Roadburn 2019 Trip Pt. 1: Ascension Day

Posted in Features on April 9th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

roadburn 2019 banner

04.09.19 – 6:32PM EDT – Tuesday Evening – Boston Logan Terminal E

Once more unto the breach, and by the breach I mean the ass-end of Boston Logon International Airport. End of the line. I actually walked past the check-in counter on my way in. Missed it entirely. There was no one there. Dude said the flight was full. Fine. No one here at the gate either. I’m early. Always for flights. Gives me more time to sit around and contemplate mortality amidst the ever-present knowledge that the people who own the aircraft I’ll step into circa whenever and which will spirit me away to Keflavik and Schiphol, respectively, think of me as little more than an impending statistic.

I’ll have a bite to eat in a few minutes and feel closer to human for it, but until the flight boards, it’s this, the Lo-Pan record playing in my headphones — I’ll put Floor on when we board, as tradition dictates — and a whole lot of nothing until takeoff. Oh, I know, I’ll dick around on social media until I find some band news from like four days ago that I totally missed and should’ve put up and wow I’m irrelevant and terrible at this and blah blah blah.

So yeah, I’m ready for Roadburn.

Have been, in fact. There’s a switch that goes off in my head a few weeks before. You know the “holiday season?” I don’t believe in the holiday season, but I do believe in Planet Roadburn, and once every year, I can feel the magnetic forces of the universe aligning as Planet Roadburn makes ready to enter into what we consider “our” dimension for a few days, only to then disappear again and prepare for the next round. All of this happens, and it’s just like the holiday season in that I spend most of my days punching myself in the face every chance I get. Only big difference is the holidays suck and Roadburn is life-affirming. And yes, that’s a big difference.

Dudes be like…

I don’t really have a plan yet. I have the day schedules — here they are:

As usual, Roadburn means hard choices. As unusual, I still need to make mine. I get so hung up on getting to a place on time to take pictures, I end up missing all kinds of bands I’d otherwise try to at least stop in and watch for a couple minutes if I could. Well, no one gives a shit about my photos, so I’m going to try to adjust that balance a bit and maybe do less standing around in front of empty stages this year and a little more enjoying music. We’ll see if my inflated ego and self-importance can take the hit. If you want my bet, I’d say probably no, it can’t. Punch punch punch.

Things I remembered to pack: Pills, laptop, camera, chargers, passport, etc. Shirts. Jeans. Hippie pants. Gum. Protein bars. Advil. Earplugs. I’ve been up since four this morning and I’m dehydrated already and as tired as I’ve ever been on any level you can possibly imagine. So yes, it must be time for Roadburn.

Off I go. In a couple hours.

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GIVEAWAY: Win Tickets to All Them Witches’ March Tour

Posted in Features on February 28th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

all them witches

[To enter giveaway: Leave a comment on this post with the name of the city where you want to see the show. Make sure your email is in the form provided so I can contact you if you win.]

So here’s the deal: All Them Witches start a tour tomorrow of the Midwest and Eastern Seaboard, ranging as far as Minneapolis and Milwaukee, Burlington and Montreal, and Atlanta and Durham. It’s 23 days of total roadtime, as the now-trio continue to support last year’s ATW (review here). I’ve been given the chance to give away a pair of tickets to any of the shows on this tour — they’re all listed below, but obviously, as the tour starts March 1 — aka tomorrow — it’s gotta be done on the quick.

Thus, a rush. If you can go see All Them Witches sometime in the next three-plus weeks, just leave a comment on this post and let me know what city. If you win, I’ll email you and let you know. I’m going to pick a winner as soon as possible this weekend, but if you’re in Atlanta or Charlotte, North Carolina, it might be tricky. I’m not saying don’t enter, but I’m not saying cancel grandpa’s birthday on account of the surefire evening plans either.

Pretty simple deal, all told. Here are the tour dates:

All Them Witches w/ Plague Vendor:
Mar 1 – Atlanta, GA @ Terminal West
Mar 2 – Charlotte, NC @ Visulite Theatre
Mar 5 – Louisville, KY @ Zanzabar
Mar 6 – Indianapolis, IN @ Hi-Fi
Mar 7 – Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall
Mar 8 – Milwaukee, WI @ The Back Room at Colectivo Coffee
Mar 9 – Minneapolis, MN @ Fine Line Music Cafe
Mar 10 – Madison, WI @ High Noon
Mar 12 – Grand Rapids, MI @ The Stache
Mar 13 – Ferndale, MI @ Magic Bag
Mar 14 – Cleveland Heights, OH @ Grog Shop
Mar 15 – Buffalo, NY @ Mohawk Place
Mar 16 – Toronto, ON @ Opera House
Mar 17 – Montreal, QC @ L’Astral
Mar 19 – South Burlington, VT @ Showcase Lounge
Mar 20 – Cambridge, MA @ The Sinclair
Mar 21 – New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
Mar 22 – Philadelphia, PA @ First Unitarian Church
Mar 23 – Washington, DC @ Rock & Roll Hotel
Mar 24 – Durham, NC @ Motorco Music Hall

As ever, I keep no emails, I sell no emails. I have no interest in or knowledge of such things. The only reason I want your email address is to tell you if you win. Thanks for reading and for your support. Good luck to all who enter.

[To enter giveaway: Leave a comment on this post with the name of the city where you want to see the show. Make sure your email is in the form provided so I can contact you if you win.]

http://allthemwitches.bandcamp.com/
http://www.facebook.com/allthemwitches
https://www.instagram.com/allthemwitchesband/
https://twitter.com/allthemwitches
http://www.allthemwitches.org/

All Them Witches, ATW (2018)

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The Top 20 of 2018 Year-End Poll — RESULTS!

Posted in Features on January 1st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

derp

If you’re reading this, congratulations on making it all the way through the existential rollercoaster that was 2018.

I hope you celebrated that year’s end and this year’s beginning in riotous fashion if that’s your thing, and if you’re more the stay-at-home-and-don’t-break-stuff type, I hope that was fun too.

Over the last month, best-of lists have been collected from all around the world and as we move into 2019, it’s time to do the results of the Year-End Poll for 2018.

What a year. As I look back on the lists submitted, of course I can’t help but think how absolutely incredible 2018 was for music. With the world crumbling around, creativity surged, and the quality of output was off the charts. I published my own list last week and was quickly inundated with stuff I forgot or that I missed owing to being robbed earlier this year — I guess I didn’t even realize until the post went up just how much that screwed me — and I’m sure there’s more still out there from what everyone turned in. It’s infinite. It keeps going. Trends change. Sounds change. People change. Creativity flourishes.

But I think if you’re reading this, you know why we’re here. We wound up with somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 discrete releases submitted. That’s more than five for every day of the year. And they came from 547 people, which is amazing. Accordingly, there should be plenty here to keep you busy for a while.

Not exactly suspenseful as to which was the album of the year, but it’s still interesting to see where stuff landed. Just to remind, there are two lists, one of the raw votes, and one in which a 1-4 ranking is worth five points, 5-8 worth four, 9-12 worth three, 13-16 worth two and 17-20 worth one. Thanks as always to Slevin for the help in setting up the back end functionality and compilation scripts.

Let’s go:

Top 20 of 2018 — Weighted Results

sleep the sciences

1. Sleep, The Sciences (1,087 points)
2. YOB, Our Raw Heart (721)
3. High on Fire, Electric Messiah (478)
4. Earthless, Black Heaven (413)
5. King Buffalo, Longing to Be the Mountain (408)
6. Windhand, Eternal Return (387)
7. All Them Witches, ATW (373)
8. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Wasteland (354)
9. Clutch, Book of Bad Decisions (323)
10. Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe (315)
11. Greenleaf, Hear the Rivers (285)
12. Holy Grove, Holy Grove II (274)
13. Graveyard, Peace (225)
14. Brant Bjork, Mankind Woman (222)
15. Weedpecker, III (212)
16. Corrosion of Conformity, No Cross No Crown (197)
17. Monster Magnet, Mindfucker (189)
18. Conan, Existential Void Guardian (188)
19. The Skull, The Endless Road Turns Dark (167)
20. ASG, Survive Sunrise (164)

Honorable Mention:
Messa, Feast for Water (150)
Gozu, Equilibrium (148)
Judas Priest, Firepower (148)
Naxatras, III (148)
Forming the Void, Rift (146)

I’m not saying everyone had to love the Sleep record, but there’s no way it wasn’t the biggest underground heavy release of the year. That top spot was established the first day the poll went up and while YOB caught up as both neared 100 votes, there was no doubt how it would ultimately shake out. It was pretty clear early on what people were passionate about, but there are some interesting differences between the raw vote and the weighted results even high on the list, as you’ll see below.

Top 20 of 2018 — Raw Votes

sleep the sciences

1. Sleep, The Sciences (263 votes)
2. YOB, Our Raw Heart (185)
3. High on Fire, Electric Messiah (141)
4. Windhand, Eternal Return (115)
5. Earthless, Black Heaven (109)
6. King Buffalo, Longing to Be the Mountain (102)
7. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Wasteland (101)
8. All Them Witches, ATW (95)
8. Clutch, Book of Bad Decisions (95)
9. Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe (93)
10. Greenleaf, Hear the Rivers (77)
10. Holy Grove, Holy Grove II (77)
11. Graveyard, Peace (69)
12. Brant Bjork, Mankind Woman (67)
13. Weedpecker, III (63)
14. Monster Magnet, Mindfucker (57)
14. Conan, Existential Void Guardian (57)
15. Corrosion of Conformity, No Cross No Crown (54)
16. The Skull, The Endless Road Turns Dark (50)
17. ASG, Survive Sunrise (48)
18. Gozu, Equilibrium (46)
19. Forming the Void, Rift (45)
20. Judas Priest, Firepower (43)
20. Khemmis, Bloodletting (43)
20. Mos Generator, Shadowlands (43)
20. Orange Goblin, The Wolf Bites Back (43)

Honorable Mention:
Messa, Feast for Water (41)
Domkraft, Flood (40)
Naxatras, III (40)
Thou, Magus (40)

Everything else got fewer than 40 raw votes. Why cap it at 40? I don’t know. Good a place as any. And when a top 20 has 26 releases on it, I don’t imagine there will be too many complaints about not enough stuff being included. One can hope, anyhow. You can see the difference between Sleep and everyone else here as well, a pretty precipitous drop after both them and YOB, and YOB and High on Fire — the top three being well ahead of everyone else in terms of general agreement.

The ‘Respect the Hustle’ Award

Somewhere around the middle of the month, I noticed a massive surge of votes for a band called Entropía and their debut album, Invisible. A bunch of people with lists of 20 just including Entropía. I’ve included them below, you can see them. I didn’t know what was up, whether it was the band spamming the vote or what, so I sent them a message. Turns out they had sent the link to their email list and asked for votes, and that’s how they all got in. Well, okay.

They wound up with well over 750 raw votes (to remind, Sleep got 263), and it didn’t feel representative to have them be album of the year, but hey, I respect the hustle, so they get the award accordingly. Nicely done, folks. I’ve been doing Year-End Polls since like 2010 and that’s never happened before. Their totals were 2,367 points and 777 votes.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading. Whether this is the only post you’ve seen this year or you click ‘Like’ on everything that comes across your Facebook feed, your support is tremendously appreciated. This is the only post that will go up today, but we’ll be back to business as usual tomorrow, and in the meantime, you’ll find everybody’s list included after the jump.

All the best for 2019.

Read more »

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2018

Posted in Features on December 20th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

the-top-30-of-2018

Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2018 to that, please do.

It just wouldn’t be a year if it wasn’t completely overwhelming, right?

2018 has certainly met that standard and then some. The swath of output, whether it’s a new generation adopting and adapting established methods or out and out reinventing the stylistic wheel and then pushing it uphill on a seemingly endless barrage of tours, has been staggering, and it’s still happening. There’s a little more than a week to go in the year. You think a band isn’t putting something out today? Of course they are. It’s every day. It’s all the time.

But this year wasn’t just about quantity either. I think one of my biggest struggles in writing about albums in 2018 — and with the last Quarterly Review and various premieres and video posts that were basically album reviews in disguise, let’s estimate we’re somewhere past 300 records reviewed one way or another — was in conveying just how killer so much of the stuff coming through was. How many times can you say the word “awesome?” Well, I’m sure we’ll see it a few more times before this list is over, so there you go.

I say something like this every time I do a list, but please keep in mind these are my picks and I’m one person. But I am a person. I know there’s the whole internet-anonymity thing, but I assure you, I’m a human being (more of a cave troll, really) typing these words. I’m all for everyone sharing their own picks in the comments, and all for passionate advocating, but please, let’s keep it civil and respectful. These things can spiral out of control quickly, but let’s remember that we’re all human beings and worth of basic courtesy, even if some of us are dead wrong about a good many things. You should definitely punch nazis, though.

Thanks in advance for reading. Here we go:

[UPDATE: You’ll notice the inclusion of an ’18a.’ I had Stoned Jesus in my notes as number 18 initially and they got dropped as I was adjusting things along the way. I’ve added them back in, but it didn’t seem fair to bump everyone else down after the post had already been published. That was the best I could come up with for a solution. If you’re pissed about one more killer record being added, please feel free to email me and tell me all about it.]

30. The Skull, The Endless Road Turns Dark

The Skull The Endless Road Turns Dark

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

Chicago’s The Skull had no small task before them in following up their 2014 debut, For Those Which are Asleep (review here) — let alone living up to their pedigree — but their second album demonstrated a creative growth that sacrificed nothing of memorability when it came to songs like “Breathing Underwater” and “All that Remains (Is True).” They got down to work and got the job done, which is what a working band does. 2018 was by any measure a fantastic year for doom, and The Skull were a big part of why.

29. Foghound, Awaken to Destroy

foghound awaken to destroy

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Nov. 21.

The Dec. 2017 murder of Rev. Jim Forrester was tragic. No other way to say it. Foghound, who were in the midst of making Awaken to Destroy at the time, put together an album that not only features Forrester‘s last recorded performance, but pays respect to his memory while the wound is still raw and manages to kick ass all the while. It’s a record that can’t ever be divorced from its circumstances — just can’t — and so it can be a heavy listen in more than just its tones, but it’s basically Foghound proving they’re unstoppable. And so they are.

28. Orange Goblin, The Wolf Bites Back

orange goblin the wolf bites back

Released by Spinefarm Records. Reviewed June 13.

Who among us here today is not a sucker for Orange Goblin? Come forward an be judged. I mean, really. Nine records deep, the London sceneforgers are nothing less than an institution, beloved by boozehounds, riffhounds, doomhounds, and really, a wide variety of hounds the world over. Also dudes. With its essential title-track hook and highlight cuts in “Ghosts of the Primitives” and “Burn the Ships” — or, you know, any of them — they added to one of heavy’s most unshakable legacies with an album as furious as it is welcoming to its generations-spanning fanbase.

27. Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe

fu manchu clone of the universe
Released by At the Dojo Records. Reviewed Feb. 15.

There are two kinds of people in this world, and they’re both Fu Manchu fans. Clone of the Universe turned heads with a guest appearance from Rush‘s Alex Lifeson on the 18-minute side-B-consuming “Il Mostro Atomico,” but really to focus on that instead of “Intelligent Worship,” “(I’ve Been) Hexed,” “Don’t Panic,” “Slower than Light,” etc., is only seeing half the point of the album in the first place. The long-running lords of fuzz hit a new stride with 2014’s Gigantoid (review here), and Clone of the Universe was in every way a worthy successor.

26. Witch Mountain, Witch Mountain

Witch-Mountain-Witch-Mountain
Released by Svart Records. Reviewed May 16.

It was an unenviable task before Witch Mountain in replacing vocalist Uta Plotkin, but founding guitarist Rob Wrong and drummer Nathan Carson found the right voice in Kayla Dixon and solidified the lineup with her and bassist Justin Brown enough to make a declarative statement in Witch Mountain‘s self-titled LP. That’s the story of it. They pulled it off. Met with what was unquestionably a bummer circumstance, they pushed through and moved their sound forward through a new beginning — and not their first one. Watch out when their next record hits.

25. Windhand, Eternal Return

windhand eternal return

Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed Oct. 3.

Richmond, Virginia, doomers Windhand‘s second collaboration with producer Jack Endino produced a marked and purposeful expansion of their sound, encompassing classic grunge influences and a heavy psychedelic swirl that added color their previously-greyscale sonic haze. Resonant in tone and emotionalism, Eternal Return readjusted Windhand‘s trajectory in such a manner that, where one might’ve thought they knew where the band were headed in terms of their progression, they’ve made themselves a less predictable outfit on the whole. For that alone, it’s a triumph. Then you have the songs.

24. Sun Voyager, Seismic Vibes

Sun Voyager Seismic Vibes

Released by King Pizza Records. Reviewed April 18.

I don’t even want to admit how long I was waiting for Sun Voyager‘s first long-player to show up, but when it finally did, the New York trio did not disappoint. Catchy, energetic, fuzzed-out tunes with driving rhythms and a heavy psych flourish, they tapped into shoegaze and desert vibes without losing any sense of themselves in the process, and if the extra wait was so they could be so remarkably coherent in their expression on their full-length, then I wouldn’t want it to have shown up any sooner. An easy pick to stand among 2018’s best debut albums. Now to wait for the next one.

23. Forming the Void, Rift

forming the void rift

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed July 27.

It should tell you something that after working quickly to produce three albums, Louisiana’s Forming the Void are still defined by their potential. If I had my druthers, I’d put the recent Ripple signees on tour for the bulk of 2019, across the US and in Europe for festivals and support-slot club shows, really give them an opportunity to hammer out who they are as a band and then hit the studio for LP four. I don’t know if that’ll happen, but they’d only be doing the universe a favor by kicking into that gear. As it stands, their progression is palpable in their material and they stand absolutely ready for whatever the next level might be for them.

22. Spaceslug, Eye the Tide

spaceslug eye the tide

Released by BSFD Records and Oak Island Records. Reviewed June 29.

Aside from the speed at which Spaceslug have turned around offerings — with Eye the Tide following 2017’s Mountains and Reminiscence EP (review here) and Time Travel Dilemma (review here) full-length and their 2016 debut, Lemanis (review here) — the Polish outfit have undertaken significant progression in their sound, moving from pure heavy psychedelic warmth to incorporating elements out of extreme metal as they did on Eye the Tide. Adding to the latest record’s accomplishment is the smoothness with which they brought seemingly opposing sides together, only adding depth to an approach already worthy of oceanic comparison.

21. Conan, Existential Void Guardian

Conan Existential Void Guardian
Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 14.

Conan‘s reign of terror has been unfolding for more than a decade now, and each of their albums has become a kind of step along a path of incremental growth. Consider the melody creeping into the shouts of founding guitarist Jon Davis, or the emergence of bassist Chris Fielding as a vocal presence alongside, the two sharing a frontman role more than ever before while welcoming drummer Johnny King to the fold of destructive tonality and doomly extremism. Existential Void Guardian may end up just being another stomp-print on their way to the next thing, but it affirmed the fact that as much as Conan grow each time out, their central violence continues to hold sway.

20. Pale Divine, Pale Divine

PALE DIVINE S/T
Released by Shadow Kingdom Records. Reviewed Nov. 21.

Look. A new Pale Divine record doesn’t come along every day, so yeah, their self-titled was probably going to be on my list one way or the other, but it definitely helps that not only was it their first outing in six years since 2012’s Painted Windows Black (review here), but it had the songs to live up to a half-decade-plus of anticipation. It marked the first studio appearance from bassist/backing vocalist Ron “Fezz” McGinnis alongside guitarist Greg Diener and drummer Darin McCloskey — now both of Beelzefuzz as well — and made a strong argument for how much Pale Divine deserve more than 20 years on from their initial demo to be considered classic American doom.

19. Mos Generator, Shadowlands

mos generator shadowlands
Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed May 11.

The return and rise to prominence of Washington pure heavy rockers Mos Generator might be the underground’s feelgood story of the decade, but it hasn’t by any means been easily won. In addition to rebuilding the band however many albums ago, guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed has put in innumerable hours on tour and worked to actually develop the group creatively in addition to in terms of stage presence. This is shown throughout some of the classic prog elements making their way onto Shadowlands, and perhaps some of the collection’s moodier aspects are born of the aforementioned road time as well. Hard for that kind of thing not to be a slog after a while, but at least they have killer tunes to play.

18a. Stoned Jesus, Pilgrims

STONED JESUS PILGRIMS

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 5.

The only safe bet about Stoned Jesus‘ fourth long-player, Pilgrims, was that it was going to sound different than the third. That 2015 outing, The Harvest (review here), preceded the band touring to celebrate the fifth anniversary and after-the-fact success of 2012’s Seven Thunders Roar (review here), but Pilgrims defied narrative in that instead of incorporating elements from the second record in more of a heavy psych or jam sound, Stoned Jesus instead showcased a tighter, more sureheaded sense of craft than they’ve ever displayed before, and arrived on Napalm Records with a collection of songs that demonstrated the growth and sense of creative will that drives them. While one can take a look at their moniker and think immediately they know what’s coming, Stoned Jesus have made themselves one of the least predictable bands in heavy rock.

18. Backwoods Payback, Future Slum

backwoods payback future slum

Self-released. Reviewed Aug. 15.

“Pirate Smile.” “Lines.” “Whatever.” “It Ain’t Right.” “Threes.” “Cinderella.” “Generals.” “Big Enough.” “Alone.” “Lucky. Mike Cummings, Jessica Baker, Erik Larson. Every player, every song, every minute. If you want to know what heart-on-sleeve sounds like, it fucking sounds like Backwoods Payback. In their line from hardcore punk to grunge to heavy rock, they encompass experiences and emotionalism that are both shown in raw form throughout Future Slum, and build all the while on the chemistry they set out in developing with 2016’s Fire Not Reason (review here), when they welcomed Larson to the lineup on drums and revitalized their mission. Also worth noting, they were the best live band I saw this year. Anywhere.

17. Corrosion of Conformity, No Cross No Crown

corrosion of conformity no cross no crown

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Jan. 3

No question the excitement of C.O.C. putting out their first record with frontman Pepper Keenan involved since 2005’s In the Arms of God was one of this year’s top stories in heavy. And No Cross No Crown tapped directly into the spirit of 1994’s Deliverance (discussed here) and 1996’s Wiseblood (discussed here) in terms of direction, while updating the band’s style with a four-part 2LP in mind. In some ways, it’ll be their next album that really gives listeners a sense of where they’re at and where they might be headed, but as welcome returns go, having Keenan alongside Mike DeanWoody Weatherman and Reed Mullin is in no way to be understated, and neither is the quality of their output together, then and now.

16. Naxatras, III

naxatras iii

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 14.

It is no simple feat to hypnotize an audience and convey serenity while at the same time holding attention with songcraft, so that the listener isn’t actually so much unconscious as malleable of mood and spirit in such a direction as the band suggests. Greek trio Naxatras have worked quickly to become experts at this, and their third full-length fosters tonal warmth and jammy progressions with an overarching naturalism that finds them so committed to analog recording that one can buy direct transfers of the tape master of III. Some acts take classic-style practices as an aesthetic choice. With Naxatras, it seems to be the stuff of life, yet their sound is only vibrant and human in a way that, at least one hopes, is even more representative of the future than the past.

15. Clutch, Book of Bad Decisions

clutch book of bad decisions

Released by Weathermaker Music. Reviewed Aug. 27.

It was time for Clutch to make a change in producers, and the Maryland overlords of groove seemed to know it. Known as a live band, they went with Vance Powell, who’s known a live band producer. The results on Book of Bad Decisions might not have been so earth-shatteringly different from 2015’s Psychic Warfare (review here), which was the too-soon follow-up to 2013’s Earth Rocker (review here) — both helmed by Machine — but the inimitable four-piece indeed succeeded in capturing the electricity of their stage performance and, as ever, treated fans to a collection of songs bearing Clutch‘s unmistakable hallmarks of quirky lyrics, funky rhythms and heavy roll. They may always be a live band, but Clutch‘s studio work is in no way to be discounted, ever, as this record reaffirmed. Plus, crab cakes.

14. Ancestors, Suspended in Reflections

Ancestors Suspended in Reflections

Released by Pelagic Records. Reviewed Aug. 3.

After 2012’s In Dreams and Time (review here), I wasn’t sure Ancestors were going to put out another record. They kicked around word of one for a while, but it wasn’t until the end of last year that it really seemed to congeal into a possibility. And by then, who the hell knew what they might get up to on a full-length? With Suspended in Reflections, in some says, they picked up where they left off in terms of finding a niche for themselves in progressive and melodic heavy, but I think the time showed in the poise of their execution and the control of the material. Suspended in Reflections can’t help but be six years more mature than its predecessor, and that suits its contemplative feel. In tracks like “Gone,” and “The Warm Glow,” they tempered their expansive sound with an efficiency that can only be had with time.

13. High on Fire, Electric Messiah

high on fire electric messiah

Released by eOne Heavy. Reviewed Sept. 28.

The narrative here was hard to beat. Matt Pike spending an album cycle talking about Lemmy Kilmister and paying homage to his dirt-rock forebear and the gods of old? It doesn’t get much more perfect than that. Electric Messiah was the third collaboration between High on Fire and producer Kurt Ballou behind 2015’s Luminiferous (review here) and 2012’s De Vermiis Mysteriis (review here), and while it seemed after the last record that the formula might be getting stale, the band only sounded more and more lethal throughout the latest offering. Even putting aside their contributions to underground heavy, they’ve become one of the most essential metal bands of their generation. Metal, period. Doesn’t matter what subgenre you’re talking about it. If you’re listening to High on Fire, you know it. Usually because you’ve just been decapitated.

12. Yawning Man, The Revolt Against Tired Noises

yawning man the revolt against tired noises

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed July 2.

You know, if you take the time to separate Yawning Man from their 30-plus-year history and their legacy as one of the foundational acts of what later became desert rock, and you listen to The Revolt Against Tired Noises, you’re still left with basically a dream of an album. Mostly instrumental, as is their wont, they nonetheless had bassist Mario Lalli (also Fatso Jetson) sing this time around on a version of the previously-unreleased “Catamaran,” which Kyuss covered once upon a whenever although Yawning Man had never officially put it to tape. But really, that and all other novelty aside, guitarist Gary Arce, Lalli and drummer Bill Stinson are a chemistry unto themselves. I don’t know if they’ll ever be as huge as they should be, but every bit of acclaim they get, they’ve earned, and if The Revolt Against Tired Noises helps them get it, all the more so.

11. Greenleaf, Hear the Rivers

greenleaf hear the rivers

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Nov. 26.

Swedish heavy rock mavens Greenleaf have become an entirely different band than they once were. No longer a Dozer side-project from guitarist Tommi Holappa with a rotating cast of players, they’re a solidified, road-tested, powerhouse unit, and Hear the Rivers bleeds soul as a result. Holappa, frontman Arvid Hällagård, bassist Hans Fröhlich and drummer Sebastian Olsson sound like they’re absolutely on fire in the album’s tracks, and far from being staid or formulaic as one might expect a sixth long-player to be, Hear the Rivers built on what the band accomplished with 2016’s Rise Above the Meadow (review here) and came across as all the more vital and nearly frenetic in their energy. I won’t say Greenleaf has seen their last lineup change, because one never knows, but the band as they are today is the realization of potential I don’t think even Greenleaf knew was there.

10. Gozu, Equilibrium

gozu equilibrium

Released by Blacklight Media / Metal Blade Records. Reviewed April 4.

Five records deep into a career into its second decade, Gozu haven’t had a miss yet. Admittedly, some of their early work can seem formative considering where they are now, but still. And after the 2016 rager, Revival (review here), to have the band return to the same studio — Wild Arctic in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where strides producer Dean Baltulonis — for the follow-up allows for the four-piece to directly show how their sound has grown more encompassing in the last couple years. And it has. Equilibrium is a rich and varied listen that holds true to Gozu‘s well-established penchant for soulful vibes and crunching, hard-hitting riffs and groove, but while it shares the directness of approach with Revival, it makes moves that a band could only make moving from one record to the next. I expect nothing less their next time out as well, because a decade later, that’s Gozu‘s proven track record.

9. Monster Magnet, Mindfucker

monster magnet mindfucker
Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 23.

The battle for the best album title of 2018 ended early when New Jersey everything-rockers Monster Magnet announced the release of Mindfucker. And what else to call a Monster Magnet LP at this point? They’ve stopped writing to genre. They’re driven by the creative mania of frontman/founder Dave Wyndorf, and they’ve seen psychedelic expanses and commercial success the likes of which would serve the tenure of four lesser bands. What’s left to do but whatever the hell you want? So that’s what Monster Magnet are doing. It just so happens that while they’re doing it, they’re still basically outclassing the entirety of the former planet earth as songwriters. As Monster Magnet fan in 2018, there was nothing more I could’ve asked than what Mindfucker delivered. And if you’re still trying to get your brain around it however many months later, you’re not alone. I think that’s the idea.

8. Apostle of Solitude, From Gold to Ash

Apostle of Solitude From Gold to Ash

Released by Cruz del Sur Music. Reviewed Feb. 20.

Best doom album of 2018. The combination of craft and passion behind the delivery. The way the dark tones fed into the emotions so clearly on display and sheer presence of it in listening to songs like “Keeping the Lighthouse,” “Ruination by Thy Name” and “My Heart is Leaving Here.” Apostle of Solitude never seem to be the highest profile band out there, but their work seems never to be anything less than outstanding, and I refuse to accept them as anything less than among the most pivotal American acts out there making traditional doom. And not just making it, but making it their own, with a sense of new pursuits and individualism that extends to playing style as well as atmosphere. I know doom isn’t exactly in short supply these days — figuratively or literally — but if you miss out on what Apostle of Solitude are doing with it, you’ll only regret it later. I’ll say it one more time: Best doom album of 2018.

7. Holy Grove, Holy Grove II

holy grove ii
Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 31.

Every now and again, anticipating the crap of an album really pays off, and such was the case with Holy Grove II, the Ripple Music debut from the Portland outfit whose 2016 self-titled (review here) seemed like such a herald of excellence to come while also, you know, being killer. Holy Grove II brought the four-piece of vocalist Andrea Vidal, guitarist Trent Jacobs, bassist Gregg Emley and drummer Eben Travis to entirely new levels of composition and execution. In songs like “Blade Born,” the shorter, sharper “Aurora,” the patiently rolling “Valley of the Mystics,” “Solaris” and closer “Cosmos,” which boasted a not-really-necessary-but-definitely-welcome guest vocal appearance from YOB‘s Mike Scheidt, — and oh wait, that’s all of the tracks — Holy Grove entered a different echelon. Anticipation will likewise be high for Holy Grove III, but it’ll be hard to complain with this record to keep company in the meantime.

6. All Them Witches, ATW

all them witches atw
Released by New West Records. Reviewed Sept. 18.

Over five All Them Witches albums, the Nashville four-piece have gone from a nascent heavy Americana jam band to one of the most distinct acts in the US underground. Their development in sound is chemistry-driven, so it was a risk when the founding trio of bassist/vocalist Charles Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod (who also produced) and drummer Robby Staebler welcomed new keyboardist Jonathan Draper into the lineup to take the place of Allan van Cleave. Amid a more naturalist production than that of 2017’s Sleeping Through the War (review here), the revamped four-piece flourished in terms of songwriting and conveying their stage-born sonic personae. From the gleeful fuckery of opener “Fishbelly 86 Onions” to the memorable moodiness of “Diamond” and the back-end jam “Harvest Feast” en route to the stretched-out end of “Rob’s Dream,” All Them Witches essentially confirmed they could do whatever they wanted and make it work.

5. YOB, Our Raw Heart

yob our raw heart
Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed June 7.

Actually, if you want a sample of YOB‘s raw heart, the place to go is probably 2014’s Clearing the Path to Ascend (review here), but whatever the Eugene, Oregon, shapers of cosmic doom might’ve lacked in titular accuracy on their eighth long-player, they made up for in a new, statesman-like posture. Their approach was mature, hammered out to a professionalism working completely on its own terms, and they never sounded so sure of who they are as a band or as confident of their direction. In extended cuts “Beauty in Falling Leaves” and “Our Raw Heart,” they explored new and progressive textures and melodies, and managed to reaffirm their core aspects while finding room for conveying emotion that came across as nothing but ultimately sincere. They have been and still are one of a kind, and as they continue to move forward, they remain a band that makes one feel lucky to be alive to witness their work. Our Raw Heart was perhaps more refined than it let on, but the heart was there for sure, as always.

4. Brant Bjork, Mankind Woman

brant bjork mankind woman

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Sept. 13.

I’m not going to say I wasn’t a fan of the (relatively) harder-hitting approach Brant Bjork and his Low Desert Punk Band took on 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here) and 2016’s Tao of the Devil (review here), but Mankind Woman brought in some more of his soul influences, and whether it was the subtly subversive funk of “Chocolatize” and “Brand New Old Times” or the callout “1968” and laid back vibes of the title-track and “Swagger and Sway,” Bjork — working with guitarist Bubba DuPree on songwriting and production — offered a definitive look at what has made his 20-year solo career so special and demonstrates not only his longevity and his legacy, but his will to continue to progress as an artist honing his craft. His discography is well populated by now to be sure, but Mankind Woman represents a turn from the last couple records, and if it’s in any way portentous of things to come, it bodes well. Bjork is right at home nestled into classic-style grooves, and his legacy as one of the principal architects of desert rock is continually reaffirmed.

3. Earthless, Black Heaven

earthless black heaven

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed March 15.

They’ve been great, not just good, for a long time now, and as forerunners of the San Diego heavy scene, they’re godfathers to an up and coming generation of bands taking their influence — let alone acts from the rest of the world — but Black Heaven is a special moment for them because of its departure. No, it wasn’t not the first time guitarist Isaiah Mitchell sang on an Earthless recording, but it did represent a tip of the balance in that direction for the band on a studio full-length, and that resulted in a special moment. Album opener “Gifted by the Wind” was one of the best songs I heard this year, and while “End to End” and the all-thrust “Volt Rush” affirmed that more traditional songwriting was well within the grasp of Mitchell, bassist Mike Eginton and drummer Mario Rubalcaba, they still found space for a sprawling jam or two, keeping their claim on the instrumentalism that’s (largely) fueled their tenure to date. Earthless don’t want for acclaim, but every bit of it is earned, and while their primary impact has always been live, Black Heaven saw them construct a traditional-style LP that still bore the hallmarks of their collective personality. It was the best of all worlds.

2. King Buffalo, Longing to Be the Mountain

king buffalo longing to be the mountain
Self-released/released by Stickman Records. Reviewed Sept. 27.

In the dark early hours of 2018, the Rochester, New York, trio of guitarist/vocalist Sean McVay, bassist Dan Reynolds and drummer Scott Donaldson issued the Repeater EP (review here) as a follow-up to their 2016 debut, Orion (review here), so Longing to Be the Mountain didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, but even with Repeater preceding its arrival, I don’t think anyone necessary expected King Buffalo‘s second album to have such a scope or to be so engrossing with it. In its melody, patience, atmosphere and heft, it was an absolute joy to behold. Its songs were memorable at the same time they were far-reaching, and while Orion was already my pick for the best debut of 2016, Longing to Be the Mountain realized even more potential than that record had hinted toward. It could be intimate or majestic at its whim, and its dynamic set an individual characterization of heavy psychedelia and blues-style sprawl that the band wholly owned. With production by Ben McLeod of All Them Witches behind them, they worked to serve notice of a progression undertaken the results of which are already staggering and still seem to be looking ahead to the next stage, literally and figuratively. One of the principal standards I use in constructing this list every year is what I listen to most. That’s this record.

1. Sleep, The Sciences

sleep the sciences

Released by Third Man Records. Reviewed May 1.

Obviously, right? To some extent, when Sleep surprise-announced on April 19 they’d release their first album in 15 years the next day, and then did, they took ownership of 2018. Even with records still to come at that point from YOB and Sleep guitarist Matt Pike‘s own High on Fire, there was no way that when the end of the year came around, it wasn’t going to be defined by the advent of a new Sleep record. And even if it sucked, it would probably still be Album of the Year, but fortunately, as Pike, bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros (also Om) and drummer Jason Roeder (also Neurosis) took their long-running stage reunion to the studio, they brought material that highlighted the best elements from all players. Pike‘s wild soloing, Cisneros‘ meditative vocals and Roeder‘s intricate but smooth style of roll all came together in older pieces like “Antarcticans Thawed” and “Sonic Titan” and newer highlights “Giza Butler” and “Marijuanaut’s Theme,” and aside from the excitement at their existence, they showed the mastery of form that Sleep had been demonstrating live since 2009 and which they hinted toward in the 2014 single, The Clarity (review here). A new Sleep full-length was something long-discussed, long-rumored and long-considered, but when it finally happened, I think the results vaporized expectation in a way no one could’ve anticipated. There’s a reason Sleep are Sleep. Having The Sciences as a reminder of that brought about the defining moment of 2018.

The Next 20

Indeed, it wouldn’t be much of a Top 30 at all if it didn’t go to 50. Don’t try to make sense of it, just look at the records.

31. Atavismo, Valdeinfierno
32. Grayceon, IV
33. Clamfight, III
34. Seedy Jeezus, Polaris Oblique
35. Megaton Leviathan, Mage
36. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Wasteland
37. Arcadian Child, Superfonica
38. Freedom Hawk, Beast Remains
39. The Machine, Faceshift
40. Messa, Feast for Water
41. Black Rainbows, Pandaemonium
42. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Science Fiction
43. Domkraft, Flood
44. Träden, Träden
45. Mythic Sunship, Another Shape of Psychedelic Music
46. Samavayo, Vatan
47. Foehammer, Second Sight
48. Bongripper, Terminal
49. Mansion, First Death of the Lutheran
50. Sunnata, Outlands
51. Chubby Thunderous Bad Kush Masters, Come and Chutney

Believe me when I tell you, I sweated over this section more than I did the actual top 30. Mansion should be higher. So should Chubby Thunderous, though something in me thought they might like being #50 on a list of 30. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Clamfight, Black Rainbows, Foehammer, Seedy Jeezus, Messa, Domkraft. All of these were fucking awesome. And there are more (we’ll get there). Eventually numbers add up. I won’t say a bad word about any of these. That’s it.

Honorable Mention

This section always winds up expanded as other people point out things I missed and so on, but here’s what I’ve got in the immediate, alphabetically:

  • Alms, Act One
  • Ape Machine, Darker Seas
  • Belzebong, Light the Dankness
  • Black Moon Circle, Psychedelic Spacelord
  • Blackwater Holylight, Blackwater Holylight
  • Bong, Thought and Existence
  • Carpet, About Rooms and Elephants
  • Churchburn, None Shall Live… The Hymns of Misery
  • Deadbird, III: The Forest Within the Tree
  • Dead Meadow, The Nothing They Need
  • Death Alley, Superbia
  • Drug Cult, Drug Cult
  • Dunbarrow, II
  • Electric Citizen, Helltown
  • Eagle Twin, The Thundering Heard: Songs of Hoof and Horn
  • Evoken, Hypnagogia
  • Funeral Horse, Psalms for the Mourning
  • Fuzz Evil, High on You
  • Graven, Heirs of Discord
  • Graveyard, Peace
  • Green Dragon, Green Dragon
  • Green Druid, Ashen Blood
  • Here Lies Man, You Will Know Nothing
  • High Priestess, High Priestess
  • Horehound, Holocene
  • IAH, II
  • JIRM, Surge ex Monumentis
  • Killer Boogie, Acid Cream
  • Lonely Kamel, Death’s Head Hawkmoth
  • MaidaVale, Madness is Too Pure
  • Moab, Trough
  • Mountain Dust, Seven Storms
  • Mouth, Floating
  • Mr. Plow, Maintain Radio Silence
  • T.G. Olson, Earthen Pyramid
  • Onségen Ensemble, Duel
  • Orango, Evergreen
  • Owl, Nights in Distortion
  • Pushy, Hard Wish
  • Rifflord, 7 Cremation Ground/Meditation
  • River Cult, Halcyon Daze
  • Rotor, Sechs
  • Somali Yacht Club, The Sea
  • Sumac, Love in Shadow
  • Sundrifter, Visitations
  • Svvamp, Svvamp II
  • Thou, Magus
  • Thunder Horse, Thunder Horse
  • Weedpecker, III

Special Note

Somehow it didn’t seem appropriate to include these in the list proper because they’re not really underground releases, but there were two more records I especially wanted to highlight for their quality:

  • Alice in Chains, Rainier Fog
  • Judas Priest, Firepower

Best Short Release of the Year

Normally I’d do this as a separate post, but as a result of being robbed earlier this year, I feel like my list is woefully incomplete. If you have any demos, EPs, splits, singles, etc., to add to it, please feel free to do so in the comments below. Still, the top pick was clear:

  • Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard & Slomatics, Totems Split

Rarely do two bands work in such coherent tandem to their mutual benefit. Here are a few other essential short releases for 2018, alphabetically:

  • All Them Witches, Lost and Found
  • Alunah, Amber & Gold
  • Canyon, Mk II
  • Demon Head, The Resistence
  • Destroyer of Light, Hopeless
  • Ecstatic Vision, Under the Influence
  • Godmaker & Somnuri, Split
  • Holy Mushroom, Blood and Soul
  • King Buffalo, Repeater
  • Minsk & Zatokrev, Split
  • Sleep, Leagues Beneath
  • Stonus, Lunar Eclipse
  • Sundecay, Gale

Looking Forward

A good many albums have already been announced or hinted at for 2019. I in no way claim this to be a complete roundup of what’s coming, but here’s what I have in my notes so far, in absolutely no order:

Kings Destroy, Lo-Pan, Cities of Mars, Heavy Temple, Mr. Peter Hayden, Curse the Son, High Fighter, Destroyer of Light, Year of the Cobra, Buffalo Fuzz, Zaum, The Sonic Dawn, Alunah, Candlemass, Elepharmers, Grandier, Dorre, Abrahma, Mars Red Sky, Eternal Black, Elephant Tree, Atala, No Man’s Valley, Sun Blood Stories, Crypt Sermon, The Riven, Hibrido, Snail, Red Beard Wall, 11Paranoias, Dead Witches, Monte Luna, Captain Caravan (LP), Swallow the Sun, Oreyeon, Motorpsycho, Vokonis, Hexvessel, Saint Vitus, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Kind, Mastiff, Shadow Witch, Om.

Okay, That’s It

Yeah, no, I’m serious. List is done. Everybody go back to your lives. Your families miss you.

Really though, while this is by no means my last post of 2018, I can’t let it pass without saying thank you so much to everyone for checking out the site this year, or for just digging into this, or for sending me music, or hitting me up on social media, sharing a link, anything. Thank you. Thank you. I could never have imagined when it started out where it would be now. Or that I’d still be doing it. Your support means more to me than I can say, and I thank you so much for being a part of this with me.

So thanks.

If you have something to add to the list, please do so by leaving a comment below, but keep in mind as well the above note requesting civility. Please don’t make me feel stupid because I forgot your favorite record. I forgot a lot of people’s favorite records. I’m one dude. I’m doing my best.

And please keep in mind if you’ve got a list together that the Year-End Poll is open and results will be out Jan. 1.

Everybody have a great and safe 2019.

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Six Dumb Questions & Video Premiere: Switchblade Jesus

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Six Dumb Questions on December 19th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

switchblade jesus

I’ve had occasion to see Switchblade Jesus live twice now, and I can attest to the asskickery you’re about to see in the live video below. In particular, the Texans’ performance earlier this year at the Maryland Doom Fest (review here) stood out to me as bringing a new dynamic to their sound and showcasing the progression they’ve undertaken since the release half a decade ago of their self-titled debut (review here), an album that garnered pervasive hyperbole for its Southern metal groove and found them aligned to Bilocation Records and Ripple Music in succession, the latter of which also late last year issued The Second Coming of Heavy: Chapter 7 (review here), a split that Switchblade Jesus shared with Fuzz Evil, which was only fitting as the Arizonans hosted the Corpus Christi outfit at the 2016 Borderland Fuzz Fiesta (review here).

It’s been a wild and bumpy few years for Switchblade Jesus, as guitarist/vocalist Eric Calvert attests, with a series of lineup changes leaving Calvert and drummer Jon Elizondo in limbo for a time before finding bassist Chris Black to round out a trio incarnation of the former four-piece. As their set at Doom Fest showed and the video below affirms, the arrival of Black and the turn to a three-piece has presented a likewise shift in the band’s mindset. They struck me as having a particular edge of noise rock, a surprisingly angular take considering what they’d done in the studio at the time. Even their tracks for the 2017 split only captured part of the story. Their second album, when it arrives next year, has the potential to surprise a lot of people, and it sounds like they know it, too. All the better.

The clip is a multi-camera shoot recorded on Nov. 10 in the band’s hometown at a room called The NASA with a screen behind and some cool wall designs. All I know about it is what I see, but Switchblade Jesus seem plenty comfortable on its stage. Here’s the set they played:

– Scorched
– The Red Plains
– Behind the Monolith
– Death Hymns
– Wet Lungs
– Take Off/Return
– Blackened Sun
– Heavy is the Mountain
– Who Was in Your Room Last Night

Of those, exactly none come from the first album, which is telling in itself. “Wet Lungs” and “Heavy is the Mountain” were on The Second Coming of Heavy, but otherwise, take it as a sign of how ready Switchblade Jesus are to move forward with their sound, and enjoy the preview of their second album due to land in 2019. I’m thrilled to be able to host it.

Calvert talked about the changes in the band and more, so please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions under the video premiere below:

Switchblade Jesus, Live at NASA, Corpus Christi, TX, Nov. 10, 2018

Six Dumb Questions with Switchblade Jesus

Switchblade Jesus is five years removed from the first album and writing. In what ways do you feel the band has developed since the self-titled came out, and if it’s not too early to say, how does the new material represent that development?

It’s been a lot of growth and loss, for a bit we weren’t sure where we were going. I hate that it’s been five years, but for a moment we weren’t sure if we were going to continue, honestly, after Jason left. He was the last of the original lineup. Billy [Guerra] pretty much left three months after the Borderland Fuzz Fiesta and then Jason [Beers] followed at the end of the year, which Jon [Elizondo] and I fully supported. They wanted to focus on their family. We were in the process of writing the upcoming during then but it came to a halt in the studio because we couldn’t get the sound from that engineer that we felt captured us, so that let into some stress with everyone as well. So me and Jon sat in a limbo of sorts trying to figure out how we wanted to move forward, we almost went the Black Cobra route with me playing bass all fuzzed and distorted. We’ve tried out members before and weren’t sure if we wanted to deal with someone that wasn’t either on their game or just didn’t mesh well, ’cause dudes on the road can get to each other, so we had good hiatus (unannounced) and just wrote new stuff back and forth. During that time Jon and I recorded the split for Ripple, that was done at Ancient Sound with Chris Darlington who recorded the first album, three of the songs originally for the sophomore [LP] were used on that pressing.

After that was said and done we decided to keep rolling forward and started trying out bassists, one of the was Chris Black who is our current (and permanent). Chris has a lot of passion for black metal, early hardcore, post-metal and everything hateful, he’s also one of the best bassists in Texas let alone the southern hemisphere, so the addition of him brought something we’ve been wanting in Switchblade, a heavier, faster and more technical side of the spectrum. We reconfigured what we were doing when he joined to fit his playing style a little more as his basically a lead guitarist in a bassist’s body, which helps because I can drop out with a solo or just stop playing for depth and he keeps the train rolling. The first song we wrote with him was “Scorched,” which will start the new album off and the pace of where Switchblade Jesus is now. Also as a side note, when I saw Chris‘s Boba Fett tattoo and we discussed Neurosis I knew he was a perfect fit for us. I have no problem southern metal honestly, while I do like it, everyone and their mother is playing it and it’s hard to stand out, so this new material is more of leaving it all behind and carving your own path and not chasing someone’s coattails but setting them on fire.

You took part in Ripple’s The Second Coming of Heavy split series earlier this year. How much were those songs indicative of where the new album is headed?

That album is more of a bridge that will connect the two, uptempo songs like “Snakes and Lions” were the main focus but we still wanted to incorporate the heavy crushing feel of stuff like “Heavy is the Mountain,” so even though its a brutally fast paced album, the groove has never left. Something we wanted to make sure when we recorded “Wet Lungs” on that split plus another similar on this new one, we’re still that heavy groove laden obnoxiously loud band, just a lot angrier. Another focus on the split was to bring to light my vocals and see how well they sat with the people that like our music. I’m more of a Lemmy/Pike shouter than something soulful that was Pete on our first album, while I do sing at times the shouting felt more comfortable with the new music to convey the angst better, luckily it has gone over well and we’ve had a lot of good response to what I bring vocal-wise to the sound.

Do you know yet when or where the album will be recorded? What are you looking for in a studio sound? Any idea on a timeframe for the release?

We had a few setbacks but it’s in the final stages actually and being to be sent to Zach [Weeks] at GodCity to master it. During that hiatus Jon and I decided to build a studio and that’s where it was recorded, we where able to take our time and really focus on this new songs and get them really dialed in to the pace we liked. We wanted a harder, sharper sound than previous more of a modern feel than a vintage feel. We’re planning for early-mid next year.

I was fortunate enough to catch Switchblade Jesus at Maryland Doom Fest 2018 earlier this year. What was that experience like for you? How has the response to newer songs been live?

Maryland Doom Fest was one of our highlights this year, not just because what the event is but how welcomed we were there. It was our first time in that area and we’ve never met so music-focused people in our lives, we sold more merch and spoke to more people there than we did when we opened for Behemoth four days earlier. People on the East Coast bleed music and I love it. For me the best was able to bring Chris to that event as we’ve played together with his old band, so it was a new element for him. I had him do the merch while I packed his gear up and he was able to talk and just have a blast of a time. Also it was amazing to have people tell us they drove three-plus hours to an event because they wanted to catch us as it was our only set there. The East Coast made a lasting impression on us. The new songs seemed to have been received well, a few individuals at the Doom Fest said they were hoping to get some of the first album songs that day but really loved the new stuff and nothing negative was said so I take that as a plus. That seems to me the consensus from everyone which we love as it can be hard to grow and make sure you don’t leave your roots and original fans behind.

Texas of course has a massive history of heavy rock and roll across a wide swath of decades and bands. Who are some of your favorites to play with and for those of us not in the Lone Star State, what are the most essential names to know?

In Texas our favorites are always Hellfury, The Well, Destroyer of Light, Funeral Horse, Mothership, Doomstress, plus more than escape me at the moment. You need to get locked on Hellfury for sure, some of my best buds making some of the most angry sounds. We’re actually looking for more growth on that as well, we were booked for a fest earlier this year with Unsane, L7, Zeke and others and that’s where we’d like to focus on as well, not as many retro metal/rock sets but more progressive and modern so if anyone reading this books like that, hit us up.

You have a weekender booked for January. Any other touring plans or closing words you want to mention?

We’re planning to focus on central in 2019 to support the new release and would like to start in Colorado and do a nice tour around that area glancing a little on the East Coast as well, so if any readers would like to put their two cents in where to hit up we’re game. We’re just very fortunate to still have some kind of impact on this scene still and love all the support we’ve received. Thank you to Ripple Music, you for having us on this interview and all of the dudes that dig what we do, y’all are amazing.

Switchblade Jesus & Full Evil, The Second Coming of Heavy: Chapter 7 (2017)

Switchblade Jesus on Thee Facebooks

Switchblade Jesus on Bandcamp

Switchblade Jesus on Instagram

Switchblade Jesus on Twitter

Ripple Music on Thee Facebooks

Ripple Music website

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Six Dumb Questions & Full Album Stream: Mansion

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on December 5th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Mansion (Photo by Ulla Kudjoi)

You’ll see Turku, Finland’s Mansion referred to as ‘cult rock’ a lot. It’s kind of true the way abbreviations stand in for words. The truth of what Mansion do and have done since their 2014 premiere EP, We Shall Live EP (review here), and its soon-after follow-up, Uncreation  (review here), is much more complex. Their awaited debut album, First Death of the Lutheran, is out this week on I Hate Records, and it pushes to new ground in both the conceptual framework and actual songwriting approach on the part of the band. As 12-minute summary/closer “First Death” starts out with psychedelic flourish and effects en route to a sax-inclusive tumult of experimentalist noise, it is as affecting in atmosphere as in impact, and though I’ll have a review of the album in the coming weeks, I was given the opportunity to ask the band some questions, and it wasn’t one I was going to pass up.

For those who didn’t hear Uncreation, 2015’s Altar Sermon (review here), or any of the other short releases they’ve had out along the way, Mansion follow a theme not just of vague, generalized occultmansion first death of the lutheran thematics, but actually take on Kartanoism as their working foundation. The doomsday-obsessed post-WWI breakaway Protestant group followed leader Alma Kartano and her strict interpretations of the Bible and rules for everyday life. That kind of severity shows up in every whip-crack of the snare drum on opener “Wretched Hope” (premiered here) and in the grueling forward march and unremitting low-light claustrophobia of “Lutheran” and “The Eternal,” which follow. With mysterious “1933” ahead of the finale, First Death of the Lutheran is an appropriate endgame for the style of cult heavy as a whole, but at the same time, it works against genre convention in its sound and the overarching harshness of its production. Not raw — it’s clear-sounding — but sharp.

I’ll have a proper review of the album up in the coming weeks, but on the occasion of the release, I’m flat-out honored to host the premiere of its entirety below. It’s one I’ve been waiting a while for, and its reach only exceeds what I imagined they’d come up with for it.

Please enjoy the stream and the following Six Dumb Questions:

Six Dumb Questions with Mansion

It’s been five years since We Shall Live was released and First Death of the Lutheran is the band’s debut album. How do you see Mansion as having grown in that time? Were there specific goals you wanted to accomplish with the LP?

Our musical expression has progressed from a traditional retro approach to a more experimental direction. With time the congregation has grown both spiritually and in number. The album was released as a reminder for the sorrowless that the endgame has begun. For the most of them salvation is out of reach.

Tell me about writing First Death of the Lutheran. Over how long a period were the songs put together? Was it a different frame of mind writing for an album instead of an EP or a single? Beyond their theme, how do the songs fit together for the band? How much of the song placement and the progression of the record was mapped out before you went into the studio?

The first song on the album, “Wretched Hope,” was written right after We Shall Live EP was released, while the last song, First Death was written during the recordings of the debut album. The songs on the album might span over several years but it doesn’t mean that those were the only ones we have written so far. We have songs ready or half-ready for at least three albums. The songs you hear on First Death of the Lutheran are picked from our vault based on how they fit together. We recorded seven songs but decided to cut two as they didn’t fit in with the others.

The Uncreation EP was supposed to be our debut album. Due to some technical issues we had to cut two tracks off the album. Those were re-recorded later and released as the Altar Sermon EP.

The whole album seems to lead to “First Death.” Did you know in writing that song that it would be the finale? What is happening there to summarize the album?

As soon as the song was starting to find its form we knew that it would be the finale. In ”First Death” we simply state that there is a difference between us and you. We will be saved and you will burn in the everlasting fires of hell while we bathe in glory in the Kingdom of Heaven by His side. Pretty much what we want to say with the whole album.

What were the circumstances of the recording? There’s so much a blend of harsh noise and melody throughout, and it seems real attention was paid to the details of tone and effects. How long were you in the studio?

We recorded most of the album at our secret cottage in Huittinen. That only took a week. The mixing, though, was a different story. We had to change the mixing engineer after the first version of the album was done. There were too many details that got buried in the mix and so we had to start all over again to get it right.

How would you explain the central philosophy of Kartanoism? What’s the significance specifically of the year 1933?

We believe that most of the sorrowless wretches roaming the earth haven’t got a clue how mighty God is and how powerful his wrath is. Judgement Day will be a merciless slaughter of man and only the chosen few will be saved for eternal agony in the afterlife. We believe sex is a mortal sin and that there should not be an organisation between man and God.

Blasphemous churches will fall, mark our words. We in Finland are surrounded by Lutherans, whose way of life is hypocritical and untrue. They have lost their connection to the Lord Almighty tempted by greed and their vain egos. They will be surprised when their days are done. 1933 is the year when these losers released a sacrilegious translation of the Holy Bible.

Will Mansion tour in 2019 to support the release? Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

We have live sermons and festivals booked for 2019. Book us. Today!

Merry Christmas!

Mansion on Thee Facebooks

Mansion on Bandcamp

I Hate Records website

I Hate Records on Bandcamp

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The Top 20 of 2018 Year-End Poll is Now Open!

Posted in Features on November 30th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Working Title/Artist: Landscape with a Double Spruce in the ForegroundDepartment: Drawings & PrintsCulture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: Working Date: 1520-22.

This is my favorite post of the year, every year. Welcome to the year-end poll. Cast your votes now for your favorite releases from 2018.

If you don’t have 20 albums to list? Doesn’t matter. Have 40? Awesome. Pick 20 of them. Want to list your own band 20 times? That’s cool too. Glad you dig your own stuff.

You probably know the system by now, but here it is: Raw votes are counted and as always, there’s a weighted tally whereby a 1-4 ranking is worth five points, 5-8 worth four, 9-12 worth three, 13-16 worth two and 17-20 worth one. Results from both are posted New Year’s Day, along with all the lists.

Last year’s participation was awesome, and with so many excellent records out in 2018, I’m dying to see what comes out first. There are picks that seem obvious to me, but it’s always fascinating to see what albums different people are super-passionate about, where people connect and where they differ.

To that end, please note one more time that all the lists are posted when the results go up. We’re talking hundreds of entries. If you’ve missed anything throughout the year, it’s great resource, and I know I’ve used it before not only in constructing my own lists, but just in checking out records I may not have had the chance to hear at the time. I continue to go back to past years and find new stuff.

Posterity aside, however, the point here is to have fun, so please do that first and foremost. I know sometimes lists come in with bands spelled wrong and albums all wonky. It’s fine. Yeah, everything is culled together, but the point here is to stand up for music you’re into, so the rest will work out. Enjoyment is the thing, so enjoy it. No stress.

Thanks as always to Slevin, without whose patience, time and technical expertise this site would simply not exist.

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WarHorse Talk Reunion at Maryland Doom Fest 2019

Posted in Features on November 2nd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

In case, like me, you’re still reeling from the wallop of an announcement for the lineup of Maryland Doom Fest 2019 next June, I’ll just say there’s a ton of stuff worth highlighting up and down through the lineup. One thing that stuck out to me particularly, however, was the fact that Massachusetts’ WarHorse will reunite for the festival. Of course, the band is known for their 2001 debut/swansong long-player, As Heaven Turns to Ash… (discussed here), which was released on Southern Lord and well ahead of its time, but the history of the band goes back earlier to the mid-’90s and is the root from which acts like Conclave, Second Grave and Faces of Bayon stem, which is not to mention that drummer Mike Hubbard currently bashes away behind the kit for Gozu.

Guitarist Todd Laskowski (also Sin of Angels and others) passed away in May 2018, and founding WarHorse bassist/vocalist Jerry Orne — also a bandmate of Laskowski‘s in Desolate — was inspired to revisit the band in his honor. It’s not a minor decision. Original guitarist Krista Van Guider — who will also play Maryland Doom Fest 2019 with her current outfit, Benthic Realm, which also features Conclave drummer Dan Blomquist, giving a direct Orne/Van Guilder tie — will once more take on that role, and she, Hubbard and Orne are currently planning a set that will span all eras of the band’s nine-year run.

It’s not a major-planned reunion-thing. It’s not a comeback. They’re saying as of now that it’s a one-time happening, and whether or not that proves ultimately to be the case — there’s just about no way they won’t get offers for more — to talk about anything else beyond this one show would be baseless and, frankly, needless speculation.

One show, for now, is enough.

I had to talk to the band. It’s as simple as that. I wanted to find out more about how the reunion happened and what it might lead to, how Maryland Doom Fest wound up as the setting, and how they were feeling about revisiting WarHorse material. After all, these aren’t people who’ve disappeared and are returning out of nowhere. Benthic Realm have a debut EP out (it’s in the next Quarterly Review; stay tuned), Conclave released their debut in 2016 and Gozu are signed to an imprint of Metal Blade and touring with Goatwhore. So, you know, it’s not like they’ll be taking the stage for the first time in over a decade next June, even if it’s the first time in however long they do so together.

All three members of the band were kind enough to offer comment:

warhorse

Jerry Orne:

It’s a slightly long story, I’ll try to keep it short.

We have talked about putting the band back together many times, but for one reason or another, sometimes many reasons it never happened.

When Todd passed away last May, it hit us all really hard. Losing a longtime friend is always extremely tough. And in this case, it had the extra sting that I would never be able to hear or play these songs again.

Later in the summer, I was having a few drinks by a campfire. I started going through some of the old songs on my acoustic and I just had the feeling that I had to do something.

I got in touch with Mike Hubbard and original WarHorse guitarist Krista Van Guilder and floated the idea of doing a one-time tribute-type show. Maryland Doom Fest seemed the obvious choice, but we didn’t know if they are anywhere else would be interested. As luck would have it, a theme of this year’s Festival is the 20th anniversary of the first Stoner hands of Doom Festival, held in Manassas, Virginia, in 1999. WarHorse was on that show.

I guess it’s one of those stars aligning kind of things. Honestly, we have nothing else in the works. This isn’t a reunion or tour or anything like that. We’re getting back together just for this one show. It sounds cliche, but it’s literally about the music. We have no plans to make merchandise or new releases or anything. Just friends getting together to play. Dan Blomquist is involved with coordinating all this. He’s been really helpful.

Given the up and down history of the band, it is bittersweet, but I am thankful to have the opportunity to play these songs again with two of my longtime friends (and original lineup). And to play at an amazing Festival, with all the history of our band and every band is really something. It was always a music that held us together, even when the band was destroying itself.

Todd’s mother gave me his SG. It’s the one he recorded and toured with. We are bringing it with us to the show. So this has grown into an anniversary, reunion, tribute kind of thing.

Mike Hubbard:

I’m pretty excited about the reunion show. It’s been a very long time since I’ve played with Jerry, and even longer since playing with Krista. I’ve always been very proud of what WH did, so when people still show an interest in the band, and the album, so many years later, it’s pretty incredible. We’ve discussed possible reunions in the past, but I wasn’t ever in the right headspace to do it. That was a dark time in my life, and a lot of shit was tied to those memories.

A part of me thought a reunion would amount to living in the past, and I wanted to focus on the present and the future. But when this opportunity came up, and then hearing the positive responses to us potentially playing, it finally felt like it was time to do it. The original Stoner Hands of Doom was our first “big” show, and being invited back as a sort of anniversary thing is pretty cool. It’s a good bookend for that chapter of my life.

Looking forward to revisiting those songs, and that playing style. It’s very different from what I am doing with Gozu, and I am curious to see how the years will affect the songs.

Krista Van Guilder:

Not much to add aside from looking forward to sharing the stage with two friends after such a long time.

We’ve remained friends over the years, but everyone has been off doing their own thing. I think Todd’s sudden death renewed Jerry’s interest in reforming for one show and I think Dan just thought it would be awesome to see us all together again. The entire recent discussion regarding reuniting really happened via text — quite a few actually.

WarHorse, As Heaven Turns to Ash… (2001)

Maryland Doom Fest 2019 event page on Thee Facebooks

Maryland Doom Fest on Thee Facebooks

Maryland Doom Fest website

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