Quarterly Review: Lamp of the Universe Meets Dr. Space, Inter Arma, Sunnata, The Sonic Dawn, Rifflord, Mothman and the Thunderbirds, The Lunar Effect, Danava, Moonlit, Doom Lab

Posted in Reviews on May 24th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

The-Obelisk-Quarterly-Review

This is it. This one’s for all the marbles. Well, actually there are no marbles involved, but if you remember way back like two weeks ago when this started out, I told you the tale of a hubristic 40-something dickweed blogger who thought he could review 100 albums in 10 days, and assuming I make it through the below without having an aneurysm — because, hey, you never know — today I get to live that particular fairy tale.

If you’ve kept up, and I hope you have, thanks. If not, click here to see all the posts in this Quarterly Review. Either way, I appreciate your time.

Quarterly Review #91-100:

Lamp of the Universe Meets Dr. Space, Enters Your Somas

Lamp of the universe meets dr space Enter Your Somas

Who’s ready to get blasted out the airlock? New Zealand solo-outfit Lamp of the Universe, aka multi-instrumentalist Craig Williamson (also Dead Shrine, ex-Datura, etc.), and Portugal-residing synth master Dr. Space, aka Scott Heller of Øresund Space Collective, Black Moon Circle, and so on, come together to remind us all we’re nothing more than semi-sentient cosmic dust. Enters Your Somas is comprised of two extended pieces, “Enters Your Somas” (18:39) and “Infiltrates Your Mind” (19:07), and both resonate space/soul frequencies while each finds its own path. The title-track is more languid on average, where “Infiltrates Your Mind” reroutes auxiliary power to the percussive thrusters in its first half before drifting into drone communion and hearing a voice — vague, but definitely human speech — before surging back to its course via Williamson‘s drums, which play a large role in giving the material its shape. But with synthy sweeps from Heller, Mellotron and guitar coming and going, and a steady groove across both inclusions, Lamp of the Universe Meets Dr. Space offer galactic adventure limited only by where your imagination puts you while you listen.

Lamp of the Universe on Facebook

Dr. Space on Facebook

Sound Effect Records website

Inter Arma, New Heaven

inter arma new heaven

Richmond, Virginia’s Inter Arma had no small task before them in following 2019’s Sulphur English (review here), but from the tech-death boops and bops and twists of New Heaven‘s leadoff title-track through the gothic textures of “Gardens in the Dark,” self-aware without satire, slow-flowing and dramatic, this fifth full-length finds them continuing to expand their creative reach, and at this point, whatever genre you might want to cast them in, they stand out. To wit, the blackdeath onslaught of “Violet Seizures” that’s also space rock, backed in that by the subsequent “Desolation’s Harp” with its classically grandiose solo, or the post-doom lumber of “Concrete Cliffs” that calls out its expanse after the seven-minute drum-playthrough-fodder extremity of “The Children the Bombs Overlooked,” or the mournful march of “Endless Grey” and the acoustic-led Nick Cavey epilogue “Forest Service Road Blues.” Few bands embrace a full spectrum of metallic sounds without coming across as either disjointed or like they’re just mashing styles together for the hell of it. Inter Arma bleed purpose in every turn, and as they inch closer to their 20th year as a band, they are masters unto themselves of this form they’ve created.

Inter Arma on Facebook

Relapse Records website

Sunnata, Chasing Shadows

sunnata chasing shadows

The opening “Chimera” puts Chasing Shadows quickly into a ritualized mindset, all the more as Warsaw meditative doomers Sunnata lace it and a decent portion of their 11-track/62-minute fifth album with an arrangement of vocals from guitarists Szymon Ewertowski and Adrian Gadomski and bassist/synthesist Michal Dobrzanski as drummer/percussionist Robert Ruszczyk punctuates on snare as they head toward a culmination. Individual pieces have their own purposes, whether it’s the momentary float of “Torn” or the post-Alice in Chains harmonies offset by Twin Peaks-y creep in “Saviours Raft,” or the way “Hunger” gradually moves from light to dark with rolling immersion, or the dancier feel with which “Like Cogs in a Wheel” gives an instrumental finish. It’s not a minor undertaking and it’s not meant to be one, but mood and atmosphere do a lot of work in uniting the songs, and the low-in-the-mouth vocal melodies become a part of that as the record unfolds. Their range has never felt broader, but there’s a plot being followed as well, an idea behind each turn in “Wishbone” and the sprawl is justified by the dug-in worldmaking taking place across the whole-LP progression, darkly psychedelic and engrossing as it is.

Sunnata on Facebook

Sunnata on Bandcamp

The Sonic Dawn, Phantom

The Sonic Dawn Phantom

Among the most vital classic elements of The Sonic Dawn‘s style is their ability to take spacious ideas and encapsulate them with a pop efficiency that doesn’t feel dumbed down. That is to say, they’re not capitulating to fickle attention spans with short songs so much as they’re able to get in, say what they want to say with a given track, and get out. Phantom is their fifth album, and while the title may allude to a certain ghostliness coinciding with the melancholy vibe overarching through the bulk of its component material, the Copenhagen-based trio are mature enough at this stage to know what they’re about. And while Phantom has its urgent stretches in the early going of “Iron Bird” or the rousing “Think it Over,” the handclap-laced “Pan AM,” and the solo-topped apex of “Micro Cosmos in a Drop,” most of what they’re about here harnesses a mellower atmosphere. It doesn’t need to hurry, baby. Isn’t there enough rush in life with all these “21st Century Blues?” With no lack of movement throughout, some of The Sonic Dawn‘s finest stretches here are in low-key interpretations of funk (“Dreams of Change,” “Think it Over,” “Transatlantique,” etc.) or prog-boogie (“Scorpio,” “Nothing Can Live Here” before the noisier crescendo) drawn together by organ, subdued, thoughtful vocal melodies and craft to suit the organic production. This isn’t the first The Sonic Dawn LP to benefit from the band knowing who they are as a group, but golly it sure is stronger for that.

The Sonic Dawn on Facebook

Heavy Psych Sounds website

Rifflord, 39 Serpent Power

RIFFLORD 39 Serpent Power

It’s not until the hook of second cut “Ohm Ripper” hits that Rifflord let go of the tension built up through the opening semi-title-track “Serpent Power,” which in its thickened thrashy charge feels like a specific callout to High on Fire but as I understand it is just about doing hard drugs. Fair enough. The South Dakota-based five-piece of bassist/vocalist Wyatt Bronc Bartlett, guitarists Samuel Hayes and Dustin Vano, keyboardist Tory Jean Stoddard and drummer Douglas Jennings Barrett will echo that intensity later in “Church Keys” and “Tumbleweed,” but that’s still only one place the 38-minute eight-track LP goes, and whether it’s the vocals calling out through the largesse and breadth of “Blessed Life” or the ensuing crush that follows in “LM308,” the addled Alice in Chains swagger in the lumber of “Grim Creeper” or the righteously catchy bombast of “Hoof,” they reach further than they ever have in terms of sound and remain coherent despite the inherently chaotic nature of their purported theme, the sheer heft of the tonality wielded and the fact that 39 Serpent Power has apparently been waiting some number of years to see release. Worth the wait? Shit, I’m surprised the album didn’t put itself out, it sounds so ready to go.

Rifflord on Facebook

Ripple Music website

Mothman and the Thunderbirds, Portal Hopper

Mothman and the Thunderbirds Portal Hopper

At the core of Mothman and the Thunderbirds is multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Alex Parkinson, and on the band’s second album, Portal Hopper, he’s not completely on his own — Egor Lappo programmed the drums, mixed, and plays a guitar solo on “Fractals,” Joe Sobieski guests on vocals for a couple tracks, Sam Parkinson donates a pair of solos to the cause — but it’s still very much his telling of the charmingly meandering sci-fi/fantasy plot taking place across the 12 included progressive metal mini-epics, which he presents with an energy and clarity of purpose that for sure graduated from Devin Townsend‘s school of making a song with 40 layers sound immediate but pulls as well from psychedelia and pop-punk vocals for an all the more emphatic scope. This backdrop lets “Fractals” get funky or “Escape From Flatwoods” hold its metallic chicanery with its soaring melody while “Squonk Kingdom” is duly over-the-top in its second-half chase soon enough fleshed out by “So Long (Portal Hopper)” ahead of the lightly-plucked finale “Attic.” The specificity of influence throughout Portal Hopper can be striking as clean/harsh vocals blend, etc., but given the narrative and the relative brevity of the songs complementing the whims explored within them, there’s no lack of character in the album’s oft-careening 38-minute course.

Mothman and the Thunderbirds on Instagram

Mothman and the Thunderbirds on Bandcamp

The Lunar Effect, Sounds of Green and Blue

The Lunar Effect Sounds of Green & Blue

Given its pro-shop nature in production and performance, the ability of The Lunar Effect to grasp a heavy blues sound as part of what they do while avoiding either the trap of hyper-dudely navelgazing or cultural appropriation — no minor feat — and the fluidity of one piece into the next across the 40-minute LP’s two sides, I’m a little surprised not to have been sick of the band’s second album, Sounds of Green and Blue before I put it on. Maybe since it’s on Svart everyone just assumed it’s Finnish experimentalist drone? Maybe everybody’s burnt out on a seemingly endless stream of bands from London’s underground? I don’t know, but by the time The Lunar Effect make their way to the piano-laden centerpiece “Middle of the End” — expanding on the unhurried mood of “In Grey,” preceding the heavy blues return of “Pulling Daisies” at the start of side B that mirrors album opener “Ocean Queen” and explodes into a roll that feels like it was made to be the best thing you play at your DJ night — that confusion is a defining aspect of the listening experience. “Fear Before the Fall” picks on Beethoven, for crying out loud. High class and low groove. Believe me, I know there’s a lot of good stuff out already in 2024, but what the hell more could you want? Where is everybody?

The Lunar Effect on Facebook

Svart Records website

Danava, Live

danava live

Even if I were generally inclined to do so — read: I’m not — it would be hard to begrudge Portland heavy rock institution Danava wanting to do a live record after their 2023’s Nothing But Nothing (review here) found them in such raucous form. But the aptly-titled Live is more than just a post-studio-LP check-in to remind you they kick ass on stage, as side A’s space, classic, boogie, heavy rocking “Introduction/Spinning Temple” and “Maudie Shook” were recorded in 2008, while the four cuts on side B — “Shoot Straight with a Crooked Gun,” “Nothing but Nothing,” “Longdance,” “Let the Good Times Kill” and “Last Goodbye” — came from the European tour undertaken in Fall 2023 to support Nothing But Nothing. Is the underlying message that Danava are still rad 15 years later? Maybe. That certainly comes through by the time the solo in “Shoot Straight with a Crooked Gun” hits, but that also feels like reading too much into it. Maybe it’s just about representing different sides of who Danava are, and if so, fine. Then or now, psych or proto-thrashing, they lay waste.

Danava on Instagram

Heavy Psych Sounds website

Moonlit, Be Not Afraid

moonlit be not afraid

A free three-songer from Varese, Italy’s Moonlit, Be Not Afraid welcomes the listener to “Death to the World” with (presumably sampled) chanting before unfurling a loose, somewhat morose-feeling nighttime-desert psych sway before “Fort Rachiffe” howls tonally across its own four minutes in more heavy post-rock style, still languid in tempo but encompassing in its wash and the amp-hum-and-percussion blend on the shorter “Le Conseguenze Della Libertà” (1:57) gives yet another look, albeit briefly. In about 11 minutes, Moonlit — whose last studio offering was 2021’s So Bless Us Now (review here) — never quite occupy the same space twice, and despite the compact presentation, the range from mid-period-QOTSA-gone-shoegaze (plus chanting! don’t forget the chanting!) to the hypnotic Isis-doing-space-push that follows with the closer as a but-wait-there’s-more/not-just-an-afterthought epilogue is palpable. I don’t know when or how Be Not Afraid was recorded, whether it’s portentous of anything other than itself or what, but there’s a lot happening under its surface, and while you can’t beat the price, don’t be surprised if you end up throwing a couple bucks Moonlit‘s way anyhow.

Moonlit on Instagram

Moonlit on Bandcamp

Doom Lab, Northern Lights

Doom Lab Northern Lights

Much of Northern Lights is instrumental, but whether or not Leo Scheben is barking out the endtimes storyline of “Darkhammer” — stylized all-caps in the tracklisting — or “Night Terrors,” or just digging into a 24-second progression of lo-fi riffing of “Paranoid Isolation” and the Casio-type beats that back his guitar there and across the project’s 16-track latest offering, the reminder Doom Lab give is that the need to create takes many forms. From the winding scales of “Locrian’s Run” to “Twisted Logic” with its plotted solo lines, pieces are often just that — pieces of what might otherwise be a fleshed-out song — and Doom Lab‘s experimentalism feels paramount in terms of aural priorities. Impulse in excelsis. It might be for the best that the back-to-back pair “Nice ‘n’ Curvy” and “Let ’em Bounce” are both instrumental, but as madcap as Scheben is, he’s able to bring Northern Lights to a close with resonant homage in its title-track, and cuts like “Too Much Sauce on New Year’s Eve” and “Dark Matter” are emblematic of his open-minded approach overall, working in different styles sometimes united most by their rawness and uncompromising persona. This is number 100 of 100 records covered in this Quarterly Review, and nothing included up to now sounds like Doom Lab. A total win for radical individualism.

Doom Lab on YouTube

Doom Lab on Bandcamp

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Quarterly Review: Harvestman, Kalgon, Agriculture, Saltpig, Druidess, Astral Construct, Ainu, Grid, Dätcha Mandala, Dr. Space Meets Mr. Mekon

Posted in Reviews on May 23rd, 2024 by JJ Koczan

The-Obelisk-Quarterly-Review

This is the next-to-last day of this Quarterly Review, and while it’s been a lot, it’s been encouraging to dig into so much stuff in such intense fashion. I’ve added a few releases to my notes for year-end lists, but more importantly, I’ve gotten to hear and cover stuff that otherwise I might not, and that’s the value at a QR has for me at its core, so while we’re not through yet, I’ll just say thanks again for reading and that I hope you’ve also found something that speaks to you in these many blocks of text and embedded streaming players. If not, there’s still 20 records to go, so take comfort in that as needed.

Quarterly Review #81-90:

Harvestman, Triptych: Part One

Harvestman Triptych Part One

The weirdo-psych experimental project of Steve Von Till (now ex-Neurosis, which is still sad on a couple levels) begins a released-according-to-lunar-orbit trilogy of albums in Triptych: Part One, which is headlined by opening track “Psilosynth,” boasting a guest appearance from Al Cisneros (Sleep, Om) on bass. If those two want to start an outsider-art dub-drone band together, my middle-aged burnout self is here for it — “Psilosynth (Harvest Dub),” a title that could hardly be more Von Till and Cisneros, appears a little later, which suggests they might also be on board — but that’s only part of the world being created in Triptych: Part One as “Mare and Foal” manipulates bagpipes into ghostly melodies, “Give Your Heart to the Hawk” echoes poetry over ambient strum, “Coma” and “How to Purify Mercury” layer synthesized drone and/or effects-guitar to sci-fi affect and “Nocturnal Field Song” finds YOB‘s Dave French banging away on something metal in the background while the crickets chirp. The abiding spirit is subdued, exploratory as Von Till‘s solo works perpetually are, and even as the story is only a third told, the immersion on Triptych: Part One goes as deep as the listener is willing to let it. I look forward to being a couple moons late reviewing the next installment.

Harvestman on Facebook

Neurot Recordings website

Kalgon, Kalgon

kalgon kalgon

As they make their self-titled full-length debut, Asheville, North Carolina’s Kalgon lay claim to a deceptive wide swath of territory even separate from the thrashier departure “Apocalyptic Meiosis” as they lumber through “The Isolate” and the more melodic “Grade of the Slope,” stoner-doom leaning into psych and more cosmic vibing, with the mournful “Windigo” leading into “Eye of the Needle”‘s slo-mo-stoner-swing and gutted out vocals turning to Beatlesy melody — guitarist Brandon Davis and bassist Berten Lee Tanner share those duties while Marc Russo rounds out the trio on drums — in its still-marching second half and the post-Pallbearer reaches and acoustic finish of “Setting Sun.” An interlude serves as centerpiece between “Apocalyptic Meiosis” and “Windigo,” and that two-plus-minute excursion into wavy drone and amplifier hum works well to keep a sense of flow as the next track crashes in, but more, it speaks to longer term possibilities for how the band might grow, both in terms of what they do sonically and in their already-clear penchant for seeing their first LP as a whole, single work with its own progression and story to tell.

Kalgon on Facebook

Kalgon on Bandcamp

Agriculture, Living is Easy

agriculture living is easy

Surely there’s some element in Agriculture‘s self-applied aesthetic frame of “ecstatic black metal” in the power of suggestion, but as they follow-up their 2022 self-titled debut with the four-song Living is Easy EP and move from the major-key lightburst of the title-track into the endearingly, organically, folkishly strained harmonies of “Being Eaten by a Tiger,” renew the overwhelming blasts of tremolo and seared screams on “In the House of Angel Flesh” and round out with a minute of spoken word recitation in “When You Were Born,” guitarists Richard Chowenhill (also credited with co-engineering, mixing and mastering) and Dan Meyer (also vocals), bassist/vocalist Leah B. Levinson and drummer/percussionist Kern Haug present an innovative perspective on the genre that reminds of nothing so much as the manner in which earliest Wolves in the Throne Room showed that black metal could do something more than it had done previously. That’s not a sonic comparison, necessarily — though there are basic stylistic aspects shared between the two — but more about the way Agriculture are using black metal toward purposefully new expressive ends. I’m not Mr. Char by any means, but it’s been probably that long since the last time I heard something that was so definitively black metal and worked as much to refresh what that means.

Agriculture on Facebook

The Flenser website

Saltpig, Saltpig

Saltpig saltpig

Apparently self-released by the intercontinental duo last Fall and picked up for issue through Heavy Psych Sounds, Saltpig‘s self-titled debut modernizes classic charge and swing in increasingly doomed fashion across the first four songs of its A-side, laces “Burn the Witch” with samples themed around the titular subject, and dedicates all of side B to the blown out mostly-instrumental roll of “1950,” which is in fact 19 minutes and 50 seconds long. The band, comprised of guitarist/vocalist/noisemaker Mitch Davis (also producer for a swath of more commercially viable fare) and drummer Fabio Alessandrini (ex-Annihilator), are based in New York and Italy, respectively, and whatever on earth might’ve brought them together, in both the heavy-garage strut of “Demon” and the willfully harsh manner in which they represent themselves in the record’s back half, they bask in the rougher edges of their tones and approach more generally. “When You Were Dead” is something of a preface in its thicker distortion to “1950,” but its cavernous shouted vocals retain a psychedelic presence amid the ensuing grit, whereas once the closer gets underway from its feedback-soaked first two minutes, they make it plain there’s no coming back.

Saltpig on Facebook

Heavy Psych Sounds website

Druidess, Hermits and Mandrakes

druidess hermits and mandrakes

Newcomer UK doomers Druidess nod forth on their debut EP, Hermits and Mandrakes, with a buzzing tonality in “Witches’ Sabbath” that’s distinctly more Monolord than Electric Wizard, and while that’s fascinating academically and in terms of the generational shift happening in the heavy underground over the last few years, the fuzz that accompanies the hook of “Mandragora,” which follows, brings a tempo boost that situates the two-piece of vocalist Shonagh Brown and multi-instrumentalist/producer Daniel Downing (guitar, bass, keys, drum programming; he even had a hand in the artwork, apparently) in a more rocking vein. It’s heavy either way you go, and “Knightingales” brings Green Lung-style organ into the mix along with another standout hook before “The Hermit of Druid’s Temple” signs over its soul to faster Sabbath worship and closer “The Forest Witches’ Daughter” underscores the commitment to same in combination with a more occult thematic. It’s familiar-enough terrain, ultimately, but the heft they conjure early on and the movement they bring to it later should be plenty to catch ears among the similarly converted, and in song and performance they display a self-awareness of craft that is no less a source of their potential.

Druidess on Facebook

Druidess on Bandcamp

Astral Construct, Traveling a Higher Consciousness

astral construct traveling to a higher consciousness

One-man sans-vocals psych outfit Astral Construct — aka Denver-based multi-instrumentalist Drew Patricks — released Traveling a Higher Consciousness last year, and well, I guess I got lost in a temporal wormhole or some such because it’s not last year anymore. The record’s five-track journey is encompassing in its metal-rooted take on heavy psychedelia, however, and that’s fortunate as “Accessing the Mind’s Eye” solidifies from its languid first-half unfolding into more stately progressive riffage. Bookended by the dreamy manifestation of “Heart of the Nebula” (8:12) and “Interstellar” (9:26), which moves between marching declaration and expansive helium-guitar float, the album touches ground in centerpiece “The Traveler,” but even there could hardly be called terrestrial once the drums drop out and the keys sweep in near the quick-fade finish that brings about the more angular “Long View of Astral Consciousness,” that penultimate track daring a bit of double-kick in the drums heading toward its own culmination. Now, then or future, whether it’s looking inward or out, Traveling a Higher Consciousness is a revelry for the cosmos waiting to be engaged. You might just end up in a different year upon hearing it.

Astral Construct on Facebook

Astral Construct on Bandcamp

Ainu, Ainu

ainu ainu

Although their moniker comes from an indigenous group who lived on Hokkaido before that island became part of modern Japan, Ainu are based in Genoa, Italy, and their self-titled debut has little to do sound-wise with the people or their culture. Fair enough. Ainu‘s Ainu, which starts out in “Il Faro” with sparse atmospheric guitar and someone yelling at you in Italian presumably about the sea (around which the record is themed), uses speech and samples to hold most positions vocals would otherwise occupy, though the two-minute “D.E.V.S.” is almost entirely voice-based, so the rules aren’t so strictly applied one way or the other. Similarly, as the three-piece course between grounded sludgier progressions and drifting post-heavy, touching on more aggressive moods in the late reaches of “Aiutami A. Ricordare” and the nodding culmination of “Khrono” but letting the breadth of “Call of the Sea” unfold across divergent movements of crunchier riffs and operatic prog grandiosity. You would not call it predictable, however tidal the flow from one piece to the next might be.

Ainu on Facebook

Subsound Records website

Grid, The World Before Us

grid the world before us

Progressive sludge set to a backdrop of science-fiction and extrasolar range, The World Before Us marks a turn from heretofore instrumental New York trio Grid, who not only feature vocals throughout their 38-minute six-tracker third LP, but vary their approach in that regard such that as “Our History Hidden” takes hold following the keyboardy intro “Singularity” (in we go!), the first three of the song’s 12 minutes find them shifting from sub-soaring melodicism to hard-growled metallic crunch with the comfort of an act who’ve been pulling off such things for much longer. The subsequent “Traversing the Interstellar Gateway” (9:31) works toward similar ends, only with guitar instead of singing, and the standout galloping kickdrum of “Architects of Our World” leads to a deeper dig into the back and forth between melody and dissonance, led into by the threatening effects manipulations of the interlude “Contact” and eventually giving over to the capstone outro “Duality” that, if it needs to be said, mirrors “Singularity” at the start. There’s nuance and texture in this interplay between styles — POV: you dig Opeth and Hawkwind — and my suspicion is that if Grid keep to this methodology going forward, the vocal arrangements will continue to evolve along with the rest of the band’s expanding-in-all-directions stylizations.

Grid on Facebook

Grid on Bandcamp

Dätcha Mandala, Koda

Datcha Mandala Koda

The stated intentions of Bordeaux, France’s Dätcha Mandala in bringing elements of ’90s British alternative rock into their heavier context with their Koda LP are audible in opener “She Said” and the title-track that follows it, but it’s the underlying thread of heavy rock that wins the day across the 11-song outing, however danceable “Wild Fire” makes it or however attitude-signaling the belly-belch that starts “Thousand Pieces” is in itself. That’s not to say Koda doesn’t succeed at what it’s doing, just that there’s more to the proceedings than playing toward that particular vision of cool. “It’s Not Only Rock and Roll (And We Don’t Like It)” has fuzzy charm and a hook to boot, while “Om Namah Shivaya” ignites with an energy that is proggy and urgent in kind — the kind of song that makes you a fan at the show even if you’ve never heard the band before — and closer “Homeland” dares some burl amid its harmonized chorus and flowing final guitar solo, answering back to the post-burp chug in “Thousand Pieces” and underscoring the multifaceted nature of the album as a whole. I suppose if you have prior experience with Dätcha Mandala, you know they’re not just about one thing, but for newcomers, expect happy surprises.

Dätcha Mandala on Facebook

Discos Macarras Records website

Dr. Space Meets Mr. Mekon, The Bubbles Scopes

dr space meets mr mekon dr space meets mr mekon

Given the principals involved — Scott “Dr. Space” Heller of Øresund Space Collective, Black Moon Circle, et al, and Chris Purdon of Hawklords and Nik Turner’s Space Ritual — it should come as no surprise that The Bubbles Scopes complements its grammatical counterintuitiveness with alien soundscape concoctions of synth-based potency; the adventure into the unknown-until-it’s-recorded palpable across two extended tracks suitably titled “Trip 1” (22:56) and “Trip 2” (15:45). Longform waveforms, both. The collaboration — one of at least two Heller has slated for release this Spring; stay tuned tomorrow — makes it clear from the very beginning that the far-out course The Bubbles Scopes follows is for those who dwell in rooms with melting walls, but in the various pulsations and throbs of “Trip 1,’ the transition from organ to more electronic-feeling keyboard, and so on, human presence is no more absent than they want it to be, and while the loops are dizzying and “Trip 2” seems to reach into different dimensions with its depth of mix, when the scope is so wide, the sounds almost can’t help but feel free. And so they do. They put 30 copies on tape, because even in space all things digitalia are ephemeral. If you want one, engage your FOMO and make it happen because the chance may or may not come again.

Dr. Space on Facebook

Dr. Space on Bandcamp

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DUNDDW & Dr. Space Premiere Live @ Club Void Effenaar 23-03-23 in Full; Out Today

Posted in audiObelisk on February 23rd, 2024 by JJ Koczan

dunddw and dr. space live at the effenaar 2023

It doesn’t take long on Live @ Club Void Effenaar 23-3-23 before you’re in the room. You can hear voices in the crowd as Dutch instrumental improvisationalists DUNDDW begin to unfold their set, soon enough to be joined by Scott “Dr. Space” Heller (Øresund Space Collective, Doctors of Space, Black Moon Circle, solo work, etc.) expanding the trio as a four-piece with a guest spot on synth after about 12 minutes in, some comment and a chuckle as things mellow and space way, way out thereafter in the jam’s dreamier midsection, and so on.

The LP-length single-song set is out today as an independent release from DUNDDW, for whom it follows a 2023 split with Kombynat Robotron (review here) and their 2022 debut, Flux (review here), and the occasion that brought Heller from Portugal to the Netherlands was Black Moon Circle touring to support their 2023 LP, the expansive Leave the Ghost Behind (review here). Held weekly in the smaller room at the legendary Effenaar in Eindhoven (and no, it’s not just legendary because I saw Motorpsycho there one time, though that’d be enough in my head), ‘Club Void’ is a series of shows put together by the venue’s Robert Schaeffer as well as Paul van Berlo of the Into the Void Festival (also Loud Noise Booking) and Peter van Elderen, formerly the vocalist of Peter Pan Speedrock. All of these are endorsements that, existentially speaking, are good to have.

But DUNDDW have been pretty well encouraged since their outset bringing bassist Huibert der Weduwen and drummer Peter Dragt of Bismut together with Mt. Echo‘s Gerben Elburg on guitar for pointedly exploratory purposes, and the flow they conjure throughout Live @ Club Void Effenaar 23-3-23 presents a vivid picture of why for listeners who haven’t had the chance to actually see them. The cosmic adventure is mellow in spirit on the whole, but communal in a way that feels active, and inviting in tone and groove. Dropping nearly to silence at times, it represents well the conversation happening on stage as the sounds were being made, while allowing the audience and the LP-listener space to put themselves in the moment. In the initial build-up, DUNDDW work their way into a voluminous build, guitar signaling volume changes as they ooze past nine minutes, and when Dr. Space hops on board after (or maybe during) the ensuing wash a short time later, the proceedings get duly hyperspatial.

They drift and reorient, finding a new path with the four of them on the stage, and gradually the float becomes more driving, pushing into intense space rock before noising out behind the waves of Heller‘s synth with Dragt‘s crash and tom fills marking the end of that movement circa 26:30 and the beginning of the final cycle of ebbs and flows, more solidified in their purpose than they were only minutes before, but clearly having learned from the second part of the jam. Keep an ear out for bells, which you might just hear in that last stretch if they, it, or anything actually exists, and know that DUNDDW save their most fervent push for the crescendo, and that the experience of getting there is as much the point as the big finish and ringout itself.

Live @ Club Void Effenaar 23-3-23 isn’t intended to be some grand statement. At its heart, it’s a bootleg-style outing that captures one night among many DUNDDW went on stage and did what they do. This, coupled with the Heller collaboration that stands it out among other gigs, is the appeal. It would be ridiculous if DUNDDW did some hyper-produced live record. They might as well go to a studio and jam out an new LP if they’re going to spend the time and money. But here, they express the sense of journey from one end of this massive piece to the other, while also conveying their root ethic of commitment to organically capturing the creative moment as it happens. For that, Live @ Club Void Effenaar 23-3-23 offers resonance even beyond that of its echoing final tones.

Again, it’s out today, so by all means, dig in below and enjoy. Some PR wire-type info follows:

Friday, February 23rd, we (Dutch improv instrumental spacerock band DUNDDW) will digitally release a 40 minute jam we played last year at Club Void in The Netherlands. Around 17 minutes in Dr. Space – aka Scott Heller from Øresund Space Collective, Black Moon Circle a.o. – joins in on the jam.

Order link: https://dunddw.bandcamp.com/album/dunddw-dr-space-live-club-void-effenaar-23-03-2023

Says DUNDDW: ” We really felt the flow during this jam. It builds up in three waves, with Dr. Space joining in about halfway through with some great synths, bells and spacy genius.”

Says Dr. Space: “I’ve been friends with the guys in Bismut, and DUNDDW invited me to jam with them and it was fun. Sure we will do it again. Great guys.”

DUNDDW is a 100% improvising, instrumental spacerock/krautrock trio from The Netherlands, with members from Bismut and Mt. Echo. Their first full length album Flux was released in November 2022. In June 2023 they released a split vinyl LP with German krautrock band Kombynat Robotron. February 2024 marks the release of a live jam they played in 2023, with Dr. Space joining in.

DUNDDW =
Peter Dragt – Drums
Huibert der Weduwen – Bass
Gerben Elburg – Guitars

DUNDDW on Facebook

DUNDDW on Instagram

DUNDDW on Bandcamp

Øresund Space Collective website

Øresund Space Collective on Bandcamp

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Quarterly Review: Weite, Mizmor, The Whims of the Great Magnet, Sarkh, Spiritual Void, The River, Froglord, Weedevil & Electric Cult, Dr. Space, Ruiner

Posted in Reviews on July 24th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

the-obelisk-qr-summer-2020

Welcome back to the Summer 2023 Quarterly Review. I hope you enjoyed the weekend. Today we dig in on the penultimate — somehow my using the word “penultimate” became a running gag for me in Quarterly Reviews; I don’t know how or why, but I think it’s funny — round of 10 albums and tomorrow we’ll close out as we hit the total of 70. Could easily have kept it going through the week, but so it goes. I’ll have more QR in September or October, I’m not sure yet which. It’s a pretty busy Fall.

Today’s a wild mix and that’s what I was hoping for. Let’s go.

Quarterly Review #51-60:

Weite, Assemblage

weite assemblage

Founded by bassist Ingwer Boysen (also High Fighter) as an offshoot of the live incarnation of Delving, of which he’s part, Weite release the instrumental Assemblage as a semi-improv-sounding collection of marked progressive fluidity. With Delving and Elder‘s Nick DiSalvo and Mike Risberg in the lineup along with Ben Lubin (Lawns), the story goes that the four-piece got to the studio with nothing/very little, spent a few days writing and recording with the venerable Richard Behrens helming, and Assemblage‘s four component pieces are what came out of it. The album begins with the nine-minutes-each pair of the zazzy-jazzy mover “Neuland,” while “Entzündet” grows somewhat more open, a lead guitar refrain like built around drum-backed drone and keys, swelling in piano-inclusive volume like Crippled Black Phoenix, darker prog shifting into a wash and more freaked-out psych rock. I’m not sure those are real drums on “Rope,” or if they are I’d love to know how the snare was treated, but the song’s a groover just the same, and the 14-minute “Murmuration” is where the styles unite under an umbrella of warm tonality and low key but somehow cordial atmosphere. If these guys want to get together every couple years into perpetuity and bang out a record like this, that’d be fine.

Weite on Facebook

Stickman Records store

 

Mizmor, Prosaic

Mizmor Prosaic

The fourth album from Portland, Oregon’s Mizmor — the solo-project of multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, producer, vocalist, etc.-ist A.L.N. — arrives riding a tsunami of hype and delivers on the band’s long-stated promise of ‘wholly doomed black metal.’ With consuming distortion at its heart from opener/longest track (immediate points) “Only an Expanse” onward, the record recalls the promise of American black metal as looser in its to-tenet conformity than the bulk of Europe’s adherents — of course these are generalizations and I’m no expert — by contrasting it rhythmically with doom, which instead of fully releasing the tension amassed by the scream-topped tremolo riffing just makes it sound more miserable. Doom! “No Place to Arrive” is admirably thick, like noisy YOB on charred ambience, and “Anything But” draws those two sides together in more concise and driving style, vicious and brutal until it cuts in the last minute to quiet minimalism that makes the slam-in crush of 13-minute closer “Acceptance” all the more punishing, with plenty of time left for trades between all-out thrust and grueling plod. Hard to call which side wins the day — and that’s to Mizmor‘s credit, ultimately — but by the end of “Acceptance,” the raging gnash has collapsed into a caldera of harsh sludge, and it no longer matters. In context, that’s a success.

Mizmor on Facebook

Profound Lore Records store

 

The Whims of the Great Magnet, Same New

The Whims of the Great Magnet Same New

With a couple quick drum taps and a clearheaded strum that invokes the impossible nostalgia of Bruce Springsteen via ’90s alt rock, Netherlands-based The Whims of the Great Magnet strolls casually into “Same New,” the project’s first outing since 2021’s Share My Sun EP. Working in a post-grunge style seems to suit Sander Haagmans, formerly the bassist of Sungrazer and, for a bit, The Machine, as he single-track/double-tracks through the song’s initial verse and blossoms melodically in the chorus, dwelling in an atmosphere sun-coated enough that Haagmans‘ calls it “your new summer soundtrack.” Not arguing, if a one-track soundtrack is a little short. After a second verse/chorus trade, some acoustic weaves in at the end to underscore the laid back feel, and as it moves into the last minute, “Same New” brings back the hook not to drive it into your head — it’s catchy enough that such things aren’t necessary — but to speak to a traditional structure born out of classic rock. It does this organically, with moderate tempo and a warm, engaging spirit that, indeed, evokes the ideal images of the stated season and will no doubt prove comforting even removed from such long, hot and sunny days.

The Whims of the Great Magnet on Facebook

The Whims of the Great Magnet on Bandcamp

 

Sarkh, Helios

SARKH Helios EP

German instrumentalists Sarkh follow their 2020 full-length, Kaskade, with the four-song/31-minute Helios EP, issued through Worst Bassist Records. As with that album, the short-ish offering has a current of progressive metal to coincide with its heavier post-rock affect; “Zyklon” leading off with due charge before the title-track finds stretches of Yawning Man-esque drift, particularly as it builds toward a hard-hitting crescendo in its second half. Chiaroscuro, then. Working shortest to longest in runtime, the procession continues with “Kanagawa” making stark volume trades, growing ferocious but not uncontrolled in its louder moments, the late low end particularly satisfying as it plays off the guitar in the final push, a sudden stop giving 11-minute closer “Cape Wrath” due space to flesh out its middle-ground hypothesis after some initial intensity, the trio of guitarist Ralph Brachtendorf, bassist Falko Schneider and drummer Johannes Dose rearing back to let the EP end with a wash but dropping the payoff with about a minute left to let the guitar finish on its own. Germany, the world, and the universe: none of it is short on instrumental heavy bands, but the purposeful aesthetic mash of Sarkh‘s sound is distinguishing and Helios showcases it well to make the argument.

Sarkh on Facebook

Worst Bassist Records store

 

Spiritual Void, Wayfare

spiritual void wayfare

A 2LP second long-player from mostly-traditionalist doom metallers Spiritual Void, Wayfare seems immediately geared toward surpassing their 2017 debut, White Mountain, in opening with “Beyond the White Mountain.” With a stretch of harsher vocals to go along with the cleaner-sung verses through its 8:48 and the metal-of-eld wail that meets the crescendo before the nodding final verse, they might’ve done it. The subsequent “Die Alone” (11:48) recalls Candlemass and Death without losing the nod of its rhythm, and “Old” (12:33) reaffirms the position, taking Hellhound Records-style methodologies of European trad doom and pulling them across longer-form structures. Following “Dungeon of Nerthus” (10:24) the shorter “Wandering Doom” (5:31) chugs with a swing that feels schooled by Reverend Bizarre, while “Wandersmann” (13:11) tolls a mournful bell at its outset as though to let you know that the warm-up is over and now it’s time to really doom out. So be it. At a little over an hour long, Wayfare is no minor undertaking, but for what they’re doing stylistically, it shouldn’t be. Morose without melodrama, Wayfare sees Spiritual Void continuing to find their niche in doom, and rest assured, it’s on the doomier end. Of doom.

Spiritual Void on Facebook

Journey’s End Records store

 

The River, A Hollow Full of Hope

THE RIVER A Hollow Full of Hope

Even when The River make the trade of tossing out the aural weight of doom — the heavy guitar and bass, the expansive largesse, and so on — they keep the underlying structure. The nod. At least mostly. To explain: the long-running UK four-piece — vocalist Jenny Newton, guitarist Christian Leitch (formerly of 40 Watt Sun), bassist Stephen Morrissey and drummer Jason Ludwig — offer a folkish interpretation of doom and a doomed folk on their fourth long-player, the five-song/40-minute A Hollow Full of Hope taking the acoustic prioritizing of a song like “Open” from 2019’s Vessels into White Tides (review here) and bringing it to the stylistic fore on songs like the graceful opener “Fading,” the lightly electric “Tiny Ticking Clocks” rife with strings and gorgeous self-harmonizing from Newton set to an utterly doomed march, or the four-minute instrumental closer “Hollowful,” which is more than an outro if not a completely built song in relation to the preceding pieces. Melodic, flowing, intentional in arrangement, meter, melody. Sad. Beautiful. “Exits” (9:56) and “A Vignette” (10:26) — also the two longest cuts, though not by a ton — are where one finds that heft and the other side of the doom-folk/folk-doom divide, though it is admirable how thin they make that line. Marked progression. This album will take them past their 25th anniversary, and they greet it hitting a stride. That’s an occasion worth celebrating.

The River on Facebook

Cavernous Records store

 

Froglord, Sons of Froglord

Froglord Sons of Froglord

Sons of Froglord is the fourth full-length in three years from UK amphibian conceptualist storytellers Froglord, and there’s just about no way they’re not making fun of space rock on “Road Raisin.” “Collapse” grows burly in its hook in the vein of a more rumbling Clutch — and oh, the shenanigans abound! — and there’s a kind of ever-present undercurrent sludgy threat in the more forward push of the glorious anthem to the inanity of career life in “Wednesday” (it doesn’t materialize, but there is a tambourine on “A Swamp of My Own,” so that’s something), but the bulk of the latest chapter in the Froglord tale delivers ’70s-by-way-of-’10s classic heavy blues rock, distinct in its willingness to go elsewhere from and around the boogie swing of “Wizard Gonk” and the fuzzy shuffling foundation of “Garden” at the outset and pull from different eras and subsets of heavy to serve their purposes. “Froglady” is on that beat. On it. And the way “A Swamp of My Own” opens to its chorus is a stirring reminder of the difference drumming can make in elevating a band. After a quick “Closing Ceremony,” they tack on a presumably-not-narrative-related-but-fitting-anyway cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival‘s “Born on the Bayou,” which complements a crash-laced highlight like “The Sage” well and seems to say a bit about where Froglord are coming from as well, i.e., the swamp.

Froglord on Facebook

Froglord on Bandcamp

 

Weedevil & Electric Cult, Cult of Devil Sounds

weedevil electric cult cult of devil sounds

Released digitally with the backing of Abraxas and on CD through Smolder Brains Records, the Cult of Devil Sounds split EP offers two new tracks each from São Paulo, Brazil’s Weedevil and Veraruz, Mexico’s Electric Cult. The former take the A side and fade in on the guitar line “Darkness Inside” with due drama, gradually unfurling the seven-minute doom roller that’s ostensibly working around Electric Wizard-style riffing, but has its own persona in tone, atmosphere and the vocals of Maureen McGee, who makes her first appearance here with the band. The swagger of “Burn It” follows, somewhat speedier and sharper in delivery, with a scorcher solo in its back half, witchy proclamations and satisfying slowdown at the end. Weedevil. All boxes ticked, no question. Check. Electric Cult are rawer in production and revel in that, bringing “Rising From Hell” and “Esoteric Madness” with a more uptempo, rock-ish swing, but moving through sludge and doom by the time the seven minutes of the first of those is done. “Rising From Hell” finishes with ambient guitar, then feedback, which “Esoteric Madness” cuts off to begin with bass; a clever turn. Quickly “Esoteric Madness” grows dark from its outset, pushing into harsh vocals over a slogging march that turns harder-driving with ’70s-via-ChurchofMisery hard-boogie rounding out. That faster finish is a contrast to Weedevil‘s ending slow, and complements it accordingly. An enticing sampler from both.

Weedevil on Facebook

Electric Cult on Facebook

Abraxas on Instagram

 

Dr. Space, Suite for Orchestra of Marine Mammals

Dr Space Suite for Orchestra of Marine Mammals

When I read some article about how the James Webb Space Telescope has looked billions of years into the past chasing down ancient light and seen further toward the creation of the universe than humankind ever before has, I look at some video or other, I should be hearing Dr. Space. I don’t know if the Portugal-based solo artist, synthesist, bandleader, Renaissance man Scott “Dr. Space” Heller (also Øresund Space Collective, Black Moon Circle, etc.) has been in touch with the European Space Agency (ESA) or what their response has been, but even with its organ solo and stated watery purpose, amid sundry pulsations it’s safe to assume the 20-minute title-track “Suite for Orchestra of Marine Mammals” is happening with an orchestra of semi-robot aliens on, indeed, some impossibly distant exoplanet. Heller has long dwelt at the heart of psychedelic improv and the three pieces across the 39 minutes of Suite for Orchestra of Marine Mammals recall classic krautrock ambience while remaining purposefully exploratory. “Going for the Nun” pairs church organ with keyboard before shimmering into proto-techno blips and bloops recalling the Space Age that should’ve had humans on Mars by now, while the relatively brief capper “No Space for Time” — perhaps titled to note the limitations of the vinyl format — still finds room in its six minutes to work in two stages, with introductory chimes shifting toward more kosmiche synth travels yet farther out.

Dr. Space on Facebook

Space Rock Productions website

 

Ruiner, The Book of Patience

Ruiner The Book of Patience

The debut from Santa Fe-based solo drone project Ruiner — aka Zac Hogan, also of Dysphotic, ex-Drought — is admirable in its commitment to itself. Hogan unveils the outfit with The Book of Patience (on Desert Records), an 80-minute, mostly-single-note piece called “Liber Patientiae,” which if you’re up on your Latin, you know is the title of the album as well. With a willfully glacial pace that could just as easily be a parody of the style — there is definitely an element of ‘is this for real?’ in the listening process, but yeah, it seems to be — “Liber Patientiae” evolves over its time, growing noisier as it approaches 55 or so minutes, the distortion growing more fervent over the better part of the final 25, the linear trajectory underscoring the idea that there’s a plan at work all along coinciding with the experimental nature of the work. What that plan might manifest from here is secondary to the “Liber Patientiae” as a meditative experience. On headphones, alone, it becomes an inward journey. In a crowded room, at least at the outset it’s almost a melodic white noise, maybe a little tense, but stretched out and changing but somehow still solid and singular, making the adage that ‘what you put into it is what you get out’ especially true in this case. And as it’s a giant wall of noise, it goes without saying that not everybody will be up for getting on board, but it’s difficult to imagine the opaque nature of the work is news to Hogan, who clearly is searching for resonance on his own wavelength.

Ruiner on Facebook

Desert Records store

 

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Quarterly Review: SOM, Dr. Space, Beastwars, Deathbell, Malady, Wormsand, Thunderchief, Turkey Vulture, Stargo, Ascia

Posted in Reviews on January 20th, 2022 by JJ Koczan

THE-OBELISK-FALL-2020-QUARTERLY-REVIEW

Welcome to Day Four of the Jan. 2022 Quarterly Review. Or maybe it’s the other half of the Dec. 2021 Quarterly Review. Or maybe I overthink these things. The latter feels most likely. Inanycase, welcome. If you’ve been keeping up with the records as they’ve been coming in 10-per-day batches over the course of this week, thanks. If not, well, if you’re interested, it’s not like the posts disappeared. Just keep scrolling, then I think click through. One of these days I’ll get an infinite scroll plug-in. Those are for the cool kids.

Also, ‘Infinite Scroll’ is, as of right now, the name of my ’90s-style pixel-art role playing game. Ask me about the plot when these reviews are done.

For now…

Quarterly Review #31-40:

SOM, The Shape of Everything

SOM The Shape Of Everything

Working from a foundation in heavy post-rock, Connecticut’s SOM soar and float like so many shoreline seagulls over the Long Island Sound on the eight-song/34-minute The Shape of Everything, which would call to mind the melancholy of Katatoniia were its sadness not even more shimmering. Early pieces “Moment” and “Animals” build a depth of modern progressive metal riffing beneath only the airiest of guitar leads, a wash of distortion meeting a wash of melody, and with guitarist/vocalist/producer Will Benoit helming, his voice rings through clear in melody and still somewhat ethereal, calling to mind a more organically-constructed Jesu in poppier as well as some heavier stretches. The penultimate “Heart Attack” tips into heavier fare with a steady bassline and bursts of crunching guitar, and the finale “Son of Winter” answers back with a (snow)blinding spaciousness and an entrancing last buildup. There’s enough room here to really get lost, and SOM are too mindful of their craft to let it happen.

SOM website

Pelagic Records webstore

 

Dr. Space, Muzik 2 Loze Yr Mynd Inn

Dr. Space Musik 2 Loze Yr Mynd Inn

Alright, I admit it. I went to “Icy Flatulence” first. Even before “Cyborgian Burger Hut” or “Euphoric Nostril.” Scott Heller, otherwise known as Dr. Space of Øresund Space Collective and any number of other outfits on a given day, is as-ever exploring on Muzik 2 Loze Yr Mynd Inn, and the results are hypnotic enough that they might leave you using the kind of spelling on the album’s title, but even in the relatively serene “Garden of Rainbow Unicorns” there’s a forward keyline — and actually, in that song, an undercurrent of horror soundtracking that makes me think the unicorn is about to eat me; could happen — and the extended pair of “T-E-T” and “Ribbons in Time” are marked by ’80s sci-fi beeps and boops and a kind of electronic shuffle, respectively, though the latter is probably as close as the 54-minute six-songer comes to soundscaping. Which is like landscaping only, in this case, happening in another galaxy somewhere. And there they call it jazz as they should and all is well. In all seriousness, I keep a running list in my brain of bands who should ask Dr. Space to guest on their records. Your band is probably on it. It’s pretty much everybody.

Dr. Space on Bandcamp

Space Rock Productions website

 

Beastwars, Cold Wind / When I’m King

beastwars cold wind when im king

Here’s some context you probably don’t need: “Cold Wind” and “When I’m King” were written around the time of Wellington, New Zealand’s Beastwars‘ 2011 self-titled debut (review here). They may even have been recorded — I could’ve sworn “When I’m King” popped up somewhere at some point — but they’ve now been redone from the ground up and they’re pressed to a limited 7″ as part of the 10th anniversary celebration that also saw the self-titled get a new vinyl issue. Now, is it helpful knowing that? Yeah, sure. If I came at you instead and said, “Hey, new Beastwars!” though, it’d probably be more of a draw, and whatever gets Beastwars in as many ears as possible is what should invariably be done. “When I’m King” is a banger (bonus points for gang shouts), “Cold Wind” a little more seething, but both tracks harness that peculiarly sludged tonality that the band has owned for more than a decade now, and the guttural delivery of Matthew Hyde is only more resonant for the years between the writing and the execution of these songs. That execution is beheading by riffs, by the way.

Beastwars on Facebook

Beastwars on Bandcamp

 

Deathbell, A Nocturnal Crossing

deathbell a nocturnal crossing

A Nocturnal Crossing, the second album from Toulouse, France’s Deathbell and their first for Svart Records, can come at you from any number of angles seemingly at any point. Which thread are you following? Is it the soaring, classic-feeling occult rock melodies of Lauren Gaynor, or her organ work that, at the same time, adds gothic drama to so much of the material on the six-songer? Is it the lumbering groove of “Shifting Sands” and the doomed fuzz of “Devoured on the Peak” earlier, speaking to entirely different traditions? Or maybe the atmosphere in “Silent She Comes,” which is almost post-metallic in its shining lead guitar? Or perhaps, and hopefully I think, it’s all of these things as skillfully woven together as they are in these tracks. Opener “The Stronghold and the Archer” and the closing title-track mirror each other in their underlying metallic influence, but that too becomes one more texture at Deathbell‘s disposal, brought forward in such a way as to emphasize the unity of the whole work as much as the individual progressions.

Deathbell on Facebook

Svart Records website

 

Malady, Ainavihantaa

Malady Ainavihantaa

After debuting on Svart with 2018’s Toinen Toista (review here), sax-laced Helskini classic prog pastoralists Malady offer Ainavihantaa (‘all the time’) across a lush and welcoming six tracks and 37 minutes. The flow is immediate and paramount on opener “Alava Vaara” and through the flute/sax tradeoff in “Vapaa Ja Autio,” which follows, and though it’s heady fare, somehow the “Foxy-Lady”-if-KingCrimson-wrote-it strut-into-meander of “Sisävesien Rannat” skirts a line of indulgence without fully toppling over. Side B is jazzy and winding across “Dyadi” and “Haavan Väri” ahead of the title-track, but the human presence of vocals, even in a language I don’t speak, does wonders in keeping the proceedings grounded, right up to the Beatlesian finish of “Ainavihantaa” itself. This was on a lot of best-of-2021 lists and it’s not a challenge to see why.

Malady on Facebook

Svart Records website

 

Wormsand, Shapeless Mass

Wormsand Shapeless Mass

The Earth, ecologically devastated by industrialization and the wastefulness of humans — capitalism, in other words — becomes a wasteland. A few billionaires, who’ve been playing around with laughably-phallic rockets anyway, decide they’re going to escape out into space and leave the rest of the species, which they’ve destroyed, to suffer. It would be — and used to be — the stuff of decent science fiction were it not basically what homo sapiens are living through right now. A mass extinction owing to climate change the roots of which are in anthropocene action and inaction alike. French outfit Wormsand tell this utterly-plausible story in cascading doom riffs that reminds at once of Pallbearer and Forming the Void, keeping an edge of modern heavy prog to their plodding and accompanying with clean vocals and some more gutty shouts. As one might expect, things get pretty grim by the time they’re down to “Carrions,” “Collapsing” and “Shapeless Mass” near the album’s end, but the trio get big, big points for not trying to offer some placating “you can avoid this future” message of hope at the end, instead highlighting the final message, “The oracles warned us long ago/That a huge mass would swallow us all.” Ambitious in narrative concept, expertly conveyed.

Wormsand on Facebook

Stellar Frequencies on Bandcamp

Saka Čost on Bandcamp

 

Thunderchief, Synanthrope

Thunderchief Synanthrope

I hate to call out a falsehood, but Virginia duo Thunderchief‘s claim that, “No fucks were used, or given, on this recording,” just isn’t the case. I’m sorry. You don’t rip the fuck out of your throat like Rik Surly does on “Aiboh/Phobia” without a clear intent. That intent might be — and would seem to be — fuckall, but fuckall’s way different from ‘no fucks.’ If they didn’t give a fuck, Synanthrope could hardly come across as furious as it does in these seven tracks, totaling a consuming, gruff, sludged 39 minutes, marked out by centerpiece “King of the Pleistocene” fucking with your conception of desert rock, the second part of “Aiboh/Phobia” — the part named after a grind band, oddly enough — and “Toss Me a Crumb” fucking around with some grind, and closer “Paw” trodding out its feedback-laden course with Erik Larson‘s drums marching in crash with Surly‘s riffs. Hell, you got Mike Dean to record the thing. That’s giving a fuck all by itself. This kind of heavy and righteous, purposeful aural cruelty doesn’t happen by mistake. It’s too good to be fuckless. Sorry.

Thunderchief on Facebook

Thunderchief on Bandcamp

 

Turkey Vulture, Twist the Knife

turkey vulture twist the knife

No lyric sheet necessary to get that the longest song on Turkey Vulture‘s Twist the Knife EP, the three-minute “Livestock on Our Way to Slaughter,” is based lyrically on the ever-relevant film They Live. The married Connecticut duo of guitarist/bassist/vocalist Jessie May and drummer Jim Clegg (also in charge of visuals), find thrashy release on the four-song release, which totals about eight minutes and in opener “Fiji,” “Where the Truth Dwells,” as well as “Livestock on Our Way to Slaughter,” they rip with surprising metallic thrust. The closing “She’s Married (But Not to Me)” is something of a further shift, and had me searching for an original version out there somewhere thinking it was a cover either of Buddy Holly or some wistful punk band, but no, seems to be an original. So be it. Clearly, at this point, May and Clegg are finding new modes of sonic catharsis that even a couple years ago they likely wouldn’t have dared. They’re a stronger band for their readiness to follow such whims.

Turkey Vulture on Facebook

Turkey Vultre on Bandcamp

 

Stargo, Dammbruch

Stargo Dammbruch

In Stargo‘s Dammbruch, I hear a signal back to European heavy rock’s prior instrumentalist generation, the Dortmunder three-piece not completely divorced from the riffy progressions that drove the warmth creating heavy psychedelia in the first place, even as the four-part, 14-minute title-track of the EP shifts between those impulses and more progressive, weighted, extreme or airy movements before its eerily peaceful conclusion. “Copter,” which could be titled after its wub-wub-wub effect early and the guitar chug that takes hold of it, and the closer “Bathysphere,” with its outward reach of guitar telegraphed in the first half but still resonant at the end, bring likeminded breadth in shorter bursts, but the abiding story of the EP is what the band — who made their full-length debut with 2020’s Parasight — might continue to offer as their style continues to develop. 35007, My Sleeping Karma, The Ocean, Pelican and Russian CirclesStargo‘s sound is a melting pot of ideas. They only need to keep exploring.

Stargo on Facebook

Stargo on Bandcamp

 

Ascia, Volume II

Ascia Volume II

Fabrizio Monni, also of Black Capricorn, issues a second EP from the solo-project Ascia following up on Sept. 2021’s Volume I (review here) with the marauding lumber of Dec. 2021’s Volume II, bringing his axe down across five tracks in a sub-20-minute run that’s been compiled onto a limited CD with the first release. Makes sense. The two outings share an affinity for the running megafuzz of earliest High on Fire and showcase the emerging personality of the new outfit in the melodies of “The Will of Gods” and the untempered doom of the later slowdown in “Thousands of Ghosts.” The instrumental “A Night with Shahrazad” closes, and feels a bit like a piece of a song — it crashes out just when you think the vocals might kick in — but if Monni‘s leaving his audience wanting more, well, he also seems quick enough to provide. “Eternal Glory” and “Ruins of War” will remind you what you liked about the first EP, and the rest will remind you why you’re looking forward to the next one. Mark it a win.

Ascia on Bandcamp

Black Capricorn on Facebook

 

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Video Interview: Scott “Dr. Space” Heller of Øresund Space Collective, Etc.

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Features on September 30th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

scott heller dr space

Not that we weren’t going to have anything to talk about otherwise, but to give me a heads up for this interview, Scott Heller — better known to the psychedelic underground as Dr. Space himself — sent me a list of recent and upcoming outings from this and next year. There were more than 30 of them.

Consider that for a second.

I would post the list but I’m not sure they’ve all been announced yet.

Of all the people I’ve met through music — and I have met Heller in-person many times; I consider him a friend and talking to him about music for over an hour the other day was something I did largely as a favor to myself; a similar mentality to that which I approach writing about much of his output — Heller‘s creativity and work ethic is singular. As synthesist and band-leader for Øresund Space Collective, he has spearheaded a school of “totally improvised space rock” that’s grown in influence throughout Europe and beyond, and more recently, monthly jams as a part of the duo Doctors of Space with Martin Weaver of Wicked Lady — who happens to live relatively nearby in Portugal, to which Heller moved some four and half years ago after leaving Denmark — have seen release through Bandcamp in ongoing fashion. He’s meeting up with Weaver today, in fact. No doubt something will come of it.

But that’s barely a chip in the iceberg of his career. Going back to before his time managing Gas Giant and recording every show ØSC play — they’ll be in Oslo at Høstsabbat in a couple weeks — working with former Elder drummer Matt Couto in Aural Hallucinations, putting together his own Alien Planet Trip series of solo releases and collaborations, running the active label Space Rock Productions or contributing to acts like Black Moon Circle3rd Ear Experience and Albinö Rhino, among I don’t even know how many others, Heller has a history of writing and documenting his experiences with music that extends across four decades. With an autobiography and a studio build on his property between the two largest mountains in Portugal currently in progress, tour dates upcoming and those 30 offerings in progress or on the way, he simply is one of a kind, and even with so much behind him, is at his most productive ever right now.

I don’t even know how many times I said the word “amazing” in this interview, but it might also be over 30, and none of them were unearned on his part. I’m honored he took the time to talk and amazed he found it.

Please enjoy:

Interview with Scott “Dr. Space” Heller, Sept. 27, 2021

More info on Heller and his many, many, many doings is available at the links.

Doctors of Space, Studio Session July 2021 (2021)

Øresund Space Collective, Fuzz Fest 2021 (2021)

Dr. Space, Dr Space’s Alien Planet Trip Vol. 4: Space with Bass (2021)

Black Moon Circle, The Studio Jams Vol. 1-3 (2019)

Øresund Space Collective website

Øresund Space Collective on Bandcamp

Black Moon Circle on Bandcamp

Aural Hallucinations on Bandcamp

Doctors of Space on Bandcamp

Writing About Music blog

Space Rock Productions website

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The Obelisk Questionnaire: Scott “Dr. Space” Heller

Posted in Questionnaire on March 5th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

scott heller

The Obelisk Questionnaire is a series of open questions intended to give the answerer an opportunity to explore these ideas and stories from their life as deeply as they choose. Answers can be short or long, and that reveals something in itself, but the most important factor is honesty.

Based on the Proust Questionnaire, the goal over time is to show a diverse range of perspectives as those who take part bring their own points of view to answering the same questions. To see all The Obelisk Questionnaire posts, click here.

Thank you for reading and thanks to all who participate.

The Obelisk Questionnaire: Scott “Dr. Space” Heller of Øresund Space Collective & Aural Hallucinations

How do you define what you do and how did you come to do it?

I make space sounds using mostly analog synthesizers. Magnus Hannibal from Mantric Muse was the first one to encourage me to experiment with synthesizers. If it was not for him, I probably never would have played synthesizers. My friend Doug Walter (RIP) from Alien Planetscapes was a huge musical inspiration towards exploring and making unusual music.

Describe your first musical memory.

Listening to Chuck Berry with my dad. Later taking the records into my room and trying to transcribe the lyrics. I recently found the book that I wrote them down in (see picture).

Describe your best musical memory to date.

school days dr spaceThis is a very hard question and a bit vague. When I played with Gas Giant in a small concrete bunker club in Leipzig Germany in 2003. The band was on fire, the audience was so intense and into it. I had never experienced anything like that. The power of live music and looking out and seeing these people moving to the sound and we would space out and jam and they were there for every last second and the way the place would erupt when we ended a song or a jam. I was totally blown away. It is hard to describe. I felt like I was levitating! Another was when Øresund Space Collective played the Freak Stage at Burg Herzberg Festival at 23 and just looking out and seeing a solid sea of people as far as I could see. Wow. We played til 3 am with a short break!!

When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?

Well, quite recently, when I signed a contract to build my music studio and after 8 months, the builder had not worked one day but only provided excuse after excuse for months on end. I always want to give people the benefit of the doubt and believe that they will do what they said they would, especially when you sign a contract. Anyway, I was hugely let down and delayed but this. So not, all people are good to their word, this is for sure, sometimes you can be too trusting of people.

Where do you feel artistic progression leads?

It hopefully leads to one feeling good about oneself and to unique musical creation. I have always been involved with bands that it is important to make music for the moment. I would not last long in a band that played the songs the exact same every night, as most bands do. I need that feeling of danger, excitement, that you get when you improvise and try new things and experiment with sound. This is progression for me. The same song can progress to something new each night, like with Black Moon Circle!!

How do you define success?

Can I still listen to it and say, “hell yeah, that is cool?” Then I succeeded. If you are speaking in a bit more generic terms, then I would say, “Am I happy, do I make other people happy, am I contributing to try to make the world a better place?” If so, then I have succeeded in life.

What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?

Tommy TuTone playing between Rose Tattoo and ZZ Top in 1981. Terrible ’80s pop music after rocking out with Rose Tattoo and waiting for ZZ Top. Totally ruined our mood. That should never have happened.

Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.

My music studio. I hope it will be created this year and I can go on to record so many of the cool bands that I know like Papir, Syreregn, Øresund Space Collective, Elder, Black Moon Circle, White Hills, and more.

What do you believe is the most essential function of art?

Art should take you away from the current reality you are in. Be it a painting that you can look into and disappear or a song that just transports you away. A ballet, theatre, anything where you can forget the fucked up world we have and disappear into it. Then it has served its function.

Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?

Starting my new garden this year and seeing if have good success with some new varieties of chilis I have never grown before!!!

http://oresundspacecollective.com
http://oresundspacecollective.bandcamp.com
http://doctorsofspace.bandcamp.com
http://writingaboutmusic.blogspot.com
http://www.spacerockproductions.com
http://blackmooncircle.bandcamp.com
http://auralhallucinations.bandcamp.com

Øresund Space Collective, Four Riders Take Space Mountain (2020)

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3rd Ear Experience with Dr. Space, Ear to Space: Souldreams and Eagle Bones

Posted in Reviews on May 3rd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

3rd ear experience with dr. space ear to space

In 2017, scientists measured ripples in gravity for the first time caused by a neutron star collision in the galaxy rather unromantically-named NGC 4993. It was badass. I don’t know what effect bringing together Californian jammers 3rd Ear Experience with synthesizer specialist Scott “Dr. Space” Heller of Øresund Space Collective will have on the universe at large, but if there are gravity waves caused as it beams itself out across space and time, one could hardly be surprised. The two parties coming together perhaps isn’t so much of an impact — that is, it’s actually a pretty smooth process, rather than two objects smashing into each other — but the end result on the 73-minute/five-track Ear to Space feels like a cosmic event anyway. Led by guitarist/producer Robbi Robb, 3rd Ear Experience have been rolling out desert-hued cosmic weirdo jams for the last half-decade, prone to massive explorations or tighter offerings in a varied, never-quite-know-what’s-coming aesthetic that extends to the vibe of the material itself as well as its construction, such as it is constructed at all, what with all the improv.

That sensibility — improv — is all over Ear to Space, with the first three sides of the 2LP each consumed by a single track pushing out across ever greater reaches, such that opener “Screams of Eagle Bone” (14:51), “Anam Cara” (20:22) and the extra-kraut-feeling “Dreams of the Caterpillar” (22:22) become a nebulous sprawl of trance-inducing aural voyage, a put-on-and-mellow-out excursion of engaging atmospheres and deep-running interstellar salutation. The amalgam collaboration of 3rd Ear Experience with Dr. Space doesn’t feel so much like an anomaly as it does a cohesive unit, as the two parties work toward the same ends in proffering an ultima-kosmiche space rock, the sax infusion early on “Screams of Eagle Bone” giving immediate Hawkwindian flair to the initial push, but the album finding its own way shortly thereafter as though, having once broken out of the stratosphere, it decides to go wondering around the neighborhood and see what it might run into. Oh, hello cosmic enlightenment. Didn’t see you there.

It’s an interesting project in terms both of the actual results — which are frankly kind of hard to write about because they’re so entrancing — and the process by which they were made. The aforementioned first three tracks, also known as sides A, B and C, were put together first by 3rd Ear Experience, with Robbi Robb on guitar and synth-guitar, Jorge Carrillo on bass, Richard Stuverud on drums, Amritakripa on synth and the bizarre chanting at the end of “Anam Cara,” and John Whoolilurie on sax. They were then sent to Heller, residing in Portugal, who essentially sat in on the “finished” jams, adding his signature sound via custom modular synth box and presumably other beep-boop this-and-thats — don’t ask me how the magic happens; it’s technology beyond my feeble understanding. The short version of the tale is: it works. If they said Dr. Space wizarded his way to California to join 3rd Ear Experience in the studio live, no one would think twice about questioning it. But, the last two tracks basically flip the method. Dr. Space started out with the synth textures of “Coin in the Desert” (9:37) and “Sue’s Dream World” (6:04), then sent that to Robb and company to be finished and mixed and mastered.

3rd Ear Experience with Dr Space Ear to Space lps

Especially in the case of “Sue’s Dream World,” that change is palpable in a departure to more atmospheric reaches, a lack of drums emphasizing the feeling of floating that’s been there all along if somewhat tethered to molecular cohesion by Stuverud‘s drums and the other percussion around even in “Coin in the Desert,” let alone “Screams of Eagle Bone,” which is downright straightforward in comparison. That said, because “Sue’s Dream World” is shorter, “Dreams of the Caterpillar” might actually be the point where Ear to Space finds itself most crossing dimensions, though it hardly seems a coincidence that both songs involve the word “dream” in their respective titles. That’s not to say “Anam Cara” is lacking anything for otherworldliness. Its sax-laced midsection freakout is a joy to behold, especially in terms of what Carrillo brings on bass, and the solo-topped wandering that happens afterward only enhances the wash, organ and synth coinciding to ensure there’s due melodic breadth to go with all the spaced-out spread happening.

On some level, the listener who is most likely to take on a collaborative effort from 3rd Ear Experience and Dr. Space probably knows what they’re getting going into it. That is, Ear to Space is probably not the kind of thing that finds its way into the hands of the not-yet-converted, except through word-of-mouth proselytizing. Fine. I don’t think going into it knowing that it’s going to be spacey diminishes the listening experience at all, because that simple category is so open to interpretation. 3rd Ear Experience with Dr. Space are indeed spaced out. That’s the idea they’re working from. That’s what they’re going for. But that doesn’t account for the undulating swells at the start of “Dreams of the Caterpillar” or the percussion jam in “Coin in the Desert” or the serenity with which “Screams of Eagle Bone” later resolves its early outbound rocketing.

The nature of improvised space rock is to capture these moments at the heart of creation, and so even while the frame might be familiar, the portrait within is inherently fresh. The point is to make a moment, and that moment, that specific “right then,” doesn’t happen twice. It may seem like an incongruity that something so tied to ephemera — made once, not recreated — should have such a lasting impression, but this too is part of the whole idea and part of what makes Ear to Space so gorgeous as a concept. It’s two parties reaching across continents and an ocean to come together in one celebratory creation ritual. It’s not meant to last, but it does. I’d be surprised if Ear to Space is the only time Robb and Heller join forces, as there seems to be so much more to be explored, and space itself is endless. Until then, this is a most encouraging first contact.

3rd Ear Experience with Dr. Space, Ear to Space (2019)

3rd Ear Experience on Facebook

3rd Ear Experience on Bandcamp

Øresund Space Collective on Facebook

Øresund Space Collective on Bandcamp

Space Rock Productions website

Space Rock Productions on Facebook

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