The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 of 2013

Posted in Features on December 16th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Please note:  These are my picks, not the results of the Readers Poll, which is still going on. If you haven’t added your list yet, please do.

It’s always strange to think of something so utterly arbitrary as also being really, really difficult, but I think 2013 posed the biggest challenge yet in terms of getting together a final list of my favorite records. As ever, I had a post-it note on my office wall (when I moved, it moved with me) and I did my best to keep track of everything that resonated throughout the year. I wound up with over 40 picks and had to start putting them in order to whittle the list down.

I wound up with a top 20 that, even though it feels somewhat incomplete, I’ve found that I can at very least live with. That’s what I’ve done for the last week: Just lived with it. Even up to this morning, I was making changes, but in general, I think this gives some scope about what hit me hard in 2013. Of course, these are just my picks, and while things like my own critical appreciation factor in because that affects how I ultimately listen to a record, sometimes it just comes down to what was stuck in my head most often or what I kept putting on over and over.

That’s a simple formula to apply, but still, 2013 didn’t make it easy. Please note as you go through that there are some real gems in the honorable mentions. I thought about expanding the list to 30 this year, but the thought made my skull start to cave in, so I reconsidered.

Anyway, it only comes around once a year, so let’s do this thing. Thanks in advance for reading:

 

20. All Them Witches, Lightning at the Door

Self-released.

Traditionally, I’ve reserved #20 for a sentimental pick. An album that’s hard to place numerically because of some personal or emotional connection. This year wasn’t short on those, but when it came to it, I knew I couldn’t make this list without Lightning at the Door included, and since it was released just last month as the follow-up to the earlier-2013 Elektrohasch reissue of the Nashville, Tennessee, outfit’s 2012 debut, Our Mother Electricity (review here), I didn’t feel like I’ve had enough time with it to really put it anywhere else. It needed to be here, and so it is, and though I’ve listened to it plenty in the month since its release, I still feel like I’m getting to know Lightning at the Door, and exploring its open-spaced blues rocking grooves. All Them Witches are hands down one of the best bands I heard for the first time this year, and I’m looking forward to following their work as they continue to progress.

19. Queens of the Stone Age, …Like Clockwork

Released by Matador Records. Reviewed June 4.

For a while after I first heard …Like Clockwork and around the time I reviewed it, I sweated it pretty hard. By mid-June, I had it as one of the year’s best without a doubt in my mind. Then I put it away. I don’t know if I burnt myself out on it or what, but I still haven’t really gone back to it, and while the brilliance of cuts like “Kalopsia” and “Fairweather Friends” and “I Appear Missing” still stands out and puts Josh Homme‘s songwriting as some of the most accomplished I encountered in 2013, that hasn’t been enough to make me take it off the shelf. I doubt Queens of the Stone Age will cry about it as they tour arenas and get nominated for Grammy awards, but there it is. I wouldn’t have expected …Like Clockwork to be so low on the list, certainly not when I was listening to “My God is the Sun” six times in a row just to try and get my head around the chorus.

18. I are Droid, The Winter Ward

Released by Razzia Records. Reviewed Sept. 19.

Gorgeously produced and impeccably textured, The Winter Ward by Stockholm-based I are Droid aren’t generally the kind of thing I’d reach for, but the quality of the craft in songs like “Constrict Contract” and “Feathers and Dust” made it essential. Bits and pieces within harkened back to frontman Peder Bergstrand‘s tenure in Lowrider, but ultimately The Winter Ward emerged with a varied and rich personality all its own, and that became the basis for the appeal. As the weather has gotten colder and it’s gotten dark earlier, I’ve returned to The Winter Ward for repeat visits, and as much as I’ve got my fingers crossed for another Lowrider album in 2014, I hope I are Droid continue to run parallel, since the progressive take on alternative influences they managed to concoct was carried across with proportionate accessibility. It was as audience friendly and satisfying a listen as it was complex and ripe for active engagement.

17. Magic Circle, Magic Circle


Released by Armageddon Shop. Reviewed Feb. 18.

There was just nothing to argue about when it came to the self-titled debut from Massachusetts-based doomers Magic Circle, but what worked best about the album was that although the songs were strong on their own and seemed to have lurching hooks to spare, everything throughout fed into an overarching atmosphere that was denser than the straightforwardness of the structures might lead the listener to initially believe. It was a record worth going back to, worth getting lost in the nod of, and as the members are experienced players in a variety of New England acts from The Rival Mob to Doomriders, it should be interesting to find out what demons they may conjure in following-up Magic Circle, if they’ll continue down the path of deceptively subversive “traditionalism” or expand their sound into more progressive reaches. Either way they may choose, the material on their first outing showed an ability to craft an enigmatic, individualized sonic persona that never veered into cultish caricature.

16. Iron Man, South of the Earth

Released by Rise Above/Metal Blade Records. Reviewed Oct. 14.

If you’re into doom and you have a soul, I don’t know how you could not be rooting for Iron Man in 2013. Produced by Frank Marchand and the first full-length from the long-running Maryland doomers to feature vocalist Dee Calhoun and drummer Jason “Mot” Waldmann alongside guitarist/founder “Iron” Al Morris III (interview here) and longtime bassist Louis Strachan. The difference in South of the Earth was palpable even in comparison to 2009’s I Have Returned (review here). With more professional production, excellent performances all around in the lineup, memorable songs like “Hail to the Haze” and “The Worst and Longest Day,” and the considerable endorsement of a release through Rise Above/Metal Blade behind them, the four-piece sounded like the statesmen they are in the Maryland scene and showed themselves every bit worthy of inclusion in the discussion of America’s finest in traditional, Sabbathian doom. May they continue to get their due.

15. Sasquatch, IV


Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed Sept. 16.

Whether it was what the lyrics were talking about or not, the message of “The Message” was clear: Never count out a catchy chorus. Now in operation for a decade, Sasquatch practice an arcane artistry with their songwriting. Void of pretense, heavy on boogie, they are as genuine a modern extension of classic heavy rock as you’re likely to find. The Los Angeles power trio outdid themselves with IV, veering boldly into psychedelia on “Smoke Signal” and honing their craft over various moods and themes on “Sweet Lady,” “Me and You” and “Eye of the Storm.” They remain one of American heavy rock’s key and consistently underestimated components, and the three years since the release of their third album, III (review here), seemed like an eternity once the quality grooves of “Money” and “Drawing Flies” got moving, the former an insistent rush and the latter open, dreamy and atmospheric, but both executed with precision and confidence born of Sasquatch‘s familiarity with the methods and means of kicking ass.

14. Black Pyramid, Adversarial

Released by Hydro-Phonic Records. Reviewed April 12.

It was hard to know what to expect from Black Pyramid‘s Adversarial, their first release with guitarist/vocalist Darryl Shepard at the fore with bassist Dave Gein and drummer/engineer Clay Neely, but the Massachusetts outfit flourished on tracks like “Swing the Scimitar,” incorporating a heavy jamming sensibility with marauding riffs and grooves carried over from the style of their first two albums. Adversarial took the band to Hellfest in France this past summer, where they shared a stage with Neurosis and Sleep, and whether it was the raging chorus of “Bleed Out” or the clarion guitar line of “Aphelion,” the band showed their war ensemble could not be stopped. Their future is uncertain with Neely having relocated and Gein having an impending move of his own, but if Adversarial is to stand as the final Black Pyramid outing, they will at very least have claimed enough heads in their time to line fence-posts for miles. Still, hopefully they can find some way to continue to make it work.

13. Across Tundras, Electric Relics

Released by Electric Relics Records. Reviewed July 11.

Even the interlude “Seasick Serenade,” just over a minute and a half long, was haunting. Electric Relics marked the first full-length from Nashville’s Across Tundras to be released on their own label and the first since they issued Sage through Neurot in 2011 (review here), and as rolling and exploratory as its vibe was, songs like “Solar Ark,” “Pining for the Gravel Roads” and “Den of Poison Snakes” also represented a solidification of Across Tundras‘ sound, another step in their development that refined their blend of rural landscapes and heavy tones. Issued in April, it’s been an album that throughout the course of the year I’ve returned to time and again, and the more I’ve sat with it and the more comfortable it’s become, the more its songs have come to feel like home, which it’s easy to read as being their intent all along. Guitarist/vocalist Tanner Olson (read his questionnaire answers here), bassist/vocalist Mikey Allred and drummer Casey Perry hit on something special in these tracks, and one gets the sense their influence is just beginning to be felt.

12. Borracho, Oculus

Released by Strange Magic/No Balls/AM Records. Reviewed July 26.

Initially a digital self-release by the Washington, D.C. riff purveyors, Oculus just this month got a tri-color, tri-label and tri-continental vinyl issue, and the fanfare with which it arrived was well earned by the five songs contained on the two sides. Borracho‘s second album behind 2011’s Splitting Sky (review here) also marked a lineup shift in the band that saw them go from a four-piece to a trio, with guitarist Steve Fisher (interview here) stepping to the fore as vocalist in the new incarnation with Tim Martin on bass and Mario Trubiano on drums. The results in songs like “Know the Score” and closer “I’ve Come for it All” were in line stylistically with the straightforward approach they showed on their first offering, but tighter overall in their presentation, and Fisher‘s voice was a natural fit with the band’s stated ethic of “repetitive heavy grooves” — a neat summary, if perhaps underselling their appeal somewhat. Oculus showed both that the appeal of Splitting Sky was no fluke and that Borracho with four members or three was not a band to be taken lightly.

11. Ice Dragon, Born a Heavy Morning

Released by Navalorama Records. Reviewed Aug. 14.

Like the bulk of Ice Dragon‘s work to date, Born a Heavy Morning was put out first digitally, for free or pay-what-you-want download. A CD version would follow soon enough on Navalorama, with intricate packaging to match the album’s understated achievements, taking the Boston genre-crossers into and through heavy psychedelic atmospheres added to and played off in longer pieces like “The Past Plus the Future is Present” and the gorgeously ethereal “Square Triangle” by thematic slice-of-life set-pieces like “In Which a Man Daydreams about a Girl from His Youth” and “In Which a Man Ends His Workweek with a Great Carouse” that only enriched the listening experience and furthered Ice Dragon‘s experimental appeal. Ever-prolific, Born a Heavy Morning wasn’t the only Ice Dragon outing this year, physical or digital, but it stood in a place of its own within their constantly-expanding catalog and showcased a stylistic fearlessness that can only be an asset in their favor as they continue to chase down whatever the hell it is they’re after in their songs and make genuine originality sound so natural.

10. Devil to Pay, Fate is Your Muse

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed March 19.

It seemed like no matter where I turned in 2013, Devil to Pay‘s Fate is Your Muse was there. Not that it was the highest-profile release of the year or bolstered by some consciousness-invading viral campaign or anything, just that once the songs locked into my head, there was no removing them, and whether it was straightforward rockers like “This Train Won’t Stop,” “Savonarola” and “Tie One On,” the moodier “Black Black Heart” or the charm-soaked “Ten Lizardmen and One Pocketknife” — which might also be the best song title I came across this year — it was a pretty safe bet that something from the Indianapolis four-piece was going to make a showing on the mental jukebox if not in the actual player (it showed up plenty there as well). Devil to Pay‘s first album since 2009, first for Ripple and fourth overall, Fate is Your Muse was a grower listen whose appeal only deepened over the months after its release, the layered vocals of guitarist Steve Janiak (interview here) adaptable to the varying vibes of “Wearin’ You Down” and “Already Dead” and soulful in classic fashion. They’ve been underrated as a live act for some time, and Fate is Your Muse translated well their light-on-frills, heavy-on-riffs appeal to a studio setting.

9. Beast in the Field, The Sacred Above, the Sacred Below

Released by Saw Her Ghost Records. Reviewed May 30.

Such devastation. Even now, every time I put on Beast in the Field‘s The Sacred Above, the Sacred Below, it makes me want to hang my head and wonder at the horror of it all like Marlon Brando hiding out in a cave. If anything at all, there wasn’t much I heard in 2013 that hit harder than the Michigan duo’s fifth long-player, released on CD in March through Saw Her Ghost with vinyl reportedly on the way now. Toward the middle of the year, it got to the point where I wanted to go door to door and say to people, “Uh excuse me, but this is absurdly heavy and you should check it out.” I settled for streaming the album in full and it still feels like a compromise. I tried to interview the band, to no avail — sometimes instrumental acts just don’t want to talk about it — but what guitarist Jordan Pries and drummer Jamie Jahr were able to accomplish tonally, atmospherically and bombastically in expansive and overwhelmingly heavy cuts like the 22-minute “Oncoming Avalanche” or the noise-soaked riffing of “Hollow Horn” put The Sacred Above, the Sacred Below into a weight class that it had pretty much to itself this year. It’s a good thing they had no trouble filling that space. I still feel like I haven’t recommended the album enough and that more people need to be made aware of its existence.

8. Beelzefuzz, Beelzefuzz

Released by The Church Within Records. Reviewed Aug. 30.

When I finally listened to Beelzefuzz‘s self-titled debut, I was really, really glad I had seen the three-piece — its members based in Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania — play some of the material live. I don’t know if otherwise I’d have been able to distinguish between the progress elements of effects and looping and the live creation of layers and organ sounds through the guitar of Dana Ortt (interview here) and the simple humdrum of studio layering one finds all the time. I almost think for their next record they should track it live, just the three of them, and heavily advertise that fact to help get the point across that it’s actually just three players — Ortt, bassist Pug Kirby and drummer Darin McCloskey (also of Pale Divine) — creating the richness of sound on “All the Feeling Returns” and the eerie, gleefully weird progressive stomp on “Lonely Creatures.” The album became a morning go-to for me, and I don’t know how many times I’ve been through it at this point, but “Reborn” and “Hypnotize” and “Lotus Jam” continue to echo in my head even when it’s been a few days. That said, it’s rarely been a few days, because while I appreciate what the trio accomplish on their first record on an analytical level, the reason it is where it is on this list is because I can’t stop listening to the damn thing. Another one that more people should hear than have heard.

7. Samsara Blues Experiment, Waiting for the Flood

Released by World in Sound/Electric Magic Records. Reviewed Oct. 22.

One of the aspects of Samsara Blues Experiment‘s third offering that I most enjoyed was that it wasn’t the album I expected German four-piece to make. After their 2011 sophomore album, Revelation and Mystery (review here), shifted its focus away from the jam-minded heavy psychedelia of their 2009 debut, Long Distance Trip (review here), my thinking was that they would continue down that path and coalesce into a more straightforward brand of heavy rock. Instead, when the four extended tracks of Waiting for the Flood showed up with no shortage of swirl or sitar or open-ended expansion in their midst, it was a legitimate surprise. Repeat visits to “Shringara” and “Don’t Belong” show that actually it’s not so much that Samsara Blues Experiment turned around and were hell-bent on jamming out all the time, but that rather for their third, they took elements of what worked on their first two LPs and built lush movements on top of those ideas. As a happy bonus, this having grown more and more into their sound has helped push the band — guitarist/vocalist Christian Peters, guitarist Hans Eiselt, bassist Richard Behrens and drummer Thomas Vedder — into their own niche within the wider European heavy psych scene, and they’ve begun to emerge as one of its most enjoyable and consistent acts.

6. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Mind Control

Released by Rise Above/Metal Blade Records. Reviewed April 8.

Kind of inevitable that there would be a lot of comparisons made between Mind Control and the preceding Uncle Acid album, Blood Lust. Certainly the newer outing — their third and first for Rise Above/Metal Blade – is more psychedelic, more tripped out and less obscure feeling than its predecessor. It didn’t have the same kind of crunch to the guitar tone, or the same kind of horror-film atmosphere or psychosexual foreboding, but the thing was, it wasn’t supposed to. The UK outfit continue to prod cult mentality even as their own cult grows, and as I see it, Mind Control made a lot of sense coming off Blood Lust in terms of the band not wanting to repeat the same ideas over again, but grow from them and expand their sound. Of course, with the strut at the end of opener “Mt. Abraxas,” they’ve set a high standard on their albums for leadoff tracks, but where Mind Control really made its impression was in the hypnosis of cuts like the Beatlesian “Follow the Leader,” the lysergic “Valley of the Dolls” or the maddening “Devil’s Work.” The deeper you went into side B, the more the band had you in their grasp. It was a different kind of accomplishment than the preceding effort — though “Mind Crawler” kept a lot of that vibe alive — and it showed Uncle Acid had more in their arsenal than VHS ambience and garage doom malevolence while keeping the infectiousness that helped Blood Lust make such an impression.

5. Lumbar, The First and Last Days of Unwelcome

Released by Southern Lord. Reviewed Dec. 3.

Of the ones reviewed, Lumbar‘s The First and Last Days of Unwelcome was the most recent inclusion on this list. Having worked with Lumbar multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Aaron Edge (interview here) in the past with his band Roareth releasing what would be their only album on The Maple Forum, this was a project to which I felt an immediate connection given the circumstances of its creation: Being written almost in its entirety and recorded in everything but vocals during a bedridden period following Edge‘s diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. The contributions of YOB/Vhöl frontman Mike Scheidt and Tad Doyle of TAD and Brothers of the Sonic Cloth were what got a lot of people’s attention for Lumbar‘s The First and Last Days of Unwelcome, but with the situation are the core of the seven tracks named “Day One” through “Day Seven,” what stood out to me even more than those performances was the utter lack of distance and the level of rawness in the album’s presentation. It puts you there. What you get with Lumbar is the direct translation of a range of emotions from hopeful to hopeless, angry, sad, beaten down and wanting answers, wanting more. There’s no shield from it, and as much in concept as in its execution, there’s no other word for it than “heavy.” The intensity Edge packed into just 24 minutes — and not all of it loud or over the top doomed or anything more than atmospherics — was unmatched by anything else I heard this year.

4. Vista Chino, Peace

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed July 30.

From just about any angle you want to view it, the situation that turned Kyuss Lives! into Vista Chino was unfortunate. However — and I know I’ve said this before — I really do believe that becoming Vista Chino, that furthering the distance from the Kyuss moniker, brand, legacy, and so on, was for the better of the band creatively. And not because the songs don’t stand up. I doubt it helped their draw much, but for vocalist John Garcia and drummer Brant Bjork (interview here), working as Vista Chino for the creation of Peace, and especially or Bjork working with guitarist Bruno Fevery for the first time in the writing process, it allowed them to step outside of what would’ve been insurmountable expectations for a “fifth Kyuss album” and create something honest, new, and ultimately, more true to the spirit of that now-legendary band. Let’s face it, you hear John Garcia, Brant Bjork and Nick Oliveri are working on a project together, you’re immediately comparing it to Kyuss anyway. At least with Vista Chino, they’ve given themselves the potential for growth beyond a preconceived idea of what Kyuss should sound like. Well what does Vista Chino sound like? It sounds like whatever the hell they want. On Peace, though many of the lyrics dealt with their legal battles over the Kyuss name, the vibe stayed true to a desert rock ethic of laid back heavy, and the round-out jam in “Acidize/The Gambling Moose” left Peace with the feeling that maybe that’s where they’ve ended up after all. Fingers crossed Mike Dean (of C.O.C. and the latest live incarnation of Vista Chino) winds up playing bass on the record, but other than that, wherever they want to go with it, as a fan, I’m happy to follow along.

3. Gozu, The Fury of a Patient Man

Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed Jan. 24.

The second outing from Gozu on Small Stone, The Fury of a Patient Man tapped into so much of what made the Boston band’s 2010 Locust Season label debut (review here) work so right on and just did it better. Don’t get me wrong, I still dig on “Meat Charger,” but with tracks like “Snake Plissken,” “Bald Bull,” “Signed, Epstein’s Mom” (note: it was “signed, Epstein’s mother” on Welcome Back Kotter) and the thrashing “Charles Bronson Pinchot,” Gozu put forth a collection of some of 2013’s finest heavy rock and did so with not only their own soulful spin on the tropes of the genre, but a mature and varied approach that was no less comfortable giving High on Fire a run for their money than reveling in the grandiose chorus of “Ghost Wipe,” which was also one of the best hooks of the year, guitarist/vocalist Marc Gaffney (interview here) delivering lines in crisp, confident layers, perfectly mixed by Benny Grotto at Mad Oak Studios and cutting through the fray of his own and Doug Sherman‘s guitars, the bass of Paul Dallaire (who split duties with J. Canava; Joe Grotto has since taken over the position) and Barry Spillberg‘s drumming. What the future might hold for Gozu with the recent shift in lineup that replaced Spillberg with drummer Mike Hubbard (ex-Warhorse) and added third guitarist Jeff Fultz (Mellow Bravo) remains to be seen, but with European touring on the horizon for 2014 and appearances slated for Roadburn and Desertfest, the band seem to be looking only to expand their reach, and with the material from The Fury of a Patient Man as a foundation, they’ve got some major considerations acting in their favor. Another album from which I simply could not escape this year, and from which I didn’t want to.

2. Monster Magnet, Last Patrol

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

Billed largely and at least in-part accurately as a return to the group’s psychedelic roots, Last Patrol was Monster Magnet‘s ninth full-length, their first in three years and their second for Napalm. The New Jersey outfit led by guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, founder and, in this case, co-producer Dave Wyndorf (interview here) did indeed delve into the space rock side of their sound more than they have in over a decade, and the effect that doing so had was like a great shaking-off of dust, as though the Bullgod in the John Sumrow cover art just woke up after a long slumber. Perhaps even more than tripping on the Donovan cover “Three Kingfishers” or on the more extended freakouts “Last Patrol” and “End of Time,” what really made Last Patrol such a complete experience was the depth of emotion. Wyndorf wasn’t just standing above an overproduced wall of distortion talking about how he’s the best lay in the galaxy or whatever — fun though that kind of stuff is and has been in the past — but songs like “I Live behind the Clouds,” “The Duke (of Supernature),” “Paradise” and “Stay Tuned” offered a humbler take, a spirit of melancholy that rested well alongside the unmitigated stomp of “Hallelujah” or the driving heavy rock of “Mindless Ones.” Even in its most riotous stretches, Last Patrol was a humbler affair, with a more honest vibe than their last four, maybe five albums. A Monster Magnet release would’ve been noteworthy no matter what it actually sounded like, because that’s the level of impact they’ve had on heavy psych and underground rock over the last two decades-plus. The difference with Last Patrol was that it was a refreshing change from what had started to sound like a formula going stale, and it was  just so damn good to have them be weird again.

1. Clutch, Earth Rocker

Released by Weathermaker Music. Reviewed Feb. 28.

Finally, an album that asked the question, “What it was I’m going to do I haven’t done?” I knew at the year’s halfway point that Clutch‘s Earth Rocker was going to be the one to beat, and that it wasn’t going to be easy for anyone else to top the Maryland kings of groove, who sounded so reinvigorated on songs like “Crucial Velocity,” “Book, Saddle and Go,” “Unto the Breach,” and “Cyborg Bette,” and on funkfied pushers like “D.C. Sound Attack!,” “The Wolfman Kindly Requests…” and “The Face.” They’d hardly been in hibernation since 2009’s Strange Cousins from the West, but four years was the longest they’d ever gone between albums, and it was past time for a new one. To have it arrive as such a boot to the ass just made it that much better, the band shifting away from some of the blues/jam influences that emerged over the course of 2005’s Robot Hive/Exodus and 2007’s From Beale Street to Oblivion — though those certainly showed up as well in the subdued “Gone Cold” and elsewhere — but thanks in no small part to the production of Machine, with whom the band last worked for 2004’s Blast Tyrant, Earth Rocker was huge where it wanted to be and that gave Clutch‘s faster, more active material all the more urgency, where although the songwriting was quality as always, Strange Cousins from the West languished a bit at a more relaxed pace. The difference made all the difference. Whether it was the hellhounds on your trail (what a pity!) in “D.C. Sound Attack!” or the Jazzmasters erupting from the bottom of the sea to take flight, Clutch‘s 10th album was brimming with live, vibrant, heavy on action and heavy on groove, and on a sheer song-by-song level, a classic in the making from a band who’ve already had a few. At very least, it’s a landmark in their discography, and though vocalist Neil Fallon (interview here), guitarist Tim Sult, bassist Dan Maines and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster always change from record, but it’s the unmistakable stamp they put on all their outings that have earned them such a loyal following, and that stamp is all over Earth Rocker. Front to back, it is a pure Clutch record, and while I’ll happily acknowledge that it’s an obvious pick for album of the year, I don’t see how I possibly could’ve chosen anything else. Like the best of the best, Earth Rocker will deliver for years to come.

The Next 10 and Honorable Mentions

I said at the outset I had 40 picks. The reality was more than that, but here’s the next 10 anyway:

21. Blaak Heat Shujaa, The Edge of an Era
22. The Freeks, Full On
23. Luder, Adelphophagia
24. The Flying Eyes, Lowlands
25. Black Skies, Circadian Meditations
26. At Devil Dirt, Plan B: Sin Revolucion No Hay Evolucion
27. Kadavar, Abra Kadavar
28. Naam, Vow
29. Mühr, Messiah
30. Uzala, Tales of Blood and Fire

Further honorable mention has to go to Pelican, Endless Boogie, Earthless, Phantom Glue, Goatess, Windhand, GongaToner Low, Jesu and Sandrider.

Two More Special Records

I’d be unforgivably remiss if I didn’t note the release in 2013 of two albums that wound up being incredibly special to me personally: I vs. the Glacier by Clamfight and A Time of Hunting by Kings Destroy. Since it came out on this site’s in-house label, I didn’t consider the Clamfight eligible for list consideration and while I didn’t help put it out, the Kings Destroy I also felt very, very close to — probably as close as I’ve felt to a record I didn’t actually perform on — so it didn’t seem fair on a critical level, but I consider both of these to be records that in a large part helped define my year, as well as being exceptional in and of themselves, and they needed very much to be singled out as such. These are people whom I feel whatever-the-godless-heathen-equivalent-of-blessed-is to know.

Before I end this post, I want to say thank you for reading, this, anything else you may have caught this year, whatever it might be. To say it means a lot to me personally is understating it, but it’s true all the same. I’m not quite done wrapping up the year — I’ll have a list of the best album covers, another for EPs and singles and demos, and of course the albums I didn’t hear — so please stay tuned over the next couple weeks, but it seemed only fair to show my appreciation now as well. Thank you.

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The Top 10 of the First Half of 2013

Posted in Features on June 18th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

This is always fun, and because the year’s only (just about) half over, you always know there’s more to come. The last six months have brought a host of really stellar releases, and the whole time, it’s felt like just when you’ve dug your heels into something and really feel content to rest with it for a while, there’s something else to grab your ears. So it’s been for the last six months, bouncing from one record to the next.

Even now, I’ve got a list of albums, singles, EPs, tapes, demos, whatever, waiting for attention — some of which I’m viciously behind on — but it’s time to stop and take a look back at some of what the best of the first half of 2013 has been. Please note, I’m only counting full-lengths here. While I’ve heard a few killer EPs this year — looking at you, Mars Red Sky — it doesn’t seem fair to rate everything all together like that. Maybe a separate list.

If you’ve got a list of your own or some quibbling on the numbers, please leave a comment and be heard. From where I sit, that’s always the best part of this kind of thing.

Here we go:

10. Endless Boogie, Long Island


Released by No Quarter Records. Reviewed Feb. 19.

The third Endless Boogie album on No Quarter was basically the soundtrack to the end of my winter, with smooth grooving cuts like “The Artemus Ward” and the classic rock shake of “On Cryology” providing a soundtrack as cool as the air in my lungs. It was my first experience with the longform-jamming improv-heavy foursome, and a CD I’m still stoked to put on and get lost in, having found that it works just as well in summer’s humidity as winter’s freeze, the off-the-cuff narrations of Paul Major (interview here) carrying a vibe unmistakably belonging to the rock history of the band’s native New York City. Was a sleeper, but not one to miss for its organic and exploratory feel.

9. Magic Circle, Magic Circle

Released by Armageddon Shop. Reviewed Feb. 18.

Proffering righteous traditional doom and misery-drenched atmospherics, the debut full-length from Massachusetts-based Magic Circle hit hard and showed there’s life yet to the old ways. It never quite veered into the cultish posturing that comprises so much of the trad doom aesthetic these days, and from the grandiose riffing of guitarists Dan Ducas and Chris Corry and the blown-out vocals of frontman Brendan Radigan, it found the band carving a memorable identity for themselves with clear sonic ideas of what they wanted to accomplish. Out of all the bands on this list, I’m most interested to hear what Magic Circle do next to build on their debut.

8. Kadavar, Abra Kadavar

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed April 9.

Berlin trio Kadavar had a tough task ahead of them in releasing a sophomore answer to their self-titled, which I thought was the best first album of 2012, but when Abra Kadavar surfaced as their debut on Nuclear Blast, it was quickly apparent that the retro heavy rockers had put together a worthy follow-up. Cuts like “Come Back Life” and “Doomsday Machine” underscored the straightforward triumphs of the prior outing, while late-album arrivals “Liquid Dream,” “Rhythm for Endless Minds” and “Abra Kadabra” gave a sense that Kadavar were beginning a journey into psychedelia the results of which could be just as rewarding as even the most potent of their choruses. Their potential remains one of their biggest appeals.

7. Devil to Pay, Fate is Your Muse

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed March 19.

It wasn’t without its rough edges, but at the core of Indianapolis heavy rockers Devil to Pay‘s fourth record was an unflinching songwriting quality that quickly established it among my go-to regulars, whether it was the quirky doom hook of “Ten Lizardmen and One Pocketknife,” the darkly progressive riffing of “Black Black Heart” or the suitably propulsive rush of “This Train Won’t Stop.” The double-guitar four-piece didn’t have much time for frills in terms of arrangement or structure, but by building on the developments over the course of their three prior releases, Devil to Pay delivered a slab of deceptively intricate standouts that made hard turns sound easy and demanded the attention it deserved.

6. Beast in the Field, The Sacred Above, the Sacred Below


Released by Saw Her Ghost Records. Streamed in full June 5.

Unfuckwithable tone set to destructive purpose. Immediately upon hearing the unsung Michigan drum/guitar duo’s fourth album, the impact of The Sacred Above, the Sacred Below — overwhelming though it is at times throughout the album; hello, “Oncoming Avalanche” — refused to be denied. Beast in the Field haven’t gotten anything remotely close to the attention they should for this devastating collection, but it’s one I absolutely can’t put down, cohesive in theme and full of skull-caving riffs as dynamic as they are brutally delivered by the instrumental twosome. If it’s one you missed on CD when Saw Her Ghost put it out in March (as I did), keep your eyes open for a vinyl release coming on Emetic in the next couple months. Really. Do it.

5. Black Pyramid, Adversarial

Released by Hydro-Phonic Records. Reviewed April 12.

Massachusetts trio Black Pyramid quickly dispatched any doubts of their ability to continue on after the departure of their previous guitarist/vocalist, bassist Dave Gein and drummer Clay Neely joined forces with Darryl Shepard (Hackman, Blackwolfgoat, Roadsaw, etc.) to reinvigorate their battle-ready doom, and whether it was the extended jamming on “Swing the Scimitar” or the surprisingly smooth riffing on “Aphelion,” the results did not disappoint. Regardless of personnel, I’ve yet to hear a Black Pyramid album I didn’t want to hear again, and though I’ll freely admit they’re a sentimental favorite for me at this point, Adversarial is a suitable dawn for their next era. Long may they reign.

4. Gozu, The Fury of a Patient Man


Released by Small Stone. Reviewed Jan. 24.

True, I will argue tooth and nail that Boston four-piece Gozu should get rid of their goofball, sitcom-referential song titles, but that’s only because I believe the band’s lack of pretense speaks for itself through the music and their tracks are too good to give listeners a chance not to take them seriously. When it comes to The Fury of a Patient Man — their second full-length behind the impressive 2010 debut, Locust Season (review here) — I knew the first time I heard it toward the end of last year that it was going to be one of 2013’s best, and while I’ve heard quibbles in favor of the debut, nothing has dissuaded me from thinking the sophomore installment outclasses it on almost every level. Expect a return appearance when the year-end list hits in December.

3. Queens of the Stone Age, …Like Clockwork


Released by Matador Records. Reviewed June 4.

There’s a big part of me that feels like a sucker for digging …Like Clockwork, the first Queens of the Stone Age full-length since 2007’s relatively lackluster Era Vulgaris, but when it comes right down to it, I hit the point in listening to the album that I came around to its sheen, its up-and-down moodiness and its unabashed self-importance. I hit the point where I was able to separate …Like Clockwork from its “viral marketing” and just enjoy Josh Homme‘s all-growed-up songwriting for what it is. Would I have loved a second self-titled album? Probably, but it wasn’t realistic to think that’s what …Like Clockwork would be, and as much as I’ve tried out other spots for it, I’d be lying if I put this record anywhere else on this list but here. So there you go. I understand the arguments against it, but reason doesn’t always apply when it comes to what gets repeat spins.

2. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Mind Control

Released by Rise Above/Metal Blade. Reviewed April 8.

I was late to the party on the second Uncle Acid offering, 2011’s Blood Lust, as I often am on records where the hype gets to din levels, but by the time the subsequent Mind Control was announced, I knew it was going to be one to watch out for. Aligned to Rise Above/Metal Blade, the UK outfit began to unravel till-then mystery of itself, playing live and developing the brazen psychedelic pop influences hinted at in the horrors of Blood Lust so that the swing of “Mt. Abraxas” and the acid-coated psych of “Valley of the Dolls” could exist within the same cohesive sphere. Between the death-boogie of “Mind Crawler” and mid-period Beatlesian exploration of “Follow the Leader,” Mind Control continues to be an album I hear as much on the mental jukebox rotation as one I actually put on to listen to again. Either way, there’s no getting away from it — the eerie melodies of guitarist/vocalists Kevin “Uncle Acid” Starrs and Yotam Rubinger are hauntingly ever-present.

1. Clutch, Earth Rocker

Released by Weathermaker Music. Reviewed Feb. 28.

Obvious? Probably, but that doesn’t make it any less genuine. To set the scene, here’s me on the Masspike a couple weeks ago in the Volvo of Doom™ with the little dog Dio, 90 miles an hour shouting along to “Crucial Velocity” at the top of my never-on-key lungs. I couldn’t and wouldn’t endeavor to tell you how many times I’ve listened to Earth Rocker since I first got a taste, but from the title-track on through the surging groove at the end of “The Wolfman Kindly Requests…,” front to back, the 10th Clutch album still does not fail to roil the blood with not a dud in the bunch. The Maryland road dogs of course shine best on a stage, and Earth Rocker‘s polished, layered production is a studio affair in the truest sense, but all that does is make me hopeful they’ll complement it with a live record soon. Clutch could easily have phoned in a follow-up to 2009’s Strange Cousins from the West and their fanbase probably would’ve still salivated over it, myself included, but by boldly pushing themselves to write faster, more concise material, they’ve reenergized one of heavy rock’s best sounds. Whether you’re a longtime fan or a brand new listener, Earth Rocker is utterly essential.

Two more records I have to mention: Kings Destroy‘s A Time of Hunting and Clamfight‘s I vs. the Glacier. I wasn’t involved in releasing the Kings Destroy, but felt close to it nonetheless, and since the Clamfight came out on The Maple Forum, it wouldn’t be appropriate to include it in the list proper, but hands down, these are my two favorite records of the year so far and made by some of the best people I’ve had the pleasure to know over the course of my years nerding out to heavy music.

Some other honorable mentions go to Toner Low, Cathedral, Church of Misery, Serpent Throne, Naam, The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic and All Them Witches. Like I said, it’s been a hell of a year so far.

You may note some glaring absences in the list above — Black Sabbath, ASG, Orchid, Ghost, Kvelertak and Voivod come to mind immediately. Some of that is a result of my disdain for digital promos, and some of that is just a matter of what I listened to most. Please understand that although release profile is not something discounted, at the heart of what’s included here is one individual’s personal preferences and listening habits.

Thanks for reading. Here’s to your own lists and to the next six months to come!

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Six Dumb Questions with Magic Circle

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on March 15th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

If the questions asked in this Magic Circle interview seem kind of straightforward, that’s only because the doomly Boston-based five-piece have done so well at keeping themselves obscure. The band, whose self-titled debut (review here) is out now on CD/LP through Armageddon Shop, have virtually no online presence, be it social networking or otherwise, and in terms of recording info, pictures, etc., there just isn’t much out there at this point.

Difficult as that might make it to determine who’s who and how Magic Circle, the album, got made, it’s an admirable ethic. Some bands can’t go five minutes before updating their fans on which member’s farts stink the worst, or without posting a picture of one of the members sitting on plastic lawn furniture in somebody’s yard, with or without a beer, like the lamest moment of Bon Scott‘s life. And even those who protest the pervasiveness of digital engagement — i.e. me — still take part. If you’re actually against something, don’t do it.

Now, for a band playing the kind of doom that Magic Circle play — weighted and morose atmospherically, traditional in its follow-the-riff ethic, murky and dark in the sort of new New England sphere acts like Pilgrim are also helping to cast — it’s easy to take something like that as a play at cult appeal, but I think actually it’s much more cut and dry than that, and put in the context of the members of Magic Circle‘s combined decades of experience playing in hardcore bands like The Rival Mob and Mind Eraser – among many others in a variety of styles; drummer Q is also in Doomriders, for example — their opting out makes even more sense. They’re anti-bullshit. Like guitarist Chris “CC” Corry says below, “It feels gratuitous.”

Corry, who is joined in Magic Circle by Q, vocalist Brendan Radigan, guitarist Dan Ducas and bassist Justin DeTore, gives some background on how the band came together and put Magic Circle‘s Magic Circle to tape, their experience playing Chaos in Tejas last year in Austin (they’re doing it again this year), and more in the exchange that follows. Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

1. How did Magic Circle first get together? With members also contributing to different bands, were/are there any difficulties in scheduling?

Everyone in the band has known each other for a long time. We all spent our teens and 20s in a whole bunch of hardcore and punk bands that played together on shows. Everyone in the band has always been into old rock and metal records, and myself (CC), Justin, and Brendan had talked about starting a band with a traditional late ‘70s/early ‘80s feel for a long time. Sabbath, Rainbow, Witchfinder General, Pagan Altar, Trouble, Mercyful Fate were kinda the vibe I wanted, maybe not the way the riffs sound but just the feel and atmosphere. I’m not a virtuoso by any means, the guitarists in those bands… I wouldn’t be fit to lick their boots, but I finally just sat down and started writing. I had the skeletons for maybe four tunes we ended up using in spring of 2010.

Justin, Brendan and I have done a lot of bands together over the years, and I’ve helped the record other projects I’m not in, so that was kind of a no-brainer. I played them some rough riffs and they were in. Brendan is really the only guy I know who could do vocals this demanding. I got in touch with Q just knowing he was a real good old style drummer, and Dan had just moved back to Boston after being out in L.A. for a while, he wasn’t doing any music and he’s a good guitar player.

We recorded rehearsals of a few songs, just the basic music, and then Brendan recorded vocals over them and that was it. We had ourselves a band.

Scheduling for us is kind of tough, everyone in the band except Dan has been in several bands at all times for years (and is currently), everyone has a regular job during the week, and other commitments, wives and stuff…  so it can be a chore. Sometimes there’s a month where no one can do anything but we’re not in a hurry.

2. Were you surprised at the initial response “Scream Evil” and “Magic Circle” got when you posted them on YouTube? You guys have been assiduous in keeping info about the band sparse, no website, Facebook, etc. Tell me what went into making that choice?

We weren’t sure how they would go over but at that point the record had been done for six months and we just wanted someone to hear it. Word did get around really fast which was surprising but we liked the songs and so we figured other people would too.

I don’t see the point in shoving ourselves down anyone’s throat. Facebook is a fine way to keep in touch with friends living in other states and countries, but other than that it feels gratuitous. If you like the music you can find it. I don’t see the need to force it on everyone. That’s pretty much always been the way I’ve done music.

3. How does the songwriting process usually work? How do the songs come together and when are the vocals added?
Well for me I always kind of rough out the songs at home, just get some basic riffs into a structured whole, and then try and break it down into segments for the other dudes with instruments, it’s basic stuff and they’re pros so we can usually piece together a song in a couple practice sessions, and they help flesh out the arrangements, and adjust stuff. I record little clips of myself playing guitar and bring it to practice to help me remember. After that we can make a demo and let Brendan marinate on it for a couple weeks. Then he adds some vocals to the demo, and then we can kind of figure out if stuff needs to change, add a couple solos, things like that. Brendan‘s a strong vocalist so the song always changes after he adds to it.

4. Tell me about recording the self-titled. The album is so atmospheric and bleak sounding, what was the mood like at the studio? How long were you recording?

We recorded the album in Justin‘s parent’s basement in spring 2011 and we mostly had to work on weekends or after work so we could keep stuff set up there without moving anything around. Spring in New England is a little bleak to begin with. Everything’s damp, and still kind of dead. A lot of grey. I definitely wanted to have that creaky dark vibe you get on the first Pagan Altar, the first Sabbath, some of the ‘70s Pentagram stuff… I tried to give the songs room to breathe. It’s a lot different than when I record hardcore and punk bands. A lot of recordings now, especially with regard to “doom,” sound too “clear” to me with the kick drum razor sharp and the guitars sounding like a Guitar Center demo, and the vocals are super in-your-face. That’s not what we want. I like when stuff sounds organic and real like you’re there hearing the band in that room.

As for the mood I’d love to tell you something crazy but we were just working hard to get things done. A lot of nights I would come over straight from work and we could record just for a couple hours in the late afternoon. Once we started on vocals, Brendan lives like an hour south of Boston so he would come up and we would try and do a whole song before we had to stop, because like I said, we were operating under the good will of the DeTore family. If anything maybe the tiredness from starting mostly at the end of the day kind of carried into the recording. It took three or four months to get everything tracked, but keep in mind it would be like work for a day or two, then nothing for a week or more. Very start/stop. Not the best way to do something but I didn’t want to rush. Everyone wanted to get it right. I mixed it a couple times over the next several months, it seemed like it was never going to really be done and come out for a while but it did eventually.

5. It’s pretty easy to read the tracklisting as being structured for vinyl sides. How on purpose was it to end each half of the record with two-part songs? Are there any plans for an LP release once the run of CDs is gone?

Well the album is out now on vinyl on the Armageddon Shop label (same as CD), and for that I’m very happy because I like records. I have an iPod for work, and the car, but most of my money goes to records. It was certainly structured to be an LP. There’s another song from the session “Lighting Her Fire,” that we self-released on a single that there just wasn’t room for on the album.

You can’t really cut an LP over 40 minutes, and even that is pushing it a bit. The two-part song thing I didn’t really think about until someone pointed it out. I added those titles really just as a nod to Sabbath using separate names on some of their instrumental sections, but it just seemed like that’s where those songs fit once we were done and needed a sequence. All the classic records I love – rock and roll, heavy metal, punk – they’re all sequenced in two sides for vinyl, you know? CD is a bit of an afterthought for me, honestly.

6. You guys did Chaos in Tejas in 2012. How was that experience for you? Will you do any other touring in 2013? Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

A bunch of bands we’ve played in have done shows at Chaos over the years. Timmy who puts the whole thing on is a very good friend and has been really supportive of all the stuff that I’ve done for a long time. It was an honor to be one of the openers on a show with Saint Vitus, Church of Misery and Gates of Slumber. I never would have thought in a million years that would be a possibility. We’re playing again this year on the show Bolt Thrower is headlining which again is totally crazy and a complete honor. We don’t have any tours in the works. We are scheduled for the Wings of Metal show in Montreal though with Satan (w/ Brian Ross singing!), Manilla Road, Midnight, Voor, Blood Ceremony, Megiddo, Cauchemar…. August 30-31… Other than that – a show with Pilgrim in New Bedford March 16, and a show with Nightbitch in Connecticut March 22.

Armageddon Shop

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Magic Circle, Magic Circle: Stone Eyes Looking

Posted in Reviews on February 18th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

After earning some measure of viral doomly acclaim by releasing their debut single on YouTube, Boston-based five-piece Magic Circle issue their first proper full-length on CD through Armageddon Shop’s eponymous in-house label. The self-titled offering contains the two songs that made such a digital splash – those being “Scream Evil” and closer “The Magic Circle/Cloven in Two” – as well as four other cuts, topping out at a vinyl-ready 41:16. Vinyl also seems to be on the band’s mind in terms of the album’s structure, which finds the tracklisting split at its halfway point with each set of three songs ended by a longer, slash-inclusive title, the first being “The Greatest Escape/White Shores” (7:10) and the second the already-noted finale (7:40). Similarly, each side begins with a track on which frontman Brendan Radigan sings over a guitar solo, the opener “Winter Light” and “Scream Evil.” Those aren’t the only times Radigan does that, there’s also second track “Rapture” where it’s notable, but the chaotic swirl it creates – particularly late into “Winter Light” – is a standout element. Radigan comes out of Boston’s hardcore scene, namely the bands Mind Eraser and The Rival Mob, and Magic Circle’s drummer, Q, is also of Clouds and Doomriders, while guitarist/principle songwriter Chris Corry and bassist Justin De Tore can be found in Death Evocation (the latter is also formerly of NYC grinders Taste of Fear). The band is completed by guitarist Dan Ducas, but particularly because of Radigan’s pedigree, I have a hard time not likening Magic Circle’s debut to that of Brooklyn-based Maple Forum alums, Kings Destroy. Indeed, the album bears some of that out in stylistic commonality with Kings Destroy’s And the Rest Will Surely Perish, though Magic Circle’s Magic Circle delves further into genre with an affinity for Ducas and Corry’s guitars crossing over the line where trad doom meets NWOBHM; call it a Witchfinder General or Pagan Altar influence if you want, I don’t think I’d be the first to saddle them with either. Still, with a somewhat similar circumstance and aesthetic, the comparison to Kings Destroy circa 2010 seems fair. Radigan’s vocals add a drama that enhances the musical dynamic, and the band locks in familiar grooves that they’re nonetheless able to make their own. In the end, perhaps in part because I’m so used to traditional doom that plods eternal, Magic Circle feels short at its 41-minute stopping point.

That’s an asset for the self-produced affair, which still boasts no shortage of plod, from Corry and Ducas’ riffy lumber to the deep-toned thud in Q’s drums. Magic Circle do well to shift tempo though, remaining thick but not idle, at various points throughout the album, including “Winter Light,” the longest track at 8:40 (immediate points). As a launch, “Winter Light” is especially well-chosen for its repetitive verse and memorable chorus, both solid hooks offset by a purposefully disorienting break in the second half. Following that, the aforementioned solo section topped by Radigan comes across as an out-of-nowhere rush both of pace and energy, and it winds up making the song and engaging the listener on a genuinely unexpected level as the final lyrics are delivered, “Winter Light is all that I see/Winter light is shining on me,” before the guitars take final hold. “Rapture,” which follows, is the shortest track on Magic Circle at 5:14, and tries for something similar, but is obviously more compressed in its take, with a more immediately motoring riff building tension paid off in the chorus, Q, opening up the drums for a stretch before transitioning on his snare back into the head-down thrust of the verse. Two songs in and Magic Circle have unveiled two catchy hooks, and a bit of shred under Radigan in the second chorus of “Rapture” goes a long way toward backing up some of the opener’s intensity as it leads into a brief, mournful dual-guitar solo. Corry and Ducas prove quick to harmonize throughout the record, but Magic Circle don’t necessarily dwell on a single idea long enough to be redundant more than they want to be, and continuing their well-constructed track-to-track flow, “The Greatest Escape/White Shores” cuts back the force and moves into classically doomed sway. The Gates of Slumber are an obvious reference point here, as they are for a lot of the newer old school, but Magic Circle keep their own spin on their sound, Q filling the spaces where the riffs stop with organic-sounding tom work while Radigan shifts between a quieter approach in the verse and a chorus of semi-melodic shouts. Where the first two cuts had marked switches in tempo, “The Greatest Escape/White Shores” keeps largely to the same chugging middle pace, seeming to pick up in its very last throes, but suddenly ending cold instead, what might have been a Sabbathian extended solo transition cut short.

Read more »

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Buried Treasure and the Walking Ghosts

Posted in Buried Treasure on February 7th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Time was limited. It was Monday morning and I was supposed to go to work after all, but as I was in New England anyway, a quick run to Armageddon Shop in Providence didn’t seem all that unreasonable. I’ve never come out of there feeling less than satisfied, and even back in December at the Boston store, I was able to pick up a few winners. Plus, Armageddon‘s been on my mind lately with their handling the repress of Elder‘s Spires Burn EP and the release of Magic Circle‘s self-titled, for which I have a review pending. All that, coupled with my general desire to crane my neck before a CD rack, made the stop a necessity. Turned out work was still there when I finally showed up anyway. Go figure.

On the wall of my office is a post-it with albums I’ve been meaning to pick up — mostly review stuff that labels won’t send out physical copies of anymore that I’ll grudgingly buy and devalue the effort I put into writing about them while also diminishing my appreciation for the record out of the pervasive annoyance. It’s a vicious cycle. Anyway, most of what’s on it I couldn’t remember, but it was fine. I managed to find enough and then some, as you can see in the stack above. The new Bedemon (track stream here) and Seremonia (track stream here) records were a must, and I hadn’t actually gotten a CD of the last Enslaved (review here), so I figured if I was going to give someone the cash for it, at least I could feel good about it going to Armageddon. The rest was gravy.

The first Hooded Menace full-length, Fulfill the Curse, Orodruin‘s Claw Tower and Other Tales of Terror and the repress of Life Beyond‘s Ancient Worlds were cool finds, but I was even more stoked on the 2003 Cream Abdul Babar/Kylesa split on At a Loss. I think they came by their progression honestly and I think Spiral Shadow (review here) bears that out, but it’s easy to forget how blisteringly heavy that band was at one point, all noise and fury and potential. With the unbridled weirdness of Cream Abdul Babar to complement, that split was a killer. The punkish War and Wine by the UK’s The Dukes of Nothing was something I had my eye on for a while, with Orange Goblin‘s Chris Turner on drums, bassist Doug Dalziel (ex-Iron Monkey) and Stuart O’Hara (ex-Acrimony, current Sigiriya) as one of two guitars, and more on the hardcore end, the self-titled collection from Hard to Swallow was a pleasant surprise, spanning the short tenure of the outfit that featured Jim Rushby (Iron Monkey) on guitar and Justin Greaves (Iron Monkey and even later of Crippled Black Phoenix) on drums and a host of others from that sphere ripping out primitive, violent bursts in rapid succession.

With 13 tracks in 27 minutes, there’s little room for screwing around, so Hard to Swallow get right to it, blending raw riffage with extreme punk fuckall. The compilation was released on Armageddon‘s own label, and though it’s more hardcore than what I’ll generally grab, it’s a solid, intense listen. A secret track incorporating Sabbath‘s “Under the Sun” into a grind medley made a decent, meaner answer to The Dukes of Nothing‘s album on Tortuga, and the metallic outing from Enslaved and Seremonia‘s distinctly Finnish weirdness. More local to home, I grabbed Halfway to Gone‘s split with Alabama Thunderpussy, which I already own but figured for six bucks I’d take a double, and the 1997 debut from underrated Jersey-based psychedelic rockers, Lord Sterling.

Your Ghost Will Walk was one of those albums I figured I’d probably never happen upon, perhaps even less so in Rhode Island. I haven’t been chasing it down for years and years or anything like that — a preliminary search can find copies out there — but neither was I going to pass up the chance to get a new one. The pressing is on Chainsaw Safety Records, may or may not be original, and for anyone who heard Lord Sterling‘s Weapon of Truth (2002, Rubric) or Today’s Song for Tomorrow (2004, Small Stone), the first one is a little more jagged, a little more post-hardcore, somewhat less psychedelic, though the ethereal garage via The Doors vibes of the later albums are definitely present in some nascent form. I always dug those guys, so it was cool to hear where they came from a little bit.

Because I can’t resist a CD on Man’s Ruin and because I’m forever a sucker for NYC noise, I impulse grabbed The Cuttroats 9‘s self-titled. The band had Chris Spencer and Dave Curran from Unsane in it, so I figured I couldn’t go wrong and I was right. It was a last-minute thing as I was looking through, but I’ve done way worse. All told, the haul was well-rounded and with a cup of coffee from the bakery down the street, I felt like the win was even more complete. About five hours later, I strolled into my office like I owned the place.

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Magic Circle Release Self-Titled CD through Armageddon Shop

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 28th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

I know a lot of people have been waiting for this one. Magic Circle (live review here), which features in its ranks a host of Boston hardcore luminaries dooming out as some are wont to do, have just released their self-titled debut via Armageddon Shop, the Boston/Providence record store of much ass-kickery also responsible for Elder‘s triumphant Spires Burn/Release EP last year. If you’ve gotta start with two releases, those make for a pretty strong opening salvo.

Announcement and purchase link follow, snagged from the PR wire:

Armageddon Shop is proud to announce the release of:
MAGIC CIRCLE “self titled” CD

Now available via Armageddon Shop.

Recorded in 2011 at the infamous Paincave in Massachusetts,
mastered by Carl Saff who did the recent ELDER 12″ we released in 2012.

Drawing from classic NWOBHM and traditional metal influences, this five piece comprised of veteran local musicians have turned out a well crafted solid as hell metal album. They’ve definitely done their listening homework over the years. Strong and catchy songs, heavy but not tuned down, recorded well but not overproduced, it captures the old DIY ethic of metal in the early 80’s. The vocals have an almost Ozzy quality at times, solid as hell. We’re totally stoked on this record!

Order directly with this link:
MAGIC CIRCLE s/t CD

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Buried Treasure: Tales of Armageddon in Boston

Posted in Buried Treasure on December 7th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

Similar to my thinking in going to the Six Organs of Admittance show last Friday, it seemed to me that if I’m going to be living up that way in the next year, I better get used to buying records in Boston. I’d been to Armageddon Shop there before, and I’ve visited the Providence store as well, but a return trip seemed warranted and The Patient Mrs. gave the all-clear, so off to Harvard Square we went.

Like a lot of places, Armageddon seems to be phasing out CDs in favor of donating the room to vinyl, which at this point I can’t even argue with. New records are coming out only on LP and CDs have lost preference to either end of the extreme — i.e. vinyl or digital, or both. Even as someone who would still rather have a CD than a record, I can understand the appeal. So it makes sense. It’s good business. And in the meantime, they still have a whole wall and then some dedicated to mostly used compact discs and I was happy to peruse the space once again while the crew put on the flute-laden tones of the last Blood Ceremony full-length.

I wound up with two discs for my effort, not really on the cheap but not exactly off it either. For $9.99, I got Black Spirit‘s Black Spirit and for $6.99, Endless Skies by Ashbury. The former is an Italian band and an album I posted about earlier this year, full of post-kraut progressive indulgences but not really off-putting or lacking unifying melody. The latter — and I’ll say this honestly — I bought because the art was badass. I looked at the wizard holding up his hand to gather the clouds about the village below, saw that it was a Vintage/Rockadrome reissue and decided there was no way to lose. A safe bet I was comfortable making.

Of the two, Black Spirit‘s album is the older. It came out in 1978, was their only release, and even this Ohrwaschl version is light on info. You get the lineup and the tracklist (inside the liner in what looks like a direct replica of the vinyl sleeve) and that’s pretty much it. The cover art — also righteous, but in a different way than Ashbury – appears twice, on the jewel case and the outside panels of the liner notes, and even under the CD tray as well, not to mention on the CD itself. It’s a lot of purple to live up to, but the music on the album’s five tracks gets driven home with a bluesy feel and some lightly accented vocals, and 12-minute closer “Old Times” is high-grade classic heavy rock that maybe could’ve come out five or six years earlier and been a hit, but I guess was a little behind the times for ’78.

Same applies to Ashbury, come to think of it, except with the Arizona duo they’re playing a kind of proto-metal that, by the time Endless Skies was released in 1983, the genre had moved past. “Vengeance” has a kind of metal-ness to its riff, but a song like “Take Your Love Away” is more Blue Öyster Cult than Judas Priest. Nothing against it, since the guitar playing is ace, the tracks groove and the whole thing has a vibe worthy of its wizard cover, and considering the side-of-the-van-worthiness of that wizard, that’s saying something. To imagine though that the mid-’70s arena melodies of “Madman” came out the same year as the first Slayer record makes it even more fascinating. In any case, I lucked out.

It wasn’t the biggest haul I’ve ever pulled in, not the stack of discs I sometimes come away with, but for the quality of what I got, I’d hardly call it a loss. Two albums that happen to share in being out of place for what they were doing at the time, the math actually works out pretty well. There was never any doubt, but I’m more or less certain that whenever I end up living there, it won’t be the end of my record buying habit. Good to know. If you’re so inclined, check out Armageddon Shop’s website here.

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audiObelisk EXCLUSIVE: Stream Elder’s Spires Burn/Release 12″ in its Entirety

Posted in audiObelisk on July 19th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

Fresh off a three-week tour that ended in Providence, Rhode Island, on July 6, ever-progressing Massachusetts trio Elder — guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto — have already released the follow-up to the sophomore outing they were out supporting. A limited 12″ vinyl (450 copies), Spires Burn/Release builds on the heavy psych intricacies of Dead Roots Stirring while keeping the crucial heaviness that has run a thread through Elder‘s work since their 2008 self-titled MeteorCity debut.

Spires Burn/Release is the first vinyl to be issued on the new label imprint of Armageddon Shop, which has physical stores in Boston and Providence (I’ve been there a couple times). The move into releasing music aligns Armageddon with the original label tradition — the first record labels were stores that wanted to sell music from artists around them; this is how the distribution model as we know it came about — and as Elder follow a similar aesthetic imprint of looking back for inspiration in their forward thinking, it’s all the more fitting that the two should join forces on this 12″. And at a full 22 minutes with a song per side, it’s not exactly a quiet entry into the market.

Both tracks on the offering, “Spires Burn” and “Release” have a clear path set out, but like with Dead Roots Stirring, Elder do well to obscure their linear structures with flourishes of elements from modern heavy psychedelia. Very quickly, the trio is becoming something that no other American band can quite claim to be, and as acoustics blend into the finishing moments of “Release,” the will for exploration and sonic expansion — not necessarily a surprise at this point in their career, especially after the last album — is nonetheless plain to hear. If they were to embark on a new era of krautrock-fueled progressive heaviness without losing sight of the groove at the base of their rhythms, well, I think that would be just fine.

Today I have the extreme pleasure of hosting Spires Burn/Release in its entirety for an exclusive stream. You’ll find both tracks on the player below, followed by some info on how to obtain the vinyl from Armageddon Shop even if you’re not in the Northeast and a few thoughts from DiSalvo on how it all came out. As always, I hope you enjoy:

Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!

Spires Burn/Release is, in my opinion, one step closer to our own sound we’ve been cultivating since Dead Roots Stirring. It’s both more “traditionally” heavy at parts and more experimental in ways, incorporating our personal influences of everything from krautrock to doom. Lyrically, the songs take a turn for the darker from DRS as well, and I think the variety of moods conveyed in the songs makes this our most dynamic release to date. — Nick DiSalvo

Elder‘s Spires Burn/Release is available now from Armageddon Shop at their online store. The striking cover art (click image above to enlarge) is by Fred Struckholz. Thanks to the band and label for letting me stream the songs.

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Buried Treasure and the Mountains Underground

Posted in Buried Treasure on March 14th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

There’s always something special about a basement record store, so I was only too glad to descend the flight of stairs leading to Boston’s Armageddon Shop during my recent trip there to see Black Pyramid, Gozu and Infernal Overdrive at Radio in Somerville. I’d been to the Providence location before, and found it much to my liking, so the Boston one seemed an obvious choice to pass some time before the show.

From what I understand, it’s relatively new, and it looks it. The walls, but for a large cork bulletin board overflowing with flyers, were painted bright white — very neo-black metal — and the floor was clean and unscuffed, kind of emphasizing a minimalist look. It wasn’t cramped, as a lot of record stores are, and the entire right side of the store and most of the left as well was devoted to well-spaced bins of vinyl. A shelf directly across from the entrance had some tapes on it, so I went there first.

It doesn’t appear in the picture above, but that’s only because I’ve been so unwilling to remove it from my car since I made the purchase. For $3.99, I got a cassette of C.O.C.‘s Wiseblood, and of all the money I spent that night, that was hands-down some of the best. CDs took up a whole section of the back wall (there were some dollar boxes as well that I glanced through) with the discs positioned sideways so you had to crane your head even as you bent down to look at the bottom rows.

Turned out to be worth the effort. I bought The Body‘s Anthology, because hey, it’s New England, and Paracletus, by Deathspell Omega, because I figured I’d want it eventually and I might as well spend the money there rather than give it to Amazon or whoever. There was a cheapy copy of last year’s Aphotic by Novembers Doom, and I’ll probably never listen to it, but I got that anyway, just to have it, and a used version of The Late Great Planet Earth by Mos Generator that I figured (rightly) would do my rockin’ soul some good.

The finds of the trip, though, were an original CD issue of Parliament‘s Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome — which fucking rules — and the first Witch Mountain record, Come the Mountain. I’m sure I could find all kinds of reissues of Funkentelechy if I wanted to, but it was cool to hear a first-run pressing (cooler still because it too was $3.99) and Cordell Mosson‘s bass and Bernie Worrell‘s keys make the whole thing. And the Witch Mountain I just figured I’d missed the boat on and would never find, what with it being released over a decade ago, the label Rage of Achilles being defunct and the band being on the other side of the country.

I guess you never know what you’ll find, which is probably the reason I keep going to these places even as they seemingly all start to phase out CDs in favor of vinyl. General compulsion you could consider as a secondary factor, but either way, I was glad I had the chance to hit up this Armageddon Shop, because like the other one in Providence, it was a cause definitely worth supporting. Check out their website here.

 

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Buried Treasure: The Cape Cod Massacre

Posted in Buried Treasure on June 28th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

It’s coming up on two weeks ago now that I was in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to attend a wedding with The Patient Mrs., and while I could easily recount the awkwardness that ensued there at great length, I’d rather talk about buying CDs. I had put it out on the forum that I’d be in the area and was looking for places to go, and a few really good suggestions came back. I didn’t have time to hit everything up, but I made out alright with what I had.

Just hours before the ceremony, I could be found a dingy, unshowered, greasy, smelly wreck of a human being at Spinnaker CDs in Hyannis. The store reminded me of what I recalled Newbury Comics had turned into from visits there years before (I don’t get to Massachusetts that often), with toys and DVDs and t-shirts supplementing the stock of music, which was ample enough. I spent a good 20 minutes dejectedly looking through their “New/Used” racks, not finding much of anything, before I stumbled on the “2 for $10″ wall.

There were a few Man’s Ruin-type goodies — Solarized and Disengaged I remember specifically, but several others too — but it wasn’t anything I didn’t already have. I did manage to grab an advance copy of TAD‘s Inhaler (somebody’s promo went down a long road to get to that shelf) and the self-released version of Proving Ground by Penance. I had the Martyr Music re-release, but figured screw it, the price was good enough and Penance rule.

The young woman behind the counter at Spinnaker was rude enough that even if I lived there, I’d be hesitant to go back. She didn’t tell me to fuck myself or anything, but the contempt was just oozing off her. Granted, I wasn’t at my best, but seriously, it was more than necessary, even for a record store employee. Compared to Newbury Comics at the Cape Cod Mall, which I hit on my way off the arm the next day, she was almost cartoonishly angry. In all likelihood, it had nothing to do with me and I was just the lucky sap who got to absorb it, but still.

I didn’t have any real goals for the weekend of shopping, other than picking up a full copy of the new Karma to Burn record, V, which I reviewed a bit ago (amazing how many broke-ass unsigned bands are willing to send out full-artwork promo CDs to reviewers and how many broke-ass labels aren’t), and they had it on the cheap at Newbury Comics, so I grabbed that, a used non-reissue copy of Turbo by Judas Priest and the Svidd Neger soundtrack by Ulver, which I haven’t been brave enough to listen to yet but was just so enthralled at the idea of finding a used Ulver CD that I had to buy it nonetheless. You just don’t run into that kind of thing that often.

By this point, vaguely hungover from the reception before, I was feeling kind of “meh” about the record shopping experience of the trip. Not that I wasn’t thankful to have found what I did (that TAD promo was cool, and Priest is Priest), but there wasn’t anything that really kicked my ass, so with some little haranguing of The Patient Mrs., I managed to divert our course into Providence for a stop at the Armageddon Shop on Broadway.

Of the trip’s finds, those from Armageddon were easily the best. All used, I picked up Shroud of Bereavement‘s first EP, 1999 Man and Long Day’s Flight ’till Tomorrow by Euroboys (both on Man’s Ruin), Pod People‘s Doom Saloon, the Ramesses/Negative Reaction split on PsycheDOOMelic, Conifer‘s first album, Who Do We Think We Are! by Deep Purple, the American version of We’re Here Because We’re Here by Anathema (such a sucker for that band; I bought it for the three bonus demos), Type O Negative‘s CD single for “Love You to Death,” and — in the spirit of finding The Satellite Circle last time I was at Armageddon and buying it despite knowing nothing about them — The End of Space by No Rest for the Dead.

That turned out to be a little noisier than I’d expected, and more abrasive in the vocals than I was really looking for, but it was cool anyway. Even better, though, was the cassette of Cathedral‘s The Ethereal Mirror for five bucks. They had a couple others too, but I figured that was a decent start. It’s going to suck when my car shits the bed and I don’t have a tape player anymore, but the ride back to Jersey from Rhode Island was pretty much set between that tape and the rest of the trip’s haul.

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