Yakuza Begin Recording New Album; Back Catalog Being Reissued

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 22nd, 2021 by JJ Koczan

Chicago experimentalist-in-form metallers Yakuza always seemed to suffer the fate of those whose sound lie between styles. They reaped plenty of critical praise each time out, but as it goes with bands who challenge convention one way or another, their songs’ willfully jarring turns and shifting atmospheres set themselves beyond kneejerk accessibility and, well, there you go. By the time their next record comes out, it will have been 10 years since Beyul (review here) was issued through Profound Lore, and that album, along with 2002’s Way of the Dead — imagine this band on Century Media for a minute; it was a different age — and presumably the rest of their catalog, will be reissued through War Crime Recordings, which is the label Yakuza frontman/saxophonist Bruce Lamont runs alongside Sanford Parker, who’s also producing the new Yakuza album. Keeping it all in the family, as it were.

Of course, Lamont has hardly been idle in the last decade. In addition to founding War Crime — who were also kind enough to publish a collection of short stories by yours truly in 2016, thereby earning eternal gratitude — and taking part in Corrections House again alongside Parker and members of Neurosis and Eyehategod, he’s released solo work and an album with Bloodiest, and so on. Last year, he took part in a quarantine-era socially-distant cover of Trouble‘s “The Tempter” (posted here) with Parker and members of Snow Burial and Pelican. So yeah, dude gets around.

Looking forward to this though. Should be like a coming home, oddly shaped as that home may be.

From the PR wire:

YAKUZA (photo by Sonya Siedlaczek)

YAKUZA To Begin Recording First New Studio Album In Ten Years; Back Catalog To See Reissue On Vinyl Via War Crime Recordings!

Chicago’s YAKUZA will begin recording their long-awaited, as-yet-untitled new studio album!

The band will enter Palisades Studio with engineer Sanford Parker (Yob, Voivod) later this month. The recording will be completed and mixed at Parker’s own Hypercube Studios. Set for worldwide release in the Spring of 2022, the record follows their critically lauded Beyul full-length (2012) and marks YAUKZA’s first official studio output in ten years!

Offers vocalist/saxophonist Bruce Lamont, “Ten years! You would think that a bunch has changed, Well, some has and some hasn’t. The shronky, heavy, hairpin tempo shifts are still there, now add more bottom end thanks to current bassist Jerome Marshall. This new batch of tunes is a nice mix of weird and riffy and we couldn’t be happier with how everything has come together.”

Adds bassist Jerome Marshall, “It’s a return to form from the origins of where the band began. A return to post-metal, avant-garde jazz-influenced heavy chaos with the structural balance of intrinsic order.”

The record will be released in North America via Lamont and Parker’s joint imprint, War Crime Recordings, with Svart Recordings handling Europe and beyond.

In related news, War Crime Recordings will reissue the YAKUZA back catalog on a limited-edition LP throughout the coming months. First up is 2012’s Beyul which has never before been available on vinyl.

Comments Lamont, “We over at War Crime Recordings have had a plan for a number of years to reissue all the YAKUZA LPs that haven’t seen the light day and then reissue the ones that have. Beyul was an obvious first choice. Originally released back in 2012 through Profound Lore, this reissue is a single LP gatefold edition. The mastering for the LP was done back in 2012 by Colin Jordon and we couldn’t be happier with the result. Next up…Way Of The Dead!”

Limited to 200 copies on translucent brown vinyl, order Beyul at THIS LOCATION: https://yazkua.bandcamp.com/album/beyul

YAKUZA:
James Staffel – drums
Matt Mcclelland – guitar, vocals
Jerome Marshall – bass, vocals
Bruce Lamont – vocals, saxophones

http://www.yakuzadojo.com
http://www.instagram.com/yakuzadojo
http://www.facebook.com/WarCrimeRecordings
http://www.instagram.com/WarCrimeRecordings
http://warcrimerecordings.bandcamp.com

Yakuza, Beyul (2012)

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The Obsessed and The Skull Announce Co-Headlining Tour

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 10th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

Hot damn, The Obsessed and The Skull, co-headlining at what could’ve easily been dubbed the ‘Champions of Doom Tour’ but sadly was not. Neither are expected to have a new record out by the end of July — The Skull‘s The Endless Road Turns Dark (review here) came out in 2018, and The Obsessed released the bootleg-style Live at Big Dipper (review here) last year — but hell, at least they’re both getting out. The dates arrive with a stopover for The Obsessed‘s Wino to play a solo set at Ripplefest Texas 2021, and there are a couple shows where the two bands part ways for the night.

You’ll also note on Aug. 1 they have matinee and evening shows in Indianapolis and Louisville. That’s about an hour and 45 minutes down I-65 from one town to the other. Oldschool in more than just sound here, it would seem.

The PR wire brought dates and I didn’t even have to type them out myself! Amazing:

the obsessed the skull tour

THE OBSESSED And THE SKULL: Doom Rock Icons Announce US Co-Headlining Tour; Tickets On Sale Now!

THE OBSESSED and THE SKULL will join forces for a US co-headlining tour this Summer. Set to commence July 29th in Cleveland, Ohio, the doom rock caravan will wind its way through nearly two-dozen cities, drawing to a close on August 16th in Rochester, New York. Tickets are on sale now. See all confirmed dates below.

THE OBSESSED/THE SKULL:
7/29/2021 Now That’s Class – Cleveland, OH **
7/30/2021 Club Garibaldi – Milwaukee WI
7/31/2021 Cobra Lounge – Chicago IL
8/01/2021 Black Circle – Indianapolis, IN (matinee show)
8/01/2021 Diamond Pub – Louisville, KY (evening show)
8/02/2021 Brickyard Bar – Knoxville, TN
8/03/2021 Growlers – Memphis, TN
8/04/2021 George’s Majestic – Fayetteville, AR
8/05/2021 Bears – Shreveport, LA
8/06/2021 Division Brewery/Grrowl – Arlington, TX
8/07/2021 White Oak Music Hall – Houston, TX ##
8/07/2021 Ripple Fest @ Texas Ski Ranch – New Braunfels, TX ^^
8/08/2021 Lost Well – Austin, TX
8/09/2021 White Oak Music Hall – Houston, TX **
8/10/2021 Freetown Boom Boom Room – Lafayette, LA **
8/10/2021 Santos – New Orleans, LA ##
8/11/2021 The Earl – Atlanta, GA
8/12/2021 Pour House – Raleigh, NC
8/13/2021 Cafe 611 – Frederick, MD
8/14/2021 GoldSounds – Brooklyn, NY
8/15/2021 Alchemy – Providence, RI
8/16/2021 Montage Music Hall – Rochester, NY
** THE OBSESSED only
## THE SKULL only
^^ WINO Solo

[poster by Gary Mader]

https://www.facebook.com/TheObsessedOfficial
http://relapse.com/the-obsessed-sacred/
https://theobsessed.bandcamp.com/
http://www.relapse.com
http://www.relapserecords.bandcamp.com
http://www.facebook.com/RelapseRecords

https://www.facebook.com/troubletheskull/
https://twitter.com/theskullusa
http://theskullusa.com/
https://teepeerecords.com/

The Obsessed, Sacred (2017)

The Skull, “Ravenswood” official lyric video

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The Obelisk Questionnaire: Justin Sanetra of Blue Dream, Strange Foliage & Hot Box Sound Machine

Posted in Questionnaire on March 24th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

justin sanetra blue dream hot box sound machine

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: Justin Sanetra of Blue Dream, Strange Foliage & Hot Box Sound Machine

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

Constantly trying to pursue creative desires and immerse myself in whatever opportunities come my way. I’ve been writing and creating things as long as I can remember and started playing guitar when I was 14. I started to find people wanting to form a band and then began singing and writing songs. Eventually that snowballed into booking gigs and recording demos. With everything being online I was able to contact DIY houses, venues, bars, and art spaces all around the USA and Canada. This led to releasing music and booking tours and I’ve been doing that ever since.

Describe your first musical memory.

One of the places I lived at as a kid was a couple blocks away from a street festival that happens every summer. I remember sitting on the roof listening to all the bands play.

Describe your best musical memory to date.

Way too many to choose from! Just being able to record music and travel around the country playing it provided amazing experiences that created some of my best memories.

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

Every time I experiment with high doses of certain substances my beliefs are tested. One day I found out that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively. There is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we are the imagination of ourselves.

Where do you feel artistic progression leads?

I think it leads to innovation and discovery that brings us closer to our own individuality. We all have influences that we emulate in everything we do. When we add our personal experiences and personal touch into the mix, it creates a never ending chain of artistic progression.

How do you define success?

Having the freedom to do what you want to do. Elevating the people around you and bringing about a positive influence in this world. Love is the law.

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

The News, Late-Night Talk Shows, Awards Shows, and any other media that is propaganda disguised as entertainment and information.

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

A device that can transfer the music in your head directly into a DAW, Tape Machine, or other recording equipment.

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

To communicate emotions, ideas, and messages that reflect the reality you live in.

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

Setting all the vague optimism aside and society being open again. Everyone is essential.

https://www.facebook.com/bluedreamchicago
https://bluedreamchicago.bandcamp.com/
https://hotboxsoundmachine.bandcamp.com/releases
https://www.facebook.com/StrangeFoliage
https://strangefoliage.bandcamp.com/

Blue Dream, Volume Blue

Hot Box Sound Machine, “Hot Box Sound Machine”

Strange Foliage, “Big Mouth”

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The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ukmedsnorx.com/zopiclone
ukmedsnorx.com/zolpidem

Okay:

The Top 50 Albums of 2020

#50-31

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

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

30. High Priestess, Casting the Circle

high priestess casting the circle

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed May 5.

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

29. Polymoon, Caterpillars of Creation

Polymoon Caterpillars of Creation

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed Oct. 12.

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

28. Sons of Otis, Isolation

Sons of Otis Isolation

Released by Totem Cat Records. Reviewed Sept. 30.

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

27. Lamp of the Universe, Dead Shrine

Lamp of the Universe Dead Shrine

Released by Projection Records. Reviewed May 25.

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

26. BleakHeart, Dream Griever

bleakheart dream griever

Released by Sailor Records. Reviewed Nov. 18.

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

25. Pale Divine, Consequence of Time

Pale Divine Consequence of Time

Released by Cruz Del Sur Music. Reviewed June 3.

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

24. Uncle Woe, Phantomescence

uncle woe phantomescence

Released by Packard Black Productions. Reviewed Oct. 21.

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

23. REZN, Chaotic Divine

rezn chaotic divine

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

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

22. Ruff Majik, The Devil’s Cattle

ruff majik the devils cattle

Released by Mongrel Records. Reviewed Oct. 29.

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

21. Curse the Son, Excruciation

Curse The Son Excruciation

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 8.

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

20. The Atomic Bitchwax, Scorpio

The Atomic Bitchwax Scorpio

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Aug. 26.

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

19. Cinder Well, No Summer

cinder well no summer

Released by Free Dirt Records. Reviewed July 21.

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

18. Pallbearer, Forgotten Days

pallbearer forgotten days

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Dec. 24.

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

17. Slift, Ummon

slift ummon

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

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

16. My Dying Bride, The Ghost of Orion

my dying bride the ghost of orion

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Feb. 25.

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

15. Causa Sui, Szabodelico

causa sui Szabodelico

Released by El Paraiso Records. Reviewed Nov. 11.

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

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

All Souls Songs for the End of the World

Self-released. Reviewed Sept. 21.

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

13. Kind, Mental Nudge

kind mental nudge

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 20.

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

12. Molassess, Through the Hollow

Molassess Through the Hollow

Released by Season of Mist. Featured Aug. 17.

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

11. Tony Reed, Funeral Suit

tony reed funeral suit

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Sept. 28.

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

10. Geezer, Groovy

Geezer Groovy

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed May 18.

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

9. Big Scenic Nowhere, Vision Beyond Horizon

big scenic nowhere vision beyond horizon

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Jan. 29.

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

8. Elder, Omens

elder omens

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

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

7. Forming the Void, Reverie

forming the void reverie

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed April 15.

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

6. Grayceon, MOTHERS WEAVERS VULTURES

grayceon mothers weavers vultures

Released by Translation Loss Records. Reviewed Nov. 18.

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

5. Brant Bjork, Brant Bjork

brant bjork brant bjork

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed April 28.

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

4. Enslaved, Utgard

enslaved utgard

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Sept. 29.

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

3a. Colour Haze, We Are

colour haze we are

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

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

3. All Them Witches, Nothing as the Ideal

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

Released by New West Records. Reviewed Sept. 3.

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

2. Elephant Tree, Habits

elephant tree habits

Released by Deathwish Inc.. Reviewed April 13.

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

2020 Album of the Year

1. Lowrider, Refractions

Lowrider Refractions

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Jan. 24.

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

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: Honorable Mention

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

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

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

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

Debut Album of the Year

Molassess, Through the Hollow

Molassess Through the Hollow

Other notable debuts (alphabetically):

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

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

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

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

Short Release of the Year 2020

King Buffalo, Dead Star

King Buffalo Dead Star

Other notable EPs, Splits, Demos, etc.:

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

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

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

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

Live Album of the Year 2020

Yawning Man, Live at Giant Rock

yawning man live at giant rock

Other notable live releases:

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

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

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

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

Looking Ahead to 2021

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

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

Thank You

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

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

More to come.

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Quarterly Review: Fuzz, Crippled Black Phoenix, Bethmoora, Khan, The Acid Guide Service, Vexing Hex, KVLL, Mugstar, Wolftooth, Starmonger

Posted in Reviews on December 23rd, 2020 by JJ Koczan

THE-OBELISK-FALL-2020-QUARTERLY-REVIEW

Day III of the Inexplicably Roman Numeralized Winter 2020 Quarterly Review, commence! I may never go back to actual numbers, you should know. There’s something very validating about doing Day I, Day II, Day III — and tomorrow I get to add a V for Day IV! Stoked on that, let me tell you.

You have to make your own entertainment these days, lest your brain melt like wax and drip from your nostrils.

Plurp.

Quarterly Review #21-30:

Fuzz, III

fuzz iii

Plenty of heavy rockers can come across sounding fresh. Most of the time all it takes is being young. In the case of III, the third long-player from FuzzCharles Moothart, Ty Segall and Chad Ubovich — they sound like they just invented it. Dig the hard-Bowie of “Time Collapse” or the made-for-the-stage opener “Returning,” or the surf-cacophony of “Mirror.” Or hell, any of it. The combination of this band and producer Steve Albini — aka the guy you go to when you want your album to sound like your live show — is correct. That’s all you can say about it. From the ’70s snarl in “Nothing People” to the triumphant melody in the second half of “Blind to Vines” and the back and forth between gritty roll and fragile prog of “End Returning,” it’s an energy that simply won’t be denied. If Fuzz wanted to go ahead and do three or four more albums with Albini at the helm in the next five years, that’d be just fine.

In the Red Records on Thee Facebooks

In the Red Records on Bandcamp

 

Crippled Black Phoenix, Ellengæst

crippled black phoenix ellengaest

The narrative (blessings and peace upon it) goes that when after lineup shifts left Crippled Black Phoenix without any singers, founder Justin Greaves (ex-Iron Monkey, Earthtone9, Electric Wizard, etc.) decided to call old mates. Look. I don’t care how it happened, but Ellengæst, which is the likewise-brilliant follow-up to the band’s widely-lauded 2018 outing, Great Escape, leads off with Anathema‘s Vincent Cavanagh singing lead on “House of Fools,” and, well, there’s your new lead singer. Anathema‘s on hiatus and a more natural fit would be hard to come by. Ryan Patterson (The National Acrobat, a dozen others), Gaahl (Gaahls Wyrd, ex-Gorgoroth), solo artist Suzie Stapleton and Jonathan Hultén (Tribulation) would also seem to audition — Patterson and Stapleton pair well on the heavy-Cure-style “Cry of Love” — and there are songs without any guests at all, but there’s a reason “House of Fools” starts the record. Make it happen, Crippled Black Phoenix. For the good of us all.

Crippled Black Phoenix on Thee Facebooks

Season of Mist website

 

Bethmoora, Thresholds

Bethmoora Thresholds

Copenhagen’s Bethmoora served notice in a 2016 split with Dorre (review here) and their debut full-length, Thresholds hone destructive lumber across four low-toned tracks that begin with “And for Eternity They Will Devour His Flesh” and only get nastier from there. One imagines being in a room with this kind of rumbling, maddeningly repetitive, slow-motion-violence noise wash and being put into a flight-or-fight panic by it, deer in doomed headlights, and all that, but even on record, Bethmoora manage to cull, and when their songs explode in tempo, as the opener does late in its run, or “Painted Man” does, that spirit is maintained. Each side of the LP is two tracks, and all four are beastly, pile-driver-to-the-core-of-the-earth heavy. “Keeper”‘s wash of noise has willful-turnoff appeal all its own, but the empty space in the middle of “Lamentation” is where they go in for ultimate consumption. And yeah. Yeah.

Bethmoora on Thee Facebooks

Sludgelord Records on Bandcamp

 

Khan, Monsoons

khan monsoons

Khan‘s second album, Monsoons is a departure in form from 2018’s Vale, if not necessarily in substance. Heavy, psychedelic-infused post-rock is the order of business for the Melbourne trio either way, but as guitarist Josh Bills gives up playing synth and doing vocals to embark on an instrumental approach with bassist Mitchell Kerr (also KVLL) and drummer Beau Heffernan on this four-track/31-minute offering, the spirit is inescapably different. Probably easier to play live, if that’s a thing that might happen. Monsoons still has the benefit, however, of learning from the debut in terms of the dynamic among the three players, and Bills‘ guitar reaches for atmospheric float in “Orb” and attains it easily, as the midsection rhythm of the closing title-track nods at My Sleeping Karma and the back end of the prior “Harbinger” manages to shine and not sound like Earthless in the process, and quite simply, Khan make it work. The vocals/synth might be worth missing — and they may or may not be back — but to ignore the breadth Khan harness in little over half an hour would be a mistake.

Khan on Thee Facebooks

Khan on Bandcamp

 

The Acid Guide Service, Denim Vipers

the acid guide service denim vipers

Jammy, psychedelic in parts, Sabbathian in “Peavey Marshall (and the Legendary Acoustic Sunn Band)” and good fun from the doomly rollout of 11-minute opener and longest cut (immediate points) “In the Cemetery” onward, the second full-length from Idaho’s The Acid Guide Service, Denim Vipers, brings considerable rumble and nod, but these guys don’t want to hurt nobody. They’ve come here to chew bubblegum and follow the riff, and they’re all out of bubblegum. Comprised on average of longer songs than 2017’s debut, Vol. 11 (review here), the four-tracker gives the trio room to branch out their sound a bit, highlighting the bass in the long middle stretch of the title-track while the subsequent “Electro-Galactic Discharge” puts its guitar solo front and center before sludge-rocking into oblivion, letting “Peavey Marshall (and the Legendary Acoustic Sunn Band)” pick up from there, which is as fine a place as any to begin a gallop to the end. Genre-based shenanigans ensue. One would hope for no less.

The Acid Guide Service on Thee Facebooks

The Acid Guide Service on Bandcamp

 

Vexing Hex, Haunt

vexing hex haunt

Based in Illinois, Vexing Hex make their debut on Wise Blood Records with Haunt, and yes, playing catchy, semi-doomed, organ-laced cult rock with creative and melodic vocal arrangements, you’re going to inevitably run into some Ghost comparisons. The newcomer three-piece are distinguished by a harder edge to their impact, a theremin on “Planet Horror” and a rawer production sensibility, and that serves them well in “Build Your Wall” and the buildup of “Living Room,” both of which play off the fun-with-dogma mood cast by “Revenant” following the intro “Hymn” at the outset of Haunt. Not quite as progressive as, say, Old Man Wizard, there’s nonetheless some melodic similarity happening as bell sounds ensue on “Rise From Your Grave,” the title of which which may or may not be purposefully cribbed from the Sega Genesis classic Altered Beast. There’s a big part of me that hopes it is, and if Vexing Hex are writing songs about retro videogames, they sound ready to embark on a Castlevania concept album.

Vexing Hex on Thee Facebooks

Wise Blood Records on Bandcamp

 

KVLL, Death//Sacrifice

kvll death sacrifice

Proffering grueling deathsludge as though it were going out of style — it isn’t — the Melbourne duo KVLL is comprised of bassist/vocalist/guitarist Mitchell Kerr (also Khan) and drummer Braydon Becher. It’s not without ambient stretches, as the centerpiece “Sacrifice” shows, but the primary impression KVLL‘s debut album, Death//Sacrifice makes is in the extremity of crash and heavy landing of “The Death of All That is Crushing” and “Slow Death,” such that by the time “Sacrifice” ‘mellows out,’ as it were, the listener is punchdrunk from what’s taken place on the prior two and a half songs. There’s little doubt that’s precisely KVLL‘s intention here, as the cavernous screams, mega-lurch and tense undercurrent are more than ably wielded. If “Sacrifice” is the moment at which Death//Sacrifice swaps out one theme for another, the subsequent “Blood to the Altar” and nine-minute closer “Beneath the Throne” hammer the point home, the latter with an abrasive noise-caked finale worthy of standard-bearers Primitive Man.

KVLL on Thee Facebooks

KVLL on Bandcamp

 

Mugstar, GRAFT

mugstar graft

Not that the initial droning wash of “Deep is the Air” or the off-blasted “Zeta Potential” and warp-drive freneticism in “Cato” don’t have their appeal — oh, they do — but when it comes to UK lords-o’-space Mugstar‘s latest holodeck-worthy full-length, GRAFT, it’s the mellow drift-jazz of the 12-minute “Ghost of a Ghost” that feels most like matter dematerialization to me. Side B’s “Low, Slow Horizon” answers back later on ahead of the motorik linear build in the finale “Star Cage,” but the 12-minute vibe-fest that is “Ghost of a Ghost” gives GRAFT a vastness to match its thrust, which becomes essential to the space-borne feel. It’s 41 minutes, still ripe for an LP, but the kind of album that has a genuine affect on mood and mindset, breaking down on a molecular level both and remolding them into something hopefully more evolved on some level through cosmic meditation. Fast or slow, up or down, in or out, it doesn’t ultimately matter. Nothing does. But there’s a moment in GRAFT where the one-skin-on-another thing becomes apparent and all the masks drop away. What’s left after that?

Mugstar on Thee Facebooks

Centripetal Force Records website

Cardinal Fuzz Records BigCartel store

 

Wolftooth, Valhalla

Wolftooth Valhalla

Hooks abound in power-stoner fashion throughout Indiana four-piece Wolftooth‘s second album, Valhalla, which roughs up NWOBHM clarity in early-Ozzy fashion without going overboard to one side or the other, riffs winding and rhythms charging in a way not entirely unlike some of Freedom Hawk‘s more recent fare, but with a melodic reach of its own and a dynamism of purpose that comes through in the songwriting. Grand Magus‘ metallic traditionalism might be an influence on a song like “Fear for Eternity,” but “Crying of the Wolfs” has a more rocking swagger, and likewise post-intro opener “Possession.” With tightly constructed songs in the four-to-five-minute range, Valhalla never feels stretched out more than it wants to, but “Molon Labe” pushes the vocals deeper into the mix for a bigger, more atmospheric sound, and subtle shifts like that become effective in distinguishing the songs and making them all the more memorable. Recently signed to Napalm after working with Ripple, Ice Fall, Cursed Tongue and Blackseed, they seem to be poised to pay off the potential here and in their 2018 self-titled debut (review here). So be it.

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Starmonger, Revelations

starmonger revelations

Parisian riff-blaster trio Starmonger have been piecemealing tracks out for the last five years as a series of EPs titled Revelation, and the full-length debut, Revelations, brings these nine songs together for a 49-minute long-player that even in re-recorded versions of the earliest cuts like “Tell Me” and “Wanderer” show how far the band has come. It’s telling that those two close the record out while “Rise of the Fishlords” and “Léthé” from 2019’s Revelation IV open sides A and B, respectively, but older or newer, the band end up with a swath of stylistic ground covered from the more straightforward and uptempo kick of the elder tracks to the more progressive take of the newer, with plenty of ground in between. Uniting the various sides are strong performances and strong choruses, the latter of which would seem to be the thread that draws everything together. Whether or not it takes Starmonger half a decade to put out their next LP, one can hardly call their time misspent while listening to Revelations.

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Album Review: REZN, Chaotic Divine

Posted in Reviews on October 15th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

rezn chaotic divine

Bon voyage. Since the 2018 release of their well received second album, Calm Black Water, Chicago four-piece REZN have branched out across two at-least-semi-collaborative offerings. Last year, they issued Live at Electrical Audio, recorded at the famed Chicago studio in collaboration with post-hardcore heavy rockers Lume, and earlier 2020 brought Infected Ambient Works, a collection of 26 mostly-short, synth-focused atmospheric pieces, listed as a collaboration with Catechism, which is in fact a solo-project of REZN‘s own Spencer Ouellette, who in addition to synth also might be found handling percussion, sax or flute on a given track.

As one approaches the band’s third proper full-length, Chaotic Divine, clearly the lesson to take away from the last two years is that REZN Ouellette alongside guitarist/vocalist Rob McWilliams, bassist/vocalist Phil Cangelosi and drummer Patrick Dunn — are branching out. And the consuming, untamed 64 minutes of the 11 songs they bring to this album bears that out, as throughout its span one might find McWilliams handling oud, Cangelosi a baglama or rainstick, and Dunn some off-kit percussion or a sitar in addition to Ouelette‘s array of keys/synth, sax, percussion and flute as noted above. All of this is factored into a backdrop of deep-running heavy riffing and psychedelic lumber, with the weighted-and-drifting “Emerging” setting the forward march on its way with vocal effects recalling earlier Monolord and a hypnotic final section that’s perhaps even more effective in drawing in the listener.

“Emerging” is both a foundation and a departure, and it comes grouped on side A with “Waves of Sand” and “Garden Green,” the former of which brings the first standout flourish of saxophone and a subtle build of tension over the course of its just-under-seven-minutes that approaches slow-space-rock freakout levels before the crushing tonality finally wakes up to stamp everything into dust. As payoffs go, that of “Waves of Sand” is nothing if not earned, but again, the subsequent comedown is no less exciting, and a cricket-chirping transition into “Garden Green” finds REZN experimenting with reggae undertones with an almost frightening smoothness before a side flip to “The Door Opens” seems to reset the pattern to where it began with “Emerging.” Gruff vocals, more direct riffing, massive, lumbering groove; familiar enough elements set to righteous purpose, they coincide with an effective psychedelic midsection, huge-sounding crashing finish and obscure samples (or something) at the end.

This is one of the many examples throughout Chaotic Divine of REZN taking established genre methods and making them their own. “The Door Opens” gives way to “Clear I,” the first of two interludes that build on the soundscaping the band has done as far back as “Pipe Dream” from their 2017 debut, Let it Burn (review here), but pushes farther, pulling out the drums in favor of a genuine sense of float that moves with windy synth into the sweeping launch of “Optic Echo.” Like “Waves of Sand” and the later, speedier “Scarab,” it is itself a standout that nonetheless feeds into and enhances the whole 2LP flow of which it is a part, drawing down to quiet silence with sax in conversation with subdued guitar ahead of the 10-minute “Mother/Forever Time” beginning side C with the arrival of McWilliams‘ oud and arguably Chaotic Divine‘s most effective stretch of heavy psychedelic ritualizing.

rezn

It is a wash that feels delicately crafted and organic just the same, gaining largesse in its midsection (aren’t we all?) and then gracefully receding in its second half into experimentalist ambience, assuring that the drums beginning “Inner Architecture” are duly grounding. With melodic vocals set over drifting verses offset by weighted push in the chorus, there are flashes of Mars Red Sky-style sweetness — around the 2:45-3:00 mark — but the central riff around which it’s based is almost pure Sleep once one digs past the surrounding elements. Not that one necessarily should, as those elements are essential in the quiet/loud tradeoffs that make “Inner Architecture” a particularly resonant hook instrumentally and structurally, fading to silence before the last side flip brings “Scarab,” the effect of which is like someone bursting into a smoke filled room and waving their arms around to clear the air.

The side D leadoff is without a doubt the fastest track on Chaotic Divine, and so distinguished by that, but it’s also a clinic in how to do stoner-doom drumming right, and though it’s only four minutes long, the function it serves is to add momentum just as the album is heading into its final movement. There’s still plenty of swirl to be had in the layers of soloing and riffs, but even amid the big finish, the swinging groove remains the priority, which is only fair heading into the cinematic drone of “Clear II.” Shorter than its earlier companion piece, the penultimate interlude serves as a fitting breather after “Scarab” and an intro for closer “The Still Center,” the main guitar progression of which follows a pattern set by Neurosis‘ “Reach” but, like other recognizable bits and pieces throughout, is set to individualized purpose by REZN in a way that makes it all the more a worthy finish.

And they end not with a grand overblown crash, but instead in that wash of melody that they’ve waded through so patiently throughout Chaotic Divine. The sax is there, the wandering guitar figure, the steady drums and bass and echoing vocals. It is an outward motion, but one could say the same of the whole record, and its sudden cutting short after coming quickly to a head at the very end gives the listener a palpable sense of being let go into the ether that the residual silence represents — a no less impressive finish for how conceptual it feels as relates to the entirety of what precedes.

Of molten intent and cross-subgenre execution, REZN offers a psychedelthickness that seems to be as much a sign of things to come as of its moment. It’s easy sometimes to think of a third album as being where a band finds itself in terms of sound and style, and if that’s what’s happening here as Chaotic Divine adds arrangement breadth and general narrative scope to what REZN did on their first two offerings, then all the better, but satisfying and engaging and fluid and as much of an achievement as they are, the explorations in these tracks still come across with an energy that feels nascent and speaks to the potential for more expansion to come. One can only hope that turns out to be so.

REZN, Chaotic Divine (2020)

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Quarterly Review: Hum, Hymn, Atramentus, Zyclops, Kairon; IRSE!, Slow Draw, Might, Brimstone Coven, All Are to Return, Los Acidos

Posted in Reviews on October 7th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

THE-OBELISK-FALL-2020-QUARTERLY-REVIEW

Day three of the Quarterly Review. Always a landmark. Today we hit the halfway point, but don’t pass it yet since I’ve decided to add the sixth day next Monday. So we’ll get to 30 of the total 60 records, and then be past half through tomorrow. Math was never my strong suit. Come to think of it, I wasn’t much for school all around. Work sucked too.

Anyway, if you haven’t found anything to dig yet — and I hope you have; I think the stuff included has been pretty good so far — you can either go back and look again or keep going. Maybe today’s your day. If not, there’s always tomorrow.

Quarterly Review #21-30:

Hum, Inlet

HUM INLET

One has to wonder if, if Hum had it to do over again, they might hold back their first album in 23 years, Inlet, for release sometime when the world isn’t being ravaged by a global pandemic. As it stands, the largesse and melodic wash of the Illinois outfit’s all-growed-up heavy post-rock offers 55 minutes of comfort amid the tumult of the days, and while I won’t profess to having been a fan in the ’90s — their last studio LP was 1997’s Downward is Heavenward, and they sound like they definitely spent some time listening to Pelican since then — the overarching consumption Inlet sets forth in relatively extended tracks like “Desert Rambler” and “The Summoning” and the manner in which the album sets its own backdrop in a floating drone of effects make it an escapist joy. They hold back until closer “Shapeshifter” to go full post-rock, and while there are times at which it can seem unipolar, to listen to the crunching “Step Into You” and “Cloud City” side-by-side unveils more of the scope underlying from the outset of “Waves” onward.

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Hymn, Breach Us

Hymn Breach Us

Oslo’s Hymn answer the outright crush and scathe of their 2017 debut, Perish (review here), with a more developed and lethal attack on their four-song/38-minute follow-up, Breach Us. Though they’re the kind of band who make people who’ve never heard Black Cobra wonder how two people can be so heavy — and the record has plenty of that; “Exit Through Fire”‘s sludgeshuggah chugging walks by and waves — it’s the sense of atmosphere that guitarist/bassist/vocalist Ole Rokseth and drummer Markus Støle bring to the proceedings that make them so engrossing. The opening title-track is also the shortest at 6:25, but as Breach Us moves across “Exit Through Fire,” “Crimson” and especially 14-minute closer “Can I Carry You,” it brings forth the sort of ominous dystopian assault that so many tried and failed to harness in the wake of NeurosisThrough Silver in Blood. Hymn do that and make it theirs in the process.

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Atramentus, Stygian

Atramentus stygian

Carried across with excruciating grace, Atramentus‘ three-part/44-minute debut album, Stygian, probably belongs in a post-Bell Witch category of extreme, crawling death-doom, but from the script of their logo to the dramatic piano accompanying the lurching riffs, gurgles and choral wails of “Stygian I: From Tumultuous Heavens… (Descended Forth the Ceaseless Darkness)” through the five-minute interlude that is “Stygian II: In Ageless Slumber (As I Dream in the Doleful Embrace of the Howling Black Winds)” and into the 23-minute lurchfest that is “Stygian III: Perennial Voyage (Across the Perpetual Planes of Crying Frost and Steel-Eroding Blizzards)” their ultra-morose procession seems to dig further back for primary inspiration, to acts like Skepticism and even earliest Anathema (at least for that logo), and as guttural and tortured as it is as it devolves toward blackened char in its closer, Stygian‘s stretches of melody provide a contrast that gives some semblance of hope amid all the surrounding despair.

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Zyclops, Inheritance of Ash

zyclops inheritance of ash

As it clocks in 27 minutes, the inevitable question about Zyclops‘ debut release, Inheritance of Ash, is whether it’s an EP or an LP. For what it’s worth, my bid is for the latter, and to back my case up I’ll cite the flow between each of its four component tracks. The Austin, Texas, post-metallic four-piece save their most virulent chug and deepest tonal weight for the final two cuts, “Wind” and “Ash,” but the stage is well set in “Ghost” and “Rope” as well, and even when one song falls into silence, the next picks up in complementary fashion. Shades of Isis in “Rope,” Swarm of the Lotus in the more intense moments of “Ash,” and an overarching progressive vibe that feels suited to the Pelagic Records oeuvre, one might think of Zyclops as cerebral despite their protestations otherwise, but at the very least, the push and pull at the end of “Wind” and the stretch-out that comes after the churning first half of “Rope” don’t happen by mistake, and a band making these kinds of turns on their first outing isn’t to be ignored. Also, they’re very, very heavy.

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Kairon; IRSE!, Polysomn

Kairon IRSE Polysomn

It’s all peace and quiet until “Psionic Static” suddenly starts to speed up, and then like the rush into transwarp, Kairon; IRSE!‘s Polysomn finds its bliss by hooking up a cortical node to your left temple and turning your frontal lobe into so much floundering goo, effectively kitchen-sink kraut-ing you into oblivion while gleefully hopping from genre to cosmic genre like they’re being chased by the ghost of space rock past. They’re the ghost of space rock future. While never static, Polysomn does offer some serenity amid all its head-spinning and lobe-melting, be it the hee-hee-now-it’s-trip-hop wash of “An Bat None” or the cinematic vastness that arises in “Altaïr Descends.” Too intelligent to be random noise or just a freakout, the album is nonetheless experimental, and remains committed to that all the way through the shorter “White Flies” and “Polysomn” at the end of the record. You can take it on if you have your EV suit handy, but if you don’t check the intermix ratio, your face is going to blow up. Fair warning. LLAP.

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Slow Draw, Quiet Joy

slow draw quiet joy

The second 2020 offering from Hurst, Texas’ Slow Draw — the one-man outfit of Mark “Derwooka” Kitchens, also of Stone Machine Electric — the four-song Quiet Joy is obviously consciously named. “Tightropes in Tandem” and closer “Sometimes Experiments Fail” offer a sweet, minimal jazziness, building on the hypnotic backwards psych drone of opener “Unexpected Suspect.” In the two-minute penultimate title-track, Kitchens is barely there, and it is as much an emphasis on the quiet space as that in which the music — a late arriving guitar stands out — might otherwise be taking place. At 18 minutes, it is intended to be a breath taken before reimmersing oneself in the unrelenting chaos that surrounds and swirls, and while it’s short, each piece also has something of its own to offer — even when it’s actively nothing — and Slow Draw brims with purpose across this short release. Sometimes experiments fail, sure. Sometimes they work.

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Might, Might

might might

It took all of a week for the married duo of Ana Muhi (vocals, bass) and Sven Missullis (guitars, vocals, drums) to announce Might as their new project following the dissolution of the long-ish-running and far-punkier Deamon’s Child. Might‘s self-titled debut arrives with the significant backing of Exile on Mainstream and earns its place on the label with an atmospheric approach to noise rock that, while it inevitably shares some elements with the preceding band, forays outward into the weight of “Possession” and the acoustic-into-crush “Warlight” and the crush-into-ambience “Flight of Fancy” and the ambience-into-ambience “Mrs. Poise” and so on. From the beginning in “Intoduce Yourself” and the rushing “Pollution of Mind,” it’s clear the recorded-in-quarantine 35-minute/nine-song outing is going to go where it wants to, Muhi and Missullis sharing vocals and urging the listener deeper into doesn’t-quite-sound-like-anything-else post-fuzz heavy rock and sludge. A fun game: try to predict where it’s going, and be wrong.

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Brimstone Coven, The Woes of a Mortal Earth

brimstone coven the woes of a mortal earth

Following a stint on Metal Blade and self-releasing 2018’s What Was and What Shall Be, West Virginia’s Brimstone Coven issue their second album as a three-piece through Ripple Music, calling to mind a more classic-minded Apostle of Solitude on the finale “Song of Whippoorwill” and finding a balance all the while between keeping their progressions moving forward and establishing a melancholy atmosphere. Some elements feel drawn from the Maryland school of doom — opener the melody and hook of “The Inferno” remind of defunct purveyors Beelzefuzz — but what comes through clearest in these songs is that guitarist/vocalist Corey Roth, bassist/vocalist Andrew D’Cagna and drummer Dave Trik have found their way forward after paring down from a four-piece following 2016’s Black Magic (review here) and the initial steps the last album took. They sound ready for whatever the growth of their craft might bring and execute songs like “When the World is Gone” and the more swinging “Secrets of the Earth” with the utmost class.

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All Are to Return, All Are to Return

all are to return all are to return

Take the brutal industrial doom of Author and Punisher and smash it together — presumably in some kind of stainless-steel semi-automated contraption — with the skin-peeling atmosphere and grueling tension of Khanate and you may begin to understand where All Are to Return are coming from on their debut self-titled EP. How they make a song like four-minute centerpiece “Bare Life” feel so consuming is beyond me, but I think being so utterly demolishing helps. It’s not just about the plodding electronic beat, either. There’s some of that in opener “Untrusted” and certainly “The Lie of Fellow Men” has a lumber to go with its bass rumble and NIN-sounding-hopeful guitar, but it’s the overwhelming sense of everything being tainted and cruel that comes through in the space the only-19-minutes-long release creates. Even as closer “Bellum Omnium” chips away at the last remaining vestiges of color, it casts a coherent vision of not only aesthetic purpose for the duo, but of the terrible, all-gone-wrong future in which we seem at times to live.

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Los Acidos, Los Acidos

Los Acidos Los Acidos

I saved this one for last today as a favor to myself. Originally released in 2016, Los Acidos‘ self-titled debut receives a well-deserved second look on vinyl courtesy of Necio Records, and with it comes 40 minutes of full immersion in glorious Argentinian psicodelia, spacious and ’60s-style on “Al Otro Lado” and full of freaky swing on “Blusas” ahead of the almost-shoegaze-until-it-explodes-in-sunshine float of “Perfume Fantasma.” “Paseo” and the penultimate “Espejos” careen with greater intensity, but from the folksy feel that arrives to coincide with the cymbal-crashing roll of “Excentricidad” in its second half to the final boogie payoff in “Empatía de Cristal,” the 10-song outing is a joy waiting to be experienced. You’re experienced, right? Have you ever been? Either way, the important thing is that the voyage that, indeed, begins with “Viaje” is worth your time in melody, in craft, in its arrangements, in presence and in the soul that comes through from front to back. The four-piece had a single out in late 2019, but anytime they want to get to work on a follow-up LP, I’ll be waiting.

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Quarterly Review: Molasses Barge, Slow Green Thing, Haze Mage & Tombtoker, White Dog, Jupiterian, Experiencia Tibetana, Yanomamo, Mos Eisley Spaceport, Of Wolves, Pimmit Hills

Posted in Reviews on October 6th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

THE-OBELISK-FALL-2020-QUARTERLY-REVIEW

We roll on with day two of the Fall 2020 Quarterly Review featuring another batch of 10 records en route to 50 by Friday — and actually, I just put together the list for a sixth day, so it’ll be 60 by next Monday. As much as things have been delayed from the pandemic, there’s been plenty to catch up on in the meantime and I find I’m doing a bit of that with some of this stuff today and yesterday. So tacking on another day to the end feels fair enough, and it was way easy to pick 10 more folders off my far-too-crowded desktop and slate them for review. So yeah, 60 records by Monday. I bet I could get to 70 if I wanted. Probably better for my sanity if I don’t. Anyhoozle, more to come. For now…

Quarterly Review #11-20:

Molasses Barge, A Grayer Dawn

molasses barge a grayer dawn

Following up their 2017 self-titled debut issued through Blackseed Records, Pittsburgh-based rockers Molasses Barge present A Grayer Dawn through Argonauta, and indeed, in songs like “Holding Patterns” or the melancholy “Control Letting Go,” it is a somewhat moodier offering than its predecessor. But also more focused. Molasses Barge, in songs like stomping opener “The Snake” and its swing-happy successor “Desert Discord,” and in the later lumber of “Black Wings Unfurl” and push of the title-track, reside at an intersection of microgenres, with classic heavy rock and doom and modern tonality and production giving them an edge in terms of overarching heft in their low end. Riffs are choice throughout from guitarists Justin Gizzi and Barry Mull, vocalist Brian “Butch” Balich (Argus, ex-Penance, etc.) sounds powerful as ever, and the rhythm section of bassist Amy Bianco and drummer Wayne Massey lock in a succession of grooves that find welcome one after the other until the final “Reprise” fades to close the album. Its individuality is deceptive, but try to fit Molasses Barge neatly in one category or the other and they’ll stand out more than it might at first seem.

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Slow Green Thing, Amygdala

slow-green-thing_amygdala-2000

Yes, this. Slow Green Thing‘s third album, Amygdala, is melodic without being overbearing and filled out with a consuming depth and warmth of tone. A less jammy, more solo-prone Sungrazer comes to mind; that kind of blend of laid back vocals and heavy psychedelic impulse. But the Dresden four-piece have their own solidified, nodding grooves to unveil as well, tapping into modern stoner with two guitars setting their fuzz to maximum density and Sven Weise‘s voice largely floating overtop, echo added to give even more a sense of largesse and space to the proceedings, which to be sure have plenty of both. The six-track/44-minute outing picks up some speed in “Dirty Thoughts” at the outset of side B, and brings a fair bit of crush to the title-track earlier and lead-laced finale “Love to My Enemy,” but in “Dreamland,” they mellow and stretch out the drift and the effect is welcome and not at all out of place beside the massive sprawl conjured in side A capper “All I Want.” And actually, that same phrase — “all I want” — covers a good portion of my opinion on the band’s sound.

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Haze Mage & Tombtoker, Split

Haze Mage Tombtoker Split

Anyone bemoaning the state of traditionalist doom metal would do well to get their pants kick’d by Haze Mage, and when that’s done, it’s time to let the stoned zombie sludge of Tombtoker rip your arms off and devour what’s left. The two Baltimorean five-pieces make a righteously odd pairing, but they’ve shared the stage at Grim Reefer Fest in Charm City, and what they have most in common is a conviction of approach that comes through on each half of the four-song/19-minute offering, with Haze Mage shooting forth with “Sleepers” and the semi-NWOBHM “Pit Fighter,” metal, classic prog and heavy rock coming together with a vital energy that is immediately and purposefully contradicted in Tombtoker‘s played-fast-but-is-so-heavy-it-still-sounds-slow “Braise the Dead” and “Botched Bastard,” both of which find a way to be a ton of fun while also being unspeakably brutal and pushing the line between sludge and death metal in a way that would do Six Feet Under proud. Horns and bongs all around, then.

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White Dog, White Dog

white dog white dog

Oldschool newcomers White Dog earn an automatic look by releasing their self-titled debut through former Cathedral frontman Lee Dorrian‘s Rise Above Records, but it’s the band’s clearcut vintage aesthetic that holds the listener’s attention. With proto-metal established as an aesthetic of its own going on 20 years now, White Dog aren’t the first by any means to tread this ground, but especially for an American band, they bring a sincerity of swing and soul that speaks to the heart of the subgenre’s appeal. “The Lantern” leans back into the groove to tell its tale, while “Abandon Ship” is more upfront in its strut, and “Snapdragon” and opener “Sawtooth” underscore their boogie with subtle progressive nods. Closing duo “Pale Horse” and “Verus Cultus” might be enough to make one recall it was Rise Above that issued Witchcraft‘s self-titled, but in the shuffle of “Crystal Panther,” and really across the whole LP White Dog make the classic ideology theirs and offer material of eminent repeat listenability.

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Jupiterian, Protosapien

jupiterian protosapien

The only thing that might save you from being swallowed entirely by the deathly mire Brazil’s Jupiterian craft on their third full-length, Protosapien, is the fact that the album is only 35 minutes long. That’s about right for the robe-clad purveyors of tonal violence — 2017’s Terraforming (review here) and 2015’s Aphotic (review here) weren’t much longer — and rest assured, it’s plenty of time for the band to squeeze the juice out of your soul and make you watch while they drink it out of some need-two-hands-to-hold-it ceremonial goblet. Their approach has grown more methodical over the years, and all the deadlier for that, and the deeper one pushes into Protosapien — into “Capricorn,” “Starless” and “Earthling Bloodline” at the end of the record — the less likely any kind of cosmic salvation feels. I’d say you’ve been warned, but really, this is just scratching the surface of the trenches into which Jupiterian plunge.

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Experiencia Tibetana, Vol. I

Experiencia Tibetana Vol I

It’s an archival release, recorded in 2014 and 2015 by the Buenos Aires-based band, but all that really does for the three-song/hour-long Vol. I is make me wonder what the hell Experiencia Tibetana have been up to since and why Vols. II and III are nowhere to be found. The heavy psych trio aren’t necessarily inventing anything on this debut full-length, but the way “Beirut” (18:36) is peppered with memorable guitar figures amid its echo-drifting vocals, and the meditation tucked into the last few minutes of the 26:56 centerpiece “Espalda de Elefante” and the shift in persona to subdued progressive psych on “Desatormentandonos” (14:16) with the bass seeming to take the improvisational lead as guitar lines hold the central progression together, all of it is a compelling argument for one to pester for a follow-up. It may be an unmanageable runtime, but for the come-with-us sense of voyage it carries, Vol. I adapts the listener’s mindset to its exploratory purposes, and proves to be well worth the trip.

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Yanomamo, No Sympathy for a Rat

yanomamo no sympathy for a rat

Filth-encrusted and lumbering, Yanomamo‘s sludge takes Church of Misery-style groove and pummels it outright on the opening title-track of their four-song No Sympathy for a Rat EP. Like distilled disillusion, the scream-laced answer to the Sydney four-piece’s 2017 debut, Neither Man Nor Beast, arrives throwing elbows at your temples and through “The Offering,” the wait-is-this-grindcore-well-kinda-in-this-part “Miasma” and the suitably destructive “Iron Crown,” the only letup they allow is topped with feedback. Get in, kill, get out. They have more bounce than Bongzilla but still dig into some of Thou‘s more extreme vibe, but whatever you might want to compare them to, it doesn’t matter: Yanomamo‘s unleashed assault leaves bruises all its own, and the harsher it gets, the nastier it gets, the better. Can’t take it? Can’t hang? Fine. Stand there and be run over — I don’t think it makes a difference to the band one way or the other.

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Mos Eisley Spaceport, The Best of Their Early Year

mos eisley spaceport the best of their early year

They mean the title literally — “early year.” Bremen, Germany’s Mos Eisley Spaceport — who so smoothly shift between space rock and classic boogie on “Further When I’m Far” and brash tempo changes en route to a final jam-out on “Mojo Filter,” finally unveiling the Star Wars sample at the head of organ-inclusive centerpiece “Space Shift” only to bring early Fu Manchu-style raw fuzz on “Drop Out” and finish with the twanging acoustic and pedal steel of “My Bicycle Won’t Fly” — have been a band for less than a full 12 months. Thus, The Best of Their Early Year signals some of its own progressive mindset and more playful aspects, but it is nonetheless a formidable accomplishment for a new band finding their way. They lay out numerous paths, if you couldn’t tell by the run-on sentence above, and I won’t hazard a guess as to where they’ll end up sound-wise, but they have a fervent sense of creative will that comes through in this material and one only hopes they hold onto whatever impulse it is that causes them to break out the gong on “Space Shift,” because it’s that sense of anything-as-long-as-it-works that’s going to continue to distinguish them.

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Mos Eisley Spaceport on Bandcamp

 

Of Wolves, Balance

of wolves balance

One doesn’t often hear “the Wolfowitz Doctrine” brought out in lyrics these days, but Chicago heavy noise metallers Of Wolves aren’t shy about… well, anything. With volume inherent in the sound no matter how loud you’re actually hearing it, conveyed through weighted tones, shouts of progressions unified in intensity but varied in aggression and actual approach, the three-piece take an unashamed stance on a range of issues from the last two decades of war to trying to put themselves into the head of a mass shooter. The lyrics across their sophomore outing, Balance, are worth digging into for someone willing to take them on, but even without, the aggro mosh-stomp of “Maker” makes its point ahead of the 17-second “Flavor of the Weak” before Of Wolves dive into more progressively-structured fare on the title-track and “Clear Cutting/Bloodshed/Heart to Hand.” After “Killing Spree” and the aural-WTF that is “Inside (Steve’s Head),” they finish with a sludgecore take on the Misfits‘ “Die, Die My Darling,” which as it turns out was exactly what was missing up to that point.

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Trepanation Recordings on Bandcamp

 

Pimmit Hills, Heathens & Prophets

Pimmit Hills Heathens Prophets

Comprised of four-fifths of what was Virginian outfit King Giant, it’s hard to know whether to consider Pimmit Hills a new band or a name-change, or what, but the first offering from vocalist David Hammerly, guitarist Todd “TI” Ingram, bassist Floyd Lee Walters III and drummer Brooks, titled Heathens & Prophets and self-released, hits with a bit of a bluesier feel than did the prior outfit, leaving plenty of room for jamming in each track and even going so far as to bring producer J. Robbins in on keys throughout the four-song/29-minute release. I suppose you could call it an EP or an LP — or a demo? — if so inclined, but any way you cut it, Heathens & Prophets plainly benefits from the band’s experience playing together, and they find a more rocking, less moody vibe in “Baby Blue Eyes” and the harmonica-laced “Beautiful Sadness” that has a feel as classic in substance as it is modern in sound and that is both Southern but refusing to bow entirely to cliché.

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