In this update we feature:
• The Osiris Club – Blazing Worlds: Live at Roadburn & Twicefold Of Kind
• Dušan Jevtovic – If You See Me
• Slomosa – Slomosa
• Boris – NO
• Taskaha – Taskaha
• Darkroom – Home Diaries 029
• Empasse – Ultraviolet [EP]
I never knew how much I needed this release. I love both studio albums by The Osiris Club, but for some reason had never really thought about what they might sound like live. Some bands are great in the studio, but even greater live – and I’ve found out that The Osiris Club is one of these. Every aspect of every song from Blazing World performed here is better in every way than the studio re-cording, and only one song from the album is missing from this live performance. But in its place are two covers. One, Leaf Scrapings, a Cardiacs cover, was released as a charity single for Tim Smith (who died only days after the release, RIP); while the other, Meat, is a cover of Random Hold.
As ever, the main attractions for me come from front and back. I love Andrew Prestidge’s drumming, and I love Sean Cooper’s vocals. That’s not to take away from the rest of the band, who are all equally fantastic – but for me, those drums and those vocals take an awful lot of beating! This must have been an awesome gig to attend, for not only do the band sound so tight and so immense, but this was back in the day when their shows were in full costume – robes and plague masks – and featured occult symbolism, film backdrops and theatrics. The band started off with the desire to meld horror soundtracks with prog metal, and they did so fabulously. If Goblin were a rock band, this might be what they would have sounded like. It’s Suspiria on steroids, and it’s bloody marvellous.
This is possibly Serbian-born, Barcelona-based, guitarist, Dušan Jevtovic’s most accomplished album yet, and I say that as a great fan of his previous work. If You See Me combines western jazz fusion and Balkan folk better than previous albums, and is an absolute joy to listen to, sometimes gently inviting, and sometimes firmly gripping. At turns fragile, and feral. Jevtovic has been one of my favourite guitarists since I first came across him (on Am I Walking Wrong, for the record), and he is accompanied by some wonderful musicians on this release. As much as I love Jevtovic’s work with Xavi Reija, there’s no denying the power and presence of Gary Husband on this album. And Marcus Reuter has never disappointed either. The final pieces of the puzzle are Bernat Hernandez on fretless bass, and Aleksandar Petrov on the tapan (a type of Balkan drum which enhances the folk element even more).
The album was largely recorded live at the Casa Murada (where so many magnificent MoonJune albums have been recorded), with only the tapan added in the studio afterward, and the vibrant and vital improvisational feel to the music no doubt comes from this. Reuter provides a perfect foil for Jevtovic, and the two together create some amazing soundscapes – but Jevtovic is definitely the star of this show, and deservedly so. The music is consistently engaging, through every twist and turn. Aggressive and reflective, melodic and discordant, harmonious and dissonant, If You See Me is joyously unpredictable and imaginative, and beautifully restrained. This is music to get lost in, like a good book. My only problem with it, is it is over so soon. Nothing to do, but play it again…
I’ve had this album for quite some time now, and really wanted to give it a full review, because it’s one I really enjoy. But ultimately, no matter what angle I tackled it from, I found it hard to warrant giving a full review on a progressive music site, for music that really isn’t particularly progressive. It’s not that music from this style can not be progressive, and Lowrider and InTechnicolour, both of whom I’ve reviewed earlier this year, were able to prove that. But Slomosa don’t rock the boat. Instead, this is purely a thoroughly enjoyable stoner romp, which the band call tundra rock owing to the lack of desert in their native Norway.
The Apollon Record label snapped this band up before they’d even recorded a note, based on their live performance. I don’t think it was a bad decision, as this is a phenomenal debut album. There’s much here to love if you like bands like Queens of the Stone Age, and if you’re not a prog snob (and chances are, if you’re a prog snob, you left The Progressive Aspect behind long ago anyway). I love this album, and I’m not generally a fan of the stoner and desert scene. I dislike far more that I’ve listened to, than I like – and I can probably count the number of bands who I like that play this style of music on one hand. Slomosa are definitely on that hand.
Boris stamp their authority from the first notes of this, their latest release. This is probably, for me, the most immediate and direct Boris release for years – maybe since Pink. Trying to pin down a Boris sound is futile, and why would you bother? If you’re a fan of the band, you know that you never really know what you’re going to get, but you roll along with whatever relentless onslaught the band throws at you. The music of Boris is a bit of an oxymoron: seemingly somehow simultaneously chaotic and purposeless, yet clinical and precise. The band describes the release as “extreme healing music”, and if that were their objective, they’ve definitely nailed it. There is something truly cathartic about listening to the heavy, harsh and hardcore noise assailing the eardrums. This is Boris at their angriest and most indignant. The band pound, thrash, snarl and growl, and the message is NO. This is a pummelling punk album at full pelt, full of middle fingers and fuck yous. But as ever, with Boris, it’s more than that. It wouldn’t be reviewed on a progressive music website otherwise, would it? The mix of sludge, drone, shoegaze and ambient to the punk and noise rock mix provides some quite diverse sounds and moods, as latest single Zerkalo shows. But the anger pervades completely.
Henry Rollins expounds better than I can, on the Boris website: “NO is more than the new album by Boris. It is their reaction and comment on the current state of the world as they see it. It would be all but impossible to deny that almost every aspect of human life has been impacted. No matter where you’re from or how you’re living, things are different than they used to be. The collective un-certainty, anger, frustration, confusion and sheer life on the edge existence is reflected in NO.”
Taskaha are from Norway, but you could be forgiven for thinking they were from Seattle. Comparisons can be made with any number of bands and side-projects from the heyday of the scene that started in the Pacific Northwest of the US. There are hints of prog metal and blues-based rock, in a mostly melodic vein. At times quite technical and complex, and with the odd surprisingly heavy moment (even some harsh vocals making a brief appearance). And yet, apart from having a far more progressive feel, many of these songs wouldn’t be out of place on albums by Candlebox or Queensrÿche – or side projects from that band, like Soulsavers and Spys4Darwin. Notably, Spys4Darwin also featured members of Alice in Chains, and at times similarities can be drawn with that band, too.
And yet, all of this is highly misleading, and chances are you now have in your head an idea of the sound of Taskaha that is well off the mark. Ultimately, there is no mistaking Taskaha as anything other than a prog band. And often, the band they most remind me of is Headspace. That vocalist Rick Holmen has a similar tone to Damian Wilson does nothing to dispel that comparison. Ole Martin Svendsen is superb on drums, and I find myself drawn to his playing more than any other musician in the band. Along with David van Dort on bass, the pair lay down a powerful and punchy rhythm section. This is a hugely energetic and impressive debut, if very occasionally a little too sentimental for my liking.
I’d never heard of the whitelabrecs label until their Home Diaries series this year, and it’s a series well worth checking out (though it will take you some time to work through all the albums which comprise it). I can’t claim to enjoy every release in the Home Diaries series, but there are some which are particularly outstanding. One such was Pie Are Squared’s contribution (number 013 in the series), and this, by UK duo Darkroom, is another. In a way, this album seems almost the antithesis of Pie Are Squared’s release. Where 013 gave a feeling of comfort and security, 029 screams discomfort and insecurity. My 11 year old walked into the room while I was listening to opening number, Arrokoth, and asked if I was listening to the soundtrack to a horror film. And she’s right, because that track especially would definitely provide a perfect horror soundtrack, as it can be particularly unsettling. I’d be lying if I didn’t say the sound effects towards the end of this piece haven’t made my jump on at least a couple of occasions.
The second part of the album, The Uncut Stones of Night, is less creepy and scary, but still full of chills. Darkroom have a wonderful way of keeping a listener on edge and in suspense – which is no doubt useful when creating long form pieces such as these. Then again, at around only 40 minutes, Home Diaries 029 is dwarfed by the almost three and a half release that Darkroom released last year! One thing I absolutely adore about Darkroom is the use of clarinets (contra bass and bass on last year’s The Noise Is Unrest, and bass clarinet on Home Diaries 029). I love hearing the bass clarinet in music, but I’ve never heard it quite like this before. And it works. It really, really works!
(I couldn’t find a video from Home Diaries 029 on YouTube, so here instead is the latest release from Darkroom, released 4th September: an edit exactly 1/60th as long as The Noise is Unrest, from which it comes.)
Given Ultraviolet was recorded during lockdown, it would have been a perfect candidate for whitelabrecs’ Home Diaries series. The opening track, Lockdown, remains my favourite, but all four tracks are evocative and interesting. Empasse is New Zealand musician, Nick Johnson, and before even listening to a note, the cover image is full of meaning – albeit probably not to anyone not from Aotearoa. Huntley power station has been controversial throughout its existence, from its being built on land that was tapu to the local people, to its swallowing (almost literally) surrounding villages to keep it going, to having one of the largest carbon footprints in the country. There is an industrial thrum to much of the music, but what is particularly appealing is the way that (again, like so many of the releases that made up the Home Diaries series) organic sounds intermingle so well with synthesised – so much so that the boundaries between the two are often blurred.
Johnson describes Ultraviolet as “a soundtrack to a story that is not well known in New Zealand outside the Waikato region where I live. The story of the town of Rotowaro, a former mining village that was entirely removed in the 1980s to make way for an opencast coal mine.” This while that might geographically specific, the feelings the pieces evoke work as well with the strange new situations we find ourselves in, in 2020. Alienation, displacement, helplessness. The music may be about the impact of industry on people and environment, but it’s surprisingly apt for the impact of a lack of industry. If you’ve enjoyed any of the Home Diaries series, I would definitely recommend giving this a listen, as it mines the same musical territory somewhere between post rock, electronica and ambient.