Weather Systems: Post-Anathema Project Streams Demo “Still Lake”

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 29th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

If you too were bummed when Anathema called it a day after three decades late last year, you might find some consolation in the fact that the family tree remains quite active. To wit, guitarist/vocalist Daniel Cavanagh recently announced he’d be putting out a solo record, and seemingly in addition to that, he’s also got the new project Weather Systems, which will make its debut in 2022.

The name — if you’re still reading this you probably already know — comes from Anathema‘s 2012 album, Weather Systems (review here), and the intention behind the band seems to be to pick up in some ways where Anathema left off. That, specifically, was 2017’s The Optimist (review here), a record that, even for a band not shy about engaging with their past — having reworked old material and so on — took on their prior output in a new and fascinating way while continuing to move inextricably forward in its own sound.

I don’t know what Weather Systems will hold when Ocean Without a Shore — the upcoming LP — shows up next year, but I know enough to know that one song never represents the entirety, so I listen to the newly posted demo (he calls it ‘low quality,’ inviting contradiction) “Still Lake” not expecting to hear a summation of the total aesthetic so much as a teaser of a fraction thereof. Still, you’ll pardon me if I take what I can get. Curious to see who else is involved in Weather Systems, how it relates to Cavanagh‘s solo record, and who might be releasing the album when we get there. I hope I get to hear it.

From Anathema’s social media:

weather systems ocean without a shore

A low quality demo of the first song from the album ‘ocean without a shore’ to be released next year. This song is not complete, and neither is the album cover, just showing you a work in progress. You deserve it after lockdown. Dedicated to all who lost someone during the pandemic.

Click here:

Many blessings to all

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Conan Announce July UK Tour Dates

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 4th, 2021 by JJ Koczan


Go boldly, gentlemen. If anyone might be tapped to charge axe-first into the barren post-touring wasteland, well, at least Conan have plenty of history as regards conquering. The UK trio will hit the road supporting their recent Live at Freak Valley (discussed here) offering through Napalm Records. It’s something of a stopgap, maybe, but fits smoothly in a take-what-you-can-get kind of scenario, this altered timeline in which we exist and they’ve yet to unveil their follow-up to 2018’s Existential Void Guardian (review here) as they otherwise might have done last year.

Forgive the speculation, but I’m wondering if Conan won’t be looking to release their next full-length sometime this summer, either before or following this tour. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to think they’ll be getting their feet back under them here as they head out for what will be the first time in more than a year — certainly the longest break they’ve had since they started touring — and between pandemic regulations and Britain leaving the European Union, I have no idea what further tours this might lead to, if it even happens at all — they’ve been confirmed for a fest in Sweden in August, if that helps — but since they are pushing to hit the road, doing so to support a new album makes even more sense to me, though nothing has yet been announced in that regard and as ever, I’ve zero info to share.

Maybe wishful thinking on my part, then, but it’s nice to think wishfully for a change. Conan posted the tour dates on their social medias with the appropriate event links:

conan uk tour july 2021


!!!UK TOUR – JULY 2021!!!
15.07 London –
16.07 Sheffield –
17.07 Nottingham –
18.07 Edinburgh –
19.07 Southampton –
20.07 Bristol –
21.07 Glasgow –
22.07 Swansea –
23.07 Birmingham –
24.07 Huddersfield –
25.07 Preston –

Jon Davis – vocals, guitar (2006-present)
Chris Fielding – bass (2013-present)
Johnny King – drums (2017-present)

Conan, “Satsumo” live at Freak Valley Festival 2019

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Conan Post “Hawk as Weapon” Video from Live at Freak Valley

Posted in Bootleg Theater on February 10th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

conan jon davis (Photo Credit Clemens Mitscher)

Hey, remember when Conan were announced for Freak Valley 2017? I do. Here’s the announcement. They were supporting 2016’s Revengeance (review here) at the time; their third album. Remember when they released Monnos (review here) some nine years ago through Burning World Records? Yeah, that was pretty awesome too. Conan, in fact, have been kicking ass for some time now.

“Hawk as Weapon” appeared on that righteously lumbering 2012 debut long-player, and proved that there was more to Conan than slow-rolling, molasses-toned churn. They could make that volume move when they wanted, and that made the Jon Davis-led trio all the more devastating as a result. By 2017, they were already well established among the galaxy’s superlatively massive phenomena, and 2018’s Existential Void Guardian (review here) — still their latest LP because the next one hasn’t come out because fucking pandemic blah blah blah I can’t even type it anymore — would do nothing to dispute the reputation. Davis knew at the outset what he wanted the band to be and he has set about making it that thing ever since.

His mission remains honorable and Conan‘s output remains vital in itself and in the influence they’ve had on a rising generation of riffseekers trying to outdo each other in tonal thickness and primitive destruction. Existential Void Guardian helped reinforce Conan as having garnered more dynamic as a result of their years on the road and a solidified lineup. While bassist/vocalist Chris Fielding was in the band at the time this version of “Hawk as Weapon” was recorded, Johnny King had yet to join on drums. They nonetheless managed to tear it up.


Conan, “Hawk as Weapon” from Live at Freak Valley

Hail Supreme Doom! Live At Freak Valley!

CONAN have just unveiled the heavy, massive live version of their most successful song, “Hawk As Weapon”, on streaming platforms (to date, the studio version has amassed more than a million plays)! With the fuzz pedal pushed to the limit, the masters of brute waves of sound deliver further proof that they are unsurpassable in intensity. The new single clearly shows what a CONAN show is all about.

Heavily distorted and down-tuned sounds turn the legendary fields of the German Freak Valley Festival into madness. The undisputed masters of fantastical, otherworldly, sludgy doom, CONAN, will cast a spell on the listener and propel them straight into the crowd, captured in dust. HAIL CONAN!

Three years after the release of the ferocious caveman battle doom masterpiece Existential Void Guardian, CONAN waves the flag of Pain again and releases Live At Freak Valley on March 12, 2021 via Napalm Records. Following their 2013 live album, recorded at Roadburn festival, and the self-released Live At Bannermans, their third live album could not have been recorded at a better place than Freak Valley Festival.

Line up:
Jon Davis – vocals, guitar (2006-present)
Chris Fielding – bass (2013–present)
Johnny King – drums (2017–present)

Conan website

Conan on Thee Facebooks

Conan on Instagram

Conan on Bandcamp

Conan on Twitter

Napalm Records website

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Conan Announces March 12 Release for Live at Freak Valley

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 14th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

conan freak valley 2019 (photo by Clemens Mitscher)

2021 marks 15 years since guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis founded Conan. What a way to celebrate, right? They should be on tour right now, with a new album coming if not already out. A lot of things should be a lot of things. I don’t know what to tell you.

I’m down with a Conan live album. It feels earned, not just because they’re killer live, and not just because they should be touring, but because they’re still under-celebrated as a live act. This was recorded at Freak Valley Festival in Germany in 2017. The before-time. The long-long ago.

You should watch the video for “Satsumo” and see how close people are standing together. It’ll blow your fucking mind. I hope there’s a Freak Valley this year. And if there is, I hope I get to go. That’s about as much insight as I have to offer. Great band, live record, preorders up.

The PR wire has it like this:

conan live at freak valley

Caveman Battle Doom Masters CONAN to Release New Live Album, Live At Freak Valley, on March 12

First Single and Video “Satsumo” Out Now

Pre-Order NOW:

Hail Supreme Doom! Live At Freak Valley!

Heavily distorted and down-tuned sounds turn the legendary fields of the German Freak Valley Festival into madness. The undisputed masters of fantastical otherworldly sludgy doom, CONAN, will cast a spell on the listener and propel them straight into the crowd, captured in dust.

Three years after the release of the ferocious caveman battle doom masterpiece Existential Void Guardian, CONAN waves the flag of Pain again and releases Live At Freak Valley on March 12, 2021 via Napalm Records. After their 2013 live album, recorded at Roadburn festival, and the self-released Live At Bannermans, their third live album could not be recorded at a better place than Freak Valley Festival.

“Satsumo” is oppression, massiveness and rage. The first single and video breaks out as a harbinger of the devastation that CONAN brought at their massive show at Freak Valley Festival. With mechanical wizardry heaped upon their pure-hearted compositions, they cement their colossal and brutish live ascendancy! HAIL CONAN!

Tracklist Live At Freak Valley:
1. Gravity Chasm
2. Throne of Fire
3. Thunderhoof
4. Battle in the Swamp
5. Hawk as Weapon
6. Satsumo
7. Foehammer
8. Total Conquest
9. Revengeance

Live At Freak Valley will be available in the following formats:
– 2 LP Gatefold Vinyl White / Black Marble (Napalm Records mailorder only) – strictly limited to 200
– 2 LP Gatefold Vinyl Grey
– 1 CD Jewelcase
– Digital album

Jon Davis – vocals, guitar (2006-present)
Chris Fielding – bass (2013-present)
Johnny King – drums (2017-present)

Conan, “Satsumo” live at Freak Valley Festival 2019

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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


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.


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.

Wolftooth on Thee Facebooks

Ripple Music on Bandcamp

Cursed Tongue Records BigCartel store

Ice Fall Records BigCartel store


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.

Starmonger on Thee Facebooks

Starmonger on Bandcamp


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Anathema Announce “Indefinite Hiatus”

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 1st, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Anathema hit 30 years of existence in 2020, and apparently they’ve seen enough. And while there’s a part of me that definitely began the first draft of this post by asking “what’s the point of anything anymore?,” I get it. Over the course of their decades together after being founded in 1990 by brothers Vincent and Danny Cavanagh, the band evolved from death-doom to moody post-goth dark heaviness and came out the other side with an increasingly progressive and melodic reach. They never put out the same record twice — all the more of a feat because their last album, 2017’s The Optimist (review here), was a sequel to 2001’s A Fine Day to Exit — and they never lost their commitment to genuine expression of where they were at the time.

I can only speak as a fan. They were among the first truly underground bands that resonated with me. First exposure was 1998’s Alternative 4 (discussed here), and that, along with 1999’s Judgement, A Fine Day to Exit and 2003’s A Natural Disaster (reissues reviewed here), remain essential works to which I return with fair regularity. Long years between A Fine Day to Exit and 2010’s We’re Here Because We’re Here (discussed here) brought stark changes in perspective — they “got happy,” to put it as simply as possible — but their identity as a group was still intact.

And the decade that followed with releases on Peaceville Records imprint Kscope, whether it was 2012’s Weather Systems (review here), 2014’s Distant SatellitesThe Optimist or various live outings, compilations and redux works like 2011’s Falling Deeper (review here) — a follow-up to 2008’s Hindsight — offered riches of its own for those with minds willing to make the journey with the band. Fans had their favorite eras. I know a few who swear by their first three records — 1993’s Serenades, 1995’s The Silent Enigma and 1996’s Eternity — and nothing else. As one looks back on the arc of their now-apparently-ended career, I’m not sure it matters.

For what it’s worth, Vincent Cavanagh appears on the new Crippled Black Phoenix record, and this is an “indefinite hiatus,” so if they’re able to tour again, they might pick up a few years down the line, but if they’re taking the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on the creative world as a whole and on them as people as a cue to make their own exit, well, they do so with no less grace than one would have to expect.

Their announcement follows:

anathema done

Anathema, “A Natural Disaster” from A Sort of Homecoming

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Mugstar Stream “Zeta Potential”; GRAFT LP Preorder Available

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 28th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Some bands you listen to and then whole bunches of other bands make sense. Like The Heads. See also, Mugstar. The Liverpudlian troupe have been in the spacefaring business for nigh on 17 years, which if you’re keeping track, puts them well ahead of the current wave of what’s being kinda-laughably called neo-psych. Their new album, GRAFT, will see issue through Centripetal Force and Cardinal Fuzz Records on Oct. 30, and to go with preorders, they’re currently streaming the track “Zeta Potential,” which you can hear below.

To go with that, you’ll also find the collaborative outing the four-piece put out earlier this year with Damo Suzuki of progressive rock legends Can through Weird Beard Records. Different vibe, obviously, but it’s another chance to bliss out for 40 minutes and I don’t really see where you’d lose.


mugstar graft


Presale Date: September 25, 2020
Release Date: October 30, 2020

Centripetal Force (North America) and Cardinal Fuzz (UK/Europe) are excited to announce the upcoming release of Mugstar’s GRAFT, the follow up album to their much-lauded live collaboration with Can’s Damo Suzuki released earlier this year. The album is being presented in a 600 copy vinyl pressing, 250 of which will be on deep red vinyl and made available for preorder on September 25th. GRAFT’s release date is October 30th.

UK space rockers Mugstar have been hurtling through the sonic multiverse since 2003 and have left an extensive discography in their wake. Early on, the band caught the attention of the late John Peel, taking part in one of the last editions of his famed Peel Sessions. From there, the band has compiled an impressive run of releases and solidified their reputation for powerfully hypnotic live performances.

After experimenting with longer form compositions on 2016’s Magnetic Seasons (Rock Action Records), GRAFT’s six song journey sees Mugstar return to a more focused work ethic, a move resulting in a sound that is fraught with tension and caters to one of their biggest strengths, the ability to consistently create, sustain, and, ultimately, diffuse drama. This is an effect well-executed on tracks like “Zeta Potential” and “Star Cage.” And even on an album where a tighter approach was a priority, Mugstar still finds plenty of room to improvise and allow for creative exploration, as illustrated on “Ghost of a Ghost” and “Low, Slow Horizon.” Looking back at Mugstar’s catalog, it is remarkable to see the path they have travelled and how GRAFT continues their bold advance into the future. We think you’ll agree.

Mugstar, GRAFT (2020)

Mugstar & Damo Suzuki, Live at the Invisible Wind Factory (2020)

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Five Essential Records of the Skyhammer Studio Era

Posted in Features on July 15th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

skyhammer studio chris fielding feet

Skyhammer Studio operated between August 2013 and February 2019, and in that five-plus-year period, became the essential recording space of UK heavy. Founded in the village of Childer Thornton by Conan guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis and producer and Conan bassist/vocalist Chris Fielding — who had already made a name for himself at Foel Studios, working with Electric Wizard, Primordial, and others — it marked a moment of arrival and self-sufficiency for the UK underground that was already booming with homegrown acts before and since the advent of Desertfest in 2012.

In more extreme fare, one hears about Sunlight Studio as an anchor of the Swedish death metal sound. I firmly believe that in the years the come, the ‘Skyhammer Sound’ — a particular blend of tectonic tonal weight and spaciousness — will be viewed in much the same way, and that Fielding‘s work behind the board for a wide swath of bands has helped define the current generation of UK-based heavy bands as much as any band’s influence newer groups might be working under.

Since Skyhammer closed, Fielding has continued his work back at Foel — one very much looks forward to the next LP from Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, which he’ll produce there — but with the easy encapsulation that considering a Skyhammer-era makes, it seems only appropriate now that it’s been more than year since it ended to take a look at some of the most essential albums that came out of that place and that time.

It’s not an easy list to choose from, and I admit, part of the impetus behind doing this was to get a complete (or as complete as possible) list of the releases that came out of Skyhammer. You’ll note the headline doesn’t say “The Five Essential…” and that’s for good reason. The list Fielding was kind enough to send over when I asked for it is staggering, and from Coltsblood and The Wounded Kings to Alunah and Stubb and Pist to Bismarck, it shows not only how Skyhammer became a defining point for UK heavy, but reached beyond those borders as well.

I’m not going to tell you not to chase down anything you see below — or even to catch ’em all, Pokemon-style — but I’ve set the goal for myself to pick five, so that’s what I’m sticking to.

Here goes, alphabetized by year:

Serpent Venom, Of Things Seen and Unseen (2014)

serpent venom of things seen and unseen

I mean, how do you say no to this? Serpent Venom, along with fellow Skyhammer vets Iron Void, connect the studio right into the mainline vein of classic British doom. Serpent Venom‘s 2014 outing, Of Things Seen and Unseen (review here) gracefully blends those stylistic impulses with a richness to tone that gives the vocals a genuine space in which to reside, and though relatively speaking it was earlier days for Skyhammer, Fielding had already long since proved the room could capture a huge sound. Serpent Venom made the most of it. Now if only they might be somehow convinced to do a follow-up.

Undersmile, Anhedonia (2015)

undersmile anhedonia

Yeah, okay. I’ll admit that Oxfordshire four-piece Undersmile are somewhat on the brain after their late-2019 reunion, but with their 2015 album, Anhedonia (review here) — released on Jon DavisBlack Bow Records, in addition to being recorded at Skyhammer — the band demonstrated that not only could gargantuan, tidal-proportioned riffs find their way to tape at the studio, but also that a corresponding melodic resonance could take place. Listen to the vocal harmonies. And listen to the open-feeling space in which they reside, even early in album-opener “Labyrinths.” The point is made quickly through genuine immersion, and while of course the band’s songwriting has to get a massive credit for that, their choice of producer and studio definitely plays in as well.

Conan, Revengeance (2016)

conan revengeance

Obviously a Conan record needs to be on this list, and really, take your pick from among the three they recorded there. There’s no wrong answer. Fielding had produced Conan at Foel since their first EP, but 2016’s Revengeance (review here) marked his first appearance in the band as bassist/vocalist, so that’s why I chose it. Of course that and it’s fucking crushing, but again, Conan did 2014’s Blood Eagle (review here) and 2018’s Existential Void Guardian (review here) at Skyhammer too. They all bear the mark of records made in a studio built to suit the band’s express purposes. In fact, screw keeping the list to five. Just listen to all three.

Slomatics, Future Echo Returns (2016)

slomatics future echo returns

Another Black Bow release, and god damn, I love this record. Future Echo Returns (review here) was the last installment of a trilogy for Belfast, Northern Ireland’s Slomatics, and they could hardly have brought that particular storyline to a close in grander fashion. The sheer plod of the riffs and the reaches that their synth and melodies covered seemed to show the best of what Skyhammer could do with something truly bone-shakingly loud. From the depths of its somehow-bassless low end to the effects spreading out across the 10-minute closer “Into the Eternal,” Future Echo Returns, like Revengeance earlier that year, was just a case of the absolute right band with the absolute right producer. Slomatics also did songs for two splits at Skyhammer, with Holly Hunt and Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, which brings me to…

Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Yn Ol I Annwn (2019)

mammoth weed wizard bastard yn ol i annwn

Issued through New Heavy Sounds, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard‘s 2019 third full-length, Yn Ol I Annwn (review here), is a cosmic sci-fi doom masterstroke. Part of what it emphasizes is similar to Slomatics — the blend of space and weight — but especially in the case of Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard‘s latest offering, it’s right down to the sheer impact of the drums. Yeah, the tones are there, and of course Jessica Ball‘s vocals add a lushness that plays to the otherworldly themes around which the album is based, but hell’s bells, those drums sound incredible. How many snare sounds can you really call “thick?” Yn Ol I Annwn seemed to find new depths and new reaches alike for Skyhammer, affirming the studio’s strengths and pushing its limits beyond where they’d gone before.

10 More for the Hell of It:

Coltsblood, Into the Unfathomable Abyss
Stubb, Cry of the Ocean
Hooded Menace, Darkness Drips Forth
The Wounded Kings, Visions in Bone
Alunah, Solennial
Boss Keloid, Melted on the Inch
Iron Void, Excalibur
Slomatics/Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Totems
Bismuth, The Slow Dying of the Great Barrier Reef
Belzebong, Light the Dankness

Let’s be honest. They’re not all going to be gold, right? And I’m not going to sit here and tell you everything Fielding helmed at Skyhammer is a future classic your grandkids are going to ask you about. That’s just unrealistic. But Skyhammer became an epicenter for UK (and beyond) heavy, and whether it was a rock band like Stubb looking to draw out new soul in their sound or an absolute mauler like BongCauldron trying to maximize the onslaught of their sludge, Skyhammer was able to help make good bands better.

I said already that Fielding has continued and will continue to produce bands at Foel Studios, and I want to say it again, if only to point out that while the Skyhammer era may be over, both Fielding and the UK heavy underground continue to flourish and realize material of staggering quality and sonic variety.

Straight from Fielding‘s notes, here’s the Skyhammer discography:

Skyhammer Studio Discography:

Bast – Spectres
Throne – Where Tharsis Sleeps
Coltsblood – Into The Unfathomable Abyss
Nathicana – Dark Spirits And Violence
Serpent Venom – Of Things Seen And Unseen
Conan – Blood Eagle
Ageless Oblivion – Penthos
Mononoke – Tom Finigan
Jonny Keeley – Fallen Trees
Intensive Square – Anything That Moves
Green Horn – Doomhawk
Pist – Riffology
Stubb – Cry Of The Ocean
Northern Oak – Of Roots And Flesh
Abomnium – Solace For The Condemned
Electric Wizard – Time To Die
Kill All The Gentlemen – Rebellion
Masochist – Condemned To Grovel
Winterfylleth – The Divination Of Antiquity
Headless Kross – Volumes
Slomatics – Ulysses, My Father
Yanomamo – Minions
SSS – Limp. Gasp. Collapse
Mage – Last Orders
Nuclear Weasels – Bring To Mind
Greenhorn – Like Rows Of Crooked Teeth
Dead Existence – Endless Misery
Of Spire & Throne – Sanctum In The Light
Undersmile – Anhedonia
The Bendal Interlude – Reign Of The Unblinking Eye
Burning Flag S/T & Izabel
Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard – Noeth Ac Anoeth
1968 – EP
Iron Void – Doomsday
Witchsorrow – No Light, Only Fire
Latitudes – Old Sunlight
Hooded Menace – A View From The Rope (Split Release w/Loss)
Hooded Menace – Darkness Drips Forth
Darkest Era – An Dagda
Bismuth – Unavailing
The Wounded Kings – Visions In Bone
Conan – Revengeance
Boss Keloid – Herb Your Enthusiasm
Garganjua – A Voyage In Solitude
Winterfylleth – The Dark Hereafter
Pist – Rhythm & Booxe
Mourning Beloveth – Rust & Bone
Kill All The Gentlemen – The Faustian Delusion
Hung On Horns – Slaves
Sons Of Balaur – Tenebris Deos
Battalions – Nothing To Lose
Warcrab – Scars Of Aeons
Slomatics – Future Echo Returns
XII Boar – Beyond The Valley Of The Triclops
Razor Sharp Death Blizzard – You Will Burn
1968 – Fortuna Havana
Tides Of Sulphur – Extinction Curse
Farseer – Fall Before The Dawn
Iron Witch – A Harrowed Dawn
Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard – Y Proffwyd Dwyll
Dorre/Bethmoora – Split 12”
Widows – Oh Deer God
Coltsblood – Ascending Into Shimmering Darkness
Nine Covens – Single
Foetal Juice – Masters Of Absurdity
BongCauldron – Binge
Monolith Cult – Gospel Of Despair
Alunah – Solennial
Mage – Green
Bismuth – Split w/Gnaw Their Tongues & Split w/Legion Of Andromeda
Dirt Forge – Soothsayer
Burning Flag – Izabel
Grey Widow – II
Strangle Wire – The Dark Triad
Stubb – Burning Moon Single
Abomnium – A Hollow Path
Battalions – Moonburn
DDENT – Toro
Twelve Boar – No Forgiveness
Godeater – Outerstellar
Garganjua – Through The Void
Winterfylleth – The Hallowing Of Heirdom
Witchsorrow – Hexenhammer
Kill All The Gentlemen – The Loss And The Rapture
Boss Keloid – Melted On The Inch
Iron Void – Excalibur
Conan – Existential Void Guardian
Eliminator – Last Horizon
Celtachor – Fiannaiocht
Slomatics/Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard – Totems
Bismuth – The Slow Dying Of The Great Barrier Reef
Indica Blues – Hymns For A Dying Realm
Bismarck – Urkraft
Bast – Nanoangstrom
Kurokuma – Dope Rider
Jo Quail – Exsolve
Necronautical – Apotheosis
Latitudes – Part Islands
Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard – Yn Ol I Annwn
Barbarian Hermit – Solitude And Savagery
WarCrab – Damned In Endless Night
Orbital Junction – EP
Battalions – Forever Marching Backwards
NNRA – Incarne
Alunah – Amber & Gold
Ungraven – Language Of Longing
Dorre – Fall River
Belzebong – Light The Dankness
Mourning Beloveth – Split w/Ruins Of Beverast
Atavist – III: Absolution
Duskwood – The Long Dark
Mage – Key to the Universe
Bismarck – Oneiromancer
Madmess – ST

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