Album Review: Savanah, Olympus Mons

Posted in Reviews on February 18th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

savanah olympus mons cover

Structure reveals itself over time to be of significant importance to Graz, Austria’s Savanah, even if that doesn’t always show itself in the most obvious of ways. Those, I suppose, would be predictable verse/chorus turns, A/B rhyme patterns and other such accessible and no-less-valid modes of expression, and that’s not what Savanah have ever really been about from their first EP, 2015’s Deep Shades, through 2017’s The Healer (review here) and now their second album, Olympus Mons. Issuing through reliable Austrian imprint StoneFree Records, the trio of bassist/vocalist Benjamin Schwarz, guitarist Jakob Gauster and drummer Felix Thalhammer clearly prefer a melding of aesthetics and ideas. And yet, to look back at The Healer, it was an album that purposefully saved its most forward-thinking material for its final two tracks, longer and of greater reach as they were. They were the destination toward which the album was building.

Olympus Mons seems to pick up that journey where it left off. True, it also ends with its two longest cuts in “1872” (9:11) and “Olympus Mons” (13:04), but the distinction is less immediate between those songs and the opening pair of “Kaleidoscopia” and “Velvet Scarf,” both of which run eight minutes long. Of further interest, the three-minute instrumental “Tharsis” divides these two sections. Doubtless it’s included on side A of the vinyl version of Olympus Mons with the opening duo before it, but its positioning can only be intentional and it speaks to the level of consideration Savanah are putting into their work and and their engagement of the listener overall. I would argue that this purposefulness no less represents their status as a progressive unit than the total five tracks/42 minutes of Olympus Mons itself, which sees them port such a level of intention to their songwriting, continuing the trail that The Healer and Deep Shades — which, though shorter, mirrors the structure of Olympus Mons more directly than the LP that followed — set out, while moving decidedly further along the same path of meeting cohesive songcraft with riffs that blur the line between rock and metal and find a place between sounds and styles that is their own.

All well and good, but what does it sound like? Well, if you’re going to name your record after the tallest mountain in the solar system, you should probably pack in some sense of largesse, and Savanah most certainly do that. Guitar, bass and drums are all geared toward being heard with whatever volume can be spared for the cause, and Schwarz‘s echoing vocals add to the cavernous feel throughout. Much of what one needs to know on the most basic level about Olympus Mons can be heard in “Kaleidoscopia.” A righteous and no doubt purposefully-placed opener, it brings a defining hook for what follows and starts with a near-immediate groove, the drums quickly giving way to the central riff, delivered with metallic surety and a crisp separation between the guitar and bass. The production style — the album was recorded by Hannes Mottl Audioproductions — might link Olympus Mons to the post-Mastodon school of big-bigger-biggest groovers, but like the rest of what they do, they seem to pull from varying influences what works for them and translate it toward their own purposes.

savanah olympus mons full art

In that way, “Kaleidoscopia” represents well what follows, since one might think of a kaleidoscope itself using different angles and colors to give a similar impression. Olympus Mons, then, is telling the listener about itself. As the song moves through its quiet and semi-psych midsection, there’s shades of later, proggier Truckfighters — partially in the vocals — but once the riff kicks back in, Savanah are again steering their own course. “Velvet Scarf” changes methods, opening quiet and hypnotic before hitting into its main progression, which then moves into a chugging semi-chorus, mellowing and building once more toward a bigger, solo-topped apex. The two songs are just different enough despite their similar runtime and the obvious consistency of production to keep the listener aware of the possibility of change, and that’s fortunate as “Tharsis” takes hold with its condensed run through multiple parts, here led by guitar, there bass, always with the drums keeping it steady. It’s too brash and lumbering to be graceful, but neither do Savanah make a misstep along the way.

As noted, The Healer also capped with its two longest songs. The difference is one that only a few years could bring in terms of the band’s growth. The vocal melody in “1872” is offered with a confidence that could only be born of having the experience of the first album and EP behind the band, and the smoothness which which the song moves through its nine minutes only adds to the demonstration, including trades back and forth of volume late and the rumbling noise that leads directly into “Olympus Mons” itself. At 13 minutes, the title-track consumes a not insignificant portion of the album’s runtime, but fair enough again for the subject matter. And to their credit, Savanah make it a journey, touching on modern heavy psychedelia, rolling doom and classic metallic force that summarizes the case they began to make with “Kaleidoscopia” even as it evidences potential still to flourish in their sound.

Whatever Savanah may or may not do from here, the still-somehow-jammy ending of Olympus Mons — with bass so rich you can practically see the strings vibrating in your mind’s eye beneath a triumphant final riff, wide-open drums and a vocal taking flight overtop — makes it clear that if the band are interested in climbing mountains, they’re still looking for higher ones to take on. That is to say, as much as Olympus Mons distinguishes them in style and purpose, as well as songwriting, it does not sound like the work of a group who have no interest in pushing further. A third album is a crucial moment for a band, and as their second, Olympus Mons not only satisfies in its own right, but holds promise for the next steps of their creative pilgrimage still to come. Immersive and progressive, engaging genre but not beholden to it, and clear in its mission, Savanah‘s Olympus Mons is an adventure in the listening guided by the steady presence of its makers.

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Quarterly Review: Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou, Spaceslug, Malsten, Sun Crow, Honeybadger, Monte Luna, Hombrehumano, Veljet, Witchrider, Devil Worshipper

Posted in Reviews on December 28th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

THE-OBELISK-FALL-2020-QUARTERLY-REVIEW

New week, same Quarterly Review. Today is the next-to-last round for this time, though once again, I look at the folders of albums on my desktop and the CDs and LPs that have come in and I realize it could easily go longer. I never really caught up from the last QR. I guess it’s been that kind of year. In any case, more good stuff today, so sit tight and enjoy. If you didn’t find anything last week that stuck out to you, maybe today’s your day.

Quarterly Review #51-60:

Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou, May Our Chambers Be Full

emma ruth rundle thou may our chambers be full

Sure, there’s poise and plunder amid torrents of emotion and weighted tonality, but what’s really astonishing about May Our Chambers Be Full, the first collaboration between Louisville’s Emma Ruth Rundle (Red Sparowes‘ third LP, the Nocturnes, Marriages, etc.) and New Orleans’ sludgers Thou is that it feels so much more substantial than its 36 minutes. That’s not to say it drags, though it does when it wants to in terms of tempo, but just that its impact both in songs where Rundle and Thou‘s Bryan Funck trade off like “Ancestral Recall” or when they come together as on opener “Killing Floor” is such that it feels longer. Atmosphere is certainly a factor, but May Our Chambers Be Full is so striking because of its blend of extremity and melody, emotion and sheer catharsis, and the breadth that seems to accompany its consuming crush. In a couple years, there are going to be an awful lot of bands putting out debut albums that sound very much like this. Follow-up EP out soon.

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Thou on Instagram

Sacred Bones Records website

 

Spaceslug, Leftovers

spaceslug leftovers

Produced by the band and Piotr Grzegorowski — who also guests on synth and guitar — during the plague-addled Spring of 2020, Spaceslug‘s Leftovers EP represents a branching out in terms of style to incorporate a sense of melancholy alongside their established sprawling psychedelics. The 21-minute five-tracker is less a follow-up to 2019’s Reign of the Orion (review here) than a standalone sidestep, but in the acoustic/synth rollout of “From Behind the Glass” and in the especially-stripped-down-feeling centerpiece “The Birds are Loudest in May” it lives up to the challenge of blending an organic atmosphere with the otherworldly sensibilities Spaceslug have honed so well throughout their tenure. Having started with its longest and synthiest track in “Wasted Illusion,” Leftovers caps with the shorter and more active “Place to Turn” and its title-track, which adds a spindly layer of electric guitar (or something that sounds like it) for an experimentalist vibe. Very 2020, but no less welcome for that. The question is whether these impulses show up in Spaceslug‘s work from here on out, and if so, how.

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Spaceslug on Bandcamp

 

Malsten, The Haunting of Silvåkra Mill

malsten The Haunting of Silvakra Mill

Malmö-based four-piece Malsten make their full-length debut on Interstellar Smoke Records with the four-song/44-minute The Haunting of Silvåkra Mill, and in so doing show an immediate command of post-Pallbearer spaciousness and melodic-doom traditionalism. Their lumber is prevalent and engrossing tonally on opener “Torsion” (10:36), uses silence effectively on “Immolation” (10:24), and seems to find a place between Warning and Lord Vicar on “Grinder” (9:02) ahead of the epic-on-top-of-epics summary in closer “Compunction” (13:54), which finds Malsten having reserved another level of heavy to keep as their final statement. So be it. Very heavy and worthy of as much volume as you can give it, The Haunting of Silvåkra Mill is an accomplished beginning and heralds significant potential on the part of what’s to come from Malsten. I’d watch this band do a live stream playing this record front-to-back. Just saying.

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Interstellar Smoke Records webstore

 

Sun Crow, Quest for Oblivion

Sun Crow Quest for Oblivion

A significant undertaking of progressive heavy and noise rock, Sun Crow‘s Quest for Oblivion is among the most ambitious debut albums I’ve heard in 2020, but there’s nothing it sets for itself in terms of goals that it doesn’t accomplish, as vocalist Charles Wilson flips between clean melodies and effective screams atop the riffs of guitarist Ben Nechanicky, the bass of Brian Steel and Keith Hastreiter‘s drums. Somebody’s gonna sign these guys. Even at 70 minutes, Quest for Oblivion, from its post-apocalyptic standpoint, aesthetic cohesion, fluid songcraft and accomplished performance, is simply too good to leave without a proper 2LP release. Individualized in atmosphere though working with familiar-enough elements, it is an album that makes it joyously difficult to pick apart influences, unleashing an initial burst of four longer tracks before giving way (albeit momentarily) to “Fear” and the outlying, brazenly Motörheady “Nothing Behind” before returning to cosmic heavy in “Hypersonic” and the 11-minute “Titans,” which uses its time just as well as everything else that surrounds. Ironic that a record that seems to be about a wasteland should bring so much hope for the future.

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Sun Crow on Bandcamp

 

Honeybadger, Pleasure Delayer

honeybadger pleasure delayer

It doesn’t take Honeybadger long to land their first effective punch on their debut LP, Pleasure Delayer, as the hook of opener/longest track (immediate points) “The Wolf” hits square on the jaw and precedes an atmospheric guitar outro that leads into the rest of the album as a closer might otherwise lead the way out. A product of Athens’ heavy rock boom, the four-piece distinguish themselves in fuzzy tones and an approach that comes right to the edge of burl and doesn’t quite tip over, thankfully and gracefully staving off chestbeating in favor of quality songcraft on “The Well” and the engagingly bass-led “Crazy Ride,” from which the initially slower, bluesier “Good for Nothing” picks up with some Truckfighters, some 1000mods and a whole lot of fun. Side B’s hooks are no less satisfyingly straightforward. “That Feel” feels born for the stage, while “Laura Palmer” makes a memorable chorus out of that Twin Peaks character’s slaying, the penultimate “Holler” feels indeed like the work of a band trying to stand themselves out from a crowded pack and “Truth in the Lie” caps mirroring the energy of “Good for Nothing” but resounding in a cold finish. Efficient, hooky, smoothly executed. There’s nothing one might reasonably ask of Pleasure Delayer that it doesn’t deliver.

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Honeybadger on Bandcamp

 

Monte Luna, Mind Control Broadcast

monte luna mind control broadcast

Released name-your-price as a benefit for the venue The Lost Well in Monte Luna‘s hometown of Austin and derived from a CvltNation-sponsored livestream, the three-song Mind Control Broadcast follows 2019’s Drowners’ Wives (review here) and is intended as a glimpse at their impending third LP, likely due in 2021. That record will be one to look forward to, but it’ll be hard to trade out the raw bludgeon of “Blackstar” — the leadoff here — for another, maybe-not-live-recorded version. True, the setting doesn’t necessarily allow for the band to bring in guests like they did last time around or to flesh out melodies in the same way, but the sound is brash and thrilling and lets “Rust Goliath” live up to its name in largesse, while saving its nastiest for last in “Fear the Sun,” the glorious bassline of which it feels like a spoiler even mentioning for someone who hasn’t heard it yet. 22 of the sludgiest minutes you’re likely to spend today.

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Hombrehumano, Crepuscular

hombrehumano crepuscular

As satisfying as the laid-back-heavy desert rock flow of “Rolito” is, and as well done as what surrounds on Hombrehumano‘s 2019 debut album, Crepuscular, turns out to be in its 53-minute run, it’s in the longer pieces like the Western “Puerto Gris” or the post-Brant Bjork “Metamorfosis” that they really shine. That’s not to take away from the opening instrumental “Nomada” that establishes the tones and sets the atmosphere in which the rest of the record takes place, or the nod of “Primaveras de Olvido,” and certainly the fuzz-boogie and percussion of “Ouroboro” shine in a manner worthy of being depicted on the cover, but the Argentinian four-piece do well with the extra time to flesh out their material. But, either way you go, you go. Hombrehumano craft sweet fuzz and spaciousness on “Puerto Gris” and answer it back later in “Zombakice” and add twists of percussion and acoustics and vocal effects — never mind the birdsong — on closer “Del Ensueño.” Es un ejemplo más de lo que le falta a la cultura gringo al no adorar fuertemente a los sudamericanos.

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Hombrehumano on Bandcamp

 

Veljet, Viva El Diablo

veljet viva el diablo

Even my non-Spanish-speaking ass can translate Viva el Diablo, the title of Mexican instrumentalist three-piece Veljet‘s debut album. Initially released by the band in March 2020, it was subsequently reissued for physical pressing with a seventh track, “Leviatan,” added, bringing the runtime to a vinyl-ready 37 minutes. The apparently-devil-worshiping title-cut is still the longest at a doomly eight minutes, but though the production is fairly raw, Veljet‘s material taps into a few different impulses within the heavy rock sphere, offsetting willfully repetitive riffing in “El Día de las Manos” with scorching solo work while “Jay Adams” — presumably named in homage to the Dogtown skater — pulls some trad-metal riffing into its second half. “Cutlass” is short at 2:36, but makes the record as a whole feel less predictable for that, and the add-on “Leviatan” embodies its great sea beast with a nod up front that opens to later cacophony. The vibe throughout is you’re-in-the-room live jams, and Veljet have well enough chemistry to carry the songs across in that setting.

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The Swamp Records website

 

Witchrider, Electrical Storm

witchrider electrical storm

Smoothly produced and executed, not lacking energy but produced for a very studio-style fullness, Witchrider‘s second LP arrives via Fuzzorama Records in answer to 2014’s Unmountable Stairs with a pro-shop feel for its 50-minute duration. Songs are sharply hooked and energetic, beefing up Queens of the Stone Age-style desert rock early on “Shadows” and “You Lied” before the guitars introduce a broader palette with the title-track. The chorus of “Mess Creator” and the big finish in closer “The Weatherman” are highlights, but songs like “Keep Me out of It” and “Come Back” feel built for a commercial infrastructure that — at least in radio-free America — doesn’t exist anymore. I’m not sure what it takes to attract the attention of picky algorithms, but if it’s grounded songwriting, varied material and crisp performance like it was when there was a cable channel playing music videos, then Witchrider are ready to roll. As it stands, the Austrian outfit seem underserved by the inability to even get on a festival stage and play this material live to win converts in that manner. They’re hardly alone in that, but with material that seems so poised specifically toward audience engagement, it comes through all the more, which of course is a testament to the quality of the work itself.

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Fuzzorama Records website

 

Devil Worshipper, 3

devil worshipper 3

Opening with its longest track (immediate points) in the 10-minute “Silver Dagger” and presented with the burning red eyes of Christopher Lee’s Dracula on the front, the 33-minute 3 tape from Seattle’s Devil Worshipper maintains the weirdo-experimental spirit of the outfit’s 2015 self-titled debut (review here), finding a kind of Butthole Surfers-into-a-cassette-recorder, anything-goes-until-it-sucks, dark ’90s psychedelia they call “garage metal.” Fair enough. Apparently more efficient than anything I can come up with for it, though what doesn’t necessarily account for is the way the 3 challenges the listener, the remastered versions of “Into Radiation Wave” and “Chem Rails” from the first album, or the horror atmospherics of “Drinking Blood.” It’s like it’s too weird for this planet so it finally made one for itself. Well earned.

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Puppy Mill Recordings on Bandcamp

 

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High Brian Premiere “Cpt. Zepp” Video; Brian Air out March 16

Posted in Bootleg Theater on February 13th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

high brian

The thing about High Brian is there’s no Brian. Brian’s made up. He doesn’t exist. I’m mean, I’m sure he exists somewhere — dudes named Brian abound! — just not in High Brian. The Austro-German-Swedish four-piece are set to release their second album, Brian Air, through StoneFree Records on March 16 as the follow-up to 2017’s Hi Brain (review here) — note that’s “Brain” not “Brian” — and guess what? There’s no airline either.

All the same, High Brian fly some pretty friendly skies with Brian Air, the album’s eight component tracks purposefully tapping into classic post-Beatles psychedelic bounce even as they play through the concept/theme of an outbound flight. The opener, “Welcome to Brian Air,” is an introduction from Captain Zepp himself, and though there isn’t a destination named, the shimmering guitar and airborne drift that follows in “Ikarus” is enough to get the point across. It’s a journey being undertaken. A quick 41-minute flight to who knows where, and as High Brian tip the wing toward krautrock and heavier progressive vibes, there’s little to no actual turbulence to be found on the route, even as “Sth. Odd” engages full-on boogie and the seven-and-a-half-minute side Ahigh brian brian air closer “Frightening Lightning” starts with another message from the good Captain warning of roughness ahead.

“Cpt. Zepp” gives him his own feature moment, and if ‘Brian’ is their Sgt. Pepper, maybe “Cpt. Zepp” is more akin to Col. Mustard. Either way, the track arrives to to start side B after the slowed-down Hawkwindian harmonies of “Frightening Lightning” have subsided, and move from a little bit of rounded-edge Iron Maiden — only appropriate, since we’re talking about a pilot — into a break of smoother, floating guitar and easy rhythmic swing. The fistpump chug comes back, providing symmetry, and if the title “Cpt. Zepp” wasn’t enough Led Zeppelin nod for you, surely the Robert Plant-style “Oooh, baby, baby, babe” that ends that song and feeds directly into “Uhh Baby” will drive the point home. A surprising bit of surf rock actually shows up late in the guitar for “Uhh Baby,” but just when High Brian seem to have gotten off track from their stated theme, the fuzzy “Slow Flight” brings them back to ground — or, you know, not — ahead of 7:36 closer “Strangest Kraut (Brian Air),” which shuffles through its opening into a sax-laced midsection and a seats-and-tray-tables-upright final message from the captain before dual-layers of guitar lead finish “Brian Air” with a last bit of vocal harmony. I kept waiting for the equivalent of “Her Majesty,” but alas.

I’m a perennial sucker for charm, and a video that’s also instructions for making paper airplanes given by one of the band members in stewardess drag, to coincide with a concept album based around flying — well yeah, that qualifies. Plus, in the “Cpt. Zepp” video, it’s a really complex paper airplane being made, so if you’re thinking about trying along with the clip you’ll probably have to watch it through a couple times and pause it along the way. That might not be best for hearing the song, so make sure you do that too. And don’t try to bring a water bottle.

Liftoff:

High Brian, “Cpt. Zepp” official video premiere

“Brian Air” by High Brian is out on March 16th via StoneFree Records.

“Writing an inspired concept album” usually ranks pretty high on a Rock musician’s bucket list. And how could it not? Records like The Who’s “Tommy” or Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side Of The Moon” catapulted their creators into the stratospheres of music superstardom. Their creation processes, however, usually involved rather grounding experiences. “Brian Air”, High Brian’s follow-up to 2016’s “Hi Brain”, is no exception: The band ingested near-lethal doses of jet fuel, slaved away under inhumane working conditions to pay for studio fees, and was fired and re-hired by fictional band member Brian.

The end result, however, invites you on board for a very merry ride on the fuzz-plane. Formed in the autumn of 2013, the band’s members hail from Stockholm (Sweden), Hamburg (Germany), Graz, and Linz (Austria). One might be tempted to attribute the different influences that make up “Brian Air” to this amalgamation of backgrounds, but when it comes to High Brian, any conventional reasoning just won’t do. After all, the record feels like a well-crafted, dirty inside joke between the band and the audience.

Their third publication comes along much more progressive and varied than its predecessor, which the band ascribes to working on their airworthiness and swapping their mothers’ basements for an actual studio: “Boarding our previous album ‘Hi Brain’ doesn’t exactly make you feel like you’re taking to the skies, so we practiced like crazy and developed a healthy appetite for Kraut in the process.”

And it shows: If you pay a close listen to the band’s tongue-in-cheek vocal stylings and tasty bass lines, the self-described “heavy-trippy-krauty-quirky sound mix“ will press your body into the seat and make your ears pop with the spirit of psychedelic Rock. “We want people to choose our album over some seats on a cheap flight. After all, ‘Brian Air’ has a lot more legroom!“

TRACK LIST:
1. Welcome To Brian Air
2. Ikarus
3. Sth. Odd
4. Frightening Lightning
5. Cpt. Zepp
6. Uhh Baby
7. Slow Flight
8. Strangest Kraut (Brian Air)

High Brian is:
Benedikt Brands (Guitar, Vocals)
Nils Meyer-Kahlen (Guitar)
Patrick Windischbauer (Bass, Vocals)
Paul Berghold (Drums)

High Brian website

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Stone Free Records website

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Quarterly Review: Enslaved, Hour of 13, Operators, MaidaVale, Audion, Bone Man, Riff Fist, Helén, Savanah, Puta Volcano

Posted in Reviews on July 12th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review-summer-2017

I don’t know about you, but I could do this all day. Listening to records, writing reviews, getting things done that I’ve been trying to get done in some cases for actual months of my life — suffice it to say I’m way into this process. Wednesday is always a special day for the Quarterly Review because we pass the halfway point, and as much as I wish this edition went to 60 or even 70 releases, because rest assured even with 50 total there’s way more I could be covering if I had space/time, the good news is there’s still much more awesomeness to come. Today gets into some different vibes once again, so let’s get started.

Quarterly Review #21-30:

Enslaved, Roadburn Live

enslaved-roadburn-live

In their storied and groundbreaking career, Norwegian progressive black metallers Enslaved have never put out a live record, and it kind of makes sense as to why. The nuance of what they’ve come to do in their studio material doesn’t really lend itself to the rawness of a live album. Accordingly, Roadburn Live (on ByNorse and Burning World Records) feels almost as much of an homage to the event itself as to the performance. Captured in 2015 as Enslaved guitarist Ivar Bjørnson co-curated and the band headlined playing a special set of their more prog-focused songs – here more recent material like “In Times,” “Building with Fire,” “Daylight” from 2015’s In Times (review here) and “Death in the Eyes of Dawn” from 2012’s RIITIIR (review here) shines along with “Convoys to Nothingness” from 2001’s Monumension, “As Fire Swept Clean the Earth” from 2003’s Below the Lights and the requisite “Isa” from the 2004 landmark of the same name, and a special highlight comes at the finale when they cover Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” and bring guitarist Menno Gootjes of Dutch proggers Focus out for a guest spot. Roadburn Live might be a step away from the band’s usual modus, but Enslaved have made their career on pushing themselves beyond their comfort zone, so why stop now?

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Burning World Records website

ByNorse Music website

 

Hour of 13, Salt the Dead: The Rare and Unreleased

hour of 13 salt the dead

An overdue compilation from a band making an overdue return, Hour of 13’s Salt the Earth: The Rare and Unreleased reunites the doomers led by multi-instrumentalist Chad Davis with Shadow Kingdom Records and brings together early demos from 2007 – on which the collaboration between Davis and vocalist Phil Swanson was arguably at its most vibrant as they headed into their self-titled debut full-length later that year – with other previously unissued cuts like three songs with Davis on vocals including the Jason McCash tribute piece “Upon Black Wings We Die” (premiered here) and the original rehearsal demos that introduced Beaten Back to Pure singer Ben Hogg as Swanson’s replacement in the band in 2011 (premiered here). If you want a direct feel for the breadth of the band, look no further than the three versions of “Call to Satan” that appear on Salt the Earth. Widely varied between them in sound and overall feel, they underscore the tumult that has existed since the outset at the core of Hour of 13 even as they provide hope that the band previously laid to rest can revitalize enough to put out a fourth studio offering.

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Shadow Kingdom Records website

 

Operators, Revelers

operators revelers

Nearly four years in the making, Revelers is the third full-length from Berlin’s Operators behind 2013’s Contact High (review here) and 2012’s Operators (review here), and it starts off by smashing Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats swing headfirst into Goatsnake riffing on “Leveled Reveler,” the first of its six component tracks. Their arrangements, as ever, are marked by the featured position of organ along with guitar, bass and drums, and whether it’s a more extended jam like that opener, “Messina” or the closing “Rolling Hitch” – which boasts a guest vocal/guitar spot from Wight’s René Hofmann, who also recorded and mixed (Tony Reed of Mos Generator mastered) – or the shorter momentum-building winding course through “Pusher,” “Walkin’ on Air” (I’m not sure what’s happening at the end there, but I’m not about to spoil it) and the winning-at-song-titles “Fuzz Muncher,” Operators function with a maturity of approach that seems to have been earned during the longer stretch between releases. To wit, all the turns and pivots even out in the last movement of “Rolling Hitch” and Revelers caps with a classic heavy rock groove that’s neither in a hurry nor staid – Operators finding crucial balance amidst all their revelry, and much to their credit.

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Fuzzmatazz Records on Bandcamp

 

MaidaVale, Tales of the Wicked West

maidavale tales of the wicked west

Blues Pills. There. I said it. Now that the blues-rocking elephant in the room has been acknowledged, perhaps we can get on with Swedish four-piece MaidaVale’s debut full-length, Tales of the Wicked West (on The Sign Records). Yes, the Fårösund-based band owe a bit of their soulfulness to the aforementioned, but the nine-track/44-minute long-player thrives most of all as Linn Johannesson, Sofia Ström, Matilda Roth and Johanna Hansson purposefully meander into psychedelic flashes, as in opener “(If You Want the Smoke) Be the Fire,” the midsection of “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” the penultimate Zep-vibing/Bukowski-referencing “Find What You Love and Let it Kill You” and the 11-minute post-“Maggot Brain” closer “Heaven and Earth.” It’s in these moments and the manner in which they blend with the driving rock of “Dirty War,” the bluesy swagger of “Restless Wanderer” and the deft turns of “Colour Blind” early on that MaidaVale’s individualism is beginning to take shape, and if that’s the story that Tales of the Wicked West is telling, then it’s one well worth following through subsequent chapters.

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The Sign Records on Thee Facebooks

 

Audion, La Historia de Abraham

audion-la-histora-de-abraham

Audion’s debut, La Historia de Abraham, is immediately noteworthy in no small part because it brings the rhythm section of Los Natas back together for the first time since that band’s breakup following 2009’s excellent Nuevo Orden de la Libertad (review here). Drummer Walter Broide and bassist Gonzalo Villagra join forces in the new outfit with guitarist Dizzy Espeche, and all three contribute vocals throughout at least in backup capacity, adding variety to go with the instrumental breadth that runs from the serene end of “Llegaron Sordos” right into the rush of “La Maquina del Tiempo” and well beyond later as the interlude “Para Rosita” introduces an earthy acoustidelic feel and “El Carancho” explores ‘70s anthemic rock before the fuzz- and horn-laden finisher “Queruzalem” closes out with a surprising progressive wash. Cuts like opener “Clarence,” the title-track and “Colmillo Blanco” can call to mind Villagra and Broide’s previous work, but Audion make a fresh impression on La Historia de Abraham in the variety throughout, and as they make their way through “Lesbotrans” and “Diablo vs. Dios” and into the second half of the album, it becomes increasingly clear how distinct this first offering actually is.

Audion on Thee Facebooks

Audion on Bandcamp

 

Bone Man, III

bone man iii

To go along with the propulsive rhythm of “False Ambition” and the wash in the payoff of the earlier “These Days are Gone,” there’s a sense of gothic drama to vocalist Marian’s delivery that adds further atmosphere to Bone Man’s III (on Pink Tank Records), and in kind with the cohesive foundation of Arne’s bass, Ötzi’s drumming and his own scorch-prone guitar, that gives cuts like “Cold Echo” and the alternately brooding and explosive centerpiece – layered acoustic and electric guitar filling out the sound further – even more stylistic depth. That moodiness comes perhaps most into focus on the more subdued “Incognito,” but it’s there from the boogie-laced opener “Pollyanna” onward, and in the jagged push of “Years of Sorrow” and the more spacious finale “Amnesia” (still a tightly structured four minutes in length), it lends III a persona stretching beyond what one might think of as the standard genre fare and gives the Kiel, Germany, outfit a presence decidedly their own. It’s their third record, so maybe that’s not a surprise for a band who made their first offering eight years ago, but it serves as a major source of resonance in the material nonetheless.

Bone Man on Thee Facebooks

Pink Tank Records website

 

Riff Fist, King Tide

riff fist king iii

Going back to 2013, Melbourne, Australia, trio Riff Fist have basically summed up their approach in the eight letters of their name: a tight-knit approach to guitar-led heavy rock, as straightforward as a fist in your face. King Tide is their debut album after three EPs named for the Clint Eastwood Dollars trilogy of westerns – 2015’s The Good, the Loud and the Riff, 2014’s For a Few Riffs More and 2013’s Fistful of Riffs (review here) – and it significantly expands their breadth. Opening with its longest track (immediate points) in the 11-minute title cut (video premiered here), King Tide covers new, more patient and encompassing ground from bassist/vocalist Cozza, guitarist Casey and drummer Joel than anything they’ve touched on before, and while the subsequent “D.T.U.B.,” fuzz-laden “Fist Bier (Noch Eins)” and even the first half of eight-minute centerpiece “Chugg” bring that all-ahead sensibility back into focus, King Tide remains effectively and engagingly informed by its leadoff impression through its total 33-minute run, which is rounded out as “Beer and a Cigarette” melds the more spacious and atmospheric take with a still-swinging post-Clutch groove. There’s more work to do in tying the various sides together, but King Tide is a rousing introduction to the process through which the band can make that happen.

Riff Fist on Thee Facebooks

Riff Fist on Bandcamp

 

Helén, Helén

helen helen

Hexvessel multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Kimmo Helén makes a willfully peculiar and experimentalist self-titled debut with the solo-project Helén via Svart Records, setting a course through melodic indie wash in “Uusi Olento” even as “Jumalan Hullu” threatens in its bounce and the later “Lystia” moves into yet-darker expanses. Keys, electric and acoustic guitar, sax, and of course Helén’s own Finnish-language vocals, there’s very little that feels like it might be outside his comfort zone in terms of craft, and Helén, the album, is just as effective in the plus-cello-acoustic-minimalism of the penultimate “Lopussa” as in the earlier atmospheric breadth of “Puolen Metrin Syvyydessä.” Closing out with the alternately melancholy and dreamy “Kaikki Isä,” the record brings out a full-band feel despite Helén having handled the vast majority of the instrumentation on his own and impresses in that as well as in its range of moods and overarching sense of purpose. May it be a first exploration in a series of many.

Helén on Thee Facebooks

Helén at Svart Records webstore

 

Savanah, The Healer

savanah the healer

I won’t take away from a wah-drenched rocker like “The Healer,” which still jams out plenty before digging into doomier lumbering, but where Austrian trio Savanah’s Stone Free Records debut album, The Healer, really gets its point across is in the fluidity of its longer-form material, whether that’s post-“Intro” opener “Mind,” the ebbing and flowing heavy psych instrumental “Pillars of Creation” or the over-10-minutes-apiece closing pair of the doom rocking “Black Widow” and “Panoramic View of Stormy Weather,” which effectively draws together the multiple aesthetic faces the three-piece demonstrate throughout the record preceding, culling rock, psych and doom into a single riff-driven entity and, most importantly, making it theirs. Guitar leads the way with big, natural fuzz, but the rhythm section is crucial here, and as Benny, Felix and Jakob follow-up their 2015 EP, Deep Shades, they seem to establish a path along which they can flourish and hopefully continue to capture the listener’s attention as they do here.

Savanah on Thee Facebooks

StoneFree Records website

 

Puta Volcano, Harmony of Spheres

puta volcano harmony of spheres

The kind of release where by the end of the first song you want to own everything the band has ever put out. Don’t let Athens’ Puta Volcano get lost in the wash of bands coming out of Greece these days, because there are many, but if you miss out on the blend of desert-style tones and graceful melodies of “Bird,” it’s to your general detriment. I’m serious. In craft and performance, Puta Volcano’s third album, Harmony of Spheres, takes on unpretentious progressivism in songwriting and blends it with a post-Slo Burn/Hermano sense of freedom from genre. Witness the funky “Zeroth Law” or the later, more subtle post-grunge linearity of “Moebius,” the odd chanting repetitions in closer “Infinity” or the nigh-on-maddening hook of “Jovian Winds.” Really, do it. With the lineup of vocalist Luna Stoner, guitarist Alex Pi, bassist Bookies and drummer Steven Stefanidis, Puta Volcano are onto something special in aesthetic and delivery, and if Harmony of Spheres might be your first experience with the band as it’s mine, it’s one that will no doubt warrant multiple revisits. Consider it sleeper fodder for your year-end list – I know I will.

Puta Volcano on Thee Facebooks

Puta Volcano on Bandcamp

 

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The Obelisk Radio Adds: High Brian, Arduini/Balich, Audion, Grey Gallows, Smoke Mountain

Posted in Radio on June 13th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk radio cavum

If you’re a regular denizen of The Obelisk Radio, you’ve probably already guessed by the massively expanded playlist that we’re back on the main server at this point. It’s been months on the backup, and while anyone is still reading, let me just say out loud how much I owe to the hard work Slevin has put into the back end of making this thing happen. From a huge file-recovery operation to yesterday turning the thing back on after I moved a bunch of files and screwed it up yet again, the dude is just unbelievable. Seriously. This site is coming up on nine years old, and Slevin has made it happen every step of the way from a technical standpoint. I am in awe of his prowess and generosity of spirit.

So now that we’re back up and running at full capacity, the only thing to do is to keep building it going forward. And here we are.

The Obelisk Radio adds for June 13, 2017:

High Brian, Hi Brain

high-brian-hi-brain

Though they start out with the post-Queens of the Stone Age shuffle of “Liquid Sweet,” the crux of Austrian rockers High Brian‘s playfully titled debut long-player, Hi Brain, lies in classic psychedelia, unafraid to directly make a Beatles reference or two in “Aquanautic Smoke” or name a track after Jefferson Airplane‘s Surrealistic Pillow. That song, “Surrealistic Pillow,” turns out to be one of Hi Brain‘s catchiest, but hooks abound throughout the nodding “All but Certainty” and the later, Stubb-style raucousness of the pair “The Conversion” and “Blood Money” as well, while centerpiece “All the Other Faces” and the aforementioned “Aquanautic Smoke” engage effects-laden drift and poised fluidity, resulting in an overarching sense of within-genre aesthetic variety that moves easily throughout the vinyl-ready 44-minute offering. They close with the molten roll of “Time,” their longest cut at 5:52 and a bolder melodic take, as if to signal a potential direction of their growth on their way out. There are plenty of encouraging signs before they get there, certainly, but hey, one more never hurt. An impressive introduction to a project that one hopes continues to develop and expand its approach.

High Brian website

Stone Free Records website

Mountain Range Creative Factory

 

Arduini/Balich, Dawn of Ages

ARDUINI BALICH DAWN OF AGES

Words like “powerhouse” are invented for releases like Arduini/Balich‘s Dawn of Ages. The Cruz del Sur release brings together Fates Warning guitarist Victor Arduini (who also produced) and Argus vocalist Brian “Butch” Balich, and while I’ll confess that on first listen I went right to their cover of Sabbath‘s “After All (The Dead)” — fucking righteous; and there aren’t a lot of people I’d trust to take on that song or anything from the Dio era — extended pieces like “Beyond the Barricade” (17:27) and “The Wraith” (13:44) offer listeners a deep push into a heavy metal that’s progressive, powerful and doomed all at the same time, executed with a clarity and a purpose that shimmers with class and just the right balance of patience and aggression. Rest easy, traveler, for you are in the hands of masters. Rounded out by drummer Chris Judge, Arduini/Balich is what happens when heavy metal goes right, and from the doomly unfolding of opener “The Fallen” through the 2LP’s three concluding covers of Beau Brummels‘ “Wolf of Velvet Fortune,” Uriah Heep‘s “Sunrise” and the already noted Dehumanizer highlight, there isn’t one moment where they relinquish their hold on either their craft or their audience’s attention. It’s the kind of outing that might cause a last-minute revision to best-of-the-year-so-far list, to say the least of it. Not to be greedy, but I’ll take a follow-up as soon as possible. Thanks.

Arduini/Balich on Thee Facebooks

Cruz del Sur Music website

 

Audión, La Historia de Abraham

audion-la-historia-de-abraham

If the driving Motörhead-onic thrust of the title-track to Audión‘s La Historia de Abraham rings familiar, it might be because the rhythm section of the Buenos Aires trio consists of bassist Gonzalo Villagra (also vocals) and drummer Walter Broide (also backing vocals), both formerly of Los Natas. Honestly, that pedigree would probably be enough for me to get on board with the 10-track/49-minute self-released full-length, but then you get into the roll and drift of the subsequent “Llegaron Sordos” and the fluid cascade of “Colmillo Blanco,” and guitarist Dizzy Espeche makes his presence felt tonally and vocally throughout to add a new personality to whatever familiar aspects might persist. “Lesbotrans” dives into a ’70s-style swing and the blown-out “Diablo vs. Dios” follows it with the age-old question of what might happen if The Who went garage punk, but there’s flourish of psychedelia on the interlude “Para Rosita” before “El Carancho” and “Queruzalem” round out with some of La Historia de Abraham‘s weightiest impacts. I think it’s fair to say Audión have some tinge of Los Natas‘ style to them, but their first outing shows them working toward building something new from that as well, and that makes their arrival all the more welcome.

Audion on Thee Facebooks

Audion on Bandcamp

 

Grey Gallows, Underlord

grey-gallows-underlord

Not that it isn’t plenty malevolent on its surface, but there’s an even more extreme threat lurking beneath “Underlord,” the nine-minute opener, titular and longest track (immediate points) on the debut full-length from Phoenix, Arizona’s Grey Gallows. It doesn’t take long for that sense of extremity to manifest in a blackened sensibility that pervades both in the riffs of a song like “Belladonna” — the middle cut of the five included — or the overarching spaciousness that finds its way into the grime-coated “West of Hell,” which follows. With a depth of guitar worthy of filling one’s lungs, “West of Hell” churns in a manner faster and somewhat sludgier than the alternately nodding and atmospheric “Priestess” showed the Opoponax Records outing to be earlier, six-stringers Joe Distic and Cat weaving noted lines and crunch riffs around each other for seven densely grooved minutes amid low-end push from bassist Lee, adaptable and creative drumming from Shane and Zue Byrd‘s vocals, which hit in form no less distorted in the back half of “Priestess” than they are punker drawled in closer “Buzzard Dust.” Nasty. Nasty, nasty, nasty. That’s basically what the math works out to on the 35-minute outing, but it’s worth noting that even on their first album, Grey Gallows demonstrate a ready willingness to balance various stylistic impulses off each other in such a way that’s only going to make their sound richer as they proceed. Richer, and even nastier. So be it.

Grey Gallows on Thee Facebooks

Opoponax Records webstore

 

Smoke Mountain, Smoke Mountain

smoke-mountain-smoke-mountain

The first EP from this Floridian three-piece does precisely what it’s supposed to do: introduces a newcomer band with three unpretentious tracks of dirt-fuzz riffing. The immediate vibe of opener “Demon” is early Acid King as the vocals follow the riff in classic stonery fashion, but the three songs get longer as they go and “Violent Night” proves immediately more spacious en route to the eponymous march of “Smoke Mountain.” What would probably be called a demo in a prior age, Smoke Mountain‘s Smoke Mountain makes its primary impression tonally but shows potential in its songwriting as well, and as a quick sampling of what the band are getting up to in their first stages, there’s little more one could reasonably ask of it, particularly as “Smoke Mountain” hammers home its chorus in a balance of clean vocal melody and absolutely filthy guitar, bass and drum crash. That duality, should they maintain it as they move forward into whatever might come next, can only serve them well. One to keep an eye on.

Smoke Mountain on Thee Facebooks

Smoke Mountain on Bandcamp

 

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Witchrider to Release Unmountable Stairs on Nov. 3

Posted in Whathaveyou on August 27th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

Fuzzorama Records has been touting the virtues of Austrian rockers Witchrider for most of this year — even before they picked up the band for an EP release this Spring, and when it comes to fuzz, there are few parties worldwide who know what they’re talking about as well as the guys from Truckfighters, so yeah, I’ve had the name on my mind for a while. We’ll finally get to find out what Witchrider are all about this fall when their debut LP, Unmountable Stairs, is released by the label.

Not surprisingly, Truckfighters will take Witchrider out on tour around the time of the album’s release — you’d almost think these things were planned in advance — and you can find those dates and more about the release below, as well as “Black” from their EP, which will also appear on the debut.

To the PR wire:

WITCHRIDER DEBUT ALBUM AND EUROPEAN TOUR ANNOUNCED!

Fast rising Euro stone rocksters ‘Witchrider’ release ‘Unmountable Stairs’ on Monday 3rd November through Fuzzorama Records/Code7/PHD, and tour throughout Europe with Truckfighters.

When listening to Witchrider, you can not help but be drawn in by their magnetism. They have a haunting beauty that proves to engulf and ignite. As frontman Daniel Dorninger says, “the thing about making music is, there are no boundaries. It’s like a spirit of emotions that eventually passes through your body…you never know what you’re gonna’ end up with”.

Formed in 2012 and hailing from Graz, Austria, Portsmouth, Witchrider sport a mutual love for the quirky riffage of heavyweights QOTSA and Eagles Of Death Metal, as well as an affection for the dark elements of Soundgarden. Siphoning fuel from these powerhouses, Witchrider offer a genuinely refreshing take on their own brand of stripped down, fuzzed up alternative rock.

Living and breathing their music is crucial to the four-piece, and as such, they are constantly writing and honing their craft. “Being able to work on music all the time is essential for all of us. That’s why we record most of our stuff at home if we can. There’s even a freakin’ drum kit next to my bed!”, states drummer Michael Hirschmugl.

Although the songs work with each other as a collective piece of work, Witchrider’s music is diverse and has an array of influences. “I always found musical style not really that important. What counts the most is whether you can identify yourself with the music or not. I know I can and I am happy about every person who can as well. I think that’s what makes music ‘cool’”, says Hans-Peter.

As well as basking in the writing process, the band are supremely dedicated to playing live and fans will have ample opportunity to see the quintet as they hit the road this autumn supporting label mates ‘Truckfighters’. For a complete list of all European shows, check out www.facebook.com/witchriderband

In early 2014, Witchrider signed to Truckfighters’ Fuzzorama Records and they now release their new album ‘Unmountable Stairs’ on Monday 3rd November. With eleven killer cuts of low-strung scuzzy alt-rock, the record contorts and burrows itself deep into your skull. Look out for new single ‘I’m Outta Breath’, and don’t miss the band on tour throughout October and November.

WITCHRIDER LIVE (as main support to Truckfighters):
Nov 10 – Brudenell LEEDS
Nov 11 – Sound Control MANCHESTER
Nov 12 – King Tuts Wah Wah Hut GLASGOW
Nov 13 – The Basement NOTTINGHAM
Nov 14 – O2 Academy Islington LONDON
Nov 15 Hard Rock Hell – PWLLHELI
Nov 16 – Oobleck BIRMINGHAM

www.facebook.com/witchriderband
https://twitter.com/Witchriderband

Witchrider, “Black”

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Witchrider Post New Video for “Shedevil”; EP Out Tomorrow

Posted in Bootleg Theater on May 1st, 2014 by JJ Koczan

Two things about the new “Shedevil” video from Austrian Fuzzorama Records signees Witchrider. Okay, maybe three. First, it’s creative. Second, it looks incredibly time consuming. Third, it probably has a better plot than most of the action movies that will come out this year. And it’s not a remake. The four-piece will make their debut on Fuzzorama with a self-titled EP that’s due out tomorrow, and the song from the clip — which I’ve taken to calling “shed evil” in honor of Arthur “Two Sheds” Jackson even though I know that’s not how it’s pronounced or whom the track is about — leaves little to wonder about why the label helmed by the fuzzdudes from Truckfighters would’ve wanted to pick Witchrider up. In short. It’s fuzzy.

And catchy. And it plays out with an early-Queens of the Stone Age kind of laid back vibe, engaging falsetto and uptempo chugging riff and all. This is my first exposure to the band (I think; it’s hard to keep track sometimes), but between the touch of grunge in the repetition of “she said” à la Nirvana‘s “Breed,” a welcome touch however many decades later, and the obvious dedication and effort put into making the thing in the tongue-in-cheek manner they did, “Shedevil” bodes well for Witchrider‘s debut long-player, which is apparently set to release on Fuzzorama this October.

You can get a load of the thing yourself below and follow the link to preorder the EP, though after tomorrow, it’ll just be the regular kind of ordering.

Witchrider, “Shedevil” official video

Our new signing Witchrider from Graz, Austria just put out a video to their powerful song “Shedevil!” And even more good news: their EP will be digitally available on friday 2nd may including “Shedevil.”

Their debut album will be launched in October!

Check out their Video on the left!

Click here to preorder the EP: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/witchride-ep/id868795910?ign-mpt=uo%3D4

Witchrider on Thee Facebooks

Fuzzorama Records

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