The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2017

Posted in Features on December 28th, 2017 by JJ Koczan


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.

We’re almost at the finish line for 2017, and if I’m honest, it’s not a minute too soon. I think if one more record comes out this year my head is going to explode.

A perpetual onslaught of cool music is, of course, nothing to complain about. It just seemed like every time I thought I had a handle on where the year was going, some other announcement came through and knocked me on my ass. What’s that? The Obsessed are putting out their first album in more than two decades? Oh and Monolord have a new one coming? Radio Moscow just signed to Century Media? Arc of Ascent are back? Samsara Blues Experiment are back? Causa Sui are putting out a live album and a studio album? Sasquatch are going to Europe and sneaking a record along with them? All of a sudden I’m out of breath feeling like I just ran a lap.

It’s been madness this year. Between an emergent neo-psych movement in the wake of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and others, and the ongoing and constant reshaping of doom and heavy rock from practitioners new and old, I don’t know how anyone could ever claim to keep up with any of it.

You know I do the best I can, so when you look through this list, please keep in mind that these are my picks and the result of applying my own standard, which if you’ve ever seen a list on this site before you probably already know is a combination of things like what I view as being important on a critical level and things like what kept me coming back as a listener. What were the year’s biggest releases and what couldn’t I get enough of? Sometimes those two things come together around one record and it’s beautiful. That’s usually your album of the year, or close to, anyhow.

No sense in delaying further. I hope if you haven’t heard some of this stuff you’ll give it a shot, and if you have something you felt strongly about it, you’ll let me know in the comments. Thanks in advance for keeping it civil, and of course for reading.

Here goes:

30. Geezer, Psychoriffadelia
geezer psychoriffadelia

Released by Kozmik Artifactz and STB Records. Reviewed May 16.

Coming off of what was their strongest album to-date in their 2016 self-titled (review here), New York heavy psych blues trio Geezer decided it was time to take the groove for a walk. And so they did. Psychoriffadelia is the result — a looser collection of jams and willfully unrefined heavy blues, reveling in the politically incorrect on “Dirty Penny” only after basking in the post-Monster Magnet hypnosis of “Red Hook” and the earlier roll of the more straightforward “Hair of the Dog” and “Stressknots.” Everything Geezer has done to this point has pushed their sound to new places. Psychoriffadelia is no exception.

29. Orango, The Mules of Nana

orango the mules of nana

Released by Stickman Records. Reviewed March 27.

More than a touch of twang on opener “Heartland” sets a tone of Americana-infusion for Orango‘s sixth LP, The Mules of Nana, but the 10-tracker is ultimately much more about harmony-laced classic heavy smoothness than playing to prairie-minded sensibilities, though roots spread wide through a natural, dirty blues just the same. However they get there, “Hazy Chain of Mountains,” the softshoe-ready funk of “Head on Down” and the peacefully progressive finish of “Ghost Rider” bring ’70s-style thrills in songwriting and their precise, gorgeous execution. Underrated record from an underappreciated band.

28. Radio Moscow, New Beginnings

radio moscow new beginnings

Released by Century Media. Reviewed Oct. 6.

Cali boogie kingpins and all-around marvelous frenetic bastards Radio Moscow were in top form on their Century Media debut, and if it was a new beginning they were searching for, they met it head on with a sound as classic and organic as ever. Arguably the most powerful power trio in their game, they tore through cuts like “No One Knows Where They’ve Been” and “Deceiver” while offering flourish in the trip-out “Woodrose Morning” and subdued blues-psych on the penultimate “Pick up the Pieces.” Very much to form, but cast of a form that still manages to outclass all challengers.

27. Spaceslug, Time Travel Dilemma

spaceslug time travel dilemma

Released by Southcave Records, BSFD Records and Oak Island Records. Reviewed Feb. 10.

And so here we have the first of what will no doubt be several records about which I’m going to say they should be higher on the list. Poland’s Spaceslug have emerged from the moist ground created by their own tonality and on their sophomore full-length, they proffered warm depth of fuzz and a corresponding melodic and psychedelic reach that was resonant even before they brought in ex-Sungrazer bassist Sander Haagmans for a guest spot on the title-track. It’s been out for 10 months and still delivers every time I put it on, which is often.

26. Mothership, High Strangeness

mothership high strangeness
Released by Ripple Music and Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed March 7.

Three albums into a tenure marked by hard-driving riffs, scorching solos and relentless road work, there’s little Texas trio Mothership need to do at this point to prove themselves to their audience. At the same time, High Strangeness brought considerable expansion to their range overall, whether it was the exploratory “Eternal Trip” or the semi-metallic insistence behind “Midnight Express,” while staying tied together with lyrical and instrumental hooks. High Strangeness set a new standard for Mothership, plain and simple, and easily surpassed the considerable accomplishments of their 2012 self-titled debut (review here) and 2014’s Mothership II (review here).

25. Eternal Black, Bleed the Days

eternal black bleed the days

Released by Obsidian Sky Records. Reviewed Aug. 1.

There was a lot about Eternal Black‘s Bleed the Days that chugged its way into the post-Wino oeuvre of US-style trad doom, but the gruff, lumbering and impeccably riffed outing was nonetheless one of 2017’s best debut full-lengths, and it was the songwriting that got it there. Already sounding sure in the vibe captured, cuts like the plodding brooder “Sea of Graves” and “Stained Eyes on a Setting Sun” showed potential in mood and atmosphere as much as sheer sonic heft — though of course there was plenty of that to go around as well. Doomers missed it at their peril.

24. Kadavar, Rough Times

kadavar rough times

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Sept. 6.

It kind of feels like a slight to have Berlin trio Kadavar appear anywhere outside of at least a top 10 on any kind of list whatsoever, ever, but that’s not my intention at all. Rather, their fourth album and third for Nuclear Blast found them at an important stage in their progression — past the novelty of the vintage feel in their early work, after having proven their songwriting could translate to a modern context, and embarking on a process of expanding their sound. Rough Times, which was as current as current could be, met that goal and beat it easily with a barrage of memorable choruses and a dark streak one could only consider suitable for our age.

23. Shroud Eater, Strike the Sun

shroud eater strike the sun

Released by STB Records. Reviewed June 28.

The biggest surprise about Shroud Eater‘s long-awaited sophomore long-player was also its most encouraging aspect — namely how it found the Miami trio bringing together various impulses shown on a number of shorter releases over the course of the six years since their debut, ThunderNoise (review here), came out in 2011, and still managed to utterly crush when it so chose. With a swath from sludge to drone and back again, this was no minor feat, and that the songs they brought to bear were so memorable at their heart as well makes me hope all the more it’s not 2023 before their third album arrives.

22. Enslaved, E

enslaved e

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Oct. 4.

What’s left to say about Norwegian progressive black metal innovators Enslaved 14 records into their career? Plenty as it turns out. The introduction of new keyboardist/vocalist Håkon Vinje in place of Herbrand Larsen brought a new twist on a signature element of Enslaved‘s approach. Vinje utterly owned his role, and his performance alongside guitarist Ivar Bjørnson, bassist/vocalist Grutle Kjellson, guitarist Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal and drummer Cato Bekkevold resulted in a fresh urgency that made the band’s sound even more potent and set their ongoing creative evolution on a new branch of its self-directed path.

21. Arc of Ascent, Realms of the Metaphysical


Released by Astral Projection and Clostridium Records. Reviewed April 6.

Some five years on from 2012’s The Higher Key (review here) and seven out from their debut, Circle of the Sun (review here), and with bassist/vocalist Craig Williamson firmly entrenched in his always excellent Lamp of the Universe psych-drone-folk solo-project, I wasn’t sure there would be another offering from New Zealand heavy psych-rock trio Arc of Ascent, but Realms of the Metaphysical took shape from an ether of riffs and echoes atop resilient underlying structures and revitalized the group with new drummer Mark McGeady in the lineup with Williamson and guitarist Matt Cole-Baker. Remains to be seen if this marks a priority shift for Williamson or it’s a one-off, but its arrival was welcome either way.

20. Causa Sui, Vibraciones Doradas

causa sui vibraciones doradas

Released by El Paraiso Records. Reviewed Oct. 20.

With the various glories already offered in 2017 on the Live in Copenhagen (review here) 3LP, one didn’t necessarily expect a new studio outing from Danish instrumental psych masters Causa Sui, but Vibraciones Doradas found them as vibrant as ever, bringing forth a surprising amount of tonal weight on songs like “El Fuego,” warm fuzz for the basking on opener “The Drop” and spaciousness on the closing title-track. Somewhat more straight-ahead in its rocking groove than 2016’s Return to Sky (review here), the five-track/38-minute long-player showed yet again why Causa Sui are always welcome and that any news of a new release from them, live, studio, whatever, is good news. This was the kind of record that could make your day if you let it.

19. Telekinetic Yeti, Abominable

telekinetic yeti abominable

Released by Sump Pump Records. Reviewed April 10.

The Iowa-based duo of guitarist/vocalist Alex Baumann and drummer Anthony Dreyer, operating as Telekinetic Yeti, released what I considered to be the debut of the year, both for the fullness of its tonality and the accomplishment in songcraft it already showed. Powered by cuts like its lumbering title-track and the gloriously fuzzed runner “Stoned and Feathered,” it could’ve been another band’s second or third record for the level of cohesion on display and the obvious awareness on the part of the band of what they wanted to do with their sound and the just-as-obvious result of their bringing it to life.

18. Cloud Catcher, Trails of Kozmic Dust

cloud catcher trails of kozmic dust

Released by Totem Cat Records. Reviewed Dec. 9, 2016.

While I admit I’m still not 100 percent certain on whether to spell “kozmic” in the title with a ‘k’ or with a ‘c’ on the end, that question did nothing ultimately to diminish enjoyment of Denver emergents Cloud Catcher‘s sophomore outing. Topped off by one of the best album covers of the year, the follow-up to their 2015 debut, Enlightened Beyond Existence (discussed here), took the progressive casting of that record to a place entirely more raw and rock-driven, willfully roughing up the edges even as it showed marked creative growth on a relatively quick turnaround. The must-hear bass tone of “Beyond the Electric Sun” and “Super Acid Magick” was icing on a cake of choice riffing and Hendrixian lead swirl, and the shuffle they elicited was enough to make even the most stubborn of asses (i.e. mine) think about moving.

17. Ruby the Hatchet, Planetary Space Child

ruby the hatchet planetary space child

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Aug. 29.

After the neo-garage manifestations of their 2015 sophomore outing, Valley of the Snake (review here), it was clear Philly psych rockers Ruby the Hatchet were a force when it came to songwriting. What was less obvious was what they’d do with that going forward. On Planetary Space Child, at least, the answer is they’ll take it to Freaktown. The melody-happy, organ-laced swirlmasters conjured presence kosmiche enough to justify the album’s title, and around the cast-in-moon-rock structures of the swinging “Pagan Ritual” and the playfully doomed “Symphony of the Night,” Ruby the Hatchet built a multifaceted weirdoist triumph the likes of which simply doesn’t come along every year, establishing themselves as more reliable and less predictable than ever: an absolute win.

16. Alunah, Solennial

alunah solennial

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed March 1.

It’s been the case more or less all along with UK forest rockers Alunah that their nature-minded material and heavy rolling grooves have had their haunting aspects, but with the production of Conan‘s Chris Fielding behind it, Solennial — their fourth LP and first on Svart — brought this to new levels entirely. The songs, memorable like footprints in the woods, are somewhat bittersweet in context now, since founding guitarist/vocalist Sophie Day announced in September she was leaving the band, but as the group will move forward led by guitarist Dave Day and recently acquired new singer Siân Greenaway, intrigue remains high at what the future might bring and the impact of Solennial is undiminished.

15. Mindkult, Lucifer’s Dream


Released by Transcending Obscurity Records and Caligari Records.

Virginia-based doomgazing garage cult solo-project Mindkult has thus far managed to keep some of the mystique around its sole inhabitant, Fowst, which is admirable in a way. As the multi-instrmentalist, vocalist and producer this year answered the promise of last year’s Witch’s Oath (review here) debut, he did so around a swath of purposeful miseries, loose devil worship and other dark thematics, casting an atmospheric darkness matched head-on by the tonal murk of his riffs. Through this, however, the songwriting was no less memorable than on the first offering, and as the project moves forward, one can only hope that Fowst will continue to use that as the core aspect buried six feet under his other, formidable stylistic achievements. That certainly was how it worked out on Lucifer’s Dream.

14. Argus, From Fields of Fire

argus from fields of fire
Released by Cruz del Sur Music. Reviewed Sept. 1.

Behold ye perhaps the most underrated band in heavy metal. Regardless of subgenre, style, strata, whatever, it’s hard to listen to From Fields of Fire and think of Pittsburgh’s Argus as anything else. The five-piece’s fourth album continued to owe part of its sound to doom, but was much more encompassing than simply that, touching on aspects of classic metal with a command that left one wondering how they hadn’t yet been tapped to open for Judas Priest on that band’s next tour. Victory abounds on a per-song basis throughout the nine-tracker, and whether it was the emotional crux of “Hour of Longing” or the catchy fistpump righteousness of “Devils of Your Time” or the 11-minute progressive reach of “Infinite Lives/Infinite Doors,” Argus once again crafted a work nigh-unmatched in poise and class.

13. Uffe Lorenzen, Galmandsværk


Released by Bad Afro Records. Reviewed Nov. 6.

For the first outing ever to be issued under his real name, Denmark’s Uffe Lorenzen — aka Lorenzo Woodrose of garage-psych pioneers Baby Woodrose — danced between acid folk singer-songwriterisms like “Flippertøs” and more expansive jamming on “På Kanten Af Verden,” all the while retaining his distinct structural and arrangement sensibilities and creating a flowing vibe that was nothing less than a pure joy of classic-form psychedelia. The most serene and pastoral freakout one was likely to witness in 2017, easily, Galmandsværk resounded in the Mellotron-laced “Høj Som Et Højhus” and was no less at home in the acoustic spaciousness of the earlier “Remits Tyranni,” able to wander where it pleased and find steady ground in molten surroundings.

12. The Flying Eyes, Burning of the Season

the flying eyes burning of the season

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 11.

A welcome return from a viciously underappreciated band, The Flying EyesBurning of the Season marked the Baltimore four-piece’s first offering for Ripple Music and first since 2013’s Lowlands (review here), a four-year stretch during which the band kept busy touring Europe and South America, the latter also being where they recorded these songs with Gabriel Zander at Estudio Superfuzz in Brazil. The tonal depth resulting from that process was enough to make the collection a highlight, but it was the songs themselves that most stood out, benefiting from the band’s expanded reach and legitimate, hard-won maturity. Especially for a group who’ve done so much work on the road over their years — to be fair, the US has been pretty low priority in that regard — they remain a secret kept too well.

11. Bell Witch, Mirror Reaper

bell witch mirror reaper

Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed Dec. 27.

Doomed extremity simply unmatched in its scope. The song of the year for 2017. An accomplishment the likes of which is prone to happen maybe once or twice in a generation. None of this seems to really speak to the entirety of the achievement that is Bell Witch‘s Mirror Reaper — the single-song, 83-minute full-length issued by the Seattle duo like a challenge in the face of mortality itself. Beautiful, devastating and weighted like the grave, its sprawl utterly consumed the listener, and I firmly believe it will be years before its depths are fully processed. Some offerings are bigger than the year in which they’re released. Mirror Reaper would seem to function on a scale of its own, and though it could easily be read as a litmus test for audience punishment, the truth of the listening experience is both more emotionally complex and more fulfilling than simple hyperbole can capture.

10. Monolord, Rust

monolord rust

Released by RidingEasy Records. Reviewed Oct. 26.

The story all along with Gothenburg’s Monolord has been tone. Tone tone tone. Crush crush crush. Riffs riffs riffs. Nothing wrong with any of that, but their third album, Rust, proves once and for all that there’s more to the trio than “cool riffs bro” and post-Electric Wizard nod. Catchy cuts like “Dear Lucifer” and rolling opener “Where Death Meets the Sea” brought a sense of space leading to the later sprawl of “Forgotten Lands” and “At Niceae,” and the band settled into an individualized, lumbering psychedelia that moved forward from 2015’s Vænir (review here), not leaving behind the heft that earned them their reputation, but not at all being limited by it either in scope or overall approach. Three records in, Rust brought forth Monolord‘s greatest sonic expansion yet and gave rise to the feeling that their true potential was just starting to come to fruition. Also, crush crush crush. Cool riffs, bro.

9. Vokonis, The Sunken Djinn


Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 5.

The Sunken Djinn is Vokonis‘ second full-length in as many years, and in addition to serving as their Ripple debut where 2016’s Olde One Ascending (review here) landed via Ozium Records, it was a feast for hungry riff hounds. In defiance of its quick turnaround, it showed a firm evolution taking place within the upstart Swedish trio of guitarist/vocalist Simon Ohlsson, bassist/backing vocalist Jonte Johansson and drummer Emil Larsson, whose range overall was greater in tracks like “Rapturous” and the torrential “Blood Vortex” while nonetheless controlled in its delivery. Their Sleep-y origins still a factor sound-wise, Vokonis were able just the same to push themselves ahead into new sonic ground in fittingly lumbering fashion, and the character they brought to “The Sunken Djinn,” “Calling from the Core” and the noise-caked “Maelstroem” seemed to speak to a burgeoning sense of atmospheric focus taking hold as well. Still so much potential here.

8. Electric Moon, Stardust Rituals

electric moon stardust rituals

Released by Sulatron Records. Reviewed April 7.

Do I even need to remotely justify having Electric Moon‘s first studio album in six years on this list? Was it not just like a love-letter issued by the cosmos itself? What more explanation could possibly be necessary? Not that the German trio haven’t dropped copious, glorious live outings all the while, but to have Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt, “Komet Lulu” Neudeck and Marcus Schnitzler follow-up 2011’s The Doomsday Machine (review here) with four cuts culminating in the 22-minute sprawl of “(You Will) Live Forever Now” was high on the list of the year’s most satisfying psychedelic journeys. Constantly exploring, their methods always seem geared toward finding the molten essence of space rock itself, and though the songs on Stardust Rituals were a little more crafted than some of their straight-up improv jams, they nonetheless showed there are many avenues one might take to get to the heart of the sun.

7. Sun Blood Stories, It Runs Around the Room with Us


Self-released. Reviewed May 1.

This one is personal, and by that I mean I love this fucking band. Similar to my experience with their 2015 sophomore outing, Twilight Midnight Morning (review here), the third record by Boise-based trio of Ben Kirby (vocals, guitar, synth, percussion), Amber Pollard (vocals, guitar, theremin, percussion) and Jon Fust (drums, keys, percussion, noise) was one that I simply could not put down. Even now, seeing the name of the record is all I need to have songs like “The Great Destroyer” and the immersive midsection in “Come Like Rain” and “Time Like Smoke” stuck in my head, let alone the ultra-brazen, searingly-pissed “Burn” noise assault that finished the album and in the span of 90 seconds turned all the psychedelic warmth and serenity on its face with a visceral anger completely unforeseen and jarring, turning it from a depth-laden execution of adventurous neo-psych and indie into a project of conceptual artistry with all the efficiency of the chemical reaction it sought to portray. If you missed it, your loss.

6. The Atomic Bitchwax, Force Field


Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Dec. 7.

Songs like “Alaskan Thunder Fuck,” “Humble Brag” and “Earth Shaker (Which Doobie U Be?)” assured that the defining character of Force Field, the sixth album from New Jersey’s The Atomic Bitchwax, was pure scorch. That made the 12-cut outing a more than worthy follow-up for 2015’s  Gravitron (review here), which introduced this more speed-rock-minded, aggressive delivery from the tight-as-nails trio, and while they proved they could still lock in a slower groove on the organ-topped finisher “Liv a Little,” head-spinners like the instrumental “Fried, Dyed and Layin’ to the Side” and “Houndstooth” came across like the fruit of the band pushing themselves to the limits of their physical ability in terms of tempo, and their ride along the edge of that line brought thrills at every turn. And make no mistake, there were a lot of turns. Fortunately, bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik, guitarist/vocalist Finn Ryan and drummer Bob Pantella seemingly had a corresponding hook in their pocket for each one of them. This band is a national treasure.

5. Atavismo, Inerte

atavismo inerte

Released by Temple of Torturous. Reviewed Feb. 21.

Warm, fuzzy tones, rhythmic shifts right out of classic progressive rock, melodic intricacy and periodic excursions into glorious psychedelic drift: I’m not sure what wasn’t to like about Inerte, Atavismo‘s second full-length behind 2014’s Desintegración (review here). Comprising five tracks of unmistakable flow and jam-laden fluidity, it was immersive with landmarks along the way to keep the listener from getting too lost, and whether or not one spoke Spanish, the three-piece of Jose “Poti” Moreno (ex-Viaje a 800Mind!), bassist/vocalist Mateo and drummer/vocalist Sandri Pow (also ex-Mind!) made it easy to follow along their purposefully meandering path, offering guidance no less skillful on the 11-minute fuzz-freaker “El Sueño” than the dream-toned linear build of “Belleza Cuatro.” There were very, very few albums I listened to more this year than this one, which is precisely why it is where it is on this list.

4. Samsara Blues Experiment, One with the Universe


Released by Electric Magic Records and Abraxas Records. Reviewed May 4.

Four years between records isn’t at all an unheard of stretch. It’s not the longest on this list by any means. But with Berlin heavy psych rockers Samsara Blues Experiment, it really seemed like the band was done, so to have them come back with such force on One with the Universe was, as I know I said at several points throughout the last 12 months, one of the year’s total highlights. Tracked by former bassist Richard Behrens, the group’s fourth album answered the extended-track spread of 2013’s Waiting for the Flood (review here) with a deeper sense of sonic variety, and while the 15-minute title-cut and opener “Vispassana” still had plenty of room for jamming out and even six-minute centerpiece “Glorious Daze” found room for some flourish of organ and sitar, guitarist/vocalist Christian Peters, drummer Thomas Vedder and bassist Hans Eiselt rightly featured the chemistry they’ve built as a trio live and brought to the songs a renewed sense of vigor, sounding — and hopefully being — truly inspired. Waiting for the Flood capped a period of marked productivity across several years. Fingers crossed One with the Universe begins that cycle anew.

3. Elder, Reflections of a Floating World


Released by Armageddon Shop and Stickman Records. Reviewed May 23.

You just can’t consider Elder‘s Reflections of a Floating World outside the context of the progressive achievement that was their prior outing, 2015’s Lore (review here). Where the trio — based now between Massachusetts and Berlin, Germany — took their first two outings, 2008’s self-titled debut (discussed here) and 2011’s Dead Roots Stirring (review here), to find their sound, which they began to showcase on the 2012 Spires Burn/Release EP (review here), it was Lore that brought to fruition the potential that had always been waiting to be unleashed by the trio of guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto, and Reflections of a Floating World had the daunting task of being the next further step from that landmark moment. To say the band rose to the occasion is perhaps to undersell the cohesion at work in consuming-but-cohesive pieces like opener “Sanctuary” or “Blind” or “Staving off the Truth,” which brought together clear-headed psychedelia around a wash that seemed to stem as much from rhythm as melody. As they’ve matured stylistically and become a major touring presence, Elder have made themselves perhaps the most pivotal American heavy rock act going, and Reflections of a Floating World brings them to the discovery of yet another apex while at the same time giving zero indication it will be the last one they find.

2. Colour Haze, In Her Garden

colour haze in her garden

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed March 9.

Of course, the bonus of writing about Colour Haze in just about any context is that you get to put Colour Haze on while you’re doing it, and in the case of the 12th LP from these Munich heavy psych forebears, that’s an even more appealing prospect. After stripping down some of the arrangement flourish with 2014’s To the Highest Gods We Know (review here), the 13-track/73-minute 2LP In Her Garden brought a revitalized sonic expansion, but as ever, it wasn’t just the horns or the strings or the blend of keys and acoustics that made In Her Garden the unbridled joy that it was and continues to be — it was the underlying performance from guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek, bassist Philipp Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald that gave the album the stem on which its garden grew. That’s not to say Jan Faszbender‘s work on modular synth, Rhodes, and Hammond or the arrangements of strings, tuba, bass-clarinet and trombone throughout hurt anything, just that as Colour Haze have grown into incorporating these elements into their groundbreaking aesthetic, they haven’t left behind the organic chemistry and necessary live feel that has helped them influence a generation of followers over their more than 20-year career. One came through as much as the other on In Her Garden, and that balance gave the overarching warmth of their self-recorded tonality yet another level on which to engage their audience. I’ll be a sucker for Colour Haze for as long as I live, and I have absolutely no problem admitting to and owning that.

1. All Them Witches, Sleeping Through the War

all them witches sleeping through the war

Released by New West Records. Reviewed Jan. 27.

It was clear early on that Nashville four-piece All Them Witches were contending hard for Album of the Year with Sleeping Through the War, their fourth long-player and second for New West following the mellow vibes of 2015’s Dying Surfer Meets His Maker (review here). What finally sealed it? The songs. Working with producer Dave Cobb, the each-member-essential lineup of bassist/vocalist Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod, key-specialist Allan van Cleave (Rhodes, Mellotron, piano, organ, etc.) and drummer/graphic artist Robby Staebler solidified their approach in exciting new ways on early cuts like the grunge-crunching “Don’t Bring Me Coffee” and the shuffling “Bruce Lee,” which hit in succession following the fluid lead-in of opener “Bulls,” an introduction of the organic psychedelia and heavy blues that the loose-swinging of “3-5-7″‘s nigh-on-gospel chorus and subsequent, almost maddeningly catchy “Am I Going Up?” would continue to push outward, thereby setting a linear course into a consciousness-capturing side B with “Alabaster” and the jammier “Cowboy Kirk” and “Internet” playing between melodic nuance and mindful, go-with-it drift. The unflinching strength of the material was matched perhaps only by the understatement of its delivery, which was the more staggering considering how easily the arrangements of background vocals on “Am I Going Up?” or  “3-5-7” could have come through as overblown or self-indulgent, and by the time they got down to the light weirdo-bluesy stomp of “Internet” — the key lyric and hook being, “Guess I’ll go live on the internet” — there was no doubting the genuine nature of the realization Sleeping Through the War represented for All Them Witches. Coupling that feeling of achievement with the sheer repeatability of the listening experience itself left no doubt that 2017 belonged to these tracks and the marvelous way the band wove between them, and that whatever other sounds All Them Witches may go on to explore and whatever else they may accomplish as a result, Sleeping Through the War was a truly special moment in their evolution that, as with the best of offerings in any year, will continue to resonate long after the calendar page has turned.

The Next 20

You know, I used to feel like once you got past a top 20, the numbers were arbitrary. Then I felt that way about the top 30. This year, I think I agonized more about what to include in numbers 31-50 than I did between 30 and the album of the year. Put that in your “go figure” file while you chew on these picks:

31. Cities of Mars, Temporal Rifts
32. The Midnight Ghost Train, Cypress Ave.
33. Snowy Dunes, Atlantis
34. Rozamov, This Mortal Road
35. PH, Eternal Hayden
36. Sasquatch, Maneuvers
37. Young Hunter, Dayhiker
38. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, II
39. Ufomammut, 8
40. John Garcia, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues
41. Paradise Lost, Medusa
42. Beastmaker, Inside the Skull
43. Arduini / Balich, Dawn of Ages
44. Primitive Man, Caustic
45. Motorpsycho, The Tower
46. Arbouretum, Song of the Rose
47. Hymn, Perish
48. Youngblood Supercult, The Great American Death Rattle
49. Pallbearer, Heartless
50. Dool, Here Now There Then

There’s so, so much good stuff here. So much. The Cities of Mars debut was a treasure and the only reason it wasn’t on my top debuts list was because I haven’t had the chance to go back in and put it on. The Young Hunter record? Some of their best work yet. Hell, that Arduini / Balich album alone! Then you’ve got huge releases by Pallbearer, Ufomammut, Paradise Lost, Primitive Man, on and on. Like I said at the outset, one more album and my head was gonna explode this year. Way too much to ever hope to keep up with. One thing though I felt like I really wanted to emphasize including was Dool. They’re in the last spot, but make no mistake, in atmosphere and songwriting that album was something really special and loaded with potential. It’s not there because it came in last. It’s there to highlight the point of how much it should be on this list.

What’s that? More records? Okay…

Honorable Mentions

In case you also weren’t completely overwhelmed this year, maybe another batch of records will do the trick. Here’s some presented alphabetically:

Anathema, The Optimist
Blackfinger, When Colors Fade Away
Child, Blueside
Cortez, The Depths Below
Demon Eye, Prophecies and Lies
Elbrus, Elbrus
Electric Wizard, Wizard Bloody Wizard
Ecstatic Vision, Raw Rock Fury
Five Horse Johnson, Jake Leg Boogie
Mirror Queen, Verdigris
The Obsessed, Sacred
T.G. Olson, Foothills Before the Mountain
Outsideinside, Sniff a Hot Rock
Queens of the Stone Age, Villains
Siena Root, A Dream of Lasting Peace
Six Organs of Admittance, Burning the Threshold
Steak, No God to Save
Summoner, Beyond the Realm of Light
Valborg, Endstrand
With the Dead, Love from With the Dead

Plus: Abronia, Lewis and the Strange Magics, Iron Monkey, Band of Spice, Puta Volcano, Galley Beggar, Heavy Traffic, Coltsblood, REZN, Green Meteor, Demon Head, Lord, Grigax, The Raynbow, Carpet, Norska, Les Lekin, Slow, Ixion, and I’m sure more that I’ll add as the names continue to pop into my head.

I did this back in June as well, but I also want to draw attention to a swath of quality live albums that came out this year. The top pick should be no surprise if you’ve been hanging around the site of late:

Live Albums:
1. SubRosa, Subdued Live at Roadburn
2. Causa Sui, Live in Copenhagen
3. Slomatics, Futurians Live at Roadburn
4. My Sleeping Karma, Mela Ananda – Live
5. Wight, Fusion Rock Invasion
5. Death Alley, Live at Roadburn

Thank You

It’s been a hell of a year, obviously. Musically and otherwise. As always, I cannot possibly come close to thanking you enough for your incredible and ongoing support of The Obelisk, of what this site is, what it’s become over its nearly nine-year run, what it will continue to become going forward from here. It is astounding to me and deeply humbling that you would possibly take time out of your busy day and your busy life to check out what’s going on here, and words fail me continually when it comes to feeling like I can properly convey my appreciation for that. Thank you for reading. Thank you for reading. Thank you for reading. Tattoo it on my forehead.

Thank you to The Patient Mrs. for understanding how much I need to be doing this, to Slevin for keeping the site running on the technical end, to Behrang Alavi for taking over hosting earlier this year, to my family for their ongoing support, to The Pecan for sleeping late some mornings and giving me time to write, and to everyone who ever shared a link on social media or made a comment on a post or anything like that. To long-time readers and to newcomers alike — thank you so much. This year has seen a fair share of ups and downs, but the support this site gets sustains me in ways I never expected it could, and that would be impossible without you. Please know how crucial that is to me.

Well, that should do it. I know there are probably disagreements about where things landed on the list, what was included, what was left out, etc., as there always are. All comments are of course welcome — only thing I’d ask is you please keep it civil and respectful of the opinions of others. Otherwise, have at it. Please.

And one more time, thank you for reading.

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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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Six Dumb Questions with Arduini / Balich

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on July 13th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

arduini balich

When I finally got to sit with it and give the respectful listen it deserved, I had the most powerful oh-shit-this-is-the-real-deal moment with Arduini / Balich‘s Dawn of Ages (review here) that I’ve have with any single record in 2017. Released by Cruz del Sur Music, the 78-minute full-length is rife with an energy born of classic and progressive metal, and while it earns immediate interest owing to the pedigree of its core duo of vocalist Brian “Butch” Balich (formerly of Penance, currently of Argus) and guitarist/composer Victor Arduini (formerly of Fates Warning and Freedoms Reign, currently of Entierro), it’s the poise and righteousness of the six originals and three bonus covers that make Dawn of Ages stand among 2017’s finest debuts and finest albums overall.

Granted, it’s an undertaking with the aforementioned 2LP runtime — even without the covers it tops an hour — but to listen to extended pieces like “The Wraith” (13:44) and “Beyond the Barricade” (17:27), one finds Arduini / Balich capturing the essence of a place somewhere between progressive and power metal, the Connecticut-based guitarist and Pennsylvania-based vocalist, as well as drummer Chris Judge (a bandmate of Arduini‘s in Freedoms Reign), bringing out highlight performances as crisp in their execution as they are complex in their construction as they are worthy of a neck-breaking headbang session on “Forever Fade.” There are flashes of traditional doom throughout “Into Exile,” opener “The Fallen” and the brief instrumental “The Gates of Acheron,” but while that darker side of the metal spectrum is acknowledged in a take on Black Sabbath‘s “After All (The Dead),” that cover is no less an appropriate inclusion on Dawn of Ages than Uriah Heep‘s “Sunrise” or The Beau Brummels‘ “Wolf of Velvet Fortune” in emphasizing the vast swath of ground Arduini / Balich traverse across their original material.

In terms of composition, recording process and the potential for Arduini / Balich to continue forward as an ongoing project, there was a lot of fodder for discussion here, and fortunately, Victor Arduini was happy to oblige, even going to far as to address each of the questions-within-the-questions individually, taking on the whole thing and leaving nothing out. That effort is deeply appreciated, to be sure, and as I dig in once again to Dawn of Ages (which you’ll also find streaming at the bottom of this post) for what I suspect won’t nearly be the last time, it’s great to know that at some point in the future there just might be a sophomore outing to come.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

arduini balich dawn of ages

Six Dumb Questions with Arduini / Balich

Tell me how the Arduini / Balich project got started. What was the impetus behind writing these songs? How did they come together and when did Butch and Chris become involved? What was it you wanted to do differently coming off of Freedoms Reign?

I began writing new music towards the end of Freedoms Reign’s promotional tour. I was already moving on emotionally from what that band was about and had my “10 seconds as a singer” out of my system. I just wanted to get back to playing guitar and focusing on creating some riffs that would challenge me as a guitarist and musician. I told the guys I was going to do a solo-project where I could allow myself the freedom to produce an album where I could be free to let my ideas breath without any restrictions.

It was all an emotional connection to the music I was getting back into after some years away from my roots in Fates. With social media, YouTube and internet radio, I was like a sponge soaking up so much new music that I didn’t know existed. I was becoming inspired by learning there were so many great bands and artists out there still putting out some very cool music.

I would come up with riffs at home and present them to Chris to see how he would interpret them. Usually we would jam on them and other ideas would naturally follow. We spent about six months working stuff out and Chris was able to put down his drum tracks to the basic structure. I spent the next year writing and recording all the guitars and creating layer upon layer of music that transformed the songs into what became the music for the album. I found it difficult to find a singer who had the right voice and wound be into the music I created.

I originally was going to have a singer from Brazil but found it too difficult to work out. Brian and I knew each other from doing some shows together and he literally reached out the day I let the other singer go. We talked and he was really into the music I shared. It took some time with our schedules but Brian took the songs one by one and wrote some incredible lyrics along with some very emotional and power vocals which I think are the best he’s ever done.

I wanted to create music that spoke from my soul without worry or restrictions to style, length or sound. I knew it would be heavy and dark and as Chris and I worked them out it became progressive as well with the different time signatures and complexity of the arrangements.

What was the timeline like from start to finish on Dawn of Ages? How long were you recording the songs and how were they pieced together? How much did the material develop in the studio as opposed to being plotted out beforehand?

It took a little over two years from start to finish. There were times it had to be put on hold which helped me relook at things and make adjustments along the way. I don’t think it would have been as complex if it was completed sooner as I ended up adding a lot of ideas when there was nothing else to do with it.

The demo phase lasted about six months where I’d take home the ideas from rehearsal and piece things together until we had a rough structure from start to finish. Chris did his drum tracks pretty quickly but from there it was over a year of layering various sounds, solos, etc. “The Wraith”’s drums are actually from a rehearsal which I was able to piece together and utilize for the final album.

[The material developed in the studio] Quite a bit. I mean I’d create riffs which became the structure but from there I had no idea of all the layers that would end up over it. There were many nights of just messing around and every so often some magic would come out of it. Some stuff I still don’t know where it came from. I guess that’s a blessing from being in a creative moment which I’ve always admired from The Beatles in their later recordings.

Talk about self-producing in this new context. How was your working relationship with Nick Bellmore? How did it compare to your time in the studio with Entierro or Freedoms Reign?

To me [self-producing] was what made the album so personal. I took the time to work out the arrangements and trying out different sounds, approaches and ideas get what was in my head onto tape. I love working in my studio and would try out all kinds of mixes and reevaluating until I was happy. Producing your own music works if you have a strong idea of what you want from it and you don’t care to please anyone but yourself. Making music is a passion and having the ability to put together such a project was very special and rewarding to me.

Nick is so good at what he does. As a drummer he helped me get some great tracks down and always could create the sound and mood I was looking for. I did just about all the guitars at home including the sounds I wanted but he always was there as an extra ear and helped me ensure it was always sonically as good as it could be. He is just a great guy and teaches me along the way which ends up helping us both do bigger and better things together. Nick actually played drums on “Forever Fade,” and two of the bonus tracks, “Sunrise” and “After All (The Dead).”

When I recorded with FR it was the typical format of everyone laying down their individual tracks as they had worked them out for rehearsal. With A/B, it was mostly experimentation with no restrictions. I could make any decision without running it by others which is why one is called a band and this was a true solo-project.

Tell me about writing “Beyond the Barricade.”

That song took on a life of its own. There was no previous idea of writing such an epic. I just took the song piece by piece and it seemed to build upon itself at rehearsal. Week after week we would jam what we had and new riffs and ideas flowed which we always got onto tape. I’d take it home and work stuff out maybe writing something new and when we played again it just kept evolving. The cool thing is we were able to play the basic structure from start to finish. It was just all the layers and sounds which took it to another level. Again I was at a creative peak during that time and it was easier than you’d think.

What was behind the decision to include the three covers, and how were each of those tracks chosen?

We had the opportunity to do a 2LP vinyl but when laying it out we really had three sides so Brian and I started throwing ideas out to cover. “Sunrise” was something I wanted to do since I saw Brian earlier in the year and heard him sing to it in his car. “After All” was something I always felt Brian could nail and I love playing Sabbath. Brian brought “Wolf” to my attention and I was mesmerized by its beauty and ode to the trippy ‘60s vibe. It was one of the toughest songs to interpret and record.

Will you do more as Arduini / Balich? Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

I think so. Brian and I are very proud of this album and thoroughly enjoyed the process of making it and working together which is first and foremost why we do it. We’ve discussed doing the next one which I hope will happen but there’s no timeline. What I enjoyed most about doing this one was the natural creativity that inspired it and the joy of its process. I became so emotionally attached to it and I need some time to move away for a bit. I just don’t want to force anything and would like to come back to it all when I feel there’s something new to say. Most likely by early next year I’ll messing around and we’ll go from there.

I just want to say to anyone who’s checked it out how thankful I am that you did so and appreciate your support and interest. We were both pretty floored by the response and it’s cool when someone breaks it down and you can tell they really listened and got what we were trying to achieve. Thanks so much.

Arduini / Balich, Dawn of Ages (2017)

Arduini / Balich on Thee Facebooks

Arduini / Balich on Bandcamp

Cruz del Sur Music website

Cruz del Sur Music on Thee Facebooks

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The Obelisk Radio Adds: High Brian, Arduini/Balich, Audion, Grey Gallows, Smoke Mountain

Posted in Radio on June 13th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk radio cavum

If you’re a regular denizen of The Obelisk Radio, you’ve probably already guessed by the massively expanded playlist that we’re back on the main server at this point. It’s been months on the backup, and while anyone is still reading, let me just say out loud how much I owe to the hard work Slevin has put into the back end of making this thing happen. From a huge file-recovery operation to yesterday turning the thing back on after I moved a bunch of files and screwed it up yet again, the dude is just unbelievable. Seriously. This site is coming up on nine years old, and Slevin has made it happen every step of the way from a technical standpoint. I am in awe of his prowess and generosity of spirit.

So now that we’re back up and running at full capacity, the only thing to do is to keep building it going forward. And here we are.

The Obelisk Radio adds for June 13, 2017:

High Brian, Hi Brain


Though they start out with the post-Queens of the Stone Age shuffle of “Liquid Sweet,” the crux of Austrian rockers High Brian‘s playfully titled debut long-player, Hi Brain, lies in classic psychedelia, unafraid to directly make a Beatles reference or two in “Aquanautic Smoke” or name a track after Jefferson Airplane‘s Surrealistic Pillow. That song, “Surrealistic Pillow,” turns out to be one of Hi Brain‘s catchiest, but hooks about throughout the nodding “All but Certainty” and the later, Stubb-style raucousness of the pair “The Conversion” and “Blood Money” as well, while centerpiece “All the Other Faces” and the aforementioned “Aquanautic Smoke” engage effects-laden drift and poised fluidity, resulting in an overarching sense of within-genre aesthetic variety that moves easily throughout the vinyl-ready 44-minute offering. They close with the molten roll of “Time,” their longest cut at 5:52 and a bolder melodic take, as if to signal a potential direction of their growth on their way out. There are plenty of encouraging signs before they get there, certainly, but hey, one more never hurt. An impressive introduction to a project that one hopes continues to develop and expand its approach.

High Brian website

Stone Free Records website

Mountain Range Creative Factory


Arduini/Balich, Dawn of Ages


Words like “powerhouse” are invented for releases like Arduini/Balich‘s Dawn of Ages. The Cruz del Sur release brings together Fates Warning guitarist Victor Arduini (who also produced) and Argus vocalist Brian “Butch” Balich, and while I’ll confess that on first listen I went right to their cover of Sabbath‘s “After All (The Dead)” — fucking righteous; and there aren’t a lot of people I’d trust to take on that song or anything from the Dio era — extended pieces like “Beyond the Barricade” (17:27) and “The Wraith” (13:44) offer listeners a deep push into a heavy metal that’s progressive, powerful and doomed all at the same time, executed with a clarity and a purpose that shimmers with class and just the right balance of patience and aggression. Rest easy, traveler, for you are in the hands of masters. Rounded out by drummer Chris Judge, Arduini/Balich is what happens when heavy metal goes right, and from the doomly unfolding of opener “The Fallen” through the 2LP’s three concluding covers of Beau Brummels‘ “Wolf of Velvet Fortune,” Uriah Heep‘s “Sunrise” and the already noted Dehumanizer highlight, there isn’t one moment where they relinquish their hold on either their craft or their audience’s attention. It’s the kind of outing that might cause a last-minute revision to best-of-the-year-so-far list, to say the least of it. Not to be greedy, but I’ll take a follow-up as soon as possible. Thanks.

Arduini/Balich on Thee Facebooks

Cruz del Sur Music website


Audión, La Historia de Abraham


If the driving Motörhead-onic thrust of the title-track to Audión‘s La Historia de Abraham rings familiar, it might be because the rhythm section of the Buenos Aires trio consists of bassist Gonzalo Villagra (also vocals) and drummer Walter Broide (also backing vocals), both formerly of Los Natas. Honestly, that pedigree would probably be enough for me to get on board with the 10-track/49-minute self-released full-length, but then you get into the roll and drift of the subsequent “Llegaron Sordos” and the fluid cascade of “Colmillo Blanco,” and guitarist Dizzy Espeche makes his presence felt tonally and vocally throughout to add a new personality to whatever familiar aspects might persist. “Lesbotrans” dives into a ’70s-style swing and the blown-out “Diablo vs. Dios” follows it with the age-old question of what might happen if The Who went garage punk, but there’s flourish of psychedelia on the interlude “Para Rosita” before “El Carancho” and “Queruzalem” round out with some of La Historia de Abraham‘s weightiest impacts. I think it’s fair to say Audión have some tinge of Los Natas‘ style to them, but their first outing shows them working toward building something new from that as well, and that makes their arrival all the more welcome.

Audion on Thee Facebooks

Audion on Bandcamp


Grey Gallows, Underlord


Not that it isn’t plenty malevolent on its surface, but there’s an even more extreme threat lurking beneath “Underlord,” the nine-minute opener, titular and longest track (immediate points) on the debut full-length from Phoenix, Arizona’s Grey Gallows. It doesn’t take long for that sense of extremity to manifest in a blackened sensibility that pervades both in the riffs of a song like “Belladonna” — the middle cut of the five included — or the overarching spaciousness that finds its way into the grime-coated “West of Hell,” which follows. With a depth of guitar worthy of filling one’s lungs, “West of Hell” churns in a manner faster and somewhat sludgier than the alternately nodding and atmospheric “Priestess” showed the Opoponax Records outing to be earlier, six-stringers Joe Distic and Cat weaving noted lines and crunch riffs around each other for seven densely grooved minutes amid low-end push from bassist Lee, adaptable and creative drumming from Shane and Zue Byrd‘s vocals, which hit in form no less distorted in the back half of “Priestess” than they are punker drawled in closer “Buzzard Dust.” Nasty. Nasty, nasty, nasty. That’s basically what the math works out to on the 35-minute outing, but it’s worth noting that even on their first album, Grey Gallows demonstrate a ready willingness to balance various stylistic impulses off each other in such a way that’s only going to make their sound richer as they proceed. Richer, and even nastier. So be it.

Grey Gallows on Thee Facebooks

Opoponax Records webstore


Smoke Mountain, Smoke Mountain


The first EP from this Floridian three-piece does precisely what it’s supposed to do: introduces a newcomer band with three unpretentious tracks of dirt-fuzz riffing. The immediate vibe of opener “Demon” is early Acid King as the vocals follow the riff in classic stonery fashion, but the three songs get longer as they go and “Violent Night” proves immediately more spacious en route to the eponymous march of “Smoke Mountain.” What would probably be called a demo in a prior age, Smoke Mountain‘s Smoke Mountain makes its primary impression tonally but shows potential in its songwriting as well, and as a quick sampling of what the band are getting up to in their first stages, there’s little more one could reasonably ask of it, particularly as “Smoke Mountain” hammers home its chorus in a balance of clean vocal melody and absolutely filthy guitar, bass and drum crash. That duality, should they maintain it as they move forward into whatever might come next, can only serve them well. One to keep an eye on.

Smoke Mountain on Thee Facebooks

Smoke Mountain on Bandcamp


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