Matt Pike’s first solo album came to us in a time when we needed it the most. In the dead of a winter filled with wars and rumors of wars, pandemic, natural disasters, as well as between releases and tours by primary groups Sleep and High on Fire, the riff-master took matters into his own hands and produced Pike vs The Automaton.
It’s a heavy album that explores retro sounding heavy metal, thrash, punk, and even some twangy blues. Falling somewhere between the riffy thrash of High on Fire and the stoner-doom of Sleep, Pike gave in fully to his musical instincts, riffing his way through an assemblage of songs guaranteed to induce head-banging and disgust with authority.
Recorded in his garage during the pandemic, Pike’s describes his work this way: “I made a psychedelic rock record that Sleep and High on Fire fans would like. And maybe if you’re not a Sleep or High on Fire fan, you might like it too. I definitely think it’s interesting; it has D-Beat punk, two-step. It’s got everything and it still works together, it doesn’t sound odd. It’s just an off-the-wall psychedelic rock record.”
At the core of the ensemble group is Pike on guitars and vocals, backed by friend and drummer Jon Reid. Featured among many guests on the album are some familiar names. Brent Hinds of Mastodon appears in a surprisingly chill cameo on the twangy “Land.” Pike’s wife provides caustic vocals on the hard-core “Acid Test Zone.” Jeff Matz, bassist of High on Fire, plays the Turkish electric saz on the album’s epic 11 minute closer, “Leaving the Wars of Woe.”
The album clocks in at 63 minutes with 10 tracks, and features beautifully rendered, symbolic cover art. It’s available on vinyl and CD, as well as digital release.
Isak is a stoner rock trio from Glasgow, Scotland. The group is made up of Joe McGarrity on vocals and guitar, Mark Tait on bass, and Robert “Twigs” McLean drums. The band has been producing riffy space rock since 2012 and just announced their first full length album, The Great Expanse, via their Facebook page.
The Great Expanse will be a followup up to Isak EP, released in July, 2013, and EP2, which was released in January, 2018. The Great Expanse is a sonically compelling stoner rock album that will take you to the edge of space and beyond. The album tells the story of traveler journeying across the galaxy. As he embarks across the endless cosmos, he begins to wonder if he is alone or if he is being guided. More than half instrumental, but employing the sparse, melodic vocals in a focused and effective way, the album is the soundtrack to the traveler’s story. It unfolds dynamically over the course of 45 minutes and seven tracks. The record was recorded at 16 Ohm Studio in Glasgow, with Tommy Duffin of Cosmic Dead and John McBain of Monster Magnet completing the mastering.
The Great Expanse 6:46
Beyond the Karman Line 6:24
Falling Satellite 11:39
Out of Reach 5:50
Call of the Void 4:00
The album opens with The Great Expanse, a riffy track with a driving bass and rhythm section. With thoughtful, melodic lyrics such as “set sail on infinite seas” and “explore the great beyond,” space exploration quickly becomes the theme of the album. The lyrics disappear after the first half (they return on the fifth track), and the band members let the instruments continue the story. A spacey jam finishes things out and it fades seamlessly into the second song.
The Karman Line is the altitude where Earth ends and space begins, 62 miles above the surface. The second track, Beyond the Karman Line, begins low key with a catchy clean guitar line, but then the song builds and accelerates the heaviness, as if it were the second stage of a rocket flinging us into the vastness of space. The track has a creative drum pattern and bass rhythm, topped off by a fuzzy, psychedelic guitar tone.
Falling Satellite is the longest song on the album, close to 12 minutes. It starts with thick bass tones and cymbal swells. The guitar materializes from spacey, atmospheric sounds into a cohesive pattern, and the other instruments develop with it, creating a cosmic jam that plays out over the first half of the song. The second half transforms into a heavier, driving riff with a progressive poly-rhythm that has echoes of Tool. The track continues to form and explore for the last half, featuring a singing guitar lead and progressively building and building before fading out, with the cymbals swells and thick bass tones from the beginning making a return.
Opening with ethereal organ tones and cosmic guitar notes, Interstellar builds into a short but nice bass-heavy progression. The hypnotic pattern continues for a few minutes before fading into the next track, Ablaze, which takes us into more of a crunchier, riffier territory. This track is where the lyrics return, making their presence at the beginning and end of the track. Meanwhile, the band provides plenty of cool stoner rock change-ups, complex rhythm patterns, and plenty of cool, wandering guitar leads that weave in and out of the musical fabric.
Out of Reach starts right in with a swingy, heavy riff. The drums produce a decent shuffle pattern and some huge sounding cymbal crashes alongside a growly bass. While the opening track’s lyrics felt broad and hopeful, optimistically talking of exploring the “infinite seas” of space, the lyrics in Out of Reach come across as more desperate, searching, and claustrophobic, as if the traveler is searching for meaning, or anything, in the empty reaches of space.
At the beginning of the last track, Call of the Void, the band changes it up with harmonic, angelic vocals over a clean guitar line. It’s unsure if the harmonic lyrics represents the voice of a heavenly guide leading our traveler to some kind of salvation, or perhaps the last hallucination of a dying astronaut drifting endless into cold space, but somehow both scenarios seem hopeful, and a fitting end to an awesome stoner rock odyssey.
The album is set for release in late February, and will be available on Bandcamp, alongside their two previous EPs. Make sure to also check out the band on Facebook and Twitter. Check out The Sonic Sofa on Stitcher, Soundcloud, thesonicsofa.blog, and Twitter. Please support the bands by buying their music and merch. If you have music, a band, or an original music review or press release that you think should be featured on the blog or podcast, contact The Purlenaut at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you enjoy the content provided on this blog and want to see more, please consider donating to The Sonic Sofa on PayPal or Patreon. Go in peace and rock on, Sofanauts.
Swan Valley Heights is a stoner rock trio from Germany. Even though the band name sounds like an 80’s chick flick, they bring a powerful blend of heavy music with complex song structures, chunky riffs, and clean, melodic vocals. Their Self-titled album was released in 2016, and they recently announced the upcoming July 26 full length, The Heavy Seed, with the announcement accompanied by the new 10 and a half minute song, Teeth and Waves.
The band’s Self-titled album was released on January 30th, 2016, and was in my regular rotation for quite some time. If you’re a fan a Weedpecker, you’ll like the style that Swan Valley Heights was going for. The album features clean vocals, plenty of fuzzy riffs, and seven long, catchy songs. You’ll hear driving riffs like in the opener, Slow Planet, crisp drums and captivating guitars like in Alaska, and driving bass lines and Sabbath-esque riffs like in Caligula Overdrive. There are also plenty of other great touches, like the vocal harmonies in Mammoth, and the tasty drum fills in Mountain. Their first album is a great listen all the way through. If you didn’t catch the album when it was released, check it out on Bandcamp and listen to Caligula Overdrive, featured here.
Recently, the band was picked up by Swedish label, Fuzzorama, who have gained quite a name for themselves, with bands such as Truckfighters, Asteroid, and Valley of the Sun. They recently announced their new album, Heavy Seed, due on July 26th. Along with the announcement came the new single, Teeth and Waves, and the intriguing album art which appears to show to primal men in a scifi landscape. The digital album releases on July 26th, with the record shipping out on or around July 6th and the CD on September 1st. You can also snag some of their cool Astronaut and Cave-Men themed T-shirts on their Bandcamp page.
The song picks up right where their self- titled left off. It opens with psychedelic textures that include rim shots on the drums, watery guitar effects, and harmonic bass patterns. A clean toned guitar riff and haunting lyrical harmonies bring form to the song around three minutes in, but the real riff kicks in hard with the fuzzy overdrive pedal at the four minute mark. From then on the song explores several textures, with headbanging stoner rock interludes, a dreamy, effect-laced psychedelic audioscape, a soft section with thoughtful vocals, before a final triumphant return to the original theme.