and flow instrumentally behind a standout vocal performance that reminds of Julie Christmas circa Battle of Mice on “Life of a Flower” but is ultimately more controlled and all the more lethal for that. Bouts of extremity pop up at unexpected times and the songs flow into each other so as to make all of Nocebo feel like a single, multi-hued work, which it just might be as it moves into ambience between “Hide Behind (Emmett’s Song)” and “Bedrest” before exploding to life again in “34th” and transitioning directly into the cacophonous apex that comes with closer “Head Home.” One of the best debuts of 2019, if not the best.

Elizabeth Colour Wheel on Thee Facebooks

The Flenser on Bandcamp

 

Black Lung, Ancients

black lung ancients

Ancients is the third full-length from Baltimore’s Black Lung, whose heavy blues rock takes a moodier approach from the outset of “Mother of the Sun” onward, following an organ-led roll in that opener that calls to mind All Them Witches circa Lightning at the Door and following 2016’s See the Enemy (review here) with an even firmer grasp on their overarching intent. The title-track is shorter at 3:10 and offers some post-rock flourish in the guitar amid its otherwise straight-ahead push, but there’s a tonal depth to add atmosphere to whatever moves they’re making at the time, “The Seeker” and “Voices” rounding out side A with relatively grounded swing and traditionalist shuffle but still catching attention through pace and presentation alike. That holds true as “Gone” drifts into psychedelic jamming at the start of side B, and the chunkier “Badlands,” the dramatic “Vultures” and the controlled wash of “Dead Man Blues” take the listener into some unnamed desert without a map or exit strategy. It’s a pleasure to get lost as Ancients plays through, and Black Lung remain a well-kept secret of the East Coast underground.

Black Lung on Thee Facebooks

Ripple Music website

Noisolution website

 

Giant Dwarf, Giant Dwarf

Giant Dwarf Giant Dwarf

This just fucking rules, and I feel no need to couch my critique in any more flowery language than that. Driving, fuzzy heavy rock topped with post-Homme melodies that doesn’t sacrifice impact for attitude, the self-released, self-titled debut from Perth, Australia’s Giant Dwarf is a sans-pretense 35 minutes of groove done right. They may be playing to genre, fine, but from the cover art on down, they’re doing so with a sense of personality and a readiness to bring an individual sensibility to their sound. I dig it. Summery tones, rampant vocal melodies in layers, solid rhythmic foundation beneath. The fact that it’s the five-piece’s first album makes me look less for some kind of stylistic nuance, but it’s there to be heard anyway in “Disco Void” and the bouncing end of “High Tide Blues,” and in surrounding cuts like “Repeat After Defeat” and “Strange Wool,” Giant Dwarf set to the task before them with due vitality, imagining Songs for the Deaf with Fu Manchu tonality in “Kepler.” No big surprise, but yeah, it definitely works. Someone should be beating down the door to sign this band.

Giant Dwarf on Thee Facebooks

Giant Dwarf on Bandcamp

 

Land Mammal, Land Mammal

land mammal land mammal

Land Mammal‘s debut outing is a 14-minute, proof-of-concept four-songer EP with clarity of presentation and telegraphed intent. Marked out by the Robert Plant-style vocal heroics of Kinsley August, the band makes the most of a bluesy atmosphere behind him, with Will Weise on wah-ready guitar, Phillip PJ Soapsmith on bass, Stephen Smith on drums and True Turner on keys. On opener “Dark with Rain” and closer “Better Days,” they find a pastoral vibe that draws from ’90s alternative, thinking Blind Melon particularly in the finale, but “Earth Made Free” takes a bluesier angle and “Drippin’ Slow” is not shy about nor ashamed of its danceability, as its lyrics demonstrate. For all the crispness of the production, Land Mammal still manage to sound relatively natural, which is all the more encouraging in terms of moving forward, but it’ll be interesting to hear how they flesh out their sound over the course of a full-length, since even as an EP, this self-titled is short. They have songwriting, performance and production on their side, however, so something tells me they’ll be just fine.

Land Mammal on Thee Facebooks

Land Mammal on Bandcamp

 

Skunk, Strange Vibration

skunk strange vibration

Even before they get to the ultra-“N.I.B.” patterning of second track “Stand in the Sun,” Skunk‘s Sabbathian loyalties are well established, and they continue on that line, through the “War Pigs”-ness of “Goblin Orgy” (though I’ll give them bonus points for that title), and the slower “A National Acrobat” roll of “The Black Crown,” and while that’s not the only influence under which Skunk are working — clearly — it’s arguably the most forward. They’ve been on a traditional path since 2015’s mission-statement EP, Heavy Rock from Elder Times (review here), and as Strange Vibration is their second album behind 2017’s Doubleblind (review here), they’ve only come more into focus in terms of what they’re doing overall. They throw a bit of swagger into “Evil Eye Gone Blind” and “Star Power” toward the end of the record — more Blackmore or Leslie West than Iommi — but keep the hooks center through it all, and cap with a welcome bit of layered melody on “The Cobra’s Kiss.” Based in Oakland, they don’t quite fit in with the Californian boogie scene to the south, but standing out only seems to suit Strange Vibration all the more.

Skunk on Thee Facebooks

Skunk on Bandcamp

 

Silver Devil, Paralyzed

Silver Devil Paralyzed

Like countrymen outfits in Vokonis or to a somewhat lesser degree Cities of Mars, Gävle-based riffers Silver Devil tap into Sleep as a core influence and work outward from there. In the case of their second album, Paralyzed (on Ozium Records), they work far out indeed, bringing a sonic largesse to bear through plus-sized tonality and distorted vocals casting echoes across a wide chasm of the mix. “Rivers” or the later, slower-rolling “Octopus” rightfully present this as an individual take, and it ends up being that one way or the other, with the atmosphere becoming essential to the character of the material. There are some driving moments that call to mind later Dozer — or newer Greenleaf, if you prefer — such as the centerpiece “No Man Traveller,” but the periodic bouts of post-rock bring complexity to that assessment as well, though in the face of the galloping crescendo of “The Grand Trick,” complexity is a secondary concern to the outright righteousness with which Silver Devil take familiar elements and reshape them into something that sounds fresh and engaging. That’s basically the story of the whole record, come to think of it.

Silver Devil on Thee Facebooks

Ozium Records website

 

Sky Burial, Sokushinbutsu

sky burial Sokushinbutsu

Comprised of guitarist/vocalist/engineer Vessel 2 and drummer/vocalist Vessel 1 (also ex-Mühr), Sky Burial release their debut EP, Sokushinbutsu, through Break Free Records, and with it issue two songs of densely-weighted riff and crash, captured raw and live-sounding with an edge of visceral sludge thanks to the harsh vocals laid overtop. The prevailing spirit is as much doom as it is crust throughout “Return to Sender” (8:53) and the 10:38 title-track — the word translating from Japanese to “instant Buddha” — and as “Sokushinbutsu” kicks the tempo of the leadoff into higher gear, the release becomes a wash of blown-out tone with shouts cutting through that’s very obviously meant to be as brutal as it absolutely is. They slow down eventually, then slow down more, then slow down more — you see where this is going — until eventually the feedback seems to consume them and everything else, and the low rumble of guitar gives way to noise and biting vocalizations. As beginnings go, Sokushinbutsu is willfully wretched and animalistic, a manifested sonic nihilism that immediately stinks of death.

Sky Burial on Thee Facebooks

Break Free Records on Bandcamp

 

Wizzerd, Wizzerd

wizzerd st

One finds Montana’s Wizzerd born of a similar Upper Midwestern next-gen take on classic heavy as that of acts like Bison Machine and Midas. Their Cursed Tongue Records-delivered self-titled debut album gives a strong showing of this foundation, less boogie-based than some, with just an edge of heavy metal to the riffing and vocals that seems to derive not directly from doom, but definitely from some ’80s metal stylizations. Coupled with ’70s and ’90s heavy rocks, it’s a readily accessible blend throughout the nine-song/51-minute LP, but a will toward the epic comes through in theme as well as the general mood of the riffs, and even in the drift of “Wizard” that’s apparent. Taken in kind with the fuzzblaster “Wraith,” the winding motion of the eponymous closer and with the lumbering crash of “Warrior” earlier, the five-piece’s sound shows potential to distinguish itself further in the future through taking on fantasy subject matter lyrically as well as playing to wall-sized grooves across the board, even in the speedy first half of “Phoenix,” with its surprising crash into the wall of its own momentum.

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Cursed Tongue Records webstore

 

Ian Blurton, Signals Through the Flames

Ian Blurton Signals Through the Flames

The core of Ian Blurton‘s Signals Through the Flames is in tight, sharply-executed heavy rockers like “Seven Bells” and “Days Will Remain,” classic in their root but not overly derivative, smartly and efficiently composed and performed. The Toronto-based Blurton has been making and producing music for over three decades in various guises and incarnations, and with these nine songs, he brings into focus a songcraft that is more than enough to carry song like “Nothing Left to Lose” and opener “Eye of the Needle,” which bookends with the 6:55 “Into Dust,” the closer arriving after a final salvo with the Scorpionic strut of “Kick out the Lights” and the forward-thrust-into-ether of “Night of the Black Goat.” If this was what Ghost had ended up sounding like, I’d have been cool with that. Blurton‘s years of experience surely come into play in this work, a kind of debut under his own name and/or that of Ian Blurton’s Future Now, but the songs come through as fresh regardless and “The March of Mars” grabs attention not with pedigree, but simply by virtue of its own riff, which is exactly how it should be. It’s subtle in its variety, but those willing to give it a repeat listen or two will find even more reward for doing so.

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Ian Blurton on Bandcamp

 

Cosmic Fall, Lackland

Cosmic Fall Lackland

“Lackland” is the first new material Berlin three-piece Cosmic Fall have produced since last year’s In Search of Space (review here) album, which is only surprising given the frequency with which they once jammed out a record every couple of months. The lone 8:32 track is a fitting reminder of the potency in the lineup of guitarist Marcin Morawski, bassist Klaus Friedrich and drummer Daniel Sax, and listening to the Earthless-style shred in Morawski‘s guitar, one hopes it won’t be another year before they come around again. As it stands, they make the eight minutes speed by with volcanic fervor and an improvised sensibility that feels natural despite the song’s ultimately linear trajectory. Could be a one-off, could be a precursor to a new album. I’d prefer the latter, obviously, but I’ll take what I can get, and if that’s “Lackland,” then so be it.

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Cosmic Fall on Bandcamp

 

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Quarterly Review: JOY Feat. Dr. Space, Rosetta, Pendejo, Lightsabres, Witch Hazel, CBBJ, Seedium, Vorrh, Lost Relics, Deadly Sin (Sloth)

Posted in Reviews on March 22nd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review-spring-2019

Day Five. What would traditionally be the end of the Quarterly Review if going to six wasn’t the new going to 11. Whatever, I can hack it. The amount of good stuff included in these batches really helps. I’m not saying there are days that are a flat-out bummer, but I feel like the proportion of times in this Quarterly Review I’ve gone, “Wow, this is pretty awesome,” has seen a definite spike this time around. I won’t complain about that. Makes the whole thing fun.

Today will be no exception, and then we finish up on Monday with the last 10. Thanks for reading if you do.

Quarterly Review #41-50:

JOY Feat. Dr. Space, Live at Roadburn 2018

joy feat dr space live at roadburn 2018

Brought together as part of the ‘San Diego Takeover’ at Roadburn 2018 that featured a host of that city’s acts performing in an even broader host of contexts, JOY and Scott “Dr. Space” Heller of Øresund Space Collective took the stage at the tiny Cul de Sac near the very end of the festival. It was how I closed out my Roadburn (review here). Dr. Space did a short spoken introduction and then they were off and they didn’t look back. The centerpiece of the limited LP is an extended jam simply titled “Jam.” It’s edited on the platter, but the digital version has the full 54 minutes, and the more the merrier. They round out with takes on Road‘s “Spaceship Earth” and JOY‘s “Miles Away,” and those are cool too, but the real highlight is about halfway through the longer “Jam” when the drums kick into the next gear and you suddenly snap out of your trance to realize how far you’ve already come. And you’re still only at the midpoint. I don’t know. Maybe you had to be there. So be there.

Øresund Space Collective on Thee Facebooks

JOY on Thee Facebooks

JOY Feat. Dr. Space at Øresund Space Collective Bandcamp

 

Rosetta, Sower of Wind

rosetta sower of wind

Philadelphia-based post-whatever-you-got outfit Rosetta continue to set their own terms with Sower of Wind, a self-recorded four-track/half-hour offering that’s something of an outgrowth of their most recent album, Utopioid. Broken into four tracks each assembled from ideas and layers churning throughout the four sections of that record, it brings out the ambient side of the band as guitarist/keyboardist/bassist Matt Weed serves as engineer for “East,” “South,” “West” and “North” as he, guitarist/keyboardist Eric Jernigan and vocalist Mike Armine — who here just adds samples and noise — construct fluid soundscapes that can either build to a head, as on “East” or offer a sense of foreboding like “West” and “North,” depending solely on the band’s will. It’s intended as an exploration, and it sounds like one, but if that wasn’t the point, Sower of Wind probably wouldn’t have been released in the first place. It’s not at all their first ambient release, but this modus continues to be viable for them creatively.

Rosetta on Thee Facebooks

Pelagic Records webstore

 

¡Pendejo!, Sin Vergüenza

pendejo sin verguenza

Whatever your current working definition might be for “over the top,” chances are Pendejo — also stylized as the exclamatory ¡Pendejo! — will make short work of it. Sin Vergüenza, their third long-player, sees release through their own Chancho Records imprint, and it’s not through opener “Don Gernàn” before the Amsterdam-based outfit break out the horns. Fronted by El Pastuso, who supplies the trumpet, the band roll through dense toned heavy rock in a crisply-executed, high-energy 10 tracks and 40 minutes that, even when you think they’re letting up, on the later “El Espejo,” they still manage to burst out a massive riff and groove in the second half. It’s the kind of record that’s breathtaking in the sense of you’re trying to run to keep up with its energy. That, however, should not be seen as undercutting the value of the band’s songwriting, which comes through regardless of language, and whether it’s the start-stops of “La Mala de la Tele” or the gleeful weirdo push of “Bulla,” Pendejo have their sonic terrain well staked out and know how to own it. They sound like a band who destroy live.

Pendejo on Thee Facebooks

Pendejo webstore

 

Lightsabres, A Shortcut to Insanity

LIGHTSABRES A SHORTCUT TO INSANITY

It’s rare for an artist to grow less predictable over time, but Lightsabres mastermind and multi-instrumentalist John Strömshed hits that standard with his former one-man outfit. Joined by session drummer Anton Nyström, Strömshed brings forth 11 tracks of genre-bending songcraft, melding fuzz and progressive folk, downer rock and thoughtful psych, garage push with punker edge, and seemingly whatever else seems to serve the best interests of the song at hand. On “Born Screaming,” that’s a turn to classical guitar plucking sandwiched on either side by massive riffs and vocals, like that of “Tangled in Barbed Wire,” remind of a fuzz-accompanied take on Life of Agony. At just 36 minutes, A Shortcut to Insanity isn’t long by any means, but it’s not an easy album to keep up with either, as Strömshed seems to dare his listenership to hold pace with his shifts through “Cave In,” rolling opener and longest track (immediate points) “From the Demon’s Mouth” and the sweetly melodic finale “Dying on the Couch,” which is perhaps cruelest of all for leaving the listener waiting for the other shoe to drop and letting that tension hang when it’s done.

Lightsabres on Thee Facebooks

DHU Records webstore

 

Witch Hazel, Otherworldly

Witch Hazel Otherworldly

Classic-style doom rockers Witch Hazel shift back and forth between early metal and heavy rock on their second full-length, Otherworldly, and the York, Pennsylvania, four-piece of vocalist Nate Tyson, guitarist Andy Craven, bassist Seibert Lowe and drummer Nicholas Zinn keep plenty of company in so doing, enlisting guest performances of organ and other keys throughout opener “Ghost & the Fly” and “Midnight Mist” and finding room for an entire horn section as they round out 11-minute closer “Devastator.” Elsewhere, “Meat for the Beast” and “Drinking for a Living” marry original-era heavy prog with more weighted impact, and “Zombie Flower Bloom” plays out like what might’ve happened if mid-’80s Ozzy had somehow invented stoner rock. So, you know, pretty awesome. The strut and shuffle of “Bled Dry” adds a bit of attitude late, but it’s really in cuts like the title-track and the aforementioned “Midnight Mist” earlier on that Witch Hazel showcase their formidable persona as a group.

Witch Hazel on Thee Facebooks

Witch Hazel on Bandcamp

 

CBBJ, 2018 Demo

CBBJ 2018 Demo

To a certain extent, what you see is what you get with CBBJ‘s 2018 Demo, right down to the wood paneling on the cover art. The band’s name — also written as CB/BJ — would seem to be taken from its members, Cox (that being Bryan Cox, founding drummer of Alabama Thunderpussy), Ball, Bone, and Jarvis, and as they look toward a Southern Thin Lizzy on demo finale “The Point of it All,” there’s something of a realization in what they’re putting together. It’s four tracks total, and finds some thrust in “Wreck You,” but keeps it wits there as well as in the sleazier nod of “The Climb” that precedes it as the opener and even in the penultimate “Can’t Go Home,” which gives booziest, earliest AC/DC a treatment of righteous bass. They’re apparently in the studio again now, or they just were, or will, or won’t, or up, or down, but whatever. Point is it’ll be worth keeping an ear out for when whatever comes next lands.

CBBJ on Thee Facebooks

CBBJ on Bandcamp

 

Seedium, Awake

seedium awake

Go on and get lost in the depths of Seedium‘s debut three-songer, Awake. The Polish outfit might be taking some cues as regards thickness from their countrymen in Dopelord or Spaceslug, but their instrumental tack on “Mist Haulers,” “Brain Eclipse” and “Ruina Cordis” oozes out of the speakers with right-on viscosity and comes across as infinitely stoned. The centerpiece tops 11 minutes and seems to indicate very little reason they couldn’t have pushed it another 10 had they so desired, and through “Ruina Cordis” is shorter at a paltry 7:08, its blasted sensibility and ending blend of spaciousness and swirl portends good things to come. With the murky first impression of “Mist Haulers” calling like a prayer bell to the riff-worshiping converted, Seedium very clearly know what they’re going for, and what remains to be seen is how their character and individual spin on that develops going forward. Still, for its tones alone, this first offering is a stunner.

Seedium on Thee Facebooks

Seedium on Bandcamp

 

Vorrh, Nomads of the Infinite Wild

vorrh nomads of the infinite wild

Programmed drumming gives Nomads of the Infinite Wild, the debut release from the Baltimore duo of Zinoosh Farbod and John Glennon an edge of dub, but the guitar work of songs like “Mercurial,” looped back on itself with leads layered overtop and Farbod‘s echoing vocals, remains broad, and the expansive of atmosphere puts them in a kind of meditative post-doom feel. Opener “Myths” strikes as a statement of purpose, and as “Morning Star” shows some Earth influence in the spaces left by Glennon‘s guitar, the band immediately uses that nuance to craft an individual identity. “Flood Plane” saunters through its instrumental trance before getting noisy briefly at the finish, only to let “These Eyes” work more effectively through a similar structure with Farbod on keys, seeming to set up the piano-foundation of “Ancient Divide,” which closes. This is a band who will benefit greatly from the fact that they record themselves, because they’ll have every opportunity to continue to experiment in the studio, which is exactly what they should be doing. In the meantime, Nomads of the Infinite Wild effectively heralds their potential for aesthetic innovation.

Vorrh on Thee Facebooks

Vorrh on Bandcamp

 

Lost Relics, 1st

lost relics 1st

Well, they didn’t call it 1st because it’s their eighth album. Denver noise rock trio Lost Relics debut with the aptly-titled 18-minute four-songer, bringing Neurosis-style vocal gutturalism to riffy crunch more reminiscent at times of Helmet‘s discordant heyday. Dense tonality and aggression pervade “Dead Men Don’t Need Silver,” “Scars,” the gets-raucous-later “Whip Rag” and closer “Face Grass,” which somehow brings a Clutch influence into this mix, and even more somehow makes it work, and then even more somehow indulges a bit of punk rock. The vocals and sense of tonal lumber tie it all together, but Lost Relics set a pretty wide base for themselves in these tracks, leaving one to wonder how the various elements at work might play out over the course of a longer release. As far as a debut EP goes, then, that’s the whole point of the thing, but something seems to be saying Lost Relics have more tricks up their sleeve than they’re showing here. One looks forward to finding out if that’s the case.

Lost Relics on Thee Facebooks

Lost Relics on Bandcamp

 

Deadly Sin (Sloth), VII: Sin Seven

deadly sin sloth vii sin seven

Deadly Sin (Sloth) play the kind of sludge that knows how well and truly fucked we are. The kind of sludge that doesn’t care who’s president because either way the chicken dinner you’re cooking is packed full of hormones. The kind of sludge that well earns its Scott Stearns tape artwork. VII: Sin Seven is not at all void of melody or purpose, as “Ripping Your Flesh” and the Danziggy “Glory Bound Grave” grimly demonstrate, but even in those moments, its intent is abrasion, and even the slower march of “Icarus” seems to scathe as much as the raw gutterpunk in “F One” and opener “Exit Ramp”‘s harshest screams. Not easy listening. Not for everybody. Not really for people. It’s a malevolent bludgeoning that even in the revivalism of “Blood Bought Church” seems only to be biding its time until the next strike. It does not wait all that long.

Deadly Sin (Sloth) on Thee Facebooks

Deadly Sin (Sloth) on Bandcamp

 

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Friday Full-Length: Mühr, Messiah

Posted in Bootleg Theater on November 2nd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

If you have headphones handy, go ahead and put them on. I’ll wait.

I’ve now false-started this post three times. That’s a lot. Usually, one, two at the outside. Three false starts — a sentence or two deep, then scrap, start over — means I’m having legitimate trouble framing a discussion of something, and when it comes to Messiah (review here), the lone full-length by Amsterdam-based cosmic doomers Mühr, I take it as a sign of how continually affecting I find the record. I’m closing out this week with it in part because it’s November, which means that we’re officially in the wind-down on 2018 (whew) and somehow I couldn’t let the year pass without marking a half-decade since this album’s release. Comprised of just a single track running 47 minutes, it was released on vinyl through Canardian Records and is as close to a perfect execution of weighted-soul psychedelia as I’ve heard. From the opening bassline to its many drones and swirls and explorations, the song “Messiah” operates on its own level entirely and five years later I’ve yet to hear a piece that captures a sense of majesty in the same way. I know it’s not the highest-profile outing that’s ever closed out a week around here, but I really do consider this one of the best records of the decade.

If you’ve never heard it before, the best advice I can give you is to be patient. Mühr certainly are. It’s nearly five minutes into the total stretch before one realizes the song has started, and longer still before the build that’s underway is really processed. Think of it as a stellar object in rotation. It’s moving, but that motion isn’t immediately apparent to the naked eye. Mühr‘s initials-only lineup included guitarists IJV and GW, drummer HH and bassist/vocalist ZALX also adds vocals to “Messiah” and FA keys, and there’s apparently a three-note sample of Ornette Coleman somewhere in there, but I won’t pretend to know where — and the flow they’re able to hone throughout the piece is graceful to the point of being balletic. Vocals arrive gently ahead of the first of two surges of volume. I won’t spoil it by giving the time stamp, but there’s a soft tension being build in the early going of the track and much teasing before it actually happens, flourish of harmonized Mühr, Messiahvocals somehow only adding to that. Knowing it’s coming makes it somewhat easier, but when that hugeness of tone finally takes hold it’s absolutely gotta-make-it-louder glorious; a consuming wash the likes of which I’ve rarely heard. Yes, I mean it. Listen for the little bit of feedback. That’s your clue that it’s arrived. And as the drums crash out a slow procession and one guitar scorches while the other holds together the rhythm with the bass — neither of them separate from the rest of the proceedings melodically, by the way — the space created is vast and expands the context of the rest of the outing that follows. About 10 and a half minutes total have passed before the drums cease their march for now, and the residual noise recedes gradually in a chaotic flurry of noise that somehow becomes lost-time hypnotic, the rumble of the low end, the melee of effects and the sort of swelling drones continuing the bear the heft of the volume that came before. It’s an aftermath, and one well earned, but it also becomes its own movement, and something I said about Messiah at the time and very much stand by is that these stretches and especially the long movement of noise at the end of the track are pivotal to its overall success.

There’s a second push no less gorgeously executed. At 15 minutes or so, the drums return to bring everything back to ground, and the bass progression locks step almost immediately to begin the next stage of the march. Again, it’s subtle, and so fluid, and so easy to get lost in, but it’s happening, and over the next few minutes, the vocals come back as an ethereal presence and soon lead the way into a bit of foreboding circa 20:30, and shortly thereafter the guitars lurch back and unleash the next voluminous cascade. Feedback and effects noise play out to accompany the central riff over the slowly churning drums and as it passes its halfway point, “Messiah” moves into a next stage of its loudest, most active manifestation. Then the real fun starts. At 27 minutes, things are quiet again, but the drums and bass are still holding the same pattern. The most affecting stretch of vocals happens almost a minute and a half later. Two quick (in the grand scheme of the piece itself), soulful verses obviously intended as a showcase work their way into a slow-motion guitar solo, and while it’s not nearly as loud as either of the bigger surges, that’s the actual apex of “Messiah.” The moment where the band seems to lay it all out and leave everything there for the listener to digest. What follows in the remaining 17 minutes is a trace of psychedelic drone and noise, working across different, improvised-sounding stages to build on the atmosphere thus-far conjured, as though they left the tape running after the song itself had finished and then — boldly, I’d argue — realized how necessary that last stretch is to the spirit of creation that so much abounds through the entire work.

Mühr had released the Shepherd / Blood EP (discussed here) in 2010, but Messiah was another level entirely. To date, it’s one of the best examples I’ve ever heard of a band absolutely putting everything into one offering and apparently obliterating themselves in the process. Mühr played three shows. Three. I was so fortunate to be there for one of them, at the Cul de Sac in Tilburg at Roadburn 2014 (review here), and watching them onstage lit by candles playing as a five-piece is still an experience for which I’m incredibly grateful. They played “Messiah” in its entirety. It was amazing. I get a chill thinking about it.

ZA, aka Dennis Duijnhouwer, played bass concurrently in the up-and-coming Death Alley, and would appear on the first of their full-lengths but depart before the second. He and guitarist Jevin de Groot, who appeared in Mühr as GW, have a new band together called Temple Fang, who’ve played a couple shows and seem to be just getting going. Needless to say, one eagerly anticipates finding out what the future holds there.

Either way, Mühr‘s sole long-player remains an entity unto itself, and as curious as I was to know how they might follow it up, the fact that it stands alone somehow makes its place even more special. It’s not just another album or just a first album. It’s a monument.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

Is this the part where I go on and on about how tired I am? Oh, okay, good. I’m glad. We made it. I’ve had the same headache for five days.

People come and go from your life. That’s what people do. That is the nature of things. A day doesn’t last. People usually don’t last. I know a lot of people, I’m fortunate to have a wife and a son, but I don’t have a lot of friends. That’s all I want to say.

Sunday at 7PM Eastern, episode three of “The Obelisk Show” airs on Gimme Radio. It’s a special recorded at the Høstsabbat Fest I went to in Oslo earlier this month and I’ve got interviews with Ole and Jens, who run the event, as well as Elephant Tree and Asteroid, and it’s all pretty awesome. You should listen. Thanks.

And thanks too to everyone who’s bought a shirt. If that’s not you, I get it, but if it is, your support of this endeavor is massively appreciated. More than a quarter of them are gone, and they’re available here: https://dropoutmerch.com/the-obelisk

Let’s do some notes and then I’m gonna try to crash out before the baby wakes up. Subject to change blah blah here we go:

Mon.: Hibrido track premiere/review; Pale Heart video premiere.
Tue.: Sadhus review/album stream; Sergio Ch. video.
Wed.: Causa Sui review; Maybe an Elephant Rifle video premiere.
Thu.: Vinnum Sabbathi/Cegvera review/premiere; maybe Birnam Wood video.
Fri. Belzebong review.

Busy, as ever.

The Patient Mrs. has been sick all week. It’s been a lot of me and The Pecan, and while she usually has minimal work obligations on Fridays, she’s gotta be there from like 1PM until god knows when. After bedtime. It’s a lot, but he’s a good kid, so that helps. We’ll play or go to Costco or read books or whatever this afternoon and he’ll be fine. I worry about poisoning him with my own wretchedness. My shitty posture. My frowny face. I suck. Ugh.

Okay, enough of that.

Please have a great and safe weekend. I’ll stay up all the way until 9PM on Sunday to be in the Gimme Radio chat while the show is on, so thanks if you get to check that out, and please don’t forget the forum and the radio stream here as well.

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

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Death Alley Announce Indefinite Hiatus and Last Shows

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 5th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Is this the end for Death Alley? I’d no more place a bet on it either way than I would’ve predicted where they were headed after their earlier-2018 second album, Superbia (review here), came out on Century Media. But they’re calling it hibernation and at very least stepping back for an indeterminate amount of time, so who the hell knows what will happen, and if this is it for them, I didn’t want to let it pass unmarked. If you ever got to see Death Alley live, you already know why.

The Amsterdam four-piece revitalized the idea that hard rock didn’t have to be boring or an overly commercial enterprise. On Superbia and their 2015 Tee Pee Records-released debut, Black Magick Boogieland (review here), their 2017 Live at Roadburn (review here) outing, and their sundry singles along the way dating back to their first 7″, 2014’s Over Under b/w Dead Man’s Bones (review here), they showed that heavy rock could have an edge, and that if a band has the presence, the confidence, and the songwriting ability, they can be as raw or as embellished as they want to be and still bring their audience along for the ride. It was a once-in-a-lifetime thrill to host them in 2016 at The Obelisk All-Dayer (video here) in Brooklyn, and though they were subject to lineup changes along the way, I still recall fondly the hour I spent on Skype interviewing them in 2015 for the first album. They were a total blast, front to back.

Their last shows (at least for the time being) are set for this month through January, and they’ll finish at Paradiso in Amsterdam, which I have no doubt will be an absolute blowout. Hard to imagine Death Alley would have it any other way.

Their announcement went out via the social medias as follows:

death alley (Photo by Stradlin Guitars)

Alright, wörld… After years of hypermotion, time has come for hibernation.

These final shows of our Superbia tour will be your last chance to dance with us for a while. After the 3rd of January in Paradiso, we’ll be off the radar for an indefinite period.

So you predators better not sleep on it… boogie while it lasts!

Tour dates:
13 OCT – Hengelo (NL) Beerland
17 NOV – Eindhoven (NL) Helldorado
29 NOV – Berlin (DE) Cassiopeia
30 NOV – Cottbus (DE) Zum Faulen August
01 DEC – Dresden (DE) Noteingang
13 DEC Deventer (NL) Burgerweeshuis
15 DEC Leiden (NL) Gebr. de Nobel
20 DEC Leeuwarden (NL) Neushoorn
21 DEC Bergen Op Zoom (NL) Gebouw T
22 DEC Dordrecht (NL) Bibelot
27 DEC Venlo (NL) Grenswerk
28 DEC Arnhem (NL) LuxorLive
29 DEC Uden (NL) De Pul
3 JAN Amsterdam (NL) Paradiso

DEATH ALLEY is:
Douwe Truijens – vocals
Oeds Beydals – guitar
Uno Bruniusson – drums
Sander Bus – bass

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Death Alley, “Murder Your Dreams” official video

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Death Alley, Superbia: How Hungry the Lions

Posted in Reviews on March 19th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

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Space punk, proto-metal, heavy progressive glam and enough hooks to get you from here to Alpha Centauri — it can only be the return of Amsterdam’s Death Alley, whose 2015 Tee Pee Records debut LP, Black Magick Boogieland (review here), was a lesson in the fine art of making “heavy” sound like a party you really want to go to. The four-piece toured consistently enough after the release that they wound up trading out their rhythm section — Sander Bus for Dennis Duijnhouwer on bass and the seems-to-be-everywhere-these-days Uno Bruniusson (also Black Salvation and Procession, ex-In Solitude) for Ming Boyer — a move that left vocalist Douwe Truijens and guitarist Oeds Beydals as the remaining founders. It is no small feat for a band to trade out half its lineup from one record to the next, but, now signed to Century Media, Death Alley‘s second collection, Superbia, shows they’ve done nothing but move forward as a result of the work they’ve put in the last three years.

With the creative percussiveness of Bruniusson propelling a telltale hook like “Feeding the Lions” and Bus adding low-end complement, Beydals and Truijens both absolutely shine in a number of contexts. Whether it’s the shimmer brought to the guitar in “Headlights in the Dark” or the rawer-but-still-melodic command of Truijens‘ vocals in the three-minute “Murder Your Dreams” (video premiere here), the pair find themselves in the forward position throughout the Pieter Kloos-helmed eight-track/50-minute effort, which is as powerful in its hooks as one could possibly hope on cuts like “The Chain,” “Feeding the Lions” and the aforementioned “Headlights in the Dark,” while retaining some experimentalist edge in the progressive melodies of the penultimate “Pilgrim” and a purposeful sense of exploration in extended opener “Daemon” (9:10) and closer “The Sewage” (11:37).

It’s nearly impossible to guess how much of any sonic shift has been brought on through personnel change as opposed to naturalist or purposeful growth of Death Alley‘s songwriting, but it’s palpable when one sits Superbia alongside anything prior in Death Alley‘s catalog, whether it’s last year’s Live at Roadburn (review here), which by its very nature would be more about capturing a raw performance, or Black Magick Boogieland, or their initial 2014 single, Over Under b/w Dead Man’s Bones (review here). Strength in songwriting remains firm and makes highlights of “Headlights in the Dark,” “Shake the Coil,” nine-minute opener “Daemon” and others, and the sense of energy that’s driven them since their beginning hasn’t diminished in the slightest, as “The Chain,” “Feeding the Lions” and “Murder Your Dreams” demonstrate plainly, but even on the latter track, which is as hard-edged as Death Alley get on Superbia, one can hear their focus has changed from raw impact to more deeper melodic arrangements and a deeper sense of atmosphere on the whole, as manifest in the lush chorus of “Pilgrim” and the all-consuming summary of “The Sewage” at the finale of the record — which finds Truijens singing about “psychic sewage”; about as clever a euphemism as I’ve heard for “shit for brains.”

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The central question is does it work, and the central answer is yes, but it means Death Alley are more complex in their intentions than even those who dug deep into Black Magick Boogieland‘s spacious closer, “Supernatural Predator,” might have suspected, because the purposeful sense they give from “Daemon” is that they’re not just picking up where they left off, but using their past as a launchpad to push even further out. That they get there is what ultimately makes Superbia such a success, never mind the band’s ability to tie together disparate ideas like the jammy build of “Daemon,” the straight-ahead thrust of “The Chain” and the near-gothic strum and keys of “Shake the Coil” — lest one forget that Pieter Kloos also produced fellow Netherlanders Dool, among many others — into one complete, flowing entirety. So not only are Death Alley more complex, but they’re more realized.

Given their time on the road, this isn’t necessarily surprising, but they’re also half a new band. Still, listen to the twisting first 40 seconds of “Pilgrim,” or the weirdo break that starts 5:10 into “Feeding the Lions,” or really every single second of “The Sewage,” which stomps and struts as much as it reaches into the cosmic ether — almost an answer to “Supernatural Predator,” but not quite aiming for the same goal. To wit, the progressive harmonies circa the three-minute mark are something I simply don’t think Death Alley would’ve attempted their last time out, and it’s worth noting that as they shift into the open midsection of the track via Bruniusson‘s crashes, residual noise and foreboding riffing from Beydals and Bus, it’s the guitar that comes to lead the charge through the “21st Century Schizoid Man”-esque chase, and into the jazzy movement that follows (though that’s not to take away from the snare work there, which is fantastic), and as “The Sewage” heads toward and past the eight-minute mark, it’s Beydals‘ solo that really seems to be doing the work of summarizing the album; extended, echoing, coated in effects, poised in a way but still delivered with vitality, it puts the emphasis on just how special a player he’s emerged here as being.

Truijens returns for repeated final lines and the closer more or less works its way toward a fading oblivion. To those who heard Black Magick Boogieland, no doubt Superbia will offer more than a few surprises, and it’s plain to see that was the band’s goal all along. What they’ve managed to do is put themselves on a trajectory of progression that’s both unexpected — not to say one didn’t anticipate evolution in their approach from their first to their second album, but there are a few genuine leaps here in Truijens‘ and Beydals‘ performances and in the depth of their craft overall — and richly satisfying, especially on well-earned repeat listens. If this growth was born of touring and the tumult the band has been through in the last couple years, they’ve emerged from same sounding stronger than ever and on their way to a maturity that one finds it easy to imagine will surprise even the band in terms of its breadth and sonic impact. When Death Alley gets where they’re going, watch your ass. Superbia is another crucial forward step along their way.

Death Alley, “Murder Your Dreams” official video premiere

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