Notes From Bear Stone Festival 2024 — Day 3

Posted in Features, Reviews on July 7th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

Before Show; In the food tent, then Jam Stage

Me and my silly ADHD brain left my bucket hat back at Rooms Daniela. Big mistake. Also no sunblock anywhere in my luggage, which I feel like is even dumber now that I’m here. There’s no definition of “adult” that doesn’t apply to me. I should be better at this stuff by now.

That will make finding and staying in shade all the more urgent, and my pale form will burn as though torched like the cosmos by Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs themselves, but cancer is later-me’s problem, and he’ll deal with burns, tumors and such as need be. But yeah, might spend more time in the press area today, which is covered. There are also a couple clouds here and there to provide periodic relief. I’ll do my best, but it is sweat-while-stationary hot. More water. It will be okay. The music will start. Night will come.

Took a ride back into town with friends during Mother Vulture yesterday, as I mentioned near the end of that post, but I didn’t actually get to sleep until around 5AM. I was caught up sorting photos, which on my not-that-new-anymore laptop is less efficient than it used to be, and then just couldn’t quite key down. I guess the adrenaline that carried me through had a half-life. So it goes. I got up at 10AM, so not entirely sleepless, but yeah. The second long festival day here is going to be a trip, I think.

You could see the Milky Way banded across the sky as I made my way out last night, which was perhaps all the more valued as I missed out on stargazing during my recent Southwest US jaunt. A stirring reminder that we are all gas and dust revolving at however many hundreds of thousands of miles of hour around a supermassive black hole, which I feel like is worth keeping in mind anytime you might be tempted to think a thing matters or has any kind of permanence as humanity sits one EM pulse away from the Stone Ages. I could go on here, but it doesn’t seem in the spirit of things to be comforted by hopelessness. If nothing matters, you understand, it’s okay that I forgot my hat.

It is impossible to ignore the idyllic nature of this space; a forested canyon carved out by the Mrežnica, if I have it right, and the swimmers, canoers, kayakers, campers, and lawn-layers are correct to take advantage of the river, the trees, the grass, all of it. I’m a little too in my own head for that kind of whatnot, but that doesn’t stop me from seeing the pricelessness of the physical location and layout both for the attendees now and as Bear Stone continues to build on its to-date accomplishments, as one hopes it will.

However cool it will look in the aftermovie and all the posts people will put on Instagram once they’re back where there’s cell signal, the character of this spot is more perfect than a single sensory media can capture. I could do with fewer dudes urinating in random corners — I get it, bro, you’re drunk and you love nature, but the portajohn is two meters that way and the composting toilet is another five beyond that; you don’t need to pee in the river either — but you take the bad with the good, and as regards this place and this fest, it’s an easy trade to make.

Time to start this thing. Here we go.

Azutmaga

I’ve false-started on writing about Azutmaga three times now, which I guess means I’ve had enough coffee. The Hungarian instrumental two-piece — I’m pretty sure the guitarist said they were from Hungary; magyarok vannak, szerintem — got started quietly and kept a subdued, meditative vibe throughout, despite getting fairly heavy at times. They have a new album, which I will want to chase down hearing after seeing them play. Put it in my notes to remember. Just guitar and drums, though there were more effects pedals on the floor than some entire bands had, so perhaps an expansive sound isn’t a shock, but the languid groove hit me with the right kind of soothe, and in my shady stairs spot, maybe 10 steps up of the total a-whole-bunch, I watched as the pavilion likewise casually packed out, the comings and goings. A sprig from one of the trees above me fell into my lap and I stuck it behind my ear. It didn’t last, but I mention it because it seemed like a fitting thing to do as Azutmaga played, delving into some slower nod as they emerged from a wandering drift, apparently playing their new record — I’m sorry, I didn’t catch the name and can’t look it up; I assure you I mean no disrespect — and exploring through one fluid jam into the next, no pretense about it but ready to build it into a fuller nod, patiently. The guitar player spent most of the set facing the drummer head on, turned away from the crowd — one imagines them on a differently arranged stage set up next to each other, though I have no idea if they actually do that — but it didn’t matter. The focus was on trance, immersion, and I was grateful for the chance to let go of some of the anxious buzz for a bit.

Rifftree

As pure riff and volume worship as I’ve yet seen at Bear Stone from the weekend’s second duo — and right in a row; a duology of duos –Rifftree had guitar and bass tones dialed in through separate amps to maximize volume and depth, and it worked well. They were more about rolling largesse than Azutmaga initially, and both the bass player and the drummer offered rough-edged vocal shouts, but it was the way the low and high ends of the riffs were arranged that made it work so well for me. One or the other would click off, guitar or bass sound, then snap back in a manner no less satisfying for being so clearly telegraphed. They sped up and slowed down, more High on Fire here, more Sleep there, as will happen, but the dirty tone was vivid and central, with some raw feedback for extra scathe on the sludge and pummel. It was a threat that lingered when they drew back the onslaught for a nod-out, and the set was more effective for that. Not the first time I’ve said this this weekend, I know, but I swear I heard a Kyuss riff in there somewhere. Fair use in the building of such stonerly shrines. They capped with a welcome insistence of chug and shove brought to a sudden halt, and I have to think that if they were called Bong-anything, you’d already have heard of them.

I walked back over to the Sviraj!Jam and caught a few seconds of Colour Haze soundchecking. They weren’t even playing songs yet, though that would come after Rifftree finished and could be heard over by the pavilion for the Mill Stage, but I could still sit for hours and just listen to that band meander. Gladly.

Acidsitter

Throbbing heavy psych rockers Acidsitter, whose slogan “make acid great again” — it’s also the name of their record — just kind of feels tragic coming from the States, where this notion of greatness apparently translates to christofascism, were a good time. The performative elements of their two guitarists’ stage costumes were contrasted by the bassist who mostly sat on an amp case, but the vibe was potent either way. They wove between drift and thrust, synthy flourish for a touch of prog but not much more than that as their priorities were clear from the outset. They would enact a full-tone nod topped with a duly classic-style solo, but they didn’t dwell in any one place for so long as to sacrifice volatility, and wherever they went, they continued to serve the song or the moment they were in, whether that was vocal effects, a guitar played with a wisk, or a sudden turn to garage-ier push. More bass on the synth was the request, which brought about a worthy rumble to match the bass on — wait for it — the bass, and in true acid rock fashion, they felt punk-born even in the calmest parts. I’m not sure which side of their approach was druggier, but after a while it all kind of forms a haze anyway. People caught on as the set played out, and though there was a near-heroic dose of chicanery, Acidsitter held together around the rhythm section and the close-your-eyes-and-go groove thereof. Another record in the notes.

Kayleth

Kayleth on the Mill Stage. I know their stuff, had an idea what was coming, so wasn’t caught off guard when they space-blasted desert riffing with synth and theremin during “We Are Aliens.” Headlining the Mill Stage puts the five-piece in a tight space, but there’s something cool about that too, right? I don’t get to European club shows every decade, so the chance to experience a band in a smaller setting works for me. I’ve heard a few complaints about how the Mill Stage and the Jam Stage should switch, and maybe that would work, but at least with the bands who’ve played it this far, I don’t think it’s held anyone back. Just the opposite, and that goes for Kayleth as well. I can’t always hang in a crowd press — okay, I never can — but I know that’s not the case for everyone or nobody would ever go to gigs, which I’m told people still do sometimes. Kayleth were easily worth showing up for, and I don’t honestly know if they usually do bigger or smaller shows, but they owned that space easily, like veterans, and put on a show that was fueled as much by heart as by the tone of the guitar. Of course the synthesizer expanded their dynamic, but it wasn’t by any means alone in that between the backing vocals, loud/quiet and tempo trades. A lot to dig, so I dug.

Nemeček

A deeply pleasant surprise were Nemeček, whose style brought together pieces of soulful Eastern European folk, progressive rock and post-metal, space rock, electronic noise and probably six or seven other styles I’m not cool enough to know about. They had given a few short teases during soundcheck, playing half of this or that song, and even from that it was clear something equal parts divergent and special was about to take place. I knew nothing about them prior other than they’d be here, but consider myself fortunate to have seen them. All three members sat, though the keyboardist did get up regularly as well, and the acoustic guitar (or something to it; pardon my ignorance if I’m wrong) still tapped deep into a sense of heavy that was about more than sound in terms of atmosphere, though when they hit a pulse coming out of a melodic contemplation, they had power behind it. That made their set that much richer, but again, that wasn’t something they were leaning on, just part of a more encompassing whole. I wonder how it comes across on record — like a lot of things, the production would matter — but even from the photo pit, the textures they unfurled were unlike anything I’ve seen in the last three days, and they spoke to traditionalism in a way that only enhanced their individual impression. I hear they’re local. In any case, Nemeček is a band I am glad to have seen. Now I know.

Blitzpop

Aptly named, if you take the blitz as signaling the energy with which Blitzpop took and commanded the stage and ‘pop’ to mean hooks, of which the four-piece brought plenty enough for everyone and generously offered them in with boogie as a bonus. Classic in a ’70s via ’90s way, they were for sure a turn from the more severe persona cast by Nemeček — perhaps that doesn’t apply to the catchy chorus that went “Kill that motherfucker” — but even that they made fun, though I wouldn’t want to be the motherfucker in question, as their argument was pretty convincing if you count the tempo kick later in the song. A quick plug for merch, then back to the hook. They were another one about whom I knew squat, but they did a bit of “woo! woo! woo!” and ululating to bring the crowd with them and locked soon enough into a groove that at least to my ears sounded like Rage Against the Machine, not that they were at risk at that point in the set — a little more than halfway through, probably — of only doing one thing. They toyed with funk, but never lost track of where a song was headed, and as the direct sun beat down on the Main Stage, they kept the momentum up. In the back, in the shade, where I was, people ate and drank and chatted and dogs played chasing each other around as Blitzpop closed out with a Blur-style “woo hoo” that I have no doubt I’ll still be hearing on repeat in my head when I’m trying to sleep tonight. Hazards of the trade.

I ate. This part is mostly for my wife, to whom I’ve not spoken in an actual day — not unheard of if I’m off somewhere, but rare even so — but it was such a joy that I don’t mind sharing. It was a local cheese that tasted to me like sheep’s milk and was divine, and tomato stuffed with cheese, garlic and truffle flanked with greens — greens! — that was whatever the next step up from divine is. Transcendent? Probably. Not my first experience with the sustaining nature of sustenance, but after nothing but nuts for the last three days, it was a pretty amazing moment in my life that I’d like to remember. It was so good. I finished those, but have more for later. Still a lot of day left, but the sun has started to recede, which is something else I’m thankful for.

Them Moose Rush

Weren’t the band I thought they were, but were way funkier than that band, so I’ll take it. Distinguished by a tendency toward unexpected pivots, you could probably hear as much noise as punk or heavy rock in what they were doing, but it seemed clear in the intention to get bodies moving in the crowd, which it did through the course of their hour-long set, and with a notable range from their guitarist’s vocals, they immediately felt like a standout. Again, not what I had been expecting, but better. I’ll admit I’m having trouble getting over how good the bass sounds here, echoing around as it does, but Them Moose Rush were as much about the subtly mathy twists as the heavier stretches to which they alternately did and didn’t lead, and that coupled with the rampant falsetto and vocal reach, the badass bass, the ready-when-you-are drumming made for another shift on the Main Stage, but a natural one coming off of Blitzpop, who also used heavy rock as a starting point for their own purposes in craft. They went hard a couple times, and had now-we-riff-big there when they needed it, but they were just as likely to find themselves in head-down push or someplace else entirely. I’ve heard a lot of rock and roll this weekend, so if I’m repeating myself, I’m sorry, but the bottom line is they made their own kind of sense stylistically and seemed to work from the ethic of conforming genre to them rather than the other way around.

1000mods

I don’t know how much I have to say about 1000mods that I didn’t say when I saw them like a month ago, but hell, Greece’s foremost heavy rockers once more justified that title, taking the Bear Stone crowd on a ride that barely let up even when a guitar gave out and they had to fill the time with a sampled loop and cymbal wash. I had 1000mods tunes stuck in my head for weeks after Freak Valley, and if the same happens when I leave here, I won’t complain. They moved the festival into the portion of the night that’s basically three headliners back to back (to back), between themselves, Colour Haze and Kadavar, and I don’t know how you don’t get into them if you have any place in your heart for heavy rock. They’re pros; they take the stage and do their show. And if you’ve ever seen them, you know that means something. “Their show.” They got rolling again after the technical interruption like nothing had ever happened. It’s never a good time for that kind of thing, but if you have to deal with it, before “Vidage” is when you want to. The audience, clapping along to the drums — and with good fucking reason — sang along, put hands in the air and gave the band back the energy that burst from the stage, and whether I said it last time or not, it remains true: 1000mods are one of the best bands of their generation. And they’ve never done the same record twice, or given in to hackneyed songwriting or made any music other than that which they needed to make. Anytime you can see them, yes, do that.

Colour Haze

Speaking of generational bands, Colour Haze were soon to follow. I don’t like picking favorites, but I can’t think of anyone I’d rather see take a stage on a given night. They’re always finding a route, some new nuance, some turn or small improvisation or just some moment, to make it special. They made an hour and 15 minutes feel short, but it’s a festival set, so I’ll take what I can get. “Skydancer,” always a highlight. Jan Faszbender’s keys taking the spot where the horns go in “Transformation,” which closed. Mario Oberpucher playing the melody while Stefan Koglek takes a solo. And what on earth can you say about Manfred Merwald’s drumming. It had character, it’s intricate, tight on the guitar, but free-flowing, impactful when it needs to be. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen them, but I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that they’re part of the reason I do this in the first place. They’re inspiring, and only more so as they grow more progressive in sound and build on their foundation of heavy psychedelia, which itself set a path of influence so, so many bands have followed. Bands who at this point don’t even realize they’re influenced by Colour Haze because the bands they were trying to sound like were trying to sound like Colour Haze. That they were themselves is the highest compliment I can give them. They are my favorite band in the world.

Kadavar

Again, I caught them pretty recently, but I had cheesed out early on Kadavar’s set and lived to regret it last time, so I knew I wanted to make up for that to myself at Bear Stone. I know they’re long past the vintage thing, and I love those records too, but they have so much more room to grow now, and they have grown, and when they get on stage, the new and the old come together and it’s all united by the passion in the performance, the strut, the swing, vibrant. I love that they’re such a known quantity — they’re the last band tonight, third of the three headliners; people are familiar — but I have no idea what their next record will sound like beyond “it’ll probably have songs.” That’s the safer bet, anyhow. But whatever shape that takes, the fact of their delivery is that it’s encompassing of decades of heavy rock while remaining entirely their own. Onstage, they’re part glam, part hard-hitting, brazen rockers, never willing to settle artistically or stop pushing the parameters of their sound, but somehow so sure of what they do regardless of outside expectation or pressure. Of course the set was awesome. Kadavar were on a stage and the power didn’t go out. That’s a recipe for a winning way to close ab evening right there. I don’t know the status of the album they had been working on in the last however long, but it’s a no-brainer must-hear in my mind when the time comes. The same “duh, yes” principle applies to whenever the next opportunity to see them live might be.

Back at the room now, falling asleep at the keyboard a little bit. Long day, not enough sleep, blah blah you’ve heard it all before. I got a ride back from Nelly and Elias again this evening, and Nelly was the one who brought me food. She also gave me what she called “mishmash,” which was egg, roasted bell peppers, cheese and I think some tomato in there as well. I ate the last of it like five minutes ago and now I am ready for sleep.

Bear Stone’s second and final long day — tomorrow is back to just the Mill Stage — was a banger. You can see the potential all over this festival, and I’m too goddamned tired to see anything clearly right now. Thank you for reading, goodnight, and there are more photos after the read more thing. You know what I mean.

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

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

the obelisk winter quarterly review

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

Quarterly Review #1-10:

Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Slaughter on First Avenue

uncle acid and the deadbeats slaughter on first avenue

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

Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats on Facebook

Rise Above Records website

Graveyard, 6

graveyard 6

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

Graveyard on Facebook

Nuclear Blast website

Hexvessel, Polar Veil

hexvessel polar veil

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

Hexvessel on Facebook

Svart Records website

Godsground, A Bewildered Mind

Godsground A Bewildered Mind

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

Godsground Linktr.ee

Godsground on Bandcamp

Sleep Maps, Reclaim Chaos

sleep maps reclaim chaos

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

Sleep Maps website

Lost Future Records website

Dread Spire, Endless Empire

Dread Spire Endless Empire EP

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

Dread Spire on Instagram

Dread Spire on Bandcamp

Mairu, Sol Cultus

MAIRU Sol Cultus

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

Mairu on Facebook

Trepanation Recordings on Bandcamp

Throe, O Enterro das Marés

Throe O Enterro das Mares

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

Throe on Instagram

Abraxas Produtora on Instagram

Blind River, Bones for the Skeleton Thief

Blind River Bones for the Skeleton Thief

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

Blind River on Facebook

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Rifftree, Noise Worship

Rifftree Noise Worship

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

Rifftree on Facebook

Rifftree on Bandcamp

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