Friday Full-Length: Brant Bjork and the Bros., Somera Sól

Posted in Bootleg Theater on March 16th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Never mind what he’s brought to the genre in Kyuss, Fu Manchu, the early Desert Sessions or his brief time in Fatso Jetson, Brant Bjork‘s greatest contributions have been in his solo catalog. From his now-classic 1999 debut Jalamanta (discussed here) through 2016’s Tao of the Devil (review here), he’s developed an inimitable yet highly influential style that’s become synonymous with desert rock itself. I’ve called him the “godfather of desert groove” so many times at this point my brain hurts from it, but that’s what he is, and of all the former members of Kyuss, I don’t think any of them have done so much to set the course for the aesthetic as Bjork, whatever level of commercial success they may have attained.

There are a couple different ways to look at 2007’s Somera Sól. Bjork has both composed and performed albums entirely on his own and worked with a variety of other players over the course of the last 19 years. Somera Sól was his second and final outing with Brant Bjork and the Bros., and it reunited him with drummer Alfredo Hernandez — the two had previously worked together in the short-lived trio Ché — boasted guest appearances from Olive LalliSean Wheeler on “Freaks of Nature” and Mario Lalli and Vince Meghrouni of Fatso Jetson on funk-fortified closer “Blood in the Gallery” and the penultimate “Lion Wings,” respectively, featured bassist Dylan Roche and guitarist Cortez, production from Mathias Schneeberger, and took a more forward tack than much of what Bjork had overseen in the years prior. To wit, the previous outing with The Bros. behind him, 2005’s Saved by Magic, was a 2CD that, like nearly all 2CD releases, probably would’ve been better served being split up into an actual pair of albums, and while Somera Sól would be his final offering in that incarnation, his interest in playing in a band — the 2002 LP from Brant Bjork and the Operators hadn’t actually featured a full group of players, but after his run with the semi-Kyuss reunion Vista Chino in 2013, he’d form Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band — has always come and gone.

But one might look at Somera Sól as the capstone of this particular era of Bjork‘s “solo” career. The end of The Bros., and it’s a hell of a way to go out, with hooks like “Love is Revolution,” “Freaks of Nature,” “Shrine Communications” and so on. But at the same time, Somera Sól was also a distinct shift in sound for Bjork in general. Or at very least in presentation. I always have a hard time thinking of it outside the context of the immediately preceding 2007 release Tres Dias, which was essentially comprised of solo acoustic recordings of songs new and older — it opened with “Too Many Chiefs” from Jalamanta — and gave an intimate, folkish, sometimes protest-song manifestation to material that would wind up later the same year on Somera Sól like “Love is Revolution,” “Chinarosa” and “The Native Tongue,” making the two records complementary in a way despite a vastly different context of volume and arrangement. But not only was Somera Sól full-on in terms of the complete band (and then some) at work, it was also a marked shift in production method, and cleaner-sounding than anything Bjork had produced up to that point.

This gets to to the heart of where Somera Sól lies and what Somera Sól signifies in the Brant Bjork catalog. More than a complement for Tres Dias and more than the end of the Bros. era, it’s the record that brought the full maturity of Bjork‘s approach to light for the first time. It was clear-sounding, clean-sounding. Its tones still had that laid back spirit and some telltale fuzz — “The Native Tongue” walks by and waves — but the way those came through as part of the listening experience was more professionalized, reaching out to a broader audience than records like 2003’s Keep Your Cool or 2004’s Local Angel (discussed here) could have with their rougher sound. After 2008’s somewhat reactionary Punk Rock Guilt, which was comprised of earlier recordings, it’s a method Bjork would keep to on 2010’s Gods and Goddesses (review here), and when he returned to solo work following the stint with Kyuss Lives!/Vista Chino — whose 2013 album, Peace (review here), I’ll still argue is worthy of a follow-up, especially with C.O.C.‘s Mike Dean on bass — he formed the already-noted Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band and released 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here) as a predecessor to Tao of the Devil and last year’s Europe ’16 (review here) live offering. Looking back over the last 11 years of his output, Somera Sól seems to be the epicenter from which much of it emanates.

Even if it wasn’t such a choice display of songwriting or characteristic performance on the part of Bjork himself — has the dude ever sounded more like the dude than he does on “Ultimate Kickback” or “Love is Revolution?” — Somera Sól was/is a special moment in Brant Bjork‘s discography, and whether you picked up on his stuff before or after or if this is the first time you’ve ever heard anything he’s done as a solo artist, there’s no question it’s a standout moment and a defining statement of intent that continues to resonate in his work more than a decade later.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

So I went to another doctor last Friday. My two favorite lines from the entire experience? 1: “Well I don’t think you’re going to throw a clot.” Please. My life should be so interesting. 2: “You can put your undies back on.” I had no idea “undies” was a medical term. The EKG was normal, there’s no fluid around my lungs, she gave me a new pill for all the swelling that seems to be taking some of it down — I guess you’d mark it a win. Plus, she’s even further away than my regular primary care physician, so, bonus! I just love travel. Especially in Boston traffic. Best drivers.

I nonetheless spent a goodly portion of this week in a miserable daze. Seriously. Only reason I even knew today was Friday was because I had it in my notes that I needed to do this post. If I look at the calendar again and see it’s Wednesday or something I’m going to feel like a real ass.

You want to hear a nice story that’s not about me hating myself? Yesterday I took The Pecan to a record store. We were headed to the farm in Rhode Island to pick up some chicken — because you’re fucking right I drive an hour to buy chicken, and yes, I buy in bulk — and I wanted to pick up the new Judas Priest and Monster Magnet records, so I looked up where the nearest Newbury Comics — a New England institution no less than Samuel Adams, “local fahkin’ spoahts, khed” and yelling epithets at people out your car window as you pass by — was and hit the mall. I carried the baby in and perused the rock and metal sections for a while, grabbed the Priest, which was on sale. Turned out the Magnet doesn’t arrive until next week — you’d think I’d know that, right? — but I got that new Jimi Hendrix collection because, well, new Jimi Hendrix collection, and it was a good time. The baby was down for being carried around, as he has been of late to the point of screaming like fucking mad every time you put him in one of his 15 chairs, and I haven’t listened to the Hendrix yet — it’s on the agenda for today if I can ever stop putting the new Grayceon on repeat — but the first half of the Priest record rules and that’s good enough for me. It was a nice trip. Then The Pecan and I walked past Victoria’s Secret and I explained to him the importance of respecting your partner’s choices when it comes to “undies” and whatever else. The two middle-aged ladies walking for exercise in the mall were confused as hell as they went the other way by us as we walked, but they smiled anyway, because he’s a baby and that’s what people are biologically programmed to do.

So yeah, yesterday turned out alright. Also did some grocery shopping, which is pretty much standard at this point, though both buying and consuming food kind of disgusts me and there’s like this whole self-punishment aspect I’ve developed to this “refeeding” thing. I spent a lot of time this week wishing I had died when I was (apparently) starving myself. A lot. Oh well. Better luck next time. “I don’t think you’re going to throw a clot.”

As I’ve told everyone — doctors, therapist, nutritionist, my wife, even my father yesterday on the phone — if I was going to kill myself, I’d have done it by now.

The Patient Mrs. and The Pecan are off to town (to Boston, that is) today to be human beings for a while. I’m staying home, essentially to not. I have writing to do which in all likelihood I’ll blow off either to sleep or to read or to watch baseball — or all of them — while trying not to think about food or how swollen my legs still are or whatever. While I keep on keeping on, essentially, and keep listening to the new Grayceon, which fucking rules.

I’m also going to make nut butter in just a little bit. It’s about quarter to six in the morning as I write this. Hi. I’m out of my fucking mind. This time’s blend: Salted and unsalted peanuts, salted and unsalted cashews, salted macadamia nuts. Maybe some almonds if there’s room in the food processor. We’ll see. The race is on though because I expect any minute now to get the call to go upstairs and change the baby’s diaper.

Here’s what’s up for next week, subject to change blah blah blah:

Mon.: Maybe an Aeonian Sorrow review/premiere? Not sure.
Tue.: Mouth review/stream.
Wed.: Ruff Majik premiere.
Thu.: Rattlesnake premiere.
Fri.: Robespierre premiere.

There’s videos and news and such as well, I’m just not there yet on organization. I’ll figure it out. I have some other writing to do this weekend anyway — a new bio for Kings Destroy and a big announcement for Heavy Psych Sounds — so I’ll be on the laptop one way or another.

And if you’re wondering, the next Quarterly Review begins Monday, April 2.

Please have a great and safe weekend. Like I said, I’ll be around writing and likely on the social medias as well, so feel free to say hi. And please don’t forget to check out the forum and radio stream.

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

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Wooden Shjips Announce Tour Supporting New Album V.

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 16th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Do I wish Wooden Shjips‘ newly-announced tour was bringing them somewhere near me? Yeah, I do. But I also kind of wish I lived or at least had a rental property in any number of the cities listed that they are hitting, so, you know, take it with a grain of whatever kinds of grains you take. The psychedeliciosos are set to issue their new album, the apparently punctuated V., on May 25 via Thrill Jockey, and by then they’ll already be well into the process of heralding its arrival, which they’ll continue to do into June as they play Huichica Music Festival and more.

Album preorder link and tour dates are below courtesy of the PR write along with the stream of the single “Staring at the Sun,” so really I’m not sure what you’re still doing up here. Go on. Go dig in.

Go on:

wooden shjips

Wooden Shjips Announce North American Tour Dates

V., First New Album In Five Years, Out May 25th on Thrill Jockey

West Coast psychedelic pillars Wooden Shjips recently announced V., their first album since 2013, which shows the band acting in opposition to the dark vibes of contemporary American life in favor of an optimistic, bright mood. The band has now announced an extensive string of North American dates, bringing their peaceful resistance to cities around the continent early this summer. Legendarily powerful in the live arena, Wooden Shjips perfect their hypnotic grooves on stage.

Wooden Shjips previously shared “Staring At The Sun,” a nearly 8-minute track that was written while singer and guitarist Ripley Johnson watched a wildfire threaten his home outside of Portland, OR.

Wooden Shjips Tour Dates:
April 13 – Portland, OR – Bunk Bar
April 14 – Bellingham, WA – Shakedown
April 20 – Half Moon Bay, CA – Old Princeton Landing
April 21 – Santa Cruz – Michael’s On Main
April 29 – Austin, TX – Levitation Festival
May 25 – Portland, OR – Mississippi Studios
May 26 – Seattle, WA – Crocodile
June 1 – Nelsonville, OH – Nelsonville Music Festival
June 2 – Chicago, IL – Empty Bottle
June 4 – Detroit, MI – Marble Bar
June 5 – Toronto, ON – Horseshoe Tavern
June 7 – Los Angeles, CA – The Lodge
June 9 – Sonoma, CA – Huichica Music Festival

Pre-order V. from Thrill Jockey:

Wooden Shjips, “Staring at the Sun”

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T.G. Olson Releases New Album A Stone that Forever Rolls

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 16th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

So maybe you’re saying to yourself right now, ‘Hey, didn’t this loser blogger dope post about a new T.G. Olson record like two weeks ago?” Indeed, he — I mean I — did. That album was the more experimentalist Owned and Operated By: Twang Trust, LLC (info here). This one is the more structured, more crisply produced A Stone that Forever Rolls, which begins with the psychedelic folk of its opening track and unfolds gracefully through eight tracks and 30 minutes of gorgeous arrangement balance and a clearly different intent than the last time out.

I think next chance I get to do so — so, next month maybe? — I’ll probably review the two releases together, just to give the side-by-side and really emphasize how different they are. Two things though that worry me about A Stone that Forever Rolls. First, Olson dedicates it to Odin, who he then names “DOGGOD,” which tells me that his dog died. And that sucks in a way that few things sucks. Condolences to Olson for the loss.

Also in not-as-tragic-but-hardly-fortunate news, it would seem Olson‘s Roland VS-1680 — the “VS” standing for “virtual studio,” as in,his recording apparatus — has bit the dust. These things are replaceable but hardly cheap, and while I doubt it’ll hold Olson up for all that long, it’s still a pain to deal with.

At least the album is beautiful. It was released in the usual manner: posted at the Across Tundras Bandcamp page with little fanfare beyond a post on Thee Facebooks. You can stream and download it at the bottom of this post. Other info follows:

tg olson a stone that forever rolls

T.G. OLSON – A Stone that Forever Rolls

The end of an era…

Adios Odin and the VS-1680 aka “The Machine”

1. A Stone That Forever Rolls 03:56
2. The Storms a Comin’ 03:43
3. Down in the Draw 03:20
4. Still They Haunt Us 04:16
5. Around a Slow Dying Fire 03:54
6. In the Valley of the Tomb of the Kings 03:16
7. Slow Tick 04:29
8. Bless yr Heart My Friend 03:46

Recorded ~ Mixed ~ Mastered : January – March 2018 by T.G. Olson

For Odin ~ DOGGOD

T.G. Olson, A Stone that Forever Rolls

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Calliope Post “Sea of Red” Video; Chapel Perilousout March 31

Posted in Bootleg Theater on March 16th, 2018 by JJ Koczan


I suppose it would be a real, real stretch to think of Milwaukee as just being very high desert, so we’ll skip that, but let’s say instead that when it comes to atmosphere, Calliope‘s Chapel Perilous — their third album behind a 2013 self-titled and 2014’s Orbis — there’s more than a bit of sand to contend with in terms of the sound of songs like the happy-to-drift “Creep No More” and, unsurprisingly, “The Dunes.” The new single, “Sea of Red,” takes a somewhat different approach, with a descending chorus that reminds of Snail‘s grunge-gone-heavy methodology while retaining its own flavor in terms of tone and pace.

One could probably spend all day pointing out neo-psych influences to songs like the building swirl of “Evil as You” or the percussive “Brujo,” but frankly I have neither the time nor the inclination. Instead, the Dead Meadow nuances of “Sands of July” and the oh-fuck-yes-more-of-this-please atmospheric wash of post-heavy instrumental closer “Little Smoke” do plenty to signify where Calliope are coming from and the winding, possibly-melting road they’re taking to get where they’re headed.

Over the course of their 10-track/40-minute runtime, the direction of that road changes a bit, but Calliope always seem to have a lysergic underpinning to their intentions, as the oddball droning breadth of the title-track shows, or the languid, semi-Western flow in the verses of the earlier “Carry Me Home.” With emphasis on the intertwining of organ and guitar — the one often laying the bed for the other, as on opener “Astral Hand” — Calliope are able to bring a sense of drama to their songwriting without having to veer too far from traditional verse/chorus structures. Except, of course, when they want to, as on the already noted “Little Smoke.”

If the vocals of Al Kraemer sound familiar by the time you get down to “Brujo,” it might be because he also fronts Moon Rats, whose 2017 debut, Highway Lord (review here), was such a garden of riffly delights. If not, now you know. So there.

Romanus Records has Chapel Perilous out on March 31. Check out the clip for “Sea of Red” below — spoiler alert: somebody gets stabbed — and please enjoy:

Calliope, “Sea of Red” official video

“Drown me in your sea of red”

The new LP, Chapel Perilous, out 3/31 on Romanus Records.

Calliope is a heavy psych rock band from Milwaukee, WI. Drawing influences from classic and modern alike, Calliope pushes fuzzed-out guitar licks and organ-driven grooves reminiscent of bands like The Black Angels, Dead Meadow, Deep Purple and Pink Floyd. Inspired by the cinematic themes of Sci-Fi, Westerns and Anime, Calliope creates a sound that’s wholly their own.

It all started when Al brought his vintage Farfisa combo organ over to Vic’s house back in 2010 for some casual, hazy attic noodling. Now two studio albums and countless gigs later, Calliope is about to embark on their third studio release; Chapel Perilous. Recorded in a remote cabin in the northwoods of Wisconsin, Chapel Perilous captures the sonic amalgamation of electric fuzz, droning organs, thundering drums, crushing bass and soulful vocals. Chapel Perilous will be available 3/31/18 via Romanus Records.

Al Kraemer: Vocals / Organ
Victor Buell IV: Guitar
Anthony Smith: Bass
Eric Gomoll: Drums

Calliope on Thee Facebooks

Calliope on Bandcamp

Romanus Records webstore

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Death Pesos to Release Couch Glue Single April 6

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 16th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

With a reliable blend of aggro noise and heavy groove — and they’re from Boston! go figure! — Death Pesos return next month with new single given the title Couch Glue. While there’s a big part of me that wants to imagine that the song is about Star Trek: Deep Space Nine seasons four through seven, I doubt that’s actually where they’re coming from. Still, anyone who heard their Drug Worship single (posted here) last year knows they’ve got potential, and having heard the new tracks — that is, “Couch Glue” itself and its six-minute B-side, “Evil Eye” — I can affirm that’s still very much the case.

Info came down the PR wire for your perusal and calendar marking:

death pesos couch glue

Death Pesos is releasing a new single, “Couch Glue”, on 4/6/18.

The song was recorded with Alex Garcia-Rivera (American Nightmare, Piebald) at his Mystic Valley Recording Studio in Medford, MA, straight to 24 track, 2 inch tape, like the gods intended.

This is a heavy, fuzzy slab of rock n’ roll for those who insist on leaving their physical reality behind. For those who prefer indica. For those raised by the Super Mario Brothers. And especially for those who just can’t quite seem to get up off the couch to turn the record over.

Death Pesos hearkens back to the golden age of dinosauric riffs and gelatinous, sludgy yet sturdy rhythms. Like a time machine to that unbelievable show you saw back in ’71, if only you could remember the band’s name through the haze of smoke and years gone by.

Featuring cover art by Massachusetts luminary Sean Watroba, the heavy eyelids, perma-smirk and crimson tinted ocular orbs say it all.

Spin this one on repeat and you’ll be glued to your couch ’til next time.

* Features “Evil Eye” as the B-side, a cautionary tale of government surveillance and poisonous, all-seeing robots taking up real estate in your mind

Upcoming dates
Friday, April 6th, with Jessica Rabbit Syndrome • Sundrifter • Canadian Rifle @ Obrien’s • Allston, MA
Tuesday, May 8th with Cult Fiction • Faux Ferocious @ Pink Noise Studio • Somerville, MA
Saturday, May 12th with TBA @ Somerville Porchfest • Somerville, MA

Death Pesos, “Drug Worship”

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Review & Full Album Premiere: Various Artists, Legends of the Desert Desertfest 12″

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on March 16th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

va legends of the desert 4 way split

For the last several years, German imprint H42 Records has partnered with Desertfest to create a special limited split release for in honor of the Spring festivals in London and Berlin. Past editions have included Karma to Burn and Sons of Alpha Centauri, Raging Speedhorn together with Monster Magnet, and Greenleaf locking heads with Steak — the tracks generally with some measure of exclusivity, be they previously unreleased, a remastered oldie (which I seem to recall was the case with Greenleaf), etc. In 2018, a year where the entire universe has unveiled its conspiracy against humanity to be completely overwhelming, H42 has also decided to up its game, though it does so in particularly serene fashion.

This year’s Desertfest split is titled Legends of the Desert, and in addition to jumping from 7″ vinyl to a full 12″, it also doubles the amount of acts included from two to four, bringing together the interrelated projects Fatso Jetson, Yawning Sons, WaterWays and Mario Lalli und Matthias Schneeberger to each present one cut seemingly representing one aspect or another of the Californian desert that the principle figures involved call home. Speaking of, while there are four groups included on Legends of the Desert, the platter is really telling the story of two key figures of California’s initial low desert rock scene in Mario Lalli and Gary Arce. Arce‘s trademark shimmering surf-derived guitar tone features on two of the four inclusions — Yawning Sons’ “Down in the Street,” and WaterWays‘ “Three Rivers” — while Lalli is aboard for three as a member of Fatso Jetson, WaterWays and of course his solo-project with Schneeberger, whose production work not only for Fatso Jetson but also the likes of earthlings?, Nick Oliveriand Gutter Twins, among many, many others, has made him a crucial presence behind the board in that scene.

As they should, Fatso Jetson lead off the proceedings with “Semi Lost,” which even if it weren’t the only track to include vocals would probably still be the catchiest song here. Aside from their “desert legends” status, which is basically irrefutable more than 20 years into their career, Fatso JetsonMario Lalli on guitar/vocals, Dino von Lalli on guitar, Larry Lalli on bass and Tony Tornay (now also of All Souls) on drums — have retained the experimentalist sensibility of their songwriting. As their last album, 2016’s Idle Hands (review here) reminded, their songwriting process is deeply varied, and as they open side A with “Semi Lost,” it’s a more laid back feel than some of their more forward punk-blasting groovers. Just so happens — total coincidence, I’m sure — that in addition to providing that landmark hook, it suits the vibe of the split really well.

Last I heard, Mario Lalli and Tony Tornay were both in WaterWays as well, featuring as the rhythm section alongside Gary Arce‘s inimitable guitar tone, derived from surf and goth rock but unmistakably of the desert itself. Though the two groups are very different, Arce serves as the uniting force between WaterWays closing out side A with the four-minute just-too-active-to-really-be-drift-but-kind-of-drifting-anyway “Three Rivers,” his guitar tone echoing out spacious as ever and evocative of the desert in a manner that groups from around the world have done their best to emulate and generally fallen flat in the effort. “Three Rivers” is resoundingly hypnotic, despite being just four minutes long, and though it’s twice the length and has a much fuller arrangement owing to the complete lineup of UK progressive instrumentalists Sons of Alpha Centauri, Yawning Sons‘ “Down in the Street” might dip lower in low end tone, but ultimately winds up in a similarly broad sphere, the ambience stretching out comfortably and patiently for the song’s duration, no less trance-inducing leading off side B than “Three Rivers” was in capping side A, though I will readily admit to being a sucker for Yawning Sons as I still consider their lone full-length, 2009’s Ceremony to the Sunset (review here, vinyl review here), among the finest releases Californian desert rock has ever produced. Anything new from them is welcome as far as I’m concerned.

Legends of the Desert ends with a particular note of intrigue in Mario Lalli und Matthias Schneeberger‘s “Spector,” which at 4:17 brings together the clear collaborative elements of the former’s guitar and the latter’s keys, but there are also drums and bass involved and I’m not sure who handled them. If it’s a studio project, it could’ve certainly been either party or someone like Tornay stopping through for the afternoon, but the real question is why “Spector” isn’t a Fatso Jetson song. Sure it’s instrumental, but Fatso Jetson have done plenty of instrumentals over the years, and Schneeberger, aside from producing, has been a regular guest contributor to their work. One can easily imagine, then, it was a conscious decision to adopt the Lalli/Schneeberger banner, and extrapolate from that the curiosity as to whether the two will collaborate directly on some future release apart from Lalli‘s work in Fatso Jetson, and what that might sound like. “Spector,” for what it’s worth, continues in the open-feeling spirit of Yawning Sons and WaterWays before it — a bit darker in tone — and whether or not it’s a harbinger of things to come, it makes a satisfying closing argument to Legends of the Desert, each side of which tells the tale of arid-climate-born fluidity and resonates with a creative force unlike anything from anywhere else. These Legends are still being told, still being shaped, but there’s no question that the impact they’ve had on the worldwide underground is massive, and if that’s what’s being celebrated here, you’ll get no argument from me.

I have the pleasure today of streaming the complete Legends of the Desert 12″, which officially releases May 4. You’ll find it below courtesy of H42 Records and Desertfest, and it is presented with my gratitude to both of them as well as to you for reading and listening.

Please enjoy:

DESERTFEST is just around the corner in May. 2018. For the past three years we contributed in collaboration with the DesertFest team the vinyl for the FEST. We decided to change the format into the 12″ vinyl format this year.

And what fits better to the DesertFest, as an album with bands with a very big relation to the ‘desert’? So we called the album LEGENDS OF THE DESERT (RELEASE MAY 4th 2018). For this fantastic vinyl we could won great bands and musicians, each of them with a previously unreleased song:

FATSO JETSON, YAWNING SONS, WATERWAYS and a solo project under the direction of MARIO LALLI & MATHIAS SCHNEEBERGER. As always ALEXANDER VON WIEDING was responsible for artwork and layout: a slightly variation of the original 7″ art.

Desertfest London website

H42 Records on Thee Facebooks

H42 Records on Bandcamp

H42 Records website

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Shadow Woods IV Announces Lineup with Tombs, Xasthur, Heavy Temple, Rozamov & Many More

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 15th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

I don’t have any idea what Shadow Woods IV — the name trimmed down from the original Shadow Woods Metal Fest for reasons that will become clear as you continue to read — would possibly have to gain from any kind of endorsement on my part, official or not, but let me say anyway that if you can’t respect this idea, the fact that they’ve done it four years running, and the obvious blood-borne passion that goes into making each edition an event unlike anything else in the US when it comes to the mix of bands, the locale, the vibe and the very concept from which it’s working, you can basically fuck off. I may not be into every band on this list — it’s a really, really long list — but there are plenty here who would justify a trip to Harpers Ferry in September, and yeah, all this is is something special year after year.

The lineup this time around is completely over the top, as you can see first in the grim-grim-grim poster below, then in the running order for each for Shadow Woods IV‘s three nights, and then, finally, in alphabetical order, because they are thorough and that’s only one more reason to hold Shadow Woods in such high regard.



Shadow Woods Productions LLC presents the fourth edition of Shadow Woods Metal Fest, now simply referred to as Shadow Woods IV.

What: Shadow Woods IV is a multi-day open air music and camping event in that includes bands from many subgenres of metal, rock, folk, experimental and noise. The fest will host more than 40 bands on two alternating stages with no overlapping sets so attendees can enjoy every set. There will also be delicious food, craft beer, a vendor marketplace with art, jewelry, home decor, music, and rock and metal merchandise.

Where: Our new fest venue is the Harpers Ferry Adventure Center (HFAC) located at 37410 Adventure Center Lane in Purcellville, VA 20132, situated in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains at the confluence of the Shenandoah and the Potomac rivers. HFAC features zip lines, ropes courses, tubing, white water rafting, cabins, campsites and an onsite craft brewery. It is located just a little more than a hour from Washington DC and Baltimore, MD near the intersection of the Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia state lines. Festival attendees receive a discount of HFAC activities as well as on the cost of campground and cabin rental with the Shadow Woods group rate.

When: Sept 20-22, 2018. Thursday night features primarily acoustic, folk and ritual noise from 6 p.m. until 11 pm. Friday and Saturday showcases rock and metal bands from noon until 11 pm each day.

How: Tickets are on sale now. A full weekend event pass is $130. Day passes for Thursday are $30; Friday and Saturday passes are $60 each. (Important note: Tent camping and cabin are not included in the tickets. Reservations must be made directly through the HFAC and you must request the Shadow Woods group rate. The venue is requesting that attendees hold off on reserving sites for the time being until a system can be put in place for managing this.)

Why: “It was pretty clear from the positive feedback I received after the 2017 fest that festival goers did not want to see Shadow Woods end, even though our property in Maryland had been sold,” said Mary Spiro, fest founder. So without a venue or a confirmed lineup, I started quietly raising the funds to do a new fest via the contributions of past attendees. In January 2018, I was able to find an fantastic site to host the fest that was even better than what we had before. The lineup came together very quickly and I am extremely proud and excited to present these past favorites and new discoveries.”

Here is lineup by day in roughly the reverse order of playing (so headliner at the top) subject to change of course. Then the lineup is in ABC order at the bottom. Brian Sheehan has done the poster.

At this time in terms of Vendors, you can say expect to see some of the ones seen last year plus many new ones.

Don’t have any food vendors or specific sponsors named yet. Beer is the Harpers Ferry Brewing Company which is part of the venue.

Xasthur – doomgrass, folk rock (Los Angeles, CA)
On The Water – strange folk (Philadelphia)
Goblin Hovel – metal folk (NY/PA)
Skulsyr – occult noise (Doylestown, PA)
Jerome Deppe and Miss Elizabeth’s All-Girl Band – folk ballads of the damned (Baltimore, MD)
Bound For The Ground – the devil’s blues supergroup with members of Grave Gnosis, The Owls Are Not What They Seem, and Cultic (GA/FL/PA)
Earendel – acoustic folk duo (Baltimore)

Tombs – post metal (NYC)
Rozamov – psyche-tinged grueling doom (Boston)
Heavy Temple – Hard Fuzz, Psych and Doom (Philadelphia)
Barishi – Gritty Progressive Metal (Brattleboro, VT)
Aether Realm – Viking folk metal (Greenville, NC)
Destroyer of Light – doom and roll (Austin, TX)
Electropathic – doom hard rock with members from several foundational Maryland doom groups (Wheaton, MD)
Husbandry – Fugazi meets Aaliyah (NYC)
God Root – ritualistic sludge (Philadelphia)
Dysfigure – modern heavy metal (Martinsburg, WV)
Windfaerer – extreme aural entity (New Jersey)
Witch Hazel – occult rock and roll/doom (York, PA)
Forest of Legend – doom/stoner/sludge (Virginia Beach, VA)
Hepatagua – sludge/doom/thrash (Boston)
Flummox – nongenre specific doomy metal (Murfreesboro, TN)
Ferus Din – black metal and flutes (Buffalo, NY)
Haze Mage – stoner metal (Baltimore)
Malphas – progressive blackened melodeath (Philadelphia)

Uada – black metal (Portland, OR)
Cloak – black and roll (Atlanta, GA)
Panzerfaust – black metal (Toronto, ON)
Voarm – black metal (Richmond, VA)
Imperial Triumphant – black metal (NYC)
Athame – black metal (MD/WV)
Hubris – black metal (Buffalo, NY)
Enthauptung – atmospheric black metal (Rochester, NY)
A Sound of Thunder – traditional/NWOBHM heavy metal (DC/VA)
Bound By The Grave – death metal (Baltimore)
Destroying Angel – dark folk rock (Philadelphia)
All Hell – black and roll (Asheville, NC)
Black Mass – death thrash (Boston)
Hexxus – sludge metal (Birmingham, AL)
Replicant – death metal (NJ)
Tyrannis – death metal (Radford, VA)
Sluagh – progressive metal (Martinsburg, WV)
Sickdeer – death metal (DC)

Aether Realm
All Hell
A Sound of Thunder
Black Mass
Bound By The Grave
Bound For The Ground
Jerome Deppe and Miss Elizabeth’s All-Girl Band
Destroyer of Light
Destroying Angel
Ferus Din
Forest of Legend
Goblin Hovel
God Root
Haze Mage
Heavy Temple
Imperial Triumphant
On The Water
Witch Hazel

Shadow Woods Metal Fest 2018 playlist

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Earthless, Black Heaven: Gifts of the Wind

Posted in Reviews on March 15th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

earthless black heaven

There will be those who decry the stylistic changes that San Diego — and really, the West Coast as a whole — heavy psych forerunners Earthless make on their fourth album, Black Heaven, which, with its somewhat quizzical title, also marks the trio’s debut on Nuclear Blast after a longer term alignment with Tee Pee that ran right up to 2016’s Acid Crusher / Mount Swan split (review here) with jammy acolytes Harsh Toke. The use of vocals in a major way for the first time, the paring down of song structures as compared to the massive sprawling righteousness that Earthless‘ reputation has been built on to this point will be departures that no doubt will have some in their fanbase calling them sellouts. This position, in this instance as in at least 85 percent of all instances as regards underground bands, is dumb. When Earthless start doing infomercials for electric scissors, maybe they will have sold out.

Guitarist Isaiah Mitchell wants to sing on four out of the six tracks on a 40-minute record? That’s not selling out. That’s a simple shift in approach. And here’s the thing: I can just about guarantee that for every longtime Earthless follower who refuses to get on board with the hook of “End to End” or opener “Gifted by the Wind,” two new heads will be turned onto what they’re doing for the first time. They’re not selling out. They’re reaching out. And I know they’re not the first group to link up with Nuclear Blast and undergo a stylistic change — see also Witchcraft, Graveyard, Blues Pills and Kadavar modernizing their production methods away from their initial vintage sounds — but even if the label had a hand in making the shift take place, Mitchell, bassist Mike Eginton and drummer Mario Rubalcaba do nothing but thrive in the context of these songs. Want to call it a sellout because it’s not what you’re used to? Not what they did on 2013’s From the Ages (review here)? Fine. But you’re the one who’s losing out, not the band.

Mitchell‘s voice will be familiar enough to anyone who’s experienced either of the two full-lengths he’s put out with his other band, Golden Void, and he largely keeps to the same approach here — classic rock in style, soulful but not overdone, tastefully and willfully imperfect in its execution. He sounds live in the tradition of early heavy rock as he tops the initial push of “Gifted by the Wind” and the ultra-catchy boogie of “End to End,” and in one of Black Heaven‘s greatest points of success, the album has managed to distill the vast spread of prior Earthless output — that feeling of every single second being the most awesome moment of the classic heavy rock jam; crescendo piled on top of crescendo in a hypnotic instrumental torrent — into structured songcraft. “Gifted by the Wind” is only six minutes long, “End to End” only five, and the subsequent side A closer “Electric Flame” is the longest track on the LP at 9:05, but it’s not about song length anymore; it’s about what Earthless do with that time. “End to End” opens atmospherically but soon crashes into a threatening wash of feedback and cymbals before launching after the 1:30 mark into its central riff, which is among the most memorable the band has ever produced and joyously raucous in its circular motion. In short, it sounds like they’re having a blast, and subtle layering in Mitchell‘s vocals only add to the Hendrixian spirit as a whole.


A couple verses belted out lead to a guitar solo and instrumental finish that one senses could probably keep going for as long as the band wants it to in a live setting, but is certainly enough to get the wah-soaked, ass-shaking point across, Rubalcaba turning in a particularly engaging performance. The aforementioned side A closer “Electric Flame” is immediately more subdued, but still takes off on a rush of its own shortly, the time spent in the intro heading toward a more straightforward groove that is graceful in its turns but still rough-sounding along the edges — a balance of danger and surehandedness that Earthless carry through an early jam before turning back to the verse at the halfway point and taking off shortly after five minutes in on the mostly-instrumental stretch that rounds out in fashion no less immersive than they’ve ever been, of course with Mitchell‘s unmitigated at the fore punctuated by Rubalcaba‘s drums as Eginton‘s bass provides the foundation to which they smoothly return near the finish. Like the best of its ilk, it sounds like it’s about to completely fly apart and never does.

The same applies for the sub-two-minute “Volt Rush,” which is essentially a quick, layered-solo embodiment of its title — fast, full-thrust, all-go. It’s the kind of thing Earthless might’ve done for 13 minutes or so on 2008’s Live at Roadburn (discussed here), but even in playing to their classic methods, they’re changing how that happens, emphasizing quickly the trio dynamic between Mitchell, Eginton and Rubalcaba that has made them the arguable godfathers and key influence of the crowded West Coast scene that has sprouted in their wake. As much as it takes “Volt Rush” 1:56 to remind of that, I doubt many will complain as the following nine-minute title-track puts further emphasis on the point. An instrumental push that starts and offers no letup, its bleed directly through to closer “Sudden End” ties what one might think of as the two sides of the band presented on Black Heaven together.

After the fervency of the title-track, “Sudden End” takes a more laid back, bluesy approach and holds to a mid-paced tempo, and the vocals return to top a cloudy-beach psychedelia that fascinates all the more because of the choice it represents on the part of the band not to cap with a blowout, but with a easier flow carried by Eginton‘s bass and a relatively simplified drum progression from Rubalcaba. I won’t say it’s the biggest surprise of the album, but it does bring to mind the notion that as far outside their comfort zone as Earthless reach here — let’s face it, they could’ve put out an hour-long LP of three extended instrumentals and been hailed as gods for it — there’s still farther they can go, and new modes of expression to yet be explored. Earthless have always been songwriters, but they’ve never brought that into focus like they do on Black Heaven, and while it’s certain to divide some of the band’s followers, their boldness and their level of craft both come through stronger than ever before here. An absolute contender for the best album of 2018.

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