Quarterly Review: High on Fire, Ruff Majik, Merlin, Workshed, E-L-R, Sibyl, Golden Legacy, Saint Karloff & Devil’s Witches, Burden Limbs, El Supremo

Posted in Reviews on October 1st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

quarterly review

Another day, another batch of 10 reviews on the march to 50 by the end of the week. Will we make it? Yeah, probably. I mean, I think there was once when I had to skip a day or something but even then I made up for it and there’s never been an instance where the Quarterly Review fell apart. The one quarter I decided to nix it (was it last year?) I made up for it by doing 100 reviews instead of 50 the next time out, so we got there eventually. It being Tuesday, the end of the week looks far off, but indeed we’ll ge there eventually, and there’s a lot of good music between now and then, so let’s hit it.

Quarterly Review #11-20:

High on Fire, Bat Salad

high on fire bat salad

A limited vinyl EP released as part of Record Store Day 2019, High on Fire‘s Bat Salad comprises three songs: an original instrumental and two covers, one of Celtic Frost and one of Bad Brains. And I won’t take away from the “Rat Salad” Sabbath-does-blues-jazz-jam-except-it’s-HighonFire-so-it-sounds-nasty-as-hell spirit of “Bat Salad” at all, but the real highlight here is hearing Matt Pike‘s gravel-throated vocals take on “Into Crypts of Rays.” Celtic Frost have always been a central factor in what High on Fire were doing stylistically, so to have the band take them on directly seems long in the making. They approach Bad Brains‘ “Don’t Bother Me” with due reverence as well, careening through an intense three-minute burst of energy with the grit and underlying precision one has come to expect from these singular masters. Soon enough, bands will be covering High on Fire with the same spirit of fan homage. Doubly notable for being founding drummer Des Kensel‘s last recorded appearance alongside Pike and bassist Jeff Matz in the band.

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Ruff Majik, Tårn

ruff majik tarn

Guitarist/vocalist Johni Holiday, bassist Jimmy Glass and drummer Ben Manchino return with Tårn, Ruff Majik‘s second album on a quick turnaround from their 2018 debut, Seasons (review here). Aligned with Lay Bare Recordings for the vinyl release, the deceptively quick and even more deceptively complex seven-track/36-minute offering finds Ruff Majik digging into dirt-caked tonality and classically punkish sneer in Holiday‘s vocals. There are moments where they sound like Queens of the Stone Age (“Speed Hippie”) and moments where they sound like Black Flag (parts of opener “Schizophrenic”), but as a roller like “Heretically Happy” or the earlier post-Zeppelin stoner sneak of “Gloom & Tomb” show, Ruff Majik are perhaps most interested in sounding like themselves. They’re gleeful as they toy with doomed vibes on closer “Seasoning the Witch,” and the seven-minute “I’ll Dig the Grave” earlier thrills with changes drawn together by a pervasive and righteous groove. With Tårn, Ruff Majik have found their wavelength, and it suits them.

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Lay Bare Recordings website


Merlin, The Mortal

merlin the mortal

Be it heretofore established that sax-laced Kansas City psych-doomers Merlin don’t give a fuck. They don’t give a fuck what you expect, they don’t give a fuck what everyone else is doing, they don’t give a fuck if they meme the crap out of their own band. They’ve got their thing and they’re doing it. And you know what? They’re right. The Mortal is their fifth full-length in six years, following as a sequel to early-2018’s The Wizard (review here), and with flourish galore in arrangements of organ, sax, flute, percussion, accordion, trumpet, etc., alongside the foundation of songcraft that comes through the guitar, bass, drums and always-theatrical vocals of Jordan Knorr, the band recount tales along a dark-magical mystery tour of gorgeously flowing and still-weighted psychedelic plunder. They have become a buried treasure of weirdo/geek rock, and whether it’s the peaceful drift of “Ashen Lake” or the cacophonous heavy riffing of “Basilisk,” the stage-setting prog of “Towerfall” or the consuming swell that carries out the apex of closer “The Mortal Suite” — King Crimson chase and all — Merlin‘s work has never sounded so masterful. Will there be a third installment in the tale? Nothing quite like a trilogy.

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Workshed, Workshed

workshed workshed

They’ve since added a third party in bassist Helen Storer (Fireball Ministry, among others), but Workshed‘s self-titled Rise Above Records debut LP was recorded as the duo of guitarist/vocalist Adam Lehan and drummer Mark Wharton. More than a quarter-century ago, both Lehan and Wharton played on Cathedral‘s pivotal first two albums, but in Workshed, and certainly there are some shades of doom on a stomper like “Anthropophobic” here, but the bulk of Workshed‘s nine-song/47-minute first offering is given to post-Entombed buzzsaw noise sludge, riffs crunched one into the next in an aggro, punk-rooted fashion that rife with a sense of willful punishment that comes through in sheer impact from front to back. Vocals call to mind Tom G. Warrior immediately and are suited to the social commentary of “If This is How it Is” and “This City Has Fallen,” while the grueling march of “A Spirit in Exile” leaves room for some atmosphere to eek through, which it does. They trash out in centerpiece “On Sticks of Wood” and chug their into a last fade on closer “It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way,” but by then they’ve long since made their statement and left a trail of destruction behind them. Would they have been signed to Rise Above without the Cathedral connection? Probably not. Does the album earn their place? Absolutely.

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Rise Above Records website


E-L-R, Mænad

e-l-r maenad

With their first full-length, Mænad, Swiss post-metallers E-L-R cart a gorgeous and textured course through patient and progressive songweaving that lends itself to hypnosis through its churning rhythm as much as its overarching melodies seem to evoke other worlds. It is not without its sense of challenge and certainly plenty heavy in its tone and groove — at least where it wants to be — but it’s also rich and provides a level of depth to its mix that should have others in the genre asking how they did it. A transitional drone at the end of “Devotee” brings about the 10-minute “Above the Mountains There is Light” and a long contemplation begins, working from the ground up on a pilgrim’s path to the eventual payoff. The resonance there is something unto itself, but even as “Ambrosia,” “Lunar Nights” and “The Wild Shore” find the stylistic footing that opener “Glancing Limbs” and “Devotee” seemed to hint at earlier, E-L-R maintain both an ambient sprawl and a consuming sense of passion that makes their work here all the more thrilling. This is a debut, following only a single 2018 demo that had two of the same tracks. What that tells me is look out for this band, because this kind of potential doesn’t come along every day and when it does, you want to be there for the follow-up. The impeccable taste of Prophecy Productions pays dividends once again.

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Prophecy Productions website


Sibyl, The Magic Isn’t Real

sibyl the magic isn't real

Otherworldly doom rock marked by echoing vocals oozing out from deep in the mix and gotta-hear-it bass tone complemented by choice riffage and a fervent thud in the drums, even if the aesthetic of Richmond’s Sibyl is familiar enough, there’s plenty to dig about their debut EP — what one might’ve called a “demo” in eras past — The Magic Isn’t Real. The stylistic elephant in the room is RVA’s own Windhand, but Sibyl take a more psychedelic path to heavy oblivion, and with four tracks in the range of four to five minutes, The Magic Isn’t Real comes across as well focused in its songwriting despite the ethereal touches in the actual sound. Cool vibe, and as they work some noisy shuffle into “Spinning Webs,” they show themselves as being less restricted than otherwise might be the case if they were purely committed to doomed drudgery. I’ll give bonus points as well for naming the penultimate track “Sexpionage,” just on principle, but it’s in stretches like the subdued creeper opening of “Blood Moon” and the engrossing, still-somehow-moving wash of “Pendulums” that Sibyl really showcase their intention.

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Sibyl on Bandcamp


Golden Legacy, Golden Legacy II

golden legacy golden legacy ii

London heavy noise duo Golden Legacy offer five tracks and 23 minutes of anti-genre, adrenaline rock to follow-up their 2016 self-titled EP. There’s a strong undercurrent of modern punk and indie to their sound, which is what gets them the “anti-genre” consideration, but it’s the energy of their delivery carrying them one way or the other as they drive through the harsh snare of “Cut and Crash” following the chunkier tone of opener “Moon” and just before centerpiece “Dirty Mouth” finds its way into grunge-style howling beastliness. Comprised of drummer/vocalist Lorena Cachito and guitarist Yanni Georgiou, the two-piece find winning momentum in “Salvation,” while closer “Thirsty” opens with a mellow drum progression gradually joined by the guitar and builds into more progressive and dramatic movement, casting off some of the rawness of the songs before it in favor of more complex fare. It still manages to soar at the end, though, and that seems to be what counts. They might be rawer now than they’ll eventually turn out, but that suits most of what they’re doing in adding to the emotionality on display in Cachito‘s vocals.

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Golden Legacy on Bandcamp


Saint Karloff & Devil’s Witches, Coven of the Ultra-Riff

saint karloff devils witches coven of the ultra-riff

Alright, look. I don’t even think I have the full thing, but whatever. Saint Karloff and Devil’s Witches came together to release the Coven of the Ultra-Riff split — it can be so hard to find the right coven for your family; have you considered the Ultra-Riff? — and they each play an original track and then they cover each other’s songs and then Saint Karloff introduce the progression of “Supervixen (Electric Return)” and Devil’s Witches take up the mantle and run with it on “Supervixen (Acoustic Return),” so yeah, it’s pretty awesome and kind of all over the place but whatever. Get your head around it and get on board with whatever version you can grab. Vinyl came out through Majestic Mountain Records and tapes were through Stoner Witch Records and I’m fairly certain it’s all sold out already and probably stupid expensive on Discogs, but do what you need to do, because this is what Sabbath worship in the year 2019 is supposed to sound like. It’s bombed out of its gourd and has long since dropped out of life. It’s exactly where and what it wants to be.

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Devil’s Witches on Thee Facebooks

Majestic Mountain Records BigCartel store

Stoner Witch Records BigCartel store


Burden Limbs, There is No Escape

burden limbs there is no escape

I’m not going to pretend to have the grounding in post-hardcore to toss off the influences under which Burden Limbs are working, but to listen to the blast of noise in “How Many Times Must I Reset” and the near-industrial wash of noise they conjure in the subsequent “Hypochondriac,” it’s clear they’re working under one influence anyway. There is No Escape (released through Glasshouse Records) runs 24 minutes and carries four songs, but in that time the band around founding figurehead and guitarist/vocalist Chad Murray manage to challenge themselves and the listener alike to keep up with their turns and emotional resonance. Murray is joined by two bassists, another guitarist, keyboards/synth and drums, so yes, there’s something of a busy feel to it, but even echoing cavernous as they are, the vocals seem to draw the songs together around a central presence and add a human core to the proceedings that only makes them all the more affecting as would seem to be the intent.

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Glasshouse Records on Bandcamp


El Supremo, Clarity Through Distortion

El Supremo Clarity Through Distortion

Sometimes these things take a while, but El Supremo was formed by now-ex-Egypt bassist Chad Heille has a solo-project and released a self-titled demo in 2008, to which Clarity Through Distortion is the follow-up full-length. Now joined by guitarist Neil Stein (also ex-Egypt, and who also played some on the demo) and organist Chris Gould as well as bassist Cam Dewald who came aboard after the album’s completion, the instrumentalist full-band incarnation of El Supremo waste no time diving into dead-on tonal and riffy righteousness, taking classic heavy cues and running with them in modern production richness, sounding clear but natural as a jam like “Moanin’ & Groanin'” turns into a shuffler as it moves into its second half, or the mellow sway of the 14-minute “Supercell” at last runs head-on into the lumbering motion that will carry it through to the end. I don’t know how much clarity — at least of the existential sort I think they mean in the title — they might’ve found by the time the bluesy “Lotus Throne” rolls over into the shreddy “Outro” that caps, but if the method is distortion, they’ve certainly got that part down.

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El Supremo on Bandcamp


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Saint Karloff & Devil’s Witches Announce Coven of the Ultra-Riff Split out Sept. 6

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 16th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Preorders go live later this week for Coven of the Ultra-Riff, a new split due out Sept. 6 from Saint Karloff and Devil’s Witches that I have no doubt will live up to its name with a due sense of worship. It’s the first vinyl release from Majestic Mountain Records, and tapes will be handled by Stoner Witch Records, and with limited numbers in both formats, I’d be surprised if they weren’t gone before the release date actually arrives.

The twist here is that in addition to each band bringing an original track, they also cover each other’s work, so you get Saint Karloff playing Devil’s Witches and vice versa. Kind of a cool idea, and the bands certainly have their commonalities in terms of the titular “ultra-riff,” but there are some aesthetic differences as well and I’d be interested to hear how those come across in the covers.

Here’s the info for the vinyl and preorders when the time comes:

saint karloff devils witches coven of the ultra riff

Saint Karloff / Devil’s Witches – Coven of the Ultra-Riff

Coven of the Ultra-Riff is the epic new split from Saint Karloff and Devil’s Witches. Each band brings a brand new track and a reimagined cover song of the other’s work. The brand new songs are as heavy and riff laden as the title suggests. The cover songs have been stylistically reversed with Devil’s Witches providing an acoustic version of ‘Ghostsmoker’ and Saint Karloff electrifying the originally acoustic ‘Supervixen’. This monumental matchup of musical minds demands to be heard in superior vinyl format.
The split comes in a transparent green/black marbled 180 grams 12″ vinyl housed in a single sleeve cover incl. double sided insert; one side for each band. Cover artwork by Brouemaster Visual Decay with design by Devil’s Witches, insert artwork and design by Devil’s Witches.
Saint Karloff side Mastered for vinyl by Steve Kitch, Audiomaster.
Devil’s Witches side Mastered for vinyl by Joona Hassinen, Studio Underjord
Tracklisting Saint Karloff side:
At The Mountains Of Loudness
Supervixen (Electric Return)
Tracklisting Devil’s Witches side:
Love Is Doom, A Fistful Of Napalm
Ghostsmoker (Acoustic Return)
The split also includes:
– Two A3 posters – One designed by Devil’s Witches and the other designed by @shanehorror
– Split and Label stickers
NOTE This is a album mockup and the actual product might differ from the photo shown here.

Cassette release by Stoner Witch Records


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Review & Track Premiere: Devil’s Witches, Velvet Magic

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on March 15th, 2017 by JJ Koczan


[Click play above to stream ‘Mountain of the Devil’s Witch’ from Devil’s Witches’ debut album, Velvet Magic, out March 20 on Cursed Tongue Records.]

“Standing on the top of a mountain/I bet you feel totally far out now.” These quick opening lines begin to give the setting in which Velvet Magic, the Cursed Tongue Records debut LP from garage cult rockers Devil’s Witches, plays out the course of its 41 minutes. We are in Vietnam — or we end up there, ultimately — and it is the late ’60s. People are dying. The horrors of war, murder, sexual exploitation, drug culture and various other brain-addling traumas are taking place all around, and Devil’s Witches are on hand to tell a story that incorporates all of them. The band who, in the tradition of Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats are noteworthy for the amount of information withheld from the public — no lineup, no photos, no place of origin, no details on how they got together, etc.; just music and softcore retro pornography for a social media presence — are hardly the first to bathe in these troubled and troubling waters.

From Dracula to Apocalypse Now to Game of Thrones, lines have been crossed between sex and violence and murder for as long as humans have known what lines are, and honestly, probably longer. Doesn’t make it politically correct — and looking at the Branca Studio cover art for Velvet Magic, it should be pretty apparent that we’re a ways off from that — but doesn’t mean the narrative can’t be art, either. And much to their credit, whoever they are, Devil’s Witches are embarking on a narrative with these nine songs, adding a core of ambition and intent to the record by drawing the listener deeper into an increasingly dark, heroin chaos in terms of story while establishing a sound that draws on classic psychedelia and modern doom and offers quality songcraft and lyrical intrigue in kind.

Lyrics, obviously, are a point of focus, since they’re what draws Velvet Magic together — the title-line finally delivered in the penultimate title-track, and then again, in French, in closer “Requiem pour un Vampire” — but while it’s probably fair to call it nascent, Devil’s Witches have a depth to their approach that goes beyond storytelling as well. Opener “Apache Snow” announces its arrival with a thickly-fuzzed riff set to a slow-rolling progression of drums (or drum machine) and even-thicker bassline, and while these elements are generally more doom than rock, Devil’s Witches bring them to a psychedelic vibe with languid, drawling vocals that become as consistent a theme as Vietnam itself throughout subsequent tracks, whether that’s the shorter and straightforward hook “Motorpsycho” or side B’s “Mountain of the Devil’s Witch,” which offsets its more grueling motion with a classic organ solo in a retro/current blend that comes through clearly thanks in part to a mastering job by Mos Generator‘s Tony Reed.

The early cuts — “Apache Snow,” “Motorpsycho,” “Black Cauldron” and the entrancing instrumental “Pornodelic Opium Dreams” (which serves as a better description for Velvet Magic on an aesthetic level than anything I’m likely to come up with) — set up this duality of approach, and while I don’t know how many people are actually in the band and it could be anywhere from one to five given the fullness of sound in the album’s layers of guitar, bass, drums, keys and vocals, Devil’s Witches underscore the narrative movement of the tracks with a corresponding instrumental push into even darker, more threatening fare, beginning a sinister turn after “Pornodelic Opium Dreams” with the centerpiece “Voodoo Woman.”


Not that any point prior has been lacking in low end, but the organ-led five-minute hypnodrift of “Pornodelic Opium Dreams” seems especially well placed in making “Voodoo Woman” come across as all the more sinister in its darker turn. Guitar leads the way with rumble underscoring, and with flourish of toy piano, Devil’s Witches push into more driven riffing and a winding rhythm that’s faster and effective in conveying the decaying mental state of our unnamed protagonist. There’s still a hook, naturally, and a corresponding structure to support it, but “Voodoo Woman” represents a shift for Velvet Magic, and that continues on “Mountain of the Devil’s Witch,” which is the longest inclusion at seven minutes flat and arguably the outing’s bleakest moment. It finds its way into a doomly nod and, like “Voodoo Woman,” offsets it with a tinge of thickened metal, but picks up in its chorus all the same with the first of several sharp tempo changes that drops back for the next verse only to thrust forward again, and so on.

After its halfway point, “Mountain of the Devil’s Witch” finds itself in an instrumental stretch with more swing to its groove, and that serves as a fitting transition into the interlude “Jupiter Kush,” a wah-drenched brief two-and-a-half-minutes that devolves into noise before the title-cut kicks in, immediately mad with chugging but headed somewhere sweeter if still out-of-mind in its chorus — “My love my dove gold is your favorite color/My heart is black so we are perfect together” — as we seem to have hit the point where the character is disintegrating into a psychotropic ether of sex and the cosmic. A telling moment is the section of lead guitar in the second half, which toys with pop-psychedelia in a way that much of Velvet Magic has avoided, but where “Mountain of the Devil’s Witch” drifted out with no return, Devil’s Witches draw “Velvet Magic” back for a final verse and chorus, highlighting the sense of craft at work beneath the story all along.

At a little over three minutes, “Requiem pour un Vampire” feels as much an epilogue as a distinct inclusion, answering some of the atmosphere of “Pornodelic Opium Dreams” and “Jupiter Kush” in its subdued and almost playful spirit of organ and guitar bounce amid its delivered-in-French lyrics. The title comes from a 1971 Jean Rollin exploitation horror flick, as if the vibe wasn’t thick enough throughout, and how it relates directly to the story being told on Velvet Magic, I don’t know, but at very least it’s not musically out of place, and it may be intended as a bonus or hidden track for the LP. Either way, it’s one last bit of nuance from Devil’s Witches‘ whose debut full-length successfully lives up to its narrative intentions without losing sight of the need to still make its individual songs stand out on their own as well as serve the entire, overarching flow.

That’s a rare enough feat for more experienced acts, let alone a first album, and it will be interesting to see how much storytelling remains a part of the band’s approach. Almost invariably, the mystique around bands of their ilk fades away — names are included over time, origins unveiled, etc. — but in their thoughtful execution of these tracks, Devil’s Witch demonstrate the backbone of aesthetic to stand up even after the world finds out who they are.

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Devil’s Witches on Bandcamp

Devil’s Witches on YouTube

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Devil’s Witches Sign to Cursed Tongue Records; Velvet Magic LP Coming Soon

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 7th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Cult garage-psych rockers Devil’s Witches will release their debut album, Velvet Magic, on Cursed Tongue Records this summer. A few videos like the one you can see at the bottom of this post have leaked out in advance of the record — which will also have a tape release via Golden Dawn Recordings and reported potential CD issue as well — and therein one finds an aesthetic of copious fuzzsploitation and the post-Uncle Acid perverse. What Devil’s Witches seem to bring of their own to these elements is a narrative structure, which is ambitious for their first long-player, but seems to be cohesive and aesthetically suitable, at least going by what I’ve heard.

Kind of a heads up on this one, I guess. Don’t watch the video if you’re at work. Do take note of their use of the word “pornodelic” in a song title, because you’ll rarely find a more efficient descriptor for this entire genre of bands. Can pretty much guarantee I’m going to swipe that and use it from here on out. Credit where it’s due.

And info off the PR wire:

devil's witches logo

Devil’s Witches – Velvet Magic

Purveyors of heavy-psychedelic-fuzz ‘Devil’s Witches’ have signed to Cursed Tongue Records for a vinyl release of their debut album ‘Velvet Magic’ late summer 2017. Cassette and digital is due for March/April. Combing the melodic doomy grooves of a late 60s, early 70s vibe Devil’s Witches takes you on a tale of the occult and the Vietnam War.

Their debut ‘Velvet Magic’ is a concept album telling the preternatural tale of a discharged US Vietnam soldier. He is chosen by the mysterious ‘Voodoo Woman’, an occult female vixen who casts her feminine magic and seduces him. Abhorred by the violence and misery of the 1960s she uses her supernatural powers to transcend the earth and start a new world!

The story spans from the jungles of Vietnam, to the go-go bars of L.A. onto the Black Forest mountain region of south-west Germany and into France. ‘Velvet Magic’ is a tale of sex, seduction, exploitation, war and redemption.

Devil’s Witches – ‘Velvet Magic’ (2017)
1. Apache Snow
2. Motorpsyho
3. Black Cauldron
4. Pornodelic Opium Dreams
5. Voodoo Woman
6. Mountain of the Devil’s Witch
7. Jupiter Kush
8. Velvet Magic
9. Requiem pour un Vampire


Devil’s Witches, “Apache Snow” official video (NSFW)

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