Posted in Reviews on March 31st, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
When I finished yesterday’s reviews, I felt suitably beat, but as ever, there was a bit of catharsis to it too. Today’s pile takes us all the way to the other end of the world and back again to my (relative) back yard, and then loops around one more time for good measure with a few stops in between. While I’m coherent enough to form sentences, you’ll pardon me if I get right to it.
Quarterly Review #11-20:
If the name Motherslug or the cover art look familiar, it’s because the Melbourne double-guitar five-piece initially released their self-titled EP late in 2012 (review here). This NoSlip Records release, however, takes the tracks from that, couples them with cuts from Motherslug’s subsequent outing, a 2014 two-tracker called Three Kings in Darkness, and remasters both for vinyl as one 39-minute full-length. There’s a bit of progression evident in the newer cuts, “Trippin’ on Evil” and “Three Kings in Darkness,” but the LP smartly arranges them so that each ends its respective side, led into by two songs from the self-titled, so the impression is more that Motherslug are expanding their riffy, Southern-style sludge rock sound – which is still true, it just initially happened over two releases – rather than they’re mixing and matching different recordings. By the time you get to either, however, Motherslug will have already bowled over you with rolling, thick sludge riffs that could just as easily have come from Maryland or Virginia as Australia.
Allston(e) newcomers Worshipper make an accomplished-sounding debut with Black Corridor/High above the Clouds, two self-released tracks that mark their first release as a band. The two-guitar four-piece balance classic metal riffs and doom tendencies with soaring-style clean vocals and fast-moving grooves, as much Candlemass as High on Fire. “Black Corridor” wows with its solo but more with its hook, guitarist John Brookhouse and bassist Bob Maloney sharing vocals while Alejandro Necochea adds guitar and Dave Jarvis draws it all together on drums, and “High above the Clouds” adds some choice early-Dio “Egypt”-ology to the mix. It’s a sense of grandeur that’s neither overblown nor mishandled by the winding track, which coupled with its predecessor demonstrates Worshipper’s firm grip on a style melding heavy rock and metal into a take of their own, and a progression beginning that seems to have a definite idea of where it wants to end up. One can’t help but look forward to finding out.
Hard to think of a band from Portland, Oregon, these days as being underrated, but Ape Machine fit the bill all the same. The four-piece of vocalist Caleb Heinze, guitarist Ian Watts, bassist Brian True and drummer Damon de la Paz played Germany’s Freak Valley festival as part of a 2013 European tour in support of the then-recently-released Mangled by the Machine (review here), their third album and Ripple Music debut, and accordingly, most of what shows up on the 48-minute Live at Freak Valley comes from that record, later album cuts like the swaying “Strange are the People” and stomp-slide-fueled “Ruling with Intent” leading to a run through Mangled by the Machine’s first five tracks, in order, to close the set. With a cover of Deep Purple’s “Black Night” (something they also did on their second record) in tow with others from their first two records, Live at Freak Valley makes a solid intro to a group more people should know.
A compilation that draws from Churchburn’s 2013 self-titled and two tracks recorded late in 2013/early in 2014 – opener “Embers of Human Ash” and the subsequent “V” – The Awaiting Coffins revels in its extremity of doom and no-light-shall-pass atmospherics. The duo of vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Dave Suzuki (ex-Vital Remains, among others) and Ray McCaffrey (ex-Sin of Angels) issue the CD/LP via Armageddon Shop, and while there are plenty of droning moments, acoustic interludes and stretches of depressive noise, the Rhode Island outfit is primarily brutal. Suzuki, joined on vocals for the first two cuts by guitarist Kevin Curley and bassist Mike Cardoso, leads a pummeling charge in “V” that’s more death than death-doom, but far be it from me to quibble. For “Come Forth the Swarm,” the Sin of Angels cover “Crown of Fallen Kings” and “Kneel upon Charred Remnants,” it’s just McCaffrey and Suzuki, and the dynamic is different and the recording rawer, but the bleak territory being explored has a similar root. Add on an unlisted cover of Celtic Frost’s “Return to the Eve,” and The Awaiting Coffins is even more of a sure thing.
Instrumental save for some samples, spoken proclamations and field recordings, Thrust/Parry was released by Belgian outfit OMSQ in limited numbers via Navalorama Records on CD to mark the occasion of a late-2014 UK tour, and it showcases an outfit of rare sonic adventurousness. Progressive, heavy structures unfold across three overarching movements in the 68-minute whole of the album, which at any moment makes shifts between dense riffs and crashing drums and exploratory washes of noise sound not only smooth but fitting, culminations like “North Sea” and 16-minute closer “4:48” as much about finishing a story as providing a sonic payoff, each cut serving not only the movement of which it’s component, but also the overarching flow of the record as whole. Stylistically wide open an unhindered by genre constraints, Thrust/Parry is a challenging listen that satisfies in proportion to how much one is willing to shift along with its changes in mood and style. Evocative throughout, it proves more than worth the effort.
Swiss five-piece Unhold trace their lineage back to an early-‘90s demo, but Towering (on Czar of Crickets) is their fourth album since their 2001 full-length debut, Walking Blackwards, and their first offering in seven years since Gold Cut in 2008. Something of an unexpected return from the Bern troupe, then, but not unwelcome, their Neurosis-influenced post-hardcore/post-metal finding renewed expression in the moody unfolding of “I Belong” or the tense bellow of the later, keyboard-infused “Hydra,” moments of triumph in ambient/crushing tradeoffs of “Voice Within” as guitarists Thomas Tschuor and Philipp Thöni step back and pianist Miriam Wolf takes lead vocals for a movement almost Alcest-like in its melodic course. Drummer Daniel Fischer and bassist Leo Matkovic are less a foundation than part of Towering’s nodding, modern-proggy whole, and it probably works better that way in smoothing out the various turns in extended pieces like the title-track or “Dawn,” which provides the apex of the album with the calmer “Ascending” and “Death Dying” as an epilogue.
Three words: Rock and roll. With Boston four-piece The Heave-Ho, it’s less about subgenre and more about paying homage to a classic ideal of straightforward expression. Dead Reckoning, the debut full-length from the lineup of guitarist/vocalist Pete Valle (ex-Quintaine Americana), bassist Keith “Barry” Schleicher (ex-Infernal Overdrive), drummer Dylan Wilson and lead guitarist Lawrence O’Toole, is eight songs (plus a closing radio edit, presumably for WEMF) of unpretentious rendition, steady in its delivery of grown-up-punker hooks and barroom rock such that, when Valle calls for “guitar!” prior to the solo in “Buffalo,” it’s entirely without irony or cynicism. Would be hard for “Thirsty Jesus” not to be a highlight on its title alone, but the lyrics also hold up. With a clean production style, centerpiece moment of clarity in “Afraid to Die,” and particularly riotous finish in “The Line,” Dead Reckoning has little use for stylistic nuance and a confident delivery across the board. Drunk as it is, it does not stumble.
Though Adelaide three-guitar six-piece Crypt title their debut release Kvlt MMXIV, it’s actually a Jan. 2015 release, a half-hour’s worth of stoner chicanery pressed up in a recycled-material digipak with a fold-out liner poster – the lyrics, yes, are written in a rune font – and the disc held in place by a piece of cork. The presentation of the songs themselves is no less off the wall, the lumbering “Green Butter” taking hold from the crust-raw opener “Siberian Exile” with unhinged low-end, drum stomp and some deceptively subtle airy guitar, and the weirdo blues howl of the following “These Last Days” only broadens the scope. Seems fair to say “expect the unexpected” since so much effort has been put into throwing off the frame of reference, but as the fuzz of “Idle Minds” and ambience into righteous groove of closer “Dead River” show, Crypt have more working in their favor than variety for its own sake, namely a fire in their delivery that burns away any slim chance this material had of sounding stale.
Ferocious death-doom meets with melodic atmospheres on Oceanwake’s second album, Sunless – a title that’s not quite a full summary of what the Finnish five-piece have on offer throughout the four tracks/44 minutes. Opener “The Lay of an Oncoming Storm,” also the longest cut at 15:35 (immediate points), shifts back and forth between lumbering brutality and sparse guitar atmospherics, and while one waits for the inevitable clean vocals that would put Oceanwake in league with countrymen Swallow the Sun, they don’t come yet. Instead, the track explodes into crashes and screams. Ten-minute closer “Ephemeral” holds the most satisfying build, but between the two, “Parhelion” (9:09) and “Avanturine” (8:03) manage to remind of the particular melancholic beauty of death-doom – including some of those melodic vocals – and how resonant its contrast of light and dark can be when held together by an emotional core as resonant as that of Oceanwake. Sunless is gorgeous and devastating, and not necessarily alternating between the two.
While one struggles not to be skeptical of any release in this day and age that opens with a “Radio Edit,” I won’t discount the quality of songwriting L.A.-based Lunar Electric display throughout their self-titled EP. Now a duo driven by guitarist/vocalist Dre DiMura, the band is highly-stylized but brims with a classic heavy rock swagger in “Bread and Circuses” (the aforementioned radio edit) and the subsequent “Moonlight,” a steady swing emerging in layers of heavy riffing and DiMura’s own croon, pushed ahead by the straightforward drumming of Kaleen Reading and the low-end heft of bassist Geena Spigarelli. They make a solid trio across “Moonlight” and “Sleepwaker,” which follows with its chugging break foreshadowing closer “Crossfire Child” (video premiere here) while building a tension of its own, though it seems unlikely that whatever Lunar Electric do next will have the same lineup because of geographic spread. Too bad. While young, and somewhat brooding, Lunar Electric nonetheless offer up a work of marked potential in their EP’s quick 17-minute span.
Posted in Reviews on March 9th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
It was the release show for Elder‘s third album, Lore (review here), put out and put on by Armageddon Shop, but also the launch for the Massachusetts trio’s tour with Mos Generator, bringing a new incarnation of the long-running West Coast heavy rock outfit east for the first time. With Magic Circle taking a break from recording their forthcoming second album to open the show with plenty of material of their own to unveil, newness was a sort of running theme for the night. Parking near AS220, however, was not. After chickening out on a spot in front of a hydrant — kudos to whoever took it — I wound up in a pay lot before making my way into Providence’s foremost tour-stop for the first time.
Sandwich orders named for playing cards — Jack of Clubs, Queen of this or that, etc. — were shouted out from a counter opposite the bar, and the place was packed. It sold out, but I was early and managed to get in. Doors opened at 9PM and already there was a decent amount of people who showed up. Magic Circle can be pretty elusive, and by that I mean they’re not on Thee Facebooks, so the chance to see them on such a sans-filler bill wasn’t one to pass up. Armageddon Shop labelmates of Elder‘s, though much more entrenched in doom, they got going maybe a little after 9:30 and it was easy enough to see why AS220 was the kind of place where out-of-towners play. It’s a decent-sized room that still gives an impression of intimacy, with a wide stage, lights if you want them — Magic Circle frontman Brendan Ratigan asked almost immediately that they be turned down — and what seemed like full sound going through the house P.A. Standing in front, I wasn’t in the best place to judge the latter, but the two guitars of Magic Circle came across well if that’s anything to go by.
Their 2013 self-titled debut (review here) brooked little argument in cuts like “Winter Light,” “Rapture” and “Scream Evil,” which were aired, and since the last time I managed to see them was their first show, just over three years prior, their presence on stage had evolved markedly, Ratigan‘s theatrical movements timed to the changes from drummer Q and bassist Justin DeTore, or the riffing of guitarists Chris Corry and Dan Ducas, which seems to have gotten even more in line with traditional/classic metal on their newer songs. They didn’t give a name for the second record, but “The Damned Man,” “Lightning Cage” and set opener “Journey Blind” were distinguished by faster tempos offsetting doomed riffs and an aggressive — in the case of “Lightning Cage,” almost thrashing — rendering. That might have been a symptom of the live setting, or it might be Magic Circle tapping into their Boston hardcore roots. In any case, they made it work and having gotten a taste, I’m even more intrigued to find out what the whole of their sophomore outing will bring upon its arrival later this year.
They had new material. Mos Generator had a new band. Founding guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed swapped out drummer Shawn Johnson and bassist Scooter Haslip for Scotty VanDweller and Sean Booth, respectively, earlier this year, and as I understand it, at least part of the reason why was to facilitate touring. Reed announced from the stage that it was Mos Generator‘s first time on the East Coast in many years, and AS220 gave them due welcome as they ran through songs mostly from 2012’s Nomads (review here) and last year’s Electric Mountain Majesty (review here), making highlights of “Beyond the Whip,” the slower “Early Mourning” and the title-track of the latter, which offered the evening’s most unabashed boogie. “Lonely One Kenobi” and set-finale “This is the Gift of Nature” featured from Nomads and provided a fitting showcase for the burgeoning dynamic between Reed, Booth and VanDweller. They had been playing more or less nightly since the middle of February, and if I’m not mistaken, had driven two days from Minneapolis to Providence for this gig, so while one might’ve gotten the sense of this version of the band being a recent advent — and mind you, if I didn’t know that going in, I’m not sure I would have — they’d already had a couple weeks to start smoothing rough edges, and it showed.
And since it’s worth specifically pointing out, I stood in front of Booth‘s bass amp for the set and his tone was an absolute delight. VanDweller had more than enough swing to carry across Mos Generator‘s classic influences, and Reed made a charismatic frontman — the only other time I’ve seen him on stage was with Stone Axe, in which he played guitar and handled backup vocals — goading the crowd after each song and reminding the room “We’re working hard up here!” before laughing at how long he’s used that line, but in true West Coast form, Booth fed his bass through a Verellen Meat Smoke preamp, and at least from where I was positioned, there was a good part of the set that played out like a commercial for the thing. Obviously that’s not all there is to developing a tone, but it certainly didn’t hurt. Mos Generator will be back on the Eastern Seaboard this summer for the Eye of the Stoned Goat 5 after finishing out this tour and, if I’m not mistaken, hitting Europe, and I’ll look forward to checking out how the intervening time on the road has brought them together.
So we’ve gone from new material to new band, and with Elder, it’s a new album. Lore turned plenty of heads in the weeks leading up to its Feb. 24 release through Armageddon Shop (Stickman Records in Europe), and positioned as the evening’s headliner, drummer Matt Couto, bassist Jack Donovan and guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo gave the album its due, playing it front to back for the packed-out AS220. No doubt the room would’ve been more familiar with the record a little further down the line, but it’s hard to call it a release show two months later, and “Compendium,” “Legend,” “Lore,” “Deadweight” and “Spirit at Aphelion” had no trouble winning the crowd over. Though it was upwards of 20 degrees and still very much winter outside as the sheets of ice and piles of dirty frozen snow on the sidewalk could attest, up near the stage it was broiling hot, and it’s not exactly as if Elder‘s winding riffs are simple or like the spiraling prog-rock apex of “Legend” requires little effort. Like Reed and company before them, Elder were also working hard up there.
For a good cause, though. Elder will spend most of the rest of this month on tour, hitting SXSW, the Midwest and of course the East Coast, and while they’ve done strings of dates in Europe before, and while they’ll play Psycho California this May ensuring at least a little time out west, their arrival as a “touring band” feels due. They could complete this run, do the Psycho CA fest, and not book anything else for the rest of the year. That’s entirely possible, but I don’t think it’s the way things are going to play out, and the vitality they showed on stage looked sustainable. That is to say, Elder seemed ready at AS220 for the task they’d set for themselves. Their sound has progressed from the stoner roots of their 2008 self-titled through 2011’s Dead Roots Stirring (review here) and the subsequent 2012 EP, Spires Burn/Release (streamed here), and Lore is a fitting snapshot of where their creative evolution is now: Clear-headed, crisp in its delivery and the beneficiary of some of the best elements of their prior work. I missed the extra Mellotron-esque guitar layers in what on the record is the highlight moment of the title-track, I’ll be honest, and there were some kinks to iron out in changes elsewhere, but their enjoyment of the songs felt earnest, and they played like a band hitting their stride, which is more than one could feasibly ask for the first night of a tour.
One could see it even in the visual continuity on stage between DiSalvo, Couto and Donovan, their comfort with each other’s style. Right down to how they stood, with Donovan turning to face the others, completing a sort of semi-circle with DiSalvo also angled slightly inwards and Couto in the middle, facing out, they looked like a professional band who had sorted out what they wanted to do and how they wanted to do it. Their sound was the same way, and though they’d played for an hour, when they were done and the house lights came up, people were still shouting for more. Rightfully so. On a night where each act had something fresh to offer the room, Elder not only presented their third album to mark the occasion of its release, but stood on the precipice of a new era for themselves, and jumped, loudly, into its beginning.
More pics after the jump. Thanks to you for reading, to John Pegoraro for the company and to Fred Struckholz for the poster.
Posted in Reviews on February 19th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
There are really two approaches one might take in considering Lore, the third full-length from Massachusetts trio Elder, released in the US by Armageddon Shop and in Europe on Stickman Records. The short way is to say they’ve turned from the deep-toned heavy psych style of their 2011 sophomore outing, Dead Roots Stirring (review here), and used that as a basis for a more clear-headed, progressive approach to riffing. The long way is to sit and map out every turn Lore‘s five included tracks make over the course of their combined 59 minutes, every change, every moment where sprawl meets crunch, every soundscape, melodic impression, rhythmic pivot, etc. Frankly, neither approach does the album justice. The former cheats the songs — “Compendium” (10:39), “Legend” (12:31), “Lore” (15:57), “Deadweight” (9:27) and “Spirit at Aphelion” (10:32) — of their due consideration on an individual level, and the latter wrongly discounts the impression of Lore as a whole, which is how, despite its 2LP length, it is best experienced. One hopes, then, to find some middle ground, as the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo (also keys), bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto have done on the Justin Pizzoferrato-produced outing, which follows 2012’s two-song Spires Burn/Release EP (review here) and seems to be pushing further along those stylistic lines. That’s no surprise. Each Elder release has built on the last — Dead Roots Stirring was a leap from the band’s stoner-riffed 2008 self-titled debut (interview here), released on MeteorCity, and Lore is likewise a leap from that second album — and it seems that if they don’t have something to say, Elder aren’t interested in putting out a record every year just for the sake of doing so. Their musical progression is that much easier to trace for the stretches between outings, and Lore, as was Spires Burn/Release, as was Dead Roots Stirring, as was Elder, is their defining work to date. A landmark.
Those who worshiped at the altar of Dead Roots Stirring might be surprised on first listen at just how clean Lore sounds, the beginning guitar taps of “Compendium” a clarion both of the proggier feel that pervades and of the clarity of the production that follows suit. It’s not, however, as simple as the band jumping ship from one style to another — much of DiSalvo‘s style of riffing remains the same, and Donovan‘s basslines still circle around the guitar only to land back at the root just at the right moment, and Couto‘s swing and crash is as prevalent as ever — it’s just what they do with these signature elements that results in the impression of growth. In “Compendium”‘s airy midsection, in the snare work under the guitar solo in the second half of “Legend,” in “Lore”‘s post-break Mellotron-inclusive triumphant swell of crash cymbal, guitar and bass, and in the energetic, circular riffing to which it leads, in “Deadweight”‘s atmospheric opening and more straightforward, linear framework, and in the running acoustic lines that begin “Spirit at Aphelion,” one finds some standout factor or moment in each of Lore‘s individual pieces, but the evolution of the band is as evident in how well songs feed into each other as it is in the songs themselves. On a linear format (CD, digital), Lore is an encompassing front-to-back listen, and while the side-flips of a 2LP allow for more focus on each track — not to mention a fuller, frame-worthy view of Adrian Dexter‘s stunning artwork — being carried along the record’s sundry builds and cascades uninterrupted is a markedly satisfying way to experience it. The ground they cover across “Compendium,” the shiver-down-the-spine launch and turns of “Legend” and “Lore” — each longer than the last until the 16-minute title-track takes hold as the centerpiece and most expansive inclusion — would be enough for most full-lengths on its own, let alone the building riffs of “Deadweight” and some of the leftover Colour Haze influence they show in that track, or the stomping pre-fadeout finale “Spirit at Aphelion” provides, its deep-mixed keyboard line (that might be plucked guitar) the theme holding it all together.
Still, in taking Lore as a whole, it’s hard to discount the singular achievement of the title-track and the textures DiSalvo, Donovan and Couto craft across its span, from its immediately heavy opening, melodic verses, through the guitar-guided ambient break in the middle and the heights to which they build from the ground up in the second half, the song pulsing back to life at about 10 minutes in with a wash of mellotron, crash and guitar, before heading off at a full-run an on instrumental psych-prog exploration, topped here by a solo, shifting there into single hits before unfurling the massive-sounding, insistent riff that provides the apex before acoustic and electric guitar intertwine over the fadeout. Its transitions alone make for a remarkable accomplishment, but how well the song flows between its parts easily stands in for how well Lore, the album, shifts between its movements, “Deadweight” picking up from that fadeout quietly at first to hypnotize for two minutes before kicking into the lead-topped introduction of its meaty verse riff. After “Compendium,” “Legend” and “Lore,” it would be easy to think of “Deadweight” as a stylistic pullback before “Spirit at Aphelion”‘s early psych-folkish resonance — an impulse that one hopes Elder will continue to build on — and later adrenaline surge of a finish, but it’s not. It’s really just a kind of introductory track those who’ve made their way past “Lore” and onto side D know that Elder‘s story isn’t as simple as a phrase like “gone prog” could encapsulate. Their argument for a slot at Duna Jam? Maybe. If so, it’s a solid case. Either way, Lore brings new context to Elder within heavy rock, as they emerge not so much as a band taking influence from others, but one whose shifts, flow and songwriting are all the more dizzying for the sense of control behind them. Anyone still longing for a short version might take comfort in “Elder have matured,” but the truth of Lore is more than that, and the album distinguishes the trio from just about everybody in American heavy one might otherwise consider their peers, standing as their most individualized statement to date and one that seems poised to have a lasting influence of its own in years to come. For now, I’ve no doubt it will be counted among 2015’s best albums. Recommended.
Posted in Features on January 21st, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
This is the longest list of anything I’ve ever done, and it might be the longest I ever do. The truth is, when I started keeping track of things coming out in 2015, back around October/November, I had no idea what I was getting into. More and more names just kept getting added to the list, and between solid release dates, bands entering the studio, writing sessions underway and the usual round of vague “they’re due”-type speculation, it kept growing. Even now, I’m quite sure that by the time I’m finished with this, I’ll add something else, and 90 will become 91, and then someone will point out something glaring I forgot and 91 will become 92, and so on.
I don’t think I could reasonably expect anyone to read 90 complete entries, so I’ve broken it down somewhat. There are 52 weeks in a year, so my thinking is that if you buy one record per week, I’ve got recommendations to carry through till December (with the acknowledgement that we’re already a couple weeks into 2015) and then more beyond that. Even asking you to skim 52 entries is a lot, but hell, we’ve got 12 months until 2016, so there’s plenty of time. We’ll do 52 entries and then list the others, both alphabetically.
Thank you in advance for reading.
1. Acid King, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere
If this was my year-end list instead of my year-start list, Acid King‘s Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere would be my album of the year. Best album of 2015 about 20 days into it? Maybe. The Oakland trio’s first outing in nearly a decade is a joy of languid riffing and heavy spaceout, songs like “Coming down from Outer Space” and “Center of Everywhere” reminding of just what it is we’ve been missing about Acid King all these years. They’ve continued to play live all that time, of course, and Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere, which is due April 14 on Svart, plainly demonstrates that they’ve lost none of the potency for years absent from studio work. More to come. Acid King on Thee Facebooks, Svart Records.
2. All Them Witches, TBA
The Nashville four-piece blew up following the 2013 digital release of their second album, Lightning at the Door, which saw a physical pressing last year (review here), and with a growing public at their heels and a salivating underground press anxious to hear what they come up with next, All Them Witches hit the studio this month to put together their third full-length. They’re on tour in Feb., and it seems reasonable to expect they’ll be trying out new material on the road, but as free-flowing as Lightning at the Door was, it’s hard not to consider the follow-up one of 2015’s most anticipated records, whenever it arrives and whatever shape(s) it takes. All Them Witches on Thee Facebooks, official website.
3. Anthroprophh, U.F.O.
Guitarist/vocalist PaulAllen, formerlyof TheHeads,teamed up with Jesse Webb and Gareth Turner of the duo Big Naturals as his rhythm section for 2014’s Outside the Circle (review here), and for his new release under the Anthroprophh moniker for Cardinal Fuzz, Allen centers around different U.F.O. abduction reports from the UK between 1954 and 1978, each of the eight tracks taking its name from the date and location of a reported incident. Sound fucking awesome? Yeah, I agree. Expect raw psychedelic experimentation, heavy swing and interpretive instrumentalism galore on the two-sided release when it gets declassified on Feb. 2, pressed in an edition of 500 copies. Anthroprophh on Thee Facebooks, Cardinal Fuzz.
4. Arenna, TBA
Spanish heavy psych outfit Arenna will release the follow-up to their 2011 Nasoni Records debut, Beats of Olarizu (review here), and they just this week posted the 10-minute opener “Butes” from their sophomore outing (listen here). The first album earned them a hearty following, and it’s been four years since it came out, but somehow I doubt Arenna will have much trouble picking up where they left off in their wide-open, jam-heavy sound. They mark a decade together in 2015, and they seem to just be getting started, so I’m particularly interested to learn how the European heavy underground takes to their second LP, which is due to be mastered next month and released sometime thereafter. Arenna on Thee Facebooks, on Bandcamp.
5. The Atomic Bitchwax, Gravitron
New Bitchwax? Sold. The stalwart New Jersey three-piece — now featuring two members of Monster Magnet — will release Gravitron on April 21 via Tee Pee Records, just in time to make a stop a few days later at Desertfest London 2015. They toured Europe last summer as well, and I think the fact that they’ll be over that way when they put Gravitron out speaks volumes to their priorities at this point, but who can blame them? Perpetually underappreciated in the US, they’ll follow-up 2011’s The Local Fuzz (review here) in grand form at Desertfest (they play Berlin as well), finally getting their due even if they have to get on a plane to get it. The Atomic Bitchwax on Thee Facebooks, Tee Pee Records.
6. Black Cobra, TBA
Hints were dropped back in November that raging two-piece Black Cobra were working on material for a new album. Whenever it arrives, this year or next, it will be their sixth and first since 2011’s Invernal (review here), which I don’t think I’m alone in counting as their finest moment to-date. They’ll also be at Desertfest for a return appearance, and wherever they go, devastation follows. They posted this week that their tour van has passed the 300,000-mile mark, which is emblematic of the workout they’ve given it over the last decade-plus, and I’d expect no slowdown, tempo or itinerary-wise, from them in 2015, regular oil changes notwithstanding. Black Cobra on Thee Facebooks, Southern Lord Recordings.
7. Black Rainbows, Hawkdope
There are 90-someodd bands included in this feature, all told. Might be over 100. I’m not sure anybody beats Italian trio Black Rainbows in the album-title department, however. Hawkdope, man. Hard to mess with that. Guitarist/vocalist Gabriele Fiori continues to keep his finger on the pulse of European heavy rock with his Heavy Psych Sounds imprint, and while I haven’t heard Hawkdope yet, it seems likely they’ll continue the push toward heavy psychedelia that 2013’s Holy Moon EP (discussed here) and their inclusions in last year’s four-way split (review here) spoke of, but of course, they can always throw down some top notch fuzz riffing as well. Black Rainbows on Thee Facebooks, on Bandcamp.
8. Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth
Six years after the arrival of their demo (review here), Brothers of the Sonic Cloth will make their self-titled debut through Neurot Recordings on Feb. 17. Immediately notable for being the brainchild of guitarist/vocalist Tad Doyle (ex-TAD), bassist Peggy “Pegadeth” Doyle and drummer Dave French, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth pushes plodding heavy into seething aggression with a lumber only made more potent by Billy Anderson‘s production. It’s been a while in the making, true, but the album’s execution leaves no room for argument in its lung-deflating tonal density. Justifies the wait and then some. Brothers of the Sonic Cloth on Thee Facebooks, Neurot Recordings.
9. Chiefs, Tomorrow’s Over
With vinyl to follow in May on Battleground Records, Arizona/SoCal heavy rockers Chiefs will release their debut LP, Tomorrow’s Over, via Roosevelt Row on Feb. 24. Its striking cover art by David Paul Seymour offers immediate intrigue, as did Chiefs‘ inclusion on their 2014 split 7″ with Fuzz Evil (streamed here). The song from that, “Stone Bull,” won’t be featured on the album, but all four cuts from Chiefs‘ 2013 Buffalo Roam demo will, which should give you some indication as to how much the trio got it right the first time around. The title-track of the demo opens, and the album takes its name from one of the demo tracks as well, so it all ties together. Chiefs on Thee Facebooks, Battleground Records, Roosevelt Row Records.
10. Clutch, TBA
Clutch‘s Earth Rocker (review here) was the undisputed high point of 2013, and the long-running Maryland four-piece have returned to the Machine Shop studio (now located in Texas) to record the follow-up to it. They’ve been playing new material live for a while now, as they’ll do, and while they always manage to change things up from album to album, the fact that they’ve going back to work with Machine again makes in plain that they’re where they want to be at this point sound-wise. As if there was ever any doubt. Their forever-tour will continue, but it’s good to know they’re taking a little break from the road to put together another slab for their always-expanding, always-frothing fanbase. Clutch on Thee Facebooks, Weathermaker Music.
11. Conan, TBA
I’m not sure if it will be out before the end of 2015, but whenever it arrives, the next Conan should be a much different affair than we’ve yet heard from the UK thunderplodders, whose 2014 Napalm Records debut, Blood Eagle (review here), further established their dominance among the heaviest bands in doom. Since that album hit, guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis has traded out two-thirds of the trio, bringing in producer Chris Fielding on bass/vocals and new drummer Rich Lewis. Davis‘ riffs have always been at the core of what makes Conan the beast they are, so I wouldn’t expect much fixing of what isn’t broken, but don’t be surprised if some different personalities emerge in Fielding and Lewis as well. Conan on Thee Facebooks, Conan’s webstore.
12. Colour Haze, To the Highest Gods We Know
Yeah, I’m sneaking this one in here. Sorry, but frankly, I think Colour Haze deserve more than a toss-it-out-there mid-December album release date, so instead of the CD release, which was last month, I’m choosing to think of the impending Feb./March vinyl issue as the official one for To the Highest Gods We Know (review here), which is both a fascinating and fitting answer to Colour Haze‘s 2012 outing, She Said (review here). Feels strange so early in the year to start calling out end-of-year highlights, but between this and Acid King, I feel like two of my top five are already set in stone, and that’s a pretty good start to any year. Colour Haze are one of the most important heavy rock bands of their generation, and they continue to expand their form and the genre as a whole. Colour Haze’s website, Elektrohasch Schallplatten.
13. Corrections House, TBA
Their totalitarian fetishizing well intact, the it’s-a-supergroup-but-don’t-call-it-a-supergroup Corrections House announced back in November that they’d have a sophomore effort out this year to follow their 2013 debut, Last City Zero. The returning lineup of guitarist Scott Kelly (Neurosis), vocalist Mike Williams (Eyehategod), saxophonist Bruce Lamont (Yakuza) and keyboardist/programmer Sanford Parker (Buried at Sea, etc.) is enough to warrant attention in itself, and while their industrial tinged output isn’t really my thing sound-wise, they’re not an assemblage easily ignored. Hopefully a recently canceled round of tour dates doesn’t derail the new release plams. Corrections House on Thee Facebooks, at Neurot Recordings.
14. Corsair, One Eyed Horse
Virginian dual-guitar classic heavy rock/metallers Corsair are now three years removed from their Shadow Kingdom Records self-titled debut (review here), and their new album, One Eyed Horse, arrives with a striking-almost-disturbing cover and a refined progressive edge. Their melodic sensibility has never been in question, and guitarists Marie Landragin and Paul Sebring, bassist Jordan Brunk (who, like the guitarists, contributes vocals) and drummer Michael Taylor will look to expand their reach even further with the eight new vinyl-ready tracks. One looks forward to the album and hopes for a tour in equal measure. Corsair’s website, Shadow Kingdom Records.
15. Crypt Sermon, Out of the Garden
Classic doom bleeds through the cover of Philly five-piece Crypt Sermon‘s debut full-length, Out of the Garden. Set to release Feb. 24 on Dark Descent Records, I’d expect Out of the Garden to be an early highlight for the year in doom despite being Crypt Sermon‘s first outing. Their Demo MMXIII (review here) found them well schooled in the tenets of the downtrodden, and while the record may end up a sleeper, it’s one that no doubt will find its way to the right ears; namely those of the old school doomers tired of psychedelic idolatry, who want something dark, beaten and grueling without concern for genre-melding or novelty. So, doom on. Crypt Sermon on Thee Facebooks, Dark Descent Records.
16. Ecstatic Vision, TBA
Also based in Philadelphia, heavy psych troupe Ecstatic Vision signed to Relapse on the strength of a demo and an apparent willingness to hit the road — they’ll do so this spring alongside YOB and Enslaved — and as just about any band who’s ever sent that label a rough recording will likely tell you, that’s no small feat. I was fortunate enough to catch them in Brooklyn last month (opening for YOB, as it happened), and the appeal was easy to see in their space rock jamming, lighting effects and propensity for deceptively quick rhythmic turns. A debut offering is reportedly due this year, and as it will come after they spend a month on the road, I expect it will be something to behold. Ecstatic Vision on Thee Facebooks, Relapse Records.
17. Elder, Lore
What to say about Elder? They’re a bright spot in the hope for the next generation of heavy rock, but they were that already. What really distinguishes their third album, Lore, is the fiercely progressive bent of the tracks, songs like “Compendium” (streamed here) taking the hypnotic rhythms of 2012’s Dead Roots Stirring (review here) and refining what Elder — the trio of guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto — do with a newfound clarity of purpose and precision execution. They make well-thought-out songs sound exciting front to back, and if you’ve ever dug anything they’ve done, you’re going to shit a brick when you hear the title-track of Lore. Elder on Thee Facebooks, Armageddon Shop, Stickman Records.
18. Enslaved, In Times
I make no bones or apologies about being an Enslaved fan. The Norwegian progressive black metallers strip down their presentation with In Times, the follow-up to 2012’s Riitiir (review here), solidifying some aspects of their approach while nodding at the brutality of yore in a still-somehow-forward-thinking manner. They never fail to deliver, and they’ve long since hit a stride where they can deliver album after album and come up with ways to advance their sound each time out. Recording themselves has only made them bolder over their last couple records, and In Times benefits from this in its brought-to-fruition experiments as well. It would take a lot for these guys to do wrong in my eyes. Enslaved on Thee Facebooks, Nuclear Blast Records.
19. Eye, TBA
They’re the Midwest’s inadvertent answer to the West Coast’s Moog-prog vibing, and Ohio’s Eye want for nothing in comparison to any of their coastal contemporaries. The photo above was taken recently in the studio — I’ll just assume the room is actually that color when they record and that that is not, in fact, an Instagram filter — tracking their third record and follow-up to 2013’s brilliant-yes-brilliant Second Sight (review here), which rightfully garnered attention far and wide. No release date yet for the new one from what I’ve seen, but the album is reportedly done, so hopefully it won’t be too long before it sees release, most likely on vinyl since that seems to be where the band’s heart lies. Eye on Thee Facebooks, on Bandcamp.
20. Freedom Hawk, TBA
After an appearance last year at Roadburn and confirmation of a return trip to Europe this spring for Freak Valley in Germany, Virginia’s Freedom Hawk would seem to have considerably expanded their reach. Last year saw them lose guitarist Matt Cave and transition from a four-piece to a trio, and they were in the studio in the fall to record their second album for Small Stone behind their 2011 label debut, Holding On (review here), and while I’m not sure if it’s finished or if it will be out in time for the band’s sojourn abroad, one assumes it will be out sooner or later. Their late-2013 Live at the Jewish Mother download makes a decent stopgap if you’ve got a hankering, but they’re due for a new one for sure. Freedom Hawk on Thee Facebooks, Small Stone Records.
21. Glowsun, Glowsun
In a recent discussion about finally picking up Glowsun‘s 2012 outing, Eternal Season, I said I wasn’t going to miss their next record, so I guess you could call this me holding myself to that task. The French heavy psych outfit have a new one, apparently self-titled — though of course I could be wrong; I’m just going by the album art — due out for release this Spring. I haven’t seen an official date from Napalm for when it’s due, but it’s not one I’m going to let slip by one way or another as I did for far too long with Eternal Season. Some mistakes don’t bear repeating, and Glowsun‘s output is of a quality that demands immediacy. At least now I know it. Ha. Glowsun on Thee Facebooks, Napalm Records.
22. Goatsnake, TBA
Rumors abound about a new Goatsnake. They’re in the studio, this is done, that isn’t done, they’re over here, over there. They’re headlining Freak Valley and playing Psycho California, and they headlined Southwest Terror Fest III last fall, but the last official word I saw about a new album — it would be their first since their 2004 Trampled Under Hoof EP — was last Sept., when word came down that it was happening at all and that Southern Lord would put it out. A timetable on when would be convenient, but maybe that’s asking too much and I should be grateful it’s even being discussed. They remain on my bucket list of bands to see before I die. One of these days I’ll get there. Southern Lord Recordings, Southern Lord on Thee Facebooks.
23. Gozu, TBA
Probably the biggest change for Boston’s Gozu since the 2013 release of their second album for Small Stone, The Fury of a Patient Man (review here), is the solidification of their lineup. As they enter into the process for their third Small Stone outing, they’ll do so with bassist Joe Grotto and drummer Mike Hubbard. Grotto played on part of Fury, but Hubbard (ex-Warhorse) is a new presence entirely in the band. They’ve also experimented with a third guitarist, so they might not be so solidified, but they’ve got a monster of a core four-piece to work with in Grotto, Hubbard, guitarist/vocalist Marc Gaffney and guitarist Doug Sherman, and they seem poised to get the most out of the chemistry they’ve busted their collective ass to develop. Gozu on Thee Facebooks, Small Stone Records.
24. High on Fire, TBA
I feel like a new High on Fire record isn’t even just an event for heavy rock at this point but for metal as a whole. The Matt Pike-fronted three-piece hit the studio this month (this week?) after a quick tour up the East Coast, returning to Massachusetts to work with Converge‘s Kurt Ballou at his Godcity Studios, where they also busted out 2012’s De Vermis Mysteriis (review here). For anyone who heard that record, it should be plain why they’d want to work with Ballou again — even enough to go to Massachusetts in January — and whenever their next one shows up, no doubt it will do so as one of 2015’s most anticipated offerings. I’m not sure what to expect other than “heavy,” but that’s enough to go on for now. High on Fire on Thee Facebooks, eOne Metal.
25. Hollow Leg, TBA
My interest was piqued early last year when Floridian sludgers Hollow Leg issued their God-Eater single and spoke of it as the beginning of a change in direction. The change? More melody, a less outright aggressive style, more of an emphasis on thickness rather than rawness. As a starting point, the song “God-Eater” seemed to bode well, and I’m hoping in 2015 that Hollow Leg follow through at least partially on its promise. Not that the viciousness of 2013’s second LP, Abysmal (review here), left me particularly wanting, just that they seemed to be following a fulfilling new-ish path, and I thought the sound was one worth pursuing. They’ve said their third will be out this year, so I’ll take it. Hollow Leg on Thee Facebooks, on Bandcamp.
26. Horsehunter, Caged in Flesh
Australian four-piece Horsehunter made an impression a few weeks back with the 16-minute “Stoned to Death,” the opening track from their Magnetic Eye Records debut LP, Caged in Flesh, and it stands to reason why. Crushing tones, brutal vibes and hints of psychedelic wash abounded on what was a gripping sample of the album, which the band had recorded, scapped because it wasn’t heavy enough and then recorded again. There are four songs on Caged in Flesh, so “Stoned to Death” is literally just the beginning for Horsehunter, whose foreboding atmospherics come across no less punishing than their most weighted of tones. Horsehunter on Thee Facebooks, Magnetic Eye Records.
27. Kind, TBA
I’ve been lucky enough to see Boston four-piece Kind play twice, the lineup of vocalist Craig Riggs (also Roadsaw), guitarist Darryl Shepard (also Black Pyramid, Blackwolfgoat, etc.), bassist Tom Corino (also Rozamov) and drummer Matt Couto (also Elder) taking shape visibly from one show to the next. Their debut full-length is in progress now at the Riggs-owned Mad Oak Studios in Allston, and while I don’t think I can say yet what label it’s coming out on (it’s not Small Stone), the latest word I’ve gotten is that a summer release is booked. Definitely interested to hear how the jams I’ve seen live translate to a studio recording, and how Corino‘s tone comes through Mad Oak‘s board. Kind on Thee Facebooks, on Soundcloud.
28. Kings Destroy, Kings Destroy
So, you’d think the pic of Kings Destroy bassist Aaron Bumpus above is from some recent studio shot while they’re tracking their third album, right? Nope. The self-titled’s been in the can for months. It’s out in April on War Crime Recordings. What Kings Destroy are doing now is working on album number four, and I bet before it comes out, they’ll be on number five. Fiercely creative. I’ve had the KD record for I don’t know how long at this point, and it’s the best thing they’ve done yet. I can’t even pretend to feign impartiality after being asked to tour with them twice last year — a fucking blessing both times — but it’s the closest they’ve come to their live sound so far and that progress suits them remarkably well. Kings Destroy on Thee Facebooks, War Crime Recordings.
29. Lamprey, TBA
The two-bass Portland trio Lamprey‘s recent stop-motion video for “Iron Awake” served due notice of their impending album, as yet untitled, and while it’s the shortest track on there by a considerable margin, it nonetheless represents the big-crash, big-impact severity of the outing as a whole. Not sure through what label it will surface if one at all or on what media it will be pressed — the word burning above, which I hope is the album cover, may or may not be — but the full-length seems poised to establish them as a force after 2012’s The Burden of Beasts EP (review here) brought their sometimes-plodding, sometimes-sprinting heavy rock into focus. Also, one of the songs is called “Lament of the Deathworm,” and that just rules. Lamprey on Thee Facebooks, on Bandcamp.
30. Lord Dying, Poisoned Altars
The hard-touring Portlanders teamed up with Dark Castle drummer Rob Shaffer for their sophomore outing for Relapse Records, Poisoned Altars (review here), and though he’s since out of the band, his presence bolsters the songs in Lord Dying‘s blend of High on Fire-style thrash and Crowbar-loyal sludge. A pervasive sense of simplicity helps the material achieve maximum force, but the hard-won nature of Lord Dying‘s cohesion isn’t to be understated or underappreciated — they did about 18 months of touring in support of their first effort, Summon the Faithless. At least they know their time wasn’t misspent. Seems likely they’ll continue to pound the pavement throughout 2015, so keep an eye open. Lord Dying on Thee Facebooks, Relapse Records.
31. Magic Circle, TBA
Rest assured, I’ve seen zero confirmation that a new Magic Circle album is under way. There’s been no word from the by-now-notoriously secretive Massachusetts-based band or their label, Armageddon Shop, on the subject of a follow-up to their 2013 self-titled debut (review here). This is rampant speculation. Their first 7″ was recently re-pressed, though, so there’s activity in their camp one way or another. They also made their way out to Seattle in October to open for Satan, which only emphasizes the fact that you never really know when they’re going to show up until they do. Ditto that their next album, I suppose. Hopefully this year it happens. Armageddom Shop website, on Thee Facebooks.
32. The Midnight Ghost Train, Cold was the Ground
Riotous Southern heavy rockers The Midnight Ghost Train have outdone themselves with their Napalm Records debut, Cold was the Ground, taking the rager blues of 2012’s Buffalo (review here) to new heights of manic push. After several years of steady touring, the Kansas-based trio of guitarist/vocalist Steve Moss, drummer Brandon Burghart and bassist Mike Boyne are an explosive live act, and as the recent video premiere for “Gladstone” showcased, their third album reaps the rewards of their labors. It’s due to release March 10 in North America, but I really don’t need to note the date, because you’ll hear it coming a mile away like the freight train that it is. The Midnight Ghost Train on Thee Facebooks, Napalm Records.
33. Minsk, TBA
A new Minsk full-length is an utterly fascinating thought. Sorry if that sounds cold or overly clinical, but it’s true. Consider that it’s been six years since the Chicago post-metallers last released an album. That record, 2009’s With Echoes in the Movement of Stone (review here), hit at what was arguably the pinnacle of post-metal’s stylistic movement, the waters having since receded in no small part because Minsk wasn’t around to push forward creatively. Now, with slots booked at Roadburn and Desertfest, they’ll make a return to the studio as well, and I have absolutely zero idea of what to expect from them. A partially-revamped, Sanford Parker-less lineup only adds further intrigue. Minsk on Thee Facebooks, on Bandcamp.
34. Mondo Drag, Mondo Drag
This is one of I think two or three releases on this list that’s already out. The self-titled Mondo Drag (review here) nonetheless warrants inclusion for its heavy psych boogie concoctions and natural-toned spirit, not full-on retro but still well-indebted to the heavy ’70s in its use of organ and guitar and the swing of its rhythm section. That rhythm section? Zack Anderson and Cory Berry, who, fresh out of Radio Moscow, stepped in to record with fellow Iowans Mondo Drag in 2012 before founding Blues Pills. A shortlived moment in Mondo Drag‘s history, perhaps, but they got a killer record out of it, and while the recordings are already three years old, they’re well worth the time to appreciate. Mondo Drag on Thee Facebooks, Bilocation Records.
35. Monolord, Vaenir
Swedish trio Monolord won over hearts and minds bigtime with their 2014 RidingEasy Records debut, Empress Rising, earning a spot on the 2014 Readers Poll right between Eyehategod and Mastodon. That’s rather significant company to keep — and all the more so for a band’s first record — and with Vaenir, we’ll get to hear how the intervening year has seen them progress. They’ve already proven a favorite among the converted, and they’ll tour in Feb./March with Salem’s Pot ahead of an appearance at Roadburn prior to Vaenir‘s April 28 arrival date, so it looks like they’ll keep their momentum moving forward through the release and most likely beyond. Monolord on Thee Facebooks, RidingEasy Records.
36. Neurosis, TBA
Okay. I don’t know that Neurosis‘ next album will be out in 2015. It’s just not a thing I know. What I know is that the ultra-seminal five-piece are getting together to write in Feb., and that they’re a no-bullshit band when it comes to writing and recording, so the timing works that, if they make new songs happen this winter, their record would probably be ready for release sometime in the summer or early fall. That’s what I’m going on. It might be that they write half the album now and half in 2016, but from what I hear they’re planning on doing some more significant touring this year, so it would stand to reason they’d want to do it with a follow-up to 2012’s Honor Found in Decay (review here) under their collective belt. We’ll see what we get. Neurosis on Thee Facebooks, Neurot Recordings.
37. Pentagram, TBA
I saw Pentagram play 20 shows last year. Believe me when I say the pairing of frontman Bobby Liebling and guitarist Victor Griffin has never seemed stronger musically, and with bassist Greg Turley and drummer Sean Saley, Pentagram head into the making of their next album firing on all proverbial cylinders. Metal Blade, who also issued their 2011 comeback album, Last Rites (review here), seems the likely outlet for the yet-untitled offering, which the band will herald with a headlining performance at Psycho California alongside Sleep and Cult of Luna on May 15-17, and which will no doubt dig deep into Pentagram‘s long history of doom for a trove of classic-style riffs. Pentagram on Thee Facebooks, Metal Blade Records.
38. Ruby the Hatchet, Valley of the Snake
A not-so-subtle Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats influence permeates Ruby the Hatchet‘s Tee Pee Records debut, Valley of the Snake, which is something the Philly-based band seems to acknowledge willfully on “Vast Acid,” frontwoman Jillian Taylor crooning “I’ll cut you down” toward the end of the song in a call-out of one of the UK outfit’s most resonant hooks. Otherwise, the organ-laced five-piece get down on more psychedelic vibes, though the heavy ’70s swing in the drums could be taken as another common factor, if you really wanted to stretch it. Either way, a laid back, less murderous atmosphere persists, and that suits me just fine. Out Feb. 24. Bonus points for the gorgeous Adam Burke cover art. Ruby the Hatchet on Thee Facebooks, Tee Pee Records.
39. Saturnalia Temple, To the Other
The entire meaning of being a “cult” band has changed since Sweden’s Saturnalia Temple released their UR demo in 2007, but after their 2011 debut, Aion of Drakon, hit with such a low-end wash of psychedelic obscurity, I’m intrigued to hear what they’ve come up with on To the Other, the cover’s foreboding darkness, consuming swirl and bizarre patterning seeming a fit for their sonic methodology. To the Other is out April 7 on The Ajna Offensive, and features Tim Call of The Howling Wind and Aldebaran on drums alongside Saturnalia Temple guitarist/vocalist Tommie Ericksson and bassist Peter. Saturnalia Temple on Thee Facebooks, The Ajna Offensive.
40. Six Organs of Admittance, Hexadic
I’ll make no claims toward understanding the theoretical basis driving the latest outing from the Ben Chasny-helmed project Six Organs of Admittance, which in its 17-year history has gone from bedroom folk and avant electronics to the far-ranging heavy psych jamming of 2012’s Ascent (review here). Chasny, joined by members of Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound and Deerhoof on the album — which is due out Feb. 17 on Drag City — seems to have developed a compositional method based around a system involving playing cards and varying tonal intensities. No idea what the hell any of it means, but it sounds like a freakout to me, so I’m in. Six Organs of Admittance website, Drag City Records.
41. Snail, Feral
Come on, Snail. Even if Feral‘s not coming out until later in the year, you can send it to me. I won’t tell anybody if you don’t want me to. I can keep it to myself. Hell, I won’t even review it until I get word that it’s cool to do so, I just want to hear the damn thing. Alright, Snail, have it your way. I’ll just sit here and remember how awesome Terminus (review here) was when that came out in 2012, and Blood (review here) before that in 2009 back when I did snarky headlines for reviews. That’s cool. I’ve waited this long for your Small Stone debut to make its way into my ears, I guess I’ll just keep waiting until it shows up. Which it would be awfully nice if it did as soon as possible. Today works. Now works. Snail on Thee Facebooks, Small Stone Records.
42. Sourvein, Aquatic Fanatic
At the risk of being sincere, I’ll say it warms my cold, doomed heart to know that Sourvein‘s next album is going to be released by Metal Blade Records. After trudging the Southern sludge underground for, what, 20 years?, the Cape Fear-based outfit led by T-Roy Medlin (whose lineage goes back to Buzzov*en, lest we forget their role in establishing the sound) are finally poised to get their due, and I think it’s fucking awesome. Mike Dean‘s producing the thing, and you know Sourvein are going to tour the hell out of it because that’s what they do whether they’ve got a new record or not. I’m calling it the feelgood story of the year, which is perfect since the music will most likely be utterly scathing. Sourvein on Thee Facebooks, Metal Blade Records.
43. Spidergawd, II
Just stop reading and go fucking listen to Spidergawd. Here, I did a track premiere a little bit ago for the song “Tourniquet.” It rules. Go listen to that. For the life of me I have no idea why this band’s name isn’t on the lips of every boogie-loving heavy rocker in the universe. Stickman has the new album, Spidergawd II, sold out in the special edition preorders, but there’s a regular version still available and apparently en route from the plant, and for the love of all things riffed, it’s glorious. So get on it. I implore you. And no, I don’t have any idea what’s going on with the album cover, so don’t ask. No time for questions anyway. Get listening. Spidergawd on Thee Facebooks, Stickman Records.
44. Stoned Jesus, The Harvest
Ukrainian heavy rockers Stoned Jesus posted the opening track from their third album, The Harvest, a while back on their Bandcamp page, and my goodness it does swing. They’ll make their way to the US for the first time in support of The Harvest, appearing at the Psycho California fest and hopefully elsewhere, and they do so having built up a steady following with their first two long-players, 2010’s First Communion (noted here) and 2012’s Seven Thunders Roar (review here), their most stonerly of names spread far and wide ahead of the latest offering’s early March arrival following 2013’s jams collection, The Seeds, Vol. 1. Stoned Jesus on Thee Facebooks, on Bandcamp.
45. Torche, Restarter
I haven’t heard it yet, but Torche‘s awaited Relapse Records debut, Restarter, is due out Feb. 24 and the band are kicking into gear once again to mark its coming. They’ve already announced US and European tours to carry them through June, and I don’t imagine there are many markets they’ll leave un-hit by the time they’re through. Their last album, 2012’s Harmonicraft (review here), was a solid showing of what’s come to be expected of them in terms of hooks, upbeat heaviness and melodies, but especially with the ambitious title, the new label and the energized-seeming schedule, I’m hoping that Restarter gives the band the same kind of boot to the ass they’ve been to delivering the heavy underground for the last decade. Torche on Thee Facebooks, Relapse Records.
46. Ufomammut, Ecate
Very, very much looking forward to hearing Ecate, the newest outing from Ufomammut and their “second” album for Neurot Recordings behind the 2012 two-parter Oro (reviews here and here). Why is kind of a silly question — new Ufomammut is its own excuse for anticipation — but truth be told, they’ve always managed to get bigger-sounding and more expansive with each LP, and after having to break their last album in half and release the two pieces months apart from each other, I’m dying to know where they go with Ecate, what shifts in their sound the last couple years — including last year, which was their 15th anniversary — have brought and where in the cosmos they might be headed now. Ufomammut on Thee Facebooks, Neurot Recordings.
47. Valkyrie, TBA
During what I guess we’ll call Valkyrie‘s original run, the Virginia two-guitar four-piece released a pair of albums, 2006’s Valkyrie and 2008’s Man of Two Visions — both of which were reissued through MeteorCity in 2010 — before guitarist Peter Adams, who founded the band with his brother, guitarist/vocalist Jake Adams, got signed to Relapse with his other group, Baroness. Now back with Earthling‘s Alan Fary on bass and drummer Warren Hawkins, they’ve got their new LP recorded with Sanford Parker and reportedly in the can for an early 2015 release, also through Relapse. They’ll no doubt be greeted as heroes when they play the Maryland Doom Fest in June, and understandably so. Valkyrie on Thee Facebooks, Relapse Records.
48. VA, Electric Ladyland Redux & The Best of James Marshall Hendrix
Magnetic Eye Records launched a Kickstarter campaign last fall with the ambitious aim of paying homage to Jimi Hendrix by having current heavy rock artists (Elder, Earthless, Wo Fat, Gozu and more; full list here) re-record Electric Ladyland in its entirety. The project, on track to be released this year to coincide with what would’ve been Hendrix‘s 73rd birthday in November, expanded to include a tribute best-of collection as well, and has grown in repute ahead of its actually being issued to stand as a gathering of some of the finest the underground has to offer playing some of the best rock and roll ever crafted. From the idea to the impending reality of it, there’s really no arguing with this one. Magnetic Eye Records on Thee Facebooks, Magnetic Eye webstore.
49. Wino & Conny Ochs, Freedom Conspiracy
When Scott “Wino” Weinrich entered rehab late last fall, he mentioned in a public statement several projects in the works. Spirit Caravan‘s reunion is ongoing. Saint Vitus are due for a next album, but he also noted the second release for his collaboration with German singer-songwriter Conny Ochs, Freedom Conspiracy, as being in early 2015. Particularly after the ultra-intimate, solo feel of Wino‘s 2010 acoustic debut, Adrift (review here), the first collaboration with Ochs, 2012’s Heavy Kingdom (review here), was an unexpected expansion of the form that paid sonic dividends in both the songwriting and performance of both players. A second installment should benefit from the chemistry they built on the road for the debut. Conny Ochs on Thee Facebooks, Exile on Mainstream.
50. Wizard Eye, TBA
Heard it. Slays. Actually, I’m not sure if the version of Wizard Eye‘s sophomore full-length I got was final, but the songs were killer either way, and the Philly stoner-toner three-piece will have the album out on vinyl later this year through a newcomer label that I don’t think I’m supposed to mention yet so I won’t. Either way, they’re included here because the more heads they reach the better, their blend of rolling grooves, sludged out vocals and the occasional bout of theremin is just right for the riff-loving purist in all of us. Their recent live outing, Riff Occult Live (review here) says it better than I could, so make a note to yourself to dig into that at your next convenience. It’s name-your-price on Bandcamp. Wizard Eye on Thee Facebooks, on Bandcamp.
51. Wretch, TBA
Listed as the “bastard spawn” of The Gates of Slumber, Wretch finds that band’s guitarist/vocalist Karl Simon teamed with bassist Bryce Clark and drummer Chris Gordon, the prior outfit having been laid to rest in 2013 after what seemed like an excellent return to form in 2011’s The Wretch (review here) and subsequent Scion-sponsored EP. I haven’t heard the new band yet, but some demos have made their way out thus far, and you’d have to figure it won’t be too long before Simon, Clark and Gordon make their proper debut as Wretch and start a new chapter in one of modern traditional doom’s most pivotal legacies. Wretch on Thee Facebooks, Tone Deaf Touring.
52. Zun, TBA
Early in 2013, a song called “Come through the Water” (review here) appeared as the first audio from a new project helmed by guitarist Gary Arce of Yawning Man called Zun. It was to be used as Zun‘s portion of a split with Fatso Jetson and while I’m not sure that ever materialized, it drew immediate attention for the collaboration between Arce and vocalist Sera Timms of Ides of Gemini and Black Mare, also formerly of Black Math Horseman. A significant duo for sure. With Bill Stinson (also Yawning Man) on drums, they’re set to debut later this year on Small Stone with their first album, and if Timms and Arce aren’t enough to draw your attention so late in the feature — the hazards of alphabetics — the one and only John Garcia is set for a guest appearance on the record. Dig that, desert rockers. Yawning Man on Thee Facebooks, Small Stone Records.
Going Into Overload…
So, okay. At this point, you could literally buy a different record each week of this year and hear something that, unless there’s some disaster between the idea of the album and the actual thing itself, is most likely worth your time. That’s not too bad. But we’re not at 88 yet, so with those 52 already set, I’ve got 36 more that you might want to keep on your radar.
Some of these are solidly lined up, some are slated to be recorded, etc., so the same rule of “things don’t always work out the way they’re supposed to” applies. With that caveat:
53. Abrahma, TBA — Their second album for Small Stone is due sometime this year.
54. Bedroom Rehab Corporation, Fortunate Some — From what I hear, the Connecticut twosome have their second record in the can.
55. Black Black Black, TBA — Brooklyn outfit featuring former members of Disengage should have a sophomore album out in 2015.
56. Black Pyramid, New 7″ — The trio will release a new single to coincide with their Euro tour that includes a stop at Desertfest.
57. Bright Curse, New 10″ EP — It was mentioned the new lineup would record an EP before taking on their next album.
58. Camel of Doom, TBA — Was announced in December there’d be a new Camel of Doom along with a vinyl of their last album.
59. Cherry Choke, Raising the Waters — Should be out this month on Elektrohasch.
60. La Chinga, TBA — Vancouver group’s Small Stone debut is reportedly being mixed.
61. Curse the Son, TBA — I’m hoping this one gets out by the end of the year. It will be the CT trio’s first with their new bassist.
62. Egypt, Endless Flight — North Dakota’s favored sons will return with a new full-length this summer. Album trailer posted with a clip of the new song “Tres Madres.”
63. Enos, TBA — Not sure where they’re at with it, but worth keeping an eye out.
64. Foghound, TBA — The Maryland rockers have finished tracking their new album with Mike Dean of Corrosion of Conformity at the helm.
65. Funeral Horse, TBA — They’ve been full of surprises on their first two releases and they work quick, so I wouldn’t be surprised if something new showed up.
66. Fuzz Evil, TBA — Interested to see where they go on an LP after their split with Chiefs.
67. The Glasspack, Moon Patrol — A snippet clip has been posted that bodes well. Supposed to be done recording in the spring. They’re currently sorting out label whatnots.
68. Graves at Sea, TBA — Yeah, it’s been more than a decade since their demo, but a split and an EP into their reunion, they just signed to Relapse, so now might be the time a debut album shows up.
69. House of Broken Promises, TBA — Should be a change from the first album after swapping out bassist/vocalists. They killed live last I saw.
70. Ice Dragon, TBA — No solid word of a new release from the Boston garage doom forerunners, but they’re always up to something.
71. Killer Boogie, Detroit — The debut from this Black Rainbows offshoot is out this month on Heavy Psych Sounds.
72. Krautzone, TBA — German synth-heavy prog-jammers have hit a groove and hopefully they continue to ride it as well as they have thus far.
73. Leeches of Lore, TBA — Wishful thinking on my part? Maybe. Got my fingers crossed, though.
74. Legion of Andromeda, Iron Scorn — They’re about as extreme as extreme doom gets. Album out next month.
75. Lord Fowl, TBA — I think they’re writing. Might be 2016 before it gets here, but I’ll take it whenever it comes. They’re worth a mention either way.
76. The Machine, TBA — Been a minute since we last heard from the Dutch heavy psych jammers. They were on this list last year as well.
77. Mirror Queen, Scaffolds of the Sky — Should be out in April on Tee Pee, and that suits me just fine. Choice grooves for springtime.
78. Mountain God, Forest of the Lost — A single-song EP from the Brooklyn post-sludgers is out in Feb. with a release show booked.
79. Om, TBA — I’ve yet to see solid evidence that a new Om is in the pipeline, but no one knew that Sleep single was coming last year either.
80. Planes of Satori, Planes of Satori — Dug their single, hope the full-length follows suit.
81. Pombagira, Flesh Throne Press— Their sixth album and Svart debut is due on March 23 as per this week’s announcement.
82. Righteous Bloom, TBA — My understanding was the Beelzefuzz offshoot are writing. Would be good if they can pick up where the prior act left off.
83. Royal Thunder, Crooked Doors— The Atlanta outfit’s second album for Relapse is due out April 7.
84. Sandrider/Kinski, Split — Don’t know much about Kinski, but new Sandrider is enough to sell me on it. Out Feb. 17 on Good to Die.
85. SardoniS, TBA — Expect big lumbering riffs from this Belgian duo, always. A new album is en route, last I heard.
86. Sun Voyager, TBA — Didn’t get to hear their last tape, but a five-song EP is due out sometime soon.
87. Sweat Lodge, Talismana — Not much word since they signed to Ripple, but they said this year, so until I hear otherwise…
88. Throttlerod, TBA — A teaser clip of new riffage came out over this past weekend. New Throttlerod is never something to complain about.
89. Venomous Maximus, Firewalker — When they signed to Shadow Kingdom in November, they gave it the ol’ “sometime in 2015.”
90. Weedeater, TBA — After a whole series of reissues, their Season of Mist debut is due.
91. Wight, Love is Not Only What You Know — Alphabetically last but not at all last in my heart, Germany’s Wight have their third record in progress. More in the comments.
92. Wo Fat, Live Juju at Freak Valley— Wo Fat‘s live set from the 2014 Freak Valley fest in Germany is due to release on vinyl March 17 in an edition of 500 copies.
Others to Keep an Eye On…
Guitarist Ian Gerber of Indianapolis’ The Heavy Co. has a couple side-projects going, but new stuff from his main band doesn’t seem unlikely either. New York’s Geezer might also have something new before December in addition to Ripple‘s CD version of their Gage release, and labelmates King Buffalo are continuing their relationship with STB Records via a new spit next month, so hopefully a debut LP follows that. Let it Breathe should make their debut on the label too in 2015.
Recently streamed trio Wake up Lucid release their EP on March 31. Last I heard The Body had a new one coming too in collaboration with Thou. Sixty Watt Shaman have plans to record tracks for a split due out later this year, and they’ll reissue their first album, 1998’s Ultra Electric, as well. Look out for Godhunter‘s split/collaboration with Amigo the Devil, and the second offering from Black Moon Circle is on the way. Balam‘s full-length should also be out sometime this year, and I anxiously await news of a solid release date for the third Clamfight record.
Murmurings abound also for new ones from Graveyard, Greenleaf, The Sword, Vhöl and others.
Plus, Sleep still exist and that simple fact probably makes them worth more of a mention than this quick aside. Their 2014 single The Clarity was an offering of pure Iommic idolatry. A sign of things to come? Who the hell knows.
If you don’t have enough to go by yet, labels like Sulatron, Tee Pee, El Paraiso, Ripple, Small Stone, STB, Napalm and so on are always worth a keen watch what’s next. There’s always something.
Which I guess is the point of this whole thing. I’m sure, even as huge as this list is, someone is going to drop a comment immediately that will make me slap my forehead and wonder how I ever forgot whatever it is. It’s always something. It looks like it’s going to be a tremendous year, so if you’ll pardon me, I’ll cut out quick and get started making my way through it.
No doubt I’ll add to this post over the next couple days, so if the numbers change, don’t be surprised. In any case, if you made it this far, thanks again for reading. May your 2015 be filled with excellent music and even better times.
Posted in audiObelisk on January 16th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Massachusetts trio Elder will release their third album, Lore, on Feb. 28. A week after the record comes out via Stickman Records in Europe and Armageddon Shop in the US, the three-piece will embark on a three-week tour with first-leg support from Washington’s Mos Generator that will take them through most of March along the Eastern Seaboard. If I had to guess, they’ll be on the West Coast somewhere around their appearance at this year’s Psycho California fest in May with Sleep, Pentagram, Om, Earth and many, many others, but more dates are still to be announced. Every band hits a point where they have to decide if they’re going to really make a go for it or not. Elder, it would seem, are going for it.
All the better for planet earth in general. Anyone who heard 2012’s Spires Burn/Release 10″ (streamed here) could tell you they were on the cusp of something really special. Their 2008 self-titled and 2011’s Dead Roots Stirring (review here) both showcased a marked potential in what was then a young band — the second outing was a leap from the first — but with Lore, they push their sound deeper into a tonally rich progressive heavy rock, rife with intricate rhythmic turns, runs of bass and guitar, exploratory sensibility, swing and presence. A five-track full-length that only once dips below the 10-minute mark (“Deadweight” is 9:28), Lore feels grand, clean in its production and clear in its intent to redefine the band’s sound even as they thrust into by-now familiar crescendos and sweeping passages.
I’ve said on multiple occasions that I think Elder are among the finest US heavy psych has to offer, and that remains true, but guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo (also Gold and Silver), bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto (also Kind) have branched beyond those confines, and one of Lore‘s greatest strengths proves to be its crispness. As tight as they’ve been all along, a song like opener “Compendium” snaps the listener into the album, a brief alarm clock of a guitar noodle giving way to the full thrust right when it seems most dizzying. The track keeps “dizzying” as a central theme, Elder building parts on top of each other as they motor through verses and a chorus en route to an extended instrumental section that comprises much of the 10-minute piece’s second half in an adrenaline surge of lead guitar, crashing drums and dense bass working together with unbridled, mature chemistry. Elder have had a few triumphs over the last seven years since their first record, but as the chorus returns in the last minute of “Compendium,” it’s awfully hard not to feel like we’re witnessing their finest moment yet.
The album branches out from there, and with a month still to go to the release, I won’t spoil the joys of the 15-minute title-track, or of “Legend” or “Spirit at Aphelion,” but you can find “Compendium” on the Soundcloud player below, followed by the current tour dates (they also play Hull‘s last show on Feb. 21 in Brooklyn; more here), and I wholeheartedly recommend you take a listen.
More to come:
Elder tour dates with Mos Generator:
03/06 Providence RI AS220 03/07 Peterborough NH Wreck Room 03/08 Rochester NY Bug Jar 03/09 Pittsburgh PA Gooski’s 03/10 Columbus OH Ace of Cups 03/11 Indianapolis IN 5th Quarter 03/12 Chicago IL Reggie’s 03/13 Texarkana TX Silver Dollar 03/14 Dallas TX Double Wide 03/16 Austin TX Beerland* 03/20 Austin TX The North Door* 03/21 Austin TX The Lost Well* 03/23 Houston TX Mango’s* 03/24 New Orleans LA Siberia* 03/25 Atlanta GA 529* 03/26 Charlotte NC Tremont Music Hall* 03/27 Richmond VA Strange Matter* 03/28 Baltimore MD Metro Gallery* 03/29 Philadelphia PA Kung Fu Necktie* 03/30 Boston MA TT the Bear’s Place* * no Mos Generator
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
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.
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 Clockworkto 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.
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 Wardemerged 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 Wardfor 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.
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.
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 Earthwas 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.
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.
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 Adversarialis 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.
Even the interlude “Seasick Serenade,” just over a minute and a half long, was haunting. Electric Relicsmarked 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.
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. Oculusshowed both that the appeal of Splitting Skywas no fluke and that Borracho with four members or three was not a band to be taken lightly.
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 Morningwasn’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.
It seemed like no matter where I turned in 2013, Devil to Pay‘s Fate is Your Musewas 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 Musewas 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 Musetranslated well their light-on-frills, heavy-on-riffs appeal to a studio setting.
9. Beast in the Field, The Sacred Above, the Sacred Below
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 Belowinto 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.
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 PaleDivine) — 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
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 Floodshowed 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.
Kind of inevitable that there would be a lot of comparisons made between Mind Controland 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 Lustin 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 Controlreally 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 Lustmake such an impression.
Of the ones reviewed, Lumbar‘s The First and Last Days of Unwelcomewas 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.
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 Peacewith 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.
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.
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 Patrolsuch 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 Patrolwas 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 Patrolwas 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.
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 Rockerwas 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/Exodusand 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 Rockerwas 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 Rockerwill 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, Gonga, TonerLow, Jesuand 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 Glacierby 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 Circleto 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, WitchfinderGeneral, PaganAltar, Trouble, MercyfulFate 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 PaganAltar, 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 BoltThrower 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/ BrianRoss singing!), ManillaRoad, Midnight, Voor, BloodCeremony, 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.