Archive for November 9, 2012

Jesus on Mars – s/t (Dissolving Records 2012, Henge 006)

Playing heavily on the noise aspect of synthesizers, Jesus on Mars, in my opinion should be sent to Mars, and left to twiddle his knobs alone!

The sounds are in your face, and relentless with it. They seem to get under your skin and make you feel uncomfortable and somewhat agitated. As if that is its purpose! It plays along repetitive throughout the five tracks. It also has a definite feel of improvisation, which tends to add to the uncomfortable nature of the whole affair.

Certain sounds on here make me think of Edgar Froese’s solo stuff, i.e. Aqua and Epsilon in Malaysian Pale in particular, which really allows for the mismatched chaos to embed itself deep into the soul without much effort. The style is ambient, but it is also noisy. It has something unnatural about it, and I put this down to the stark clashes of sound, and the way that the constant sound levels throughout have no particular structure, which leaves one rather battered by the drones and the frequencies, without any respite.

There are parts that are mellow and relaxing, namingly track 4, Galactic Pot Healer, which is my favourite track, as this takes the Edger Froese sound in earnest, but on the whole I tend to find that Jesus on Mars is a very hard listen. I expect this of course with certain types of synthesizer sound creation. This is no bad thing, but I just find that it is too much of one thing and that there is not enough difference over the sixty plus minutes to really get me into it. The style of sound is somewhat a constant oppressive, so this in itself makes for a difficult listen.

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Reviewed by Albert Pollard

Stubb – “Stubb” (Superhot Records 2012, SR001CD)

“Stubb” the album serves as both the recorded debut for the three-piece band of that name, and the first release by Superhot Records. Hailing from the UK, Stubb the band consist of Jack Dickinson on guitar and vocals, Pete Holland on bass and backing vocals, and Chris West on drums. The power-trio format and heavy blues rock approach bring to mind images of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream (although without the quirkiness) and Taste, and all three bands are reflected in the music. No drum machines, synthesizers, lofty concepts or philosophising here (at least not until the acoustic Crosses You Bear, a two minute interlude that sits smack in the middle of the album), this band is all about fuzzy riffs, and speedy guitar solos, with generous amounts of wah-wah.

The intro and solos on album opener Road in particular are the sounds of late-period Hendrix rising from the grave, while Scale The Mountain – best track on the album – features a rolling groove that is hard to resist, with a barrage of surreal guitar effects to close. Dickinson’s vocals are perhaps not quite as strong as his guitar playing, but serve the purpose for the heavy rocking music. The album was recorded live in a basement with minimal overdubbing, but such is the power of the bass playing and drumming that the sound is very full and thick even without a rhythm guitar, as on Flame, the third track in. By track number four, Soul Mover, there is a danger of formula and repetition setting in, which the aforementioned two-minute Crosses You Bear manages to break up, although it also highlights the shortcomings of Jack Dickinson’s vocals. Hard Hearted Woman rolls out another head-shaking heavy rock groove in the tradition of Hendrix’s Foxy Lady, but with evil on her mind, before collapsing into sparse and echoing guitar solo over a slinky bassline. Crying River is about as close to a ballad as Stubb ever gets, while Galloping Horses manages to achieve semi-epic status across its seven minutes of fretboard mangling guitar solo.

At 35 minutes, Stubb the album is probably about the right duration, and will surely appeal to fans of ’70’s classic rock revivalists such as Colour Haze and Radio Moscow, as well as the original generation of psychedelic blues rock. Footage of the band performing such tracks as Hard Hearted Woman can be found on youtube, as can an amusing tongue-in-cheek clip of the band spinning the test pressing of Road.

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Reviewed by Pat Albertson

Ogressa – “Warts and All” (Dali’s Llama Records 2011)

If there was ever a CD cover that gave a perfect image of the music found on the disc inside, Ogressa’s Warts and All is surely it. The band name and album title only enhance the expectation of sludgy, grimy stoner rock, a promise that is absolutely delivered on throughout the album. The cover of Warts and All features the titular Ogressa advancing menacingly, brandishing a wooden club with iron spikes like she is getting set to bash your brains out, and with a suitably disgruntled look on her face. The mean dude in the shadows of the Ogressa monster is Zach Huskey, long surviving member of California stoner rock band The Dali’s Llama. While that band remains very much a going concern, Huskey is presumably suffering from creative overload, hence this new side project, where he is joined by Whores of Tijuana drummer Trent Ramseyer, who switches to lead vocals for Warts and All. While not likely to challenge Pavarotti or Bono, Ramseyer’s gravelly Ozzy-meets-Lemmy-in-a-dark-alley voice is well suited to the dirty, heavy guitar sounds of Ogressa.

The first three tracks on Warts And All set forth the recipe for the entire album, that being big fat grinding guitars and stomping rhythms, a-la mid-’70’s Black Sabbath. Indeed, Give Me Some Space practically screams Hole in the Sky at you, but if it is indeed a steal, it is a damn good one. Mange features some far out Huskey guitar soloing, which contains a bluesy element found in all the best ’70’s hard rock bands, while Rational Man opens with a few sustained power chords before moving into a gutsy driving mid-paced rocker, making it one of the albums highlights. Sound effects oddity She Awakens features Ogressa waking up, stomping around her cave, and presumably looking for a few humans whose bones she intends to grind to bake her bread. Lady Ogress is a slow doomy sludgefest that calls to mind the heavy nuggets of Leaf Hound, Warhorse, Uriah Heep and – inevitably – early Black Sabbath. The Boss is quite different, perhaps because it is the only non-original track on the album. First recorded by UK 1977 punk band The Mutants (who were dismissed by punks at the time for being too rocky), The Boss is a guitar instrumental that sounds a bit like The Ventures playing in a damp and dilapidated garage, nicely breaking up the overpowering distorted guitars found on much of the remaining album. Sonaran Debris, a world-weary sonic dirge featuring Huskey on vocals, is followed by the amazing and unstoppable Cuts on My Scars, a real standout track that ratchets up the tempo several notches, fast, funky and ploughing all before it. Album closers Snakehead and Animal Mask return to the sounds of the opening cuts, the former consisting of slow grinding menace, the latter swinging a lead-heavy groove.

Ogressa is a celebration of classic 1970’s heavy guitar rock, with a brief nod to “Nuggets”-era garage psych, and laced with ’90’s grunge and stoner rock. If the sound of Black Sabbath with all the miserable bits taken out sounds appealing, give this warts-and-all recording a spin; you will not be disappointed.

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Reviewed by Pat Albertson

Hyne – ‘3000’ (self-released 2011)

Not really sure as to what drew my attention to this CD to review for Aural Innovations. Perhaps it’s because I noticed the CD was a left-over from the submission list of titles to cover from the previous list of choices. Or maybe I simply dug the CD cover. Either way, I thoroughly enjoyed this debut CD effort from Hyne – a five-piece stoner rock collective from Hamburg, Germany. I couldn’t help but notice that this CD has no bar code or a catalog number. Therefore, I could only assume that the band had assembled this CD themselves which also sort of impressed me. Liked about every track here -like Loafer (which I thought sort of maybe had a Monster Magnet-like vibe), the full-throttled rocking title cut 3000 that definitely reminded me of Motorhead, the ass-kicking Slow Suicide (are we having another Motorhead moment?), Suck It which belongs on Internet radio and the nine-minute stoner mind-blower Cries From The Hidden which is, in my opinion, the CD’s best song – hands down. That leaves Vertical Roll, the head-banging Witch’s Cauldron and the finale Spirit of Now to this thirty-five minute outing of pure stoner / metal mayhem. 3000 undoubtedly possesses heavy guitars, mighty bass and droning drums to take its listeners all the way in. Sure, this sort of stoner rock has in fact been done over many times throughout the past so-many years, but 3000 is a fully welcomed (addition) to all the similar CD’s out there.

Line-up: Adam McLocklan – vocals, Sebastian Dietz and Christian Roos – guitars, Stefan Bucholz – bass and Bjorn Frohlich – drums. Should draw in fans of Kyuss, Monster Magnet (obviously), Dixie Witch, Sheavy, Electric Wizard, Orange Goblin, we can’t forget Motorhead and possibly Queens of the Stone Age. Essentially, a must-hear.

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Reviewed by Mike Reed

The Gray Field Recordings – “Hypnagogia” (Reverb Worship Records 2012, RW 191)

Of the hundreds of CD’s, tapes and vinyl albums I have, this release is one of a handful that I go to repeatedly if I want music that is truly art and music that sounds better and different every time I listen to it!! From Stillwater Oklahoma, The Gray Field Recordings is R. Loftiss and friends and Hypnagogia is a reissue on the excellent Reverb Worship label.

BLOODSTREAM: Instant other worldliness, R. Loftiss vocalization and then spoken lyrics with an array of sounds and noises. RING BELLS: Drumming and flute? Sounds like a Mayan ceremony or celebration! No listing of the musicians involved with this CD?! HOUSE OF GRAPE: Somber and still, repetitive ominous riff then some percussion and second guitar with spoken vocal thru a 1920 telephone! Yes, meditative and interestingly coolio. The vocal reminds me of Yoko on Revolution #9, “then you become naked”. This one sounds Tibetan!! IN EXODUS: Sounds like a top spinning with blips and blorps then some keyboard drone!! A stroll on another planet, yes!! PRELUDE TO AN ALCHEMICAL WEDDING: Classic experimental sound of droning stringed instruments. Great title!!! Get’s louder and heavier… sounds almost like an orchestra tuning up but more flowing, keeps going and growing, like walking thru an old dreamhouse! FORTY WHITE HORSES: Another great title, plunky guitar stoppin’ and startin’, then a second one… clear sound/recording… almost like someone got recorded preparing for a recording without knowing it! The big spoken/sung Rebecca vocal. Again, very beautiful and ethereal, then some violin, very nice… two female vocals. YOU HAVE SUFFERED: Recording of old scratchy record mixed together with the country record of “You Have Suffered” run thru loops and effects. NANCY’S SONG TO CHARLIE: Spoken word with cello… “and swallows us”… then light airy acoustic guitar riff with angel vocals and more spoken word. STARS FALL TO EARTH: Industrial growls then drum noise and loops. Sharon says it sounds spooky… now some piano and sampled vocal, very trippy, original, clear clean production. PASSIFLORA: Poetry recited by Rebecca with guitars… some singing then super distorted guitar… Pop/Noise? The next wave?? Picks up where Jesus and Mary Chain left off? CREEPING: Quiet doodling, atmospheric and contemplative. COLDSPACE (LIVE): Sounds like a cold space! Prolly was! Groaning instruments all slowly leaning on one another. Yes, very nice. It’s opening my third eye! Violin and cello?? No listing of instruments with CD?? Yes, sounds like it was recorded in a boathouse over a frozen lake. DRUM SLUT (LIVE): Speed violin, then smooshy electro drums. Very clean recording for being live. Sounds very Middle Eastern but also very modern and experimental. NANCY’S SONG TO CHARLIE (LIVE): Somber with somber vocals, then some pretty guitar, fantasy swooshes, then hops into another dimension… lilting guitar and back to somber vocals and cello, but lighter/different now! TULUM (DEMO): A Renaissance Festival sound, but nice… keeps developing, moving upwards and around, almost like a recital you’d hear at a University?! SCARED OF WOLVES (ORIGINAL): Last song on CD, eerieness, spoken vocal in the distance, then sung/spoke Rebecca live vocals… Gongs??… and back to eerie spoken distant vocal, taken from TV?, cool liquid piano tinkling, and it’s over…

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Reviewed by Carlton Crutcher

Panzerpappa – “Astromalist” (Rune Grammofon 2012, RCD2135/RLP3135, CD/LP)

Panzerpappa are a Norwegian quartet with an interesting variety of instrumentation that includes saxophone, keyboards, drums, bass, electric and acoustic guitars, and everyone is credited with percussion. Numerous guests contribute bassoon, English horn, flute, xylophone, vibraphone, cello, violin and viola. Astromalist is the band’s fifth album since their debut in 2000, and their first for the Rune Grammofon label (and my introduction to their music).

The music across the album’s 7 tracks is firmly in the RIO/Avant-Prog mold, with Present and Univers Zero being the closest analogies, though Canterbury influences are also apparent (the promo sheet notes that one or more members played in Richard Sinclair’s band some years ago). But Panzerpappa occupy the more accessible end of the RIO/Avant-Prog spectrum. The music can be beautifully melodic, and only mildly dissonant, and indeed Panzerpappa have a flair for incorporating dissonance in a way that retains the music’s accessibility and makes it more interesting and compelling.

Bati La Takton!, Femtende Marsj, and Satam are the heavy rockers of the set. On Bati La Takton!, saxophone and guitar trade licks over the kind of intense rocking piano/bass interplay and rhythmic pattern that characterized the early Present albums. I also hear some Zappa-like compositional elements. Femtende Marsj is similar and brought to mind the soundtrack to a frantic movie chase scene. Then after a couple minutes the music takes a 360 degree turn into a calmer chamber music section, with voice samples talking about the Lockerbie bombing, before wrapping up with an intensely rocking finale. LOTS happening in a mere 4 minutes! Satam has a high energy rocking Univers Zero/Present feel, though it transitions through Canterbury flavored segments, and another section with guitar and piano interplay that I enjoyed, made all the more interesting by the addition of a brass section (which must be the keyboards). The musicians are then whipped into a frenzy for a full blown orchestral finale.

Ugler i Moseboka is a fun track with intriguingly varied themes. It opens with a lovely flute melody, soon taken over by a brief section that sounds like it could be the music to a Frank Sinatra song. It quickly takes on a Canterbury-ish vibe, though its highly orchestral and gorgeously melodic. But then it takes a slightly darker turn, starting to rock out a bit more, while retaining the orchestral elements. The pace quickly rises and falls, but never abruptly. These guys are like Olympic gymnasts of composition and arrangement. Anomia conjured up surreal images of a Fellini movie featuring some kind of gypsy jazz Italian street festival. The music is whimsical but also includes parts that will make listeners swoon. The title track is in some ways similar, and includes bits that sound exactly like the first Present album. Finally, at 9 minutes, Knute pa Traden is the longest track of the set. It begins with a lulling sax and flute duo, against mildly intense guitar, piano and rhythmic pace. And from there Panzerpappa take us through their continually shifting, slightly off-kilter and dissonant Prog rock thematic paces, seamlessly incorporating styles and influences faster than I can type the analogies that are popping into my head.

In summary, Panzerpappa will surely appeal to fans of the classic RIO bands like Univers Zero, Present, and Samla Mammas Manna, though they are accessible enough that the music may be a good introduction to the Avant-Prog world for Progheads with more mainstream tastes.

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Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz

Mawwal – “High Hills in the Creaving Road” (Ancient Records 2012, CD)

Massachusetts based musician and composer Jim Matus has released albums under several band names, the common thread being a focus on progressive world fusion. The 2001 released ISHQ album by Paranoise was my introduction to Jim’s music, followed by three Mawwal albums. Though familiar with them all, the new Mawwal album – High Hills in the Creaving Road – is the first of Jim’s music I’ve reviewed, and the first question that crossed my mind while listening was what the heck does “Mawwal” mean? Jim’s web site reveals that “Throughout the Middle East ‘Mawwal’ is a form of popular music that often criticizes society and is performed through improvisation.” CLICK HERE for a Wikipedia page with additional details.

As you might by now guess, the music on High Hills in the Creaving Road is highly influenced by Arabic themes, though there are significant African influences as well. The album consists of Matus penned songs and traditional songs that Matus arranged. The album opens with Youmala, a traditional Gnawa song arranged and with additional lyrics by Matus. This prompted another Google search and Wikipedia page from which I learned that, “The Gnawa people originated from North and West Africa.”, and “Gnawa music is a rich repertoire of ancient African Islamic spiritual religious songs and rhythms.” The song has great grooves and I love the sound of the ethnic acoustic string instruments, which struck me as African versions of the sitar (in the feel they communicate rather than the sound). The vocals, both male and female, are passionate and have an uplifting spiritual quality. Search “Youmala” on YouTube and you’ll get several hits, including a variety of Gnawa music.

One More Arabia is similar, but with tabla-like percussion more prominently adding to the groove. Mustt Mustt is a cover of a Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan song arranged by and with additional lyrics by Matus. (Another one worth searching on YouTube for a reference point.) Mawwal’s interpretation is very much in the spirit of Ali Khan, but the acoustic instrumental/percussion combination and beautiful soloing violin, along with the Matus/Jill O’Brien vocals give a distinctive Mawwal character to the music. We Must Fall features steadily grooving ethnic percussion, incredible vocals from Jill O’Brien and Laila Salins, some of which are almost operatic, and pied piper soloing from the bansuri flute, which Wikipedia describes as “a transverse flute of India made from a single hollow shaft of bamboo with six or seven finger holes”, and to my ears sounds like something between a flute and a piccolo.

The title track is one of the most compositionally intricate songs of the set, with the stringed instruments and percussion seeming to be operating in multiple thematic directions, yet it all comes together seamlessly. The violin solos and vocals are nearly feverish in their intensity, and Percy Jones’ fretless bass, not surprisingly, injects a jazz element to the piece (Jones just guests on this one track). Khawaja Piya is a traditional Pakistani song arranged by Matus, and another one worth a YouTube search for the valuable reference points it returns. The song has beautiful instrumentation, including cool grooving tablas.

No Finer Men Than We is a little different, with the vocals giving the music a Celtic feel, while the instrumentation remains firmly in the Middle Eastern themes that characterize the rest of the album. But we’ve also got trumpet, adding yet another dimension to the music, the whole being a variety of intriguing contrasting elements. Wrapping up the set is what seems to be a dual song. Kosh Chenare is a traditional Uzbek song arranged by Matus, which blends into the Matus composed The Burden’d Air/Eleven Shreds Of No. Gently flowing music gives this a somewhat pastoral feel, though the grooves kept my body in motion and the characteristically impassioned vocals kept me inspired and alert.

Aural Innovations readers will be well acquainted with the use of Middle Eastern and Indian themes in psychedelia, and while Mawwal is by no means a psych band, the music transported me in ways very similar to what I experience with psychedelic music. Though it certainly seems like all the music is carefully arranged, most of the songs have a loose jamming feel that allowed me to groove along comfortably throughout the entire album.

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Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz

King Kronos – “Soundzilla” (Elektrohasch 2012, EH156)

King Kronos herald from Germany and can be loosely categorised as stoner rock, though they cover broader musical ground on Soundzilla. They are a five piece band featuring a female vocalist and a twin guitar attack that sets them apart from the more compact riffage of Acid King, the easiest band to directly compare them with. Be warned however, one false click on the internet will bring you face to face with a ginger-dreaded rapper operating out of the American Midwest under the same title!

A cursory first listen to Soundzilla brings you up to speed with King Kronos’ modus operandi with Kyuss-style fuzz guitars dominating the proceedings. Straight out the gate the opening track, (The Rising of the Awesome) Soundzilla, opens with a downtuned Eagles of Death Metal sleaze swagger that builds into the same charging rhinos drive that notably propelled the aforementioned Kyuss during their heyday. However it soon becomes noticeable that whilst the guitars are heavy, the instrumentation in general is quite muted and attenuated with even the cymbals sounding dull and restrained. The album credits state that it was recorded in a studio called “Die Lobby”, which is perhaps a nod towards the overall dry acoustic of the record, sounding largely like the band jamming together in a small room.

The mix works in King Kronos’ favour for two notable reasons. Firstly the listener isn’t left with the aural fatigue that more cavernous, punchy and aggressively mixed stoner albums tend to employ. Secondly King Kronos’s female vocalist, Stephanie Koch, is given far more sonic space and whilst her vocals are often layered with effects they are never obscured or pushed into the background, instead floating over the background layers of sludgy guitars. Furthermore, any additional instrumentation, featuring on a fair number of the eleven tracks, really sparkles against the fuzz backdrop.

Musically the band explores a greater territory than can be commonly attributed to stoner rock bands, a genre which is already showing signs of advanced atrophication in some areas. Instead of relying on slightly tired runs up and down various blues scales, the band uses some interesting dynamic contrasts and musical passages to keep the listener interested. Track five, the B movie homage The Love Blob, notably ends with a zither part played in unison with the churning guitar riffs. Furthermore the crude oscillating electronics on Alehouse Rock are reminiscent of the DIY electronics heard on Faust’s debut album. Elsewhere sparse use of both an ocarina and a driving piano line, a la The Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat, again add an extra dimension to the music whilst interesting mixing techniques, such as distorted drums, give each track a unique thumbprint away from the ‘theme and variations’ feel of some stoner releases.

The lyrics themselves also look beyond the typically misanthropic and down-on-my-luck lyrics of stoner rock. Tracks pay homage to Transformers characters and dodgy ’50s B movies, clearly a personal preference for the band. Rock to Whom Rock Is Due lampoons posers and the perennial fear, in rock circles, of selling out (whilst mentioning anti-dandruff shampoo). In general the lyrics have a slightly too simple narrative quality that highlights, or betrays, King Kronos’ German origins. Furthermore the lyrics seem at times rather clumsy, with too many words crammed in, jeopardising the effectiveness of Koch’s pared down Ozzy-esque vocal melodies.

The biggest limitation of Soundzilla is that at times the music indicates that an almost academic study of previous stoner rock releases has been carried out. The use of audio samples from B movies is a too-often used gimmick that isn’t used with any great weight here. The track Ultima Thule is also perhaps also too formulaically following the great rock tradition of putting one “Set the Controls for the Heart of Planet Caravan” lighter song on the album to demonstrate the band’s quieter side. However the band do show that they are looking beyond the typical conventions and are perhaps indicating a more direct link with their European identity that may become more abundant in further releases. Watch this space.

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Reviewed by Alan Bragg