Quarterly Review: Pallbearer, BleakHeart, Pryne, Avi C. Engel, Aktopasa, Guenna, Slow Green Thing, Ten Ton Slug, Magic Fig, Scorched Oak

Posted in Reviews on May 17th, 2024 by JJ Koczan


By the time today is through — come hell or high water! — we will be at the halfway point of this two-week Quarterly Review. It hasn’t been difficult so far, though there are ups and downs always and I don’t think I’m giving away secrets when I tell you that in listening to 50 records some are going to be better than others.

Truth is that even outside the 100 LPs, EPs, etc., I have slated, there’s still a ton more. Even in something so massive, there’s an element of picking and choosing what goes in. Curation is the nice word for it, though it’s not quite that creatif in my head. Either way, I hope you’ve found something that connects this week. If not yet, then today. If not today, then maybe next week. As I’m prone to say on Fridays, we’re back at it on Monday.

Quarterly Review #41-50:

Pallbearer, Mind Burns Alive

pallbearer mind burns alive

While I won’t take away from the rawer energy and longing put into their earlier work, maturity suits Pallbearer. The Little Rock, Arkansas, four-piece of vocalist/guitarist Brett Campbell, guitarist/backing vocalist Devin Holt, bassist/synthesist/backing vocalist Joseph D. Rowland and drummer Mark Lierly have passed their 15th anniversary between 2020’s Forgotten Days (review here) and the self-recorded six tracks of Mind Burns Alive, and they sound poised harnessing new breadth and melodic clarity. They’ve talked about the album being stripped down, and maybe that’s true to some degree in the engrossing-anyhow opener “When the Light Fades,” but there’s still room for sax on the 10-minute “Endless Place,” and the quieter stretches of the penultimate “Daybreak” highlight harmonized vocals before the bass-weighted riff sweeps in after the three-minute mark. Campbell has never sounded stronger or more confident as a singer, and he’s able to carry the likewise subdued intro to “Signals” with apparent sincerity and style alike. The title-track flashes brighter hopes in its later guitar solo leads, but they hold both their most wistful drift and their most crushing plod for closer “With Disease,” because five records and countless tours (with more to come) later, Pallbearer very clearly know what the fuck they’re doing. I hope having their own studio leads to further exploration from here.

Pallbearer on Facebook

Nuclear Blast website

BleakHeart, Silver Pulse

Bleakheart silver pulse

With its six pieces arranged so that side A works from its longest track to its shortest and side B mirrors by going shortest to longest, Denver‘s BleakHeart seem to prioritize immersion on their second full-length, Silver Pulse, as “All Hearts Desire” unfolds fluidly across nearly eight minutes, swelling to an initial lumbering roll that evaporates as they move into the more spacious verse and build back up around the vocals of Kiki GaNun (also synth) and Kelly Schilling (also bass, keys and more synth). Emotional resonance plays at least as much of a role throughout as the tonal weight intermittently wrought by JP Damron and Mark Chronister‘s guitars, and with Joshua Quinones on drums giving structure and movement to the meditations of “Where I’m Disease” before leaving the subsequent “Let Go” to its progression through piano, drone and a sit-in from a string quartet that leads directly into “Weeping Willow,” the spaces feel big and open but never let the listener get any more lost in them than is intended. This is the first LP from the five-piece incarnation of BleakHeart, which came together in 2022, and the balance of lushness and intensity as “Weeping Willow” hits its culmination and recedes into the subdued outset of “Falling Softly” and the doomed payoff that follows bodes well, but don’t take that as undercutting what’s already being accomplished here.

BleakHeart on Facebook

Seeing Red Records website

Pryne, Gargantuan

PRYNE Gargantuan

Austria’s Pryne — also stylized all-caps: PRYNE — threaten to derail their first album before it’s even really started with the angular midsection breakdown of “Can-‘Ka No Rey,” but that the opener holds its course and even brings that mosher riff back at the end is indicative of the boldness with which they bring together the progressive ends of metal and heavy rock throughout the 10-song/46-minute offering, soaring in the solo ahead of the slowdown in “Ramification,” giving the audience 49 seconds to catch its breath after that initial salvo with “Hollow Sea” before “Abordan” resumes the varied onslaught with due punch, shove and twist, building tension in the verse and releasing in the melodic chorus in a way that feels informed by turn-of-the-century metal but seeming to nod at Type O Negative in the first half bridge of “Cymboshia” and refusing flat-out to do any one thing for too long. Plotted and complex even as “The Terrible End of the Yogi” slams out its crescendo before the Baronessy verse of “Plaguebearer” moves toward a stately gang shout and squibbly guitar tremolo, they roll out “Enola” as a more straight-ahead realignment before the drone interlude “Shapeless Forms” bursts into the double-kick-underscored thrash of closer “Elder Things,” riding its massive groove to an expectedly driving end. You never quite know what’s coming next within the songs, but the overarching sense of movement becomes a uniting factor that serves the material well regardless of the aggression level in any given stretch.

Pryne on Facebook

Pryne on Bandcamp

Avi C. Engel, Too Many Souls

avi c engel too many souls

Backed by looped percussive ticks and pops and the cello-esque melody of the gudok, Toronto experimental singer-songwriter Avi C. Engel is poised as they ask in the lyrics of “Breadcrumb Dance,” “How many gods used to run this place/Threw up their hands, went into real estate” near the center of the seven-song Too Many Souls LP. Never let it be said there wasn’t room for humor in melancholy. Engel isn’t new to exploring folkish intimacy in various contexts, and Too Many Souls feels all the more personal even in “Wooly Mammoth” or second cut “Ladybird, What’s Wrong?” which gets underway on its casual semi-ramble with the line, “One by one I watch them piss into the sun,” for the grounded perspective at root. An ongoing thread of introspection and Engel‘s voice at the center draw the songs together as these stories are told in metaphor — birds return in the album’s second half with “The Oven Bird’s Song” but there’s enough heart poured in that it doesn’t need to be leaned into as a theme — and before it moves into its dreamstate drone still with the acoustic guitar beneath, “Without Any Eyes” brings through its own kind of apex in Engel‘s layered delivery. Topped with a part-backmasked take on the traditional “Wayfaring Stranger” that’s unfortunately left as an instrumental, Too Many Souls finds Engel continuing their journey of craft with its own songs as companions for each other and the artist behind them.

Avi C. Engel on Facebook

Somnimage website

Aktopasa, Ultrawest

aktopasa ultrawest

The 13-minute single “Ultrawest” follows behind Aktopasa‘s late-2022 Argonauta Records debut, Journey to the Pink Planet (review here), and was reportedly composed to feature in a documentary of the same name about the reshaping of post-industrial towns in Colorado. It is duly spacious in its slow, linear, instrumentalist progression. The Venice, Italy, three-piece of guitarist Lorenzo Barutta, bassist Silvio Tozzato and drummer Marco Sebastiano Alessi are fluid as they maintain the spirit of the jam that likely birthed the song’s floating atmospherics, but there’s a plan at work as well as they bring the piece to fruition, with Alessi subtly growing more urgent around 10 minutes in to mark the shift into an ending that never quite bursts out and isn’t trying to, but feels like resolution just the same. A quick, hypnotic showcase of the heavy psychedelic promise the debut held, “Ultrawest” makes it easy to look forward to whatever might come next for them.

Aktopasa on Facebook

Aktopasa on Bandcamp

Guenna, Peak of Jin’Arrah

Guenna Peak of Jin Arrah

Right onto the list of 2024’s best debuts goes Guenna‘s Peak of Jin’Arrah, specifically for the nuance and range the young Swedish foursome bring to their center in heavy progressive fuzz riffing. One might look at a title like “Bongsai” or “Weedwacker” (video premiered here) and imagine played-to-genre stoner fare, but Guenna‘s take is more ambitious, as emphasized in the flute brought to “Bongsai” at the outset and the proclivity toward three-part harmonies that’s unveiled more in the nine-minute “Dimension X,” which follows. The folk influence toward which that flute hints comes forward on the mostly-acoustic closer “Guenna’s Lullaby,” which takes hold after the skronk-accompanied, full-bore push that caps “Wizery,” but by that point the context for such shifts has been smoothly laid out as being part of an encompassing and thoughtful songwriting process that in less capable hands would leave “Ordric Major” disjointed and likely overly aggressive. Even as they make room for the guest lead vocals of Elin Pålsson on “Dark Descent,” Guenna walk these balances smoothly and confidently, and if you don’t believe there’s a generational shift happening right now — at this very moment — in Scandinavia, Peak of Jin’Arrah stands ready to convince you otherwise. There’s a lot of work between here and there, but Guenna hold the potential to be a significant voice in that next-gen emergence.

Guenna on Facebook

The Sign Records website

Slow Green Thing, Wetterwarte / Waltherstrasse

Slow Green Thing Wetterwarte Waltherstrasse

The interplay of stoner-metal tonal density and languid vocal melody in “I Thought I Would Not” sets an atmospheric mood for Slow Green Thing on their fourth LP, Wetterwarte / Waltherstrasse, which the Dresden-based four-piece seem to have recorded in two sessions between 2020 and 2022. That span of time might account for some of the scope between the songs as “Thousand Deaths” holds out a hand into the void staring back at it and the subsequent “Whispering Voices” answers the proggy wash and fuzzed soloing of “Tombstones in My Eyes” with roll and meditative float alike, but I honestly don’t know what was recorded when and there’s no real lack of cohesion within the aural mists being conjured or the heft residing within it, so take that as you will. It’s perhaps less of a challenge to put temporal considerations aside since Slow Green Thing seem so at home in the flow that plays out across Wetterwarte / Waltherstrasse‘s six songs and 44 minutes, remaining in control despite veering into more aggressive passages and basing so much of what they do on entrancing and otherworldly vibe. And while the general superficialities of thickened tones and soundscaping, ‘gaze-type singing and nod will be familiar, the use made of them by Slow Green Thing offers a richer and deeper experience revealed and affirmed on repeat listens.

Slow Green Thing on Facebook

Slow Green Thing on Bandcamp

Ten Ton Slug, Colossal Oppressor


Don’t expect a lot of trickery in Ten Ton Slug‘s awaited first full-length record, Colossal Oppressor, which delivers its metallic sludge pummel with due transparency of purpose. That is to say, the Galway, Ireland, trio aren’t fucking around. Enough so that Bolt Thrower‘s Karl Willetts shows up on a couple of songs. Varied but largely growled or screamed vocals answer the furious chug and thud of “Balor,” and while “Ghosts of the Ooze” later on answers back to the brief acoustic parts bookending opener “The Ooze” ahead of “Mallacht an tSloda” arriving like a sledgehammer only to unfold its darkened thrash and nine-plus-minute closer “Mogore the Unkind” making good on its initial threat with the mosh-ready riffing in its second half, there’s no pretense in those or any of the other turns Colossal Oppressor makes, and there doesn’t need to be when the songs are so refreshingly crushing. These guys have been around for over a decade already, so it’s not a surprise necessarily to find them so committed to this punishing mission, but the cathartic bloodletting resonates regardless. Not for everyone, very much for some on the more extreme end of heavy.

Ten Ton Slug on Facebook

Ten Ton Slug on Bandcamp

Magic Fig, Magic Fig

magic fig magic fig

Don’t let the outward Beatles-bouncing pop-psych friendly-acid traditionalism of “Goodbye Suzy” lull you into thinking San Francisco psych rockers Magic Fig‘s self-titled debut is solely concerned with vintage aesthetics. While accessible even in the organ-and-synth prog flourish of “PS1” — the keyboards alone seeming to span generations — and the more foreboding current of low end under the shuffle and soft vocals of “Obliteration,” the six-song/28-minute LP is no less effective in the rising cosmic expanse that builds into “Labyrinth” than the circa-’67 orange-sun lysergic folk-rock that rolls out from there — that darker edge comes back around, briefly, in a stop around the two-minute mark; it’s hard to know which side is imagining the other, but “Labyrinth” is no less fun for that — and “Distant Dream,” which follows, is duly transcendent and fluid. Given additional character via the Mellotron and birdsong-inclusive meditation that ends it and the album as a whole, “Departure” nonetheless feels intentional in its subtly synthy acoustic-and-voice folkish strum, and its intricacy highlights a reach one hopes Magic Fig will continue to nurture.

Magic Fig on Facebook

Silver Current Records on Bandcamp

Scorched Oak, Perception

Perception by Scorched Oak

If you followed along with Dortmund, Germany’s Scorched Oak on their 2020 debut, Withering Earth (review here), as that album dug into classic heavy rock as a means of longer-form explorations, some of what they present in the 39 minutes of Perception might make more sense. There was plenty of dynamic then too in terms of shifts in rhythm and atmosphere, and certainly second-LP pieces like “Mirrors” and “Relief” come at least in part from a similar foundation — I’d say the same of the crescendo verse of “Oracle” near the finish — but the reportedly-recorded-live newer offering finds the band making a striking delve into harder and more metallic impacts on the whole. An interplay of gruff — gurgling, almost — and soulful melodic vocals is laid out as opener/longest track (immediate points) “Delusion” resolves the brooding toms of its verse with post-metal surges. Perhaps it’s obvious enough that it doesn’t need to be said, but Scorched Oak aren’t residing in a single feel or progression throughout, and the intensity and urgency of “Reflection” land with a directness that the closing “Oracle” complements in its outward spread. The element of surprise makes Perception feel somewhat like a second debut, but that they pull off such an impression is in itself a noteworthy achievement, never mind how much less predictable it makes them or the significant magnitude of these songs.

Scorched Oak on Facebook

Scorched Oak on Bandcamp

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Sons of Arrakis to Release Volume II June 7; “Scattering” Posted

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 23rd, 2024 by JJ Koczan

sons of arrakis

Yeah, I’ll admit that at about 10:30AM on a Friday morning I had one foot out the door to the weekend. Then this new Sons of Arrakis single showed up and a four-post day became a fiver. Fair enough. The hotly-tipped Canadian heavy rockers offer “Scattering” as a first glimpse of the second album they recorded late last summer, Volume II, for which they’ve announced a June 7 release through Black Throne Productions. In addition to a general uptick in the production sounds on what I’m guessing is the version that will appear on the actual album, the band also have a live video up for the track that’s probably the best argument I could make for seeing them live if their upcoming Canadian run with Salem’s Bend (they’ll play all but three of the shows below, which it feels weird to list since they don’t involve the group this post is otherwise about, but they’re still part of the tour? I don’t know, life is complicated sometimes in unexpected ways), but I also sincerely doubt that for those who heard 2022’s Volume I (review here) much argument is needed in the first place.

I’m intrigued to hear where other songs on the record might go, but “Scattering” contradicts its title in being nothing if not tightly cohesive. Around a twisting riff and melody that build momentum as they go, the band deliver an uptempo shove that should please, among others, those who caught on to the charge Howling Giant‘s latest LP gave this past Fall.

Info, dates, video, audio, all from the PR wire:

sons of arrakis scattering

SONS OF ARRAKIS Unveil “Scattering”

SONS OF ARRAKIS have released their new single “Scattering”. The track lands ahead of their forthcoming album Volume II due to be released on June 7th, 2024, via Black Throne Productions. Check out an exciting live video shot for the track HERE.

The track can also be streamed HERE: https://open.spotify.com/track/01bSwLzhRwM1FSNAZE2ooM

The band comments:

“SONS OF ARRAKIS introduces ‘Scattering,’ the inaugural single from our upcoming album, Volume II, slated for release on June 7th. Coinciding with ‘The Great Scattering Tour’ alongside LA’s SALEM’S BEND, this track signifies a culmination of years of dedicated effort and a significant evolution in our musical approach.

‘Scattering’ is a departure from the intricate compositions of Volume I, presenting a more straightforward yet captivating musical expression. Rooted in our sci-fi desert rock tradition, reminiscent of The Black Mirror, this single serves as a bridge to Volume II, where we venture into progressive territories with syncopated signature riffs, more complex bridges, well thought transitions and harmonized guitar elements.”

Presented by Black Throne Productions, SALEM’S BEND and SONS OF ARRAKIS are set to embark around the Eastern Provinces in Canada for “The Great Scattering Tour” beginning on February 28th, 2024.

Tour Dates:
Feb 28 – Minotaure, Gatineau WITH SUBSUN, RITUAL and IN BETWEEN THE MASSES **
Feb 29 – Esco, Montreal with DESTRUCTION DERBY
Mar 1 – L’Anti, QC City with TRUSH & DESTRUCTION DERBY
Mar 2 – La Petite Boite Noire , Sherbrooke with OCCULT WITCHES
Mar 3 – Cafe Zenob, Trois Rivieres with DESTRUCTION DERBY
Mar 6 – The Atria, Oshawa with VEINDUZE and VS THE BORG **
Mar 7 – The Lion Pub & Grill, Newmarket with ON THE VERGE, AAWKS, DAD SABBATH **
Mar 8 – Vertagogo, Hamilton with THE ELECTRIC CACTUS
Mar 9 – Bovine Sex Club, Toronto with TUMBLE and AAWKS
** – SONS OF ARRAKIS not playing



Sons of Arrakis, “Scattering” live video

Sons of Arrakis, “Scattering”

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The Obelisk Questionnaire: Dave Buschemeyer of Omen Astra

Posted in Questionnaire on January 5th, 2024 by JJ Koczan


The Obelisk Questionnaire is a series of open questions intended to give the answerer an opportunity to explore these ideas and stories from their life as deeply as they choose. Answers can be short or long, and that reveals something in itself, but the most important factor is honesty.

Based on the Proust Questionnaire, the goal over time is to show a diverse range of perspectives as those who take part bring their own points of view to answering the same questions. To see all The Obelisk Questionnaire posts, click here.

Thank you for reading and thanks to all who participate.

The Obelisk Questionnaire: Dave Buschemeyer of Omen Astra

How do you define what you do and how did you come to do it?

Hi. My name is Dave Buschemeyer. I am a musician, a printmaker/ artist and have been recently diving into performance art. I play guitar in Omen Astra and have spent time in New Day Rising, Spread The Disease, Die In The Light and a bunch more. I came to make music in the hardcore scene in the early 90’s. It quickly became a passion of mine after being introduced to punk (as a thrash metal head) in the late 80’s and going to see shows in the grimy punk scene in Toronto. Shortly after, I became interested in mixed-media art, went to University for Philosophy and ended up developing a love for print. I am currently back in University to finish a BFA in Print Media with an eye to transitioning to an MFA in either print or Interdisciplinary studies. Inside this very shortened timeline… I was a plumber by trade, which is a very long story.

Describe your first musical memory.

I’m unsure it can be considered the first, because memory is always being changed anytime you think of a thing, but I would say that one of the earliest memories I have is as a child watching my mom sing “Only The Lonely” by Roy Orbison in the kitchen. My mom really loved to sing and Orbison was one of her favorites. Years later, as a teen, my parents asked me to go and see him live in concert with them. I said no. I now recount that as one of those regrettable things you do as a young person that thinks they know some things. Of course, I am now a huge fan of Roy Orbison, and I wish I could go back in time and convince my younger self to stop saying No to everything.

Describe your best musical memory to date.

Best is a tough thing to consider because I strive pretty hard to avoid summing up experiences in a pyramid. However… I will answer it this way… One of my most notable musical memories is seeing Faith No More in 1990 in Mississauga, Ontario. At this show, I got kicked out for stage diving and security wouldn’t let me back in, but by some luck someone affiliated with the band opened the door and motioned to Security to let the few of us standing out there to come back in. We promised profusely not to stage dive anymore… and then quickly made our way to the front to continue. This was probably the one event that set up my love for Faith No More and almost all things Mike Patton.

When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?

This is a big one for me… as a young adult man I had my ill-informed sense of atheism tested to the core via experiences developed in meditation. In particular, I had a couple “experiences” that made me see just how interconnected all of existence is. This was an incredibly profound shift in my own consciousness that informs who I am today and has sparked a whole printmaking path based on wanting to find ways to visually show something of this inner understanding. Quickly, I recognized that words, being finite packets of meaning, would never be able to show something of the depth of insight as Interconnectedness. So, art being the language of soul and the heart was the closest I could come to doing so. When it comes to music, I am always trying to write something cohesive and final, something closed, something that feels complete and whole. The closest I have come to that is the Omen Astra album. For me, it is a high water mark in my creative music making because it feels the most resolved and completed. I am very fond of that record.

Where do you feel artistic progression leads?

Artistic progression either leads one of two ways. An artist is either singular-minded and decides to forge a path based on their ideological assumptions, or an artist is open to existence and allows the dizzying depths of it to inform them of their path. In this, I am describing stages of how I have approached making creative work. There was a point where I realized that performing an action ideologically, or for ideological reasons, was somehow less important or felt less meaningful than if I made work based on what is bubbling up in me in the moment. Without going into it too much, I am starting to find that art that is based on ideology is often boring and rarely gets me to ask more questions of the work. But art that comes from a sense of openness and free play, and originates from a place of curiosity is often art that has me looking deeper. The first kind of art, as I see it, is making statements about the world, and comes from a place of supposed knowing. The second kind is art that comes from a place of openness and wonder. It is this second kind that I am often drawn to. So, an ideologically driven person will make statements like “you cannot take the politics out of art”. A more nuanced and “open” artist may say “There are political ramifications in everything, but I choose not to engage in that because it only says something about the social realm… whereas I am attempting to talk about the feel of a snowflake on the tip of my tongue.”

How do you define success?

I have no specific definition of success, except that for me if it feels right, and everything is aligning after all of the effort, then it is successful.

What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?

I have witnessed a couple people die in front of me. And there have been times where I wish I was spared that somehow, but I’m honestly of a different mind now. I think those experiences have served to give me a much greater appreciation for people and life. I try to say Thank You, and to smile, and to be helpful as much as possible… all because I’ve seen just how short and tragic human existence can be. I guess the answer is… at this point in my progression there isn’t anything I wish I hadn’t seen/ witnessed.

Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.

I have this notion that at some point I will make some visual representation of my experiences in meditation that will be so compelling and so profoundly understood that I will no longer wish to keep creating because no better example is possible. Of course, I do realize that this will never happen, but at some point, this became heavy motivation for me to keep trying new things in my print practice in order to discover some new way of communicating it. In writing this out, I am struck by just how romantic this sounds… and also possibly how futile it really is.

What do you believe is the most essential function of art?

Art is a mirror for the soul. It’s most essential function is to draw out those key qualities in human existence that transcend ephemerality…. At heart, I suppose I am a Platonist. For me, the reason why great art talks to us is because on some level it’s tickling at an understanding that is already within us. And so the role of art in this way is to show our deepest, truest selves to ourselves. It is very fashionable to talk about Ephemerality and to assume that change is the nature of the entirety of existence. But, for me, when you’re art is about a pre-ephemeral state of being, about something that stands resolutely outside of change and decay, I have to reject it as a fundamental, but keep working within it to show it’s opposite. Dont’ get me wrong… ephemerality is the playstuff of the artist. I lean into it without even recognizing it, but ultimately I am always striving to say something lasting. And perhaps it is the striving itself that outlasts. I am aware that these ideas fly in the face of post-modernism and I wrestle a lot with the contradiction and feel like I’m a man displaced out of his rightful time. LOL

Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?

I am looking forward to art openings, record releases and any other creative thing I can get my hands into. Thank you for this interview.

LINK TREE- https://linktr.ee/davebuschemeyer

WEBSITE- https://www.davebuschemeyer.com/

PERFORMANCE- https://vimeo.com/davebuschemeyer

INSTA MUSIC- https://www.instagram.com/davebuschemeyer_music/

INSTA ART- https://www.instagram.com/davebuschemeyer_artist/

PERSONAL BC- https://davebuschemeyer.bandcamp.com/

OMEN ASTRA BC- https://omenastra.bandcamp.com/

SPREAD THE DISEASE BC- https://spreadthedisease.bandcamp.com/

NEW DAY RISING BC- https://newdayrising-hardcoreband.bandcamp.com/

DIE IN THE LIGHT BC- https://dieinthelight.bandcamp.com/

THOUGHT WAVE BC- https://thoughtwave.bandcamp.com/

THE CHINA WHITE BC- https://thechinawhite.bandcamp.com/album/the-gun-of-the-enemy

THE ABANDONED HEARTS CLUB BC- https://theabandonedheartsclub1.bandcamp.com/

THE FORMLESS FORM BC- https://formlessform.bandcamp.com/album/stillest-embrace

WITHOUT LUNGS BC- https://withoutlungs.bandcamp.com/album/simpler-times-ep





Omen Astra, The End of Everything (2023)

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Quarterly Review: Tortuga, Spidergawd, Morag Tong, Conny Ochs, Ritual King, Oldest Sea, Dim Electrics, Mountain of Misery, Aawks, Kaliyuga Express

Posted in Reviews on November 30th, 2023 by JJ Koczan


Generally I think of Thursday as the penultimate day of a given Quarterly Review. This one I was thinking of adding more days to get more stuff in ahead of year-end coverage coming up in December. I don’t know what that would do to my weekend — actually, yes I do — but sometimes it’s worth it. I’m yet undecided. Will let you know tomorrow, or perhaps not. Dork of mystery, I am.

Today is PACKED with cool sounds. If you haven’t found something yet that’s really hit you, it might be your day.

Quarterly Review #31-40:

Tortuga, Iterations

TORTUGA Iterations

From traditionalist proto-doom and keyboard-inflected prog to psychedelic jamming and the Mountain-style start-stop riff on “Lilith,” Poznań, Poland’s Tortuga follow 2020’s Deities (discussed here) with seven tracks and 45 minutes that come across as simple and barebones in the distortion of the guitar and the light reverb on the vocals, but the doom rock doesn’t carry from “Lilith” into “Laspes,” which has more of a ’60s psych crux, a mellow but not unjoyful meander in its first half turning to a massive lumber in the second, all the more elephantine with a solo overtop. They continue throughout to cross the lines between niches — “Quaus” has some dungeon growls, “Epitaph” slogs emotive like Pallbearer, etc. — and offer finely detailed performances in a sound malleable to suit the purposes of their songs. Polish heavy doesn’t screw around. Well, at least not any more than it wants to. Tortuga‘s creative reach becomes part of the character of the album.

Tortuga on Facebook

Napalm Records website

Spidergawd, VII

spidergawd vii

I’m sorry, I gotta ask: What’s the point of anything when Spidergawd can put out a record like VII and it’s business as usual? Like, the world doesn’t stop for a collective “holy shit” moment. Even in the heavy underground, never mind general population. These are the kinds of songs that could save lives if properly employed to do so, and for the Norwegian outfit, it’s just what they do. The careening hooks of “Sands of Time” and “The Tower” at the start, the melodies across the span. The energy. I guess this is dad rock? Shit man, I’m a dad. I’m not this cool. Spidergawd have seven records out and I feel like Metallica should’ve been opening for them at stadiums this past summer, but they remain criminally underrated and perhaps use that as flexibility around their pop-heavy foundation to explore new ideas. The last three songs on VII — “Afterburner,” “Your Heritage” and “…And Nothing But the Truth” — are among the strongest and broadest Spidergawd have ever done, and “Dinosaur” and the classic-metal ripper “Bored to Death” give them due preface. One of the best active heavy rock bands, living up to and surpassing their own high standards.

Spidergawd on Facebook

Stickman Records website

Crispin Glover Records website

Morag Tong, Grieve

Morag Tong Grieve

Rumbling low end and spacious guitar, slow flowing drums and contemplative vocals, and some charred sludge for good measure, mark out the procession of “At First Light” on Morag Tong‘s third album and first for Majestic Mountain Records, the four-song Grieve. Moving from that initial encapsulation through the raw-throat sludge thud of most of “Passages,” they crash out and give over to quiet guitar at about four minutes in and set up the transition to the low-end groove-cool of “A Stem’s Embrace,” a sleepy fluidity hitting its full voluminous crux after three minutes in, crushing from there en route to its noisy finish at just over nine minutes long. That would be the epic finisher of most records, but Morag Tong‘s grievances extend to the 20-minute “No Sun, No Moon,” which at 20 minutes is a full-length’s progression on its own. At very least the entirety of side B, but more than the actual runtime is the theoretical amount of space covered as the four-piece shift from ambient drone through huge plod and resolve the skyless closer with a crushing delve into post-sludge atmospherics. That’s as fitting an end as one could ask for an offering that so brazenly refuses to follow impulses other than its own.

Morag Tong on Facebook

Majestic Mountain Records store

Conny Ochs, Wahn Und Sinn

Conny Ochs Wahn Und Sinn

The nine-song Wahn Und Sinn carries the distinction of being the first full-length from German singer-songwriter Conny Ochs — also known for his work in Ananda Mida and his collaboration with Wino — to be sung in his own language. As a non-German speaker, I won’t pretend that doesn’t change the listening experience, but that’s the idea. Words and melodies in different languages take on corresponding differences in character, and so in addition to appreciating the strings, pianos, acoustic and electric guitars, and, in the case of “Welle,” a bit of static noise in a relatively brief electronic soundscape, hearing Ochs‘ delivery no less emotive for switching languages on the cinematic “Grimassen,” or the lounge drama of “Ding” earlier on, it’s a new side from a veteran figure whose “experimentalism” — and no, I’m not talking about singing in your own language as experimental, I’m talking about Trialogos there — is backburnered in favor of more traditional, still rampantly melancholy pop arrangements. It sounds like someone who’s decided they can do whatever the hell they feel like their songs should making that a reality. Only an asshole would hold not speaking the language against that.

Conny Ochs on Facebook

Exile on Mainstream website/a>

Ritual King, The Infinite Mirror

ritual king the infinite mirror

I’m going to write this review as though I’m speaking directly to Ritual King because, well, I am. Hey guys. Congrats on the record. I can hear a ton going on with it. Some of Elder‘s bright atmospherics and rhythmic twists, some more familiar stoner riffage repurposed to suit a song like “Worlds Divide” after “Flow State” calls Truckfighters to mind, the songs progressive and melodic. The way you keep that nod in reserve for “Landmass?” That’s what I’m talking about. Here’s some advice you didn’t ask for: Keep going. I’m sure you have big plans for next year, and that’s great, and one thing leads to the next. You’re gonna have people for the next however long telling you what you need to do. Do what feels right to you, and keep in mind the decisions that led you to where you are, because you’re right there, headed to the heart of this thing you’re discovering. Two records deep there’s still a lot of potential in your sound, but I think you know a track like “Tethered” is a victory on its own, and that as big as “The Infinite Mirror” gets at the end, the real chance it takes is in the earlier vocal melody. You’re a better band than people know. Just keep going. Thanks.

Ritual King on Facebook

Ripple Music website

Oldest Sea, A Birdsong, A Ghost

oldest sea a birdsong a ghost cropped

Inhabiting the sort of alternately engulfing and minimal spaces generally occupied by the likes of Bell Witch, New Jersey’s Oldest Sea make their full-length debut with A Birdsong, A Ghost and realize a bleakness of mood that is affecting even in its tempo, seeming to slow the world around it to its own crawl. The duo of Samantha Marandola and Andrew Marandola, who brought forth their Strange and Eternal EP (review here) in 2022, find emotive resonance in a death-doom build through the later reaches of “Untracing,” but the subsequent three-minute-piece-for-chorus-and-distorted-drone “Astronomical Twilight” and the similarly barely-there-until-it-very-much-is closer “Metamorphose” mark out either end of the extremes while “The Machines That Made Us Old” echoes Godflesh in its later riffing as Samantha‘s voice works through screams en route to a daringly hopeful drone. Volatile but controlled, it is a debut of note for its patience and vulnerability as well as its deep-impact crash and consuming tone.

Oldest Sea on Facebook

Darkest Records on Bandcamp

Dim Electrics, Dim Electrics

dim electrics dim electrics

Each track on Dim Electrics‘ self-titled five-songer LP becomes a place to rest for a while. No individual piece is lacking activity, but each cut has room for the listener to get inside and either follow the interweaving aural patterns or zone out as they will. Founded by Mahk Rumbae, the Vienna-based project is meditative in the sense of basking in repetition, but flashes like the organ in the middle of “Saint” or the shimmy that takes hold in 18-minute closer “Dream Reaction” assure it doesn’t reside in one place for too much actual realtime, of which it’s easy to lose track when so much krautgazey flow is at hand. Beginning with ambience, “Ways of Seeing” leads the listener deeper into the aural chasm it seems to have opened, and the swirling echoes around take on a life of their own in the ecosystem of some vision of space rock that’s also happening under the ground — past and future merging as in the mellotron techno of “Memory Cage” — which any fool can tell you is where the good mushrooms grow. Dug-in, immersive, engaging if you let it be; Dim Electrics feels somewhat insular in its mind-expansion, but there’s plenty to go around if you can put yourself in the direction it’s headed.

Dim Electrics on Facebook

Sulatron Records webstore

Mountain of Misery, In Roundness

Mountain of Misery In Roundness

A newcomer project from Kamil Ziółkowski, also known for his contributions as part of Polish heavy forerunners Spaceslug, the tone-forward approach of Mountain of Misery might be said to be informed by Ziółkowski‘s other project in opener “Not Away” or the penultimate “Climb by the Sundown,” with their languid vocals and slow-rolling tsunami fuzz in the spirit of heavy psych purveyors Colour Haze and even more to the point Sungrazer, but the howling guitar in the crescendo of closer “The Misery” and the all-out assault of “Hang So Low” distinguish the band all around. “The Rain is My Love” sways in the album’s middle, but it’s in “Circle in Roundness” that the 36-minute LP has its most subdued stretch, letting the spaces filled with fuzz elsewhere remain open as the verse builds atop the for-now-drumless expanse. Whatever familiar aspects persist, Mountain of Misery is its own band, and In Roundness is the exciting beginning of a new creative evolution.

Mountain of Misery on Facebook

Electric Witch Mountain Recordings on Facebook

Aawks, Luna

aawks luna

The featured new single, “The Figure,” finds Barrie, Ontario’s Aawks somewhere between Canadian tonal lords Sons of Otis and the dense heavy psych riffing and melodic vocals of an act like Snail, and if you think I’m about to complain about that, you’ve very clearly never been to this site before. So hi, and welcome. The four-song Luna EP is Aawks‘ second short release of 2023 behind a split with Aiwass (review here), and the trio take on Flock of Seagulls and Pink Floyd for covers of the new wave radio hit “I Ran” and the psychedelic ur-classic “Julia Dream” before a live track, “All is Fine,” rounds out. As someone who’s never seen the band live, the additional crunch falls organic, and brings into relief the diversity Aawks show in and between these four songs, each of which inhabits a place in the emerging whole of the band’s persona. I don’t know if we’ll get there, but sign me up for the Canadian heavy revolution if this is the form it’s going to take.

Aawks on Facebook

Black Throne Productions website

Kaliyuga Express, Warriors & Masters

Kaliyuga Express Warriors and Masters

The collaborative oeuvre of UK doomsperimental guitarist Mike Vest (Bong, Blown Out, Ozo, 11Paranoias, etc.) grows richer as he joins forces with Finnish trio Nolla to produce Kaliyuga ExpressWarriors & Masters, which results in three tracks across two sides of far-out cosmic fuzz, shades of classic kraut and space rocks are wrought with jammy intention; the goal seeming to be the going more than the being gone as Vest and company burn through “Nightmare Dimensions” and the shoegazing “Behind the Veil” — the presence of vocals throughout is a distinguishing feature — hums in high and low frequencies in a repetitive inhale of stellar gases on side A while the 18:58 side B showdown “Endless Black Space” misdirects with a minute of cosmic background noise before unfurling itself across an exoplanet’s vision of cool and returning, wait for it, back to the drone from whence it came. Did you know stars are recycled all the time? Did you know that if you drop acid and peel your face off there’s another face underneath? Your third eye is googly. You can hear voices in the drones. Let me know what they tell you.

Kaliyuga Express on Facebook

Riot Season Records store

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Uncle Woe Premiere Title-Track of Well EP Out Dec. 20

Posted in audiObelisk on November 20th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

Uncle Woe Well

Canadian atmospheric doom mostly-solo outfit Uncle Woe will offer a new EP, Well, on Dec. 20. The four-track outing — which is arguably album-length at 32 minutes — is an offshoot of what had originally been an LP to be released earlier this year titled Oblivion and Further Disaster. As founding multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Rain Fice — working with Melbourne, Australia-based drummer Marc Whitworth — tells it below, EP tracks “Well” and “The Many Comforts of Calamity” both also appear on that record, and there was simply more to say.

Fair enough. The textural instrumental “Sermons for the Electrical Lost” complements the long and ambient ending of “The Many Comforts of Calamity,” and as the four inclusions run shortest to longest, the 16:08 “Oblivion and Further Disaster” feels duly like an arrival point as the closer. The highlight, though, might be “Well” itself, which finds Fice layering some subtly intricate melody in the chorus, soulful as ever, the sound still drawing from the cosmic doom of YOB a bit, but never more its own in its reach or affect. Uncle Woe‘s last two full-lengths, 2022’s Pennyfold Haberdashery & Abattoir Deluxe (review here) and 2020’s Phantomescence (review here), worked toward similar ends, but “Sermons for the Electrical Lost” feels more willing to dwell in its drone even with some kind of percussion or other captured rhythmic noise in amidst the layers of guitar noise, maybe-synth, effects, and so on as the wash builds and recedes across the six minutes.

A sense of departure from “Well” and “The Many Comforts of Calamity,” which are both on the will-still-be-out-but-next-year Oblivion and Further Disaster, to “Sermons for the Electrical Lost” and “Oblivion and Further Disaster” — which are not on the LP — almost can’t be helped, but the grounding of the choruses to “Well” and “The Many Comforts of Calamity,” even as far out and echoing as they are, puts the listener in good position to take on the back half of the tracklisting. “The Many Comforts of Calamity” turns left into an airy solo over churning post-metal chug before looping back to the hook at about three minutes in, a lumber and guttural melodicism reminiscent of Beastwars but present in its craft enough for “The Many Comforts of Calamity” to serve as the transition between “Well” and the two songs built off it that became the impetus for this release.

The long fade at the end of “The Many Comforts of Calamity” is hypnotic en route to the sweeping entrance of “Sermons for the Electrical Lost,” and the intention holds firm as Fice explores the ebbs and flows of frequency layering and mashing different sounds together, kind of like they do with particles at the Large Hadron Collider — only much, much, much slower. Mournful plod marks the outset of “Oblivion and Further Disaster,” a not-there title-track for the next Uncle Woe record — anyone remember that time Blind Melon didn’t put “Soup” on Soup and it was like the best song they ever did? — and the meditative feel and downward trajectory of the first couple minutes give over to more intense battery and a harsher, heavier verse. Over the next 10-plus minutes, Uncle Woe carry “Oblivion and Further Disaster” across a multi-movement course, dropping nearly to silence after the early payoff and beginning the march toward the EP’s suitably consuming end.

And I won’t discount the journey to get there, but while raw in the recording aesthetic, when Fice rears back after the 10-minute mark and the song begins its lurching crescendo in earnest, then finds another level of impact entirely and seems to expand until 11:46 when it drops to standalone guitar and residual drone, like the bubble just popped. Some stately, doomier riffing, a light Danny Elfman influence maybe, atmospheric vocals seeming to be swallowed by the procession as it makes its way out, the last couple minutes mostly silent as if purposefully taking the time.

Whatever the actual percentage breakdown might be — it’s imaginary, so it doesn’t matter — a goodly portion of Uncle Woe‘s impression has always been based around mood, and that remains true for Well, but it’s worth emphasizing the crush that’s so vital here and how it feeds into this material’s breadth, even in ways one might not necessarily expect. Plenty of songs crush. Far fewer sound like they’re crushing the sky.

Please enjoy:

Uncle Woe, “Well” visualizer premiere

Uncle Woe – Well

EP / Lead Single from the album, Oblivion and Further Disaster

Written by Rain Fice. Performed and recorded by Rain Fice and Marc Whitworth, in Bancroft, Ontario, Canada, and Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, respectively.
Release date: December 20, 2023
Label(s): Owlripper Recordings (DL), Packard Black Productions (LP)

“Well” was the easy first choice for a lead single once production of our forthcoming full-length, Oblivion and Further Disaster, started winding down. It exemplifies not only a lot of what Uncle Woe does, with its churning and revolving rhythms, and tendency to straddle the depth of pummeling molasses chug work, and vivid dream state floating (without falling hard into either extreme), but also the vibe of the whole album. It’s a bit more dialled in and dire than some of our previous works; more up front, and less meandering.

Once we’d chosen Well for the lead and the similarly straightforward album track, The Many Comforts of Calamity, as its B-side, something clicked and said that there was a bit more to the journey. It felt like there was just a little left in the story that the album hadn’t told so far.

Almost overnight the 5:00 single and matching B-side spawned another 22:00 of exploration, rounding what could have been a simple single up a bit, into a true, old fashioned EP; an Extended Play Single, as it may be referred to by the hippest of today’s youth.

The 3rd and 4th songs are the new material that fell out just for this little record. Sermons for the Electrical Lost is a six minute bit of post-rock contemplation. A Squall of feedback, some sombre clean guitar parts, and a grand, pulsing crescendo, all drenched in glorious bowed lap steel.

The sprawling, Oblivion and Further Disaster (which is not on the album of the same name) is sixteen plus minutes of pure post metal expression. Slow motion chord progressions, chaos, chugging and screaming, protracted, reverb drenched soft bits, several crescendos, and a long farewell. This is Uncle Woe in true form.

“Well” proved to be a gateway into its own little world within the world of the album. A music side-quest; this time with maybe a little bit of that aforementioned propensity for meandering, foregone on the LP itself.

This single/ep makes for a great counterpoint piece to the actual album. Also, it’s only a few minutes shy of being an album on its own.

1. Well (4:55)
2. The Many Comforts of Calamity (5:20)
3. Sermons for the Electrical Lost (6:16)
4. Oblivion and Further Disaster (16:08)

Uncle Woe on Facebook

Uncle Woe on Instagram

Uncle Woe on Bandcamp

Packard Black Productions on Bandcamp

Owlripper Recordings on Facebook

Owlripper Recordings on Instagram

Owlripper Recordings on Bandcamp

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Aawks to Release Luna EP Dec. 8

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 2nd, 2023 by JJ Koczan


Luna, of course, is the moon. Maybe like me you remember that scene in Deep Space Nine where Jake and Nog are on the ship fully run by fancypants Starfleet cadets — who, by the way, ALL DIE but one because late-DS9 was harsh like that — and Jake names the moon as Luna and is corrected, “Nobody who lives there calls it that.” Yeah, Roman mythology and so on. There’s always a Star Trek connection, whether one is generally wanted or not.

Let’s catch up with Aawks! The Barrie, Ontario-based three-piece are proving themselves productive with the impending release of Luna, a genuine EP not in the mini-album sense but in the we-have-this-stuff-and-want-to-release-it-so-here-it-is compiling. The PR wire lays it out, but note before I turn you over to the blue text that their take on the ’80s hit “I Ran” nails it. The band — who seem to have dropped the all-caps thing in contexts other than press-release emphasis — aren’t far removed from their The Eastern Scrolls (review here) split with Aiwass and their debut album, Heavy on the Cosmic (review here), is hardly dusty at just a year old, but if you’re gonna do the thing, there’s no substitute for actually doing it, and that seems to be the ethic being observed in their heavycraft up to this point.

New, covered or live, I’m looking forward to knowing these tracks better. Black Throne Productions once again with the release. Details follow:

aawks luna

Heavy Psychedelic Act AAWKS To Release EP Luna

Heavy psychedelic trio AAWKS is gearing up to release the new EP Luna on December 8th, 2023, via Black Throne Productions. This immersive offering features a new original song, two dynamic covers and a live version of “All Is Fine” from the Pøølhaüs back in early 2022.

The band comments:

“LUNA – the goddess of the moon (Roman mythology)

Cultures have been obsessed with the mysterious, magnetic wonders of the moon since the dawn of time. We’ve also been fascinated by ‘the unexplained’ and tried to make meaning of the messages in dreams or weird lights in the night sky. This collection of songs entitled LUNA each represent the aforementioned subjects in some way or another. We may not have the answers but we did our best to paint the feeling and thoughts one may have while walking down a path, alone in the woods at night or maybe waking up from an odd dream that left you questioning ‘what did that mean?’

A huge thanks to Black Throne Productions and Z Hollow Studios for all the hard work.

A special thanks goes out to our brother Dan Trickett who added some bass guitar to I Ran and some sweet harmonies to Julia Dream and I Ran.”

Introducing the EP, “The Figure” emerges with an eerie soundscape before diving into ludicrously heavy groove bass riffs. This fuzz-fueled track manifests an enticing sense of intrigue with a mysterious edge. Soaring vocal melodies and instrumental arrangements ebb and flow across alternating busy and minimalist plains. Their rendition of A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS’ “I Ran” is given a full AAWKS makeover with huge bass tones and airy atmospheres. AAWKS delivers a psych infused ambient interpretation of PINK FLOYD’S “Julia Dream”. “All Is Fine” transports you to powerful and heavy experience that is AAWKS live.

Track Listing:
1. The Figure
2. I Ran (Flock of Seagulls cover)
3. Julia Dream (Pink Floyd cover)
4. All Is Fine (Live from the Pøølhaüs Feb 2022)

Kris Dzierzbicki (guitar/vocals)
Roberto Paraíso (guitar)
Randylin Babic (drums)



Aawks & Aiwass, The Eastern Scrolls split (2023)

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The Obelisk Questionnaire: Nathanael Larochette of Musk Ox, The Night Watch & More

Posted in Questionnaire on October 30th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

Nathanael Larochette (Photo by Jonathan Lorange)

The Obelisk Questionnaire is a series of open questions intended to give the answerer an opportunity to explore these ideas and stories from their life as deeply as they choose. Answers can be short or long, and that reveals something in itself, but the most important factor is honesty.

Based on the Proust Questionnaire, the goal over time is to show a diverse range of perspectives as those who take part bring their own points of view to answering the same questions. To see all The Obelisk Questionnaire posts, click here.

Thank you for reading and thanks to all who participate.

The Obelisk Questionnaire: Nathanael Larochette

How do you define what you do and how did you come to do it?

For over 15 years I’ve been primarily creating instrumental acoustic music, particularly of a finger picked nature. It all began as a teenage obsession with heavy music that eventually sparked a deep fascination with the acoustic interludes that sporadically appeared on my favourite metal records. The first time I remember being completely blown away by acoustic riffing was when I first heard the intro to Blind Guardian’s “Time What is Time”. The next stage of my musical evolution occurred while learning the acoustic parts from Opeth and Agalloch songs while discovering dark folk classics such as Ulver’s “Kveldssanger”, Tenhi’s “Kauan” and Empyrium’s “Where at Night the Wood Grouse Plays”. Other artists and influences have since shaped my sound and playing but these experiences and records formed the blueprint for much of what I do.

Describe your first musical memory.

I’m not sure if I can pinpoint my first musical memory but one of my earliest would be hearing my father playing the flute. He had a demanding job as a plant manager for Michelin but always loved art and music so in his spare time he took jazz flute lessons and I remember hearing him practicing in his office. I started playing violin when I was four so some of my earliest memories of playing music would be childhood violin lessons and recitals. In terms of listening to music, the Gameboy soundtracks for Metroid 2 and Kirby’s Dreamland became burned into my memory after playing those games for hours as a kid.

Describe your best musical memory to date.

One of my best musical memories to date would be recording my interludes for Agalloch’s fourth record “The Serpent & The Sphere”. I discovered their classic “The Mantle” in early 2003, around the time I got my first guitar, so it was surreal for me to be in the studio with them recording my music for their new album in 2013. Although it’s one of my best memories it was also quite stressful because I was so nervous. Honestly, I think the time spent hanging out with the band in the studio and watching them record was the highlight for me.

When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?

Whenever I see humans mistreating other humans it tests my firmly held belief that we are good by nature. Although tested, there is far greater evidence supporting this belief despite how often we are told to think otherwise.

Where do you feel artistic progression leads?

I like to think that artistic progression leads to a deeper understanding of oneself and a deeper sense of humility because regardless of how much you do or how great you are, there is always more to learn and more work to be done. These experiences will hopefully lead to a deeper sense of gratitude for having the opportunity to express yourself through art which should ultimately lead to a deeper sense of compassion for others.

How do you define success?

Having the opportunity to continually focus energy on fulfilling work is a true measure of success for me. In a broader sense, I believe the heart of success is a balancing act that involves the simultaneous development and nurturing of one’s emotional, physical, spiritual, interpersonal and financial health. Time and again we’ve seen so-called “successful” individuals excel in one of these aspects to the total neglect of others with predictably tragic results. I believe the first and most difficult step is succeeding in treating ourselves with kindness which is a lifelong process that is too easily overlooked. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been working hard to prioritize my emotional and physical wellbeing because no amount of social or financial recognition will matter if we aren’t comfortable in our own skin. This is especially true for artists living creative lives in the digital age.

What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?

Human beings dehumanizing their fellow human beings.

Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.

I’d love to score films and video games someday.

What do you believe is the most essential function of art?

I think the most essential function of art is to offer momentary relief to the artist and those experiencing it.

Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?

Any opportunity to spend quality time with my family.

[Photo by Jonathan Lorange.]


Nathanael Larochette, Old Growth (2023)

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Quarterly Review: AAWKS & Aiwass, Surya Kris Peters, Evert Snyman, Book of Wyrms, Burning Sister, Gévaudan, Oxblood Forge, High Brian, Búho Ermitaño, Octonaut

Posted in Reviews on October 6th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk winter quarterly review

Last day, this one. And probably a good thing so that I can go back to doing just about anything else beyond (incredibly) basic motor function and feeling like I need to start the next day’s QR writeups. I’m already thinking of maybe a week in December and a week or two in January, just to try to keep up with stuff, but I’m of two minds about it.

Does the Quarterly Review actually help anyone find music? It helps me, I know, because it’s 50 records that I’m basically forcing myself to dig into, and that exposes me to more and more and more all the time, and gives me an outlet for stuff I wouldn’t otherwise have mental or temporal space to cover, so I know I get something out of it. Do you?

Honest answers are welcome in the comments. If it’s a no, that helps me as well.

Quarterly Review #41-50:

AAWKS & Aiwass, The Eastern Scrolls

AAWKS & Aiwass The Eastern Scrolls

Late on their 2022 self-titled debut (review here), Canadian upstart heavy fuzzers AAWKS took a decisive plunge into greater tonal densities, and “1831,” which is their side-consuming 14:30 contribution to the The Eastern Scrolls split LP with Arizona mostly-solo-project Aiwass, feels built directly off that impulse. It is, in other words, very heavy. Cosmically spaced with harsher vocals early that remind of stonerkings Sons of Otis and only more blowout from there as they roll forth into slog, noise, a stop, ambient guitar and string melodies and drum thud behind vocals, subdued psych atmosphere and backmasked sampling near the finish. Aiwass, led by multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Blake Carrera and now on the cusp of releasing a second full-length, The Falling (review here), give the 13:00 “The Unholy Books” a stately, post-metallic presence, as much about the existential affirmations and the melody applied to the lyrics as it moves into the drumless midsection as either the earlier Grayceon-esque pulled notes of guitar (thinking specifically “War’s End” from 2011’s All We Destroy, but there the melody is cello) into it or the engrossing heft that emerges late in the piece, though it does bookend with a guitar comedown. Reportedly based around the life of theosophy co-founder and cult figure Madame Helena Blavatsky, it can either be embraced on that level or taken on simply as a showcase of two up and coming bands, each with their own complementary sound. However you want to go, it’s easily among the best splits I’ve heard in 2023.

AAWKS on Facebook

Aiwass on Facebook

Black Throne Productions store

Surya Kris Peters, Strange New World

Surya Kris Peters Strange New World

The lines between projects are blurring for Surya Kris Peters, otherwise known as Chris Peters, currently based in Brazil where he has the solo-project Fuzz Sagrado following on from his time in the now-defunct German trio Samsara Blues Experiment. Strange New World is part of a busy 2023/busy last few years for Peters, who in 2023 alone has issued a live album from his former band (review here) and a second self-recorded studio LP from Fuzz Sagrado, titled Luz e Sombra (review here). And in Fuzz Sagrado, Peters has returned to the guitar as a central instrument after a few years of putting his focus on keys and synths with Surya Kris Peters as the appointed outlet for it. Well, the Fuzz Sagrado had some keys and the 11-song/52-minute Strange New World wants nothing for guitar either as Peters reveals a headbanger youth in the let-loose guitar of “False Prophet,” offers soothing and textured vibes of a synthesized beat in “Sleep Meditation in Times of War” (Europe still pretty clearly in mind) and the acoustic/electric blend that’s expanded upon in “Nada Brahma Nada.” Active runs of synth, bouncing from note to note with an almost zither-esque feel in “A Beautiful Exile (Pt. 1)” and the later “A Beautiful Exile (Part 2)” set a theme that parts of other pieces follow, but in the drones of “Past Interference” and the ’80s New Wave prog of the bonus track “Slightly Too Late,” Peters reminds that the heart of the project is in exploration, and so it is still very much its own thing.

Fuzz Sagrado on Facebook

Electric Magic Records on Bandcamp

Evert Snyman, All Killer Filler

evert snyman all killer filler

A covers record can be a unique opportunity for an artist to convey something about themselves to fans, and while I consider Evert Snyman‘s 12-track/38-minute classic pop-rock excursion All Killer Filler to be worth it for his take on Smashing Pumpkins‘ “Zero” alone, there is no mistaking the show of persona in the choice to open with The Stooges‘ iconic “Search and Destroy” and back it cheekily with silly bounce of Paul McCartney‘s almost tragically catchy “Temporary Secretary.” That pairing alone is informative if you’re looking to learn something about the South African-based songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and producer. See also “The Piña Colada Song.” The ’90s feature mightily, as they would, with tunes by Pixies, Blur, Frank Black, The Breeders and Mark Lanegan (also the aforementioned Smashing Pumpkins), but whether it’s the fuzz of The Breeders’ 1:45 “I Just Wanna Get Along,” the sincere acoustic take on The Beatles “I Will” — which might as well be a second McCartney solo cut, but whatever; you’ll note Frank Black and Pixies appearing separately as well — or the gospel edge brought to Tom Waits‘ “Jesus Gonna Be Here,” Snyman internalizes this material, almost builds it from the ground up, loyal in some ways and not in others, but resonant in its respect for the source material without trying to copy, say, Foo Fighters, note for note on “The Colour and the Shape.” If it’s filler en route to Snyman‘s next original collection, fine. Dude takes on Mark Lanegan without it sounding like a put on. Mark Lanegan himself could barely do that.

Evert Snyman on Facebook

Mongrel Records website

Book of Wyrms, Storm Warning

book of wyrms storm warning

Virginian heavy doom rockers Book of Wyrms have proved readily in the past that they don’t need all that long to set up a vibe, and the standalone single “Storm Warning” reinforces that position with four-plus minutes of solid delivery of craft. Vocalist/synthesist Sarah Moore Lindsey, bassist Jay “Jake” Lindsey and drummer Kyle Lewis and guitarist Bobby Hufnell (also Druglord) — the latter two would seem to have switched instruments since last year’s single “Sodapop Glacier” (premiered here) — but whatever is actually being played by whoever, the song is a structurally concise but atmospheric groover, with a riff twisting around the hook and the keyboard lending dimension to the mix as it rests beneath the guitar and bass. They released their third album, Occult New Age (review here), in 2021, so they’re by no means late on a follow-up, and I don’t know either when this song was recorded — before, after or during that process — but it’s a sharp-sounding track from a band whose style has grown only  more theirs with time. I have high expectations for Book of Wyrms‘ next record — I had high expectations for the last one, which were met — and especially taken together, “Storm Warning” and “Sodapop Glacier” show both the malleable nature of the band’s aesthetic, the range that has grown in their sound and the live performance that is at their collective core.

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Desert Records store

Burning Sister, Get Your Head Right

burning sister get your head right

Following on from their declarative 2022 debut, Mile High Downer Rock (review here), Denver trio Burning Sister — bassist/vocalist Steve Miller (also synth), guitarist Nathan Rorabaugh and drummer Alison Salutz — bring four originals and the Mudhoney cover “When Tomorrow Comes” (premiered here) together as Get Your Head Right, a 29-minute EP, beginning with the hypnotic nod groove and biting leads of “Fadeout” (also released as a single) and the slower, heavy psych F-U-Z-Z of “Barbiturate Lizard,” the keyboard-inclusive languid roll of which, even after the pace picks up, tells me how right I was to dig that album. The centerpiece title-track is faster and a little more forward tonally, more grounded, but carries over the vocal echo and finds itself in noisier crashes and chugs before giving over to the 7:58 “Looking Through Me,” which continues the relatively terrestrial vibe over until the wall falls off the spaceship in the middle of the track and everyone gets sucked into the vacuum — don’t worry, the synthesizer mourns us after — just before the noted cover quietly takes hold to close out with spacious heavygaze cavern echo that swells all the way up to become a blowout in the vein of the original. It’s a story that’s been told before, of a band actively growing, coming into their sound, figuring out who they are from one initial release to the next. Burning Sister haven’t finished that process yet, but I like where this seems to be headed. Namely into psych-fuzz oblivion and cosmic dust. So yeah, right on.

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Burning Sister on Bandcamp

Gévaudan, Umbra

Gévaudan UMBRA

Informed by Pallbearer, Warning, or perhaps others in the sphere of emotive doom, UK troupe Gévaudan scale up from 2019’s Iter (review here) with the single-song, 43:11 Umbra, their second album. Impressive enough for its sheer ambition, the execution on the extended titular piece is both complex and organic, parts flowing naturally from one to the other around lumbering rhythms for the first 13 minutes or so before a crashout to a quick fade brings the next movement of quiet and droning psychedelia. They dwell for a time in a subtle-then-not-subtle build before exploding back to full-bore tone at 18:50 and carrying through a succession of epic, dramatic ebbs and flows, such that when the keyboard surges to the forefront of the mix in seeming battle with the pulled notes of guitar, the ensuing roll/march is a realization. They do break to quiet again, this time piano and voice, and doom mournfully into a fade that, at the end of a 43-minute song tells you the band could’ve probably kept going had they so desired. So much the better. Between this and Iter, Gévaudan have made a for-real-life statement about who they are as a band and their progressive ambitions. Do not make the mistake of thinking they’re done evolving.

Gévaudan on Facebook

Meuse Music Records website

Oxblood Forge, Cult of Oblivion

Oxblood Forge Cult of Oblivion

In some of the harsher vocals and thrashy riffing of Cult of Oblivion‘s opening title-track, Massachusetts’ Oxblood Forge remind a bit of some of the earliest Shadows Fall‘s definitively New Englander take on hardcore-informed metal. The Boston-based double-guitar five-piece speed up the telltale chug of “Children of the Grave” on “Upon the Altar” and find raw sludge scathe on “Cleanse With Fire” ahead of finishing off the four-song/18-minute EP with the rush into “Mask of Satan,” which echoes the thrash of “Cult of Oblivion” itself and finds vocalist Ken McKay pushing his voice higher in clean register than one can recall on prior releases, their most recent LP being 2021’s Decimator (review here). But that record was produced for a different kind of impact than Cult of Oblivion, and the aggression driving the new material is enhanced by the roughness of its presentation. These guys have been at it a while now, and clearly they’re not in it for trends, or to be some huge band touring for seven months at a clip. But their love of heavy metal is evident in everything they do, and it comes through here in every blow to the head they mete out.

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Oxblood Forge on Bandcamp

High Brian, Five, Six, Seven

High Brian Five Six Seven

The titular rhythmic counting in Austrian heavy-prog quirk rockers High Brian‘s Five, Six, Seven (on StoneFree Records, of course) doesn’t take long to arrive, finding its way into second cut “Is it True” after the mild careening of “All There Is” opens their third full-length, and that’s maybe eight minutes into the 40-minute record, but it doesn’t get less gleefully weird from there as the band take off into the bassy meditation of “The End” before tossing out angular headspinner riffs in succession and rolling through what feels like a history of krautrock’s willful anti-normality written into the apocalypse it would seemingly have to be. “The End” is the longest track at 8:50, and it presumably closes side A, which means side B is when it’s time to party as the triplet chug of “The Omni” reinforces the energetic start of “All There Is” with madcap fervor and “Stone Came Up” can’t decide whether it’s raw-toned biker rock or spaced out lysergic idolatry, so it decides to become an open jam complete people talking “in the crowd.” This leaves the penultimate “Our First Car” to deliver one last shove into the art-rock volatility of closer “Oil Into the Fire,” where High Brian play one more round of can-you-follow-where-this-is-going before ending with a gentle cymbal wash like nothing ever happened. Note, to the best of my knowledge, there are not bongos on every track, as the cover art heralds. But perhaps spiritually. Spiritual bongos.

High Brian on Facebook

StoneFree Records website

Búho Ermitaño, Implosiones

Búho Ermitaño Implosiones

Shimmering, gorgeous and richly informed in melody and rhythm by South American folk, Búho Ermitaño‘s Implosiones revels in pastoralia in opener “Herbie” before “Expolosiones” takes off past its midpoint into heavy post-rock float and progressive urgency that in itself is more dynamic than many bands even still is only a small fraction of the encompassing range of sounds at work throughout these seven songs. ’60s psych twists into the guitar solo in the back half of “Explosiones” before space rock key/synth wash finishes — yes, it’s like that — and only then does the serene guitar and, birdsong and synth-drone of “Preludio” announce the arrival of centerpiece “Ingravita,” which begins acoustic and even as it climbs all the way up to its crescendo maintains its peaceful undercurrent so that when it returns at the end it seems to be home again at the finish. The subsequent “Buarabino” is more about physical movement in its rhythm, cumbia roots perhaps showing through, but leaves the ground for its second half of multidirectional resonances offered like ’70s prog that tells you it’s from another planet. But no, cosmic as they get in the keys of “Entre los Cerros,” Búho Ermitaño are of and for the Earth — you can hear it in every groove and sun-on-water guitar melody — and when the bowl chimes to start finale “Renacer,” the procession that ensues en route to the final drone is an affirmation both of the course they’ve taken in sound and whatever it is in your life that’s led you to hear it. Records like this never get hype. They should. They are loved nonetheless.

Búho Ermitaño on Facebook

Buh Records on Bandcamp

Octonaut, Intergalactic Tales of a Wandering Cephalopod

Octonaut Intergalactic Tales of a Wandering Cephalopod

In concept or manifestation, one would not call Octonaut‘s 54-minute shenanigans-prone debut album Intergalactic Tales of a Wandering Cephalopod a minor undertaking. On any level one might want to approach it — taking on the two-minute feedbackscape of “…—…” (up on your morse code?) or the 11-minute tale-teller-complete-with-digression-about-black-holes “Octonaut” or any of their fun-with-fuzz-and-prog-metal-and-psychedelia points in between — it is a lot, and there is a lot going on, but it’s also wonderfully brazen. It’s completely over the top and knows it. It doesn’t want to behave. It doesn’t want to just be another stoner band. It’s throwing everything out in the open and seeing what works, and as Octonaut move forward, ideally, they’ll take the lessons of a song like the mellow linear builder “Hypnotic Jungle” or nine-minute capper “Rainbow Muffler Camel” (like they’re throwing darts at words) with its intermittent manic fits and the somehow inevitable finish of blown-out static noise. As much stoner as it is prog, it’s also not really either, but this is good news because there are few better places for an act so clearly bent on individualism as Octonaut are to begin than in between genres. One hopes they dwell there for the duration.

Octonaut on Facebook

Octonaut’s Linktr.ee

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