The return, in 2016, of legendary Puerto Rico Stoner Rock/Heavy Psych pioneers, Iglesia Atómica, has proven to be quite an unexpected phenomenon achieving, between 2016 and 2018, the release of three different titles on vinyl, cassette, compact disc and digital formats under the banner of German Psych independent label, Clostridium Records, and Argentinian independent labels South American Sludge Records and Piramide Records. Quickly acknowledged as one of the fundamental bands from the slow, heavy, and psychedelic scene revving up from all over Latin America, Iglesia Atómica seems like a force to be reckoned with in the international heavy rock scene.
Iglesia Atómica's story dates back to August 1990 when, in the urban area of San Juan, Puerto Rico, three musicians from the local rock scene, dissatisfied with the sounds that were emerging at the time, began to work long improvisational pieces, somehow trying to emulate their musical idols – from the likes of Hendrix, Cream, Ten Years After, Floyd and others – without knowing that this small impromptu exercise would unleash, years later, a new and exciting sub-genre of rock, HEAVY PSYCH. Today, the scene continues in vertiginous growth at an international level, embracing the band as one of the pioneering groups of the counterculture.
Currently, formed by original members Agustin Criollo, Martin Latimer, and Herb Pérez, proved in a recent trip to Lima, Peru as headliners of the “Festival Undercaos 2019”, to be at the top of their game after 30 years of paying their dues (as) a rock and roll band.
Band: La Iglesia Atomica
Country of Origin: United States (Puerto Rico)
Recently we’ve been featuring a lot of bands from the Latin American heavy psych/stoner doom scene such as Satánicos Marihuanos and Familia de Lobos. Today’s “Five Questions With” features La Iglesia Atomica (The Atomic Church), a band from Puerto Rico that formed in the early 90’s and is finding new life within this burgeoning Latin American heavy psych/stoner scene. A truly global band, their most recent record Gran Muro de Coma was digitally released on Argentinian label South American Sludge Records and physically released on the German label Clostridium Records.
If you like your music like your Banksy paintings – lots of shredding – you’ll dig the hell out of this band.
We talked with the band’s bassist, and multi-instrumentalist, Agustin Criollo Oquero for this entry to “Five Questions With.” Agustin, a kindred radio spirit, hosts his own show on Astro Radio called The Freak-Out Sounds Of The Pie In The Sky. As with our show, you can find archives of his show on Mixcloud so check it out!
Oh wow, that’s a tough one since I listen to so many things but I have to say it’s between Black Sabbath Vol. 4 and Brian Eno, The Pearl.
It all started when Herb Perez (current drummer), Eduardo Fret (first guitar player) and I, dropping acid and smoking weed, jammed to one note for hours on end at least 3 days a week. The same peaks and lows from the hallucinogenic experience ruled the ups and downs of the jam, that’s why they give the impression of a long song with several parts. We used to record 90 minute cassette tapes of just one jam. However, since the old paradigm of the mainstream record industry forced us to create “proper songs” we jump to it and left the jams for the live experience. Little did we know that after more than 20 years, the impromptus, the jamming, was going to be the thing that help us get a record deal in Germany.
I am 49 years old so I started in music back in 1984 and I’ve seen many ups and downs. The Caribbean is not fertile ground for counter-cultural music movements and commercial easy listening music like Reggae Roots is king among the youth. There have been moments in our history that small creative movements have arisen like the one that started with the grunge scene back in 1989. Nowadays the rock scene in Puerto Rico is in coma after 25 years of urban sounds ruling here and the United States. However, there is a huge stoner/doom scene in Latin America and Europe taking shape as we speak and that’s were we are operating from and trying to point at that direction so others here in the island can see what’s happening and can join in.
I am a journalist by profession so I must say that a lot of literature, philosophy and plastic art. Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Benedetti, Noam Chomsky, Friedrich Nietzsche, Michel Foucault, Max Ernst, José Clemente Orozco, etc.
That would be the show we have yet to perform. For instance, this next November we are playing the Lima Doom Fest in Perú, so, for now, we are going to give 1000% on that show, so at the moment is going to be the best we have done so far. I guess when we play Roadburn or Desert Fest or Duna Jam, then those will be the best we have done so far.
Desert Psychlist, UK
Twenty years is a damn long time in anyone's book but that was how long ago Puerto Rica's La Iglesia Atómica (The Atomic Church) last played together. The band, whose line up has fluctuated quite drastically since their formation in 1990, were one of the leading lights of Puerto Rica's burgeoning rock scene and it could be argued were one of the early pioneers of today's stoner rock movement, their brand of fuzz soaked groove preceding the emergence of Kyuss and Sleep by a whole year. Agustin Criollo ( bass, guitar, keyboards and vocals) has been the one constant throughout La Iglesia Atómica's career and now with the recruitment of Martin Latimer (guitar) and Herb Pérez (drums) and the release of a new album "La Iglesia Atómica"( South American Sludge Records) the band are ready to ride again.
In the twenty years that have passed since La Iglesia Atómica last trod the boards of a live stage a lot has happened, a new dawn of psychedelic tinted rock has arisen in that time and permeated the fuzz'n.roll of the stoner/hard rock scene seeing bands like Wo Fat, Earthless and others stretching out their raucous grooves into extended jams and experimenting with lysergic textures and hues. This recent development has not been lost on La Iglesia Atómica, the band have always had a leaning towards the psychedelic and so have embraced these new freedoms filling out their grooves with a myriad of bright colours and darkened shades. This might not seem so evident on the albums opening track "Cadavar Exquisito" the songs low,slow and heavy groove, embellished with swathes of textured keyboard colouring beneath which slow pounding drums beat out a ponderous rhythm, is more akin to doom than it is psych but as the album progresses those lysergic elements gradually begin to take shape. "Resurrección" follows, built around Criollo's deliciously seductive bass line and Pérez jazzy percussive chops the song is taken to another level by Latimer's stunning guitar work, the guitarist laying down dark swathes of chordal sustain that hang momentarily in the air before being replaced by more, giving the song an almost Floydian feel. The band have not discarded their stoner/hard rock roots entirely though and on songs like "Superhombres", "Mala Semilla"" and "La Mala Viene" they revisit those roots with fuzz drenched riffage, thunderous rhythms and soaring guitar solo's the foundations over which clean vocals and harmonies are sung (in Spanish). It is however when the band cut loose that the true beauty of what La Iglesia Atómica do becomes apparent, the band taking off on tangents into uncharted territories, improvising around a theme or a motif as on the wonderfully diverse and bluesy "Algo Habitual" and the excellently manic "Stoner Ball", the three musicians playing off each other, losing themselves in the music before gathering the threads together again and falling back into the groove, freedom and focus in equal measure.
Twenty years ago La Iglesia Atómica called it a day, packed up their gear and went on to other things but now they are back .. ready to blend those old school stoner grooves of their past with those newer sounds they have picked up along the way, let's hope its not another twenty years before the next album!
Check 'em out ...
Disciple of The Void
Off the radar for more than twenty years Puerto Rico’s underground rock veterans La Iglesia Atómica (The Atomic Church) are back on stage proudly peddling the fruits of a brand new, self-titled album. Prior to the likes of Kyuss emerging from the Palm Desert dust in the early nineties, La Iglesia Atómica preached their psychedelic stoner sermons to the hard rock faithful on their native Caribbean island – a legacy that many who bore witness to those awe-inspiring, multi-faceted sonic gospels have not forgotten. Their second coming is more than welcome – their passionate, eight-chapter self-titled tome a gift to any listener willing to take the most far out of cosmic rides which it has offer.
La Iglesia Atómica have undergone many changes since their initial seeds were sown. Indeed, the LIIA banner flew above various line ups until the first era of the band came to a close in 1997. The present incarnation features founding member Agustín Criollo, among other things, on bass and vocal duties; Martín Latimer who joined in 1994 handling the guitars; and finally one Edwin Solivan taking his seat behind the drums.
But this is neither biography nor story of men and their lives. For sure, the trials and tribulations which make a man are important and will have doubtlessly played a part in the development of each individual that came together as the parcel of La Iglesia Atómica today. The band’s music seems to come from elsewhere – somewhere beyond the lives of men and the Earth on which they reside. Music may be moulded by a musicians experiences but here it feels channelled from somewhere deeper than is accessible by your average musical act. With the dizzying number of expertly crafted layers presented on the album, the musical consciousness is not only penetrated to its deepest, furthest reaching depths – it is freed from the body entirely and allowed to expand with the fabric of space and time.
So it is with the very finest psychedelic music and La Iglesia Atómica create just that: the Creme de la Crème (or is that better “cream of the cream,” for this trio is no less powerful than that which produced Disraeli Gears). A tall order, you might say. Why yes it is. But I see no reason why these Puerto Ricans should not come to be counted among the best of the best.
The album opens with Cadáver Exquisito (Exquisite Corpse) and although shy of even the two-minute mark in total length this track is by no means the sort of filler a less experienced band may place at the beginning of an album in order to support what comes next. The corpse is by no means lifeless and it stands on its own. It is raised by the mighty clash of a gong; summoned by the ensuing riff and slow, heavy drumming; heralded by doom undertones and haunting sounds similar to the Tibetan gyaling, “Indian trumpets” used during sacred rituals. The short but powerful opening track strikes the listener much like that – a sacred ritual raising an exquisite and important corpse from it’s would be grave. The band clearly do not wish to leave things to rot in the tomb. There is work to do.
Resurrection is a task that requires a specialist skill set and with the second track, Resurrección, we are already well aware that La Iglesia Atómica are both the men for the job and men who have at their command an entity well worth bestowing new life to. The percussion here is technical but effortless – the bass fuzzy but well-defined. Guitar and synth sounds evoke the image of blinking console lights on a space shuttle dash-board. The pace quickens and the drum rolls increase with this instrumental jam and it truly feels as if we have in as little as five minutes left the launch pad and our Earth behind, passed through the Earth’s atmosphere, disengaged the thrusters, and begun free-floating during the gentle closing moments of the track as these musical superhombres (supermen) put their heads together and decide where they are taking us next.
And we are off again. With the first instance of vocals on the album and accompanying stoner rock hook, we are taken line and sinker deeper and deeper into interstellar space, perhaps towards the home world of these superhombres. Approaching the three-minute mark there is some nifty classic rock guitar licks reminiscent of the twin guitar sounds ala an acid drenched Thin Lizzy, and at the three minute mark everything seems to disintegrate. But it is a mere dust cloud – a dark nebula expressed by solo bass and the secrets laying beneath the surface of that subtle, low-end mastery. It is a false sense of flying blind but our eyes and ears are soon blown wide open with the crash of symbols and we emerge with the full band on the other side of that miasma, feeling as if we are careering towards the lashing super-heated tentacles of an alien sun.
The mid-portion of the LP begins with an invite to the Stoner’s Ball, continues with Mala Semilla (Bad Seed) and arrives at Algo Habitual (Something Common), the most lengthy jam thereon. Stoner’s Ball starts as it means to continue and it does exactly what you might expect: pulls everyone onto the dance floor. It’s mass is such that even the most laid back of stoners at the ball would be powerless to it’s gravity. There are even some air raid sirens in the mix to warn those trying to slink away that the incoming licks and driving rhythms are going to thoroughly demolish their inhibitions. Mala Semilla begins with the crack of a jack and the powerful crank of a teased amplifier before a guitar that sounds as if it’s fed into the wah-wah equivalent of the Large Hadron Collider weaves in and out of masterful percussion and perfectly executed bass. The track has an anthemic quality and Spanish speakers (of which your author is admittedly not) will surely find themselves pumping their fists and singing along to this at the band’s live shows. And it’s a change of pace, at least at the onset, with Algo Habitual. There is no let up. Each track flows perfectly from one to the other. But here, for your author at least, do the band allow themselves ample space to explore all that is possible within the constraints of recording time. The riff work is both Sabbathian catchy and Ten Years After obscure. The vocals are doom laden and yet, somehow lifting. No sooner than three minutes and thirty seconds in do we encounter Floydian accents as well as guitar and bass tones similar to those you would hope to find on the finest of Funkadelic recordings. In short, this track, like the album on which it is found, is far from Something Common.
It is all very well cherry picking individual elements of the album and drawing comparisons between them and portions of other bands past and present. La Iglesia Atómica as a whole do not however sound like anyone else. They sound like themselves: La Iglesia Atómica. They sound like the future. With their feet firmly on the ground their heads are, in the best possible way, adrift in the clouds. They have the talent to ground their music so much as it does not come across as self-indulgent, but the imagination to run with it when apt, and that makes for one mind-blowing trip.
The final two tracks, La Mala Viene (The Bad Comes) and the closing Soy Quien Soy (I Am Who I Am) are testimony to that. La Mala Viene begins with the bluesiest notes on the album and the vocals follow suit. One could be forgiven for picturing the band play this number on a small stage at a poorly attended desert bar by the side of some lonely Californian Highway, but one cannot be forgiven for hearing the track and failing to see the possibilities in all their expansive glory. The band could easily take the stage of the Cantina i.e. Star Wars, A New Hope, surrounded by heavy drinking, heavy smoking creatures from those other worlds. It sounds desert born, in other words, but that desert is a desert planet far, far away.
Soy Quien Soy then is a fitting way to close the album. “I Am Who I Am”, the band declare, and the listener surely believes them. The listener is at the point far beyond our solar system and although more would be welcome, we are just too breathless. It has been one hell of a ride and it’s time to savour the mental sights and exquisite sounds of the previous forty plus minutes of sheer psych stoner majesty.
La Iglesia Atómica are back and they have returned with one of 2017’s finest releases. If the band had not resurrected that legendary passion and presence of some twenty years ago and moulded it anew, that stellar entity would have surely collapsed in on itself, formed a black hole, and left the heavy music scene a poorer place for its absence.