Friday Full-Length: Massive Gratitude and Some New Sleep for the Hell of It

Posted in Bootleg Theater on May 18th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I try to say thank you as often as I can on here. I really do. I’ve considered getting a ‘thanks for reading’ tattoo. Maybe for the 10th anniversary. Anyhow, this week, you’ve really saved my ass, and I don’t even know how to start showing my appreciation.

If you didn’t read the Elephant Tree live review yesterday or haven’t seen on the social medias, I’ve been in England this week with my wife, who along with another professor is leading a study abroad trip for some of her undergrad and graduate students. The three of us were staying in a house in Canterbury earlier this week, and overnight on Tuesday the place was robbed — or “burgled” as Constable Toby put it the next morning — while we slept in the bedrooms upstairs.

Well, first off, nobody got hurt. Nobody’s passport was taken. The baby didn’t even wake up. It could’ve been much worse.

Along with some other stuff, they took my laptop Big Red, camera, lenses and backpack, all of which was set up on the kitchen table so I could come downstairs early in the morning Wednesday and start to write. When the alarm went off at 5AM — a luxury for being away; usually it’s 4:30 these days — I found the door was wide open and the kitchen table had been cleaned off.

I lost stuff. Stuff can be replaced. Even my laptop and camera, which, as I’ve said, were by a wide margin the two nicest pieces of stuff I owned.

What really hurt was the years of writing on Big Red and my notes for The Obelisk. Upcoming releases, ongoing best of the year lists, Quarterly Review slots, and a calendar of upcoming premieres. Now I don’t even know what I’m reviewing on Monday. I know I’ve got commitments to host things into June and I just have no idea what they are. Online backups? Nope. Why would I need those? What, am I gonna get robbed?

Plus the years’ worth of past writings. A half decade or so of bios, press releases, my own personal stuff. That collection of Star Trek-themed poetry I was never going to finish. All that. And the music. The music on my desktop alone — new records from YOB, the Sleep album above, so many others I can’t even remember. I’ll get a new computer. But that other stuff I’ll never get back. It’s just gone.

Within hours, I couldn’t even hang my head. Scott Harrington, a friend at this point for more than a decade and the dude whose passion drives Salt of the Earth Records, sent a text and asked if he could set up a GoFundMe.

I’m not comfortable asking for money. I’m not comfortable handling money. But the fact of the matter is I’m a homemaker. I don’t work except to take care of the house and the baby and therefore I’m in a much different financial position than I was in when I purchased these things.

Scott set up a GoFundMe for $3,000, which would be enough to cover most of what I lost. It would get me a new laptop of some color — red, green, blue, banana yellow (?), whatever — a comparable camera and pay for part of the cost of a professional-grade lens like the one I had.

By the time it was Wednesday night here in the UK, as I was using a camera loaned to me by one of my wife’s students to take pictures and banging my head to Elephant Tree’s “Aphotic Blues” — maybe if I get a blue laptop I’ll name it ‘Aphotic Blue’ — the $3,000 goal was met and surpassed. Here’s where it’s at currently:

Over $4,000. More than a third beyond the original goal. I don’t even know what to say. It’s fucking insane. All of a sudden I’m looking at the Canon 5D Mark IV as a real possibility of something I can bring into my life. It’s something I never expected, and I’m absolutely floored and humbled and just given this incredible sense of warmth from the support I’ve received and all the kind words people have said about me, and this site, and everything. It’s been two days now. I still can’t get my head around it. Does not compute.

From the deepest part of me, thank you. The money’s gonna help, make no mistake, but the feeling of community, of belonging, and of being appreciated has been so incredibly validating that I’m astounded. Astounded and touched and, yeah, just made to feel like something I’ve done has mattered to somebody. It makes me want to be a better person, to be better at this, and it’s utterly renewed my faith in this project as a whole, which if I’m honest wasn’t exactly lagging but could only benefit from a kick in the pants.

So once again, thank you. The only thing I could think to do was close out the week by saying thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I’d put the notes here for what’s coming up next week, but again, I haven’t got a clue. I know at some point I was supposed to do something with Saturno Grooves and I think maybe review the new Graveyard (which, whoops, was on Big Red), and maybe a House of Broken Promises video premiere? I honestly don’t know. I’ll be seeing Colour Haze on Tuesday night, so will hope to have a review of that up Wednesday. I also travel back to the US on Wednesday, so might take Thursday off? I’m going to play it by ear a little bit and see what surfaces.

But in the meantime, thank you once again for your incredible support, whether you’ve made a donation or just shared the link, it’s huge for me. Genuinely life-changing. I will aspire to live up to the faith shown in me.

Oh, and I put a YouTube playlist with the new Sleep at the top of the post because if my gratitude was a new record, that’s the one it would be, and on the off-chance you haven’t heard it yet, you really should. I reserve the right to close out a week with a proper discussion of it again sometime probably years down the line. If you’d like to read the review of it, it’s here.

For not at all the last time, thank you. I promise something will be up Monday one way or the other.

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Yawning Man Announce July 6 Release for The Revolt Against Tired Noises

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 18th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Preorders start May 22. I’m not really sure what else you need to know. It’s a new Yawning Man album, so a bigtime covet is a given, and it’s out in July and you can preorder it starting next week. Oh, I suppose you’ll probably be interested to know they’ll be touring for it, that Heavy Psych Sounds is putting it out, that Mathias Schneeberger recorded, and that it’s been given the punk-as-hell title The Revolt Against Tired Noises. The follow-up to 2016’s Historical Graffiti (review here), which was pressed to vinyl by Lay Bare Recordings, it will mark the desert rock legends’ first collaboration with Heavy Psych Sounds, which also counts Yawning Man bassist Mario Lalli‘s other long-running band, Fatso Jetson, on its roster.

The PR wire has the specifics like this, but really, everything you need to know is in the first sentence above:

yawning man the revolt against tired noises

Desert heavy psych godfathers YAWNING MAN to issue new album “The Revolt Against Tired Noises” on July 6th via Heavy Psych Sounds.

Experimental desert rock legends YAWNING MAN announce the release of their new album “The Revolt Against Tired Noises” this July 6th on Heavy Psych Sounds Records.

The aural experience of YAWNING MAN summarizes as an intense yet graceful kaleidoscope of polyphonic musical textures. Dramatic and flowing, dark, intense and emotional. July 2018 finds the band releasing their most musically exciting recording to date with their 6th full length LP, “The Revolt Against Tired Noises” on the ambitious up and coming independent label, HPS Records. The songs on this release are described as “an emotional and visceral expression of pure melodic darkness and beauty”, the album was recorded at Gato Trail Studios in Joshua Tree, CA and produced and engineered by friend and long time collaborator, Mathias Schneeberger (Mark Lanegan, Greg Duli, SUNN O))), Earth, The Obsessed).

The eight songs offered here are the results of a conscious focus to the poetry in melody, finding new sounds and melodic passages that conjure visuals and express emotion and movement. Six of the eight songs are in the instrumental tradition the band is mostly know for however two tracks feature the rare appearance of a vocalist (bassist Mario Lalli) alongside Gary Arce’s dream weaving guitar work. One of these tracks of notable mention is the song “Catamaran”, a Yawning Man song made popular by the legendary influential desert rock band Kyuss on the 1995 Elektra release “And the Circus Leaves Town”. The song was never released by YAWNING MAN, however the Kyuss cover of the song proved to be a favorite among Kyuss fans. Spreading the word about Yawning Man’s unique rock music. Yawning Man will finally release this classic, properly recorded for the first time in 30 years. “The Revolt Against Tired Noises” is just that , a statement of a unique creative chemistry that’s always changing and evolving.

A full European, UK, North American / Canadian and South American tour is in planned to support the release. The album will be available on LTD “Half-Half” Red Clear Blue Viny, Ultra Ltd 200 “Cornetto Version” Transparent & Blue Special Colouring (Only From HPS Website), 30 Test Press (Only From HPS website), Black Vinyl, Digipak and Digital.

YAWNING MAN “The Revolt Against Tired Noises”
Out July 6th on Heavy Psych Sounds Records
Pre-order from May 22nd

TRACK LISTING:
1. The Black Kite
2. The Revolt Against Tired Noises
3. Skyline Pressure
4. Grant’s Heart
5. Violent Lights
6 Catamaran
7. Misfortune Cookies
8. Ghost Beach

YAWNING MAN IS
Gary Arce – Guitar
Mario Lalli – Bass
Bill Stinson – Drums

Yawning Man on tour:
25.07.18 | NL | Utrecht | Db’s
27.07.18 | UK | Manchester | The Rebellion
28.07.18 | UK | Bristol | The Louisiana
29.07.18 | UK | London | The Blackheart
31.07.18 | DE | Wiesbaden | Schlachthof
03.08.18 | IT | Osoppo | Pietra Sonica Festival
04.08.18 | AT | Waldhausen | Lake On Fire Festival
05.08.18 | PL | Chorzow | Red & Black
06.08.18 | PL | Warsaw | Chmury
11.08.18 | AT | Döbriach | Sauzipf Rocks Festival
13.08.18 | IT | Brescia | Festa Radio Onda D’Urto (*)
15.08.18 | IT | Ancona | Go Down Beach Fest (*)
16.08.18 | IT | Pescara | Frantic Fest (*)
17.08.18 | IT | Bari | Go Down Beach Fest (*)
18.08.18 | IT | Galatone | Sagra Del Diavolo (*)
24.08.18 | CH | Luzern | Sedel
25.08.18 | IT | Bolzano | Mountain Session
30.08.18 | GR | Thessaloniki | Street Mode Fest
02.09.18 | BU | Sofia | Mixtape 5
03.09.18 | HR | Zupanja | MKC
04.09.18 | SI | Ljubljana | Dvorana Rog
06.09.18 | FR | Clermont-Ferrand | Raymond Bar
07.09.18 | FR | Montpellier | Le Black Sheep
08.09.18 | SP | Barcelona | Rocksound
09.09.18 | SP | San Sebastian | Dabadaba
10.09.18 | SP | Gijon | Sala Memphis
11.09.18 | PO | Porto | Woodstock 69
12.09.18 | SP | Madrid | Wurlitzer Ballroom
13.09.18 | SP | Bilbao | Maritime Museum Bar

(* with ANANDA MIDA)

https://www.facebook.com/yawningmanofficial/
https://yawningman.bandcamp.com
http://www.yawningman.com/
https://www.soundofliberation.com/yawning-man
https://www.facebook.com/Sound-of-Liberation-UG-183095098426785/
https://www.facebook.com/HEAVYPSYCHSOUNDS
http://www.heavypsychsounds.com
https://heavypsychsoundsrecords.bandcamp.com

Yawning Man, Historical Graffiti (2016)

Tags: , , , , , ,

Vokonis Sign to The Sign Records; New Album Recording in August

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 18th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

In addition to an upcoming reissue of their 2016 debut, Olde One Ascending (review here), through Ripple Music — it originally came out on Ozium Records — and the news that they’ll come to the US for the first time this coming Fall, word’s out that Swedish bruisers Vokonis will issue their impending third album through The Sign Records. It’s the follow-up to 2017’s righteous sophomore outing, The Sunken Djinn (review here), which also came out through Ripple, and marks the third LP with the third respectable backing produced by the band on a relatively quick turnaround. Will it be out before the end of the year? Well, October seems like a good time given the traveling they’re set to do, but nothing’s set in stone as of now.

The signing was announced as follows:

vokonis (photo Jennika Photography)

VOKONIS JOINS THE SIGN RECORDS

Swedish heavy prog-metal-trio Vokonis joins The Sign Records. The band is heading into Studio Underjord in August to record their third album. Vokonis have two previous albums on Ripple Records and Ozium Records and have established themselves as one of the strongest new sludge acts out of Scandinavia in recent years. Vokonis is doing their first US-festival the 6th of October at the Doomed & Stoned Festival in Indianapolis. The band will continue with a European tour in late October.

The 28th of July this year Ripple Music will re-release the band debut album “Olde One Ascending” on the 28th of July. In 2019 Vokonis will appear in the movie “Planet Of Doom” with their song “Runa” that was written for the upcoming movie.

“It is with a lot of joy that we in Vokonis present our signing to The Sign Records. We’ve been fans of the label and its bands for years, it’s very honouring to collaborate with them and join The Sign Family. It feels like a natural transition for the band as we take our musical approach towards a more progressive territory. We can’t wait to unveil the heavy riff-barrage that we have for you.”
– Simon, Vokonis

“Vokonis have grown a lot as a band since taking their first steps in 2015. The band has transformed themselves into a progressive alternative rock act that brings to mind the creative freedom that we heard from artists in the 90´s. When we heard the pre-production of the new album we directly understood that Vokonis is terraforming the sludge landscape into a world of their own. We are looking forward to helping the band follow through on their journey”
– Kaj, The Sign Records

VOKONIS is:
Simon Ohlsson: Vocals, Guitar
Emil Larsson: Drums
Jonte Johansson: Bass, Backing vocals

https://www.facebook.com/OfficialVokonis/
https://open.spotify.com/artist/3DZoit5R0ahZQCNLbDnNxr?si=eh0iJ7YHQQOblw_ztadm1Q
https://www.facebook.com/thesignrecords/
http://www.thesignrecords.com

Vokonis, The Sunken Djinn (2017)

Tags: , , ,

Review & Full Album Stream: Mr. Bison, Holy Oak

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on May 18th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

mr bison holy oak

[Click here to stream Holy Oak by Mr. Bison in full. Album is out May 25 on Subsound Records.]

The number of dudes in Mr. Bison? Three. The number of those same dudes named Matteo? Three. The number album their new one, Holy Oak is in their discography? Three. The number of bassists who appear on that same record? None. Number of times you’re going to be responsible for knowing these numbers? Zero, because by the time the Pisa-based sans-bass three-piece of guitarist/vocalists Matteo Barsacchi, Matteo Sciocchetto and drummer/vocalist Matteo D’Ignazi are about two songs in — to the total nine; because numbers — the sweet fuzz, classic style fuzz and periodic excursions into psychedelic space are going to melt the math away anyhow.

Mr. Bison, who release Holy Oak as their second offering through Subsound Records behind 2016’s Asteroid, hone in on the pivotal spirit of modern desert rock. There’s some element of push in songs like “Heavy Rain,” but they’re just as likely to spend their time spreading out an open atmosphere. Consider European acts of lore like Sgt. Sunshine and Lowrider, fellow Italians OJM, or American bands like Solace for a cut like “Earth Breath,” or even up and coming practitioners like Steak. Mr. Bison belong to this category of purveyors. Their third album is mature and aware of the moves it’s making between louder, more driving material and its more subdued places, and the Matteos effectively play different sides off each other both within songs — the 7:30 centerpiece title-track walks by and waves — and in the transition between them as well.

Like many acts who operate without a bass, their claim is that the guitar tones make up for it. And true enough, any band can tune lower to make up for the lacking thicker strings if they’re so inclined, but to think of the legacy of great heavy rock loadbearers — from Geezer Butler through Scott Reeder and so on — and it would seem to be not even so much the tone as the dynamic they’re denying themselves. They compensate by weaving different guitar parts in and around each other, and in so doing craft something that, admittedly, is more their own than it would be if they were a simple guitar/bass/drum configuration. Some of it is a familiar lead/rhythm dynamic, but “The Bark” operates tonally like a battle of dueling Hendrixes, and the results make for a legitimately exciting listen.

This is something that a band three records in can do much more effectively than a band making their debut, but it’s admirable nonetheless, and from the mid-paced groove of opener “Roots” and the blown-out shuffle swagger of “Sacred Deal” — there may not be any bass, but I’d swear I hear an organ — onward, Mr. Bison retain fervent control over their transitions and the fluidity of Holy Oak as a whole. At 46 minutes, it does not feel like a minor undertaking, but neither is it redundant, as “Heavy Rain” breathes ambient life into the initial salvo and “Earth Breath” contrasts with more straightforward edge and riffing. The appropriate metaphor would be to say these two sides are doing battle, but it’s more like they’re both fighting toward the same end than fighting each other. In the post-Black Rainbows sphere of Italian heavy, Mr. Bison make a place for themselves alongside acts like Tuna de Tierra, who take the established tenets of various forms of heavy and pull them together in varying balances in order to best serve their songwriting.

True, one could easily argue that “Red Sun,” from name, to riff, to its forward punkish rhythm, is probably direct Kyuss tribute, but consider that it arrives after the Golden Void-esque “The Bark” and the boogie-laden “The Wave” and the context becomes a bit broader than a band from Italy trying to sound like a band from California. It also precedes seven-minute closer “Beyond the Edge,” and where one might expect Mr. Bison to simply switch back into the psychedelia-as-primary modus of the earlier title-track, they instead hold to a blend of funkified start-stop fuzz and scorching lead, a gritty, Radio Moscow-style blues vocal laid overtop that leads to an extended but still mostly earthbound jam.

That is to say, the band doesn’t just have a couple of set methods of songwriting and swap one out for the other. Of course this works to the benefit overall of Holy Oak, which caps with a repetitive and duly hypnotic progression while also bringing back vocals to keep the song grounded even at its most “out there” moment, which is a pretty fair analog to the entirety of the record. I’m not sure I’d call myself 100 percent on board with the zero-bass philosophy, but there’s no question that for Mr. Bison, the numbers add up. Their sound is fluid and engaging and their songwriting is varied enough that indeed they leave nothing wanting for dynamic. Many elements of what they do will be familiar to those experienced with the genre, but it’s in how they’re melded that Mr. Bison make their statement, and they make it loudly.

Mr. Bison on Thee Facebooks

Mr. Bison on Bandcamp

Subsound Records on Thee Facebooks

Subsound Records webstore

Tags: , , , , ,

Inter Arma Recording New Album for 2019 Release

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 17th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Have you started your most anticipated of 2019 list yet? If not, Richmond’s Inter Arma might be a good place to begin. Their next album is being tracked right now with Mikey Allred at the helm in Nashville and Madison, Tennessee, and will be out on Relapse early next year as the follow-up to 2016’s Paradise Gallows (review here), the latest in a series of stylistic triumphs for the hard-touring five-piece unit.

Speaking of touring, I’m assuming the album will be done by the end of this month (if it’s not done already) since on May 31 Inter Arma head out on tour with fellow Virginians Earthling and Chicago’s Bruce Lamont (Corrections HouseBloodiestYakuza, etc.). Given everything Inter Arma put into their music, I’d imagine it’s the mixing that’s the challenge more than the basic tracking process, but either way, time’s a crunch, gentlemen.

Here’s the latest from the PR wire:

inter arma (Photo Tony Lynch)

INTER ARMA: Enter Studio To Record New Album

Richmond’s INTER ARMA has entered the studio to record their highly-anticipated fourth full-length album and follow-up to 2016’s Paradise Gallows. The yet-to-be-titled album is being recorded at The Tracking Room in Nashville, TN and Dark Art Audio in Madison, TN by INTER ARMA’s longtime engineer Mikey Allred. The album is expected to be released in early 2019 via Relapse Records.

Additionally, INTER ARMA begin their US headlining tour with Earthling and Bruce Lamont at the end of the month. The tour begins May 31 and ends June 9 including performances at Doomed and Stoned Festival & Raleigh Deathfest. INTER ARMA has announced a weekend tour in August/September surrounding the inaugural Heavy Mountain Festival in Asheville, NC during Labor Day Weekend. Includes a hometown concert on August 31st with labelmates Valkyrie and Genocide Pact. All confirmed tour dates are available below.

INTER ARMA Tour Dates:

— All Dates May 31-June 8 w/ Earthling —

May 31 Louisville, KY @ Zanzabar
Jun 01 Chicago, IL @ Doomed and Stoned Festival *
Jun 02 Lansing, MI @ Mac’s +
Jun 04 Cleveland Heights, OH @ Grog Shop +
Jun 05 Pittsburgh, PA @ Brillobox +
Jun 06 Columbus, OH @ Ruby Tuesday +
Jun 07 Nashville, TN @ The End +
Jun 08 Atlanta, GA @ Drunken Unicorn +
Jun 09 Raleigh, NC @ Raleigh Deathfest *

+ w/ Bruce Lamont
* Inter Arma only

Aug 31 Richmond, VA @ Strange Matter &
Sep 01 Durham, NC @ The Pinhook
Sep 02 Asheville, NC @ Heavy Mountain Festival

& w/ Valkyrie, Genocide Pact & Paint Store

INTER ARMA are:
T.J. Childers – Drums, guitars, lap steel, keyboards, synthesizers, noise, vocals
Trey Dalton – Guitars, keyboards, vocals
Joe Kerkes – Bass
Mike Paparo – Vocals
Steven Russell – Guitars

http://www.relapse.com/inter-arma-paradise-gallows/
https://www.facebook.com/INTERARMA/
https://www.instagram.com/interarmamusic/
http://interarma.bandcamp.com/

Inter Arma, Paradise Gallows (2016)

Tags: , , ,

Ruff Majik Announce Seasons Physical Releases

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 17th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

ruff majik

A conceptual work wherein each batch of three songs was actually written in a different season, the suitably titled Seasons was self-released by Pretorian trio Ruff Majik digitally on April 20. As the band is set to tour Europe this summer twice, making stops first at Freak Valley and then at SonicBlast Moledo, and, you know, as the album kicks ass, it’s not a huge surprise that it’s been picked up for physical release. And it’s all the more telling that rather than trickle out one format at a time over a period of years (or seasons, for that matter), Ruff Majik are taking care of it all in one shot. The limited 2LP will be out through the Freak Valley-associated Rock Freaks Records in a variety of editions, and the CD and tape versions will arrive through US imprint Forbidden Place.

Both labels have the album up for preorder now. Here’s the PR wire to tell you pretty much exactly what I just told you using different words:

ruff-majik-seasons

Ruff Majik Reveal Details to Release SEASONS on CD, Cassette and Vinyl

2018 is turning out to be an incredible year for South African Sludge n Rollers Ruff Majik. With two European tours booked that will see them playing Freak Valley Festival and SonicBlast as well as a host of club shows.

They also released their debut full-length album Seasons on the 20th April to widespread critical acclaim. The guys are happy to announce that they have signed deals with US label Forbidden Place Records to release and distribute Seasons on CD and cassette, while German label Rock Freaks Records will be releasing three versions of the double LP: classic black, coloured (still a secret) and die-hard (very limited).

Vocalist and guitarist Johni Holiday commented on the news “Ruff Majik is immensely excited to take the next step in furthering our career by bringing out physical copies. With the backing of Rock Freaks and Forbidden Place, we’re making a lifelong dream come true!”

Pre-order Seasons on CD or Cassette here and on Vinyl here.

Tracklisting:
1. Harpy 04:49
2. Gone down in the woods today 05:15
3. Breathing ghosts 04:20
4. Last of the witches 03:53
5. It flies at night 03:48
6. Hanami Sakura (and the ritual suicide) 04:26
7. The deep blue 08:04
8. Hammered are the gods 04:42
9. Birds stole my eyes 04:17
10. Tar black blood 03:15
11. Come all ye druids 05:04
12. Asleep in the leaves 14:10

Ruff Majik:
Johni Holiday – Guitar, vocals
Jimi Glass – Bass guitar
Benni Manchino – Drums

https://www.ruffmajik.com/
https://www.facebook.com/ruffmajik
https://twitter.com/ruff_majik
https://www.instagram.com/ruffmajik/
https://forbiddenplacerecords.bandcamp.com/album/ruff-majik-seasons
http://shop.rockfreaks.de/en/home/92-ruff-majik-seasons-coming-soon-.html

Ruff Majik, Seasons (2018)

Tags: , , , , , ,

Live Review: Elephant Tree, Morag Tong and Wychhound in London, UK, 05.16.18

Posted in Reviews on May 17th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Elephant Tree (Photo by JJ Koczan)

The kind of evening to vibrate the plugs in your ears. I’m loath to do this, but there’s a lot of context to this one that needs quick covering, so here are a few bullet points so we’re all on the same page:

  • I’m in London with my wife who is a college professor leading a study abroad trip for students. The baby and I got to tag along. Good deal.
  • While in Canterbury, the house where we were staying was burgled overnight. Among the stolen: My laptop, my camera, my glorious cosmic backpack. Sucked. Years of writing and music, gone. No backups (I know, I know…). Patient Mrs., Pecan and self fine though, so could’ve been worse.
  • One of my wife’s students very generously let me borrow her camera and take it to The Black Heart in Camden Town to shoot Morag Tong‘s release show with Elephant Tree and Wychhound on the bill.
  • I took my first Uber to get there. You don’t actually need to know that, but it was an interesting experience nonetheless.

I met guitarist/vocalist Jack Townley and drummer Sam Hart from Elephant Tree outside The Black Heart before I even got through the door and was warmly greeted. All the more appreciated after a long day. A week after Desertfest London, I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of crowd — people could be fired up just as easily as burnt out — but it was for sure the former inside; already packed and the show, which would happen upstairs in the venue itself as opposed to the downstairs bar, hadn’t even started.

It had been half a decade since the last time I was fortunate enough to be in The Black Heart. The upstairs bar had moved from the back to the side of the venue, but beyond that, not much had changed. Downstairs was much the same as I remembered, with the big bar in the center and tables and enclaves off to the sides, a place one could both get rowdy or have a quiet conversation. Outside, people smoked like fiends. Inside, I found Elephant Tree bassist/vocalist Peter Holland, also formerly of Stubb and Trippy Wicked, old friend Chris West of an ever-increasing number of bands, among them the newly formed Glanville, whose EPK was on my stolen laptop, and met a woman Jack introduced as Sister Rainbow, who had the hair to match and for whom this would mark her 36th Elephant Tree show. Being my first, I told her she had me beat by a wide margin.

Soon enough after, things got started upstairs with Wychhound on first. The Londoners have been around a few years, and have a new EP out called Earth Orbiter following up their 2015 self-titled, which they tracked as a five-piece with vocals. Instrumental now, they made good use of the dynamic between Roberto Pini and Miles McDonald on guitar in setting the foundation for their sound, which was someplace between Kyuss-style desert worship and the heavier explorations of Pelican with shades of Russian Circles-esque post-heavy in some of its more daring moments. Bassist Neil Neighbour and drummer Sid Naghdi provided a foundation of weighted groove and allowed the guitars space to wander when they were so inclined, and some of the most effective moments came in combining forward drive with that emergent sense of space.

Even in this age of immediate access, sometimes it’s nice to go in blind — plus I, admittedly, had a pretty busy day — so I hadn’t gotten to check Wychhound out before, but their atmospherics on a piece like “Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 (SL-9)” were readily apparent and still left room for rawer, head-down riffing in the material surrounding. It was enough to make me visit their Bandcamp and snag a download, which I guess was the idea in the first place. Some growing to do, perhaps, as they continue to come into their own sound, but they were a right on way to start the night and full enough in tone that, yes, I had to keep adjusting my right earplug because the low end was making it vibrate.

Speaking of tone, fucking Elephant Tree. Their self-titled debut (review here) on Magnetic Eye was easily one of the best records of 2016, and especially after missing them last year at Psycho Las Vegas, as soon as I found out they were playing while I’d be in town, I knew I had to see them. The three-piece did not disappoint, and that wasn’t a surprise. That is, I knew they’d be good. I’d seen videos and was of course familiar with the album and all that. I knew they’d be good. What I didn’t expect was that they’d be so much fun.

Peter Holland is at very least two things, and I say them both with utter affection and zero sarcasm. He is among the most charming drunks I’ve ever encountered, and he is insanely talented. At this point I’ve seen him play in three different bands and he’s never failed to make a mark in each of them in terms of sound. His voice is immediately recognizable, his smile infectious and his style of play was as perfect a match for Townley‘s guitar on stage as it had been on the record. Also, he broke a string before they went on. They still started more or less on time, laughing and making fun of each other in the process. Then, in the first song, Hart‘s drum stool busted. Hardly missed a beat, kept playing, and fixed it before they started the next cut. Later on, one of Townley‘s pedals got stuck on and he couldn’t turn it off, making a kind of wash of low end psychedelic waves out of a verse riff in the process. No fucking complaints there.

The point is there was no stopping Elephant Tree from rolling out their massive nod. And when I say massive, I don’t just mean it sounded big, but it sounded like it had a physical presence. Tone you could chew like gum. Between the laid back groove and the laid back vibe and the lady in the crowd making seal noises — no, it wasn’t Sister Rainbow; she was down the front rocking out as only someone on their 36th show with a band could hope to do — it was impossible not to have a good time, so I put my borrowed camera down and did exactly that for a little bit. Just let it go and enjoyed myself, and whether it was the evening’s highlight “Aphotic Blues” or the album closer “Surma” or “Dawn” — which was precisely as built for a sing-along as it seems, with Townley and Holland sharing vocals — I had no regrets. Townley brought a frontman presence to the guitar/vocal spot and though there were times when the bass threatened to swallow everything in its path, his solos cut through and gave the whole thing an entirely new sense of space. What a blast.

By way of plainly stating the obvious, they were my highlight, but Morag Tong were still to go, playing cuts from their Last Knell of Om debut full-length, which is officially out tomorrow, May 18. I’d been lucky enough to hear the album prior to seeing them — it, too, was on the desktop of my stolen laptop, and I believe slated for the next Quarterly Review, though of course I can’t be sure of that because my notes… well, you get the idea — and knew a bit of what was coming. They started out with guitarists Alex Clarke and Lewis Crane both on e-bow guitar (dueling e-bows!) and would go on to play the complete album, swapping the order to finish with “To Soil” and letting drummer Adam Asquith initially bide his time before unleashing his growling vocal between “Transmission” and “New Growth.” Equal parts psychedelic and doom, they were clearly proud of the work they’d done — and rightly so — and hypnotic in their presentation enough even on stage to give a sense of the underlying element of drone on the record.

Back into the (new) notes they go for the next Quarterly Review. Swapping out the saturated red light for a cooler-toned blue, they were a fitting end to a day that had started as a huge bummer some 17 hours earlier and had a massive turnaround in spirit and mood — more on that later. As they lurched out their meditative immersion, I made my way back downstairs to say a few quick goodnights and Uber myself back to Maida Vale, having had a night so satisfying that I almost forgot about the events of the morning prior. A night of volume and heart in kind, and the kind of night that I was so glad to be a part of that I’m still wearing The Black Heart‘s paper wristband on my right arm. And I hate those damn things.

Thanks for reading.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Witch Mountain, Witch Mountain: Burning and Rebuilding

Posted in Reviews on May 16th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Witch-Mountain-Witch-Mountain

Let’s be honest: Losing a singer like the singer Witch Mountain lost is a worse fate than a band should have to endure. In 2014, following three each-better-than-the-last records in 2011’s South of Salem (review here), 2012’s Cauldron of the Wild (review here) and 2014’s gorgeous and sad Mobile of Angels (review here), frontwoman Uta Plotkin left the Portland, Oregon, doomers, and for a minute there, it looked like it might be the end. At least from the outside. But Witch Mountain existed before Plotkin — founding guitarist Rob Wrong and drummer Nathan Carson released the band’s debut, Come the Mountain (discussed here), in 2001 — and it would continue to exist after.

In a matter of months, the band was reformed in early 2015 with Wrong (who now also plays in The Skull), Carson, bassist Justin Brown (formerly of underrated trio Lamprey) and new vocalist Kayla Dixon, a transplant from Ohio with a background in the more straightforward metal outfit Demons Within, but whose voice was powerful enough to make one believe in fate. Tours with EnslavedThe SkullSaint Vitus and others followed, and in releasing their fifth album overall, first with the new lineup and first on Svart in North America as well as Europe, Witch Mountain‘s naming their latest LP Witch Mountain feels like a declaration in and of itself.

Or perhaps a victory lap, because what they came through and the manner in which they did is not to be understated. And the five-track/35-minute collection that’s resulted from three years of work on stage and an obviously thoughtful songwriting process is less about meeting the expectations of their audience than about making a definitive statement of who they are. Witch Mountain‘s Witch Mountain did not happen by accident.

From the first slogging riff and on-the-bell ride hits of opener “Midnight,” that’s readily apparent, and Dixon is about two lines into the first verse before she gives a first glimpse at the throat-ripper of a scream that seems a constant threat to be unleashed amidst her soulful melodic delivery. As a showcase of range and arrangement for her, the opener also boasts a choice solo from Wrong and gives Brown a chance to establish himself as indispensable on the low end. Witch Mountain has been through a succession of bassists but as the march of “Midnight” slams to starts and stops under Dixon‘s soaring voice, he proves an excellent fit with Wrong and Carson, and when they roll into a scream-laced hook in the second half of the track, the bass is all the more essential in setting the groundwork for that turn and the shift into the memorable Spirit cover “Mechanical World.”

The bluesy lyrics and vibe are an excellent fit for Witch Mountain‘s style of doom, Wrong adding subtle flourish around the central riff as Dixon again showcases her breadth as a vocalist, the song moving into manic thrust from its verse just for a minute before running into an even slower, minimal stretch of open, vocal-led atmospherics. If one thinks of “Midnight” as an introductory statement, and “Mechanical World” as helping to set the tone and range for the album as a whole, then the seven-minute side A closer “Burn You Down” is where Witch Mountain really seem to dig into the proceedings.

witch mountain photo whitey mcconnaughy

Dixon is nigh-omnipresent save for solo spots but not overbearing in the mix, and the drums and bass behind do well in setting up a build just past the midpoint where layers of backing choral vocals push her forward to set up a section of vitriolic screams and growls and spiteful lyrics. Wrong likewise tears into another echoing solo as Brown and Carson plod away behind, and “Burn You Down” lumbers to its finish and comes apart to silence at the close of the record’s first half.

As much as the narrative of Witch Mountain is invariably going to be based around the band pressing forward after what would have been the undoing of many acts — and not unreasonably so; that’s the story here and not a minor accomplishment — the truth is that happened three years ago and what’s even more striking is the movement and command within these songs. “Burn You Down,” inarguably the angriest track on the record, still keeps its sense of control as it shifts from one part to the next, and its motion is consuming.

There’s less time for swapping out vibes, but 2:23 acoustic-based side B opener “Hellfire” finds Dixon backed by a simple guitar line and cymbal washes, some piano, as she becomes an entire gospel choir and backs her own central lyric with professional-level ease. There’s a pause as if to say, “Okay, you just let that sink in,” and then the far-back guitar of howl of 14-minute closer “Nighthawk” arrives, complemented by a drum build and bass rhythm that slams into the fullness of its slow push. The band trades back and forth in volume and Dixon drawls out early verses and at the three-minute mark gorgeously matches notes with the start of a short solo from Wrong before the next verse.

A linear build is underway subtly, and the Dixon choral layers reemerge as the band approaches five-minutes in and pick up the tempo ahead of another open stretch and highlight vocal performance, self-harmonies and all. At about 8:20, the guitar takes the fore again and leads the transition into a section of tom fills, chugging riffs and growls and screams working in unison. There’s a break from the onslaught about two minutes later as the guitar seems to nod at fellow Oregonians and former tourmates YOB, but the churn fades back in and soon enough they’re back to destruction-mode. The final break is just after 12 minutes in and sets up a crescendo of spoken and sung vocals, full-on riffing and dirge march behind until the last wash of cymbal and fading feedback signals the end.

I’ve said as much before, but it bears repeating: They did it. They pulled it off. There’s no question in listening to Witch Mountain‘s Witch Mountain that the band is aware of who they are and what they want to be, but as much as one might argue the album is a reset, it’s not at all a step backward. They’ve set themselves on a new course that holds over elements of who they were before and will allow them to continue to progress as an outfit, and while for sure there will be some who doubt, once or twice through the album is enough to vaporize any question whatsoever. The statement is made. This is Witch Mountain. Long live.

Witch Mountain on Thee Facebooks

Witch Mountain on Bandcamp

Svart Records website

Svart Records on Thee Facebooks

Svart Records on Twitter

Tags: , , , , ,