Quarterly Review: High on Fire, Ruff Majik, Merlin, Workshed, E-L-R, Sibyl, Golden Legacy, Saint Karloff & Devil’s Witches, Burden Limbs, El Supremo

Posted in Reviews on October 1st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

quarterly review

Another day, another batch of 10 reviews on the march to 50 by the end of the week. Will we make it? Yeah, probably. I mean, I think there was once when I had to skip a day or something but even then I made up for it and there’s never been an instance where the Quarterly Review fell apart. The one quarter I decided to nix it (was it last year?) I made up for it by doing 100 reviews instead of 50 the next time out, so we got there eventually. It being Tuesday, the end of the week looks far off, but indeed we’ll ge there eventually, and there’s a lot of good music between now and then, so let’s hit it.

Quarterly Review #11-20:

High on Fire, Bat Salad

high on fire bat salad

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Ruff Majik, Tårn

ruff majik tarn

Guitarist/vocalist Johni Holiday, bassist Jimmy Glass and drummer Ben Manchino return with Tårn, Ruff Majik‘s second album on a quick turnaround from their 2018 debut, Seasons (review here). Aligned with Lay Bare Recordings for the vinyl release, the deceptively quick and even more deceptively complex seven-track/36-minute offering finds Ruff Majik digging into dirt-caked tonality and classically punkish sneer in Holiday‘s vocals. There are moments where they sound like Queens of the Stone Age (“Speed Hippie”) and moments where they sound like Black Flag (parts of opener “Schizophrenic”), but as a roller like “Heretically Happy” or the earlier post-Zeppelin stoner sneak of “Gloom & Tomb” show, Ruff Majik are perhaps most interested in sounding like themselves. They’re gleeful as they toy with doomed vibes on closer “Seasoning the Witch,” and the seven-minute “I’ll Dig the Grave” earlier thrills with changes drawn together by a pervasive and righteous groove. With Tårn, Ruff Majik have found their wavelength, and it suits them.

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Lay Bare Recordings website

 

Merlin, The Mortal

merlin the mortal

Be it heretofore established that sax-laced Kansas City psych-doomers Merlin don’t give a fuck. They don’t give a fuck what you expect, they don’t give a fuck what everyone else is doing, they don’t give a fuck if they meme the crap out of their own band. They’ve got their thing and they’re doing it. And you know what? They’re right. The Mortal is their fifth full-length in six years, following as a sequel to early-2018’s The Wizard (review here), and with flourish galore in arrangements of organ, sax, flute, percussion, accordion, trumpet, etc., alongside the foundation of songcraft that comes through the guitar, bass, drums and always-theatrical vocals of Jordan Knorr, the band recount tales along a dark-magical mystery tour of gorgeously flowing and still-weighted psychedelic plunder. They have become a buried treasure of weirdo/geek rock, and whether it’s the peaceful drift of “Ashen Lake” or the cacophonous heavy riffing of “Basilisk,” the stage-setting prog of “Towerfall” or the consuming swell that carries out the apex of closer “The Mortal Suite” — King Crimson chase and all — Merlin‘s work has never sounded so masterful. Will there be a third installment in the tale? Nothing quite like a trilogy.

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Workshed, Workshed

workshed workshed

They’ve since added a third party in bassist Helen Storer (Fireball Ministry, among others), but Workshed‘s self-titled Rise Above Records debut LP was recorded as the duo of guitarist/vocalist Adam Lehan and drummer Mark Wharton. More than a quarter-century ago, both Lehan and Wharton played on Cathedral‘s pivotal first two albums, but in Workshed, and certainly there are some shades of doom on a stomper like “Anthropophobic” here, but the bulk of Workshed‘s nine-song/47-minute first offering is given to post-Entombed buzzsaw noise sludge, riffs crunched one into the next in an aggro, punk-rooted fashion that rife with a sense of willful punishment that comes through in sheer impact from front to back. Vocals call to mind Tom G. Warrior immediately and are suited to the social commentary of “If This is How it Is” and “This City Has Fallen,” while the grueling march of “A Spirit in Exile” leaves room for some atmosphere to eek through, which it does. They trash out in centerpiece “On Sticks of Wood” and chug their into a last fade on closer “It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way,” but by then they’ve long since made their statement and left a trail of destruction behind them. Would they have been signed to Rise Above without the Cathedral connection? Probably not. Does the album earn their place? Absolutely.

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Rise Above Records website

 

E-L-R, Mænad

e-l-r maenad

With their first full-length, Mænad, Swiss post-metallers E-L-R cart a gorgeous and textured course through patient and progressive songweaving that lends itself to hypnosis through its churning rhythm as much as its overarching melodies seem to evoke other worlds. It is not without its sense of challenge and certainly plenty heavy in its tone and groove — at least where it wants to be — but it’s also rich and provides a level of depth to its mix that should have others in the genre asking how they did it. A transitional drone at the end of “Devotee” brings about the 10-minute “Above the Mountains There is Light” and a long contemplation begins, working from the ground up on a pilgrim’s path to the eventual payoff. The resonance there is something unto itself, but even as “Ambrosia,” “Lunar Nights” and “The Wild Shore” find the stylistic footing that opener “Glancing Limbs” and “Devotee” seemed to hint at earlier, E-L-R maintain both an ambient sprawl and a consuming sense of passion that makes their work here all the more thrilling. This is a debut, following only a single 2018 demo that had two of the same tracks. What that tells me is look out for this band, because this kind of potential doesn’t come along every day and when it does, you want to be there for the follow-up. The impeccable taste of Prophecy Productions pays dividends once again.

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Prophecy Productions website

 

Sibyl, The Magic Isn’t Real

sibyl the magic isn't real

Otherworldly doom rock marked by echoing vocals oozing out from deep in the mix and gotta-hear-it bass tone complemented by choice riffage and a fervent thud in the drums, even if the aesthetic of Richmond’s Sibyl is familiar enough, there’s plenty to dig about their debut EP — what one might’ve called a “demo” in eras past — The Magic Isn’t Real. The stylistic elephant in the room is RVA’s own Windhand, but Sibyl take a more psychedelic path to heavy oblivion, and with four tracks in the range of four to five minutes, The Magic Isn’t Real comes across as well focused in its songwriting despite the ethereal touches in the actual sound. Cool vibe, and as they work some noisy shuffle into “Spinning Webs,” they show themselves as being less restricted than otherwise might be the case if they were purely committed to doomed drudgery. I’ll give bonus points as well for naming the penultimate track “Sexpionage,” just on principle, but it’s in stretches like the subdued creeper opening of “Blood Moon” and the engrossing, still-somehow-moving wash of “Pendulums” that Sibyl really showcase their intention.

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Sibyl on Bandcamp

 

Golden Legacy, Golden Legacy II

golden legacy golden legacy ii

London heavy noise duo Golden Legacy offer five tracks and 23 minutes of anti-genre, adrenaline rock to follow-up their 2016 self-titled EP. There’s a strong undercurrent of modern punk and indie to their sound, which is what gets them the “anti-genre” consideration, but it’s the energy of their delivery carrying them one way or the other as they drive through the harsh snare of “Cut and Crash” following the chunkier tone of opener “Moon” and just before centerpiece “Dirty Mouth” finds its way into grunge-style howling beastliness. Comprised of drummer/vocalist Lorena Cachito and guitarist Yanni Georgiou, the two-piece find winning momentum in “Salvation,” while closer “Thirsty” opens with a mellow drum progression gradually joined by the guitar and builds into more progressive and dramatic movement, casting off some of the rawness of the songs before it in favor of more complex fare. It still manages to soar at the end, though, and that seems to be what counts. They might be rawer now than they’ll eventually turn out, but that suits most of what they’re doing in adding to the emotionality on display in Cachito‘s vocals.

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Golden Legacy on Bandcamp

 

Saint Karloff & Devil’s Witches, Coven of the Ultra-Riff

saint karloff devils witches coven of the ultra-riff

Alright, look. I don’t even think I have the full thing, but whatever. Saint Karloff and Devil’s Witches came together to release the Coven of the Ultra-Riff split — it can be so hard to find the right coven for your family; have you considered the Ultra-Riff? — and they each play an original track and then they cover each other’s songs and then Saint Karloff introduce the progression of “Supervixen (Electric Return)” and Devil’s Witches take up the mantle and run with it on “Supervixen (Acoustic Return),” so yeah, it’s pretty awesome and kind of all over the place but whatever. Get your head around it and get on board with whatever version you can grab. Vinyl came out through Majestic Mountain Records and tapes were through Stoner Witch Records and I’m fairly certain it’s all sold out already and probably stupid expensive on Discogs, but do what you need to do, because this is what Sabbath worship in the year 2019 is supposed to sound like. It’s bombed out of its gourd and has long since dropped out of life. It’s exactly where and what it wants to be.

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Devil’s Witches on Thee Facebooks

Majestic Mountain Records BigCartel store

Stoner Witch Records BigCartel store

 

Burden Limbs, There is No Escape

burden limbs there is no escape

I’m not going to pretend to have the grounding in post-hardcore to toss off the influences under which Burden Limbs are working, but to listen to the blast of noise in “How Many Times Must I Reset” and the near-industrial wash of noise they conjure in the subsequent “Hypochondriac,” it’s clear they’re working under one influence anyway. There is No Escape (released through Glasshouse Records) runs 24 minutes and carries four songs, but in that time the band around founding figurehead and guitarist/vocalist Chad Murray manage to challenge themselves and the listener alike to keep up with their turns and emotional resonance. Murray is joined by two bassists, another guitarist, keyboards/synth and drums, so yes, there’s something of a busy feel to it, but even echoing cavernous as they are, the vocals seem to draw the songs together around a central presence and add a human core to the proceedings that only makes them all the more affecting as would seem to be the intent.

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El Supremo, Clarity Through Distortion

El Supremo Clarity Through Distortion

Sometimes these things take a while, but El Supremo was formed by now-ex-Egypt bassist Chad Heille has a solo-project and released a self-titled demo in 2008, to which Clarity Through Distortion is the follow-up full-length. Now joined by guitarist Neil Stein (also ex-Egypt, and who also played some on the demo) and organist Chris Gould as well as bassist Cam Dewald who came aboard after the album’s completion, the instrumentalist full-band incarnation of El Supremo waste no time diving into dead-on tonal and riffy righteousness, taking classic heavy cues and running with them in modern production richness, sounding clear but natural as a jam like “Moanin’ & Groanin'” turns into a shuffler as it moves into its second half, or the mellow sway of the 14-minute “Supercell” at last runs head-on into the lumbering motion that will carry it through to the end. I don’t know how much clarity — at least of the existential sort I think they mean in the title — they might’ve found by the time the bluesy “Lotus Throne” rolls over into the shreddy “Outro” that caps, but if the method is distortion, they’ve certainly got that part down.

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Workshed Self-Titled Debut Due Sept. 13 on Rise Above Records

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 31st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

workshed

What do we know about Workshed? Well, if we read the PR wire info below, plenty. The duo were formed upwards of five years ago by guitarist Adam Lehan and drummer Mark Wharton, both of whom were in Cathedral around the time of The Ethereal Mirror. There’s a lot of invective about being heavy and trying things out in a sludgy context, but I’m not sure what the band might actually sound like, considering there’s no audio out there yet of what they do, but you know, it’s two dudes who used to be in Cathedral and it’s releasing through former Cathedral frontman Lee Dorrian‘s Rise Above Records, so one way or the other it certainly passes the muster of relevance. I won’t say the audio is secondary, because it’s not and some sampling, whether it’s a teaser, full track, whathaveyou, will be welcome when it arrives, but for now, this is kind of an announcement that the band exists and have a record out Sept. 13. It’s their first one, and it’s self-titled. So there.

The PR wire fills in the details:

workshed workshed

Workshed (Featuring Former Members of Cathedral) to Release Self-Titled Album via Rise Above Records September 13th

Emerging from the shadows after more than 25 years in the sonic wilderness, former Cathedral members Adam Lehan and Mark Wharton have returned as Workshed. This is the sound of doom metal legends, reborn in fire and fury. Workshed’s self-titled new album will be released September 13th via Rise Above Records.

Formed in 2014, this renewed musical collaboration has already grown into something monstrous. Workshed’s self-titled debut album is simply the most ferociously pissed off metal record of the year: a relentless onslaught of scything riffs, verbal vitriol and oppressive aggression that proves beyond doubt that guitarist/vocalist Lehan and drummer Wharton have lost none of their creative bite or mutual chemistry. In reality, however, Workshed’s beginnings were as unassuming as they come.

“I just had a few riffs that I’d never done anything with, and I’d gotten back in touch with Mark and we just thought it would be fun to start playing again, to see if we could still do it!” Adam laughs. “There were no ambitions or anything more than having a blast. That was about five years ago and here we are. Bloody hell!”

Recorded at Orgone Studios in Bedfordshire with esteemed producer Jaime ‘Gomez’ Arellano, Workshed may be the result of two friends making a racket together for the sheer hell of it, but there is nothing half-hearted about these monolithic slabs of virulent hate-doom. Both redolent of all the great doom and sludge heroes of the past and thrillingly fresh and inventive, songs like rampaging opener ‘The Windowpanes At The Lexington’ and the pulverising ‘Nowhere To Go’ sound very much like the finished, riff-worshipping article.

“Up to a certain point Workshed has been a project rather than a full band, although now that the album’s done it does feel like a band,” says Adam. “It’s just so easy for us to come up with stuff this way. I’ll write a song and send it to Mark over Facebook. We rehearse it a couple of times and then it’s pretty much done and we have a beer! We’ve always had a kind of shorthand or a connection between us. We know each other’s playing styles pretty much inside out.”

As far as Workshed’s signature sound is concerned, Adam insists that spontaneity has been at the heart of everything. Both mindful of their status as key figures in the Cathedral story and their shared desire to make music without restrictions, Workshed are destined to win over anyone and everyone that lives for the power and glory of the riff.

“There’s certainly doom in there, although it honestly wasn’t planned that way,” says Adam. “We just went with whatever came out. The general rule has been that this can be anything, but there must be an energy, a pissed off vibe, even in the really slow parts. If this is doom, it’s doom that has had the shit kicked out of it and woken up with a hangover!”

In keeping with the grim and vicious sound of s riffs, Adam’s lyrics are rooted firmly in the guitarist’s own battles with anxiety and depression. As a result, the songs on Workshed reverberate with honesty, truth and an oddly uplifting sense of punk rock defiance. The evergreen cliché that heavy music is a form of catharsis for those who make it (and those who listen, of course) has never rung more true.

“The theme that runs all the way through is related to a period in time when I was having therapy,” Adam explains. “There are songs about different subjects but it all ties in with the mind-set I have with anxiety and depression. There is a song called ‘A Spirit In Exile’ which is pretty much as far as I can go lyrically with the subject. It’s pretty grim. So this is the anxiety album.”

There is a rather pleasing symmetry to the fact that Adam and Mark are releasing their return to the doom frontline via their old Cathedral colleague Lee Dorrian’s Rise Above Records imprint. Still on excellent terms after all these years, both Workshed and their new label boss are happy to be reunited in this new endeavour.

“It’s actually one of the bigger regrets I have regarding leaving Cathedral, that I don’t get to see Lee much anymore,” Adam notes. “So when me and Mark started to think of maybe recording some stuff, we basically came up with two ideas – to see if Lee was interested, and if he wasn’t we’d just do it ourselves in a local studio somewhere, just so we could have something we can listen to. Happily, he was interested and he’s been really cool answering all my stupid questions ever since!”

A scabby-knuckled fist to the face of metal complacency, Workshed is not for the faint-hearted. Pitch-black and proudly pugilistic, this is an exuberant exorcism and a celebration of the restorative power of The Riff. Doom is forever, class is eternal: the real work has only just begun…

“We’re just looking forward to seeing how the album is received, and we’ll take it from there,” Adam concludes. “If things go well we’d love to do more. We would definitely like to start recruiting more people and we’d love to record at Orgone again. Fingers crossed!”

“Workshed” Track Listing:
1. The Windopanes at the Lexington
2. If This is How it is
3. Nowhere to Go
4. Anthropophobic
5. On Sticks Of Wood
6. The City Has Fallen
7. A Spirit In Exiile
8. Safety Behaviours
9. It Doesn’t Have to be That Way

https://www.facebook.com/workshedband/
https://www.facebook.com/riseaboverecords/
http://www.riseaboverecords.com/

Cathedral, Live in London, March 18, 1992

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