Quarterly Review: Witchcraft, The Wizar’d, Sail, Frank Sabbath, Scream of the Butterfly, Slow Draw, Baleful Creed, Surya Kris Peters, Slow Phase, Rocky Mtn Roller

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

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Day Three is always special when it comes to Quarterly Reviews because it’s where we hit and pass the halfway point on the way to covering 50 albums by Friday. This edition hasn’t been unpleasant at all — I’ve screened this stuff pretty hard, so I feel well prepared — but it still requires some doing to make it all come together. Basically a week’s worth. Ha.

If you haven’t found anything yet that speaks to you, I hope that changes either today, tomorrow or Friday.

Quarterly Review #21-30:

Witchcraft, Black Metal

witchcraft black metal

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Witchcraft on Thee Facebooks

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The Wizar’d, Subterranean Exile

the wizar'd subterranean exile

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The Wizar’d on Thee Facebooks

Cruz Del Sur Music website

 

Sail, Mannequin

Sail Mannequin

A follow-up to their later-2019 single “Starve,” the three-song Mannequin release from UK progressive metallers Sail is essentially a single as well. It begins with the ‘regular’ version of the track, which careens through its sub-five minutes with a standout hook and the dual melodic vocals of guitarists Tim Kazer and Charlie Dowzell. This is followed by “Mannequin [Synthwave Remix],” which lives up to its name, and brings bassist Kynan Scott to the fore on synth, replacing the drums of Tom Coles with electronic beats and the guitars with keyboards. The chorus works remarkably well. As fluidly as “Mannequin” fed into the subsequent remix, so too does “Mannequin [Synthwave Remix]” move directly into “Mannequin [Director’s Cut],” which ranges past the seven-minute mark and comes across rawer than the opening version. Clearly Sail knew they could get some mileage out of “Mannequin,” and they weren’t wrong. They make the most of the 16-minute occasion and keep listeners guessing where they might be headed coming off of 2017’s Slumbersong LP. Easy win.

Sail on Thee Facebooks

Sail on Bandcamp

 

Frank Sabbath, Compendium

Frank Sabbath Compendium

They’re not kidding with that title. Frank Sabbath‘s Compendium covers four years of studio work — basic improvisations done in 2016 plus overdubs over time — and the resulting freakout is over an hour and a half long. Its 14 component pieces run a gamut of psychedelic meandering, loud, quiet, fast, slow, spacey, earthy, whatever you’re looking for, there’s time for it all. The French trio were plenty weird already on 2017’s Are You Waiting? (review here), but the scales are tipped here in the extended “La Petite Course à Vélo” (11:16) and “Bermuda Cruise” (17:21) alone, never mind on the Middle Eastern surf of “Le Coucous” or the hopping bass and wah of “Gallus Crackus” and “L’Oeufou.” The band has issued live material in the past, and whatever they do, it’s pretty jammy, but Compendium specifically highlights this aspect of their sound, shoving it in front of the listener and daring them to take it on. If you’re mind’s not open, it might be by the time you’re done.

Frank Sabbath on Thee Facebooks

Frank Sabbath on Bandcamp

 

Scream of the Butterfly, Birth Death Repeat

scream of the butterfly birth death repeat

Scream of the Butterfly made a raucous debut in with 2017’s Ignition (review here), and Birth Death Repeat stays the course of bringing Hammond organ to the proceedings of melodically arranged ’90s-style heavy rock, resulting in a cross-decade feel marked by sharp tones and consistency of craft that’s evident in the taut executions of “The Devil is by My Side” and “Higher Place” before the more moderately-paced “Desert Song” takes hold and thickens out the tones accordingly. ‘Desert,’ as it were, is certainly an influence throughout, as the opener’s main riff feels Kyuss-derived and the later “Driven” has a fervent energy behind it as well. The latter is well-placed following the ballad “Soul Giver,” the mellower title-track interlude, and the funky but not nearly as propulsive “Turned to Stone.” They’ll soon close out with the bluesy “I’ve Seen it Coming,” but before they do, “Room Without Walls” brings some marked solo shred and a grungier riff that scuffs up the band’s collective boot nicely, emphasizing that the record itself is less mundane than it might at first appear or the title might lead one to believe.

Scream of the Butterfly on Thee Facebooks

Scream of the Butterfly on Bandcamp

 

Slow Draw, Gallo

Slow Draw Gallo

From minimalist drone to experimental folk, Slow Draw‘s Gallo sets a wide-open context for itself from the outset, a quick voice clip and the churning drone of “Phase 2” leading into the relatively straightforward “No Words” — to which there are, naturally, lyrics. Comprised solely of Mark Kitchens, also known for drumming in the duo Stone Machine Electric, Slow Draw might be called an experimentalist vehicle, but that doesn’t make Gallo any less satisfying. “No Words” and “Falling Far” and the just-acoustic-and-voice closer “End to That” serve as landmarks along the way, touching ground periodically as pieces like the strumming “Harvey’s Chair” and the droned-out “Industrial Aged” play off each other and “Angelo” — homage to Badalamenti, perhaps — the minimal “A Conflict” and “Tumoil” [sic] and “Playground” tip the balance to one side or another, the penultimate krautdrone of “Phase 1” unveiling perhaps what further manipulation turned into “Phase 2” earlier in the proceedings. At 33 minutes, Gallo feels careful not to overstay its welcome, and it doesn’t.

Slow Draw on Thee Facebooks

Slow Draw on Bandcamp

 

Baleful Creed, The Lowdown

baleful creed the lowdown

Belfast’s Baleful Creed present a crisp 10 tracks of well-composed, straightforward, doom-tinged heavy rock and roll — they call it ‘doom blues boogie,’ and fair enough — with their third long-player, The Lowdown. They’re not pretending to be anything they’re not and offering their sounds to the listener not in some grand statement of aesthetic accomplishment, and not as a showcase of whatever amps they purchased to make their sound, but instead simply for what they are: songs. Crafted, honed, thought-out and brought to bear with vitality and purpose to give the band the best representation possible. Front-to-back, The Lowdown sounds not necessarily overthought, but professional enough to be called “cared about,” and whether it’s the memorable opening with “Mr. Grim” or the ’90s C.O.C. idolatry of “Tramalamapam” or the strong ending salvo of “End Game,” with its inclusion of piano, the mostly-subdued but swaggering “Line of Trouble” and the organ-topped closer “Southgate of Heaven,” Baleful Creed never veer too far from the central purpose of their priority on songwriting, and neither do they need to.

Baleful Creed on Thee Facebooks

Baleful Creed on Bandcamp

 

Surya Kris Peters, O Jardim Sagrado

Surya Kris Peters O Jardim Sagrado

Though he’s still best known as the frontman of Samsara Blues Experiment, Christian Peters — aka Surya Kris Peters — has become a prolific solo artist as well. The vinyl-ready eight songs/37 minutes of O Jardim Sagrado meet him in his element, bringing together psychedelia, drone and synthesizer/keyboard effects to convey various moods and ideas. As with most of the work done under the Surya Kris moniker, he doesn’t add vocals, but the album wants nothing for expression just the same, whether it’s the Bouzouki on “Endless Green” or the guest contribution of voice from Monika Saint-Oktobre on the encompassing 11-minute title-track, which would be perfect for a dance hall if dance halls were also religious ceremonies. Experiments and explorations like “Celestial Bolero” and “Saudade” bring electric guitar leads and Mellotron-laced wistfulness, respectively, while after the title-cut, the proggy techno of “Blue Nebula” gives way to what might otherwise be a boogie riff on closer “Southern Sunrise.” Peters always seems to find a way to catch the listener off guard. Maybe himself too.

Surya Kris Peters on Thee Facebooks

Surya Kris Peters on Bandcamp

 

Slow Phase, Slow Phase

slow phase slow phase

A strong if raw debut from Oakland three-piece Slow Phase, this 39-minute eight-tracker presents straight-ahead classic American heavy rock and roll in the style of acts like a less garage The Brought Low, a looser-knit Sasquatch or any number of bands operating under the Ripple Music banner. Less burly than some, more punk than others, the power trio includes guitarist Dmitri Mavra of Skunk, as well as vocalist/bassist Anthony Pulsipher of Spidermeow and vocalist/drummer Richard Stuverud, the rhythm section adding to the blues spirit and spiraling manic jangle of “Blood Circle.” Opener “Starlight” was previously issued as a teaser single for the album, and stands up to its position here, with the eponymous “Slow Phase” backing its strength of hook. “Psychedelic Man” meanders in its lead section, as it should, and the catchy “Silver Fuzz” sets up the riotous “Midnight Sun” and “No Time” to lead into the electric piano of “Let’s Do it Again (For the First Time),” which I’d kind of take as a goof were it not for the righteous jam that finishes it, referencing “Highway Star” during its fadeout. Some organizing to do, but they obviously know what they’re shooting for.

Slow Phase on Thee Facebooks

Slow Phase on Bandcamp

 

Rocky Mtn Roller, Rocky Mtn Roller

rocky mtn roller rocky mtn roller

This band might actually be more cohesive than they want to be. A double-guitar four-piece from Asheville, North Carolina, with a connection to cult heroes Lecherous Gaze via six-stringer Zach Blackwell — joined in the band by guitarist Ruby Roberts, bassist Luke Whitlatch and drummer Alex Cabrera — they’re playing to a certain notion of brashness as an ideal, but while the vocals have a drunk-fuckall stoner edge, the construction of the songs underlying is unremittingly sound on this initial EP. “Monster” opens with a welcome hook and “When I’m a Pile” sounds classic-tinged enough to be a heavy ’70s nod, but isn’t so easily placed to a specific band as to be called derivative. The longest of the four cuts at 5:30, “Bald Faced Hornet” boasts some sting in its snare sound, but the Southern heavy push at its core makes those dueling solos in the second half all the more appropriate, and closing out, “She Ran Off with the Dealer” has both charm and Thin Lizzy groove, which would basically be enough on their own to get me on board. A brazen and blazing candidate for Tee Pee Records‘ digital annex, if someone else doesn’t snag them first.

Rocky Mtn Roller on Thee Facebooks

Rocky Mtn Roller on Bandcamp

 

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Friday Full-Length: Samsara Blues Experiment, Demo

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 12th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

One has to assume Samsara Blues Experiment were eager for adventure when they toured the West Coast on the strength of nothing more than their initial 2009 demo (review here). The Berlin-based outfit were a trio at the time — they’d move to a four-piece, then back to three — and I’m not discounting the value of the demo at all. Its two songs would both become essential pieces om in the band’s catalog and highlights when they reappeared on the 2010 debut album, Long-Distance Trip (review here). But it was a demo, just the same. And a first one at that. It’s not a lot of bands that will tour internationally for that kind of release, let alone cross an ocean. Samsara Blues Experiment have yet to return to North America.

That was 11 years ago and in that time the landscape of the heavy underground has radically changed. Social media, the availability of cheap, intuitive digital distribution, and a force of word of mouth that doesn’t actually require a mouth have not supplanted traditional promotion — I still get press releases down the PR wire, including for Samsara Blues Experiment when they have news — but have added to the scope of a given band’s reach, and as they’ve released through guitarist/vocalist Christian PetersElectric Magic Records imprint, that’s been something of an advantage, though naturally there are drawbacks as well. That they’d be at the vanguard if a new generation and wave of heavy psychedelia from across Europe wasn’t readily foreseeable in 2009 — at least not to me — but in listening to “Singata (Mystic Queen)” (8:32) and “Double Freedom” (13:04), I was just stoked it sounded like Colour Haze.

Did it though? Sort of. I hear it less now than I did at the time, and perhaps less on the semi versions of these songs than the ones that came on the subsequent album, which had a warmer sound, but it still seems like that influence is there. What comes out more in hindsight though is how much of Samsara Blues Experiment‘s own personality was worked into this material. In some ways, these tracks helped set the expectation for who the band — Peters, Richard Behrens (later of Heat) on bass and Thomas Vedder on drums — would become. The use of sitar became a defining element, and the surges of fuzz tone and echoing proclamations of “Double Freedom” are at the core of much I’d what Samsara Blues Experiment did samsara blues experiment demoon releases after this one. Though only 21 minutes long, give or take, it was easy to be excited about the demo, both because the jams were fluid and hypnotic and they helped distinguish the band from much of the burlier heavy rock that surrounded in Europe. They weren’t the first heavy psych band after the likes of the aforementioned Colour Haze, or, say, Causa Sui in Denmark, but they represented the generational shift to come and the energy they brought to the songs was no less palpable than the chemistry between the players, which comes through undulled on the live-feeling recording of these tracks.

Both “Singata (Mystic Queen)” and “Double Freedom” lengthened in their final album versions, the latter to a whopping 22 minutes of righteous psychedelic jamming, setting a precedent of longform work that Samsara Blues Experiment have continued to one degree or other ever since, without ever to-this-point crossing the 20-minute line again. Even in the shorter version, though, the jam is pivotal, and that became one of the distinguishing factors particularly in the band’s work, just how much it seemed to emerge from that organic foundation of the jam between players. With layers of effects and keys and guitar swirling over Behrens‘ solid rolling bassline — the first incarnation of the track sounds like it could go forever, the second does — and Vedder‘s backbeat holding it all together, the sense of flourish and patience in the execution of the song undermines the concept of it as a demo. It’s been 11 years. You know what I’d say if it came in today? “Huh. This sounds like Samsara Blues Experiment.”

Long-Distance Trip helped establish band on the Euro circuit and beyond, with a sprawling 66-minute run that washed through its fuzz with a clarity of purpose to match its outward direction — going, boldly — and was followed on a likewise quick turnaround by 2011’s Revelation and Mystery (review here), which basked in a more barebones production but still offered essential cuts like “Hangin’ on the Wire” and its surprisingly hard-landing 12-minute closing title-track. In late 2013, after touring, they’d answer back with Waiting for the Flood (review here), comprised of four extended cuts that brought back more of the psychedelic elements of the debut and still kept some of the second album’s relative immediacy, pulling together the most effective elements of both into a moment of realization for the band that continues to make for a standout listening experience.

It would be four years of lineup changes, touring, touring, and touring, as well as Peters exploring solo work under the moniker of Surya Kris Peters before Samsara Blues Experiment came back around with 2017’s One with the Universe (review here), which was ambitious in its title and blatant in its refusal to be contained by what had been established as the stylistic boundaries of jam-based heavy psychedelia, cuts like “Sad Guru Returns” finding a niche in crunchy rhythmic turns even as the subsequent, organ-and-sitar-laced “Glorious Daze” tapped ’70s jams with a fervency not shown since the band’s earliest work some eight years earlier. The album was awesome and expansive in kind, marked by its 10-minute opener and 15-minute title-track and other triumphs along the way.

There was word a bit ago of Peters working on songs for a fifth Samsara Blues Experiment full-length, which would only be welcome upon its arrival, and in the meantime in the last 15 months has produced no fewer than four solo outings of various lengths, incorporating influences from electronic dance music and psychedelic synth while giving clues to his general mindset in song titles like, “Leaving Berlin, Always Easy,” “Berlin is Not Beautiful” and “A Nickel for Your Thoughts on Rock Music.” So it goes.

Whether and whenever the next Samsara Blues Experiment album surfaces, their discography remains a thing to celebrate, and the substantial kickoff they gave it with this demo shouldn’t be at all overlooked. I just wanted to revisit something special.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

Things kind of turned around late-Wednesday and yesterday, but by Tuesday night, I was about ready to die. Rough, rough, rough couple days. No perspective, no broader sense, just head hanging, fucking inward brutality. The tone was set last weekend, honestly. The Patient Mrs. and I spent the bulk of Saturday and Sunday getting on each other’s nerves, and this may surprise you to learn, but a screaming, newly-biting-again toddler does nothing to help ease the general level of tension in a household. Also, we’re getting a dog? Ugh.

So anyway, by Tuesday I was a mess. I popped a whole xanax — I usually take a half — to render myself unconscious for a few hours just to make the day shorter. It helped, I have to say. And things have come around since. Sometimes you rally.

Next week The Pecan goes back to daycare/preschool/whatever we’re calling it. My understanding is they’ve constructed a pandemic-free biodome for the children to play and learn in, so that should be good.

Okay, I’m asking you this as a friend. Did you listen to the Polymoon track that was premiered this week? Here’s the link, click it. That album is way better than most debuts have any right to be. You shouldn’t miss out just because you haven’t already heard of the band.

Been watching the protests, the president’s open embrace of white supremacy, and so on, word of a new spike in COVID-19 cases. All that fun stuff. I try and keep my head down and work. I try and keep up with the kid. Both are hard these days.

New Gimme Radio show at 5PM Eastern. Their app is free. It’s what I use to listen, but streaming on their site is free too: http://gimmeradio.com

And if you didn’t see the playlist, that’s here.

It’s a little after 9:30AM now. I’m gonna take The Pecan out for a long walk and give The Patient Mrs. time to work. She’s had him since breakfast about two and a half hours ago, though we had an OT session in there that was an hour that we both sat in on. She’ll work until naptime (1:30PM sharp), then we’ll all reconvene at about 4 or 4:30PM when he wakes up. Weather’s good, so it should be a decent day. I’m sure that somewhere in there we’ll look at digger trucks again.

Tia Carrera review on Monday, bunch of premieres the rest of the week. This and that. Good fun. Please be safe and have a great weekend. Even if the bastards get you down, try not to let them keep you there.

FRM.

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The Shell Collector Jam Against Fascism with Raw, Improvised and Live from a Studio in Nalepastrasse

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 12th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

the shell collector

International economic devastation coinciding with a rise in right-wing nationalism sound familiar to anyone? If not, The Shell Collector might like to go ahead and remind you of the history repeating itself before your very eyes. The Berlin (presumably at least in part by way of Italy) trio released their cumbersomely-titled single-track EP, Raw, Improvised and Live from a Studio in Nalepastrasse, on April 29 to coincide with the anniversary of Italy’s liberation from fascism, and I’ll be damned if the accordingly 29-minute piece isn’t a refresher on how broad freedom can sound, running as it does between psychedelia, progressive metal, classic heavy and six or seven other styles of rock along the winding course it takes. Easy to dig where they’re coming from here in terms of message and groove alike. And let’s say you don’t even make it through the first 10 minutes of the thing. Isn’t the notion of “fuck fascism” worth clicking play once?

To that end, the following:

the shell collector live studio nalepastrasse

The Shell Collector – Raw, Improvised and Live from a Studio in Nalepastrasse

We, the Shell Collector, love a great written piece of music. Being in control of every detail. Extracting everything out of the situation, our voices, our instruments. But what about undermining that control? What is left? Just hit record and play.

This is a musical conversation among brothers. Bandmates. Friends.
A resistance piece that is unrehearsed, unedited and free of preconceptions.
We played through limits, common rules and restrictions of time.

Live from a studio in Nalepastrasse, Berlin.

We want to share this half an hour improvisation with you, in commemoration of the liberation of Italy from Fascism, which ended on 29 April 1945. A day when the common people were finally freed and impositions were uplifted, resulting in the hanging of several tyrannic figures as a symbol of political and spiritual freedom.

The Shell Collector is an alternative progressive rock trio, born in 2012 and now based in Berlin. A new EP is going to be released very soon. You can find TSC´s music in Bandcamp, Spotify, Soundcloud, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram.

The Shell Collector are:
Enrico Tiberi – guitar and vocals
Gianluca Gulino – bass
Kay Ketting – drums

https://www.facebook.com/theshellcollector/
https://theshellcollector.bandcamp.com/
https://soundcloud.com/theshellcollector/

The Shell Collector, Raw, Improvised and Live from a Studio in Nalepastrasse (2020)

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Interview: Nick DiSalvo of Elder on Omens, Songwriting and More

Posted in Features on May 8th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

elder

As Elder enter what would otherwise be a significant touring cycle following the release of their fifth album, Omens (review here), one can hear all around the band an increasing influential presence on other bands. The work they’ve been doing particularly over the last five years has begun to resonate with other acts now taking elements Elder helped bring to the fore and making them their own. One aspect of Elder‘s work that remains seemingly inimitable to this point, however, is the songwriting of founding guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, whose linear process brings together what are sometimes seemingly disparate parts — you can hear the stops in songs in places, as if the band were signaling, “Okay, now we go here” — and creating memorable movements out of what are purposefully not catchy choruses in the traditional sense.

In talking to DiSalvo about the new album, I wanted to get more of a sense of where his process comes from and how it has evolved over Elder‘s decade-plus together. The band’s tour plans may be scuffled for the time being due to forces out of their own control, but that does not seem to be hindering the fact that this band is shaping a form of progressive heavy rock in their own image.

Q&A follows here. Please enjoy:

Elder Interview with Nick DiSalvo

One of the most distinguishing facets of Elder is the method by which you write songs. How do songs begin for you? Is there an initial riff or melody that you build out from?

I’ve found recently that we can get more variety out of our songs by working piecemeal on many ideas simultaneously, and then seeing where they converge naturally or can be merged together. I do most of my songwriting at a computer these days, unromantic as it sounds, but I like to think of it as working with an infinite amount of blank canvases. When I’ve got an idea, I’ll plug in a guitar or keyboard and just record it immediately. Then I’ll build on it, fleshing it out with other layers. Sometimes that’ll immediately lead to a new part, or sometimes that’s where the inspiration stops, or sometimes I’ll realize that this is the missing element to a song already in progress. That also means that our songs aren’t being written one-by-one, but developing side by side, which might give the albums a unique flavor as a whole.

In terms of structure, Elder has a more linear style than traditional verses and choruses. How much of that is just what sounds right to you as opposed to a conscious decision?

It’s all pretty much just what sounds right. I like to pack a lot of ideas into our songs and rarely have the time for repeating parts. Instead, it’s more interesting to me to use motifs and recurring themes, changing or referencing them when they return. That’s not to say we couldn’t or wouldn’t use a verse or chorus in our songs if it felt right. I found it really amusing that when we released “Embers” off the new record, some people were complaining that we started using a ‘pop’ song format. Because a chorus appears 2 times in an 11-minute song? It’s apparently become our trademark to never repeat a part, for better or worse.

Are you ever tempted to write a traditional hook, just for the hell of it?

Traditional… maybe not? I don’t know if that would be my strength. A hook like they appear in pop songs wouldn’t work for our band because it just doesn’t fit into the rest of the structure. But I do think that Elder songs have some hooks in terms of catchy elements that, even if they don’t perform the traditional function of pulling a listener into the song at the beginning, they’ll tempt someone to go back and explore the song again, or anticipate that one part they love.

As Elder has grown more complex, you’ve fleshed out melodies and exploratory parts. How does jamming as a full band fit with your more plotted pieces? What specifically does this bring to Omens in your opinion?

We’re still actively trying to figure this out, especially now with a new drummer, and it’s insanely frustrating now with the COVID-19 situation that we have to further wait to get back in the saddle and keep refining ourselves. In general though I think the jamming thing adds a counterweight to all of the other planned parts in an Elder song. It’s the ballad to the rock anthem, in our own fashion. I don’t have a ton of patience for jam sessions and even here I find myself setting boundaries and structures, which maybe we’ll trim back even further in the future… who knows? As far as Omens goes, the jammed-out, floating parts are probably some of my favorite moments of the album. I believe they balance and round out the record as a whole.

Tell me about writing “Halcyon.” What are the song’s origins and what was your vision for it?

That track is a classic case of a song really turning out very differently than expected. “Halcyon” originally began at the now 5-minute mark where the song really kicks in after its extended intro. That was the first part written and intended beginning of the song. At the same time, I was working on another track in the vein of Gold & Silver Sessions that I thought we might interweave into the record as an intermezzo. Mike came up with this guitar lead I really liked, so I slowed it down and built it into that song. Eventually I had the idea to weave the two together and have the jam gradually morph to begin featuring chords from the actual song. When that was established, it was cool because we had a kind of backwards song structure from what we normally do, since these extended jams usually don’t begin our songs. It took legs from there and I was able to write the rest of the song over the next weeks.

“One Light Retreating” seems to touch on more directly emotional ground than Elder has reached before. What is it expressing, instrumentally and lyrically?

In the story told on Omens, the last song describes a kind of last glimpse into existence for humanity on a dying planet. If you were to zoom out, the idea is that you’d see the lights from our planet slowly going out, retreating into dark. The last light retreating is like the last candle of human activity going out. But the mood on the song isn’t sorrow because of that, it’s actually a kind of hope expressed. The lyrics also describe the vegetation growing up again, reaching for the sun and even overgrowing either the bodies or structures left behind by mankind. I think of it as the scene depicted in the cover artwork, where moss is overtaking a ruined statue of a god or important figure. The album’s themes are pretty heavy for me, but the last song is a way of reminding the listener that there’s always light after the dark, or something cheesy like that.

With the band spread out geographically, how has your writing process changed over the years?

It’s been complicated. I’ve bounced around a lot, but we’ve managed to make it work, especially with technology. When working on Lore, I was living and teaching English in Germany at the time. That was the first time I really wrote a solid chunk of a record by myself in isolation, but we still had a pretty collaborative period of revision on those songs when I returned. By the time we were working on Reflections, I had moved again back to Europe and the guys and I would only see each other for tours. That’s where we really perfected the current mode of working, where I’m writing the music and recording it in my home ‘studio’ and sending to the other guys to critique and learn before finally meeting up to live rehearse the material for the studio. We did that with both Reflections and with Omens and it’s been working so far. We just underwent another pretty significant shift though with Matt leaving the band and Georg stepping up, just around the same time Mike decided to stay in Germany too. That means again 3/4 of the band is local and we can actually practice and write collaboratively again.

In general, how do you know when a song is done? Particularly on Omens, with so much lush keys and melodies built out, when is a piece actually finished?

I really like working on my own recordings particularly for this reason – you can not only hone in on all the little elements of each part, but also zoom out and listen to the whole thing. If I feel a song is done, I’ll usually let it sit for a day and then come back with fresh ears and listen to the whole thing. Anything that doesn’t make sense will automatically stick out like a sore thumb. It’s basically this kind of process of revision then until we’re satisfied with it. This is obviously just subject to my taste, some people think we could trim parts etc etc. but I know when I think a song is solid and cohesive.

How do you see your songwriting growing in the future? Do you have an idea yet of where you want to go next or what you’ll take from the experience of making Omens?

Well… I hoped that we’d be on tour for the next half year supporting the record, which not only energizes and inspires us but also gives us time to jam on new ideas and sounds. That collaboration I was anticipating won’t be happening anytime soon. I’m working on new songs in the meantime from home, and I can sense a sound taking shape, but it’s too early to say. I thought for sure after Omens that we’d strip down our approach a bit – I found it kind of exhausting putting in all of these layers – but so far that hasn’t happened in anything new I’m working on. We’ll see in another year or so.

Elder, Omens (2020)

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Album Review: Elder, Omens

Posted in Reviews on April 27th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

elder omens

There has yet to be an Elder release that did not move forward from the one before it. They have never repeated themselves, and even if 2017’s Reflections of a Floating World (review here) seemed to be in direct conversation with its predecessor, the landmark 2015 outing, Lore (review here), it found ways to expand their sound by incorporating the work of then-new keyboardist/guitarist Mike Risberg, opening up to fluid sections of kraut-inspired improvisational jamming that came to fruition more on 2019’s instrumental The Gold & Silver Sessions EP (discussed here). The band’s fifth album, Omens — which is issued through Armageddon Shop in the US and Stickman Records in Europe and might as well be taking its title from what an entire league of other groups’ debuts will sound like four years from now — is no exception to the rule. It is, instead, a leap with eyes and both feet forward into new echelons of lush melody and progressive rock.

While their foundation may have been in the lumbering riffery of their 2008 self-titled (discussed here), a penchant for complexity began to take hold in 2011’s Dead Roots Stirring (review here) and 2012’s Spires Burn/Release (discussed here), but even that feels primitive in hindsight in comparison to what they bring to light across the five tracks and 55 minutes of OmensRisberg‘s work is central to that, and he’s joined on keys throughout by founding guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo — whose linear style of composition has remained an essential facet to Elder‘s approach even as so much else has changed — as well as guest spots on mellotron and Fender Rhodes by Fabio Cuomo, who makes an impression with the latter early in the near-11-minute rollout of the opening title-track. It is a shift in breadth of influence as much as one of sonic priorities, but Omens neither forgets where it came from nor gives up its sense of heft. Jack Donovan‘s bass arguably carries more responsibility than ever before for serving as the anchor of the rhythm section, since even as Elder have so clearly coalesced with Risberg as “the new guy,” they here introduce drummer Georg Edert (also of Germany’s Gaffa Ghandi) to the fold in place of Matt Couto.

As fluid as the results are throughout Omens, that is a major change. Couto‘s personality as a drummer is rare and distinct, and he’s not the kind of player one can simply replace. Much to their credit, Elder don’t try. Rather, Edert establishes quickly through “Omens” and “In Procession” his own style of play, feeding off the unfolding dramas of melody in the keys and DiSalvo‘s sweeping guitar progressions. A straightforward backbeat grounds the winding verse of “In Procession” even as Elder move into new textures and a more contoured sound than they’ve ever had before, some midsection crash satisfying those seeking a payoff along the way — indeed, the title-track’s opening riff likewise serves as something of an embrace of heavier impulses; give me a bit, we’ll get there — ahead of a keyboard solo and return of the vocals and finishing section, and Edert‘s play not only keeps up with these characteristically head-spinning, sometimes-maddening shifts from part to part, but enhances them. He emerges as a drummer of class and intention, able to bring a jazzy sensibility when called upon to do so or to rock out as need be. Though he’s inevitably the new “new guy,” this material is stronger for what he brings to it.

elder

That’s true as well in “Halcyon,” the designation of which as the centerpiece would not seem to be happenstance. The longest cut at 12:48, it summarizes much of the growth that’s to be heard throughout Omens, opening with a gloriously languid unfurling of electronic and natural rhythm and multi-layered melodic coasting. There is a subtle build happening, with tension mounting in the guitar that moves forward gradually, but there’s a stop in the drums before the full-volume surge happens at 4:24 (also, by coincidence, the release day), and Elder successfully bring together the various sides of their continually deepening sonic persona — the weighted tonality of their earliest work, the push into conscious craft, too heady to be psychedelic but too aerial to be called anything but otherworldly. It is time to start thinking of DiSalvo among composers like Opeth‘s Mikael Åkerfeldt, not just because of an affinity for prog, but in terms of the ability to take seemingly disparate styles and create something new and individual from them. Elder‘s sound, despite an increasing amount of bands working in their wake, is their own, and there is no compromise to be found across Omens.

“Halcyon” is a triumph of their method, its finishing balance of patience and push all the more emblematic of their well-earned maturity as a unit, and yet it hardly stops before the returning mellotron in “Embers” signals the next movement of the record is underway, with chunky start and stops and a heavier roll that gives ground about halfway through to an instrumental build that could almost be in answer to “Halcyon,” culminating in wah sweep and farewell spiraling noise. This, ahead of the wistful standalone guitar that begins closer “One Light Retreating” and is soon joined by the full crux of tonal presence, DiSalvo‘s voice in the initial lines bringing to mind an almost post-hardcore/emo mindset in the verse before that heavier part returns in a back and forth that finds the one building off the next. As Elder has progressed relentlessly, so too has DiSalvo as a singer and somewhat reluctant frontman, but the feeling conveyed in “One Light Retreating” is at a level that wouldn’t have been possible even five years ago. Unsurprisingly, “One Light Retreating” does not blow itself out at the finish, but indeed retreats, with a poised instrumental flow that once again underscores not just the emotionality on display — I haven’t had the benefit of a lyric sheet, so I’m just going by what I hear — but a genuine encapsulation of the melodic and rhythmic grace they’ve been displaying all along.

Elder are a refinement process. They are driven by this need to move forward, and each of their albums becomes a summary of what they’ve learned since the last. Omens, whatever its title might directly be referencing, inevitably looks ahead. An omen does not occur in the past — lore does. Omens is Elder signaling the beginning of their next stage as a band, as all their work has been, and as ever, it finds them not thinking about where they’ve been, but where they might still go creatively, and these songs are made to be lived with. They will reveal their nuances to listeners not over a period of weeks or months, but years. This is part of what makes Elder such a special, singular band, and part of what has led their work to resonate on as great a scale as it has. Whatever they might do next, don’t expect it to sound just like this, but if Omens is itself a portent of things to come, heavy music will be all the more fortunate to have Elder as statesmen.

Elder, Omens (2020)

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Days of Rona: Behrang Alavi, Andreas Voland & Stephan Voland of Samavayo

Posted in Features on April 16th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

The statistics of COVID-19 change with every news cycle, and with growing numbers, stay-at-home isolation and a near-universal disruption to society on a global scale, it is ever more important to consider the human aspect of this coronavirus. Amid the sad surrealism of living through social distancing, quarantines and bans on gatherings of groups of any size, creative professionals — artists, musicians, promoters, club owners, techs, producers, and more — are seeing an effect like nothing witnessed in the last century, and as humanity as a whole deals with this calamity, some perspective on who, what, where, when and how we’re all getting through is a needed reminder of why we’re doing so in the first place.

Thus, Days of Rona, in some attempt to help document the state of things as they are now, both so help can be asked for and given where needed, and so that when this is over it can be remembered.

Thanks to all who participate. To read all the Days of Rona coverage, click here. — JJ Koczan

samavayo

Days of Rona: Behrang Alavi, Andreas Voland & Stephan Voland of Samavayo (Berlin, Germany)

How are you dealing with this crisis as a band? Have you had to rework plans at all? How is everyone’s health so far?

Luckily everyone is healthy in our band and crew. Basically, we are continuing to write songs for our new album, which is planned to be released in 2021.

We had to cancel some shows in May, which is sad, but we were lucky again, that we had no tour planned in early 2020. We are still working on plans for autumn 2020, but no one knows what will happen in the next months.

What are the quarantine/isolation rules where you are?

In Germany we have to stay home but can go out for a walk or for running some errands. We are allowed to meet family members (living in the same household) or to meet up with one person (not living in the same household). We are also allowed to go out to work… that means for us we can meet for rehearsals.

How have you seen the virus affecting the community around you and in music?

People are acting very differently. Basically everybody accepts the situation and the rules. Some people are drifting into conspiracies, which is very annoying, because they spread this shit in social medias, etc. We have a lot of contacts with friends and we keep us informed and encourage each other.

Some bands are starting to play online concerts. And well it is fun. I don’t know if that would be something for Samavayo, maybe later in May, as a substitute for the canceled shows.

Of course we have a lot of friends working in the music business and they are heavily affected at the moment. They are struggling really hard to make ends meet. We hope they will overcome this period: bookers, promoters, drivers, tour managers, club owners, festival managers, etc.

What is the one thing you want people to know about your situation, either as a band, or personally, or anything?

We hope people are seeing the whole situation as a chance. That people are finding back to the important things in life. The system of constant growing, the philosophy of capitalism and growing markets are not everything that counts. More important is a good working friendship, family, social life in general, to help and encourage each other and to value a good working government and social system.

Our thoughts are with our friends around the globe fighting to survive in places being in a much more difficult situation than Germany like USA, Italy, Iran, Spain and many more. We hope to meet each other soon on one of those festivals!

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Days of Rona: “Comet Lulu” Neudeck of Electric Moon & Worst Bassist Records

Posted in Features on April 6th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

The statistics of COVID-19 change with every news cycle, and with growing numbers, stay-at-home isolation and a near-universal disruption to society on a global scale, it is ever more important to consider the human aspect of this coronavirus. Amid the sad surrealism of living through social distancing, quarantines and bans on gatherings of groups of any size, creative professionals — artists, musicians, promoters, club owners, techs, producers, and more — are seeing an effect like nothing witnessed in the last century, and as humanity as a whole deals with this calamity, some perspective on who, what, where, when and how we’re all getting through is a needed reminder of why we’re doing so in the first place.

Thus, Days of Rona, in some attempt to help document the state of things as they are now, both so help can be asked for and given where needed, and so that when this is over it can be remembered.

Thanks to all who participate. To read all the Days of Rona coverage, click here. — JJ Koczan

electric moon lulu neudeck

Days of Rona: Lulu Neudeck of Electric Moon & Worst Bassist Records (Germany)

How are you dealing with this crisis as a band? Have you had to rework plans at all? How is everyone’s health so far?

At the moment, we are separated from each other, as our drummer is living in Vienna, Austria. We really miss each other and also are sad about the so far canceled shows.

Dave [“Sula Bassana” Schmidt] and me are also at the edge at the moment, cause this situation really affects our labels Sulatron Records and Worst Bassist Records. Means, distribution does not sell so much anymore due to closed record stores, it’s not possible to ship records worldwide at the moment ’cause of the shutdown of flights and restrictions, and of course playing no shows also affects, so there is not much income at the moment, which brings us struggles quickly.

Health is okay, no one infected with covid-19 (yet). The only thing is my cronical disease which puts me on the risk-list in getting critical with covid-19. So, fingers crossed, won’t get that shit.

So we’re doing music everyone on his own at the moment. Which brings also many new ideas. But we all can’t wait to meet again, playing together. We also have plans for a fourth bandmember and can’t wait to rehearse with him, so Corona really crossed some plans…

But, most important thing is we all stay healthy!

At the moment, the days are somehow running quick and slow at the same time.

What are the quarantine/isolation rules where you are?

At the moment, we have the restrictions to meet up with people, only family members are allowed. Also, it is allowed to walk outdoors but you may not rest anywhere. Building groups is forbidden, not more than two people are allowed walking together.

You have to keep a distance of two meters of each other, also in supermarkets, and they only let a certain amount of people in to make sure it’s possible to keep that distance.

Shops which are not really necessary for the system to go on, are all closed down, like record shops, book shops, tattoo and so on, only supermarkets, pharmacies and banks are opened. Now they are talking about the obligation of wearing masks in public, people get the advice to make their own ones and not buying medical supplies as there is a lack of it.

How have you seen the virus affecting the community around you and in music?

It is weird, outside, somehow all looks normal but everything is different than before. Streets are empty. People are stressed in supermarkets, or are totally making fun of the situation, but go for tons of toilet paper. It’s a surreal feeling, I try to go into a supermarket as rarely as possible.

But nature seems to feel happy right now, the air smells better, it feels surreal to be outdoors, surreal beautiful, birds sing louder than usually –- this maybe seems as if because of the silence in the streets. Like a silence before a storm…

In music I feel a big shift within the connection between each other. I’m totally impressed of the support by all the people to the bands and small labels. It feels huge in my heart to get such a response.

What is the one thing you want people to know about your situation, either as a band, or personally, or anything?

We’re in this together, take care of those who might need your help! And: Don’t lose the humour…

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Days of Rona: Christian Peters of Samsara Blues Experiment

Posted in Features on April 3rd, 2020 by JJ Koczan

The statistics of COVID-19 change with every news cycle, and with growing numbers, stay-at-home isolation and a near-universal disruption to society on a global scale, it is ever more important to consider the human aspect of this coronavirus. Amid the sad surrealism of living through social distancing, quarantines and bans on gatherings of groups of any size, creative professionals — artists, musicians, promoters, club owners, techs, producers, and more — are seeing an effect like nothing witnessed in the last century, and as humanity as a whole deals with this calamity, some perspective on who, what, where, when and how we’re all getting through is a needed reminder of why we’re doing so in the first place.

Thus, Days of Rona, in some attempt to help document the state of things as they are now, both so help can be asked for and given where needed, and so that when this is over it can be remembered.

Thanks to all who participate. — JJ Koczan

christian peters samsara blues experiment (Photo by Srta Castro)

Days of Rona: Christian Peters of Samsara Blues Experiment (Berlin, Germany)

How are you dealing with this crisis as a band? Have you had to rework plans at all? How is everyone’s health so far?

Well of course everyone has his own way of dealing with this individually. It’s a very unique and weird situation in recent history and there’s a lot one may worry about these days, especially when you’re with kids and may get into job troubles and such. Of course, like most other bands we have to work in other jobs besides, more or less… So as a band we have agreed on not rehearsing anymore, already before it became a rule to not meet more than one person at once here in Germany.

It appears we seem to be more cautious than others there… but it seemed wise to step back a while, and also get informed. Which is still the main problem, I don’t know if everybody really is informed enough. There’s seems to be a lot of panicking… But back to the band, we are in preparation of the fifth album, have studio time booked, tours planned, etc., and all is very uncertain now.

Even tours scheduled for this coming Summer may be affected, because no one can tell anything right now, which is a very unpleasant situation, speaking in plain terms… But the health thing in general, let’s put it like this; just I for myself probably have been in much worse situations throughout the last two years… all this is mostly about protecting elder folks, I get that…

What are the quarantine/isolation rules where you are?

Well like I mentioned before, it’s not allowed to meet more than one other person when you’re outside. Some people still don’t get it, while others exaggerate in other forms which leads to quite a few bizarre situations in daily life. Since I am kind of a loner naturally for me all that’s not such a big deal, but I see that some people may have a complete new experience there.

Also, most of the stores are closed, which again seems a bit “funny” because just as one example there’s a lot of small groceries or convenience stores here where you hardly see more than two or three customers at once even on a regular day and all these small stores have had to close (and face serious financial trouble) while a lot of anxious peeps crowd that one supermarket in your neighborhood in quest of the holy toilet paper roll (exaggerated, but really… what’s the thing about that?).

Ahm, what can I say, it’s just a bit strange outside… you’re allowed to take walks, alone or with very close family members, and then you see all these “ninjas.” Dude… it’s weird.

How have you seen the virus affecting the community around you and in music?

Of course, it’s inevitable right? Not many people know that besides being a musician, having my own label and working for other labels, occasionally I also work in other parts of the music biz (yeah, the media) where you saw bands cancelling tours very early on, when it still seemed just a bit hyper-cautious,… and then this turned into a kind of snowball… To this day, I still haven’t seen or heard of anyone’s health being that roughly affected by the virus itself, but many are facing severe financial damage!

And that is a bit crazy to me. Well yes, you need to have a back-up, always. That may be something a lot of people may learn from this, and it’s probably easy to say for myself because I’m kinda modest and never had a lot of money to spend nor saw the bigger use in hoarding stuff etc, but… you know, also a lot of the live venues in Berlin seem to face bankruptcy (!!), after only a few weeks of being shut down (!!), and that’s sheer madness somehow…

I don’t know man, I really don’t know what to think. The whole world is freaking out because of this virus… btw, I saw a nice video of that Sadhguru-dude playing a new version of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sound Of Silence,” maybe you can add that below, just so that some people may have a laugh…

What is the one thing you want people to know about your situation, either as a band, or personally, or anything?

First of all, relax. Personally I’m hoping for a few good side effects that may, or may not, evolve from this. Our commonly known types of capitalism have to end sooner or later (yeah peace out bruh eh).

Maybe some peoples are becoming more conscious, more self-centered and balanced, yet prepared for things like that… coming out of the blue and throwing everybody’s lives upside-down. Personally I have just overcome a whole bunch of “situations” and crises that all seemed worse than all that still. So maybe that’s why I can sit here and still be relaxed.

Well, I don’t know if I really am in any position to give advice but… relax, and also try go inside yourselves (it’s really a good time for introspection, I think) and think about what is life, what is important, how important is love, self-love and self-affirmation in the first place, and how small is a fuckin’ virus and how small-minded are those people hoarding toilet paper… laugh a lot, that’s also a good medicine.

Well, I hope you have someone who makes you laugh, but then there’s a lot of good old movies to watch too… ah, I don’t know.

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