13 Before ’13 — Albums Not to Miss Before the End of 2012

Posted in Where to Start on July 26th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

We’re more than halfway through 2012, and we’ve already seen great releases from the likes of Orange Goblin, Pallbearer, Conan, C.O.C., Saint Vitus and many others, but there’s still a long way to go. The forecast for the next five months? Busy.

In my eternal and inevitably doomed quest to keep up, I’ve compiled a list of 13 still-to-come releases not to miss before the year ends. Some of this information is confirmed — as confirmed as these things ever are, anyway — either by label or band announcements, and some of it is a little bit vaguer in terms of the actual dates, but all this stuff is slated to be out before 2013 hits. That was basically my only criteria for inclusion.

And of course before I start the list, you should know two things: The ordering is dubious, since it’s not like I can judge the quality of an album before I’ve heard it, just my anticipation, and that this is barely the beginning of everything that will be released before the end of 2012. The tip of the fastly-melting iceberg, as it were. If past is prologue, there’s a ton of shit I don’t even know about that (hopefully) you’ll clue me into in the comments.

Nonetheless, let’s have some fun:

1. Colour Haze, She Said (Sept./Oct.)


I know, I know, this one’s been a really, really long time coming. Like two years. Like so long that Colour Haze had to go back and remake the album because of some terrible technical thing that I don’t even know what happened but it doesn’t matter anymore. Notice came down yesterday from guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek that the recording is done and the long-awaited She Said is on the way to be pressed on vinyl and CD. Got my fingers crossed for no more snags.

2. EnslavedRIITIIR (Sept. 28)

The progressive Norwegian black metallers have put out 10 albums before it, and would you believe RIITIIR is the first Enslaved album that’s a palindrome? Kind of cheating to include it on this list, because I’ve heard it, but I’ve been through the record 10-plus times and I still feel like I just barely have a grasp on where they’re headed with it, so I think it’ll be really interesting to see what kind of response it gets upon release. Herbrand Larsen kills it all over these songs though, I will say that.

3. Mos Generator, Nomads (Oct. 23)

Hard for me not to be stoked on the prospect of the first new Mos Generator album since 2007, especially looking at that cover, which Ripple Music unveiled on Tuesday when it announced the Oct. 23 release date. It’s pretty grim looking, and even though Mos once put out a record called The Late Great Planet Earth, I’ve never thought of them as being particularly dark or doomed. I look forward to hearing what Tony Reed (Stone AxeHeavyPink) has up his sleeve for this collection, and if he’s looking to slow down and doom out a bit here, that’s cool too. I’ll take it either way.

4. Ufomammut, Oro – Opus Alter (Sept.)

No, that’s not the cover of Oro – Opus Alter, the second half of Italian space doom grand masters Ufomammut‘s Oro collection — the first being Opus Primum (review here), which served as their Neurot Recordings debut earlier this year. That cover hasn’t been released yet, so I grabbed a promo pic to stand in. I’m really looking forward to this album, though I hope they don’t go the Earth, Angels of Darkness Demons of Light route and wind up with two records that, while really good, essentially serve the same purpose. I’ve got my hopes high they can outdo themselves once again.

5. WitchcraftLegend (Sept. 21)

I guess after their success with Graveyard, Nuclear Blast decided to binge a bit on ’70s loyalist doom, signing Witchcraft and even more recently, Orchid. Can’t fault them that. It’s been half a decade since Witchcraft released The Alchemist and in their absence, doom has caught on in a big way to their methods. With a new lineup around him, will Magnus Pelander continue his divergence into classic progressive rock, or return to the Pentagram-style roots of Witchcraft‘s earliest work? Should be exciting to find out.

6. Wo FatThe Black Code (Nov.)

After having the chance to hear some rough mixes of Texas fuzzers Wo Fat‘s Small Stone debut, The Black Code, I’m all the more stoked to encounter the finished product, and glad to see the band join the ranks of Lo-Pan, Freedom Hawk and Gozu in heralding the next wave of American fuzz. Wo Fat‘s 2011 third outing, Noche del Chupacabra (review here), greatly expanded the jammed feel in their approach, and I get the sense they’re just beginning to find where they want to end up within that balance.

7. Blood of the SunBurning on the Wings of Desire (Late 2012)

As if the glittering logo and booby-lady cover art weren’t enough to grab attention, Blood of the Sun‘s first album for Listenable Records (fourth overall) is sure to garner some extra notice because the band is led by drummer/vocalist Henry Vasquez, better known over the past couple years as the basher for Saint Vitus. Whatever pedigree the band has assumed through that, though, their modern take on classic ’70s heavy has a charm all its own and I can’t wait to hear how Burning on the Wings of Desire pushes that forward. Or backward. Whatever. Rock and roll.

8. SwansThe Seer (Aug. 28)

This one came in the mail last week and I’ve had the chance to make my way through it only once. It’s two discs — and not by a little — and as was the case with Swans‘ 2010 comebacker, My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky (review here), the far less cumbersomely titled The Seer is loaded with guest contributions. Even Jarboe shows up this time around, doing that breathy panting thing she does. Unnerving and challenging as ever, Swans continue to be a litmus for how far experimentalism can go. 3o years on, that’s pretty impressive in itself.

9. Swallow the Sun, Emerald Forest and the Blackbird (Sept. 4)

Apparently the Finnish melo-doom collective’s fifth album, Emerald Forest and the Blackbird, came out earlier this year in Europe, but it’s finally getting an American release in September, and as I’ve always dug the band’s blend of death metal and mournful melodicism, I thought I’d include it here. Like Swans, I’ve heard the Swallow the Sun once through, and it seems to play up more of the quiet, weepy side of their sound, but I look forward to getting to know it better over the coming months.

10. My Sleeping Karma, Soma (Oct. 9)

Just signed to Napalm Records and tapped to open for labelmates Monster Magnet as they tour Europe performing Spine of God in its entirety this fall, the German four-piece are set to follow-up 2010’s Tri (review here) with Soma. Details were sketchy, of course, until about five minutes after this post initially went up, then the worldwide release dates, cover art and tracklist were revealed, so I updated. Find all that info on the forum.

11.Eagle Twin, The Feather Tipped the Serpent’s Scale (Aug. 28)

Way back in 2009 when I interviewed Eagle Twin guitarist/vocalist Gentry Densley about the band’s Southern Lord debut, he said the band’s next outing would relate to snakes, and if the cover is anything to go by, that seems to have come to fruition on The Feather Tipped the Serpent’s Scale, which is set to release at the end of next month. As the first album was kind of a mash of influences turned into cohesive and contemplative heavy drone, I can’t help but wonder what’s in store this time around.

12. Hooded MenaceEffigies of Evil (Sept. 11)

You know how sometimes you listen to a band and that band turns you on in their liner notes to a ton of other cool bands? I had that experience with Finnish extreme doomers Hooded Menace‘s 2010 second album, Never Cross the Dead (review here), except instead of bands it was hotties of ’70s horror cinema. Needless to say, I anxiously await the arrival of their third record and Relapse debut, Effigies of Evil. Someone needs to start a label and call it Hammer Productions just to sign this band.

13. Yawning Man, New Album (Soon)

Make no mistake. The prospect of a new Yawning Man album would arrive much higher on this list if I was more convinced it was going to come together in time for a 2012 release. As it is, Scrit on the forum has had a steady stream of updates since May about the record — the latest news being that it’s going to be a double album — and Scrit‘s in the know, so I’ll take his word. One thing we do know for sure is that the band in the picture above is not the current Yawning Man lineup. Alfredo Hernandez and Mario Lalli out, Greg Saenz and Billy Cordell in. Bummer about the tumult, but as long as it’s Gary Arce‘s ethereal guitar noodling, I’m hooked one way or another.

Since we closed with rampant speculation, let me not forget that somewhere out there is the looming specter of a new Neurosis album, which the sooner it gets here, the better. Perhaps also a new Clutch full-length, though I doubt that’ll materialize before 2013. And that’s a different list entirely.

Thanks for reading. Anything I forgot or anything you’d like to add to the list, leave a comment.

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Where to Start: The Obelisk’s Guide to Small Stone Records

Posted in Where to Start on May 3rd, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

Founded in 1995 by Scott Hamilton, Detroit imprint Small Stone Records is the single most influential American heavy rock label of the post-Man’s Ruin era. What started as Hamilton releasing local Detroit acts of varied genres like Morsel, 36D and Perplexa soon took on a dedication to the heavy aesthetic that remains unmatched in both its scope and its reach of influence. Looking back, Five Horse Johnson‘s 1997 Double Down debut, seems to have been the beginning of Small Stone‘s turn down the fuzzly path. It’s like Hamilton followed the riff right down the rabbit hole and never looked back.

Now, 17 years on, Small Stone has a reach that goes beyond even the distribution of the albums it puts out. Thanks to the diligent work of Hamilton and oft-encountered names like Mad Oak Studios engineer/mixer Benny Grotto, mastering engineer Chris Gooseman, graphic artist Alexander von Wieding, among others, the label has earned a reputation for quality output that new releases are constantly reaffirming. Over the years, Man’s Ruin refugees like Sons of Otis, (The Men Of) Porn, Acid King and VALIS have come into the fold, but the crux of Small Stone‘s catalog is made up of acts like Roadsaw, Dixie Witch, Halfway to Gone, Throttlerod, Puny Human and Novadriver, who no matter what else they put out or who they put it out with, will always be considered “Small Stone bands.”

That designation and those groups specifically have helped establish a core American-style heavy rocking sound that the label seems to delight in toying with even as it continues to promulgate. Next generation bands like Gozu, Lo-Pan, Freedom Hawk, Backwoods Payback and even newer newcomers Wo Fat, Supermachine, Lord Fowl and Mellow Bravo — who don’t yet have albums out on the label — are expanding its breadth, and recent international signees Asteroid, Abrahma, Mangoo, Nightstalker and Mother of God should help ensure that Small Stone keeps pushing both itself and genre boundaries well into the next several years.

One of the hazards, however, of an ever-growing catalog, is that it can be hard to figure out where to start taking it on, and to that end, I’m happy to provide you with 10 essential Small Stone picks. Note I didn’t say “the 10 essential Small Stone picks,” because the reality of the situation is this is just the tip of the fuzzberg. If it’s any indication, I started out with five and couldn’t leave the rest out.

Here they are, ordered by the date of release:

 
1. Novadriver, Void (ss-022/2001)

Still an album that’s more or less impossible to pin to just one genre, the stoner/space/weirdo jams of Novadriver‘s 2001 outing, Void, reside somewhere between Monster Magnet‘s early Hawkwind worship and the unbridled intensity of groove that came out of Detroit’s early- and mid-’70s heavy rock and proto-metal. The fact that Novadriver also came from the Motor City speaks to the label’s local roots, but if Void was coming out even today, it’d be coming out on Small Stone.

2. Los Natas, Corsario Negro (ss-028/2002)

Personally, I think 2005’s El Hombre Montaña is a better album and 2009’s Nuevo Orden de la Libertad is an even better album than that, but Corsario Negro earns the edge as a starting point because it was the beginning of the Argentinian rockers’ relationship with Small Stone (they too were left without a home in the wake of Man’s Ruin folding). Plus, if you haven’t heard them before and you get this, you can still marvel at the subsequent offerings. Either way, totally necessary.

3. Various Artists, Sucking the ’70s (ss-032/2002)

In a lot of ways, this is what it’s all about. Badass bands playing badass songs. By this point, The Glasspack, Los Natas, Fireball Ministry, Halfway to Gone and Five Horse Johnson (who lead off the first disc) had already put out at least one album through Small Stone, but Sucking the ’70s made the most of the label’s burgeoning reputation, bringing in Clutch, Alabama Thunderpussy and Lowrider, along with bands who’d later add records to the catalog like Roadsaw, Suplecs and Lord Sterling, all covering hits and obscurities from the heavy ’70s. A gorgeous collection that would get a sequel in 2006. Still waiting on part three.

4. Dixie Witch, One Bird, Two Stones (ss-037/2003)

The Austin, Texas, trio would go on to become one of the most pivotal acts on the Small Stone roster, and they’d do so on the strength of their Southern riffs and the soul in their songwriting. Led by drummer/vocalist Trinidad Leal, Dixie Witch hooked up with Small Stone on the heels of their 2001 debut, Into the Sun, which was released by Brainticket, and quickly gained a reputation for some of the finest classic road songs that Grand Funk never wrote (see “The Wheel”). Their 2011 offering, Let it Roll, affirmed their statesmen status among their labelmates.

5. Sasquatch, Sasquatch (ss-044/2004)

I was pretty well convinced that when the L.A.-based Sasquatch released their self-titled debut in 2004, rock and roll was saved. Whoever it needed saving from, whatever needed to take place to make that happen, this record did it. Truth is, rock and roll didn’t really need to be saved — it needed a stiff drink, as we all do from time to time — but Sasquatch would’ve been right there even if it had. They’re a Small Stone original with all three of their records to date out through the label, and still one of the strongest acts in the American rock underground, even though they’d never be quite this fuzzy again.

6. Dozer, Through the Eyes of Heathens (ss-061/2005)

Even now, seven years later, I can’t look at this album cover without hearing the chorus to “The Roof, the River, the Revolver.” Between that and songs like “Man of Fire,” “Born a Legend” and “From Fire Fell,” Swedish rockers Dozer made their definitive statement in their label debut (fourth album overall). Another former Man’s Ruin band, they’d already begun to grow past their desert rock roots by the time they hooked up with Hamilton, and Through the Eyes of Heathens played out like what heavy metal should’ve turned into after the commercial atrocities of the late-’90s. A gorgeous record and still a joy to hear.

7. Greenleaf, Agents of Ahriman (ss-074/2007)

It’s like they built nearly every song on here out of undeniable choruses. Even the verses are catchy. I’ve championed Agents of Ahriman since before I started this site, and I feel no less vehement in doing so now than I did then. A side-project of Dozer guitarist Tommi Holappa that on this, their third album, included and featured members of Truckfighters, Lowrider, The Awesome Machine and others, Greenleaf became a distillation of many of the elements that make Swedish heavy rock unique in the world. It wasn’t aping classic rock, it was giving it a rebirth, and every Hammond note was an absolute triumph.

8. Iota, Tales (ss-084/2008)

Once, I had a t-shirt with the cover of Iota‘s Tales on the front. I wore it until it got holes, and then I bought another. That’s the kind of album Tales was. A trio crawled from out of Utah’s Great Salt Lake, Iota took Kyuss, launched them into space, and jammed out for five, 10 or 20 minutes to celebrate the success of the mission. Recently, guitarist/vocalist Joey Toscano has resurfaced in the bluesier, more earthbound Dwellers, which teams him with the rhythm section of SubRosa. Their debut, Good Morning Harakiri, was a highlight of early 2012, building on what Iota was able to accomplish here while pushing in a different direction.

9. Solace, A.D. (ss-093/2010)

It took the better part of a decade for the Jersey-bred metallers to finish what became their Small Stone debut after two full-lengths for MeteorCity, but when it finally dropped, there was no denying A.D.‘s power. My album of the year in 2010, the band delivered front to back on seven years’ worth of promise, and though it was recorded in more studios than I can count over a longer stretch than I think even Solace knows, it became a cohesive, challenging album, giving listeners a kick in the ass even as it handed them their next beer. I still get chills every time I put on “From Below,” and I put it on with near-embarrassing regularity.

10. Lo-Pan, Salvador (ss-116/2011)

If you know this site, this one’s probably a no-brainer pick, but the Columbus, Ohio-based riff merchants took on unabashed stoner rock fuzz for their Small Stone debut (third album overall) and made some of 2011’s most memorable songs in the process. Subversively varied in mood and heavy as hell no matter what they were doing, every part of Lo-Pan‘s Salvador worked. There was no lag. Small Stone also reissued the band’s 2009 outing, Sasquanaut, in 2011, but Salvador surpassed it entirely, bringing the band to new heights of professionalism they’d confirm by touring, well, perpetually. They’re still touring for it. You should go see them and behold the future of fuzz.

That’s the list as much as I could limit it. If you want to immediately add five more, throw in Roadsaw‘s self-titled (they’re writing the best songs of their career right now, I don’t care how attached to the early records you are), Puny Human‘s Universal Freak Out, Halfway to Gone‘s High Five, Milligram‘s This is Class War and Five Horse Johnson‘s Fat Black Pussycat. If you want to semi-immediately add five more than that, get the reissue of Acid King‘s Busse Woods, Mos Generator‘s Songs for Future Gods, The Brought Low‘s Third Record, Tummler‘s Early Man and Erik Larson‘s The Resounding. There. We just doubled the length of the list.

And the real trouble? I could go on. We didn’t even touch on curios like Axehandle, Lord Sterling and Brain Police, or The Might Could‘s Southern aggression, Hackman‘s instrumentalism or the druggy post-grunge of VALIS. Suffice it to say that Small Stone is one of very few labels out there from whom any output will at least be worth a cursory investigation. As the label continues to grow and develop in 2012 and beyond with new bands and new releases from its staple acts, taking on new avenues of commerce — like releasing vinyl for the first time, which it did in 2011 — whatever changes might crop up, Small Stone seems ready to meet the future, distortion pedal first. Can’t ask more of rock than that.

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Where to Start: MeteorCity

Posted in Where to Start on July 8th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Where to Start: Saint Vitus

Posted in Where to Start on March 16th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

Without a doubt, they’re the most pivotal doom band of all time who aren’t also Black Sabbath, but until recently, Saint Vitus wasn’t any kind of household name, even among metallers. Their sound has literally taken a generation to become properly appreciated, and with a whole league of bands out there playing a traditional doom style based in no small part on trying to emulate them, not to mention their ongoing reunion and resurgence, Saint Vitus are finally getting the recognition they’ve long deserved. They’re bigger in 2011 than they’ve ever been.

The band formed as Tyrant in 1978, with Dave Chandler on guitar, Mark Adams on bass, Armando Acosta on drums and Scott Reagers singing. That would be the lineup as well when, after a name change, Saint Vitus issued their self-titled debut on Greg Ginn of Black Flag‘s SST Records in 1984. That lineup also recorded 1985’s Hallow’s Victim (just recently officially released on CD for the first time) and the same year’s The Walking Dead EP, but by 1986’s Born too Late, Reagers was out of the picture and replaced by The Obsessed‘s Scott “Wino” Weinrich.

Weinrich would record a total of three studio LPs with Saint VitusBorn too Late, 1988’s Mournful Cries and 1990’s V — as well as the Thirsty and Miserable EP. Vitus put out C.O.D. with Christian Lindersson (later of Count Raven) on vocals in 1992 and reunited with Reagers for their final album before splitting up, 1995’s Die Healing, both on Hellhound Records.

2003 and 2009 brought reunions of the Weinrich-fronted lineup, and the latter seems to have stuck, despite the untimely 2010 death of Acosta, who’d already been replaced in the band by Henry Vasquez (Blood of the Sun) due to his failing health. With confirmation of a new studio album in the works and a high-profile slot on 2011’s Metalliance Tour, there’s no doubt that a lot of listeners are going to be exposed to Saint Vitus for the first time, either because they were too young to catch them originally or just missed out. Either way, we get the age-old question of where to start.

The debate has always been between Saint Vitus, the first album, and Born too Late, the first album with Wino, and rightfully so. Had Vitus released nothing but these two records in the course of their career, maybe they wouldn’t be heralded as the gods they are now, but they still would have been able to have a sizable impact on underground metal. Both albums are absolute classics in doom, and close to if not as essential for understanding what the essence of the genre is as Black Sabbath‘s Master of Reality or Volume 4, and that’s not a comparison lightly made.

So the scenario is this: You’re standing in front of the Saint Vitus section at your favorite record store (they still have those, right?), and you only have enough cash for one. You can’t decide. Sweat is pouring down your forehead. Oh, if only this place took credit cards! You need to choose. But which? Which will you get, Saint Vitus or Born too Late?

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Where to Start: New Jersey

Posted in Where to Start on January 13th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

If all you know of my beloved Garden State is the smell of the Turnpike, Bruce Springsteen, guido stereotyping and the airport, you’re missing out. From the very beginning of stoner rock, New Jersey was right there making landmark contributions to the genre, and as the most crowded, most densely-populated state in the union, there’s always been a special brand of annoyed attitude that comes out of New Jerseyan bands that you can’t get anywhere else. It’s like the music is calling you out on your bullshit.

Of course I’m talking about the Red Bank scene, which is unquestionably the state’s biggest contribution to the canon of underground rock, but even that’s not the end to New Jersey‘s influence. As a lifelong resident and vehement defender of the state in the face of embarrassing reality shows and the rest of it, I humbly offer this list of NJ bands for anyone looking for a place to start in discovering the scene:

Monster Magnet: They’re quintessential stoner rock. Spine of God from 1992 is one of the most pivotal albums from the genre and if I didn’t mention them and it first, this entire list would be a sham. Tracks like “Zodiac Lung,” “Nod Scene” and “Spine of God” are absolute classics and unparalleled by either psych- or riff-obsessives.

Halfway to Gone: Their sound had no shortage of Southern influence, but the crunch they brought to it couldn’t have come from anywhere but the Northeast. 2002’s Second Season stripped down the songwriting from the first album and showed a meaner side.

The Atomic Bitchwax: Their 1999 self-titled gets a lot of play because it boasted Ed Mundell from Monster Magnet on guitar, but to me, the band really came into their own when Core‘s Finn Ryan replaced Mundell on 2005’s 3. Start with that, or if you’re craving Mundell, its predecessor from 2000, II.

Solace: I know I’ve said a lot about Solace lately, but that proves all the more why they need to be on this list too. Their first two albums, Further (2000) and 13 (2003) are killer, but 2010’s A.D. blows them out of the water. Best thing to come out of Jersey in a long time.

Evoken: Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum from all this guitar rock, Lyndhurst‘s Evoken make some of most grueling, most punishing funeral doom ever. Their earlier work had rough production, so I’d say start with 2007’s A Caress of the Void and work your way back. Slowly, of course.

For further reading: Various side-projects and offshoots of the above. Bands like A Thousand Knives of Fire, Core, Gallery of Mites, and so on. Also worth digging into are Lord Sterling (now defunct), abrasive duo Rukut, the righteous heaviness of Clamfight, A Day of Pigs, The Ominous Order of Filthy Mongrels, and many more.

If I forgot anyone or anyone wants to really go to bat for that first Bitchwax, leave a comment.

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Where to Start: C.O.C.

Posted in Where to Start on December 29th, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster

Before we get into this, let the record show that I didn’t start with the album I’m about to recommend. I began listening to Corrosion of Conformity (C.O.C.) with 1991’s Blind album. I was roughly 10 years old, and it was one of the first CDs I ever owned (as much as one can own something stolen from one’s older sister).

Some will say right off the bat my opinions on the band are skewed because of that — specifically since bassist Mike Dean didn’t appear on Blind — but I think it gives me a unique vantage point. I didn’t come aboard after the radio success of 1994’s Deliverance, and I don’t get all reminiscent for the reckless early days of C.O.C. on albums like 1985’s Animosity or their 1984 debut, Eye for an Eye.

The question at this point, especially since 2010’s reformation of the Animosity trio lineup of Dean, guitarist Woody Weatherman and drummer Reed Mullin, is which is better, the Southern metal style the band began to take on with Deliverance, or the crossover hardcore punk/thrash of their first two full-lengths?

Guitarist Pepper Keenan — who came aboard for Blind and wound up taking a leadership role in the band across subsequent albums until this latest C.O.C. incarnation — would seem to be the divisive figure. Also of Down, his growing involvement in C.O.C. could be seen as the impetus for the shift in direction, and I know there are some who think of the band in terms of pre- and post-Pepper.

Nonetheless, in looking at the long, storied, decades-spanning career of Corrosion of Conformity and trying to pick a single album to recommend to newcomers to the band, it would be easy to say, “Listen to Animosity,” since that album and new material in that same vein (they released a 7″ called Your Tomorrow on Southern Lord this year) is what they’re currently touring. But frankly, as someone who’s listened to C.O.C. for nearly two decades of his life, I can’t in good conscience do that.

Start with 1996’s Wiseblood.

There. I said it.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also check out Animosity or support Dean, Weatherman and Mullin as the current version of C.O.C., just that, if you’ve never heard them before, Wiseblood is the place to start.

For what it’s worth, their last album with Keenan in the band (to date; one never knows what the future will bring), 2005’s In the Arms of God, was also fantastic — maybe their best work in the Southern metal style — but without Wiseblood to put it in context, I don’t think it can be fully appreciated. Wiseblood refined the process Deliverance started, offered better songs in tracks like “King of the Rotten,” “Born Again for the Last Time,” “Goodbye Windows” and “The Snake Has No Head,” and gave us the quintessential C.O.C. ballad in “Redemption City.”

Especially for an album released on a major label (Columbia), it was gritty and raw and genuine — which the band would lose sight of on the 2000 follow-up, America’s Volume Dealer — and all parties, Dean, Weatherman, Mullin and Keenan, were present and accounted for. I really do believe that if you’re a new listener to the band and you want to figure out what the appeal of C.O.C. is, Wiseblood is going to help you get the best idea. It was a special moment in the band and some of the best heavy Southern metal ever written. Whatever happens with their lineup, future releases or reunions, nothing is going to change that.

Any arguments, cases for other records to be made, or agreement, please, leave a comment.

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Where to Start: Sludge

Posted in Where to Start on November 12th, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster

I’ve heard the word sludge used to classify bands from Pro-Pain to Neurosis to Grand Funk Railroad, so let’s be clear right off the bat that when I talk about sludge, I mean ultra-aggressive, screaming doom, played slow, played angry. It’s a term as nebulous as any other, but going from that specific definition, and considering the bands I’m about to recommend who play it, we should have a pretty good basis to work from.

There are some acts who take sludge to vicious extremes — see Fistula or Sollubi — blending in elements of black metal or SunnO))) style drone minimalism, but I’m not talking about them either. Where to start with sludge is the root of the subgenre, the key formative groups who’ve made it possible for a new generation to pull the sound in the multiple directions they have.

Because I couldn’t narrow it down to five, here are seven killer sludge bands to start with:

Crowbar: Their later material actually has little in common with what’s currently thought of as sludge, but 1991’s Obedience thru Suffering and 1993’s Crowbar are essential to understanding what the sound has become. The latter (recently reissued) is a better starting point for its more memorable songs.

Eyehategod: As much an influence in lifestyle and persona as for their music, the New Orleans gods of sonic fuck-all have nonetheless produced some of sludge’s most classic material. Just not in the last decade. At all. Start with 1993’s Take as Needed for Pain.

Negative Reaction: Their early stuff was more geared to sci-fi, which made the long-running Long Island outfit unique among their viscous peers. 2000’s endofyourerror saw them start to veer away from that into more personal lyrical territory, but it’s a stunningly abrasive listen nonetheless.

Buzzov*en: Dude. To a Frown. Dude.

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Where to Start: Post-Metal

Posted in Where to Start on October 20th, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster

At this point, the subgenre’s trend level has crested and most of what the specific style of music has to offer has likely been explored, but although it gets the ol’ eye-roll “not this again” treatment these days, it’s worth remembering that post-metal has produced some great, landmark albums, and that the bands who came after had solid reasoning behind being influenced as they were.

Blending post-rock elements with heavier, often crushing guitar work, the classification post-metal is as amorphous as any genre term. I’ve heard everyone from High on Fire to Ulver referred to under its umbrella, but I want to be clear that when I talk about post-metal, I’m thinking of what’s also commonly called “metalgaze,” the specific branch of metal heavily inspired by the bands below.

I wanted to do this Where to Start post not just for those looking to expose themselves to the genre, but also in case anyone who maybe is tired of hearing bands that sound like this has forgotten how killer these records were. Here’s my starting five essential post-metal albums, ordered by year of release:

1. Godflesh, Godflesh (1988): I saw the album art on hoodies for years before I knew what it was. 1989’s Streetcleaner was better received critically at the time for its industrial leanings, but Justin Broadrick‘s first outing after leaving Napalm Death has grown over time to be the more influential album. At just 30 minutes long in its original form (subsequent reissues would add bonus material), it’s a pivotal moment in understanding modern post-metal that predates most of the genre’s major contributions by over a decade.

2. Neurosis, A Sun That Never Sets (2001): Take a listen to A Sun That Never Sets closer “Stones from the Sky,” then go put on just about any post-metal record, and you’ll see many of them trying to capture the same feel and progression — if not just blatantly transposing that riff onto their own material. Say what you want about Neurosis‘ earlier material, I think if everyone was honest about it, it would be A Sun That Never Sets mentioned even more. An awful lot of the modern wave of post-metal bands formed in 2001 and 2002, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

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Where to Start: Cathedral

Posted in Where to Start on September 28th, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster

This is one of the hardest questions in all the doomly realm to answer: “Where do I start with Cathedral?” The reason it’s so hard is because the UK outfit, led by vocalist Lee Dorrian and guitarist Gary “Gaz” Jennings, vary so much from album to album. Even up to this year’s The Guessing Game, Cathedral have constantly kept their sound in flux, from their death/doom beginnings all the way to the ’70s prog experimentation of the latest offering. There’s a good chance it’ll rock, but beyond that, you never know what you’re going to get from a Cathedral record.

Which brings us around to the question at hand. Where to start with Cathedral depends almost entirely on what you’re looking for from the band. They veered into stonerisms arguably most on Supernatural Birth Machine, and were at their invariably most doomed on their first album, 1991’s Forest of Equilibrium. The 2001/2002 duo of albums, Endtyme and VIIth Coming, were heavy but not as memorable, and 2005’s The Garden of Unearthly Delights was solid and had a couple standout tracks, but not necessarily groundbreaking in its blend of influences.

For that reason, I think 1995’s The Carnival Bizarre is the place to start. It’s the first full-length on which Dorrian and Jennings were joined by bassist Leo Smee and drummer Brian Dixon, and it saw them begin to work away from the deathly presence of Forest of Equilibrium and 1993’s The Ethereal Mirror, and with tracks like “Hopkins (The Witchfinder General)” and the Tony Iommi-infused “Utopian Blaster,” it’s bound to leave an impression on you when you hear it. In terms of meshing production and style, plus the performances of the band at their best and most innovative, it’s the way to go.

Agreements? Arguments? Any The Ethereal Mirror fans want to give me the business? Well, that’s why there are comments. Have at it.

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Here’s Brant Bjork’s First Bio

Posted in Buried Treasure, Where to Start on September 27th, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster

A while back I purchased a promo of the Man’s Ruin release of High on Fire‘s first album, The Art of Self-Defense, and posted the bio included with that. It didn’t get much of a response, but when I received the promo of Brant Bjork‘s Jalamanta (which I’m certain is exactly the same as the final Man’s Ruin release sonically, though the wah-guitar on “Automatic Fantastic” sounded higher in the mix when I listened this morning), I was interested to read how the album was pitched to the press at the time.

Of course, we think of desert rock now as a given, but in 1999, the idea was still pretty new, at least to those outside the geographic locale. So in coming up with a description for Bjork‘s unique blend of soul, funk, punk and classic rock, the record gets called “12 tracks of ghetto vibe wonder,” which is just awesome. Plus, it’s got different cover art than either the final Man’s Ruin release or the subsequent Duna Records reissue. That’s gotta be worth $15 in itself.

So here’s the bio for your perusal. Click the image to view full-size:

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Where to Start: Colour Haze

Posted in Where to Start on August 26th, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster

I think when the smoke clears over the next decade or so, we’re going to see a lot of bands come down the line who cite Colour Haze as an influence. The German heavy psych trio have left an indelible mark on underground rock over the course of their 15-plus years together, and though they’ve all but disavowed their earliest works — albums like 1995’s Chopping Machine, 1998’s Seven and the 2000’s CO2 are all out of print and quite rare (though 1999’s Periscope was reissued on guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek‘s Elektrohasch Schallplatten imprint in 2003) — their latter-day material has made for incredible depth of listening and the strength of their playing continues to reach new heights.

So where to start? First, let it be said that the entire available discography is exceptional. 2008’s All was my favorite album of that year, and 2003’s Los Sounds de Krauts is nothing short of miraculous. You might think it strange then that I’m going with 2006’s Tempel as my pick for newcomers.

It’s a question of exclusion. On 2001’s Ewige Blumekraft, Koglek, bassist Philip Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald were still getting a feel for their sound. Los Sounds de Krauts, as I’ve said, is great, but it’s a double-CD, and might be too much to handle in terms of giving new listeners a full appreciation of what the band can do. Tempel‘s predecessor, the 2004 self-titled, is close, but the tracks aren’t as memorable.

And as for All, the only reason I didn’t pick that is because the album is better experienced if you’re already familiar with what the band has done before. It might be the best Colour Haze record to date (and I do include last year’s Burg Herzberg Live release in that), but you won’t know that unless you hear the others first — and especially hearing Tempel first, then going to All, I think that’s the best way to grasp how special Colour Haze really is. You get to hear the chemistry between Rasthofer, Merwald and Koglek and come to understand it’s really not all about the riffs, but about each instrument and how they play off each other. Perhaps even more important then where you get started is that you get started. Here’s Tempel opener “Aquamaria” to speed your way. Enjoy.

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Where to Start: The Sounds of Italy

Posted in Where to Start on August 19th, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster

I’ve been to Italy once in my life, for my honeymoon early in 2005, arguably the height of anti-American sentiment in Europe. Nonetheless, The Patient Mrs. and I basked in the glory of the Trevi Fountain above and many other of Rome‘s famous artifacts and tourism highlights. It was a beautiful country that I could have easily spent a lifetime getting to know.

This Where to Start comes by request, and I’ll confess to being no expert on the Italian scene, such as it is. Unlike Sweden, which has been a hotbed for heavy rock decades running, Italy doesn’t have the reputation of producing a killer desert or psych scene in particular, but what it does have as a diverse array of individual acts whose contributions to their respective subgenres has been considerable.

Through labels like Black Widow and Beard of Stars (both of which sign international as well as domestic Italian bands), Italy has had a slew of killer bands over the years. Here’s but a sampling to which I hope you’ll add in the comments section. Artists and albums to start with:

Paul Chain, Park of Reason: I started with Whited Sepulchres and it was a mistake. Paul Chain‘s catalog is intimidatingly huge, as it runs from his time in Death SS in the early-’80s to now in Translate, but if you stick with his solo stuff and Paul Chain Violet Theatre, you should be alright.

Ufomammut, Eve: These guys might be the best drone metal act on the planet right now. To put it simply: their doom is bigger than your doom. Most people will tell you start with 2004’s Snailking, and if you buy vinyl, they’re right, but it can be pricey on CD, so I went with the latest, Eve, instead. Either way you win.

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Where to Start: Swedish Stoner Rock

Posted in Where to Start on August 3rd, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster

I’ve made no secret of my Sverige fetish since starting this site (and yes, at some point there will be a Swede-only podcast), but when it comes to nailing down a scene as important to the underground heavy as the Swedish one has been, it’s hard to even know where to start this Where to Start.

Let’s be clear: I’m talking about stoner rock only. The nation of Sweden has had a tremendous impact on metal, from Kebnekajse to At the Gates to Witchcraft and Graveyard, but that’s not what I’m interested in. I’m talking about riffs, crashes, fuzz and good vibes. Swedish stoner rock.

Even so, it’s a challenge to narrow down so many killer bands to just a few essentials. If you’re looking to embark on a listening adventure through Sweden‘s contributions to the genre, you should know it’s a serious undertaking that will probably consume years of your life. I’m not kidding. Here are a few bands and albums to get you started (listed alphabetically):

Abramis Brama, Smakar Söndag: Yes, it’s in Swedish. You’ll live.

Asteroid, Asteroid: I’ve talked about this band a lot in the last year-plus. Both of their albums are amazing. Life is but a joke to Dr. Smoke.

Demon Cleaner, Demon Cleaner: One of the original post-Kyuss Swede-stoner acts. They were a little punkier, but still heavy on the riffs.

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Where to Start: The Desert Scene

Posted in Where to Start on July 23rd, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster

What a question. Understand, I’m not talking about a grouping based on sound. I mean bands from the desert in California. It’s a limited bunch of musicians, centered around a few interconnected acts that have had a tremendous impact on stoner rock the world over. Although I think they’ve made some of the most important contributions to the genre, I’m including no outside bands here. It’s all about location.

Five bands  you need to know, and which album to get. Here goes:

1. Yawning Man: Most often credited as originators of the desert scene, an instrumental trio with Gary Arce, Mario Lalli (also Fatso Jetson) and Alfredo Hernandez (also Kyuss). Their new album, Nomadic Pursuits (review here), is fantastic and a great display of the influence they’ve had on those who’ve followed them, but recommendations for 2005’s Rock Formations are valid.

2. Kyuss: They’re the hallmark act of stoner rock, with import not just limited to the bands former members have launched (Queens of the Stone Age, Unida, Slo Burn, Brant Bjork, Mondo Generator, etc.). Welcome to Sky Valley is an all-time classic. As necessary as oxygen.

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Where to Start: The Heavy ’70s

Posted in Where to Start on July 14th, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster

This, admittedly is a hard one. Let’s say we take the über-gods out. Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix, Hawkwind, bands like that. Even if you’re just getting started on ’70s rock, you already know they were massively influential and you don’t need me to rehash, fun as it is to do on occasion.

The purpose of this list is to give you some more obscure artists to check out and see where the foundation of modern heavy rock (be it stoner, doom, etc.) comes from. I’ll admit to having zero personal expertise on the ’70s. I was born in 1981, so it’s not like I was there. Nonetheless, bear with me and maybe you’ll find something you haven’t yet heard.

Or maybe you know everything about ’70s rock and want to school me in the comments. Hey, I’ll take it. Here’s my list of starting points, no real order:

Captain Beyond, Captain Beyond (1972)

Atomic Rooster, Death Walks Behind You (1970)

Leaf Hound, Growers of Mushroom (1971)

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