Album Review: Craneium, Point of No Return

Posted in Reviews on April 1st, 2024 by JJ Koczan

Craneium Point of No Return

Each successive full-length from Turku, Finland’s Craneium up to this point has been a progressive step forward from the one before it. It’s where that progression has brought them that makes their fourth long-player, Point of No Return, a special moment. As the sweeping, lush and gorgeous crescendo of opening track “One Thousand Sighs” to its final peak — a tonally rich and urgent but not too fast chug pushed forward by emphatic snare carefully placed in the mix, surrounded by layers of melodic vocals in a dynamic movement that prefaces the encompassing breadth of much of what follows before dropping with residual echo to a sentimental intertwining of acoustic and electric guitar as denouement across the last 40 seconds of its 5:34 — the band’s mastery is glaringly obvious, a brightness cast in kind with the Jaime Zuverza cover art. Point of No Return is the four-piece’s second outing backed by The Sign Records after 2021’s Unknown Heights (review here), and sees them working again with that album’s producer, Joona Hassinen, who also mastered late-2018’s The Narrow Line (review here), at a Studio Underjord now relocated from Norrköping to Finspång, Sweden, while Karl Daniel Lidén of Stockholm’s Studio Gröndahl handled the mix and master.

Across the six songs and deceptively-expansive 37 minutes, whether it’s in the underlying performances of guitarist/vocalists Andreas Kaján and Martin Ahlö, bassist Jonas Ridberg and drummer Joel Kronqvist, or the more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts grandeur they cast in the memorable choruses of “One Thousand Sighs,” “The Sun,” “A Distant Shore,” “…Of Laughter and Cries,” “Things Have Changed” and “Search Eternal” — yeah, that’s all six; it’s front-to-back — or the way even the most impact-minded stretches complement and maintain the atmospheres harnessed through contemplative, patient, purposeful semi-drift, the overarching mastery can’t be ignored. More than a decade on from first getting together in 2011 and nine years after their debut LP, Explore the Void, got them picked up by Ripple Music for a 2016 release, Craneium present themselves as mature and intentional in their craft, graceful in rhythm and melody alike, and aware of what they want their songs to be doing and how they want each to inform the greater context and undulating flow of the album as a whole.

This is conveyed in Frida Eurenius of Spiral Skies guesting on vocals to help put that already-noted apex of “One Thousand Sighs” over the top, as well as Skraeckoedlan‘s Robert Lamu contributing lead guitar to “The Sun” — I’ll note also what seem to be keyboard or piano strikes in that song’s verse; Lamu‘s band employed similar urgency in “Mysteria” from their own new album for a nice shout-out — and, for a just-them example, the way the final solo of “A Distant Shore” holds its tension in Kronqvist‘s soon-fading toms as the non-lyric vocals (ready for an audience singalong as much as they are an epilogue), far-back Mellotron and airy guitar end side A only to have the initial crash of “…Of Laughter and Cries” immediately reground with the more uptempo groove that follows. With a direct shift, that bit of contrast echoes how the buildup of “The Sun,” which is Point of No Return‘s most fervent shove, responds to the quiet finish of “One Thousand Sighs” just before, and though the interaction changes as the couple seconds of silence on side B between the penultimate “Things Have Changed” — the chugging verse and declarative chorus of which mirror “The Sun” in their grounded execution — and “Search Eternal” are tense with anticipation, Craneium nonetheless feel mindful in these pairings and their arrangement across the two sides, each set up such that its procession complements the other.


The split on the vinyl version (I’m not sure there is a CD; take that, ’90s heads), between “A Distant Shore” and “…Of Laughter and Cries,” makes for three songs on each side, and the symmetry of construction extends to “A Distant Shore” (7:35) and “Search Eternal” (7:23) each as the longest running track among its respective three. It’s not the most radical difference between those and the others between five and six minutes long, but still a choice that feels purposeful, especially as “Search Eternal” enters its final outward-pointed movement in a midsection marked by near-elephantine keyboard swells and cycles of guitar that, indeed, seem to be exploring and finding their way forward. And that “Search Eternal” has a hook in its early going is no less representative of Point of No Return as a whole.

On sound alone, it and “A Distant Shore” both work as grand finales. The side-A-capper plunging into Mellotron-laced melancholy and a post-stoner float, and its chorus stands ready to imprint itself on your brain, but the way its riff hits more straight-on before the cymbal wash and danger-zone guitar lead into a heavier rush — still methodical in the detailing with key or guitar sounds peppered in the momentary tumult — before the solo brings “A Distant Shore” to a head and it recedes into the aforementioned, immersive ending, Ridberg‘s bass and Kronqvist‘s drums tasked with keeping feet on the ground through the transition as the melody and ambience lend an aspect of drama without feeling like Craneium have pushed too far and gotten lost. What makes “Search Eternal” function so well where it does is how it emphasizes the fluidity of everything preceding. Beginning with resonant low end fuzz and moving swiftly into its verse, it lacks nothing for fullness of sound at its heaviest — and the mix is a significant space to fill — but Point of No Return would be a much different album if volume was its only priority.

Further, the ease with which they turn from a few measures of bombast to the march-through-the-cosmos instrumental ending, while evocative of the stated climate-crisis thematic, underscores the point of the directorial role they’ve played a songwriters. It’s not that they’ve given up the riffy foundations from whence they’ve come, but while the core “The Sun” could be read as extrapolated from Songs for the Deaf-era Queens of the Stone Age, there’s no denying that Craneium take that particular charge and use it toward their own ends. That, coupled with the care and attention so clearly paid to the root performances and the additional layers constructed around them, affirms Point of No Return as the defining statement of Craneium‘s tenure thus far. Accordingly, where their own ‘search eternal,’ i.e., their collective ambitions in sound, craft and expression, might take them from here feels broader in possibility than it ever has.

Craneium, “Things Have Changed” official video

Craneium, “One Thousand Sighs” official video

Craneium, Point of No Return (2024)

Craneium on Facebook

Craneium on Instagram

Craneium on Bandcamp

The Sign Records on Facebook

The Sign Records website

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Cardinals Folly Announce US Tour Dates

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 22nd, 2024 by JJ Koczan

While it’s unclear at this time how many clergy members they’ll actually run into on the tour, Cardinals Folly make clear their blasphemous intent in their first US run of shows, which they’re calling ‘Deranging Priests Across the US 2024.’ Steeped in the doomly traditions of their Finnish homeland and the broader underground universe of classic metal, the band will travel to the States in support of 2023’s Live by the Sword, released through Soulseller Records. It looks like a DIY tour — at least there isn’t a booking company’s name on the poster — and so it’s all the more imperative to help out if you can. Richmond, VA, New York, NY, etc., take note.

It’s comforting to know that while the tour takes place about a month ahead of Maryland Doom Fest 2024 — inarguably the best foot the US Eastern Seaboard has to put forward as regards the doomedest of doom — they will still get to see the town of Frederick, where it’s held, and play at Cafe Nola. I hope someone down there shows them around or some such, but I probably don’t even need to say that. Maryland doom wants nothing for hospitality.

Cheers to the band on making the voyage. Here’s the announcement they put out on socials:

Cardinals Folly



Some help is still needed with a few dates, as you can see. And any is appreciated. So let us know.

Live dates:
05.18 Madison WI The Wisco
05.19 Indianapolis IN Black Circle Brewing
05.20 Chicago IL Reggies
05.21 Ypsilanti MI The Regal Beagle
05.22 Youngstown OH Westside Bowl
05.23 Rochester NY Bug Jar
05.24 Providence RI Wes’ Rib House
05.25 Frederick MD Cafe Nola
05.26 Help
05.27 Help
05.28 Washington D.C. Pie Shop
05.29 Help
05.31 St. Paul MN White Rock Lounge
06.01 Milwaukee WI Sabbatic

Mikko “Count Karnstein” Kääriäinen – Bass, Vocals
Juho “Nordic Wrath” Kilpelä – Guitars
Joni “Battle Ram” Takkunen – Drums

Cardinals Folly, Live by the Sword (2023)

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Craneium to Release Point of No Return Feb. 23

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 18th, 2024 by JJ Koczan


My understanding of the situation is that Turku, Finland, heavy progressives Craneium finished recording their upcoming fourth LP, Point of No Return, in Oct. 2022. That was a month after premiering a video for “Victim of Delusion”, which was issued as a standalone digital single following 2021’s Unknown Heights (review here), which was their first album for The Sign Records.

That’s plenty of lead time. I say put the thing out Friday. “One Thousand Sighs” sure sounds ready to be heard, let alone either of the tracks they’ve put out as singles thus far, “Things Have Changed” (true: the band have grown) and “The Sun,” which boasts a guest appearance from Skraeckoedlan‘s Robert Lamu. All told, Point of No Return runs six songs, and as someone listening to it right now, I’ve yet to find a dud in the bunch.

I can only imagine the relief Craneium will feel to get this out after sitting on it for a year-plus. Note the Karl Daniel Lidén mix and master and keep in mind ideas of clarity and refinement. Their choruses speak more to the listener here than they have before. I’m interested to get to know the songs better and I’ll hope to have more before the record’s already been out for like four months or some such.

From the PR wire:

Craneium Point of No Return

Craneium are set to release their fourth album “Point of No Return” in February 2024 via The Sign Records. The Finnish four piece’s upcoming, studio recorded effort is their most ambitious one yet, washing over you through a constant ebb and flow of fuzzy heaviness, complemented by psychedelic melodies and atmospheric passages. The album follows their 2021 studio effort “Unknown Heights” (The Sign Records), “The Narrow Line” (2018, Ripple Music), and “Explore The Void” (2016, Ripple Music).

The album was recorded by Joona Hassinen at his new Studio Underjord in Finspång, Sweden with mixing and mastering duties handled by legendary Karl Daniel Lidén (Studio Gröndahl). The band has long admired his work with giants such as Lowrider and Greenleaf, and we are more than pleased with the end result. With the songwriting expanding upon the Craneium sound with atmospheric guitar leads and heavy riffing, the dynamics have become more polished and clean. Conceptually, the lyrics deal with the climate catastrophe and the responsibility of mankind for planet Earth. The artwork was handled by psychedelic artist Jaime Zuverza and complements the music perfectly.

Craneium is:
Andreas Kaján – Vocals & Guitars
Martin Ahlö – Vocals & Guitars
Joel Kronqvist – Drums
Jonas Ridberg – Bass

Craneium, “Things Have Changed” official video

Craneium, “The Sun” (feat. Robert Lamu) official video

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Quarterly Review: Tortuga, Spidergawd, Morag Tong, Conny Ochs, Ritual King, Oldest Sea, Dim Electrics, Mountain of Misery, Aawks, Kaliyuga Express

Posted in Reviews on November 30th, 2023 by JJ Koczan


Generally I think of Thursday as the penultimate day of a given Quarterly Review. This one I was thinking of adding more days to get more stuff in ahead of year-end coverage coming up in December. I don’t know what that would do to my weekend — actually, yes I do — but sometimes it’s worth it. I’m yet undecided. Will let you know tomorrow, or perhaps not. Dork of mystery, I am.

Today is PACKED with cool sounds. If you haven’t found something yet that’s really hit you, it might be your day.

Quarterly Review #31-40:

Tortuga, Iterations

TORTUGA Iterations

From traditionalist proto-doom and keyboard-inflected prog to psychedelic jamming and the Mountain-style start-stop riff on “Lilith,” Poznań, Poland’s Tortuga follow 2020’s Deities (discussed here) with seven tracks and 45 minutes that come across as simple and barebones in the distortion of the guitar and the light reverb on the vocals, but the doom rock doesn’t carry from “Lilith” into “Laspes,” which has more of a ’60s psych crux, a mellow but not unjoyful meander in its first half turning to a massive lumber in the second, all the more elephantine with a solo overtop. They continue throughout to cross the lines between niches — “Quaus” has some dungeon growls, “Epitaph” slogs emotive like Pallbearer, etc. — and offer finely detailed performances in a sound malleable to suit the purposes of their songs. Polish heavy doesn’t screw around. Well, at least not any more than it wants to. Tortuga‘s creative reach becomes part of the character of the album.

Tortuga on Facebook

Napalm Records website

Spidergawd, VII

spidergawd vii

I’m sorry, I gotta ask: What’s the point of anything when Spidergawd can put out a record like VII and it’s business as usual? Like, the world doesn’t stop for a collective “holy shit” moment. Even in the heavy underground, never mind general population. These are the kinds of songs that could save lives if properly employed to do so, and for the Norwegian outfit, it’s just what they do. The careening hooks of “Sands of Time” and “The Tower” at the start, the melodies across the span. The energy. I guess this is dad rock? Shit man, I’m a dad. I’m not this cool. Spidergawd have seven records out and I feel like Metallica should’ve been opening for them at stadiums this past summer, but they remain criminally underrated and perhaps use that as flexibility around their pop-heavy foundation to explore new ideas. The last three songs on VII — “Afterburner,” “Your Heritage” and “…And Nothing But the Truth” — are among the strongest and broadest Spidergawd have ever done, and “Dinosaur” and the classic-metal ripper “Bored to Death” give them due preface. One of the best active heavy rock bands, living up to and surpassing their own high standards.

Spidergawd on Facebook

Stickman Records website

Crispin Glover Records website

Morag Tong, Grieve

Morag Tong Grieve

Rumbling low end and spacious guitar, slow flowing drums and contemplative vocals, and some charred sludge for good measure, mark out the procession of “At First Light” on Morag Tong‘s third album and first for Majestic Mountain Records, the four-song Grieve. Moving from that initial encapsulation through the raw-throat sludge thud of most of “Passages,” they crash out and give over to quiet guitar at about four minutes in and set up the transition to the low-end groove-cool of “A Stem’s Embrace,” a sleepy fluidity hitting its full voluminous crux after three minutes in, crushing from there en route to its noisy finish at just over nine minutes long. That would be the epic finisher of most records, but Morag Tong‘s grievances extend to the 20-minute “No Sun, No Moon,” which at 20 minutes is a full-length’s progression on its own. At very least the entirety of side B, but more than the actual runtime is the theoretical amount of space covered as the four-piece shift from ambient drone through huge plod and resolve the skyless closer with a crushing delve into post-sludge atmospherics. That’s as fitting an end as one could ask for an offering that so brazenly refuses to follow impulses other than its own.

Morag Tong on Facebook

Majestic Mountain Records store

Conny Ochs, Wahn Und Sinn

Conny Ochs Wahn Und Sinn

The nine-song Wahn Und Sinn carries the distinction of being the first full-length from German singer-songwriter Conny Ochs — also known for his work in Ananda Mida and his collaboration with Wino — to be sung in his own language. As a non-German speaker, I won’t pretend that doesn’t change the listening experience, but that’s the idea. Words and melodies in different languages take on corresponding differences in character, and so in addition to appreciating the strings, pianos, acoustic and electric guitars, and, in the case of “Welle,” a bit of static noise in a relatively brief electronic soundscape, hearing Ochs‘ delivery no less emotive for switching languages on the cinematic “Grimassen,” or the lounge drama of “Ding” earlier on, it’s a new side from a veteran figure whose “experimentalism” — and no, I’m not talking about singing in your own language as experimental, I’m talking about Trialogos there — is backburnered in favor of more traditional, still rampantly melancholy pop arrangements. It sounds like someone who’s decided they can do whatever the hell they feel like their songs should making that a reality. Only an asshole would hold not speaking the language against that.

Conny Ochs on Facebook

Exile on Mainstream website/a>

Ritual King, The Infinite Mirror

ritual king the infinite mirror

I’m going to write this review as though I’m speaking directly to Ritual King because, well, I am. Hey guys. Congrats on the record. I can hear a ton going on with it. Some of Elder‘s bright atmospherics and rhythmic twists, some more familiar stoner riffage repurposed to suit a song like “Worlds Divide” after “Flow State” calls Truckfighters to mind, the songs progressive and melodic. The way you keep that nod in reserve for “Landmass?” That’s what I’m talking about. Here’s some advice you didn’t ask for: Keep going. I’m sure you have big plans for next year, and that’s great, and one thing leads to the next. You’re gonna have people for the next however long telling you what you need to do. Do what feels right to you, and keep in mind the decisions that led you to where you are, because you’re right there, headed to the heart of this thing you’re discovering. Two records deep there’s still a lot of potential in your sound, but I think you know a track like “Tethered” is a victory on its own, and that as big as “The Infinite Mirror” gets at the end, the real chance it takes is in the earlier vocal melody. You’re a better band than people know. Just keep going. Thanks.

Ritual King on Facebook

Ripple Music website

Oldest Sea, A Birdsong, A Ghost

oldest sea a birdsong a ghost cropped

Inhabiting the sort of alternately engulfing and minimal spaces generally occupied by the likes of Bell Witch, New Jersey’s Oldest Sea make their full-length debut with A Birdsong, A Ghost and realize a bleakness of mood that is affecting even in its tempo, seeming to slow the world around it to its own crawl. The duo of Samantha Marandola and Andrew Marandola, who brought forth their Strange and Eternal EP (review here) in 2022, find emotive resonance in a death-doom build through the later reaches of “Untracing,” but the subsequent three-minute-piece-for-chorus-and-distorted-drone “Astronomical Twilight” and the similarly barely-there-until-it-very-much-is closer “Metamorphose” mark out either end of the extremes while “The Machines That Made Us Old” echoes Godflesh in its later riffing as Samantha‘s voice works through screams en route to a daringly hopeful drone. Volatile but controlled, it is a debut of note for its patience and vulnerability as well as its deep-impact crash and consuming tone.

Oldest Sea on Facebook

Darkest Records on Bandcamp

Dim Electrics, Dim Electrics

dim electrics dim electrics

Each track on Dim Electrics‘ self-titled five-songer LP becomes a place to rest for a while. No individual piece is lacking activity, but each cut has room for the listener to get inside and either follow the interweaving aural patterns or zone out as they will. Founded by Mahk Rumbae, the Vienna-based project is meditative in the sense of basking in repetition, but flashes like the organ in the middle of “Saint” or the shimmy that takes hold in 18-minute closer “Dream Reaction” assure it doesn’t reside in one place for too much actual realtime, of which it’s easy to lose track when so much krautgazey flow is at hand. Beginning with ambience, “Ways of Seeing” leads the listener deeper into the aural chasm it seems to have opened, and the swirling echoes around take on a life of their own in the ecosystem of some vision of space rock that’s also happening under the ground — past and future merging as in the mellotron techno of “Memory Cage” — which any fool can tell you is where the good mushrooms grow. Dug-in, immersive, engaging if you let it be; Dim Electrics feels somewhat insular in its mind-expansion, but there’s plenty to go around if you can put yourself in the direction it’s headed.

Dim Electrics on Facebook

Sulatron Records webstore

Mountain of Misery, In Roundness

Mountain of Misery In Roundness

A newcomer project from Kamil Ziółkowski, also known for his contributions as part of Polish heavy forerunners Spaceslug, the tone-forward approach of Mountain of Misery might be said to be informed by Ziółkowski‘s other project in opener “Not Away” or the penultimate “Climb by the Sundown,” with their languid vocals and slow-rolling tsunami fuzz in the spirit of heavy psych purveyors Colour Haze and even more to the point Sungrazer, but the howling guitar in the crescendo of closer “The Misery” and the all-out assault of “Hang So Low” distinguish the band all around. “The Rain is My Love” sways in the album’s middle, but it’s in “Circle in Roundness” that the 36-minute LP has its most subdued stretch, letting the spaces filled with fuzz elsewhere remain open as the verse builds atop the for-now-drumless expanse. Whatever familiar aspects persist, Mountain of Misery is its own band, and In Roundness is the exciting beginning of a new creative evolution.

Mountain of Misery on Facebook

Electric Witch Mountain Recordings on Facebook

Aawks, Luna

aawks luna

The featured new single, “The Figure,” finds Barrie, Ontario’s Aawks somewhere between Canadian tonal lords Sons of Otis and the dense heavy psych riffing and melodic vocals of an act like Snail, and if you think I’m about to complain about that, you’ve very clearly never been to this site before. So hi, and welcome. The four-song Luna EP is Aawks‘ second short release of 2023 behind a split with Aiwass (review here), and the trio take on Flock of Seagulls and Pink Floyd for covers of the new wave radio hit “I Ran” and the psychedelic ur-classic “Julia Dream” before a live track, “All is Fine,” rounds out. As someone who’s never seen the band live, the additional crunch falls organic, and brings into relief the diversity Aawks show in and between these four songs, each of which inhabits a place in the emerging whole of the band’s persona. I don’t know if we’ll get there, but sign me up for the Canadian heavy revolution if this is the form it’s going to take.

Aawks on Facebook

Black Throne Productions website

Kaliyuga Express, Warriors & Masters

Kaliyuga Express Warriors and Masters

The collaborative oeuvre of UK doomsperimental guitarist Mike Vest (Bong, Blown Out, Ozo, 11Paranoias, etc.) grows richer as he joins forces with Finnish trio Nolla to produce Kaliyuga ExpressWarriors & Masters, which results in three tracks across two sides of far-out cosmic fuzz, shades of classic kraut and space rocks are wrought with jammy intention; the goal seeming to be the going more than the being gone as Vest and company burn through “Nightmare Dimensions” and the shoegazing “Behind the Veil” — the presence of vocals throughout is a distinguishing feature — hums in high and low frequencies in a repetitive inhale of stellar gases on side A while the 18:58 side B showdown “Endless Black Space” misdirects with a minute of cosmic background noise before unfurling itself across an exoplanet’s vision of cool and returning, wait for it, back to the drone from whence it came. Did you know stars are recycled all the time? Did you know that if you drop acid and peel your face off there’s another face underneath? Your third eye is googly. You can hear voices in the drones. Let me know what they tell you.

Kaliyuga Express on Facebook

Riot Season Records store

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Lähdön Aika Premiere Hourevuode EP in Full; Out Tomorrow

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on November 23rd, 2023 by JJ Koczan

Lähdön Aika

Finnish sludge extremists Lähdön Aika are set to issue their Hourevuode EP this Friday, Nov. 24. Self-released in an edition of 50 tapes and presumably infinite downloads, the 20-minute outing is a caustic crasher and basher, but is rife with atmosphere as well, basking in elements of post-metal as the eight-minute opener and longest track (immediate points) “Katelepsiapatsas” maybe layers in acoustic guitar with its electrics as it pushes closer to its finish, having emerged with a great gnashing of teeth from its ambient middle.

The weight of the tones in Akseli Kahra and Aki Heikiheimo‘s guitars and Anna Uski‘s bass aren’t to be understated, but the dynamic extends to tempos as drummer Sampo Kuisma pushes the subsequent “Kolmas Solmu” at a speedier, hardcore-informed clip while maintaining the claustrophobic distortion. There’s even a chorus, whether or not one speaks Finnish, and a break into a noisier middle, some banging-on-a-thing percussion and a building rage marking the path to the residual drone that caps.

Furious, then, but methodical too. A little flash of electronics opens the 2:27 “Houreet,” which is a stretch of ambient and gently distorted guitar, a meditation on reverb with a resonance that sounds like a happy studio accident so that’s the narrative I’m going with. Lähdön Aika Hourevuode coverVocalist Eeli Helin (Fawn Limbs, Ditch Organ, etc.) smoothly shifts to lower-register growls for the closing redux of “Ihmisraunioita 2023,” the original track taken from the band’s 2004 self-titled debut EP, which had five songs.

“Ihmisraunioita,” the first one, was made with a different lineup and is a hardcore cruncher delivered in raw, compact form. By comparison, “Ihmisraunioita 2023” is a churning malevolent sprawl; a brutal culmination for this short outing that places emphasis on how far Lähdön Aika have come in their nearly-20-year run. They’ll likely spend at least part of 2024 celebrating that anniversary. As a herald for that, Hourevuode (“hell bed?”) rightly focuses on the now rather than the past and portrays a band in steady, consistent progression.

Along with the requisite slew of shorter outings and splits, Lähdön Aika have three albums out, the latest of which is 2019’s Alku. That was the final appearance of founding frontman Marko Nyman, whom Helin replaced for 2021’s Valonaara four-songer. Unless they decide to not, which is always possible, one assumes they’ll get around to making a fourth LP sooner or later, and the hints of diversity around the central bludgeoning of their sound — the acoustics, the electronics, the ambient elements so carefully mixed here — could very easily come forward to stand alongside the guitar and bass and drums as the vocal cacophony cuts through in Helin‘s impressively harsh, not-unipolar scream.

I don’t know that they will, but it might be fun to find out, and if Hourevuode is where that experimentation happens while the group continues to integrate their new vocalist and celebrate 20 years together, well, it’s a good thing they made it heavy enough to be up to the task.

Some more info follows, courtesy of the PR wire. Please enjoy:

The Finnish sludge/doom quintet Lähdön Aika are releasing their new EP Hourevuode on November 24, 2023, on tape and digital formats. The four-track monolith constitutes of three brand new songs alongside a revision built on the foundation of a song from their debut released all the way back in 2004. On that note, Hourevuode is simultaneously a celebration of the band’s present self in all of its devastating glory, as well as its twenty-year history, showcasing both accustomed and new nuances and tonal aesthetics to Lähdön Aika’s output.

While the wall of near-immovable pummeling rhythms front the band’s signature sound, there’s new flair introduced by means of noisy electronics on the new EP, as well as perhaps the most hook-oriented compositions the band has crafted in their two decades of existence.

Lähdön Aika are:
Eeli Helin – vocals
Akseli Kahra – guitar
Aki Heikinheimo – guitar
Anna Uski – bass
Sampo Kuisma – drums

Lähdön Aika on Facebook

Lähdön Aika on Instagram

Lähdön Aika on Bandcamp

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Friday Full-Length: Kaiser, 1st Sound

Posted in Bootleg Theater on October 27th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

Note immediately that despite the title it’s not actually the first sound the band made. Helsinki-based Kaiser — guitarist/vocalist Olli “Otu” Suurmunne (Headless Monarch, Altar of Betelgeuze, etc.), bassist Pekka “Pex” Sauvolainen (also Amputory) and drummer Riku “RiQ” Syrjä — formed 10 years ago and had a self-titled EP out in 2014 with five tracks. But 1st Sound, even with the invisible asterisk, is the debut full-length from the Finnish three-piece, and in its 10-song/45-minute stretch, the 2018 release speaks to an older school take on heavy rock. It knows it, too. They tell you that pretty much ‘1st’ thing.

Beginning at a subtle misdirection of slow nod, “High Octane Supersoul” is one of two instances of that last word in a title that I’ve ever encountered in a heavy rock context. If there are more within the genre, I hope someone will tell me, but seeing the word immediately associates “High Octane Supersoul” and the initial impression Kaiser make on 1st Sound in my mind with Dozer, who opened their own first album, 2000’s In the Tail of a Comet, with the telltale rush of “Supersoul.” If Kaiser are upping the stakes on that, the boldness is no less admirable than the opener’s hook, which carries some shove that continues in “Desert Eye,” which is duly sandy and coursing in pace, the trio building momentum and opening into the chorus in a way that reminds of Sasquatch — they answer that particular uptempo thrust later as well in “Fuzz of Fury” — and revel in the lead layers, apex shouts and dense groove with an effects current shifting directly into “We Bleed for This.”

As to what they bleed for, it’s this. And that’s clearly true, or at least was when 1st Sound was recorded. While bringing their own elements of songwriting and performance to their material, Kaiser did not end up playing fuzzy riffs by accident. They sound like fans, and when “Desert Eye” winks at Kyuss or they unfurl the elephantine lumber of “Earthquake” — very clearly a song named after its riff, and not the only one here between “Ouroboros,” which runs in circles late with depth-charge pings of synth in the verse just before its last chorus, space-doom jamming closer “Galactic Crusade,” or the aforementioned “Fuzz of Fury” and “Desert Eye” — part of the passion driving it comes from that foundation. But while familiarity abounds and (potential, because it could always be a coincidence) dogwhistles like “High Octane Supersoul” drop hints about where the trio are coming from, 1st Sound doesn’t come across as derivative or like it’s trying to hard to perform to stylistic tropes.

Instead, after the speedier first three songs, Otu puts a bit of Chris Cornell soul into “Voidmaster” over a slightly-slower Kaiser 1st Soundprocession that’s more swing than thrust at its start. They kick the tempo in the second half, but they pair that with a big slowdown after the solo, so it’s a bit of everything and a departure enough from “High Octane Supersoul,” “Desert Eye” and “We Bleed for This” to signal the change to the next stage of the record, which expands on what Kaiser have thus far put forth with an atmospheric verse in “Ouroboros” before the noted expressively spheric guitar in its midsection. There’s nothing too fancy about “Ouroboros” structurally, but it makes bummer lyrics about species death catchy, and that’s not nothing when it comes to considerations of songwriting and piecing an album together.

And to be sure, whatever elements they might explore around it, as with the echoing synthy drone in “Intermission” along with the quiet creeper guitar, Kaiser remain rooted in heavy rock and roll. A sample as “Intermission” gives over to “Earthquake” warns that “What you are about to hear is very disturbing indeed.” Crashes ensue and immediately the intention is toward largesse. Bass anchors the verse as the massive central riff takes a break. Don’t worry, it comes back, and the moment of cathartic nod is the stuff of hair-on-end autonomic response, but they can’t resist turning after three minutes into the total 4:43 to a faster swing to back the solo. They have a separate ending riff that’s kin to the chorus but different enough to be something else, and they finish the highlight cut with suitably big crashes and residual effects fade, drums beginning the smooth shift to “Fuzz of Fury.”

Doing so means meeting stomp with sprint. Without mapping out BPMs, “Fuzz of Fury” is as fast as Kaiser get on 1st Sound, but more, it is the complement and culmination of a movement that began on “Intermission” and cycled dynamically through “Earthquake” and its own willful contrast thereof. I don’t know if those three songs, or perhaps the latter two, were presented live in that manner, but on the record they sound like that’s where the idea came from. And the adrenaline-mainline, scream-topped crescendo of “Fuzz of Fury” supports the case. That last shout finishes cold and the penultimate “King of Horizon” chug-thumps in as if mocking its own pomp. A layered melodic pre-chorus leads into a hook answering the screams from the track before, but “King of Horizon” and “Galactic Crusade” are the two longest inclusions on 1st Sound, and that speaks to the band presenting a different kind of immersion at the album’s end.

Various spoken/old movie samples play out over a slowdown and they instrumentally seem to flesh out in a way they haven’t yet, loosely psychedelic and progressive but still grounded rhythmically. “King of Horizon” — make no mistake, critical in its point of view rather than celebratory — ends big but is more about how it gets there, and “Galactic Crusade” builds up through its verse to a plod not as actively engulfing as “Earthquake” but that allows the floating line of fuzzy lead guitar proper space in the jammy middle stretch that follows, bass and drums again keeping it together. On a record that’s been so tight, the sense of letting go in “Galactic Crusade” is palpable; the drums drop out and they bring it down gradually to silence, having succeeded not only in paying tribute to the aughts-era influences that formed them, but brought a fresh perspective and sense of craft to that backdrop. It’s a rocker, to be sure. Sometimes that’s just what you need.

Kaiser haven’t done another full-length yet, but they will play Truckfighters Fuzz Festival in Stockholm in a couple weeks and they took part last year in Ripple‘s Turned to Stone Chapter 6 (review here) split alongside Norway’s Captain Caravan, so there’s no indication more won’t be forthcoming. In the meantime, as always, I hope you enjoy this one and thank you from the bottom of my wretched heart for reading.

Every week, barring disaster or other various circumstance (at a fest, etc.), I do a little summary of the week, a bit about what’s been going on in my life while the writing that’s taken place was happening. I’ve been doing this for about a decade now, I guess, and it’s become a crucial outlet for me in how I organize my existence.

Here’s the update.

There is very little in my life that doesn’t feel insurmountable difficult right now. Things that should feel or be easy aren’t, and while I might sit and effectively bang out 1,200 words about a record in a given morning before The Pecan gets up if I’m lucky, even that satisfaction seems to be taking place at some distance from where I’m sitting.

I have failed and am failing my family, daily, as a husband and father and am seem to be unable to provide the support either of them needs, especially my daughter, who gives way less of a shit that the dishes and laundry are done than she does that I think she’s a good person. And we butt heads daily. All the time. Last night, I’m on the couch, actively begging her to go to bed before it comes to frustration and yelling and everyone is miserable most of all her and — to her eternal fucking credit — she went upstairs, but sure enough was back down 10 minutes later.

It wasn’t until my wife pointed out that given how late it was (coming on, then after 9PM), she likely would be asleep if she could. In the context of yesterday at school, when I got called in to pick her up early for punching, kicking, biting her para and stepping on another kid’s hand — obviously an outburst triggered by something but I have no idea what — the restlessness makes sense. She felt remorse enough to keep her up at night.

But I had the wrong read. And I do all the time. I’ll say it’s not without reason — because this child has never fucking listened to me and these days often just ignores me outright when I speak to her — but my frame of reference is out of balance. She’s not a bad person. She’s struggling. Yelling doesn’t help. Didn’t put her to bed last night. She needs sympathy and openness that apparently I’m too broken to provide when called upon to do so.

There are a thousand daily frustrations. She’s rude, she’s disrespectful or disregarding of others, whether it’s kids at drop-off, my wife and I, or the adults at school. She picks her nose. She swisher her spit compulsively. She hits me every single day. And I get caught in this cycle of feeling like shit, acting like a shit, giving her the response she wants — because what she’s looking for is to manipulate attention and the direction of individual attention and energy, and my god is she good at it — and who the fuck ever did any good being sarcastic to a small child? Or nagging her to keep her finger out of her nose?

This is a passionate, brilliant, beautiful person, with an obviously complex inner life. How many trans six year olds have you met? I’ve got one. We read books all the time. As I sit here and write, she is across the table finishing a Lego submarine that’s rated for a kid three years older with however many hundreds of pain in the ass tiny pieces, demonstrating focus, attention to detail, an ability to follow instructions, and joy and pride at the accomplishment. Healthy, wonderful feelings. And all I can think about is the shape of the day when her pinkeye has moved from the left to the right and that means no school and how are we just going to get through like we’re still in the first-year trenches, while also being a bit relieved that no one at school is going to get hurt and a whole separate emotional load from that. What the fuck is wrong with me?

Nothing new, to be sure. In fact, I find at this point in my life that I’m exhausted by the whole thing. I turned 42 last week. For what on earth do I need to be hating my body like I did when I was 15? What essential function isn’t there that would let me get through the day? I practically leak privilege. I don’t work outside the house. I have a wife who only grows more amazing with each passing year. A kid who is twice exceptional and often difficult — you’re not supposed to say that about kids anymore, I know, but everything else is a euphemism and when something is hard it shouldn’t be diminished; I’d belittle her troubled times no more than my own — but also wonderful and funny and fun and clever, who makes plays on homophones I think just because she knows I like them.

I have my family, a house, a car, a puppy, a trampoline in the back yard. We spend our evenings together playing Zelda on Switch. Every now and then someone flies me to Europe for a fest. How can I be so miserable when I have everything I could ever need or want, other than to have seen My Sleeping Karma?

Meds have gotten me nowhere. I need to be back in therapy, because aside from this site, I don’t have anybody in my life I really feel like I can vent to and be heard while being neither short on emotional support from family — my wife makes me fried cheese in fucking heart shapes! — but there’s this giant opaque block in my way from reading my life the way I should and while I know it’s not like this all the time, it kind of also is with enough regularity that I’m left wondering what the fuck the point of any of it is? Another 30, 40 years if I’m lucky? Of self-loathing and bitterness?

And separate from all of this, I think I might be one of those intolerable dudes who has nothing to talk about except music, because, well, I’ve met a bunch of new humans in the last two months and it wasn’t until going through weirdo prog bands I’ve seen with one of the dads at my daughter’s birthday party that I realized it was probably the most engaged I’ve been with someone not in my immediate circle in months. So, again, fuck.

Thanks for reading if you did. Have a great and safe weekend.


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Quarterly Review: Maggot Heart, Catatonic Suns, Sacri Suoni, Nova Doll, Howl at the Sky, Fin del Mundo, Bloody Butterflies, Solar Sons, Mosara, Jupiter

Posted in Reviews on October 4th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk winter quarterly review

Wednesday, huh? I took the dog for a walk this morning. We do that. I’ve been setting the alarm for five but getting up before — it’s still better than waking up at 4AM, which is a hard way to live unless you can go to bed at like 8 on the dot, which I can’t really anymore because kid’s bedtime, school, and so on — and taking Tilly for a walk around the block and up the big hill to start the day. Weather permitting, we do that walk three times a day and she does pretty well. This morning she didn’t want to leave the Greenie she’d been working on and so resisted at first, but got on board eventually.

In addition to physical movement being tied to emotional wellbeing — not something I’m always willing to admit applies to myself, but almost always true; I also get hangry or at least more easily overwhelmed when I’m hungry, which I always am because I have like seven eating disorders and am generally a wreck of a person — the dog doesn’t say much and it’s pretty early and dark out when we go, so I get a quiet moment out under the moon going around the block looking up at Venus, Jupiter, a few stars we can see through the suburban light pollution of the nearby thoroughfares. We go up part of the big hill, have done the full thing a couple times, but she’s only just three-plus months, so not yet really. But we’re working on it, and despite Silly Tilly’s fears otherwise, her treat was right where we left it on the rug when we got back. And she got to eat leaves, so, bonus.

There are minutes in your day. You can find them. You can do it. I’m not trying to be saccharine or to bullshit you. Life is short and most of it is really, really difficult, so take whatever solace you can get however you can get it. Let’s talk about records.

Quarterly Review #21-30:

Maggot Heart, Hunger

maggot heart hunger

This is Maggot Heart‘s third record and they’re still a surprise. It can be jarring sometimes to encounter something that edges so close to unique within the underground sphere, but the Berlin outfit founded/fronted by Linnéa Olsson (ex-The Oath, ex-Grave Pleasures, ex-Sonic Ritual) offer bleak and subversively feminine post-punk informed by black metal on Hunger, and as she, bassist Olivia Airey and drummer Uno Bruniusson (ex-In Solitude, etc.), unfurl eight tracks of arthouse aggro and aesthetic burn, one can draw lines just as easily with “Nil by Mouth” or the later “Looking Back at You” to mid-’70s coke-strung New York poetic no wave and the modern European dark progressive set to which Maggot Heart have diligently contributed over the last half decade. The horn sounds on “LBD” are a nice touch, and “Archer” puts that to work in some folk-doom context, but in the tension of “Concrete Soup” or the avant garde setting out across the three minutes of the leadoff semi-title-track “Scandinavian Hunger,” Maggot Heart demonstrate their ability to knock the listener off balance as a first step toward reorienting them to the atmosphere the band have honed in these songs, slightly goth on “This Shadow,” bombastic in the middle and end of “Parasite,” each piece set to its own purpose adding some aspect to the whole. You wouldn’t call it easy listening, but the challenge is part of the fun.

Maggot Heart on Instagram

Svart Records website

Rapid Eye Records on Bandcamp

Catatonic Suns, Catatonic Suns

Catatonic Suns Catatonic Suns

Adjacent to New Psych Philly with their homebase in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and with a self-titled collection that runs between the shoegazing shine of “Deadzone,” the full-fuzz brunt of “Slack” or “Inside Out,” the three-minute linear build of “Fell Off” made epic by its melody, and the hooky indie sway of advance single “Be as One,” the trio Catatonic Suns make a quick turnaround from their 2022 sophomore LP, Saudade, for the lysergic realization and apparent declaration of this eight tracks/31 minutes. With most cuts punkishly short and able to saunter into the noise-coated jangle of “Failsafe” or the wash of “Sublunary” — speaking of post-punk — Catatonic Suns eventually land at closer “No Stranger,” which tops eight minutes and comprises a not-insignificant percentage of the total runtime. And no, they aren’t the first heavy psych band to have shorter songs up front and a big finale, but the swirling layered triumph of “No Stranger” carries a breadth in its immersive early verses, mellow, sitar-laced midsection jam and noise-caked finish and comes across very much as what Catatonic Suns has been building toward all the while. The same might be true of the band, for all I know — it seems to be the longest piece they’ve written to-date — but either way, put them on the ‘Catatonic Voyage’ tour with Sun Voyager for two months crisscrossing the US and never look back. Big sound, and after three full-lengths, significant potential.

Catatonic Suns on Instagram

Agitated Records website

Sacri Suoni, Sacred is Not Divine

Sacri Suoni Sacred is Not Divine

Densely weighted in tone, brash in its impact and heavy, heavy, heavy in atmosphere, Sacri Suoni‘s second album together and first under their new moniker (they used to be called Stoned Monkey; kudos on the change), Sacred is Not Divine positions itself as a cosmic doom thesis and an exploration of the reaches and impacts to be found through collaborative jamming. Four songs make it — “Doom Perspection of the Astral Frequency 0-1” (8:15), “Six Scalps for Six Sounds” (10:28), “Cult of Abysmus” (13:15) and “Plutomb, Engraved in Reality” (8:02) — and as heavy has they are (have I mentioned that yet?) there is dynamic at play as well in the YOB-ish noodles and strums at the start of “Six Scalps for Six Sounds” or in “Cult of Abysmus” around the 10-minute mark, or in the opener’s long fade, but make no mistake, the mission here is heft and space and the Milano outfit have both in ready supply. I think “Plutomb, Engraved in Reality” has maybe three riffs? Might be two, but either way, it’s enough. The character in this material is defined by its weight, but there are three dimensions to their style and all are represented. If you listen on headphones, try really hard not to pulverize your brain in the process.

Sacri Suoni on Facebook

Zanns Records website

Nova Doll, Denaturing

nova doll denaturing

Earthy enough in tone and their slower rolling moments to earn an earliest-Acid King comparison, Barrie, Ontario’s Nova Doll are nonetheless prone to shifting into bits of aggro punk, as in “Waydown” or “Dead Before I Knew It,” the latter of which closes their debut album, Denaturing, the very title of the thing loaded with context beyond its biochemical interpretations. That is, if Nova Doll are pissed, fair enough. “California Sunshine” arrives in the first half of the seven-song/29-minute long-player, with rhythm kept on the toms, open drones and a vastness that speaks at least to some tertiary affect of desert rock on their sound. Psychedelia comes through in different forms amid the crunch of a song like “Mabon,” or “California Sunshine,” and the bassy centerpiece near-title-track feels willfully earthbound — not complaining; they’re that much stronger for changing it up — but the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Casey Cuff, bassist Sean Alten and drummer Daniel Allen ride that groove in “Denaturation” like they already know the big spaceout in “Light Her Up” is coming. And they probably did, given the apparent care put into what is sometimes a harsh presentation and the variety they bring around the central buzz that seems to underscore the songs. Grown-up punk, still growing, but their sound is defined and malleable in its noisy approach on their first full-length, and that’s only encouraging.

Nova Doll on Instagram

Tarantula Tapes website

Black Throne Productions website

Howl at the Sky, In Line for the End Times

Howl at the Sky In Line for the End Times

With their self-released debut album, In Line for the End Times, hard-driving single-guitar four-piece Howl at the Sky enter the field with 12 songs and a CD-era-esque 55-minute run that filters through a summary of decades of heavy rock and roll influences. From their native state of Ohio alone, bands like Valley of the Sun and Lo-Pan, or Tummler and Red Giant a generation ago — these and others purveying straight-ahead heavy rock light on tricks and big on drive. More metal in their riffy underpinnings than some, certainly less than others, they foster hooks whether it’s a three-minute groover like “Stink Eye” and opener “Our Lady of the Knives” or the more spacious “Dry as a Bone” and the penultimate “Black Lung,” which has a bit more patience in its sway than the C.O.C.-circa-’91 “The Beast With No Eyes” and modernize ’70s vibes in the traditions of acts one might find on labels like Ripple or Small Stone. That is, rock dudes, rockin’. Vocalist Scott Wherle bears some likeness to We’re All Gonna Die‘s Jim Healey early on, but both are working from a classic heavy rock and metal foundation, and Wherle has a distinguishing, fervent push behind him in guitarist Mike Shope, bassist Scot “With One ‘T'” Fithen and drummer John Sims. For as long as these guys are together, I wouldn’t expect too many radical departures from what they do here. Once a band has its songwriting down like this, it’s really more just about letting grow on its own over time rather than forcing something, and the sense they give in listening is they know that too.

Howl at the Sky on Facebook

Howl at the Sky on Bandcamp

Fin del Mundo, Todo Va Hacia el Mar

Fin del Mundo Todo Va Hacia el Mar

The first two four-song EPs by Buenos Aires psych/post-rock four-piece Fin del Mundo — guitarist/vocalist Lucia Masnatta, guitarist Julieta Heredia, bassist Julieta Limia, drummer/backing vocalist Yanina Silva — wander peacefully through a dreamy apocalypse compiled together chronologically as Todo Va Hacia el Mar, the band’s Spinda Records first long-player. From “La Noche” through “El Fin del Mundo,” what had been a 2020 self-titled, the tones are serene and the melodies drift without getting lost or meandering too far from the songs’ central structure, though that last of them reaches broader and heavier ground, resonance intact. The second EP, 2022’s La Ciudad Que Dejamos, the LP’s side B, has more force behind its rhythms and creates a wash in “El Próximo Verano” to preface its gang-vocal moment, while closer “El Incendio” takes the Sonic Youth-style indie of the earlier material and fosters more complex melodicism around it and builds tension into a decisive but not overblown resolution. It’s 34 minutes long and even between its two halves there’s obvious growth on the part of the band being showcased. Their next long-player will be like a second debut, and I’ll be curious how they take on a full-length format having that intention in the first place for the material.

Fin del Mundo on Facebook

Spinda Records website

Bloody Butterflies, Mutations and Transformations

Bloody Butterflies Mutations and Transformations

A pandemic-born project (and in some ways, aren’t we all?), the two-piece instrumentalist unit Bloody Butterflies — that’s guitarist/bassist Jon Howard (Hordes) and drummer August Elliott (No Skull) — released their first album, Polymorphic, in 2020 and emerge with a follow-up in the seven tracks/27 minutes of the on-theme Mutations and Transformations, letting the riffs do their storytelling on cuts like “Toilet Spider” and “Frandor Rat,” the latter of which may or may not be in homage to a rat living near the Kroger on the east side of Lansing. The sound is punker raw and as well it should be. That aforementioned ratsong has some lumber to its procession, but in the bassy “Fritzi” that follows, the bright flashes of cymbal in opener “BB Theme” (also the longest inclusion; immediate points) and the noisy declaration of post-doom stomp before the feedback at the end of “Wormhole” consumes all and the record ends, they find plenty of ways to stage off monochromatism. Actually, what I suspect is they’re having fun. At least that’s what it sounds like, in a very particular way. Fair enough. It would be cool to have some clever lesson learned from the pandemic or something like that, but no, sometimes terrible shit just happens. Cool for these two getting a band out of it. Take the wins you can get.

Bloody Butterflies on Facebook

Bloody Butterflies on Bandcamp

Solar Sons, Another Dimension

solar sons another dimension

Whilst prone to NWOBHM tapping twists of guitar in the leads of “Alien Hunter,” “Quicksilver Trail,” etc. and burling up strains of ’90s metal and a modern heavy sub-burl that adds nuance to its melodies, Solar Sons‘ fifth album, Another Dimension, arrives at its ambitions organically. The Dundee, Scotland, everybody-sings three-piece of bassist/lead vocalist Rory Lee, guitarist/vocalist Danny Lee and drummer/vocalist Pete Garrow embark with purpose on a narrative structure spread across the nine songs/62 minutes of the release that unveils more of its progressive doom character as it unfolds its storyline about a satellite sent to learn everything it can about the universe and return to save a dying Earth — science-fiction with a likeness to the Voyager probes; “The Voyage” here makes a triumph of its keyboard-backed second-half solo — presumably with alien knowledge. It’s not a minor undertaking in either theme or the actual listening time, but hell’s bells if Another Dimension doesn’t draw you in. Something in the character has me feeling like I can’t tell if it’s metal or rock or prog and yes I very much like that about it. Plenty of room for them to be all three, I guess, in these songs. They finish with the swing and shred and stomp of “Deep Inside the Mountain,” so I’ll just assume everything works out cool for homo sapiens in the long run, conveniently ignoring the fact that doing so is what got us into such a mess in the first place.

Solar Sons on Facebook

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Mosara, Amena

mosara amena

A 5:50 single to answer back to last year’s second long-player, Only the Dead Know Our Secrets (review here), the latest from Mosara — which is actually an older track given some reworking, vocals and ambience, reportedly — is “Amena,” which immediately inflicts the cruelty of its thud only as a seeming preface for the Conan-like grueling-ultradoom-battery-with-shouts-cutting-through about to take place. A slow, noise-coated roll unfolds ahead of the largely indecipherable verse, and when that’s done, a cymbal seems to get hit extra hard as though to let everyone know it’s time to really dig in. It is both rawer in its harshness and thicker in tone than the last album, so it puts forth the interesting question of what a third Mosara full-length might bring atmospherically to the mix with their deepening, distorted roil. As it stands, “Amena” is both a steamroller of riff and a meditation, holding back only for as long as it takes to slam into the next measure, with its sludge growing more and more hypnotic as it slogs through the song’s midsection toward the inevitable seeming end of feedback and drone. Noisy band getting noisier. I’m on board.

Mosara on Facebook

Mosara on Bandcamp

Jupiter, Uinumas

Jupiter Uinumas

Jupiter‘s Uinumas is a complex half-hour-plus that comprises their fourth full-length, running seven songs — that’s six plus the penultimate title-track, which is a psych-jazzy interlude — as cuts like “Lumerians” and “Relentless” at the outset see the Finnish trio reestablish their their-own-wavelength take on heavy and progressive sounds classic and new. It’s not so much about crazy structures or 75-minute-long songs or indulgent noodling — though there’s a bit of that owing to the nature of the work, if nothing else — but just how much Jupiter make the aural space they inhabit their own, the way “After You” pushes into its early wash, or the later “On Mirror Plane” (so that’s it!) spaces out and then seems to align itself around the bassline for a forward shuffle sprint, or the way that closer “Slumberjack’s Wrath” chugs through until it’s time for the blowout, which is built up past three minutes in and caps with shimmer that borders on the overwhelming. An intricate but recognizable approach, Jupiter‘s more oddball aspects and general cerebrality might put off some listeners, but as dug in as Jupiter are on Uinumas, on significantly doubts they were shooting for mass appeal anyhow. Who the hell would want that anyway? Bunch of money and people sweating everything you do. Yuck.

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Quarterly Review: Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Graveyard, Hexvessel, Godsground, Sleep Maps, Dread Spire, Mairu, Throe, Blind River, Rifftree

Posted in Reviews on October 2nd, 2023 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk winter quarterly review

It’s been quite a morning. Got up at five, went back to sleep until six, took the dog out, lazily poured myself a coffee — the smell is like wood bark and bitter mud, so yes, the dark roast — and got down to set up this Quarterly Review. Not rushed, not at all overwhelmed by press releases about new albums or the fact that I’ve got 50 records I’m writing about this week, or any of it. Didn’t last, that stress-free sit-down — one of the hazards of being perfectly willing to be distracted at a moment’s notice is that that might happen — but it was nice while it did. And hey, the Quarterly Review is set up and ready to roll with 50 records between now and Friday. Let’s do that.

Quarterly Review #1-10:

Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Slaughter on First Avenue

uncle acid and the deadbeats slaughter on first avenue

Recorded over two nights at First Avenue in Minneapolis sandwiching the pandemic in 2019 and 2022, Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats‘ 14-song/85-minute live album, Slaughter on First Avenue, is about as clean as you’re ever likely to hear the band sound. And the Rise Above-issued 2LP spans the garage doom innovators’ career, from “Dead Eyes of London” from 2010’s Vol. 1 (reissue review here) to “I See Through You” from 2018’s Wasteland (review here), with all the “Death’s Door” and “Thirteen Candles” and “Desert Ceremony” and “I’ll Cut You Down” you can handle, the addled and murderous bringers of melody and fuzz clear-eyed and methodical, professional, in their delivery. It sounds worked on, like, in the studio, the way oldschool live albums might’ve been. I don’t know that it was, don’t have a problem with that if it was, just noting that the sheer sound here is fantastic, whether it’s the separation between the two guitars and keys and each other, the distinction of the vocals, or the way even the snare drum seems to hit in kind with the vintage aspects of Uncle Acid‘s general production style. They clearly enjoy the crowd response to the older tunes like “I’ll Cut You Down” and “Death’s Door,” and well they should. Slaughter on First Avenue isn’t a new full-length, though they say one will eventually happen, but it’s a representation of their material in a new way for listeners, cleaner than their last two studio records, and a ceremony (or two) worth preserving.

Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats on Facebook

Rise Above Records website

Graveyard, 6

graveyard 6

Swedish retro soul rock forerunners Graveyard are on their way to being legends if they aren’t legends yet. Headliners at the absolute least, and the influence they had in the heavy ’10s on classic heavy as a style and boogie rock in particular can’t be discounted. Comprised of nine cuts, 6 is Graveyard‘s first offering of this decade, following behind 2018’s Peace (review here), and it continues their dual-trajectory in pairing together the slow, troubled-love woes emotionality of “Breathe In, Breathe Out,” “Sad Song” on which guitarist Joakim Nilsson relinquishes lead vocals, the early going of “Bright Lights,” and opener “Godnatt” — Swedish for “good night,” which the band tried to say in 2016 but it didn’t stick — setting up turns to shove in “Twice” and “Just a Drop” while “I Follow You,” closer “Rampant Fields” or the highlight “Just a Drop” finding some territory between the two ends. The bottom line here is it’s not the record I was hoping Graveyard would make, leaning slow and morose whereas when you could break out a groove like “Just a Drop” seemingly at will, why wouldn’t you? But that I even had those hopes tells you the caliber band they are, and whatever the tracks actually do, there’s no questioning them as songwriters. But the world could use some good times swagger, if only a half-hour of escapism, and Graveyard are perhaps too sincere to deliver. Fair enough.

Graveyard on Facebook

Nuclear Blast website

Hexvessel, Polar Veil

hexvessel polar veil

The thing about Hexvessel that has been revealed over time is that each record is its own context. Grown out from the black metal history of UK-born/Helsinki-residing songwriter Mat “Kvohst” McNerney, the band returns to that fertile ground somewhat on the eight-song Polar Veil, applying veteran confidence to post-blackened genre transgressions. Songs like “A Cabin in Montana” and “Older Than the Gods” have some less-warlike Primordial vibes between the epic melodies and tremolo echoes, but in both the speedy intensity of “Eternal Meadow” and the later ethereally-doomed gruel of “Ring,” Hexvessel are distinctly themselves doing this thing. That is, they’re not changing who they are to suit the style they want to play — even the per-song stylistic shifts of 2016’s When We Are Death (review here) were their own, so that’s not necessarily new — but a departure from the dark progressive folk of 2020’s Kindred as McNerney, bassist Ville Hakonen, drummer Jukka Rämänen and pianist/keyboardist Kimmo Helén (also strings) welcome a curated-seeming selection of a few guest appearances spread across the release, always keeping mindful of ambience and mood however raging the tempest around them might be.

Hexvessel on Facebook

Svart Records website

Godsground, A Bewildered Mind

Godsground A Bewildered Mind

Bookended by its two longest songs in “Drink Some More” (8:44) and closer “Letter Full of Wine” (9:17), Munich-based troupe Godsground offer seven songs with their 47-minute third long-player, working quickly to bask in post-Alice in Chains melodies surrounded by a warmth of tone that could just as easily be derived from hometown heroes in Colour Haze as the likes of Sungrazer or anyone else, but there’s more happening in the sound than just that. The melodies reach out and the songs develop on paths so that “Balance” is a straight-up desert rocker where seven-minute centerpiece “Into the Butter” sounds readier to get weird. They are well at home in longer forms, flashing a bit of metal in teh later solo of the penultimate “Non Reflecting Mirror,” but the overarching focus on vocal melody grounds the material in its lyrics, and that helps stabilize some of the more out-there aspects. With the roller fuzz of “A Game of Light” and side B’s flow-into-push “Flood” finding space between all-out go and the longer songs’ willingness to dwell in parts, Godsground emerge from the collection with a varied style around a genre center that’s maybe delighted not to pick a side when it comes to playing toward this or that niche. There’s some undercurrent of doom — though I’ll admit the artwork had me looking for it — but Godsground are more coherent than bewildered, and their material unfolds with intent to immerse rather than commiserate.


Godsground on Bandcamp

Sleep Maps, Reclaim Chaos

sleep maps reclaim chaos

Ambition abounds on Sleep MapsReclaim Chaos, as the once-NYC-based duo of multi-instrumentalist Ben Kaplan and vocalist David Kegg — finds somebody that writes you riffs like “Second Generation” and scream your ass off for them — bring textures of progressive metal, death metal, metal metal to the proceedings with their established post-whathaveyou modus. Would it be a surprise if I said it made them a less predictable band? I hope not. With attention to detail bolstered my a mix from Matt Bayles (Isis, Sandrider, etc.), the open spaces of “The Good Engineer” resonate in their layered vocals and drone, while “You Want What I Cannot Give” pummels, “In the Sun, In the Moon” brings the wash forward and capper “Kill the World” is duly still in conveying an apparent aftermath rather than the actual slaughter of the planet, which of course happened over a longer timeframe. All of this, and a good deal more, make Reclaim Chaos a heady feast — and that’s before you get to the ’00-era electronica of “Double Blind” — but in their reclamation, Sleep Maps execute with care and make a point about the malleability of style as much as about their own progression, though it seems to be the latter fueling them. Self-motivated, willful artistic progression is not often so starkly recognizable.

Sleep Maps website

Lost Future Records website

Dread Spire, Endless Empire

Dread Spire Endless Empire EP

A reminder of the glories amid the horrors of our age: Dread Spire‘s Endless Empire — am I the only one who finds it a little awkward when band and release names rhyme? — probably wouldn’t exist without the democratization of recording processes that’s happened over the last 15-20 years. It’s a demo, essentially, from the bass/drum — that’s Richie Rehal and Erol Kavvas — Cali-set instrumentalist two-piece, and with about 13 minutes of sans BS riffing, they make a case via a linear procession of crunch riffing and uptempo, semi-metal precision. The narrative — blessings and peace upon it — holds that they got together during the pandemic, and the raw form and clearly-manifest catharsis in the material is all the backing they need. More barebones than complex, this first offering wants nothing for audio fidelity and gives Rehal and Kavvas a beginning from which to build in any and all directions they might choose. The joy of collaboration and the need to find an expressive outlet are the best motivations one could ask, and that’s very obviously what’s at work here.

Dread Spire on Instagram

Dread Spire on Bandcamp

Mairu, Sol Cultus

MAIRU Sol Cultus

A roiling post-metallic churn abides the slow tempos of “Torch Bearer” at the outset of Mairu‘s debut full-length, Sol Cultus, and it is but one ingredient of the Liverpool-based outfit’s atmospheric plunge. Across eight tracks and 49 minutes, the double-guitar four-piece of Alan Caulton and Ant Hurlock (both guitar/vocals), Dan Hunt (bass/vocals) and Ben Davis (drums/synth) — working apparently pretty closely over a period of apparently four years with Tom Dring, who produced, engineered, mixed, mastered and contributed saxophone, ebow, piano and additional synth — remind in their spaciousness of that time Red Sparowes taught the world, instrumentally, to sing. But with harsh and melodic vocals mixed, bouts of thrashier riffing dealt with prejudice, and the barely-there ambience of “Inter Alia” and “Per Alia” to persuade the listener toward headphones, the very-sludged finish of “Wild Darkened Eyes” and the 10-minute sprawl of “Rite of Embers” lumbering to its distorted gut-clench of a crescendo chug ahead of the album’s comedown finish, there’s depth and personality to the material even as Mairu look outside of verse/chorus confines to make their statement. Their second outing behind a 2019 EP, and again, apparently in the works on some level since then, it’s explorational, but less in the sense of the band figuring out who they want to be than as a stylistic tenet they’ve internalized as their own.

Mairu on Facebook

Trepanation Recordings on Bandcamp

Throe, O Enterro das Marés

Throe O Enterro das Mares

At first in “Hope Shines in the Autumn Light,” Brazilian instrumentalist heavy post-rockers Throe remind of nothing so much as the robots-with-feelings mechanized-but-resonant plod of Justin K. Broadrick‘s Jesu, but as the 14-minute leadoff from the apparently-mostly-solo-project’s three-song EP, O Enterro das Marés (one assumes the title is some derivation of being ‘buried at sea’), plays through, it shifts into a more massive galaxial nod and then shortly before the nine-minute mark to a stretch of hypnotic beat-less melody before resolving itself somewhere in the middle. This three-part structure gives over to the Godfleshier “Bleed Alike” (6:33), which nods accordingly until unveiling its caustic end about 30 seconds before the song is done, and “Renascente” (7:59), in which keys/synth and wistful guitar lead a single linear build together as the band gradually and with admirable patience move from their initial drone to the introduction of the ‘drums’ and through the layers of melody that emerge and are more the point of the thing itself than the actual swell of volume taking place at the same time. When it opens at about five minutes in, “Renascente” is legitimately beautiful, an echoing waterfall of tonality that seems to dance to the gravity pulling it down. The guitar is last to go, which tells you something about how the songs are written, but with three songs and three different intentions, Throe make a varied statement uniform most of all in how complete each piece of it feels.

Throe on Instagram

Abraxas Produtora on Instagram

Blind River, Bones for the Skeleton Thief

Blind River Bones for the Skeleton Thief

Well guess what? They called the first track “Punkstarter,” and so it is. Starts off the album with a bit of punk. Blind River‘s third LP, Bones for the Skeleton Thief corrals 10 tracks from the UK traditionalist heavy rock outfit, who even on the likewise insistent “Primal Urges” maintain some sense of control. Vocalist Harry Armstrong (ex-Hangnail, now also bassist of Orange Goblin) belts out “Second Hand Soul” like he’s giving John Garcia a run for his pounds sterling, and is still able to rein it in enough to not seem out of place on the more subdued verses of “Skeleton Thief,” while the boogie of “Unwind” is its own party. Wherever they go, be it the barroom punkabilly of “Snake Oil” or the Southern-tinged twang of closer “Bad God,” the five-piece — Armstrong, guitarist Chris Charles and Dan Edwards, bassist William Hughes and drummer Mark Sharpless — hold to a central ethic of straight-ahead drive, and where clearly the intended message is that Blind River know what the fuck they’re doing and that if you end up at a show you might get your ass handed to you, turns out that’s exactly the message received. Showed up, kicked ass, done in under 40 minutes. If that’s not a high enough standard for you in a band recording live, that’s not Blind River‘s fault.

Blind River on Facebook

Blind River on Bandcamp

Rifftree, Noise Worship

Rifftree Noise Worship

Rifftree of life. Rifftree‘s fuzz is so righteously dense, I want to get seeds from it — because let’s face it, riffs are deciduous and hibernate in winter — and plant a forest in my backyard. The band formed half a decade ago and Noise Worship is the bass-and-drums duo’s second EP, but whatever. In six songs and 26 minutes, they work hard on living up to the title they gave the release, and their schooling in the genre is obvious in Sleepery of “Amplifier Pyramid” or the low-rumbling sludge of “Brown Flower,” the subsequent “Farewell” growing like fungus out of its quieter start and “Brakeless” not needing them because it was slow enough anyhow. “Fuzzed” — another standard met — ups the pace and complements with spacey grunge mumbles and harshes out later, and that gives the three-minute titular closer “Noise Worship” all the lead-in it needs for its showcase of feedback and amplifier noise. Look. If you’re thinking it’s gonna be some stylistic revolution in the making, look at the friggin’ cover. Listen to the songs. This isn’t innovation, it’s celebration, and Rifftree‘s complete lack of pretense is what makes Noise Worship the utter fucking joy that it is. Stoner. Rock. Stick that in your microgenre rolodex.

Rifftree on Facebook

Rifftree on Bandcamp

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