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

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


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

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

Quarterly Review #41-50:

Pallbearer, Mind Burns Alive

pallbearer mind burns alive

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

Pallbearer on Facebook

Nuclear Blast website

BleakHeart, Silver Pulse

Bleakheart silver pulse

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

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Seeing Red Records website

Pryne, Gargantuan

PRYNE Gargantuan

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

Pryne on Facebook

Pryne on Bandcamp

Avi C. Engel, Too Many Souls

avi c engel too many souls

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

Avi C. Engel on Facebook

Somnimage website

Aktopasa, Ultrawest

aktopasa ultrawest

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

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Aktopasa on Bandcamp

Guenna, Peak of Jin’Arrah

Guenna Peak of Jin Arrah

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

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The Sign Records website

Slow Green Thing, Wetterwarte / Waltherstrasse

Slow Green Thing Wetterwarte Waltherstrasse

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

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Slow Green Thing on Bandcamp

Ten Ton Slug, Colossal Oppressor


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

Ten Ton Slug on Facebook

Ten Ton Slug on Bandcamp

Magic Fig, Magic Fig

magic fig magic fig

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

Magic Fig on Facebook

Silver Current Records on Bandcamp

Scorched Oak, Perception

Perception by Scorched Oak

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

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Sons of Otis Post “Way I Feel” Live Video

Posted in Bootleg Theater on August 22nd, 2023 by JJ Koczan

sons of otis

Another night in Toronto. It’s the end of July, and onstage at Bovine Sex Club, hometown-hero space-doom purveyors Sons of Otis are getting ready to play. The video camera has the three-piece founded by guitarist/vocalist Ken Baluke off to the left side of the frame. They look far away and sound it too, but that’s nothing new. Sons of Otis have been aurally gone for over 30 years now.

“Way I Feel” originally appeared on the band’s 2005 album, X, which followed 2001’s Songs for Worship in the post-Man’s Ruin era of the band — that seminal label had released their first two albums, 1996’s Spacejumbofudge (discussed here) and 1999’s Temple Ball (review here), before folding — and X found them on Small Stone after The Music Cartel put out Songs for Worship, a tumultuous period they resolved through molten riffs, massive, lurching groove, and cosmic vibes. In other words, they were Sons of Otis. If bong rock is a thing, Sons of Otis are gravity bong rock.

You can hear some conversation at the very start of the video. People are having a chat as one does between songs or bands. Sons of Otis were filling in this night for The Obsessed, who’d had to cancel a stint of Canadian shows and thusly left an open space at the top of the night’s lineup. Needless to say, they did the job admirably or they probably wouldn’t have put the video up.

I like bootlegs. If you feel the same, remember putting bootleg VHS tapes or DVDs in your player or listening to rough-sounding audience audio recordings, then this might resonate. What strikes me about it is how down to business the band is, and how they get up, hit the sample, lay waste, stop. I’ve never seen Sons of Otis, and already I knew this was an oversight, so I won’t call that fresh learning or anything, but certainly it points out the folly of living this long without.

So, road trip?

I don’t have any real reason for posting this other than it’s good. It’s not tied to an album release — the band put out their latest LP, Isolation (review here), in Fall 2020 through Totem Cat; the stream is below because who the hell wants to stop listening to Sons of Otis after one song? — or being put out to do any kind of active promotion that I know of. But that’s fine. I don’t need an excuse to dig in, and I think the a/v aesthetic value of the clip speaks for itself. In rumble.


Sons of Otis, “Way I Feel” live in Toronto, July 29, 2023

Bovine Sex Club Toronto 7/29/23

Sons of Otis, Isolation (2020)

Sons of Otis on Facebook

Sons of Otis on Bandcamp

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Friday Full-Length: Sons of Otis, Temple Ball

Posted in Bootleg Theater on July 21st, 2023 by JJ Koczan

No one knows how life started on earth. Comets carrying proteins smashing into warm-enough molecular carbon? Something about the tides? It’s pick-your-theory; only the finest of exact sciences. I personally believe that the organic stuff of all life on earth started in a great cosmic mudbubble slowly building over billions of years. Impossibly proportioned and existing in multiple dimensions, it grows with pressure from various gravitational pulls around it — nebulae, the odd far-off supercluster, on and on — and gurgles upward, churning and roiling slowly as though heated by a cauldron no one can see. This spans lightyears and is slower than trees. It sounds like Sons of Otis.

Based in Toronto, comprised now of guitarist/vocalist Ken Baluke, bassist Frank Sargeant and drummer Ryan Aubin, the stoner-doom trio to end all stoner-doom trios — and yes, I’m counting Sleep — oozed forth with Temple Ball in 1999. They began in 1992 and had already unleashed their debut album, Spacejumbofudge (review here), in 1996. A prime example of CD-era format priority, the sophomore outing runs 10 songs and 62 minutes, and it brought the band into the arms of Man’s Ruin Records, which is where they belonged — apart from the home they seem to have found now on Totem Cat, it seems like maybe Man’s Ruin is the only place they’ve ever really belonged — and was helmed by the late Frank Kozik, who passed away this Spring and of whom Sons of Otis said, “The ONLY label that ever paid us.” Fair enough.

Like a half-speed Monster Magnet circa Dopes to InfinitySons of Otis begin Temple Ball with “Mile High,” “Nothing” and “Vitus,” a three-song salvo ooze-fest, marked by Baluke‘s ultra-dense fuzz, Sargeant‘s accompanying low end, and the far-back drums of Emilio Mammone (or a drum machine? either way, he is now of Low Orbit; he left the band in 2001 and was replaced by Aubin). Wah-driven psych, echo drenching the throaty vocals, which are delivered with a sludgy addled shout. They might be bluesy in another context but Baluke‘s voice isn’t amelodic, as “Mile High” shows as it pushes and pulls through its five minutes, not actually all that slow but so thick it can’t help but sound that way anyhow. This will be the spirit of much of Temple Ball to come, and it’s quickly reaffirmed by the oh-here-it-is-we-found-it kick and low-end buzz and emergent noise of “Nothing.”

They are the epitome of aural dank, and the standard by which that particular genre tenet should be measured: “It’s dank, but does it sound as covered in little purple or orange hairs as Sons of Otis?” Probably not. “Vitus” is the stuff of legend, if perhaps only in my mind, and is the first of two included covers, bringing twisting psychedelic undulations to Saint Vitus‘ signature Wino-era piece “Born Too Late” as one of the few acts who could make it sound even more disaffected. From there, the record slams into a 10-minute wall somewhat ironically called “Windows Jam,” which is what it says as Sons of Otis sway over a languid tempo, Baluke‘s guitar tossing out references in a later solo. He shouts out “Super Typhoon” like they’re playing a sons of otis temple ballshow and Mammone is on the ride before switching to the crash, the groove seeming to get lost in its midsection before ending up in a final, almost improv-sounding verse.

“Down” leads off the shorter second half of the tracklisting — it’s also the start of LP2 on the 2012 Bilocation Records double-vinyl reissue — and is more solidified but meets that with blowout vocals and supreme lumbernod. I’ve listened to this record I don’t know how many times in the last 20 or so years and I still don’t have a clue what Baluke is saying, but it matters less when they land in the cover of Mountain‘s “Mississippi Queen,” which is only two and a half minutes long but that’s enough to ground the listener as “Vitus” does earlier, and gives Sons of Otis a landmark as they dig further into the end portion of the record, which goes even deeper into the far-out, with “New Mole” barely seeming to start in its nine-minute stone-drone sub-march, so clearly working in its own dimension of time, fading out into the Cheech & Chong sample that leads to the thudding, humming, gruff start of the penultimate “Steamroller.”

Arriving ahead of the sure-we’ve-got-room-for-one-more-nine-minute-jam finale “Diesel,” “Steamroller” uses tension in a different way than a lot of Temple Ball, with a particularly agonizing thud of drums behind its thickest-fuzz verse before it opens to the next part. Between “New Mole” and “Diesel,” it feels positively straightforward, but isn’t out of place among the similarly addled “Down” or even “Nothing” earlier on. And the ‘side B’ — it’s actually sides C and D — range expansion is an analog for the band’s affinity for the ’70s rock from which the trope comes, realized in the howls and hairy fuzz that roll, mellow and scorch through “Diesel” to end the record. You can almost smell the fumes, though more likely that’s a tube in one of Baluke‘s amps melting. They finish sure of their purpose and loose-grooving, but otherwise without ceremony, and that works. Somehow a big finish would be out of place on an album that’s so checked out from norms. Over-the-top in the wrong kind of way. Still, the jam pays it off before they’re done.

Sons of Otis have seven full-lengths in their catalog, the latest of which is 2020’s Isolation (review here), and much of what’s become their aesthetic in the years since is present in Temple Ball, which is less aggressive than the debut but still able to be mean when it wants. They’ve refined their processes, grown in their sound, all that shit bands hopefully do given time and at least a minimum of support, but Sons of Otis are and have long been singular in style — cavernous, crushing, bubbling, drifting in space, dug into the earth — and Temple Ball is likewise unto itself.

As always, I hope you enjoy. I’ve been waiting for this to stream somewhere for a long-ass time. Thanks for reading.

Well, The Pecan punched a kid in the face at camp yesterday — fighting about something or other, frustrated because of whatever it doesn’t really matter — and we were asked not to bring her back today. There’s one day left in camp. One fucking day, and we didn’t make it. We were so close.

I had been saying in the car how great she had done to get through it, because last year it didn’t work at all, how proud I was, how we should do something special to mark the end of two weeks of camp, her first real full-day-out-of-the-house experience, playing in the creek, swimming in the lake (except earlier this week after we got a bunch of rain, which is what ruined the whole thing), and doing crafts. Last week she even did swim lessons. It was great. Don’t come back.

It wasn’t out of the blue, and the camp handled it well. Last week we got one “hey do you have a minute?” from the camp director about her losing it and so on. She bit a counselor at one point. And on Wednesday there was some issue or other and we picked her up early. But we were just trying to get through, trying to get the win, and we didn’t.

That took the wind out of the sails of what had otherwise been an okay few days. I worry about this kid. I see her, I see her around other kids, I see how she is as opposed to how they are,  and I don’t really understand what’s going on. We’ve been to the doctors, we did early intervention when she turned two. She’s had years of OT, drilled through ways to calm her body when she’s upset — every take-a-breath, count-slowly, take-a-break, zones-of-regulation, etc. — and while I know these are things that need to be practiced and not at all cure-alls for any kind of emotional disregulation, she just gets overwhelmed and goes right to hitting now. It’s worse than it was before insurance kicked us out of OT.

So that is disheartening. Next week is zoo camp at the Turtle Back Zoo. It’s a half-day thing, and new, which is always good. Novelty, ever a plus. I hope she makes it through.

She’s up now, in ‘loafing’ with The Patient Mrs., which means playing some learning game or other on the iPad. I’ll grab yogurt in a bit for her, then go to the gym to swim. The Patient Mrs.’ sister and The Pecan’s cousins are coming down for the better part of the weekend from Connecticut, so I’m hopeful for some reorientation as a result. It’s raining today. Bath day. And I expect we’ll do a decent amount of reading to make up for what we didn’t do while she was at camp this week.

I don’t know. I worry. The Patient Mrs. thinks I’m ridiculous. Fair. We’re going to do a parenting class together in what’s called the ‘nurtured heart approach.’ I want to improve my relationship with The Pecan because all we ever fucking do is argue. I say a thing, she either ignores me, does what she wants anyway, or gets mad and hits. I take her to her room, tell her to take a break, and everybody gets a little sadder. We go about our business. Some other thing, inevitably, soon after. I try to stop myself from talking, because I’m trying to help but it just comes out shitty and sarcastic, and sometimes I physically remove myself from the room. And I get overwhelmed too. And I make it about me. Turns out I’m a terrible fucking person and a worse parent. What fun things to re-confirm on the march into middle age. Who knew I could disappoint on so many levels!

But yeah, one hopes next week is better, and even having hope is a good sign.

Great and safe weekend. Have fun, watch your head, hydrate, try not to punch anyone in the fucking face, all that stuff. I’m gonna go swim for a while.

[EDIT: No, I’m not, as neither of my bathing suits is clean. Guess I’ll do laundry instead. Maybe make another pot of coffee.]


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Quarterly Review: The Howling Eye, Avi C. Engel, Suns of the Tundra, Natskygge, Last Giant, Moonstone, Sonic Demon, From the Ages, Astral Magic, Green Inferno

Posted in Reviews on July 20th, 2023 by JJ Koczan


Been a trip so far, has this Quarterly Review. It’s been fun to bounce from one thing to the next, drawing imaginary lines between releases that have nothing more to do with each other than being written up on the same day, and seeing the way the mind reels in adjusting from talking about one thing to the next. It’s a different kind of challenge to write 150-200 words (and often more than that; these reviews are getting too long) about a record than 1,000 words.

Less room to make your argument means you need to say what you want to say how you want to say it and punch out. If you’ve read this site with any regularity over the last however many years, or perhaps if you’re reading this very sentence right now, right here, you might guess that such efficiency isn’t a strong suit. This assessment would be correct. Fact is I suck at any number of things. A growing list.

But we’ve made it to Thursday anyhow and today this 70-record Quarterly Review passes its halfway point, and that’s always a fun thing to mark. If you’ve been digging it, I hope you continue to do so. If nothing’s hit, maybe today. If this is the first you’re seeing of any of it, well, that’s fine too. We’re all friends here. You can go back and dig in or not, as you prefer. I’ll keep going either way. Speaking of…

Quarterly Review #31-40:

The Howling Eye, List Do Borykan

The Howling Eye List Do Borykan

I don’t often say things like this, but List Do Borykan is worth it for the opening jam of “Space Dwellers, Episode 1.” That does not mean that song’s languid flow, silly stoned space-adventure spoken word narrative, and flashes of dub and psych and so on, are all that Poland’s The Howling Eye have to offer on their third full-length. It’s not. The prior single “Medival” (sic) has a thoughtful arrangement led by post-Claypool funky bass and surf-style guitar, which are swapped out for hard-riff cacophony metal in the second half of the song’s 3:35 run. That pairing sets up a back and forth between longer jams and more structured material, but it’s all pretty out there when you hear the seven song/44 minutes of the entire record, as the 10-minute “Brothers” builds from silence to organ-laced classic rock testimony and then draws itself down to let the funkier/rolling (depending on which part you’re talking about) “Space Dwellers, Episode 2” provide a swaying melodic highlight, and “Caverns” drones into jazz minimalism for nine minutes before “Space Dwellers, Episode 3” goes full-on over-the-top 92-second dance party. Finally. That leaves the closer, “Johnny,” as the landing spot where the back and forth jams/songs trades end, and they’re due a jam and provide one, but “Johnny” also follows on theme from “Space Dwellers, Episode 3” and the start of “Medival” and other funk-psych stretches, so summarizes List Do Borykan well. Again, worth it for the first song, but is much more than just that as a listening experience.

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Avi C. Engel, Sanguinaria

Clara Engel Sanguinaria

Toronto-based folk experimentalist, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Avi C. Engel starts off the 10-song Sanguinaria with the first of its headphone-ready arrangements “Sing in Our Chains” assessing modernity and realizing, “We were better off in the trees.” In addition to Engel‘s actual voice, which is well capable of carrying records on its own, with a distinctive character, part soft and breathy in delivery but resilient with a kind of bruised grace and, as time goes on, grown more adventurous. In “Poisonous Fruit” and “The Snake in the Mirror,” folk, soul and organically-cast sprawl unfold, and where “A Silver Thread” brings in electric guitar and lap steel, “Deathless” — the longest cut at 6:33, arriving paired with the subsequent, textural “I Died Again” — is sparse at first but builds around whatever stringed instrument Engel (slow talharpa?) is playing and Paul Kolinski‘s banjo, standout vocal harmonies and a subdued keeping of rhythm. Along with Kolinski, Brad Deschamps adds lap steel to the opener and the more-forward-in-percussion “Extasis Boogie,” which is listed as an interlude but nearly five minutes long, and Lys Guillorn contributes lap steel to “A Silver Thread,” with all due landscape manifestation. Sad, complex, and beautiful, the 52-minute long-player isn’t a minor undertaking on any level, and “Personne” and the penultimate “Bridge Behind the Sun” emphasize the point of intricacy before the looping “Larvae” masterfully crafts its resonance across the last six minutes of the album.

Avi C. Engel on Facebook

Avi C. Engel on Bandcamp


Suns of the Tundra, The Only Equation

suns of the tundra the only equation

Begun in 1993 as Peach, London heavy prog rockers Suns of the Tundra celebrate 30 years with the encompassing hour-long The Only Equation, their fifth album, which brings back past members of the band, has a few songs with two drummers, and is wildly sprawling across 10 still-accessible tracks that shimmer with purpose and melody. The title-track seems to harken to a ’90s push, but the twisting and volume-surging back half stave redundancy ahead of the patient drama in the 10-minute “The Rot,” which follows. On the other side of the metal-leaning “Run Boy Run,” with its big, open, floating, thudding finish representing something Suns of the Tundra do very well throughout, the three-part cycle of “Reach for the Inbetween” could probably just as easily have been one 15-minute cut, but is more palatable as three, and loses nothing of its fluidity for it, the build in the third piece giving due payoff before “The Window is Wide” caps in deceptively hooky style. Whether one approaches it with the context of their decades or not, The Only Equation is deeply welcoming. And no, its proggy prog progness won’t resonate universally, but nothing does, and that doesn’t matter anyhow. Without giving up who they are creatively, Suns of the Tundra have made it as easy as they can for one to get on board. The rest is on the listener.

Suns of the Tundra on Facebook

Bad Elephant Music on Bandcamp


Natskygge, Eskapisme

Natskygge Eskapisme

Natskygge sneak a little “Paranoid” into “Delir,” the instrumental opener/longest track (immediate points) of their second album, Eskapisme, and that’s just fine as dogwhistles go. The Danish classic psych rockers made a well-received self-titled debut in 2020 and look to expand on that outing’s classic vibe with this 34-minute eight-tracker, which is rife with creative ambition in the slower “Lys på vej” and the piano-laced “Fjern planet,” which follows, as well as in a mover/shaker like “Titusind år,” the compact three-minute strutter “Frit fald” or what might be the side B leadoff “Feberdrøm” with its circa-1999 Brant Bjork casual groove and warm fuzz, purposefully veering into psychedelia in a way that feels like a preface for the closing duo “Livet brænder,” an organ/keyboard flourish, grounded verse and airy swirls over top leading smoothly into the likewise-peppered but acoustically-based “Den der sidst gik ud,” which conveys patience without giving up the momentum the band has amassed up to that point. I’ll note that my ignorance of the Danish language doesn’t feel like it’s holding me back as “Fjern planet” holds forth its lush melancholy or “Titusind år” signals the band’s affinity for krautrock. Not quite vintage in production, but not too far off, Eskapisme feels like it was made to be lived with, the songs engaged over a period of years, and I look forward to revisiting accordingly.

Natskygge on Facebook

Kozmik Artifactz store


Last Giant, Monuments

last giant monuments

Portland’s Last Giant reportedly had a bit of a time recording their fourth long-player, Monuments, in a months-long process involving multiple studios and a handful of producers, among them Adam Pike (Holy Grove, Young Hunter, Red Fang, Mammoth Salmon, etc.) recording basic tracks, Paul Malinowski (Shiner, Open Hand) mixing and three different rounds of mastering. Complicated. Working as the three-piece of founder, principal songwriter, guitarist and vocalist RFK Heise (ex-System and Station), bassist Palmer Cloud and drummer Matt Wiles — it was just Heise and Wiles on 2020’s Let the End Begin (review here) — the band effectively fill in whatever cracks may have been apparent to them in the finished product, and the 10-track/39-minute offering is pop-informed as all their output to-date has been and loaded with heart. Also a bit of trumpet on “Saviors.” There’s swagger in “Blue” and “Hell on Burnside,” and “Feels Like Water” is about as weighted and brash as I’ve heard Last Giant get — a fun contrast to the acoustic “Lost and Losing,” which closes — but wherever a given track ends up, it is deftly guided there by Heise‘s sure hand. Sounds like it was much easier to make than apparently it was.

Last Giant on Facebook

Last Giant on Bandcamp


Moonstone, Growth

moonstone growth

Growth is either the second or third full-length from Polish heavy psych doomers Moonstone depending on what you count, but by the time you’re about three minutes into the 7:47 of second cut “Bloom” after the gets-loud-at-the-end-anyway atmospheric intro “Harvest” — which establishes an undercurrent of metal that the rest of the six-song/36-minute LP holds even in its quietest parts — ordinal numbering won’t matter anyway. “Bloom” and “Sun” (8:02), which follows, are the longest pieces on Growth, and that in itself speaks to the band stripping back some of their jammier impulses as compared to, say, late 2021’s two-song 12″ 1904 (discussed here), but while the individual tracks may be shorter, they give up nothing as regards largesse of tone or the spaces the band inhabit in the material. Flowing and doomed, “Sun” ends side A and gives over to the extra-bass-punch meditativeness of “Night,” the guitar building in the second half to solo for the payoff, while the six-minutes-each “Lust” and “Emerald” filter Electric Wizard haze and the proggy volume trades of countrymen like Spaceslug, respectively, close with due affirmation of purpose in big tone, big groove, and a noteworthy dark streak that may yet come to the fore of their approach.

Moonstone on Facebook

Interstellar Smoke Records store

Galactic Smokehouse store


Sonic Demon, Veterans of the Psychic War

Sonic Demon Veterans of the Psychic War

It’s not quite the centerpiece, but in terms of the general perspective on the world of the record from which it comes, there’s little arguing with Sonic Demon‘s “F.O.A.D.” as the declarative statement on Veterans of the Psychic War. As with Norway’s Darkthrone, who released an LP titled F.O.A.D. in 2007, Sonic Demon‘s “F.O.A.D.” stands for ‘fuck off and die,’ and that seems to be the central ethic they’re working from. Like most of what surrounds on the Italian duo’s follow-up to 2021’s Vendetta (review here), “F.O.A.D.” is coated in tonal dirt, a nastiness of buzz in line with the stated mentality making songs like swinging opener “Electric Demon” and “Lucifer’s the Light,” which follows, raw even by post-Uncle Acid garage doom standards. There are moments of letup, as in the wah-swirling second half of “The Black Pill,” a bit of psych bookending in “Wolfblood,” or the penultimate (probably thankfully) instrumental “Sexmagick Nights,” but the forward drive in “The Gates” highlights the point of Sonic Demon hand-drilling their riffs into the listener’s skull, and the actually-stoned-sounding groove of closer “To Hell and Back” seems pleased to bask in the filth the album has wrought.

Sonic Demon on Facebook

Sonic Demon on Bandcamp


From the Ages, II

from the ages ii

If you’re taking on From the Ages‘ deceptively-titled first full-length, II — the trio of guitarist Paul Dudziak, bassist Sean Fredrich and drummer David Tucker issued their I EP in 2021, so this is their second release overall — it is perhaps useful to know that the only inclusion with vocals is opener/longest track (immediate points) “Harbinger.” An automatic focal point for that, for its transposed Sleep influence, and for being about four minutes longer than anything else on the album, it draws well together with the five sans-vox cuts that follow, with an exploratory sensibility in its jam that feels like it may be from whence a clearly-plotted song like “Maelstrom” or the lumbering volume trades of “Tenebrous” originate. Full in tone and present in the noisy slog and pre-midpoint drift of “Epoch” as well as Dudziak‘s verses in “Harbinger,” From the Ages seem willful in their intention to try out different ideas, whether that’s the winding woe of “Obsolescence” or the acoustilectric standalone guitar of closer “Providence,” and while that can make the listener less sure of where their development might take them in stylistic terms, that only results in their being more exciting to hear in the now.

From the Ages on Facebook

From the Ages on Bandcamp


Astral Magic, Cosmic Energy Flow

astral magic cosmic energy flow

Not only is Astral Magic‘s Cosmic Energy Flow — released in May of this year — not the first outing from the Finnish space rock outfit led by project founder and spearhead Santtu Laakso in 2023, it’s the eighth. And that doesn’t include the demo short release with a live band. It’s also not the latest Astral Magic about two months after the fact, as Laakso and company have put out two full-lengths since. Unrealistic as this level of productivity is — surely the work of dimensional timeporting — and already-out-of-date as the eight-song/42-minute LP might be, it also brings Laakso into collaboration with the late Nik Turner of Hawkwind, who plays sax on the opening title-track, as well as guitarists Ilya Lipkin of Russia’s The Re-Stoned and Stefan Olesinski (Nuns on Napalm), and vocalists Christina Poupoutsi (The Higher Craft, The Meads of Asphodel, etc.) and Kev Ellis (Dubbal, Heliotrope, etc.), and where one might think so many personnel shifts around Laakso‘s synth-forward basic tracks would result in a disjointed offering, well, anything can happen in space and when you throw open doors in such a way, expectations broaden accordingly. Maybe it’s just one thing on the way to the next, maybe it’s the record with Nik Turner. Either way, Astral Magic move inextricably deeper into the known and unknown cosmos.

Astral Magic on Facebook

Astral Magic on Bandcamp


Green Inferno, Trace the Veins

Green Inferno Trace the Veins

Until the solo hits in the second half of “The Barrens,” you almost don’t realize how much space there is in the mix on Green Inferno‘s Trace the Veins. The New Jersey trio like it dank and deathly as they answer the rawness of their 2019 demo with the six Esben Willems-mastered tracks of their first album, porting over “Spellcaster” and “Unearth the Tombs” to rest in the same mud as malevolent plodders like “Carried to the Pit” and the penultimate “Vultures,” which adds higher-register screaming to the already-established low growls — I doubt it’s actually an influence, but I’m reminded of Amorphis circa Elegy — that give the whole outing such an extreme persona if the guitar and bass tones weren’t already taking care of it. The tortured feel there carries into closer “Crown the Virgin” as the three-piece attempt to stomp their own riffs into oblivion along with everything else, and one can only hope they get there. New songs or the two older tracks, doesn’t matter. At any angle you might choose, Green Inferno are slow-churned extreme sludge, death-sludge if you want, fully stoned, drenched in murk, disillusioned, misanthropic. It’s the sound of looking at the world around you and deciding it’s not worth saving. Did I mention stoned? Good.

Green Inferno on Facebook

Green Inferno on Bandcamp


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Review & Track Premiere: Earth Altar & Sun Below, Inter Terra Solis

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on May 23rd, 2023 by JJ Koczan

Earth Altar Sun Below Inter Terra Solis

Coming off their respective debut albums, Nova Scotian cosmic rockers Earth Altar and Toronto sometimes-gonna-doom-but-just-as-likely-to-psych-jam trio Sun Below — whose very monikers seem to tell the story about space, worship, and exploration that pans out in their songs — will issue their joint Inter Terra Solis split LP through Black Throne Productions on Sept. 15. The offering brings together the two Canadian bands for a showcase that runs 40 minutes and gives each act time to make an impression on their respective side, Earth Altar presenting five songs (four and an interlude) in a narrative arc while Sun Below donate two longer tracks and their own interlude heavy jam between. What draws them together across Inter Terra Solis is a shared affinity for melding different styles from under the umbrella of capital-‘h’ Heavy.

The sans-guitar configuration of Earth Altar, with bassist/vocalist Spencer Trout, drummer/vocalist Jon MacIsaac and maybe synthesist/keyboardist/vocalist Katie Wayne — not listed as a member, but there’s definitely synth on the tracks; hence “maybe” — lends an immediately individual feel to their “The Descent” at the outset of the split, bass and drums unfolding in proggy contemplation while higher-end melodies float over top. Never quite tipping over to cinema-style evocation, they are atmospheric just the same, and hypnotic in the circular movement of the basslines, which hint toward a Sabbathism that Sun Below will soon bear out, but give over first to the brighter-hued unfurling of “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” a play of interwoven loops thatEARTH ALTAR might just cure your headache keeping largely to its singular procession before the music seems to lie down and stretch out; a savasana moment conveyed through tempo relaxation.

That exhale carries over into the aptly-named 48-second “Interlude,” which sweeps via synth/keys into “In the Growing Light of Anthelion,” which builds tension through a series of beeps that might be Morse Code before digging deeper into a heavy psychedelic movement that calls to mind a not-instrumental version — vocals are used mostly atmospherically, but they exist — of earliest My Sleeping Karma highlighting a Colour Haze influence. The direction is plotted, the journey engaging, and the bassline no less righteous as the second half grows more melodic and the vocals seem to dissipate. Carrying directly into “Transmutation (The Alchemist’s Dream),” Earth Altar follow the pattern of technical nuance and overarching shroomy serenity, capping in a manner that feels resolved even before the synth drone at the finish starts to fade away to the stretch of silence at the song’s end.

It is from there that Sun Below‘s “Red Giant” rises, guitar of Jason Craig (also vocals) howling immediately as if to remind the listener that those things exist. Drummer Will Adams thudding away on his toms behind, bassist Liam “Acid Goblin” Gray — who wins outright as regards nicknames and not just because he’s the only one who has one here — finds room in the mix to make an impression of his own as the riff solidifies and the forward roll begins in earnest. “Red Giant” and closing track “Gravity Tide” both top eight minutes long, and the interlude “Methuselah Star” (2:16) does well to separate them so that the listener doesn’t get any more lost than they might want in the also-mostly-instrumental lumber of the one and then the other, though as might happen when one band has a guitar and one band doesn’t on a split release, Sun Below come across as more riff-based,sun below even as they hold onto some of the spontaneous feel that made Earth Altar‘s work so enticing.

Sabbath is an undercurrent in the leads throughout the second half of “Red Giant,” but “Methuselah Star” seems to speak more in tone and groove to Sleep circa The Sciences, and after it marches out slowly but surely, “Gravity Tide” answers that with an immediately Pikean nod which the band duly rides for most of the first half of the track, vocals buried but echoing when they arrive, cadenced to match the Sleep vibe. It is nonetheless an impressive wall of fuzz they build — sturdy and declarative — and the wall is the point. Sometimes you write a riff that you might want to play for eight minutes, and sometimes you work a little “War Pigs” in there too in the later layers of lead guitar. With Gray splatter-bassing distortion behind and Adams‘ snare punching through with its own admirably dense tonality, “Gravity Tide” is brought to a conclusion no more forced than was anything prior; the unspoken theme of their time an instrumental chemistry on ready display.

I will not claim to have any insight on what either Earth Altar or Sun Below have planned next, if anything. Earth Altar‘s self-titled debut — which they issued as a trio — came out in May 2022, and Sun Below‘s sprawling self-titled (review here) was issued in late 2021, collecting numerous jams from prior short releases and new material. Whatever the future brings for compatriots, they take advantage of the chance on Inter Terra Solis to complement each other’s work without accomplishing the same ends musically — that is, they fit well together without sounding the same — and if the goal here is to give listeners fodder for digging further back into the standalone records and other sundry jams (all of which are of course streaming and immediately available because while the world is terrible the future is also amazing), then both bands succeed outright. You might end up surprised at some of the places Inter Terra Solis puts you.

As it’s a September release, obviously it’s too early to stream the entire split, but I’ve been given permission to host Earth Altar‘s “The Descent” as the first single, and you’ll find it below, followed by more info from the PR wire.

Please enjoy:

Preorder link: https://blackthroneproductions.com/en-us/products/inter-terra-solis-black-hole-vinyl-earth-altar-sun-below

The progressive space rock/doom metal hybrid EARTH ALTAR and heavy stoner/doom power trio SUN BELOW unleash a riff-heavy journey across time and the cosmos on their upcoming split album Inter Terra Solis. Having sculpted an epic ride of distorted guitar, vocals and trippy lyrics, the bands explore the labyrinth of the human psyche and the unpredictability of the universe within a ponderous palette of crushing doom and stoner-tinged mystery. The Inter Terra Solis is due out on September 15th via Black Throne Productions.

First on the split, EARTH ALTAR is the interplay between the complex, diverse drum style of Jon MacIsaac and the unique, ethereal bass guitar playing of Spencer Trout. EARTH ALTAR seeks to leave these mundane bonds and ascend through the heavy and the other-worldly. Mixing stoner rock, doom metal, space rock, and psych rock with progressive song structures, cosmic musings, and world-wide influences; EARTH ALTAR sounds uniquely themselves.

Closing out the album with three immense tracks, SUN BELOW is a heavy stoner/doom power trio playing a signature brand of self-described “Sativa rock”: a combination of fuzz, volume, and heavy grooves. SUN BELOW seek to spread their infectious, rollicking sound to the masses and their mission remains to create riff heavy rock fused with the sonic weight of crushing doom. The current lineup of Jason Craig (guitars/vocals), Liam “Acid Goblin” Gray (bass) and Will Adams (drums) blend these elements into long burning jams that worship at the altar of tone, riffs, and smoke.

As above, so below, the duality of the underworld and the cosmos, the microcosm and the macrocosm is thoroughly traversed through the lyrical themes and tones of each band. While EARTH ALTAR and SUN BELOW tackle a different aspect of our reality and nature, each is intimately tied with the other.

Inter Terra Solis Track Listing:
Earth Altar – The Descent
Earth Altar – The Garden of Earthly Delights
Earth Altar – Interlude
Earth Altar – In The Growing Light Of Anthelion
Earth Altar – Transmutation (The Alchemist’s Dream)
Sun Below – Red Giant
Sun Below – Methuselah Star (Interlude)
Sun Below – Gravity Tide

Earth Altar on Bandcamp

Earth Altar on Instagram

Earth Altar on Facebook

Earth Altar on Spotify

Sun Below on Bandcamp

Sun Below on Instagram

Sun Below on Facebook

Sun Below on Spotify

Black Throne Productions on Instagram

Black Throne Productions on Facebook

Black Throne Productions website

Black Throne Productions linktr.ee

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The Obelisk Questionnaire: Liam Deak from Tumble

Posted in Questionnaire on May 2nd, 2023 by JJ Koczan

Liam Deak from Tumble

The Obelisk Questionnaire is a series of open questions intended to give the answerer an opportunity to explore these ideas and stories from their life as deeply as they choose. Answers can be short or long, and that reveals something in itself, but the most important factor is honesty.

Based on the Proust Questionnaire, the goal over time is to show a diverse range of perspectives as those who take part bring their own points of view to answering the same questions. To see all The Obelisk Questionnaire posts, click here.

Thank you for reading and thanks to all who participate.

The Obelisk Questionnaire: Liam Deak from Tumble

How do you define what you do and how did you come to do it?

I’m a musician making the music I want to hear, with the hope that others can get as much joy out of the sounds I create as I can. I got my first acoustic guitar at the age of 12, which quickly set me on my path of writing and performing songs.

Describe your first musical memory.

Hearing “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones… which isn’t to say it was the first song I ever heard or anything like that, but when I was just a kid and heard that song something really clicked in my head. That hook instantly got me and left me wanting more, and it was the first time I really heard all the instruments in a song working together to make it greater than the sum of its parts, ya know? It was a huge revelation, especially at that age.

Describe your best musical memory to date.

There are already so many, but here’s the first one that comes to mind. One summer a few years back, me and a group of friends were camping on this big farm property. We had an outdoor stage, a fire pit, pig roast, “party favours”, you know the deal… anyhow, it was this big beautiful time with lots of laughs, lots of food and jams around the fire. Once the sun went down, a few of us got up on that stage and cranked our amps under that huge star-filled sky and jammed until the sun nearly came back up and our gear was soaked wet from all the morning dew. It was a magical experience. The nearby neighbour didn’t seem to mind, until he pulled out his lawn tractor first thing in the morning to give us a little taste of our own medicine.

When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?

We once got asked to join this bill at a venue in town which was all groovy and we were all for it, but then a day or two before the show we were told we had to “pay to play” which was never mentioned beforehand, so we had to defer the offer. That’s a firmly held belief of ours, we sure as shit don’t pay to play!

Where do you feel artistic progression leads?

To something far bigger than words can possibly explain.

How do you define success?

Is there such a thing as success, or is it only an idea? As soon as we strive to arrive at that destination which is success, we just want more and are bound to further conflict. If you love doing something with all that you’ve got, you’re not concerned with failure or success. You’re already there.

What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?

I once saw this homeless dude laying in the middle of the sidewalk whip out his little feller and take a piss in broad daylight just as a young mother was walking by with her kid in a stroller. Damn, dude… we’ve all pissed in public but did ya have to do it right there and then?

Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.

The first full-length Tumble LP.

What do you believe is the most essential function of art?

To make us question ourselves and the world around us. To bring us together. To inspire us to create more art.

Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?

Travelling around Europe again. I love it out there, and there’s still so many places I haven’t been to yet. Toronto is great in the summer but the long winter’s can be pretty bitter, and I’m all about that hot weather!


Tumble, Live at the Baby G, Toronto, Dec. 17, 2022

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Olde Grale Release Debut EP Blood of Fools

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 25th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

When was the last time you put on a record that was Slayer one minute and Earthride the next? Well, I guess if you have those particular listening habits maybe it hasn’t been all that long, but that’s a one-two that comes together at the outset of Olde Grale‘s debut five-tracker Blood of Fools just the same, the riffing of title-track duly thickened to warrant being the work of two bands together. Those two bands? Olde and Grale, of course.

I won’t pretend to know when it happened or what prompted it, but at some point, the Toronto-based outfits got together and made this sub-25-minute crusher with no apparent regrets. Intricate and prog-metallic in “Senile Dementia” before the gallop takes off, alternately chugging and pummeling thereafter, with the slower “Unseen Reaper” backing to emphasize largesse, the EP seems to follow ideas from multiple sources but wants nothing for cohesion, capping with a rush in “Faith Healer” that, even if Grale hadn’t covered Entombed before might be enough to make one think they should.

Does is slow to a crushing finish? No! They end with all good speed and do justice to the thrust shown throughout without necessarily giving up the tonal density one would hope for with two bassists on board. If you’re still reading this, I’ll be honest and say I don’t know why. The player’s at the bottom of this post, and Salt of the Earth has CDs — that’s right, kids: compact discs; they use lasers and are from the future — so by all means, dig in:

olde grale blood of fools



From caveman sludge through hook-laden smoked-out grooves all the way to razor-sharp thrash, OLDE GRALE is made up of 8 Canadians who care little about labels or rules; they only want to crush you.

“Blood of Fools” is a 5-song trip that runs the gamut of all things heavy. 70s riff rock, monolithic doom, speed metal and thrash, OLDE GRALE bring the goods that any fan of aggressive music should appreciate in spades.

A complete celebration of the underground, step up and get knocked down.

1. Separation Anxiety 05:54
2. Blood of Fools 05:19
3. Senile Dementia 05:27
4. Unseen Reaper 04:59
5. Faith Healer 03:23

Recorded remotely and at BWC STUDIOS (Kingston) and mixed/mastered by Greg Dawson of BWC Studios.
All songs by Olde and Grale.

Guitars: Greg Dawson and Chris “Hippy” Hughes
Drums: Ryan Aubin and Kevin Farmer
Vocals: Doug McLarty and Daniel Allen
Bass: Mark Rand and Cory McCallum




Olde Grale, Blood of Fools (2023)

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Quarterly Review: Dommengang, Ryan Kent, 1782, Seum, Old Mine Universe, Saint Karloff, Astral Sleep, Devoidov, Wolfnaut, Fuzz Voyage

Posted in Reviews on April 18th, 2023 by JJ Koczan


So here we are. A fascinating and varied trip this has been, and while I’m tempted to find some greater meaning in it as regards the ongoing evolution of genre(s) in heavy underground music, the truth is that the overarching message is really that it’s impossible to keep up with that complexity as it unfolds. Hitting 70 releases on this last day with another 50 to come in a couple weeks, I feel like there’s just so much out there right now, and that that is the primary signifier of the current era.

Whether it’s pandemic-born projects or redirects, or long-established artists making welcome returns, or who knows what from who knows where, the world is brimming with creativity and is pushing the bounds of heavy with like-proportioned force and intent. This hasn’t always been easy to write, but as I look at the lineup below of the final-for-now installment of the QR, I’m just happy to be alive. Thanks for reading. I hope you have also found something that resonates.

Quarterly Review #61-70:

Dommengang, Wished Eye

Dommengang Wished Eye

A fourth full-length from Dommengang — are they in L.A. now? Portland, Oregon? does it matter? — neatly encapsulates the heavy psychedelic scope and the organic-vibing reach that stands them out from the pack, as somehow throughout the nine songs of Wished Eye, the Thrill Jockey denizen trio are able to inhabit a style that’s the Americana pastoral wakeup of “Runaway,” the hill-howling “Society Blues,” the drift-fuzz of over solid drums of “Last Card,” the dense tube-burning Hendrixism of “Myth Time,” and the minimalist guitar of “Little Beirut.” And oh, it keeps going; each track contributing something to the lush-but-natural spirit of the whole work. “Blue & Peaceful” brings acoustics to its midsection jam, while “Petrichor” is the West Coast freedom rock you’ve been waiting for, the title-track goes inland for nighttime desertscaping that finishes in hypnotic loops on a likewise hypnotic fade, and “Flower” proves to be more vine, winding its way around the lead guitar line as the vocals leave off with a highlight performance prior a fire-blues solo that finishes the record as the amps continue to scream. Undervalued? Why yes, Dommengang are, and Wished Eye makes the argument in plain language. With a sonic persona able to draw from country, blues, psych, indie, doom, fuzz, on and on, they’ve never sounded so untethered to genre, and it wasn’t exactly holding them back in the first place.

Dommengang on Facebook

Thrill Jockey website


Ryan Kent, Dying Comes With Age

ryan kent dying comes with age

Formerly the frontman of Richmond, Virginia, sludgers Gritter, Ryan Kent — who already has several books of poetry on his CV — casts himself through Dying Comes With Age as a kind of spoken word ringmaster, and he’s brought plenty of friends along to help the cause. The readings in the title-track, “Son of a Bitch” and the title-track and “Couch Time” are semi-spoken, semi-sung, and the likes of Laura Pleasants (The Discussion, ex-Kylesa) lends backing vocals to the former while Jimmy Bower (Down, EyeHateGod) complements with a low-key fuzzy bounce. I’ll admit to hoping the version of “My Blue Heaven” featuring Windhand‘s Dorthia Cottrell was a take on the standard, but it’s plenty sad regardless and her voice stands alone as though Kent realized it was best to just give her the space and let it be its own thing on the record. Mike IX Williams of EyeHateGod is also on his own (without music behind) to close out with the brief “Cigarettes Roll Away the Time,” and Eugene S. Robinson of Oxbow/Buñuel recounting an homage apparently to Kent‘s grandfather highlights the numb feeling of so many during the pandemic era. Some light misogyny there and in “Message From Someone Going Somewhere With Someone Else Who is Going Somewhere” feels almost performative, pursuing some literary concept of edge, but the aural collage and per-song atmosphere assure Dying Comes With Age never lingers anywhere too long, and you can smell the cigarettes just by listening, so be ready with the Febreze.

Ryan Kent on Bandcamp

Rare Bird Books website


1782, Clamor Luciferi

1782 Clamor Luciferi

The first hook on Clamor Luciferi, in post-intro leadoff “Succubus,” informs that “Your god is poison” amid a gravitationally significant wall of low-end buzzfuzz, so one would call it business as usual for Sardinian lurch-doomers 1782, who answer 2021’s From the Graveyard (review here) with another potent collection of horror-infused live resin audibles. Running eight songs and 39-minutes, one would still say the trio are in the post-Monolord camp in terms of riffs and grooves, but they’ve grown more obscure in sound over time, and the murk in so much of Clamor Luciferi is all the more palpable for the way in which the guitar solo late in “Devil’s Blood” cuts through it with such clarity. Immediacy suits them on “River of Sins” just before, but one would hardly fault “Black Rites” or the buried-the-vocals-even-deeper closer “Death Ceremony” for taking their time considering that’s kind of the point. Well, that and the tones and grit of “Demons,” anyhow. Three records in, 1782 continue and odd-year release pattern and showcase the individual take on familiar cultism and lumber that’s made their work to-date a joy to follow despite its sundry outward miseries. Clamor Luciferi keeps the thread going, which is a compliment in their case.

1782 on Facebook

Heavy Psych Sounds website


Seum, Double Double

SEUM Double Double

What Seum might be seen to lack in guitar, they more than make up in disgust. The Montreal trio — vocalist Gaspard, bassist Piotr, drummer Fred — offer a mostly-hateful 32-minute low-end mudslide on their second album, Double Double, the disaffection leaking like an oily discharge from the speakers in “Torpedo” and “Snow Bird” even before “Dog Days” lyrically takes on the heavy underground and “Dollarama” sees the emptiness in being surrounded by bullshit. For as caustic as it largely is, “Torpedo” dares a bit of dirt-caked melody in the vocals — also a backing layer in the somehow-catchy “Razorblade Rainbow” and the closing title-track has a cleaner shout — and the bass veers into funkier grooves at will, as on “Dog Days,” the winding second half of “Snow Bird,” where the bassline bookending the six-minute “Seum Noir” reminds a bit of Suplecs‘ “White Devil” in its fuzz and feels appropriate in that. Shades of Bongzilla persist, as they will with a scream like that, but like their impressive 2021 debut, Winterized (review here), Seum are able to make the big tones move when they need to, to the point that “Dollarama” brings to memory the glory days of Dopefight‘s over-the-top assault. Righteous and filthy.

Seum on Facebook

Electric Spark Records website


Old Mine Universe, This Vast Array

Old Mine Universe This Vast Array

Clearheaded desert-style heavy rock is the thread running through Old Mine Universe‘s debut album, This Vast Array, but with a bit of blues in “No Man’s Mesa” after the proggy flourish of guitar in “Gates of the Red Planet” and the grander, keyboardy unfolding of “My Shadow Devours” and the eight-minute, multi-movement, ends-with-cello finale “Cold Stream Guards,” it becomes clear the Canadian/Brazilian/Chilean five-piece aren’t necessarily looking to limit themselves on their first release. Marked by a strong performance from vocalist Chris Pew — whom others have likened to Ian Astbury and Glenn Danzig; I might add a likeness to some of Jim Healey‘s belting-it-out there as well, if not necessarily an influence — the songs are traditionally structured but move into a jammier feel on the loose “The Duster” and add studio details like the piano line in the second half of “Sixes and Sirens” that showcase depth as well as a solid foundation. At 10 songs/47 minutes, it’s not a minor undertaking for a band’s first record, but if you’re willing to be led the tracks are willing to lead, and with Pew‘s voice to the guitar and bass of David E. and Todd McDaniel in Toronto, the solos from Erickson Silva in Brazil and Sol Batera‘s drums in Chile, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the tracks take you different places.

Old Mine Universe on Facebook

Witch City Music on Facebook


Saint Karloff, Paleolithic War Crimes

Saint Karloff Paleolithic War Crimes

Although Olso-based riffers Saint Karloff have tasked Nico Munkvold (also Jointhugger) for gigs, the band’s third album, Paleolithic War Crimes, was recorded with just the duo of guitarist/vocalist Mads Melvold (also keys and bass here) and drummer Adam Suleiman, and made in homage to original bassist Ole Sletner, who passed away in 2021. It is duly dug-in, from the lumbering Sabbath-worship repetitions of “Psychedelic Man” through the deeper purple organ boogieprog of “Blood Meridian” and quiet guitar/percussion interlude “Among Stone Columns” into “Bone Cave Escape” tilting the balance from doom to rock with a steady snare giving way to an Iommi-circa-’75 acoustic-and-keys finish to side A, leaving side B to split the longer “Nothing to Come” (7:01), which ties together elements of “Bone Cave Escape” and “Blood Meridian,” and closer “Supralux Voyager” (8:26) with the brash, uptempo “Death Don’t Have No Mercy,” which — I almost hate to say it — is a highlight, though the finale in “Supralux Voyager” isn’t to be ignored for what it adds to the band’s aesthetic in its patience and more progressive style, the steadiness of the build and a payoff that could’ve been a blowout but doesn’t need to be and so isn’t all the more resonant for that restraint. If Munkvold actually joins the band or they find someone else to complete the trio, whatever comes after this will inherently be different, but Saint Karloff go beyond 2019’s Interstellar Voodoo (review here) in ambition and realization with these seven tracks — yes, the interlude too; that’s important — and one hopes they continue to bring these lessons forward.

Saint Karloff on Facebook

Majestic Mountain Records store


Astral Sleep, We Are Already Living in the End of Times

Astral Sleep We Are Already Living in the End of Times

Feels like a gimme to say that a record called We Are Already Living in the End of Times is bleak, but if I note the despair laced into the extremity of songs like “The Legacies” or “Torment in Existence,” it’s in no small part to convey the fluidity with which Finland’s Astral Sleep offset their guttural death-doom, be it with melancholic folk-doom melody as on the opening title-track, or the sweetly weaving guitar lines leading into the bright-hued finish of “Invisible Flesh.” Across its 46 minutes, Astral Sleep‘s fourth LP picks up from 2020’s Astral Doom Musick (review here) and makes otherwise disparate sounds transition organically, soaring and crashing down with emotive and tonal impact on the penultimate “Time Is” before “Status of the Soul” answers back to the leadoff with nine-plus minutes of breadth and churn. These aren’t contradictions coming from Astral Sleep, and while yes, the abiding spirit of the release is doomed, that isn’t a constraint on Astral Sleep in needing to be overly performative or ‘dark’ for its own sake. There’s a dynamic at work here as the band seem to make each song an altar and the delivery itself an act of reverence.

Astral Sleep on Facebook

Astral Sleep on Bandcamp


Devoidov, Amputation

devoidov amputation

The second single in two months from New Jersey sludge slayers Devoidov, “Amputation” backs the also-knife-themed “Stab” and brings four minutes of heavy cacophonous intensity that’s as much death metal as post-hardcore early on, and refuses to give up its doomed procession despite all the harshness surrounding. It’s not chaotic. It’s not without purpose. That mute right around 2:40, the way the bass picks up from there and the guitar comes back in, the hi-hat, that build-up into the tremolo sprint and kick-drum jabs that back the crescendo stretch stand as analogue for the structure underlying, and then like out of nowhere they toss in a ripper thrash solo at the end, in the last 15 seconds, as if to emphasize the ‘fuck everything’ they’ve layered over top. There’s punk at its root, but “Amputation” derives atmosphere from its rage as well as the spaciousness of its sound, and the violence of losing a part of oneself is not ignored. They’re making no secret of turning burn-it-all-down into a stylistic statement, and that’s part of the statement too, leaving one to wonder whether the sludge or grind will win in their songwriting over the longer term and if it needs to be a choice between one or the other at all.

Devoidov on Instagram

Devoidov on Bandcamp


Wolfnaut, Return of the Asteroid

Wolfnaut Return of the Asteroid

Norwegian fuzz rollers Wolfnaut claim a lineage that goes back to 1997 (their debut was released in 2013 under their old moniker Wolfgang; it happens), so seems reasonable that their fourth full-length, Return of the Asteroid, should be so imbued with the characteristics of turn-of-the-century Scandinavian heavy. They might be at their most Dozerian on “Crash Yer Asteroid” or “Something More Than Night” as they meet careening riffs with vital, energetic groove, but the mellower opening with “Brother of the Badlands” gives a modern edge and as they unfurl the longer closing pair “Crates of Doom” (7:14) and “Wolfnaut’s Lament” (10:13) — the latter a full linear build that completes the record with reach and crunch alike, they are strident in their execution so as to bring individual presence amid all that thick tone crashing around early and the takeoff-and-run that happens around six minutes in. Hooky in “My Orbit is Mine” and willfully subdued in “Arrows” with the raucous “G.T.R.” following directly, Wolfnaut know what they’re doing and Return of the Asteroid benefits from that expertise in its craft, confidence, and the variety they work into the material. Not life-changing, but quality songwriting is always welcome.

Wolfnaut on Facebook

Ripple Music website


Fuzz Voyage, Heavy Compass Demo

fuzz voyage heavy compass demo

If you’re gonna go, take a compass. And if your compass can be made of primo fuzz riffing, isn’t it that much more useful? If not as an actual compass? Each of the four cuts on Washington D.C. instrumentalists Fuzz Voyage‘s Heavy Compass Demo coincides with a cardinal direction, so you get “South Side Moss,” “North Star,” “East Wind” and “West Ice Mountain.” These same four tracks featured across two separate ‘sessions’-type demos in 2020, so they’ve been fairly worked on, but one can’t discount the presentation here that lets “East Wind” breathe a bit in its early going after the crunching stop of “North Star,” just an edge of heavy psychedelia having featured in the northerly piece getting fleshed out as it heads east. I might extend the perception of self-awareness on the part of the band to speculating “South Side Moss” was named for its hairy guitar and bass tone — if not, it could’ve been — and after “East Wind” stretches near seven minutes, “West Ice Mountain” closes out with a rush and instrumental hook that’s a more uptempo look than they’ve given to that point in the proceedings. Nothing to argue with unless you’re morally opposed to bands who don’t have singers — in which case, your loss — but one doesn’t get a lot of outright fuzz from the Doom Capitol, and Fuzz Voyage offer some of the densest distortion I’ve heard out of the Potomac since Borracho got their start. Even before you get to the concept or the art or whatever else, that makes them worth keeping an eye out for what they do next.

Fuzz Voyage on Instagram

Fuzz Voyage on Bandcamp


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