Review & Full Album Stream: Borracho, Pound of Flesh

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on August 2nd, 2021 by JJ Koczan

borracho pound of flesh

[Click play above to stream Borracho’s Pound of Flesh in its entirety. Album is out Friday, Aug. 6 on Kozmik Artifactz.]

Though the band has been around longer, this year is a decade since the first Borracho full-length, Splitting Sky (review here), came out from D.C. to lobby listeners in favor of their particular take on heavy roll, marked out by a distinctive feel of riding their own grooves and doing so on a conveyance of dense-packed fuzz tone. Pound of Flesh follows a collaborative 2020 single with vocalist Jake Starr, formerly of Adam West — of which Borracho drummer Mario Trubiano was also a member — and is comprised of material and recordings dating back to late 2019, recorded and mixed as ever by Frank “The Punisher” Marchand (Foghound, Iron Man, Life Beyond, so many others) across three sessions then and across subsequent months (Tony Reed mastered). Trubiano, guitarist/vocalist Steve Fisher — who also adds keys on three of the nine tracks — and bassist/backing vocalist Tim Martin (who also painted the album’s cover) work within a style and elements that should be well familiar to their established audience base.

They’ve never been a band to radically shift approach from one outing to the next, but it’s also been half a decade since 2016’s Atacama (review here) — the band also celebrated their 10-year anniversary with the collection Riffography (review here) in 2017 — and a significant half-decade at that, and that time has wrought some shifts in their approach, whether it’s that flourish of keyboard/organ sounds introduced on opener “Holy Roller” and spread throughout “Caravan” and the 11-minute pre-outro finale “Burn it Down,” wherein Floyd-via-YOB contemplative guitar also pervades early with proggy melancholy as a precedent to the combination of aggression, breadth and thematic summary that follows, or the use of transitional samples like those between “Judgement Day” and “Dirty Money,” or those that conclude the album in “Foaming at the Mouth,” some spoken word in the second half of “Caravan,” or even just the blatant focus on social and political issues, which one imagines have been nigh on impossible to avoid in the US capitol throughout the years since Atacama, since they’ve certainly been impossible to avoid everywhere else.

Borracho tackle the subject with characteristic boldness and bruiser riffing across three vinyl sides — side D of the 2LP is an etching — as Fisher‘s vocals working with a well-established burl that’s been their hallmark since he took over those duties on 2013’s Oculus (review here). His easing into more of a frontman role is a big part of the narrative arc of the band’s career to-date, and the launch of Pound of Flesh in “Holy Roller” and the more melodically fluid “It Came From the Sky” (premiered here) is crucial in marking out the ground that the rest of what follows will cover; strong hooks, weighted groove, and the by-now-a-given chemistry in the performance of the trio as a whole that underscores the more complex structure presented in “Caravan.” It’s hard to think of a band who’ve spent the past 14 years actively working to foster a lack of pretense as being atmospheric, but Borracho are that on “Caravan,” and certainly too on the acoustic “Dreamer” that follows, serving as an interlude before “Judgement Day,” “Dirty Money” and “Year of the Swine” push further into the heart of the matter in their construction and lyrical schematic, which isn’t so much partisan as roundly disgusted.

Following the open keys, shouts, and fuzzy careening that marks the peak of “Caravan” and the stretch of Eastern-tinged noodling and percussion that follows to end the song, and the plucked acoustic strings of “Dreamer,” “Judgement Day” slams in to crack the hypnosis in half, with a riff and rhythm that is definitively Borrachoan, and a hook less immediate than “Holy Roller” or “It Came From the Sky,” but still a notable presence, and a surge of momentum that “Dirty Money” continues at a faster tempo, repeating the pattern of the opening duo but, instead of turning right away into the longer reach that showed itself on “Caravan,” the path twists and brings about “Year of the Swine,” which is willfully lumbering and gnashing in its frustration.


It is the peak the three-piece hit before they hit before that frustration boils into what emerges on “Burn it Down,” the tension in the beginning building over the first 3:44 of the song’s total 11:24 in order to set up the first verse, which only ups the stakes further en route to gang-style shouts of “rise up!” and “tear down!” offsetting the chorus lines “Rise up and fight” and “Burn it to the ground.”

Well, okay. One has to note, of course, that “Burn it Down” was written and recorded prior to this past Jan. 6, when an attempted putsch in Washington, D.C., tried in its way to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. I’ll add as well that I haven’t had the benefit of a lyric sheet, but it’s hard not to place “Burn it Down” in that context. And no, I don’t think Fisher is calling for insurrection — or at least not that particular insurrection. Lines like, “Time to settle debts/We’re taking a pound of flesh,” certainly have an aspect of threat, never mind that they serve as the inspiration for the title, but the message, again, never comes through in favor of one side over the other so much as disaffected with a corrupted entirety. And fair enough. Twice through the chorus again, and “Burn it Down” jams out a solo en route to its bookending more subdued guitar, crying baby and evil cackle samples starting “Foaming at the Mouth” in beginning a sample onslaught — “Here comes the money!” from the beginning of “Dirty Money” makes a return — and the feeling of being overwhelmed is palpable.

Conspiracy theories, chemtrails, that crying baby and of course a riff-led groove all come to a finish just after two minutes in, and Pound of Flesh concludes with a sampling of the apex speech of Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 anti-fascist “talkie” film The Great Dictator, wrapping with the repositioned line that begins that famous monologue: “I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business.” The message is clear and relevant and gives depth and context not only to the purposefully overwhelming barrage meant to represent the overwhelming barrage of noise one faces in any given day, but also to “Burn it Down,” to “Judgement Day,” “It Came From the Sky” and the rest of what surrounds. Borracho could hardly have picked a more suitable or relevant capstone for the album they made.

And what impresses about Pound of Flesh on the whole isn’t just that FisherMartin and Trubiano made it, but that they pulled it off while still holding to that central sans-pretense ethic. Remember, this is the band whose slogan has only ever been ‘Repetitive Heavy Grooves,’ and yet they dig deeper here to offer much more than that on every level, from shifts in structure and tempo to new arrangement elements. In the span of the last decade, all Borracho have ever done is exceed expectation. It is the manner in which they are most reliable, and on Pound of Flesh, they deliver once more.

Borracho, “Holy Roller” official video

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Review & Video Premiere: The Kings of Frog Island, VII

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Reviews on June 29th, 2021 by JJ Koczan


[Click play above to stream the premiere of The Kings of Frog Island’s video for ‘Beyond the Void.’ New album VII is out July 30 on Kozmik Artifactz.]

It was some 13 standard earth years ago that The Kings of Frog Island issued their “Welcome to the Void” on their second album, 2008’s II (discussed here), and now, with VII, they willfully go beyond. “Beyond the Void” leads off the Leicester, UK, outfit’s new collection, VII, a stirring 10-track offering that seems to make the listener the beneficiary of a surge in productivity on the part of the band. That is to say, it was six years between 2014’s V (review here) and the release of VI (review here) in 2020, and now, less than a year later, guitarist Mark Buteux, vocalist Gavin Searle, bassist Lee Madel-Toner, drummer Roger “Dodge” Watson — plus Gavin William WrightTony Heslop and Neve Buteux — have turned around a follow-up, comprising 47 minutes of sungazing, mellow-heavy psychedelia and fuzz, melodic, unpretentious, dug in and of a style the band have now worked over the last few years to establish as their own that pulls together the various sides of their now 18-year trajectory.

The key seems to have been the band launching their own studio in Amphibia Sound Studios IV, which not only has allowed them to record more, since they’re the ones doing it and thus less subject to schedules, etc., but also to build their songs in a different way. No doubt this process was upset by the covid-19 pandemic in some way over the course of the last 15 months — easy to speculate, since everything was — but The Kings of Frog Island still sound very much like themselves, and that distinction is important because it encompasses both the catchy, straightforward underlying structure of “Blackened Soul,” the drifting post-grunge of “Dopamine” and the psych blues minimalist try-it-and-see-how-it-goes experimentalism of “SuperEgo.” Though not without a darker moment in “Empire” on side B, VII speaks of the sunshine on three tracks in a row with “Blackened Soul,” “Summer Sun” and “Dopamine,” and even “Rain” talks about stepping into the light — its hook line being, “So get out of the rain.” The penultimate “Five Hours” does its part to “hold onto the summer” as well and assures, “it’ll be alright.”

In context, it’s easy to read this as psychedelic escapism on the part of the band, and if that’s the case, it works just as fluidly for the listener. While “Beyond the Void” sets up elements like the backing vocals behind Searle and the Revolver-in-an-alternate-reality-dance-hall groove that accompanies, it’s the interplay between that track and “All the King’s Horses” immediately following that gives the audience more of a clue as to the scope of The Kings of Frog Island at this stage in their career. For the better part of two decades and across seven records of various shifts in personnel and craft, the band has worked to find a way to carry those hearing their songs along the current of the material in the manner they make sound so natural here, blending the ethereality of “All the King’s Horses” with the harder fuzz of “The Silver Arrow” while retaining a consistent identity between them. This isn’t just about tones or melodies, but the production style and the manner in which parts are layered as well. This development of the studio space as a part of the character of the group as a whole, it comes through in the material in a way that it couldn’t have before Amphibia Sound IV, and it’s helped The Kings of Frog Island to find their multi-pronged path and to walk it in kind.

the kings of frog island

“Beyond the Void” (6:12), “Empire” (5:36) and “SuperEgo” (7:43) are the only tracks on VII that top five minutes long — though “All the King’s Horses” and “Blackened Soul” come close — and though that’s more than appeared on VI, that prior album also had 10 tracks and three of them under four minutes, where VII has four. Does that speak of a burgeoning divergence between longer songs and shorter in The Kings of Frog Island‘s approach? I’ve no idea, and I don’t think it’s a question that can be answered at this point. VI was put together over a series of years, and for all I know, VII might have been sculpted out of the same ongoing sessions, but as an album, it presents as being markedly cogent in its purposes, whether a given song works fast or slow, loud or quiet. The atmosphere and mood of “Empire,” or how the song descends into its fade ahead of the burst-to-life at the start of “The Silver Arrow,” isn’t to be taken for granted. They are far from the ’90s-style, handclap-inclusive Britpsych of “Summer Sun” at that point, or even the warm rumble of “Blackened Soul,” but the easy sway of “Five Hours” helps ease the transition into “SuperEgo,” and the breadth and subtlety of that final build is a marked achievement that underlines the songwriting at work throughout the album preceding it.

I see no reason to mince words or deny that I have been and remain a fan of The Kings of Frog Island‘s output over the better part of the last two decades. What VII does is add to their list of accomplishments, push further their creative style and make it that much easier for the listener — whether a fan of long-standing or not — to roll where they roll. You don’t have to know “Welcome to the Void” to go “Beyond the Void,” and through “Blackened Soul” and “Summer Sun” and “Dopamine” and “Rain” and “Five Hours” and really the whole thing, the prevalence of vibe in their material not only stems from the depth of the mix — the way the vocals are blown out on top of “Blackened Soul” or the slow-motion scorch of the lead guitar in “Empire” — but from the essence of the songs themselves. I’m not sure “exciting” is the right thing to call a release that spends so much of its time basking in psychedelic serenity, but VII is that, just the same, and each song is an invitation to the audience to join the band on this journey into the moment. They make it a pleasure to go.

The Kings of Frog Island, “Summer Sun” official video

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Borracho Set Aug. 6 Release for Pound of Flesh; Preorder Available

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 28th, 2021 by JJ Koczan


I know, I know, a double-LP is all cool and stuff, and two vinyl versions and that’s pretty special. But a jewel case CD with a four-panel insert? That’s got me grinning like the Drake meme. My jam. And a jewel case feels like a novelty at this point, so yeah, I’m on board for that.

Aug. 6 is the release date for Borracho‘s fourth album, Pound of Flesh, and considering the fact that it marks a decade since their debut, you almost have to sit back and look at the career they’ve put together. Especially since they didn’t end up being the band they started as, losing their frontman after that first record, their accomplishments are all the more impressive. And you know what? They’ve earned everything they’ve gotten, working with labels like Ripple Music, Cursed Tongue and Kozmik Artifactz, shows at home and abroad, fest appearances, wide-ranging accolades and all of it. Solid heavy rock and roll band. I’ve heard the new record. It’s long, but they earn that too. It’s awesome, and it’s another step forward for them.

I guess what I’m saying is “fucking a, new Borracho.” I’m gonna try to get one of these dudes on board for a video interview before the record’s out too, and there’ll be a review and all that whatnot, so keep an eye out. We’ve got time.

Here’s preorder info:

borracho pound of flesh

BORRACHO – New LP Pound of Flesh available August 6. Pre-order NOW!

Our 4th record Pound of Flesh officially drops August 6th and is available for pre-order on CD, digital, and vinyl now on our Bandcamp page:

Nine new tracks running more than 50 minutes will take you on a heavy trip from beginning to end. Here’s the first glimpse at the cover art and packaging, all designed by TMD – AKA our very own Tim Martin.

CDs are presented in jewel cases with full color 4-panel insert. But the stars of the show are the two vinyl versions. Two limited edition gatefold 2LP versions are available – Black & Blue, and special edition Multicolor Splatterburst. Side 4 includes a custom etching capturing various elements of the album’s theme. It’s a package you don’t want to miss in your collection. Pre-order NOW!

Pound of Flesh arrives nearly five years after its predecessor Atacama, and just on time for the tenth anniversary of our debut album Splitting Sky. It has been a labor of love, being largely written over a three year period when the band was geographically separated, and mostly recorded ahead of the onset of a global pandemic. The events of the past 16 months delayed its completion and release even further. We couldn’t be happier to finally bring you this amazing package, presented by the always on-point Kozmik Artifactz.

NOTE: if you are located in Europe we highly recommend you place your pre-order directly with Kozmik Artifactz for faster and cheaper delivery.

Borracho, “It Came From the Sky” official video premiere

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Robots of the Ancient World Premiere “Out of the Gallows” Video

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 7th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

robots of the ancient world (Photo by Eddie Brnabic)

Portland, Oregon’s Robots of the Ancient World released their second album, Mystic Goddess, on May 21 through Small Stone Records and Kozmik Artifactz. And while it’s immediately notable that the five-piece worked with producer/legend Jack Endino (and Mikel Perkins) on the recording of this follow-up to their 2019 debut, Cosmic Riders, having solidified their lineup in the interim, what’s even more notable as one makes the trip through the eight-track/42-minute outing is the cross-microgenre stylistic melange with which the band is working.

There are certainly uniting factors in the guitars of Nico Schmutz and Justin Laubscher, the Doors-via-Danzig (Doorzig?) vocal style of Caleb Weidenbach that tops the rolling, fluid groove of bassist Trevor Berecek and drummer Harry Silvers, but the open creative spirit is palpable, from the low-end centered sway and epic-tales vibe of the opening title-track through “Wasteland”‘s heavy blues also nodding to Kadavar in its vocal melody, on down through the willful plunge into doom of the 10-minute “Lucifyre” — a penultimate track swaying along to its own languid bassline, rife with trippy leads, shouts of its title and a long noise-and-sample finish (David Icke, who was booted from social media last year for spreading COVID-19 misinformation) followed only by the CD/DL-only acoustic-into-grunge-riffed closer “Ordo ab Chao,” which asks the question “Who do you think you are?” less as a challenge than a genuine query of how one sees oneself in the universe. As that song, and the album, finishes like a raw, minus-harmonies outtake from Sap, one can’t help but wonder indeed how Robots of the Ancient World might answer the question.

Perhaps they’d be so brazen as to think they’re themselves. That’s how Mystic Goddess ultimately makes it sound, robots of the ancient world mystic goddesswhatever elements they may smash together in the Hadron collider of a bluesy, wah-infused cut like “Agua Caliente” to get there. The unmitigated Pacific Northwest janga-janga stonerly chug of “Out of the Gallows” — which, oh, hey, just happens to have a video premiering below — betrays the secret of the ooze in its bassy righteousness. If Robots of the Ancient World are the rock ’em sock ’em type, it’s the low end providing the force behind their punches. So be it as “Unholy Trinity” opens side B with a darker and more atmospheric turn, still lumbering rock, drunken swagger and so on, but culminating with more foreboding heft in preface for what’s to come after the don’t-mind-us-we’re-just-gonna-sneak-in-this-tambourine-party “MK Ultra Violence” is there and gone in three and a half minutes and “Lucifyre” takes hold.

The word is “dynamic,” but the band’s mission isn’t just to put together parts in a this-sounds-like-this-and-this-sounds-like-that succession of new and old stylistic references, and neither are they tucked in that prodigious, riff-filled corner of the US without purpose behind their craft. I wouldn’t call what they do progressive if only for the level of self-indulgence that automatically implies, but there is underlying thought even to their bluesiest, loosest-seeming moments, a willful letting go that makes a forward charge like “Out of the Gallows” that much richer. It’s rock and roll, kids. Mystic Goddess alights on a whole bunch of this and that aesthetically, and they do it well, but to miss the preach of rock and roll is to miss the point entirely.

Check out the aforementioned video for “Out of the Gallows” below — one can’t help but be reminded of Axl Rose‘s disappearing t-shirt in “Welcome to the Jungle” while watching the sunglasses come and go from Weidenbach‘s face — and dig into the full album stream after the PR wire info, which has more about the recording.

Most of all, enjoy:

Robots of the Ancient World, “Out of the Gallows” official video premiere

ROBOTS OF THE ANCIENT WORLD entered Seattle’s Soundhouse Studios in February 2020 to record with Jack Endino, famed sonic architect of the grunge revolution, and his longtime protégé Mikel Perkins. They emerged through the wormhole with Mystic Goddess, a forty-three-minute hallucinatory sound excursion through a wide range of styles that keeps listeners engaged while never losing focus or sacrificing flow.

“Raw, powerful, no nonsense production is what we were seeking,” says guitarist Justin Laubscher. After connecting with Endino through a friend and veteran of the grunge wars, Laubscher says the band “scraped up every nickel we could and went for it.”

Recorded, mixed, and mastered in six days, Mystic Goddess almost crashed and burned prior to liftoff. Four days in, Endino abruptly fell ill, “wrecked from this weird flu from hell,” according to Laubscher. “At the time, COVID-19 was not yet a thing in the US.” Perkins engineered the final two days of tracking. “Perkins is a legend, stepped in without missing a beat, and we all felt at ease. He entertained our more fringe ideas, the ones up until that point I was apprehensive to present to Jack.” Endino eventually finished the mixes remotely and Perkins is credited as co-producer.

“I’m intrigued by psychedelics, esotericism, and conspiracy theories. I love to go deep with secret societies, other dimensions, and all that jazz. So, when you hear the Carl Sagan intro to ‘Cosmic Riders’ or David Icke closing out ‘Mystic Goddess,’ it’s a tribute,” notes Laubscher, “a nod to those dudes who are a creative inspiration for my song writing.”

Caleb Weidenbach – vocals
Nico Schmutz – guitar
Justin Laubscher – guitar
Trevor Berecek – bass
Harry Silvers – drums

Robots of the Ancient World, Mystic Goddess (2021)

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Shun Premiere “Machina” From Self-Titled Debut out June 4

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on May 7th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

shun shun

[Click play above to stream the premiere of ‘Machina’ from Shun’s self-titled debut. Album is out June 4 on Small Stone Records.]

Matt Whitehead on “Machina”:

A lot of the basic ideas for this song date back to jams in Jeff’s and my previous band (Made of Machines), but we were never really able to get it sounding the way we envisioned. Later, we jammed on it off and on with Shun and initially stumped everyone there as well, but everyone said they wanted to keep working on it. Over the period of a few months Rob and Scott developed their parts, and Jeff and I felt like we were finally fulfilled our original vision. Machina is also the first one I sent to J. Robbins to do a ‘proof of concept’ mix. When he sent the mix back, we were blown away. This song’s a bit of a weird, slow burn journey that ends in pure chaos and is one of our favorites to play.

SHUN live:
6/05 Asheville, NC @ Fleetwood’s
6/12 W. Columbia, SC @ Scratch N’ Spin (in-store 12PM)
6/26 Spartanburg, SC @ Ground Zero

Asheville, North Carolina’s Shun release their self-titled debut June 4 on Small Stone Records. Earlier this year, I was asked to write the bio for the album, as sometimes happens with Small Stone stuff when the band doesn’t have anyone particular they want to do it — at this point I’ve been in touch with the label in a professional capacity for the better part of 20 years, so it’s by no means out of the blue that this came about — and as I noted when the album was announced early last month, it was kind of a confused process. Overall I’m satisfied with the result, but if I had it to do over again, there are a few things I might change.

Here’s the original bio — I’ll put it in PR wire blue for ease of organization, which this post is already sorely lacking:

Shun are a four-piece founded by Matt Whitehead (guitar/vocals), Scott Brandon (guitar/backing vocals), Jeff Baucom (bass) and Rob Elzey (drums), who recorded the nine tracks of their self-titled debut in isolation prior to turning them over to the esteemed J. Robbins at the Magpie Cage (Clutch, The Sword, so many others) for mixing and Dan Coutant at Sun Room Audio for mastering.

Astute Small Stone Records loyalists will recognize Whitehead from his work in Throttlerod. He’s not alone in pedigree. Brandon has spent most of his life as a working musician, producer and DJ in Detroit, Ann Arbor, MI, and Chicago. Baucom, a veteran player in his own right, played together briefly with Whitehead in a band called Made of Machines. And Elzey has toured the world as a tech for the likes of Hatebreed and Unearth, among many others.

With this varied experience behind them, Shun work quickly to establish a distinct identity throughout this first LP, incorporating styles from melodic noise rock and heavy riffs to atmospheric largesse and contemplative, patient construction.

Having recorded in covid-isolation means drums and bass captured in Elzey’s garage and Brandon’s guitars recorded in his basement studio. Whitehead’s guitar was recorded with amps tucked into his bedroom closet and vocals also tracked in his house. A guest spot from Lamb of God’s Mark Morton on the penultimate “Heese” required no studio stop-by. But it also means songs put together over a period of months rather than days.

It’s to the band’s credit that Shun exists at all, let alone that it is neither disjointed nor wanting for urgency. A forceful and intermittently aggressive offering, it balances mood and intensity of expression throughout its songs. And while the record is coming out at a time when the band can’t get out and support it on stage as they otherwise might, the fact that they are pushing ahead with the release speaks as well to the need to say what they’re saying.

Shun’s style manages to be thoughtful and even sometimes proggy without giving in to self-indulgence or pretense, and their debut offers high-grade, dynamic, melodic heavy rock that resounds with purpose, taking familiar elements and pushing them beyond simplistic genre confines.

Right? Fine? Yeah. Not much more than that though. You get it through that the band is guitarist/vocalist Scott Brandon, vocalist/guitarist Matt Whitehead — and that the latter is a veteran of Small Stone staple act Throttlerod — as well as bassist Jeff Baucom and drummer Rob Elzey. You get that Shun, the nine-track/41-minute debut long-player, was tracked in isolation but ultimately mixed by J. Robbins, who for sure is a presence in the material despite not having actually captured the sounds himself so much as balanced them (and added some percussion). You get that it’s heavy. You get the essentials.

What you don’t really get from the bio I wrote is the character of the songs, which is pretty god damned important when it comes to actually hearing the record. You don’t get the latent post-hardcore influence in “Sleepwalking” or the emotive crux behind the payoff of “At Most.” You don’t get the progressive sensibility in the chugging “Machina” or the churning tension in album centerpiece “Undone,” the airy melodic float in the later “A Wooden House.” You kind of just get the barebones essentials.


I stand by my work — what choice do I have? — but I’m not thrilled with it, and it’s been kind of eating at me as it probably should if one gives a shit about what they do. Shun‘s Shun is ultimately more than just the sum of its parts. Even as opener “Run” smooths out its intense initial push into atmospheric pastoralism, it’s clear the four-piece — who again, built the record from scratch in COVID isolation — have more multifaceted ambitions than “here’s some dudes rockin’ riffs.” You get that Mark Morton from Lamb of God shows up on “Heese.” But you don’t get that it’s really the melodic character of the subsequent closer “Once Again,” the vague, later-’90s alternative-everything impression of the way the thickness of the bass foretells the sway that caps the record.

It’s teeny-tiny stakes, I know. Nobody reads band bios, even less now that they come through in email rather than wrapped around a CD in the mail. But as you listen to the track premiere above, I hope more of the band’s energy comes through than might through just seeing a phrase like “styles from melodic noise rock and heavy riffs to atmospheric largesse and contemplative, patient construction.” I’m not saying that’s not true, but sometimes when there’s a lot of basic info you need to include, it becomes like Joe Friday doing the telling: Just the facts, ma’am.

And there’s more appeal here than just the facts. There’s passion and force of delivery and a maturity of sound that comes through even though the band is a new entity. Maybe you can dig where they’re coming from and maybe you can’t — the punk roots are dug deep, but they’re there — but there’s a depth to Shun‘s songs that goes toward making an identity for the band beyond what the members have done before, and whether it’s a plague-born one-off or a continuing project, that’s worth preserving.

Shun, Shun (2021)

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Apollo80 Premiere “Black of the White” From Beautiful Beautiful Desolation LP out June 18

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on May 3rd, 2021 by JJ Koczan


Perth, Western Australia’s Apollo80 release their debut full-length, Beautiful Beautiful Desolation, on June 18 through Sound Effect Records and Kozmik Artifactz. The six-track/40-minute outing brings underlying symmetry to its spacious and spaced-out and spacey did I mention space-space-space heavy vibage, its intro and outro and four circa-nine-minute pieces melding and folding into each other in one resounding “holy crap” of a morass, but staying fluid and moving forward as well — thank you very much Shane on drums for that.

From the blanket of drone that rises to consume much of side A’s addled, headphone-ready “Terolgedo King” and “Like Men…/Corpse 65” to the crash and landmark-for-your-melting-brain riffly nod of pre-outro capper “Lung Beers,” the three-piece follow-up their suitably exclamatory 2018 debut EP, Lizard! Lizard! Lizard! (review here), with a rampage through multi-dimensional distortion and chrono-triggered heft. It’s like meeting someone on the street who comes up to you and goes, “Hey, you like Carl Sagan?” Fucking a right.

The roiling and shimmering starts with “Intro,” a line of synth casting a cinematic foreboding over the oops-there-it-goes procession forward, bringing just enough hypnosis to the feedback snap and ensuing lurch riff that begins “Teroldego King” is a Apollo80 Beautiful Beautiful Desolationshocker. Apollo80 — ShaneLuke on guitar and Brano on bass, with one or more of them taking on intermittent vocal duties — revel in the breadth. “Teroldego King” unfolds in massive form like the garbled transmission from a planet of sentient portiids, but cuts to a quiet movement in its second half, vocals coming in and going like were they real anyhow while the guitar noodles out over echoey rimshots.

They bring it back, of course, but in going so low, they make the high that much higher, and the final rumbles and crashes feel all the more affecting for it. If you can dig that, the megadrone-into-megaspace of “Like Men…/Corpse 65” is the stuff of your more chaotic dreams — the kind of shit that makes me want to leave hte typos in because screw it we’re all gonna burn anyway what’s the difference. But we’re here now, so put on headphones and dig that bass.

“Black of the White” throws out its hi-hat-propelled motion like a life-preserver into a sea of Jupiterian gas storms, and holds to it until it becomes jazz, the drums shifting after four minutes in as things start to go haywire. Vocals are treated, a mean poetry reading set to so much echo they’re barely recognizable, but the clamor fits, and the dropout-into-drop-on-your-head that ensues may be telegraphed but is no less a joy for that. Time outside (everything) is time well spent. Heavy. Psych. Tell your friends.

And while you’ve got their attention, let ’em know “Lung Beers” sent you. Stoner paean it may or may not be, but it’s a righteous preach to the converted either way, cutting as did “Teroldego King” — more of that symmetry noted earlier; a masterplan at work? — before embarking on the record’s last freakout, the guitar stripping away from the rest of the ship and embracing vacuum. In space, apparently you can still hear the shred. So be it. Weirdo Sap-style acoustic guitar reaps the aftermath in “Until the Sails Are on Fire,” maybe looped, maybe not, but as Apollo80 roll credits on their preliminary feature-length excursion, they do so having touched off a bouncing cavalcade of prime-directive-violating contact, rounding off squares where they stand and telling kids about enough new gods to get themselves thrown in jail.

Think you can jive? Well, jive to “Black of the White” on the player below. Go on. Make friends.

PR wire info and whatnot follow:

Apollo80 are doing it again! After the striking debut in 2019 the Western Australian trio is back with a new chapter of heavy-riffing exploration in the low frequencies universe. The main ingredients for the space cake are unchanged, but this new work explores a darker space with an extended use of drone atmospheres, groovy tempos and sporadic synth and vocal inserts. Beautiful, Beautiful Desolation is the title of what is going to be their first full-length and is promising to please the fans of Melvins, Earth, Toner Low and whoever aims to soak their brain in a bath of distorted frequencies.

While the intro seems to continue the space-rock voyage of their previous EP, the opening riff clears immediately the path for a heavier trip that reaches the deepest point with the feedbacks and drones of the Earth-ian Like Men Gone at Sea. Side B is a surprise again and introduces synth layers and distorted vocals that are totally new for the Perth trio, but then they close with what they do best. 90s-inspired slow riffs and a long psychedelic interlude of the banger Lungbeers carry the listener to the end of this 40+ mins work that will be brought on the streets by the joined efforts of Sound Effect Records and Kozmik Artifactz. The two veteran labels will be releasing 500 copies in black, colored and special edition vinyl and CD, including, for the first time ever, their “Lizard Lizard Lizard” vinyl-only EP!

Side A
Intro (1:47)
Teroldego King (9:37)
Like Men…/Corpse 65 (8:17)

Side B
Black of the White (9:34)
Lung Beers (9:03)
Until the Sails Are on Fire (1:48)

Apollo80 is:
Luke – guitar and space effects
Shane – drums
Brano – bass

Apollo80, Beautiful Beautiful Desolation (2021)

Apollo80 on Thee Facebooks

Apollo80 on Bandcamp

Sound Effect Records on Thee Facebooks

Sound Effect Records website

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The Obelisk Questionnaire: Matt Whitehead of Shun & Throttlerod

Posted in Questionnaire on April 28th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

Matt Whitehead SHUN

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: Matt Whitehead of Shun & Throttlerod

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

I love to stay busy writing songs and stray riffs in my spare time and sing and play guitar in a new band called Shun. We’re a four-piece loud riff-based heavy rock band that also has melodic and moody elements.

How did I come to it? My first job at Little Caesar’s…. [big U.S. pizza chain for our overseas friends who may not be familiar.]

I worked at that pizza chain in high school with a couple of people that were in some really good bands, one of which I joined sometime in early 1995. That band happened to be one of my favorite bands around at the time and it was a real honor to get that opportunity. That experience ultimately helped shape my ideas about songwriting and melody. Whereas I had been primarily into metal and also Nirvana, I became an absolute sponge in college and listened to everything I could get my hands on. That’s when I found everything from The Melvins and Fugazi to Morphine, PJ Harvey, and Jawbox.

After that first band ran its course, I started Throttlerod with two of those same guys, put out a bunch of records, and did a lot of touring. Early on, our friends in ATP and Sunnshine encouraged us to move from Columbia, SC, to Richmond and we did. Not because we didn’t like our hometown (we loved it there). But Richmond had a really unique scene and is well-situated on the East Coast to hit a lot of cities in a short amount of time. Eventually, we recruited the Sunnshine drummer, Kevin White, and the bass player from my first band who moved to Richmond from where he had been living in Chicago.

I moved back to South Carolina in 2011 and put out one more Throttlerod record that J. Robbins produced. I was getting restless as I waited for Kevin to join me, so I started a band called Made of Machines with… a guy from that first job at the pizza place. Another guy from my first band introduced me to Jeff Baucom who played bass with Machines for a couple of years.

Jeff and I really connected personally and musically, and he asked me to come jam with a new project he had going with a drummer and a guitarist who had just moved to the area. Fast forward through a few hurdles with getting together, and we are now on a schedule and having a blast making music. So, in a way all of my connections to music began at Little Caesar’s. Weird.

Describe your first musical memory.

My first musical memory is listening to Beatles and Elton John records with my mom when I was probably four years old. I got really into other artists after that, but it was “Battery” by Metallica led me to go head-first into guitar. I more or less learned the instrument from obsessing over their first three Metallica records. A good friend of mine shared that obsession and we used to stay up all night playing metal covers, and we probably (definitely) knew every Metallica song through Justice at one point. There are a lot worse things we could have been doing! When I went to college though, I was exposed to a whole lot.

Describe your best musical memory to date.

I have been fortunate enough to experience a lot with Throttlerod: playing in front of 19,000 people in Shockoe Bottom; playing HF Festival, CMJ, or SXSW; and playing with all kinds of cool bands ranging from Clutch and Mastodon to Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers. But my best musical memory is much more basic: touring in a van with my friends, seeing the US and Canada, sleeping on floors, and playing music that we loved every night. I was just telling this story a few days ago, but we always prided ourselves on playing the same to an audience of one as we did to an audience of 19,000. Once we played Des Moines, Iowa, early in the week and there was nobody there. Literally nobody. We got on stage and seconds into our set, Matt Pike (who we had met when we played with High on Fire sometime before that) walks in. We played our entire set to him headbanging in front of the stage. Ruled.

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

I don’t know about that. I try and be open enough to other perspectives to where I don’t get too upset over people challenging me. It’s not a perfect system, but I can’t think of a situation off the top of my head where I got bothered or felt “tested” by someone or something challenging a belief.

Where do you feel artistic progression leads?

Who knows where it will lead? The old cliché “it’s the journey, not the destination” holds true here. People, interests, influences, etc. change over time and that should be ok as long as we’re still excited. I try my best to treat songs as a diary and not mull over them too much. To me, it feels more exciting to have a batch of songs we wrote in a short period of time when we felt a certain way and not overthink them versus mulling over every song for months/years thinking we’re going to make it perfect. The next album will be written with different perspectives because we’ve changed along with everything around us.

How do you define success?

Honestly, we feel like we’ve succeeded just getting to play music together in a new band at this stage in our lives. Having J. Robbins believe in it enough to want to mix our home recordings, having Small Stone Records interested enough to put it out, and Mark Morton (Lamb of God) contributing a solo to a song is a real high-five situation to put it mildly.

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

I could get real dark here, but let’s keep this upbeat and positive.

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

The next album. Upon finishing our last one, it took no more than a week for new riffs to start flying around.

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

The most essential function of art depends on the situation. Entertainment, connection, self-awareness… all valid functions in my opinion.

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

Spending time with my family and traveling are always things I look forward to.

Shun, Shun (2021)

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Shun Announce Self-Titled Debut Album out June 4; Preorders Up

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 12th, 2021 by JJ Koczan


Some part of the press release below is from the bio I wrote. It was a bit of a process putting that together since at first I was under the mistaken impression Shun wasn’t a new band but a new incarnation of Throttlerod putting out an album called Shun. What made that hard to understand was that it sounded so different from that band’s past work, was a marked left turn in direction. Well, Shun is a different band that just happens to feature Throttlerod‘s Matt Whitehead (who was very understanding in working with my dumb ass), and their self-titled debut is up for preorder now with CD through Small Stone and vinyl through Kozmik Artifactz. They’re streaming the opening track, as Small Stone is wont to do with its releases when they’re announced.

You’ll also note the cover art by Alexander Von Wieding. I’m not sure what’s happening there — fighting monoliths? — but I like it.

Info came down the PR wire thusly:

shun shun

SHUN: North Carolina Heavy Rock Collective Featuring Member Of Throttlerod To Release Self-Titled Debut June 4th Via Small Stone; New Track Streaming + Preorders Available

Asheville, North Carolina heavy rock collective SHUN will release their self-titled debut June 4th via Small Stone Records. The record includes guest appearances by Mark Morton (Lamb Of God) and J. Robbins (Jawbox, Burning Airlines, Government Issue).

A name inspired by a Bruce Lee quote: “Adapt what is useful, reject [shun] what is useless, and add what is specifically your own,” SHUN is guitarist/vocalist Matt Whitehead, guitarist/backing vocalist Scott Brandon, bassist Jeff Baucom, and drummer Rob Elzey. Astute Small Stone loyalists will recognize Whitehead from his work in Throttlerod. He’s not alone in pedigree. Brandon has spent most of his life as a working musician, producer, and DJ in Detroit, and Ann Arbor, Michigan and Chicago, Illinois. Baucom, a veteran musician in his own right, played with Whitehead briefly in a band called Made Of Machines and has been a part of the regional music scene for some time while Elzey has toured the world as a tech for the likes of Hatebreed and Unearth, among many others.

Together, SHUN manifests a distinct identity throughout their eponymous LP, incorporating everything from melodic noise rock and heavy riffs to atmospheric largesse and contemplative, patient construction. Developed in covid-isolation over a period of several months, the drums and bass comprising Shun were recorded in Elzey’s garage while Brandon’s guitars were captured in his basement studio. Whitehead’s guitars were recorded with amps tucked into his bedroom closet and vocals were also tracked in his house. A guest spot from Lamb Of God’s Mark Morton on the penultimate “Heese” required no studio stop-by. In the end, nine tracks were turned over to esteemed producer J. Robbins at Magpie Cage Recording Studio (Clutch, The Sword, Coliseum) for mixing and Dan Coutant at Sun Room Audio for mastering.

It’s to the band’s credit that Shun exists at all, let alone that it is neither disjointed nor wanting for urgency. A forceful and intermittently aggressive offering, it balances mood and intensity of expression throughout its duration.

In advance of the release of Shun, today the band is pleased to unveil opening track, “Run.” Notes Brandon, “This album for me truly is a culmination of a lifelong passion for music and a testament to my DIY attitude towards life in general. We worked really hard through some difficult times to put this thing together, and I’m really proud of what we’ve done. I’ve found myself playing and writing with some amazingly talented people in this band, and I think ‘Run’ is a great example of us hitting on all cylinders.”

Shun, which features cover art by Alexander Von Wieding (Monster Magnet, Trouble, Karma To Burn), will be released on CD and digital formats via Small Stone with Kozmik Artifactz handling a limited vinyl edition. Find preorder options at THIS LOCATION:

Shun Track Listing:
1. Run
2. Sleepwalking
3. At Most
4. Machina
5. Undone
6. Near Enemy
7. A Wooden House
8. Heese
9. Once Again

Jeff Baucom – bass
Matt Whitehead – vocals, guitars
Rob Elzey – drums
Scott Brandon – guitars, vocals

Additional Musicians:
Mark Morton – guitar solo on “Heese”
J. Robbins – various percussion

Shun, Shun (2021)

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