Friday Full-Length: Ancient Warlocks, Ancient Warlocks

Posted in Bootleg Theater on August 25th, 2023 by JJ Koczan


This album turns a decade old this Fall, but the truth is I’ve been wanting to revisit it for like two years, so whatever on album anniversaries. But Seattle heavy rockers Ancient Warlocks released their self-titled debut (review here) in Nov. 2013 — issuing first through Lay Bare Recordings and then in 2014 on STB Records, the latter of which made them labelmates to the likes of Spelljammer, Curse the Son, Druglord and Geezer, and Ancient Warlocks had some elements in common with those and others in the ouevre. Like Curse the Son, they had an obviously-sought fuzz delivering choice riffs. Like Geezer they had swing and jammy groove. Like Druglord they weren’t afraid of bring cast in their genre. But because they were young, they could be from Seattle and not have to play grunge, and Ancient Warlocks most represented a boom in Pacific Northwestern heavy rock that was taking place from about 2010-2014 — as much as it ever stopped — and brought a generational shift of bands picking up in the wake of acts like Red Fang or Earthless (not that the latter are PNW, just very influential), and they did it with style.

With the lineup of lead guitarist/vocalist Aaron Krause, guitarist Darren Chase, bassist Anthony “Oni” Timm and drummer Steve Jones, Ancient Warlocks had made their presence felt with their 2011 7″, Into the Night b/w Super Wizard (review here), which was pressed following their first demo in 2010, “Killer’s Moon.” They had a split with Mos Generator — as every up and coming heavy rock act from the state of Washington should at some point or other — and with their own Jones at the helm to engineer, mix and master at Big Sound in Seattle, they unfurled eight songs in a tight 33 minutes on their self-titled with no pretense, unforced good times, dynamic shifts in mood and approach, and fuzz. Oh, the fuzz.

It was a record you knew was going to be good going in that turned out, yes, to indeed be good. Ancient Warlocks weren’t a stylistic revelation, but they did manage to pull ideas from the bluesier end of the aesthetic spectrum and work that into some of the guitar and vocals, and “Lion Storm” swings with a looseness and underlying drive that reminds me now of North Carolina’s Caltrop. It was easy then to peg them as a straightforward band, and that’s what they were. Verses, choruses. Guitars, bass, drums, vocals. The latter, from Krause, were not entirely untreated, effects-wise, and on a song like the ultra-Queens of the Stone Age-circa-1998 “Sweet’s Too Slow,” that helps enhance some of the garage-y looseness that complements the fuzz established at the outset with “Into the Night” — that first single being placed to open side A while “Super Wizard” starts side B; “Killer’s Moon” resurfaces here as well, with its shuffling procession and thick boogie putting emphasis on live energy. As regards vocals, the thicker Fu Manchu-style riffing of “Cactus Wine” comes accompanied by a melody later that showed the potential for growth in arrangement and delivery, but Krause wasn’t coming out of the gate here trying to Ancient Warlocks Ancient Warlockssound like James LaBrie, and it wouldn’t have worked if he was.

Being rockers suited Ancient Warlocks well. “Super Wizard” followed the drums into a rawer shove with a bit of feedback before the verse kicks in. At the end of side B, the finale “Sorcerer’s Magician” is the longest cut at 5:27, but “Super Wizard” is the shortest at 3:09 and it’s a burner, with rhythmic shove like Sasquatch, lyrics that know they’re dopey, and a casual feel to its sound overall, not looking to make trouble, but doing so, and with charm. The subsequent “White Dwarf” has an immediate push as well and brings that momentum to a riff structure that feels somehow like it’s working off Elder circa Dead Roots Stirring (remember, this was 2013), but does so without departing structurally from what Ancient Warlocks have been doing up to that point. It’s a stylistic niche that’s become something of a microgenre in the last few years. Proto-heavy prog? I don’t know.

As they make their way through, “Killer’s Moon” locks into the aforementioned boogie, and “Sorcerer’s Magician” ups the doom factor by announcing itself with a riff that’s slow-Slayer, but slower, before breaking to near-silence and putting the vocals over an open-spaced verse peppered with bluesy guitar licks, the use of silence and empty space calling back to ’90s Clutch, maybe, and that self-titled, but as with the rest of this self-titled, Ancient Warlocks made these parts and these themes their own, showed themselves to be a multifaceted band interested in growing, and laying out a range of contexts for their craft. That is, while consistent largely in tone and in possession of an abiding organic feel, Ancient Warlocks — the album — is not the work of a band doing the same thing over and over. They’re trying new ideas, laying out a swath of options for future exploration, establishing the ground that their next, oh, four or five records would no doubt continue to develop.

Sadly that turned out not to be the case, however. Ancient Warlocks released their second long-player, appropriately titled II (review here), in June 2016, and by that time, Krause and Timm were already out of the band despite appearing on the record. The band continued with Chris Mathews Jr. on vocals and lead guitar and Stu Laswell on bass. The Live LP followed quickly behind the sophomore album, and already in announcing the new lineup, Ancient Warlocks were talking about making a third studio offering. Didn’t happen. They seem last to have been doing shows in late 2017, which is how it goes sometimes, and Ancient Warlocks were a band whose potential never really got to see realization. They had two cool records, seemed like they were moving forward, then nothing. When you look out into the abyss of bands who did and could’ve written more cool riffs in their time and didn’t, does the abyss stare back?

Almost certainly. And Ancient Warlocks may a decade later be a footnote in that generational turnover moment in heavy rock, but that doesn’t diminish the quality of what they did here or on the second record, and like the best of heavy fried heavy (think of it like chicken fried chicken), the work holds up regardless of the passage of years. So yeah, the anniversary doesn’t matter after all.

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

‘Fun week’ is a week wherein there’s no camp and The Patient Mrs. and The Pecan and I do fun stuff and hang out before school starts and so on you get the idea. We went to the Natural History Museum. We went to see family in Connecticut. I bought Halloween jack-o-lantern Peeps. The fun never stops.

Having been in Portugal two or three weeks ago and experienced that, this week has been a bit of the opposite, and I find myself flailing for the balance between the two sides that commonly exists. Because The Obelisk gets the shaft, no doubt about it. What, I’m gonna give up time with my family that I’ll never get back to run a blog about music for no money and also that takes a whole lot of time? Of course not, but I do it.

We had a Dio dance party this week, though, and that was pretty rad. The house was lagging on Wednesday and it kind of picked up the room as The Last in Line is wont to do. Beyond that, we’ve been swimming at a pool at relatives’ house — my sister’s husband’s mother and father’s house; they made the mistake of an open invite — reading lots of books and trying to deal with nerves about starting kindergarten. Like she’s not going to go, immediately catch a cold, and have to stay home for three days.

Though I say that and I have to acknowledge that maybe there’s a bit of wishful thinking in there, and that along with the adjustments my wife is making to a new semester at a job she finds increasingly dissatisfying and demeaning, and that my kid is making to starting kindergarten and being out of the house more than she has in her life, I’ll be making an adjustment after five-plus years to being on my own for a longer portion of my day than I’m used to. Empty nester.

Next week, an Acid Magus premiere on Monday, an Aiwass premiere on Wednesday, a The Silver Linings premiere on Friday, and I have stuff I want to write about to fill those other open days. Might try to review Slomatics one day and Domkraft the other, which would be a fun pairing in my nerd brain for their new albums since the bands are coming off that split they did last year that was so wonderful. We’ll see if I get there.

I hope you have a great and safe weekend. Have fun, watch your head, get your back to school shopping done, shoe measuring and all that crap. The sun’s coming up so I’m calling it quits. My absolute best to you and yours.


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Friday Full-Length: Druglord, Enter Venus

Posted in Bootleg Theater on March 18th, 2022 by JJ Koczan

Druglord‘s sound was truly monstrous, in the actual sense of a huge, fur-covered, lumbering beast with six-inch Tyrannosaur teeth razor-sharpened on the bones of any meat and bone so unfortunate as to be in its path finding you, stalking you, and at last, devouring you entirely. All things considered, the Richmond-based trio had a decent run, starting out in 2010 with a self-titled demo (review here) before 2012’s Motherfucker Rising (review here) paved the way for guitarist/vocalist Tommy Hamilton, bassist Greta Brinkman (ex-L7) and drummer Bobby “HufKnell” Hufnell (Unseen Force) to align with STB Records for the crucial follow-up you see above.

I know for a sciency-fact that I already had 2013’s Enter Venus on tape (review here) and vinyl (review here), but in preparing to write this piece, I hit up the band’s Bandcamp to grab the embed code for the player above and saw that both Motherfucker Rising and Enter Venus were still available on CD for what, with domestic shipping, worked out to be $7. Seven dollars? For the disc with art and all the rest, and got the download of Enter Venus with that? Those are some get-this-shit-out-of-my-house prices on the part of whoever will be sending them to me, presumably Hamilton. In any case, I’m also pretty sure I already have both albums on CD, but hell’s bells, the one download is worth seven bucks, never mind the physical product.

Revisiting Enter Venus, hearing the opaque, organ-laced murk of “Feast on the Eye,” the Conan-worthy heft and crush of “Grievous Heaving,” the gut-wrenching crawl in the title-track and the lumbering misery of closer “Let Us Bleed,” its noisy back-half solo cutting through the surrounding filth-nod only to be subsumed by it as the next verse takes hold, I regret shelling the seven dollars even less. A decade later, looking back on the rise of this band, it was a particular moment of generational awakening. 2012. Special-edition vinyl was not nearly as ubiquitous 10 or eight years ago as it is now, and the work STB Records did to change that is somewhat under-discussed at this druglord enter venuspoint — not that stoner metal historians are out there chasing down these events, mind you, or, you know, existing — but Enter Venus remains one of the most gorgeous LPs I own. The multi-textured art, from gloss to matte, and the artwork by W. Ralph Walters that offers a three-dimensional pop all the more for its detail, is likewise beautiful and unsettling. The record’s only 27 minutes long, but I swear by the end of that time, there’s no question Druglord have gotten the point across. Anything more would be superfluous, and to call it anything less than a full-length isn’t doing justice to the wretchedness on display.

The recording job by Garrett Morris has to be mentioned as a factor in harnessing those depths. His work as a founding member of Windhand on guitar and production for some of their earlier work results in some similarity of the rolling fog that is Druglord‘s riffing, but the willfully excruciating dynamic of Druglord makes the trio altogether a harsher listening experience despite the fact that there’s still a sense of atmosphere to the material. It just happens to be that the atmosphere is made of sulfuric acid and is currently bubbling away your flesh. Sulfuric acid rock. Definitely corrosive. Use with caution. If poured in eyes, seek immediate medical treatment.

But consider how many acts came out around the same time and have continued (or not) to push boundaries in varying directions for the sundry heavy microgenres. Druglord offered a particularly extreme take on sludge that remains relevant and punishing now. There’s a sample at the outset of “Grievous Heaving” that puts the album in a kind of Southern Baptist context, and if one digs hard enough, there’s elements of guitar progressions that feel born out of impulses pioneered by the likes of Jimmy Bower or Buzzov*en or any number of ’90s-era Southern riffers, but Druglord are a perfect example of a band taking what was done before them and crafting something new from it. There’s little sense of showmanship throughout; the plod is genuine, the misanthropic sensibility unmistakable. It is brutal, a hyperbole-ready litmus for nasty stoner sludge that, these years after the fact, feels emblematic of the moment of its creation without sounding dated either in method or production. Again, whether I’ve got another copy floating around here or in a box in the storage unit, I don’t regret making the purchase.

Maybe they were too volatile for the long-term. Druglord offered up the Deepest Regrets EP (review here) in 2015 and 2018’s third long-player, New Day Dying (review here), which introduced new bassist Julian Cook to the fold. Issued through Sludgelord Records on tape, it continued the collaboration with Morris (who also produced the EP) and seemed to assure that the sort of lurking march of “Enter Venus” would continue unabated despite the lineup change. They continued to do shows up to celebrating their 10th anniversary in March 2020 — that might’ve happened, might not — and as late as Sept. of that year they were reportedly working on new material, but nothing has yet surfaced. Maybe next week. Maybe two weeks. Maybe never. If you could predict everything, it wouldn’t be as much fun.

One way or the other — if Druglord ever return from the grim ether of their own making or they don’t — Enter Venus stands as a particularly devastating proof-of-life from the band they were at the time, and it retains its make-your-skin-crawl vibe perhaps even more for the spiderwebs in which time has covered it. If it’s their destiny to be a cult act, known to those whose consciousness may be suitably warped in order to process what they’re actually doing, I have to imagine that’s fine by them. Otherwise why bother being who they are in the first place. Among STB‘s roster at the time and in the context of the greater movement of bands of which they were undeniably a part, they are still dug into a muddy pit all their own. Fucking a.

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

I could use a shower. Desperately. Maybe I’ll go do that and come back. Hang on…

There. 20 minutes well spent. It’s a gorgeous spring day in New Jersey where I live, perhaps not at all captured by the death-stench of Druglord, but there’s only so many times one can go to the well of Amorphis’ Tuonela for such seasonal appropriation. Rest assured, I’ll have it on at some point this weekend nonetheless.

But sitting in the sunshine waiting for The Pecan’s bus to bring him home is no hardship, and I seriously doubt the idea would’ve even occurred to me if not for the shower, so yeah. Maybe that’s where the Druglord thing came from. I was duly gross before.

Errands to run this afternoon, including to the dentist with the kid, but he’s pretty good about that. I’ll speak to him in calm tones, remind him of the things we talked about, and hopefully the dentist or hygienist will be patient. He’s four, so you expect some tumult. First time he was great, last time less so. Would be nice to have him back on track. He’s eaten a lot of sugary shit though in all of our please-pee-in-the-toilet bribes, none of which have been effective. Costco and grocery shopping after that, The Patient Mrs.’ Family down later this evening, and then family day tomorrow. It’ll be a good time even if it’s supposed to rain. Whatever.

Anyone see the Star Trek: Discovery season finale last night? I did. What fun. Not the show’s best season so far — hate to say it but I think that prize might go to all the Spock stuff — but they wrapped it beautifully and in very Trek fashion. High-minded optimistic speeches and Stacey Abrams? Sign me up for that shit.

Anyhoozle, bus should be here soon, so time to punch out/in. Thanks for reading this week. Next week is jammed as well, so stay tuned. Have fun, stay safe, hydrate, watch your head. Back Monday with more.


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Friday Full-Length: Curse the Son, Psychache

Posted in Bootleg Theater on September 24th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

Psychache is the kind of record that makes everything else seem needlessly complicated. That’s not to say it’s dumbed down. It isn’t. The melodies are broad, structures are skillfully applied, the overarching flow between the songs is well considered, and I’m sorry, but nothing with Michael Petrucci drumming on it is dumb. The end result of Curse the Son‘s intention, however, strikes right to the heart of what stoner metal is and can be. Riffs, groove, melody, hooks, thick and full sound, sometimes oozing, sometimes shoving, but always righteous in the going.

First released by the band in 2012, Psychache (review here) was the follow-up to the Hamden, Connecticut, trio’s 2011 offering, Klonopain (review here), and for the purposes of narrative ease we’ll call it their third full-length. They’d issue it digitally and on CD in 2013 before seeing it picked up for a deluxe vinyl treatment through STB Records in 2014. In the interest of honesty, I’m kind of murky at this point on the actual release date. I tend to associate the album with the band’s performance in New London, CT, at day three of the Stoner Hands of Doom XII fest (review here). Founding guitarist/vocalist Ron Vanacore handed me a CD at that show, and after a long day of bands — of which Curse the Son had been a highlight — I put it on for the car ride back to where I was staying and, even having spent all day being assaulted by distortion and riffs, found myself blasting it full volume for its 31-minute duration on that trip. Call it love at first riff, but Psychache has held a special place in my heart ever since, whatever one might consider the day it actually came out.

The band at the time was Vanacore and his former Sufferghost bandmate, bassist Richard “Cheech” Weeden, and Petrucci, and they made Psychache at Underground Sound in East Haven, mixing as well at Higher Rock. The lack of pretense remains staggering. If you pull back and look at it, there are really four full songs included, with the title-track an instrumental — albeit a crucial one — and “Valium For?” (get it?) a noisycurse the son psychache minute-long interlude, but on vinyl, the total six split into an even three tracks per side, and the bookending effect of its two longest pieces in leadoff “Goodbye Henry Anslinger” (6:21) and finale “The Negative Ion” (7:22) isn’t to be understated when it comes to immersing the listener in the tone and groove that are so, so, so central to the entire proceedings. Again, this isn’t a dumb record. It is willful, however, in its primitivism.

Imagine a complex circuit with wires all over the place. You don’t know what the wires do, but there are a lot of them and they’re all different colors. You start ripping out wires at random and you find that the circuit still functions as it should, so you keep going. You pull and you pull and maybe even the circuit starts to function more efficiently for your efforts. And after however long repeating this process, you see the circuit doing exactly the thing it’s supposed to do and you find yourself looking at all the wires on the floor and wondering why in the first place you thought needed all this bullshit? Psychache is that. It has everything it needs and nothing it doesn’t, and even through the haze of its tone and the lumbering nod of “Somatizator,” it’s a moment of clarity.

Side A builds through the midtempo chug of “Goodbye Henry Anslinger” — named for the man who banned marijuana use; it’s worth noting that weed was made legal in Connecticut this year for adult recreational use — and the slower highlight “Spider Stole the Weed” en route to “Psychache” itself, which starts with Weeden‘s bass and moves into a shuffle that carries through most of its first half changes its central riff in the second. All groove, but a speedier pace that adds to the reach of the album overall in subtle fashion, which “Valium For?” answers with its there-and-gone moment of weirdness ahead of the closing duo “Somatizator” and “The Negative Ion,” the former of which mirrors “Spider Stole the Weed” in its memorable chorus while pushing the vocals into a lower register instead of a higher one, and the latter, which meanders for about two minutes before suddenly kicking in at full volume.

There’s a bit of feedback at the end, but the bass is ultimately the last thing to fade out, and fair enough for what Weeden has by that point added in terms of thickness to the procession. By then, if you’re left wanting, it’s your own fault. In 31 minutes, Curse the Son crush and compact the pivotal aspects of their style into a collection that makes its own depth feel simple and that has continued to make the band undervalued in my mind ever since.

They’ve done two albums after this, with 2016’s Isolator (review here) coming out through Ripple Music and The Company and beginning a collaboration with producer Eric Lichter at Dirt Floor Studios that continued onto 2020’s Excruciation (review here), also on Ripple. In the meantime, between the two records, Vanacore would see an entire swap-out of the rhythm section, with Robert Ives taking over on drums for the 2020 outing and Brendan Keefe donning the bass for Isolator and pulling that duty as well as adding vocals to the darker-in-mood Excruciation, building on Curse the Son‘s melodic growth and pushing their songwriting in new, exciting and still-footprint-on-skull-heavy directions.

But Psychache remains a one-of-a-kind outing. If Curse the Son had moved forward and said they were going to do the same thing twice, it wouldn’t have been the same as the moment they captured here, in these songs. I won’t decry the work they’ve done since. They’re a better band now. What makes Psychache such a standout, though, is how much it offers and how casually it does so, how easy it makes it all sound, and how it has managed to shift into a kind of timelessness that one expects will endure precisely as a result of the aesthetic truths it tells.

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

I got a call earlier this week from the school nurse to tell me The Pecan had been falling asleep in class. Unheard of. He’d had boogers for a few days, but that kind of fatigue from him is a firm ‘never’. He got home about a half-hour later, was way out of it and feverish. You know where this is going: To the doctor for a Covid test.

We spent the better part of Wednesday and yesterday sweating it out before at about 6:30 this morning — right after I finished the above — I refreshed the page where his test results would appear and they were at last there and negative. He was better yesterday and — more alert, more of a pain in the ass — but still nice to have the assurance. He also yesterday had a 45-minute nosebleed in the morning, first thing. Compared to that, wrestling him into an outfit for school today was a walk in the park.

We are much relieved, though both The Patient Mrs. and I were also already in the midst of making kid-has-plague-antibodies travel plans for if he did have it and came through without serious complications — she to a conference, I to Maryland Doom Fest — but I’m prepared to call it a fair enough trade for him to not be seriously ill in the first place.

Off to school with you.

Obviously a fair amount was hanging on that precarious balance, all joking aside. The anxiety level was high in the house yesterday and since I couldn’t really take him anywhere and it was raining, we were stuck reminiscent of early lockdown. The Patient Mrs. went to a work meeting in the early afternoon, which I understand on multiple levels. Neither he nor I was easy to be around at that point.

So I guess today’s after-school activities will involve going to places and breathing on stuff. Sounds like fun, right? Should be a blast.

Whatever you’re up to this weekend, I wish you the best. Next week starts the Quarterly Review, so that’ll be fun. I’ve got seven days’ worth of stuff and I very purposefully scheduled a premiere after that so I couldn’t go any longer. Because I would, you know.

Great and safe couple days. Have fun. Hydrate. Watch your head.


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Review & Track Premiere: Yatra, Blood of the Night

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on December 20th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

yatra blood of the night

[Click play above to stream ‘Carrion’ from Yatra’s new album, Blood of the Night, out Jan. 31 digital and Feb. 1 vinyl through STB Records.]

A release in winter suits Maryland trio Yatra, for whom images of red splatter on snow, grey skies, dark nights and raging winds seem only too appropriate. Plus, perhaps, the occasional battle axe. Only a year after crashing the gate and plundering the greater consciousness of the sludge underground — such as it is — with their Grimoire Records debut album, Death Ritual (discussed here), and several US tours and an initial incursion to European shores later, the marauding three-piece return. Now signed to STB Records, they issue Blood of the Night in a host of limited vinyl editions in keeping with the label’s tradition, and thereby hone the bleak, violent, extreme metal-derived intensity of their sound to a new, even sharper focus. Blood of the Night runs for eight tracks and shows no interest in hiding its malevolent purpose, as Yatra careen and lumber between a post-High on Fire medieval deathbringing and neo-primitive riffs that tap into root, essential-in-the-sense-of-essence nod, stripped of unnecessary frills and brought to bear with the harsh-throated screams of guitarist Dana Helmuth.

Their plodding and slog comes through regardless of actual tempo, with bassist Maria Geisbert and drummer Sean Lafferty complementing Helmuth‘s riffs and searing incantations as well as establishing their own presence in the low end and the significant roll each song seems to elicit from the beginning of opener “Sorcerer” onward. Cuts like “The Howling” and “Blood Will Flow” aren’t nearly as slow-paced as some of their counterparts — looking at you, “After the Ravens” — and in some of that speedier material especially, Yatra reveal influences beyond doom and into other forms of perhaps more aggressive metals. I’ve said before that I can’t help but hear mid-’90s Carcass in their sound, and I stand by that. Yatra seem to have found the balance of heft and bite which so many complained Swansong lacked after 1993’s brilliant Heartwork, and as far as I’m concerned, if you’re putting out records that hold up to that standard, as Blood of the Night does, you’re doing something very, very right.

But put the emphasis on “bite.” Gnashing, really. And it’s not just Helmuth‘s vocals either. The guitar line in the chorus of “After the Ravens” — a standout in its hook and also as the longest inclusion at 7:39; Yatra‘s longest track to-date, though the penultimate “Three Moons” here also tops seven minutes — creeps along with an eerie threat, and in its tone, it is a perfect match to the nodule-building vocal delivery. The same can be said of the bass and drums, though for much of the album — recorded July 12-15, 2019, at Developing Nations in Baltimore by Kevin Bernsten and mastered by the esteemed James Plotkin — the riffs set the patterns followed by all. Still, in the mid-paced second track “Carrion” or in side B’s plundering “Burning Vision,” which veers in its second half into a layered solo that makes it something of a highlight for the sheer feeling of noise and chaos contained therein, it is very much a full-band impact being made, and as Blood of the Night progresses through its front-to-back run, that turns out to be the key component of it.


Yatra made an impressive debut, and the follow-up arrives on a quick turnaround all the more considering it’s not like those tracks were sitting around for years before they came out and the new one was essentially put to tape between tours, but if there’s urgency, they use it well. It feeds not only into the forwardness of their aesthetic — have I mentioned they’re not subtle? — and gives material like “The Howling” an extra edge of command, which with Helmuth‘s voice gurgling through a charging riff makes their take so much richer than a simple blend of black metal and sludge or of heavy tones and extreme metal vibe. Blood of the Night affirms what Death Ritual first heralded, which is that Yatra are a band interested in not just presenting these ideas to an audience — regularly, if their schedule is anything to go by — but also in taking the elements that inspire them and making them their own; in carving, or melding, or chipping away, or molding, chainsawing, machete-ing, or simply crafting them by whatever means necessary into what they want them to be. Blood of the Night accomplishes this at the same time it pushes Yatra‘s songwriting to a new level, and for that it feels even more significant.

This is another place where “After the Ravens” serves as example, and not just because of its chorus. It’s true of lurching, mega-nodding closer “Surrender” as well, and “The Howling” earlier and plenty of others throughout that Yatra show little interest in sacrificing song for style’s sake. That is, as much as Blood of the Night is an aesthetically sure work, it’s also a showcase of the progression in Yatra‘s ability to write memorable material. The structures underlying all that viciousness, all that sharpened-fang gnash, are firm enough to contain the madness that ensues, and that plays a large role in the album’s overall success. It’s the difference between Yatra being fully capable of wielding their sound like the weapon they do and floundering at the mercy of their own aggression. I don’t know if that’s a self-awareness they’ve purely gleaned from their time on the road, but they clearly have a sense of what works in their material, even if the standard they’re working with is “what feels right” for them.

As they claw their way through “Three Moons” ahead of “Surrender,” the risks they take are there beneath the surface, but their grip on their sound is unyielding, and their confidence is justified not only by what they’ve done to that point on the album, but what they’ll do on the subsequent finale. The story of Death Ritual was that of a band loaded with potential working hard to realize that. The story of Blood of the Night remains in some contexts to be written, but what’s without question is that it builds on the achievements of its predecessor and conveys in no uncertain terms that Yatra‘s intent to conquer is unwavering. I’ll say it as plainly as I can: if Relapse Records isn’t already eyeing them, they’re dropping the ball. What Yatra‘s impact on the heavy underground and the wider sphere of metal will be is still unknown, but the fact that they bridge that gap so organically on Blood of the Night makes them even more lethal than they already were. And if there’s a running theme for Yatra to this point in their career, “lethal” might be it.

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Rifflord: 26 Mean and Heavy Remaster Preorders Go Live Tomorrow

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 6th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

rifflord preorders

Even as Rifflord made a triumphant debut on STB Records last year with their 7 Cremation Ground / Meditation LP (review here), the band not only acknowledged it had been a long time since their debut — as evidenced as well by the fact that it was a totally different lineup around founding guitarist/vocalist Wyatt Bronc Bartlett — but that the first record was a hell of a legacy to live up to. Well, 26 Mean and Heavy is out there if you want to and can afford to chase it down, but STB Records is standing behind a one-time reissue of the album with preorders going up tomorrow and that seems to me to be a much more convenient option on the whole. The imprint based in my beloved Garden State has a knack for turning on-sale dates into events, and this one, it would seem, is no exception. Hey, good record, new master. I get it.

I was asked to write the PR for it, and yeah, I did. You’ll find that press release I wrote, some exclusive Rifflord pics from the era courtesy of the band, and a teaser video below:

RIFFLORD – 26 Mean & Heavy Preorders On Sale Dec. 7 @ 12PM EST

Mark your calendar, set your alarm — do whatever you have to do to be ready for Dec. 7 at 12PM EST, because once these are gone, they’re gone. New Jersey-based STB Records and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, amplifier worshipers Rifflord have aligned to remaster and reissue a one-time-only vinyl pressing of the band’s 2010 debut album, 26 Mean and Heavy.

And they mean it. It’s happening once.

Preorder here:

Founding guitarist/vocalist Wyatt Bronc Bartlett brought in Mike Dresch of Cathouse Studios on the new master, and those who’ve tried for years to chase down original copies of 26 Mean and Heavy will find the sound refreshed and all the more vibrant in its delivery of weighted Southern-style groove, classic in form and gorgeous in its purpose.

“What’s interesting about this remaster is that the original audio files were a mix that wasn’t released on vinyl or digitally,” informs Bartlett. “It was supposed to be released and our guitarist and founding member Tom Davoux did a last-minute remix and master to it. So these haven’t been heard. Vocals and instruments are leveled out differently throughout the album. We had it remastered by Mike Dresch of Cathouse Studios specifically for vinyl.”

STB’s vinyl treatments have become the stuff of legend, and 26 Mean and Heavy will be given a full multi-edition run:

Die Hard Edition –
Limited Edition of 75 Units
Opaque Gold Vinyl
Remastered, Repackaged and comes with Chapter 1 of the RIFFLORD Story in book form.

Pinwheel Edition –
Limited Edition of 100
Black and Gold pinwheel style vinyl variant.
Remastered, Repackaged and comes with Chapter 1 of the RIFFLORD Story in book form.

Not So Standard Edition –
Limited Edition – 125
Black and Gold vinyl swirl variant
Remastered, Repackaged and comes with Chapter 1 of the RIFFLORD Story in book form.
25 Will be available via Kozmik Artifactz and 25 will be available via All That Is Heavy

As to the Rifflord story, Bartlett doesn’t give away too many details, but admits, “As people we were young, naive and pretty wild during this era. It was the Salad Days of RIFFLORD and I feel that rawness and sincerity really comes through on this record. It was recorded in a basement and took us over a year to record and mix it with primitive tools.

“The band has changed a lot over the years and continues to do so. The core idea though has always remained the same. Guitar worship, big amps, heavy organ and loud drums. We’ve been at this since 2007. On “26 mean and heavy” we had a truly special line up. Dan Nissen our drummer was a power house behind the kit and his brother Mike Nissen was a classically trained pianist on the organ. Dave Duffet was our bassist with somewhat of a legendary persona among the Midwest circle. Lastly Tom Davoux was the guitarist, producer, mixer and tracker of the album, truly a phenom.”

Rifflord followed 26 Mean and Heavy with the long-awaited 7 Cremation Ground / Meditation in 2018 (also on STB Records), but their debut has remained a sought-after piece for collectors and fans of righteous fuzz alike. With the album about to hit 10 years since its first release, this may be the last chance to get it, and rest assured, they’ll go in no time.

Dec. 7. Noon EST.

Rifflord is now:
Lead Guitar and Vocals: Wyatt Bronc Bartlett
Guitar: Paul Pinos
Bass: Matthew Mcfarland
Keys: Tory Jean Stoddard
Drums: Tommy Middlen

Rifflord, 26 Mean and Heavy reissue teaser

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Yatra Begin Next Round of US Tour Dates on Halloween

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 25th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

yatra (photo by JJ Koczan)

At this point, Baltimorean extreme-ish sludge three-piece Yatra tour with a frequency that makes one only hope they really get along as human beings in addition to, you know, being a good band. Otherwise, that’s an awful lot of time to spend together. With a new album in some stage of completion — mixed? mastered? in the can? at the press? promo just came down the PR wire? wouldn’t that be a fun coincidence of timing if it were true (it isn’t)? — and recently signed to STB Records for its release, the trio just wrapped a European stint that included stops at Desertfest Belgium, Into the Void, and Høstsabbat (review here), where both they and their tourmates in Polish prog-heavies Sunnata properly killed.

Not a group to rest on laurels or rest, period, Yatra will embark next week on a new round of touring, this time playing dates with — among others — StonecuttersDestroyer of Light and Black Tusk as they cut a pretty broad swath across the Midwest and Southeast. The tour isn’t actually all that long by the standard of some they’ve done, but looks like a pretty fair bit of geographical ground to cover in less than two weeks of every-night shows — a Nov. 4 TBD notwithstanding; someone better call Vegas Rock Revolution and get them on the case — while still saying South-centric. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were back out in January either, or if they snuck in a couple shows around the coming holidays. Because that’s how they do.

Hoping for actual release news soon about their record, but till then, here are the dates:

yatra tour

Alright ‘merica we are back inside you!…..

This lil U.S. tour starts next week! Playing with some rad bands in awesome places! Stoked to get back in the van again!

YATRA needs to fill one date on this tour! November 4th! Somewhere between SLC and Pheonix (thinking Vegas or Flagstaff)! Any booking help or info on shows we could hop on would be rad! Thanx!

Check it…..!

YATRA live:
10/31 Louisville KY Magbar
11/01 Witchita KS Barleycorns
11/02 Denver CO 7th Circle
11/03 Salt Lake City UH Urban Lounge
11/04 TBD
11/05 Phoenix AZ Yucca Tap Room
11/06 Taos NM Taos Mesa Brewery
11/07 Austin TX The Lost Well
11/08 Memphis TN B-Sides
11/09 Greenville SC Gottrocks
11/10 Baltimore MD Metro Gallery

Dana Helmuth – guitars/vocals
Maria Geisbert – bass
Mike Tull – drums

Yatra, Death Ritual (2019)

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Yatra Sign to STB Records for New Album Release

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 29th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

So, new Yatra in November, maybe? Feels late, but if they’re dead set on making two LPs happen in 2019 — their first, Death Ritual (discussed here), came out in January on Grimoire Records — it’s certainly plausible provided the vinyl is in production. Maybe even October? That feels like a run, as it’s already almost August, but that would align with Yatra‘s Obelisk-presented European tour with Sunnata starting Oct. 2, so that might make sense too. I’ll be curious to find out when an exact date surfaces. So far what we’ve got to go on is “before the end of the year.” Okeydokey.

Now then, it was pretty apparent given the response Yatra have thus far gotten from their studio work and their live show that someone was going to pick up their next release, and the only real question was who it would be. STB Records would seem to have won out this time around, and I’ve no doubt that the fanbase Yatra have quickly set about building will dig into the label’s “red carpet treatment,” as it’s called below, with an array of vinyl editions pressed, Obi strips, deluxe versions, test pressings and all that kind of good stuff. I’d be happy just to hear the thing for now, but given the hit-it-really-fucking-hard factor Yatra have put into play throughout 2019 to-date, they’ve earned that “treatment” and then some.

Kudos to the band and the label. Here’s the announcement and their currently scheduled shows:


YATRA – New Band Signing!!

STB Records is proud to announce and welcome YATRA to the STB Family! We are very excited to work together and we can not wait to release this new banger of an album to the fans, old and new!

If you have not checked Yatra out yet, click the link below and have your mind blown. Expect the full STB Records red carpet treatment for the new album expected to be released before the end of the year.

YATRA – “Death Ritual”

Next Yatra shows!!!:
8/10 – El Cortez – Brooklyn, NYC
8/29 – The Ottobar – Baltimore, MD
8/31 – Atlas – Washington, D.C.

SUNNATA & YATRA European tour:
02.10 – Dresden (DE) HD
03.10 – Copenhagen (DK) Stengade
04.10 – Oslo (NO) Hostsabbat Festival
06.10 – Uppsala (SE) Ungdomens Hus
09.10 – Cologne (DE) MTC
10.10 – Colmar (FR) Grillen
11.10 – Ilmenau (DE) Baracke 5
12.10 – Berlin (DE) Setalight Festival
16.10 – Munich (DE) Backstage
17.10 – Paris (FR) L’International
18.10 – Antwerp (BE) Desertfest Belgium
19.10 – Leeuwarden (NL) Into The Void

Dana Helmuth – guitars/vocals
Maria Geisbert – bass
Mike Tull – drums

Yatra, Death Ritual (2019)

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Rifflord Release 7 Cremation Ground / Meditation on CD Through Salt of the Earth Records

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 19th, 2018 by JJ Koczan


Just a quick plug here for a cool band doing good stuff. Rifflord from South Dakota released their second album, 7 Cremation Ground / Meditation (review here), on vinyl this month through STB Records, and they’ve also signed to Salt of the Earth Records for the CD issue, which, as it happens, is also out now. Nothing like efficiency. If you’re really the pick-your-media or the gotta-catch-’em-all type, there are also tapes available from Tescio Dischi in ultra-limited fashion, the deluxe edition long since gone. But for those of us who enjoy a straightforward piece of plastic, there’s still nothing quite like a compact disc to get the job done, and as I know I’m not the only loyalist to the format — nothing against vinyl — I figured it was worth sharing the news.

You’ll note Salt of the Earth says below that it’s signed the band. I’m not sure if that means for future releases as well, but I guess we’ll find out. Either way, good record, good fit, so all the better. From the PR wire:

rifflord salt of the earth

SALT OF THE EARTH RECORDS is proud as all hell to announce the signing of the mighty RIFFLORD.

In an unholy alliance between STB Records and Salt Of The Earth Records,

RIFFLORD “7 Cremation Ground / Meditation” is now available in all glorious formats. So twist a fatty… and burn, burn, burn!

And do you know what makes this announcement all the sweeter?!

The RIFFLORD “7 Cremation Ground / Meditation” cds are in stock NOW!!

No wait.

We are psyched to be offering up RIFFLORDs brand new collection of heavy ass tunes on Compact Disc… thus making it very easy to blast RIFFLORD “7 Cremation Ground / Meditation“ very loudly in Vans, Camaros, El Caminos and in most underground lairs.

Seriously though, you HAVE to check this RIFFLORD album out, it’s a collection of songs that are very easy to lose yourself in…This is one hell of an infectious album.

Rifflord is:
Lead Guitar and Vocals: Wyatt Bronc Bartlett
Guitar: Paul Pinos
Bass: Matthew Mcfarland
Keys: Tory Jean Stoddard
Drums: Tommy Middlen

Rifflord, “The Other Side” official video

Rifflord, 7 Cremation Ground / Meditation (2018)

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