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

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


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

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

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

Quarterly Review #11-20:

High on Fire, Cometh the Storm

high on fire cometh the storm

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

High on Fire on Facebook

MNRK Heavy website

Spaceslug, Out of Water

spaceslug out of water

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

Spaceslug on Facebook

Spaceslug on Bandcamp

Lie Heavy, Burn to the Moon

lie heavy burn to the moon

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

Lie Heavy on Facebook

Heavy Psych Sounds website

Burning Realm, Face the Fire

Burning Realm Face the Fire

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

Burning Realm on Facebook

Burning Realm on Bandcamp

Kalac, Odyss​é​e


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

Kalac on Facebook

Crême Brûlée Records on Bandcamp

Clostridium Records store

Weird Beard Records store

Echodelick Records on Bandcamp

Alkuräjähdys, Ehdot.

Alkurajahdys ehdot

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

Alkuräjähdys on Instagram

Alkuräjähdys on Bandcamp

Magick Brother & Mystic Sister, Tarot Pt. 1

Magick Brother & Mystic Sister tarot pt. 1

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

Magick Brother & Mystic Sister on Facebook

Sound Effect Records store

Amigo, Good Time Island

Amigo Good Time Island

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

Amigo on Facebook

Roosevelt Row Records store

The Hazytones, Wild Fever

The Hazytones Wild Fever

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

The Hazytones on Facebook

Black Throne Productions store

All Are to Return, III

All Are To Return III

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

All Are to Return on Bandcamp

Tartarus Records store

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Cardinals Folly Announce US Tour Dates

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

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

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

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

Cardinals Folly



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

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

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



Cardinals Folly, Live by the Sword (2023)

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Friday Full-Length: Kaiser, 1st Sound

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the update.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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The Obelisk merch

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

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

the obelisk winter quarterly review

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

Quarterly Review #1-10:

Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Slaughter on First Avenue

uncle acid and the deadbeats slaughter on first avenue

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

Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats on Facebook

Rise Above Records website

Graveyard, 6

graveyard 6

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

Graveyard on Facebook

Nuclear Blast website

Hexvessel, Polar Veil

hexvessel polar veil

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

Hexvessel on Facebook

Svart Records website

Godsground, A Bewildered Mind

Godsground A Bewildered Mind

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

Godsground Linktr.ee

Godsground on Bandcamp

Sleep Maps, Reclaim Chaos

sleep maps reclaim chaos

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

Sleep Maps website

Lost Future Records website

Dread Spire, Endless Empire

Dread Spire Endless Empire EP

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

Dread Spire on Instagram

Dread Spire on Bandcamp

Mairu, Sol Cultus

MAIRU Sol Cultus

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

Mairu on Facebook

Trepanation Recordings on Bandcamp

Throe, O Enterro das Marés

Throe O Enterro das Mares

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

Throe on Instagram

Abraxas Produtora on Instagram

Blind River, Bones for the Skeleton Thief

Blind River Bones for the Skeleton Thief

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

Blind River on Facebook

Blind River on Bandcamp

Rifftree, Noise Worship

Rifftree Noise Worship

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

Rifftree on Facebook

Rifftree on Bandcamp

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Cardinals Folly to Release Live by the Sword Oct. 27

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 7th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

cardinals folly

The sixth full-length from Helsinki-based trio Cardinals Folly is called Live by the Sword, and it is being released as the band’s first outing through Soulseller Records on Oct. 27. Those are the basics you need to know. To that, I’ll add that the track they’re streaming in advance, “Luciferian,” is representative of their take on dirtied-up classic metal and riff-led doom rock. Metal played with a punker ethic and a doomed mindset, maybe? Something like that on “Innsmouth Royalty” anyhow, but either way, Cardinals Folly manage to find their way into obscure aural nichery once again, having carved their path presumably in ancient times in a cave somewhere, all appropriate sacrifices made, and so on.

And I don’t know if they’re the ‘last bastions of doom’ or not — there’s an awful lot of doom out there — but let the assertion stand as testament to the band’s commitment toward what they believe in stylistically and the manner in which their songs are so methodical and still able to come across as raw in form.

Soulseller is a solid fit for a label as well, since the imprint likewise often stands between styles and carries an underlying severity born of extreme metal. Give ear to “Luciferian” and you’ll get what I mean.

From the PR wire:


CARDINALS FOLLY – Deal with Soulseller Records – New Album ‘Live By The Sword’ coming on October 27th 2023

The Last Bastion of Doom. Those Finnish witchfinders. The ones that won’t let go. The truest of the true. The stubbornest of the stubborn. CARDINALS FOLLY. A groovy trio of which name has been echoing distantly in the metal underground for more than a decade. A wild uncontrollable force moving onwards to another record or another adventure. With relentless riffs, heavy metal hails, ride-or-die attitude and true love for the old school doom and metal.

Hailing from Helsinki, Finland and formed in 2007 by Mikko “Count Karnstein” Kääriäinen (Bass, Vocals) and his back-then compatriots, CARDINALS FOLLY has been captained by Mikko ever since then towards new conquests. After several albums, line-up changes, dramas, label disappointments and tours around the world, the current stellar constellation of “Deranged Pagan Sons” with Juho Kilpelä (Guitar) and Joni Takkunen (Drums) has been ongoing since 2014.

On the upcoming new album “Live By The Sword”, the band takes almost all that it finds good in metal and molds it into a tighter mass of unholy riffs, blasphemous pagan chants & choruses, luciferian & lovecraftian depravity and all in all a fearless ride to where the witching cauldrons boil hot and the brews are cool. Ranging from slow epic doom to galloping heavy metal and apocalyptic rock ‘n’ roll, the band loves to murder the listener with all their might. These past few years of plague and uncertainty have only made them angrier and more determined, resulting in this 42-minute onslaught of doomed heavy metal.

Band leader Mikko comments: “After these past few slightly chaotic years, it’s nice to sign with a professional powerhouse like Soulseller Records. We’re ready to go, ready to put this powerful bastard of an album out and show the world what we can do. We’ve done now six albums, and not many bands do six albums. Recently we toured in Norway, USA, Finland, Germany and Italy. It’s true love towards this deranged craft and evolving it that keeps us going. I honestly believe we’re also one of the few bands to steadily improve from day 1 onwards so far. That’s not common either. And right now it seems we’re in good hands. In a world under turmoil, I’m proud of what me, Juho and Joni have now created. This is our best album. There’s no more to tell, and real action beats all words anyway. Crank it up and blast it as loud as you can. The doomed ones ride out again! Our Cult Continues!”

Pre-order options: https://soulsellerrecords.bandcamp.com (World) +++ https://soulsellerrecords.aisamerch.com (Americas)

Cover art by Witchaser Art.

1. Life Eternal
2. Ride Or Die 666
3. Luciferian
4. Priesthood of Darkness
5. Innsmouth Royalty
6. Live By The Sword
7. Ludovico
8. Last Bastions of Doom

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



Cardinals Folly, “Luciferian”

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Quarterly Review: Ecstatic Vision, Usnea, Oceanlord, Morass of Molasses, Fuzzy Grapes, Iress, Frogskin, Albinö Rhino, Cleõphüzz, Arriver

Posted in Reviews on April 17th, 2023 by JJ Koczan


Kind of an odd Quarterly Review, huh? I know. The two extra days. Well, here’s the thing. I’ve already got the better part of a 50-record QR booked for next month. I’ve slid a few of those albums in here to replace things I already covered blah blah whatever, but there’s just a ton of stuff out right now, and a lot of it I want to talk about, so yeah. I tacked on the two extra days here to get to 70 records, and in May we’ll do another 50, and if you want to count that as Spring (I can’t decide yet if I do or not; if you’ve got an opinion, I’d love to hear it in the comments), that’s 120 records covered even if I start over and go from 1-50 instead of 71-120. Any way you go, it’s nearly enough that you could listen to two records per week for the next full year based just on two weeks and two days of posts.

That’s insane. And yet here we are. Two weeks in a row wouldn’t have been enough, and any more than that and I get so backed up on other stuff that whatever stress I undercut by covering a huge swath in the QR is replaced by being so behind on everything that isn’t said QR. Does that make sense at all? No? Well fine then. Shit.

Quarterly Review #51-60:

Ecstatic Vision, Live at Duna Jam

Ecstatic Vision Live at Duna Jam

This is a good thing for everyone. Here’s why: For the band? Easy. They get a new thing to sell at the merch table on their upcoming European tour. Win. For the label? Obviously the cash from whatever they sell, plus the chance to showcase one of their acts tearing it up on European soil. “Check out how awesome this shit is plus we’re behind it.” Always good for branding. For fans of the band, well, you already know you need it. I don’t have to tell you that. But Ecstatic Vision‘s Live at Duna Jam — as a greater benefit to the universe around it — runs deeper than that. It’s an example to follow. You wanna see, wanna hear how it’s done? This is how it’s done, kids. You get up on that stage, step out on that beach, and you throw everything you have into your art, every fucking time. This is who Ecstatic Vision are. They’re the band who blow minds like the trees in the old videos of A-bomb tests. They’ve got six songs here, a clean 38-minute live LP, and for the betterment of existence in general, you can absolutely hear in it the ferocity with which Ecstatic Vision deliver live. The fact that it’s from Duna Jam — the ultimate Eurofest daydream — is neat, but so help me gawd they could’ve recorded it in a Philly basement and they’d still be this visceral. That’s who they are. And if we, as listeners, are lucky, others will hear this and follow their example.

Ecstatic Vision on Facebook

Heavy Psych Sounds website


Usnea, Bathed in Light

usnea bathed in light

Oppressive in atmosphere regardless of volume but with plenty of volume to go around, Portland all-doomers Usnea return after six years with their third full-length, Bathed in Light, a grueling and ultimately triumph-of-death-ant work spanning six songs and 43 minutes of unremitting drear positioned in the newer-school vein of emotionally resonant extreme death-doom. Plodding until it isn’t, wrenching in its screams until it isn’t, the album blossoms cruelties blackened and crushing and makes the chanting in “Premeditatio Malorum” not at all out of place just the same, the slow-churning metal unrelentingly brutal as it shifts into caustic noise in that penultimate track — just one example among the many scattered throughout of the four-piece turning wretched sounds into consuming landscapes. The earlier guitar squeals on “The Compleated Sage” would be out of place if not for the throatripping and blastbeating happening immediately prior, and whether it’s the synth at the outset and the soaring guitar at the end of “To the Deathless” or the Bell Witchian ambient start to closer “Uncanny Valley” — the riff, almost stoner — before it bursts to violence at three minutes into its 8:27 on the way to a duly massive, guttural finish for the record, Usnea mine cohesion from contradictions and are apparently unscathed by the ringer through which they put their audience. Sometimes nothing but the most miserable will do.

Usnea on Facebook

Translation Loss Records store


Oceanlord, Kingdom Cold

Oceanlord Kingdom Cold

The more one listens to Kingdom Cold, the impressive Magnetic Eye Records debut LP from Melbourne, Australia’s Oceanlord, the more there is to hear. The subtle Patrick Walker-style edge in the vocals of “Kingdom” and the penultimate roller “So Cold,” the Elephant Tree-style nod riff in “2340,” the way the bass underscores the ambient guitar and layered melodies in “Siren,” the someone-in-this-band-listens-to-extreme-metal flashes in the guitar as “Isle of the Dead” heads into its midsection, and the way the shift into and through psychedelia seems so organic on closer “Come Home,” the three-piece seeming just to reach out further from where they’ve been standing all the while for the sake of adding even more breadth to the proceedings. If the Magnetic Eye endorsement didn’t already put you over the edge, I hope this will, because what Oceanlord seem to be doing — and what they did on their 2020 demo (review here), where “Isle of the Dead” and “Come Home” appeared — is to work from a foundation in doom and slow-heavy microgenres and pick the elements that most resonate with them as the basis for their songs. They bring them into their own context, which is not something everyone does on their fifth record, let alone their first. So if it’s hearing the potential that gets you on board, fine, but the important thing is you should just get on board. They’re onto something, and part of what I like about Kingdom Cold is I’m not sure what.

Oceanlord on Facebook

Magnetic Eye Records store


Morass of Molasses, End All We Know

Morass of Molasses End All We Know

Thoroughly fuzzed and ready to rock, Reading, UK, three-piece Morass of Molasses follow 2019’s The Ties That Bind (review here) with their third album and Ripple Music label debut, End All We Know, breaking eight songs into two fascinatingly-close-to-even sides running a total of 37 minutes of brash swing and stomp as baritone guitarist/vocalist Bones Huse, bassist Phil Williams and drummer Raj Puni embrace more progressive constructions for their familiar and welcome tonal richness. With Huse‘s vocals settling into a Nick Oliveri-style bark on opener “The Origin of North” and the likes of “Hellfayre” and “Naysayer” on side A, the pattern seems to be set, but the key is third track “Sinkhole,” which prefaces some of the changes the four cuts on side B bring about, trading burl and brash for more dug in arrangements, psychedelic flourish on “Slingshot Around the Sun” and “Terra Nova” — they’re still grounded structurally, but the melodic reach expands significantly and the guitar twists in “Terra Nova” feel specifically heavy psych-derived — before “Prima Materia” combines those hazy colours with prog-rock insistences and “Wings of Reverie” meets metallic soloing with Elder-style expanse. Not a record they could’ve made five years ago, End All We Know comes through as a moment of realization for Morass of Molasses, and their delivery does justice to the ambition behind it.

Morass of Molasses on Facebook

Ripple Music website


Fuzzy Grapes, Volume 1

fuzzy grapes volume 1

Real headfucker, this one. And I’ll admit, the temptation to leave the review at that is significant, since so much of the intent behind Fuzzy GrapesVolume 1 seems to be a headfirst dive into the deepweird, but the samples, effects, of course fuzz and gong-and-chant-laced brazenness with which the Flagstaff, Arizona, unit set out on “Sludge Fang,” the Mikael Åkerfeldtian growls in “Snake Dagger” and the art-surf poetry reading in “Dust of Three Strings” that becomes a future cavern of synth and noise before the “Interlude” of birdsong and meditative noodling mark a procession too individual to be ignored. Three songs, break, three songs, break goes the structure of the 25-minute debut offering from the five-piece outfit, and by the time “The Cosmic Throne” begins its pastoral progadelic “ahh”s and dreamy ride cymbal jazz, one should be well content to have no idea what’s coming next. Once upon a time elsewhere in the Southwest, there was a collective of kitchen-sink heavy punkers named Leeches of Lore, and Fuzzy Grapes tap some similar adventurousness of spirit, but rarely is a band so much their own thing their first time out. “Made of Solstice” harsh-barks to offset its indie-grunge verse, fleshing out the bassy roll with effects or keys from the chorus onward, jamming like Blind Melon just ran into Amon Amarth getting gas at the Circle K. “Goatcult” ties together some of it with the harsh/chant vocal blend and a cymbal-led push, finishing with the line “Every day the world is ending” before the epilogue “Outro” plays like a vintage 78RPM record singing something about when you’re dead. Don’t expect to understand it the first time though, or maybe the first eight, but know that it’s worth pursuing and meeting the band on their level. I want to hear what they do next and how/if their approach might solidify.

Fuzzy Grapes on Facebook

Fuzzy Grapes on Bandcamp


Iress, Solace EP

IRESS Solace

Conveying genuine emotionality and reach in the vocals of Michelle Malley, the four-track Solace EP from L.A.’s Iress turns its humble 16 minutes into an expressive soundscape of what the kids these days seem to call doomgaze, with post-rock float in the guitar of Graham Walker (who makes his first appearance here) atop the solemn and heavy-bottomed grooves of bassist Michael Maldonado and drummer Glenn Chu for a completeness of experience that’s all the more immersive on headphones in a close-your-eyes kind of listen — that low contemplation of bass after 2:20 into “Soft,” for example, is one of a multitude of details worth appreciating — and though leadoff piece “Blush” begins with a quick rise of feedback and rolls forth with a distinct Jesu-style melancholy, Iress are no less effective or resonant in the sans-drums first two minutes of “Vanish” in accentuating atmosphere before the big crash-in finishes and “Ricochet” offers further dynamic display in its loud/quiet trades, graceful and unhurried in their transitions, the surge of the not-cloying hook densely weighted but not out of place either behind “Vanish” or ahead of “Soft,” even as it’s patience over impact being emphasized as Malley intones “I’m not ready” as a thread through the song. Permit me to disagree with that assessment. The whole band sounds ready, be it for a follow-up album to 2020’s Flaw (which was their second LP) or whatever else may come.

Iress on Facebook

Dune Altar website


Frogskin, III – Into Disgust

Frogskin III Into Disgust

Long-running Finnish troupe Frogskin ooze forth with extremity of purpose even before the harsh-throated declarations of 10-minute opener “Mistress Divine” kick in, and III – Into Disgust maintains the high (or purposefully low, depending on how you want to look at it) standard that initial millstone-slowness sets as “Of Vermin and Man” (8:30) continues the scathe and tension in its unfolding and the somehow-thicker, sample-inclusive centerpiece “Serpent Path” (7:21) highlights violent intention on the way to the shift that brings the atmosphere forward on the two-minute still-a-song “B.B.N.T.B.N.” — the acronym: ‘Bound by nature to be nothing’ — which feels likewise pathological and methodical ahead of closer “The Pyre” (11:46). One might expect in listening that at some point Frogskin will break out at a sprint and start either playing death or black metal, grindcore, etc., but no. They don’t. They don’t give you that. And that’s the point. You don’t get relief or release. There’s no safe energetic payoff waiting. III – Into Disgust is aural quicksand, exclusively. Do not expect mercy because there’s none coming.

Frogskin on Facebook

Iron Corpse store

Violence in the Veins website


Albinö Rhino, Return to the Core

Albinö Rhino Return to the Core

No strangers to working in longform contexts or casting spacier fare amid their doom-rooted riffery, Helsinki’s Albinö Rhino downplay the latter somewhat on their single-song Return to the Core full-length. Their first 12″ since 2016’s Upholder (review here), the trio of guitarist/vocalist/Moogist Kimmo Tyni, bassist/vocalist VH and drummer Viljami Väre welcome back Scott “Dr. Space” Heller (also of Space Rock Productions, Øresund Space Collective, etc.) for a synthy guest appearance and Mikko Heikinpoika on vocals and Olli Laamanen on keys, and the resultant scope of “Return to the Core” is duly broad, spreading outward from its acoustic-guitar beginning into cosmic doom rock with a thicker riff breaking doors down at 9:30 or so and a jammed-feeling journey into the greater ‘out there’ that ensues. That back and forth plays out a couple times as they manifest the title in the piece itself — the core being perhaps the done-live basic tracks then expanded through overdubs to the final form — but even when the song devolves starting after the solo somewhere around 22 minutes in, they’re mindful as well as hypnotic en route to the utter doom that transpires circa 24:30, and that they finish in a manner that ties together both aspects tells you there’s been a plan at work all along. They execute it with particular refinement and fluidity.

Albinö Rhino on Facebook

Space Rock Productions website


Cleõphüzz, Mystic Vulture

Cleophuzz Mystic Vulture

Self-released posthumous to the defunctification of the Quebecois band itself, Mystic Vulture ends up as a rousing swansong for what could’ve been from Cleõphüzz, hitting a nerve with “Desert Rider”‘s blend of atmosphere and grit, cello adding to the space between bass and guitar before the engrossing gang chants round out. With its 46 minutes broken into the two sides of the vinyl issue it will no doubt eventually receive, the eight-song offering — their debut, by the way — makes vocal points of the extended “Desperado” with its organ (I think?) mixed in amid the classic-style fuzz and “Shutdown in the Afterlife” bringing the strings further to the center in an especially spacious close. But whether it’s there or in the respective intros “The End” and “Sarcophage” or the proggy float of “Sortilège” or the Canadiana instrumental and vocal exploration of the title-track itself, Mystic Vulture flows easily across its material, varied but not so far out as to lose its human underpinning, and is more journey than destination. It’s gotten some hype — I think in part because the band aren’t together anymore; heavy music always wants what it can’t have — but in arrangement as well as songwriting, Cleõphüzz crafted the material here with a clear sense of perspective, and the apparent loss of potential becomes part of hearing the album. Some you win, some you lose. At least they got this out.

Cleõphüzz on Facebook

Cleõphüzz on Bandcamp


Arriver, Azimuth

Arriver Azimuth

Expansive metal. Azimuth is the fourth long-player and first in seven years from Chicago progressive/post-metallers Arriver, who answer melody with destruction and crunch with sprawl. From opener “Reenactor” onward, they follow structural paths that are as likely to meld meditative psych with death metal (looking at you, “Only On”) as they are to combust in charred punker aggro rage on “Constellate” or second track “Knot.” The 10-minute penultimate title-track would seem to represent the crossroads at which these ideas meet — a summary as much as anything could hope to be — but even that isn’t the end of it as “None More Unknown” makes dramatic folkish proclamations before concluding with a purposeful nod. “In the Only” winds lead guitar through what might otherwise be post-hardcore, while “Carrion Sun” duly reeks of death in the desert, the complexity of the drum work alone lending gotta-hear status. Plenty of bands claim to be led by their songs. I won’t say I know how Arriver assembled these pieces to make the entirety of Azimuth, but if the band were to say they sat back and let the record write itself and follow its own impulses, I’d believe them more than most. Bound to alienate as well as engage, it is its own thing in its own place, and commanding in its moments of epiphany.

Arriver on Facebook

Arriver on Bandcamp


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Orbiter Sign to Argonauta Records; Debut Album Announced

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 6th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

Please tell me if I’m crazy, but I don’t see a title here. I guess stranger things have happened, but with the unveiling of the new lyric video for “Raven Bones” and the announcement of their signing to Argonauta Records, Finnish doom rollers Orbiter nonetheless herald their upcoming debut album, whatever it’ll be called and whenever it’ll be issued, presumably sometime later this year.

Then a five-piece, the band released their debut EP, The Deluge (discussed here) early in 2020 and “Raven Bones” accounts for an element of grunge along with the weighted, doomed roll of their riffing, vocals carefully layered to accent mood along with melody. Whatever album details aren’t included — title as noted, also art, tracklisting, etc. — the song itself makes up for a lot, which is probably what you want, considering.

I’ll hope to have more on the record once we get closer to its TBA release date, and kudos to the band and label on the team-up in the meantime. Most of what follows is basic background — bio stuff — but it’s something to go on, at least, and it’s enough of an excuse to post the track, so there you have it. The promo plan works:


Finnish Psychedelic Doom Metal Act ORBITER Sign to Argonauta Records and Share New Song and Lyrics Video

“We’re thoroughly excited to be releasing our debut album with Argonauta Records. The label has exactly the kind of attitude we’re looking for, and it has a deep understanding of the doom, stoner, and heavy psych scenes. We’ve already been playing some of the new material at our live shows, and the audience responses have been thrilled, so we can’t wait to get these songs officially released!”

The sound of Orbiter is a unique brew of grinding riffs, atmospheric psychedelia, and hypnotically soaring vocals. The band is firmly rooted in doom metal and stoner rock, yet they adventurously take influences from a wide range of genres and even visual arts to create an approach that is truly their own.

Formed in 2014 in Helsinki, Finland, Orbiter spent their early years crafting their style and artistic direction. The final piece of the puzzle fell into place when German singer-songwriter and filmmaker Carolin joined the band in 2019. Shortly thereafter they released their debut EP The Deluge, which received excellent reviews and established the band as a force to be reckoned with in the heavy music and doom metal underground scenes.

The current line-up consists of Carolin Koss (vocals), Alexander Meaney (guitars), Tuomas Talka (bass), and Sami Heiniö (drums). Orbiter have established a solid reputation as a great live act through their atmospheric shows on the club circuit and in festivals in Finland and Germany.

In 2022, Orbiter recorded their debut full length album with producer Hiili Hiilesmaa (HIM, Apocalyptica). The album was mixed by Hiilesmaa and mastered by Ted Jensen (Alice In Chains, Mastodon). The upcoming record will be released via Argonauta Records in 2023 on VINYL, CD, and DIGITAL editions.

Give ear to the new single Raven Bones.



Orbiter, “Raven Bones”

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Swarm Release New Single Sun is the One / Weight

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 27th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

I can’t imagine being a heavy-minded label, hearing these two songs from Helsinki doom rockers Swarm, and not immediately wanting to sign the band. Between the dense, lumbering heft of their riffs, readily familiar but distinguished with an undertone of metal that is more fully realized in the guitar solos, and the dynamic vocal arrangements led by Hilja Vedenpää, Swarm call to mind the somehow floating largesse of Elephant Tree and a perhaps more of-genre take on the emotive doom of Pallbearer.

The nine-minute “Sun is the One” is resonant and patient even through its post-midpoint tempo kick, and it turns reliably back toward its slower hook with marked fluidity. At about a third of the runtime, the softly-delivered “Weight” plays claim to folk balladeering, more internationally informed than Finnish in style, but richly melodic and spacious in a way that reminds just how much room they have to fill and how they do so when they choose.

Swarm‘s self-titled EP (review here) was well received in 2022. This two-songer says to me that’s no fluke and that the potential here is even greater than the EP hinted. Debut album, please.

Tracks are streaming on the player at the bottom of this post. Release info follows with the Bandcamp update. Enjoy.

Swarm Sun is the One Weight

“Hey guys!

Here´s our new single which contains two songs, Sun Is The One and Weight.

We are very excited and happy of this moment at hand, it was a long wait. So, here you go, kick back and have a listen.

Thank you for the support that you´ve shown us, it really means the world to our band. Much love.

Have a good one! – Swarm”

1. Sun Is The One 09:11
2. Weight 03:21

Hilja Vedenpää : Vox
Panu Willman : Guitar & vox
Dani Paajanen : Drums
Einari Toiviainen : Guitar & vox
Leo Lehtonen : Bass & synth


Swarm, Sun is the One / Weight

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