Here’s something I’m comfortable admitting: at first blush, Huelga’s self-titled debut EP made for an exceedingly frustrating experience. Inconsistent. Illusive. Nonsensical. Not, in other words, the terms one might enjoy having applied to their passion project of more than a decade. However, after continued exposure and a certain degree of reflection, it became apparent that Huelga is a remarkable effort with a patently unique perspective. Multi-instrumentalist Michael Fonseca--who brings a background in jazz and an apparent interest in the non-conformist and modernist compositions of Zappa and Ives--isn’t here to recycle wrought notions of genre expectation. Huelga, in other words, operates exclusively outside the bubble of comfortable expectation, and for that reason alone, it’s worth our collective whiles.
Despite appearing to wear the heavy sonic trappings of groove, thrash and (ill-defined) mathcore, Fonseca's approach aligns the project with avant-garde jazz. Thus, from an instrumental perspective, there’s a mind-boggling amount to discuss--especially given Huelga’s 15 minute run-time. Making ample use of squealing leads, melodic dissonance, poly-rhythms, and aggressively fluid tempos, Huelga offers few moments for the listener to sink in and grasp what is actually happening. Riffs meld and adapt with startling frequency, disappearing into the fold one moment, only to reemerge in some vastly redefined form further down the road, shaped by the rolling boil of seemingly spontaneous invention. Even if this isn’t free-form composition in the true sense of the term, the semblance of improvisation is enough to evoke those noise and jazz connections. Intro track “The Very Marrow of Our Bones” is an effective crash course in Fonseca's methodology--in under 3 minutes, one careens through a deluge of colorful melody, downtuned groove, and an oddly harmonious percussive elements. At times "Marrow" feels djent-y in its distorted technical intensity, but churning thrash elements and pull-out-the-carpet percussion prevent anything approaching stagnation. “Chinga de Perro” and the 2-part “No Word for Blue” continue this pattern, although the latter--the album highlight, in my humble opinion--does feel slightly more consistent, due to its use of identifiable melodies across the first half.
Huelga is not clever because its complicated. Rather, it is clever because it demonstrates a complex understanding of modern arrangement, and utilizes the tools it has avaliable to effectively illustrate a central contextual background. Inspired by the Chicano Movement and the obvious stress and violent intentions that arise from a border defined, in many way, by borderline xenophobia, Foncesa is decidedly mission-based. To quote his bio, Huelga “takes a stand against the anti-Latinx, anti-immigrant sentiment that pollutes ‘The Land of the Free’ today.” To this end, the arrangements herein do an inordinately good job at creating--and reflecting--a palpable sense of tension. This particular scribe is a firm believer that art is, inherently speaking, a product of its political environment. In the case of Huelga, this environment feels essential to both the musical impact and approach.
How best to summarize a project that so willingly denies categorization? In short, the musical virtuosity on display is undeniable. That said, intriguing and ear-catching instrumentation does not (necessarily) a good song make, and the absence of traditional structure can make for a jarring listening experience if you’re approaching Huelga on a casual level. But yet, these moments of melodic dissonance, of tempo-shifting blindsides, and of seemingly blatant inconsistency are what define Huelga’s unique sonic assault.
As such, Huelga highlights a truth that we often miss: there is undeniable beauty in the unexpected. Take, for example, the bright chime that claims a brief moment in the spotlight on “Chinga de Perro.” Seemingly uncalculated, it adds an unexpected flair to the full picture, a moment of interest in a sea of interesting moments. Like so many across this debut, this glimmer exudes gleeful revelry in its rejection of expectations. Lack of continuity gives the affair, for obvious reasons, a disconnected and ungrounded aura--a “floating world” feeling where technical aspects astound, but the (seeming) lack of foundation offers a challenge to the audience. In the context of a more prototypical work, this would undoubtedly come across as criticism. Not so here. Fonseca is seeking, it would seem, to disassemble our understanding of the ways in which heavy music can operate. After several encounters, I’ve come to realize that he succeeds incredibly.
Huelga’s self-titled debut will be released April 5th, 2019.
Cloistered high in the Sleeping Village’s Ivory Tower, amidst the industry of scratching quills and churning parchment, this particular scribe enjoys a moment of reflection, now and again. Without getting preachy, today’s topic is an unfortunate trap that I find myself falling into: I pigeonhole certain genres (and, by extension, bands) as intellectual, operating in contrast to those who are driven by emotion. As a thought process that unconsciously promotes a high-over-low-brow mentality, it’s particularly dangerous when this becomes a system for ranking the quality of music. The takeaway? There are multiple factors that define a band’s sound and approach, and if you approach new music assuming otherwise, you miss out. Case in point: Bather. With a bio that refers to Thomas Hobbes’ civility-be-damned exposé of humanity’s ugly underbelly, William Etty’s Musidora: The Bather 'At the Doubtful Breeze Alarmed, and the poet James Thompson’s Summer, it’s apparent that this Columbus, Ohio quintet approaches art from a decidedly well-read standpoint.
But does that mean their sound itself is stuffy and esoteric? Not in the slightest. Sonically, Bather recalls the good ol’ early days of ‘core, before everything was brought down by uninspired breakdowns and drenched in sappy lyricism. Y’know, neutered. They eschew the jubilantly punk oriented sound of the earliest acts--i.e. Agnostic Front--but 90’s frontrunners such as like Indecision’s Unorthodox, Integrity’s System Overload, or perhaps Hatebreed’s Under the Knife get you in a similar arena of hardcore spite and sasquatchian riffage. Promo material rightly compares Bather’s furious sound to Destroy the Machines, the debut album from metalcore tough guys Earth Crisis. Aggressive, dense, misanthropic. Throw in a healthy dose of death-tinged sludge for good measure.
Influences aside, Bather are undeniable bruisers. Drums are clobbered into submission, and the guitar is...weaponized, for lack of a better word. Whether chugging or thrumming, this tone is walloped around like a bat wrapped in barbed wire. The riffs themselves, while mighty, exist largely as a staging ground for muscular vocals, which act as the debut’s hooven glue. Like a wasp-stung muskox, this guy grunts and yelps with vivacious intensity. He alternates between styles of delivery with a certain abandon that, while seeming wild, is undoubtedly calculated. This expressive range lends Bather a dynamism that is frankly stunning for such a belligerent brand of ‘core. Look the the chorus on “All Dark Rooms,” or to the moments between chugs on “Birds,” where the vocals are particularly repugnant (and this, of course, in the best sense of the word). Thick, brooding, swathed in sweat. Even the more straightforward delivery on “The Path” utilizes a burly knuckle-dragging swagger, which is, in time, counteracted by a higher pitched tone. It’s both brutal and nuanced. A hard balance to hit.
As a result, nothing here feels stale. Take, for example, the aformentioned “All Dark Rooms,” which adjusts the tempo and general atmosphere, bringing the aggression from a boil to a menacing simmer. Similarly, closing track “Leaves Like Bones” changes the pace to a near-dirge at points, which is a well-played distraction from the fury of prior tracks. The latter may have succeeded more so as a mid-album interlude of sorts, as a punchier conclusion may have left the audience with a fresher welt. An exceedingly minor complaint, however, because in reality, reaching the end is essentially an open invitation to smash the repeat.
It's grimy, but beyond that, the whole affair is tinged with the miasma of sin. By tapping into the aggression, tension, and brutality of a short life sans society, Bather have done the near-impossible: they’ve crafted a metalcore album that holds appeal for academic riff-addicts. Honestly, when’s the last time you’ve been able to say that about ‘core? This debut is an impressive feat. Highly recommended.
Bather’s self-titled debut will be released April 12th, 2019 from Appalachian Noise Records.
Written by: Loveloth
Iceland – the land of ice and fire. It's every geologist's dream land, due to it being packed with countless natural peculiarities. But this is far from the only thing that piques my interest when it comes to this fascinating country. Iceland is rough, very rough in fact, so people adapted via usage of geothermal and hydroelectric energy, fishing, or aluminium smelting--but everything changed in 2007 when the Great Recession struck. People were desperate. Some fled to Norway in hope of finding a better life, but those who stayed endured. Now, you may be saying to yourself: "Oh mighty Loveloth, what does this have to do with anything?" but fear not, this unnecessarily long intro is getting to the point, so hear me out. Because Iceland is so isolated, there is a sense of community, so people partake in sports, media, or create music insert the sound of a point being gotten. And Iceland always had a superb music scene, but something sinister evolved during the pinnacle of said recession--black metal. All these things I mentioned fuel this scene with volcanic might. Bands like Svartidauði, Misþyrming, Sinmara, and Wormlust are just some of the brilliant bands you can come across but this year, we got another. Kaleikr.
Formed from the ashes of Draugsól, Kaleikr burst from the icy depths with Heart Of Lead, a debut I've been excited for since I heard "The Descent" last year. Rooted in dissonance and good ole' atmosphere, the duo grabs and drags you through Heart Of Lead's many murky corridors, and I, for one, greatly enjoyed this violent and claustrophobic voyage.
This vague, semi-descriptive sentence is nothing new in the world of wordsmithery so let me elaborate. Kaleikr play a blend of progressive black, progressive death, and a dash of post-metal for good measure, and it becomes apparent pretty quickly with the slow, unraveling arrival of "Beheld At Sunrise." The violas and piano are a nice touch but it takes a bit too much to get going but as soon as you hear Maximilian Klimko's earthy growls and Kjartan Harðarson's blastbeats, the true journey starts. The duo possesses immense synergy, synergy most bands strive for and most songs here prove this. Angular, melodic, ethereal or start/stop, Klimko's riffs and general guitar work is impressive. However, even more impressive is the fact he takes care of vocals, bass, and the arrangements. This may seem like he is the star of this record but Harðarson's clever, rich and overall superb drumming demonstrates that both of them are absolutely crucial. Each of the songs presented are vast, dynamic and engaging and the record's unusually clean production tries emphasizing this. Tries because the record tends to sound flat when things really start going haywire. Those moments of pure insanity are always welcomed but I love when Kaleikr throw surprises at you like that Enslaved-like guitar section in "Of Unbearable Longing" or the nasty opening riff and viola-infused ending section in "Internal Contradiction." That ending section in particular is hauntingly beautiful and transitions perfectly in "Neurodelirium" which is one of my favourite tracks from Heart Of Lead.
With all these positives I listed, it seems Heart Of Lead is really good. It is, but there are flaws. Apart from the production, some tracks simply overstay their welcome, the title track and intro of "Beheld At Sunrise" being the biggest culprits, but there is a few more instances of meandering.
However, the good greatly overpowers the bad and what we're left is a very good debut from a band that is poised for success. I would greatly appreciate if Kaleikr doesn't share the same fate as Draugsól because the potential for a monumental record is here and ready to be expanded upon. The individual performances, lyrics, songwriting (aside the aforementioned), it all comes together and we ended up with one of the best debuts of 2019. I am sure this won't change when we reach the year-end mayhem so definitely give this record a listen, preferably more than one because there are many details you'll miss on the first listen.
There is just one thing I want to say: "Thank you, Iceland."
Kaleikr's Heart of Lead was released Feb. 2019 from Debemur Morti Productions
Says guitarist and vocalist Chris Roo: “This world is fucked and I really just need to get shit out with my friends by my side." And in one fell swoop, Roo thusly describes the sound and the impact of the debut EP from Chicago’s own These Beast far more succinctly than I ever will. Forthcoming glowing recommendation aside, you just gotta appreciate a band that nails it in the artistic statement department. And there's no question: everyone can benefit from a good vent. The trouble, more often than not, is finding an audience willing to subject themselves to your grievances. In the case of These Beasts, it’s looking like this particular Villager shall henceforth lend an ear.
These Beasts don’t defy classification per se--but, as with most artists, describing them in terms of who they sound like versus what they sound like feels reductive. In any case, bear with me here. By kicking in the door with a certain mustardy ferocity, These Beasts take the forthright no-fucks-given experimentality of Botch or “Red Medicine”-era Fugazi, and batter, fairly mercilessly, against the distortion-ridden and axe-bashing aggression of Unsane or Whores. While the sonic differences are obvious, a general Torche-esque weirdness broods beneath, lending the entire affair a comfortable air of genre-melding nostalgia.
It’s clearly noisey, but “noise rock” doesn’t quite do These Beasts any sort of justice, as punk-driven vivacity and doomy undercurrents pervade. For the former, look to the celebratory shouts of “Shirilla In a Tub.” In terms of the latter, melancholic standout “Shovel and Pick,” and the back half of “Impugn” come highly recommended. Churning and angular riffs billow and slice with serrated finesse, leaving ragged wounds with paradoxical precision. All the while the twin vocals are expulsive yet melodic, communing effectively with the guitar to maintain a consistently pugilistic front. Needless to say, the sheer intensity feels genuine throughout. Bludgeoning drums--with particularly excellence cymbal work, I might add--keep the affair appropriately grounded. The entire 6 track packages bristles with an untamed energy, but yet, it never feels overlong or undercooked. In other words, it’s clear to this attentive listener that these boys have a knack for revision.
And throughout, most importantly, this EP demonstrates a cathartic raw anger, a general recognizable fury. For those of you looking to sample, intro track “End of the Whip” (listen below) remains the prime example of this actualized intent. Do These Beasts incite anger, shouldering the burden of rabble-rousers? Not so much. Do they reflect our collective need and appreciation for catharsis? Absolutely. This ferocious EP comes highly recommended.
These Beasts - These Beasts will be released 3/29 from Magnetic Eye Records
As of late, reviewing anything under the voluptuous roster of Kansas City’s The Company has become a bit of a struggle--it’s honestly difficult to come up with constructive criticism to balance out the radiant fanboyism. Young Bull’s excellent Midnight Climax came out last year, but I'll be damned if it doesn't fit the pattern of relentlessly high-quality content, contributing to a certain, well, bullish trajectory. Worth a review? You bet.
If you don’t like music of the pugilistic variety, get ye gone. Characterized by coursing coarse-grit riffs and rhythms that recall Motorhead at their harshest, this debut takes genre expectation by the horns and wrestles it into submission with merciless mud- smeared aggression. Gravel gargling roars punctuate a rowdy, rollicking, and otherwise uproarious atmosphere. With a vicious punky streak and a sludgy swagger, Young Bull is like unto stoner metal as a Panzer is unto motor vehicles. Not transcendent, so much as willing 'n' able to pulverize anything in its massive path.
Given the quality of standout tracks “Horned One, “13 Reasons,” and “Chainwhipped,” Side B tips the scale, resulting in an album that feels slightly off-balance. That said, the break in formula these tracks provide is welcome. Tempo changes aplenty, combined with a distinctly hard-rockin’ and high-octane approach, pave the way to a satisfying…title track. As it were.
YOUNG BULL - Midnight Climax was released June 2018 from The Company, and comes highly recommended.