Quarterly Review: Pallbearer, BleakHeart, Pryne, Avi C. Engel, Aktopasa, Guenna, Slow Green Thing, Ten Ton Slug, Magic Fig, Scorched Oak

Posted in Reviews on May 17th, 2024 by JJ Koczan


By the time today is through — come hell or high water! — we will be at the halfway point of this two-week Quarterly Review. It hasn’t been difficult so far, though there are ups and downs always and I don’t think I’m giving away secrets when I tell you that in listening to 50 records some are going to be better than others.

Truth is that even outside the 100 LPs, EPs, etc., I have slated, there’s still a ton more. Even in something so massive, there’s an element of picking and choosing what goes in. Curation is the nice word for it, though it’s not quite that creatif in my head. Either way, I hope you’ve found something that connects this week. If not yet, then today. If not today, then maybe next week. As I’m prone to say on Fridays, we’re back at it on Monday.

Quarterly Review #41-50:

Pallbearer, Mind Burns Alive

pallbearer mind burns alive

While I won’t take away from the rawer energy and longing put into their earlier work, maturity suits Pallbearer. The Little Rock, Arkansas, four-piece of vocalist/guitarist Brett Campbell, guitarist/backing vocalist Devin Holt, bassist/synthesist/backing vocalist Joseph D. Rowland and drummer Mark Lierly have passed their 15th anniversary between 2020’s Forgotten Days (review here) and the self-recorded six tracks of Mind Burns Alive, and they sound poised harnessing new breadth and melodic clarity. They’ve talked about the album being stripped down, and maybe that’s true to some degree in the engrossing-anyhow opener “When the Light Fades,” but there’s still room for sax on the 10-minute “Endless Place,” and the quieter stretches of the penultimate “Daybreak” highlight harmonized vocals before the bass-weighted riff sweeps in after the three-minute mark. Campbell has never sounded stronger or more confident as a singer, and he’s able to carry the likewise subdued intro to “Signals” with apparent sincerity and style alike. The title-track flashes brighter hopes in its later guitar solo leads, but they hold both their most wistful drift and their most crushing plod for closer “With Disease,” because five records and countless tours (with more to come) later, Pallbearer very clearly know what the fuck they’re doing. I hope having their own studio leads to further exploration from here.

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Nuclear Blast website

BleakHeart, Silver Pulse

Bleakheart silver pulse

With its six pieces arranged so that side A works from its longest track to its shortest and side B mirrors by going shortest to longest, Denver‘s BleakHeart seem to prioritize immersion on their second full-length, Silver Pulse, as “All Hearts Desire” unfolds fluidly across nearly eight minutes, swelling to an initial lumbering roll that evaporates as they move into the more spacious verse and build back up around the vocals of Kiki GaNun (also synth) and Kelly Schilling (also bass, keys and more synth). Emotional resonance plays at least as much of a role throughout as the tonal weight intermittently wrought by JP Damron and Mark Chronister‘s guitars, and with Joshua Quinones on drums giving structure and movement to the meditations of “Where I’m Disease” before leaving the subsequent “Let Go” to its progression through piano, drone and a sit-in from a string quartet that leads directly into “Weeping Willow,” the spaces feel big and open but never let the listener get any more lost in them than is intended. This is the first LP from the five-piece incarnation of BleakHeart, which came together in 2022, and the balance of lushness and intensity as “Weeping Willow” hits its culmination and recedes into the subdued outset of “Falling Softly” and the doomed payoff that follows bodes well, but don’t take that as undercutting what’s already being accomplished here.

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Seeing Red Records website

Pryne, Gargantuan

PRYNE Gargantuan

Austria’s Pryne — also stylized all-caps: PRYNE — threaten to derail their first album before it’s even really started with the angular midsection breakdown of “Can-‘Ka No Rey,” but that the opener holds its course and even brings that mosher riff back at the end is indicative of the boldness with which they bring together the progressive ends of metal and heavy rock throughout the 10-song/46-minute offering, soaring in the solo ahead of the slowdown in “Ramification,” giving the audience 49 seconds to catch its breath after that initial salvo with “Hollow Sea” before “Abordan” resumes the varied onslaught with due punch, shove and twist, building tension in the verse and releasing in the melodic chorus in a way that feels informed by turn-of-the-century metal but seeming to nod at Type O Negative in the first half bridge of “Cymboshia” and refusing flat-out to do any one thing for too long. Plotted and complex even as “The Terrible End of the Yogi” slams out its crescendo before the Baronessy verse of “Plaguebearer” moves toward a stately gang shout and squibbly guitar tremolo, they roll out “Enola” as a more straight-ahead realignment before the drone interlude “Shapeless Forms” bursts into the double-kick-underscored thrash of closer “Elder Things,” riding its massive groove to an expectedly driving end. You never quite know what’s coming next within the songs, but the overarching sense of movement becomes a uniting factor that serves the material well regardless of the aggression level in any given stretch.

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Pryne on Bandcamp

Avi C. Engel, Too Many Souls

avi c engel too many souls

Backed by looped percussive ticks and pops and the cello-esque melody of the gudok, Toronto experimental singer-songwriter Avi C. Engel is poised as they ask in the lyrics of “Breadcrumb Dance,” “How many gods used to run this place/Threw up their hands, went into real estate” near the center of the seven-song Too Many Souls LP. Never let it be said there wasn’t room for humor in melancholy. Engel isn’t new to exploring folkish intimacy in various contexts, and Too Many Souls feels all the more personal even in “Wooly Mammoth” or second cut “Ladybird, What’s Wrong?” which gets underway on its casual semi-ramble with the line, “One by one I watch them piss into the sun,” for the grounded perspective at root. An ongoing thread of introspection and Engel‘s voice at the center draw the songs together as these stories are told in metaphor — birds return in the album’s second half with “The Oven Bird’s Song” but there’s enough heart poured in that it doesn’t need to be leaned into as a theme — and before it moves into its dreamstate drone still with the acoustic guitar beneath, “Without Any Eyes” brings through its own kind of apex in Engel‘s layered delivery. Topped with a part-backmasked take on the traditional “Wayfaring Stranger” that’s unfortunately left as an instrumental, Too Many Souls finds Engel continuing their journey of craft with its own songs as companions for each other and the artist behind them.

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Somnimage website

Aktopasa, Ultrawest

aktopasa ultrawest

The 13-minute single “Ultrawest” follows behind Aktopasa‘s late-2022 Argonauta Records debut, Journey to the Pink Planet (review here), and was reportedly composed to feature in a documentary of the same name about the reshaping of post-industrial towns in Colorado. It is duly spacious in its slow, linear, instrumentalist progression. The Venice, Italy, three-piece of guitarist Lorenzo Barutta, bassist Silvio Tozzato and drummer Marco Sebastiano Alessi are fluid as they maintain the spirit of the jam that likely birthed the song’s floating atmospherics, but there’s a plan at work as well as they bring the piece to fruition, with Alessi subtly growing more urgent around 10 minutes in to mark the shift into an ending that never quite bursts out and isn’t trying to, but feels like resolution just the same. A quick, hypnotic showcase of the heavy psychedelic promise the debut held, “Ultrawest” makes it easy to look forward to whatever might come next for them.

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Aktopasa on Bandcamp

Guenna, Peak of Jin’Arrah

Guenna Peak of Jin Arrah

Right onto the list of 2024’s best debuts goes Guenna‘s Peak of Jin’Arrah, specifically for the nuance and range the young Swedish foursome bring to their center in heavy progressive fuzz riffing. One might look at a title like “Bongsai” or “Weedwacker” (video premiered here) and imagine played-to-genre stoner fare, but Guenna‘s take is more ambitious, as emphasized in the flute brought to “Bongsai” at the outset and the proclivity toward three-part harmonies that’s unveiled more in the nine-minute “Dimension X,” which follows. The folk influence toward which that flute hints comes forward on the mostly-acoustic closer “Guenna’s Lullaby,” which takes hold after the skronk-accompanied, full-bore push that caps “Wizery,” but by that point the context for such shifts has been smoothly laid out as being part of an encompassing and thoughtful songwriting process that in less capable hands would leave “Ordric Major” disjointed and likely overly aggressive. Even as they make room for the guest lead vocals of Elin Pålsson on “Dark Descent,” Guenna walk these balances smoothly and confidently, and if you don’t believe there’s a generational shift happening right now — at this very moment — in Scandinavia, Peak of Jin’Arrah stands ready to convince you otherwise. There’s a lot of work between here and there, but Guenna hold the potential to be a significant voice in that next-gen emergence.

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The Sign Records website

Slow Green Thing, Wetterwarte / Waltherstrasse

Slow Green Thing Wetterwarte Waltherstrasse

The interplay of stoner-metal tonal density and languid vocal melody in “I Thought I Would Not” sets an atmospheric mood for Slow Green Thing on their fourth LP, Wetterwarte / Waltherstrasse, which the Dresden-based four-piece seem to have recorded in two sessions between 2020 and 2022. That span of time might account for some of the scope between the songs as “Thousand Deaths” holds out a hand into the void staring back at it and the subsequent “Whispering Voices” answers the proggy wash and fuzzed soloing of “Tombstones in My Eyes” with roll and meditative float alike, but I honestly don’t know what was recorded when and there’s no real lack of cohesion within the aural mists being conjured or the heft residing within it, so take that as you will. It’s perhaps less of a challenge to put temporal considerations aside since Slow Green Thing seem so at home in the flow that plays out across Wetterwarte / Waltherstrasse‘s six songs and 44 minutes, remaining in control despite veering into more aggressive passages and basing so much of what they do on entrancing and otherworldly vibe. And while the general superficialities of thickened tones and soundscaping, ‘gaze-type singing and nod will be familiar, the use made of them by Slow Green Thing offers a richer and deeper experience revealed and affirmed on repeat listens.

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Slow Green Thing on Bandcamp

Ten Ton Slug, Colossal Oppressor


Don’t expect a lot of trickery in Ten Ton Slug‘s awaited first full-length record, Colossal Oppressor, which delivers its metallic sludge pummel with due transparency of purpose. That is to say, the Galway, Ireland, trio aren’t fucking around. Enough so that Bolt Thrower‘s Karl Willetts shows up on a couple of songs. Varied but largely growled or screamed vocals answer the furious chug and thud of “Balor,” and while “Ghosts of the Ooze” later on answers back to the brief acoustic parts bookending opener “The Ooze” ahead of “Mallacht an tSloda” arriving like a sledgehammer only to unfold its darkened thrash and nine-plus-minute closer “Mogore the Unkind” making good on its initial threat with the mosh-ready riffing in its second half, there’s no pretense in those or any of the other turns Colossal Oppressor makes, and there doesn’t need to be when the songs are so refreshingly crushing. These guys have been around for over a decade already, so it’s not a surprise necessarily to find them so committed to this punishing mission, but the cathartic bloodletting resonates regardless. Not for everyone, very much for some on the more extreme end of heavy.

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Magic Fig, Magic Fig

magic fig magic fig

Don’t let the outward Beatles-bouncing pop-psych friendly-acid traditionalism of “Goodbye Suzy” lull you into thinking San Francisco psych rockers Magic Fig‘s self-titled debut is solely concerned with vintage aesthetics. While accessible even in the organ-and-synth prog flourish of “PS1” — the keyboards alone seeming to span generations — and the more foreboding current of low end under the shuffle and soft vocals of “Obliteration,” the six-song/28-minute LP is no less effective in the rising cosmic expanse that builds into “Labyrinth” than the circa-’67 orange-sun lysergic folk-rock that rolls out from there — that darker edge comes back around, briefly, in a stop around the two-minute mark; it’s hard to know which side is imagining the other, but “Labyrinth” is no less fun for that — and “Distant Dream,” which follows, is duly transcendent and fluid. Given additional character via the Mellotron and birdsong-inclusive meditation that ends it and the album as a whole, “Departure” nonetheless feels intentional in its subtly synthy acoustic-and-voice folkish strum, and its intricacy highlights a reach one hopes Magic Fig will continue to nurture.

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Silver Current Records on Bandcamp

Scorched Oak, Perception

Perception by Scorched Oak

If you followed along with Dortmund, Germany’s Scorched Oak on their 2020 debut, Withering Earth (review here), as that album dug into classic heavy rock as a means of longer-form explorations, some of what they present in the 39 minutes of Perception might make more sense. There was plenty of dynamic then too in terms of shifts in rhythm and atmosphere, and certainly second-LP pieces like “Mirrors” and “Relief” come at least in part from a similar foundation — I’d say the same of the crescendo verse of “Oracle” near the finish — but the reportedly-recorded-live newer offering finds the band making a striking delve into harder and more metallic impacts on the whole. An interplay of gruff — gurgling, almost — and soulful melodic vocals is laid out as opener/longest track (immediate points) “Delusion” resolves the brooding toms of its verse with post-metal surges. Perhaps it’s obvious enough that it doesn’t need to be said, but Scorched Oak aren’t residing in a single feel or progression throughout, and the intensity and urgency of “Reflection” land with a directness that the closing “Oracle” complements in its outward spread. The element of surprise makes Perception feel somewhat like a second debut, but that they pull off such an impression is in itself a noteworthy achievement, never mind how much less predictable it makes them or the significant magnitude of these songs.

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Quarterly Review: The Howling Eye, Avi C. Engel, Suns of the Tundra, Natskygge, Last Giant, Moonstone, Sonic Demon, From the Ages, Astral Magic, Green Inferno

Posted in Reviews on July 20th, 2023 by JJ Koczan


Been a trip so far, has this Quarterly Review. It’s been fun to bounce from one thing to the next, drawing imaginary lines between releases that have nothing more to do with each other than being written up on the same day, and seeing the way the mind reels in adjusting from talking about one thing to the next. It’s a different kind of challenge to write 150-200 words (and often more than that; these reviews are getting too long) about a record than 1,000 words.

Less room to make your argument means you need to say what you want to say how you want to say it and punch out. If you’ve read this site with any regularity over the last however many years, or perhaps if you’re reading this very sentence right now, right here, you might guess that such efficiency isn’t a strong suit. This assessment would be correct. Fact is I suck at any number of things. A growing list.

But we’ve made it to Thursday anyhow and today this 70-record Quarterly Review passes its halfway point, and that’s always a fun thing to mark. If you’ve been digging it, I hope you continue to do so. If nothing’s hit, maybe today. If this is the first you’re seeing of any of it, well, that’s fine too. We’re all friends here. You can go back and dig in or not, as you prefer. I’ll keep going either way. Speaking of…

Quarterly Review #31-40:

The Howling Eye, List Do Borykan

The Howling Eye List Do Borykan

I don’t often say things like this, but List Do Borykan is worth it for the opening jam of “Space Dwellers, Episode 1.” That does not mean that song’s languid flow, silly stoned space-adventure spoken word narrative, and flashes of dub and psych and so on, are all that Poland’s The Howling Eye have to offer on their third full-length. It’s not. The prior single “Medival” (sic) has a thoughtful arrangement led by post-Claypool funky bass and surf-style guitar, which are swapped out for hard-riff cacophony metal in the second half of the song’s 3:35 run. That pairing sets up a back and forth between longer jams and more structured material, but it’s all pretty out there when you hear the seven song/44 minutes of the entire record, as the 10-minute “Brothers” builds from silence to organ-laced classic rock testimony and then draws itself down to let the funkier/rolling (depending on which part you’re talking about) “Space Dwellers, Episode 2” provide a swaying melodic highlight, and “Caverns” drones into jazz minimalism for nine minutes before “Space Dwellers, Episode 3” goes full-on over-the-top 92-second dance party. Finally. That leaves the closer, “Johnny,” as the landing spot where the back and forth jams/songs trades end, and they’re due a jam and provide one, but “Johnny” also follows on theme from “Space Dwellers, Episode 3” and the start of “Medival” and other funk-psych stretches, so summarizes List Do Borykan well. Again, worth it for the first song, but is much more than just that as a listening experience.

The Howling Eye on Facebook

Interstellar Smoke Records store

Galactic Smokehouse store


Avi C. Engel, Sanguinaria

Clara Engel Sanguinaria

Toronto-based folk experimentalist, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Avi C. Engel starts off the 10-song Sanguinaria with the first of its headphone-ready arrangements “Sing in Our Chains” assessing modernity and realizing, “We were better off in the trees.” In addition to Engel‘s actual voice, which is well capable of carrying records on its own, with a distinctive character, part soft and breathy in delivery but resilient with a kind of bruised grace and, as time goes on, grown more adventurous. In “Poisonous Fruit” and “The Snake in the Mirror,” folk, soul and organically-cast sprawl unfold, and where “A Silver Thread” brings in electric guitar and lap steel, “Deathless” — the longest cut at 6:33, arriving paired with the subsequent, textural “I Died Again” — is sparse at first but builds around whatever stringed instrument Engel (slow talharpa?) is playing and Paul Kolinski‘s banjo, standout vocal harmonies and a subdued keeping of rhythm. Along with Kolinski, Brad Deschamps adds lap steel to the opener and the more-forward-in-percussion “Extasis Boogie,” which is listed as an interlude but nearly five minutes long, and Lys Guillorn contributes lap steel to “A Silver Thread,” with all due landscape manifestation. Sad, complex, and beautiful, the 52-minute long-player isn’t a minor undertaking on any level, and “Personne” and the penultimate “Bridge Behind the Sun” emphasize the point of intricacy before the looping “Larvae” masterfully crafts its resonance across the last six minutes of the album.

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Avi C. Engel on Bandcamp


Suns of the Tundra, The Only Equation

suns of the tundra the only equation

Begun in 1993 as Peach, London heavy prog rockers Suns of the Tundra celebrate 30 years with the encompassing hour-long The Only Equation, their fifth album, which brings back past members of the band, has a few songs with two drummers, and is wildly sprawling across 10 still-accessible tracks that shimmer with purpose and melody. The title-track seems to harken to a ’90s push, but the twisting and volume-surging back half stave redundancy ahead of the patient drama in the 10-minute “The Rot,” which follows. On the other side of the metal-leaning “Run Boy Run,” with its big, open, floating, thudding finish representing something Suns of the Tundra do very well throughout, the three-part cycle of “Reach for the Inbetween” could probably just as easily have been one 15-minute cut, but is more palatable as three, and loses nothing of its fluidity for it, the build in the third piece giving due payoff before “The Window is Wide” caps in deceptively hooky style. Whether one approaches it with the context of their decades or not, The Only Equation is deeply welcoming. And no, its proggy prog progness won’t resonate universally, but nothing does, and that doesn’t matter anyhow. Without giving up who they are creatively, Suns of the Tundra have made it as easy as they can for one to get on board. The rest is on the listener.

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Bad Elephant Music on Bandcamp


Natskygge, Eskapisme

Natskygge Eskapisme

Natskygge sneak a little “Paranoid” into “Delir,” the instrumental opener/longest track (immediate points) of their second album, Eskapisme, and that’s just fine as dogwhistles go. The Danish classic psych rockers made a well-received self-titled debut in 2020 and look to expand on that outing’s classic vibe with this 34-minute eight-tracker, which is rife with creative ambition in the slower “Lys på vej” and the piano-laced “Fjern planet,” which follows, as well as in a mover/shaker like “Titusind år,” the compact three-minute strutter “Frit fald” or what might be the side B leadoff “Feberdrøm” with its circa-1999 Brant Bjork casual groove and warm fuzz, purposefully veering into psychedelia in a way that feels like a preface for the closing duo “Livet brænder,” an organ/keyboard flourish, grounded verse and airy swirls over top leading smoothly into the likewise-peppered but acoustically-based “Den der sidst gik ud,” which conveys patience without giving up the momentum the band has amassed up to that point. I’ll note that my ignorance of the Danish language doesn’t feel like it’s holding me back as “Fjern planet” holds forth its lush melancholy or “Titusind år” signals the band’s affinity for krautrock. Not quite vintage in production, but not too far off, Eskapisme feels like it was made to be lived with, the songs engaged over a period of years, and I look forward to revisiting accordingly.

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Kozmik Artifactz store


Last Giant, Monuments

last giant monuments

Portland’s Last Giant reportedly had a bit of a time recording their fourth long-player, Monuments, in a months-long process involving multiple studios and a handful of producers, among them Adam Pike (Holy Grove, Young Hunter, Red Fang, Mammoth Salmon, etc.) recording basic tracks, Paul Malinowski (Shiner, Open Hand) mixing and three different rounds of mastering. Complicated. Working as the three-piece of founder, principal songwriter, guitarist and vocalist RFK Heise (ex-System and Station), bassist Palmer Cloud and drummer Matt Wiles — it was just Heise and Wiles on 2020’s Let the End Begin (review here) — the band effectively fill in whatever cracks may have been apparent to them in the finished product, and the 10-track/39-minute offering is pop-informed as all their output to-date has been and loaded with heart. Also a bit of trumpet on “Saviors.” There’s swagger in “Blue” and “Hell on Burnside,” and “Feels Like Water” is about as weighted and brash as I’ve heard Last Giant get — a fun contrast to the acoustic “Lost and Losing,” which closes — but wherever a given track ends up, it is deftly guided there by Heise‘s sure hand. Sounds like it was much easier to make than apparently it was.

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Last Giant on Bandcamp


Moonstone, Growth

moonstone growth

Growth is either the second or third full-length from Polish heavy psych doomers Moonstone depending on what you count, but by the time you’re about three minutes into the 7:47 of second cut “Bloom” after the gets-loud-at-the-end-anyway atmospheric intro “Harvest” — which establishes an undercurrent of metal that the rest of the six-song/36-minute LP holds even in its quietest parts — ordinal numbering won’t matter anyway. “Bloom” and “Sun” (8:02), which follows, are the longest pieces on Growth, and that in itself speaks to the band stripping back some of their jammier impulses as compared to, say, late 2021’s two-song 12″ 1904 (discussed here), but while the individual tracks may be shorter, they give up nothing as regards largesse of tone or the spaces the band inhabit in the material. Flowing and doomed, “Sun” ends side A and gives over to the extra-bass-punch meditativeness of “Night,” the guitar building in the second half to solo for the payoff, while the six-minutes-each “Lust” and “Emerald” filter Electric Wizard haze and the proggy volume trades of countrymen like Spaceslug, respectively, close with due affirmation of purpose in big tone, big groove, and a noteworthy dark streak that may yet come to the fore of their approach.

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Interstellar Smoke Records store

Galactic Smokehouse store


Sonic Demon, Veterans of the Psychic War

Sonic Demon Veterans of the Psychic War

It’s not quite the centerpiece, but in terms of the general perspective on the world of the record from which it comes, there’s little arguing with Sonic Demon‘s “F.O.A.D.” as the declarative statement on Veterans of the Psychic War. As with Norway’s Darkthrone, who released an LP titled F.O.A.D. in 2007, Sonic Demon‘s “F.O.A.D.” stands for ‘fuck off and die,’ and that seems to be the central ethic they’re working from. Like most of what surrounds on the Italian duo’s follow-up to 2021’s Vendetta (review here), “F.O.A.D.” is coated in tonal dirt, a nastiness of buzz in line with the stated mentality making songs like swinging opener “Electric Demon” and “Lucifer’s the Light,” which follows, raw even by post-Uncle Acid garage doom standards. There are moments of letup, as in the wah-swirling second half of “The Black Pill,” a bit of psych bookending in “Wolfblood,” or the penultimate (probably thankfully) instrumental “Sexmagick Nights,” but the forward drive in “The Gates” highlights the point of Sonic Demon hand-drilling their riffs into the listener’s skull, and the actually-stoned-sounding groove of closer “To Hell and Back” seems pleased to bask in the filth the album has wrought.

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From the Ages, II

from the ages ii

If you’re taking on From the Ages‘ deceptively-titled first full-length, II — the trio of guitarist Paul Dudziak, bassist Sean Fredrich and drummer David Tucker issued their I EP in 2021, so this is their second release overall — it is perhaps useful to know that the only inclusion with vocals is opener/longest track (immediate points) “Harbinger.” An automatic focal point for that, for its transposed Sleep influence, and for being about four minutes longer than anything else on the album, it draws well together with the five sans-vox cuts that follow, with an exploratory sensibility in its jam that feels like it may be from whence a clearly-plotted song like “Maelstrom” or the lumbering volume trades of “Tenebrous” originate. Full in tone and present in the noisy slog and pre-midpoint drift of “Epoch” as well as Dudziak‘s verses in “Harbinger,” From the Ages seem willful in their intention to try out different ideas, whether that’s the winding woe of “Obsolescence” or the acoustilectric standalone guitar of closer “Providence,” and while that can make the listener less sure of where their development might take them in stylistic terms, that only results in their being more exciting to hear in the now.

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Astral Magic, Cosmic Energy Flow

astral magic cosmic energy flow

Not only is Astral Magic‘s Cosmic Energy Flow — released in May of this year — not the first outing from the Finnish space rock outfit led by project founder and spearhead Santtu Laakso in 2023, it’s the eighth. And that doesn’t include the demo short release with a live band. It’s also not the latest Astral Magic about two months after the fact, as Laakso and company have put out two full-lengths since. Unrealistic as this level of productivity is — surely the work of dimensional timeporting — and already-out-of-date as the eight-song/42-minute LP might be, it also brings Laakso into collaboration with the late Nik Turner of Hawkwind, who plays sax on the opening title-track, as well as guitarists Ilya Lipkin of Russia’s The Re-Stoned and Stefan Olesinski (Nuns on Napalm), and vocalists Christina Poupoutsi (The Higher Craft, The Meads of Asphodel, etc.) and Kev Ellis (Dubbal, Heliotrope, etc.), and where one might think so many personnel shifts around Laakso‘s synth-forward basic tracks would result in a disjointed offering, well, anything can happen in space and when you throw open doors in such a way, expectations broaden accordingly. Maybe it’s just one thing on the way to the next, maybe it’s the record with Nik Turner. Either way, Astral Magic move inextricably deeper into the known and unknown cosmos.

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Astral Magic on Bandcamp


Green Inferno, Trace the Veins

Green Inferno Trace the Veins

Until the solo hits in the second half of “The Barrens,” you almost don’t realize how much space there is in the mix on Green Inferno‘s Trace the Veins. The New Jersey trio like it dank and deathly as they answer the rawness of their 2019 demo with the six Esben Willems-mastered tracks of their first album, porting over “Spellcaster” and “Unearth the Tombs” to rest in the same mud as malevolent plodders like “Carried to the Pit” and the penultimate “Vultures,” which adds higher-register screaming to the already-established low growls — I doubt it’s actually an influence, but I’m reminded of Amorphis circa Elegy — that give the whole outing such an extreme persona if the guitar and bass tones weren’t already taking care of it. The tortured feel there carries into closer “Crown the Virgin” as the three-piece attempt to stomp their own riffs into oblivion along with everything else, and one can only hope they get there. New songs or the two older tracks, doesn’t matter. At any angle you might choose, Green Inferno are slow-churned extreme sludge, death-sludge if you want, fully stoned, drenched in murk, disillusioned, misanthropic. It’s the sound of looking at the world around you and deciding it’s not worth saving. Did I mention stoned? Good.

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