The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2018

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

the-top-30-of-2018

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks in advance for reading. Here we go:

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

30. The Skull, The Endless Road Turns Dark

The Skull The Endless Road Turns Dark

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

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

29. Foghound, Awaken to Destroy

foghound awaken to destroy

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Nov. 21.

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

28. Orange Goblin, The Wolf Bites Back

orange goblin the wolf bites back

Released by Spinefarm Records. Reviewed June 13.

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

27. Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe

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

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

26. Witch Mountain, Witch Mountain

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

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

25. Windhand, Eternal Return

windhand eternal return

Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed Oct. 3.

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

24. Sun Voyager, Seismic Vibes

Sun Voyager Seismic Vibes

Released by King Pizza Records. Reviewed April 18.

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

23. Forming the Void, Rift

forming the void rift

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed July 27.

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

22. Spaceslug, Eye the Tide

spaceslug eye the tide

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

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

21. Conan, Existential Void Guardian

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

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

20. Pale Divine, Pale Divine

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

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

19. Mos Generator, Shadowlands

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

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

18a. Stoned Jesus, Pilgrims

STONED JESUS PILGRIMS

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 5.

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

18. Backwoods Payback, Future Slum

backwoods payback future slum

Self-released. Reviewed Aug. 15.

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

17. Corrosion of Conformity, No Cross No Crown

corrosion of conformity no cross no crown

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Jan. 3

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

16. Naxatras, III

naxatras iii

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 14.

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

15. Clutch, Book of Bad Decisions

clutch book of bad decisions

Released by Weathermaker Music. Reviewed Aug. 27.

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

14. Ancestors, Suspended in Reflections

Ancestors Suspended in Reflections

Released by Pelagic Records. Reviewed Aug. 3.

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

13. High on Fire, Electric Messiah

high on fire electric messiah

Released by eOne Heavy. Reviewed Sept. 28.

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

12. Yawning Man, The Revolt Against Tired Noises

yawning man the revolt against tired noises

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed July 2.

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

11. Greenleaf, Hear the Rivers

greenleaf hear the rivers

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Nov. 26.

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

10. Gozu, Equilibrium

gozu equilibrium

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

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

9. Monster Magnet, Mindfucker

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

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

8. Apostle of Solitude, From Gold to Ash

Apostle of Solitude From Gold to Ash

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

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

7. Holy Grove, Holy Grove II

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

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

6. All Them Witches, ATW

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

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

5. YOB, Our Raw Heart

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

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

4. Brant Bjork, Mankind Woman

brant bjork mankind woman

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Sept. 13.

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

3. Earthless, Black Heaven

earthless black heaven

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed March 15.

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

2. King Buffalo, Longing to Be the Mountain

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

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

1. Sleep, The Sciences

sleep the sciences

Released by Third Man Records. Reviewed May 1.

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

The Next 20

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

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

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

Honorable Mention

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

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

Special Note

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

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

Best Short Release of the Year

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

  • Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard & Slomatics, Totems Split

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

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

Looking Forward

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

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

Okay, That’s It

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

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

So thanks.

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

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

Everybody have a great and safe 2019.

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Ancestors, Suspended in Reflections: Feels Like Being Gone

Posted in Reviews on August 3rd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Ancestors Suspended in Reflections

Ancestors have never worked to expectation. The Los Angeles unit were last heard from with 2012’s In Dreams and Time (review here), which I absolutely consider one of the best albums of this decade, and that arrived following 2011’s Invisible White EP (review here), 2009’s Of Sound Mind (review here) and 2008’s demo-turned-debut-album, Neptune with Fire (discussed here). Through each release, the band have pushed themselves further along a progressive and individualized path, and while their first outing seemed to be a clarion of post-Sleep riffing, calling across its epic tracks to the converted, “Come here and nod out,” they’ve never really been that kind of band and show little interest in it now. Their new album, Suspended in Reflections, finds them signed to Pelagic Records, run by Robin Staps of The Ocean, and even that endorsement signals how much they’ve grown beyond where they started out a decade ago.

That’s not to say Ancestors can’t still roll out a heavy groove when it suits them — it’s pretty much the first thing they do on Suspended in Reflections, while also providing a landmark hook in opener “Gone” that bleeds into second track “Through a Window” as well — just that their doing so is one weapon in a crowded arsenal of melody, space, ambience, heft and craft. About half an hour shorter than its predecessor, the album comprises six tracks for a 36-minute LP with three cuts each on two sides, each of those ending with its longest song, “Lying in the Grass” (7:37) on side A and “The Warm Glow” (8:31) on side B. Anyone who heard In Dreams and Time closer “First Light” (discussed here) can tell you Ancestors have a thing for a big finale, and guitarist/vocalist Justin Maranga, bassist Jason Watkins and drummer Daniel Pouliot continue that thread here, though even those two tracks — and it is both, make no mistake — have to be considered stripped down in relation last time out. Ancestors‘ sound is lush and immersive and patient and gorgeous and any number of other things, but it’s not raw, and that applies here too, but in their structure and execution, the tracks on Suspended in Reflections feel more about expression than ambition.

Of course, the paring down of grandiosity is no simple thing in any context and an ambition unto itself, but it makes Ancestors‘ communication more efficient here. “Gone” starts out with a melancholy verse with layers of backing vocals, organ and patient guitar notes over a weighted groove en route to its chorus, which sets a defining impression in its discussion of death: “And it feels like being gone/And it feels like moving on/And it feels like nothing’s wrong anymore.” Again, those lines will reappear in “Through a Window,” which follows, giving a sense of overarching composition to the proceedings — Ancestors writing a full album as opposed to a collection of songs or parts — and with the organ playing such a prominent role throughout, the material ties together even further. A sweeping guitar chord transitions “Gone” into “Through a Window” and the first half of the track builds back up to that reappearance, so crucial as it is. Much of the second half of the track is given to softer contemplation, Maranga‘s guitar and the organ setting a melodic foundation in accordance with the easy flow in the drums and bass, an instrumental stretch it’s easy to lose oneself within that caps with cymbal washes and a fading guitar that leaves a bed of silence to start the quiet beginning of “Lying in the Grass.”

ancestors

What seems to be a vocoder bolsters the ethereal atmosphere so pervasive thus far, and clearer vocals emerge as the build in the first half moves into its next stage, the slowness coming to a full tone and crash that underscores the beauty of what the band is creating while staying on theme in terms of the interplay of guitar and organ, dropping back to a subdued state in the second half à la “Through a Window” just before in order to build up again instrumentally as it passes the six-minute mark, again pulling back to finish quiet with soft vocals and a final crash that leaves the organ tone on a fade to let the sudden start — unless you’re listening on an actual LP, in which case, it’s only sudden after you’ve gotten up to flip the record — of side B opener “Into the Fall” make its entrance. Already, Ancestors have typified Suspended in Reflections with a depth of mix that seems to be even more than the sum of its instruments and set a range for themselves that’s nothing short of encompassing. The second half of the album reaffirms this and builds on it with a linearity of its own, furthering the full-album impression of side A while remaining distinct from it.

That’s not to say there’s some great leap in sound away from what the first three tracks are doing, just that as “Into the Fall” takes a heavy post-rock epic and trims it down to an efficient five minutes, the vibe seems to shift. The introduction of strings to the mix could have something to do with that, but the wash of distortion that takes hold at the 3:20 mark remains in line with what Suspended in Reflections has thus far brought to bear, and its way of capping with residual guitar resonance on a fade directly into the piano notes, guitar ambience and synth swells of “Release” speaks directly at how “Gone” gave way to “Through a Window” earlier. The synth comes to a head and cuts out, leaving dream-jazz piano to hold sway and set the mood for the second half of the four-minute instrumental, which carries some of the foreboding that one found in Invisible White while also setting up the turn into “The Warm Glow,” which begins its soar after a quiet first minute and surges forward on a slow-moving wave of low distortion cut through by shouted vocals in a post-metallic tradition.

It’s not an assault by any means, but it is arguably the most outwardly heavy payoff on Suspended in Reflections and obviously placed accordingly as the finale. True to form, it caps not with a grand overstatement, but with a quiet exploration, the band feeling their way to the album’s finish in naturalist form. Those moments, far from extras or tack-ons, are essential to the impression of Suspended in Reflections in its entirety, no less so than its heavier moments, as they help to cast the full breadth of the material and to situate Ancestors in each stretch and in each place within their considerable range. They are, in effect, the product of that range, the result of it and a contributing factor to it. One might think of Suspended in Reflections as digging to the roots of what In Dreams and Time was. It accomplishes many of the same aesthetic feats in just about half the time, and it retains a memorable songwriting element that ties it not only to the LP immediately before, but to the band’s work all along. Some of this material may have had its origins years ago, but it is unmistakably another step forward in Ancestors ongoing creative progression.

Ancestors, “Gone” official video

Ancestors, Suspended in Reflections (2018)

Ancestors on Thee Facebooks

Ancestors on Instagram

Ancestors on Twitter

Ancestors on Bandcamp

Ancestors website

Pelagic Records on Thee Facebooks

Pelagic Records on Bandcamp

Pelagic Records website

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Desertfest Belgium 2018 Adds Dead Meadow, Ancestors, Wiegedood, Messa, and Heads.

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 24th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

desertfest belgium 2018 banner

So, uh, there’s a band called Heads. playing Desertfest Belgium 2018. They’re from Germany and not at all to be confused with The Heads from the UK. I guess the punctuation makes some different there, but isn’t it a little like calling your band Beatles. and expecting not to get sued? Question of scale there, I know, but you get my point. Heads. are a different band from The Heads. Okay.

I’m kind of surprised that Dead Meadow, in joining the lineup for Desertfest Belgium 2018, aren’t among the headliner, who are still TBA. I’ve got some names I wouldn’t necessarily be surprised to see signed on to play, but no question the lineup is ridiculously strong in the interim, what with Dead Meadow, Heads., Ancestors, Wiegedood and Messa all newly confirmed. I guess we’ll just have to wait on those headliner announcements.

From the PR wire:

desertfest belgium 2018 dead meadow

DEAD MEADOW PLAYS DF ANTWERP ’18

WIEGEDOOD, ANCESTORS and more

Well, we promised a worthy replacement for John Garcia, and we think this one will delight all you fans of delicious stoner grooves.

With 20 years and 7 records on the counter, Dead Meadow can truly be considered venerable veterans of the scene. With their most recent album ‘The Nothing They Need’, the DC band has made a glorious return 5 years after the previous outing. By now the ingredients might be familiar – heavy proto-metal riffing and long psych workouts – but once again the band proves noone cooks up a stew quite like they do. A rock solid addition to this year’s line-up, we think you’ll agree!

We already have one Belgian heavyweight on the program, so how about another? Wiegedood got its infamy coming up with a disturbing band name that translates to “crib death” in Dutch. But soon we learned that this was no mere gimmick: their peculiar version of black metal is effectively as unsettling and grim as the name suggests.

If the album teasers are anything to go by, the next album by Ancestors is gonna be something truly special. A culmination of everything the band stands for, from the atmospheric post-rock passages to the chugging riffs. Six years is a long wait for a new album in these times, but it seems like this will truly be worth the wait.

Another singular voice at the festival comes from Messa, who merge seemingly disparate genres like doom metal and dark jazz into one sonic stew they describe as ‘Scarlet Doom’. And finally, the German HEADS. adds shades of shoegaze and post-rock in their noiserock, with equally unique results.

There you have it, a selection of new names that truly add a sense of adventure and experiment to the line-up. You know we still have some headliners in store for you, so stay tuned!

http://www.desertfest.be/tickets
https://www.facebook.com/desertfestbelgium/
https://www.facebook.com/events/364607267372737/
https://twitter.com/DesertfestBE

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Up in Smoke 2018 Adds Electric Wizard, Ancestors, Dopethrone, Messa, Child, Humulus and Giant Sleep to its Lineup

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 28th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Very cool that Electric Wizard are headlining Up in Smoke 2018. Very cool. Not saying it isn’t. And right on that DopethroneMessa, ChildHumulus — have to wonder if they’ll bring their own beer — and Giant Sleep are playing too. Awesome. The name I want to focus on here, however, is Ancestors. The returned/reactivated Los Angeles unit will have their new album out on Pelagic Records by the time they head to Europe to play Up in Smoke presumably as part of a larger round of touring, and I’m pretty sure I’ve said this already, but watch out for that fucking record. Really. It’s a stunner.

2018 has already seen a fair share of righteous outings — I’d list them here, but you know, stolen laptop — and a couple real landmarks are still to come, but don’t let the new Ancestors get by you just because it’s been a while since they put anything out. I’ll have more to say about it, I’m sure, because it’s the kind of record about which one doesn’t easily shut up, but yeah. Take it as an(other) early heads up.

Here’s Up in Smoke‘s announcement:

up in smoke 2018 poster

UP IN SMOKE 2018 – ELECTRIC WIZARD & 6 MORE ACTS CONFIRMED!

GET YOUR CHANCE TO WIN A WEEKEND PASS!

Up In Smoke Indoor Fest 2018 has just announced a bunch of new bands, including their second headliner: The almighty ELECTRIC WIZARD, bringing their new album “Wizard Bloody Wizard” to make Pratteln tremble once again! Also confirmed:

DOPETHRONE (CAN) – The riff comes in many forms. Sometimes it’s clean and elegant… sometimes it’s filthy, grimy and about as elegant as a sledgehammer to the sternum. “Dopethrone are the kind of humans that eat the blues for lunch and wash it all down with a giant jug of crust punch! This is one of those bands that will have the crusty punks head banging right next to the stoners, both united under the bad sign of doom.” (CVLT NATION) The Canadian trio released their new album “Transcanadian Anger” few days ago!

ANCESTORS (USA) – Ancestors formed in 2006 and instead of “choosing between prog rock or heavy rock,” merged the styles to create music rife with atmosphere, tension and raw human emotion. They create mighty, modern music that dovetails innovative arrangement, crushing primordial riff interplay and melodic instrumental passages with textural atmospherics. They will release their long-awaited new album this summer via Pelagic Records.

MESSA (IT) – Messa play evoking doom metal with a dark jazz twist. Deliciously haunting female vocals, rhodes piano and 70’s fuzz guitars combine to conjure a sound that is all of their own. With influences as diverse as Windhand, Bohren Und Der Club Of Gore, The Devil’s Blood, Jex Thoth, Angelo Badalamenti, Bellwitch, John Coltrane and Aluk Todolo, the band has moved from the droning occult doom of their first LP “Belfry” to a new, darker and more atmospheric approach clearly showcased in their new record “Feast for Water”, released in March!

CHILD (AUS) – Hailing from the urban wilds of Melbourne, Australia, Child combine the heavy emotion of the blues with the tone and raw power of hard rock to create a visceral musical experience that reaches right into the chest of listeners. Since the release of their runaway self-titled debut in 2014, Child have continued to develop their unique brand of heavy blues through constant writing and extensive touring. The band released their latest EP “I” a few months ago!

HUMULUS (IT) – Humulus is a Psych-Stoner power trio from Brescia/Bergamo (Italy), formed in 2009. Their first self titled album was released by Go Down Records in December 2012. The ten tracks of this first work fully reflect the stoner attitude of the band and their aggressive sound that is best expressed during their live shows. Their latest LP “Reverently Heading Into Nowhere”, more psychedelic and heavier than ever, came out in the Spring of 2017.

GIANT SLEEP (GER/CH) – Giant Sleep are five guys from Germany and Switzerland, worshipping the power of the riff. The sound of the quintet penetrates the worlds of the subconscious and incomprehensible with no regard for genres nor boundaries. Modern post- and prog-rock elements meet the classic sound of the 70s; an original mixture of lively and creative music. On their second album “Move A Mountain” Giant Sleep takes you on a journey through rock history and beyond.

Taking place October 5th & 6th 2018 at Z7 in Pratteln, Switzerland, highclass acts such as JOHN GARCIA & THE BAND OF GOLD, ACID KING or SASQUATCH have already been confirmed with many more to come. Tickets for Up In Smoke are available HERE!

SHARE & WIN: To get another chance to win a weekend pass for Up In Smoke 2018, please visit the Facebook page for more info!

www.upinsmoke.de
https://www.facebook.com/UpInSmokeIndoorFestivalInZ7/
https://www.sol-tickets.com/produkte
https://soundofliberation.com

Ancestors, “Gone”

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Ancestors Sign to Pelagic Records; Stream Track from New Album Due this Summer

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 8th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

You should take the five-plus minutes to listen to the new Ancestors track. Seriously. It’s beautiful. It hasn’t been all that long since we last spoke about the Los Angeles progressive heavy rockers around here, reminiscing and waxing rhapsodic about their 2008 debut, Neptune with Fire (discussed here), but even in that post, I had half my mind on the prospect of what a new full-length from them might hold. My reason for that is my enduring affection for 2012’s In Dreams and Time (review here), which I consider one of the best albums released this decade.

And yes, I mean that. Not just spouting hyperbole. You’d be hard pressed to find a better amalgam of thoughtful, sonically-rich and emotionally resonant heavy anywhere. If you want to put it in context, it’s on a pedestal next to YOB‘s Clearing the Path to Ascend.

I mean that too. Pelagic Records seems like a good home for them, but frankly their next album could come directly shipped from the moon and I’d be happy as long as I got to hear it.

The PR wire ignites the imagination with the promise of things to come:

ancestors

ANCESTORS Joins The Pelagic Records Roster; New Track Streaming

Pelagic Records is pleased to welcome Los Angeles’ ANCESTORS to their eclectic roster for the release of their forthcoming new full-length.

ANCESTORS manifests mighty, modern music that dovetails innovative arrangement, crushing primordial riff interplay, and melodic instrumental passages with textural atmospherics. The band was forged in 2006. A deal with Tee Pee Records resulted in four critically acclaimed, expansive albums, which incorporated the heaviness of doom metal with the vast dynamics of post-rock, the structural elements of progressive rock, and the fluidity of psychedelic rock.

In the five years that have passed since the band’s last album, In Dreams And Time, they’ve continued to hone their craft in anticipation of their return to stage and wax.

“We’re honored to be joining the Pelagic Records family,” says guitarist/vocalist Justin Maranga. “We’re excited to start the next chapter of ANCESTORS and we believe that Pelagic is the perfect label to partner with on this adventure.”

ANCESTORS’ as-yet-untitled new full-length will see release this Summer. Stay tuned for details.

http://www.facebook.com/ancestorsband
http://www.pelagic-records.com/
http://www.facebook.com/pelagicrecords

Ancestors, “Gone”

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Friday Full-Length: Ancestors, Neptune with Fire

Posted in Bootleg Theater on November 24th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Ancestors, Neptune with Fire (2008)

The timing of Ancestors‘ debut album, Neptune with Fire, is important to remember. This is by no means a complete context, but in particular, three factors stand out to my mind about its release in 2008: First, it was right before Thee Facebooks really started to take over the planet when it came to being the primary outlet for bands to communicate with their fanbase. MySpace at that point had kind of crapped the bed, but the shift hadn’t yet fully been made in terms of groups finding ways to promote themselves through Facebook, so it was kind of a grey area and a transitional period. The notion of a group talking directly to their fans via Twitter or Instagram, or effectively bringing their whole audience on tour via mobile updates, etc., was radically new and not at all nearly as widespread as it would become.

Second, Sleep hadn’t reunited yet, but there was basically an entire generation of new listeners waiting for them to do so, or waiting for someone to pick up that mantle and become that band, leading the charge for a weedian vision of stoner metal that, as we know, continues to be relevant nearly a decade later perhaps even more than it was at the time and certainly more than it was during Sleep‘s original run in the 1990s.

Third, Neptune with Fire was released by Tee Pee Records in August 2008. In the US, the presidential campaign that would elect Barack Obama was just really heating up, and about two months after this two-song full-length’s arrival, the prior seven years of needless war would catch up with and effectively bottom out the American economy, costing countless individuals (myself included) their jobs, bankrupting investments, semi-collapsing the housing market, and so on. To a degree that would resonate for years, shit hit the fan.

Despite all of this, I remember the response to Neptune with Fire being absolutely massive. Part of it, I think, relates to the second factor above — that there had just been this generational shift in the general heavy rock fanbase, and particularly as internet word of mouth was becoming more widespread about the existence of all this music to start with, listeners were looking for someone to spearhead a movement of new stoner rock. Along comes Ancestors out of Los Angeles with this massive two-song/38-minute debut album (actually it was their demo that got picked up and issued as a full-length), topped with Arik Roper art and a vibe that not only captured huge and lumbering riffs in its extended component cuts, “Neptune with Fire” (16:47) and “Orcus’ Avarice” (21:38), but added to that a sense of spaciousness and atmosphere, as each of those songs boasted a sprawling break in its midsection, side A with a lengthy foray into psychedelic trancemaking and side B with a more progressive roll topped with ambient and operatic vocalizations. Neptune with Fire captured the core righteousness of the heavy rock and roll of the decade prior — clearly those lessons had been learned — but carried forward into something new of which its audience could take ownership. They could make the sound theirs, just as the band was doing.

Thing of it is, though — Ancestors never really wanted to be that band. With their second record, 2009’s Of Sound Mind (review here), they’d distance themselves almost immediately from the lumbering riffcraft of Neptune with Fire and especially the title-track thereof. One can hear shades in “Orcus’ Avarice” of the post-rock vibes they’d elicit on the subsequent Invisible White EP (review here) in 2011 and the progressive soundsculpting they’d do on 2012’s aesthetic triumph In Dreams and Time (review here), but though it was just the beginning of the departure, their sophomore outing nonetheless sent a clear signal that Ancestors were going to be a different kind of outfit than people might be expecting.

Guitarist/vocalist Justin Maranga spoke directly about this in an interview here back in 2012:

I think people thought we were gonna be a stoner rock band. And I think it put us in that hole where we constantly still get referred to as a stoner rock band, and I don’t think we’re that at all. Are we music for stoners? Yeah, but so’s jazz, and I can say without a doubt that we all listen to 50 times more jazz than we do stoner rock. None of us really listen to stoner rock.

I mean, I like Sleep, I like Kyuss, and a good stoner rock band comes out once in a while, but to me, it’s a genre full of retread. That’s not exciting to me. I don’t know where I would put us, genre-wise, but we definitely got lumped into the stoner rock genre, and I won’t say that we’ve gone out of our way to spite it ever since, but there doesn’t really seem to be a way out… I feel like you can’t escape from where you started.

And Neptune’s a cool record, it’s just not really us anymore. I like the song “Neptune with Fire” a lot. “Orcus Avarice” we’re never going to play again – it’s just not us. But it’s not a bad record, it’s just I feel like we’ve grown up a little bit.

Ancestors would not be the first or the last band to exist in the shadow of their first offering and the expectations it set up on the part of their listeners, but this is also where the other two factors come in. Very soon after Neptune with Fire‘s release, the entire world seemed to slam into a wall. All of a sudden, money to go out drinking at shows was nil, and the impetus to do so became less drastic anyway with the proliferation of online/mobile engagement with artists. Fact of the matter is Ancestors that whatever else they had going for them in terms of songwriting and the will toward sonic growth — and that’s plenty, to be sure — Ancestors were never much for self-promotion. Did they ever tour the Eastern Seaboard? I’m not sure they did. I’d finally see them at Roadburn 2012 (review here), and I continue to feel fortunate for having done so, but they were never one of those bands who seemed to have an Instagram post up about it every time one of the dudes cut a fart. You know the kind of bands I’m talking about. Ancestors were always more keen to let the music do the talking for them, and mind you that’s not necessarily a negative.

Rumors have been abound of a fourth Ancestors long-player over the last couple years, and back in August, the band posted a new track called “Gone” that they said would open the album, to be released in 2018. Stranger things have certainly happened. In the meantime, they started their own label, Dune Altar (discussed here), and have used it not only to reissue Neptune with Fire on tape, but to act as an outlet for members’ other projects as well, so they’ve been keeping busy one way or the other. As a fan of their work and someone who thought In Dreams and Time was not only their greatest accomplishment but one of the best records of this decade — yup, I mean it; it’s on the list — obviously the concept of a follow-up is one I’d find duly intriguing. We’ll see how it goes, I guess.

Until then, and as always, I hope you enjoy Neptune with Fire for what it is and for the depth, richness and heft it brings to bear. Thank you for reading.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving here in the US — a holiday with a troubled historical foundation that’s manifest basically as an excuse to get together with loved ones and enjoy a ridiculously proportioned meal. If you’ve been reading these posts, you know I’ve been having some food issues of late. I made myself a protein shake and The Patient Mrs. made me some low-carb scones for dessert and that was my Thanksgiving dinner. After a breakfast of protein powder in coffee, I skipped lunch — which would’ve been the same thing anyway — on account of traveling to Connecticut, where we were to dine with her family at their house and with my family, up from New Jersey. And yeah, no turkey or anything else for me. I sat at the table for basically as long as I could do so with my shake and then kind of had to vacate.

The day ended with The Patient Mrs. asking me if I wanted to talk to a therapist, so perhaps not my best showing. I told her yes, incidentally. I’ve been through one therapy cycle in my life and didn’t get much from it, but I’ve been on antidepressants for about the last six months now, maybe longer, and I kind of feel like I owe it a little bit to The Pecan to at least take as many steps as I can take toward not being a miserable bastard and infecting him with my negative point of view. Or at least do something to mitigate it. A step my own father never took. Call it generational progress.

Better yet: don’t.

So let’s talk about next week. I was supposed to do an album stream on Monday, but the band put the record up on Bandcamp in its entirety, so there goes that. I don’t know yet how that’ll shake out, if they’ll take it down and we’ll just pretend they didn’t already share it on Facebook, etc., or if I’ll review something else, but whatever. Plenty of fish in the sea as regards stuff needing review. The point, as ever, is that the notes are subject to change. Here they are:

Mon.: Les Lekin review/stream OR Uncle Acid Vol. 1 review; Monarch ticket giveaway.
Tue.: Eggnogg Six Dumb Questions & track premiere; Sun Voyager video premiere.
Wed.: Slow review; The Atomic Bitchwax video.
Thu.: Eternal Elysium reissue review; Cyanna Mercury video.
Fri.: Stahv track premiere; Merlin video premiere.

Busy busy, but that’s how I like it, apparently.

Was up at four this morning with The Pecan, who needed changing. The Patient Mrs. handling the feeding, I’ve been doing the bulk of the diapers still the last couple weeks. That’s fine. She gets more time with him at this point but I imagine that equation will change once he’s on a bottle and she goes back to work and so on. These things are fluid anyway, though I’ll admit I’m jealous of the quality time they spend. A shitty diaper ain’t no thing, though. I’ve gotten pretty good at catching the Rocketass output and for the most part the fountain around front is contained too, so yeah. The boy likes waiting until the diaper comes off to really go to town. We all have our preferences.

For what it’s worth, he did better at Thanksgiving than I did, so I take that as an encouraging sign.

I hope you have a great and safe weekend. If you’re the kind of go out and do post-Thanksgiving holiday shopping, be kind to retail employees. I worked retail for years at a toy store and it’s hard, especially right now, and a little basic courtesy can really go long in helping someone get through their day. Just something to keep in mind. Whatever you’re up to though, enjoy it as much as you can.

And as always, thanks again for reading. Please check out the forum and the radio stream.

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Völur Announce Ancestors LP out June 2; New Song Streaming

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 9th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

volur

Toronto-based rune-doomers Völur are gearing up to release their second album, Ancestors, June 2 on Prophecy Productions. To herald its coming, the band has unveiled the 10-minute second track “Breaker of Skulls,” which as you can see below is one of the four included cuts, all of which features a “Breaker” of some kind or other.

Symmetry of presentation would seem to be something of a running theme for the band, which features Blood Ceremony‘s Lucas Gadke, as “Breaker of Skulls” and “Breaker of Oaths” — which also tops 10 minutes — are bookended by “Breaker of Silence” and “Breaker of Famine,” both of which are even longer at over 15 minutes. I haven’t had the chance to dig into the full record yet, but I’m guessing from what I’m hearing in “Breaker of Skulls” below that it’s doomed as hell, and yeah, I’ll take that.

Art, info and audio follow here, all courtesy of the PR wire:

volur ancestors

VÖLUR to Release New LP, ‘Ancestors’, June 2; Band Debuts New Song “Breaker of Skulls”

Toronto-based experimental doom trio VÖLUR will release its sophomore album, Ancestors, on June 2 via Prophecy Productions. Produced by the band and mixed by Charles Spearin (Broken Social Scene), Ancestors is the follow-up to VÖLUR’s celebrated debut, Disir.

“‘Breaker of Skulls’ is a dark, sludgy slab of doom inspired by the ancient Icelandic warrior poet Egil Skallagrímsson, a man who fought terrible battles across the North Sea,” comments the band. “He was at once barbarous and poetic. A man who would commit a brutal act of violence and then recite a beautiful poem immediately after. The song was inspired by his epic poem, ‘The Loss of My Sons’. It moves from a combative, gnarly sludge riff to a bittersweet and almost beautiful conclusion, all the while filled with yearning chromatic movement. The piece finds the band at its most aggressive, and almost its most experiment with disjointed improvised passages paired against bleak heavy doom.”

Just as the band’s debut, Disir, dealt with themes surrounding female figures from mythology, Ancestors focuses on the heroine’s male counterparts and is the second part of a planned four album series spotlighting various elements of the old Germanic spiritual world. VÖLUR’s songs are long, quasi-narrative pieces that feature Laura C. Bates’ violin assuming the role traditionally executed by a guitar, allowing the bass playing of Lucas Gadke (also of Blood Ceremony) to take on unique responsibilities in both lead and melodic roles while drummer Jimmy Payment (Do Make Say Think) feeds the band’s bombastic, crushing oomph. Doom music (not necessarily metal) is about slow contemplation and the transfixing power of heaviness and VÖLUR’s weighty riffs, layers of feedback, dynamic, angular melodies and moments of beauty give heed to the band’s promise to always seek newer modes of musical expression and discovery.

Moving between high-tension heaviness and beautiful pastoral moods, VÖLUR aims to reflect the world of primordial nature inspired by ancient myths and chilling poems of death and heroism. Ancestors shares the stories and sagas of great men from the past that have been shrouded by the obscurity of time while simultaneously spotlighting one of North America’s most ambitious and striving young acts.

Track listing:
1.) Breaker of Silence
2.) Breaker of Skulls
3.) Breaker of Oaths
4.) Breaker of Famine

https://www.facebook.com/VolurDoom/
https://twitter.com/VolurDoom
https://www.instagram.com/volurdoom/
http://us.prophecy.de/artists/voelur/
https://www.facebook.com/prophecyproductions/

Völur, “Breaker of Skulls”

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Ancestors Reissue Neptune with Fire on New Label Dune Altar

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 10th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

ancestors (Photo by Darrel D'Itri)

I don’t know how many tapes are left, but Los Angeles progressive heavy rockers Ancestors have reissued their riffy 2008 debut, Neptune with Fire, via their newly unveiled imprint Dune Altar, and if you haven’t heard that record (it was also their demo), it basically presaged all the Sleep-style stoner epicness that has become so de rigueur the last couple years by at least half a decade. Comprised of two extended tracks and originally issued through Tee Pee Records, it legitimately brought something new to ‘heavy’ that had been, at that point, lacking.

Dune Altar will reportedly serve as a releasing base for Ancestors‘ past work, as well as solo offerings and other projects. The band’s last album, 2012’s In Dreams and Time (review here), had a scope that few records I’ve heard since came close to matching, and from what I hear there’s new stuff in the works as well that will hopefully be out (or at least in my inbox) sooner rather than later. Across all their offerings to-date, Ancestors have never lost their drive to keep growing and adding something new to the mix. In Dreams and Time wound up a long ways away from where Neptune with Fire started out, but it’s been the force of the creativity behind it that has ultimately united everything Ancestors have done up to now.

If you’re wondering, I went for the bundle with the tape, the t-shirt and the split 7″ with Graveyard. Couldn’t resist. Also didn’t want to:

ancestors-neptune-with-fire

ANCESTORS – NEPTUNE WITH FIRE CASSETTE

Cassette reissue release with bonus track

Limited to 150

‘Neptune With Fire’ was the 2008 debut release from Los Angeles-based band Ancestors.

‘Neptune With Fire’ is a concept album that tells of the metaphorical trials of Orcus and Neptune, respectively, and their cosmic, psychological journey through war, celebration, remorse and revelation. The character of Neptune was written as an immortal personification of the mortal man, and for the band, his plight was conceived of as a way of realizing their own epistemological struggles.

Since the release of this now out-of-print album, Ancestors has continued to create new and innovative music. But it all starts here.

https://www.facebook.com/ancestorsband/
http://ancestorsmusic.com/
https://www.facebook.com/dunealtar/
http://dunealtar.bigcartel.com/products

Ancestors, Neptune with Fire (2008)

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