Posted in Whathaveyou on February 12th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
Been a minute since Massachusetts trio Elder were announced for Desertfest in London and Berlin, so maybe it’s not a revelation that they’re going to tour Europe in Spring 2016, but you know, nice to have confirmation. The progressive heavy three-piece are coming off their busiest touring year ever in 2015, as they continue to support last year’s Lore (review here), their third full-length, the sweeping scope of which is I think still being processed by listeners the world over.
The trip will include Pittsburgh heavy rockers Carousel, whose lineup continues to shift following the release of their second album, 2113 (review here). Already the band featured drummer John Dziuban (Sistered) after parting ways with Jake Leger (also of Bang) as of their last tour, but guitarist Matt Goldsborough (also Pentagram, intermittently), seems to have done likewise, resulting in a move from Dziuban to guitar and Brooklyn expat Justin Sherrell (Blackout, Bezoar) taking over on drums, while bassist Jim Wilson and guitarist/vocalist Dave Wheeler remain in their respective roles. A bit of chaos is good for the soul, or so I’m told.
Elder announced the voyage thusly:
ELDER TOUR UPDATE!
Well – it’s no surprise that we’re hitting the road again, this time with Pittsburgh heavy rockers Carousel. We’ll be bringing you some sneak peeks of new material and some other goodies. See you in April… (Artwork – Adrian Dexter)
– Elder & Carousel –
European Tour 2016 17.04.2016 RUS – Moscow, Volta* 18.04.2016 RUS – St.Petersburg, Zoccolo 2.0* 20.04.2016 NOR – Stavanger, Folken 21.04.2016 NOR – Bergen, Hulen 22.04.2016 NOR – Oslo, Bla 23.04.2016 SWE – Gothenburg, Truckstop Alaska 24.04.2016 UA – Kiev, Robustfest* 25.04.2016 DK – Kopenhagen, Loppen 26.04.2016 GER – Hamburg, Hafenklang 27.04.2016 GER – Münster, Sputnikhalle 28.04.2016 GER – Chemnitz, AJZ Talschock 29.04.2016 GER – Berlin, Astra, Desertfest 2016 30.04.2016 P – Lisboa, Sound Bay Festival 01.05.2016 UK – Electric Ballroom, Desertfest 2016 02.05.2016 GER – Wiesbaden Schlachthof 04.05.2016 GER – Munich, Backstage 05.05.2016 CRO – Zagreb, Vintage Bar 07.05.2016 A – Linz, Kapu 08.05.2016 A – Vienna, Viper Room 09.05.2016 I – Bologna, Freak Out Club 10.05.2016 I – Milano, Lo-Fi Club 11.05.2016 CH – Lausanne, Le Romandie Club 12.05.2016 GR – Athen, An Club* 14.05.2016 ESP – Bilbao, Kristonfest 15.05.2016 F – Toulouse, TBA 16.05.2016 F – Paris, Glazart, Doomed Gatherings 17.05.2015 B – Brussels, Magasin 4 * = Elder only
Posted in Features on December 22nd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Please note: This list is not culled in any way from the Readers Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2015 to that, please do.
It’s damn near impossible to start one of these posts without some derivation of, “Whew! What a year it’s been!” The truth is that, since 2014, I’ve been keeping a list of the best releases of 2015, and the list has just grown and grown and grown over the last 12 months. Could have been a top 40, easy. Could have been a top 50, 60, whatever. It was complete inundation.
If you’ve been checking in on any of the lists that have gone up so far, you might notice that some of these records have appeared elsewhere, and possibly in a different order. How does an album end up ahead of another on one list and not on another? Different criteria. Different basis of judgment. As always, the big year-end list (this one) is derived both from what I think are the most important offerings of the year plus what I listened to the most, because while I believe deeply in the critical value of a given work, I also believe there’s value in the kind of record you just can’t put down.
Basically, I believe records have value. Stay tuned for more daring adventures in understatement.
A few emergent factors for 2015 to note: The increasing expansion of subgenres. Psychedelia and what I’ve come to call the heavy ’10s sound finding further root as prominent styles of the day, as well as a budding of emotive doom in the post-Pallbearer vein. At the same time, a more straightforward heavy rock is also making a return, and look for that to continue as new listeners discover past landmarks and modern plays thereupon. Everything is cyclical, and I’m interested to see what the next two or three years bring, both as Millennials hit 30 (and beyond) and as younger kids come up and fuzz out.
But that’s a conversation for a different time, and before we get there, it’s time to take a look back at the best full-lengths of 2015. I hope if I’ve left something out, you’ll let me know about it in the comments, but until then, here we go:
Going by some of the results I’ve seen from the Readers Poll, I’m guessing there will be some disagreement on the placement of High on Fire‘s seventh full-length, third for eOne and second to be produced by Kurt Ballou behind 2012’s De Vermiis Mysteriis (review here), but for me it came down to what I went back to more. The brilliant “The Falconist” would be enough on its own for Luminiferous to be included on this list, and taken as a whole, the record affirmed the trio as pivotal heavy metal marauders, an act whose devastation is undulled by the wear they’ve put on it touring the world over and again.
Undaunted by a name change from Church to CHRCH, the Sacramento five-piece unleashed rare doom extremity on their debut album, but peppered that with a stylistic nuance that many in the pummel-pummel-pummel game cast off, whether it was psychedelic flourish in the guitar or some eerie atmospheric. Among the post potential-filled debut offerings of the year, that’s not a guarantee they’ll find future success on the same level, but it does mean that if you didn’t hear the 19-minute “Dawning,” you missed out.
Coherent bliss. The second full-length from the four-piece Golden Void was a logical step forward from the band’s 2012 self-titled debut (review here), but that was precisely what it needed to be. With an emerging dynamic of dual vocals between guitarist Isaiah Mitchell (also Earthless) and keyboardist Camilla Saufley-Mitchell on cuts like “Astral Plane” and “Silent Season,” Berkana was less adherent to space rock overall than its predecessor, but gave a more individualized take and was all the richer for it.
Probably should have a higher number. Part of the enduring appeal for The Harvest for me is not only how Ukrainian three-piece Stoned Jesus so absolutely pushed back from the album before it, 2012’s sophomore outing, Seven Thunders Roar (review here), but how much reasoning they put behind the moves they made on the six included tracks. Each song had its purpose and place in the overarching flow, and The Harvest continues to deliver something new on thoroughly-earned repeat listens. Perhaps most encouraging of all, I have no idea what they’ll do next.
Swedish retro forerunners are hands-down one of the most influential European heavy rock acts of their generation. The ’70s revivalism they helped spearhead on their first, second and third LPs has given them rich ground to develop, and they still managed to bring something new to their sound with the soulfulness of Innocence and Decadence, as well as increasing command and diversity in the vocals. Drummer Axel Sjöberg turned in a career performance, and although there are heaps upon heaps of bands out there indulging in post-Graveyard boogie, they showed once again that they’re able to stand both out from the crowd and well above it. Plus, any swing-rocking album that dares to break out soul-singer backing vocals and blastbeats, and pull both off without blinking deserves respect, no matter what else it might have going on.
It felt so good to put on Death Hawks‘ Sun Future Moon for the first time and be completely blindsided by its serene psychedelic ritualizing. The Finnish four-piece reveled in classic progressive methods, and where it would’ve been so easy for songs like “Hey Ya Sun Ra” or “Dream Life, Waking Life” to come across as pretentious, the naturalism in the recording gave the band’s third album such a liquefied flow that it was impossible not to be swept up by it until, at last, “Friend of Joy” launched into and beyond a peaceful stratosphere in spaced-out ambience. My first exposure to the group and their first outing for Svart, it’s a record so textural and so graceful that it seems to unfurl itself more each time through.
A quick and strong turnaround from this Norwegian sax-inclusive foursome, who might seem to come out of nowhere were it not for the pedigree of Kenneth Kapstad and Bent Sæther in long-running progressives Motorpsycho. Together with Per Borten and Rolf Martin Snustad, Spidergawd spoke to more primal rock instincts — their two LPs to-date and soon to be three are testaments to the ability of music to move, to shove, and to shake; or as they put it, “Get Physical” — but as there is breadth as well, as the psychedelic “Caereulean Caribou” demonstrated. Anchored by the hook of “Fixing to Die Blues,” Spidergawd‘s second wandered far and wide, but welcomed listeners along for each step of the journey.
As the title promised, The Midnight Ghost Train‘s third offering and Napalm Records debut delivered harsh truths. They came at breakneck speed and delivered with stage-hewn chemistry by the Midwestern power trio, whose years of road-dogging were brought to bear in the gruff, gravel-throated voice of guitarist Steve Moss, who led drummer Brandon Burghart and newcomer bassist Mike Boyne across nigh-unparalled riff torrents, with all the boogie of any number of ’70s-style sidewinders, but also with a tonal thickness that seemed a miracle it could move at all. Not without its adventurous side in the quieter “The Little Sparrow,” Cold was the Ground brimmed with intensity that brought the band to new levels in every conceivable fashion.
Blessed art the weirdos, whose records might be few and far between, who might not tour, but whose bold fits and starts span genres easily and whose work truly stands alone. Leeches of Lore‘s Toshi Kasai-produced Motel of Infinity was a godsend in the enduring battle against normality. It was a grinding, grooving anti-punk stampede, at times frenetic and at other times whatever the opposite of frenetic is, and to-date, it’s the Albuquirky outit’s masterpiece, from the low-end buzzsaw, gang-shout and falsetto of “Don’t Open Till Doomsday” through the bass and organ bounce of “Noah’s Soul (is Burning).” They have been and still are a band unto themselves, and the we-do-this-every-day confidence of their execution across Motel of Infinity‘s run only emphasizes how utterly necessary they are.
With the Dead vocalist Lee Dorrian (also head of Rise Above Records, also ex-Cathedral) basically laid it all out there in the interview here when he said, “We wanted to make the most skull-crushing record we possibly could.” That’s precisely what With the Dead‘s self-titled debut is. It’s as heavy as possible, as filthy as possible, all the way through. In some ways very much the sum of its elements with Dorrian on vocals, Tim Bagshaw on guitar/bass and Mark Greening on drums (both ex-Ramesses), it was also of course more than just that, and while so much of their story has yet to be told as they move into their initial live appearances in 2016, their opening salvo was nothing if not as destructive as its intent.
How could anyone possibly have even remotely reasonable expectations for a Clutch record after 2013’s Earth Rocker (review here). I won’t say the Maryland stalwarts didn’t deliver with Psychic Warfare, and I doubt any fan of the band who’s dug into “X-Ray Visions,” “A Quick Death in Texas” or “Noble Savage” would, but their returning to producer Machine for the second time in a row made it almost too easy to compare Clutch‘s 10th and 11th long-players. Four years between albums was shortened to just two, and that may have had something to do with it as well, but while the songs were there and I’ve no doubt that Psychic Warfare will endure over the long term — ask me sometime how long it took me to get into Pure Rock Fury — in the moment of its release, Psychic Warfare seemed to stand in the shadow of its predecessor rather than in its own light.
An awaited return for Midwestern-turned-West-Coast psychedelic rockers Mondo Drag, their self-titled sophomore outing had three years between its recording and release, and was made in 2012 with a shortlived incarnation of the band with bassist Zack Anderson and drummer Cory Berry, both formerly of Radio Moscow and then-soon to be of Blues Pills. Unsurprisingly, the grooves were tight, but even better, Mondo Drag blew past the peaceful headtrippery of their 2010 debut, New Rituals (review here), toward more expansive and proggy fare. They’ll look to continue that thread on their third outing, The Occultation of Light, in 2016, but the self-titled captured a special moment worthy of celebration, still rife with the classic-minded ethereal spirit of the first outing, but clearly bent on defining its own sonic dogma in hooks and synthy vibes.
18. Lamp of the Universe, The Inner Light of Revelation
At the risk of sounding biased, just about any new release from New Zealand tantric psych outfit Lamp of the Universe is going to be welcome by me. Comprised solely of Craig Williamson (also Arc of Ascent), the long-running project nonetheless casts out gorgeously textured meditative psychedelia, at times delving into drone or Eastern folk, but always marking out its own sonic space, whether in the more rock-minded groove of “God of One” or the drumless acoustic swirl of “Ancient Path.” Lamp of the Universe is a rare band — as much as it is a band — that covers a swath of ground stylistically and manages to sound like nothing but itself as it does so, and Williamson‘s commitment to his cosmic mantras remains firm and creatively fertile as the seeds he planted early on continue to bear fruit in complex arrangements that never distract from the central, spiritual purpose of the music.
Even with its title-track broken into two 20-plus-minute side-consuming halves, it was abundantly plain to hear that Sparkling Waters was the most realized Mammatus outing yet. The four-song, 75-minute offering brimmed with a clarity that even their late-2013 third album, Heady Mental (review here), could only partially claim, leaving behind the fuzz and fog of their earlier work almost entirely while remaining open to employing sonic heft when suitable to their more complex motives. Most effective about Mammatus at this stage was the way they eased into and through varied parts while tying together a coherent whole piece, the builds and cascades of “Sparkling Waters Part One” setting up an expectation of fluidity that held firm even through the more jagged buzz in the early going of closer “Ornia,” the grand finale of which resonates as a cacophony without letting itself actually lose control.
16. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, The Night Creeper
UK ladykillers Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats have emerged as one of the most essential bands of the ’10s. The Night Creeper is their fourth album and it takes the defining eeriness of their melodies and roughs it up with a mostly-live recording job — something which, now that they’re a touring act, they can do — for their grittiest, dirtiest-sounding offering yet. Songs like “Melody Lane,” “Pusher Man” and opener “Waiting for Blood” speak to what’s let their methodology spread so widely in the first place, the VHS grain of their guitars and vocals resting over classic swing and proliferating maddening hooks with lethal intent. Between the nine-minute gruel of “Slow Death” and the hidden acoustic track “Black Motorcade,” The Night Creeper wasn’t without its element of sonic progress, but with Uncle Acid, it’s still the combination of threat, swing and memorable songwriting that brings listeners back to their dark alleyways for another taste.
Easily one of 2015’s most encouraging debuts. Making its opening salvo with the propulsion of Motörhead-derived heavy rock in songs like “Over Under” and “Black Magick Boogieland,” the first outing from Amsterdam-based foursome Death Alley touched on classic ideals without going retro on “Bewildered Eyes,” nodded toward psychedelic melodicism and more patient intentions in “Golden Fields of Love,” and portrayed its punker roots in “Dead Man’s Bones” — all before the 12:40 space rock extravaganza that took hold with closer “Supernatural Predator.” It was a lot of territory to cover, but Death Alley not only made it sound cohesive, they made it rock and they made it a good time. In just about 41 minutes, Black Magick Boogieland was not only a voyage well worth taking, it was a potential-filled, headbang-worthy ripper of an album from an outfit who deserves every bit of attention they seem to be shouting for. Hope they don’t wait long for a follow-up.
Five records in, Dutch trio The Machine have found a niche for themselves between heavy psych rock, desert fuzz and exploratory jamming. Offblast!, with a title that seemed more reminiscent of Europunker speed rock, was as spacious as it was driving, and whether it was the more structured material like “Dry End” or “Coda Sun” or the two extended cuts, 16-minute opener ““Chrysalis (J.A.M.)” and 12-minute closer “Come to Light,” their dynamic remained natural and held firm to a spontaneous sensibility, like at any turn, any part might take off for an eight-minute ride to who knows where. That that didn’t always happen only made Offblast! a richer listening experience, its varied ideas coming through consistent tonality to affect a more than satisfying front-to-back flow that toyed with momentum even as it built more and more of it. Was a while in the making, coming three years after 2012’s Calmer than You Are (review here), but easily worth the wait.
13. Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth
There were moments where the self-titled debut from Brothers of the Sonic Cloth was almost too much to take in one sitting. By the time the Tad Doyle-led trio got around to the 11-minute “La Mano Poderosa,” sometimes I felt like I needed a second to catch my breath before diving further, always further, into the smoldering abyss their tones, growls and lurch seemed to create. Six years after their demo (review here) served notice like a tectonic rumble in the distance, the album arrived with comet-into-planet heft, and its oppression was as much about atmosphere as it was sheer aural assault. Imagine an arm reaching down your throat, grabbing your lungs, and forcibly deflating them one at a time. Is that hyperbole? Absolutely, and well earned. Every bit the debut of the year.
No, Boston supergroup Kind aren’t so high on this list just because they called a song “Pastrami Blaster.” Granted, that didn’t hurt, but ultimately it was the blend of cavernous psychedelics and heavy rumble that made Rocket Science so infectious. Comprised of vocalist Craig Riggs (Roadsaw), guitarist Darryl Shepard (Milligram, The Scimitar, etc.), bassist Tom Corino (Rozamov) and drummer Matt Couto (Elder), Kind earned immediate interest for their pedigree, but it was more the breadth of jams like “Hordeolum” and “The Angry Undertaker” that defined their first outing, various impulses toward structure and open-endedness not so much pushing against each other as working in tandem to craft something that drew from the best of both mindsets. Obviously these are busy guys, but hopefully Kind doesn’t all by the wayside for other ongoing projects. Rocket Science was unmistakable in its demonstration that they have much to offer.
Iowa five-piece Bloodcow hadn’t put out a record since 2007’s Bloodcow III: Hail Xenu, but that didn’t stop Crystals and Lasers from being their best work yet. As much punk as metal as heavy rock, it wasn’t for everybody, but it was most definitely for me. With a constant thread of satire in songs like “Ultra Super Sexual,” “Sock,” “Dick for Days” and the oh-shit-I’m-middle-aged-how-the-fuck-did-this-happen (not saying I relate or anything, but holy shit I can relate) “After Party,” it was nonetheless a stylistically varied and universally professional-sounding 13-track collection, offering weirdo quirk in “Blood and Guts,” “Exploding Head” and “Little Chromosome” and finding room for a bit of scathing social commentary in its title-track and “HIVampyre.” If they’re working at an eight-year pace, I don’t know that we’ll get another Bloodcow record, but they very clearly put everything they had into Crystals and Lasers and the result was a defining statement.
After two wallops in the form of 2013’s Abra Kadavar (review here) and 2012’s self-titled debut (discussed here), German trio Kadavar continued to prove the effectiveness of their songwriting on Berlin, a return that front-to-back brimmed with vitality and bounce rare enough for heavy rock generally more content to be downtrodden or attempting to feign bluesy substance. Unabashedly poppy at times, Berlin was the party that brought everyone along who was up for taking the ride, and whether it was the hook of “Lord of the Sky” showing how just a tiny melodic turn could make a track infectious or cuts like “Thousand Miles Away from Home,” “Filthy Illusion,” “Stolen Dreams,” “Spanish Wild Rose,” “See the World with Your Own Eyes” — all of them, really — working their way into the consciousness, Berlin felt like it was primed to be the soundtrack of many summers to come. They moved away from the retro style of their first two outings, but in so doing took fuller command of their sound and put it to remarkable use.
Picking up right where Flower of Disease closer “The River” left off with “Another River to Cross,” Goatsnake‘s third full-length arrived a full 15 years after its predecessor, and as one might expect that brought some considerable changes in the band’s sound. Oh, they still rolled the hell out of a riff, guitarist Greg Anderson (he of SunnO))) and Southern Lord Recordings) very much at the fore tonally, but a bluesy inflection from vocalist Pete Stahl (also earthlings?) and some well-placed backing vocals added personality in a daring and unexpected fashion. Songs like “Jimi’s Gone,” “Elevated Man” and “Grandpa Jones” sat comfortably in the band’s influential pantheon of heft, but it was how Black Age Blues pushed beyond what Goatsnake did in their initial run that made it so satisfying. For a record that arrived five years after they got back together, it could have easily been disaster, but Black Age Blues built on what Goatsnake was without detracting from the legacy that has influenced a generation of heavy rock.
I’m proud to call the members of Kings Destroy friends and I won’t attempt to feign impartiality when it comes to considering their work as a band, but I felt in listening to their self-titled third LP that they had finally gotten to the point where they were bringing the onstage confrontationalism of their live show to the studio. Yeah, “Mr. O” was upbeat and catchy and gave side A some thrust, but even in chugging opener “Smokey Robinson” or the moody “Mytho” and “Embers,” Kings Destroy not only came further into their own in terms of style, building on the anti-genre defiant stance of 2013’s A Time of Hunting (review here), but did so with a clearheaded progressivism, a better sense of who they are musically and what they want the band to be. I wouldn’t trade seeing them play “Embers” or “W2” as many times as I have for anything, but even unto the gang-shout half-speed hardcore of “Time for War,” Kings Destroy‘s Kings Destroy made no bones about how it wound up with the eponymous title. It’s them through and through.
It may never be possible to listen to the self-titled debut from Cigale outside the context of the death of guitarist/vocalist Rutger Smeets (ex-Sungrazer). That loss casts a dark shadow over a collection that otherwise radiates colorful sweetness and serenity, the peaceful depth beginning with “Grey Owl” and only broadening as it turns and weaves through “Steeplechase,” “Feel the Heat,” “Harvest Begun” and so on, but the record remains a gorgeous, engrossing wash of resonant melody and underlying presence. Not without its moments of melancholy, the more overarching impression was of beauty not tied to any notion of playing to genre or style, and while I don’t know what the future will hold for the band, if they’ll keep moving forward or not or if they’re even in a place yet to consider such things, they helped broaden the context of European heavy psychedelia with their first album, and that is no minor achievement.
Another one that just kind of smacked me in the face. Idahoan heavy psych explorers Sun Blood Stories‘ second album, Twilight Midnight Morning was soaked in vibe and moved fluidly between experimentalist noisemaking and patient, memorable songwriting. Tracks like “West the Sun,” “Witch Wind” and “Found Reasons Found Out” never raged, exactly, but had enough weight to their rhythm to let you know they were there and interested in groove, while later pieces “Time Like Smoke,” “Moon Song: Waxing” and “Misery is Nebulous” drew exponentially from earlier freakout impulses and shifted into a dronier and more ambient approach. The combination of the two — semi-structure up front, open expansion in the back — made the three-part Twilight Midnight Morning engaging and hypnotic in kind, and though I hope they get weirder and experiment and develop the atmospheric side of their sound, I’ve also got my fingers crossed they hold firm to their more grounded aspects, since its the range between the two that gives their sophomore outing its defining fluidity.
I’ll cite precedent in last year’s list for including a “5a.” The intent in doing so is to convey the idea that Colour Haze‘s latest outing, To the Highest Gods We Know, is worthy of top five consideration, but its release date was split between 2014 (CD) and 2015 (LP), so it was a little unclear where to put it. As the album is basically a year old at this point, it seems fair to say it’s held up, drawing back from the grandiose vision of 2012’s She Said (review here) without losing sight of the progressive elements that have taken root in the German trio’s sound. Their work has been and remains essential to the development of heavy psychedelic rock in Europe and beyond, and even though To the Highest Gods We Know felt like something of a reset — a stripping down of arrangements in places and getting back to a trio-in-a-room feel — it still stepped forward in its title-track and in songs like “Überall” and “Call” and showed that even when it seems Colour Haze have pushed their approach as far as it can go, there’s always new ground to explore, and their pull to do so is undiminished.
Doesn’t exactly seem like giving away state secrets to note that a record with songs like “Sexecutioner” and “Fuck Face” is aggressive, but it’s particularly interesting in light of the past work of New Jersey trio The Atomic Bitchwax, who I don’t think sounded as barn-burning as they do on Gravitron even in their earliest going. The trio of bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik, guitarist/vocalist Finn Ryan and drummer Bob Pantella kept their signature winding riff style intact — demonstrated most expansively over 2011’s single-song full-length instrumental The Local Fuzz (review here) — but while their turns were as blinding as ever, their tones were more pointed and Pantella‘s snare more upfront on the beat, which gave Gravitron a newfound sense of urgency. It worked. Even poppier songs like “Roseland” or the closing “Ice Age Hey Baby” benefited from the additional thrust, and the album overall felt lean, mean and ready to be taken on the road, which of course is exactly what they did with it. Six albums in, The Atomic Bitchwax were at their most vital yet.
Nashville four-piece All Them Witches probably could’ve gone into the studio, churned out a record of crunchy riffs with a quiet part or two for flavor and positioned themselves at the forefront of American heavy rock with their New West Records debut and third full-length overall, Dying Surfer Meets His Maker. Instead, they defied expectation boldly and brought their growing audience into the room with them and producer Mikey Allred as they captured the album, which finds its most affecting moments not in tonal weight, but emotional resonance, the melody at the midpoint of “Talisman” or the string arrangement gracefully tucked into “Open Passageways.” There’s still the push of “Dirt Preachers,” and entrancing closer “Blood and Sand – Milk and Endless Waters” has its heft as well, but All Them Witches‘ success ultimately came from being the album they wanted to make, built from the dynamic that’s developed on stage between bassist/vocalist Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod, Allan Van Cleave on Fender Rhodes/strings, and drummer Robby Staebler, and alive in its feeling of exploration. I won’t predict what they might do from here, but I’m willing to say outright it’ll be worth hearing one way or another.
My expectations for Snail‘s third post-reunion full-length and Small Stone label debut, Feral, were pretty high. Not unreasonably so, though. Their 2012 outing, Terminus (review here), built on the blend of heavy psych riffs, laid back roll and melodicism that 2009’s Blood (review here) established as the band’s working modus, but Feral was going to be a different beast from the start because it was the West Coast outfit’s first full-length as a trio since they made their self-titled debut (reissue review here) in 1993 before splitting up the next year. Whatever my expectations were, however, Snail shattered them almost immediately. In the progression of their songwriting as shown across the strong opening salvo of “Building a Haunted House,” “Smoke the Deathless” and “A Mustard Seed” through one of the year’s best songs in the expansive and crushing “Thou Art That,” the three-piece showcased a breadth unlike anything they’d conjured before, and it only continued through “Born in Captivity,” the catchy “Derail,” “Psilocybe” and the soul-infused wah leads that peppered the pleading closer “Come Home.” Where Terminus offered intensity, Feral offered patience in its execution, and the atmosphere it created suited the band’s sound as well as the Seldon Hunt cover art seemed to summarize the alternate reality in which the music took place. Everything about how it came together worked just right, and even as a fan of the band’s work since they got together again, I was taken aback by the unflinching quality of Feral front to back.
2. Acid King, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere
Ten years is a long, long time. Especially in music. The prospect of a fourth Acid King record has been tossed around for at least the last six of those 10 years, but to finally have it realized was something else entirely. Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere was without a doubt my most-listened-to album of the year, and its combination of tonal haze, low-end heft and spacious atmosphere was perfect. There’s just no other way to say it. It was perfect. From “Silent Pictures” and “Coming down from Outer Space” through “Red River,” “Infinite Skies” and the sprawling “Center of Everywhere” itself, guitarist/vocalist Lori S., bassist Mark Lamb and drummer Joey Osbourne crafted an absolutely perfect heavy psych record. How many bands walking the earth could even get away with calling a track “Laser Headlights,” let alone make it kick ass? Yeah, Goatsnake came back this year, and that was great, but for me, the return of Acid King to their throne of nod was even more the story of the year. Together with producer Billy Anderson, they offered a depth of tone that was simply unmatched, and without an ounce of pretense, they unveiled a roll that continues to resound. I’m a big fan of getting lost in a record, and Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere eased the listener in with its “Intro,” pulled reality apart from with “Silent Pictures” and set about doing the universe a favor by remaking the cosmos as the kind of place where one might find a wizard riding a tiger past the craters of the moon, until, at last, it deposited you back where you started. Best trip of 2015, no question.
Make no mistake, 2015 was Elder‘s year. We were all just living in it. Truth be told, I’ve been back and forth between Elder and Acid King in the top spot for the last couple months (you might recall in July they were reversed), but when it finally came to it, there was no way I could feasibly call anything other than Lore the album of the year. From the gorgeous Adrian Dexter artwork (discussed here), through the progressive clarion of “Compendium”‘s noodling guitar line and into the massive scope of the title-track (discussed here), Lore was the moment in which Elder — guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto — tore down the walls of genre, whether it was heavy rock, psychedelia or anything else, and emerged with their own approach and complex, varied modus of songwriting. They’ve been turning heads since their self-titled debut arrived in 2008, but with 2011’s Dead Roots Stirring (review here), they began to demonstrate the potential for really adding something to the patchwork of underground heavy. In moving forward by making clarity a hallmark both of their sound and of their purpose, Elder came into their own with these five tracks, and do not at all be surprised a couple years from now when bands start showing up aping DiSalvo‘s style of riffing, since such a bold and successful foray of individualism can only be influential in the longer run. At nearly an hour long, Lore was not a minor undertaking, but each song seemed to set up its own atmosphere, feeding not only its own singular focus, but that of the album overall. Its turns blinding, its impact forceful and its affect drawing from the best of the sonic personalities of all three players, Elder‘s Lore reaped wide acclaim and earned it every step of the way. Its progressive vision has only begun to be digested.
Killer Boogie, Detroit – Impressive debut from the retro-minded offshoot of Black Rainbows brought ’70s boogie to Italy. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a quick turnaround, but either way, their first outing knew its audience and spoke directly to it.
My Sleeping Karma, Moksha – This one was on various incarnations of the list. Very interested to see where the German heavy prog outfit wind up in terms of expanding their arrangements, but Moksha was a satisfying step forward in that process.
Egypt, Endless Flight – Should probably have a number, but the fact is it’s only been out for like two weeks, so it hasn’t really been given the test of time at this point. Still, Egypt always deliver and this was no exception.
Valkyrie, Shadows – An awaited third full-length from Virginia’s Valkyrie and also their Relapse Records debut offered enough blazing guitar work to meet any quota, and was a welcome return after a long absence.
Magic Circle, Journey’s End – The second LP from this Massachusetts outfit pushed beyond doomly confines into more traditional metallurgy but held its eerie atmospherics intact, and the combination suited them remarkably well.
Monolord, Vænir – This was my go-to for 2015 when nothing else seemed quite crushing enough. The Swedish trio have very quickly stomped their way into the hearts and minds of the international underground, and rightfully so.
Freedom Hawk, Into Your Mind – After making a transition from a four-piece to a trio, this Virginian outfit proceeded to take a few stylistic risks on their second Small Stone long-player, and they paid off.
Tombstones, Vargariis – Fourth full-length from this Norwegian trio pushed them outside of doom’s confines into a darker and more extreme version of heaviness that pulled from death and black metals in addition to its sludgy underpinnings. The meld was punishing and lost nothing of its groove, wherever it went at any given moment.
Faces of Bayon, Ash and Dust Have no Dominion – I guess my only hesitation with including Faces of Bayon‘s second outing in any kind of year-end fare is I’m not sure if the album has actually been released yet. Even if not, they’re easily worth a mention.
Ice Dragon, A Beacon on the Barrow – Kind of a down year from Ice Dragon in terms of overall productivity, but if the quantity was down compared to some, A Beacon on the Barrow was quality enough to carry them through. In a way, I think the album actually benefited from the band giving listeners time to take it in.
Arenna, Given to Emptiness – Ah, so good. The Spanish heavy psych troupe dug in deep on Given to Emptiness and conjured sonic and emotional resonance on their second full-length. It’s one that still gets repeat listens.
Monster Magnet, Cobras and Fire – The long-running New Jersey outfit’s reworking of their 2010 album Mastermind was excellent, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t seem fair to list it when they’re working mostly from already-released source material. But still, if you haven’t heard it, go find it.
Various Artists, Electric Ladyland [Redux] – Even if the results hadn’t been so spectacular, Electric Ladyland [Redux] would deserve a mention for the sheer scope and logistical nightmare that the project must have been. Kudos to Magnetic Eye Records all around.
There are so many others: Abrahma, Goya, Sun and Sail Club, Deville, Sacri Monti, Dirty Streets, Ufomammut, Wo Fat‘s live album, Mirror Queen, Pentagram, Torche, Sumac, Garden of Worm, Black Rainbows, Holy Serpent, Minsk, Baron, Weedpecker, Electric Moon, Fuzz, Bell Witch, Windhand, Niche, We Lost the Sea, Seremonia, Sunder, Domovoyd, The Heavy Eyes, Demon Head, Fogg, Stars that Move, Enslaved, Ruby the Hatchet, on and on and on. That’s not even to mention the stuff I didn’t hear — Baroness will be on many people’s lists, no doubt, as well as Mutoid Man, Ghost and Kylesa — so yeah, I could pretty much keep going ad infinitum.
I, however, cannot. It’s been an absolute pleasure trying to keep up with 2015’s barrage the last 12 months, and I expect 2016 will only bring more. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading or that you’re able to get some use out of this post, whatever that might mean, and I thank you deeply, from the bottom of my heart, for your time and for reading. It means more to me than I can say that you might check out even any portion of this site or be involved, whether it’s sharing a link, leaving a comment to let me know who I forgot to mention or correct my spelling, signing up for the forum, listening to the radio, whatever it might be.
Thank you for an amazing 2015. And please stay tuned, because of course, there’s much more to come.
Posted in Features on December 10th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Please note: This list is not culled in any way from the Readers Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2015 to that, please do.
Last year, I did a Song of the Year post, but it wound up having basically a list’s worth of honorable mentions at the bottom, so as we move further into year-end season, it seemed only fair to give more releases their due.
One of the trickier aspects of putting this list together is trying to separate songs from the context of the albums on which they appear. That is, thinking of a given song as a standalone entity, apart from the track before, the track after and whatever else the record on which it appears might have on offer. I did my best to make sure these tracks had enough power and presence within them to be considered on their own as well. I’d expect that much of whether or not you think I was successful in that will depend on how much you agree with the picks. That’s fair enough.
And to that end, as always, please let me know if you think something was omitted here, if there was a song that really stood out to you this year — somebody’s single, or something from a record, whatever it might be — that doesn’t show up on the list. Hell, there are only 10 included. That’s bound to not be everything. Still, these are what hit me especially hard this year:
The Obelisk Presents: The Top 10 Songs of 2015
1. Elder, “Lore”
2. Acid King, “Center of Everywhere”
3. High on Fire, “The Falconist”
4. Death Alley, “Supernatural Predator”
5. Snail, “Thou Art That”
6. All Them Witches, “Open Passageways”
7. Sun Blood Stories, “Witch Wind”
8. The Atomic Bitchwax, “Hey Baby Ice Age”
9. Goatsnake, “Grandpa Jones”
10. Øresund Space Collective, “20 Steps Towards the Invisible Door”
A few honorable mentions: Kings Destroy‘s “Mr. O” remains a sentimental favorite and a song I go back to on many occasions when I need a boot to the ass. Clutch‘s “X-Ray Visions” efficiently reaffirmed the righteousness of their direction since Earth Rocker, while Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats‘ “Melody Lane” did likewise for that UK outfit’s malevolent grit-pop.
It was buried under a morass of riffs, but Windhand‘s “Kingfisher” was a standout, while Kadavar‘s “See the World with Your Own Eyes” skillfully walked a fine line between inspirational and cornball without any concern for sliding from one to the next, and so didn’t. If this list went to 11, Graveyard‘s “Too Much is Not Enough” would’ve been my next pick for the unabashed soulfulness pervading its melancholy atmosphere.
What was to be done with Elder‘s “Lore?” In the end, I’m not sure any other single track showed the kind of scope, the emotive presence, the poise, the progression and, pivotally, the groove it did. In its three stages, the 16-minute album centerpiece and title-track underlined the sheer mastery Elder put on display across their third full-length’s span. Wait a few years and you will find bands coming out who sound like this.
I had a hard time picking a song from Acid King‘s Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere. “Coming Down from Outer Space” has that mega-hook. “Red River” rolls so fluidly. In the end, “Center of Everywhere combines all those aspects with the atmospheric breadth that played such a huge role in making the album so special. It simply would not be denied. Similarly, High on Fire‘s “The Falconist” from 2015’s Luminiferous is arguably that trio’s most melodic, progressive work to-date. Infectious, heavy and emotionally resonant in a way that a lot of their material actively works against being, to my ears it’s the boldest thing they’ve done.
Scope was a big part of the appeal of Death Alley‘s “Supernatural Predator,” the Dutch band running between Motörhead and Hawkwind in one song and bringing in former The Devil’s Blood vocals Farida Lemouchi to help them do it. At nearly 13 minutes long, its hypnosis feels like it could push even further if it wanted to, and that’s one of my favorite aspects of it. Also over 10 minutes long, Snail‘s “Thou Art That” was for me the defining moment of their excellent Feral album, a whopper of a riff marking a place within a brooding psychedelic landscape that even just three years ago I’m not sure they would have been able to conjure in the same way. One of those tracks that eats like an album.
There was a video of All Them Witches playing “Open Passageways” at a radio station in Nashville that was out before the song had a title, and since I first saw that earlier this year, I’d hoped it would make its way onto their third album, Dying Surfer Meets His Maker. It did, and the arrangement was stunning from the propulsive drum work and sustained consonants of the vocals to the weeping violin. It was between “Witch Wind” and “West the Sun” from Sun Blood Stories‘ Twilight Midnight Morning, but the former was the hook that first caught my ear and made me dig deeper into the Boise natives’ 2015 offering, and I couldn’t discount that factor. A release that continues to deliver every time I put it on.
I remain a sucker for The Atomic Bitchwax, and while their Gravitron album was harder hitting overall than anything they’ve done in a while, “Hey Baby Ice Age” balanced that with a bit of their penchant for a poppier hook, and the result nestled into my mental jukebox, where it remains in high rotation to this day. Goatsnake‘s “Grandpa Jones” had a similar effect, its megagroove and ultra-catchy chorus continue to be stuck in my head more often than not. If I had any desire to escape from either whatsoever, it might be a problem.
Rounding out the list of 10 and worthy of special note is Øresund Space Collective‘s “20 Steps Towards the Invisible Door” from their recently-issued Different Creatures album. I think it’s the most recent release on this list, but I had to get the song in somewhere. It’s a sprawling 45-minute jam that could just as easily have been put out as its own full-length, but closes out the 140-minute double-CD gorgeously by pushing the listener farther and farther out to the very limits of the reaches of space rock. Progressive improvisation is no easy feat, but “20 Steps Towards the Invisible Door” left the band with no option but to include every second of its extended span. It’s all essential.
These are just my picks. If you agree, disagree, have more to add, I’d love to know about it in the comments. Thanks for reading.
Posted in Whathaveyou on August 5th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
If it seems strange that a band like Magic Circle might just post two new tracks on YouTube, make a post about it on their website and leave it at that, minimal promotion, let-those-who-find-it-find-it kind of thing, you’re probably not that familiar with the band. No worries. That’s how the Boston five-piece got their start. The songs from their first single, “Scream Evil” and “Lighting Her Fire” made their primary impact through YouTube link spreading — essentially word-of-mouth, but with more clicking and less actual language — and a lack of cloying social media promotion has been a hallmark of their approach since. Some news leaks out through their label, Armageddon Shop, but basically if you want to know what’s going on, if you’re going to find out, you’re going to do so from someone else or by regularly checking their website.
Fair enough. Doing so yesterday or today brings two new songs — “Lightning Cage” and “Grand Deceivers” — as well as the Joe Petagno artwork from their forthcoming sophomore album, Journey Blind, which is the follow-up to their 2013 self-titled debut (review here). I had caught “Lightning Cage” earlier this year when I saw them in Providence, but “Grand Deceivers” is all new, and both only make me look forward to hearing more. Which, of course is the whole idea.
When the album might be out, if it’s coming through Armageddon Shop and any other details have yet to be revealed, if they’re going to be revealed at all, but we’ve got the music, and if you cut to the heart of it, that’s what matters.
Have at you:
Two New Songs
In anticipation of our new LP, we’d like to share two brand new tracks. Details on the release will soon follow.
Lightning Cage & Grand Deceivers – from the forthcoming “Journey Blind” lp. Recorded winter/spring 2015 by the band; mastered by Carl Saff. Art by Joe Petagno – used w/ permission.
Posted in Whathaveyou on July 16th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
File this one under “Damn Those are Gonna be Some Good Shows” as Earthless and Elder pair up to tour Australia beginning Oct. 22. It’s a quick run, but an utterly badass pairing of bands, that, if I happened to be on the other side of the planet, I’d be sure to hit up. This will be Elder‘s first time down there — you might recall a couple years back they were all set to go with YOB (who will be there next month as well) but it didn’t pan out — while I’m pretty sure Earthless have made the trip before. Either way, there’s just nothing about those two getting together that doesn’t flat out rule.
News came down off the PR wire a couple minutes ago:
EARTHLESS (USA) & ELDER (USA) AUSTRALIAN TOUR OCTOBER 2015
LIFE IS NOISE is proud to announce the heavy-psych double-bill of the year, as Elder and Earthless tour Australia this October.
Earthless want you to know how it feels to touch the sky. With smoldering guitar riffs that stretch from here to infinity, the San Diego trio are at once cosmic and timeless, rooted in a profound respect for the Zeppelin/Sabbathian tradition yet with eyes firmly cast forward. Never mind the retro rock revivalists or the ’70s throwbacks – Earthless aren’t nostalgists; they’re sonic luminaries dragging psychadelia by the wah pedal into the 21st century and beyond.
Isaiah Mitchell is the kind of guitar prodigy that comes along only once in a generation. Underpinned by the military precision of Mario Rubalcaba’s drumming and Mike Eginton’s fundamental grooves, Mitchell’s chaotic fretwork is as unpredictable as it is ambitious.
Elder are a sleeper cell of colossal talent. Never has three-piece so seamlessly merged the atmosphere of doom with the depth of stoner rock and the vitality of psychedelic rock. Their latest album, Lore, is a quiet masterpiece – a blizzard of riffs that shine with melody, dynamism and songwriting sophistication well beyond the young band’s years.
Few bands have the gall to cover Jimi Hendrix, and even fewer can do it well, but Elder did just that in June when they released a rip-roaring cover of Voodoo Child (Slight Return) for the Hendrix tribute Electric Ladyland Redux. Nick DeSalvo’s guitar sounds on the brink of bursting into flames as he blazes through solo after solo.
Elder’s sonic mastery extends beyond the studio – the trio’s live documents and show-stealing sets at Roadburn and Psycho California are a testament to Elder’s limitless potential.
Elder and Earthless have never shared a stage before. There’s no telling what havoc these two riff lords will wreak. Don’t miss the psych trip of the year. Witness these two blow minds on the following dates:
Perth – The Rosemount Hotel – October 22, Melbourne –The Corner – October 23, 2015 Sydney – Newtown Social – October 24, 2015 Brisbane – Crowbar – October 26, 2015
Tickets on sale now through lifeisnoise.com, Oztix and venue outlets.
Posted in Features on July 6th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
If 2015 ended tomorrow, I think you’d still have to say it was a pretty good year for heavy rock. Doom veered into a swath extremes — its own subgenres emerging almost one by one in a growing splinter that nonetheless continues to draw water from its roots — while the neo-stoner ignition of the West Coast continued its boom of new acts proffering classic groove. The East reveled in a progressive vision just waiting to be picked up by others, and in Europe, the ’70s traditionalist movement spread ever wider, essentially defining a modern sound in organic sounding, sometimes-vintage elements. Whether you’re going for crushing, oppressive barbarism or cosmos-bound blissouts, it is, in short, a good time to be alive.
Of course, 2015 doesn’t end tomorrow, and there’s still a whole lot of year to come. About half, as it happens. So, as has been the tradition around here for the last half-decade — and seems to be the tradition in a growing number of outlets; not taking credit or claiming to have invented anything, just noting a proliferation — it’s time to count down the best records of the year so far. There have been more than a handful of gems, and since in December I’m planning on doing a top 30, we’ll mark half the year with a top 15. Seems only fair.
Please note that this isn’t purely a critical evaluation, but a personal list, and that what I’ve put on most is as crucial a factor in my ranking as how important I think a given record is. You know the drill by now. Let’s go:
Kiev three-piece Stoned Jesus have a varied stylistic history, and their third outing, The Harvest was ultimately a success in large part because of its complete refusal to be defined. Atop a foundation of quality songcraft, the trio proffered a sound that was not necessarily experimental in terms of anti-structure noise or effects onslaughts, but bold in each of its forays outward from its heavy rock underpinnings.
It has consistently taken me a while to get a hold on what Freedom Hawk are up to. The steady elements in their sound are held to so firmly that on the first couple listens, it seems to just be more of the same. But the more one digs in, the more there is to be found, and with Into Your Mind, the Virginia Beach trio overcome losing a member to create their most progressive outing to date, flourishes of psychedelia melding easily with their signature style of sunshiny riffing.
Five albums deep, Germany’s My Sleeping Karma are an act unto themselves. Their progress has been natural, fueled by a clear, varied sense of exploratory will, and the results on this year’s Moksha were nothing short of stunning. Branching out their arrangements might not be new to them, but the inclusion of horns, drones, percussion, etc., amid the central guitar, bass, keys and drums lent an almost orchestral feel to the flow between the tracks, and one can only hope they continue on their current path, because it is unquestionably the right one.
So much potential, so much vitality at the heart of this debut from Death Alley. The Amsterdam-based four-piece (interview here) stormed out of the gate with a ripper of a debut, and just when you seemed to have it all figured out, they hit the ignition on a 12-minute full-impulse space rock thrust, a guest vocal appearance from Farida Lemouchi (a former bandmate of Death Alley guitarist Oeds Beydals in The Devil’s Blood) adding both mystique and emotional resonance to what was already a stunning track. With all the riotousness preceding, Black Magick Boogieland readily lived up to its righteous title.
Midwestern-turned-West-Coast heavy psych rockers Mondo Drag may have taken their time in releasing their self-titled sophomore outing, which followed their 2010 debut, New Rituals (review here), and was recorded in 2012, but it’s easy to imagine that’s because they wanted the circumstances to be as special as the album itself, recorded with a fleeting five-piece lineup that included the one-time rhythm section of Radio Moscow who wound up leaving to further their then-nascent project, Blues Pills. Even without that lineup shift as a factor, the late ’60s vibe Mondo Drag brought out across the release proved eminently listenable and has held up on repeat visits.
A gorgeous, shimmering and melodically resonant debut from the Dutch four-piece Cigale, their self-titled gracefully maintained tonal presence and warmth while also enacting a psychedelic sprawl and grooving serenity that acted like the landscape in which the songs took place. It was a rich, bright vibe, and an utter joy to behold, tracks like “Harvest Begun,” “Feel the Heat” and “Eyes Wide Shut” proving as memorable as they were inviting. Having two former members of the much-missed fuzz rock outfit Sungrazer may have initially turned some heads in their direction, but Cigale‘s first album proved they’re an outfit with their own personality, their own development to undertake, and already much to offer.
The awaited return of The Machine brought the band’s fifth album and a further-refined sense of maturity in their processes, as well as intrigue as to where they might be headed, two dual modes of open-ended jamming and more structured songwriting playing off each other in the extended “Chrysalis (J.A.M.)” and “Come to Light” and the more verse/chorus stylizations of “Dry End” and “Off Course.” To be perfectly honest, I doubt The Machine will ultimately pick one side over another, since if Offblast! proved anything it’s that they can easily handle either or both, but as they continue to grow, it’s encouraging to have their style establish itself as so multi-faceted.
First time I pressed play on Gravitron was a real “oh shit!” moment. The last release from NJ stalwarts The Atomic Bitchwax was 2011’s The Local Fuzz (review here), a single-song full-length instrumental riff onslaught that had its charm but was inherently divorced from the appeal of the band’s songwriting. Not only does Gravitron re-factor that in with songs like “Roseland,” “It’s Alright,” “Coming in Hot” and “Ice Age Hey Baby,” among others, but it hits with kick-in-the-ass production force and an all-out heaviness that 2008’s TAB4 showed the three-piece steering directly away from. Just a killer record. Utterly void of pretense. No bullshit. No need to rely on anything more than chemistry, and with the Bitchwax, that’s plenty.
7. Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth
Right now, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth are my band to beat for Debut of the Year, and I’m quite frankly not sure how anyone is going to be able to do it, so if list time comes in Dec. and you see Tad Doyle‘s trio marked out as such, know that it’s been that way in my head for some time. The three-piece of Doyle, bassist Peggy “Pegadeth” Tully and drummer Dave French arrived with a roar, and even when their self-titled let up sonically, the atmosphere remained viscerally heavy. Six years having passed since the release of their first demo (review here), I wasn’t sure there was ever going to be an album, but then to have Brothers of the Sonic Cloth show up and enact such thorough demolition only made it more impressive.
It can’t possibly be a surprise to have Luminiferous show up somewhere on this list. The seventh long-player by High on Fire had all the rage and bombast in “Slave the Hive” and “The Black Plot” that have become the band’s hallmarks over their 17 years together, but branched out progressively as well in songs like “The Cave” and “The Falconist,” the latter of which was brazenly catchy and about as emotionally direct as the band has ever gotten, their general modus being — and in that song too, just to a lesser extent — a metaphor-laced lyrical approach. That song was a triumph and so was the album as a whole; the second collaboration with producer Kurt Ballou building on the rampaging victories of 2012’s De Vermis Mysteriis (review here) while also showing growth on the part of one of modern metal’s most pivotal bands.
Hitting more or less concurrent with a vinyl release of their prior album, 2013’s A Time of Hunting (review here), Kings Destroy‘s Kings Destroy is not at all coincidentally titled. Over the course of now three full-lengths, the New York five-piece — about whom I feign no impartiality, let it be noted — have distinguished themselves with a sound neither noise, nor doom, nor heavy rock, but drawing on elements of all three when it suits their purposes with chemistry built from years of being in bands together of various stripes and in various genres. What stands the self-titled out from their past work, in part, is that it is the closest they’ve yet come to capturing their live sound in the studio, and accordingly, it’s a volatile kind of heavy that bends aesthetic to its will rather than capitulating to expectations of any sort. I don’t think they’re done growing by any stretch, but Kings Destroy feels like an arrival front-to-back.
This one was almost a sneak-attack. German heavy psych forerunners Colour Haze released To the Highest Gods We Know, their 11th full-length, in Dec. 2014 on CD (the vinyl was in 2015, which is what we’re counting in this instance), with very, very little fanfare of any sort. There was a track premiere here that came shortly after the album was announced, but I think it was officially out less than a month after its existence was made public, which for a band of Colour Haze‘s stature and influence was surprising. Less devoted to grandeur than 2012’s 2CD She Said (review here), it nonetheless pushed the band’s sound forward and found them experimenting in their studio, particularly on the string-quartet-inclusive finale title-track, which offset jams like “Überall” and the laid back highlight “Call” with a rhythmic oddness that was somehow still Colour Haze‘s own. I couldn’t help but wonder where it was leading, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t masterful in its own right.
Goatsnake didn’t have it easy going into their third album. It had been 15 years since their sophomore outing, Flower of Disease, 11 since their last EP, and five since they first started playing shows again. Expectations? Through the roof. Among heavy rock heads, a new Goatsnake was like seeing the mountaintop. I mean, a big fucking deal and then some. Then the record hits, and there’s just about no way it can live up to the anticipation, but god damn if Goatsnake not only finally put out a third album, but one that was better than I think anyone could’ve hoped for. Hearing Pete Stahl with however many backup singers he had on “Another River to Cross” et. al. was like finding an animal in its native habitat, and between his soul, Greg Anderson‘s riffs, bassist Scott Renner‘s low end rumble and drummer Greg Rogers‘ roll, Black Age Blues won almost immediately and then spent the rest of its 47 minutes throwing itself a victory party. “Elevated Man,” “House of the Moon,” “Jimi’s Gone,” “Grandpa Jones,” almost on a per-track basis, Goatsnake added to the reasons they’ve been so heralded despite a decade-plus’ absence from the studio.
On the level of achievement alone, Elder‘s Lore will be the album of the year for many, and there are times (such as right now) when I listen to it and question whether or not it isn’t also my pick for that honor, but wherever it falls on whatever list, far more important is what the Massachusetts/Rhode Island/New York trio manage to accomplish across their third LP’s formidable five-track/59-minute span, songs like “Compendium” and “Deadweight” bridging a rarely approached gap between heavy and progressive rocks while maintaining a flow consistent with the psychedelic vibing of 2011’s Dead Roots Stirring (review here) but grown outward in another aesthetic direction and no sooner setting foot on the ground than seeming to master it in a flurry of blinding turns, sprawling soundscapes and clarity of mind that found perhaps its greatest expression in the centerpiece title-track, the 15-minute “Lore” itself, which I’ve no doubt will stand among if not atop the best songs of 2015 when the year is over and encapsulates the ambition and the corresponding breadth of Elder‘s songwriting, the trio of guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan, and drummer Matt Couto rising as one of the East Coast’s most pivotal acts, with a sound completely their own.
1. Acid King, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere
I use the word “molten” pretty regularly to describe an album or song that seems to just ooze its way out of the speakers or shift seamlessly between its songs, but Acid King set an entirely new standard for the term with Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere. Their first outing for Svart and their first release in a decade, its 55 minutes were a riff-rolling nirvana of lurching fuzz and tonal excellence, the guitar of Lori S. at the fore accompanied by Mark Lamb‘s bass and Joey Osbourne‘s drums, the swing of which propelled a highlight track like “Coming down from Outer Space” right back into it, while elsewhere on the record, “Silent Pictures,” “Red River” and “Infinite Skies” torched stoner conventions into a new space-biker rock, culminating in the heavy psych of “Center of Everywhere,” which seemed to emanate from the place it was describing, at once empty and full. More than just a welcome return after a long dearth of releases, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere found Acid King progressed even beyond where they were with 2005’s III, though more than anything else, what makes it my top pick for the year so far is the fact that I can’t seem to walk away from it for too long before going back, and ultimately, that’s what it all comes down to with his kind of thing. I’ve yet to find a standard to which these songs don’t live up.
A few others worth noting. The Sun Blood Stories album (streamed here) continues to resonate. Also Monolord, Valkyrie, Lamp of the Universe, Garden of Worm, Wo Fat‘s live record, The Midnight Ghost Train‘s Cold was the Ground and Ufomammut‘s Ecate. The Black Rainbows was a joy, as was Spidergawd‘s second LP, and while I still feel like I haven’t given it its due, the Sumac won many over and should get a mention. Steve Von Till‘s solo outing and the latest from Enslaved are worth seeking out as well for anyone who hasn’t heard them yet.
More to Come:
The year’s only half over, which is kind of a scary thought but true nonetheless. Watch out in the coming months for new stuff from Bloodcow, All Them Witches, Clutch, Graveyard, Zun, Sacri Monti (if that one’s not already out), Snail, Uncle Acid, and Kind. The new Kadavar is a sure-fire top tenner, and between that, the potential for a new Neurosis album and stuff like Magnetic Eye Records‘ Electric Ladyland [Redux], there’s no way the book is written on the best of 2015.
So stay tuned.
And if I’ve still got your attention, thanks for reading.
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.