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


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: DANG!!!, Stew, Nothing is Real, Jerky Dirt, Space Coke, Black Solstice, Dome Runner, Moonlit, The Spacelords, Scrying Stone

Posted in Reviews on December 16th, 2021 by JJ Koczan


Day four. Fancy pants. Yesterday was the most effective writing day I’ve had in recent memory, which makes today kind of a harrowing prospect since the only real way to go after that is down. I’ve done the try-to-get-a-jump-on-it stuff, but you never really know how things are going to turn out until your head’s in it and you’re dug into two or three records. We’ll see how it goes. There’s a lot to dig into today though, in a pretty wide range of sounds, so that helps. I’ll admit there are times when it’s like, “What’s another way to say ‘dudes like to riff?'”

As if I’d need another way.

Anyhoozle, hope you find something you dig, as always. If not, still one more day tomorrow. We’ll get there. Thanks for reading.

Quarterly Review #31-40:

Dang!!!, Sociopathfinder

dang sociopathfinder

It would take all the space I’ve allotted for this review to recount the full lineup involved in making DANG!!!‘s debut album, Sociopathfinder, but the powerhouse Norwegian seven-piece has former members of The Cosmic Dropouts, Gluecifer, Nashville Pussy, and Motorpsycho, among others, and Kvelertak drummer Håvard Takle Ohr, so maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise they get down to serious business on the record. With influences spanning decades from the ’60s-gone’90s organ-laced electro-rock of “Long Gone Misery” and the Halloween-y “Degenerate,” to the rampaging heavy rock hooks of “Manic Possessive” and “Good Intentions” and the “In the Hall of the Mountain King”-referencing closer “Eight Minutes Till Doomsday,” the 12-song/46-minute outing is a lockdown-defiant explosion of creative songwriting and collaboration, and though it features no fewer than six guitarists throughout (that includes guests), it all flows together thanks to the strength of craft, urgency of rhythm, and Geir Nilsen‘s stellar work on organ. It’s a lot to take on, but pays off any effort put in. Unless you’re a sociopath, I guess. Then you probably don’t feel it at all.

DANG!!! on Facebook

Apollon Records website


Stew, Taste

stew taste

Following up their 2019 debut, People (review here), Swedish classic-heavy trio Stew offer an efficient nine-song/38-minute excursion into ’70s/’10s-inspired boogie rock and heavy blues with Taste, balancing modern production and its own yore-born aesthetic in sharp but not overly-clean fashion. The vocal layering in the back half of opener “Heavy Wings” is a clue to the clarity underlying the band’s organic sound, and while Taste sounds fuller than did People, the bounce of “All That I Need,” the blues hooks in “Keep on Praying” and “Still Got the Time,” subtle proto-metallurgy of “New Moon” (one almost hears barking at it) and the wistful closing duo of “When the Lights Go Out” and “You Don’t Need Me” aren’t so far removed from the preceding outing as to be unrecognizable. This was a band who knew what they wanted to sound like on their first album who’ve set about refining their processes. Taste checks in nicely on that progress and shows it well underway.

Stew on Facebook

Uprising! Records website


Nothing is Real, Transmissions of the Unearthly

nothing is real transmissions of the unearthly

Are the crows I hear cawing on “Tyrant of the Unreal” actually in the song or outside my window? Does it matter? I don’t know anymore. Los Angeles-based psychological terror rock unit Nothing is Real reportedly conjured the root tracks for the 87-minute 2CD Transmissions of the Unearthly with guest drummer Jeremy Lauria over the course of two days and the subsequent Halloween release has been broken into two parts: ‘Chaos’ and ‘Order.’ Screaming blackened psychedelia haunts the former, while the latter creeps in dark, raw sludge realization, but one way or the other, the prevailing sensory onslaught is intentionally overwhelming. The slow march of “King of the Wastelands” might actually be enough to serve as proclamation, and where in another context “Sickened Samsara” would be hailed as arthouse black-metal-meets-filthy–psych-jazz, the delivery from Nothing is Real is so sincere and untamed that the horrors being explored do in fact feel real and are duly disconcerting and wickedly affecting. Bleak in a way almost entirely its own.

Nothing is Real on Facebook

Nothing is Real on Bandcamp


Jerky Dirt, Orse

Jerky Dirt Orse

After immersing the listener with the keyboard-laced opening instrumental “Alektorophobia” (fear of chickens), the third album from UK outfit Jerky Dirt, Orse, unfolds the starts and stops of “Ygor’s Lament” with a sensibility like earlier Queens of the Stone Age gone prog before moving into the melodic highlight “Orse, Part 1” and the acoustic “Eh-Iss.” By the time the centerpiece shuffler “Ozma of Oz” begins, you’re either on board or you’re not, and I am. Despite a relatively spare production, Jerky Dirt convey tonal depth effectively between the fuzz of “Ygor’s Lament” and the more spacious parts of “In Mind” that give way to larger-sounding roll, and some vocal harmonies in “The Beast” add variety in the record’s second half before the aptly-named “Smoogie Boogie” — what else to call it, really? — and progressive melody of “Orse, Part 2” close out. A minimal online presence means info on the band is sparse, it may just be one person, but the work holds up across Orse on multiple listens, complex in craft but accessible in execution.

Jerky Dirt on Bandcamp


Space Coke, Lunacy

Space Coke Lunacy

A scouring effort of weirdo horror heavy, the five-track Lunacy from South Carolina’s Space Coke isn’t short on accuracy, seemingly on any level. The swirl of nine-minute opener “Bride of Satan” is cosmic but laced with organ, underlying rumble, far-back vocals and sundry other elements that are somehow menacing. The subsequent “Alice Lilitu” is thicker-toned for at least stretches of its 13 minutes, and its organ feels goth-born as it moves past the midpoint, but the madness of a solo that ensues from there feels well cast off (or perhaps on, given the band’s moniker) the rails. Shit gets strange, people. “Frozen World” is positively reachable by comparison, though it too has its organ drama, and the ensuing “Lightmare” starts with an extended horror sample before fuzzing and humming out six minutes of obscure incantation and jamming itself into oblivion. Oh, and there’s a cover of Danzig‘s “Twist of Cain” at the end. Because obviously. Doom filtered through goth kitsch-horror VHS tape and somewhere behind you something is lurking and you don’t see it coming until it’s too late.

Space Coke on Facebook

Space Coke on Bandcamp


Black Solstice, Ember

Black Solstice Ember

Broken into two halves each given its own intro in “Intervention” and “Celestial Convoy,” respectively, the debut full-length from Stockholm’s Black Solstice brings back some familiar faces in guitarist Anders Martinsgård and drummer Peter Eklund, both formerly of Ponamero Sundown. Ember, with flourish of percussion in “Signs of Wisdom,” grunge-style harmonies in “Burned by the Sun” and just a hint of winding thrashy threat in “Firespawn,” is deeply rooted in doom metal. They count Sabbath as primary, but the 10-track/42-minute offering is more metal than stonerized riff worship, and with vocalist “Mad Magnus” Lindmark and bassist Lelle B. Falheim completing the lineup, the four-piece boast an aggressive edge and hit harder than one might initially think going in. That is no complaint, mind you. Perhaps they’re not giving themselves enough credit for the depth of their sound, but as their first long-player (following a few demos), Ember finds a niche that hints toward the familiar without going overboard in tropes. I don’t know who, but someone in this band likes Megadeth.

Black Solstice on Facebook

Ozium Records webstore


Dome Runner, Conflict State Design

Dome Runner Conflict State Design

Begun as Paleskin before a probably-for-the-best name change, Tampere, Finland’s Dome Runner offer a hard-industrial bridge between Godflesh at their angriest and earliest Fear Factory‘s mechanized chugging assault. Conflict State Design is the trio’s first full-length, and along with the stated influences, there’s some pull from sludge and noise as well, shades of Fudge Tunnel in “Unfollow” met with harsh screaming or the churning riff underscoring the explosions of synth in “The Undemonizing Process,” like roughed-up Souls at Zero-era Neurosis. With the seven-minute extreme wash of “Impure Utility of Authoritarian Power Structure” at its center, Conflict State Design harkens back to the dreary industrialism of two decades ago — it very pointedly doesn’t sound like Nine Inch Nails — but is given a forward-thinking heft and brutality to match. Amid something of an industrial revival in the heavy underground, Dome Runner‘s debut stands out. More to the point, it’s fucking awesome.

Dome Runner on Facebook

Dome Runner on Bandcamp


Moonlit, So Bless Us Now…

Moonlit So Bless us now

Varese, Italy, instrumentalist heavy post-rockers Moonlit almost can’t help but bring to mind Red Sparowes with their debut album, So Bless Us Now…, though the marching cymbals early in the 17-minute finale “And We Stood Still Until We Became, Invisible” seem to be in conversation with Om‘s meditative practice as well, and the violin on the earlier “Empty Sky/Cold Lights…” (11:25) is a distinguishing element. Still, it is a melding of heft and float across “For We Have Seen” (12:29) at the beginning of the record, more straight-ahead riffing met with a focus on atmospherics beyond conventional sense of aural weight. Each piece has its own persona, some linear, the penultimate “Shine in the Darkest Night” more experimentalist in structure and its use of samples, but the whole 55-minute listening experience is consuming, minimal in its droning finish only after creating a full wash of mindful, resonant psychedelic reach. With titles drawn from Nietzsche quotes from Thus Spake Zarathustra, there are suitably lonely stretches throughout, but even at its maddest, So Bless Us Now… holds to its stylistic purpose.

Moonlit on Instagram

Moonlit on Bandcamp


The Spacelords, Unknown Species

The Spacelords Unknown Species

Not to be confused with New York outfit Spacelord, the now-decade-plus-runnin German instrumental kosmiche-harvesters The Spacelords present Unknown Species across three — and I’m just being honest here — wonderful extended works, arranged from shortest to longest as “F.K.B.D.F.” (8:10), “Unknown Species” (14:53) and the initially-unplugged “Time Tunnel” (20:26) unfurl a thoughtful outbound progression that finds beauty in dark times and jams with intent that’s progressive without pretense — and, when it wants to be, substantially heavy. That’s true more of the end in “Time Tunnel” than the initial synth-laced drift of “F.K.B.D.F.,” but the solo-topped punch of the title-track/centerpiece isn’t to be understated either. In 2020, the trio released their Spaceflowers (review here) LP, as well as a documentary about their recording/writing processes, and Unknown Species pushes even further into defining just how special a band they are, gorgeously constructed and impeccably mixed as it is. Can’t and wouldn’t ask for more.

The Spacelords on Facebook

Tonzonen Records website


Scrying Stone, Scrublands

Scrying Stone Scrublands

A debut outing from Michigan-based newcomers Scrying Stone, the 29-minute Scrublands flows like an album so I’m going to consider it one until I hear otherwise. And as a first album, it sets melody and tonal density not so much against each other, but toward like purposes, and even in the instrumental “Ballad of the Hyena,” it finds cohesive ground for the two sides to exist together without contradiction and without sounding overly derivative of its modern influences. “At Our Heels” makes an engaging hello for first-time listeners, and the faster “The Marauder” later on adds a sense of dynamic at just the right moment before the fuzzy overload of “Desert Thirst” dives into deeper weedian idolatry. There’s some boogie underneath the title-track too, and as a companion to the willing-to-soar closer “Dromedary,” that unrushed rush feels purposeful, making Scrublands come across as formative in its reach — one can definitely hear where they might branch out — but righteously complete in its production and songwriting; a strong opening statement of potential for the band to make en route to what might come next.

Scrying Stone on Facebook

Scrying Stone on Bandcamp


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