Saturday, September 26, 2020

Sumokem Interview

 On September 4th, Sumokem released Prajnaparadha. Following their 2015 debut The Madness of Lu Shen Ti, Vol. 1, and 2017's The Guardian of Yosemite, the new release finds the Little Rock-based band shifting their musical approach once again, but also turns out to be something of a larger turning point for the group.  We spoke with Sumokem about their history, the making of the new album, and what they see in their future.

The Burning Beard: Hi there, congratulations on the new album, and thanks very much for sharing some of your time with us. To start with, could you give new listeners a run-down on the band's current line-up?

Sumokem: Yeah, so it's always been myself, Jacob Sawrie, on vocals and rhythm guitar, and Drew Skarda on drums. Since 2015 we've had Tyler Weaver on lead guitar and Dustin Weddle on bass. Now myself and Dustin play synths, as well, on every song on the new album, actually.

TBB: Who was in the band's original line-up, and how did it come together?

Sumokem: Originally it was myself, Drew, and Josh Ingram on lead guitar. We played for a few months with no bassist, and I'm surprised people liked it, haha. We were fortunate enough to add local legend Alan Wells on bass, and that was SMKM for the first couple of years. We recorded our first EP in Alan's basement. Josh died in May of 2015, and Alan left at the same time to take care of his family and his health. Tyler and Dustin came in and we found some new life.

TBB: How did the writing and recording of Prajnaparadha differ from your previous albums?

Sumokem: Really the only thing that was different about the process was that everyone incorporated riffs. It really opened things up and made this album what it is. We also took things a little more seriously in the studio, and that definitely made a difference.

TBB: What were some notable inspirations for its themes, and what led the band to settle on the final overall concept for the album?

Sumokem: This album is definitely a reflection of the four of us and our separate tastes shining through and meeting in the middle somewhere. We were all able to contribute to the writing process on this one since we’ve settled into the lineup, so I think that’s a reason it sounds much different. Our drummer, Drew, even wrote quite a few guitar riffs for this one.

TBB: Were the songs mostly put together before the concept was decided, or did the concept come first and direct the song-writing?

Sumokem: Honestly, my stories kind of write themselves. I start with a time and place, do a lot of research, write an outline of the story, and go from there - but as soon as I learned the word "Prajnaparadha," I knew that "sins against wisdom" had to be the theme.

TBB: Were there any other memorable ideas on which direction to go with this album?

Sumokem: The concept for the albums, and the lyrics, have always existed before the music, per record. We've just always kind of written the songs based on what we feel from the lyrics - but this is the last album we'll write that way, at least for a while.

We wanted this album to be our most progressive, most dynamic album yet, but let things play out naturally, and it worked out.

TBB: If there is one, what's the usual process for Sumokem to build a song?

Sumokem: The writing process was pretty organic, we brought riffs in and arranged them together and somehow it all worked out without sounding too juxtaposed or odd.

TBB: Given Sumokem's tendency to change atmospheres or presentation with each album (Chinese vibes for Lu Shen Ti, First Peoples for Yosemite, and Indian for this one), are there any influences on the band which you feel have stuck around from the start?

Sumokem: The only real influence that has stuck around is the use of cannabis or other psychoactive drugs in ancient cultures; be it for a character's benefit, or to their detriment, as in the new album.

TBB: If it wouldn't be giving away too much, does the band have any thoughts on which culture the next album might visit?

Sumokem: Actually, this is the last we'll be doing the "concept album" thing, at least for a while. We have started writing for another EP that is going to go in a more philosophical direction, lyrically.

TBB: What are some of the challenges you've faced as a metal band in/from Arkansas?

Sumokem: It's hard to say we have struggles any different than bands from anywhere else. You could say that the Little Rock/Arkansas scene is more underground than other major cities, but with bands like Rwake, Deadbird, Pallbearer, and Terminal Nation bringing attention to it, we can't really complain. It's a slow burn at worst.

It has its ups and downs being from a small city, we luckily have a history of killer bands here. It’s also harder it seems to get attention outside of Arkansas sometimes, but locally the reception here has always been great and we are grateful for it.

TBB: Are there any bands with whom you've shared a stage that you feel have helped sharpen your sense of who you are as a band?

Sumokem: Ha! Most of them. We've gotten to play with so many bands we admire, or even worship. We couldn't list all the bands we've played with that showed us how much better we could be. I think the biggest blessing was spending a week on the road with our friends in Pallbearer and Spotlights. Seeing them just kill it every single night was truly inspiring.

TBB: Are there any current bands with whom you'd be especially interested in putting out a split, or otherwise collaborating?

Sumokem: There's also a ton of bands we'd love to collaborate with. Personally, I'd love to do something with Pinkish Black or Kayo Dot, but we've also thought (if in passing) that an ultra-Arkansas collab could be cool.

TBB: Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers?

Sumokem: Hey, we just hope people like the record - and a lot of people deserve a lot of thanks. We hope to see people on the road sooner than later.

~ Interview by Gabriel

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Transcending Ignoble Impulses...

Sumokem - Prajnaparadha (2020)

Following up on their advance single for “Fakir” at the start of this year, the Little Rock-based group of Sumokem have released their latest LP, their third since kicking off with The Madness of Lu Shen Ti, Vol. 1 back in 2015. Running slightly under an hour across its six tracks, Prajnaparadha shows the band in great form, putting deep consideration into not just the individual song composition, but also how they fit into and build off of each other.

Leading off with “Prologue” (easily the album's shortest song, at three minutes and change), Sumokem set up a base-line atmosphere of muted choral voices, brooding piano melodics, and deceptively complex percussion. Working through its progressions, the group establishes a sense of deliberation and craftsmanship, which they temper by introducing some rough-edged guitar and bass in the following track, “Nihang”. There's some understated noodling going on here from the guitar, which helps cut the serious tone and keep it from feeling overwrought. Vocals are used with care, tending to a rumbling growl when they appear (though some clean contrast does crop up), and the instruments generally dominate the track. Gnarled and twisting as the song-writing is inclined to be, the hooks bite deep, and pull listeners along with the momentum and beats.

“Parak-Dar” picks up from there, tracing out a similar groove as the end of the preceding song for a bit, before switching to more of a roll-and-stop rhythm, and a number of others after that. A stripped-down break again highlights the group's facility with morose melody foundations, gradually building back up into tension and a bit of a duel between the guitar and bass. The high/low opposition is held onto and developed intriguingly, with the guitar going higher still as the vocals growl deeper, and another twisting passage leads the way to the second half of the album.

With “Sadhu”, Sumokem turn up the headbanging energy, while holding on to their doom/prog cocktail dynamics. They also find room for some lush harmonic interludes, balanced out by some heavy-crunching bass lead runs. “Fakir” (which we've linked below) follows, with some echo pedal lending things further mystic vibes, while the sense of deliberation gets a resurgence in the careful beat deployment. It's a strong pick for the album's lead single, as it gets across a lot of their character, showcases their song-writing skills, and gives a wide range of emotional evocation. Lastly, “Khizer” rides in with a hard riff to keep listeners' heart-rates up 'til the end. It also features more vocal interplay than any of the preceding tracks, and the song's shifting structure makes the final crescendo strike incredibly hard.

All in all, it's an excellent album, putting Sumokem's talents in clear relief with excellent execution. It's also impressive for how cleanly they've set aside the usual metal album preoccupation with finding a particular sub-genre (e.g., stoner doom, tech death, etc.) and diving headlong into it. Instead, Sumokem pull from a wide variety of styles, blending them into their open-eared metal foundation in whatever way will serve the song's growth. It's a song-writing approach that's sadly too infrequently undertaken, but Prajnaparadha is a fantastic demonstration of how well it can pay off. Seekers of ambitious metal, put this one on your list, and pick up a copy when it lands on digital September 4th, and with a vinyl release from Cursed Tongue Records in November.

~ Gabriel

For Fans Of; Abstracter, Ancient Lights, Flight of the Seraphim, Funerary, Hijo de la Tormenta

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Sumokem - Fakir (320 kbps)


Saturday, August 01, 2020

Fumes And Sparks...

BongBongBeerWizards - Albong (2020)

Following up on a rehearsal track from 2017 and their debut EP from the start of last year, BongBongBeerWizards (you're already down just from the name, right?) are a German trio with plenty of fuzz to live up to their chosen moniker. With the time off to craft this return release, there's more thoughtfulness to the music's arrangements than the name might suggest, and they carry themselves well, pulling off a tough balance of garage-like cragginess and expansively spacy polish.
Leading off with “Melothrone” (which I'm guessing is an allusion to the classic Mellotron), the new EP gets off to an enjoyably grimy start. Riding deep feedback rumbles and pacing itself with the drummer's wary-sounding beats, the tune grinds through the grooves with a serrated sort of vibe, building momentum until the vocals arrive in an effects-laden entrance. Providing warping tension, mixed somewhat low against the rough riffage of the guitar and the rising punch of the drums, the wordless (or so I'd guess) singing lends things a spike of psychedelic vibrance to lift the heavy doom patterns. Running just over nine minutes, it's a clear guide to their style and character for those who might have missed the earlier efforts. They even pack in a break and bridge before the last couple of minutes, with an hooky rolling riff against cymbal clangs providing a bit of good-natured spookiness before the fuzz comes in like a tall tide.
“Journey” follows from there, easily the shortest track of the EP at just under three minutes, and it turns the atmospheric inclinations shown earlier into a short but haunting bit of tone exploration. It's a nice (and high-contrast) break with the weightiness of the opening track, and concisely demonstrates the band's facility with sparser song-writing, while keeping it both bare and forthright enough to bust any beliefs that they're getting by on the FX. The clean vocals, slight string echo, and restrained percussion all come together wonderfully, lulling the listener into a chill before the next song strikes.
“Meathead” rides an opening touch of drone into more somber territory, with the vocals shifting down to an ominous and thoroughly distorted call-and-response dynamic between the higher and lower singing. Riding the groove deeper and deeper, augmenting it with additional layers of instrumentation (or just more pedal activation, maybe), they pull some real Sleep vibes into action, providing what will likely be the high point for many listeners. Lastly, at more than ten minutes by itself, there's “Summoning”. I have to acknowledge that the opening of this had my cat spellbound. After its 'doom UFO' antics fade out, the heavier, more serious side of BongBongBeerWizards returns, prowling through a valley of semi-jammy but still powerful stoner doom flexes. It deflates the tension built by the preceding tracks, to a degree, but it also feels like a fitting finish, just kind of sprawling out into the smoke. All in all, there's a lot to dig into with this EP, so if stoner doom is one of your preferred styles, be sure to get a copy once it drops.
~ Gabriel

For Fans Of; Atomic Trip, Electric Wizard, Hypnochron, Ladybird, Sleep


Saturday, July 25, 2020

Breaking Old Molds...

Monolith Grows! - Interregnum EP (2020)

Running two tracks on vinyl, and three in digital form, this EP is the latest from Monolith Grows!, whom we last checked in on back in 2015. Back then, they were still going by just 'Monolith', and had released their Even More album. With this new release, the Italian group have assembled some deeply enjoyable and surprisingly hooky tunes to lift your spirits in the tumult of 2020, with All Right Riserva Recordz picking it up for release.
First up is “Nicolas Cage”, a rumbling cruiser working off of a solid riff, with a blend of heavy rock and stoner metal flavors keeping it fun while digging into gnarly grooves. The extensive cymbal-bashing helps with that lightening of the tone, while the vocals rock on in a nice fusion of modern and retro stylings. There's plenty of energy, and the twists taken by the melodic direction lift it above much of the output that's come through in comparable heavy music lately.
“Nicolas Kim Coppola”, the digital-exclusive track, can be heard as something of a reworking of the first, operating from a similar groove, but dropping the cymbal prominence somewhat, leading to a more grounded run that lets the guitar's tone come through better. It's also about a minute shorter overall, and ends on a fade-out, giving the impression of a 'radio edit', wherever there's radio stations cool enough to play this.
Lastly, “Shade and Sleep” fades back up into a cool drum-and-guitar exchange, before the guitar takes it solo to heat things into the main ride. The heavy rock takes a bit more of a turn into yesteryear's dynamics here, with the bass strings allowed to rattle just a bit, injecting some hang-loose cool into the vibrant head-banging energy they let loose. Loaded with still more twist-ups and break-downs, it brings the EP to a victorious close, pumping out enough energy to make listeners wanna cycle right back to the start for another go. The band describes the EP as being a shift into more acid rock territory, and judging by the quality they've put on display here, their upcoming album (currently scheduled for 2021) will be a true treat, packed with creativity and indelible hooks. As of this review's writing, there are still vinyl copies of the Interregnum EP available, but you'll need to move fast to snag one, as only fifteen are left.
~ Gabriel

For Fans Of; Craneon, Lint, Monocluster, Mother Mars, RHINO (Italy)


Saturday, July 18, 2020

Talisman Of Change...

Merlock - that which speaks... (2020)

Following up on a couple of advance singles between their 2018 debut EP/demo and this new one, the quartet of Merlock (named for the Christopher Lloyd villain from DuckTales, I'm hoping) bring a cool blend of heavy psych and doom metal to action over the course of the four songs on that which speaks....
Kicking off with “Idolon”, the band establishes a solid riff before reinforcing it with extra fuzz, bass, and treated vocals, lending things a gloomy, semi-mystical air. That continues for a couple of minutes, before picking up speed into a near-thrashy groove that brings the guitar out in greater relief. Tasty bridges and pedal effects draw listeners through the midway of the song before revisiting the earlier riffs with still more intensity, and the vocals rise to match it, before fading away in favor of distorted shredding.
An abrupt cut makes way for “Prolapse”, which picks up still more thrash flavoring with its rolling guitar progressions and steady cymbal clangs. Some fun noodling dominates most of the ride, with the vocalist hanging back and picking their break-out moments with care, and the main hook of the song is almost guaranteed to get lodged in your head long after you listen. “[Vessel]” follows, building a thick atmosphere around slow-moving measures and tonal sustains, with enough shifts throughout the song to keep things engaging and fun.
Lastly, “Condemnation” brings a bit of a death metal edge to the guitar and bass riffage, though the song grows slower and heavier as it progresses, finishing out the EP on a sinking moan. All together, it's a solid sophomore release, with a good showcasing of the band's abilities in a variety of approaches to their psych/doom blend. There's a limited run of cassettes (fifty copies) available for order through Merlock's BandCamp, or you can go with the digital version. Either way, you'll be getting some tunes that are quite easy to let yourself sink into and enjoy.
~ Gabriel

For Fans Of; Demon Head, Goya, Pilgrim, Sleep, Venus Sleeps


Saturday, July 11, 2020

No Time To Sit...

Guided Meditation Doomjazz - No Throne (2020)

Following up an EP, a live album, and a single, all released within the past year, the Austin-based trio of Guided Meditation Doomjazz are back with another four tracks. One of those was used for the aforementioned single (“Swamps of Sadness”, with another nod to The Neverending Story in its cover art), but the other three are fresh for this offering.
The release leads off with the title track, building from ominous words of nullification into a heavy but nuanced groove. With reminders to “breathe in, breathe out,” the song curls along on thick-toned bass-lines and a bowed instrument (which occasionally mimics an electric organ in timbre) providing the foundation over which the vocals drift. There's definitely a heavy psych vibe at play, but with some of that Austin fusion mentality in the works, things take an unpredictable course. “Swamps of Sadness” follows, with a poker-faced recitation of Atreyu's quest and loss of his horse. An interpretation of Giorgio Moroder's score for that section of the film accompanies the proceedings, but with the shift from synths to analog, there's an interesting adjustment of the mood to match.
Imagine Relief” provides a rise up from the despair of the preceding track, though it keeps the mood low and heavy. It builds into a slow-loping riff carrying itself and the vocals into rising intensity and action, until they burst loose from a drum crescendo back into the original take, though now counter-playing against echoes of itself. Lastly, “New Nostalgia” picks up into a comparatively brighter groove, noodling along on the bass while the cymbals get prominent deployment. It all comes together as an interesting experience, fitting the band's name while giving your ears quite a bit to chew on. If you've been looking for something distinct and different in the doom realm, this will certainly fit the bill.
~ Gabriel

For Fans Of; Merlin, Morphine, The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation, Shadowmaster, Wyatt E.