Quarterly Review: Bongripper, Destroyer of Light, Castle Rat, Temple of the Fuzz Witch, State of Non Return, Thief, Ravens, Spacedrifter, Collyn McCoy, Misleading

Posted in Reviews on May 22nd, 2024 by JJ Koczan


I wouldn’t say we’re in the home stretch yet, but this 100-release Quarterly Review is more than three-quarters done after today, so I guess it’s debatable. In any case, we proceed. I hope you’ve enjoyed what’s been on offer so far. Yesterday was a little manic, but I got there. Today, tomorrow, I expect much the same. The order of things, as that one Jem’Hadar liked to say.

Quarterly Review #71-80:

Bongripper, Empty


Eight albums and the emergence of a microgenre cast partly in their image later, it would take a lot for Chicago ultra-crush instrumentalists Bongripper to surprise their listenership, at least as regards their basic approach. If you think that’s a bad thing, fine, but I’d put the 66 minutes of Empty forward to argue otherwise. Six years after 2018’s two-song LP Terminal (review here) — with a live record and single between — the four new songs of Empty dare to sneakily convey a hopeful message in the concave tracklisting: “Nothing” (20:40), “Remains’ (12:04), “Forever” (12:43), “Empty” (21:24). That message might be what’s expressed in the echoing post-metallic lead guitar on the finale and the organ on the prior “Forever,” or, frankly, it might not. Because in the great, lumbering, riffy morass that is their sound, there’s room for multiple interpretations as well as largesse enough to accommodate the odd skyscraper, so take it as you will. Just because you might go into it with some idea of what’s coming doesn’t mean you won’t get flattened.

Bongripper on Facebook

Bongripper BigCartel store

Destroyer of Light, Degradation Years

destroyer of light degradation years

My general policy as regards “last” records is to never say never until everybody’s holograms have been deleted, but the seven songs and 39 minutes of Degradation Years represent an ending for Destroyer of Light just the same, and the Austin-based troupe end as they began, which is by not being the band people expected them to be. Their previous long-player, 2022’s Panic (review here), dug into atmospheric doom in engrossing fashion, and Degradation Years presents not-at-all-their-first pivot, with post-punk atmospherics and ’90s-alt melodies on “Waiting for the End” and heavy drift on “Perception of Time.” “Failure” is duly sad, where the shorter, riffier “Blind Faith” shreds and careens heading into its verse, and the nine-minute “Where I Cannot Follow” gives Pallbearer‘s emotive crux a look on the way to its airy tremolo finish. Guitarist/vocalist Steve Colca has a couple other nascent projects going, guitarist Keegan Kjeldsen and drummer Kelly Turner are in Slumbering Sun, and Mike Swarbrick who plays bass here is in Cortége, but Destroyer of Light always stood on their own, and they never stopped growing across their 12-year run. Job well done.

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Castle Rat, Into the Realm

castle rat into the realm

If you take away the on-stage theatricality, the medieval/horror fetish play, and all the hype, what you’re left with on Castle Rat‘s first album, Into the Realm is a solid collection of raw, classic-styled doom rock able to account for the Doors-y guitar in the quiet strum of the gets-heavy-later “Cry for Me” as well as the shrieks of “Fresh Fur” and opener “Dagger Dragger,” the nod and chug of “Nightblood” and the proto-metal of “Feed the Dream” via three interludes spaced out across its brief 32-minute stretch. Of course, taking away the drama, the sex, and aesthetic cultistry is missing part of the point of the band in the first place, but what I’m saying is that Into the Realm has more going for it than the fact that the band are young and good looking, willing to writhe, and thus marketable. They could haunt Brooklyn basements for the next 15-20 years or go tour with Ghost tomorrow, I honestly have no clue about their ambitions or goals in that regard, but their songs present a strong stylistic vision in accord with their overarching persona, resonating with a fresh generational take and potential progression. That’s enough on its own to make Into the Realm one of the year’s most notable debuts.

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King Volume Records store

Temple of the Fuzz Witch, Apotheosis

Temple of the Fuzz Witch Apotheosis

With their third full-length and first for Ripple Music, Detroit trio Temple of the Fuzz Witch — guitarist/vocalist Noah Bruner (also synth), bassist Joe Peet and drummer Taylor Christian — follow their 2020 offering, Red Tide (review here), with a somewhat revamped imagining of who they are. Apotheosis — as high as you can get — introduces layers of harsh vocals and charred vibes amid the consuming lumber of its tonality, still cultish in atmosphere but heavier in its ritualizing and darker. The screams work, and songs like “Nephilim” benefit from Bruner‘s ability to shift from clean to harsh vocals there and across the nine-songer’s 39 minutes, and while there’s plenty of slog, a faster song like “Bow Down” stands out all the more from the grim, somehow-purple mist in which even the spacious midsection of “Raze” seems to reside. The bottom line is if you think you knew who they were or you judged them as a bong-metal tossoff because of their silly name, you’re already missing out. If you’re cool with that, fair enough. It’s not my job to sell you records anyway.

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Ripple Music website

State of Non Return, White Ink

State of Non Return White Ink

Among the final releases for Trepanation Recordings, White Ink is the years-in-the-making first LP from Bologna, Italy’s State of Non Return — and if you’re hearing a dogwhistle in their moniker for meditative fare because that’s also the name of an Om song, you’re neither entirely correct or incorrect. From the succession of the three circa-nine-minutes-each cuts “Catharsis,” “Vertigo” and “White Ink,” the trio harness a thoughtful take on brooding desert nod, with “Vertigo” boasting some more aggro-tinged shouts ahead of the chug in its middle building on the spoken word of the opener, and the intro to the title-track building into a roll of tempered distortion that offers due payoff in its sharp-edged leads and hypnotic repetitions, to the 15-minute finale “Pendulum” that offers due back and forth between minimal spaces and full-on voluminosity before taking off on an extended linear build to end, the focus is more on atmosphere than spiritual contemplation, and State of Non Return find individualism in moody contemplation and the tension-release of their heaviest moments. Some bands grow into their own sound over time. State of Non Return, who got together in 2016, seem to have spent at least some of that span of years since doing the legwork ahead of this release.

State of Non Return on Facebook

Trepanation Recordings on Bandcamp

Thief, Bleed, Memory

thief bleed memory

Writing and recording as a solo artist under the banner of Thief — there’s a band for stage purposes — Los Angeles-based multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Dylan Neal (also Botanist) pulls back from the ’90s-attitudinal industrial and nü-metal flirtations of 2021’s The 16 Deaths of My Master (review here) and reroutes the purpose toward more emotive atmospheric ends. Sure, “Dead Coyote Dreams” still sneaks out of its house to smoke cigarettes at night, and that’s cool forever and you know it, but with an urgent beat behind it, “Cinderland” opens to a wash that is encompassing in ways Thief had little interest in being three years ago, despite working with largely similar elements blending electronica, synth, and organic instrumentation. The narrative — blessings and peace upon it — holds that Neal‘s father’s onset of dementia inspired the turn, and that’s certainly reason enough if you need a reason, but if there’s processing taking place over the 12 inclusions and 44 minutes that Bleed, Memory spans, along with its allusions to James Joyce, Vladimir Nabokov, etc., that does not at all make the work feel anymore lost than it’s intended to be in the post-techno of “Paramnesia” or the wub-and-shimmer of “To Whom it May Concern” that rounds out. I’ll allow that being of a certain age might make it more relatable.

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Prophecy Productions website

Ravens, Ravens

ravens ravens

New Jersey’s Ravens mark their first public offering with this seven-song self-titled debut, spacious in its vocal echo and ostensibly led by riffs though that doesn’t necessarily mean the guitar is foremost in the mix throughout. The guitar/drum duo of Zack Kurland (Green Dragon, ex-Sweet Diesel, etc.) and drummer Chris Daly (Texas is the ReasonResurrection, etc.) emerges out of the trio Altered States with grounded rhythmic purpose beneath the atmospheric tones and vocal melodies, touching on pop in “Get On, Get On” while “New Speedway Boogie” struts with thicker tone and a less shoegazing intent than the likes of “To Whom You Were Born,” the languid “Miscommunication” and “Revolution 0,” though that two-minute piece ends with a Misfits-y vocal, so nothing is so black and white stylistically — a notion underscored as closer “Amen” builds from its All Them Witches-swaying meanderings to a full, driving wah-scorched wash to end off. Where they might be headed next, I have no idea, but if you can get on board with this one, the songs refuse to be sublimated to fit genre, and there are fewer more encouraging starts than that.

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Ravens on Bandcamp

Spacedrifter, When the Colors Fade

Spacedrifter When the Colors Fade

Each of the 10 songs on Spacedrifter‘s first full-length, When the Colors Fade, works from its own intention, whether it’s the frenetic MondoGenerator thrust of “(Radio Edit)” or the touch of boogie in opener “Dwell,” but grunge and desert rock are at the root of much the proceedings, as the earliest-QOTSA fuzz of “Buried in Stone” will attest. But the scope of the whole is richer in hearing than on paper, and shifts like the layered vocal melodies in “Have a Girl” or the loose bluesy swing of the penultimate “NFOB,” the band’s willingness to let a part breathe without dwelling too long on any single idea, results in a balance that speaks to the open sensibilities of turn-of-the-century era European heavy without being a retread of those bands either. Comprised of bassist/vocalist/producer Olle Söderberg, drummer/vocalist Isac Löfgren guitarist/vocalist Adam Hante and guitarist John Söderberg, Spacedrifter‘s songwriting feels and organic in its scope and how it communes with the time before the “rules” of various microgenres were set, and is low-key refreshing not like an album you’re gonna hear a ton of hyperbole about, but one that’s going to stay with you longer than its 39 minutes, especially after you let it sink in over a couple listens. So yeah, I’m saying don’t be surprised when it’s on my year-end debuts list, blah blah whatever, but also watch out for how their sound develops from here.

Spacedrifter on Facebook

Spacedrifter on Bandcamp

Collyn McCoy, Night of the Bastard Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Collyn McCoy Night of the Bastard Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Assembled across varied movements of synthesizer ranging from half-a-minute to a bit under four minutes long, the score for the indie horror film Night of the Bastard finds L.A.’s Collyn McCoy (also of Circle of Sighs, bassist for Unida, etc.) performing under his experimental-and-then-some electronic alias Nyte Vypr, and if that doesn’t telegraph weirdness to come, well, you can just take my word for it that it should. I can’t claim to have seen the movie, which is reportedly available hither and yon in the clusterfuck that is the modern streamscape, but ’80s horror plays a big role in pieces like “Shards and Splinters” and the opening “Night of the Bastard” itself, while “If We Only Had Car Keys” and “Get Out” feel even more specifically John Carpenter in their beat and keyboard handclaps. Closer “The Sorceress” is pointedly terrifying, but “Turtle Feed” follows a drone and piano line to more peaceful ends that come across as far, far away from the foreboding soundscape of “Go Fuck Yourself.” Remember that part where I said it was going to get weird? It does, and it’s clearly supposed to, so mark it another win for McCoy‘s divergent CV.

Collyn McCoy website

Collyn McCoy on Bandcamp

Misleading, Face the Psych

Misleading Face the Psych

I hate to be that guy, but while Face the Psych is the third long-player from Portugal’s Misleading, it’s my first time hearing them, so I can’t help but feel like it’s worth noting that, in fact, they’re not that misleading at all. They tell you to face the psych and then, across seven cosmos-burning tracks and 54 minutes in an alternate dimension, you face it. Spoiler: it’s fucking rad. While largely avoiding the trap of oh-so-happening-right-now space metal, Misleading are perfectly willing to let themselves be carried where the flow of “Tutte le Nove Vite” takes them — church organ righteousness, bassy shuffle, jams that run in gravitational circles, and so on — and to shove and be shoved by the insistence of “Cheating Death” a short while later. The centerpiece “Spazio Nascoto” thickens up stonerized swing after a long intro of synth drone, and 12-minute capper “Egregore” feels like the entire song, not just the guitar and bass, has been put through the wah pedal. As likely to make you punchdrunk as entranced, willfully unhinged, and raw despite filling all the reaches of its mix and then some, it’s not so much misleading as leading-astray as you suddenly realize an hour later you’ve quit your job and dropped out of life, ne’er to be seen, heard from or hounded by debt collectors again. Congrats on that, by the way.

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Winter Announce Live in Brooklyn, NY Out April 19

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 14th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

Just a quick heads up to anyone not immediately in the borough’s sphere of influence as I am even way out here in the suburbs of my beloved Garden State, the proper pronunciation should be “Brooklyn New York,” three words, no comma. You don’t have to do a fake accent or make it cutesy, but that comma — which is correctly placed in the writing of Winter‘s impending live album, Live in Brooklyn, NY — is silent.

Between that and the fact that there’s a live release at all coming — Svart has it out April 19, like the header says — that’d probably be enough to get stoked on, but Winter‘s Stephan Flam also worked with Svart on the release of his dark experimental/conceptual outfit Göden, who yes, inherited a lot of Winter‘s pioneering extremity of doom, and it’s casually revealed below that a second Göden LP will be out this May. Considering we’re already starting to see release announcements for then, I’d expect word down the PR wire in the next couple weeks, since this will be first a month earlier.

In any case, a live Winter release from 2012 is probably the best thing one could hope for from them — I don’t know that a studio album would, could or should ever happen, but stranger things have — and a new Göden is sure to be far too weird for 99.9 percent of humans and all the more righteous for that. I look forward to hearing both the way one looks forward to plastic surgery — self-mutilation working toward a perceived good. They do that shit in stripmalls now. I feel like that alone makes a Winter live record necessary.

From the PR wire:


Svart Records are proud to release the first official live album from cult death doom band Winter!

In August and September of 2012, Winter participated in the “Power of the Riff East/West” series of concerts held in California and New York. After first playing the West Coast shows with bands like Pelican and Noothgrush among others, Winter returned to their hometown New York on September 2nd and played a show in Brooklyn’s Warsaw with their best line-up; Stephen Flam/Guitar, John Alman/Bass and vocals, Jim Jackson/Drums and original keyboardist Tony Pinnisi who played with the band first time since recording “Into Darkness” LP in 1989.

The rare appearance of this performance in Brooklyn, featuring all their classic tunes like “Servants of the Warsmen”, “Power and Might”, “Destiny, Eternal Frost” etc. was recorded, and is now presented here for all their fans. This isn’t any cheap nostalgia driven reunion cash out, but a real and raw deal. RISE!

Winter “Live in Brooklyn NY” vinyl, CD and t-shirts out 19.4.2024.

Winter’s spiritual successor Göden will release a new album on Svart Records in May 2024. More info on that will follow soon, so keep your eyes and ears open!



Winter, “Eternal Frost” live at Power of the Riff East, Brooklyn, NY, 09.02.12

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Friday Full-Length: Type O Negative, Life is Killing Me

Posted in Bootleg Theater on January 19th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

You’ll forgive, I hope. I know it hasn’t been that long since I closed out a week with Type O Negative, but it’s over a year, they’re an all-time band for me and I’m trying to connect to something and pull myself closer toward out of what I’ll generously call a persistent malaise as regards totality. Life is Killing Me is a surprisingly rousing record.

And not just in its trilogy let’s-be-Ramones-now metal-punkers “I Don’t Wanna Be Me,” “I Like Goils,” and “Angry Inch” cast across its sprawling, CD-era 15-song/74-minute runtime. By the time Type O Negative released this sixth album in 2003 — it would be their last for Roadrunner; their final LP was 2007’s Dead Again, on SPV — I thought they were done. When it first came out in September of my senior year of high school, I thought 1999’s World Coming Down (discussed here) was a huge letdown after 1996’s landmark October Rust (discussed here), and I guess I thought that between drugs, the shifting trends in metal of the day, and their own widely reputed misery, they probably wouldn’t do anything else.

Life is Killing Me was released 21 years ago. I was in college. The promo CD from Roadrunner came to me at WSOU — it came to everyoneRoadrunner was tight with the famed NJ-based college radio station; it made us feel important — and had an audio watermark I can still hear in my head over some of the songs because I listened to it so god damned much. “Type O Negative, Life is Killing Me. The new album, in stores this June” in a plainspoken woman’s voice. This was an anti-piracy measure that also just happened to, for many, ruin a given listening experience. There wasn’t a ton that was going to keep me away from hearing this record though, including that.

This was inarguably the most Beatles they ever were in their crucial Beatlesabbath pioneering goth metal/doom approach. Songs like “Todd’s Ship Gods (Above All Things),” “Nettie,” “(We Were) Electrocute,” closer “The Dream is Dead” and even the ladies-of-classic-television rundown in “How Could She?,” delivered with signature humor in Peter Steele‘s lyrics has a sense of nostalgia or looking back that, 20.5 years after its initial release, I find is a nostalgia I share for the tracks themselves. So be it. The sitar-and-tabla-inclusive “Less Than Zero.” The ahead-of-its-time healthcare commentary and playfully gloomy atmosphere of the title-track. Those songs tightened Type O Negative‘s songwriting approach to a degree that October Rust and World Coming Down could only hint toward, and took the loss of Steele‘s parents — specifically the subjects of “Todd’s Ship Gods  (Above All Things)” and “Nettie” — and found comfort in unpretentious pop hooks (sometimes also laughably pretentious) and affectingly sincere lyrics.

Bolstered by an emergent dynamic in their sound that found guitarist Kenny Hickey contributing more on vocals alongside Steele on his way to sharing more of the songwriting credits on Dead Again and the always stellar organ/keys Type O Negative Life is Killing Meand backing vocals from Josh Silver — of course the band was completed by drummer Johnny Kelly, but had a thing for drum machines in the studio until the last album — the emotionality of Life is Killing Me comes through mature and sincere even in its winking irony and willful mischief. And though one doesn’t always think of them as a catchy band, “…A Dish Best Served Coldly,” “I Don’t Wanna Be Me,” “Anesthesia” — fucking “Anesthesia”; there it is; the declaration “I don’t need love” before two songs before they cap with “Another lonely Valentine’s Day” in “The Dream is Dead” — as well as “(We Were) Electrocute” and “IYDKMIGHTKY (Gimme That),” among others, take on pop with a rare boldness for anything heavy.

Like a lot of what they did during their years together, which effectively ended with Steele‘s death in 2010, Life is Killing Me has aged better in sound than politically. “I Like Goils” comes off as a kind of weak troll in hindsight, even if it’s Steele laughing about being hit on by dudes after appearing in Playgirl that time, and their take on “Angry Inch” from the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch is only loving if you hear it with those ears. They courted controversy in a way that, now, is the provenance of genuine assholes, which perhaps the surviving former members of the band — Hickey and Kelly play together in EYE AM and Silvertomb, and Kelly has drummed for Danzig, plays in Patriarchs in Black, Quiet Riot, and A Pale Horse Named Death with prior Type O drummer Sal Abruscato, who adds vocals on “I Like Goils” here — would say he or they all were. Fair enough.

But I’ll tell you this. After listening to Life is Killing Me for over two decades now since it came out, I just this morning heard the organ “I Don’t Wanna Be Me” in a new way on my headphones than I’ve ever heard before. Just sounded a little different, but it’s still something to appreciate and something unexpected from a release with which I think I’m familiar. But that’s how it goes sometimes with an album. You live with it and you hear things differently because you’re different. No way I hear “Todd’s Ship Gods (Above All Things)” and “Life is Killing Me” and “The Dream is Dead” with the same ears I had when I was in my 20s, but as with the best of things, Life is Killing Me doesn’t evaporate the span of years but grows into something richer with them. An evolving relationship to the music. And if you’re nostalgic about an album, doesn’t that mean you’re still getting something from it?

So, if you want to call it an indulgence on my part to dig into this one again, fine. It’s what I needed this week and in my deepest, most honest self, I see value in connecting to the emotion as well as the craft, hooks, and so on. This was a formative band for me, and this was the record they did that taught me not to count bands out until they were actually done. I am better for it. And better for having dug in, so thank you.

As always, I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.

Dog slept in kid’s room again last night. It worked this time, which I think might mean that happens forever now. Only matters if she pees on the floor, chews the American Girl doll, or whathaveyou. Until then, it’s crisis-anticipation, which is surely the healthiest way to parent.

Hey, it’s worked for me for the last six years, except not really.

This week featured a couple profoundly shitty, overwhelming days. It was MLK on Monday, so no school. Then it snowed and Tuesday had off and Wednesday had a delay and by Wednesday I was just about ready for a cinderblock to the face. Yesterday after school was therapy, which as I understand it has led to just about no discussion of feelings, which The Pecan at age six will sort of acknowledge having but has no real vocabulary for expressing beyond getting mad — my fault — and which is winding down its corporate-appointed 10-session run having perhaps nearly built a rapport. Today The Patient Mrs. is going to Wherever The Hell for a school board training and she won’t be back until Sunday, which makes the weekend full-on on-duty. Then next week is another week.

There’s no break coming. Ever. That month, year, decade you feel like you need where you’re catatonic and you just sort of sit there and stare straight ahead until you have your Buddha moment isn’t coming. It’s never going to happen. It’s going to be a grind until it’s nothing. No meditation, not even the daily yoga challenge, is going to change it. In fact, they’re just more shit you’re obligated to in the day. More more more. How on earth can that be a solution when the problem is everything is too fucking much?

And that’s basically where I’m at. Everything is too much. Everything. I am overwhelmed all the time. It’s not just about music or oh I get so much email because I’m somebody blah blah. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about simple fucking tasks that humans do that I crumple before. Getting gas. Going to the grocery store. God damn. The Patient Mrs. and I took like 25 minutes to go to the hardware store yesterday and it felt like the ceiling was going to collapse on me. Safe spaces are hard to come by. Not-anxious quiet is hard to come by. And as always, the problem is in me, is me. I’ve wasted the better part of the last 30 years shoveling chemicals into my body looking for some kind of ‘answer’ to myself and I still get more out of listening to fucking Type O Negative than I’ve ever had from an antidepressant, anti-anxiety med, whatever, psilocybin notwithstanding.

I’m gonna leave it there. That says what I want to say about music, about the way a record, a band, just a song, can make your life better or more livable, or whatever it is. It can fill a space in you maybe you didn’t know was there.

Have a great and safe weekend. Watch your head, hydrate, stay warm or cool depending on where you live, and don’t forget to breathe. Back Monday.


[So, about half an hour after I finished writing this, The Pecan took a spill off the side of the couch, not only landing on my computer, but overturning my full iced tea cup onto it as well. It is, of course, dead. While I try to recover data from it, I’ll be on Little Red, my tiny emergency backup Chromebook, but that’s something I wanted to mark as having happened because, well, it’ll probably be at least another week before the situation is resolved. Cheers.]

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Castle Rat to Release Into the Realm April 12

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 19th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

castle rat

I was fortunate enough to run into Castle Rat this past Fall in the smaller room at Desertfest New York 2023 (review here), and such has been the hype around the Brooklynite theatrical doom rockers whose debut album will be out April 12 that that actually felt late. Sex is a big part of the show, but so is medieval fantasy lore, so take that with the appropriate grain of salt, and if you’re ever gonna do this kind of thing, do it while you’re young and hot. I write about a lot of bands 40 and up. Not a lot of them walking around without shirts on. Though some.

But Into the Realm, which is seeing release through King Volume, is probably about to get all kinds of outside-genre crossover attention, and when it comes to that kind of thing, my general tendency is to stay away. But I’ve been turned off my hype before much to my detriment — I can cite examples from Uncle Acid through Spotlights and tons more; sometimes I get on board sometimes I don’t — so I want to give Into the Realm a shot and see where I land with it on a song level. Castle Rat‘s first two singles showed craft and perspective to match the band’s stage-minded focus and presentation.

From the PR wire:

castle rat into the realm

Castle Rat Announce Into the Realm LP

Highly-Anticipated Full-Length from Immersive Medieval Fantasy Doom Metal Visionaries Out April 12 via King Volume Records

Pre-Orders Available Now

PRE-ORDER: Castle Rat – Into the Realm LP: https://castleratband.bandcamp.com/album/into-the-realm-2

Castle Rat — the story-driven Medieval Fantasy Doom Metal band from Brooklyn known for its theatrical, action-packed live shows complete with full costumes, choreographed sword fighting, and fake blood — is releasing their highly anticipated album, Into the Realm, through King Volume Records on April 12th, 2024.

“It’s taken a couple years to see this record through, and it is so exciting and rewarding to finally be welcoming it into the world. A huge part of the time it’s taken to release it has been finding someone we could trust to see our vision and bring Into The Realm into the universe with the same amount of love and passion we poured into it — and King Volume is undoubtedly that label,” wrote vocalist Riley Pinkerton.

Into the Realm – TRACKLISTING:

01. Dagger Dragger
02. Feed The Dream
03. Resurrector
04. Red Sands
05. The Mirror
06. Cry For Me
07. Realm
08. Fresh Fur
09. Nightblood

Into the Realm arrives after a blistering year that marked a successful Southwestern US tour; a lauded appearance at Desertfest New York alongside underground luminaries like Brant Bjork, 1000mods, Monster Magnet, Colour Haze, and Melvins; and their first powerful, doom-laden single, “Feed the Dream,” on its way to more than 500,000 streams.

While the band pulls its visual inspiration from the over-the-top stylings of KISS and uses intricate costumes and theatrics to deliver spellbinding live shows, the band remains rooted in the Doom tradition of Black Sabbath, playing massive riffs and Tony Iommi-influenced licks under Pinkerton’s powerful vocals.

To that end, Castle Rat’s live shows have already grown legendary in the underground community. While performing, the band reenacts the lore behind The Rat Queen (performed by Riley Pinkerton on guitar/vocals): On her mission to expand and defend “The Realm” from those who seek to destroy it, The Rat Queen is joined by The Count (Franco Vittore – lead guitar), The Plague Doctor (Ronnie Lanzilotta III – bass), and The Druid (Josh Strmic – drums). Together they face the relentless wrath of their arch nemesis: Death Herself — The Rat Reaperess (actress Maddy Wright). The Realm of Castle Rat exists for those who crave swords and sorcery; stoner and doom; Frazetta & Sabbath; and battle-babes and beasts.

True to the band’s ethos, Into the Realm was recorded in an abandoned Philadelphia church the band temporarily converted into a studio. Among the flooded floors, decaying plaster, and ornate stained glass windows, the band stacked their Orange amps and tracked over two and half days, with engineering and production assistance from Davis Shubs and Thomas Johnsen.

“The energy within The Church is undeniable,” wrote Pinkerton. “While tracking vocals for ‘Cry For Me’ I was standing there alone in the center of the church, surrounded by stained glass windows as they faded to a pale grey-blue in the twilight. The veil between the spirit realm and the realm of the living became so thin it felt as if I were floating between them. I feel that particular vocal take was aided or influenced by something beyond my understanding…”

Surrounded by the church’s dreadful atmosphere and a certainty that the property was haunted, the band eventually decided to shoot the “Dagger Dragger” music video in the same location.

With their eye for visual storytelling and an ear for writing captivating doom metal, Castle Rat is a force even more powerful than the Rat Reapress. Dive into the lore on April 12th, 2024.

Pre-Orders for Into the Realm are available via Castle Rat’s Bandcamp NOW. This release will be supported by additional vinyl variants from Wise Blood Records and Kozmik Artifactz (Europe). The band will also be celebrating the record release with a show on April 19th at Brooklyn Made with support from Tower and Killer Kin.

Riley Pinkerton – Singer, Guitarist, Songwriter; Rat Queen
Franco Vittore – Lead Guitarist; Count
Ronnie Lanzilotta III – Bassist; Plague Doctor
Josh Strmic – Drummer; The All-Seeing Druid
Maddy Wright; The Rat Reapress (Live shows)

Recording, Mix, and Engineering: Davis M. Shubs and Thomas Johnsen
Cover Art: Photo by Ronnie Lanzilotta,
Layout and Editing by Olivia Cummings
Logo by Riley Pinkerton



Castle Rat, “Dagger Dragger” official video

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Trace Amount to Release Simulation Fetish EP March 22; New Single Posted

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 17th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

Periodically caustic industrial metallurgist Brandon Gallagher, otherwise known as Trace Amount, has been set in an upward trajectory since before the project’s 2022 full-length debut, Anti Body Language (review here), and with a new single heralding a new EP and tours both behind and ahead, it seems like Trace Amount will look to build on that success. The EP in question is called Simulation Fetish and it was mixed by Rhys Fulber (Front Line AssemblyFear Factory, etc.), and “Living Accessory,” the hey-what-did-you-do-with-my-phone-oh-you’re-making-a-statement-with-art cover of which might fill you in as regards theme in a way that’s correspondingly subtle to the beats of the track itself punching you in the stomach.

It’s a slow sway, with sharp jabs and harsh vocal changes, a groove that’s dug-in in its own way, not self-hypnotized, but programmed such that the slog and nod are part of it. Nod on, sloggers. Slog on, nodders. We live in an age where ‘heavy’ means many things. Be thankful and open of mind.

The following comes from Trace Amount‘s Bandcamp:


Living Accessory is the latest offering of new music since Anti Body Language, the debut full-length album released in April 2022 via Federal Prisoner, a label founded by Greg Puciato (The Dillinger Escape Plan, The Black Queen) and visual artist Jesse Draxler. Since the release of Anti Body Language, Trace Amount has been on a heavy touring grind, bringing his blend of metal influenced harsh industrial far and wide performing over 80 shows in 18 different countries, and most of the US in 2022 and 2023. This included runs with White Ring, King Yosef, Lana Del Rabies, 3 weeks in eastern and northern Europe with The Soft Moon, and a full North American run with Greg Puciato, Escuela Grind, and Deaf Club. There have also been select NYC support shows during this cycle with Author & Punisher, Uniform, Body Void, Thou, Dreamcrusher, Thoughtcrimes, L.O.T.I.O.N. and others.

‘Simulation Fetish’ EP was mixed by Rhys Fulber of Front Line Assembly, whose mixing work goes beyond his own projects and includes credits with Youth Code, Kanga, Noise Unit, and more. Trace Amount will be releasing the tracks intermittently throughout another leg of international touring, featuring dates in Australia with Greg Puciato, Japan with King Yosef, and the United Kingdom again with Greg Puciato in January through March. The first track “Living Accessory” will hit all streaming platforms on Wednesday, January 10th.

Thematically, these could be considered some of Trace Amount’s most irritated and hostile tracks to date. The first single “Living Accessory” is yet another beef track about the trials and tribulations of being a freelance creative, working without a financial safety net, and battling soul draining corporate companies. In early 2023, months before heading out for 3 weeks in Europe and quickly turning around for 5 weeks of touring in the USA, Trace Amount wrongfully had his instagram and facebook deleted by the gods above for promoting a song that had the word k*ll in it.

“Artists are so shackled to social media because it’s really the only platform you have these days, and that’s what “m3t4pr1s0n3r” is all about. So much time and effort put into creating and building a platform just vanished like that. The algorithm bots can’t tell the difference between art and hate and I paid the price.” Gallagher adds. “Simulation Fetish”, the title track, is an analogy for how badly everyone wants everything to go right for themselves, and that’s just not how life works. Gallagher sarcastically adds, “Sometimes I’ll throw a dollar or two on a well crafted thought out, NBA parlay to win hundreds, and just think damn if Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Nikola Jokic hit triple doubles tonight I’m buying a new drum machine. It’s pretty fucked up when you think about the root of this behavior. But hey, whatever you need to escape your reality.”

The ‘Simulation Fetish’ EP will be released in its entirety before a yet-to-be-announced April USA tour on Friday, March 22nd.

Mixed by Rhys Fulber
Mastered by Kris Lapke
Artwork by Trace Amount


Trace Amount, “Living Accessory”

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The Golden Grass Welcome New Bassist; Announce East Coast Touring

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 20th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

The Golden Grass

Today, Brooklynite sunshine heavy rock trio The Golden Grass announce the addition of Don Berger on bass. Berger comes to the group — or ‘groop’ if you prefer — after playing in Rattlesnake with The Golden Grass‘ founding drummer/vocalist Adam Kriney (also La Otracina, etc.) and will take the place of Frank Caira, who had joined in 2015.

Caira‘s time in the band led him to appear on their two latest full-lengths, 2018’s Absolutely (review here) and earlier-2023’s Life is Much Stranger (review here), which saw the band return a bit to simplified traditionalist ’70s structures after a more progressive turn on the third record. It’s early to think about them hitting the studio again, obviously, but they’ve got two long weekenders lined up for this Fall — including the Heavy Psych Sounds Fest in NYC and Baltimore — and those should help the new dynamic get settled.

I’m not sure if Berger is adding vocals to those of Kriney and guitarist Michael Rafalowich — harmony being an important part of what they do — but we’ll find out sooner or later. Maybe even at a show. The band sent the following down the PR wire:

The Golden Grass tour

THE GOLDEN GRASS is thrilled to announce new bassist, the fabulous Don Berger, who had previously collaborated with drummer Adam Kriney in the heavier Southern-rock vibed group RATTLESNAKE.

Don joins the band on the heels of the band’s uber successful April 2023 European Tour and the recent release of their 4th studio album “Life Is Much Stranger”, issued on the Heavy Psych Sounds Label.

And in true Golden Grass fashion, the boys wasted NO time getting Mr Berger into the fold, and are happy to now reveal the details of their upcoming November 2023 USA Tour! The Boogie Rolls ON!

Wed Nov 1 – Allentown PA Soft Machine Gallery w/ THE BIG SHABOOZIE
Thur Nov 2 – Pittsburgh PA Brillobox w/ SWEAT, OUTSIDE INSIDE
Fri Nov 3 – Asheville NC Fleetwood’s w/ ROCKY MOUNTAIN ROLLER, ROUGAROU
Wed Nov 8 – Troy NY No Fun w/ FLAVOUR
Thur Nov 9 – Kingston NY Tubby’s w/ SUN VOYAGER
Fri Nov 10 – Brooklyn NY Saint Vitus Bar – Heavy Psych Sounds Fest NYC
Sat Nov 11 – Baltimore MD Metro Gallery – Heavy Psych Sounds Fest Baltimore

Adam Kriney – drums/lead vocals
Michael Rafalowich – electric guitar/lead vocals
Don Berger – electric bass guitar



The Golden Grass, Life is Much Stranger (2023)

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Notes From Desertfest New York Night Two, 09.16.23

Posted in Features, Reviews on September 17th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

Ecstatic Vision (Photo by JJ Koczan)

09.16.23 – Saturday – Knockdown Center – Before show

First thing, got kicked out of the parking lot. “Who are you with?” Alone in the car, clearly I’m by myself. Whatever. That’s New York. “You can’t be here.” Is it okay if I exist anywhere else?

Yesterday was great, front to back. Knockdown Center has apparently gotten a new sound system since last year and I’ll confirm with my ringing ears that it is fully functional. But even aside from that, saw cool people I don’t often get to see, met some I’d never met, dared to enjoy myself amid the back and forth.

Got to bed at about 2AM, was up a bit after seven. Charged the camera batteries, phone, etc. Traffic was light on the way in, which felt like a gift, and I did find parking on the street nearby, so yeah.

What does the day hold? An intimidating amount of music. Today opens the third stage — called ‘The Ruins’ though actually it looks pretty nice — outside in back where the food trucks were last year. Brant Bjork Trio out there will be cool, as well as Clouds Taste Satanic and Mick’s Jaguar early. And both inside stages are packed, so it’s right back to it. It is my sincere hope that adrenaline will carry me through. Guess we’ll find out.

Conan loading in. Clouds Taste Satanic checking on the outside stage, where by the grace of Geezer Butler’s bass tone on Master of Reality there is a photo pit. Thank you Desertfest for that specifically. Maybe I’ll just hang out outside all afternoon. Crazy ideas you get.

Here’s the day:

Clouds Taste Satanic

Clouds Taste Satanic (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Did not turn out to be a photo pit, just a barricade — Geezer’s bass giveth and taketh away; it’s okay though because Tomoko went in and I’m going to do the same next time — but though I went up and laid out on a picnic table before New York’s own instrumentalists Clouds Taste Satanic went on, here supporting this year’s Majestic Mountain-issued 2LP, Tales of Demonic Possession (discussed here) as they are after a first European stint this Spring, they bore the naked riffing and groove that tells you how little you need anything else when you do it right. I grabbed some photos and put myself in a shady spot. It’s a long day ahead, and especially as I’m outside in the sun, gotta hydrate. Clouds Taste Satanic, with their LSD name and raw sound, were a wakeup for me — almost literally — but there’s no arguing with their approach, they drew a good early crowd and more came as they played, and a broken kick pedal only cost about a minute before they were back at it. I’d never seen them though and I’m glad to have rectified that. Imagine sans-vocal toe-tappers, but like 15 minutes long.

Mick’s Jaguar

Mick's Jaguar (Photo by JJ Koczan)

A check-in with New York-based attitude rockers Mick’s Jaguar is appreciated after the late-2022 release of their Salvation (review here) album, and their catchy, ultra-NYC take on heavy revels in a lineage that goes back actual generations, not just musical ones that are like four years or whatever. They’re the middle installment in a NYC triad opening the ourdoor stage, and their party vibe and brash swing and crash were suited to that spot, with some flow held over from Clouds Taste Satanic, but brought to a different context. There’s a narrative there, Clouds Taste Satanic into Mick’s Jaguar into White Hills, Desertfest celebrating the local sphere and its aural diversity. Other than to fill my water bottle — 16 oz. per band; I am a firm believer in radical hydration — I haven’t been inside yet, and I suppose that’s not really saying anything since there haven’t been any bands on in there yet, but the sunshine, gently autumnal breeze and buzz in the crowd were suitable accommodation for an energetic take and people were into it. I’ll say it was different being outside as opposed to when I saw them at Desertfest NY 2019 (review here), when they played the small room at The Well, which has only become smaller in my mind in the years since. Almost the opposite, really, but the fact that they owned both spaces is a unifying factor.


Mantar (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I didn’t go in the photo pit, because jesus there’s gotta be a break somewhere and I could not envision a scenario in which somebody said to themselves “oh man he didn’t shoot Mantar — fucking poseur,” and I was all set to remain on the picnic bench where I’d been writing and hanging out, but the ultra-aggressive German two-piece drew me inside for a bit. Nasty, gnashing, pummeling and biting as they are, Mantar still groove. If that’s the crossover appeal that lets them play a fest like this, fair enough. They’ll always be an outlier, but you need that for something like this. Yesterday I called Windhand the sore thumb, and they were. That’s Mantar today, if less so with the always devastating Conan on the bill. Godflesh are mean, but it’s not the same intensity. Even punk as they are, Mantar cross that line between heavy and metal, and when you’re on one side there, it’s easy to recognize the other. They’re not really my thing most of the time, but I like that they wreck up the place, sonically speaking.

White Hills

White Hills 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

White Hills are weirder than you, weirder than me, weirder than the fact that an electron doesn’t technically exist until something is used to measure it. The list goes on. But the stalwart NYC outfit — third of three in the noted triumvirate — seem perfectly content to inhabit their own spacial plane. Comprised of drummer/vocalist Ego Sensation and guitarist/vocalist Dave W., their persistently exploratory psychedelia — here droning, there rolling, somehow freaking out ALL THE TIME like they’re me with any kind of social obligation — is wholly immersive. Even in the great out-of-doors. Their sound bounced off the concrete wall up by where the trains go (I don’t think it’s an actual station, but could be wrong; it’d be an odd spot for one but these are odd times) and seemed to come from behind as well as in front while standing near the stage, and the effect was hypnotic. A roll you can just go with, a drift set adrift, jams for the universe. Spirals of water down a drain casting hurricane echoes and a scale at which even galaxies rotate. The sun’s out. Everything is great. Let’s be friends in real life.


Conan 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I went outside for a bit during Conan’s set to let some air back in my lungs after they had squeezed it all out. They’re was about three entire seconds of my earplugs not being in, and I suspect that’ll be enough for me to hear their low distortion in my head when I try to go to sleep tonight. Fine. I don’t know how many superlatives are left to say it — also don’t care — but there’s no mistaking Conan as one of the heaviest bands on the planet. When I was done with pictures, I stood over by the sound desk for optimal fidelity. All hail “Volt Thrower.” Jon Davis, Chris Fielding, Johnny King — guitar, bass, drums — and if you put it on paper it’s nothing so special, but when these dudes hit it, you know damn well to whom you are listening. And if you do go see them, which you should, wear earplugs. The whole time. Sad to say, however, my foamies aren’t holding up to Conan’s volume assault — “Thronehammer” laying waste, as it will — which is probably to be expected. But against all common sense and every piece of advice one might receive from a medical professional, I stayed there and let that volume and tone just kill me. And sure enough, I was obliterated. 9 got another bottle of water though and felt better after that.

Dorthia Cottrell

You could hear Mondo Generator playing outside before Dorthia Cottrell — vocalist for Windhand, who played last night — started her set, playing as a three-piece with guitar and violin accompaniment. As to the metric by which I ended up inside instead of out, the math is easy. Last time I saw Mondo Generator was a month ago. saw Cottrell play solo was 2015, and Also last June. Both have new records. From hers, which is called Death Folk Country (review here), Cottrell eased quickly into the sad blues and dark folk — you might say she’s influenced by, death, folk, and country — with the breathy melody of her voice bolstered by the textures of the additional guitar (it was Leanne Martz, formerly of Heavy Temple) and fiddle. To their credit, once they started, I didn’t even know anymore whether you could still hear the noise from outside. Got lost in the mood and the ambience and and somehow it no longer mattered.


Godflesh 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

The Main Stage heft streak continues, and it turns out that what I’ve needed all day was to be churned into so much human goo by industrial metal pioneers and still-ahead-of-their-time crushbringers Godflesh. They have a new record out, Purge. I didn’t see it on the merch table earlier, but will check again to be sure. They played at least initially mostly in the dark and fog, and fair enough, but the onslaught of their beats and distortion, of guitarist Justin K. Broadrick’s gruff, barking shout and the filthy tone of G.C. Green’s bass, was consuming regardless of how visible they might or might not have been. I’ve been destroyed. Bludgeoned. Godflesh were a culmination of the progression on the main stage today that drew through Mantar and Conan; another triad. A decidedly angrier one, and if you want to hear what it feels like when your brain is running a thousand miles an hour and you don’t want it to and your entire body feels overwhelmed to the point of physical collapse — if you want to hear something that will remind you of being an insecure kid — Godflesh are here for it. I’d heard a bunch of good things about them on their current tour — mostly from Boston — and I was not misinformed. Now, about that album. Not on the table. Oh, if only someone would invent the internet so I can buy a Godflesh CD. Oh wait, sold out online too. You’ve betrayed me, circumstance! JK Flesh, one of Broadrick’s many other projects, plays NYC tomorrow. Good for him, making the most of the trip. Also, Godflesh rule. Thanks.

The Brant Bjork Trio

The Brant Bjork Trio (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Brant Bjork, Mario Lalli and Ryan Güt are The Brant Bjork Trio, and they played songs from Bjork’s solo catalog. I don’t have any insight into the narrative of how they got together this time around, but I know that Bjork and Lalli have known each other for decades and worked together periodically over that time. Lalli played on Bjork’s 1999 solo debut, Jalamanta, so that’s about all the way back at least as far as this thing goes. And Mario Lalli and The Rubber Snake Charmers supported Bjork’s Stõner three-piece last year. On and on. Güt is a part of Stöner as well with Nick Oliveri on bass/vocals, and I kind of assumed that when Nick was ready to go back to Mondo Generator, keeping a trio configuration made sense. And crap, if there’s a chance to go on tour in a band with Lalli on bass, of course you’re gonna do that. Together, Bjork and Lalli are sculptors of desert rock, Lalli having actively participated in the forming of the style in Yawning Man and brought weird to the desert in Fatso Jetson, Bjork having played drums and contributed to the songwriting of Kyuss before joining Fu Manchu and embarking on the solo thing in various formats over the last 24 years, the latter I’d argue as his most crucial work. I could go on about this — blah blah generator parties; the horrible truth is I think the timeline is fun — but what I’m trying to say is these guys are real deal lifers, and in addition to having influenced two-plus generations of bands in a global underground that exists in part because of them, they also rock. “Cleaning Out the Ashtray” was a nice touch, and “Let the Truth Be Known.” There was a longer-maybe new song with a classic, sleek groove called “Sunshine” that broke after a couple verses into an even more languid flow, and if there’s new material, maybe this band will put out an LP. That’d be just ducky, thanks. Maybe I’d even get to tell the same story about how these guys are legends all over again! Perhaps with slight variations in the phrasing! Sweet!


Volume and thrust, lumber and noise. Shove. GO. Boris make it all exciting, and are somehow frenetic in their energy no matter what they’re actually playing. They drew the biggest crowd of the festival. Significant, statistically. Brant Bjork Trio finished and Djunah — of whom I saw a few minutes; knew nothing about them beforehand, turned out they were cool; a note-to-self moment — and I guess everybody who was at another stage congregated in front of Boris only to be blown back by a bulldozer of volume. Whoosh. It’s been a few years, but Boris were Boris, and that’s maybe the highest compliment they might be paid, since it actually means so many things, nearly all of them awesome. Wata, Atsuo and Takeshi took the whole building on a ride through a vortex of shred, the set becoming an assault of noise and fog with the band in the eye of their own storm, and while I could go on mixing metaphors and trying to craft suitable hyperbole for what they do on stage, the truth is that I’m really, really fucking tired and that I don’t need to hide that. Doesn’t mean I didn’t appreciate Boris, doesn’t mean I don’t think they’re an incredible band with decades of influence and legacy who also absolutely slay live. The not-even-the-end-of-the-day fatigue might’ve put Boris closer to the line between immersion and abrasion for my own experience, but hell’s bells, they’re dizzying when they want to be.

Ecstatic Vision

Ecstatic Vision (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Because I’ve seen the band before, I showed up 25 minutes early to Ecstatic Vision on the Texas stage. Does it make sense to leave a band from Japan’s set to go see a band from Philadelphia when you’re in New York? It does if that band is Ecstatic Vision. Psychrippers extraordinaire. Bombast in excelsis. Willfully sliding into most of humanity’s definition of obnoxious, but hitting this crowd just right. I wasn’t the only one there early, nor first in the room. A reputation, preceding. I knew I was going to miss the Melvins — I saw them in June and as I said then, I’m not a huge fan, though they were and are good live — and somehow having Ecstatic Vision in the small room as my capper seemed just right. It goes without saying they destroyed. The sax, the guitar, bass and drums, the effects wash, the intense push inherited from Hawkwind and Monster Magnet both, cosmic heavy rock turned into a party unparalleled by anyone I’ve encountered in current US psych. They were the blowout, and as excellent as the Melvins are live (and yes I know they’ve got Coady Willis drumming in place of Dale Crover; the point stands), I knew that was how I wanted to cap my Desertfest New York 2023. Three days of heavy stuffed into a cannon and launched into the sun, and everyone in the room with it. I’d take a new record from them for sure, but I do also feel like they shouldn’t even stop playing live long enough to make one. These guys are providing a valuable service guiding all involved parties on a direct line into the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy.

I made it home from Brooklyn in under an hour. It was beautiful. Unheard of. “Magic,” as Ronnie James Dio might say. Falling asleep at the keyboard now.

That’s it for me. Thanks to Desertfest New York for coming back, to Sarika, Reece and Matte and all behind the making of the thing. Friends old and new — in the photo pit: Falk-Hagen Bernshausen (so glad you made it over), Tim Bugbee (you’re the best), Dante Torrieri (that Star Trek nerd-out turned my whole day around), Dylan Gonzalez (smartest guy in the room, also sweetest), Tomoko (thanks for the fruit offer, by the way you’re a genius), Charles (rarely do I find somebody who so much speaks the same language of sarcasm) — and everyone who came to say hi or something nice about the site. Thanks to The Patient Mrs. for the time. Thank you for reading.

More pics after the jump.

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Notes From Desertfest New York Night One, 09.15.23

Posted in Features, Reviews on September 16th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

R.I.P. 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

09.15.23 – Friday – Knockdown Center – Before show

Okay, I can admit it’s weird. Not through anything the festival has done, beyond perhaps existing, which I firmly believe is a positive thing, but for me personally, it’s a weird process. The last couple years, I’ve had a much easier time making it to festivals than club shows, and it’s been easier to travel than see something local. The way my schedule and life are arranged right now — bed early, up early to write and begin the day’s domestic whathaveyou — it’s nearly impossible for me to ‘get out to a show.’ It’s a significant rearrangement of multiple lives to make it happen.

My solution has been, every so often, to go to a festival, and I’ve been lucky to travel these last couple years, whether it’s to Germany, Sweden, Norway, Portugal, even Las Vegas. That pulls me out of the norm. I’m on my own. I don’t have to worry about the house, or anyone else’s schedule other than the bands. I’m removed from ‘real life.’ Not so with Desertfest New York.

This is the only festival I’ve been to in the last 15 years-plus where the travel involved is a commute. I spent two hours in traffic last night to get to Vitus. And more than an hour home because why wouldn’t there be dead-stop gridlock at midnight on a Thursday? It’s another layer — something else to worry about — that I feel when I’m here. It was true last year to some extent, but the sheer novelty of being out of the house in May 2022 made up some ground in terms of the overall experience. A big emotional high.

And again, it’s not about the fest. It’s about where I live. Just far enough out to be a pain in the ass. And if you’ve ever been to New York, especially driving, you know the city doesn’t exactly work to make it easy, or remotely pleasant. I’m not trying to complain about some shit — Desertfest has taken great care of me once again and The Patient Mrs. has uprooted herself and our kid on my behalf for the weekend; she even drove to and from the pre-show — it’s just a part of the experience I’m not used to. It’s weird to think about running the dishwasher after you get home from Colour Haze playing one of the best shows you’ve ever seen at the Saint Vitus Bar. It’s weird that the last thing I did before I left the house to come here was change over the laundry.

It’s weird. I’m weird too.

Two-dayer fests rule and here’s how night one of two went down:


SpellBook 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Pennsylvania cultists, doomers, a little bit glammers SpellBook had the bonus factor of having added Greg Diener of Pale Divine on guitar, which is never going to hurt you when it comes to doom riffs. It’s only been a couple months since he started with the five-piece, whose second album under the name — they used to be called Witch Hazel — Deadly Charms, came out last year. They played the title-track from it after “The Witch of Ridley Creek,” the joke there being that initially-cape-clad frontman introduced the first by saying “This next song is about a witch,” then saying the same thing before they played “Deadly Charms.” I missed that record but might pick up a CD if those exist as the swing of that hook sat right, and in the name of good times generally. Funny, before they went on, bassist Seibert Lowe came up and said hi, it’s been a while, etc. Curious, I looked it up. Saw Witch Hazel in 2015 at a fest in Maryland. Yeah, it’s probably been long enough.

Valley of the Sun

Reliability be thy name. Ohio’s Valley of the Sun were in Europe this Spring to do Desertfest Berlin and London, Esbjerg Fuzztival, etc., and a tour around that. Last year, they played the pre-show at Vitus (review here), wrecked it gloriously, and I’m not trying to toot my own horn when I say I knew they’d do the same on the main stage here at the Knockdown Center, but yeah, I had a pretty good idea of what was coming. They’ve been touring basically since before they put out The Chariot (review here) last year, and they absolutely sounded like it. Set was tight, pro, fun, and could’ve been delivered to 15 people at 1PM (there were many more there, and it was later, I’m just making a point) or 10,000 at midnight, I honestly don’t think it would matter. They did their set, their way, their presence bolstered by the unshakeable quality of their craft and the fact that even as veterans however many years later — 12 since the EP, I think? — they continue to look like they’re having fun. And goodness gracious, maybe they are.

Grave Bathers

Dark, moody, urbane heavy rock, with members of Yatra — who played last year — and Heavy Temple, who play tonight. Don’t doubt Philly is where it’s at. They’ve got a whole generation of up and coming bands and I’ll add Grave Bathers to the list. I didn’t hear last year’s debut, Rock ‘n Roll Fetish, so didn’t know the songs, but their delivery was right on as they put that fetish to good use. They were brash, maybe a little druggy — more pills/coke than weed — and seemed in the process of solidifying their approach, which, yes, means it was exciting set to watch.


Long drone before they went on. Like 10 minutes. Fair enough, I guess. But it was riffs freshly rolled once they got going, their traditionalism for desert rock very clearly familiar to the crowd on hand, and they were pretty fresh in my mind as well since they reissued their full-length discography ahead of coming to the US to play. They’ve also got socks at the merch table, which is knowing your market, I suppose. They’re probably the most successful heavy rock export from Greece to-date, and their groove answers any and all questions why. Newer material or old, they’ve always managed to find the tempo just right for their riffs. Last time I saw them was a decade ago at The Black Heart in London (review here) and they were killer then, so I knew a bit of what was in store, but the long drone became transitional ambience, and it was interesting to hear the maturity of 2020’s Youth of Dissent (review here) come through in their approach there, but you can’t beat the raw mellow nod of “Vidage.” The very sound of everything cool about this music and probably some stuff that’s only cool because 1000mods made it that way. Definitely need to buy some socks before the night is done.

Castle Rat

I had not yet seen Brooklyn trad metal/doom-adjacent troupe Castle Rat. It’s a particular aspect of New York that might make one feel late to the party before a band has a record out, but the room knew what was up, and the band put on a theatrical display of intermittently sexualized horror that included a bassist in a plague mask, a vampire guitarist, some kind of forest spirit on drums, the storyteller herself up front, a couple druids parked outside the room as greeters. Cool vibe, though I wonder about how it would/will work on an album, but maybe they don’t need to put out an album, though when they signed to King Volume Records in July, word was an LP in 2024. Either way, they’re young and in shape, and thus marketable, in addition to all that rocking and metal-of-eld. They had the room wrapt, and yeah, the evening is getting on and progressively less lucid, so maybe some staring anyway from the crowd, but they put on a show, rather than playing a set, and today or tomorrow there’s not another band playing this weekend doing the same kind of thing, let alone doing it so well, so I’ll take the win. I may never feel like Johnny Groundfloor on Castle Rat, but at least I can say I’ve seen them now. Which I suppose makes the fact that they killed a bonus.


I didn’t know this prior to looking it up — yes, sometimes it is handy to have an archive of nearly every show you’ve seen for the last however many years — but the last time I saw Windhand was at The Well for Desertfest NYC 2019 (review here). That place was cool, wouldn’t say a word against it, but DFNY works well at Knockdown Center and being inside for the most part — an outdoor third stage opens tomorrow — allows some seasonal/weather flexibility. As for Windhand, well, their most recent LP, Eternal Return (review here), turns five this year and vocalist Dorthia Cottrell — who’s doing a solo show tomorrow on the aforementioned third stage — put her new solo album, Death Folk Country (review here), on Relapse, to which Windhand are also signed for over a decade, and earlier this year they reissued their 2012 self-titled debut (review herediscussed here), did the Heavy Psych Sounds Fests in California, and it’s kind of the personality of the band that they’re there when called upon. In this case, it was Truckfighters canceling that brought them here, and they did the job they were brought in to do. Slowest band of the day, easily, and the most miserable of the weekend this far. Murkiest sound anywhere. Like an out of focus photograph from the 19th century.

Heavy Temple

Oooh, Heavy Temple’s got new songs. And a new guitarist, who just happens to be Christian Lopez, also of Sun Voyager. High Priestess Nighthawk, Lopez and drummer Will “Baron Lycan” Mellor took to the stage with the door closed into the second room and then about a minute before they went on, the door opened and everyone came in at once and then they started and that was that. But jeez, put out a record. What’s the holdup? Your drummer is an engineer! Granted, it’s only been two years since Lupi Amoris (review here), but they’re about to go tour Europe for the first time with Howling Giant — whose new album is stellar, I had it on in the car on the way here — and taking a new release along doesn’t seem like the worst idea. Hell do I know. Once the door was open, the room packed out immediately, and not even a Colour Haze line check could bring the crowd out from the Texas stage. I don’t know when I last saw Heavy Temple, and at this point in the day I’m too tired to look, but they delivered like a band who has way more to their credit than two EPs, an LP and some other odds and ends — a notably righteous Type O Negative cover among them — and I was only happy to see them again and to hear some new material. The sooner the better on Heavy Temple’s sophomore LP.

Colour Haze

Loud whispers of “shh!” to people talking during the quiet parts. The keys seemed more prominent in the mix, but I stood right in front of the stage last night for the whole set, so who the hell knows what I was hearing or not. The flexibility of a photo pit means I can move around a bit and, say, go to the bathroom or get a drink of water. Crazy shit like that. Most of Colour Haze Night Two — it really is a shame they’re not doing a third set tomorrow — artists-in-residence! pick any album you want out of the catalog and I’ll be more than happy to watch them play it in full — was instrumental, and I had been planning to go see R.I.P., from Portland, also quite far, but life doesn’t always afford you opportunities to see your favorite bands, and life is short and most of it is very, very difficult, so yeah, I stayed put. It was really difficult to think that Colour Haze might be playing in the building somewhere and I wouldn’t be there. So I put myself there and, as I occasionally remember to do, just enjoyed a thing for a couple minutes. On the whole, it was a more laid back set than last night’s at Vitus. They played “Transformation.” It was beautiful. I love the way it skips before it runs straight out and gets fast at the end. I hadn’t eaten since the morning and it was nearly 10PM. The Patient Mrs. texting to tell me to be careful on the way home. An infinity of distractions. But nah, just let me have this one for a minute. They closed with “Tempel” as someone yelled out “what a time to be alive!” No argument.

Quick note: I did go check out R.I.P. after Colour Haze finished. The second stage was packed, they were shredding oldschool-style dirt metal to the delight of all present. The pic at the top of this post is the room when they played.

Monster Magnet

Time marches forward and Monster Magnet remain a salve against bullshit in rock and roll. Of all the bands to close out the night, the stalwart outfit from my beloved Garden State are legends in the field, and founding frontman Dave Wyndorf was simultaneously out of his mind and in command of the show, which I think is how you get to be that dude. I had thought guitarist Garrett Sweeny (also The Atomic Bitchwax) was out of the band, but no. He had stage right while longtime collaborator Phil Caivano — who just put out a solo record; the band is called Caivano — had the other side, drummer Bob Pantella (also also The Atomic Bitchwax, ex-Raging Slab, RiotGod, and so on) was up on a riser in back and the bassist Alec Morton, also ex-Raging Slab [thank you Amanda Vogel for that], hung back with a Rickenbacker that both looked and sounded awfully nice. Original band member Tim Cronin was doing lights, as he reportedly will according to a seven-year planetary cycle. We’ve been back and forth online and I’ve covered his band The Ribeye Brothers a bunch because they’re cool, but we never met in person, so that was awesome earlier in the day. Monster Magnet opening with the Hawkwind cover “Born to Go” was also rather sweet. “Superjudge,” “Powertrip,” “Dopes to Infinity,” “Tractor,” “Mastermind” tucked away in the encore. Even as a headliner, Monster Magnet would have a hard time putting together a full career-retrospective set. I got to see then play “Negasonic Teenage Warhead” tonight, though, and that’s plenty. Pro-shop rock band, one of heavy rock’s all-time great frontmen tossing out middle fingers like they’re free samples at Costco, and all was well and the strobe flashed and the fan blew and the band tore Knockdown Center a new ass — but they did it in space, so it’s even cooler — and reminded everybody there which coast really invented stoner rock.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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