Quarterly Review: High on Fire, Ruff Majik, Merlin, Workshed, E-L-R, Sibyl, Golden Legacy, Saint Karloff & Devil’s Witches, Burden Limbs, El Supremo

Posted in Reviews on October 1st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

quarterly review

Another day, another batch of 10 reviews on the march to 50 by the end of the week. Will we make it? Yeah, probably. I mean, I think there was once when I had to skip a day or something but even then I made up for it and there’s never been an instance where the Quarterly Review fell apart. The one quarter I decided to nix it (was it last year?) I made up for it by doing 100 reviews instead of 50 the next time out, so we got there eventually. It being Tuesday, the end of the week looks far off, but indeed we’ll ge there eventually, and there’s a lot of good music between now and then, so let’s hit it.

Quarterly Review #11-20:

High on Fire, Bat Salad

high on fire bat salad

A limited vinyl EP released as part of Record Store Day 2019, High on Fire‘s Bat Salad comprises three songs: an original instrumental and two covers, one of Celtic Frost and one of Bad Brains. And I won’t take away from the “Rat Salad” Sabbath-does-blues-jazz-jam-except-it’s-HighonFire-so-it-sounds-nasty-as-hell spirit of “Bat Salad” at all, but the real highlight here is hearing Matt Pike‘s gravel-throated vocals take on “Into Crypts of Rays.” Celtic Frost have always been a central factor in what High on Fire were doing stylistically, so to have the band take them on directly seems long in the making. They approach Bad Brains‘ “Don’t Bother Me” with due reverence as well, careening through an intense three-minute burst of energy with the grit and underlying precision one has come to expect from these singular masters. Soon enough, bands will be covering High on Fire with the same spirit of fan homage. Doubly notable for being founding drummer Des Kensel‘s last recorded appearance alongside Pike and bassist Jeff Matz in the band.

High on Fire on Thee Facebooks

eOne Heavy on Thee Facebooks

 

Ruff Majik, Tårn

ruff majik tarn

Guitarist/vocalist Johni Holiday, bassist Jimmy Glass and drummer Ben Manchino return with Tårn, Ruff Majik‘s second album on a quick turnaround from their 2018 debut, Seasons (review here). Aligned with Lay Bare Recordings for the vinyl release, the deceptively quick and even more deceptively complex seven-track/36-minute offering finds Ruff Majik digging into dirt-caked tonality and classically punkish sneer in Holiday‘s vocals. There are moments where they sound like Queens of the Stone Age (“Speed Hippie”) and moments where they sound like Black Flag (parts of opener “Schizophrenic”), but as a roller like “Heretically Happy” or the earlier post-Zeppelin stoner sneak of “Gloom & Tomb” show, Ruff Majik are perhaps most interested in sounding like themselves. They’re gleeful as they toy with doomed vibes on closer “Seasoning the Witch,” and the seven-minute “I’ll Dig the Grave” earlier thrills with changes drawn together by a pervasive and righteous groove. With Tårn, Ruff Majik have found their wavelength, and it suits them.

Ruff Majik on Thee Facebooks

Lay Bare Recordings website

 

Merlin, The Mortal

merlin the mortal

Be it heretofore established that sax-laced Kansas City psych-doomers Merlin don’t give a fuck. They don’t give a fuck what you expect, they don’t give a fuck what everyone else is doing, they don’t give a fuck if they meme the crap out of their own band. They’ve got their thing and they’re doing it. And you know what? They’re right. The Mortal is their fifth full-length in six years, following as a sequel to early-2018’s The Wizard (review here), and with flourish galore in arrangements of organ, sax, flute, percussion, accordion, trumpet, etc., alongside the foundation of songcraft that comes through the guitar, bass, drums and always-theatrical vocals of Jordan Knorr, the band recount tales along a dark-magical mystery tour of gorgeously flowing and still-weighted psychedelic plunder. They have become a buried treasure of weirdo/geek rock, and whether it’s the peaceful drift of “Ashen Lake” or the cacophonous heavy riffing of “Basilisk,” the stage-setting prog of “Towerfall” or the consuming swell that carries out the apex of closer “The Mortal Suite” — King Crimson chase and all — Merlin‘s work has never sounded so masterful. Will there be a third installment in the tale? Nothing quite like a trilogy.

Merlin on Thee Facebooks

The Company BigCartel store

 

Workshed, Workshed

workshed workshed

They’ve since added a third party in bassist Helen Storer (Fireball Ministry, among others), but Workshed‘s self-titled Rise Above Records debut LP was recorded as the duo of guitarist/vocalist Adam Lehan and drummer Mark Wharton. More than a quarter-century ago, both Lehan and Wharton played on Cathedral‘s pivotal first two albums, but in Workshed, and certainly there are some shades of doom on a stomper like “Anthropophobic” here, but the bulk of Workshed‘s nine-song/47-minute first offering is given to post-Entombed buzzsaw noise sludge, riffs crunched one into the next in an aggro, punk-rooted fashion that rife with a sense of willful punishment that comes through in sheer impact from front to back. Vocals call to mind Tom G. Warrior immediately and are suited to the social commentary of “If This is How it Is” and “This City Has Fallen,” while the grueling march of “A Spirit in Exile” leaves room for some atmosphere to eek through, which it does. They trash out in centerpiece “On Sticks of Wood” and chug their into a last fade on closer “It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way,” but by then they’ve long since made their statement and left a trail of destruction behind them. Would they have been signed to Rise Above without the Cathedral connection? Probably not. Does the album earn their place? Absolutely.

Workshed on Thee Facebooks

Rise Above Records website

 

E-L-R, Mænad

e-l-r maenad

With their first full-length, Mænad, Swiss post-metallers E-L-R cart a gorgeous and textured course through patient and progressive songweaving that lends itself to hypnosis through its churning rhythm as much as its overarching melodies seem to evoke other worlds. It is not without its sense of challenge and certainly plenty heavy in its tone and groove — at least where it wants to be — but it’s also rich and provides a level of depth to its mix that should have others in the genre asking how they did it. A transitional drone at the end of “Devotee” brings about the 10-minute “Above the Mountains There is Light” and a long contemplation begins, working from the ground up on a pilgrim’s path to the eventual payoff. The resonance there is something unto itself, but even as “Ambrosia,” “Lunar Nights” and “The Wild Shore” find the stylistic footing that opener “Glancing Limbs” and “Devotee” seemed to hint at earlier, E-L-R maintain both an ambient sprawl and a consuming sense of passion that makes their work here all the more thrilling. This is a debut, following only a single 2018 demo that had two of the same tracks. What that tells me is look out for this band, because this kind of potential doesn’t come along every day and when it does, you want to be there for the follow-up. The impeccable taste of Prophecy Productions pays dividends once again.

E-L-R on Thee Facebooks

Prophecy Productions website

 

Sibyl, The Magic Isn’t Real

sibyl the magic isn't real

Otherworldly doom rock marked by echoing vocals oozing out from deep in the mix and gotta-hear-it bass tone complemented by choice riffage and a fervent thud in the drums, even if the aesthetic of Richmond’s Sibyl is familiar enough, there’s plenty to dig about their debut EP — what one might’ve called a “demo” in eras past — The Magic Isn’t Real. The stylistic elephant in the room is RVA’s own Windhand, but Sibyl take a more psychedelic path to heavy oblivion, and with four tracks in the range of four to five minutes, The Magic Isn’t Real comes across as well focused in its songwriting despite the ethereal touches in the actual sound. Cool vibe, and as they work some noisy shuffle into “Spinning Webs,” they show themselves as being less restricted than otherwise might be the case if they were purely committed to doomed drudgery. I’ll give bonus points as well for naming the penultimate track “Sexpionage,” just on principle, but it’s in stretches like the subdued creeper opening of “Blood Moon” and the engrossing, still-somehow-moving wash of “Pendulums” that Sibyl really showcase their intention.

Sibyl on Thee Facebooks

Sibyl on Bandcamp

 

Golden Legacy, Golden Legacy II

golden legacy golden legacy ii

London heavy noise duo Golden Legacy offer five tracks and 23 minutes of anti-genre, adrenaline rock to follow-up their 2016 self-titled EP. There’s a strong undercurrent of modern punk and indie to their sound, which is what gets them the “anti-genre” consideration, but it’s the energy of their delivery carrying them one way or the other as they drive through the harsh snare of “Cut and Crash” following the chunkier tone of opener “Moon” and just before centerpiece “Dirty Mouth” finds its way into grunge-style howling beastliness. Comprised of drummer/vocalist Lorena Cachito and guitarist Yanni Georgiou, the two-piece find winning momentum in “Salvation,” while closer “Thirsty” opens with a mellow drum progression gradually joined by the guitar and builds into more progressive and dramatic movement, casting off some of the rawness of the songs before it in favor of more complex fare. It still manages to soar at the end, though, and that seems to be what counts. They might be rawer now than they’ll eventually turn out, but that suits most of what they’re doing in adding to the emotionality on display in Cachito‘s vocals.

Golden Legacy on Thee Facebooks

Golden Legacy on Bandcamp

 

Saint Karloff & Devil’s Witches, Coven of the Ultra-Riff

saint karloff devils witches coven of the ultra-riff

Alright, look. I don’t even think I have the full thing, but whatever. Saint Karloff and Devil’s Witches came together to release the Coven of the Ultra-Riff split — it can be so hard to find the right coven for your family; have you considered the Ultra-Riff? — and they each play an original track and then they cover each other’s songs and then Saint Karloff introduce the progression of “Supervixen (Electric Return)” and Devil’s Witches take up the mantle and run with it on “Supervixen (Acoustic Return),” so yeah, it’s pretty awesome and kind of all over the place but whatever. Get your head around it and get on board with whatever version you can grab. Vinyl came out through Majestic Mountain Records and tapes were through Stoner Witch Records and I’m fairly certain it’s all sold out already and probably stupid expensive on Discogs, but do what you need to do, because this is what Sabbath worship in the year 2019 is supposed to sound like. It’s bombed out of its gourd and has long since dropped out of life. It’s exactly where and what it wants to be.

Saint Karloff on Thee Facebooks

Devil’s Witches on Thee Facebooks

Majestic Mountain Records BigCartel store

Stoner Witch Records BigCartel store

 

Burden Limbs, There is No Escape

burden limbs there is no escape

I’m not going to pretend to have the grounding in post-hardcore to toss off the influences under which Burden Limbs are working, but to listen to the blast of noise in “How Many Times Must I Reset” and the near-industrial wash of noise they conjure in the subsequent “Hypochondriac,” it’s clear they’re working under one influence anyway. There is No Escape (released through Glasshouse Records) runs 24 minutes and carries four songs, but in that time the band around founding figurehead and guitarist/vocalist Chad Murray manage to challenge themselves and the listener alike to keep up with their turns and emotional resonance. Murray is joined by two bassists, another guitarist, keyboards/synth and drums, so yes, there’s something of a busy feel to it, but even echoing cavernous as they are, the vocals seem to draw the songs together around a central presence and add a human core to the proceedings that only makes them all the more affecting as would seem to be the intent.

Burden Limbs on Thee Facebooks

Glasshouse Records on Bandcamp

 

El Supremo, Clarity Through Distortion

El Supremo Clarity Through Distortion

Sometimes these things take a while, but El Supremo was formed by now-ex-Egypt bassist Chad Heille has a solo-project and released a self-titled demo in 2008, to which Clarity Through Distortion is the follow-up full-length. Now joined by guitarist Neil Stein (also ex-Egypt, and who also played some on the demo) and organist Chris Gould as well as bassist Cam Dewald who came aboard after the album’s completion, the instrumentalist full-band incarnation of El Supremo waste no time diving into dead-on tonal and riffy righteousness, taking classic heavy cues and running with them in modern production richness, sounding clear but natural as a jam like “Moanin’ & Groanin'” turns into a shuffler as it moves into its second half, or the mellow sway of the 14-minute “Supercell” at last runs head-on into the lumbering motion that will carry it through to the end. I don’t know how much clarity — at least of the existential sort I think they mean in the title — they might’ve found by the time the bluesy “Lotus Throne” rolls over into the shreddy “Outro” that caps, but if the method is distortion, they’ve certainly got that part down.

El Supremo on Thee Facebooks

El Supremo on Bandcamp

 

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Friday Full-Length: Egypt, Egypt EP

Posted in Bootleg Theater on September 6th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

 

First issued in 2005 by the band themselves, Egypt‘s four-song self-titled demo was picked up first by Lyderhorn Records in 2007 and then by MeteorCity for release as a debut EP (review here) in 2009. That latter version, coming at a time when the label was under new ownership and revamping its lineup with bands like Freedom Hawk, Elder, Leeches of Lore, Olde Growth, WhiteBuzz and New Keepers of the Water Towers, seemed to find an audience that has stayed consistently loyal to it over the last decade, and Egypt, who had already disbanded, wound up getting back together as a result. A reboot! Oh what a difference distribution can make.

Egypt formed circa 2003 in Fargo, North Dakota, and as the trio of bassist/vocalist Aaron Esterby, guitarist Ryan Grahn and drummer Chad Heille, they’d embark on their debut EP very much as an initial demo. In fact, the only things that really make it an EP at all are the quality of Heille‘s 2004 recording/mix/master and the fact that it was later released as one. Otherwise, the four-track 31-minute outing could just as easily be called a demo and left at that — while we’re at it, you could also call it a full-length if you wanted to; it’s long enough and there’s nothing in particular lacking to hold it back from being an LP. At least nothing lacking by accident. There is one pervasive lack that defines in no small part the release as a whole: the lack of bullshit. You’ll find none in catchy, on-that-wah bass of opener “Valley of the Kings,” the massive-sounding “Queen of All Time (Red Giant),” the smoky stoner blues roll of “Dirty Witch” or the fuzzy jam-out in “Touch Ground.” Tone and groove, verses and choruses — Egypt‘s Egypt took the approach of slowing down and revamping classic heavy rock swagger as a languid, flowing thing, not necessarily prone to jams in the finished product, as even “Touch Ground” touched ground eventually, but representative of the take of a new generation of heavy rock playing off that which MeteorCity helped define in the post-Kyuss mid- and late-’90s. Each riff, rumble and crash was made to count for maximum impact, and in a changing rock underground marked by the rise of take-it-with-you social media listening experiences and word of mouth, Egypt thrived at a time when, effectively, they were already dead. Put it in your ‘Go Figure’ file; I know you have one.

The shortest song on Egypt‘s Egypt is “Dirty Witch” at 7:27. That, “Touch Ground” and “Valley of the Kings” all hover around seven and a half minutes, while “Queen of All Time (Red Giant)” tops nine. Why that matters is it means each track has enough time to establish its own presence. The songs aren’t just about building up to a hook or an instrumental exploration, they’re a place to dwell, at least for a time. To be sure, “Valley of the Kings” has its chorus, but it’s also got its fuzz-caked gradual unfolding, a stick-click leading into the egypt egyptwah-bass bounce and the flowing vibe that Egypt keep holy throughout the entire release. What was the *new* stoner rock at the time did not lack for self-awareness, but there’s consistently something organic about the listening experience of Egypt‘s self-titled, which was less sludgy than some of their later output would become and proffered a kind of heavy blues that ran concurrent to the work of an act like Texas three-piece Wo Fat with whom Egypt would share the Cyclopean Riffs (review here) split in 2013.

A sometimes gruff character in Esterby‘s vocals was offset by the warmth of the guitar and bass tone surrounding and even in “Queen of All Time (Red Giant),” where the band married together Sleep-style riffing with a vintage-heavy mentality, engaging a hugeness of nod neither to be understated nor discounted. The ’70s flair came forward more on “Dirty Witch,” with its classic rock misogyny playing off notions of Deep Sabbath (or would it be Black Purple?) might’ve been, and “Touch Ground” dug into a more patient motion that made its impact all the more vital upon its arrival after a long, mellow intro. The short version? Egypt killed it. They absolutely did. What was their demo did more in terms of sound than a lot of first records, and did so with an overarching natural feel that became central to its whole character. It was like they plugged in, hit record, and went for it, threw a bird on the cover and were done. It’s never that simple in real life, of course, but especially when the finished product continues to sound so good even a decade/decade-plus later, it’s nice every once in a while to pretend otherwise. If you want to call that escapism, so be it.

The aforementioned Cyclopean Riffs split with Wo Fat came out just a couple months after Egypt‘s return from the abyss/debut album with guitarist Neil Stein, Become the Sun (review here), and that began a run that would find the band increasing their reach domestically and abroad for the next five years until they called it quits in 2018. During that time they were consistently productive, following Become the Sun with the split as well as two more LPs in 2015’s Endless Flight (review here) and 2017’s Cracks and Lines (review here), which showed them continuing to grow in terms of style without letting go of the central heft that that seemed always to be so essential to their process. A cover of Thin Lizzy‘s “Suicide” would be the capstone included on Glory or Death Records‘ tribute compilation, and since the second breakup, Heille and Stein have gone back to their prior instrumental outfit, El Supremo, which Heille founded in 2008, to issue the debut album, Clarity Through Distortion, this summer.

One tries never to say never in rock and roll in any situation, but whether or not the second Egypt disbanding will hold, I honestly couldn’t say. They managed to put out three killer records and made it to Europe in 2015, touring with Tombstones and playing Freak Valley Festival, so if they were the type to tick off boxes, they certainly ticked off a few good ones, but on the other hand, Cracks and Lines seemed to leave a few things unsaid, so I don’t know. Whatever happens in the future, the band never seemed to forget the initial impact their self-titled had in getting them going again. They’ve reissued it a couple times and have CDs available through Bandcamp for a whopping $5, presumably while they last. Which reminds me…

As always, I hope you enjoy.

To answer your next question, yes, I really did just buy that CD. I know I have the MeteorCity version and I may or may not have the original CD-R from the band, but screw it, the price was right and it’s early so impulse control is low.

Kind of an up and down week, but whatever. I ate a lot of garlic, I hung out with The Pecan, watched some baseball. The Patient Mrs. started her new job. This weekend is Nebula, Sasquatch, Mirror Queen and Geezer at the Saint Vitus Bar and the show’s going to be so good I’m actually kind of nervous for it. I’ll have a review up Monday, but hell’s bells, how am I supposed to even talk about something like that? “Duh, bands are awesome,” for like 1,500 words. What a wreck. If I have a brain left, I’ll see what I can do.

Also a couple premieres next week, from V, Alunah, Fire Down Below, and reviews of Monolord and High Fighter. An interview with Lori from Acid King that’s scheduled for tomorrow that was originally supposed to happen on Wednesday, which was The Patient Mrs.’ first day of classes, which meant I was on toddler-duty full-on and therefore by 2PM ready to bash my brain into the wall and very much not ready to give due attention to the 20th anniversary of Busse Woods. I love that record. I’d rather not fuck up the interview, if I can avoid it. Fortunately, Lori was kind enough to reschedule.

Look for the audio of that to come. I don’t know if anyone actually listens to those things — should I maybe break them up into parts? — but they’re fun to do. I like talking to people about their work, I just don’t have the will 15 years later to transcribe that conversation, nor the money to pay someone else to do it. That’s also time I could be reviewing something, and the hours of my day are limited and precious. I’d rather be writing about a record than misquoting someone talking about one. Call me crazy.

So anyway, more streaming interviews, I guess. Parker Griggs from Radio Moscow has a new band that I think I’ll be talking to him about, and I’ve floated Alunah and Heavy Temple as future possibilities. I wouldn’t mind hitting up Monolord either, frankly. Or Ufomammut, if I could make it happen.

I also need to write a piece about the art showings at Høstsabbat sometime in the next week or so that I have no idea yet how I’m going to frame. These things are complicated in my head sometimes. I’ll get there. Will I get there before I do the Lowrider PostWax liner notes or the Acrimony liner notes I need to do? I don’t know. I’m trying my best.

Alright, I’m gonna go read for a couple minutes before The Pecan wakes up and sets about dismantling the world around him, one choking hazard at a time. Please have a great and safe weekend, and please check out the forum and radio stream and get a t-shirt from Dropout if you haven’t yet.

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

The Obelisk shirts & hoodies

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El Supremo Announce Clarity Through Distortion Due This Month; Live Debut Imminent

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 3rd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Based in Fargo, North Dakota, the four-piece El Supremo are getting set to issue what’s being considered their full-length debut, Clarity Through Distortion, this month. It will be the outfit’s first outing since 11 years ago, when they released a self-titled demo that featured drummer Chad Heille handling all the instruments himself, one-man-band style. He and guitarist Neal Stein would join Egypt a couple years later, and that put El Supremo on the backburner, but with that group having called it quits last year, the project has been revived as a stage-ready four-piece.

To that end, the new incarnation of El Supremo will make their live debut on June 17 supporting Year of the Cobra at The Aquarium. Details on the show are on Thee Facebooks, and the band provided the following via the PR wire:

El Supremo Clarity Through Distortion

El Supremo is an instrumental rock band based in Fargo, ND. The band has recently completed a new album entitled Clarity Through Distortion, set for release in June of 2019. This new record features Chad Heille on drums and bass, Neal Stein on guitar, and Chris Gould on organ/keys. Live bass duties are handled by Cameron Dewald, who also plays in death metal band Gorgatron with Neal Stein. The band’s sound ranges from psychedelic and melodic to crushingly heavy and doomy. Influences rooted in classic rock, stoner rock, and old-school metal.

El Supremo was originally formed as a one-man project with Chad Heille playing all the instruments and handling recording/production. A self-titled full-length demo was released in 2008, with Tom Canning and Neal Stein contributing guitar solos to the recording.

Chad and Neal went on to play in the band Egypt from 2012 to 2018. During that time, Egypt released three full-length records, a split LP, made numerous compilation appearances, reissued their first demo and toured 16 different countries playing several notable festivals with some of the most important bands in the stoner/doom/rock/metal underground scene.

After Egypt split, it was decided to revive the El Supremo name and a new record was written and recorded in the latter half of 2018. While the band prepares for the release of Clarity Through Distortion, material for another batch of tunes is already in the works.

El Supremo is:
Chad Heille – drums
Neal Stein – guitar
Chris Gould – keys
Cam Dewald – bass

https://www.facebook.com/elsupremofuzz/
https://elsupremo.bandcamp.com/

El Supremo, El Supremo (2008)

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Quarterly Review: Sumac, Cortez & Wasted Theory, Thunder Horse, The Howling Eye, Grime, URSA, Earthling Society, Bismarck, Grand Reunion, Pledge

Posted in Reviews on December 7th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review

As we land on what would otherwise be the end of a Quarterly Review — day 5, hitting the standard 50 records across the span of a week that this time we’re doubling with another 50 next week — it occurs to me not how much 100 albums is, but how much it isn’t. I mean, it’s a lot, don’t get me wrong. I’ve been sitting and writing about 10 records every day this week. I know how much that is. But it’s astounding to me just how much more there is. With the emails I get from people looking for reviews, discs sent in the mail, the messages on Facebook and everything else, I could do another 100, easy.

Well, maybe not ‘easy,’ but it would be full.

Is it a new golden age of heavy? 45 years from now are rockers going to look back and say, “Hell yeah, from like 2012-2019 was where it’s at,” all wistful like they do now for the ’70s? Will the Heavy ’10s be a retro style? I don’t know. But if it was going to happen, there would certainly be enough of an archive to fuel it. I do my best to cover as much as I can, but sometimes I feel like we barely crack the surface. With 100 records.

That said, time’s a-wasting.

Quarterly Review #41-50:

Sumac, Love in Shadow

sumac love in shadow

What are Sumac if not the most vital and highest profile atmospheric metal act out there today? With Aaron Turner (Isis, etc.) on guitar/vocals, Brian Cook (Russian Circles) on bass and Nick Yacyshyn (Baptists) on drums, they qualify easily as a supergroup, and yet their third album, Love in Shadow (on Thrill Jockey), is still more about creative growth and the exploration of sound than anything else. Certainly more than ego — and if it was a self-indulgent exercise, it’d probably still be pretty good, frankly. As it stands, the four massive tracks through which Sumac follow-up 2016’s What One Becomes (review here) and their 2015 debut, The Deal (review here), refine the sound Sumac has developed over the past three years-plus into a sprawling and passion-driven sprawl that’s encompassing in scope, challenging in its noise quotient, and in utter refusal to not progress in its approach. And when Sumac move forward, as they do here, they seem to bring the entire aesthetic with them.

Sumac on Thee Facebooks

Thrill Jockey Records on Bandcamp

 

Cortez & Wasted Theory, The Second Coming of Heavy: Chapter Nine

cortez wasted theory second coming of heavy ch 9

Ripple Music‘s split series The Second Coming of Heavy hits its ninth chapter in bringing together Boston’s Cortez and Delaware’s Wasted Theory, and neither band fails to live up to the occasion. Cortez‘s range only seems to grow each time they hit the studio — vocalist Matt Harrington makes easy highlights of the opener and longest track (immediate points) “The Firmament” and the echo-laden “Close” — and Wasted Theory‘s “Ditchpig,” “Abominatrix,” “Baptized in Gasoline” and “Heresy Dealer” are so saturated with whiskey it might as well be coming out of their pores. It’s a decidedly North/South release, with Cortez rolling straightforward New England heavy rock through “Fog of Whores” and the Deep Purple cover “Stormbringer” while Wasted Theory dig with all good speed into a grit that’s more and more become their own with time, but there’s a shared penchant for hooks and groove between the two acts that draws them together, and whatever aspects they may or may not share are ultimately trumped by that. As Ripple starts to wind down the series, they continue to highlight some of the finest in heavy that the underground has to offer. One would expect no less.

Cortez on Thee Facebooks

Wasted Theory on Thee Facebooks

Ripple Music on Bandcamp

 

Thunder Horse, Thunder Horse

thunder horse thunder horse

There’s an unmistakable sense of presence throughout Thunder Horse‘s six-song/43-minute self-titled debut that undercuts the notion of it as being the San Antonio four-piece’s first album. With professionalism and a firm sense of what they want to be as a band, the Texans liberally sprinkle samples throughout their material and hone a professional sound built around massive riffs and even-more-massive lumbering grooves. Indeed, they’re not strangers to each other, as three-fourths of the group — guitarist/vocalists Stephen Bishop, guitarist/sampler T.C. Connally and drummer Jason West — double in the more industrial-minded Pitbull Daycare, whose debut LP came out in 1997. Completed by bassist/vocalist Dave Crow, Thunder Horse successfully cross the genre threshold and are well comfortable in longer cuts like “Liber ad Christ Milites Templi” and “This is the End,” both of which top nine minutes, and shorter pieces like the rocking “Demons Speak” and the shimmering finale “Pray for Rain.” With “Coming Home” and the sneering “Blood Ritual” at the outset, Thunder Horse pulls listener quickly toward dark atmospheres and flourishes amid the weighted tones therein.

Thunder Horse on Thee Facebooks

Thunder Horse on Bandcamp

 

The Howling Eye, Sonorous

the howling eye sonorous

Poland’s The Howling Eye make a lengthy long-player debut with Sonorous, but more important than the reach of their runtimes — closer “Weedblazer” tops 16 minutes, the earlier “Reflections” hits 12, etc. — the reach of the actual material. The common pattern has been that psychedelic jamming and doom are two distinct things, but The Howling Eye tap into a cosmic interpretation of rolling riffs and push it with an open spirit far into the ether of spontaneous creation. It’s a blend that a group would seem to need to be cautious to wield, lest the whole notion fall flat, but with the assurance of marked chemistry behind them, the Bydgoszcz-based trio of drummer/sometimes vocalist Hubert “Cebula” Lewandowski (also harmonica where applicable), guitarist Jan Chojnowski and bassist Mi?osz Wojciechowski boldly shift from the more structured beginnings of the funky “Kairos” and the aggro beginning “Stranded” into an outward push that’s ambient, psychedelic and naturalistic all at once, with room left over for more funk and even some rockabilly on “The Potion.” It is not a minor conglomeration, but it works.

The Howling Eye on Thee Facebooks

The Howling Eye on Bandcamp

 

Grime, What Have We Become

grime what have we become

Their roots in metal, North Dakota trio Grime — not to be confused with the Italian sludge outfit of the same name — unleash their first full-length in the form of What Have We Become, an ambitious 51-minute offering of progressive heavy rock marked by thoughtful lyrics and fluid songwriting made all the more so by the shared vocals of bassist Andrew Wickenheiser and guitarist Nick Jensen, who together with drummer Tim Gray (who would seem to have been replaced by Cale Mogard) effect a classic feel through “Alone in the Dark” while chugging and winding through the not-a-cover “Hand of Doom” with some harsher vocals peppered in for good measure. Seven-minute opener and longest track (immediate points) “Through the Eye” sets a broad tone that the rest of the record seems to build on, with the penultimate “Sunshine” delivering the title line ahead of the grittier closer “The Constant Grind,” which seems to payoff everything before it with a final explosion before a big rock finish. They’ll need to decide whether their sound will ultimately tighten up or loosen over time, but for now, what they’ve become is a band with a solid foundation to grow from.

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Grime on Bandcamp

 

URSA, Abyss Between the Stars

ursa abyss between the stars

Modern doom meets a swath of metallic influences on URSA‘s full-length debut, Abyss Between the Stars (on Blood Music), as members of Petaluma, California’s Cormorant take on such classic themes as wizards, dragons, yetis, witches, a spider king, mountains, and… actually, yeah, that covers the six included tracks on the 46-minute LP, which shifts gracefully between epic fantasy doom and darker, soemtimes more extreme fare. It’s easy enough to put URSA in the narrative of a band started — circa 2016 — around a central idea, rather than just dudes picking up instruments and seeing what happened next. Not just because bassist/vocalist Matt Solis, guitarist/keyboardist Nick Cohon and drummer Brennan Kunkel were already three-quarters of another band, but because of the purposefulness with which they approach their subject matter and the cohesion in all facets of their approach. They may be exploring new ground here, but they’re doing so on sure footing, and that comes not only from their experience playing together, but from knowing exactly where they want to be in terms of sound. I would not be surprised if that sound adopted more post-Candlemass grandeur with time — one can hear that burgeoning in “Serengeti Yeti” — but whatever direction they want to go, their debut will only help them on that path.

URSA on Thee Facebooks

Blood Music website

 

Earthling Society, MO – The Demon

earthling society mo the demon

Look, if you can’t get down with a bunch of freaks like Earthling Society tapping into the lysergic fabric of the cosmos to come up with an unsolicited soundtrack to a Hong Kong martial arts movie, I just don’t know what to tell you. Issued by Riot Season, the seven-track MO – The Demon is reportedly the end of the band’s technicolor daydream, and as they crash their plane into the side of “Mountains of Bliss” and hone space rock obliteration throughout “Super Holy Monk Defeats the Black Magic Mothafucker,” their particular experimentalist charm and go-anywhere-anytime sensibility demonstrates plainly exactly why it will be missed. There’s a sharp high-pitched tone at the start of opener “Theme from MO – The Demon” that’s actually pretty abrasive, but by the time they’re through the kosmiche laser assault in “Spring Snow” and the let’s-be-flower-children-until-it’s-time-to-freak-the-fuck-out throb of closer “Jetina Grove,” that is but a distant memory. So is consciousness. Fare thee well, Earthling Society. You were a band who only sought to make sense to yourselves, and for that, were all the more commendable.

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Riot Season Records on Bandcamp

 

Bismarck, Urkraft

bismarck urkraft

Norwegian five-piece Bismarck bring spaciousness to doom riffing on their debut album, Urkraft, which is constructed of five molten tracks for a 34-minute totality that seems much broader than the time it takes to listen. Vocals are growls and shouts across a cosmic stretch of tone, giving a somewhat aggressive pulse to heavier psychedelic soundscaping, but a bouncing rhythm behind “A Golden Throne” assures the song is accessible one way or the other. The 10-minute “Vril-Ya” is naturally where they range the farthest, but the Bergen outfit even there seem to be playing by a set of aesthetic principles that includes maintaining a grounded groove no matter how spaced they might otherwise get. Rolling riffs bookend in opener “Harbinger” and closer “The Usher,” as “A Golden Throne,” playing-to-both-sides centerpiece “Iron Kingdom” and the subsequent “Vril-Ya” explore atmospheres that remain resonant despite the low end weight that seems to chug out beneath them. The mix by Chris Fielding at Skyhammer (who also co-engineered) doesn’t hurt in crafting their largesse, but something tells me Urkraft was going to sound big no matter what.

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Apollon Records website

 

Grand Reunion, In the Station

grand reunion in the station

In the Station doesn’t seem like anything too fancy at first. It’s produced cleanly, but not in any kind of overblown fashion, and Grand Reunion‘s songwriting is so solid that, especially the first time through their eight-track debut LP, it’s easy to say, “Okay, that’s another cool hook,” and not notice subtleties like when the organs turn to keyboard synth between opener “Eres Tan Serpiente” and second cut “Gordon Shumway,” or to miss the Latin percussion that Javier Tapia adds to Manuel Yañez‘s drumming, or the ways that guitarist Christian Spencer, keyboardist Pablo Saveedra, bassist Mario Rodríguez and Tapia work to complement guitarist Cristóbal Pacheco on vocals. But all of that is happening, and as they make their way toward and through the eight-minute fuzzer “Band Band the Headbang,” through the soaring “Weedow” and into the acoustic-led closer “It’s Alright,” the character and maturity in Grand Reunion‘s songwriting shows itself more and more, inviting multiple listens in the most natural fashion possible: by making you want to hear it again.

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Grand Reunion on Bandcamp

 

Pledge, Resilience

pledge resilience

16 minutes of scathing post-hardcore/sludge from Portuguese four-piece Pledge, who are in and out of their Resilience EP with a clean break and a windmill kick to the face. The newcomers lack nothing for ferocity, and with the throat-searing screams of Sofia M.L. out in front of the mix, violent intentions are unmistakable. “Profer Lumen Caecis,” “The Great Inbetweeness,” “Doom and Redemption” and “The Peter, the Wolf” nonetheless have groove built on varying degrees of extremity and angularity, with Vítor Vaz‘s bass maintaining a steady presence alongside the guitar of Hugo Martins and Filipe Romariz‘s drumming, frenetic as it sometimes is. I wouldn’t say things calm down in “The Peter, the Wolf” so much as the boiling seems to take place beneath the surface, waiting for a time to burst out, which it eventually does, but either way, for all its harsher aspects, Pledge‘s material isn’t at all void of engagement. It does, however, state the requirement right there on the front cover.

Pledge on Thee Facebooks

Pledge on Bandcamp

 

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Egypt, Cracks and Lines: Expanding the Known

Posted in Reviews on October 13th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

egypt cracks and lines

When North Dakotan trio Egypt issued their second full-length in 2015, already there were stirrings of a companion-piece tracked at the same time that was coming soon. Not that they didn’t say plenty with Endless Flight (review here) itself, which was a delight in tone and groove and its general approach to songcraft — I said at the time that it was immediately recognizable as Egypt‘s own, and I very much stand by that. That there would be more material to come drawn from those recording sessions was an exciting prospect. The trio of bassist/vocalist Aaron Esterby, guitarist/recording engineer Neal Stein and drummer/cover artist Chad Heille had never sounded so fluid, and one knew from the wait between Egypt‘s original demo, released in 2009 via MeteorCity as a self-titled EP (review here) and 2013’s Become the Sun (review here), that Egypt records don’t come along every day, so hey, the more the merrier.

As it turns out, Cracks and Lines is less of a companion-piece or Endless Flight than one might expect — at least in the sense of being more of the same. Instead, with Stein at the helm recording, mixing and mastering, the three-piece course through five tracks and 38 minutes that greatly expand the scope of who Egypt are and what they do as a band, finding a stylistic foothold in a blend of their trademark bluesy sludge on songs like “Final Heist” and the 11-minute rolling title-cut, while elsewhere delving into melancholy psychedelia on “Dirge” or tripping out in a spacious, Hammond-infused jam on 13-minute closer “What Lights this Ocean.” Oh, and for good measure? There’s a KISS cover. They do “Watchin’ You” from 1974’s Hotter than Hell and have no trouble making it their own.

All of this, and especially the languid finish of “What Lights this Ocean” has the effect of broadening Egypt‘s overall reach. Yeah, in their more straightforward nodding moments, on “Watchin’ You” or the apex of “Cracks and Lines,” they still nod toward the likes of Weedeater with Esterby‘s dry-throated shouts and one-time splitmates Wo Fat — with whom they issued Cyclopean Riffs (review here) in 2013 — but that expectation in no way accounts for putting the melodic, calm and wistful “Dirge” as the three-minute centerpiece of the offering, with its subtle swirl of backward guitar and clean-sung verses. Nor does it jibe with “What Lights this Ocean” on the whole, which, while it draws from elements Egpyt have put to use in the past, represents a marked shift in focus toward psych-blues that stands as a realignment from anything they’ve done before. Even “Final Heist,” which at just under seven minutes long one might argue is intended as a familiar lead-in for listeners before the band gets to their more ranging fare, plays to a more patient feel in its rollout, saving a weighted boogie for its final third as the payoff for the slow nod preceding.

egypt

Again, not necessarily unheard of from Egypt, but done in a new way. It’s interesting to think of these songs as having been put to tape at the same time as Endless Flight, if indeed that’s how it worked out, because the band clearly then took the glut of material and sculpted two different outings from it — one that affirmed the direction of their debut and built on the accomplishments there, and this one, which pushes into newer territory altogether. Without knowing the circumstances of the recording, it would be almost too easy to read progression into this material — the sense of Egypt continuing to move forward from Endless Flight, when the reality is that what they accomplish with Cracks and Lines isn’t growing beyond its predecessor, it’s completing the picture of how much they’ve grown since the debut. The mind boggles.

The most important bottom line, of course, is that it works. From “Final Heist” through the early bounce of “Cracks and Lines,” into the melodic drift of “Dirge,” the stage-ready swing of “Watchin’ You” and the final, liquefied wanderings of “What Lights this Ocean” — on which Andrew Steinberg sits in for the aforementioned Hammond contribution, much bolstering the ending of the full-length as a whole — Cracks and Lines succeeds in delivering the impression of Egypt as a richer band in their presentation than one knew they could be before, while maintaining a loose, natural feel throughout. As it was finally put together to coincide with a summer 2017 European tour, Cracks and Lines might be thought of along similar lines to Geezer‘s Psychoriffadelia (review here), with which the New York heavy psych-blues rockers similarly jammed their way into more expansive terrain, but however one might want to frame them, these five tracks showcase a side of Egypt not previously heard in this way.

One can’t help but wonder if on their next outing, the Fargoans might try to bring these stylistic maneuvers together with the more forward sludge rock that typified Endless Flight, essentially combining the vibes of the two albums as a logical next step forward for their sound. If anything, Cracks and Lines makes it harder — though also more fun — to speculate what might be next for Egypt, but either way, the underlying message here is that while one might have come out of Endless Flight feeling like the total scope of the band had shown itself and that the task before them was then to set about refining that scope on a third album through songwriting and general level of performance, production, etc. — that, in other words, their course was set — they’ve instead shifted their narrative with a sonic left turn and given themselves a broader palette to draw from as they move toward what might be a more satisfying long-term development. So while Cracks and Lines complicates guessing who Egypt want to be as a band, it excites in demonstrating just how unsettled that issue still is and that there remains plenty of exploring to do.

Egypt, Cracks and Lines (2017)

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Egypt on Bandcamp

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Egypt Announce Cracks and Lines Preorders Available; July Euro Tour Confirmed

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 29th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

egypt

Egypt head back to Europe in July for a tour that rounds out with slots at Stoned from the Underground in Germany and Red Smoke in Poland, and by the time they go, the Fargo, North Dakota, three-piece will have issued their new album, Cracks and Lines. You might recall the band posted the 11-minute title-track of the record back in March — though one didn’t know at the time it shared its name with the record; very sneaky — to give a substantial tease to the follow-up to 2015’s Endless Flight (review here) and reassure their broadening listenership that their bluesy sludge rock remains well intact moving into their next release.

Good to know and good to hear. I’d already been looking forward to the rest of the album, and if you’re in a similar mindset, they’ve got preorders up now through their Bandcamp and have posted the album art and tracklist. Though “Cracks and Lines” itself was 11 minutes long, I’m thinking the rest of the offering might be pretty short since they refer to it as an “EP/LP.” Either way, new Egypt and I’ll take it.

They were also recently confirmed for Glory or Death Records‘ upcoming Thin Lizzy tribute (info here), so plenty going on. Here’s info from their social medias:

egypt cracks and lines

Egypt – Cracks and Lines

The digital and CD preorders of our new EP/LP/album “Cracks and Lines” are now live on bandcamp. The release date is set for 6/20 for the digital/CD. Physical CDs should be in our hands on or before the release date. If a delay occurs we will let everyone know. Vinyl will be coming, but a bit down the road. Check it out. Cheers.

Tracklisting:
1. Final Heist
2. Cracks and Lines
3. Dirge
4. Watchin’ You
5. What Lights This Ocean

Here are our 2017 European tour dates. We’re super stoked to be heading back over to Europe this Summer. Check it. Presented by Total Volume & Eclipse Productions!

1-jul Rare Guitar – Münster DE
2-jul Le Garage – Liege BE
3-jul Le Glazart – Paris FR
4-jul Le Ferraileur – Nantes FR
5-jul OFF
6-jul Coq D´Or – Olten CH
7-jul Dome of Rock Festival – Salzburg AT
8-jul KVLT – Budapest HU
9-jul EXIT festival – Novi Sad RS
10-jul Club Daos – Timisoara RO
11-jul Elektropionir – Belgrade RS
12-jul Vintage Industrial Bar – Zagreb HR
13-jul Das Bach – Vienna AT
14-jul Club 007 – Prague CZ
15-jul Stoned From the Underground Fest – Erfurt DE
16-jul Red Smoke Festival – Pleszew PL

EGYPT is:
Aaron Esterby – Bass/Vocals
Chad Heille – Drums
Neal Stein – Guitar

https://www.facebook.com/events/1506362106083449/
https://www.facebook.com/egyptband/
https://egypt1.bandcamp.com/

Egypt, Cracks and Lines (2017)

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Egypt Announce July European Tour Dates

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 14th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

egypt

Go back if you will through the last couple years of this site’s archive of posts about Fargo, North Dakota, sludge rockers Egypt (dig in if you dare) and you’ll probably find the running theme of their being included in two kinds of lists — most anticipated albums and best albums of the year. Their most recent outing, late-late-late 2015’s Endless Flight (review here), was both, and I’ve basically been waiting for them to follow that up since they released it, so the thread continues.

Another kind of post common for Egypt? European tour dates. They made a trip to Europe last year in Spring to play Desertfest and the by-now-veterans will head back this summer for slots at Dome of Rock, EXIT FestivalStoned from the Underground and Red Smoke, as well as club shows between. All this as eagerness mounts for their next album, the coming of which they heralded last month by unveiling a rough version of the new track “Cracks and Lines” (posted here) that found their crusty vibes and rolling grooves well intact, not that there was any doubt.

I don’t know how much new material they’ll be playing on this run or what exactly the status is of the recording for the next LP, but Egypt are definitely “between records” at this point, so if you ever thought of catching a sneak peak at some new material from them, this would seem to be a prime chance.

Dates follow:

egypt tour poster

Egypt – 2017 European Tour

Hello. Here are our 2017 European tour dates. We’re super stoked to be heading back over to Europe this Summer. Check it.

1-jul Rare Guitar – Münster DE
2-jul Le Garage – Liege BE
3-jul Glazart – Paris FR
4-jul Le Ferraileur – Nantes FR
5-jul OFF
6-jul Coq D´Or – Olten CH
7-jul Dome of Rock Festival – Salzburg AT
8-jul KVLT – Budapest HU
9-jul EXIT festival – Novi Sad RS
10-jul Club Daos – Timisoara RO
11-jul Elektropionir – Belgrade RS
12-jul Vintage Industrial Bar – Zagreb HR
13-jul Das Bach – Vienna AT
14-jul Club 007 – Prague CZ
15-jul Stoned From the Underground Fest – Erfurt DE
16-jul Red Smoke Festival – Pleszew PL

https://www.facebook.com/Egypt-Doom-220951734668136/
https://egypt1.bandcamp.com/

Egypt, “Cracks and Lines”

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Egypt Post “Cracks and Lines”; New Album Coming Soon

Posted in audiObelisk, Whathaveyou on March 7th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

egypt

However many tracks it might turn out to have on it, it’s a safe bet that North Dakota heavy rockers Egypt are unveiling a substantial portion of their next album in making public the 11 minutes of “Cracks and Lines.” Even in its unmastered form as heard below, the track is a stomper, with the steady snare of drummer Chad Heille punctuating the sleek, classic-minded slow-motion boogie from guitarist Neal Stein and the raspy vocals of bassist Aaron Esterby. The same three-piece issued their last outing, Endless Flight (review here), at the very tail end of 2015 — I counted it in my Top 30 of 2016, for whatever that’s worth — and proffered much tonal density, but I’m digging the spacier vibe that “Cracks and Lines” digs into as it moves past the halfway point.

We’re still well in the Sabbathian playbook, but a little drift in the guitar and vocal chillout sounds right on to my ears, especially with Esterby‘s bass bouncing along at the bottom of that echoing cavern. As a first impression for whatever the next record might be called — don’t know yet; will let you know when I do — it’s a positive one, and I guess ahead of a Spring or Summer 2017 release, which is still a ways off, they don’t need it to be anything more than that necessarily. Dudes’ nod is just about always welcome by me, and after speculating that we’d hear from them in 2017, I’m glad to hear that coming to fruition. Sooner the better.

Look for more to come as we get closer to the album release, and I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point in the near future the trio announced another round of European touring. They’ve been racking up frequent flier miles over the Atlantic the last couple years, so it wouldn’t be out of character, but they also recently put word out that they’ll appear at the Red Smoke fest in Poland this July. Could it be an album-release tour in the summer? Would make an awful lot of sense, but we’ll see when we get there.

Esterby had a few words to say about the impending full-length and other whathaveyou, and you’ll find that under “Cracks and Lines,” which is on the YouTube player below.

Dig it:

Egypt, “Cracks and Lines” unmastered audio

I think that I said a while back that the new record was done and was being mixed and all that stuff. Well, I was wrong at the time I said that. Turns out there was more work to do. Now I can say with certainty that the new album is finished and will be going to mastering next week. We’re excited, nervous, stoked, concerned, and many other things for you guys to hear it. It’s always painful to let go…haha. But, now is the time.

We’ve never been very good at promoting stuff. We’re kind of a DIY type outfit so there is very little fanfare when it comes to announcements. We’ll be sharing a tracklist and other important odds and ends very soon. In the meantime, here is a song from the new record. It’s not mastered and it’s a youtube rip, so be gentle. If you have 11 minutes to spare give it a listen. Hope you guys dig it. We’ll talk soon. Cheers.

We are extremely excited to announce that we will be playing Red Smoke Festival in Poland on July 16th. Killer lineup so far. We’re beyond stoked to be a part of it.

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Egypt on Bandcamp

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