Morne: New Album To the Night Unknown Available to Preorder

Posted in Whathaveyou on August 3rd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

morne (Photo by Hilarie Jason)

By early September the nights in Massachusetts usually start to cool off from the day’s residual summer assault of Eastern Seaboard humidity and it portends the no-sun cruelties of the winter ahead. I don’t know if this is what Boston’s Morne had in mind when they released their The Coming of Winter live album in 2015, but it makes the Sept. 7 release date of their new studio record, To the Night Unknown, make a lot of sense. To be issued by Armageddon Shop‘s own Armageddon Label in conjunction with the band’s aptly-titled Morne Records imprint, it will follow some five years behind their 2013 LP, Shadows, which came out via Profound Lore and took the four-piece to Roadburn in the Netherlands in 2014 and made a lasting enough impression that they featured last year as well at Psycho Las Vegas.

A band whose quiet stretches even seem to seethe with extremity, Morne have preorders up for To the Night Unknown now, as the PR wire informs:

morne to the night unknown

Pre-Orders Up Now! MORNE “To The Night Unknown” 2LP / CD

Five years since their last release, Morne is proud to announce their fourth studio album entitled, “To the Night Unknown,” which will be released by the Armageddon Label and the bands’ own label Morne Records, in September 2018. The album was recorded at New Alliance Audio Productions by Jon Taft and mastered at Audiosiege by Brad Boatright and features the photography and design of Hillarie Jason.

Morne, formed in 2005, is a heavy, atmospheric band based in Boston, Massachusetts. Their style blends doom metal and classic British crust but stretches beyond those boundaries, combining a bleak lyrical style with driving riffs. The band has toured the US, Canada and Europe, and they have been part of large festivals such as Roadburn, Hellfest and Psycho Las Vegas.

MORNE – “To The Night Unknown”
Armageddon Label
Release Date: September 7th 2018
Catalog Number: Armageddon 020
Available formats: Gatefold 2LP w/download, Digipack CD, Digital

Vinyl: Gatefold 2LP on 180 gram black vinyl or ltd 180 gram black vinyl with gray splatter
CD: Digipack packaging with 8pg booklet
Digital: via Itunes, Amazon, Bandcamp and others

Pre-orders are live NOW via:
https://armageddonlabel.bigcartel.com/
Orders will ship a week before street date.

TRACKLIST:
1. To the Night Unknown
2. Not Our Flame
3. The Blood is Our Own
4. Scorn
5. Show Your Wounds
6. Night Awaits the Dawn
7. Shadowed Road
8. Surrendering Fear

LINE UP:
Milosz Gassan – Vocals, Guitar
Paul Rajpal – Guitar
Morgan Coe – Bass
Billy Knockenhauer – Drums

https://facebook.com/mornecrust
https://morneband.bandcamp.com/
https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/morne/440400147
https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=dp_byline_sr_music_1?ie=UTF8&field-artist=MORNE&search-alias=music
https://open.spotify.com/artist/5hpeBTPIG4IE2ymmNZUiEf
http://www.storenvy.com/stores/120214-morne
http://armageddonshop.com/
https://armageddonlabel.bigcartel.com/

Morne, The Coming of Winter (2015)

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Elder Touring Europe this Fall with Ancestors; Playing Fests and More

Posted in Whathaveyou on August 2nd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

elder

Progressive heavy rock forerunners Elder will be back on the road in Europe for Fall 2018, joined by Ancestors for a run through festivals that includes Doom vs. Stoner, Up in Smoke, Desertfest Belgium 2018, Into the Void and Keep it Low. Because, basically, if you’re throwing a heavy fest in 2018, you want Elder to play. The former-trio-now-four-piece affirmed their ascendance last year with Reflections of a Floating World (review here) and have barely come off tour since. To wit, after the stint with Ancestors? They have another European tour. It’s pretty much how it goes with them these days, and right on.

You’ll note they mention an impending announcement about new music. I know what it is and it’s awesome. It’s not public yet, but yeah, there’s something cool happening. Stay tuned.

They posted the following on the social medias:

Elder announce European tour

We’re back on the autobahn and beyond again this fall, sharing the first leg of our tour with the fantastic @ancestors (who have a killer new album out) Let us know below what show you’ll be at!

Also, we’ve got another exciting announcement regarding new music coming in the near future…

29.09. UK – Sheffield, O2 Academy, Doom vs. Stoner Festival*
30.09. UK – Glasgow, The Audio*
01.10. UK – Leeds, TBA*
02.10. UK – Manchester, The Rebellion*
03.10. UK – Coventry, The Phoenix*
04.10. UK – Bristol, The Fleece*
05.10. UK – London, Garage*
06.10. CH – Pratteln, Up In Smoke Festival*
07.10. I – Milan, Legend*
08.10. I – Bologna, Freak Out / Locomotive*
09.10. I – Rome, Evol*
10.10. I – Fabriano, Sonic Room*
11.10. CRO – Zagreb, Vintage Industrial Bar*
12.10. HUN – Budapest, Dürer Kert*
14.10. B – Antwerp, Trix, Desertfest*
15.10. GER – Hannover, Chez Heinz*
16.10. GER – Berlin, S036*
17.10. GER – Dortmund, Junkyard*
18.10. F – Paris, Glazart*
19.10. NL – Leeurwarden, Neushoorn, Into the Void*
20.10. GER – Munich, Feierwerk, Keep It Low*
21.10. A – Vienna, Arena*

31.10. RUS – St Petersburg
01.11. RUS – Moscow
03.11. DK – Aalborg, Aalborg Metalfest
04.11. GER – Osnabrück, Bastard
05.11. GER – Karlsruhe, Stadtmitte
06.11. F – Poitiers, Le confort Moderne
07.11. E – Barcelona, Razzmatazz
08.11. E – Callosa De Segura (Alicante), Auditorium
09.11. E – Madrid, Nazca
10.10. I – Fabriano, Sonic Room
10.11. E – Bilbao, Santana 27
* with Ancestors

Artwork by @digitaldexter

http://facebook.com/elderofficial
https://www.instagram.com/elderband/
http://stickman-records.com
http://armageddonshop.com

Elder, Reflections of a Floating World (2017)

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Churchburn Post Video for “The Misery Hymns”; Album Release Show Set for Friday

Posted in Bootleg Theater on July 10th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

churchburn

Churchburn make an awful lot of sense in a world utterly rife with daily horrors and panic. The deathly Providence, Rhode Island, sludge extremists are rearing back to unleash their second LP, None Shall Live… The Hymns of Misery (review here), via Armageddon Shop this weekend at a show at their hometown venue Dusk alongside DropdeadConclave and High Command, and to further herald the record’s arrival, they’ve teamed with Chariot of Black Moth to release a new video for the semi-titled-track “The Misery Hymns.” Appropriately enough, its imagery is dark, full of stark and dense grays and sudden flashing lights, and it seems to begin by dragging the viewer through a black hole. If it sounds severe, it is.

The album, which follows 2014’s The Awaiting Coffins (review here), toys throughout with the balance between death metal and sludge riffing, delighting in the wretchedness it conjures while it obliterates that genre line. In songs like “Lines of Red” and “The Misery Hymns,” it is unbridled in its heft, but there’s a pervasive sense of atmosphere as well, and Churchburn never seem to lose sight of that underlying purpose, as brutal as they might and do get. The result is a record the weight of which stems from more than just its tones. The sound of it is menacing in the moment and haunting after, and its sense of punishment is likewise multi-tiered.

It goes without saying the release show will be completely ridiculous. An absolute onslaught and one that, should you be in the area, you’ll want to hit up even if you don’t know you want to hit it up.

The video follows here. Please enjoy:

Churchburn, “The Misery Hymns” official video

Huge Thanks to Jakub of Chariot Of Black Moth for making this video for us… for the song, “Misery Hymns”. New album out July, Friday the 13th, on Armageddon Shop Label…”None Shall Live…The Hymns of Misery”

Churchburn live:
07.14 Dusk Providence RI – Record Release Show w/ Dropdead, High Command & Conclave
10.05 Geno’s Portland ME – Into the Aether II Festival

Churchburn on Thee Facebooks

Churchburn on Bandcamp

Armageddon Shop website

Armageddon Shop label webstore

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Churchburn, None Shall Live… The Hymns of Misery: Vita ex Mortis

Posted in Reviews on June 4th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

churchburn none shall live the hymns of misery

It’s a different Churchburn on the second album than it was on the first. The core duo of guitarist/vocalist Dave Suzuki (formerly of Vital Remains) and drummer Ray McCaffrey (formerly of Sin of Angels and Grief) are joined by guitarist Timmy St. Amour (ex-Howl) and bassist/vocalist Derek Moniz (ex-HeadRot), as well as guests Andy Grant adding noise/ambience and ex-member Mike Cordoso contributing backing vocals, for None Shall Live… The Hymns of Misery, and as the follow-up to 2014’s The Awaiting Coffins (review here), the new outing immediately has a high standard to live up to in brutality and atmosphere alike. That challenge is met with a gleefully extreme seven-track/45-minute run that takes the basic model of the first album, which bridged together the often disparate styles of death metal and sludge, and makes the sound even more cohesive and individualized as the band’s own.

From the opening minute-long feedback introduction in “Vexare” through the chugs, shouts, nods and viciousness that follows until the acoustic notes that precede the ultra-slowdown roll of closer “Kaustos,” Churchburn conjure a vision of lumbering madness that, despite its bite and general abrasiveness, succeeds in its mission to cull together the multiple styles by which it’s influenced into a single impression. That is, where The Awaiting Coffins set death metal and sludge against each other on a collection drawn from the band’s original demo and two more recent recordings, None Shall Live… The Hymns of Misery feels more like a complete album, but one that unquestionably benefits from the experience of its predecessor. It brings its tectonic deathsludge together with a smashing weight worthy of inclusion in conversations alongside acts like Primitive Man, but also uses that as a foundation to branch out in different directions, showing some YOB influence on centerpiece “Authorized to Cleanse” — sonically if not in philosophy — and still finding room stomach-turning tension in the rhythm of the penultimate “Relieved by Burning Lead.”

What’s important to understand — and one can hear it in the eight-plus-minute second cut “Lines of Red,” on which Suzuki‘s blown-out vocals call to mind the heyday of Maryland’s Swarm of the Lotus, as well as the brazen lead guitar melodies and deft rhythmic turns of “Before the Inferno” — is that none of this has happened by mistake. There’s consciousness at work behind these songs, and while I’m not sure I’d call the material progressive, it has progressed from where Churchburn were four and five years ago. A solidified full lineup is likely to have something to do with that, but even in the sense of menace that marks the sample at the start of “Relieved by Burning Lead” or the build into the churning highlight and semi-title-track, “The Misery Hymns,” it is a willful execution of creative intent at work, not happenstance of throwing together riffs and seeing what happens. And with Suzuki and McCaffrey both still present as the driving force behind the group, Churchburn seem just to have begun a new stage of their overarching growth. The interplay of rhythm and lead layers on “Authorized to Cleanse,” which gives way to a blastbeat-laden attack that’s both one of the most poised and most outwardly searing on the record, speaks to the capacities of the new lineup, but at the same time, it’s clear that the moves Churchburn are making are the result of lessons learned from the debut.

churchburn

While almost a first offering unto itself for being the premiere with this lineup, None Shall Live… The Hymns of Misery is very much a second full-length, and one that only pushes further along the encouraging lines of its predecessor. To wit, the shifting pace of “Before the Inferno,” which moves fluidly from sharp-edged twists through sections of faster chugging into more drawn out and doomed atmospheric roll, marks the kind of execution that, however much experience the players might have in previous bands, would be incredibly rare on a debut. McCaffrey‘s double-kick, Suzuki‘s distorted screams at the apex and the thud that finishes all delve deeper into the consuming aspects of the album as a whole listening experience, and while there are no shortage of headbang-worthy — let’s say, in your kitchen, 5AM, through laptop speakers headbanging, or, you know, at a show — moments of raw punishment, Churchburn have as much to say in ambience as they do in onslaught.

But here too the story is one of cohesion, and like the haunting grin of the horned figure on the Nestor Avalos cover art, None Shall Live… The Hymns of Misery casts much of its violence in subtlety. Even beneath the lurch of “Vexare” at the outset, one can hear in the low end of bass and guitar a push that seems to move downward and downward, not just following the march of the drums into the rest of the album that follows, but gradually leading the listener out of the light and into the manifestations of darkness to come. And at the end, the nylon-string guitar introducing “Kaustus” would seem to offer a moment of hope or respite, but the lumber that ensues and the panicking screams at the end provide one last look at the terrors already witnessed; a final reminder of the power Churchburn seem to find in the murk of their own creation.

Though it sounds insane, it’s methodical, so maybe psychopathic is a better term for what’s happening throughout these tracks, but in any case, by realizing this merciless intent, the band leaves no question as to the success of the album. It has been made with the intention to damn the spirit as well as the eardrums, and while there are stretches for which there will never seem to be enough volume — again, “Lines of Red” — None Shall Live… The Hymns of Misery is more than just aural sadism. It is crafted dark art and a work of precise concept that leaves more in its wake than simple bruises. If it is foreshadow, it portends utter devastation should Churchburn be able to continue along its line of progress, and if it is an ultimate expression, its triumph is writ large in every destructive second of its passing.

Churchburn on Thee Facebooks

Churchburn on Bandcamp

Armageddon Shop website

Armageddon Shop label webstore

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Churchburn Announce None Shall Live… The Hymns of Misery out July 13

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 9th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

churchburn

It’s been a minute, but if you recall Churchburn‘s 2014 debut album, The Awaiting Coffins (review here), then chances are you remember it devouring the line between death metal and doom, the shredding leads and vicious chug of Dave Suzuki, also of a friendly little outfit called Vital Remains. And by friendly I mean visceral. In any case, though it wasn’t without its atmospheric/ambient stretches, it was a record worthy of opening with a song called “Embers of Human Ash.” Put it that way.

Four years later, there’s a new Churchburn coming from a new, expanded lineup of the band, Suzuki and fellow founder Ray McCaffrey joined by former Howl guitarist Timmy St. Amour and bassist Derek Moniz, who’s been in many, many bands. Due out July 18 via the much-respected Armageddon Shop, the record is called None Shall Live… The Hymns of Misery, and I have little doubt that once again the band will live up to their slaughter-filled expectations.

The PR wire sent info. Preorders start June 1:

churchburn none shall live the hymns of misery

CHURCHBURN – None Shall Live… The Hymns Of Misery LP/CD/CASSETTE/Digital
Armageddon Shop AS-013
Release date: July 13, 2018
Preorders up: June 1, 2018

It’s been 4 years since “The Awaiting Coffins” was released. Churchburn is proud to finally unveil the new album: “None Shall Live…The Hymns of Misery”. To be released once again via the Armageddon Shop store label.

Recorded, engineered and mixed at Machines With Magnets by Seth Manchester: machineswithmagnets.com

Mastered at Audiosiege by Brad Boatright for maximum hearing damage: audiosiege.com

We’re proud to feature the artwork by the dark mind of Nestor Avalos. He went above and beyond our highest expectations to create this sick piece of art for us: nestoravalosofficial.com

For added discomfort within the music, we had two special guests: Andy Grant of The Vomit Arsonist for his black ambience. Our metal brother, former member Mike Cardoso on backing vocals. Churchburn have also brought on two new members, both of whom have already made their own marks in previous R.I. bands: Timmy St. Amour (Howl) on guitar and Derek Moniz (Headrot, Wreak, Black Acid Prophecy…too many to mention) on bass. Their input and musicianship really show on the new songs and recording.

All photos for the new album shot by Mike St Onge.

Thank you to those who helped in funding some of the studio cost by buying merch and your continued support of Churchburn. We hope you dig this album as much as we do.

Churchburn 2018

BAND: Churchburn
ALBUM TITLE: None Shall Live… The Hymns Of Misery

TRACKLIST FOR CD/DIGITAL:
1. Vexare
2. Lines Of Red
3. Misery Hymns
4. Authorized to Cleanse
5. Before The Inferno
6. Relieved By Burning Lead
7. Kaustos

TRACKLIST FOR VINYL/CASSETTE:
Side A 21:24
1. Vexare 4:45
2. Lines Of Red 8:41
3. Misery Hymns 7:58

Side B 25:45
4. Authorized to Cleanse 6:02
5. Before The Inferno 7:00
6. Relieved By Burning Lead 5:49
7. Kaustos 4:54

Churchburn live:
May 28 Geno’s Rock Club Portland, ME
Jun 07 Northside Festival Brooklyn, NY
Jun 08 Brighton Music Hall Allston, MA
Jun 09 Upstate Music Hall Clifton Park, NY

Churchburn is the musical collaboration between two of the undergrounds masters of misery. Dave Suzuki, best known for his mesmerizing guitar work and brutal drumming in Vital Remains and Ray McCaffrey, who carved out sonic drum patterns for Sin Of Angels and Grief. The two have set out to share with the world their love of the riff. Not only the heaviest but also the most haunting. Each song is crafted with the most sinister of intent. Churchburn want the listener to feel a true sense of dread as each song progresses. Revamped 2017 Line up includes Timmy St. Amour (guitar) ex-Howl, and Derek Moniz (bass) ex-Headrot and many others.

https://www.facebook.com/CHURCHBURNDOOM/
https://churchburn.bandcamp.com/
https://open.spotify.com/artist/4XVE0BFa4oxWDyYdEdUFOH
http://armageddonshop.com/
https://armageddonlabel.bigcartel.com/

Churchburn, The Awaiting Coffins (2014)

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2017

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

top-30-of-2017

Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2017 to that, please do.

We’re almost at the finish line for 2017, and if I’m honest, it’s not a minute too soon. I think if one more record comes out this year my head is going to explode.

A perpetual onslaught of cool music is, of course, nothing to complain about. It just seemed like every time I thought I had a handle on where the year was going, some other announcement came through and knocked me on my ass. What’s that? The Obsessed are putting out their first album in more than two decades? Oh and Monolord have a new one coming? Radio Moscow just signed to Century Media? Arc of Ascent are back? Samsara Blues Experiment are back? Causa Sui are putting out a live album and a studio album? Sasquatch are going to Europe and sneaking a record along with them? All of a sudden I’m out of breath feeling like I just ran a lap.

It’s been madness this year. Between an emergent neo-psych movement in the wake of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and others, and the ongoing and constant reshaping of doom and heavy rock from practitioners new and old, I don’t know how anyone could ever claim to keep up with any of it.

You know I do the best I can, so when you look through this list, please keep in mind that these are my picks and the result of applying my own standard, which if you’ve ever seen a list on this site before you probably already know is a combination of things like what I view as being important on a critical level and things like what kept me coming back as a listener. What were the year’s biggest releases and what couldn’t I get enough of? Sometimes those two things come together around one record and it’s beautiful. That’s usually your album of the year, or close to, anyhow.

No sense in delaying further. I hope if you haven’t heard some of this stuff you’ll give it a shot, and if you have something you felt strongly about it, you’ll let me know in the comments. Thanks in advance for keeping it civil, and of course for reading.

Here goes:

30. Geezer, Psychoriffadelia
geezer psychoriffadelia

Released by Kozmik Artifactz and STB Records. Reviewed May 16.

Coming off of what was their strongest album to-date in their 2016 self-titled (review here), New York heavy psych blues trio Geezer decided it was time to take the groove for a walk. And so they did. Psychoriffadelia is the result — a looser collection of jams and willfully unrefined heavy blues, reveling in the politically incorrect on “Dirty Penny” only after basking in the post-Monster Magnet hypnosis of “Red Hook” and the earlier roll of the more straightforward “Hair of the Dog” and “Stressknots.” Everything Geezer has done to this point has pushed their sound to new places. Psychoriffadelia is no exception.

29. Orango, The Mules of Nana

orango the mules of nana

Released by Stickman Records. Reviewed March 27.

More than a touch of twang on opener “Heartland” sets a tone of Americana-infusion for Orango‘s sixth LP, The Mules of Nana, but the 10-tracker is ultimately much more about harmony-laced classic heavy smoothness than playing to prairie-minded sensibilities, though roots spread wide through a natural, dirty blues just the same. However they get there, “Hazy Chain of Mountains,” the softshoe-ready funk of “Head on Down” and the peacefully progressive finish of “Ghost Rider” bring ’70s-style thrills in songwriting and their precise, gorgeous execution. Underrated record from an underappreciated band.

28. Radio Moscow, New Beginnings

radio moscow new beginnings

Released by Century Media. Reviewed Oct. 6.

Cali boogie kingpins and all-around marvelous frenetic bastards Radio Moscow were in top form on their Century Media debut, and if it was a new beginning they were searching for, they met it head on with a sound as classic and organic as ever. Arguably the most powerful power trio in their game, they tore through cuts like “No One Knows Where They’ve Been” and “Deceiver” while offering flourish in the trip-out “Woodrose Morning” and subdued blues-psych on the penultimate “Pick up the Pieces.” Very much to form, but cast of a form that still manages to outclass all challengers.

27. Spaceslug, Time Travel Dilemma

spaceslug time travel dilemma

Released by Southcave Records, BSFD Records and Oak Island Records. Reviewed Feb. 10.

And so here we have the first of what will no doubt be several records about which I’m going to say they should be higher on the list. Poland’s Spaceslug have emerged from the moist ground created by their own tonality and on their sophomore full-length, they proffered warm depth of fuzz and a corresponding melodic and psychedelic reach that was resonant even before they brought in ex-Sungrazer bassist Sander Haagmans for a guest spot on the title-track. It’s been out for 10 months and still delivers every time I put it on, which is often.

26. Mothership, High Strangeness

mothership high strangeness
Released by Ripple Music and Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed March 7.

Three albums into a tenure marked by hard-driving riffs, scorching solos and relentless road work, there’s little Texas trio Mothership need to do at this point to prove themselves to their audience. At the same time, High Strangeness brought considerable expansion to their range overall, whether it was the exploratory “Eternal Trip” or the semi-metallic insistence behind “Midnight Express,” while staying tied together with lyrical and instrumental hooks. High Strangeness set a new standard for Mothership, plain and simple, and easily surpassed the considerable accomplishments of their 2012 self-titled debut (review here) and 2014’s Mothership II (review here).

25. Eternal Black, Bleed the Days

eternal black bleed the days

Released by Obsidian Sky Records. Reviewed Aug. 1.

There was a lot about Eternal Black‘s Bleed the Days that chugged its way into the post-Wino oeuvre of US-style trad doom, but the gruff, lumbering and impeccably riffed outing was nonetheless one of 2017’s best debut full-lengths, and it was the songwriting that got it there. Already sounding sure in the vibe captured, cuts like the plodding brooder “Sea of Graves” and “Stained Eyes on a Setting Sun” showed potential in mood and atmosphere as much as sheer sonic heft — though of course there was plenty of that to go around as well. Doomers missed it at their peril.

24. Kadavar, Rough Times

kadavar rough times

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Sept. 6.

It kind of feels like a slight to have Berlin trio Kadavar appear anywhere outside of at least a top 10 on any kind of list whatsoever, ever, but that’s not my intention at all. Rather, their fourth album and third for Nuclear Blast found them at an important stage in their progression — past the novelty of the vintage feel in their early work, after having proven their songwriting could translate to a modern context, and embarking on a process of expanding their sound. Rough Times, which was as current as current could be, met that goal and beat it easily with a barrage of memorable choruses and a dark streak one could only consider suitable for our age.

23. Shroud Eater, Strike the Sun

shroud eater strike the sun

Released by STB Records. Reviewed June 28.

The biggest surprise about Shroud Eater‘s long-awaited sophomore long-player was also its most encouraging aspect — namely how it found the Miami trio bringing together various impulses shown on a number of shorter releases over the course of the six years since their debut, ThunderNoise (review here), came out in 2011, and still managed to utterly crush when it so chose. With a swath from sludge to drone and back again, this was no minor feat, and that the songs they brought to bear were so memorable at their heart as well makes me hope all the more it’s not 2023 before their third album arrives.

22. Enslaved, E

enslaved e

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Oct. 4.

What’s left to say about Norwegian progressive black metal innovators Enslaved 14 records into their career? Plenty as it turns out. The introduction of new keyboardist/vocalist Håkon Vinje in place of Herbrand Larsen brought a new twist on a signature element of Enslaved‘s approach. Vinje utterly owned his role, and his performance alongside guitarist Ivar Bjørnson, bassist/vocalist Grutle Kjellson, guitarist Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal and drummer Cato Bekkevold resulted in a fresh urgency that made the band’s sound even more potent and set their ongoing creative evolution on a new branch of its self-directed path.

21. Arc of Ascent, Realms of the Metaphysical

arc-of-ascent-realms-of-the-metaphysical

Released by Astral Projection and Clostridium Records. Reviewed April 6.

Some five years on from 2012’s The Higher Key (review here) and seven out from their debut, Circle of the Sun (review here), and with bassist/vocalist Craig Williamson firmly entrenched in his always excellent Lamp of the Universe psych-drone-folk solo-project, I wasn’t sure there would be another offering from New Zealand heavy psych-rock trio Arc of Ascent, but Realms of the Metaphysical took shape from an ether of riffs and echoes atop resilient underlying structures and revitalized the group with new drummer Mark McGeady in the lineup with Williamson and guitarist Matt Cole-Baker. Remains to be seen if this marks a priority shift for Williamson or it’s a one-off, but its arrival was welcome either way.

20. Causa Sui, Vibraciones Doradas

causa sui vibraciones doradas

Released by El Paraiso Records. Reviewed Oct. 20.

With the various glories already offered in 2017 on the Live in Copenhagen (review here) 3LP, one didn’t necessarily expect a new studio outing from Danish instrumental psych masters Causa Sui, but Vibraciones Doradas found them as vibrant as ever, bringing forth a surprising amount of tonal weight on songs like “El Fuego,” warm fuzz for the basking on opener “The Drop” and spaciousness on the closing title-track. Somewhat more straight-ahead in its rocking groove than 2016’s Return to Sky (review here), the five-track/38-minute long-player showed yet again why Causa Sui are always welcome and that any news of a new release from them, live, studio, whatever, is good news. This was the kind of record that could make your day if you let it.

19. Telekinetic Yeti, Abominable

telekinetic yeti abominable

Released by Sump Pump Records. Reviewed April 10.

The Iowa-based duo of guitarist/vocalist Alex Baumann and drummer Anthony Dreyer, operating as Telekinetic Yeti, released what I considered to be the debut of the year, both for the fullness of its tonality and the accomplishment in songcraft it already showed. Powered by cuts like its lumbering title-track and the gloriously fuzzed runner “Stoned and Feathered,” it could’ve been another band’s second or third record for the level of cohesion on display and the obvious awareness on the part of the band of what they wanted to do with their sound and the just-as-obvious result of their bringing it to life.

18. Cloud Catcher, Trails of Kozmic Dust

cloud catcher trails of kozmic dust

Released by Totem Cat Records. Reviewed Dec. 9, 2016.

While I admit I’m still not 100 percent certain on whether to spell “kozmic” in the title with a ‘k’ or with a ‘c’ on the end, that question did nothing ultimately to diminish enjoyment of Denver emergents Cloud Catcher‘s sophomore outing. Topped off by one of the best album covers of the year, the follow-up to their 2015 debut, Enlightened Beyond Existence (discussed here), took the progressive casting of that record to a place entirely more raw and rock-driven, willfully roughing up the edges even as it showed marked creative growth on a relatively quick turnaround. The must-hear bass tone of “Beyond the Electric Sun” and “Super Acid Magick” was icing on a cake of choice riffing and Hendrixian lead swirl, and the shuffle they elicited was enough to make even the most stubborn of asses (i.e. mine) think about moving.

17. Ruby the Hatchet, Planetary Space Child

ruby the hatchet planetary space child

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Aug. 29.

After the neo-garage manifestations of their 2015 sophomore outing, Valley of the Snake (review here), it was clear Philly psych rockers Ruby the Hatchet were a force when it came to songwriting. What was less obvious was what they’d do with that going forward. On Planetary Space Child, at least, the answer is they’ll take it to Freaktown. The melody-happy, organ-laced swirlmasters conjured presence kosmiche enough to justify the album’s title, and around the cast-in-moon-rock structures of the swinging “Pagan Ritual” and the playfully doomed “Symphony of the Night,” Ruby the Hatchet built a multifaceted weirdoist triumph the likes of which simply doesn’t come along every year, establishing themselves as more reliable and less predictable than ever: an absolute win.

16. Alunah, Solennial

alunah solennial

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed March 1.

It’s been the case more or less all along with UK forest rockers Alunah that their nature-minded material and heavy rolling grooves have had their haunting aspects, but with the production of Conan‘s Chris Fielding behind it, Solennial — their fourth LP and first on Svart — brought this to new levels entirely. The songs, memorable like footprints in the woods, are somewhat bittersweet in context now, since founding guitarist/vocalist Sophie Day announced in September she was leaving the band, but as the group will move forward led by guitarist Dave Day and recently acquired new singer Siân Greenaway, intrigue remains high at what the future might bring and the impact of Solennial is undiminished.

15. Mindkult, Lucifer’s Dream

mindkult-lucifers-dream

Released by Transcending Obscurity Records and Caligari Records.

Virginia-based doomgazing garage cult solo-project Mindkult has thus far managed to keep some of the mystique around its sole inhabitant, Fowst, which is admirable in a way. As the multi-instrmentalist, vocalist and producer this year answered the promise of last year’s Witch’s Oath (review here) debut, he did so around a swath of purposeful miseries, loose devil worship and other dark thematics, casting an atmospheric darkness matched head-on by the tonal murk of his riffs. Through this, however, the songwriting was no less memorable than on the first offering, and as the project moves forward, one can only hope that Fowst will continue to use that as the core aspect buried six feet under his other, formidable stylistic achievements. That certainly was how it worked out on Lucifer’s Dream.

14. Argus, From Fields of Fire

argus from fields of fire
Released by Cruz del Sur Music. Reviewed Sept. 1.

Behold ye perhaps the most underrated band in heavy metal. Regardless of subgenre, style, strata, whatever, it’s hard to listen to From Fields of Fire and think of Pittsburgh’s Argus as anything else. The five-piece’s fourth album continued to owe part of its sound to doom, but was much more encompassing than simply that, touching on aspects of classic metal with a command that left one wondering how they hadn’t yet been tapped to open for Judas Priest on that band’s next tour. Victory abounds on a per-song basis throughout the nine-tracker, and whether it was the emotional crux of “Hour of Longing” or the catchy fistpump righteousness of “Devils of Your Time” or the 11-minute progressive reach of “Infinite Lives/Infinite Doors,” Argus once again crafted a work nigh-unmatched in poise and class.

13. Uffe Lorenzen, Galmandsværk

Uffe-Lorenzen-Galmandsvaerk

Released by Bad Afro Records. Reviewed Nov. 6.

For the first outing ever to be issued under his real name, Denmark’s Uffe Lorenzen — aka Lorenzo Woodrose of garage-psych pioneers Baby Woodrose — danced between acid folk singer-songwriterisms like “Flippertøs” and more expansive jamming on “På Kanten Af Verden,” all the while retaining his distinct structural and arrangement sensibilities and creating a flowing vibe that was nothing less than a pure joy of classic-form psychedelia. The most serene and pastoral freakout one was likely to witness in 2017, easily, Galmandsværk resounded in the Mellotron-laced “Høj Som Et Højhus” and was no less at home in the acoustic spaciousness of the earlier “Remits Tyranni,” able to wander where it pleased and find steady ground in molten surroundings.

12. The Flying Eyes, Burning of the Season

the flying eyes burning of the season

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 11.

A welcome return from a viciously underappreciated band, The Flying EyesBurning of the Season marked the Baltimore four-piece’s first offering for Ripple Music and first since 2013’s Lowlands (review here), a four-year stretch during which the band kept busy touring Europe and South America, the latter also being where they recorded these songs with Gabriel Zander at Estudio Superfuzz in Brazil. The tonal depth resulting from that process was enough to make the collection a highlight, but it was the songs themselves that most stood out, benefiting from the band’s expanded reach and legitimate, hard-won maturity. Especially for a group who’ve done so much work on the road over their years — to be fair, the US has been pretty low priority in that regard — they remain a secret kept too well.

11. Bell Witch, Mirror Reaper

bell witch mirror reaper

Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed Dec. 27.

Doomed extremity simply unmatched in its scope. The song of the year for 2017. An accomplishment the likes of which is prone to happen maybe once or twice in a generation. None of this seems to really speak to the entirety of the achievement that is Bell Witch‘s Mirror Reaper — the single-song, 83-minute full-length issued by the Seattle duo like a challenge in the face of mortality itself. Beautiful, devastating and weighted like the grave, its sprawl utterly consumed the listener, and I firmly believe it will be years before its depths are fully processed. Some offerings are bigger than the year in which they’re released. Mirror Reaper would seem to function on a scale of its own, and though it could easily be read as a litmus test for audience punishment, the truth of the listening experience is both more emotionally complex and more fulfilling than simple hyperbole can capture.

10. Monolord, Rust

monolord rust

Released by RidingEasy Records. Reviewed Oct. 26.

The story all along with Gothenburg’s Monolord has been tone. Tone tone tone. Crush crush crush. Riffs riffs riffs. Nothing wrong with any of that, but their third album, Rust, proves once and for all that there’s more to the trio than “cool riffs bro” and post-Electric Wizard nod. Catchy cuts like “Dear Lucifer” and rolling opener “Where Death Meets the Sea” brought a sense of space leading to the later sprawl of “Forgotten Lands” and “At Niceae,” and the band settled into an individualized, lumbering psychedelia that moved forward from 2015’s Vænir (review here), not leaving behind the heft that earned them their reputation, but not at all being limited by it either in scope or overall approach. Three records in, Rust brought forth Monolord‘s greatest sonic expansion yet and gave rise to the feeling that their true potential was just starting to come to fruition. Also, crush crush crush. Cool riffs, bro.

9. Vokonis, The Sunken Djinn

vokonis-the-sunken-djinn

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 5.

The Sunken Djinn is Vokonis‘ second full-length in as many years, and in addition to serving as their Ripple debut where 2016’s Olde One Ascending (review here) landed via Ozium Records, it was a feast for hungry riff hounds. In defiance of its quick turnaround, it showed a firm evolution taking place within the upstart Swedish trio of guitarist/vocalist Simon Ohlsson, bassist/backing vocalist Jonte Johansson and drummer Emil Larsson, whose range overall was greater in tracks like “Rapturous” and the torrential “Blood Vortex” while nonetheless controlled in its delivery. Their Sleep-y origins still a factor sound-wise, Vokonis were able just the same to push themselves ahead into new sonic ground in fittingly lumbering fashion, and the character they brought to “The Sunken Djinn,” “Calling from the Core” and the noise-caked “Maelstroem” seemed to speak to a burgeoning sense of atmospheric focus taking hold as well. Still so much potential here.

8. Electric Moon, Stardust Rituals

electric moon stardust rituals

Released by Sulatron Records. Reviewed April 7.

Do I even need to remotely justify having Electric Moon‘s first studio album in six years on this list? Was it not just like a love-letter issued by the cosmos itself? What more explanation could possibly be necessary? Not that the German trio haven’t dropped copious, glorious live outings all the while, but to have Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt, “Komet Lulu” Neudeck and Marcus Schnitzler follow-up 2011’s The Doomsday Machine (review here) with four cuts culminating in the 22-minute sprawl of “(You Will) Live Forever Now” was high on the list of the year’s most satisfying psychedelic journeys. Constantly exploring, their methods always seem geared toward finding the molten essence of space rock itself, and though the songs on Stardust Rituals were a little more crafted than some of their straight-up improv jams, they nonetheless showed there are many avenues one might take to get to the heart of the sun.

7. Sun Blood Stories, It Runs Around the Room with Us

sun-blood-stories-it-runs-around-the-room-with-us

Self-released. Reviewed May 1.

This one is personal, and by that I mean I love this fucking band. Similar to my experience with their 2015 sophomore outing, Twilight Midnight Morning (review here), the third record by Boise-based trio of Ben Kirby (vocals, guitar, synth, percussion), Amber Pollard (vocals, guitar, theremin, percussion) and Jon Fust (drums, keys, percussion, noise) was one that I simply could not put down. Even now, seeing the name of the record is all I need to have songs like “The Great Destroyer” and the immersive midsection in “Come Like Rain” and “Time Like Smoke” stuck in my head, let alone the ultra-brazen, searingly-pissed “Burn” noise assault that finished the album and in the span of 90 seconds turned all the psychedelic warmth and serenity on its face with a visceral anger completely unforeseen and jarring, turning it from a depth-laden execution of adventurous neo-psych and indie into a project of conceptual artistry with all the efficiency of the chemical reaction it sought to portray. If you missed it, your loss.

6. The Atomic Bitchwax, Force Field

the-atomic-bitchwax-force-field

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Dec. 7.

Songs like “Alaskan Thunder Fuck,” “Humble Brag” and “Earth Shaker (Which Doobie U Be?)” assured that the defining character of Force Field, the sixth album from New Jersey’s The Atomic Bitchwax, was pure scorch. That made the 12-cut outing a more than worthy follow-up for 2015’s  Gravitron (review here), which introduced this more speed-rock-minded, aggressive delivery from the tight-as-nails trio, and while they proved they could still lock in a slower groove on the organ-topped finisher “Liv a Little,” head-spinners like the instrumental “Fried, Dyed and Layin’ to the Side” and “Houndstooth” came across like the fruit of the band pushing themselves to the limits of their physical ability in terms of tempo, and their ride along the edge of that line brought thrills at every turn. And make no mistake, there were a lot of turns. Fortunately, bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik, guitarist/vocalist Finn Ryan and drummer Bob Pantella seemingly had a corresponding hook in their pocket for each one of them. This band is a national treasure.

5. Atavismo, Inerte

atavismo inerte

Released by Temple of Torturous. Reviewed Feb. 21.

Warm, fuzzy tones, rhythmic shifts right out of classic progressive rock, melodic intricacy and periodic excursions into glorious psychedelic drift: I’m not sure what wasn’t to like about Inerte, Atavismo‘s second full-length behind 2014’s Desintegración (review here). Comprising five tracks of unmistakable flow and jam-laden fluidity, it was immersive with landmarks along the way to keep the listener from getting too lost, and whether or not one spoke Spanish, the three-piece of Jose “Poti” Moreno (ex-Viaje a 800Mind!), bassist/vocalist Mateo and drummer/vocalist Sandri Pow (also ex-Mind!) made it easy to follow along their purposefully meandering path, offering guidance no less skillful on the 11-minute fuzz-freaker “El Sueño” than the dream-toned linear build of “Belleza Cuatro.” There were very, very few albums I listened to more this year than this one, which is precisely why it is where it is on this list.

4. Samsara Blues Experiment, One with the Universe

samsara-blues-experiment-one-with-the-universe

Released by Electric Magic Records and Abraxas Records. Reviewed May 4.

Four years between records isn’t at all an unheard of stretch. It’s not the longest on this list by any means. But with Berlin heavy psych rockers Samsara Blues Experiment, it really seemed like the band was done, so to have them come back with such force on One with the Universe was, as I know I said at several points throughout the last 12 months, one of the year’s total highlights. Tracked by former bassist Richard Behrens, the group’s fourth album answered the extended-track spread of 2013’s Waiting for the Flood (review here) with a deeper sense of sonic variety, and while the 15-minute title-cut and opener “Vispassana” still had plenty of room for jamming out and even six-minute centerpiece “Glorious Daze” found room for some flourish of organ and sitar, guitarist/vocalist Christian Peters, drummer Thomas Vedder and bassist Hans Eiselt rightly featured the chemistry they’ve built as a trio live and brought to the songs a renewed sense of vigor, sounding — and hopefully being — truly inspired. Waiting for the Flood capped a period of marked productivity across several years. Fingers crossed One with the Universe begins that cycle anew.

3. Elder, Reflections of a Floating World

Elder-Reflections-of-a-Floating-World

Released by Armageddon Shop and Stickman Records. Reviewed May 23.

You just can’t consider Elder‘s Reflections of a Floating World outside the context of the progressive achievement that was their prior outing, 2015’s Lore (review here). Where the trio — based now between Massachusetts and Berlin, Germany — took their first two outings, 2008’s self-titled debut (discussed here) and 2011’s Dead Roots Stirring (review here), to find their sound, which they began to showcase on the 2012 Spires Burn/Release EP (review here), it was Lore that brought to fruition the potential that had always been waiting to be unleashed by the trio of guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto, and Reflections of a Floating World had the daunting task of being the next further step from that landmark moment. To say the band rose to the occasion is perhaps to undersell the cohesion at work in consuming-but-cohesive pieces like opener “Sanctuary” or “Blind” or “Staving off the Truth,” which brought together clear-headed psychedelia around a wash that seemed to stem as much from rhythm as melody. As they’ve matured stylistically and become a major touring presence, Elder have made themselves perhaps the most pivotal American heavy rock act going, and Reflections of a Floating World brings them to the discovery of yet another apex while at the same time giving zero indication it will be the last one they find.

2. Colour Haze, In Her Garden

colour haze in her garden

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed March 9.

Of course, the bonus of writing about Colour Haze in just about any context is that you get to put Colour Haze on while you’re doing it, and in the case of the 12th LP from these Munich heavy psych forebears, that’s an even more appealing prospect. After stripping down some of the arrangement flourish with 2014’s To the Highest Gods We Know (review here), the 13-track/73-minute 2LP In Her Garden brought a revitalized sonic expansion, but as ever, it wasn’t just the horns or the strings or the blend of keys and acoustics that made In Her Garden the unbridled joy that it was and continues to be — it was the underlying performance from guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek, bassist Philipp Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald that gave the album the stem on which its garden grew. That’s not to say Jan Faszbender‘s work on modular synth, Rhodes, and Hammond or the arrangements of strings, tuba, bass-clarinet and trombone throughout hurt anything, just that as Colour Haze have grown into incorporating these elements into their groundbreaking aesthetic, they haven’t left behind the organic chemistry and necessary live feel that has helped them influence a generation of followers over their more than 20-year career. One came through as much as the other on In Her Garden, and that balance gave the overarching warmth of their self-recorded tonality yet another level on which to engage their audience. I’ll be a sucker for Colour Haze for as long as I live, and I have absolutely no problem admitting to and owning that.

1. All Them Witches, Sleeping Through the War

all them witches sleeping through the war

Released by New West Records. Reviewed Jan. 27.

It was clear early on that Nashville four-piece All Them Witches were contending hard for Album of the Year with Sleeping Through the War, their fourth long-player and second for New West following the mellow vibes of 2015’s Dying Surfer Meets His Maker (review here). What finally sealed it? The songs. Working with producer Dave Cobb, the each-member-essential lineup of bassist/vocalist Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod, key-specialist Allan van Cleave (Rhodes, Mellotron, piano, organ, etc.) and drummer/graphic artist Robby Staebler solidified their approach in exciting new ways on early cuts like the grunge-crunching “Don’t Bring Me Coffee” and the shuffling “Bruce Lee,” which hit in succession following the fluid lead-in of opener “Bulls,” an introduction of the organic psychedelia and heavy blues that the loose-swinging of “3-5-7″‘s nigh-on-gospel chorus and subsequent, almost maddeningly catchy “Am I Going Up?” would continue to push outward, thereby setting a linear course into a consciousness-capturing side B with “Alabaster” and the jammier “Cowboy Kirk” and “Internet” playing between melodic nuance and mindful, go-with-it drift. The unflinching strength of the material was matched perhaps only by the understatement of its delivery, which was the more staggering considering how easily the arrangements of background vocals on “Am I Going Up?” or  “3-5-7” could have come through as overblown or self-indulgent, and by the time they got down to the light weirdo-bluesy stomp of “Internet” — the key lyric and hook being, “Guess I’ll go live on the internet” — there was no doubting the genuine nature of the realization Sleeping Through the War represented for All Them Witches. Coupling that feeling of achievement with the sheer repeatability of the listening experience itself left no doubt that 2017 belonged to these tracks and the marvelous way the band wove between them, and that whatever other sounds All Them Witches may go on to explore and whatever else they may accomplish as a result, Sleeping Through the War was a truly special moment in their evolution that, as with the best of offerings in any year, will continue to resonate long after the calendar page has turned.

The Next 20

You know, I used to feel like once you got past a top 20, the numbers were arbitrary. Then I felt that way about the top 30. This year, I think I agonized more about what to include in numbers 31-50 than I did between 30 and the album of the year. Put that in your “go figure” file while you chew on these picks:

31. Cities of Mars, Temporal Rifts
32. The Midnight Ghost Train, Cypress Ave.
33. Snowy Dunes, Atlantis
34. Rozamov, This Mortal Road
35. PH, Eternal Hayden
36. Sasquatch, Maneuvers
37. Young Hunter, Dayhiker
38. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, II
39. Ufomammut, 8
40. John Garcia, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues
41. Paradise Lost, Medusa
42. Beastmaker, Inside the Skull
43. Arduini / Balich, Dawn of Ages
44. Primitive Man, Caustic
45. Motorpsycho, The Tower
46. Arbouretum, Song of the Rose
47. Hymn, Perish
48. Youngblood Supercult, The Great American Death Rattle
49. Pallbearer, Heartless
50. Dool, Here Now There Then

There’s so, so much good stuff here. So much. The Cities of Mars debut was a treasure and the only reason it wasn’t on my top debuts list was because I haven’t had the chance to go back in and put it on. The Young Hunter record? Some of their best work yet. Hell, that Arduini / Balich album alone! Then you’ve got huge releases by Pallbearer, Ufomammut, Paradise Lost, Primitive Man, on and on. Like I said at the outset, one more album and my head was gonna explode this year. Way too much to ever hope to keep up with. One thing though I felt like I really wanted to emphasize including was Dool. They’re in the last spot, but make no mistake, in atmosphere and songwriting that album was something really special and loaded with potential. It’s not there because it came in last. It’s there to highlight the point of how much it should be on this list.

What’s that? More records? Okay…

Honorable Mentions

In case you also weren’t completely overwhelmed this year, maybe another batch of records will do the trick. Here’s some presented alphabetically:

Anathema, The Optimist
Blackfinger, When Colors Fade Away
Child, Blueside
Cortez, The Depths Below
Demon Eye, Prophecies and Lies
Elbrus, Elbrus
Electric Wizard, Wizard Bloody Wizard
Ecstatic Vision, Raw Rock Fury
Five Horse Johnson, Jake Leg Boogie
Mirror Queen, Verdigris
The Obsessed, Sacred
T.G. Olson, Foothills Before the Mountain
Outsideinside, Sniff a Hot Rock
Queens of the Stone Age, Villains
Siena Root, A Dream of Lasting Peace
Six Organs of Admittance, Burning the Threshold
Steak, No God to Save
Summoner, Beyond the Realm of Light
Valborg, Endstrand
With the Dead, Love from With the Dead

Plus: Abronia, Lewis and the Strange Magics, Iron Monkey, Band of Spice, Puta Volcano, Galley Beggar, Heavy Traffic, Coltsblood, REZN, Green Meteor, Demon Head, Lord, Grigax, The Raynbow, Carpet, Norska, Les Lekin, Slow, Ixion, and I’m sure more that I’ll add as the names continue to pop into my head.

I did this back in June as well, but I also want to draw attention to a swath of quality live albums that came out this year. The top pick should be no surprise if you’ve been hanging around the site of late:

Live Albums:
1. SubRosa, Subdued Live at Roadburn
2. Causa Sui, Live in Copenhagen
3. Slomatics, Futurians Live at Roadburn
4. My Sleeping Karma, Mela Ananda – Live
5. Wight, Fusion Rock Invasion
5. Death Alley, Live at Roadburn

Thank You

It’s been a hell of a year, obviously. Musically and otherwise. As always, I cannot possibly come close to thanking you enough for your incredible and ongoing support of The Obelisk, of what this site is, what it’s become over its nearly nine-year run, what it will continue to become going forward from here. It is astounding to me and deeply humbling that you would possibly take time out of your busy day and your busy life to check out what’s going on here, and words fail me continually when it comes to feeling like I can properly convey my appreciation for that. Thank you for reading. Thank you for reading. Thank you for reading. Tattoo it on my forehead.

Thank you to The Patient Mrs. for understanding how much I need to be doing this, to Slevin for keeping the site running on the technical end, to Behrang Alavi for taking over hosting earlier this year, to my family for their ongoing support, to The Pecan for sleeping late some mornings and giving me time to write, and to everyone who ever shared a link on social media or made a comment on a post or anything like that. To long-time readers and to newcomers alike — thank you so much. This year has seen a fair share of ups and downs, but the support this site gets sustains me in ways I never expected it could, and that would be impossible without you. Please know how crucial that is to me.

Well, that should do it. I know there are probably disagreements about where things landed on the list, what was included, what was left out, etc., as there always are. All comments are of course welcome — only thing I’d ask is you please keep it civil and respectful of the opinions of others. Otherwise, have at it. Please.

And one more time, thank you for reading.

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The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 of 2017 So Far

Posted in Features on June 12th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk top-20-2017-so-far

The time has come to take a look at some of the best albums of 2017 so far. I hardly know where to start. In some ways, this list is harder to put together than the end-of-year one that comes out in December, because by then not only do you have the full year to draw on, but it’s easier to sort of put a narrative to the course of events of 12 months, whereas in this case, obviously, the story is half told. So I guess if the list feels incomplete, that might be part of why.

Even with just six months to work from, the list has become fairly immense. I’ve been keeping track of 2017 releases since about September of last year, and the amount of stuff that’s come through has been staggering. Every year brings good music, and the basic fact of the matter is that if you don’t think so it’s because you’re either unwilling to find it or unwilling to let yourself hear it, but 2017 has been a multi-tiered assault of sounds from all over the world, and it seems like whatever you might be into, the universe stands ready to accommodate.

There’s a lot to say about that — is the market flooded? — but it’s a topic for a different post. I’ll keep it short here and just say that as always, it’s an honor to be covering the stuff that I cover and that I deeply appreciate you taking the time to read. I hope if there’s a release you feel deeply passionate about that you don’t see on my list below that you’ll please let me know about it in the comments.

Also, please note that in order to qualify for this list, a record had to come out on or before June 9. That’s the cutoff.

Okay, here goes:

The Top 20 of 2017 So Far

elder reflections of a floating world

1. Elder, Reflections of a Floating World
2. All Them Witches, Sleeping Through the War
3. Samsara Blues Experiment, One with the Universe
4. Colour Haze, In Her Garden
5. Atavismo, Inerte
6. Sun Blood Stories, It Runs Around the Room with Us
7. Cloud Catcher, Trails of Kozmic Dust
8. Vokonis, The Sunken Djinn
9. The Obsessed, Sacred
10. Mothership, High Strangeness
11. Spaceslug, Time Travel Dilemma
12. Electric Moon, Stardust Rituals
13. Alunah, Solennial
14. Arc of Ascent, Realms of the Metaphysical
13. Rozamov, This Mortal Road
14. Siena Root, A Dream of Lasting Peace
15. PH, Eternal Hayden
16. Geezer, Psychoriffadelia
17. T.G. Olson, Foothills Before the Mountain
18. Telekinetic Yeti, Abominable
19. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, II
20. Lord, Blacklisted

Notes

If you keep up with this site at all, there probably aren’t a lot of surprises in there. These are all records that have been discussed at great length over the last six months, reviewed, streamed, analyzed, whathaveyou’d all the way. If you don’t believe me, search any of the names. Still, as far as my personal picks go and who I think has crafted something special over the last six months, this feels pretty representative to me. I managed to live for a full week with the list as you see it above, without making changes. That’s usually my standard.

And as always, it’s a combination of what I’ve listened to most and what I feel has had the greatest impact thus far into the year. Between the two, there was little doubt Elder would take the top spot. I’ve probably listened to the All Them Witches record more than anything else this year, including Elder’s Reflections of a Floating World, but the truth is the Massachusetts trio are working at a level of their own making in terms of their sonic progression, and that they’ve emerged as one of if not the most pivotal American underground heavy rock bands going. The situation was much the same when they put out Lore in 2015 and claimed that year’s top-album spot, but even since then their sound has expanded and they continue to demand ultimate respect.

As for the All Them Witches album — absolute stunner. The increased depth of their arrangements on Sleeping Through the War came at no expense of songwriting, resulting in ultra-memorable material that could either wash over you with melody or shove you out of your seat with the force of its rhythm, and that band continues to be a treasure. No other way to put it.

From there, we move into what I think are the four best heavy psych offerings of 2017 so far, with Samsara Blues Experiment, Colour Haze, Atavismo and Sun Blood Stories, in that order. Samsara Blues Experiment’s return has been a joy to witness and their first album in four years lived up to the occasion. Colour Haze expanded the palette from their last album with In Her Garden and proved as immersive as always. I’m still getting to know that record. Atavismo’s second full-length upped the progressive influences without losing fluidity or cohesion in songwriting, and Sun Blood Stories’ hypnotic shoegaze offered expansive thrills and a sense of varied, beautifully crafted exploration.

A pair of exciting young bands thereafter in Colorado’s Cloud Catcher, whose boogie is right-on-right-on and whose development continues to hold much potential, and Vokonis, whose crushing riffs on The Sunken Djinn were met with an increased focus on structure and tightening of approach that maximized overall impact. The Obsessed’s unexpected return could only be called a triumphant one, and Mothership’s third long-player found them working in a richer sense of mood than previous outings, adding yet more character to what was still a blast of good-time rock and roll. They round out the top 10 in full command of who they are as players.

Granted, the next 10 releases are kind of all over the place, but I think that just shows the overarching quality of work being done across the board. From Spaceslug’s melodic stoner-psych to Electric Moon’s studio return — so, so, so good — to Alunah’s continued growth in nature-worshiping heavy and Arc of Ascent’s comebacker of rolling heavy riffs and metaphysical themes, there’s been so much to take in. I especially like the pairing of Rozamov and Siena Root as a sense of scope for 2017 so far; the former being so dark and crushing and the latter who lived up to calling their record A Dream of Lasting Peace. You want to know both ends of the spectrum? There they are.

PH’s Eternal Hayden gets a nod for its effective reset of the context of that band following the completion of their trilogy of albums, and Geezer’s Psychoriffadelia might have been something of a tossoff in the making, but the level at which the New York trio jams nonetheless assures it a spot here. Plus, a Nazareth cover. So duh.

I couldn’t help but include T.G. Olson’s Foothills Before the Mountain on the list as the Across Tundras frontman creeps closer to a full-band sound for his solo work, adding to his acoustic singer-songwriter foundations, and the crush of Telekinetic Yeti’s post-Sleep riffing evoked so many nods I thought they deserved one here as well. Placing The Devil and the Almighty Blues was difficult, but especially after seeing them live, I felt like I had a better idea of where they were coming from on II, so knew they belonged somewhere, even if it was tucked in at the end. And of course, Lord. Always killer, always experimenting, always chaotic. Never have grind and sludge sounded more cohesive together. They’re the band I wish Soilent Green had become, and yes, I mean that.

Honorable Mention

Let’s do another 10 releases, shall we?

21. Beastmaker, Inside the Skull
22. Arduini/Balich, Dawn of Ages
23. Brume, Rooster
24. John Garcia, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues
25. Six Sigma, Tuxedo Brown
26. Demon Head, Thunder on the Fields
27. Summoner, Beyond the Realm of Light
28. Steak, No God to Save
29. Six Organs of Admittance, Burning the Threshold
30. Dool, Here Now There Then

And just to make the point, here are even more worthy of note in this space:

Elbrus, Elbrus
Cortez, The Depths Below
Ecstatic Vision, Raw Rock Fury
Child, Blueside (a December 2016 release, maybe, but I think the vinyl was this year, so whatever)
Pallbearer, Heartless
Spidergawd, IV
Green Meteor, Consumed by a Dying Sun
Loss, Horizonless

There are of course other names as well that come to mind. Like I said at the outset, it’s a crowded field: Hymn, Arbouretum, Green Meteor, REZN, Demon Head, Galley Beggar, Devil’s Witches, Orango, Heavy Traffic, Coltsblood, Mt. Mountain, Vokonis, Solstafir, High Plains, on and on.

Also worth highlighting several really, really quality live records that have surfaced so far this year. I didn’t really know where to place them among the other studio offerings, but they deserve note for sure:

Causa Sui, Live in Copenhagen
Death Alley, Live at Roadburn
My Sleeping Karma, Mela Ananda – Live
Enslaved, Roadburn Live

More to Come

Of course, we’re still just barely halfway through the year, so keep on the lookout for more to follow. If you didn’t see my massive 200+ albums to watch for list in January, it has many that have come out and many more still to surface, but here are a few highlight names as well that you’re going to want to keep an eye on in the months ahead:

Queens of the Stone Age
Radio Moscow
The Atomic Bitchwax
Kadavar
Ufomammut
The Midnight Ghost Train
Moon Rats
Clamfight
Egypt
the Melvins
Bison Machine
Seedy Jeezus
High on Fire
Monster Magnet

Thanks for Reading

Before I check out, I’d like to give special mention to Lo-Pan’s In Tensions EP as the best short release of the year thus far. Along with EPs from Godhunter, Kings Destroy, Solace and Shroud Eater, it has assured those seeking a quick fix are handed their ass in return for asking.

Well, that’s about where I’m at with it. As per usual, I’m sure there are things I forgot and/or left off here, because I’m human and whatnot, so please if you have something to add, feel free to do so in the comments so long as you can keep it cordial. No name calling. I’m sensitive and you’ll ruin my whole day. I mean that.

Thanks again for being a part of this and here’s to an excellent rest of 2017.

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Elder, Reflections of a Floating World: Building on the Moment

Posted in Reviews on May 23rd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Elder-Reflections-of-a-Floating-World

It would be impossible and improper to separate Reflections of a Floating World from the context of its predecessor. 2015’s Lore (review here) was a bold statement of arrival by Massachusetts trio Elder, a no-doubter Album of the Year, and a marked stylistic leap from 2011’s Dead Roots Stirring (review here) into a bright-toned and progressive vision of heavy rock and roll that even the 2012 Spires Burn/Release EP (review here) did not fully foretell. It paid off the potential that guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto have shown since their 2008 self-titled debut (discussed here), and though the six-track/67-minute Reflections of a Floating World doesn’t represent the same kind of broad stylistic shift overall, it nonetheless pushes further along the richly individualized path they found their last time out and expands both the sonic palette and the lineup itself in key ways.

Like LoreReflections of a Floating World arrives with lush, beautiful cover art by Adrian Dexter on Armageddon Shop and Stickman Records, and like Lore, it was recorded by Justin Pizzoferrato at Sonelab in Easthampton, MA (feature here), so listeners shouldn’t necessarily be surprised at some commonalities between the two records, but in composing and piecing together these tracks, Elder also brought in keyboardist/guitarist Mike Risberg — a bandmate of DiSalvo‘s in the side-project Gold & Silver, who released their debut, Azurite & Malachite (review here), in 2014 — who’ll also tour with the band as a fourth member, as well as Mike Samos, who contributed lap steel guitar, electric mandolin, theremin and other sources of flourish to the textures of tracks like “Staving off Truth” and the penultimate atmospheric stretch, “Sonntag”; essentially a five-man jam edited into a lengthy interlude between the band’s more common, fluid part-barrage process of songcraft. The additional arrangement elements were something hinted at in Lore‘s title-track, but it’s on Reflections of a Floating World that these ideas are more completely brought to fruition, and Elder are a more complete and, frankly, a better band for refusing to do anything other than make the songs they want to make by any means necessary.

That alone could be taken as a sign of the maturity that in part defines the course of Reflections of a Floating World, but the album’s prevailing sensibility comes through in the graceful manner in which it moves from part to part, song to song, while building toward a cohesive whole that offers the listener a guided immersion few acts in the US or elsewhere can match. They begin with a half-hour opening salvo of three extended tracks in “Sanctuary” (11:41), “The Falling Veil” (11:40) and “Staving off Truth” (10:43) before digging even further into proggy textures with “Blind” (13:39), “Sonntag” (9:01) and closer “Thousand Hands” (10:01), and the consciousness of the flow they craft isn’t to be understated. “Sanctuary” starts with guitar establishing a full-toned riff joined in seconds by bass and crashing drums and in under 20 seconds an album that will do nothing if not take its time to say what it wants to say is quickly in motion. One does find that Elder have grown more patient in their execution, but also more clever. They tease payoffs and turn elsewhere in “Sanctuary” to buck expectation; a sign of compositional confidence and the knowledge that their audience will follow them on their winding paths, which, if past is prologue, they of course will.

elder

Turning through gentler breaks, heavy roll and a vast-sounding lead, “Sanctuary” hits the six-minute mark and moves into a psychedelic stretch it will build from twice-over, and its poise in doing so becomes an important factor in the album as a whole — something that the slow, soundscaping intro of “The Falling Veil” takes up immediately. If “Sanctuary” was the rocking opener, “The Falling Veil” is where Elder introduce more of Reflections of a Floating World‘s progressive elements, with Risberg making himself known on Mellotron as the song begins its post-midpoint instrumental push into the plotted known-unknown, finding there a winding dose of riffing that brings a sudden stop and move into the drifting intro to “Staving off Truth,” which further works to unite the heft and the scope of presentation thus far brought to bear, and I’d gladly argue, succeeds in that, representing a moment of balance for Reflections of a Floating World and emphasizing in a not-overblown manner the way in which Elder have continued to develop over the last two years, expanding rather than remaking, but committed as ever to their sonic and stylistic growth, shown as much in the lush depth of their mix as in the sweeping current that runs under all of it.

Performance is also a factor in this. As crisp as Reflections of a Floating World sounds with the spaciousness in Couto‘s drums, the resonant push of Donovan‘s bass, Risberg and Samos‘ contributions and DiSalvo‘s alternately airy and dense guitar work and more-confident-than-ever-before vocals — he features in the initial verses of “Blind” in a braver way than he ever has — the album is vital in spirit. It explores, but doesn’t linger, and while their live show has always been somewhat rawer than their studio offerings, it’s clear Elder are retooling that balance somewhat as they revamp their lineup and expand their overarching scope as they do in the second half of this record. “Blind” is the longest inclusion at just under 14 minutes and starts with blown-out drums before moving into organ-topped rhythmic and melodic sway, a long and engaging instrumental midsection providing the crux and a winding finish easing into “Sonntag” with a dead stop similar to “Sanctuary” and “The Falling Veil” earlier. “Sonntag” starts quietly but pulses and quickly introduces its improvised-seeming course, which unfolds patiently as a languid, almost Euro-style prog jam marked out by guitar noodling over a steady line of bass and drums.

If there’s a point of utter departure for Elder on Reflections of a Floating World, “Sonntag” would be it, and though it would be strange to call a track that’s nine minutes long an interlude, the effect is basically the same: A moment for the listener to catch their breath before they head into closer “Thousand Hands.” It just so happens that with Elder, that moment lasts longer and finds the band adventuring into sonic territory they’ve never before covered. Go figure. They fadeout the jam and cap “Sonntag” with a drone before the shimmering guitar line that starts “Thousand Hands” launches, reviving the earlier momentum but still affected by the peaceful context of the stretch before it. One would expect “Thousand Hands” to be the payoff for Reflections of a Floating World as a whole, and it indeed does hit that mark in its late crescendo, but it also effectively summarizes the progressive ideology that is truly at heart in the narrative of the album: Elder mature, established, quickly becoming one of the most important American heavy bands of their generation.

That’s the story here. And if the question coming into Reflections of a Floating World was just how Elder would emerge from the considerable shadow cast by Lore, the answer is they emerge shining. Their aesthetic movement has always been forward-directed, and though it seemed like they found the answer they were looking for with their previous record in terms of sound, they’ve apparently embarked on an entirely different subset of questions. As a fan, I still have no idea what Reflections of a Floating World might portend for Elder‘s future, and I’d no more suggest that their next record might build directly off this one than I would’ve suggested this one would build off the last, but one way or another, three-piece or four-piece, proggy meander or crushing riffs, Elder remain a special band whose sound has only become more their own over time, and Reflections of a Floating World is another Album of the Year candidate that finds them at the to-date height of their collective power.

Elder, Reflections of a Floating World (2017)

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Elder on Bandcamp

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