Category Archives: New Releases

DIRTY SIDEWALKS – Bring Down the House Lights LP

Album: Bring Down the House Lights LP

Artist: Dirty Sidewalks

Label: No-Count

Release Date: January 12, 2018

The Upshot: Classic, anthemic shoegaze with a contemporary twist, and more vocal hooks per capita than a box set of Beach Boys ‘n’ Beatles.


Swervedriver. Ride. Chapterhouse. Jesus & Mary Chain. If none of those classic outfits twang your heartstrings, move along citizen, nothing to see here. But for all the smart people in the room, here, folks, is your new favorite band: Seattle’s Dirty Sidewalks, brothers Erik and Evan Foster on guitars and drum programming, plus “the other Evan” (O’Neil) on bass, debuting with a 12-song smorgasbord of fuzz ‘n’ drones, classic ‘80s anthemism and ‘60s Brit Invasion vocal harmonies, and no shortage of just plain kickass.

If Erick and Evan’s names sound familiar, that’s because you know their surf/garage combo, the Boss Martians. (Evan is also a contemporary member of NW garage legends the Sonics, just in case you need an additional CV reference.) But this is a whole ‘nuther thang, a veritable gobsmack of a record (on CD and vinyl) that does indeed pay homage to the aforementioned UK shoegazers but also updates the file to stake out turf that is utterly and undeniably theirs. It kicks off with some telltale backward-tape squiggles then launches into the manifesto-like “Rock & Roll (Saved My Life),” a thrumming, shimmering slice of JAMC pop revisionism that’ll have you swiveling your tailfeather in perfect synch with the shaker percussion. And the thrills subsequently pile up: the brief (2-min.), anthemic “Never Wanted to Be Love”; druggy, echo-drenched stomper “Euphoria”; experimental, samples-punctuated Black Holes, essentially an instrumental but with soaring Beach Boys-like wordless vocal harmonies. Oh, and for all the Oasis fans in the house, don’t miss “2nd Song,” which is more Noel Gallagher grand guitar symphony than Liam Gallagher vocal yowl/sneer, a guaranteed crowd pleaser.

That the Dirty Sidewalks use a James Dean-on-motorcycle as their band logo also speaks volumes. Get yer motor runnin’, punk.

Consumer note: In addition to Bring Down the House Lights being available on heavy vinyl, download card included, the band’s debut 45, “It’s Getting Better,” is apparently available on wax as well, in both super-limited white and very-limited black iterations. Act now before the word gets out on this gifted band.

DOWNLOAD: “Rock & Roll (Saved My Life),” “Euphoria,” “2nd Song”


Album: Travelers

Artist: Nicoloas Masson Quartet

Label: ECM

Release Date: February 16, 2018



Nicolas Masson has been all over ECM Records’ recent works – not as musician, but as photographer of many of their distinctive album covers. For his first ECM album under his own name (after two LPs with the trio Third Reel), the Swiss reedsman renames his longtime band Parallels and gives it airily arranged and classically-informed compositions to stimulate improvisation without chaos energy. Whether blowing tenor sax, soprano or clarinet, Masson prefers a stark tone and clean lines, encouraging his musicians to leave as much space as he does in the tracks. In that sense, pianist Collin Vallon is his perfect foil, as he lays down a chordal foundation, rather than running up and down his keyboard. Masson’s veteran compadre/bassist Patrice Moret, who also plays in Vallon’s trio, often finds himself up front when it’s time for solos – a status that suits his particularly melodic style. Drummer Lionel Friedli, meanwhile, keeps to the background, letting his cymbals drive the music subtly and letting the beat percolate without boiling over. Whether essaying enigmatic melodics in “Philae” and “Almost Forty” or exploring the arrangements’ well-lit corners in “Blurred” and “Jura,” the Masson Quartet stays elegant, channeling its passion into the right notes at the right time in the right way.


DOWNLOAD: “Philae,” “Almost Forty,” “Blurred”


TREES SPEAK – Trees Speak (2LP)

Album: Trees Speak

Artist: Trees Speak

Label: Cinedelic / Forced Exposure

Release Date: December 07, 2018 /

The Upshot: A kosmiche, psychedelic, improvisational slab of genius, spread across four beautiful clear vinyl sides, announces the arrival of a visionary new outfit from the Old Pueblo.


Trees Speak, hailing from Tucson, Arizona, is visual artist Daniel Martin Diaz’s musical persona, formerly of Blind Divine and Crystal Radio, and here joined by Michael Glidewell (Black Sun Ensemble), Gabriel Sullivan (XIXA, Giant Sand), Connor Gallaher (Myrrors, Cobra Family Picnic), Damian Diaz (Human Error), and Julius Schlosburg (Jeron White Acoustic Trio). They consider themselves more of a “sound laboratory”—crafting long, live-in-studio improvisations, then editing them in the studio, adding effects, and more—along the lines of early Can, than a straight-up rock band.*

Although that’s not to even remotely suggest that these cats won’t rock the fuck out, because like the Krautrock greats of yore, Trees Speak can shift instantly from a luminous, ambient electronic shimmer to a pounding, pulsing, powering wall of sound. Trees Speak, released this past December on the Cinedelic label, home to numerous electronic and experimental Italian artists (including several film soundtrackers—Ennio Morricone’s Eat It is among the label’s catalog), and distributed in the U.S. by Forced Exposure, is the group’s debut, and to these ears, at least, it is utterly unlike anything that the Old Pueblo had produced to date.

Side A is highly instructive. The ominous “Soul Machine” kicks things off on a heady Neu!-esque motorik note before yielding to a percussion segue leading the listener directly into throbbing, electronics-splattered drone territory, “Black Butterfly” and “Atomic Heart.” This in turn gradually turns into a series of restful, melodic passages via harmonium and nylon string guitar—although “restful” may be a misnomer, or at least misleading, since there are also some abrupt glitchy effects as well as some strange background vocal samples. The side concludes with the track “Trees Speak,” which synthesizes all of the foregoing into another moment of motorik magnificence—the key here being the use of repetition for both texture and dynamics, whether within the context of a minimalist or a full-arrangement composition.

One could similarly describe the other three sides, but it wouldn’t really do the music here justice. If the core elements of Krautrock appeal to you, along with the notion that genuinely transcendent psychedelia always is rooted in the improvisational aesthetic, then you won’t be able to resist this remarkable debut. I found myself playing certain tracks over and over—the aforementioned “Atomic Heart,” side B’s lengthy, aptly-titled “Spirit Oscillator” (which sounds uncannily like Can’s classic “Mother Sky” in places), the sizzling/searing uneasy listening of “Unconscious Through Control.” A single synapse-snapping composition, “Shadow Circuit,” takes up the entirety of sides C and D, split into Pt. 1 and Pt. 2, recalling at times fellow Tucson bands The Myrrors and Black Sun Ensemble in all their mystic, lunar-worshiping, Lower Sonoran glory; during the song, heady bursts of kosmiche guitar dart hither and yonder as if they were desert creatures engaged in their nocturnal hunts, only to be frightened back into their burrows by predatory rapid-fire percussion and zooming electronics—and then the cycle begins all over.

There’s a palpable sense of time standing still while Trees Speak performs, like standing on the floor of a rock venue, the lights turned off with only red LED lights on amplifiers for illumination, and simply letting the music wash over you. I realize that these tunes are the product of post-performance editing and tinkering, but they were also originally created live over a five-day period (at Sacred Machine Studio and Dust & Stone Studio in Tucson), and to their credit, the musicians retained that live feel for the finished product.

For you vinyl fans out there, the photo above should be all the motivation you need to scoop this up while it’s available: 2LP, 180-gm. clear vinyl in a gatefold sleeve, plus a 12” double-sided print, five 5” postcards, and two stickers. An artistic beauty, courtesy Diaz. And only 250 copies were pressed, so don’t sit ‘cos if you do, you won’t be able to spin.


* I usually refrain from quoting a band’s press info at length, but in this case I think it’s wholly appropriate to let them state their musical manifesto directly. It’s spoken like true Tucsonans: “Our intention is to create music with an unrehearsed minimalist approach performing simple beats, riffs, and sequences that take one inward. We attempt create a sonic environment to set one’s mind free and to become aware of the nuances of tone, melody, and structure. We organize our recording equipment with the same approach, in a transparent manner. Our recorded performances are never rehearsed. Our belief is that a brilliant rehearsal is a lost opportunity to capture a magical moment. We are chasing the mystery of music and tone. We let the musical performance sculpt its own destiny and create imperfect perfection. Our tool of creation is the anxiety one feels when they are unrehearsed or prepared for a performance. We believe this approach brings us closer to the authentic self. The result is genuine music without an agenda that captures the unfiltered spirit.”

Live band photo by Allan Robert Sturm, via the band’s Facebook page.


DOWNLOAD: “Shadow Circuit (Pt.1),” “Spirit Oscillator,” “Soul Machine”



Album: L.i.E.

Artist: Mudhoney

Label: Sub Pop

Release Date: January 19, 2018


The set starts in a monstrous wall of feedback, a fuzzed out roar that parts, like primordial swamp for the fuzz-clustered, two guitar crocodilian riff of “Fuzz Gun,” a form of guitar mayhem first plotted before Nirvana broke, before grunge became a fashion statement, when it seemed like the primitive stomp and psychedelia skree of Mudhoney might become, if not the next big thing, something bigger and more lucrative than the journeyman hard rock outfit they eventually turned into. That cut, and the one that follows is “Get into Yours,” from the 1989 S-T, are a quarter-century old when we hear them now, somewhere in Eastern Europe, but they sound just as relevant, just as hard and blunt and distended with volume as they must have when Mark Arm and Steve Turner first thought of them.


Mudhoney’s new live set, L.i.E. (Sub Pop), collected from a 2016 tour, is bluntly, ferociously coherent, though it spans three decades, seven albums and one Roxy Music cover.


The set list leans a bit on 2013’s Vanishing Point, then and now, the band’s most recent full-length (though a new one is coming in 2018), with an extended, pedal-fucked, guitar-spiraling, through-the-rabbit-hole treatment of “The Final Course,” followed by the slyer, more compact boogie of “What to Do with the Neutral” (“What to do with the neutral/It’s not an easy problem,” sings Arm, who has demonstrably spent more time on extremes). The post-millennial Mudhoney albums have an air of comfortable free-ness, of settling in with what the band has, of getting over undue expectations, and their loose, humorous bluster colors this live performance. But they make perfect sense in conjunction with older material — the explosive vamp of “Judgment Rage Retribution and Thyme” from 1995’s My Brother the Cow, the viscous chug of 2009’s Piece of Cake’s “Suck You Dry.”


You might think that covering Roxy Music is an odd choice, but “Editions of You,” is one of Ferry’s rougher, more rocking outings. Mudhoney gets at the twisted, clanging guitar line, pumping it up with pummeling drums, and obliterating any vestigial crooning in a barrage of Arm’s frantic shout-ranting. It sounds, in the end, like Mudhoney. It’s followed by the best cut on the disc, the long, fever-blistered rampage of “Broken Hands,” which encapsulates blues-like dirge and psychedelic freakery in its slow-moving, drum-rattling procession.


Which sounds completely different but also like Mudhoney, always what it is, always morphing, and always, always, always a monster live band.


Incidentally, Mudhoney and Sub Pop made an intriguing move with the album by not releasing it on CD, just vinyl and digital. And then they paid further tribute to vinyl collectors (Such as moi. — Blurt Wax Ed.) by also pressing up a special European-only, limited-to-500-copies version pressed on clear vinyl and boasting different gatefold artwork from the standard US pressing, it’s on 180gm CLEAR VINYL. And initial copies came with a 7” Bonus single. (“Touch Me I’m Sick” b/w “Where the Flavor Is”). Nice touch, gents.

DOWNLOAD: “Judgment Rage Retribution and Thyme,” “Broken Hands”



FLAMIN’ GROOVIES – Fantastic Plastic

Album: Fantastic Plastic

Artist: Flamin' Groovies

Label: Sonic Kick

Release Date: September 22, 2017

 The Upshot: Cyril, Chris, & Co. hit the ignition button and blast off in a spectacular return to form.


With the state of decay that rock ‘n’ roll has composted into over the last several years, it’s important to have a touchstone like the Flamin’ Groovies to reboot our brains and remind us what it’s really all about. Since the original lineup formed in ’66, their lineups over the years have seen more changes than Drumpf’s White Power House staff appointments, but, have remained pretty true to their original sound through it all. This point in time finds them still creatively brilliant in both writing and playing. Although ex-Charlatan/Groovie Michael Wilhelm and band co-founder Roy Loney weren’t involved in this latest resurrection, original bassist George Alexander makes the scene on most of the tunes, drummer Victor Penalosa and former member Chris Wilson co-writes about half the numbers with Cyril Jordan, after a 38-year separation. This partnership is where the ignition hits the combustible and blast-off is achieved, and is pretty damned spectacular. Their touring lineup includes bassist Chris von Sneidern and Tony Sales (grandson of Soupy; Tony’s father is Tony Fox Sales of Tin Machine) on drums. After Jordan and Wilson rekindled their friendship in 2013, they started slowly recording tunes at a Sausalito studio, slowly piecing together an album over a 3-year period.

Having been a fan since Sneakers was released in ‘68, I was blown away from the first couple of tunes, and greatly impressed by this latest incarnation. Through the decades, their musical

choices have always been a bit out of sync with the current time period, making them not exactly appealing to the hippies of the late ‘60’s, with songs that sounded like they were lifted from artists of the previous decade, in a period of folk-rock and psychedelia. Plastic Fantastic stays true to their vision, belting out tunes that cover ground remindful of British Invasion bands, classic rock, power-pop, Mod and Freakbeat. There’s even a tasty instrumental thrown in. I can’t let the great cover by Jordan go by without a nod. Jordan drew Mickey Mouse comics at Disney in the ‘80’s, and had hoped to get famous Mad magazine Jack Davis draw a cover for some future project. Davis agreed, but passed away before it came to fruition. Putting rapidograph to paper, he came up with this very serviceable homage to Davis’s 1959 cover for Monster Rally.

The album kicks off with a ballsy, bluesy, Stones-flavored smack-down, “What The Hell’s Going On.” It’s a clear shot across the bow, letting you know that they aren’t screwing around. It also makes for a pretty good anthem for 2017.  “The End Of The World” couldn’t sound more Groovies-infused (think “Shake Some Action”) if they had a gun pointed at their head and were forced to clone their signature sound. They dig into the Beau Brummels’ catalog and juice up their classic Mod-ish number “Don’t Talk To Strangers,” really capturing the atmosphere of that time period. Their Flamingo-era flavored “Let Me Rock” shakes things up old-school style and belongs on juke boxes in soda shops everywhere. This is not the ’71 version, but a fresh update. Rock on, indeed!

“She Loves You” and “I Want You Bad” revisit the jangle of “Shake Some Action” and “You Tore Me Down” to lovely effect, making it not much of a stretch for them both to have come from that era. Early Beatles-sound shines through (ala “Long Tall Sally”/”Matchbox”/”Slow Down”) on “Crazy Macy,” thanks to a pounding Jerry Lee beat. This was a single released by the band about a year ago as a tasty appetizer for the upcoming album. “Lonely Hearts,” as the title evokes, is a broody ballad about separation, love lost and hope of reconciliation. “Just Like A Hurricane” rolls in a lot like Ferry’s “Let’s Stick Together” but with throbbing guitars and wah-wah instead of a horn section.

It sounds like all voices are joining in on “Fallen Star,” which locomotes and chugs right along like a freight train, with some fine guitar riffs, fading out with some Byrdsian guitar chimes. I’m endlessly disappointed that bands don’t do more instrumentals, but the band shines through here with “I’d Rather Spend My time With You,” which is about one step removed from a surf number, with a sprinkling of “ahhhs.” Drummer Prairie Prince joins in on drums, along with bass parts laid down by noted producer-archivist Alec Palao. A Byrdsy beginning kicks off “Cryin’ Shame,” a very ‘60’s sound, accompanied with nice harmonies on the chorus parts.

It has to be noted, that even with a pretty amazing catalog on the shelves from decades back, Fantastic Plastic might just be their finest effort. This is the music that stirs your loins and flies in your face like the sweet bird of youth come home to roost. Fingers crossed that this isn’t their Final Vinyl.

DOWNLOAD: “What the Hell’s Going On,“ “End

JAKOB BRO – Returnings

Album: Returnings

Artist: Jakob Bro

Label: ECM

Release Date: March 23, 2018


By now, guitarist Jakob Bro is a veteran of the Scandinavian jazz scene. For Returnings, however, he and his stalwart bassist Thomas Morgan call upon the talents of musicians who’ve been plying their trade in Northern Europe for even longer: drummer Jon Christensen and trumpeter/composer Palle Mikkelborg.

No high velocity fusioneer, Bro puts his watery tone to the service of tunes that take their time getting where they’re going. As a rhythm section, Morgan and Christensen walk around the beat more than alongside it – the drummer in particular plays without much care for keeping the pulse. Riding Christensen’s amorphous groove, “Lyskaster” and “Song For Nicolai” saunter forward, not so much relaxed as unconcerned. This approach well suits Bro and especially Mikkelborg, who prefers a sonorous tone and likes to make each note count, rather than engage in pyrotechnics.

Though ostensibly the leader, the Danish six-string master gives his guests plenty of space, often more interested in providing backgrounds over which Mikkelborg and Morgan solo than opportunities for himself. Besides highlighting Bro’s generosity, it makes the times when he does step out, as on Mikkelborg’s purposefully meandering composition “View,” extra special. Other highlights include the title track, an atmospheric Bro-Mikkelborg co-write that sounds like Miles Davis if he did In a Silent Way for ECM, and “Hamsun,” a duet between Bro and Morgan that doesn’t need its high-profile guests to stand out.

Bro has long proven himself a master of his main instrument – with Returnings he shows that he’s come into his own as a bandleader as well.

DOWNLOAD: “View,” “Returnings,” “Hamsun”


CLAUDETTES – Dance Scandal at the Gymnasium!

Album: Dance Scandal at the Gymnasium!

Artist: Claudettes

Label: Yellow Dog

Release Date: March 23, 2018

The Upshot: A musical magician’s act, primarily based around hi-nrg blues-jazz compositions for piano, bass, drums, and vocals, and a helluva lot of fun.


If you just gave a cursory glance to the band name, album title, and sleeve art gracing this Chicago outfit’s third full-length you might think “garage punkettes,” but nope, the Claudettes are a sleek—but decidedly non-slick—blues band with elements of jazz (particularly with the song arrangements’ emphasis on songwriter Johnny Iguana’s piano work) and poppy soul (Ms. Berit Ulseth’s rich vocal stylings). At the same time, those first four letters of “punkettes” definitely apply here, because the quartet, which is rounded out by drummer Matthew Torre and bassist/guitarist Zach Verdoorn, musters more per-capita energy across these dozen tunes than most any garage combo you’d care to mention. That they are produced by Mark Neill of Black Keys fame is no coincidence.

Indeed, from the peripatetic “November” (an epic-in-feel cinematic number that finds Ulseth cooing from the mountaintop) and the whomping boogie-woogie of “Give It All Up for Good”; to the dense, avant-garde-esque wall of Tom Waitsian sound that is “Influential Farmers” which was apparently inspired by an NPR report on occupational trends, and the titular-appropriate “Utterly Absurd” (a kind of cross between Dr. John-styled N’awlins rock and Krautrock-laced psychedelic punk), Dance Scandal at the Gymnasium! is an exercise in sonic and thematic gotcha. Song after song, just as the listener thinks he or she has nailed down what the Claudettes are all about, the band duly yanks the rug out from under those expectations, leaving you gasping and laughing from the surprise. I mean, there’s even a tune about Bill Clinton (“Bill Played Saxophone”) which could rightly be described as Political Prog—if that’s an actual genre. Who the hell knows?

“Yanks the rug out”? Make that “yanks the dinner cloth out from under the place settings and dinner.” This is a musical magician’s act, and it’s a helluva lot of fun.

DOWNLOAD: “Influential Farmers,” “Dance Scandal at the Gymnasium,” “November”

THROWING HORNS: Blurt’s Metal Roundup Pt. 666.12

Hard rock! Stoner metal! Crustcore! Psychedelia! Grunge! Thrash! Skronk! Black metal! Trash punk! Bad boy boogie! (huh?) Smell the glove and make the sign of the umlaut, kids, it’s the 12th installment in our latest genre study, with Corrosion of Conformity (pictured above, from their Facebook page), Visigoth, Azonic, The Melvins, Windhand, Tribulation, Watain, Atlas Moth, and more. Go here to read the first episode, Pt. 666.1, here for Pt. 666.2, here for Pt. 666.3, here for Pt. 666.4, here for Pt. 666.5here for 666.6, here for 666.7 , here for 666.8, here for 666.9 , here for 666.10 and here for 666.11 – if you dare. Incidentally, following the album and band blurbs are links to audio and video, so check ’em out.


Whether taking underground metal by storm with its madly creative sophomore album The Formulas of Death or reinvigorating death ‘n’ roll with the brutal but catchy The Children of the Night, Tribulation has made a lot of waves for a death metal band. After two major recorded statements in a row, the Swedish quartet already has a hell of a legacy to live up to on Down Below (Century Media), album 4. Demonstrating the band’s commitment to songcraft, “Nightbound” and “The Lament” set the scene with melodic metal as indebted to early 80s NWoBHM acts like Angel Witch as Luciferian death metal pioneers like Entombed. With atmospheric interludes and an emphasis on keyboards, Tribulation’s prog leanings reassert themselves boldly on “Lacrimosa” and “Here Be Dragons,” the latter an epic sure to be a concert staple in years to come. Bassist Johannes Andersson maintains the most articulate necrotic growl this side of Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt, while guitarists Adam Zaars and Jonathan Hultén burst with riffs and textures that demonstrate a wider awareness of rock than merely headbanger’s delights. There’s a serious goth rock jones working its way through the quartet’s system here, especially in the lyrics, which might be a turn-off to anyone outside the realm of black eyeliner and brooding. (It explains the band’s penchant for covering the Cure, though.) Plus the quartet’s relentless forward motion on past LPs makes the record feel a bit like spinning wheels, without the leap forward (or sideward) one might expect. Still, there’s nothing wrong with Tribulation consolidating its strengths, and Down Below is sure to end up on lots of top ten lists at years’ end.

Tribulation’s countryfreaks in Watain also garnered a lot of attention from outside the metal world with its previous album, 2013’s expansive, highly crafted The Wild Hunt. Now that eyes not covered in corpsepaint are upon them, the quintet responds with Trident Wolf Eclipse (Century Media), an album of raw black metal that recalls the savagery of early efforts like Lawless Darkness. As beastly as “Furor Diabolicus” and “Sacred Damnation” sound, however, they’re not crude replicas of old school slash ‘n’ thrash. Leader Erik Danielsson and his latest coven evolved into more sophisticated songwriters over the years, and haven’t abandoned their compositional dexterity in pursuit of Trve Cvlt Metal – they’ve just turbocharged it with the carnivorous mania and demonic horsepower of the original wave of Nordic devil-chasers. Old school Watain fans may see this as a step backward (or a return to roots, depending on perspective), but fans only recently along for the ride may be pleasantly surprised.

Five long years have passed since Austin/Dallas deathgrinders Mammoth Grinder have laid down the hurting on poor innocent ears. Maybe that explains why the band’s fourth LP Cosmic Crypt (Relapse) sounds like a rage-soaked dragon escaping its cave for the first time in millennia. Leader Chris Ulsh (who also drums the hell out of Power Trip) leads bassist Mark Bronzino (who also guitars in Iron Reagan) and drummer Ryan Parrish (also of Darkest Hour) through a maelstrom of hellfire riffs, boulder-shattering rhythms and craggy roars that would grind any unsuspecting miscreant to fine dust. Picking a favorite is like deciding which body blow was the most effective at snapping your spine, but “Locusts Nest,” “Molotov” and the perfectly titled “Blazing Burst” will separate the old farts from the young ‘ns pretty quickly.

A couple of years ago, Hooded Menace unleashed a lumbering hellbeast of a record called Darkness Drips Forth, alerting the wider world to its eldritch presence. Now the fiendish Finnish foursome follows up with the mouthful that is Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed (Season of Mist), its fifth album. As with its breakthrough, the band fills the grooves with crushing doom/death. What might normally be soaring melodies slow down to a crawl, as if being dragged under the earth’s crust by mole people. Drums pound nails into foreheads with deliberate sloth, while some sort of feral beast slowed down to half-speed roars about “Sempiternal Grotesqueries” and a “Cathedral of Labyrinthine Darkness.” Despite the hallucinatory fog, however, actual melodies do emerge, seething in your ear like an evil fairy that flits away when you turn your head. Savage yet graceful, Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed makes no concessions to affability but still evolves into a more attractive monster.

The Atlas Moth has evolved into one of metal’s most interesting bands, and that’s not meant as a backhanded compliment. The Chicago quintet is one of the most wideranging and versatile in extreme metal, defying stereotypes by treating death metal, black metal, prog metal, doom, psychedelic hard rock and hardcore as the facets of the same gem. Coma Noir (Prosthetic), the band’s fourth album and first in four years, leans more towards the extreme side of its personality, with leader Stavros Giannopoulos turning in some lungbusting screams against a thick wall of distortion. But, as usual, atmospheric synths, shifting dynamics, clean vocals and a penchant for anthemic melodies add varying light and shade to the Moth’s madness. “The Streets of Bombay” roars like a hurricane when it doesn’t flow like lava; “Galactic Brain” shoots off into space before crashing into the nearest comet. “Smiling Knife” starts with proggy hammer-ons before loping like a buffalo across the plains, while “Chloroform” begins with a NWoBHM requiem prior to breaking the spell with raging crunge. “Actual Human Blood” brings roiling thrash into the equation without sounding at all like it’s trying to bring back the eighties. “Furious Gold” puts Giannopoulos’ sanity-shredding shriek right up against guitarist David Kush’s melodic rasp, the vocalists battling it out over tuneful pound that’s still heavy as a dead dinosaur. Stem to stern, Coma Noir is both the Moth’s most forbidding and its most accessible LP so far.

A far more straightforward prog/extreme proposition, Howling Sycamore makes an impact on its self-titled debut (Prosthetic). Musical mastermind Davide Tiso (guitarist for weirdo metal icon Ephel Duath) recruited drummer Hannes Grossman (Necrophagist, Obscura), guitarist Kevin Hufnagel (Dysrhythmia, Gorguts) and saxophonist Bruce Lamont (Yakuza, Corrections House, Led Zeppelin 2) to lay down a storm of complex, knotty noise that takes inspiration for the complicated end of death metal as much as it does from the 70s. The biggest surprise is the addition of singer Jason McMaster (Dangerous Toys, Broken Teeth), wailing into the cosmos like he hasn’t done since he fronted prog/tech metal pioneer WatchTower back in the Reagan years. Brutal yet light on their feet, “Ostinate Pace” and “Midway” crush buildings like Godzilla during a surprisingly graceful dance number, while “Chant of Stillness” enters ballad territory without sacrificing the band’s thrust. Quite impressive.

The strain of classic metal purveyed by Visigoth, all swords, dragons and manly men doing manly things whilst wrapped in loincloths, sounds almost quaint, even goofy today. Yet it works when performed with enough conviction, and the Salt Lake City quintet has that in spades on its second album Conqueror’s Oath (Metal Blade). Guitarists Jamison Palmer and Leeland Campana unleash riffs that focus on catchiness more than complexity, while rhythm section Mikey T. and Matt Brotherton rampage like an army of giants. But the heart of the band is singer Jake Rogers, whose magnificent pipes and complete lack of irony will have you reaching for your battleaxe. From the fist-raising anthems “Warrior Queen” and “Steel and Silver” to the speed-demon rumble of “Blades in the Night” and “Outlive Them All” and the rolling good times of “Salt City,” Visigoth flails the heck out of every note with the skill of experts and the zeal of true believers.

The mighty Corrosion of Conformity rumbles on after three decades-plus, and the Raleigh, NC quartet’s tenth album No Cross No Crown (Nuclear Blast) shows no signs of slowdown. Unsurprising given the return of singer/guitarist Pepper Keenan, NCNC revisits the band’s patented Southern rock/doom metal hybrid, last heard on 2005 In the Arms of God, with a vengeance. Sounding fired up after so much time off (well, sort of – he’d been playing, but not singing, in Down), Keenan turns in a ferocious set of performances, singrowling like it’s his last session on Earth. Guitarist Woody Weatherman, bassist Mike Dean and drummer Reed Mullin respond with backdrops oozing with riffs and rhythms that bespeak as much familiarity with Iron Maiden as Lynyrd Skynyrd and Black Sabbath. There’s something refreshingly meat-and-potatoes about “Cast the First Stone,” “Wolf Named Crow” and “Forgive Me” – they’re unapologetically hard rockin’, no frills required.

Even more full of battery acid and bitter coffee than before, Wrong returns with Feel Great (Relapse), the follow-up to its splendid debut. Bass and drums dance a hardcore-inflected four-step on your tailbone while a pair of guitars grind staccato grunge riffs and hack-and-slash noise rock solos against each other like two exes’ prelude to a hate fuck. Vocalist Eric Hernandez seethes and mutters, as if he’s trying to fit in with the rest of the idiots but might have been released from the institution a bit too soon. From the blasted sludge of “Upgrade” and the crossover whipcrack of “Crawl Instead” to the stunted anthemry of “Come Apart/Medn” and the jackhammer kung fu of “Pustule,” Wrong revels in tension and release, inviting as much lighter-waving commiseration as wild-eyed slamdancing. Wrong will rule the world someday – we’re sure of it.

We’ve covered Windhand and Satan’s Satyrs in these pages before, but given the former’s atmospheric, leisurely paced doom and the latter’s irreverent garage metal, we’d have never guessed that the bands would share a self-titled split (Relapse). Sure enough, though, here we are. The thing both groups have in common is a (n un)healthy interest in the creepy horror flick aesthetic of the 60s and 70s underground. So the contrast between the acid witch heaviosity of Windhand’s “Old Evil” and “Three Sisters” isn’t as far off from the Satyrs’ freak rawkin’ “Succubus” and “Alucard AD 2018” (plus a cheeky take on Jimmy Reed’s “Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby”) as you might think. Does this mean a joint tour isn’t far behind?

Sometimes metal is at its best after it’s dropped a whole lotta blotters. Octopus, a dynamic quintet out of Detroit, gets that on its debut Supernatural Alliance (Rise Above). Led by powerhouse vocalist Masha Marjieh and guitarist J Frezzatto (ex-Electric Six!) and including ex-Big Chief bassist Matt O’Brien, the band soaks hard riffs and otherworldly atmospheres in wah-wah guitars, out-of-phase tones, grimy organ and a general sense of the children having pillaged the psychedelic pantry a few times before hitting the studio. Heavier than your average 70s-worshipping gang of stoners, but more colorful than unrefined metallic sludge, “Strike,” “The Center” and “Sword and the Stone” will rattle your lobes and juice your ‘nads.

Psychedelic Witchcraft count themselves as fellow travelers on Sound of the Wind (Listenable), the Florence, Italy band’s third record. Vocalist Virginia Monti and her crew of occultists can wax drifty and mysterious (cf. the title track), but kick out the jams quite nicely on “Wild We Go,” “Rising On the Edge” and “Lords of the War.”

Swedish ensemble JIRM (formerly trading under the ridiculous moniker Jeremy Irons and the Ratgang Malibus) also mixes psych into its metal on third LP Surge ex Monumentis (Small Stone). Singer/guitarist Karl Apelmo wails with absolute abandon, and the rest of the quartet supports his zeal with a mountain of speaker-vibrating accompaniment. “The Cultist” boogies like a child of the grave after an acid-spiked alt.rock cocktail, while “Dig” and “Tombs Arise” reach to the heavens with wings the size of Rodan’s. “The Nature of the Damned” expertly balances lush textures with amp-frying volume, pushing Apelmo to even greater dramatic heights. Without losing the lysergic elements, JIRM cranks up the overall heaviness to an epic sweep here, like Tool gone NWoBHM. A magnificent achievement.

Fourteen long years have passed since we last heard from Zeke. But Seattle’s greatest punk metal wackos have lost none of their spit, fire or rage in their time off. Hellbender (Relapse) takes no prisoners, roaring through its fifteen songs in twenty minutes, somehow avoiding blurriness and leaving every riff and tune intact. Axeslinger Kyle Whitewood spurts out solos that would give Kerry King fits, while longtime lead throat Blind Marky Felchtone still sounds like he gargles battery acid before every vocal session. “Working Man,” “Two Lane Blacktop” and “Devil’s Night” would snap the neck of the most dedicated headbanger, but said hesher would be grinning wildly all the way to the hospital. Though nowhere near as savage, fellow travelers Against the Grain smash plenty of bricks on its way to having Cheated Death (Ripple Music). The Detroit quartet’s fourth record continues to mash Motörhead and Thin Lizzy into its hometown hardcore and power rock, with a little Kiss thrown in for good measure. Waxing blazing (“Going Down Fast,” “No Sleep”) and soulful (“Devils and Angels,” “Smoke”) by turns, AtG waves lighters only to throw them in your face.

The never-resting Melvins waste no time in following up last year’s A Walk With Love & Death with Pinkus Abortion Technician (Ipecac), another LP throwing a spotlight on the four-stringers in their midst. This time (as opposed to 2016’s Basses Loaded) the honor roll is cut down to two: regular bottom feeder Steven McDonald and special guest Jeff Pinkus, leader of Honky, erstwhile member of the Butthole Surfers (whose Locust Abortion Technician gets tributed by the title) and frequent Melvs collaborator/fill-in bassist. The disk opens with “Stop Moving to Florida,” a mashup of the James Gang’s “Stop” and the Buttholes’ “Moving to Florida” that’s one of the flat-out boogieist things the long-running band has ever put to tape/wax/bytes. But that’s just the tip of the mudberg, with the Melvs/Surfers amalgam delving into acoustic-to-electric doom folk (“Flamboyant Duck”), blink-and-you’ll miss it thrash punk (“Embrace the Rub”), oatmeal cinnamon psychedelia (“Don’t Forget to Breathe”), a loving Beatles desecration (“I Want to Hold Your Hand”) and, of course, the band’s usual grunge ‘n’ roll (“Prenup Butter,” “Break Bread”). The record ends, appropriately, with a grinding bash through the Surfers’ sludge metal tribute/pisstake “Graveyard.” Maybe it’s just us, but the Melvins seem to be on a years-long hot streak, and Pinkus Abortion Technician doesn’t break it.

When Kyle Shutt of the Sword put together his Doom Side of the Moon project (which, for those who missed it, is exactly what it sounds like: an acid metal version of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon), he managed one show before turning his attention back to his main band. One album from the 70s can’t fill up a whole show, so of course his band played a few non-Dark Side tunes as an encore. The self-explanatory Encore (self-released) grunges through “Have a Cigar,” “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” and “Wish You Were Here” with the same mixture of reverence and glee that marked the LP. “Pigs” is an especially inspired choice, given how many classic radio warhorses Shutt could’ve chosen instead, and the rocked-up take on “Wish” blows the dust off and neutralizes the mold.

Though busy with his long-running power trio Blind Idiot God, prepping both new music and a comprehensive reissue program, guitarist Andy Hawkins still found the time to record Prospect of the Deep Volume One (Indivisible), his second album under the name Azonic. Recorded in a day with BIG’s Tim Wyskida on percussion, Hawkins reaches deep (pun intended) into the unconscious for a series of atmospheric improvisations, sculpting tortured riffs and waves of feedback on the fly. Between the sheet metal shreen of Hawkins’ axes and the rumble of Wyskida’s timpani, the pieces explore doom from a different angle than BIG’s usual blood and thunder, showing a different side of Hawkins’ muse and to the concept of heavy rock in general.

Speaking of wordless heaviosity, multi-instrumentalist Dana Schechter returns with her project Insect Ark for second LP Marrow Hymns (Profound Lore), joined by drummer/electronicist Ashley Spungin. Despite the duo’s residences in Portland and Brooklyn, the songs have a decidedly Southwestern feel, as if they were conceived during a long twilight drive through the New Mexico desert. Schechter’s distorted lap steel swoops and howls over rhythms that shift like sand in the wind, imbuing “Sea Harps” and “In the Next” with the ghostly feel of spirits conjured up during a peyote ritual. It’s not a million miles away from fellow soundscapers Earth, though less pastoral and more haunted. Paris’ WuW luxuriate in a similar but more sinister vibe on Rien Ne Nous Sera Épargné (Prosthetic), the duo’s debut album. Multi-instrumentalist brothers Benjamin and Guillame Colin artfully blend acid-tinged doom atmosphere with post rock’s melodic dynamics for a warm blanket of scalding lava that moodily, dreamily rocks.

A Bizarro World spin-off of Finnish improv psych metalheads Circle, the delightfully-named Pharaoh Overlord has a shtick on Zero (Hydra Head). Over motorik-driven, synth-laced heavy psych, a troll (and by troll we mean the big, craggy people-eaters of fantasy literature, not internet assholes) babbles about…something…in a voice so guttural it sounds like a pile of broken rocks grew a larynx. It’s an odd contrast, to say the least, and given song titles like “I Drove All Night by My Solar Stomp” and “Lalibela Cannot Spell Zero,” clearly one intended to bring on eye-rolling smiles. Unfortunately, by the time the album ends, it starts to feel like the troll and the guys furiously acid rocking out behind him are working at cross purposes, sending Pharaoh Overlord to the novelty bin after a couple of spins. Too bad, but there’s always Circle, after all.

The mighty Monster Magnet marches to the beat of its own tom-toms in the heavy rock world, so much so that leader Dave Wyndorf would object to his band’s appearance in a metal column. But that’s what makes this veteran New Jersey act a steady hand on the wheel of roiling rawk riffpound – consistency of vision and will to execute. Which brings us to Mindfucker (Napalm), the twelfth LP in a three-decade odyssey to bring the world back from the brink of non-rock. Easing up on the psychedelicism that’s usually a major part of the music’s DNA, Wyndorf and friends strip down to a Detroit-styled hard rock rampage, getting down and dirty for as much of a goodtime rawk album as is possible in today’s divided social landscape. Being the relatively optimistic dude he is, Wyndorf tries to keep the hedonistic flames burning, but he’s well aware that the water hose could fire off at any moment, which lends some tracks a sense of desperate mania born of fear-fueled adrenalin. Using power chord debauchery to fight back against impending doom is a time-tested way to rock the fuck out, and the Magnet blazes brightly in that vein via “When the Hammer Comes Down,” a wild-eyed cover of Robert Calvert’s “Ejection” and the appropriately-branded “Soul.” Click on the title track first – it sets the tone and lays out the strategy with one of the finest cuts in the band’s long career.

Audio and video samples:

Against the Grain – Cheated Death Bandcamp:


The Atlas Moth – Coma Noir Bandcamp:


Azonic – Prospect of the Deep Volume One Bandcamp:


Corrosion of Conformity – “Cast the First Stone”:


Doom Side of the Moon – “Have a Cigar”:


Hooded Menace – Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed Bandcamp:


Howling Sycamore – s/t Bandcamp:


Insect Ark – Marrow Hymns Bandcamp:


JIRM – Surge ex Monumentis Bandcamp:


Mammoth Grinder – Cosmic Crypt Bandcamp:


Melvins – Pinkus Abortion Technician Bandcamp:


Monster Magnet – “Mindfucker”:


Octopus – “Supernatural Alliance”:


Pharaoh Overlord – “Maailmanlopan ateriana”:


Psychedelic Witchcraft – Sound of the Wind Bandcamp:


Tribulation – “The Lament”:


Visigoth – “Warrior Queen”:


Watain – “Sacred Damnation”:


Windhand/Satan’s Satyrs split Bandcamp:


Wrong – Feel Great Bandcamp:


WuW – Rien Ne Nous Sera Épargné Bandcamp:


Zeke – Hellbender Bandcamp:





BOB BRADSHAW – American Echoes

Album: American Echoes

Artist: Bob Bradshaw

Label: Fluke

Release Date: October 20, 2017

The Upshot: Attempting to categorize Bob Bradshaw and his 7th release would prove a complete disservice, as he’s one of those rare artists who’s bound to represent something different to anybody who happens to hear him. Folk? Americana? Blues? Roots-rock? Country? All of that. And none of that.


In the “not what you expected” department, Bob Bradshaw delivers an eyebrow-raiser on American Echoes – 12 tasty originals defying traditional categorization. While the disc’s peculiar cover art might suggest a New Age outing as the inside sleeve conjures the Old West, you’d be hard-pressed to connect either image to the music found inside. American Echoes is, instead, a fully realized collection of masterful songs and fully fleshed-out arrangements that feature an impressive cast of like-minded musicians. Admittedly, it may take some time for these songs to glue themselves to your brain because there’s so much going on, both musically and lyrically – but they will, eventually proving irresistible. Like wet puppies in a rainstorm.

It’s Bradshaw’s vocals that hit you first. His is not an immediately likeable voice – but herein lies its charm and appeal as you come to know him. A mongrel of sorts – you swear you’ve heard this voice before. Darden Smith? Richard Shindell? Think more of a non-alcoholic Robert Earl Keen – a warm, laidback tone with all its rough edges worn off. A disparate collection of songs, each sounds unlike the one before it. The hooks are subtle, but they’re there – the type which sink their roots deeper and deeper with continued listening. So Bradshaw is hard to peg. Why do you need to? An honest singer-songwriter of poetic proportions, he seems both blessed and cursed with a world-weary outlook and a voice to match.

His music is more beautiful than it is cool, a throwback to the ‘60s in some ways. Born in Cork, Ireland, Bradshaw’s time spent in America (Boston) has paid off in his ability to chronicle the good, the bad and the ugly – many of the characters in these songs read like entries from a diary. Mix in the lessons he’s learned from Berklee and it’s quite understandable why Bradshaw dances to a different drummer. He’s a skilled storyteller, painting elaborate pictures as an observer more than he is the subject of each song, arousing our interest as he chronicles each vignette. He’s been there – as have we all.

Kicking off with “Exotic Dancers Wanted”, you’re instantly engulfed by warm, acoustic bass and gentle piano as a full tapestry of acoustic and electric guitar joins Britt Connors and Annie Lynch’s lush backup vocals. Bradshaw mirrors an intersection of Keen to John Prine, possessed of all the confidence in the world, owning the end result. Likewise, “Meet Me” presents a beguiling invitation which leans on Connors’ background vocal as Andrew Stern turns in a tasty, country-dipped solo on electric guitar, all set against the burbling keys of James Rohr’s electric piano. You might pay special attention to the drums and percussion work of Mike Connors, who repeatedly brings much more to the party than a mere beat. A comparably darker “Call It What You Will” is buoyed by Rohr’s delicate touch on piano, lifted further by keyboardist/ co-writer Scoop McGuire. Britt Connors’ mournful vocal support helps darken the clouds behind this stormy relationship despite McGuire’s odd choice of synth. Cue the more upbeat, ”The Assumptions We Make”, driven by the strumming of Bradshaw’s acoustic guitar, challenged by the electric guitar and resonator work of co-writer, Andy Santospago and abetted by Stern. Rohr’s B3 provides real body to the mix over the rhythm section of Ed Lucie and Mike Connors.

Next, audition the downright peculiar, almost angular, “Workin’ On My Protest Song”, which features the dynamic, exploratory, spidery guitar of Andrew Stern and the soft, combined hush of backup singers Connors and Lynch. As Mike Connors provides a powerful foundation of soothing percussion in African proportions, the chorus breaks to reveal one of this disc’s true highlights. The addition of Chad Manning’s fiddle to “A Bird Never Flew on Just One Wing” provides a country feel as Bradshaw’s vocal preens, Keen-like, over Stern’s tough guitar sound and Connors’ fat backbeat. Suddenly, Bradshaw rocks out with a guitar-driven “Weight of the World” which, more Beatles than Petty, more Mellencamp than Seger, commands a charm of its own for the trucker in all of us. Co-writer/lead guitarist Andrew Stern is clearly off his leash and this pounding power ballad offers a distinctive wake-up call – right down to its cowbell – marking the album’s halfway point. Alternately, “Stella” proves an intoxicating love song in the form of a waltz, bathed in Rohr’s B3, Stern’s soothing electric guitar with Rohr doubling up on accordion. “My Double And I” features the sparring, double guitars of Stern and Santospago, offering up wah-wah and lead accompaniment, built around an odd, jazz-fueled swing beat. The more melancholy “Material For The Blues” celebrates the invisible bruises of the heart, reinforced by Manning’s country fiddle and Annie Lynch’s ghosted vocal support. (Take special note of Andy Santospago’s seductive baritone guitar break.) “O Brother” incorporates a slide guitar technique (Stern) that could’ve fallen from George Harrison’s trickbag, yet this device, together with Bradshaw’s bent lyrics, succeeds in conjuring a doomed, too-casual relationship between two strangers championing distinctly opposite needs. The Celtic-edged “Old Soldiers” erupts like American bedrock – all fiddle, banjo and military snare, adding meat to the old adage that, for those who make the ultimate sacrifice, will live forever.
Bob Bradshaw is clearly a different breed of singer-songwriter who has spent a lifetime honing his craft – invested as he is in each and every song. Lovers. Losers. Dreamers and derelicts collide with the hopeful and the helpless. They’re all lovingly depicted here in their stark beauty, wrapped in a readily-identifiable reality – as observed in exacting detail by a writer with the power to see in from the outside, while experiencing life from both sides to be able to tell their tales so convincingly.

DOWNLOAD: “The Assumptions We Make,” “Weight of the World,” “Stella”

FRIGS – Basic Behaviour

Album: Basic Behaviour

Artist: Frigs

Label: Arts & Crafts

Release Date: February 23, 2018

The Upshot: An intense yet catchy album full of noisy rock and gritty vocals.


Toronto post-punk quartet Frigs—formerly Dirty Frigs—created a charged debut LP that is unapologetically jagged and intensely electrifying. Only on a first name basis through press releases, following their 2016 EP Slush, Frigs—Bria (vocals and guitar), Duncan (guitar), Kris (drums) and Lucas (bass)—return and hit hard on Basic Behaviour. The loud quartet combines noise rock with punk as Bria’s gritty vocals ranges from growls and shouts to sultry calm amping up the already raw music of gnarling guitar, bass and Kris’ primal drums.

Inspiration of post-punks bands of the past is indeed felt but Frigs are simultaneously creating a sound all their own thanks to Bria’s unique melodies and the riotous music. Anxiety, depression, feeling of hopelessness are all themes within the lyrics on Basic Behaviour. Singles “Talking Pictures” and “II” are indeed standout tracks that easily catch your ears for their jangly guitar and haunting melodies. Holding back from no difficult issues Bria takes on rape and assault with “Chest”: angered by the Brock Turner case that made US headlines, the case inspired her lyrics such as: “titles neck, yeah, they watch me/stay asleep as you spoil me.”

“Solid State,” a tongue-in-cheek title for a song that touches on mental instability, is another memorable track as the rolling guitars and interjections of guitar wails and Bria’s soft vocals, for the first time, hide beneath the wall of sound. “Gemini” is unique as the only track that does not scream of ferocity as the quiet song in addition to Bria only includes a quiet keyboard.

All of Basic Behaviour illustrates Frigs’ artistic, avant-punk abilities, but third song “Waste” is a fun epicenter of their possibilities. The 5 minute track undergoes 4 tempo changes as it starts out with a slow, growling bass, flat guitar plucks, a simple slap on the snare and Bria’s dragging, slurring vocals. Then after 2.5 minutes it transitions to a slightly faster tempo as Bria repeats “do you want to talk about it, it’s a waste;” the song picks up and moves even faster with the same lyrics. One last shift occurs as the music ends and Bria screams into the mic and closes the track with “I am a fortune teller, baby” before fading into a rambling.

A raw and solid debut, Basic Behaviour translates anguish into an intense yet catchy album.

DOWNLOAD: “Talking Pictures,” “II,” “Waste”