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

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

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

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

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

Quarterly Review #11-20:

High on Fire, Cometh the Storm

high on fire cometh the storm

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

High on Fire on Facebook

MNRK Heavy website

Spaceslug, Out of Water

spaceslug out of water

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

Spaceslug on Facebook

Spaceslug on Bandcamp

Lie Heavy, Burn to the Moon

lie heavy burn to the moon

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

Lie Heavy on Facebook

Heavy Psych Sounds website

Burning Realm, Face the Fire

Burning Realm Face the Fire

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

Burning Realm on Facebook

Burning Realm on Bandcamp

Kalac, Odyss​é​e

Odyssee

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

Kalac on Facebook

Crême Brûlée Records on Bandcamp

Clostridium Records store

Weird Beard Records store

Echodelick Records on Bandcamp

Alkuräjähdys, Ehdot.

Alkurajahdys ehdot

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

Alkuräjähdys on Instagram

Alkuräjähdys on Bandcamp

Magick Brother & Mystic Sister, Tarot Pt. 1

Magick Brother & Mystic Sister tarot pt. 1

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

Magick Brother & Mystic Sister on Facebook

Sound Effect Records store

Amigo, Good Time Island

Amigo Good Time Island

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

Amigo on Facebook

Roosevelt Row Records store

The Hazytones, Wild Fever

The Hazytones Wild Fever

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

The Hazytones on Facebook

Black Throne Productions store

All Are to Return, III

All Are To Return III

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

All Are to Return on Bandcamp

Tartarus Records store

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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Metal Playlist: Episode 85

Posted in Radio on May 27th, 2022 by JJ Koczan

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Yeah, there are some longer songs here. Truth be told, I wanted that. I wanted the show to have a flow from one track to the next. A lot of it is a pretty dug-in, trippier vibe. There’s some light and dark, and when you get to Wild Rocket and YOB that’s a kind of blasting point that I acknowledge in the subsequent voice track too, but I get two hours every other week to do this thing and I had a specific idea for how I wanted to use it this time.

Does that matter? I don’t know. I just want you to listen to Moura and Okkoto because those records has been laying waste to my soul of late. Lili Refrain I was put onto last weekend or somewhere thereabouts and I wanted to check out more, so there you go, and I feel punk rock guilt for missing Blackwater Holylight and BleakHeart when they came through — to be fair, I had/kinda-still-have the plague — and I thought that I’d probably be the only person on Gimme to play something like Magick Brother & Mystic Sister, so after having closed out last week with that on the site, the temptating to include it was too much to resist. Everything else was built off that.

I did my best to make a good show. If you listen, I hope you enjoy it.

Thanks if you listen, thanks if you’re reading. Thanks in general.

The Obelisk Show airs 5PM Eastern today on the Gimme app or at: http://gimmemetal.com.

Full playlist:

The Obelisk Show – 05.27.22

Moura Lúa vermella Axexan, Espreitan
Okkoto Where the Meadows Dream Beside the Sea Climb the Antlers & Reach the Stars
Magick Brother & Mystic Sister Utopia Magick Brother & Mystic Sister
Kungens Män Vaska lyckokaka Kungens Ljud & Bild
Blue Heron The Buck Ephemeral
VT
Blackwater Holylight Who the Hell Silence/Motion
BleakHeart The Dead Moon Dream Griever
Lili Refrain Ichor Mana
Wild Rocket Formless Abyss Formless Abyss
Mt. Echo Flummox Electric Empire
YOB Nothing to Win Clearing the Path to Ascend
VT
Wo Fat The Oracle The Singularity

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Metal airs every Friday 5PM Eastern, with replays Sunday at 7PM Eastern. Next new episode is June 10 (subject to change). Thanks for listening if you do.

Gimme Metal website

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Friday Full-Length: Magick Brother & Mystic Sister, Magick Brother & Mystic Sister

Posted in Bootleg Theater on May 6th, 2022 by JJ Koczan

Drawing on decades of progressive rock history, Barcelona’s Magick Brother & Mystic Sister released their self-titled debut full-length in June 2020 through Sound Effect Records and The John Colby Sect. Appropriate for posterity less than the moment of its arrival, perhaps, the record begins with “Utopia,” which works with deceptive efficiency for being so outwardly mellow in order to establish the patterns that much of what follows will inhabit and flesh out.

To wit, the casual swing of the rhythm from drummer/sometimes-vocalist Marc Tena and bassist/guitarist Xavier Sandoval, the jazzy and funk aspects brought to the proceedings from Maya Fernández on flute, and the cosmic undertow of Eva Muntada‘s synth, accompanied by her own non-lyric vocals, a kind of soothing “ahh” over the readily flowing movement. All throughout the 10-song/43-minute excursion, the band toys with these pieces one way or the other.

Muntada moves to keyboard here, Mellotron or organ there, piano somewhere along the line. Rhythms grow more or less insistent. Volume comes and goes, as does guitar and either or both of Muntada and Tena‘s voices, resulting in a rich and encompassing otherworldly, semi-psychedelic pastoralia. Dream-prog.

It is a sound full of nuance and detail that nonetheless ably carries the listener across its span, each piece of the entirety offering something of its own — the percussion in and sustained organ sweep of “Waterforms,” the watery post-Floydian turn of  the brief “The First Light,” the flute and bounce of “Yogi Tea” that serves as one of the album’s many reminders of classic prog’s affinity for funk, and so on — but not straying so far as to be disconnected from the whole.

Self-produced with mixing by Tena (who also mastered) and Sandoval, the precision and care with which Magick Brother & Mystic Sister craft and inhabit this world makes it all the more inviting to the audience. They’re not pushing you anywhere, but neither are they leaving you behind. It really is a matter of being invited along with them on this path, complex but organic like walking under a canopy of thoughtfully tangled tree branches and never getting all the way lost.

Their attention to detail and balancing of the mix is essential to the vibe, and in turn, the vibe is essential to the broader listening experience. Clever inclusions like the acoustic strum and cymbal washes in “Waterforms” and the pianoMagick Brother & Mystic Sister self titled and flute interplay in the quiet stretch of “Arroyo del búho” soon met by the creeping bassline, the folkish melodies topping “Echoes From the Clouds” even as the beneath them grows punchier in the track’s subtle volume build, or the Mellotron in “Movement 2” — which like “Waterforms” was released as a standalone single prior to the album — enhance the songs but are neither overwrought nor extraneous feeling.

This at times feels miraculous, considering how much is going on at any given moment, particularly as the hand percussion behind “Movement 2” comes through as so restless and the mellow drifter roll of the subsequent “Love Scene” daydreams into the funkier, penultimate “Instructions for Judgment Visions,” which is instrumental save for its singing flute and midpoint sample, which transitions into a spacious and droning bridge on the way to a jazzy culmination.

But this too is set up through the welcome provided by “Utopia” as voices, flute, guitar, bass, drums and synth combine, swell, recede and lay forth the general dynamic with which Magick Brother & Mystic Sister unfurls. There’s even room for a bit of showy classic guitar soloing. And by the time closer “Les Vampires” — also the longest inclusion at 6:40 — takes the funk of “Instructions for Judgment Visions” not necessarily to the place of’70s horror the title might lead one to believe, but to an open-feeling, breathy la-la-la jam and some Magma-style turns here and there before dropping out to begin its middle movement of Mellotron and flute exploration before again going to ground and letting the rim-click drums and voices carry through the final wash and last fadeout.

It’s as though the band couldn’t decide which part of a song they wanted to finish with, decided to go with all three, and because of the work they’d done over the nine tracks prior to establish a sound able to bend and shape into whatever they want it to express at any given moment, they made it work.

If you’ve got your watch out and you’re waiting for me to tell you how extra-admirable doing such a thing is for a debut full-length, I assure you that particular train is running on time. I’ll confess I don’t know the personal creative histories of the players involved here, but as they come together around these songs, there seems to be a definite ideal for which they are striving, and while their style inherently lends itself to growth — it’s not called progressive rock ironically; it progresses — I have a hard time imagining an ideal conceived that this record doesn’t meet on its own terms.

And the terms are very much its own. One can hear in the melodies and the sundry rhythms throughout lights and shades drawn from the aforementioned Pink Floyd as well as King CrimsonThe Beatles, Iberian folk, British folk, funk (have I mentioned funk? don’t you think it’s interesting that prog has always secretly wanted to dance?), and on and on, but what all of that coming together as it does in this material means is that Magick Brother & Mystic Sister take full advantage of the opportunity their first album represents in telling their listeners who they want to be.

Magick Brother & Mystic Sister, the actual record, puts its rather significant aural ambitions front and center throughout its amorphous movement, and no matter how much it may seem to meander — and sometimes maybe actually do so — it is always guided by careful and attentive hands. It is music made with care. I would only hope that whatever the band do to follow, and whenever they might do it, that that central ethic is maintained. With that, they make it sound like the rest will just magically fall into place.

As always, I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.

Up and down week. I guess most are. Ups: on Wednesday, The Patient Mrs. and I went to see Everything Everywhere All at Once in the theater, which was incredible. As movies go, that’s precisely my kind of absurd genius. And also it wasn’t “dark and gritty” like fucking everything these days, despite featuring a rampage’s worth of violence. I loved it and heartily recommend it. Also up, yesterday was the premiere of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds and the season finale of Star Trek: Picard both, and while I’m not all the way thrilled with the way the latter wrapped in terms of some of the characters — I was hoping they’d give Rios a spinoff with Seven, Jurati, Raffi and Elnor — it was at least a satisfying conclusion to the story of the season. Also I streamed the Wo Fat record and the Kungens Män record and got to review Steak and Tau and the Drones of Praise, wrote and posted that Sasquatch album release news, AND time posting my Ufomammut interview to the release date as if to pretend somehow I actually know what I’m doing after 13-plus years of this site. I know. Doesn’t happen often.

Downs: Mostly kid-related, honestly. Dude and I had a bumpy week, right up to this morning getting him dressed for school. He’s been in OT for like two and a half years and the only reason I might not get bit on any given day is because I walk on fucking eggshells and/or give him whatever he wants. And he still tells me I’m terrible and he doesn’t love me pretty much every day, just because he can. And he can. We don’t punish, I actively try to stop myself from raising my voice. I just don’t know why putting on a pair of fucking socks needs to be so hard. I don’t know why I need to feel emotions about it. I don’t know why I need to be kicked. It fucking sucks. Yesterday morning? Sucked. Waiting for the bus? Sucks. This week is teacher appreciation week. Fucking hell. Don’t get me wrong — nobody — nobody — nobody — works harder than teachers and nobody — nobody — nobody — deserves to be billionaires more, but man, I felt like I could’ve used a little of that energy this week too and what I mostly got instead was pain in the ass. We went to Wal-Mart on Wednesday. What a wreck. Pulling shit off the shelves, trying to climb out of the cart. He’s like a fucking steamroller. Unstoppable.

And I feel all that shit. The Patient Mrs. brushes it off, looks at me like I’m an asshole. I can’t. When I have to ask a question five fucking times to get an answer, it’s maddening. So yeah, rough.

Fortunately I had the serene flute-laden prog of Magick Brother & Mystic Sister to clear my head over the last few days and fill it with luscious melody and classic bounce. The Patient Mrs. told me before she wasn’t digging the flute. She doesn’t like psychedelic sax either. Can’t win ’em all. Or sometimes really any.

Next week is Desertfest New York. All along I’ve been thinking it’s the week after, just like all along I’ve been thinking Freak Valley and Maryland Doom Fest are the same week in June when apparently they’re not. Whatever. I’m gonna go see bands. Hopefully hug humans. Take pictures. Write reviews. I will have a fair amount to say about the experience, I think, but I’ll try to keep focused on the thing itself.

Which is to say I’ve already begun the writing in my head.

Today’s Bandcamp Friday. The Obelisk Collective on Facebook has a killer thread once again with recommendations. Go forth and do the thing if you’re up for it.

That is to say, you’re not morally obligated. Sometimes cash is hard to come by, sometimes nothing hits you right. That’s okay too.

No Gimme show this week. Next week will be a special for DFNYC, so keep an eye out. Also next week I’ve got a full stream and review of the Ecstatic Vision going up on Tuesday and a bunch of other cool stuff that I don’t want to jinx by plugging.

Until then, great and safe weekend. Watch your head, hydrate, all that stuff. Back on Monday.

FRM.

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