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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Quarterly Review: Dorthia Cottrell, Fvzz Popvli, Formula 400, Abanamat, Vvon Dogma I, Orme, Artifacts & Uranium, Rainbows Are Free, Slowenya, Elkhorn

Posted in Reviews on May 11th, 2023 by JJ Koczan


Here we go day four of the Quarterly Review. I would love to tell you it’s been easy-breezy this week. That is not the case. My kid is sick, my wife is tired of my bullshit, and neither of them is as fed up with me as I am. Nonetheless, we persist. Some day, maybe, we’ll sit down and talk about why. Today let’s keep it light, hmm?

And of course by “light” I mean very, very heavy. There’s some of that in the batch of 10 releases for today, and a lot of rock to go along, so yes, another day in the QR. I hope you find something you dig. I snuck in a surprise or two.

Quarterly Review #31-40:

Dorthia Cottrell, Death Folk Country

Dorthia Cottrell Death Folk Country

Crafted for texture, Death Folk Country finds Windhand vocalist Dorthia Cottrell exploring sounds that would be minimal if not for the lushness of the melodies placed over them. Her first solo offering since 2015 runs 11 tracks and feels substantial at a manageable 42 minutes as delivered through Relapse Records. The death comes slow and soft, the folk is brooding and almost resistant in its Americana traditionalism, and the country is vast and atmospheric, and all three are present in a release that’s probably going to be called ethereal because of layering or vocal reverb but in fact is terrestrial like dry dirt. The seven-minute “Family Annihilator” is nigh on choral, and e-bow or some such droner element fills out the reaches of “Hell in My Water,” expanding on the expectation of arrangement depth set up by the chimes and swells that back “Harvester” after the album’s intro. That impulse makes Death Folk Country kin to some of earlier Wovenhand — thinking Blush Music or Consider the Birds; yes, I acknowledge the moniker similarity between Windhand and Wovenhand and stand by the point as regards ambience — and a more immersive listen than it would otherwise be, imagining future breadth to be captured as part of the claims made in the now. Do I need to say that I hope it’s not 2031 before she does a third record?

Dorthia Cottrell on Bandcamp

Relapse Records website

Fvzz Popvli, III


It’s been a quick — read: not quick — five years since Italian heavy rockers Fvzz Popvli released their second album, Magna Fvzz (review here), through Heavy Psych Sounds. Aptly titled, III is the third installment, and it’s got all the burner soloing, garage looseness and, yes, the fvzz one would hope, digging into a bit of pop-grunge on “The Last Piece of Shame,” setting a jammy expectation in the “Intro” mirrored in “Outro” with percussion, and cool-kid grooving on “Monnoratzo,” laced with hand-percussion and a bassline so thick it got made fun of in school and never lived down the trauma (a tragedy, but it rules just the same). “Post Shit” throws elbows of noise all through your favorite glassware, “20 Cent Blues” slogs out its march true to the name and “Tied” is brash even compared to what’s around it. Only hiccup so far as I can tell is “Kvng Fvzz,” which starts with a Charlie Chan-kind of guitar line and sees the vocals adopt a faux Chinese accent that’s well beyond the bounds of what one might consider ‘ill-advised.’ Cool record otherwise, but that is a significant misstep to make on a third LP.

Fvzz Popvli on Facebook

Retro Vox Records on Bandcamp


Formula 400, Divination

Formula 400 Divination

San Diegan riffslingers Formula 400 come roaring back with their sophomore long-player, Divination, following three (long) years behind 2020’s Heathens (review here), bringing in new drummer Lou Voutiritsas for a first appearance alongside guitarist/vocalists Dan Frick and Ian Holloway and bassist Kip Page. With a clearer, fuller recording, the solos shine through, the gruff vocals are well-positioned in the mix (not buried, not overbearing), and even as they make plays for the anthemic in “Kickstands Up,” “Rise From the Fallen” and closer “In Memoriam,” the lack of pretense is one of the elements most fortunately carried over from the debut. “Rise From the Fallen” is the only cut among the nine to top five minutes, and it fills its time with largesse-minded riffing and a hook born out of ’90s burl that’s a good distance from the shenanigans of opener “Whiskey Bent” or the righteous shove of the title-track. They’re among the best of the Ripple Music bands not yet actually signed to the label, with an underscored C.O.C. influence in “Divination” and the calmer “Bottomfeeder,” while “In Memoriam” filters ’80s metal epics through ’70s heavy and ’20s tonal weight and makes the math add up. Pretty dudely, but so it goes with dudes, and dudes are gonna be pretty excited about it, dude.

Formula 400 on Facebook

Animated Insanity Records website

No Dust Records website


Abanamat, Abanamat

Abanamat Abanamat

Each of the two intended sides of Abanamat‘s self-titled debut saves its longest song for its respective ending, with “Voidgazer” (8:25) capping side A and “Night Walk” (9:07) working a linear build from silence all the way up to round out side B and the album as a whole. Mostly instrumental save for those two longer pieces, the German four-piece recorded live with Richard Behrens at Big Snuff and in addition to diving back into the beginnings of the band in opener “Djinn,” they offer coherent but exploratory, almost-UncleAcidic-in-its-languidity fuzz on “Thunderbolt of Flaming Wisdom,” growing near-prog in their urgency with it on the penultimate “Amdest” but never losing the abiding mellow spirit that manifests out of the ether as “Night Walk” rounds out the album with synth and keys and guitar in a jazzy for-a-walk meander as the band make their way into a fuller realization of classic prog elements, enhanced by a return of the vocals after five minutes in. They’re there just about through the end, and fit well, but it demonstrates that Abanamat even on their debut have multiple avenues in which they might work and makes their potential that much greater, since it’s a conscious choice to include singing on a song or not rather than just a matter of no one being able to sing. The way they set it up here would get stale after a couple more records, but one hopes they continue to develop both aspects of their sonic persona, as any need to choose between them is imaginary.

Abanamat on Instagram

Interstellar Smoke Records store


Vvon Dogma I, The Kvlt of Glitch

Vvon Dogma I The Kvlt of Glitch

Led by nine-string bassist Frédérick “ChaotH” Filiatrault (ex-Unexpect), Montreal four-piece Vvon Dogma I are a progressive metal whirlwind, melodic in the spirit of post-return Cynic but no less informed by death metal, djent, rock, electronic music and beyond, the 10-song/45-minute self-released debut, The Kvlt of Glitch confidently establishes its methodology in “The Void” at the outset and proceeds through a succession marked by hairpin turns, stretches of heavy groove like the chorus of “Triangles and Crosses” contrasted by furious runs, dance techno on “One Eye,” melody not at all forgotten in the face of all the changes in rhythm, meter, the intermittently massive tones, and so on. Yes, the bass features as it inevitably would, but with the precision drumming of Kevin Alexander, Yoan MP‘s backflipping guitar and the synth and strings (at the end) of Blaise Borboën (also credited with production), a sound takes shape that feels like it could have been years in the making. Mind you I don’t know that it was or wasn’t, but Vvon Dogma I lead the listener through the lumbering mathematics of “Lithium Blue,” a cover of Radiohead‘s “2+2=5” and the grand finale “The Great Maze” with a sense of mastery that’s almost unheard of on what’s a first record even from experienced players. I don’t know where it fits and I like that about it, and in those moments where I’m so overwhelmed that I feel like my brain is on fire, this seems to answer that.

Vvon Dogma I on Facebook

Vvon Dogma I on Bandcamp


Orme, Orme

orme orme

Two sprawling slow-burners populate the self-titled debut from UK three-piece Orme. Delivered through Trepanation Recordings as a two-song 2LP, Orme deep-dives into ambient psych, doom, drone and more besides in “Nazarene” (41:58) and “Onward to Sarnath” (53:47), and obviously each one is an album unto itself. Guitarist/vocalist Tom Clements, bassist Jimmy Long (also didgeridoo) and drummer Luke Thelin — who’s also listed as contributing ‘silence,’ which is probably a joke, but open space actually plays a pretty large role in the impression Orme make — make their way into a distortion-drone-backed roller jam on “Nazarene,” some spoken vocals from Clements along the way that come earlier and more proclamatory in “Onward to Sarnath” to preface the instrumental already-gone out-there-ness as well as throat singing and other vocalizations that mark the rest of the first half-hour-plus, a heavy psych jam taking hold to close out around 46 minutes with a return of distortion and narrative after, like an old-style hidden track. It’s fairly raw, but the gravitational singularity of Orme‘s two forays into the dark are ritualistic without being cartoonishly cult, and feel as much about their experience playing as the listener’s hearing. In that way, it is a thing to be shared.

Orme on Facebook

Trepanation Recordings on Bandcamp


Artifacts & Uranium, The Gateless Gate

Artifacts & Uranium Gateless Gate

The UK-based experimentalist psych collaboration between Fred Laird (Earthling Society) and Mike Vest (Bong, et al) yields a third long-player as The Gateless Gate finds the duo branching out in the spirit of their 2021 self-titled and last year’s Pancosmology (review here) with instrumentalist flow and a three-dimensional sound bolstered by the various delays, organ, synth, and so on. Atop an emergent backbeat from Laird, “Twilight Chorus” (16:13) runs a linear trajectory bound toward the interstellar in an organic jam that comes apart before 12 minutes in and gives over to church organ and sampled chants soon to be countermanded by howls of guitar and distortion. Takest thou that. The B-side, “Sound of Desolation” (19:55), sets forth with a synthy wash that gives over to viol drone courtesy of Martin Ash, a gong hit marking the shift into a longform psych jam with a highlight bassline and an extended journey into hypnotics with choral keys (maybe?) arriving in the second half as the guitar begins to space out, fuzz soloing floating over a drone layer, the harder-hit drums having departed save for some residual backward/forward cymbal hits in the slow comedown. The world’s never going to be on their level, but Laird and Vest are warriors of the cosmos, and as their work to-date has shown, they have bigger fish to fry than are found on planet earth.

Artifacts & Uranium on Facebook

Riot Season Records website

Echodelick Records website


Rainbows Are Free, Heavy Petal Music

Rainbows Are Free Heavy Petal Music

What a show to preserve. Heavy Petal Music, while frustrating in that it’s new Rainbows Are Free and not a follow-up to 2019’s Head Pains, but as the Norman, Oklahoma, six-piece’s first outing through Ripple Music, the eight-song/43-minute live LP captures their first public performance in the post-pandemic era, and the catharsis is palpable in “Come” and “Electricity on Wax” early on and holds even as they delve into the proggier “Shapeshifter” later on, the force of their delivery consistent as they draw on material from across their three studio LPs unremitting even as their dynamic ranges between a piano-peppered bluesy swing and push-boogie like “Cadillac” and the weighted nod of “Sonic Demon” later on. The performance was at the 2021 Summer Breeze Music Festival in their hometown (not to be confused with the metal fest in Germany) and by the time they get down to the kickdrum surge backing the fuzzy twists of “Crystal Ball” — which doesn’t appear on any of their regular albums — the allegiance to Monster Magnet is unavoidable despite the fact that Rainbows Are Free have their own modus in terms of arrangements and the balance between space, psych, garage and heavy rock in their sound. Given Ripple‘s distribution, Heavy Petal Music will probably be some listeners’ first excursion with Rainbows Are Free. Somehow I have to imagine the band would be cool with that.

Rainbows Are Free on Facebook

Ripple Music website


Slowenya, Angel Raised Wolves b/w Horizontal Loops

slowenya angel raised wolves horizontal loops

It’s the marriage of complexity and heft, of melody and nod, that make Slowenya‘s “Angel Raised Wolves” so effective. Moving at a comfortable tempo on the drums of Timo Niskala, the song marks out a presence with tonal depth as well as a sense of space in the vocals of guitarist/synthesist Jan Trygg. They break near the midpoint of the 6:39 piece and reemerge with a harder run through the chorus, bassist Tapani Levanto stepping in with backing vocals before a roar at 4:55 precedes the turn back to the original hook, reinforcing the notion that there’s been a plan at work the whole time. An early glimpse at the Finnish psych-doom trio’s next long-player, “Angel Raised Wolves” comes paired with the shorter “Horizontal Loops,” which drops its chugging riff at the start as though well aware of the resultant thud. A tense verse opens to a chorus pretty and reverbed enough to remind of Fear Factory‘s earlier work before diving into shouts and somehow-heavier density. Growls, or some other kind of noise — I’m honestly not sure — surfaces and departs as the nod builds to an an aggressive head, but again, they turn back to where they came from, ending with the initial riff the crater from which you can still see right over there. The message is plain: keep an ear out for that record. So yes, do that.

Slowenya on Facebook

Karhuvaltio Records on Facebook


Elkhorn, On the Whole Universe in All Directions

Elkhorn On the Whole Universe in All Directions

Let’s start with what’s obvious and say that Elkhorn‘s four-song On the Whole Universe in All Directions, which is executed entirely on vibraphone, acoustic 12-string guitar, and drums and other percussion, is not going to be for everybody. The New York duo of Drew Gardner (said vibraphone and drums) and Jesse Sheppard (said 12-string) bring a particularly jazzy flavor to “North,” “South,” “East” and “West,” but there are shades of exploratory Americana in “South” that follow the bouncing notes of the opener, and “East” dares to hint at sitar with cymbal wash behind and rhythmic contrast in the vibraphone, a meditative feel resulting that “West” continues over its 12 minutes, somewhat ironically more of a raga than “East” despite being where the sun sets. Cymbal taps and rhythmic strums and that strike of the vibraphone — Elkhorn seem to give each note a chance to stand before following it with the next, but the 39-minute offering is never actually still or unipolar, instead proving evocative as it trades between shorter and longer songs to a duly gentle finish. Gardner formerly handled guitar, and I don’t know if this is a one-off, but as an experiment, it succeeds in bridging stylistic divides in a way that almost feels like showing off. Admirably so.

Elkhorn on Facebook

Centripetal Force Records website

Cardinal Fuzz Records BigCartel store


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Dorthia Cottrell to Release Death Folk Country April 21; “Family Annihilator” Video Posted

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 1st, 2023 by JJ Koczan

Dorthia Cottrell (Photo by Richard Howard)

Hey, if Dorthia Cottrell is going to be a brooding part-goth next-generation take on heavy Americana folk, I am — in the parlance of 2019 — here for it. The Windhand vocalist released her eponymous debut solo album in 2015 and will follow it with Death Folk Country via Relapse Records on April 21. A video for the immersive, organ-and-cymbal-wash=backed, many-layered “Family Annihilator” is streaming now at the bottom of this post, and yeah, the PR wire’s a little late since the song’s been out a couple days now and I’m a little late since the PR wire sent the stuff yesterday, but like you and everybody else, I’m doing my best here to keep up. Maybe I wanted to wait until I actually had a few minutes to actually listen to some music before I wrote about it. Crazy I know in this go-go-go universe of infinite consumption and immediate gratification. If nothing else, “Family Annihilator” is a good occasion to slow your ass down for about seven of those otherwise vaporized minutes.

And special kudos for the line “Glory is no pedestal I’ll put my foot upon.” That’s not the kind of thing people talk about when they say “real America,” but it should be.

From the PR wire:

Dorthia Cottrell Death Folk Country




Pre-Order via here:

Dorthia Cottrell envisions her music as both a document of love and a reconciliation with death. On her new album, Death Folk Country, Cottrell wards off death through creation – the most distilled form of love. The spirit of love passed on through her words will be the ultimate reward for earthly suffering. Cottrell’s enigmatic presence guides listeners down a path of introspection – Death Folk Country’s massive scope touches upon tales of love, loss, and so much more.

Cottrell was raised in rural King George, Virginia, a town with less than 5,000 inhabitants. Forests and tall-grass fields stretched before her. Beauty and boredom soared. That vague melancholy and memory of the American South is smudged all over Cottrell’s music. Cottrell grew up a goth, an outcast in a small town – a time and place she revisits throughout Death Folk Country.

“This album to me is about painting a picture of a place where my heart lives,” Cottrell explains. The title Death Folk Country is partly me describing a genre that fits the sound – but it’s also meant to be taken as a Naming, a coronation of the world inside me. Death Folk Country is the music and also the land where the music takes place, and the two have always been inextricable from each other.”

The album’s lead single “Family Annihilator” directly speaks to the unease and tension of Cottrell’s surroundings. “Porch lights keep the demons at bay,” she sings over crashing cymbals and a field recording of birds. “I had never played it before, I kind of brought it out of the attic,” Cottrell says of the song. Despite being over a decade old, “Family Annihilator” spoke to the moment she was in. With the threat of another four years of conservative offices in power, Cottrell thought of family back in the South who would be voting, and remembered something her grandfather, a farmer, had told her years ago: “If a crop is diseased, you have to burn the whole crop.” “‘Family Annihilator’ is a result of me wondering if the whole field must burn today, to save the flowers of tomorrow,” Cottrell says.

Death Folk Country Track Listing:

01 – Death Is The Punishment For Love
02 – Harvester
03 – Black Canyon
04 – Family Annihilator
05 – Effigy At The Gate Of Ur
06 – Midnight Boy
07 – Hell In My Water
08 – Take Up Serpents
09 – For Alicia
10 – Eat What I Kill
11 – Death Is Reward For Love

Dorthia Cottrell, “Family Annihilator” official video

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Scorched Tundra XII Announces Tickets on Sale; Monolord, Thou and More Playing

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 13th, 2022 by JJ Koczan

Scorched Tundra XII will be held in Chicago on Sept. 1-3, and its three-night duration looks admirably not-totally-overwhelming, bigger on quality than filler and seems to use its time well in tapping the Myopia collaboration between Thou and Mizmor that made its debut at Roadburn for a first-time-in-the-US set headlining the final night. I’m starting to get annoyed that I haven’t seen REZN yet and Monolord put out their second best-album-of-their-career-so-far in a row last year, so yes, now would be a good time to catch them as well. Oh and whoever Earthless are, I’m sure they’re fine too.

That’s a joke of course. Someone on social media called it a request for Dorthia Cottrell and Monolord — who are touring together — to collaborate and I’ve had trouble getting the idea out of my head since then. Just about no way that wouldn’t be worth hearing. Let them cover Nina Simone or something. Or maybe have her sit in on “Your Time to Shine” if you want to keep it simple. Make an album if you don’t.

Good times in Chicago:

Scorched Tundra XII



Tickets are now on sale for Scorched Tundra XII taking place on Thursday 9/1, Friday 9/2 and Saturday 9/3/22 at The Empty Bottle in Chicago. ST XII features newcomers and veterans of the festival, a number of first plays in the market, a North American debut, and a return to the three day format.

Thursday September 1st:
Dorthia Cottrell (Windhand)

Friday September 2nd:
Friendship Commanders

Saturday September 3rd:
Thou + Mizmor Collaboration Set
Ready For Death
DJ Heather Gabel (Hide)

“Collaboration has driven the development, articulation and curation of this event series over the last ten years and twelve editions,” states organizer Alexi D. Front. “Putting collaboration at the forefront is not only my way of sharing one of the most exciting convergences of talent in heavy music, but also nods to those who have stood by and supported Scorched Tundra over the last two years. This lineup is focused and charts a new course for the curation of this intimate event series.”

We anticipate tickets moving fast, so plan accordingly.

This year’s Scorched Tundra Poster was created by Bryn Gleason.

More details about beverage and food collaborations will be revealed as the festival draws nearer.

Thou & Mizmor, Myopia (2022)

Monolord, Your Time to Shine (2021)

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Video: Mutants of the Monster 2020 Virtual Festival with -(16)-, Deadbird, The Body, Hull, Heavy Temple, Oakskin, Dirty Streets & More

Posted in Bootleg Theater on August 31st, 2020 by JJ Koczan

mutants of the monster virtual poster

Alright, I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I’ve watched the complete five-and-a-half-hour, two-part span of the Mutants of the Monster 2020 Virtual Festival. That’s just not where my life is at. It was the Hull reunion that brought me to the Arkansas-based fest’s digital incarnation, and even conducted in separate spaces via Zoom, it was great to see that band again — guitarist/vocalist Nick Palmirotto splurged for the green-screen-style Zoom backgrounds and made the most of it in the clip of “Viking Funeral,” but the whole five-piece ripped in a way that only made me wish all the more they had done a third record before calling it quits in 2015.

But though Hull were the hook, once I was in, it was easy to stay that way. Two nights’ worth of viewing, with L.A. aggro-sludgemasters -(16)- headlining one evening and The Body unleashing their apocalyptic destruction the next, sets from Windhand‘s Dorthia Cottrell (joined by bandmate Parker Chandler), Philly’s Heavy Temple, as well as the likes of Memphis’ Dirty Streets — who played in someone’s very nice living room (I noted the Edison turntable, with speaker horn, behind bassist Thomas Storz), the joy-to-behold Little Rock hometown team Deadbird, hardcore pushers SixKillsNine, the noise crush of Eye Flys — who advocated at the outset for dismantling and defunding the police — as well as ex-Kylesa guitarist Phillip Cope‘s new project Oakskin, who were an atmospheric sludge highlight, spoken introductions, between-band videos, and a ton more. Put together by Christopher Farris Terry — of Rwake, Iron Tongue, Deadbird and the Slow Southern Steel documentary — it not only raised funds for worthy causes, but celebrated a diverse range of sounds and styles and creativity that, while it could never be the same as being in a place and witnessing it all in-person for two nights, utilized the visual medium in an intelligent and exciting way that a lot of live streams simply haven’t been able to do. It had a flow, and for all the geography it drew upon — aesthetically and literally — it was not clumsy in its shifts or nonsensical in its progressions from one set to the next.

Some performed with masks on, some didn’t — even in the same band, as seen with Wvrm — and Heavy Temple played en rouge. I don’t think any of it happened live as it was airing, but the sense of it as a premiere and a presented-live event came through fine. While we’re talking about things I don’t know — there’s so much — I also don’t know how long these streams are going to stay up, and it’s entirely possible that by the time this is posted they’ll be taken down in order to emphasize the ephemeral, it’s-over-now nature of the virtual festival. I hope that’s not the case, and not just because I’d feel dumb posting empty YouTube embeds. Wouldn’t be the first time.

But the bottom line is that while you can you should check out what you can. I’m not gonna try and claim five and a half hours outright from your busy day and your busy life, but, well, maybe I am. Even if it takes you more than two days to get through as you peruse one brief set into the next, the reward is easy justification for the effort.

And maybe next year, in person.


Mutants of the Monster 2020 Part I

Mutants of the Monster, a Central Arkansas festival helmed by Chris Terry (Rwake, Deadbird, Iron Tongue) that has championed heavy sounds for years, is going virtual in 2020.

We are also raising funds and awareness for two local organizations that support transgender rights and immigrants here in Arkansas. Please take some time to learn about their stories and support the good cause,

Intransitive’s Brayla Stone microgrants

El Zocalo Immigrant Resource Center

Lineup for Part I:
Dorthia Cottrell
Heavy Temple
– (16) –

Laina Dawes (Music Journalist/ “What Are You Doing Here?”), Michael Alago (Music Producer/ “Who The F**k Is That Guy”), Chris Terry (Rwake, Deadbird, Iron Tongue).

Mutants of the Monster 2020 Part II

Lineup for Part II:
Dirty Streets
Eye Flys
Terminal Nation
The Body

Jason McMaster (Dangerous Toys), Madeline/Rebecca (Redbait), Nate Garrett (Spirit Adrift), Matt Besser (Actor/Comedian), Elliott Fullam (Little Punk People), Ashlie Atkinson (“BlacKkKlansman,” “Mr. Robot”).

Mutants of the Monster 2020 Event Page

Christopher Farris Terry on Thee Facebooks

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Dorthia Cottrell Announces Solo Shows

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 1st, 2016 by JJ Koczan

Windhand vocalist Dorthia Cottrell has a couple of solo dates booked beginning this weekend in Virginia en route to Texas over the course of the next week. Her eponymous solo album was released last year (2015) on Forcefield Records, and found her reveling in classic dark Americana forms, a moody atmosphere pervading original and covered material while her hypnotic croon that has proved such an enduring part of Windhand‘s appeal remained at the core. To the best of my knowledge, the vinyl of the album is gone, but you can still get it on CD if you, like me, retain an affection for the oft-maligned format.

And of course, the Richmond-based Windhand released their third album this past fall in the form of the Jack Endino-produced Grief’s Infernal Flower (review here), the oppressive atmosphere of which was given breadth by the acoustic tracks “Sparrow” and “Aition,” each positioned as a landmark to round out a half of the record. Windhand has toured the country and beyond several times over, and barring some shift it seems likely 2016 would continue that thread, but Cottrell‘s solo shows are somewhat rarer, so if you happen to be in her path, keep that in mind. I was fortunate enough to catch her at Vultures of Volume II (review here) in September, and zero regrets.

Plus, she’s bringing her dog on the road. Dates follow:

dorthia cottrell

SURPRISE! Ryan and Delilah and I are heading to Texas to hang out with some friends and I’m playing a few shows on the way down, low key like! Come see us and pet our dog in the following places:

January 2 Harrisonburg, VA : Golden Pony
January 3 Johnson City, TN: Hideout
January 4 Nashville, TN: No show, but we are down to chill for the night
January 5 Little Rock, AR: Vino’s
January 6 Texarkana: The Road Map
January 9 Austin, TX: The Lost Well

See ya soon

Dorthia Cottrell, Dorthia Cottrell (2015)

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Front to Back: Vultures of Volume II Day Two in Hagerstown, MD, 09.05.15

Posted in Reviews on September 9th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

vultures of volume ii poster

The hotel breakfast — not so much. I woke up pretty early after Day One of Vultures of Volume II, drawn by the allure of free scrambled eggs or at very least some carbs to start the day, but some lumpy-looking sausage and a weird egg/potato/cheese combo deal scared me off. A cup of coffee and a rigid search of the interwebs later, I found a cafe up the road a little ways.

A quick lunch would turn out to be my only meal of the day, because once it got going, Vultures of Volume II Day Two simply did not stop. First band, on at 1PM. Last band, off a little before 2AM. It was 13 acts and very nearly 13 hours of front-to-back performances, and by the time the day was a quarter over, the Delmar Inn in Hagerstown had developed full-on as a festival ecosystem. Just about everyone knew everyone else, and the vibe was thick throughout. Some were dragging after getting down a little too hard the night before, or at least hard enough, but the only thing to do was keep going. This festival, in the fine tradition of gatherings like Emissions from the Monolith, Stoner Hands of Doom, Days of the Doomed and the Eye of the Stoned Goat, would brook no absence.

Yeah, I was beat, but fuck it. It was rock and roll and I drove a long way to be there. The lineup for Day Two was Elder, Dorthia Cottrell of Windhand playing a solo set, Wretch, Weed is Weed, Carousel, Righteous Bloom, Foghound, Witch Hazel, Thousand Vision Mist, Wizard Eye, Wasted Theory, Buzzard Canyon and Heavy Temple, and the latter had the illustrious task of getting things rolling:

Heavy Temple

Heavy Temple (Photo by JJ Koczan)

It had been more than two years since the last time I saw Philadelphia’s Heavy Temple, which was also the first time, and in between, bassist/vocalist High Priestess Nighthawk has completely revamped the trio’s lineup — she’s now joined by drummer Siren Tempestas and guitarist Archbishop Barghest — and has moved forward following the release through Ván Records of the band’s self-titled debut EP (review here), which by my estimation was one of last year’s finest short releases. They played four songs, all of them new, and I was glad for the glimpse at what’s to come, finding creative progression evident in how smoothly Heavy Temple seemed to weave in and out of parts, the fluidness with which they utilized classic stoner riffing without necessarily being beholden to it, and the dynamic between Nighthawk and her newcomer cohorts, Barghest an almost shoegazing presence on stage while Tempestas seemed to throw her whole body at the kit while she played. Some presentation nuances to be ironed out between the three of them — that is, I think at this point the band could do away with the stage names, and Nighthawk is the only one in a ritual robe, though that was the case last time as well — but past those crucial decisions to be made between robes and denim shorts, they were sonically more than dead on, rounding out their set with well-timed starts and stops and off-mic screams that were effective in adding drama to a set that showed Heavy Temple as a band well on their way. Looking forward to their next EP, which is reportedly already recorded.

Buzzard Canyon

Buzzard Canyon (Photo by JJ Koczan)

There was little one might reasonably ask of a hard rock act that Buzzard Canyon didn’t offer, whether it was the soul behind the dual vocals of Amber Leigh and guitarist Aaron Lewis, or the straight-ahead but still weighted grooves of bassist Randall Dumas and drummer Matt Raftery. Actually, there was one thing one probably could’ve asked of them: the second guitar they left behind in Connecticut when they departed for Maryland early in the morning on Saturday in time to make their slot at Vultures of Volume II. Pretty much everything else they had covered. There was just about no way I was going to go into their set thinking of them as something other than Lewis‘ band — I’ve just known that dude for simply too long, been a part of projects with him, done shows with his other band, When the Deadbolt Breaks, etc. — but it was not only great to see him play after what’s been too long, but likewise great to see him explore the more upbeat, rocking side. Buzzard Canyon‘s debut, which they decided on stage was eight tracks, maybe nine, probably 11 by the time it’s done, is apparently in the works, and though they were down a guitar, they did well as a four-piece, playing both songs from the two-songer CDR they brought with them to give away, “Wyoming” and “Not My Cross,” the former of which seemed a long-enough time to wait to break out the cowbell and the latter of which closed their set in reinforcement of the active feel of the material, not at all afraid to have a good time or encourage the crowd to do the same.

Wasted Theory

Wasted Theory (Photo by JJ Koczan)

You know, I do dig Wasted Theory. The Delaware four-piece have come a long, long way since the first time I saw them, and they’ve done a couple tours and weekenders since they put out their 2014 full-length, Death and Taxes (review here), and that has only furthered their cause in both the tightness of their execution and their confidence on stage. Sometimes though, I feel like I’m just not quite dudely enough for it. Here’s these guys, and they’re killing it, singing songs about running ‘shine through the southland and this and that, and I’m standing there watching them feeling like I should probably call up my primary care physician and see if I can get some testosterone supplements or something so as to properly appreciate what’s going down on stage. As has been the case the last couple times I’ve seen them — and I’ll see them again before the month is out, if all goes according to plan — “Hellfire Ritual” and “Black Widow Liquor Run” were highlights, guitarist Larry Jackson, Jr. having his “whiskey-soaked” in full effect while on either side, bassist Jonathan Charles and guitarist Dave McMahon followed a hairpin course of riffs propelled by Brendan Burns‘ drums. They would not be the day’s last kick in the ass, but they were a vehement one all the same, even for one so apparently hormonally imbalanced as I. In all seriousness, Wasted Theory are scary tight for being still-recently off their first record, and by all appearances they’re only continuing to nail down what they do. Not trying to tell anyone their business, but Ripple Music, keep an eye out.

Wizard Eye

Wizard Eye (Photo by JJ Koczan)

We’re just about a month out from the release date of Wizard Eye‘s much-awaited self-titled second album on Black Monk Records, and the Philadelphia three-piece — Erik on guitar/vocals/theremin, Dave on bass/vocals, Mike on drums — seemed very much to be in good spirits ahead of the release. It was, as it was the last time I saw them, an absolute pleasure to watch them play. What they do isn’t overly complex or painstakingly crafted for nuance, but it’s impeccably well done and deceptively individualized. Most of what they played was culled from the impending Wizard Eye, which finds their semi-crusted rolling grooves firmly intact on songs like “Flying/Falling,” “Thunderbird” and “Eye of the Deep,” but there was one inclusion on the setlist I didn’t recognize — “Revenant” — which isn’t from the tracklisting I’ve seen for the new record, or from their 2010 debut, Orbital Rites, so I’m not sure if maybe it’s new or was left off the new album or what. Doesn’t seem unreasonable to think that after five years between outings they might have more material than just what’s showing up on the new LP. Either way, I’ll take their fuzz-overdosed nod any time I can. They were locked in tight at Vultures of Volume II, and remain a much better band than people seem to know, which is something that the new album will hopefully work to correct. Erik went to the theremin just once, earlier in the set — was it “Gravebreath” or “Flying/Falling?” — but even so, they were a blast to see again and offered stone-baked groove in plenty for their afternoon set.

Thousand Vision Mist

Thousand Vision Mist (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Given that they take their moniker from the name of Life Beyond‘s 2002 debut/swansong full-length, and given that they share guitarist/vocalist Danny Kenyon with that defunct MD trio, I guess I just assumed that when they got started, Thousand Vision Mist would essentially be an incarnation of the same kind of straight-ahead, post-The Obsessed/Revelation Maryland-style doom. That was not the case. Together with be-chapeaued bassist/vocalist Tony Comulada and drummer Chris SebastianKenyon led the charge through a set of fiery but progressive metal. Doom was definitely a part of it, and listening to the studio versions on their 2015 debut demo of cuts like “Garden of Ghosts,” “Drifter” and “Tears of the Moon” — which was particularly proggy coming from the Delmar stage — that holds up, but by no means was it the sum-total of what they had to offer. Instead, they pulled off quick turns and shifts while also having a heavy sensibility, and the technical intricacies came across fluidly as the crowd clearly loved on a hometown act. As a power trio, the dynamic looked to be more the guitar and bass, then the drums, rather than the standard guitar/rhythm section divide, but I’d by no means consider the matter settled considering they just have the five-song demo out, and for what it’s worth, they played a new song “Skybound and Beyond,” which they said had been written on Thursday, just two days prior, and though it seemed like it was about to come flying apart at any moment, it never actually did, and Thousand Vision Mist‘s impressive control over their sound can only continue to suit them as they move forward.

Witch Hazel

Witch Hazel (Photo by JJ Koczan)

It might have been enough for York, Pennsylvania, four-piece Witch Hazel to earn sympathy points for the recent loss of their hometown venue, The Depot, and it might have been enough that they broke out the weekend’s first tambourine to go along with their post-Pentagram ’70s-ish shuffle, but they also featured some especially passionate cowbell/headbang action in the last song (when else?) from frontman Nate Tyson, and dedicated a song to Iron Man, so if there were bases to cover, they were duly covered. Some of it was a little over-the-top — as intended — with the eyeliner, elaborate pants, and so on, but hard to fault Witch Hazel for keeping an eye toward presentation. Their new album, Nocturnity, is available now, and is a 28-minute concept piece that seems to be about a family with a bloodline that cures vampires, but though I don’t think “Moon People Unite” comes from that record, the crowd started to make its way back in to get a glimpse at what Witch Hazel — Tyson, guitarist Andy Craven, high-cymbal drummer Nick Zinn and bassist Seibert Lowe, who was playing his first show with the band — had to offer with their shuffling style and weirdo neo-classic edge. They closed with “Secret Door” from their 2013 debut, Forsaken Remedies, which only furthered their boogie cred.


Foghound (Photo by JJ Koczan)

No sooner did Baltimore’s Foghound walk on the stage than they owned it. Seriously. Before they even started playing, the entire room was theirs. Last time I saw the band was Eye of the Stoned Goat IV in Worcester, MA (review here), and they killed then, but this was a different league entirely. No doubt part of that stems from relatively-new bassist Rev. Jim Forrester, who, like Foghound drummer Chuck Dukehart III, is a Sixty Watt Shaman expat. Forrester was kinetic on stage — and off it, as he hopped down on the regular throughout — and seemed to pull the rest of the band along with him, Dukehart sharing vocal duties with guitarists Bob Sipes and Dee Settar all the while, the three of them switching back and forth here, coming together there, racing through material from their upcoming second album. They were a shot of life just when I was feeling like I needed it most, and while the locals, who obviously have more occasion to see them than I do, weren’t necessarily surprised by what they delivered, I was utterly blown away. Their new stuff was faster, meaner and tighter than 2013’s Quick, Dirty and High (review here), and I liked that CD plenty. The tempo of the songs, the stomp and the energy they brought made them the band of the day up to that point, and cuts like “Serpentine” and “Rockin’ and Rollin'” were absolutely propulsive alongside the other “Dragon’s Tooth” and “Resurrect the Throwaways,” which remains almost insidiously catchy. That song was a bit of a slowdown comparatively, but the momentum held up anyway to the end of the set, and if Foghound brought even half of that level of vitality to the studio, their second record’s going to be a stunner.

Righteous Bloom

Righteous Bloom (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Whatever unfortunate drama brought about the change in the first place, I have to think particularly after seeing them play at Vultures of Volume II that the changeover from Beelzefuzz to Righteous Bloom will be a positive in the longterm for the band. Not even because Bert Hall — speaking of chapeaus; his deserves its own Facebook page just so I can like it, unlike it, then like it again — is such a monster player, though rest assured he is, as he’s proved over the years in Revelation and Against Nature, but just for how much easier it is to take them seriously with the new name. I never saw Beelzefuzz as a four-piece after they added Pale Divine frontman Greg Diener as a lead guitarist, but he serves in that capacity well in Righteous BloomHall is indeed a master of groove, and Darin McCloskey‘s fluid drumming is every bit as effective in the new band as it was in the old, adding classic style to underscore the eerie progressivism in frontman Dana Ortt‘s effects-heavy guitar work and live-multitracked vocals. Some of what they played came from Beelzefuzz‘s 2013 self-titled debut (review here) — “All the Feeling Returns,” “Lotus,” “Hypnotize” and “Reborn” garnering knowing appreciation from the crowd, myself included — but newer songs like “Within Trance” (posted here) and “Nazz Riff” went over with no trouble, as well as older demo cuts “Peace Mind,” which opened, “The Soulless” and “Hard Luck Melody,” Ortt‘s wide-eyed delivery throughout playing off a quiet “hey man” hippie routine between the songs that was Akerfeldtine in its entertainment value. Fact of the matter is that he could easily become the kind of dude who, years from now, people will talk about the first time they saw him play and try to compare notes for who got in lowest on the ground floor. I can’t make any such claim, but watching Righteous Bloom for the first time post-Beelzefuzz sure felt like a landmark anyway. Hall fit in perfectly, Diener‘s soloing was tasteful, McCloskey‘s timing and swing are as close to a sure thing as life has to offer and Ortt was the madman front and center. There was nothing — and I mean nothing — not to dig. Their album can’t get here fast enough.


Carousel (Photo by JJ Koczan)

If you’re having a good time, Carousel want to be the reason why. The Pittsburgh natives’ sophomore LP, 2113, was still pretty fresh in my head after its recent stream and review, so I was glad to have the chance to catch the four-piece live and experience the songs first-hand. They played the first three of them in a row — “Trouble,” “Photograph” and the unrepentantly hooky “Buried Alive in Your Arms” — and guitarist/vocalist Dave Wheeler took the time to note between the second and third that the band is very well known for their expert sequencing. That was something I mentioned in my review, but I wouldn’t flatter myself to think they had any idea who I was other than drummer Jake Leger, who also plays in reactivated ’70s rockers Bang, who toured with Kings Destroy last year for a run on which I tagged along. I’m sure it was a happy coincidence. Still, Wheeler was right, 2113 was a well put together album, and I’m not really sure what might be wrong with that. Either way, their boozy classic-heavy good times carried over remarkably well live — turns out they know how to structure a set as well, dipping back to the title-track from their 2013 debut, Jeweler’s Daughter (review here), after “Buried Alive in Your Arms” — and their cardiovascular-style delivery felt like an all-around win. Wheeler took the time to introduce the band, starting with bassist Jim Wheeler before getting to Leger and guitarist/backing vocalist Matt Goldsborough, who he noted handles guitar as well in Pentagram from time to time and in Trouble offshoot The Skull, and ending with himself: “And I’m Dave,” the band playing behind him all the while in classic showman fashion. They slowed down the set and brought the energy level back up effectively with the 2113 title-track, and their catchy songcraft, ’70s vibes and, yes, sequencing, found much welcome.

Weed is Weed

Weed is Weed (Photo by JJ Koczan)

You could give me a pad and paper and two full weeks to brainstorm ideas, but I’m not sure I could come up with anything more stoner rock than Dave Sherman fronting Weed is Weed while singing through a mic on a custom stand made to look like a bong. It even had incense burning near the bottom so there was smoke coming out. That, my friends, is charm, and Weed is Weed have plenty of it to go around between Sherm clearly having a blast with the entire thing and the riffery provided by three — three! — guitarists: Gary Isom (ex-Spirit Caravan), Russ Strahan (ex-Pentagram) and Rob Portillo. With Darren Waters holding down yet more low end on bass throughout such family-friendly hits as “Cleptus Butanus” — a song about stealing lighters that featured a line about having enough in your pocket to build a butane rocket — and “The Bong Remains the Same,” Weed is Weed also introduced their new drummer, Tyler Lee, age 18. Gotta start ’em young. Worth noting that “The Bong Remains the Same” will also be the title of the six-piece’s next EP, and it must have been a hard call between that and “Reign in Bud,” which closed out, Lee teasing a Slayer drum thud reference at the beginning before they took off on another stoner-for-stoner onslaught, their groove as undeniable as their central theme was dank. Does anyone say dank anymore? I don’t even know. In any case, Weed is Weed‘s particular brand of fun was infectious, and even as a non-smoker, their puns were second to none. Not a stem in the nugget.


Wretch (Photo by JJ Koczan)

In much the same way that Righteous Bloom is a continuation of Beelzefuzz, so too does Wretch feel born directly from the demise of The Gates of Slumber. The Indianapolis three-piece had traveled the farthest to get to Hagerstown — headliners Elder would be no slouch in that department either — and they were heavy enough that the head sitting on top of guitarist/vocalist Karl Simon‘s full-stack of cabinets was at several points very close to vibrating off and falling to the floor. It didn’t, thankfully, and Simon, drummer J. Clyde Paradis — who, like Simon, is a The Gates of Slumber alum — and bassist Bryce Clark held down some of the weekend’s most thoroughly doomed vibes, morose plod and downer tones emanating at max volume. “R.I.P.” was a highlight, which feels strange to even say, and a couple of songs from the final The Gates of Slumber album, 2011’s The Wretch (review here), were aired, among them “Bastards Born” and “The Wretch” itself. They finished out with “The Jury,” which originally appeared on 2004’s …The Awakening debut from the defunct outfit, their set having been cut short on account of the usual running late, but ending on a faster note somehow suited them. From what I’ve seen, Wretch have a few studio tracks floating around, but I’ve yet to hear of anything recorded being due for public consumption. Seems like a no brainer that they’re one to watch given their pedigree and Simon‘s established post-Vitus doom supremacy, but it’ll be even more interesting to see how they manage to stand themselves out from The Gates of Slumber and how much of what that band was will ultimately carry forward into the new one.

Dorthia Cottrell

Dorthia Cottrell (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Only one problem with putting Windhand vocalist Dorthia Cottrell on so late in the day for a solo acoustic set — everyone’s sloshed. Much to the room’s credit, people actually did really well policing themselves to keep conversation to a minimum as Cottrell ran through a set of dark neofolk accompanied only by the Delmar‘s fog machine and laser lights, the response to which was mixed but which I thought worked well. Anyone can play a sad twanger like “Maybe it’s True” from Cottrell‘s 2015 self-titled solo debut in the dark, but to do it with a lightshow going? That’s impressive. Those committed to being loud either moved to the back bar or went outside, but everyone who stayed was treated to Cottrell‘s quiet, alternately traditional and minimalist atmospherics, her breathy delivery calling to mind any number of blues singers who earned the first name Mama” while keeping consistent in its downtrodden feel to work with her main outfit. Influences were worn on her sleeve in covering Townes Van Zandt‘s “Rake,” a song both Wino and Scott Kelly have taken on previously, and the traditional “Wayfaring Stranger” — the mere mention of which immediately sends my mind reeling back to David Eugene Edwards and 16 Horsepower‘s version on 2000’s Secret South full-length, though everyone from Burl Ives to Neil Young has given it a shot — was slowed-down and given due melancholy to comport with the rest of the set. A marked change in sound from the rest of the day, but more consistent in overall mood with Wretch than one might initially think, Cottrell offered a moment of clarity as Vultures of Volume II made ready to round out its journey on a sea of riffs.


Elder (Photo by JJ Koczan)

“Dead Roots Stirring” made for an especially righteous opener. I hadn’t seen Massachusetts trio Elder since the release show for their 2015 third album, Lore (review here), which continues to rightly garner praise from all corners of the globe and has positioned the three-piece as headliners for the first time both on tour and at fests like this one. They are quite possibly the East Coast’s most pivotal up and coming act at this point — the great heavy hope of an entire seaboard’s next-gen scene — and with Lore, they’ve moved into a progressive style that’s entirely their own without giving up the sonic impact of their earlier work. And where the turns of “Compendium” were somewhat choppy back in March, two full tours (US and EU) later, they’re no less fluid than was “Dead Roots Stirring” at the start or “Release” from their 2012 Spires Burn/Release EP (streamed here), guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo having apparently long since mastered the complex notations of his own design while bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto held together the tight turns of that song and “Spirit at Aphelion,” also from the new album. Between songs, DiSalvo apologized to anyone who might’ve run into the band the night before, and that got a laugh from the crowd who had very clearly stuck around to see them specifically. They’ve grown not just tighter on the more recent songs, but in terms of their stage presence as well, and particularly with Donovan and Couto, they were so locked in that they didn’t even really have to look at each other to know where they were and where they were going. That kind of chemistry only really develops with touring acts, which of course Elder have become, and and they continue to move forward with Lore and beyond, it will continue to serve them well. They are distinct sonic personalities, between Couto‘s swing, Donovan‘s smooth, warm-toned basslines and DiSalvo‘s penchant for exploring progressive psychedelic passages, but the way they’ve come to work together is truly something special, and they showed that in top form at Vultures of Volume II, building and releasing tension throughout “Spirit at Aphelion” and closing out their set and the fest as a whole with “Gemini” from Dead Roots Stirring (review here), which seemed tailor made to be suited to the task. They’re still growing. They’re not done. But still, don’t be surprised a couple years from now when new bands are coming out and noodling like you hear on Lore, because people have picked up in a serious way to what Elder are doing. They’ll get no argument from me.

In the back of my mind I’d had the thought of starting to drive home directly after the fest ended, getting in my car and pushing through all night on the highways of Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, maybe beyond. Didn’t happen. Instead, I not only went back to the hotel to crash out, but overslept and wound up making my return home even later than I’d intended. After 13 bands, the extra two hours of sleep might well have enabled my survival.

Before I wrap this up, I have to note the hard work of Kathy Reeves in putting Vultures of Volume together. No way a two-dayer like this is easy to make happen, but she pulled it off and made it look that way anyhow. Job well done, and thanks for having me down for the reminder of just how unique and welcoming the Maryland heavy scene is.

Thanks also to Darin McCloskey, Matt Dayton, Mike Smith, Fanny Shamer, Ron McGinnis, Jaki Cunha, Dustin Davis, Chris Wolfe, Don Welch, Lisa Hass, Melanie Streko, Jon Pacella, Jim Forrester, Håkan Nyman, Kesha Atwood Nyman, Elyse Mitchell, Ron, Andrew Thornhill, Nick DiSalvo, Jack Donovan, Matt Couto (though, man, those are some fierce looks in those shots), and everyone else whose names I’ll hope to add over the next however long.

Most of all, thanks again to you for reading. More pics after the jump.

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