Saturday, 16 January 2021

MAW ~ MAW ...... review

Not too long ago a video was posted on a Facebook page that Desert Psychlist is involved with featuring an instrumental piece called "Citizens of Dunes" by a Polish quintet going by the name of MAW, the song had a Colour Haze/ Sungrazer feel that immediately struck a chord with us so a few comments were made beneath the post expressing our approval. These comments were responded to by Martyna Hebda, one of the bands two guitarists, who then went on to inform us that the band were working on an album, in answer we suggested that the band should consider Bandcamp as an option for its release and  Martyna said the band would look into it, they did and here it is ...... 

What that Facebook video did not tell us was that not only could the band lay down some hot instrumental jams (incidentally "Citizens of Dunes" does not appear on the album)  but they could also write a good lyric and that they also had a pretty decent vocalist in Piotr Stachowiak (he didn't appear in the video) who could do those lyrics justice. Stachowiakis' vocals are served up clean, smooth and clear and when combined with his slight accented delivery they give the songs on "MAW" a distinctive and unique dynamic, as good as Stachowiakis' vocals are it is the interplay of Hebda and her fellow six-stringer Kuba Stępień that is MAW's real selling point. Hebda and Stępień weave a special kind of  magic over songs like "Dissolve", "Awake" and the epic "Call", their two distinctly different tones compliment each other perfectly whether they are trading off licks, jamming on a riff or simply negotiating their own spaces within the groove. Of course without a good rhythm section to back them up vocals and just guitars can tend to be a little like having your meat without your potatoes, the meat is tasty but you need the carbs to add both bulk and contrast. Those carbs are supplied by Piotr Stępień (bass) and Michał Gawroński (drums), the pair providing the perfect platform for Hebda and K.Stępień to launch their dual guitar attacks from and for Stachowiakis to hang his vocals on, Gawroński's drumming tight solid and industrious, P.Stępień's bass fluid and flexible, the five musicians coming together to create a dish that is both filling and full of flavour.


If your a fan of the type of psychedelic tinted stoner/desert rock that gave us the likes of Yawning Man, My Brother The Wind, Naxatras and Sungrazer and you like those grooves with a similar low key vocal dynamic to that of Colour Haze then you cannot fail to enjoy what MAW bring to the table with their self titled debut "MAW"
Check 'em out .....

© 2021 Frazer Jones

Friday, 15 January 2021

AROUND THE FIRE ~ CELESTIAL KEEPERS ...... review


There seems to be an interesting trend lately, among bands hailing from countries outside of the North American continent and Western Europe, for many of those bands to tap into the their own countries/continents heritages and histories and blend into their more westernized raucous rock grooves and psychedelic meanderings a little of their own traditional sounds and instrumentation. Bands like Cyprus' Arcadian Child, Chile's Puente Diablo, Brazil's Pathos and Puerto Rico's Iglesia Atomica have all to some extent had some level of success/recognition from mining the music's of their own homelands. Greece's Around the Fire are one band you could add to that list, the Thessaloniki combo wowed Desert Psychlist with their excellent 2019 debut "Advent of the Firewalkers", an enthralling blend of western crunch and growl blended with traditional Mediterranean motifs and instrumentation, and are now back to do the same with their second release "Celestial Keepers"


Things start off in a very traditional style with first track "Kau Ano Meha" its very exotic flavoured intro is brought to us courtesy of a traditional Eastern Mediterranean three stringed instrument known as a kemenje, the track then takes a 360 degree turn and explodes into a crunching heavy stoner groove with guitars dialed to eleven and drums set to thundering, this crescendo only halting to allow the vocalist to tell us in tones low, throaty and grizzled that we "will never see the light". the songs eastern feel still making its presence felt throughout thanks not only to its instrumentation but also the wordless vocalizations that weave around and between the songs verses. Following song "Astral Edifier" which sees the kemenje given a freer more lead like role, has a more spiritual feel than its predecessor its mix of hazy lead vocals and Gregorian like choral mantra's combined with its heavy, almost Indian raga like groove also sees the song moving into (but not quite) stoner doomic territory. "Awakening" is up next and is for Desert Psychlist the highlight of the album, it is a track that sets the bar almost impossibly high for other bands, wishing to blend traditional musics with rock, to follow. Here the band cast their net far and wide capturing not only the traditional sounds of their homeland but also essences of musics from all over the world, shoehorning those essences into six minutes fifteen seconds of stunning and unbelievably powerful music. "Ubdi" folows and comes across like Swedish doomsters Ordos jamming with Cypriot psychonauts Arcadian Child in a Moroccan tea house while "Light In The Sky" throws a Hawkwind shaped curveball into the mix with its tale of "unexpected visitors from outer space" who "bring a message from the edge of time" Proceedings are brought to a close with "Echoes of Oblivion" a spiritualistic hazy psych drenched tome that reminded Desert Psychlist of Black Sabbath's "Planet Caravan" in places but with a slightly more authentic eastern feel.


This stunning collection of songs carries all the usual tags and genre descriptions you would expect to find associated with the bands/albums reviewed on Desert Psychlist but in reality none of those tags or descriptions fit what Around the Fire bring to us with "Celestial Keepers" this is an album not of stoner, doom, sludge or psych music, this is WORLD MUSIC!
Check it out .... 

© 2021 Frazer Jones

Tuesday, 12 January 2021

HEAVY RELIC ~ THE APPARITION OF THE GRAND CABALA ...... review

 

Let's be honest here, Desert Psychlist is unsure whether Heavy Relic is the work of one man (Nick Toone, a self confessed Earthless/Ozric Tentacles/ Samsara Blues Experiment fanboy)) or the work of that same one man in collaboration with a bunch of unnamed musicians, especially as Heavy Relic refer to themselves (or himself) as "we" in their/his on-line presence. For the purposes of this review Desert Psychlist is going to assume that Heavy Relic are maybe a bit of both, if we are wrong we are wrong but at the end of the day its the music that matters and not the personnel, and the music presented to us on Heavy Relic's eleventh release "The Apparition of the Gran Cabala" is something a little special!

Heavy Relic's new opus kicks off with "Tritone Heavy" a track inspired by the discovery (to Heavy Relic) of a new tuning that in their words makes things "pretty weird". Weird is a fairly good description of the sounds Desert Psychlist is hearing emanating from our battered speakers as this track unfolds, with dark, ominous and dissonant three other words we could easily add to that list. There are points during the tracks duration where the guitar solos seem to be fighting to break free from the directions the rhythms thundering out beneath have planned for them but strangely this is something that works in the songs favor creating a twisted warped feel to the proceedings that gives everything a pleasing off-kilter feel.  "Nocturne" is no less twisted and warped than its predecessor, in fact it may even be more so, its dark and swirling guitar work swooping in out and around a groove that starts off low slow and doomic then gradually increases until almost reaching a thrash like meter. We mentioned dissonance earlier but we were, maybe being a little premature as next and title track "The Apparition Of The Grand Cabala" knocks any atonality and discordance that might have gone before into the proverbial cocked hat. Here we have a song that refuses to adhere to any rules, it is a song that is as ugly as it is beautiful and as chaotic  as it is structured, a perfect storm in musical form that defies written description and needs to be heard to be believed. Finally we come to "Henbane" the second longest track of the album and probably its most doomic, its thunderous dank groove the backdrop over which lysergic laced lead breaks scream and screech and strange space-like effects sporadically burble and bleep making Heavy Relic's earlier "pretty weird" description seem somewhat of an understatement.


It was announced on its release that Heavy Relic's last album, "Opalescent". was going to be the band/artist's swansong but along came Covid and with nothing much else to do other than make music instruments were once again picked up. There are not too many positives to be found in a global pandemic but we at Desert Psychlist think "The Apparition Of The Grand Cabala" could well be one!
Check it out ....

© 2021 Frazer Jones

Monday, 11 January 2021

BLACKJACK MOUNTAIN ~ HOLDING TIME ..... review


"Old school" is a phrase we often use in music to describe something that has an essence of the past, there are some that consider anything tagged as "old school" to be generic and maybe a little past its sell by date, and there is no denying that in some cases this can be true, however done right "old school" can still sound as fresh and as vital as anything that is considered cutting edge and progressive in today's music scene. Georgia's Blackjack Mountain take their lead from the golden age of rock, their grooves have an unmistakable 70's classic rock bias mixed with a little down-home southern swagger but those same grooves are infused with enough "new school" grit and growl to please even the most anti of "old school" music fans. Don't believe us?,, well then give their debut "Holding Time" a spin.


"Holding Time" starts off with "Intro", a track that samples some good 'ol boys decrying the morals of the rock'n'roll listening youth, that then erupts into "What I Need" a furiously paced hard rocker with an infectious vocal melody tied to a groove that is part southern rock swagger and part stoner/hard rock bluster. "Red Eagle" follows and here we find Blackjack Mountain putting aside their southern influences and embracing a more commercial hard rock sound, a sound  that would not sound too far out of place on one of KISS' better albums. Road song "Loaded Gun" is up next and sees guitarist Tyler Bates laying down chugging powerchords, over a backdrop of growling bass and solid steady percussion expertly provided by Clayton Kingsmill and Michael Bearden respectively, the songs lyrics telling us of "switching lanes and switching gears" while also boasting a chorus that will stick in the mind long after the track finishes. "Witch Of The Swamp" reignites Blackjack Mountains southern flame with a song that lyrically references a Cajun lady with the power to grant wishes while following track "Nevermore" throws a little funkiness into the equation while still maintaining an air of metallic bluster. "Nevermore" is followed up by "Devil In The Dark" is an out and out rocker that in places reminded Desert Psychlist of the excellent Raging Slab in their prime. On "I Don't Mind" the band decide to mix things up a little, the songs vocal melody having the feel of a power ballad but the songs backdrop of crunching chords and thundering rhythms feeling anything but. Penultimate song "River Flows" comes out of the traps with swaggering southern attitude on a stuttering hard rock groove before the band bring things to a close with "Echoes Of Time" an unexpected mix of lysergic haziness and southern crunch that in some ways pays tribute to all those southern rock bands that have paved the way (and some who are still laying the stones), its vocal harmonies laid back and hazy and its grooves, either intentionally or unintentionally, referencing everyone from The Allman Brothers to Black Stone Cherry.


"Holding Time" is an album that cleverly traverses that gulf between what is considered mainstream rock and that which is considered underground, it is an album full of songs that would have any stoner worth his weight in fuzz drooling and dribbling over its crunching refrains and powerful rhythms yet it is also an album that should appeal to those who like their grooves melodious, catchy.and "old school".
Check it out ....

© 2021 Frazer Jones

Sunday, 10 January 2021

PUENTE DIABLO ~ SOL NEGRO ...... review

Very rarely does Desert Psychlist review releases with less than three or four songs but we felt that an exception had to be made in the case of Puente Diablo's latest release "Sol Negro" a two song outing that not only showcases a band at the height of their powers but also is a fine example of the quality of music currently coming out of Chile

Puente Diablo's previous releases, "Demonizado" (2016) and "Tierra Ancestra" (2017), were very much straight ahead affairs with the band finding their feet by delivering grooves that sat at the more stoner/hard rock end of the rock spectrum , the trio fleshing out those grooves out with only the occasional forays into doom and psych. "Sol Negro" is a different animal altogether, the songs that make up this two song opus still draw from the same musical pools explored on previous releases but those doom and psych aspects of the bands sound have this time been pushed much more to the fore. Title track "Sol Negro" is a prime example of this more swirling psych/doom dynamic, it begins with crunching guitar refrains and thunderous rhythms, decorated with clean gritted vocals (sung in Spanish), but then takes a detour into a more ambient psych territory that sees Alex Retama (bass/vocals) and Mauricio Navarro (drums) laying down an ambient post-rock/fusion groove over which guitarist/vocalist Daniel Alarcón delivers ringing arpeggios and fractured chord voicings as well as a little traditional Andean pan piping, the band finally returning to crunch and thunder mode to take things to the close. Second, and final, song "Largo Viaje" is an atmospheric and somewhat emotional tour-de force that begins with a stunning psychedelic intro built around low deep bass and shimmering percussion over which Floydian guitar textures swell and swoon. The song slowly morphs into a mid to slow heavy doomic groove that is cleverly tempered with exquisite blues flavoured guitar solos that swoop and swirl over and around some superbly pitched vocal harmonies and the occasional sampled narrative, the songs only downside being it has to end.


They say that from small acorns great trees will grow and if we consider the two songs that make up Puente Diablo's "Sol Negro" to be the seeds of a more expansive and experimental sound for the band to build upon in the future then let's hope that these two trees soon turn into a forest or better still a full album!
Check 'em out ...

© 2021 Frazer Jones

Monday, 4 January 2021

AFGHAN HAZE ~ NIHILISTIC STONER HYMNS .... review


Sludge is often described as the place where stoner rock, doom and the blackened metals meet and hang out together and some might regard "sludge" as the perfect description for what, Afghan Haze, the subject of this review, bring to the table with their latest release "Nihilistic Stoner Hymns". Trouble is Afghan Haze don't quite fit into the neat little box "sludge" provides, their music is blackened but not overly brutal, their grooves are stonerized but not overly fuzzy and their doom is dark but not exactly dank. So where does this leave these Connecticut riffmeisters in the great scheme of things? The answer is exactly where they want to be.


Afghan Haze are a band driving a cherry picker through the orchards of underground rock and metal, plucking grooves from the assorted genres and sub-genres like fruit from trees, using what they deem fits them discarding what they feel doesn't. Afghan Haze could be described as a band who play heavy music but the truth is most of the bands "heaviness" comes not from their music, which is a mixture of gritty stoner rock, spaced out hard rock and doomic psych, but from the vocals they choose to decorate that music with. Low, graveled vocal tones, growled in a style that brings back memories of early Opeth, and in places Ordos, are the tones that adorn each and every one of the seven songs that make up "Nihilistic Stoner Hymns" and it is these tones, often incanted rather than sang, that gives songs like "Burn The Goat", "(Welcome) To Drug Mountain" and "Southern Bastard Church" an impression of heaviness that is not always reflected in their grooves. Don't however begin to think that the grooves surrounding those distinctive vocals are bereft of heaviness, because that is not the case, you will find all the requisite crunch and thunder you could ever hope for from an album carrying tags that include doom, metal and stoner it is just that those elements of crunch and thunder are tempered by aspects of swirling psych and bluesy old school hard rock that are delivered with a clarity and cleanliness that, on occasions, belies the vocal tones that those grooves support.


Visceral and brutal are words often used to describe music of the nature Afghan Haze present us with on "Nihilistic Stoner Hymns" and often music described as such tends to lose a little of its musicality due to its harshness and ferality. Although there are moments when those two words could well be brought in to play when describing Afghan Haze's sonic attack the truth is those moments are few and far between and instead we are presented with a music that is certainty loud, certainly gritty but at the same time, and despite its blackened approach, is at all times musical.
Check 'em out .....
 
© 2021 Frazer Jones

Sunday, 3 January 2021

DRUIDS ~ VOL.1 ..... review


It is pretty obvious from the artwork gracing their debut EP "Vol.1" that Italy's Druids are another of those band with a Black Sabbath fixation. Druids, however, are not your archetypical Sabbath clones, yes there are plenty of Iommi-like riffs to sink your teeth into on "Vol.1" but you won't find any Ozzy-like vocal tones, no matter how hard you listen, and nor will you find this band just sticking to a Sabbath-esque blueprint in order to get their grooves heard.


Given the bands admission to being apostles of the Black Sabbath sound Desert Psychlist is fairly sure that the first track of "Vol.1", the playfully titled "Lord ov the Riffs", is a veiled homage to both Beelzebub and that riffmeister extraordinaire Mr. Tony Iommi, certainly lyrically it references the horned one but musically we are not sure so it is quite so Sabbath-esque as the riffs used to decorate this song lean a little more towards the occult rock-doom of the 00's than they do the 70's proto-metallized doom of the Birmingham Four. Having said that there are numerous places on "Vol.1" where those two dynamics crossover but the biggest difference between Druids and their heroes is the Italians penchant for throwing off the shackles of their Sabbath influences and walking paths a little less travelled as they do on the excellent "Proceed the Weedian" where they mix a little gothic bluesiness and torch-like balladry into their occult-rock meanderings and come up with something quite unique if not a little brilliant. Vocally Druids are as far removed from Sabbath as it is possible to get with vocalist Luca possessing a voice that would not sound out of place fronting a band from the UK's late 70'/early 80's post-punk goth scene, his clean clear baritone the perfect match for the excellent and eclectic doom-lite grooves guitarist  Marco “Ciccio”, bassist Riccardo and drummer Gabriele serve up around and beneath him. It is these vocals combined with the bands dank, but not overly heavy,  grooves that make "Vol.1" not just an enjoyable listen and but also an essential one.


Italian doom is a unique animal, much like they did with their cult horror movies in the 70's the Italians have a tradition of bringing something a little different to the table with their doom, there is something a little more atmospheric, a little more theatrical and dramatic about Italian doom that you very rarely find outside of that country and with "Vol.1" Druids have more than upheld that tradition.
Check it out ..... 

© 2021 Frazer Jones