Quarterly Review: High on Fire, Spaceslug, Lie Heavy, Burning Realm, Kalac, Alkuräjähdys, Magick Brother & Mystic Sister, Amigo, The Hazytones, All Are to Return

Posted in Reviews on May 14th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

The-Obelisk-Quarterly-Review

Alright, back at it. Putting together yesterday over the weekend was more scattershot than I’d prefer, but one might say the same of parenting in general, so I’ll leave it at that. Still, as happens with Quarterly Reviews, we got there. That my wife gave me an extra 40 minutes to bang out the Wizzerd video premiere was appreciated. As always, she makes everything possible.

Compared to some QRs, there are a few ‘bigger’ releases here. You’ll note High on Fire leading off today. That trend will continue over this and next week with the likes of Pallbearer, Uncle Acid, Bongripper, Harvestman (Steve Von Till, ex-Neurosis), Inter Arma, Saturnalia Temple spread throughout. The Pelican two-songer and My Dying Bride back to back a week from today. That’ll be a fun one. As always, it’s about the time crunch for me for what goes in the Quarterly Review. Things I want to cover before it’s too late that I can fit here. Ain’t nobody holding their breath for my opinion on any of it, or on anything generally for that matter, but I’m not trying to slight well known bands by stuffing them into what when it started over a decade ago I thought would be a catchall for demos and EPs. Sometimes I like the challenge of a shorter word count, too.

And I remind myself here again nobody really cares. Fine, let’s go.

Quarterly Review #11-20:

High on Fire, Cometh the Storm

high on fire cometh the storm

What seems at first to be business as usual for High on Fire‘s fourth album produced by Kurt Ballou, fifth for MNRK Heavy (formerly E1), and ninth overall, gradually reveals itself to be the band’s tonally heaviest work in at least the last 15 years. What’s actually new is drummer Coady Willis (Big Business, Melvins) making his first studio appearance alongside founding guitarist/vocalist Matt Pike (Sleep, Pike vs. the Automaton) and long-tenured bassist/backing vocalist Jeff Matz (also saz on the instrumental interlude-plus “Karanlik Yol”), and for sure Willis‘ thud in “Trismegistus,” galloping intensity in the thrashy and angular “The Beating” and declarative stomp beneath the big slowdown of 10-minute closer “Darker Fleece” is part of it, but from the way Pike and Matz bring “Cometh the Storm’ and “Sol’s Golden Curse” in the record’s middle to such cacophonous ends, the three-and-a-half-minute face-kick that is “Lightning Beard” and the suckerpunch that starts off with “Lambsbread,” to how even the more vocally melodic “Hunting Shadows” is carried on a wave of filthy, hard-landing distortion, their ferocity is reaffirmed in thicker grooves and unmitigated pummel. While in some ways this is what one would expect, it’s also everything for which one might hope from High on Fire a quarter-century on from their first demo. Triumph.

High on Fire on Facebook

MNRK Heavy website

Spaceslug, Out of Water

spaceslug out of water

A release concurrent to a remastered edition of their 2016 debut, Lemanis (review here), only puts into emphasis how much Spaceslug have come into their own over eight productive years. Recorded by drummer/vocalist Kamil Ziółkowski (also Mountain of Misery), with guitarist/vocalist Bartosz Janik and bassist/vocalist Jan Rutka dug into familiar tonal textures throughout five tracks and a quick but inevitably full-length-flowing 32 minutes, Out of Water is both otherworldly and emotionally evocative in the rollout of “Arise the Sun” following the intertwined shouts of opener “Tears of Antimatter,” and in keeping with their progression, they nudge toward metallic aggression as a way to solidify their heavy psychedelic aspects. “Out of Water” is duly mournful to encapsulate such a tragic notion, and the nod of “Delusions” only grows more forcefully applied after the return from that song’s atmospheric break, and while they depart with “In Serenity” to what feels like the escapism of sunnier riffing, even that becomes more urgent toward the album’s finish. The reason it works is they’re bending genre to their songs, not the other way around, and as Spaceslug mature as a group, they’ve become one of Poland’s most essential heavy acts.

Spaceslug on Facebook

Spaceslug on Bandcamp

Lie Heavy, Burn to the Moon

lie heavy burn to the moon

First issued on CD through JM Records in 2023, Lie Heavy‘s debut album, Burn to the Moon, sees broader release through Heavy Psych Sounds with revamped art to complement the Raleigh, North Carolina, four-piece’s tonal heft and classic reach in pieces like “In the Shadow” and “The Long March,” respectively. The band is fronted by Karl Agell (vocalist for C.O.C.‘s 1991 Blind album and now also in The Skull-offshoot Legions of Doom), and across the 12-song/51-minute run, and whether it’s the crunch of the ripper “When the Universe Cries” or the Clutch-style heavy funk of “Chunkadelic” pushing further from the start-stops of “In the Shadow” or the layered crescendo of “Unbeliever” a short time later, he and bassist/vocalist TR Gwynne, guitarist/vocalist Graham Fry and drummer/vocalist Jeff “JD” Dennis deliver sans-pretense riff-led fare. They’re not trying to fix what wasn’t broken in the ’90s, to be sure, but you can’t really call it a retread either as they swing through “Drag the World” and its capstone counterpart “End the World”; it all goes back to Black Sabbath anyway. The converted will get it no problem.

Lie Heavy on Facebook

Heavy Psych Sounds website

Burning Realm, Face the Fire

Burning Realm Face the Fire

Dublin, Ireland, trio Burning Realm mark their first release with the four-song Face the Fire EP, taking the cosmic-tinged restlessness of Wild Rocket and setting it alongside more grounded riffing, hinting at thrash in the ping ride on “From Beyond” but careening in the modern mode either way. Lead cut “Homosapien” gives Hawkwindian vibes early — the trap, which is sounding like Slift, is largely avoided, though King Gizzard may still be relevant as an influence — but smoothly gives over to acoustics and vocal drone once its urgency has bene vaporized, and spacious as the vocal echo is, “Face the Fire” is classic stoner roll even into its speedier ending, the momentum of which is continued in closer “Warped One (Arise),” which is more charged on the whole in a way that feels linear and intended in relation to what’s put before it. A 16-minute self-released introduction to who Burning Realm are now, it holds promise for how they might develop stylistically and grow in terms of range. Whatever comes or doesn’t, it’s easy enough to dig as it is. If you were at a show and someone handed you the tape, you’d be stoked once you put it on in the car. Also it’s like 1995 in that scenario, apparently.

Burning Realm on Facebook

Burning Realm on Bandcamp

Kalac, Odyss​é​e

Odyssee

Offered through an international consortium of record labels that includes Crême Brûlée Records in the band’s native France, Echodelick in the US, Clostridium in Germany and Weird Beard in the UK, French heavy psych thrusters Kalac‘s inaugural full-length, Odyss​é​e — also stylized all-caps — doesn’t leave much to wonder why so many imprints might want some for the distro. With a focus on rhythmic movement in the we-gotta-get-to-space-like-five-minutes-ago modus of current-day heavy neo-space-rock, the mostly instrumental procession hypnotizes even as it peppers its expanses with verses here or there. That might be most effectively wrought in the payoff noiseblaster wash of “II,” which I’m just going to assume opens side B, but the boogie quotient is strong from “Arguenon” to “Beautiful Night,” and while might ring familiar to others operating in the aesthetic galaxial quadrant, the energy of Kalac‘s delivery and the not-haphazard-but-not-always-in-the-same-spot-either placement of the vocals are enough to distinguish them and make the six-tracker as exciting to hear as it sounds like it probably was to record.

Kalac on Facebook

Crême Brûlée Records on Bandcamp

Clostridium Records store

Weird Beard Records store

Echodelick Records on Bandcamp

Alkuräjähdys, Ehdot.

Alkurajahdys ehdot

The live-tracked fourth outing from Helsinki psych improvisationalists Alkuräjähdys, the lowercase-stylized ehdot. blends mechanical and electronic sounds with more organic psychedelic jamming, the synth and bassier punchthrough in the midsection of opening piece “.matriisi” indeed evocative of the dot-matrix printer to which its title is in reference, while “központ,” which follows, meanders into a broader swath of guitar-based noise atop a languidly graceful roll of drums. That let’s-try-it-slower ideology is manifest in the first half of the duly two-sided “a-b” as well, as the 12-minute finale begins by lurching through the denser distortion of a central riff en route to a skronk-jazz transition to a tighter midtempo groove that I’ll compare to Endless Boogie and very much intend that as a compliment. I don’t think they’re out to change the world so much as get in a room, hit it and see where the whole thing ends up, but those are noble creative aims in concept and practice, and between the two guitars, effects, synth and whathaveyou, there’s plenty of weird to go around.

Alkuräjähdys on Instagram

Alkuräjähdys on Bandcamp

Magick Brother & Mystic Sister, Tarot Pt. 1

Magick Brother & Mystic Sister tarot pt. 1

Already a significant undertaking as a 95-minute 2LP running 11 tracks themed — as the title(s) would hint — around tarot cards, the mostly serene sprawl of Magick Brother & Mystic Sister‘s Tarot Pt. 1 is still just the first of two companion albums to be issued as the follow-up to the Barcelona outfit’s 2020 self-titled debut (discussed here). Offered through respected Greek purveyor Sound Effect Records, Tarot Pt. 1 gives breadth beyond just the runtime in the sitar-laced psych-funk of “The Hierophant” (swap sitar for organ, synth and flute on “The Chariot”) and the classic-prog pastoralia of closer “The Wheel of Fortune,” and as with the plague-era debut, at the heart of the material is a soothing acid folk, and while the keys in the first half of “The Emperor” grow insistent and there’s some foreboding in the early Mellotron and key lines of “The Lovers,” Tarot Pt. 1 resonates comfort and care in its arrangements as well as ambition in its scope. Maybe another hour and a half on the way? Sign me up.

Magick Brother & Mystic Sister on Facebook

Sound Effect Records store

Amigo, Good Time Island

Amigo Good Time Island

The eight-year distance from their 2016 debut long-player, Little Cliffs, seems to have smoothed out some (not all, which isn’t a complaint) of the rough edges in Amigo‘s sound, as the seemingly reinvigorated San Diego four-piece of lead guitarist/vocalist Jeff Podeszwik (King Chiefs), guitarist Anthony Mattos, bassist Sufi Karalen and drummer Anthony Alley offer five song across an accessible, straightforward 17 minutes united beneath the fair-enough title of Good Time Island. Without losing the weight of their tones, a Weezery pop sensibility comes through in “Dope Den” while “Frog Face” is even more specifically indebted to The Cars. Neither “Telescope Boy” nor “Banana Phone” lacks punch, but Amigo hold some in reserve for “Me and Soof,” which rounds out the proceedings, and they put it to solid use for an approach that’s ’90s-informed without that necessarily meaning stoner, grunge or alt, and envision a commercially relevant, songwriting-based heavy rock and roll for an alternate universe that, by all accounts here, sounds like a decent place to be.

Amigo on Facebook

Roosevelt Row Records store

The Hazytones, Wild Fever

The Hazytones Wild Fever

Culminating in the Sabbathian shuffle of “Eye for an Eye,” Wild Fever is the hook-drenched third full-length from Montreal fuzzbringers The Hazytones, and while they’ve still got the ‘tones’ part down pat, it’s easy to argue the eight included tracks are the least ‘hazy’ they’ve been to-date. Following on from the direction of 2018’s II: Monarchs of Oblivion (review here), the Esben Willems-mixed/Kent Stump-mastered 40-minute long-player isn’t shy about leaning into the grittier side of what they do as the opening title-track rolls out a chorus that reminds of C.O.C. circa In the Arms of God while retaining some of the melody between the vocals of Mick Martel (also guitar and keys) and Gabriel Prieur (also drums and bass), and with the correspondingly thick bass of Caleb Sanders for accompaniment and lead guitarist John Choffel‘s solo rising out of the murk on “Disease,” honing in on the brashness suits them well. Not where one might have expected them to end up six years later, but no less enjoyable for that, either.

The Hazytones on Facebook

Black Throne Productions store

All Are to Return, III

All Are To Return III

God damn that’s harsh. Mostly anonymous industrialists — you get F and N for names and that’s it — All Are to Return are all the more punishing in the horrific recesses and engulfing blasts of static that populate III than they were in 2022’s II (review here), and the fact that the eight-songer is only 32 minutes long is about as close as they come to any concept of mercy for the psyche of their audience. Beyond that, “Moratorium,” “Colony Collapse,” the eats-you-dead “Archive of the Sky” and even the droning “Legacy” cast a willfully wretched extremity, and what might be a humanizing presence of vocals elsewhere is screams channeled through so much distortion as to be barely recognizable as coming from a human throat here. If the question being posed is, “how much can you take?,” the answer for most of those brave enough to even give III a shot will be, “markedly less than this.” A cry from the depths realizing a brutal vision.

All Are to Return on Bandcamp

Tartarus Records store

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The Obelisk Questionnaire: Kamil Ziólkowski of Mountain of Misery, Spaceslug, O.D.R.A., Etc.

Posted in Questionnaire on January 3rd, 2024 by JJ Koczan

Kamil Ziółkowski of Mountain of Misery

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: Kamil Ziółkowski of Mountain of Misery, Spaceslug, O.D.R.A., Palm Desert, Etc.

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

When it comes to issues related to playing music, which is probably what the question is about, I define myself as, on the one hand, a drummer in several bands, but also a creator of music, and the creation of music, the creative process itself, is what I like the most. The symbiosis between several people functioning as a band is something wonderful and the resultant of their actions creating a common creation gives great satisfaction. The love for playing and creating music began when I was 16 years old and that’s when I started playing bass, a year later I switched to drums and it stayed that way, it’s what I identify with the most.

Describe your first musical memory.

It’s hard to single out any specific memory, music has basically always accompanied me. I was lucky that my father listened to broadly understood rock music, and this type of sounds accompanied me from childhood. Bands like Black Sabbath, TOTO, Marillion, Genesis and so on, they shaped me as a person and as a guy who would play music in the future. I started collecting music on physical media when I was 7, back then it was still cassette tapes, first it was… Roxette (!), then things like Def Leppard, and finally grunge, mainly Pearl Jam, then Soundgarden and this was the time I consider it “forming me” as a listener. I love and listen to these bands to this day.

Describe your best musical memory so far.

As a listener, it’s a concert by The Cure, which I love and was at in concert years ago. As a musician, it’s probably the entire period since 2008, when I finally managed to create good things, then the bands I was in were formed and their functioning gave me a lot of fun, I’m talking about Palm Desert and O.D.R.A, and a few years later Spaceslug appeared, the band from which I am probably best known on the broadly understood underground scene.

When was a strongly held belief tested?

You’re asking if I ever doubted playing music. If so, the years between 2006 and 2008 were such a dead period that I was seriously considering selling the drums and calling it quits. Then there was a big revival, as I mentioned above, from that moment on I can’t imagine the moment when I would stop doing it. I would feel an incredible emptiness inside myself if that happened.

Where do you think artistic progress is leading?

Progress can only be assessed from the perspective of time, 50 years ago everyone could also be surprised and announce the end of something when it turned out that progress contributed to something good. I think that artistic progress always goes in the right direction, after all, it is art, right?

How do you define success?

Success is doing something for a long time that gives you satisfaction.

If we evaluate it in hindsight and are satisfied with it, then we can say that we have achieved it.

The scale of success depends, of course, on our expectations and perspective, and is different for everyone.

Have you seen something you wish you hadn’t seen?

Yes, the internet is terrible. I won’t go into details, but I didn’t realize how far can go people to satisfy their sexual “needs” ;)

Describe something you haven’t created yet but would like to create.

Simple, something original enough to take your breath away… And on a more down-to-earth level, in strictly musical terms, I would like to create rock music supported by string instruments, specifically violins.

What do you think is the most important function of art?

Bringing beauty and happiness to everyone who wants to interact with it.

Something non-musical you’re looking forward to?

I can’t wait for my first trip to the United States in next month (January) . Although I’m going there to play a concert with Spaceslug, I also treat it as a journey to the big world, to the place from which I have drawn culture since I was a child, the world with which I was so fascinated, and finally, after many years, such an opportunity arose for the first time.

https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=61553104355582
https://mountainofmisery.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=61552988139323

https://www.facebook.com/spaceslugband/
https://www.instagram.com/spaceslug_pl/
https://spaceslug.bandcamp.com/music

Mountain of Misery, In Roundness (2023)

Mountain of Misery, Anthem of Sadness (2023)

Spaceslug, Memorial (2021)

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