The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 of 2013

Posted in Features on December 16th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Please note:  These are my picks, not the results of the Readers Poll, which is still going on. If you haven’t added your list yet, please do.

It’s always strange to think of something so utterly arbitrary as also being really, really difficult, but I think 2013 posed the biggest challenge yet in terms of getting together a final list of my favorite records. As ever, I had a post-it note on my office wall (when I moved, it moved with me) and I did my best to keep track of everything that resonated throughout the year. I wound up with over 40 picks and had to start putting them in order to whittle the list down.

I wound up with a top 20 that, even though it feels somewhat incomplete, I’ve found that I can at very least live with. That’s what I’ve done for the last week: Just lived with it. Even up to this morning, I was making changes, but in general, I think this gives some scope about what hit me hard in 2013. Of course, these are just my picks, and while things like my own critical appreciation factor in because that affects how I ultimately listen to a record, sometimes it just comes down to what was stuck in my head most often or what I kept putting on over and over.

That’s a simple formula to apply, but still, 2013 didn’t make it easy. Please note as you go through that there are some real gems in the honorable mentions. I thought about expanding the list to 30 this year, but the thought made my skull start to cave in, so I reconsidered.

Anyway, it only comes around once a year, so let’s do this thing. Thanks in advance for reading:

 

20. All Them Witches, Lightning at the Door

Self-released.

Traditionally, I’ve reserved #20 for a sentimental pick. An album that’s hard to place numerically because of some personal or emotional connection. This year wasn’t short on those, but when it came to it, I knew I couldn’t make this list without Lightning at the Door included, and since it was released just last month as the follow-up to the earlier-2013 Elektrohasch reissue of the Nashville, Tennessee, outfit’s 2012 debut, Our Mother Electricity (review here), I didn’t feel like I’ve had enough time with it to really put it anywhere else. It needed to be here, and so it is, and though I’ve listened to it plenty in the month since its release, I still feel like I’m getting to know Lightning at the Door, and exploring its open-spaced blues rocking grooves. All Them Witches are hands down one of the best bands I heard for the first time this year, and I’m looking forward to following their work as they continue to progress.

19. Queens of the Stone Age, …Like Clockwork

Released by Matador Records. Reviewed June 4.

For a while after I first heard …Like Clockwork and around the time I reviewed it, I sweated it pretty hard. By mid-June, I had it as one of the year’s best without a doubt in my mind. Then I put it away. I don’t know if I burnt myself out on it or what, but I still haven’t really gone back to it, and while the brilliance of cuts like “Kalopsia” and “Fairweather Friends” and “I Appear Missing” still stands out and puts Josh Homme‘s songwriting as some of the most accomplished I encountered in 2013, that hasn’t been enough to make me take it off the shelf. I doubt Queens of the Stone Age will cry about it as they tour arenas and get nominated for Grammy awards, but there it is. I wouldn’t have expected …Like Clockwork to be so low on the list, certainly not when I was listening to “My God is the Sun” six times in a row just to try and get my head around the chorus.

18. I are Droid, The Winter Ward

Released by Razzia Records. Reviewed Sept. 19.

Gorgeously produced and impeccably textured, The Winter Ward by Stockholm-based I are Droid aren’t generally the kind of thing I’d reach for, but the quality of the craft in songs like “Constrict Contract” and “Feathers and Dust” made it essential. Bits and pieces within harkened back to frontman Peder Bergstrand‘s tenure in Lowrider, but ultimately The Winter Ward emerged with a varied and rich personality all its own, and that became the basis for the appeal. As the weather has gotten colder and it’s gotten dark earlier, I’ve returned to The Winter Ward for repeat visits, and as much as I’ve got my fingers crossed for another Lowrider album in 2014, I hope I are Droid continue to run parallel, since the progressive take on alternative influences they managed to concoct was carried across with proportionate accessibility. It was as audience friendly and satisfying a listen as it was complex and ripe for active engagement.

17. Magic Circle, Magic Circle


Released by Armageddon Shop. Reviewed Feb. 18.

There was just nothing to argue about when it came to the self-titled debut from Massachusetts-based doomers Magic Circle, but what worked best about the album was that although the songs were strong on their own and seemed to have lurching hooks to spare, everything throughout fed into an overarching atmosphere that was denser than the straightforwardness of the structures might lead the listener to initially believe. It was a record worth going back to, worth getting lost in the nod of, and as the members are experienced players in a variety of New England acts from The Rival Mob to Doomriders, it should be interesting to find out what demons they may conjure in following-up Magic Circle, if they’ll continue down the path of deceptively subversive “traditionalism” or expand their sound into more progressive reaches. Either way they may choose, the material on their first outing showed an ability to craft an enigmatic, individualized sonic persona that never veered into cultish caricature.

16. Iron Man, South of the Earth

Released by Rise Above/Metal Blade Records. Reviewed Oct. 14.

If you’re into doom and you have a soul, I don’t know how you could not be rooting for Iron Man in 2013. Produced by Frank Marchand and the first full-length from the long-running Maryland doomers to feature vocalist Dee Calhoun and drummer Jason “Mot” Waldmann alongside guitarist/founder “Iron” Al Morris III (interview here) and longtime bassist Louis Strachan. The difference in South of the Earth was palpable even in comparison to 2009’s I Have Returned (review here). With more professional production, excellent performances all around in the lineup, memorable songs like “Hail to the Haze” and “The Worst and Longest Day,” and the considerable endorsement of a release through Rise Above/Metal Blade behind them, the four-piece sounded like the statesmen they are in the Maryland scene and showed themselves every bit worthy of inclusion in the discussion of America’s finest in traditional, Sabbathian doom. May they continue to get their due.

15. Sasquatch, IV


Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed Sept. 16.

Whether it was what the lyrics were talking about or not, the message of “The Message” was clear: Never count out a catchy chorus. Now in operation for a decade, Sasquatch practice an arcane artistry with their songwriting. Void of pretense, heavy on boogie, they are as genuine a modern extension of classic heavy rock as you’re likely to find. The Los Angeles power trio outdid themselves with IV, veering boldly into psychedelia on “Smoke Signal” and honing their craft over various moods and themes on “Sweet Lady,” “Me and You” and “Eye of the Storm.” They remain one of American heavy rock’s key and consistently underestimated components, and the three years since the release of their third album, III (review here), seemed like an eternity once the quality grooves of “Money” and “Drawing Flies” got moving, the former an insistent rush and the latter open, dreamy and atmospheric, but both executed with precision and confidence born of Sasquatch‘s familiarity with the methods and means of kicking ass.

14. Black Pyramid, Adversarial

Released by Hydro-Phonic Records. Reviewed April 12.

It was hard to know what to expect from Black Pyramid‘s Adversarial, their first release with guitarist/vocalist Darryl Shepard at the fore with bassist Dave Gein and drummer/engineer Clay Neely, but the Massachusetts outfit flourished on tracks like “Swing the Scimitar,” incorporating a heavy jamming sensibility with marauding riffs and grooves carried over from the style of their first two albums. Adversarial took the band to Hellfest in France this past summer, where they shared a stage with Neurosis and Sleep, and whether it was the raging chorus of “Bleed Out” or the clarion guitar line of “Aphelion,” the band showed their war ensemble could not be stopped. Their future is uncertain with Neely having relocated and Gein having an impending move of his own, but if Adversarial is to stand as the final Black Pyramid outing, they will at very least have claimed enough heads in their time to line fence-posts for miles. Still, hopefully they can find some way to continue to make it work.

13. Across Tundras, Electric Relics

Released by Electric Relics Records. Reviewed July 11.

Even the interlude “Seasick Serenade,” just over a minute and a half long, was haunting. Electric Relics marked the first full-length from Nashville’s Across Tundras to be released on their own label and the first since they issued Sage through Neurot in 2011 (review here), and as rolling and exploratory as its vibe was, songs like “Solar Ark,” “Pining for the Gravel Roads” and “Den of Poison Snakes” also represented a solidification of Across Tundras‘ sound, another step in their development that refined their blend of rural landscapes and heavy tones. Issued in April, it’s been an album that throughout the course of the year I’ve returned to time and again, and the more I’ve sat with it and the more comfortable it’s become, the more its songs have come to feel like home, which it’s easy to read as being their intent all along. Guitarist/vocalist Tanner Olson (read his questionnaire answers here), bassist/vocalist Mikey Allred and drummer Casey Perry hit on something special in these tracks, and one gets the sense their influence is just beginning to be felt.

12. Borracho, Oculus

Released by Strange Magic/No Balls/AM Records. Reviewed July 26.

Initially a digital self-release by the Washington, D.C. riff purveyors, Oculus just this month got a tri-color, tri-label and tri-continental vinyl issue, and the fanfare with which it arrived was well earned by the five songs contained on the two sides. Borracho‘s second album behind 2011’s Splitting Sky (review here) also marked a lineup shift in the band that saw them go from a four-piece to a trio, with guitarist Steve Fisher (interview here) stepping to the fore as vocalist in the new incarnation with Tim Martin on bass and Mario Trubiano on drums. The results in songs like “Know the Score” and closer “I’ve Come for it All” were in line stylistically with the straightforward approach they showed on their first offering, but tighter overall in their presentation, and Fisher‘s voice was a natural fit with the band’s stated ethic of “repetitive heavy grooves” — a neat summary, if perhaps underselling their appeal somewhat. Oculus showed both that the appeal of Splitting Sky was no fluke and that Borracho with four members or three was not a band to be taken lightly.

11. Ice Dragon, Born a Heavy Morning

Released by Navalorama Records. Reviewed Aug. 14.

Like the bulk of Ice Dragon‘s work to date, Born a Heavy Morning was put out first digitally, for free or pay-what-you-want download. A CD version would follow soon enough on Navalorama, with intricate packaging to match the album’s understated achievements, taking the Boston genre-crossers into and through heavy psychedelic atmospheres added to and played off in longer pieces like “The Past Plus the Future is Present” and the gorgeously ethereal “Square Triangle” by thematic slice-of-life set-pieces like “In Which a Man Daydreams about a Girl from His Youth” and “In Which a Man Ends His Workweek with a Great Carouse” that only enriched the listening experience and furthered Ice Dragon‘s experimental appeal. Ever-prolific, Born a Heavy Morning wasn’t the only Ice Dragon outing this year, physical or digital, but it stood in a place of its own within their constantly-expanding catalog and showcased a stylistic fearlessness that can only be an asset in their favor as they continue to chase down whatever the hell it is they’re after in their songs and make genuine originality sound so natural.

10. Devil to Pay, Fate is Your Muse

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed March 19.

It seemed like no matter where I turned in 2013, Devil to Pay‘s Fate is Your Muse was there. Not that it was the highest-profile release of the year or bolstered by some consciousness-invading viral campaign or anything, just that once the songs locked into my head, there was no removing them, and whether it was straightforward rockers like “This Train Won’t Stop,” “Savonarola” and “Tie One On,” the moodier “Black Black Heart” or the charm-soaked “Ten Lizardmen and One Pocketknife” — which might also be the best song title I came across this year — it was a pretty safe bet that something from the Indianapolis four-piece was going to make a showing on the mental jukebox if not in the actual player (it showed up plenty there as well). Devil to Pay‘s first album since 2009, first for Ripple and fourth overall, Fate is Your Muse was a grower listen whose appeal only deepened over the months after its release, the layered vocals of guitarist Steve Janiak (interview here) adaptable to the varying vibes of “Wearin’ You Down” and “Already Dead” and soulful in classic fashion. They’ve been underrated as a live act for some time, and Fate is Your Muse translated well their light-on-frills, heavy-on-riffs appeal to a studio setting.

9. Beast in the Field, The Sacred Above, the Sacred Below

Released by Saw Her Ghost Records. Reviewed May 30.

Such devastation. Even now, every time I put on Beast in the Field‘s The Sacred Above, the Sacred Below, it makes me want to hang my head and wonder at the horror of it all like Marlon Brando hiding out in a cave. If anything at all, there wasn’t much I heard in 2013 that hit harder than the Michigan duo’s fifth long-player, released on CD in March through Saw Her Ghost with vinyl reportedly on the way now. Toward the middle of the year, it got to the point where I wanted to go door to door and say to people, “Uh excuse me, but this is absurdly heavy and you should check it out.” I settled for streaming the album in full and it still feels like a compromise. I tried to interview the band, to no avail — sometimes instrumental acts just don’t want to talk about it — but what guitarist Jordan Pries and drummer Jamie Jahr were able to accomplish tonally, atmospherically and bombastically in expansive and overwhelmingly heavy cuts like the 22-minute “Oncoming Avalanche” or the noise-soaked riffing of “Hollow Horn” put The Sacred Above, the Sacred Below into a weight class that it had pretty much to itself this year. It’s a good thing they had no trouble filling that space. I still feel like I haven’t recommended the album enough and that more people need to be made aware of its existence.

8. Beelzefuzz, Beelzefuzz

Released by The Church Within Records. Reviewed Aug. 30.

When I finally listened to Beelzefuzz‘s self-titled debut, I was really, really glad I had seen the three-piece — its members based in Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania — play some of the material live. I don’t know if otherwise I’d have been able to distinguish between the progress elements of effects and looping and the live creation of layers and organ sounds through the guitar of Dana Ortt (interview here) and the simple humdrum of studio layering one finds all the time. I almost think for their next record they should track it live, just the three of them, and heavily advertise that fact to help get the point across that it’s actually just three players — Ortt, bassist Pug Kirby and drummer Darin McCloskey (also of Pale Divine) — creating the richness of sound on “All the Feeling Returns” and the eerie, gleefully weird progressive stomp on “Lonely Creatures.” The album became a morning go-to for me, and I don’t know how many times I’ve been through it at this point, but “Reborn” and “Hypnotize” and “Lotus Jam” continue to echo in my head even when it’s been a few days. That said, it’s rarely been a few days, because while I appreciate what the trio accomplish on their first record on an analytical level, the reason it is where it is on this list is because I can’t stop listening to the damn thing. Another one that more people should hear than have heard.

7. Samsara Blues Experiment, Waiting for the Flood

Released by World in Sound/Electric Magic Records. Reviewed Oct. 22.

One of the aspects of Samsara Blues Experiment‘s third offering that I most enjoyed was that it wasn’t the album I expected German four-piece to make. After their 2011 sophomore album, Revelation and Mystery (review here), shifted its focus away from the jam-minded heavy psychedelia of their 2009 debut, Long Distance Trip (review here), my thinking was that they would continue down that path and coalesce into a more straightforward brand of heavy rock. Instead, when the four extended tracks of Waiting for the Flood showed up with no shortage of swirl or sitar or open-ended expansion in their midst, it was a legitimate surprise. Repeat visits to “Shringara” and “Don’t Belong” show that actually it’s not so much that Samsara Blues Experiment turned around and were hell-bent on jamming out all the time, but that rather for their third, they took elements of what worked on their first two LPs and built lush movements on top of those ideas. As a happy bonus, this having grown more and more into their sound has helped push the band — guitarist/vocalist Christian Peters, guitarist Hans Eiselt, bassist Richard Behrens and drummer Thomas Vedder — into their own niche within the wider European heavy psych scene, and they’ve begun to emerge as one of its most enjoyable and consistent acts.

6. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Mind Control

Released by Rise Above/Metal Blade Records. Reviewed April 8.

Kind of inevitable that there would be a lot of comparisons made between Mind Control and the preceding Uncle Acid album, Blood Lust. Certainly the newer outing — their third and first for Rise Above/Metal Blade – is more psychedelic, more tripped out and less obscure feeling than its predecessor. It didn’t have the same kind of crunch to the guitar tone, or the same kind of horror-film atmosphere or psychosexual foreboding, but the thing was, it wasn’t supposed to. The UK outfit continue to prod cult mentality even as their own cult grows, and as I see it, Mind Control made a lot of sense coming off Blood Lust in terms of the band not wanting to repeat the same ideas over again, but grow from them and expand their sound. Of course, with the strut at the end of opener “Mt. Abraxas,” they’ve set a high standard on their albums for leadoff tracks, but where Mind Control really made its impression was in the hypnosis of cuts like the Beatlesian “Follow the Leader,” the lysergic “Valley of the Dolls” or the maddening “Devil’s Work.” The deeper you went into side B, the more the band had you in their grasp. It was a different kind of accomplishment than the preceding effort — though “Mind Crawler” kept a lot of that vibe alive — and it showed Uncle Acid had more in their arsenal than VHS ambience and garage doom malevolence while keeping the infectiousness that helped Blood Lust make such an impression.

5. Lumbar, The First and Last Days of Unwelcome

Released by Southern Lord. Reviewed Dec. 3.

Of the ones reviewed, Lumbar‘s The First and Last Days of Unwelcome was the most recent inclusion on this list. Having worked with Lumbar multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Aaron Edge (interview here) in the past with his band Roareth releasing what would be their only album on The Maple Forum, this was a project to which I felt an immediate connection given the circumstances of its creation: Being written almost in its entirety and recorded in everything but vocals during a bedridden period following Edge‘s diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. The contributions of YOB/Vhöl frontman Mike Scheidt and Tad Doyle of TAD and Brothers of the Sonic Cloth were what got a lot of people’s attention for Lumbar‘s The First and Last Days of Unwelcome, but with the situation are the core of the seven tracks named “Day One” through “Day Seven,” what stood out to me even more than those performances was the utter lack of distance and the level of rawness in the album’s presentation. It puts you there. What you get with Lumbar is the direct translation of a range of emotions from hopeful to hopeless, angry, sad, beaten down and wanting answers, wanting more. There’s no shield from it, and as much in concept as in its execution, there’s no other word for it than “heavy.” The intensity Edge packed into just 24 minutes — and not all of it loud or over the top doomed or anything more than atmospherics — was unmatched by anything else I heard this year.

4. Vista Chino, Peace

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed July 30.

From just about any angle you want to view it, the situation that turned Kyuss Lives! into Vista Chino was unfortunate. However — and I know I’ve said this before — I really do believe that becoming Vista Chino, that furthering the distance from the Kyuss moniker, brand, legacy, and so on, was for the better of the band creatively. And not because the songs don’t stand up. I doubt it helped their draw much, but for vocalist John Garcia and drummer Brant Bjork (interview here), working as Vista Chino for the creation of Peace, and especially or Bjork working with guitarist Bruno Fevery for the first time in the writing process, it allowed them to step outside of what would’ve been insurmountable expectations for a “fifth Kyuss album” and create something honest, new, and ultimately, more true to the spirit of that now-legendary band. Let’s face it, you hear John Garcia, Brant Bjork and Nick Oliveri are working on a project together, you’re immediately comparing it to Kyuss anyway. At least with Vista Chino, they’ve given themselves the potential for growth beyond a preconceived idea of what Kyuss should sound like. Well what does Vista Chino sound like? It sounds like whatever the hell they want. On Peace, though many of the lyrics dealt with their legal battles over the Kyuss name, the vibe stayed true to a desert rock ethic of laid back heavy, and the round-out jam in “Acidize/The Gambling Moose” left Peace with the feeling that maybe that’s where they’ve ended up after all. Fingers crossed Mike Dean (of C.O.C. and the latest live incarnation of Vista Chino) winds up playing bass on the record, but other than that, wherever they want to go with it, as a fan, I’m happy to follow along.

3. Gozu, The Fury of a Patient Man

Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed Jan. 24.

The second outing from Gozu on Small Stone, The Fury of a Patient Man tapped into so much of what made the Boston band’s 2010 Locust Season label debut (review here) work so right on and just did it better. Don’t get me wrong, I still dig on “Meat Charger,” but with tracks like “Snake Plissken,” “Bald Bull,” “Signed, Epstein’s Mom” (note: it was “signed, Epstein’s mother” on Welcome Back Kotter) and the thrashing “Charles Bronson Pinchot,” Gozu put forth a collection of some of 2013’s finest heavy rock and did so with not only their own soulful spin on the tropes of the genre, but a mature and varied approach that was no less comfortable giving High on Fire a run for their money than reveling in the grandiose chorus of “Ghost Wipe,” which was also one of the best hooks of the year, guitarist/vocalist Marc Gaffney (interview here) delivering lines in crisp, confident layers, perfectly mixed by Benny Grotto at Mad Oak Studios and cutting through the fray of his own and Doug Sherman‘s guitars, the bass of Paul Dallaire (who split duties with J. Canava; Joe Grotto has since taken over the position) and Barry Spillberg‘s drumming. What the future might hold for Gozu with the recent shift in lineup that replaced Spillberg with drummer Mike Hubbard (ex-Warhorse) and added third guitarist Jeff Fultz (Mellow Bravo) remains to be seen, but with European touring on the horizon for 2014 and appearances slated for Roadburn and Desertfest, the band seem to be looking only to expand their reach, and with the material from The Fury of a Patient Man as a foundation, they’ve got some major considerations acting in their favor. Another album from which I simply could not escape this year, and from which I didn’t want to.

2. Monster Magnet, Last Patrol

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

Billed largely and at least in-part accurately as a return to the group’s psychedelic roots, Last Patrol was Monster Magnet‘s ninth full-length, their first in three years and their second for Napalm. The New Jersey outfit led by guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, founder and, in this case, co-producer Dave Wyndorf (interview here) did indeed delve into the space rock side of their sound more than they have in over a decade, and the effect that doing so had was like a great shaking-off of dust, as though the Bullgod in the John Sumrow cover art just woke up after a long slumber. Perhaps even more than tripping on the Donovan cover “Three Kingfishers” or on the more extended freakouts “Last Patrol” and “End of Time,” what really made Last Patrol such a complete experience was the depth of emotion. Wyndorf wasn’t just standing above an overproduced wall of distortion talking about how he’s the best lay in the galaxy or whatever — fun though that kind of stuff is and has been in the past — but songs like “I Live behind the Clouds,” “The Duke (of Supernature),” “Paradise” and “Stay Tuned” offered a humbler take, a spirit of melancholy that rested well alongside the unmitigated stomp of “Hallelujah” or the driving heavy rock of “Mindless Ones.” Even in its most riotous stretches, Last Patrol was a humbler affair, with a more honest vibe than their last four, maybe five albums. A Monster Magnet release would’ve been noteworthy no matter what it actually sounded like, because that’s the level of impact they’ve had on heavy psych and underground rock over the last two decades-plus. The difference with Last Patrol was that it was a refreshing change from what had started to sound like a formula going stale, and it was  just so damn good to have them be weird again.

1. Clutch, Earth Rocker

Released by Weathermaker Music. Reviewed Feb. 28.

Finally, an album that asked the question, “What it was I’m going to do I haven’t done?” I knew at the year’s halfway point that Clutch‘s Earth Rocker was going to be the one to beat, and that it wasn’t going to be easy for anyone else to top the Maryland kings of groove, who sounded so reinvigorated on songs like “Crucial Velocity,” “Book, Saddle and Go,” “Unto the Breach,” and “Cyborg Bette,” and on funkfied pushers like “D.C. Sound Attack!,” “The Wolfman Kindly Requests…” and “The Face.” They’d hardly been in hibernation since 2009’s Strange Cousins from the West, but four years was the longest they’d ever gone between albums, and it was past time for a new one. To have it arrive as such a boot to the ass just made it that much better, the band shifting away from some of the blues/jam influences that emerged over the course of 2005’s Robot Hive/Exodus and 2007’s From Beale Street to Oblivion — though those certainly showed up as well in the subdued “Gone Cold” and elsewhere — but thanks in no small part to the production of Machine, with whom the band last worked for 2004’s Blast Tyrant, Earth Rocker was huge where it wanted to be and that gave Clutch‘s faster, more active material all the more urgency, where although the songwriting was quality as always, Strange Cousins from the West languished a bit at a more relaxed pace. The difference made all the difference. Whether it was the hellhounds on your trail (what a pity!) in “D.C. Sound Attack!” or the Jazzmasters erupting from the bottom of the sea to take flight, Clutch‘s 10th album was brimming with live, vibrant, heavy on action and heavy on groove, and on a sheer song-by-song level, a classic in the making from a band who’ve already had a few. At very least, it’s a landmark in their discography, and though vocalist Neil Fallon (interview here), guitarist Tim Sult, bassist Dan Maines and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster always change from record, but it’s the unmistakable stamp they put on all their outings that have earned them such a loyal following, and that stamp is all over Earth Rocker. Front to back, it is a pure Clutch record, and while I’ll happily acknowledge that it’s an obvious pick for album of the year, I don’t see how I possibly could’ve chosen anything else. Like the best of the best, Earth Rocker will deliver for years to come.

The Next 10 and Honorable Mentions

I said at the outset I had 40 picks. The reality was more than that, but here’s the next 10 anyway:

21. Blaak Heat Shujaa, The Edge of an Era
22. The Freeks, Full On
23. Luder, Adelphophagia
24. The Flying Eyes, Lowlands
25. Black Skies, Circadian Meditations
26. At Devil Dirt, Plan B: Sin Revolucion No Hay Evolucion
27. Kadavar, Abra Kadavar
28. Naam, Vow
29. Mühr, Messiah
30. Uzala, Tales of Blood and Fire

Further honorable mention has to go to Pelican, Endless Boogie, Earthless, Phantom Glue, Goatess, Windhand, GongaToner Low, Jesu and Sandrider.

Two More Special Records

I’d be unforgivably remiss if I didn’t note the release in 2013 of two albums that wound up being incredibly special to me personally: I vs. the Glacier by Clamfight and A Time of Hunting by Kings Destroy. Since it came out on this site’s in-house label, I didn’t consider the Clamfight eligible for list consideration and while I didn’t help put it out, the Kings Destroy I also felt very, very close to — probably as close as I’ve felt to a record I didn’t actually perform on — so it didn’t seem fair on a critical level, but I consider both of these to be records that in a large part helped define my year, as well as being exceptional in and of themselves, and they needed very much to be singled out as such. These are people whom I feel whatever-the-godless-heathen-equivalent-of-blessed-is to know.

Before I end this post, I want to say thank you for reading, this, anything else you may have caught this year, whatever it might be. To say it means a lot to me personally is understating it, but it’s true all the same. I’m not quite done wrapping up the year — I’ll have a list of the best album covers, another for EPs and singles and demos, and of course the albums I didn’t hear — so please stay tuned over the next couple weeks, but it seemed only fair to show my appreciation now as well. Thank you.

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Black Pyramid, Adversarial: The Unvanquished

Posted in Reviews on April 12th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Even as Massachusetts trio Black Pyramid were getting ready to issue their second full-length, II (review here), early last year, the band was imploding. In short, it was ugly. Fake announcements and trolling from now-former guitarist/vocalist Andy Beresky – on the forum of this site as well, which I mention in the interest of full disclosure – seemed to be purposefully geared toward undoing the work that he, drummer Clay Neely and bassist Dave Gein (also of Second Grave) had put into the band since their self-titled debut (review here) earned such a welcome greeting when put out by MeteorCity in 2009. The real tragedy of it, aside from the flagrant and protracted shitheadedness, was that II was a killer album and almost certainly would’ve allowed Black Pyramid to continue their already underway ascent in the heavy underground sphere. As much as they could, however, Gein and Neely worked to keep their momentum going, allying themselves with Darry Shepard in the guitarist/vocalist role. Shepard, whose resumé is longer even his tenure in acts like Milligram, Roadsaw, Hackman and Maple Forum alums (also in the interest of full disclosure) Blackwolfgoat would indicate, began writing with Black Pyramid right away, and the band quickly got together a single for the track “Aphelion” that was released as a Transubstans Records split with Swedish rockers Odyssey just two months after II dropped. Doubtless the fact that Neely records the band’s material as well at Black Coffee Sound in Williamsburg, MA, aided in their being able to get the single together so quickly, but it also showed that this new incarnation of Black Pyramid wasn’t about to waste their time. The day they rolled into New London, Connecticut, to tear through a set at Stoner Hands of Doom XII in September 2012, they had just finished putting a full-length to tape, and that album – Black Pyramid’s third overall and first with Shepard out front – is Adversarial, a five-track, 38-minute stomper on Hydro-Phonic Records that continues the three-piece’s penchant for axe-slinging tales of battle, but also ups the melodic range and capitalizes on Shepard’s well-established abilities as a lead guitarist, able to move seamlessly into a spontaneous-sounding solo where many of the prior lead lines in the band’s songs sounded plotted out beforehand. That’s not to say anything against one approach over the other – Black Pyramid certainly made it work – but it’s a different kind of energy on Adversarial, and it contributes to the depth underscoring the band’s warmongering bounce.

The “different energy” has obviously extended to various other elements of Black Pyramid’s approach as well. Adversarial is a vinyl-ready 38 minutes, where II stretched to just over an hour, and begins with its longest cut (immediate points) “Swing the Scimitar,” which at 11:59 is among the longer songs any lineup of the band has to-date written – there are three longer; two were on II, one appeared on a 2010 split with Old One (review here) – and also more fluid, beginning aggressive with deep-toned riffing from Shepard to herald the band’s return before initiating the plod that will soon pick up into a faster verse/chorus progression that continues a very Black Pyramid-style balance of catchiness vs. weight of tone and groove. The vocals hover between shouts and growls; fittingly brutal for the opener, but little setup for the screaming to come on “Bleed Out.” Just past its halfway point, following another run through the chorus, “Swing the Scimitar” transitions into an instrumental jam that I can’t imagine wasn’t at one point intended to close the album, but placed as the opener demonstrates just how boldly the trio have taken to the changes they’ve undergone in the last year. Neely and Gein lock in a laid-back groove as Shepard plucks out an echoing, surprisingly psychedelic lead and tosses in some Sabbath to help move into thicker crashes that feel subdued even at their peak, which of course makes the drum start to “Bleed Out” a sort of snap back to reality after the hypnosis of the jam. “Bleed Out” is the shortest of the tracks with vocals on Adversarial at 5:39, its groove is immediate and its structure is straightforward. It’s also impeccably positioned after the opener to reignite the rush of energy, and the backing screams in the chorus (it may be Shepard in multiple layers or Neely or Gein adding) add to both the album’s breadth and its sense of extremity as stops in the latter half mark a return to a final verse, itself opening to a larger groove with some extra snare tapping from Neely for a few measures before giving way to the galloping CD centerpiece, “Issus.”

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Black Pyramid Get Nightmarish in New Video for “Onyx and Obsidian” from Adversarial

Posted in Bootleg Theater on February 28th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

You might recall a couple weeks ago when battle-ready Massachusetts riffers Black Pyramid premiered the new track “Onyx and Obsidian” from their forthcoming LP, Adversarial. Well, last night — because all breaking news should hit at midnight — the trio revealed that they had partnered the track with the short video piece “Metachaos” by Italian artist Alessandro Bavari. Since I’ve never been one to let a Black Pyramid video go ignored, here we are.

Adversarialwill be released in April on Hydro-Phonic Records, and even if you’ve heard the song before, I think you’ll agree it’s worth another visit, especially with the Bavari video accompanying. Stick around for more updates on the album, artwork, tracklisting, etc. I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while. In the meantime, here’s the clip:

Black Pyramid, “Onyx and Obsidian” from Adversarial

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audiObelisk: Black Pyramid Premiere “Onyx and Obsidian” from New Album Adversarial

Posted in audiObelisk on January 25th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Behold, the first taste of Black Pyramid‘s forthcoming third LP, Adversarial. The Massachusetts marauders of riff have made the track “Onyx and Obsidian” available for streaming, and their battle axes swing as hard as ever. The album was recorded and mixed by drummer Clay Neely at Black Coffee Sound and it’s the first full-length work the band has done since Neely and bassist Dave Gein joined forces with guitarist/vocalist Darryl Shepard.

That’s not the only change afoot with Black Pyramid, who’ve also realigned label-wise to release Adversarial this spring on Hydro-Phonic Records. The imprint previously issued Black Pyramid‘s Stormbringer 8″ vinyl and subsequent CD compilation, and has also worked with Blue Aside, Olde Growth and a slew of kickass bands from the Codfish State and beyond, so at least we know they’re in good hands on that front. I haven’t seen a solid release date yet for Adversarial, but as a preliminary impression, “Onyx and Obsidian” bodes well.

In its finished, mastered by Matt Washburn form, please enjoy “Onyx and Obsidian” on the player below:

Black Pyramid on Thee Facebooks

Hydro-Phonic Records

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