Anna von Hausswolff, All Thoughts Fly review (Southern Lord Records 2020)

Did you ever think to yourself, “I sure do love heavy music but I wish there was a whole album of heavy music on solo pipe organ”? Anna Von Hausswolff is here to make your wish come true.

Working out of Gothenburg, Sweden, Anna Von Hausswolff is well known for her melodic compositions and often avant-garde approach to music. She has performed all over the world on the pipe organ, and has endeavored to ingratiate the instrument to music fans of all dimensions simply by showing them what it sounds like and what it can do.

On her 2018 album Dead Magic, von Hausswolff made liberal use of organ music, as she did on her four other albums, especially Ceremony (2014). The new one, however, is all pipe organ all day long – no vocals and no other instruments. The organ she used for this recording “is situated in Gothenburg and is a Swedish replica of the Arp Schnitger organ in Germany. It is the largest organ tuned in Quarter-comma Meantone temperament in the world. With its four manuals, one pedal and fifty-four stops, it was built as part of a ten-year research project reconstructing 17th Century North German organ building craft.” That’s from the press release. I don’t know much about pipe organs so most of it is lost on me, but I appreciate an instrument with a long history and unique provenance.

Not being an aficionado of the pipe organ but having heard one played many times, I can say that I have never heard one sound like this. The sadness and melancholy, pain and dread that von Hausswolff is able to produce is astonishing. There are passages that sound like an organ you might hear during a church service, but most of it is so much more than that. The composition and execution is far beyond the image in my head of what this album could be. I was completely blown away.

I have never heard anything like this. Of course it isn’t heavy metal – it is a pipe organ. The emotion in this music, the raw feeling and the gentle sentiment and the ethereal presence are all moving in ways that are difficult to articulate. You have to hear it. Recommended.

September 25th is release day for All Thoughts Fly, from Southern Lord and available through Bandcamp.

Links.

https://annavonhausswolffmusic.bandcamp.com

https://www.facebook.com/annavonhausswolff

http://southernlord.bandcamp.com

https://www.facebook.com/SLadmin

Anna von Hausswolff, All Thoughts Fly review (Southern Lord Records 2020)

The Ocean, Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic, review (Metal Blade Records 2020)

German/Swiss/Swedish ensemble The Ocean (Collective) is back with the sequel to the renowned Phanerozoic (2018) album, part two of a paleontology concept work.

Robin Staps is the driving force in The Ocean ensemble/collective. As the principal guitarist and composer, Staps orders the ideas and molds them into the expression we hear. Of course, Staps did have an outline with for this long concept: the most recent 541 million years of the geologic history of the earth. It might seem like a big story, and it is, but The Ocean got their arms around it.

The album is broken into two parts, “Mesozoic,” which is covered in the first two tracks, and “Cenozoic,” the last six tracks. There is an extraordinarily detailed description available about the meaning of each passage, so you can check that out by doing a quick web search. In the context of this short review I will concentrate on what the music sounds like.

The first part is two long songs, together running about twenty two minutes. They begin with a solo, echoing acoustic guitar and ethereal synth passages. Very quickly the music turns upbeat, adding instruments and active assertions. At times like this, the music has a Tangerine Dream feel to it – that might be a good baseline to start thinking about this music. A melodic voice tells us part of the story, and for some time this is fairly quiet Prog Rock. Big guitar riffs crash in here and there, and coarse vocal instantiations now and then. There is a lot going on here and the musicians have 22 minutes to work with, so sit back and enjoy. As with much of the music in this lane, dramatic extremes are exhibited. The guitar leads are somewhat reminiscent of Camel on the Mirage album here and there, and that is very appealing. Excellent vision and execution.

The second part of the album is comprised of six shorter songs, each in the four minute range with the final two being a bit longer. This section seems more linear than the first, but that could be due to the deliberate segmenting of the musical passages into smaller bits. Indeed, the first song, “Palaeocene,” sounds almost like a radio cut, with fan-pleasing guitars and aggressive but digestible vocals, and the second track is almost a ballad. “Pleistocene” starts out humble but turns into an all-out Death Metal assault before it is over. The closer, “Holocene,” has a comfortable desert vibe to it and eases us out in a perfect cooldown. There is a lot to take in with the second part, too, so give yourself some headspace.

Look to Metal Blade Records for the CD and digital (through Bandcamp) and to Pelagic Records for the vinyl of Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic on September 25. The Bandcamp digital download has the complete album in an instrumental version included with it, which is an excellent alternate way to experience the music. If you are up for the challenge, Prog and Post-Metal live in this album. Recommended.

Links.

https://www.facebook.com/theoceancollective

https://www.indiemerch.com/metalbladerecords/b/the-ocean

https://theocean.bandcamp.com/

The Ocean, Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic, review (Metal Blade Records 2020)

Blazon Rite, Dulce Bellum Inexpertis review (Gates of Hell Records 2020)

Philadelphia metalheads Blazon Rite take a big swing with their debut release, Dulce Bellum Inexpertis.

The band carries with them the spirit of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal from the early 1980s in the themes and general sound of their fantasy-based creation. Pierson Roe (bass, keys), Ryan Haley (drums), James Kirn (guitars), and Johnny Halladay (vocals) breathe new life into familiar lines, introducing young fans to what has been solidly established as fundamentally appealing – and bring knowing nods of affirmation from those who have been around a little longer and recognize the sound.

There are four songs on the EP, adding up to a little over twenty minutes of music. “The Warriors Choice” gets things going with beautiful organ notes and layers, giving you a minute or so to gather yourself up for the metal. When the guitars start, you can hear the campaign immediately, the marching army. “Diamond Draggyr” has another quiet start, then kicks in at frantic pace with an homage to Dio on “Neon Knights.” “Into the Expanse” has a more formal and complex musical construction and a blistering lead break. “Udug Hul” begins like an English folk song then drops a heavy riff right on your head, speeding into an all-out assault. The band packs a lot into these four songs.

Blazon Rite is making the most of their initial release. The digital version of Dulce Bellum Inexpertis came out through Bandcamp in March this year, followed by a cassette in April. It was a hit, and drew enough attention to make to make additional releases possible. Alone Records (Greece) published a CD version a couple days ago, and the vinyl comes out from Gates of Hell Records this Friday, September, 25. If you like old school heavy metal, you are going to like this. Recommended.

Links.

https://blazonrite.bandcamp.com/album/dulce-bellum-inexpertis-e-p

https://www.facebook.com/blazonriteofficial/

https://www.facebook.com/gatesofhellrecords/

http://www.gatesofhellrecords.com/

Blazon Rite, Dulce Bellum Inexpertis review (Gates of Hell Records 2020)

The Electric Mud, Burn The Ships review (Small Stone Records 2020)

Florida Heavy Blues instigators The Electric Mud return with more high voltage swamp metal on Burn The Ships.

The debut album of The Electric Mud came out two years ago, Bull Gator. It is bluesy, guitar-driven Southern stoner rock. Listening to it does bring up thoughts of that first Molly Hatchet album, but The Electric Mud is heavier and presses the lurking power of their music harder. The title track tells us “I’m the mighty jaws of an ancient god,” and a little later in the same song, “I’m the crooked old hand of death itself.” The songs are smooth and muscular. A very impressive debut.

The band is Constantine Grim (guitar), Pierson Whicker (drums), Peter Kolter (vocals and guitar), and Tommy Scott (bass). All four are from Florida, and have an abiding respect for the rock music tradition from the South (Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the like) as well as the classic metal roots of icons like the origin band, Black Sabbath. Their music is not a simple combination of latent elements of famous bands, however. They have taken their influences and inspirations and melded them with their abilities and art to fashion a lasting instrument of collective resonance.

The new album cranks up the speed and depth a notch, creating an even bigger wake than the earlier release. “The First Murder On Mars” is the opener (and the single you can hear now). It starts the set out fast and sharp, with stabbing guitars and crisp drumming. “Stone Hands” switches to a heavier hammer, and “Reptile” swings them both at the same time. “A Greater Evil” is a the cool evening breeze that blows through your open car window  and then darkens as the sun goes down. The triplet of “Call The Judge,” “Priestess,” and “Good Monster” is thirteen minutes of trouncing bliss – it takes you away from whatever was in your head before. I keep hitting these three over and over. “Ledbelly” is an amazing display of percussion, and “Terrestrial Birds” starts out as a lullaby until the guitar starts singing the blues and telling you a story that won’t let you sleep. This in an incredible album that will reach across to a wide array of heavy music fans. Highly recommended.

Burn The Ships CDs, vinyl, and downloads are available from Small Stone Records through Bandcamp (and elsewhere) beginning this Friday, September 25. You know how it works: the download is there forever but the hardcopies can go fast, especially the vinyl. Listen to Bull Gator on Spotify now. If you like it, consider a preorder if you want some of that orange vinyl.

Links.

http://www.theelectricmud.com

https://theelectricmud1.bandcamp.com/releases

http://www.facebook.com/TheElectricMud

http://www.smallstone.com

http://www.facebook.com/smallstonerecords

https://smallstone.bandcamp.com/album/burn-the-ships

The Electric Mud, Burn The Ships review (Small Stone Records 2020)

Spellbook, Magick & Mischief review (Cruz Del Sur Music 2020)

Spellbook is the new name for the band previously known as Witch Hazel (not Wytch Hazel from the UK), and they have a new album out: Magick & Mischief.

As Witch Hazel, the band released three albums. The style of those is similar to what you hear on the new one, but a little murkier in tone. Two of the earlier albums, Otherworldly (2018) and Forsaken Remedies (2012), are on Spotify and are definitely worth checking out. The band for the new release as Spellbook is Nate Tyson (vocals), Andy Craven (guitar), Selbert Lowe, Jr. (bass), and Nicholas Zinn (drums).

The music on Magick & Mischief has a foot planted firmly in the early 1980s. Back then I was listening to bands like Omen and their amazing Battle Cry album from 1984, and Fates Warning’s occult masterpiece Night on the Brocken (also from 1984). Demon, too, from 1981, with their poppier take on the subject, Night of the Demon. Memories of all these bands cascade over me listening to the new Spellbook. The 2020 take on this style of metal cast refreshing glances toward unlikely corners of music and combines creative ideas that make this music genuinely new even as it creates pristine nostalgic flashes.

The first song on the album is “Wands To The Sky,” the title leaving no question in the listener’s mind about the subject. A jazzy drum roll folds into a stabbing prog-like rock guitar set-up, followed by the distinctive retro vocals. Homage riffs can be heard here and in “Black Shadow” – that is part of the appeal. “Ominous Skies” leads in with a challenging bass line, and “Not Long For This World” presents a doom throng as its introduction. There is a magic theme here, an occult perspective, and yet also sprinkled in are songs like “Motorcade” and the big closer, “Dead Detectives,” which are surprises. The first three minutes of the latter has the same kind of feel as Side One of Alice Cooper’s Muscle of Love – if you don’t know what I am talking about, take twenty minutes and go listen to the first four songs of that old AC classic on Spotify. Spellbook shifts into a steady rock vamp in the second part of the 11+ minute opus, segue to a voiceover to further the narrative, some more rock, finally fading out on a rainy street. It is like going to a Broadway show, and it is a strange yet compelling way to tie up the threads of the album.

Out on September 25, digital, CD, and vinyl versions of Magick & Mischief can be had from Cruz Del Sur Music through Bandcamp and others. A heads up that the track “Amulet” appears to be different on the LP compared to the other versions. Completists take note.

Links.

https://spellbookband.bandcamp.com/releases

https://www.facebook.com/spellbookband/

https://www.cruzdelsurmusic.com/

https://www.facebook.com/cruzdelsurmusic/

https://cruzdelsurmusic.bandcamp.com/

Spellbook, Magick & Mischief review (Cruz Del Sur Music 2020)

All Them Witches, Nothing As The Ideal review (New West Records 2020)

Not only is Nothing As The Ideal the newest release from All Them Witches, it also stands well apart from their earlier work.

The Nashville trio of Ben McLeod on guitar, Robby Staebler on drums, and Charles Michael Parks, Jr. on bass (and vocals) have produced an impressive amount of music in the less-than-ten years they’ve been together – six studio releases and now this new one. Every album they have released has different feel to it and Nothing As The Ideal is the most different, if that is a possible thing. Each subsequent release is recognizable as an All Them Witches album but they are all clearly their own thing, too. That approach might not be great for branding, but it produces amazing results for the music.

“Saturnine & Iron Jaw” begins the album with a tolling bell and a scratchy metallic weirdness growing out of the void and creeping slowly up to you. Ninety seconds in, an echoing guitar starts a soft minute-long climb into an urgent appeal, “Nothing, that’s the ideal.” The next song is “Enemy of My Enemy” and it starts out in a rapid patter infused with ethereal peakiness. And then there is “Ethereal,” quiet and wispy and beautiful strumming with a blunt homage to The Alan Parsons Project’s Turn of a Friendly Card. “See You Next Fall” closes out side one with nearly ten minutes of musical story. There is a lot going on in this very long song, with looped non sequitur voices at the front and distorted guitars traveling along with pulsing rhythm and percussion. None of this seems or sounds discordant or even odd. It all fits together as a whole – “I’m not grinding my teeth / I’m not lying awake.”

Side two leads off with the roots sounding “The Children of Coyote Woman.” Second is “41” which felt to me like an extended plea, while “Lights Out” is a traveling fist fight. “Rats In Ruin” is the closer, another long song passing nine minutes. It has avant-garde passages and a long, sorrowful guitar solo that carries sadness like I have not heard since the refrain in Zappa’s “Watermelon In Easter Hay.” It was an ending I didn’t see coming but just the right one for this album.

Nothing As The Ideal is out now from New West Records. You can hit the links below to get yours in whatever form you like best. Once you get started with All Them Witches, it is hard to stop. Recommended.

Band photo by Robby Staebler.

Links.

https://allthemwitches.bandcamp.com/album/nothing-as-the-ideal

https://www.facebook.com/allthemwitches

http://www.allthemwitches.org/

https://store.newwestrecords.com/

All Them Witches, Nothing As The Ideal review (New West Records 2020)

Plague Years, Circle of Darkness review (eOne Music 2020)

Speed and mayhem are alive and well in Circle of Darkness, the new full-length release from Michigan metallers Plague Years.

From the beginning notes of the band’s first EP, these four Detroit musicians threw down the gauntlet in a clear sign to the world they were here to create hard, fast, crunching metal. Labeled as a crossover band, you can definitely hear Hardcore, Thrash, and Death Metal elements throughout. The new album is a continuation of 2018’s Unholy Infestation, except even faster and darker. The band on Circle of Darkness is Tim Engelhardt (vocals), Eric Lauder (guitar), Rian Staber (bass), and Mike Jurysta (drums).

There isn’t a single band to compare them to because Plague Years combines so many styles and their music shifts and moves in and across the songs in the album. They show a lot of chopping steady guitar rhythms at a mid-tempo speed in narrative moments of songs, then click into phantom blasts and thrashing ramps to sink the spikes in deeper. From the new album, songs like “Eternal Fire” rest on a modulated pace overall but have mystical lead breaks and surprising percussion eruptions that are not externalities but instead are essential elements in the composition. Flat out raging numbers are there too like “Circle of Darkness” and “Play The Victim” – and in these pieces the tempo is set high but there are also echoing ethereal moments and fascinating transition bridges.

Plague Years will get a hook into any metal fan because the range of expression and the variety of their musical appeal allows them to fit in on practically any heavy title card. Recommended.

Circle of Darkness is out this Friday, September 18. You can hear a couple singles already, and preorder the download or a hardcopy in different forms now. Their previous EP Unholy Infestation is on Spotify right now so you can go listen to that to tide you over for a couple of days

Band photo by Rian Staber.

Links.

https://www.facebook.com/plagueyearsdet

https://plagueyears.bandcamp.com/

http://www.entertainmentone.com

http://www.facebook.com/eOneMusicUS

Plague Years, Circle of Darkness review (eOne Music 2020)

Pimmit Hills, Heathens & Prophets review (2020)

The members of King Giant changed the band’s name to Pimmit Hills after David Kolwalski left in 2017. The first release from the newly-named band is an EP titled Heathens & Prophets.

Under the earlier name, the band released three full-length albums, an EP and a demo. That is a lot of music, and an impressive legacy for King Giant. The current band is David Hammerly (vocals), Keith Brooks (drums), Todd Ingram (guitar), and Floyd Lee Walters III (bass). They are playing a bluesy Southern Rock with a Desert Rock mysticism and melancholy. I’ve read them compared to early ZZ Top and there is a hint of that fuzz in there, but the music of Pimmit Hills is darker and more serious – and there is a clear difference between the local flavor of guitar-heavy music in Texas and in Virginia. Compared to King Giant, the new music is consistent with the earlier work but more earthy, I’d say.

Heathens & Prophets might technically be an EP but with four 7-minute songs it’s a full meal. A crisp solo guitar lick cracks the set open with “Baby Blue Eyes.” Hammerly’s husky voice puts a precise picture in your head of the story he tells: “You look at me with sadness / I look at you with regret.” O man, that’s a punch in the gut. “Ginger” fades in on a peppy drum beat and growing guitar feedback to set up a song about murder. “Lost River” has a swampy warble and backing keyboards that give it a solemn fullness. The lead break has both a somberness and a ruthlessness to it. “Beautiful Sadness” wraps the set up with a fierce bluntness, and seems more like the end of Side 1 than the last song on the album.

Out this Friday, September 18, you can find Heathens & Prophets in the digital everywhere. I am hoping it will pop up on Spotify so I can follow them there. These four songs are just part of the album the band was working on when the pandemic put the slows to the world. They have continued to write more material and will release it when recording becomes practicable. I can’t wait to hear the other songs, too. Recommended.

Band photo by Shane Gardner.

Links.

https://www.pimmithillsmusic.com

https://www.facebook.com/PimmitHillsMusic

https://gyard.bigcartel.com/products

Pimmit Hills, Heathens & Prophets review (2020)

Jupiterian, Protosapien review (Transcending Obscurity 2020)

Jupiterian brings another round of atmospheric doom into the world straight from the heart of South America.

The four-piece metal band from São Paulo has been building its reputation in the heavy scene brick by brick over the last five years. Their first album, Aphotic (2015), is an impressive entry into the musical world. It oscillates between a traditional Doom Metal approach and Funeral Doom, pressing forth with a gargantuan heaviness. Terraforming (2017) begins like an ayahuasca chant with “Matriarch” and pushes on to turn and rise like a lumbering, impossibly tall giant tilling the planet for its on purpose and design. These two albums were early signs of things to come – the first two steps.

The latest release begins with heavy brass horns blaring threatening blasts and what sounds the distance metallic pounding of an enormous hammer against the hull of an ancient, derelict spaceship. Dripping water, buzzing insects, and then “Mere Humans” takes off. The sound has a sharp edge along with the weight of the vocal, guitar, and rhythm space. “Voidborn” thrums your sensibilities into raw strips with its insistent, insidious probing, turning almost frantic in the second half. “Capricorn” brings a stormfront of distortion that resolves in a blistering lightning storm, and “Starless” feels like an incarnation of hopelessness. The final song is “Earthling Bloodline.” It is the essence of “Protosapien” and the plain expression of album’s theme. Drawn out, deep growls (as if from the depths of the earth) surrounded and infused by thundering bass and guitar motions, kept on track by relentless, inexorable percussion.

Doom Metal is the organic center of the music from Jupiterian, enhanced by related genres at the command of the composers. Across their three albums there is a movement in the music’s complexity and presence. With the latest release, having heard the first two, you can detect a clairvoyance in the entity that is the music the band has created. Highly recommended.

Protosapien is out now. Transcending Obscurity has some amazing format variants and merch – the vinyl is a genuine showcase for the cover art by Mariusz Lewandowski. The download is available through Bandcamp and other fine vendors.

Band photo by William van der Voort.

Links.

https://www.facebook.com/jupiteriansect/

https://jupiterian.bandcamp.com/

https://transcendingobscurity.aisamerch.com/

Jupiterian, Protosapien review (Transcending Obscurity 2020)

Marilyn Manson, We Are Chaos review (Loma Vista Recordings 2020)

Marilyn Manson is the monster you know. On his newest album, he shows us we cannot hide from the chaos we see because it is everywhere.

Heaven Upside Down was three years ago, The Pale Emperor two years before that. Marilyn Manson has been keeping up with regular new releases, and it was time for another. But 2020 is a weird year, strange days, and We Are Chaos is an odd album in the artist’s canon. The Shock Rock persona is in there somewhere, and we get flashes of it throughout this new one, but there is less revelry this time around and in its place there is a pervasive dolefulness.

“We Are Chaos” was released as a single ahead of the album launch, as was “Don’t Chase The Dead.” Both of these songs are basically ballads (especially the title track) and it left us all to wonder what the rest of the album was going to sound like. I mean, I am used to Marilyn screaming, or giving us the sinister whisper. The first song, “Red Black and Blue,” has that pulsing energy I expected with punching percussion, strong guitar riffs, and distressed, urgent vocals. Next are the two singles, and then another sweet ballad, “Paint You With My Love.” “Half-Way & One Step Forward” has a very creepy feel to it, and it is quiet, too, although it does get a little louder there at the end. “Infinite Darkness” conveys a spacey odor and has a bigger guitar presence than the previous four songs. It is heavy on the narrative and has a stomping momentum. “Perfume” sounds like it might be the next single – it is very radio friendly (is there still radio?). There is a nice heavy punch to “Keep My Head Together,” and a committed recklessness that is very appealing. The eeriest song is probably “Solve Coagula” with its hopelessness and caustic violence. It also has the great line, “I’m not special, I’m just broken.” The album wraps up with “Broken Needle.” The opening acoustic guitar riff is a quiet signal, a statement that this subdued entry in the history of Marilyn Manson is understandable on the surface. It is exactly what it seems. “Are you all right / ’cause I’m not OK / all of these lies / are not worth fighting for.”

Out now on Loma Vista, We Are Chaos is available in many formats and features. Suggested links are below, but you can get some form of the album pretty much anywhere.

Photos by Wayne Edwards from Aftershock 2019.

Links.

Wesbite, https://www.marilynmanson.com/

Buy Music, https://marilynmanson.lomavistarecordings.com/

Buy Merch, https://store.marilynmanson.com/

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/MarilynManson/

Marilyn Manson, We Are Chaos review (Loma Vista Recordings 2020)