Quarterly Review: Harvestman, Kalgon, Agriculture, Saltpig, Druidess, Astral Construct, Ainu, Grid, Dätcha Mandala, Dr. Space Meets Mr. Mekon

Posted in Reviews on May 23rd, 2024 by JJ Koczan

The-Obelisk-Quarterly-Review

This is the next-to-last day of this Quarterly Review, and while it’s been a lot, it’s been encouraging to dig into so much stuff in such intense fashion. I’ve added a few releases to my notes for year-end lists, but more importantly, I’ve gotten to hear and cover stuff that otherwise I might not, and that’s the value at a QR has for me at its core, so while we’re not through yet, I’ll just say thanks again for reading and that I hope you’ve also found something that speaks to you in these many blocks of text and embedded streaming players. If not, there’s still 20 records to go, so take comfort in that as needed.

Quarterly Review #81-90:

Harvestman, Triptych: Part One

Harvestman Triptych Part One

The weirdo-psych experimental project of Steve Von Till (now ex-Neurosis, which is still sad on a couple levels) begins a released-according-to-lunar-orbit trilogy of albums in Triptych: Part One, which is headlined by opening track “Psilosynth,” boasting a guest appearance from Al Cisneros (Sleep, Om) on bass. If those two want to start an outsider-art dub-drone band together, my middle-aged burnout self is here for it — “Psilosynth (Harvest Dub),” a title that could hardly be more Von Till and Cisneros, appears a little later, which suggests they might also be on board — but that’s only part of the world being created in Triptych: Part One as “Mare and Foal” manipulates bagpipes into ghostly melodies, “Give Your Heart to the Hawk” echoes poetry over ambient strum, “Coma” and “How to Purify Mercury” layer synthesized drone and/or effects-guitar to sci-fi affect and “Nocturnal Field Song” finds YOB‘s Dave French banging away on something metal in the background while the crickets chirp. The abiding spirit is subdued, exploratory as Von Till‘s solo works perpetually are, and even as the story is only a third told, the immersion on Triptych: Part One goes as deep as the listener is willing to let it. I look forward to being a couple moons late reviewing the next installment.

Harvestman on Facebook

Neurot Recordings website

Kalgon, Kalgon

kalgon kalgon

As they make their self-titled full-length debut, Asheville, North Carolina’s Kalgon lay claim to a deceptive wide swath of territory even separate from the thrashier departure “Apocalyptic Meiosis” as they lumber through “The Isolate” and the more melodic “Grade of the Slope,” stoner-doom leaning into psych and more cosmic vibing, with the mournful “Windigo” leading into “Eye of the Needle”‘s slo-mo-stoner-swing and gutted out vocals turning to Beatlesy melody — guitarist Brandon Davis and bassist Berten Lee Tanner share those duties while Marc Russo rounds out the trio on drums — in its still-marching second half and the post-Pallbearer reaches and acoustic finish of “Setting Sun.” An interlude serves as centerpiece between “Apocalyptic Meiosis” and “Windigo,” and that two-plus-minute excursion into wavy drone and amplifier hum works well to keep a sense of flow as the next track crashes in, but more, it speaks to longer term possibilities for how the band might grow, both in terms of what they do sonically and in their already-clear penchant for seeing their first LP as a whole, single work with its own progression and story to tell.

Kalgon on Facebook

Kalgon on Bandcamp

Agriculture, Living is Easy

agriculture living is easy

Surely there’s some element in Agriculture‘s self-applied aesthetic frame of “ecstatic black metal” in the power of suggestion, but as they follow-up their 2022 self-titled debut with the four-song Living is Easy EP and move from the major-key lightburst of the title-track into the endearingly, organically, folkishly strained harmonies of “Being Eaten by a Tiger,” renew the overwhelming blasts of tremolo and seared screams on “In the House of Angel Flesh” and round out with a minute of spoken word recitation in “When You Were Born,” guitarists Richard Chowenhill (also credited with co-engineering, mixing and mastering) and Dan Meyer (also vocals), bassist/vocalist Leah B. Levinson and drummer/percussionist Kern Haug present an innovative perspective on the genre that reminds of nothing so much as the manner in which earliest Wolves in the Throne Room showed that black metal could do something more than it had done previously. That’s not a sonic comparison, necessarily — though there are basic stylistic aspects shared between the two — but more about the way Agriculture are using black metal toward purposefully new expressive ends. I’m not Mr. Char by any means, but it’s been probably that long since the last time I heard something that was so definitively black metal and worked as much to refresh what that means.

Agriculture on Facebook

The Flenser website

Saltpig, Saltpig

Saltpig saltpig

Apparently self-released by the intercontinental duo last Fall and picked up for issue through Heavy Psych Sounds, Saltpig‘s self-titled debut modernizes classic charge and swing in increasingly doomed fashion across the first four songs of its A-side, laces “Burn the Witch” with samples themed around the titular subject, and dedicates all of side B to the blown out mostly-instrumental roll of “1950,” which is in fact 19 minutes and 50 seconds long. The band, comprised of guitarist/vocalist/noisemaker Mitch Davis (also producer for a swath of more commercially viable fare) and drummer Fabio Alessandrini (ex-Annihilator), are based in New York and Italy, respectively, and whatever on earth might’ve brought them together, in both the heavy-garage strut of “Demon” and the willfully harsh manner in which they represent themselves in the record’s back half, they bask in the rougher edges of their tones and approach more generally. “When You Were Dead” is something of a preface in its thicker distortion to “1950,” but its cavernous shouted vocals retain a psychedelic presence amid the ensuing grit, whereas once the closer gets underway from its feedback-soaked first two minutes, they make it plain there’s no coming back.

Saltpig on Facebook

Heavy Psych Sounds website

Druidess, Hermits and Mandrakes

druidess hermits and mandrakes

Newcomer UK doomers Druidess nod forth on their debut EP, Hermits and Mandrakes, with a buzzing tonality in “Witches’ Sabbath” that’s distinctly more Monolord than Electric Wizard, and while that’s fascinating academically and in terms of the generational shift happening in the heavy underground over the last few years, the fuzz that accompanies the hook of “Mandragora,” which follows, brings a tempo boost that situates the two-piece of vocalist Shonagh Brown and multi-instrumentalist/producer Daniel Downing (guitar, bass, keys, drum programming; he even had a hand in the artwork, apparently) in a more rocking vein. It’s heavy either way you go, and “Knightingales” brings Green Lung-style organ into the mix along with another standout hook before “The Hermit of Druid’s Temple” signs over its soul to faster Sabbath worship and closer “The Forest Witches’ Daughter” underscores the commitment to same in combination with a more occult thematic. It’s familiar-enough terrain, ultimately, but the heft they conjure early on and the movement they bring to it later should be plenty to catch ears among the similarly converted, and in song and performance they display a self-awareness of craft that is no less a source of their potential.

Druidess on Facebook

Druidess on Bandcamp

Astral Construct, Traveling a Higher Consciousness

astral construct traveling to a higher consciousness

One-man sans-vocals psych outfit Astral Construct — aka Denver-based multi-instrumentalist Drew Patricks — released Traveling a Higher Consciousness last year, and well, I guess I got lost in a temporal wormhole or some such because it’s not last year anymore. The record’s five-track journey is encompassing in its metal-rooted take on heavy psychedelia, however, and that’s fortunate as “Accessing the Mind’s Eye” solidifies from its languid first-half unfolding into more stately progressive riffage. Bookended by the dreamy manifestation of “Heart of the Nebula” (8:12) and “Interstellar” (9:26), which moves between marching declaration and expansive helium-guitar float, the album touches ground in centerpiece “The Traveler,” but even there could hardly be called terrestrial once the drums drop out and the keys sweep in near the quick-fade finish that brings about the more angular “Long View of Astral Consciousness,” that penultimate track daring a bit of double-kick in the drums heading toward its own culmination. Now, then or future, whether it’s looking inward or out, Traveling a Higher Consciousness is a revelry for the cosmos waiting to be engaged. You might just end up in a different year upon hearing it.

Astral Construct on Facebook

Astral Construct on Bandcamp

Ainu, Ainu

ainu ainu

Although their moniker comes from an indigenous group who lived on Hokkaido before that island became part of modern Japan, Ainu are based in Genoa, Italy, and their self-titled debut has little to do sound-wise with the people or their culture. Fair enough. Ainu‘s Ainu, which starts out in “Il Faro” with sparse atmospheric guitar and someone yelling at you in Italian presumably about the sea (around which the record is themed), uses speech and samples to hold most positions vocals would otherwise occupy, though the two-minute “D.E.V.S.” is almost entirely voice-based, so the rules aren’t so strictly applied one way or the other. Similarly, as the three-piece course between grounded sludgier progressions and drifting post-heavy, touching on more aggressive moods in the late reaches of “Aiutami A. Ricordare” and the nodding culmination of “Khrono” but letting the breadth of “Call of the Sea” unfold across divergent movements of crunchier riffs and operatic prog grandiosity. You would not call it predictable, however tidal the flow from one piece to the next might be.

Ainu on Facebook

Subsound Records website

Grid, The World Before Us

grid the world before us

Progressive sludge set to a backdrop of science-fiction and extrasolar range, The World Before Us marks a turn from heretofore instrumental New York trio Grid, who not only feature vocals throughout their 38-minute six-tracker third LP, but vary their approach in that regard such that as “Our History Hidden” takes hold following the keyboardy intro “Singularity” (in we go!), the first three of the song’s 12 minutes find them shifting from sub-soaring melodicism to hard-growled metallic crunch with the comfort of an act who’ve been pulling off such things for much longer. The subsequent “Traversing the Interstellar Gateway” (9:31) works toward similar ends, only with guitar instead of singing, and the standout galloping kickdrum of “Architects of Our World” leads to a deeper dig into the back and forth between melody and dissonance, led into by the threatening effects manipulations of the interlude “Contact” and eventually giving over to the capstone outro “Duality” that, if it needs to be said, mirrors “Singularity” at the start. There’s nuance and texture in this interplay between styles — POV: you dig Opeth and Hawkwind — and my suspicion is that if Grid keep to this methodology going forward, the vocal arrangements will continue to evolve along with the rest of the band’s expanding-in-all-directions stylizations.

Grid on Facebook

Grid on Bandcamp

Dätcha Mandala, Koda

Datcha Mandala Koda

The stated intentions of Bordeaux, France’s Dätcha Mandala in bringing elements of ’90s British alternative rock into their heavier context with their Koda LP are audible in opener “She Said” and the title-track that follows it, but it’s the underlying thread of heavy rock that wins the day across the 11-song outing, however danceable “Wild Fire” makes it or however attitude-signaling the belly-belch that starts “Thousand Pieces” is in itself. That’s not to say Koda doesn’t succeed at what it’s doing, just that there’s more to the proceedings than playing toward that particular vision of cool. “It’s Not Only Rock and Roll (And We Don’t Like It)” has fuzzy charm and a hook to boot, while “Om Namah Shivaya” ignites with an energy that is proggy and urgent in kind — the kind of song that makes you a fan at the show even if you’ve never heard the band before — and closer “Homeland” dares some burl amid its harmonized chorus and flowing final guitar solo, answering back to the post-burp chug in “Thousand Pieces” and underscoring the multifaceted nature of the album as a whole. I suppose if you have prior experience with Dätcha Mandala, you know they’re not just about one thing, but for newcomers, expect happy surprises.

Dätcha Mandala on Facebook

Discos Macarras Records website

Dr. Space Meets Mr. Mekon, The Bubbles Scopes

dr space meets mr mekon dr space meets mr mekon

Given the principals involved — Scott “Dr. Space” Heller of Øresund Space Collective, Black Moon Circle, et al, and Chris Purdon of Hawklords and Nik Turner’s Space Ritual — it should come as no surprise that The Bubbles Scopes complements its grammatical counterintuitiveness with alien soundscape concoctions of synth-based potency; the adventure into the unknown-until-it’s-recorded palpable across two extended tracks suitably titled “Trip 1” (22:56) and “Trip 2” (15:45). Longform waveforms, both. The collaboration — one of at least two Heller has slated for release this Spring; stay tuned tomorrow — makes it clear from the very beginning that the far-out course The Bubbles Scopes follows is for those who dwell in rooms with melting walls, but in the various pulsations and throbs of “Trip 1,’ the transition from organ to more electronic-feeling keyboard, and so on, human presence is no more absent than they want it to be, and while the loops are dizzying and “Trip 2” seems to reach into different dimensions with its depth of mix, when the scope is so wide, the sounds almost can’t help but feel free. And so they do. They put 30 copies on tape, because even in space all things digitalia are ephemeral. If you want one, engage your FOMO and make it happen because the chance may or may not come again.

Dr. Space on Facebook

Dr. Space on Bandcamp

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Quarterly Review: Bongripper, Destroyer of Light, Castle Rat, Temple of the Fuzz Witch, State of Non Return, Thief, Ravens, Spacedrifter, Collyn McCoy, Misleading

Posted in Reviews on May 22nd, 2024 by JJ Koczan

The-Obelisk-Quarterly-Review

I wouldn’t say we’re in the home stretch yet, but this 100-release Quarterly Review is more than three-quarters done after today, so I guess it’s debatable. In any case, we proceed. I hope you’ve enjoyed what’s been on offer so far. Yesterday was a little manic, but I got there. Today, tomorrow, I expect much the same. The order of things, as that one Jem’Hadar liked to say.

Quarterly Review #71-80:

Bongripper, Empty

BONGRIPPER empty

Eight albums and the emergence of a microgenre cast partly in their image later, it would take a lot for Chicago ultra-crush instrumentalists Bongripper to surprise their listenership, at least as regards their basic approach. If you think that’s a bad thing, fine, but I’d put the 66 minutes of Empty forward to argue otherwise. Six years after 2018’s two-song LP Terminal (review here) — with a live record and single between — the four new songs of Empty dare to sneakily convey a hopeful message in the concave tracklisting: “Nothing” (20:40), “Remains’ (12:04), “Forever” (12:43), “Empty” (21:24). That message might be what’s expressed in the echoing post-metallic lead guitar on the finale and the organ on the prior “Forever,” or, frankly, it might not. Because in the great, lumbering, riffy morass that is their sound, there’s room for multiple interpretations as well as largesse enough to accommodate the odd skyscraper, so take it as you will. Just because you might go into it with some idea of what’s coming doesn’t mean you won’t get flattened.

Bongripper on Facebook

Bongripper BigCartel store

Destroyer of Light, Degradation Years

destroyer of light degradation years

My general policy as regards “last” records is to never say never until everybody’s holograms have been deleted, but the seven songs and 39 minutes of Degradation Years represent an ending for Destroyer of Light just the same, and the Austin-based troupe end as they began, which is by not being the band people expected them to be. Their previous long-player, 2022’s Panic (review here), dug into atmospheric doom in engrossing fashion, and Degradation Years presents not-at-all-their-first pivot, with post-punk atmospherics and ’90s-alt melodies on “Waiting for the End” and heavy drift on “Perception of Time.” “Failure” is duly sad, where the shorter, riffier “Blind Faith” shreds and careens heading into its verse, and the nine-minute “Where I Cannot Follow” gives Pallbearer‘s emotive crux a look on the way to its airy tremolo finish. Guitarist/vocalist Steve Colca has a couple other nascent projects going, guitarist Keegan Kjeldsen and drummer Kelly Turner are in Slumbering Sun, and Mike Swarbrick who plays bass here is in Cortége, but Destroyer of Light always stood on their own, and they never stopped growing across their 12-year run. Job well done.

Destroyer of Light on Facebook

Destroyer of Light on Bandcamp

Castle Rat, Into the Realm

castle rat into the realm

If you take away the on-stage theatricality, the medieval/horror fetish play, and all the hype, what you’re left with on Castle Rat‘s first album, Into the Realm is a solid collection of raw, classic-styled doom rock able to account for the Doors-y guitar in the quiet strum of the gets-heavy-later “Cry for Me” as well as the shrieks of “Fresh Fur” and opener “Dagger Dragger,” the nod and chug of “Nightblood” and the proto-metal of “Feed the Dream” via three interludes spaced out across its brief 32-minute stretch. Of course, taking away the drama, the sex, and aesthetic cultistry is missing part of the point of the band in the first place, but what I’m saying is that Into the Realm has more going for it than the fact that the band are young and good looking, willing to writhe, and thus marketable. They could haunt Brooklyn basements for the next 15-20 years or go tour with Ghost tomorrow, I honestly have no clue about their ambitions or goals in that regard, but their songs present a strong stylistic vision in accord with their overarching persona, resonating with a fresh generational take and potential progression. That’s enough on its own to make Into the Realm one of the year’s most notable debuts.

Castle Rat on Instagram

King Volume Records store

Temple of the Fuzz Witch, Apotheosis

Temple of the Fuzz Witch Apotheosis

With their third full-length and first for Ripple Music, Detroit trio Temple of the Fuzz Witch — guitarist/vocalist Noah Bruner (also synth), bassist Joe Peet and drummer Taylor Christian — follow their 2020 offering, Red Tide (review here), with a somewhat revamped imagining of who they are. Apotheosis — as high as you can get — introduces layers of harsh vocals and charred vibes amid the consuming lumber of its tonality, still cultish in atmosphere but heavier in its ritualizing and darker. The screams work, and songs like “Nephilim” benefit from Bruner‘s ability to shift from clean to harsh vocals there and across the nine-songer’s 39 minutes, and while there’s plenty of slog, a faster song like “Bow Down” stands out all the more from the grim, somehow-purple mist in which even the spacious midsection of “Raze” seems to reside. The bottom line is if you think you knew who they were or you judged them as a bong-metal tossoff because of their silly name, you’re already missing out. If you’re cool with that, fair enough. It’s not my job to sell you records anyway.

Temple of the Fuzz Witch on Facebook

Ripple Music website

State of Non Return, White Ink

State of Non Return White Ink

Among the final releases for Trepanation Recordings, White Ink is the years-in-the-making first LP from Bologna, Italy’s State of Non Return — and if you’re hearing a dogwhistle in their moniker for meditative fare because that’s also the name of an Om song, you’re neither entirely correct or incorrect. From the succession of the three circa-nine-minutes-each cuts “Catharsis,” “Vertigo” and “White Ink,” the trio harness a thoughtful take on brooding desert nod, with “Vertigo” boasting some more aggro-tinged shouts ahead of the chug in its middle building on the spoken word of the opener, and the intro to the title-track building into a roll of tempered distortion that offers due payoff in its sharp-edged leads and hypnotic repetitions, to the 15-minute finale “Pendulum” that offers due back and forth between minimal spaces and full-on voluminosity before taking off on an extended linear build to end, the focus is more on atmosphere than spiritual contemplation, and State of Non Return find individualism in moody contemplation and the tension-release of their heaviest moments. Some bands grow into their own sound over time. State of Non Return, who got together in 2016, seem to have spent at least some of that span of years since doing the legwork ahead of this release.

State of Non Return on Facebook

Trepanation Recordings on Bandcamp

Thief, Bleed, Memory

thief bleed memory

Writing and recording as a solo artist under the banner of Thief — there’s a band for stage purposes — Los Angeles-based multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Dylan Neal (also Botanist) pulls back from the ’90s-attitudinal industrial and nü-metal flirtations of 2021’s The 16 Deaths of My Master (review here) and reroutes the purpose toward more emotive atmospheric ends. Sure, “Dead Coyote Dreams” still sneaks out of its house to smoke cigarettes at night, and that’s cool forever and you know it, but with an urgent beat behind it, “Cinderland” opens to a wash that is encompassing in ways Thief had little interest in being three years ago, despite working with largely similar elements blending electronica, synth, and organic instrumentation. The narrative — blessings and peace upon it — holds that Neal‘s father’s onset of dementia inspired the turn, and that’s certainly reason enough if you need a reason, but if there’s processing taking place over the 12 inclusions and 44 minutes that Bleed, Memory spans, along with its allusions to James Joyce, Vladimir Nabokov, etc., that does not at all make the work feel anymore lost than it’s intended to be in the post-techno of “Paramnesia” or the wub-and-shimmer of “To Whom it May Concern” that rounds out. I’ll allow that being of a certain age might make it more relatable.

Thief on Facebook

Prophecy Productions website

Ravens, Ravens

ravens ravens

New Jersey’s Ravens mark their first public offering with this seven-song self-titled debut, spacious in its vocal echo and ostensibly led by riffs though that doesn’t necessarily mean the guitar is foremost in the mix throughout. The guitar/drum duo of Zack Kurland (Green Dragon, ex-Sweet Diesel, etc.) and drummer Chris Daly (Texas is the ReasonResurrection, etc.) emerges out of the trio Altered States with grounded rhythmic purpose beneath the atmospheric tones and vocal melodies, touching on pop in “Get On, Get On” while “New Speedway Boogie” struts with thicker tone and a less shoegazing intent than the likes of “To Whom You Were Born,” the languid “Miscommunication” and “Revolution 0,” though that two-minute piece ends with a Misfits-y vocal, so nothing is so black and white stylistically — a notion underscored as closer “Amen” builds from its All Them Witches-swaying meanderings to a full, driving wah-scorched wash to end off. Where they might be headed next, I have no idea, but if you can get on board with this one, the songs refuse to be sublimated to fit genre, and there are fewer more encouraging starts than that.

Ravens on Instagram

Ravens on Bandcamp

Spacedrifter, When the Colors Fade

Spacedrifter When the Colors Fade

Each of the 10 songs on Spacedrifter‘s first full-length, When the Colors Fade, works from its own intention, whether it’s the frenetic MondoGenerator thrust of “(Radio Edit)” or the touch of boogie in opener “Dwell,” but grunge and desert rock are at the root of much the proceedings, as the earliest-QOTSA fuzz of “Buried in Stone” will attest. But the scope of the whole is richer in hearing than on paper, and shifts like the layered vocal melodies in “Have a Girl” or the loose bluesy swing of the penultimate “NFOB,” the band’s willingness to let a part breathe without dwelling too long on any single idea, results in a balance that speaks to the open sensibilities of turn-of-the-century era European heavy without being a retread of those bands either. Comprised of bassist/vocalist/producer Olle Söderberg, drummer/vocalist Isac Löfgren guitarist/vocalist Adam Hante and guitarist John Söderberg, Spacedrifter‘s songwriting feels and organic in its scope and how it communes with the time before the “rules” of various microgenres were set, and is low-key refreshing not like an album you’re gonna hear a ton of hyperbole about, but one that’s going to stay with you longer than its 39 minutes, especially after you let it sink in over a couple listens. So yeah, I’m saying don’t be surprised when it’s on my year-end debuts list, blah blah whatever, but also watch out for how their sound develops from here.

Spacedrifter on Facebook

Spacedrifter on Bandcamp

Collyn McCoy, Night of the Bastard Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Collyn McCoy Night of the Bastard Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Assembled across varied movements of synthesizer ranging from half-a-minute to a bit under four minutes long, the score for the indie horror film Night of the Bastard finds L.A.’s Collyn McCoy (also of Circle of Sighs, bassist for Unida, etc.) performing under his experimental-and-then-some electronic alias Nyte Vypr, and if that doesn’t telegraph weirdness to come, well, you can just take my word for it that it should. I can’t claim to have seen the movie, which is reportedly available hither and yon in the clusterfuck that is the modern streamscape, but ’80s horror plays a big role in pieces like “Shards and Splinters” and the opening “Night of the Bastard” itself, while “If We Only Had Car Keys” and “Get Out” feel even more specifically John Carpenter in their beat and keyboard handclaps. Closer “The Sorceress” is pointedly terrifying, but “Turtle Feed” follows a drone and piano line to more peaceful ends that come across as far, far away from the foreboding soundscape of “Go Fuck Yourself.” Remember that part where I said it was going to get weird? It does, and it’s clearly supposed to, so mark it another win for McCoy‘s divergent CV.

Collyn McCoy website

Collyn McCoy on Bandcamp

Misleading, Face the Psych

Misleading Face the Psych

I hate to be that guy, but while Face the Psych is the third long-player from Portugal’s Misleading, it’s my first time hearing them, so I can’t help but feel like it’s worth noting that, in fact, they’re not that misleading at all. They tell you to face the psych and then, across seven cosmos-burning tracks and 54 minutes in an alternate dimension, you face it. Spoiler: it’s fucking rad. While largely avoiding the trap of oh-so-happening-right-now space metal, Misleading are perfectly willing to let themselves be carried where the flow of “Tutte le Nove Vite” takes them — church organ righteousness, bassy shuffle, jams that run in gravitational circles, and so on — and to shove and be shoved by the insistence of “Cheating Death” a short while later. The centerpiece “Spazio Nascoto” thickens up stonerized swing after a long intro of synth drone, and 12-minute capper “Egregore” feels like the entire song, not just the guitar and bass, has been put through the wah pedal. As likely to make you punchdrunk as entranced, willfully unhinged, and raw despite filling all the reaches of its mix and then some, it’s not so much misleading as leading-astray as you suddenly realize an hour later you’ve quit your job and dropped out of life, ne’er to be seen, heard from or hounded by debt collectors again. Congrats on that, by the way.

Misleading on Facebook

Misleading on Bandcamp

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Quarterly Review: Ufomammut, Insect Ark, Heath, The Cosmic Dead, The Watchers, Juke Cove, Laurel Canyon, Tet, Aidan Baker, Trap Ratt

Posted in Reviews on May 21st, 2024 by JJ Koczan

The-Obelisk-Quarterly-Review

Good morning and heavy riffs. Today is day 7 of the Quarterly Review. It’s already been a lot, but there are still 30 more releases to cover over the next three days, so I assure you at some point I’ll have that nervous breakdown that’s been ticking away in the back of my brain. A blast as always, which I mean both sincerely and sarcastically, somehow.

But when we’re done, 100 releases will have been covered, and I get a medal sent to me whenever that happens from the UN’s Stoner Rock Commission on Such Things, so I’ll look forward to that. In the meantime, we’re off.

Quarterly Review #61-70:

Ufomammut, Hidden

ufomammut hidden

Italian cosmic doomers Ufomammut celebrate their 25th anniversary in 2024, and as they always have, they do so by looking and moving forward. Hidden is the 10th LP in their catalog, the second to feature drummer Levre — who made his debut on 2022’s Fenice (review here) alongside bassist/vocalist Urlo and guitarist Poia (both also keyboards) — and it was preceded by last year’s Crookhead EP (review here), the 10-minute title-track of which is repurposed as the opener here. A singular, signature blend of heft and synth-based atmospherics, Ufomammut roll fluidly through the six-tracker check-in, and follow on from Fenice in sounding refreshed while digging into their core stylistic purposes. “Spidher” brings extra tonal crush around its open verse, and “Mausoleum” has plenty of that as well but is less condensed and hypnotic in its atmospheric midsection, Ufomammut paying attention to details while basking in an overarching largesse. The penultimate “Leeched” was the lead single for good reason, and the four-minute “Soulost” closes with a particularly psychedelic exploration of texture and drone with the drums keeping it moving. 25 years later and there’s still new things to discover. I hear the universe is like that.

Ufomammut website

Supernatural Cat website

Neurot Recordings website

Insect Ark, Raw Blood Singing

insect ark raw blood singing

Considering some of the places Dana Schechter has taken Insect Ark over the project’s to-date duration, most of Raw Blood Singing might at times feel daringly straightforward, but that’s hardly a detriment to the material itself. Songs like “The Hands” bring together rhythmic tension and melodic breadth, as soundscapes of drone, low end chug and the drumming of Tim Wyskida (also Khanate, Blind Idiot God) cast a morose, encompassing atmospheric vision. And rest assured, while “The Frozen Lake” lumbers through its seven minutes of depressive post-sludge — shades of The Book of Knots at their heaviest, but still darker — and “Psychological Jackal” grows likewise harsher and horrific, the experimentalist urge continues to resonate; the difference is it’s being set to serve the purposes of the songs themselves in “Youth Body Swayed” or “Cleaven Hearted,” which slogs like death-doom with a strum cutting through to replace vocals, whereas the outro “Ascension” highlights the noise on its own. It is a bleak, consuming course presented over Raw Blood Singing‘s 45 minutes, but there’s solace in the catharsis as well.

Insect Ark website

Debemur Murti Productions website

Heath, Isaak’s Marble

Heath Isaak's Marble

Laced through with harmonica and organic vibes, Netherlands-based five-piece Heath make their full-length debut with the four extended tracks of Isaak’s Marble, reveling in duly expansive jams keyed for vibrancy and a live sound. They are somewhat the band-between as regards microgenres, with a style that can be traced on the opening title-cut to heavy ’70s funk-boogie-via-prog-rock, and the harmonica plays a role there before spacing out with echo over top of the psychedelia beginning of “Wondrous Wetlands.” The wetlands in question, incidentally, might just be the guitar tone, but that haze clears a bit as the band saunters into a light shuffle jam before the harder-hitting build into a crescendo that sounds unhinged but is in fact quite under control as it turns back to a softshoe-ready groove with organ, keys, harmonica, guitar all twisting around with the bass and drums. Sitar and vocal harmonies give the shorter-at-six-minutes “Strawberry Girl” a ’60s psych-pop sunshine, but the undercurrent is consistent with the two songs before as Heath highlight the shroomier side of their pastoralism, ahead of side B capper “Valley of the Sun” transitioning out of that momentary soundscape with clear-eyed guitar and flute leading to an angular progression grounded by snare and a guitar solo after the verse that leads the shift into the final build. They’re not done, of course, as they bring it all to a rousing end and some leftover noise; subdued in the actual-departing, but still resonant in momentum and potential. These guys might just be onto something.

Heath website

Suburban Records store

The Cosmic Dead, Infinite Peaks

The Cosmic Dead Infinite Peaks

The Cosmic Dead, releasing through Heavy Psych Sounds, count Infinite Peaks as their ninth LP since 2011. I’ll take them at their word since between live offerings, splits, collections and whatnot, it’s hard sometimes to know what’s an album. Similarly, when immersed in the 23-minute cosmic sprawl of “Navigator #9,” it can become difficult to understand where you stop and the universe around you begins. Rising quickly to a steady, organ-inclusive roll, the Glaswegian instrumental psilocybinists conjure depth like few of their jam-prone ilk and remain entrancing as “Navigator #9” shifts into its more languid, less-consuming middle movement ahead of the resurgent finish. Over on side B, “Space Mountain” (20:02) is a bit more drastic in the ends it swaps between — a little noisier and faster up front, followed by a zazzy-jazzy push with fiddle and effects giving over to start-stop bass and due urgency in the drums complemented by fuzz like they just got in a room and this happened before the skronky apex and unearthly comedown resolve in a final stretch of drone. Ninth record or 15th, whatever. Their mastery of interstellar heavy exploration is palpable regardless of time, place or circumstance. Infinite Peaks glimpses at that dimensional makeup.

The Cosmic Dead website

Heavy Psych Sounds website

The Watchers, Nyctophilia

The Watchers Nyctophilia

Perhaps telegraphing some of their second long-player’s darker intentions in the cover art and the title Nyctophilia — a condition whereby you’re happier and more comfortable in darkness — if not the choice of Max Norman (Ozzy Osbourne, Death Angel, etc.) to produce, San Francisco’s The Watchers are nonetheless a heavy rock and roll band. What’s shifted in relation to their 2018 debut, Black Abyss (review here), is the angle of approach they take in getting there. What hasn’t changed is the strength of songwriting at their foundation or the hitting-all-their-marks professionalism of their execution, whether it’s Tim Narducci bringing a classic reach to the vocals of “Garden Tomb” or the precise muting in his and Jeremy Von Epp‘s guitars and Chris Lombardo‘s bass on “Haunt You When I’m Dead” and Nick Benigno‘s declarative kickdrum stomping through the shred of “They Have No God.” The material lands harder without giving up its capital-‘h’ Heavy, which is an accomplishment in itself, but The Watchers set a high standard last time out and Nyctophilia lives up to that while pursuing its own semi-divergent ends.

The Watchers on Facebook

Ripple Music website

Juke Cove, Tempest

juke cove tempest

Leipzig’s Juke Cove follow a progressive course across eight songs and 44 minutes of Tempest, between nodding riffs of marked density and varying degrees of immediacy, whether it’s the might-just-turn-around-on-you “Hypnosis” early on or the shove with which the duly brief penultimate piece “Burst” takes off after the weighted crash of and ending stoner-rock janga-janga riff of “Glow” and precedes the also-massive “Xanadu” in the closing position, capping with a fuzzy solo because why not. From opener “The Path” into the bombast of “Hypnosis” and the look-what-we-can-make-riffs-do “Wait,” the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Mateusz Pietrzela, bassist/vocalist Dima Ogorodnov and drummer Maxim Balobin mine aural individualism from familiar-enough genre elements, shaping material of character that benefits from the scope wrought in tone and production. Much to its credit, Tempest feels unforced in speaking to various sides of its persona, and no matter where a given song might go — the watery finish of “Wait” or the space-blues drift that emerges out of psych-leaning noise rock on “Confined,” for example — Juke Cove steer with care and heart alike and are all the more able to bring their audience with them as a result. Very cool, and no, I’m not calling them pricks when I say that.

Juke Cove on Facebook

Juke Cove on Bandcamp

Laurel Canyon, East Side EP

laurel canyon east side

A little more than a year out from their impressive self-titled debut LP (review here), Philly three-piece Laurel Canyon — guitarist/bassist/vocalist Nicholas Gillespie, guitarist/vocalist Serg Cereja, drummer Dylan DePice — offer the East Side three-songer to follow-up on the weighted proto-grunge vibes therein. “East Side” itself, at two and a half minutes, is a little more punk in that as it aligns for a forward push in the chorus between its swaggering verses, while “Garden of Eden” is more directly Nirvana-schooled in making its well-crafted melody sound like something that just tumbled out of somebody’s mouth, pure happenstance, and “Untitled” gets more aggressive in its second half, topping a momentary slowdown/nod with shouts before they let it fall apart at the end. This procession takes place in under 10 minutes and by the time you feel like you’ve got a handle on it, they’re done, which is probably how it should be. East Side isn’t Laurel Canyon‘s first short release, and they’re clearly comfortable in the format, bolstering the in-your-face-itude of their style with a get-in-and-get-out ethic correspondingly righteous in its rawness.

Laurel Canyon on Facebook

Agitated Records website

Tet, Tet

tet tet

If you hadn’t yet come around to thinking of Poland among Europe’s prime underground hotspots, Tet offer their four-song/45-minute self-titled debut for your (re-)consideration. With its lyrics and titles in Polish, Tet draws on the modern heavy prog influence of Elder in some of the 12-minute opener/longest track (immediate points), “Srebro i antracyt,” but neither that nor “Dom w cieniu gruszy,” which follows, stays entirely in one place for the duration, and the lush melody that coincides with the unfolding of “Wiosna” is Tet‘s own in more than just language; that is to say, there’s more to distinguish them from their influences than the syllabic. Each inclusion adds complexity to the story their songs are telling, and as closer “Włóczykije” gradually moves from its dronescape by bringing in the drums unveiling the instrumentalist build already underway, Tet carve a niche for themselves in one of the continent’s most crowded scenes. I wonder if they’ve opened for Weedpecker. They could. Or Belzebong, for that matter. Either way, it will be worth looking out for how they expand on these ideas next time around.

Tet linktr.ee

Tet on Bandcamp

Aidan Baker, Everything is Like Always Until it is Not

aidan baker Everything is Like Always Until it is Not

Aidan Baker, also of Nadja, aligns the eight pieces of what I think is still his newest outing — oh wait, nope; this came out in Feb. and in March he had an hour-long drone two-songer out; go figure/glad I checked — to represent the truism of the title Everything is Like Always Until it is Not, and arranges the tracks so that the earlier post-shoegaze in “Everything” or “Like” can be a preface for the more directly drone-based “It” “Is” later on. And yes, there are two songs called “Is.” Does it matter? Definitely not while Baker‘s evocations are actually being heard. Free-jazz drums — not generally known for a grounding effect — do some work in terms of giving all the float that surrounds them a terrestrial aspect, but if you know Baker‘s work either through his solo stuff, Nadja or sundry other collaborations, I probably don’t need to tell you that the 47 minutes of Everything is Like Always Until it is Not fall into the “not like always” category as a defining feature, whether it’s “Until” manifesting tonal heft in waves of static cut through by tom-to-snare-to-cymbal splashes or “Not” seeming unwilling to give itself over to its own flow. I imagine a certain restlessness is how Aidan Baker‘s music happens in the first place. You get smaller encapsulations of that here, if not more traditional accessibility.

Aidan Baker on Facebook

Cruel Nature Recordings on Bandcamp

Trap Ratt, Tribus Rattus Mortuus

Trap Ratt Tribus Rattus Mortuus

Based in the arguable capitol of the Doom Capitol region — Frederick, Maryland — the three-piece Trap Ratt arrive in superbly raw style with the four-song/33-minute Tribus Rattus Mortuus, the last of which, aptly-titled “IV,” features Tim Otis (High Noon Kahuna, Admiral Browning, etc.), who also mixed and mastered, guesting on noise while Charlie Chaplin’s soliloquy from 1940’s The Dictator takes the place of the tortured barebones shouts that accompany the plod of 13-minute opener/longest track (immediate points) “The Sacred Skunk,” seemingly whenever they feel like it. That includes the chugging part before the feedback gets caustic near the song’s end, by the way. “Thieving From the Grieving” — which may or may not have been made up on the spot — repurposes Stooges-style riffing as the foundation for its own decay into noise, and if from anything I’ve said so far about the album you might expect “Take the Gun” to not be accordingly harsh, Trap Ratt have a word and eight minutes of disaffected exploration they’d like to share with you. It’s not every record you could say benefits aesthetically from being recorded live in the band’s rehearsal space, but yes, Tribus Rattus Mortuus most definitely does.

Trap Ratt on Facebook

Trap Ratt on Bandcamp

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Quarterly Review: Pelican, My Dying Bride, Masonic Wave, Bismarck, Sun Moon Holy Cult, Daily Thompson, Mooch, The Pleasure Dome, Slump, Green Hog Band

Posted in Reviews on May 20th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

The-Obelisk-Quarterly-Review

Welcome back to the Quarterly Review. Good weekend? Restful? Did you get out and see some stuff? Did you loaf and hang out on the couch? There are advantages to either, to be sure. Friday night I watched my daughter (and a literal 40 other performers, no fewer than four of whom sang and/or danced to the same Taylor Swift song) do stand-up comedy telling math jokes at her elementary school variety show. She’s in kindergarten, she likes math, and she killed. Nice little moment for her, if one that came as part of a long evening generally.

The idea this week is the same as last week: 50 releases covered across five days. Put the two weeks together and the Spring 2024 Quarterly Review — which I’m pretty sure is what I called the one in March as well; who cares? — runs 100 strong. I’ll be traveling, some with family, some on my own, for a bit in the coming months, so this is a little bit my way of clearing my slate before that all happens, but it’s always satisfying to dig into so much and get a feel for what different acts are doing, try and convey some of that as directly as I can. If you’re reading, thanks. If this is the first you’re seeing of it and you want to see more, you can either scroll down or click here.

Either way, off we go.

Quarterly Review #51-60:

Pelican, Adrift/Tending the Embers

pelican adrift tending the embers

Chicago (mostly-)instrumentalist stalwarts Pelican haven’t necessarily been silent since 2019’s Nighttime Stories (review here), with a digital live release in Spring 2020, catalog reissues on Thrill Jockey, a couple in-the-know covers posted and shows hither and yon, but the stated reason for the two-songer EP Adrift/Tending the Embers is to raise funds ahead of recording what will be their seventh album in a career now spanning more than 20 years. In addition to that being a cause worth supporting — they’re on the second pressing; 200 blue tapes — the two new original tracks “Adrift” (5:48) and “Tending the Embers” (4:26) reintroduce guitarist Laurent Schroeder-Lebec as a studio presence alongside guitarist Trevor Shelley de Brauw, bassist Bryan Herweg and drummer Larry Herweg. Recorded by the esteemed Sanford Parker, neither cut ranges too far conceptually from the band’s central modus bringing together heavy groove with lighter/brighter reach of guitar, but come across like a tight, more concise encapsulation of earlier accomplishments. There’s a certain amount of comfort in that as they surf the crunching, somehow-noise-rock-inspired riff of “Adrift,” sounding refreshed in their purpose in a way that one hopes they can carry into making the intended LP.

Pelican website

Pelican on Bandcamp

My Dying Bride, A Mortal Binding

My Dying Bride A Mortal Binding

Something of a harsher take on A Mortal Binding, which is the 15th full-length from UK death-doom forebears My Dying Bride, as well as their second for Nuclear Blast behind 2020’s lush The Ghost of Orion (review here. The seven-song/55-minute offering from the masters of misery derives its character in no small part from the front-mixed vocals of Aaron Stainthorpe, who from opener “Her Dominion” onward, switches between his morose semi-spoken approach, woeful as ever, and dry-throated harsher barks. And that the leadoff is all-screams feels like a purposeful choice as that rasp returns in the second half of “The 2nd of Three Bells,” the 11-minute “The Apocalyptist,” “A Starving Heart” and the ending section of closer “Crushed Embers.” I don’t know when the last time a My Dying Bride LP sounded so roiling, but it’s been a minute. The duly morose riffing of founding guitarist Andrew Craighan unites this outwardly nastier aspect with the more melodic “Thornwyck Hymn,” “Unthroned Creed” and the rest that isn’t throatripper-topped, but with returning producer Mark Mynett, the band has clearly honed in on a more stripped-down, still-room-for-violin approach, and it works in just about everything but the drums, which sound triggered/programmed in the way of modern metal. It remains easy to get caught in the band’s wretched sweep, and I’ll note that it’s a rare act who can surprise you 15 records later.

My Dying Bride website

Nuclear Blast webstore

Masonic Wave, Masonic Wave

Masonic Wave Masonic Wave

Masonic Wave‘s self-titled debut is the first public offering from the Chicago-based five-piece with Bruce Lamont (Yakuza, Corrections House, Led Zeppelin II, etc.) on vocals, and though “Justify the Cling” has a kind of darker intensity in its brooding first-half ambience, what that build and much besides throughout the eight-song offering leads to is a weighted take on post-hardcore that earlier pieces “Bully” and “Tent City” present in duly confrontational style before “Idle Hands” (the longest inclusion at just under eight minutes) digs into a similar explore-till-we-find-the-payoff ideology and “Julia” gnashes through noise-rock teethkicking. Some of the edge-of-the-next-outburst restlessness cast by Lamont, guitarists Scott Spidale and Sean Hulet, bassist Fritz Doreza and drummer Clayton DeMuth reminds of Chat Pile‘s arthouse disillusion, but “Nuzzle Up” has a cyclical crunch given breadth through the vocal melody and the sax amid the multiple angles and sharp corners of the penultimate “Mountains of Labor” are a clue to further weirdness to come before “Bamboozler” closes with heads-down urgency before subtly branching into a more spacious if still pointedly unrelaxed culmination. No clue where it might all be headed, but that’s part of the appeal as Masonic Wave‘s Sanford Parker-produced 39 minutes play out, the songs engaging almost in spite of themselves.

Masonic Wave on Bandcamp

Masonic Wave on Bandcamp

Bismarck, Vourukasha

BISMARCK VOURUKASHA

There are shades of latter-day Conan (whose producer/former bassist Chris Fielding mixed here) in the vocal trades and mega-toned gallop of opening track “Sky Father,” which Bismarck expand upon with the more pointedly post-metallic “Echoes,” shifting from the lurching ultracrush into a mellower midsection before the blastbeaten crescendo gives over to rumble and the hand-percussion-backed whispers of the intro to “Kigal.” Their first for Dark Essence, the six-song/35-minute Vourukasha follows 2020’s Oneiromancer (review here) and feels poised in its various transitions between consuming aural heft and leaving that same space in the mix open for comparatively minimal exploration. “Kigal” takes on a Middle Eastern lean and stays unshouted/growled for its five-plus minutes — a choice that both works and feels purposeful — but the foreboding drone of interlude “The Tree of All Seeds” comes to a noisy head as if to warn of the drop about to take place in the title-track, which flows through its initial movement with an emergent float of guitar that leads into its own ambient middle ahead of an engrossing, duly massive slowdown/payoff worthy of as much volume as it can be given. Wrapping with the nine-minute “Ocean Dweller,” they summarize what precedes on Vourukasha while shifting the structure as an extended, vocal-inclusive-at-the-front soundscape bookends around one more huge, slow-marching, consciousness-flattening procession. Extremity refined.

Bismarck on Facebook

Dark Essence Records website

Sun Moon Holy Cult, Sun Moon Holy Cult

Sun Moon Holy Cult Sun Moon Holy Cult

That fact that Sun Moon Holy Cult exist on paper as a band based in Tokyo playing a Sabbath-boogie-worshiping, riff-led take on heavy rock with a song like “I Cut Your Throat” leading off their self-titled debut makes a Church of Misery comparison somewhat inevitable, but the psych jamming around the wah-bass shuffle of “Out of the Dark,” longer-form structures, the vocal melodies and the Sleep-style march of “Savoordoom” that grows trippier as it delves further into its 13 minutes distinguish the newcomer four-piece of vocalist Hakuka, guitarist Ryu, bassist Ame and drummer Bato across the four-song LP’s 40 minutes. Issued through Captured Records and SloomWeep Productions, Sun Moon Holy Cult brings due bombast amid the roll of “Mystic River” as well, hitting its marks stylistically while showcasing the promise of a band with a clear idea of what they want their songs to do and perhaps how they want to grow over time. If this is to be the foundation of that growth, watch out.

Sun Moon Holy Cult on Instagram

Captured Records website

SloomWeep Productions on Bandcamp

Daily Thompson, Chuparosa

Daily Thompson Chuparosa

Dortmund, Germany’s Daily Thompson made their way to Port Orchard, Washington, to record Chuparosa with Mos Generator‘s Tony Reed at the helm, and the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Danny Zaremba, bassist/vocalist Mercedes Lalakakis and drummer/vocalist Thorsten Stratmann bring a duly West Coast spirit to “I’m Free Tonight” and the grunge-informed roll of “Diamond Waves” and the verses of “Raindancer.” The former launches the 36-minute outing with a pointedly Fu Manchuian vibe, but the start-stops, fluid roll and interplay of vocals from Zaremba and Lalakakis lets “Pizza Boy” move in its own direction, and the brooding acoustic start of “Diamond Waves” and more languid wash of riff in the chorus look elsewhere in ’90s alternativism for their basis. The penultimate “Ghost Bird” brings in cigar-box guitar and dares some twang amid all the fuzz, but as “Raindancer” has already branched out with its quieter bassy midsection build and final desert-hued thrust, the album can accommodate such a shift without any trouble. The title-track trades between wistful grunge verses and a fuller-nodding hook, from which the three-piece take off for the bridge, thankfully returning to the chorus in Chuparosa‘s big finish. The manner in which the whole thing brims with purpose makes it seem like Daily Thompson knew exactly what they were going for in terms of sound, so I guess you could say it was probably worth the trip.

Daily Thompson on Facebook

Noisolution website

Mooch, Visions

mooch visions

Kicking off with the markedly Graveyardian “Hangtime,” Mooch ultimately aren’t content to dwell solely in a heavy-blues-boogie sphere on Visions, their third LP and quick follow-up to 2023’s Hounds. Bluesy as the vibe is from which the Montreal trio set out, the subsequent “Morning Prayer” meanders through wah-strum open spaces early onto to delve into jangly classic-prog strum later, while “Intention” backs its drawling vocal melody with nylon-stringed acoustic guitar and hand percussion. Divergence continues to be the order of the day throughout the 41-minute eight-songer, with “New Door” shifting from its sleepy initial movement into an even quieter stretch of Doors-meets-Stones-y melody before the bass leads into its livelier solo section with just a tinge of Latin rhythm and “Together” giving more push behind a feel harkening back to the opener but that grows quiet and melodically expansive in its second half. This sets up the moodier vibe of “Vision” and gives the roll of “You Wouldn’t Know” an effective backdrop for its acoustic/electric blend and harmonized vocals, delivered patiently enough to let the lap steel slide into the arrangement easily before the brighter-toned “Reflections” caps with a tinge of modern heavy post-rock. What’s tying it together? Something intangible. Momentum. Flow. Maybe just the confidence to do it? I don’t know, but as subdued as they get, they never lose their momentum, and as much movement as their is, they never seem to lose their balance. Visions might not reveal its full scope the first time through, but subsequent listens bring due reward.

Mooch on Facebook

Mooch on Bandcamp

The Pleasure Dome, Liminal Space

The Pleasure Dome Liminal Space EP

The narrative — blessings and peace upon it — has it that guitarist/vocalist Bobby Spender recruited bassist Loz Fancourt and drummer Harry Flowers after The Pleasure Dome‘s prior rhythm section left, ahead of putting together the varied 16 minutes of the Liminal Space EP. For what it’s worth, the revamped Bristol, UK, trio don’t sound any more haphazard than they want to in the loose-swinging sections of “Shoulder to Cry On” that offset the fuller shove of the chorus, or the punk-rooted alt-rock brashness of “The Duke Part II (Friends & Enemies),” and the blastbeat-inclusive tension of “Your Fucking Smile” that precedes the folk-blues finger-plucking of “Sugar.” Disjointed? Kind of, but that also feels like the point. Closer “Suicide” works around acoustic guitar and feels sincere in the lines, “Suicide, suicide/I’ve been there before/I’ve been there before/On your own/So hold on,” and the profession of love that resolves it, and while that’s at some remove from the bitter spirit of the first two post-intro tracks, Liminal Space makes its own kind of sense with the sans-effects voice of Spender at its core.

The Pleasure Dome on Facebook

Hound Gawd! Records website

Slump, Dust

Slump Dust EP

A solid four-songer from Birmingham’s Slump, who are fronted by guitarist Matt Noble (also Alunah), with drummer David Kabbouri Lara and bassist Ben Myles backing the riff-led material with punch in “Buried” after the careening hook of “Dust” opens with classic scorch in its solo and before the slower and more sludged “Kneel” gets down to its own screamier business and “Vultures” rounds out with a midtempo stomp early but nods to what seems like it’s going to be a more morose finish until the drum solo takes off toward the big-crash finish. As was the case on Slump‘s 2023 split with At War With the Sun, the feel across Dust is that of a nascent band — Slump got together in 2018, but this is their most substantial standalone release to-date — figuring out what they want to do. The ideas are there, and the volatility at which “Kneel” hints will hopefully continue to serve them well as they explore spaces between metal and heavy rock, classic and modern styles. A progression underway toward any number of potential avenues.

Slump on Facebook

Slump on Bandcamp

Green Hog Band, Fuzz Realm

Green Hog Band Fuzz Realm

What dwells in Green Hog Band‘s Fuzz Realm? If you said “fuzz,” go ahead and get yourself a cookie (the judges also would’ve accepted “riffs” and “heavy vibes, dude”), but for those unfamiliar with the New Yorker trio’s methodology, there’s more to it than tone as guitarist/producer Mike Vivisector, bassist/vocalist Ivan Antipov and drummer Ronan Berry continue to carve out their niche of lo-fi stoner buzz marked by harsh, gurgly vocals in the vein of Attila Csihar, various samples, organ sounds and dug-in fuckall. “Escape on the Wheels” swings and chugs instrumentally, and “In the Mist of the Bong” has lyrics in English, so there’s no lack of variety despite the overarching pervasiveness of misanthropy. That mood is further cast in the closing salvo of the low-slung “Morning Dew” and left-open “Phantom,” both of which are instrumental save for some spoken lines in the latter, as the prevailing sense is that they were going to maybe put some verses on there but decided screw it and went back to their cave (presumably somewhere in Queens) instead, because up yours anyhow. 46 minutes of crust-stoned “up yours anyhow,” then.

Green Hog Band on Facebook

The Swamp Records on Bandcamp

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

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

The-Obelisk-Quarterly-Review

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

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

Quarterly Review #41-50:

Pallbearer, Mind Burns Alive

pallbearer mind burns alive

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

Pallbearer on Facebook

Nuclear Blast website

BleakHeart, Silver Pulse

Bleakheart silver pulse

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

BleakHeart on Facebook

Seeing Red Records website

Pryne, Gargantuan

PRYNE Gargantuan

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

Pryne on Facebook

Pryne on Bandcamp

Avi C. Engel, Too Many Souls

avi c engel too many souls

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

Avi C. Engel on Facebook

Somnimage website

Aktopasa, Ultrawest

aktopasa ultrawest

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

Aktopasa on Facebook

Aktopasa on Bandcamp

Guenna, Peak of Jin’Arrah

Guenna Peak of Jin Arrah

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

Guenna on Facebook

The Sign Records website

Slow Green Thing, Wetterwarte / Waltherstrasse

Slow Green Thing Wetterwarte Waltherstrasse

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

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Slow Green Thing on Bandcamp

Ten Ton Slug, Colossal Oppressor

TEN TON SLUG COLOSSAL OPPRESSOR

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

Ten Ton Slug on Facebook

Ten Ton Slug on Bandcamp

Magic Fig, Magic Fig

magic fig magic fig

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

Magic Fig on Facebook

Silver Current Records on Bandcamp

Scorched Oak, Perception

Perception by Scorched Oak

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

Scorched Oak on Facebook

Scorched Oak on Bandcamp

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Quarterly Review: Saturnalia Temple, Dool, Abrams, Pia Isa, Wretched Kingdom, Lake Lake, Gnarwhal, Bongfoot, Thomas Greenwood & The Talismans, Djiin

Posted in Reviews on May 15th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

The-Obelisk-Quarterly-Review

Today is Wednesday, the day we hit and pass the halfway mark for this week, which is a quarter of the way through the entirety of this 100-release Quarterly Review. Do you need to know that? Not really, but it’s useful for me to keep track of how much I’m doing sometimes, which is why I count in the first place. 100 records isn’t nothing, you know. Or 10 for that matter. Or one. I don’t know.

A little more variety here, which is always good, but I’ve got momentum behind me after yesterday and I don’t want to delay diving in, so off we go.

Quarterly Review #21-30:

Saturnalia Temple, Paradigm Call

saturnalia temple paradigm call

For the band’s fourth album, Paradigm Call, founding Saturnalia Temple guitarist/vocalist Tommie Eriksson leads the newcomer rhythm section of drummer Pelle Åhman and bassist Gottfrid Åhman through eight abyss-plundering tracks across 48 minutes of roiling tonal mud distinguished by its aural stickiness and Eriksson‘s readily identifiable vocal gurgle. The methodology hasn’t changed much since 2020’s Gravity (review here) in terms of downward pull, but the title-track’s solo is sharp enough to cut through the mire, and while it’s no less harsh for doing so, “Among the Ruins” explores a faster tempo while staying in line with the all-brown psychedelic swirl around it, brought to fruition in the backwards-sounding loops of closer “Kaivalya” after the declarative thud of side B standout “Empty Chalice.” They just keep finding new depths. It’s impressive. Also a little horrifying.

Saturnalia Temple on Facebook

Listenable Records website

Dool, The Shape of Fluidity

dool the shape of fluidity

It’s easy to respect a band so unwilling to be boxed by genre, and Rotterdam’s Dool put the righteous aural outsiderness that’s typified their sound since 2017’s Here Now There Then (review here) to meta-level use on their third long-player for Prophecy Productions, The Shape of Fluidity. Darkly progressive, rich in atmosphere, broad in range and mix, heavy-but-not-beholden-to-tone in presentation, encompassing but sneaky-catchy in pieces like opener “Venus in Flames,” the flowing title-track, and the in-fact-quite-heavy “Hermagorgon,” the record harnesses declarations and triumphs around guitarist/vocalist Raven van Dorst‘s stated lyrical thematic around gender-nonbinaryism, turning struggle and confusion into clarity of expressive purpose in the breakout “Self-Dissect” and resolving with furious culmination in “The Hand of Creation” with due boldness. Given some of the hateful, violent rhetoric around gender-everything in the modern age, the bravery of DoolVan Dorst alongside guitarists Nick Polak and Omar Iskandr, bassist JB van der Wal and drummer Vincent Kreyder — in confronting that head-on with these narratives is admirable, but it’s still the songs themselves that make The Shape of Fluidity one of 2024’s best albums.

Dool on Facebook

Prophecy Productions website

Abrams, Blue City

abrams blue city

After releasing 2022’s In the Dark (review here) on Small Stone, Denver heavy rockers Abrams align to Blues Funeral Recordings for their fifth album in a productive, also-touring nine years, the 10-track/42-minute Blue City. Production by Kurt Ballou (High on Fire, Converge, etc.) at GodCity Studio assures no lack of impact as “Fire Waltz” reaffirms the tonal density of the riffs that the Zach Amster-led four-piece nonetheless made dance in opener “Tomorrow,” while the rolling “Death Om” and the momentary skyward ascent in “Etherol” — a shimmering preface to the chug-underscored mellowness of “Narc” later — lay out some of the dynamic that’s emerged in their sound along with the rampant post-hardcore melodies that come through in Amster and Graham Zander‘s guitars, capable either of meting out hard-landing riffs to coincide with the bass of Taylor Iversen (also vocals) and Ryan DeWitt‘s drumming, or unfurling sections of float like those noted above en route to tying it all together with the closing “Blue City.” Relatively short runtimes and straightforward-feeling structures mask the stylistic nuance of the actual material — nothing new there for Abrams; they’re largely undervalued — and the band continue to reside in between-microgenre spaces as they await the coming of history which will inevitably prove they were right all along.

Abrams on Facebook

Blues Funeral Recordings website

Pia Isa, Burning Time

pia isa burning time

Superlynx bassist/vocalist Pia Isaksen made her solo debut under the Pia Isa moniker with 2022’s Distorted Chants (review here), and in addition to announcing the SoftSun collaboration she’ll undertake alongside Yawning Man‘s Gary Arce (who also appeared on her record), in 2024, she offers the three-song Burning Time EP, with a cover of Radiohead‘s “Burn the Witch” backed by two originals, “Treasure” and “Nothing Can Turn it Back.” With drumming by her Superlynx bandmate Ole Teigen (who also recorded), “Burn the Witch” becomes a lumbering forward march, ethereal in melody but not necessarily cultish, while “Treasure” digs into repetitive plod led by the low end and “Nothing Can Turn it Black” brings the guitar forward but is most striking in the break that brings the dual-layered vocals forward near the midpoint. The songs are leftovers from the LP, but if you liked the LP, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Pia Isa on Facebook

Argonauta Records website

Wretched Kingdom, Wretched Kingdom

Wretched Kingdom Wretched Kingdom

A late-2023 initial public offering from Houston’s Wretched Kingdom, their self-titled EP presents a somewhat less outwardly joyous take on the notion of “Texas desert rock” than that offered by, as an example, Austin’s High Desert Queen, but the metallic riffing that underscores “Dreamcrusher” goes farther back in its foundations than whatever similarity to Kyuss one might find in the vocals or speedier riffy shove of “Smoke and Mirrors.” Sharp-cornered in tone, opener “Torn and Frayed” gets underway with metered purpose as well, and while the more open-feeling “Too Close to the Sun” begins similar to “You Can’t Save Me” — the strut that ensues in the latter distinguishes — the push in its second half comes after riding a steady groove into a duly bluesy solo. There’s nothing in the material to take you out of the flow between the six component cuts, and even closer “Deviation” tells you it’s about to do something different as it works from its mellower outset into a rigorous payoff. With the understanding that most first-EPs of this nature are demos by another name and (as here) more professional sound, Wretched Kingdom‘s Wretched Kingdom asks little in terms of indulgence and rewards generously when encountered at higher volumes. Asking more would be ridiculous.

Wretched Kingdom on Facebook

Wretched Kingdom on Bandcamp

Lake Lake, Proxy Joy

lake lake proxy joy

Like earlier Clutch born out of shenanigans-prone punk, Youngstown, Ohio’s Lake Lake are tight within the swinging context of a song like “The Boy Who Bit Me,” which is the second of the self-released Proxy Joy‘s six inclusions. Brash in tone and the gutted-out shouty vocals, offsetting its harder shoving moments with groovy back-throttles in songs that could still largely be called straightforward, the quirk and throaty delivery of “Blue Jerk” and the bluesier-minded “Viking Vietnam” paying off the tension in the verses of “Comfort Keepers” and the build toward that leadoff’s chorus want nothing for personality or chemistry, and as casual as the style is on paper, the arrangements are coordinated and as “Heavy Lord” finds a more melodic vocal and “Coyote” — the longest song here at 5:01 — leaves on a brash highlight note, the party they’re having is by no means unconsidered. But it is a party, and those who have dancing shoes would be well advised to keep them on hand, just in case.

Lake Lake on Facebook

Lake Lake on Bandcamp

Gnarwhal, Altered States

Gnarwhal Altered States

Modern in the angularity of its riffing, spacious in the echoes of its tones and vocals, and encompassing enough in sound to be called progressive within a heavy context, Altered States follows Canadian four-piece Gnarwhal‘s 2023 self-titled debut full-length with four songs that effectively bring together atmosphere and impact in the six-minute “The War Nothing More” — big build in the second half leading to more immediate, on-beat finish serving as a ready instance of same — with twists that feel derived of the MastoBaroness school rhythmically and up-front vocal melodies that give cohesion to the darker vibe of “From Her Hands” after displaying a grungier blowout in “Tides.” The terrain through which they ebb and flow, amass and release tension, soar and crash, etc., is familiar if somewhat intangible, and that becomes an asset as the concluding “Altered States” channels the energy coursing through its verses in the first half into the airy payoff solo that ends. I didn’t hear the full-length last year. Listening to what Gnarwhal are doing in these tracks in terms of breadth and crunch, I feel like I missed out. You might also consider being prepared to want to hear more upon engaging.

Gnarwhal on Facebook

Gnarwhal on Bandcamp

Bongfoot, Help! The Humans..

bongfoot help the humans

Help the humans? No. Help! The Humans…, and here as in so many of life’s contexts, punctuation matters. Digging into a heavy, character-filled and charging punkish sound they call “Appalachian thrash,” Boone, North Carolina, three-piece Bongfoot are suitably over-the-top as they explore what it means to be American in the current age, couching discussions of wealth inequality, climate crisis, corporatocracy, capitalist exploitation, the insecurity at root in toxic masculinity and more besides. With clever, hooky lyrics that are a total blast despite being tragic in the subject matter and a pace of execution well outside what one might think is bong metal going in because of the band’s name, Bongfoot vigorously kick ass from opener “End Times” through the galloping end of “Amazon Death Factory/Spacefoot” and the untitled mountain ramble that follows as an outro. Along the way, they intermittently toy with country twang, doom, and hardcore punk, and offer a prayer to the titular volcano of “Krakatoa” to save at least the rest of the world if not humanity. It’s quite a time to be alive. Listening, that is. As for the real-world version of the real world, it’s less fun and more existentially and financially draining, which makes Help! The Humans… all the more a win for its defiance and charm. Even with the bonus tracks, I’ll take more of this anytime they’re ready with it.

Bongfoot on Facebook

Bongfoot on Bandcamp

Thomas Greenwood & The Talismans, Ateş

Thomas Greenwood and the Talismans Ateş

It’s interesting, because you can’t really say that Thomas Greenwood and the Talismans‘ second LP, Ateş isn’t neo-psychedelia, but the eight tracks and 38 minutes of the record itself warrant enunciating what that means. Where much of 2020s-era neo-psych is actually space rock with thicker tones (shh! it’s a secret!), what Greenwood — AKA Thomas Mascheroni, also of Bergamo, Italy’s Humulus) brings to sounds like the swaying, organ-laced “Sleepwalker” and the resonant spaciousness in the soloing of “Mystic Sunday Morning” is more kin to the neo-psych movement that began in the 1990s, which itself was a reinterpretation of the genre’s pop-rock origins in the 1960s. Is this nitpicking? Not when you hear the title-track infusing its Middle Eastern-leaning groove with a heroic dose of wah or the friendly shimmer of “I Do Not” that feels extrapolated from garage rock but is most definitely not that thing and the post-Beatles bop of “Sunhouse.” It’s an individual (if inherently familiar) take that unifies the varied arrangements of the acidic “When We Die” and the cosmic vibe of “All the Lines” (okay, so there’s a little bit of space boogie too), resolving in the Doors-y lumber of “Crack” to broaden the scope even further and blur past timelines into an optimistic future.

Thomas Greenwood and The Talismans on Facebook

Subsound Records website

Djiin, Mirrors

djiin mirrors

As direct as some of its push is and as immediate as “Fish” is opening the album right into the first verse, the course that harp-laced French heavy progressive rockers Djiin take on their third album, Mirrors, ultimately more varied, winding and satisfying as its five-track run gives over to the nine-minute “Mirrors” and uses its time to explore more pointedly atmospheric reaches before a weighted crescendo that precedes the somehow-fluidity in the off-time early stretch of centerpiece “In the Aura of My Own Sadness,” its verses topped with spoken word and offset by note-for-note melodic conversation between the vocals and guitar. Rest assured, they build “In the Aura of My Own Sadness” to its own crushing end, while taking a more decisively psychedelic approach to get there, and thereby set up “Blind” with its trades from open-spaces held to pattern by the drums and a pair of nigh-on-caustic noise rock onslaughts before 13-minute capstone “Iron Monsters” unfolds a full instrumental linear movement before getting even heavier, as if to underscore the notion that Djiin can go wherever the hell they want and make it work as a song. Point taken.

Djiin on Facebook

Klonosphere Records website

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Quarterly Review: Nebula, Mountain of Misery, Page Williams Turner, Almost Honest, Buzzard, Mt. Echo, Friends of Hell, Red Sun, Wolff & Borgaard, Semuta

Posted in Reviews on May 13th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

The-Obelisk-Quarterly-Review

Legend has it that a long time ago, thousands of years ago, before even the founding of the Kingdom of New Jersey itself, there was a man who attempted a two-week, 100-album Quarterly Review. He truly believed and was known to say to his goodlady wife, “Sure, I can do 100 releases in 10 days. That should be fine,” but lo, the gods did smite him for his hubris.

His punishment? That very same Quarterly Review.

Like the best of mythology, the lesson here is don’t be a dumbass and do things like 100-record Quarterly Reviews. Clearly this is a lesson I haven’t learned. Welcome to the next two weeks. Sorry for the typos. Let’s roll.

Quarterly Review #1-10:

Nebula, Livewired in Europe

Nebula Livewired in Europe

A busy 2023 continued on from a busy 2022 for SoCal heavy rockers Nebula as they supported their seventh album, Transmission From Mothership Earth (review here), and as filthy as was founding guitarist Eddie Glass‘ fuzz on that record, the nine-track (12 on the CD) Livewired in Europe pushes even further into the rawer stoner punk that’s always been at root in their sound. They hit Europe twice in 2023, in Spring and Fall, and in the lumbering sway of “Giant,” the drawl of “Messiah,” the Luciferian wink of that song and “Man’s Best Friend” earlier in the set, and the righteous urgency of what’s listed in the promo as “Down the Mother Fuckin’ Highway” or the shred-charged roll of “Warzone Speedwolf” in the bonus cuts, with bassist Ranch Sironi backing Glass on vocals and Mike Amster wailing away on drums — he’s the glue that never sounds stuck — they document the mania of post-rebirth Nebula as chaotic and forceful in kind, which is precisely what one would most hope for at the start of the gig. It’s not their first live outing, and hopefully it’s not the last either.

Nebula on Facebook

Heavy Psych Sounds website

Mountain of Misery, The Land

mountain of misery the land

The self-recording/self-releasing Kamil Ziółkowski offers his second solo LP with The Land, following in short order from last Fall’s In Roundness (review here) and the two-songer issued a month after. At six songs and 35 minutes, The Land further distinguishes Mountain of Misery stylistically from Ziółkowski‘s main outfit, Spaceslug. Yes, the two bands share a penchant for textured tones and depth of mix (Haldor Grunberg at Satanic Audio mixed and mastered), and the slow-delivered melodic ‘gaze-style vocals are recognizable, but “The ’90s” puts Nirvana through this somewhat murky, hypnotic filter, and before its shimmering drone caps the album, on closer “Back Again,” the multi-instrumentalist/vocalist reminds a bit of Eddie Vedder. Seekers of nod will find plenty in “Awesome Burn” and the slightly harder-hitting “High Above the Mount” — desert rock in its second half, but on another planet’s desert — while the succession of “Path of Sound” and “Come on Down” feel specifically set to more post-rocking objectives; the plot and riffs likewise thickened. Most of all, it sounds like Mountain of Misery is digging in for a longer-term songwriting exploration, and quickly, and The Land only makes me more excited to find out where it’s headed.

Mountain of Misery on Facebook

Electric Witch Mountain Recordings on Facebook

Page Williams Turner, Page Williams Turner

page williams turner self titled

The named-for-their-names trio Page Williams Turner is comprised of electronicist/mixer Michael Page (Sky Burial, many others), drummer/percussionist Robert Williams (of the harshly brilliant Nightstick) and saxophonist Nik Turner (formerly Hawkwind, et al), and the single piece broken into two sides on their Opposite Records self-titled debut is a duly experimentalist, mic-up-and-go extreme take on free psychedelic jazz, drone, industrial noisemaking, and time-what-is-time-signature manipulation. “Rorrim I” is drawn cinematically into an unstable wormhole circa its 14th minute, and teases serenity before the listener is eaten by a giant spider in some kind of unknowable ritual, and while “Rorrim II” feels less manic on average, its cycles, ebbs and flows remain wildly unpredictable. That’s the point, of course. If the combination of personnel and/or elements seems really, really weird on paper, you’re on the right track. This kind of thing will never be for everybody, but those who can get on its level will find it transportive. If that’s you, safe travels.

Page Williams Turner at Opposite Records Bandcamp

Opposite Records website

Almost Honest, The Hex of Penn’s Woods

almost honest the hex of penn's woods

The spoken intro welcoming the listener to “the greatest and last show of your lives” at the head of the chugging “Mortician Magician” is a little over the top considering the straightforward vibe of much of what follows on the 10 tracks of 2023’s The Hex of Penn’s Woods from Pennsylvania-based heavy rockers Almost Honest, but whether it’s the banjo early or the cowbell later in “Haunted Hunter,” the post-Fu Manchu riffing and gang shouts of “Alien Spiders,” “Ballad of a Mayfly”‘s whistling, the organ in “Amish Hex” (video premiere here), the harmonies of “Colony of Fire,” a bit of sax on “Where the Quakers Dwell,” that quirk in the opener, the funk wrought throughout by Garrett Spangler‘s bass and Quinten Spangler‘s drumming, the metal-rooted intertwining of Shayne Reed and David Kopp‘s guitars or the structural solidity beneath all of it, the band give aural character to coincide with the regionalist themes based on their Pennsylvania Dutch, foothill-Appalachian surroundings, and they dare to make their third album’s 44 minutes fun in addition to thoughtful in its craft.

Almost Honest on Facebook

Argonauta Records website

Buzzard, Doom Folk

buzzard doom folk

Based in Western Massachusetts, Buzzard is the solo-project of Christopher Thomas Elliott, and the title of his debut album, Doom Folk, describes his particular intention. As the 12-song/44-minute outing unfolds from the eponymous “Buzzard” at its outset (even that feels like a Sabbathian dogwhistle), the blend of acoustic and electric guitar forms the heart of the arrangements, but more than that, it’s doom and folk, stylistically, that are coming together. What makes it work is that Elliott avoids the trap of 2010s-ish neo-folk posturing as a songwriter, and while there’s a ready supply of apocalyptic mood in the lyrical storytelling and abundant amplified distortion put to dynamic use, the folk he’s speaking to is more traditional. Not lacking intricacy in their percussion, arrangements or melodies, you could nonetheless learn these songs and sing them. “Death Metal in America” alone makes it worth the price of admission, let alone the stellar “Lucifer Rise,” but the sweet foreboding and build of the subsequent “Harvester of Souls” gets even closer to Buzzard‘s intention in bringing together the two sides to manifest a kind of heavy that is immediately and impressively its own. Doom Folk on.

Buzzard on Facebook

Buzzard on Bandcamp

Mt. Echo, Cometh

mt echo cometh

Mt. Echo begin their third full-length primed for resonance with the expansive, patiently wrought “Veil of Unhunger,” leading with their longest track (immediate points) as a way of bringing the listener into the record’s mostly instrumental course with a shimmer of post-rock and later-emerging density of tone. The Nijmegen trio’s follow-up to 2022’s Electric Empire (review here) plays out across a breadth that extends beyond the 44-minute runtime and does more in its pieces than flow smoothly between its loud/quiet tradeoffs. “Round and Round Goes the Crown” brings a guest appearance from Oh Hazar guitarist/vocalist Stefan Kollee that pushes the band into a kind of darker, thoroughly Dutch heavy prog, but even that shift is made smoother by the spoken part on “Brutiful Your Heart” just before, and not necessarily out of line with how “Set at Rest” answers the opener, or the rumble, nod and wash that cap with “If I May.” The overarching sense of growth is palpable, but the songs express more atmospherically than just the band pushing themselves.

Mt. Echo on Facebook

Mt. Echo on Bandcamp

Friends of Hell, God Damned You to Hell

friends of hell god damned you to hell

They’re probably to raw and dug into Satanic cultistry to agree, but with Per “Hellbutcher” Gustavsson (Nifelheim) on vocals, guitarists Beelzeebubth (Mystifier, etc.) and Nikolas “Sprits” Moutafis (Mirror, etc.), bassist Taneli Jarva (Impaled Nazarene, etc.) and drummer Tasos Danazoglou (Mirror, ex-Electric Wizard, etc.) in the lineup for second LP God Damned You to Hell, it’s probably safe to call Friends of Hell a supergroup. Such considerations ultimately have little to do with how the rolling proto-NWOBHM triumphs of “Bringer of Evil” and “Arcane Macabre” play out, but it explains the current of extremity in their purposes that comes through at the start with the title-track and the severity that surrounds in the layering of “Ave Satanatas” as they journey into the underworld to finish with the eight-minute “All the Colors of the Dark.” You’re either going to buy the backpatch or shrug and not get it, and that seems like it’s probably fine with them.

Friends of Hell on Instagram

Rise Above Records website

Red Sun, From Sunset to Dawn

Red Sun From Sunset to Dawn

Not to be confused with France’s Red Sun Atacama, Italian prog-heavy psych instrumentalists Red Sun mark their 10th anniversary with the release of their third album, From Sunset to Dawn, and run a thread of doom through the keyboardy “The Sunset Turns Purple” and “The Shape of Night” on side A to manifest ‘sunset’ while side B unfolds with airier guitar in “The Coldness of the New Moon” and “Towards the End of Darkness” en route to the raga-leaning “The New Sun,” but as much as there is to be said for the power of suggestion and narrative titling, it’s the music itself that realizes the progression described in the name of the album. With a clear influence from My Sleeping Karma in “The Coldness of the New Moon” and the blend of organic hand-percussion and digitized melody in “The New Sun,” Red Sun immerse the listener in the procession from the intro “Where Once Was Light” (mirrored by “Intempesto” at the start of side B) onward, with each song serving as a chapter in the linear concept and story.

Red Sun on Facebook

Subsound Records website

Wolff & Borgaard, Destroyer

wolff and borgaard destroyer

Cinematic enough in sheer sound and the corresponding intensity of mood to warrant the visual collaboration with Kai Lietzke that accompanies the audio release, the collaboration between Hamburg electronic experimentalist Peter Wolff (Downfall of Gaia) and vocalist Jens Borgaard (Knifefight!, solo) moves between minimalist soundscaping and more consuming, weighted purposes. Moments like the beginning of “Transmit” might leave one waiting for when the Katatonia song is going to kick in, but Wolff & Borgaard engage on their own level as each of the nine pieces follows its own poetic course, able to be caustic like the culmination of “Observe” or to bring the penultimate “Extol” to silence gradually before “Reaper” bursts to life with clearly intentional contrast. I heard this or that streaming service is making a Blade Runner 2099 tv series. Sounds like a terrible idea, but it might just be watchable if Wolff & Borgaard get to do the score with a similar evocations of software and soul.

Peter Wolff on Facebook

My Proud Mountain website

Semuta, Glacial Erratic

Semuta Glacial Erratic

The Portland, Oregon, two-piece of guitarist/bassist/vocalist Benjamin Caragol (ex-Burials) and drummer Ben Stoller (currently also Simple Forms, Dark Numbers, ex-Vanishing Kids) do much to ingratiate themselves both to the crowded underground of which their hometown is an epicenter, and to the broader sphere of heavy-progressivism in modern doom and sludge. Across the five tracks of their self-released for now debut full-length, Glacial Erratic, the pair offer a panacea of heavy sounds, angular in the urgency of “Toeing the Line,” which opens, or the later thud of “Selective Memory” (the latter of which also appeared on their 2020 self-titled EP), which seem more kin to Baroness or Elder crashes and twists of “A Distant Light” or the interplay of ambience, roll, and sharpness of execution that’s been held in reserve for the nine-minute “Wounds at the Stem” as they leave off. Melody, particularly in Caragol‘s vocals, is crucial in tying the material together, and part of what gives Semuta such apparent potential, but they seem already to have figured out a lot about who they want to be musically. All of which is to say don’t be surprised when this one shows up on the list of 2024’s best debut albums come December.

Semuta on Facebook

Semuta on Bandcamp

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Los Tayos Premiere 2LP Debut Los Tayos & Los Tayos II

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on May 8th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

los tayos

Los Tayos are a recent formation in the expansion-prone ouevre of Páty, Hungary’s Psychedelic Source Records. And true to that label/collective’s vadmadar ethos, their debut release is actually two releases, the six-song/45-minute Los Tayos and Los Tayos II, the four songs of which play out across another 48-ish minutes. They were recorded in the same session, in the same day, by the four-piece assemblage of vocalist/keyboardist Krisztina Benus (also NepaalRiver Flows Reverse, Lemurian Folk Songs), guitarist/keyboardist Bence Ambrus (also production/mix/master, outreach for Psychedelic Source and numerous other projects and solo experiments), bassist Attila Nemesházi (who also aided in the production process, has been in Lemurian Folk Songs, etc.), and drummer/percussionist András Halmos, who has never appeared on a Psychedelic Source release to my knowledge, but has a long pedigree in jazz, folk and other styles, all of which come into play across Los Tayos and the even-jammier stretches of “Golden Grail” and the pairing “Inhale” and “Exhale” Los Tayos II.

If you read the info in blue text from Psychedelic Source about the project — with Los Tayos framed as a collective within a collective — you’ll see that over 100 minutes of material was recorded during that one-day delve, and that two full-length releases (to be issued across 3LPs) with somewhere in the neighborhood of 94 minutes’ worth of songs came out of it makes it feel like a pretty productive afternoon. But it becomes clear in listening that more effort has been put in than that.

With an acid folk spirit conveyed through Benus‘ vocals and the softer twists of guitar in “End of Illumination” or “Exhale” — on which Halmos offers a correspondingly gentle shuffle on the ride cymbal — Los Tayos weave their way through subtle thematic variations from the bluesier outset of “Bright Sorrow” and the wah-and-reverb excursion that follows accompanied by Spanish lyrics in “Sombre del Diablo” before the instrumental “Valle Gran Rey” redirects from the second track’s wash ending into a more classically progressive vibe. The underlying message is less about the stylistic variations — not that the nuances don’t matter; they just matter less than the flow that spans the entire offering — than about the fact of the songs themselves.

By which I mean they are songs. Even as “Valle Gran Rey” moves toward its percussion-laced midsection jam with a bit of a pickup in energy, the sense of a plan at work is palpable. In that particular case, the piece is given its shape in no small part thanks to Nemesházi‘s bass and Halmos‘ drums, but Ambrus‘ guitar follows a distinct pattern at least until it doesn’t (ha) and the movement into a more improv-sounding lead shimmer in the second half still holds its rhythmic foundation, while also leaning a bit on the right-into-the-verse beginning of “End of Illumination” for structural reinforcement.

That transition from “Valle Gran Rey” is gorgeous and strikes as purposeful in that, and as “End of Illumination” is the shortest single piece in Los Tayos and Los Tayos II, layered in its vocals and harnessing additional breadth with an almost Tuareg flair in the guitar, it brings into focus the manner in which the material on Los Tayos‘ first LPs seems to have been sculpted from what was captured at that original session. The inevitable editing, the laying out of vocal melodies and patterns, and the diverse but fluid shifts undertaken between and within the component tracks — which surely meld together even more on vinyl, despite the platter-flip interruptions — all of these aspects become an essential part of the listening experience, as well as part of the creativity behind it in the first place.

The self-titled portion caps by pairing the post-rock-ish liquefaction of “Closed Eyes” with the eponymous “Los Tayos,” the latter of which answers back to the grounded feel of “Bright Sorrow” in the guitar-forward balance of its mix but has its own physical motion as well, pulling together smooth turns and highlighting the conversation happening between strings and drums. These two at the end, as well as the percussive, eight-minute “Alma Ruida” that gives open-air-whispers ethereality to the start of Los Tayos II, make it worth noting just how amorphous the shapes given to the songs can be.

It might not be a surprise that an extended cut like “Golden Grail” works in some rather vast spaces of drone, float and subsurface groove, but the humanizing and persona-setting contribution of Benus‘ folkish declarations shouldn’t be underestimated, either on “Golden Grail,” “Bright Sorrow” or anywhere else in Los Tayos and Los Tayos II. A soothing organ drone emerges to give the course of “Inhale” not so much to anchor the drifting-away guitar lines as to give a tether to let them return as they will or won’t, and “Exhale” sees mouth harp added to the progression in its first half before the delay effects really take over in the midsection and carry the finale to its ending, an organic coming-apart over the last minute-plus that brings the shimmer up and then fades it out, as if to emphasize the message of Los Tayos‘ instrumental capstone salvo.

Expansive as it is, there’s no guarantee Los Tayos — as a project — will ever happen again, or if does, what form it might take. There are defined bands as part of Psychedelic Source Records, to be sure, but the fact is that any given Saturday might result in a new release as a result of some reorganization of players or maybe just whoever checked their texts that morning. I don’t know, is the bottom line. But, true to an ethic one finds in some of the most engaging heavy psychedelia, period, Los Tayos‘ duly-outside-the-box double-feature debut retains the soul and vitality of its root explorations while offering a deeper experience through applied craft.

Considering how much each player brings to Los Tayos and Los Tayos II, one hopes BenusAmbrus, Nemesházi and Halmos can do more at some point in the vast unknowable future, but even if not, these songs and the open atmosphere they present stand ready to welcome any and all adventurous enough to take them on.

If that’s you, please enjoy:

Los Tayos, Los Tayos album premiere

Los Tayos, Los Tayos II album premiere

https://psychedelicsourcerecords.bandcamp.com/album/los-tayos
https://psychedelicsourcerecords.bandcamp.com/album/los-tayos-ii

The first idea of this collective came up about a year ago in the heads of András and Bence. Finally when we got together, we recorded more than a hundred minute-long session during one day. Later, we did a few vocal and percussion overdubs to complete, then selected the best picks for the 3LP-long set.

One part of this supergroup came from the middle-early Lemurian Folk Songs, as Attila, Krisztina and Bence did that before. András, who is one of the Hungary’s best professionally recognized multi-drummers, brought a totally different feel in the music.

Miklós Kerner (Misu Magos, trumpeter of Microdosemike) – cover art.
Ákos Karancz – band photo.
Recorded, mixed, mastered by Attila & Bence.

‘Los Tayos’ tracklisting:
1. Bright Sorrow (9:02)
2. Sombre del Diablo (6:11)
3. Valle Gran Rey (8:11)
4. End of Illumination (4:52)
5. Closed Eyes (10:22)
6. Los Tayos (7:09)

‘Los Tayos II’ tracklisting:
1. Alma Ruida (8:00)
2. Golden Grail (16:12)
3. Inhale (10:59)
4. Exhale (13:23)

Los Tayos:
András Halmos – drums, percussion
Attila Nemesházi – bass
Krisztina Benus – vocal, keys
Bence Ambrus – guitar, producing, lyrics

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Psychedelic Source Records on Bandcamp

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