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Michael Toland: Throwing Horns 666.5

THROWING HORNS - Blurt's Metal Roundup Pt. 666.5

Smell the glove and make the sign of the umlaut, kids: announcing the fifth installment in our latest genre study, with Dawnbringer, Electric Wizard, King Diamond, Atriarch, At The Gates, Godflesh and more. Go here to read the hellish first episode, Pt. 666.1, or the second, Pt. 666.2, or the third, Pt. 666.3, or the fourth, Pt. 666.4—if you dare.

BY METAL MIKE TOLAND

2014 was a good year for metal, with a ton of strong records from artists young and old. Rather than sum up the best of the best, we’ve elected to keep on with the latest releases, which, considering how good most of these LPs are, still gives you new goodies to add to your last-minute shopping list.

Dawnbringer

Chicago metal master Chris Black already put out one of 2014’s best heavy rock records with High Spirits’ You Are Here, but he apparently wasn’t done. As Dawnbringer, Black ups his game again with Night of the Hammer (Profound Lore) (album cover artwork is above, listen HERE) the fourth LP from his main (or at least best-known) project. Fielding a classic metal sound somewhere between late 70s Sabbath and early Iron Maiden, Black expands his thematic reach beyond the romantic confessionals of his High Spirits work, taking on war (“The Burning of Home”), mythology (the waltz-time “Xiphias”), vengeance (“Damn You”) and isolation (“Alien”). He seems most at home, though, with a series of death-fixated horror stories, riffing his way through the creepiness of the King Diamond tribute “Funeral Child,” “One-Eyed Sister” and the powerhouse “Hands of Death.” Regardless of his obsessions, though, Black always maintains the strength of his tunesmanship, without stinting on the heavy. As filtered through his plainspoken but instantly appealing voice and the triple guitar attack of himself, Bill Palko and Matt Johnsen, there simply may not be a finer melody maker in all of metal. Night of the Hammer isn’t quite the mindblower of Dawnbringer’s masterpiece In the Lair of the Sun God, but it’s the essence of Black’s vision distilled into one amazing album.

ElectricWizard

Doom titan Electric Wizard returns from another one of its (no doubt debauched) sabbaticals with Time to Die (Witchfinder/Spinefarm). Depending on your perspective, this is either a throwback or a return to form, as the band goes back to the slow, pounding, acid-drenched horror of its early days. There’s not a lot of the more uptempo rock & roll tunes the Dorset quartet has been experimenting with the past few records – just bad-trip agony translated into Hammer horror devil worship. Check out “Lucifer’s Slaves,” “Sadio Witch” and the awesome “I am Nothing” (watch video HERE) for some deliciously occult kicks. If song titles like “Sabbath Hex,” “The Devil’s Whip” and “Demon Blues” say anything, Orange Goblin shares a similar taste for B-movie esoterics on its latest album Back From the Abyss (Candlelight) (listen HERE). The London quartet’s cosmic biker doom sounds recharged here, with a bluesier cast than it’s managed since its early days, giving the riffs powering “Mythical Knives,” “Heavy Wears the Crown” and “Bloodzilla” a weight beyond amplifier settings. Also, a tip o’ the tentacle for adapting H.P. Lovecraft’s masterpiece “A Shadow Over Innsmouth.”

 

From its name, you’d expect The Flight of Sleipnir (above) to be obsessed with Norse mythology. But on V (Napalm), the acid doom duo seems less concerned with specific tales of Odin’s eight-legged steed than, as its Facebook page puts it, “a musical interpretation of the writings of poets long since gone.” That leaves the field pretty wide open, a situation the band takes advantage of by moving from ethereal float to shrieking pound with a flick of the mane. “Gullveig,” “Archaic Rites” and “Sidereal Course” soar and crawl, sing and crunch, spiking powerhouse thud with undulating acoustica and casting a cloudy spell that makes it unclear whether it will help or harm.

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Ides of Gemini gets even more enigmatic on Old World New Wave (Neurot), delving into vintage mythology from several cultures in its quest for perfect doom. Both heavier and more psychedelic than singer Sera Timms’ former outfit Black Math Horseman, IoG gets metaphysical on haunted but surprisingly beautiful doomgazers like “Seer of Circassia,” “The Adversary” and “White Hart.” Boston newcomer Wormwood, however, eschews the more psychedelic side of doom on its self-titled debut EP (Magic Bullet) (listen HERE). “Hollow Black Eyes” and “I’d Rather Die” elevate depressive sludge over trippy atmospherics to evil effect.

 

On the more extreme side, veteran death metal act At the Gates (above) has finally released its long-awaited reunion album At War With Reality (Century Media). Perfectly balancing traditional death with the melodic thrash the Swedish quintet exploited so well on its classic Slaughter of the Soul nearly 20 years ago, the band sounds revitalized. Axemen Andreas and Jonas Björler furiously riff off each other, drummer Adrian Erlandsson bashes like an extreme metal Keith Moon and singer Tomas Lindberg wails with the inchoate power of the truly enraged. Even better, the band’s song-authoring mojo is in full flight – “The Circular Ruins,” “Eater of Gods” and “The Head of the Hydra” make all the metalcore and deathcore upstarts who claim the group as inspiration sound like petulant children. As with Carcass last year, At the Gates proves that the old dogs still hunt (and rip and tear flesh).

SpectralLore

On the black metal front, the big news is III (I, Voidhanger), the latest slab from Spectral Lore. Or it would be, if the one-man-band didn’t hail from Greece and release records on the offshoot of an Italian label with no U.S. distribution. Multi-instrumentalist/composer Ayloss owns an ambitious sweep, leavening his mournful aggression with widescreen passages of prog, classic metal, space rock and acoustic work that sounds like a gothic take on James Blackshaw. With a passion for melody as strong as his jones for dissonance, Ayloss swings between savage and serene, raging and rocking, teethgnashingly brutal and startlingly beautiful. The record’s 90 minutes is a true pleasure to get lost in.

Godflesh

The return of Godflesh came as no real surprise, as brain trust Justin Broaderick’s metalgaze project Jesu seemed to have run out of steam. What is somewhat of a shock is how fresh and exciting A World Lit Only By Fire (Avalanche) (listen HERE) is. Broaderick’s six-string shreck and angry bark hit like boxing gloves hiding bricks, while G.C. Green’s ribcage-rattling basslines and the ice-cold drum machine patterns finish the damage. The harsh pummeling dealt out by “Shut Me Down,” “Towers of Emptiness” and “Curse Us All” will feel familiar to victims of ‘flesh classics Streetcleaner and Pure, while “Imperator” and “Forgive Our Fathers” demonstrate that Broaderick hasn’t left the textural explorations of Jesu in the closet. Like Godflesh, Today is the Day is practically a genre unto itself. Animal Mother (Southern Lord), the trio’s tenth helping of discordant anguish (a description, not a value judgment), takes a tiny step toward accessibility, with catchy riffs and easily moshable rhythms supporting leader Steve Austin’s usual clashing dissonance and distorted vocal smears. Anger, spite and flat-out hatred power Austin’s rants, whether they’re short bursts of invective like “Divine Reward” and “Imperfection” or more complex riffers a la “The Last Stand” and “Sick of Your Mouth.” Add the acoustic seether “Outlaw,” the lush instrumental “Bloodwood” and the noisecore acid metal epic “Zodiac” and it’s a party. One for armed, cranky sociopaths, but still. (Watch “Masada” video below.)

 

Giant Squid, too, avoids obvious genre affiliations, folding in progressive rock, gothic pop, experimental ambience and anything else it favors into its epic doom. Minoans (Translation Loss) (listen HERE), the San Francisco band’s latest album, comes off as both mournful and majestic, as “Minoans,” “Sixty Foot Waves” and “The Pearl and the Parthenon” move in waves of grungy guitar, plangent cello, shimmering vocals and naked emotion.

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Up the coast from Giant Squid, Portland’s Usnea translates the sight of a deep-sea leviathan rising slowing from the depths to wreak havoc on the nearest city on its big label debut Random Cosmic Violence (Relapse). Moving from melancholy to malicious to monstrous, eardrum-multilators “Healing Through Death” and the title cut pour on the blackened sludge/doom, leaving no cochlea undefiled as they flow. Splitting the destinational difference, Wizard Rifle – born in Portland, based in L.A. – swirls punk and noise rock nougats into its doom metal ice cream on its second album Here in the Deadlights (Seventh Rule). From the rattling pogo of “Psychodynamo” to the thudding roar of “Crystal Witch and the stomping grunge of “Beastwhores,” the duo wreaks havoc across the fields like an invading army of hyperactive goblins.

Atriarch (above) goes even further out onto the fringes on An Unending Pathway (Relapse). Not that combining gothic death rock with blackened doom requires a genius level intellect to bring forth, but the Nashville (yes, you read that right) band’s third record wallows in gloom and doom with both widescreen sorrow and malevolent aggression. Like Christian Death in an orgy with Emperor, “Bereavement” and “Allfather” maintain melancholy melodics while still crushing bricks with bare claws, going completely off the rails on the cathartic closing track “Veil.” Brooklyn’s Occultation mines a similar black hole on its second LP Silence in the Ancestral House (Profound Lore), dropping the black metal vokills and incorporating majestic prog rock and galloping NWoBHM into gothic epics like “The Place Behind the Sky,” “The Dream Tide” and “Laughter in the Halls of Madness.” Over the top? Sure, but the band’s inherent melodicism (credit guitarist E.M.) and singer V.B.’s icy dignity sell it without guilt.

London’s Hang the Bastard puts rumbling doom, savage black metal, spacy psychedelia and beefy death metal into a blender and pour out a spiked, bitter smoothie with Sex in the Seventh Circle (SOAR/Century Media). Few bands can shift as easily from thrashing boogie (“Absorption”) to beastly extremity (“Hornfel”) to evil acid rock (“Mist of Albion”) and not grind the gears, but HtB makes it work.

Primordial - Where Greater Men Have Fallen

Veteran Irish horde Primordial has blown way past its black metal origins with a smorgasbord of styles on its latest Where Greater Men Have Fallen (Metal Blade). Channel everything from black metal to folk to goth to NWoBHM, the quintet gallops across the windy fields of Celtic myth to the tune of burly epics “Comes the Flood,” “The Alchemist’s Head” and “Wield Lightning to Split the Sun.” Like its U.K. brethren, Austin’s Dead Earth Politics doesn’t bother showing genre loyalty on its latest EP The Queen of Steel (selfreleased). Death metal, thrash, NWOBHM, doom – it’s all the same to them. That makes the galloping title cut, the chugging “Madness of the Wanderer” and the blazing anthem “Redneck Dragonslayer” brutal, dissonant and catchy all at once – great metal, in other words.

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From Columbus with power: Lo-Pan’s fourth LP Colossus (Small Stone) (listen HERE) fulfills the Ohio quartet’s promise and then some. Perfectly balancing ‘70s boogiegrunge with ‘90s artcrunch, the band makes an epic noise that grooves even as it stomps. Singer Jeff Martin, with his clear, muscular keen, is the star, but his bandmates give him the perfect backdrop over which to soar. Check out “Eastern Seas,” “Black Top Revelation” and the highway-cruising “Marathon Man” and alternate between banging your head in abandon and nodding it in appreciation.

 

After nearly 35 years as the pre-eminent corpsepaint-wearing LaVeyan Satanist in the headbanging business, King Diamond (above) can lay claim to legendary status. Temporarily felled by major bypass surgery, the Denmark-born, Dallas-based horror metal auteur just finished a triumphant comeback tour that found him not only in fine voice (amazing what finally quitting smoking can do for you) but with a new lease on life. Given his work’s obsession with death – more specifically what happens after, in the form of ghosts, demons and revenge from beyond the grave – that could be seen as ironic, we suppose. Regardless, the old devil is back to full power, celebrating his vast catalog of fright-soaked power/prog/black metal with the two-disk best-of Dreams of Horror (Metal Blade). Personally curated by King and his longtime guitarist Andy LaRocque, who also remastered the tracks for depth and clarity instead of volume, Dreams covers both the Roadrunner and Metal Blade eras and stands as the definitive collection so far. Whether you’re a diehard looking for a refresher course or a newcomer wanting to sample one of underground metal’s most flamboyant and imaginative characters, this is absolutely the place to start.

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Columnist Michael Toland lives and works in Austin, TX, where, coincidentally, a series of mysterious upside-down crucifix crop circles have been turning up in the nearby soybean fields. We at BLURT have no spare time to look into any of this, however, because we spend all our time spellchecking the band names in his blog entries. Toland’s Lone Star State accomplices include The Austin Chronicle and KLRU-TV.

John B. Moore: I Don’t Wanna Grow Up w/The Moms

Mons

“We’re just getting started”: With a badass new punk album in stores and a high-profile trip to Japan, the Jersey boys are in the driver’s seat.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

So two pizza delivery guys and a plumber from Jersey decide to start a band… No punchline, that’s actually the origin story for the band The Moms, a trio inspired by punk that play a pretty inspired set of straight-ahead American rock.

With an EP already under their belt, the band caught the attention of Less Than Jake drummer/songwriter Vinnie Fiorello – a record label kingpin at this point, having co-founded and sold Fueled By Ramen before starting Paper + Plastick. Fiorello offered to put out the band’s debut full length, Buy American.

The trio, who may or may not like the booze… a lot, made the drive to New York to record the record over two weeks.

Drummer Donny Saraceno—who’s joined in the band by Jon Stolpe and Joey Nester—spoke recently about making the record, the group’s founding and what’s next.

BLURT: Let’s start out with how the band first got together?

SARACENO: We have been friends for quite some time now through one avenue or another and played together in another band prior to The Moms. In a lull of our personal engagements with other things, we hung out together on the weekends at Joey’s Rutgers apartment. Each weekend the partying kind of turned into making noise and at a certain point in that process we kicked it up a notch and decided we better hop back on that hobby horse. So we decided to put out the Viva! record, get in the van and be on the road as much as possible.

A couple off the songs on the full length were on the EP and 7″. Are most of the other songs on Buy American new or had you been working on them for a while?

It’s split pretty much down the middle between old and new. Some songs on Buy American are older than songs on Viva! (“VII,” “Dwyer’s in the Navy Now”) whereas songs such as “Back Pocket” or “Wasn’t Bothered” are quite fresh.

You guys are described in the press materials as being drunk punks and reveling in dark humor. So I expected just a bunch of goofy songs, but you touch on some deep political and social matters with this record. Do you guys feel closer to bands like The Ramones and Dead Milkmen or to political punks like The Clash? Or do you draw influences from both?

Yea, there’s nothing intended to be “goofy” here. I would never say that we draw inspiration from any of those bands. Those names have not crossed any of our minds. Also, the press might be taking some liberties with our drinking habits but I couldn’t deny the statements 100%.

How did you first connect with the guys at Paper + Plastick?

Vinnie (Fiorello, label founder) had heard that we were trying to make a badass American rock album that brought music back to and older phase of punk rock or grunge or post hardcore, whatever you want to call it. Going back and forth between us we realized that Vinnie really understood where the band is coming from and those are the people we really want and like to work with.

Moms CD

How much time did you have to record this one?

The recording process went down in a matter of two weeks and even some of those 14 days were only half days. We went back up maybe two or three times to tie up some loose ends like percussion or some vocal re-do’s.

Did you work with a producer?

We had John Collura producing the record at his studio in Pine Island, New York.

What was the experience like compared to working on the EP?

Recording Buy American was incredibly similar to recording the EP actually. We worked at the same studio with the same people, (John Collura, Mike Menocker). A few things were different though. Something I thought was awesome was that their friend makes these “Fink” tube preamps that we used on almost everything. I am a nerd though. And we did more camping and drinking in the studio. Viva! was done in four days whereas we took two weeks or more for Buy American.

You guys are about to start a 30-date tour later this month. Is it tough to find the time to tour or have you had to quit your jobs at this point?

Nah, I wish man. We all agreed in the beginning we were going to have to get shit jobs and make shit money so we can get through the shit tours. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, we have the “luxury” of being able to take time off from work and return to our jobs. Jon (Stolpe) and I are pizza delivery boys, and Joey (Nester) is a plumber. We work 40-plus hour work weeks and rehearse a few times a week late at night. Sometimes ask the studio space to stay open later for us. Then we bail out for a few weeks and have the time of our lives.

Aside from the tour, what’s next for the band?

The Moms are headed to Japan in December for some shows with Alternative Medicine. After that our spring is wide open at the moment but we are hoping to start demos for a new record. We’re finally just getting started.

 

Michael Toland: Throwing Horns Pt. 666.4

Panopticon Roads to the North

Smell the glove and make the sign of the umlaut, kids: announcing the fourth installment in our latest genre study, with Witch Mountain, Khold, Myrkur, Panopticon, The Skull, Black Trip and more. Go here to read the first episode, Pt. 666.1, or the second, Pt. 666.2, or the third, Pt. 666.3 —if you dare.

BY METAL MIKE TOLAND

With its image of lo-fi primitivism, cartoonish Satanism and anti-everything rhetoric, black metal makes itself hard to take seriously, especially as any kind of musical art. Not that there’s anything wrong with the cruder strain of black metal, mind you – noisy, nihilist screeds can often be a bracing tonic to a shittastic day, and many of its purveyors give good RRAWRRGGGH. But plenty of black metal maniacs maintain actual honest-to-Baal artistic values, making music that’s not just for chronic thrashaholics with anger management issues. Chief among them, at least to our ears, is Panopticon, whose latest album Roads to the North (artwork pictured above; released by Nordvis/Bindrune;) finds the acclaimed one-man-USBM-band reaching a new peak. Kentucky-to-Minnesota (with an inspirational sidetrip through Norway, where black metal as we know it was born) maverick Austin Lunn gained fame outside of underground headbanger circles with Panopticon’s previous platter Kentucky, which somehow managed to combine sweeping black metal with Appalachian folk music and pro-union sentiments to amazing effect. Roads takes the same mix and expands it even further, injecting more sweep into the melodies, more traditionalism into the folk atmospheres and a finely honed sense of craft.

Multi-instrumentalist Lunn (guitars, drums, dobro, keys, flute – everything but the fiddle) clearly takes the precision and skill with which he conjures tunes like the blazing “…In Silence,” the lovely “Norwegian Nights” and the epic “Where Mountains Pierce the Sky” very seriously, and producer Colin Marston (Dysrhythmia, Krallice) captures the orgy of banjos, Mellotrons, power chords and eviscerating shrieks with perfect clarity. Look no further than the madly ambitious multi-parter “The Long Road,” where Lunn puts all his metal/prog/folk/etc. eggs into one pan and cooks the richest black metal epic you’ve ever tasted. Roads to the North is the sound of an artist truly coming into his own, and it’s magnificent.

 

Nachtmystium TWWLB

Speaking of artistic black metal, one of the veteran flag-fliers for that notion is Blake Judd, who’s released a series of strong, boundary-pushing LPs under the name Nachtmystium. The World We Left Behind (CenturyMedia) may or may not be the final Nachtmystium album – the Chicagoan’s well-publicized struggles with smack and the attendant personal and professional fallout tend to make getting reliable information a challenge. Regardless, it’s a solid album, heavy on melodic riffs, loping rhythms, personal (if occasionally awkward) lyrics and even, on “On the Other Side,” some straightforward rock & roll – well worth hearing unless you’re sick of Judd’s alleged junksick shenanigans. Trading under the band name Krieg, Judd’s former Twilight cohort Imperial (Neill Jameson to his mom) also has a new record, his first in four years.

Outside of the mysterious spoken word/ambient/folk track “Home,” Transient (Candlelight) bathes in the old school black metal sound, with a smoky atmosphere laid over a mid-fi aggressive attack that’s all riff and roar. Check the thundering “Return Fire” and “Order of the Solitary Road” and the galloping “Walk With Them Unnoticed” for some righteous fistpumping action. And speaking of black metal comebacks, Khold suddenly resurfaces after a half-dozen years with the fang-grinding Til Endes (Peaceville).

Khold Til Endes front 12cm CMYK

The Norwegian duo has always eschewed both the proggy symphonic elements and the low-fi crud their peers on either side of the fence embrace, preferring a straightforward and brutal but highly crafted and clearly recorded sonic hurricane that owes as much to ‘80s hard rock and ‘90s groove metal as to the usual Nordic shitstorms. (They’re also in possession of some of the genre’s creepiest corpsepaint designs.) “Skogens úye,” “Dommens Arme” and “Det Dunkle Dyp” blast in the most grinding but graceful way.

 

Black metal ain’t all grizzled vets these days, though – check out Myrkur, a one-woman-band from Denmark whose self-titled debut EP (Relapse) fields an expert blend of ghostly ethereality and monstrous bash ‘n’ crash. As with Panopticon above, Myrkur (AKA Amalie Bruun of Ex-Cops) flourishes in studio solitude – “Nattens Barn,” “Dybt i Skoven” and “Må Du Brænde i Helvede” paint vast landscapes of twilight skies, scorched landscapes and phantom Nordic gods watching over it all with mournful bloodthirst. She covers a lot of ground in less than 25 minutes, making a strong statement while still leaving us slavering for more. [She also makes it tough on this magazine’s spellchecking program too, Toland! –Frazzled SpellCheck Ed.]

Vocalist Eric Wagner, bassist Ron Holzner and drummer Jeff Olson were mainstays of Chicago metal godhead Trouble for decades; now, with ex-Pentagram guitarist Matt Goldsborough and Sacred Dawn axeman Lothar Keller, they’ve formed The Skull, picking up on debut LP For Those Which Are Asleep (TeePee) where they feel Trouble left off. (We covered The Skull’s debut 7-inch here.)

The combo of the pickers’ thick riffing, the rhythm section’s powerhouse propulsion and the singer’s distinctive moaning wail will flick the switch of any headbanger missing that classic Trouble sound since Wagner quit. “A New Generation,” “The Door” and the title track slash and pound with the winning combination of menacing doom, brash NWoBHM and bad acid psychedelia that Trouble did so very well back in the 80s and 90s. To be frank, For Those Which Are Asleep beats the feces out of Trouble’s recent Wagner-less comebackrecord, and while music isn’t a competition, it’s telling that the singer holds the keys to such a classic sound tighter than the latest incarnation of the original band.

 

Another new outfit led by a veteran, Death Penalty strikes a similar balance betwixt fistpumping metal anthemry and ribcage-crushing grunge on its self-titled debut album (RiseAbove). Though primarily a Belgian outfit, the prime mover here is Cathedral axewielder Gaz Jennings, whose concrete-chewing tone has risen from his former band’s ashes intact. That said, his riffstrangling shares the frontline with singer Michelle Nocon, who more than holds her own on chugging blasters “Golden Tide,” “Immortal By Your Hand” and “Howling at the Throne of Decadence.” Nocon and Jennings equal a one-two punch you’ll be happy to be beaten by. Another new band of old dogs, The Dagger puts members of extreme metallers Dismember, Grave and Necronaut through a tradmetal sieve on the Swedish quartet’s self-titled debut (CenturyMedia). The presence of Nordic superproducer Fred Estby ensures superb sonics, but it’s the swooping melodies and the clarity in Jani Kataja’s larynx that make “Call of 9,” “Nocturnal Triumph” and “1978” stand out from the retro metal pack.

 

Not to be outdone, Black Trip (SWE) also boasts a membership drawn from the Swedish extreme scene, including Entombed, Enforcer, Nifelheim and, yes, Dismember. Guess the Swedes are getting tired of the werewolf vocals. Either way, Goin’ Under (Prosthetic) also dips into the anthemic hard rock/metal pool up to its knees. Frontdude Joseph Tholl has a grittier, more working class style than the usual clear-voiced bellowers in this genre, but it’s the quality of the writing that carries “Putting Out the Fire,” “The Bells” and “Voodoo Queen” to glory.

 

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While also hailing from Sweden, Saturn doesn’t claim an august lineage. It does pack plenty of riffs on its debut Ascending (Live in Space) (Rise Above), however, as well as a street metal vibe that keeps “Rokktori,” “Peasant” and “So, You Have Chosen Death” lean, mean and masterful. A touch of psychedelia adorns “Last Man in Space” in order to justify the album title. Norway’s puzzlingly named Lonely Kamel dials even further back on Shit City (Napalm), adding bolts of punky aggression, bluesy boogie and growling doom. Less psychedelic than Kadavar but also less NWoBHM than its Scandinavian fellow travelers, LK swings riffcrunch and attitude in equal doses on “I Feel Sick,” “BFD” and the title track.

 

For those who prefer their metal slowed down to a crawl, YOB continues its quest for the ultimate doom sound on its latest record Clearing the Path to Ascend (Neurot). Mike Scheidt’s Eugene, Oregon trio has arguably been working toward this four-song hour of power its entire career, throwing every downtuned chord, spacey interlude, dinosaur drum stomp, roar, growl and moan into textural earthquakes “Nothing to Win,” “Marrow” and “Unmask the Spectre.”

 

Interestingly enough, another Oregon troop of doommongers is also hitting its peak – Portland’s Witch Mountain. The quartet’s new LP Mobile of Angels (ProfoundLore) rumbles and roils like Lucifer on an acid trip, vocalist Uta Plotkin overlaying her brash tenor over the magma-thick flow of enigmatic crunge like glaze over a cake donut. “Psycho Animundi,” “Can’t Settle” and “Your Corrupt Ways (Sour the Hymn)” drill deep into the substrata with barely repressed fury, only to mine the shining diamond that is closing track “The Shape Truth Takes.” A shame that, after this peak, Plotkin chose to leave the band. Cranking the psychedelia even further than Witch Mountain, Megaton Leviathan goes for full-on mournful metalgaze on its second record Past 21 Beyond the Arctic Cell (SeventhRule). “Past 21” starts things off with a dose of sweetness (for 13 undulating minutes), but when we get to “Arctic Cell” the mask comes off, the power chords pummel and depression sets in. By the time “Here Come the Tears” gently ends the proceedings, there’s no hope left.

Inter Arma released one of last year’s most interesting, diverse albums in Sky Burial, a marvelously odd mix of psychedelic textures and extreme metal brutality. The Cavern (Relapse), the one-song follow-up, strips away most of the death and black metal elements, honing in on a pounding strain of acid doom. The influence of Neurosis is difficult to deny, but interlocking harmony licks, ambient prog interludes and indie rock melancholy give it a spin all the Richmond quintet’s own. At 45 minutes, “The Cavern” is no mere placeholding scrap, but a work of metallic art in its own right.

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Columnist Michael Toland lives and works in Austin, TX, where, coincidentally, a series of mysterious upside-down crucifix crop circles have been turning up in the nearby soybean fields. We at BLURT have no spare time to look into any of this, however, because we spend all our time spellchecking the band names in his blog entries. Toland’s Lone Star State accomplices include The Austin Chronicle and KLRU-TV.

 

John B. Moore: I Don’t Wanna Grow Up w/Masked Intruder

Masked Intruders crop

 

I DON’T WANNA GROW UP

“We just wanna play love songs for the nice people,” claim the Wisconsin pop-punks. That, and break into your house while you’re not home and take all your beer and cheese…

BY JOHN B. MOORE

If The Ramones and The Beach Boys were locked up in a high security prison with nothing to do but harmonize, write love songs and plan their escape, they would sound exactly like Masked Intruder.

The pop-punk ex-cons from Madison, WI, each sporting a different color ski mask ‘cos, well, figure it out yourself (I ain’t no snitch!), have just turned in M.I., their second full length; a brilliant collection of odes to unrequited love and crime sprees.

Though the origin story behind the group is murky, we got Intruder Blue (he’s the one in the blue mask, in case you were wondering) to answer a handful of questions via e-mail recently. He powered up a stolen lap top and covered everything from Pussy Riot sharing their love of anonymity to crossing borders with an arrest record.

BLURT: How did you guys come together? Your bio says you are all from the Midwest, but there definitely seems to be a strong Jersey accent in a lot of the vocals.

INTRUDER BLUE: It’s not a Jersey accent. Lots of people make that mistake. Our accent is actually from prison, which is where we met each other and honed our pop-punk crooning skills. After we, uh… were released, we moved to the Midwest ‘cause that seemed to make sense to us for some reason at the time. In retrospect we probably shoulda gone to Montana or something, since nobody lives there and so there are almost no cops. We are currently based out of Madison, Wisconsin. Lovely town. Do you realize how delicious beer and cheese are? People just keep that stuff in their houses here. And they hardly even lock their doors!

You guys recorded with Matt Allison again for this one. Did you have a decent rapport having already worked together in the past?

Absolutely. We entered into the process as friends. We knew what we could expect from each other and how to push each other to do our best. You just can’t beat that kinda chemistry when you’re cutting a record. It’s a lot of work, and if you want to get something really good out of the process, you have to know what you are going for and how to get there. We definitely had that going for us as we entered into the making of this record, and we worked like dogs to make it the best thing we could possibly make. We’re stoked on it. Matt is too.

What’s tougher, being in prison or being a touring indie punk band?

I mean, prison for sure. Some indie bands do pretty well with the ladies. In prison, you pretty much don’t get to make out with ladies ever, under any circumstances, no matter how deep your lyrics are. So, if you like the ladies, I would go band over prison any day. Now, on the other hand, if you are more into hanging out with dudes, making tooth brushes into makeshift knives, impromptu pillow fights and the occasional riot, prison may be for you. It’s all a matter of perspective, I guess.

Who in the band has the longer rap sheet?

Probably Red. This one time, he was arrested for stealing the same motorcycle three times in one week. It was all a simple misunderstanding… The dude that owned it didn’t understand how much Red wanted it, and the cops didn’t understand how to stay out of it and mind their own business.

Seems like the ladies in Pussy Riot have copped your look or was it the other way around? Who wore the hats/masks first?

We actually started before Pussy Riot, but I doubt they were trying to copy us. They probably hadn’t even heard of us ‘cause our demo had only been out for about six months at the time they started. I guess it is possible, though, cause of the Internet and stuff like that. But, who knows. The thing is, we don’t have that much in common with them. I mean, they’re political, we’re not. They’re girls, we’re not. They have the word “pussy” in their name, we don’t. They’re Russian, we’re American. They’re a very serious, very important movement. We just wanna play love songs for the nice people. They’re cool by us, though. For the record, we would make out with them anytime, anywhere.

You guys have plans to hit up Europe, Australia and much of the U.S. this year. What’s the best and worst thing about touring?

The best thing about touring is all the cool people you get to meet and hang out with. We’ve been fortunate enough to meet a lot of the musicians and criminals that we looked up to as kids and that we really respect. Also, another cool thing about tour: you get to eat a lot of snacks. The four tour food groups are Doritos, Cheetos, burritos and beer. The worst part is probably just the whole thing of having to look over your shoulder for the cops. But, that’s no different really than being home. So, there’s no real drawback. I guess that’s why we tour all the time. It’s awesome!

Given that you travel across borders with suitcases packed with four ski masks, do you ever have problems with the folks at customs?

Never been a problem. Here’s a little tip for getting through customs: sneak in. It’s not as hard as you think, seeing as how there are so many people going through every day. Plus, most of the people that work in customs are just bored out of their minds and don’t even care about their jobs. They basically want you to try and sneak something past them, even if they don’t know it. Just like prison guards. Sure, they pretend not to want to have to get into a tussle, but they love an opportunity to take their nightstick to some poor shlub’s dome piece. So, yeah, you gotta sneak in places. Trust me, it’s more fun than trying to get through by the book.

What’s next for the band?

We have a ton of tour dates in the US, Canada, the UK and mainland Europe. So, we will be pretty busy for a while making sure everybody gets a chance to see us. After that, who knows? I mean, we do, but we aren’t saying. Snitches get stitches.

Jumpin’ John B. Moore writes about all things punk for BLURT. He famously avoids the moshpit, however, claiming that “I might break my wrist and wouldn’t be able to type anymore.” We suspect that’s not the reason, however… Contact him via this magazine.

Michael Toland: Throwing Horns Pt. 666.3 – The Blurt Metal Roundup

THROWING HORNS - Blurt's Metal Roundup Pt. 666.3

Smell the glove and make the sign of the umlaut, kids: announcing the third installment in our latest genre study, with Prong, Serpentine Path, Lord Mantis, The Oath and the eye-poppingly-monikered Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, and more. Go here to read the first episode, Pt. 666.1, or here for the second, Pt. 666.2 — if you dare.

BY METAL MIKE TOLAND

 

Prong - Ruining Lives

One of the most perennially underrated metal acts around, Prong may not release albums as often as it used to, but when it does, ears should perk up. The hardcore-infused NYC troop scored a real return to form with its last record Carved Into Stone; new slab Ruining Lives (Steamhammer/SPV) consolidates its musical gains with even more potent songwriting. Bandleader Tommy Victor (who played nearly every note here) is an expert at adding just enough melody to keep tracks earworm-worthy, while still maintaining the band’s brutal strength and martial rhythms. New metal anthems “Absence of Light,” “Remove, Separate Self” and the thrashing “The Book of Change” raise the bar not only for the band but modern metal in general. Prong’s precision-riff blend of thrash, classic metal and hardcore has been tremendously influential on the metalcore and nü-metal hordes, but don’t blame Victor for that. Ruining Lives shows the no-longer-young bucks of the last couple of decades how to do that shit right. (Album stream here.)

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Sweden’s Portrait takes inspiration from the galloping-down-the-mountain style of 80s metal warcries, blazing away like neither hair metal nor grunge ever happened. Crossroads (Metal Blade), the band’s third album, tones the Mercyful Fate worship down (though singer Per Karlsson’s abrupt pitchshifting still pays tribute to Fate’s King Diamond), but still proudly waves the flag for spread-legged, denim-wearing air guitarists everywhere. Old-fashioned? Sure – nostalgic, even. But the Scandinavians have an amazing ability to make the hoariest clichés sound fresh and exciting, and Portrait’s combination of skillful bombast and naked enthusiasm on “Black Easter,” “We Are Not Alone” and the epic “Lily” gives Crossroads a shiny new coat of crimson.

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High Spirits You Are Here

Chicago’s prolific Chris Black (Dawnbringer, Superchrist, Pharaoh, Nachtmystium) knows a thing or two about 80s metal as well – check out You Are Here (Hells Headbangers), the third record from his one-man-band project High Spirits for a set of supremely melodic, lusciously rifftastic, shockingly lovelorn hard rock in a style pretty nobody plays anymore. Beautifully produced, plainspokenly sung and catchy as a cold, “I Need Your Love,” “The Last Night” and “When the Lights Go Down” would’ve ruled AOR radio in the Reagan Years. (Album stream here.) The dudes in The Skull, meanwhile, actually hail from that decade – the band consists of ex-members of the long-running doom institution Trouble. Unsurprisingly, the band’s debut 7-inch “Sometime Yesterday Mourning” b/w “The Last Judgment” (Tee Pee) sounds like vintage Trouble (though not Vintage Trouble) – roaring riff-boom with a shot of NWoBHM majesty and psychedelic atmosphere. Which makes it doubly odd that Skull singer Eric Wagner left Trouble because he wanted to expand his musical horizons.

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SerpentinePath

Though named Serpentine Path and including ex-Electric Wizard bassist Tim Bagshaw (here on guitar), the band that’s created the magnificently ugly Emanations (Relapse) is essentially an Unearthly Trance reunion. The blackened doom of that highly underrated outfit roils in full effect here: leader Ryan Lipynsky grinds sorcerous sludge from his six-string and growls like a boulder-chewing troll stewing in hatred, while the rest of the quartet rumbles forward like a tank spewing oil smoke. “Torment,” “Disfigured Colossus,” “Systematic Extinction” – these ain’t ditties with which to sing your child to sleep. Speaking of nightmares, Sweden’s Vampire comes blasting out of the graveyard like a ravenous ghoul with its self-titled debut (Century Media). With a smidge of Motörhead, a soupçon of early Metallica and a whole lotta old school black metal, the fearsome foursome flails the hell into “Cellar Grave Vampire,” “At Midnight I’ll Possess Your Corpse” (nice Coffin Joe reference) and, of course, “The Bestial Abyss” with all the subtlety of an ax to the skull. This band must be a faceripper live. And speaking of leaving bloody skulls in its wake, Chicago’s Lord Mantis unleashes more angry demons from hell on its third album Death Mark (Profound Lore). Imagine an army of nihilistic locusts consuming the outer layer of the earth while pissing xenomorphic acid on the remainder and you have a vague grasp of the shrieking death sludge powering “Body Choke,” “Possession Prayer” and the beastly “Three Crosses.” It takes a lot of blackened hate to get noticed in the same year that fellow travelers Eyehategod and Indian (whose Dylan O’Toole guests) released definitive statements, but Lord Mantis leaves enough flesh between the teeth to hang with the big boys.

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On its self-titled debut (Rise Above), Euro duo The Oath revels in two of heavy metal’s most essential concepts: the mysterious spirit world and the almighty riff. With a rhythm section borrowed from Kadavar and Angel Witch and assistance from Swedish luminaries In Solitude and Watain, Swedish guitarist Linnea Olsson and German singer Johanna Sadonis kick out the occult metal jams with a bluesy psychedelic edge, like Dio-era Black Sabbath recording in 1969. Click “Black Rainbow” and “Night Child” for some nicely fried, gracefully bludgeoning kicks – drag that the band has already split. Olsson’s fellow Swedes in The Tower travel even further back into the Retroverse on Hic Abundant Leones (Bad Omen/Prosthetic). The quartet’s blues-rocking proto-metal pares down to the basics of riff and rhythm, rattling “Adrenalawine” and “Lions at the Gate” straight into the stratosphere. (Audio stream here.) The ridiculously named Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell rides a similar hog on its second LP Check ‘em Before You Wreck ‘em (Rise Above), subtracting a bit of Chicago and adding a smidge more Detroit. Shorter, sharper jabs a la “Happiness Begins,” “Do It Now” and, erm, “The Thicker the Better” play better to ASCS’s strengths, but longer slogs like “Returning From Home” and “Late Night Mornings” give guitarist Johnny Gorilla (ex-Gorilla, natch) more room to stomp.

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WoFat

From the ancient lands of Ireland cometh Dread Sovereign, its thundering tread trampling the earth like a giant exploring his new territory after sliding down the beanstalk. On All Hell’s Martyrs (Vån), the Dublin trio errs on the mystical side of heavy-as-hell doom grunge, its tall tales oozing from some other, fouler dimension. “Thirteen Clergy,” “Pray to the Devil in Man” and “Cathars to Their Doom” give explicit nods to Old Scratch, but the deeper, creepier epic “Cthulu Opiate Haze” draws from the same disturbed mind that conceived the Necronomicon. Dread Sovereign’s dream evil thud aims to haunt your dreams as much as pound your heart. Dallas trio Wo Fat’s doom, meanwhile, comes in a far more psilocybin-soaked container. The band’s fifth album The Conjuring (Small Stone) picks up where its stellar previous LP The Black Code left off, as the catchy “Read the Omen” and the blue whale-sized “Dreamwalker” shoot bowel-rumbling heaviness through the heart of an exploding star. (Album stream here.)

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On the appropriately titled Deafen (Domestic Genocide), Black Tar Prophet strips doom down to its thong underwear and dips it in the radioactive slime leaking from a nuclear power plant. Consisting of nobody but bassist Greg Swinehart and drummer Eric Dever, the band sounds like it’s lifting every classic slow burn Sabbath rhythm section track and cranking the amps past 11. Seriously, if you ever thought the first Sabs record would have been great without that annoying Ozzy and mix-hogging Tony Iommi, Deafen will tweak your fantasies hard – “Ring of Buzzards,” “Hypomania” and the magnificent monstrosity “Back On the Nod” grimly revel in the sonic torture of helpless bass amps while a drum kit keeps up the snappy patter. Loud at any volume, Black Tar Prophet bass tones its way through your ribcage on its way to shattering your spine.

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Columnist Michael Toland lives and works in Austin, TX, where, coincidentally, a serious of mysterious upside-down crucifix crop circles have been turning up in the nearby soybean fields. We at BLURT have no spare time to look into any of this, however, because we spend all our time spellchecking the band names in his blog entries. Toland’s Lone Star State accomplices include The Austin Chronicle and KLRU-TV.

 

John B. Moore: I Don’t Wanna Grow Up w/Andrew Jackson Jihad

Andrew Jackson Jihad

Ace guitarist Sean Bonnette on the Arizona band’s take on acoustic punk as well as achieving high profile status as the latest signing to venerable punk label SideOneDummy.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Acoustic punk rock is not exactly a new idea. Billy Bragg has been doing it for decades and folks like Chuck Ragan and Frank Turner have managed to completely remake their careers by simply pulling out the plug. So what does an acoustic punk band have to do to stand out in 2014? Writing bizarrely hysterical songs certainly helps, like Andrew Jackson Jihad’s “The Michael Jordan of Drunk Driving.”

The Arizona band has enjoyed cult status since their first record in 2005 and playing on some high profile tours, like The Queers and Against Me!, helped bring the band to venues across the globe.

Now recently signed to SideOneDummy, the upper echelon of independent punk rock labels (with a roster that has included folks like Gaslight Anthem and Flogging Molly), and a fantastic new record, Christmas Island, the band is in for a big 2014.

Guitarist/singer Sean Bonnette took some time recently to answer a few questions about the new record, their new label and being taken seriously while still writing quirky songs.

BLURT: This year marks a decade that the band has been in existence – at least for two of you (Bonnette and Ben Gallaty, upright bass). Did you have any idea you guys would get this big and still be going after 10 years?

SEAN BONNETTE: Nope! We started this band with very low expectations, everything that has happened since has been amazing and rather unexpected.

 

Can you talk a little bit about writing this album? Did you do anything different? Did it take longer than previous records?

The answer to both of those questions is yes. It did take longer, and I think that’s because I was initially trying to write an album instead of trying to write songs. Things really got cooking after John reminded me to just write songs as they come and not think of them in terms of their place in an album. Writing an album is intimidating, whereas writing songs is fun.

 

When people talk about the band they always use terms like goofy and fun, but there are also some serious elements to your music, with this record in particular. Is that a conscious decision you made to try and balance the moods?

I wouldn’t say it’s a decision I am aware of because most of the times I consciously try to write something it turns out wrong. The best songs are the ones where I have the least amount of mental control, when I’m in the zone. That said, I think a sense of humor is a great thing to have, it allows one to broach uncomfortable subjects a lot easier. I think I learned that from my family.

ajj-xmas-island-5x5 w text

Can you talk about the inspiration behind “Linda Ronstadt” – probably my favorite song from the record? [Random Trivia Ed. note: while I lived in Tucson, the titular Ms. Ronstadt resided on the street behind the record store where I worked and was a regular customer there, as was a brother of hers.]

Thanks! That one’s probably my favorite too. That song is unique to the rest of our catalogue in the sense that the song is about the inspiration. I actually wrote it on the same day that it happened.

 

You guys spent a lot of time touring last year and put out the live record. This year seems to be just as busy. How do you manage to stay sane when you are constantly in a different place each day?

Rumors of our breakneck touring schedule are greatly exaggerated, we only toured for about three weeks last year, but we love that people think we tour more than we do. This year is going to be more intense, probably about three months of touring. Here is some free advice on how to stay sane on tour: drink lots of water, bring plenty of pillows, and reserve time to talk with loved ones on the phone.

 

Was this year first time recording with John Congleton?

This was our first time and hopefully not our last.

 

How was the experience?

John is amazing. He kept us on track and excited for the whole process, didn’t let anyone agonize over small details, and I think he made us a better band. His philosophy behind this record was to make the AJJ record he wanted to hear, to embolden the things about us that are unique, and I love that.

 

You guys have been on Asian Man Records for years. How did you connect with the folks at SideOne?

We’ve known people at SideOne for years. I first met Joe Sib when he invited me out to his California Calling show in Phoenix. We’ve known Matty B. (Matt Baldwin, who handles SideOne tours) for a long time as well. They are all amazing people. We started talking about putting out the record with them in November, when Kenny (Czadzeck, who handles digital marketing for the label) hit us up the day after we played VLHS in Pomona, California.

 

What’s next for the band?

We are touring the US and Canada this summer and going overseas in the fall, after that, who knows? All the while I plan on joyfully writing songs.

 

John B. Moore’s regular BLURT column on all things punk is titled “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up.” Get into the pit with him – such as this recent entry – at your own risk.

Fred Mills: Remembering Joe Strummer

 Joe Strummer bw

The Clash icon and Mescaleros frontman passed away eleven years ago this month, on Dec. 22. By way of tribute, we present this story from the archives.

 BY FRED MILLS

 On December 22, 2002, unexpectedly and tragically, Joe Strummer died, apparently from a previously undiagnosed congenital heart defect. I had interviewed Strummer twice in 2001, once over the phone from England and then again in person when he appeared at New York’s Irving Plaza for an October concert with his band The Mescaleros. Portions of those interviews subsequently saw publication in the Phoenix New Times and Magnet Magazine, and in a surreal twist, a few video snippets of me interviewing Strummer in NYC would turn up in the 2005 Strummer documentary Let’s Rock Again! by filmmaker Dick Rude (who I vaguely recalled having been present with a camera during the interview). At any rate, as today marks the anniversary of Strummer’s death, it seems like as reasonable a time as any to share with readers a vastly expanded version of my Strummer story, combining material from both interviews. Continue reading

Small Brown Bike: Interview by Blurt Blogger John B. Moore

Small Brown Bike

Our man in the moshpit checks in with his latest column on all things punk, “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up.”

I DON’T WANNA GROW UP / JOHN B. MOORE

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Small Brown Bike

By John B. Moore

You can’t say the guys in Michigan post-hardcore band Small Brown Bike aren’t doing their part to keep hope alive.

Comprising brothers Mike and Ben Reed, guitarist Travis Dopp and drummer Dan Jaquint, one of the best kept-secrets in punk rock called it quits in 2004 after playing together for more than a decade. They resurfaced for a handful of reunion shows in 2007 and decided to give it another shot with 2011’s Fell & Found.

While the band is not officially broken up now, they are all involved in a number of different projects and spread out across the country. The prospect for a new studio album from Small Brown Bike may be remote – at least for now – but the band is putting out a double LP retrospective on May 28 on Dopp’s own Old Point Light Records. Recollected is crammed with 17 demos, limited releases, covers, unreleased and alternate songs.

Dopp was kind enough to take a few minutes recently to talk about this new album, digging through old demos and the future of the band.

When did you start putting together the Recollected collection?

We started to talk about it after we finished The River Bed. We had an extra song from that record, that got us talking about how many songs/demos were never shared or were only put out on a very limited tape releases (40 copies… maybe). And when I decided to start up Old Point Light -my production company – I wanted to take on Recollected. Almost a year later and here we are. Putting out something that documents Small Brown Bike’s first 15 years as a band.

Did you come across any songs you had completely forgotten about or didn’t remember working on?

Yeah, there were some demos that I totally forgot about. It was more interesting how we arranged those demos and what they eventually became. Mostly the Dead Reckoning demos were very different from the album. The thing that weirded me out the most is when Dan mixed all of the songs – some of the jams I had no idea what it was, cause I’ve never heard the bass sound that way… or never heard them that clear.

Do you plan to do any shows around the release of this album?

As of right now, we don’t. We’re all so busy with our new projects, families, lives and we don’t live near each other. We talked about trying to do something. We’d hate to do something half assed so as of right now, no shows are planned for the release. But for Recollected I’m gonna be running some shows on the Old Point Light website called “The $3 Ticket Show”. This will be old shows that we’ve never shared. Right now I’m working on audio for it… it’ll be in the near future.

I last talked to you guys before the Harvest of Hope show a couple years ago and you were about to go into the studio to record Fell & Found. Have you been working on any new songs together since that album came out?

Unfortunately we haven’t. Mike (Reed) and Dan recorded an album for their new project The Fencemen. I’ve been recording a new record for my new thing Travis John and Dan also recorded another record with his other project White Gold Scorpio. Everyone’s so busy outside of Small Brown Bike.

So after Recollected comes out, what’s next for the band?

Not living in the same area or state makes the writing process or any plans of touring or recording very tough. We’ll be putting out music in our other projects… I feel like we’ll have a chat in the near future and decide what’s next for Small Brown Bike.

Those are all the questions I have. Anything else you want to add?

Recollected will only be available at www.oldpointlight.com. Before May 28th I’ll post the exclusive record stores in the states that will be caring it. Other than that, I’d like to share our appreciation to the friends and fans for sticking around and showing interest. Thank you always.

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John B. Moore can be found at : Blurt/New Music Magazine/InSite Atlanta Magazine (Music Editor)/Innocent Words/NeuFutur Magazine. Follow him on Twitter at his handle @Jbmoore00