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


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


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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Review: Various Artists, StonedChine Vol. 1 & 2

Posted in Reviews on May 31st, 2023 by JJ Koczan

various artists stonedchine vol 1

Assembled at the behest of SloomWeep Productions and offered as two separate digital compilations, StonedChine Vol. 1 and StonedChine Vol. 2 are specifically focused on the growth of underground heavy sounds in China and the Chinese diaspora. Each volume offers one or two tracks per band and has a runtime that, on its own, would be a 2LP — Vol. 1 is 54 minutes/eight tracks/five bands, Vol. 2 is 63 minutes/six tracks/three bands — if physically pressed. The styles included run a gamut between and sometimes within the bands themselves, as Alpaca from Shanghai lead off with 2019’s single “Drown” (12:04) and the maybe-new “Jauria” (8:03), moving between sludge to psych-dub jamming to grindcore in their first piece while in “Jauria” they use a declarative chug as a backdrop for a Crowbar-style airing of grievances, shifting into a dramatic solo section before looping back to the central riff.

Immediately, StonedChine Vol. 1 claims extremity as part of Chinese heavy, and The Hermit, who close with the whistle-from-the-movie-inclusive “Kill Bill” (6:19) with their Bongzilla-type crust ‘n’ crackle sludge, reinforce the message. But the ‘various artists’ release doesn’t skip on the variety either, as Ramblin’ Roze picks up from Alpaca with a turn toward heavy rock that nonetheless keeps the threat of violent intent palpable with an opening news-broadcast sample about nine hikers being found murdered in the woods.

That song is “Mountain of the Dead” (8:35), and with feedback building behind its start, one expects an onslaught, or, given the content, at very least a madcap boogie in the vein of Japan’s Church of Misery, but the fuzzy roll that ensues is more Uncle Acid in its languidity and guitar interplay, melodic grunge-doom vocals more straightforward to keep up with the tempo boost as they kick into a “Hole in the Sky”-style riff and transition back to the hook with Heaven and Hell-style purpose, lead guitar howling behind the vocals before it goes down the drain at the end. Ramblin’ Roze‘s “Escape” (4:37) is partly acoustic and has an even stronger lead vocal performance, a thick Zeppelin vibe that grows raucous near its conclusion after a relatively peaceful start. They’ve reportedly had lineup changes since 2020’s debut LP, Howl of the Coomb, from which “Mountain of the Dead” is taken as a remaster, but would fit on any number of EU/US heavy rock imprints.

Guangzhou-based deathsludge rockers Rude Gove offer two tracks from last year’s Chirp of Doom in “Save My Soul” (4:15) and “Yeti” (4:15), rawer in production and more beastly in their assault, like they dug a whole in their own low-end mud and decided to record there. Peppered with lead guitar hinting at melody, “Save My Soul” is gritty, low and guttural, and “Yeti” follows suit with a speedier swing and more open cymbal crash, the vocals veering toward cleaner throaty shouts but still with plenty of Carcass-type gurgles to fill it out, catchy and no less coated in dirt-dust for that.

Based in Melbourne, Australia, meditative psych explorers SPAWN issued their righteous Live at Moonah Arts Collective (review here) through SloomWeep in 2021, and are the most tripped-out act on either volume of StonedChine, with “Meditation in an Evil Temple” (6:28) as their lone inclusion, resonant in its worldly acid flow. They’re a sharp curve from Rude Gove just before and they give way to the aforementioned The Hermit to cap Vol. 1, but can’t help but stand out even from the scope of intent Alpaca laid out. Returning to harsh vibes, “Kill Bill” — from The Hermit‘s 2021 The Wall of Desire EP — boasts some subtler layering in the guitar near its finish and is fluid in its movement from one part to the next, making its primary impression in bite with some depth underneath.

various artists stonedchine vol 2

Vol. 2 is perhaps more solidified in its methodology, but consistent in the purpose of highlighting the Chinese underground. “My Pet Depression” (8:04) and “Endless Parade” (13:32) come from Apollo 20‘s Endless Parade 10″, released in 2021, and they appeared in succession there as well. The melodies in the vocals of the former remind a bit of Acid Bath‘s brooding slog, but “Endless Parade” offsets its early whispers with blown-out shouts soon enough before re-mellowing and nestling into an engaging solo-topped jam at about six minutes in that carries them for the duration, some cricket chirping added among the light effects swirl to help ease from one to the other.

A lucid ending there lets the punch of bass at the outset of BanyanRiver‘s “The Ghost of Temptation Still Haunts On Me” (15:36) have that much more impact, and as the longest cut on either volume of StonedChine, it declares itself with a patient buildup and a slow, Black Sabbath‘s “Black Sabbath”-type pull in a short opening movement before a dead stop and feedback arrive to announce an ultra-dense janga-janga march. By the time it gets to including what might be vocals beamed in through another dimension, it’s a semi-metallic thrust that will drop to chants and meditative doom, but the bass and drums still hold the march as the guitar gradually freaks out en route to the inevitable noisy ending. “All is One” (7:48) launches from there with standalone chant-like vocals for its first minute-plus, and maintains that ceremonial spirit as it works its way into a central nod, growing furious and punk in its shove at 5:35 and riding that speedier course to its end, laced with feedback.

Bass also introduces HallucinGod‘s “Go Space” (6:49), which is a less-directly sludged nod at first, clean vocals resting atop an angular but flowing doomer riff, turning semi-psych with guitar effects and backing vocals in its midsection before reviving its prior lumber. HallucinGod‘s second track, “Marijuaua Desert” (11:27) (sic), is broader in its arrangement and remains grounded in the kickdrum even as the guitar reaches into ethereal atmospherics branched outward from the solid groove underpinning. Layered group chanting in the verse fascinates and gives over to speech in the left channel and swirl in the right, but the hint toward the intensity to come is in that drum, which grows steadily more active before taking off into a modded High on Fire-style breakout turned almost cosmic in HallucinGod‘s hands, if only momentarily. They’ve grown huge in the interim, which is shown in the slowdown and subsequent roll toward the return of the folk instrumentation that started the track for its ending, which fades out and brings StonedChine Vol. 2 with it.

With more than a few surprises throughout, these two StonedChine compilations get their point across in the freshness of the bands’ approaches to heavy. As SloomWeep posits, the Chinese heavy underground is new — the label counts 2011 as the country’s first stoner-doom show; Never Before (who don’t feature here) played — and many of these acts sound accordingly young, but it’s new bands, new players and new ideas that result in new sounds, and it may be that the bridges being constructed between styles by some of these groups, whether it’s sludgy grind-dub or just an individualized take on doomed psychedelia, will continue to flesh out as the next decade or so plays out. In any case, the mission of StonedChine in showcasing China’s flourishing heavy scene — as well as SloomWeep‘s roster of talent — is unquestionably a success, and coming out of a comp with the homework of more bands to dig into is an ideal made manifest here. It’s not a minor undertaking, but being split between its two volumes helps, and both the educational value for those outside its own geographical sphere and as a listening experience, easily worth the minimal chasedown. All you have to do is be willing to hear something new.

Various Artists, StonedChine Vol. 1 (2023)

Various Artists, StonedChine Vol. 2 (2023)

SloomWeep Productions on Facebook

SloomWeep Productions on Instagram

SloomWeep Productions on Bandcamp

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