Argus Post Video for “Devils of Your Time”

Posted in Bootleg Theater on March 6th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

argus

Okay, so I guess technically this is the first Argus video, though they very definitely had a lyric clip posted for “You are the Curse”, so it’s the first video with the band rocking out and all that, and the second video made to promote the band’s latest triumph of traditional heavy metal and doom, From Fields of Fire (review here), their fourth album and third for Cruz del Sur, which was released last year. The new video is for “Devils of Your Time,” which is the post-intro leadoff to Argus‘ most charged and furious work to-date.

If you heard the album, you know that’s not hyperbole. The Pittsburgh-based five-piece have put out work of increasing metallurgy and quality throughout their 13-year tenure, beginning with their self-titled debut (review here) in 2009 and running through 2011’s Boldly Stride the Doomed (discussed here) and 2013’s Beyond the Martyrs (review here), and with From Fields of Fire, they take yet another forward step in their approach, finding a niche between doom and classic metal and treading that ground in a way not only irony-free, but utterly flexible to bend at the will of their songwriting to one side or the other. It’s a special record. An undertaking at 55 minutes, but poised and righteous and a gift to the sphere of American metal.

The video for “Devils of Your Time” is also pretty classic and straightforward in its approach. Directed by Nick Prezioso, it’s got the band rocking out in Headbanger’s Ball-worthy fashion, and if you’re sensitive to flashing lights, you might want to look out because there are a decent portion of them featured here, but beyond that, there’s no reason not to dig into what I think it’s fair to call one of the best kept secrets in US heavy metal and heavy metal in general. Dudes should be on magazine covers and whatnot.

PR wire info follows the video below. Please enjoy:

Argus, “Devils of Your Time” official video

Pittsburgh, PA traditional metal force ARGUS have released the official video for “Devils of your Time,” a track from 2017 Cruz Del Sur Music album From Fields of Fire. The video (the band’s first ever) was conceptualized and created by Nick Prezioso.

From Fields Of Fire was released September 8, 2017 on Cruz Del Sur Music. Order the CD at this location. The Vinyl LP version is available here.

Stream From Fields of Fire at argusmetal.bandcamp.com/album/from-fields-of-fire

Four years after the release of Beyond the Martyrs, the mighty U.S. Heavy Metal torchbearers ARGUS have returned with From Fields of Fire on Italy’s Cruz Del Sur Music! From Fields of Fire is the defining moment from a band that has delivered the goods album after album. It is the highlight of their career to date and one that will be seen as a highlight in heavy metal circles, not just this year, but for years to come.

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Argus on Bandcamp

Cruz del Sur Music website

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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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audiObelisk Transmission 064

Posted in Podcasts on December 26th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

audiobelisk transmission 064

So this is something I’ve never done before. I’m not exactly what you’d call an early adopter when it comes to new technology, but this weekend I finally signed up for Spotify and decided to give a shot at putting together a year-end playlist through that rather than doing the standard podcast. Aside from a kind of ongoing latent concern about essentially giving away downloads of music that doesn’t belong to me via the old mp3 files — no one’s ever said anything and I always figured it was okay since songs were bundled together as one file — this just seemed more useful in allowing people to explore different artists, albums, etc. If you disagree, I’m sorry.

I can’t say I won’t ever go back to the other way, or that I’ll actively enjoy having a Spotify account enough to keep it, and so on, but it’s something new to try, so I’m giving it a shot. The playlist turned out to be nine hours and 12 minutes long, and once I got going, I couldn’t really resist making it 65 tracks, what with it being the 64th podcast and all. One to grow on.

As always, I hope you enjoy. Thanks for listening:

Track details:

• Artist, Track, Album, Runtime
• Elder, Sanctuary, Reflections of a Floating World, 00:11:13
• All Them Witches, Am I Going Up?, Sleeping Through the War, 00:05:33
• Lo-Pan, Pathfinder, In Tensions, 00:06:22
• MOON RATS, Heroic Dose, Highway Lord, 00:04:27
• Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree, Medicine, Medicine, 00:06:38
• Mindkult, Lucifer’s Dream, Lucifer’s Dream, 00:09:06
• Brume, Reckon, Rooster, 00:09:12
• Riff Fist, King Tide, King Tide, 00:11:20
• Monolord, Dear Lucifer, Rust, 00:08:41
• Hymn, Serpent, Perish, 00:07:32
• Vinnum Sabbathi, Gravity Waves, Gravity Works, 00:08:26
• Electric Wizard, Wicked Caresses, Wizard Bloody Wizard, 00:06:43
• Ruby the Hatchet, Symphony of the Night, Planetary Space Child, 00:07:08
• Telekinetic Yeti, Colossus, Abominable, 00:08:56
• Bong Wish, My Luv, Bong Wish, 00:02:31
• Radio Moscow, New Skin, New Beginnings, 00:03:02
• Cloud Catcher, Celestial Empress, Trails of Kozmic Dust, 00:05:41
• The Atomic Bitchwax, Humble Brag, Force Field, 00:02:52
• Sasquatch, Just Couldn’t Stand the Weather, Maneuvers, 00:06:27
• Kadavar, Die Baby Die, Rough Times, 00:04:18
• Cities of Mars, Children of the Red Sea, Temporal Rifts, 00:08:27
• Argus, You Are the Curse, From Fields of Fire, 00:06:23
• Comacozer, Hylonomus, Kalos Eidos Skopeo, 00:13:43
• Samsara Blues Experiment, One with the Universe, One with the Universe, 00:15:02
• Orango, Heirs, The Mules of Nana, 00:04:46
• Siena Root, Tales of Independence, A Dream of Lasting Peace, 00:03:39
• Demon Head, Older Now, Thunder on the Fields, 00:04:17
• Sun Blood Stories, Great Destroyer, It Runs Around the Room with Us, 00:06:11
• Spaceslug, Time Travel Dilemma, Time Travel Dilemma, 00:10:07
• Arc of Ascent, Hexagram, Realms of the Metaphysical, 00:07:34
• Causa Sui, Seven Hills, Vibraciones Doradas, 00:07:24
• Alunah, Fire of Thornborough Henge, Solennial, 00:05:32
• Vokonis, Calling From The Core, The Sunken Djinn, 00:06:03
• Enslaved, Sacred Horse, E, 00:08:12
• Dvne, Edenfall, Asheran, 00:07:04
• The Midnight Ghost Train, Break My Love, Cypress Ave., 00:03:33
• The Obsessed, It’s Only Money, Sacred, 00:02:35
• Mothership, Crown of Lies, High Strangeness, 00:05:41
• Geezer, Red Hook, Psychoriffadelia, 00:06:02
• Uffe Lorenzen, Flippertøs, Galmandsværk, 00:02:46
• Youngblood Supercult, Master of None, The Great American Death Rattle, 00:04:01
• Beastmaker, Nature of the Damned, Inside the Skull, 00:03:26
• Pallbearer, I Saw the End, Heartless, 00:06:21
• Paradise Lost, Blood and Chaos, Medusa, 00:03:51
• Rozamov, Wind Scorpion, This Mortal Road, 00:08:49
• Eternal Black, Sea of Graves, Bleed the Days, 00:06:33
• Demon Eye, Politic Divine, Prophecies and Lies, 00:03:40
• Snowy Dunes, Ritual of Voices, Atlantis, 00:07:17
• The Devil and the Almighty Blues, Low, II, 00:08:49
• Abronia, Glass Butte Retribution, Obsidian Visions / Shadowed Lands, 00:06:09
• John Garcia, Kylie, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues, 00:04:58
• Tuna de Tierra, Raise of the Lights, Tuna de Tierra, 00:07:09
• Colour Haze, Lotus, In Her Garden, 00:07:05
• IAH, Stolas, IAH, 00:08:39
• Fungus Hill, Are You Dead, Creatures, 00:08:54
• Atavismo, El Sueño, Inerte, 00:11:18
• Tuber, Noman, Out of the Blue, 00:08:14
• Spidergawd, What You Have Become, Spidergawd IV, 00:03:44
• Puta Volcano, Bird, Harmony of Spheres, 00:05:07
• Ufomammut, Core, 8, 00:05:15
• Kings Destroy, None More, None More, 00:14:03
• PH, Looking Back at Mr. Peter Hayden, Eternal Hayden, 00:16:44
• Mt. Mountain, Dust, Dust, 00:17:15
• Electric Moon, Live Forever Now (You Will), Stardust Rituals, 00:22:41
• Bell Witch, Mirror Reaper, Mirror Reaper, 01:23:15

If you want to follow me on Spotify, apparently that’s something you can do here.

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The Obelisk Presents: 12 of 2017’s Best Album Covers

Posted in Features, Visual Evidence on December 11th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

The whole point of this list is that it’s not exhaustive. I feel like I say this every year, but it’s not meant to be the best covers of 2017. How would I even begin to judge that kind of thing? Appreciation for visual art is so subjective that, even in a niche within a niche within a niche like the cover pieces for heavy rock and/or doom and/or psych records, the sphere is simply too vast. I just want to have a good time looking at kickass album covers. That’s really it.

Of course, there’s always plenty of fare ready and waiting. I kept a running list all year of things that really stuck out to me, and there are some familiar names here along with some newcomers. My gripe with the proliferation of cartoon tits continues and grows even more fervent as the political climate in which this stuff happens — because even riffs don’t occur in a vacuum, sorry — becomes increasingly fraught, problematic and outright heinous, but there doesn’t seem to be any slowing that particular patriarchal train in this bizarre subculture. Dudes gotta be objectifying women and such to make up for the disaffection they feel from society at large. Weak. Grow up.

And again — I said this last year too — but I’m a fucking hypocrite because of the 14 artists listed in these 12 covers, there isn’t one woman included. Not one. I looked at my list and hung my fool head in self-disappointment. Fortunately, looking at awesome artwork is the kind of thing from which I derive emotional comfort. It’s been a real rollercoaster putting this one together, I guess.

Alright, enough delay. If you’ve got favorites that you don’t see here — and I’m sure you do because I do as well — please let me know in the comments. Thanks in advance for not being a jerk.

Here goes:

Ordered alphabetically by artist

Alunah, Solennial

alunah-solennial-adrian-baxter

Cover by Adrian Baxter. Thee Facebooks.

Though it was Alunah‘s 2014 album, Awakening the Forest (review here), that found Michael Cowell introducing the framing style and color scheme used on their latest offering as well, Adrian Baxter‘s piece for the Birmingham outfit’s fourth LP and Svart Records label debut, Solennial (review here), is an utter standout. Themes of death and life and nature echo the organic feel always on display throughout Alunah‘s songwriting, and amid the highly detailed line drawing, the flashes of red evoke the richness of blood to comport with the skeletons and the vines twisted about like innards, subtly reminding of the band’s pagan and forest-canopy ethereality.

Brume, Rooster

brume-rooster-sean-beaudry

Cover by Shaun Beaudry. Artist gallery.

Shaun Beaudry does a lot of work in pen and ink and coffee stain, and like many of his pieces, the cover art for Rooster (review here), the Doom Stew/DHU Records debut album from San Francisco three-piece Brume, seems like it’s tailor-made to be a tattoo. More than that, what strikes me about it is the sense of narrative happening with the serpent-bird, the eggs, the coiling around what would seem to be an unfortunate scavenger and the dandelions and leaves surrounding. Each element looks like it’s giving messages, holding meaning, communicating ideas, and with such exquisite detail, the effect on the viewer is all the more immersive.

Cloud Catcher, Trails of Kozmic Dust

cloud-catcher-trails-of-kozmik-dust-adam-burke

Cover by Adam Burke. Artist website.

I imagine that, one way or another, every time I post a list like this it will feature a cover by Adam Burke. In 2017, in addition to the art for Cloud Catcher‘s Trails of Kozmic Dust (review here), the man behind Nightjar Illustration (and who did one of this site’s headers and the cover art for my book) also blasted out mention-worthy pieces topping records by Sólstafir and Spectral Haze, and his epic oil-on-canvas fantasy-art style always manages to stun. Look at the sense of scale in the Cloud Catcher cover, and the way that, as we see this cosmic battle happening, the stars seem to bleed through the two warriors, as though we’re looking at something happening across dimensions. And so we are. Beautiful.

Elder, Reflections of a Floating World

elder-reflections-of-a-floating-world-adrian-dexter

Cover by Adrian Dexter. Artist website.

A continued collaboration between Elder and Adrian Dexter yielded dividends once again with the artwork for Reflections of a Floating World (review here), released by Stickman Records and Armageddon Shop. Perhaps it’s not fair to include just the cover in this list since in my head I’m picturing the full LP’s swath of visuals, but even just in this single piece, Dexter gorgeously mirrors (get it? because “reflections?”) the band’s progressive stylizations with his own, evoking classic, stare-at-it-for-hours, poster-ready artwork and seeming to leave one wondering which end of the reflection is up and which is down in much the same way as the band’s dizzying complexity of songcraft.

The Riven, Blackbird

the-riven-blackbird-maarten-donders

Cover by Maarten Donders. Artist website.

In their video for “Killer on the Loose” (posted here), London-based heavy soul rockers The Riven play before a backdrop with the same Maarten Donders artwork on it as their debut EP, BlackbirdDonders is another repeat offender as far as appearances on this list go, and the many-time Roadburn poster collaborator’s detailed style, classic form and muted colors provide a feeling of warmth that seems almost like a goal The Riven are trying to achieve in their sound. From the moon, to the key, to the face being obliterated in smoke, the blackbird itself, the rune-laden ouroboros, the dead and hollow tree trunk, each element of the Blackbird cover holds a mystery of its own, and yet it all fits together perfectly as well, as though the art was a puzzle only Donders could piece together. I’d make a banner out of it, too.

Wight, Atlas

wight-atlas-rene-hofmann.jpg

Cover by René Hofmann. Band website.

Of the 12 covers featured on this list, René Hofmann‘s piece for Wight‘s 2017 H42 Records single, Atlas (review here), is the only one done by a member of the band itself. And I won’t lie: it’s the rainbow that sealed the deal for me. The fade from purple to yellow and sense of perspective in the rows of flowers at the bottom draw the eye toward the band’s logo, and with the mountains behind, that horizontal (angled diagonally) burst of color leads upward to the vertical color bars that seem to be holding up Planet Earth itself or are otherwise left in its path. That brazen use of color, especially with the darkness of the sky behind, was striking, hopeful and joyous in a year that seemed to need precisely as much of that as it could possibly get.

Unearthly Trance, Stalking the Ghost

unearthly-trance-stalking-the-ghost-orion-landau

Cover by Orion Landau. Artist Tumblr.

One has to wonder if, in his choice of red and purple hues, if Relapse Records in-house artist Orion Landau wasn’t specifically looking to reference Black Sabbath‘s Born Again in the artwork for Unearthly Trance‘s Stalking the Ghost (review here). Could we be looking at the devil-baby from that 1983 record all grown up in 2017? And could that reference itself be a clever manner of noting that it’s a reunion album for the band? That they’re, in essence, born again? Either way, the three hooded figures and the beast they’ve leashed are a haunting enough presence to fit with the LP’s title and the atmospherics of the group itself, while also being emblematic of the precision and detail Landau brings to the diverse range of work he does for Relapse artists across various realms of extremity and metal.

oceanwake-earthen-chris-luckhardt

Cover by Chris Luckhardt. Artist website.

The framing of the photo is a big part of the draw here, of course. The spiral of the abandoned rollercoaster. Oceanwake‘s Earthen (review here) seemed to set the goal of living up to its cover atmospherically and with the Kubrick-style framing of the abandoned rollercoaster that pulls the eye inward, almost like you’re looking down and not straight ahead, journeyman photographer Chris Luckhardt captured a murk that set a high standard indeed. The metaphor is laid on a little thick, to be sure — it isn’t subtle — but neither is the sound of Oceanwake, and the overarching greys and brooding vibe of the photo serve to genuinely affect the listening experience. Photo covers can be especially hard to pull off. This one does especially well to remain obscure even as its lines drag you in. Where does that coaster end up?

Argus, From Fields of Fire

argus-from-fields-of-fire-brad-moore

Cover by Brad Moore. Artist website.

Anyone with any level of appreciation for classic metal should by rights be an admirer of Brad Moore. The standard applies. Dude has a knack for capturing the kind of imagery you might’ve tried to emulate on the front of your high school notebook, but just ended up with an indecipherable mess of lines and half-formed monsters. Argus‘ 2017 album, From Fields of Fire (review here), with its bizarre hellscape, calls to mind doom, the NWOBHM and even some more extreme, death metal records, but the point rings true that what’s happening here is horns-up, balls-out, no-irony, no-fucking-around metal, and the most majestic Argus offering yet deserved no less. The detail of Moore‘s lines, the root influence of fantasy art, and in this case especially, the setting of theme through the use of red made this one especially arresting.

Spidergawd, IV

spidergawd-iv-emile-morel

Cover by Emile Morel. Artist website.

Easy pick. Sorry, but calling out Spidergawd art for being awesome is kind of low-hanging-fruit as far as critical assessment goes, as the fact is that’s been an essential element of what they’ve done all along across their four to-date full-lengths. The latest them, Spidergawd IV (review here), boasts the above piece by Emile Morel and inhabits the same pastel world as their past outings, but marks a turn for not having a human or semi-human figure as a part of the front cover. Instead we see an arachnid monster who may well represent the Norwegian band itself residing in a garden of fungi wonderfully rendered so that the colors almost obscure the danger lurking around. It’s very much to form, but does nothing to diminish its impact.

Process of Guilt, Black Earth

process-of-guilt-black-earth-Hugo-Santos-Pedro-Almeida

Cover by Hugo Santos and Pedro Almeida.

Granted, I said at the outset that this list wasn’t about rankings or picking favorites, and it’s not. I stand by that. However, no other album cover hit me as immediately hard as Process of Guilt‘s Black Earth (review here) with its photographed sculpture by Hugo Santos and Pedro Almeida. I don’t know who did what in terms of the division of labor in its making, but the horrific realism of the result has continued to haunt in the best way possible with its evocation of death, the spirit, the natural world and the contrast between light and dark. It seems so simple on the surface, but at the same time it’s so exacting in its position and its starkness that I can’t help but feel like it’s staring at me every time I see it, or more accurately, staring into me from someplace dark and other.

Rozamov, This Mortal Road

rozamov-this-mortal-road-andrew-weiss-matt-martinez

Cover by Andrew Weiss with layout by Matt Martinez. Artist website.

When I first saw the art for Rozamov‘s awaited Battleground Records debut long-player, This Mortal Road (review here), I was sure it had to be by Samantha Muljat. From the color wash in the sky to the otherworldly blend of photography and manipulation, to the geometric line-making overlaid, it just seemed to fit. Andrew Weiss, however, has done covers for Pelican, Spirit Adrift, and many others, and in concert with Matt Martinez‘s layout, his alien landscape is duly fraught and barren-looking while leaving the viewer to wonder if that’s a lone figure standing in the distance or just an oddly-shaped outcropping between the looming threat of the surrounding cavern walls. The message: there’s only one road ahead, only one way through it all.

A couple honorable mentions that I know I’ll add to as soon as this list goes live and I think of like 10 more records that looked awesome:

Bell Witch, Mirror Reaper
Lo-Pan, In Tensions
Godhunter, Codex Narco
Black Lung/Nap, Split 7″
Primitive Man, Caustic

So who did I miss? What were your favorite album covers of the year? Do you have a preferred style? Leave a comment with your picks and let’s get a conversation going. I know people feel strongly about this stuff, but please keep it civil so we can all have a good time.

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Review & Full Album Premiere: Argus, From Fields of Fire

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on September 1st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

argus-from-fields-of-fire

[Click play above to stream From Fields of Fire by Argus in its entirety. Album is out Sept. 8 via Cruz del Sur Music.]

Even before they get to the sweeping guitar triumph of “216,” Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania metallers Argus have long since secured their victory on From Fields of Fire, their fourth long-player and third for Cruz del Sur Music. Earlier wins come via the striking post-intro salvo of “Devils of Your Time” and “As a Thousand Thieves,” which take flight from the subdued beginning “Into the Fields of Fire” gives to the proceedings and never stop to look back. The five-piece are now a decade removed from their first demo and eight years on from making their self-titled debut (review here) through Shadow Kingdom, and after blending doom, power, classic and progressive metals across that record, 2011’s Boldly Stride the Doomed (discussed here) and 2013’s Beyond the Martyrs (review here) which followed, they’ve never come through quite so stately as they do in the nine tracks and 55 minutes of From Fields of Fire.

Joining vocalist Brian “Butch” Balich (ex-Penance, also Arduini / Balich), guitarist Jason Mucio and drummer Kevin Latchaw are new guitarist Dave Watson (who also produced) and bassist Justin Campbell, and whether it’s the fist-pump hook of “You are the Curse” (video posted here) or the suitably reddened Brad Moore cover art out front, From Fields of Fire does not fix what was never broken in the band’s sound, instead bringing a new degree of refinement and poise to their metallic sonic brew, righteously oldschool and every bit living up to the cliché of “firing on all cylinders” — one can listen to just about any of these tracks and find it driven equally by the guitar, bass, drums and vocals. That balance, toyed with here and there as Balich pushes his powerful voice on “As a Thousand Thieves” and the guitars match step for leads as the 11-minute “Infinite Lives, Infinite Doors” draws to its finish, stands among the most effective elements of From Fields of Fire, and taken as a consideration in kind with the level of songcraft displayed throughout, the album unmistakably makes its case for Argus to stand among the US’ most underrated classic metal bands.

It’s not necessarily that Argus are doing anything so revolutionary in tracks like the aforementioned “216” or the later “Hour of Longing” and “No Right to Grieve” as relates to their past work. While they started out more tipped toward the doomly end of the spectrum and have since come around to follow impulses less hindered by tempo — to wit, the windmill-headbang worthy chug of “Devils of Your Time” and the forward thrust in the verses of “Hour of Longing” so effectively pushed by Campbell‘s bass — From Fields of Fire is more a continuation of their ongoing growth than a departure of sorts from what they’ve done before. Again, their sound wasn’t broken. Considering their longest break between full-lengths prior to the four years that split Beyond the Martyrs and From Fields of Fire was half that duration — albums in 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2017 — it’s entirely possible these songs have been worked on longer, tightened more over time, and if that’s the case, it’s to their benefit, but the production value brought to the lumbering “No Right to Grieve,” which immediately precedes the closing outro “From the Fields of Fire,” and the shimmer it gives to the lead work on “Infinite Lives, Infinite Doors,” “As a Thousand Thieves” — and really all the rest included — isn’t to be understated.

With Watson at the helm, Argus hone a brisk, sharp and crisp feel excellently suited to the spaciousness such an epic feel requires. That is, in rawer form, the already-noted instrumental opening of “216” might fall flat, but because it comes through so clearly and because there’s room for a volume swell and that lead layer at just the right moment (looking at you, two-minute mark), Argus come across as positively masterful even before Balich serves yet another reminder of just how much he brings to the band in presence, arrangement and delivery. As metal frontmen go, he has the precision of a power metaller and the guttural passion of a doomer, and though I wouldn’t take anything away from his past work, it’s easy to argue that From Fields of Fire finds him just as much at the top of his game as it does the rest of the band around him.

And ultimately, the story of Argus‘ fourth LP is what was said at the outset: a triumph. From the production to the performances to the arrangements and the structures that serve as their foundation, to moments like the fluid shift between grandiose verse/chorus interplay and the instrumental building midsection of “Infinite Lives, Infinite Doors” to the way “Into Fields of Fire” mounts tension to lead the way for “Devils of Your Time” and the way the acoustic first half of “From the Fields of Fire” fades out to let the album wrap with a darker wash of noise, every minute, every part, brims with purpose, even if that purpose is to convey a turn of mood or shift between one tempo and another. From Fields of Fire underscores Argus‘ particular style, and while one can point to certain aspects of it and hear SabbathPriestMaiden, etc., there’s never any point at which they lose sight of sounding most of all like themselves.

In this way, they bring a sense of vitality to the classic metal at their foundation while also keeping the tonal heft in Campbell‘s bass and the guitars of Watson and Mucio to still carry a doomed feel along with them that comes to an emotional head with “No Right to Grieve.” That track, as the last in a series of seven one-int0-the-next epics, arrives at perhaps the most forceful crescendo of Argus‘ career to-date, and every bit earns its position as their final statement before “From the Fields of Fire” draws the offering down to its finish. Bottom line? Argus are nothing less than a heavy metal treasure. With class and grace they find a position for themselves between various subgenres that plays to familiar styles while carving out their own identity through memorable hooks, breathtaking execution and an unmitigated will to move forward creatively from release to release. Four years might’ve been a long wait for From Fields of Fire, but like the best of the classics, no question this one will stand the test of time.

Argus, “You are the Curse” lyric video

Argus on Thee Facebooks

Argus on Bandcamp

Cruz del Sur Music website

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Argus Post “You are the Curse” Lyric Video; European Tour Dates Announced

Posted in Bootleg Theater on August 7th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

argus

Let me say this as plainly as possible: If you’re not looking forward to Argus‘ new album, you’re fucking up. From Fields of Fire is out Sept. 8 via Cruz del Sur Music. Write it down so you remember.

Granted, that seems like such a hyperbole-happy-dipshit-blogger way of putting it, but it’s pretty true to the urgency I feel about the subject, and if it sounds like I’m being inadvertently critical of your taste — not everybody’s into doom-tinged classic metal with a flair for the epic, and I get that — I apologize, but rest assured I’m coming from a place of not wanting you to miss out. Not trying to be a jerk. Not trying to overstate the case. Frankly, I don’t need to; the Pittsburgh five-piece make their own argument excellently across the 55-minute From Fields of Fire without any help from the likes of me. I’m just saying that whether or not you’ve ever checked out Argus before, their fourth long-player — out Sept. 8 — deserves a fair shot. Give it one.

To give a first public sampling of what’s to come with From Fields of Fire, the band have a new lyric video posted for the centerpiece of the tracklisting and presumed side A closer (assuming this all fits onto one platter, which I’m not actually sure it does) “You are the Curse.” Following suit from post-intro opener “Devils of Your Time,” it’s a strong hook delivered with due fervency, and as it immediately precedes the 11-minute sprawl of “Infinite Lives, Infinite Doors” on the record, which is out Sept. 8, it’s an excellent showcase for the level of songcraft shown across the album as well as the crispness of the production through which that songcraft arrives.

Argus will celebrate the release of From Fields of Fire — it’s Sept. 8; have I mentioned that? — by launching a string of newly-announced tour dates in Austria, Switzerland and Germany that same day. The run will be alongside High Spirits and culminates at Storm Crusher fest in Germany, where Argus will share the stage with ExciterTygers of Pan TangSulphur Aeon and many others.

Tour specifics and more info from the PR wire follow the video below. Enjoy:

Argus, “You are the Curse” lyric video

‘YOU ARE THE CURSE’, taken from ARGUS’ album “From Fields Of Fire”.

Comments vocalist Brian “Butch” Balich: “‘You Are The Curse’ was the first song we wrote for From Fields Of Fire. Dave [Watson, guitar] brought it in and it immediately fit. I knew we had exciting things coming for the album when it came together. It’s classic ARGUS and a good song to introduce From Fields of Fire to our friends worldwide. It’s an up-tempo, rhythmically aggressive but melodic song shot through with dark undertones. Lyrically, this song deals with the idea that sometimes we need look no further than ourselves for why things go wrong in our lives…as you sow so shall you reap. It’s been a live mainstay for about a year-and-a-half and one we expect to play often.”

VIDEO CONCEPT AND MAKING by YOD MULTIMEDIA: facebook.com/yodmultimedia

“From Fields Of Fire” out on SEP 8, 2017 via Cruz Del Sur Music.

Available in the following formats:

– COMPACT DISC with 12-PAGE BOOKLET: http://tinyurl.com/ycssx53j
– REGULAR BLACK / LIMITED RED/WHITE SPLATTER DOUBLE LP EDITION featuring 4 BONUS TRACKS | A2 POSTER | INSERT | DOWNLOAD CARD http://tinyurl.com/y9ra32xc
– DIGITAL

To coincide with the release of From Fields Of Fire, ARGUS is embarking on a nine-date European tour with Chicago high-energy rock heroes HIGH SPIRITS. The tour kicks off September 8 in Dornbirn, Austria, culminating with their September 16 appearance at the Storm Crusher festival in Püchersreuth, Germany.

09/08: Dornbirn, AT,- Schlachthaus
09/09: Olte, CH – Coq D’Or
09/10: Münster, DE – Sputnikhalle
09/11: Marburg, DE – Trauma G-Werk
09/12 Oldenburg, DE – MTS Record Store
09/13 Hamburg, DE – Bambi Galore
09/14 Berlin, DE – Urban Spree
09/15 Weimar, DE – Kasseturm
09/16 Pückersreuth, DE – Storm Crusher Festival

Musicians:
Brian ‘Butch’ Balich – Vocals
Dave Watson – Guitars
Jason Mucio – Guitars
Justin Campbell – Bass
Kevin Latchaw – Drums

Argus on Thee Facebooks

Argus on Bandcamp

Cruz del Sur Music website

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Argus Set Sept. 8 Release for From Fields of Fire

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 5th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

argus

Checking in from the category of ‘Oh Hell Yes’ comes word down the PR wire of a fourth full-length from Argus due this September. Clocking in at a fistpumping, headbang-worthy 55 minutes, From Fields of Fire will see issue like its predecessors, 2013’s Beyond the Martyrs (review here) and 2011’s Boldly Stride the Doomed (discussed here), via Cruz del Sur Music — their 2009 self-titled debut (review here) was on Shadow Kingdom — and its sonics are no less epic than the Brad Moore cover art adorning the front of it. This band rules. Rules. Flat out. Fucking awesome.

Word about the record just came in, so I’ll hope to have much more on the topic before we get to September, but in the meantime, you can dig into the following and I highly suggest you do:

argus from fields of fire

ARGUS Return with ‘From Fields of Fire’ Sept 8 on Cruz Del Sur Music

Four years after the release Beyond the Martyrs, mighty U.S. Heavy Metal torchbearers ARGUS will release From Fields of Fire September 8 on Cruz Del Sur Music! From Fields of Fire is the defining moment from a band that has delivered the goods album after album. It is the highlight of their career to date and it is an album that will be seen as a highlight in heavy metal circles, not just this year, but for years to come.

ARGUS no longer needs an introduction. Three studio albums, three EPs, several European tours and US showcases and festival appearances have established the name of ARGUS as an established force in the Heavy Metal Universe. Yet, ARGUS is a band not content to rest on its achievements. This is a band that is still hungry – a growing and strengthening animal that shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.

Judging from the outside almost nothing seems to have changed this time around on From Fields of Fire. Another exceptional and visionary cover provided by Brad Moore, and an Intro / Outro on the track list, another of ARGUS’ trademarks through all their records. But it’s when you get on the inside, when you bite this album below the flesh to the bones that you realize ARGUS has not only been able to maintain their uniqueness, but the band has raised the quality of their creativity and therefore raised the stakes for their future. There’s a definite step ahead in terms of production and songwriting, which has reached the highest quality with the addition of producer and guitarist Dave Watson and bassist Justin Campbell in the line-up. The tense opener “Devils of Your Time” and the emotional closing “No Right to Grieve” are the songs that most clearly express their courage and confidence of exploring unusual sonic paths.

But it’s the entire album that confirms that ARGUS is probably the best band nowadays to pay homage to traditional heavy metal without merely aping their heroes. This is true metal with doom elements, two worlds that often touch, but have never been as well synthesized into a single, organic sound as they are here. From Fields of Fire features some real Heavy Metal gems: the infectious melodies and guitar-drive of “You Are the Curse” and “216,” the moody “Hour of Longing,” the galloping sound of “As a Thousand Thieves” and the borderline epic, ever-shifting majesty of “Infinite Lives, Infinite Doors.”

From Fields of Fire is an album that whose parts are as strong as the whole, where each track is a highlight; yet, it is also an album that demands to be absorbed as a whole where the music, lyrics and atmosphere reach deep inside of you and take root as your appreciation of this band and this music grows to be a part of you.

Track Listing:
1. Into The Fields Of Fire
2. Devils Of Your Time
3. As A Thousand Thieves
4. 216
5. You Are The Curse
6. Infinite Lives Infinite Doors
7. Hour Of Longing
8. No Right To Grieve
9. From the Fields of Fire

Argus is:
Brian ‘Butch’ Balich – Vocals
Dave Watson – Guitars
Jason Mucio – Guitars
Justin Campbell – Bass
Kevin Latchaw – Drums

www.facebook.com/argusmetal
argusmetal.bandcamp.com
www.cruzdelsurmusic.com
cruzdelsurmusic.bandcamp.com
www.facebook.com/cruzdelsurmusic
Twitter.com/CruzDelSurMusic

Argus, Beyond the Martyrs (2013)

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Thor, Bible of the Devil, Bloodcow and More Confirmed for Alehorn of Power IX

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 6th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

I’ll admit, it feels pretty good to write about a festival in a country that also happens to be the one in which I live, but the lineup for Alehorn of Power IX also gives me another excuse to remind of how frickin’ awesome the last Bloodcow record (review here) was and to post a song from it, so all the more reason for the post. The news came down the PR wire through the Bible of the Devil newsletter, which I’ve been on the mailing list for since I don’t even remember when. They’ll be playing (obviously), along with ThorArgusProfessor Black (a former Metal Maniacs colleague), and The Lurking Corpses.

Show is Nov. 12 at Reggies in Chicago, as the what’s-wrong-with-being-sexy poster below confirms:

alehorn of power ix

ALEHORN OF POWER IX NOV. 12TH SAT. @ REGGIES

At last! Chicago’s longest-running heavy metal festival ALEHORN OF POWER has raised its ninth banner high and revealed its heaviest and most provocative lineup to date!

Without further fanfare we are proud to introduce a headliner who needs no introduction: Hailing from Vancouver, BC, Canada, the one and only THOR! The man is a legend many times over, with a prolific musical career reaching back to the 70s and further acclaim as a body-builder and B-movie actor. More recently, he was the star of his own documentary, I am Thor, in which he overcame many obstacles to mount a return to the heavy metal stages of the world. Nevertheless, THOR will always be an underground icon, and his deep catalog of heavy metal smash-hit songs (literally!) and uniquely theatrical live show make him the ultimate headliner of ALEHORN OF POWER IX! Additionally, THOR will be promoting his new release “Metal Avenger” now out on Deadline/Cleopatra Records.

Slated for Saturday, November 12, 2016 at Reggies in Chicago, this year’s Alehorn of Power features an eclectic and formidable lineup of bands with one thing on their minds: exceptional heavy metal entertainment from the independent realm.

BLOODCOW will travel from Omaha, Nebraska to open the show, self-described as “beard metal” but with an unexpected mad-sci-fi twist, as evidenced on their most recent and fourth full-length, 2015’s Crystals & Lasers.

THE LURKING CORPSES will follow, bringing their heavy metal horror show from Fort Wayne, Indiana to Reggies for the first time. The Corpses’ wide range of influences both musically and lyrically, not to mention their unforgettable image, have made them quite a favorite in many underground circles.

Long-running Chicago act BIBLE OF THE DEVIL is not only Alehorn’s spiritual guidepost but also its musical cornerstone. The band’s unmistakable brand of heavy metal rock and roll embodies every bit the twin-guitarred, big-chorused, epic FM sound perhaps most associated with the festival’s history. This year’s set will include a selection of new material alongside hits from the band’s vast catalog.

From Pittsburgh, ARGUS will make a much-awaited return to this year’s Alehorn lineup, fresh from the stages of Ireland and mainland Europe where the band is in high demand. It’s easy to see why: the trademark Argus sound of majestic and anthemic heavy metal is precisely what the European audiences crave. Of course, fans on this side of the Atlantic have also taken notice of the band’s musical accomplishments and will no doubt give them a hero’s welcome back to Reggies this year.

PROFESSOR BLACK’s live debut rounds out this year’s lineup, a unique concept that will feature songs and musicians from namesake frontman Chris Black’s entire recorded catalog. It is the first show of its kind for the Chicago-based musician/songwriter, although it could also be described as a return of sorts: Chris and his bandmates have played Alehorn of Power several times in the past, variously as members of Pharaoh, Superchrist, Dawnbringer, and High Spirits.

As if that weren’t enough, the stage will then be handed over to THOR, the Legendary Rock Warrior himself, who will personally show you the power of heavy metal, song after song, with all of the subtlety of a hammer to the skull! It will be a fast, loud, crushing, crucial, spirited, and highly memorable Alehorn of Power in November!

Alehorn of Power

Featuring:
THOR
Professor Black
Argus
Bible of the Devil
The Lurking Corpses
Bloodcow

Saturday November 12, 2016
Doors 7 PM / $20 / Ages 17+
Reggies, 2101 S. State, Chicago IL USA

https://www.facebook.com/AlehornOfPower/
https://www.facebook.com/events/254971524877608/

Bloodcow, “Exploding Head”

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