The Obelisk Questionnaire: Tom Blyth of Blind Monarch

Posted in Questionnaire on July 20th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

Tom Blyth of Blind Monarch

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: Tom Blyth of Blind Monarch

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

I’m a lyricist, a vocalist and general contributor to all things related to Blind Monarch.

I began playing in bands in around 2004, when my brother Adam asked me to front a band he was starting and I told him I’d do it until he found someone more suitable. Early on the focus was on playing fast and technical death metal but at a certain point our attention was drawn to slower sub genres and bands, hearing Asunder for the first time had a particularly strong influence on us. Gradually we began to incorporate slower, grander sections into our songs, although the style of drumming in that band was too relentless to really let any of them breathe or function as they were intended.

When that band ended in the early 2010’s Adam and I were ready to start a new project based heavily on slower, more atmospheric influences while maintaining an abrasive, caustic element and so Blind Monarch was born.

Describe your first musical memory.

I’m not able to pinpoint exactly what my first musical memory is but I can narrow it down to about three possibilities. I’m either in my Dad’s car, a white or red boxy-shaped ’80s BMW 3 series or a black Opel Manta, and he’s playing No Jacket Required by Phil Collins or Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits. Or I’m in a bed with my brother in a caravan near Scarborough, my parents are still up playing scrabble and “Sunny Afternoon” by The Kinks is playing on Yorkshire Coast Radio.

Describe your best musical memory to date.

I’m not really one for favourites or bests, for one thing my memory is unreliable and on top of that I tend not to find it useful to try to rank things I enjoy or find meaningful. That said, I have really fond memories of recording What Is Imposed Must Be Endured, as uncomfortable a process that was at the time. We’ve spoken about it at length elsewhere for anyone who is interested but briefly, the album was recorded in freezing temperatures in a huge derelict building. There was no heating or lighting and we had to run electricity from the church adjacent to us, needless to say much of the record was tracked in the dark and in a state of discomfort but I wouldn’t change anything about the experience.

Off the top of my head, I also have great memories of seeing Bolt Thrower play at Damnation a few years ago, that may even have been their last gig but I’m not sure about that… Seeing Entombed play Left Hand Path live, also at Damnation, is another standout, as is seeing Graves at Sea at the Lughole in Sheffield.

Now I’m thinking about it, getting pinned and unable to even move my head in the front row at Cannibal Corpse in Sheffield in around 2010, a short conversation my brother and I had with David Berman when The Silver Jews played in Leeds and watching my friend Sam manage to throw a joint onstage and directly into Wino’s outstretched hand without him having to so much as reach for it, when Spirit Caravan played at Desertfest all seem worth a mention.

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

I think strongly held beliefs and faith are highly overrated, dangerous concepts and as such I try not to become overly attached to ideas. I strive to always be open to new evidence and a change of opinion when the body of evidence begins to point away from what I thought I knew.

Where do you feel artistic progression leads?

A sense of fulfilment.

How do you define success?

The ability to build and sustain an ethically sound means of living by ones own terms, based in creativity rather than drudgery. I have a long way to go…

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

I saw a woman die on a transatlantic flight once while her husband stalked up and down the isle of the plane praying for her. I was flying home from a long trip on my birthday, where there was a surprise party waiting for me, that was my day. At the same time a woman’s life was ending a few feet away while a helpless man, trapped in a box over an ocean, begged to a higher power while his entire life fell apart in front of hundreds of strangers. While I wouldn’t say I wish I hadn’t seen it, it was a profoundly affecting experience in empathy, I certainly wish that couple had not had to endure that suffering.

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

I’ve toyed with the idea to write a screenplay one day, although I don’t know if I ever will. I’m also learning to play guitar so it would be nice to reach a state of proficiency that allowed for a project with that.

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

To act as a means for living rather than merely existing. It’s a cliché but I can’t think of a better answer.

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

Getting older with the people I care about.

https://www.facebook.com/blindmonarchband/
https://www.instagram.com/blind_monarch/
https://blindmonarch.bandcamp.com/
https://www.drycoughrecords.com/
http://facebook.com/DryCoughRecords
http://instagram.com/dry_cough_records
https://blackbowrecords.bandcamp.com/
http://www.blackbowrecords.com/
https://blackbowrecords.bigcartel.com/

Blind Monarch, What is Imposed Must Be Endured (2019)

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Quarterly Review: Jess and the Ancient Ones, Dread Sovereign, Space Smoke, If it Kills You, Clara Engel, Maya Mountains, Cave of Swimmers, Blind Monarch, Cancervo, Sahara

Posted in Reviews on March 30th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review-spring-2019

Hello Day Two of the Quarterly Review. It started by oversleeping by about an hour, but so it goes. Yesterday went about as smoothly as I can ask a QR day to go, so I’m hoping that today follows suit despite the rough start. There’s nothing like building some momentum once you get going with these writeups. It’s about as close to ‘in the zone’ as I get. Trance of productivity.

As always, I hope you find something here you dig. Today’s round is good and all over the place, so maybe everyone’ll get lucky. Here goes.

Quarterly Review #11-20:

Jess and the Ancient Ones, Vertigo

jess and the ancient ones vertigo

More than a decade on from their founding, Finland’s Jess and the Ancient Ones are an established brand when it comes to cult psych rock, and their fourth full-length, issued through Svart, is gleeful to the point of witch-cackling on “Talking Board” (think Ouija) and offers rousing classically-stylized hooks on fellow early cuts like opener “Burning of the Velvet Fires” and “World Paranormal” as well as side B’s “Born to Kill,” the Dr. Strangelove-sampling “Summer Tripping Man” and the organ-washed “What’s on Your Mind” ahead of an 11-minute prog rock grand finale in “Strange Earth Illusion” that feels very much like the impetus toward which the album has been driving all along. Relax, you’re in the hands of professional mystics, and their acid rock vibes are made all the more grand by Jess‘ soulful delivery atop the ever-clever arrangements of guitar, organ, bass, drums, samples, and so on. This kind of cultish lysergic fare has never been and never will be for everyone. Listening to Vertigo, you can only really wonder why that is.

Jess and the Ancient Ones on Thee Facebooks

Svart Records website

 

Dread Sovereign, Alchemical Warfare

dread sovereign alchemical warfare

Metallic overload! Irish assault supreme! All sentences end with exclamation points! A new Dread Sovereign record doesn’t come along every day, or year, but the Dublin trio certainly make it count when one does. Alchemical Warfare is the third LP from the Alan Averill-fronted outfit, and with Johnny “Con Ri” King (also Conan) on drums and guitarist Bones Huse (also Wizards of Firetop Mountain), the band tear through nine tracks and 51 minutes of doom-colored metallurgy, throwing unrepentant fists in the air under darkened, irony-free skies. By the time 10-minute post-intro opener “She Wolves of the Savage Season” is over, if you’re not ready to quit your job and join the legion about to set march to “The Great Beast We Serve,” it’s no fault of the band’s. “Nature is the Devil’s Church” was the lead single and is a standout hook, but the grandiosity of “Ruin Upon the Temple Mount”‘s Candlemassy riffing is too good to be ignored, and they finish with a Bathory cover, because fucking a, that’s why.

Dread Sovereign on Thee Facebooks

Metal Blade Records website

 

Space Smoke, Aurora Dourada

Space Smoke Aurora Dourada

The debut EP from Brazilian instrumentalist trio Space Smoke runs all of 12 minutes, but that’s long enough for Aurora Dourada to give an impression of where the band are coming from. Three distinct tracks — “Magia Cerimonial,” “Interludio” and “Corpo Solar” — comprise the outing, and the middle one is indeed an interlude, so it’s really the opener and closer doing the heavy lifting. “Magia Cerimonia” starts off with a sense of foreboding but makes its way instead into hypnotic repetition, bordering on a meditative lumber that doesn’t stick around long enough to be redundant, and with the interlude as a breath between, the eight-minute “Corpo Solar” rounds out as the most substantial piece of the outing, drifting guitar over languid drums and bass, dreamy and sopping wet with reverb. They push it heavier than its quiet beginning, of course, but even the howling lead work near the finish maintains the inviting and immersive vibe with which they set out. Might be a blip of things to come, but it’s a blip worth checking out. Mini-trip.

Space Smoke on Instagram

Abraxas Events on Thee Facebooks

 

If it Kills You, Infinite Hum

if it kills you infinite hum

Infinite Hum is the striking debut LP from Bakersfield, California, post-hardcore heavy three/four-piece If it Kills You, who along with the periodic charred guest vocals on half the six tracks, bring together a quick assemblage for a 12″ that readily alternates between melodic sway and shoutier roll. They groove despite unpredictable turns, and their blend of hefted tones and punker-grown-up melodies makes a welcome impression on opener “We Don’t Belong Here” or “Moving Target.” Starts and stops and a bit of winding lead work give “Repeat Resolve” an edge of noise rock — more than an edge, actually; kind of like the flat side of a brick — but If it Kills You never push to one side or the other entirely, and as the screams return for later in “Repeat Resolve” and closer “Projections,” charged every time with and succeeding at pushing a crescendo over the top, the band manage to bring sincerity and structure together with what sounds like experienced hands. Don’t be fooled by “first album”; they know what they’re doing.

If it Kills You on Thee Facebooks

Killer Kern on Bandcamp

 

Clara Engel, A New Skin

Clara Engel A New Skin

I’m not sure if anyone still calls this kind of thing “neo-folk,” but I am sure I don’t care. The sense of atmosphere Clara Engel puts into her latest album, A New Skin, beginning with the shift between minimal guitar and keyboard on “Starry Eyed Goat,” uses negative space no less effectively than does the mostly-black cover art, and the eight-song/46-minute outing that ensues alternates between emotive and wondrously ambient, suited to the home recording done during (presumed) isolation in Fall 2020. Engel handles all instrumentation herself and remains indelibly human in her sometimes-layered vocal delivery all the while, speaking to a building-out process of the material, but one does not get the sense in listening to “Night Tide” and the sparse “Thieves” back-to-back that the foundation of all the songs is the same, which is all the more representative of an exploratory songwriting process. A New Skin as a whole feels likewise exploratory, a reflection inward as much as out.

Clara Engel on Thee Facebooks

Clara Engel on Bandcamp

 

Maya Mountains, Era

maya mountains era

Long-running Italian trio Maya Mountains issued Era through Go Down Records in 2020 as their first album in some six years, readily engaging with desert rock on cuts like “San Saguaro” and closer “El Toro,” working in a bit of post-Queens of the Stone Age riffy quirk to go along with less bouncing and chunkier fare on “Vibromatic” and “Baumgartner,” or “Extremely High,” which makes its speedier tempo feel organic ahead of the finish. All told, it’s 44 minutes of solid heavy rock, with variation between songs of what each is working toward doing that does nothing to pull away from the vibe as a whole, whether that’s in a more aggressive moment like “Vibromatic” or the spacier playfulness at the start of “Raul,” the band clearly unafraid of letting a little funk hold sway for a minute or two. Engaging without being revolutionary, Era knows its craft and audience alike, and offers one to the other without pretense or presumption. It’s rock for rockers, but what’s wrong with that?

Maya Mountains on Thee Facebooks

Go Down Records website

 

Cave of Swimmers, Aurora

cave of swimmers aurora

An awaited first long-player from Miami duo Cave of Swimmers — vocalist/guitarist/synthesist Guillermo Gonzalez and drummer/percussionist/vocalist Arturo Garcia — packages epic metal in tight-knit bursts of heavy rock tonality. Choruses in “The Sun” and “Double Rainbow” are grand affairs not because their tones are so huge, but because of the melodies that top them, and at the same time, with riffs at the forefront of the verses, the duo make progressive shifts sound classic in the vein of Iron Maiden or Dio with a still-prevailing fuzzy topcoat. Centerpiece “My Human” is a love song that slams, while “Looking Glass” leans deeper into prog metal but brings the listener along with a another sweeping hook, a pattern of tension and release that carries over to “Dirt” as well, which leaves “C.S” to close out with its “Sign of the Southern Cross” keyboard-and-harmonies intro en route to a poised but still thrashing finish. There’s life in heavy metal, and here it is.

Cave of Swimmers on Thee Facebooks

Broomtune Records website

 

Blind Monarch, What is Imposed Must Be Endured

blind monarch what is imposed must be endured

Straight out of Sheffield, UK, Blind Monarch first released their What is Imposed Must Be Endured four-song/56-minute full-length on Black Bow Records in 2020 and it’s been picked up for a 2LP vinyl pressing by Dry Cough Records. There’s something to be said for splitting up these tracks each onto its own side, making the whole release more manageable despite getting up to do a side or platter flip, but any way you go, “Suffering Breathes My Name” (13:45), “My Mother, My Cradle, My Tomb” (10:47), “Blind Monarch” (14:10) and closer “Living Altar” (17:54) are geared toward sharp-toothed death-sludge consumption, extreme in thought and deed. Feedback is strewn about the place like so much flayed skin, and even in the quiet moments at the start and laced into “Living Altar,” the atmosphere remains oppressive. Yet, endure one must. Blind Monarch, even among the UK’s ultra-packed underground, are a standout in how maddeningly heavy they manage to be, and on their debut outing, no less. If you missed it last year, be ready to pay extra for shipping.

Blind Monarch on Thee Facebooks

Dry Cough Records website

Black Bow Records webstore

 

Cancervo, 1

cancervo 1

Each track on Italian instrumentalist trio Cancervo‘s debut album, titled simply 1, is intended to represent an area near their home in the mountainous region of Lombardy, Italy. Their tones are duly thick, their presentation patient and their cast is broad in terms of its landscape. From “Averara,” one might see kilometers, in other words. Whether or not you’re familiar with Cancervo‘s locale, their tonal warmth and heavy psychedelic expanse resonates immersively, letting each of the two sides develop on its own from the beginnings in “Cancervo” and “Darco,” both the longest cuts on their respective halves. The fuller fuzz of “SWLABR” and the punch of bass that accompanies the tom hits on closer “1987” are subtle shifts emblematic of Cancervo‘s creative progression getting underway, and the task to which they set themselves — portraying place in sound — is no less admirable than their accomplishment of same would see to be. I’ve never been there, so can’t confirm 100 percent if that’s what it sounds like, but in repeat listens, I’m happy to take the band’s word (or riffs) for it.

Cancervo on Thee Facebooks

Electric Valley Records website

 

Sahara, The Curse

sahara the curse

Its four cuts run 17 minutes with the last of them an instrumental title-track that’s under three, but I don’t care — the entire thing is so righteously raw and garage nasty that I’m on board with however much Argentina’s Sahara want to bring to The Curse. “Gallows Noose” sounds like it was taped, and then re-taped, and then re-taped again before finally being pressed (to tape), and there’s no mistaking that’s an aesthetic choice on the part of the band, who probably have phones that could make something with clearer audio, but the in-room demo feel of “Hell on Earth” and “Altar of Sacrifice,” the rootsy metal-of-doom feel of it hits on its own level. Sometimes you just want something that comes across barebones and mean, and that’s what The Curse does. Call it retro, call it unproduced, call it whatever you want, it doesn’t matter. Sahara (bring looks that) kill it on that Sabbath-worshiping altar and sound dirt-coated all the while, making everything everything else in the universe seem more complicated than it needs to be.

Sahara on Thee Facebooks

Helter Skelter Productions website

 

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