Friday Full-Length: Alice in Chains, Alice in Chains

Posted in Bootleg Theater on July 19th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Alice in Chains, Alice in Chains (1995)

I’m sure one exists, but I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of a darker pop album than Alice in Chains‘ 1995 self-titled LP, and I just can’t come up with anything. Sure, most of its singles — opener “Grind,” the later “Again” with its inconsistent but catchy “boop-boop” hook, and even the acoustic-led “Heaven Beside You” — were rockers, but is 1992’s genre-defining classic Dirt was an exploration of the pain and longing of addiction, then surely the 64-minute, 12-song Alice in Chains captured something of its depths. Of course, it would be the band’s final album with frontman Layne Staley before the singer’s recession into heroin use and his eventual death in 2002 at the age of 34. That context, and the fact that until guitarist/vocalist Jerry Cantrell, bassist Mike Inez and drummer Sean Kinney released Black Gives Way to Blue in 2009 with then-new frontman William DuVall, it was their last record, period, unquestionably informs the listening experience, and songs like “Brush Away,” “Sludge Factory,” “Head Creeps,” “God Am,” “Nothin’ Song” and “Frogs” are that much darker for it, with the finale “Over Now” originally written by Cantrell about his girlfriend at the time, but seeming to mourn the band itself in the lines, “You know it’s been on my mind/could I stand right there/Look myself in the eye and say that it’s over now?/We pay our debt sometime.” One way or the other, there seemed to be an acknowledgement there that something was drawing to a close.

And so it was. Alice in Chains followed the 1994 EP Jar of Flies, which like the band’s preceding short release, 1992’s Sap (discussed here), was driven primarily by acoustic material — plus one goof track, lest they take themselves too seriously — which had followed the radio success of Dirt singles like “Would?” and “Rooster” with its own string of hits in “No Excuses” and “I Stay Away.” Neither of the self-titled’s harder singles — that’s “Grind” and “Again” — would have the same reach as “Heaven Beside You” or “Over Now,” but whether a given song was loud or quiet or brash and doomed as was “Sludge Factory” or even daring to show a little hope as was the particularly gorgeously harmonized “Shame in You,” which by my estimation is a lost treasure of the band’s discography, not the least for its meandering finish, which is something they rarely let themselves do, Alice in Chains was consuming and dark, varied in its execution but consistent in its message. With Cantrell — who would release his first solo album, Boggy Depot, three years later in 1998 and later tour with DuVall (also of Comes with the Fall) in his band — taking on the bulk of the songwriting duties, the songs had a largely unified perspective, and with Staley‘s addiction to heroin well documented as by then taking its toll on his ability to function in the band and more generally in life, it was the guitarist who stepped in to fill the void, essentially readjusting the balance that had been at work in Alice in Chains since (before) 1990’s Facelift, their debut album. Indeed, especially in light of Boggy Depot and its vastly-underrated follow-up, 2002’s Degradation TripAlice in Chains is very much emblematic of Cantrell‘s songwriting approach in its maturity, which of course would continue to manifest during Alice in Chains‘ second run beginning with their reunion in 2005.

alice in chains self titled

That isn’t to minimalize Staley‘s contributions vocally, however. “Head Creeps” was a six-and-a-half-minute chasm of grim psychedelic impact and tension with his voice overtop, and though its guitar patterning was more indicative of Cantrell‘s poppier work, “God Am” still bore the haunting quality that Staley brought to “Sludge Factory” and “Brush Away” immediately before it, following “Grind” in an opening salvo that seemed to push further into an abyss before “Heaven Beside You” stepped in to provide some measure of respite. Playing that dynamic, and indeed Staley and Cantrell, off each other — with the always-inventive drumming of Kinney and Inez‘s clinic-in-class bass as a foundation — became the push and pull of Alice in Chains, and the material thrived on the overarching conflict. Listening to it nearly a quarter-century later, it does not sound like an easy record to have made, and by all reports, it wasn’t, but its emotional basis, troubled sensibility and sheer level of craft still resonate, whether it’s the manic “So Close” or the sweet melodies corrupted in “Frogs,” which moved from its solidified hook into a wandering nod-off of Staley seeming to predict his own death in mumbles as the instruments behind offered a darker take on “Shame in You”‘s wandering sensibility, this time feeling isolated and almost nihilistic. Is it any wonder that “Over Now” began with a sample of “Good Night” by jazz bandleader Ted Lewis? What else was there to say?

Naturally, though it seemed like it would be their last record after Staley‘s death, Alice in Chains wasn’t the last music the band produced in this incarnation. In 1996, the live recording of their appearance on MTV Unplugged — I remember watching it on its first airing; it was incredible — became a hit in its own right, and two songs, “Get Born Again” and “Died,” recorded in 1998 for inclusion with the Music Bank box set. They would be the last tracks Staley recorded with Alice in Chains, though he also appeared on a cover of Pink Floyd‘s “Another Brick in the Wall” on a 1998 movie soundtrack as part of the assembled one-off “supergroup” Class of ’99 with Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and members of Jane’s Addiction. It was less than a career highlight.

Last year, Alice in Chains marked the release of their third post-Staley LP, Rainier Fog (discussed here), and the fact that they’ve gone 10 years with three records out with DuVall means they’ve at this point been around longer without him than with and put out as many albums. I won’t take away from the quality of Rainier Fog in manifesting a persona for Alice in Chains having moved forward in a way that even the prior 2013 outing, The Devil Put the Dinosaurs Here, and Black Gives Way to Blue couldn’t, but there are many for whom Staley‘s work in the band remains an essential facet. There are arguments to be made for either side, and frankly, I’m not interested in laying them out or begrudging a band whose work has legitimately changed my life their finding a path and continued success along it. Either way, their ’90s-era recordings stand as testament to the force they were at the time in creativity, performance and presence, and of those, Alice in Chains remains singularly affecting.

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

Been up early the last two days. Like 1:45AM. Yesterday I was like, “Duh, I’ll get up and get all my writing done and then I can just relax when the baby naps and that’ll be great because I have infinite energy and I can just sit and read and there’s no way I’ll immediately fall asleep or anything.” Clearly that was dumb. Today was less of a conscious choice. I was just up. I tried to go back to sleep for an hour, read some, and then finally decided to say screw it and start the day. Coffee, Alice in Chains, the whole bit. It’s quarter-after-four now. I had the notion of going to 7-Eleven at around three to buy a bag of ice, but wanted to get this post done first. I may yet head out. It’s like three minutes away. Not such a journey. I used to walk there when I was a kid, probably listening to Dirt or Suicidal Tendencies’ Art of Rebellion or whatever on my Walkman.

We were back in Massachusetts earlier this week. Monday, I guess it was. The Patient Mrs. was giving a talk on campus up there — one of her last duties to Bridgewater State unless you count emptying her office and teaching an online class — so I went up as well and packed vinyl and a bunch of other stuff from the kitchen and around. Most of what’s left is like stuff from closets and furniture. The closing date on that place is in about a month, so hopefully nothing falls through with the buyer between now and then and we can be done with it, get everything else out before we close. We came back down to Jersey on Tuesday and have been here since, are staying here through the impending terrible heat this weekend. No central air, but window units should do the job fairly enough. One hopes, anyhow. There’s a ton to do in this house. Everyone is overwhelmed. Tense. Could probably stand to get laid.

This was my grandmother’s house before she died, we’re buying it from my mother. It’s been cleaned up, but not really cleaned out, so as we’re basically moving a house’s worth of stuff into it from, you know, our house in Massachusetts, there’s a concurrent house’s worth of stuff we’re moving out from here. Some of that has been donated, some my mother has taken, some is stuff my sister was storing here, some is going to my cousin, some we’re keeping, etc., but everything is an emotionally fraught process, and there is a fucking ton of it. Plus we found a leak in the wall upstairs in the rain yesterday and god fucking knows what that portends in terms of repair. Six years ago, when we moved to MA, we just packed our shit and left. This has thus far been much more complicated, and we have a long way to go.

But eventually, that will result in a new dishwasher, and I sincerely look forward to that.

Today at 1PM Eastern is a new episode of The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio. It’s my tribute to Maryland Doom Fest 2019, just playing some of the bands and talking about the festival a bit. It was a good time, so I wanted to highlight that. Call me nostalgic if you must.

Next week? Wolf Blood review, I think. With the AIC done, I’m listening to that record now and it’s pretty killer. Then maybe Morass of Molasses and we’ll see about the rest. Lo-Pan have a show in Teaneck next week that I’m going to hit up ahead of seeing them with C.O.C. in August, so I’ll review that — I don’t expect much in terms of lighting — and there are a couple sweet-ass The Obelisk Presents announcements coming as well, so keep an eye out.

The rest is and will be what it is and will be.

Everyone have a great and safe weekend. If you’re someplace warm, stay cool and hydrate. If you’re someplace cool, get some good snuggles going. Who doesn’t like snuggles?

Thanks again for reading. Forum, radio, merch.

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

The Obelisk shirts & hoodies

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Elektric Mistress Stream Self-Titled EP in Full; Out Friday

Posted in audiObelisk on July 18th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

elektric mistress

This Friday, July 19, marks the release of the self-titled debut EP from Nova Scotia five-piece Elektric Mistress. The outing is a 16-minute three-songer, about half of which is dedicated to the eight-minute opener “Turn to Grey,” with its mellow, bluesy procession, lyrical introspection about aging — the early line, “Trees are dying and the leaves are on their own,” feels particularly layered with meaning in a about-more-than-just-hair kind of way — steady organ and basslines, flowing guitar and duly moving drums. Soon enough they’ll get down to drinking in the tropics with frontman Steve Poole calling out drink orders in “Cuba Time” while the band behind — guitarist Kyle Cantfell, bassist Kieran Richardson, drummer Victor Canales and keyboardist Riley MacDonald — execute more of a classic shuffle, but the impression of the opener remains crucial, not just because it’s longer, but because it sets such a fine balance between its atmospheric and rocking elements. Make no mistake, Elektric Mistress are a heavy rock and roll band and they’ve got the ‘k’ in “electric” to prove it, which isn’t to mention the EP’s eyeroll-worthy naked-chick-in-a-feather-headdress-holding-a-bong artwork (well enough drawn, but really?), but part of the value of putting the longest song first is that it immediately changes the context in which “Cuba Time” and closer “Meeting of the Minds” appear. That works well in Elektric Mistress‘ favor on this first offering.

The closer, a couple The Doors references later, is about playing a show, the tension and anticipation before and the satisfaction of hitting a stage. Nothing wrong with that, of course, and the middle-range tempo and general activity level draws a line between “Turn to Grey” — which does pick up in the middle and get loud, but still does so as part of a larger purpose of mood — and “Cuba Time,” which has more libidinous ends, with the mojitos and the “señoritas” and all. Still, Elektric Mistress — and if they really want to throw people for a loop their next time out, they should call whatever they release next Electrik Mistress, just to be subtle and screw with anyone only paying casual attention — gives three distinct looks at the band’s approach and for a first release and even more so for a first EP, there’s nothing else one could reasonably ask of it than that. There are some production/mix kinks to work out, but hell if I know any big-time New Scotland heavy rock engineers to suggest, and I make it a policy not to rag on self-releasing bands getting their start whether that’s a “debut EP” or a “demo” as it used to be called, so particularly as everything comes through clear and seems to convey their purpose well, I’m not inclined to quibble. And as regards their purpose, these guys aren’t changing the world, and I don’t think they’re trying to, but they’ve got their hearts in the right place as regards rock and an obvious focus on traditional songwriting that makes the most of their choruses.

You can stream the EP in its entirety on the player below. Official release date, once again, is tomorrow, and they’ll have it up on Bandcamp and all the rest.

Please enjoy:

Elektric Mistress, Elektric Mistress EP full stream premiere

Elektric Mistress on self-titled EP:

“Our self-titled EP is the band’s first studio recording. Influenced by the members’ psychedelic and stoner rock roots, each track has a unique sound and showcases their varied influences and songwriting abilities. With riffing low guitar/bass chug fused with B3/Rhodes/Synth sounds, the EP recaptures the retro rock sound of the 70s with a modern tinge, and stands as a tribute to the bands’ early influences.”

The first studio release from Elektric Mistress!

ELEKTRIC MISTRESS is face punching psychedelic rock firmly rooted in what has come before. Channeling the energy of inspirations such as Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and Pink Floyd the stoner rock quintet is all about the groove.

Each track on the EP has a unique sound and showcases their varied influences and songwriting abilities with riffing low guitar/bass chug fused with B3/Rhodes/Synth sounds, the EP tries to recapture the retro rock sound of the 70s with a modern tinge and stands as a tribute to the band’s early influences.

Elektric Mistress are:
Steve Poole: Vocals
Kyle Cantfell: Guitars
Riley MacDonald: Keys
Kieran Richardson: Bass
Victor Canales: Drums

Elektric Mistress on Thee Facebooks

Elektric Mistress on Instagram

Elektric Mistress on Bandcamp

Elektric Mistress website

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Urns Set Aug. 10 Release for Self-Titled Debut; New Song Streaming

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 16th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

urns

First, I’d like to point out that the Thee Facebooks address for Pittsburgh’s Urns is ‘booUrns,’ which is about as choice as Simpsons references get without actually shooting Mr. Burns. Second, there’s a new song streaming now called “Curse” that leads off their upcoming self-titled debut that will see release on Aug. 10, one day after the release party at Howler’s in the band’s hometown. I’m getting a doom rock vibe from the first half of the track and some distinctly sludgier vibes from the second, but all that really tells me is they’re looking to throw a few curves here and there, and that’ll do nicely. One might recognize bassist/backing vocalist Justin Gizzi from Monolith Wielder and Molasses Barge as well, just in case you needed more proof of doomly bona fides.

Pedigree goes far, but riffs go further, so dig into the track and see what you think. Here’s some background:

urns urns

Urns (Pittsburgh) s/t debut available 8/10 at http://www.UrnsPgh.com

Crying out like the last gasp of a man on fire, punctuated by overdriven guitars growling and biting through shifting moods, Urns take their time to get where they are going, exploring the smoke-filled soundscape along the way. Droning guitars give way to aureate vocal harmonies at times, just as soon as sludgy riffs desperately trudge forward behind blood-throated shrieks. Vocalist/guitarist Mike Myzak recruited bassist Justin Gizzi and drummer Rick Fontanese in 2014, with Mitchell Cochran joining in 2017 to form the line-up for Urns’ debut self-titled record (engineered by Jason Jouver of Plus/Minus Recording, mastered by Jack Endino of Soundhouse Recording) to be released 8/9 at Howler’s in Pittsburgh.

Has played with: Weedeater, Bell Witch, Full of Hell, Yob, Heavy Temple, Stinking Lizaveta, Witch Mountain

FB: https://www.facebook.com/BooUrnsPGH

Mike Myzak – guitar and vocals, lead guitar on track 2
Mitchell Cochran – lead guitar
Justin Gizzi – bass and backing vocals
Rick Fontanese – drums

https://www.facebook.com/BooUrnsPGH
http://www.UrnsPgh.com

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Quarterly Review: Pelican, Swan Valley Heights, Mark Deutrom, Greenbeard, Mount Soma, Nibiru, Cable, Reino Ermitaño, Cardinals Folly & Lucifer’s Fall, Temple of the Fuzz Witch

Posted in Reviews on July 8th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review

More computer bullshit this morning. I lost about 45 minutes because my graphics driver and Windows 10 apparently hate each other and before I could disable the former, the machine decided the best it could do for me was to load a blank screen. Hard to find the Pelican record on my desktop when I can’t see my desktop. The Patient Mrs. woke up while I was trying to fix it and suggested HDMIing it to the tv. When I did that, it didn’t project as was hoped, but the display came on — because go figure — and I was able to shut off the driver, the only real advantage of which is it lets me use the night light feature so it’s easier on my eyes. That’s nice, but I’d rather have the laptop function. Not really working on a level of “give me soft red light or give me death!” at this point. I may yet get there in my life.

Today’s the last day of this beast, wrapping up the last of the 60 reviews, and I’m already in the hole for the better part of an hour thanks to this technical issue, the second of the week. Been an adventure, this one. Let’s close it out.

Quarterly Review #51-60:

Pelican, Nighttime Stories

pelican nighttime stories

Split into two LPs each with its own three-minute mood-setter — those being “WST” and “It Stared at Me,” respectively — Pelican‘s Nighttime Stories (on Southern Lord) carries the foreboding sensibility of its title into an aggressive push throughout the album, which deals from the outset with the pain of loss. The lead single “Midnight and Mescaline” represents this well in directly following “WST,” with shades of more extreme sounds in the sharp-turning guitar interplay and tense drums, but it carries through the blastbeats of “Abyssal Plain” and the bombastic crashes of presumed side B closer “Cold Hope” as well, which flow via a last tonal wash toward the melancholy “It Stared at Me” and the even-more-aggro title-track, the consuming “Arteries of Blacktop” and the eight-minute “Full Moon, Black Water,” which offers a build of maddening chug — a Pelican hallmark — before resolving in melodic serenity, moving, perhaps, forward with and through its grief. It’s been six years since Pelican‘s last LP, Forever Becoming (review here), and they’ve responded to that time differential with the hardest-hitting record they’ve ever done.

Pelican on Thee Facebooks

Southern Lord Recordings website

 

Swan Valley Heights, The Heavy Seed

swan valley heights the heavy seed

Though the peaceful beginning of 13-minute opener and longest track (immediate points) “The Heavy Seed,” for which the five-song album is named, reminds of Swan Valley Heights‘ Munich compatriots in Colour Haze, the ultimate impression the band make on their Fuzzorama Records debut and second album overall behind a 2016 self-titled (review here) is more varied in its execution, with cuts like “Vaporizer Woman” and the centerpiece “Take a Swim in God’s Washing Machine” manifesting ebbs and flows and rolling out a fuzzy largesse to lead into dream-toned ethereality and layered vocals that immediately call to mind Elephant Tree. There’s a propensity for jamming, but they’re not a jam band, and seem always to have a direction in mind. That’s true even on the three-minute instrumental “My First Knife Fight,” which unfurls around a nod riff and simple drum progression to bridge into closer “Teeth and Waves,” a bookend to The Heavy Seed‘s title-track that revives that initial grace and uses it as a stepping stone for the crunch to come. It’s a balance that works and should be well received.

Swan Valley Heights on Thee Facebooks

Fuzzorama Records on Bandcamp

 

Mark Deutrom, The Blue Bird

Mark Deutrom The Blue Bird

Released in the wee hours of 2019, Mark Deutrom‘s The Blue Bird marks the first new solo release from the prolific Austin-based songwriter/producer/multi-instrumentalist through Season of Mist, and it’s a 50-minute run of genre-spanning outsider art, bringing ’70s folk vibes to the weepy guitar echoes of “Radiant Gravity” right before “O Ye of Little Faith” dooms out for six of its seven minutes and “Our Revels Now Are Ended” basks in 77 seconds of experimentalist winding guitar. It goes like that. Vocals are intermittent enough to not necessarily be expected, but not entirely absent through the midsection of “Hell is a City,” “Somnambulist” and “Maximum Hemingway,” and if there’s traditionalism at play anywhere, it might be in “They Have Won” and “The Happiness Machine,” which, toward the back end of the album, bring a sax-laden melancholy vibe and a straightforward heavy rock feel, respectively, ahead of the closer “Nothing out There,” which ties them together, somehow accounting for the 1:34 “On Fathers Day” as well in its sweetness. Don’t go into The Blue Bird asking it to make sense on any level other than its own and you should be fine. It’s not a minor undertaking at 50 minutes, and not without its indulgences, but even the briefest of pieces helps develop the character of the whole, which of course is essential to any good story.

Mark Deutrom website

Season of Mist website

 

Greenbeard, Onward, Pillager

greenbeard onward pillager

Austin bringers of hard-boogie Greenbeard reportedly issued the three-song Onward, Pillager as a precursor to their next full-length — even the name hints toward it being something of a stopgap — but its tracks stand well on their own, whether it’s the keyboard-laced “Contact High II,” which is presumably a sequel to another track on the forthcoming record, or the chunkier roll of “WCCQ” and the catchy finisher “Kill to Love Yourself,” with its overlaid guitar solo adding to a dramatic ending. It hasn’t been that long since 2017’s Lödarödböl (review here), but clearly these guys are committed to moving forward in neo-stoner rock fashion, and their emergence as songwriters is highlighted particularly throughout “WCCQ” and “Kill to Love Yourself,” while “Contact High II” is more of an intro or a would-be interlude on the full-length. It may only be pieces of a larger, to-be-revealed picture, but Onward, Pillager shows three different sides of what Greenbeard have on offer, and the promise of more to come is one that will hopefully be kept sooner rather than later.

Greenbeard on Thee Facebooks

Sailor Records on Bandcamp

 

Mount Soma, Nirodha

mount_soma_nirodha

Each of the three songs on Mount Soma‘s densely-weighted, live-recorded self-released Nirodha EP makes some mention of suffering in its lyrics, and indeed, that seems to be the theme drawing together “Dark Sun Destroyer” (7:40), “Emerge the Wolf” (5:50) and “Resurfacing” (9:14): a quest for transcendence perhaps in part due to the volume of the music and the act itself of creating it. Whatever gets them there, the trajectory of Nirodha is such that by the time they hit into the YOB-style galloping toward the end of “Resurfacing,” the gruff shouts of “rebirth!” feel more celebratory than ambitious. Based in Dublin, the four-piece bring a fair sense of space to their otherwise crush-minded approach, and though the EP is rough — it is their second short release following 2016’s Origins — they seem to have found a way to tie together outer and inner cosmos with an earthbound sense of gravity and heft, and with the more intense shove of “Emerge the Wolf” between the two longer tracks, they prove themselves capable of bringing a noisy charge amid all that roar and crash. They did the first EP live as well. I wonder if they’d do the same for a full-length.

Mount Soma on Thee Facebooks

Mount Soma on Bandcamp

 

Nibiru, Salbrox

nibiru salbrox

One might get lost in the unmanageable 64-minute wash of Nibiru‘s fifth full-length (first for Ritual Productions), Salbrox, but the opaque nature of the proceedings is part of the point. The Italian ritualists bring forth a chaotic depth of noise and harsh semi-spoken rasps of vocals reportedly in the Enochian language, and from 14-minute opener “EHNB” — also the longest track (immediate points) — through the morass that follows in “Exarp,” “Hcoma,” “Nanta” and so on, the album is a willful slog that challenges the listener on nearly every level. This is par for the course for Nibiru, whose last outing was 2017’s Qaal Babalon (review here), and they seem to revel in the slow-churning gruel of their distortion, turning from it only to break to minimalism in the second half of the album with “Abalpt” and “Bitom” before 13-minute closer “Rziorn” storms in like a tsunami of spiritually desolate plunge. It is vicious and difficult to hear, and again, that is exactly what it’s intended to be.

Nibiru on Thee Facebooks

Ritual Productions website

 

Cable, Take the Stairs to Hell

Cable Take the Stairs to Hell

The gift of Cable was to take typically raw Northeastern disaffection and channel it into a noise rock that wasn’t quite as post-this-or-that as Isis, but still had a cerebral edge that more primitive fare lacked. They were methodical, and 10 years after their last record, the Hartford, Connecticut, outfit return with the nine-song/30-minute Take the Stairs to Hell (on Translation Loss), which brings them back into the modern sphere with a sound that is no less relevant than it was bouncing between This Dark Reign, Hydra Head and Translation Loss between 2001 and 2004. They were underrated then and may continue to be now, but the combination of melody and bite in “Black Medicine” and the gutty crunch of “Eyes Rolled Back,” the post-Southern heavy of the title-track and the lumbering pummel of “Rivers of Old” before it remind of how much of a standout Cable was in the past, reinforcing that not only were they ahead of their time then, but that they still have plenty to offer going forward. They may continue to be underrated as they always were, but their return is significant and welcome.

Cable on Instagram

Translation Loss Records webstore

 

Reino Ermitaño, Reino Ermitaño

Reino Ermitano Reino Ermitano

Originally released in 2003, the self-titled debut from Lima, Peru’s Reino Ermitaño was a beacon and landmark in Latin American doom, with a sound derived from the genre’s traditions — Sabbath, Trouble, etc. — and melded with not only Spanish-language lyrics, but elements of South American folk and stylizations. Reissued on vinyl some 16 years later, it maintains its power through the outside-time level of its craft, sliding into that unplaceable realm of doom that could be from any point from about 1985 onward, while the melodies in the guitar of Henry Guevara and the vocals of Tania Duarte hold sway over the central groove of bassist Marcos Coifman and drummer Julio “Ñaka” Almeida. Those who were turned onto the band at the time will likely know they’ve released five LPs to-date, with the latest one from 2014, but the Necio Records version marks the first time the debut has been pressed to vinyl, and so is of extra interest apart from the standard putting-it-out-there-again reissue. Collectors and a new generation of doomers alike would be well advised on an educational level, and of course the appeal of the album itself far exceeds that.

Reino Ermitaño on Thee Facebooks

Necio Records on Bandcamp

 

Cardinals Folly & Lucifer’s Fall, Split

cardinals folly lucifers fall split

Though one hails from Helsinki, Finland, and the other from Adelaide, Australia, Cardinals Folly and Lucifer’s Fall could hardly be better suited to share the six-song Cruz Del Sur split LP that they do, which checks in at 35 minutes of trad doom riffing and dirtier fare. The former is provided by Cardinals Folly, who bring a Reverend Bizarre-style stateliness to “Spiritual North” and “Walvater Proclaimed!” before betraying their extreme metal roots on “Sworn Through Odin’s and Satan’s Blood,” while the Oz contingent throw down Saint Vitus-esque punk-born fuckall through “Die Witch Die,” the crawling “Call of the Wild” and the particularly brash and speedier “The Gates of Hell.” The uniting thread of course is homage to doom itself, but each band brings enough of their own take to complement each other without either contradicting or making one or the other of them feel redundant, and rather, the split works out to be a rampaging, deeply-drunk, pagan-feeling celebration of what doom is and how it has been internalized by each of these groups. Doom over the world? Yeah, something like that.

Cardinals Folly on Thee Facebooks

Lucifer’s Fall on Thee Facebooks

Cruz Del Sur Music website

 

Temple of the Fuzz Witch, Temple of the Fuzz Witch

Temple of the Fuzz Witch Temple of the Fuzz Witch

A strong current of Electric Wizard runs through the self-titled debut full-length from Detroit’s Temple of the Fuzz Witch (on Seeing Red Records), but even to that, the outfit led by guitarist/vocalist Noah Bruner bring a nascent measure of individuality, droning into and through “Death Hails” after opening with “Bathsheba” and ahead of unveiling a harmonized vocal on “The Glowing of Satan” that suits the low end distortion surprisingly well. They continue to offer surprises throughout, whether it’s the spaciousness of centerpiece “329” and “Infidel,” which follows, or the offsetting of minimalism and crush on “The Fuzz Witch” and the creeper noise in the ending of “Servants of the Sun,” and though there are certainly familiar elements at play, Temple of the Fuzz Witch come across with an intent to take what’s been done before and make it theirs. In that regard, they would seem to be on the right track, and in their 41 minutes, they find footing in a murky aesthetic and are able to convey a sense of songwriting without sounding heavy-handed. There’s nothing else I’d ask of their first album.

Temple of the Fuzz Witch on Thee Facebooks

Seeing Red Records on Bandcamp

 

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Friday Full-Length: Windhand, Windhand

Posted in Bootleg Theater on July 5th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

I’ve been thinking again about some of the best albums from this rapidly-coming-to-a-close decade, and how could Windhand not be on that list? The Richmond, Virginia, doom lurkers made their self-titled debut (review here) through Forcefield Records in 2012. They’ve never been a catchy band. In the studio and on stage, their method has always been to overwhelm with sound. Distortion comes in swells of riffs, plodding grooves that are massive both in terms of pace and in their sheer tonality — a largesse brought to bear on the first album by founding guitarists Garrett Morris and Asechiah Bogdan. The latter played guitar in Alabama Thunderpussy, so that was an immediate draw to the band, while drummer Ryan Wolfe had done a stint in The Might Could with guitarist/vocalists T.J. Childers (currently of Inter Arma) and also-ex-ATP guitarist Erik Larson (currently drumming in Backwoods Payback) and also played in post-Eyehategod sludgers Facedowninshit. Together with vocalist Dorthia Cottrell and then-bassist Nathan Hilbish, Wolfe, Bogdan and Morris embarked on the creation of an immersive wash of doom that has become among the most distinctive calling cards of their generation. A touchstone for their sound has always been an Electric Wizard influence, but listening back to the self-titled these seven years later, hindsight makes even clearer just how much the band were charting an individual path even at their outset. That is to say, Windhand‘s Windhand doesn’t sound so much like anything as much as it sounds like Windhand.

Cottrell‘s vocals, echoing through the fog in vague, forlorn lines, are a signature part of that. Pacing back and forth across the stage, sometimes not even looking at the crowd, her performance has never been one reaching out in some cloying or showy way, but like the music itself, holds some kind of hypnotic aspect. I’ve been lucky enough to see the band on probably more than a handful of occasions — not every time, but definitely some of the times — as they’ve toured hard over the last half-decade-plus, and the sound is consuming in how it follows the patterns of the studio versions of the material, the central difference being the level of attainable volume for that wash. But it was there at the beginning. It doesn’t matter whether you’re listening to “Black Candles” or “Libusen” or “Heap Wolves” on side A or the longer pair “Summon the Moon” and “Winter Sun” on side B, Windhand‘s Windhand makes its intent felt from front to back in a molten boil of abyssal doom. It is at once cavernous and claustrophobic. The riff of “Summon the Moon” seems to rise and fall like a chest inhaling and exhaling. The music becomes this breathing, lurching thing and still manages to convey some sense of happening in the real world with samples of rain and thunder at the beginning of “Black Candles” and between the side A tracks and wind later at the start of “Winter Sun,” whatever landscape they’re conjuring taking on an otherworldlyWindhand - Windhand cover art presence thanks to the riffs, melodies and lumber of the rhythm — and indeed, to Cottrell‘s vocals.

It’s not that Windhand don’t have verses or choruses — every now and then, they land a zinger of a hook — but that’s never been the priority. Among the accomplishments of the self-titled was to set the atmosphere they would continue to develop afterward, to cast it so vividly and paint the world as deeply purple as the cover art. That commitment to ambience has been one of the most consistent factors of their sound, and as they’ve moved through signing to Relapse for the release of Soma (review here) and their split with Cough — whose Parker Chandler had (I’m pretty sure) by then already joined them on bass — in 2013, 2015’s Grief’s Infernal Flower (review here) and last year’s Eternal Return (review here), their style has never stopped progressing or growing, but that growth has come not at the expense of their murk, but to its refinement. Even as they touched on psychedelic grunge with the last album, Windhand‘s core, lung-crushing sonic oozing was as prevalent as ever.

Given the work they’ve put in on tour, the measure of influence they’ve had and their ongoing creative evolution, I have no qualms in calling them one of the best American doom acts of their generation. I think sometimes because they don’t beat their audience over the head with choruses and they’re not up there “selling it” on stage — though they tour hard and have for years at this point — they get forgotten about when people consider the league of acts like Pallbearer and whoever else. Gender, of course, has to be considered as well. But if Windhand have taken the longer, less marketing-ready route to notoriety, they’ve gotten there just the same, and one looks forward as much to their next studio work as to the next time they’ll come through and play live. They’ve refused to work not on their own terms and they’ve refused to compromise the essential components of their aesthetic even as they’ve pushed those into new territory and helped expand the boundaries of genre as a whole. What the hell else would you want for a magazine cover?

Windhand‘s self-titled — five tracks, 42 minutes, one great overarching plunge — probably isn’t their greatest sonic achievement to-date. Once Chandler joined the band and they really solidified the lineup they began to develop something really special through Soma and the subsequent offerings, and even as they’ve become a four-piece, Eternal Return has kept that thread going. But it’s the fact that it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think their next album will be even better that really emphasizes the level of achievement at which they work. They’ve been a band for over a decade, and in that time, they’ve established a pattern for finding their own way through their own songs, not so much guiding the listener through to safety, but leading down an overgrown and harrowing path that only seems to get deeper as it goes. What their ultimate story will be remains to be seen, but Windhand was the beginning of it, preceded just by a 2010 demo, and a crucial moment of arrival for and band who’ve only proved more and more necessary with time.

As always, I hope you enjoy, and thanks for reading.

So yesterday was the Fourth of July. America puts immigrants in camps. We steal children from their moms. We were founded on the backs of slaves and continue to pay women less for equal work. Also, apparently endless war.

I was in bed before the fireworks were on tv last night. I didn’t even make it to the end of the baseball game. We’re at the beach in CT and the next-door neighbor took it upon himself to play reggae for eight hours straight through his $20,000 outdoor speaker system. Which is a long way of saying he’s a fucking asshole and should get hit by a train.

Quarterly Review wraps up Monday.

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio is a repeat today, but it’s still on at 1PM Eastern, so please check it out if you can: http://gimmeradio.com.

The rest is blah blah blah, and as Captain Kirk once said, “No more blah blah blah.”

Have a great and safe weekend. Forum, Radio, merch at Dropout.

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Quarterly Review: Elizabeth Colour Wheel, Black Lung, Giant Dwarf, Land Mammal, Skunk, Silver Devil, Sky Burial, Wizzerd, Ian Blurton, Cosmic Fall

Posted in Reviews on July 5th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review

Got my laptop back. Turned out the guy had to give me a new hard drive entirely, clone all my data on it, and scrap the other drive. I’m sure if I took it to another technician they’d have said something completely different, either for better or worse, but it was $165 and I got my computer back, working, in a day, so I can’t really complain. Worth the money, obviously, even though it was $40 more than the estimate. I assume that was a mix of “new hard drive” and “this is the last thing I’m doing before a four-day weekend.” Either way, totally legit. Bit of stress on my part, but what’s a Quarterly Review without it?

This ends the week, but there’s still one more batch of 10 reviews to go on Monday, so I won’t delay further, except to say more to come.

Quarterly Review #41-50:

Elizabeth Colour Wheel, Nocebo

elizabeth colour wheel nocebo

A rare level of triumph for a first album, Elizabeth Colour Wheel‘s aesthetic scope and patience of craft on Nocebo result in a genre-spanning post-noise rock that maintains an atmospheric heft whether loud or quiet at any given moment, and a sense of unpredictability that feels born out of a genuinely forward-thinking songwriting process. It is dark, emotionally resonant, beautiful and crushing across its eight songs and 47 minutes, as the Philadelphia five-piece ebb and flow instrumentally behind a standout vocal performance that reminds of Julie Christmas circa Battle of Mice on “Life of a Flower” but is ultimately more controlled and all the more lethal for that. Bouts of extremity pop up at unexpected times and the songs flow into each other so as to make all of Nocebo feel like a single, multi-hued work, which it just might be as it moves into ambience between “Hide Behind (Emmett’s Song)” and “Bedrest” before exploding to life again in “34th” and transitioning directly into the cacophonous apex that comes with closer “Head Home.” One of the best debuts of 2019, if not the best.

Elizabeth Colour Wheel on Thee Facebooks

The Flenser on Bandcamp

 

Black Lung, Ancients

black lung ancients

Ancients is the third full-length from Baltimore’s Black Lung, whose heavy blues rock takes a moodier approach from the outset of “Mother of the Sun” onward, following an organ-led roll in that opener that calls to mind All Them Witches circa Lightning at the Door and following 2016’s See the Enemy (review here) with an even firmer grasp on their overarching intent. The title-track is shorter at 3:10 and offers some post-rock flourish in the guitar amid its otherwise straight-ahead push, but there’s a tonal depth to add atmosphere to whatever moves they’re making at the time, “The Seeker” and “Voices” rounding out side A with relatively grounded swing and traditionalist shuffle but still catching attention through pace and presentation alike. That holds true as “Gone” drifts into psychedelic jamming at the start of side B, and the chunkier “Badlands,” the dramatic “Vultures” and the controlled wash of “Dead Man Blues” take the listener into some unnamed desert without a map or exit strategy. It’s a pleasure to get lost as Ancients plays through, and Black Lung remain a well-kept secret of the East Coast underground.

Black Lung on Thee Facebooks

Ripple Music website

Noisolution website

 

Giant Dwarf, Giant Dwarf

Giant Dwarf Giant Dwarf

This just fucking rules, and I feel no need to couch my critique in any more flowery language than that. Driving, fuzzy heavy rock topped with post-Homme melodies that doesn’t sacrifice impact for attitude, the self-released, self-titled debut from Perth, Australia’s Giant Dwarf is a sans-pretense 35 minutes of groove done right. They may be playing to genre, fine, but from the cover art on down, they’re doing so with a sense of personality and a readiness to bring an individual sensibility to their sound. I dig it. Summery tones, rampant vocal melodies in layers, solid rhythmic foundation beneath. The fact that it’s the five-piece’s first album makes me look less for some kind of stylistic nuance, but it’s there to be heard anyway in “Disco Void” and the bouncing end of “High Tide Blues,” and in surrounding cuts like “Repeat After Defeat” and “Strange Wool,” Giant Dwarf set to the task before them with due vitality, imagining Songs for the Deaf with Fu Manchu tonality in “Kepler.” No big surprise, but yeah, it definitely works. Someone should be beating down the door to sign this band.

Giant Dwarf on Thee Facebooks

Giant Dwarf on Bandcamp

 

Land Mammal, Land Mammal

land mammal land mammal

Land Mammal‘s debut outing is a 14-minute, proof-of-concept four-songer EP with clarity of presentation and telegraphed intent. Marked out by the Robert Plant-style vocal heroics of Kinsley August, the band makes the most of a bluesy atmosphere behind him, with Will Weise on wah-ready guitar, Phillip PJ Soapsmith on bass, Stephen Smith on drums and True Turner on keys. On opener “Dark with Rain” and closer “Better Days,” they find a pastoral vibe that draws from ’90s alternative, thinking Blind Melon particularly in the finale, but “Earth Made Free” takes a bluesier angle and “Drippin’ Slow” is not shy about nor ashamed of its danceability, as its lyrics demonstrate. For all the crispness of the production, Land Mammal still manage to sound relatively natural, which is all the more encouraging in terms of moving forward, but it’ll be interesting to hear how they flesh out their sound over the course of a full-length, since even as an EP, this self-titled is short. They have songwriting, performance and production on their side, however, so something tells me they’ll be just fine.

Land Mammal on Thee Facebooks

Land Mammal on Bandcamp

 

Skunk, Strange Vibration

skunk strange vibration

Even before they get to the ultra-“N.I.B.” patterning of second track “Stand in the Sun,” Skunk‘s Sabbathian loyalties are well established, and they continue on that line, through the “War Pigs”-ness of “Goblin Orgy” (though I’ll give them bonus points for that title), and the slower “A National Acrobat” roll of “The Black Crown,” and while that’s not the only influence under which Skunk are working — clearly — it’s arguably the most forward. They’ve been on a traditional path since 2015’s mission-statement EP, Heavy Rock from Elder Times (review here), and as Strange Vibration is their second album behind 2017’s Doubleblind (review here), they’ve only come more into focus in terms of what they’re doing overall. They throw a bit of swagger into “Evil Eye Gone Blind” and “Star Power” toward the end of the record — more Blackmore or Leslie West than Iommi — but keep the hooks center through it all, and cap with a welcome bit of layered melody on “The Cobra’s Kiss.” Based in Oakland, they don’t quite fit in with the Californian boogie scene to the south, but standing out only seems to suit Strange Vibration all the more.

Skunk on Thee Facebooks

Skunk on Bandcamp

 

Silver Devil, Paralyzed

Silver Devil Paralyzed

Like countrymen outfits in Vokonis or to a somewhat lesser degree Cities of Mars, Gävle-based riffers Silver Devil tap into Sleep as a core influence and work outward from there. In the case of their second album, Paralyzed (on Ozium Records), they work far out indeed, bringing a sonic largesse to bear through plus-sized tonality and distorted vocals casting echoes across a wide chasm of the mix. “Rivers” or the later, slower-rolling “Octopus” rightfully present this as an individual take, and it ends up being that one way or the other, with the atmosphere becoming essential to the character of the material. There are some driving moments that call to mind later Dozer — or newer Greenleaf, if you prefer — such as the centerpiece “No Man Traveller,” but the periodic bouts of post-rock bring complexity to that assessment as well, though in the face of the galloping crescendo of “The Grand Trick,” complexity is a secondary concern to the outright righteousness with which Silver Devil take familiar elements and reshape them into something that sounds fresh and engaging. That’s basically the story of the whole record, come to think of it.

Silver Devil on Thee Facebooks

Ozium Records website

 

Sky Burial, Sokushinbutsu

sky burial Sokushinbutsu

Comprised of guitarist/vocalist/engineer Vessel 2 and drummer/vocalist Vessel 1 (also ex-Mühr), Sky Burial release their debut EP, Sokushinbutsu, through Break Free Records, and with it issue two songs of densely-weighted riff and crash, captured raw and live-sounding with an edge of visceral sludge thanks to the harsh vocals laid overtop. The prevailing spirit is as much doom as it is crust throughout “Return to Sender” (8:53) and the 10:38 title-track — the word translating from Japanese to “instant Buddha” — and as “Sokushinbutsu” kicks the tempo of the leadoff into higher gear, the release becomes a wash of blown-out tone with shouts cutting through that’s very obviously meant to be as brutal as it absolutely is. They slow down eventually, then slow down more, then slow down more — you see where this is going — until eventually the feedback seems to consume them and everything else, and the low rumble of guitar gives way to noise and biting vocalizations. As beginnings go, Sokushinbutsu is willfully wretched and animalistic, a manifested sonic nihilism that immediately stinks of death.

Sky Burial on Thee Facebooks

Break Free Records on Bandcamp

 

Wizzerd, Wizzerd

wizzerd st

One finds Montana’s Wizzerd born of a similar Upper Midwestern next-gen take on classic heavy as that of acts like Bison Machine and Midas. Their Cursed Tongue Records-delivered self-titled debut album gives a strong showing of this foundation, less boogie-based than some, with just an edge of heavy metal to the riffing and vocals that seems to derive not directly from doom, but definitely from some ’80s metal stylizations. Coupled with ’70s and ’90s heavy rocks, it’s a readily accessible blend throughout the nine-song/51-minute LP, but a will toward the epic comes through in theme as well as the general mood of the riffs, and even in the drift of “Wizard” that’s apparent. Taken in kind with the fuzzblaster “Wraith,” the winding motion of the eponymous closer and with the lumbering crash of “Warrior” earlier, the five-piece’s sound shows potential to distinguish itself further in the future through taking on fantasy subject matter lyrically as well as playing to wall-sized grooves across the board, even in the speedy first half of “Phoenix,” with its surprising crash into the wall of its own momentum.

Wizzerd on Thee Facebooks

Cursed Tongue Records webstore

 

Ian Blurton, Signals Through the Flames

Ian Blurton Signals Through the Flames

The core of Ian Blurton‘s Signals Through the Flames is in tight, sharply-executed heavy rockers like “Seven Bells” and “Days Will Remain,” classic in their root but not overly derivative, smartly and efficiently composed and performed. The Toronto-based Blurton has been making and producing music for over three decades in various guises and incarnations, and with these nine songs, he brings into focus a songcraft that is more than enough to carry song like “Nothing Left to Lose” and opener “Eye of the Needle,” which bookends with the 6:55 “Into Dust,” the closer arriving after a final salvo with the Scorpionic strut of “Kick out the Lights” and the forward-thrust-into-ether of “Night of the Black Goat.” If this was what Ghost had ended up sounding like, I’d have been cool with that. Blurton‘s years of experience surely come into play in this work, a kind of debut under his own name and/or that of Ian Blurton’s Future Now, but the songs come through as fresh regardless and “The March of Mars” grabs attention not with pedigree, but simply by virtue of its own riff, which is exactly how it should be. It’s subtle in its variety, but those willing to give it a repeat listen or two will find even more reward for doing so.

Ian Blurton on Thee Facebooks

Ian Blurton on Bandcamp

 

Cosmic Fall, Lackland

Cosmic Fall Lackland

“Lackland” is the first new material Berlin three-piece Cosmic Fall have produced since last year’s In Search of Space (review here) album, which is only surprising given the frequency with which they once jammed out a record every couple of months. The lone 8:32 track is a fitting reminder of the potency in the lineup of guitarist Marcin Morawski, bassist Klaus Friedrich and drummer Daniel Sax, and listening to the Earthless-style shred in Morawski‘s guitar, one hopes it won’t be another year before they come around again. As it stands, they make the eight minutes speed by with volcanic fervor and an improvised sensibility that feels natural despite the song’s ultimately linear trajectory. Could be a one-off, could be a precursor to a new album. I’d prefer the latter, obviously, but I’ll take what I can get, and if that’s “Lackland,” then so be it.

Cosmic Fall on Thee Facebooks

Cosmic Fall on Bandcamp

 

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Quarterly Review: Torche, Spillage, Pharlee, Dali’s Llama, Speedealer, Mt. Echo, Monocluster, Picaporters, Beaten by Hippies, Luna Sol

Posted in Reviews on July 3rd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review

We meet again. The Summer 2019 Quarterly Review. It’s four in the morning and I’m getting ready to start the day. I haven’t even managed to pour myself coffee yet, which even as I type it out feels like a crime against humanity, such as it is. I’ll get there though.

Wednesday in the Quarterly Review marks the halfway point of the week, and as we’ll hit 30 reviews at the end, it’s half of the total 60 as well, so yeah. Feeling alright so far. As always, good music helps. I’ve added a couple things for consideration to my ongoing best-of-the-year list for December, so that’s something. And I think I’ll probably be doing so again today, so let’s get to it.

Quarterly Review #21-30:

Torche, Admission

torche admission

15 years later and Torche‘s sound is still expanding. To that point, it’s never sounded quite as expansive as it does on Admission, their fifth album and second for Relapse behind 2015’s Restarter (review here). There are still plenty of straight-ahead heavy riffs on cuts like “Reminder” or “Slide” or the bomb-tone-laden “Infierno,” but in the title-track, in “Times Missing,” the closer “Changes Come,” “Slide” and even the 1:30-long “What Was,” there’s a sense of spaciousness and float to the guitars to contrast all that crunch, and it effectively takes the place of some of the manic feel of their earlier work. It’s consistent with the brightness of their melodies in songs like “Extremes of Consciousness” and the early pusher “Submission,” and it adds to their style rather than takes away, building on the mid-paced feel of the last album in such a way as to demonstrate the band’s continued growth long after they’d be well within their rights to rest on their laurels. Sharp, consistent in its level of songwriting, mature and engaging across its 36-minute entirety, Admission is everything one might ask of Torche‘s fifth album.

Torche on Thee Facebooks

Relapse Records website

 

Spillage, Blood of Angels

spillage blood of angels

If you, like me, believe doom to be the guardian style of classic heavy metal — you could also argue power metal there, but that’s why it’s an argument — Chicago’s Spillage might be the band to help make your case. With their own Ronnie James Dio in Elvin Rodriguez (not a comparison I make lightly) and a connection to the Trouble family tree via founding guitarist Tony Spillman, who also played in Earthen Grave, the band unfurl trad-metal poise throughout their 53-minute second album, Blood of Angels, hitting touchstones like Sabbath, Priest, and indeed Trouble on a chugger like “Free Man,” a liberal dose of organ on “Rough Grooved Surface” adding to the classic feel — Rainbow, maybe? — and even the grandiose ballad “Voice of Reason” that appears before the closing Sabbath cover “Dirty Women” staying loyal to the cause. I can’t and won’t fault them for that, as in both their originals and in the cover, their hearts are obviously in it all the way and the sound is right on, the sleek swing in the second half of “Evil Doers” punctuated by squealing guitar just as it should be. Mark it a win for the forces of metal, maybe less so for the angels.

Spillage on Thee Facebooks

Qumran Records on Thee Facebooks

 

Pharlee, Pharlee

pharlee pharlee

San Diego strikes again with Pharlee‘s self-titled debut on Tee Pee Records, a 29-minute boogie rock shove that’s marked out by the significant pipes of Macarena Rivera up front, the shuffling snare work of Zach Oakley (also guitar in JOY and Volcano) and the organ work of Garret Lekas throughout, winding around and accentuating the riffs of Justin “Figgy” Figueroa and the air-push bass of Dylan Donovan. It’s a proven formula by now, but Pharlee‘s Pharlee is like the band who comes on stage in the middle of the festival and surprises everyone and reminds them why they’re there in the first place. The energy of “Darkest Hour” is infectious, and the bluesier take on Freddie King‘s “Going Down” highlights a stoner shred in Figueroa‘s guitar that fits superbly ahead of the fuzz freakout, all-go closer “Sunward,” and whatever stylistic elements (and personnel, for that matter) might be consistent with their hometown’s well-populated underground, Pharlee take that radness and make it their own.

Pharlee on Thee Facebooks

Tee Pee Records website

 

Dali’s Llama, Mercury Sea

dalis llama mercury sea

Long-running desert rockers Dali’s Llama return with Mercury Sea, their first release since 2017’s The Blossom EP (review here) and their first full-length since 2016’s Dying in the Sun (review here), sounding reinvigorated in rockers like opener “Weary” and the subsequent grunge-vibing “Choking on the Same,” “When Ember Laughs” and the garage-style “She’s Not Here.” Persistently underappreciated, their albums always have a distinct feel, and Mercury Sea is no different, finding a place for itself between the laid-back desert blues and punkier fare on a cut like “Someday, Someday,” even delving into psychedelic folk for a while in the 6:54 longest track “Goblin Fruit,” and a bit of lead guitar scorch bringing it all together on closer “All My Fault,” highlighting the theme of love that’s been playing out all the while. The sincerity behind that and everything Dali’s Llama does is palpable as ever in these 11 tracks, an more than 25 years on from their inception, they continue to deliver memorable songs in wholly unpretentious fashion. That’s just what they do.

Dali’s Llama on Thee Facebooks

Dali’s Llama on Bandcamp

 

Speedealer, Blue Days Black Nights

speedealer blue days black nights

Speedealer ride again! And just about at top speed, too. The Dallas, Texas, outfit were last heard from circa 2003, and their turnabout is marked with the self-release of Blue Days Black Nights, a fury-driven 10-tracker that takes the best of their heavy-rock-via-punk delivery and beefs up tones to suit another decade and a half’s worth of hard living and accumulated disaffection. The Dallas four-piece blaze through songs like “Never Knew,” the hardcore-punk “Losing My Shit,” the more metallic “Nothing Left to Say,” and the careening aggro-swagger of “Rheumatism,” but there’s still some variety to be had throughout, as highlight “Sold Out,” “War Nicht Genung” and “Shut Up” find the band no less effective working at a somewhat scaled-back pace. However fast they’re going, though the attitude remains much the same, and it’s “fuck you fuck this” fuckall all the way. Those familiar with their past work would expect no less, and time has clearly not repaired the chip on Speedealer‘s shoulder. Their anger is our gain.

Speedealer on Thee Facebooks

Speedealer webstore

 

Mt. Echo, Cirrus

mt echo cirrus

Based in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, the instrumentalist four-piece Mt. Echo present a somewhat noisier take on Russian Circles-style heavy post-rock with their nine-song/46-minute debut, Cirrus. Not at all shy about incorporating a noise rock riff or a more weighted groove, the dual-guitar outfit nonetheless spend significant time patiently engaged in the work of atmosphere-building, so that their material develops a genuine ebb and flow as songs tie one into the next to give the entire affair a whole-album feel. It is their first outing, but all the more striking for that in terms of how much of a grip they seem to have on their approach and what they want to be doing in a song like “Lighthouse at the End of Time” with airy lead and chugging rhythm guitars intertwining and meeting head-on for post-YOB crashes and an eventual turn into a harder-pushing progression. Ambience comes (mostly) to the fore in the seven-minute “Monsters and the Men Who Made Them,” but wherever they go on Cirrus, Mt. Echo bring that atmospheric density along with them. The proverbial ‘band to watch.’

Mt. Echo on Thee Facebooks

Mt. Echo on Bandcamp

 

Monocluster, Ocean

Monocluster Ocean

Over the course of five longform tracks on Ocean, Germany’s Monocluster build fluidly on the accomplishments of their 2015 self-titled debut (review here), greatly expanding on the heft and general reach of their sound while, as opener “Ocean in Our Bones” demonstrates, still holding onto the ability to affect a killer hook when they need one. Ocean is not a minor undertaking at 56 minutes, but it dedicates its time to constructing a world in cuts like “Leviathan” and “A Place Beyond,” the giant wall of fuzzed low end becoming the backdrop for the three-part story being told that ends with the 11:43 “Home” standing alone, as graceful and progressive as it is brash and noisy — a mirror in that regard to the nine-minute centerpiece “Guns and Greed” and a fitting summation of Ocean‘s course. They keep this up for very long and people are going to start to notice. The album is a marked step forward from where Monocluster were a few years ago, and sets up the expectation of continued growth their next time out while keeping a focus on the essential elements of songwriting as well. If we’re looking for highlights, I’d pick “Leviathan,” but honestly, it’s anyone’s game.

Monocluster on Thee Facebooks

Monocluster on Bandcamp

 

Picaporters, XXIII

picaporters xxiii

The third full-length from Argentine trio Picaporters marks another level of achievement for them as a band. XXIII arrives three years after El Horror Oculto (review here) and is unquestionably their broadest-cast spectrum to-date. The album comes bookended by eight-minute opener “La Soga de los Muertos” and “M.I.,” an 18-minute finale jam that would give a Deep Purple live record reason to blush. Soulful guitar stretches out over a vast rhythmic landscape, and all this after “Jinetes del Universo” motorpunks out and “Vencida” pulls together Floydian melo-prog, “Numero 5” precedes the closer with acoustic interplay and the early “Despertar” offers a little bit of everything and a lot of what-the-hell-just-happened. These guys started out on solid footing with their 2013 debut, Elefantes (review here), but neither that nor El Horror Oculto really hinted at the scope they’d make sound so natural throughout XXIII, which is the kind of record that leaves you no choice but to call it progressive.

Picaporters on Thee Facebooks

Picaporters on Bandcamp

 

Beaten by Hippies, Beaten by Hippies

beaten by hippies beaten by hippies

As their moniker hints, there’s some edge of danger to Belgium’s Beaten by Hippies‘ self-titled debut (on Polderrecords), but the album ultimately resolves itself more toward songwriting and hooks in the spirit of a meaner-sounding Queens of the Stone Age in songs like “Space Tail” and “More is More,” finding common ground with the energy of Truckfighters though never quite delving so far into fuzzy tones. That’s not at all to the band’s detriment — rather, it helps the four-piece begin to cast their identity as they do in this material, whether that’s happening in the volatile sudden volume trades in “Dust” or the mission statement “Rock ‘n’ Roll,” which feels geared a bit to the anthemic but would probably work just as well in whatever pub they happen to be terrorizing on a given evening. Their delivery skirts the line between heavy and hard rock as only that vaguely commercially viable European-style can, but the songs are right there waiting to take the stage at whatever festival is this weekend and blow the roof — or the sky, I guess, if it’s outdoors — off the place.

Beaten by Hippies on Thee Facebooks

Polderrecords website

 

Luna Sol, Below the Deep

luna sol below the deep

Guitarist/vocalist Dave Angstrom may be best known in heavy rock circles for his work alongside John Garcia in Hermano, but in leading the four-piece Luna Sol through their 12-song/50-minute sophomore outing, Below the Deep (on Slush Fund Recordings), he proves a capable frontman as well as songwriter. Sharing vocal duties with bassist Shannon Fahnestock while David Burke handles guitar and Justin Baier drums, Angstrom is a steady presence at the fore through the well-constructed ’90s-flavored heavy rock of “Below the Deep” and “Along the Road” early, the later “Garden of the Gods” playing toward a more complex arrangement after the strutting “The Dying Conglomerate” paints a suitably grim State of the Union and ahead of the fuzz-rich ending in “Home,” which keeps its melodic purpose even as it crashes out to its languid finish. Whether it’s the charged “Man’s Worth Killin'” or the winding fuzz of “Mammoth Cave,” one can definitely hear some Hermano at work, but Luna Sol distinguish themselves just the same.

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Slush Fund Recordings webstore

 

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Quarterly Review: Salem’s Bend, Motorpsycho, Sigils, Lord Dying, Sunn O))), Crimson Heat, Molior Superum, Moros, Glitter Wizard, Gourd

Posted in Reviews on July 2nd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review

Today is Tuesday, I’m pretty sure, and hey, that’s nifty. I thought yesterday kicked off the Summer 2019 Quarterly Review really well, and any time I get through one of these without my head caving in on itself, I feel like that’s a victory, so yeah. Now we wade even deeper into what will ultimately be a 60-review plunge, with another 10 offerings of various stripes and takes on heavy. Some higher profile stuff in here, which is fine, I guess, but most of it is pretty recent, so if there’s something you haven’t heard yet, I hope you find something you dig, as always.

Quarterly Review #11-20:

Salem’s Bend, Supercluster

salems bend supercluster

This is the sound of a band who’ve figured it out. Salem’s Bend have taken retroist boogie and modern tonalism, production and melody and turned it into something of their own. Supercluster (on Ripple) follows the Los Angeles trio of guitarist/vocalist Bobby Parker, bassist/vocalist Kevin Schofield and drummer Zach Huling‘s 2016 self-titled debut (review here), and with an uptick in the complexity of songwriting overall and particularly in the arrangements of dual-vocals, it is a marked step forward palpable as much in the hook of “Ride the Night” — and if you’re gonna call a song that, you better bring it — as the heavy crash ending “Heavenly Manna” and the languid, lucidly dreaming groove in “Infinite Horizon,” which appears ahead of the acoustic hidden track “Beltaine Chant.” That won’t be the last time these guys unplug, but whether it’s the raw Zeppelin vibe of “Show Me the Witch” or the crunching low-end nod of “Thinking Evil” or the leadoff thrust in “Spaceduster,” the message is clear that Salem’s Bend have arrived.

Salem’s Bend on Thee Facebooks

Ripple Music webstore

 

Motorpsycho, The Crucible

motorpsycho the crucible

The latest in Motorpsycho‘s nigh-on-impossible-to-chart and ever-growing discography is The Crucible, issued through Stickman Records, and taking some of the heavy rock push of 2017’s The Tower (review here) and stretching out to more willfully progressive execution across three increasingly extended tracks. Running from shortest to longest, the album begins with “Psychotzar” (8:44) which resolves itself in maddening turns after fleshing through an energetic beginning, and rounds out side A with the 11-minute “Lux Aeterna,” with vocal harmonies and mellotron building into a graceful swell of volume before a headspinner solo and jam take hold, break to near-silence and finish in a burst of directly earliest-King Crimson majesty. This all before the 20:51, side B-consuming title-track crashes in with immediate tension and plays back and forth at releasing that through a course that is rife with melody and an emphasis on the mastery of Motorpsycho over their sound and direction. Onto the list of the year’s best records it goes.

Motorpsycho on Thee Facebooks

Stickman Records website

 

Sigils, You Built the Altar, You Lit the Leaves

Sigils You Built the Altar You Lit the Leaves

Hypnotic and immersive heavy post-rock and metal becomes the genre tag well enough, but what New York’s Sigils do on their markedly impressive self-recorded, self-released debut album, You Built the Altar, You Lit the Leaves, is more soulful and emotive than “post-” anything generally conveys. With four tracks/38 minutes best taken as a whole, single listening experience, the band offer resonant depths of tone and vocal echoes centered around airy but still weighted guitar and consuming rhythms brought to bear with the patience of an organic Jesu. The ultimate triumph is in the melody and payoff of 13-plus-minute closer “The Wicked, the Cloaked,” which seems to manifest the haunting sensibility that “Samhain” and “Ritual” advocate on side A, but neither will I discount the chug of the prior “Faceless” or the underlying churn in those two leadoff tracks. Especially as a first album, You Built the Altar, You Lit the Leaves casts a sonic identity for itself that is striking and sees the band already beginning to push themselves forward. One hopes they continue to do so.

Sigils on Thee Facebooks

Sigils on Bandcamp

 

Lord Dying, Mysterium Tremendum

Lord Dying Mysterium Tremendum

Following 2015’s Poisoned Altars (review here), subsequent years of touring and a jump from Relapse to eOne Metal, Lord Dying‘s Mysterium Tremendum is enough of a stylistic melting pot that the best thing to do is call it progressive and just let it roll. Comprised of 11 tracks themed around death and the afterlife, the record takes the Portland, Oregon, outfit’s prior death-doom ways and expands them to incorporate an array of styles and melodies, like a vocoder-less Cynic or even Atheist, but more focused on the songs themselves. It’s being widely hailed as one of 2019’s best metal releases, and honestly I can’t speak to that because who the hell knows what “metal” even means, but it sees Lord Dying pull off a major sonic leap and if this is the direction they’re headed from now on, then I guess “metal” is going to be whatever the hell they want. So there. Expect to see a lot of Lord Dying t-shirts around in the years to come.

Lord Dying on Thee Facebooks

eOne Heavy on Thee Facebooks

 

Sunn O))), Life Metal

sunn life metal

The core of Sunn O)))‘s sound — that is, the drone-riffed tonality of Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley, has proven amorphous enough over the last two decades to either be orchestral, minimalist, impossibly bleak, or now, something brighter. The Steve Albini-recorded Life Metal is one of two purported Sunn O))) releases slated for this year, and it follows behind 2015’s Kannon (review here) in manifesting their project in a new way. It is 68 minutes long, comprised of four tracks — the first, “Between Sleipnir’s Breaths,” is notable for the inclusion of vocals from Hildur Guðnadóttir; the rest is instrumental — and while one wonders how much is the power of suggestion amid their colorful artwork and titular presentation, “life” as opposed to death metal, etc., their resonance throughout “Aurora” (19:07) and “Novae” (25:24) strips away much of the flourish that has engulfed Sunn O))) in their post-maturity years and reminds of the power at their center. They chose the right producer.

Sunn O))) on Bandcamp

Southern Lord Recordings website

 

Crimson Heat, Crimson Heat

Crimson Heat Crimson Heat

With a handful of tracks of dirt-coated Sabbathian doom rock, Crimson Heat make their debut with a self-titled demo/EP in no small part defined by its lack of pretense. I’d buy the tape at the show. You’d buy the tape at the show. The download is free. Clearly this is a band figuring out what they want to do and trying to catch a few ears, but the sound is right on. Notable as well for the participation of Sam Marsh of Sinister Haze, tracks like “At My Door” blend Tee Pee Records-style skate vibes with darker traditionalist crunch, and the subsequent acoustic interlude “Firewood” indeed adds a bit of burning-stove smell to the procession ahead of doomed shuffler finale “Deep Red.” They might be new, but from the nod of “Premonition” and the double-layered guitar of “Fortune Teller,” they very clearly know where they’re coming from. What they do with that from here will tell the tale, but for now, selling the tape at the show isn’t nothing. Guess they better get on pressing some up.

Sinister Haze on Thee Facebooks

Crimson Heat on Bandcamp

 

Molior Superum, As Time Slowly Passes By…

Molior Superum As Time Slowly Passes By

The boogie runs strong in Molior Superum‘s first album in seven years, As Time Slowly Passes By… (on H42 Records), the title of which might just hint at the distance between their two full-lengths. Their debut was Into the Sun (discussed here) in 2012, and they answered that with 2014’s Electric Escapism (review here), but for a band who sound so energized on cuts like “Att Födas Rostig” and “Through Valleys of Wonder,” the time differential from one record to the next is curious. Still, no question the Swedish four-piece make the most of the 36 minutes they present on their sophomore offering, realizing classic vibes and fuzz tones through modern production that recalls the likes of GraveyardJeremy Irons and the Ratgang Malibus and even, on “Into the Grey,” Demon Head‘s doomier fare, with an overarching bluesy sensibility that remains exciting even in moments like the hypnotic midsection build of centerpiece “Divinity Blues.” Even the closing soft-guitar title-track has movement. They sound hungry in a way that suggests maybe it won’t be another seven years before a third LP arrives.

Molior Superum on Thee Facebooks

H42 Records

 

Moros, Weapon

moros weapon

Just because Philly is leading the Eastern Seaboard in terms of psychedelic charge, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for the guttersludge extremity of a unit like Moros. The destructive three-piece’s first full-length, Weapon (on Hidden Deity Records), is vicious in its bite and downright nasty in its groove, abrasive from the static intro “(Vortexwound)” onward through “We Don’t Deserve Death” and “Devil Worshipper,” which recalls slower Napalm Death in its riff but is met with a harsh scream as well as shouts. The brutality continues through “Wizard of Loneliness” and into the outright pummel of “Death Nebula,” such that the locked-in nodder groove in the second half of “Every Day is Worse Than the Last” feels almost like a lifeboat, though there’s little salvation on offer in the closing title-track, which fades out on a noisy note in much the same way it faded in. Filthy, mean and heavy. The crust is real and it is thick.

Moros on Thee Facebooks

Hidden Deity Records website

 

Glitter Wizard, Opera Villains

glitter wizard opera villains

I was enticed to dig further into Glitter Wizard‘s Opera Villains (on Heavy Psych Sounds) by the recent video for opener “A Spell So Evil” (posted here), and it’s not a choice I regret. The San Fran-based weirdo collective are putting on a show, no doubt, but the quality of their songwriting on “The Toxic Lady” and the punkish underpinning of “Dead Man’s Wax,” etc., puts them in a classic rocking no man’s land in which they absolutely revel. The laser-strewn drama of “March of the Red Cloaks” and the organ- and flute-laced swing of “Hall of the Oyster King” embrace the grandiose in brazen fashion, and thereby make it that much easier for the listener to join them on this wavelength that is so thoroughly their own. Closer “Warm Blood” taps prog-of-old pomposity in its largesse while the earlier “Fear of the Dark” seems to do the same thing with just an acoustic guitar and some vocal harmonies. A record that knew exactly what it wanted to be and then became that thing. Awesome.

Glitter Wizard on Thee Facebooks

Heavy Psych Sounds website

 

Gourd, Moldering Aberrations

gourd moldering aberrations

Ambient darkness is inflicted with only the cruelest of spirit throughout Gourd‘s Moldering Aberrations EP, the Irish two-piece alternating minimalist spaciousness with gurgling drone intensity, the extremity of which doesn’t so much come through in pummel or drive, but in the swell of volume and its contrast with the emptiness surrounding. Also the growls. Three tracks are offered up like monuments to pain, and through “Befoulment,” “Mycelium” and the title-track, they conjure a heft of atmosphere as much as one of low end, the claustrophobic feeling of their craft coming through even in the relatively peaceful opening of the last song. That peace, of course, isn’t so much moment of respite as it is precursor to the next plunge, and either way, Gourd work in grueling fashion over 23 minutes to dismantle consciousness and expectation with a grim, distortion-fueled chaos from which there seems to be no escape, until the rumble and noise leave “Moldering Aberrations” and there’s just residual hum and a cymbal crash left. Madness.

Gourd on Thee Facebooks

Cursed Monk Records on Bandcamp

 

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