Wasted Theory Announce Bicoastal Tour Dates; Defenders of the Riff Reissue out Now

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 6th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

wasted theory

Delaware heavy rockers Wasted Theorytake yet another admirable forward step next month as they head to the West Coast for the first time. They’ve got four shows in California booked alongside the all-caps pairing of ZED and KOOK from March 21-24, but the truth is that’s just part of the story of their live plans for the coming months. As they continue to herald the 2017 Argonauta Records reissue of their 2016 long player, Defenders of the Riff (review here), they’ll hit the inaugural New England Stone and Doom Fest in Connecticut, and much more besides. Hell, in being a couple days late in posting this news, I alreay missed plugging a show they did with Earthride. Fortunately there’s another one coming up soon enough.

Info and list of gigs follows, courtesy of the PR wire:

wasted theory poster

WASTED THEORY ‘Stoned On Both Coasts’ 2018 Tour; Sign w/ARGONAUTA RECORDS for ‘Defenders Of The Riff 2017’

Wasted Theory announced their 2018 tour and festival appearance dates that will stretch across the United States, including their first West Coast shows. The Mid-Atlantic quartet is touring to support their recent signing with Italy’s Argonauta Records and the ‘2017 Edition’ reissue of their Defenders Of The Riff second full-length album. The 2017 reissue now includes two previously unreleased bonus tracks.

American Weed Rockers Wasted Theory are about to hit the highway again and have announced U.S. Tour dates for 2018, including their first sky-way trek to California to accomplish a hazy ‘Stoned On Both Coasts” year of performances. The Mid-Atlantic quartet’s tour is in support of their recent signing with Italy’s Argonauta Records and the ‘2017 Edition’ reissue of their second full-length album Defenders Of The Riff.

The Stoned On Both Coasts Tour starts off Friday, February 2nd, with back-to-back shows covering each half of their Delaware/Maryland home states, fly high through Northern California in March, then routes these four heathens of the heavy rock apocalypse through 12 states and over 20 cities. Wasted Theory also confirmed two special festival appearances – on April 20th for the inaugural New England Stoner & Doom Festival in Southern Connecticut, as well as the Stoned To Death 3 Festival in Vermont on May 26th.

While the original release ‘Defenders Of The Riff’ in 2016 drove the underground heavy music world into whiskey fits of doom, this ‘2017 Edition’ reissue now includes two previously unreleased bonus tracks. With the anthemic cover of ‘Rockin’ is Ma’ Business” (the 1991 epitome of heavy rock from The Four Horseman, also covered by Alabama Thunderpussy in 1999), as well as a thoroughly invigorated rendition of the 1975 Nazareth classic “Changin’ Times”. adding these two powerhouse songs to the already 10-track, grit-packed punch of Defenders Of The Riff brings this album to a even dirtier dozen.

Wasted Theory – ‘Stoned On Both Coasts’ 2018 Tour
(Confirmed Dates)
2/17 – York, PA @ The Depot (York) (w/ Earthride, Beelzefuzz)
03/21/2018 – Santa Cruz, CA @ The Blue Lagoon (w/ ZED, Kook)
03/22/2018 – Oakland, CA @ The Golden Bull (w/ ZED, Kook)
03/23/2018 – San Jose, CA @ Caravan Lounge (w/ ZED, Kook)
03/24/2018 – Sacramento, CA @ On The Y (w/ ZED, Kook)
4/19 – Philadelphia, PA @ Century Bar
4/20 – Jewett City, CT @ Altones New England Stoner & Doom Festival
5/26 – Brattleboro, VT @ The Stone Church Stoned To Death 3 Festival
6/8 – Bethlehem, PA @ Funhouse South Side
6/9 – Scranton, PA @ Irish Wolf Pub
7/7 – Kingston, NY @ The Anchor (w/ Shadow Witch)
8/24 – Washington, DC @ Atlas Brew Works
8/25 – Frederick, MD @ Guido’s Speakeasy
9/14 – Columbus, OH @ Victory Live (w/ Wolftooth)
9/15 – Indianapolis, IN @ Indiana City Brewery (w/ Wolftooth)
9/16 – Louisville, KY @ Magbar
10/11 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Howler’s
10/12 – Detroit, MI @ New Dodge Lounge

Wasted Theory is:
Larry Jackson, Jr. – Guitar/Vocals
Brendan Burns – Drums
Andrew Petkovic – Rhythm Guitar
Rob Michael – Bass

http://www.facebook.com/WastedTheoryBand
https://twitter.com/wastedtheory
https://www.instagram.com/wastedtheory/
https://wastedtheory.bandcamp.com/
http://www.argonautarecords.com
https://www.facebook.com/ArgonautaRecords/
https://twitter.com/ArgonautaRex

Wasted Theory, Defenders of the Riff (2016)

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Cities of Mars & Nekromant Announce May Tour Dates

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 6th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Everyone knows there’s nothing like riffs in Springtime, and you can expect a shared tour between Swedish outfits Cities of Mars and Nekromant will offer plenty of them. Both groups are riding high off their 2017 debuts, and Nekromant — who, to be fair, had a record out in 2015 under their original moniker, Serpent — will have the added occasion of celebrating their signing to Ripple Music for the release of their next album. A bit of news there I hadn’t heard, but cheers to them and of course another cool pickup for the label.

Should be an interesting mix of styles between Cities of Mars‘ weighted rolling grooves and the proto-heavy stylizations Nekromant bring to bear, but that’s hardly an impossible gap to cross. Banner and dates follow here, courtesy of the PR wire:

CITIES OF MARS NEKROMANT TOUR BANNER

Nekromants of Mars Tour 2018 – Cities of Mars & Nekromant

Two of Sweden’s hardest working bands are joining forces for a shared headline Euro tour in May. Cities of Mars and Nekromant both come from the riff-heavy Gothenburg area in Western Sweden and have crossed paths before. After enjoying a shared packed-house gig in Berlin together in October 2017 stars aligned even more into a shared tour. Cities of Mars bring their latest material from the critically acclaimed Temporal Rifts album (out on Argonauta Records), Nekromant will be shredding tunes from their likewise well-received latest effort Snakes & Liars that brought them to a deal with Ripple Music for an upcoming album.

The bulk of the dates are set as below, but a few more gigs might still turn up from the fertile heavy underground of Europe.

May 11 Potsdam, Germany – Archiv
May 12 Freiburg, Germany – White Rabbit
May 13 Utrecht, Netherlands – ACU
May 14 Antwerp, Belgium – Kid’s Rhythm n’ Blues Kaffee
May 15 Lyon, France – Blogg
May 16 Le Mans, France – Le Lezard
May 17 Paris, France – L’International
May 18 Basel, Switzerland – Hirscheneck
May 19 Weimar, Germany – Kasseturm

www.facebook.com/citiesofmars
http://citiesofmars.bandcamp.com/
https://www.instagram.com/citiesofmars

www.facebook.com/Nekromantband
https://nekromant.bandcamp.com/album/snakes-liars
https://www.instagram.com/theswedishnekromant

Cities of Mars, “Caverns Alive!” official video

Nekromant, Snakes and Liars (2017)

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Review & EP Stream: Lowburn, Sleeping Giant

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on February 1st, 2018 by JJ Koczan

lowburn sleeping giant

[Click play above to stream Lowburn’s Sleeping Giant EP in full. It’s out Feb. 2 on Argonauta Records.]

With four tracks and four distinct takes between them, Lowburn‘s Sleeping Giant is an EP in the truest sense of the form. It is a formidable sampling of range within the sphere of heavy rock — especially for an outing half the duration of its predecessor — and even for those who experienced the Finnish four-piece’s 2015 full-length debut, Doomsayer, or any of their prior, shorter releases, it should make an impression with its efficiency and level of songcraft alike.

Delivering once again through Argonauta Records, the lineup of guitarist/vocalist Tomi Mykkänen (also Battlelore), guitarist Tommi Lintunen, bassist Miika Kokkola and drummer Henkka Vahvanen find their niche right on either side of the dividing line between heavy rock and more aggressive metal, and where a song like “Do Mi Ti” from the long-player had its element of grunge-style melody, even the melancholy closer here “Lost Control,” seems to have grown outward melodically from this impulse.

That’s an encouraging sign on a performance level, but what really distinguishes Sleeping Giant from Doomsayer or Lowburn‘s previous 2014 split with Church of Void or 2013 debut EP, Soaring High, is in the efficiency of the band’s work in executing the material. Whether it’s the forward charge of opener “All Life Long” or the more rolling groove of the subsequent “The Power it Holds” and “Sleeping Giant” itself — which, rest assured, awakes before it’s done — Lowburn do not spare a moment on Sleeping Giant, and they sound all the more assured coming off their debut of the kind of band they want to be and how they want to get where they’re going in terms of sound.

Interestingly, in doing so on Sleeping Giant, they start at more or less at the beginning. While there’s no question “All Life Long” gives Sleeping Giant a somewhat ironic launch with its full-boar energetic take, all-out from the drum lead-in through the sped-up Kyuss-style riffing that propels it through its four minutes to the burly delivery of Mykkänen, slowing only to catch its breath in the midsection before resuming its rush at the ending payoff. I’m not sure it’s the same recorded version — it’s close if not — but the song originates in 2013 and was initially released as a digital single around the time of Soaring High. Whether redone or not, the form is essentially the same, and it makes a somewhat sneakily appropriate lead-in for the three tracks that follow and expand the dynamic of the release overall.

lowburn

Lead guitar shines throughout “The Power it Holds,” which has plenty of room for soloing as it nears a seven-minute runtime, but it’s the slower, rolling groove that most stands the song out, and a better balance in the mix between the vocals and surrounding instruments that makes the tones sound larger and adds depth on the whole. Give the origin story of “All Life Long,” I’ll note that I don’t know when “The Power it Holds,” “Sleeping Giant” or closer “Lost Control” were recorded — they could well be from the same session; universe of infinite possibilities and all that — but in context they sound newer, more developed stylistically, and speak to that level of assuredness one can sense in Lowburn post-Doomsayer.

“Sleeping Giant” pushes this notion even further with a more immersive nod and a willingness to ride its groove that departs even further from “All Life Long” at the outset. Patience? Yeah, patience. It wasn’t entirely absent from Lowburn on Doomsayer by any means, but it serves the title-track particularly well and shifts smoothly into the low-key harmonies of “Lost Control” in a way that gives even this sampling-of-wares-style short release a sense of full-album flow.

Likewise, the closer’s subdued beginning feels very much like a mirror held up to the initial push of “All Life Long,” and in that draws attention once more to the growth undertaken on the part of Lowburn — not just to where they can write effective trades between verses and choruses without unneeded flourish or structural variance, but to where their material has evolved in range while holding onto that sense of purpose and drive regardless of the actual tempo in which they’re working. What their plans might be after this relatively quick offering, I don’t know, but the message comes through clearly in these tracks that while on the surface Lowburn‘s attack can seem at times to be more about boozy burl and dudely riffing that willful creative progression, there’s obviously plenty of both at play in their sound.

Lowburn on Thee Facebooks

Lowburn website

Lowburn on Bandcamp

Argonauta Records on Thee Facebooks

Argonauta Records website

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Dee Calhoun Posts “Jesus, the Devil, the Deed” Video; Go to the Devil out March 30

Posted in Bootleg Theater on January 24th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

dee calhoun and louis strachan

Swamp blues mysticism, metallic devilry and Americana folk balladeering meet head-on in the new single from Dee Calhoun. Even as the Iron Man vocalist reels from the recent passing of that outfit’s founding guitarist, “Iron” Alfred Morris III, earlier this month, he’s preparing as well to issue his second solo album for Argonauta Records, titled Go to the Devil, on March 30.

The new record’s been a while in the making — it was recorded last winter and details began to emerge not so long thereafter — but as Calhoun gets closer to unveiling the follow-up to 2016’s Rotgut (review here), he starts to reveal a little bit more about his creative process in the interim. For example, the new single “Jesus, the Devil, the Deed” would seem to tell a similar story as a novella Calhoun put out last summer, with a narrative brought to bear in bayou-style darkly Christian themes, told as ever through his powerful voice, ready to soar at a moment’s notice.

I haven’t heard the entirety of Go to the Devil as yet, so can’t necessarily speak to how “Jesus, the Devil, the Deed” interacts with its surroundings in that context, but with the active participation of Iron Man bassist Louis Strachan as a stage and studio partner accompanying Calhoun, the sound of “Jesus, the Devil, the Deed” is full in tone and would seem to offer a sense of breadth expanded from Rotgut just two years ago. Again, that may or may not be the case all the way around, but it’s certainly nothing to complain about as regards a first impression from the new long-player.

While we continue to wait for specifics on Calhoun‘s impending European tour dates, you can check out the clip for “Jesus, the Devil, the Deed” here, followed by more info from the PR wire.

Please enjoy:

Dee Calhoun, “Jesus, the Devil, the Deed” official video

Go to the Devil, the second solo album from IRON MAN vocalist DEE CALHOUN is going to be released by ARGONAUTA Records on March 30th, 2018.

“A very cold, very rainy autumn night. An unnamed man walks the barren streets, at the end of the line and at the end of his rope. His life has gone awry, and he seeks the one man who can perhaps remedy it. That man’s name is Jesus Christ.”

“When the man finds Jesus, he won’t ask for help or mercy; he’ll instead ask for the return of his soul, a soul that he pledged as a child, but now wants repossession of. A new buyer has come along, you see; a buyer in a top-dollar black suit, and whose malevolent presence has guided this man’s quest, every tormented step of the way…”

DEE CALHOUN “Go to the Devil” CD is available here: http://bit.ly/2rvQDz9

DEE CALHOUN, with the accompaniment of bassist LOUIS STRACHAN (both in studio and on stage), will tour Europe next Spring, with gigs in Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, France, Belgium, Hungary, Austria, Czech Republic, Switzerland. Details to follow soon.

Dee Calhoun website

Dee Calhoun on Thee Facebooks

Argonauta Records webstore

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Monte Luna Sign to Argonauta Records; Self-Titled Vinyl Coming this Summer

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 22nd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

monte luna

Considering how friggin’ massive it is, the decision to put Monte Luna‘s 2017 self-titled debut (review here) out on vinyl seems even more worth marking. The Austin, Texas, duo work largely in longform riffing throughout the record, proffering sprawling fare like the 17-minute chug-nodder “6,000 Year March” and the 14-minute “Nightmare Frontier” that immediately follows, grooves as big as its runtime. There’s something satisfying to putting on a platter and having an entire side of it consumed by a single track, and at 72-minutes long, there’s no doubt a 2LP version of Monte Luna‘s Monte Luna will have a couple of them at least, but I guess we’ll find out when we get closer to the release, set for this summer.

As a side note, or at least a diagonal one, not everything that Argonauta puts out winds up as an actual 12″, so it should be considered all the more of an endorsement for what Monte Luna are doing that their debut has been specifically designated as such. Just saying.

The PR wire makes it official:

monte luna self-titled

We are proud to announce that the Austin Texas two-piece MONTE LUNA will be joining Argonauta Records family!

Monte Luna is the brain child of James Clarke and Phil Hook. Formed in 2015, Monte Luna began devising a plan to take Texas and the U.S. by storm. During their debut 2016 EP “The Hound” (Self Released) Monte Luna was a three piece. Not long after that due to differences between the band Monte Luna trimmed the fat to become one of the finest duos this side of the pond. “I figured why have someone else do it (play bass) when I can do it myself, I’ll just run a bass and guitar rig.” – James. This technique of ABY pedal into a wall of doom has created the crushing tone you hear today.

Monte Luna’s full length album was released in September 2017 on Digital, CD and Tape formats and has been exceedingly well received by fans and critics alike. With stellar reviews from all sorts of media, it was only a matter of time this album would make its way to vinyl.

About the label deal: “We are beyond honored to join the Argonauta family. This is our first vinyl venture and we couldn’t be happier with them! Gero rules!”

Monte Luna’s self titled album will be re-released worldwide on vinyl Summer of 2018. The album weaves the epic 72 minute concept album tale of a band of warriors trying to defeat Father Arbitor, a Necromancer who has destroyed their home. Unfortunately for these brave warriors, things are not always as they seem, fear of the unknown has always been mans greatest burden. Is killing the Necromancer the right thing? Is it the means to an end? or has time kept them in an endless cycle of death and chaos for 6,000 years?

Monte Luna live:
Feb 10 Freetown Boom Boom Room Lafayette, LA
Feb 22 The Lost Well Austin, TX
Mar 08 Beerland Austin, TX

Monte Luna is:
James Clark – Guitar, Vocals, Bass
Phil Hook – Drums, Noise, Groove

http://www.facebook.com/MonteLuna666/
https://monteluna666.bandcamp.com/
www.argonautarecords.com
https://www.facebook.com/ArgonautaRecords/
https://twitter.com/argonautarex
https://www.instagram.com/argonautarecords/

Monte Luna, Monte Luna (2017)

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Review & Full Album Premiere: Clamfight, III

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on January 17th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

clamfight iii

[Click play above to stream Clamfight’s III in its entirety. Album is out Jan. 19 on Argonauta Records.]

I’d like to say a few words about Clamfight. As bands go, the South Jersey/Philadelphia four-piece are probably the group of musicians I’ve been closest to personally and known the longest in my life. They are, to a man, beyond quality individuals and I think of myself lucky to call them friends. When I was in a band, we played shows together. Their last album, early 2013’s I vs. the Glacier (discussed here), was released via what was then this site’s in-house label, The Maple Forum, and their prior outing, 2010’s Volume I (review here), remains a sentimental joy for me to hear to a degree that’s probably ridiculous considering I had nothing to do with the actual writing of the songs. In terms of album reviews, impartiality is a myth generally, but perhaps never less so than when I’m talking about Clamfight. I don’t think I could not love them if I tried, and to be quite honest, I have no interest in trying.

Between live sets, demos, studio updates from Gradwell House where they recorded with producer/engineer Steve Poponi, rough mixes, unmastered tracks and so on, I’ve likely heard Clamfight III in every stage of its making. That’s not me bragging like I’m Mr. Super-Insider or anything. I’m just trying to give context to the fact that when I put on the finished product of Clamfight‘s Argonauta Records debut and listen to its five-track/44-minute entirety — the thing: done — I remain blown away each time by its level of accomplishment. It’s not that I thought drummer/vocalist Andy Martin, guitarists Sean McKee and Joel Harris and bassist Louis Koble didn’t have it in them to do what they do in these tracks; it’s that it would have been unfair to expect a work so progressive to come from a band whose primary drive has always been their intensity.

Although, and of this one can rest duly assured, that intensity remains well intact — as one can certainly hear in the post-Leviathan crashes and shouts of “Selkie” and sundry moments of heads-down chugging and/or righteous bellows such as the beginning of centerpiece “Echoes in Stone” throughout — it’s simply being used as part of an approach that’s grown in new, exciting and dynamic ways. Anchored by its extended opener “Whale Road” (11:14) and closer “History of the Earls of Orkney,” Clamfight III finds its conceptual or at very least lyrically-thematic framing in ongoing archaeological work in Scotland by a team that includes Martin and benefits greatly from this purposefulness of its expression, as it brings solid footing beneath the expansive and progressive structures in the songwriting, which is very much driven by McKee‘s lead guitar.

That element is given more space to flesh out than it’s ever had in Clamfight before, and McKee‘s performance lives up to its spotlight, but groove very much remains central to the band, and while the thudding tom runs under speak immediately to something bound in the earth, it’s the airy intro guitar lines of “Whale Road” that signal Clamfight III‘s defining ambitiousness, not to mention the patience with which they build toward the first verse over the opener’s initial two-plus minutes. Roaring and bombast ensue, to be sure, but as Harris and Koble lock in the core rhythm, it leaves Martin free to explore a range of vocal styles only previously hinted at in their recorded output and McKee to follow suit in showcasing greater reach in the style and substance of his craft. It is telling that of the five tracks, only “History of the Earls of Orkney” and the penultimate “Eynhallow” don’t end with a guitar solo — and “Eynhallow” is a five-minute, mostly-guitar instrumental lead-in for the finale. More often than not, McKee gets the last word.

clamfight photo useless rebel

Nonetheless, it would be inappropriate to think of Clamfight III simply as a showcase for McKee or any other single member. Rather, it is a whole album, and a whole group work. This is underscored as “History of the Earls of Orkney” answers the intro of “Whale Road” with its own leadoff airy meandering as much as in the stomp that emerges in “Selkie” earlier. And not only are Clamfight reaching within to find and manifest aspects of their sound in ways they never have before, they’re also reaching outside themselves, as shown by the guest appearances from Kings Destroy guitarist Chris Skowronski on “Whale Road,” ex-Wizard Eye/current-Thunderbird Divine guitarist/vocalist Erik Caplan, who lends theremin to that opener and “Echoes in Stone,” and vocals from Shroud Eater bassist Janette Valentine and guitarist Jean Saiz on the same song. The latter performances are of course standouts, bringing both melody and further shouting harshness in tow, and after a due throttling from the finish of “Selkie” beforehand and the rolling, growling start of the “Echoes in Stone” itself, their arrival serves to add variety and an unexpected twist to what becomes a crucial moment on the record.

In a way, it’s a shame she couldn’t return even for a few lines on “History of the Earls of Orkney,” as it would allow the closer to truly summarize the breadth of the album’s entirety, but after the subdued contemplation in “Eynhallow,” it’s clear the gears have shifted, and even without that flourish of added symmetry, Clamfight III‘s finishing move serves as a singular moment of triumph for the band. In its sprawl, they not only reaffirm the progressive achievements of the songs before, but continue to build on them. The push forward at the midpoint seems to speak to the ethic of the track as a whole, and the tumult that ensues is underpinned by a control that only makes it more enthralling — the four members of Clamfight all charging in the same direction, straight ahead through two solo sections toward an adrenaline-drenched ending that’s snap-tight and a brutally-earned, cut-cold payoff, as sharp as it is bludgeoning.

Look. I love this band, and I don’t mind telling you that. If that means you need to take this review with the proverbial grain of salt, cool. I don’t really care. The fact remains that when I listen to Clamfight III, I’m proud as hell and deeply appreciative that I even know these guys at all, and whether you ever heard I vs. the Glacier or Volume I or not, it doesn’t matter, because what they’ve done here has thoroughly put them on a new level of execution. It is a special moment of arrival for them as a unit, when a maturity of craft has so clearly taken hold — one that means at very least they’ve outgrown their moniker if they hadn’t before — amid the pummel that’s always been their fuel, and when a resulting effort can strike as much with its scope as its brute force. Even putting aside as much as I possibly can the high esteem in which I hold them as people, I consider myself lucky every time I put this album on, and I plan to put it on for a long time to come. If you don’t, it’s your loss.

Clamfight on Thee Facebooks

Clamfight on Twitter

Clamfight on Instagram

Clamfight on Bandcamp

Argonauta Records website

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Review & Track Premiere: Greyfell, Horsepower

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on January 4th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

greyfell horsepower

[Click play above to stream the premiere of ‘King of Xenphobia’ by Greyfell. Their Horsepower album is out Jan. 12 via Argonauta Records, Soza and Atypeek Music.]

It wasn’t really until the rolling noisefest that closing track “Hervé” became that Greyfell‘s 2015 debut, I Got the Silver Vol. 1 really did anything to portend the band they would be just a few years later. The bulk of that album used more straightforward heavy rock as a foundation for weaving through a couple different styles, from alternative heavy to meaner, more punk-ish fare. Now, the Rouen, France-based outfit make a significant turn of sound with their second full-length, Horsepower, and find themselves aligned to Atypeek Music, Argonauta Records and Soza for the cause, trimming four minutes off the first record’s already manageable 38, and more importantly, delving into rich, headphone-ready progressions of densely-packed, organ-laced heavy post-rock tonal wash, seeming to roll out patiently even when uptempo across five tracks that reach across styles even as they find such solid footing in a molten rhythmic foundation.

Now comprised of the first-name-only lineup of vocalist Hugo, guitarist Clément, bassist Boubakar and drummer Thierry, it’s reportedly the addition of keyboards that allowed this shift to take place, but it’s such a drastic turn of style that one can’t help but read purpose into it. That is, it didn’t just happen one day that somebody showed up to practice with a Korg and made the resonant tones of “Spirit of the Bear” happen. Or if they did, there was definitely some discussion afterward about the direction in which Greyfell were headed as a result. Even with the record preceding, Horsepower carries the feel of a second debut for the freshness of approach it brings from Greyfell, and if, like me, you didn’t hear I Got the Silver Vol. 1 when it came out, Horsepower sets so much of its own context that one wonders if the underlying message isn’t the band casting its songs forward as a true sonic identity for themselves.

The album takes place over two clearly-intentioned vinyl sides, the first comprised of three shorter pieces, the latter of two longer ones, and to hear the fuzz from the guitar of Clément at the start of opener “People’s Temple,” one might think there’s some continuity between the debut and the sophomore outing, but soon enough, the track begins to unfurl its breadth. Hugo‘s vocal approach contributes immediately to the sense of space in the leadoff piece and will persist in doing so throughout the songs that follow on side A, “Horses” and “No Love,” a blown-out effect calling to mind some of Ice Dragon‘s vibe, but subtly engaging a swath of growls and delivery styles that grow into a theme around which the lumbering instrumentalism takes place. He looses a first raw-throated scream circa 4:45 into “People’s Temple” that foretells of some of what “Spirit of the Bear” will have to offer in a mirror at the start of side B, but it’s in the heft of the layers packed into the song itself that the opener makes its major impression.

greyfell

So even as they embark on exploring these new textures, Greyfell do well to bring a sense of balance to their style. Though shorter, “Horses” is even more melodic and swirls to a thrilling head of chaos before evening itself out near its conclusion, finding resolve in cacophony and not only providing a transition point between “People’s Temple” and the nodding centerpiece “No Love,” but doing so with a purpose of its own as well derived from a tight and linear progression almost imperceptible on first listen but which plays out gracefully nonetheless. “No Love” seems to find even standing but at about 3:30 moves into a section of malevolent whispers backed by atmospheric shouting for maximum creep-out while speaking to a theatrical element the band credits to black metal but could just as easily derive from an art rock influence of one sort or another. In any case, amid the modern prog doom winding riff earlier and the layered melodies of vocals, it’s yet another turn Greyfell pull off ably with Horsepower seemingly as a result of simply having the confidence to make it happen.

One might say the same of how the eight-minutes-apiece pair of “Spirit of the Bear” and closer “King of Xenophobia” function on side B — the first as the most extreme moment on the offering and the latter as the most progressive. Perhaps in part because of the cover art that adorns it, or because of the diversity of aesthetic overall, it’s hard to think of any single moment on Horsepower as being “dark,” but if anything comes close, it’s “Spirit of the Bear,” which takes a meaner turn first in its chorus and then slows into a semi-blackened doom just past its midpoint en route to even nastier sludgy bombast and roll. The real surprise comes with a chant-style melody tossed in near the finish, and that would seem to be what ties “Spirit of the Bear” most to “King of Xenophobia,” which, while starting off no less languid in tempo, breaks in its verse to a vastness that the more claustrophobic piece before it largely eschewed. As the organ takes on a horror-derived spirit before the four-minute mark, a choral effect surrounds Hugo that denotes the transition into what will be Horsepower‘s final push, lurching to life via drums as a melee of feedback and noise surrounds before the chorus reemerges.

That underscoring of songcraft feels significant particularly in the band’s closing argument, though frankly, with their having made such a leap between I Got the Silver Vol. 1 and this album, I wouldn’t dare predict where they might head after Horsepower. If indeed this is them finding themselves sonically, they’ve done well in hitting on an approach that leaves them room to grow an individualized sensibility while maintaining a core of songcraft — “King of Xenophobia” demonstrates this perhaps most plainly of all — and should they decide to reinvent themselves once more for a third long-player, they’ve no doubt learned some crucial lessons from the experience of putting these tracks together. Either way, mark that a win. From a listener’s standpoint perhaps all the more, since the depths to which Horsepower plunges feature such character and ambient vitality, setting the familiar and the distinct against one another in fluid and cohesive fashion.

Greyfell on Thee Facebooks

Greyfell on Bandcamp

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2017

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

top-30-of-2017

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

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

mindkult-lucifers-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

Uffe-Lorenzen-Galmandsvaerk

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

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

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

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

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

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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