Dallas’s ‘stonegaze’ craftsmen go against the grain
During a typical workday, Dan Phillips will often stop what he’s doing, grab his phone and record voice memos of himself humming the melodies, riffs or note sequences bouncing around his brain. His co-workers at the Dallas, TX workshop in which he custom-builds furniture are used to witnessing this, the early stages of the songwriting process of material that has ended up comprising one of True Widow’s four albums, including their most recent, Avvolgere. “When we started, I didn’t want to make records, tour or even play shows,” Dan reveals. “I just wanted an outlet for songs. I’ve been playing guitar since I was 10 years old – I’ll be 40 this year – and I was super-sick of band responsibilities. But the more we got into making recordings, it snowballed and here we are nine years later. And we’re all still way into it!” Things have shifted dramatically for True Widow since forming in 2007. Their original intent may have been after-work stress relief, but ever since Relapse discovered the band’s self-described ‘stonegaze’ and issued third album, Circumambulation, the trio have found themselves writing to deadlines and album cycle schedules, showcasing themselves at festivals like Roadburn, FunFunFun Fest and Psycho California and touring extensively alongside Boris, Earth, Chelsea Wolfe and Kurt Vile.
“We’re never doing anything really deliberately or strategically,” he says about having to deal with the responsibilities that turned him off band life in the first place. “We just wait until we have a group of cohesive songs. That’s when we’re like, ‘OK, time to make a record.’ We let stuff come naturally and let things happen when they happen. This keeps things casual and coming from a pure place. Like, our playing live is all about feeling and the flow of things. We want to do our thing, but not feel like we don’t want to be there or hammer people too hard.”
When asked about the new album’s themes, Dan expresses a combination of measured care and offhand aloofness. He admittedly doesn’t like explicitly describing what his songs are about, though he offers that Avvolgere is Italian for ‘to wrap, to encompass or to envelope,’ he’s unsure of the word’s correct pronunciation and it was selected as a title over other translations because, “it looked cool with the double ‘v’s.” One element he will talk your ear off about, however, is the album’s cover photo.
“That’s a close-up picture of a blanket chest I made for an art show,” he enthuses. “No one bought it and it’s been sitting here in the shop ever since. It’s made of a walnut burl veneer and the process to put it together is called bookmatching. And that matching, wrapping and folding was something that was there at the start of the translation wormhole I went down in coming up with the title. A burl is a brainy-looking growth on the side of a tree. It’s actually a tumour and when you cut it off, the grain is total chaos, but it looks cool!”
Lineup: Dan Phillips (guitar/steel guitar/vocals); Nicole Estill (bass/acoustic guitar/vocals); Timothy ‘Slim TX’ Starks (drums/piano)
Sounds like: A fuzz-driven melange of stoner metal, dustbowl Americana and downcast shoegaze with rueful, wonderlust vocals
For fans of: Pinkish Black, Om, Across Tundras
Current release: Avvolgere (Relapse, 2016)
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- True Widow album review – Avvolgere
Doom crew find their missing link
Birmingham has gone down in metal history as the birthplace of Black Sabbath and, later, Napalm Death. Both bands are significant for fellow Brummie Paul Kenney, formerly of grind insurrectionists Mistress and Fukpig, whose new band Kroh cranks up the doom whilst retaining the corrosive acidity of his grindcore past.
“I’ve always loved doom, but my other bands were always busy, so until now I haven’t had the time to concentrate on the doomy side fully,” he asserts.
If the name sounds familiar, it’s because Kroh have been here before, releasing an album and two EPs in 2011 and 2012 before going their separate ways: “We split as it was only a two-person project, it kind of didn’t work,” he explains. “Until Oliwia [Sobieszek, vocals] got in touch. She gave the old songs a different feel; it fired me up to do more and get out gigging.”
Paul had grown tired of the music scene; he needed to step away in order to be able to come back. “When you have to beg for days off work to do gigs it makes you make some tough choices! After a break I missed it. I got back to regular practising and it all clicked back into positives. With Olivia I intended to go heavier and darker.”
Olivia brings emotional depth, a unifying factor that engages throughout. “She adds a different level; we can go from near-silent to full blast and she carries the whole thing effortlessly,” Paul enthuses. “She has made me interested in making music again.”
It shows. The riffs are monolithic, but distorted with a snarl, and executed with a savagery more often found in grind. Spaced-out atmospherics creep in, creating a singularly grooving, yet punishing experience indebted to Birmingham’s heroes of old, that Paul, given his own musical legacy, might be the only man capable of creating.
Who are they?
Lineup: Oliwia Sobieszek (vocals), Paul Kenney (guitar), Darren Donovan (bass), Tom Woods (drums)
Sounds like: Finely honed, fuzzed-up doom, balancing coffin-nailing grooves with rich, wide-ranging vocals.
For fans of: Avatarium, Graves At Sea
Current release: Altars (Devizes, 2016)
Solo journeys beyond the black
Despite being present within the avant-garde sphere of black metal since the late 1990s, Thy Catafalque, the one-man band and brainchild of Hungarian Tamás Kátai, didn’t begin to exert its influence on the world until it signed to Season Of Mist in 2011. The album, Rengeteg, was swiftly released, but it would be four long years until the deeply adventurous Sgùrr would come along, followed by the sudden announcement that Meta was complete and ready to go less than a year later.
“I’d written loads of music, much more than on Sgùrr, and after its release I kept on going,” says the multi-instrumentalist. “Meta is the third album I finished in 2016 [an eponymous album under the guise of Neolunar was released earlier this year]; I just felt like being productive and enjoyed creating stimulating music.”
Tamás moved to Scotland recently and his new home has had a profound impact on the music he creates, something he’s keen to elaborate on: “It did affect my mindset. I am massively influenced by the Highlands’ landscape – I love to get lost in the woodland.”
That move has prompted a shift in tone for Thy Catafalque, with Meta coming across much heavier and more metal than last year’s release. “Sgùrr was experimental both in terms music and sound,” he explains. “Some of the new ideas worked out, some not so well and changing was a craving. I would not use the expression ‘progress’, though – it is just another approach.”
Lineup: Tamás Kátai (vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards, samples, programming)
Sounds like: Elaborate, progressive BM marked out textures from the Highlands and Tamás’s Hungarian homeland
For fans of: Ihashn, Negura Bunget
Current release: Meta (Season Of Mist, 2016)