Mostly around here I concentrate on albums. Best albums of the year. Best albums of the decade. Still, kind of on a whim this morning I was thinking about the shape of heavy of the last half-decade — or rather, the shapes of it.
Different scenes moving in various directions, the emergence of the Pacific Northwest as a hotbed, the growth of West Coast psych and how in-conversation that seems to be both with California’s skater past and the current European market, itself branched out between heavy psych and ’70s traditionalism, which has also begun to take root throughout the US while, at the same time, a new generation has come up to embrace full-on stoner riffing and/or desert rock ideals.
While I have my album lists going back six years to refer to, this time around, I was wondering specifically about individual songs from the same era. What are the best songs from the last five years?
It’s not always the best album that has the best single piece of work on it, so it seemed worth asking the question separately.
Me, I go in for epics: YOB‘s “Marrow” (2014), Ancestors‘ “First Light” (2012), Colour Haze‘s “Grace” (2012), Hypnos 69‘s “The Great Work” (2011), Witch Mountain‘s “Can’t Settle” (2014), Elder‘s “Lore” (2015) definitely is worth having in the conversation, Solace‘s “From Below” (2010), Grayceon‘s “We Can” (2011), and so on.
But then you have Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats‘ “I’ll Cut You Down,” which has had a massive influence since it came out in 2011. And what about a cut like Clutch‘s “D.C. Sound Attack,” or Goatsnake‘s “Grandpa Jones,” or Graveyard‘s “Ain’t Fit to Live Here,” or Mars Red Sky‘s “Strong Reflection?” Does a track have to be long to make an impact? What if there’s a perfectly-executed two-minute verse/chorus trade? Shouldn’t that also be considered?
I guess that’s the question.
We haven’t done one of these in a while, so I’m hoping you’ll take the time to add your answers and picks for the best songs of the last five years 2010-2015 in the comments to this post. I know we’re not through 2015 yet, but we’re just trying to have some fun anyway.
Thanks to all who take the time to leave a note in the comments below.
Riff legends and Iommic scholars Sleep launch an Australian tour this coming weekend. The other night, I saw they posted the following on their Thee Facebooks page. I guess they had been getting requests — probably daily, if not hourly — for a reissue of 1992’s ultra-classic Sleep’s Holy Mountain, and this was their response:
For those asking…
Sleep cannot re-issue Holy Mountain on vinyl. Or CD. Or MP3.
Nor can Sleep print t-shirts or posters, etc with the original Holy Mountain artwork.
All rights to that album (and any related art) are owned by Earache records. Forever.
…and no, Sleep doesn’t make a dime from that record and hasn’t since the early 90’s.
Bands: Please be very careful what you sign.
My immediate reaction is, “Really, Earache?” and that seems as good a place to begin as any.
With landmark back catalogs from Napalm Death, Entombed, Godflesh, Cathedral and many, many others, UK imprint Earache Records has one of the most enviable discographies in heavy music. Formed in 1986, it’s seen trends come and go and like few others — Metal Blade comes to mind first as a comparison — it has managed to thrive. Is Earache well within its rights to hold onto Sleep’s Holy Mountain and use that property for all it’s worth? It would seem so. They reissued it on CD in 2009 (review here), still press t-shirts with the cover art (or at least they did last time I bought one), and the above indicates that Earache owns copyright on the music and art for the record into perpetuity and there’s nothing the band can do about it.
Not a great contract if you’re Sleep.
The answer for the trio — bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros, guitarist Matt Pike and then drummer Chris Hakius (now drummer Jason Roeder) — at first seems like an easy one. Bootleg it. Fuck it. They’ve done it before, as the initial, unofficial self-release of Jerusalem with its righteous Arik Roper cover showed. Not as simple to do now as it was in 1998, however. Look at the response they got to the new single “The Clarity” (review here) this year. Granted, it wouldn’t be the same for a reissue as for the first new music to come from them in over a decade, but still. Sleep are a much higher-profile band than they were in the late ’90s, and if they were to just press up a bunch of copies of Sleep’s Holy Mountain, even to sell at shows, they’d probably catch hell for it one way or another, probably with litigation.
A pretty great contract if you’re Earache.
I won’t pretend to know the circumstances of the label’s wares, that is, how much of its back catalog it owns as thoroughly as it seems to own Sleep’s Holy Mountain, and neither will I give into some doomer-hippie impulse and say something like, “Oh man, they should just give Sleep the rights because it would be the cool thing to do and art for artists and whatever blah blah.” That’s naive as shit and not in any way reflective of the world in which we live. Earache has the rights, Sleep signed that deal. Bam. Done. The label is under no obligation to let the band have anything, so if they don’t want to, that’s their prerogative.
No question Sleep’s Holy Mountain is one of the most pivotal records in heavy rock and doom. What Pike, Cisneros and Hakius crafted has spread through influence the world over, to bands from Europe, South America, Asia, and Australia. They’re as close as an underground band can be to being a household name, and their work helped define a generation of heaviness. It is timeless, integral, and essential. They deserve to be making money from it.
People don’t like to talk about money and its effect on creativity, as though art and commerce are church and state, but in practice, they’re no more separate. Sleep probably do well at this point in terms of their take-home from shows, but it took them 20 years and success in other bands — Om, High on Fire — to get there, and they don’t tour 100 gigs a year. I don’t know if they have dayjobs or not, and I highly doubt any income earned on Sleep’s Holy Mountain would be life-changing in that regard one way or another, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve it.
But “deserve” is irrelevant. Sleep “should” earn money from Sleep’s Holy Mountain? So what?
It seems to me there’s some opportunity for middle ground somewhere between “label gets all” and “band gets all,” whether that’s a licensing fee Sleep pay to Earache or something like that — hell, I’m sure if Earache were to put the rights up for sale, the band could crowdfund just about any price named and not even have to go out-of-pocket — or like a rent-to-own deal on the publishing. I’m not going to call Earache dicks for not coming to the table if there’s been any discussion of a discussion, they’re a business acting like a business needs to act in order to survive, but if Sleep were able to work Sleep’s Holy Mountain again in some way mutually beneficial to themselves and the label, I don’t see where anyone loses.
Doesn’t matter if Earache doesn’t want to budge and if they’re still able to sell those shirts with the cover on it or repress the album every so often. An unfortunate situation for a band that have earned their place in the pantheon of heavy and managed to, like the label, remain vital where so many others haven’t, but as they say, be careful what you sign. Too bad that’s a lesson that had to be so harshly learned, and too bad a record so warmly loved by fans has to carry such baggage for the band themselves.
It’s the battle for next-gen British doom supremacy!
In a way, the question of Conan vs. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats all comes down to how you like your doom. If you want it with some of the world’s heaviest tones bashing you over the head alternately with ferocious hooks and unmatched lumber, you’re going to go with Conan. If you want it rife with slicing malevolence, lurking murderously in classic buzzsaw fuzz, as demented and mysterious in its slasher ambience as it is catchy and memorable, then Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats are the clear choice.
Yes, I know these bands are about as different as you can get and still call it doom. The way I figure it, that’s half the fun.
Conan released one of 2012’s best albums with Monnos(review here) and Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats‘ 2011 outing Blood Lustreceived such a massive response (not that I knew it at the time) that Rise Above couldn’t help but sign the band. Both acts have new material in the works — Conan are writing and Uncle Acid will enter the studio, of course, on Halloween — but as they have both have crazy momentum going into their next releases, it seemed like a good time to see where people stood.
There are a lot of bands coming out of the UK, but I’m hard pressed to think of two acts who so clearly highlight the diversity in the country’s current scene and the quality of material put forth by British artists. So what’s your pick for the forerunner of the next generation of British doom?
If you need a refresher, have at it:
Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats, “I’ll Cut You Down” from Blood Lust
Conan, “Grim Tormentor” from Monnos
As always, take your pick and leave a comment. Any other contenders are awesome too. Basically I just figured it would be fun to see how the support stacked up, so whatever you’ve got to say, it’s definitely welcome.
A couple weeks ago, I asked the question above: “What are the 10 greatest stoner rock records?” It was kind of just something I was throwing out there to see what came back. Nothing scientific, pretty vague on what “stoner rock” actually meant as a genre designation. Basically just trying to get a spur-of-the-moment response, like an inkblot test for riffs. First thing that comes to mind.
The response was awesome, so before anything else, thank you to everyone who contributed a list to the original post. I was taken aback by the number of replies that came in — a total 73 comments — and the resultant breadth of records named reads like a wishlist of the damned. Some people were pretty orthodox in their definition of the genre, and some more open in the bands they included, but working from everyone’s lists, I tallied up the votes, and while I don’t necessarily agree with all the choices personally (I added my own list as a comment to the initial post, so I won’t bother reprinting it), it was a blast to see what emerged on top. The people have spoken.
I tried to be as fair as I could in the tallying. There were some comments left that were individual songs and not albums, and those I didn’t count, but everything else went in, even if it was only mentioned once, and when someone said, for example, “Melvins – all,” I actually added a tally to everything by the Melvins that everyone else had said. Again, it’s not really a scientific thing polling demographic data, but it was a lot of fun.
Okay, here’s the list:
The Top 10 Greatest Stoner Rock Records Poll Results:
1. Kyuss, Welcome to Sky Valley (41 votes)
2. Sleep, Sleep’s Holy Mountain (27 votes)
3. Black Sabbath, Master of Reality (19 votes)
4. Kyuss,Blues for the Red Sun (18 votes)
5. Monster Magnet,Spine of God (15 votes)
5. Sleep,Dopesmoker(15 votes)
7. Electric Wizard, Dopethrone(14 votes)
7. Fu Manchu, In Search Of… (14 votes)
9. Queens of the Stone Age, Queens of the Stone Age (12 votes)
10. Fu Manchu, The Action is Go (10 votes)
As you can see, some real classics in there, and Welcome to Sky Valleywas far and away the winner, picked by 41 out of the 73 people (myself included), with Sleep and Black Sabbath behind. There were two ties at numbers five and seven, but beyond that, it’s a pretty clear picture of where people are at with their favorites.
What about everything else? Well, it was all counted. I broke all the entries down by number of votes and listed them by artist with albums in chronological order.
The reason I ask is this: I said a while back I wanted to start some hall-of-fame-esque series of posts covering the classics of the genre, going all the way back to the start. It was — I’ll be honest — an excuse to slather even more praise onto Master of Reality, which I don’t think ever has enough. That never quite materialized, but this whole time I was thinking to myself about what makes an album really great?
There’s so much context involved. When did it come out? What was happening at the time? Where is the band from? What was the response? How influential was it? What made it so special? Who was on it? What else did they do and how much of it was defined by this single album? Never mind questions about what counts as stoner rock and when that began — was it the ’90s or was it when Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil? — but what is it about an individual record that lets it stand the test of time, and is standing the test of time a basis for judgment of greatness? What about those albums you listened to when you were younger that sound dated now? Are they any less great because you’ve grown out of them?
So I’ve decided to open it up. Everything counts, everything’s in.
If you’ve got a list of 30 essentials or just one you want to add to the others, that’s cool. Let’s put everything out there and see what comes back, what we can agree on, disagree on, whatever. It’s all valid. If you think Welcome to Sky Valley is the best because it happens to be the album you listened to while you went trekking through the desert that one time, awesome. If you think it’s crap, pick something else.
In demographic research, they call it crowd-sourcing, but I’m not even sure what we’re crowd sourcing for, so let’s just have at it. The best of the best. What are the 10 greatest stoner rock records?
I’m looking forward to seeing your picks (and I think I already gave away two of mine). Leave a comment and let’s just have some fun with it.
It’s a battle for Sverige supremacy! Retro a retro! Winner takes Örebro! Other terrible Swedish puns!
I had this post planned to go up today even before the news came in that Witchcraft had joined the Nuclear Blast roster, where Graveyard already resides, but with the two as labelmates, it’s even better! Both bands’ pasts were already intertwined with Witchcraft guitarist/vocalist Magnus Pelander and Graveyard guitarist/vocalist Joakim Nilsson and bassist Rikard Eklund having been in under-appreciated Swedish proto-doom pioneers Norrsken together, but now their futures are interrelated as well.
So, with a host of links between the two acts, not to mention a stylistic core of ’70s worship running through both, I figured it’s time to find out which band inspires the most allegiance. Witchcraft hasn’t had a record since 2007’s The Alchemist continued the ascent to popularity that 2005’s Firewood and 2004’s self-titled began, but those albums — the first two particularly — helped set the stage for Graveyard to make their own run at heavy rocking glory, taking less direct influence from Pentagram, but still honing an ultra-analog approach on their 2007 self-titled debut and last year’s excellent Hisingen Blues.
Since it will have been five years by the time it gets out (not to mention a completely different band around Pelander) if Witchcraft has a new record in 2012, let’s make it as simple as possible and take the first album from each band. You could say Graveyard‘s songs are more rock and Witchcraft‘s more doom, but do you think the album Graveyard would have met the massive acclaim it did if not for Witchcraft paving the way? Or maybe you just think one is a better band than the other, flat out, not matter how many albums are involved? Let’s find out.
Witchcraft‘s Witchcraft vs. Graveyard‘s Graveyard. Take a second, revisit the bands/records below, and please leave a comment with your pick.
Witchcraft, “No Angel or Demon” from Witchcraft:
Graveyard, “Lost in Confusion” from Graveyard:
This is a tough one, but remember, the entire Swedish nation is depending on you, so, uh, no pressure. I’m pretty sure whoever wins this gets to be mayor of Stockholm for a week — yeah, it’s that big a deal. Hail Sweden.
Okay, so maybe these two bands are stand-ins for bigger ideas, but think about it this way: The central question in looking at defunct Dutch psych proggers 35007 (on my mind following their inclusion in this month’s podcast) and reborn West Virginian riff bashers Karma to Burn is what do you want from an instrumental band? Do you want extensive musical exploration born out of freeform or structurally open jamming, or do you want head-down, driving rock, just without some singer guy blathering on about motorcycles and hey whoa baby yeah?
By way of examples, let’s take 35007‘s 2005 swansong, Phase V, and what was then Karma to Burn‘s second album, 1999’s Wild Wonderful Purgatory, which was the record that established them as an instrumental act following their 1997 self-titled debut. The 35007 made a bed of odd time signatures and underlying experiments in synth, resulting in a varied, eclectic presentation, where Karma to Burn‘s sophomore outing is among the most straightforward stoner rock albums, period. If it was any more stripped down, they wouldn’t be playing.
I’m not necessarily championing either as the best in the band’s catalog (though I’ll argue for Phase V in that regard), but looking to get a discussion going on what you want when you listen to instrumental heavy rock. Karma to Burn and 35007 — both pivotal and highly influential bands who got started around the same time in the early/mid ’90s — stand for very different things musically while still roughly residing in the same genre. So let’s do this:
Is it the expanded creative realm of 35007?
Or the balls-out, bullshit-free classicism of Karma to Burn?
You know the drill by now. These posts are always about having some fun, so wherever you stand, make sure you leave a comment below. I’m looking forward to seeing how this one turns out.
Not to overstate it, but these are two of the best stoner rock records ever.
Both released in 1999, they’re of an era where those who played it were still cool with being called “stoner rock bands.” The genre hadn’t yet exhausted its commercial reach, and though Kyuss had already been finished a few years, Monster Magnet had hit it big with “Space Lord” only the year before, so mainstream success was still regarded as a possibility for that which was fuzzed and riffy.
Nebula and Fu Manchu. You couldn’t have one without the other — literally. Guitarist/vocalist Eddie Glass and drummer Ruben Romano split from Fu Manchu after the release of 1996’s In Search Of… and would go on to form Nebula with bassist Mark Abshire (also formerly of the Fu), releasing their first EP, Let it Burn, in 1998. Just a year later, their first full-length, To the Center, became one of the most blissed-out desert rock albums ever, striking a landmark balance between trippy indulgences and memorable hooks. In many ways, it has never been matched.
Meanwhile, Fu Manchu guitarist/vocalist Scott Hill and bassist Brad Davis joined forces with guitarist Bob Balch and drummer Brant Bjork (ex-Kyuss) to issue The Action is Go in 1997. A work of absolute stoner/surfer glory, it set a bar for tone so high that bands today still try to capture the same magic (and usually don’t). The subsequent studio outing from the same lineup was 1999’s King of the Road, on which Fu Manchu further refined their process to a perfect balance of heaviness and pop appeal, inciting many landmark choruses on tracks like “Boogie Van” and “Hell on Wheels.”
Of all the “The Debate Rages” posts so far, I’m most interested to find out how people feel about this one, as it really doesn’t feel that cut and dry to me. Whatever either of these bands has done since (both discographies have their ups and downs), there’s no denying both these records are masterpieces that have helped define what we think of as stoner rock today.
But that said, the point is to have fun with it, so please, leave a comment and let’s have some fun. Thanks in advance.