Cancervo Premiere New LP III in Full; Out Friday

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on March 27th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

Cancervo III

Cancervo will release their new album, III, this Friday, March 29, through Electric Valley Records (US distro through Glory or Death Records). And it’s by far the darkest, bleakest affair the first-names-only Lombardy, Italy, three-piece of bassist/vocalist Luka, guitarist Francesco and drummer Sam have yet manifest, as an ongoing incremental evolution of their take on cult doom over the last three years has seen them grow from the instrumentalist beginnings of 2021’s I (review here) and Luka‘s emergent metal-of-eld declarations across most of early-2023’s II (review here) to the 32 minutes and five tracks — four plus the sans-vocals church organ mood-setter “Intro” — of III, each numerical outing presenting a deeper plunge into their lurching and abyssal nod.

And III goes fairly deep into its own inky atmosphere, even before “Burn Your Child” wraps side A with its repetitions of “Burn your child/Burn your child,” with the band having already underscored their malevolence as the organ “Intro” gave over to the riff-forward march of “Sacrilegious Mass,” which in its sub-six minutes quickly establishes the vocals not only as an element of the band’s sound of increasing prominence, but as a defining feature. Luka, working in a low register not-quite-monotone that speaks to influences far and wide while carrying a distinctly Celtic Frostian poise, follows the pattern of the riff in the song’s midsection hook, letting the listener know “You’re gonna suffer” as a central line that feels by the time it comes around again like he’s as much in the trance as he is a part of making it. Meanwhile, Sam‘s drums keep a steady swing beneath a noisy ripper of a solo from Francesco, filled out in the bottom end by Luka‘s bass. The difference is confidence.

I wouldn’t call II or even I tentative in their approach, but what the band has wanted to accomplish has grown along with their sound, and in “Burn Your Child,” “St. Barnabas” and “Red Pig” — two near-eight-minute tracks bookending the nine-minute “St. CANCERVO (Photo by Christian Riva)Barnabas” — their ambitions resonate in kind with the drear, reaching into more extreme fare for a d-beat stretch in “Burn Your Child” that admirably holds to the same riff that led into it before going back to the second of three choruses, the last of which swaps “wife” for “child” in the lyrics and leads to another furious solo and speedy drum breakout to finish. Momentum on their side, the trio feel willful in the contrasting quiet open to “St. Barnabas,” which builds up around the guitar over its first minute before ultimately slamming into its grueling procession. As noted below, Cancervo take their lyrical inspiration from regional folklore, and while the connection between a saint who lived in Cyprus isn’t immediate, in nearby Milan, there’s a sect called the Barnabites that was founded in the 1500s, so yeah, it fits, and yeah, I had to look all that up. You’re welcome.

“St. Barnabas” lumbers to its close and brings about the final immersion of “Red Pig,” with a looser-feeling chant and a resumption of the overarching nod that has been at the core all along and remains even as the finale shifts after three-plus minutes into more ambient sounds, either actual bells or evocations thereof soon enough transitioning back into the riff as Cancervo drop hints as to where their continued explorations of style and craft might lead without giving up the for-the-converted worship of slow-delivered distortion until the solo builds on “Sacrilegious Mass” and “Burn Your Child” and “St. Barnabas” with a more brazen overall freakout. But that they know who they are is never in doubt across III, and sure enough, “Red Pig” turns back to a few measures of riff to end, the message of structural priority consistent and welcome.

Because of the thread of progression across their work thus far, I’m not at all willing to say Cancervo are done growing or that they’ve realized everything they could ever hope to do musically here. They follow patterns well, and that helps give III a defined shape where much cult-leaning doom feels content to disappear in its own murk, and it’s easy to imagine that intention as a way for them to keep pushing themselves as songwriters and performers. As it stands, III comes across as sure of what it wants to be and casts Cancervo as increasingly individual within their genre, finding their niche and taking it as far into the depths as they can go, candles lit for thanatos behind them. Until they next arise, then.

PR wire background follows the full stream of III on the player below.

Please enjoy:

Cancervo, III album premiere

Cancervo derive their name from an iconic mountain near Bergamo, Italy, nestled in a valley steeped in rich traditions and folklore. Charmed by the tale of a mythical creature, part dog and part deer, that roamed on Cancervo, three local heavy riff enthusiasts from San Giovanni Bianco formed the band as a homage to their cherished valley and its mystical legends.

Their 2021 debut, simply titled I, represents local places and myths. A complete instrumental outing, the album dabbles in sedating psych, deserted stoner/doom, and preternatural prog.

II, the sophomore album, released in 2023, continues Cancervo’s occult narratives of their land. In search of doom roots, the album takes more and more motivating forces from the early ’70s and passably abandons the psych moments of the first album. Unlike the first full-length, I, which was entirely instrumental, this record incorporates vocals on most tracks.

The forthcoming full-length, III, heralds a darker and more introspective phase for the band. Each track on the last album evolved from concert to concert, paving the way for this transformative phase. A distinct vocal presence emerges as the guiding force, alongside the inevitable and recognizable doomy riffs that have always been the trio’s trademark. This tale promises to immerse listeners in the timeless struggle between the sacred and the profane — a theme deeply ingrained in the folklore of the valley beneath the shadow of Mount Cancervo.

Track Listing:
1. Intro (1:52)
2. Sacrilegious Mass (5:50)
3. Burn Your Child (7:52)
4. St. Barnabas (9:02)
5. The Red Pig (7:55)

Album Credits:
All songs written and played by Cancervo. (“Intro” written and played by Fido)
Recorded, mixed and mastered by Alessandro “Otto” Galli at the Otto Engineering Mobile Studio 2029.
Band Photo by Christian Riva.
Graphics by EVR Studio.

Band Lineup:
Luka – Bass & Vocals
Francesco – Guitars
Sam – Drums

Cancervo on Facebook

Cancervo on Instagram

Cancervo on Bandcamp

Electric Valley Records website

Electric Valley Records on Facebook

Electric Valley Records on Instagram

Electric Valley Records on Bandcamp

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All Are to Return Set April 26 Release for III; New Song Streaming

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 25th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

Well, the last couple years don’t seem to have made All Are to Return any less caustic. Fair enough. The still-mostly-anonymous-I-think industrial doom two-piece based in the Netherlands were last heard from with their 2022 single “A State in Fear,” and April 26 will mark the arrival of III, which they’ll issue through Tartarus Records in an edition of 50 tapes at a release show that’s also a label showcase about which you can read more below. The first aural peek at III, which of course follows late-2021’s II (review here), arrives in the form of “Drift,” which just might be the harshest three minutes you spend today. At least I’d hope so.

In “Drift,” even the backing drones that spread out through the atmospheres of All Are to Return‘s software-led churn feel nastier, and the way some of the vocals are obscured speaks to the band working with an ideology toward a three-dimensional mix. The rest of III bears that out like an existential burden, and as relates to its surroundings, “Drift” turns out to be one of the more accessible tracks on the record. For example, it’s got a beat, even if that beat is blown out and being used to collapse your rib cage.

Album’s out April 26, as per the PR wire:

All Are To Return III

All Are To Return announce new album AATR III // Single premiere

All Are To Return Single Premiere ‘Drift’

The ecological dark of our existence is pulsating with the presence of loss. Shifts occur on the periphery of awareness. Fundamental ruptures only inferred from apparent disappearance. Something felt before it is known. From here on, there are no stones that mark the path. -AATR

The two-man formation All Are To Return presents extreme, experimental music with an urgent sense of dread. The duo’s new album III will be released on April 26 via Tartarus Records.

We have entered a new age of extinction – of poisoned lands, habitat destruction and encompassing climate catastrophe. AATR III reflects the harshness of life laid bare to the vagaries of capital, of uncaring generations heaping misery on their successors and the life-forms with which they share a fragile biosphere.

The album’s unmitigated brutality of sound and expression are mediation of these concurrent events. Colossal noise-scapes are shaped with pulsing synth patterns, shredding percussion and vocals that are screams from the void. As a whole, the many-layered compositions carry massive assaults on the senses and a rage unhuman.

Manmade disasters borne from decades of unfettered greed, of carbon capital plundering the earth and choking its habitants – capital unleashed through self-interested short-sightedness, decades of corruption and denial of clear fact.

Our habitats swallowed by rising seas, engulfed in flames. As we drown, burn, or slowly parch and wither, we remember. Oceans heat and corals die as pale sludge in bright blue waters – thousands of years of unfathomable complexity undone in decades. Forests burn and ancient trees that were young when the pharaohs build their monuments perish in the flames. Poisons have spread through all ecosystems. The product of profit-maximizing agriculture at war with life. As insects disappear they signal extinction on a massive scale.

What is lost, is lost forever.

We will remember you through your shattered bones, your battered skulls turned fossil. We will remember you through your plastic deposits, your carbon waste, your radio-active poisons still leaking into our bodies. We will remember your bright and brief existence – and the inevitability of your demise.

Pressing info: 50x Cassettes

AATR III drops April 26th during their debut performance at the Tartarus showcase at Vera, Groningen in the Netherlands with label friends Ultha, Oud Zeer (Throwing Bricks & Ontaard), and Ortega. Event & Tickets:

All Are To Return is:
F: Bass, Drums, Guitars, Vocals, FXs
N: Synths, FXs

All Are to Return, “Drift”

All Are to Return, “A State in Fear” (2022)

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Holy Fingers Premiere “Hunted” Video; III Vinyl Coming Soon

Posted in Bootleg Theater on February 19th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

Holy Fingers (Photo by JJ Koczan)

First, slow down.

I’ll spare you the diatribe about how fast life moves these days because you already know. My advice, coming from a place of friendship, is before you dig into the video premiering below, do whatever you gotta do to inject a little calm into the moment. Deep breathing is a decent go-to. I often pause to take a drink of water if I’m feeling tense, frustrated, or just need to reset my brainvoice a little bit. If you want to step out and do a j, you can keep reading on your phone. But take a second to adjust the headspace before “Hunted” starts and I think you’ll be in a better position to appreciate it. Again, friendly advice.

Baltimorean folk-infused heavy psychedelic explorers Holy Fingers released their third album, titled Holy Fingers III — or maybe just III (review here) if you’re feeling casual — in the earliest, still-solstice-dark hours of 2024. It was the first review I did this year, and that was very much on purpose. After an algorithmic fluke on a now-subsumed social media platform put their stuff in front of my face — what used to be called a ‘chance encounter’ — I had spent some stay-indoors time circa 2021 with their second record, II (discussed here) and last April, in getting to see them live for the first and hopefully not last time, it confirmed in my head the anticipation for what would come next. Sure enough, III righteously finds connections between post-rock, heavy bluesy psych, folk pastoralism and command, and a progressive songwriting mindset. In atmosphere and hooks, vibe and structure, it delivers. I waited months to review it, but knew it was how I wanted to launch the New Year last month.

It’s not where the hype is at, I’m kind of sorry to say, but as it sometimes goes with that kind of thing, the ears with which it resonates will perhaps feel it more deeply for that as something to be treasured. If you haven’t heard it yet — and if not, that’s cool; it’s been out for a month, not three years; don’t let the internet make you feel like you’re behind on a thing — the full Bandcamp stream is included below so you can get a sense of how “Hunted” fits on the album. Following the fuzzy roll of “Blood Red Sun” and the open-strum and rhythmic sway of “Bring Me the Beasts” on side A, its throbbing groove is particularly tense, bringing the reverbed breadth of Ides of Gemini-style post-heavy to bear in deceptively forceful repetitions of the title in its chorus. Consistent in ambience and general sound, it follows its own path, and is a standout highlight instead of an awkward fit.

Holy Fingers III is the band’s second album in their current configuration and the places it explores speak to subconscious familiarity, something primal but not necessarily in an aggressive way. I could go on here, but I’d rather not keep you from the clip itself if you’re still reading. “Hunted” uses practical effects by Josh James of Rainbow Death Cult to create a visually atmospheric complement to the song. It is not AI — since that apparently needs to be said this week — and like the track itself, it shows its humanity in its intricacies and finer details while reaching into the abstract, or ethereal, if you prefer, for expression. This won’t hit with everyone, but it is my sincere hope that someone reading this loves it, and maybe that’s you.

Did you slow down? Good, because they’re gonna build back up a bit. Here goes:

Holy Fingers, “Hunted” video premiere

Hunted from Holy Fingers III available now on all streaming platforms. Vinyl preorders at

Video by Josh James | Rainbow Death Cult

‘III’ Recorded and mixed by Kevin Bernsten at Developing Nations Recording Studio, Baltimore, MD

Mastered by Brian McTernan at Salad Days Studio

Holy Fingers are Tracey Buchanan, Dave Cannon, Theron Melchior and Josh Weiss.

Holy Fingers, Holy Fingers III (2024)

Holy Fingers on Facebook

Holy Fingers on Instagram

Holy Fingers on Bandcamp

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Album Review: Holy Fingers, III

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

holy fingers iii

Folk-informed heavy psychedelic blues rockers Holy Fingers are among the best kept secrets in the Baltimorean underground, and their third full-length, the self-released III, is a moment of realization that’s due more fanfare than it is likely to receive. They arrive its Jan. 1, 2024, release date at eight years’ remove from their 2016 self-titled debut, released as the instrumentalist trio of Dave CannonTheron Melchior and Josh Weiss prior to guitarist/vocalist Tracey Buchanan joining ahead of 2018’s follow-up, Holy Fingers II (discussed here), and continues a thread of collaboration with producer Kevin Bernsten at Baltimore’s Developing Nations Recording Studio that began on the last record and was most definitely not broken there and as such requires no fixing across the eight-song/circa-40-minute Holy Fingers III, which finds the band pushing further into progressive textures and expanding the reach of their songwriting.

A fuzzy roll arrives just a second after Buchanan starts the first line of opening track “Blood Run Sun,” beginning right after, “You are my…” and before the title itself is delivered. Later pieces like “Astral Anchor” and its complement “Estival” will dig into vibes born of ’60s Britfolk and given semi-retroist heavy life in such malleable fashion as to remind of Graveyard in “Bring Me the Beasts” before the more urgent rhythm of “Hunted” casts that in the Americana-infused neofolk of Wovenhand and leads through the album’s side flip and into the soft shuffle of “Majnac” ahead of “In Warrior’s Stead” and “Hunter’s Moon,” which turn toward heavy post-rock expanse, building on the hints toward Black Math Horseman-style ceremony in “Hunted” and, in the latter, tying that in part to the more folkish side, tying together elements that have been spread throughout but not feeling forced in the doing.

In fact, let’s take that ethic, start it at the start and pull it over the rest of the album like a well-flattened top-sheet (you bedmakers know what I’m talking about): It is unforced. I do not know the circumstances that might’ve led to six years between Holy Fingers‘ second and third full-lengths, but I don’t imagine the band is anyone’s full-time, live-on-this gig, and life happens. Sometimes it happens that a band will turn around after a while and crunch a record together and rush it out to get on tour, etc. That’s not this. The songs on Holy Fingers III feel lived with and lived in. They’re not overthought, but they’ve been smoothly balanced to become what they are, and that worked-on feel extends to the linear fluidity that runs from front to back. Holy Fingers are grooving here as a paramount, and coinciding with that is the focus on melody mostly but not entirely represented in Buchanan‘s vocals.

holy fingers

That is to say, while Buchanan is a strong presence throughout, her voice isn’t the only source of melody. The bouncing slink of “Majnac” is all the more memorable for the way its notes move up and down, a cool born of jazz and turned into classic-style prog, and the lead guitar in “Hunter’s Moon” adds no less drama to the closer’s outward procession than the cave-echo treatment on the vocals. As they draw from different influences throughout and bring ideas together across various songs, the presentation is never quite the same twice and never so outlandish as to be out of place. A shorter cut can be intense as “Hunted” gets or languid like “Blood Red Sun” at the outset, its later jangle like proto-grunge noise played at half-speed with about a quarter of the directionless, would-be-silly-in-context aggression. Longer songs like “Astral Anchor” unfurl a complete build, and “In Warrior’s Stead” — the longest inclusion at 7:28 — accomplishes this while in conversation with the broader sphere of American heavy psychedelia, seeming specifically to work off of some of King Buffalo‘s make-a-world-and-put-a-riff-in-it ideology.

And in all of this, in the places it goes and the stylistic shifts and slight turns it makes along the way, Holy Fingers III is unflinchingly organic. Its pacing isn’t staid or too slow, but it works into a kind of steady nod and even when this is purposefully interrupted, as in the churning push at the end of “Bring Me the Beasts” or in “Majnac” — dig that line of fuzz running through the song; reminds a bit of something Lammping might try, as if my heart were not yet won here, and is indicative of both an intricacy of mix and the attention to detail that makes this all sound so easy in the first place — the momentum built isn’t wasted. If the side split is between “Astral Anchor” and “Estival” — and I think it is but I’m not 100 percent certain — then the first half of Holy Fingers III presses forward through its three shorter tracks into that pond of psychedelic lushness, while “Estival” starts side B with a folkish bent that lends the movement of “Majnac” a complementary Britness ahead of “In Warrior’s Stead” turning back to the far out and “Hunter’s Moon” ending big and expansive like some vision of the American West, complete with Morricone-via-Earth in the resonant and meditative guitars.

There is, just apparently to belabor the point, a lot going on in the material that comprises Holy Fingers III, but the band do not lose sight of their structured intent when faced with the task of moodmaking in their songs, and those songs are that much stronger for it. One could easily argue that it’s the underlying structures that allow Holy Fingers to harness such breadth of sound, but it’s academic as compares to the experience of putting the album on and having Buchanan commandingly lead the way into “Blood Red Sun” as the full band lines up around a classic-but-obscure-enough-to-be-individual groove warm in tone and melody but wanting nothing for heft either and able to pivot in delivery so as to be that much more flexible when it comes to atmosphere overall. There is, of course, also plenty of atmosphere, but like the rest of Holy Fingers III, it is accomplished with rare poise and distinct identity, adding to and taking nothing away from the collection of songs that feels nothing so much as loved in their making.

Holy Fingers, Holy Fingers III (2024)

Holy Fingers on Facebook

Holy Fingers on Instagram

Holy Fingers on Bandcamp

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Quarterly Review: Spotlights, Kanaan, Doom Lab, Strange Horizon, Shem, Melt Motif, Margarita Witch Cult, Cloud of Souls, Hibernaut, Grin

Posted in Reviews on May 12th, 2023 by JJ Koczan


Today is the last Quarterly Review day until July. I don’t know yet what shape that QR will take, whether 50 records, 100 records, 700 records or somewhere between. Depends on how the ongoing deluge of releases ebbs and flows as we head into summer. But if you count this and the other part of this Spring’s Quarterly Review, you get a total as of today of 120 releases covered, and considering the prior QR was just in January, and that one was another 100 records that’s a pretty insane amount of stuff for it being May 12.

And that’s basically the moral of the story, again. It’s a ton of stuff to encounter, hear, maybe live with if you’re lucky. I won’t make it a grand thing (I still have too much writing to do), but I hope you’ve found something cool in all this, and if not yet among the 210 albums thus far QR’ed in 2023, then maybe today’s your day as we hit the end of this round.

Quarterly Review #41-50:

Spotlights, Alchemy for the Dead

Spotlights Alchemy for the Dead

There are not many boxes that Spotlights‘ fourth album and third for Ipecac, Alchemy for the Dead, leaves unticked. Thematic, musically expansive, finely crafted in its melody and with particular attention to mood as when the bassline joins then leaves behind the acoustic guitar as a preface to the big finish in the closing title-track, it is a consuming, ultra-modern take on heavy rock from the trio of bassist/guitarist/vocalist Sarah Quintero, guitarist/synthesist/vocalist Mario Quintero and drummer Chris Enriquez, substantial even before you get to the fact that its 47 minutes push LP format limits, it speaks emotionally in rhythm as much as the thoughtful vocal interplay on “Sunset Burial,” growing intense around a central chug of guitar for one of the album’s more brazenly metal stretches. Elsewhere, standout moments abound, whether it’s the channel-panned snare buried in the second verse of “Algorithmic,” the proggy moodshifting in “Repeat the Silence,” Spotlights becoming what Deftones wanted to be in the heavygaze of “The Alchemist,” drift meeting head-on crash in “Ballad in the Mirror,” which also rolls out a fuzz-tone riff of statistically significant proportion then finds room for a swell of airy guitar before dissipating into the next mellow verse circa 2:30, more crashes to come. With the synth/sax/big-riff-and-shout interplay at the center in “False Gods,” Alchemy for the Dead would seem to mark the arrival at where Spotlights have been heading all along: their own version of a heavy of everything.

Spotlights on Facebook

Ipecac Recordings website


Kanaan, Downpour

Kanaan Downpour

The mellotron in the title-track, surrounded by dense bass, fleet runs of scorch-prone guitar and resoundingly jazzy drumming, emphasizes the point: Kanaan are a band elevating heavy rock to their level. The Norwegian trio aren’t shy when it comes to riffing out, as they demonstrate in the Hedwig Mollestad collaboration on “Amazon” and intermittently throughout Downpour‘s closing pair of “Solaris Pt. 1” and “Solaris Pt. 2,” each topping seven minutes. But neither are they limited to a singular nodding expression. While still sounding young and energetic in a way that just can’t be imitated, Downpour boogies almost immediately on opener “Black Time Fuzz,” and is often heavy and grooving like a straightforward heavy rock record, but as that tambourine in “Orbit” shows, Kanaan are ready at a moment’s notice with a flourish of guitar, some key or synth element, or something else to distinguish their pieces and in the soundscaping of “Psunspot” (sic) and the scope they claim throughout side B, they remain one of Europe’s brightest hopes for a future in progressive heavy, sounding freer in their atmospheres and in the build of “Solaris Pt. 1” than they did even on 2021’s Earthbound (review here). There’s a reason just about every festival in Europe wants them to play. The proverbial band-on-fire.

Kanaan on Instagram

Jansen Records website


Doom Lab, Zen and the Art of Tone

Doom Lab Zen and the Art of Tone

Zen and the Art of Tone, perhaps unsurprisingly, sets itself to the task in its title as Anchorage, Alaska-based Doom Lab mastermind Leo Scheben guides the listener through mostly short-ish instrumental pieces based around guitar, sometimes ultra-fuzzed with a programmed beat behind as on “Whole-Tones on Tail” or the extra-raw 1:24 of “Motörvamp” or the subsequent “Sabotaging the Sabocracy,” a bit clearer at the outset with “X’d Out,” but the drive toward meditation is clear and allows for both the slower, more doomed reaches of closer “Traveling Through the Cosmos at Beyond the Speed of Light” and the playful elder-funk of “The Plot-Twist” or the bounce of “Lydia Ann.” All told, the 12 songs and 36 minutes of experimentation on offer will resonate with some more than others, but Scheben sounds like he’s starting a conversation here with “Mondays Suck it Big-Time” and “Psychic Vampires” and the real question is whether anyone will answer. Sometimes a project comes along that’s just on its own wavelength, finding its own place in the pastiche, and that’s where Doom Lab have been at since the outset, prolific as well as dedicated to exploration. I don’t know toward what it’s all leading, but not knowing is part of enjoying hearing it, and maybe that’s the zen of the whole thing to start with.

Doom Lab on YouTube

Doom Lab on Bandcamp


Strange Horizon, Skur 14

Strange Horizon Skur 14

Barely a year after making their full-length debut on Apollon with Beyond the Strange Horizon (review here), Bergen, Norway, traditionalists dig deeper into the proto-style roots of doom on their four-song second LP, Skur 14. Named after a rehearsal space complex (presumably where they rehearse) in their hometown, the album runs shortest-to-longest in bringing together Scandi-folk-rooted classic prog and heavy styles, but by the time they get to “Tusser Og Troll,” the 14:47 finale, one is less thinking about the past than the future in terms of sound. Acoustic guitar begins “The Road” ahead of the straight-ahead riff and post-punk vocals, while “Cursed and Cast Out” is both speedier in the verse and more open in the hook before shifting into rolls on the snare and more theatrical shove that, much to the band’s credit, they handle fluidly without sounding either ironically over the top or like goobers in any way other than how they want. With the seven-minute “Candles,” the procession is slower and more vintage in form, reminding a bit of Demon Head but following its own anthemic chorus into an extended solo section before side B is dedicated solely to the spread of “Tusser Og Troll,” which ends with an organic-feeling jam laced with effects. A strong second outing on a quick turnaround that shows clear progression — there’s nothing more to be asked of Skur 14.

Strange Horizon on Facebook

Apollon Records store


Shem, III

Shem III

Sure, the third album from Stuttgart drone-psych-jammers Shem — titled III, lest there be any doubt — starts off with its 16-minute opener/longest track (immediate points) “Paragate,” but given the context, it’s the second cut on side A, “Lamentum” (2:50), that most piqued my interest. It’s a fading in snippet of a progression, the drums steady, volume swells behind a strumming guitar, some vocal chanting as it moves through. Given the entrancing spaciousness of “Restlicht” (7:34) and “Refugium (Beyond the Gravitational Field of Time and Space)” (11:55), I didn’t expect much more than an interlude, and maybe it’s not intended to be, but that shorter piece does a lot in separating the long cut on III‘s first half from the two on the second, so serves a vital purpose. And in that, it represents III well, since even in “Restlicht,” there seems to be a plan unfolding, even if improvisation is a part of that. Bookending, “Paragate” is mellow when it isn’t congealing nebular gasses to make new stars, and “Refugium (Beyond the Gravitational Field of Time and Space)” finds itself in a wormhole wash of guitar while the ride cymbal tries to hold structural integrity together, the whole engine ending up kissing itself goodbye as it shifts from this dimension to one that, let’s be honest, is probably more exciting.

Shem on Bandcamp

Clostridium Records store


Melt Motif, Particles. Death Objective

melt motif particles death objective

You ever hear a band’s album and think maybe it worked out better than the band thought it would when they started making it? Like maybe they surprised even themselves? That was Melt Motif‘s 2022 debut, A White Horse Will Take You Home (review here). The heavy industrial outfit founded by Kenneth Rasmus Greve and legit-doesn’t-need-a-last-name vocalist Rakel are joined by Brazilian producer Joe Irente for the curiously punctuated 10-track follow-up, Particles. Death Objective, and though they don’t have the element of surprise on their side this time out (for themselves or listeners), Melt Motif as a trio do expand on what the first album accomplished, bringing ideas from electronic dance music, sultry post-rock and hard-landing beats — plus some particularly striking moments of weighted guitar — to bear such that “Warrior” and “I’m Gone” are assured in not needing to explode with aggression and even with all its ticks and pops, the penultimate “Abyss” is more about atmosphere than impact. “Fever” creates a wash and lurches slow and heavy following on from “Broken Floor” at the beginning, but in “Full Moon” it’s a techno party and “Never_Again” feels like experimentalist hip-hop, so if you thought the book was closed aesthetically on the project, the sophomore outing assures it very much is not. So much the better.

Melt Motif on Facebook

Apollon Records on Bandcamp


Margarita Witch Cult, Margarita Witch Cult

margarita witch cult self titled

As it begins with the telltale strut and maddening catchiness of “Diabolical Influence,” one might be tempted to think Birmingham’s Margarita Witch Cult are playing in Uncle Acid‘s sinister sandbox, but the two-minute fuzz-chug-punker burst of “Death Lurks at Every Turn” corrects this notion, and the rest of the UK trio’s nine-song/31-minute self-titled Heavy Psych Sounds affirms there’s more going on. “The Witchfinder Comes” is a classic Sabbath-worship roller with multi-tracked vocals — guitarist Scott Vincent is the only one listed on vocals, so might just be layering; Jim Thing is on bass and George Casual on drums — and “Be My Witch” is a lesson in how to make thickened fuzz move, but it’s the pointedly Motörheaded “Annihilation” (1:42) that most stands out, even with the likewise speedy shuffle of “Theme From Cyclops” (1:34) right behind it, the faster takeoff welcome to offset the midtempo home-base of the trio’s grooves. As to that, “Lord of the Flies” nestles itself into a comfortable tempo and resolves in a nod that it seems to have spent much of its five minutes building toward, a last run through the main riff more celebration than repetition ahead of the instrumental “Aradia,” which like “The Witchfinder Comes” featured on the band’s 2022 Witchfinder EP (review here), and the previously-issued single “Sacrifice,” which closes. Bottom line is they’ve got a righteous sound and their first album shows they know how to wield it. The smoke-filled sky is the limit from here. Hail next-gen stoner rock.

Margarita Witch Cult on Facebook

Heavy Psych Sounds website


Cloud of Souls, A Fate Decided

Cloud of Souls A Fate Decided

Trading between charred rasps and cleaner declarative singing, Indianapolis-based multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Chris Latta (The Skyspeakers, Lavaborne, ex-Spirit Division) guides the mostly-solo-project — Tucker Thomasson drums and plays lead guitar; not minimizing anyone’s contributions — Cloud of Souls through a tumultuous journey along the line between ancient-of-days doom and black metal, strident at times like Bathory, sometimes all-out ripping as on the earlier-Enslaved-style “Hiding from Human Eyes,” and growing deathlier on “Where Failure Dies” ahead of the closing title-track, which threatens to break out the razors at any moment but stays civilized in its doomly roll for the duration. Whatever else Latta accomplishes in this or any of his other outfits from here on out, he’ll always be able to say he put out a record with a centerpiece called “Time for Slaughter,” which isn’t nothing as regards artist achievements — the song taps pre-NWOBHM doom until it turns infernal in the middle — and while there’s clearly an aspect of self-awareness in what he’s doing, the exploration and the songwriting are put first such that A Fate Decided resounds with a love for the metal that birthed it while finding its own path to hopefully keep walking across future releases.

Cloud of Souls on Facebook

Cloud of Souls on Bandcamp


Hibernaut, Ingress

Hibernaut Ingress

When I tell you Hibernaut has three former members of Salt Lake City psych-blues rockers Dwellers in the lineup, just go ahead and put that expectation to the side for a minute. With guitarist Dave Jones stepping to the front as vocalist, Joey Toscano (also ex-Iota) moving from guitar/vocals to lead guitar, Zach Hatsis (also ex-SubRosa) on drums and Josh Dupree on bass, their full-length debut/first release of any sort, Ingress — recorded of course by Andy Patterson — has more in common with High on Fire and dirt-coated raw thrash than anything so lush, and at 11 songs and 74 minutes long, that will toward the unrestrained is multifaceted as well. There’s rock swagger to be had in “Magog” or the spinning riff of “Summoner,” but “Mines” has more Celtic Frost than Kyuss to it, and that isn’t a complaint. The material varies — at over an hour long, it fucking better — but whether it’s the double-kick rampage of “Kaleidoscope” or the furious takedown of “Lantern Eyed,” Hibernaut revel in an overarching nastiness of riff such that you might just end up scrunching your face without thinking about it. There’s room for a couple nods, in “Projection,” or “Aeons Entombed,” but the prevailing impression is meaner while remaining atmospheric. I like that I have no guess what they’ll do after this. I don’t like having to check autocorrect every time it replaces their name with ‘Hibernate.’ If only I had some gnasher heavy metal to help me vent that frustration. Oh wait.

Hibernaut on Instagram

Hibernaut on Bandcamp


Grin, Black Nothingness


For their Black Nothingness EP, Berlin-based DIY aficionados Grin — bassist Sabine Oberg and drummer/vocalist Jan Oberg — stripped their sound back to its most essential parts. Unlike 2022’s Phantom Knocks (review here) long-player, there’s no soundscaping, no guitar, no Hammond. There is low end. There are drums. There are growls and shouts and there are six tracks and none of them reaches three minutes in length. This ferocious display of efficiency counterintuitively underscores the breadth of Grin‘s approach, since as one band they feel unrestricted in terms of arrangements, and Black Nothingness — on their own The Lasting Dose Records imprint and recorded by Jan — benefits from the barebones construction in terms of sheer impact as heard on the rolling “Gatekeeper” before each ending measure of “Midnight Blue Sorrow” seems to leave a bruise, or even the opening semi-title-track “Nothingness” staking a claim on hardcore gangshout backing vocals for use pretty much anytime. “Talons” is less in-your-face with its violence, but the threat remains fervent and subsequent closer “Deathbringer” perfectly conveys that sense of exhaustion you have from when you’ve been so angry for so long that actually you’re just kind of sad about it. All this and more in about 12 minutes out of your busy and intensely frustrating life makes Black Nothingness one of 2023’s best short releases. Now rage, damnit.

Grin on Facebook

Grin on Bandcamp


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Quarterly Review: Dorthia Cottrell, Fvzz Popvli, Formula 400, Abanamat, Vvon Dogma I, Orme, Artifacts & Uranium, Rainbows Are Free, Slowenya, Elkhorn

Posted in Reviews on May 11th, 2023 by JJ Koczan


Here we go day four of the Quarterly Review. I would love to tell you it’s been easy-breezy this week. That is not the case. My kid is sick, my wife is tired of my bullshit, and neither of them is as fed up with me as I am. Nonetheless, we persist. Some day, maybe, we’ll sit down and talk about why. Today let’s keep it light, hmm?

And of course by “light” I mean very, very heavy. There’s some of that in the batch of 10 releases for today, and a lot of rock to go along, so yes, another day in the QR. I hope you find something you dig. I snuck in a surprise or two.

Quarterly Review #31-40:

Dorthia Cottrell, Death Folk Country

Dorthia Cottrell Death Folk Country

Crafted for texture, Death Folk Country finds Windhand vocalist Dorthia Cottrell exploring sounds that would be minimal if not for the lushness of the melodies placed over them. Her first solo offering since 2015 runs 11 tracks and feels substantial at a manageable 42 minutes as delivered through Relapse Records. The death comes slow and soft, the folk is brooding and almost resistant in its Americana traditionalism, and the country is vast and atmospheric, and all three are present in a release that’s probably going to be called ethereal because of layering or vocal reverb but in fact is terrestrial like dry dirt. The seven-minute “Family Annihilator” is nigh on choral, and e-bow or some such droner element fills out the reaches of “Hell in My Water,” expanding on the expectation of arrangement depth set up by the chimes and swells that back “Harvester” after the album’s intro. That impulse makes Death Folk Country kin to some of earlier Wovenhand — thinking Blush Music or Consider the Birds; yes, I acknowledge the moniker similarity between Windhand and Wovenhand and stand by the point as regards ambience — and a more immersive listen than it would otherwise be, imagining future breadth to be captured as part of the claims made in the now. Do I need to say that I hope it’s not 2031 before she does a third record?

Dorthia Cottrell on Bandcamp

Relapse Records website

Fvzz Popvli, III


It’s been a quick — read: not quick — five years since Italian heavy rockers Fvzz Popvli released their second album, Magna Fvzz (review here), through Heavy Psych Sounds. Aptly titled, III is the third installment, and it’s got all the burner soloing, garage looseness and, yes, the fvzz one would hope, digging into a bit of pop-grunge on “The Last Piece of Shame,” setting a jammy expectation in the “Intro” mirrored in “Outro” with percussion, and cool-kid grooving on “Monnoratzo,” laced with hand-percussion and a bassline so thick it got made fun of in school and never lived down the trauma (a tragedy, but it rules just the same). “Post Shit” throws elbows of noise all through your favorite glassware, “20 Cent Blues” slogs out its march true to the name and “Tied” is brash even compared to what’s around it. Only hiccup so far as I can tell is “Kvng Fvzz,” which starts with a Charlie Chan-kind of guitar line and sees the vocals adopt a faux Chinese accent that’s well beyond the bounds of what one might consider ‘ill-advised.’ Cool record otherwise, but that is a significant misstep to make on a third LP.

Fvzz Popvli on Facebook

Retro Vox Records on Bandcamp


Formula 400, Divination

Formula 400 Divination

San Diegan riffslingers Formula 400 come roaring back with their sophomore long-player, Divination, following three (long) years behind 2020’s Heathens (review here), bringing in new drummer Lou Voutiritsas for a first appearance alongside guitarist/vocalists Dan Frick and Ian Holloway and bassist Kip Page. With a clearer, fuller recording, the solos shine through, the gruff vocals are well-positioned in the mix (not buried, not overbearing), and even as they make plays for the anthemic in “Kickstands Up,” “Rise From the Fallen” and closer “In Memoriam,” the lack of pretense is one of the elements most fortunately carried over from the debut. “Rise From the Fallen” is the only cut among the nine to top five minutes, and it fills its time with largesse-minded riffing and a hook born out of ’90s burl that’s a good distance from the shenanigans of opener “Whiskey Bent” or the righteous shove of the title-track. They’re among the best of the Ripple Music bands not yet actually signed to the label, with an underscored C.O.C. influence in “Divination” and the calmer “Bottomfeeder,” while “In Memoriam” filters ’80s metal epics through ’70s heavy and ’20s tonal weight and makes the math add up. Pretty dudely, but so it goes with dudes, and dudes are gonna be pretty excited about it, dude.

Formula 400 on Facebook

Animated Insanity Records website

No Dust Records website


Abanamat, Abanamat

Abanamat Abanamat

Each of the two intended sides of Abanamat‘s self-titled debut saves its longest song for its respective ending, with “Voidgazer” (8:25) capping side A and “Night Walk” (9:07) working a linear build from silence all the way up to round out side B and the album as a whole. Mostly instrumental save for those two longer pieces, the German four-piece recorded live with Richard Behrens at Big Snuff and in addition to diving back into the beginnings of the band in opener “Djinn,” they offer coherent but exploratory, almost-UncleAcidic-in-its-languidity fuzz on “Thunderbolt of Flaming Wisdom,” growing near-prog in their urgency with it on the penultimate “Amdest” but never losing the abiding mellow spirit that manifests out of the ether as “Night Walk” rounds out the album with synth and keys and guitar in a jazzy for-a-walk meander as the band make their way into a fuller realization of classic prog elements, enhanced by a return of the vocals after five minutes in. They’re there just about through the end, and fit well, but it demonstrates that Abanamat even on their debut have multiple avenues in which they might work and makes their potential that much greater, since it’s a conscious choice to include singing on a song or not rather than just a matter of no one being able to sing. The way they set it up here would get stale after a couple more records, but one hopes they continue to develop both aspects of their sonic persona, as any need to choose between them is imaginary.

Abanamat on Instagram

Interstellar Smoke Records store


Vvon Dogma I, The Kvlt of Glitch

Vvon Dogma I The Kvlt of Glitch

Led by nine-string bassist Frédérick “ChaotH” Filiatrault (ex-Unexpect), Montreal four-piece Vvon Dogma I are a progressive metal whirlwind, melodic in the spirit of post-return Cynic but no less informed by death metal, djent, rock, electronic music and beyond, the 10-song/45-minute self-released debut, The Kvlt of Glitch confidently establishes its methodology in “The Void” at the outset and proceeds through a succession marked by hairpin turns, stretches of heavy groove like the chorus of “Triangles and Crosses” contrasted by furious runs, dance techno on “One Eye,” melody not at all forgotten in the face of all the changes in rhythm, meter, the intermittently massive tones, and so on. Yes, the bass features as it inevitably would, but with the precision drumming of Kevin Alexander, Yoan MP‘s backflipping guitar and the synth and strings (at the end) of Blaise Borboën (also credited with production), a sound takes shape that feels like it could have been years in the making. Mind you I don’t know that it was or wasn’t, but Vvon Dogma I lead the listener through the lumbering mathematics of “Lithium Blue,” a cover of Radiohead‘s “2+2=5” and the grand finale “The Great Maze” with a sense of mastery that’s almost unheard of on what’s a first record even from experienced players. I don’t know where it fits and I like that about it, and in those moments where I’m so overwhelmed that I feel like my brain is on fire, this seems to answer that.

Vvon Dogma I on Facebook

Vvon Dogma I on Bandcamp


Orme, Orme

orme orme

Two sprawling slow-burners populate the self-titled debut from UK three-piece Orme. Delivered through Trepanation Recordings as a two-song 2LP, Orme deep-dives into ambient psych, doom, drone and more besides in “Nazarene” (41:58) and “Onward to Sarnath” (53:47), and obviously each one is an album unto itself. Guitarist/vocalist Tom Clements, bassist Jimmy Long (also didgeridoo) and drummer Luke Thelin — who’s also listed as contributing ‘silence,’ which is probably a joke, but open space actually plays a pretty large role in the impression Orme make — make their way into a distortion-drone-backed roller jam on “Nazarene,” some spoken vocals from Clements along the way that come earlier and more proclamatory in “Onward to Sarnath” to preface the instrumental already-gone out-there-ness as well as throat singing and other vocalizations that mark the rest of the first half-hour-plus, a heavy psych jam taking hold to close out around 46 minutes with a return of distortion and narrative after, like an old-style hidden track. It’s fairly raw, but the gravitational singularity of Orme‘s two forays into the dark are ritualistic without being cartoonishly cult, and feel as much about their experience playing as the listener’s hearing. In that way, it is a thing to be shared.

Orme on Facebook

Trepanation Recordings on Bandcamp


Artifacts & Uranium, The Gateless Gate

Artifacts & Uranium Gateless Gate

The UK-based experimentalist psych collaboration between Fred Laird (Earthling Society) and Mike Vest (Bong, et al) yields a third long-player as The Gateless Gate finds the duo branching out in the spirit of their 2021 self-titled and last year’s Pancosmology (review here) with instrumentalist flow and a three-dimensional sound bolstered by the various delays, organ, synth, and so on. Atop an emergent backbeat from Laird, “Twilight Chorus” (16:13) runs a linear trajectory bound toward the interstellar in an organic jam that comes apart before 12 minutes in and gives over to church organ and sampled chants soon to be countermanded by howls of guitar and distortion. Takest thou that. The B-side, “Sound of Desolation” (19:55), sets forth with a synthy wash that gives over to viol drone courtesy of Martin Ash, a gong hit marking the shift into a longform psych jam with a highlight bassline and an extended journey into hypnotics with choral keys (maybe?) arriving in the second half as the guitar begins to space out, fuzz soloing floating over a drone layer, the harder-hit drums having departed save for some residual backward/forward cymbal hits in the slow comedown. The world’s never going to be on their level, but Laird and Vest are warriors of the cosmos, and as their work to-date has shown, they have bigger fish to fry than are found on planet earth.

Artifacts & Uranium on Facebook

Riot Season Records website

Echodelick Records website


Rainbows Are Free, Heavy Petal Music

Rainbows Are Free Heavy Petal Music

What a show to preserve. Heavy Petal Music, while frustrating in that it’s new Rainbows Are Free and not a follow-up to 2019’s Head Pains, but as the Norman, Oklahoma, six-piece’s first outing through Ripple Music, the eight-song/43-minute live LP captures their first public performance in the post-pandemic era, and the catharsis is palpable in “Come” and “Electricity on Wax” early on and holds even as they delve into the proggier “Shapeshifter” later on, the force of their delivery consistent as they draw on material from across their three studio LPs unremitting even as their dynamic ranges between a piano-peppered bluesy swing and push-boogie like “Cadillac” and the weighted nod of “Sonic Demon” later on. The performance was at the 2021 Summer Breeze Music Festival in their hometown (not to be confused with the metal fest in Germany) and by the time they get down to the kickdrum surge backing the fuzzy twists of “Crystal Ball” — which doesn’t appear on any of their regular albums — the allegiance to Monster Magnet is unavoidable despite the fact that Rainbows Are Free have their own modus in terms of arrangements and the balance between space, psych, garage and heavy rock in their sound. Given Ripple‘s distribution, Heavy Petal Music will probably be some listeners’ first excursion with Rainbows Are Free. Somehow I have to imagine the band would be cool with that.

Rainbows Are Free on Facebook

Ripple Music website


Slowenya, Angel Raised Wolves b/w Horizontal Loops

slowenya angel raised wolves horizontal loops

It’s the marriage of complexity and heft, of melody and nod, that make Slowenya‘s “Angel Raised Wolves” so effective. Moving at a comfortable tempo on the drums of Timo Niskala, the song marks out a presence with tonal depth as well as a sense of space in the vocals of guitarist/synthesist Jan Trygg. They break near the midpoint of the 6:39 piece and reemerge with a harder run through the chorus, bassist Tapani Levanto stepping in with backing vocals before a roar at 4:55 precedes the turn back to the original hook, reinforcing the notion that there’s been a plan at work the whole time. An early glimpse at the Finnish psych-doom trio’s next long-player, “Angel Raised Wolves” comes paired with the shorter “Horizontal Loops,” which drops its chugging riff at the start as though well aware of the resultant thud. A tense verse opens to a chorus pretty and reverbed enough to remind of Fear Factory‘s earlier work before diving into shouts and somehow-heavier density. Growls, or some other kind of noise — I’m honestly not sure — surfaces and departs as the nod builds to an an aggressive head, but again, they turn back to where they came from, ending with the initial riff the crater from which you can still see right over there. The message is plain: keep an ear out for that record. So yes, do that.

Slowenya on Facebook

Karhuvaltio Records on Facebook


Elkhorn, On the Whole Universe in All Directions

Elkhorn On the Whole Universe in All Directions

Let’s start with what’s obvious and say that Elkhorn‘s four-song On the Whole Universe in All Directions, which is executed entirely on vibraphone, acoustic 12-string guitar, and drums and other percussion, is not going to be for everybody. The New York duo of Drew Gardner (said vibraphone and drums) and Jesse Sheppard (said 12-string) bring a particularly jazzy flavor to “North,” “South,” “East” and “West,” but there are shades of exploratory Americana in “South” that follow the bouncing notes of the opener, and “East” dares to hint at sitar with cymbal wash behind and rhythmic contrast in the vibraphone, a meditative feel resulting that “West” continues over its 12 minutes, somewhat ironically more of a raga than “East” despite being where the sun sets. Cymbal taps and rhythmic strums and that strike of the vibraphone — Elkhorn seem to give each note a chance to stand before following it with the next, but the 39-minute offering is never actually still or unipolar, instead proving evocative as it trades between shorter and longer songs to a duly gentle finish. Gardner formerly handled guitar, and I don’t know if this is a one-off, but as an experiment, it succeeds in bridging stylistic divides in a way that almost feels like showing off. Admirably so.

Elkhorn on Facebook

Centripetal Force Records website

Cardinal Fuzz Records BigCartel store


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The Obelisk Questionnaire: Giorgio Natangeli of Fvzz Popvli

Posted in Questionnaire on March 14th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

Giorgio Natangeli of FVZZ POPVLI (Photo by Andreas Steckmann)

The Obelisk Questionnaire is a series of open questions intended to give the answerer an opportunity to explore these ideas and stories from their life as deeply as they choose. Answers can be short or long, and that reveals something in itself, but the most important factor is honesty.

Based on the Proust Questionnaire, the goal over time is to show a diverse range of perspectives as those who take part bring their own points of view to answering the same questions. To see all The Obelisk Questionnaire posts, click here.

Thank you for reading and thanks to all who participate.

The Obelisk Questionnaire: Giorgio Natangeli of Fvzz Popvli

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

We do what elevates us the most, possibly the best thing we are able to do after breathing. Music is the life we have chosen. There is a moment when you are a kid, Music speaks to you in a certain way, and at some point you feel like your paths connect and bond strongly. Once it has happened, there’s no going back, it’s a life-long relationship.

Describe your first musical memory.

When I was a young kid, well before learning to play any instrument, on weekend mornings, my parents would put up some CDs on the stereo with their favorite music (classical, Italian songwriters, classic rock). It was such a joy to wake up listening to that kind of music, and to this day, those are the sounds of my childhood, and the foundation of my music culture.

Describe your best musical memory to date.

My first European tour with FVZZ POPVLI, back in 2017. It has been my first experience playing outside my country and was unbelievable. The amount of joy bringing your music to other people from different countries is a life changing experience. Coming back to Rome felt like the end of a beautiful dream.

When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?

Being a musician, I’ve learnt that you should never hold a belief so firmly it incapacitates you to enjoy what’s around. Music, to me, is about being surprised, amazed by something you could never have expected. Being open and ready to be caught “off-guard” makes music and other artistic experiences so enjoyable and cathartic.

Where do you feel artistic progression leads?

To us, Art is both a language, and a craft. For an artist, making a living out of his/her ability to communicate with others is a primary need to fulfill. Over time, every experience lived by an artist will help him/her refine his/her craft, giving a powerful tool to achieve this goal.

How do you define success?

Success is being able to convey your message to the highest number of people. Art is a statement, so do not expect everyone to agree with you, but be honest to yourself and be the first to believe in what you do. It has nothing to do with money.

What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?

Hate, Racism, Xenophobia, Homophobia, short-minded people seeing others as enemies and not as brothers or sisters.

Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.

Maybe our next record hehe.

What do you believe is the most essential function of art?

Conveying a message. It is a powerful ability and can be (and definitely has been in the past) misused or abused. Art by itself isn’t good, nor evil, but the context in which it is used is critical. Using Art just to control people, to produce violence, to anesthetize minds, to make money, all of this is a crime. Art is a product of the artist and his/her will to communicate with the world, and cannot be turned against humanity itself.

Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?

Friendship, seen as true relations between people, of all countries, all ethnicities. The way a human being is able to connect to others, is what makes us what we are, unique, wise, free.

[Photo by Andreas Steckmann.]

Fvzz Popvli, III (2023)

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Quarterly Review: Motorpsycho, Abrams, All India Radio, Nighdrator, Seven Rivers of Fire, Motherslug, Cheater Pipe, Old Million Eye, Zoltar, Ascia

Posted in Reviews on September 29th, 2022 by JJ Koczan


Welcome to the penultimate day of the Fall 2022 Quarterly Review, and yes, I will make just about any excuse to use the word “penultimate.” Sometimes you have a favorite thing, okay? The journey continues today, down, out, up and around, through and across 10 records from various styles and backgrounds. I hope you dig it and check back tomorrow for the last day. Here we go.

Quarterly Review #81-90:

Motorpsycho, Ancient Astronauts

motorpsycho ancient astronauts

There is no denying Motorpsycho. I’ve tried. Can’t be done. I don’t know how many records the Norwegian progressive rockers have put out by now, and honestly I wonder if even the band members themselves could give an accurate count. And who would be able to fact check? Ancient Astronauts continues the strong streak that the Trondheim trio of Tomas Järmyr, Bent Sæther, and Hans “Snah” Ryan have had going for at least the last six years — 2021’s Kingdom of Oblivion (review here) was also part of it — comprising four songs across a single 43-minute LP, with side B consumed entirely by the 22-minute finale “Chariot of the Sun/To Phaeton on the Occasion of Sunrise (Theme From an Imaginary Movie).” After the 12-minute King Crimsony build from silence to sustained freakout in “Mona Lisa Azazel” — preceded by the soundscape “The Flower of Awareness” (2:14) and the relatively straightforward, welcome-bidding “The Ladder” (6:41) — the closer indeed unfurls in two discernible sections, the first a linear stretch increasing in volume and tension as it moves forward, loosely experimental in the background but for sure a prog jam by its 11th minute that ends groovy at about its 15th, and the second a synthesizer-led arrangement that, to no surprise, is duly cinematic. Motorpsycho have been a band for more than 30 years established their place in the fabric of the universe, and are there to dwell hopefully for a long(er) time to come. Not all of the hundred-plus releases they’ve done have been genius, but they are so reliably themselves in sound it feels silly to write about them. Just listen and be happy they’re there.

Motorpsycho on Facebook

Stickman Records store


Abrams, In the Dark

Abrams In the Dark

Did you think Abrams would somehow not deliver quality-crafted heavy rock, straightforward in structure, ’00s punk undercurrent, plus metal, plus melody? Their first offering through Small Stone is In the Dark, the follow-up to 2020’s Modern Ways (review here), and it finds guitarist/vocalist Zachary Amster joined by on guitar by Patrick Alberts (Call of the Void), making the band a four-piece for the first time with bassist/vocalist Taylor Iversen and drummer Ryan DeWitt completing the lineup. One can hear new textures and depth in songs like “Better Living” after the raucous opening salvo of “Like Hell” and “Death Tripper,” and longer pieces like “Body Pillow,” the title-track and the what-if-BlizzardofOzz-was-really-space-rock “Black Tar Mountain,” which reach for new spaces atmospherically and in terms of progressive melody — looking at you, “Fever Dreams” — while maintaining the level of songwriting one anticipates from Abrams four records in. They’ve been undervalued for a while now. Can their metal-heavy-rock-punk-prog-that’s-also-kind-of-pop gain some of the recognition it deserves? It only depends on getting ears to hear it.

Abrams on Facebook

Small Stone Records on Bandcamp


All India Radio, The Generator of All Infinity

All India Radio The Generator of All Infinity

Australia-based electronic prog outfit All India Radio — the solo ambient/atmospheric endeavor of composer and Martin Kennedy — has been releasing music for over 20 years, and is the kind of thing you may have heard without realizing it, soundtracking television and whatnot. The Generator of All Infinity is reportedly the final release in a trilogy cycle, completely instrumental and based largely on short ambient movements that move between each other like, well, a soundtrack, with some more band-minded ideas expressed in “The New Age” — never underestimate the value of live bass in electronic music — and an array of samples, differing organs, drones, psychedelic soundscapes, and a decent bit of ’80s sci-fi intensity on “Beginning Part 2,” which succeeds in making the wait for its underlying beat excruciating even though the whole piece is just four minutes long. There are live and sampled drums throughout, shades of New Wave, krautrock and a genuine feeling of culmination in the title-track’s organ-laced crescendo wash, but it’s a deep current of drone that ends on “Doomsday Machine” that makes me think whatever narrative Kennedy has been telling is somewhat grim in theme. Fair enough. The Generator of All Infinity will be too heady for some (most), but if you can go with it, it’s evocative enough to maybe be your own soundtrack.

All India Radio on Facebook

All India Radio on Bandcamp


Nighdrator, Nighdrator

Nighdrator Nighdrator

Mississippi-based heavygaze rockers Nighdrator released the single “The Mariner” as a standalone late in 2020 as just the duo of vocalist/producer Emma Fruit and multi-instrumentalist JS Curley. They’ve built out more of a band on their self-titled debut EP, put to tape through Sailing Stone Records and bringing back “Mariner” (dropped the ‘The’) between “Scarlet Tendons” and the more synth-heavy wash of “The Poet.” The last two minutes of the latter are given to noise, drone and silence, but what unfurls before that is an experimentalist-leaning take on heavier post-rock, taking the comparatively grounded exploratory jangle of “Scarlet Tendons” — which picks up from the brief intro “Crest/Trough” depending on which format you’re hearing — and turning its effects-laced atmosphere into a foundation in itself. Given the urgency that remains in the strum of “Mariner,” I wouldn’t expect Nighdrator to go completely in one direction or another after this, but the point is they set up multiple opportunities for creative growth while signaling an immediate intention toward individuality and doing more than the My-Bloody-Valentine-but-heavy that has become the standard for the style. There’s some of that here, but Nighdrator seem not to want to limit themselves, and that is admirable even in results that might turn out to be formative in the longer term.

Nighdrator on Bandcamp

Sailing Stone Records store


Seven Rivers of Fire, Sanctuary

Seven Rivers of Fire Sanctuary

William Graham Randles, who is the lone figure behind all the plucked acoustic guitar strings throughout Seven Rivers of Fire‘s three-song full-length, Sanctuary, makes it easy to believe the birdsong that occurs throughout “Union” (16:30 opener and longest track; immediate points), “Al Tirah” (9:00) and “Bloom” (7:30) was happening while the recording was taking place and that the footsteps at the end are actually going somewhere. This is not Randles‘ first full-length release of 2022 and not his last — he releases the new Way of the Pilgrim tomorrow, as it happens — but it does bring a graceful 33 minutes of guitar-based contemplation, conversing with the natural world via the aforementioned birdsong as well as its own strums and runs, swells and recessions of activity giving the feeling of his playing in the sunshine, if not under a tree then certainly near one or, at worst, someplace with an open window and decent ventilation; the air feels fresh. “Al Tirah” offers a long commencement drone and running water, while “Bloom” — which begins with footsteps out — is more playfully folkish, but the heart throughout Sanctuary is palpable and in celebration of the organic, perhaps of the surroundings but also in its own making. A moment of serenity, far-away escapism, and realization.

Seven Rivers of Fire on Facebook

Aural Canyon Music on Bandcamp


Motherslug, Blood Moon Blues

Motherslug Blood Moon Blues

Half a decade on from The Electric Dunes of Titan (review here), Melbourne sludge rock bruisers Motherslug return with Blood Moon Blues, a willfully unmanageable 58-minute, let’s-make-up-for-lost-time collection that’s got room enough for “Hordes” to put its harsh vocals way forward in the mix over a psychedelic doom sprawl while also coexisting with the druggy desert punkers “Crank” and “Push the Venom” and the crawling death in the culmination of “You (A Love Song)” — which it may well be — later on. With acoustic stretches bookending in “Misery” and the more fully a song “Misery (Slight Return),” there’s no want for cohesion, but from naked Kyussism of “Breathe” and the hard Southern-heavy-informed riffs of “Evil” — yes I’m hearing early Alabama Thunderpussy there — to the way in which “Deep in the Hole” uses similar ground as a launchpad for its spacious solo section, there’s an abiding brashness to their approach that feels consistent with their past work. Not every bands sees the ways in which microgenres intersect, let alone manages to set their course along the lines between, drawing from different sides in varied quantities as they go, but Motherslug do so while sounding almost casual about it for their lack of pretense. Accordingly, the lengthy runtime of Blood Moon Blues feels earned in a way that’s not always the case with records that pass the single-LP limit of circa 45 minutes, there’s blues a-plenty and Motherslug brought enough riffs for the whole class, so dig in, everybody.

Motherslug on Facebook

Motherslug on Bandcamp


Cheater Pipe, Planetarium Module

Cheater Pipe Planetarium Module

Keep an ear out because you’re going to be hearing more of this kind of thing in the next few years. On their third album, Planetarium Module, Cheater Pipe blend Oliveri-style punk with early-aughts sludge tones and sampling, and as we move to about 20 years beyond acts like Rebreather and -(16)- and a slew of others including a bunch from Cheater Pipe‘s home state of Louisiana, yeah, there will be more acts adapting this particular stoner sludge space. Much to their credit, Cheater Pipe not only execute that style ably — Emissions sludge — on “Fog Line Shuffle,” “Cookie Jar” or “White Freight Liner Blues” and the metal-as-punk “Hollow Leg Hobnobber,” they bring Floor-style melody to “Yaw” and expand the palette even further in the second half of the tracklist, with “Mansfield Bar” pushing the melody further, “Flight of the Buckmoth” and closer “Rare Sunday” turning to acoustic guitar and “The Sad Saga of Hans Cholo” between them lending atmospheric breadth to the whole. They succeed at this while packing 11 songs into 34 minutes and coming across generally like they long ago ran out of fucks to give about things like what style they’re playing to or what’s ‘their sound.’ Invariably they think of these things — nobody writes a song and then never thinks about it again, even when they tell you otherwise — but the spirit here is middle-fingers-up, and that suits their sound best anyway.

Cheater Pipe on Facebook

Cheater Pipe on Bandcamp


Old Million Eye, The Air’s Chrysalis Chime

Old Million Eye The Air's Chrysalis Chime

The largely solo endeavor of Brian Lucas of Dire Wolves and a merry slew of others, Old Million Eye‘s latest full-length work arrives via Cardinal Fuzz and Feeding Tube with mellow psychedelic experimentalism and folk at its core. The Air’s Chrysalis Chime boasts seven pieces in 43 minutes and each one establishes its own world to some degree based around an underlying drone; the fluidity in “Louthian Wood” reminiscent of windchimes and accordion without actually being either of those things — think George Harrison at the end of “Long Long Long,” but it keeps going — and “Tanglier Mirror” casts out a wash of synthesizer melody that would threaten to swallow the vocals entirely would they not floating up so high. It’s a vibe based around patience in craft, but not at all staid, and “White Toads” throws some distorted volume the listener’s way not so much as a lifeline for rockers as another tool to be used when called for. The last cosmic synthesizer on “Ruby River,” the album’s nine-minute finale, holds as residual at the end, which feels fair as Lucas‘ voice — the human element of its presence is not to be understated as songs resonate like an even-farther-out, keyboard-leaning mid-period Ben Chasny — has disappeared into the ether of his own making. We should all be so lucky.

Old Million Eye on Bandcamp

Cardinal Fuzz Records store

Feeding Tube Records store


Zoltar, Bury

Zoltar Bury

“Bury” is the newest single from Swedish heavy rockers Zoltar, who, yes, take their moniker from the genie machine in the movie Big (they’re not the only ones either). It follows behind two songs released last year in “Asphalt Alpha” and “Dirt Vortex.” Those tracks were rawer in overall production sound, but there’s still plenty of edge in “Bury,” up to and including in the vocals, which are throatier here than on either of the two prior singles, though still melodic enough so that when the electric piano-style keys start up at about two and a half minutes into the song, the goth-punk nod isn’t out of place. It’s a relatively straight-ahead hook with riffing made that much meatier through the tones on the recording, and a subtle wink in the direction of Slayer‘s “Dead Skin Mask” in its chorus. Nothing to complain about there or more generally about the track, as the three-piece seem to be working toward some kind of proper release — they did press up a CD of Bury as a standalone, so kudos to them on the physicality — be it an EP or album. Wherever they end up, if these songs make the trip or are dropped on the way, it’s a look at a band’s earliest moves as a group and how quickly that collaboration can change and find its footing. Zoltar — who did not have feet in the movie — may just be doing that here.

Zoltar on Facebook

Zoltar store


Ascia, III

Ascia III

Sardinia’s Fabrizio Monni (also of Black Capricorn) has unleashed a beast in Ascia, and with III, he knows it more than ever. The follow-up to Volume II (review here) and Volume I (review here) — both released late last year — is more realized in terms of songcraft, and it would seem Monni‘s resigned himself to being a frontman of his own solo-project, which is probably the way to go since he’s obviously the most qualified, and in songs like “The Last Ride,” he expands on the post-High on Fire crash-and-bash with more of a nodding central groove, while “Samothrace” finds a place for itself between marauder shove and more direct heavy rock riffery. Each time out, Monni seems to have more of an idea of what he wants Ascia to be, and whether there’s a IV to come after this or he’s ready to move onto something else in terms of release structure — i.e., a debut album — the progression he’s undertaken over the last year-plus is plain to hear in these songs and how far they’ve come in so short a time.

Ascia on Bandcamp

The Swamp Records on Bandcamp


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