Monday, 18 October 2021

MARAGDA ~ MARAGDA ..... review


Maragda, Marçal  (bass/vocals/synth); Guillem (guitar/vocals/synth) and Xavi (drums/vocals), are a trio from Barcalona, Spain who augment their sonic attack by use synths to add colour and texture to their  blend of heavy psych and complex prog, not to overpower their grooves but as a tool to expand those grooves and give them added depth and structure, to give their sound a fullness not usually associated with underground music. Don't get us wrong if you took the synths out of the equation Maragda would still be a band with the power to blow your mind to smithereens, and their self-titled album "Maragda" (Spinda Records, Necio Records & Nafra Records) would still be an album of the year contender but with those synths .....WOW!


"Maragda" is a concept album and that being the case it would be remiss of us if we didn't include the bands statement regarding the ideas behind the music, so here goes "This record tells the story of Maragda, a civilization that took refuge underground after the Great Disaster. Many years have passed now, and the memory of a life on the surface has completely faded. People live under the oppression of a totalitarian government, The Core, when suddenly a strange voice speaks inside their minds. After this call, a group of rebels launches an expedition through The Unknown, willing to discover the secrets of Maragda”. Whether this concept works in tying the seven songs that make up "Maragda" together is hard to say, the first two songs of the album, "The Core as the Whole" and "The Calling"  are clearly explained in the bands statement but after that, and without the benefit of having a full storyline to hand, things get a bit confusing as to how each of the following songs fit in with the story, so for the purposes of this review we will concentrate on each song as a separate entity and for its impact as a standalone piece. 
"The Core as the Whole" comes out of the traps on a wave screaming feedback then explodes into a riff laden groove that although is hard hitting and heavy nonetheless has an air of proggish complexity about it, this prog-like vibe is expanded upon when the song moves into its next phase and those riffs suddenly make way for ringing arpeggios and intricate chord progressions that glisten and sparkle around the low-key and beautifully melodic harmonies that accompany them. There are elements to be found here, and for that matter throughout this album, that will remind older listeners of both Rush and Yes, especially in the way Maragda go about constructing their songs, but there are also elements that will be familiar to those who regularly listen to the likes of Elder, All Them Witches and Howling Giant. "The Calling" follows and here we find Maragda channelling a little indie jangliness into their heavy prog and psych with the guitarist even throwing a little country rock flavoured shredding into the mix to make things even more  interesting while "The Hermit" finds the band getting a little angular and off kilter with circular guitar motifs vying for space with strident bass lines and insistent rhythms around which coolly executed harmonies ask us if  "reality goes any further". A low and gritty bass refrain introduces next track "Orb of Delusion" supported by restrained but effective percussion over which slightly echoed vocal harmonies waft their mellow magic, the song also boasts one of the albums best guitar solos, a scorching blend of structured dissonance and cosmic bluesiness. "Crystal Passage" follows and those synths we spoke of in our introduction piece are pushed to the fore to create a moody atmospheric instrumental that has a floating orchestral feel. Those synths are utilised a little differently for next track "Beyond The Ruins" cleverly giving the songs already strident and full on instrumental attack and upbeat vocal meters an added element of va-va-voom. For their final song, "The Blue Ceiling"" go all in on an enthralling and totally mesmerising instrumental that gives the guitarist free rein to explore everything from country style picking to Steve Howe-like prog shredding in his blistering solos.


"Maragda" is one of those albums that you could play a thousand times and on the thousandth time still find something new to send your mind into a spin. There is so much going on within these seven essential slices of metallic tinted prog and heavy psych that one sitting will never be enough to take it all in and that, my friends, is the hallmark of a truly great album.

© 2021 Frazer Jones

Thursday, 14 October 2021

SNOWY DUNES ~ SASTRUGI ...... review


There was a time in the mid to late 70's when a modicum of mellowness and melody started creeping into heavy rock, it was a period that saw the rise of bands like Bad Company, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Boston and early Foreigner, bands who when called upon could rock like a cradle in a hurricane but also had in their locker songs that could tug at your heartstrings and didn't just rely on a riff to grab their listeners attention. Sweden's Snowy Dunes, Niklas Eisen (lead vocals, percussion, acoustic guitar); Christoffer Kingstedt (electric guitars, guitorchestration); Carl Oredson (bass, keyboards, mellotron) and Jonathan Wårdsäter (drums, percussion) do not exactly work from the same blueprint that those bands used to propel their careers into the stratosphere, Snowy Dunes  grooves are a little bit too gnarly and gritty, but they do bring to underground rock many of those same attributes of songcraft, melody and soulful gravitas that saw those other bands become staples of worldwide rock radio stations, attributes that can be found scattered quite liberally throughout the five songs that make up the bands third album "Sastrugi


Title track "Sastrugi" (a word used to describe parallel wave-like ridges caused by winds on the surface of hard snow) kicks things off in grand style, with hardly an intro other than a brief shimmering effect the song jumps straight in to the vocal backed by any almost funkish hard rock groove with the guitar laying down an almost staccato like refrain beneath which booming bass and  thunderously busy drums keep things tight and on course while the singer tells us of being lost amid the snow in tones clean and powerful. If you are already familiar with Snowy Dunes you will know that they are not a band who like to stay stuck in one groove for the duration of a song and so its not long before the funky heaviness is jettisoned for a trip into lysergic territory, random whistling, reverberating guitar tones and hazy soulful vocals giving the songs latter section an almost spaghetti western/surf rock dynamic. The heady psychedelic feel of the latter part of the previous song is continued into next track "Let's Save Dreams" a song that sees Snowy Dunes recruiting a few friends to help fill things out, Alex Gatica contributing keys, acoustic guitar and backing vocals and Adele Friberg also adding her weight to the vocals. There is a trippy late 60's playfulness to this song that had Desert Psychlist reminiscing about Hollywood's attempts to portray pop culture on celluloid back in the heyday's of love and peace, if you close your eyes you can almost see the mini-skirted beauties and young men in tie-dyed shirts and beads dancing along to its eastern tinted grooves while their blue-rinsed elders look on disapprovingly. Following track "Great Divide" switches routinely between a laid back torch song and an out and out rocker with Eisen adjusting his vocal approach accordingly while "Medicinmannen" finds the band grooving melodic yet gritty on a song sang in their native Swedish, something that strangely has the effect of giving the song a Latinesque feel. For final track "Helios" Snowy Dunes opt for a mix of lounge lizard jazziness and psych tinted classic rock resulting in a groove that is reminiscent of The Doors in places but with a slightly more stoner-ish dynamic.


"Sastrugi" is probably Snowy Dunes most diverse and contemporary sounding album to date but do not take that as a bad thing, there is an uplifting feel to the grooves the band bring to the table with their third album that makes for a refreshing change from the doom and gloom we have been surrounded by over the last eighteen months.
Check it out ..... 

© 2021 Frazer Jones

Sunday, 10 October 2021

DIRELANDS ~ ASCENSION ..... review



Houston, Texas' Direlands may have come up with a unique marketing ploy regarding their artwork, the band released their first EP "The Cave You Fear" in October last year (2020) and this year they have released their second "Ascension", both releases sport exactly the same artwork with the only difference being "Ascension" has an extra splash of colour added to its skyline. Desert Psychlist may be wrong but we suspect that the bands next release will sport the same artwork again and another colour will be added and that this will continue EP by EP until we are presented with a full completed piece. If this is the bands intention then its a great idea but in order to achieve this goal and get listeners to buy into their concept the band need the grooves that will back up that concept, thankfully Direlands have those grooves.


Direlands call themselves an "American heavy metal band" who draw their inspiration from "classic metal, the occult, conspiracies, and a prevailing dystopic worldview". Now while there is no doubting Direlands "classic metal" credentials,  Maiden -esque galloping bass lines, crunching riffs, finger blurring guitar solos and insistent driving rhythms can all be found in abundance here,  there are also aspects of Direlands sound that owes much to more modern doom and stoner metal. This is no more evident than on opening number "Singularity", the songs gnarly riffs and thunderous rhythms are delivered at a few BPM's beneath thrash tempo with plenty of interesting twist and turns along the way while vocalist Jarett Dureell shreds his vocal chords to ribbons with a demonesque delivery that reminded Desert Psychlist somewhat of a slightly hoarser Emil Johansson (Ordos). Following track,"Doombringer", is probably more doomic than it is actual doom and what we mean by that statement is that although there are elements of doom to be found here, especially in some of guitarist Troy Binegar and bassist Patrick Gerek's choices of riffs, the overall vibe is still one of old school metal and in particular that NWOBHM groove beloved of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and bands of that ilk. All the best metal bands have one of those slow burning torch songs that will induce mass swaying and the holding up of lighters and Direlands is "Blood Moon" an atmospheric number, underpinned by some intricate percussion work from Daniel Thompson, that builds and builds layer by layer before signing out not on the screaming finale you might have expected but on an equally satisfying dark stuttering riff. "Beyond The Horizon" closes  proceedings and is a song that opens up the playground for "old school" metal to mix together with its "new school" cousins doom and stoner metal, Gerek and Thompson lay down a superbly shifting rhythmic platform for Binegar to garnish with soaring technical solos and Iommi-esque riffs over which Dureell flexes his rock god muscles almost coming over like a demonically possessed Bruce Dickenson in places, not so much harnessing the same air raid siren power of the Maiden frontman but certainly matching him in the meter of his delivery.


Direlands have with "Ascension" taken the vibe of the traditional metal many of us grew up listening to and blended it with elements of the harsher edged metal that popular today, melding these two metallic styles together to create a groove that should appeal to fans of both styles without having to compromise their sound or their dynamic
Check 'em out ..... 

© 2021 Frazer Jones

Monday, 4 October 2021

DAMNED TO EARTH ~ DAMNED TO EARTH ...... review


Georgia's
Damned to Earth
started out life as Forest Evil but after parting ways with their original singer and a quick reshuffle of their line up they decided it was time for a name change, especially as their music with this refreshed and pared down line-up was leaning more and more towards a southern dynamic. Having said that Damned to Earth are not what you would call your archetypical "southern" band, their grooves are a heavy mix of sludge and stoner metal but there is no mistaking that "southern" twang that permeates every riff, rhythm and vocal inflection on the five songs that make up the bands self-titled  debut album "Damned to Earth".


If the opening guitar salvo of "Down In The Basement" doesn't grab you by the throat and keep you hanging around until the last notes of the excellent final song "Toe Licker" fade into the ether then you really should be consulting an ear specialist (or checking your pulse) as this is a collection of essential southern fried metal you really don't want to let pass you by. Everything you could possibly ask of from a band plying their trade in the field of heavy music is contained within this album, soaring bluesy guitar solos ,thick crunching distorted riffs, low growling bass motifs, swinging percussion and throaty soulful livid -in vocals are all delivered here with the type of gusto, passion and verve you may have come to expect from an established band releasing their third or fourth album but not from a relatively new combo presenting to the world what is technically their first. Intensity is an important element in rock music of any genre but that intensity can often fade or wane over the length of a full album however Damned to Earth never let you catch your breath for a nanosecond powering through songs like the aforementioned "Down In The Basement", "Eye of the Storm", "Coil of the Snake" and "Stone Magnet" like their lives depended on it, maintaining the same levels of  intensity and attack they brought to your ears with their first song right through to their last one.


There will be some who will say that Damned to Earth are not a new band, having been birthed from the members of a previous band minus their original vocalist, and that to class their self titled new album as a "debut" is pushing things a little to far, but then take a moment to check out their work under the banner of Forest Evil and compare it to the music on "Damned to Earth" and you will notice a whole different dynamic, where Forest Evil's sludgy doom tended to lumber and plod Damned to Earth's southern tinted grooves have a swagger and strut that is just as heavy but far more satisfying and vital.
Check 'em out .... 

© Frazer Jones 2021

Wednesday, 29 September 2021

BLACK WITCH ~ THE SPIRAL II ..... review



Lorena Rocha (vocals/guitar); Rafaum Costa (guitar/vocals); Thassio Martins (bass) and Fred Nunes (drums) are Black Witch, a Brazilian quartet who have graced the pages of Desert Psychlist on a number of occasions first with their debut EP "Aware" and then again with their first full album "Solve et Coagula". This year (2021) the band have been very busy and graced their fans with two releases the first a three song EP entitled "Spiral The I" (released in July and which we described, on their Bandcamp page, as "three tracks of dank dark doomic splendour delivered in their own unique signature sound" and the second "Spiral II", a four track slice of witchy doom blessed once again with that unique Black Witch sound.


"Scuzzy" is a word Desert Psychlist has seen twice associated with "The Spiral II" and it is a description perfectly fitted to Black Witch's gnarly, filth drenched guitar and bass refrains and  thundering rhythms and it is a description that is given further credence by the vocals that accompany those refrains and rhythms. Lorena Rocha has a unique and distinctive singing voice her vocals are part ethereal and elfin and part sinister and witchy and are a perfect fit for the gnarly assed backdrop of traditional and proto-doom grooves Costa, Martins and Nunes provide for her voice to decorate. . There is a touch of Dutch occultists The Devil's Blood about where Black Witch are at these days only a tad more grimy and (of course) "scuzzy" and minus the satanic lyrical content, this is no more evident than on opening track "Calling Me" a song built around a dark Alice In Chains style slurring  riff that is driven by thunderous and inventive drumming and over which Rocha intones cryptic lyrics in distinctive tones. "I'm pleasure but I'm also a prison" sings Rocha on the excellent "Come Again", her warning given further gravitas by the dank doomic grooves that provide the backdrop to her confessions., grooves that are Sabbath-esque in feel but not in an obvious way. Any doomic outfit worth its weight in despair will these days throw a few dramatic sound-FX into the mix to ramp up the atmospherics and Black Witch are no exception and so "Chasing" begins its life to the sound of rainfall and thunder underpinned by a sedate bass motif and a high pitched droning effect, the band then dropping into a low, slow and heavy doomic groove around which vitriolic tinted lyrics describing the human race as being "made of dust and sperm and salt" in sinister  but nevertheless melodic tones. For final track "Besides It All" Black Witch add a little cosmic spiciness and lysergic texturizing to their doomic onslaught, not enough to take things way out on a limb but just enough to show that  if they wanted to they could take things in a whole other direction.


Sound-wise Black Witch have come a long way from the slightly naïve and raw doom they first delivered to us via their debut release "Aware", gone are the untamed vocals, the reliance on just one or two riffs to see a song through and gone is the raw edged production values instead "The Spiral II" presents us with lilting if somewhat monotonic melodies, numerous shifts in time and tempo and a production that, although is smoother, warmer and much more polished than that of the bands first release, still manages to retain all the required grit and grime an album of this musical style demands
Check it out.... 

© 2021 Frazer Jones


Monday, 27 September 2021

CRIPTA BLUE ~ CRIPTA BLUE ..... review


Listening to the subject of this review, Italian heavy rock trio Cripta Blue's self titled debut "Cripta Blue", is like stepping into a time machine for Desert Psychlist, we were immediately transported to a time when the width of material at the bottom of our trouser legs was almost equal to the length of  material at our waist, a time when those iconic bands we still listen to today were strutting their stuff not in arena's but in sweaty clubs like The Marquee (London) and The Whiskey A Go Go (Hollywood), yes we are talking the 70's here. This did not come as a surprise especially given the information that Cripta Blue was a project "conceived to create personal and original music in the way of Budgie, Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer, Wicked Lady, May Blitz and more modern groups like Witchfinder General, Saint Vitus and Pentagram". Did they succeed in this endeavour?  You bet your bottom dollar they did.


Just one look at the painting gracing "Cripta Blue" will tell you what you are likely to hear beneath its Blue Cheer inspired fonts and artwork, a stoned looking skull, bats and a psychedelic lawned cemetery, framed by mushroom sprouting trees, just screams the words "proto" and "metal" at you and what it screams is ultimately what you get. There is no pretence to be found here, no dressing up retro-sounding grooves with elements drawn from the extremities of the modern underground, this is a pure love letter to a bygone era and the music these guys grew up listening to. Cripta Blue, Andrea Giuliani (vocals/bass); Federico Bocchini (guitar) and Silvio Dalla Valle (drums), do not so much re-hash or try to re-create the vibe of early 70's proto-metal as cleverly attempt to re-imagine it and bring it up to speed for a fresh new audience. That prospective new audience will most likely have already heard 70's giants like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple but may not have delved any deeper and discovered the joys of  bands likes Budgie, Stray, Blue Cheer, Dust and Sir Lord Baltimore, may never have heard a bass guitar played through a WAH pedal, a guitar solo funk it up on a heavy rock song or witness a drummer swing with a jazzy meter. If you see some of yourself in that last sentence then let Cripta Blue educate you in the ways of  "proto-doom" and "proto-metal" with songs like "Magickal Ride", "Tombstone" (featuring Witchwood's Ricky Dal Pane on vocals), "Spectral Highway" and "Death Wheelers", original songs that rock raw hard and heavy and incorporate into their grooves essences from the whole history of heavy music from the late sixties right through to the present day.


If you've read about "proto-metal" but are not quite sure what it actually is then "Cripta Blue" is the perfect starting point to work your way backwards from, if however, like Desert Psychlist, you were born at the ass-end of the 50's and grew up listening to many of those bands previously mentioned then this is a delightfully delicious wallow in welcoming and still very much exhilarating waters.
Check it out .... 

© 2021 Frazer Jones

Sunday, 19 September 2021

BOGWIFE ~ A PASSAGE DIVINE ...... review


Having named themselves after a mythical creature from Scandanavian folk-lore, who legend has it dwells in the mist shrouded bogs and swamps of their homeland, it is not surprising that Danish doomsters Bogwife incorporate a certain element of otherworldliness into their sonic attack, their sound having the type of dark lumbering and swampy gait you just might imagine the creature that gave them their name might also possess. The band first came to Desert Psychlist's attention via their debut "Halls of Rebirth", a sprawling collection of doomic tunes tinted with essences of heavy psych, blues and classic rock that prompted us to describe their sound as "combining radically differing dynamics in such a way that it is almost impossible to see the joins", a description that still holds water today. The band have just released "A Passage Divine", the much awaited follow up to their debut, it is an album that  incorporates all the elements that made "Halls of Rebirth" such a compelling listen but moves them up to whole new level of BADASS!


"Approach" opens "A Passage Divine" with ominous dark droning guitar effects and squeals of piercing feedback then settles into a low slow thunderous refrain supported by equally sedate but pummelling percussion over which superbly pitched clean and powerful vocals tell a spiritual tale of old religions and sacrifice. As the album slowly progresses, through songs with suitably cosmic and doomic titles like "Restoration", "Among The Trees"" and "Celestial Dawn",  it soon starts to become apparent  that the band have subtly shifted their sound towards a more danker, doomier dynamic, those swirling guitar solo's that were such a joy to hear on the bands debut still remain but the grooves surrounding those solos' are gnarlier, swampier and just that damn more darker. This doomier dynamic is helped to some extent by the new album having a far more grittier production, the guitars sound less polished and nastier, the bass sounds deeper and dirtier, the drums sound bigger and more powerful while in contrast the vocals, which were a tad buried on "Halls of Rebirth", are here pushed further forward in the mix to give the bands sound a much more balanced feel. The album closes with "Descent" a ten minute plus tome that incorporates everything that is good about this band, we are talking dark emotive guitar solos, thick reverberating riffs and powerful rhythmic grooves all topped off with a huge soaring and heartfelt vocal, this song is not just good its fucking majestic! 


"A Passage Divine" is an album of intense, powerful and emotive heavy music that is as good, if not better, than anything that has been released this year so far, it is an album that demands not only your attention but also your respect.
Check it out ..... 

© 2021 Frazer Jones