Where to Start: MeteorCity

Founded in the sun-bleached desert lands of Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1998 by Jadd Shickler (also of the band Spiritu) and Aaron Emmel, the imprint MeteorCity had its humble beginnings supporting a genre of underground rock that, to date, finds kinship among relatively few listeners. The two were new to underground rock. I recall interviewing Shickler years back and he told me that people would ask him if his online store, All That’s Heavy, would be stocking the new Orange Goblin album, and he said, “Yeah, of course!” and promptly set about to discover who the band was. 1998 was, if nothing else, a long time ago.

Along the way, though, MeteorCity became inextricably linked with All That’s Heavy and eventually with the much-missed StonerRock.com, becoming one of the most important heavy rock imprints of the post-Man’s Ruin era. Starting with the first Welcome to MeteorCity compilation in 1998, Shickler and Emmel helped establish what stoner rock became in the wake of Kyuss‘ demise, and albums released from Nebula, Solace, The Atomic Bitchwax, Blind Dog and Eternal Elysium provided a model for bands and other labels alike.

In 2007, Shickler and Emmel said goodbye to the label they started and the scene they helped found, selling the site to Dan and Melanie Beland, who had previously taken over All That is Heavy (now with the full “is”) in addition to hosting StonerRock.com. Their farewell came in the form of another comp, this time the three-disc …And Back to Earth Again — for which I was fortunate enough to have contributed to the liner notes, and which was less an inflation of an ego and a “look what we did, how important we are” than a “I can’t believe how lucky we were to put out so much good music.”

Shickler and Emmel, who were admittedly burned out on the genre, went on to other work, and Dan and Melanie embarked on a string of incredibly strong releases, effectively revitalizing MeteorCity and declaring in no uncertain terms that a new generation of the heavy underground was rising to the fore. Full-lengths by Black Pyramid, ElderSnail and Freedom Hawk (among others) demonstrated that not only was there life in the style, but that the label had its ear to the ground when it came to finding bands and choosing which acts to highlight.

Adopting the ethic of taking on acts with strong self-releases and bringing them under the MeteorCity fold, the imprint released CDs from SardoniS, Egypt, Valkyrie and Dead Man (again, among others), and though StonerRock.com met its demise at the end of last year, the enterprises of MeteorCity and All That is Heavy have continued on into 2011, with the label re-releasing the self-titled debut from Boston duo Olde Growth, the second album from New Keepers of the Water Towers, and most recently, a compilation of vinyl-only and previously-unreleased tracks from Black Pyramid called Stormbringer, with more expected before 2011 is through.

The inevitable question, then, is where to start. If you’re new to the label or maybe have a couple of the discs you picked up along the line, which in their catalog are the most essential releases? Well, here are my picks…

1. Lowrider, Ode to Io (2000): The first and only full-length from this Swedish band has gone on to become one of the most enduring stoner rock records outside of Kyuss‘ discography, and a blueprint for heavy riffers since. Simply one of the best heavy rock records ever made.

2. Solace, Further (2000): It’s hard to pick between the debut and this New Jersey outfit’s second release on MeteorCity, 2003′s 13, but taken in the context of what was happening in rock at the time (anyone remember Limp Bizkit?), Further is even heavier. I don’t think it’s Solace‘s masterpiece, but among the label’s many excellent offerings, it’s still one of the most pivotal.

3. Black Pyramid, Black Pyramid (2009): They’re among the most powerful of the trios in their league of American heavy rockers, specializing in epics not necessarily designated as such for their runtime. Heavy riffs, thick tones, battle axes and twilight demons; it was a rallying cry for the new era of MeteorCity.

4. Snail, Blood (2009): The Seattle outfit reunited after a 16-year absence and released what was unquestionably one of the best albums of its year. Blood boasted stately melodicism alongside classic stoner riffing, and with a follow-up in the works, it nonetheless put Snail in line as one of MCY Mk. II‘s strongest acts.

5. Olde Growth, Olde Growth (2011): I don’t include the self-titled Olde Growth because it’s a landmark release — though it does kick more than its fair share of ass — but rather because it typifies the MeteorCity ethic of supporting underground bands whose passion is contagious. The fact that it makes you want to smash things and headbang yourself into a coma helps too, though. Make no mistake.

Admittedly, there were many others that could have made this list. I still love The Atomic Bitchwax‘s 3 as much as I did the day it was released in 2005. The Spirit Caravan compilation Last Embrace is — if a little overwhelming — a great way to be introduced to one of the most underrated heavy riffing bands ever. Records from Truckfighters, Unida/Dozer, Nebula, Flood, Humo del Cairo, Abdullah and Ararat from both eras of the label are exceptional discoveries waiting for anyone who hasn’t found them yet. Not everything’s gold (I was never a huge fan of Mushroom River Band‘s two records), but it’s one of few imprints out there where you’re pretty much guaranteed that whatever they’re putting out is going to be worth hearing.

If you’ve got picks, leave a comment. What was your first MeteorCity release?

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7 Responses to “Where to Start: MeteorCity”

  1. Thanks for the props JJ! Great work you’re doing here for everyone in the scene.

  2. PostmanDan says:

    Spirit Caravan’s Dreamwheel ep is definitely in the top five. Also the self titled album by The Quill. Good shit.

  3. Bill Goodman says:

    Low Rider’s was the first I heard, the first album from the label I owned was a freebie Dan threw in from an ATIH purchase. The freebie was Egypt’s self titled. One of the best freebies (of many) I’ve received.

  4. darryl says:

    that lowrider album is indeed an amazing album, i need to pull it out again and give it a listen. also, egypt kicks ass. LOVE that album and never would’ve heard of them if not for stonerrock.com.

  5. UKGuy says:

    The even more recent “Welcome Back To MeteorCity” compilation is excellent in my view. I also agree with the comments about Spirit Caravan.

    After the MeteorCity reissue of The Obsessed’s “Lunar Womb” I’d like to see a reissue of “The Church Within”. It’s an awesome album that desperately needs to see the light of day again.

  6. The Unida/Dozer and Nebula/Lowrider split vinyls!!!! Really at top of the infinite stoner-rock story…

  7. kraftwerkd says:

    We’re talking 2003 here, but I think it was Solace’s 13 that to be my first MC listen. That or Lowrider, fuck what an album!

    Ditto about stonerrock.com, shame it’s gone. My whole world changed when I first discovered that site, and changed again the day it disappeared.

    Thank fuck for the Obelisk!

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