Friday Full-Length: Circle of Sighs, “Roses Blue”

Posted in Bootleg Theater on February 5th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

This just occurred to me to post, like five minutes ago. I had another post all set up for an album I’ve been listening to all week and then decided last-second to write about the Circle of Sighs track. I’m not trying to get away with anything in terms of self-promotion or something like that — I’m on the song, doing vocals. I think it’s on the Circle of Sighs Bandcamp page, but it’s not like I’m making money off it and even if some came in from that, I’m pretty sure I’d still be well in the hole on recording costs. Doesn’t matter. It was worth it to me.

I hadn’t been in a recording session as someone actually recording in a really long time. Nine years, maybe? And in a real studio even longer. A while ago, on Thee Facebooks, I posted Circle of Sighs’ “Fleshself” single and said something along the lines of “god damn I want to be in this band.” I’d actually talked with the prefer-to-remain-anonymous parties behind Circle of Sighs about collaborating before, but the atmospheric industrial doom of “Fleshself” hit me right where my head’s been at in its combination of harsh, broad-reaching, and heavy sounds.

The band reached out after that and asked if I wanted to do a cover. Immediate impostor syndrome. I don’t belong in a studio. I don’t belong working with a band. I don’t even belong writing for a magazine. I belong on my laptop — and no, I don’t know how to record on my laptop. But I said yes anyway. In 2019, I got on stage with friends in Clamfight and did a guest vocal spot at Saint Vitus Bar. I won’t say it gave me the itch, but it definitely didn’t not give me the itch. I was in bands a long time ago, mostly a group called Maegashira who put out one album and a couple splits and demos that, on the whole, I’m still proud of. If we were making the record today, I’d hold a couple songs back for later release — it ran long — but it was a different era, and beyond that, I stand by that work.

Anyhow, I knew I wanted to cover a woman. Just tired of dudes. Dudes everywhere. Dudes with beards. Dudes who look like me, or dudes who don’t. Dudes dudes dudes, day in and day out. I picked Joni Mitchell, CIRCLE OF SIGHS roses bluewho seemed almost too obvious but I didn’t remember off the top of my head anyone doing in a heavy context recently, and she’s of course an amazing, legendary singer-songwriter, and someone whose folkish structure would translate to a heavy context. “Roses Blue” is about a friend getting into tarot and mysticism, so it fit a kind of cultish vibe as well, which I thought Circle of Sighs might go for. They did.

This was before the holidays, and then after the New Year, I booked time with Mike Moebius at Moonlight Mile in Hoboken, NJ. I’ve known Mike for a long time through the Kings Destroy guys, and he’s someone I trusted and felt comfortable with as much as I was going to feel comfortable. The ideas I was hearing in my head pushed the boundaries of what I’d done before, but on the other hand, it had been 10-plus years since I recorded anything in a studio, so I didn’t know what was going to come out when I opened my mouth. Largely it was off-key and pitchy, but Mike worked with me and made it come together such as it did. By the end of that session I was exhausted but excited, and that’s how it should be.

I’d rewritten the lyrics to “Roses Blue” — which felt a bit like sacrilege, right? That’s Joni Mitchell. It wasn’t just about making lines like “she lays her religion on her friends” from the original more modern. Coming from my mouth, I didn’t want the song to sound like I was criticizing the woman in the story, which would come across like misogyny. Instead, I thought about how in the last 50 years, and really the last 20, the idea of “friend” has changed. I have 5,000 “friends” on Facebook. Most of them I’ve never met. So I thought about friendship in that context, and tried to turn the lyrics around to indict not the lady getting witchy but the sort of pathetic male gaze coming from the other side. Her “friends.” “With trauma there’s no barter/Inside self-pity you swim,” and so on, if you can even understand those lines in how they’re screamed.

This was an experience for me. A good one, I think. When the first session files were sent to Circle of Sighs, they wanted more screams, so I went back in a couple days later and banged that out, easy peasy. That felt good. I think what I’m most proud of in the whole thing is the one falsetto line that made it in. A little bit I regret not doing a version of the entire early verses that way to give Circle of Sighs more to play with in mixing, but you do what you can when you can. I’ll take “of rain and roses blue” and call it a win.

Obviously I wouldn’t post this in any kind of review context — it’s hard enough feigning impartiality about bands I’m a nerd for let alone something I contributed to — so it seemed to me this was the space where I might be able to talk a about making it in a context that’s a little more personal than the average writeup tends to be. If I was wrong about that or you don’t give a crap, that’s fair. Thanks for reading this far if you have.

Circle of Sighs will reportedly have a new album out later this year. I don’t know if this song will be on it or not. And for me, I don’t know if it will lead to anything else or what, but it felt good to help create something like this after so long.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

Thanks for reading and have a great and safe weekend.

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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio Playlist: Episode 35

Posted in Radio on May 29th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

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Digging deep on some of this stuff, and I like that. I mean, yeah, you’ve probably heard Enslaved and Lowrider by now, and maybe Black Rainbows, but stuff like Burning Brain Band, Jointhugger and King Gorm could be new to you. I hope so anyhow, that’s why I picked the tracks. That and I thought they were cool. Pretty simple process when it comes down to it.

I did the voice tracks for this one while my son played (first) with kinetic sand and (then) on the piano, so that’s kind of a mess, but I’ve come to enjoy that and it’s a good show either way. If you manage to check it out, stick around for the end, because the last two songs, the long ones from Dire Wolves and Stonegrass, are absolutely killer. I was recently put onto both records and I have absolutely zero regrets. Cardinal Fuzz put out the Dire Wolves LP in April and Stonegrass is out through Cosmic Range Records in Toronto digitally now with LP to follow. Both albums are worth your time if you have the time.

And as always, thanks for listening if you do.

The Obelisk Show airs 5PM Eastern today on the Gimme app or at

Full playlist:

The Obelisk Show – 05.29.20

Circle of Sighs Kukeri Salo*
Lamp of the Universe The Eastern Run Dead Shrine*
Lowrider Pipe Rider Refractions*
Enslaved Homebound Utgard*
Wren Seek the Unkindred Groundswells*
StoneBirds Only God Collapse and Fail*
Jointhugger I Am No One I Am No One*
Saavik He’s Dead Jim Saavik*
Black Rainbows Hypnotized by the Solenoid Cosmic Ritual Supertrip*
The Burning Brain Band Bolero/Float Away The Burning Brain Band*
King Gorm Beyond Black Rainbow King Gorm*
Dire Wolves Flow & Heady / By the Fireside Flow and Heady*
Stonegrass Tea Stonegrass*

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio airs every Friday 5PM Eastern, with replays Sunday at 7PM Eastern. Next new episode is June 12 (subject to change). Thanks for listening if you do.

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Circle of Sighs Premiere Video for Kraftwerk Cover “The Man Machine”; Debut Album Salo out June 19

Posted in Bootleg Theater on May 19th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

circle of sighs

It is inevitable that the death of an artist brings out tributes, but the truth of the matter is Circle of Sighs both recorded and put together the video for the Kraftwerk cover “The Man Machine” before the recent passing of synth-pop pioneer Florian Schneider. Timely then, in a kind of unfortunate way. Circle of Sighs — a trio, if I discern the horned and masked figures in the photo above correctly — will release their debut full-length, Salo, on June 19 through Pillars of Creation Records, and sure enough the cover isn’t the only track on the nine-cut/52-minute cosmic cult doom offering to make use of keys or pop influences. “Hold Me Lucifer” is catchy and melodic to go with its weighted chug and overarchingly grim atmosphere, and though it gives over to a rousing vocal duet and more guitar-led fare and some harsh screams that call to mind a connection with Los Angeles’ High Priestess, whose Katie Gilchrest mixed, the beginning of “Desolate,” the intro to “Unicorn Magic” and the segue that follows (the third of three on the album) all utilize synth in considerable fashion. Likewise the closing title-track. At the same time, the nine-minute “Kukeri” follows a linear progression building from acoustic guitar to a progressive metal apex and dropping back again, so from opener “Burden of the Flesh” onward, the proceedings are hardly staid or repetitive as varying arrangement elements and moods come and go.

The three segues help build a full-length flow between some of these shifts of intention, but it is up to the songs themselves to ensnare the listener, and that’s done with an immersive depth of mix and an abiding art rock weirdness that, given the band’scircle of sighs salo imagery, one can’t help but relate to earliest Ufomammut or even a more doomed vision of California’s Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, whose progressive bent eventually consumed them and sent them into a universe unknown (actually other bands), but for Circle of Sighs, their commitment to heavy, crunching riffing and the other aesthetic elements at play throughout Salo may indeed save them from that grim fate in the longer term. That is, while Salo is a lot to keep up with, the foundation Circle of Sighs are building in their songwriting feels solid enough for them to work from going forward. There is a complex thought process playing out in this material. It is not haphazard when the keys return four minutes into “Desolate.” The title-track, safely tucked away after the 10-minute “Unicorn Magic/Segue-03” one-two, makes an attempt to tie everything together with progressive guitar and keyboards and electronic beats, and though it succeeds to some degree, there’s of course more left to be said. One suspects that perhaps that’s intentional as well.

But what unfolds across the broad path to get to that moment of closure is strange, purposeful and consuming enough to be considered progressive. On first listen, Salo plays out as a kind of wash of intent — it almost buries you in it — but subsequent playthroughs gradually reveal the nuance of the ceremony at work and the human drive for expression underlying what might seem at first to be otherworldly chaos. Left to their own figurative and literal devices, one suspects the blend of styles at work in these songs will continue to meld, reshape, be added to and subtracted from over time, as nothing here feels permanent in a “this is how it’s gonna be” kind of sense, aside maybe from the weirdness. It’s gonna be weird, and so much the better.

To be perfectly honest with you, I’m not sure if the below is a premiere or not. I tagged it as one above, and I don’t think anyone’s going to fight me on it, but I think maybe it’s been shared already. If that’s the case, sorry to mislead. These are confusing times and, well, I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer to start with. So, you know. Apologies if you’ve been mislead. One way or the other, though, in visual and aural cues, Circle of Sighs‘ take on Kraftwerk offers a look a the band’s project as regards their debut album and perhaps their larger mission too. We’ll see about that over time, I suppose.

Until then, I hope you enjoy “The Man Machine”:

Circle of Sighs, “The Man Machine” official video

Occult-themed synth-doom collective Circle of Sighs comes wrapped in a veil of mystery. Their anonymity is by design. In today’s age of hyperinformation, the group prefers that the music takes the forefront (as well as the visuals that are a key component to their work). Thus, dear reader, you will not be getting soundbites. All we can offer is some vital information and a bit of history.

Their work began in 2018, as rough demo recordings were hewn by clandestine shamans and cosmonauts on a sub-rosa mission to merge the celestial and the terrestrial. The result of their effort was an album of existential heaviness that pitted synthesis against nature: Digital beats, downtuned riffs, harsh keyboards, and warm tube amps. Their genre-bending and -blending dredges the uncanny valley to cull a sound both strange and familiar.

For those willing to wait comes Salo. The nine-song opus, available on CD, cassette and digital download from Pillars of Creation Records on June 19th, is a fully realized work from a band that cut no corners to achieve exactly what they set out to do: In short, redefine metal. As evidence, look no further than the lead-off single, ‘The Man Machine.’ Their dystopian spin on the Kraftwerk classic pairs trudging doom guitars with ambient synths and vocoder harmonies, captured in a video that recalls the after-hours programming of mid-1980s MTV.

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Quarterly Review: Dommengang, Ice Dragon, Saint Karloff, Witch Trail, Love Gang, Firebreather, Karkara, Circle of Sighs, Floral Fauna, Vvlva

Posted in Reviews on January 7th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

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We begin Day Two of the Winter 2020 Quarterly Review. Snow on the ground fell overnight and the day ahead looks as busy as ever. There’s barely time to stop for sips of coffee between records, but some allowances must be made. It’s Tuesday after all. There’s still a lot of week left. And if we can’t be kind to ourselves in the post-holiday comedown of wintry gray, when can we?

So yes, pause, sip — glug, more likely — then proceed.

I don’t usually play favorites with these things, but I think today’s might have worked out to be my favorite batch of the bunch. As always, I hope you find something that speaks to you.

Quarterly Review #11-20:

Dommengang, No Keys

dommengang no keys

Driving heavy psych and rock meet with spacious Americana and a suburbanite dreaminess in Dommengang‘s No Keys, the now-L.A. trio’s follow-up to 2018’s Love Jail (review here). It is a melting pot of sound, with emphasis on melting, but vocal harmonies and consistently righteous basslines like that in “Stir the Sea” act to tie the nine component tracks together, making Dommengang‘s various washes of tone ultimately the creation of a welcoming space. Early cut “Earth Blues” follows opener “Sunny Day Flooding” with a mindful far-outbound resonance, and the later “Arcularius – Burke” finds itself in a linear building pattern ahead of “Jerusalem Cricket,” which reimagines ’70s country rock as something less about nostalgia than forward possibility. Having come far on their apparently keyboard-less journey, from the breadth-casting verses of “Stir the Sea” to the doomy interlude “Blues Rot,” they end with “Happy Death (Her Blues II)” which sure as hell sounds like it has some organ on it. Either way, whether they live up to the standard of the title or not is secondary to the album’s actual achievements, which are significant, and distinguish Dommengang from would-be peers in atmosphere, craft and melody.

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Ice Dragon, Passage of Mind

ice dragon passage of mind

Though they don’t do it nearly as often as they did between 2012 and 2015, every now and then Boston’s Ice Dragon manage to sneak out a new release. Over the last few years, that’s been a succession of singles, but Passage of Mind is their first LP since 2015’s A Beacon on the Barrow (review here), and though they’ll always in some part be thought of as a doom band, the unassuming organic psychedelia of “Don’t Know Much but the Road” reminds more of Chris Goss‘ work with Masters of Reality in its acoustic/fuzz blend and melody. The experimentalism-prone outfit have been down this avenue before as well, and it suits them, even as members have moved on to other projects (Brass Hearse among them), with the seven-minute “One of These Days” basing itself around willfully simplistic-sounding intertwining lines of higher and lower fuzz. There are moments of serenity, like closer “Dream About You” and “Sun in My Eyes,” but “The Sound the Rain Makes” is more of a blowout, and even the darker vibe of “Delirium’s Tears” holds hits melody as top priority. Hey guess what? Here’s an Ice Dragon album that deserves more attention than it’s gotten. I think it’s the 12th one.

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Saint Karloff, Interstellar Voodoo

Saint Karloff Interstellar Voodoo

Oslo’s Saint Karloff squash the high standard they set for themselves on their 2018 debut, All Heed the Black God (review here), with the 41-minute single-song long-player Interstellar Voodoo, basking in bluesy Sabbathian grandeur and keeping a spirit of progressive adventuring beneath without giving over entirely to self-indulgent impulses any more than one could as they careen from one movement to the next in the multi-stage work. With vinyl through Majestic Mountain Records, tape on Stoner Witch Records and CD through Ozium Records, they’re nothing if not well represented, and rightly so, as they veer in and out of psychedelic terrain in exciting and periodically elephantine fashion, still making room for classic Scandi-folk boogie on side A before the second half of the track stomps all over everything that’s come before it en route to its own organ-laced jammy meandering, Iommi shuffle and circa-’74 howl. As a new generation of doom rock begins to take shape, Saint Karloff position themselves well as earlier pursuers of an individualist spirit while still drawing of course on classic sources of inspiration. The first record was encouraging. The second is more so. The third will be the real tell of who they are as a band.

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Witch Trail, The Sun Has Left the Hill

witch trail the sun has left the hill

The jangling guitar strum in centerpiece “Lucid” on Witch Trail‘s The Sun Has Left the Hill (Consouling Sounds) has the indelible mark of classic rock and roll freedom to it. One wonders if Pete Townshend would recognize it, or if it’s too far blasted into oblivion by the Belgian trio’s aesthetic treatment across The Sun Has Left the Hill‘s convention-challenging 29-minute span, comprising seven tracks that bring together a heavy alternative rock and post-black metal vision marked by spacious echoes and cavern screams that are likewise tortured and self-assured. That is to say, there’s no mistaking the intent here. In the early intensity of “Watcher” or the shimmering and more patiently unfolding “Silent Running,” the Ghent three-piece mark out their stylistic terrain between bursts of noisy chaotic wash and clearheaded execution. The six-minute “Afloat” hisses like a lost demo that would’ve rewritten genre history some 25 years ago, and even in closer “Residue,” one can’t help but feel like Witch Trail are indeed looking to leave some lasting effect behind them with such forward-thinking craft. Sure to be a shock for those who take it on with no idea of what to expect.

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Love Gang, Dead Man’s Game

love gang dead mans game

Shortly before Love Gang are halfway through the opening title-track of their debut album, Dead Man’s Game, just when you think you might have their blend of organ-laced Radio Moscow and Motörhead figured out, that’s when Leo Muñoz breaks out the flute and the whole thing takes a turn for the unexpected. Surprises abound from the Denver foursome of Muñoz (who also handles organ and sax), guitarist/vocalist Kam Wentworth, bassist Grady O’Donnell and drummer Shaun Goodwin, who find room for psychedelic airiness amidst the gallop of “Addiction,” which doesn’t seem coincidentally paired with “Break Free,” though the two don’t run together. Love Gang‘s 2016 self-titled EP (review here) had a cleaner production and less aggro throb, and there’s some of that on Dead Man’s Game in the peaceful melody of “Interlude,” but even seven-minute closer “Endless Road” makes a point of finishing at a rush, and that’s ultimately what defines the album. No complaints. Love Gang wield momentum as another element of inventive arrangement on this encouraging first long-player.

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Firebreather, Under a Blood Moon

firebreather under a blood moon

‘Tis the stuff of battle axes and severed limbs, but it’s worth noting that three of the six inclusions on Firebreather‘s second LP and first for RidingEasy Records, Under a Blood Moon, have some reference to fire in their title. The follow-up to their brazen 2017 self-titled debut (review here) starts with its longest track (immediate points) in the nine-minute “Dancing Flames,” then follows immediately with “Our Souls, They Burn” and launches side B with the eponymous “Firebreather,” as the Gothenburg trio of Mattias Nööjd, Kyle Pitcher and Axel Wittbeck launch their riffy, destructive assault with urgency that earns all that scarred land left in its wake. The High on Fire comparison remains inevitable, perhaps most of all on “Firebreather” itself, but Firebreather have grown thicker in tone, meaner in approach and do nothing to shy away from the largesse that such a sound might let them convey, as “Our Souls, They Burn” and in the volume surges of closer “The Siren.” Under a Blood Moon is a definite forward step from the first LP, showing an evolving sound and burgeoning individuality that one hopes Firebreather continue to hunt down with such vigilance.

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Karkara, Crystal Gazer

karkara crystal gazer

Presented through Stolen Body Records, the debut long-player from French trio Karkara purports to be “Oriental psych rock,” which accounts for an Eastern influence in the overall sound of its seven-track/41-minute run, but there are perhaps some geographical questions to be undertaken there, as “Camel Rider” and others show a distinctive Mideastern flair. Whatever works, I guess. At its core, Crystal Gazer is a work of psychedelic space rock, brought to bear with a duly open sensibility by guitarist/vocalist Karim Rihani (also didgeridoo), bassist Hugo Olive and drummer/vocalist Maxime Marouani as seemingly the beginning stages of a broader sonic adventure. That is to say, the stylistic aspects at play here — and they are very much “at play” — feel purposefully used, but like the foundation of what will be future growth on the part of Karkara as a unit. Will they progress along a more patient and meditative path, as “The Way” hints in some of its early roll, or will the frenetic winding of closer “Jedid” set their course for subsequent freakouts? I don’t know, but Karkara strike as a band who won’t see any point to standing still creatively any more than they do to doing so rhythmically.

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Circle of Sighs, Desolate

circle of sighs desolate

Information is limited on Circle of Sighs, and by that I primarily mean I don’t have any. They list their point of origin as Los Angeles, so there’s that, but as to the whos and whats, wheres and so on, it’s a mystery. Something tells me that suits the band, whose four-track debut EP, Desolate, gracefully executes a blend of melodic downerism with more extreme elements at play, melodic vocal arrangements offset by screams in the closing title-track after the prior rolling groove of “Burden of the Flesh” offered a progressive and synth-laden take on Pallbearer-style emotive doom. Acoustics, keyboard, and a clear use of multiple singers give Circle of Sighs‘ first outing a kitchen-sink feel, but one can only admire them for trying something new at their (presumed) outset, and the catchy chug of “Hold Me, Lucifer” speaks to more complex aesthetic origins than the simplistic subject matter might lead one to believe. The outlier is the penultimate nine-minute cut “Kukeri,” which broods across its first three minutes in a manner that would make Patrick Walker proud before unfolding the breadth of its lumber and arrangement, harmonies and screams and the first real showcase of more extreme impulses taking hold in its second half — plus strings, maybe — which “Desolate” itself will build upon after a bookending acoustic close. There’s some sorting out to do in terms of sound, but already they show a readiness to push in their own direction, and that’s more than it would seem reasonable to ask.

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Floral Fauna, Pink and Blue

floral fauna pink and blue

Way out west, Chris Allison of the band Lord Loud is taking on psychedelic shimmer under the ostensible solo moniker of Floral Fauna, but the situation of the project’s 11-tracker debut LP, Pink and Blue is more complicated in personnel and style than that, melding fuzzy presence, classic ’60s surf-tone, rampant hooky melody and ready-to-go-anywhere-as-long-as-it-works pop experimentalism together in a steaming lysergic cauldron of neo-yourface-ism that’s ether blissed enough to tie funk and ancient R&B to cosmic flow together in a manner that feels like an utter tossoff, like, hey, yeah man, this kind of thing just happens all the time here. You know, no big deal on this wavelength. Mellow dreams in “Great White Silence,” a spacey ramble in “Velvet and Jade” and the echoing leadwork of “Red Anxiety” continue the color theme from the opening title-track, and the record caps with “Herds of Jellyfish,” which at last brings forward the vocal harmony that the whole album seems to have been begging for. Cool debut? Shit, man. It’s 36 minutes of straight-up psych joy just waiting to bring you on board. Legal psilocybin now.

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Vvlva, Silhouettes

vvlva silhouettes

There are a couple things you can figure on in this wacky universe, and one of them is that German imprint World in Sound knows what it’s doing when it picks up a classic heavy rock band. Silhouettes is the second long-player the label has released from woefully-monikered Aschaffenburg-based four-piece Vvlva, and indeed in the upfront boogie of “Cosmic Pilgrim” or the more progressive unfolding of pieces like “Tales Told by a Gray Man,” the centerpiece “Gomorrah,” or the longer “Night by Night/The Choir” and “Dance of the Heathens,” which seem to bring the two sides together, there’s enough vintage influence to make the case once again. Like the more forward thinking of their contemporaries, Vvlva have brought this modus into the present when it comes to production value and clarity, and rather than sound like it’s 1973, they would seem to be making 1973 sound like them. Whether one dives in for the early hooks in “Cosmic Pilgrim” or “What Do I Stand For?” or the fuzzy interplay between the solo and organ in the maddeningly bouncing “Hobos,” there’s plenty in Silhouettes to demonstrate the vitality and continued evolution of the style.

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