Album Review: Here Lies Man, Ritual Divination

Posted in Reviews on January 5th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

here lies man ritual divination

Ritual Divination is billed as the fourth full-length from Los Angeles outfit Here Lies Man. The release it follows is 2019’s No Ground to Walk Upon (review here), which at 26 minutes was shorter than either of their first two albums — 2017’s self-titled debut (review here) and 2018’s You Will Know Nothing (review here) — and at the time billed as an EP. This is bookkeeping, but Ritual Divination is the fourth Here Lies Man album and not the third, it only brings into emphasis the dilemma facing the band at this stage in their development. That is, for founding guitarist/vocalist Marcos Garcia (aka Chico Mann) and drummer Geoff Mann, as well as bassist JP Maramba and keyboardist Doug Organ, the central innovation of their work has always been conceptual. Here Lies Man‘s project began with the intention of bringing together classic-style heavy rock and proto-metallic riffs and tones with Afrobeat-derived rhythms and percussion. It has worked and continues to work well for them, but Ritual Divination brings them face-first up against the question of what comes next? When you’ve started out from such an individualized point, what can you do to maintain not just your own interest, but that of your listenership as well?

My understanding, limited at the best of times, is that the vinyl edition of Ritual Divination leaves off the tracks “Can’t Kill It,” “Run Away Children,” “I Wander,” “You Would Not See From Heaven” (a highlight) and “Cutting Through the Tether,” all of which are listed on the digital version, the latter closing. Okay. Entirely possible that the band or RidingEasy Records, which has put out everything they’ve done to-date, didn’t want to do a 2LP pressing the first time out. But as it stands, the ‘complete’ Ritual Divination runs 15 songs and 60 minutes long, more than doubling No Ground to Walk Upon and easily surpassing the first two records as well. Glut of inspiration? Certainly possible, and if so, good for them. But it also goes to answer the question above of what a band can do when their central innovation has already been accomplished. In the case of Here Lies Man, their restless snare, post-Black Sabbath riffs, clavinet and psychedelic undertones sound like a signature in songs like “Collector of Vanities” and “Underland,” even as they work in new and more complex ideas. So that’s what you do. You refine what you’ve done before.

You bring new textures to an insistent groove like “Night Comes.” You open the record with its trip-doomiest inclusion “In These Dreams,” which flows into the landmark that is “I Told You (You Shall Die),” the two of them making for an immersion effect clearly intentional on the part of the band since they’re the two longest songs on the vinyl — on the download, “Cutting Through the Tether” bookends at 5:26; I’m not sure how many songs are actually on the CD but of course the full hour would fit — and you shift from there into a series of flowing nods, from the relative brevity of the 2:29 “Underland” into the national acrobatics of “What You See” and the shuffle and swirl that arrives in “Can’t Kill It,” a deceptive fullness of wash playing out above all that movement of rhythm. As one would expect from Here Lies Man, most of their songs are in the three-to-four-minute range, but individual tracks stand out on Ritual Divination in ways they haven’t before, whether it’s the crunch of guitar in “Run Away Children” or the boogie-mastery of “I Wander,” and even amid a collection that resides on the other side of what one commonly things of unmanageable in terms of runtime, pieces find a way to distinguish themselves.

here lies man (Photo by Anna Azarov)-2000

And taken as a whole, that’s what Ritual Divination does as well — it finds a way to stand out. It doesn’t throw out the accomplishments Here Lies Man have made over the last several years as they’ve dug into their niche of heavy rock. It digs deeper. It is the tightest assemblage they’ve had in terms of structure, and yet the songs still feel spacious and even when hurried in tempo, hurried with a purpose rather than feeling haphazard in construction or underexplored in terms of craft. Ritual Divination isn’t deceptive in its atmosphere — it’s all right there for you to hear, and they make it as plain as they can for the audience by putting the two longer songs at the fore — but the band’s concept has always been somewhat heady and it remains so. How versed in Afrobeat is the average listener of heavy rock and roll? I haven’t taken a survey to find out, and maybe at this point it doesn’t matter, since (apparently) four records deep into their tenure, it’s entirely possible to put on centerpiece “Night Comes” or the subsequent side B run of “Come Inside,” “Collector of Vanities,” “Disappointed” and “You Would Not See From Heaven” and just go where Here Lies Man take you.

Certainly the band have earned that trust at this point, and ultimately, if one looks at Ritual Divination in context of their overarching progression, the shifts it represents in approach — notably, they recorded as a four-piece for the first time — and the tweaks to their sound and style aren’t all that different from how another group might grow naturally and explore new ideas from album to album. It’s just the starting point that’s different, and so as Here Lies Man dig deeper into that claim they’ve staked in terms of aesthetic, they’re all the more identifiable for the work they’ve put in. But throw all that out for a second and what you end up with on Ritual Divination is still arguably the band’s strongest collection of tracks, and by the time you get down to “The Fates Have Won” and “Out Goes the Night” ahead of the drifting-away-but-still-snare-anchored “Cutting Through the Tether,” that’s what’s going to matter more. Ritual Divination does not reinvent what doesn’t need reinventing. It demonstrates the longer arc of creative development and direction one hopes the band will continue to take. They remain unto themselves in sound and style.

Here Lies Man website

Here Lies Man on Thee Facebooks

Here Lies Man on Bandcamp

RidingEasy Records website

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Spelljammer Announce New LP Abyssal Trip out Feb. 26; Post “Lake”

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 17th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Oh hello feedback. Oh hello drums. Oh hello pummeling riff. Oh hello Spelljammer. It’s been a while. Indeed, half a decade has gone by since the Stockholm-based heft hefters released Ancient of Days (review here) in October 2015, their debut album, though to listen to the crush they foster in the seven-minute “Lake,” which is the first audio to be unveiled from the forthcoming second LP, Abyssal Trip, it hardly feels like a day. The three-piece will release Abyssal Trip — as in, “a trip to the abyss”; one can only assume they’re speaking in terms of tone — on Feb. 26, which is just far away enough to think that the world might be on some course toward restoration of ‘life as we knew it,’ though even saying that makes me fear the alternative, as I suspect it will into perpetuity.

Whatever reality greets it upon its arrival, the world needs more crushing riffs, and Spelljammer seem only too pleased to provide. You can read the PR wire info below — and you should, because information is good, knowledge is power and all that — and check out “Lake” at the bottom of this post because I genuinely believe it’ll make your day better.

Album preorders are up through RidingEasy Records, and the link is right on the other side of the cover art:

spelljammer abyssal trip

SPELLJAMMER (RidingEasy Records) first single from first new album in 5 years

Pre-orders: https://www.ridingeasyrecs.com/product/spelljammer-abyssal-trip/

“The vastness of everything is something that I think about a lot,” says Spelljammer bassist/vocalist Niklas Olsson. And it certainly shows in both the expansive, sludgy sounds and contemplative lyrics of the Stockholm, Sweden based trio. Following a 5-year break between their previous album, Ancient of Days — perhaps fittingly spent pondering said vastness — Spelljammer is back with an album that perfectly bridges the band’s earlier desert rock leanings and their later massive, slow-burning riffs.

Abyssal Trip (note: carefully re-read that album title) takes its moniker from the perpetually dark, cold, oxygen-free zone at the bottom of the ocean. The 6-song, 44-minute album fittingly embodies that bleak realm with rumbling, oozing guitars intercut with dramatic melodic interludes. The songs take their time to unfurl, making them even more hypnotic. Likewise, the lyrics take a poetic approach to establishing the sonic scenery.

“The lyrical themes we address, like the ultimate doom of man, and the search and longing for new and better worlds, are still there,” Olsson says. “The concept of something undiscovered out there in vast emptiness is pretty much always present.”

The recording process for Abyssal Trip differs from previous releases in that the band — guitarist Robert Sörling, drummer Jonatan Rimsbo and Olsson — opted to capture the performances while holed up in the mental bathysphere of a house in the countryside near Stockholm. “The songs benefitted from the relaxed environment of being away from everything,” Olsson explains. Indeed, the album sounds confident and meticulously arranged, afforded by the band’s isolation. Sörling mixed the album and it was mastered by Monolord drummer Esben Willems at Berserk Audio.

Album opener “Bellwether” begins dramatically with a very slow, nearly minute-long fade in of rumbling distortion setting the stage for heavily distorted bass and guitar plucking out the lugubrious riff for another minute and a half before the drums begin, and likewise equally as long before vocals gurgle to the surface. “Lake” abruptly shifts gears, opening with an unusually fast gallop before rupturing into thundering doom that soon drops into a clean-tone Middle Eastern melodic breakdown. The title track serves as the album centerpiece, opening with ominous film dialogue about blood sacrifice that launches into pummeling, detuned guitars rumbling over gut-punching drums and howling vocals hearkening to the proto-sludge of Pink Floyd’s “The Nile Song.” The dynamic relents briefly for a slow building clean guitar melody before all instruments lock into a jerking riff topped off by a trilling Iommi style lead. Throughout, Abyssal Trip is, just like its title suggests, an epic tour through desolate zones which yields much to discover.

Abyssal Trip will be available everywhere on LP, CD and download on February 26th, 2021 via RidingEasy Records.

Artist: Spelljammer
Album: Abyssal Trip
Label: RidingEasy Records
Release Date: February 26, 2021

01. Bellwether (6:38)
02. Lake (7:04)
03. Among The Holy (6:18)
04. Abyssal Trip (10:38)
05. Peregrine (2:22)
06. Silent Rift (10:09)

Spelljammer are:
Niklas Olsson: bass/vocals
Robert Sörling: guitar
Jonatan Rimsbo: drums

spelljammer.bandcamp.com
facebook.com/Spelljammer
ridingeasyrecords.com

Spelljammer, “Lake”

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Blackwater Holylight Finish Recording New Album

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 15th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Blackwater Holylight have a new record in the can, and if you’ve spent the better part of your day, week, month, etc., doomscrolling various endtimes scenarios of escalating culture-war-as-actual-war, climate crisis, rampant plague, and so on, this might just be enough to hang your hat on for a little bit. 2019’S Veils of Winter (review here) was easily among the most repeat-listenable offerings of that so-long-ago-now year, and the fact that the Portland-based heavy psych rockers have returned to work with engineer Dylan White bodes well, even as they also brought in A.L.N. of Mizmor to produce.

What the hell, something to look forward to. I’m still pretty bitter about not getting to catch Blackwater Holylight for what would’ve been the first time in my beloved Garden State on their game-called-on-account-of-pandemic tour with All Them Witches, but at least it’s good to know they were writing songs this year. You may also likely note in the studio picture below that synthesist Sarah Mckenna is very, very pregnant. The band noted in an earlier post she’s at nine months, so cheers on that and here’s hoping the studio had someplace comfortable to sit.

Obviously I haven’t seen a release plan or even a title for what will be Blackwater Holylight‘s third album, presumably for RidingEasy Records, but when I do I’ll let you know. In the meantime, if you want to take the opportunity to pay Veils of Winter a revisit, it’s as good a time as any and the Bandcamp stream follows here.

The band’s Instagram post was short and sweet and went like this:

blackwater holylight in studio

That’s a wrap! Was such a pleasure working with @whollydoomedblackmetal and @glasswavs… fucking dream team, dream family, we are bursting! Excited to share with you all soon.

https://www.facebook.com/blackwaterholylight/
instagram.com/blackwaterholylight
blackwaterholylight.bandcamp.com
ridingeasyrecs.com

Blackwater Holylight, Veils of Winter (2019)

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Here Lies Man Announce Ritual Divination out Jan. 22; “I Told You (You Shall Die)” Streaming Now

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 27th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

If I’m extraordinarily lucky, I’ll have the new single from Here Lies Man stuck in my head for the rest of the day. “I Told You (You Shall Die)” is a righteous lead cut from Jan. 2021’s Ritual Divination, which is the follow-up to 2019’s No Ground to Walk Upon EP (review here). As ever for the L.A.-based outfit, their sound brings niche cultism to Afrobeat-shuffling proto-metal, psychedelic flourishes of key and guitar set to dance to a rhythm that’s all their own in a heavy context. One does not necessarily expect a single track to speak for an entire Here Lies Man release at this point, since they’ve proven multiple times over on their 2017 self-titled debut (review here) and 2018 sophomore full-length, You Will Know Nothing (review here), that they’re able to veer in multiple directions without losing their footing in terms of craft, but I’ll say that the forward riff in “I Told You (You Shall Die)” is likewise welcome and doomed as a first impression. And the solo scorches.

This band is a treasure.

Ritual Divination is out Jan. 22 on RidingEasy. “I Told You (You Shall Die)” is streaming at the bottom of this post.

Art and info from the PR wire follows:

here lies man ritual divination

Here Lies Man – Ritual Divination – Jan. 22

Los Angles, CA quartet Here Lies Man announce their forthcoming fourth album Ritual Divination today and share the lead single “I Told You (You Shall Die)” via YouTube, Bandcamp and Spotify.

Four albums in, the convenient and generalized catchphrase for Here Lies Man’s erudite sound — if Black Sabbath played Afrobeat — might seem a little played out. But Ritual Divination is perhaps the best rendering of the idea so far. Particularly on the Sabbath side of the equation: The guitars are heavier and more blues based than before, but the ancient rhythmic formula of the clave remains a constant.

“Musically it’s an opening up more to traditional rock elements,” says vocalist/guitarist/cofounder Marcos Garcia, who also plays guitar in Antibalas. “It’s always been our intention to explore. And, as we travelled deeper into this musical landscape, new features revealed themselves.”

The L.A. based band comprised of Antibalas members have toured relentlessly following their breakout 2017 self-titled debut. Their second album, You Will Know Nothing and an EP, Animal Noises, both followed in 2018. Third album No Ground To Walk Upon emerged in August 2019. All of them were crafted by Garcia and cofounder/drummer Geoff Mann (former Antibalas drummer and son of jazz musician Herbie Mann) in their L.A. studio between tours. Ritual Divination is their first album recorded as the full 4-piece band, including bassist JP Maramba and keyboardist Doug Organ.

Ritual Divination continues with an ongoing concept of HLM playing the soundtrack to an imaginary movie, with each song being a scene. “It’s an inward psychedelic journey, the album is the trip,” Garcia says. “The intention and purpose of the music is to create a sonic ritual to lift the veil of inner space and divine the true nature of reality.”

Likewise, musically and sonically, the album is self-reflexive. “On this album the feel changes within a song,” Garcia says. “Whereas before each song was meant to induce a trancelike state, now more of the songs have their own arc built in.” Similarly, the guitar sounds themselves herein eschew the fuzz pedals of previous recordings, going for the directness of pure amp overdrive and distortion using an interconnected rig of 4 amplifiers. And, here, the well-versed live band is able to record as a unit, giving it much more of a live and dynamic feel.

“We’re very conscious of how the rhythms service the riffs,” Garcia explains. “Tony Iommi’s (Black Sabbath) innovation was to make the riff the organizing principle of a song. We are taking that same approach but employing a different organizing principle: For Iommi it was the blues, for us it comes directly from Africa.”

Ritual Divination will be available on LP, CD and download on January 22nd, 2021 via RidingEasy Records.

Artist: Here Lies Man
Album: Ritual Divination
Record Label: RidingEasy Records
Release date: January 22nd, 2021

01. In These Dreams
02. I Told You (You Shall Die)
03. Underland
04. What You See
05. Can’t Kill It
06. Run Away Children
07. I Wander
08. Night Comes
09. Come Inside
10. Collector of Vanities
11. Disappointed
12. You Would Not See From Heaven

hereliesman.com
facebook.com/hereliesman
hereliesman.bandcamp.com
ridingeasyrecs.com

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Quarterly Review: Mrs. Piss, Ulcerate, Shroom Eater, Astralist, Daily Thompson, The White Swan, Dungeon Weed, Thomas V. Jäger, Cavern, Droneroom

Posted in Reviews on October 9th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

THE-OBELISK-FALL-2020-QUARTERLY-REVIEW

Today is what would be the last day of the Fall 2020 Quarterly Review, except, you know, it’s not. Monday is. I know it’s been a messed up time for everybody and everything, but there’s a lot of music coming out, so if you’re craving some sense of normalcy — and hey, fair enough — it’s right there. Today’s an all-over-the-place day but there’s some killer stuff in here right from the start, so jump in and good luck.

And don’t forget — back on Monday with the last 10 records. Thanks for reading.

Quarterly Review #41-50:

Mrs. Piss, Self-Surgery

mrs piss self surgery

If “Nobody Wants to Party with Us” as the alternately ambient/industrial-punk fuckall of that song posits, most likely that’s because they’re way too intimidated to even drop a text to invite Mrs. Piss over. The duo comprised of vocalist/guitarist Chelsea Wolfe and guitarist/bassist/drummer/programmer Jess Gowrie issue Self-Surgery as an act of sheer confrontation. The screams of “You Took Everything.” The chugging self-loathing largesse of “Knelt.” The fuzzed mania of ‘M.B.O.T.W.O.,” which, yes, stands for “Mega Babes of the Wild Order.” The unmitigated punk of “Downer Surrounded by Uppers” and the twisted careen-and-crash of the title-track. The declaration of purpose in the lines, “In the shit/I’m sacrosanct/I’m Mrs. Piss” in the eponymous closer. Rage against self, rage against other, rage and righteousness. Among the great many injustices this year has wrought, that Wolfe and Gowrie aren’t touring this material, playing 20-something-minute sets and destroying every stage they hit has to be right up there. It’s like rock and roll to disintegrate every tired dude cliché the genre has. Yes. Fuck. Do it.

Mrs. Piss on Instagram

Sargent House website

 

Ulcerate, Stare into Death and Be Still

Ulcerate Stare into Death and Be Still

As progressive/technical death metal enjoys a stylistic renaissance, New Zealand’s Ulcerate put out their sixth full-length, Stare into Death and Be Still and seem right in line with the moment despite having been around for nearly 20 years. So be it. What distinguishes Stare into Death and Be Still amid the speed-demon wizardry of a swath of other death metallers is the sense of atmosphere across the release and the fact that, while every note, every guitar squibbly, every sharpened turn the 58-minute album’s eight tracks make is important and serves a purpose, the band don’t simply rely on dry delivery to make an impression. To hear the cavernous echoes of the title-track or “Inversion” later on, Ulcerate seem willing to let some of the clarity go in favor of establishing a mood beyond extremity. In the penultimate “Drawn into the Next Void,” their doing so results in a triumphant build and consuming fade in a way that much of their genre simply couldn’t accomplish. There’s still plenty of blast to be found, but also a depth that would seem to evoke the central intention of the album. Don’t stare too long.

Ulcerate on Thee Facebooks

Debemur Morti Productions on Bandcamp

 

Shroom Eater, Ad.Inventum

shroom eater ad inventum

Nine songs running an utterly digestible 38 minutes of fuzz-riffed groove with samples, smooth tempos and an unabashed love for ’90s-style stoner rock, Shroom Eater‘s debut album, Ad.Inventum feels ripe for pickup by this or that heavy rock label for a physical release. LP, CD and tape. I know it’s tough economic times, but none of this vinyl-only stuff. The Indonesian five-piece not only have their riffs and tones and methods so well in place — that is, they’re schooled in the style they’re creating; the genre-converted preaching to the genre-converted, and nothing wrong with that — but there are flashes of burgeoning cultural point of view in the lead guitar of “God Isn’t One Eyed” or the lyrics of “Arogant” (sic) and the right-on riffed “Traffic Hunter” that fit well right alongside the skateboarding ode “Ride” or flourish of psychedelia in the rolling “Perspective” earlier on. Closing with “Dragon and Tiger” and “Friend in the High Places,” Ad.Inventum feels like the work of a band actively engaged in finding their sound and developing their take on fuzz, and the potential they show alongside their already memorable songwriting is significant.

Shroom Eater on Instagram

Shroom Eater on Bandcamp

 

Astralist, 2020 (Demo)

astralist 2020 demo

I’m not usually one to think bands should be aggrandizing their initial releases. It can be a disservice to call a demo a “debut EP” or album if it’s not, since you only get one shot at having an actual first record and sometimes a demo doesn’t represent a band’s sound as much as the actual, subsequent album does, leading to later regret. In the case of Cork, Ireland’s Astralist, it’s the opposite. 2020 (Demo) is no toss-off, recorded-in-the-rehearsal-space-to-put-something-on-Bandcamp outing. Or if it is, it doesn’t sound like it. Comprised of three massive slabs of atmospheric and sometimes-extreme doom, plus an intro, in scope and production value both, the 36-minute release carries the feel and the weight of a full-length album, earning its themes of cosmic destruction and shifting back and forth between melodic progressivism and death-doom or blackened onslaught. In “The Outlier,” “Entheogen” and “Zuhal, Rise” they establish a breadth and an immediate control thereof, and their will to cross genre lines gives their work a fervently individualized feel. Album or demo doesn’t ultimately matter, but what they say about Astralist‘s intentions does.

Astralist on Thee Facebooks

Astralist on Bandcamp

 

Daily Thompson, Oumuamua

daily thompson oumuamua

Lost in the narrative of initial singles released ahead of its actual arrival is the psychedelic reach Dortmund trio Daily Thompson bring to their fourth album, Oumuamua. Yes, “She’s So Cold” turns in its second half to a more straightforward heavy-blues-fuzz push, but the mellow unfurling that takes place at the outset continues to inform the proceedings from there, and even through “Sad Frank” (video posted here) and “On My Mind” (video posted here), and album-centerpiece “Slow Me Down,” the vibe remains affect by it. Side B has its own stretch in the 12-minute “Cosmic Cigar (Oumuamua),” and sandwiched between the three-minute stomper “Half Thompson” and the acoustic, harmonized grunge-blues closer “River of a Ghost,” it seems that what Daily Thompson held back about the LP is no less powerful than what they revealed. It’s still a party, it’s just a party where every room has something different happening.

Daily Thompson on Thee Facebooks

Noisolution website

 

The White Swan, Nocturnal Transmission

The White Swan Nocturnal Transmission

Following up 2018’s Touch Taste Destroy (review here), Ontario’s The White Swan present their fourth EP in Nocturnal Transmission. That’s four EPs, in a row, from 2016-2020. If the trio — which, yes, includes Kittie‘s Mercedes Lander on vocals, drums, guitar and keys — were waiting to figure out their sound before putting out a first full-length, they were there two years ago, if not before. One is left to assume that the focus on short releases is — at least for now — an aesthetic choice. Like its predecessor, Nocturnal Transmission offers three circa-five-minute big-riffers topped with Lander‘s floating melodic vocals. The highlight here is “Purple,” and unlike any of the other The White Swan EPs, this one includes a fourth track in a cover of Tracy Bonham‘s “Tell it to the Sky,” given likewise heft and largesse. I don’t know what’s stopping this band from putting out an album, but I’ll take another EP in the meantime, sure.

The White Swan on Thee Facebooks

The White Swan on Bandcamp

 

Dungeon Weed, Mind Palace of the Mushroom God

Dungeon Weed Mind Palace of the Mushroom God

A quarantine project of Dmitri Mavra from Skunk and Slow Phase, Dungeon Weed is dug-in stoner idolatry, pure and simple. Mavra, joined by drummer Chris McGrew and backing vocalist Thia Moonbrook, metes out riff after feedback-soaked, march-ready, nod-ready, dirt-toned riff, and it doesn’t matter if it’s the doomier tolling bell of “Sorcerer with the Skull Face” or the tongue-in-cheek hook of “Beholder Gonna Fuck You Up” or the brash sludge that ensues across the aptly-named “Lumbering Hell,” all layered solos and whatnot, the important thing is that by the time “Mind Palace” comes around, you’re either out or you’re in, and once you make that choice there’s no going back on it. Opener “Orcus Immortalis/Vox Mysterium” tells the tale (or part of it, as regards the overarching narrative), and if ever there was a band that could and would make a song called “Black Pudding” sound heavy, well, there’s Dungeon Weed for you. Dungeon Weed, man. Don’t overthink it.

Dungeon Weed on Thee Facebooks

Forbidden Place Records website

 

Thomas V. Jäger, A Solitary Plan

thomas v jager a solitary plan

The challenge of rendering songcraft in the nude can be a daunting one for someone in a heavy band doing a solo/acoustic release, but it’s a challenge Thomas V. Jäger of Monolord meets with ease on the home-recorded A Solitary Plan, his solo debut. Those familiar with his work in Monolord will recognize some of the effects used on his vocals, but in the much, much quieter context of the seven-song/29-minute solo release — Jäger plays everything except the Mellotron on the leadoff title-track — they lend not only a spaciousness but a feeling of acid folk serenity to “Creature of the Deep” and “It’s Alright,” which follows. Mixed/mastered by Kalle Lilja of Långfinger, A Solitary Plan is ultimately an exploration on Jäger‘s part of working in this form, but it succeeds in both its most minimal stretches and in the electric-inclusive “The Drone” and “Goodbye” ahead of the buzzing synth-laced closer “The Bitter End.” It would be a surprise if this is the only solo release Jäger ever does, since so much of what takes place throughout feels like a foundation for future work.

Thomas V. Jäger on Bandcamp

RidingEasy Records website

 

Cavern, Powdered

CAVERN POWDERED

Change has been the modus operandi of Cavern for a while now. They still show some semblance of their post-hardcore roots on their new full-length, Powdered, but having brought in bassist/vocalist Rose Heater in 2018 and sometime between then and now let out of Baltimore for Morgantown, West Virginia, their sonic allegiance to a heavier-ended post-rock comes through more than ever before. Guitarist/synthesist Zach Harkins winds lead lines around Heater‘s bass on “Grey,” and Stephen Schrock‘s drums emphasize tension to coincide, but the fluidity across the 24-minute LP is of a kind that’s genuinely new to the band, and the soul in Heater‘s vocals carries the material to someplace else entirely. A song like “Dove” presents a tonal fullness that the title-track seems just to hint at, but the emphasis here is on dynamic, not on doing one thing only or locking their approach into a single mindset. As Heater‘s debut with them, Powdered finds them refreshed and renewed of purpose.

Cavern on Thee Facebooks

Cavern on Bandcamp

 

Droneroom, …The Other Doesn’t

droneroom the other doesnt

Droneroom is the solo vehicle of guitarist Blake Edward Conley and with …The Other Doesn’t, experiments of varying length and degree of severity are brought to bear. The abiding feel is spacious, lonely and cinematic as one might expect for such guitar-based soundscaping, but “Casual-Lethal Narcissism” and “The Last Time Someone Speaks Your Name” do have some measure of peace to go with their foreboding and troubling atmospherics. An obvious focal point is the 15-minute dronefest “This Circle of Ribs,” which feels more forward and striking than someone of Droneroom‘s surrounding material, but it’s all on a relative scale, and across the board Conley remains a safe social distance away from structural traditionalist. Recorded during Summer 2020, it is an album that conveys the anxiety and paranoia of this year, and while that can be a daunting thing to face in such a way or to let oneself really engage with as a listener — shit, it’s hard enough just living through — one of the functions of good art is to challenge perceptions of what it can be. Worth keeping in mind for “Home Can Be a Frightening Place.”

Droneroom on Thee Facebooks

Humanhood Recordings on Bandcamp

 

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Friday Full-Length: Monolord, Empress Rising

Posted in Bootleg Theater on September 25th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Seeing the appeal of Monolord‘s Empress Rising doesn’t require an especially deep dive. Issued in April 2014 through what was then EasyRider Records — and it was bullshit they had to change the name, but RidingEasy has certainly been no worse for the wear since — the Gothenburg, Sweden, trio’s debut full-length is comprised of five tracks running 46 minutes given to massive, tectonic tonality, far off, watery vocals, and a consuming, nigh-on-irresistible nodding groove that runs across the entirety of the thing regardless of the tempo or volume of what’s actually being played.

Guitarist/vocalist Thomas Jäger, bassist Mika Häkki and drummer/coffee-enthusiast Esben Willems hit into a time-tested/time-approved formula of tonal largesse and hard-hitting landing that, by the time they were halfway through the 12-minute opener and longest track (immediate points) “Empress Rising,” seemed to denote them with the sense of royalty they were conveying in the lyrical repetitions of the song’s/album’s title. Listening back to it with six subsequent years of hindsight, it feels like a clarion — a call to worship for the converted that caps with a swirling solo and moves smoothly into the next round of pummeling with the emergence of the instrumental “Audhumbla.”

And of course, by then, Empress Rising is well under way, and nearly a third of its runtime is dedicated to that leadoff track. Reasonably so. On paper, what makes Monolord‘s first outing so effective could hardly be simpler: it’s very, very heavy. But what that doesn’t tell you is how it’s heavy. I’m a fan generally of burying vocals in the mix to play up a notion of big-sounding guitar and bass, and certainly that’s going on here with Jäger‘s effects-laden voice cutting through as though up from a watery grave, but it’s also a question of impact with Monolord. Plenty of bands play loud, play thick, but Empress Rising brought a sense of hitting hard to that as well in Häkki‘s way, way underrated bass work and in Willems‘ drumming.

I remember hearing it at the time and placing the three-piece mentally in the kind of post-Electric Wizard sphere of riff-worship that had been taking shape since the Dorset doom legends put out Witchcult Today, but that’s not ultimately what Monolord were after in terms of style. Their approach to heavy throughout — and this was their first offering, the band having formed in 2013 with Jäger and Willems coming outmonolord empress rising of Marulk and Häkki, originally from Finland, a former member of Rotten Sound — was raw not in presentation, but in its core. It was a barebones, primitive take that nonetheless was able to harness memorable progressions through hammering riffs and repeated lines into the heads of their listeners. See “Empress Rising” itself, as well as “Harbinger of Death.” And if you weren’t a convert by then on your way to place a backpatch order, “Icon” and “Watchers of the Waste” stood like sentry reinforcements waiting to unleash further crush, each progression seeming to manifest the sound of a boulder rolling downhill, demolishing whatever might have the misfortune to be in its path.

They were well-hyped in 2014, and fair enough. What struck me the first time I saw them play live (review here) wasn’t just the size of the crowd they brought in, but indeed, the way they seemed to slam home each part of their songs, geared for maximum crater-making. However, what I didn’t take into account was how much their approach would resonate especially with a next-generation fanbase. Not the stonerrock.com crowd, but those finding bands through the YouTube algorithm, through social media word of mouth and other such Millennial/post-Millennial means. And how new to that crowd what Monolord were doing would be as “Watchers of the Waste” stomped to its swinging, would-be-languid-if-it-weren’t-so-bludgeoning, about-to-fall-apart-the-whole-time finish.

Not that those people hadn’t heard SleepElectric Wizard, etc., or couldn’t at that point have seen them play live, but the difference really is one of generation. Already so well established as leaders of genre and influential, those bands inherently couldn’t be fresh-sounding in the way a new group putting out their first record could. The energy behind Empress Rising was different, and it put a charge into those who heard it that quickly thrust Monolord into the upper echelon of heavy acts in the middle and later heavy ’10s, the arguments in the band’s favor much bolstered through the hard work they put in touring and the fact that they seemed to realize and take hold of the momentum as they were building it, returning to the studio on the quick to work on their next record.

When you think about bands who emerged over the last decade, the advent of Monolord and the brash way they elbowed into underground consciousness have to be considered. In a busy European sphere that a few years earlier saw the rise of Kadavar in similar generational circumstances — though of course a different aesthetic — Monolord flourished, and by meeting the demands of festivals from Roadburn to Freak Valley to Psycho Las Vegas, the band’s reputation only seemed to grow.

In 2015, they offered up the second LP, Vænir (review here), and that together with 2017’s Rust (review here) found them pushing forward in terms of sound, adding a feeling of space to the proceedings and beginning to take psychedelic cues building on elements like Jäger‘s vocals throughout Empress Rising or even the wah-coated lead that caps the title-track, by now a recognizable landmark for the band even as they’ve progressed beyond it in terms of their craft. In late 2018, they signed to Relapse Records and went on to offer my pick for 2019’s album of the year in No Comfort (review here), their fourth album a triumph that underscored the notion of their being a way forward for them creatively, so that they weren’t trapped or typecast by what they did on Empress Rising, but able to continue to grow as they will.

There was no way to know six years ago the band that Monolord would become over the next half-decade (-plus), but if you look beneath the earth-flattening force of Empress Rising, there are hints to find of what VænirRust and No Comfort would bring. Think of it as having fun with hindsight. To wit, the record’s been through something like nine pressings and Monolord have put out an alternate version that’s all-instrumental (as they have for the second and third LPs, I think). One way or the other, Empress Rising was a crucial moment of arrival for a band whose influence could be almost immediately felt in the wake of their debut.

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

I shaved about two minutes off my run just now by making the simple decision to go faster. The mornings are darker than they were. A few weeks ago I’d watch the sun start to come up circa 5:45AM, now I’m out and back in the dark. It has been taking me, loosely, about 14 minutes to go 1.3 miles around my neighborhood, up the big hill, around through the little walking park, back down, up and around to the house. Doing that in 12 minutes isn’t breaking any land-speed records, I’m all too aware, but it was satisfying to decide to do a thing and to do it.

Among the things I most miss about having an (active) eating disorder is the sense of control. To be in charge of my body was a glorious thing. I decided what went in and when and how it came out. It was a beautiful, often disgusting, sometimes painful process. But what isn’t? I have felt myself out of control lately. I’ve also decided to grow out my beard a bit and that’s messing with my perception of how my face looks. But stress in the house, the dog, the kid, etc. It is a lot, and I have found that anytime I seem to feel anything, it manifests in food/weight-related concerns. It isn’t even conscious, but I’ve caught it happening after the fact and lately have asked myself, “Did I really have too much almond butter for dessert or am I just tired of stepping in dog piss EVERY FUCKING DAY?”

You know, the big, important questions.

“Don’t be crazy,” has ascended to the level of personal mantra.

I’m so ready to get rid of the dog. So ready. The Pecan is now pointedly scared of being near her, because she jumps on him and bites him, and even as he’s swinging his arms and legs to hit and kick her will yell “No Omi!” as loud as he can. Unfortunately — I would argue for everyone — as ready as I am, I’m equal parts not-in-charge of making that decision. Apparently.

Today is my 16th wedding anniversary. 09.25.04. Morale in the house is low. The Patient Mrs. is teaching an extra online class this semester and that, in combination with reworking her regular classes to suit pandemic-time teaching, has resulted in her spending longer days in front of her laptop doing the less-preferred parts of her job. I am a fucking wretch, as usual. Heightened only by the dog, who as I see it has made everything worse while bringing zero joy into the house. Zero. No joy. It has been well over two months at this point. Net negative.

The Pecan is getting up. He will run in the closet soon and take a dump, then need to be changed. He will delay on his way down the stairs and then kick me when I finally lay him down to change his diaper because, well, he hates getting his diaper changed and has since he was about four months old and was capable of forming an opinion about anything. One might think such a child would embrace the notion of potty-training, but then one would be showing an incomplete awareness of toddler-logic, which is to say, the logic one might encounter from the average chimpanzee or a super-smart potbelly pig. He’ll be three next month and has had a runny nose for the last three weeks.

It has been… a challenge. I took a whole xanax yesterday afternoon and fell asleep on the couch while he beat me with Matchbox cars. First thing he did when I got him yesterday afternoon from upstairs after he blew off his nap — fucking again — was smack me in the groin. Granted that’s about at his smacking level, height-wise, but I wasn’t splitting hairs so much at the time as I was seeing stars. Doesn’t even matter anymore.

He had his speech assessed this week, and we haven’t gotten the official scorecard yet — which I’m assuming is somehow sponsored by the new Dew Garita! — but the teacher was impressed with his vocabulary. They must have asked him about trucks. Kid can tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the difference between a front-end loader and a backhoe, and if you don’t already know that difference, drop me a comment and I’ll be glad to fill you in.

We’re going to Connecticut today, staying over at The Patient Mrs.’ mother’s not-winterized place on the shoreline. I haven’t slept there yet this season, but I prefer it there Spring and Fall anyway, as it gets too hot for me in July/August. Anyway, We were going to go Saturday but our niece texted and asked if she could hang out with us while her mother and brother did something else and fucking a, I’ll drive north in I-95 afternoon traffic for that kid any and every day of the week. She was born the night Obama got elected. It was magic. A hope for a greater future that would seem to have evaporated in the looming, swollen face of fascism.

I don’t think I have time to get into the American political situation. I’ll say rest in peace RBG, they should’ve indicted those cops in Louisville who straight-up murdered Breonna Taylor in bed, and hooray for 200,000 COVID deaths! That’s like a fifth of the global total! Come on people, winter’s coming. I know we can hit 300k by January! USA! USA! USA!

Also, Biden’s gonna lose. Even if he wins, he’ll lose. Calling it now. I’ll be like doom metal’s own Nate Silver — everything predicted in the most pessimistic terms possible. “Uh, well Brian, current polls show we’re universally fucked.”

But hey, I gotta go get this kid from upstairs and then get in the shower because I stink like the fetid corpse of American democracy. Who fucking cares how Aaron Sorkin would write it? The New York Times is clueless. Post another news piece about the super-rich home-schooling their children while sailing around the world, why don’t you? Really live up to that East Coast liberal elite stereotype. Fucking hell.

Have a great and safe weekend. Wear your mask and for god’s sake put your fucking nose in it. Jesus. How hard is that?

I’m off. Gimme show and lots of good reviews next week. Don’t forget to hydrate. So important. And this went longer than I originally intended, so thanks again for reading if you made it this far.

FRM.

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The Well Post “Sabbah” Live in Quarantine Video; Should Probably Be Touring

Posted in Bootleg Theater on September 2nd, 2020 by JJ Koczan

the well

One has to assume that if all were even close to being right in the world, Austin trio The Well would be spending a goodly portion of 2020 on the road. Such narratives are familiar enough by now when it comes to touring bands — yet still somehow sad — but as their home nation and mine continues its descent into reactionary fascism against the majority of public will, feels the ravages of climate change in various fires and storms — and firestorms! — and yes, still boasts tens of thousands of new cases of a not-so-global-anymore pandemic every. single. day., creativity will not be stifled. Perhaps that will be the last refuge before whatever grim fate the next several years might bring. Perhaps it will save us in the end. I won’t profess to know how it’s gonna work out.

But while things are bleak and growing bleaker with each executive tweet actively courting white supremacy, The Well have a new video. I know. Sometimes when you look at the stakes of shit happening in the world right now, these things seem minor, but you have to understand that they’re not. The fact is creativity matters — and no, that’s not a play on or a contradiction of Black Lives Matter, because jesus fucking christ Black Lives Fucking Matter and what the fuck did your parents do to you if you think otherwise, I’m just saying art is important — especially in times of turmoil. Consider the crucial output of Weimar Germany, film and paintings capturing the foreboding of that era. I wonder if decades from now people will look at the work being done in 2020 and feel the palpable sense of how we knew something was going and had gone horribly wrong, and were aware of the dangers we faced every day.

It all feels completely overwhelming, and it is. Whether you use the new The Well video for a few minutes of escapism, or just to see some color in a universe that looks increasingly grey, or just to check out the song, I’m not going to argue. It is the function of art, consciously or not, to reflect the moment of its creation in the interpretation of those making it. “Sabbah,” this live-captured version of the track from The Well‘s 2019 third album, Death and Consolation (review here), is a work in which the circumstance itself becomes part of the expression. Recorded separately by the members of the band, each then filming their part alone, they are seen spliced together, evoking the sum-of-their-parts cliché maybe, but emphasizing the importance of group function even in a moment that demands and enforces solitude.

Did The Well mean for all that to be in the video? I don’t know. Maybe they’re just trying to keep a little momentum going since they can’t, as noted, be touring. I don’t think that lessens the validity of the above. If you do, I guess you can start your own blog and write about it.

Enjoy the video:

The Well, “Sabbah” live quarantine video

During a global pandemic, an American political revolt and a new world in quarantine, one has to consider fresh ways to view the production of videos and making and performing music in unchartered territory, unlike anything this generation has seen before. The Well tackled just that when faced with creating a video for their single ‘Sabbah’ from their most recent release Death and Consolation. With a limited time frame and social distancing in full effect, The Well had to get creative, channeling a psychedelic dark experience through a very different means. Each member of the band (Ian Graham on guitar, Jason Sullivan on drums, and Lisa Alley on bass) recorded their parts individually with sound engineer, TV’s Daniel, masked up in their practice space in Austin, Texas.

The next night, on a small outdoor set, each band member filmed their respective video parts solo, joined only by TV’s Daniel as masked director and videographer. The scenes were then inter-woven together into a mesmerizing smokey psychedelic dreamscape using 3 cameras and projector lights to reconstruct the group experience. All said and done, this live version of Sabbah was recorded, mixed, shot and edited in a three day quarantine time turnaround, resulting in a unique and experimental piece of work that encapsulates the energy of The Well’s live performance, despite being surrounded by nothing but uncertainty and detachment in the world around them.

The Well, Death and Consolation (2019)

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The Well website

RidingEasy Records website

RidingEasy Records on Instagram

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R.I.P. Announce Oct. 9 Release for Dead End; Stream “Out of Time”

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 16th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

The piano that shows up in the new R.I.P. track is a nice touch. I’m serious. It adds a little bit of the unexpected amid all the grit-covered tones and harsh vibes that otherwise pervade. I wouldn’t call it classy, exactly — because context, right? — but it fits well with what the PR wire ultra-aptly describes as their “post-apocalyptic grunge.” Fuck I wish I could come up with something as good as that.

Alas.

R.I.P. issued their debut album, Street Reaper (review here), in Oct. 2017, so they’re right about three years out by the time Dead End shows up, and in the interim, they toured abroad (played Desertfest London in 2019), changed out their lineup and hit the studio with Billy Frickin’ Anderson at the helm. To call the time productive seems an understatement.

You can hear “Out of Time” at the bottom of this post. Cover art follows and album info follows here, fresh off the PR wire:

rip dead end

R.I.P. share first single from forthcoming album Dead End

Portland Street Doom band returns with crushing new sound, new lineup

Portland, OR ‘Street Doom’ quartet R.I.P. announce their forthcoming third album Dead End today, sharing the first single “Out of Time.”

When R.I.P. came crawling out of the sewers of Portland, OR four years ago, their grimy, sleazy Street Doom was already a fully formed monstrosity that quickly infected the minds of everyone it encountered. At the time, none of us expected its depravity to take such fierce hold, and yet, here were are, sheltering in place and/or stealthily creeping through a nightmare dystopia that the 80s sci-fi/horror movies foretold.

Dead End is, ironically, a recharge of the band’s sound, bearing influences ranging from John Carpenter films, post-apocalyptic grunge, pro-wrestling attitude and salty lo-fi hip-hop aesthetics to the band’s ferocious heavy metal.

During the three years since the 2017 release of their sophomore album Street Reaper, R.I.P. has been busy tightening their sound and their line up while loosening their grip on sanity – touring the west coast with bands like Electric Wizard and Red Fang, and taking Street Doom overseas for the first time for a month long headlining tour of Europe. These years on the road and the addition of a more aggressive rhythm section have allowed the band to fully break free from their influences and deliver on the promise hinted at on their first two releases.

For Dead End, R.I.P. worked with legendary producer Billy Anderson, interring onto wax their heaviest and most ambitious album yet. Continuing to move further away from their classic doom influences like Pentagram and Saint Vitus, the band offers a rare blast of originality in a scene rife with formulaic bands. Dead End is a fast and anxious ride where the very idea of doom is put to the test under duress of manic lyrics about death, insanity, and leather, and hook-laden guitar tracks that draw as equally from Nirvana as Black Sabbath.

Dead End will be available on LP, CD and download on October 9th, 2020 via RidingEasy Records.

Artist: R.I.P.
Album: Dead End
Label: RidingEasy Records
Release Date: October 9, 2020

01. Streets of Death
02. Judgement Night
03. Dead End
04. Nightmare
05. One Foot In The Grave
06. Death Is Coming
07. Moment of Silence
08. Buried Alive
09. Out of Time
10. Dead Of The Night

facebook.com/R.I.P.P.D.X
instagram.com/R.I.P.P.D.X
braveinthegrave.bandcamp.com
ridingeasyrecords.com

R.I.P., “Out of Time”

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