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

The-Obelisk-Quarterly-Review

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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High on Fire Announce Spring US Touring

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 20th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

Please, try to contain your shock at High on Fire announcing a tour to support their upcoming ninth LP, Cometh the Storm, which is set to arrive April 19 through MNRK Heavy. Perhaps you thought that, following years of road-dogging and a Grammy win, the heretofore-unstoppable trio led by Matt Pike with the now-long-tenured Jeff Matz (Zeke, Camarosmith) on bass (also various Turkish folk instruments) and, for the first time on record, Coady Willis (Big BusinessMelvins) on drums would… what? Stop? Rest on laurels and wait for the world to come to them to buy the t-shirt?

Not likely for a band who count ‘charge’ so prevalent among their defining elements. These shows — a manageable-seeming two weeks spent mostly on the Eastern Seaboard that wrap by hitting Dark Lord Day in Chicago — are the beginning of the cycle, not the sum total. If the plan is to carve up the North American part of the tour into runs like this, one might look forward to corresponding West Coast dates, but already the band are confirmed for Bear Stone Festival in Croatia and SonicBlast Fest in Portugal this summer, so at least one European stint is in the offing as well. That’s who High on Fire are at this point. Put out the record and get to work.

I guess there was a Dudes Having Opinions On The Internet™ kerfuffle about the AI video they did for “Burning Down” from Cometh the Storm. Would it be too honest if I said I didn’t care? There’s one with studio footage too that’s below. If the other one made you mad, I might ask you to wonder how many times in human history those who’ve decried new art forms as they’ve come up have been proven right by that same history. I could go on. Here I am, choosing not to.

Dates and such from the PR wire:

high on fire tour

High on Fire Announces U.S. Headlining Tour Dates

Grammy-Winning Group Releases First New LP in Five Years, ‘Cometh the Storm’, April 19

Iconic U.S. rock band, High on Fire, will release its new LP, ‘Cometh the Storm’, on April 19 via MNRK Heavy. The GRAMMY Award-winning group, celebrating its 25th anniversary, recorded ‘Cometh the Storm’ at GodCity Studio in Salem, Massachusetts with producer Kurt Ballou. The 11-song effort — the band’s ninth studio album — marks the release of the first new High on Fire music since 2018’s ‘Electric Messiah’ and the first to feature drummer Coady Willis (Big Business, Murder City Devils), alongside bassist Jeff Matz, and guitarist/vocalist Matt Pike. ‘Cometh the Storm’ boasts runic art and design by longtime High on Fire collaborator Arik Moonhawk Roper. Pre-order/save High on Fire’s ‘Cometh the Storm’ at this location: https://highonfire.ffm.to/comeththestorm

Today, High on Fire announces U.S. headlining tour dates in support of ‘Cometh the Storm’. The spring slate will launch on May 4 in Orlando, FL and feature support from Venezuelan post rock outfit, Zeta, and Massachusetts crossover crew High Command. The just-announced tour dates are as follows:

High on Fire ‘Cometh the Storm’ spring U.S. tour
(w/ Zeta, High Command)

May 4 Orlando, FL Conduit
May 5 Columbia, SC The Senate
May 7 Greensboro, NC Hanger 1819
May 8 Richmond, VA The Broadberry
May 10 Baltimore, MD Baltimore Soundstage
May 11 New Haven, CT Toad’s Place
May 12 Jersey City, NJ White Eagle Hall
May 13 Cambridge, MA The Middle East
May 15 Albany, NY Empire Live
May 16 Cleveland Heights, OH Grog Shop
May 17 Detroit, MI The Magic Stick
May 18 Chicago, IL 3 Floyd’s Brewing (Dark Lord Day feat. High on Fire, Abbath, Fugitive, 1349, Spiritworld)

“High on Fire legion! We are stoked to take the stage in a city near you as we bring ‘Cometh the Storm’ to life,” offers the group. “Looking forward to a triumphant run of shows and reuniting with friends. See you soon!”

High on Fire are:
Matt Pike – Guitar/vocals
Jeff Matz – Bass/backing vocals/saz
Coady Willis – Drums

https://www.facebook.com/highonfire
https://www.instagram.com/highonfireband/
http://www.highonfire.net

http://www.mnrkheavy.com
http://www.facebook.com/MNRKHeavy
http://www.twitter.com/MNRKHeavy
http://www.instagram.com/MNRK_heavy

High on Fire, Cometh the Storm (2024)

High on Fire, “Burning Down” official video

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Quarterly Review: Lord Dying, Black Glow, Cracked Machine, Per Wiberg, Swell O, Cower, HORSEN3CK, Troll Teeth, Black Ocean’s Edge, SONS OF ZÖKU

Posted in Reviews on February 27th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

The-Obelisk-Quarterly-Review

A word about the image above. ‘AI art’ has become a thing people argue about on the internet. Like everything. Fine. I made the above image with a prompt through whatever Microsoft is calling its bot this week and got what I wanted. I didn’t have to talk to anyone or pay anyone in anything more than the personal data you compromise every time you use the internet for anything, and it was done. I could never draw, but when I finished, I felt like I’d at least taken part in some way in making this thing. And telling a computer what to make and seeing what it gets right and wrong is fascinating. You might feel a bit like you’re painting with words, which as someone who could never draw but could construct a sentence, I can appreciate.

I’m a big supporter of human creativity, and yes, corporations who already hold creative professionals — writers, editors, graphic designers, etc. — in such outward contempt will be only too happy to replace them with robots. I was there when magazines died; I know how that goes. But instead of being reactionaries and calling for never-gonna-happen-anyway bans, isn’t it maybe worth acknowledging that there’s no going back in time, that AI art isn’t going anywhere, and that it might just have valid creative uses? I don’t feel like I need to defend myself for making or using the image above, but I did try to get a human artist first and it didn’t work out. In the hard reality of limited minutes, how much should I really chase when there’s an easier way to get what I want? And how much can people be expected to live up to that shifting moral obligation in the long term?

The future will laugh at us, inevitably, either way. And fair enough with the world we’re leaving them.

Quarterly Review #11-20:

Lord Dying, Clandestine Transcendence

Lord Dying Clandestine Transcendence

While bearing the tonal force of their roots in doom, Portland’s Lord Dying have nonetheless willfully become a crucial purveyor of forward-thinking death metal, driven by extremity but refusing to subdue its own impulses to fit with genre. At 12 songs and an hour’s runtime, Clandestine Transcendence neither is nor is supposed to be a minor undertaking, but with a melodic declaration in “Unto Becoming” that’ll elicit knowing nods from Virus fans and a mentality of creative reach that’s worthy of comparison to EnslavedLord Dying showcase mastery of the style the four-piece of guitarist/vocalist Erik Olson, guitarist Chris Evans, bassist/vocalist Alyssa Maucere and drummer Kevin Swartz explored with vigilance on 2019’s Mysterium Tremendum (review here), and an ability to depart from aggression without losing their intensity or impact on “Dancing on the Emptiness” or in the payoff of “Break in the Clouds (In the Darkness of Our Minds).” They may be headed toward too-weird-for-everybody megaprogmetal ultimately, but the challenges-to-stylistic-homogeny of their material are only part of what gives Clandestine Transcendence its crux, and in fostering the call-and-response onslaught of “Facing the Incomprehensible” alongside the epic reach of “A Bond Broken by Death,” they cast their own mold as unique within or without of the heavy underground sphere.

Lord Dying on Facebook

MNRK Heavy website

Black Glow, Black Glow

black glow black glow

The late-2023 self-titled debut from Black Glow marks a new beginning for Monterrey, Mexico, guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Gina Rios, formerly of Spacegoat, and something of a creative redirect, taking on a sound that is less indebted to boogie and classic doom but that has clearly learned the lessons of its influences. Also credited with producing (Victor “KB” Velazquez recorded, mixed and mastered, which doesn’t invalidate the credit), Rios is a strong enough performer to carry the five-song EP/short-LP on her own, but thankfully bassist Oscar Saucedo and drummer Octavio Diliegros bring tonal fullness to the breadth of atmosphere in the rolling closer “Obscured Jail,” reaching past seven minutes with fluidity that adds to Black Glow‘s aspects of purpose and craft, which are significant despite being the band’s first outing. As a vehicle for Rios‘ songwriting, Black Glow sound immediately like they can evolve in ways Spacegoat likely couldn’t or wouldn’t have, and that prospect is all the more enticing with the accomplishments displayed here.

Black Glow on Facebook

Black Glow on Bandcamp

Cracked Machine, Wormwood

Cracked Machine Wormwood

Between the leadoff of “Into the Chronosphere” and “The Glowing Sea,” “Return to Antares,” “Burning Mountain” and “Desert Haze,” UK instrumentalists Cracked Machine aren’t short on destinations for the journey that is their fourth full-length, Wormwood, but with more angular texturing on “Eigenstate” and the blend of tonal float — yes, even the bass — and terrestrial groove wrought in the closing title-track, the band manage to emphasize plot as well as a sense of freedom endemic to jam-born heavy psychedelia. That is to say, as second cut “Song of Artemis” gives brooding reply to the energetic “Into the Chronosphere,” which is loosely krautrocky in its dug-in feel and exploratory as part of that, they are not trying to pretend this material just happened. Layers of effects and a purposeful reach between its low and high ends in the solo of “The Glowing Sea” — with the drums holding the two together, as one would hope — and subsequent section of standalone guitar as the start of a linear build that spreads wide sonically rather than overpowering with volume speaks to a dynamic that’s about more than just loud or quiet, and the keyboard holding notes in the culmination of “Burning Mountain” is nothing if not purposeful in its shimmering resonance. They may be headed all over the place, but I think that’s just a sign Cracked Machine know how to get there.

Cracked Machine on Facebook

Cracked Machine on Bandcamp

Per Wiberg, The Serpent’s Here

PER WIBERG The Serpent's Here cover

Currently also of Kamchatka and Spiritual Beggars and maybe Switchblade, the career arc of Per Wiberg (also ex-Opeth, live work and/or studio contributions for Candlemass, Grand Magus, Arch Enemy, mostly on keys or organ) varies widely in style within a heavy sphere, and it should be no surprise that his solo work is likewise multifaceted. Following on from 2021’s EP, All Is Well In the Land of the Living But for the Rest of Us… Lights Out (review here), the six-song and 41-minute (seven/47 with the bonus track Warrior Soul cover “The Losers”) finds cohesion in a thread of progressive styles that allows Wiberg to explore what might be a Gary Numan influence in the verses of “The Serpent’s Here” itself while emerging with a heavy, catchy and melodic chorus marked by a driving riff. The eight-minute “Blackguards Stand Silent” works in movements across a structural departure as the rhythm section of Mikael Tuominen (Kungens Män) and drummer Tor Sjödén (Viagra Boys) get a subtle workout, and “He Just Disappeared” pushes into the cinematic on a patient line of drone, a contemplative departure after the melancholic piano of “This House is Someone Else’s Now” that allows “Follow the Unknown” to cap the album-proper with a return to the full-band feel and a pointed grace of keys and synth, clearly working to its creator’s own high standard.

Per Wiberg on Facebook

Despotz Records website

Swell O, Morning Haze

Swell O Morning Haze

Bremen, Germany’s Swell O released their apparently-recorded-in-a-day debut album, Morning Haze, in Feb. 2023 and followed with a vinyl release this past Fall on Clostridium Records, and if there’s anything clouding their vision as regards songwriting, it didn’t make it onto the record. Proffering solid, engaging, festival-ready desert-style heavy rock, “Hitchhiker” sweeps down the open highway of its own riff while “Black Cat” tips hat to Fu Manchu, the title-track veers into pop-punkish uptempoism in a way “Shine Through” contrasts with less shove and more ambience. The seven-minute “Summit” extrapolates a lean toward the psychedelic from Kyussian foundations, but the crux on Morning Haze is straightforward and aware of where it wants its songs to be aesthetically. It’s not a revolution in that regard, but it’s not supposed to be, and for all its in-genre loyalism, Morning Haze demonstrates an emergent persona in the modernized ’90s fuzz-crunch semi-blowout of “Venom” at the end, which wraps a salvo that started with “Hitchhiker” and lets Swell O make the most of their over-quickly 31-minute first LP.

Swell O on Facebook

Clostridium Records store

Cower, Celestial Devastation

cower celestial devastation

Accounting for everything from goth to post-hardcore to the churn of Godflesh in an encompassing interpretation of post-punk, London outfit Cower could fill this space with pedigree alone and manage to nonetheless make a distinct impression across the nine songs of Celestial Devastation. Organic and sad on “We Need to Have the Talk,” inorganic and sad on “Hard-Coded in the Souls of Men,” electronic anti-chic before the guitar surge in “Buffeted by Solar Winds,” and bringing fresh perspective to Kataonia-style depressive metal in “Aging Stallions,” it’s a album that willfully shirks genre — a few of them, actually — in service to its songs, as between the software-driven title-track and the downer-New-Wave-as-doom centerpiece “Deathless and Free,” Cower embark on an apparent critique of tech as integrated into current life (though I can’t find a lyric sheet) and approach from seemingly divergent angles without losing track of the larger picture of the LP’s atmosphere. Celestial Devastation is the second album from the trio, comprised of Tom Lacey, Wayne Adams (who also produced, as he will) and Gareth Thomas. Expect them to continue to define and refine this style as they move forward, and expect it to become even more their own than it is here. A band like this, if they last, almost can’t help but grow.

Cower’s Linktr.ee

Human Worth on Bandcamp

HORSEN3CK, Heavy Spells

horsen3ck heavy spells

Boston’s HORSEN3CK, who’ve gone all-caps and traded their second ‘e’ for a ‘3’ since unveiling the included-here “Something’s Broken” as a debut standalone single this January, make a rousing four-song statement of intent even as the lineup shifts from piece to piece around the core duo of Tim Catz and Jeremy Hemond, best known together for their work as the rhythm section of Roadsaw. With their maybe-not-right-now bandmate Ian Ross adding guitar to “Something’s Broken” and a different lead vocalist on each song, Heavy Spells has inherent variety even before “Haunted Heart” exalts its darker mood with pulls reminiscent of Alice in Chains‘ “Frogs.” With Catz taking a turn on vocals, “Golden Ghost” is punk under its surface class, and though “Haunted Heart” grows in its crescendo, its greater impact is in the vibe, which is richer for the shift in approach. “Thirst” rounds out with a particular brashness, but nowhere HORSEN3CK go feels even vaguely out of their reach. Alright guys. Concept proved, now go do a full-length. When they do, I’ll be intrigued to see if the lineup solidifies.

HORSEN3CK on Facebook

HORSEN3CK on Bandcamp

Troll Teeth, Sluagh Vol. 1

troll teeth sluagh vol. 1

New Jersey doom rockers Troll Teeth‘s stated goal with Sluagh Vol. 1 was to find a sound the character of which would be defined in part by its rawer, retro-styled recording. The resultant four-song outing, which was their second EP of 2023 behind Underground Vol. 1, doesn’t actually veer into vintage-style ’70s worship, but lives up to the premise just the same in its abiding rawness. “3 Shots for a 6 Shooter” brings a Queens of the Stone Age-style vocal melody over an instrumental that’s meaner than anything that band ever put to tape, while nine-minute opener “1,000 Ton Brick” feels very clearly titled in honor of its own roll. It might be the heaviest stretch on the EP but for the rumbling low distortion spliced in among the psychedelic unfolding of 16-minute closer “Purgatory,” which submerges the listener in its course after “Here Lies” seems to build and build and build through the entirety of its still-hooky execution. With its title referencing the original name of the band and a focus on older material, the rougher presentation suits the songs, though it’s not like there’s a pristine “1,000 Ton Brick” out there to compare it to. Whether there will be at Sluagh Vol. 2 at any point, I don’t know, but even the intentionality of realizing his material in the recording process argues in favor of future revisits.

Troll Teeth on Facebook

Electric Talon Records store

Black Ocean’s Edge, Call of the Sirens

black ocean's edge (Photo by Matija Kasalo)

Celebrating their own dark side in the opener “Wicked Voice,” German heavy rockers Black Ocean’s Edge keep the proceedings relatively friendly on Call of the Sirens, their debut long-player behind 2022’s Dive Deep EP, at least as regards accessibility and the catchiness of their craft. Vibrant and consistent in tone, the Ulm four-piece find room for the classic rock of “Leather ‘n’ Velvet” and the that-might-be-actual-flute-laced prog-psych payoff of “Lion in a Cage” between the second two of the three parts that comprise the title-track, which departs from the heavy blues rock of “Drift” or “Cold Black Water,” which is the centerpiece and longest inclusion at 7:43 and sets its classic-heavy influences to work with a forward-looking perspective. At 42 minutes and nine tracks, Call of the Sirens feels professional in how it reaches out to its audience, and it leaves little to doubt from Black Ocean’s Edge as regards songwriting, production or style. They may refine and sharpen their approach over time, and with these songs as where they’re coming from, they’ll be in that much better position to hit the ears of the converted.

Note: this album is out in April and I couldn’t find cover art. Band photo above is by Matija Kasalo.

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SONS OF ZÖKU, ËNDL​Ë​SS

sons of zoku endless

If an album could ask you, musically, why you’re in such a hurry — and not like hurrying to work, really in a hurry, like in how you live — the mellow psych and acid folk proffered by Adelaide, Australia’s SONS OF ZÖKU on their second full-length, ËNDL​Ë​SS, might just be doing that. Don’t take that to mean the album is still or staid though, because they’re not through “Moonlight” after the intro before the bass gets funky behind all that serene melody, and when you’re worshiping the sun that’s all the more reason to dance by the moon. Harmonies resonate in “Earth Chant” (and all around) atop initially quiet guitar noodling, and the adventures in arrangement continue in the various chimes and percussion instruments, the touch of Easternism in “Kuhnoo” and the keyboard-fueled melodic payoff to the pastoralism of “Hunters.” With flute and a rhythmic delivery to its group vocal, “O Saber” borders on the tribal, while “Yumi” digs on cosmic prog insistence in a way that calls to mind the underappreciated Death Hawks and finds its way in a concluding instrumental stretch that doesn’t lose its spontaneous feel despite being more cogent than improv generally comes across. “Lonesome Tale” is a melancholy-vibe-reprise centered around acoustic guitar and “Nu Poeme” gives a sense of grandeur that is unto itself without going much past four minutes in the doing. Such triumphs are rare more broadly but become almost commonplace as SONS OF ZÖKU set their own context with a sound harnessing the inspiration of decades directing itself toward an optimistic future.

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High on Fire to Release Cometh the Storm April 19; “Burning Down” Posted

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 16th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

high on fire

High on Fire weren’t trying to keep it secret when they were in the studio last year with Kurt Ballou — who’s now done four records with them — to follow-up 2018’s Electric Messiah (review here), and today they unveil the first song and album details ahead of an April 19 release through MNRK Heavy (formerly E1), their label home for the last 14 years. And while in many cases a given band’s ninth LP and fourth with the same producer might seem like ‘business as usual,’ the trio of Matt Pike, Jeff Matz and Coady Willis represent a new incarnation of High on Fire, as Cometh the Storm marks Willis‘ studio debut after a couple years of on-stage destruction for the back catalog.

No question this will be one of the biggest underground heavy releases of the year — can you still be underground if you won a Grammy? we’ll find out I guess — as anything High on Fire put out is going to draw attention and they’re big enough that that means both internet salivating and the inevitable naysay component, not much of which matters, as High on Fire will persist regardless. They’ve already announced summer plans for Europe and in addition to what’s on the poster below, they’re newly confirmed for Dark Lord Day this May in Indiana, as well as SonicBlast Fest 2024 in Portugal and Bear Stone in Croatia this August, so expect more to come.

In the meantime, the song. “Burning Down” finds High on Fire very much in their element with an intense chug and overlaid groove. Throaty conjurations from Pike, a satisfying roll to its verse, and whatever-your-quota’s worth of crash and bash, tucked into a convenient six-minute package. I’m not in the business of telling anyone how to live their life, but it seems to me that if you’re listening to music today, this might be what you want to hear. While I doubt it’s representative of the scope of the whole album, it does reassure you they didn’t somehow break their sound after 25-plus years bashing away at it.

PR just came through:

high on fire cometh the storm

High on Fire to Release New LP, ‘Cometh the Storm’, April 19

Grammy-Winning Group Drops Video for Gargantuan New Track “Burning Down”

Iconic U.S. rock band, High on Fire, will release its new LP, ‘Cometh the Storm’, on April 19 via MNRK Heavy. The GRAMMY Award-winning group, celebrating its 25th anniversary, recorded ‘Cometh the Storm’ at GodCity Studio in Salem, Massachusetts with producer Kurt Ballou. The 11-song effort — the band’s ninth studio album — marks the release of the first new High on Fire music since 2018’s ‘Electric Messiah’ and the first to feature drummer Coady Willis (Big Business, Murder City Devils), alongside bassist Jeff Matz, and guitarist/vocalist Matt Pike. Pre-order/save High on Fire’s ‘Cometh the Storm’ at this location: https://highonfire.bandcamp.com/album/cometh-the-storm

‘Cometh the Storm’ is advanced by the lead track, “Burning Down”, and a haunting, fever dream video, directed by Lars Kristoffer Hormander. Experience High on Fire’s “Burning Down” at this location.

“Burning Down” kicks off with a classic Pike riff,” says Jeff Matz. “I think this song harkens back to the early High On Fire sound, but infused with fresh, new elements. It has a killer groove that you can really sink into. The body of the song took shape in our PNW rehearsal space, and we came up with the bridge/solo section and finalized the arrangement while we were at GodCity. Kurt Ballou’s input as a producer was also hugely helpful. His keen ears and fresh perspective were invaluable in making this album.”

“I think this band’s always had a really good drive,” states Matt Pike. “It’s a different entity. It’s its own thing. Which, I think, makes all of us very proud to be a part of it. It’s not an average band.”

“Being a fan of each other’s bands for a long time, it feels like all bets are off and anything goes which is a liberating feeling,” shares Willis. “That feeling of making something out of all of these imperfect parts and it becomes this magical, weird, new idea that none of us ever anticipated. Against all odds. That’s the joy of it.”

“It’s interesting, whenever there’s a lineup change in a band,” offers producer Kurt Ballou. “It can take a little while to rebuild. But it’s also an opportunity to reinvigorate the band and I think that’s what’s happened here.”

Tracklisting:
TRACKLIST
1. Lambsbread
2. Burning Down
3. Trismegistus
4. Cometh the Storm
5. Karanlık Yol (instrumental)
6. Sol’s Golden Curse
7. The Beating
8. Tough Guy
9. Lighting Beard
10. Hunting Shadows
11. Darker Fleece

High on Fire are:
Matt Pike – Guitar/vocals
Jeff Matz – Bass/backing vocals/saz
Coady Willis – Drums

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High on Fire, “Burning Down” official video

High on Fire, “Burning Down”

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Lord Dying Post “The Endless Road Home” Video; Clandestine Transcendence Out Jan. 19

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 17th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

lord dying

‘The Endless Road Home’ closes Lord Dying‘s new album, Clandestine Transcendence. It is the second track to be featured from the upcoming MNRK Heavy (formerly E1/eOne Heavy) release, which the Portland, Oregon-based four-piece will issue on Jan. 19, 2024. Preorders up, link below, all that stuff. The band was already on tour in Europe for this record — alongside Conan, no less — so if you’re there and you saw them, I’d love to hear how they were. The what-if-goth-Voivod shenanigans of “The Endless Road Home,” the shift toward melodic vocals, and the underlying threat of being pummeled at just about any interval make the four-minute piece a complex slab of progressive metal, furthering the righteous, way-dug-in weirdo chase that Lord Dying undertook with 2019’s Mysterium Tremendum (review here), which brazenly redefined their course.

A controlled chaos of intricacy suits them as “The Endless Road Home” demonstrates. You’ll find its video along with that for all-caps first single “I AM NOTHING, I AM EVERYTHING” under the blue text below, which of course comes from the PR wire:

lord dying the endless road home

LORD DYING: Portland Progressive Sludge Metal Conjurors Unveil “The Endless Road Home” Video; Clandestine Transcendence Full-Length To See Release This January Via MNRK Heavy

Preorder link: https://lorddying.ffm.to/clandestinetranscendence

Portland progressive sludge metal conjurors LORD DYING are pleased to unveil their haunting new animated video for “The Endless Road Home,” the closing track of their long-awaited new studio album, Clandestine Transcendence.

From the earliest rumblings of their debut demo and self-titled EP (both issued in 2011), through the piledriving force of 2013’s Summon The Faithless and devastating despair of 2015’s Poisoned Altars, LORD DYING has composed masterfully melancholic music for the misanthropic, with grit and grime.

In 2019, the band delivered Mysterium Tremendum. The heady and adventurous existential reflection on death of that record served as the impetus to a trilogy, and that story continues in 2023 with an increasingly ambitious follow-up, Clandestine Transcendence.

On Clandestine Transcendence, LORD DYING cofounders Erik Olson (guitar, vocals) and Chris Evans (guitar) are joined by Alyssa Mocere (former bassist for Eight Bells) and Kevin Swartz (current drummer of Tithe). Produced by Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou (High On Fire, Code Orange, Kvelertak) at his God City Studios, the twelve-track opus steps even further into the great unknown, filled with riffs and vibes.

Mysterium Tremendum – Latin for “awe-inspiring mystery” or “terrible mystery” depending on one’s view of existence – began a narrative centered on a central character the band calls The Dreamer, a conceptual theme that drove expansive, sometimes monstrous, and even plaintive and vulnerable music. Olson describes The Dreamer as an immortal being who wants to die. On Clandestine Transcendence, he gets that wish.

Of “The Endless Road Home,” Olson notes, “This song is dedicated to all the road dogs, travelers, bands, crew, people that make tours happen, people that go to shows and general rabble rousers. We salute you.”

Clandestine Transcendence is a wholly immersive listen. Tension, drama, and atmosphere abound all over songs like “The Universe Is Weeping” and “Unto Becoming.” The massive scope and melodic vocals found on album three expand further on Clandestine Transcendence. Sharpened songwriting, emphasizing hooks, helps push both extremes of the band beyond prior limits. Simply put, the softer side is even dreamier; the heavy side is twice as brutal.

Clandestine Transcendence will be released on January 19th, 2024 via MNRK Heavy on CD, LP, and digital formats. Find preorders at THIS LOCATION: https://lorddying.ffm.to/clandestinetranscendence

Clandestine Transcendence Track Listing:
1. The Universe Is Weeping
2. I AM NOTHING, I AM EVERYTHING
3. Unto Becoming
4. Final Push Into The Sun
5. Dancing On The Emptiness
6. Facing The Incomprehensible
7. A Brief Return To Physical Form
8. A Bond Broken By Death
9. Break In The Clouds (In The Darkness Of Our Minds)
10. Soul Metamorphosis
11. Swimming In The Absence
12. The Endless Road Home

LORD DYING:
Erik Olson – vocals/guitar
Chris Evans – guitar
Alyssa Maucere – bass/vocals
Kevin Swartz – drums

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Lord Dying, “The Endless Road Home” official video

Lord Dying, “I AM NOTHING, I AM EVERYTHING” official video

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High on Fire Finish Work on New Album; Announce Tour Dates w/ Pallbearer

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 11th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

high on fire (photo by James Rexroad)

Marking the 25th anniversary of the band earlier this year with a reissue of their first album, High on Fire have finished their ninth, which will be released early next year on MNRK Heavy. The new record, which will be their first with drummer Coady Willis (Big BusinessMelvins), continues the band’s collaboration with producer Kurt Ballou, who has helmed everything they’ve put out since 2012’s rampaging De Vermis Mysteriis (review here) and who most assuredly had a hand in their winning a Grammy a couple years ago.

To complement a slot at this year’s Levitation Fest in Austin, the trio led by Matt Pike will do a quick West Coast jaunt alongside Pallbearer, and you likely don’t need me to tell you that’s a heavy show. They’ve also got two album-teaser videos out now for the coming record that you can see under the PR wire info that follows here:

HIGH ON FIRE TOUR

High on Fire Announces U.S. Tour Dates

Grammy-Winning Rock Band Celebrating 25th Anniversary!

Multiple Studio Teasers Advancing New LP Released

Iconic U.S. rock band, High on Fire, celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2023 and today the GRAMMY Award-winning group, featuring bassist Jeff Matz, guitarist/vocalist Matt Pike, and new drummer Coady Willis (Melvins, Big Business, Murder City Devils) announces U.S. tour dates centered around its showcasing appearance at Austin’s Levitation Festival. The weeklong run will launch on October 26 in Dallas, Texas and hit multiple cities in Colorado and California before wrapping on November 4. Support on the High on Fire tour will be provided by Pallbearer.

High on Fire tour dates:

October 26 Dallas, TX @ The Factory
October 27 Austin, TX @ Stubb’s (Levitation Fest with Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats)
October 29 Fort Collins, CO @ Washington’s
October 30 Denver, CO @ The Summit
October 31 Colorado Springs, CO @ The Black Sheep
November 2 Garden Grove, CA @ Garden Amp
November 3 Fresno, CA @ Fulton 55
November 4 Berkeley, CA @ UC Theatre

“Who is ready to rip it up?!”, said the band in a statement. “High on Fire is primed and ready to rock and continue celebrating our 25th Anniversary with family, friends, and fans. See you at the shows!”

High on Fire has completed work on its new, untitled ninth studio album and successor to 2018’s ‘Electric Messiah’. Recorded in Salem, Massachusetts with longtime producer Kurt Ballou, the new album is the first to feature drummer Willis, who joined High on Fire in 2021. An early 2024 release date is expected via MNRK Heavy. See below for sneak peek looks at the band creating the new LP.

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http://www.highonfire.net

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High on Fire, Studio Update 1

High on Fire, Studio Update 2

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Crowbar Announce East Coast Tour Dates for Sept./Oct.

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 31st, 2023 by JJ Koczan

CROWBAR Photo by Justin Reich

A brand you can trust, Crowbar will head out on the next leg of their forever-tour on Sept. 7, spending just about a month on the road joined by the noise-as-weapon felony-level assault of Primitive Man, which is a hell of a pairing. And they’re playing Dingbatz. Oh, I love it when bands come to New Jersey. It doesn’t happen all the time, but Crowbar have hit my beloved Garden State on the regular for years, decades now. They’re touring ostensibly in support of 2022’s Zero and Below (review here), but also because they’re Crowbar and that’s what they do. And by now, if you don’t know you’re getting a pro-shop top-tier sludge metal show when they arrive, well, now you do. They are the very definition of reliable.

Bodybox join the tour starting on Sept. 12, and as the PR wire informs, they’ll be rolling over/through the following:

CROWBAR primitive man bodybox tour

CROWBAR Announces US Headlining Tour; Tickets On Sale Now!

CROWBAR today announces a US headlining tour! The twenty-four-date journey begins September 7th in Fort Walton Beach, Florida and runs through October 5th in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Support will be provided by Primitive Man as well as Bodybox, on select dates. Additionally, the band will play a special show with Venom Inc. on October 1st in Iowa City, Iowa. Tickets are on sale TODAY! See all confirmed dates below.

CROWBAR w/ Primitive Man:
9/07/2023 Downtown Music Hall – Fort Walton Beach, FL
9/08/2023 Conduit – Orlando, FL
9/09/2023 The Orpheum – Tampa, FL
9/10/2023 Gramps – Miami, FL
w/ Primitive Man, Bodybox:
9/12/2023 Masquerade – Atlanta, GA
9/13/2023 New Brookland Tavern – Columbia, SC
9/14/2023 Asheville Music Hall – Asheville, NC
9/15/2023 The Camel – Richmond, VA
9/17/2023 Broken Goblet – Bensalem, PA
9/19/2023 Dingbatz – Clifton, NJ
9/20/2023 Song & Dance – Syracuse, NY
9/21/2023 Palladium – Worcester, MA
9/22/2023 Saint Vitus Bar – Brooklyn, NY
9/23/2023 Angel City Music Hall – Manchester, NH
9/24/2023 Space Ballroom – Hamden, CT
9/26/2023 Crafthouse – Pittsburgh, PA
9/27/2023 Hobart Art Theater – Hobart, IN
9/28/2023 Reggie’s – Chicago, IL
9/29/2023 Grog Shop – Cleveland, OH
9/30/2023 Pyramid Scheme – Grand Rapids, MI
10/01/2023 Wildwood – Iowa City, IA w/ Venom Inc #
10/02/2023 Red Flag – St Louis, MO
10/04/2023 Cobra – Nashville, TN
10/05/2023 George’s Majestic – Fayetteville, AR
# = No Support

CROWBAR released their critically-adored Zero And Below full-length last year on MNRK Heavy. Produced, mixed, and mastered by Duane Simoneaux at OCD Recording And Production in Metairie, Louisiana, Zero And Below is the band’s most unforgivably doom-driven record since their 1998 landmark effort, Odd Fellows Rest. Led by Windstein, with guitarist Matt Brunson, bassist Shane Wesley, and drummer Tommy Buckley, songs like “Chemical Godz,” “It’s Always Worth The Gain,” and “Bleeding From Every Hole” are unapologetic emotional outpourings, with a bare-knuckle resolve alongside its soul-searching vulnerability, reliably delivered with crushing heaviness.

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Crowbar, “Chemical Godz” official video

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Quarterly Review: Monolord, Somnuri, Void King, Inezona, Hauch, El Astronauta, Thunder Horse, After Nations, Ockra, Erik Larson

Posted in Reviews on July 24th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

the-obelisk-qr-summer-2020

That’s it. End of the Summer 2023 Quarterly Review and the last round of this kind of thing until, I don’t know, sometime here or there in late September or early October. I feel like I say this every time out — and I readily acknowledge the possibility that I do; I’ve been doing this for a while, and there’s only so much shit to say — but it is my sincere hope you found something in this round of 70 records that hits with you. I did, a couple times over at least. One of the reasons I look forward to the Quarterly Review, apart from clearing off album-promo folders from my desktop, is that my end-of-year lists always look different coming out of one than they did going in. This time is no different.

But, you know, if you didn’t get there this time, that’s okay too. There’s always the next one and one of the fortunate things about living in a time with such an onslaught of recorded music is that there’s always something new to check out. The Quarterly Review is over for a couple months, yeah, but new music happens every day. Every day is another chance to find your new favorite album, band, video, whatever. Enjoy that.

Quarterly Review #61-70:

Monolord, It’s All the Same

Monolord It's All the Same

After nearly a decade of hard, album-cycle-driven international touring and standing at the forefront in helping to steer a generational wave of lumbering riffage, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think Gothenburg, Sweden’s Monolord might feel stuck, and “Glaive (It’s All the Same)” seems to acknowledge that. Stylistically, though the lead and partial title-track on the roller trio’s new EP, It’s All the Same, is itself a way forward. It is more spacious than crushing, and they fill the single out with guitarist Thomas V. Jäger‘s sorrowful vocal delivery and memorable early lead lines, a steady, organic rhythm from drummer/engineer Esben Willems and bassist Mika Häkki — worth noting that all three have either released solo albums or otherwise explored solo work in the last two years — and Mellotron that adds a classically progressive flair and lets the guitar focus on mood rather than stomp, though there’s still plenty of that in “Glaive (It’s All the Same)” and is more the focus of “The Only Road,” so Monolord aren’t necessarily making radical changes from where they were on 2021’s Your Time to Shine (review here), but as there has been all along, there’s steady growth in balance with the physicality of tone one has come to anticipate from them. After scaling back on road time, It’s All the Same feels reassuring even as it pushes successfully the boundaries of their signature sound.

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Somnuri, Desiderium

Somnuri Desiderium

Raging not at all unthoughtfully for most of its concise-feeling but satisfying 38 minutes, Somnuri‘s third album and MNRK Heavy label debut, the nine-song Desiderium, is a tour de force through metallic strengths. Informed by the likes of Death, (their now-labelmates) High on Fire, Killswitch Engage, Gojira (at whose studio they recorded), thick-toned and swapping between harsh shouts, screams and clean-sung choruses — and yes, that’s just in the first three minutes of opener “Death is the Beginning” — the Brooklynite trio of guitarist/vocalist Justin Sherrell, bassist Mike G. and drummer Phil SanGiacomo brazenly careen and crash through styles, be it the lumbering and impatiently angular doom “Paramnesia,” the rousing sprint “What a Way to Go,” the raw, vocals-rightly-forward and relatively free of effects “Remnants” near the end, or the pairing of the fervent, thrashy shove in “Flesh and Blood” with the release-your-inner-CaveIn “Desiderium,” the overwhelming extremity of “Pale Eyes” or the post-hardcore balladeering that turns to djent sludge largesse in closer “The Way Out” — note the album begins at “…the Beginning” and ends at an exit; happy accident or purposeful choice; it works either way — Somnuri are in the hurricane rather than commanding from the calm center, and that shows in the emotionalism of prior single “Hollow Visions,” but at no point does Desiderium collapse under the weight of its ambitions. After years of touring and the triumph that was 2021’s Nefarious Wave (review here) hinting at what seems in full bloom here, Somnuri sound ready for the next level they’ve reached. Time to spend like the next five years straight on tour, guys. Sorry, but that’s what happens when you’re the kick in the ass heavy metal doesn’t yet know it needs.

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MNRK Heavy website

 

Void King, The Hidden Hymnal

Void King The Hidden Hymnal

Densely distorted Indianapolis heavybringers Void King have stated that their third full-length, the burly but not unatmospheric 36-minute The Hidden Hymnal, is the first of a two-part outing, though it’s unclear whether both parts are a concept record or these six tracks are meant to start a storyline, with opener “Egg of the Sun” (that would happen if it spun really fast) and closer “Drink in the Light” feeling complementary in their increased runtime relative to the four songs between. Maybe it’s an unfinished narrative at this point, or no narrative at all. Fine. Approaching it as a standalone outing, the four-piece follow 2019’s Barren Dominion (review here) with more choice riffing and metal-threatening, weighted doom, “The Grackle” breaking out some rawer-throat gutturalism over its big, big, big tone. The bassline of “Engulfed in Absence” (tell people you love them) caps side A with a highlight, and “When the Pinecones Close Up” (that means it’s going to rain) echoes the volatility of “The Grackle” before “Brother Tried” languidly swings until it’s time for a 100 meter dash at the end, and the aforementioned “Drink in the Light” rounds out mournful and determined. If there’s more to come, so be it, but Void King give their listeners plenty to chew on in the interim.

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Void King on Bandcamp

 

Inezona, Heartbeat

Inezona Heartbeat

At the core of ostensibly Switzerland-based Inezona is multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Ines Brodbeck, and on Heartbeat — the fourth LP from her band and the follow-up to 2019’s Now, released as INEZ, and last year’s sans-vocals A Self Portrait — the sound is malleable around its folkish melodicism, with Brodbeck, guitarist/vocalist Gabriel Sullivan, bassist/synthesist Fabian Gisler and drummer Eric Gut comfortably fleshing out atmospheric heavy psychedelia more about mood than effects but too active and almost too expressive to be post-rock, though it kind of is anyhow. Mellow throughout, “Sea Soul” caps side A and meanders into/through a jam building on the smoky vibe in “Stardust” before the title-track strolls across a field of more ’60s-derived folk rock. “Veil” charms with fuzz, while “In My Heart” seems intent on finding the place where Scandinavian folk meets kosmiche synthesizer, and “Midnight Circle” brings Zatokrev‘s Fredryk Rotter for a guest duet and guitar spot that is a whole-album crescendo, with the acoustic-based “Leave Me Alone” and the brief “Sunday Mornings” at the end to manage the comedown. The sound spans decades and styles and functions with purpose as its own presence, and the soothing delivery of Brodbeck throughout much of the proceedings draws Heartbeat together as an interpretation of classic pop ideals with deep roots underground. Proof again that ‘heavy’ is about more than which pedals you have on your board.

Inezona on Facebook

Czar of Crickets Productions store

 

Hauch, Lehmasche

Hauch Lehmasche

It’s odd that it’s odd that Hauch‘s songs are in German. The pandemic-born Waltrop, Germany, four-piece present their first release in the recorded-in-2021, five-song Lehmasche, and I guess so much of the material coming out of the German heavy underground — and there’s a lot of it, always — is in English. A distinguishing factor for the 31-minute outing, then, which is further marked by an attitudinal edge in hard-fuzz riffers like “Es Ist” and the closer “Tür,” the aesthetic of the band at this (or that, depending on how present-tense we want to be) moment drawing strongly from ’90s rock — and no, that doesn’t necessarily mean stoner — in structure and affect, but presenting the almost-eight-minute leadoff “Wind” with due fullness of sound and ending up not too far in terms of style from Switzerland’s Carson, who last year likewise proffered a style that was straightforward on its face but, like Hauch, stood out for its level of songwriting and the just-right nature of its grooves. Lehmasche, the title translating to ‘clay ash,’ evokes something that can change shape, and the thrust in “Komm Nach Hause” and the hard-landing kick thud of centerpiece “Quelle” bear that out well enough. Keeping in mind it’s their debut, it seems likely Hauch will continue to grow, but they already sound ready to be picked up by some label or other.

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Hauch on Bandcamp

 

El Astronauta, Snakes and Foxes

el astronauta snakes and foxes

Setting its nod in a manner that seems to have little time to waste on opener “The Mountain and the Feather” before breaking out with the dense, chugging swing of “The Corenne and the Prophecy Fulfilled,” Kentucky heavybringers El Astronauta bring a nuanced sound to what might be familiar progressions, but the mix is set up in three dimensions and the band dwells in all of them, bringing character to the languid reach of the mini-album Snakes and Foxes, bolstered by the everybody-might-sing approach from guitarist/keyboardist Seth Wilson, bassist Dean Collier and pushed-back drummer Cory Link, who debuted in 2021 with High Strangeness and who dude-march through “The Gambler and the General” as if the tempo was impeded by the thickness of the song itself. Through a mere 17 Earth minutes, El Astronauta carve out this indent for themselves in the side of a very large, very heavy style of rock and roll, but “The Axe or the Hammer,” which bookends topping five minutes in answer to “The Mountain and the Feather,” has a more subdued verse to go along with the damn near martial shouts of its impact-minded chorus, and fades out with surprising fluidity to leave off. The one-thing-and-another-thing titles give Snakes and Foxes a thematic feel, but the real theme here is the barebones greed-for-volume El Astronauta display, their material feeling built for beery singalongs.

El Astronauta on Facebook

Snow Wolf Records on Bandcamp

 

Thunder Horse, After the Fall

Thunder Horse After the Fall

With their third full-length behind 2021’s Chosen One (review here) and their 2018 self-titled debut (review here), Texan riff rollers Thunder Horse grow accordingly more atmospheric in their presentation and are that much more sure of themselves in leaning into founding guitarist/vocalist Stephen Bishop‘s industrial metal past in Pitbull Daycare. The keys give “Requiem” an epic feel at the finish, and even if the opening title-track is like what Filter might’ve been if they’d been awesome and “New Normal” and “Monolith” push further with semi-aggro metallurgical force, the wall-of-tone remains thusly informed until the two-minute acoustic “The Other Side” tells listeners where to go when it’s over (you flip the record, duh). “Monolith” hinted at a severity that manifests in the doomed “Apocalypse,” a preface in its noise and breadth for the finale “Requiem,” finding a momentum that the layered-vocal hook of “Inner Demon” capitalizes upon with its tense toms and that the howls of the penultimate “Aberdeen” expand on with Thunder Horse‘s version of classic boogie rock. They don’t come across like they’re done exploring the balances of influence in what they do — and I hope they’re not — but Thunder Horse have never sounded more certain as regards the rightness of their path.

Thunder Horse on Facebook

Ripple Music website

 

After Nations, Vīrya

After Nations Virya

The title “Vīrya” is Sanskrit and based on the Hindu concept of vitality or energy, often in a specifically male context. Fair enough ground for Kansas instrumentalists After Nations to explore on their single following last year’s impressive, Buddhism-based concept LP, The Endless Mountain (review here). In the four-minute standalone check-in, the four-piece remind just how granite-slab heavy that offering was as they find a linear path from the warning-siren-esque guitar at the start through the slower groove and into the space where a post-metallic verse could reside but doesn’t and that’s just fine, turning back to the big-bigger-biggest riff before shifting toward controlled-cacophony progressive metal, hints of djent soon to flower as they build tension through the higher guitar frequencies and the intensity of the whole. After three minutes in, they’re charging forward, but it’s a flash and they’re dug into the whatever-time-signature finishing movement, a quick departure to guitar soon consumed by that feeling you get when you listen to Meshuggah that there’s a very large thing rising up very slowly in front of you and surely you’ll never get out alive. Precise in their attack, After Nations reinforce the point The Endless Mountain made that technique is only one part of their overarching brutality.

After Nations on Facebook

After Nations on Bandcamp

 

Ockra, Gratitude

ockra gratitude

There’s some incongruity between the intro “Introspection” (I see what you did there) leading into “Weightless Again” as it takes the mood from a quiet buildup to full-bore tonality and only then gives over to the eight-minute second track, but Ockra‘s Argonauta-delivered debut long-player thrives in that contradiction. Melodic vocals float over energetic riffing in “Weightless Again,” but even that is just a hint of the seven-songer’s scope. To wit, the initially acoustic-based “Tree I Planted” is recognizably parental in its point of view with a guest vocal from Stefanie Spielhaupter, and while centerpiece “Acceptance” is more doomed in its introductory lead guitar, the open strum of its early verses and the harmonies in its second half assure an impression is made. The Gothenburg-based trio grow yet more adventurous in the drone-and-voice outset of “We Who Didn’t Know,” which unfolds its own notions of what ‘heavy prog’ means, with guitarist Erik Björnlinger howling at the finish ahead of the start of the more folk-minded strum of “Imorgon Här,” on which drummer Jonas Nyström (who also played that acoustic on “We Who Didn’t Know” and adds Mellotron where applicable) takes over lead vocal duties from bassist Alex Spielhaupter (also more Mellotron). The German-language closer “Tage Wie Dieser” (‘days like these’) boasts a return from Stefanie Spielhaupter and is both quiet grunge and ambient post-rock before the proggy intensity of its final wash takes hold, needing neither a barrage of effects or long stretches of jamming to conjure a sense of the far out.

Ockra on Facebook

Argonauta Records store

 

Erik Larson, Fortsett

erik larson fortsett

What’s another 20 minutes of music to Erik Larson, I wonder. The Richmond-based songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist has a career and a discography that goes back to the first Avail record three decades ago, and at no point in those decades has he ever really stopped, moving through outfits like (the now-reunited) Alabama Thunderpussy, Axehandle, The Mighty Nimbus, Hail!Hornet, Birds of Prey, Kilara, Backwoods Payback, Thunderchief, on and on, while building his solo catalog as well. Fortsett, the 20-minute EP in question, follows 2022’s Red Lines and Everything Breaks (both reviewed here), and features Druglord‘s Tommy Hamilton (also Larson‘s bandmate in Omen Stones) on drums and engineer Mark Miley on a variety of instruments and backing vocals. And you know what? It’s a pretty crucial-sounding 20 minutes. Larson leads the charge through his take that helped define Southern heavy in “Cry in the Wind,” the nodder “My Own,” and the sub-two-minute “Electric Burning,” pulls back on the throttle for “Hounder Sistra” and closes backed by drum machine and keys on “Life Shedding,” just in case you dared to think you know what you were getting. So what’s that 20 minutes of music to Erik Larson? Going by the sound of Fortsett, it’s the most important part of the day.

Erik Larson on Bandcamp

 

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