The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2017

Posted in Features on December 18th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk top-20-debut-albums

Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2017 to that, please do.

Every successive year brings an absolute inundation of underground productivity. Every year, someone new is inspired to pick up a guitar, bass, drums, mic, keyboard, theremin, cello — whatever it might be — and set themselves to the task of manifesting the sounds they hear in their head.

This is unspeakably beautiful in my mind, and as we’ve done in years past, it seems only fair to celebrate the special moment of realization that comes with a band’s first album. The debut full-length. Sometimes it’s a tossed-off thing, constructed from prior EPs or thrown together haphazardly from demo tracks, and sometimes it’s a meticulously picked-over expression of aesthetic — a band coming out of the gate brimming with purpose and desperate to communicate it, whatever it might actually happen to be.

We are deeply fortunate to live in an age (for now) of somewhat democratized access to information. That is, if you want to hear a thing — or if someone wants you to hear a thing — it’s as simple as sharing and/or clicking a link. The strong word of mouth via ubiquitous social media, intuitive recording software, and an ever-burgeoning swath of indie labels and other promotional vehicles means bands can engage an audience immediately if they’re willing to do so, and where once the music industry’s power resided in the hands of a few major record companies, the divide between “listener” and “active participant” has never been more blurred.

Therefore, it is a good — if crowded — time for an act to be making their debut, even if it’s something that happens basically every day, and all the more worth celebrating the accomplishments of these first-albums both on their current merits and on the potential they may represent going forward. Some percent of a best-debuts list is always speculation. That’s part of what makes it so much fun.

As always, I invite you to let me know your favorite picks in the comments (please keep it civil). Here are mine:


The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2017

1. Telekinetic Yeti, Abominable
2. Rozamov, This Mortal Road
3. Mindkult, Lucifer’s Dream
4. Dool, Here Now There Then
5. Eternal Black, Bleed the Days
6. Arduini/Balich, Dawn of Ages
7. Vinnum Sabbathi, Gravity Works
8. Tuna de Tierra, Tuna de Tierra
9. Brume, Rooster
10. Moon Rats, Highway Lord
11. Thera Roya, Stone and Skin
12. OutsideInside, Sniff a Hot Rock
13. Hymn, Perish
14. Riff Fist, King Tide
15. Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree, Medicine
16. Abronia, Obsidian Visions/Shadowed Lands
17. Book of Wyrms, Sci-Fi Fantasy
18. Firebreather, Firebreather
19. REZN, Let it Burn
20. Ealdor Bealu, Dark Water at the Foot of the Mountain

Honorable Mention

Alastor, Black Magic
Devil’s Witches, Velvet Magic
Elbrus, Elbrus
Green Meteor, Consumed by a Dying Sun
Grigax, Life Eater
High Plains, Cinderland
Kingnomad, Mapping the Inner Void
Lord Loud, Passé Paranoia
Masterhand, Mind Drifter
The Necromancers, Servants of the Salem Girl
Owlcrusher, Owlcrusher
Petyr, Petyr
The Raynbow, The Cosmic Adventure
Savanah, The Healer
War Cloud, War Cloud
WhiteNails, First Trip

I could keep going with honorable mentions, and no doubt will add a few as people remind me of other things on which I brainfarted or whathaveyou, preferably without calling me an idiot, though I recognize that sometimes that’s a lot to ask. Either way, the point remains that the heavy underground remains flush with fresh infusions of creativity and that as another generation comes to maturity, still another is behind it, pushing boundaries forward or looking back and reinventing what came before them.


Will try and likely fail to keep this brief, but the thing I find most striking about this list is the variety of it. That was not at all something I planned, but even if you just look at the top five, you’ve got Telekinetic Yeti at the forefront. Abominable is something of a speculative pick on my part for the potential it shows on the part of the Midwestern duo in their songcraft and tonality, but then you follow them with four other wildly different groups in Rozamov, Mindkult, Dool and Eternal Black. There you’ve got extreme sludge from Boston, a Virginian one-man cult garage project, Netherlands-based dark heavy rock with neo-goth flourishes, and crunching traditionalist doom from New York in the vein of The Obsessed.

What I’m trying to say here is that it’s not just about one thing, one scene, one sound, or one idea. It’s a spectrum, and at least from where I sit, the quality of work being done across that spectrum is undeniable. Think of the prog-doom majesty Arduini/Balich brought to their collaborative debut, or the long-awaited groove rollout from Vinnum Sabbathi, or how Italy’s Tuna de Tierra snuck out what I thought was the year’s best desert rock debut seemingly under everybody’s radar. Stylistically and geographically these bands come from different places, and as with Brume and Moon Rats, even when a base of influence is similar, the interpretation thereof can vary widely and often does.

That Moon Rats album wasn’t covered nearly enough. I’m going to put it in the Quarterly Review coming up just to give another look at the songwriting on display, which was maddening in its catchiness. Maddening in its cacophony of noise was Stone and Skin from Brooklyn’s Thera Roya, which found itself right on the cusp of the top 10 with backing from the ’70s heavy rock vibes of the post-Carousel Pittsburgh outfit OutsideInside. Norway’s Hymn thrilled with their bleak atmospheres, while Australia’s Riff Fist showed off a scope they’d barely hinted at previously, and Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree offered surprises of their own in their warm heavy psych tonality and mostly-instrumental immersion. That record caught me almost completely off-guard. I was not at all prepared to dig it as much as I did.

Thrills continue to abound and resound as the Young Hunter-related outfit Abronia made their first offering of progressive, Americana-infused naturalist heavy, while Book of Wyrms dug themselves into an oozing riffy largesse on the other side of the country and Sweden’s Firebreather emerged from the defunct Galvano to gallop forth and claim victory a la early High on Fire. REZN’s Let it Burn got extra points in my book for the unabashed stonerism of it, while it was the ambience of Ealdor Bealu’s Dark Water at the Foot of the Mountain that kept me going back to it. An album that was genuinely able to project a sense of mood without being theatrical about it was all the more impressive for it being their first. But that’s how it goes, especially on this list.

There you have it. Those are my picks. I recognize I’m only one person and a decent portion of my year was taken up by personal matters — having, losing a job; pregnancy, childbirth and parenting, etc. — but I did my best to hear as much music as I could in 2017 and I did my best to make as much of it as new as I could.

Still, if there’s something egregious I left out or just an album you’d like to champion, hell yes, count me in. What were some of your favorites? Comments are right down there. Let’s get a discussion going and maybe we can all find even more music to dig into.

Thanks for reading and here’s to 2018 to come and the constant renewal of inspiration and the creative spirit.

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Quarterly Review: Hallatar, Alastor, The Dead-End Alley Band, Hair of the Dog, Soup, Kungens Män, Smoke Wizzzard, Highburnator, The Curf, Ulls

Posted in Reviews on September 29th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk quarterly review

Here we are, gathered for round four of the Fall 2017 Quarterly Review. After the technical issues with the site for the last couple days, I’m glad to have everything back up and running, and one more time I thank Slevin and Behrang Alavi for making that happen. Though I have no idea what it might actually entail, I don’t imagine switching hosts on the fly for a site with as much content as this one has is easy, but they of course killed it and it is thoroughly appreciated. We move forward, as ever, with 10 more records. So let’s go.

Quarterly Review #31-40:

Hallatar, No Stars Upon the Bridge


Finland’s Hallatar was formed after the passing of Trees of Eternity vocalist Aleah Starbridge, life partner of guitarist and songwriter Juha Ravio (also Swallow the Sun). In the new outfit, Ravio pays homage to Starbridge with the debut long-player No Stars Upon the Bridge (on Svart) by using her poems as lyrics, samples of her voice reading on “Raven’s Song,” “Spiral Gate” and the piano-backed centerpiece “Pieces,” and by bringing in Amorphis vocalist Tomi Joutsen and ex-HIM drummer Gas Lipstick to complete a trio playing nine tracks/40 minutes of deeply mournful/beautiful death-doom. The extremity of lurch in “The Maze” late in the record is matched by the gorgeousness of the chants and shimmering guitar on closer “Dreams Burn Down,” and from the opening strains of “Mirrors,” the emotion driving No Stars Upon the Bridge is sincere and affecting. Cuts like “Melt” and the mostly-whispered-until-it-explodes “My Mistake” have a sense of the theatrical in their delivery, but that makes them no less genuine, and though one wouldn’t wish the circumstances leading to the band’s formation on anybody, there’s no question that with Hallatar, Ravio turns tragedy into a lush, resonant catharsis.

Hallatar on Thee Facebooks

Svart Records website


Alastor, Black Magic

alastor black magic

Cultish echoes pervade Black Magic, the debut album from Swedish doom-rolling four-piece Alastor, and it’s not so much that the initials-only four-piece of guitarists H and J, bassist/vocalist R and drummer S take influence from Electric Wizard and Black Sabbath, it’s what they do with that influence that’s most striking. Black Magic is made up of three extended tracks – “Enemy” (11:51), “Nothing to Fear” (7:42) and “Black Magic” (14:27) – and with a deep tonal engagement, each one embarks on a huge-sounding sprawl of doom. Yes, the guitars owe the swirl in “Nothing to Fear” to Jus Oborn, but the echoes behind R’s voice there and the melody have an almost New Wave-style feel despite the “all right now!” drawn right from the Ozzy playbook. In other words, Alastor are preaching to the converted, and that holds true in the snowblinded Luciferian spaciousness of the title-track’s early going as well, but the converted should have no problem finding the gospel in what they’re hearing, and as “Black Magic” rounds out with its chanted feel, Alastor affirm the potential to progress within this sound and to continue to develop it into something even more their own than it is now. Familiar superficially, but sneaky in the details, so watch out.

Alastor on Thee Facebooks

Twin Earth Records webstore


The Dead-End Alley Band, Storms

the dead-end-alley-band-storms

Lima-based four-piece The Dead-End Alley Band aren’t far into opener “Red Woman” before the dark-psych vibe and languid groove have properly emphasized just how much the guitar of Leonardo Alva and the organ of Sebastian Sanchez-Botta (also vocals) complement each other. Propelled by the rhythm section of bassist/vocalist Javier Kou and drummer Jafer Diaz, Storms is the third album from them behind 2015’s Odd Stories (discussed here) and 2013’s debut, Whispers of the Night (review here), and it continues to blend fuzz and classic garage doom impulses on songs like “Headstone Fortress” and the shuffling “Thunderbolts and Lace,” the latter of which wah-trips to the max around a stirring boogie before “The Clock has Stopped” weirds out on extra vocal echoes and nine-minute closer “Waiting for the Void” brings in the progressive touches of pan flute and percussion. Even in the earlier, shortest track “Need You (It’s Enough),” The Dead-End Alley Band bring no shortage of personality to the proceedings, and confirm that the rough edges of their early outings have matured into essential aspects of who they have become as a band, completely in control of their craft and able to conjure an atmosphere both classic and individual.

The Dead-End Alley Band on Thee Facebooks

The Dead-End Alley Band on Bandcamp

Forbidden Place Records website


Hair of the Dog, This World Turns


Making their debut on Kozmik Artifactz, Scottish trio Hair of the Dog give their guitar-led compositions plenty of time to flesh out on This World Turns, their third album, as they demonstrate quickly on the nine-plus minute titular opener and longest track (immediate points), but one would hardly call their songwriting indulgent there or anywhere else as “This World Turns” flows easily into the following seven-minute push of “Keeping Watch over the Night” in a resolute one-two punch that soon gives way to the shorter and more driving “Ctrl-Alt-Del,” touching on influences from Thin Lizzy and Scorpions en route as well as modern practitioners like Kadavar, whose stamp can also be heard on side B launch “The Colours in Her Skin.” That’s not to say Hair of the Dog — guitarist/vocalist Adam Holt (interview here), bassist Iain Thomson and drummer Jon Holt – don’t leave their own mark as well, just that their blend stems from multiple sources. A bit of Lynottism surfaces in the penultimate “In Death’s Hands” as well, which has a more subdued feel despite fervent rhythmic movement underlying, and closer “4AM” soars with enough vigor and soul – and a little falsetto – to give This World Turns a suitably smooth and vibrant finish.

Hair of the Dog on Thee Facebooks

Kozmik Artifactz website


Soup, Remedies

soup remedies

With ties to Motorpsycho through guitarist Hans Magnus “Snah” Ryan, Soup issue their sixth long-player in the five-track lush melodicism of Remedies, which feels particularly aptly named for the immersion the wash that opener “Going Somewhere” is able to elicit. That is, of course, just the first of the spacious, semi-folk-infused progressions, and it’s with the longer-form “The Boy and the Snow” (11:33) and the psychedelic purposeful meandering of “Sleepers” (13:35) that Remedies truly unveils its considerable breadth, but the Crispin Glover Records release holds a sense of poise even in the two-minute centerpiece church organ interlude “Audion,” and the harmonies of “Nothing Like Home” bring to mind peak-era Porcupine Tree patience and fluidity while holding fast to the bright, orange-sunshiny warmth of the atmosphere as a whole, instruments dropping out just before three minutes in to showcase the vocals before returning to embark on the march to the final crescendo, not at all overblown but with just a touch of extra volume to let listeners dive deeper into the moment. Remedies feels quick at 42 minutes, but turns out to be just what the doctor ordered.

Soup on Thee Facebooks

Crispin Glover Records website


Kungens Män, Dag & Natt


Prolific psych-progging Stockholmers Kungens Män return with Dag & Natt, a 2CD/2LP issued through Kungens Ljud & Bild (CD) and Adansonia Records (LP) that overflows with jazzy fluidity and gorgeous immersion. The band’s last studio outing was late-2015’s Förnekaren (review here), and whether it’s 13-minute pieces like opener “Morgonrodnad” and the even-more-krautrocking “Aftonstjärnan” or the seemingly complementary inclusions of the kosmiche-minded “Dag” and wonderfully drifting “Natt,” the album as a whole is a joy and a boon to anyone looking for an extended psychedelic meander. The saxophone of Gustav Nygren on the aforementioned leadoff and “Natt” makes a particularly striking impression, but with a steady, languid wash of guitar, synth and warm bass throughout, Dag & Natt wants nothing for flow, and the gentle, classy spirit is maintained even as the penultimate “Vargtimmen” ups the sense of thrust leading into the finisher payoff of “Cirkeln är Slut.” As of now, Kungens Män should be considered a too-well-kept secret of Scandinavia’s psych underground, though listening to Dag & Natt, one wonders just how long they’ll stay that way.

Kungens Män on Thee Facebooks

Adansonia Records website


Smoke Wizzzard, Run with the Wolf


Whether it’s through the striking and gruesome cover art or through the lumbering post-Sabbath, post-Cathedral stoner-doom nod contained within, Smoke Wizzzard’s five-song self-titled debut LP thoroughly earns its third ‘z’ – and, for that matter, its second one – with played-to-form thickness and a tonal push that starts with 10-minute opener/longest track (immediate points) “Astro Lord” and continues to swagger and swing with due viscosity through “Reptiles” after the minute-long punker curveball “Soul Train.” The highlight of the Pittsburgh trio’s first outing might be “The Pass,” which has a hazy patience and some rightly-featured bass tone, but as “Run with the Wolf” moves from its early Electric Wizard muckraking to cap with piano and included howls for a doomier feel, it becomes clear Smoke Wizzzard have yet to play their full stylistic hand and the real highlights may still be yet to come. Fair enough. Something tells me getting stranger is only going to be a boon to Smoke Wizzzard’s approach on the whole, so bring it on.

Smoke Wizzzard on Thee Facebooks

Smoke Wizzzard on Bandcamp


Highburnator, Keystoned State


If you hit up Highburnator’s Bandcamp and download their name-your-price Keystoned State EP, you might note the fifth and final inclusion is the entire live-recorded, 28-minute release presented as a single track. No doubt the Pennsylvania three-piece intend the four-song outing to be taken just that way. They begin with the “mad as hell” speech sampled from the 1976 film Network and from there unfold a potent riffly brew met head on with harsh East Coast hardcore-style vocals and more metallic growls. That’s nine-minute opener and longest track (immediate points) “The Brass Rail,” and it sets the tone for what follows on the eponymous “Highburnator” before “Desert Funeral” and the Sleep-style nod of “Peaking at the Coffin” push into even more stonerly vibes. This melding of pissed-off disaffection and mid-paced heavy rock groove is particular to the sludge of the Eastern Seaboard – think of it as regional fare – but Highburnator find space for themselves in the rawness of their riffs and the charm of their puns, and by the time they’re through the four songs, it makes sense why they might want to present the full onslaught as a single entity, essentially giving it to their listeners on one overflowing platter. Got the munchies? It’s right there waiting.

Highburnator on Thee Facebooks

Highburnator on Bandcamp


The Curf, Death and Love


Greek psych-doomers The Curf made their debut in 2007 with I and then went radio silent until last year’s Royal Water EP. Their sophomore full-length, Death and Love, then, arrives via Fuzz Ink Records with some amount of intrigue behind it, but either way, the sans-pretense heavy roll the band unfurls on “Dark Hado,” and the more uptempo “Smoke Ring,” the dig-in low end of “Lunar Lair” and the scream-topped start-stoppery of “California” present a varied take brought together through heft as well as the crispness of production and delivery, such that when it wants to, Death and Love can bite down hard, but as on the closing title-track or the earlier “Order ‘n’ Sin,” it can rumble out spaciousness as well. Whatever might’ve taken The Curf so long to put together a second album beats the hell out of me, but if they were looking to make an argument for a third one, they do so convincingly across these nine songs, which hold firmly to their overarching flow despite the emergent stylistic range.

The Curf on Thee Facebooks

Fuzz Ink Records webstore


Ulls, I


For now, Ulls is the solo-project of Barcelona-based David Trillo, formerly guitarist/vocalist for the heavy progressive trio Lord Summerisle, but the hope seems to be to build a full band at some point in the future. The I EP might rightly be called a demo, then, but for the professionalism and cohesiveness of sound with which its three songs are presented and the clarity of intent behind them. With Trillo rumbling away on bass beneath, six-minute opener “Inhumat” fleshes out its arrangement with organ alongside guitar swirl and sets up the classically swinging strut of “Llot Convuls,” on which the drums post-midsection lead the way through starts and stops à la a restless King Crimson and the guitar joins with no less angularity. Eight-minute closer “L’Emersió de l’Executor” brings about a thicker overall tone, but holds to a similar mood through its first half, Trillo finding room after about the four-and-a-half-minute mark for a standout solo executed with the bass running fluidly alongside that carries the song to its fading finish just before seven minutes in, at which point a residual drone takes hold to lead the way out. That ending is telling when it comes to various impulses that might show themselves in Ulls going forward, but as an initial demonstration, suffice it to say that I makes it plain Trillo shouldn’t have much trouble finding other players to come aboard the band with him.

Ulls on Instagram

Ulls on Bandcamp


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