Lamp of the Universe Premiere “Return as Light” Video

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 17th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

lamp of the universe

New Zealand one-man psych outfit Lamp of the Universe are headed toward the release of a new album. Almost always. In this case, however, multi-instrumentalist Craig Williamson (see also: Arc of Ascent, ex-Datura) carries the marked ambition to, as he puts it, “cover pretty much everything” he’s ever done. Not a minor ambition. Consider that Lamp of the Universe has been active since the turn of the century, has over 10 full-lengths to its credit and, on its own, takes on an acid folk style that ranges from sunny West Coast acoustics to been-to-India sitar drones and percussion to all-out space rock, all the while basking in dream-echo vocal melodies and ethereal, mystical themes. That’s before you get into Williamson‘s band work, the cosmic grunge of Arc of Ascent or the late-’90s psych riffage of Datura. One way or the other, it’s all fairly far out, but hell’s bells that “one way or the other” is covering a whole lot of ground.

One can hear the difference in intent immediately when taking on the new single “Return as Light.” Even as compares to 2020’s Dead Shrine (review here), which continued a thread pushing Lamp of the Universe in a more full-band-sounding direction — the big question is whether or not there are traditional rock-style drums, and for the most part there were — the vision in “Return as Light” is markedly clear-headed and the presentation resoundingly full in its production. A new studio situation has resulted in a depth of mix that indeed stands more in line with Williamson‘s band output, and the straightforward structure isn’t necessarily something he’s never done before, but never quite this way in this context. Two decades on from The Cosmic Union (discussed here), Lamp of the Universe is still finding new corners of psychedelia to illuminate.

If this doesn’t make you stoked for that next record — whatever it’s called, whenever it’s coming — then I don’t know what to tell you. I’ll hope to have more on the LP as we get closer.

For now, enjoy:

Lamp of the Universe, “Return as Light” official video premiere

Craig Williamson on “Return as Light”:

Well this song is quite different, or the start of something different for LotU. A lot of firsts… first time in an actual recording studio by myself (recording drums), first time having a proper full recording setup, very first single and video I’ve ever released.

“Return as Light” is part of a new album that will be quite diverse and cover pretty much everything I’ve done solo and band-wise.

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The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2020

Posted in Features on December 31st, 2020 by JJ Koczan

london-news-etching-1854-newcastle-upon-tyne

[PLEASE NOTE: These are not the results of the year-end poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t contributed your list to the cause yet, please do so here.]

Invariably, the ultimate measure of 2020 will be in lives and livelihoods lost around the world. I have nothing to add to the discourse of the COVID-19 pandemic that others haven’t said in more articulate and precise language. Suffice it to note that 2020 was the year that the very concept of “unprecedented” itself became trite.

One does not have to look far to find positives amid the devastation. Creativity continues to flourish. Art cannot be killed. Even locked away from each other in quarantine, artists will continue to reach out, to collaborate, to fulfill the human need for expression that has driven the species since cave drawings and will no doubt be the ruins we leave behind us when we’re gone.

In underground music, it was simply overwhelming. And though I’ll admit it was hard at times to listen to music and divorce it from the larger context of what was happening in the world — it was there like a background buzz — this year reinforced how necessary music is, not only as an escape or a source of income for those who make/promote it, but as an integral component of life and community. Absences have been keenly felt.

I won’t try to sate you with platitudes, to say “things will get better.” Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. One year turning to the next does not fix broken systems and it does not cure raging plagues. It’s just a number. Arbitrary except as a convenient marker for things like this, births, deaths, and so on. Bookkeeping.

Before I turn you over to the lists: Please be kind in the comments if you choose to leave one. To me. To other people. To yourself. These lists are culled from my listening preference and what I consider of critical importance. But I’m one person. If there’s something you feel has been left out, say so. I ask you only to do so in a spirit of friendship rather than argument. Thank you in advance.

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Okay:

The Top 50 Albums of 2020

#50-31

50. Sun Crow, Quest for Oblivion
49. Atramentus, Stygian
48. Arcadian Child, Protopsycho
47. Fuzz, III
46. Jointhugger, I Am No One
45. Dirt Woman, The Glass Cliff
44. Switchblade Jesus, Death Hymns
43. Foot, The Balance of Nature Shifted
42. Hymn, Breach Us
41. IAH, III
40. Lord Fowl, Glorious Babylon
39. Acid Mess, Sangre de Otros Mundos
38. 1000mods, Youth of Dissent
37. Deathwhite, Grave Image
36. Soldati, Doom Nacional
35. Cortez, Sell the Future
34. Kadavar, The Isolation Tapes
33. Black Rainbows, Cosmic Ritual Supertrip
32. Shadow Witch, Under the Shadow of a Witch
31. Insect Ark, The Vanishing

Notes: To say nothing of the honorable mentions that follow the rest of the list below, immediately we see the problem of so-many-albums-not-enough-space. People talk about a top 50 as ridiculous, like there’s no way you can like that much music. Bullshit. I agonized over how to fit Sun Crow on this list because their Quest for Oblivion felt like it deserved to be here. Ditto that for Arcadian Child. And the achievements of bands like Kadavar, 1000mods and Switchblade Jesus and Insect Ark in breaking the boundaries of their own aesthetics deserve every accolade they can get, and likewise those who progressed in their sound like Cortez, Shadow Witch, Lord Fowl, Hymn, Foot, Black Rainbows, Deathwhite and IAH. Add to that the debuts from Atramentus, Dirt Woman, Jointhugger, Acid Mess and Sergio Ch.’s Soldati, and you’ve got a batch of 20 records — some born of this year’s malaise, some working in spite of it — that vary in sound but are working to push their respective styles to new places one way or the other.

30. High Priestess, Casting the Circle

high priestess casting the circle

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed May 5.

There was no shortage of anticipation for what L.A. cultists High Priestess would do to follow their 2018 self-titled debut (review here), and the three-piece did not disappoint, instead gave a ritual mass that included the 17-minute concept piece “Invocation” alongside infectious and ethereal melodies like “The Hourglass.” And now that the circle’s been cast? Seems like they can do anything.

29. Polymoon, Caterpillars of Creation

Polymoon Caterpillars of Creation

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed Oct. 12.

High-powered cosmic metal from Finland pulling apart heavy psychedelia on an atomic level with an urgency that speaks of youth, progress and an ingrained need for exploration? Sign me up. A lot of bands on this list put out their first album this year. There are few for whom my hopes are as high as they are for Polymoon. If you haven’t yet heard Caterpillars of Creation, do.

28. Sons of Otis, Isolation

Sons of Otis Isolation

Released by Totem Cat Records. Reviewed Sept. 30.

Of the sundry horrors 2020 wrought, a new album from long-running Toronto three-piece Sons of Otis was an unexpected positive, and their ultra-spaced, murky riffs on their first studio album since 2012’s Seismic (review here, also here) launched like a slow-motion escape pod of righteous doom (s)tonality. There will never be another Sons of Otis. Be thankful for everything you get from them.

27. Lamp of the Universe, Dead Shrine

Lamp of the Universe Dead Shrine

Released by Projection Records. Reviewed May 25.

Organ, Mellotron, sitar, acoustic and electric guitars, various percussion elements, and of course the inimitable fragility in Craig Williamson‘s voice itself — the ingredients for Lamp of the Universe‘s Dead Shrine were familiar enough for those familiar with the one-man outfit running more than two decades, but the lush acid folk created remains a standout the world over. Dead Shrine was a much-needed gift of peace and meditation.

26. BleakHeart, Dream Griever

bleakheart dream griever

Released by Sailor Records. Reviewed Nov. 18.

The debut album from Colorado’s BleakHeart collected pieces united by melody and overarching atmosphere, positioned stylistically somewhere around heavygaze or heavy post-rock, but feeling less limited to genre bounds than some others working in a similar sphere. As a first outing, it brought a promise of things to come even as the depths of its mix seemed to swallow the listener entirely, equal parts serving claustrophobia and escapism.

25. Pale Divine, Consequence of Time

Pale Divine Consequence of Time

Released by Cruz Del Sur Music. Reviewed June 3.

There is not enough space here to properly commend Pale Divine founding guitarist/vocalist Greg Diener on how much he opened up the band by bringing in his and drummer Darin McCloskey‘s former Beelzefuzz bandmate Dana Ortt on shared guitar, vocal and songwriting duties. Completed by Ron “Fezz” McGinnis on bass/vocals, Pale Divine are a refreshed and ready powerhouse of American traditional doom.

24. Uncle Woe, Phantomescence

uncle woe phantomescence

Released by Packard Black Productions. Reviewed Oct. 21.

One is going to have to get used to the idea of Uncle Woe residing in the places between, I think. An inward-looking cosmic doom that’s likewise morose and reaching, opaque and translucent, Phantomescence could be almost troubling in its feeling of off-kilter expression. Yet that’s exactly what multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Rain Fice was going for. Thriving on contradiction, exploratory, and individualized. Start from doom, move outward.

23. REZN, Chaotic Divine

rezn chaotic divine

Released by Off the Record Label. Reviewed Oct. 15.

I don’t feel like I’m cool enough to offer any substantive comment on what Chicago’s REZN do, but their sax-laced heavy psychedelia comes across warm and is invitingly languid while still delivered with a sense of energy and purpose. It rolls and you want to roll with it, so you do. They were clearly hurt by not being able to tour this year, as were audiences for not seeing them. Call them neo-stoner metal or whatever you want, these songs deserve to be played live.

22. Ruff Majik, The Devil’s Cattle

ruff majik the devils cattle

Released by Mongrel Records. Reviewed Oct. 29.

A revamped lineup for South African desert-ish heavy rockers Ruff Majik brought producer Evert Snyman in as co-conspirator with frontman/principal songwriter Johni Holiday, and found the former trio working as a five-piece with a broader sound underscored by an electric sense of purpose and willingness to push themselves to places they hadn’t gone before. Their third record, it seemed as well to be a new beginning, and they met the challenge head-on.

21. Curse the Son, Excruciation

Curse The Son Excruciation

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 8.

The underheralded children of rolling fuzz riffage, Connecticut’s Curse the Son found new depths of emotion to bring to Excruciation — and I do mean “depths.” Dark times for dark times. Fueled by personal hardship, turmoil, motorcycle accidents and a pervasive sense of struggle, the LP was nonetheless a triumph of their songwriting and brought new melodic character to their established largesse of tone. Your loss if you missed it.

20. The Atomic Bitchwax, Scorpio

The Atomic Bitchwax Scorpio

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Aug. 26.

Business as usual in ferocious heavy/speed rock from The Atomic Bitchwax on Scorpio — and that was only reassuring since the band’s eighth full-length marked the first since the departure of guitarist/vocalist Finn Ryan and his replacing with Garrett Sweeny, a bandmate of founding bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik and drummer Bob Pantella in Monster Magnet. They barely stopped to cool their heels and yet still managed to be catchy as hell. How do they do it? Jersey Magic.

19. Cinder Well, No Summer

cinder well no summer

Released by Free Dirt Records. Reviewed July 21.

Such pervasive melancholy could only be derived from Irish folk, and so it was on Cinder Well‘s No Summer, which managed to move between singer-songwriter minimalism from Amelia Baker and arrangements of deceptive and purposeful intricacy. Wherever it went, from traditional songs “Wandering Boy” and “The Cuckoo” to originals like “Fallen” and the nine-minute “Our Lady’s,” it was equal parts gorgeous and sad and resonant. It remains so, despite the fleeting season.

18. Pallbearer, Forgotten Days

pallbearer forgotten days

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Dec. 24.

Their fourth album and first since crossing the decade-mark since their inception, Pallbearer‘s Forgotten Days wasn’t just heavy, emotional or big-sounding; it was the most their-own of anything they’ve done. It felt exactly like the record they wanted it to be, and reconfirmed that the generation of listeners being introduced to doom by their music is going to be just fine if they follow the cues laid out for them here.

17. Slift, Ummon

slift ummon

Released by Stolen Body and Vicious Circle Records. Reviewed March 26.

Less a reinvention of space rock than a kick in its ass, Slift‘s Ummon pushed well past the line of manageability at 72 minutes and reveled in that. The French outfit were greeted as liberators when they released the album, and with the way the respect has been maintained in the months since they’ve given themselves a high standard to meet, but there’s only promise to be heard as you get lost in the nebular wash of this sprawling 2LP. They’ll have two more records out before this one’s fully digested.

16. My Dying Bride, The Ghost of Orion

my dying bride the ghost of orion

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Feb. 25.

The first album in half a decade from long-established UK death-doom forebears My Dying Bride found vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe coping with his daughter’s cancer diagnosis and translating that into the morose poetry for which the band is so well known and with which they’ve been so influential. My Dying Bride has never wanted for sincerity, but to call them affecting here would be underselling the quality of their craft and the heart they put into it. Follow-up EP is already out with extra non-album tracks.

15. Causa Sui, Szabodelico

causa sui Szabodelico

Released by El Paraiso Records. Reviewed Nov. 11.

Denmark’s Causa Sui may be on a mission to unite jazz and heavy psychedelia — and blessings on them for that — but the mellow jammy vibes they conjured on Szabodelico only emphasized how much it’s the character of what they do and the chemistry they’ve brought as bandmates that has allowed them to branch thusly in terms of aesthetic. It was the kind of album you wanted to put on again even before it was over, and its sweet instrumentals felt born to a greater timeline than a single year can encompass.

14. All Souls, Songs for the End of the World

All Souls Songs for the End of the World

Self-released. Reviewed Sept. 21.

I’m not a punk rocker, but All Souls make me wish I was. Their emotive and engaged heavy rock looks out as much as in on Songs for the End of the World — their second LP behind a 2018 self-titled debut (review here) — but it’s undeniably punk in its foundation, and what the four-piece of Antonio Aguilar and Meg Castellanos (both ex-Totimoshi), Erik Trammell (Black Elk) and Tony Tornay (Fatso Jetson) have put together builds on that in exciting, inventive and individualized ways, while staying nonetheless true to its roots.

13. Kind, Mental Nudge

kind mental nudge

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 20.

Five years after their debut album, Rocket Science (review here), Boston four-piece Kind return with Mental Nudge. And despite the different situations in which it finds the band’s members — bassist Tom Corino is now ex-Rozamov, drummer Matt Couto now ex-Elder — the group’s focus remains on carving memorable, mostly structured tracks out of ethereal heavy psychedelia, guitarist Darryl Shepard (Milligram, etc.) and vocalist Craig Riggs (RoadsawSasquatch, etc.) adding space and melody to the crunching, driving grooves.

12. Molassess, Through the Hollow

Molassess Through the Hollow

Released by Season of Mist. Featured Aug. 17.

Founded by vocalist Farida Lemouchi (ex-The Devil’s Blood) and guitarist Oeds Beydals (ex-Death Alley, also ex-The Devil’s Blood) and commissioned as a project for Roadburn Festival 2019 (review here), Molassess are inextricably tied to Lemouchi‘s groundbreaking former outfit and its tragic ending, but the musical branching out into darkened progressive textures on Through the Hollow isn’t to be understated. It was an album that pushed past the past, not overlooking it, but finding new ways of moving forward in life and sound.

11. Tony Reed, Funeral Suit

tony reed funeral suit

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Sept. 28.

While of course the Mos Generator frontman is no stranger to writing or recording on his own, Funeral Suit was Tony Reed‘s debut as a solo artist and it carried his progressive stamp in melody and arrangement. It was not just a guitarist playing acoustic instead of electric, and it was not a manifestation of self-indulgence. Whether it was reworking a Mos Generator song like “Lonely One Kenobi” or pursuing a new piece like the title-track or “Waterbirth,” Reed found balance between personal and audience, evoking traditional songsmithing even as he reminded listeners of his dual role as a producer.

10. Geezer, Groovy

Geezer Groovy

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed May 18.

Spectacular showing from Kingston kingpins Geezer with Groovy as their first offering for Heavy Psych Sounds. Led by guitarist/vocalist Pat Harrington, the three-piece brought material that flowed with the organic feel of jams despite being structured and catchy songs. In pieces like “Dead Soul Scroll” and “Drowning on Empty,” they melded stonerized groove with what felt like genuine emotional expression, and “Dig” and “Groovy” still managed to be a heavy fuzz-blues party. And they still had room at the end to jam out on “Slide Mountain” and “Black Owl.” It was nothing but a win, rising to the occasion on every level.

9. Big Scenic Nowhere, Vision Beyond Horizon

big scenic nowhere vision beyond horizon

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Jan. 29.

So Bob Balch from Fu Manchu and Gary Arce from Yawning Man have a band. They get Tony Reed from Mos Generator on board. Mario Lalli from Yawning Man/Fatso Jetson comes and goes. Nick Oliveri comes and goes. Bill Stinson from Yawning Man plays drums. Alain Johannes sits in on vocals. Reed does a bunch of vocals; his kid does a track too. Per Wiberg from Spiritual Beggars, Opeth, Candlemass, etc., lends some keys. What do you call such a thing? Who cares? You call yourself lucky it exists. They called the record Vision Beyond Horizon. Can’t wait to find out what they call the next one.

8. Elder, Omens

elder omens

Released by Armageddon Shop and Stickman Records. Reviewed April 27.

Omens marked a new beginning for Elder as the band pushed deeper into the realm of progressive rock and beyond their weightier beginnings. The arrival of Georg Edert (also Gaffa Ghandi) on drums in place of Matt Couto shifted the band’s dynamic in a number of ways, providing not a swinging anchor for the rhythm section necessarily, but another avenue of prog fluidity. Bassist Jack Donovan brought a steady presence in the low end as guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo and guitarist/keyboardist Mike Risberg embarked on new melodic explorations while staying loyal to the band’s established penchant for sweeping changes. Omens may live up to its name as a sign of things to come, but either way, it was a strong display of the band’s will to pursue new ideas and methods.

7. Forming the Void, Reverie

forming the void reverie

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed April 15.

First words that come to mind here: “eminently listenable.” With seven tracks and 36 minutes, Reverie may not have taken up much of your afternoon… once. But by the time you gave it its proper respect and listened through three times in a row, the situation was somewhat different. The Lafayette, Louisiana, four-piece gracefully brought together structured songwriting with proggier leanings and were able to bring together rampaging hooks like “Trace the Omen” and “Manifest,” casting a sense of sonic hugeness without forgetting to add either melody or personality along with that. The band — who here welcomed bassist Thorn Letulle alongside guitarist/vocalist James Marshall, guitarist Shadi Omar Al-Khansa and drummer Thomas Colley — have worked quickly and evolved with a sense of urgency. Is Reverie the goal or another step on that path?

6. Grayceon, MOTHERS WEAVERS VULTURES

grayceon mothers weavers vultures

Released by Translation Loss Records. Reviewed Nov. 18.

Vocalist/cellist Jackie Perez Gratz (interview here), guitarist Max Doyle and drummer Zack Farwell comprise Grayceon, and with their fifth record, the band looks around thematically at environmental devastation through the lens of record-breaking California wildfires from their vantage point in the Bay Area. Even as the world shifted priorities (at least most of it did) to yet another global crisis in the COVID-19 pandemic, genre-melting-pot songs like “Diablo Wind,” “The Lucky Ones,” and “This Bed” reminded of the horrors humanity has wrought on its battered home, and still managed to find hope and serenity in “And Shine On” and “Rock Steady,” a closing duo that shifted to a more personal discussion of family and one’s hope for a better future for and by the next generation. 2020 had plenty of horror. At least we got a new Grayceon record out of it.

5. Brant Bjork, Brant Bjork

brant bjork brant bjork

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed April 28.

When Sho’Nuff asked Bruce Leroy “who’s the master?,” dude should’ve said Brant Bjork. It would’ve been a confusing end to Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon, but ultimately more accurate, as Brant Bjork‘s homegrown kung fu was unfuckwithable as ever on the album that shares his name. After two decades of solo releases in one form or another, Bjork is not just a pivotal figurehead for desert rock, he’s a defining presence, as well as one of its most treasured practitioners. Brant Bjork, the album, brought initial waves of funk in “Jungle in the Sound,” explored weedy worship in “Mary (You’re Such a Lady)” and toyed with religious dogma in offsetting that with “Jesus Was a Bluesman” while still tossing primo hooks in “Duke of Dynamite” and “Shitkickin’ Now” ahead of the more open “Stardust and Diamond Eyes” and the acoustic closer “Been So Long.” With Bjork recording all the instruments himself, a due feeling of intimacy resulted, and yet he still found a way to make it rock. How could it be otherwise?

4. Enslaved, Utgard

enslaved utgard

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Sept. 29.

Why do I feel the immediate need to defend this pick? I’m not sure. Norway’s Enslaved are an institution, not just of black metal, but of bringing an ideology of creative growth to that style that often willfully resists it. They are iconoclastic even unto their own work. Utgard was released as the band stood on the precipice of 30 years together and yet it stood as their most forward-looking offering yet, as co-founders Grutle Kjellson (bass/vocals) and Ivar Bjørnson (guitar/sometimes vocals), as well as longtime lead guitarist Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal backed up the change from 2017’s E (review here) that brought in new keyboardist/vocalist Hakon Vinje with the incorporation of drummer Iver Sandøy, who doubles as a vocalist (and triples as a producer). The “new blood” made all the difference on Utgard, allowing Enslaved to piece together new ranges of melody in their work and offset instrumental shifts into and out of krautrock-derived progressions. Simply the work of a band outdoing itself from a band who does so at nearly every opportunity.

3a. Colour Haze, We Are

colour haze we are

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten and Ripple Music. Reviewed Dec. 3, 2019.

Every year I allow myself one addendum pick, and this is it. We Are was on last year’s list because it was digitally released, but the vinyl came out this year and it received its North American release this year as well, so it seemed only right to acknowledge that. So here it is in its proper place.

3. All Them Witches, Nothing as the Ideal

All-Them-Witches-Nothing-as-the-Ideal

Released by New West Records. Reviewed Sept. 3.

This is a band controlling their own narrative. Instead of Nothing as the Ideal being ‘the one they made as a three-piece,’ the Nashville outfit decided to make it ‘the one they recorded at Abbey Road.’ Were they thinking of it on those terms? Yeah, likely not, but it goes to demonstrate all the same just how much of themselves All Them Witches put into what they do musically, since not only are they continuing to refine and define and undefine their approach, but they’re setting the terms on which they do it. Each of their records has been a response to the one prior, but that conversation has never been so direct as to make them predictable. So what are they chasing? Apparently nothing. I’m not entirely sure I buy that as a complete answer, but I am sure I love these songs and the experiments with tape loops and other sounds that fill these spaces. Whatever they do next — or even if nothing — their run has been incredible and exciting and one only hopes their influence continues to spread over the next however many years.

2. Elephant Tree, Habits

elephant tree habits

Released by Deathwish Inc.. Reviewed April 13.

There was a high standard set by Elephant Tree‘s 2016 self-titled debut (review here), but their second LP, Habits, surpassed even the loftiest of expectations. With vocals centered around harmonies from guitarist Jack Townley and bassist Peter Holland, the former trio completed by drummer Sam Hart brought in guitarist/keyboardist John Slattery (also sometimes vocals), and the resultant breadth gave the material on Habits spaciousness beyond even what the first album promised. Drifting, rolling, unflinchingly melodic and somehow present even in its own escapism, Habits was not just an early highlight for a rough 2020, but a comforting presence throughout, and the further one dug into tracks like “Sails,” “Exit the Soul,” “Faceless,” “Wasted” and the acoustic “The Fall Chorus,” the more there was to find — let alone “Bird,” which I’ll happily put against anything else one might propose for song of the year. As their former UK label crumbled, Habits emerged unscathed and Elephant Tree‘s future continues to shine with ever more hope for things to come. Being able to say that about anything feels like a relief.

2020 Album of the Year

1. Lowrider, Refractions

Lowrider Refractions

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Jan. 24.

Twenty years ago, Sweden’s Lowrider put out what would become a heavy rock landmark in their 2000 debut, Ode to Io (reissue review here). A follow-up years in the making even after the band got back together to play Desertfest in London (review here) and Berlin in 2013, Refractions first saw limited release in 2019 as part of Blues Funeral‘s PostWax series (discussed here), but its proper arrival was in early 2020, and there was really no looking back after that. It wasn’t just the novelty of a new Lowrider album that made Refractions such a joy, but the manner in which the band went about its work. There was no pretending that 20 years didn’t happen. There was no attempt to recapture the bottled lightning that was the first record, and Lowrider did not sound like a band “making a comeback” rife with expectations and fan-service. Refractions acknowledged the legacy of Ode to Io, sure enough, but as a step toward adding to it in meaningful and engaging ways. The songs — “Red River,” “Ode to Ganymede,” “Sernanders Krog,” “Ol’ Mule Pepe,” “Sun Devil/M87” and the 11-minute finale “Pipe Rider” — were fashioned without pretense and came across as the organic output of a band with nothing to prove to anyone but themselves. They made it their own. In a wretched year, Lowrider shined.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: Honorable Mention

Yeah, okay. There are a lot of these, so buckle in. Last year I just threw out a list of bands. This year I’m a little more organized, so here are bands and records alphabetically.

Across Tundras, LOESS ~ LÖSS
Across Tundras, The Last Days of a Silver Rush
Alain Johannes, Hum
Arboretum, Let it All In
Bell Witch & Aerial Ruin, Stygian Bough Vol. 1
Black Helium, The Wholly Other
Boris, No
Brimstone Coven, The Woes of a Mortal Earth
CB3, Aeons
Celestial Season, The Secret Teachings
Crippled Black Phoenix, Ellengæst
Cruthu, Athrú Crutha
Domo, Domonautas Vol. 2
DOOL, Summerland
Dopelord, Sign of the Devil
Dwaal, Gospel of the Vile
Elder Druid, Golgotha
Ellis Munk Ensemble, San Diego Sessions
Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou, May Our Chambers Be Full
EMBR, 1823
Familiars, All in Good Time
Forlesen, Hierophant Violent
Galactic Cross, Galactic Cross
The Heavy Eyes, Love Like Machines
Hum, Inlet
Human Impact, Human Impact
Humulus, The Deep
Jupiterian, Protosapien
Kariti, Covered Mirrors
Khan, Monsoons
Kingnomad, Sagan Om Ryden
King Witch, Body of Light
Kryptograf, Kryptograf
Light Pillars, Light Pillars
Lord Buffalo, Tohu Wa Bohu
Lord Loud, Timid Beast
Lotus Thief, Oresteia
Malsten, The Haunting of Silvåkra Mill
Mindcrawler, Lost Orbiter
Motorpsycho, The All is One
Mountain Tamer, Psychosis Ritual
Mr. Bison, Seaward
Mrs. Piss, Self-Surgery
Mugstar, GRAFT
Murcielago, Casualties
Oranssi Pazuzu, Mestarin Kynsi
Paradise Lost, Obsidian
Parahelio, Surge Evelia Surge
The Pilgrim, …From the Earth to the Sky and Back
Pretty Lightning, Jangle Bowls
Psychlona, Venus Skytrip
Puta Volcano, AMMA
Ritual King, Ritual King
River Cult, Chilling Effect
Rrrags, High Protein
Shores of Null, Beyond the Shores (On Death and Dying)
Sigiriya, Maiden – Mother – Crone
Six Organs of Admittance, Companion Rises
16, Dream Squasher
Slomosa, Slomosa
Somnus Throne, Somnus Throne
Steve Von Till, No Wilderness Deep Enough
Stone Machine Electric, The Inexplicable Vibrations of Frequencies Within the Cosmic Netherworld
Sumac, May You Be Held
Temple of the Fuzz Witch, Red Tide
Temple of Void, The World That Was
The Kings of Frog Island, VI
Tia Carrera, Tried and True
Turtle Skull, Monoliths
Uffe Lorenzen, Magisk Realisme
Ulcerate, Stare Into Death and Be Still
Vessel of Light, Last Ride
Vestal Claret, Vestal Claret
Vinnum Sabbathi, Of Dimensions and Theories
Wight, Spank the World
Wino, Forever Gone
Yatra, All is Lost
Yuri Gagarin, The Outskirts of Reality

By no means is that list exhaustive. And to look at stuff like Psychlona, Oranssi Pazuzu, Wight, Wino, Puta Volcano, Kingnomad, Ellis Munk Ensemble, Paradise Lost, Alain Johannes, Arbouretum, Uffe Lorenzen, Tia Carrera — on and on and on — I can definitely see where arguments are to be made for records that should’ve been in the list proper. I can only go with what feels right to me at the time.

Together with the top 50, this makes over 110 albums in the best of 2020. If you find yourself needing something to hang your hat on, be glad you’re alive to witness this much excellent music coming out.

Debut Album of the Year

Molassess, Through the Hollow

Molassess Through the Hollow

Other notable debuts (alphabetically):

Atramentus, Stygian
Bethmoora, Thresholds
BleakHeart, Dream Griever
Crystal Spiders, Molt
Dirt Woman, The Glass Cliff
Dwaal, Gospel of the Vile
Electric Feat, Electric Feat
Familiars, All in Good Time
Galactic Cross, Galactic Cross
Human Impact, Human Impact
Jointhugger, I Am No One
Light Pillars, Light Pillars
Love Gang, Dead Man’s Game
Malsten, The Haunting of Silvåkra Mill
Might, Might
Mindcrawler, Lost Orbiter
Mrs. Piss, Self-Surgery
Parahelio, Surge Evelia Surge
Polymoon, Caterpillars of Creation
Ritual King, Ritual King
SEA, Impermanence
Slomosa, Slomosa
Soldati, Doom Nacional
Somnus Throne, Somnus Throne
SpellBook, Magick & Mischief
Spirit Mother, Cadets
Temple of the Fuzz Witch, Red Tide
The Crooked Whispers, Satanic Melodies
White Dog, White Dog

Notes: I sparred with myself every step of the way here. The last couple years I’ve tried to give the top-debut spot to not just a new band, but a new presence. Green Lung, King Buffalo, etc. Molassess, with members from The Devil’s Blood, Death Alley and Astrosoniq, isn’t exactly that. So what do I do? Do I go with something newer like Polymoon, Dirt Woman, BleakHeart, SEA, White Dog or The Crooked Whispers, or something with more established players like Molassess, Soldati, or even Light Pillars?

In the end, what made the difference was not just how brilliant the songs on Molassess’ Through the Hollow, but how honestly the band confronted the legacy they were up against. The songs had a familiar haunting presence, but they were also moving ahead to somewhere new. It was that blend of old and new ideas, and the resonant feeling of emotional catharsis — as well as the sheer immersion that took place while listening — that ultimately made the decision. Turns out I just couldn’t escape it.

And why not a list? Because this feels woefully inadequate as it is. I reviewed over 250 records this year one way or another — and that’s a conservative estimate — but a lot gets lost in the shuffle and somehow it just seemed wrong this time around to call something the 13th best first record of the year. I wanted to highlight the special achievement that was the Molassess album, but really, all of these records kicked my ass one way or the other.

Short Release of the Year 2020

King Buffalo, Dead Star

King Buffalo Dead Star

Other notable EPs, Splits, Demos, etc.:

Big Scenic Nowhere, Lavender Blues
Coma Wall, Ursa Minor
Conan/Deadsmoke, Doom Sessions Vol. 1
Fu Manchu, Fu30 Pt. 1
Grandpa Jack, Trash Can Boogie
Howling Giant/Sergeant Thunderhoof, Masamune/Muramasa (split)
Oginalii, Pendulum
Kings Destroy, Floods
Lament Cityscape, The Old Wet
Limousine Beach, Stealin’ Wine +2
Merlock, That Which Speaks
Monte Luna, Mind Control Broadcast
Mos Generator/Di’Aul, Split
Pimmit Hills, Heathens & Prophets
Rito Verdugo, Post-Primatus
Rocky Mtn Roller, Rocky Mtn Roller
Spaceslug, Leftovers
10,000 Years, 10,000 Years
The White Swan, Nocturnal Transmission
Thunderbird Divine, The Hand of Man
Witchcraft, Black Metal

Notes: If you were wondering why King Buffalo’s Dead Star (review here) wasn’t on the big list, this is why. It was pitched to me as an EP and that’s how I’m classifying it. I’m taking the out. Is it an EP? Not really, but neither is it a full-length album, given its experimental nature and focus around its extended two-part title-track. Whatever it was, it was the best that-thing, and this is the category where such things go.

Again, tough choices after King Buffalo. Thunderbird Divine’s EP was wonderfully funk-blasted and woefully short (new album, please). The newly-issued Spaceslug EP branches out their sound in fascinating ways as a result of the lockdown. Witchcraft’s acoustic EP, Coma Wall’s EP and Big Scenic Nowhere’s EP all signaled good things to come, and Howling Giant’s split with Sergeant Thunderhoof was a highlight of the most recent Quarterly Review. There really isn’t a bummer on the list there, from the bitter psych of Oginalii to the industrial metal of Lament Cityscape, the unadulterated riffery of Merlock to the live-captured rawness of Monte Luna.

So again, why no list? Same answer. I want to highlight the progression King Buffalo made in their sound and leave room open elsewhere for things I missed. Please let me know what in the comments. Cordially.

Live Album of the Year 2020

Yawning Man, Live at Giant Rock

yawning man live at giant rock

Other notable live releases:

Ahab, Live Prey
Amenra, Mass VI Live
Arcadian Child, From Far, for the Wild (Live in Linz)
Author and Punisher, Live 2020 B.C.
Cherry Choke, Raising Salzburg Rockhouse
Dead Meadow, Live at Roadburn 2011
Dirty Streets, Rough and Tumble
Electric Moon, Live at Freak Valley Festival 2019
Kadavar, Studio Live Session Vol. 1
King Buffalo, Live at Freak Valley
Monte Luna, Mind Control Broadcast
Orange Goblin, Rough & Ready: Live and Loud
Øresund Space Collective, Sonic Rock Solstice 2019
Pelican, Live at the Grog Shop
SEA, Live at ONCE
Sumac, St Vitus 09/07/2018
Sun Blood Stories, (a)Live and Alone at Visual Arts Collective
Temple Fang, Live at Merleyn
YOB, Pickathon 2019 – Live From the Galaxy Barn

Notes: In this wretched year (mostly) void of live music, marked by canceled tours and festivals, the live album arguably played a more central role than it ever has, whether it was a band trying to keep momentum up following or leading into a studio release, taking advantage of the emergence of the Bandcamp Friday phenomenon or just trying to maintain some connection to their fans and the process of taking a stage. Or even playing in a room together. Or not a room. Anything. What was once a tossoff, maybe an afterthought companion piece became an essential worker of the listening experience.

You might accuse desert rock progenitors Yawning Man of playing to their base with Live at Giant Rock (featured here), and if so, fine. At no point in the last 50 years has that base more needed playing-to. And in the absence of shows, being able to hear (and watch, in the case of the accompanying video) Yawning Man go out to the landscape that spawned them and engage with their music was a beautiful moment of reconciliation. An exhale for the converted that didn’t fill one with empty promises of better tomorrows or tours to come, but served to remind what’s so worth preserving about the spirit of live music in the first place. The fact that anything can happen. A replaced note here, a tuning change there — these things can make not just an evening, but memories that go beyond shows, tours, to touch our lives.

There were a ton of live records this year. Some were benefits for worthy causes between saving venues, Black Lives Matter, voting rights organizations, and so on. And whether these were new performances from captured livestreams (Monte Luna, Kadavar) or older gigs that had been sitting around waiting for release at some point (Sumac, Dead Meadow), this, very much, was that point, and these live offerings kept burning a fire that felt at times very much in danger of being extinguished.

Looking Ahead to 2021

A list of bands. Some confirmed releases, some not. Here goes:

Dread Sovereign, Sasquatch, Year of Taurus, Apostle of Solitude, Weedpecker, Borracho, Love Gang, Jointhugger, Demon Head, Iron Man, Greenleaf, Samsara Blues Experiment, The Mammathus, Evert Snyman, Wo Fat, Conclave, Here Lies Man, Kabbalah, Komatsu, Hour of 13, Wedge, Amenra, La Chinga, Spidergawd, Wolves in the Throne Room, Vokonis, Freedom Hawk, Masters of Reality, ZOM, Eyehategod, Sanhedrin, Green Lung, The Mountain King, Albatross Overdrive, Elder, King Buffalo, Sunnata, Howling Giant, SAVER, Conan, Slomatics, Ruff Majik, Kind, Mos Generator, Yawning Sons, Lantlôs, Brant Bjork, Spiral Grave, Crystal Spiders, Lightning Born, Samavayo, Wovenhand, Merlock, Comet Control, The Age of Truth, Eight Bells, BlackWater Holylight, DVNE, Monte Luna.

Thank You

You’ve read enough, so I will do my best to keep this mercifully short. Thank you so much for reading — whether you still are or not — and thank you for being a part of the ongoing project that is The Obelisk. I cannot tell you how much it means to me to have such incredible support throughout not just this year, but all the years of the site’s existence. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Thank you most of all to The Patient Mrs. for her indulgence in letting me get this done. I’m am amazed forever.

More to come.

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Friday Full-Length: Datura, Visions for the Celestial

Posted in Bootleg Theater on August 21st, 2020 by JJ Koczan

With the benefit of 21 years of hindsight, it’s tempting to imbue Datura’s Visions for the Celestial with some kind of prescience, as though the New Zealand-based heavy rockers were somehow ahead of their time. The simpler truth is they were right in line with it. Formed in 1992, Datura were led by bassist/vocalist Craig Williamson — who would later found the one-man acid folk outfit Lamp of the Universe and return to heavy rock with Arc of Ascent — and as they solidified their lineup around WIlliamson, guitarist Brent Middlemiss and drummer Jon Burnside, they also made their way through various recordings and compilation tracks, demos and the like en route to the eventual 1998 debut EP, All is One.

Already there at that point was the sense that Datura were doing more than simply cloning riffs imported from Californian acts Kyuss, Sleep, Acid King and Fu Manchu, or the likes of Monster Magnet, Acrimony, Orange Goblin, etc., and the same holds true on the follow-up debut long-player. Comprised of six songs in its original incarnation, Visions for the Celestial came out on New Zealand’s Cranium Music in 1999 and saw US release through Brainticket Records — the imprint helmed by John Perez of Solitude Aeturnus — in 2000. Running 48 minutes that were expanded to circa 53 with the addition of the five-minute “Into the Light” as a centerpiece for a 2007 reissue on Williamson’s own Astral Projection label (Krauted Mind also did a vinyl in 2010), the album showcases a communion with heavy rock and psychedelia that were highly individual in their balance. Listeners hearing Visions for the Celestial for the first time in 2020 might be struck by the sense of roll in a song like the nine-minute penultimate cut “Voyage,” but there’s more to the track than just its forward motion and swaggering groove. The underlying organ line, the deep punch of its bassline, datura visions for the celestialand the weaving lines of guitar effects atop the live-feeling drums — even before funky-time hits with the solo about halfway through the song — all come together to create a sense of who Datura were as a band, and the personality they brought to their material. Should you be surprised when the flute and watery vocals come out? Yeah, probably, but you should also know by that point to just go with it. They’ve got it all well in-hand.

Songwriting is the underpinning upon which Visions for the Celestial is based, but that’s not just about putting verses together with catchy choruses. It’s also how the material is built, how it plays off each other in the context of the whole record, and of course how it’s performed on the recording. “Magnetise” opens with an intro of wah guitar that tells you much of what you need to know about where Datura are headed, and proceeds into a languid flow and lyrics about drifting in a floating mind, walking in colors, and the like, not hurrying but not at all staid either as it moves through its seven minutes en route to “Sunshine in Purple” and the more straightforward, also shorter, “Reaching Out.” “Sunshine in Purple” largely follows suit from the opener in terms of style — a sense of high-ceiling-room permeating the mix — but Williamson’s bass begins to really shine there and does likewise on “Reaching Out” as well, leading-from-behind a shove that, depending on which version of the record you’re listening to, gives way either to “Into the Light” or “Euphoria.” To be blunt, either way you go, you don’t really lose out, and in terms of placing a bonus track, “Into the Light” adds more to the middle of the record than it possibly could being tacked on after “Voyage” and its just-under-15-minute closer follow-up “Mantra.”

“Euphoria” sets up that last salvo with a trippier feel on the whole and cleverly wrought pulls of guitar as Wililamson preaches cosmic heavy, but clearly the two pieces are intended to stand on their own as the B-side of Visions for the Celestial, and they end up doing precisely that. Neither song is a radical departure from what Datura have been doing all along, but again, it’s a question of balance. “Voyage” shifts in its second half through the aforementioned stretch of purer-strain psychedelia before building up to its resurgent roll. As he has all along, Burnside turns in a righteous performance on drums, not overly flashy, but making even a simple-seeming hi-hat march effective in carrying the momentum behind Middlemiss’ guitar excursions. He starts out “Mantra” at a slow pace soon joined by swells of melodic effects or synth, and it’s immediately clear Datura are going as far out as they’ve gone. Harmonized vocals and progressive space jamming hint at what could’ve been, likewise a hypnotic drum solo before the last push and an ending of residual effects in a melodic dronescape. Resonant, sweet and otherworldly, it could hardly be more fitting.

Datura only put out one full-length, and by the time 1999 was done, Williamson would begin exploring the folkier textures that became Lamp of the Universe, which of course is a project he continues to this day, having released Dead Shrine (review here) in June. It wasn’t until 2010 that Williamson returned to heavier fare with Arc of Ascent, but hearing Datura now in relation to that band, it’s clear just how much of his signature style and patterning are essential to both. Visions for the Celestial, while it’s been re-pressed periodically, remains a work of underrated heavy lost to the shifting tides of social media mobilization and internet decay. It and All is One, as well as a live recording from 1998, are all up on Bandcamp, though, so like so many LPs in a crate somewhere in a musty record store waiting to be unearthed and unveil their heavy ‘70s treasures, so too does Datura await a moment to get their due. In terms of what they were doing, when and how, their debut/swansong was one of promise that still stands as a hallmark of its era. Lost classic? Not if you find it.

As always, I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.

 

As I write this, the site is down. Presumably, it’ll be back up at some point soon, and because my hours are limited, I kind of have to write when it’s time to write, which is now. Or, rather, about two hours ago when I started this post. I’ve been getting up early again — it was 3:45AM today — and that has been a tremendous help to me in terms of productivity. My head is pretty much goo by 8PM, but you know what? I was really fucking tired all the time anyway when I slept until 6AM or 6:30 or whatever I could get away with. I think maybe that’s just getting old.

Also I need to stretch more. As someone who knows zilch zero no nothing about living healthy, I do honestly believe that stretching, hydration and eating more veggies is the secret to immortality. It’s at least as good as anything I’ve seen in an infomercial.

Some requisite-feeling drama in the fallout from my father’s death this week in his side of the family wanting him buried somewhere else rather than where he’s going. Just too late on that end. It’s already all paid for, and I don’t think funeral homes do refunds. Anyway, I can’t and wouldn’t go against my mother’s wishes, regardless. He’ll be buried in Ft. Indiantown Gap National Cemetery in Pennsylvania. He was an Air Force veteran whose time in the service very much resonated with the core of the person he wanted to be, and frankly, if he thought enough of himself to think he had any value whatsoever, it’s the kind of thing he might’ve arranged on his own. He didn’t. I am.

Went for a run a bit ago as I have been on the regular for the last however long. Feels okay. Trying not to be crazy about it. Intentionally not be crazy. It is difficult.

Alright, the Pecan is awake and has probably pooped in his diaper by now, so I need to grab him from his room and get him cleaned up, but thanks for reading this week. Hopefully this post is up before then, but there’s a new Gimme show at 5PM Eastern today if you can listen. Their app is free and so is their site: http://gimmemetal.com

I wish you a great and safe weekend.

 

FRM.

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Review & Track Premiere: Lamp of the Universe, Dead Shrine

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on May 25th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Lamp of the Universe Dead Shrine

[Click play above to stream ‘The Eastern Run’ by Lamp of the Universe. Dead Shrine is out June 22 through Projection Records.]

For over 20 years, New Zealand’s Lamp of the Universe have explored inner and outer cosmoses with tantric and meditative acid folk, veering into and out of and beyond psychedelic and space rock, drone and Eastern-influenced arrangements at the behest of lone multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Craig Williamson. Williamson‘s long-running one-man outfit has veered into and out of primary focus over the years as Williamson has contributed to and/or led other bands like the long-defunct-and-still-underrated Datura or the ongoing Arc of Ascent, who were last heard from on a 2018 split with Zone Six (review here). Lamp of the Universe, though, has been otherworldly in its consistency, and at this point it’s a mode of expression Williamson has lived with for more than 20 years. Think about that.

Dead Shrine is the 12th Lamp of the Universe full-length, and it follows behind last year’s Align in the Fourth Dimension (review here) in unveiling five cuts across a vinyl-ready 41 minutes that run the gamut from the intimate, minimally-percussed mantras of “Illuminations for the Divine” reminiscent of the project’s earlier work, to fuller-band-sounding, drum-and-howling-solo affairs like the still-languid-flowing “Seance in Parallels,” Williamson seeming to move into side B of the release with a vibrant sense of freedom in the creation.

If it ever had to be earned — and I’m not sure it did — he’s long since earned that freedom through his compositions, which retain signatures like organic sitar drone even as they introduce Mellotron and other synthesizer melodies, with Williamson‘s airy echoes acting as the lone human presence in this great swirling ether he’s made. From opener “The Eastern Run,” Williamson sends signals of intent toward a sonic richness this time around, and just as the album’s mandala-style artwork follows a pattern that continues from 2016’s Hidden Knowledge (review here), veered off for 2015’s The Inner Light of Revelation (review here) but seemed to begin with 2013’s Transcendence (review here) — ever prolific, Williamson also released splits with Trip Hill and Krautzone (review here) in 2014 — so too does Dead Shrine walk a trail laid out for it by prior offerings.

Organ plays a heavy role in “The Eastern Run,” and Williamson‘s layered vocals do well to cut through in terms of presence, but the layer of low-end buzz reminds as well of his bass work in Arc of Ascent. Effects loop and swirl as the final guitar solo takes hold and the song marches on a straightforward drum progression toward its finish, complex in its arrangement but easy to follow and accessible in the true nature of folk music in no small part thanks to that use of drums. I won’t take away from Lamp of the Universe‘s effectiveness in moments of pure float, or the psychedelic minimalism brought to bear periodically throughout the project’s catalog, but one neither can nor should argue pairing electric guitar and a drum set is a bad idea at this point. The subsequent “Beams of Ra” also puts keys prominent, but pushes the drums deeper into the mix, allowing the vocals more space to lead the melody of the piece, which is a subtle but engaging shift and the track works out to be all the more hypnotic for it, churning in molten fashion throughout a relatively tidy six-plus minutes of willful repetition and a low-key highlight guitar solo, ascending even as the rhythm line it tops peppers it with looped notes and the keyboard coincides.

LAMP OF THE UNIVERSE

It’s not quite a wash leading back into the verse, but the spirit is meditative in a way that is very much Lamp of the Universe‘s own, and though Williamson is known to be well-versed in psychedelic obscurities, I’ve yet to encounter another artist who conjures worlds in such a fashion. “Beams of Ra” fades and shifts into “Illuminations for the Divine” with a sitar drone and a wisp of flute, guitar setting the rhythm before hand-percussion joins in behind, a cymbal wash leading into the first verse. It will follow a linear pattern, but the build remains understated — some harder strumming and the aforementioned Mellotron serving as the apex and doing well at it. The song and the mood don’t require anything else, and the restraint is only to Williamson‘s credit; a moment perhaps that showcases the maturity of the outfit as side A rounds out.

“Seance in Parallels” (9:47) and “Symbols” (10:12) are the two longest tracks on the record. They make up the entirety of the second side of the LP edition and they serve as the closing duo. They are, accordingly, a masterclass in psychedelic formation. Not only do both pieces draw from Williamson‘s folk explorations of yore, but from the spacious tonal largesse he’s brought forth in Arc of Ascent as well, and the introduction and disappearance of various elements and layers throughout “Seance in Parallels” is thrilling — swells of guitar rise and recede over a steady drum beat, a drone holds sway until it doesn’t — the whole thing is geared toward trance, and in an open and vast midsection, Williamson‘s voice rings out over an unseen landscape of various hues that may or may not be discernible to the human eye, chimes and sitar leading back into the central march and then returning at the end with a chant-like feel over top.

Organ, acoustic and electric guitar, vocals, drums and fuzz-as-its-own-instrument make “Symbols” a fitting summation of Dead Shrine as a whole, a capital-‘r’ Riff arriving after dream-toned noodling just as the song hits the 4:20 mark — must be coincidence — that feels like a call-to-worship for an entirely different kind of ceremony. The drums and vocals resume and eventually the keys in a kind of choral proceeding behind a swirling electric guitar solo that comes through like Earthless played at half-speed. By which I mean glorious. It is ultimately the organ and acoustic guitar that finish the track and the album on a fade, as Williamson — no doubt already set to move on to the next recording, the next batch of songs, the next thing, whatever it might be — reminds in those final moments of the soul and natural purpose at root in his work in Lamp of the Universe. I’ll cop readily to being a fan of Lamp of the Universe and Williamson‘s other projects; no shame there. Still, as recognizable as Lamp of the Universe is, it’s all the more striking how the project continues to evolve in sound and scope. Dead Shrine may get a follow-up next year and it may not, but one way or another, it can and should be seen as a step along a path that only leads ever forward.

Lamp of the Universe on Thee Facebooks

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Astral Witch Premiere “Embodied” Video from Self-Titled LP

Posted in Bootleg Theater on April 17th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

astral witch

Featured as the second track on Astral Witch‘s soon-to-be-issued-on-vinyl 2018 self-titled debut, the cut ‘Embodied’ began its life as — well, probably as a riff, since that’s how these things go — but also as “Embodied by the Stars” from the Hamilton, Ontario, three-piece’s 2015 Bang-Over EP. The later incarnation, is longer, slower and somewhat clearer — though both it and the record it comes from want nothing for a blown-out sensibility — and with DHU Records in the Netherlands and Fuzzed and Buzzed in Toronto standing behind the LP edition of Astral Witch‘s Astral Witch in the requisite limited and oh-so-FOMO-able numbers as they are, the revision the band works only highlights how purposeful the abiding rawness of their debut actually is, and how much that rawness becomes a part of their aesthetic throughout. It sounds rough because it wants to and it wants to sound rough because it does.

The PR wire — blessings and peace upon it — calls them “occult space grunge,” which is brilliant enough to quote directly, the way I see it. I’m not sure I 100 percent agree on the “space” front, but if you want to sit here with me for half an hour and split hairs between what makes something space-doom and what makes it cosmic-doom, we can do that. I’m on quarantine lockdown — I’ve got the time. If, however, you’d prefer to spend your next six minutes in inevitably more constructive fashion, you’ll find the video for “Embodied” premiering below to highlight the fact that preorders are going live for the vinyl from all three parties involved — both labels and the band — tomorrow, April 18. The details of who gets what version of the album are below that, mostly because I think they’re interesting, and I’ve included the full stream of Astral Witch from the band’s Bandcamp too, because I know that after I heard “Embodied,” I wanted more, and hearing the direct lyrical juxtaposition between “Embodied” and “Love,” which follows, is definitely worth the additional effort it takes to, say, click another thing.

Rumble, grit, attitude and mastering by Tony Reed. Some bands have it all.

Please enjoy:

Astral Witch, “Embodied” official video premiere

Occult space grungers Astral Witch release their debut album on wax via Fuzzed and Buzzed Records in North America and DHU in Europe.

Sounding like a Sabbath worshipping L7 or Babes In Toyland, these Babes in Doomland bring the heavy on the vinyl version of their debut mastered by the legendary Tony Reed the mastering master of Mos Generator fame.

The wax comes in three different colorways including the Band edition, the DHU edition and the Fuzzed and Buzzed edition.

Pre-orders will be on April 18 at Noon EST and 6pm CEST from fuzzedandbuzzed.com in North America and darkhedonisticunionrecords.bigcartel.com in Europe or straight from the band https://astralwitch.bandcamp.com/

Side A:
A1. Rune
A2. Embodied
A3. Love
A4. Blood III

Side B:
B1. Black Denim
B2. 86ed
B3. Witch Knife

DHU Records Edition
Limited to 100 copies
Single sleeve w/ 3mm spine
Black flood inside
Full color double sided insert
Black polylined innersleeve
DHU Bside label
A3 poster by Shane Horror
Comes on Bone/Black Aside/Bside 12″ vinyl

Astral Witch Edition
Limited to 100 copies
Single sleeve w/ 3mm spine
Black flood inside
Full color double sided insert
Black polylined innersleeve
Astral Witch Bside label
A3 poster by Shane Horror
Comes on Purple/Black Aside/Bside 12″ vinyl

Fuzzed and Buzzed Edition
Limited to 100 copies
Single sleeve w/ 3mm spine
Black flood inside
Full color double sided insert
Black polylined innersleeve
Fuzzed and Buzzed Bside label
A3 poster by Shane Horror
Comes on Green w/ Black Smoke 12″ vinyl

Astral Witch are:
Alyssa – vox/guitar
Jon – vox/bass
Jen – drums/vox

Astral Witch, Astral Witch (2018)

Astral Witch on Thee Facebooks

Astral Witch on Instagram

Astral Witch on Bandcamp

Fuzzed and Buzzed Records on Thee Facebooks

Fuzzed and Buzzed Records on Instagram

Fuzzed and Buzzed Records website

DHU Records on Thee Facebooks

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Friday Full-Length: Lamp of the Universe, Heru

Posted in Bootleg Theater on November 1st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

 

On a pretty regular basis around here I speak about patience in songwriting as an asset on the part of bands and artists. I can think of few the world over who offer a master class in this idea on the level of Craig Williamson‘s Lamp of the Universe. The Hamilton, New Zealand-based one-man project has been more or less ongoing for the last 20 years, with a stream of regular output that has resulted in no fewer than 11 full-lengths, as well as — in just the last five years — splits with Kanoi (review here), Trip Hill and Krautzone (review here). Some work has veered into crafting a full-band sound as Williamson has come to split time over the course of this decade between creating with Lamp of the Universe and as part of the heavier-rocking cosmic trio Arc of Ascent, but Lamp of the Universe is always just him working in layers of sitar, guitar, synth, percussion, vocals, and a host of other instrumentation in order to create a psychedelic acid-folk immersion like nothing else I’ve experienced. From his 2001 debut, The Cosmic Union (discussed here) through earlier 2019’s Align in the Fourth Dimension (review here), his work has never wavered from its central purpose in exploring the self, the universe, and of course, how the two might be brought together through sound.

And when it comes to patience, one can point to any number of offerings from Lamp of the Universe as an example. Even when Williamson isn’t explicitly working in longer-form songwriting, he’s not exactly writing three-minute pop songs, but Heru is a special case. Released in 2005 on a limited CDR through Barl Fire and reissued in 2007 through Astral Projection — yes, Williamson‘s imprint — Heru is comprised of seven numbered parts that spread out as a single longform piece over the course of 61 minutes. It begins with a single sitar drone and that ends up being the bed for nearly the entire outing, and as each “Part” enters, “Part 1,” “Part 2,” “Part 3,” and so on, a different element is introduced or there’s some subtle shift in the flow. “Part 3” brings a fade-in of plucked sitar notes amid that drone and obscure voice swirl. “Part 5” seems to have cymbals washing in the farthest, deepest reaches of its mix. “Part 1” is the longest track at 12:20 (immediate points), but it’s really not until “Part 2” that the proceedings get underway.

But even when they do, it’s with patience as no less of a defining factor than that undercurrent of sitar woven across the whole thing. As the Lamp of the Universe Herusynthesizer/theremin/whatever-it-is begins to add to the liquefaction of consciousness on display, it becomes not just about doing one thing for a while over a loop and then moving on, adding one instrument on top of another, but of letting the song “Heru” become what it needs to be. It’s a different kind of communication between an artist and their work. I’m not saying urgency doesn’t have a place or isn’t admirable in its own right, or that something needs to be slow or fast to be either urgent or patient — there are patient three-minute pop songs, to use the earlier example — but most often, this seems to be something that’s either inherently understood by a songwriter or group or not. Maybe it’s dependent on the personalities of those doing the making. I don’t know. But the grace with which Williamson unfurls Heru is only enhanced by the fact that it feels so remarkably unforced, and its hypnotic aspect comes through as all the more sincere. As the band’s third album, it followed The Cosmic Union and 2002’s Echo in Light, which together made something of a holy duality, and it was surprising both in the three-year delay before its arrival and in the form it took when it came around.

One hates to use the word “straightforward” in this context, but to this point, Lamp of the Universe had at least had more of a structure to its root songwriting, and Heru left that behind and then some. There are vocals on Heru, in the later reaches of “Part 6” and then “Part 7,” when things get more active on this relative scale, but no discernible verses as such. Instead, they are obscure chants overwhelmed by electric guitar volume swells, synthesizer noise, various effects, and so on. It’s in “Part 7” that the most radical shift happens, and it’s the departure of that drone, the arrival of more upfront drumming, bass and guitar in jammy fashion. Of course it’s not like there’s a three-piece in a room together vibing out since it’s just Williamson on his own, but he presents a plausible facsimile of a trio hitting it in mellow style and brings Heru to an end on a long fade of drumming and bass that in turn gets swallowed by a swell of drone and hand-percussion — something of an epilogue for the offering as a whole; “Part 7.9,” maybe, since it’s so close to the end.

However one might want to consider that final movement, it’s a showing of symmetry on the part of Lamp of the Universe that highlights the mentality of the entire offering in terms of knowing where it’s heading and how it will ultimately piece together, making it seem all the more like a masterwork. Williamson has done numerous extended pieces since, from tracks on 2006’s From the Mystic Rays of Astrological Light the two-song Arc of Ascent outing in 2007 — of which I just bought a cassette on Discogs; why do these Friday Full-Length posts so often cost me money? — to the 22-minute space ritual “Doors of Perception” from the split with Krautzone in 2014, but Heru remains a standout in his discography as Lamp of the Universe and is something of a landmark out there in the galaxial vastness for how far his exploration has taken him to-date. I wouldn’t at all put it past him to do another single-song full-length — Align in the Fourth Dimension seemed to go in the other direction, but 2016’s Hidden Knowledge (review here) was bookended by tracks 13 and 14 minutes long, so you never know — but even if he gets there at some point, that does nothing to lessen the accomplishment of Heru in terms of its patience and its reach. It’s not going to be for everybody, but those who let themselves go with it will be all the more rewarded.

As always, I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.

Shortly after 6. Yesterday wasn’t so bad. First blood draw after The Pecan’s 2-year-old checkup at the doctor. They want to test him for lead because the house we moved into was built in the ’50s and his level was high when we lived in MA. I have no doubt there were lead pipes in MA. Working-class area shit on and screwed over by cheap builders? Yeah, that sounds about right? And here? Well, it’s what used to be middle-class, but still old enough that it’s not unreasonable to think the pipes in this house are lead. Some of the paint is, I think. I don’t know. It’s North Jersey. Something’s gonna fuck you up and give you cancer.

But he was okay yesterday. Rest of the week was hard. We’re in the grind of a tough first semester at The Patient Mrs.’ new job at William Paterson. They’re talking about the faculty going on strike or something? I bet that shit’s a lot easier to consider when you’ve got tenure. Guess we’ll see how it goes.

Pecan’s up. Hang on…

Alright, one chill diaper-change later he’s in with The Patient Mrs. for the time being. Fine.

This weekend is the Magnetic Eye Day of Doom nine-bander at Saint Vitus Bar. Woof that’s a lot of bands. Nine, to be exact. I’m DJ’ing the pre-party, which means I’ll be putting together a playlist today I guess, and then since I’ll have my laptop anyway I’ll probably just writeup the bands while I’m at the show. I don’t know if I’ll also have time to sort through photos there, so it might not be a live live-blog, but even if I get the text part done, put pictures together on Sunday and post on Monday, that’s a load off my mind for the weekend. We’ll see if I can pull it off.

The timing’s important because I’m also streaming the full new Devil to Pay record on Monday and I want to give it its due. So I’ll be reviewing that before I leave the house tomorrow morning to go to Brooklyn. Tuesday the poll for the best albums of the decade goes up, as well as a track premiere from the new Iguana record. Wednesday is doubled-up again with a Brume premiere — their record’s so good — and a Very Paranoia premiere, some ’70s punk-ish stuff on Who Can You Trust? Records, then Thursday I have a Lemurian Folk Songs review slated but I might honestly just skip it and fill out the day with other stuff, and then Friday is a Kamchatka track premiere. So yeah, busy. Busy busy busy.

And to go with that, The Toddlerian in all his glorious volatility. He’s mad. Why? Wrong question.

But anyway. Quick merch update: I’ve seen the new site that’s in progress. It’ll be run through Made in Brooklyn directly. Should be live next week I hope? There will be Obelisk sweatpants. I will purchase a pair. And wear them. In public. Whether or not you do the same is of course between you and your higher power, whoever/whatever that may be.

That’s enough out of me. If you’re at Vitus tomorrow — and you should be, what with Domkraft and Elephant Tree and Horsehunter and all — say hi. I may or may not be the guy in tye-dye pants, depending on how much laundry I get done today. Camera and cosmic backpack (and laptop) either way though, so yeah. That’s me. I’m old.

Have a great and safe weekend, whatever your plans. Forum, radio, merch.

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

The Obelisk shirts & hoodies

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Astral Witch to Work with DHU Records and Fuzzed & Buzzed Records on Self-Titled LP Release

Posted in Whathaveyou on August 22nd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Ontario three-piece Astral Witch were brought to my attention earlier this summer by the good folks of Fuzzed and Buzzed Records, who included them in a 7″ box set called Altar Box they kindly passed my way. The band also issued a self-titled debut full-length last year, and the thing about it is it’s pretty awesome. That only makes the news that Astral Witch and Fuzzed and Buzzed have aligned with DHU Records to work together on a vinyl release that will seemingly encompass both the Love two-songer that was in Altar Box as well as the self-titled together all the better. DHU‘s taste is becoming increasingly reliable over time, and the cooperation between imprints here I can only see as strengthening everybody’s position, most especially that of the band. Mark it a win.

I don’t see a firm release date, but maybe November? Maybe December or February? I don’t know. Keep an eye out, either way. If you need to know why you should, both releases are up on Bandcamp.

Here’s DHU‘s announcement as per the social medias:

astral witch

DHU Records is excited to announce the signing of Canadian Doom Rockers Astral Witch to release their debut S/T 2018 Record together w/ Fuzzedandbuzzed Records on Limited Edition Vinyl!

When Fuzzed and Buzzed released the Altar Box earlier this year, it did not take long for DHU and the Fuzzed and Buzzed crew to work out an agreement to release full lengths on each side of the ocean for Rough Spells, Häxan and Astral Witch. It was a match made in Hell!

For all 3 releases there will be a DHU, F&B and Band Edition and all Editions will be available from both record labels and band to save on shipping, how about that!

More info & details coming soon…

STAY DOOMED STAY HEAVY
STAY FUZZED STAY BUZZED

http://www.facebook.com/astralwitchband
https://www.instagram.com/astralwitchband
https://astralwitch.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/Fuzzedandbuzzed-631019733954614/
https://www.instagram.com/fuzzedandbuzzed/
https://www.fuzzedandbuzzed.com/
https://www.facebook.com/DHURecords/
https://www.instagram.com/dhu_records/
https://darkhedonisticunionrecords.bandcamp.com/
darkhedonisticunionrecords.bigcartel.com/

Astral Witch, Love 7″ (2019)

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Lamp of the Universe, Align in the Fourth Dimension: Finding Inner Space

Posted in Reviews on May 13th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Lamp of the Universe Align in the Fourth Dimension

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Hamilton, New Zealand-based multi-instrumentalist Craig Williamson founding Lamp of the Universe as his primary solo outlet. At the time, he was best known as the guitarist of underrated pre-social-media heavy psychedelic rockers Datura, but in the years since, in addition to founding the trio Arc of Ascent at the dawn of this decade, he’s become a guru of mantra psych, acid folk and, of late, effects-swirling cosmic serenity. Lamp of the Universe is still identifiable from its 1999 debut, The Cosmic Union (review here), not the least because of Williamson‘s enduring penchant for sitar and his vocal style, but as one might hope over the course of 11 albums, the scope has increased for Lamp of the Universe, and the latest full-length for Sulatron Records, Align in the Fourth Dimension, puts emphasis on inward and outward exploration, with Williamson blending guitar and keys, percussion and voice, and always a lush and languid sense of melody that finds songs like “Light Receiver” and the later “Absolution Through Your Third Eye” poised and thoughtful works of assured execution.

Really, the same could be said of the eight-track/46-minute release as a whole. It’s the work of someone who has long since mastered the form but continues to refine processes naturally over time while keeping a central creative identity, shamanic in this case, but not at all overwrought or cartoonish. In some ways, Align in the Fourth Dimension, particularly in its acoustic-led side-closing tracks “New Forms” on side A and “Seasons of Love” on side B, calls back directly to the beginnings of the project in terms of the atmosphere created, somehow minimalist and spacious at the same time, but Williamson‘s arrangements have fleshed out. Layers of effects or keys/synth of various stripes give Lamp of the Universe a broader range, and even though opener “Visitors” is among the shortest inclusions at 4:39 — the CD-only penultimate cut “Call from Beyond” is the only one shorter, by a full minute — the context its backing waves of modular synth undulations and solar wind, eventual string-mellotron drama and slow-delivered vocal lend to the beginnings of Align in the Fourth Dimension is resonant enough to affect everything that follows. This, of course, is precisely the idea.

I don’t know at what point Williamson bought the organ that features so prominently on second track “Rite of Spheres” — seems to me it was a few albums ago — but it was the right choice. Still, it’s the drums that really make the difference. Williamson will generally employ some manner of percussion, but it’s not always a traditional drum set. Cymbals and snare and kick drum with quick fills maybe on a floor tom (?) give “Rite of Spheres” its pervasive sense of movement beneath the organ line and watery vocal. The drums are far back in the mix until the three-minute mark, when they come forward following a cymbal sweep and propel and electric guitar solo that puts even further emphasis on the full-band feel before the last fadeout leads to “Light Receiver.” With just a shaker for percussion, “Light Receiver” is a wash of melody in mellotron and guitar and sitar, etc., with an especially memorable chorus that holds to the rhythmic style of delivery one has come to expect from Lamp of the Universe, and it comes paired with the ultra-immersive “New Forms,” which feels more linear in its execution, but is gorgeously hypnotic while answering back the ambient spirit of the opener at the same time.

lamp of the universe

It’s by no means still, but the intertwining of acoustic guitar, soft eBow-sounding electric and effects, along with a purposeful-seeming lack of percussion, seems only to make it all the more gracefully fluid. As noted, it’s how the first half of Align in the Fourth Dimension ends, and the subsequent “The Leaving” begins side B with a likewise peaceful spirit, acoustic strum, vocals and organ flowing easily over the early going of the song only to turn more dramatic past the three-minute mark with the arrival of a fuzzy plugged-in solo, distant cymbal splash and general uptick of energy. It’s the organ and acoustic guitar though that hold sway when all is done, and “The Leaving” goes smoothly into “Absolution Through the Third Eye,” which sees the return of hand percussion and sitar along with a backing drone filling out the mix ahead of an echoing electric guitar lead that’s a subtle highlight of the album in its entirety not so much for what’s played as how it’s presented so seamlessly with its surroundings. The verse returns after with all the more a sense of drift, and makes its way eventually out, leaving “Call from Beyond” to push as far into minimalism as Lamp of the Universe will go.

Obviously, a big part of the appeal for Lamp of the Universe as an ongoing entity is Williamson‘s skill at varying arrangements for his material and his tack as a multi-instrumentalist. Working mostly alone if not always entirely alone, he’s able to bring either breadth of scope or deep-running intimacy to his craft in a way that is continually engrossing. With “Call from Beyond,” it’s the latter. Just him and his acoustic guitar. A bit of echo, but it seems to be mostly a single layer throughout, and I’d be surprised if at least the basic performance track wasn’t done live. As a “bonus” to the CD, it’s a standout, and placed well ahead of the finale and longest inclusion, “Seasons of Love,” which at 8:49 conjures a reach entirely its own with percussion, synth, acoustic guitar, more eBow, harmonized vocals and a flow unto itself that nonetheless makes a fitting conclusion to Align in the Fourth Dimension as a whole.

There is a linear flow that ties together Williamson‘s output as Lamp of the Universe that one can trace back across the last two decades, and for an ongoing project like this, it can be intimidating for a new listener to dig in. The age-old “where to start” dilemma. That’s fair. With 11 albums, who the hell knows. The truth, however, is that it doesn’t matter. And even less here than with many others. The overarching style and sound of Lamp of the Universe is welcoming enough that whether Align in the Fourth Dimension is someone’s first experience or they bought Heru from Williamson on MySpace in 2005, it isn’t going to make a difference. It’s about cosmic freedom — certainly not about to play the elitist. So, while time is often thought of as the fourth dimension and Williamson here aligns with it in a way that evokes a sense of infinity beyond what a human might conceive, I’ll just note that now would be as good a moment as one could ask for to get on board.

Lamp of the Universe, Align in the Fourth Dimension (2019)

Lamp of the Universe on Thee Facebooks

Lamp of the Universe on Bandcamp

Sulatron Records webstore

Sulatron Records on Thee Facebooks

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