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

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

The-Obelisk-Quarterly-Review

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

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

Quarterly Review #61-70:

Ufomammut, Hidden

ufomammut hidden

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

Ufomammut website

Supernatural Cat website

Neurot Recordings website

Insect Ark, Raw Blood Singing

insect ark raw blood singing

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

Insect Ark website

Debemur Murti Productions website

Heath, Isaak’s Marble

Heath Isaak's Marble

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

Heath website

Suburban Records store

The Cosmic Dead, Infinite Peaks

The Cosmic Dead Infinite Peaks

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

The Cosmic Dead website

Heavy Psych Sounds website

The Watchers, Nyctophilia

The Watchers Nyctophilia

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

The Watchers on Facebook

Ripple Music website

Juke Cove, Tempest

juke cove tempest

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

Juke Cove on Facebook

Juke Cove on Bandcamp

Laurel Canyon, East Side EP

laurel canyon east side

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

Laurel Canyon on Facebook

Agitated Records website

Tet, Tet

tet tet

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

Tet linktr.ee

Tet on Bandcamp

Aidan Baker, Everything is Like Always Until it is Not

aidan baker Everything is Like Always Until it is Not

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

Aidan Baker on Facebook

Cruel Nature Recordings on Bandcamp

Trap Ratt, Tribus Rattus Mortuus

Trap Ratt Tribus Rattus Mortuus

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

Trap Ratt on Facebook

Trap Ratt on Bandcamp

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

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

The-Obelisk-Quarterly-Review

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

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

Quarterly Review #21-30:

Saturnalia Temple, Paradigm Call

saturnalia temple paradigm call

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

Saturnalia Temple on Facebook

Listenable Records website

Dool, The Shape of Fluidity

dool the shape of fluidity

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

Dool on Facebook

Prophecy Productions website

Abrams, Blue City

abrams blue city

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

Abrams on Facebook

Blues Funeral Recordings website

Pia Isa, Burning Time

pia isa burning time

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

Pia Isa on Facebook

Argonauta Records website

Wretched Kingdom, Wretched Kingdom

Wretched Kingdom Wretched Kingdom

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

Wretched Kingdom on Facebook

Wretched Kingdom on Bandcamp

Lake Lake, Proxy Joy

lake lake proxy joy

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

Lake Lake on Facebook

Lake Lake on Bandcamp

Gnarwhal, Altered States

Gnarwhal Altered States

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

Gnarwhal on Facebook

Gnarwhal on Bandcamp

Bongfoot, Help! The Humans..

bongfoot help the humans

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

Bongfoot on Facebook

Bongfoot on Bandcamp

Thomas Greenwood & The Talismans, Ateş

Thomas Greenwood and the Talismans Ateş

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

Thomas Greenwood and The Talismans on Facebook

Subsound Records website

Djiin, Mirrors

djiin mirrors

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

Djiin on Facebook

Klonosphere Records website

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Quarterly Review: High on Fire, Spaceslug, Lie Heavy, Burning Realm, Kalac, Alkuräjähdys, Magick Brother & Mystic Sister, Amigo, The Hazytones, All Are to Return

Posted in Reviews on May 14th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

The-Obelisk-Quarterly-Review

Alright, back at it. Putting together yesterday over the weekend was more scattershot than I’d prefer, but one might say the same of parenting in general, so I’ll leave it at that. Still, as happens with Quarterly Reviews, we got there. That my wife gave me an extra 40 minutes to bang out the Wizzerd video premiere was appreciated. As always, she makes everything possible.

Compared to some QRs, there are a few ‘bigger’ releases here. You’ll note High on Fire leading off today. That trend will continue over this and next week with the likes of Pallbearer, Uncle Acid, Bongripper, Harvestman (Steve Von Till, ex-Neurosis), Inter Arma, Saturnalia Temple spread throughout. The Pelican two-songer and My Dying Bride back to back a week from today. That’ll be a fun one. As always, it’s about the time crunch for me for what goes in the Quarterly Review. Things I want to cover before it’s too late that I can fit here. Ain’t nobody holding their breath for my opinion on any of it, or on anything generally for that matter, but I’m not trying to slight well known bands by stuffing them into what when it started over a decade ago I thought would be a catchall for demos and EPs. Sometimes I like the challenge of a shorter word count, too.

And I remind myself here again nobody really cares. Fine, let’s go.

Quarterly Review #11-20:

High on Fire, Cometh the Storm

high on fire cometh the storm

What seems at first to be business as usual for High on Fire‘s fourth album produced by Kurt Ballou, fifth for MNRK Heavy (formerly E1), and ninth overall, gradually reveals itself to be the band’s tonally heaviest work in at least the last 15 years. What’s actually new is drummer Coady Willis (Big Business, Melvins) making his first studio appearance alongside founding guitarist/vocalist Matt Pike (Sleep, Pike vs. the Automaton) and long-tenured bassist/backing vocalist Jeff Matz (also saz on the instrumental interlude-plus “Karanlik Yol”), and for sure Willis‘ thud in “Trismegistus,” galloping intensity in the thrashy and angular “The Beating” and declarative stomp beneath the big slowdown of 10-minute closer “Darker Fleece” is part of it, but from the way Pike and Matz bring “Cometh the Storm’ and “Sol’s Golden Curse” in the record’s middle to such cacophonous ends, the three-and-a-half-minute face-kick that is “Lightning Beard” and the suckerpunch that starts off with “Lambsbread,” to how even the more vocally melodic “Hunting Shadows” is carried on a wave of filthy, hard-landing distortion, their ferocity is reaffirmed in thicker grooves and unmitigated pummel. While in some ways this is what one would expect, it’s also everything for which one might hope from High on Fire a quarter-century on from their first demo. Triumph.

High on Fire on Facebook

MNRK Heavy website

Spaceslug, Out of Water

spaceslug out of water

A release concurrent to a remastered edition of their 2016 debut, Lemanis (review here), only puts into emphasis how much Spaceslug have come into their own over eight productive years. Recorded by drummer/vocalist Kamil Ziółkowski (also Mountain of Misery), with guitarist/vocalist Bartosz Janik and bassist/vocalist Jan Rutka dug into familiar tonal textures throughout five tracks and a quick but inevitably full-length-flowing 32 minutes, Out of Water is both otherworldly and emotionally evocative in the rollout of “Arise the Sun” following the intertwined shouts of opener “Tears of Antimatter,” and in keeping with their progression, they nudge toward metallic aggression as a way to solidify their heavy psychedelic aspects. “Out of Water” is duly mournful to encapsulate such a tragic notion, and the nod of “Delusions” only grows more forcefully applied after the return from that song’s atmospheric break, and while they depart with “In Serenity” to what feels like the escapism of sunnier riffing, even that becomes more urgent toward the album’s finish. The reason it works is they’re bending genre to their songs, not the other way around, and as Spaceslug mature as a group, they’ve become one of Poland’s most essential heavy acts.

Spaceslug on Facebook

Spaceslug on Bandcamp

Lie Heavy, Burn to the Moon

lie heavy burn to the moon

First issued on CD through JM Records in 2023, Lie Heavy‘s debut album, Burn to the Moon, sees broader release through Heavy Psych Sounds with revamped art to complement the Raleigh, North Carolina, four-piece’s tonal heft and classic reach in pieces like “In the Shadow” and “The Long March,” respectively. The band is fronted by Karl Agell (vocalist for C.O.C.‘s 1991 Blind album and now also in The Skull-offshoot Legions of Doom), and across the 12-song/51-minute run, and whether it’s the crunch of the ripper “When the Universe Cries” or the Clutch-style heavy funk of “Chunkadelic” pushing further from the start-stops of “In the Shadow” or the layered crescendo of “Unbeliever” a short time later, he and bassist/vocalist TR Gwynne, guitarist/vocalist Graham Fry and drummer/vocalist Jeff “JD” Dennis deliver sans-pretense riff-led fare. They’re not trying to fix what wasn’t broken in the ’90s, to be sure, but you can’t really call it a retread either as they swing through “Drag the World” and its capstone counterpart “End the World”; it all goes back to Black Sabbath anyway. The converted will get it no problem.

Lie Heavy on Facebook

Heavy Psych Sounds website

Burning Realm, Face the Fire

Burning Realm Face the Fire

Dublin, Ireland, trio Burning Realm mark their first release with the four-song Face the Fire EP, taking the cosmic-tinged restlessness of Wild Rocket and setting it alongside more grounded riffing, hinting at thrash in the ping ride on “From Beyond” but careening in the modern mode either way. Lead cut “Homosapien” gives Hawkwindian vibes early — the trap, which is sounding like Slift, is largely avoided, though King Gizzard may still be relevant as an influence — but smoothly gives over to acoustics and vocal drone once its urgency has bene vaporized, and spacious as the vocal echo is, “Face the Fire” is classic stoner roll even into its speedier ending, the momentum of which is continued in closer “Warped One (Arise),” which is more charged on the whole in a way that feels linear and intended in relation to what’s put before it. A 16-minute self-released introduction to who Burning Realm are now, it holds promise for how they might develop stylistically and grow in terms of range. Whatever comes or doesn’t, it’s easy enough to dig as it is. If you were at a show and someone handed you the tape, you’d be stoked once you put it on in the car. Also it’s like 1995 in that scenario, apparently.

Burning Realm on Facebook

Burning Realm on Bandcamp

Kalac, Odyss​é​e

Odyssee

Offered through an international consortium of record labels that includes Crême Brûlée Records in the band’s native France, Echodelick in the US, Clostridium in Germany and Weird Beard in the UK, French heavy psych thrusters Kalac‘s inaugural full-length, Odyss​é​e — also stylized all-caps — doesn’t leave much to wonder why so many imprints might want some for the distro. With a focus on rhythmic movement in the we-gotta-get-to-space-like-five-minutes-ago modus of current-day heavy neo-space-rock, the mostly instrumental procession hypnotizes even as it peppers its expanses with verses here or there. That might be most effectively wrought in the payoff noiseblaster wash of “II,” which I’m just going to assume opens side B, but the boogie quotient is strong from “Arguenon” to “Beautiful Night,” and while might ring familiar to others operating in the aesthetic galaxial quadrant, the energy of Kalac‘s delivery and the not-haphazard-but-not-always-in-the-same-spot-either placement of the vocals are enough to distinguish them and make the six-tracker as exciting to hear as it sounds like it probably was to record.

Kalac on Facebook

Crême Brûlée Records on Bandcamp

Clostridium Records store

Weird Beard Records store

Echodelick Records on Bandcamp

Alkuräjähdys, Ehdot.

Alkurajahdys ehdot

The live-tracked fourth outing from Helsinki psych improvisationalists Alkuräjähdys, the lowercase-stylized ehdot. blends mechanical and electronic sounds with more organic psychedelic jamming, the synth and bassier punchthrough in the midsection of opening piece “.matriisi” indeed evocative of the dot-matrix printer to which its title is in reference, while “központ,” which follows, meanders into a broader swath of guitar-based noise atop a languidly graceful roll of drums. That let’s-try-it-slower ideology is manifest in the first half of the duly two-sided “a-b” as well, as the 12-minute finale begins by lurching through the denser distortion of a central riff en route to a skronk-jazz transition to a tighter midtempo groove that I’ll compare to Endless Boogie and very much intend that as a compliment. I don’t think they’re out to change the world so much as get in a room, hit it and see where the whole thing ends up, but those are noble creative aims in concept and practice, and between the two guitars, effects, synth and whathaveyou, there’s plenty of weird to go around.

Alkuräjähdys on Instagram

Alkuräjähdys on Bandcamp

Magick Brother & Mystic Sister, Tarot Pt. 1

Magick Brother & Mystic Sister tarot pt. 1

Already a significant undertaking as a 95-minute 2LP running 11 tracks themed — as the title(s) would hint — around tarot cards, the mostly serene sprawl of Magick Brother & Mystic Sister‘s Tarot Pt. 1 is still just the first of two companion albums to be issued as the follow-up to the Barcelona outfit’s 2020 self-titled debut (discussed here). Offered through respected Greek purveyor Sound Effect Records, Tarot Pt. 1 gives breadth beyond just the runtime in the sitar-laced psych-funk of “The Hierophant” (swap sitar for organ, synth and flute on “The Chariot”) and the classic-prog pastoralia of closer “The Wheel of Fortune,” and as with the plague-era debut, at the heart of the material is a soothing acid folk, and while the keys in the first half of “The Emperor” grow insistent and there’s some foreboding in the early Mellotron and key lines of “The Lovers,” Tarot Pt. 1 resonates comfort and care in its arrangements as well as ambition in its scope. Maybe another hour and a half on the way? Sign me up.

Magick Brother & Mystic Sister on Facebook

Sound Effect Records store

Amigo, Good Time Island

Amigo Good Time Island

The eight-year distance from their 2016 debut long-player, Little Cliffs, seems to have smoothed out some (not all, which isn’t a complaint) of the rough edges in Amigo‘s sound, as the seemingly reinvigorated San Diego four-piece of lead guitarist/vocalist Jeff Podeszwik (King Chiefs), guitarist Anthony Mattos, bassist Sufi Karalen and drummer Anthony Alley offer five song across an accessible, straightforward 17 minutes united beneath the fair-enough title of Good Time Island. Without losing the weight of their tones, a Weezery pop sensibility comes through in “Dope Den” while “Frog Face” is even more specifically indebted to The Cars. Neither “Telescope Boy” nor “Banana Phone” lacks punch, but Amigo hold some in reserve for “Me and Soof,” which rounds out the proceedings, and they put it to solid use for an approach that’s ’90s-informed without that necessarily meaning stoner, grunge or alt, and envision a commercially relevant, songwriting-based heavy rock and roll for an alternate universe that, by all accounts here, sounds like a decent place to be.

Amigo on Facebook

Roosevelt Row Records store

The Hazytones, Wild Fever

The Hazytones Wild Fever

Culminating in the Sabbathian shuffle of “Eye for an Eye,” Wild Fever is the hook-drenched third full-length from Montreal fuzzbringers The Hazytones, and while they’ve still got the ‘tones’ part down pat, it’s easy to argue the eight included tracks are the least ‘hazy’ they’ve been to-date. Following on from the direction of 2018’s II: Monarchs of Oblivion (review here), the Esben Willems-mixed/Kent Stump-mastered 40-minute long-player isn’t shy about leaning into the grittier side of what they do as the opening title-track rolls out a chorus that reminds of C.O.C. circa In the Arms of God while retaining some of the melody between the vocals of Mick Martel (also guitar and keys) and Gabriel Prieur (also drums and bass), and with the correspondingly thick bass of Caleb Sanders for accompaniment and lead guitarist John Choffel‘s solo rising out of the murk on “Disease,” honing in on the brashness suits them well. Not where one might have expected them to end up six years later, but no less enjoyable for that, either.

The Hazytones on Facebook

Black Throne Productions store

All Are to Return, III

All Are To Return III

God damn that’s harsh. Mostly anonymous industrialists — you get F and N for names and that’s it — All Are to Return are all the more punishing in the horrific recesses and engulfing blasts of static that populate III than they were in 2022’s II (review here), and the fact that the eight-songer is only 32 minutes long is about as close as they come to any concept of mercy for the psyche of their audience. Beyond that, “Moratorium,” “Colony Collapse,” the eats-you-dead “Archive of the Sky” and even the droning “Legacy” cast a willfully wretched extremity, and what might be a humanizing presence of vocals elsewhere is screams channeled through so much distortion as to be barely recognizable as coming from a human throat here. If the question being posed is, “how much can you take?,” the answer for most of those brave enough to even give III a shot will be, “markedly less than this.” A cry from the depths realizing a brutal vision.

All Are to Return on Bandcamp

Tartarus Records store

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

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

The-Obelisk-Quarterly-Review

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

His punishment? That very same Quarterly Review.

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

Quarterly Review #1-10:

Nebula, Livewired in Europe

Nebula Livewired in Europe

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

Nebula on Facebook

Heavy Psych Sounds website

Mountain of Misery, The Land

mountain of misery the land

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

Mountain of Misery on Facebook

Electric Witch Mountain Recordings on Facebook

Page Williams Turner, Page Williams Turner

page williams turner self titled

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

Page Williams Turner at Opposite Records Bandcamp

Opposite Records website

Almost Honest, The Hex of Penn’s Woods

almost honest the hex of penn's woods

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

Almost Honest on Facebook

Argonauta Records website

Buzzard, Doom Folk

buzzard doom folk

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

Buzzard on Facebook

Buzzard on Bandcamp

Mt. Echo, Cometh

mt echo cometh

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

Mt. Echo on Facebook

Mt. Echo on Bandcamp

Friends of Hell, God Damned You to Hell

friends of hell god damned you to hell

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

Friends of Hell on Instagram

Rise Above Records website

Red Sun, From Sunset to Dawn

Red Sun From Sunset to Dawn

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

Red Sun on Facebook

Subsound Records website

Wolff & Borgaard, Destroyer

wolff and borgaard destroyer

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

Peter Wolff on Facebook

My Proud Mountain website

Semuta, Glacial Erratic

Semuta Glacial Erratic

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

Semuta on Facebook

Semuta on Bandcamp

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Roadburn 2024: Notes From Day Four

Posted in Features, Reviews on April 22nd, 2024 by JJ Koczan

Roadburn 2024 sunday Becky and Walter talk

Before any of the actual sets, today started with the annual tradition of a sit-down audience with Roadburn’s Artistic Director, Walter Hoeijmakers, hosted by Becky Laverty, who not only puts the side-programme together, but has been a crucial part of pushing the festival forward stylistically and defining its ongoing mission. Mostly a Q&A from the people who crammed into the V39, where merch used to be, they covered a range of topics from the logistics of setting up the time table to why they’ve moved away from having curators like in years past. No, they didn’t say anything about who will play in 2025, but one assumes that will come in time.

I had a question I wanted to ask about the next generation of Roadburn taking shape in the last few years of lineups and where they see it all leading, but they sort of touched on it and since there was only an hour, I was in the back, etc., etc., I just let it go. But, a casual chat, and always interesting to get their insights on this weirdo behemoth that Roadburn has become.

Once upon a however many years ago, the last day of Roadburn was known as the Afterburner. They’ve dropped the branding — fair enough — but there are still fewer active stages today, some longer changeovers between acts on the main stage, and so on. A mellower vibe, perhaps, was taking hold, but plenty of anticipation in the air around the 013, that electric undercurrent running through. My trajectory was loose but there was plenty I knew I wanted to see, and felt a little less in-my-own-head than the day before. Hard not to be inspired though coming out of hearing Walter and Becky chat about the passion and care that goes into making Roadburn, top to bottom.

Secret shows announced for The Keening (at Little Devil, won’t make it; sadder because they’re playing a new song), Mojo and the Kitchen Brothers (skate park, 19.00, hope to make it) and Torpor (skate park, 21.40, would be awesome), but to start out, I headed into Next Stage to watch a few minutes of Belgian trio Use Knife. I’d been tasked with writing a small blurb about them previously and after taking a listen decided it was something Use Knife (Photo by JJ Koczan)I was interested in seeing myself. I guess I sold myself on it. Happens sometimes.

They touched on old-school industrial and techno throb, put together around Middle Eastern melodies and instrumentation and of course mountains of keyboards and programmed whathaveyou. They played behind three white sheets onto which varyingly manic projections were cast. I had sat on the floor to start writing and ask my wife for a picture of our daughter — got one, it was nice — and when I looked up, the room was full. It was somewhat of a later start today on the main stage with the Die Wilde Jagd & Metropole Orkest commissioned piece ‘Lux Tenera: A Rite to Joy,’ perhaps because of the need to set up a full 50-piece orchestra on the stage. Either way, Use Knife didn’t seem displeased from what I could see behind the sheets.

Metropole Orkest has had representation at Roadburn before — alongside Tom G. Warrior and Triptykon in 2019 (review here) — but the collaboration with Sebastian Lee Philipp of Die Wilde Jagd brought a full 50 players to the stage, so it was both bigger and presented in a different context. Ambitious, to say the least of it. Over the course of an hour, the piece evolved over several sections or movements, with conductor/arranger Simon Dobson leading as Philipp worked various synthesizer elements seated at a table or stood for a bit of ‘more traditional’ — which is only Die Wilde Jagd & Metropole Orkest 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)in quotes because classical music is actually more traditional — guitar and vocals.

Aside from the stunning visual impact of so many players on the stage and the huge drums flanking each side, the tiers for the chaired strings, brass, winds, and such, getting the notice to check in for my flight home tomorrow helped me put a few things into perspective, most specifically how fortunate I am to be here in the first place. Yeah, you might just see a thing that happens once, never again, and which is so fulfilling to the creator that the first thing he says on mic is that he can die happy having been a part of it. Could happen.

But even that’s only just a fraction of the thing, and true to the cliché, Roadburn is more than the sum of the sets that comprise it. They didn’t have to invite me. They don’t need me here now, and the truth is they never did, even in 2009 the first year I came. It wasn’t the first time this (long-) weekend that such a thing occurred to me, and I doubt it will be the last, but ‘Lux Tenera,’ in its subdued contemplations and moments of legit bombast, made me glad to feel alive. The value of that, I cannot hope to tell you. All I can do is to try to hold onto it for as long as possible, because I know in my heart that being here to experience it might not come again.

Dinner! I had dinner! The changeover between the commissioned piece and Grails afforded me time to go downstairs and have some food, sit down like the people do. There was Grails (Photo by JJ Koczan)cauliflower, even. I had that and greens and a bit of beef rendang for protein. When I’m not too dead on my feet to hold my head up at the end of the night, I have no doubt that will have been a factor in it.

Eating didn’t keep me from Grails, but I knew I wasn’t going to be staying all that long. Not lacking appreciation for the vast expanses of Emil Amos’ consistently-pushed creative reach, but there was that Mojo and the Kitchen Brothers secret show happening and I didn’t want to miss getting in to the skate park for it. About the decision, I’ll say this: ‘who haven’t I seen?’ has always been my first question for Roadburn time clashes. In this case, that meant heading up the street early.  The doors weren’t open yet when I got there, and it’s been chilly in Tilburg, but I was toward the front of a line that grew exponentially shortly after I joined, and a not-freezing wind was a small thing next to the fiery heavy boogie wrought by the Belgian six-piece. The second two-drummer outfit I’ve seen this weekend — bonus points on whatever imaginary score is being kept for one of Mojo’s singing — along with three guitars and a bass warm enough that it didn’t need more low end to keep it company.

They started about two minutes after people started to be let in, and what a blast. And like Heath, who I mention not as a sonic comparison — though if the 1970s are a genre, you could argue they’re both at least somewhat on branches of it — but just because they’re the other secret show I’ve seen, they were young. A clear look at the next generation’s take on the heavy of yore, but with a modern dynamic that didn’t ignore the five decades between then and now. With a bit of riff worship, an insistent shuffle, and an energy in their delivery that could not be faked, they swept up the skate park crowd and had people dancing on the ramps. It was fun, and as Roadburn has continued to grow beyond its foundations and, as the tagline says, ‘Redefine Heaviness,’ it’s encouraging to see them make room for a band like Mojo and the Kitchen Brothers too. I knew I was making a bet leaving Grails, but the payoff was easy justification. They can redefine heaviness all they want, Roadburn will always mean hard choices.

I took some pictures, but Mojo and the Kitchen Brothers 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)mostly just let myself hang around and enjoy it, which was why I was there. I had moved up to the balcony by the end — I’m iffy in crowds, and couldn’t see from anywhere else, really — but I watched the whole set and left the building a fan of the band, which for the first time seeing a group play is the ideal as far as I’m concerned.

The Jesus and Mary Chain‘s headlining set has been a ‘well duh’ kind of answer to the question of who people are looking forward to seeing since Wednesday, or to be more accurate, since they were announced. I was in high school when they were big in the ’90s, and while I could probably retire on the Gen-X cred that having seen them live afforded me and everybody in the room — that’s how retirement happens, right? — I was in no way rad enough to have been into them at the time. But aside from being Important in the capital-‘i’ critical sense and an obvious influence on any number of the acts on this bill, including Cloakroom, who were tasked with closing the main stage after them, they had more going on than established stage presence, colored strobes and a back catalog, and the room was accordingly full.

The reason I didn’t get (more) pictures was because they had a rule where you could only stand in a taped-off rectangle to shoot the set. It was my first time encountering such a thing since Queens of the Stone Age in Boston in 2013, and I wasn’t a fan of it then either, but it’s their show so fair enough. Compare that to the guitarist from Mojo and the Kitchen Brothers climbing up on the barrier — which I think is usually a grind rail but served well to separate band and audience for the secret shows — about three feet in front of my face to tear into an early solo, or, say, everyone else playing this weekend. Just two experiences to put side by side.

My original plan had been to watch as much of The Jesus and Mary Chain as possible before The Bevis Frond went on the Next Stage.The Jesus and Mary Chain (Photo by JJ Koczan) I think they’re the only band here who can say they played the first Roadburn in 2006, which isn’t nothing, and their sometimes heavy, sometimes spacy, sometimes jammy, sometimes poppy, sometimes psychedelic rock has always held an interest, so given the chance, it seemed like an logical place to end my Roadburn. They went on at 21.20 and were given a 70-minute set, so plenty of time to dig in, but they were already on when I got there, as Freeburn-wheeled up to the skate park to see what the deal was for Torpor. The deal was a line out the door (not open yet) that wrapped around the building and I knew that what I’d first intended had been the thing all along. The Bevis Frond welcomed me — no, not personally; existentially — with friendly vibes and a spirit of fun that went beyond the tunes they played, “Stoned Train Driver” among them.

There was room to breathe on the balcony, and so that’s where I stayed for the duration. I’d missed maybe the first 20 minutes, but they made it a pleasure to stick around until the end, and it felt in watching them like the show meant something special to them, particularly to founding guitarist/vocalist Nick Saloman. Even after being told they only had six minutes — it turned out to be 15 — his response was “Let’s make the most of it.”

And they did, covering The Open Mind’s 1969 single “Magic Potion” with due garage-psych flair and shouting “I’ve Got Eyes in the Back of My Head” from 1987’s Inner Marshland out to Rolf and Jeanette from Stickman Records. It was right on, a happening to-do. The guys from Full Earth/Kanaan were there, as was Stephen Smith from Virginia and a host of other recognizable faces, including the dude with the soul patch I know only as Capt. Stoner Rock, to whom I’ve never spoken but have seen at every loosely-riff-following set I’ve ever been to at this festival — he had a Hippie Death Cult shirt on the other night and I almost snuck a picture to send to their guitarist Eddie Brnabic with an explanation of why he should be so honored; The Bevis Frond (Photo by JJ Koczan) nothing but sincere respect for Capt. Stoner Rock — and people danced and smiled and the band seemed to have a good time and so did everyone in the crowd, myself included.

That was the note on which I wanted to end my Roadburn, so I did’ No disrespect to Cloakroom, who certainly gave me no reason not to show up when I saw them in 2022, but after The Bevis Frond, I knew I was done. A scheduled 9AM departure for Schiphol ahead of me, it was time, which I realized with no shortage of wistfulness as I walked back to the hotel.

I’ll hope to have more tomorrow from the airport, but in case for some reason I don’t end up with time or, more likely, energy, I want to express my thanks to Roadburn Festival for having me over, for making me feel welcome. Thank you Walter & Esther, Becky, Jaimy, Renske, Koos, Rian, Miranda at 013 and the multitudes of Roadburn crew whose professionalism continually astonishes. Thanks to Lee Edwards for putting up with me in sharing a room, Dante, Niels, Paul, Marco and all in the photo pit, and to everyone I talked to over the last few days. Thank you to The Patient Mrs., who made this entire trip possible the same way she makes everything possible, by being the least-fathomable human being I’ve ever met, and to my mother, who took The Patient Mrs. and The Pecan out for ice cream while I was gone, which I have no doubt was a welcome diversion, and whose support I treasure to the core of my being every single day of my life.

Madness ensued and I am grateful to have been able to find a path through it. Thank you, Roadburn, and thank you for reading. I’m fully Roadburnt at this point, but this has been amazing.

More pics after the jump.

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Roadburn 2024: Notes From Day Three

Posted in Features, Reviews on April 21st, 2024 by JJ Koczan

Outside Koepelhal Roadburn 2024

In what I hope will be a defining moment of my day if not the rest of my year, I was sitting with Lee downstairs at the 013 for lunch — some greens and cheese; likewise simple and necessary — and I could feel my brain start to move to what I needed to be doing, some quick writing, starting this post, whatever. But I stopped. I reminded myself, out fucking loud, that I had the time to stay. And so I stayed.

That sounds like an small thing, and maybe it was when set against what the day would bring front to back. And I’m not gonna sit here and try to do some middle-aged-dude wellness philosophy here — neither the place nor the time, and frankly I can’t stand that shit you see on social media, vacuous endorsement of a capitalist idea of how to live; fodder for the tshirts they sell at Target — but as this homecoming has been emotional for me, I’m working not to run away from that.

I got through the writing, the minimal actual amount there was, and got to where I wanted to be well in time for when I wanted to be there. Go figure. Place in time.

Roadburn Saturday. Couch Slut on first at The Terminal, diving deep into avant sludge, noise, hardcore, grindcore and some spoken word over piano — Steve Blanco from Imperial Triumphant guesting — and trumpet, no less purposeful in the light jazz than the most slaughtering parts as they brought the released-yesterday You Could Do it Tonight album to life.

It was my first time seeing them — they’re from Brooklyn, so my only real excuse is I’ve never been cool — and there were times where it felt a bit like gazing at someone’s trauma through the sad and poetic storytelling of their songs, but Couch Slut’s aggressiveCouch Slut (Photo by JJ Koczan) confrontationalism was inner and outer, and they didn’t so much put these narratives on display as they did shove them up your nose like a covid test made of concrete.

The last song they played was longer — I hear that’ll happen with records — but I stuck it out through the intended challenge before stopping in at Hall of Fame to see the band put together by students from the Metal Factory music school. This is their second year featuring a group here, and, well, you want to support the kids. I very clearly was not alone in this thinking, as the room was wall-to-wall. The press of the crowd got to me quickly and I ducked out and back down to the 013 in plenty of time to stop in for a few minutes of Annelies Monseré as she opened the Next Stage with a pastoralia that felt folkish but experimental in its use of drone as more than just a backdrop to the four-part harmonies coming from the stage with the ‘band’ she led. Second flute of the weekend behind Tusmørke last night. Same room. Different context.

My next stop was the main stage for Kavus Torabi‘s commissioned piece, ‘Lion of the Lord’s Elect.’ I had no idea whatsoever what to expect from the set and won’t feign expertise on Torabi’s work through The Utopia Strong, Gong, The Holy Family, and so forth, but from melodic drone to two-drummer cacophony, with sax, bagpipes, synth, guitar, it felt like the construction of a psychedelic temple in that vast hall space. Never quite entirely still, never just about the wash, building up and receding back into its meditations — it was far removed from Couch Slut’s raw hurt and reality in general, a cosmic offering rife with float despite the double dose of kit percussion.

Like a lot of this Roadburn has been for me so far, ‘Lion of the Lord’s Elect’ was a chance to step outside of what I know or might chase down on my own. I’ll stop short of saying you have to step outside your comfort zone — remind yourself you don’t ‘have’ to do anything — but a willingness to take on somethingAnnelies Monsere (Photo by JJ Koczan) unknown is a big part of a commissioned project like this, which only happened because Roadburn made it happen. In its intricacies and overarching flow, proggy noodling and heavier push, it tugged at the limits of where space rock can generally go, and hell’s bells I’m glad I saw it. That hour went fast, and down to the last chime that finished, it was a master’s work. I watched the whole thing.

Feeling antsier today, which might just be fatigue, but still. After Kavus Torabi and co. ended, I moved downstairs to get water and then back up and around 013, looked in on Next Stage, nobody on, and decided to run back to the hotel for a few minutes, take a pill, brush my teeth — the salad/cheese combo had my mouth feeling fuzzy — and take my shoes off for a few minutes. Some of that was nerves for seeing The Keening, the Portland, Oregon, outfit led by Rebecca Vernon (ex-SubRosa) who would shortly perform their 2023 debut, Little Bird (review here) in full on the main stage. The lineup she’s assembled for the tour the band are about to undertake with Bell Witch — they’ll pick up in Spain on a couple days — includes Billy Anderson (too many to list for his production background, all the names tried to escape my brain at once, but he’s handled low end for Blessing the Hogs, High Tone Son of a Bitch and a slew of others) on bass and Nathan Carson of Witch Mountain on drums, as well as Andrea Morgan (Exulansis) on violin and vocals and Christy Cather (Ails, Ludicra) on guitar and some vocals, and if all that pedigree doesn’t do it for you, fine, the band stand on their own anyway.

The main stage has a lot to offer in terms of a flow from one act to the next, and reminds me a bit of years past in how a linear progression is set up throughout the day. That applies less to Kavus TorabiKavus Torabi (Photo by JJ Koczan) than to The Keening and the three acts that will follow them, but you can still find threads from one to the other, The Keening into Lankum, into Khanate and Blood Incantation. Or at least you can put a story to it that makes sense in sound. It’s not just one band piled on another. There’s thought, and heart, put into it.

I took pictures for two songs of The Keening and went up to the balcony for “Little Bird,” which Vernon dedicated to the people of Palestine, and the rest of the set. After a couple minutes I had to sort of force myself to put the camera down, put my phone away, repeat my various mantras about Freeburn this and that, living the thing instead of just covering it, etc., and I think I was probably better off for that. Little Bird, which has only grown on me since last year — and I liked it plenty when it was reviewed — culminates with “The Truth,” the studio version of which is 17 minutes long. No, I didn’t time it from the stage, but it was no less expansive in-person in its multi-movement unfolding and almost chaptered feel. Vernon’s voice is seething at times, the patterns of her lyrics rooted in ’90s post-hardcore emphatic repetition but so far removed from that thing as to be her own. I’d been looking forward to seeing them since I found out I’d be at Roadburn, and I’m not saying I wasn’t going to check out Khanate in a couple hours, but in many respects they were my priority of today and the fest overall. They did not disappoint, and Morgan nailed the operatics later in “The Truth,” making it all the more gorgeous and stirring. I hope the tour goes well, hope they do more.

Back and forth a bit in the break, but the truth is I was tired, found a corner, and stayed there, so it wasn’t much more than getting water. I ate a pack of almonds I brought from home and had tucked in my camera bag. I did a couple Hungarian lessons on my phone. I did not socialize. I The Keening (Photo by JJ Koczan)waited until about 15 minutes before Lankum went on, then went to the photo pit to do the thing. There’s always one lonely day at Roadburn. Should’ve been yesterday, was today.

Even Lankum’s line check was heavy, though, and it was mostly the four of them singing. That was a thing to dig, even if Irish folk ‘n’ drone isn’t exactly going to pull you out of your own head most of the time. I recognized “Go Dig My Grave” from last year’s False Lankum later in their set and I very obviously wasn’t alone in that. The main stage room was as full as I’d yet seen it — true I wasn’t in it at all on Thursday, when Chelsea Wolfe played, so if you want to just take that to mean “quite crowded indeed,” go ahead — and with arrangement dynamics that came through in vocals that moved into and out of four-part harmonies, found instruments swapped out between songs and persistent low end hum that I think came off the big drum in back that threatened to swallow melody and audience alike and I’m pretty sure was on purpose, Lankum harnessed traditionalism to suit the purposes of their craft, whether it was an original piece or not. When they left, the P.A. played Cinder Well’s “No Summer,” and that felt right.

Khanate were next.

It would not be my first time seeing Alan Dubin (O.L.D., Gnaw, etc.), Stephen O’Malley (SunnO))), Burning Witch, etc.), James Plotkin (O.L.D., Lotus Eaters, Atomsmasher, etc.) and Tim Wyskida (Blind Idiot God, Insect Ark, etc.) together on stage. One dark, deeply inebriated night two decades ago, I was in their presence as they played a Southern Lord showcase at SXSW that also featured Outlaw Order, Earthride (RIP Sherman), Place of Skulls and Graves at Sea.Lankum (Photo by JJ Koczan) Yes, I had to look up when it was. And no, I’m not telling you that to be cool. I’m not cool. I’m just old. But Khanate were my prevailing memory of that evening, the singular bleakness and scathe that they wrought, and while I’ve seen the component members of the band in other projects since, there was no question that their performing together under the Khanate banner for the first time in reportedly 19 years was one of the most crucial opportunities Roadburn 2024 provided. There’s a reason they were the first band announced for the fest. It was a big fucking deal.

Their surprise 2023 album, To Be Cruel (review here), underscored the aural black hole they’ve always been. It wasn’t about reinventing their approach so much as about being brave enough to try to make those awful sounds again. Understand: Khanate stand at the end point of music, extreme enough in their mission and end result that nothing but hyperbole can rightly apply. Save for O’Malley tuning between songs, they offered no moments of respite or safe pockets in which to dwell. No cathartic release. They stood close together on stage under stark spotlights. No video screen. Nothing to distract you from the punishment on offer. The only flourish around O’Malley’s glacial riffs and Plotkin’s coinciding rumble was the caustic feedback either of their own or of Dubin’s making with his sampler, noisebox, or whatever the fuck it was. No rescue came. No melody. No letup. “Kick a helpless thing,” and the crowd was the helpless thing. If it was arthouse, it was the moldy basement underneath that smells like rotting meat and no one knows why.

At the Hall of Fame, Full Earth would play nearly the entirety of their own set during Khanate’s. Not a conflict of note for most here, I would think. I did abscond up there to try to see them at least for a few minutes, but the line was out the door — classic Roadburn Khanate (Photo by JJ Koczan)indication that you’re not getting in — and yeah, I’ve got a pass, but I figured all was well, I was glad a whole bunch of other people would get to the show even if I didn’t, and hightailed it back to the 013. Gotta get your steps in. I’m pretty sure Khanate were still playing the same song when I got back. No summer here either. Lonely day at Roadburn? Fuck you, here’s shit-coated obliteration instead.

And maybe I was done when they were. A long, long time ago and talking about another band, I told a guy I knew that it wasn’t about the notes they were playing, or the notes they were not playing, but about the spaces in between. That’s truer of Khanate than it was of that other band, and with Khanate, even those tense, empty spaces feel like fingernails on the eyeballs. Thusly bled, I walked back down the row of bars around the corner from the 013 — it has a name, who can remember? — and watched humans having dance parties, talking with friends, drinking, laughing, living. Cognitive dissonance to the fact that the world just ended.

Or didn’t, since there’s still another day of Roadburn tomorrow. See you then, and thanks for reading in the meantime. More pics after the jump.

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Roadburn 2024: Notes From Day Two

Posted in Features, Reviews on April 20th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

Map w weirdo canyon

About a 1PM start writing. I lasted even less time at the Roadburn networking meeting than I expected to. Got my nametag for a souvenir, found Lee, said hi to like two people and split. Not that anyone was unfriendly or anything like that — I wasn’t in the room long enough for something like that to happen — I just couldn’t hack it.

I’ve never been able to conjure a decent performance of self in that kind of setting, and I’m even less able toNetworking name tag handle crowds generally than I used to be. To be clear: I’m not saying a bad word about people who work in the same field meeting each other — it both makes sense professionally and can be a way to connect likeminded humans — but I just can’t do it. It’s on me, completely. I’d always been invited but shy about checking it out, said this was the year. Okay.

A quick run — well, mid-paced plod, really — back to the hotel to reorient, take Advil, drink water, have a bit of a cry, etc., and try to call my wife. No answer, and if she’s sleeping past what’s 7AM at home, that’s unquestionably to the benefit of her day. I was at the 013 office before the networking meeting doing a quick blurb or two while pounding espressos, so have been up for a while, but the day doesn’t ‘start’ for another hour, so I’ll breathe a minute, get my head right and head up to Hall of Fame in a few with my even-weird-among-weirdos self. Oof.

Light rain in Tilburg, off and on. It could be far worse. I bumped into Darsombra on my way to their show. They were on their way to lunch, which is how I knew I was early for their 2:30 start. I went to the Hall of Fame, completely empty. I’ll admit that in my head they were going at 2, but when the dude working the board said the room wasn’t opened yet, I said, “please, I’m just looking for a quiet place to sit. I’m sorry. I have a pass if that helps,” and I guess it helped because when he left the room a minute later he didn’t come back with security to kick my ass out. Thank you to him.

Turned out a few quiet-ish moments would be crucial to getting in the right frame of mind for Darsombra, who exuded joy from the moment they got on stage to explain that this was the first show on their European tour, then left and came back out with the backdrop of the video premiered here Monday for “Shelter in Place” to start their set with “Call the Doctor,” glee abounding in the prog rock vocal melodies and total other-planetary reach of their sound. Sharing vocals with themselves and everyone else in the Darsombra (Photo by JJ Koczan)room who knew the song, Ann Everton shifted from synth to gong to bells and clacky-clackies while Brian Daniloski reveled in tonal presence and shred, the two of them moving in their own kind of dance that was the best argument I’ve seen in a while for a vigorous stretching regimen, not that I needed convincing in that regard. Where’s Roadburn Yoga in the mornings? Completely serious about that, by the way.

Smiles on stage and off, it was a celebration of the noise itself and the ability to find one’s place in it. I dig their records and could easily provide (more) links to prove that, but it had been too long since I last bathed in their live sound. Refreshing, they were. Precisely the redirect I needed, and at just the right time. And speaking of time seeing how full the room got, I was glad to have been early, even with the more laid back Freeburn ethic I’m trying to abide by while I’m here. Once they started, time was irrelevant anyhow.

Most of my day today was at the 013 for the main stage, and that started with Mat McNerney’s commissioned project, ‘Music for Gloaming: A Nocturne by the Hexvessel Folk Assembly.’ Following on from yesterday’s full-album performance, I had been expecting a more folkish offering this time, perhaps in part because it was called a Folk Assembly, but I should’ve known better than to expect any single thing. Blackened tones and push, throaty screams and room-shaking low end pervaded amid doomly nod, quiet, ambient stretches of acoustic guitar, piano, softly intertwining dual vocal arrangements. I don’t know if it was being recorded, but it was expansive in a way that accounted for a lot of what Hexvessel have done as a bandHexvessel (Photo by JJ Koczan), and brought it together thoughtfully and with purpose. I’ll keep my fingers crossed it surfaces at some point as a live release, or that they decide to take it into a studio.

The room cleared a bit when they were done — there was nearly an hour before Blood Incantation were going on with the first of their two sets this weekend, this one focused on their ambient Timewave Zero LP that they’ve never played in Europe and have only done I think one or two other times live. Sounds like something perfect for Roadburn, right? How about that.

The long break post-Nocturne afforded me a chance to pop into Next Stage for a few minutes for Miaux’s standalone cinemascocpic synthery. It was low-key enough to suit my brain but I opted for a refresh of coffee and water downstairs and would not regret it as the afternoon turned to evening. I sat for a bit outside the main stage on one of the benched in the hallway — if I’m talking a lot about sitting, understand that I’m also doing plenty of standing and moving about from here to there, but that not-that is a novelty and something I consider part of finding a place for myself during these days; not actively trying to break myself is new — and ended up chatting with Timothy from Supersonic Blues, who are apparently back to being a trio and have plans to record this summer. Good news.

By the time Blood Incantation actually went on, the main stage was jammed. I’ve seen them in their more pummel-prone death metal form, but was curious to watch them explore this more ambient side. I can’t recall ever seeing a band with salt lamps on stage before, so that ticks the box of another Roadburn first for me, and in the wash of synth, loops and effects, the fog, lasers and mostly dim lights, there was no want for mood. Sitar, acoustic guitar, a gong, quiet-then-not vocals, an Attila Csihar guest spot, sampled birdsong, even a trombone that seemed to feedback a couple times became part of the procession along with a defined, slow beat and more persistent percussiveness that emerged after 40-someodd minutes to give shape later on, but the central drone never left and they never lost track of what they were building on top of as it all oozed out from the stage, not so much overwhelming, but growing into its shape in its own time. World creation, and exploratory to be sure, but even at the peak, never too kitchen-sinked or doing anything to Blood Incantation (Photo by JJ Koczan)pull you out of the hypnotic state. I was left wondering what the inevitable sequel — maybe Timewave One? — might bring. Keyboards and sonics, likewise sprawling. I watched the full set.

They said a subdued thanks and the lights came up to dissolve that reality and let the crowd make its shuffling way to wherever was next. For me that was Dool — a band I first heard and saw at Roadburn eight years ago — doing their third album, The Shape of Fluidity, in its entirety. It’s release day, so all the more a special occasion, but again there was a long break, so I hopped — note: definitely did not hop, just trying to counteract the sitting narrative above — into the Next Stage to soak in a few minutes of Forest Swords. And soaking was about it, since where I stood — look at me go! — could see little more than the flashing lights and a corner of the video screen on the stage.

I stayed long enough to appreciate what I was hearing, but my trajectory had been a repeat of between Hexvessel and Blood Incantation — water refill and then on to the next main stage set, allowing for whatever socializing between might crop up, as some did — so I left the left Next Stage to what seemed like its post-industrial vibes and did the thing. The endgame of the break was Dool (which I’ve been pronouncing wrong all this time; it’s like “dole”), who were the imperative around which I’d made the loose structure of my Roadburn Friday.

The album was fresh in my mind. I listened to it twice after getting back to the hotel the night before, and it’s been getting regular spins at home. It’s plenty heavy, but produced for more than just that, and hearing a song like Dool (Photo by JJ Koczan)“Hermagorgon” or the duly scorching opener “Venus in Flames” come through full blast from the main stage, both while I was up front taking photos and after moving up to the balcony to see the rest, was more affecting than I had anticipated.

I don’t talk about it a lot on this site because of what might happen if the wrong person read it, but as a parent trying to help guide a trans kid growing up in the United States — where it is terrifying to think that someday my child might be beaten to death for nothing more than being who she is, or might be driven to hurt herself by just moving through a world that gets off on the cruelty of its rhetoric and culture — to watch Dool guitarist/vocalist Raven van Dorst, whose experience of gender informs the theme of the lyrics throughout The Shape of Fluidity, who has grappled and maybe continues to grapple with that kind of complexity in their daily life, get on the biggest stage here and absolutely own it, own themselves, own that complexity, was powerful and moving well beyond what raw volume could hope to encompass, though there was plenty of that too. To bask in the triumph of Dool’s moment struck me hard, and it’s something I’m so, so incredibly grateful to have witnessed. To imagine along with all the horror in my mind, that kind of possibility exists, even for just a few minutes, was beautiful. I hope sometime in the future to be able to share with my daughter what it meant to me, if she still talks to me by then.

So yeah, it’s a really good record. They did it justice. Big feelings. I guess that’s what it comes down to. I watched the full set.

I missed Inter Arma’s secret show, but fair enough for them to do one after doing their own new record in full. L.A.’s Health — who are most assuredly not to be confused with Heath, who played the skate park last night and will be at Hall of Fame tomorrow — were next on the main stage. Water and a quick hey to Oeds from Iron Jinn and Timothy from Supersonic Blues as they were chatting on the main stage floor level, then to the front for that part of the thing. Am I shirking the Freeburn ideology with a routine today and similar pattern for tomorrow? Maybe on some level, but if it’s about doingHealth (Photo by JJ Koczan) what I want to do and feeling good about it — and it is — then I’ll say I’ve yet to regret any of the choices I’ve made or refused to make thus far into Roadburn. Catching Health, about whom I know precious little being simple genre categorization, would be no different.

Making a visual impact in their light and video show to go with their industrial metal — guitar, bass and drums alongside the digitized aspect — Health were loud the way you think of mountains as big. I’d heard some stuff going into the set but would in no way claim to be an expert, but there wasn’t one song they played the crowd didn’t go off for, and reasonably so with the body-volume, intensity of strobe and the breaks that let you go just long enough before the next pulse of bass frequency slammed you into the ground. The flashing lights got to be a lot after not really all that long, and since I knew I wanted my evening to end with Tusmørke in the Next Stage room following the recommendation of a good friend who’d probably rather not have his name dropped, I hit up the balcony in time to get a spot where I could both see and breathe. Not a luxury to be taken for granted.

The thoroughly Norwegian proggers assured my night finished with a smile no less wide than it started however many centuries ago this afternoon with Darsombra at Hall of Fame. Where guitar might be early on was organ and flute along with the bass and drums, and in addition to being tight enough to pull that off as a take on ’70s prog, their between-song banter was hilarious, making fun of Norway with dry humor and talking about Lord of the Rings, Norwegian children being sacrificed to elk, the proliferation of medieval reading material about how to avoid hornets, and so on. To say the room was on board would be putting it mildly. People danced to the warm groove underscoring all the wilfully-odd quirk, and the lighthearted mood on stage set the tone for their entire set, up to and including when they traded keys for guitar, having already jumped between English and Norwegian lyrics.

I hadn’t planned on staying the whole time — tomorrow is another day — and it wasn’t just the tossoff line about witches wanting to control the means of production that held me in place, but it definitely didn’t hurt Tusmorke (Photo by JJ Koczan)the cause. I saw a dude playing air-flute. It was that kind of party.

The guitar/keyboard issue was settled when they moved the synth over to the other side of the stage — took a minute, as that kind of thing would — for the last song, but they were fluid jamming whatever anyone on stage was actually doing as part of that, funky like classic prog always wanted to be and delightfully nerdy, toying with effects and getting fuzzy or a little spacier for it, sneaking a reference to the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack into the first song and ending as a guitar/bass/drums/flute-and-keys four-piece after what felt like a genuine adventure getting there. I was glad to have gotten that recommendation, and yes, I watched the whole set. That’s how I know they finished late, which is something I’ve rarely seen a band do at Roadburn. When they neared 10 minutes over, I thought the house lights would come up, but it didn’t come to that.

Roadburn 2024 continues tomorrow and I’ll have more then. Until then, if you’re here, I hope your Roadburn has been as uplifting as mine has so far, and if not, I hope some sense of that comes through in reading. And thank you for reading.

More pics after the jump.

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Roadburn 2024: Notes From Day One

Posted in Features, Reviews on April 19th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

Roadburn welcomes you.

Before 2PM writing start. Check-in at the 013, easy, the ideal. Head up to the office, coffee, a bit of sitting around, loosely productive chatting. Some quick writing that hopefully turned out to be complete sentences. Nice to feel helpful.

Merch opened at noon. I arrived at Koepelhal about 20 minutes after and it was crammed as expected. Inching forward and imagining the shirts selling out, more urgent in my head than in real life, to be sure. I don’t even know how many lines — more of a congregation. Label stalls over there, band merch, etc. Soundcheck wubbing through from wherever. Come on, man. Live a little.

Back to the hotel after to drop off purchases — tote and hoodie for The Patient Mrs. acquired as requested, along with a tshirt for myself —Roadburn merch and charge the phone for a few minutes, then up to Koepelhal again in time for The Terminal stage to open. The sign above, “Roadburn welcomes you,” outside as you walk up to the building. Trying to breathe that in slowly.

I haven’t decided yet how I’m going to format the next few days of writing. Might just make words? Crazy thought, I know. The festival starts in about 15 minutes and I can feel it in my nervous blood. Slow down the brain, remember where you are. This used to be easier. Was never as easy as the check-in this morning. I’ll get the camera out in a bit. Fidget fidget. Are the batteries in of course the batteries are in. That kind of thing.

Lights come down, room fills up. The space is set up differently than last time I was here. I like that as a running theme. For what it’s worth — and in my estimation, that’s just about everything — I do feel welcome, and have since the moment I ran into Walter yesterday n the hotel lobby and ended up sitting down to the end of breakfast. I like that as a running theme as well.

Okay, Roadburn. Let’s see how this goes.

Hexvessel are a quintessential Roadburn band in my mind, and yes that’s a compliment. They were doing last year’s black-metal-adjacent Polar Veil (review here) in full, and thinking about past times I’ve seen them here, it brings to mind how broad their scope has been but how each whim they follow is wrapped around an organic core of craft whether it’s woods-worship folk mourning, dark post-punk, psych-pop experimentalism or the blend of melody and char of this latest work. The fact that you don’t know what’s coming next until it’s happened, and Hexvessel 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)the way they bring everything they do into their sphere rather than playing to style — whatever style — makes them a fitting lead-in for who knows what the next few days will bring. I watched the whole set.

Sunrise Patriot Motion were going on 10 minutes later in the Engine Room, which is right next door to the Terminal, so I sauntered over, casual-like, to check out an act I knew nothing about but had heard were cool. Not quite as sad as Crippled Black Phoenix, but a not-dissimilar feel in their post-everything-but-not-too-cool-for-their-owm-songs approach, the keyboard probably more prominent for where I was standing and the vocals blown out to add some rawness to the gothy vibe. I don’t know where they’re from but their music is English as fuck. Beacon, New York. The lineup is half of Yellow Eyes, I’m told. Fair enough. Knowing the actual geography, I couldn’t help but hear some Type O in their slower parts, but I admit that’s more in my head than in their sound.

Some quickly fixed technical hiccup and they were back at it with little actual momentum disruption. Apparently it was their first show ever. Hope the second one lives up. They finished 37 minutes into a 40-minute slot and with a half-hour before Body Void back over in The Terminal — which is the bigger of the two connected Koepelhal spaces — I sat in back and purposefully let myself be in no rush to anywhere. Someone offered me beer as they were walking by — I guess I happened to be in the path of their generosity — but I don’t drink, so politely declined. When I was just about the last one in the Engine Room who wasn’t breaking down the stage, I decided to go find some water. I don’t know if it’ll last, but I like my low key approach so far. In my head, I’m calling it Freeburn as of like 30 seconds ago.Sunrise Patriot Motion (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Emphasis on ‘burn’ there as regards Body Void, who in performing their Atrocity Machine LP in full set alight grind and caustic sludge for a feedback and noise-drenched onslaught of extreme, churning disaffection. Harsh harsh harsh, but, you know, they’re probably super-nice people. I didn’t get mean vibes certainly as their bassist took a couple selfies during one of the breaks in the songs. Laced with synth for further noise drench, thudding with a pulse you could feel in the side of your head, and with screams cutting through to offer no comfort whatsoever, they were brutally life-affirming, a wave of self-declarative volume, music wielded as expression of self coincidental to self-expression. To call it inviting would be to undercut just how far they were pushing limits, so I’ll say that there was room for everybody in that slaughterhouse of sound.

A quick stop to see Andreas Kohl at his Exile on Mainstream both, big hugs, then walked back behind the warded off doings of the Koepelhal, took a cup from an errant pot of coffee, heard something like somebody sawing through metal — no competition for Body Void — and ended up by the art show space and re-met Maarten Donders, bought a couple prints from Vince “Cavum” Trommel, who had an 1860s printing press ready for a workshop tomorrow. Outside briefly and over to Hall of Fame for the start of Seán Mulrooney, 5:10PM in a deceptively quick passage of time for the day. People, places, music. Vibe is on. It’s one to the next, but the resonance of Mulrooney intoning “Slow down, do what you want” from Tau and the Drones of Praise’s “The Sixth Sun” might just be the key to my time here. I know enough now to know this might not come again. I never took Roadburn for granted, but I’ve missed it more than I understood, and maybe more than I wanted to understand.

I damn near wept as Mulrooney — who’s the type Body Void (Photo by JJ Koczan)of hippie folk troubadour that just might make a chorus out of the single word “osmosis” — brought out “Seanóirí Naofa” and “Ceol ón Chré,” fronting a four-piece solo-band built up around the initial duo of himself switching between guitar and piano with a stompbox for percussion along with standup bass. He’d get get to electric guitar in his time, but it was a quiet start that grew more outwardly vibrant, as he said it would. But while he wasn’t onstage alone by any means, it was his first solo show performed under his own name, and I sincerely doubt it will be the last. The crowd knew the Tau stuff, as they would given that the band played here, did the Roadburn Redux thing that non-year, etc., but if it seems like a stark contrast going from Body Void to Seán Mulrooney, he was no less a realization than they were, just working from a different point of view. Maybe I don’t have to tell you that.

Was hit by the old you-need-to-go-write itch as I stood there on front of the Hall of Fame stage, and I almost heeded it, but stopped myself before actually leaving my spot. That’s not how we’re doing Freeburn. Me and that bird that pecks at my compulsive brain with its gotta-remove-myself-from-a-thing-before-I-actually-start-enjoying-it beak go back a long way, but I’m glad it’s a habit I’m trying to break. If I only succeed in doing so one time this weekend, I’m glad it was for Mulrooney’s set, but his was the third full set of the day I saw, and that’s more than I’ve done in entire years at Roadburn.

A few more hellos en route to the fourth, which was Inter Arma back at The Terminator — that’s an autocorrect typo, but I’m leaving it because Inter Arma are nothing if not cybernetic organisms from the future sent to undo history by killing us all — as they presented their yet-unreleased New Heaven LP, which is out next week on Relapse. I’ve heard the record, in all its sweltering progressive death metal dissonance and encompassing crush, but they are aSean Mulrooney (Photo by JJ Koczan) particular beast live and I’ve put off really digging in until I saw it in-person. They should be playing art galleries, and not just for the theremin, but close enough at Koepelhal.

Every now and then they still lock in a doom groove, but they’ve been in obvious pursuit of their own thing as they’ve grown darker, more vicious and experimental in terms of their willingness to fuck around stylistically. Their last record was 2019’s Sulphur English (review here), and between you and me, I thought that was as far as they could go, but I’d sat down along the wall to write and stood back up when the harmonized leads and cleaner vocals — later on, they’d get Nick Cavey with voice and piano — started. So is New Heaven it? Maybe. Hell if I know, but I can’t think of anyone else who does what they do better, in, out or around progressive death metal, though I acknowledge I’m no expert. At the very least, it’s a new mark on their forward path, another reach into the threatening, staring-back void, and definitely enough to flatten an audience in the Netherlands most of whom haven’t heard it yet, so take it as you will.

I ate before the day started, finishing off the last of a half-pint of home-ground almond and pecan butter I brought with me, but hydrating had been trickier. I ran into Dennis and Jevin from Temple Fang, as well as Rolf from Stickman Records, saw Désirée from Lay Bare and chatted briefly, said hi to Jurgen from Burning World, hugged Amy Johnson, all of whom are very kind, nice people I’m glad to know. It had been posted on social media as well, but the Temple Fang guys let me know that Heath were doing a secret show at the skate park at 9:40, and my night got immediately more complex. They were on their way here or there, to piss first, I believe, so I hung back and by 8PM I could feel myself needing water if not more calorically complex sustenance. The line at the bar in the Engine Room meant it would have to wait until after I got whatever photos of White Ward I could and their set was properly underway. The Ukrainian black metallers have been four years in the making for Roadburn between the plague and the Russian invasion, and I didn’t want to miss it. I took my pictures, got two waters from the bar — however much they cost it was worth it — and was in much better spirits after for the scathing black metal catharsis that ensued, like tearing off your flesh to let your soul go. All that tension and release. Next time they’re here, and I have to imagine there will be one, they’ll probably play the main stage.

They took the stage as a four-piece and mentioned it was because one of their members had joined the military. I don’t know if that was voluntary or conscription, but it brought the ongoing conflict in and for White Ward’s home country into the room — it was there anyway — and showed it’s real for them in a way war never has been for me as an American.Inter Arma (Photo by JJ Koczan) War is a thing that happens elsewhere, exclusively, though there’s never a lack of random violence, whether repressive in nature or the woefully normalized mass shootings. In any case, despite being down a member, White Ward shredded the Engine Room into little tiny pieces with glorious intensity that extended even to the sampled sax over some of the songs, the piano, spoken sampling and such and sundry added to their core fury. Once again, I watched the full fucking set. I hope I do this all weekend.

It wasn’t an easy decision, but my heart said that going to see Heath at the skate park was a probably-once-in-a-lifetime chance and that even though I’d miss Chelsea Wolfe to do it — Roadburn means hard choices — I’d already had my one-per with Chelsea Wolfe, albeit brief, watching her and the band rehearse the night before in a group of five people in a room that holds well over a thousand, all that empty space filled with sound. So when White Ward finished, I made a right turn out of Koepelhal to get to the Hall of Fame, and from there, asked a helpful security guy where to go. Sure enough, the skatepark was closed but the doors had ‘there’s something secret happening here’ printed on them. A small group of people had gathered, and a couple minutes later we were let inside.

White Ward (Photo by JJ Koczan)Secret shows have become a Roadburn tradition, like commissioned pieces, the side programme, full-album sets. It’s part of the thing. There were three tonight, between Backxwash on the main stage at the 013 — a big deal — and Heath and Ontaard at the skate park. Like everything, there are arguments for and against the notion, but they add a chance for intimacy at an event where every room you stand in is most likely to be slammed with people, so I’ll take it when I can get it. And bonus, Heath were a hoot.

Some shuffle here, some grassy, pastoral psychedelia there, and a lot of classic prog rhythms topped off with in-on-the-jams harmonica from their frontman, who can both sing and keep up with the twisting riffs throughout their songs. Their debut album, Isaak’s Marble, is out next month. I’ll be interested to see how it’s received, but the songs, energy and spirit are there, and they looked like they were having fun playing the material live, whether it was breaking out the mallets for the drums, putting effects on the harmonica for the psych parts, trading solos between the two guitars or the builds and runs on bass. Fiery at their most upbeat, trance-inducing in their atmospheric stretches; I found myself recognizing parts from the record, which was even more encouraging, and digging the fact that they had more going for them as regards character than being young. Potential for growth and more than a little boogie to boot. There weren’t 100 people in the room, and I was very, very glad to be one of them.

They’re a band to tell your friends about,Heath (Photo by JJ Koczan) so here’s me telling you about them. None of the singles on their Bandcamp are on the album, which is on Suburban Records, but the title-track is on YouTube here. Happy travels.

I could’ve kept going after they finished — say it with me now: “I watched the whole set” — but it would’ve been an uphill push and that’s not the Freeburn way. I got back to the hotel a bit before 11, a little over 12 hours from when I left in the morning. Roadburn day one was a reminder of how special this time is to me, and I’m thankful to be here to be reminded. Thank you for reading. Sorry for the writing-on-my-phone typos.

More photos after the jump.

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