Quarterly Review: Lamp of the Universe Meets Dr. Space, Inter Arma, Sunnata, The Sonic Dawn, Rifflord, Mothman and the Thunderbirds, The Lunar Effect, Danava, Moonlit, Doom Lab

Posted in Reviews on May 24th, 2024 by JJ Koczan


This is it. This one’s for all the marbles. Well, actually there are no marbles involved, but if you remember way back like two weeks ago when this started out, I told you the tale of a hubristic 40-something dickweed blogger who thought he could review 100 albums in 10 days, and assuming I make it through the below without having an aneurysm — because, hey, you never know — today I get to live that particular fairy tale.

If you’ve kept up, and I hope you have, thanks. If not, click here to see all the posts in this Quarterly Review. Either way, I appreciate your time.

Quarterly Review #91-100:

Lamp of the Universe Meets Dr. Space, Enters Your Somas

Lamp of the universe meets dr space Enter Your Somas

Who’s ready to get blasted out the airlock? New Zealand solo-outfit Lamp of the Universe, aka multi-instrumentalist Craig Williamson (also Dead Shrine, ex-Datura, etc.), and Portugal-residing synth master Dr. Space, aka Scott Heller of Øresund Space Collective, Black Moon Circle, and so on, come together to remind us all we’re nothing more than semi-sentient cosmic dust. Enters Your Somas is comprised of two extended pieces, “Enters Your Somas” (18:39) and “Infiltrates Your Mind” (19:07), and both resonate space/soul frequencies while each finds its own path. The title-track is more languid on average, where “Infiltrates Your Mind” reroutes auxiliary power to the percussive thrusters in its first half before drifting into drone communion and hearing a voice — vague, but definitely human speech — before surging back to its course via Williamson‘s drums, which play a large role in giving the material its shape. But with synthy sweeps from Heller, Mellotron and guitar coming and going, and a steady groove across both inclusions, Lamp of the Universe Meets Dr. Space offer galactic adventure limited only by where your imagination puts you while you listen.

Lamp of the Universe on Facebook

Dr. Space on Facebook

Sound Effect Records website

Inter Arma, New Heaven

inter arma new heaven

Richmond, Virginia’s Inter Arma had no small task before them in following 2019’s Sulphur English (review here), but from the tech-death boops and bops and twists of New Heaven‘s leadoff title-track through the gothic textures of “Gardens in the Dark,” self-aware without satire, slow-flowing and dramatic, this fifth full-length finds them continuing to expand their creative reach, and at this point, whatever genre you might want to cast them in, they stand out. To wit, the blackdeath onslaught of “Violet Seizures” that’s also space rock, backed in that by the subsequent “Desolation’s Harp” with its classically grandiose solo, or the post-doom lumber of “Concrete Cliffs” that calls out its expanse after the seven-minute drum-playthrough-fodder extremity of “The Children the Bombs Overlooked,” or the mournful march of “Endless Grey” and the acoustic-led Nick Cavey epilogue “Forest Service Road Blues.” Few bands embrace a full spectrum of metallic sounds without coming across as either disjointed or like they’re just mashing styles together for the hell of it. Inter Arma bleed purpose in every turn, and as they inch closer to their 20th year as a band, they are masters unto themselves of this form they’ve created.

Inter Arma on Facebook

Relapse Records website

Sunnata, Chasing Shadows

sunnata chasing shadows

The opening “Chimera” puts Chasing Shadows quickly into a ritualized mindset, all the more as Warsaw meditative doomers Sunnata lace it and a decent portion of their 11-track/62-minute fifth album with an arrangement of vocals from guitarists Szymon Ewertowski and Adrian Gadomski and bassist/synthesist Michal Dobrzanski as drummer/percussionist Robert Ruszczyk punctuates on snare as they head toward a culmination. Individual pieces have their own purposes, whether it’s the momentary float of “Torn” or the post-Alice in Chains harmonies offset by Twin Peaks-y creep in “Saviours Raft,” or the way “Hunger” gradually moves from light to dark with rolling immersion, or the dancier feel with which “Like Cogs in a Wheel” gives an instrumental finish. It’s not a minor undertaking and it’s not meant to be one, but mood and atmosphere do a lot of work in uniting the songs, and the low-in-the-mouth vocal melodies become a part of that as the record unfolds. Their range has never felt broader, but there’s a plot being followed as well, an idea behind each turn in “Wishbone” and the sprawl is justified by the dug-in worldmaking taking place across the whole-LP progression, darkly psychedelic and engrossing as it is.

Sunnata on Facebook

Sunnata on Bandcamp

The Sonic Dawn, Phantom

The Sonic Dawn Phantom

Among the most vital classic elements of The Sonic Dawn‘s style is their ability to take spacious ideas and encapsulate them with a pop efficiency that doesn’t feel dumbed down. That is to say, they’re not capitulating to fickle attention spans with short songs so much as they’re able to get in, say what they want to say with a given track, and get out. Phantom is their fifth album, and while the title may allude to a certain ghostliness coinciding with the melancholy vibe overarching through the bulk of its component material, the Copenhagen-based trio are mature enough at this stage to know what they’re about. And while Phantom has its urgent stretches in the early going of “Iron Bird” or the rousing “Think it Over,” the handclap-laced “Pan AM,” and the solo-topped apex of “Micro Cosmos in a Drop,” most of what they’re about here harnesses a mellower atmosphere. It doesn’t need to hurry, baby. Isn’t there enough rush in life with all these “21st Century Blues?” With no lack of movement throughout, some of The Sonic Dawn‘s finest stretches here are in low-key interpretations of funk (“Dreams of Change,” “Think it Over,” “Transatlantique,” etc.) or prog-boogie (“Scorpio,” “Nothing Can Live Here” before the noisier crescendo) drawn together by organ, subdued, thoughtful vocal melodies and craft to suit the organic production. This isn’t the first The Sonic Dawn LP to benefit from the band knowing who they are as a group, but golly it sure is stronger for that.

The Sonic Dawn on Facebook

Heavy Psych Sounds website

Rifflord, 39 Serpent Power

RIFFLORD 39 Serpent Power

It’s not until the hook of second cut “Ohm Ripper” hits that Rifflord let go of the tension built up through the opening semi-title-track “Serpent Power,” which in its thickened thrashy charge feels like a specific callout to High on Fire but as I understand it is just about doing hard drugs. Fair enough. The South Dakota-based five-piece of bassist/vocalist Wyatt Bronc Bartlett, guitarists Samuel Hayes and Dustin Vano, keyboardist Tory Jean Stoddard and drummer Douglas Jennings Barrett will echo that intensity later in “Church Keys” and “Tumbleweed,” but that’s still only one place the 38-minute eight-track LP goes, and whether it’s the vocals calling out through the largesse and breadth of “Blessed Life” or the ensuing crush that follows in “LM308,” the addled Alice in Chains swagger in the lumber of “Grim Creeper” or the righteously catchy bombast of “Hoof,” they reach further than they ever have in terms of sound and remain coherent despite the inherently chaotic nature of their purported theme, the sheer heft of the tonality wielded and the fact that 39 Serpent Power has apparently been waiting some number of years to see release. Worth the wait? Shit, I’m surprised the album didn’t put itself out, it sounds so ready to go.

Rifflord on Facebook

Ripple Music website

Mothman and the Thunderbirds, Portal Hopper

Mothman and the Thunderbirds Portal Hopper

At the core of Mothman and the Thunderbirds is multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Alex Parkinson, and on the band’s second album, Portal Hopper, he’s not completely on his own — Egor Lappo programmed the drums, mixed, and plays a guitar solo on “Fractals,” Joe Sobieski guests on vocals for a couple tracks, Sam Parkinson donates a pair of solos to the cause — but it’s still very much his telling of the charmingly meandering sci-fi/fantasy plot taking place across the 12 included progressive metal mini-epics, which he presents with an energy and clarity of purpose that for sure graduated from Devin Townsend‘s school of making a song with 40 layers sound immediate but pulls as well from psychedelia and pop-punk vocals for an all the more emphatic scope. This backdrop lets “Fractals” get funky or “Escape From Flatwoods” hold its metallic chicanery with its soaring melody while “Squonk Kingdom” is duly over-the-top in its second-half chase soon enough fleshed out by “So Long (Portal Hopper)” ahead of the lightly-plucked finale “Attic.” The specificity of influence throughout Portal Hopper can be striking as clean/harsh vocals blend, etc., but given the narrative and the relative brevity of the songs complementing the whims explored within them, there’s no lack of character in the album’s oft-careening 38-minute course.

Mothman and the Thunderbirds on Instagram

Mothman and the Thunderbirds on Bandcamp

The Lunar Effect, Sounds of Green and Blue

The Lunar Effect Sounds of Green & Blue

Given its pro-shop nature in production and performance, the ability of The Lunar Effect to grasp a heavy blues sound as part of what they do while avoiding either the trap of hyper-dudely navelgazing or cultural appropriation — no minor feat — and the fluidity of one piece into the next across the 40-minute LP’s two sides, I’m a little surprised not to have been sick of the band’s second album, Sounds of Green and Blue before I put it on. Maybe since it’s on Svart everyone just assumed it’s Finnish experimentalist drone? Maybe everybody’s burnt out on a seemingly endless stream of bands from London’s underground? I don’t know, but by the time The Lunar Effect make their way to the piano-laden centerpiece “Middle of the End” — expanding on the unhurried mood of “In Grey,” preceding the heavy blues return of “Pulling Daisies” at the start of side B that mirrors album opener “Ocean Queen” and explodes into a roll that feels like it was made to be the best thing you play at your DJ night — that confusion is a defining aspect of the listening experience. “Fear Before the Fall” picks on Beethoven, for crying out loud. High class and low groove. Believe me, I know there’s a lot of good stuff out already in 2024, but what the hell more could you want? Where is everybody?

The Lunar Effect on Facebook

Svart Records website

Danava, Live

danava live

Even if I were generally inclined to do so — read: I’m not — it would be hard to begrudge Portland heavy rock institution Danava wanting to do a live record after their 2023’s Nothing But Nothing (review here) found them in such raucous form. But the aptly-titled Live is more than just a post-studio-LP check-in to remind you they kick ass on stage, as side A’s space, classic, boogie, heavy rocking “Introduction/Spinning Temple” and “Maudie Shook” were recorded in 2008, while the four cuts on side B — “Shoot Straight with a Crooked Gun,” “Nothing but Nothing,” “Longdance,” “Let the Good Times Kill” and “Last Goodbye” — came from the European tour undertaken in Fall 2023 to support Nothing But Nothing. Is the underlying message that Danava are still rad 15 years later? Maybe. That certainly comes through by the time the solo in “Shoot Straight with a Crooked Gun” hits, but that also feels like reading too much into it. Maybe it’s just about representing different sides of who Danava are, and if so, fine. Then or now, psych or proto-thrashing, they lay waste.

Danava on Instagram

Heavy Psych Sounds website

Moonlit, Be Not Afraid

moonlit be not afraid

A free three-songer from Varese, Italy’s Moonlit, Be Not Afraid welcomes the listener to “Death to the World” with (presumably sampled) chanting before unfurling a loose, somewhat morose-feeling nighttime-desert psych sway before “Fort Rachiffe” howls tonally across its own four minutes in more heavy post-rock style, still languid in tempo but encompassing in its wash and the amp-hum-and-percussion blend on the shorter “Le Conseguenze Della Libertà” (1:57) gives yet another look, albeit briefly. In about 11 minutes, Moonlit — whose last studio offering was 2021’s So Bless Us Now (review here) — never quite occupy the same space twice, and despite the compact presentation, the range from mid-period-QOTSA-gone-shoegaze (plus chanting! don’t forget the chanting!) to the hypnotic Isis-doing-space-push that follows with the closer as a but-wait-there’s-more/not-just-an-afterthought epilogue is palpable. I don’t know when or how Be Not Afraid was recorded, whether it’s portentous of anything other than itself or what, but there’s a lot happening under its surface, and while you can’t beat the price, don’t be surprised if you end up throwing a couple bucks Moonlit‘s way anyhow.

Moonlit on Instagram

Moonlit on Bandcamp

Doom Lab, Northern Lights

Doom Lab Northern Lights

Much of Northern Lights is instrumental, but whether or not Leo Scheben is barking out the endtimes storyline of “Darkhammer” — stylized all-caps in the tracklisting — or “Night Terrors,” or just digging into a 24-second progression of lo-fi riffing of “Paranoid Isolation” and the Casio-type beats that back his guitar there and across the project’s 16-track latest offering, the reminder Doom Lab give is that the need to create takes many forms. From the winding scales of “Locrian’s Run” to “Twisted Logic” with its plotted solo lines, pieces are often just that — pieces of what might otherwise be a fleshed-out song — and Doom Lab‘s experimentalism feels paramount in terms of aural priorities. Impulse in excelsis. It might be for the best that the back-to-back pair “Nice ‘n’ Curvy” and “Let ’em Bounce” are both instrumental, but as madcap as Scheben is, he’s able to bring Northern Lights to a close with resonant homage in its title-track, and cuts like “Too Much Sauce on New Year’s Eve” and “Dark Matter” are emblematic of his open-minded approach overall, working in different styles sometimes united most by their rawness and uncompromising persona. This is number 100 of 100 records covered in this Quarterly Review, and nothing included up to now sounds like Doom Lab. A total win for radical individualism.

Doom Lab on YouTube

Doom Lab on Bandcamp

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Quarterly Review: Spotlights, Kanaan, Doom Lab, Strange Horizon, Shem, Melt Motif, Margarita Witch Cult, Cloud of Souls, Hibernaut, Grin

Posted in Reviews on May 12th, 2023 by JJ Koczan


Today is the last Quarterly Review day until July. I don’t know yet what shape that QR will take, whether 50 records, 100 records, 700 records or somewhere between. Depends on how the ongoing deluge of releases ebbs and flows as we head into summer. But if you count this and the other part of this Spring’s Quarterly Review, you get a total as of today of 120 releases covered, and considering the prior QR was just in January, and that one was another 100 records that’s a pretty insane amount of stuff for it being May 12.

And that’s basically the moral of the story, again. It’s a ton of stuff to encounter, hear, maybe live with if you’re lucky. I won’t make it a grand thing (I still have too much writing to do), but I hope you’ve found something cool in all this, and if not yet among the 210 albums thus far QR’ed in 2023, then maybe today’s your day as we hit the end of this round.

Quarterly Review #41-50:

Spotlights, Alchemy for the Dead

Spotlights Alchemy for the Dead

There are not many boxes that Spotlights‘ fourth album and third for Ipecac, Alchemy for the Dead, leaves unticked. Thematic, musically expansive, finely crafted in its melody and with particular attention to mood as when the bassline joins then leaves behind the acoustic guitar as a preface to the big finish in the closing title-track, it is a consuming, ultra-modern take on heavy rock from the trio of bassist/guitarist/vocalist Sarah Quintero, guitarist/synthesist/vocalist Mario Quintero and drummer Chris Enriquez, substantial even before you get to the fact that its 47 minutes push LP format limits, it speaks emotionally in rhythm as much as the thoughtful vocal interplay on “Sunset Burial,” growing intense around a central chug of guitar for one of the album’s more brazenly metal stretches. Elsewhere, standout moments abound, whether it’s the channel-panned snare buried in the second verse of “Algorithmic,” the proggy moodshifting in “Repeat the Silence,” Spotlights becoming what Deftones wanted to be in the heavygaze of “The Alchemist,” drift meeting head-on crash in “Ballad in the Mirror,” which also rolls out a fuzz-tone riff of statistically significant proportion then finds room for a swell of airy guitar before dissipating into the next mellow verse circa 2:30, more crashes to come. With the synth/sax/big-riff-and-shout interplay at the center in “False Gods,” Alchemy for the Dead would seem to mark the arrival at where Spotlights have been heading all along: their own version of a heavy of everything.

Spotlights on Facebook

Ipecac Recordings website


Kanaan, Downpour

Kanaan Downpour

The mellotron in the title-track, surrounded by dense bass, fleet runs of scorch-prone guitar and resoundingly jazzy drumming, emphasizes the point: Kanaan are a band elevating heavy rock to their level. The Norwegian trio aren’t shy when it comes to riffing out, as they demonstrate in the Hedwig Mollestad collaboration on “Amazon” and intermittently throughout Downpour‘s closing pair of “Solaris Pt. 1” and “Solaris Pt. 2,” each topping seven minutes. But neither are they limited to a singular nodding expression. While still sounding young and energetic in a way that just can’t be imitated, Downpour boogies almost immediately on opener “Black Time Fuzz,” and is often heavy and grooving like a straightforward heavy rock record, but as that tambourine in “Orbit” shows, Kanaan are ready at a moment’s notice with a flourish of guitar, some key or synth element, or something else to distinguish their pieces and in the soundscaping of “Psunspot” (sic) and the scope they claim throughout side B, they remain one of Europe’s brightest hopes for a future in progressive heavy, sounding freer in their atmospheres and in the build of “Solaris Pt. 1” than they did even on 2021’s Earthbound (review here). There’s a reason just about every festival in Europe wants them to play. The proverbial band-on-fire.

Kanaan on Instagram

Jansen Records website


Doom Lab, Zen and the Art of Tone

Doom Lab Zen and the Art of Tone

Zen and the Art of Tone, perhaps unsurprisingly, sets itself to the task in its title as Anchorage, Alaska-based Doom Lab mastermind Leo Scheben guides the listener through mostly short-ish instrumental pieces based around guitar, sometimes ultra-fuzzed with a programmed beat behind as on “Whole-Tones on Tail” or the extra-raw 1:24 of “Motörvamp” or the subsequent “Sabotaging the Sabocracy,” a bit clearer at the outset with “X’d Out,” but the drive toward meditation is clear and allows for both the slower, more doomed reaches of closer “Traveling Through the Cosmos at Beyond the Speed of Light” and the playful elder-funk of “The Plot-Twist” or the bounce of “Lydia Ann.” All told, the 12 songs and 36 minutes of experimentation on offer will resonate with some more than others, but Scheben sounds like he’s starting a conversation here with “Mondays Suck it Big-Time” and “Psychic Vampires” and the real question is whether anyone will answer. Sometimes a project comes along that’s just on its own wavelength, finding its own place in the pastiche, and that’s where Doom Lab have been at since the outset, prolific as well as dedicated to exploration. I don’t know toward what it’s all leading, but not knowing is part of enjoying hearing it, and maybe that’s the zen of the whole thing to start with.

Doom Lab on YouTube

Doom Lab on Bandcamp


Strange Horizon, Skur 14

Strange Horizon Skur 14

Barely a year after making their full-length debut on Apollon with Beyond the Strange Horizon (review here), Bergen, Norway, traditionalists dig deeper into the proto-style roots of doom on their four-song second LP, Skur 14. Named after a rehearsal space complex (presumably where they rehearse) in their hometown, the album runs shortest-to-longest in bringing together Scandi-folk-rooted classic prog and heavy styles, but by the time they get to “Tusser Og Troll,” the 14:47 finale, one is less thinking about the past than the future in terms of sound. Acoustic guitar begins “The Road” ahead of the straight-ahead riff and post-punk vocals, while “Cursed and Cast Out” is both speedier in the verse and more open in the hook before shifting into rolls on the snare and more theatrical shove that, much to the band’s credit, they handle fluidly without sounding either ironically over the top or like goobers in any way other than how they want. With the seven-minute “Candles,” the procession is slower and more vintage in form, reminding a bit of Demon Head but following its own anthemic chorus into an extended solo section before side B is dedicated solely to the spread of “Tusser Og Troll,” which ends with an organic-feeling jam laced with effects. A strong second outing on a quick turnaround that shows clear progression — there’s nothing more to be asked of Skur 14.

Strange Horizon on Facebook

Apollon Records store


Shem, III

Shem III

Sure, the third album from Stuttgart drone-psych-jammers Shem — titled III, lest there be any doubt — starts off with its 16-minute opener/longest track (immediate points) “Paragate,” but given the context, it’s the second cut on side A, “Lamentum” (2:50), that most piqued my interest. It’s a fading in snippet of a progression, the drums steady, volume swells behind a strumming guitar, some vocal chanting as it moves through. Given the entrancing spaciousness of “Restlicht” (7:34) and “Refugium (Beyond the Gravitational Field of Time and Space)” (11:55), I didn’t expect much more than an interlude, and maybe it’s not intended to be, but that shorter piece does a lot in separating the long cut on III‘s first half from the two on the second, so serves a vital purpose. And in that, it represents III well, since even in “Restlicht,” there seems to be a plan unfolding, even if improvisation is a part of that. Bookending, “Paragate” is mellow when it isn’t congealing nebular gasses to make new stars, and “Refugium (Beyond the Gravitational Field of Time and Space)” finds itself in a wormhole wash of guitar while the ride cymbal tries to hold structural integrity together, the whole engine ending up kissing itself goodbye as it shifts from this dimension to one that, let’s be honest, is probably more exciting.

Shem on Bandcamp

Clostridium Records store


Melt Motif, Particles. Death Objective

melt motif particles death objective

You ever hear a band’s album and think maybe it worked out better than the band thought it would when they started making it? Like maybe they surprised even themselves? That was Melt Motif‘s 2022 debut, A White Horse Will Take You Home (review here). The heavy industrial outfit founded by Kenneth Rasmus Greve and legit-doesn’t-need-a-last-name vocalist Rakel are joined by Brazilian producer Joe Irente for the curiously punctuated 10-track follow-up, Particles. Death Objective, and though they don’t have the element of surprise on their side this time out (for themselves or listeners), Melt Motif as a trio do expand on what the first album accomplished, bringing ideas from electronic dance music, sultry post-rock and hard-landing beats — plus some particularly striking moments of weighted guitar — to bear such that “Warrior” and “I’m Gone” are assured in not needing to explode with aggression and even with all its ticks and pops, the penultimate “Abyss” is more about atmosphere than impact. “Fever” creates a wash and lurches slow and heavy following on from “Broken Floor” at the beginning, but in “Full Moon” it’s a techno party and “Never_Again” feels like experimentalist hip-hop, so if you thought the book was closed aesthetically on the project, the sophomore outing assures it very much is not. So much the better.

Melt Motif on Facebook

Apollon Records on Bandcamp


Margarita Witch Cult, Margarita Witch Cult

margarita witch cult self titled

As it begins with the telltale strut and maddening catchiness of “Diabolical Influence,” one might be tempted to think Birmingham’s Margarita Witch Cult are playing in Uncle Acid‘s sinister sandbox, but the two-minute fuzz-chug-punker burst of “Death Lurks at Every Turn” corrects this notion, and the rest of the UK trio’s nine-song/31-minute self-titled Heavy Psych Sounds affirms there’s more going on. “The Witchfinder Comes” is a classic Sabbath-worship roller with multi-tracked vocals — guitarist Scott Vincent is the only one listed on vocals, so might just be layering; Jim Thing is on bass and George Casual on drums — and “Be My Witch” is a lesson in how to make thickened fuzz move, but it’s the pointedly Motörheaded “Annihilation” (1:42) that most stands out, even with the likewise speedy shuffle of “Theme From Cyclops” (1:34) right behind it, the faster takeoff welcome to offset the midtempo home-base of the trio’s grooves. As to that, “Lord of the Flies” nestles itself into a comfortable tempo and resolves in a nod that it seems to have spent much of its five minutes building toward, a last run through the main riff more celebration than repetition ahead of the instrumental “Aradia,” which like “The Witchfinder Comes” featured on the band’s 2022 Witchfinder EP (review here), and the previously-issued single “Sacrifice,” which closes. Bottom line is they’ve got a righteous sound and their first album shows they know how to wield it. The smoke-filled sky is the limit from here. Hail next-gen stoner rock.

Margarita Witch Cult on Facebook

Heavy Psych Sounds website


Cloud of Souls, A Fate Decided

Cloud of Souls A Fate Decided

Trading between charred rasps and cleaner declarative singing, Indianapolis-based multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Chris Latta (The Skyspeakers, Lavaborne, ex-Spirit Division) guides the mostly-solo-project — Tucker Thomasson drums and plays lead guitar; not minimizing anyone’s contributions — Cloud of Souls through a tumultuous journey along the line between ancient-of-days doom and black metal, strident at times like Bathory, sometimes all-out ripping as on the earlier-Enslaved-style “Hiding from Human Eyes,” and growing deathlier on “Where Failure Dies” ahead of the closing title-track, which threatens to break out the razors at any moment but stays civilized in its doomly roll for the duration. Whatever else Latta accomplishes in this or any of his other outfits from here on out, he’ll always be able to say he put out a record with a centerpiece called “Time for Slaughter,” which isn’t nothing as regards artist achievements — the song taps pre-NWOBHM doom until it turns infernal in the middle — and while there’s clearly an aspect of self-awareness in what he’s doing, the exploration and the songwriting are put first such that A Fate Decided resounds with a love for the metal that birthed it while finding its own path to hopefully keep walking across future releases.

Cloud of Souls on Facebook

Cloud of Souls on Bandcamp


Hibernaut, Ingress

Hibernaut Ingress

When I tell you Hibernaut has three former members of Salt Lake City psych-blues rockers Dwellers in the lineup, just go ahead and put that expectation to the side for a minute. With guitarist Dave Jones stepping to the front as vocalist, Joey Toscano (also ex-Iota) moving from guitar/vocals to lead guitar, Zach Hatsis (also ex-SubRosa) on drums and Josh Dupree on bass, their full-length debut/first release of any sort, Ingress — recorded of course by Andy Patterson — has more in common with High on Fire and dirt-coated raw thrash than anything so lush, and at 11 songs and 74 minutes long, that will toward the unrestrained is multifaceted as well. There’s rock swagger to be had in “Magog” or the spinning riff of “Summoner,” but “Mines” has more Celtic Frost than Kyuss to it, and that isn’t a complaint. The material varies — at over an hour long, it fucking better — but whether it’s the double-kick rampage of “Kaleidoscope” or the furious takedown of “Lantern Eyed,” Hibernaut revel in an overarching nastiness of riff such that you might just end up scrunching your face without thinking about it. There’s room for a couple nods, in “Projection,” or “Aeons Entombed,” but the prevailing impression is meaner while remaining atmospheric. I like that I have no guess what they’ll do after this. I don’t like having to check autocorrect every time it replaces their name with ‘Hibernate.’ If only I had some gnasher heavy metal to help me vent that frustration. Oh wait.

Hibernaut on Instagram

Hibernaut on Bandcamp


Grin, Black Nothingness


For their Black Nothingness EP, Berlin-based DIY aficionados Grin — bassist Sabine Oberg and drummer/vocalist Jan Oberg — stripped their sound back to its most essential parts. Unlike 2022’s Phantom Knocks (review here) long-player, there’s no soundscaping, no guitar, no Hammond. There is low end. There are drums. There are growls and shouts and there are six tracks and none of them reaches three minutes in length. This ferocious display of efficiency counterintuitively underscores the breadth of Grin‘s approach, since as one band they feel unrestricted in terms of arrangements, and Black Nothingness — on their own The Lasting Dose Records imprint and recorded by Jan — benefits from the barebones construction in terms of sheer impact as heard on the rolling “Gatekeeper” before each ending measure of “Midnight Blue Sorrow” seems to leave a bruise, or even the opening semi-title-track “Nothingness” staking a claim on hardcore gangshout backing vocals for use pretty much anytime. “Talons” is less in-your-face with its violence, but the threat remains fervent and subsequent closer “Deathbringer” perfectly conveys that sense of exhaustion you have from when you’ve been so angry for so long that actually you’re just kind of sad about it. All this and more in about 12 minutes out of your busy and intensely frustrating life makes Black Nothingness one of 2023’s best short releases. Now rage, damnit.

Grin on Facebook

Grin on Bandcamp


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Quarterly Review: MWWB, Righteous Fool, Seven Nines and Tens, T.G. Olson, Freebase Hyperspace, Melt Motif, Tenebra, Doom Lab, White Fuzzy Bloodbath, Secret Iris

Posted in Reviews on July 6th, 2022 by JJ Koczan


I don’t know what day it is. The holiday here in the States has me all screwed up. I know it’s not the weekend anymore because I’m posting today, but really, if this is for Tuesday or Wednesday, I’m kind of at a loss. What I do know is that it’s 10 more records, and some quick math at the “71-80” below — which, yes, I put there ahead of time when I set up the back end of these posts so hopefully I don’t screw it up; it’s a whole fucking process; never ask me about it unless you want to be so bored at by the telling that your eyeballs explode — tells me today Wednesday, so I guess I figured it out. Hoo-ray.

Three quarters of the way through, which feels reasonably fancy. And today’s a good one, too. I hope as always that you find something you dig. Now that I know what day it is, I’m ready to start.

Quarterly Review #71-80:

MWWB, The Harvest

MWWB The Harvest

It’s difficult to separate MWWB‘s The Harvest from the fact that it might be the Welsh act’s final release, as frontwoman Jessica Ball explained here. Their synth-laced cosmic doom certainly deserves to keep going if it can, but on the chance not, The Harvest suitably reaps the fruit of the progression the band began to undertake with 2015’s Nachthexen (review here), their songs spacious despite the weight of their tones and atmospheric even at their most dense. Proggy instrumental explorations like “Let’s Send These Bastards Whence They Came” and “Interstellar Wrecking” and the semi-industrial, vocals-also-part-of-the-ambience “Betrayal” surround the largesse of the title-track, “Logic Bomb,” the especially lumbering “Strontium,” and so on, and “Moon Rise” caps with four and a half minutes of voice-over-guitar-and-keys atmospherics, managing to be heavy even without any of the usual trappings thereof. If this is it, what a run they had, both when they were Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard and with this as their potential swansong.

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New Heavy Sounds website


Righteous Fool, Righteous Fool

Righteous Fool Righteous Fool

Look. Maybe it’s a fan-piece, but screw it, I’m a fan. And as someone who liked the second run of Corrosion of Conformity‘s Animosity-era lineup, this previously-unreleased LP from the three-piece that included C.O.C. bassist/vocalist Mike Dean and drummer/vocalist Reed Mullin (R.I.P.), as well as guitarist/vocalist Jason Browning, is only welcome. I remember when they put out the single on Southern Lord in 2010, you couldn’t really get a sense of what the band was about, but there’s so much groove in these songs — I’m looking right at you, “Hard Time Killing Floor” — that it’s that much more of a bummer the three-piece didn’t do anything else. Of course, Mullin rejoining Dean in C.O.C. wasn’t a hardship either, but especially in the aftermath of his death last year, it’s bittersweet to hear his performances on these songs and a collection of tracks that have lost none of their edge for the decade-plus they’ve sat on a shelf or hard drive somewhere. Call it a footnote if you want, but the songs stand on their own merits, and if you’re going to tell me you’ve never wanted to hear Dean sing “The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown),” then I think you and I are just done speaking for right now.

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Ripple Music website


Seven Nines and Tens, Over Opiated in a Forest of Whispering Speakers

seven nines and tens over opiated in a forest of whispering speakers

I agree, it’s a very long album title. And the band name is kind of opaque in a kind of opaque way. Double-O-paque. And the art by Ahmed Emad Eldin (Pink Floyd, etc.) is weird. All of this is true. But I’m going to step outside the usual review language here, and instead of talking about how Vancouver post-noise rock trio Seven Nines and Tens explore new melodic and atmospheric reaches while still crushing your rib cage on their first record for the e’er tastemaking Willowtip label, I’m just going to tell you listen. Really. That’s it. If you consider yourself someone with an open mind for music that is progressive in its artistic substance without conforming necessarily to genre, or if you’re somebody who feels like heavy music is tired and can’t connect to the figurative soul, just press play on the Bandcamp embed and see where you end up on the other side of Over Opiated in a Forest of Whispering Speakers‘ 37 minutes. Even if it doesn’t change your life, shaking you to your very core and giving you a new appreciation for what can be done on a level of craft in music that’s still somehow extreme, just let it run and then take a breath afterward, maybe get a drink of water, and take a minute to process. I wrote some more about the album here if you want the flowery whathaveyou, but really, don’t bother clicking that link. Just listen to the music. That’s all you need.

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Willowtip Records website


T.G. Olson, II

TG Olson II

In March 2021, T.G. Olson, best known as the founding guitarist/vocalist for Across Tundras, released a self-titled solo album (review here). He’s had a slew of offerings out since — as he will; Olson is impossible to keep up with but one does one’s best — but II would seem to be a direct follow-up to that full-length’s declarative purpose, continuing and refining the sometimes-experimentalist, sometimes purposefully traditional folk songwriting and self-recording exploration Olson began (publicly, at least) a decade ago. Several of II‘s cuts feature contributions from Caleb R.K. Williams, but Olson‘s ability to build a depth of mix — consider the far-back harmonica in “Twice Gone” and any number of other flourishes throughout — is there regardless, and his voice is as definitively human as ever, wrought with a spirit of Americana and a wistfulness for a West that was wild not for its guns but the buffalo herds you could see from space and an emotionalism that makes the lyrics of “Saddled” seem all the more personal, whether or not they are, or the lines in “Enough Rope” that go, “Always been a bit of a misanthrope/Never had a healthy way to cope,” and don’t seem to realize that the song itself is the coping.

Electric Relics Records on Bandcamp


Freebase Hyperspace, Planet High

Freebase Hyperspace Planet High

Issued on limited blue vinyl through StoneFly Records, Freebase Hyperspace‘s first full-length, Planet High, is much more clearheaded in its delivery than the band would seem to want you to think. Sure, it’s got its cosmic echo in the guitar and the vocals and so on, but beneath that are solidified grooves shuffling, boogieing and underscoring even the solo-fueled jam-outs on “Golden Path” and “Introversion” with a thick, don’t-worry-we-got-this vibe. The band is comprised of vocalist Ayrian Quick, guitarist Justin Acevedo, bassist Stephen Moore and drummer Peter Hurd, and they answer 2018’s Activation Immediate not quite immediately but with fervent hooks and a resonant sense of motion. It’s from Portland, and it’s a party, but Planet High upends expectation in its bluesy vocals, in its moments of drift and in the fact that “Cat Dabs” — whatever that means, I don’t even want to look it up — is an actual song rather than a mess of cult stoner idolatries, emphasizing the niche being explored. And just because it bears mentioning, heavy rock is really, really white. More BIPOC and diversity across the board only makes the genre richer. But even those more general concerns aside, this one’s a stomper.

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StoneFly Records store


Melt Motif, A White Horse Will Take You Home

Melt Motif A White Horse Will Take You Home

Not calling out other reviews (they exist; I haven’t read any), but any writeup about Melt Motif‘s debut album, A White Horse Will Take You Home, that doesn’t include the word “sultry” is missing something. Deeply moody on “Sleep” and the experimental-sounding “Black Hole” and occasionally delving into that highly-processed ’90s guitar sound that’s still got people working off inspiration from Nine Inch NailsThe Downward Spiral even if they don’t know it — see the chugs of “Mine” and “Andalusian Dog” for clear examples — the nine-track/37-minute LP nonetheless oozes sex across its span, such that even the sci-fi finale “Random Access Memory” holds to the theme. The band span’s from São Paulo, Brazil, to Bergen, Norway, and is driven by Rakel‘s vocals, Kenneth Rasmus Greve‘s guitar, synth and programming, and Joe Irente‘s bass, guitar, more synth and more programming. Together, they are modern industrial/electrionica in scope, the record almost goth in its theatrical pruning, and there’s some of the focus on tonal heft that one finds in others of the trio’s ilk, but Melt Motif use slower pacing and harder impacts as just more toys to be played with, and thus the album is deeply, repeatedly listenable, the clever pop structures and the clarity of the production working as the bed on which the entirety lays in waiting repose for those who’d take it on.

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Apollon Records on Bandcamp


Tenebra, Moongazer

tenebra moongazer

Moongazer is the second full-length from Bologna, Italy-based heavy psychedelic blues rockers Tenebra, and a strong current of vintage heavy rock runs through it that’s met head-on by the fullness of the production, by which I mean that “Cracked Path” both reminds of Rainbow — yeah that’s right — and doesn’t sound like it’s pretending it’s 1973. Or 1993, for that matter. Brash and raucous on its face, the nine-song outing proves schooled in both current and classic heavy, and though “Winds of Change” isn’t a Scorpions cover, its quieter take still offers a chance for the band to showcase the voice of Silvia, whose throaty, push-it-out delivery becomes a central focus of the songs, be it the Iommic roll of “Black Lace” or the shuffling closer “Moon Maiden,” which boasts a guest appearance from Screaming TreesGary Lee Conner, or the prior “Dark and Distant Sky,” which indeed brings the dark up front and the distance in its second, more psych-leaning second half. All of this rounds out to a sound more geared toward groove than innovation, but which satisfies in that regard from the opening guitar figure of “Heavy Crusher” onward, a quick nod to desert rock there en route to broader landscapes.

Tenebra on Facebook

New Heavy Sounds website

Seeing Red Records website


Doom Lab, IV: Ever Think You’re Smart​.​.​. And Then Find Out That You Aren’t?

doom lab iv

With a drum machine backing, Doom Lab strums out riffs over the 16 mostly instrumental tracks of the project’s fourth demo since February of this year, Doom Lab IV: Ever Think You’re Smart​.​.​. And Then Find Out That You Aren’t?, a raw, sometimes-overmodulated crunch of tone lending a garage vibe to the entire procession. On some planet this might be punk rock, and maybe tucked away up in Anchorage, Alaska, it’s not surprising that Doom Lab would have a strange edge to their craft. Which they definitely do. “Clockwork Home II (Double-Thick Big Bottom End Dub)” layers in bass beneath a droning guitar, and “Diabolical Strike (w/ False Start)” is a bonus track (with vocals) that’s got the line, “You’ll think that everything is cool but then I’ll crush your motherfucking soul,” so, you know, it’s like that. Some pieces are more developed than others, as “Deity Skin II” has some nuanced layering of instrumentation, but in the harsh high end of “Spiral Strum to Heaven II” and the mostly-soloing “Infernal Intellect II,” Doom Lab pair weirdo-individualism with an obvious creative will. Approach with caution, because some of Doom Lab‘s work is really strange, but that’s clearly the intention from the start.

Doom Lab on Bandcamp


White Fuzzy Bloodbath, Medicine

White Fuzzy Bloodbath Medicine

What you see is what you get in the sometimes manic, sometimes blissed-out, sometimes punk, sometimes fluid, always rocking Medicine by White Fuzzy Bloodbath, which hearkens to a day when the universe wasn’t defined by internet-ready subgenre designations and a band like this San Jose three-piece had a chance to be signed to Atlantic, tour the universe, and eventually influence other outcasts in their wake. Alas, props to White Fuzzy Bloodbath‘s Elise Tarens — joined in the band by Alex Bruno and Jeff Hurley — for the “Interlude” shout, “We’re White Fuzzy Bloodbath and the world has no fucking idea!” before the band launch into the duly raw “Chaos Creator.” Songs like “Monster,” “Beep-Bop Lives” and “Still” play fast and loose with deceptively technical angular heavy rock, and even the eight-minute title-track that rounds out before the cover of Beastie Boys‘ “Sabotage” refuses to give in and be just one thing. And about that cover? Well, not every experiment is going to lead to gold, but it’s representative on the whole of the band’s bravery to take on an iconic track like that and make their own. Not nearly everybody would be so bold.

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White Fuzzy Bloodbath on Bandcamp


Secret Iris, What Are You Waiting For

secret iris what are you waiting for

With the vocal melody in its resonant hook, the lead guitar line that runs alongside and the thickened verse progression that complements, Secret Iris almost touch on Euro-style melancholic doom with the title-track of their debut 7″, What Are You Waiting For, but the Phoenix, Arizona, three-piece are up to different shenanigans entirely on the subsequent “Extrasensory Rejection (Winter Sanctuary),” which is faster, more punk, and decisively places them in a sphere of heavy grunge. Both guitarist Jeffrey Owens (ex-Goya) and bassist Tanner Grace (Sorxe) contribute vocals, while drummer Matt Arrebollo (Gatecreeper) is additionally credited with “counseling,” and the nine-minutes of the mini-platter first digitally issued in 2021 beef up a hodgepodge of ’90s and ’00s rock and punk, from Nirvana grunge to Foo Fighters accessibility, Bad Religion‘s punk and rock and a slowdown march after the break in the midsection that, if these guys were from the Northeast, I’d shout as a Life of Agony influence. Either way, it moves, it’s heavy, it’s catchy, and just the same, it manages not to make a caricature of its downer lyrics. The word I’m looking for is “intriguing,” and the potential for further intrigue is high.

Secret Iris on Facebook

Crisis Tree Records store


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