Quarterly Review: Gaupa, Orango, Onségen Ensemble, Gypsy Wizard Queen, Blake Hornsby, Turbid North, Modern Stars, Trillion Ton Beryllium Ships, Borehead, Monolithe

Posted in Reviews on January 13th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review-winter 2023

So here we are. On the verge of two weeks, 100 records later. My message here is the same as ever: I’m tired and I hope you found something worthwhile. A lot of this was catchup for me — still is, see Gaupa below — but maybe something slipped through the cracks for you in 2022 that got a look here, or maybe not and you’re not even seeing this and it doesn’t matter anyway and what even is music, etc., etc. I don’t know.

A couple bands were stoked along the way. That’s fun, I guess. Mostly I’ve been trying to keep in mind that I’m doing this for myself, because, yeah, there’s probably no other way I was going to get to cover these 100 albums, and I feel like the site is stronger for having done so, at least mostly. I guess shrug and move on. Next week is back to normal reviews, premieres and all that. I think March we’ll do this again, maybe try to keep it to five or six days. Two 100-record QRs in a row has been a lot.

But again, thanks if you’ve kept up at all. I’m gonna soak my head in these and then cover it with a pillow for a couple days to keep the riffs out. Just kidding, I’ll be up tomorrow morning writing. Like a sucker.

Winter 2023 Quarterly Review #91-100:

Gaupa, Myriad

Gaupa Myriad

Beginning with the hooky “Exoskeleton” and “Diametrical Enchantress,” Myriad is the second full-length from Sweden’s Gaupa (their first for Nuclear Blast), and a bringing together of terrestrial and ethereal heavy elements. Even at its most raucous, Gaupa‘s material floats, and even at its most floating, there is a plan at work, a story unfolding, and an underlying structure to support them. From the minimalist start of “Moloken” to the boogie rampage of “My Sister is a Very Angry Man,” the Swedefolk of “Sömnen,” the tension and explosions of “RA,” with the theatrical-but-can-also-really-sing, soulful vocals of Emma Näslund at the forefront, a proggy and atmospheric cut like “Elden” — which becomes an intense battery by the time it hits its apex; I’ve heard that about aging — retains a distinct human presence, and the guitar work of Daniel Nygren and David Rosberg, Erik Sävström‘s bass and Jimmy Hurtig‘s drums are sharp in their turns and warm in their tones, creating a fluidity that carries the five-piece to the heavy immersion of “Mammon,” where Näslund seems to find another, almost Bjork-ish level of command in her voice before, at 5:27 into the song’s 7:36, the band behind her kicks into the heaviest roll of the album; a shove by the time they’re done. Can’t ask for more. Some records just have everything.

Gaupa on Facebook

Nuclear Blast Records store


Orango, Mohican

orango mohican

Six albums in, let’s just all take a minute to be glad Orango are still at it. The Oslo-based harmonybringers are wildly undervalued, now over 20 years into their tenure, and their eighth album, Mohican (which I’m not sure is appropriate to take as an album title unless you’re, say, a member of the Stockbridge-Munsee Community) is a pleasure cruise through classic heavy rock styles. From opener/longest track (immediate points) “The Creek” twisting through harder riffing and more melodic range than most acts have in their entire career, through the memorable swagger in the organ-laced “Fryin’,” the stadium-ready “Running Out of Reasons,” the later boogie of “War Camp” and shuffle in “Dust & Dirt” (presumably titled for what’s kicked up by said shuffle) and the softer-delivered complementary pair “Cold Wind” and “Ain’t No Road” ending each side of the LP with a mellow but still engaging wistfulness, nobody does the smooth sounds of the ’70s better, and Mohican is a triumph in showcasing what they do, songs like “Bring You Back Home” and the bluesier “Wild River Song” gorgeous and lush in their arrangements while holding onto a corresponding human sensibility, ever organic. There is little to do with Orango except be wowed and, again, be thankful they’ve got another collection of songs to bask in and singalong to. It’s cool if you’re off-key; nobody’s judging.

Orango on Facebook

Stickman Records website


Onségen Ensemble, Realms

Onségen Ensemble Realms

You never really know when a flute, a choir, or a digeridoo might show up, and that’s part of the fun with Onségen Ensemble‘s six-track Realms LP, which goes full-Morricone in “Naked Sky” only after digging into the ambient prog of “The Sleeping Lion” and en route to the cinematic keys and half-speed King Crimson riffing of “Abysmal Sun,” which becomes a righteous melodic wash. The Finnish natives’ fourth LP, its vinyl pressing was crowdfunded through Bandcamp for independent release, and while the guitar in “Collapsing Star” calls back to “Naked Sky” and the later declarations roll out grandiose crashes, the horns of “The Ground of Being” set up a minimalist midsection only to return in even more choral form, and “I’m Here No Matter What” resolves in both epic keys/voices and a clear, hard-strummed guitar riff, the name Realms feels not at all coincidental. This is worldbuilding, setting a full three-dimensional sphere in which these six pieces flow together to make the 40-minute entirety of the album. The outright care put into making them, the sense of purpose, and the individualized success of the results, shouldn’t be understated. Onségen Ensemble are becoming, and so have become, a treasure of heavy, enveloping progressive sounds, and without coming across as contrived, Realms has a painterly sensibility that resonates joy.

Onségen Ensemble on Facebook

Onségen Ensemble on Bandcamp


Gypsy Wizard Queen, Gypsy Wizard Queen

Gypsy Wizard Queen self-titled

Chad Heille (ex-Egypt, currently also El Supremo) drums in this Fargo, North Dakota, three-piece completed by guitarist/vocalist/engineer Chris Ellingson and bassist/vocalist Mitch Martin, and the heavy bluesy groove they emit as they unfurl “Witch Lung,” their self-titled debut’s 10-minute opener and longest track (immediate points), is likewise righteous and hypnotic. Even as “Paranoid Humanoid” kicks into its chorus on Heille‘s steady thud and a winding lead from Ellingson, one wouldn’t call their pace hurried, and while I’d like to shake everyone in the band’s hand for having come up with the song title “Yeti Davis Eyes” — wow; nicely done — the wandering jam itself is even more satisfying, arriving along its instrumental course at a purely stoner rock janga-janga before it’s finished and turns over to the final two tracks, “The Good Ride” and “Stoned Age,” both shorter, with the former also following an instrumental path, classically informed but modern in its surge, and the latter seeming to find all the gallop and shove that was held back from elsewhere and loosing it in one showstopping six-minute burst. I’d watch this live set, happily. Reminds a bit of Geezer on paper but has its own identity. Their sound isn’t necessarily innovative or trying to be, but their debut nonetheless establishes a heavy dynamic, shows their chemistry across a varied collection of songs, and offers a take on genre that’s welcome in the present and raises optimism for what they’ll do from here. It’s easy to dig, and I dig it.

Gypsy Wizard Queen on Facebook

Gypsy Wizard Queen on Bandcamp


Blake Hornsby, A Collection of Traditional Folk Songs & Tunes Vol. 1

blake hornsby A Collection of Traditional Folk Songs & Tunes Vol 1

It’s not quite as stark a contrast as one might think to hear Asheville, North Carolina’s Blake Hornsby go from banjo instrumentalism to more lush, sitar-infused arrangements for the final three songs on his A Collection of Traditional Folk Songs & Tunes Vol. 1, as bridging sounds across continents would seem to come organically to his style of folk. And while perhaps “Old Joe Clark” wasn’t written as a raga to start with, it certainly works as one here, answering the barebones runs of “John Brown’s Dream” with a fluidity that carries into the more meditative “Cruel Sister” and a drone-laced 13-minute take on the Appalachian traditional song “House Carpenter” (also done in various forms by Pentangle, Joan Baez, Myrkur, and a slew of others), obscure like a George Harrison home-recorded experiment circa Sgt. Pepper but sincere in its expression and cross-cultural scope. Thinking of the eight-tracker as an LP with two sides — one mostly if not entirely banjo tunes between one and two minutes long, the other an outward-expanding journey using side A as its foundation — might help, but the key word here is ‘collection,’ and part of Hornsby‘s art is bringing these pieces into his oeuvre, which he does regardless of the form they actually take. That is a credit to him and so is this album.

Blake Hornsby on Facebook

Ramble Records store


Turbid North, The Decline

Turbid North The Decline

Oof that’s heavy. Produced by guitarist/vocalist Nick Forkel, who’s joined in the band by bassist Chris O’Toole (also Unearth) and drummer John “Jono” Garrett (also Mos Generator), Turbid North‘s The Decline is just as likely to be grind as doom at any given moment, as “Life Over Death” emphasizes before “Patients” goes full-on into brutality, and is the band’s fourth full-length and first since 2015. The 2023 release brings together 10 songs for 43 minutes that seem to grow more aggressive as they go, with “Eternal Dying” and “The Oppressor” serving as the opening statement with a lumber that will be held largely but not completely in check until the chugging, slamming plod of closer “Time” — which still manages to rage at its apex — while the likes of “Slaves,” “Drown in Agony” and “The Old Ones” dive into more extreme metallic fare. No complaints, except maybe for the bruises, but as “The Road” sneaks a stoner rock riff in early and some cleaner shouts in late amid Mastodonny noodling, there’s a playfulness that hints toward the trio enjoying themselves while doling out such punishment, and that gives added context and humanity to the likes of “A Dying Earth,” which is severe both in its ambient and more outright violent stretches. Not for everybody, but if you’re pissed off and feel like your brain’s on fire, they have your back with ready and waiting catharsis. Sometimes you just want to punch yourself in the face.

Turbid North on Facebook

Turbid North on Bandcamp


Modern Stars, Space Trips for the Masses

Modern Stars Space Trips for the Masses

A third full-length in as many years from Roman four-piece Modern Stars — vocalist/guitarist/synthesist Andrea Merolle (also sitar and mandolin), vocalist Barbara Margani, bassist/mixer Filippo Strang and drummer Andrea SperdutiSpace Trips for the Masses is maybe less directly space rock in its makeup than one might think. The band’s heavy psychedelia is hardly earthbound, but more ambience than fiery thrust or motorik, and Merolle‘s vocals have a distinctly Mark Lanegan-esque smokiness to which Margani adds bolstering backing presence on the deceptively urbane “No Fuss,” after the opening drift of “Starlight” — loosely post-rock, but too active to be that entirely either, and that’s a compliment — and the echoing “Monkey Blues” first draw the listener in. Margani provides the only voice on centerpiece “My Messiah Left Me Behind,” but that shift is just one example of Modern Stars‘ clear intent to offer something different on every song, be it the shimmer of “Everyday” or the keyboard sounds filling the open spaces early in the eight-minute “Drowning,” which later takes up a march punctuated by, drums and tambourine, devolving on a long synth/noise-topped fade into the six-minute liquid cohesion that is “Ninna Nanna,” a capstone summary of the fascinating sprawl Modern Stars have crafted. One could live here a while, in this ‘space.’

Modern Stars on Facebook

Little Cloud Records store


Trillion Ton Beryllium Ships, Destination Ceres Station: Reefersleep EP

trillion ton beryllium ships destination ceres station reefersleep

Those who’ve been following the progression of Nebraska’s Trillion Ton Beryllium Ships will find Destination Ceres Station: Reefersleep — their second offering in 2022 behind the sophomore full-length Consensus Trance (review here) — accordingly dense in tone and steady in roll as the three-piece of Jeremy Warner, Karlin Warner and Justin Kamal offer two more tracks that would seem to have been recorded in the full-length session. As “Destination Ceres Station: Reefersleep” open-spaces and chugs across an instrumental-save-for-samples 12:31 and the subsequent “Ice Hauler” lumbers noddily to its 10:52 with vocals incorporated, the extended length of each track gives the listener plenty to groove on, classically stonerized in the post-Sleep tradition, but becoming increasingly individual. These two songs, with the title-track hypnotizing so that the start of the first verse in “Ice Hauler” is something of a surprise, pair well, and Trillion Ton Beryllium Ships add a taste of slow-boogie to lead them out in the slow fade of the latter, highlighting the riff worship at the heart of their increasingly confident approach. One continues to look forward to what’s to come from them, feeling somewhat greedy for doing so given the substance they’ve already delivered.

Trillion Ton Beryllium Ships on Facebook

Trillion Ton Beryllium Ships on Bandcamp


Borehead, 0002

Borehead 0002

The current of feedback or drone noise beneath the rolling motion of Borehead‘s “Phantasm (A Prequel)” — before the sample brings the change into the solo section; anybody know the name of that rabbit? — is indeed a precursor to the textured, open-spaced heavy progressive instrumentalism London trio have on offer with their aptly-titled second EP, 0002. Produced by Wayne Adams at the London-underground go-to Bear Bites Horse Studio, the three-song outing is led by riffs on that opener, patient in its execution and best consumed at high volume so that the intricacy of the bass in “Lost in Waters Deep,” the gentle ghost snare hits in the jazzy first-half break of “Mariana’s Lament” after the ticking clock and birdsong intro, and the start-stop declarative riff that lands so heavy before they quickly turn to the next solo, or, yes, those hidden melodies in “Phantasm (A Prequel)” aren’t lost. These aspects add identity to coincide with the richness of tone and the semi-psychedelic outreach of 0002‘s overarching allure, definitely in-genre, but in a way that seems contingent largely on the band’s interests not taking them elsewhere over time, or at least expanding in multiple directions on what’s happening here. Because there’s a pull in these songs, and I think it’s the band being active in their own development, though four years from their first EP and with nothing else to go on, it’s hard to know where they’ll head or how they’ll get there based on these three tracks. Somehow that makes it more exciting.

Borehead on Facebook

Borehead on Bandcamp


Monolithe, Kosmodrom

Monolithe Kosmodrom

With song titles and lyrical themes based around Soviet space exploration, Kosmodrom is the ninth full-length from Parisian death-doomers Monolithe. The band are 20 years removed from their debut album, have never had a real break, and offer up 67 minutes’ worth of gorgeously textured, infinitely patient and serenely immersive death, crossing into synth and sampling as they move toward and through the 26-minute finale “Kosmonavt,” something of a victory lap for the album itself, even if sympathy for anything Russian is at a low at this point in Europe, given the invasion of Ukraine. That’s not Monolithe‘s fault, however, and really at this point there’s maybe less to say about it than there would’ve been last year, but the reason I wanted to write about Kosmodrom, and about Monolithe particularly isn’t just that they’re good at what they do, but because they’ve been going so long, they’re still finding ways to keep themselves interested in their project, and their work remains at an as-high-if-not-higher level than it was when I first heard the 50-minute single-song Monolithe II in 2005. They’ve never been huge, never had the hype machine behind them, and they keep doing what they do anyway, because fuck it, it’s art and if you’re not doing it for yourself, what’s the point? In addition to the adventure each of the five songs on Kosmodrom represents, some moments soaring, some dug so low as to be subterranean, both lush, weighted and beautiful, their ethic and the path they’ve walked deserves nothing but respect, so here’s me giving it.

Monolithe on Facebook

Monolithe on Bandcamp


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Quarterly Review: Farflung, Neptunian Maximalism, Near Dusk, Simple Forms, Lybica, Bird, Pseudo Mind Hive, Oktas, Scream of the Butterfly, Holz

Posted in Reviews on January 12th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review-winter 2023

We press on, until the end, though tired and long since out of adjectival alternatives to ‘heavy.’ The only way out is through, or so I’m told. Therefore, we go through.

Morale? Low. Brain, exhausted. The shit? Hit the fan like three days ago. The walls, existentially speaking, are a mess. Still, we go through.

Two more days to go. Thanks for reading.

Winter 2023 Quarterly Review #81-90:

Farflung, Like Drones in Honey

FARFLUNG like drones in honey

No question Farflung are space rock. It’s not up for debate. They are who they are and on their 10th full-length, Like Drones in Honey (on Sulatron, which suits both them and label), they remain Farflung. But whether it’s the sweet ending of the “Baile an Doire” or the fuzz riffing beneath the sneer of “King Fright” and the careening garage strum of “Earthmen Look Alike to Me,” the album offers a slew of reminders that as far out as Farflung get — and oh my goodness, they go — the long-running Los Angeles outfit were also there in the mid and late ’90s as heavy rock and, in California particularly, desert rock took shape. Of course, opener “Acid Drain” weaves itself into the fabric of the universe via effects blowout and impulse-engine chug, and after that finish in “Baile an Doire,” they keep the experimentalism going on the backwards/forwards piano/violin of “Touch of the Lemmings Kiss” and the whispers and underwater rhythm of closer “A Year in Japan,” but even in the middle of the pastoral “Tiny Cities Made of Broken Teeth” or in the second half of the drifting “Dludgemasterpoede,” they’re space and rock, and it’s worth not forgetting about the latter even as you blast off with weirdo rocket fuel. Like their genre overall, like Sulatron, Farflung are underrated. It is lucky that doesn’t slow their outbound trip in the slightest.

Farflung on Facebook

Sulatron Records webstore


Neptunian Maximalism, Finis Gloriae Mundi

Neptunian Maximalism Finis Gloriae Mundi

Whether you want to namedrop one or another Coltrane or the likes of Amon Düül or Magma or whoever else, the point is the same: Neptunian Maximalism are not making conventional music. Yeah, there’s rhythm, meter, even some melody, but the 66-minute run of the recorded-on-stage Finis Gloriae Mundi isn’t defined by songs so much as the pieces that make up its consuming entirety. As a group, the Belgians’ project isn’t to write songs to much as to manifest an expression of an idea; in this case, apparently, the end of the world. A given stretch might drone or shred, meditate in avant-jazz or move-move-move-baby in heavy kosmiche push, but as they make their way to the two-part culmination “The Conference of the Stars,” the sense of bringing-it-all-down is palpable, and so fair enough for their staying on theme and offering “Neptunian’s Raga Marwa” as a hint toward the cycle of ending and new beginnings, bright sitar rising out of low, droning, presented-as-empty space. For most, their extreme take on prog and psych will simply be too dug in, too far from the norm, and that’s okay. Neptunian Maximalism aren’t so much trying to be universal as to try to commune with the universe itself, wherever that might exist if it does at all. End of the world? Fine. Let it go. Another one will come along eventually.

Neptunian Maximalism on Facebook

I, Voidhanger Records on Bandcamp

Utech Records store


Near Dusk, Through the Cosmic Fog

Near Dusk Through the Cosmic Fog

Four years after their 2018 self-titled debut (review here), Denver heavy rock and rollers Near Dusk gather eight songs across and smooth-rolling, vinyl-minded 37 minutes for Through the Cosmic Fog, which takes its title from the seven-and-a-half-minute penultimate instrumental “Cosmic Fog,” a languid but not inactive jam that feels especially vital for the character it adds among the more straightforward songs earlier in the record — the rockers, as it were — that comprise side A: “The Way it Goes,” “Spliff ’em All,” and so on. “Cosmic Fog” isn’t side B’s only moment of departure, as the drumless guitar-exploration-into-acoustic “Roses of Durban” and the slower rolling finisher “Slab City” fill out the expansion set forth with the bluesy solo in the back end of “EMFD,” but the strength of craft they show on the first four songs isn’t to be discounted either for the fullness or the competence of their approach. The three-piece of Matthew Orloff, Jon Orloff and Kellen McInerney know where they’re coming from in West Coast-style heavy, not-quite-party, rock, and it’s the strength of the foundation they build early in the opening duo and “The Damned” and “Blood for Money,” that lets them reach outward late, allowing Through the Cosmic Fog to claim its space as a classically structured, immediately welcome heavy rock LP.

Near Dusk on Facebook

Near Dusk on Bandcamp


Simple Forms, Simple Forms EP

Simple Forms Simple Forms

The 2023 self-titled debut EP from Portland, Oregon’s Simple Forms collects four prior singles issued over the course of 2021 and 2022 into one convenient package, and even if you’ve been keeping up with the trickle of material from the band that boasts members of YOB, (now) Hot Victory, Dark Castle and Norska, hearing the tracks right next to each other does change the context somewhat, as with the darker turn of “From Weathered Hand” after “Reaching for the Shadow” or the way that leadoff and “Together We Will Rest” seem to complement each other in the brightness of the forward guitar, a kind of Euro-style proggy noodling that reminds of The Devil’s Blood or something more goth, transposed onto a forward-pushing Pacific Northwestern crunch. The hints of black metal in the riffing of “The Void Beneath” highlight the point that this is just the start for guitarists Rob Shaffer and Dustin Rieseberg, bassist Aaron Rieseberg and grunge-informed frontman Jason Oswald (who also played drums and synth here), but already their sprawl is nuanced and directed toward individualism. I don’t know what their plans might be moving forward, but if the single releases didn’t highlight their potential, certainly the four songs all together does. A 19-minute sampler of what might be, if it will be.

Simple Forms on Facebook

Simple Forms on Bandcamp


Lybica, Lybica

Lybica Lybica

Probably safe to call Lybica a side-project for Justin Foley, since it seems unlikely to start taking priority over his position as drummer in metalcore mainstays Killswitch Engage anytime soon, but the band’s self-titled debut offers a glimpse of some other influences at work. Instrumental in its entirety, it comes together with Foley leading on guitar joined by bassist Doug French and guitarist Joey Johnson (both of Gravel Kings) and drummer Chris Lane (A Brilliant Lie), and sure, there’s some pretty flourish of guitar, and some heavier, more direct chugging crunch — “Palatial” in another context might have a breakdown riff, and the subsequent “Oktavist” is more directly instru-metal — but even in the weighted stretch at the culmination of “Ferment,” and in the tense impression at the beginning of seven-minute closer “Charyou,” the vibe is more in line with Russian Circles than Foley‘s main outfit, and clearly that’s the point. “Ascend” and “Resonance” open the album with pointedly non-metallic atmospheres, and they, along with the harder-hitting cuts and “Manifest,” “Voltaic” and “Charyou,” which bring the two sides together, set up a dynamic that, while familiar in this initial stage, is both satisfying in impact and more aggressive moments while immersive in scope.

Lybica on Facebook

Lybica on Bandcamp


Bird, Walpurgis

Bird Walpurgis

Just as their moniker might belong to some lost-classic heavy band from 1972 one happens upon in a record store, buys for the cover, and subsequently loves, so too does Naples four-piece Bird tap into proto-metal vibes on their latest single Walpurgis. And that’s not happenstance. While their production isn’t quite tipped over into pure vintage-ism, it’s definitely organic, and they’ve covered the likes of Rainbow, Uriah Heep and Deep Purple, so while “Walpurgis” itself leans toward doom in its catchy and utterly reasonable three-plus minutes, there’s no doubt Bird know where their nest is, stylistically speaking. Given a boost through release by Olde Magick Records, the single-songer follows 2021’s The Great Beast From the Sea EP, which proffered a bit more burl and modern style in its overarching sound, so it could be that as they continue to grow they’re learning a bit more patience in their approach, as “Walpurgis” is nestled right into a tempo that, while active enough to still swing, is languid just the same in its flow, with maybe a bit more rawness in the separation of the guitar, bass, drums and organ. Most importantly, it suits the song, and piques curiosity as to where Bird go next, as any decent single should.

Bird on Facebook

Olde Magick Records on Bandcamp


Pseudo Mind Hive, Eclectica

Pseudo Mind Hive Eclectica

Without getting into which of them does what where — because they switch, and it’s complicated, and there’s only so much room — the core of the sound for Melbourne-based four-piece Pseudo Mind Hive is in has-chops boogie rock, but that’s a beginning descriptor, not an end. It doesn’t account for the psych-surf-fuzz in two-minute instrumental opener “Hot Tooth” on their Eclectica EP, for example, or the what-if-QueensoftheStoneAge-kept-going-like-the-self-titled “Moon Boots” that follows on the five-song offering. “You Can Run” has a fuzzy shuffle and up-strummed chug that earns the accompanying handclaps like Joan Jett, while “This Old Tree” dares past the four-minute mark with its scorching jive, born out of a smoother start-stop fuzz verse with its own sort of guitar antics, and “Coming Down,” well, doesn’t at first, but does give way soon enough to a dreamier psychedelic cast and some highlight vocal melody before it finds itself awake again and already running, tense in its builds and overlaid high-register noises, which stand out even in the long fade. Blink and you’ll miss it as it dashes by, all momentum and high-grade songcraft, but that’s alright. It does fine on repeat listens as well, which obviously is no coincidence.

Pseudo Mind Hive on Facebook

Copper Feast Records website


Oktas, The Finite and the Infinite

oktas the finite and the infinite

On. Slaught. Call it atmospheric sludge, call it post-metal; I sincerely doubt Philadelphia’s Oktas give a shit. Across the four songs and 36 minutes of the two-bass-no-guitar band’s utterly bludgeoning debut album, The Finite and the Infinite, the band — bassist/vocalist Bob Stokes, cellist Agnes Kline, bassist Carl Whitlock and drummer Ron Macauley — capture a severity of tone and a range that goes beyond loud/quiet tradeoffs into the making of songs that are memorable while not necessarily delivering hooks in the traditional verse/chorus manner. It’s the cello that stands out as opener “Collateral Damage” plods to its finish — though Macauley‘s drum fills deserve special mention — and even as “Epicyon” introduces the first of the record’s softer breaks, it is contrasted in doing so by a section of outright death metal onslaught so that the two play back and forth before eventually joining forces in another dynamic and crushing finish. Tempo kick is what’s missing thus far and “Light in the Suffering” hits that mark immediately, finding blackened tremolo on the other side of its own extended cello-led subdued stretch, coming to a head just before the ending so that finale “A Long, Dreamless Sleep” can start with its Carl Sagan sample about how horrible humans are (correct), and build gracefully over the next few minutes before saying screw it and diving headfirst into cyclical chug and sprinting extremity. Somebody sign this band and press this shit up already.

Oktas on Facebook

Oktas on Bandcamp


Scream of the Butterfly, The Grand Stadium

scream of the butterfly the grand stadium

This is a rock and roll band, make no mistake. Berlin’s Scream of the Butterfly draw across decades of influence, from ’60s pop and ’70s heavy to ’90s grunge, ’00s garage and whatever the hell’s been going on the last 10-plus years to craft an amalgamated sound that is cohesive thanks largely to the tightness of their performances — energetic, sure, but they make it sound easy — the overarching gotta-get-up urgency of their push and groove, and the current of craft that draws it all together. They’ve got 10 songs on The Grand Stadium, which is their third album, and they all seem to be trying to outdo each other in terms of hooks, electricity, vibe, and so on. Even the acoustic-led atmosphere-piece “Now, Then and Nowhere” leaves a mark, to say nothing of the much, much heavier “Sweet Adeleine” or the sunshine in “Dead End Land” or the bluesy shove of “Ain’t No Living.” Imagine time as a malleable thing and some understanding of how the two-minute “Say Your Name to Me” can exist in different styles simultaneously, be classic and forward thinking, spare and spacious. And I don’t know what’s going on with all the people talking in “Hallway of a Thousand Eyes,” but Scream of the Butterfly make it easy to dig anyway and remind throughout of the power that can be realized when a band is both genuinely multifaceted and talented songwriters. Scary stuff, that.

Scream of the Butterfly on Facebook

Scream of the Butterfly on Bandcamp


Holz, Holz

holz holz

Based in Kassel with lyrics in their native German, Holz are vocalist/guitarist Leonard Riegel, bassist Maik Blümke and drummer Martin Nickel, and on their self-titled debut (released by Tonzonen), they tear with vigor into a style that’s somewhere between noise rock, stoner heavy and rawer punk, finding a niche for themselves that feels barebones with the dry — that is, little to no effects — vocal treatment and a drum sound that cuts through the fuzz that surrounds on early highlight “Bitte” and the later, more noisily swaying “Nichts.” The eight-minute “Garten” is a departure from its surroundings with a lengthy fuzz jam in its midsection — not as mellow as you’re thinking; the drums remain restless and hint toward the resurgence to come — while “Zerstören” reignites desert rock riffing to its own in-the-rehearsal-room-feeling purposes. Intensity is an asset there and at various other points throughout, but there’s more to Holz than ‘go’ as the rolling “50 Meilen Geradeaus” and the swing-happy, bit-o’-melody-and-all “Dämon” showcase, but when they want to, they’re ready and willing to stomp into heavier tones, impatient thrust, or as in the penultimate “Warten,” a little bit of both. Not everybody goes on a rampage their first time out, but it definitely suits Holz to wreck shit in such a fashion.

Holz on Facebook

Tonzonen Records store


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Quarterly Review: Black Math Horseman, Baker ja Lehtisalo, Chrome Ghost, Wölfhead, Godzilla in the Kitchen, Onhou, Fuzzerati, Afghan Haze, Massirraytorr, Tona

Posted in Reviews on January 11th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review-winter 2023

Not to get too mathy or anything — stay with me, folks — but today is the day the Winter 2023 Quarterly Review passes the three-quarter mark on its way to 80 of the total 100 releases to be covered. And some of those are full-lengths, some are EPs, some are new, one yesterday was almost a year old. That happens. The idea here, one way or the other, is personal discovery. I hope you’ve found something thus far worth digging into, something that really hits you. And if not, you’ve still got 30 releases — 10 each today, tomorrow, Friday — to come, so don’t give up yet. We proceed…

Winter 2023 Quarterly Review #71-80:

Black Math Horseman, Black Math Horseman

Black math Horseman self titled

Though long foretold by the prophets of such things, the return of Black Math Horseman with 2022’s self-titled, live-recorded-in-2019 EP some 13 years after their 2009 debut full-length, Wyllt (discussed here, interview here), helped set heavy post-rock in motion, is still a surprise. The tension in the guitars of Ian Barry (who also handled recording/mixing) and Bryan Tulao in the eponymous opener is maddening, a tumult topped by the vocals of Sera Timms (who here shares bass duties with Rex Elle), and given thunder by drummer Sasha Popovic, and as part of a salvo of three cuts all seven minutes or longer, it marks the beginning of a more intense extraction of the atmospheric approach to heavy songcraft that made their past work such a landmark, with the crashes of “Cypher” and the strummy sway of “The Bough” following ahead of shorter, even-driftier closer “Cypber.” There’s a big part of me that wishes Black Math Horseman was a full-length, but an even bigger part is happy to take what it can get and hope it’s not another decade-plus before they follow it with something more. Not to be greedy, but in 2009 this band had a lot more to say and all this time later that still feels like the case and their sound still feels like it’s reaching into the unknown.

Black Math Horseman on Facebook

Profound Lore Records store


Baker Ja Lehtisalo, Crocodile Tears

Baker Ja Lehtisalo Crocodile Tears

The names here should be enough. It’s Aidan Baker from heavy drone experimentalist institution Nadja ja (‘and’ in Finnish) Jussi Lehtisalo from prog-of-all masters Circle, collaborating and sharing guitar, bass, vocal and drum programming duties — Lehtisalo would seem also to add the keyboards that give the the titular neon to centerpiece “Neon Splashing (From Your Eyes)” — on a 53-minute song cycle, running a broad spectrum between open-space post-industrial drone and more traditional smoky, melancholic, heady pop. Closer “Racing After Midnight” blends darker whispers with dreamy keyboard lines before moving into avant techno, not quite in answer to “I Wanna Be Your Bête Noire” earlier, but not quite not, and inevitably the 14-minute opener and longest track (immediate points) “(And I Want Your Perfect) Crocodile Tears” is a defining stretch in terms of ambience and setting the contextual backdrop for what follows, its howling guitar layered with drum machine churn in a way that’s analogous to Jesu in style but not form, the wash that emerges in the synth and guitar there seeming likewise to be the suddenly-there alt-reality New Wave destination of the more languid meander of “Face/Off.” The amalgam of beauty and crush is enough to make one hope this isn’t Baker and Lehtisalo‘s last get together, but if it is, they made something worth preserving. By which I mean to say you might want to pick up the CD.

Jussi Lehtisalo on Bandcamp

Aidan Baker website

Ektro Records website

Broken Spine Productions on Bandcamp


Chrome Ghost, House of Falling Ash

Chrome Ghost House of Falling Ash

While their crux is no less in the dreamy, sometimes minimalist, melodic parts and ambient stretches of their longer-form songs and the interludes “In the Tall Grass” and “Bloom (Reprise),” the outright crush of Sacramento’s Chrome Ghost on their third record, House of Falling Ash (on Seeing Red), is not to be understated, whether that’s the lumber-chug of 14-minute opener “Rose in Bloom” or the bookending 13-minute closing title-track’s cacophonous wash, through which the trio remain coherent enough to roll out clean as they give the record its growl-topped sludge metal finish. Continuing the band’s clearly-ain’t-broke collaboration with producer Pat Hills, the six-song/50-minute offering boasts guest appearances from him on guitar, as well as vocals from Eva Rose (ex-CHRCH) on “Furnace,” likewise consuming loud or quiet, punishing or spacious, Oakland-based ambient guitarist Yseulde in the lengthy, minimalist midsection of “Where Black Dogs Dream,” setting up the weighted and melodic finish there, with Brume‘s Susie McMullin joining on vocals to add to the breadth. There’s a lot happening throughout, loud/quiet trades, experimental flourish, some pedal steel from Hills, but guitarist/vocalist Jake Kilgore (also keys), bassist Joe Cooper and drummer Jacob Hurst give House of Falling Ash a solid underpinning of atmospheric sludge and post-metal, and the work is all the more expressive and (intermittently) gorgeous for it.

Chrome Ghost on Facebook

Seeing Red Records store


Wölfhead, Blood Full Moon

Wölfhead Blood Full Moon

Straight-ahead, metal-informed, organ-inclusive classic heavy rock is the order of the day on Wölfhead‘s second album, Blood Full Moon, which is the Barclona-based four-piece’s first offering since their 2011 self-titled debut and is released through Discos Macarras, Música Hibrida and Iron Matron Records. An abiding impression of the 11-song offering comes as the band — who filled out their well-pedigreed core lineup of vocalist Ivan Arrieta, guitarists Josue Olmo and Javi Félez, and drummer Pep Carabante with session players David Saavedra (bass) and Albert Recolons (keys) — present rippers like the Motörhead (no real surprise, considering) via Orange Goblin rocker “Funeral Hearse” as the tail end of a raucous opening salvo, or the later “Mother of the Clan,” but from there the proceedings get more complex, with the classic doom roll of “Rame Tep” or the Jerry Cantrell-esque moody twang of “Everlasting Outlaw,” while “Eternal Stone Mountain” blends keyboard grandiosity and midtempo hookmaking in a way that should bring knowing nods from Green Lung fans, while “The Munsters” is, yes, a take on the theme from the tv show, and closer “El Llop a Dins” takes an airier, sans-drums and more open feel, highlighting melody rather than an overblown finish that, had they gone that route, would have been well earned.

Wölfhead on Facebook

Discos Macarras website

Música Hibrida website

Iron Matron Records store


Godzilla in the Kitchen, Exodus

godzilla in the kitchen exodus

Issued through Argonauta Records, Exodus‘ seven inclusions are situated so that their titles read as a sentence: “Is,” “The Future of Mankind,” “Forced By,” “The King of Monsters,” “Because,” “Everything That Has Been Given,” “Will Be Taken Away.” Thus Leipzig, Germany, instrumentalists Godzilla in the Kitchen‘s second album is immediately evocative, even before “Is” actually introduces the rest of what follows across three minutes of progressively minded heavy rock — parts calling to mind Pelican duking it out with Karma to Burn — that give way to the longest cut and an obvious focal point, “The Future of Mankind,” which reimagines the bass punch from Rage Against the Machine‘s “Killing in the Name Of” as fodder for an odd-timed expanse of Tool-ish progressive heavy, semi-psych lead work coming and going around more direct riffing. The dynamic finds sprawl in “Because” and highlights desert-style underpinnings in the fading lead lines of “Everything That Has Been Given” before the warmer contemplation of “Will Be Taken” caps with due substance. Their use of Godzilla — not named in the songs, but in the band’s moniker, and usually considered the “king of monsters” — as a metaphor for climate change is inventive, but even that feels secondary to the instrumental exploration itself here. They may be mourning for what’s been lost, but they do so with a vigor that, almost inadvertently, can’t help but feel hopeful.

Godzilla in the Kitchen on Facebook

Argonauta Records website


Onhou, Monument

Onhou Monument

Megalurching post-sludgers Onhou leave a crater with the four-song Monument, released by Lay Bare Recordings and Tartarus Records and comprising four songs and a 41-minute run that’s crushing in atmosphere as much as the raw tonal heft or the bellowing vocals that offset the even harsher screams. Leadoff “When on High” (8:19) is the shortest cut and lumbers toward a viciously noisy payoff and last stretch of even-slower chug and layered extreme screams/shouts, while “Null” (10:39) is unremittingly dark, less about loud/quiet tradeoffs though there still are some, but with depths enough to bury that line of organ and seeming to reference Neurosis‘ “Reach,” and “Below” (11:55) sandwiches an ambient beginning and standalone keyboard finish around post-metallic crunch and not so much a mournfulness as the lizard-brain feeling of loss prior to mourning; that naked sense of something not there that should be, mood-wise. Sure enough, “Ruins” (11:03) continues this bleak revelry, rising to a nod in its first couple minutes, breaking, returning in nastier fashion and rolling through a crescendo finish that makes the subsequent residual feedback feel like a mercy which, to be sure, it is not. If you think you’re up to it, you might be, or you might find yourself consumed. One way or the other, Onhou plod forward with little regard for the devastation surrounding. As it should be.

Onhou on Facebook

Lay Bare Recordings website

Tartarus Records on Bandcamp


Fuzzerati, Zwo

Fuzzerati Zwo

Less meditative than some of Germany’s instrumental heavy psych set, Bremen’s Fuzzerati explore drifting heavy psychedelic soundscapes on their 47-minute second album, Zwo, further distinguishing themselves in longform pieces like “Claus to Hedge” (13:01) and closer “Lago” (13:34) with hints of floaty post-rock without ever actually becoming so not-there as to be shoegazing. “Lago” and “Claus to Hedge” also have harder-hitting moments of more twisting, pushing fuzz — the bass in the second half of “Claus to Hedge” is a highlight — where even at its loudest, the seven-minute “Transmission” is more about dream than reality, with a long ambient finish that gives way to the similarly-minded ethereal launch of “Spacewalk,” which soon enough turns to somewhat ironically terrestrial riffing and is the most active inclusion on the record. For that, and more generally for the fluidity of the album as a whole, Fuzzerati‘s sophomore outing feels dug in and complete, bordering on the jazziness of someone like Causa Sui, but ultimately no more of their ilk than of My Sleeping Karma‘s or Colour Haze‘s, and I find that without a ready-made box to put them in — much as “instrumental heavy psych” isn’t a box — it’s a more satisfying experience to just go where the three-piece lead, to explore as they do, breathe with the material. Yeah, that’ll do nicely, thanks.

Fuzzerati on Facebook

Fuzzerati on Bandcamp


Afghan Haze, Hallucinations of a Heretic

Afghan Haze Hallucinations of a Heretic

At least seemingly in part a lyrical narrative about a demon killing an infant Jesus and then going to hell to rip the wings off angels and so on — it’s fun to play pretend — Afghan Haze‘s Hallucinations of a Heretic feels born of the same extreme-metal-plus-heavy-rock impulse that once produced Entombed‘s To Ride Shoot Straight and Speak the Truth, and yeah, that’s a compliment. The bashing of skulls starts with “Satan Ripper” after the Church of Misery-style serial murderer intro “Pushing up Daisies,” and though “Hellijuana” has more of a stomp than a shove, the dudely-violence is right there all the same. “Occupants (Of the Underworld)” adds speed to the proceedings for an effect like High on Fire born out of death metal instead of thrash, and though the following closer “Gin Whore” (another serial killer there) seems to depart from the story being told, its sludge is plenty consistent with the aural assault being meted out by the Connecticut four-piece, omnidirectional in its disdain and ready at a measure’s notice to throw kicks and punches at whosoever should stand in its way, as heard in that burner part of “Gin Whore” and the all-bludgeon culmination of “Occupants (Of the Underworld).” This shit does not want to be your friend.

Afghan Haze on Facebook

Afghan Haze on Bandcamp


Massirraytorr, Twincussion

Massirraytorr Twincussion

My only wish here is that I could get a lyric sheet for the Britpsych-style banger that is “Costco Get Fucked.” Otherwise, I’m fully on board with Canadian trio Massirraytorr‘s debut LP, Twincussion — which, like the band’s name, is also styled all-caps, and reasonably so since the music does seem to be shouting, regardless of volume or what the vocals are actually up to in that deep-running-but-somehow-punk lysergic swamp of a mix. “Porno Clown” is garage raw. Nah, rawer. And “Bong 4” struts like if krautrock had learned about fuckall, the layer of effects biting on purpose ahead of the next rhythmic push. In these, as well as leadoff “Calvin in the Woods” and the penultimate noisefest “Fear Garden,” Massirraytorr feel duly experimentalist, but perhaps without the pretension that designation might imply. That is to say, fucking around is how they’re finding out how the songs go. That gives shades of punk like the earliest, earliest, earliest Monster Magnet, or The Heads, or Chrome, or, or, or, I don’t know fuck you. It’s wild times out here in your brain, where even the gravity slingshot of “The Juice” feels like a relatively straightforward moment to use as a landmark before the next outward acceleration. Good luck with it, kids. Remember to trail a string so you can find your way back.

Massirraytorr on Bandcamp

NoiseAgonyMayhem website


Tona, Tona

Tona tona

Serbian five-piece Tona make their self-titled second LP with a 10-song collection that’s less a hodgepodge and more a melting pot of different styles coming together to serve the needs of a given song. “Sharks” is a rock tempo with a thrash riff. “Napoleon Complex Dog” is blues via hardcore punk. Opener “Skate Zen” takes a riff that sounds like White Zombie and sets it against skate rock and Megadeth at the same time. The seven-minute “Flashing Lights” turns progadelic ahead of the dual-guitar strut showoff “Shooter” and the willful contrast of the slogging, boozy closer “Just a Sip of It.” But as all-over-the-place as Tona‘s Tona is, it’s to the credit of their songwriting that they’re able to hold it together and emerge with a cohesive style from these elements, some of which are counterintuitively combined. They make it work, in other words, and even the Serbian-language “Atreid” gets its point across (all the more upon translation) with its careening, tonally weighted punk. Chock full of attitude, riffs, and unexpected turns, Tona‘s second long-player and first since 2008 gives them any number of directions in which to flourish as they move forward, and shows an energy that feels born from and for the stage.

Tona on Facebook

Tona on Bandcamp


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Quarterly Review: Jason Simon, Smoke, Rifle, Mother of Graves, Swarm, Baardvader, Love Gang, Astral Magic, Thank You Lord for Satan, Druid Stone

Posted in Reviews on January 10th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review-winter 2023

Oh, hello. I didn’t see you come in. What’s going on? Not much. You? Well, you see, it’s just another 10 records for the Quarterly Review, you know how it goes. Yup, day seven. That’s up to 70 records, and it’ll keep going for the rest of this week. Have I mentioned yet I was thinking about adding an 11th day? What can I say, some cool stuff has come along this last week and a half since I’ve been doing this. Better now than in a couple months, maybe. Anyway, make yourself comfortable. Hope you enjoy, and thanks for reading.

Winter 2023 Quarterly Review #61-70:

Jason Simon, Hindsight 2020

Jason Simon Hindsight 2020

What this sweetly melodic and delicately arranged 2022 collection lacks in marketing — the title Hindsight 2020 is accurate in that that’s when it was mostly recorded, but ‘let’s remember an awful time’ is hardly a way to pitch an audience on a vinyl — but as Jason Simon (also Dead Meadow) languidly meanders through covers of Tom Petty (“Crawling Back to You” becomes ethereal post-rock), Jody Reynolds & Bobbie Gentry, The Gun Club, Jackson C. Frank, Bert Jansch and John Prine, the latter of whom passed away after contracting covid-19, without the lockdown from which this record probably wouldn’t exist as it does. Probably not a coincidence. On banjo for three peppered-in originals starting with a relaxed mood-setting intro, as well as guitar, vocals, Moog, bass, Juno-60, and mandolin throughout, Simon and a few companions dig into these folk roots, making them his own and creating a whole-album flow for what might in less capable hands be a hodgepodge of competing influences. As it stands, by the time the melancholy strum of “October” takes hold, Simon has long since succeeded in creating a vibe that rightly has “Ghosts Gather Now” as its centerpiece, pulling as it does from these spirits to make something of its own. 2020 sucked; nobody’s arguing. But at least in hindsight something beautiful can come out of it.

Jason Simon on Bandcamp

Piaptk store


Smoke, Groupthink

Smoke Groupthink

Virginian trio Smoke cast an eye toward the trailblazing heavy psych of Sungrazer on “Temple” from their early 2022 debut album, guitarist Dalton handling the melodic vocals that will soon enough grow throatier in their passionate delivery, but even more than this, Groupthink sees the band — Dalton, guitarist Ben and drummer Alex; first names only — digging full-on into turn-of-the-century-style nodding heavy, shades of Man’s Ruin-era classics from the likes of Acid King, maybe even some of Sons of Otis‘ bombed-out largesse, showing themselves filtered through a next-generational execution, varied enough so as not to be single-minded in idolatry as “Davidian” picks up energy in its late solo, the 18-minute “One Eyed King” earns its lumbering payoff and lines of floating guitar, “The Supplication of Flame” arrives based around acoustic guitar forward in the mix ahead of the electrics (at least at first) and closer “Telah” basks in a righteous stomp that underscores the point. At 58 minutes, Groupthink isn’t a minor undertaking, but it is one of 2022’s most impressive debut albums and laced with potential for what may develop in their sound. It is stronger in craft than one might initially think, and has to be to hold up all that heft in its fuzz.

Smoke on Facebook

Smoke on Bandcamp


Rifle, Repossessed

Rifle Repossessed

Not so much ’70s-style retroism as tapping into a kind of raw, ’90s heavy rock vision — Nebula, Monster Magnet, as well as Peru and greater South America’s own storied history of fuzzmaking — Rifle‘s Repossessed is relatively rough in its production, but as in the best of cases, that becomes a part of its appeal as the Lima-based three-piece of guitarist/bassist/vocalist Alejandro Suni, guitarist Magno Mendoza and drummer Cesar Araujo ride their riffs down the highway and into a fog of tonal buzz, fervent, butt-sized low end and druggy, outsider vibes. “The Thrill is Back” struts coated in road dirt as it is, and that thrill is found likewise in the scorch-psych of “Demon Djinn” and the earlier blowout “Fiend” that follows opener “Seven Thousand Demons” and sets a bluesy lyrical foundation so that six-minute finale “Spirit Rise” seems to offer some sense of realization or, if not that, then at least acceptance of this well-baked way of life. As the band’s first release, this late-2022 seven-song/32-minute offering feels ready to be pressed up on vinyl by some discerning purveyor, if not for the underlying desert rock drive of “Madness” then surely for the swing in “Sonic Rage,” and it’s one of those records that isn’t going to speak to everyone, but is going to hit just right for some others, dug as it is into a niche between what’s come before and its own encapsulation of a red-eyed stoner future.

Rifle on Instagram

Rifle on Bandcamp


Mother of Graves, Where the Shadows Adorn

Mother of Graves Where the Shadows Adorn

If there should be any doubt that Indianapolis’ Mother of Graves are schooled in the sound they’re shooting for, let the fact that Dan Swanö (Katatonia, Opeth, on into infinity) mastered the recording/mix by the band’s own Ben Sandman make it clear where their particular angle on melancholic death-doom is coming from in its grim, wintry soul-dance. Where the Shadows Adorn follows 2020’s likewise-dead-on debut, In Somber Dreams (discussed here), but the stately, poised rollout of a song like “Rain” and the subdued sections before “Of Solitude and Stone” enters its last push, has all the hallmarks of forward growth in songwriting as well as in confidence on the part of the band. Front to back, Where the Shadows Adorn is deathly in its consumption, a fresh interpretation of a moment in history when the likes of Katatonia especially but also acts like My Dying Bride and others of the Peaceville ilk were considered on the extreme end of metal despite their sometimes-grueling tempos. The question remains whether this is where Mother of Graves will reside for the duration or if, like their influences, their depressive streak will grow more melodic with age. As it stands, adorned in shadow, their emotional and atmospheric weight is darkly majestic.

Mother of Graves on Facebook

Wise Blood Records site


Swarm, Swarm

swarm swarm

This self-titled four-songer is the first release from Helsinki, Finland’s Swarm, and though it’s billed as an EP, its 28 minutes are wrought with a substantial flow and unifying melodic complexity due both to the depth of vocal complementary arrangements between singer Hilja Vedenpää and guitarist Panu Willman, as well as the intertwining of Willman and Einari Toiviainen‘s guitars atop the rolling grooves of Leo Lehtonen‘s bass and Dani Paajanen‘s drumming; the whole band operating together with a sense of purpose that goes beyond the standard ‘riff out and see what happens’ beginning of so many bands. A line of rhythmic notes atop the riff in “Nevermore” around five minutes is emblematic of the flourish the band brings to the release, and one would note the grungier float in “There Again,” and the moodier acoustics of “Frail” and the more full-on duet in the verses of closer “We Should Know” — never mind the pre-fade chug that caps or the consuming heft offsetting those verses — as further distinguishing factors. Self-released in June 2022, Swarm‘s Swarm carries the air of a precursor, and though it’s not known yet to precisely what, the note to keep eyes and ears open is well received. To put it another way, they sound very much like they know what they want to be and to accomplish as a group. If they’re heading into a debut album next, they’re ready to take on the task.

Swarm on Facebook

918 Records on Facebook


Baardvader, Foolish Fires

baardvader foolish fires

The self-titled-era Alice in Chains-style vocals on Baardvader‘s second LP, Foolish Fires, make them a ready standout from the slew of up and coming European heavy rollers, but the Den Haag trio have a distinct blend of crunch in their tone and atmosphere surrounding that make a song such as “Understand” memorable for more than just the pleading repetitions of its title in the hook. Opener “Pray” sets a hard-hitting fluidity in motion and “Illuminate” answers back as it caps side A with (dat) bass and airy guitar in an open soundscape soon to be filled with a wall o’ fuzz and more dug-in grunge spirit. As they make their way toward the louder, vocally-layered, highlight-solo finish that the 10-minutes “Echoes” provides, there’s some trace of The Machine‘s noisier affinity in their tones on “Blinded Out,” including the solo, and “Prolong Eternity” culminates with intensity leading into the already-noted closer, but “Echoes” has the throatier shouts — like “Illuminate” before it — to back its case as the destination for where they’ve been headed all along, and works to send Foolish Fires out as a triumphant demonstration of Baardvader‘s appeal, which is relatively straightforward considering how much they nod along the way, their sound sharing grunge’s ability to be aggressive without being metal, heavy without being aggressive, and something of their own that still rings familiar. They’re just beginning to realize their potential, and this record is an important step in that process.

Baardvader on Facebook

Baardvader on Bandcamp


Love Gang, Meanstreak

Love Gang Meanstreak

Rest easy, you’re in capable hands. And even if you didn’t hear Love Gang‘s 2020 debut, Dead Man’s Game (review here), the fact that the Denver four-piece went down to Austin, Texas, to record with Gian Ortiz of Amplified Heat producing tells you what you need to know about their boogie on Meanstreak. And what you need to know is largely that you want to hear it. As one might expect, ’70s vibes pervade the eight-tracker, which puts the guitars forward and de-emphasizes some of the organ and flute one might’ve encountered on their first LP, saving it for side B’s “Shake This Feelin’,” the six-minute stretchout “Headed Down to Mexico,” and the closing “Fade Away,” where it ties together with the thrust of earlier cuts like the circuitous “Blinded by Fear” (not an At the Gates cover, though that would be fun), or “Deathride” and the title-track, which shove shove shove as the opening pair so “Bad News” can complete the barnburning salvo. Tucked away before the finale is “Same Ol’ Blues,” a harmonica-laced acoustic cut dug out of your cool uncle’s record collection so that some day, if you’re lucky, some shitbird younger relation of yours may come along and find it here in your own record collection, thus perpetuating the cycle of boogie into perpetuity. Humanity should be so lucky.

Love Gang on Facebook

Heavy Psych Sounds store


Astral Magic, We Are Stardust

Astral Magic We Are Stardust

The first and probably not last Astral Magic release of 2023, We Are Stardust, finds project-spearhead Santtu Laakso — songwriting, synth, bass, vocals, mixing, cover art, etc. — working mostly in solo fashion. Jonathan Segel of Camper Van Beethoven/Øresund Space Collective adds guitar and violin (he also mastered the recording), and Samuli Sailo plays guitar on “Drop It,” but the 11-song/60-minute space rocker bears the hallmarks of Laakso‘s Hawkwindian craft, the songs rife with layers of synth and effects behind the forward vocals, programmed drums behind bolstering the krautrock feel. There’s a mellower jam like “Bottled Up Inside,” which puts the guitar solo where voice(s) might otherwise be, and “Out in the Cold” touches loosely on Pink Floyd without giving over entirely to that impulse or meandering too far from its central progression, letting the swirling “Lost Planet” and “Violet Sky” finish with a return to the kosmiche of the opening title-track and “The Simulacra,” which feels almost like a return to ground after the proto-New Wave-y “They Walk Among Us,” though “ground” should be considered on relative terms there because by most standards, Astral Magic start, end, and remain sonically in the farther far out.

Astral Magic on Facebook

Astral Magic on Bandcamp


Thank You Lord for Satan, Thank You Lord for Satan

Thank You Lord for Satan Self-titled

Self-recorded exploratory songcraft is writ large across the Buh Records self-titled debut from Thank You Lord for Satan — the Lima, Peru, two-piece of Paloma La Hoz (ex-Mitad Humana) and Henry Gates (Resplandor) — and the effect throughout the born-during-pandemic-lockdown eight-song offering is a kind of poised intimacy, artsy and performative as La Hoz handles most of but not all the lead vocals with Gates joining in, as on the moody shoegazer “Wet Morning” ahead of the pointedly Badalamenti-esque “Before EQ1.” Opener “A Million Songs Ago” is a rocker, and “Wet Morning” too in at least its including drums, but that’s only a piece of what Thank You Lord for Satan are digging into, as “Isolation” feels duly empty and religious and “Conversations al Amanecer” and “When We Dance” has a kind of electronic-inflected pop-psych at its core, willfully contrasting the folkish “Sad Song” (with Gates‘ lead vocal) and “Devine Destiny,” a side B counterpart to “Isolation” that reveals the hidden structure beneath all this go-wherever-ism, or at very least ends the album on a suitably contemplative note, some electronic snare-ish sound there rising in the mix before being cast off into the ether with the rest of everything.

Thank You Lord for Satan on Facebook

Buh Records on Bandcamp


Druid Stone, The Corpse Vanishes

Druid Stone The Corpse Vanishes

Consider this less a review of The Corpse Vanishes, which is but a single Dec. 2022 three-songer among a glut of releases — including at least one more recent — from Herndon, Virginia’s Druid Stone available through their Bandcamp. The ethic of the band, as led by guitarist Demeter Capsalis, would seem to be as bootleg as possible. Shows are recorded and presented barebones. Rehearsal room demos like “The Corpse Vanishes” and “Night of the Living Dead” — which jams its way into “What Child is This” — here are as raw as raw gets, and in the 20-minute included jam on Electric Wizard‘s “Mother of Serpents,” which was recorded live on Dec. 2 and issued four days later, the power goes out for about three of the first five minutes and Capsalis, who has already explained that most of the band had other stuff to do and that’s why he’s jamming with two friends for the full set, has to keep it going on stage banter alone. Most bands would never release that kind of thing. I respect the shit out of it. Not just because I dig bootlegs — though I do — but because in this age of infinite everything, why not release everything? Don’t you know the fucking planet’s dying? Why the hell would you keep secrets? Who has time for that? Fuck it. Put it all out there. Absolutely. Whether you dig into The Corpse Vanishes or any other of the slew, you might just find that whatever you listen to afterward seems unnecessarily polished. And maybe it is.

Druid Stone on Facebook

Druid Stone on Bandcamp


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Quarterly Review: Rickshaw Billie’s Burger Patrol, Doctor Doom, Stones of Babylon, Alconaut, Maybe Human, Heron, My Octopus Mind, Et Mors, The Atomic Bomb Audition, Maharaja

Posted in Reviews on January 9th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review-winter 2023

Welcome to the second week of the Quarterly Review. Last week there were 50 records covered between Monday and Friday, and barring disaster, the same thing will happen this week too. I wish I could say I was caught up after this, but yeah, no. As always, I’m hearing stuff right and left that I wish I’d had the chance to dig into sooner, but as the platitude says, you can only be in so many places at one time. I’m doing my best. If you’ve already heard all this stuff, sorry. Maybe if you keep reading you’ll find a mistake to correct. I’m sure there’s one in there somewhere.

Winter 2023 Quarterly Review #51-60:

Rickshaw Billie’s Burger Patrol, Doom Wop


Powered by eight-string-guitar and bass chug, Austin heavy party rockers Rickshaw Billie’s Burger Patrol offer markedly heavy, Steve Brooks-style weight on “Doom Wop,” the title-track of their second album, and prove themselves catchy through a swath of hooks, be it opener “Heel,” “Chew” or “I’m the Fucking Man,” which, if the finale “Jesus Was an Alien” — perhaps the best, also the only, ‘Jesus doing stuff’ song I’ve heard since Ministry‘s “Jesus Built My Hotrod”; extra kudos to the band for making it about screwing — didn’t let you know the band didn’t take themselves too seriously, and their moniker didn’t even before you hit play, then there you go. Comprised of guitarist Leo Lydon, bassist Aaron Metzdorf and drummer Sean St. Germain, they’re able to tap into that extra-dense tone at will, but their songs build momentum and keep it, not really even being slowed by their own massive feel, as heard on “Chew” or “The Bog” once it kicks in, and the vocals remind a bit of South Africa’s Ruff Majik without quite going that far over the top; I’d also believe it’s pop-punk influence. Since making their debut in 2020 with Burger Babes… From Outer Space!, they’ve stripped down their songwriting approach somewhat, and that tightness works well in emphasizing the ’90s alt rock vibe of “The Room” or the chug-fuzzer “Fly Super Glide.” They had a good amount of hype leading up to the Sept. 2022 release. I’m not without questions, but I can’t argue on the level of craft or the energy of their delivery.

Rickshaw Billie’s Burger Patrol on Facebook

Rickshaw Billie’s Burger Patrol on Bandcamp


DoctoR DooM, A Shadow Called Danger

DoctoR DooM A Shadow Called Danger

French heavy rock traditionalists DoctoR DooM return following a seven-year drought with A Shadow Called Danger, their late 2022/early 2023 follow-up to 2015’s debut, This Seed We Have Sown (review here). After unveiling the single “What They Are Trying to Sell” (premiered here) as proof-of-life in 2021, the three-piece ’70s-swing their way through eight tracks and 45 minutes of vintage-mindset stylizations, touching on moody Graveyardian blues in “Ride On” and the more uptempo rocker “The Rich and the Poor” while going more directly proto-metallic on galloping opener “Come Back to Yourself and the later “Connected by the Worst.” Organ enhances the sway of the penultimate “In This Town” as part of a side B expansion that starts with tense rhythmic underlayer before the stride of “Hollow” and, because obviously, an epilogue take on Händel‘s “Sarabande” that closes. That’ll happen? In any case, DoctoR DooM — guitarist/vocalist Jean-Laurent Pasquet, guitarist Bertrand Legrand, bassist Sébastien Boutin Blomfield and drummer Michel Marcq — don’t stray too far from their central purpose, even there, and their ability to guide the listener through winding progressions is bolstered by the warmth of their tones and Pasquet‘s sometimes gruff but still melodic vocals, allowing some of the longer tracks like “Come Back to Yourself,” “Hollow” and “In This Town” to explore that entirely imaginary border where ’70s-style heavy rock and classic metal meet and intertwine.

DoctoR DooM on Facebook

Ripple Music website

Black Farm Records store


Stones of Babylon, Ishtar Gate

Stones of Babylon Ishtar Gate

Clearly when you start out with a direct invocation of epic tales like “Gilgamesh (…and Enkidu’s Demise),” you’re going big. Portugal’s Stones of Babylon answer 2019’s Hanging Gardens (review here) with Ishtar Gate, still staying in Babylon as “Annunaki,” “Pazuzu,” the title-track, “The Fall of Ur,” and “Tigris and Euphrates” roll out instrumental embodiment of these historical places, ideas, and myths. There is some Middle Eastern flourish in quieter stretches of guitar in “Anunnaki,” “Pazuzu,” “The Fall of Ur,” etc., but it’s the general largesse of tone, the big riffs that the trio of guitarist Alexandre Mendes, bassist João Medeiros and drummer Pedro Branco foster and roll out one after the other, that give the sense of scale coinciding with their apparent themes. And loud or quiet, big and rolling or softer and more winding, they touch on some of My Sleeping Karma‘s meditative aspects without giving up a harder-hitting edge, so that when Ur falls, the ground seems to be given a due shake, and “Tigris and Euphrates,” as one of the cradles of civilization, caps the record with a fervency that seems reserved specifically for that crescendo. A few samples, including one at the very end, add to the atmosphere, but the band’s heart is in the heavy and that comes through regardless of a given moment’s volume.

Stones of Babylon on Facebook

Raging Planet website


Alconaut, Slugs

Alconaut Slugs

Released on Halloween 2022, Alconaut‘s “Slugs” is a six-minute roller single following-up their 2019 debut album, Sand Turns to Tide, and it finds the Corsican trio fuzz-grooving their way through a moderate tempo, easy-to-dig procession that’s not nearly as slime-trail-leaving as its title implies. A stretch building up the start-stop central riff has a subtle edge of funk, but then the pedal clicks on and a fuller tone is revealed, drums still holding the same snare punctuation behind. They ride that stretch out for a reasonably unreasonable amount of measures before shifting toward the verse shortly before two minutes in — classic stoner rock — backing the first vocals with either organ or guitar effects that sound like one (nobody is credited for keys; accept the mystery) and a quick flash of angularity between lines of the chorus are likewise bolstered. They make their way back through the verse and then shift into tense chugging that’s more straight-ahead push than swinging, but still friendly in terms of pace, and after five minutes in, they stop, the guitar pans channels in re-establishing the riff, and they finish it big before just a flash of feedback cuts to silence. Way more rock and way less sludge than either their moniker or the song’s title implies, their style nonetheless hints toward emergent dynamic in its tonal changes even as the guitar sets forth its own hooks.

Alconaut on Facebook

Alconaut on Bandcamp


Maybe Human, Ape Law

Maybe Human Ape Law

Instrumental save for the liberally distributed samples from Planet of the Apes, including Charlton Heston’s naming of Nova in “Nova” presented as a kind of semi-organic alt-techno with winding psychedelic guitar over a programmed beat, Maybe Human‘s Ape Law is the second long-player from the Los Angeles-based probably-solo outfit, and it arrives as part of a glut of releases — singles, EPs, one prior album — issued over the last two years or so. The 47-minute 10-songer makes its point in the opening title-track, and uses dialogue from the Apes franchise — nothing from the reboots, and fair enough — to fill out pieces that vary in their overarching impression from the heavy prog of “Bright Eyes” and the closing “The Killer Ape Theory” to the experimentalist psych of “Heresy.” If you’re looking to be damned to hell by the aforementioned Heston, check out “The Forbidden Zone,” but Ape Law seems to be on its most solid footing — not always where it wants to be, mind you — in a more metal-leaning guitar-led stretch like that in the second half of “Infinite Regression” where the guitar solo takes the forward role over a bed that seems to have been made just for it. The intent here is more to explore and the sound is rawer than Maybe Human‘s self-applied post-rock or pop tags might necessarily imply, but the deeper you go there more there is to hear. Unless you hate those movies, in which case you might want to try something else.

Maybe Human on Facebook

Maybe Human on Bandcamp


Heron, Empires of Ash

Heron Empires of Ash

Beginning with its longest track (immediate points) in the nine-minute “Rust and Rot,” the third full-length from Vancouver’s Heron, Empires of Ash, offers significant abrasive sludge heft from its lurching outset, and continues to sound slow even in the comparatively furious “Hungry Ghosts,” vocalist/noisemaker Jamie having a rasp to his screams that calls to mind Yatra over the dense-if-spacious riffing of Ross and Scott and Bina‘s fluid drumming. Ambient sections and buildups like that in centerpiece “Hauntology” allow some measure of respite from all the gnashing elsewhere, assuring there’s more to the four-piece than apparently-sans-bass-but-still-plenty-heavy caustic sludge metal, but in their nastiest moments they readily veer into territory commonly considered extreme, and the pairing of screams and backing growls over the brooding but mellower progression on closer “With Dead Eyes” is almost post-hardcore in its melding aggression with atmosphere. Still, it is inevitably the bite that defines it, and Heron‘s collective teeth are razor-sharp whether put to speedier or more methodical use, and the contrast in their sound, the either/or nature, is blurred somewhat by their willingness to do more than slaughter. This being their third album and my first exposure to them, I’m late to the party, but fine. Empires of Ash is perfectly willing to brutalize newcomers too, and the only barrier to entry is your own threshold for pain.

Heron links

Heron on Bandcamp


My Octopus Mind, Faulty at Source (Bonus Edition)

My Octopus Mind Faulty at Source

A reissue of their 2020 second LP, My Octopus Mind‘s Faulty at Source (Bonus Edition) adds two tracks — “Here My Rawr,” also released as a single, and “No Way Outta Here Alive” — for a CD release. Whichever edition one chooses to take on, the range of the Bristol-based psych trio of guitarist/vocalist/pianist Liam O’Connell, bassist Isaac Ellis and drummer Oliver Cocup (the latter two also credited with “rawrs,” which one assumes means backing vocals) is presented with all due absurdity but a strongly progressive presence, so that while “The Greatest Escape” works in its violin and viola guest appearances from Rebecca Shelley and Rowan Elliot as one of several tracks to do the same, the feeling isn’t superfluous where it otherwise might be. Traditional notions of aural heft come and go — the riffier and delightfully bass-fuzzed “No Way Outta Here Alive” has plenty — while “Buy My Book” and the later “Hindenburg” envision psychedelic noise rock and “Wandering Eye” (with Shelley on duet vocals as well) adds mathy quirk to the proceedings, making them that march harder to classify, that much more on-point as regards the apparent mission of the band, and that much more satisfying a listen. If you’re willing to get weird, My Octopus Mind are already there. For at least over two years now, it would seem.

My Octopus Mind on Facebook

My Octopus Mind on Bandcamp


Et Mors, Lifeless Grey

et mors lifeless grey

Having become a duo since their debut, 2019’s Lux in Morte (review here), was released, Et Mors are no less dirgey or misery-laden across Lifeless Grey for halving their lineup. Wretched, sometimes melodic and almost universally deathly doom gruels out across the three extended originals following the shorter intro “Drastic Side Effects” — that’s the near-goth plod of “The Coffin of Regrets” (9:45), “Tritsch” (16:13), which surprises by growing into an atmosludge take on The Doors at their most minimalist and spacious before its own consumption resumes, and “Old Wizard of Odd” (10:29), which revels in extremity before its noisy finish and is the ‘heaviest’ inclusion for that — and a concluding cover of Bonnie “Prince” Billy‘s “I See a Darkness,” the title embodied in the open space within the sound of the song itself while showcasing a soulful clean vocal style that feels like an emerging distinguishing factor in the band’s sound. That is, a point of growth that will continue to grow and make them a stronger, more diverse band as it already does in their material here. I’d be interested to hear guitarist/vocalist Zakir Suleri and drummer/vocalist Albert Alisaug with an expansive production able to lean more into the emotive aspects of their songwriting, but as it is on Lifeless Grey, their sound is contrastingly vital despite the mostly crawling tempos and the unifying rawness of the aural setting in which these songs take place.

Et Mors on Facebook

Et Mors on Bandcamp


The Atomic Bomb Audition, Future Mirror

California, Filth Wizard Records, Future Mirror, Oakland, The Atomic Bomb Audition, The Atomic Bomb Audition Future Mirror

Future Mirror is The Atomic Bomb Audition‘s first release since 2014 and their first studio album since 2011’s Roots into the See (review here), the returning Oakland-based four-piece of guitarist/vocalist Alee Karin, bassist/vocalist Jason Hoopes, drummer Brian Gleeson and synthesist/engineer The Norman Conquest reigniting their take on pop-informed heavy, sometimes leaning toward post-rock float, sometimes offering a driving hook like in “Night Vision,” sometimes alternating between spacious and crushing as on “Haunted Houses,” which is as much Type O Negative and Katatonia darkness as the opener “Render” was blinding with its sweet falsetto melodies and crashing grandeur. Two interludes, “WNGTIROTSCHDB” and “…Spells” surround “Golden States, Pt. 1” — note there is no second part here — a brief-at-three-minutes-but-multi-movement instrumental, and the linear effect in hearing the album as whole is to create an ambient space between the three earlier shorter tracks and the two longer ones at the finish, and where “Dream Flood” might otherwise be a bridge between the two, the listening experience is only enhanced for the flourish. Future Mirror won’t be for everybody, as its nuance makes it harder to categorize and they wouldn’t be the first to suffer perils of the ‘band in-between,’ but by the time they get the payoff of closer “More Light,” tying the heft and melody together, The Atomic Bomb Audition have provided enough context to make their own kind of sense. Thus, a win.

The Atomic Bomb Audition on Facebook

The Atomic Bomb Audition on Bandcamp


Maharaja, Aviarium

Maharaja Aviarium

Maharaja‘s new EP, Aviarium (on Seeing Red), might be post-metal if one were to distill that microgenre away from its ultra-cerebral self-indulgence and keep only the parts of it most crushing. The downer perspective of the Ohio trio — guitarist Angus Burkhart, bassist Eric Bluebaum, drummer Zack Mangold, all of whom add vocals, as demonstrated in the shouty-then-noisy-then-both second track — is confirmed in the use of the suffix ‘-less’ in each of the four songs on the 24-minute outing, from opener “Hopeless” through “Soulless,” into the shorter, faster and more percussively intense “Lifeless” and at last arriving in the open with the engrossing roll of 10-minute finisher “Ballad of the Flightless Bird,” which makes a home for itself in more stoner-metal riffing and cleaner vocals but maintains the poise of execution that even the many and righteous drum fills of “Hopeless” couldn’t shake loose. It is not an easy or a smooth listen, but neither is it meant to be, and the ambience that comes out of the raw weight of Maharaja‘s tones as well as their subtle variation in style should be enough to bring on board those who’d dare take it on in the first place. Can be mean, but isn’t universally one thing or the other, and as a sampler of Maharaja‘s work it’s got me wanting to dig back to their 2017 Kali Yuga and find out what I missed.

Maharaja on Facebook

Seeing Red Records store


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Quarterly Review: Astrosaur, Kvasir, Bloodshot, Tons, Mothman & The Thunderbirds vs. World Eaters, Deer Lord, IO Audio Recordings, Bong Voyage, Sun Years, Daevar

Posted in Reviews on January 6th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review-winter 2023

There was some pretty good stuff this week, I gotta say. Feels self-congratulatory to be like, ‘hey good job slating reviews, me!’ but there it is. I don’t regret hearing anything I have thus far into the Winter 2023 Quarterly Review, and sometimes that’s not the case by the time we get to Friday.

Of course, there’s another week to go here as well. We’ll pick it back up on Monday with another 10 records and proceed from there. If you’ve been following along, I hope you’ve found something you dig as well.

Winter 2023 Quarterly Review #41-50:

Astrosaur, Portals


This is what happens when you have virtuoso players writing songs rather than paeans to their own virtuosity. Led by founding guitarist Eirik Kråkenes, with drummer Jonathan Eikum (also Taiga Woods) and bassist Steinar Glas (also Einar Stray Orchestra), Astrosaur are blindingly progressive on their third full-length, Portals (on Pelagic), operating with post-metallic atmospheres as a backdrop for stunning instrumental turns, builds and crashes, willful repetition and the defiant denial of same. There’s more scope in the intro “Opening” than on some entire albums, and what “Black Hole Earth” begins from there is a dizzying array of sometimes cosmic sometimes earthborn riffing, twisting bass and mindfully restless drums. “The Deluge” hitting into that chase after four minutes in, that seemingly chaotic swirling noise suddenly stopping “Reptile Empire” and the false start to the 23-minute epic “Eternal Return” — these details and many besides give the overarching weight of Portals at its heaviest a corresponding depth, and when coupled with the guitar’s ability to coast overhead, they are genuinely three-dimension in their sound. You’d be right to want to hear Portals for “Eternal Return” alone, but there’s so much more to it than that.

Astrosaur on Facebook

Pelagic Records on Bandcamp


Kvasir, Sagittarius A* Star

Kvasir Sagittarius A Star

Kvasir‘s Sagittarius A* Star is named for the black hole at the center of the galaxy, and the 21-minute single-song EP is the follow-up to their 2021 debut album, 4 (review here), a dug-in proto-metallic exploration composed in movements that flow together as a whole organic work. The Portland-based four-piece of guitarists Christopher Lee (also vocals) and Gabriel Langston, bassist Greg Traw and Jay Erbe work on either side between traditional metal and heavy rock riffing, inhabiting both here as “Sagittarius A* Star” launches into its initial verses over the first four minutes, a solo emerging after 5:30 to set the pattern that will hold for the remaining three-fourths of the song. A slowdown takes hold about a minute later and grooves until at about nine minutes in when the bass comes forward and things get funkier. The vocals return at about 11:30 to complement a galloping riff that’s fleshed out until just after the 14-minute mark, when a jazzier instrumental movement begins and the band makes it known they’re going out and not coming back, the swaying finish with more insistent guitar, first interjecting then satisfyingly joining that sway, capping with a (still plotted) jammier feel. If that’s the Milky Way succumbing to ultragravity and being torn apart molecule by molecule en route to physics-defying oblivion, then fair enough. Worse ways to go, certainly.

Kvasir on Facebook

Kvasir on Bandcamp


Bloodshot, Sins of the Father

Bloodshot Sins of the Father

Though the leadoff Sins of the Father gets reminds of circa-’90s noise metal like Nailbomb, Marylander four-piece Bloodshot lean more into a hardcore-informed take on heavy rock with their aggressively-purposed debut album. Comprised of vocalist Jared Winegardner, guitarist Tom Stacey, bassist Joe Ruthvin (ex-Earthride) and drummer JB Matson (ex-War Injun, organizer of Maryland Doom Fest, etc.), the band push to one side or the other throughout, as on the more rocking “Zero Humility” and the subsequent metallic barker “Uncivil War,” the mid-period Megadeth-style riffer “Beaten Into Rebellion,” the brooding-into-chugging closing title-track and “Fyre,” which I’m pretty sure just wants to kick my ass. The 10-track entirety of the album, in fact, seems to hold to that same mentality, and there’s a sense of trying to recapture something that’s been lost that feels inherently conservative in its theme — “Faded Natives,” “Visions of Yesterday,” the speedier “Worn and Torn,” and so on — but gruff though it is, Sins of the Father offers a pissed-off-for-reasons take on heavy that’s likewise intense and methodical. That is to say, they know what they’re doing as they punch you in the throat.

Bloodshot on Facebook

Half Beast Records on Bandcamp

Nervous Breakdown Records store


Tons, Hashension

Tons Hashension

A second release through Heavy Psych Sounds and Tons‘ third full-length overall, Hashension wears its love of all things cannabian on its crusty stoner sludge sleeve throughout its six-track/39-minute run, begun with the riffnotic “Dope Dealer Scum” before “A Hash Day’s Night” introduces the throatripper vocals and backing growls and a more heads-down, speedier tempo that hits into a mosh of a slowdown. “Slowly We Pot” — a play on Obituary‘s Slowly We Rot — to go along with the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd (and Gummo) titular references — follows in a spirit as angry as one imagines Bongzilla might be if someone un-freed their weed. Yes, “Hempathy for the Devil” and “Ummagummo” precede the sample-topped slamming march of “Hashended,” and lo, the well-baked extreme sludge they’ve wrought rumbles and thuds its way out, not so much gnashing in the way of “A Hash Day’s Night” or the roll after the midpoint in “Ummagummo” — though the lyrics there seem to be pure weed-worship — but lumbering in such a way as to ensure the point gets across anyhow. I’m not going to tell you you should be stoned listening to it, because I don’t know, maybe you’re driving or something, but I doubt Tons would argue if you brought some edibles to the gig. Enough to share, perhaps.

Tons on Facebook

Heavy Psych Sounds store


Mothman & the Thunderbirds vs. World Eaters, Split

Mothman and the Thunderbirds vs World Eaters Split

In the battle of Philly solo-project Mothman and the Thunderbirds vs. Ontario-based duo World Eaters, the numbers may be on the side of the latter, but each act offers something of its own on their shared 18-minute EP. Presenting two tracks from each band, the outing puts Mothman and the Thunderbirds‘ “Rusty Shackleton” and “Nephilim” up front, the latter particularly reinforcing the Devin Townsend influence on the part of multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Alex Parkinson, while “Flash of Green” and “The Siege” from World Eaters — drummer Winter Stomp and guitarist/bassist/vocalist/synthesist David Gupta — present an atmospheric death metal, more than raw bludgeoning, but definitely that as well. As a sampler platter for both bands, there’s more time to get to know World Eaters since their songs are markedly longer, but the contrast from one to the other and the progression into the mire of “The Siege” gives the split an overlaid personality, almost a narrative, and the melodies in Parkinson‘s two cuts have a lingering presence over the masterful decay that follows in World Eater‘s material. One way or the other, these are both relatively upstart projects and their will toward progression is clear, as pummeling as its form may be. Right on.

Mothman & The Thunderbirds on Bandcamp

World Eaters on Bandcamp


Deer Lord, Dark Matter Pt. 1

Deer Lord Dark Matter Pt 1

Preceded by the two-song single Witches Brew/Psychedelic Roadkill, the six-song/24-minute Dark Matter Pt. 1 is short but feels nonetheless like a debut album from Sonoma County, California (try the cabernet), three-piece Deer Lord, who present adventures like getting stoned with witches on a mountaintop, riding free with an out-on-bail “Hippie Girl” in the backseat of presumably some kind of roadster, going down the proverbial highway and, at last, welcoming you to “Planet Earth” after calling out and casting off any and all “Ego” along the way. It is a modern take on stonerized heavy, starting off with “Witches Brew” as the opener/longest track (immediate points) with a languid flow and psychedelic underpinnings that flesh out even amid the apex soloing of “Planet Earth” or the fervent push of the earlier “Ride Away,” that tempo hitting a wall with the intro of “Ego” (don’t worry, it takes off) so as to support the argument in favor of Dark Matter Pt. 1 as an admittedly brief full-length, the component tracks working off each other to enhance the entirety. The elements beneath are familiar enough, but Deer Lord put an encouraging spin of their own on it, and especially as their debut, it’s hard to imagine some label or other won’t get on board, if not for pressing this, then maybe Pt. 2 to come. Perhaps both?

Deer Lord on Facebook

Deer Lord on Bandcamp


IO Audio Recordings, Awaiting the Elliptical Drift & VVK

IO Audio Recordings Awaiting the Elliptical Drift & VVK

Compiling two 2022 EPs into a single LP and releasing through a microcosm of underground imprints in various terrestrial locales, IO Audio RecordingsAwaiting the Elliptical Drift & VVK is my first exposure to the Orange, CA, out-there-in-space unit, and from the blower kosmiche rocking “Awaiting the Elliptical Drift” to the sitar meditation “Luminous Suspension,” and the hazy wash of “Sunrise and Overdrive” (that’s side A) to the experimentalist consumption of “VVK” and “Gramanita” rounding out with its heartbeat rhythm giving over to a hardly-flatlined drone after shuffling cool and bassy and fuzzy with jangly jam strum overtop, I tell you in all sincerity it won’t be my last. There’s a broad cross-section stylistically, which suits a compilation mindset, but I get the feeling that if you called it an album instead, the situation would be much the same thanks to an underlying conceptualism and the adventuring purpose beneath the open-structured fluidity. That’s just fine, as IO Audio Recordings‘ sundry transformations only enhance the anything-that-works-goes and shelf-your-expectations listening experience. Not that there’s no tension in their groovy approach, but the abiding sensibility advises an open mind and maybe a couple deep breaths in and out before you take it on. But then definitely take it on. If you need me, I’ll be spending money I don’t have on Bandcamp.

Weird Beard Records store

Fuzzed Up and Astromoon Records on Bandcamp

We Here & Now on Bandcamp

Ramble Records on Bandcamp

Echodelick Records on Bandcamp


Bong Voyage, Feverlung

Bong Voyage Feverlung

While “bong” in a band name usually connotes dense sludge in my head, Oslo four-piece Bong Voyage defy that stereotype with their Dec. 2022-released second single, “Feverlung” — the first single was October’s “Buzzed Aldrin” — and no, the song isn’t about the pandemic, it’s about getting high. The six-minute rocker hoists jammy flourish mostly in its second half, in a break that, in turn, shifts into uptempo semi-space rock post-Slift pulsations atop a progression that, while I’ll readily admit it sounds little like the song on the whole still puts me in mind of Kyuss‘ “Odyssey” in its vocal patterning and melody. That ending is a step outward from the solidified early verses, which are more straight ahead heavy rock in the vein of Freedom Hawk or a less-directly-Ozzy take on Sheavy, and while one listening for them to bring it back around to the initial riff will find that they don’t, the band’s time isn’t necessarily misspent in terms of serving the song by letting it push beyond exospheric traps. They won’t catch me by surprise next time aesthetically, and it wouldn’t be a shock to find Bong Voyage in among the subset of up and coming heavy rockers that’s put Norway on the underground radar so much these last couple years. Either way, I’ll look forward to more here.

Bong Voyage on Facebook

Bong Voyage on Bandcamp


Sun Years, Sun Years (Demo)

IMGSun years demo

In its early going, Sun Years‘ “Codex” stagger-sludges like Eyehategod with guitarist Dalton Huskin‘s shouty echoing vocals on top, but as it moves into its second half, there’s a pickup in tempo and a bit of swirling lead guitar emerges in the 4:37 song’s closing stretch as Asechiah Bogdan (ex-Windhand, ex-Alabama Thunderpussy) makes his presence felt. Alongside bassist Buddy Bryant and drummer Erik Larson (once-and-again guitarist for Alabama Thunderpussy, drummer of Avail, Omen Stones, ex-Backwoods Payback, the list goes on), Bogdan and Huskin explore mellower and more melodic reaches the subsequent “Teeth Like Stars,” still holding some of their demo’s lead track’s urgency as a weighted riff takes hold in trade with the relatively subdued verse. That’s a back and forth they’ll do again, moving the second time from the more weighted progression into a solo and build into a return of the harsher vocals, some double-kick drumming and a last shove that lasts until everything drops out except one guitar and that riffs for a few seconds before being cut off mid-measure. Well, that’s a band with more dynamic in their first two tracks than some have in their entire careers, so I guess it’s safe to say it’ll be worth following the Richmond, Virginia, foursome to see where they end up next time out.

Sun Years on Bandcamp

Minimum Wage Recording on Facebook


Daevar, Delirious Rites

Daevar Delirious Rites Cover

Recorded by Jan Oberg (Grin, Slowshine, EarthShip) at Hidden Planet Studio in Berlin, Daevar‘s five-track/32-minute 2023 debut album, Delirious Rites, arrives likewise through Oberg‘s imprint The Lasting Dose Records and finds the man himself sitting in for guest vocals on the 10-minute “Leviathan” alongside the band’s own bassist/vocalist Pardis Latif, who leads the band from the depths of the rhythm section’s lurch on the gradually unfolding Windhand-vibing leadoff “Slowshine,” the particularly Monolordian “Bloody Fingers” with Caspar Orfgen‘s guitar howling over a marching riff, and “Leila” where Moritz Ermen Bausch‘s drums offer a welcoming grounding to Electric Wizardly nod and swirl. Thus, by the time his spot in the aforementioned “Leviathan” rolls (and I do mean rolls) around, just ahead of closer “Yellow Queen,” the layers of growling and screaming he adds to the procession are a standout shift well placed to play off the atmosphere established by the previous tracks. Shortest at 5:10, “Yellow Queen” lumbers through more ethereal doom and hints at a psychedelic current that might continue to develop in a midsection drifting break that builds back into the catchy plod from whence it came. Not necessarily innovative at this point — they’re a new band — but they seem to know what they want in terms of sound and style, and that only ever bodes well.

Daevar on Facebook

The Lasting Dose Records on Bandcamp


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Quarterly Review: The Temple, Dead Man’s Dirt, Witchfinder, Fumata, Sumerlands, Expiatoria, Tobias Berblinger, Grandier, Subsun, Bazooka

Posted in Reviews on January 5th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review-winter 2023

Here’s mud in yer eye. How are you feeling so far into this Quarterly Review? The year? How are things generally? How’s your mom doing? Everybody good? Hope so. Odd as it is to think, I find music sounds better when you’re not distracted by everything else going to shit around you, so I hope you don’t currently find yourself in that situation.

Today’s 10 records are a bit of this, bit of that, bit of here, but of there, but I’ll note that we start and end in Greece, which wasn’t on purpose or anything but a fun happenstantial byproduct of slating things randomly. What can I say? There’s a lot of Greek heavy out there and the human brain forms patterns whether we want it to or not. Plenty of geographic diversity between, so let’s get to it, hmm?

Winter 2023 Quarterly Review #31-40:

The Temple, Of Solitude Triumphant

The temple of Solitude Triumphant

Though they trace their beginnings back to the mid-aughts, Of Solitude Triumphant (on the venerable I Hate Records) is only the second full-length from Thessaloniki doom metallers The Temple. With chanting vocals, perpetuated misery and oldschool-style traditionalism metered by modern production’s tonal density, the melodic reach of the band is as striking as profundity of their rhythmic drag, the righteousness of their craft being in how they’re able to take a riff, slog it out across five, seven, 10 minutes in the case of post-intro opener “The Foundations” and manage to be neither boring nor a drag themselves. There’s a bit of relative tempo kick in “A White Flame for the Fear of Death” and the tremolo guitar (kudos to the half-time drums behind; fucking a) at the outset of closer “The Lord of Light” speaks to some influence from more extreme metals, but The Temple are steady in their purpose, and that nine-minute finale riff-marches to its own death accordingly. Party-doom it isn’t, and neither is it trying to be. In mood and the ambience born out of the vocals as much as the instruments behind, The Temple‘s doom is for the doomly doomed among the doomed. I’ll rarely add extra letters to it, but I have to give credit where it’s due: This is dooom. Maybe even doooom. Take heed.

The Temple on Facebook

I Hate Records website


Dead Man’s Dirt, Dead Man’s Dirt

Dead Mans Dirt Dead Man's Dirt

Gothenburg heavy rockers Dead Man’s Dirt, with members of Bozeman Simplex, Bones of Freedom, Coaster of Souls and a host of others, offer their 2023 self-titled debut through Ozium Records in full-on 2LP fashion. It’s 13 songs, 75 minutes long. Not a minor undertaking. Those who stick with it are rewarded by nuances like the guitar solo atop the languid sway of “The Brew,” as well as the raucous start-stop riffing in “Icarus (Too Close to the Sun),” the catchy “Highway Driver” and the bassy looseness of vibe in the penultimate “River,” which heads toward eight minutes while subsequent endpoint “Asteroid” tops nine. It is to the band’s credit that they have both the material and the variety to pull off a record this packed and keep the songs united in their barroom-rocking spirit, though some attention spans just aren’t going to be up to the task in a single sitting. But that’s fine. If the last couple years have taught the human species anything, it’s that you never know what’s around the next corner, and if you’re going to go for it — whatever “it” is — go all-in, because it could evaporate the next day. Whether it’s the shuffle of “Queen of the Wood” or the raw, in-room sound of “Lost at Sea,” Dead Man’s Dirt deserve credit for leaving nothing behind.

Dead Man’s Dirt on Facebook

Ozium Records store


Witchfinder, Forgotten Mansion

witchfinder forgotten mansion

Big rolling riffs, lurching grooves, melodies strongly enough delivered to cut through the tonal morass surrounding — there’s plenty to dig for the converted on Witchfinder‘s Forgotten Mansion. The Clermont-Ferrand, France, stoner doomers follow earlier-2022’s Endless Garden EP (review here) and 2019’s Hazy Rites (review here) full-length with their third album and first since joining forces with keyboardist Kevyn Raecke, who aligns in the malevolent-but-rocking wall of sound with guitarist Stanislas Franczak, bassist Clément Mostefai (also vocals) and drummer Thomas Dupuy. Primarily, they are very, very heavy, and that is very much the apparent foremost concern — not arguing with it — but as the five-song/36-minute long-player rolls through “Marijauna” and on through the Raecke-forward Type O Negative-ity of “Lucid Forest,” there’s more to their approach than it might at first appear. Yes, the lumber is mighty. But the space is also broad, and the slow-swinging groove is always in danger of collapsing without ever doing so. And somehow there’s heavy metal in it as well. It’s almost a deeper dive than they want you to think. I like that about it.

Witchfinder on Facebook

Mrs Red Sound store


Fumata, Días Aciagos

Fumata Días Aciagos

There’s some whiff of Conan‘s riffing in “Acompáñame Cuando Muero,” but on the whole, Mexico City sludge metallers Fumata are more about scathe than crush on the six tracks of their sophomore full-length, Días Aciagos (on LSDR Records). With ambient moments spread through the 35-minute beastwork and a bleak atmosphere put in place by eight-minute opener and longest track (immediate points) “Orgullo y Egoísmo,” with its loosely post-metallic march and raw, open sound, the four-piece of Javier Alejandre, Maximo Mateo, Leonardo Cardoso and Juan Tamayo are agonized and chaotic-sounding, but not haphazard in their delivery as they cross genre lines to work in some black metal extremity periodically, mine a bit of death-doom in “Anhelo,” foster the vicious culmination of the bookending seven-minute title-track, and so on. Tempo is likewise malleable, as “Seremos Olvidados” and that title-track show, as well as the blasting finish of “Orgullo y Egoísmo,” and only the penultimate “No Engendro” (also the shortest song at 4:15) really stays in one place for its duration, though as that place is in an unnamed region between atmosludge, doom and avant black metal, I’m not sure it counts. As exciting to hear as it is miserable in substance, Días Aciagos plunges where few dare to tread and bathes in its own pessimism.

Fumata on Facebook

LSDR Records on Bandcamp


Sumerlands, Dreamkiller

sumerlands dreamkiller

Sumerlands‘ second album and Relapse debut, Dreamkiller finds Magic Circle‘s Brendan Radigan stepping in for original vocalist Phil Swanson (now in Solemn Lament), alongside Eternal Champion‘s Arthur Rizk, John Powers (both guitar), and Brad Raub (bass), and drummer Justin DeTore (also Solemn Lament, Dream Unending, several dozen others) for a traditional metal tour de force, reimagining New Wave of British Heavy Metal riffing with warmer tonality and an obviously schooled take on that moment at the end of the ’70s when metal emerged from heavy rock and punk and became its own thing. “Force of a Storm” careens Dio-style after the mid-tempo Scorpions-style start-stoppery of “Edge of the Knife,” and though I kept hoping the fadeout of closer “Death to Mercy” would come back up, as there’s about 30 seconds of silence at the finish, no such luck. There are theatrical touches to “Night Ride” — what, you didn’t think there’d be a song about the night? come on. — and “Heavens Above,” but that’s part of the character of the style Sumerlands are playing toward, and to their credit, they make it their own with vitality and what might emerge as a stately presence. I don’t know if it’s “true” or not and I don’t really give a shit. It’s a burner and it’s made with love. Everything else is gatekeeping nonsense.

Sumerlands on Facebook

Relapse Records store


Expiatoria, Shadows


Shadows is the first full-length from Genoa, Italy’s Expiatoria — also stylized with a capital-‘a’: ExpiatoriA — and its Nov. 2022 release arrives some 35 years after the band’s first demo. The band originally called it quits in 1996, and there were reunion EPs along the way in 2010 and 2018, but the six songs and 45 minutes here represent something that no doubt even the band at times thought wouldn’t ever happen. The occasion is given due ceremony in the songs, which, in addition to being laden with guest appearances by members of Death SS, Il Segno del Comando, La Janera, and so on, boasts a sweeping sound drawing from the drama of gothic metal — loooking at you, church-organ-into-piano-outro in “Ombra (Tenebra Parte II),” low-register vocals in “The Wrong Side of Love” and flute-and-guitar interlude “The Asylum of the Damned” — traditional metal riffing and, particularly in “7 Chairs and a Portrait,” a Candlemassian bell-tolling doom. These elements come together with cohesion and fluidity, the five-piece working as veterans almost in spite of a relative lack of studio experience. If Shadows was their 17th, 12th, or even fifth album, one might expect some of its transitions to be smoothed out to a greater degree, but as it is, who’s gonna argue with a group finally putting out their debut LP after three and a half decades? Jerks, that’s who.

ExpiatoriA on Facebook

Black Widow Records store

Diamonds Prod. on Bandcamp


Tobias Berblinger, The Luckiest Hippie Alive

Tobias Berblinger The Luckiest Hippie Alive

Setting originals alongside vibe-enhancing covers of Blaze Foley and Commander Cody, Portland’s Tobias Berblinger (also of Roselit Bone) first issued The Luckiest Hippie Alive in 2018 and it arrives on vinyl through Ten Dollar Recording Co., shimmering in its ’70s ramble-country twang, vibrant with duets and acoustic balladeering. Berblinger‘s nostalgic take reminds of a time when country music could be viable and about more than active white supremacy and/or misappropriated hip-hop, and boozers like “My Boots Have Been Drinking” and the Hank Williams via Townes Van Zandt “Medicine Water” and “Heartaches, Hard Times, Hard Drinking”, and smokers like the title-track and “Stems and Seeds (Again)” reinforce the atmosphere of country on the other side of the culture war. Its choruses are telegraphed and ready to be committed to memory, and its understated sonic presence and the wistfulness of the two-minute “Crawl Back to You” — the backing vocals of Mariya May, Marisa Laurelle and Annie Perkins aren’t to be understated throughout, including in that short piece, along with Mo Douglas‘ various instrumental contributions — add a sweetness and humility that are no less essential to Americana than the pedal steel throughout.

Tobias Berblinger website

Ten Dollar Recording Co. store


Grandier, The Scorn and Grace of Crows

Grandier The Scorn and Grace of Crows

Based in Norrköping, Sweden, the three-piece Grandier turn expectation on its head quickly with their debut album, The Scorn and Grace of Crows, starting opener/longest track (immediate points) “Sin World” with a sludgy, grit-coated lumber only to break after a minute in to a melodic verse. The ol’ switcheroo? Kind of, but in that moment and song, and indeed the rest of what follows on this first outing for Majestic Mountain, the band — guitarist Patrik Lidfors, bassist/many-layered-vocalist Lars Carlberg, (maybe, unless they’re programmed; then maybe programming) drummer Hampus Landin — carve their niche from out of a block of sonic largesse and melodic reach. Carlberg‘s voice is emotive over the open-feeling space of “Viper Soul” and sharing the mix with the more forward guitars of “Soma Goat,” and while in theory, there’s an edge of doomed melancholy to the 44-minute procession, the heft in “The Crows Will Following Us Down” is as much directed toward impact as mood. They really are melodic sludge metal, which is a hell of a thing to piece together on your first record as fluidly as they do here. “Smoke on the Bog” leans more into the Sabbathian roll with megafuzz tonality behind, and “Moth to the Flames” is faster, more brash, and a kind of dark heavy rock that, three albums from now, might be prog or might be ’90s lumber. Could go either way, especially with “My Church of Let it All Go” answering back with its own quizzical course. Will be very interested to hear where their next release takes them, since they’re onto something and, to their credit, it’s not immediately apparent what.

Grandier on Facebook

Majestic Mountain Records store


Subsun, Parasite

Subsun Parasite

Doomers will nod approvingly as Ottawa’s Subsun cap “Proliferation” by shifting into a Candlemassian creeper of a lead line, but that kind of doomly traditionalism is only one tool in their varied arsenal. Guitarist/vocalist/synthesist Jean-Michel Fortin, bassist/vocalist Simon Chartrand-Paquette and drummer Jérémy Blais go to that post-Edling well (of souls) again, but their work across their 2022 debut LP, Parasite, is more direct, more rock-based and at times more aggressive on the whole. Recorded at Apartment 2 by Topon Das (Fuck the Facts), the seven-songer grows punkish in the verse of “Mutation” and drops thrashy hints at the outset of “Fusion,” while closer “Mutualism” slams harder like noise rock and punches its bassline directly at the listener. Begun with the nodding lurch of “Parasitism” — which would seem as well to be at the thematic heart of the album in terms of lyrics and the descriptive approach thereof — the movement of one song to the next has its underlying ties in the vocals and overarching semi-metal tonality, but isn’t shy about messing with those either, as on the lands-even-harder “Evolution” or the thuds at the outset of “Adaptation,” the relative straightforwardness of the structures allowing the band to draw together different styles into a single, effective, individualized sound.

Subsun on Facebook

Subsun on Bandcamp


Bazooka, Kapou Allou

bazooka Kapou Allou

The acoustic guitar of opener “Kata Vathos” transitions smoothly into the arrival-of-the-electrics on “Krifto,” as Athens’ Bazooka launch the first of the post-punk struts on Kapou Allou, their fourth full-length. Mediterranean folk and pop are factors throughout — as heard in the vocal melody of the title-track or the danceable “Pano Apo Ti Gi” — while closer “Veloudino Kako” reimagines Ween via Greece, “Proedriki Froura” traps early punk in a jar to see it light up, and “Dikia Mou Alithia” brings together edgy, loosely-proggy heavy rock in a standout near the album’s center. Wherever they go — yes, even on “Jazzooka” — Bazooka seem to have a plan in mind, some vision of where they want to end up, and Kapou Allou is accordingly gleeful in its purposed weirdoism. At 41 minutes, it’s neither too long nor too short, and vocalist/guitarist/synthesist Xanthos Papanikolaou, guitarist/backing vocalist Vassilis Tzelepis, bassist Aris Rammos and drummer/backing vocalist John Vulgaris cast themselves less as tricksters than simply a band working outside the expected confines of genre. In any language — as it happens, Greek — their material is expansive stylistically but tight in performance, and that tension adds to the delight of hearing something so gleefully its own.

Bazooka on Facebook

Inner Ear Records store


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Quarterly Review: White Hills, Dystopian Future Movies, Basalt Shrine, Psychonaut, Robot God, Aawks, Smokes of Krakatau, Carrier Wave, Stash, Lightsucker

Posted in Reviews on January 4th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review-winter 2023

In many ways, this is my favorite kind of Quarterly Review day. I always place things more or less as I get them, and let the days fill up randomly, but there are different types that come out of that. Some are heavier on riffs, some (looking at you, Monday) are more about atmosphere, and some are all over the place. That’s this. There’s no getting in a word rut — “what’s another way to say ‘loud and fuzzy?'” — when the releases in question don’t sound like each other.

As we move past the halfway point of the first week of this double-wide Quarterly Review, 100 total acts/offerings to be covered, that kind of thing is much appreciated on my end. Keeps the mind limber, as it were. Let’s roll.

Winter 2023 Quarterly Review #21-30:

White Hills, The Revenge of Heads on Fire

white hills the revenge of heads on fire

The narrative — blessings and peace upon it — goes that White Hills stumbled on an old hard drive with 2007’s Heads on Fire‘s recording files on it, recovered them, and decided it was time to flesh out the original album some 15 years after the fact, releasing The Revenge of Heads on Fire through their own Heads on Fire Records imprint in fashion truer to the record’s original concept. Who would argue? Long-established freaks as they are, can’t White Hills basically do whatever the hell they want and it’ll be at the very least interesting? Sure enough, the 11-song starburster they’ve summoned out of the ether of memory is lysergic and druggy and sprawling through Dave W. and Ego Sensation‘s particular corner of heavy psychedelia and space rocks, “Visions of the Past, Present and Future” sounding no less vital for the passing of years as they’re still on a high temporal shift, riding a cosmic ribbon that puts “Speed Toilet” where “Revenge of Speed Toilet” once was in reverse sequeling and is satisfyingly head-spinning whether or not you ever heard the original. That is to say, context is nifty, but having your brain melted is better, and White Hills might screw around an awful lot, but they’re definitely not screwing around. You heard me.

White Hills on Facebook

White Hills on Bandcamp


Dystopian Future Movies, War of the Ether

dystopian future movies war of the ether

Weaving into and out of spoken word storytelling and lumbering riffy largesse, nine-minute opener and longest track (immediate points) “She Up From the Drombán Hill” has a richly atmospheric impact on what follows throughout Dystopian Future Movies‘ self-issued third album, War of the Ether, the residual feedback cutting to silence ahead of a soft beginning for “Critical Mass” as guitarist/vocalist Caroline Cawley pairs foreboding ambience with noise rocking payoffs, joined by her Church of the Cosmic Skull bandmate Bill Fisher on bass/drums and Rafe Dunn on guitar for eight songs that owe some of their root to ’90s-era alt heavy but have grown into something of their own, as demonstrated in the willfully overwhelming apex of “The Walls of Filth and Toil” or the dare-a-hook ending of the probably-about-social-media “The Veneer” just prior. The LP runs deeper as it unfurls, each song setting forth on its own quiet start save for the more direct “License of Their Lies” and offering grim but thoughtful craft for a vision of dark heavy rock true both to the band’s mission and the album’s troubled spirit. Closer “A Decent Class of Girl” rolls through volume swells in what feels like a complement to “She Up From the Drombán Hill,” but its bookending wash only highlights the distance the audience has traveled alongside Cawley and company. Engrossing.

Dystopian Future Movies on Facebook

Dystopian Future Movies store


Basalt Shrine, From Fiery Tongues

Basalt Shrine From Fiery Tongues

Though in part defined by the tectonic megasludge of “In the Dirt’s Embrace,” Filipino four-piece Basalt Shrine are no more beholden to that on From Fiery Tongues than they are the prior opening drone “Thawed Slag Blood,” the post-metallic soundscaping of the title-track, the open-spaced minimalism of closer “The Barren Aftermath” or the angular chug at the finish of centerpiece “Adorned for Loathing Pigs.” Through these five songs, the Manila-based outfit plunge into the darker, denser and more extreme regions of sludgy stylizations, and as they’ve apparently drawn the notice of US-based Electric Talon Records and sundry Euro imprints, safe to say the secret is out. Fair enough. The band guide “From Fiery Tongues,” song and album, with an entrancing churn that is as much about expression as impact, and the care they take in doing so — even at their heaviest and nastiest — isn’t to be understated, and especially as their debut, their ambition manifests itself in varied ways nearly all of which bode well for coming together as the crux of an innovative style. Not predicting anything, but while From Fiery Tongues doesn’t necessarily ring out with a hopeful viewpoint for the world at large, one can only listen to it and be optimistic about the prospects for the band themselves.

Basalt Shrine on Facebook

Electric Talon Records store


Psychonaut, Violate Consensus Reality

Psychonaut Violate Consensus Reality

Post-metallic in its atmosphere, there’s no discounting the intensity Belgium trio Psychonaut radiate on their second album, Violate Consensus Reality (on Pelagic). The prog-metal noodling of “All Your Gods Have Gone” and the singing-turns-to-screaming methodology on the prior opener “A Storm Approaching” begin the 52-minute eight-tracker with a fervency that affects everything that comes after, and as “Age of Separation” builds into its full push ahead of the title-track, which holds tension in its first half and shows why in its second, a halfway-there culmination before the ambient and melodic “Hope” turns momentarily from some of the harsher insistence before it, a summary/epilogue for the first platter of the 2LP release. The subsequent “Interbeing” is black metal reimagined as modern prog — flashes of Enslaved or Amorphis more than The Ocean or Mastodon, and no complaints — and the procession from “Hope” through “Interbeing” means that the onslaught of “A Pacifist’s Guide to Violence,” all slam and controlled plunder, is an apex of its own before the more sprawling, 12-minute capper “Towards the Edge,” which brings guest appearances from BrutusStefanie Mannaerts and the most esteemed frontman in European post-metal, Colin H. van Eeckhout of Amenra, whose band Psychonaut admirably avoid sounding just like. That’s not often the case these days.

Psychonaut on Facebook

Pelagic Records on Bandcamp


Robot God, Worlds Collide

robot god worlds collide

If you’re making your way through this post, skimming for something that looks interesting, don’t discount Sydney, Australia’s Robot God on account of their kinda-generic moniker. After solidifying — moltenifying? — their approach to longform-fuzz on their 2020 debut, Silver Buddha Dreaming, the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Raff Iacurto, bassist/vocalist Matt Allen and drummer Tim Pritchard offer the four tracks of their sophomore LP, Worlds Collide, through Kozmik Artifactz in an apparent spirit of resonance, drawing familiar aspects of desert-style heavy rock out over songs that feel exploratory even as they’re born of recognizable elements. “Sleepwalking” (11:25) sets a broad landscape and the melody over the chugger riff in the second half of “Ready to Launch” (the shortest inclusion at 7:03) floats above it smoothly, while “Boogie Man” (11:24) pushes over the edge of the world and proceeds to (purposefully) tumble loosely downward in tempo from there, and the closing title-track (11:00) departs from its early verses along a jammier course, still plotted, but clearly open to the odd bit of happy-accidentalism. It’s a niche that seems difficult to occupy, and a difficult balance to strike between hooking the listener with a riff and spacing out, but Robot God mostly avoid the one-or-the-other trap and create something of their own from both sides; reminiscent of… wait for it… worlds colliding. Don’t skip it.

Robot God on Facebook

Kozmik Artifactz store


AAWKS, Heavy on the Cosmic

AAWKS Heavy on the Cosmic

Released in June 2022 and given a late-in-the-year vinyl issue seemingly on the strength of popular demand alone, AAWKS‘ debut full-length, Heavy on the Cosmic sets itself forth with the immersive, densely-fuzzed nodder riff and stoned vocal of longest track (immediate points) “Beyond the Sun,” which finds start-with-longest-song complement on side B’s “Electric Traveller” (rare double points). Indeed there’s plenty to dig about the eight-song outing, from the boogie in “Sunshine Apparitions,” the abiding vibe of languid grunge and effects-laced chicanery that pervade the crashouts of “The Woods” to the memorable, slow hook-craft of “All is Fine.” Over on side B, the momentum early in “Electric Traveller” rams headfirst into its own slowdown, while “Space City” reinforces the no-joke tonality and Elephant Tree-style heavy/melodic blend before the penultimate mostly-instrumental “Star Collider” resolves itself like Floor at half-speed and closer “Peeling Away” lives up to its title with a departure of psychedelic soloing and final off-we-go loops. The word-of-mouth hype around AAWKS was and is significant, and the Ontario-based four-piece tender three-dimensional sound to justify it, the record too brief at 39 minutes to actually let the listener get lost while providing multiple opportunities for headphone escapism. A significant first LP.

AAWKS on Facebook

AAWKS on Bandcamp


Smokes of Krakatau, Smokes of Krakatau

Smokes of Krakatau Smokes of Krakatau

The core methodology of Polish trio Smokes of Krakatau across their self-titled debut seems to be to entrance their audience and then blindside them with a riffy punch upside the head. Can’t argue if it works, which it does, right from the gradual unfurling of 10-minute instrumental opener “Absence of Light” before the chunky-style riff of “GrassHopper” lumbers into the album’s first vocals, delivered with a burl that reminds of earlier Clutch. There are two more extended tracks tucked away at the end — “Septic” (10:07) and “Kombajn Bizon” (11:37) — but before they get there, “GrassHopper” begins a movement across four songs that brings the band to arguably their most straightforward piece of all, the four-minute “Carousel,” as though the ambient side of their persona was being drained out only to return amid the monolithic lumber that pays off the build in “Septic.” It’s a fascinating whole-album progression, but it works and it flows right unto the bluesy reach of “Kombajn Bizon,” which coalesces around a duly massive lurch in its last minutes. It’s a simplification to call them ‘stoner doom,’ but that’s what they are nonetheless, though the manner in which they present their material is as distinguishing a factor as that material itself in the listening experience. The band are not done growing, but if you let their songs carry you, you won’t regret going where they lead.

Smokes of Krakatau on Facebook

Smokes of Krakatau on Bandcamp


Carrier Wave, Carrier Wave

Carrier Wave self-titled

Is it the riff-filled land that awaits, or the outer arms of the galaxy itself? Maybe a bit of both on Bellingham, Washington-based trio Carrier Wave‘s four-song self-titled debut, which operates with a reverence for the heft of its own making that reminds of early YOB without trying to ape either Mike Scheidt‘s vocal or riffing style. That works greatly to the benefit of three-piece — guitarist/vocalist James Myers, bassist/vocalist Taber Wilmot, drummer Joe Rude — who allow some raucousness to transfuse in “Skyhammer” (shortest song at 6:53) while surrounding that still-consuming breadth with opener “Cosmic Man” (14:01), “Monolithic Memories” (11:19) and the subsequent finale “Evening Star” (10:38), a quiet guitar start to the lead-and-longest track (immediate points) barely hinting at the deep tonal dive about to take place. Tempo? Mostly slow. Space? Mostly dark and vast. Ritual? Vital, loud and awaiting your attendance. There’s crush and presence and open space, surges, ebbs, flows and ties between earth and ether that not every band can or would be willing to make, and much to Carrier Wave‘s credit, at 42 minutes, they engage a kind of worldmaking through sound that’s psychedelic even as it builds solid walls of repetitive riffing. Not nasty. Welcoming, and welcome in itself accordingly.

Carrier Wave on Facebook

Carrier Wave on Bandcamp


Stash, Through Rose Coloured Glasses

Stash Through Rose Coloured Glasses

With mixing/mastering by Chris Fielding (Conan, etc.), the self-released first full-length from Tel Aviv’s Stash wants nothing for a hard-landing thud of a sound across its nine songs/45 minutes. Through Rose Coloured Glasses has a kind of inherent cynicism about it, thanks to the title and corresponding David Paul Seymour cover art, and its burl — which goes over the top in centerpiece “No Real” — is palpable to a defining degree. There’s a sense of what might’ve happened if C.O.C. had come from metal instead of punk rock, but one way or the other, Stash‘s grooves remain mostly throttled save for the early going of the penultimate “Rebirth.” The shove is marked and physical, and the tonal purpose isn’t so much to engulf the listener with weight as to act as the force pushing through from one song to the next, each one — “Suits and Ties,” “Lie” and certainly the opener “Invite the Devil for a Drink” — inciting a sense of movement, speaking to American Southern heavy without becoming entirely adherent to it, finding its own expression through roiling, chugging brashness. But there’s little happenstance in it — another byproduct of a metallic foundation — and Stash stay almost wholly clearheaded while they crash through your wall and proceed to break all the shit in your house, sonically speaking.

Stash on Facebook

Stash on Bandcamp


Lightsucker, Stonemoon

Lightsucker Stonemoon

Though it opens serene enough with birdsong and acoustic guitar on “Intro(vert,” the bulk of Lightsucker‘s second LP, Stonemoon is more given to a tumult of heavy motion, drawing together elements of atmospheric sludge and doom with shifts between heavy rock groove and harder-landing heft. And in “Pick Your God,” a little bit of death metal. An amalgam, then. So be it. The current that unites the Finnish four-piece’s material across Stonemoon is unhinged sludge rock that, in “Lie,” “Land of the Dead” and the swinging “Mob Psychosis” reminds of some of Church of Misery‘s shotgun-blues chaos, but as the careening “Guayota” and the deceptively steady push of “Justify” behind the madman vocals demonstrate, Lightsucker‘s ambitions aren’t so simply encapsulated. So much the better for the listening experience of the 35-minute/eight-song entirety, as from “Intro(vert)” through the suitably pointy snare hits of instrumental closer “Stalagmites,” Lightsucker remain notably unpredictable as they throw elbows and wreak havoc from one song to the next, the ruined debris of genre strewn about behind as if to leave a trail for you to follow after, which, if you can actually keep up with their changes, you might just do.

Lightsucker on Facebook

Lightsucker on Bandcamp


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