Friday Full-Length: Acid King, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere

Posted in Bootleg Theater on April 3rd, 2020 by JJ Koczan

You know how Olympic runners push their heads and chests forward at the end of a race to cut their time across the finish line? That’s me getting to this post, only I’m not in shape. And I’m flat-footed. And okay you know what, so maybe that’s not me, but the point is it’s been a long week and I’m glad to see the other end of it. Fine. You got me.

Let’s start over. “Try again?” as The Pecan says these days.

Time for a confession. Acid King‘s utterly brilliant 2015 album, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere (review here, track premiere here, interview here, slathered praise here and here), is one that — even with that glut of parenthetical “link here” coverage — I still feel guilty about not giving its due. Issued through Svart Records as what was the essential San Francisco trio’s first offering in a decade since 2005’s III (discussed here), it was far and away my favorite full-length released that year. I put it on and it’s still a record that strikes me as an ideal vision of what their kind of heavy rock should be.

It’s heavy — always a good start — and spacious, melodic and reaching outward, flowing and carrying a presence of tone that is established with the immersion that starts on its “Intro” and carries through the subsequent “Silent Pictures,” the superlatively-catchy “Coming Down from Outer Space,” through “Laser Headlights” and “Red River” and “Infinite Skies,” “Center of Everywhere” and the bookending “Outro” with variations in tempo but an unwavering central purpose in its nod and groove. Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere is as gritty as it is gorgeous, and five years later — if the band are feeling social-media savvy, perhaps they’ll put up a post noting the anniversary; that seems to be a thing bands do these days; fan engagement and all that — and from its staff-wielding-bony-fingered-Gandalf-riding-a-tiger-through-space-past-a-pockmarked-moon to the gong in “Laser Headlights,” the record exudes a righteousnessacid king middle of nowhere center of everywhere that, from the first time I heard it, I knew I was going to be living with it for years to come. It was, unquestionably, my album of the year.

And there’s the rub. Because when December came, it wasn’t.

It’s silly, I know, and it doesn’t really matter, I know, but I put a lot of thought into those year-end lists. Once they’re out there, that’s it. I may update them for a few days, add honorable mentions or something I forgot, whatever, but after that, they’re set, and years later, I look back on them to see what was going on when, how I felt about it at the time and where records and bands sat in relation to each other at least in my mind.

Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere was every bit my favorite album of 2015, but it wasn’t the album of the year. I gave that to Elder‘s Lore instead.

I remember it well, making the decision that morning as I was adding the final part of the post which I’d written over two days, and I decided that the Elder record was too important, too forward thinking and too massive in its immediate impact on the heavy underground to not be the release that defined the year. And five years later, I’d make the same decision. I don’t regret it. Lore was glorious, but I listened to the Acid King more, and I still listen to the Acid King more, so on a personal level, there’s some part of me that will forever feel like I undersold just how much I love these songs.

That’s a bummer, but even that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the album. How could it? How could anything but the end of the universe itself? Follow the river to the hills, man. Pray for the blast off.

Make no mistake, we’re not anywhere near the end of the universe, or even humanity. I’m not going to downplay the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic or my own country’s inept federal response that, mired in politics and petty ratings games, will only prolong it. But the universe’ll still be around another 10 billion years or so without us and, yeah, sorry, we just don’t matter that much. Even the planet feels better when we take a seat for a few weeks, and there’s recent environmental data to prove it.

But people are dying, and the projections are that many more will, and that the next two weeks will prove pivotal in determining the ultimate direction the outbreak takes. I don’t know what magic line exists thereafter to make it start to get better, but at least here in the New York area — which is the epicenter of the US’ woes, as ever — that’s what Judy Woodruff is saying, and hell’s bells, if you can’t trust Judy, then we might as well be done as a species.

The epidemic doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with my confession about the Acid King record. I’m not laying it all on the line in case I get sick and my lungs catch fire or some such. But Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere is another record from which I’ve derived significant comfort over the last five years. Something I put on when I’m sick of everything and just want to hear something I love and groove for a while. And so I hope maybe it can do a little bit of the same work for you, if maybe you’re anxious like everyone is, or you’re tired of everything, or you’re overwhelmed by the noise and misinformation that are so, so, so rampant and so unrelenting.

It’s okay to feel exhausted and overwhelmed. This is hard. I don’t even mean social distancing and isolation. I know people are hurting financially and that stress is always a killer — sometimes literally — and that over nine million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the last two weeks and that is both insane and unprecedented and it means that the multifaceted recovery from all of this will take years not the months being promised, but as screwed as we might all seem, at least music still sounds good.

At least there’s still that. Right?

Have a great and safe weekend. I wish you the best and continued health. Thanks for reading.

New Gimme show today at 5PM Eastern if you can listen. FRM.

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Agrabatti Sign to Interstellar Smoke Records for Beyond the Sun Release

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 24th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

In what might be called delightful happenstance if it actually were and I wasn’t just that behind on stuff, the just-reviewed San Francisco one-man space rock outfit Agrabatti have signed to Interstellar Smoke Records to release the debut album, Beyond the Sun, sometime between now and ever. When might that be? I don’t know, but let’s face it: the band formed in 2009 and it’s taking 11 years for the arrival of a first record. You can probably wait a little bit longer for it to show up on vinyl.

Though if you feel some urgency in that regard, I respect that, and to be honest, I get it. I know it was just reviewed in a batch with nine other records, but Chad Davis — whose pedigree is full of almost embarrassingly awesome projects at this point — absolutely nails a traditionalist ’70s-style space rock vibe, and the album is awesome. It was a highlight of my day, frankly, so if I get to talk about it again now, well, that’s a win as far as I’m concerned. Probably won’t be the last time, either.

Here’s hoping for a follow-up in sometime less than a decade:

agrabatti beyond the sun

It is with great pleasure that I announce Interstellar Smoke Records has formed a cosmic allegiance with Agrabatti. To say I am delighted is beyond the fact! ISR have an amazing track record of releases and their commitment to the underground music movement is beyond unparalleled!!

The debut recording “Beyond the Sun” will be released in the form of a “Dark Nebula” vinyl edition that is black in lime green wax and limited to 250 units with poster. All killer galactic visuals created by the legendary ZZ Corpse!! Release date to be announced once pressing info has been received.

I am grateful to Jack and ISR for believing in the music enough to offer their services to support the sound and ideals of Agrabatti, and to bring this project forth from the cosmic dust it was formed from some 11 years ago.

Stay tuned in, turned on and STAY COSMIC!

Chad Davis

https://facebook.com/agrabatti/
https://agrabatti.bandcamp.com/
https://interstellarsmokerecords.bigcartel.com/

Agrabatti, Beyond the Sun (2020)

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Quarterly Review: Khemmis, Mutant Flesh, War Cloud, Void of Sleep, Pretty Lightning, Rosy Finch, Ghost Spawn, Agrabatti, Dead Sacraments, Smokemaster

Posted in Reviews on March 24th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

quarterly review

Alarm went off this morning at 3:45. Got up, flicked on the coffee pot, turned the heat on in the house, hit the bathroom and was back in bed in four minutes with an alarm set for 4:15. Didn’t really get back to sleep, but the half-hour of being still was a kind of pre-waking meditation that I appreciated just the same. Was dozing when the alarm went off the second time, but it’s day two of the Quarterly Review, so no time to doze. No time for anything, as is the nature of these blocks of writeups. They tend to be all-consuming while they’re going on. Could be worse. Let’s roll.

Quarterly Review #11-20:

Khemmis, Doomed Heavy Metal

khemmis doomed heavy metal

Denver four-piece Khemmis have made themselves one of the most distinctive acts in metal, to say nothing of doom. With strong vocal harmonies out front backed by similarly-minded guitars, the band bring a sense of poise to doom that’s rare in the modern sphere, somewhat European in influence, but less outwardly adherent to the genre tenets of melancholy. They refuse to be Paradise Lost, in other words, and are all the more themselves for that. Their Doomed Heavy Metal EP (on 20 Buck Spin and Nuclear Blast) is a stopgap after 2018’s Desolation (review here) full-length, but at 38 minutes and six songs, it’s substantial nonetheless, headlined by the Dio cover “Rainbow in the Dark” — capably done with just a flair of Slough Feg — with a take on Lloyd Chandler‘s “A Conversation with Death” and “Empty Throne,” both rare-enough studio cuts, for backing, as well as three live cuts that cover their three-to-date albums. The growls on “Three Gates” are fun, but I’ll still take the Dio cover as the highlight. For a cobbled-together release, it feels at least like a bit of thoughtful fan-service, and really, a band could do worse than to serve their fans thoughtfully.

Khemmis on Thee Facebooks

20 Buck Spin store

Nuclear Blast Records store

 

Mutant Flesh, Evil Eye

mutant flesh evil eye

There are shades of doom metal’s origins underlying Mutant Flesh‘s first release, the eight-song/33-minute Evil Eye, but the Philly troupe are too gleeful in their weirdness ultimately to be paying full homage to the likes of Witchfinder General, and especially in a faster song like second cut “Meteoric” and the subsequent lead-guitar-flipout-and-vocal-soar title-track, they tap into the defiantly doomed vibe of earliest Saint Vitus. That’s true of the crawling “Euthanasia” as well, which crashes and nods as it approaches the six-minute mark as the longest inclusion here, but even the penultimate “Blight” brings that twisted-BlackFlag-noise-slowed-down spirit that lets you know there’s consciousness behind the chaos, and that while Mutant Flesh might seem to be all-the-way-gone, they’re really just getting started. Maybe their sound will even out over time, maybe it won’t, but for what it’s worth, they do ragged doom well from the opening “Leviathan (Lord of the Labyrinth)” onward, and feel right at home in the unhinged.

Mutant Flesh on Thee Facebooks

Mutant Flesh on Bandcamp

 

War Cloud, Earhammer Sessions

war cloud earhammer sessions

Having just shredded their way across Europe, War Cloud took their set into the Earhammer Studio with Greg Wilkinson at the helm in an attempt to capture the band in top form on their home turf. Did it work? The results on Earhammer Sessions (Ripple Music) don’t wait around for you to decide. They’re too busy kicking ass to take names, and if the resulting 29-minute burst is even half of what they brought to the stage on that tour, those must’ve been some goddamn shows. Songs like “White Lightning” and the snare-counted-in “Speed Demon” and “Striker” feel like they’re being given their due in the max-speed-NWOBHM-but-still-too-classy-to-be-thrash presentation, and honestly, this feels like War Cloud have found their method. If they don’t tour their next album and then hit the studio after and lay it down live, or at least as live as Earhammer Sessions is — one never knows as regards overdubs and isolation booths and all that — they’re doing themselves a disservice. War Cloud play metal. So what? So this.

War Cloud on Thee Facebooks

Ripple Music website

 

Void of Sleep, Metaphora

Void of Sleep Metaphora

Void of Sleep return after half a decade with the prog-doom stylings of their third album, Metaphora (Aural Music), which stretches dramatically through songs like “Iron Mouth” (11:00), preceded by the intro “The Famine Years” and the shorter “Unfair Judgements,” preceded by the intro “Waves of Discomfort,” and still somehow manage not to sound out of place tapping into their inner Soilwork in the growled verses/clean choruses of “Master Abuser.” They get harsh a bit as well on “Tides of the Mourning,” which uses its 10:30 to summarize the bulk of the proceedings and close out the record after “Modern Man,” but that song has more of a scope and feels looser structurally for that. Still, that shift is only one of several throughout Metaphora, which follows the Italian five-piece’s 2015 LP, New World Order (discussed here), and wherever Void of Sleep are headed at any given moment, they head there with a duly controlled presence. Clearly their last five years have not been wasted.

Void of Sleep on Thee Facebooks

Aural Music store

 

Pretty Lightning, Jangle Bowls

pretty lightning jangle bowls

As yet, Germany’s Pretty Lightning remain a well kept secret of fuzz-psych-blues nuance, digging out their own niche-in-a-niche-in-a-niche microgenre with a natural and inadvertent-feeling sense of just writing the songs they want to write. Jangle Bowls, which puts its catchy, semi-garage title-track early in the proceedings, is the duo’s second offering through Fuzz Club Records behind 2017’s The Rhythm of Ooze (review here), and seem to present a mission statement in opener “Swamp Ritual” before bringing a due sense of excursion to “Boogie at the Shrine” — damn that’s a smooth groove — and reviving the movement in “RaRaRa,” which follows. Closer “Shovel Blues” is a highlight for how it drifts into oblivion, but the underlying tightness of craft in “123 Eternity” and “Hum” is an appeal as well, so it’s a tradeoff. But it’s one I’ll be glad to make across multiple repeat visits to Jangle Bowls while wondering how long this particular secret can actually be kept.

Pretty Lightning on Thee Facebooks

Fuzz Club Records store

 

Rosy Finch, Scarlet

rosy finch scarlet

The painted-blood-red cover of Rosy Finch‘s second album, Scarlet (on Lay Bare Recordings), and horror-cinema-esque design isn’t a coincidence in terms of atmosphere, but the Spanish trio bring a more aggressive feel to the nine-track outing overall than they did to their 2016 debut, Witchboro (review here), with additional crunch in the guitar of Mireia Porto (also vocals and bass) and bassist Elena Garcia, and a forward kick drum from Lluís Mas that hammers home the impact of a cruncher like “Ruby” and even seems to ground the more melodic “Alizarina,” which follows, let alone the crushing opener/longest track (immediate points) “Oxblood” or its headspinning closing companion “Dark Cherry,” after which follows the particularly intense hidden cut “Lady Bug,” also not to be missed. Anger suits Rosy Finch, it seems, and the band bring a physicality to the songs on Scarlet that only reinforces the sonic push.

Rosy Finch on Thee Facebooks

Lay Bare Recordings store

 

Ghost Spawn, The Haunting Continuum

Ghost Spawn The Haunting Continuum

Brutal, gurgling doom-of-death pervades The Haunting Continuum from Denver one-man-unit Ghost Spawn, and while the guitar late in “Escaping the Mortal Flesh” seems momentarily to offer some hope of salvation, rest assured, it doesn’t last, and the squibbly central riff returns with its extremity to prove once more that only death is real. Multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Kevin Berstler is the lone culprit behind the project’s first full-length and second release overall (also second this year, so he would seem to work quickly), and across 43 minutes that only grow more grueling as they proceed through the centerpiece title-track and into “The Terrors that Plague Nightly” and the desolate incantations of “Exiled to the Realm of Eternal Rot,” there are some hints of cleaner grunts that have made their way through — a kind of repeated “hup” vocalization — but this too is swallowed in the miasma of cave-echo guitar, drums-from-out-of-the-abyss, and raw-as-peeled-flesh production. Can’t get behind that? Probably you and 99.9 percent of the rest of humanity. For us slugs, though, it’s just about right.

Ghost Spawn on Thee Facebooks

Ghost Spawn on Bandcamp

 

Agrabatti, Beyond the Sun

agrabatti beyond the sun

It’s kosmiche thrust and watery vibes when Agrabatti go Beyond the Sun. What’s there upon arrival? Nothing less than a boogie down with Hawkwind at the helm of a spacey spaced-out space rocking chopper that you shouldn’t even be able to hear the revving engine of in space and yet somehow you can. Also synth, pulsating riffs and psych-as-all-golly-gosh awakenings. Formed in 2009 by Chad Davis — then just out of U.S. Christmas, already at that point known for his work in Hour of 13 and a swath of other projects across multiple genres — and with songs begun to come together at that time only to be shelved ahead of recording this year, Beyond the Sun sat seemingly in some unreachable strata of anomalous subspace, for 11 years before being rediscovered from its time-loop like Kelsey Grammer in that one episode of TNG, and gorgeously spread across the quadrant in its five-cut run, with its cover of the aforementioned Hawkwind‘s “Born to Go” so much at home among its companions it feels like, baby, it’s already gone. Do you need sunglasses in the void? Shit yeah you do.

Agrabatti on Thee Facebooks

Agrabatti on Bandcamp

 

Dead Sacraments, Celestial Throne

Dead Sacraments Celestial Throne

Four sprawling doom epics comprise the 2019 debut album — and apparently debut release — from Illinois four-piece Dead Sacraments, who themselves are comprised from three former members of atmospheric sludgers Angel Eyes, who finished their run in 2011 but released the posthumous Things Have Learnt to Walk That Ought to Crawl (review here). Those are guitarist Brendan Burchell, bassist Nader Cheboub and drummer Ryan Croson, and together with apparently-self-harmonizing vocalist/guitarist Mark Mazurek, they cast a doom built on largesse in tone and scope alike, given an air of classic-metal grandiosity but filtered through a psych-doom modernity that feels aware of what the likes of Pallbearer and Khemmis have done for the genre. Nonetheless, as a first record, Celestial Throne shines its darkness brightly across its no-song-under-nine-minutes-long lumber, and affirms the righteousness of doom with a genuine sense of reach at its disposal.

Dead Sacraments on Thee Facebooks

Dead Sacraments on Bandcamp

 

Smokemaster, Smokemaster

smokemaster smokemaster

The languid and trippy spirit in opener “Solar Flares” is something of a misdirect on the part of organ-laced, Cologne-based heavy rockers Smokemaster, who go on to boogie down through songs like “Trippin’ Blues” before jamming out classic heavy blues-style on “Ear of the Universe.” I’m not saying they don’t have their psychedelic aspects, but there’s plenty of movement behind what they do as well, and the setup they give with the first two cuts is effective in throwing off the first-time listener’s expectation. A pastoral instrumental “Sunrise in the Canyon” leads off side B after, and comes backed by “Astronaut of Love” (yup, a lovestronaut) and “Astral Traveller,” which find an engaging midpoint between the ground and the great beyond, synth and keys pushing outward in the finale even as the bass and drums keep it tethered to a central groove. It’s a formula that’s worked many times over the last half-century, but it works here too, and Smokemaster‘s Smokemaster makes a right-on introduction to the German newcomers.

Smokemaster on Thee Facebooks

Tonzonen Records store

 

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Friday Full-Length: Worm Ouroboros, Come the Thaw

Posted in Bootleg Theater on March 6th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

The notion of heaviness in music has nearly as many definitions as it has bands who claim representation through it on one level or another. That is to say, it’s broad. It’s only grown more so with time, and when I hear an album like Worm Ouroboros‘ 2012 sophomore outing, Come the Thaw, it’s hard not to be reminded of just how far the idea can range. Of course, all these categories of subcategories, aesthetic ideals and microgenres are amorphous anyway. They can be whatever one wants them to be, at least as much as the argument can be justified.

To wit, Come the Thaw is a richly progressive collection. It brings together six songs across a fluidly constructed, thoughtful and resonant 50 minutes. Since its primary emphasis is on atmosphere, it wouldn’t feel right to call it “prog” as a genre tag, but I don’t know if it would necessarily be incorrect. And loud or quiet, its gracefully-delivered songs are most certainly heavy, turning guitar, bass, vocals and keyboards into spacious chamber doom marked out by the intertwining vocals of bassist Lorraine Rath (ex-Amber Asylum) and guitarist Jessica Way (also Barren Harvest), with not-always-there-but-dynamic-when-called-upon drumming by Aesop Dekker (Agalloch, Vhöl) for backing. There are more aggressive stretches, fuller tonal impacts, but primarily, it is a weight of emotionality and presence alone that makes Come the Thaw so overarchingly heavy.

Recorded and mixed by Greg Wilkinson at Earhammer Studios in Oakland, California, in the band’s native Bay Area, and mastered by Justin Weis at Takworx, and with cover art by RathCome the Thaw followed two years after Worm Ouroboros made an impressive self-titled debut (review here). It was offered up by Profound Lore, which at that time already had established its place among the most forward-thinking contingent of upstart independent imprints, and as one recalls arrived with little ceremony, which seems appropriate. It isn’t a record for everyone. Even as the nine-minute side B leadoff “When We Are Gold” kicks into its more straight-ahead guitar/bass/drum push in its second half, paying off the build played out subtly across the first part of the song, its mournful feel is far removed from what one might call welcoming, groove though it does before collapsing again to quiet guitar and voice.

That song is an effective mirror for the album’s opener and longest track (immediate points) “Ruined Ground,” which pushes beyond the 10-minute mark and also “gets loud” for a bit in that span, its execution remaining worm ouroboros come the thawslow and wistful in kind with the ambience already put forth by the trio and setting up the kind of post-whatever-you-got building progression of “Further Out,” which follows and is nothing if not aptly named, taking the ringing, almost gothic guitar of Bauhaus or The Cure and stripping it of drama or pop and stretching it to suit longer-form and atmospheric purposes. While not at all psychedelic, it is otherworldly, and its last minute feels like a willful act of letting go into “Release Your Days,” which is almost entirely driven by the voices of Rath and Way, though there is some relatively minimal guitar and bass accompaniment.

Frankly, that’s all they need. The two singers work so well together that even with nearly nothing else save a few melancholy lines here and there, “Release Your Days” is a standout from Come the Thaw for more than just its shift in approach. As one side turns to the next, “When We Are Gold” brings through “Withered,” which by default is the most outwardly loud/heavy inclusion, nonetheless maintaining the patient feel of the songs prior as it does. That is, it’s not in a rush to get to the louder guitar and it doesn’t feel like it should be. Dekker‘s drums begin a smooth-shifting build and at 3:45 — almost exactly halfway through the track’s 7:32 run — Way‘s guitar clicks into a fuller tone and the album’s most substantial roll takes hold. Rath‘s basslines underscore a layer of lead and distorted wash, and the song moves back in its final minute to a bookending stretch of quiet guitar, emphasizing the point that there is craft at work from Worm Ouroboros, even if it’s functioning on its own structural level.

That wasn’t really in doubt, given the outright commitment to stylistic expression being renewed in each of these pieces, but the finale, “Penumbra,” underscores the point just the same, with cymbal washes, tense bass and guitar and a vocal that seems to rise and recede from and into an encompassing emptiness. It’s a few minutes in before even the softer guitar figure takes hold, and Dekker peppers in some quiet tom thuds here and there, but the point is clearly made once more in the atmosphere and in the vocals, which rise to a final high note before cutting out and ending the record entirely. It is beautiful and sad, like difficult conversations.

Each half of Come the Thaw has three songs. Each begins with its longest track, moves its shortest, and ends with one in between. It might not seem like it when one just puts the album on and listens straight through front-to-back, but there is a sense of construction in Worm Ouroboros‘ second full-length, and it is a foundation on which the band put forth an artistic and emotional challenge to themselves and to their audience. Again, it’s not a record for everyone. It is a kind of heavy, a kind of extremity, that refuses to work on any level other than its own, refuses to compromise its mission, and is all the more commendable for that.

Worm Ouroboros released a follow-up in late 2016 called What Graceless Dawn (review here) and continued to play live on the West Coast through early 2019, admitting the decreasing frequency of shows even in announcing dates. I don’t know if they’ll do another record or if Worm OuroborosCome the Thaw and What Graceless Dawn will remain a trilogy of works, but even if that’s the case, Worm Ouroboros‘ studio efforts are a resounding testament to the many shapes that sonic heaviness takes and that “impact” in terms of sound need not necessarily just be a question of volume or tempo. Come the Thaw creates and inhabits a world of its own. From where I sit, it’s pretty heavy stuff.

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

You might remember when Heavy Psych Sounds did those Nebula reissues I ran a series of interviews and full album streams to coincide? Starting next week I’ll be doing the same with the three Dozer records the label is putting out. I’m stoked. Also look for a Sorcia stream and maybe a Candlemass review if I can convince Napalm to actually send a download of the tracks instead of the promo stream. Used to be CDs  in the mail. Then it was downloads, and that sucked. Now you have to go begging for downloads or keep 75 Haulix tabs open. Soon you won’t get music to review, it’ll just be the cover art and a band bio. People wonder why reviews are shitty.

Speaking of shitty reviews, I’ll probably try to write about the Ozzy record next week as well. Not that that’ll necessarily be a bad review — I don’t know, I haven’t written it yet — but yeah.

Couple quick plugs then I’m out:

New episode of the Gimme Radio show today, 5PM Eastern. Listen on the app or http://gimmeradio.com. I’d recommend the app.

Podcaster Dylan Gonzalez of Diary of Doom was kind enough to invite me for an interview that wound up as a two-parter. First part is up and here if you get to check it out. Thanks either way. I haven’t listened yet — can’t really stand the sound of my own voice — but thanks if you do: https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-4yhnb-d568e0.

That’s all I’ve got. I could go on about the coronavirus, the bummer Democratic primary, the overwhelming state of the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch or any number of baseball or Star Trek-related things that would be a lot of fun to talk about, but let’s face it, if you’re still reading this sentence, you’ve done me enough favors as far as I’m concerned. I’d rather not take advantage of your goodwill.

This week, anyhow. Ha.

— Ah shit, just got an email for a project I let slip through the cracks. I was supposed to write liner notes for the Stone Machine Electric 7″ and just blew it on the timing. Fuck. I suck at this. Always some reminder. This is why I’ve pulled back on writing bios and the like. Clearly that’s the right choice, rather than committing to something because I think it’s cool and I’d like to do it and then letting people down. Sucks. Hell of a way to end the week.

Please have a great and safe weekend. Have fun, be safe, don’t touch your face too much (apparently), and be kind to each other.

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Ripple Music Announce 10-Year Anniversary Party in San Francisco

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 5th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

ripple music 10th anniversary party banner

10 years of Ripple Music is nothing to sneeze at. I could rattle off a list of albums they’ve issued over that time, but frankly, I think you’re probably already doing that in your head. Bands like Mos Generator, Mothership, Wo Fat, from Stubb to Salem’s Bend, Ape Machine to Zed, they’ve shown a rare consistency of mission and quality that’s helped establish them as the standard bearers of straight-ahead heavy.

They’ll do it up in grand fashion in San Francisco at Brick and Mortar for two nights on June 12 and 13. It’s the release show for the new Wino album, the original lineup of Mos Generator is reuniting to play Nomads, The Watchers are celebrating an upcoming live release, and Mothership and Wo Fat are both rolling in from Texas to headline the second night. That’s a goddamn party, is what it is. And of course there’s more, but if you’re not gonna be there, I wouldn’t want to make you sad by continuing on.

Here’s everything:

ripple music 10th anniversary party

A Decade of Doom: Ripple Music Ten Year Anniversary Party – June 12 & 13

Brick & Mortar Music Hall – 1710 Mission St, San Francisco, California

Ripple Music is celebrating a full Decade of some of the best Stoner, Doom and Heavy Psych on the planet and you’re invited! There’s so much going on here it’s hard to put it all into words, but how’s:

1) The reunion of the original Mos Generator to play their Ripple release “Nomads” in its entirety
2) Wino album release party for the legend’s new acoustic LP
3) The Watchers release party for their new Live recording, High and Live
4) Some of Ripple’s best and heaviest bands
5) Exclusive sneak peek of a clip from the upcoming animated full-length Planet of Doom movie, with a meet and greet with the creators
6) Entire event MC’d by Chasta from 107.7 The Bone!
7) Exclusive Ripple, Band, and Planet of Doom merch
8) Charity auctions of signed drumheads,
9) special VIP entry (only 10 per night) which includes attendance at sound check, 2 posters and exclusive merch, and tons more planned!

FREE Limited Edition 10- ear anniversary compilation CD given to every ticket holder at the door!

A once in a lifetime event.

Friday
Mos Generator (Nomads album in it’s entirety)
Wino (album release show)
Ape Machine
The Watchers (album release show)
Blackwulf
The Ghost Next Door

Saturday
Mothership (exclusive California Appearance)
Wo Fat (exclusive California Appearance)
ZED
Salem’s Bend
Lowcaster
Plainride (from Germany)

Both nights will feature the world-premiere clip from the upcoming, full length animated feature film Planet of Doom. Meet the creators.

TICKETS INCLUDING SPECIAL VIP PASSES AVAILABLE AT: https://www.ticketweb.com/event/a-decade-of-doom-ripple-brick-and-mortar-music-hall-tickets/10489655?pl=brickmortarshp

https://www.facebook.com/theripplemusic/
ripplemusic.bandcamp.com
http://www.ripple-music.com/

Mos Generator, Nomads (2012)

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Six Organs of Admittance, Companion Rises: Together and Alone

Posted in Reviews on February 19th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Six Organs of Admittance Companion Rises

As a fan of Ben Chasny‘s sometimes-solo-project/sometimes-band Six Organs of Admittance, I try to be careful not to look at too much of what he says about any given release before I form my own impressions, because what I’ve found over time is that the guitarist/vocalist/synthesist/whatever-else-ist carries a rare level of insight into his own output and brings such a firm sense of consciousness to what he does that how the record comes across in listening invariably ends up hued by what he’s said. In the case of Companion Rises — the follow-up to 2017’s Burning the Threshold (review here) — Chasny is the only player on the album and he weaves songs that vary between layers of intertwining acoustic and electric guitars and periodic washes of synth. It is a solo record, and brings out some of the intimacy of his earlier, bedroom-folk experimentations, but invariably bears the hallmarks of his overarching maturity of craft, and that’s shown early in the nine-cut/39-minute long-player with the at-least-I-think-it’s-keyboard waves undulating in the intro “Pacific” and the subsequent shift into “Two Forms Moving.”

Like good literature, these two songs are more or less giving the listener the information they need to process the context of much of what follows. A decidedly Californian vibe — Chasny is currently listed as being in Holyoke, Massachusetts, but has roots as well in San Francisco — plays out through “Pacific” and in later pieces like “The 101,” the title of which is even phrased in a SoCal manner, in which a busy rhythm of seemingly looped acoustic guitar and a plugged in solo arrives in somewhat manic fashion accompanying a bluesy paean to the coastal highway itself. The frenetic feel there is something of an extension of what happens in “Two Forms Moving” earlier, as the track realizes two progressions at once as the lyrics also tie into the title, and Chasny — who created a mathematical system of guitar playing and in 2015 released a pair of albums called Hexadic, as well as an instructional book for others, is no stranger to such conceptualism — executes acoustic and electric movements at the same time. One, then, is the companion of the other. It all ties in, or at very least can be interpreted as doing so.

With “Two Forms Moving” offering such a willfully multifaceted take, its feel becomes intense by the time the solo and the acoustic lines are shifting through their build. The entirety of Companion Rises doesn’t necessarily hold that pattern, but “The Scout is Here,” which follows directly, does. But the balance of the mix shifts, so that Chasny‘s vocal melody is more prominent, the electric guitar comes in intermittent spurts of solo flourish early on, and later shifts to a complementary role playing off the acoustic part and thus the song is more cohesive and less mindboggling on the whole. There is still forward movement in the two guitars — and there might be more than two by the time the five-minute track gives way to amp hum to close — but it’s still easier for the listener to process than some of what’s come before. “Black Tea” continues that thread, pushing the electric further down and bringing in simple percussion — it might be a hand tapping a guitar — as the singing takes on multiple layers and moves gorgeously through several verses. It is songs like “Black Tea” and the centerpiece title-track right after it that showcase why Six Organs of Admittance is still so often considered folk having long since let go of most genre conventions.

Six Organs of Admittance

If one is thinking of companionship, then that between “Black Tea” and “Companion Rises” makes all the more sense, as well as that of “Haunted and Known” and the penultimate “Mark Yourself,” the former of which takes a subdued, quiet moodiness that is as quintessentially Six Organs of Admittance as one could possibly hope for and blasts it apart after three minutes or so with a consuming wash of synth backed by far-off howls of electric guitar. It is beautiful and cinematic in kind, not rife with drama or pretense, but it feels grand just the same, and “Mark Yourself” answers back by bringing acoustic and electrics forms together once again, this time with other looped vocal arrangements and more besides, but gradually fading to a standalone line of piano, giving way to the drone soundscaping of closer “Worn Down to the Light,” which at four minutes long is an instrumentalist response perhaps to “Pacific,” though decidedly less wavy in its execution. In any case, by then, the album’s theme is well established and brought to fruition through idea and craft alike.

Ultimately, there is enough depth to Chasny‘s songwriting that the individual listener can decide how deep they want to go in their own read. Companion Rises, which even unto its sunset-thus-likely-moonrise cover art speaks to the notions it puts forth, balances richness and fullness of sound with the aforementioned sense of intimacy that comes in part simply from being a solo LP, even playing much of this material live would require a band or at least a pedal board big enough to accommodate one — a well-programmed laptop would do it too, one guesses. And even as it has to be acknowledged that although so much of Companion Rises is given to considerations of togetherness, it was made by one person alone, it seems clear through the listening experience that what’s being meditated on throughout is a sense of interaction. Place is part of it, as “Pacific” and “The 101” show, but it runs deeper through “Two Forms Moving,” “The Scout is Here” and even “Black Tea” and “Companion Rises” itself, the sweetness of the melody in that title-track at a deceptive peace with the organ line that keeps it company.

One way or the other — or, more likely, both — Six Organs of Admittance manifests loneliness and the excitement at being with others, and even if that interpretation is totally wrong and the album title has nothing to do with anything in the tracks and the whole thing is a lie meant to mislead anyone who takes the record on, it doesn’t matter. The simple fact that these songs can speak to these ideas and potentially others is further proof of how crucial Chasny‘s work is.

>Six Organs of Admittance, Companion Rises (2020)

Six Organs of Admittance website

Six Organs of Admittance on Instagram

Six Organs of Admittance on Bandcamp

Drag City Records website

Drag City on Thee Facebooks

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Quarterly Review: We Lost the Sea, Nebula Drag, Nothing is Real, Lotus Thief, Uncle Woe, Cybernetic Witch Cult, Your Highness, Deep Valley Blues, Sky Shadow Obelisk, Minus Green

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

quarterly review

Yesterday was marked by a decisive lack of productivity. I got there, don’t get me wrong, but it took friggin’ forever to make it happen. I’m obviously hoping for a different result today and tomorrow. You would think 10 records is 10 records, but some days it’s easy flowing, bounce from one to the next without any trouble, and some days you’re me sitting there wondering how many times you can get away with using the word “style” in the same post. Punishing. The saving factor was that the music was good. Amazing how often that serves as the saving factor.

Just today and tomorrow left, so let’s dive in. Lots of different kinds of releases today, so keep your ears and mind open.

Quarterly Review #31-40:

We Lost the Sea, Triumph and Disaster

we lost the sea triumph and disaster

There is plenty of heavy post-rock floating — and I do mean floating — around these days, spreading ethereal and contemplative vibes hither and yon, but none have the emotional weight brought to bear instrumentally by Sydney, Australia’s We Lost the Sea. Across their 65-minute 2LP, Triumph and Disaster (on Translation Loss), the six-piece band recount a wordless narrative of the aftermath of the end of the world through the eyes of a mother and child on their last day. It is a touching and beautiful flow of sentiment, regret and weight that comes through the wash of three guitars and synth, bass and drums, and though 2015’s Departure Songs (review here, discussed here) worked in a similar vein in terms of style if not story, these seven tracks and 65 minutes are wholly distinguished by a willful-seeming progression on the part of the band and a patience and poise of execution as they alternate between longer and shorter pieces that only underscores how special their work truly is. At least the apocalypse is gorgeous.

We Lost the Sea on Thee Facebooks

Translation Loss store

 

Nebula Drag, Blud

nebula drag blud

Nothing against the progenitors of the form, but Nebula Drag seem with Blud to pull off the feat that Helmet never really could, bringing together a noise-rock derived dissonance of riff with a current of melody in the vocals and even moments of patience in the guitar to go along with the crunch of its more aggressive points. This inherently makes the Desert Records offering from the San Diego outfit a less outwardly intense affair than it might otherwise be, but songs like “Always Dying,” “Numb” and the closer “Mental” — as well as the album as a whole — are ultimately richer for it, and there’s still plenty of drive in opener “Dos Lados” and the shorter “Faces” and “What Went Wrong,” which arrive back to back on side B and lend the momentum that carries Nebula Drag through the remainder of the proceedings. It’s easy to hear to Blud superficially and pass it off as noise or heavy rock or this or that, but Nebula Drag earn and reward deeper listens in kind.

Nebula Drag on Thee Facebooks

Desert Records on Bandcamp

 

Nothing is Real, Pain is Joy

nothing is real pain is joy

Los Angeles oppressive and misanthropic noise project Nothing is Real manifested some of the harshest sounds I heard in 2019 on Only the Wicked are Pure (review here), and the just-months-later follow-up, Pain is Joy, reminds of the constant sensory assault under which we all seem to live. Across five extended tracks of increased production value — still raw, just not as raw — the band seems to be forming a coherent philosophical perspective in “Existence is Pain,” the guest-vocalized “Realms of Madness,” “Life is but a Dream,” “Pain is Joy,” and “We Must Break Free,” but if there’s a will to explain the punishment that is living, there’s not much by way of answer forthcoming in the sludgy riffing, grinding onslaught and surprising solo soar of “We Must Break Free,” instrumental as it is. Still, the fact that Pain is Joy allows for the possibility of joy to exist at all, in any form, ever, distinguishes it from its predecessor, and likewise the clearer sound and cogent expressive purpose. A focused attack suits Nothing is Real. I have the feeling it won’t be long before we find out where it takes the band next.

Nothing is Real on Thee Facebooks

Nothing is Real on Bandcamp

 

Lotus Thief, Oresteia

lotus thief Oresteia

If the name Oresteia isn’t immediately familiar, maybe “Agamemnon” will give some hint. San Francisco’s Lotus Thief, with their third full-length and second for Prophecy Productions, not only bring together progressive black metal, post-rock and drama-laced doom, but do so across eight-tracks and 38 minutes summarizing a 5th century Greek tragedy written in three parts. Ambitious? Yes. Successful? I’ll claim zero familiarity with the text itself, but for the eight-minute “Libation Bearers” alone — never mind any of the other immersive, beautiful wash the band emits throughout — I’m sure glad they’re engaging with it. Ambient stretches like “Banishment” and “Woe” and the barely-there “Reverence” add further character to the proceedings, but neither are “The Furies,” “Agamemnon,” “Sister in Silence” or subdued-but-tense closer “The Kindly Ones” lacking for atmosphere. Oresteia is grim, theatrical, stylistically forward-thinking and gorgeous. A perfect, perfect, perfect winter record.

Lotus Thief website

Prophecy Productions on Bandcamp

 

Uncle Woe, Our Unworn Limbs

Uncle Woe Our Unworn Limbs

Chugging, sprawling, and most of all reaching, the late-2019 debut LP, Our Unworn Limbs, from Ontario as-yet-solo-outfit Uncle Woe — composed, performed and recorded by Rain Fice — is one of marked promise, taking elements of modern progressive and cosmic doom from the likes of YOB‘s subtly angular riffing style and unfolding them across an emotionally resonant but still manageable 43-minute span. The stomp in “That’s How They Get You” is duly oppressive in following the opener “Son of the Queen,” but with the one-minute experiment “When the Night Fell Pt. 2” and jagged but harmonized “Mania for Breaking” ahead of 15-minute closer “Push the Blood Back In,” the record’s tumult and triumphs are presented with character and a welcome feeling of exploration. I would expect over time that the melodic basis and vocal presence Fice demonstrates in “Mania for Breaking” will continue to grow, but both are already significant factors in the success of that song and the album surrounding it, the first 20-plus minutes of which is spent mired in “Son of the Queen” and “That’s How They Get You,” as early proof of the sure controlling hand at the helm of the project. May it continue to be so.

Uncle Woe on Thee Facebooks

Uncle Woe on Bandcamp

 

Cybernetic Witch Cult, Absurdum ad Nauseam

cybernetic witch cult absurdam ad nauseam

Guitarist/vocalist Alex Wyld, bassist Doug MacKinnon and drummer Lewis May have processed the world around them and translated it into a riffy course of sci-fi and weirdo semi-prog thematics across Absurdum ad Nauseam. What else to call such a thing? At eight songs and 52 minutes, it stands astride the lines between heavy rock and doom and sludge in lengthier pieces like “The Cetacean,” “The Ivory Tower” and the finale “Hypercomputer Part 2,” yet when it comes to picking out discernible influences, one has to result to generalizations like Black Sabbath and Acrimony, the latter in the rolling largesse of “Spice” and “The Myth of Sisyphus” later on in the outing and the vocal effects there particularly, but neither is enough to give a sense of what Cybernetic Witch Cult are actually about in terms of the modernity of their approach and the it’s-okay-we-know-what-we’re-doing-just-trust-us vibe they bring as they rush through “Cromagnonaut” after the intro and “Hypercomputer Part 1.” I’m inclined to just go with it, which should tell you something in itself about the band’s ability to carry their listener through. They earn that trust.

Cybernetic Witch Cult on Thee Facebooks

Cybernetic Witch Cult on Bandcamp

 

Your Highness, Your Highness

Your Highness Your Highness

Heavy blues meets heavy metal on Your Highness‘ self-titled and self-released third album, collecting eight tracks that divide evenly across two sides of an LP, each half ending with a longer piece, whether it’s “Black Fever” (9:00) on side A or “Kin’s Blood” (14:14) on side B. Through these, in full-throttle movements like opener “Devil’s Delight” and “Rope as a Gift” and in nestled-in groovers like “The Flood” and “To Wood and Stone,” Your Highness don’t shy away from bringing a sense of atmosphere to their material, but maintain a focus on burl, gruffness and tonal weight, an aggressive undercurrent in a song like “Born Anew” — the riff to which is nonetheless particularly bluesy — being emblematic of the perspective on display throughout. It moves too fleetly to ever be considered entirely sludge, but Your Highness‘ 51-minute span is prone to confrontation just the same, and its ferocious aspects come to a head in satisfying fashion as the wash of crash pays off “Kin’s Blood,” shouts cutting through en route to a finish of acoustic guitar that lands as a reminder to release the breath you’ve been holding the whole time. Heavy stuff? Why yes, it is.

Your Highness on Thee Facebooks

Your Highness on Bandcamp

 

Deep Valley Blues, Demonic Sunset

Deep Valley Blues Demonic Sunset

Italy’s fervor for stoner rock is alive and well as represented in Demonic Sunset, the eight-song/34-minute debut full-length from Catanzaro’s Deep Valley Blues. Their sound works out to be more heavy rock than the desert one might imagine given the album cover, but that influence is still there, if beefed up tonally by guitarists Alessandro Morrone and Umberto Arena (the latter also backing vocals), bassist/vocalist Giando Sestito and drummer Giorgio Faini, whose fluid turns between propulsion and swing enable a song like “Dana Skully” to come together in its verse/chorus transitions. The penultimate nine-minute “Tired to Beg For” is an outlier among more straight-ahead songwriting, but they use the time well and close with the acoustic-led “Empire,” an encouraging showcase of sonic breadth to follow up on the start of “Lust Vegas” and a widening of the melodic range that one hopes Deep Valley Blues push further on subsequent releases. Centered around issues of mental health in terms of its lyrics, if somewhat vaguely, Demonic Sunset is a first LP that extends its focus to multiple levels while still keeping its feet on the ground in a way that will be familiar to experienced genre heads.

Deep Valley Blues on Thee Facebooks

Deep Valley Blues on Bandcamp

 

Sky Shadow Obelisk, The Satyr’s Path

sky shadow obelisk the satyrs path

You can toss a coin as to whether Sky Shadow Obelisk are death-doom or doom-death, but as you do, just keep an eye on the bludgeoning doled out by the solo-project of Rhode Island-based composer Peter Scartabello on his latest EP, The Satyr’s Path, because it is equal parts thorough and ferocious. Flourish of keys and melody adds a progressive edge to the proceedings across the five-track release, particularly in its two instrumentals, the centerpiece “Ouroboros” and the first half of closer “Shadow of Spring,” but amid the harnessed madness of “Chain of Hephaestus” — which from its lyrics I can only think of as a work song — and the one-two of “The Serpent’s Egg” and the title-track early on, those moments of letup carry a tension of mood that even the grand finish in “Shadow of Spring” seems to acknowledge. It’s been since 2015 that Scartabello last offered up a Sky Shadow Obelisk full-length. He shows enough scope here to cover an album’s worth of ground, but on the most basic level, I’d take more if it was on offer.

Sky Shadow Obelisk on Thee Facebooks

Yuggoth Records on Bandcamp

 

Minus Green, Equals Zero

Minus Green Equals Zero

Following up on a 2015 self-titled the material on Minus Green‘s sophomore album, Equals Zero, would seem to have at least in part been kicking around for a couple years, as the closer here, “Durial” (11:22) was released in a single version in 2016. Fair enough. If the other three cuts, opener “Primal” (9:58), “00” (11:51) and the penultimate “Kames” (10:08), have also been developed over that span, the extra rumination wouldn’t seem to have harmed them at all — they neither feel overthought to a point of staleness nor lack anything in terms of the natural vibe that their style of progressive instrumentalist heavy psychedelia warrants. The procession unfolds as a cleanly-structured LP with two songs per side arranged shorter-into-longer, and their sound is duly immersive to give an impression of exploration underway without being entirely jam-based in their structure. That is, listening to “00,” one gets the feeling it’s headed somewhere, which, fortunately it is. Where it and the record surrounding go ultimately isn’t revolutionary in aesthetic terms, but it is well performed and more than suitable for repeat visits. Contrary to the impression they might seek to give, it amounts to more than nothing.

Minus Green on Thee Facebooks

Kerberos Records website

 

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Quarterly Review: Alcest, Superchief, Test Meat, Stones of Babylon, Nightstalker, Lewis & the Strange Magics, Room 101, Albatross Overdrive, Cloud Cruiser, The Spiral Electric

Posted in Reviews on January 8th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

quarterly review

Welcome to Day Three of The Obelisk’s Winter 2020 Quarterly Review. It’s gonna be kind of a wild one. There’s a lot going on across this batch of 10 records, and it gets kind of weird — also, it doesn’t — so sit tight. It’ll be fun either way. At least I hope so. I’ll let you know when I’m finished writing. Ha.

Today we pass the halfway point on the road to 50 reviews by Friday. I think I’m feeling alright up to this point. It’s been a crunch behind the scenes, but it usually is and I’ve done this plenty of times now, so it’s not so bad. I always hold my breath before getting started, but once I’m in it, I rarely feel anymore overwhelmed than I might on any other given day. Which is still plenty, but you know, you make it work.

So let’s do that.

Quarterly Review #21-30:

Alcest, Spiritual Instinct

alcest spiritual instinct

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the label’s modus in this regard as it’s picked up bands from the heavy underground over the last eight to 10 years — arguably a movement that began with Graveyard in 2012 — but Parisian post-black metal innovators Alcest make something of an aesthetic shift with their first outing for Nuclear Blast, Spiritual Instinct. Melody, of course, remains central to their purposes, but in the nine-minute side B opener “L’Île des Morts” as in its side A counterpart “Les Jardins de Minuit,” the subsequent “Protection” and “Sapphire” and even in the crescendo — glorious wash as it is — of the closing title-track, one can hear a sharper, decidedly metallic edge to the guitar and impact of the drums. That’s a turn from 2016’s Kodama (review here), which offered more of a conceptual progressivism, and of course the prior 2014 LP, Shelter (review here), which cast of metallic trappings almost entirely. Why the change? Who cares, it works, and they still have room for the cinematic keyboard-led drama of “Le Miroir” and plenty of the wistful emotionalism that’s been their hallmark since their debut in 2007. They’ve long since mastered their approach and Spiritual Instinct serves as another example of their being able to make their sound do whatever they want.

Alcest on Thee Facebooks

Nuclear Blast webstore

 

Superchief, Moontower

superchief moontower

Four records and just about a decade deep into a tenure that began with the 2010 Rock Music EP (review here), Iowa heavy rockers Superchief have found ways to bring an inventiveness to what’s still an ostensibly straightforward approach. Moontower, named for a lookout point where — at least presuming from the album’s artwork — people tailgate and get drunk, finds the dudely five-piece no less embroiled in burl than they’ve ever been, but using samples and other elements in interesting ways as with the revving motor matching step with the drums at the start of “Barking Out at the Blood Moon” or keyboards in “Rock ‘n’ Roll War” filling out the breaks where the riffs take a step back. Handclaps early in “Beer Me Motherfucker” — as much post-“Introduction” mission statement for the LP as a whole as anything — set the party tone, and from the shaker on “The Approach” to the Southern tinged shred and organ on closer “Priority of the Summer,” a car speeding by at the finish, Superchief find ways to make each of their songs stand out from its surroundings. Then they pair that with choice riffery, pro-shop sound and hooks. Sure enough, it’s once again a winning formula and a distinct showing of personality and craft that still comports with classic heavy style.

Superchief website

Superchief on Bandcamp

 

Test Meat, Enjoy

test meat enjoy

Boston duo Test Meat are so utterly bullshit-free as to be almost intimidating. Guitarist/vocalist Darryl Shepard (Kind, Blackwolfgoat, Hackman, Milligram, etc.) and drummer Michael Nashawaty (Planetoid) dig into heavy grunge and noise rock influences across a 10-track/27-minute full-length that resounds with punker roots and an ethic of willful straightforwardness. It’s not that the music is so intense there would be no room for frills, it’s that the structures are so tight and so purposefully barebones that they’d be incongruous. And it’s not that Test Meat are writing half-hearted songs, either. Frankly, neither the quality of their material nor the sharpness of the sound they captured at New Alliance Studio with Alec Rodriguez would remotely lead one to believe so, and nothing with such stylistic clarity happens by mistake. This is a band with a mission, and Enjoy finds them bringing that mission to life with a complete lack of pretense. It’s a reminder of what made grunge so appealing in the first place some 30 years and an entire internet ago. Songs and performance. Yes.

Test Meat on Thee Facebooks

Test Meat on Bandcamp

 

Stones of Babylon, Hanging Gardens

Stones of Babylon Hanging Gardens

Following a 2018 live demo, Portuguese instrumental three-piece Stones of Babylon — guitarist Rui Belchior, bassist João Medeiros, drummer Pedro Branco — embark with a conceptualist intent on their debut full-length, Hanging Gardens, issued through Raging Planet. An opening sample in the leadoff title-track describing the hanging gardens of Babylon sets the stage for what the band goes on to describe with wordless atmospheres over the five-song/47-minute long-player, their vision of heavy psychedelia touched with a suitable Middle Eastern/North African influence in the initial unfolding of the meditative 11-minute “Coffea Arabica” or the winding lead work over the punchy low end of “Black Pig’s Secret Megalith.” But Hanging Gardens is still very much a heavy rock release, and its material showcases that in tone and mood, with volume changes and builds taking hold like that in centerpiece “Ziggurat,” which in its second half sets a march of distorted largesse nodding forth until its final crashout. They save the most drift for “Babylonia (The Deluge),” and if they’re finishing with the story of the flood, one can’t help but wonder what narrative course they might follow in a second record. On the other hand, if one comes out of Hanging Gardens trying to envision Stones of Babylon‘s future, then the debut would seem to have done its job, and so it has. There’s stylistic and tonal promise, and with the edge of storytelling, an opportunity for development of which one hopes they avail themselves.

Stones of Babylon on Thee Facebooks

Raging Planet website

 

Nightstalker, Great Hallucinations

nightstalker great hallucinations

Frontman Argy and Greek heavy rock institution Nightstalker return with their eighth album in a quarter-century run, Great Hallucinations. Also their first LP for Heavy Psych Sounds after issuing 2016’s As Above So Below (review here) on Oak Island Records, it’s an up-to-par eight-track collection of catchy tracks marked out by psychedelic elements but underpinned by traditionalist structures, Argy‘s distinctive frontman presence, and an all-around unforced feeling of a mature, established band doing what they do. Not going through the motions in the sense of fulfilling some perceived obligation to stay on the road, but creating the songs they want to create in nothing less than the manner they want to create them. I won’t take away from the roll of “Seven out of Ten,” but as “Cursed” taps into a legacy of European heavy rock that runs from Dozer‘s turn of the century work — not to mention Nightstalker‘s own — to outfits today, it’s hard not to appreciate an act being so assured in what they do in terms of execution while actually doing it. In that way, Great Hallucinations is as refreshing as it is familiar.

Nighstalker on Thee Facebooks

Heavy Psych Sounds website

 

Lewis and the Strange Magics, Melvin’s Holiday

Lewis and the Strange Magics Melvins Holiday

From their beginnings in garage doom and subsequent dive into exploitation/vamp psych, Barcelona’s Lewis and the Strange Magics put themselves in even weirder territory on their third album, Melvin’s Holiday, centering a story around the titular character whose life is in turmoil and so he goes on vacation. The sound of the band seems to do likewise, veering into ’70s lounge sleaze and island influences, toying with funky rhythms and keyboards amid catchy choruses across what still would have to be called an experimental 34-minute run. It is a concept album, to be sure, and one that comes through in its stylistic choices like the dreamy keyboards of the centerpiece “Carpet Sun” or the fuzzy stomp in “Sad in Paradise” and the percussion amid the Ween-sounding lead guitar buzz of “Lounge Decadence.” This could be Lewis and the Strange Magics working purposefully to cast off any and all expectation that might be placed on them, or it could just be a one-off whim, but there’s no question they pull off an impressive turn and carry the concept through in story and substance. When it comes to what they might do next time, the payoff of closer “Afternoon on the Sand” serves as one more demonstration that the band can do whatever the hell they want with their sound, so I’d expect them to do no less than precisely that.

Lewis and the Strange Magics on Thee Facebooks

Lewis and the Strange Magics on Bandcamp

 

Room 101, The Burden

room 101 the burden

The debut EP from Lansing, Michigan, four-piece Room 101, called simply The Burden, would seem to take a scorched-earth approach to atmospheric sludge, setting their balance to exploring ambient textures and samples in pieces like “You Will Never Know Security” — which, sure enough, samples 1984 to recount the origin of the band’s name — and the brief “A Place to Bury Strangers,” while the churning “As the Crow Flies” and “Missing Rope” present an outright extremity that comes through in post-Godflesh vocal barks and a Through Silver in Blood-style intensity of churn and general approach. Yet I wouldn’t necessarily call Room 101 post-metal — at least not here. The solo on “Missing Rope” seems to draw from more traditional sources, and the manner in which the chugging in “Plague Dogs” caps with a sudden quick series of hits recalls grindcore’s pivoting brutality. One might hope all of these elements get fleshed out more over subsequent releases, but as a first outing, part of The Burden‘s promise is also drawn from the sheer rawness of its impact and the lack of compromise in its wrench of gut.

Room 101 on Thee Facebooks

Room 101 on Bandcamp

 

Abatross Overdrive, Ascendant

albatross overdrive ascendant

Albatross Overdrive‘s 2016 LP, Keep it Running (review here), ran 31 minutes. Their follow-up, Ascendant, reaches to 33, but loses two tracks in the doing. Clearly, one way or the other, this is a conscious ethic on the band’s part, and it tells you something about their approach to heavy rock as well. There’s nothing too fancy about it — even in “Come Get Some,” which is the longest song the band have ever written at 6:40 — and they are not an outfit to waste their time. Structures run from verse to chorus to verse to chorus led through by guitarists Andrew Luddy and Derek Phillips and Art Campos‘ gritty delivery with an expectedly solid underpinning from bassist Mark Abshire (ex-Fu Manchu) and drummer Rodney Peralta and songs like the careening title-track and the blues-licked shover “Undecided” are enough to give the impression that anything else would be superfluous. They’re not lacking style — because ’70s-meets-’90s-straight-ahead-heavy is, indeed, a style — but it’s the level of their craft that stands them out.

Albatross Overdrive on Thee Facebooks

Albatross Overdrive on Bandcamp

 

Cloud Cruiser, I: Capacity

Cloud Cruiser I Capacity

Kyuss-style riffing takes a beating at the hands of Chicago newcomers Cloud Cruiser — who are not to be confused with Denver’s Cloud Catcher — who make their debut on vinyl through Shuga Records with I: Capacity, giving an aggressive push to what’s commonly considered a more laid back sound. In tone and rhythm and general gruffness, they are a deceptively pointed outfit, with turns of broader groove like that at the outset of “575” that speak to more influences than simply those of the Cali desert. They start off catchy and familiar-if-reshaped, though, on “Transmission” and “Glow,” letting their tale of alien abduction unfold across the lyrics while setting up the shifts that “Gone” and “575” and the thick-boogie of “Orbitalclast” will make before the EP’s would-be-clean-but-for-all-that-dirt-it’s-kicked-up 23-minute run is through. The balance they present speaks to a background in metal, though if they’re fresh arrivals in this realm of heavy, you’d never know it from the lumbering finish they present. Sometimes you just gotta get mean to get your point across. It suits

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Shuga Records website

 

The Spiral Electric, The Spiral Electric

the spiral electric the spiral electric

It is a progressive interpretation of fuzz ‘n’ buzz that San Francisco four-piece The Spiral Electric realize on their self-titled, self-released debut long-player, with recording and mixing by Dead Meadow‘s Steve Kille, the band — vocalist/synthesist/noisemaker/guitarist/percussionist/co-producer Clay Andrews, lead guitarist/backing vocalist Nicolas Percey, bassist Michael Summers and drummer Matias Drago — bridge the generally disparate realms of heavy psych and riffer heavy rock, giving a dreamy sensibility to “Marbles” with no less an organic vibe than they brought to the howling, attitudinal push of “No Bridge Left Unburned” earlier. They skillfully mess with the scale across the lengthy 14-track span, and thereby hold their audience for the duration in longer pieces like “The True Nature of Sacrifice” (8:24) as easily as they do in a series of three episodic interludes of noise, field recordings, synth, etc. This is a band ready, willing and able to space. the hell. out., and after listening to the record, you’d be a fool if you wanted to try. Not that they don’t have aspects to shore up or shifts that could be tightened and so on, but from ambition to fruition, it’s the kind of first record bands should aspire to make.

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