Saturday, September 26, 2020

Malus - Twin Trunk Crabapple

Sept 26th, 2020 -  Age: 2 yrs
These two trees were grown from seeds last year and I arranged them in this pot in a twin trunk arrangement. The slight slant to the right gives some visual interest to the composition. 

I believe these seeds were collected while I was on a break at work. There were crabapple trees throughout the parking lot so I grabbed some seeds to experiment with. I'm not exactly sure of the hybrid but it might be a Malus "Cardinal" or something of that sort. I do expect it to have pink flowers in the future at some point. It is currently in a plain Chinese pot.

The picture to the left is the tree before budding out in the spring after being repotted and roots pruned. Initially, I was going to separate the two trees, which sprouted together, but the roots were so interwoven that I decided to keep them together. 
Interestingly, and evidence of the two trees unique origins, they have slightly different new foliage colors with one tree having a reddish tinted bud when swollen and the other a more golden / amber color. This subtle coloration different gives me the impression that as this planting grows, it's best time to show the tree is as the buds swell. I am excited to see if this coloration occurs next year as well. 

The tree will not need repotting next year, which means that it should get a really good solid season of growth. It will definitely need to be repotted the following spring after. It's not entirely root-bound in the pot at the moment but after next year it will be for sure. Malus varieties seem to put on a lot of root growth each year.

The tree throughout the summer grew well and was fertilized with 4-3-3 NPK Espoma Plant Tone. I fertilized in April, June, July, and September, falling off my schedule a little bit with being so busy. What is nice about the organic fertilizer, is that it sits on the surface and works itself into the soil, to feed for a prolonged time. 

Acer Negundo #1 - Box Elder Maple

Acer Negundo - Box Elder Maple
Age: about 4 Months

September 2018: This small box elder maple started this summer as a small sapling in the front yard growing wild. I initially thought it to be a Red Maple, but after five sets of ever-morphing cotyledon the tree's leaves finally fully formed into the identifiable three-leaf box elder leaves so often mistaken for poison ivy. Unlike poison ivy, box elder maples have opposite leaves while all poison ivy forms have alternating leaves on the stem. Close inspection of the trunk at this point shows small buds where the earlier leaves fell off. I may potentially get some new branching there in the spring. Currently the tree has about six sets of fully formed leaves. I'm not sure with the weather dropping in temperature if the final set that is budding will form. Currently, I've stopped watering the tree, because the soil has remained moist and has not dried out for several weeks. Soil in this pot is basically a mix of organics and small bark chips for drainage. I plan to repot in the spring into a more suitable mixture.

The true leaves have not yet begun to turn autumn colors but I expect that within the next week or two, with the colder temperatures we expect, that the tree will begin to lose it's leaves. My over-wintering plans for this tree is, once it loses it's leaves, to place it in the back shed where it will stay out of the wind and elements. My watering schedule will likely be every other week. I may attempt to slow water it with a block of ice or snow on top of the mulch. I've heard this is a good way to allow the roots to stay slightly wet throughout the winter, while still keeping them cold and in a dormant stage until spring. I am hearing we may have a mild winter, however, and if this is the case, I will likely give a small amount of water every other week.

March 23, 2019 (Age - 11 Months)


After keeping the Acer Negundo through the winter outside mostly, with a stint inside to slowly unfreeze the root ball, I decided to replant it to get it into a better soil that would prevent the plant from being in something as moisture retentive as the potting soil / bark mixture I had it in. I repotted it a week ago.

To keep the tree healthy over the winter, I mostly left it in my shed to protect it from desiccating winds. I occasionally misted or watered the plant when the soil felt dry but because the tree doesn't transpire at all during the winter, I only did this every three or four weeks starting mid November. At one point in January, the root ball had completely frozen. Because Box Elder is such a hardy species, it could withstand the freeze however other trees would potentially die from this. I was concerned that the roots would not handle the constant freeze and refreezing if left in the shed so I moved the small plant into a spare refrigerator inside and I covered the soil with ice. As the ice slowly melted into the soil in the fridge, the tree slowly underwent a thaw cycle. Once thawed, I was able to place it back outside.

The repotting process on this tree was very simple. I raked the root ball out so I could see all the roots. I started with the root ball as in the first image above. Using a small rake or bent fork to look like a rake, I removed the soil. I kept the roots misted to make sure they did not dry out. The root ball had a lot of healthy roots. I pruned the tap-root back slightly to encourage more roots near the base of the tree. I made sure I had some finer feeder roots above the point I cut the tape root to make sure the tree would be healthy. I then replanted into a new pot with new soil. For the soil, I used sifted diatomaceous earth (Napa 8822). The drainage and retentiveness of the 8822 makes it a good soil component. I have also used this with regular potting soil in a 1:1 mixture as well if I want a little more moisture retentiveness.

The tree started leafing out the past few days. After doing the root work, I did not want to risk the tree freezing so I have it in my attic near a window that gets good sunlight throughout the day. The first three photos were taking over a period of three days. The second three photos were taken a week after the third photo, then another two weeks, and then two months later, after I had moved the tree back outside. I am letting the tree grow out this summer to thicken the trunk up.

 August 20, 2019: (Age 1yr, 4m)

After letting this tree grow out the majority of the summer, the result is some nice compact foliage and smaller leaves. If you look at the last of the photos from the previous series, you will see some yellow tips at the corners of the leaves where new growth was sun-scorched after removing from the shaded attic to outside.

As this tree grew, I clipped off individual older leaves as newer leaves grew in to reduce the strength of the growth. This seemingly kept the leaves from this otherwise often-maligned species nice and small. The tree has been in full sun throughout summer. The tree is still growing strongly. I recently applied my last round of summer fertilizer at a strength of 14-14-14. I was surprised at how quickly this tree formed a rough bark on the trunk.

October 19 / November 8, 2019: (Age 1yr, 7m)

A few shots with some fall color from October.

For whatever reason, none of my trees this year had much autumn color. I think it has something to do with watering and fertilization. I hope to rectify that this year. The bark on the lower part of the trunk gained a nice texture over the course of the year. At the beginning of the year, the trunk had a reddish brown hue with small nodules of bark formation. At the end of the fall, the trunk had fully lignified and the reddish twiggy trunk formed a grayish bark lower on the trunk. The top of the trunk retained the reddish hue.

March 11, 2020: (Age 2yr)

Trees are beginning to come out of dormancy so it's a good time to repot.

Interesting amount of roots compared to the repot last year. I cut about seventy-five percent of the roots off to get a nice clean root structure. I also removed roots growing downward and which were high up on the trunk to maintain the proper 'root plane' where a strong impressive nebari will form. 'nebari' refers to the flaring root formation at the base of a bonsai tree. It is regarded as one of the most important design components in the tree.

After cleaning up the roots, I repotted the tree back in it's pot for this coming season.

My main goal for this tree at the moment is getting it into the spring healthy. I will wait to fertilize until I begin to see new growth. Fertilizing now could damage the tree. As I did last year, this tree will remain above freezing for the remainder of the year. Ideally, it will be out in the sun on days where temps are in the forties. 

Sept 26, 2020: (Age 2yr, 6m)

Left: Shortly after repotting the tree had a strong flush of new growth. Through summer, in full sun, the tree put on a decent amount of growth. There was a nice amount of growth in the trunk especially. 

Right: Tree as of today. I have been fertilizing with Espoma Plant-Tone, an organic fertilizer with a 4-3-3 NPK. 
Left: Close up of the textured bark on the lower trunk. 

Right: Next spring, I may cut the tree back to one of these two lower branches. I think the left branch will give more movement and interest. The tree will also need to be repotted. This tree grows roots incredibly fast.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Bloodfiend - Evil Mass of Putrid Decay

There's death metal and there's Death Metal. Chileans Bloodfiend are a prime example of the clear-cut old school, rough and gritty, octogenarian into nonagenarian, capitalized variety. Evil Mass of Putrid Decay should remind partakers of when death metal demos reigned supreme. The two men behind the project are no strangers to the genre. The duo, Abhorrer and Sekker have songs finely honed to maximum effect. Short, concise, precision impacts of congealed blood-soaked riffs comprise the tracks which don't spend much time getting their point across. With six songs in eleven minutes, there's not a huge amount to absorb, but there doesn't have to be since this is so simply primitive and bludgeoning in it's approach. Sekker is involved with the more melodic Excoriate, whose demo I covered a while back

The project isn't far removed from a lot of the New York Death Metal which I'm familiar with. Mortician is an influence as well as Cannibal Corpse. Morpheus Descends pops into mind as another point of reference. There's some grind influence as well and lurking around every corner is a drawn out howl akin to Napalm Death's youth-year outputs. With everything ranging from deep bellowing grunts to higher pitched spits of snarl and snot, there's a lot variety to witness in the vocal presentation which helps the demo along. My only complaint here is that there isn't much separating the individual tracks in terms of pacing, tempo, or melody. Other than the slower "I Want To Eat Human Childss" the release is full speed ahead. The inclusion of horror samples adds to a lingering gore and horror theme.  

It's pretty clear where the band's head is at with this release: quick relentless death metal in an underground tape-trading quality recording and layout. The Visceral Circuitry tape layout is well done in 90's black and white with an appropriately gruesome yet b-quality stench. I think there is some potential here so fans of on-the-rise death metal would be served by investigating Bloodfiend and the associated acts such as Excoriate.  

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Psychotic Waltz - The God Shaped Void

There haven't been many new releases which I was outright interested in purchasing this year when researching what was being offered. The God Shaped Void, Psychotic Waltz's first album in twenty-four years, though, manipulated my interest immediately. After a few weeks revisiting A Social Grace and Into The Everflow and a week or two of digesting the lesser cited Mosquito and Bleeding, both of which I had never given even a glimmer of awareness to, I further reprimanded myself for not spending more time with the band's classic material. It was clear after Mosquito that Psychotic Waltz would not produce a clear-follow up to A Social Grace or Into The Everflow. Their debut and sophomore release, to me a strange union of Voivod's Killing Technology / Dimension Hatross and Fates Warning's The Spectre Within / Awaken The Guardian, remain black sheep of sorts in the early 90's progressive thrash scene. Even a single listen to "Halo of Thorns" is enough to ruminate on whether A Social Grace is the pinnacle of the movement and where bands such as Watchtower or Coroner were heading.

The God Shaped Void is very much a continuation of Bleeding and to a lesser extent Mosquito with songs relying on less intricate rhythm parts and only soaring to lofty heights of technical complexity at brief bursts. This is especially true of tracks such as "All The Bad Men" or "While The Spiders Spin." At many points, the album's most rewarding material is reliant on melody instead of riffage in much the same way as songs like "Haze One" or "Need" were on previous albums. There's only a few examples on The God Shaped Void where riffs take center stage, such as the solo rhythm during "In The Silence", the most inspired section of the album for me. The album instead relies on typically modern metal components - big thick power chords, slow chugging guitar motifs, and the inclusion of different textural elements such as the flutes on "Demystified" to carry interest. This is emphasized the by the smooth and polished guitar tone of Dan Rock and Brian McAlpin compared to the raw aggressive guitar tone associated with A Social Grace and so I don't see the album sitting well with those keen on the pro/ag-gressive thrash elements of A Social Grace or Into The Everflow. You can count me in that group. 

Devon Graves' vocals are a major factor for me in terms of the album's enjoyment. In one hand, his performance is impeccable and professional, the consummate front man bringing theatricality to the album where it otherwise would come across as flat and uninteresting. On the other hand, there is a lot of vocal effect usage and layering which in a way hides the personality I enjoyed so much on the early albums. Graves' vocals are quite 'in the box' both harmonically and rhythmically as contrasted against the much freer style evident through Mosquito. In part, I don't blame Graves for this; there is only so much room to roam when you're fenced into standard hard rock formats, as these songs are. Gone are the allusions to John Arch's imaginative melodic vision. By comparison, his flute solo in "Pull The Strings" is one of the more enlightened moments of the record, and hearkens back to the experimentation of "Another Prophet Song" and it's tabla percussive elements or "Butterfly" and it's own bizarre foray into Hendrix's "Purple Haze". 

There are only a few tracks which do anything for my daily metal requirements. The first of these is "Back to Black." It retains the modern elements which are carried through the album, but is heightened by a particularly well maneuvered and flowing bridge / chorus. Even though the underlying solo rhythm is standard hard rock fare, the leads over it are enjoyable. "Pull The Strings" is also somewhere in this category, even though it is better evidence of Psychotic Waltz's progressive sensibilities. My favorite track on the record is the closing salvo "In The Silence." It's a slower, moody track which has an underlying driving rhythmic sensibility. Also a highlight for me is the thematic content. Lyrically, the album is well written and for me may be the most enjoyable element. Songs such as "While The Spiders Spin", which focuses on our addiction to technology and paints this major modern issue against the traditional motifs associated with drug addiction, or "In The Silence", questioning our place in the cosmos in the past and in the future, are some of the themes I particularly enjoyed Waltz's take on. Others, such as "All The Bad Men" provide me some material worthy researching (Operation Nightshade?). Other tracks pursue the hopeless situations humans have put themselves in both personally and socially. It's all done with a thoughtful subtlety and nuance.

This is all to say that the album isn't what I had hoped for sonically. The album is high quality modern metal with progressive elements that will appeal to a large portion of fans of progressive metal, but the album is unlikely to get much airtime from me over other 2020 releases, or even other Psychotic Waltz albums. Even limited to only releases by Californians I can name at least two releases from this year which will surely get more playtime - Necrot's Mortal and Cirith Ungol's Forever Black (Another return from the grave record which may be my favorite release of the year). Ultimately, one of the best results of The God Shaped Void for me was revisiting their earlier albums and rediscovering deep cuts like "Out of Mind", "Freakshow", or "Haze One". What is most disconcerting for me is that while there have been such a large influx of bands going after the experimental thrash and progressive thrash elements in the past several years, Psychotic Waltz, a progenitor of the style, have only tangentially provided a frame of reference for their impact on the movement with The God Shaped Void.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Vessel of Iniquity - Void of Infinite Horror

Vessel of Iniquity's debut full length, Void of Infinite Horror shares much with the Vessel of Iniquity EP, however takes a slightly more refined and focused approach to differentiating individual tracks. On the surface, this gives the five tracks a variegated feel, a more complete album experience. In truth, there isn't a significant change in the amount of slow to fast moments, but there is a shift of awareness in how best to utilize them within the saturated noise-black-death metal mixture which lone puppeteer S.P. White is pulling the strings at. The result is a better paced release with it's extremes more heightened allowing for a better semblance of actual tracks, instead of experiments in noise and ebbing melody. In some respects, then, Vessel of Iniquity as a project lost something and gained something; gone is the youthful extreme miasma and welcomed is a mature approach to a genre often lacking focused songwriting. 

To be sure, Void of Infinite Horror retains the harsh forceful black death metal blast-beat madness. This is evident from the starting block; hyper-speed black death metal blasting lifts the listener into a state of transcendence as soon as "Invocation of the Heart Girt With A Serpent" begins. In four minutes, we are afforded time to seek order from the chaos, to find melody where there is none, to pick out moments and heighten them. It's a Where's Waldo type of experience. There are nuances; some higher pitched screeches and wails, several seconds of an empty respite towards the song's tail end, drum fills... but where the self titled EP's blasting hid slower motifs beneath, there are no patient rolling cadences to be found here; it's the only track where there isn't a noticeable languishing component present. 

Second track, "Babylon", takes the opposite approach, playing with contrasts in speed. "Babylon" initially reminds me of Incantation's slowest moments with added atmospherics. It is also similar to "Choronzon" off the EP in it's overall impression. Here, however, the riff itself is slow, the drums are precise drawn out bludgeoning with intervals of space between them. This new rhythmic ground for Vessel of Iniquity to tread on puts S.P. White's creativity on display. The song is atmospheric and memorable; it's the first track which really stands out to my ears. Though a short blitz appears halfway through, the song's overall focus is patient, fetid, and of boroughs unexplored. Followed by another slower composition, "Void of Infinite Sorrow", the album inches forward with a smooth drift at it's heart.

"Mother of Abomination" brings back the speed and blasting up front while the atmosphere slowly pulses and throbs beneath; the juxtaposition is key to Vessel of Iniquity's attempt to tame the chaos. It is as if we have been given a listening test. Will you be overwhelmed by the up front brutal cacophony or will you acclimate to find the song hidden behind the chaos. The album closes with "Once More Into The Abyss," an ambient styled track of echoing and effected tones wavering in and out darkly. The song phases into a harsher tribal vibe before closing out the album. 

Vessel of Iniquity may ultimately be plowing the grounds which bands such as Diocletian have previously tilled, however the quality and breadth of atmospheres present on Void of Infinite Horror does bring something - if not entirely fresh - ripe to the genre. White proves himself to be masterful at giving each track a slow element and a fast element. If the percussive element is blasting away, there is a slow tidal melody hovering not far below in the mix. If the song is rhythmically sluggish, a fast element is incorporated at some point to highlight the slower parts, maybe in a brief period of blasting percussion, maybe in a quickly phasing static harshness - static always appears as a 'fast' texture - which is layered on top the other wise slower elements. In a way then my description of the band as being "funeral doom but opposite" wasn't far off when I reviewed the demo; the band are still rooted in something slow, even if there is a usage of hyper-speed elements to emphasize this.