Colour Haze Celebrate 30 Years with In Her Garden Remix and More

Posted in Features on March 26th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

The studio adventures of German heavy psychedelia progenitors Colour Haze are manifold and occasionally more than their share of tragic, but as the band celebrate their 30th anniversary throughout 2024, they’re an essential part of the story. Guitarist and vocalist Stefan Koglek, who is the remaining founding member, has been a part of studio builds and teardowns, recorded in basements and bunkers, and been driven enough toward the band determining their own destiny to end up creating the space itself in which he’d long wished to create. You might recall that around the time of 2012’s She Said (review here), Koglek talked about some of the years’ worth of challenges behind that record alone. As it turns out, that circumstance — while particularly gruesome — was not necessarily an isolated incident.

In addition to a CD sale through his mostly-dormant imprint Elektrohasch Schallplatten and sundry live dates — including SonicBlast Fest in Portugal and Bear Stone in Croatia — that will culminate in an anniversary festival of their own at Feierwerk in Munich this Dec. 28 (further details TBA), Koglek has begun overseeing revisits to past Colour Haze albums at a home studio that, at least for now, he’s willing to call ‘done.’ One might think of the 2021 remix of 2003’s Los Sounds de Krauts (reissue review here) as a precursor to this undertaking, but in terms of the place where the work happens, the already-streaming upcoming 2LP remix and remaster of 2017’s In Her Garden (review here) presents an evolved ideology in its approach to volume, and takes ownership of the material in a way that lets it realize new ideas without actually being all that different.

I’ll just say flat out that if you cherish the original as I do — I hope always to remember dancing with my then-baby daughter to the la-la-las later in “Lotus” — there’s nothing on the 2024 In Her Garden that wants to take that away from you. If the notion of an artist going back over prior output makes you nervous, I understand that. I’m pretty sure there are still folks pissed off Star Wars did a second trilogy at the turn of the century, and I’m not out here to try and belittle or discount anyone’s point of view. Particularly for records toward which one might feel a deep connection, that change can be scary. With the original In Her Garden, Colour Haze united the expanse of the aforementioned She Said with the intentional pushback, go-to-ground organic performance-capture of 2015’s To the Highest Gods We Know (review here), found peace and a place in-between those sides that was memorable unto itself in the listening experience, and cast sun-coated evocations which have continued to resonate in the now-seven years since it came out. Their two-to-date LPs since, 2019/2020’s We Are (review here) and 2022’s Sacred (review here), would not have taken shape as they did without In Her Garden‘s progressive foundation.

Below, you’ll find Koglek detailing the process of going back into the recordings of In Her Garden with a perspective less about volume and more about dynamic. Some pieces have been (partially) rearranged, as with the vocals on “Black Lilly” after the intro “Into Her Garden,” or Jan Faszbender‘s solo in “Lavatera,” but the overarching impression of the music remains serene in its varied movements, and the songs come across with more space, more live energy, and as you can hear in the 11-minute “Islands” and across the span, an underlying tonal crunch that proves well worth highlighting. He calls its sound as “brighter” and “more ‘open,'” and these are assessments with which I can only agree as he, then-bassist Philipp Rasthofer, drummer Manfred Merwald, as well as Faszbender and a host of guest contributors including Mario Oberpucher — who’d take over for Rasthofer on bass in 2021 — present this fresh and refreshing take on the original.

This isn’t an interview, and it’s not an in-studio, but Koglek goes deep in terms of laying out the ideas behind 2024’s In Her Garden and what actually went into making a record that was already so teeming with vitality feel even more alive. Keep your eyes on their website, as they’ll reportedly roll out more background on other albums as the occasion arises. I did some light editing on the text below, but in parallel to the record’s new mix itself, no actual meaning has been changed.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy:

colour haze in her garden

Revisiting ‘In Her Garden’ with Stefan Koglek

…In the summer of 2015, my new control room was ready to work. Now I had a luxurious home studio. While I couldn’t foresee the dynamics starting from the choice of a 2” tape machine as a basic recorder, I have to admit I got intrigued by the reemergence of analogue audio gear. A fascinating world I dived into with passion. Would you stick with drawing watercolor on paper just for economic reasons if it’s your dream to make big oil paintings on canvas?

I think the experiences of your life are more precious than any money you could probably save. I wanted to have gear that I really liked, not just what was doing the job. Even if it was just for the reason that you couldn’t blame the gear for making a poor-sounding record.

I was reasonable enough not to buy overpriced classics, instead choosing esoteric stuff with good value for the money. And with an analogue studio you need a lot of stuff.

Also in my new home studio, I was still missing some tools, equalizer channels, etc., to really do everything necessary or that I wanted. It was still not grown up. And though the room was good now, the monitoring still was far from perfect. Though I wasn’t too happy with the performance of my monitor speakers in the room, my attempts to change this didn’t get much going. But it was much better than before, so I tried to get used to it. I couldn’t improve the situation for another five years.

In 2016, we had enough music for a new album but the garage below my control room still wasn’t converted into the recording space it was initially intended to be.

For the ‘In Her Garden’ recordings, we booked a great sounding, huge 1960s studio room in Munich, which was now mainly used as a rehearsal for a symphonic orchestra. We would have brought all our own recording gear. One week before our sessions, the booking was cancelled by the studio owner.

Though I thought it was clear from the beginning we would rent the empty room during the orchestra’s holiday in a lockout deal, he was shocked to find out we wouldn’t just work from nine to five like the orchestra musicians. First he wanted to double the already whopping 800 Euro per-day price for an empty room, then he cancelled the whole deal.

There we stood, holiday already taken. We tried to find a different studio but in the end had to go down again in our rehearsal room. A new place that was formerly a beer cellar for Oktoberfest. It was four floors below ground, 40 sqm, concrete, low ceiling. The lift had just enough room to squeeze in the Telefunken.

We tried to swiftly treat the room acoustically with what was around, and just as everything was set up and ready for soundcheck, the tape machine stopped working. It turned out that a huge surge hit the poor electric system of the building while we were setting up mics (maybe from a crane being shut off from the build of the nearby Oktoberfest).

The Logic-platines of the tape machine were destroyed – and so was the lift. The latter never got repaired again, and in the end we had to carry the 250 kg Telefunken in pieces up four floors on small stairs. We spent the week that was meant for recording on fixing the recorder. But we got ‘In Her Garden’ in the end, despite the difficult circumstance. And the recordings sounded better than what we got from the previous place.

The Remixes:

In 2020, I had to change to a different press for LPs. For some years, the company I was working with since founding Elektrohasch had trouble with quality and when they raised prices three times within two weeks in the 2020 vinyl rush, it was time to go.

The pressing-tools were mine, since I always had my vinyls cut at a different cutting studio. I expected they could simply be sent to the new factory and I could work there. But surprise: most tools arrived damaged at Optimal Media. A part of the stock of work we’d built up over 20 years was gone overnight. I had to deliver new cuts. That meant I had to deliver the master recordings again.

Sometimes this was impossible.

For ‘Los Sounds de Krauts,’ the original digital masters were in poor 16bit 44.1 kHz on CD-R – you wouldn’t use a 15-year-old CD-R as a master! I also thought the mixes could be improved with hindsight and better gear. At least for that I had the original (digital) multitrack recordings, but it took two years to get all the digital files running again. Mind that – just 15 years and your digital memory might be lost already or only retrieved with great effort or cost, even within the very same system: ProTools on a Mac. Meanwhile, I just put the tapes from ‘To The Highest Gods We Know’ on the machine and simply work with them.

Other records are still in stock, some won’t be reprinted anyway.

But when possible I will take the opportunity to remix the rest of our catalogue step by step. Because the sound could be better. It is a lot of work (and actually not paid) but it’s simply a thing I want to do.

With the home studio, I have the possibility and occasion to work on them again. And there are reasons why I think I can get to better results now:

– Over the years, I’ve learned more about mixing. I have a better idea what I’m hearing and how to achieve things.

– My studio finally has proper monitoring. For the first time since ‘All,’ I can really hear what is going on.

– The studio is complete. I do not miss another Equalizer-Channel if I need one. I’m happy with it, got used to what I have and don’t want different or new stuff. I have a tendency to collect things, but thankfully this always ends at some point. I can complete a collection.

– I have no pressure. I can work relaxed at home on the recordings whenever I’m up to it.

– Foremost, it is now finally fun to work in that place.

‘In Her Garden’ is the first record I mixed and mastered with this new situation. The actual changes in the mixing are not that big – it is still the same recordings and the same person working with the same setup on them. But little changes make quite some difference for my ears:

– First of all I learned to take much more care with levels. In the individual tracks, differences in gain settings are subtle to hear, but the dedicated control over all levels throughout the signal chain leads to a less “choked,” more open-sounding result. Though my console has headroom forever I had to learn how different it sounds depending on how you drive it.

– Where for quite some time I kept the ideal of mixing very “dry” without any additional reverberation on the basic tracks, I’m a bit less dogmatic about such things now and I learned to utilize reverberation better.

– I learned how to take greater care of mixing keyboards and vocals…

– Another benefit for the remix was I didn’t feel the pressure to present a new album and also had more distance to the music and therefore maybe a clearer view – remixing ‘In Her Garden’ was pretty relaxed and happened over the course of seven months.

For my ears all this results in a more “open,” pleasant and relaxed sound. The record is more dynamic and sounds brighter and fuller, even though the equalizer settings actually haven’t changed much. It’s just a bit more on-spot here and there, so the individual signals integrate better.

What was changed on the material? Not much, just in:

– “Black Lilly”: I was never satisfied with how the vocals worked. I had this melody, an idea of the vocal line, but had trouble performing it. That’s part of why we don’t play this song live; I simply can’t sing it well enough in the original key. But the basic track was the best I could achieve. I mixed it much better now so it is not rolling up my toenails anymore. And I added a new lower background voice to help the basic track. I actually like the vocals in this song pretty much now.

– “Lavatera“ – for ‘In Her Garden,’ I had originally hired Jan as a session musician, which led to expanding Colour Haze to a quartet later. The original organ tracks were a swift improvisation. As “Lavatera” was part of the live set for a couple of years, Jan developed a synthesizer solo that fit the song better. I wanted to integrate this solo also, to create a bridge within the record to Jan being a member of the band now.

Another difference is the mastering.

I’m first generation home-computer, and with all the changes since the ‘80s, I’ve experienced digital memory as shortlived and ever-changing. If you’re reading this and you record anything, ever, mind the trouble we had recreating the ‘Los Sounds de Krauts’ data. From an artistic point of view, a physical copy is still the form that should present the results of our efforts.

We got accustomed to so many things, and until ‘In Her Garden’, I had the idea that the digital master was better with a certain amount of loudness. This by far was not as gruesome as during the early 2000s, but as close as possible to the technical limits of digital audio.

Well, one could imagine it simply is not good to drive anything as far as possible to the technical limits. And though mastering engineers might tell you otherwise, my notion is that limiters (tools that cut off signal peaks so the program can be shifted closer to the limit) never do nice things to audio. They limit.

For [remixing] ‘In Her Garden,’ I forgot all considerations of making it loud. It doesn’t matter for the actual result on vinyl anyway. For or me it sounds less “choked” than everything we did before. Only time will tell if this is a better way.

The recording and mix are analogue. I mixdown to 1/4” stereo tape. From there, mastering is basically the translation to digital, but the tools for it are still analogue – a Hi-End valve equalizer to shape the frequency and a Hi-End valve compressor for some dynamic shaping, to “open up” the dynamics rather than to “squeeze” them together. From there it is converted to digital.

This time I didn’t try anymore to get as loud as possible into the digital domain. I accepted the sonically ideal point of the electronics of my mastering converter (if you need to know, I use a Forssell Mada 2a). And the result after mastering 13 songs every now and then over the course of six weeks with all the songs fitting together in loudness and appearance tells me I’m not totally wrong.

For the vinyl cut I changed from DMM to “half-speed lacquer cut”. The digital files are only half as loud now, but I think it sounds better. You have the volume control – use it! :)

Colour Haze, In Her Garden (2024 remix/remaster)

Colour Haze website

Colour Haze on Facebook

Colour Haze on Instagram

Elektrohasch Schallplatten website

Elektrohasch Schallplatten on Facebook

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Keep it Low 2024 Puts Tickets on Sale; Announces Fu Manchu, Truckfighters, Monolord, Greenleaf & More

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 29th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

If you’re the type who likes to take care of things early, well, you’re apparently in good company with the Munich-based Keep it Low Festival. The two-dayer fest, which is one of many under the umbrella of Sound of Liberation booking, is held annually in October, and that’s when it’s set to take place in 2024 as well, at Backstage in Munich on Oct. 11-12. Tickets, however, are on sale almost 10 full months early.

Why? I’m not sure, but I have a definite answer in “why the hell not?,” and I find that when I try to answer that question, I come up blank. So yeah, it seems like that’s really early, but on the other hand, why not put tickets for next year on sale while people are at the fest this year? It’s different, I don’t know if it’s been done before, but doesn’t that just make it a new idea, and is that something so terrible to be chasing down in a climate where live music is trying to draw people out of the entertainment hotbeds we’ve built in our homes?

I’ve gotten sidetracked from this lineup announcement, which came out the other day from Sound of Liberation and hints toward Fall 2024 European tours for at least Fu Manchu, Monolord, Truckfighters, Greenleaf, Messa and Psychlona, but I like to keep an eye for how things evolve from year to year and for all I know, Keep it Low has been doing this every year for the last decade (happy 10th anniversary, by the way) and I’m just picking up on it now because, well, I’m kinda slow sometimes, but it stood out to me as something you might not see all the time. And maybe you like to make early travel arrangements. I know I do.

From social media:

keep it low 2024 first announcement


Hey Keepers,

we are super excited to present you the first bands for next year’s edition of the Keep It Low festival!🔥

Please welcome:


🎫Weekend tickets are available in our shop.

Keep It Low Festival
10th anniversary
🗓️11 & 12 October 2024
📍Backstage Munich

Artwork by Sebastian Jerke

Your Keep It Low Crew

Greenleaf, Live at Desertfest Berlin 2023

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Quarterly Review: David Eugene Edwards, Beastwars, Sun Dial, Fuzzy Grass, Morne, Appalooza, Space Shepherds, Rey Mosca, Fawn Limbs & Nadja, Dune Pilot

Posted in Reviews on December 1st, 2023 by JJ Koczan


Well, this is it. I still haven’t decided if I’m going to do Monday and Tuesday, or just Monday, or Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or the whole week next week or what. I don’t know. But while I figure it out — and not having this planned is kind of a novelty for me; something against my nature that I’m kind of forcing I think just to make myself uncomfortable — there are 10 more records to dig through today and it’s been a killer week. Yeah, that’s the other thing. Maybe it’s better to quit while I’m ahead.

I’ll kick it back and forth while writing today and getting the last of what I’d originally slated covered, then see how much I still have waiting to be covered. You can’t ever get everything. I keep learning that every year. But if I don’t do it Monday and Tuesday, it’ll either be last week of December or maybe second week of January, so it’s not long until the next one. Never is, I guess.

If this is it for now or not, thanks for reading. I hope you found music that has touched your life and/or made your day better.

Quarterly Review #41-50:

David Eugene Edwards, Hyacinth

David Eugene Edwards Hyacinth

There are not a ton of surprises to behold in what’s positioned as a first solo studio offering from David Eugene Edwards, whose pedigree would be impressive enough if it only included either 16 Horsepower or Wovenhand but of course is singular in including both. But you don’t need surprises. Titled Hyacinth and issued through Sargent House, the voice, the presence, the sense of intimacy and grandiosity both accounted for as Edwards taps acoustic simplicity in “Bright Boy,” though even that is accompanied by the programmed electronics that provides backing through much of the included 11 tracks. Atop and within these expanses, Edwards broods poetic and explores atmospheres that are heavy in a different way from what Wovenhand has become, chasing tone or intensity. On Hyacinth, it’s more about the impact of the slow-rolling beat in “Celeste” and the blend of organic/inorganic than just how loud a part is or isn’t. Whether a solo career under his name will take the place of Wovenhand or coincide, I don’t know.

David Eugene Edwards on Instagram

Sargent House website

Beastwars, Tyranny of Distance

beastwars tyranny of distance

Whatever led Beastwars to decide it was time to do a covers EP, fine. No, really, it’s fine. It’s fine that it’s 32 minutes long. It’s fine that I’ve never heard The Gordons, or Julia Deans, or Superette, or The 3Ds or any of the other New Zealand-based artists the Wellington bashers are covering. It’s fine. It’s fine that it sounds different than 2019’s IV (review here). It should. It’s been nearly five years and Beastwars didn’t write these eight songs, though it seems safe to assume they did a fair bit of rearranging since it all sounds so much like Beastwars. But the reason it’s all fine is that when it’s over, whether I know the original version of “Waves” or the blues-turns-crushing “High and Lonely” originally by Nadia Reid, or not, when it’s all over, I’ve got over half an hour more recorded Beastwars music than I had before Tyranny of Distance showed up, and if you don’t consider that a win, you probably already stopped reading. That’s fine too. A sidestep for them in not being an epic landmark LP, and a chance for new ideas to flourish.

Beastwars on Facebook

Beastwars BigCartel store

Sun Dial, Messages From the Mothership

sun dial messages from the mothership

Because Messages From the Mothership stacks its longer songs (six-seven minutes) in the back half of its tracklisting, one might be tempted to say Sun Dial push further out as they go, but the truth is that ’60s pop-inflected three-minute opener “Echoes All Around” is pretty out there, and the penultimate “Saucer Noise” — the longest inclusion at 7:47 — is no less melodically present than the more structure-forward leadoff. The difference, principally, is a long stretch of keyboard, but that’s well within the UK outfit’s vintage-synth wheelhouse, and anyway, “Demagnitized” is essentially seven minutes of wobbly drone at the end of the record, so they get weirder, as prefaced in the early going by, well, the early going itself, but also “New Day,” which is more exploratory than the radio-friendly-but-won’t-be-on-the-radio harmonies of “Living for Today” and the duly shimmering strum of “Burning Bright.” This is familiar terrain for Sun Dial, but they approach it with a perspective that’s fresh and, in the title-track, a little bit funky to boot.

Sun Dial on Facebook

Sulatron Records webstore

Echodelick Records website

Fuzzy Grass, The Revenge of the Blue Nut

Fuzzy Grass The Revenge of the Blue Nut

With rampant heavy blues and a Mk II Deep Purple boogie bent, Toulouse, France’s Fuzzy Grass present The Revenge of the Blue Nut, and there’s a story there but to be honest I’m not sure I want to know. The heavy ’70s persist as an influence — no surprise for a group who named their 2018 debut 1971 — and pieces like “I’m Alright” and “The Dreamer” feel at least in part informed by Graveyard‘s slow-soul-to-boogie-blowout methodology. Raw fuzz rolls out in 11-minute capper “Moonlight Shades” with a swinging nod that’s a highlight even after “Why You Stop Me” just before, and grows noisy, expansive, eventually furious as it approaches the end, coherent in the verse and cacophonous in just about everything else. But the rawness bolsters the character of the album in ways beyond enhancing the vintage-ist impression, and Fuzzy Grass unite decades of influences with vibrant shred and groove that’s welcoming even at its bluest.

Fuzzy Grass on Facebook

Kozmik Artifactz store

Morne, Engraved with Pain

Morne Engraved With Pain

If you go by the current of sizzling electronic pops deeper in the mix, even the outwardly quiet intro to Morne‘s Engraved with Pain is intense. The Boston-based crush-metallers have examined the world around them thoroughly ahead of this fifth full-length, and their disappointment is brutally brought to realization across four songs — “Engraved with Pain” (10:42), “Memories Like Stone” (10:48), “Wretched Empire” (7:45) and “Fire and Dust” (11:40) — written and executed with a dark mastery that goes beyond the weight of the guitar and bass and drums and gutturally shouted vocals to the aura around the music itself. Engraved with Pain makes the air around it feel heavier, basking in an individualized vision of metal that’s part Ministry, part Gojira, lots of Celtic Frost, progressive and bleak in kind — the kind of superlative and consuming listening experience that makes you wonder why you ever listen to anything else except that you’re also exhausted from it because Morne just gave you an existential flaying the likes of which you’ve not had in some time. Artistry. Don’t be shocked when it’s on my ‘best of the year’ list in a couple weeks. I might just go to a store and buy the CD.

Morne on Facebook

Metal Blade Records website

Appalooza, The Shining Son

appalooza the shining son

Don’t tell the swingin’-dick Western swag of “Wounded,” but Appalooza are a metal band. To wit, The Shining Son, their very-dudely follow-up to 2021’s The Holy of Holies (review here) and second outing for Ripple Music. Opener “Pelican” has more in common with Sepultura than Kyuss, or Pelican for that matter. “Unbreakable” and “Wasted Land” both boast screams worthy of Devin Townsend, while the acoustic/electric urgency in “Wasted Land” and the tumultuous scope of the seven-plus-minute track recall some of Primordial‘s battle-aftermath mourning. “Groundhog Days” has an airy melody and is more decisively heavy rock, and the hypnotic post-doom apparent-murder-balladry of “Killing Maria” answers that at the album’s close, and “Framed” hits heavy blues à la a missed outfit like Dwellers, but even in “Sunburn” there’s an immediacy to the rhythm between the guitar and percussion, and though they’re not necessarily always aggressive in their delivery, nor do they want to be. Metal they are, if only under the surface, and that, coupled with the care they put into their songwriting, makes The Shining Son stand out all the more in an ever-crowded Euro underground.

Appalooza on Facebook

Ripple Music website

Space Shepherds, Washed Up on a Shore of Stars

Space Shepherds Washed Up on a Shore of Stars

An invitation to chill the beans delivered to your ears courtesy of Irish cosmic jammers Space Shepherds as two longform jams. “Wading Through the Infinite Sea” nestles into a funky groove and spends who-even-cares-how-much-time of its total 27 minutes vibing out with noodling guitar and a steady, languid, periodically funk-leaning flow. I don’t know if it was made up on the spot, but it sure sounds like it was, and though the drums get a little restless as keys and guitar keep dreaming, the elements gradually align and push toward and through denser clouds of dust and gas on their way to being suns, a returning lick at the end looking slightly in the direction of Elder but after nearly half an hour it belongs to no one so much as Space Shepherds themselves. ‘Side B,’ as it were, is “Void Hurler” (18:41), which is more active early around circles being drawn on the snare, and it has a crescendo and a synthy finish, but is ultimately more about the exploration and little moments along the way like the drums decided to add a bit of push to what might’ve otherwise been the comedown, or the fuzz buzzing amid the drone circa 10 minutes in. You can sit and listen and follow each waveform on its journey or you can relax and let the whole thing carry you. No wrong answer for jams this engaging.

Space Shepherds on Facebook

Space Shepherds on Bandcamp

Rey Mosca, Volumen! Sesion AMB

rey mosca volumen sesiones amb

Young Chilean four-piece Rey Mosca — the lineup of Josué Campos, Valentín Pérez, Damián Arros and Rafael Álvarez — hold a spaciousness in reserve for the midsection of teh seven-minute “Sol del Tiempo,” which is the third of the three songs included in their live-recorded Volumen! Sesion AMB EP. A ready hint is dropped of a switch in methodology since both “Psychodoom” and ” Perdiendo el Control” are under two minutes long. Crust around the edge of the riff greets the listener with “Psychodoom,” which spends about a third of its 90 seconds on its intro and so is barely started by the time it’s over. Awesome. “Perdiendo el Control” is quicker into its verse and quicker generally and gets brasher in its second half with some hardcore shout-alongs, but it too is there and gone, where “Sol del Tiempo” is more patient from the outset, flirting with ’90s noise crunch in its finish but finding a path through a developing interpretation of psychedelic doom en route. I don’t know if “Sol del Tiempo” would fit on a 7″, but it might be worth a shot as Rey Mosca serve notice of their potential hopefully to flourish.


Rey Mosca on Bandcamp

Fawn Limbs & Nadja, Vestigial Spectra

Fawn Limbs & Nadja Vestigial Spectra

Principally engaged in the consumption and expulsion of expectations, Fawn Limbs and Nadja — experimentalists from Finland and Germany-via-Canada, respectively — drone as one might think in opener “Isomerich,” and in the subsequent “Black Body Radiation” and “Cascading Entropy,” they give Primitive Man, The Body or any other extremely violent, doom-derived bludgeoners you want to name a run for their money in terms of sheer noisy assault. Somebody’s been reading about exoplanets, as the drone/harsh noise pairing “Redshifted” and “Blueshifted” (look it up, it’s super cool) reset the aural trebuchet for its next launch, the latter growing caustic on the way, ahead of “Distilled in Observance” renewing the punishment in earnest. And it is earnest. They mean every second of it as Fawn Limbs and Nadja grind souls to powder with all-or-nothing fury, dropping overwhelming drive to round out “Distilled in Observance” before the 11-minute “Metastable Ion Decay” bursts out from the chest of its intro drone to devour everybody on the ship except Sigourney Weaver. I’m not lying to you — this is ferocious. You might think you’re up for it. One sure way to find out, but you should know you’re being tested.

Fawn Limbs on Facebook

Nadja on Facebook

Sludgelord Records on Facebook

Dune Pilot, Magnetic

dune pilot magnetic

Do they pilot, a-pilot, do they the dune? Probably. Regardless, German heavy rockers Dune Pilot offer their third full-length and first for Argonauta Records in the 11-song Magnetic, taking cues from modern fuzz in the vein of Truckfighters for “Visions” after the opening title-track sets the mood and establishes the mostly-dry sound of the vocals as they cut through the guitar and bass tones. A push of voice becomes a defining feature of Magnetic, which isn’t such a departure from 2018’s Lucy, though the rush of “Next to the Liquor Store” and the breadth in the fuzz of “Highest Bid” and the largesse of the nod in “Let You Down” assure that Dune Pilot don’t come close to wearing down their welcome in the 46 minutes, cuts like the bluesy “So Mad” and the big-chorus ideology of “Heap of Shards” coexisting drawn together by the vitality of the performances behind them as well as the surety of their craft. It is heavy rock that feels specifically geared toward the lovers thereof.

Dune Pilot on Facebook

Argonauta Records website

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Video Interview: Stefan Koglek of Colour Haze on Playing Desertfest New York, Touring North & South America, Sacred & More

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Features on October 13th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

Colour Haze 4 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Last month, amid the merciful waning of humid summer on the northeastern seaboard, German heavy psychedelic rock institution Colour Haze traveled to play their first American shows in 17 years at Desertfest New York. They would perform two sets in Brooklyn as part of the festival, an initially-booked headlining slot at the pre-show at Saint Vitus Bar (review here) leading to the addition of a second set for the first night of the fest-proper at the Knockdown Center (review here).

Perhaps for the band’s fans in Europe it might be difficult to appreciate how much of an event this was. Sure, last weekend in their hometown of Munich they played an annual set at the Keep it Low Festival put on by Sound of Liberation, and they’ve got more tour dates lined up for next month that you can see below. Meanwhile, the last time they were in the US was 2006’s Emissions From the Monolith Festival in Youngstown, Ohio, and while I don’t mind telling you that evening changed my life for the better, The Nyabinghi where it happened, was more of an outpost than a scene for a grand entrance for a generational band on new geographic ground. They were brilliant, either way.

Is an American underground ready for Colour Haze? Desertfest sure was. I spoke to several heads in the crowd on both nights who’d been waiting a decade or longer for the chance to see them, and I get it. While their sound is as immersive onstage as it is on record, seeing them actually making that happen is a bit believing it. In the video interview that follows here, Koglek makes some comparison to a jazz band, and there is definitely that element of the crowd watching Colour HazeKoglek, bassist Mario Oberpucher, keyboardist Jan Faszbender and drummer Mani Merwald — to try to understand how it’s done. To learn. You hear about that a lot with the bop era of jazz acts and players. When you’re on the presence of masters, it’s worth paying attention.

The conversation covers a pretty broad range of topics, from NY, to remixing old albums before the tapes decay to the potential of their return to the US for more touring — yes, touring — in 2024, and so on. It was not at all the first time we’ve spoken over the years, but a new format for it to happen. It’s not a short chat, and I treat posting unedited interviews as a moral position, so if you’re gonna dig in, take your time. You also get to see the Colour Haze Studio where at least part of their recording process (as well as the mix/mastering, generally) happens, so that’s a bonus as well. Yes, the tape machine is apparently as heavy as it looks.

I could go on here about the importance of the band, their influence, the possibility of their touring in North America in addition to their already-confirmed South American dates and whatever, but you’ve got enough on your plate. If you dig in, please enjoy, and either way, thanks for reading:

Colour Haze Interview with Stefan Koglek, Oct. 10, 2023

Colour Haze‘s Sacred is out now through Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Following their performance at Keep it Low, the remaining dates for their Fall tour are as follows:

21.10. – (DE) Ludwigsburg – Scala Ludwigsburg
04.11. – (DE) Weiden – Burn the Streets Festival Vol. 1
10.11. – (DE) Dortmund – JunkYard • Dortmund
11.11. – (NL) Maastricht – Muziekgieterij
12.11.- (NL) Deventer – Burgerweeshuis
14.11. – (DE) Bielefeld – Forum Bielefeld
15.11. – (BE) Brussels – Le Botanique
16.11. – (FR) Paris – Backstage By The Mill Garmonbozia Inc.
17.11. – (FR) Vallet – WESTILL VIIème édition
18.11. – (DE) Neunkirchen – Gloomaar Festival 2023

Colour Haze, Sacred (2023)

Colour Haze website

Colour Haze on Facebook

Colour Haze on Instagram

Elektrohasch Schallplatten website

Elektrohasch Schallplatten on Facebook

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Quarterly Review: Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Graveyard, Hexvessel, Godsground, Sleep Maps, Dread Spire, Mairu, Throe, Blind River, Rifftree

Posted in Reviews on October 2nd, 2023 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk winter quarterly review

It’s been quite a morning. Got up at five, went back to sleep until six, took the dog out, lazily poured myself a coffee — the smell is like wood bark and bitter mud, so yes, the dark roast — and got down to set up this Quarterly Review. Not rushed, not at all overwhelmed by press releases about new albums or the fact that I’ve got 50 records I’m writing about this week, or any of it. Didn’t last, that stress-free sit-down — one of the hazards of being perfectly willing to be distracted at a moment’s notice is that that might happen — but it was nice while it did. And hey, the Quarterly Review is set up and ready to roll with 50 records between now and Friday. Let’s do that.

Quarterly Review #1-10:

Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Slaughter on First Avenue

uncle acid and the deadbeats slaughter on first avenue

Recorded over two nights at First Avenue in Minneapolis sandwiching the pandemic in 2019 and 2022, Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats‘ 14-song/85-minute live album, Slaughter on First Avenue, is about as clean as you’re ever likely to hear the band sound. And the Rise Above-issued 2LP spans the garage doom innovators’ career, from “Dead Eyes of London” from 2010’s Vol. 1 (reissue review here) to “I See Through You” from 2018’s Wasteland (review here), with all the “Death’s Door” and “Thirteen Candles” and “Desert Ceremony” and “I’ll Cut You Down” you can handle, the addled and murderous bringers of melody and fuzz clear-eyed and methodical, professional, in their delivery. It sounds worked on, like, in the studio, the way oldschool live albums might’ve been. I don’t know that it was, don’t have a problem with that if it was, just noting that the sheer sound here is fantastic, whether it’s the separation between the two guitars and keys and each other, the distinction of the vocals, or the way even the snare drum seems to hit in kind with the vintage aspects of Uncle Acid‘s general production style. They clearly enjoy the crowd response to the older tunes like “I’ll Cut You Down” and “Death’s Door,” and well they should. Slaughter on First Avenue isn’t a new full-length, though they say one will eventually happen, but it’s a representation of their material in a new way for listeners, cleaner than their last two studio records, and a ceremony (or two) worth preserving.

Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats on Facebook

Rise Above Records website

Graveyard, 6

graveyard 6

Swedish retro soul rock forerunners Graveyard are on their way to being legends if they aren’t legends yet. Headliners at the absolute least, and the influence they had in the heavy ’10s on classic heavy as a style and boogie rock in particular can’t be discounted. Comprised of nine cuts, 6 is Graveyard‘s first offering of this decade, following behind 2018’s Peace (review here), and it continues their dual-trajectory in pairing together the slow, troubled-love woes emotionality of “Breathe In, Breathe Out,” “Sad Song” on which guitarist Joakim Nilsson relinquishes lead vocals, the early going of “Bright Lights,” and opener “Godnatt” — Swedish for “good night,” which the band tried to say in 2016 but it didn’t stick — setting up turns to shove in “Twice” and “Just a Drop” while “I Follow You,” closer “Rampant Fields” or the highlight “Just a Drop” finding some territory between the two ends. The bottom line here is it’s not the record I was hoping Graveyard would make, leaning slow and morose whereas when you could break out a groove like “Just a Drop” seemingly at will, why wouldn’t you? But that I even had those hopes tells you the caliber band they are, and whatever the tracks actually do, there’s no questioning them as songwriters. But the world could use some good times swagger, if only a half-hour of escapism, and Graveyard are perhaps too sincere to deliver. Fair enough.

Graveyard on Facebook

Nuclear Blast website

Hexvessel, Polar Veil

hexvessel polar veil

The thing about Hexvessel that has been revealed over time is that each record is its own context. Grown out from the black metal history of UK-born/Helsinki-residing songwriter Mat “Kvohst” McNerney, the band returns to that fertile ground somewhat on the eight-song Polar Veil, applying veteran confidence to post-blackened genre transgressions. Songs like “A Cabin in Montana” and “Older Than the Gods” have some less-warlike Primordial vibes between the epic melodies and tremolo echoes, but in both the speedy intensity of “Eternal Meadow” and the later ethereally-doomed gruel of “Ring,” Hexvessel are distinctly themselves doing this thing. That is, they’re not changing who they are to suit the style they want to play — even the per-song stylistic shifts of 2016’s When We Are Death (review here) were their own, so that’s not necessarily new — but a departure from the dark progressive folk of 2020’s Kindred as McNerney, bassist Ville Hakonen, drummer Jukka Rämänen and pianist/keyboardist Kimmo Helén (also strings) welcome a curated-seeming selection of a few guest appearances spread across the release, always keeping mindful of ambience and mood however raging the tempest around them might be.

Hexvessel on Facebook

Svart Records website

Godsground, A Bewildered Mind

Godsground A Bewildered Mind

Bookended by its two longest songs in “Drink Some More” (8:44) and closer “Letter Full of Wine” (9:17), Munich-based troupe Godsground offer seven songs with their 47-minute third long-player, working quickly to bask in post-Alice in Chains melodies surrounded by a warmth of tone that could just as easily be derived from hometown heroes in Colour Haze as the likes of Sungrazer or anyone else, but there’s more happening in the sound than just that. The melodies reach out and the songs develop on paths so that “Balance” is a straight-up desert rocker where seven-minute centerpiece “Into the Butter” sounds readier to get weird. They are well at home in longer forms, flashing a bit of metal in teh later solo of the penultimate “Non Reflecting Mirror,” but the overarching focus on vocal melody grounds the material in its lyrics, and that helps stabilize some of the more out-there aspects. With the roller fuzz of “A Game of Light” and side B’s flow-into-push “Flood” finding space between all-out go and the longer songs’ willingness to dwell in parts, Godsground emerge from the collection with a varied style around a genre center that’s maybe delighted not to pick a side when it comes to playing toward this or that niche. There’s some undercurrent of doom — though I’ll admit the artwork had me looking for it — but Godsground are more coherent than bewildered, and their material unfolds with intent to immerse rather than commiserate.


Godsground on Bandcamp

Sleep Maps, Reclaim Chaos

sleep maps reclaim chaos

Ambition abounds on Sleep MapsReclaim Chaos, as the once-NYC-based duo of multi-instrumentalist Ben Kaplan and vocalist David Kegg — finds somebody that writes you riffs like “Second Generation” and scream your ass off for them — bring textures of progressive metal, death metal, metal metal to the proceedings with their established post-whathaveyou modus. Would it be a surprise if I said it made them a less predictable band? I hope not. With attention to detail bolstered my a mix from Matt Bayles (Isis, Sandrider, etc.), the open spaces of “The Good Engineer” resonate in their layered vocals and drone, while “You Want What I Cannot Give” pummels, “In the Sun, In the Moon” brings the wash forward and capper “Kill the World” is duly still in conveying an apparent aftermath rather than the actual slaughter of the planet, which of course happened over a longer timeframe. All of this, and a good deal more, make Reclaim Chaos a heady feast — and that’s before you get to the ’00-era electronica of “Double Blind” — but in their reclamation, Sleep Maps execute with care and make a point about the malleability of style as much as about their own progression, though it seems to be the latter fueling them. Self-motivated, willful artistic progression is not often so starkly recognizable.

Sleep Maps website

Lost Future Records website

Dread Spire, Endless Empire

Dread Spire Endless Empire EP

A reminder of the glories amid the horrors of our age: Dread Spire‘s Endless Empire — am I the only one who finds it a little awkward when band and release names rhyme? — probably wouldn’t exist without the democratization of recording processes that’s happened over the last 15-20 years. It’s a demo, essentially, from the bass/drum — that’s Richie Rehal and Erol Kavvas — Cali-set instrumentalist two-piece, and with about 13 minutes of sans BS riffing, they make a case via a linear procession of crunch riffing and uptempo, semi-metal precision. The narrative — blessings and peace upon it — holds that they got together during the pandemic, and the raw form and clearly-manifest catharsis in the material is all the backing they need. More barebones than complex, this first offering wants nothing for audio fidelity and gives Rehal and Kavvas a beginning from which to build in any and all directions they might choose. The joy of collaboration and the need to find an expressive outlet are the best motivations one could ask, and that’s very obviously what’s at work here.

Dread Spire on Instagram

Dread Spire on Bandcamp

Mairu, Sol Cultus

MAIRU Sol Cultus

A roiling post-metallic churn abides the slow tempos of “Torch Bearer” at the outset of Mairu‘s debut full-length, Sol Cultus, and it is but one ingredient of the Liverpool-based outfit’s atmospheric plunge. Across eight tracks and 49 minutes, the double-guitar four-piece of Alan Caulton and Ant Hurlock (both guitar/vocals), Dan Hunt (bass/vocals) and Ben Davis (drums/synth) — working apparently pretty closely over a period of apparently four years with Tom Dring, who produced, engineered, mixed, mastered and contributed saxophone, ebow, piano and additional synth — remind in their spaciousness of that time Red Sparowes taught the world, instrumentally, to sing. But with harsh and melodic vocals mixed, bouts of thrashier riffing dealt with prejudice, and the barely-there ambience of “Inter Alia” and “Per Alia” to persuade the listener toward headphones, the very-sludged finish of “Wild Darkened Eyes” and the 10-minute sprawl of “Rite of Embers” lumbering to its distorted gut-clench of a crescendo chug ahead of the album’s comedown finish, there’s depth and personality to the material even as Mairu look outside of verse/chorus confines to make their statement. Their second outing behind a 2019 EP, and again, apparently in the works on some level since then, it’s explorational, but less in the sense of the band figuring out who they want to be than as a stylistic tenet they’ve internalized as their own.

Mairu on Facebook

Trepanation Recordings on Bandcamp

Throe, O Enterro das Marés

Throe O Enterro das Mares

At first in “Hope Shines in the Autumn Light,” Brazilian instrumentalist heavy post-rockers Throe remind of nothing so much as the robots-with-feelings mechanized-but-resonant plod of Justin K. Broadrick‘s Jesu, but as the 14-minute leadoff from the apparently-mostly-solo-project’s three-song EP, O Enterro das Marés (one assumes the title is some derivation of being ‘buried at sea’), plays through, it shifts into a more massive galaxial nod and then shortly before the nine-minute mark to a stretch of hypnotic beat-less melody before resolving itself somewhere in the middle. This three-part structure gives over to the Godfleshier “Bleed Alike” (6:33), which nods accordingly until unveiling its caustic end about 30 seconds before the song is done, and “Renascente” (7:59), in which keys/synth and wistful guitar lead a single linear build together as the band gradually and with admirable patience move from their initial drone to the introduction of the ‘drums’ and through the layers of melody that emerge and are more the point of the thing itself than the actual swell of volume taking place at the same time. When it opens at about five minutes in, “Renascente” is legitimately beautiful, an echoing waterfall of tonality that seems to dance to the gravity pulling it down. The guitar is last to go, which tells you something about how the songs are written, but with three songs and three different intentions, Throe make a varied statement uniform most of all in how complete each piece of it feels.

Throe on Instagram

Abraxas Produtora on Instagram

Blind River, Bones for the Skeleton Thief

Blind River Bones for the Skeleton Thief

Well guess what? They called the first track “Punkstarter,” and so it is. Starts off the album with a bit of punk. Blind River‘s third LP, Bones for the Skeleton Thief corrals 10 tracks from the UK traditionalist heavy rock outfit, who even on the likewise insistent “Primal Urges” maintain some sense of control. Vocalist Harry Armstrong (ex-Hangnail, now also bassist of Orange Goblin) belts out “Second Hand Soul” like he’s giving John Garcia a run for his pounds sterling, and is still able to rein it in enough to not seem out of place on the more subdued verses of “Skeleton Thief,” while the boogie of “Unwind” is its own party. Wherever they go, be it the barroom punkabilly of “Snake Oil” or the Southern-tinged twang of closer “Bad God,” the five-piece — Armstrong, guitarist Chris Charles and Dan Edwards, bassist William Hughes and drummer Mark Sharpless — hold to a central ethic of straight-ahead drive, and where clearly the intended message is that Blind River know what the fuck they’re doing and that if you end up at a show you might get your ass handed to you, turns out that’s exactly the message received. Showed up, kicked ass, done in under 40 minutes. If that’s not a high enough standard for you in a band recording live, that’s not Blind River‘s fault.

Blind River on Facebook

Blind River on Bandcamp

Rifftree, Noise Worship

Rifftree Noise Worship

Rifftree of life. Rifftree‘s fuzz is so righteously dense, I want to get seeds from it — because let’s face it, riffs are deciduous and hibernate in winter — and plant a forest in my backyard. The band formed half a decade ago and Noise Worship is the bass-and-drums duo’s second EP, but whatever. In six songs and 26 minutes, they work hard on living up to the title they gave the release, and their schooling in the genre is obvious in Sleepery of “Amplifier Pyramid” or the low-rumbling sludge of “Brown Flower,” the subsequent “Farewell” growing like fungus out of its quieter start and “Brakeless” not needing them because it was slow enough anyhow. “Fuzzed” — another standard met — ups the pace and complements with spacey grunge mumbles and harshes out later, and that gives the three-minute titular closer “Noise Worship” all the lead-in it needs for its showcase of feedback and amplifier noise. Look. If you’re thinking it’s gonna be some stylistic revolution in the making, look at the friggin’ cover. Listen to the songs. This isn’t innovation, it’s celebration, and Rifftree‘s complete lack of pretense is what makes Noise Worship the utter fucking joy that it is. Stoner. Rock. Stick that in your microgenre rolodex.

Rifftree on Facebook

Rifftree on Bandcamp

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Keep it Low 2023: Zeal & Ardor, Howling Giant, Heavy Temple and More Added; Lineup Complete

Posted in Whathaveyou on August 25th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

The lineup for Keep it Low 2023 is finished with the last additions of Zeal and Ardor, a stopthrough from the Howling Giant and Heavy Temple tour, as well as a trio of bands from Germany in Morast, Instrument and Einseinseins. The former rest atop a wild bill, and anyone who would accuse heavy underground music of all sounding the same should go ahead and listen to the first five bands listed here in succession. Zeal and Ardor, Colour HazeMantarThe Obsessed and King Buffalo — it wouldn’t work as a Spotify playlist, or maybe it would, but it will make for a killer festival.

This is the ninth Keep it Low Festival, the vibe of which I’ve always found particularly alluring from a distance, and for what started as a kind of humble event, this looks pretty huge. It’s still at Backstage in Munich, so the amount of tickets available will be the same as ever, but even as the names get harder to read on the poster below, there’s good stuff to be had. I see The Moth and Lucid Void and Swan Valley Heights down there. It would be far too easy to do worse.

Sound of Liberation sent the following down the PR wire:

keep it low 2023 sq

Hey friends,

We’re super stoked to present you the last bands for our beloved Keep It Low festival in Munich 2023, including the last headliner! (#128121#)

And alongside we must warn you: our 2-day-passes are almost sold out and you need to be fast if you want to enjoy the full weekend experience!

Please welcome:

We can’t wait for October to come!

Two days of heavy rock music, aftershow DJs, outdoor beergarden, “Doom Frühschoppen” & more!(#128640#)

06. – 07. Oct 2023
Munich (DE)

Grab your tickets at:

This is our last call for weekend tickets!

Howling Giant, Glass Future (2023)

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Colour Haze Announce Fall Tour Dates

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 12th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

Colour Haze will be at Stoned From the Underground and Woodstockenboi Musik und Kulturfestival this weekend and have more fest appearances before they come to the US to play twice at Desertfest New York in September, after which they’ll return to Germany to make their regular appearance at Keep it Low in their hometown of Munich. There’s more beyond that as well leading up to this newly-announced November tour, which puts them out for nine shows in nine days across four-so-far countries (one date still TBA). All well and good. I’m just happy I’ll get to watch them play again when they come to New York.

Their late 2022 album, Sacred (review here), continues to resonate, and having seen them in their current incarnation for the first time this past December (review here), it’s all the more encouraging that they’re getting out like this. I don’t know that they’ll ever want to do six weeks of shows or something on that scale, but the more the merrier. Note that there have not been more US dates announced. I don’t think any others are coming. If you’ve been on the fence about Desertfest, I would offer the friendly suggestion to decide in the positive. Seeing Colour Haze will only improve your life.

From socials:

Colour Haze fall tour

Some new shows added for 2023 –
France, Belgium, Germany and Netherlands!

14.07. – (DE) Erfurt – Stoned From The Underground 2023
15.07. – (AT) Stockenboi – Woodstockenboi Musik und Kulturfestival
05.08. – (GR) Los Almiros Rockradio – Festival
18.08. – (FR) Volcano Sessions – Black Owl
08.09. – (DE) Regensburg – Kulturzentrum Alte Mälzerei
09.09. – (AT) Vöcklabruck – OKH Vöcklabruck
14.09. – (USA) New York – Desert Fest PreParty
15.09. – (USA) New York – Desertfest NYC
06.10. – (DE) München, Backstage – Keep It Low 2023
21.10. – (DE) Ludwigsburg – Scala Ludwigsburg
04.11. – (DE) Weiden – Burn the Streets Festival Vol. 1

November Tour:
10.11. – (DE) Dortmund, Junkyard
11.11. – (NL) Maastricht, Muziekgieterij
12.11.- (NL) Deventer, Burgerweeshuis
13.11. – tba
14.11. – (DE) Bielefeld, Forum
15.11. – (BE) Brussels, Botanique
16.11. – (FR) Paris, Backstage By The Mill
17.11. – (FR) Vallet, Westill Fest
18.11. – (DE) Neunkirchen, Gloomaar Festival

Colour Haze, Sacred (2022)

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Album Review: Swan Valley Heights, Terminal Forest

Posted in Reviews on May 5th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

Swan Valley Heights Terminal Forest

The recorded-in-a-cabin-in-the-woods narrative for Swan Valley Heights‘ third album, Terminal Forest, offers quick explanation for the birdsong at the outset of opener “Microbe Galaxy,” which might seem inconsistent until one digs a little deeper into the title. I don’t know which German forest resulted in the six tracks and 46 minutes with which Swan Valley Heights follow-up their 2019 sophomore LP and first outing for Fuzzorama Records, The Heavy Seed (review here), as well as their 2016 self-titled debut (review here) on Oak Island, but the band give a duly pastoral impression in the 11-minute leadoff as homage. The phrase ‘terminal forest’ itself means a forest in the stage of sustainable, incremental sprawl over the long term; an older forest, grown through the initial rounds of grasses, bushes and trees to things like large pines and taller deciduous trees, and so on.

You see where this is going as relates to the work done by guitarist/vocalist David Kreisl, bassist Christian Schmidt and drummer/keyboardist Andy Ozbolt — they’re the forest. They’re the ones who’ve been through the process of organic growth, in their case for at least the last seven years, and who emerge with their third album backed by the lessons they’ve learned and the strong roots they’ve established. Is that what they meant by the title? Probably not, but it’s arguably applicable just the same. Indeed, Terminal Forest does blossom enriched by what Swan Valley Heights have done prior, and the sense of grace they bring to their take on warm-toned, melodic and largely mellow heavy psychedelia is something that has likewise flourished as they’ve moved forward to this point.

To wit, “Microbe Galaxy” — which one assumes is actually something pretty small in relation to an actual galaxy — runs 11:24 and is the first of three extended tracks to feature throughout Terminal Forest. Side B boasts the title-track (10:02) and closer “Star Fever” (12:20) either in succession to close the record if you have the vinyl or with the four-minute fuzz instrumental “Looking for Bird Pet” between them in the digital version, and the album as a whole uses these as not only the bulk of its expression but as landing points from which to continue to expand outward. That is to say, the three shorter pieces — “The Hunger” (5:12), “Space Bash III” (3:09) and the already-noted “Looking for Bird Pet” (4:19) — are complementary to what their longer counterparts are accomplishing, while still offering an impression of their own, whether it’s the drums making the fuzz dance on “The Hunger” or the winding and bopping procession that follows immediately and shows the guitar stepping in to lead the movement.

Terminal Forest is rife with precisely this kind of dynamic. As it unfolds through its melodic first verse peppered with stick clicks and airy guitar lines that solidify around an acoustic-inclusive movement where the lead guitar works like Colour Haze playing the bridge of the Ghostbusters theme — that sounds like I’m ragging on it; let me be clear and say I’m not — “Microbe Galaxy” sets a patient and flowing atmosphere that hold firm even for the crunchiest stretches of fuzz in it or the culmination payoffs of “The Hunger” or “Looking for Bird Pet,” “Terminal Forest” or “Star Fever” after.

swan valley heights

And ultimately, it is the flow that defines the album; the smoothness and ease with which Swan Valley Heights foster an overarching impression while each piece explores a space of its own, however long that may or may not be. “Space Bash III,” for example — and no, I don’t think there’s a “Space Bash I” or “Space Bash II”; maybe someday we’ll get prequels in the trilogy — is the shortest of the inclusions, but it stands out with the twisting movement of its riff and the airy lead lines around it, neither the first nor last time the band seem to reference what-coulda-been Dutch heavy psych rockers Sungrazer in the proceedings, as the drift and nod of the early going of “Terminal Forest” feels specifically in conversation with the subdued verses of that band’s “Somo,” never mind the consuming fullness of tone that ensues from there, but in Kreisl‘s vocal echo and the easy movement between loud and quiet parts, Swan Valley Heights own the moment, resolving the title-track with building intensity around a circular movement until slamming shut at nine minutes and opening wide from there into a final chorus calling up from under the weight of guitar and bass.

On a lot of records, “Microbe Galaxy” or “Terminal Forest” would be a finale or a crowning achievement wherever else they might be placed in the tracklisting, but after the palette-cleansing roll and riffy jam of “Looking for Bird Pet” — in which genuine-sounding laughter can be heard off-mic before it gets loud for the second time — delves into momentary noodle-prog hypnosis and clears its head with one more wash of fuzz before the drone at the outset of “Star Fever” announces the arrival of the album’s best argument for being about itself; that is, the point at which Swan Valley Heights most enunciate their to-this-point development as a group. A long stretch of intertwining guitar and keys moves subtly toward the inclusion of drums and bass at two minutes in. They’ll soon enough get into the handclaps and surges of fuzz and layered vocal melody — have I mentioned the fuzz? oh, only 15 times? well it’s worth a 16th mention — but they do return to that spaceout, adding vocals later as a precursor to the surprising rager of a solo and the saved-the-biggest-for-last nod that caps “Star Fever” and Terminal Forest as a whole.

There and everywhere throughout Terminal ForestSwan Valley Heights are thoughtful in their approach and considered in their presentation without losing the natural spirit required for this kind of heavy psych. As a result, they’re not so much playing to style as letting style play to them. Generally speaking, this is not the work of first or second full-lengths, so maybe it’s true that Terminal Forest is the stylistic endgame for the band, but given the linear trajectory of their releases up to now, the fact that they take their time both within and between them, and the apparent commitment to sonic evolution on display in this material as it relates to their past output, it doesn’t seem likely they’ve finished exploring. Terminal Forest demonstrates nascent mastery in Swan Valley Heights‘ ability to careen so fluidly between parts and entire songs, and taken front-to-back, it should go without saying that it’s the high point of their tenure to-date. But, part of what makes it so striking is that it doesn’t actually sound ‘terminal’ in that regard. From seed to forest and toward who knows what, they might just keep growing.

Swan Valley Heights, Terminal Forest (2023)

Swan Valley Heights on Facebook

Swan Valley Heights on Instagram

Swan Valley Heights on Bandcamp

Fuzzorama Records website

Fuzzorama Records on Facebook

Fuzzorama Records on Instagram

Fuzzorama Records on Bandcamp

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